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The Pony Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers by Frank Gee Patchin

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"I've got you children now," he sneered. "I'll pick you off unless you
do as I tell you. Now you come over here. Walk straight, one hand
out. Leave your guns behind. Cut me loose or you're a dead one,"
commanded the prisoner.

"Oh, am I?"

Tad glanced around to make sure that all the boys were out of range.
Then with a quick leap he got entirely out of range of the revolver
in the hands of the prisoner. Tad had thought he was out of range
before, but the man on the ground had twisted the weapon about until
its muzzle was pointing in Butler's direction.

But this time the lad got out of range without question. But he was
no better off than before. Reaching for his revolver he made the
discovery that he had thrown off his belt with revolver and cartridges
before beginning to get supper. The others were in no better shape.
Not a boy had his revolver on, and the professor's weapon was in the
hands of the prisoner.

"I know a trick. I've played it once to-day and I can play it again,"
declared Tad, searching for a stone, while the others got well out of
the way, watching T. Butler. In an emergency they always looked to
him to get them out of their difficulties.

"Professor, you lie still. Don't move. I'll fix this fellow. You
had better get a good bit farther off," advised the lad, observing a
movement on the part of the mountaineer.

Suddenly the latter braced his head and digging his heels into the
ground ran around, pivoting on his head. Tad anticipated the movement
by running a few seconds in advance. For a few moments it was a race
of wits. The lad as yet had not found a stone suited to his immediate
requirements. He was using his eyes in this direction as well as
watching the prisoner. Once the latter tried a shot at the boy. The
bullet passed Butler rather too close for comfort, but the Pony Rider
Boy appeared not to have heard the shot.

Not a word was being said by the lad's companions. The professor lay
where he had fallen, the perspiration streaming from his face and body
up the side of the canyon the big eyes of Chunky might have been seen
peering through between the bushes at the exciting scene below. All
at once Tad stooped over. When he straightened up with a bound that
carried him several feet to one side, he held a good-sized stone in
his right hand.

"Now will you drop that pistol?" demanded the Pony Rider Boy.

"I'll drop you!" roared the enraged enemy.

No sooner had he uttered the words than Tad, with a well-directed toss,
dropped the stone fairly on the stomach of the man on the ground.

The prisoner uttered a yell that might have been heard a quarter of a
mile away. Ere the yell had died out another stone landed nearly in
the same place. The weapon dropped from the hands of the fellow,
falling between his legs where he could not reach it without changing
his position materially. This he tried to do in a series of quick
twists and wriggles, though the boys knew from the expression on his
face that he was suffering great pain. It was not surprising, in view
of the fact that two rocks, each weighing from eight to ten pounds,
had been dropped on his stomach.

The fellow found no opportunity to recover the lost weapon. Tad was
upon him with a rush. Grabbing the mountaineer's feet he dragged the
man roughly to one side.

"I guess that will be about all for you, my man. You may push us too
far. I shan't promise to let you off so easily if you try any more
tricks. Professor, are you much hurt?"

"I---I don't know. I'm bleeding."

"Let's see what he did to you."

A quick examination developed the fact that the professor had sustained
merely a flesh wound. It was bleeding very little now. Tad, at the
professor's direction, washed and dressed the wound, binding a piece
of cloth firmly about the waist.

"There, I guess you will be all right now. You may come down, Chunky.
The fun is all over for the present. How did he happen to get you
that way, Professor?"

Professor Zepplin explained how the prisoner had tricked him, declaring
his belief in Tad Butler's statement that the prisoner was a bad man.
The professor no longer urged the release of their prisoner. Tad
smiled mirthlessly. Perhaps it was better that the professor should
have had an object lesson. He would take no further chances with the
fellow after that. As for the prisoner, he was fairly frothing at the
mouth with rage.

Now that the excitement had come to an end for the moment Stacy Brown
went about his task of gathering more wood for the fire. This time
he went quite a distance down the canyon, carrying a torch that he
might the better find that for which he was in search.

Stacy was busy gathering wood, muttering to himself as was his habit,
when all of a sudden he straightened up, conscious that some one was
standing beside him. As he rose the fat boy's nose nearly bumped into
the muzzle of a revolver. The revolver was backed by a not unpleasant,
but stern face.

"Wha---wha-----what---" stammered the fat boy. "Wh---wh---who---"

"Not a sound, young man, if you value your life. Who and what are you?"

"I---I'm a Pu---Pu---Pony Rider Boy."

"A what?"

"A Pu---Pony Rider Boy."

"What are you doing here?"

"Ga---gathering firewood."

"Who is your party?"

"Pro---professor Ze---Zep---Zepplin and the boys," stammered the fat
boy, trembling at the knees. "I haven't done anything, but I'm a
bu---bu---bad man when I get ma---mad."

The stern-faced stranger grinned appreciatively.

"You are not the fellows who came in at State Line the other day,
are you?"

"Ye---yes, we're the bu---bu---bunch."

"Oh, fudge!" groaned the stranger. "And to think I've been to all this
trouble to round up a bunch of tenderfeet." The man thrust his
revolver into its holster with a grunt of disgust.

"I'm Withem," he snapped.

"So am I," answered Chunky.

"I said, 'I'm Withem,'" repeated the stranger.

"I said I was too," reiterated the fat boy.

"Look here, what are you trying to get at, young man?" demanded the
newcomer with a slight show of irritation. "Are you trying to make
sport of me?"

"N---n----no. You said you were with them---with us---with the crowd,
you know. And I said I was too."

The stranger tilted back his head and laughed softly.

"You little cayuse, my name is Withem. W---I---T---H---E----M!" he


A broad smile grew on the face of the Pony Rider Boy as he asked:

"What do you reckon you want here?"

"I'm just looking around a bit. I think I'll go to your camp with you."

Stacy surveyed his companion critically from head to foot.

"All right," he said. "If you want to take the chance, I'm willing."

"What chance?" demanded the stranger.

"Tad Butler might take it into his head to throw you out, or something,
if he doesn't like your looks."

"I'll take the chance."

"All right; come on. But mind you, it'll be the worse for you if you try
to start anything. We're a bad lot, we are, and don't you forget it."

A moment or so later the Pony Rider Boys were amazed to see Stacy
strutting in with a stranger in tow.

"He's with us fellows," was the fat boy's announcement.

"Withem's my name," corrected the stranger.

"Yes, he's with 'em. But he hasn't said who it is he is with. I
thought I was with him when he shoved a pistol under my nose."

"Good evening, sir," said Tad stepping up, directing a quick, keen
glance of inquiry into the eyes of the newcomer. In that one glance
Butler decided that the man was all right. It was a relief to see a
face like that after their experience with the mountaineer.

As for the prisoner himself, who lay back in a shadow now, he started
violently the instant he beheld the man who had just come into the
camp of the Pony Rider Boys. The prisoner looked as if he had a severe
case of ague for he fairly shrank within himself.

"You are just in time to join us for a bite, Mr. Withem. That is your
name, is it not?"

"That's my name."

"Mine is Tad Butler. This is Professor Zepplin. The young man with
whom you came in is Stacy Brown, otherwise Chunky, and here are Mr.
Rector and Mr. Perkins. If you will gather around the fire I'll serve
the chuck."

"Thanks, young man. You certainly know how to do the honors, as well
as how to fry bacon. I could smell that across a county and I'd ride
to it as fast as horseflesh could carry me."

"Are you from these parts?" asked the professor after they had seated
themselves on the ground.

"Yes, I'm from everywhere," laughed Withem. "By the way, young man,
that looks like the mark of a bullet on your cheek," he continued,
bending a keen glance on Stacy.

"Then it looks like what it is," muttered the fat boy.

"I don't want to be inquisitive, but---"

"No, it isn't considered good manners to be too curious down in this
country, I've heard."

"Right you are, yonnker," laughed Withem, in which the others joined
heartily. "Men have been known to get into trouble by being too
curious, especially down on the Rio Grande. The-----"

The visitor's conversation was interrupted by something falling over
from beside the tree against which he was sitting. That something
was the rifle the boys had taken from the prisoner.

Withem picked up the gun with the purpose of replacing it. He was
just standing it against the tree when suddenly he stopped, bringing
the gun around in front of him where he could get a better view of it.

