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Title: The Pony Rider Boys in the Alkali - or, Finding a Key to the Desert Maze
Author: Patchin, Frank Gee, 1861-1925
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Pony Rider Boys in the Alkali - or, Finding a Key to the Desert Maze" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Frontispiece: Faster and Faster Danced Ned Rector.]



The Pony Rider Boys in the Alkali

OR

Finding a Key to the Desert Maze



By

FRANK GEE PATCHIN



Author of The Pony Rider Boys in The Rockies, The Pony Rider Boys in
Texas, The Pony Rider Boys in Montana, The Pony Rider Boys in The
Ozarks, Etc., Etc.



Illustrated



THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

Akron, Ohio -------- New York

Made in U. S. A.



Copyright MCMX

By THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY



CONTENTS


CHAPTER.

     I.  THE DESERT'S MYSTIC SPELL
    II.  THE FIRST NIGHT IN CAMP
   III.  TWISTED BY A TWISTER
    IV.  THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
     V.  STALKING BIG GAME BY MOONLIGHT
    VI.  BAGGED BY LUCKY SHOTS
   VII.  CHUNKY COMES TO GRIEF
  VIII.  NEARLY DROWNED IN AN ALKALI SINK
    IX.  THE BOYS DISCOVER A RIVER
     X.  A COWBOY TAKES A HEADER
    XI.  A PIECE OF HUMAN SANDPAPER
   XII.  RUNNING DOWN THE TRAIL
  XIII.  COYOTES JOIN IN THE CHORUS
   XIV.  FUN IN THE FOOTHILLS
    XV.  BUD PROMISES SOME EXCITEMENT
   XVI.  THE BATTLE OF THE STALLIONS
  XVII.  ON A WILD-HORSE HUNT
 XVIII.  ROPED BY ROUGH RIDERS
   XIX.  WINNING THEIR REWARD
    XX.  VISITED BY A HALO
   XXI.  OFF ON A DRY TRAIL
  XXII.  IN THE HERMIT'S CAVE
 XXIII.  LOST IN THE DESERT MAZE
  XXIV.  CONCLUSION



The Pony Rider Boys in the Alkali



CHAPTER I

THE DESERT'S MYSTIC SPELL

"If this is the desert, then I think I prefer mountains," decided Stacy
Brown.

"It is not the desert.  We have not reached it yet.  This is the
Diamond Range," replied Tom Parry, who was to guide the Pony Rider Boys
across the great Nevada Desert.  "We shall soon be there, however."

"You'll know the place when you see it, Chunky," said Ned Rector.

"And feel it, too, I guess," added Tad Butler under his breath.

"We have the desert on each side of us now," continued the guide.
"Were you to fire a rifle to the right or left, your bullet would fall
on the baking alkali of the desert."

"Then, if we're so near, why not get out in the open, instead of
floundering through these hills?" questioned Stacy.

"I'm thinking you'll wish you were back in the hills before many days,"
laughed the guide.

"Mr. Parry has his own reasons for following this trail, Master Stacy,"
interposed Professor Zepplin.  "We are entirely in his hands and it is
not for us to question the wisdom of his decision."

The guide nodded.

Parry was a splendid type of the plainsman of the great West.  Tall,
straight, clear-eyed, his bronzed cheeks fairly glistening in the
sunlight, he would have attracted attention anywhere.  At present, he
sat on his pony motionless, the broad sombrero tilted upward above his
forehead as he peered into the amber haze that hung over the western
horizon.

"Yes, we shall reach the desert soon enough.  We are heading for the
Newark Valley now, and should be there in time to make camp this
afternoon, providing the weather is satisfactory," announced Parry,
more to himself than to the others.

"Weather--weather?" stammered Professor Zepplin.  "What's the matter
with the weather?"

"One hundred in the shade.  Isn't that matter enough?" grunted Stacy.

"How do you know, Chunky?  You haven't seen any shade to-day," demanded
Ned Rector.  "There isn't a patch of shade as large as a man's hand in
this whole country, so far as I have been able to observe."

"And still less in the country we are about to enter," added the guide.

Tad Butler, however, had been observing the guide keenly.  Though the
lad had asked no questions, he had caught a note of anxiety in the
tone, as well as in the apprehensive glances that Parry kept
continually casting to the westward.  The guide, catching Tad's
inquiring look, smiled and nodded.

"You should always keep your eyes on the weather in this country,
especially when on the alkali," he told the boy after the party had
started on again.

"Why more there than elsewhere, Mr. Parry?"

"Because storms here are frequently attended with no little peril.
You'll see some of them, no doubt, before we reach the end of our
journey, and you will wish you hadn't."

"But there's no sign of storm now," protested Tad.

"Perhaps not to you, young man.  Do you see that haze settling down
like a fog on the western horizon?"

"Yes, I've been looking at it--a golden fog."

The guide smiled grimly.

"I wouldn't call it exactly golden.  I should call it fiery," said the
guide.

"Has it any particular meaning?"

"May mean most anything.  Means storm of some kind--perhaps rain, and
maybe wind.  If it passes, we'll drop out of here and make camp on the
desert to-night."

"That will be fine," said Tad.  "We are all crazy for the desert.
Since we started out on our trips, last spring, we have experienced
almost everything that could happen to us on mountain and plain----"

"But not including the desert?"

"No."

"You'll find it different; very different."

"I suppose you know every foot of it--in fact its every mood, do you
not?" questioned Tad.

The guide, for the moment lost in thought, finally turned to the lad
again.

"Moods, did you say?  Well, that describes it.  The desert is as moody
as an old hen with a brood of chickens.  Know the Nevada Desert?
Sometimes I think I do; then again, I know I don't."

"But you could not get lost----"

"I have," smiled the guide.  "I've been wandering about the alkali for
days without being able to find my way back.  If you are able to read
trails and the droop of the scattering sage brush you will have made a
long stride toward knowing your way about the desert."

"I don't understand," wondered the lad.

"No; of course not.  It's a long story, but when we have time I will
initiate you into the mysteries of reading the desert signs.  The west
is clearing up.  That's good," the guide exclaimed in a relieved tone.

"Which means that we go on?"

"Yes."

"Are we turning off into the desert, did you say?" asked Walter
Perkins, with sparkling eyes.

"Well, not just yet, Master Walter.  We shall have to refill our
water-bags before leaving the range.  I take it, you boys would not
care to be without water?"

"No, I guess not.  But where are you going to get it?" asked Ned.

"About a mile further on there should be a mountain stream.  There will
not be much water in it just now, but we shall be able to fill our bags
and water the stock, I guess."

"Hooray!" shouted the boys.

"The call of the desert is stronger than ever," averred Tad.

"You are not the first ones who have felt that way, young man.  'The
call of the desert,' as you put it, has lured many a poor victim to his
death.  Water is the all important thing when on a journey of this
kind, and we shall have to be vigilant that we do not allow ourselves
to be without it."

As the guide had said, the stream, when they finally came up with it
more than two hours later, was a mere rivulet.

"Call that a stream?" sniffed Stacy.

"No, it's a freshet," replied Ned Rector.  "You might take a swim in it
were it not for the danger of drowning."

"How are we going to get any water unless we dip it up with a spoon?"
asked Tad.

"I'll show you," smiled the guide, dismounting.

Already the stock had sniffed the presence of water, even though there
was so little of it.  The ponies chafed at their bits and snorted,
while the burros of the pack train tossed their heads in their
impatience.

"I used to have a plaything that worked just like the heads of those
lazy burros," Stacy informed his companions wisely.

"That's about your gait," growled Ned.

"You didn't think so when he saved our lives in the Ruby Mountain,"
reminded Tad.

"That's right, Ned," confirmed Walter.  "Don't be ungrateful for small
favors."

"I apologize, Master Chunky," announced Ned, removing his sombrero and
unbending in a ceremonious bow to the fat boy.

"We will now make a water hole.  Come along if you wish to know how it
is done," called the guide.

Leading the ponies and pack animals down along the slender water course
until they had reached a natural pocket, the guide halted.  With a
rubber blanket he formed a basin in the depression in the rocks through
which the water had been trickling and losing itself far down in the
earth.  Two of the Pony Rider Boys held the blanket in place while it
was slowly filling with water.

"Now, Master Stacy, if you will be good enough to fetch one of your
pails we will water the stock first."

Stacy did so.  To save time, Walter brought another pail, so that this
could be filled while his companion was giving the water to one of
their animals.

It was a slow process; and, by the time the six ponies and four burros
had drunk their fill, something more than an hour had passed.  By this
time the rubber blanket had been thoroughly cleaned by constant rubbing.

"Bring on the canteens and water-bags," directed Tom Parry.  "We'll
have water enough to carry us through a few days of desert life, at any
rate.  Load the burros down."

The animals now having satisfied their thirst were nibbling gingerly at
the scant growth of sage brush.  It was not a tender morsel at any
time, but from that time on they would be obliged to subsist almost
entirely on the bitter stuff.

"Have you boys filled up?" asked Tom, looking about.  "Better drink
enough to last you for the rest of the day.  We shall have to use our
water sparingly for a time now.  Take on a supply while you have the
chance."

"How about you, Chunky?" laughed Ned Rector.

"Think I'm a camel?" demanded Stacy, with an air of indignation.

"Now, will you be good, Ned Rector?" laughed Tad.

Even the stolid face of the guide relaxed in a broad smile of amusement.

"Then, if you are all supplied, we had better be on our way.  If we are
going to camp on the alkali to-night we shall have to make time between
this and sundown.  It's about three hours high."

With a whoop and a hurrah, the boys swung into their saddles, heading
joyously for the Newark Valley and the silent, mysterious desert that
in the dim, misty past had been a great inland sea.

Readers of the preceding volumes of this series will recall how the
Pony Rider Boys came to spend their summer vacation on horseback, under
the guardianship of Walter Perkins' tutor, Professor Zepplin.  With a
capable mountain guide, their first journey was through the wildest
part of the Rocky Mountains, where they met with a series of rousing
adventures and hair-breadth escapes--experiences calculated to try the
stoutest hearts.  It was here that the young explorers hunted big
game--here that they discovered a valuable mine that had been the goal
of prospectors for many years past.

All this was outlined in the first volume of the series, "THE PONY
RIDER BOYS IN THE ROCKIES."  In the second volume, "THE PONY RIDER BOYS
IN TEXAS," was narrated how the four lads joined in a cattle drive
across the plains of Texas, becoming real cowboys.  Being by this time
well hardened physically, they were able to do men's work in rounding
up the stampeding cattle, which led them into many thrilling
adventures.  It will be recalled, too, how, during a visit to the
mysterious church of San Miguel, the Pony Rider Boys solved the veiled
riddle of the plains, which marked the end of the most eventful journey
of their lives.  In the third volume, "THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN MONTANA,"
we find the plucky lads following the old Custer trail over mountain
and plain.  It will be remembered how Tad Butler, while chasing a bear
that had disturbed their camp, overheard a plot to stampede and
slaughter the herd of sheep belonging to a rancher whom they knew; how
the lad managed to escape from the men who sought his life; his
eventual capture by the Blackfeet Indians, his escape, and the final
solving of the mystery of the old Custer trail, during which the boys
were in the thick of a battle between cowboys and sheep herders.  In
the volume preceding the present one the Pony Rider Boys were once more
in the saddle in search of further adventure.  In "THE PONY RIDER BOYS
IN THE OZARKS," they met with a series of disasters and exciting
experiences which tested their courage almost to the breaking point.
They were beset by a band of robbers, who stole their ponies.  Nearly
all the party, one by one, was lost in the fastnesses of the Ozark
wilderness.  It will be recalled how the boys, during a visit to the
Red Star Mine, were caught in a wreck far underground; how a car of
dynamite exploded, making them prisoners in a rocky tomb, and how,
after being rescued by a mountain girl, they discovered the real secret
of the Ruby Mountain, narrowly escaping with their lives in doing so.
No sooner had they brought this eventful trip to a close than they set
out to face the perils of the great, silent desert of Nevada.

They were almost upon it now.  Its spell was upon them and the lads
fell silent as they waited anxiously for the first sight of the land
which they had journeyed so far to gaze upon.

They had not long to wait after leaving the water hole where they had
replenished their supply.

The guide at last rode out upon a rocky promontory, where he halted,
waiting for the others of the party to come up with him.

"Where's the desert--is that it?" demanded Ned, riding up beside him.

The guide raised his hand in a sweeping gesture.

"The desert lies before you," he answered, his eyes traveling
meditatively over the miles of waste and mottled landscape.

A brazen glare lay over the scene, while up from the white alkali flats
rose a wave of heat that was suffocating.  Old, dried-up water sinks
lay white and glistening here and there, framed by vast areas of sage
brush, while on beyond in the blue distance lay miles and miles of
monotonous, billowing hills and mountains.

"Whew!" gasped Chunky, mopping the perspiration from his brow.  "This
is somewhat hotter than Chillicothe, Missouri.  I wish I had a cake of
ice to put under my hat."

"Beautiful!  Grand!" murmured Professor Zepplin.

"Reminds me of a Turkish bath I was in once in St. Louis," added Ned.

Tad Butler was silent.  He was too profoundly impressed even to speak;
and even the guide, familiar as he was with the scene, was silent and
thoughtful, too.  He understood full well the perils, the pitfalls for
the unwary, that lay along the pathway of those who sought to traverse
that barren waste.

At last he turned to Professor Zepplin.

"Shall we move?" he asked.

The Professor nodded.

"One of you boys get behind the burros and start them along, please,"
requested the guide.

Stacy Brown complied gleefully.  No more pleasant task could have been
assigned to him than that of prodding the lazy pack-bearers.

"Forward!" commanded Tom Parry.

The boys clucked to their ponies.

Not an animal moved.

Surprised, the lads brought their spurs against the flanks that they
could feel were trembling a little.

A strange, unlooked for thing occurred.

With whinnies of terror the little animals reared and plunged.  Before
their puzzled riders could control them every pony in the outfit had
whirled suddenly and began plunging along on the back trail.

A chorus of "whoa's" rose from the Pony Rider Boys.  Quirt and spur
were used freely, and firm hands on the bridle reins quickly checked
the sudden rush.  By dint of force and persuasion the boys finally
succeeded in forcing their mounts back.  That is, all had done so save
Stacy Brown.  His pony was spinning like a top, while Stacy red-faced
and perspiring was uttering loud, angry shouts, driving in spur and
raining quick, short blows on the animal's rump.

The burros had moved just far enough away to be out of reach of Stacy's
plunging animal.

At last it threw itself violently to the ground.  Stacy, by a
remarkably lively jump, cleared his falling mount, but not a second too
soon to save himself from being pinned beneath it.

He sat down on the animal's head, puffing from his exertions.  After a
minute, during which the other boys laughed so heartily that their own
ponies nearly got the better of them again, Stacy rose and began
prodding his mount with the end of the quirt, urging it to get up again.

But the pony refused to budge.

"He's 'hog-tied,'" nodded the guide, riding up.  "Let him stay there
till he gets ready to move.  No use trying to hurry the beast.  He's
too much scared."

"Scared at what?" questioned Stacy, looking up apprehensively.

"Yes; that's what I'd like to know?" agreed Ned.  "I don't see anything
that looks like a scare."

The guide was looking down at the animal pityingly, Tad thought.

"What are they so frightened at, Mr. Parry?" asked the lad.

"My boy, they are afraid of the desert," replied the guide solemnly.



CHAPTER II

THE FIRST NIGHT IN CAMP

"The desert?" the Pony Riders gasped in chorus.

"Yes.  It is not an uncommon thing.  They seem to realize instinctively
that there is danger off there.  Even in animals that never have been
near the desert you will find the same inborn dread of the alkali
flats.  And I don't know that I blame them any."

"But is my broncho going to lie here all day?" queried Chunky.  "If
that's his idea I might as well give him another argument that will
make him change his mind."

"Let him alone.  He'll be better off if you do not force him.  When he
gets up be gentle but firm with him."

"That's the strangest thing I ever saw," said Tad quietly.

"Most remarkable," agreed the Professor.

The faces of the boys were serious.  They too began to perceive the
feeling that had stirred the ponies to resist when turned toward the
silent plains that lay spread for mile upon mile before them.

After a few minutes Stacy's pony scrambled to its feet.  The lad was in
the saddle in a twinkling.

"Now, I guess you'll go where I want you to.  Whoa!  Quit that
b-b-b-b-bucking."

The animal had gone into a series of jolting bucks, with back arched
and head well down.  The fat boy held his seat well.  His face was red
and streaked with perspiration which ran down it in tiny rivulets under
the violent exercise to which he had just been subjected.

The boys forgot the serious side of the incident in their enjoyment of
their companion's discomfiture.

Tom Parry gazed upon the scene with more than ordinary curiosity.  It
was the first opportunity he had had of observing a Pony Rider Boy in
action.  At that moment Stacy Brown was most distinctly in action.
Most of the time there was a broad patch of daylight under him, and
when he hit the saddle it was with a jolt that seemed as if it must jar
his head from his body.

"Put some salt on his tail," suggested Ned Rector.

"Y-y-y-you do it," gasped Chunky, which brought a roar of laughter from
the whole party.

"Yes, why don't you?" teased Tad.  "It's the only way you can make
good."

"Salting down horse is not my business," laughed Ned.

All at once the pony whirled, heading down the mountain side with a
disconcerting rush that nearly brought disaster upon its rider.

With a shout the rest of the boys urged their mounts into a jog-trot
and followed on down the trail as fast as they dared, for the descent
was steep and dangerous.

"He'll break his neck!" cried the Professor.

"After that bucking I'm sure Chunky's neck is too well fastened to come
off," laughed Tad.

Stacy was out of sight.  They could hear him yelling at his broncho, so
they knew he was still in the saddle and right side up.  The other
ponies, apparently having forgotten their fear, were following the
leader willingly now.

All at once they saw lad and mount burst into view on the plain below.

"He's on the desert!" shouted Tad.

Laughing and shouting words of encouragement to the fat boy, the Pony
Riders hastened to the base of the hill.  Stacy Brown was still busily
engaged trying to subdue his pony, though some of the lads shrewdly
suspected that their companion was urging the animal on in order to
show off his horsemanship.

In a moment more they, too, were in difficulties.  No sooner had their
bronchos set foot on the desert than a sudden panic once more possessed
them.  Professor Zepplin's pony whirled on its haunches, then began
climbing the rocks, with the agility of a squirrel.

The others, however, had troubles of their own, which saved the
Professor from being laughed at.  The animals seemed determined not to
be forced to go on, and it required severe measures to induce them to
take up the desert trail.  Tom Parry's mount did not exhibit the same
fear as did the others.  Still, it gave him more or less trouble,
appearing to be excited, in spite of itself, by the actions of its
companions.

At last they succeeded in lining the animals up in an orderly
formation.  Their next move was to get the burros moving along ahead of
them.  The way being open and level there was no necessity for leading
the pack animals now.  These could take care of themselves without
danger to the outfit.

"And this is the desert!" marveled the Professor.

"It is," smiled the guide.

"Looks to me more like a landscape of German measles," averred Stacy,
as they moved along through scattering sage brush and open sandy
stretches.

Now that they had reached the plain itself, they discovered that it was
not one level stretch of land.  Instead, the country was rolling; here
and there were wide reaches of whitish desert sands and alkali sinks.
The atmosphere was like an oven.  Not a breath of air was stirring.
Already the lads were mopping their brows and fanning their faces with
their sombreros, while spots of dark shining moisture on the ponies'
sides bore evidence that they, too, felt the baking heat.

"I say, fellows, let's find some shade," called Stacy.

"All right, go ahead and we'll follow," laughed Tad.

"I'll ride up to the top of that knoll and make an observation."

Tom Parry smiled appreciatively as the lad galloped up the sharp rise
of ground, where Chunky sat on his pony, shading his eyes as he gazed
off over the cheerless desert.

"Well, how about that shade?" shouted Ned.

Stacy turned disconsolately and rode back to his companions.

"There isn't any," he said.

"Of course not," laughed Ned.

"But I know how to make some," added the fat boy.

Slipping from his pony he cut some sage brush, which he fashioned about
his head in the shape of a hood, so that it gave his perspiring face
some protection from the intense glare of the sun.

"Now, all you need is a strip of mosquito netting," suggested Walter.

"And a little red rocking chair," added Ned.

"With a dish of ice cream," laughed Tad.

"I guess you will have to be satisfied with a cup of alkali water,"
interjected the Professor, dryly.

"You will find the air much cooler, shortly," the guide advised them.
"The sun is going down now and I think we had better make camp, if the
Professor has no objections."

"Not in the least.  In fact, I am quite ready to call it a day's work."

"Where do we camp, Mr. Parry?" asked Tad.

"Right here.  It is as good a place as any that we shall find.  There
is little choice out here."

They were now in a broad valley, the rolling hills covered with a
sparse growth of sage brush rising gradually on each side.

The boys threw themselves from their ponies gladly, stripping the
saddles from the animals' backs.

"Better stake the animals down, for the first two or three nights, so
they won't take French leave," advised the guide.

"How about the burros?" asked Tad.

"Let them roam.  They'll stay as long as the ponies are here.  The pack
animals will fill up on sage, after which they will come back to camp
to sleep."

All hands began to unpack.  The tents were pitched in record time, cots
unfolded and preparations for the night made with a skill that comes
from long practice in the open.

"What are we to do for a camp-fire?" asked Walter.  "There is not a
single stick of wood about here."

"Burn the sage," answered the guide.

"That stuff won't burn," retorted Ned.

"Try it."

They did.  In an incredibly short time a hot fire was blazing up, on
which they piled armfuls of the stunted desert growth.

"Now, get your food ready and I will cook it," said Parry, as the
flames began to die down.

When the fire had settled to a bed of hot ashes Tom thrust the bacon
directly into the ashes, placing the coffee pot near the center, around
and on top of which he heaped the ashes.  It was a new method of
preparing a meal, and the lads watched the process with keen interest.

"I shouldn't think that bacon would be fit to eat.  However, I presume
you know what you are doing," said the Professor.

"It's the only way, sir," replied Parry.  "We have to work with the
implements that nature has provided."

"Nature must have been in a stingy mood when she made this country,"
laughed Ned.

"I don't agree with you," said Tad.  "It is the most beautiful and
interesting scene that I have ever looked upon."

Parry nodded approvingly.

"And as fickle as it is beautiful," added the guide.  "The supper will
be ready by the time you have the table set, boys."

In spite of the heat the lads realized all at once that their appetites
had not suffered.  Bacon, jelly and biscuits, which had been warmed
over the ashes, seemed to them to have reached the proportions of a
banquet.

