It was rule or kill, so far as the bull was concerned, for if the boys could not manage him they would be compelled to kill him so that they might be able to handle the herd, substituting a more amiable bull in his place.
A cowman cannot always tell what a bull is going to do when it is faced on the range. It may dodge the issue or it may attack, and Ted was wary enough to be on the watch for the latter contingency.
Therefore, when Gladiator, without so much warning as the lowering of his head, sprang at Ted when he was not more than ten feet away, he covered the distance in two or three lumbering bounds, and Ted had just sufficient time to wheel his pony to one side to avoid being bowled over. But the horns of the bull struck the gaiter on his left leg, as it rushed past, and tore it off, almost unseating him. Stella, breathlessly watching the encounter, gasped as she saw Ted reel in his saddle. But she breathed easier as she saw him straighten up and turn his horse rapidly to face the bull again.
With almost incredible agility, the bull turned and came rushing at Ted again, but the leader of the broncho boys rode swiftly away from him, tolling him away from the herd.
Finally the bull stopped and began to paw the earth. Ted, to tempt him to another attack, directed Sultan toward him at full speed, intending to swerve when he got close to his bullship, and dodge him and infuriate him further, so that he would follow. He knew that Sultan could outrun Gladiator.
But, as he got close to the bull, in spite of the warning cries from Stella and Bud, Gladiator swerved to meet the attack, and before the fleet-footed pony could escape he was struck, and went rolling over the ground.
A cry of horror went up from the boys as they all dashed to the scene. Ted Strong was on the ground. The pony had scrambled to his feet, and stood trembling a few feet distant. The bull, with lowered head, was charging upon Ted.
Ted gets an assignment.
To the horror-stricken onlookers it appeared that Ted’s end had come. He lay prone upon the sod with his face turned to the sky, evidently stunned.
The bull, with all the ferocity of his kind when goaded to anger, was charging upon him, his needle-like horns a few inches from the ground, and the foam flecking from his lips.
Stella, her face white and drawn, was galloping toward him as fast as her pony could go, while Bud was lashing his pony to the height of its speed as he crossed the face of the herd. Billy Sudden was neck and neck with Stella, calling to her to hold back.
Suddenly Ted Strong came to life, and looked over his shoulder.
He saw his danger, and quick as thought he rolled over, away from the bull.
But that was all. Every one could see that it would do no good. He could not expect to escape from the infuriated beast in that manner, and a hollow groan escaped the lips of more than one.