The Pony Rider Boys were regarding him questioningly, Tad almost
suspiciously. Chunky was wondering if their visitor was going to
shoot. The fat boy was ready to run at the first sign of trouble.
He had stopped enough bullets for one day. As for the prisoner, his
bloodshot eyes were taking in every movement of the man Withem.

"You seem to be much interested," suggested Tad.

Withem flashed a keen, searching look into Butler's face.

"I am."

"Why that's-----" began Walter, then subsided at a warning look from Tad.

"Pardon me, but will you be good enough to tell me where you got
this rifle? I have good and sufficient reasons for asking the
question," said Withem almost sternly.

"We took it from a man who had set out to shoot us up, sir," replied

"Tried to shoot you up? When? Where?" demanded the visitor with a
trace of excitement in his tone.

"This afternoon and to-night. Stacy Brown's cheek bears evidence of
the fellow's marksmanship. It seems the man took us to be
officers---Rangers, he said."

"Then you---you talked with him?"

"We did," answered Tad with a twinkle in his eyes. "In fact we held
quite a lengthy conversation with the gentleman."

"Explain what you are getting at." Withem was deeply interested in the
scant information that had been given to him. They saw that he was
containing himself with difficulty.

"Tell, Mr. Withem. Don't beat about the bush," advised the professor.

"Yes; tell me what became of the fellow who shot you up," urged the

"What became of him, sir?"

"Yes, yes!"

"Why we caught and made him prisoner."


"Yes, sir, and we have him now," smiled Tad Butler.

"You've got him now? Where is he?" roared the visitor springing to
his feet, permitting the captured weapon to fall to the ground.

"He is over there in the bushes," said Tad. "However, I think you
had better wait until I get over there before you pay him a visit.
I have a sort of proprietary interest in that fellow and I don't
propose to have any monkey business. He nearly killed Professor
Zepplin, bound though he is. Wait one moment, please. Why do you
wish to see the man?"

"Because I think I know him. Gentlemen, I am a Ranger. I am Lieutenant
Joe Withem, and I have good reasons to believe your prisoner is a man
whom I have been anxious to meet for some time. I am ready to be shown."

Tad wonderingly led the way over to their captive, the lieutenant
following in quick, nervous strides, the others of the party bringing
up the rear, Chunky lugging a rifle which he kept in position for
instant use in case the stranger should seek to liberate their prisoner.
But there was little danger of Lieutenant Joe Withem doing anything
of the sort,



Tad had snatched a burning brand from the fire, carrying it along with
him so that Withem might get a good look at the prisoner. The lad
considered it a fortunate coincidence that the Ranger lieutenant should
have visited their camp at that particular time.

The instant Withem set eyes on the prisoner he uttered an exclamation
under his breath, while the prisoner glared up at him with menacing eyes.

"Hullo, Dunk," greeted the Ranger. "You seem to be in limbo. I reckon
you bit off more'n you could chew, for once in your life. Thought you
were shooting up Rangers, did you? Instead you barked up against
some tenderfeet who were too much for you. I guess you ain't quite
so smart as you thought you were."

"I reckon you've made a mistake," growled the prisoner. "I don't know
what you're chewing about."

"That's all right, Dunk. I don't reckon it makes any difference what
you think about it. We've got you hard and fast, and you're done for.
I reckon, too, that the captain will be glad to see you. He'll have a
warm welcome for you, you bet. They certainly have you tied up for
keeps," laughed the lieutenant, bending over to examine the prisoner's
bonds. "They certainly have. Come on, let's finish that bacon," added
the Ranger straightening up.

The party took its way back to the campfire, Stacy disgustedly throwing
his gun on the ground at the foot of the tree where lay the prisoner's

"Now, sir, perhaps you will explain who and what this man is? You
appear to be well acquainted with him," said the professor.

"I am that. But how did you get him?"

"Master Tad there will answer that question. He and Rector made the

"You two younkers caught that man?" wondered the lieutenant.

"Yes, sir," replied Tad modestly. "But I'll admit that it was a
pretty tough job. He nearly got us."

"Tell me about it."

Tad did so briefly, making as little of his own achievement as possible.
He related also, how the prisoner had gained possession of Professor
Zepplin's revolver and of the latter's narrow escape from death.

"Boys, you've done a big thing. The captain will be interested in
you," said Mr. Withem. "He's been wanting this man for a long time."

"You haven't told us who the fellow is, yet," reminded Professor

"He is Dunk Tucker, sir, one of the most dangerous customers infesting
the border. We have been on his trail for weeks, but he's managed to
give us the slip every time. We never expected to capture him alive.
We expected to have to shoot him on sight, which we probably would
have done."

"Is it possible?" murmured the professor. "I did not suppose such
conditions existed on the border at this late day."

"They do not, ordinarily."

"What has the man Tucker done?"

"Done? It would be easier to tell you what he hasn't done. He's
committed pretty nearly every crime in the calendar and some that
aren't in the almanac. He is one of a band of thieves that has been
operating on the border for months. They are smugglers and thieves.
They have even gone back to the old style of stock stealing. Up to
date it is estimated that they have run across the border into Mexico
several hundred head of stock. The ranchers are up in arms. The
Rangers have been called in to put the Border Bandits out of business.
This is the first one of the gang that we have captured. And, after
all, we didn't capture him. That was left for a bunch of plucky
young tenderfeet---two of them, to be exact.

"Furthermore, it is suspected that Dunk and some of the other bad men
of his crowd are in the pay of German agents in Mexico. The Germans
are trying to stir up trouble on this side of the line, and these
border ruffians are ready to do anything for the sake of easy money,
even at the expense of being traitors to their country. It is
believed that German money is finding its way into their pockets.
The hounds!" raged the Ranger.

"Surely these men have not resorted to force---committed murder or
anything of that sort?" interposed the professor.

"Not that we know of, though some of them did have a pitched battle
with a rancher over on the western border of the state. A few stopped
bullets, but so far as we know no one was killed. I am telling you
all this in confidence. There are a good many in this thing whose
names we do not know."

"You can make the prisoner confess, can you not?" asked Professor

"Confess?" the lieutenant laughed. "You don't know these Border
Bandits. No, they never confess. There will always be more or less
trouble down on the Rio Grande. It is so close to Mexico, so easy to
get across the border that bad men cannot resist taking advantage of
it. That is why the Rangers are still in business. If it were not
for the border we all should be looking for other jobs. As it is
there aren't many of us left."

"How many?" asked the professor.

"Some thirty in the state, that is all. We are subject to the orders
of the governor, though we're left pretty much to ourselves."

"Who is your commander?"

"Captain Billy McKay."

"That's the man Dunk named. He accused us of belonging to McKay's band
of Rangers," said Rector.

"He did, eh?"


"I thought so. Still, he might have shot you up just the same, even if
he had known you hadn't anything to do with us."

"Where is the rest of your party, Mr. Withem?" asked Tad.

"They're out on the trail," was the somewhat evasive answer. "I'll
get in touch with them sometime to-night or to-morrow."

"But you will take Tucker with you, will you not?" asked Ned.

"I reckon I will," laughed the Ranger.

"Shall we take him along for you? You have no horse?" asked Tad.

"My nag isn't far from here," smiled the lieutenant. "I'll load him
on like a sack of meal. He'll get a good shaking up, but it won't
hurt Dunk. He's too tough to be bothered by a little thing like that.
We'll land him in the calaboose in El Paso by the day after to-morrow.
Where are you folks going?"

"We planned to do the Guadalupes, then go on down to the Rio Grande,"
answered Professor Zepplin.

Withem reflected.

"I reckon the captain will be wanting to see you. There's a reward
out for Dunk. Captain Bill is on the square. He'll 'divvy' with you

"We are not looking for any rewards," spoke up Tad quickly. "You may
tell him that whatever reward is paid, belongs to the Rangers. We are
glad to have served you, but remember, we did so to save our own skins."

Withem extended his hand, grasping Tad's hand within it.

"You're the right sort, young man. I wish we had you with us."

"In the Rangers?"

"Yes, of course."

"I am afraid that would not be possible," smiled the Pony Rider Boy.

"Wholly impossible," affirmed Professor Zepplin with emphasis.

"I suppose so. However, I want you to see the captain. I'll tell
you what to do." The lieutenant lowered his voice. "We will be in
camp to-morrow night about twenty-five miles to the southwest of here.
Know where Doble's Spring is?"

