The Pony Rider Boys in the Grand Canyon by Frank Gee Patchin
Chapter XV. The Mystery of the Rifle
"I can't help it, I saw a lion, anyway," muttered the fat boy.
"Come up here!" It was Dad's voice calling to them. "Where's that rifle?"
"I---I dropped it, I told you."
"Where did you drop it?"
Stacy climbed to the top of the rise and stepped confidently over to where he had let go the rifle before rushing down after having tried to shoot the lion. He actually stooped over to pick up the gun, so confident was he as to its location. Then a puzzled expression appeared on Stacy's face.
"Oh, it's there, is it?"
"Why---I---I------- Say, you're trying to play a joke on me."
"I rather think you've played it on yourself," jeered the guide. "Where did you leave it?"
"Right there, I tell you."
"Sure you didn't throw it over in the bushes down the other side?"
"I guess I know what I did with it," retorted Chunky indignantly.
"Well, it isn't here." Dad was somewhat puzzled by this time. He saw that Stacy was very confident of having left the gun at that particular place, but it could not be found.
"Maybe somebody's stolen it," suggested the boy.
"Nonsense! Who is there here to steal it, in the first place? In the second, how could any one slip in here at the right moment and get away with your rifle?"
"You have no---no idea what has become of it---no theory?" asked the Professor.
"Not the least little bit," replied the guide.
"Most remarkable---most remarkable," muttered Professor Zepplin. "I cannot understand it."
"We'll look around a bit," announced Dad.
The three men searched everywhere, even going all the way down to the base of the rise on either side, but nowhere did they find the slightest trace of the missing rifle. After they had returned to the summit, Dad, a new idea in mind, went over the rocks and the ground again in search of footprints. The only footprints observable were those of their own party. There was more in the mystery than Dad could fathom.
"Well, this gets me," declared the guide, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. "This certainly does."
"Is---is my rifle lost?" wailed Chunky.
"I reckon you'll never see that pretty bit of firearms again," grinned Jim.
"But it must be here," insisted Stacy.
"But it isn't. Fortunately we have plenty of guns with us. You can get another when we go back to camp."
"Yes, but this one is mine-----"
"Was yours," corrected Nance.
"It is mine, and I'm going to have it before I leave this miserable old hole," declared the boy.
"I hope you find it. I'd like to know how the thing ever got away in that mysterious manner."
"Maybe the lion took it."
"Mebby he did. Funny I hadn't thought of that," answered Nance gravely. Then both he and the Professor burst into a shout of laughter.
They made their way slowly back to the point where they were to meet the others of the party. Chunky, now being without a rifle, was well content to remain with the guide and the Professor.
While all this was going on Tad and Walter were picking their way over the rough ridges, through narrow canyons, riding their ponies where a novice would hardly have dared to walk. The ponies seemed to take to the work naturally. Not a single misstep was made by either of them. They, too, could hear the dogs, but the latter were far away most of the time, even though, for all the riders knew, they might have been just the other side of the rocky wall along which the two boys were traveling.
They kept on in this way until late in the afternoon, when they stopped and dismounted, deciding that they would have a bite to eat.
"It doesn't look as if we were going to have any luck, does it, Tad?" asked Walter in a disappointed tone.
"No, it doesn't. But one never can tell. In hunting game you know it comes upon one suddenly. You have to be ever on the alert. We know that the dogs have been on the trail of something."
"Perhaps deer," suggested Walter.
"Yes, it is possible, though I don't know whether those dogs will trail deer or not. You know they may be trained to hunt lions. I didn't hear Mr. Nance say."
They were munching biscuit and eating oranges as they rested, which must have tasted good to them. The temperature was going down with the day, though the light was strong in the canyon where they were standing. Above them the jagged, broken cliffs rose tier on tier until they seemed to disappear far up in the fleecy clouds that were drifting lazily over the Canyon.
All at once Silver Face, Tad's pony, exhibited signs of restlessness, which seemed to be quickly communicated to the other animal. The pintos stamped, shook their heads and snorted.
"Whoa! What's wrong with you fellows?" demanded Tad, eyeing the ponies keenly. "Smell something, eh?"
"Maybe they smell oats," suggested Walter.
"I guess not. They are a long way from oats at the present moment."
Tad paused abruptly. A pebble had rattled down the rocky wall and bounded off some yards to the front of them. Silver Face started and would have bounded away had not a firm hand been at that instant laid on the bridle rein.
To one unaccustomed to the mountains the incident might have passed unnoticed. By this time Tad Butler was a pretty keen woodsman as well as plainsman. He had learned to take notice of everything. Even the most trivial signs hold a meaning all their own for the man who habitually lives close to Nature.
The lad glanced sharply at the rocks.
"See anything?" asked Walter.
"What did you think you heard?"
"I didn't hear anything but that pebble. The horses smelled something, though."
While he was speaking the lad's glances were traveling slowly over the rocks above. All at once he paused.
"Don't stir, Walt. Look up."
"In line with that cloud that looks like a dragon. Then lower your glance slowly. I think you will see something worth while."
It was a full moment before Walter Perkins discovered that to which his attention had been called.
"It's a cat," breathed Walt, almost in awe.
