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

Part 3 out of 4

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"What is queer, Tad?" questioned the professor.

"The way he went."

"His leave taking was rather abrupt. But we know that is a way these
Rangers have. Besides he thought there was trouble in the air,"
guessed the professor.

"Yes, but then why did he run away from it?" urged Butler.

"That's so, he did go the wrong way," wondered Ned.

"Maybe he's going to take a roundabout course," suggested Stacy.

"Exactly. You do think now and then, don't you?" smiled the professor.
"However, it is not for us to criticize. Captain McKay knows his
business perhaps much better than do we. And now, if you are ready
we had better be on our way. We have lost no little time here."

The packing up was not a long job for not much of their equipment had
been unloaded. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, the Pony
Rider Boys continuing along the range of mountains.

About five o'clock they decided to make camp in a valley, beside a
stream of clear, cold water. The place was thickly covered with brush
and small trees, excepting for a small open space on which the grass
grew high and green.

They pitched their tent near the stream. This done the boys began
gathering dry wood for the campfire which would need a lot of it
before the evening came to an end. Wood was scarce and darkness
had overtaken them ere they succeeded in getting enough for their
needs. In the meantime the professor had been laboring with the tent.
He had finished his job quickly, rather to the surprise of the boys,
who were chuckling over the mess Professor Zepplin would make of it.
The professor, however, was far from helpless. He might not be
suspicious of every one he met, but he was a man of brains. He knew
how to get along with his young charges, as perhaps few men would
have done. And he did get along, without friction, retaining the
love of every one of the Pony Rider Boys. They were always ready to
play pranks on the professor, yet there was not a lad of them but
would have laid down his life, if necessary, for him.

He insisted on getting the supper, "just to keep my hand in," as he
expressed it. No one offered strenuous objection to this, though
no cook ever had a more appreciative audience. The professor's
biscuits were beautiful to behold, but when the boys came to sample
them they shouted.

"Too much soda, Professor," cried Tad.

"No, baking powder," corrected Ned.

"Wow! I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to blow us up!"
howled Stacy. "Why don't you use dynamite in the biscuit while you
are about it? I think I'll go out and browse with the ponies. It's
much safer and I'll bet will taste better."

"Young man, if you don't like the cooking, you don't have to eat, you
know," rebuked Professor Zepplin.

"Yes, I do, too. What, not eat, and with an appetite like mine? Why,
I'd eat my pistol holster if I couldn't get anything else. Speaking
of eating that reminds me of a story---"

"Will some one please muzzle the fat boy?" begged Ned.

"You can go out and hide in the bushes while I'm telling the story,"
returned Chunky. "This is a nice ladylike story. It's about a
fellow---a clerk who was out with a party of surveyors, running a
line across the desert. The water holes had gone dry and they were
choking for water when the clerk saved them and---"

"Ring the bell! Ring the bell!" shouted Ned Rector.

"Yes, you have told us that story twice to my positive knowledge,"
spoke up the professor.

"Of course he has," agreed Walter. "The clerk found water for them
and they were saved," added Tad, laughing immoderately.

"Did he?" demanded Chunky eyeing them soulfully.

"Yes, of course he did. You ought to remember the story. You have
told it often enough."

"How did he save them?"

"He had a fountain pen, of course, silly! Have you forgotten your own
story?" scoffed Tad.

"He didn't have anything of the sort. This was another clerk. This
one had a watch."

Stacy glanced around expectantly. Not a face was smiling. All were
as solemn as owls.

"He had a watch," nodded Rector.

"He had a watch," added Tad.

"I wonder if the watch was running?" piped Walter.

"No, it was stagnant," retorted Stacy.

"Young gentlemen, for the sake of bringing a long-winded discussion to
a close, I will offer myself as---as what you call a 'mark.' What had
the watch to do with their thirst?" asked the professor gazing sternly
at Stacy.

The boys shouted.

"Come down with the answer, Chunky."

"The watch had a spring in it," answered the fat boy solemnly.

"I think it's going to snow," observed Tad consulting the skies

"Yes, the air is very chill," returned Ned Rector solemnly. "Shouldn't
be surprised if some one perished in this outfit."



Stacy Brown looked from one to the other of his companions in disgust.

"Ho, ho! ho, ho!" he exploded. "Hard luck when a fellow's company is
so thick that he has to laugh at his own jokes. Ho, ho, ho! Ha, ha,
ha! It is to smile, but nobody smiles. You make me tired."

"As I have already observed, I think it is going to rain," said Tad.

"Must be getting warmer, then. A minute ago you said it was going to
snow. It's my private opinion that you don't know what you think.
Ned doesn't know any more. The professor is the only one in the
outfit who has a sense of humor. _He_ knows when it's time to laugh.
Ha, ha!"

Professor Zepplin was smiling broadly. Stacy's joke was just dawning
upon the professor. But Tad's mind at that juncture was in another
direction. The lad had raised his head in a listening attitude, his
glance fixed keenly on the other side of the camp ground.

"Did you see something?" whispered Walter.

Tad shook his head.

"You heard something?"

"Never mind. Go on with the fun. Get Chunky to tell you when it is
time to laugh."

About this time Stacy got up, still chuckling to himself, and started
for a cup of water.

"Time to laugh. Ha, ha! What! Ha, ha; ho, h---"

The fat boy paused abruptly. He was down on his knees about to dip
up a cupful of water when chancing to raise his eyes he saw something
that caused the word to die on his lips.

A man stood just on the other side of the stream, lounging against a
tree, observing the fat boy with an amused smile.

"Oh, wow!" howled the fat boy, in such a tone of alarm that the rest
of the outfit sprang up and ran toward him. "Wow! Look!"

At this juncture the stranger leaped the narrow stream and was standing
beside Stacy facing toward the camp when the others came up.

"I suppose I should introduce myself before matters go any further,"
smiled the newcomer. "I know you, but you do not know me. You are
the Pony Rider Boys. I am Captain Billy McKay of the Rangers."

Stacy uttered a shrill laugh, whereat the captain shot an inquiring
glance at him.

"You---you are---are Captain McKay?" stammered Professor Zepplin.

"Yes. I had hoped to see you when you camped with Lieutenant Withem---"

"Yes, we were with 'em," muttered Stacy. "And I guess we've got 'em

"Unfortunately I was called away on that occasion. I promised myself
that I should look you up at the first opportunity. I got on your
trail this afternoon and as you were going in my direction I considered
this an excellent opportunity to make your acquaintance. So here I am."

"But---but---" stammered the professor.

Tad was smiling, the others gazing at the newcomer blankly.

"Well, sir, what is it? One would think you had seen a ghost," laughed
the captain.

"But, sir, you are the second man who has introduced himself to us as
Captain McKay of the Ranger troop, to-day."

The captain's blue eyes twinkled.

"Indeed! Then I must have a double. I should like to meet him."

"You look like the real thing," observed Stacy.

"Thank you. Then the other man did not?"

"He did not---to me," answered Tad Butler.

"How are we to know that you are the captain in person?" asked the
professor suspiciously.

"I wear the badge and then here's my open countenance," answered the
Ranger with another hearty laugh.

"Professor, there can be no doubt that this is Captain McKay. I should
know him now from the description given to me by Lieutenant Withem.
Won't you join us? We have just about finished the grub, but there
is more. I'll cook something for you," proposed Tad.

"I'll join you in a cup of coffee, thank you," replied Captain McKay.

"Lucky for him that Ned didn't make the coffee for supper," muttered
Stacy, but so low that the captain did not hear the remark.

Captain McKay, the real Captain McKay this time, was almost boyish in
appearance. He was of about the same build as the other man who had
declared himself to be the captain, but the real captain had light
hair and laughing blue eyes, as opposed to the dark hair and eyes of
the other man. The captain's skin was fair. It seemed not to have
suffered from exposure to the sun and storm of the plains.

Tad led the way to the camp, followed by the visitor and the rest of
the Pony Rider outfit.

"Most remarkable, most remarkable," muttered the professor, taking keen
sidelong glances at Captain McKay.

"You are Butler, aren't you?" called the captain.

"Yes, sir," answered Tad, glancing back.

"I knew you the instant I set eyes on you. You're a sharp young man.
You discovered me before I got into your camp."

"Discovered you?" exclaimed the professor.

"Yes. He heard me. I stepped on a stick that bent down under my foot.
The stick didn't snap and how that young scout ever caught the faint
sound is more than I can explain."

"So, that was what you were looking at?" laughed Ned.

"Tad's got ears in the back of his head," added Stacy.