"No, sir."

"You can find it. The water gushes out of the rocks pretty high up,
falling in a sort of spray. You can't miss the place. You'll hear it
if it's after dark when you get there."

"And, further, you'll probably see a campfire, but sing out before you
come in too close. Some of our boys are rather sudden when they're
interrupted at night," grinned the Ranger.

"I should call it violent," declared Stacy. "The way you poked that
pistol in my face back there was a caution. You nearly scared me out
of a week's growth."

No one paid any attention to Chunky's interruption.

"Will your captain be there?" asked the professor.

"I reckon he will But I can't tell for sure. McKay is a pretty busy
man. You don't know where to find him. He may be here to-night.
and to-morrow morning he may be sixty or seventy miles away. You
can't tell about Billy McKay."

"Is there any danger of our having difficulties with any of this
fellow's companions?" asked the professor apprehensively.

"I reckon not. At least there won't be after you have come up with
our party. We'll see to that."

"Where are their headquarters---in these mountains?" questioned Tad.

"We don't know. That's what we're trying to find out. We have
reckoned they had their hang-out here, but we haven't found it yet"

"How many are in this band of Border Bandits?" asked Butler.

"There are some that we don't know. We do know a few of them, however.
For instance, there's the Mexican, Espinoso, known as the 'Yellow Kid.'
Then there's Greg. Gonzales, a half-breed Mex bandit, and Willie Jones."

"Willie Jones! That's a funny name," laughed Stacy. "That doesn't
sound very savage. I shouldn't be afraid of a fellow with a name
like that."

"You would if you knew him. Willie is a dude. He dresses like a city
fellow with all the frills he can pile on, and he has the manners of
a city chap too. But you look out for Willie. There isn't a colder
blooded man in the state than Willie Jones. He's quick as lightning
on the gun and can hit a bull's-eye with his own eyes shut."

"If he is any worse than our prisoner over there, I don't think I care
to make his acquaintance," replied Butler with a laugh.

"He is, young man. You'd know Dunk to be a bad man the first time
you saw him. You wouldn't think it of Willie and by the time you get
him sized up, it's too late to do you any good. I hope you don't meet
with Willie and try to land him. If you do you'll be carried out on
a litter, reduced to a pulp."

"Br---r----r---r!" shivered Chunky.

"Where---where is this bad man supposed to hide himself?" asked the

"I wish I knew," sighed the Ranger. "It would be worth a cold thousand
dollars to me and perhaps some more. There's a price on Willie's head.
But what's the use speculating about it? We'll get him some day, but
he'll be a dead one when we do. I'd a sight rather capture him alive."

The boys listened to all this with deep interest. They had never
come in contact with such cold-blooded discussion over human lives.
They began to understand something of the things they had read
concerning conditions in the Lone Star State in the early days when
men's passions ran riot; when practically the only law of the land
was the law of the gun. Now, conditions had changed. It was only
in certain localities that lawlessness reigned in Texas, but these
were bad spots, as evidenced by the presence of the Rangers, that
intrepid body of men that for thirty years had been the terror of
evildoers. The Rangers were pitted against a worthy foe in this
instance, though it was a certainty that in time the Rangers would
get their men, either dead or alive.

"And now I reckon I'll be going," decided the lieutenant, after having
partaken heartily of the appetizing meal. "I'll be expecting you at
the Spring when we get there to-morrow."

"Thank you; we will endeavor to be there. It will be a pleasure to
meet your commander. We may get some useful advice from him."

"We'll bring up your horse if you will tell us where he is," offered

"Thanks, pard. He's on the other side of the creek about fifteen rods
from here."

Accompanied by Ned, Tad hurried down, but found some difficulty in
locating the horse, so carefully had the animal been secreted. Withem
smiled when he saw them coming back.

"I guess you boys are all right," he nodded.

They helped him load the prisoner over the horse's back, after which,
giving each of the party a cordial shake of the hand, Lieutenant
Withem rode away. They observed that his rifle was resting across the
body of the prisoner, as if the lieutenant were looking for trouble.
The trouble came sooner than they expected. The Ranger had been gone
less than twenty minutes when a volley of rifle shots crashed out.

"He's attacked!" cried Tad.

"Quick! Put out the fire!" shouted the professor.

"Don't wait for the fire. We must go to his assistance!" answered
Tad, snatching up his rifle and making a bolt for his pony. "Come
on, boys, we've got something to do this time."

"Stop!" commanded the professor.

"What, sit here while a band of bandits are perhaps murdering Lieutenant
Withem? I can't do that. You stay here, Professor. We will take care
of ourselves. Don't worry about us. Chunky, you'd better stay here
with the professor. You haven't got sand enough to---"

"What, me stay here?" shouted the fat boy, starting for his own mount.
"I guess you don't know what kind of a man I am. Come on, fellows.

Stacy leaped into his saddle. Ned Rector and Walter Perkins already
had taken to their saddles. The professor saw that it was useless to
try to stop the boys. He groaned aloud. But Professor Zepplin was
very active for his years. Ere the enthusiastic Pony Riders had
started to gallop away the professor had made a flying leap into his
saddle and a few seconds later was pounding down the canyon, along
the West Fork, in the wake of the racing Pony Rider Boys.

"There they are!" cried Tad, as bursting out on the plain they saw
vicious flashes of light, accompanied by the crashing of guns.



Rifles had been jerked from saddle boots as the boys swung to the left,
sweeping down over the plain. Tad assumed the leadership of the party,
as he usually did in emergencies.

"All hold your fire until I give the word. Keep your heads. Don't get
excited!" wanted the lad.

"That is good judgment. But try to keep out of the fire," shouted the

Ned Rector laughed.

"We might better have stayed at the camp if that is all we are going to
do," he answered.

Tad saw that several men were riding around in a circle shooting at a
fleeing horseman whose rifle spoke often and spitefully. The lad
knew that the solitary horseman was the Ranger lieutenant.

"The cowards---to attack one man that way!" gritted the boy. "Now,
fellows," he called, slacking up slightly, "I want you, when I say go,
to yell like mad. Whoop it up for all you're worth. Then when I say
fire, every man shake out his rifle, but shoot high. We don't want to
hit anybody unless we have to. We'll make those fellows think the
whole troop of Rangers is turned loose on them. Understand?"

"Good! Excellent head work, Tad. I'm proud of you. But I do hope none
of you gets hit."

"If you are afraid, drop back to the rear, Professor," suggested Stacy,
whereat chuckles were heard from the others.

The bandits had not discovered the advancing horsemen in the darkness,
though had they been less interested in seeking to kill Lieutenant
Withem they might have observed the little band that was now sweeping
down on them.

"Now! Whoop it up, fellows!" Tad raised his voice to an exultant shout.

Chunky's piercing voice punctured the atmosphere in a blood-curdling
shout, a wild warwhoop.

"Yip! Yip! Hiyi! Hiyi! Kyaw! Kyeeaw! Yip! Yip!"

Despite the seriousness of the situation and the real desperateness of
their position the Pony Rider Boys laughed so that they were unable to
yell for a full minute. Then they let go their voices, to which the
professor added his own. But his voice was almost wholly lost in the
blood-curdling shouts of his young charges.

"Ready---Chunky, aim at the moon or you'll be puncturing some of us.
Now fire!"

A volley of shots followed Tad's command. Five rifles crashed out,
but their leaden missiles went high, followed by another series of
wild yells, whoops and scattering shots.

About this time the Border Bandits discovered the oncoming party of
horsemen. All at once they turned their rifles on the Pony Rider Boys.
At the first shot in the direction of the boys Tad turned in his saddle.

"Lie low!" he yelled. "Keep whooping and keep shooting. Look out that
you don't hit any one. Ride straight at them. They'll give ground."

"I hope to goodness they do," shouted Ned Rector.

"If they don't it's me for the tall timber," cried Stacy, who had
overheard Rector's remark.

The bullets sang so close to the boys that the lads could hear them
plainly. Had the light been more certain some of them must have been
hit, for those men out there knew how to handle rifles much better
than did any of the Pony Rider Boys.

With wild whoops and yells, keeping up a continuous fusillade, the
plucky band kept straight on.

"It's the Rangers!" They heard the words plainly, uttered by one of
the bandits.

"Yip! Yip! Kyeeaw!" screamed the fat boy.

