Chapter XVII. The Whirlwind Ball of Yellow
 

When the startled cat felt the touch of the raw-hide rope against its leg it made a tremendous leap straight ahead.

"Too late!" clicked Tad. "That loop is taut on you now!"

"M-m-murder! Look out!" bellowed Stacy.

For the cat's leap had carried it straight at the fat boy. In fact one sharp set of claws raked the lad from shoulder to waist, though without more than breaking the skin.

That blow settled Stacy.

"I'm dead---ripped to pieces!" he yelled.

Without waiting to jump from the tree, Stacy simply fell. Over and over on the ground he rolled until he was a dozen yards away from the tree.

"If you're dead," Tad grinned, "get up and come over here, and tell me about it."

Stacy slowly rose to his feet. He was badly shaken, covered with dirt and with some blood showing through the rents in his clothes.

"Nothing but my presence of mind and my speed saved me, anyway," Chunky grumbled ruefully.

All in a twinkling that whirling yellow ball shot out of the tree, striking the ground before Tad Butler could draw the rope taut. However, the rope still hung over a limb. How the dirt flew! Tad realized that swift action must come ere the beast should make a leap at them.

Stacy started away, but Butler's sharp tone halted him.

"Chunky!" Tad panted.

"What?"

"Get hold of this rope with me. Shake yourself. What ails you? Have you got a streak of yellow in you?"

"I can thrash the fellow who says I have?" roared the fat boy, springing to his feet.

"That's the way to talk. Come, hurry---get hold here! He's too much for me and he's going to get away from me if you don't lend a hand."

"Wh-what do you want me to do?"

"Grab hold of this rope, I tell you."

Chunky did so, but keeping a wary eye on the rolling, tumbling, spitting yellow ball, which was a full grown mountain lion, and an ugly brute. The king of the canyons, however, was in a most humiliating position for a king of any sort. He had been roped by his left hind foot, the other end of the rope being in the hands of the intrepid Pony Rider boy, Thaddeus Butler. Tad knew well that he had a good thing and he proposed to hang on as long as there was an ounce of strength left in his body. By this time Stacy had gotten a grip on the rope.

"Now pull steadily until I tell you to stop."

Slowly, digging his claws into the dirt, biting at the rope that held him fast, the cat was drawn toward the pinyon tree despite all his struggles. Tad's object was to pull the beast off its feet, in which position it would be unable to do very much damage.

Perhaps the cat realized something of this, for all of a sudden it sprang to the base of the tree and with a roar landed up among the lower limbs.

Ere the beast even felt the touch of the tree limb under its feet, the brave Chunky was several rods away peering from behind a rock, howling like a Comanche Indian.

Tad, too, had made some lively moves. The instant he saw that the cat was going to jump he took a quick twist about the tree, shortening the rope until it was taut. He made a quick knot, then leaped back out of the way. But none too soon. The cat pounced on the spot where he had been standing, narrowly missing the boy. But the rope was free of the limb of the tree over which it had been first drawn. The beast was free to gambol about as far as the rope would permit.

The boy's mind was still working rapidly.

"Run to the guns, Chunky. Shoot and keep shooting until you attract the attention of the rest of the party. We've got to have help. We never shall be able to handle him ourselves, and I want to save him."

Stacy hesitated.

"Run, I tell you!" shouted Butler. "Don't stand there like a statue. Go!"

Chunky jumped as if he had been hit, and ran limping toward the place where they had left their weapons and their mustangs. He found both, though Chunky was too excited to notice the ponies at all. Already they were restless, having scented the mountain lion.

Snatching up his own rifle, Stacy fired six shots in rapid succession. Then grabbing the other gun, he let six more go, but continued snapping the firing pin on the empty chamber after all the cartridges had been exploded, before he realized that he was not shooting at all. Stacy in trying to reload fumbled and made a mess of it, spilling a lot of shells on the ground, most of which he was unable to find again.

"We got him! We got him!" the fat boy kept chuckling to himself. "We certainly have done it this time."

Finally he got one gun loaded, and had fired it off six times when he heard Tad Butler's "Whoo-e-e-e-e."

Chunky hurried back to his companion.

"They've answered," called Tad.

In the meantime the latter had been having a lively time. He knew that were he to give the least possible chance the beast would bite the rope off and escape even if he did no worse. It was to prevent this that the boy exerted all his ingenuity and effort. This consisted of whoops and howls, throwing rocks at the animal, dodging in now and then to whack the lion with a piece from a limb that had been broken down by the cat in its thrashing above.

The dust was flying. At times it seemed as if the lion must have gotten the hardy Pony Rider boy. At such times the lithe, active form of Tad Butler could be seen leaping from the cloud of dust while the beast followed with savage lunges to the end of its rope. It seemed impossible to tire out either boy or cat.

It was this condition of affairs that Stacy Brown came upon on his return. He stood gazing at the scene, fascinated.

"Look out, Tad! He'll get you!" shouted the boy.

"Get in here and give him a poke in the ribs," cried Butler.

"Not for a million dollars, badly as I need money," returned the fat boy. "What do you take me for, an animal trainer?"

