Chapter XI. Chunky Gets the Cat
 

Wake up, fellows! The sun is up!" shouted Tad Butler, as Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful, the birds now making the mountains ring with their joyous songs.

The Pony Riders rose up, rubbing their eyes sleepily.

"What time is it?" asked Ned Rector.

"Half-past six."

"Too early to sing. I refuse to sit on a bough and sing at any such unearthly hour."

"Huh! I should say so," agreed Stacy Brown, turning over and burying his face in the fragrant green boughs of his cot.

Still, the boys had no patience with Chunky's dislike to early rising, even though they themselves were not averse to a morning cat-nap. With a yell, they tumbled from their cots, descending upon Chunky in a bunch, pulling him from his bed without regard to the way in which they did so. His ill-natured protests went for nothing.

"I wonder where the guide is?" asked Walter, after they had thoroughly awakened their companion.

"Probably gone gunning for our breakfast," answered Tad.

"I think he has gone after the pack train," said the Professor. "He told me last night that he should start at daybreak, and that you would find some rabbit and hard tack for your breakfast under a flat stone back of his cot. I am afraid you will have to be satisfied with a cold meal this morning, unless you think you want to build a fire and warm up the food."

"Of course we will. Lige Thomas needn't think he's the only one in the party who can get a meal out of nothing," answered Ned proudly, starting off to gather sticks for the fire.

But when they went to get the rabbit there was no rabbit. The stone under which it had been placed was there right enough, as were several chunks of hard tack. The stone, however, had been turned over and the meat was nowhere to be found.

"That settles it," said Ned ruefully. "I never had an appetite yet that it didn't meet with the disappointment of it's young life. Now, who do you suppose took that food!"

"Perhaps it was another of Chunky's pussy cats," laughed Walter.

"Don't we get anything to eat!" asked Stacy in a plaintive voice, glancing from one to the other of his companions.

"Yes, of course. You can go out in the bushes and browse, if you are hungry enough," suggested Ned. "As for myself I'm going to the spring and wash, and after that fill myself up on cold water. That may make my stomach forget, for a while, that it has a grievance."

"I'm going to bed," growled Stacy.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," shouted the boys, grabbing their roly-poly president and rushing him back and forth to wake him up again. "No Pony Rider is allowed to sleep after sun-up."

"Professor, I have a suggestion to make," said Tad, approaching Professor Zepplin, who was sitting on the edge of his cot, making a meal of a cup of water, seemingly well pleased that that much had been left to him.

"I'll hear it, sir."

"Will you let me go out with my rifle to look for some game for breakfast? Ned has three shells left in his belt. I think I shall be able to shoot something. There's no telling when Mr. Thomas will return with the pack."

"I couldn't think of it, my boy."

"I'll take care of myself, Professor."

"No. The responsibility is too great. We have had enough trouble already. I have not the least doubt that a resourceful young man like yourself could take care of himself under almost any conditions. But I do not dare take the risk. And, besides, a day's fast will do you all good. I remember when I was an officer in the German army----"

"Professor, may we go out and follow the trail of Chunky's pussy cat?" interrupted Walter. "Ned has found the trail, and says he can follow it by the blood spots. Perhaps we'll find the animal dead near by, and the skin would be a fine trophy of our hunt in the Rockies."

"Certainly not. This is Sunday, young gentlemen, and even in the mountains we must preserve some sort of decorum on that day."

"Oh, very well," answered Walter politely, covering his disappointment with a smile.

"All days look alike to me up here," grunted Ned. "If it wasn't that one had a calendar he wouldn't even know when Sunday did come. Now, would he----"

"I've got him! I've got him!" came the sudden and startling yell from the bushes, accompanied by a series of resounding whacks and a great threshing about in the thick undergrowth.

The boys paused, not realizing, at first, to whom the excited voice belonged.

"Come help me! I've got him!"

"Chunky!" they groaned. "He's at it again!"

Professor Zepplin leaped from his cot, striding off in the direction from which Stacy Brown's triumphant voice had come, and followed by the rest of the party on the run. All four of them crashed into the bushes at the same instant, shouting words of warning to Stacy.

They did not know what it all meant, but the boys were sure that he had gotten himself into some new danger.

Chunky had slipped away some moments before, after Ned Rector had discovered the trail of the bob-cat. His companions, however, had not missed him, so Stacy was free to follow his own inclinations.

"Where are you?" cried the Professor.

"Here! here!"

Whack! whack! came the sound from a rapidly wielded club again, accompanied by a vicious spitting and snarling that caused the boys to hesitate, for a brief second, in their mad dash for the underbrush.

As they emerged into a little open space, made so largely by the battle that was being waged there, their eyes fairly bulged with surprise.

There was Stacy Brown, hatless, his face red and perspiring, and in front of him a snarling bob-cat at bay.