"Yip! Yip! Hiyi!" chorused the others.

"We've got 'em on the run!" yelled Tad, as the circling horsemen swung
out into a straight line and began racing across the plains, turning
in their saddles to shoot at their assailants.

"Can you see to let them have a few shots into the ground to hurry them
along?" called Butler.

"Yes, yes," yelled the boys.

"Be careful," warned the professor. Bang, bang, bang, bang! answered
the rifles of the Pony Rider Boys. The horses of the bandits fairly
leaped into the air. Soon after that they faded into dark, uncertain
streaks on the white of the plain. Now the rifle of the solitary
horseman began to speak again. Joe Withem was not afflicted with any
scruples against shooting to hit. He tumbled one man out of his
saddle, but the fellow's companions scooped up the wounded bandit,
carrying him away with them. Withem thought he saw a man go down,
but he could not be sure.

The boys swept past him some distance to the left of the Ranger, still
shooting, their purpose being to keep the bandits going until the
latter should have been driven so far away that they would not be
back that night.

"Swing back!" commanded Tad. The boys pulled their horses down, and
wheeling began trotting back. A little beyond they saw Withem
galloping toward them.

"You were just in time, fellows. They had me on the hip for sure."

"I'm glad of it," called Tad, "for---"

"What's that? Who are you?" interrupted the lieutenant. Then he
pulled his horse up sharply. "Well, I'll be jiggered, if it isn't

"That's who it is," laughed Tad. "Are you hit?"

"I stopped a couple, but it doesn't amount to anything. Just flesh
wounds, that's all. And you boys put the bandits on the run, eh?"
wondered the Ranger lieutenant. "That's another one I owe you. That's
another one the Cap'n owes you too."

"Don't mention it."

"How did they happen to discover you?" asked the professor riding
up beside the Ranger.

"That's what gets me. I don't understand it at all. They must have
caught sight of me as I was riding out. They surely didn't know I
had Dunk with me or they wouldn't have begun shooting at me. They'd
have tried to pot the pony in the legs and get me afterwards, though
I might have stood them off till daylight."

"Bad, very bad!" muttered the professor.

"I call it very good, sir. Those fellows have had a fright that will
keep them going for some hours yet. They think it is the Rangers that's
chasing them and they'll be hiking for cover at the rate of some miles
an hour."

"You are sure you are not badly hurt?" asked the professor anxiously.

"If I never get any worse, I'll be satisfied. I'm a marked man, you
know. Some day, when my gun sticks in the holster, I may get mine."

"Come back to camp with us. Surely you are not going on to-night?"

"Thank you, but I must be getting on. I've got to be at the camp by

"If you think there is danger of your being attacked, we will ride with
you," said Tad.

"No, pard, I'm better off alone. I'll know enough to dodge them now."

"Speaking of danger, you don't suppose these men will come back and
visit our camp, do you?" asked the professor.

"No, I don't think so. But were I in your place I think I'd put out
my fire and set a guard for the rest of the night. It's always a safe
thing to do. They won't touch you in the daytime; in fact, I think
those fellows will be hiding. We'll set a couple of men on their trail
just as soon as I get to camp; now that I know where the trail starts.
They know I know, and that's what makes me think they won't let the
grass grow under their feet."

"I am glad to hear you say so," answered Professor Zepplin. "I am
afraid we should not have mixed up in this affair at all, though
naturally I am pleased that we have been able to be of some service
to you when you might have been killed."

"And some others with me," answered the Ranger grimly. "Well, so long.
I'll talk with you to-morrow."

"Good night and good luck!" called the boys.

"Good night, pards," answered the Ranger heartily. Swinging his pony
about he galloped away into the darkness, while the boys turned their
own mounts toward their camp in the canyon. They had done a good
night's work and Tad's generalship alone had won the battle for the
Ranger lieutenant. But there were other equally exciting experiences
ahead of them in the near future, in which the Border Bandits would
play an active part.



It was rather a solemn party that took its way slowly back to the Pony
Rider Boys' Camp in the mountains. The boys realized that they had
taken a rather active part in what might prove for them a serious
affair. If, by any chance, the bandits learned who had interfered
with them, it might be necessary for Professor Zepplin and his
charges to make lively tracks for the border and seek other fields
of adventure.

The same thought was in the minds of all except Chunky, who held his
head erect, his chest swelled out. He was full of their great
achievements and was telling what he would do if any of the bandits
came to visit their camp.

"I think we will put you on guard to-night, seeing that you are such a
brave young man," said the professor with a twinkle.

"On guard?"


"Yes, that's the idea. Let him take the watch," approved Rector.

"You forget that I'm a wounded man. You forget I've been shot twice
to-day. Huh! Some of you children take the trick. I've got to take
care of my health."

"I guess if we expect to get any sleep we had better let some one else
do it," agreed Tad. "Chunky will have us out on false alarms all
night long."

They were agreed upon this, and by common consent Butler was given the
watch for the night. The boys slept with their rifles beside them
that night.

The night passed without incident, Tad Butler keeping a vigilant watch
all during the dark hours of the night. He had plenty of time to think
matters over. He realized that Dunk Tucker, the prisoner, had
overheard all that had been said during their talk with Withem out on
the plain. Tad knew that if Dunk ever got into communication with his
fellows it would go hard with the Pony Rider Boys.

Soon after daybreak, Tad awakened his fellows. He already had a brisk
fire going, but before lighting it, the lad had walked down to the
edge of the canyon for a survey of the plain. He saw a solitary
horseman far out over the rolling plain. After some study he made up
his mind that the man was going away instead of coming toward them.

Breakfast finished the party packed their belongings and started out
for their long ride to join the Rangers sometime late in the day.

About noon they made camp for dinner and a rest, not taking up their
journey until about four o'clock in the afternoon. Darkness overtook
them, finding them still without sight or sound of the Spring where
Withem said they would find the Rangers' camp. A consultation was held
and it was decided to continue on until they picked up the party.

About half an hour after night had fallen, they were riding along when
suddenly they were stopped by a stern command.

"Halt! Hands up! Every man of you is covered!"

"Oh, wow!" gasped Chunky. "They've got us again."

"Who are you?" demanded the voice.

"Who are you?" returned Tad boldly.

"I reckon my question gits the first answer, seeing as I've got the
drop on you."

Tad all at once realized that the sound of falling water was in the
air. With it came the thought that these must be the Rangers.

"We're the Pony Rider Boys," he said, speaking confidently.

"The which?"

He repeated his answer.

"Wait a minute. Send for Joe," said the man in a lower tone. "You
fellows stay just as you are if you don't want some daylight let
through you."

"I---I wish we did have a little daylight," stammered Chunky, which
elicited a short laugh from his companions. "Yeow!" bowled the fat
boy as a figure appeared beside him and a pair of iron arms grasped
his hands pulling him down, nearly unseating him. "Yeow! Let go!"

"It's all right, boys," spoke up the familiar voice of Lieutenant
Withem. "I'd know this fellow in the dark as well as in the light.
I'm Withem."

At the lieutenant's reassuring words the Rangers---for the boys had
stumbled upon the camp of the men of Captain McKay's command---crowded
forward, talking and laughing, three of them taking the horses as the
party dismounted, then leading the way into the bushes and in among
the rocks where the lads came upon a campfire, around which were
seated five or six other Rangers.

Withem introduced the professor and his charges. There were, besides
the Lieutenant, Pete Quash, "Dippy" Orell, Cad Morgan, Bucky Moore,
"Polly" Perkins and several others, all of whom were introduced in
turn, the Rangers solemn as owls, making low bows, sweeping the ground
with their sombreros, causing Stacy to open his eyes in wonderment.
Lieutenant Withem made the party feel at home at once.

"Just in time to have chuck with us. You see we have our chuck wagon
here. Of course we don't carry it wherever we go. We usually have
some central point where we make headquarters. But we have to keep
changing these headquarters for reasons you understand."

All hands sat down to the evening meal after the men had washed up, in
most instances without removing their hats. This attracted the
attention of the fat boy.

"Say, do you fellows sleep in your hats as well as wash and eat in
them?" he demanded.

"Do you sleep in your skin?" retorted Dippy.

"Yes, unless it has been all skinned off from me. When I was fighting
Indians up in the Grand Canyon---"

"Chop it!" commanded a Ranger. "Men have been known to meet their death
for less in this country."

