Chapter VII. Fleeing from the Enemy
 

A shrill cry was wafted to the boy.

After a few moments Tad realized that they were no longer on his trail. He knew the cry had been a signal, warning them to halt. What he did not know, however, was that the Indian agent had been responsible for the signal; that he in all probability had saved the boy's life.

The lad, after satisfying himself that the Indians had abandoned the chase, at once circled about, coming back to the point where he had left Chunky and the Mexican. They were both there waiting for him.

"What was all that row?" demanded the fat boy. "We were having a little horse race, that's all," grinned Tad grimly; "Hurry along, now."

They reached their own camp in safety an hour later. The two boys had much to relate, and as the narration proceeded, Professor Zepplin shook his head disapprovingly.

"Young gentlemen, much as I have enjoyed this summer's outing, it's a wonder I haven't had nervous prostration long before this. It'll be a load off my mind if I get you all back in Chillicothe without anything serious happening to you."

"I think," suggested Tad, "that we had better strike camp at once and move on. The moon is shining brightly, and Juan ought to have no trouble in leading the way."

"Yes; that will be an excellent idea. You think they may give as further trouble?" questioned the Professor.

"They may before morning. They're getting more ugly every minute."

"Everything worth while seems to happen when I am not around," protested Ned.

"Good thing you weren't along," replied Stacy. "You'd been scared stiff. It was no place for tenderfeet."

"You-- you call me a tenderfoot?" snapped Ned, starting for him.

"Stop quarreling, you two!" commanded Tad. "We've had all the fighting we want for one night. Get busy and help strike this camp. Guess none of this outfit could truthfully be called a tenderfoot. We've all had our share of hard knocks, and we'll have enough to look back to and think about when we get home and have time to go over our experiences together this winter."

The thought, that at any minute the half-crazed savages might sweep down on them hastened the preparations for departure. The Pony Rider Boys never struck camp more quickly than they did in the soft southern moonlight that night.

All at once Juan set up a wail.

"What is it-- what's the trouble now?" demanded Tad.

"My burro. I go for him."

"You'll do nothing of the sort. You'll walk, or ride a pack animal," answered Stacy. "You don't deserve to have a burro."

"Here's his old burro now," called Walter, as a shambling object, much the worse for wear, came stumbling sleepily into camp.

The boys set up a shout that was quickly checked by Tad.

"If the burro can find the way what do you think an Indian could do, fellows?"

"That's right," agreed Professor Zepplin. "We had better keep quiet--"

"And hit the trail as fast as possible," added Tad. "Daylight must find us a long ways from here."

"And ride all night-- is that what you mean?" complained Stacy.

"Yes; it'll give you an appetite for breakfast."

"I've got one already."

"That goes without saying," agreed Ned.

"Come, come, Juan!" urged Tad, observing that the guide was doing nothing more in the way of work than rubbing the nose of his prodigal burro. "Aren't you going to help us?"

"Yes; what do you think we're paying you good American dollars for?" demanded Ned.

"I think some of the Professor's hot drops would be good for what ails him," observed Stacy Brown. "I'll get the Professor to give him a dose right now."

"No, no, no! Juan no want fire drops."

"All right; get busy, then."

He did. Not since the last dose of the Professor's medicine had he shown such activity. Very soon after that the camp had been struck and the party was ready to take up its journey.

Tad took a last look about, to make sure that nothing had been left.

"I think I'll put out the fire," he said, tossing the bridle reins to Stacy, while he ran over to the dying camp-fire, whose embers he kicked apart, stamping them out one by one. "No use leaving a trail like that for any prowling redskin."

They were quickly under way after that, Juan leading the way without the least hesitancy. He and the burro worked together like a piece of automatic machinery.

"He might better walk and lead the burro," said Stacy, who had been observing their peculiar method of locomotion. "Should think it would be easier."

The moon was dropping slowly westward, and the party was using it for a guide, keeping the silver ball sharply to their right. Juan on the other hand had hitched his lazy chariot to a star.

By this star he was laying his course to the southward. The Pony Rider Boys enjoyed their moonlight trip immensely; and a gentle breeze from the desert drifting over them relieved the scorching heat of the late afternoon and early evening.

"Guess the Indians are not going to bother us," said Walter, riding up to Tad just before daylight.

"Probably not. They will be in too much trouble with the Government, after last night's performances, to give much thought to chasing us. And besides, I don't see why they should wish to do so. Had they been very anxious to be revenged on us, most likely they would not have allowed us to get away as they did."

"Was it very terrible, Tad?" asked Walter Perkins.

"What, the dance, or what happened afterwards?" laughed the lad.

"Both?"

"Well, I'm free to confess that neither was exactly pleasant. When they caught Chunky I thought it was all up with us. Hello. There's Mr. Daylight."

Glancing to the left the boys saw the sky turning to gray. A buzzard screamed overhead, laying its course for the mountains where it was journeying in search of food.

"What's that?" demanded Stacy, awakening from a doze in his saddle.

"Friend of yours with an appetite," grinned Ned.

