The border boys with the.., p.21
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       The Border Boys with the Mexican Rangers, p.21
 

          
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  CHAPTER XXI.

  THE CAPTAIN PLAYS A TRICK.

  All at once, as they reached a part of the canyon where it narrowedinto a mere defile, something came rattling down the side of thesteep wall to the right. It was a dislodged pebble, but it caused theadvancing corps to look up swiftly.

  Above them, outlined against the sky, were several figures,—thoseundoubtedly of the men of whom they were in search. As they were stilllooking upward, the men on the cliff summit began to pump down lead,the bullets singing and droning and pattering about them like a leadenhail storm.

  “Hot work,” grunted Pete, noting with enthusiasm the absolutecollectedness of the leader of the Rangers. He gave a sharp commandand his men swung into single file and pulled their ponies over tillthey were riding so close to the rock wall of the canyon that it wasnecessary for the riders to throw one leg up on the saddle. This madeit impossible for the marksmen on the summit to pick them off, for thecliff hung outward a little.

  “As I thought, the rascals were prepared for us,” said the youngofficer, “how far is it now, Senor Coyote, to the camp?”

  “Ten minutes should bring us thar,—ah!”

  A big rock hurled from above struck the ground in front of and a littleto one side of the advancing cavalcade. It split to pieces from theforce of its impact.

  “If that had hit anyone his troubles would hev bin over,” snorted Petewithout turning a hair.

  Jack paled a little, though. In a few seconds they would reach a partof the canyon where they could no longer crowd in under the slightlyoverhanging cliff. At this point they would be exposed to the full furyof any rifle fire or stone volley which the brigands above might pourdown on them.

  But the officer of the Rangers had, it seemed, anticipated this. Heordered one of his men to dismount and remove his regimentals. Thisdone, the empty garments were filled with brush and leaves, and thesombrero was tied securely to the upper part of the dummy, which, at adistance, and particularly from above, would resemble pretty closely areal man.

  The dummy was then mounted on a pony, a lame animal and not good formuch. After its “rider” had been securely fastened in place, thepony was given a couple of whacks with the Rangers’ long quirts, andfrenzied with excitement it plunged forward.

  These operations had all been carried on in the shadow of theoverhanging cliff, and those above had no knowledge of the trick thatwas to be played on them till they saw the apparently daring ridersuddenly dash from the shelter. Instantly a volley of rifle shots waspoured down upon the dummy, and a veritable avalanche of mighty rocksand boulders were hurled downward. The luckless pony galloped bravelydown through this inferno of bullets and missiles, only to have itslife exterminated by a quick-killing bullet after about five minutes offlight.

  “Now, senors!”

  The young officer, his eyes aflame, dashed forward, followed byhis Rangers and our adventurers. The Ranger, whose pony had beensacrificed, was carried on the back of another trooper’s saddle. In aminute they were in the open and a howl of fury from above testifiedhow thoroughly the outlaws had been tricked. Their fire had been drawnand they had exhausted the available supply of large rocks on the dummy!

  As the column dashed across the unprotected space, a scattering firewhistled about them, but no more injury than a few punctured saddlesand a damaged hat or two was done. The next instant the cavalcade sweptout of the canyon and into the small plateau where the camp of thenight before had been made.

  A delighted shout burst from Jack’s lips, and was echoed instantly byCoyote Pete as they perceived, still tied and bound, their companionsin adventure. A feeble cry answered them, and an instant later thereunited party was furiously shaking hands, slapping backs and jumpingabout in a thousand ecstatic antics, while the Rangers looked on,shrugging their shoulders at the mad Gringoes, and rolling cigarettes.

  “Shall we pursue the outlaws?” asked Jack, after the first transportswere over and comparative quiet had settled down.

  The officer shook his head.

  “It would be useless now. We have scattered them and let us hope thatwe have heard the last of them. It will be my duty, however, to keep aconstant lookout for them.”

  To the boys’ delight, their stolen stock was all there, too. Firewaterwhinnied delightedly as he saw his young master, and even the burrosseemed to take part in the general rejoicing. While the brigands hadmade some inroads on the boys’ provisions, there still remained enoughfood to last them, with care, on the remainder of their dash for theTrembling Mountain.

  After the tension of the last few hours it was delightful to feel asense of security once more. Their enemies were scattered and it wasunlikely that the band would attempt any more high-handed methods.Should they do so, however, it would be too late, for before they setforward on the last stage of their journey the adventurers arrangedwith the captain to meet him and his Rangers at a spot near theTrembling Mountain in three days’ time.

  The young officer willingly agreed, but expressed some curiosity asto the nature of their quest. He was informed that the object of theexpedition was a scientific one, to investigate the reports of therelics of a forgotten race that lay within the bowels of the mountain.

  Jack parted with the Rangers with regret. He had come to admire themfor their dash, courage and resource. They were ideal troops for therough country they patrolled and kept in order by rough and readymethods. The young officer, too, felt much regard for Senor Jack, as hecalled him.

  So a few hours after the reunion in the outlaws’ abandoned camp, thetwo parties set out in different directions. The Rangers followed thecourse they assumed that Ramon had taken in his flight, while ouradventurers struck out for the smoking peaks which were now much nearerthan when they had had their first sight of them. They traveled therest of that day at a good speed, and sunset found them camped in apleasant little valley where the broad-fronded banana tree grew, whosefruit afforded a welcome addition to their menu.

  The next day, at noon, the professor, after making an observation,announced that they were then within a few hours’ travel of theTrembling Mountain. This announcement was, in fact, hardly necessary,for all day a mighty peak, from whose snow-covered summit there issueda lazy roll of smoke, had overshadowed their way. Everybody guessedthat the frowning acclivity was the mountain for which they had come sofar in quest.

  Late afternoon brought them to its base, and with his measuringinstruments the professor, an hour after camp had been pitched, locatedthe entrance which no other American, assuredly, had ever passed. Theirpulses beat swift and hard, as the lads and Coyote followed the old manover the rock-strewn slopes to the spot.

  Amid a grove of dark, sombre trees,—somehow suggesting a sacrificialgrove,—lay the entrance to the Trembling Mountain. All felt a senseof mystical awe as they stood in the solemn shadows. It was as if theyhad come under the spell of some tremendous brooding presence. Quiteunconsciously they spoke in whispers.

  It was the same feeling that overcomes one in the aisle of some mightycathedral. As if to accentuate the similarity of impression, the windsighing softly in the dark, dome-shaped trees, sounded like a solemnchant, now high and tremulous, now low in a rumbling diapason thatthrilled.

 
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