"Can't I say what I've got to say?" demanded the fat boy indignantly.

"Are you going to brag about yourself?" demanded Polly.

"I'm telling you, and---"

"Well, don't tell us. We don't want to have to take you out and tie
you to a tree. Say, will you get wise to the dude with the red
necktie?" scoffed the Ranger, pointing to Ned, who, in the place of the
bandanna handkerchief, had put on a flowing tie of brilliant red,
tying it about his neck, with the ends carelessly thrown over the left

"Don't you like it?" asked Ned, flushing.

"Like it? Why, it's the hottest thing that ever crossed the Staked
Plains since the Apaches came down in---"

"Why don't you look the other way then?" interjected Stacy.

"Oho! Listen to the human monstrosity---the monstrosity as wide as he
is long and as fresh as he is stale. What you got to say about it,
young man?" demanded Dippy, glancing at Tad Butler, who was smiling.

"I haven't said anything yet."

"But you're going to?"

"I may."

"Can we stand for any more remarks, boys?" asked Dippy.

"No, we can't stand for any more," chorused the men, the professor and
the lieutenant being too busy with a discussion to pay any heed to what
was going on about them.

"Then he shall be washed clean so that he may take a fresh start?"

"That's the idea!"

"Will you go peaceably or must we drag you?"

"I reckon you'd better drag me. If you're going to have fun with me
you'll have to earn it. I don't propose to help you out."

"Do you hear?" demanded Dippy in a deep, hoarse voice.

"We hear."

"Then do your duty!"

Two men grabbed the Pony Rider boy up, Tad making no resistance
whatever, a little to the surprise of the men who had taken hold of
him. They expected the boy to resist, which would have given them
still further excuse to handle him roughly. But Tad was used to
dealing with the rough and ready characters of plain and mountain.
He didn't care particularly what they did. The other boys were
delighted that Tad was to be made the mark this time. They followed
along laughing and jeering at their companion.

The Rangers fell in behind the two who were carrying Butler, in solemn
procession. To look at their faces one would have thought they were
performing a solemn duty. The boys wondered where it was going to end.
They discovered a few minutes later. Tad was taken out where the
gentle murmur of the Spring falling over the rocks could be heard when
the Pony Rider Boys were not making too much noise.

"Do you withdraw the flippant words you used to a member of this august
body?" demanded a deep voice.

"No!" cried Tad Butler. "Never! I'll die first!"

"Then take your punishment!"

With that they gave the boy a swing, one holding to the feet the other
the shoulders of the lad. When they let go, Tad sailed several feet
through the air. Quick as a cat in his movements Tad turned over
before he landed, going down on all fours. He thought he was going to
strike on the hard ground. Instead he landed at the bottom of a deep
pool of water cold as ice it seemed to him. He went in all over. Not
expecting anything of this sort the boy was not holding his breath.
The result was that he got a mouthful of water. He came up choking,
then pretended to go down again. Instead he crawled up to the bank,
under which he hid.

A moment passed and the Rangers began to be alarmed. Dippy stepped
to the edge of the pool and leaning over peered down somewhat anxiously.

Quick as a flash a pair of arms encircled his neck. Dippy plunged
in head first. He did not even have time to cry out. The others,
discovering that Dippy had fallen in, rushed to the edge shouting and
laughing. Two of them went the way of their companion, Tad having
jerked their feet from under them. Within sixty seconds from that time
half of the crowd were threshing about in the cold waters of the pool,
while Tad, who had crawled out, sat on the bank dripping, watching
their struggles.

Stacy Brown was rolling on the ground, howling with delight. All at
once he was picked up in a pair of strong arms and tossed in bodily.
Stacy howled lustily. Clambering out he squared off for fight, but the
only fight he got was another ducking in the pool.

"You---you----you fellows ought to be ashamed to pick on a wounded man
that way. Don't you know I've been shot?"


"Yes, shot."

"He's been shot," chorused the boys and the Rangers together.

"Any of the rest of you kiddies been wounded in the fracas?" demanded

"No, but you've overlooked two of us," announced Ned stepping out. "We
haven't had our baths yet and I reckon we need them."

Without a word, two of the Rangers got up and threw the two remaining
boys into the pool. Ned went in with a mighty splash, Walter Perkins
landing on top of him, nearly taking away the breath of Rector. They
had a rough and tumble scrimmage in the cold water, coming out choking,
dripping and laughing.

All this made a favorable impression on the Rangers. Boys who could
take rough handling such as this, without losing their tempers or even
offering any objection, surely must be worth while. Then, too, there
was the story about Tad and Ned having captured the desperado, Dunk
Tucker, who was now well on his way to the calaboose in El Paso.

"I reckon you kin go back and dry off now," drawled Dippy. "Anything
else you cayuses reckon you want?"

"Yes, you might fetch me a piece of soap," answered Butler laughingly.

"I reckon you'll use sand, young man," answered Orell witheringly.

The Pony Rider Boys made their way back to the camp, wet but happy, the
only dissatisfied one in the crowd being Stacy Brown. But their
troubles for the night were not wholly over yet. Their initiation was
not yet complete. The Rangers had still other plans for their visitors.



"Guess you fellows are forgetting about that 'possum hunt?" drawled Cad
Morgan as the boys came noisily into camp.

"'Possum hunt?" cried Stacy, brightening at once.

"I wasn't talking to you," answered Morgan witheringly. "Don't break
in when men are talking."

"Men? Where are your men? I want to go 'possum hunting, too."

"So do I," chorused Ned and Walter. Tad did not speak. He was
watching the Rangers to see if they meant it. Evidently they did.

"That's so," answered Dippy. "We had plumb forgotten all about it.
We better get a move on or we won't have that 'possum for breakfast.
Ever go bag-baiting for 'possum?" he demanded wheeling on Tad.

"I never did."

"Neither did I," interjected Stacy crowding in between Tad and the
Ranger. "I want to bag a 'possum."

"Better look sharp or the 'possum will bag you," warned Pete Quash.

"I guess I'm not afraid of any 'possum that ever climbed a tree.
Haven't I killed lions and bob cats and fought Indians, and---"

"Stop it!" roared Dippy. "I'll be worse'n my name if you keep filling
me up with that line of talk."

"What's bag-baiting 'possum?" asked Walter.

"What! You never heard of bag-baiting?" demanded Cad.

"I never did."

"Well, you fellows are tenderfeet!"

"May we go along and help?" asked Chunky.

"What do you say, fellows?"

"We might let them on a pinch. I suppose they've got to learn some

"All right, you fellows may go out and help us, but it's a job, mind
you! You'll get sick of it before you've finished."

"No we won't," cried the boys.

"Well, I reckon we'd better be getting the stuff together," said Cad
getting up wearily. "Though I'm afraid the roly-poly will plumb scare
every 'possum out of the community."

"If they don't run at sight of you, they'll stand for anything short of
a ghost," retorted Stacy sarcastically.

Cad did not reply to this fling. He merely grinned. Tad saw more in
that grin than did his companions, but he held his peace. He wanted
to see the fun, even if it were still further at his own expense.

Preparations for the 'possum hunt were at once begun. Two burlap sacks
were procured from somewhere in the camp. These, with several candles
and some stout sticks, made up the outfit for the 'possum hunt.

"Where are you fellows going?" called Withem as he saw the outfit
starting away.

"Hunting 'possums," answered Dippy.

Lieutenant Withem smiled.

"I hope you bring back some for breakfast," called the professor. "I am
fond of 'possum."

"You won't be of the 'possum they catch," warned the lieutenant, in a
low tone.

With pistol holsters slapping against their thighs, Rangers and Pony
Rider Boys strode from the camp, circling to the left after leaving
the rocky pass where they had their resting place. They followed
around the base of the mountains for a half mile. The ground was
thickly wooded with second growth and mesquite bush.

Cad finally called a halt.

"I reckon we'll go in here," he said.

"Going to leave a bag here?" asked Polly.

"Sure. Here you, Perkins, catch bold of the bag."

"What do I do?" asked Walter.

"Wait; I'll show you."

Morgan very carefully lighted a candle and stuck it into the ground,
packing the dirt about it with his knife.

"Now you hold the bag open. Don't move. Don't jump if you see a
'possum light into the bag. You see the light draws them. It
hypnotizes them and they jump right into the light. That means they
jump into the bag. The minute one hops in all you have to do is to
close the bag, sling it over your shoulder and hike back to camp
with it."

