Chapter I. Westward, Ho!
 

"Ow, Wow, Wow, Wow! Y-E-O-W!"

Tad Butler, who was industriously chopping wood at the rear of the woodshed of his home, finished the tough, knotted stick before looking up.

The almost unearthly chorus of yells behind him had not even startled the boy or caused him to cease his efforts until he had completed what he had set out to do. This finished, Tad turned a smiling face to the three brown-faced young men who were regarding him solemnly.

"Haven't you fellows anything to do?" demanded Tad.

"Yes, but we have graduated from the woodpile," replied Ned Rector.

"I got my diploma the first time I ever tried it," added Chunky Brown, otherwise and more properly known as Stacy Brown. "Cut a slice of my big toe off. They gave me my diploma right away. You fellows are too slow."

"Come in the house, won't you? Mother'll be glad to see you," urged Tad.

"Surely we will," agreed Walter Perkins. "That's what we came over to do."

"Oh, it is, eh?"

"Didn't think we came over to help you chop wood, did you?" demanded Chunky indignantly.

"Knowing you as I do, I hadn't any such idea," laughed Tad. "But come in."

The boys filed in through the wood house, reaching the sitting room by way of the kitchen. Tad's mother gave them a smiling welcome, rising to extend a warm, friendly hand to each.

"Sit down, Mrs. Butler," urged Walter.

"Yes, we will come to you," added Ned.

"We haven't lost the use of our legs yet, Mrs. Butler," declared the fat Chunky, growing very red in the face as he noted the disapproving glances directed at him by his companions.

"I hope you won't mind Chunky, Mrs. Butler," said Ned apologetically. "You know he has lived among savages lately, and-----"

"Yes, ma'am, Ned and I have been constant companions for---how long has it been, boys?"

"Shut up!" hissed Ned Rector in the fat boy's ear. "I'll whale you when we get outside, if you make any more such breaks."

"Never mind, boys; Stacy and myself are very old, old friends," laughed Mrs. Butler.

"Yes, ma'am, about a hundred years old, more or less. Oh, I beg your pardon. I didn't mean it just that way," stammered Chunky, coloring again and fumbling his cap awkwardly.

"Now you have said it," groaned Walter.

"Go way back in the corner out of sight and sit down before I start something," commanded Ned. "You must excuse us, Mrs. Butler. It is as Chunky has said. We are all savages---some of us more so than others, some less."

"It is unnecessary to make apologies. You are just a lot of healthy young men, full of life and spirits." Mrs. Butler patted Tad affectionately on the head. "Tad knows what I think of you all and how appreciative we both are over what Mr. Perkins has done for us. Now that I have had a little money left me, I am glad that Tad is able to spend more time with you in the open. I presume you will soon be thinking of another trip."

"We're always thinking of that, Mrs. Butler," interrupted Ned. "And we couldn't think of a trip without thinking of Tad. A trip without Tad would be like---like-----"

"A dog's tail wagging down the street without the dog," interjected the solemn voice of Chunky Brown from his new headquarters.

"I move we throw Chunky out in the wood house," exploded Ned. "Will you excuse us while we get rid of the encumbrance, Mrs. Butler?"

"Sit down and make your peace. I know you boys have some things to talk over. I can see it in your faces. Go on with your conference. I'll bring you some lemonade in a few moments," said Mrs. Butler, as she left the room.

"Well, fellows, is this just a friendly call or have you really something in mind?" asked Tad after all had seated themselves.

"I'm the only one with a mind that will hold anything. And I've got plenty in it, too," piped Chunky.

Ned Rector sighed helplessly. The other boys grinned, passing hands across their faces that Stacy might not observe their amusement.

"We want to pow-wow with you," said Walter.

"That means you've something ahead---another trip?"

"Yes, we're going to the-----" began young Brown.

"Silence! Children should be seen, but not heard," commanded Ned.

Chunky promptly hitched his chair out, joining the circle.

"I'm seen," he nodded, with a grimace.

"Then see that you're not heard. Some things not even a Pony Rider boy can stand. You're one of them."

"Yes, I'm a Pony Rider," answered Chunky, misapplying Ned Rector's withering remark.

"Another trip, eh?"

"That's it, Tad. Walt's father has planned it out for us. And what do you think?"

"Yes, what d'ye think? He's going-----"

"Look here, Chunky, are you telling this or am I?" demanded Ned angrily.

