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- The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies - 10/35 -
through space-- perhaps over a precipice. It plainly was the intent of the man to hurl the boy far from him, as soon as Tad's body should have attained sufficient momentum to carry it.
However, before the fellow was able to put his desperate plan fully into execution, Tad, with the resourcefulness of a born wrestler, suddenly formed a plan of his own.
As his body swung by that of his captor, the boy threw out his hands, clasping them about the left leg of the other and instantly locking his fingers.
It seemed as if the jolt would wrench his arms from their sockets. Yet Tad held on desperately. And the result, though wholly unexpected by the mountaineer, was not entirely so to Tad. He had figured--had hoped--that a certain thing might occur. And it did.
The man's left leg was jerked free of the ground, and before he was able to catch his balance the fellow fell heavily on his side. Tad, with keen satisfaction, heard him utter a grunt as he struck. But before the boy could release himself he was grabbed and pulled up over his adversary by the latter's left hand, his right still being pinioned under his own body. Yet the mountaineer's move had not been entirely without results favorable to his captive.
"I'll kill you for this!" snarled the man, fuming with rage.
Tad, groping for a wrestler's hold, felt his hand close over the hilt of a knife in the man's belt. And, as the boy was hauled upward, the blade came away from its sheath, clasped in Tad's firm grip.
But not even with this deadly weapon in hand did Tad Butler for a second forget himself. He flung the knife as far from him as his partly pinioned arms would permit, and, with keen satisfaction, heard it clatter on the rocks several feet away.
"You'll do it without that cowardly weapon, then!" gasped the boy.
Though thoroughly at home in a wrestling game, Tad knew that he would he no match for the superior strength of his antagonist. So, resorting to every wrestling trick that he knew, he sought to prevent the fellow from getting the right arm free. However, the most the lad could hope to accomplish would be to delay the dreaded climax for a minute or more.
With an angry, menacing growl, the mountaineer threw himself on his hack, hoping thereby to free the pinioned arm.
"Now, I've got you, you young cub!"
Instantly, both of Tad's knees were drawn up and forced down with all his strength on his adversary's stomach. From the growl of rage that followed, Tad had the satisfaction of knowing that his tactics had not been without effect.
"You--you only think you have," retorted the boy, breathing heavily under the terrible strain.
The mountaineer might now have hurled the boy from him. To do this, however, would have been giving Tad an opportunity to escape, of which he would have been quick to take advantage; and so, gulping quick, short breaths, and struggling with his slightly built adversary, Tad's captor finally managed to throw the lad over on his back.
So heavily did Tad strike that, for the moment, the breath was fairly knocked from his body.
Recovering himself with an effort, he raised a piercing call for help.
All grew black about him. He no longer saw the brilliant flashes of lightning that at intervals lighted up the scene, nor heard the voices of his companions frantically calling upon him to come back. The mountaineer's sinewy fingers had closed in an iron-grip over Tad Butler's throat.
THE CAPTURE OP THE HORSE THIEF
"There they are!" cried Ned Rector, a flash of lightning having disclosed the man kneeling over Tad Butler. "He's got Tad down!"
But Lige Thomas did not even hear the warning words. He, too, during the momentary illumination, had caught the significance of the scene.
With a mighty leap he hurled himself upon the body of the crouching mountaineer, both going down in a confused heap, with the unfortunate Tad underneath.
Ned Rector was only a few seconds behind the guide. While the two men were straggling in fierce embrace, he sprang to them, and, grabbing Tad by the heels, drew him from beneath the bodies of the desperate combatants. But Ned's heart sank when he saw Lige drop over backward, with the mountaineer on top.
With a courage born of the excitement of the moment, Ned clasped both hands under the fellow's chin, jerking his head violently backwards. So sudden was the jolt that the lad distinctly heard the man's neck snap, and, for the moment, believed he had broken it entirely.
However, the mountaineer's tough coating of muscle made such a result impossible. Yet he had sustained a jolt so severe that, for the time being, he found himself absolutely helpless, and wholly at the mercy of his antagonists.
Lige leaped upon the thief with the lightness of a cat, quickly completing the job which Ned Rector had begun. In a moment more the guide had thrown several strands of tough rawhide lariat about the body of the dazed mountaineer, binding the fellow's arms tightly to his side.
"I guess that will hold him for a while," laughed Ned. Then, bethinking himself of Tad, whom in the excitement of conflict he had entirely forgotten, Rector dropped down beside his comrade.
"Tad! Tad! Are you all right?"
Tad made no response. He told Ned afterwards that he had heard him distinctly, though to save his life he could not have answered.
Ned pulled him up into a sitting posture, and shook the boy until his teeth chattered. Tad gulped and began to choke, his breath beginning to come irregularly.
"How's the boy?" demanded the guide, rising after having completed his task of binding the captive.
"He'll he all right in a minute. Is there any water about here!"
"No; not nearer than the camp. Wait a minute; I'll bring him around without it," announced Lige.
In this case, however, Tad felt that the remedy was considerably worse than the disease itself. Lige brought his brawny hand down with a resounding whack, squarely between Tad's shoulders, which operation he repeated several times with increasing force.
"On--ouch!" yelled Tad, suddenly finding his voice under the guide's heroic treatment. "Wh--where am I?"
"You're in the woods. That's about all I know about it," laughed Ned, assisting his companion to his feet, and supporting him, for Tad was still a bit unsteady from his late desperate encounter. "You're lucky to be alive."
"What--what has happened!"
"That," answered Ned, pointing to Lige as the latter roughly jerked the captive mountaineer to an upright position.
"Find the ponies!" commanded the guide sharply. "I hear them in the bushes there. Will they come if you whistle!"
"Depends upon which ones they are. Mine will."
But, though Ned whistled vigorously, neither of the animals appeared to heed the signal.
"Jimmie isn't there. I'll go get them." And Ned ran off into the bushes, where they could hear him coaxing the little animals to him. In a few moments he returned leading them by their bridle reins.
"Whose ponies are they?" asked Tad, leaning against a tree for support.
"Texas and Jo-Jo. The fellow picked a couple of good ones. But then, all the ponies are worth having," added Ned, realizing that he was placing the others ahead of his own little animal. "What do you propose to do with that fellow over there, guide?"
"Depends upon you young gentlemen. Just now I am going to tie him on one of the ponies and take him back to camp. I suppose you know what they do with hoss thieves in this country, don't you?" asked Thomas.
"Never having been a horse thief, and never having caught one, I can't say that I do," confessed Master Ned. "What do they do with them?"
"Depends upon whether there are any large trees about," answered Lige significantly. "We must be getting back now. Master Tad, you get on your pony, and I will lead Jo-Jo behind with the thief."
The mountaineer had been securely tied to the back of Walter Perkins's mount, and the procession now quickly got under way, Tad riding ahead, Ned Rector bringing up the rear, that he might keep a wary eye on their prisoner on their way back to camp. Ned was armed with a club, a stout limb of oak, which he had picked up before the start, and which he covertly hoped he might have an opportunity to use before reaching camp.
However, no such chance was given him, and, after picking their way cautiously over the rocky way, for trail there was none, they at last reached their temporary home.
Ned gave a war whoop as a signal to the camp that they were coming, which was answered with a slightly lesser degree of enthusiasm by Stacy Brown.
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