"That's easy. I could catch 'possums myself if that's all a fellow has
to do," declared Stacy.

"It'll be your turn next, Fatty."

It was. After floundering through the bushes for some distance the
Rangers stopped.

"Now, Fatty, it's your turn," announced Cad. "You may have to wait
around here for an hour or two while we beat up the bushes and drive
the 'possum in, but you won't care. You'll be glad you stayed when you
get a nice fat 'possum for your breakfast."

"I'll catch him if he comes this way," replied the fat boy.

"You bet you'll catch it," chuckled Dippy.

"How long do I stay here?"

"Till you git a 'possum," answered Polly. "Mebby that'll be in two
minutes and mebby not in two hours, but you've got to stand very still.
If you move you'll scare the whole pack of them back into their holes."

Stacy squared himself, holding the opening of the bag close up to the
burning candle.

"That's right. A little more to the left with the opening," directed
Cad, who had constituted himself the master of the hunt. "Now hold
it. You other two lads work around the outside. One of you go to the
north, the other to the south about a quarter of a mile, then work
gradually in, beating the bushes, slamming these clubs against every
tree you come to big enough to hold a 'possum. In that way you'll
drive them in."

"Yes, sir," answered Tad and Ned very solemnly.

"And go slow. Just take a step at a time, or some of the birds may get
by you."

"A 'possum isn't a bird," corrected Stacy.

"You'll think it is after you've hunted one for an hour or two. Now git
going, you beaters. Imagine you're beating the bush for lions. That
will keep you from going to sleep on the job."

Chunky's eyes grew large.

"See here, you don't want to stand up straight," rebuked Morgan. "You
must lean over just like this," bending himself almost double with his
nose close to the ground.

For a half hour Stacy Brown maintained his position. By this time his
back was aching, perspiration was running down his face and neck in
rivulets. Insects of many shapes and forms, attracted by the light,
were hopping about, some getting into the fat boy's eyes, nose and
ears, others getting under his clothing. But still he held the bag
open. No 'possums came his way. Some few thousands of insects did.
A large part of these hopped into the bag. Others crawled in.

In the meantime Tad, his face wearing a grin, had walked away, but
instead of beating the bush for 'possum, he headed straight for the
camp. He heard the Rangers off to the left, as he emerged from the
bush. The men were laughing and talking. Butler reached the camp
ahead of them. When they came in they were amazed to see him
stretched out comfortably in front of the campfire, taking his ease.

"I thought you were hunting 'possum," cried Polly.

"I thought you were hunting 'possum," laughed the others.

The men looked into each others' faces, then burst out laughing.

"Where's the other one?" meaning Rector, who like Tad was to drive the
'possums in.

"He's hunting 'possum," answered Tad. An hour later Ned Rector came
sauntering in.

"Hullo, did you drive out any 'possum?" called Cad.

"Narry a 'poss," answered Ned carelessly. "I thought I'd leave them
for you fellows. I didn't want to hog the whole game, you know."

"Are the other two holding the bags open?"

"I don't know. I suppose they are. They'll be even with you for
that," answered Ned.

"By the way, Mr. Withem," said Tad strolling towards him, "I thought we
were going to meet Captain McKay here."

"The captain is not here," replied the lieutenant with some reservation
in his tone.

"Will he be here before we leave?"

"I can't say. Captain Billy may be here in the morning, then again he
may not. If you miss him here, he will see you some other time. He
wants to know you, pardner," smiled the lieutenant. "Where is the
fat boy?"

"Holding the 'possum bag down in the bush," answered Tad with a grim

The Rangers were pulling off their boots and one by one crawling into
the single tent that did duty as a bedroom for all except the officers,
who had a small tent to themselves. The boys were chuckling to
themselves. They thought they had a good joke on at least one of the
Pony Rider Boys, and perhaps they had.

About two hours after the men had returned to camp, Walter Perkins, with
an exclamation of disgust, threw down his bag.

"Let them catch their own 'possums," he said. "I don't believe there
are any 'possums in this country to catch. Even if there were we
never could get them in a bag this way. I'll bet they have been
playing a joke on me. I'm going back to camp."

Half an hour later, Chunky, his back aching like a sore tooth,
straightened up with evident effort. The fat boy began to see a
light, other than that furnished by the candle.

"I guess I'm the goat," he said regarding the bag reflectively. "Yes,
I am the goat all right."

Picking up the candle, Stacy peered into the bag, then he thought some
more. The inside of the bag was literally alive with insects. The fat
boy quickly closed the bag, twisting the mouth tight and tying it fast
with a string. Then blowing out the candle, he shouldered the bag,
setting off for camp as Walter had done some thirty minutes before.
But Stacy failed to observe the figure of a man near by as the boy
stepped out on the plain. This figure followed along behind him at a
safe distance, the man chuckling to himself as he watched the boy and
the bag. The mysterious stranger was the Ranger lieutenant.

Reaching the silent camp, Stacy slunk in, apparently seeking to avoid
being seen. The grinning lieutenant saw the boy slip cautiously to
the tent occupied by the sleeping Rangers. There the fat boy very
carefully deposited his 'possum bag, first having opened the mouth of
it, after which he slipped away to his own tent and crawled into bed.
But Stacy did not go to sleep at once. He lay there listening,
gazing up at the roof of the tent through which he could make out the
faint light of the sky.

Some twenty minutes elapsed when the boy sat up, thinking he had heard
a sound from the other tent. This became a certainty just a few
minutes later when a great uproar arose in the tent of the Rangers.
Loud voices were heard, threats and shouts. The hundred and fifty-eight
varieties of bugs that the fat boy had brought in in his 'possum bag,
were getting in their deadly work on the persons of the Rangers.
Chunky had turned the tables on his tormentors most beautifully.



The Rangers, slapping, scratching and fighting against the armies of
insects that were crawling over them, had finally got out of bed and
gone out of doors to sleep. But there was no rest there either.
Their bodies were covered with ants and fleas, all with
well-developed biters---and they bit!

At first the Rangers did not realize the trick that had been played
upon them. One who went back to the tent for his hat discovered the
burlap sack that had been used in the 'possum hunt. He brought it out,
holding it up before his companions. The Rangers eyed the bag, then
gazed at each other solemnly.

"Stung!" groaned Dippy.

"Bitten, you mean," answered Cad Morgan.

"Which one played that low-down trick on us?" demanded Pete Quash

"I reckon it was Fatty," said Polly. "He's the one that would have
thought of a thing like that. I reckon there must have been a million
of those bugs crawling over me."

"I'll tell you what, fellows. Let's get Fatty out and tie the sack
over his head. We'll give him a dose of his own medicine," proposed
Dippy. "We can't stand for anything of this sort."

"Look here, boys," spoke up Cad. "Are you welchers? Can't you take
your medicine without squealing?"

"What do you meant" demanded Polly.

"I mean that we fellows put up a job on the kids. The fat baby turned
the joke on us, and right smart at that. We're It. We're full of
bugs---the worst biters anywhere between the Rio Grande and the
northern border. Are we going to squeal? I reckon we aren't. We're
going to stand here and let the biters do their worst. I'm mighty
near eaten alive, but I'm taking my medicine and I reckon I'll be
taking a lot more of the same dose before morning."

"Wal," drawled Polly, "I reckon you're right at that, Cad. But I'd
like to wring that little cayuse's neck just for luck."

The "little cayuse" referred to was sleeping sweetly in his tent,
untroubled by the distress of the Rangers.

All that night the Rangers walked up and down, slapping their thighs,
scratching their legs, for the older the night grew the harder did
those fleas seem to take hold.

"I reckon their bills will be so dull by morning, after drilling our
tough hides all night, that we won't feel them at all," observed Polly.

A low growl from Dippy Orell was the only reply to the remark. Now and
then a man would throw himself down hoping to get a brief nap, but a few
moments later he would be up stamping and scratching and growling deeply,
threatening vengeance on the boy who had played the trick on them.

Next morning, Stacy Brown, for reasons best known to himself, got up
ahead of the others of his party. Stacy took his time in dressing, then
strolled out.

"Hullo, I guess the crowd is sleeping late this morning," he muttered.
Then he halted. His eyes rested on the 'possum sack that he had left
in the tent of the Rangers the night before. A broad grin spread over
his face.

