Chapter XX. Learning Some Fancy Shots
 

After breakfast Captain McKay took an hour's ride alone over the surrounding country. In the meantime the boys pitched a more permanent camp as it was more than likely that they would remain there for another night, since McKay did not seem to want to leave the place just yet. What he had in mind the boys did not know.

Returning from his ride the captain appeared to be in much better spirits. His was a strange make-up. None wholly understood Captain Billy. Perhaps that was one of the reasons for his success in his perilous calling.

"Well, I promised to give you boys some lessons in revolver shooting," he said, tossing the reins to Tad who had come forward to take the pony. "Who can put a hole through my sombrero?" cried the Ranger sending his broad-brimmed Mexican hat spinning up into the air.

A flash and a bang followed almost on the instant. The Pony Rider Boys howled. The shot had been fired by Professor Zepplin and he had drilled a hole right through the Ranger's sombrero.

"Well, now, what do you think of that?" gasped Chunky, his eyes growing large. "I didn't think you could hit the side of a barn unless you were inside the barn."

The professor smiled grimly.

"I used to be counted the best revolver shot in my regiment when I was in the army. But I'm a little slow these days."

"Humph! I see you are," grunted Billy. "Lucky for me that you aren't quick or I wouldn't have had any hat left by this time. Anybody else want to try to put a hole through my hat?" he asked looking about.

"I was going to suggest that we throw up the professor's hat and let you take a shot at it," suggested Tad, coming up at this juncture.

"Here it goes," cried the professor sending the hat spinning away from them, with the edge of the brim almost toward them. The hat was spinning low and a very difficult mark to hit.

Tad thought the Ranger was going to take a shot at it, but instead of doing so, McKay nodded to Tad, with a merry twinkle in his eye.

Tad whipped out his revolver with a quickness that amazed the Ranger, and let go. His bullet snipped a piece from the edge of the rim. The force of the bullet turned the hat crown toward the shooter.

Bang, bang, bang! Tad bored three holes through the crown to the captain's amazement.

"There! I guess we are even with you now, Professor," laughed the boy. "That old hat of yours won't hold water next time you go to the spring."

"I thought you folks didn't know how to shoot," wondered the Ranger. "I guess I'd better take some lessons from you instead of you from me. That certainly was mighty fine gun work. Where did you learn?"

"Since we have been out. I am not much of a shot with the revolver, though. I think I can do better with the rifle."

"How about the rest of you?" questioned the captain. "Do all of you shoot like that?"

"I suppose I am about the best shot in the outfit," answered Stacy pompously. "I can hit a penny---"

"Yes, if the penny is glued to the muzzle," interrupted Ned.

"We'll see what you can do."

Stacy, after three shots, failed to hit the hat once. Walter and Ned each succeeded in placing a bullet through the professor's hat. Chunky insisted that his bullet went through one of the holes made by Tad Butler. He declared that he had never missed an easy shot like that in his life.

"Here, hit my hat," commanded Tad, tossing his sombrero into the air. The fat boy watched the soaring hat with longing eyes.

"Shoot, shoot, why don't you?" jeered the Pony Rider Boys.

"All right if you say so."

Stacy's pistol stuck in the holster and by the time he had freed the weapon the sombrero was only some seven or eight feet from the ground.

"Yeow!" howled the fat boy letting go two bullets with a speed that they had no idea he possessed.

"It's a hit!" cried the professor.

Tad ran forward and picked up the hat.

"Well, what do you think of that?" he wondered.

"Did he hit it?" called Walter.

"Of course he did."

"Oh, pooh! That hole was in your sombrero before he shot," scoffed Ned Rector.

"You are wrong. There were no holes in the hat. Now there are two. Stacy sent two bullets through my hat instead of one."

"Hooray!" shouted the boys.

"I didn't think it of you, Brown," smiled the captain. "I take back all I have said against your character and your ability."

"Oh, don't mention it. That's nothing. I usually shoot my hat full of holes before breakfast every morning when I'm home. Anybody else want his hat transformed into a sieve?"

"I think you have done quite enough," returned the professor. "You have done fully as well as I could have done. Ahem!"

"Really remarkable shooting for tenderfeet," declared the captain.