They saw at once that the animal had been wounded, two of its legs apparently having been broken, while blood flowed freely from a wound in its side.

Chunky was prancing about in what appeared to be an imitation of an Indian war dance, now and again darting in and delivering a telling blow with the club held firmly in both hands, landing it on whatever part of the animal's anatomy he could most easily reach. The beast was snapping blindly at the weapon which Chunky was using with telling effect.

The boys in their surprise were unable to do more than stand and stare for the moment. That Chunky Brown had had the courage to attack a bob-cat, even though it already had been seriously wounded, passed all comprehension.

"Stop!" commanded the Professor, finding his voice at last.

Whack!

Stacy landed a blow fairly on the top of the brute's skull, causing the animal to sway dizzily.

Paying not the slightest heed to the Professor's stern command, the excited boy followed up his last successful blow by planting another in the same place.

But the savage little beast, though probably unable to see its enemies, was showing its yellow teeth and squalling in its deadly anger, the jaws coming together with a snap like that from the sudden springing of a steel trap.

"Stand back!" ordered the Professor. "Don't touch him! Get away, boys!"

They were obliged to grab Chunky by the arms, fairly dragging him from his victim, so filled was he with the fever of the chase and a resolve to conquer his savage little enemy.

Professor Zepplin, once they had gotten Chunky out of the way, stepped as near to the bob-cat as he deemed prudent. Drawing his heavy army revolver, he took careful aim, shooting the beast through the head.

The Pony Riders uttered a triumphant shout.

The Professor waved them back as they pressed forward, and planted another bullet in the animal's head to make sure that it was thoroughly finished.

"Hooray for the president of the Pony Riders!" shouted Ned Rector.

"Hip-hip hooray! T-i-g-e-r!" roared the boys, grabbing Chunky and tossing him back and forth, making of him a veritable medicine ball.

"What's the matter with Chunky?" cried Walter.

"Chunky's all right," chorused the band.

"Who's no tenderfoot?"

"Chunky's Brown's no tenderfoot."

Puffing out his cheeks, and squaring his shoulders, Stacy swaggered over to the dead bob-cat, violently pulling its ear.

"He tried to bite me," explained the boy. "See--he tore a lacer in my leggin. I didn't see him till I almost stepped on him. I knew right off that it was the pussy that Lige shot at last night."

"What happened then?" asked Tad, with an admiring grin on his face.

"I fetched him one on the side of the head with a club. He jumped at me and I hit him again. About that time I called, and you fellows came up. But I got him, didn't I, Professor?"

"You did, my lad. But you took a great risk in attempting to do so," smiled the Professor, picking the dead animal up and hefting it. "I think he'll weigh about twenty pounds," he decided. "Yes; undoubtedly it's the fellow Thomas shot last night. The brute was so badly wounded that he was unable to drag himself far away."

"What shall we do with him now?" asked the boys.

"Take him to camp and leave him till Lige returns," advised the Professor." And I think we had better tie up our young friend Stacy, or he will be getting into more mischief than we are able to get him out of."

"Why can't we skin the cat?" inquired Ned.

"I should think you would prefer to wait till the guide sees it. And, besides, he knows better how to do that than any of the rest of us."

"Are--are bob-cats good to eat?" asked Chunky sheepishly.

The boys shouted.

"Not satisfied with trying to kill the poor beast, now you want to eat him," jeered Ned Rector. "Why, Stacy Brown, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. No, I never heard of any one with an appetite so difficult to satisfy that he was willing to eat cats----"

"Yes; but this isn't a real cat," protested Stacy.

"You would have found him real enough if he had fastened one of those ugly claws in your flesh," laughed Tad.

"Eat him, by all means, then," advised Ned. "Eat him raw. I wouldn't even stop to cook the beast if I were in your place."

Walter and Stacy picked up the dead animal, carrying it along through the bushes, all talking loudly, the boys--though they would have been slow to admit the fact--casting envious glances at the fat boy and his trophy. Chunky told himself he would have something to write to the folks back East that would make them open their eyes.

The boys, after having reached the camp, stretched the cat out on a flat rock. And now that the animal lay in the full light of day, the sight of its ugly, beetling brow, thin, cruel lips and powerful teeth made each of the three boys feel rather thankful that he had not had the luck to come face to face with it over in the bushes.

As for Chunky, he sat down beside the cat to enjoy the proud sense of victory, gazing down at the trophy with fascinated eyes. Deep down in his heart, he wondered how he ever had had the courage to attack it. But, of course, Chunky confided nothing of this to his companions.

"Congratulating yourself, eh!" laughed Ned Rector.

Chunky glanced up at him solemnly.

"At this minute I was wishing I had a piece of apple pie," he answered, hitching his belt a little tighter.