"I guess they won't be playing monkeyshines on Stacy Brown right away.
I wonder if they got bitten much? I'm all swelled up where the insects
made a meal on my skin. Hullo! Hi, fellows!"

Tad Butler and Ned Rector appeared at the door of their tent almost at

"Can't you let a fellow sleep?" demanded Ned. "What's the row about?
Got a 'possum for breakfast?"

"No, but I've got something else for you."

"What's that?" questioned Butler.

"A surprise."

"What kind of a surprise?"

"Just a surprise surprise, that's all. What do you think?"

"Too early to think. I'm going back to bed," growled Rector. "And
don't you dare wake me up again."

Tad stepped out.

"The crowd has given us the slip," announced Stacy.

"What---why they've gone!" exclaimed Tad.

"Yes, they've gone. Gone where there aren't any Pony Rider Boys to
make life miserable for them."

Tad was mystified. The Ranger company had disappeared utterly. They
had slipped away silently and mysteriously. Even the chuck wagon had

"Why, what can it mean?" marveled Tad Butter.

"You may search me. I don't know."

"Hey, Ned!"

"Well, what is it?" growled Rector appearing at the tent opening again.

"They've gone and left us and without even saying good-bye," called Tad.
"Shake out the others."

The professor and Walter, having been awakened by the talking, now
appeared. They were quickly informed that the Rangers had left, at
which they wondered not a little.

"I guess they got tired of our company. I'm going to start breakfast,"
declared Butler.

"This is most remarkable," bristled the professor. "I should have
thought they would have left some word."

"How about that 'possum, Chunky?" jeered Rector.

"You better ask the Rangers. They'll tell you about that," answered
the fat boy with a grin. "There's the sack in which I fetched the
animals back to camp."

"What, did you catch any?" demanded the professor.

"Oh, I got some game, all right. I'm the champion hunter, I am. Say,
I wish I could cook like you," said Chunky gazing admiringly at Tad,
who was confidently making some biscuit for breakfast. "I never could
cook unless I had everything all down in writing before me. How do you
do it?"

"Oh, he cooks by ear," scoffed Ned. "That's why there's so many
discords in our digestive apparatus."

The Pony Rider Boys groaned dismally.



Breakfast the plans for the day were discussed. The professor was for
remaining in camp, hoping that the Rangers might return later in the
day. Tad did not believe this would be the case. He reasoned that
the men had been summoned some time during the night to go on a hike,
and that they might not return at all; therefore the Pony Rider Boys
would be losing time, whereas they might be exploring the Guadalupe
range, which stretched away for a hundred miles.

"Still, I can't understand this mysterious departure of our friends,
the Rangers," persisted Professor Zepplin.

"Perhaps it was the bugs," suggested Stacy wisely.

"The bugs?" questioned the professor.

Chunky nodded. Tad eyed the fat boy suspiciously.

"Look here, what have you got up your sleeve, Stacy?" he demanded.

"Nothing, I hope. But some of the fellows did."

"Did what?" cut in Rector.

"Did have."

"Did have what?" urged Walter. "A fellow has to have a map to follow

"Did have something up their sleeves."

"What was it you think they had up their sleeves?" asked Tad, eyeing
the fat boy with growing suspicion.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe it was insects."

"Stacy!" rebuked the professor sternly. Tad recalled that he had
discovered thousands of insects crawling over the burlap sack when
he came out in the morning. The lad's mind began to unravel the
mystery. He thought he understood Chunky's references now, but Tad
only smiled. He made no effort to explain, but instead, changed the

"Do we start, or do we remain here, Professor?" he asked.

"It shall be as you boys wish. All in favor of going on will say 'aye.'"

"Aye!" howled the Pony Rider Boys, a shout that caused the browsing
ponies to look up in mild surprise.

"Then we move. I will say, however, that I don't exactly approve of
the situation."

"What situation, Professor?" questioned Butler.

"There are too many rough men in these parts. I had no idea we were
going to meet with any such condition of affairs in this enlightened

"That's nothing. We have had some experience. Experience is what we
are looking for."

"But the Rangers were not," asserted Stacy thickly, his mouth full of
biscuit. "They got it, though."

"I feel sorry for you," said Tad leaning over to Stacy.

"Sorry for what?"

"For what you'll catch when they get hold of you again."

"They'd better not. I've got something up my sleeve, or I will have,
I mean. They'd better keep away from me."

"Come, fellows, are you going to strike camp while I clear away the
breakfast things?" called Tad.

"Let Chunky do it. He hasn't done a thing this morning," cried Ned.

"Yes, I have, too."

"What have you done?"

"I've done two things this morning."

"That's news," grinned Walter.

"Yes, name them. We don't want to do you an injustice, you know," urged
Rector sarcastically.

"I made a discovery---I discovered that we had been basely deserted."

"Well, that's only one thing. You said you had done two things,"
persisted Ned.

"Then I ate my breakfast. That's two things."

The boys groaned.

"He ate his breakfast. Most remarkable," scoffed Rector, imitating the
professor's voice and manner, whereat the professor himself grinned

Tad, giving up expecting the others to do anything, was rapidly
gathering their equipment together. The tent came down. He divided
it into sections, placing the sections in piles preparatory to forming
them into bundles to be packed on the ponies.

"Have you the map, Professor?" he called.

"In my saddle bag."

"I want to study it a minute before we start. We don't know anything
about the trails here and we have no guide to direct us. We've got to
make our way the best we can."

"We can't get lost," chimed in Chunky.

"Why can't we get lost?" snapped Ned turning on the fat boy.

"Because we don't know where we are anyway."

"Horse sense," laughed Tad.

"Fat-boy drivel," jeered Ned.

"Come, come, young men. You are not making much headway."

Stacy dragged his pack by the rope, over to his pony, instead of
carrying the bundle as he should have done, Professor Zepplin observing
the boy with disapproving gaze.

"Is that the way you have been taught to pack your pony, sir?"

"No. I've never been taught. What I know I've had to pick up. Nobody
ever tries to teach me anything."

Scolding, joking, having all manner of sport with one another, the Pony
Rider Boys finally completed their tasks. The ponies were loaded, the
pack pony was piled high so that its head and legs were about the only
parts of its anatomy visible, and the boys climbed into their saddles,
Tad first having given the trail map a brief scrutiny.

They started off up the canyon. For a little way the trail appeared
to be no trail at all. The ponies threshed through the bushes, the
sharp limbs smiting the riders in the faces, making disagreeable
traveling. But the young men were used to this sort of thing. They
did not appear to mind it at all.

Reaching a higher altitude they found the trail to be fairly good.
From there they got a good view of the yellow plains below, that
stretch away many miles to the northward. To the southwest, peaks
that they judged must be all of four or five thousand feet high,
towered blue and hazy in the yellow light. Birds were singing, the
air was soft and balmy and a gentle breeze stirred the foliage about
them lazily.

"This is what I call fine," cried Tad.

"Good place for a nap," agreed Chunky.

"Are you in need of sleep?" asked the professor.

"I'm in a trance, sir."

"You always are," laughed Tad Butler. "I think we had better take a
rest here. The animals are tired after the climb. Suppose we lie
off for an hour?"

The boys were all agreed on this, so the pack pony was unloaded. It
now being near midday it was decided to wait for dinner before pressing
on. A meal was a "dab" down there and the boys had fallen naturally
into the vernacular of the men of the plains.

It was Ned's turn to cook the "dab," a task that never appealed to him.
Chunky at such times was always on hand while Ned was getting the meal,
that he might offer suggestions and make uncomplimentary observations.
Rector's method of making coffee came in for considerable criticism.
He never could be induced to make coffee after the more approved
methods. Ned's way was to put a pint of coffee beans in a two-quart
coffee pot and boil for half an hour. He made it the same way on this

"That stuff would eat a hole through a piece of sheet iron if given half
a chance," declared Stacy.

"Don't worry. It won't hurt you," retorted Ned. "Your stomach is tough
enough to withstand anything."

"I guess it is or I'd have been dead long ago eating your dab," flung
back Stacy.

They had to wait quite a time for the coffee, but at last the call to
dinner was sounded in the usual way, the long-drawn cry of, "Come and
get it!"

They had just sat down when they were startled by a voice calling from
somewhere off in the bushes to the northward of them.