"I observe that all of you have pretty keen senses," smiled the Ranger
captain. "Something smells good."

"It's the coffee that Tad's making for you," answered the fat boy
solemnly. "How's the going?"

"Pretty fair. How is it with you?" returned the captain.

"So, so," answered Stacy carelessly. "You heard about my getting
shot, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes, I heard all about it."

"I got wounded in the fracas, I did. I'm going to France one of these
days to fight the Huns. Then I suppose I shall get shotted up some
more. You take it from me, though, I'll put some of those savages on
the run before they get me," declared Chunky belligerently.

"Perhaps you will explain why your men ran away from us the other
night, sir?" spoke up Walter.

"They were called away. I guess the 'possum hunt was too much for
them," answered the Ranger with twinkling eyes. "You rather put it
over my boys, young man," he said nodding at Stacy, whose face flushed
a rosy red.

"What's that?" demanded the professor.

"Drove them out of their tent by unloading a bag of fleas on them. Ha,
ha, ha! I guess you got revenge on them, young man. By the way,
you're Brown, aren't you?"

"I was done brown down there in the bush that night. Mosquitoes were
worse than a volley of rifle bullets."

"But---I don't understand," protested the professor.

Captain McKay laughingly explained. He told them how the Rangers
had been so pestered by the fleas and other insects that Stacy had
captured in the 'possum bag that the men were forced to get up and
walk all the rest of the night, until a messenger had come from their
commander, ordering them to go on a hurry scout some forty miles from
where they were camped.

The Pony Rider Boys laughed uproariously at this. Once more they
sat down with a captain, but the same thought was in the mind of
each---who was the first man who had passed as Captain McKay? McKay
himself did not appear to be over curious as to this. However, after
the meal was finished he turned to the professor.

"Now tell me about my double," he said.

"I don't know what to tell you except that he was about your age and
build, dark hair and dark eyes, a very pleasant gentleman, I should

"Did behave a scar on his left ear lobe?"

"I must say that I did not notice."

"Yes, he had," spoke up Tad. "It looked as if he had been shot there."

"Exactly, young man. You are very keen. I put a bullet through that
ear myself, more than a year ago. I suppose you do not know who the
gentleman is whom you entertained?"

"No, sir," chorused the boys.

"That, my friends, was the infamous Willie Jones, one of the most
desperate characters on the Texas border."



Exclamations of amazement greeted the announcement of the Ranger captain.

"Willie Jones!" gasped the professor.

"That is the man. You see what a sharp fellow he is. I suppose he
pumped you gentlemen pretty thoroughly?"

"I guess he learned all he wanted to know," replied Tad, flushing. "I
don't recall much of anything that he missed."

Professor Zepplin wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

"This is most disturbing, sir. I see now that Tad was right. He
counseled caution. I gave no heed to his words of warning."

"Master Tad is a very shrewd young man, Professor. I guess I shall
have to take him in with us."

"Impossible! Impossible!"

"Why impossible?"

"I could not permit it."

"Let me tell you something. Willie Jones now knows all about the part
you and your young men have played in capturing Dunk Tucker. He knows
that it was your party that drove off his men when they were trying to
get Lieutenant Withem. Do you think Willie will overlook that? Not
Willie! Willie will be on your trail from now on. He will watch his
opportunity and when he thinks he is safe from the Rangers he will
strike---he or his men. Then you young men will need to be
resourceful, indeed, if you get off with whole skins."

"Oh, wow!" groaned Stacy. "I'll get it! I'll stop some more bullets.
I'm the mark for all the lead that's flying around in these parts, I am!"

"I am of the opinion that we had better leave the border then,"
declared the professor.

"Oh, don't do that, don't do that," begged the boys. "We never ran
away yet. Let's not do it now. We have taken care of ourselves before
this and we can do so again."

"Of course I do not wish to influence you. It is for you, Professor,
to do what seems best to you. If you decide to remain I think I shall
be able to protect you."

"What would you suggest, sir?"

"I was about to ask if you look to spend most of your time in the
mountains here?"

"That was our intention, later journeying down to the Rio Grande."

Captain McKay nodded reflectively.

"That will suit my plans very well. I have come to the conclusion, from
certain things that have come under my notice, that the headquarters
of this band of Border Bandits is here in the Guadalupes. Search as
we might we have been unable to locate their cache."

"You mean where they hide?"

"Yes, that and something else. You see their plan of operation is this.
These men indulge in various forms of rascality. In the first place
they steal stock when possible. This they drive over the border and
exchange for Mexican goods, which they smuggle across the river and
store away until such time as they are able to dispose of it. Of course
there are some people higher up who are receiving and disposing of these
goods. We are on their track, but we haven't sufficient evidence to
convict any of them. The first thing to be done is to capture Jones
and his band. When they are safely behind the bars the traffic will
stop short. Perhaps when we get them all in limbo one or another of
the newer ones will confess. That will make our work easier. In fact
it is what we are depending upon at the present time."

"I understand. But will there not be danger in our remaining here?"

"Perhaps. There's always more or less danger, and Jones will never let
up on you until either he gets you or we get him."

"I think I understand," nodded Tad. "You think we shall be able to
assist you?"


"Will you please explain?" begged Professor Zepplin.

"You can help us a great deal, by remaining here. It is safe to suppose
that the band will devote no little effort toward getting even with you.
That means that they are quite likely to hover about in your vicinity.
That will narrow down our field of operations considerably. We shan't
be faraway from you at any stage of the game; in fact, I think it might
be well to have two or three of our men in your party all the time. Do
you understand?"

"I begin to," nodded the professor.

"That will be fine," answered Tad with glowing face.

"Then we will be Rangers, too," exclaimed Walter.

"Yes, you will be Rangers, too," laughed the captain. "You are pretty
good rangers already. By assisting in rounding up these men you will
be serving your country, for, if we can put these Border Bandits out
of business, we shall be destroying some of the Kaiser's worst trouble
makers on the border."

"And get shot full of holes," added the fat boy.

"That will do you good. It will give you an appetite," jeered Rector.

"He doesn't need a tonic," spoke up Tad. "His appetite is quite enough
for this outfit now. It's all we can do to keep enough supplies to
keep him going. My, it's an awful thing to have such an appetite."

"Well, Professor, what do you say?"

"I am agreeable, if the boys are."

"Hurrah!" shouted the Pony Rider Boys.

"Of course, with the understanding, Captain, that you will see that we
are properly protected?"

"You shall be. Of course there may be occasions when you will be going
on alone. You will expect that. Generally we shall be somewhere in
the vicinity. When we are all away it will mean that your enemies are
also away."

"The man Tucker is safe behind the bars, is he not?"

"He was at last accounts," smiled the captain. "I am sorry Jones knows
what happened to Dunk. I had hoped to keep him in ignorance of that
until we had rounded up the rest of the gang. However, what's done
cannot be undone."

"Where is your horse?" asked Tad.

"A little way down the creek. He's all right. Don't worry about

"By the way, when shall we see your men?" asked the professor.

"You should see some of them soon now. They know where I am, and a
half dozen or so will be riding this way before morning, I think."

"You will remain with us to-night, of course?" urged Tad.

"If you insist," smiled the Ranger captain.

"Certainly we insist," emphasized the professor.

"Of course we do," added Chunky. "Maybe if there are any bullets
flying about you will stop them instead of my doing it. I'm tired of
stopping bullets. It hurts."

"Having stopped a few in my time I think I know all about it, young man."

They could not believe that this sunny-tempered, soft-spoken young
fellow was the most dreaded of all the officers of the law who hunted
down the desperadoes of the border. It was also difficult to believe
that Captain McKay was a marked man who had been condemned to death by
these same desperate characters. Something of the resourcefulness of
the man was shown to the boys in a most marked manner later in the

All hands had been sitting about the fire, the boys trying to draw out
Captain McKay to tell of his experiences, which the Ranger was loth
to do. What experiences he did tell them were such as chiefly
concerned others than himself. According to his version Captain McKay
had played a most inconspicuous part in the splendid work of the
Texas Rangers. Not once did he refer to the fact that he was the
terror of every evil-doer in the State of Texas.

Finally it came time to turn in for the night. The captain lazily
rose and stretched himself. The others were still seated, but were
preparing to rise and prepare for bed when the interruption came.

A flash and a report from the bushes toward which the Ranger's back was
turned caused every one of the boys to jump. Tad had his wits about him.

"Down!" he commanded.

"Oh, wow! There it goes again," moaned Stacy. "They're shooting
at me again!"

