The broncho rider boys o.., p.7
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       The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, p.7

           Lester Chadwick
 

  CHAPTER VII.

  FOLLOWING THE CATTLE RUSTLERS.

  "How about our ponies?" Billie wanted to know. "Will they be able tostand for another dash so soon?"

  "Cow ponies are tough little critters," Donald went on to say, with theutmost confidence; "and they recover from fatigue like magic. Right nowI'd wager Wireless or Ten Spot would be good for a twenty mile gallop atfull speed."

  "I notice you don't include my Jupiter," grumbled Billie, suspiciously;"mebbe now you're counting on him to play out in short order, when poorBroncho Billie'll have to be dropped behind, to toddle along the bestway he can, while the rest of you are having all the fun."

  "Oh! I wouldn't worry about that, if I were you, Billie," Adrian toldhim; "for you'll find that Jupiter is as fresh as a daisy by now, andable to carry you right along hour after hour. I'm ready to pin my faithto these cow ponies every time. They're wonders, that's what."

  "Yes," added Donald, who did not like to see the good-natured fat chumworried in any way; "and as we agreed before, since the cattle werealready blowing hard when they passed here, chances are they'll come toa halt before many miles; so after all we won't have to go so very far."

  "I'm glad to hear it," mumbled Billie, who was not feeling very muchlike taking a lengthy gallop, after his late experiences in that line;the saddle chafed him more or less, because of his heft, and he sufferedto a greater extent than either of his comrades knew about.

  They were hastily getting their things packed. This was not so much of ajob to fellows who had done such things a long time. The blankets made asmall roll, to be fastened behind their saddles; then the few cookingthings were distributed around, each one being responsible for a certainutensil, which he was expected to produce when next it was needed. Inthis way coffee-pot, frying-pan, tin platters and tin cups were stowedaway, and occupied very little space.

  Each boy had a small bag in which he kept a few extras, a fresh flannelshirt and necessities. Billie also lugged along some other things in theway of a jar of marmalade, of which he was especially fond, a strip ofbreakfast bacon, tea, coffee, and such things. He would not let hischums think of loading themselves down with anything that poor Jupitercould carry on his broad back; and so when he was fully fixed for ridinghe looked like a nomadic peddler starting out on his trip.

  But Billie at least had long ago learned the art of packing his stuffsecurely. Only for that fact he must surely have left a lot of hispackages scattered along the trail at the time Jupiter ran away withhim, after the stable boy at the inn had played that mean trick with thepoison-tipped sand spurs.

  Of course he was only partly packed when both the others announcedthemselves as ready to move.

  "But I hope now, you won't think of starting out, and leaving me behind,fellows?" Billie voiced his new alarm by saying.

  They hastened to reassure him.

  "We're not in such a big hurry as all that, Billie," said Adrian.

  "And here, let me give you a hand," remarked Donald.

  "That's the stuff!" gurgled the fat chum, who had all along been hopingto have some assistance; for Donald knew how to put things in ship-shapeso well; while on the other hand Adrian was the best hand at cinchinggirths, and tightening up ropes on a pack animal Billie had ever struck.

  Between them they soon made things ready; and Billy hastened to climb upinto his saddle. That word would appear to be the only one capable ofdoing justice to his method of attaining a seat; for Billie was veryclumsy, it must be remembered; and then those packages were forevergetting in the way, so that even an agile fellow like Donald forinstance might have found it difficult to leap into his saddle while hisanimal was thus encumbered.

  But they were all ready at last; and Donald led the little bunch ofriders out from the timber that grew along the little stream.

  It was now bright moonlight. The clouds had drifted past, and the skyseemed to be free from horizon to horizon, which fact pleased theBroncho Rider Boys not a little. There is always more or less danger ofa nasty spill when galloping over the prairie in pitch darkness, for noone can tell when a prairie dog village may be encountered; and if apony sets his foot in one of their burrows the chances are he will godown in a heap, possibly with a broken leg; and his rider may accounthimself lucky if he escapes a similar fate, or gets his neck broken inaddition.

  Billie in particular was always worried when circumstances compelledthem to ride in the dark. He declared that, not being nimble like hiscomrades, and spry enough to play the cat act so as to land on his handsand feet, a tumble was apt to go much harder with him; and perhaps therewas good reason for this feeling of uneasiness on Billie's part. At anyrate his chums were always willing to cater to his wishes in the matter,when it could be reasonably done.

  But now that smiling moon made the fat boy feel quite at his ease.

