Chapter XVII. Chunky Rides the Goat
 

"There's the sheep," announced Tad, after they had ridden on for some time.

"I'm glad," said Phil, "do you know, Tad, I thought those men were going to kill you." Phil's courage had returned, when he realized that they were in sight of friends once more.

Tad laughed.

"They aren't half so bad as they would have us believe. The boy was the worst of the lot. He needed to he taught a lesson, but I wish I hadn't hurt him," he mused.

"He did it himself; you didn't."

"Yes, I know. I had to to save my own face." The lad laughed heartily at his own joke, which Philip, however, failed to catch. "Now we'll find out where the camp is," said Tad, espying a herder off to the north of them.

Having been directed to the new camp, Phil galloped away, Tad remaining to chat with the sheepman a few minutes. Yet he made no mention of his experience at Groveland Corners, not being particularly proud of it, after all. After riding slowly about with, the herder for half an hour, the lad jogged off toward camp, which his companion had reached before him.

Philip had spread the story of Tad's battle with the cowboy. Old Hicks, contrary to his usual practice, had listened with one ear, giving a grunt of satisfaction when the story had been told. As a result there were several persons eagerly awaiting him in the sheep camp when he rode up.

"Who's getting into trouble now?" demanded Stacy, with mock seriousness. "You need a guardian, I guess. I presume Mr. Simms thinks so, too."

"Heard you had two black eyes," jeered Ned Rector.

"Say, Tad, we've agreed that you shall show us how you did it, using Chunky for your model," said Walter Perkins.

Tad smiled good-naturedly, dismounting from the saddle and tethering the pony with his usual care.

"Guess I'd better leave the saddle on. There may he something doing any minute," he mused.

"Mr. Simms wants ye over to his tent," Old Hicks informed Tad.

"Oh, all right," answered the lad, walking briskly to the little tent occupied by the owner of the herd.

The foreman was there awaiting Tad's arrival as well.

"First I want to thank you for having taken Phil's part so splendidly," glowed Mr. Simms. "It is a wonder they did not do you some harm after that."

"Oh, they were not half bad," laughed Tad. "They were ashamed of what they'd done after it was all over."

"No. There's no shame in that crowd. I know them. Phil has told me about it. I know them all, and they shall suffer for roping that boy," went on the rancher angrily.

"One of them has," answered Tad, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Besides, there's going to be a big fight over there. Perhaps they are at it now."

"Fight? I should judge from what I hear that there already has been one. What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing very serious. I taught them the Japanese trick of throwing a man over my head. They were trying it on when I left. Shouldn't be surprised, after they learn how to do the trick, if they got mad and had a real fight."

Luke Larue leaned back, slapping his thighs and laughing uproariously.

"Well, you are a smart one," he exclaimed. "Couldn't lick them all yourself, so you fixed it so they'd sail in and lick each other. Funniest thing I ever heard. I'll have to tell Old Hicks about that. But I won't do it till after dinner, or he'll burn the mutton and spoil our meal. Fighting each other!" Luke indulged in more hilarity.

"You heard nothing, of course--they said nothing about our herd----"

"No, but it was plain that they had no love for you, Mr. Simms. It was the boy who roped Philip, though. I do not think the men would have done anything like that."

"It's all the same. It shows the feeling that exists. Nothing will ever wipe that out except a good whipping. It's coming to them and they are going to get it."

"You think then--you believe they have not given up their plan of attacking the sheep?" asked Tad.

"Given it up? Not they. They have been too well nagged on by your friend of the Rosebud. I wish I knew who he is. I probably never shall, though."

"I'll know him if I see him again."

"You might not. Camp-fire sight is tricky."

"I'll know his voice, sir. I presume you will continue your watch over the herd to-night?"

"Yes, and for many nights to come. We shall keep it up until we get far enough to the north so that we are sure there will be no trouble. I guess you had better go on the late trick to-night. That is the most important. We'll send your friend Chunky out early in the evening. His habit of going to sleep at unusual times is too serious to trust him with the late and dangerous watch. If they strike it will be close to morning, I imagine."

