The Pony Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers by Frank Gee Patchin
Chapter XIX. Surrounding the Enemy
"What's that?" roared Dippy.
"Here's your rattler. I've been suspecting him ever since early in the evening. This young man has been imitating a rattler's hiss and I must say he did it mighty well."
"What's that? 'Bugs' been causing us all this trouble?" demanded Dippy. "Let me at him! Let me at him!"
"Here, take him, but don't make too much noise about it," grinned the Ranger captain. "And don't be too rough about it, either."
Dippy had Stacy by the collar. With a powerful hand he jerked the fat boy across his saddle and such a spanking as Stacy Brown got that night he had not had since he was considerably younger. The other Rangers clamored for a chance at him, but after Dippy had finished the captain decided that the fat boy had had enough. There was stern business on hand. Still McKay thought a lesson might not come amiss at that time, so he had permitted the little diversion.
Growling and threatening, Stacy was dropped back into his saddle.
"Remember, we haven't had our turn yet," warned Cad Morgan. "Remember, you've spoiled a few hours of sleep for us fellows."
"Yes and re---re---remember you made me stand in the mesquite bush for three hours waiting for the 'possum to jump into the bag," reminded Stacy. "I guess we are about even now. But, if you want some more trouble, I'll think some up for you. If I can't think it out alone Tad will help me."
"I don't believe you need any assistance," laughed the captain. "No more disturbance now. Gentlemen, I am going to divide up our party. The time has arrived for me to tell you my plans. I have received information from one of my scouts that some half dozen of the men we want are heading for a point yonder in the mountains. They are to rendezvous at a place about three miles from here where they are to meet others of their outfit. It is my intention to surround them. One of my men is now on their trail, following them as closely as possible. There may be some shooting. If any of you wish to stay back you may go into camp right here and we will pick you up later."
"No, no! Take us along," begged the boys. "We don't want to be left behind. How about you, Chunky?" called Tad.
"No, I don't want to be left. I---I guess I'd be afraid to stay here all alone."
The captain quickly disposed of his forces, directing Tad Butler to come with him. Upon. second thought he decided to take Stacy along also, perhaps believing that it would be safer to have the fat boy under his own eyes, as there was no telling what Chunky might otherwise do.
The party broke up, leaving the spot in twos, after having received their orders, but in each case the Pony Rider Boys were accompanied by one or more of the regulars.
In a few minutes all had left the place, except McKay, Tad and Stacy. These waited for the better part of half an hour.
"Now forward and no loud talking, boys," the captain directed, touching his pony's sides with the spurs. "Be ready to obey orders quickly. And, Brown, no more imitations on your part. This is serious business. A slip and you're likely to stop a bullet 'most any time."
The three men started away, with the captain in the lead. They traveled all of two miles when McKay called a halt.
"Butler, you will go to the right, straight ahead. Stop after you have gone about a quarter of a mile as nearly as you can judge. When you hear an owl hoot, move slowly forward. Don't use your gun, no matter what happens, unless some one shoots at you. Even then don't shoot unless you have to. But let no one get past you. We hope to get those fellows in a pocket and hold them up without any shooting. But we may have to waste some powder. Do you understand?"
"You are not afraid?"
"I am not."
"I thought you wouldn't be."
"Where do I go?" asked Stacy apprehensively.
"You will remain with me. I'll take care of you. All right, Butler."
Tad without another word rode away. Finally after having gone what he thought was the proper distance, he halted and sat his pony silently, head bent forward listening for the signal. It came at last, sounding faint and far away. The boy smiled, shook out his reins and the pony moved forward almost as silently as the boy could have done himself. The night was dark, but Tad was able to make out objects with more or less distinctness. He used his eyes and ears to good purpose. Once Tad thought he heard a twig snap a short distance ahead of him. He halted abruptly and sat steadily for fully ten minutes. There being no further sounds he moved forward again.
It was a trying situation for a boy. Tad Butler felt the thrill of the moment, but he was unafraid. It is doubtful if Tad ever had realized a sense of fear, though he was far from being foolhardy, nor was there the faintest trace of bravado about him. He was simply a steady nerved, brave lad who would do his duty as he saw it no matter how great the obstacles or how imminent the peril.
The boy had gone forward for some thirty minutes when all at once his quick ears caught a peculiar, low whistle some distance ahead. Tad with ready resourcefulness answered the whistle, imitating it as nearly as possible. But he made a mistake. That whistle was not the right whistle.