Stacy helped himself to a large slice of bacon which he proceeded to
munch.  No sooner had he begun, however, than he made a wry face.

"What's the matter.  Isn't the bacon all right?" asked the guide.

"Awful!  Somebody's trying to poison me," Chunky shouted, red in the
face.

"Must have a brown taste in your mouth,' laughed Ned.

"What's the trouble----" began the Professor.  "Good gracious, there is
something the matter with the stuff.  Ugh!  Never tasted such bitter
stuff.  Did you purchase this meat in a reliable place, Mr. Parry!"

The guide smiled good-naturedly.

"The bacon is all right, sir.  It's the sage brush taint that you get."

"The what?"

"Sage brush.  The same taste will be in everything you eat out in this
country--that and the alkali."

"Then I starve," announced Stacy, firmly, laying down his fork and
folding his arms.

"Any time you starve it'll be because there is nothing to eat,"
retorted Ned.

"You'll all get used to the taste after you have been out a few days,"
comforted the guide.

"Never!" shouted Stacy.

"I rather like the peculiar taste," smiled Tad Butler.

"Good as a tonic," spoke up Walter.

Thus encouraged Stacy tried it again, at first nibbling gingerly at the
bacon, then attacking it boldly.  Even the Professor, after a time,
appeared to forget the bitterness of the food, passing his plate for
more.

Tom Parry smiled indulgently.

"You'll all like it after a while," he nodded.

"I'm sure I'll have to take back some sage brush with me to flavor my
food after we leave the desert," scoffed Ned.

Supper finished the dishes were cleared away, after which the party
threw themselves down beside the camp-fire in keen enjoyment of the
hour.  The evening was delightfully cool, with not a trace of the
baking heat of the day.

"Doesn't seem possible that there could be such a change in the
temperature in so short a time," marveled the Professor.

"It is the mood of the desert," answered the guide.

"What time do we start in the morning?" interrupted Tad, approaching
them at that moment.

"I was just about to suggest that we break camp at daylight, traveling
until the sun gets hot.  We can then pitch a tent or two during the
middle of the day, and rest for a few hours."

"Why not keep on all day?" asked the lad.

"It would prove too great a strain--both on man and beast.  At noon we
will eat a cold lunch, as too much food in this heat is not good for
us.  You will find the temperature rising as you get further south, and
the hardships increasing in proportion."

"We shall not fall by the wayside," laughed the boy.

"No; I am convinced of that.  You lads are as tough as pine knots, but
you will need all the endurance you have for this trip."

"If we are going to turn out so early, I think you boys had better go
to bed pretty soon," advised the Professor.

"That's why I asked you, sir.  I rather thought Mr. Parry would wish to
make an early start in the morning.  I'll see to the ponies; then I'll
go to bed."

"Never mind the ponies.  I'll look after them," answered Parry.

"That boy is a splendid type," he continued to the Professor, after Tad
had walked away from them to notify his companions of the plans for the
morrow.

"They all are," answered the Professor.

"Yes, I have been observing them all day.  To tell the truth I was
rather doubtful about the wisdom of taking a number of boys across the
desert.  It's bad enough for men well hardened to the work."

"I trust your apprehension no longer exists," smiled the Professor.

"Not a trace of it left," replied Parry, with a hearty laugh.  "Young
Brown handled that bucking pony splendidly this afternoon.  He's a good
horseman for a boy."

"Master Tad is a better one.  You'll agree with me if you get an
opportunity to see him in any work that's worth while."

"Well, good night, boys," called the Professor, as he saw the lads
moving toward their tents.

"Good night, Professor, sleep tight," they shouted merrily altogether.
"Good night, Mr. Parry.  We'll be up with the birds."

"Birds," sniffed Stacy.  "A tough old hen couldn't live out on this
desert."

In a short time the camp settled down to sleep.  The guide, with a last
look about and a long, comprehensive study of the sky, sought his own
tent, where in a few moments he, too, was sound asleep.

After a time the moon came up, in the light of which the weather-beaten
tents of the Pony Rider Boys were mere specks on the vast expanse of
desert.

Not a sound disturbed the quiet scene.  However, had any of the
occupants of the little tents been awake, they might have observed a
thin, fog-like film drifting across the sky from the southwest.  On and
on it came until finally it had blanketed the moon, casting a veil over
the landscape.

Other sheets of film arose from out the southwest, placing layer after
layer over the fast fading moon, until finally it was obliterated
altogether.

The desert was working out another of its mysterious phases, but none
in the camp of the Pony Riders were awake to observe it.

A dense pall of blackness now hovered over the southwest.

All at once a squirming streak of lightning wriggled along the horizon,
like a golden serpent, losing itself by a downward plunge into the
black abyss beyond the desert.

The air grew suddenly hot and depressing, while a gentle breeze stirred
the sage brush on the higher places.  The ponies moved restlessly in
their sleep, kicking out a foot now and then, as if in protest at some
disturbing presence.

Tad Butler, ever on the alert, roused himself, and stepping out in his
pajamas took a survey of the heavens.

"I guess we're going to have a storm," he muttered.  "I wonder if I
ought to wake Mr. Parry?  He thought, this afternoon, that there was a
storm brewing.  Still, there's nothing he can do.  The tents are staked
down as securely as is possible.  No, I guess I'll go back to bed."

The lad did so, and after a few moments of wakefulness, dropped off
into a sound sleep.

A few moments later the breeze increased, picking up little patches of
sand, which it hurled into the air, scattering the particles over a
wide area.  Far down to the southwest a low roar might have been heard,
and from the blackness there a funnel-shaped cloud detached itself,
starting slantingly over the desert.  It appeared to be following a
northerly course, more or less irregularly, and from its direction,
should pass some miles to the westward of the sleeping camp.

Whirling, diving, swooping here and there, lifting great patches of
sand and hurling them far up into the clouds, the funnel swept on.

Suddenly, when about three miles to the southwest of the camp, it
seemed to pause hesitatingly; and then, as if all at once having
descried the little group of tents, started swaying, tottering toward
them.  As it moved the disturbing roar continued to increase in volume.

Tad Butler heard it now.

He slipped from his tent and stood listening apprehensively.

"I think that means trouble," he said to himself.  The hot, oppressive
air felt like a blast from an open furnace door.  "It's coming this
way," he continued.

The lad bounded to the tent of the guide.  Slipping inside he laid a
hand on Parry's shoulder.

The guide was up like a flash.

"What is it?" he demanded sharply.

"It's I, Tad Butler.  I think there is a bad storm coming----"

"I hear it," snapped Parry, springing from his blankets.  He was out in
the open in a twinkling, with Tad Butler close upon his heels.

For a moment the guide stood with head inclined, listening intently.

"Bad one, isn't it?" questioned the lad.

"Yes."

"Do you think it is coming this way?"

"I can't be sure.  Wait; don't wake them yet," he whispered, raising a
restraining hand.  "Yes, here it comes!  It's a cyclone.  Quick, get
them out of their tents!"

Almost before the words were out of his mouth the funnel swooped down
into the broad sage-sprinkled draw, setting its deadly coils over the
camp of the Pony Rider Boys.



CHAPTER III

TWISTED BY A TWISTER

"Turn out!" bellowed the guide, his voice faintly heard above the roar
of the storm.

"Run for your lives!" piped the shrill voice of Tad Butler.

"Flat on the ground, every one of you!" commanded the guide.

All the warnings had come a few seconds too late.  Ere the boys had
awakened sufficiently to realize what was wanted of them there sounded
above the roar a report like that of a cannon.

The tents were lifted from over the startled Pony Riders and hurled
high into the air.  A cloud of sand swept over the boys like an
avalanche, burying them, suffocating them, while the resistless coils
of the funnel picked them out of the drift and cast them far from the
spot where but a few minutes before they had been sleeping so
peacefully.

Above the roar they heard the shrill voice of Stacy Brown.

"W-o-o-ow!" he shrieked.  His voice appeared to be somewhere in the air
over their heads.

Blankets, trappings, together with all the other belongings of the
party, shot up into the black funnel and disappeared, while the ponies
strained at their tethers, floundering, kicking where they had been
hurled on their backs, screaming with fright.

The mad medley continued for only a few seconds, though to the
unfortunate lads it seemed to have been tumbling them about for hours.

As suddenly as it had appeared the funnel tore itself from the camp and
went roaring off into the hills to the northward.

Staggering to his feet, some distance from where he had been caught,
the guide rubbed the sand from his eyes and mouth and stood gasping for
breath.

An impressive silence had settled over the scene.

"Hallo, the camp!" he shouted when he had cleared his mouth
sufficiently to enable him to do so.

"Hello!" answered Tad Butler far to the right.

"Are the others with you?"

"I don't know."

One by one the others of the party straggled to their feet, choking and
coughing.

As if to mock them, the moon suddenly burst forth, shedding a brilliant
light over the scene which a few moments before had been the center of
a whirling, devastating cyclone.

Not a speck of anything save the white, glistening sand of the desert
remained to mark the spot where the camp of the Pony Rider Boys had
stood.

They gathered shivering in their pajamas, looking fearsomely into each
others' eyes, still dazed from the shock and the fright of their
experience.

"Wha--what was it?" stammered Walter Perkins.

"A genuine twister," laughed the guide.

"Twister?" questioned the Professor.  "Cyclone, you mean?"

"Yes."

"It was awful," breathed Walter.

"All our things gone, too," mourned Ned ruefully.

"You should be thankful that you are alive," chided the Professor.

"How about the ponies?" questioned Walter.

"They're over there.  More scared than hurt, I guess."

"But Chunky--where's Chunky?  He isn't here!" cried Tad, suddenly
realizing that Stacy Brown was not with them.

"Chunky?" wondered the others.

"Why, I thought he was here a moment ago," said Walter in an alarmed
tone.  "What can have become of him?"

"Probably went up with the twister," suggested Ned.

"Yes, I heard his voice and it seemed to be right over my head," nodded
Tad.  "We must look for him."

The lads set up a shout as they started running about

"Better look for him that way," directed the guide, motioning in the
direction that the funnel had taken after wrecking their camp.

The boys spread out, calling and searching excitedly over the sand,
peering into the sage brush and cactus shadows.  But not a trace of
Stacy Brown did they find, until they had gone some distance from camp.

A faint call at last answered their hail.

"Hooray!  We've got him!" shouted Walter.

"Where are you, Chunky?" called Tad, hurrying forward.

"Here."

"Are you all right?"

"No, I'm dead."

The boys could afford to laugh now, and they did, after calling back to
the camp that they had found the missing one.

Half buried in a sand drift they located him.  Stacy's head and one
foot were protruding above the sand, the only parts of his anatomy that
were visible above the heap of white sand beneath which he had been
buried.

The Pony Riders could not repress a shout when they came up with young
Brown and understood his predicament.

"Get me out of here."

"No; you're dead.  You stay where you are," retorted Ned.

Tad, however, grasped the foot that was sticking up through the sand,
and with a mighty tug hauled Chunky right through the heap, choking,
coughing and sputtering angrily, to the accompaniment of roars of
laughter from his companions.

Ned grabbed the boy by the collar, shaking him until the sand flew like
spray.

"Wake up!  Wake up!  How did you get here?" demanded Ned.

"I--I don't know.  I--I guess I fell in."

"You fell up this time.  That's a new trick you've developed.  Well,
it's safer.  You won't get hurt falling up, but look out when you
strike the back trail."

"Wha--what happened?" asked the fat boy peevishly.

"Everything," laughed Tad.  "We got caught in a cyclone.  We don't know
whether you were rolled along with it or carried here.  Which was it?"

"I guess I flied," decided Stacy humorously.  "But I came down so hard
that it knocked all the breath out of me.  Where's the camp?"

The boys laughed.

"Ask the wind," replied Ned.  "We don't know.  Come!  We'd better be
getting back."

"Yee, I reckon there will be plenty for us to do," agreed Tad.  "Can
you walk all right, Chunky?"

"I guess so."

"Why not fly?  It's easier and quicker.  Chunky doesn't need a flying
machine.  He's the original human heavier-than-air-machine," averred
Ned.

The guide had by this time gathered a heap of sage brush, to which he
touched a match, that they might the better examine their surroundings.

"Anything left?" called Tad, as with his companions he approached the
camp.

"I don't see anything but the saddles and the rifles."

"What, everything gone?" demanded Professor Zepplin anxiously.

"It certainly looks that way."

"Where's my pants?" wailed Chunky.

"All 'pants' have gone up," chuckled Ned.

"And so have provisions and everything else so far as I am able to
observe," added Tad.

"Then--then we've got to cross the desert in our pajamas," mourned
Walter.

They looked at each other questioningly; then the entire party burst
out laughing.  They were all arrayed in pink night clothes.  Not a
stitch of clothing beyond these pajamas did any of them have.

"We must look about and see if we can find any of the stuff," decided
Parry, his mind turning at once to the practical side of their
predicament.  "I hope we find the food at least."

"Yes, I'm hungry," spoke up Stacy.

"No wonder, after the shaking up you've had," agreed the Professor.
"Guide, where do you think we'll find our belongings?"

"You are lucky if you find them at all.  More than likely they are
scattered over the Diamond Range for half a dozen miles."

"May--maybe it'll come back and bring our pants," suggested Chunky, at
which there was a loud protest.

All hands formed in line, and with the guide to pilot them, started off
in their bare feet, hoping to find some of their belongings.  Stacy
made the first find.  He picked up a can of tomatoes.  Ned Rector
rescued a can of pickled pigs' feet from the shadow of a sage brush,
while their guide discovered a sombrero that belonged to Stacy Brown.

But that was all.  They traveled nearly to the foot of the mountains,
yet not a scrap did they discover beyond what they already had picked
up.

"No use going any further," announced the guide.

"Well, this is a fine predicament," decided Professor Zepplin.

"Nice mess," agreed Ned Rector.

"I want my pants," wailed Stacy.

"You'll want more than that.  Look at the guide, if you think you are
in difficulties," grinned Tad.

All eyes were turned on Tom Parry.  Then they uttered a shout that
might have been heard far off on the silent desert.  The guide was clad
only in a blue flannel shirt and a sombrero.  He was in an even worse
predicament than the party that he was guiding.

Minutes passed before the boys could control their merriment
sufficiently to permit a discussion of their situation.

Tom Parry took their joking good-naturedly.  He was too old a
campaigner to be greatly disturbed over his own laughable condition.

"Something must be done," announced the Professor, after the laughter
had subsided.  "What do you propose, Mr. Parry?"

"Well, in the first place, like our friend, Master Stacy Brown, I want
a pair of pants.  I can't very well cross the desert in this rig."

Once more their laughter drowned the voices of the guide and the
Professor.

"Is there no town near here where we can get a fresh outfit?  I am
thankful that I kept my money belt strapped about me.  We should be in
a tight fix, had I lost the funds, too," said the Professor.

"I have been considering what is best to be done," replied Parry.  "I
see no other way than that we shall have to ride to Eureka.  That is a
railroad terminal and quite a town.  I am sure we shall be able to get
there all we need for our journey.  It will prove a little more
expensive than in a larger city, however."

"No question of expense just now," answered the Professor.  "Will it be
necessary for all of us to go?"

"I think it will be best.  I don't care to leave any of the party
behind.  One never can tell what is going to happen, you know."

"So I have observed," commented the Professor dryly.

"How far is Eureka from here?" questioned Tad.

"Between twenty-five and thirty miles.  The town lies to the northwest.
If it were not for the pack train we could make it quickly, but we
shall have to move rather slowly on the burros' account."

"Then why not start at once?" suggested Tad Butler.  "The moon is
shining brightly and the air is cool.  That is, if you can find the
way?"

"No trouble about that," grinned Parry.  "Your suggestion is a good
one.  We'll start just as soon as I can get ready."

"I don't see anything left here to get ready," laughed Ned.

"You will excuse me, gentlemen, but there is something that I shall
have to get ready," replied the guide with a peculiar smile.

"What's that?" demanded the Professor.

"I've got to take a double reef in my shirt before I can go anywhere,
except to bed."

The boys shouted again.

Tom Parry hurried off beyond the ponies, where he was engaged for
several minutes.  When he returned they discovered that he had taken
off his shirt.  First he had cut off the sleeves, and by thrusting his
feet through the arm holes had made for himself a very substantial pair
of trunks.  This odd outfit he had made fast about his waist with a
thong of leather that he had cut from a bridle rein.  This, with the
broad-brimmed sombrero, completed his outfit.

The sight was too much for the Pony Rider Boys.  They shouted peal
after peal of merriment, in which the Professor joined, though in a
somewhat more dignified manner.

Tom Parry's mouth was stretched in a grin as he got busy saddling the
ponies and urging the sleepy burros to their feet.

"I think we are all ready now," the guide called back to the others.

With many a shout and jest the strange procession started off across
the desert, under the brightly shining moon, the cool evening breezes
making their scanty covering none too comfortable.

The boys devoted the greater part of their attention to the Professor
and Tom Parry, both of whom were riding as dignifiedly as if they were
leading a parade at a Fourth of July celebration.  Every little while
the boys, unable to contain themselves longer, would burst out into
merry peals of laughter.

"Hope it doesn't snow," said Stacy Brown wisely.

"No," retorted Ned.  "The colors in your pajamas might run."

"That's where the guide has the better of us," retorted Tad a little
maliciously, which brought still another laugh from the boys.

"Say, fellows, this saddle is getting harder every minute," called
Chunky, who was riding back and forth behind the pack train, urging on
the burros.

"Stand up in your stirrups now and then," suggested Tad.

"What, in my bare feet?" yelled the fat boy.  "Think I want to get
pancake feet?"

"Chunky's getting aristocratic," jeered Ned.  "He's so proud of those
high insteps of his that he has to take off his shoes every little
while to look at his feet.  He's afraid they'll cave in some time when
he isn't looking."

Daylight came all too soon, and following it the sun burst forth in a
blaze of heat.  Ahead of them across the desert they were able to make
out the town of Eureka.

"Say, Mr. Parry, aren't you afraid this sunlight will spoil your
complexion?" called Ned.

The guide grinned good-naturedly.

"Never mind," he retorted.  "Your turn will come pretty soon, young
man."

Ned Rector did not catch the significance of the remark just then, but
he understood a few hours later.



CHAPTER IV

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE

"You are not going to ride into town in daylight, are you?" demanded
Ned in surprise.

Though they had sighted the town of Eureka early in the morning, it was
well along in the afternoon before they finally came up with it.
Desert distances are deceptive and the further they journeyed the less
headway did they seem to be making.  This surprised all save the guide.

Parry explained to them that the clear air brought distant objects much
closer than they really were.

"We are going into town exactly as we are," replied the guide in answer
to Ned's question.  "Why not?"

"Well, maybe you are, but I'm not," returned Ned.

"It may improve your complexion, young man," retorted Mr. Parry.

"I'll stay out here and hide on the desert while the rest of you go on
in," said Ned.

"No, you don't," shouted the lads all at once.  "You go willingly or we
carry you."

They gathered around him threateningly.

"If you want a mix-up, we're here," warned Chunky, pushing his pony up
beside that of Ned Rector.

Ned, forgetting for the instant that he was in his bare feet, let drive
a kick at the side of Stacy's pony.

"Ouch!" roared Ned.

Jerking the injured toe up to the saddle, he grabbed it with both
hands, rocking back and forth, for his foot had struck the pony with
such violence that it is a wonder every toe on the foot was not broken.

"Did 'oo hurt 'oo little tootsie-wootsies?" cooed Chunky, with a
grimace.

Ned Rector, forgetting the pain for the instant, made a quick grab for
his tormentor.  He just barely reached the sleeve of Chunky's pajamas.
But his sudden movement caused the fat boy's pony to leap suddenly to
one side.

Ned landed on his head and shoulders in the desert sand, feet kicking
the air, to the accompaniment of yells of derision from his companions.

With red face and angry eyes, the lad scrambled to his feet and started
limping to his pony, which had sprung to one side, where it stood,
evidently wondering what next was about to happen.

"I'll get even with you, Chunky Brown," Ned growled, as he climbed into
his saddle.

"Now, now, Ned!" warned the boys.  "Take your medicine like a man.
Chunky never got mad when you nagged him."

"I'll get even with him.  I'll----"

Tad rode up beside the angry lad.

"Ned, you'll do nothing of the sort," said the boy gently.  "You're
mad, now, because your toes hurt.  When they stop aching your temper
will improve at the same time."

"Oh, pshaw!  Stop your preaching.  Of course it will.  I'm a grouch.  I
take back all I said just now.  Chunky, when these toes get
straightened out--they're all crooked now--I'll come over and hobnob
with you.  I deserve all you can give me."

"You bet you do," chorused the lads.

"Stop teasing him," commanded Stacy, with well-feigned indignation.
"Can't you see his toes hurt him?"

The incident was lost sight of in the general laugh that followed.  The
others were beginning to appreciate that Stacy Brown possessed a tongue
as sharp as any of them.

Ned now offered no further protest to entering the village, but it was
observed that he dropped back behind the others as they reached the
outskirts of the town.

Tom Parry and Professor Zepplin were riding ahead, one in pajamas, the
other clad in trunks--which resembled a meal sack--a sombrero hat and a
sardonic grin of defiance.  The others trailed along behind.

Not one of the party glanced to the right or left of him, except Stacy
Brown, who could scarcely contain his bubbling spirits.

"They'll think it's some new kind of a menagerie come to town," he
confided to Tad, who was riding beside him.

"Then I hope they don't shoot the animals," laughed Tad.

By this time they had entered the main street, down which they rode at
a pace that the burros could follow.  People passing along the street
paused and gazed in unfeigned astonishment at the strange procession
which they saw approaching.

The most conspicuous of them all was Tom Parry.  He was a sight to
behold, but not one whit did he care for the amazed stares that greeted
his strange outfit.

Soon the grins of the populace gave place to yells of derision.

"Look at the purty boy with the pink toes there behind," shouted one,
pointing to Ned Rector.

Ned's face went crimson.

"Now, aren't you glad you didn't lose the tootsie-wootsies?" teased
Chunky.

Ned made no reply, but it boded ill for any of his tormentors who got
within reach of his long arms.  Already more than a hundred persons had
turned to follow the strange outfit.  This number was being rapidly
added to as they proceeded.

"For goodness' sake, how much further have we to go?" begged Ned.

"The general store is down at the end of the street," the guide
informed him.  "I presume you want to get some clothes the first thing?"

"I should say so."

A whoop and a yell sounded far down the street.

"Here's trouble," muttered Tad, instantly recognizing the cowboy yell.