Professor Zepplin had rolled into a depression in the ground, thus
concealing his body from the unseen shooter. But in the meantime
Captain. McKay had not been inactive. It seemed as if the bullet that
had been fired at him from the bushes had barely shrieked past his ear,
when the captain wheeled. His revolver---two of them---had appeared
in his hands as if by magic.

Bang, bang! crashed the captain's weapons as he whirled. A yell
sounded off there. Captain McKay dashed toward the spot, followed
by Tad on the jump.

"Stay back!" shouted the Ranger, but Tad did not obey. He proposed
to have a share in whatever trouble was before the brave Ranger
captain. Chunky had taken to the bush. The others were lying flat
on the ground.

As the captain ran he let go two more shots. This time there was no
answering yell from the bushes. But he distinctly heard a crashing
in there and drove in two more shots. He charged the bushes utterly
regardless of the peril to himself, with Tad Butler close behind him.
Tad had his revolver in hand, but he was cool headed enough not to
indulge in any indiscriminate firing.

It was evident that either more than one man had been in the attacking
party or else one who had been wounded had not been badly enough hurt
to prevent his getting away. Not a sign of a human being was the
Ranger able to find, though his keen eyes soon picked up the trail.
He followed it a short distance, finally having reached soft ground,
getting down on his knees and examining it critically.

When he looked up he found Tad standing over him.

"I thought I told you to stay back, young man?" he said sharply.

"I don't like to stay back when there's anything going on. What do
you find?"

"There were two of them. Here's where they mounted their ponies. I
wish I knew who they are. You see those fellows are watching."

"Watching you?"

"No. They came here to clean out the Pony Rider Boys, I reckon,"
laughed the Ranger. "They didn't expect to find me here. But when
they saw me they couldn't let the opportunity go without taking a pot
shot at me. I moved---I stretched---just at the right second, or I'd
have been a dead man before now."

"The cowards!" breathed Tad, his eyes glowing angrily.

"Oh, yes, they're all of that. They shoot when the other fellow isn't
looking, and they shoot to kill. But we might as well go back. I
could follow them, but it hardly is worth while. They will be hidden
long before we can run them down. They'll leave a blind trail pretty
soon after they get far enough away to make it safe for them to stop
and cover their tracks."

"But, will they not come back again?" urged Butler.

"Not to-night. They know I am on my guard now. They will put off
their attack on you until some other time. Lucky I chanced to be here
when they first came. I hope they don't take the alarm and keep away
from you now."

Butler grinned. He hoped so too, though the others of his party might
not share this hope with him, especially Professor Zepplin who was
getting rather more excitement out of this journey than he had looked

By the time the two had returned to the campfire the others had mustered
courage enough to stand up. The professor, his whiskers bristling, had
crawled from the depression into which he had rolled at the first sign
of trouble, and Chunky was making his way cautiously from the bushes.

"Captain McKay, how much of this sort of thing shall we have to face?"
demanded the professor.

"You might have had to face a good deal more of it, had I not been here,"
answered the Ranger shortly.

"What do you mean?"

"That had I not been here you would have got the bullets fired at me.
As I have already said to Butler, those men were after your party.
When they saw me they knew they would not dare to waste a shot on any
one else."

"While they were shooting you up, they knew my arsenal would get into
action. They figured on killing me the first shot. But they didn't,"
added the captain with a mirthless grin.

"I don't like this at all," declared Professor Zepplin with a slow
shake of the head.

"Neither do I," agreed Chunky. "I'd as soon be shot to death as scared
to death. I'll bet my hair is turning gray already. Oh, wow!"

"All hands, turn in," commanded the Ranger briskly. "I will stand watch
over the camp for the rest of the night, though you will not be



Confident in the watchfulness of Captain McKay the Pony Rider Boys slept
soundly all through that night. Even Chunky forgot to talk in his
sleep, thus saving himself from sundry digs in the ribs from his

But when the morning came again the lads were treated to still another
surprise. Captain McKay was sleeping in front of their tent door,
rolled in his blanket, using one arm for a pillow. Still further out
lay three other men, with one sitting up. The latter was none other
than Dippy Orell, one of the Rangers. A second glance showed the boys
that the other three men were also of the Ranger band.

"Hullo, Bugs," greeted Dippy upon catching sight of the fat boy.

"Hullo. You here?" demanded Stacy.

"I'm here, what's left of me."

"Bring any 'possum for breakfast?" grinned Chunky.

"No, but I've a rod in pickle for you."

"All right. Keep it in pickle for yourself. I don't like sour stuff."

"Hey, there, Bugs!" greeted another Ranger sitting up.

"My name's Brown," Stacy informed him with dignity. "When did you
come in?"

"We blew in with the dawn," answered Dippy.

"And we're going to blow out with the sun," added Polly Perkins.

"Say, Kid," growled Cad Morgan, rubbing his eyes sleepily as he sat
up blinking.

"His name is Bugs," interrupted Dippy.

"All right. Say, Bugs, I've got some news for you."

"I don't care about any news you've got to give out It's probably got
a bullet in it somewhere. I'm sick of bullets. What I need is a
little rest from chunks of lead. I'm coming down with nervous
prostration as it is. Everything seems to happen around me. No
matter what I do, I always get the worst of it. Why, that reminds

"Is Chunky going to tell a story?" cried Ned, stepping over the sleeping
captain as he came out.

"It sounds that way," laughed Tad. "Go on the Rangers are here to
protect us if you tell another watch story. I reckon they'll arrest
you if you try anything like that on them."

"As I was saying that reminds me of a couple of years ago when my uncle
bought a lawn mower because the grass was getting so long in our front
yard that the cats couldn't chew it---"

"Cats chew it?" jeered Dippy.

"Yes, before a rainstorm. They always do."

"Go on, go on. I'm pretty tough," urged Polly. "But don't drive me
too far or I'll buck."

"As I was about to say---"

"You said that once before."

"I offered to run the lawn mower. Uncle thought that was fine. You
see work and I never had hitched very well together. But I thought
that would be some fun. So I started in mowing the yard the next
morning," finished Chunky thoughtfully.

"Well, what happened?"

"Would you believe it, be---before I'd been at work half an hour,
the town constable came up and arrested me for exceeding the speed
limit. Now---now wasn't that hard luck?"

The Rangers gazed at each other hopelessly. No one laughed, though
Walter Perkins was heard to chuckle under his breath.

"If it might be proper, I reckon I'd like to ask what being arrested
for exceeding the speed limit has got to do with catching bugs in a
'possum bag?" demanded Dippy Orell.

"Why---why---the---the constable came up in a buggy, don't you see?
Ha, ha. Don't laugh. It might hurt your countenance. I'm used to
laughing at my own jokes and---"

"Hee---haw, hee---haw!" wheezed Polly in imitation of a donkey. "What'd
we better do with him, fellows?"

"I reckon I'd better tell him the news I was going to," answered Morgan.

"I reckon that'll take the starch out of him right smart," nodded Polly.

"Dunk Tucker has got away, Bugs."

"Em" Chunky was interested at once.

"Don't make me say it so many times. It hurts me. I said that Dunk
Tucker has got away. He 'busted' out of the calaboose over at El
Paso some time yesterday morning and he's on the warpath."

"G---g---g---got away?" gasped Chunky.

"Yep, and he's heading in this direction to get even with you fellows
for taking him up. What d'ye think of that, Bugs?"

"Oh, help!" groaned the fat boy.

"Is this right?" questioned Tad. "Has Tucker really escaped?"

The Rangers nodded.

"That's what we're here for, to catch him up when he makes connections
with his crowd again. I reckon he'll be on the trail of this outfit,
first of all, before he joins out with his own outfit. He'll never
rest till he puts a bunk of cold lead under the skins of the fellows
who got him."

"This is where I---I get shot again," wailed Stacy. "I knew it. I knew
something else would come along to spoil all my fun!"

"No use trying to sleep in this bedlam," cried Captain McKay springing
to his feet. "Saddle up. I want to make the Ten-Mile cross-trail
before noon. We'll find two men waiting there for orders. Professor,
can you get under way at once?"

"Of course we can," answered Tad for the professor.

"Don't we get any breakfast?" cried Chunky.

"Yes, but you'll eat it cold this morning."

"Oh, pooh!"

"If you are going to be a Ranger you must be willing to take a Ranger's
fare," smiled the captain.

"I haven't said I wanted to be a Ranger. I don't. I want to be a
peaceful citizen."

"With four square meals a day and a whole pie thrown in," suggested Tad.

"Something like that," smiled Stacy.

