Chapter XXIV. Conclusion
 

Grasping the lad by the arm, the Indian girl led him cautiously straight back from the tepee, guiding him in the darkness unerringly, around all obstructions.

After proceeding in a straight line for some distance, she turned and made a wide detour around the camp. He could tell this by the light of the smouldering camp-fires. He dared ask no questions until Jinny had given him permission to speak, which was not until they had left the camp some distance behind them. She paused suddenly and faced him.

"You send Jinny ring?"

"Yes, I promised you."

"You send beads like white women wear?"

"Of course I will."

"Then come. Ponies here. Boy here."

Not understanding her latter words, Tad followed obediently, passing around a point of rocks.

"Here ponies. Here boy."

"O Tad, is that you?" exclaimed a tremulous voice.

"Who's that?" demanded Tad sharply.

"It's Phil. O Tad!"

"Phil!" cried the lad, grasping the boy about the neck and hugging him delightedly. "They got you too, did they? Oh, I'm so glad I've found you! You must tell me all about it, hut not now. We've got to get away from here. Thank you, Jinny. I shall never forget this."

"You send Jinny beads?" demanded the girl suggestively.

"Indeed you shall have the finest set of beads that an Indian girl ever wore, even if it takes all my money to buy them. Now which way shall we go?"

"Go river."

"Where is it?"

She took his hand in the darkness and pointed with it in the direction where the river lay.

"Yes, yes, I know. Then where?"

"Find white man. He tell um. Jinny not know."

She pressed something into his hand.

"What's this?" asked Tad sharply.

"Knife. Mebbyso brave catch um paleface buck."

Tad caught the significance of her words instantly.

"No, Jinny, thank you very much. I couldn't do that. You keep the knife. I shall not need it, but you shall have the beads just the same."

"Ugh! Go pony. Go quick. Braves him follow." She pointed back toward the camp, and, grasping Tad by the arm, hurried him toward the ponies.

"When?"

"Come now," she insisted.

Tad felt a sudden thrill as he heard a great commotion back in the camp.

"We've got to hurry, Phil. I guess they have discovered our escape. You run, Jinny. Run back. Don't you let them know you helped us. Say, what will the chief do if he finds it out?" demanded the boy, pausing sharply.

"Huh. Jinny no afraid chief. Jinny laugh in chief face. Bye."

She disappeared with surprising suddenness.

"Quick, Phil! Get on your pony and follow me. Keep close to me."

"I am on," answered the boy bravely. "It's my pony, too."

"And so is this one mine. It's Pink-eye." "What's that noise!" asked Phil in a tremulous voice.

"Hi-yi-yip-yah--yah-hi-yah!" rang out the Indian war cry, as the braves threw themselves on the bare backs of their ponies and tore from the village, going in all directions.

Tad drove the spurs in viciously.

"Quick! Quick, Phil! They're after us."

"I'm coming."

Both ponies sprang away in the darkness, the lads clinging to the saddles, none too sure of the path that lay before them, and riding desperately.

Bang, bang, bang!

Three rifle shots rang out in quick succession, and the boys imagined they could hear the bullets sing over their heads.

"Hi-yi-yip--yah-hi-yah!"

"They're gaining on us. They're gaining, Phil. Ride for your life!"

The shrill yells of the Indians sounded much closer. The boys believed that their enemies had picked up the trail.

"We have got to do something, and do it quick. We've got to outwit them," shouted Tad.

"What--what"----

"I'll tell you. When we think they are getting too near, I'll pull over by you and take you on my pony. We'll send the other one flying on while we turn off," decided Tad.

The time for the change came a few moments later. The Indians were gaining on them every second. Now the "hi-yi-yip--yah-hi-yah" sounded as if it was being shrieked into their ears.

Tad drove Pink-eye right against the other pony.

"Jump!" he commanded, and Phil landed on Pink-eye's back without mishap, while Tad, giving a vicious kick to the free pony, turned off to the left a little and drove his pony at a run. They reached the river. As the pony plunged in the boys slipped off on opposite sides of him, hanging to the saddle while the pony swam.

"Hang on tightly. Don't let go. There is a strong current here."