A band of them at that instant swung around a corner, straightening out
in the main street, letting go a volley of revolver shots into the air.
The band had come to town with a shipment of wild horses that had been
captured among the desert ranges.  They had been in Eureka for
twenty-four hours and were by this time ready for whatever might turn
up.  The horsemen clad in pink pajamas attracted their attention at
once.  Here was fair game.

"Who-o-o-o-p-e-e-e!"

The shrill cry sent a shiver to the hearts of the boys.  It was not a
shiver of fear, either.

In a moment more the Pony Rider Boys were the center of a ring of
racing ponies, as the horse-hunters dashed round and round, yelling
like mad and firing off their revolvers.

"Oh, see that purty boy with the pink toes!" jeered one.

"Give him the tenderfoot dance," yelled another.  "He ought to be able
to dance the fairy lancers on them pinkies."

Ned did not dare refuse.  He slipped from his pony, and, limping to the
center of the ring which the racing ponies had formed about them, began
to dance as the bullets from the revolvers of the cowboys struck the
ground, sending up little clouds of dust under his feet.  Faster and
faster barked the guns, and faster and faster danced Ned Rector.

Stacy Brown was almost beside himself with joy.

"Better look out, or you'll be doing it next," warned Tad.

Evidently the cowboys had not recognized Tom Parry as yet.  He might be
the next victim.

Finally Tad rode his pony forward, right through the fire of the
skylarking cowboys.

"I guess you've had enough fun with him, fellows," he warned.  "Let up
now."

A jeering laugh greeted the lad's command.  Their attention was
instantly turned to him.

"Get off that broncho and give us a dance, young fellow," they shouted.

"Thank you, I'm not dancing to-day," smiled Tad Butler.

"Ain't dancing?  We'll see about that.  Come off that nag."

Tad shook his head.  At that instant a rope squirmed through the air
from a moving pony.  Butler threw himself to one side just in time to
avoid it.  The lad's eyes snapped.

"Guess I'll take a hand in this, too," he growled.

The lad unlimbered his rope in a twinkling and let fly at the cowboy
who had just sought to rope him.  With unerring aim Tad's lariat caught
the left hind foot of the cowman's broncho.  Pony and rider went down
like a flash.

Instantly there was a loud uproar.  The horse-hunters yelled with
delight; at least all of them save the cowboy who had bit the dust, and
he sprang up, bellowing with rage, as he made for the grinning Tad.

Tom Parry decided that it was time for him to take a hand.

The guide jumped his pony between Tad and the angry cowboy.

"That'll do, Bud!  You stop right where you are!" Tom commanded.

"But the miserable coyote roped me."

"You tried to rope him first."

"It's Tom Parry," shouted the cowmen.  "Hey, Tom!  Them's a fine suit
of clothes you've got on there.  Where'd you get them?"

"Call off Bud and I'll tell you," grinned Tom, "He's got no reason to
interfere with my boys here."

Laughing uproariously, the cowboys forced their bronchos between Bud
and the others, cutting him off and bidding him attend to his own
business.  Then the cowmen halted their ponies, after closing in about
the Pony Rider Boys, while Tom Parry related the experiences they had
passed through on the previous night.

"Come along.  We'll take you to a place where you can get all the pants
you want," shouted the leader of the party, after Tom had finished his
story.

The cowboys wheeled their ponies and the procession moved on down the
street.  They had discovered that the Pony Rider Boys were not the band
of tenderfeet that they had at first taken them for.

Arriving at the store, the lads lost no time in leaping from their
ponies, which they tethered at the rail in front, and hurried into the
store.  This was a postoffice as well as general trading post.

Half the town, it seemed, had gathered outside the building to get a
look at the nearly naked strangers who had ridden in a short time
before.  But once inside the store, the boys did not propose to exhibit
themselves further if it were possible to avoid it.

An entire new outfit was necessary--tents, provisions and all, and to
purchase all these things would occupy the greater part of the rest of
the afternoon.

No sooner had they entered the store and made their wants known, than
the boys became conscious of the presence of ladies.  The boys could
not see them plainly, because it was a dim, dingy place at best.

But, all at once Ned felt a cold chill run down his back.  One of the
ladies was speaking to him.

"Isn't this Mr. Rector?" asked a pleasant voice.  "I am quite sure I am
not mistaken."

Ordinarily Ned would have been glad to meet an old acquaintance, but
when a boy is clad only in a pair of pink pajamas, his feet bare of
covering, he is not particularly anxious to see anyone he knows.

It was so with Ned Rector.  At first he pretended not to hear.  A hand
was placed lightly on his shoulder.  Then he turned, his face flushing
painfully.

"I am Mrs. Colonel McClure from Texas," she informed him.  "We had the
pleasure of entertaining you and your companions when you were with the
cattle drive in our state."

Ned bowed and mumbled some unintelligible words.  He failed to note the
twinkle in the eyes of Mrs. McClure.

"And this," she continued, "is my niece Miss Courtenay, Miss Barbara
Parks and Miss Long," continued Mrs. McClure mercilessly.

The young women were blushing furiously as they acknowledged the
introduction.  Ned failed to observe it, however.  His eyes were on his
feet and the pink toes which seemed abnormally large at that moment.

"Where are your companions, Mr. Rector?  I thought they were with you a
moment ago?"

"Wh--ye--yes--they are here, they----"

Ned looked about him blankly.  No one was in sight.  Then he discovered
the grinning face of Stacy Brown peering at him from behind the
postoffice wicket.

At the first alarm Walter Perkins had sunk down behind a cracker barrel
with Tad Butler crouching behind him.  Over behind the counter was the
guide, while, behind a pile of horse blankets, Professor Zepplin lay
flat on the floor, shrinking himself into as small a space as possible.

Ned Rector was left to face the enemy alone.



CHAPTER V

STALKING BIG GAME BY MOONLIGHT

The tension of the moment was relieved by a merry laugh from Mrs.
McClure and her friends, in which Ned Rector joined spontaneously.  The
situation was too funny for even his offended dignity to resist.

The result was an invitation for the entire party to dine with Mrs.
McClure and her friends that evening.  Ned Rector accepted on the spot,
much to the disgust of his companions, who felt a diffidence about
meeting the ladies after the exhibition in the store.

However, after they had properly clothed themselves they felt better,
and the evening passed at the home of Mrs. McClure's friends was one of
the most enjoyable they experienced.

At sunrise next morning the Pony Rider Boys were once more on the
desert, bubbling over with spirits and anticipation.

"I've got another invitation for you boys," announced Tom Parry after
they had halted for the midday rest.

"I hope we'll have some clothes on when it comes off, then," growled
Ned.

"It won't make much difference whether you have or not, so far as this
invitation is concerned."

"What is the invitation?" asked Professor Zepplin.

"Bud Thomas and the other cowboys are hunting wild horses for market,
you know?" replied the guide.

"Wild horses?" marveled Walter.

"Yes."

"I didn't know there were any about here," said Tad.

"It is estimated that there are all of a hundred thousand wild horses
in the different ranges of this state," replied the guide.

"You haven't told us yet what the invitation is," reminded Stacy.

"You haven't given me a chance," laughed Tom.  "Well, the invitation is
to join in a wild horse hunt."

"Hooray!" shouted the lads.

"Very interesting," agreed the Professor.

"And lively, too," added the guide.  "The boys took quite a fancy to
you young gentlemen after the roping trick, and said if you would join
in a hunt, you'd get all the fun that was coming to you."

Tad grinned at the recollection of their first meeting with the wild
horse hunters.

"Whe--when do we join them?" asked Chunky enthusiastically.

"It will be a week or more yet before we reach that part of the desert
where the hunts take place--that is, if we have good luck.  But if we
have any more such experiences as we have just passed through we shall
not get there this summer," laughed the guide.

By sunset, that day, the town of Eureka had disappeared behind the
copper colored hills, and the Pony Rider Boys were again merely tiny
specks on the great Nevada Desert.

They pitched the new white tents for the first time that night, having
made camp earlier than usual because they were not accustomed to
working with the new outfit.  No one knew where to find anything, which
furnished the lads with plenty of amusement.

Ned and Tom Parry cooked the supper over a sage brush fire.  They had
brought a few cans of milk with them, but after sampling it all hands
declared their preference for the condensed brand of which they had
purchased a liberal supply.  The fresh milk procured in Eureka was
strong with the sage brush taste, as was almost everything else in that
barren country.

The ponies refused the sage brush for their evening meal, having had a
supply of real fodder back in town, so they were staked out near a
growth of sage that they might browse on during the night should they
decide that they were hungry enough.

"Well, I wonder what will happen to-night," said Tad, as they finished
the evening meal.

"Let us hope that it will be nothing more serious than pleasant
dreams," smiled Professor Zepplin.

"That means you, Chunky," nodded Ned.  "You are not to have the
nightmare to-night, remember."

"And you look out for your tootsie-wootsies," retorted Chunky.

"We shall have to take a long ride to-morrow," announced the guide.

"Why to-morrow?" asked Ned.

"It is all of twenty miles to the next water hole, or where the next
water hole should be.  One cannot depend upon anything in this country."

"Haven't we enough water with us?" asked the Professor.

"Enough to last us through to-morrow--that's all.  We shall have to get
water at night; so, if we have no interruptions during the night, we
shall make another early start."

"Stacy, see to it that you do not lose your trousers this time.  We
don't wish to be disgraced by you again to-morrow," warned Ned.

Stacy merely grimaced, making no reply.  He knew that he had not been
the one to get the worst of it, and so did his companions.  He was
quite satisfied with the punishment that had been meted out to Ned
Rector.

All hands turned in shortly after dark.  They were tired after the long
day's ride in the broiling sun.  Besides, they had not yet made up the
sleep they lost two nights before when the "twister" invaded their camp
and wrecked it.

The boys had been asleep only a short time, however, before the entire
camp was startled by a long, thrilling wail.

All the Pony Riders were wide awake in an instant, listening for a
repetition of the sound.  It came a moment later.

"K-i-i-o-o-o-o!  K-i-i-o-o-o-o!  K-i-i-o-o-o-k-i!"

The boys leaped from their tents.  The sound plainly come from some
wild animal, but what, they did not know.

"Wha--what is it?  A lion?" stammered Stacy.

"I--I don't know," answered Walter.  "Do you, Tad?"

"I certainly do not.  It's no lion, though.  There are none here?"

"Maybe it's a pack of wolves," suggested Ned.  "There must be a lot of
them to make such a howling as that."

"D-d-d-d-do you thi--thi--think they're going to attack us?" stammered
Stacy.

"How do we know?" snorted Ned.

Neither the Professor nor the guide having made their appearance, the
boys took for granted that the two men were asleep.  Such was the case
so far as the Professor was concerned, but Tom Parry was lying on his
bed awake, a quiet smile on his face.

"Are you sure it's a wild animal, Tad?" whispered Walter.

"Of course.  What else could it be?"

"Then I'll tell you what let's do."

"What?" demanded Ned.

"Let's get our rifles and crawl up to the top of that knoll yonder,
where the sound seems to come from----"

"And take a shot at them," finished Ned.  "Good idea.  What do you say,
Tad?"

"I guess there will be no harm in it," decided the lad, considering the
question for a minute.

They had moved away from the tents so that the sound of their voices
should not arouse the sleeping men there.

"Two guns will be enough.  We're not so liable to hit each other if
only two of us have them."

"Who is going to shoot?" demanded Walter.

"What's the matter with Ned and Chunky?"

That suited all concerned.

"You'd better hurry.  The animals have stopped howling," advised Tad.

Ned and Stacy ran lightly to their tents, returning quickly with their
rifles.  Stacy bore the handsome telescope rifle that he had won in a
pony race during their exciting trip through the Ozark Mountains.  Even
in the moonlight one could see a long distance with the aid of the
telescope on the gun's barrel.

"See the brutes?" asked Stacy, with bated breath.

"No, nor hear them, either," answered Walter.

"I'll tell you what we'd better do," suggested Tad.

"Yes," answered Ned anxiously.

"We'll crawl along in the shadow to the south.  I think the prowlers
are up there on the ridge to the west.  If they are, they'll be
watching the camp-fire.  Maybe they have smelled us and run away by
this time, even if they didn't hear us talking."

"Keep still, everybody," warned Ned.

The boys stole along as silently as shadows.  After moving some ten
rods to the south, Tad motioned for them to turn west, which they did.

No sooner had they changed their course, however, than Chunky with a
loud "Ouch!" plunged headlong, his rifle falling several feet ahead of
him.  With frightful howls he began hugging one foot, rocking back and
forth in great pain.

"What's the matter?" snapped Ned Rector.

"My foot!  My foot!"

"What about it----"

"I--I don't know.  I----"

Tad grabbed the boy by the collar, jerking him clear of the place.  The
first thought that came to him was that Stacy had been bitten by a
snake, though Tad did not even know whether or not there were snakes on
the desert.

"Nice chance we'll have to shoot anything," growled Ned in disgust.
"Stop that wailing."

"It hurts, it hurts----"

"Keep still.  I'll find out what the trouble is," warned Tad, dropping
down and examining his companion's injured foot.

"Ouch!" exploded Chunky, jerking his foot away.

"If you want me to help you, you'll have to be quiet."

Butler pressed gently on the bottom of the injured foot with the
fingers of one hand, the other holding Chunky's ankle in a firm grip.

"Humph!" grunted Tad.  "He's stepped on a cactus bush with his bare
foot.  It's full of prickers.  Hold still and I'll pick them out."

"Guess there's no use to keep still any longer.  Those animals probably
have run away before this," complained Ned.

"K-i-i-o-o-o-o-!  K-i-i-o-o-o-o!  K-i-i-o-o-o-k-i!"

"S-h-h-h!" warned Tad.  "They're there yet.  Shall I take your rifle,
Chunky?  You probably don't feel much like tramping up the hill in your
bare feet."

"No!" exploded the fat boy.  "I guess if there's any shooting to be
done, Stacy Brown can do it, even if he's only got one foot to hop
along on."

Scrambling to his feet, Stacy recovered his rifle.  He had forgotten
all about his injured foot now.

Cautiously the boys crawled up to the top of the rise of ground.

"Sit down, everybody," directed Tad.  "We ought to be able to see them
from here."

Not a thing save clumps of sage brush met peering eyes of the Pony
Rider Boys.

"Lay the barrel of your gun over my shoulder and look through the
telescope," directed Tad softly.

Pointing the gun to the southward, Stacy rested it on his companion's
shoulder, placing an eye to the peep hole.  The lads fairly held their
breath for a minute.

"I see him!  I see him!" whispered Stacy in an excited tone.

"What is it?" demanded Ned.  "Where?"

"I don't know.  I guess it's a wolf."

"How many?" asked Walter, crawling up to him.

"See only one."

"Take your time, Chunky," cautioned Tad in a low voice.  "Draw a
careful bead on the fellow and let him have it."

"Over your shoulder?"

"Sure.  You never'll hit him without a rest."

Once more they held their breath.

At last Stacy exerted a gentle pressure on the trigger.

There followed a flash and a roar.

"O-u-u-c-h!" yelled the fat boy.

The end of the telescope had kicked him violently in the eye as the gun
went off.



CHAPTER VI

BAGGED BY LUCKY SHOTS

"K-I-I-O-O-O-O!  K-I-I-I-O-O-O!"

"There he goes!" shouted Walter.

Stacy was picking himself up from the ground where the rifle had kicked
him.

Bang!

Ned Rector had risen to his feet the instant Stacy fired.  Throwing his
rifle to shoulder, he fired at an object that he saw bounding down the
opposite side of the hill.

"I got him!  I got him!" shouted Ned, dancing about in his glee.
"Chunky Brown, you're no good.  All you can do with a rifle is to get
kicked and fall in.  Take a lesson from your Uncle Dudley----"

"Good shooting, boys," said a laughing voice behind them.

They whirled around and found themselves facing Tom Parry, who had
crept up to see that the boys got into no trouble.

"You here?" demanded Tad Butler sharply.

"I am that.  Think I could let you boys go off with a couple of guns to
hunt wild animals?  Not without Tom Parry--no, indeed!"

"I got him, Mr. Parry," glowed Ned.  "Did you see me tumble him over?"

The guide nodded good-naturedly.

"And Chunky missed him, even though he had a rest over Tad Butler's
shoulder.  Chunky can't shoot."

"Yes, I can, too," objected the fat boy.

"We'll see," replied the guide.  "I am not sure whether he can shoot or
not."

"What do you mean, Mr. Parry!" asked Walter.  "Chunky shot at the
animal and missed it, didn't he?"

"What kind of an animal was it?" interjected Ned.

"A coyote."

"I thought it was a wolf," muttered Stacy Brown.  "How many of them was
there?"

"Only one, you ninny.  And I shot him," scoffed Ned.

"We'll go down the hill and find the one you got, Master Ned," decided
the guide, moving away, followed by the rest of the party.

No sooner had they started than they heard Professor Zepplin, down in
the camp, shouting to know what the shooting meant.

"It's all right, Professor," called the guide.  "The boys have been
shooting up some wild game.  You'll be surprised when you see what they
got."

Down the hillside sprang the enthusiastic lads.

"Remember, you're all barefooted," warned the guide.  "You don't want
to pick up any more cactus thorns."

"Were you here then?" demanded Tad, glancing up sharply.

"I was with you from the time you left the camp."

"Here he is," shouted Ned, who had run on ahead of the others in his
anxiety to learn the result of his shot.  "And I caught him on the
wing, too, didn't I?"

"You certainly did."

"Just lift him.  He's a whopper," went on the lad enthusiastically.
"I'd like to see any of the others in this outfit make a shot like
that----"

"Chance shot," mumbled Stacy.  "Hit a bird once myself a mile up in the
air, but I didn't flap my wings and crow about it.  I couldn't have
done it again.  Neither could you have hit that--that--what do you call
it!"

"Coyote," replied the guide, but he pronounced it "kiute."

"Oh, I don't know," grumbled Stacy.

"Suppose we go up the hill now and see what Master Stacy shot,"
suggested the guide, starting away.

"Shot?" sniffed Ned Rector.  "Don't you know what he shot?"

"Yes, we know," interrupted Walter.

"He shot thin air, that's what he did."

"We shall see, we shall see," answered the guide enigmatically.

Though Stacy did not grasp the guide's meaning, he did catch a note in
the tone that filled him with hope.  Yet Chunky was unable to see how
he could have hit anything, in view of the fact that Ned had shot the
coyote.

Tom Parry strode up to the crest of the hill and began looking about,
peering behind sage bush and greasewood.  The boys were a little to the
north of him, all hunting for they knew not what.  Ned Rector had
seated himself by the side of his dead coyote, stroking its rough coat
proudly.

A sharp whistle from the guide attracted their attention.

"What is it?" called Tad.

"Come over here.  I've got a surprise for you."

The boys obeyed on the run.

Tom Parry stood with a grin on his face, pointing a finger to the
ground.

"What is it?  What is it?" demanded the lads in chorus.

"Why, it's a dead animal," marveled Walter.

"Then that's what the coyote was doing up here.  It was after the meat
on the dead one," announced Ned.  "I knew there must be some good
reason for its remaining so near camp all that time."

"Guess again," sniffed Stacy, who had thrown himself down beside his
prize.

"What's that?" asked Tad, who already suspected something of the truth.

"It's my coyote, that's what it is."

Tom Parry nodded.

"He's right.  He killed the animal the first shot----"

"Then--then----" stammered Ned.

"There were two of them.  Master Stacy killed one and you the other,
and for your gratification I'll say that they are a very difficult
animal to kill.  One might try a hundred times and never hit one."

"If one knows how to shoot, it isn't," spoke up Stacy pompously.

"Which you certainly do," laughed the guide.

"May we take them back to camp and skin them?" asked Ned.

"You may take them in, of course; but I would not advise you to skin
the brutes.  The skins are not worth anything in the first place, and
in the second, we should be unable to keep them all the way across the
desert, I am afraid."

"You mean they would spoil?" questioned Ned.

"Yes."

"Then we'll take them down to show to the Professor.  After that we'll
bury them."

"Not necessary at all," smiled the guide.  "The buzzards will attend to
that part of the work.  They'll be around in the morning.  You'll see
them."

"But how will the buzzards know?" asked Walter.

"That I cannot say.  They do know.  Instinct, I suppose.  All animals
and birds have the instinct necessary for their kind, yet it is all a
mystery to us."

Very proudly the lads dragged their trophies to camp, where, after
heaping fresh sage brush on the fire, the youngsters stretched the
carcasses out full length that Professor Zepplin might see.

"Very fine, young men.  You say they were howling and woke you up?"

"Yes; didn't you hear them!" answered Stacy loudly.

"Indeed I did not.  The first thing I heard was the report of a rifle,
and then, in a few seconds, another.  I couldn't imagine what was going
on.  When I tumbled out and found the camp deserted, I was alarmed.  I
feared you boys had gotten into other and more serious trouble.  You
should not take the guns out without either myself or the guide being
with you."

"He was with us," interrupted Chunky.

"Then that was all right."

"But we didn't know he was with us, Professor," Tad Butler hastened to
explain.  "So we were in the wrong, even if he was along.  However, it
has turned out all right, and we've bagged two coyotes.  Wish we could
take their pictures.  Why didn't we think to bring a camera with us?"

"I think I can supply that," laughed the guide.  "I always carry one
with me.  In the morning I'll take your pictures.  I got a new camera
in Eureka yesterday, having lost my old one in the blow-out we had the
other night."

The boys gave three cheers and a tiger for Tom Parry.



CHAPTER VII

CHUNKY COMES TO GRIEF

Breakfast was cooked in the cool of the early dawn, long before the sun
had pushed its burning course up above the desert sands.  Though the
boys had but little sleep, they tumbled out at the guide's first hail,
full of joyous enthusiasm for what lay before them that day.

Stacy Brown emerged from his tent rubbing his eyes.  The lads uttered a
shout when they saw him.

"Look at him!" yelled Ned.  "Look at Chunky's eye!"

The right eye was surrounded by a black ring, the eyelid being of the
same dark shade, where the end of the telescope on his rifle had kicked
him.

"Young man, you are a sight to behold," smiled the Professor.

"I don't care.  I got the coyote," retorted Stacy, with a grin.

"And the gun got him," added Walter.

"Judging from your appearance, I should say that the butt of your rifle
was almost as dangerous as the other end," laughed Tad.

"Come and get it!" called the guide.

The lads never had to be called twice for meals, and they were in their
places at the breakfast table with a bound.

"Do you know, I'm beginning to like the sage brush taste in the food,"
said Walter.

Stacy made up a face.

