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- The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico - 30/37 -


which Tad instantly recognized.

"Kris Kringle!" he gasped.

"Yes; and you nearly knocked the breath out of me," grinned the guide, struggling to his feet. "Well, you certainly are a whirlwind."

"I-- I thought you were the Indian," mattered Tad in a sheepish tone.

"If it had been, there would have been no need for my interference."

"Where is he?"

"Over there, tied up. Both of them are. We'll decide what to do with them when we get the party together."

"Tell me what happened," begged Tad.

The other fellow was so busy watching the cave that he forgot to keep his ears open. I was able to approach him without being detected. When I got near enough I laid the butt of my rifle over his head. No, I didn't hurt him much. Just made him curl up on the ground long enough to enable me to tie his hands and feet.

"About that time I caught the sound of something going on over here. I made a run, suspecting that you were mixing it up with the other redskin. Guess I was just in time, too, for he had you down and was reaching for something--"

"His knife," nodded Tad. "It's somewhere around here now."

"Well, I gave him the same medicine that I had given the other. Now we'd better go and call the others."

"Thank you. I'd have been in a bad fix, if you hadn't come as you did."

"So might I, had you not stopped the second one. We're quits then," said the guide, extending his hand, which Tad grasped warmly.

"I'll call the others, if you wish."

"Yes."

Tad ran over to the base of the cliff, and shouted loudly for his companions. In half an hour the party had gathered about the camp fire, engaged in an animated discussion over the stirring experiences of the evening.

It was decided that the Indians should be placed on their ponies, to which they were to be tied, with hands free and provisions enough to last them until they reached their reservation in the northern part of the state;

The guide restored their rifles to them after first taking their ammunition and transferring it to his own kit.

"I've wasted nearly that much on you," he said. "And, if ever you ride across my trail again, I'll use your own lead on you in a way that will stop you. You won't need bullets like these in the Happy Hunting Grounds, where you'll be going. Now, git!"

And they did. The redskins rode as if a ghost were pursuing them.

"That's the last, we shall see of those gentlemen," laughed Kris Kringle. "To-morrow morning we shall be on our way in peace."

But the trail of the Pony Rider Boys was not to be all peace. Before them-- ere they reached the end of the Silver Trail-- they were to find other thrilling experiences awaiting them.

CHAPTER XX

TILTING FOR THE SILVER SPURS

Their journey led the young horsemen across the plains, over low-lying ranges, across broad, barren table-lands and down through the bottom lands until the wide sweep of the Rio Grande River at last lay before them.

After the weeks of arid landscape the sight of water, and so much of it, brought a loud cheer from the Pony Rider Boys. The next thing was to find a fording place. This they did late in the afternoon of the same day, and their further journey took them to the little desert town of Puraje.

They camped on the outskirts of the village.

"Here's where we get a real bath. Who's going in swimming with me?" asked Tad.

"I am," shouted all the boys at once.

The Professor and Kris Kringle concluded that they, too, would take a dip, and a merry hour was spent in a protected cove of the big river, where the boys proved themselves as much at home as they were in the saddle.

In the evening, they purchased such supplies as the town afforded. The night passed with-out disturbance, the boys taking up their journey next morning before the sleepy town had awakened.

It was a week later, when, tired and dusty, the outfit pulled up at La Luz, a quaint hamlet nestling in the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains. The place they found to be largely Mexican, and it was almost as if the visitors had slipped over the border to find themselves in Mexico itself.

Decorations were in evidence on all sides; bright-colored mantillas, Indian blankets and flags were everywhere.

"Hello, I guess something is going on here," laughed Tad.

"We are in time, whatever it is," nodded the guide. "Probably it's a feast of some kind. You will be interested in it, if that is what it is.

The feast, they learned, was to be celebrated on the morrow with games, feats of strength and horsemanship.

"Do you think they will let us take part?" asked Tad, as the party made camp in the yard of a little adobe church, where they had obtained permission to camp.

"I'll see about it," answered the guide. "There may be reasons why it would not be best to do so."

"Maybe I can win another rifle," suggested Chunky.

"These people don't give away rifles. They're too-- too-- what do you call it?-- too artistic. That's it."

The camp being on the main street of the village, attracted no little attention. After sundown, crowds of gayly bedecked young people strolled up and stood about the church yard, watching the American boys pitching their tents and preparing for their stay over night.

The villagers were especially interested in watching the boys get their supper, which was served up steaming hot within fifteen minutes after preparations had begun. Chunky had bought several pies at the store, which, with a pound of cheese brought in by Ned, made a pleasant change in the daily routine.

Chunky started in on the pie.

Ned calmly reached over and took it away from him; then the supper went along until it came time for the dessert, when Chunky fixed his eyes on the cheese suspiciously.

"See anything wrong with that cheese?" demanded Ned.

"No, but I've got an idea."

"Out with it! You won't rest easy until you do. What's your idea?"

"I was thinking, if I had a camera, I could make a motion picture of that cheese. I heard of a fellow once--"

"That will do, Master Stacy," warned Professor Zepplin.

"Can't I talk?"

"Along proper lines-- yes."

"Cheese is proper, isn't it?"

"Depends upon how old it is," chuckled Tad.

"You needn't make fun of my cheese. Here give it to me; I'll eat it."

"You're welcome to it, Ned," laughed the boys.

The fun went on, much to the amusement of the villagers, who remained near by until the evening was well along and the lads began preparing for bed. Next morning the visitors began coming in to town early. There were men from the ranches, Mexican ranch-hands arrayed in bright colors and displaying expensive saddle trimmings. There were others from the wild places on the desert, far beyond the water limits, whose means of livelihood were known only to themselves.

It was a strange company, and one that appealed considerably to the curiosity of the Pony Rider Boys.

The early part of the day was given over to racing, roping, gambling and other sports in which the lads were content to take no part. But there was an event scheduled for the afternoon that interested Tad more than all the rest. That was a tilting bout, open to all comers. A tilting arch had been erected in the middle of the main street, and had been decorated with flags and greens.

The tilting ring, suspended from the top of the arch, was not more than an inch in diameter. The horseman who could impale it on his tilting peg and carry the ring away with him the greatest, number of times, would be declared the winner. Each one was to be given five chances.

The prize, a pair of silver spurs, was to be presented by the belle of the town, a dark-eyed seņorita.

The guide had entered Tad in this contest; but, as the lad glanced up


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