"You're trying to, but you're making an awful mess of the whole business. Better let me tell it. I know how and you don't."

"Give Ned a chance, can't you, Chunky?" rebuked Tad, frowning.

"All right, I'll give him a chance, of course, if you say so. I always have to take a back seat for everybody. I'm nothing but just a roly-poly fat boy, handy to draw water, pitch and strike camp, gather firewood, wash the dishes, cook the meals, save the lives of my companions when they get into scrapes, and-----"

This was too much for the gravity of the Pony Rider Boys. They burst out into a hearty laugh, which served to put all in good humor again. Chunky, having relieved his mind, now settled down in his chair to listen.

"Now, Ned, proceed," said Tad.

"Well, Mr. Perkins thinks it would be fine for us to visit the Grand Canyon."

"Of the Colorado?"

"Yes."

"Tad knows more'n the rest of you. You didn't know where the place was. Walt thought it was some kind of a gun that they shot off at sunrise, or-----"

No one gave any heed to Chunky's further interruption this time.

"The Grand Canyon of the Colorado?" repeated Tad, his eyes sparkling. "Isn't that fine? Do you know, I have always wanted to go there, but I hardly thought we should get that far away from home again. But what plans has Mr. Perkins made?"

"Well, he has been writing to arrange for guides and so forth. He knows a good man at Flagstaff with whom Mr. Perkins hunted a few years ago. What did he say the name was, Walt?"

"Nance. Jim Nance, one of the best men in that part of the country. Everybody knows Jim Nance."

"I don't," declared Chunky, suddenly coming to life again.

"There are a lot of other things you don't know," retorted Ned Rector witheringly.

"If there are you can't teach them to me," returned Stacy promptly.

"As I was saying when that interrupted me, Mr. Perkins wrote to this man, Nance, and engaged him for June first, to remain with us as long as we require his services."

"Does Mr. Perkins think we had better take our ponies with us?"

"No."

"Then we shall have to buy others. I hardly think I can afford that outlay," said Tad, with a shake of the head.

"That is all arranged, Tad," interrupted Walter. "Father has directed Mr. Nance to get five good horses or ponies."

"Then Professor Zepplin is to accompany us?"

"Yes."

"Poor Professor! His troubles certainly are not over yet," laughed Tad. "We must try not to annoy him so much this trip. We are older now and ought to use better judgment."

"That's what I've been telling Ned," spoke up Stacy. "He's old enough to-----"

"To---what?" demanded Ned.

Chunky quailed under the threatening gaze of Ned Rector. He mumbled some unintelligible words, settled back in his chair and made himself as inconspicuous as possible.

"Pooh! Professor Zepplin enjoys our pranks as much as do we ourselves. He just makes believe that he doesn't. He's a boy himself."

"But an overgrown one," muttered Stacy under his breath.

"Where do we meet the Professor?" asked Tad.

"How about it, Walt?" asked Ned, turning to young Perkins.

"I don't think father mentioned that."

"We shall probably pick him up on the way out," nodded Tad.

"Well, what do you think of it?" demanded Ned.

"Fine, fine!"

"You don't seem very enthusiastic about it."

"Don't I? Well, I am. Has Mr. Perkins decided when we are to start?"

"Yes, in about two weeks."

"I don't know. I am afraid that is too soon for me. I don't even know that I shall be able to go," said Tad Butler.

"Why not?"

"Well, we may not be able to afford it."

"Pshaw! Your mother just said you might go, or words to that effect. Of course you'll go. If you didn't, I wouldn't go, and my father would be disappointed. He knows what these trips have done for me. Remember what a tender plant I was when we went out in the Rockies that time?"

"Ye---yes," piped Stacy. "He was a pale lily of the valley. Now Walt's a regular daisy."

Young Perkins laughed good-naturedly. He was not easily irritated now, whereas, before beginning to live in the open, the least little annoyance would set his nerves on edge.

Mrs. Butler came in at this juncture, carrying a pitcher of lemonade and four glasses on a tray. The Pony Riders rose instinctively, standing while Mrs. Butler poured the lemonade.

"Oh, I forgot the cookies, didn't I?" she cried.

"Yes, we couldn't get along without the cookies," nodded Chunky.

"Now don't let your eyes get bigger'n your stomach," warned Ned. "Remember, we are in polite society now."