The tent was already coming down. The Pony Rider Boys showed the
Rangers that they were used to quick work. Twenty minutes later the
boys were ready. The Rangers had watched their preparations with

"Good work," said Captain McKay approvingly.

"Anybody'd think you had traveled with a one-hoss circus," grinned

"We've got some of the animals left yet," laughed Tad.

"The Fattest Boy on Earth and---" began Polly when Chunky shied a tent
stake at the head of the Ranger, thus sharply ending the discussion.
A few moments later they were on their way. The boys had to ride
rather fast to keep up with their escort, for the Rangers were rapid
riders under all circumstances. A great deal of their success was due
to their ability to cover long distances between daylight and dawn or
sunrise and sunset, appearing in localities where they were not in
the least expected. In this way they had been enabled to make many
important captures. But the riders did not move so rapidly in this
instance that they were not able to poke fun at the fat boy. Stacy
was the butt of almost every joke.

To all of this Stacy Brown did not give very much heed. He was
planning how he could turn the tables on the Rangers again, amusing
himself with whistling, making queer noises in his throat, trying
to imitate birds that he passed.

But all at once there came a sudden end to his practice. Stacy's pony
suddenly leaped to one side, planting its front feet firmly on the
ground and arching its back like an angry cat at bay. Stacy did a
beautiful curve in the air, landing on his shoulders on the hard
ground. He had a narrow escape from breaking his neck.

The Rangers howled. They were still bowling when Stacy, getting his
breath back, sat up, bunching his shoulders to get the kink out of
them, and rubbing himself gingerly. The pony stood looking at its
young master sheepishly.

"What's the trouble, Stacy?" cried Tad riding back.

"I---I fell off."

"I know you did. There couldn't be any mistake about that, but what
caused him to throw you?"

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

"That pony was frightened at something. What was it?" demanded the
captain of Cad Morgan.

"I'm blest if I know, Captain. There wasn't anything that I saw."

"Take a scout around through the brush, you and Polly. There may be
some one taking a parallel trail."

"Yes, there may be some German raiders hiding out there in the bush,
laying for us. We ought to have some bombs. They would clean those
fellows out in short order," declared Stacy.

The two men trotted from the line and disappeared among the trees,
while the fat boy got back in his saddle, somewhat more sad, but no
wiser than before. But he was thinking a great deal.

"He must have got scared at some of my imitations," decided the lad.
"I don't blame him."

"But which one was it? I'll see if I can do them again."

Letting his horse drop back a few rods behind the others, Chunky went
over his list of accomplishments in the imitation line, trying each
one cautiously, keeping a watchful eye on the ears of the pony.

All at once the eyes of the fat boy lighted up. Something struck
him as funny. He laughed aloud.

"Chunky's got them again," chuckled Ned Rector.

Stacy waited until all hands were looking ahead when he tried the
imitation that he believed had caused his mount to halt. His success
was instantaneous. The pony leaped clear of the ground, coming down
with a jolt that made the boy's head ache.

"What's the matter with that horse?" called Captain McKay.

"Guess he's feeling his oats," flung back Chunky. The boy hugged
himself delightedly. What he had done was to give a trilling tongue
movement accompanied by a hiss. It was a perfect imitation of the
trilling hiss of the rattlesnake. When Stacy had first given the
imitation he did not realize what he was doing. He had fooled his
pony. The Pony Rider Boy was delighted. He tried it again with
equal success, though this time he was thrown forward on the neck of
his mount. This jolt nearly broke Stacy Brown in two.

"That was the blow that near killed papa," grinned the lad. "I never
knew I could do that. I reckon. I'll be having some fun with this
outfit. Yes, I'll try it on right now."

Stacy spurred his pony close up to the leaders. The lad's face was
solemn, but it shone like an Eskimo's after a full meal of blubber.
Ned Rector was next ahead of the fat boy. Chunky pretended not to
see Rector. Riding close up to him, the fat boy softly gave his
rattlesnake imitation.

Ned Rector made a high dive, landing head first in a thicket of
mesquite brush, while his pony was left kicking and bucking on the
trail. Stacy was having more trouble with his own pony.

"Whoa, there, you fool! Whoa! What's got into this beastly pinto?"
howled the fat boy.

"That's what I'd like to know too," snapped the captain, wheeling his
horse, giving the fat boy a quick, sharp glance.

Ned, having picked himself out of the mesquite bush, was limping back.

"You hit him, Stacy Brown!" shouted Rector.

"I never touched him. What's the matter with you?" protested Chunky

"No quarreling, boys," warned the professor.

"Well, he doesn't want to be poking my pony!"

"Well, he doesn't want to be accusing me of poking his old bundle of

"Pretty lively critter for a bundle of bones, I should say," answered
the captain grimly.

"Nobody trailing," announced the scouts returning a few minutes later.
The captain may have had a suspicion, but if so he kept it to himself,
making no reply to the report of his two scouts.

For reasons best known to himself Stacy did not give his rattlesnake
imitation again. But every little while a broad grin would grow on
his countenance, which the fat boy would suppress as quickly as

"This is too good a thing to be nipped in the bud," he muttered. "No,
sir, I don't give my secrets away yet awhile. Mebby I never shall."

Stacy well knew that swift punishment would be meted out to him if the
others caught him at his new trick, so the fat boy kept silent, looking
the picture of innocence.



The Ten-Mile cross trail was made about half past one o'clock in the
afternoon. Walter Perkins entered the camp on his head, Tad Butler
hanging to the mane of his bucking pony, both feet out of the
stirrups, Stacy Brown making desperate efforts to quiet his own mount.

The ponies had heard the soft hiss of a rattlesnake, but the ears of
Rangers and Pony Riders had failed to catch the sound. Perhaps it was
the yell that the fat boy had uttered instantly after giving the
imitation that had too suddenly attracted the attention of the party.

"What's the matter with those fool cayuses?" shouted Dippy Orell.

Dippy did not finish his remark. He landed on his back thoroughly
shaken down. He was up with a roar, starting for the pony with blood
in his eye.

"That'll do, Dippy!" commanded the leader sternly. "If you'd been
riding as you should have, you never would have fallen off. Now
you're off, stay off." The captain uttered a bird-call which was
answered in kind. The boys understood at once that the Rangers were
exchanging signals. A few moments later, a bronzed, weather-beaten
Ranger rode into camp. He held a few moments' conversation with the
captain, after which he rode away.

"Anything doing, Cap?" asked Morgan.

The leader shook his head.

"Something may turn our way to-night. Joe has been detained. I don't
know what is keeping him. But we'll wait here till he comes in.
Professor, it is possible that we may have to make a hard night ride
to-night. Do you wish to go along?"

"Of course we do!" shouted the boys. "We don't want to miss a single

"No, we don't want to miss a thing," agreed Chunky solemnly. "I see
I've been missing a great deal lately. I don't propose to miss another
thing as long as I'm out on this cruise."

"He thinks he's on a canal boat," jeered Dippy.

"Maybe if I do it's because we've got some mules to pull it," retorted

"Ouch! But that one landed below the belt!" exclaimed Dippy.

"Our fat friend has a sharp tongue," observed Polly.

"I guess we'll have to file it. Might hurt himself on it if he happened
to stumble over a root and fall," added Cad Morgan.

"Chunky, are you going to get busy and help settle this camp?" demanded

"I don't have to work. I'm a guest of the management," answered Stacy.

"The management disowns you. You're out in the cold world," laughed

"All right. That's good. Then I don't have to work."

"No, he doesn't have to work," agreed the professor. "Nor does he
have to eat. No work, no eat, is the motto of this outfit."

Chunky got busy at once. Captain McKay had little to say. He was
very thoughtful, evidently perplexed by some word that his scout had
brought him. The other men made no further effort to learn what was
disturbing their chief. They knew he would tell them if he wanted
them to know. At McKay's suggestion, nothing was unpacked save the
stuff necessary for their meal. Of course all the packs were removed
from the ponies to give the little animals a rest. The ponies
apparently had ceased from their tantrums and were as docile as if
they had never known what it was to buck off a rider.

Polly was getting the dinner while Tad and Ned were starting and keeping
up the fire. The others occupied themselves with various duties about
the camp, all save the captain who sat on a rock some little distance
from the scene of operations.

Suddenly Captain McKay leaped from the rock, taking a long spring away
from it, at the same time drawing a revolver and whirling. Chunky, who
was passing at the time, was bowled over by the captain's sudden spring.

"Look out for the rattler!" commanded the Ranger sharply.

