The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico by Frank Gee Patchin
Chapter X. Meeting the Attack
Instantly the camp was thrown into confusion. The lads ran here and there, not knowing what to do.
"Get behind the ponies! That's the only cover we can find here. Run for it!"
And run they did, the Professor outdistancing all the rest in his attempt to secrete himself where the enemy's weapons would not be likely to reach him.
In a moment more, the camp of the Pony Rider Boys was deserted, and behind each sleeping pony lay a boy, with rifle barrel poked over the animal's back, ready to shoot at the first sign of the redskins. Stacy, in his excitement, had forgotten that not a cartridge was left in his magazine, and the others were too fully occupied to remember to tell him.
For all of half an hour did the party lie protected. The boys began to grow restive. Tad's suspicions were being slowly aroused.
"I'm going to do a little scouting," he told them, slipping from behind the pony and skulking along back of the tents. The moon was shining brightly now. He could see a long distance. Not a human being was in sight.
"I thought so," he muttered, retracing his steps. "See here, Stacy Brown, what did you see-- what did you shoot at?" he demanded sternly.
"I-- I shot the chute-- I-- I mean I chuted the shot-- I mean--"
"Say, what do you mean?"
"I-- I mean-- say, leggo my neck, will you?" roared Chunky.
"Fellows, he doesn't know what he means."
"Guess he's been feeding on crazy grass out on the prairie," was Ned's conclusion.
"There isn't an Indian anywhere around here. I know it. They would have been after us long before this, if there had been."
One by one the boys came from their hiding places, the lazy Mexican last. Disapproving eyes were turned on Stacy.
"Chunky, you come along and show us where you were when you shot-- did you shoot at an Indian?" asked Tad.
"Yes, and I-- I-- I shot him."
"Show us. We're all from Chillicothe," demanded Ned.
Stacy, with a show of importance, led the way, keeping a wary eye out for the enemy. It was noticed, however, that each of the lads held his rifle ready for business in case there should be an enemy about.
"There! I was standing right over there-- I guess."
"You guess! Don't you know?" questioned the Professor.
"Yes; that's the place."
The lad walked over to the identical spot from which he had first fired his rifle.
"He was over there and I shot at him, so," said Stacy, leveling the weapon. "Ye-ow! There he is, now!" shrieked the boy.
Every weapon flashed up to a level with the eyes.
"There is something over there on the ground," decided the Professor.
"Put down your guns so you don't shoot me," said Tad. "I'm going to find out what it is."
Keeping his own weapon held at "ready," the lad walked boldly over to where a heap of some sort lay on the plain. It surely had not been there during the afternoon-- Tad knew that.
He reached it, stooped, peered, then uttered a yell.
"What is it" they cried, hurrying up.
"You've done it now, Chunky Brown. You certainly have gone and done it."
"What-- what is it?" cried the others in alarm.
"You've shot the lazy Mexican's burro. That's your Indian, Stacy Brown."
Juan, who had followed them out on the plain, uttered a wail and threw himself upon the body of his prostrate burro. The animal, it seemed, had recovered consciousness during the night, and in a half-dazed condition had wandered out on the plain. Stacy, while crouching down on the ground, had seen the head and long ears of the burro. He thought the ears were part of the head dress of a savage and let fly a volley of bullets at it.
"He-- he isn't dead," shouted the fat boy. "See, I just pinked him in the ears."
And, surely enough, an examination revealed a hole through each ear. The holes were so close to the animal's head that it was reasonable to suppose the shot had stunned him, being already in a weakened condition from the sleepy grass.
The boys set to work to rouse the burro, which they succeeded in doing in a short time. Juan, with arm around the lazy beast's neck, led it back to camp, petting and soothing it with a chattering that they could not understand.
There was no more sleep in camp that night, though the boys turned in at the Professor's suggestion. Every little while, laughter would sound in one of the tents, as the others fell to discussing Stacy's Indian attack.
The next morning they were overjoyed to find that the ponies had awakened and were trying to get up.
"Lead them out of that grass, fellows," shouted Tad, the moment he saw the ponies were coming around. "We don't want them to make another meal of that stuff"
"Nor take another of Chunky's Rip Van Winkle sleeps," added Ned.
Never having had a like experience, none of the lads knew what to do with their mounts after getting them sufficiently awake to lead them to a place of safety. They appealed to Juan for advice, but the lazy Mexican appeared to know even less than they.
Tad, after studying the question a few moments, decided to give them water, though sparingly. This they appeared to relish and braced up quite a little. But the boy would not allow them to graze until nearly noon, when each one took his pony out, making sure that there was none of the sleepy grass around. The animals were then permitted to graze.
About the middle of the afternoon Tad decided that all were fit to continue the journey, and that it would be safe to travel until sunset. Everyone was glad to get away from the spot where they had had such unpleasant experiences, and the boys set off, moving slowly, the stock not yet being in the best of condition.