"I should think you would be ashamed to sit down to a meal with that
countenance of yours, Chunky," declared Ned.

"I might with some company."

"See here, Chunky Brown.  Do you mean----"

"I mean that my face will get over what ails it, but yours won't," was
the fat boy's keen-edged retort.

"All of which goes to prove," announced Tad wisely, "that you never can
tell, by the looks of a toad, how far it will jump.  I guess you'd
better let Chunky alone after this.  He's perfectly able to take care
of himself, Ned."

Ned subsided and devoted his further attention to his breakfast.  The
meal finished, all hands set briskly to work to strike camp.  In half
an hour the burros were loaded ready for the day's journey.  The boys
set off singing.

"I don't see how you can tell where you are going," said the Professor.
"There is no sun and you have no compass."

"We are traveling almost due southwest.  I never use a compass.  It is
not necessary."

"There, I knew I had forgotten to get something," announced Tad.

"Forgotten what?" questioned Walter.

"To get a compass."

"You have a watch, have you not?" asked Tom Parry.

"Why, yes; but that's not a compass."

"Oh, yes, it is," smiled the guide.  "You can get your direction just
as well with that as you could with a tested compass."

"Never heard that before," muttered Tad.

"Nor I," added Ned, at once keenly interested.

"I'm easy.  I'll ask how?  What's the answer?" questioned Stacy, gazing
innocently at Tom Parry.

"I am not joking, boys.  Every watch is a compass.  You can get your
direction from it unerringly whenever you can see the sun."

"Indeed?" marveled the Professor.

"The method is very simple," continued Parry.  "All you have to do is
to point the hour hand directly at the sun.  Half way between the hour
hand and the figure twelve on the watch dial you will find is due
south."

"I'll try it," answered Tad.

"There comes the sun now," said Ned.

The boys drew out their watches, having halted the ponies and turned
facing the rising sun.

"Well, did you ever!" exclaimed the lads in one voice.

"It is, indeed, the fact," marveled the Professor.

"You can depend upon that whenever you have lost your way," said Tom
Parry.  "It has helped me out on many occasions."

"But what if there isn't any sun--what if the sky is clouded?"
questioned Stacy.

"Then you'll have to sit down and wait for it," laughed the guide.

After this brief rest the party continued on its way.  They had come
out on the level plain, and before them for several miles stretched the
white alkali of the Nevada Desert.  As the sun rose higher, they found
the glare of the glistening plain extremely trying to the eyes.  The
guide suggested that they put on their goggles.  But the boys would
have none of them.  Stacy's right eye was badly swollen, yet he refused
to cover it, though the fine dust of the plain got into it, causing it
to smart until the tears ran down his cheek.

"Where do the wild horses congregate?" asked Tad, riding up beside the
guide.

"Likely to see them anywhere, though they do not, as a rule, go far out
on the desert on account of the scarcity of water.  We may see some in
the Little Smoky Valley and the Hot Creek Range when we reach there."

"Is it difficult to catch them?"

"Very.  There is one magnificent white stallion that the horse-hunters
have been trying to capture for the past five years."

"Why can't they get him?"

"Too smart for them.  He knows what they are up to almost as well as if
the hunters had confided their plans to him.  Twice, in the beginning,
the hunters succeeded in getting him in a trap, but he managed to get
away from his would-be captors."

"I'd like to get a chance to take him," mused Tad Butler.

"I'm afraid you wouldn't have much luck, but we'll have a hunt when we
get down in the horse country, and I promise you that you will see some
exciting sport.  Better than hunting coyotes by moonlight," laughed the
guide.

"I'd like to capture and break a real live wild horse," said young
Butler, his eyes sparkling at the thought.  "It would be a fine prize
to take away with me, now wouldn't it?"

"If you chanced to capture a good one, yes.  The poor stock, however,
has been pretty well taken up, so that the horses on the ranges now are
splendid specimens."

"Anybody want to run a race?" interrupted Stacy, riding up near the
head of the procession.

"Too hot," answered Tad.

"Just the kind of a day for a horse race.  I'll run any of you to see
who cooks the supper," persisted Stacy.

"Oh, go back with the burros.  I wouldn't eat any supper that you
cooked, anyway."

"I'll remember that, Ned.  Well, if none of you has spunk enough to
race with me, I'll run a race with myself."

"That a dare?" questioned Walter.

Stacy nodded, blinking his blackened eye nervously.

Walter shook out the reins.

"Come on, then.  I suppose you won't be satisfied until you've gotten
into more trouble.  Where do you want to race to?"

"See that patch of ground whiter than the rest off there?"

"Yes."

"Well, we'll race there and back.  How far is it from here, Mr. Parry?"

"'Bout half a mile, I should say," answered the guide, measuring the
distance with his eyes.

"Whew!  I didn't think it was so far," marveled Stacy.  "But we'll run
it, anyway."

"I'll be the starter," announced Ned.  "If you break your neck, Chunky,
remember that I am not to blame for it."

"If I break my neck I won't be likely to remember anything, so you're
safe," retorted Stacy.

The others were too busy discussing wild-horse hunting to give heed to
the boys' plan.

"All ready!"

"Yes."

"Go!"

Both lads uttered a sharp yell, at the same time giving their spurs a
gentle pressure, and away they went across the blazing alkali, their
tough little ponies steaming in the intense heat as they straightened
out, entering into the spirit of the contest with evident enthusiasm.

"See those boys ride," laughed the guide, pausing in his argument on
the wild-horse question: "I didn't suppose the fat boy could sit in a
saddle like that."

"Oh, yes; he does well.  You saw him master the bucker the other day in
the mountains?"

"Yes, I remember.  Whoa!  Look out, there!  There goes one of them!  He
took too short a turn."

"Walter's down!" cried Ned.

"Hope he isn't hurt."

"No; he's cleared all right.  That was a mighty quick move the way he
slipped out of that saddle.  It would have broken his leg sure, if the
pony had fallen on it," declared the guide.

Stacy had pulled up his own mount after making the turn safely.  Then
he rode slowly back.

"Hurt you any, Walt?" he asked.

"Jarred me a little, that's all.  Why don't you go on and win the race?"

"Waiting for you," announced the fat boy laconically.

Walter swung into his saddle.

"Come on, then.  Gid-ap!" he cried, shaking out the reins.

The two little animals sprang away like projectiles.  But Stacy seemed
not to be in his best form.  He came in bobbing up and down, several
lengths behind Walter.

"You won the race.  I fell off," announced Walter, with his usual
spirit of fairness.

"I guess not," drawled Stacy.  "Now I'm going to do some stunts."

With that, the fat boy galloped out over the alkali again, riding off
fully half a mile ahead of the party, where he jogged back and forth
for a time, then began riding in a circle.

After a little they saw him toss his hat into the air ahead of him, and
putting spurs to his pony dart under it, giving it a swift blow with
his quirt, sending it spinning some distance away, at the same time
uttering a shrill whoop.

"Thinks he's having the time of his life," grunted Ned.

"For a boy with a black eye, he is particularly cheerful, I should
say," laughed Parry.  "What's he going to do now!"

"Pick up his sombrero while at a gallop, I guess," replied Tad, shading
his eyes and gazing off across the plain.  "Yes, there he goes at it."

Stacy, with a graceful dip from his saddle, swooped down on the
sombrero, scooping it up with a yell of triumph, then dashing madly
across the desert to the westward.

All at once they saw his pony stumble.

"There he goes!" warned the guide.  "He will break his neck!"

Down plunged the broncho, his nose scraping the ground, his hind feet
beating the air wildly.

Stacy kept right on.

"The pony struck a thin crust on the alkali," explained the guide.

Almost before the words were out of his mouth Stacy Brown hit the
desert broadside on.  Then, to the amazed watchers, he seemed to
disappear before their very eyes.

"He's gone!  What does it mean?" cried the boys.

Where but a few seconds before had been a pony and a boy, there now
remained only a kicking, floundering broncho.

Tom Parry put spurs to his mount and set off at top speed for the scene
of the accident, followed by the others of the party strung out in
single file.



CHAPTER VIII

NEARLY DROWNED IN AN ALKALI SINK

Tad rapidly drew up on the guide.

"What has happened?" Butler cried as the two now raced along side by
side.

"As I said before, the pony went through a thin crust----"

"Yes, but Chunky--what happened to him?" asked Tad.

"He went through when he struck the ground."

"I don't understand it at all."

"You will when you get there."

Tad was mystified.  The solution of the mystery was beyond him.

"If he isn't drowned, he's in luck," snapped Parry.

"Drowned?" wondered his companion.

They cleared the intervening space that lay between them and the fat
boy's pony in a series of convulsive leaps that the bronchos took under
the urgent pressure of the rowels of their riders' spurs.

As they neared the scene Tad espied a hole in the desert, and began to
understand.  Stacy also had struck a thin crust and had broken through.
Yet what had happened to him after that, Tad did not know.

Both would-be rescuers leaped from their ponies and ran to the spot.

With his body submerged, his head barely protruding above the water,
sat Stacy, vigorously rubbing his eyes to get the brown alkali water
out of them sufficiently to enable him to look about and determine what
had happened to him.

The rest of the party dashed up with loud shouts of alarm, hurling a
series of rapid-fire questions at the guide.

Parry and Tad grasped Stacy by the arms and hauled him, dripping, from
the alkali sink into which he had plunged.

They shouted with laughter when they saw that he was not hurt seriously.

"Well, of all the blundering idiots----" began Ned.

"That will do," warned the Professor, hurrying to Stacy's side.  "Hurt
you much, lad?"

"I--I fell in," stammered Chunky.

"I should say you did.  How in the world did it happen?"

The guide explained, that frequently these thin crusts were found on
the desert, covering alkali sinks, some being dry, others having water
in them.

"And of course Chunky had to find one.  He's the original hoodoo,"
laughed Ned.

"Oh, I don't know," replied the guide.  "He has done us a real service
by falling in."

"How's that!" questioned Tad.

"Master Stacy has found a water hole, just what we need at this
particular moment.  The stock needs water, and especially the ponies
that have been racing for the last half hour."

"You don't mean that we are to drink that stuff, do you?" demanded
Walter.

"Not now.  We still have some fairly good water in the water bags.
Later on you may be glad to drink alkali water.  Run up and down if you
feel able.  You'll dry off in a few minutes," suggested Parry, turning
to Chunky.

"I--I don't want to.  Feels nice and cool after my bath.  Jump in and
take a swim, fellows."

"No, thank you--not in that dirty water," objected Ned.

"I'll tell you what, boys," suggested Tad.  "After the stock has had a
drink we'll take off our shoes and put our feet in.  Guess we can stand
that much."

"That's a good idea," agreed Walter.  "We'll all take a cold foot bath."

In the meantime, the guide had been busily engaged in breaking the
crust around the sink, so that the stock might more easily get at the
water within it.  The animals were impatiently pawing and whinnying,
anxious to get the water.  They were now willing to drink any kind of
water after their half day's journey across the burning alkali.

"You might unpack and get a cold lunch together, if you will,"
suggested Parry.

The boys soon had one of the tents erected, over which they stretched
the fly, that the interior might be cooler.

Ned opened a can of pickled pigs' feet, which, with some hard rolls
were spread out on a folding table under the tent.  Tad, not to be
out-done, dug some lemons from his saddle bag, with which he proceeded
to make a pail of lemonade.

It was the first time they had had any such beverage since they began
their summer trips.  Tad had purchased the lemons back in Eureka.  The
lemonade made, it lacked only sweetening now.

"Where's the sugar?" he called.

"Where's the sugar?" echoed Chunky.

"We don't know," answered Ned and Walter in the same breath.

"Get busy and find it, then.  If you don't want this lemonade I'll
drink it myself.  I don't care whether it is sweetened or not."

That threat was effective.  The other three boys made a dive for the
burros.  An examination of the first pack failed to reveal the
sweetening.  The same was the case with the next, and before they had
finished, their entire outfit was spread over the ground, tents, canned
goods, cooking utensils, thrown helter-skelter over several rods of
ground.

"Here, boys, boys!" chided the Professor.  "This will never do.  We
can't afford to use our provisions in that way.  Soon we'll have
nothing."

"Regular rough house.  Ought to be ashamed of yourselves," agreed
Stacy, surveying the scattered outfit, while he secretly slipped two
lumps of sugar into his mouth.  "Here, cook, pick up your kitchen," to
Ned.

"What you got in your mouth?" demanded Ned suspiciously.

"He's eating the sugar," spoke up Walter Perkins.

"Drop 'em!" roared Ned.

Stacy started to run, whereupon the boys fell upon him, and the next
second he was at the bottom of the heap.  The boys were rubbing his
face in the sand in an effort to make him give up the sugar.

The Professor took a hand--two hands in fact--about this time.  He made
short work of the "goose pile," tossing the boys from the very much
ruffled Stacy, whom he also jerked to his feet.

"What's all this disturbance about?" demanded Professor Zepplin.
"First you strew the outfit all over the desert, then you get to
pummeling each other."

"Chunky's been stealing sugar," volunteered Ned.

"Give back that sugar, instantly!" commanded the Professor.

The fat boy shook his head and grinned.

"Can't," he answered.

"And, why not?"

"'Cause they're inside of me."

"Now, now, now!" warned Ned.  "You haven't chewed that hard sugar down
this quick.  I know better than that."

"No, I swallowed the lumps whole when you fellows jumped on me.  Nearly
choked me to death, 'cause one of 'em got stuck in my throat," Chunky
explained.

Tad, in the meantime, had been busy gathering up the scattered
provisions.

"Get to work, young gentlemen.  Straighten up the camp," commanded the
Professor.

"Don't we get any lunch?" begged Stacy.

"You're full of sugar.  You don't need anything else," replied Walter.

"When you have set the outfit to rights, we'll all sit down and eat
like civilized beings," asserted the Professor, with emphasis.

"Civilized beings making a meal on pigs' feet!  Huh!" grumbled Chunky,
picking up a can of tomatoes, then throwing it down again.  After this,
he slipped around to the opposite side of the tent.  Crawling in under
the fly he promptly went to sleep, the others being so busy that they
had not observed his act.

The next Stacy knew was when he awakened to find himself being hauled
out by one leg.

"Here, what are you doing?  Leggo my foot."

"Lunch is ready.  You ought to thank us, instead of finding fault
because we woke you up.  You might have slept right through the meal;
then you wouldn't have had anything to eat," explained Walter.

Stacy shook his head.

"No danger.  I wasn't afraid of that!"

"Not afraid of that?  Why not?" demanded Ned.

"'Cause I knew you'd haul me out.  Left my feet sticking out so you
would."

Everybody roared.  There was no resisting Stacy Brown's droll humor.

"Hopeless," averred the Professor, shrugging his shoulders.

"He's a wise one," differed the guide.

"Another name for laziness," nodded Ned.

"What's that disease they have down south?" asked Walter.  "I heard the
Professor and the postmaster talking about it back in Eureka."

"You mean the--the hook-worm disease?" grinned the guide.

"That's it.  That's what Chunky's got.  When a fellow is too lazy to do
anything but eat, they say he's got the--the----"

"The hook----" finished the guide.

"That's what he ought to get," agreed Ned.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" corrected the Professor.  "This is not a seemly
topic for table discussion."

"But we eat pigs' feet," suggested Stacy in wide-eyed innocence.

The meal finished, amid laughter and jest, the party stowed their
belongings, and after a brief rest, pushed on, having decided that they
would feel the heat less in the saddle.

At sundown the travelers were still some distance from the water hole
for which the guide was making.

"We'll have to go on," he said.  "We may have to ride some time after
dark."

"Will that be advisable?" questioned the Professor.

"Not advisable, but necessary.  The stock must have their water you
know."

So the party pushed on.  The moon came up late in the evening, and the
guide looking about him, discovered that they had borne too far to the
east, which necessitated their covering some four miles more of alkali
than would have been the case had they kept more closely to their
course.

"It can't be helped," he laughed good-naturedly.  "I guess the pigs'
feet will last you until we make camp."

"How long will that be, Mr. Parry?" questioned Chunky anxiously.

"All of an hour and a half."

Stacy humorously took up his belt three holes.

"Got two more holes left to take in," he decided after examining the
belt critically.

"That's a new way to measure distance and time, isn't it!" laughed the
guide.

"How?" wondered Stacy.

"By the holes in your belt."

At eleven o'clock that night Tom Parry announced that they had arrived
at the end of their day's journey.

"Where's the water?  I don't see any water?" said Walter.

"After supper we'll look for it.  I presume want something to eat
first, don't you?" questioned the guide.

"Yes," shouted the lads in chorus.  "We're nearly starved."

Bacon and coffee constituted the bill of fare for their late meal,
which they ate out in the bright moonlight with the crackling camp-fire
near by.

"This is fine," announced Tad, with which sentiment all the boys
agreed.  "Wish we could do this every night."

"Your supper would be breakfast after a few days," replied Parry.

"How's that!" questioned Ned.

"If you waited for moonlight, I mean.  The moon comes up later every
night, you know."

"That's so."

"We'd get hungry, wouldn't we?" chuckled Stacy.

"You wouldn't get.  You always are," retorted Ned.

"Now, I'll show you how I know there is a water hole near here," said
Parry after they had finished their late meal.  "When I locate it, you
boys may help me take the stock to it."

They walked back some twenty rods from where they had pitched the camp,
Parry meanwhile hunting about as if in search of something that he had
dropped.

"Nope.  No water here," decided Stacy.

"You don't know.  Ah!  Here is what I am looking for."

The guide pointed to a heap of stones that rose some twelve inches
above the ground.  On the west side of the heap several stones had been
placed in a row, thus forming an arm that extended or pointed almost
due west.

"Know what that is?" asked Parry.

The lads shook their heads.

"That's a water marker.  When a traveler across the desert finds a sink
he indicates it either by a heap of stones, which he sticks in the
ground, or by any other means at his command.  For instance, this pile
of stones tells me there is a water hole somewhere near by, and the arm
points the way to it."

"Where is it, then?" wondered Walter.  "I don't see any signs of water."

"Nor do I.  We'll follow the direction indicated by the arm and see if
we don't come up with a water tank somewhere close by," replied Parry.

With the guide leading the way, the others following in single file,
they trailed away to the westward until, finally, they came to a slight
depression in the ground.

"It should be near here," the guide informed them.  "There it is.  See
that dark hole?"

The boys bounded forward, dropping on their knees by the opening into
which they peered inquiringly.

Suddenly they uttered a yell, and, springing up, ran back as fast as
their legs would carry them.  As they did so, some dark object bounded
from the water tank and leaped away into the sage brush.

"Goodness me, what was that?" cried Walter, after the boys had pulled
up and faced about.

"Come back, come back.  That was only a badger," laughed the guide.

"In the water?" asked Tad, who had stood his ground.

"No; so much the worse for us!  There is no water there.  No need to
look.  The tank is empty.  Some wandering prospector has emptied it to
save his burros and fill his canteen," announced the guide.

"What are we going to do, then!" queried Ned.

"Do without it.  We shall have to give the stock a very little of our
fresh supply, saving only enough out of it for our own breakfast and a
canteen full apiece to take with us on the morrow.  I think I shall be
able to find a river about ten miles below here, providing it has not
changed its course or gone dry.  The water here in this country is as
fickle as the desert itself."

"What if we should fail to find any?" breathed Tad.

"Well, you know, neither man nor beast can travel far on the desert
without it.  But we'll find some to-morrow.  Don't worry," soothed the
guide, though in his innermost heart he was troubled.  That this water
hole should prove to be dry did not promise well for those that were to
follow.



CHAPTER IX

THE BOYS DISCOVER A RIVER

"Where's that river you were talking about?" demanded the lads when the
outfit pulled up at noon next day.

"Don't you see it?" smiled Parry.

"Not a river," answered Ned, gazing about him, then allowing his glance
to rest on the face of the guide to determine if Parry were making
sport of them.

"I am not sure myself.  I know where it should be.  Whether it's there
or not is another matter.  Fetch the shovels and we'll soon find out."

"Finding a river with shovels!" muttered Stacy.  "Huh!  Who ever heard
of such a thing?"

But as soon as the boys had returned with the digging implements, Parry
swung the tools over his shoulder and strode confidently to the left of
where they were encamped for the noonday rest.

The boys followed him full of curiosity.

Finally the guide threw down the tools and began to run his hands over
the hot, yellow soil.

"Guess the sun's gone to his head," muttered Ned, as he squatted down
to observe more closely what the guide was doing.  The other three lads
followed his example.  In a moment they were on all fours, hopping
about like so many quadrupeds.

Parry was shaking with laughter as he observed them.

"Bow!  Bow wow!" barked Chunky, jumping on hands and feet, snapping his
teeth together suggestively.

The boys looked at each other and burst out laughing.  They had
discovered all at once what a ridiculous figure they were making.

"Sun gone to your head, too, Chunky?" chuckled Ned.  "Oh, no, I forgot;
it's dog days," he added maliciously.

"Your master had better get a collar and chain for you, then, Ned,"
laughed Stacy, in high good humor with himself.

The guide's voice put a sudden end to their merriment.

"Here's the river," he cried.  "There is plenty of water in it, too."

The boys gathered about him quickly.

"I don't see any river," averred Walter.

"There isn't any," answered Ned, in a low voice.

"I'll show you whether there is or not," snapped Parry, who had
overheard the remark.  "You boys think I have gone crazy, don't you?
You'll find there is something to learn about this old Nevada
Desert--some things that you never even dreamed of.  Hand me a shovel,
please."

All at once Stacy began pushing his companions roughly aside.

"Here, here, Fatty!  What are you trying to do?" the others demanded,
beginning to struggle with him to prevent being bowled over.

"I'm saving your lives," cried the fat boy.

"Saving our lives?" cried Ned.  "Go shake the alkali out of your eyes."

"Yes, you'll fall in and drown."

"In what?"

"In the river.  Don't you see the river right there in front of you?"
queried Stacy, his eyes fairly beaming with importance.

"No, I don't.  If there was a river there you'd be the first one to
fall in, and don't you forget that."

"What's this?  What's this?" inquired the Professor, approaching.

"It's a river," answered Stacy solemnly.

"A river?"

"Yes, sir.  Don't you hear it roar?  Wish I had a boat."

"Is it water you are digging for, Mr. Parry?" asked Professor Zepplin.

But the guide did not hear the question.  He was too busy with his
mining operations at the moment.

"Come on, boys," he urged.  "Get busy here."

"At what?" asked Ned.  "We're with you, but we don't know what you want
us to do."

"Yes; can we help you?" inquired Tad.

"Of course you can.  Get those other shovels and dig."