"I hope they won't, for your sake."

"So do I," answered Mr. Simms, with emphasis.

The afternoon was waning. The Pony Riders were all in camp, some reading, others writing letters home, for already much had happened that would make interesting reading to the folks off in the little Missouri town.

Steam was rising from the big kettle, into which Old Hicks was about to drop a quarter of mutton for the evening meal, and an air of perfect peace hovered over the camp of the sheepmen. Under a spreading tree the bell goat of the outfit lay stretched out sound asleep. He had been in that position most of the afternoon, there being nothing special for him to do, as the herd was grazing as it saw fit, without any effort being made to urge it along.

From the other side of the tree the round face of Stacy Brown might have been observed peering to one side of the sleeping goat.

He listened intently. Billy was breathing short, regular breaths, with no thought of the trouble that was in store for him. From the expression of the boy's face it was evident that he was forming some mischievous plan of his own. This was verified when, after dodging back behind the tree, his head appeared once more and a stick was cautiously thrust out. Slowly it was pushed toward Billy's nose, which it gently rubbed and then was withdrawn.

Billy probably thought it was a fly, for one impatient hoof brushed the troubled nose; then the interrupted nap was continued.

Stacy tried it again with equal success. His sides were shaking with laughter, and every little while he would hide himself behind the tree to give vent to his merriment.

The others were too busy to notice what he was doing, though once Old Hicks paused in his work to cast a suspicious glance in that direction.

Stacy had been amusing himself for several minutes and with such success that he grew more bold. He had stepped from behind the tree that he might the better reach his victim. Now the tickling and the sweep of the impatient hoof became more frequent. Billy grunted as if he were having a bad dream, and this amused Stacy so much that he was obliged to retire behind the tree again to laugh.

As he emerged this time, Billy slowly opened a cautious eye, all unobserved by his tormentor. With a hand over his own mouth to keep back the laughter, the lad rubbed the stick gently over the goat's nose. Billy's chin whiskers took an almost imperceptible upward tilt and the observing eye opened a little more widely.

Next time Stacy varied the performance by giving the goat a malicious little dig in the ribs with the sharp end of the stick.

Billy rose up into the air as if hurled there by an explosion beneath him. When he landed on his four feet, it was with head pointed directly toward the foe and with fore legs sloping well back under him ready for a drive with his tough little head.

"Oh!" exclaimed Chunky, rapping the goat smartly over the nose with the stick to drive the animal off.

Billy drove all right, but it was not away from the lad. Stacy was standing with legs apart and Billy dived between them, at the same time lifting his head.

The effect was instantaneous. Chunky was neatly flipped to the goat's back, face down with his legs dangling about the animal's neck. Instinctively he took a quick grip with the legs, locking his feet on the underside of Billy's neck and his hands about the withers.

At that moment the surprised goat gave an excellent imitation of a broncho trying to throw its rider.

"Hel-p!" cried Chunky in a muffled voice.

No one save the cook heard it.

"Whoop!" bellowed Old Hicks, smiting his thigh with a mighty fist and screaming with laughter.

The Pony Riders and everyone else in camp sprang to their feet, not understanding what the commotion was about.

"The kid's riding the goat," yelled Hicks. "He's initiating himself into the order of Know Nuthins. See him buck! See him buck!"

The camp roared.

"Let go, Chunky!" shouted Walter.

"I can't, I'll fall off," answered the boy in a scarcely audible voice.

"I'll help you then. Come on, boys."

They made a concerted rush to rescue their companion. This was the signal for the goat to adopt new tactics. He probably thought it was some new form of torture that they had planned for him.

Billy headed for the tent of the owner of the herd. He went through it like a projectile, upsetting the folding table on which Mr. Simms was writing, and out through the flap at the other end.

By this time the outfit was in an uproar. Even the sheep on the range near by paused in their grazing to gaze curiously campward; the herders off in that direction shaded their eyes against the sun and tried to make out the cause of the disturbance.

"Y-e-o-w!" encouraged the cook, waving a loaf of bread above his head and dancing about with a more pronounced limp than usual.