A flash of flame leaped toward him and he heard the "wo-o-o-o" of a bullet over his head. The boy was off his pony. Then Tad tried the tactics of an Indian. Quickly and silently tethering his pony, he fired a shot high enough so that he did not think it likely to hit any one. Skulking a few paces farther on, he fired again. Several shots were in this manner fired, and in quick succession, giving the impression that there were several men shooting.
Half a dozen answering shots were fired at him, then the lad caught the sound of hoofbeats. He knew the other man was riding away. Tad gave the hoot of an owl as best he could. Rather to his surprise the signal was answered off to the left. Tad repeated it and received the same answer. He rode forward, on the trail of the fleeing man. In a few minutes he was joined by Captain McKay and Stacy, both riding hard.
"Did you draw them out?" demanded the captain sharply, but without a trace of excitement in his tone.
"Yes." Tad explained what had occurred.
"That was one of the outposts. The others will begin to stir soon. We are too early. All the ruffians are not in yet. Well, it's too late now. The alarm has been given. There they go!"
A succession of shots followed from distant points, widely separated. McKay listened.
"Our men are shooting. It's time to close in. Stick behind me. Don't try to ride off to one side. Keep your eyes and ears open."
The ponies leaped forward. The man and the two boys were riding a dangerous pace considering the roughness of the trail, but none gave a thought to the danger. The captain's voice was raised in a long-drawn hoot, which was answered by another from some distance away. Then the firing broke out afresh. It seemed as if no one could escape that fusillade of bullets. Tad could hear the bullets screaming overhead. He sat his pony, his eyes glowing, firing rapidly into the air. Stacy Brown also sat his own pony, but he couldn't have moved a muscle to save him. The fat boy was literally "scared stiff." Stacy really was suffering, but no one, unless he had observed his eyes, would have thought him afraid.
"Close in, boys. Ride and shout!" commanded the captain.
Butler exercised his lungs. Chunky's lips moved, but no sound came from them. His pony, however, followed the others, nearly causing its stiffened rider to fall off.
Every few moments the captain would utter his owl-call, which would be answered by other similar calls pretty much all around the compass. In this way the Rangers were able to locate each other's positions, thus avoiding shooting each other.
The shots of the enemy were now scattering.
It was only occasionally that McKay was able to determine that one of the bandits had fired a gun. How he could tell the difference between the rifles of friends and foe was a mystery to young Butler. Ere long the Rangers had narrowed down their circle until they were able to see each other. For the past twenty minutes, they had been stalking cautiously. Now they paused, after having exchanged signals. Deep growls were heard on all sides.
"What does it mean?" questioned Tad.
"It means those fellows have given us the slip again," grunted the captain. "They've managed to slip through our lines somehow. Well, never mind, we'll get them one of these times. I thought we had them pocketed this time so there would be no escape."
Tad had thought so, too. He was convinced that there was more to this escape than even the Ranger captain realized. The boy did not wish to make suggestions so he kept silent. Yet he determined to make an investigation on his own hook on the following morning, provided they were anywhere in that vicinity.
There was nothing more that the Rangers could do. Their prey had eluded them, disappearing as suddenly as if through a hole in the earth. It was the first time that such a thing had occurred to Captain McKay and his failure bothered him, but he presented a smiling face when, after having withdrawn a mile or so, the men went into camp for the rest of the night, building up a campfire and putting out a heavy guard to prevent a surprise during the night.
"Don't you think the rascals have a hiding place there where they evaded us so neatly?" asked Tad, upon getting the captain's ear.
"There is no hiding place there. I know the locality well," was the terse reply.
"But surely they could not have got through your lines," objected the boy.
"Yet they did. That's all there is to it."
Not a man of the Rangers had been hit, nor was it believed that any of the enemy had been wounded. Night shooting at skulking figures in a forest is uncertain work. Tad realized a sense of thankfulness for this. He was not anxious to see bloodshed, but now that the danger was over, Chunky grew very brave. He told them all about it and how "We" had driven the bandits off. The story grew and grew with the telling until Stacy was convinced that he had fought a very brave battle.
Tad lay awake a long time that night thinking over the occurrences of the evening, pondering and seeking for a solution of what he considered was a great mystery. On the following morning the greater part of the band were off at an early hour, before the boys had risen, on a day's scout, to try to pick up the trail of the bandits. It was to be a day of excitement for some of the party and hard work for others, for many miles would be covered by the Rangers before their grilling ride came to an end.