"I thought it sounded like breakfast call," muttered Stacy, relapsing into sleep again, his head drooping forward until, a few minutes later, he was lying over the saddle pommel with arms thrown loosely about the pony's neck

Ned, observing the lad's position, suddenly conceived a mischievous plan. Unnoticed by the others, he permitted his own pony to fall back until he was a short distance behind Stacy. The others were a little way ahead.

Ned rode slowly alongside his companion, as he passed, bringing the rowel of his spur sharply against the withers of Chunky's mount.

The effect was instantaneous.

The fat boy's mount, itself half asleep, suddenly humped its back, and with bunching feet leaped clear of the ground.

"Hello, what's the matter back there?" called Ned, who by this time was a full rod in advance of his companion.

Stacy did not answer. He was at that moment turning an undignified somersault in the air, his pony standing meekly, awaiting the next act in the little drama.

The fat boy landed on the plain in a heap.

"Are you hurt, Chunky?" cried Tad anxiously, slipping from his saddle and running to his companion.

"I-- I dunno, I-- I fell off, didn't I?"

"You're off, at least," grinned Ned. "What was the matter?"

"I-- I dunno; do you?"

"How should I know? If you will go to sleep an a bucking broncho, you must expect things to happen."

Stacy, by this time, had scrambled to his feet; after which, he began a careful inventory of himself to make sure that he was all there. He grinned sheepishly.

Satisfying himself on this point, Stacy shrugged his shoulders and walked over to his pony with a suggestion of a limp.

"Now that we have halted we might as well make camp for a few hours, get breakfast and take a nap," suggested the Professor.

The boys welcomed this proposition gratefully, for they were beginning to feel the effects of their long night ride, added to which, two of them had had a series of trying experiences before starting out.

In the meantime, Stacy Brown had been examining his pony with more than usual care.

Tad observed his action, and wondered at it. A moment later, the fat boy having moved away; Tad thought he would take a look at the animal. He was curious to know what Stacy had in mind.

"So that's it, is it?" muttered Tad.

He found the mark of a spur on the pony's withers. While it had not punctured the skin, the spur had raked the coat, showing that the rowel had been applied with considerable force.

Tad, with a covert glance about, saw Ned Rector watching him.

"You're the guilty one, eh?" he demanded, walking up to Ned.

"S-h-h-h," cautioned Ned. "He'll be redheaded if he knows I am to blame for his coming a cropper."

"Chunky's not so slow as you might think. But that wasn't a nice thing to do. It's all right to play tricks, but I hope you won't be so cruel as to use a spur on a dumb animal, the way you did, even if he is an ill-tempered broncho. You might have broken Chunky's neck, too."

Ned's face flushed.

"It was a mean trick, I'll admit. Didn't strike me so at the time. Shall I ask Chunky's pardon?"

"Do as you think best. I should, were I in your place."

"Then, I will after breakfast."

Ned got busy at once, assisting to cook the morning meal, while Juan led the ponies out to a patch of grass and staked them down. While the Pony Rider cook was thus engaged, he felt a tug at his coat sleeve.

Turning sharply, Ned found Stacy at his side. Stacy's face was flushed and his eyes were snapping.

"What is it, Chunky?"

"Come over here, I want to talk with you."

They stepped off a few paces out of hearing of the others, Tad smiling to himself as he observed Stacy's act.

"Well, what's the matter, Chunky?"

"I can lick you, Ned Rector!"

"Wha-- what?"

"Said I could lick you. Didn't say I was going to, understand. Just said I could--"

"Like to see you try it."

"All right; it's a go."

Ere Ned could recover from his surprise, Stacy Brown had launched himself upon his companion. One of Stacy's arms went about Ned's neck, one foot kicked a leg from under Ned, and the two lads went down in the dust together.

It had happened in a twinkling.

"Here, here! What's going on over there?" shouted the Professor, starting on a run, while the other lads were laughing.

Chunky was sitting on the chest of his fallen adversary, Ned struggling desperately to throw the lad off.

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" crowed Chunky, in imitation of a rooster, flapping his hands on his thighs, in great good humor with himself.

Professor Zepplin grabbed him by the collar, jerking Stacy Brown from the fallen Pony Rider Boy.

Ned scrambled to his feet, and, with a sheepish grin on his face, proceeded to brush the dust from his clothes.

"Downed you, did he?" questioned Tad.

"It wasn't fair. I didn't know he was going to try."

"Neither did the Russians when the Japs sailed into them at Port Arthur," laughed Walter. "And they got what was coming to them."

"So did I. Chunky, I deserve more than you gave me. If you want to, beat me up some more."

"Now, isn't that sweet of him?" chortled Stacy. "I fell off my pony, then I fell on you, and we'll call it quits, eh, Ned?"

Ned put out a hand, which Stacy grasped with mock enthusiasm.

"We sure will."

"I'd like to know what this is all about?" questioned Walter. "Something's been going on."

"I made his pony throw him over," admitted Ned.

Stacy nodded with emphasis.

"He found it out and jumped on me."

"I'll turn you both over my knee if you try to repeat these performances," warned the Professor.

Linking arms, Stacy and Ned started for the breakfast table, humming,

"For he's a jolly good fellow,"

and a moment later all four of the lads were standing about the breakfast table, singing the chorus at the top of their voices.