"Where?"

"Right here.  Make the dirt fly as fast as you want to.  I'll show you
something in a minute."

He did.  All at once the sand beneath them gave way, and the Pony Rider
Boys, all except Stacy Brown, uttered a yell as they sank waist deep
into a sink of soft, wet sand.

Parry had felt the sand giving way, and with a warning had leaped from
the hole.  The lads had not been quick enough.

"There's no danger.  Don't be alarmed.  You'll get wet feet, that's
all."

"What is it?" asked the Professor in amazement.

"Water, my dear sir.  Water in plenty.  It's a branch of the Pancake
River.  These streams run underground for great distances on the
desert, but they change their course so often that you can't place any
dependence on them.  We're lucky, boys."

"Hurrah for the water!" shouted the lads.

"Keep on digging.  We haven't got it yet.  Master Stacy, will you run
to the camp and bring the folding buckets?  We'll soon have the hole
cleaned so we can dip up some water."

"Sure," answered the fat boy, thrusting his hands in his trousers
pockets and strolling off at a leisurely gait as if there were no
necessity for haste.

"That's Chunky's idea of running," laughed Ned Rector, jerking his head
in Stacy's direction.

The three lads finding there was no danger in their position, had made
no attempt to clamber from the hole.  Instead, they began digging,
until the dirt flew so fast that the Professor was obliged to withdraw.
Somehow most of the dirt seemed to be flying through the air right in
his direction.

Now the water began to rise above the caved-in sand.  It was a dirty
yellow in color and the boys' clothing suffered as a result.  But the
youngsters did not care.  Besides, they were cooling off.

At last the hole had been cleared sufficiently to enable them to dip up
some water, but Stacy not having returned with the pails, the Professor
was sent to fetch him.  He found the lad enjoying himself tickling the
nose of a drowsy burro.

Professor Zepplin led Chunky out to the water sink, by one ear.  The
lads now quickly dipped up pailful after pailful, which they passed to
the guide on the bank.  He ran with them to the stock, giving each of
the animals a little, so that all might share in the first instalment.
Ponies and burros were wide awake now, expressing their pleasure in
loud whinnies and blatant brays.

"It's foggy on the river," laughed Ned.  "The burros have started up
their fog horns."

When Parry returned he brought with him the drinking cups, which he had
taken from the saddles.

"Is it fit to drink?" asked Tad as the cups were passed down to them.

"It's wet."

"So are we," retorted Ned.  "But we're dirty.  Uh!  That's horrible
stuff."

"Strongly alkaline," nodded the Professor, after sipping gingerly at
the brimming cup Parry had passed to him.  "Do you not think we had
better wait a little while until it settles?"

"Not a second, if you're thirsty," answered the guide shortly.  "This
stream is liable to change its course in the next ten minutes.  Don't
you take any chances with a desert stream.  Fill the water bags and the
canteens as fast as we can that's what we'll do.  Then, if the water
holds out, there will be time enough to empty out our supply and fill
with fresh."

"Hey, Chunky!  Haul those water bags over here," called Walter.

"Can't," called Stacy.  He was sitting on the ground pulling off a shoe.

"What's the trouble now?" snorted Ned.  "Got a cramp?"

"No; I've got a sore toe."

"Supposing we duck him," suggested Ned.

"We'll save all the water we have," warned the guide sharply.  "No
nonsense about it, either."

The party was in great good humor, now that they had found a water
hole, and the animals had drunk until their sides were distended like
balloons in process of being inflated.

"They've had enough," announced the guide, going to the animals and
glancing over the herd sharply.  "No more water for the present."

"Then perhaps we might as well be on our way," suggested the Professor.

Parry did not reply.  He was shading his eyes with one hand, gazing
intently off over the desert.  The Professor, following the direction
in which the guide was looking, discovered a cloud of dust rising into
the air.  The cloud was approaching them at a rapid rate.



CHAPTER X

A COWBOY TAKES A HEADER

"What is that?" questioned Professor Zepplin sharply.

"That's what I'm trying to make out," replied the guide.

"Looks like horsemen."

"Yes, it is.  But I can't understand why they can be riding at that
killing pace on a hot afternoon such as this."

About this time the boys' attention had been attracted to the yellow
cloud by Stacy Brown, who, notwithstanding his apparent slowness, had
sharp eyes when there was anything to be seen.

"Somebody's coming," he announced between sips.

"What's that?" demanded Tad, springing from the water hole, followed
closely by Walter and Ned.

"Somebody coming to pay us an afternoon call.  By the way they're
whooping it up they must be in a hurry about something."

All hands ran to where Mr. Parry and the Professor were standing.

The yellow cloud was rolling toward them at a rapid pace, and ahead of
it the boys discovered half a dozen horsemen, who had evidently
discovered the white tent that the Pony Rider Boys had erected during
their midday stop.

"Know them?" asked Tad.

"I'm not sure, but I think it's Bud Stevens and the wild-horse outfit.
Judging from the way they ride they're pretty wild themselves."

With a series of shrill "y-e-o-w-s," the strangers bore down on the
little desert camp.  From the gray, alkali-flecked backs of the ponies
clouds of steam were rising, their sides streaked with dust and sweat.

"Whoop!  Hooray!" bellowed the newcomers, dashing up to the camp,
letting go a volley of revolver shots right into the ground in front of
the Pony Rider Boys.

Not a boy flinched.

"How!" said Tom Parry.

"How!" roared Bud Stevens, the leader, throwing himself from the back
of his trembling mount.

"Where's the boss?" asked Parry.

"He's gone down Ralston way."

"Thought so.  Where you headed?"

"San Antone Range after more hoss flesh.  We'll rope the white stallion
this time, and don't you forget it.  Eh, kiddie?  You're the little
coyote what roped my pony and plunked me into the street back in
Eureka, ain't you?"

Half jokingly, he swung a vicious blow at Tad with the flat of his
hand.  Had it landed it would have laid the lad flat.

Tad ducked and came up smiling.

"Wow!  The kiddie's a regular little bantam.  We'll have to take a fall
out of you.  Got to give you the desert initiation like they do in the
secret societies back in Eureka."

He sought to close with Tad, but the boy eluded him easily.

"That'll do, Bud," warned the guide, stepping between them.  "No rough
house here.  Want some water?  We've got a water hole right over there."

"Water?  Water?  Call the stuff we get out of the ground here water?"

"He--he's had his head in soak already," piped Stacy, noting the
perspiration dripping from the cowboy leader's face.

Parry gave the lad a warning look.

"They're good enough fellows, but they are full of pranks when they are
not at work.  No need to stir them up and make them mad."

"Got anything to eat?" demanded Bud.

"How would you like some coffee, sir?" asked Tad politely.

"Coffee?" jeered the cowboy.  "Now what d'ye think of that, fellows?
Ain't that right hospitable?"

"Yes, thank you, young man, I guess that would touch the spot," spoke
up another of the band.  "'Course we'll have some coffee."

"All right.  Ned, will you and Walt fix something for the boys to eat?
If you will lead your ponies over to the water hole I'll dip up some
water for them in the meantime, gentlemen."

"Kiddie, yer all right," bellowed Bud Stevens.  "But I've got to take a
fall out of yer yet."

"Some other time," grinned Tad, who felt no fear of the hulking cowboy.

"See that nose?" demanded Bud, sticking out his head at Tad.

"Yes; what's the matter?"

"That's my nose.  And that's where I barked it when you roped my pony
tother day.  Oh, I've got to take it out of yer hide, kiddie."

"Come along.  We'll water the ponies.  Chunky, help lead those bronchos
to the water hole, will you?"

The two boys and the noisy plainsmen gathered the tired animals and led
them to the hole that had been dug in the desert.  Stacy sprang in and
began dipping out pails of water.

Bud grabbed the first pailful, but instead of offering it to one of the
thirsty animals, he deliberately emptied the contents over the head of
the boy down in the hole.

"Hi, there!  Stop that, will you?" howled Stacy Brown.

The fat boy was mad all through.

He scrambled from the hole, dragging a slopping pail of water after
him, while Bud Stevens roared with delight.  But his mirth was
short-lived.

Stacy ran around the hole and straight at the cowboy who had soaked him
with the yellow water.  Up went the pail.

Splash!

The contents of it were hurled full in the face of the wild cowboy, who
at that moment, having his mouth wide open, got a mouthful of it.

The battle was on instantly.  Tad knew it was coming, but he did not
think it would be directed at him this time, though he realized that he
would have to protect his companion at any cost.

Choking and sputtering, Bud made a blind lunge at Tad, his eyes being
so full of muddy water that he could barely make out the slender form
of the Pony Rider Boy.

Tad ducked and dodged, hoping that Stevens would tire of pursuing him
in a moment.  The lad might have called to the others over by the camp,
but he was too proud to do that.  He would fight his own battles, no
matter what the odds were against him.

"I've got to get in," muttered the lad.  "He's seeing clearer every
minute, and the longer I wait the less chance I'll have of getting out
with a whole skin.

"I'm coming, kiddie!" roared Bud.

Tad made no reply.

Stooping as if for a spring, Butler launched himself straight at the
pillar of brawn and muscle before him.  Had he hesitated for the
briefest part of a second--had he permitted those muscular arms to
close about him, Tad Butler would have gone down to a quick and
inglorious defeat.

But he did not wait.

The lad's right arm was brought sharply against the neck of his
adversary, while at the same time his left arm was slipped under the
cowboy's right leg.  The result was that Stevens lurched to the left.
A quick jerk and Bud was fairly lifted from the ground.

Tad gave a quick, forceful tug.

Bud Stevens landed on his head in the pool of yellow water, his feet
beating the air wildly.

[Illustration: Bud Stevens Landed on His Head in the Pool of Yellow
Water]

"Grab hold of a foot, Chunky!" commanded Tad.  "Quick!  He'll drown in
a minute in there."

"Oh, let 'im drown," drawled Stacy, blinking to get the sand out of his
eyes.

"Get hold, I tell you!  I'll thrash you, Stacy Brown, if you don't!"

Stacy reluctantly complied, Tad in the meantime having grasped the
cowboy's foot and began pulling.

"Not that way, Chunky.  Do you want to pull him apart?"

The fat boy was trying to get Bud's right leg out from the opposite
side of the water hole.

The disturbance had by this time attracted the attention of the men
over in the camp.  They started on the run when they saw Bud turned
head first into the water hole.

By the time they reached the scene Tad and Stacy had succeeded in
hauling the victim from his perilous position.  Bud was choking between
roars of rage.  His companions went off into shrieks of laughter when
they understood what had happened.  They rolled on the ground; they
danced about their fallen companion, and then their revolvers began to
add their vicious voices to the tumult.

Tad paid no attention to the uproar.  He was too busy shaking the water
out of his fallen antagonist, to whom he was giving first aid to the
drowning.

Bud staggered to his feet, gasped for breath, while Tad stepped off a
few paces, so as not to be within reach of those long, bony arms,
should Bud decide to stretch them forth and take him in.

"Guess you got all that was coming to you that time, Bud Stevens,"
grinned Tom Parry.  "Served you right.  You'll let those boys alone
after this or you'll have to reckon with me."

Stevens's face was streaked with wet sand, his hair was disheveled and
his clothes stuck to him as if they had been pasted on.

The cowboy's sullen face slowly relaxed into a mirthless grin.

"Say, kiddie, you put it over me like a cactus plant.  I owe you two."

"I'd cancel the debt if I were in your place," laughed the boy.  "Come
along and have a drink of coffee.  It'll warm you up after your swim."



CHAPTER XI

A PIECE OF HUMAN SANDPAPER

An appetizing meal had been spread for the visitors.  But every time
the men glanced at their companion they broke out into loud guffaws.

"You're a sight, Bud," jeered one.

"Next time better take a man of your size," said another.

"Guess that's right," grinned the vanquished one.  "Ye can't most
always tell what a kid's going to do."

"We know what this one did do to you, though," laughed another.

"Reckon I do myself," admitted Stevens.  "Say, kiddie, you come along
with us and try them tricks on the wild hosses we're going to catch.
Mebby I'll forgit to take it out of you.  I'll let the white stallion
do that."

"Thank you; I'll accept that invitation, with Professor Zepplin's
permission."

"We intended to drop in on your bunch, anyway," interposed Parry.  "The
boss has invited us to join a horse hunt with you."

"Better go along with us now, then," suggested Stevens.  "We won't have
no more rough house, leastwise till we get to the San Antone Range, eh?"

"No," replied Parry.  "We have a pack train to drag along.  Besides,
you fellows travel too fast for us.  We'll take our time and join you
later."

The bath and the hot coffee had served to quiet Bud Stevens's bubbling
spirits.  He was by this time a more rational being.

After they had finished the meal Bud drew Tad Butler aside
confidentially.

"Say, kiddie, I like you," he said, slapping the lad a violent blow
between the shoulders.

"Glad of it," laughed Tad.  "But you have a queer way of showing your
affection."

"Say, can you ride?"

"Some," admitted Tad.

"As well as you can fight and throw a rope?"

"I was not aware that I did either one very well."

"Go away!  Go away!  You're a champeen.  I've got a spavined,
ring-boned cayuse over in the range that I'm going to put you up
against when you join us.  He'll give you all the exercise you want----"

"Hey, Bud, ain't it 'bout time we were moseying?" called one of
Stevens's companions.

"I reckon.  Can't be any hotter than 'tis now.  When you going to join
us, Parry?"

"We'll be there in a few days.  But come here; I want to talk with you?"

"Sure thing."

"If we go on a hunt with you, remember there's to be no funny business.
These boys, while they're no tenderfeet, are fine fellows and they must
be treated well.  I'm responsible for them.  What I say goes.
Understand?"

"We'll look out for the kids, don't you get in a hot stew 'bout that."

With a final whoop and a cheer for the members of Tom Parry's party,
the turbulent cowboys put spurs to their ponies.  Once more a cloud of
dust rose from the desert, across which it slowly rolled.  The boys
watched it for half an hour, until the cloud had dwindled to a mere
speck in the distance.

"Not such a bad lot, after all," was the Professor's conclusion.

"Rough diamonds," smiled the guide.

"Are we going on now, Mr. Parry?" asked Tad.

"No; I think we may as well unpack and make camp here until to-morrow
morning.  Then the stock will be fresh, and so shall we."

"The stock looks to be in pretty good shape already," answered Tad.

"Yes; but they will be much better to-morrow.  A day's water and feed
will do wonders for them.  I guess the bunch of horse-hunters made
quite a hole in our fodder, didn't they?"

"There was nothing the matter with their appetites that I observed,"
laughed Tad.  "But we've got enough to last us for some time.  How long
before we shall strike the range where we are to join them?"

Parry glanced off over the desert meditatively.

"If we have no bad luck we ought to make it in three days.  The cowboys
will get there some time to-morrow."

"One of them won't," answered Tad, confidently.

"Why not?"

"His pony is wind-broken.  Didn't you hear him breathe when they rode
in?"

"What, with the bunch howling like a pack of coyotes?  No, I didn't
hear a horse breathe."

"I did," chimed in Stacy.

"Did what?" queried Ned, turning on him sharply.  Rector had not heard
the fat boy approach them.

"Heard the big cowboy breathe.  He wheezed like a leaky steam engine."

Tad and the guide burst out laughing.

"Why, boy, we weren't talking about the cowboy.  We were speaking of
one of the bronchos.  Tad says he is wind-broken."

"Huh!" grunted Stacy, strolling off with hands thrust in his pockets,
chin on his breast.  "When I'm not right I'm always wrong," he
muttered.  "Mostly wrong."

They did not see the lad again for more than an hour.  The rest of the
party gathered under the tent they had first erected, where they now
fell to discussing their late visitors, next turning to their plans for
the morrow.

"Do we follow the same course when we next start?" asked the Professor.

"Not quite.  We veer a little more to the west, until we string the San
Antonio Range.  When we leave there, if you conclude to go on, we shall
head southward toward Death Valley.  I understand you are willing to
penetrate it a little way."

"Yes, if you think it is safe to do so."

Parry shrugged his shoulders.

"Death Valley is no better than its name.  If you wish merely to see
it, I think I can gratify your desire."

"Yes, yes, we want to see Death Valley," chorused the boys.  "Don't be
afraid for us."

"I'll try to get some water bags from the horse-hunters when we join
them; for the further south one goes on the desert the more scarce the
water becomes."

The sun was lying low by this time and the advance guard of the evening
coolness began crowding back the heat of the day.

"I wonder what has become of Chunky?" questioned Tad suddenly, rising
from the ground where he had thrown himself in the shade of the tent.

The others glanced quickly about them.

"Probably find him asleep behind a bunch of sage somewhere," answered
Ned lightly.  "Don't trouble yourself about him."

"Perhaps over by the water hole," suggested the guide.  "I'll stroll
over that way."

Just then a figure topped the ridge beyond them.

It was yelling lustily, leaping into the air, rolling and groveling on
the ground alternately.

"There he is!  Something's happened to him," shouted Walter.

All hands started on a run.  They could not imagine what had gone wrong
with the fat boy.

As they drew nearer to him they discovered that he had taken off all
his clothes.  His body was as red as if it had been painted.

The Professor's long legs were covering the alkali at a pace that left
the others behind, until Tad spurted and headed him.

"Chunky, Chunky!  What's the matter?" he shouted.

Stacy yelled more lustily than ever.

"What is it?  What is it?" shouted the others in chorus.

"I'm burned alive?  I'm cremated!  Oh, w-o-w!"

"Should think you would he.  What on earth have you got your clothes
off for?"

They discovered that something was the matter then, for an expression
of real pain had taken the place of the complacent look they were wont
to see on the face of Stacy Brown.

"He's been boiling himself!" exclaimed the guide, with quick intuition.

Grasping the fat boy, Parry threw him flat on the ground and began
rolling him in the sand.  Stacy yelled more lustily than before.

"Run to my saddlebags.  Fetch the black bottle you will find there!"
commanded the guide.  "It's oil, yes.  Hurry, before his skin all peels
off."

Tad was back with the black bottle in no time.  Tom Parry spread the
oil over the blistered flesh of the fat boy, whose yells grew less and
less explosive as he felt the soothing effects of the grease on his
body.

"Wha--what happened?" stammered Walter.

"I--I fell in."

"In where?" questioned the Professor sharply.

"I don't know.  It was hot."

"Put your clothes on.  You'll be all right in a little while.  Where
did you leave them?"

Stacy pointed back on the desert some distance, whereat Parry
laughingly said he would go in search of the clothing.

"Now if you will be good enough to tell me what all this uproar is
about, I shall be obliged to you," requested the Professor.

"Why, the boy found a boiling spring----"

"And he fell in," added Ned solemnly.

"He did," agreed the guide, without the suspicion of a smile.

"Is that it, Master Stacy?"

Stacy nodded.

"Tell me about it."

"I--I was walking along with my hands in my pockets----"

"Thinking," interjected Ned.

"What'd you suppose I was doing!  Ain't I always thinking when I'm not
asleep?"

"Go on, go on," urged Ned unsympathetically.

"All at once something slipped.  I went right through the ground.  At
first I thought I was a pond of ice water, it felt so cold.  Next thing
I knew I was burning up."

"But your clothes?  What did you have them off for?" urged the
Professor.

"I took them off when I thought I was burning up.  Say, fellows, that
was the hottest ice water I ever took a bath in my life."

The boys could barely resist their inclination to laugh.

"Why don't you laugh if you want to?  Never mind me.  I don't count,"
growled Chunky.

Parry explained that these boiling springs were not infrequent on the
desert.  They were found, generally, further north, he said.  This one
must have worked its way up through the alkali until only a thin crust
covered it, and this crust the boy had had the misfortune to step on
and break through.

"You wouldn't think there were so many pitfalls under this baked
desert, would you?" questioned Ned.

"I look like a piece of human sandpaper, don't I?" muttered Stacy
ruefully, as he carefully drew on his clothes.  "Every time I sit down
I'll remember that hot ice water."



CHAPTER XII

RUNNING DOWN THE TRAIL

"Thank goodness, we're in the foothills," sighed Tad, when three days
later they came to a halt at the base of the San Antonio Range far down
on the Nevada Desert.

"Yes, it is a relief to see some real rocks once more," agreed Walter.
"Chunky, look out that you don't step into any more ice water.  You'll
miss the horse-hunt if you do."

"No danger of that up here," laughed the guide.

Behind them lay the desert maze, to the right and left, mountain
ranges, high plateaux, mesas and buttes.  Giant yucca trees, short,
spreading piñon and spindling cedars clothed the higher peaks of the
San Antonio Range.

Trees, too, were scattered about in the foothills, and though they gave
little shade it was a relief to every sense of the Pony Riders to feel
the hills and trees about them.

There, with what little shade they could get, the lads made camp.  As
yet they had found no water, though Parry said there would be springs
in plenty further up in the mountains.  The bags still held enough to
last them until the following day, so no effort was made to locate
fresh water that afternoon.

Stacy had thrown himself down under one of the yucca trees, but the
late afternoon sun filtered through the branches, making his face look
red and heated.

"You don't seem to be getting much shade from that tree," laughed the
guide.

"'Bout as much as I would from a barbed wire fence," frowned Stacy.

"What do you know about barbed-wire fences?" demanded Ned.

"Me?  Know all 'bout them.  One night I had a falling out with one,
when I was taking a short cut across the fields to get home."

"How about the apples?  Did you get them?" asked Tad.

"Apples?  What do you know 'bout it?  Were you there, too?"

A laugh greeted the fat boy's reply.

"Come, come, young men.  Are you going to make camp?" urged the
Professor.

"Didn't know we were going to remain here to-night," replied Walter.
"Of course we're going to make camp if that's the case.  It'll be a
good time to shake the alkali dust out of our belongings and from
ourselves."

"I haven't got any dust," piped Stacy.  "I--I had a bath--a hot bath."

"Are we anywhere near the horse-hunters, Mr. Parry?" inquired Tad, as
the boys began unpacking the burros, some devoting their attention to
the kitchen outfit, the rest spreading the canvas on the ground
preparatory to erecting the tents.

"They are supposed to be further up the range.  They will be down this
way to-morrow, probably, to pick us up.  They were not certain where
they would make their permanent camp, Stevens said.  All depends upon
where the wild horses are grazing."

"I don't see any wild horses, nor any other wild anything," objected
Ned.

The guide dropped the ridge pole that he was about to carry to the
place where the cook tent had been laid out ready to be raised.

"Come with me," he said, taking Ned by the arm and leading him to the
left of their camping place.  "Do you see that?"

"What?"