"Yes, that's a lion. He is evidently hiding up there, where he has gone to get away from the dogs. We will walk away a bit as if we were leaving. Then we'll tether the horses securely. Don't act as if you saw the beast. I know now what was the matter with the mustangs. They scented that beast up there."
The ponies were quickly secured, after which the boys crouched in the brush and sought out the lion again. He was still in the same place, but was now standing erect, head toward them, well raised as if in a listening attitude.
"My, isn't he a fine one!" whispered Walt. Walter Perkins was not suffering from the same complaint that Chunky had caught when he first saw his lion over in the other canyon, an offshoot from the Bright Angel Canyon, and where he had lost his rifle so mysteriously.
"Take careful aim; then, when he turns his side toward us, let him have it," directed Tad.
"Oh, no, you discovered him. He is your game. You shoot, Tad."
Butler shook his head.
"I want you to shoot. I have already killed a cougar. This is your chance to distinguish yourself."
Walter's eyes sparkled. He raised his rifle, leveling it through the crotch of a small tree.
"Wait till he turns," whispered Tad, fingering his own rifle anxiously. He could hardly resist the temptation to take a shot at the animal where it stood facing them far up the side of the canyon wall.
"Now!" Tad's tone was calm, steady and low.
Walter's rifle barked.
"You've hit him!" yelled Tad. "Look out! He's up again!" warned the boy.
The beast had not been killed by the shot. He had been bowled over, dropping down to a lower crag, where he sprang to his feet and with a roar of rage bounded up the mountainside.
"Shoot! Shoot!" cried Butler.
But Walter did not even raise his rifle. A sudden fit of trembling had taken possession of him. His was the "buck fever" in another form.
Butler had let go a quick shot.
A roar followed the shot.
"There, I guess that settled him," decided Tad Butler, lowering his rifle.
"I---I should say it did," gasped Walter.
The tawny beast was throwing himself this way and that, the boys meanwhile watching him anxiously.
"I'm afraid he's going to stick up there," cried Walter, dancing about shouting excitedly.
"No, he isn't. There he comes."
Tad grabbed his companion, jerking the latter back and running with him. They were just at the spot where the ponies had been tethered, when a heavy body struck the ground not far from where they had been standing. Silver Face leaped right up into the air, then settled back on his haunches in an attempt to break the hitching rope.
Tad struck the animal against the flank with the flat of his hand, whereat the mustang bounded to his feet.
"Whoa, you silly old animal!" cried Tad. "Look out, Walt, don't get too near that lion. You may lose some of your clothes if he shouldn't happen to be dead. I'll be there in a moment, as soon as I can get these horses quieted down."
In a moment Tad was running toward his companion.
"Is he settled?"
"I don't know. His---his eyes are open," stammered Walter, standing off a safe distance from the prostrate beast.
Tad poked the animal with the muzzle of his rifle.
"Yes, he's a dead one. One less brute to make war on the deer. Won't old Dad be surprised when we trail into camp with this big game?" exulted the Pony Rider boy.
"Yes, but---but how are we going to get the fellow there?" wondered Walter.
"Get him there? Well, I guess we'll do it somehow. I'll tell you what, I'll take him over the saddle in front of me. That's the idea. You bring out Silver Face and we'll see how he feels about it. I wouldn't be surprised if he raised a row."
Silver Face did object most emphatically. The instant the pony came in sight of the dead lion he sat down on his haunches. Tad urged and threatened, but not another inch would the pinto budge.
"I guess I know how to fix you," gritted the boy.
He was on the back of the sitting mustang, his feet in the stirrups, before the pony realized what had happened. A reasonably sharp rowel, pressed into the pinto's side, brought him a good two feet clear of the ground.
Then began a lively battle between the boy and the horse.
"Don't let him tread on the beast," shouted Walter.
"N-n-no danger of that," stammered Tad. It was a lively battle while it lasted, but Silver Face realized, as he had never done before, that he had met his master. After some twenty minutes of fight, in which the pinto made numerous futile attempts to climb the sheer side of the canyon at the imminent danger of toppling over backwards and crushing his master, the brute gave up.
"Now you hold him while I load on the beast," directed Tad, riding up.
This called for more disturbance. Silver Face fought against taking a lion on his back. He drew the line at that. Just the same, after another lively scrimmage, Mr. Lion was loaded on, but no sooner had Tad swung into the saddle than he swung out again. He hadn't even time to get his toes in the stirrups before he was flying through the air, head first. Walter had difficulty in determining which was boy and which was lion. The lion struck the ground first, Tad landing on top of him.
With rare presence of mind, Walter had seized the pinto and was having a lively set-to with the beast, with the odds in favor of Silver Face, when Tad sprang up and ran to his companion's assistance.
Tad's temper was up. The way he grilled Silver Face that animal perhaps never forgot. Not that Tad abused his mount. He never would be guilty of abusing a horse. He was too fond of horseflesh to do such a thing, but he knew how to punish an animal in other and more effective ways. Silver Face was punished.
"Now, my fine fellow, let's see who's boss here!" laughed Tad. "Hold him while I put aboard the baggage, Walt."
The pony submitted to the ordeal a second time. This time there was no bucking, and shortly afterwards the lads started for their companions bearing the trophy of their hunt with them.