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- The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks - 20/37 -


Tad, the boys began to realize the seriousness of their position.

"Something's got to be done, fellows," announced Ned Rector.

"I wonder if we could not shoot some game," suggested Walter.

"That's a good idea. But, is there any game here?"

"I heard an owl last night," said Stacy.

"We haven't got down to owls yet. We may when we get hungry enough," returned Ned. "I think I'll take my rifle and go out gunning."

"Do you think the Professor would like you to do that?" questioned Walter.

"I am sure he would not wish us to starve. There must be some kind of game in these mountains that's fit to eat. I'll shoot almost anything that comes along."

"Don't you get lost, now," cautioned Walter.

"No danger. And I'll bring back something to eat, you take my word for that."

Ned, with rifle thrown over his left arm, stepped boldly from the camp, heading west, reasoning that this direction would take him into the heart of the mountains where he would be more likely to find game.

An hour passed; then they heard a gun.

"He's shot something," exulted Walter.

"At something, you mean," corrected Chunky.

A second shot followed quickly on the first, then a third one.

"Guess you're right, Chunky," smiled Walter.

Later on they heard three more shots.

"That sounded a long way off," mused Walter. "I'm afraid he is getting too far from camp."

Chunky nodded thoughtfully.

"He thinks he can shoot, but he can't. I wish I had a fish line. I'd go down to the river in the gorge there and see if I couldn't catch a fish. Maybe I can fix up something that will--"

"No, you don't, Stacy Brown. You stay right here. You would get lost before you got out of sight of the camp. I don't want to be left alone here, with nothing but a pair of long-eared mules for company."

Stacy shrugged his shoulders and began idly cutting his name in the bark of a tree with his knife.

"Funny we haven't heard Ned shoot in some time," said Walter after a long interval of silence. "He must be working his way back. Think so?"

"Nope," answered Stacy, still engaged with the knife.

"You don't? Why not."

"Hasn't got any more shells, that's why."

"I don't understand."

"He shot six times, didn't he?"

"Let's see--yes, I believe he did."

"Well, that's all the bullets he had in the gun. He'll have to throw stones if he sees anything else to shoot at."

A startled expression appeared on Walter Perkins's face.

"You're right, Chunky. But why don't he come back, then?"

"Lost, I guess," replied Stacy, not appearing to be in the least disturbed by his own announcement.

Walter started up in alarm.

"You don't--you don't think--"

"No, I'm just guessing."

"If--if Ned should get lost, too, it would be awful."

Stacy nodded indifferently, Walter meanwhile pacing restlessly back and forth.

The lad's face wore a troubled look. With the Professor and all his companions save Stacy, gone; with no food left in camp, Walter Perkins had reason to feel alarmed.

Chunky, however, whittled on undisturbed.

"Are you hungry, Chunky?" asked Walter, pausing in his walk, later on.

Stacy nodded.

The day had worn along well into the afternoon and neither of the boys had had anything to eat since early morning. Their appetites were beginning to assert themselves.

"I'm going to get some mineral water. It surely will help some. Come on, it won't hurt you."

Stacy turned a pair of resentful eyes on his companion.

"No egg water for me. I'll starve first," he answered, with more spirit than usual.

While Walter went to the spring to help himself to the sulphur water, Stacy stood off to view his artistic work on the bark of the tree.

"Guess--guess they'll know I've been here, anyway," he mumbled.

"That's real good stuff," announced Walter, as he returned. "I do not feel nearly so hungry as I did before. Better try some."

Stacy made no reply to the suggestion.

When twilight came on, Walter Perkins was more alarmed than ever. There could be no doubt now that Ned Rector had missed his way. Stacy remained unmoved. He bedded down the mules. When he returned from this duty he carried something bright in one hand. Walter's eyes caught it at once.

"What have you there?" he demanded.

"Can of orange marmalade," replied Chunky, with a twinkle. "Guess it must have been dropped out when we unloaded the pack. Good thing there's only two of us to eat it."

CHAPTER XIII

WINNING THROUGH PLUCK

Tad Butler had left the camp at daybreak. He started off at a slow trot which he kept up over the rough, uneven ground until some time after sunrise, all the time keeping the mountain gorge in sight so that he might not lose his way.

He had eaten no breakfast, having simply taken a cup of sulphur water, believing that he could make better time on an empty stomach. However, he now sat down and munched on one of the three hard boiled eggs he had taken with him.

"Guess it will be a good thing to rest for half an hour," he said to himself. This he did, by stretching flat on his back, after having finished his scanty breakfast.

Sharp on the half hour by his watch, Tad sprang up, greatly refreshed. Leaning well forward he dropped into a long, easy lope, which carried him over the ground rapidly. Hard as nails and spurred on by the need of his companions, the lad pushed on and on, blazing his trail as he went, not feeling any fatigue to speak of. Now and then he would pause for a few moments to make sure that he was not straying from the river gorge, which occasional rocks and foliage hid from his view.

At noon Tad sat down and ate another egg.

"I must be getting near the place," he mused.

Still there was no trace of human habitation. There remained nothing for him to do save to push on, which he did stubbornly.

When the sun went down he seemed no nearer to the object of his search than when he had set out at daybreak. The lad, after looking about, came upon a tree which he climbed in order to get an unobstructed view of the country. He argued that camp-fires would be lighted for the evening meal. Not a sign of smoke could he discover anywhere.

Tad's heart sank.

"I've got to stay out all night," he muttered. "If I were sure of finding some one in the morning I wouldn't mind."

There remaining about two hours before dark, he decided to push on as long as he could see. So he trotted on resolutely until the shadows fell so densely about his path that he could no longer find his way.

Tad reluctantly halted and after selecting a suitable place, gathered wood for a camp-fire. Water there was none, so he had to do without it while he ate his last egg.

Then he lay down to sleep, refusing to allow himself to think very long at a time of his lonely position.

Late that night, the boy awakened, finding the moon shining brightly.

He got up and looked about him. The camp-fire had died out. The light of the moon was so strong that he could make out the


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