"Use your eyes.  If you're going to be a plainsman you'll have to
depend on your sense of sight.  Take the desert for instance.  It's a
desert maze if you are unable to read its signs; no maze at all if you
do."

"What is it you were going to show Ned?" asked the rest of the boys,
who had followed them out.

"See if you can tell, Master Tad."

But Master Tad had already been using his eyes.  He nodded as he caught
the guide's eye.

"There has been a bunch of unshod ponies along here, if that is what
you mean," he said.

"How do you know?" demanded Stacy.

"I see their tracks there.  Saw them the minute I got over here."

"Maybe that's the crowd that called at our camp the other day,"
suggested Walter.

The guide shook his head.

"There was no one on these horses," said Tad.

"Right," emphasized the guide.  "That's observation, young men.  You
will notice, by examining these hoofprints carefully, that the weight
of the animal is thrown more on the toe----"

"How do you know that?" cut in Stacy.

"Because the toe sinks into the soil more than it would if the animals
were loaded.  In the latter event, the heels would dig deeper.  Now if
you will follow along a little further I may be able to show you the
hoofprints of the leader of the band of wild horses, for that is what
they are----"

"Wild horses?" marveled the boys.

"Wish we could see them," said Tad.

"I'll wager they have seen us already, for they surely are in this
neighborhood," replied Parry.  "But a wild horse is as sharp as an old
fox.  The herd have been down in the foothills and, by the hoofprints,
you will observe that they have returned to the mountain fastness."

"Perhaps they saw us coming," suggested Tad.

"More than likely," agreed the guide.  "They were in a hurry and moving
rapidly--there!  There's the leader's trail.  Look carefully and you
will see where he leaped up to this little butte here.  Reaching it, he
turned about and took a quick, comprehensive look at the desert."

"And at us," added Stacy.

"Yes, I think so.  Come up here.  You see this little ridge gave him a
very good view of the desert maze.  See if you can tell how many wild
horses there were in the bunch," suggested Tom Parry.

Instantly the boys went down on all fours, crawling along the trail
seeking to read the story that it told.

"Well, how many?" queried the guide, after they had finished their
inspection.

"Fifty!" shouted Stacy.

"Forty-five!" answered Ned and Walter at the same time.

"What do you say, Master Tad?"

"I am afraid I must have missed some, then.  I only make out twenty-one
old ones and a colt.  I take it the old mare was with the colt, for the
prints show that the little animal was hugging the other closely," was
Tad's decision.

"Very good.  Very good," nodded Parry.  "There were twenty-two.  You
didn't get the trailer, probably an old mare.  She traveled along off
to the right yonder a little.  But I should like to know how you made
fifty, Master Stacy!" twinkled the guide.

"Counted 'em," answered the fat boy.

"Show me?"

Stacy did so, going over the hoofprints carefully, pointing to them
with his index finger as he did so, the guide making mental
calculations at the same time.

"And that makes fifty--fifty--fifty-four this time.  There's more of
them than I thought."

Parry laughed softly.

"I'm afraid you'd make a poor Indian, young man.  You not only have
counted the hoof-prints, but you have counted the foot marks of
yourself and your companions as well.  Master Tad, let me see if you
can run the trail up the mountain side a little way.  It will be good
practice.  I want you boys to be able to follow a trail as keenly as
the best of them before you have finished this trip.  You never know
when it's going to be useful--when it's going to get you out of serious
difficulties, even to the extent of saving your lives."

Tad was off on a trot, stooping well over, with eyes fixed on the foot
marks.

"Tad could hunt jack rabbits without a dog, couldn't he?" questioned
Stacy innocently.  His companions laughed.

"Is that a joke?" asked Ned.  "If it is, I'll cry.  Your jokes would
make a Texas steer weep."

Tad was picking his way up the rough mountain side, now losing the
trail, then picking it up again.  The marks left by the wild horses
were almost indistinguishable after the animals had reached the rocks,
but here and there a broken twig told the lad they had passed that way.

Once he appeared to leave the trail, moving sharply to the right, where
on a shelving ridge, he straightened up and looked down into the valley.

Tom Parry nodded encouragingly.

"Know what you've found?"

"Yes, this is where the leader came to make another observation,"
answered Tad.

"That's right.  He's a plainsman already, boys.  Go on.  Run the trail
up to the top of this first ridge.  It will not be a bad idea for us to
know which way they've gone.  If the hunters don't show up by to-morrow
we can take a little run after the herd on our own hook."

Tad obeyed gladly.  Every sense was on the alert.  The rest of the boys
were all impatience to take part in the hunt.  But the guide said no.
He feared that, if all were to start up the mountain side, their
enthusiasm might lead them too far from camp, resulting in their losing
their way.  He knew how tricky the trail of a band of wild horses was,
the clever animals leaving no ruse untried that would tend to mix up
and lose their pursuers.

Tad's figure was growing smaller as he ascended higher and higher.

"You don't mean to say that horses climbed up the way he is going!"
questioned Walter incredulously.

"That's the way they went, my boy.  They 're regular goats when it
comes to mountain climbing.  They'll go where a man could not,
oftentimes."

Tad crept, cautiously on, now finding little to guide him, save his own
instinct.  He finally disappeared behind the rocks and trees of the
low-lying range.

The lad was moving almost noiselessly now.  A sound a short distance
beyond him caused him to prick up his ears sharply.

"I believe I am near them," he breathed, as he glanced about him.  "Why
did I not think to bring my rope?"

It was just as well for his own well-being, that he had not brought
along that part of his saddle equipment.  He was following the trail
with the skill of a trained mountaineer.  An Indian himself could have
done it no better.

Perhaps the guide understood, better than did Tad himself, why he had
started the lad on the trail, for a quiet smile hung about the lips of
Tom Parry.  All at once his twinkling eyes lit up with a new expression.

"Look!  Look!" gasped Walter.

"Where?  Where?" demanded Ned.

Walter pointed to a pyramid-shaped rock far above their heads.

At first they could scarcely believe their senses.  There poised in the
air, feet doubled into a bunch, stood a splendid specimen of
horse-flesh, resting, it seemed, fairly on the sharp point of the rock,
gazing down into and across the valley.

"The white stallion," breathed the lads all in the same breath.

The magnificent animal was a creamy white.  Its head was held high,
nostrils distended as if to catch the scent of those for whom it was
looking.  Beneath the rays of the low lying sun, its coat glistened and
shone with a luster that no brush or comb could bring to it.

The lads gazed upon the beautiful statue almost in awe.

They were standing quite close up under the shadow of the mountain at
that moment.

"Why doesn't he run?" whispered Walter.

"Do you think he sees us?" asked Ned.

"No.  Stand perfectly still."

"Why doesn't he?  All he would have to do would be to look down?"
questioned Stacy.

"He scents us.  He knows we are somewhere near.  But, if you will
observe him closely, you will notice that he is looking at the camp.
He sees the Professor moving about," explained Parry.

"Do--do you think we could catch him?" asked Ned eagerly.

"The most skillful men in this part of the country have been trying to
do that very thing for the last five years, my boy," answered the guide
in a low tone.  "No, you couldn't catch him.  He's the finest animal to
be found in the entire Nevada Desert district.  Wouldn't mind owning
him myself."

In the meantime Tad had been creeping nearer and nearer.  He soon
discovered that the leader of the band had swerved to the left.  He
concluded to follow, to see where the solitary animal had gone to.  But
so quietly did the lad move that the stallion neither heard nor scented
him.

All at once the wonderful sight unfolded before the eyes of Tad Butler.
He flattened himself on the ground, within thirty yards of the splendid
animal.

Suddenly the stallion whirled.  Tad rose to his feet, The two stood
facing each other, Tad with head thrust forward, the stallion with
nostrils held high in the air.

"Oh, my rope, my rope!" breathed the boy.  "If I had my rope!"



CHAPTER XIII

COYOTES JOIN IN THE CHORUS

Those down in the foothills saw the animal whirl and face the other way.

"He sees something," cried Walter, forgetting in his excitement that
they were trying to keep quiet.

"Yes, he has probably scented Master Tad," explained the guide.

"Think he'll try to catch the horse?" asked Stacy.

"Hope not.  Those wild horses are bad medicine.  No, of course, he has
no rope with him.  But he'll be wise if he keeps out of the way of the
beast."

Tad had no thought of doing either.  He stood perfectly still, gazing
in awe and wonder at the handsomest horse he had ever seen.

The stallion's eyes blazed.  He uttered a loud snort, then rose right
up into the air on his hind feet.  One bound brought him many feet
nearer the boy who was observing him.  It was the only direction in
which the stallion could go without plunging into a chasm.

"Whoa!" commanded Tad sharply.

The white horse never having been trained, failed to understand the
word, but he halted just the same, gazing angrily at the bold boy
standing there, who, it appeared, was defying him.

Uttering another snort, this time full of menace, the animal leaped
straight toward the lad in long, graceful bounds.

Tad threw up his hands to frighten the stallion aside.  The animal,
however, refused to be swerved from its course.

"He's going to run over me," cried the boy, as he noted that the horse
was rising for another leap.

Tad ducked just as the beast sprang clear of the ground.  He felt the
rush of air as the gleaming body was lifted over his head, the boy at
the instant uttering a shrill yell to hasten the stallion's movements.

The front hoofs caught the rim of the Pony Rider Boy's sombrero,
snipping it from his head.  The hind feet came closer.  They raked
Tad's head, bowling him completely over, rolling him from the knoll on
which he had been standing.

He brought up with a jolt some ten feet further down.  Tad scrambled to
his feet a little dizzy from the blow and the fall.

"Whew!  That was a close call," he muttered, feeling his head to learn
if it had been injured.

"No; the skin isn't broken, but I'm going to have a beautiful goose egg
there," he concluded.  "It's swelling already.  If I'd had my rope I
could have roped him easily when he rose at me that last time."

Scrambling up the bank, Tad found his hat.  Then he picked his way to
the pyramid-shaped rock on which he had first discovered the stallion.

Poising himself, he swung his sombrero to his companions down in the
foothills.

"Hurrah!" he shouted.  "I met the enemy.  I've seen the white stallion,
fellows!"

"Is the enemy yours?" jeered Ned Rector.

"No; I rather think I was his," laughed Tad, turning back and hurrying
down the rocks to rejoin his companions.

He was met by a volley of questions the moment he reached the
foothills.  With his companions gathered about him, Tad told them how
he had followed the trail, finally coming upon the handsome animal
while the latter was taking an observation from the pyramid-shaped rock.

"It's a wonder he didn't attack you," said the guide after the lad had
finished his narration.  "Those wild stallions are very savage when
aroused."

"I guess he tried to do so all right," laughed Tad.

"I knew he was up there somewhere, watching us, but I did not think for
a minute that you would get close enough to him to be in any danger,"
announced Tom Parry, with a disapproving shake of his head.

"I could have roped him easily," said the lad.

"Lucky for you that you didn't try it.  It's getting late now.  I
presume the Professor is beginning to think we are not going to finish
pitching our camp.  Come, we'll go back and get to work."

The work went rather slowly, however, for the lads were too full of the
subject of the wild stallion to devote their whole attention to putting
their camp to rights for the night.  Then again, they had to go all
over the story for the Professor's benefit.

"Do you think we could catch one of these wild ones to take back East
with us?" asked Tad.

"You couldn't catch one yourself, but you might be able to buy one for
a small sum from the horse-hunters," the guide informed him.

"How much?"

"Depends on the animal.  Perhaps twenty or twenty-five dollars."

"Then, I'll do it.  I could get him home for as much more, and he'd be
worth at least two hundred dollars.  Perhaps I might take two of them
along, providing I can get what I want."

"You ought to be a horseman," laughed the guide.  "You've got the
horseman's instinct."

"He is a horseman," volunteered Stacy.  "There aren't any better."

"Thank you," glowed Tad.  "I'll pull you out next time you fall in, for
that."

They were very jolly at supper that night.  They had nothing to trouble
them.  Water was near by and they were soon to participate in the most
exciting event in their lives, a wild-horse hunt.

"Do you think they will be able to find us!" questioned Walter.

"Who, the horses?" returned Ned.

"I hope they do," laughed the guide.  "No; Master Walter means Bud
Stevens and the gang.  Find us?  Why, those fellows could trail a cat
across the Desert Maze if they happened to take a notion to do so."

There being plenty of dry stuff about, the boys built up a blazing
camp-fire as soon as night came on.  Gathering about it they told
stories and sang songs.

"I move that Stacy Chunky Brown favor us with a selection," suggested
Ned.  "He has a very rare voice--an underdone voice some might call it."

"Yes, Chunky," urged Walter.  "You haven't sung for us since we
started."

"Me?  I can't sing.  Besides it might scare the wild horses," protested
Stacy.

"I guess there's no doubt about that.  But we'll take the chances."

"Yes, do sing, Chunky," added Walter.  "It may soften Ned's hard heart."

Stacy cocked an impish eye at Ned Rector.

"All right, I'll sing," decided the fat boy, clearing his throat.

"Stand up," thundered Ned.  "Have some respect for the audience."

Stacy stood up.

"What are you going to favor us with?" questioned Tad.

"It's a little thing of my own," grinned Stacy.  "Hope you'll like it."

"Oh, we'll like it all right," chuckled Ned.  "The audience will please
refrain from applauding until the performer finishes."

"What's the name of the piece?" demanded Walter.

"Hasn't been named.  You can name it if you wish."

"Go ahead, go ahead.  Never mind the name," chorused the lads.

Stacy surveyed the upturned, laughing faces of his companions and then
launched out in a shrill soprano:

  It's all day long on the alka-li,
  Where the coyotes howl and the wells run dry,
  Where the badgers badge in the water holes,
  And the twisters twist the old tent poles--
        Right up from the alka-li.


"Yeow!" shrieked the Pony Rider Boys.

"It's a new poet.  Hurrah for the poet lariat!" shouted Ned Rector,
jumping up and down, slapping his thighs in his amusement.

"Go on, give us another verse," laughed the guide.  "That's real po'try
that is."

"Is there another verse?" cried Walter.

Chunky nodded solemnly.

"Hush!  He is going to sing some more," cautioned Tad Butler, holding
up his hand for silence.

"Ahem," began Stacy.  Throwing back his head he began again:

  When the wind blows high o'er the Desert Maze,
  And sand in your eyes interferes with your gaze,
  Then the Pony Rider Boys they lose their pants;
  Don't dare sit down for fear of the ants--
        That hide in the alka-li.


Stacy sat down blinking, solemn as an owl.  But if he was solemn his
companions were quite the opposite.  The boys formed a ring about him,
and between their yells of appreciation, began dancing around in a
circle shouting out in chorus the last two lines of the second verse:

  Don't dare sit down for fear of the ants--
        That hide in the alka-li.


Professor Zepplin and Tom Parry were laughing immoderately, but their
voices could not be heard above the uproar made by the joyous Pony
Riders.  No such carnival of fun probably ever had disturbed the
foothills of the San Antonio range, nor extended so far out over the
maze of the great Nevada Desert.

"Sing it again!  Sing it again!" commanded the boys.

They hauled the protesting Chunky to his feet, stood him on a box of
pickled pigs' feet, compelling him to begin the song all over again.

  "It's all day long on the alka-li.
  Where the coyotes howl and----"


"Ki-i-i-i-o-o-o!  Ki-i-i-i-o-o-o-ki!  K-i-i-i-o-o-ki!"

A long wailing sound--a dismal howl, suddenly cut short the joyous
ditty.

"What's that!"

"Ki-i-i-i-o-o-o!  Ki-i-i-i-o-o-ki!"

"Coyotes," laughed the guide.

There seemed to be hundreds of them.  From every peak in the range
their mournful voices were protesting.

All at once out in the black maze of the desert another bunch of them
began their weird wailing.

"We're surrounded," announced the Professor.

"Shall we get the guns?" asked Walter.

"No, they're expressing their indignation at Chunky's song," jeered Ned.

"Let 'em howl.  I don't care.  If they don't stop I'll sing some more,"
threatened the fat boy.



CHAPTER XIV

FUN IN THE FOOTHILLS

The Professor found difficulty even in driving the lads to their beds
that night.  When they did finally tumble in and pull the blankets over
them they were unable to sleep, between the howling of the coyotes and
their laughter over Stacy Brown's new-found talent.

"They'll go away when the moon comes up," called the guide when the
boys protested that the beasts kept them awake.

"Why can't we shoot at them?" asked Stacy.

"It will alarm the wild horses," said the guide.  "We don't want to
chase them off the range.  Neither would the horse-hunters like it if
we were to begin shooting."

"Go to sleep!" commanded the Professor.

Then the boys settled down.  After a time the moon came up, but instead
of quieting the coyotes it seemed to have urged them on to renewed
efforts.  They grew bolder.  They approached the camp until a circle of
them surrounded it.

Out of Stacy Brown's tent crept a figure in its night clothes.  It was
none other than Stacy himself.  In one hand he held a can of condensed
milk that he had smuggled from the commissary department that afternoon.

He wriggled along in the shadow of a slight rise of ground until he had
approached quite near the beasts.  He could see them plainly now and
Stacy's eyes looked like two balls.

The animals would elevate their noses in the air, and, as if at a
prearranged signal, all would strike the first note of their mournful
wail at identically the same instant.

Suddenly the figure of the Pony Rider Boy rose up before them, right in
the middle of one of the unearthly wails.

"Boo!" said Stacy explosively, at the same time hurling the can of
condensed milk full in the face of the coyote nearest to him.

His aim was true.  The can landed right between the eyes of the animal.
The coyote uttered a grunt of surprise, hesitated an instant, then,
with tail between his legs, bounded away with a howl of fear.

"Yeow!  Scat!" shrieked the fat boy.

The whole pack turned tail and ran with Stacy after them in full
flight, headed for the desert.

Tom Parry, aroused by this new note in the midnight medley, tumbled out
just in time to see Stacy disappearing over the ridge.  The guide was
followed quickly by the other three boys of the party and Professor
Zepplin.

"Hey, come back here!" shouted Parry.

The fat boy paid no attention to him.  He was too busy chasing coyotes
across the desert at that moment to give heed to anything else.

"Get after him, boys!  If he falls they're liable to pile on him and
chew him up before we can get to him!" commanded the guide.

Over the ridge bounded the pajama brigade.  The coyotes, frightened
beyond their power of reasoning, if such a faculty was possessed by
them, were now no more than so many black streaks lengthening out
across the desert.

The lads set up a whoop as they started on the chase after their
companion.

"Rope him, somebody!" shouted Parry.

"Haven't any rope," answered Tad, with a muttered "Ouch!" as his
big-toe came in contact with the can of condensed milk.

Laughing and shouting, they soon came up with Stacy, however, because
he could not run as fast as the other boys.  Tad caught up with him
first, and the two lads went down together.  In another minute the rest
of the party had piled on the heap.

"Get up!" shouted Tad.  "Somebody's standing on my neck."

"Yes, and--and you've pushed my face into the desert," came the muffled
voice of Chunky Brown.

Laughing and all talking at once, the knot was slowly untied.  Two of
them grabbed the fat boy under the arms, while a third got between the
lad's feet and picked them up, much as one would the handles of a
wheelbarrow.  In that manner they triumphantly carried Stacy back to
the camp.

Reaching his tent, they threw the fat boy into his bed.

The tall, gaunt figure of the Professor appeared suddenly at the tent
entrance.  Some of the boys darted by him, the others crawling out
under the sides of the tent, all making a lively sprint for their own
quarters.

"Young men, the very next one who raises a disturbance in this camp
to-night is going to get a real old-fashioned trouncing.  Not having
any slipper, I'll use my shoe.  Do you hear?"

Not a voice answered him, but as he strode away the moon-like face of
Stacy Brown might have been seen peering out at him.  Quiet reigned in
the camp of the Pony Rider Boys for several hours after that.  Yet they
were destined not to pass the night without a further disturbance,
though the Professor did not use his shoe to chastise the noisy ones.

It lacked only a few hours to daylight when the second interruption
occurred.  And when it arrived it was even more startling than had been
the fat boy's chase of the cowardly coyotes.

There was a sudden sound of hoof-beats.

"Ki-yi!  Ki-yi!" shrieked a chorus of voices.

A volley of shots was fired as an accompaniment to the startling yells.
A moment later and a body of horsemen dashed into camp, which they had
easily located by the smouldering camp-fire.

The Pony Rider Boys were out of their tents in a twinkling.

"Wow!" piped Stacy.

Bang!  Bang!

Two bullets flicked the dirt up into his face.  Bud Stevens and his
companions were in a playful mood again.

"Hey, you!  Better look out where you're shooting to!" warned Stacy.

Bud let go another volley.

"The Professor'll take you over his knee and chastise you with his
shoe, if you don't watch sharp," said Stacy.

"Come out of that.  Where's the kiddie?  I want to see my kiddie!"
laughed Bud Stevens.

By this time, with his companions, he had dismounted, turning the
ponies loose to roam where they would.  The whole camp, aroused by the
shouting and shooting, had turned out after pulling on their trousers
and shoes.  Tom Parry, piling fresh fuel on the embers of the
camp-fire, soon had the scene brightly lighted.  There was no more
sleep in camp that night.  Professor Zepplin accepted the new
disturbance with good grace.

"We're going to eat breakfast with you," Bud Stevens informed them.

"That's right.  What we have is free," answered the Professor
hospitably.

"That's what I was telling the bunch," nodded Bud.  "Our chuck wagon'll
be along when it gets here.  We've got a schooner with six lazy mules
toting it down along the edge of the foothills.  If it ever gets here
we'll stock you up with enough fodder to last you the rest of your
natural lives."

"A schooner, did you say?" questioned Stacy, edging closer to the
cowboy.

"Yep; schooner."

"Where's the water?"

"Say, moon-face, didn't you ever hear tell of a prairie schooner!"

Chunky shook his head.

"Well, you've got something coming to you, then," replied Bud, turning
to the others again.

"When do you start your horse-hunt?  I presume that's the purpose of
your visit here?" asked the Professor.

"Yep.  Soon as the wagon gets here with the trappings.  After breakfast
we'll look around a bit.  Been some of them through here to-day, I see."

"Yes, how did you know that!" questioned Tad.

"We crossed the trail just at the edge of the camp here when we came
in.  Didn't you see them?"

"We saw one of them and the tracks of the rest----"

"Yes, we--we--we saw the white horse----"

"The Angel?" demanded Bud, interested at once.

"I don't know whether you'd call it an angel or not.  It struck me that
it was quite the opposite," laughed Tad.  "It was a white stallion, and
when I got in its way it just bowled me over and rolled me down the
hill----"

"The white stallion, fellows," nodded Bud.  "I told you so.  Come
along, kiddie, and show me that trail.  I'll tell you in a minute if
he's the one."

