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- The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico - 5/37 -


"They must be cold," muttered Chunky. "Shouldn't think they'd need bed clothes around them this time of the year."

"Not so loud, Chunky," warned Tad.

"Know what they are, Tad?"

"I wouldn't say positively, but somehow they look to me like Apaches."

Tad's surmise was correct. The twelve warriors were members of the savage band that had in past years caused the Government so much trouble and bloodshed.

"They're off their reservation, if they are Apaches," whispered the lad.

"What does that indicate, Tad?"

"I don't know. They may be on the warpath; then, again, they may be down here after game. I'm not sure even, if there is any game here. We'll lie still until they get by us. That's the best plan; don't you think so?"

"Yes."

"Lie perfectly still, Chunky. The little bushes in front of us will screen us, providing we don't move about. Indians have quick eyes, though they do look as if they were half asleep."

"They're getting off their horses, Tad. What does that mean?"

"I don't know."

Tad peered through the bushes, noting every move that the redskins made. At first he thought they had discovered him and were about to surround the rock and take him prisoner. But he soon saw that such was not their intention. Tethering their ponies, the Indians cast their blankets on the ground, after having first picked out a suitable place.

"They're making camp," whispered Tad.

One after another of the savages took out his pipe, and soon the odor from burning tobacco was wafted to the nostrils of the hidden Pony Rider Boys.

"Guess they're going to get some dinner," decided Stacy, observing that the strangers were gathering brush.

This was the case. The ponies had been staked where they could browse on the green leaves, and now their masters were about to satisfy their own appetites.

Tad groaned.

"What is it?" questioned Stacy apprehensively.

"They will be here half of the day at least. I know a little about Indians, having been captured by them once. The difference is that my Indians were in a hurry to get somewhere. These fellows seem to have all the time in the world. They're waiting-- killing time for some reason. You'll see, after they finish their dinner, that they will smoke some more, then lie down for a catnap."

"And-- and what'll we be doing?"

"We'll be hiding on the top of this rock, Chunky."

"Wish I had my rifle."

"Lucky for both of us that you haven't."

The lads had been talking in whispers, but the words fairly froze in their mouths, when, upon glancing down they saw the eyes of a savage fixed upon them.

"On your life, don't move a muscle, Chunky," whispered Tad, as soon as he had recovered his wits.

Tad was not sure that the Indian saw them, yet there could be no doubt that the savage eyes were burning into their very own.

Soon, however, the Indian dropped his glances to his pipe bowl and the boys breathed a sigh of relief.

"Don't move yet, Chunky," directed Tad.

It was a wise command, for almost instantly the Indian glanced in their direction again, and, as if satisfied, emptied his pipe and stretched out on his blanket. The two lads breathed sighs of relief.

"Did he see us, do you think, Tad?"

"No. At first he thought he saw something up here, but he changed his mind after a little, as you observed."

By this time the redskins were cooking their midday meal, and the odor nearly drove Stacy frantic. It made him realize how hungry he was. He pulled a leaf from a bush and began chewing it in hopes of wearing off the keen edge of his appetite.

"How long we got to stay here?" he demanded. "I've a good notion to get up and walk back to camp. They don't dare hurt us."

"Lie still!" commanded his companion sternly. "I have a plan that we may be able to put into operation. We can't do it now, though."

The lads waited, Tad almost with the patience of an Indian, Chunky ill at ease and restless.

"Can't you lie still? What ails you?"

"My stomach's fighting my appetite. Hear 'em growl at each other?"

"S-h-h-h."

"I don't care. I'd 'bout as soon be scalped as to starve to death."

The braves had by now filled their stomachs, gulping their food down without the formality of chewing it at all. Stacy's amazement was partly mixed with admiration as he observed the food disappear with such rapidity.

Now the braves had begun puffing at their pipes. After a time, one by one laid down his smoking bowl and stretched himself out for a nap, just as Tad had said they would. The savages were spread out so that they had a very good view of three sides of the rock on which the two lads were perched, but the fourth side was hidden from them. Tad decided that, as the Indians showed no intention of moving, they were going to remain where they were until night.

"I want you to follow me, Chunky," Butler said, determined to try his plan. "You will have to move absolutely without a sound. Look before you put down foot or hand. Be sure where you place them. We'll wait a few minutes until they're sound asleep."

"What you going to do-- sneak?"

"Try to get back to camp. The others will be coming along looking for us pretty soon, if we don't get away. The Indians might resent being disturbed, and perhaps make trouble."

"Tell me when you're ready, then."

Some minutes had elapsed and the lads could plainly hear the snores of their besiegers.

"Now!" whispered Tad.

At the same time he began crawling toward the edge of the rock at their rear. Stacy was close upon his heels.

The side which the boys were to descend was much more precipitous than the one they had come up by, but offered no very great difficulties for two nimble boys. Proceeding with infinite caution, they gained the ground without a mishap.

"We'll walk straight on in this direction, until we get out of sight; then we can turn to the left and hurry to the camp."

Stacy nodded. As he did so his eyes were off the ground for a few seconds. Those few seconds proved his undoing.

The lad stepped on a stone that gave way under him, turning his ankle almost upon its side.

"Ouch!" yelled Chunky.

"Now you've done it," snapped Tad. "We'll have the whole pack of them down on us. Can you walk?"

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

"Take hold of my hand. You've got to run."

The redskins were on their feet in an instant. A few bounds carried them around the rock whence the exclamation had come. By this time Tad had dragged his companion into the bushes but not quickly enough to elude the keen eyes of the savages.

The Indians uttered a short, sharp cry, then aimed their rifles at the figures of the two fleeing Pony Rider Boys.

Tad saw the movement. He threw himself prone upon the ground, jerking Chunky down beside him.

They were screened from the eyes of the enemy, for the moment.

"Crawl! Crawl!" commanded Tad.

On hands and feet the boys began running rapidly over the ground, on down into a narrow gulch. If they could gain the opposite side they would be safe, as it was unlikely that the Indians would follow them there. To do so, the boys were obliged to cross an open space. They had just reached it, when their pursuers appeared behind them. Once more the Indians raised their rifles, their fingers exerting a gentle pressure on the triggers.

CHAPTER IV


The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico - 5/37

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