Late in the afternoon, when they had about decided to make camp, one of the boys espied an object, something like a quarter of a mile away, that looked like the roof of a house.
Ned said it couldn't be that, as it appeared to be resting on the ground. They asked Juan if he knew what it was, and for a wonder he did. He said it was a dug-out-- a place where a man lived.
"Is he a hermit?" asked Stacy apprehensively, at which there was a laugh. Stacy had not forgotten his experiences in the cave of the hermit of the Nevada Desert.
For the next hour, the lads were too busy, pitching tents and unloading the pack animals, to give further thought to the dug-out or its occupant; but when, after they had prepared their evening meal, they saw some one approaching on horseback, they were instantly curious again.
The newcomer proved to be the owner of the dug-out. He was a tall, square-jawed man, with a short, cropped iron-gray beard and small blue, twinkling eyes.
"Will you join us and have some supper?" asked Tad politely, walking out to greet the stranger.
"Thank you; I will, young man," smiled the stranger.
Tad introduced himself and companions.
"You probably have heard my name before, young men. It is Kris Kringle; I'm living out here for my health and doing a little ranching on the side."
Stacy looked his amazement.
"Is-- is he Santa Claus?" he whispered, tugging at Tad's coat sleeve.
"No, young man. I am not related to the gentleman you refer to," grinned Mr. Kringle.
There was a general laugh at Stacy's expense.
After supper, the visitor invited all hands to ride over to his dug-out and spend the evening with him. The boys accepted gladly, never having seen the inside of a dug-out, and not knowing what one looked like. Professor Zepplin had taken a sudden liking to the man with the Christmas name, and soon the two were engaged in earnest conversation.
The distance being so short, Tad decided that they had better walk, leaving the ponies in charge of Juan so they might get a full night's rest. Then all hands set out for the dug-out.
A short flight of steps led down into the place, the roof of which was raised just far enough above the ground to permit of two narrow windows on each side and at the rear end.
The room in which they found themselves, proved to be a combination kitchen and dining room. Its neatness and orderliness impressed them at once.
"And here," said Kris Kringle, "is what I call my den," throwing open a door leading into a rear room and lighting a hanging oil lamp.
The Pony Rider Boys uttered an exclamation of surprised delight.
On a hardwood floor lay a profusion of brightly colored Navajo rugs, the walls being hung with others of exquisite workmanship and coloring, interspersed with weapons and trophies of the chase, while in other parts of the room were rare specimens of pottery from ancient adobe houses of the Pueblos.
At the far end of the room was a great fire-place. Book cases, home-made, stood about the room, full of books. The Professor realized, at once, that they were in the home of a student and a collector.
"This is indeed an oasis in the desert," he glowed. "I shall be loath to leave here."
"Then don't," smiled Mr. Kringle. "I'm sure I am glad enough to have company. Seldom ever see anyone here, except now and then a roving band of Indians."
"Indians!" exclaimed Tad. "Do you have any trouble with them?"
"Well, they know better than to bother with me much. We have had an occasional argument," said their host, his jaws setting almost stubbornly for the instant. "Most of the tribes in the state are peaceful, though the Apaches are as bad as ever. They behave themselves because they have to, not because they wish to do so."
"I saw their fire dance the other night," began Tad.
"What?" demanded Mr. Kringle.
"Tell me about it?"
Tad did so, the host listening with grave face until the recital was ended.
He shook his head disapprovingly.
"And this-- this Indian that you knocked down-- was he an Apache?"
"I don't know. I think so, though. He had on a peculiar head dress
"That was one of them," interrupted Mr. Kringle, with emphasis. "And I'll wager you haven't heard the last of him yet. That's an insult which the Apache brave will harbor under his copper skin forever. He'll wait for years, but he'll get even if he can."
The faces of the Pony Rider Boys were grave.
"Have you a reliable guide?"
"Far from it," answered the Professor. "If I knew where I could get another, I'd pack him off without ceremony.
Kris Kringle was silent for a moment.
"I need a little change of scene," he smiled. "How would you like to have me take the trail with you for a week or so?"
"Would you?" glowed the Professor, half rising from his chair.
"I think I might."
"Hurrah!" cried the Pony Riders enthusiastically. "That will be fine."
"Of course, you understand that I expect no pay. I am going because I happen to take a notion to do so. Perhaps I'll be able to serve you at the same time."
The Professor grasped Mr. Kringle by the hand impulsively.
"I'll send that lazy Juan on his way this very night--"
"Let me do it," interposed Stacy, with flushing face. "I'll do it right, Professor. But I'll put on my pair of heavy boots first, so it'll hurt him more."
The boys shouted with laughter, while the new guide's eyes twinkled merrily.
"I think, perhaps, the young man might do it even more effectively than you or I," he said. "Have you weapons, Professor?"
"That's good. We may need them."
"Then you think?"
"One can never tell."