"Oh, wow!" howled Chunky springing back apparently in great terror.
"Snake, snake!" he cried waving his arms to the others near the
campfire. "Look out for the snake!"

McKay saw no snake to shoot at. Deciding that the reptile must have
squirmed away, the captain, his face wearing a sheepish smile, shoved
his weapons back into their holsters and strode back to the camp,
where Stacy had preceded him.

There were no further indications of the presence of rattlers, and
in a few moments the adventure was wholly forgotten. Shortly after
dinner the captain sent his men out on a long scouting expedition,
himself riding from the camp, taking Tad Butler with him. Tad was
proud to be thus singled out. While they were on their ride, some
twelve miles to the southward, the Ranger captain taught the northern
lad many things about trailing human beings. This was all new to Tad.
He listened with rapt attention, though he hoped it never might fall
to his lot to have to trail men for a livelihood. The captain also
told him many things about the bad men of the Texas border in the
old days. Captain McKay was a lad then, but he was out with his
father much of the time, the father also having been a Ranger, having
been killed in a battle with a desperado whom he had been sent to
capture. Captain McKay's two brothers had shared a similar fate.
Now there remained only Captain Billy.

"And I expect one of them will get me one of these days," he concluded

"Why not stop then before they do get you?" questioned Tad.

"A fellow's got to die some time, hasn't he?"

"I suppose so."

"And he won't die till his time comes, will he?"

"I couldn't say as to that, sir. I guess we are not supposed to know
about those things here on earth."

"No, a fellow doesn't go till his time's come," answered the Ranger
with emphasis. "So what's the use in dodging? Why, if my time had
come and I had quit and gone to the city to live I'd most likely be run
over by a trolley car or something of that nature. I'd a sight rather
die in a gun fight with a real man than to get bucked over by a hunk
of wood and iron and lightning, called a trolley car. No, I'll take
my medicine, as I always have and---But let's go back."

"Still it is no worse than fighting the Germans," observed Tad. "I
have wondered why you have not enlisted and gone to France, you and
your men? What splendid fighters you would make."

"Every man of them wants to go---I want to go. I can hardly hold
myself down, Kid. Every one of us has offered his services, but the
government would not hear to it. Because of the activity of the
Kaiser's agents in Mexico and on the border, Uncle Sam decided that we
could best serve him right here on the border, and here we are,"
answered the Ranger thoughtfully.

"Have you found what you came out here for?" asked Butler.

"Surely I have," smiled the captain. "Haven't you?"

"I haven't found much of anything unless you mean that a couple of
horsemen crossed back there some few hours ago."

"How'd you know that?" exploded the captain.

"I saw the trail they left."

"Shake!" cried the captain leaning from his saddle. "You're the
alfiredest sharp youngster I've ever come up with. Oh, it's too bad
that you have to waste your talents in a city! Too bad, too bad!
You ought to be out here on the plains and in the mountains where
one's manhood counts for something."

"Did you come out to pick up that trail, sir?"

"That's what I came for, my boy. I reckoned those two fellows who got
after us in camp last night would take this trail and head for the
lower end of the mountain range. That's what they've done. This
trail proves that. Of course they may get sidetracked, but that's
their idea up to this point. I think we are safe in following our
original plans now."

Captain Billy did not say what those plans were, nor did Tad ask him.
They now turned about and started toward home at a slow jog trot,
riding side by side where the trail permitted and in single file
where it did not.

On the way back the captain asked Tad many questions about himself,
the members of his party and their experiences during their various
journeyings into the wilder parts of their native land.

"Ever think of joining the army yourself, Tad?" questioned the Ranger.

"Have I? I am thinking of it most of the time. Oh how I wish I were
old enough. I know I could give my country good services now."

"You bet you could, Kid. You would make a wonderful scout over there,"
declared the captain, nodding.

"Some day, if the war lasts, I shall go," asserted Tad in a low voice,
tense with emotion.

Billy said he had been East to Chicago once, where he had been robbed
of everything he had on except his clothes.

"Funny, isn't it? I'd like to see a fellow go through me out here in
my native pastures. But back there in the city---" Billy shook his
head. The subject was too great for words.

They found the camp quiet and in order. The three boys and the
professor had been sleeping a good part of the afternoon, and without
having put out a guard, either. The captain shook his head, glancing
significantly at Tad as he heard this. In fact the two had to shout
to awaken the party. Then to learn that they had been sleeping all
day---well, there was nothing to be said.

"Do we move to-night, sir?" asked the professor.

"Can't tell you. Not until I hear the reports of my men, and the
messenger or scout whom I looked for to meet us here at noon. Seen.
anything of that rattler around these diggings, Professor?"

"No, we haven't seen any rattler."

"We don't want to see any rattler," piped Chunky. "I'd snip his head
off with my pistol if I caught sight of him."

"Yes, you would!" grinned Tad.

"You'd have to learn to shoot first," scoffed Rector.

"Perhaps Captain McKay will give us some lessons in revolver shooting,"
suggested Tad.

"From what I hear I guess you boys are pretty handy with both rifle and
pistol as it is. However, if there are any drawing or sighting tricks
I can show you I'll be glad to do so."

"Thank you. If we are where it is safe we will ask you to make good
that promise to-morrow," declared Tad Butler.

While they were preparing the supper that night the Rangers whom the
captain had sent out on a scouting expedition rode into camp, tired
and gloomy. It was a personal and keen disappointment to every man of
them that some ruffian hadn't shot at him once during the ride. Not
once had the Rangers' weapons been out of their holsters. Whatever
their mission the men merely shook their heads in reply to a
questioning glance from their commander. That was all. No words
were wasted in explanations. The captain knew that his men had done
their work thoroughly. No explanations were necessary. This perfect
confidence and understanding between commander and men was not lost
on Tad Butler. It was an object lesson that made a deep impression
on him.

The men had returned with sharp edges on their appetites, but they ate
in silence. Stacy had little to say at dinner. He was observing the
Rangers with wide eyes, stuffing his cheeks with food and listening
while the professor, Tad Butler and Captain McKay discussed a variety
of subjects.

"I don't understand why Joe hasn't come in, boys," said the captain
finally. "He had passed Tonka Gulch at four o'clock this afternoon.
He should have arrived here a long time ago."

The men nodded.

"Perhaps he's come up with Withem," suggested Cad Morgan.

"I don't think so. The lieutenant isn't due there until some time
to-morrow. He will have to finish investigating the El Paso end before
he can come along and join up with us."

Tad wondered how the captain knew that his scout had reached a certain
point in the mountains when none had seen him or heard from him. But
there were many mysteries connected with the work of these brave men.
They worked in mysterious ways that added to the awe in which they
were held by those whose ways were dark.

The night was warm and soon after supper the Rangers threw themselves
down on the ground wrapped in their blankets. In view of the fact that
the whole party might be called out all turned in early. The men had
barely closed their eyes when suddenly there sounded the menacing hiss
of a rattler right among them.

"Look out!" yelled Polly, jumping up.

"What is it?" cried half a dozen voices, as their owners sprang up
with drawn weapons.

"There's a rattler in camp. Get a torch, somebody!"

Tad, who had snatched an ember from the dying campfire, was poking about
cautiously, the torch in one hand, a club in the other ready to
dispatch the reptile on sight. The Ranger who had been on guard duty
hurried in upon hearing the uproar. He said he had heard a snake just
after leaving the camp. The men jeered when they saw Stacy half way up
a small tree, peering down at them with scared eyes.

"Afraid of the snake, eh, Bugs?"

"No, I'm not afraid of any snake. I just thought I'd get out of your
way so you could work better."

The men jeered again. Morgan stepped over and gave the tree a shake,
whereat the fat boy came sliding down to the ground. The search for
the reptile was a fruitless one. After a time the Rangers turned in
again. They had not been rolled in their blankets more than five
minutes when that same fearsome, trilling hiss smote their ears again.
This time the men were mad. They declared they'd find the "pizen
critter" before ever they turned in again.

"Pile on some wood. We've got to have light here," ordered the captain.
"Where was he?"

"That's what we're trying to find out, Captain. It isn't any easy
matter to locate a sound like that. The critter may be 'most anywhere."

"Have---have you looked in your pockets?" stammered Stacy.

"Yes, maybe he's crawled in your clothes to get warm," grinned Tad.

"Oh, close up!" growled a tired Ranger.

"I was just trying to help you," answered Chunky indignantly. "You
needn't get mad about it."

"No, don't grouch," laughed the captain. "We are losing too much time
as it is. Better roll in your blankets and go to sleep. The fire
will drive the fellow away."

