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- The Pony Rider Boys in Montana - 4/37 -
"Use your eyes! Do you see him?" demanded Professor Zepplin, peering down anxiously into the shadows.
"No. Oh, Tad!" shouted Ned. There was no reply to the boy's hail. "Thaddeus!" roared the Professor. Still no answer.
Down the stream a short distance they could hear the water roaring over the rocks, from where it dropped some twenty feet and continued on its course. The falls there were known as Buttermilk Falls, because of the churning the water received in its lively drop, and more than one mountaineer had been swept over them to his death in times of high water. Between the camp and these falls there was a sharp bend in the river, and ere the boys had recovered from their surprise, their companions undoubtedly had been swept around the bend and on beyond their sight.
"Do--do you--do you think----" stammered Walter.
"They have gone down stream," answered the Professor shortly. "Run for it, boys! Run as you never ran before!"
Ned dived for the thicket where the ponies were tethered. It was the work of a moment only to release Bad-eye. Without waiting to saddle him, Ned threw himself upon the surprised animal's back, and with a wild yell sent the broncho plunging through the camp.
He was nearly unseated when Bad-eye suddenly veered to avoid stepping into the camp-fire, which Ned Rector in his haste had forgotten.
The lad gripped the pony's mane and hung on desperately until he finally succeeded in righting himself, all the while kicking the pony's sides with his bare feet to urge him on faster.
They were out of the camp, tearing through the thicket before the Professor and Walter had even gotten beyond the glow of the fire. Ned was obliged to make a wide detour instead of taking a short cut across the bend made by the river. There were rocks in his way, so that a few moments of valuable time were lost before he reached the stream on the other side of the obstruction.
"Come, we must run," urged the Professor. "I'm afraid both of them may have gone over the falls."
"Oh, I hope he is not too late!" answered Walter, with a half sob, as they ran regardless of the fact that sharp sticks and jagged stones were cruelly cutting into their feet.
THE BOYS RESCUE EACH OTHER
Ned swung around the bend at a tremendous pace. He was able to see little about him, though as he once more reached the bank he could tell where the river lay, because the river gorge lay in a deeper shadow than did the rest of the landscape about him.
"Oh, Tad! Tad!" he shouted.
A faint call answered him. He was not quite sure that it was not an echo of his own voice.
It seemed a long distance away--that faint reply to his hail.
"That you, Tad!"
"Where are you!"
"Where? I don't see you."
"In the river. Just below the bend."
Hurriedly dismounting and making a quick examination of the banks he discovered that they were so nearly straight up and down that it would be impossible to get his companions out at that point.
"I can't get you out here. You'll have to wait a few moments. Are you swimming?"
"No, I am holding to a rock. It's awful slippery and I'm freezing too."
"All right. Is Stacy with you?"
"Yes, I've got him. "
"Good! Have courage! I'll be with you," said Ned encouragingly.
"You'll have to hurry. I can't hold on much longer. The falls are just below here and if I have to let go it's all up with us."
Ned had no need to be told that. He could almost feel the spray from the falls on his face, so close were they to him and their roar was loud in his ears, so that he was obliged to raise his voice in calling to his companions.
Leaping to the back of Bad-eye, Ned was off like a shot, tearing through the brush, headed toward camp. On the way he passed Professor Zepplin and Walter, nearly running them down in his mad haste.
"Got a rope?" he shouted in passing. "No," answered Walter. "Then get one and hurry around the bend. You'll be needed there in a minute. I'm going down into the stream from the camp."
The Professor, seeming to comprehend what Ned had in mind, turned and ran back to the camp.
Without an instant's hesitation, Ned Rector, upon reaching their camping place, put his pony at the bank where the two boys had gone over.
The little animal refused to take it. He bucked and the lad had a narrow escape from following where Tad and Chunky had gone a short time before.
"I've got to have a saddle. That's the only way I can stick on to drive him in, and we'll need it to hold to as well," he decided.
Every moment was precious now. Whirling the animal about, Ned drove him into the thicket where the saddles lay folded against trees.
It was the work of seconds for him to leap off and throw the heavy saddle on Bad-eye's back. The boy worked with the speed and precision of a Gattling gun. Yet he groaned hopelessly when he realized that his delay might mean the death of two of his companions.
Professor Zepplin arrived at the camp just as Ned had finally cinched the girths and swung himself into the saddle.
"Where--where is he?" gasped the Professor, now breathing hard.
"Below the bend. Get back there with a rope and be ready to toss it to him if he lets go."
Ned and his pony crashed through the brush. He had no spur with which to urge on the animal, but Ned had thoughtfully picked up a long, stout stick, and once more they drove straight at the high bank.
"Stop! I forbid it!" thundered the Professor.
Ned paid no more attention to him than had he not spoken. It was a time when words were useless. What was necessary was action and quick action at that.
"Hurry with that rope!" commanded Ned.
The pony slowed up as they approached the bank of the river, but Ned was in no mood for trifling now. He brought down the stick on the animal's hip with a terrific whack.
Bad-eye angered by the blow, squealed and leaped into the air with all four feet free of the ground.
"Hi-yi!" exclaimed the Pony Rider sharply, again smiting the animal while the latter was still in the air.
Ned's plan was to enter the stream at that point and swim down with the pony until they should have reached the boys and rescued them from their perilous position. While the bluff was sandy at the point where they had fallen in, down below, where Tad was now desperately clinging to the rock, the stream wound through a rocky cut, whose high sides were slippery and uncertain, especially in the darkness of the night.
Bad-eye needed no further goading to force him to do his master's bidding. With another squeal of protest the little animal plunged for the bank. No sooner had his forward feet reached over the edge of it than the treacherous sands gave way beneath them.
The pony pivoted on its head, landing violently on its back. Ned had dismounted without the least effort on his part, so that he was well out of the way when his mount landed. He had been hurled from the saddle the instant the pony's feet struck the unresisting sand.
But Ned clung doggedly to the bridle reins. He, too, struck on his back. He heard the squealing, kicking pony floundering down upon him, its every effort to right itself forcing it further and further down the slippery bank. Now on its back, now with its nose in the sand, Bad-eye was rapidly nearing the swiftly moving creek. Ned had all he could do to keep out of the way, and on account of the darkness he had to be guided more by instinct than by any other sense. However, it was not difficult to keep track of the now thoroughly frightened animal.
Ned leaped to one side. An instant later, and he would have been caught under the pony.
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