"I hope you won't forget yourself either," retorted Stacy. "I'll stand beside you. If you start to make a break I'll tread on your toes and-----"

"Try it!" hissed Ned Rector in the fat boy's ear. The entrance of Mrs. Butler with a plate heaped with ginger cookies drove all other thoughts from the minds of the boys. "Mrs. Butler," began Ned, clearing his throat, "we---we thank you; from the bottom of our hearts we thank you---don't we, Stacy?"

"Well, I---I guess so. I can tell better after I've tried the cookies. I know the lemonade's all right."

"How do you know?" demanded three voices at once.

"Why, I tasted of it," admitted Chunky.

"As I was saying, Mrs. Butler, we-----"

"Never mind thanking me, Ned. I will take your appreciation for granted."

"Thank you," answered Stacy, looking longingly at the plate of cookies.

"Now help yourselves. Don't wait, boys," urged Tad's mother, giving the boys a friendly smile before turning to leave the room.

"Ah, Mrs. Butler. One moment, please," said Ned.

"Yes. What is it?"

"We---ah-----"

"Oh, let me say it. You don't know how to talk in public," exclaimed Chunky. "Mrs. Butler, we, the Pony Rider Boys, rough riders, Indian fighters and general, all-around stars of both plain and mountain, are thinking-----"

Ned thrust Chunky gently aside. Had it not been for Mrs. Butler's presence Ned undoubtedly would have used more force.

Tad sat down grinning broadly. He knew that his mother enjoyed this good-natured badinage fully as much as the boys did.

Ned rapped on the table with his knuckles.

"Order, please, gentlemen!"

"That's I," chuckled Stacy, slipping into a chair.

"Laying all trimmings aside, Mrs. Butler, we have come to speak with you first, after which we'll have something to say to your son."

Mrs. Butler sat down in the chair that Tad had placed for her.

"Very good. I shall be glad to hear what you have to say, Ned."

"The fact is---as I was about to say when interrupted by the irresponsible person at my left-----"

"I beg pardon. I'm at your left," remarked Walter.

"He doesn't know which is his left and which is his right," jeered Chunky. "He's usually left, though."

"I refer to the person who was sitting at my left at the time I began speaking. I had no intention of casting any aspersion on Mr. Walter Perkins. As I was about to say, we are planning another trip, Mrs. Butler."

"Where away this time, Ned?"

"To the Grand Canyon-----"

"With the accent on the yon," added Stacy.

"The Grand Canyon of the Colorado?"

"Yes, ma'am. Mr. Perkins has arranged it for us. Everything is fixed. Professor Zepplin is going along and-----"

"That will be fine, indeed," glowed Tad's mother.

"Yes, we think so, and we're glad to know that you do. Tad didn't know whether you would approve of the proposed trip or not. We are---ahem---delighted to learn that you do approve of it and that you are willing that Tad should go."

"Oh, but I haven't said so," laughed Mrs. Butler.

"Of course she hasn't. You see how little one can depend upon what Ned Rector says," interjected Stacy.

Ned gave him a warning look.

"I should say that you approve of his going. Of course we couldn't think of taking this trip without Tad. I don't believe Mr. Perkins would let Walt go if Tad weren't along. You see, Tad's a handy man to have around. I know Chunky's people never would trust him to go without Tad to look after him. You see, Chunky's such an irresponsible mortal-----"

"Oh, I don't know," interrupted the fat boy.

"One never knows what he's going to do next. He needs some one to watch him constantly. We think it is the fault of his bringing up."

"Or the company I've been keeping," finished Chunky.

"At any rate, we need Tad with us."

"Then I shall have to say 'yes,'" replied Mrs. Butler, nodding and smiling. "Of course Tad may go. I am glad, indeed, that he has such splendid opportunities."

"But, mother, I ought to be at work," protested Tad. "It is time I were doing something. Besides, I think you need me at home."

"Never mind, Tad. When you have finished with these trips you will be all the better for them. You will have erected a foundation of health that will last you all your life. Furthermore, you will have gained many things by the experience, When you get at the real serious purpose of your life, you will accomplish what you set yourself to do, with better results."

"That---that's what I say," began Chunky. "Haven't I always told you-----"

"Stacy is wise beyond his years," smiled Mrs. Butler. "When he is grown up I look for him to be a very clever young man."