  As soon as they were clear of the trees Donald headed directlysouthwest, for that was the direction taken by the stampeded herd.Looking down he could easily discover where their hoofs had torn up thesoil of the prairie; and as long as the friendly light from above heldout, the ranch boy believed that he could follow that plain trail, eventhough they heard no sound from ahead to give them pointers as to wherethe cattle had gone.

  He and Adrian rode side by side, so that from time to time they couldexchange sentences. Billie on the other hand was quite willing to bringup the rear. He was accustomed to "taking other people's dust," as hehimself frankly admitted, and did not object seriously to such a thing.

  So far as he could discover Jupiter was feeling all right again afterhis rest, and offered no objection to keeping up the swift pace set bythe others.

  "Of course after we begin to haul up on them," said Donald, presently,"we'll cut down the pace more or less, so they won't get wind of ourbeing around."

  "I wonder what sort of luck we'll have," Adrian was saying, showing thathe had been trying to figure things out in his mind. "Of course I takeit for granted that we'll come up with the rustlers; but it's anotherthing to get them off their guard, so we can make them prisoners, andtake the cattle away with us."

  "Yes, that's so," assented Donald, "but you never know what you can dotill you make a try; and we've carried out a few jobs on our own hook,you and me, Adrian, if you stop to think."

  "As big as this one seems to be, for a fact, Donald," agreed the other,brightening up under the inspiring remarks of his chum, just as Donaldsupposed would be the case.

  "Of course, Ad, we can't lay any plans till we see how the ground lies,"the other went on to say; "after they've got the cattle quieted down Ireckon those rustler fellows will take things easy. They've run matterswith such a free hand up around here so long now, that they just can'timagine anybody daring to interfere with their business."

  "Yes," added Adrian, "and perhaps if they were held up and asked to givean account of the cattle they were running off they'd have the nerve tosay they'd even _bought_ them from Fred Comstock at the Bar-S Ranch; andrefer the questioners to the lady who has taken the whip hand up at myplace. Oh! it's all a mighty clever game, I can see that plain enough;only it's a case of 'heads they win, tails I lose.' I'm on the wrongside of the fence every time. But something told me I ought to bewandering up this way; and say, Donald, it's lucky now I didn't write toUncle Fred, and give him the least hint about my plans?"

  "Luck is no name for it!" exclaimed the other; "it was the finest thingever happened to you, Adrian. And let me tell you, I feel it in my bonesright now that we're going to kick up a dickens of a row up here bycoming just when these same Walkers are playing one of their periodicallittle sneak games."

  "Perhaps you're right, Donald; I hope so, anyhow."

  "It's my impression," continued the other, "that all the ranchers aroundhere need is for some one to take the bit between their teeth and playleader, when they'll all jump in, and join in the hunt. These Walkersappear to have terrorized the lot so that every man is afraid to have itknown he means to take a stand against the hard crowd. That's
the idea Igot from what that puncher said to us yesterday afternoon."

  "But my uncle used to be the leading spirit around here; they all lookedto him to do things when there was any need," remonstrated Adrian.

  "Oh, shucks!" laughed Donald, "I've seen men that were great hands toboast, and even do things when among their kind, knuckle down, andcringe when they heard their wives speak. And your uncle must havecaught a Tartar when he married that Walker widow."

  They had already covered several miles, and were going strong at thetime these few remarks were exchanged between the chums. Every now andthen one of the two who were in the lead would glance over his shoulderto make sure that Billie had not been left far behind; and the fat chumon such occasions would sing out reassuring words, or else wave a handat his comrade.

  As yet they had not caught even the distant sound of the retreatingherd. This might be accounted for in any one of several ways; the cattlehad possibly gone further than even Donald surmised; or else they hadalready been brought to a stand by the rustlers, the flight havingreached a section of the country suited to their plans, and doubtlessoften used for the same purposes as were intended at the present time.

  When they chanced upon a bit of soft ground where the thud of theirponies' hoofs was for the time being stilled almost completely, Donaldstrained his hearing in the hope of catching some indication from aheadthat would be encouraging.

  And Adrian, hearing him give utterance to an ejaculation, jumped to theconclusion that he had been in a measure successful.

  "Get it, Donald?" he called out, eagerly.

  "Just what I do," came the immediate answer, in a tone of triumph; "andfrom the indications I reckon the cattle are about used up, so far asrunning goes. If you listen right smart you can hear the rustlers urgingthem on, which shows they haven't yet got to where they mean to stop,though it must be close by, I feel sure!"

 

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