Some of the men tried to sleep standing, leaning against trees. Others
took the chance and rolled in their blankets. But there was little
rest in the camp that night. About the time the men had settled down,
they would be awakened to their surroundings by that same trilling hiss.
It was beginning to get on the nerves of the Rangers. They were getting
mad. The Pony Rider Boys felt a sense of discomfort too, though none
showed any nervousness. It was not the first time the young explorers
had passed through such an experience. Just the same they would have
preferred to be in some other locality just then.

Finally Stacy went to sleep. When he woke up with a start, he tried
to recall what had been going on when he dropped off. Then he
remembered. He had been indulging in his famous imitation of an angry
serpent. Had any of the men been awake at the moment he might have
seen the fat boy's blanket shaking as if the boy were sobbing. But
Stacy Brown was not sobbing.

It was some moments before he had subdued his merriment sufficiently
to hiss again. The hiss was unheard. Stacy opened his eyes as he saw
the captain striding into camp. He saw McKay awaken the Rangers, then
start to arouse the Pony Rider Boys. In his wonderment at the
proceeding Stacy forgot to hiss again for some time.

"Saddle up," commanded the captain sharply, but in a low tone.

The camp, so silent a few moments before, was now a scene of orderly
activity. Every man in it was packing his pony and in less than ten
minutes after the alarm had been given the men were in their saddles.
The Pony Rider Boys were full of anticipation. It looked to them as
if something were going to develop that was worth while.

Starting off in single file the men dozed in their saddles, but the
Pony Rider Boys did not. The latter were too much excited for sleep.
All at once that trilling hiss came again. Two dozing Rangers landed
on their backs in the bush. The party was in an uproar, but as
suddenly quieted by a stern word from the captain. The latter wondered
at their being followed by a rattler. It was peculiar to say the least.

Stacy hissed again. Then the boy shivered, for a heavy hand was laid
on his arm, closing over it until the fat boy yelled.

"Ouch! Let go of my arm!" he cried.

"Young man, I think I've got the rattler this time," said the stern
voice of Captain Billy McKay, as the fat boy fairly shrank within



"What's that?" roared Dippy.

"Here's your rattler. I've been suspecting him ever since early in
the evening. This young man has been imitating a rattler's hiss and
I must say he did it mighty well."

"What's that? 'Bugs' been causing us all this trouble?" demanded Dippy.
"Let me at him! Let me at him!"

"Here, take him, but don't make too much noise about it," grinned the
Ranger captain. "And don't be too rough about it, either."

Dippy had Stacy by the collar. With a powerful hand he jerked the fat
boy across his saddle and such a spanking as Stacy Brown got that
night he had not had since he was considerably younger. The other
Rangers clamored for a chance at him, but after Dippy had finished
the captain decided that the fat boy had had enough. There was
stern business on hand. Still McKay thought a lesson might not come
amiss at that time, so he had permitted the little diversion.

Growling and threatening, Stacy was dropped back into his saddle.

"Remember, we haven't had our turn yet," warned Cad Morgan. "Remember,
you've spoiled a few hours of sleep for us fellows."

"Yes and re---re---remember you made me stand in the mesquite bush
for three hours waiting for the 'possum to jump into the bag,"
reminded Stacy. "I guess we are about even now. But, if you want
some more trouble, I'll think some up for you. If I can't think it
out alone Tad will help me."

"I don't believe you need any assistance," laughed the captain. "No
more disturbance now. Gentlemen, I am going to divide up our party.
The time has arrived for me to tell you my plans. I have received
information from one of my scouts that some half dozen of the men we
want are heading for a point yonder in the mountains. They are to
rendezvous at a place about three miles from here where they are to
meet others of their outfit. It is my intention to surround them.
One of my men is now on their trail, following them as closely as
possible. There may be some shooting. If any of you wish to stay
back you may go into camp right here and we will pick you up later."

"No, no! Take us along," begged the boys. "We don't want to be left
behind. How about you, Chunky?" called Tad.

"No, I don't want to be left. I---I guess I'd be afraid to stay here
all alone."

The captain quickly disposed of his forces, directing Tad Butler
to come with him. Upon. second thought he decided to take Stacy
along also, perhaps believing that it would be safer to have the
fat boy under his own eyes, as there was no telling what Chunky
might otherwise do.

The party broke up, leaving the spot in twos, after having received
their orders, but in each case the Pony Rider Boys were accompanied
by one or more of the regulars.

In a few minutes all had left the place, except McKay, Tad and Stacy.
These waited for the better part of half an hour.

"Now forward and no loud talking, boys," the captain directed, touching
his pony's sides with the spurs. "Be ready to obey orders quickly.
And, Brown, no more imitations on your part. This is serious business.
A slip and you're likely to stop a bullet 'most any time."

The three men started away, with the captain in the lead. They
traveled all of two miles when McKay called a halt.

"Butler, you will go to the right, straight ahead. Stop after you
have gone about a quarter of a mile as nearly as you can judge. When
you hear an owl hoot, move slowly forward. Don't use your gun, no
matter what happens, unless some one shoots at you. Even then don't
shoot unless you have to. But let no one get past you. We hope to
get those fellows in a pocket and hold them up without any shooting.
But we may have to waste some powder. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"You are not afraid?"

"I am not."

"I thought you wouldn't be."

"Where do I go?" asked Stacy apprehensively.

"You will remain with me. I'll take care of you. All right, Butler."

Tad without another word rode away. Finally after having gone what
he thought was the proper distance, he halted and sat his pony silently,
head bent forward listening for the signal. It came at last, sounding
faint and far away. The boy smiled, shook out his reins and the pony
moved forward almost as silently as the boy could have done himself.
The night was dark, but Tad was able to make out objects with more or
less distinctness. He used his eyes and ears to good purpose. Once
Tad thought he heard a twig snap a short distance ahead of him. He
halted abruptly and sat steadily for fully ten minutes. There being
no further sounds he moved forward again.

It was a trying situation for a boy. Tad Butler felt the thrill of
the moment, but he was unafraid. It is doubtful if Tad ever had
realized a sense of fear, though he was far from being foolhardy,
nor was there the faintest trace of bravado about him. He was simply
a steady nerved, brave lad who would do his duty as he saw it no
matter how great the obstacles or how imminent the peril.

The boy had gone forward for some thirty minutes when all at once his
quick ears caught a peculiar, low whistle some distance ahead. Tad
with ready resourcefulness answered the whistle, imitating it as
nearly as possible. But he made a mistake. That whistle was not
the right whistle.


A flash of flame leaped toward him and he heard the "wo-o-o-o" of a
bullet over his head. The boy was off his pony. Then Tad tried the
tactics of an Indian. Quickly and silently tethering his pony, he
fired a shot high enough so that he did not think it likely to hit
any one. Skulking a few paces farther on, he fired again. Several
shots were in this manner fired, and in quick succession, giving the
impression that there were several men shooting.

Half a dozen answering shots were fired at him, then the lad caught
the sound of hoofbeats. He knew the other man was riding away. Tad
gave the hoot of an owl as best he could. Rather to his surprise the
signal was answered off to the left. Tad repeated it and received the
same answer. He rode forward, on the trail of the fleeing man. In a
few minutes he was joined by Captain McKay and Stacy, both riding hard.

"Did you draw them out?" demanded the captain sharply, but without a
trace of excitement in his tone.

"Yes." Tad explained what had occurred.

"That was one of the outposts. The others will begin to stir soon.
We are too early. All the ruffians are not in yet. Well, it's too
late now. The alarm has been given. There they go!"

A succession of shots followed from distant points, widely separated.
McKay listened.

"Our men are shooting. It's time to close in. Stick behind me. Don't
try to ride off to one side. Keep your eyes and ears open."

The ponies leaped forward. The man and the two boys were riding a
dangerous pace considering the roughness of the trail, but none gave
a thought to the danger. The captain's voice was raised in a
long-drawn hoot, which was answered by another from some distance away.
Then the firing broke out afresh. It seemed as if no one could escape
that fusillade of bullets. Tad could hear the bullets screaming
overhead. He sat his pony, his eyes glowing, firing rapidly into the
air. Stacy Brown also sat his own pony, but he couldn't have moved a
muscle to save him. The fat boy was literally "scared stiff." Stacy
really was suffering, but no one, unless he had observed his eyes,
would have thought him afraid.

"Close in, boys. Ride and shout!" commanded the captain.