The eyes of the boys still twinkled merrily, for Chunky, unable to guess whether he were being teased, was still scowling somewhat. However, he kept still for the time being.

"Yes, Tad may go with you," continued Mrs. Butler. "You start---when?"

"In about two weeks," Walter replied. "Father said he would call to discuss the matter with you."

"I shall be glad of that," nodded Mrs. Butler. "I shall want to talk over the business part of the trip."

Then the youngsters fell to discussing the articles of outfit they would need. On this head their past experience stood them in good stead.

"Now, I presume, I have said all that I can say," added Mrs. Butler, rising. "I will leave you, for I would be of very little use to you in choosing clothing and equipment."

Before she could escape from the room, however, Tad had risen and reached her. Without exhibiting a twinge of embarrassment before the other young men, Tad held and kissed her, then escorted her to the door. Walter and Ned smiled their approval. Chunky said nothing, but sat blinking solemnly---the best possible proof of his approbation.

All of the readers of this series know these young men well. They were first introduced to Tad and his chums in the opening volume, "The Pony Rider Boys In The Rockies." Then were told all the details of how the boys became Pony Riders, and of the way they put their plans through successfully. Readers of that volume well recall the exciting experiences and hair-breadth escapes of the youngsters, their hunts for big game and all the joys of living close to Nature. Their battle with the claim jumpers is still fresh in the minds of all readers.

We next met our young friends in the second volume, "The Pony Rider Boys In Texas." It was on these south-western grazing plains that the lads took part in a big cattle drive across the state. This new taste of cowboy life furnished the boys with more excitement than they had ever dreamed could be crowded into so few weeks. It proved to be one long round of joyous life in the saddle, yet it was the sort of joy that is bound up in hard work. Tad's great work in saving a large part of the herd will still be fresh in the mind of the reader. How the lads won the liking of even the roughest cowboys was also stirringly told.

From Texas, as our readers know, the Pony Riders went north, and their next doings are interestingly chronicled in "The Pony Rider Boys In Montana." Here the boys had the great experience of going over the old Custer trail, and here it was that Tad and his companions became involved in a "war" between the sheep and the cattle men. How Tad and his chums soon found themselves almost in the position of the grist between the millstones will be instantly recalled. Tad's adventures with the Blackfeet Indians formed not the least interesting portion of the story. It was a rare picture of ranch and Indian life of the present day that our readers found in the third volume of this series.

Perhaps the strangest experiences, as most of our readers will agree, were those described in "The Pony Rider Boys In The Ozarks." In this wild part of the country the Pony Rider Boys had a medley of adventures---they met with robbers, were lost in the great mountain forests, and unexpectedly became involved in an accident in a great mine. The final discovery of the strange secret of the mountains was the climax of that wonderful saddle journey.

From the wooded Ozarks to the stifling alkali deserts of Nevada was a long jump, but the lads made it. All of our readers remember the rousing description of adventures that were set forth in "The Pony Rider Boys In The Alkali." This trip through the grim desert with its scanty vegetation and scarcity of water proved to be a journey that fully demonstrated the enduring qualities of these sturdy young men. The life, far away from all connection with civilization, was one of constant privation and well-nigh innumerable perils. The meeting with the crazed hermit of this wild waste formed one of the most thrilling incidents. The whole vast alkali plain presented a maze the solving of which taxed to the utmost the ingenuity of the young men. However, they bore themselves with credit, and came out with a greater reputation than ever for judgment, courage and endurance.

Our next meeting with these lads, who were fast becoming veterans of the saddle, was in the sixth volume, "The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico." Here, again, the lads ran upon Indian "signs" and experiences, not the least of which was their chance to be present at the weird fire dance of the Apaches. The race with the prairie fire, the wonderful discoveries made in the former homes of the cave-dwellers, and the defence of the lost treasure in the home of the ancient Pueblo Indians are all matters well remembered by our readers.

Now another journey, to the scene of one of Nature's greatest wonders, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, was absorbing the thought of Tad Butler and his young friends.

"The question is, what'll we take with us?" asked Ned Rector.

"Yes, that's one of the things about which we wanted to talk with you," spoke up Walter Perkins. "You always think of things that none of the rest of us remembers."

"Oh, I don't know. You're all pretty good planners. In the first place, you know you want to travel light."