They could hear the savages racing up and down the river bank, shouting and shooting and searching vainly for the other pony. Every minute Tad expected to hear them take to the river, but for some reason they did not do so. After a chilling swim, the boys at last reached the other bank, and, shaking the water from their clothes as best they could, both mounted the one pony and struck off, guided by the stars alone.

They continued on until daylight, having heard nothing more of the Indians. Both boys were shivering with cold and exhausted for want of something to eat after their trying night.

Tad learned from his companion that he had been taken by white men and turned over to the Indians for some purpose unknown to him. Phil described his captor as a man with a scar on his temple and having a red beard.

Shortly after sunrise they came upon a flock of sheep, and soon after they were at the house of a rancher, where the boys told their story. The owner of the ranch knew Mr. Simms well, and besides providing Phil with a pony, sent one of his own men to pilot the boys home.

They rode into the Simms camp about midnight, rousing the camp with their shouts. And the jollification that followed the safe return of Phil and his rescuer did the hearts of both boys good. There was no sleep in the Simms outfit that night.

Tad and Phil were obliged to tell the story of their experiences over and over again, while the other boys listened in wide-eyed wonder.

Mr. Simms was of the opinion that, having taken Phil, the Indians picked up Tad so that he might not report their being off the reservation.

"At any rate we have got the man, thanks to your description," he added.

"What, the man with the scar?"

"Yes. He is the cattle rancher whom Luke insisted was such a friend of his. I took a long chance and had the sheriff arrest him to-day. He is being held until you take a look to see if you can identify him. I hope you will be able to."

"Where is he?" asked the lad. "Tied up in the chuck wagon. I'll have him brought over."

"Hello, Bluff," greeted Tad, the instant he set eyes on the surly face of the prisoner.

"Hello, kid. Never saw me before, did you?"

"I should say I had. That's the man, Mr. Simms. There can be no doubt about it."

"And he is the fellow who caught and turned me over to the Indians," added Philip, shrinking away from the bearded face.

"Then I guess there is nothing more to he said," announced Mr. Simms, with a grim smile. "This man has been doing a crooked business for years, all up and down the trail. Of course he had accomplices, but we shall hardly get them. Nobody suspected him. The frequent thefts of stock and the killing of sheep was a mystery until you solved it, Master Tad. I wish I knew how to express my appreciation of what you have done for us."

"There is one favor you can do for me if you will, Mr. Simms."

"It is already granted. Name it."

"I wish you would see that Jinny gets the beads I promised her and which I am going to buy as soon as I get where I can."

"She shall have them," replied the rancher, "and a present from me, besides. I'll send one of my men to the Blackfeet Agency especially to deliver your present and mine to the Indian girl."

"Thank you."

"To-morrow we shall have to go back to town with the sheriff and his prisoner. I should like to have you accompany us if you will. The prosecuting attorney can take your deposition and thus avoid the necessity of your having to wait for the trial. You are free to continue on your trip then, if you desire."

"Of course he will go with you," spoke up the Professor, who, up to that point, had been too deeply absorbed in the developments of the hour to offer any comment. "All of us will accompany you. Boys, you had better get your belongings together before we turn in, as I imagine Mr. Simms will want to make an early start in the morning. I guess you are all pretty well satisfied with what you have seen of the old Custer trail."

"Yes," shouted the boys. "We've had a great time."

"At least some of us have," smiled Tad.

At Forsythe next day Tad Butler and young Philip Simms appeared against the prisoner. As the result of their positive identification and further testimony, Bluff broke down. He made a full confession, implicating others who had been concerned with him in various misdeeds along the trail, each of whom was eventually brought to justice and punished.

Their presence being no longer necessary in Forsythe, that afternoon the Pony Rider Boys boarded a sleeping car, loudly cheered by a crowd of enthusiastic ranchers and villagers, who had gathered to see them off. And there, with their four smiling faces framed in the Pullman windows, we shall take leave of the Pony Rider Boys. They will next be heard from in another volume, entitled, "The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks, or the Secret of Ruby Mountain," a stirring tale of adventure and daring deeds among the Missouri mountains, in which the lads pass through many perils.

THE END.