Jerk, jerk, went Chunky's head until he feared it would be jerked from his body.

"Stay by him, stay by him, kid," encouraged a sheepman.

Mr. Simms rushing from his tent, startled and angry, instantly forgot the words of protest that were on his lips and joined heartily in laughter at the ludicrous sight.

"Look out that you don't lose your stirrups," jeered Ned as goat and rider shot by him with a bleat.

Walter made a grab for Billy with the result that he was pivoting on his own head the next second.

Once they thought Chunky was going to fall off and put a sudden end to their fun, but he soon righted himself, whereupon he tightened the grip of hands and legs.

By this time the goat was mad all through. He seemed bent now upon doing all the damage he could.

"Stop that! Want to run me down!" shouted Ned, grabbing a tree as the outfit swept by him, the goat uttering a sharp bleat and Chunky a howl of protest.

All at once Billy headed for the kitchen department. Old Hicks saw him coming and with a few quick hops got out of the way.

"Hi there, hang you, where you heading?" he roared.

The tinware had been stacked up on a bench to dry out in the sunlight. Perhaps it was the rays of the sun on the bright tin that attracted Billy's attention. At any rate he went through it with a bound, amid the crash of rattling tin and splintering wood.

Old Hicks made a swing at the animal with the long stick he had been using to prod the kettle of mutton. He missed and sat down suddenly, his lame leg refusing to bear the strain that had been put upon it.

It was astonishing the endurance the goat showed, for Chunky was no light weight in any sense of the word. Now and then he would just graze the trunk of a tree, bringing a howl from his rider as the latter's leg was scraped its full length against the bark of the tree.

By this time nearly everyone in camp had laughingly sought places of safety, some in the chuck wagon, others climbing saplings as best they could, for no man knew in what direction Billy might head next.

Old Hicks refused to take the protection that the wagon offered. He stood his ground, stick held firmly in both hands, awaiting a chance to rap the boy or the goat when they next passed.

His opportunity came soon. He had been baking pies for the sheepmen's supper and these he had placed on the tail board of the wagon, which he had removed and laid upon a frame made of sticks stuck into the ground.

Billy finished the pies in one grand charge.

The enraged cook forgot his own danger and boldly striding out into the open began throwing things at the mad goat. It mattered not what he threw. Anything he laid his hands on answered for the purpose--dishpans, small kettles, knives, loaves of bread--all went the same way, some of them reaching Chunky and bringing a howl from him. The goat, however, escaped without being hit once.

Twice more after wrecking the pies, did he charge the kitchen. It was noticed, however, that he avoided the hot stove. Hicks gladly would have lost that for the sake of seeing the goat smash against it and end his career.

After one drive more ferocious than any he had made before, Billy whirled and came back. Old Hicks stood with his back to the kettle, stick held aloft. He was going to get the goat this time, for he saw the animal would pass close to him if he held his present course.

Billy did so until within a few feet of the cook. Then he changed his direction. He changed it more suddenly than the cook had looked for.

Billy's head hit Old Hicks a powerful blow. The cook doubled up with a grunt. When he came down he landed fairly in the kettle of hot mutton. Cook and kettle toppled over, the former yelling for help and struggling desperately to extricate himself.

Chunky too had fared badly in the final charge. The shock had thrown him sideways and he crumpled up not far from the kettle and its human occupant.

They fished Old Hicks from the wreck, fuming and raging and threatening to kill the goat and to chase the "heathen kid" out of the camp.

Chunky was limp and breathless when they picked him up. They dragged the lad away from the vicinity of the cook as quickly as possible. Old Hicks' rage at that moment was a thing to avoid. The goat, Billy, galloped away, the least disturbed of the outfit, but it was observed that he prudently remained out on the range with the sheep that night.

"I didn't fall in that time, did I?" gasped Chunky, after his breath had come back sufficiently to enable him to talk.

"No, but you're going to do so when the cook gets hold of you," warned Ned.

"Hicks? Old Hicks fell into the mutton broth, didn't he?" chuckled the fat boy.