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- The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies - 30/35 -
gentle slope on the other side of the valley, and, taking the hill on his side, rose rapidly to the pinnacle where he was sitting on his pony.
"Ginger! Mustard!" was the glad cry uttered by Tad Butler, as the dogs, yelping with joy at the sound of his voice, came bounding to him, while the ponies reared and plunged in the excess of their excitement.
Tad leaped from his mount, petting and fondling the hounds, hugging them as they leaped upon him, and shouting at the top of his voice, as he heard still another shot on the other side of the hill.
A few moments later, he made out the figures of two horsemen on the opposite ridge, following on in the trail of the dogs. They were Ned Rector and the guide, Lige Thomas.
The two set up a glad shout as they made out Tad, waving his arms and gesticulating.
"Come on, doggies! It's breakfast for us, now!" cried Tad, leaping to Texas' back, leading Jimmie dashing down the hill to meet the oncoming horsemen.
"Hooray!" welcomed Ned Rector.
And amid the shouts of the boys and the barking of the dogs, rescuers and rescued drew swiftly toward each other.
THE DOGS TREE A CAT
Walter and Chunky finally made out Tad, tattered and torn, but riding his pony proudly, approaching the camp. It was a warm welcome that the two boys extended to the returning horsemen, after they had finally dismounted and staked down their ponies. The plucky lad was kept busy for some time telling them of his thrilling experience on the wild ride of the night before.
"And now, I guess we had better lay up for the day," decided the guide. "You must be pretty well tired out after your little trip. The rest of us didn't get much sleep last night, either."
"No," protested Tad. "I never was more fit in my life. I am crazy to start on our hunting trip."
"So are we," shouted the boys in chorus.
"All right, then. Pack up while Tad is getting something to eat. He must have a large-sized appetite by this time," smiled Lige Thomas.
"If I had a chunk of that bear meat that we got the other day, I'd show you what sort of an appetite I have," laughed Tad. "There's something about this mountain air that would lead a man to sell his blouse for a square meal. Where's my rifle?"
"Over there by your bunk," answered Walter. "You go ahead and eat. We'll pack the pony for you while you are breakfasting."
Tad did so, and an hour later the Pony Riders were once more in the saddle.
"I think I'll put the dogs on the trail of the fellow that upset our plans so thoroughly last night," decided Lige. "He probably is a long way from here by this time, but it will be a good trail to warm the hounds up on."
Bidding the boys draw down the valley half a mile or so, where he said he would join them, Lige went in the opposite direction, and, picking his way along a ledge, sent the dogs on ahead of him. The hounds soon scented the trail, though on the bare rocks they had considerable difficulty in picking it up.
After watching them for a few moments, Lige urged them out into the brush, where he thought the scent might be more marked. His judgment was verified when, a moment later, a yelp from Mustard told him the faithful animal had picked up the trail at last.
Turning back, the guide hastened to the foot of the mountain, whence he galloped down the valley to join the boys, who, having heard the deep baying of the hounds, were restless to be off.
"What are they doing?" called Walter, observing Lige approaching.
"They're after the cougar. Set your horses at a gallop."
The Pony Riders needed no urging, for they were keen for the excitement of the chase. The hounds, by this time, had obtained quite a lead on them, though the boys still could hear their hoarse voices.
"They are following the ridge yet," decided Lige. "The fellow ought to cross over pretty soon. I think if we will turn to the left, here, and climb the mountain, we may be able to save some distance. But don't speak to the dogs if they pass anywhere near you. It might throw them off the scent."
Half an hour after they had turned off, they were rewarded by seeing the dogs racing down the opposite hill, in great leaps and bounds, crossing the valley a short quarter of a mile ahead of the party.
The ponies, which had been walking since they turned off, were now sent forward at a slow gallop again, soon falling in close behind the hounds.
"They've got him!" cried Lige.
"Got who?" asked Chunky.
"I don't know. The cougar, I presume. Don't you hear them?"
"I hear the dogs barking, that's all," replied Ned.
"And I hear more than that," said the guide, with a peculiar smile. "Don't you distinguish a difference in the tone of one of the dogs' bark?"
"No, I don't," snapped Chunky. "All barks sound alike to me."
"Mustard is baying 'treed,'" said the guide. "Hurry, if you want to be in at the death. If you don't the dogs either will kill him or get killed before we can reach them."
Putting spurs to their mounts, the hunters set off at a livelier gallop, and soon the deep tones of the hounds began to grow louder. Now, too, the boys were able to catch a new note--a note almost of triumph, it seemed to them, in the dogs' hoarse baying.
"Stick to your ponies. Don't leave them. If it's a cougar, he is liable to stampede them again. And don't any of you shoot until I give you the word."
"There he is!" cried Tad, pointing to a low-spreading pinyon tree. "I can see him moving around in the top there. May I take a shot at him, Mr. Thomas?"
"No; do you want to kill the dogs?"
"Certainly. That is one of the dogs up there. Probably Mustard," said the guide.
"What's that? Dogs climb trees?" demanded Chunky, laughing uproariously.
"Keep still! Do you want to spoil our fun?" growled Ned.
"The idea! Dogs climb trees!" And Chunky Brown went off into a paroxysm of silent mirth, his rotund body convulsed with merriment.
"Mustard can climb a tree as well as you can, if not better," answered Lige sharply. "Use your eyes, and you will see for yourself. That is one of the dogs that you see in the tree there-- not a cougar. Ah! There goes the other one!" he cried, pointing with his rifle.
And, sure enough, it was.
"It's Ginger!" exclaimed Walter in amazement.
The hound was creeping cautiously up the sloping trunk of the spreading tree, following in the wake of his companion, whose presence in the tree was indicated only by the movement of the slender limbs which he fastened upon to keep from losing his balance.
"What are they after?' asked Ned. "Perhaps a cougar. I can't tell, yet," replied the guide, keeping his eye fixed on the tree.
A yelp of pain and anger followed close upon his words, and a dark object came plunging from the tree.
"There goes one of the dogs!" shouted Lige. "That's too bad."
The hound had approached too close to the animal in the tree, and a mighty paw had smitten it fairly on the nose, hurling it violently to the ground.
Mustard, nothing daunted, scrambled to his feet with an angry roar, the blood trickling from his injured nose, and pluckily began digging his claws into the bark of the pinyon tree, up which he slowly pulled himself again.
"Well, if that doesn't beat all!" marveled Chunky. "He is climbing that tree!"
"He surely is," agreed Walter, his eyes fairly bulging with surprise at the unusual spectacle. "And there's the other one away up in the top there. Why doesn't he fall off?"
"He prefers to remain up a tree, I imagine," laughed Ned Rector, without withdrawing his gaze from the unusual exhibition.
A squall of rage from the tree top caused the boys to draw their reins tighter, the ponies champing at their bits and pawing restlessly. The ugly sound thrilled the lads through and through. The deep, menacing growl of the dog that was crawling up the sloping trunk voiced his anxiety to take part in the desperate battle that was being waged above them.
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