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- The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico - 10/37 -
time to save himself from a violent bump on the head.
"Run for it, Chunky! He'll be after us in a second."
The lads made a lively sprint for the open. In a moment, observing that they were not being followed, they halted, still in the shadows of the bushes. All at once Tad stumbled over an object in the dark. At first he thought it was another Indian, and both boys were about to run again, when the voice of the prostrate man caused them to laugh instead.
"Si, si, seņor," muttered the fellow.
"Juan? It's Juan! Get up! You here yet?"
They pulled the lazy guide to his feet, starting off with him, when all at once Tad happened to think that one of the ponies was back there somewhere among the Indians.
"You stay here, and don't make a fool of yourself this time!" commanded Tad.
"Where are you going?"
"After your pony. You hang on to Juan. I'll hold you responsible for him, Chunky."
"Guess I can take care of a lazy Mexican if I can floor a redskin," answered Stacy proudly.
But Tad was off. He had not heard the last remark of his companion. In picking his way carefully around the camp to where he had seen a lot of ponies tethered, Tad found a Navajo blanket. He quickly possessed himself of it, throwing it over his head, wrapping himself in its folds.
He was now in plain sight of the wild antics of the dancers, who, still mad with the excitement of the hour, were performing all manner of weird movements. For a moment, the lad squatted down to watch them. He had been there but a short time when a voice at his side startled him, and Tad was about to take a fresh sprint when he realized that it was not the voice of a savage.
"Young man, you'd better light out of here while you've got the chance," said the stranger.
Turning sharply, Tad discovered a man, who, like himself, was wrapped in a gaudy blanket. He was unable to see the man's face, which was hidden under the Navajo.
"Who are you?" demanded the lad sharply.
"I'm an Indian agent. I only got wind of this proposed fire dance late this afternoon. These men will all be punished unless they return to their reservations peaceably. If they do, they will be let go with a warning."
"Do they know you're here?"
"They? Not much," laughed the agent.
"But supposing they ask you a question?"
"I can talk all the different tribal languages represented here. You'd better go now. Where are you from?"
Tad explained briefly.
"Well, you have had a narrow escape tonight. If they catch you again they'll make short work of you."
"They won't catch me. Thank you and good-bye."
"Don't go that way. Strike straight back; then you will have an open course."
"I'm going after my companion's pony. I think I know where to find it," answered Tad, wrapping the blanket about himself and stealing across an open moonlit space without attracting attention.
The Indian agent watched him curiously for a moment; then he rose and followed quickly after Tad.
"That boy is either a fool-- which I don't think-- or else he doesn't know the meaning of the word 'fear.'"
Tad did not find Stacy's pony where he had expected. Indian ponies were tethered all about, singly and in groups, while here and there one was left to graze where it would.
"What sort of a looking pony is yours?" questioned the agent, coming up to him.
"Then I think I know where he is. He was not like the horses in this vicinity, which attracted my attention to him."
The agent led the way, in a roundabout course, to the south side of the camp, where they began looking over the animals. Occasionally a redskin would pass them, but no one gave either the slightest heed.
"Here he is," whispered Tad."
"Lead him off. Don't mount just yet."
Tad did as the agent had suggested. But all at once something happened. Tad's blanket had dropped from his shoulders, revealing him in his true colors. An Indian uttered a yell. Tad sprang into his saddle and put spurs to the pony. In a moment more than a dozen redskins had mounted and started yelling after him, believing he was stealing a pony.
Tad headed away to the south to give his companions a chance to get out of the way, and the savages came in full cry after him.
FLEEING FROM THE ENEMY
A shrill cry was wafted to the boy.
After a few moments Tad realized that they were no longer on his trail. He knew the cry had been a signal, warning them to halt. What he did not know, however, was that the Indian agent had been responsible for the signal; that he in all probability had saved the boy's life.
The lad, after satisfying himself that the Indians had abandoned the chase, at once circled about, coming back to the point where he had left Chunky and the Mexican. They were both there waiting for him.
"What was all that row?" demanded the fat boy. "We were having a little horse race, that's all," grinned Tad grimly; "Hurry along, now."
They reached their own camp in safety an hour later. The two boys had much to relate, and as the narration proceeded, Professor Zepplin shook his head disapprovingly.
"Young gentlemen, much as I have enjoyed this summer's outing, it's a wonder I haven't had nervous prostration long before this. It'll be a load off my mind if I get you all back in Chillicothe without anything serious happening to you."
"I think," suggested Tad, "that we had better strike camp at once and move on. The moon is shining brightly, and Juan ought to have no trouble in leading the way."
"Yes; that will be an excellent idea. You think they may give as further trouble?" questioned the Professor.
"They may before morning. They're getting more ugly every minute."
"Everything worth while seems to happen when I am not around," protested Ned.
"Good thing you weren't along," replied Stacy. "You'd been scared stiff. It was no place for tenderfeet."
"You-- you call me a tenderfoot?" snapped Ned, starting for him.
"Stop quarreling, you two!" commanded Tad. "We've had all the fighting we want for one night. Get busy and help strike this camp. Guess none of this outfit could truthfully be called a tenderfoot. We've all had our share of hard knocks, and we'll have enough to look back to and think about when we get home and have time to go over our experiences together this winter."
The thought, that at any minute the half-crazed savages might sweep down on them hastened the preparations for departure. The Pony Rider Boys never struck camp more quickly than they did in the soft southern moonlight that night.
All at once Juan set up a wail.
"What is it-- what's the trouble now?" demanded Tad.
"My burro. I go for him."
"You'll do nothing of the sort. You'll walk, or ride a pack animal," answered Stacy. "You don't deserve to have a burro."
"Here's his old burro now," called Walter, as a shambling object, much the worse for wear, came stumbling sleepily into camp.
The boys set up a shout that was quickly checked by Tad.
"If the burro can find the way what do you think an Indian could do, fellows?"
"That's right," agreed Professor Zepplin. "We had better keep quiet--"
"And hit the trail as fast as possible," added Tad. "Daylight must find us a long ways from here."
"And ride all night-- is that what you mean?" complained Stacy.
"Yes; it'll give you an appetite for breakfast."
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