Butler exercised his lungs. Chunky's lips moved, but no sound came
from them. His pony, however, followed the others, nearly causing
its stiffened rider to fall off.

Every few moments the captain would utter his owl-call, which would
be answered by other similar calls pretty much all around the compass.
In this way the Rangers were able to locate each other's positions,
thus avoiding shooting each other.

The shots of the enemy were now scattering.

It was only occasionally that McKay was able to determine that one of
the bandits had fired a gun. How he could tell the difference
between the rifles of friends and foe was a mystery to young Butler.
Ere long the Rangers had narrowed down their circle until they were
able to see each other. For the past twenty minutes, they had been
stalking cautiously. Now they paused, after having exchanged signals.
Deep growls were heard on all sides.

"What does it mean?" questioned Tad.

"It means those fellows have given us the slip again," grunted the
captain. "They've managed to slip through our lines somehow. Well,
never mind, we'll get them one of these times. I thought we had them
pocketed this time so there would be no escape."

Tad had thought so, too. He was convinced that there was more to this
escape than even the Ranger captain realized. The boy did not wish
to make suggestions so he kept silent. Yet he determined to make an
investigation on his own hook on the following morning, provided they
were anywhere in that vicinity.

There was nothing more that the Rangers could do. Their prey had
eluded them, disappearing as suddenly as if through a hole in the
earth. It was the first time that such a thing had occurred to
Captain McKay and his failure bothered him, but he presented a smiling
face when, after having withdrawn a mile or so, the men went into
camp for the rest of the night, building up a campfire and putting
out a heavy guard to prevent a surprise during the night.

"Don't you think the rascals have a hiding place there where they
evaded us so neatly?" asked Tad, upon getting the captain's ear.

"There is no hiding place there. I know the locality well," was
the terse reply.

"But surely they could not have got through your lines," objected
the boy.

"Yet they did. That's all there is to it."

Not a man of the Rangers had been hit, nor was it believed that any
of the enemy had been wounded. Night shooting at skulking figures in
a forest is uncertain work. Tad realized a sense of thankfulness
for this. He was not anxious to see bloodshed, but now that the
danger was over, Chunky grew very brave. He told them all about
it and how "We" had driven the bandits off. The story grew and grew
with the telling until Stacy was convinced that he had fought a very
brave battle.

Tad lay awake a long time that night thinking over the occurrences
of the evening, pondering and seeking for a solution of what he
considered was a great mystery. On the following morning the greater
part of the band were off at an early hour, before the boys had risen,
on a day's scout, to try to pick up the trail of the bandits. It was
to be a day of excitement for some of the party and hard work for
others, for many miles would be covered by the Rangers before their
grilling ride came to an end.



After breakfast Captain McKay took an hour's ride alone over the
surrounding country. In the meantime the boys pitched a more permanent
camp as it was more than likely that they would remain there for
another night, since McKay did not seem to want to leave the place
just yet. What he had in mind the boys did not know.

Returning from his ride the captain appeared to be in much better
spirits. His was a strange make-up. None wholly understood Captain
Billy. Perhaps that was one of the reasons for his success in his
perilous calling.

"Well, I promised to give you boys some lessons in revolver shooting,"
he said, tossing the reins to Tad who had come forward to take the pony.
"Who can put a hole through my sombrero?" cried the Ranger sending his
broad-brimmed Mexican hat spinning up into the air.

A flash and a bang followed almost on the instant. The Pony Rider Boys
howled. The shot had been fired by Professor Zepplin and he had
drilled a hole right through the Ranger's sombrero.

"Well, now, what do you think of that?" gasped Chunky, his eyes
growing large. "I didn't think you could hit the side of a barn
unless you were inside the barn."

The professor smiled grimly.

"I used to be counted the best revolver shot in my regiment when I was
in the army. But I'm a little slow these days."

"Humph! I see you are," grunted Billy. "Lucky for me that you aren't
quick or I wouldn't have had any hat left by this time. Anybody else
want to try to put a hole through my hat?" he asked looking about.

"I was going to suggest that we throw up the professor's hat and
let you take a shot at it," suggested Tad, coming up at this juncture.

"Here it goes," cried the professor sending the hat spinning away from
them, with the edge of the brim almost toward them. The hat was
spinning low and a very difficult mark to hit.

Tad thought the Ranger was going to take a shot at it, but instead
of doing so, McKay nodded to Tad, with a merry twinkle in his eye.

Tad whipped out his revolver with a quickness that amazed the Ranger,
and let go. His bullet snipped a piece from the edge of the rim. The
force of the bullet turned the hat crown toward the shooter.

Bang, bang, bang! Tad bored three holes through the crown to the
captain's amazement.

"There! I guess we are even with you now, Professor," laughed the boy.
"That old hat of yours won't hold water next time you go to the spring."

"I thought you folks didn't know how to shoot," wondered the Ranger.
"I guess I'd better take some lessons from you instead of you from
me. That certainly was mighty fine gun work. Where did you learn?"

"Since we have been out. I am not much of a shot with the revolver,
though. I think I can do better with the rifle."

"How about the rest of you?" questioned the captain. "Do all of you
shoot like that?"

"I suppose I am about the best shot in the outfit," answered Stacy
pompously. "I can hit a penny---"

"Yes, if the penny is glued to the muzzle," interrupted Ned.

"We'll see what you can do."

Stacy, after three shots, failed to hit the hat once. Walter and Ned
each succeeded in placing a bullet through the professor's hat. Chunky
insisted that his bullet went through one of the holes made by Tad
Butler. He declared that he had never missed an easy shot like that in
his life.

"Here, hit my hat," commanded Tad, tossing his sombrero into the air.
The fat boy watched the soaring hat with longing eyes.

"Shoot, shoot, why don't you?" jeered the Pony Rider Boys.

"All right if you say so."

Stacy's pistol stuck in the holster and by the time he had freed the
weapon the sombrero was only some seven or eight feet from the ground.

"Yeow!" howled the fat boy letting go two bullets with a speed that
they had no idea he possessed.

"It's a hit!" cried the professor.

Tad ran forward and picked up the hat.

"Well, what do you think of that?" he wondered.

"Did he hit it?" called Walter.

"Of course he did."

"Oh, pooh! That hole was in your sombrero before he shot," scoffed
Ned Rector.

"You are wrong. There were no holes in the hat. Now there are two.
Stacy sent two bullets through my hat instead of one."

"Hooray!" shouted the boys.

"I didn't think it of you, Brown," smiled the captain. "I take back
all I have said against your character and your ability."

"Oh, don't mention it. That's nothing. I usually shoot my hat full
of holes before breakfast every morning when I'm home. Anybody else
want his hat transformed into a sieve?"

"I think you have done quite enough," returned the professor. "You
have done fully as well as I could have done. Ahem!"

"Really remarkable shooting for tenderfeet," declared the captain.

"Tenderfeet? Well, I like that!" grumbled Stacy. "Why, I'm a lion
fighter, I am!"

"And a snake man as well," grinned the Ranger.

"Yes. I'm no tenderfoot. Did I run away when the shooting was going
on last night? I guess not. I-----"

"No, he was too scared to run," snorted Rector.

Stacy regarded Ned solemnly.

"Ned Rector, I don't usually acknowledge you to be right in matters
like this, but I'm going to admit before the whole company that you've
told the truth for once in your---"

"I always tell the truth," broke in Ned.

"---life," finished the fat boy. "I was, as our distinguished
fellow---tenderfoot says, scared stiff. But if the truth were known,
I'll wager that he was hiding behind a rock when that same shooting
was going on."

Rector flushed a rosy red, which brought a howl from the boys. It was
plain that Chunky had touched him in a tender spot.

"Come now, you boys, if you want to try some more," called the Ranger.

"What now?" asked Tad.

"I want to see how you are on the draw---quick." The captain trimmed
a piece of paper down to about the size of a silver dollar. This he
pinned to a tree, then measuring off twenty paces, faced the mark,
spun about on his toes, making two complete whirls and drove a bullet
right into the center of the target, having drawn his revolver as he
turned. It was a splendid piece of shooting.

The professor missed. He did not even hit the tree. Tad took a
piece out of the edge of the target the first time. The second he
placed a bullet just inside the outer edge, which McKay pronounced
to be excellent shooting. That was high praise from a man like
Billy McKay.

Ned did not know whether he wanted to try that shot or not. McKay
explained how to draw quickly and at what point of the whirl to draw,
but try as he would Rector could not hit the mark. Once he chipped
a piece of bark from the tree, which brought a yell from the boys.