The boys started up, thinking that perhaps some of the Rangers had
returned. Instead of the Rangers a stranger rode in on a wiry little
pony. He doffed his sombrero gracefully and sat regarding them

"Howdy, pardners," greeted the newcomer. "Got a smack for a hungry man?"

"Certainly, certainly. Come right over, my friend," answered the
professor cordially.

Ned stepped forward politely to take the stranger's horse.

"Never mind, lad. I'll look after the cayuse. He isn't over-fond of
strangers. You're all strangers down here, eh?"

"Yes, yes. We are," admitted the professor. "You are just in time.
We are ready for dinner and there's plenty to go round."

"I'll promise not to eat you out of house and home," laughed the
stranger. Without taking off his broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero he
threw himself down by the piece of canvas on which the dinner had
been laid, helping himself to a slice of bacon which he ate from his
fingers in a most democratic fashion. "My name's Conway. Bill
Conway. What's yours?"

Professor Zepplin introduced himself and the boys, which Conway
acknowledged by polite bows. The man was easy in manner, and his
smiling face led the boys to warm to him at once---all save Tad
Butler, who, without appearing to do so, was observing the visitor

The man was slight, almost boyish in figure. His hair was dark, as
were his eyes, the latter having a trick of growing suddenly darker
than their natural color, seeming to sink further back in his head
under some sudden stress of emotion. The brown fingers were slender
and nervous in their movements.

"I'll bet he would be quick on the trigger," was Tad's mental conclusion.

"Are you from these parts?" asked the professor by way of starting the

"El Paso, when I'm at home. And you?"

"From the north."

"Down here for your health?"

"Partly. Mostly for an outing."

"Just so. I reckon I've heard something about you."

"Maybe it was I whom you heard about," suggested Chunky.

"Can't say as I have," answered Conway, directing a quick glance at
the fat boy.

"You don't know what you've missed," answered Stacy solemnly, helping
himself to five slices of bacon.

"You didn't happen to meet with any of the Rangers this morning, did
you?" questioned Professor Zepplin.

It was the professor's turn to get a sharp look now.

"Rangers? No. Why do you ask?"

"Because we were looking for some of them."

"What for?"

"We wanted to see them about a little matter," hastily interposed Tad

"What matter?"

There was no stopping the professor.

"Why, we camped with a body of them last night. With Lieutenant
Withem, a most affable gentleman. They ran away and left us early
this morning. However, I suppose they had good reasons."

"Joe Withem, eh?"

"Yes, that was the man."

"How many Rangers did behave with him?"

"Twelve, wasn't it, boys?"

"Something like that," replied Tad, observing their visitor narrowly.
"However, Professor, I hardly think we should speak of them. You see
they were on some secret mission and---"

"It's all right, young man. You are safe in confiding in me. In fact,
I am going to confide a little secret to you to show you that you have
made no mistake."

"We shall preserve your secret, sir," answered the professor with great

"I thought you would. Lean closer and I'll tell you," almost whispered
the visitor.



"I'm a Ranger, too," confided the visitor.

"What, you a Ranger?" exclaimed the professor.

"Of Captain McKay's band?"

"You've hit it, pard."

"Well, well, this is indeed a pleasure. We have not had the honor of
meeting Captain McKay as yet, but we hope to do so, ere long. He had
promised to meet us last night, but I understand was called away on
some business pertaining to his calling."

"You would like to meet Captain McKay?"

"Indeed I should. I understand he is a most remarkable man, that he
has performed many deeds of valor."

"Pray stop!" laughed Conway. "You actually make me blush."

The outfit gazed at the visitor inquiringly.

"Now that you have said so much I am going to confide another little
secret to you. I'm McKay."

"What? Not Captain McKay, the leader of the Rangers?"

"The same."

Professor Zepplin thrust a brown hand across the table, grasping the
hand of their visitor.

"Well, this is indeed a surprise. I can't begin to tell you how glad
we are to see you," answered the professor with enthusiasm.

"Same to you, pardner," grinned the captain. "You see I didn't want
to open up too freely until I was sure to whom I was talking. Of
course if you and Withem are cahoots, it's all right."

"It certainly is all right. We had the pleasure of being of some
service to Lieutenant-----"

"Ouch!" howled Stacy. Tad had tipped the pot of hot coffee into the
fat boy's lap, and for a few moments confusion reigned.

"Don't talk too much," whispered Butler leaning over to brush away
some drops that had fallen on the professor's shirt.

"Eh? Eh? What's that?"

Tad was embarrassed. He began speaking of something else. Professor
Zepplin did not repeat his question.

"I understand my men picked up a fellow named Dunk Tucker a night ago?"
asked the captain.

"Yes, yes, indeed. Mr. Butler there is the one who is really responsible
for the capture of Tucker, however."

"You don't say!" wondered the visitor.

"Exactly. Tad, will you tell the captain how you came to capture the
man Tucker?"

"If you will pardon me, I would rather not."

"He's too modest. I'll tell you about it," chimed in Stacy Brown.
Stacy, once wound up, would continue to operate until he had run down.
He told the whole story from beginning to end, including the fact that
he himself had been wounded twice, ere he stopped.

"Fine, fine!" The captain leaned back and laughed uproariously. "You
are a funny boy. I wish I had you with me. I could teach you a lot
about dodging bullets."

"I'm a pretty good dodger already or I shouldn't be here at this
minute," answered the fat boy pompously.

"Where did they take the prisoner? Are you informed as to that?" asked
the captain.

"They took him to El Paso, I believe," replied Professor Zepplin. "I
thought you were aware of what had been done."

"I got wind of something of the sort. You see I have been away in
another part of the state on a secret mission for the Governor."


"Did my men say where they were going before they left you this

"No. As I have said, they left most mysteriously."

"Which direction did they take?"

"We do not know that either. They disappeared utterly."

"Just like Withem," nodded the guest, smiling. "But I'll pick him up
some time to-night. I suppose they are on the track of some of the
fellows who have been raising trouble around these parts of late."

"Yes, that's what the lieutenant said. They are after what they call
the Border Gang. But I have no need to tell you about it. You surely
are familiar with the subject."

"I reckon I know all about it, Professor. Was it some of my men who
shot up the bandits the other night and---"

"No, that was us fellows," interjected Stacy suddenly. "We did give
them the run. And they thought it was the Rangers too. Oh, that was
a good joke. I nearly laugh myself sick every time I think about
that funny scrape. We bluffed them and they ran away."

For the briefest part of a second the eyes of the visitor darkened.
They grew almost filmy, then the old sparkle came into them and a
grim smile appeared on the face of their owner.

"You sure are a fine crop of youngsters. You probably will be claiming
the reward for the capture of Tucker, eh?"

"Not at all, not at all," protested Professor Zepplin. "My young men
are not looking for rewards. It is reward enough that they were able
to serve the authorities in the capture of a very bad man. We shall
do whatever we can in our small way to help the Rangers round up the
rest of this disreputable gang."

"Of course, of course," answered the captain reflectively.

Tad had taken no part in the conversation. He did not like this
freedom of speech on the part of the professor. What they had learned
were better kept to themselves according to Tad Butler's reasoning.
Then again there was a faint suspicion in the mind of the Pony Rider
Boy, that he could not clearly explain to himself. What did strike
him as peculiar was that so much of the Rangers' movements should be
unknown to their commanding officer. McKay had ever since coming into
their camp been seeking information. Still, as he had said, he had
been away. Tad knew that the Rangers took long rides, sometimes
hundreds of miles, using relays of horses and making almost as good
time as they could have done going by trains.

The lad decided that he was unduly suspicious. Suddenly, as McKay
was talking, a shot sounded somewhere off on the plains. The Ranger
sprang to his feet, his eyes darkened.

"Is---is something wrong?" stammered the professor.

"There may be. I must investigate. You will say nothing about having
met me," commanded the stranger sternly.

"Certainly not, certainly not."

"I will bid you good day. I'll see you again when I may have something
more to say."

With that McKay ran to his pony, and leaping into the saddle tore
through the brush at a perilous pace. Tad observed what the others
failed to see. He noted that the Ranger had returned in the direction
from which he had come, rather than riding off toward the direction
from which the shot had sounded. This struck Tad as a peculiar thing
for a Texas Ranger to do.

"That's queer," muttered Butler.

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