"Tenderfeet? Well, I like that!" grumbled Stacy. "Why, I'm a lion fighter, I am!"

"And a snake man as well," grinned the Ranger.

"Yes. I'm no tenderfoot. Did I run away when the shooting was going on last night? I guess not. I-----"

"No, he was too scared to run," snorted Rector.

Stacy regarded Ned solemnly.

"Ned Rector, I don't usually acknowledge you to be right in matters like this, but I'm going to admit before the whole company that you've told the truth for once in your---"

"I always tell the truth," broke in Ned.

"---life," finished the fat boy. "I was, as our distinguished fellow---tenderfoot says, scared stiff. But if the truth were known, I'll wager that he was hiding behind a rock when that same shooting was going on."

Rector flushed a rosy red, which brought a howl from the boys. It was plain that Chunky had touched him in a tender spot.

"Come now, you boys, if you want to try some more," called the Ranger.

"What now?" asked Tad.

"I want to see how you are on the draw---quick." The captain trimmed a piece of paper down to about the size of a silver dollar. This he pinned to a tree, then measuring off twenty paces, faced the mark, spun about on his toes, making two complete whirls and drove a bullet right into the center of the target, having drawn his revolver as he turned. It was a splendid piece of shooting.

The professor missed. He did not even hit the tree. Tad took a piece out of the edge of the target the first time. The second he placed a bullet just inside the outer edge, which McKay pronounced to be excellent shooting. That was high praise from a man like Billy McKay.

Ned did not know whether he wanted to try that shot or not. McKay explained how to draw quickly and at what point of the whirl to draw, but try as he would Rector could not hit the mark. Once he chipped a piece of bark from the tree, which brought a yell from the boys.

"The trouble with you lads is that you grip your guns too tightly. Take a light hold on the butt of your revolver. Toy with it. It's the fellow with the feather-weight touch that does the best work with the revolver. He is the man to look out for."

"That's the way I always shoot," declared Chunky pompously. "If there's one shot that I can make better than another it's that one you fellows have been trying. Why, I could pink that target with my eyes shut."

"Try it. See what you can do. Perhaps you may beat us all, who knows?" grinned McKay.

"I don't say that I can beat you, but I can shoot as well as these amateurs who have been trying it. I can---"

"Look here, are you going to make that shot, Chunky?" demanded Rector.

"Yes. Got any objections?" asked Chunky turning to Rector with great deliberation.

"Not the least, if you'd kindly hold your fire till I can get behind a rock or a thick tree."

"Yes, that's the place for you, I reckon. All ready, Mr. McKay?"

"It's up to you," smiled the Ranger. "Does it make any particular difference to you which way I whirl?" asked the fat boy.

"Not in the least. You may stand on your head and whirl if it will suit you better."

"For goodness' sake, do something," begged Tad. "You've taken enough time already to shoot the tree clean off the map."

"Who's doing this shooting, you or I?" asked Chunky.

Tad sat down helplessly. Stacy was not to be hurried. The more one urged him, the slower did he become.

"Look out, I'm going to shoot now. Everybody lie low!"

Stacy spun himself around like a top. He had whirled three times when the Ranger shouted to him.

"Shoot before you get so dizzy you can't see!"

Bang!

"Stop it---"

Bang!

"Stop it, you idiot!"

McKay struck the fat boy's revolver just in time to prevent getting a bullet through his own body. Over yonder the professor lay flat on the ground with a frightened look on his face, shouting at the top of his voice.

"Hold him! Hold him! He'll have us all riddled!"

"Wha---what's the matter?" demanded Stacy looking around innocently.

"Matter? See what you have done."

"Di---did I wing the professor?" questioned the fat boy innocently.

"Did you wing him!" jeered Tad Butler.

"Come here, young man. But leave that pistol behind you," commanded Professor Zepplin. "I think we will equip you with a small bow and a blunt arrow after this. Even. then I fear our eyes will be in danger. Do you see what you did?"

One of Stacy's bullets had bored a hole through the crown of the professor's sombrero. The other had plowed a neat furrow through Professor Zepplin's grizzled whiskers, close to the chin.

"Ho, ho, ho! Haw, haw, haw!" roared the fat boy with head thrown back as far as it would go without dislocating his neck.