"The trouble with you lads is that you grip your guns too tightly.
Take a light hold on the butt of your revolver. Toy with it. It's
the fellow with the feather-weight touch that does the best work with
the revolver. He is the man to look out for."

"That's the way I always shoot," declared Chunky pompously. "If
there's one shot that I can make better than another it's that one
you fellows have been trying. Why, I could pink that target with
my eyes shut."

"Try it. See what you can do. Perhaps you may beat us all, who
knows?" grinned McKay.

"I don't say that I can beat _you_, but I can shoot as well as these
amateurs who have been trying it. I can---"

"Look here, are you going to make that shot, Chunky?" demanded Rector.

"Yes. Got any objections?" asked Chunky turning to Rector with great

"Not the least, if you'd kindly hold your fire till I can get behind
a rock or a thick tree."

"Yes, that's the place for you, I reckon. All ready, Mr. McKay?"

"It's up to you," smiled the Ranger. "Does it make any particular
difference to you which way I whirl?" asked the fat boy.

"Not in the least. You may stand on your head and whirl if it will
suit you better."

"For goodness' sake, do something," begged Tad. "You've taken enough
time already to shoot the tree clean off the map."

"Who's doing this shooting, you or I?" asked Chunky.

Tad sat down helplessly. Stacy was not to be hurried. The more one
urged him, the slower did he become.

"Look out, I'm going to shoot now. Everybody lie low!"

Stacy spun himself around like a top. He had whirled three times
when the Ranger shouted to him.

"Shoot before you get so dizzy you can't see!"


"Stop it---"


"Stop it, you idiot!"

McKay struck the fat boy's revolver just in time to prevent getting a
bullet through his own body. Over yonder the professor lay flat on
the ground with a frightened look on his face, shouting at the top of
his voice.

"Hold him! Hold him! He'll have us all riddled!"

"Wha---what's the matter?" demanded Stacy looking around innocently.

"Matter? See what you have done."

"Di---did I wing the professor?" questioned the fat boy innocently.

"Did you wing him!" jeered Tad Butler.

"Come here, young man. But leave that pistol behind you," commanded
Professor Zepplin. "I think we will equip you with a small bow and
a blunt arrow after this. Even. then I fear our eyes will be in
danger. Do you see what you did?"

One of Stacy's bullets had bored a hole through the crown of the
professor's sombrero. The other had plowed a neat furrow through
Professor Zepplin's grizzled whiskers, close to the chin.

"Ho, ho, ho! Haw, haw, haw!" roared the fat boy with head thrown back
as far as it would go without dislocating his neck.



The professor gave Stacy a shaking that the fat boy did not forget at
once, the others shouting their approval. The fat boy grinned after
his punishment.

"I'm a regular William Tell, eh?" he asked looking about. It was
still a good joke to him. Even the professor permitted a grim smile
to show itself at the base of his whiskers.

"You came near killing Professor Zepplin," answered the Ranger.

"That would have been too bad," replied Stacy almost anxiously. "I
shouldn't have had anybody to tease then. Do I try that shot again?"

"You do not!" was the firm reply from McKay.

"I guess I knew what I was about when I hid behind that rock," laughed

"According to Chunky, you knew what you were about when you got behind
the rock during the shooting yesterday," cut in Tad.

"Come, come, boys, if you are going to shoot any more you'd better
get busy. I shall soon have to leave you. Who shoots next?" demanded
the captain.

"I do," announced Stacy.

"You shoot no more in this camp, young man," insisted the professor.
"It's all right for those who know how, but you endanger our lives
with your irresponsible actions."

"All right, Butler, I will now throw my hat up from behind you.
You will turn and shoot at it when I give the word," said the captain.

The first shot Tad missed the hat by some three or four rods. How the
boys did shout and jeer at him!

"I did better than you. I trimmed the professor's whiskers," declared

Tad nodded to McKay that he was ready for another shot.

"Don't shoot this time until you see the hat. Shoot a little under
rather than over it. The natural tendency is always to overshoot,
whatever one is shooting at."


The hat in the air jumped as if it had received a sudden blow as Tad
whirled and let go.

"You've graduated. Next!"

Rector missed five shots. Walter fanned the rim, then they called a
halt in the practice.

"Altogether I am well satisfied with your shooting, boys. Even Brown
accomplished something," said McKay.

Stacy grinned broadly.

"I---I could hit a German, couldn't I?" he stammered.

"Yes, I think you could," laughed Billy.

"Especially if you were to turn your back to him before shooting,"
added Tad.

"Professor," said McKay, "I must go away for part of the day. I do
not believe your party will have any difficulty. The bandits are no
longer here. I should not be at all surprised if my men were to
round them up, as they are on the track of the enemy at this very
moment. If you want to move, you may do so, but I would suggest that
you make this your camp for the night"

"I am quite well satisfied here. The boys will no doubt want to go
out exploring. I am somewhat interested in the geological formation
of the canyon at this point, so we shall all be well occupied during
the remainder of the day. You plan to return here to-night?"

"I think so."

"We will see if we can't pick up the trail of the enemy," laughed Tad.

"Do so by all means. Who knows but that you may discover something
worth while? I am sure you have an idea in your mind," answered
McKay, giving Butler a shrewd glance.

"I will confess that I have, sir."

The Ranger captain did not say where he was going. But shortly after
that he rode out of camp and was seen no more until late that evening.
After the departure of McKay the professor cleared his throat and
stroked his damaged whiskers.

"I trust you young men will try to keep out of trouble to-day. I am
sorry to say that you are becoming rather too venturesome. Be good
enough to keep in mind that we are in what appears to be a hostile

"It strikes me that Chunky is more hostile, more to be feared, than
anything else about here," chuckled Tad.

"I agree with you, and for that reason I am going to place Stacy under
your charge for the day, Tad."

"Oh, what a responsibility!" mocked Butler.

"I'm glad it isn't up to me," declared Ned.

"You will look after Walter."

"I don't need any looking after," protested Perkins.

"That's why he's put you in charge of Ned," scoffed Stacy.

"Shake hands. We will take a fresh start, Chunky," said Ned, extending
a friendly hand.

Chunky regarded Ned suspiciously. He wondered what Rector had in mind
to induce him to become so friendly all at once. As it chanced Ned
felt that perhaps he had been rather too hard on the fat boy. But the
fat boy had never thought of it in that light. Each was supposed to
take the jokes played on him and without losing his temper. As a rule
each one did, though Chunky seemed to get more than his share of such
abuse. Perhaps he brought his troubles on himself.

"Well, if I am going to have charge of you, Stacy, I think I'll take
you out in the woods where you can't do any damage to any one but
myself. Bring your gun and we'll go shooting."

"My rifle?"

"No. Your pistol."

"That suits me. I am too delicate to tote a rifle around on my shoulder
all day."

"Be back early, and do not go far away," ordered the professor.

"Shoot off a rifle if you want us before we get back," suggested Tad.

"Which way are you going?" asked Ned.

"South. Which way do you go?"

"I guess we will go west if you are going south. I want to get a good
distance away if you fellows are going to shoot at a mark."

"Come on, Stacy."

The fat boy and his companion strolled off. They were going to take
their ponies, but the professor had decided against this, fearing that
the boys would stray too far from camp were they to ride. Being on
foot he felt reasonably certain that they would not get far away,
knowing how averse they were to walking, which is usually the case
with those used to riding a horse. A cowboy will mount his pony if
he wants to go across the street, just the same as a fire chief will
get into his buggy if he goes to a fire on the same block.

Stacy and Tad engaged in a friendly conversation on the way out. Tad
was giving his companion some advice. They were talking seriously and
for a wonder Stacy was giving serious consideration to what Butler
was saying.

They had been going along aimlessly for nearly an hour, halting now
and then to sit down on a rock or a log, when Stacy paused, looking
about him curiously.

"Isn't this the place where we were shot at last night?"

"Yes, this is the place, I guess," answered Tad, looking about him
inquiringly. "Over yonder is where we were stationed. Let's go over
and look about a little."

Stacy was willing, so they strolled over. Tad sat down, a thoughtful
look on his face, taking a survey, forming a mental picture of the
scene as it had appeared during the bloodless battle with the border

"According to my idea those fellows must have fallen into a hole in
the ground about where that tree is down," declared Stacy wisely.

"That is my idea too," answered Tad. "I can't understand how they could
have slipped by us as easily as they did."

"Maybe they didn't."

"They must have done so. There is no hole in the ground over there, as
you can see for yourself. Even if there were, what good would it have
done the men? Let's go over and see if we can pick up a trail of some

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