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- The Pony Rider Boys in Montana - 6/37 -
"No, you rolled in. My, but that water was cold!"
"B-r-r-r!" shivered Stacy, as the recollection of his icy bath came back to him. "Di--did you win the race?"
"Tad won it. I've got to get up and cook the breakfast, and it wasn't my turn at all. It was Tad's turn."
"Yab-hum," yawned Stacy, "I'm awful sleepy."
"So am I," answered Ned, uttering a long-drawn yawn.
"See here, Master Ned. Get out of those wet pajamas, rub yourself down thoroughly and put on a dry suit. I can't have you all sick on my hands to-morrow," commanded the Professor.
"Don't worry about us," laughed Ned. "It takes more than a bath in a cold creek to lay us up, eh, Tad?"
"I hope so," answered Tad Butler, who had rubbed himself until his body glowed. "But I thought once or twice that I was a goner while I was holding to that rock. I could not make Chunky try to support himself at all. He just clung to me until he fagged me all out."
"Come now, young gentlemen, down with this coffee and into the blankets."
Professor Zepplin had prepared the coffee, with which to warm the lads up, and had heated in the camp-fire some good sized boulders, which he wrapped in blankets and tucked in their beds. Chunky was the only one of the boys who did not protest. Ned and Tad objected to being "babied" as they called it, and when the Professor was not looking, they quickly rolled the feet warmers out at the foot of their beds.
Early next morning they were aroused by the cook's welcome call to breakfast. None of the lads seemed to be any the worse for his exciting experiences in the creek, much to the relief of Professor Zepplin, who feared the icy bath might at least bring on heavy colds.
Tumbling from their cots, they quickly washed; and then sprinting back and forth a few times, stirred up their circulation, after which the boys sat down to the morning meal with keen appetites.
Ned had cooked a liberal supply of bacon and potatoes and boiled a large pot of coffee.
Stacy opened his mouth as if he were about to yawn.
"Don't you dare to do that," warned Ned, waving the coffee pot threateningly. "The first boy who yawns to-day gets into trouble. And Stacy Brown, if you fall in the river again you'll get out the best way you can alone. We won't help you, remember that."
"This bacon looks funny," retorted Stacy, holding up a piece at the end of his fork. "Kind of looks as if something had happened to it."
"Just what I was going to say," added Walter.
"Yes, what has happened to it? It's as black as the Professor's hat."
All eyes were fixed upon the cook. "I don't care, I couldn't help it. If any of you fellows think you can do any better, you just try it. Cook your own meals if you don't like my way of serving them up. It wasn't my turn to get the breakfast, anyway."
"Our cook evidently has a grouch on this morning," laughed Walter. "Doesn't agree with him to take a midnight bath."
"The bath was all right, but I object to having my cooking criticised."
"The bacon does look peculiar," decided Professor Zepplin, sniffing gingerly at his own piece.
Ned's face flushed.
"What did you do to it to give it that peculiar shade, young man?"
"Why, I soused it in the creek to wash it off, then laid it in the fire to cook," replied Ned.
"In the fire?" shouted Tad.
"Of course. How do you expect I cooked it?" demanded the boy irritably. "I cooked it in the fire."
"I could do better'n that myself," muttered Stacy.
"Didn't you use the spider?" asked Walter.
"Spider? No. I didn't know you used a spider. Do you?"
"He cooked it in the fire," groaned Tad.
"Peculiar, very peculiar to say the least," decided the Professor grimly. "Gives it that peculiar sooty flavor, common to smoked ham I think we shall have to elect a new cook if you cannot do better than that. However, we'll manage to get along very well with this meal. If we have to get others we will hold a consultation as to the latest and most approved methods of doing so," he added, amid a general laugh at Ned's expense.
Breakfast over, blankets were rolled and packed on the ponies. About nine o'clock the Pony Riders set out for the foothills, after first having consulted their compasses and decided upon the course they were to follow to reach the point, some fifteen miles distant, where they expected to pick up the guide.
"Seems good to be in the saddle once more, doesn't it?" smiled Walter, after they had gotten well under way.
"Beats being in the river at midnight," laughed Tad. "Bad-eye looks as if he needed grooming, too. Ned, I take back all I said about the bacon this morning. You did me a good turn last night. If it hadn't been for you, Chunky and I wouldn't be here now. I couldn't have held to that rock much longer."
"Neither could I," interjected Stacy wisely.
Ned gave him a withering glance.
"You are an expert at falling in, but when it comes to getting out, that's another matter."
"How blue those mountains look!" marveled Walter, shading his eyes and gazing off toward the Rosebud Range.
"I hear there are some lawless characters in there, too," Tad answered thoughtfully.
"Where'd your hear that?" demanded Ned.
"Heard some men talking about it in the hotel back at Forsythe."
"Mustn't believe all you hear. What did they say?"
"Acting upon your advice, I should say that you wouldn't believe it if I told you," answered Tad sharply. "These men are a kind of outlaws, I believe. They steal horses and cattle. Probably sell the hides--I don't know. Somehow the Government officers have not been able to catch them, let alone to find out who they are."
"Indians, probably," replied Ned. "The country is full of them about here, so I hear."
"Mustn't believe all you hear," piped up Stacy, repeating Ned Rector's own words, and the latter's muttered reply was lost in the laughter that followed.
It was close to twelve o'clock when they finally emerged on a broad table or mesa. Before them lay the foothills of the Rosebud, rising in broken mounds, some of which towered almost level with the lower peaks of the mountains themselves.
"I don't see anything of our guide's cabin," said Tad, halting and looking about them. "What do you think, Professor!"
"We will go on to the foothills and wait there. I imagine he will he waiting for us somewhere hereabouts."
"Yes, we have followed our course by the compass," answered Tad.
However, the lad had overlooked the fact, as had the others, that in order to find a suitable fording place, they had followed the hanks of the East Fork for several miles. This served to throw them off their course and when they finally reached the foothills they were some six miles to the north of the place where the guide was to pick them up.
As they rode on, the ground gradually rose under them, nor did they realize that they were entering the foothills themselves; and so it continued until they finally found themselves surrounded by hills, narrow draws and broad, rocky gorges.
"Young gentlemen, I think we had better halt right here. We shall be lost if we continue any farther," decided the Professor. "This is a nice level spot with just enough trees to give us shade. I propose that we dismount and make camp."
"Yes, we haven't had the tents up since we were in the Rockies," replied Ned. "We shall be forgetting how to pitch them soon if we do not have some practice."
On this trip, besides their small tents, the Pony Riders had brought with them canvas for a nine by twelve feet tent, which they proposed to use for a dining tent in wet weather, as well as a place for social gathering whenever the occasion demanded its use. They named it the parlor.
In high spirits, the lads leaped from their ponies and began removing their packs. Stacy Brown began industriously tugging at the fastenings which held the large tent to the back of the pack pony.
'I can't get it loose," he shouted. "What kind of hitch do you call this, anyway?"
"Young man, that's a squaw hitch. Ever hear of it before?" laughed
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