"Then I'll have to keep on doing it till Mr. Nance gets here to help me. This is the greatest thing we've ever done, old boy!"

"Yes, it'll be a great thing when the brute hands you one from those garden rakes of his. Get away and I'll shoot him," directed Stacy, swinging his rifle into position.

"Put that gun down!" thundered Tad. "You'll be winging me next thing you do. Put it down, I say!"

Stacy grumblingly obeyed. Meanwhile the gymnastic exercise continued with unabated vigor. There was not an instant's pause. The mountain lion was busier perhaps than it ever had been in its life. It was battling for its life, too, and it knew it.

Once Tad was raked from head to foot by a vicious claw, but the Pony Rider boy merely laughed. His endurance, too, was most remark able. Stacy would hardly get within gun-shot of the beast, always standing near a tree convenient for climbing. Tad was not saying much now. He was rather too busy for conversation. At last the report of a rifle was heard not far away.

"Answer them. It's the gang," called Tad. Chunky fired a shot into the air, following it with four others. It was only a short time before Jim Nance with Professor Zepplin and the two other boys came dashing up, shouting to know where Tad and Chunky were. They saw Chunky first, on guard with his rifle as if holding off an enemy.

"What's the trouble?" cried Nance.

"We've got him! We've got him!" yelled Stacy.

About that time Nance discovered the swirling cloud of dust, from which at intervals emerged a yellow ball. The guide caught the significance of the scene at a single glance.

"It's a cat," howled Ned. "Let me shoot him."

"Put away your guns. I guess we know how to catch lions in a scientific manner," declared Stacy.

"They've roped the cat," snapped the guide. "Beats anything I ever heard of." He was off his mustang instantly and running toward Tad. "Keep him busy, keep him busy, boy. I'll fix him for you in a minute."

"I don't want you to kill him."

"I'm not going to. We've got to stretch him."

Tad did not know what stretching meant in this particular instance, but he was soon to learn. Nance got off to one side of the busy scene, then directed Tad to ease up a bit. The boy did so. He saw that Dad, too, was planning to use his lariat, though the boy had no idea in what way. The cat instantly sat down and began tearing at its bonds. All at once Nance's rope shot through the air. It caught the lion fairly around the neck.

For a few moments the air was full of streaks of yellow. The cat was now fast at both ends. The neck hold was the worse of the two, for it choked the beast and soon tired him out.

"Now stretch him," directed the guide.

"How do you mean?"

"Take a single hitch about the tree with your rope, so that we can straighten him out."

This Tad did, while Nance performed a similar service on his own line, being careful not to choke the lion to death. During this latter part of the proceeding the party that had up to that time held off, now approached.

"Will he bite?" asked Walter.

"Stick your finger in his mouth and see?" jeered Chunky. "He can scratch, too. But we got him, didn't we? We're the original lion tamers from the wild and woolly West."

"Come, who is going to tie those claws together, Stacy?" demanded the guide.

"Do what?"

"Tie the cat's feet together."

"Let the Professor do it. He hasn't done anything yet on this trip. Besides, I've got to stand here ready to shoot if the lion gets away. If it weren't for that I'd tie his feet."

"Here, you tie his feet, then. I'll handle the gun," volunteered Ned, stepping forward.

Chunky drew back.

"If some one will hold my end of the line I'll attend to that little matter," said Tad.

"I guess it's time I did something around here," interjected Ned. "What do you want me to do, Mr. Nance?"

"Take your rope, watch your opportunity and rope the forward legs. After that is done have somebody hold the rope while you tie the feet securely together."

Ned roped the feet without further question, then handing the line to Walter Perkins, he calmly tied together the feet of the snarling, spitting beast. The same was done with the hind feet, though the latter proved to be much more dangerous than the forward feet. But the mouth of the animal was still free. He could bite and he did make desperate efforts to get at his captors. They took good care that he did not reach them. Chunky suggested that they pull the cat's teeth, so he couldn't bite. Tad wanted to know if they couldn't put a muzzle on.

"The question is what are you going to do with him, now that you have him?" demanded the Professor.

"That's the first sane word that's been spoken since we arrived here," grinned Nance.

"We are going to take him back to camp, of course," declared Tad.

"Of course we are. Don't you understand, we're going to take him back to camp," affirmed Stacy.

"What's your plan, Butler?" asked Nance.

"If you leave it to me, I'll show you."

"Go ahead."

Tad cut a long, tough sapling. This, after some effort, he managed to pass through the loop made by the bound legs of the lion. This strung the beast on the pole.

"Now, we'll fasten the two ends to two ponies," decided the lad.

Silver Face and Walter's pony having been broken in on the previous day, these two were chosen to carry the prize. They did not object, and in a short time the procession started off for camp, with the lion, back down, strung on the pole between two ponies, snarling, spitting, roaring out his resentment, while Chunky, leading the way, was singing at the top of his voice:

"Tad Butler is the man; he goes to all the shows, he sticks his head in the lion's mouth and tells you all he knows. Who-o-o-pe-e-e!"