Tad took the horse-hunter to the trail that he had followed up the
mountain side.  Bud lighted match after match, by the light of which he
ran over the confusion of hoofprints.  Finally he paused over one
particular spot, and with a frown peered down upon it.

"That's him.  That's the Angel," he emphasized.

"Why do you call him that?"

"Because of two things," answered Bud.  "First place, he's white.
That's the color angels is supposed to be, most of 'em says.  Then, if
you'll look at his hoof-mark, you'll see the frog is shaped like a
heart.  More angel.  Then again--that's three times, ain't it?--he's
got a temper like angels ain't supposed to have."

"So I have observed," agreed Tad, with a laugh.

"And that's why we call him the Angel.  We'll get the old gentleman
this time or break every cinch strap in the outfit."

There was rejoicing among the horse-hunters when they heard that it was
indeed the Angel himself whose trail they had come upon.

"He's got the finest bunch of horse flesh with him that you'll find
anywhere on the desert," averred another.  "Old Angel won't travel with
any scarecrows in his band.  He's proud as a peacock with a new spread
of tail feathers."

"S'pose you don't know how many there are in the band, eh, kiddie?"
questioned Bud.

"Twenty-one and a colt," answered Tad promptly.

"Oho!  So--but Tom Parry told you, of course."

"Tom Parry didn't," objected the guide.  "Master Tad read the trail
himself."

"Shake," glowed Bud, extending his hand to Tad.  "You're the right sort
for this outfit.  We'll let you help point the bunch into the corral
when we get them going.  You'll see stars before you get through with
that job--stars that ain't down on the sky-pilot's chart."

"It won't be the first time, Mr. Stevens.  I've seen enough of them to
make a Fourth of July celebration, already."

Just after breakfast, to which the camp had sat down at break of day,
the horse-hunters began their preliminary work.  Bud directed two of
his men to work south, two more to ride north, while he would take the
center of the range.

"What I want," he explained to the boys, "is to find where the wild
horses are waterin' these days.  They've been around these parts for
more than two weeks, so we know they've got a nice cold water hole
somewhere."

"What were they doing on the desert?" asked Walter.  "I thought they
had just come across."

"No; they were out for a play.  That shows they had had plenty to eat
and drink.  Professor, I think I'll take the kiddie along with me,"
announced Bud, much to Tad's surprise, and, judging from the expression
of the lad's face, pleasure, as well.

Professor Zepplin glanced at the guide inquiringly.  Parry nodded his
head.

"He'll be all right."

"Yes, you may go, Tad.  But be careful.  Don't let him get into any
difficulties, Mr. Stevens.  He's a venturesome lad."

"Guess he's able to wiggle out of anything he gets into," grinned the
horse-hunter.  "Come along; take a hunch on your cinch straps, a chunk
of grub in your pocket; then we're ready to find where the Angel washes
his face every morning and night."

Tad lost no time in getting ready for the trip to trail the wild horses
to their lair, and in a few moments the horse-hunters rode from the
camp, followed by the envious glances of the Pony Rider Boys.

"Wish I were going along," muttered Chunky ruefully, as he turned his
back on them and gazed off across the desert.



CHAPTER XV

BUD PROMISES SOME EXCITEMENT

The horse-hunter and his young companion laid their course at right
angles to the reach of the range.

The trail rose slowly to pass between low buttes, leading on under the
great spreading Joshua trees that capped the range itself.  Off to the
east and south of them, plainly exposed to view, lay the yellow stretch
of the Ralston Valley that went on and on until it eventually
terminated in Death Valley.  The dry lake beds in the desert, looked,
with the sun shining on them, like great pearls set in the Desert Maze.
Tad thought they were water, but Bud Stevens informed him that they
were filled with water only after a heavy thunderstorm, or in the early
spring.

"You ought to have come down here earlier in the season," he told the
lad.  "It's a pretty bad time to cross the desert now."

"Yes, we know that.  But we are not looking for easy trips," laughed
the lad.

As they moved slowly along, the cowboy horse-hunter explained many of
the secrets of the trail to his young companion, as well as describing
horse-hunts in which he had taken part in the past.

"But I don't understand why they have come all the way across the
desert to get into this range?" said Tad.  "Why did they not remain on
the other side where, I understand, there is plenty of forage?"

"It's a peculiar thing, kiddie, but hosses, wild or tame are like human
beings in some ways.  They like to get back home."

"What do you mean?"

"Wild horses always will go back to the range where they were born.
Sometimes they run away from the range ahead of a storm; sometimes they
are captured and taken away.  But if they ever get the chance, back
they go to the place where they were born.  Angel was born in this
range, and so were most of the mares and others that have come over
with him.  When a halfbreed Cherokee came into camp and told us the
band of horses was seen stretched out on the mesa on the other side, I
knew they were getting ready to hike across the desert, so we prepared
to come here."

Tad was listening intently.  All this was new to him and much of it not
entirely understandable.

"Did you ever notice how animals act before a big storm?" asked Bud.

"No; I can't say that I have."

"Next time you see a lot of horses stretched out on the ground on their
sides, heads close to the ground, all looking as if they were asleep,
you'll know there's a big storm coming."

"Why do they do that?"

"I don't know, unless it is to rest themselves thoroughly before
running away from the storm that they know is coming."

"How do they know a storm is coming, unless they can see it?" marveled
the boy.

"Kiddie, you'll have to ask the horses.  Bud Stevens don't know--nobody
knows.  A fellow with whiskers and wearing spectacles one of--of them
scientific gents--told me once that it was a kind of wireless
telegraph, that newfangled way of sending ghost messages.  Said they
got it in the air.  Mebby they do; I don't know.  They get it.
Sometimes you'll see the colts running up and down.  That's another
sign of storm."

"That's strange.  I never heard it before," mused the lad.

"And speaking of colts, did you ever know that sometimes a band of
horses will take a great fancy to a frisky young colt?"

"No."

"Yes.  They'll follow the colt for days, with their eyes big and full
of admiration for the awkward critter.  And they'll fight for him too.
But 'tisn't often necessary, 'cause very few horses will bother a colt.
Ever see a hoss fight?"

Tad admitted that he had not.

"Ought to see one.  It's the liveliest scrimmage that you ever set eyes
on.  Beats that one back there on the desert, when you plunked me on my
head in a water hole.  Jimminy! but you did dump me proper," grinned
the cowboy.

"Hope you don't lay it up against me," laughed Tad.

"No.  Got all over that.  I got what was coming to me--coming on the
run.  Say, got the trail on your side there?  They seem to have
shuffled over to the northward a bit."

"Yes, I'm riding on their footprints now."

"That's all right then.  Don't want to let it get away from us."

"Where do you think they are heading, Mr. Stevens?"

"For the mesas up the range further.  There's plenty of grazing there
and there must be water close by.  What we want to do, to-day, is to
locate them and find out just where they go for their water.  Then,
when the schooner gets down to your camp, we'll haul our outfit up in
the range and build a corral to drive them into."

"Do you always make a capture?"

"Us?  No.  Sometimes the leaders of the band are too smart for us.
They beat us proper.  Why, they're sharper than a Goldfield real estate
man, and those fellows would make you believe an alkali desert was a
pine forest."

"Look there!" interrupted Tad, pointing.

"What is it, kiddie?" demanded the horse-hunter, pulling up sharply.

"One of the horses, I think it must be the leader, seems to have left
the trail here and started off at right angles."

Stevens rode over to the other side of Tad, and gazed down, his
forehead wrinkling in a frown.

"Yes, that's the Angel.  Don't know what he's side-tracked himself here
for.  He can't see far, so it was not an observation that he was about
to take.  He's either seen or scented something.  Hold my pony while I
take a look."

The cowboy dismounted, striding rapidly away with gaze fixed on the
trail ahead of him.  A few moments later he returned.

"Find anything?" asked Tad.

"The big one scented something, or thought he did."

"But where did he go?"

"Turned just beyond here and followed along the same way the others
were going.  You'll find his trail joining ours after we get on a
piece.  I'd like to know what he thought he smelled," mused Bud.

"I didn't know horses could scent a person or thing like that."

"What, horses?  Wild horses have got a scent that's keener than a
coyote's."

"There's the white stallion's trail again," exclaimed the lad.

Bud nodded.  "Told you he'd come back."

For the next hour they rode along without anything of incident
occurring, Tad constantly adding to his store of knowledge regarding
mountain and plain.  The lad was himself a natural plainsman and proved
himself an apt pupil.

All at once Bud pulled up his pony sharply and studied the ground.

"What is it?" questioned Tad.

"We've struck luck for sure.  Boy, I'll show you something that'll make
your eyes stick out so you can hang your hat on them," cried the cowboy
exultingly.

"You--you mean we have come upon the wild horses?" asked the lad.

"Yes, and more.  Come this way and I'll show you.  See this trail?"

Tad nodded.

"Well, it was made by another band of horses."

The announcement did not strike Tad as especially significant.

"They headed for the mesas, too?"

"Looks that way," grinned Bud.  "And they're headed for trouble at the
same time.  There's going to be music in the air pretty soon, kiddie,
and you and I want to be on hand to hear the first tune."

Tad gazed at him questioningly.

"This second bunch of horses is led by a big black stallion known to
the hunters as Satan.  He's up to his name too.  He's one of the most
vicious cayuses on the open range.  Don't you see what this trail
means?"

The lad confessed that he did not.

"It means that Satan is on the trail of the Angel.  When Satan and the
Angel meet there'll be the worst scrap you ever heard of, kiddie."

"Will they fight?"

"Will they fight?" scoffed Bud Stevens.  "Guess you never saw two wild
stallions mix it up."

"No."

"There's bad blood between Satan and the Angel and there has been for a
long time.  The black stallion has been on the white one's trail for
more than a year.  I don't know what it's all about, but I know that,
if they come up with each other, there is going to be trouble.  If they
don't look out we'll bag the whole bunch.  I wish our outfit was here.
I suppose we ought to hustle back and get ready for the drive, but I'm
going to see Satan and the Angel meet, if it's the last thing I ever
do.  Come on--we'll have to ride fast."

Putting spurs to their ponies, they set off at a fast pace over the
uneven, rugged trail.



CHAPTER XVI

THE BATTLE OF THE STALLIONS

The trail grew hotter as they advanced.

"See, Satan's running now."

The pursuers increased their speed, although they could not hope to
travel as rapidly as the black stallion and his followers.  The wild
horses' trot had by this time become leaps, as the followers could
plainly see from the trail that had been left behind.  Satan and his
band were traveling in single file, their whole attention being
centered on running down the Angel.

"Do you think Satan scented the others?" asked Tad, when they struck a
level piece of ground so that they could relax their vigilance a little.

"No doubt of it at all.  But he didn't know it was just then.  He only
knew it was a horse.  He knows now that the other bunch is ahead of
him."

"How do you know that?" queried Tad.

"By the trail," replied Stevens.  "Don't you see, the Angel is going
faster.  They are both on a run now."

"Then the Angel must be afraid.  Is that it?"

"Not much.  He wants to find a better place in which to fight.  This
place is bad medicine for a horse battle.  They're all heading for the
mesas, just as I thought first."

The cowboy was leaning well forward in his saddle, eyes on the trail,
instead of looking ahead.  Tad, on the contrary, was straining his
eyes, hoping to catch sight of the two bands of fleeing horses; but not
a sign of them did he see.  Bud was the first to inform him that they
were nearing the object of their chase.

"Satan's going slower.  He is coming up with the others.  Let up a
little, and don't talk in a loud tone.  We don't want to disturb them
nor let either of the bands get an idea they are followed.  They might
race off to some other part of the range.  We want to catch them all
later, if we can."

Their ponies were slowed down to a trot, with Bud Stevens leading.

All at once he held up his hand for a halt.  Tad pulled up shortly.

"What is it?  Do you see them?" he whispered.

Bud shook his head.

"Not yet.  We're close to them, though.  Jump off and tether your nag.
We've got to go on afoot.  They'll smell our ponies if we ride any
further."

Moving rapidly, the man and the boy, led their mounts in among the
trees, where they made them fast with the stake ropes.  Then both
started on a jog-trot along the trail.

"How far do we have to go do you think?"

"Don't know.  Hope it's not far or we're liable to miss the show."

"I can run as fast as you can if you want to go faster."

"Hark!  Hear that?" exclaimed Bud.

"Yes, what was it?"

"They're lining up for the battle.  That was a stallion's scream of
defiance.  It is a challenge for battle.  There goes the other one.
That's the Angel telling Satan to come on and fight.  Now Satan's
answering him."

It was all just so much noise to Tad Butler.  The meaning of the harsh
sounds conveyed nothing to him, but to Bud Stevens they were full of
meaning.

"Careful, now.  We're getting near."

Both men sped along as fast as their feet would carry them, but without
making a sound that might have been heard a dozen yards away.

"Hist!" warned Bud, crouching low.

Grasping his companion by the arm, he crept to the right, finally
emerging from behind a rise of ground which had shielded their progress.

"Look there," he whispered.

Tad looked.  Below him lay a broad, open mesa, its upper end within a
stone's throw of where he stood.  But that was not what attracted his
attention.  A band of horses of many colors and sizes stood arrayed on
each side of the little plain.

Advanced a few yards from the band on the right, was a magnificent
black stallion, pawing the earth and uttering shrill challenges.  On
the other side of the field was the Angel.  He was not pawing the
earth.  Instead he was standing proudly, his curving neck beautifully
arched, his pink nostrils distended and held high.

"What a wonderful animal!" said Tad under his breath.  "And that black!
I can understand why he is called Satan.  What are they going to do?"

"Fight!  Don't you understand?  They're getting ready to settle their
old score, and a merry mix-up it'll be," replied the cowboy in a
whisper.

"Yes, yes," breathed Tad, scarcely able to curb his excitement.

"There they go!"

With a wild scream Satan and the Angel bounded into the center of the
field.  As they neared it each swerved to his right and dashed by,
avoiding his opponent.

"Act as if they were afraid of each other," said Tad.

"They're not.  They're trying each other out--sparring for an opening
as it were.  You'll see in a minute."

The fighters returned to the charge.  They did not flinch this time.
With a rush they came together, rearing in the air, jaws wide apart.
Their fore-feet struck out.  Both stallions broke, wheeled and kicked
viciously.

Neither had landed a blow.

Next time they came at each other walking on their hind feet.  They
were sparring with their fore feet like fighters in the ring, their
hoofs making such rapid thrusts that the eye could scarcely follow
them.  Satan reached for the head of his antagonist with a quick sweep.
The white stallion blocked the blow cleverly.

[Illustration: They Were Sparring with Their Fore Feet like Fighters in
the Ring.]

Yet, in doing so, he had left an opening.  Satan took instant advantage
of it.  The black stallion's head shot forward.  It reminded Tad of a
serpent striking at its victim.

"Ah!  He landed!" exclaimed the cowboy.

A fleck of crimson on the creamy neck of the Angel showed where the
vicious teeth of the black stallion had reached him.  Yet, no sooner
had the wound been inflicted than the Angel whirled.  It was like a
flash of light.

A white hoof shot out catching the black on the side of the head,
sending him staggering to his haunches.

The white animal was upon him with a scream of triumph.  Just as it
seemed that the Angel was about to run him down, the black sprang to
his feet, leaping to one side, and as the Angel passed, the hind hoofs
of Satan were driven into his side.

The Angel uttered a cry of pain; it was returned by one of triumph from
his antagonist.

"Oh, what a pity to see two such magnificent animals seeking to kill
each other!  Do you think one of them will be killed, Mr. Stevens?"

"They may.  You can't tell.  Hope there won't be a knock-out, 'cause we
want both of those fellows and we'll get them too.  I tell you, we're
in luck this trip.  We'll make a haul that will be worth a few thousand
dollars, you bet.  There they go again."

Changing their method of attack, the fighters began rushing, whirling,
kicking and so timing their blows that their hind feet met with a crash
that might have been heard a long distance away.  The shiny coat of the
black did not show that he had been wounded, but the watchers knew he
had, for they had seen the teeth of the white animal buried in his side
at least once.

A vicious charge of Satan's, threw the Angel from his feet.  He struck
the hard ground with a mighty snort, but was on his feet in an instant,
returning to the charge, mouth open, feet pawing the air.

The two men could see the eyes of the desperate antagonists fairly
blaze, while their shrill cries thrilled Tad through and through.
Never in his life had he gazed upon such a scene--two giants of the
equine world engaged in mortal combat.  It was a scene calculated to
make the blood course more rapidly through the veins of the boy, who,
himself, possessed so much courage.  And it did, in this case, though
as a lover of horses his heart was filled with pity for the one who was
to lose the battle.  As yet there was no indication as to which this
would be.  They seemed equally matched, and thus far honors had been
about even.

"Think the black can whip him?" he asked.

"Don't know, kiddie.  I'll make a bet with you; take your choice."

"Thank you, I don't bet," answered the lad.  "If I did, I couldn't
bring myself to lay a wager on those two beautiful creatures that are
trying to kill each other.  Ah!  There goes the black flat on his back!"

Before Satan could rise, the hoofs of the white one had been driven
against him with unerring aim.  Yet, the blow while it must have hurt,
served to assist Satan to roll over.  As a matter of fact he was kicked
over, and thus helped to spring to his feet.

Each animal fastened his teeth in the flanks of the other at the same
instant, and, when they tore themselves apart, each was limping.

On each side of the field the other members of the two bands of horses,
stood stolidly observing the conflict.  Neither side made an effort to
participate in the battle.

Here and there a colt would break away and gambol out into the field,
only to be recalled by a sharp whinny from its mother.

"It's queer they do not take a hand," marveled Tad.

"No; they never do.  They look to their leader to fight their battles
for them.  When the battle is ended you will notice something else that
will interest you."

"What?"

"You'll see when the time comes.  Now watch them go at it."

And they did.  It appeared as if each of the combatants was determined
to put a quick end to the conflict.  There was no lost time now.  It
was give and take.  Blow after blow resounded from their hoofs.  Now,
one of the contestants would stagger and fall, only to be up and at his
adversary, while their lithe, supple bodies flashed in the bright
sunlight till the watchers' eyes were dizzy from following their rapid
evolutions.

"I wish the boys might see this," breathed Tad, fascinated by the sight
in spite of himself.

"So do I," grinned Bud.

"Did you ever see a battle of this kind?" asked the lad.

"Not like this.  I've seen stallions fight, yes, but never such a scrap
as this.  Looks as if they'd be fighting all day.  But they won't."

"Why not?  They seem as strong as when they began."

"They are, but they're getting careless.  They're taking longer chances
every round.  First thing you know, one of them will get kicked into
the middle of next week.  Whoop!  That was a dandy!"

The Angel had planted both hind hoofs fairly on the side of Satan's
head.

Satan had gone down.  But when the white stallion made a leap, with the
intention of springing upon his prostrate victim, the black rolled to
one side, and in a twinkling had fastened his teeth upon his
adversary's leg.

Only for a brief second did he cling there, then throwing himself out
of the way sprang to his feet.  The two animals met with a terrific
crash, head-on.

Biting, kicking, screaming out their wild challenges of defiance the
battle waxed hotter, faster and more furious.

The mares in the herds showed signs of uneasiness.  They might have
been observed tossing their heads and shifting almost nervously on
their feet, but making no effort to move away or out into the field.

"Are the mares getting excited?" asked Tad in wonder.

"No.  They see one of the stallions is going to get his knock-out in a
minute."

"Which one?"

"I don't know."

"But how can they tell that, if we are unable to see either one of them
weakening?"

"More ghost telegraphy, I guess," answered Bud, not for an instant
removing his gaze from the fascinating scene before him.  He, too, was
becoming excited.  He could scarcely restrain himself.

All at once, despite his caution, Bud Stevens uttered a whoop.

"The black's got him!"

"No, the Angel's got him!" shouted Tad Butler excitedly.

"No, he hasn't!  It's the black, I tell you.  See!  There, he's kicked
the Angel halfway across the mesa."

Now it was the Angel's turn to do some kicking.  He did, and with
terrific effect.  Both hind hoofs were planted in the black's abdomen.
Not once, but again and again.  Yet the black was not thus easily
defeated.  With the sledge-hammer blows raining all over him, he
struggled to his feet, and, with a desperate lunge, fastened himself
upon the neck of his adversary.

Back and forth struggled the black and the white now, like a pair of
wrestlers.

"Now, who do you think's got him, hey?" laughed Bud.  "Why, the
black'll eat his head off."

"I said Angel was going to win, and I think he is," retorted Tad.  The
white with a mighty toss of his powerful neck, threw Satan off, the
fore feet of the Angel smiting and knocking Satan down.

Then followed a series of Gatling-gun-like reports as the Angel's hind
hoofs beat a tattoo on the head of his prostrate victim.

The black was conquered.

Satan had been knocked out by the Angel, in the greatest equine battle
that human eyes ever had gazed on.

"Aren't you glad I don't bet?" laughed Tad, his eyes flashing with the
excitement of it all.

"I'd been willing to lose on that fight," grunted the cowboy.

"Is he killed, do you think?" asked the lad.

"No; he's just dizzy after the wallops he got on the head.  You'll see
him get up in a minute."

The Angel had backed off a few paces and there he stood, head erect,
waiting as motionless as a statue until the moment when his fallen
adversary should rise, if at all.

Slowly the black pulled himself to his feet.  His head came up.  He
eyed the now calm white stallion half hesitatingly.

The watchers fairly held their breath, for it was a dramatic moment.

"They're going to fight again," muttered Tad.

"He's licked!  He's got enough!" exclaimed Bud.

The black turned his back upon the white stallion, and with lowered
head, dejection and humiliation apparent in every line, every movement
of his body, walked slowly back to his own band.

The Angel followed at a distance, almost to the lines of the enemy.
Then he paused, galloped back to the center of the field, and throwing
up his head uttered a long, shrill scream of triumph.

One by one the mares of Satan's band detached themselves from his
ranks, and, with their colts, trotted across the field to join the
Angel's band.



CHAPTER XVII

ON A WILD-HORSE HUNT

A corral, constructed partially of brush on its wing ends, and of
canvas for the corral proper, had been erected in one of the wide
sage-covered draws of the San Antonio range.  Across the opening of the
corral, which resembled a pair of great tongs, the distance was fully
half a mile.

Bud Stevens had decided to place the trap for the wild horses here in
this open space in preference to laying it in the mountains.  There was
more room for operations in the open, he said.

Then again, the wild horses, as he knew from personal observation, were
strong and full of fight.