"We aren't likely to travel any other way," scoffed Chunky. "Whatever we do, though, let's not travel light on food. I can stand almost anything but food---I mean without food---I mean-----"

"I don't believe you know what you do mean," jeered Ned. "Well, what about it, Tad?"

"As I was saying, we should travel light. Of course, we must take our own equipment---saddles, quirts, spurs, chaps, lasso, guns, canteen, slicker and all that sort of thing. I suppose the guide will arrange for the pack train equipment."

"I'll speak to father about that," said Walter. "I don't know just what arrangements he has made with the guide."

"We can no doubt get what ammunition we need after we get to Flagstaff, if that is to be our railway destination. Folks usually have ammunition in that country," added Tad, with a faint smile. "Our uniforms or clothes we know about. We shall no doubt need some good tough boots for mountain climbing-----"

"Do we have to climb mountains?" demanded Stacy.

"Climb up and fall down," answered Walt.

"Oh, dear me, dear me! It'll be the death of me, I know," wailed the fat boy. "I'd rather ride---up. I can get down all right, but-----"

"Yes, you certainly can get down," laughed Ned.

"Then we shall want quite a lot of soft, strong rope, about quarter-inch Manila. I don't think of anything else. We ought to be able to pick up whatever else we need after we get out there------"

"I guess that's all, fellows, isn't it?" asked Ned.

"All but the shouting," answered Stacy.

"You are well able to do that. You'd better practise up on those favorite exclamations of yours---"

"What are they?"

"Y-e-o-w and W-o-w!"

"Who-o-o-p-e-e!" answered Chunky in a shrill, high-pitched voice.

Ned Rector clapped a hand over the fat boy's mouth with a resounding smack. Chunky was jerked backward, his head striking the chair with a bump that was audible all over the room.

"You stop that business. Do you forget where you are? That's all right out in the wilds, but not in civilized society," declared Ned.

"Whe---where's the civilized society? Don't you do that to me again, or I'll-----"

"Chunky's all right. Let him alone, Ned. Mother doesn't care how much noise we make in here. In fact, she'd think something was wrong with us if we didn't make a big racket. Chunky, if you are so full of steam you might go out and finish the woodpile for me. I've got to cut that wood this afternoon."

"No, thank you. I'm willing to hunt for the colored man in the woodpile, but I'm a goat if I'll chop the wood. Why, I'd lose my reputation in Chillicothe if I were seen doing such a common thing as that."

"No, that would be impossible," answered Ned sarcastically.

"Eh? Impossible?" questioned Stacy.

"Oh, yes, yes, yes. I'll write it down for you so you'll understand it and-----"

"He means that you can't lose what you don't possess," explained Walter.

Chunky grunted his disgust, but made no reply. The boys then fell to discussing the proposed trip. Tad got out his atlas and together they pored over the map of Arizona. After some time at this task, Chunky pulled a much soiled railway map from his pocket. This gave them a more detailed plan of the Grand Canyon.

"You see, I have to show you. When it comes to doing things Stacy Brown's the one on whom you all have to fall back."

"You are almost human at times, Stacy. I'm free to admit that," laughed Tad. "Yes, this is just what we want."

Chunky inflated his chest, and, with hands clasped behind his back, walked to the window and gazed out into the street, nodding patronizingly now and then to persons passing who had bowed to him. In his own estimation, Stacy was the most important person in Chillcothe. So confident was he of this that several persons in the community had come almost to believe it themselves. Chunky, by his dignified and important bearing, had hopes of converting others to this same belief. As for his three companions---well, a journey without Stacy Brown would be a tame and uneventful journey at best.

The greater part of the afternoon was devoted to making plans for the coming trip, each having his suggestions to make or his criticism to offer of the suggestions of others. Though the arguments of the Pony Riders at times became quite heated, the friendship they held for each other was never really strained. They were bound together by ties that would endure for many years to come.

Each day thereafter, during their stay at home, they met for consultation, and when two weeks later they had assembled at the railroad station in Chillicothe, clad in their khaki suits, sombreros, each with a red bandanna handkerchief tied carelessly about his neck, they presented an imposing appearance and were the centre of a great crowd of admiring boys and smiling grown-ups. There were many exciting experiences ahead of the Pony Rider Boys as well as a series of journeys that would linger in memory the rest of their lives.