"I guess we'll have to tire them all out before we can hope to get them
in the corral," he told his men after they had finished their work of
preparation.

The wagon with the horse-hunters' outfit had driven in late on the
night following the battle of the stallions, and early next morning the
horse-hunters, accompanied by the Pony Rider Boys and their own party,
started out to make camp in the mountains, where they were to remain
while the hunt lasted.

The battle which Tad and Bud had seen furnished a fruitful topic for
discussion, and the two were kept busy relating the story of the fight
until long after midnight.

But, while watching the battle, Bud Stevens had not lost sight of the
object, of his trip into the mountains.  He had calculated exactly
where the stock had found a mountain spring, and it was from that point
that the hunters were to start the animals on their trip to the corral.

The plan of operation was laid out with as much care and attention to
details as a general would employ in planning a battle.  The Pony Rider
Boys were to participate in the chase.  They could scarcely wait for
the moment to arrive when they would be given an opportunity to show
their horsemanship.

In the camp in the mountains they were told with great detail just what
they were expected to do.

"I think you had better leave Chunky at home," warned Ned.  "He'll
stampede the whole bunch just as you are ready to drive them into the
corral."

Chunky protested loudly.

"Guess I can stick on a pony as well as you can," he retorted.

"I'll vouch for that," smiled Tom Parry.

"He'll do," decided Bud.  "Now, you fellows are all to string out in
single file, following me until we have circled the herd.  We should
have them pretty well surrounded by noon.  At that time they'll be at
the spring filling up.  When I'm ready to close in, I'll fire a shot.
Each of you will fire in turn so that every one in line may be
notified.  If the critters refuse to drive, then we'll have to whip
them into a circle and tire them out.  But first, we must get them out
on the open, no matter which way they go, then work them into the draw
as fast as we can."

The horse-hunters nodded.  They understood perfectly what they were
expected to do.  And the boys were to be scattered among the men at
intervals instead of traveling together.  It seemed very simple to
them, but they were to learn that wild-horse hunting was a man's task.

"Are we allowed to rope if we get the chance?" questioned Tad.

"Not during the run.  Of course, if you see an animal escaping after we
have rounded them up, and you can do so without losing any of the
others, rope if you want to.  I reckon you'll have your hands full if
you try it," concluded the horse-hunter.

"Are you going out, Professor?" smiled the guide.

"No, thank you.  I think I shall remain close to camp and collect
geological specimens.  The boys will get into just as much trouble if I
go with them as they would were I to remain at home.  I suppose there
is more or less peril in these wild hunts?"

"Yes, it's going some," laughed Bud.  "But I guess none of them will
get very badly knocked out if they obey orders and don't get in the way
of a stampede.  Those wild critters won't stop for nothing."

A scout came in late with the news that the herd was less than five
miles from where the hunters' camp was located.

"That makes it all the easier.  We'll start at daylight," said Stevens.
"The plans will work out just right.  Now you'd better all turn in and
be ready for the hurry call in the morning."

Next morning all ate breakfast before the first hot wave trembled over
the crest of the mountains across the broad desert.  There was bustle
and excitement in the camp.

When ponies had been saddled, ropes coiled and final preparations made,
Bud Stevens looked his outfit over carefully, nodded his head and
mounted.

"You boys don't want to do any shouting after we get out on the trail,
you understand," he said.  "We have to work quietly until we get them
surrounded; then you may make all the racket you want.  The more the
better."

The Pony Riders nodded their understanding of the orders, and the
company of horsemen set out across the mountains.

They made a wide detour so as not to alarm any of the stragglers who
might not have followed the main body of horses to the watering place
for their noon drink.  A careful examination of the trail showed that
the Angel and his band, as well as Satan and his few faithful
followers, were well within the circle.

"We've got the whole bunch inside," exulted Bud, turning to Tad.  "Now,
boy, do your prettiest.  We want to bag 'em all.  If we do, I'll make
you a present of any horse in the outfit."

"How about the Angel?" questioned Tad, with a twinkle in his eyes.

Bud hesitated.

"What Bud Stevens says goes," replied the cowboy.  "The one who catches
the stallion on these hunts, however, usually has the right to keep him
if he wants to.  If you want the Angel you've got to rope and take him
after we get them rounded up."

"No, I wouldn't do anything like that," laughed Tad.  "If I catch the
Angel I'll make you a present of him."

At twelve o'clock, by the watch, they had completed the circle, or
rather three-quarters of a circle, about the band of wild horses,
leaving an opening toward the broad draw where the hidden corral had
been located to trap the unsuspecting wild animals.

Stevens drew his gun, and, holding it above his head, fired two shots.

The signal was answered, almost instantly, by two shots some distance
to their rear.  Like the rattle of a skirmish line, guns popped in
quick succession, the sounds growing further and further away as they
ran down the long, slender line of horsemen to the eastward.

"Close in!" commanded the leader quietly.  "Ride straight ahead; never
mind me.  I shall move further on before I turn.  Good luck.  Don't try
to get in the way of a stampede.  You can't stop them if they try it
altogether."

"I'll look out," smiled Tad.  Then they separated.

Tad could not hear a sound, save the light footfalls of his own pony.
The mountain ranges might have been deserted for all the disturbance
there was about him.

He had ridden on some distance when a loud snort suddenly called his
attention to the right and ahead of him.  There stood the Angel, facing
him angrily.

Tad was so surprised at the suddenness of the meeting that he pulled
his pony up shortly.  For a moment they stood facing each other, then
the wild animal with a loud scream of alarm, turned and went crashing
through the brush.  From the sound, a few seconds later, the lad knew
that the stallion had gathered his band and that they were sweeping
away from him at a lively pace.

"Here's where I must get busy," laughed the lad, the spirit of the
chase suddenly taking strong hold upon him.

He touched his pony lightly with the spurs, drawing in on the reins.
The little animal leaped away, Tad uttering a shrill yell, to warn any
of the other hunters who might be within reach of his voice, that he
had started on the trail of the wild band.

He heard a similar cry far off to his right and knew that Bud Stevens
had heard and understood.

"I believe they're coming back," said the lad, realizing that the sound
of galloping was plainer than it had been a few moments before.  "I
wonder what I ought to do.  I'm going to try to head them off if they
come this way," he decided.

All at once he saw the wild horses first from behind a huge rocky pile.
Uttering a series of wild yells and whoops, swinging his quirt and
sombrero above his head, the lad rode straight at the herd, his pony
seeming to enter into the full spirit of the fun.

To Tad's surprise the leader of the herd deflected to the northward,
running along a line almost parallel to that which the boy was
following.  Tad pressed in the rowels of his spurs a little harder,
uttering a chorus of shrill yells.

"They mustn't get through," he fairly groaned.  "They shan't get
through!  No, not if I ride my head off!"

Suddenly a volley of shots sounded some distance ahead of him, followed
by a series of yells as if the mountains were alive with savage
redskins.

It was Bud Stevens.  The wild herd had come upon him just as they were
about to turn northward and dive into the fastnesses of the mountains.
Observing him they turned slightly to the west and continued on their
mad course.

"Good boy!" Bud shrieked.  "Draw up on 'em!  Draw up on 'em!"

Tad did.  It was a race, but a most perilous one.  To the boy it seemed
as if the feet of his pony were off the ground most of the time, his
run having merged into a series of long, curving leaps as it reached
from rock to rock.

Down a steep slope suddenly plunged the herd.  Tad saw the flying pony
of Bud Stevens directly abreast of them.  The lad, apparently feeling
no fear, brought his quirt down sharply on the flanks of his mount.
The pony hesitated, rose and took a flying leap fully ten feet down the
mountain side before its feet braced sharply and thus saved pony and
rider from plunging on over.

Now Tad was yelling at the top of his voice, as that seemed the proper
thing to do under the circumstances.

The wild band was heading for the open, just as Bud Stevens had
planned.  But the fleeing horses were seeking to get out on the open
plain where they might soon outdistance their pursuers.

Tad and his pony went down that rugged mountain side as if the pony
were a mountain goat.  The boy never had experienced such a thrilling
ride, and the jolts he got made his head dizzy.

"M-m-my, this is going some!" he gasped.

Tad was shouting for pure joy now.  When his mount landed on all fours
among the foothills he was not more than two minutes behind Bud Stevens
himself.

"Great!  Great!" floated back the voice of the horse-hunter, who,
turning in his saddle, had observed Tad's leaping, flying descent of
the mountain.

Tad admitted to himself that this was riding, and he compared it with
the day he first rode his own pony up the main street in Chillicothe,
Missouri.  That ride, at the time, seemed a very exciting one.  Since
then he had acquired more skill, else he never would have been able to
shoot down the rugged mountain at almost express train speed.

They were now out on the desert prairie.  Bud was trying to point the
leaders in to send them to the southward.  Now that Tad was on level
ground he was able to put on more speed.  Very slowly, indeed, his pony
straightening out to its full length, he drew up on the racing herd.

"Guess I'd better not yell any more till I get abreast of them," he
decided, which was good judgment, as Bud Stevens said to him afterwards.

"Lay back a little!" shouted Bud when the boy got too close.  "They're
liable to dodge behind me at any second and break through our line."

Tad slackened his speed, at which the wild band drew away from him
almost as if he were standing still.  Then, he put spurs to his mount
again, and drew up abreast of the trailers.

At the head of the line the horse-hunter was fighting with the leaders,
trying to turn them toward the place where the great corral was hidden.

Suddenly that which Bud Stevens had feared occurred.  The white
stallion's forefeet plowed the earth.  Cowboy and pony shot by him, and
the wily stallion slipped behind them.  Followed by his band, the Angel
headed off across the desert in the very direction that the hunters did
not want him to go.

"Nail him!" bellowed Bud.

Tad needed no further command.  Already his keen eyes had noted the
move.  Putting spurs to his pony he raced to the white stallion's side,
leaving Bud far to their rear.

The Angel sought, in every way in its power, to shake off the boy who
so persistently hung at its side.  All at once the stallion reached
over, fastening its teeth in the neck of Tad Butler's pony.  Tad,
however had been quick enough to foresee the move and had jerked his
little mount to one side.  Yet, he had not done so quickly enough to
save the broncho from a slight flesh wound.

Slackening its speed, the Angel then made a vicious lunge at the lad's
left leg, biting right through the heavy chaps with which his legs were
protected.

The boy swung his quirt, bringing it down again and again on the
stallion's pink and white nose, until the beast, unable to stand the
punishment longer, uttered a snort, changing its course more to the
southward.

"I've turned him!  I've turned him!" shouted Tad.

He had accomplished what the leader of the horse-hunters had been
unable to do.

Bud Stevens, far to the rear on the desert, tossed his sombrero in the
air, uttering a long, far-reaching yell of approval.



CHAPTER XVIII

ROPED BY ROUGH RIDERS

Tad replied with an exulting yell.

The band of wild horses was headed toward the corral.  Yet they refused
to enter, just when they were upon the point of heading in between the
hidden wings.  Some instinct, it seemed, warned them to beware.  The
line straightened out, and a few minutes later the animals began racing
in a circle four miles wide.

"I'm afraid my pony never'll be able to stand this grilling.  But we'll
keep going as long as we've got a leg left to stand on," laughed the
plucky lad.

"Drop out and let me take a round with them.  We've got to tire them
out," shouted Bud, putting spurs to his pony and dashing up beside Tad.

The lad regretfully pulled his mount down to a walk, then rode out on
the desert some distance, so as to be out of the way when the circle
once more came his way.

"Guess it's just as well," he muttered.  "The pony couldn't have stood
up much longer.  My, those wild animals can travel!"

A heavy coating of gray dust covered both boy and horse, except where
here and there the gray was furrowed with streaks of perspiration.  Tad
gave his mount the reins, and sat idly watching the cloud of dust
rolling over the desert, showing where Bud Stevens was driving the
wild-horse band in an effort to tire them, so that they might be easily
headed into the great corral.

They soon swept by Tad, and on out over white alkali desert once more.

On the next round Bud motioned to Tad to take up his end of the relay.

"Give it to 'em.  Drive 'em till they can't stand up!" bellowed Bud.

But the lad scarcely heard the horse-hunter's voice.  Already he had
been swallowed up in the great yellow cloud and was riding hard by the
white stallion.

Discovering that he had another rider beside him, the Angel made a
desperate effort to run the lad and his pony down that he might break
the line and head off to the northwest.  Tad beat him over the nose
with his quirt again, and the stallion promptly changed its mind, for
the pink nose was still tender from the drubbing Tad had given it a
short time before.

"The men are lining up for a drive," warned Stevens when the herd
thundered by him again.  "I'll keep behind you.  We're going to try to
drive them in this time.  They're weakening fast."

"You want me to hold the leader?" asked the boy.

"Yes.  Keep him up.  Don't give him a second's leeway.  The rest will
follow him; don't worry about them."

"Where are the other fellows?"

"Over to the east.  They're hiding until the herd gets close enough;
then they'll appear, raising a big noise.  That's the time you and I
will have our hands full."

"Strikes me our hands have been pretty full," answered the lad, his
face wrinkling into a forced grin.

Bud Stevens slackened the speed of his pony, dropping back and
disappearing in the dust cloud.

"After all, I guess the other fellows will have the hardest work,"
mused the lad.  "They've got to stop the rush while all I have to do is
to keep on going, following that big, white stallion.  I wish I could
rope him, but I guess he would have the broncho and myself on our backs
in no time."

Tad turned his attention to the work in hand.  He did not know just
where the other horse-hunters were secreted, but his eyes were fixed on
a low-lying butte some distance to the eastward.  He saw no other place
from which they could carry out the manoeuvre successfully.

Tad grew a bit anxious as the wild horses curved more and more to the
eastward.  In a few moments they would be too far to the left to permit
of heading them toward the hidden corral.

"I guess they must be going to let us drive them around the circle once
more," he decided, "No!  There they come!"

With a yell, followed by a rattling fire of revolver shots, a dozen
ponies shot from behind the low-lying butte.  The horse-hunters hurled
their bronchos right against the wall of fleeing animals.

Volley after volley was fired into the ground right under the very feet
of the wild horses.  Here and there a rider was unseated in a sudden
collision in the dust cloud with a charging wild horse.

"They've turned them!" bellowed Bud Stevens.

The Pony Rider Boy now began to realize the truth of this, for the
Angel came bounding toward him, crowding right up against the side of
Tad's pony.  Tad was using foot and quirt, yelling like a wild Indian
to frighten the big, white stallion into keeping to the left.

So successful were his efforts that the animal did give way a little.

"I've headed him!" shouted the lad in wild glee.  Never had he had such
an exciting day as this one was proving itself to be.  He gave no
thought to the danger of the chase.  And now that he heard and
recognized the shouts of his companions he was spurred to even greater
efforts than before.  Why this post of honor had been given to him he
did not know.  But Bud Stevens was not far behind.  Bud was ready to
stop the stampede that he momentarily expected, but which did not come.

"Give way a little!" came the command.

Tad recognized that he had, in his enthusiasm, been crowding the white
stallion a bit too much.  He drew off a little, not, however,
decreasing his speed.

Already the band of wild horses had entered the wide-spreading wings of
the corral, but because of the dust that enveloped him, Tad was unaware
of this.  He continued at his same terrific pace, with the tough little
broncho rising and falling under him as he fairly flew over the uneven
ground.

The horse-hunters had fallen into a triangle formation with the apex to
the rear.  They were driving the wild horses before them, using their
guns in what appeared to be a most reckless fashion, shouting as if the
whole band had gone suddenly mad.

On down between the brush barriers, that were now apparently rising out
of the ground, sped the frightened band of wild horses.  The white
stallion began to understand that they were trapped.

Angel whirled suddenly and made a desperate effort to take the back
trail.  Tad and his pony dashing down the slight incline like a
projectile, hit the stallion broadside.  The collision was so sudden
that the lad had a narrow escape from being hurled over the head of his
own pony.  It was only the convulsive grip of legs to the broncho's
side that saved him from a bad spill.

With quick instinct he brought his quirt down on the broad back of the
Angel.  Smarting under the stinging blow and the surprise of the
collision the white stallion whirled about again, heading right into
the yawning corral.

The lad was now in the very midst of the crowding, fighting animals.
He was battling every whit as desperately as were they.  Bud Stevens
had fallen back.  He knew Tad was somewhere ahead in the mix-up, but he
was powerless to get to him at that moment, nor could his voice reach
the lad.

It was then that the boy realized where he was.

"I'm in the corral!" he cried, discovering that he was hemmed in by the
canvas walls of the main enclosure itself.  "And I guess I'm in a
mix-up that will be hard to get out of."

The wild horses were charging about, screaming with anger and fear,
rearing, biting, kicking, bowling each other over in their desperate
efforts to escape.  On every side, they found themselves met by the
canvas walls, which none thus far had had the courage to assail.

"There's the black stallion--there's Satan," cried Tad in surprise.  "I
didn't know he was here."

The black's eyes were gleaming with anger.  His lost courage was slowly
returning to him.  Satan was now ready to give battle to man or beast.
All at once he dashed straight at the canvas wall, rose to it and
cleared it in a long, curving leap, his rear feet ripping the cloth
down a short distance as the hoofs caught it.

The keen eyes of the white stallion were upon him.  In another instant
his glistening body had flashed over the enclosing walls.

"Oh, that's too bad!" groaned Tad.

At that moment half a dozen horsemen appeared in the enclosure; as if
by magic they threw themselves across the opening made by the two
stallions, and thus made an impassable barrier.  Tad had seem them
coming, and divined their purpose.  A daring plan suddenly flashed into
his mind.

With a shrill yell, he dug in the rowels of his spurs.  The broncho,
understanding what was wanted of him, rose to the canvas well, clearing
it without so much as touching it with his hoofs.

But while this was going on another scene was being enacted just
outside the barrier.  A few horse-hunters had been sent around there to
head off just such an attempt at escape as had been made.  With them
was Stacy Brown.  He was sitting on his pony, rope in hand when Satan
cleared the wall.

He saw the dark body of the stallion plunge over.  Instinctively the
fat boy rose in his stirrups.  His lariat whirled twice over his head,
then shot out.

It sped true to the mark, catching Satan by the left hind foot just as
he was finishing his leap.

"Yeow!" yelled Chunky.

The black stallion ploughed the ground with his nose, as the boy took a
quick hitch of the rope about his saddle pommel.

That was where Chunky came to grief once more.  His pony's feet were
jerked out from under it by the mighty lurch of Satan when he went
down.  Stacy Brown and his broncho were thrown flat on the ground in a
twinkling.  The lad's right leg was pinned under the pony, but the boy,
with great presence of mind, held the rope fast to the pommel.

Ropes flew from all directions, now that the stallion was down.  In a
moment more they had Satan entangled in a maze of them.  The
horse-hunters were shouting and yelling in triumph at the fat boy's
splendid capture.  So busily engaged were they in subduing the black
that, for the moment, they lost sight of the fact that the Angel,
followed by Tad Butler on his broncho, had cleared the barrier too.

Nor did Tad give heed to them.

With rope unslung he was stretching through the foothills at a
breakneck pace, on the trail of the Angel.

"There goes the Angel, with the kid after him!" bellowed a cowboy.

Three men leaped into their saddles and were off like a shot.

Tad Butler slowly, but surely, drew up on the racing stallion.  The
pursuers saw him unsling his rope, holding the coil easily at his side.

"He's going to cast," cried the cowboys in amazement that the slender
lad would undertake alone to capture the powerful animal.

"He'll be dragged to death!" warned one.

"Don't try it, kiddie!" shouted another at the top of his voice.

A chorus of warning yells were hurled after the intrepid Tad, to all of
which he gave no heed.  His eyes were fixed on the flashing body of the
white stallion ahead of him, every nerve tense for the shock that would
come a moment later.

All at once the pursuers saw Tad's right arm describe the familiar
circle in the air.  Then his lariat squirmed out.  The Angel, running
ahead of the boy could not see the rope in time to dodge it.  The loop
of the lariat dropped neatly over his head and suddenly drew taut.

The proud stallion which for years had defied the skill of the
wild-horse hunters, went down to an inglorious defeat.  But he was up
like a flash.  Then began a battle between the slender Pony Rider Boy
and wild stallion that is talked of among the wild-horse hunters of the
desert to this day.

Three times had Tad thrown the Angel before the others caught up with
him, the lad's arms being well-nigh pulled from his body in the
terrific lunges of the fighting Angel.

The ropes of the cowboys reached out for the maddened animal the
instant they were within reach.

Such a shout went up as had probably never been heard on the range
before when finally they had the white fighter securely roped down.

The Pony Rider Boys had distinguished themselves this day.

Tricing up one of the stallion's forward legs, so that he hobbled along
like a lame dog, the hunters started back to the corral, shouting,
singing and firing their revolvers, with Tad Butler proudly sitting his
broncho at the head of the procession.

Not an animal had escaped from the other hunters.  It had been a
magnificent round-up.



CHAPTER XIX

WINNING THEIR REWARD

The horse-hunters had bound the black and left him, while they entered
the corral to assist in roping the rest of the herd that were dashing
wildly about.  Every time a rope swung above a broad-brimmed sombrero,
and shot out, a wild horse came down.

"I fell in, but I got him," greeted Chunky Brown, triumphantly, as Tad
Butler rode up to him.

Tad laughed heartily when he saw his companion, Stacy Brown, proudly
sitting on the head of the angry, snorting black stallion.

"You did, indeed, Chunky.  How did you ever do it?"

"Just like any other experienced man would," replied the fat boy, in an
important tone.  "We got them both, didn't we, Tad!"

"Yes."

"And we'll keep 'em, eh!"

"Oh, no, Chunky.  We couldn't do that.  These horses belong to the
hunters.  They spend a great deal of money in preparing to capture
them.  It would not be right for us to expect to keep these two.  We've
been well paid for our labor in the fun we have had.  Don't you think
so?"

"Well, yes," decided Stacy a little ruefully.

"Let's see if we can help them," concluded Tad, riding up to the edge
of the corral.

"Orders?" he called, as soon as he could attract Bud Stevens' attention.

"Yes; you might ride around to the entrance and come in.  You can help
us rope and hobble the stock if you want to."

Tad did as directed.  There was no sport of the range that he took a
keener enjoyment in than he did in roping, and by this time there were
few men who could handle a rope more skillfully than he.

Ned and Walter were assisting in guarding the narrow entrance to the
canvas corral when Tad finally rode through, entering the enclosure,
where the excited animals were charging back and forth and round and
round.

Bud was sitting on his pony in the center of the milling animals,
directing the operations.  First the hunters would rope and throw an
animal; then they would bind up one of the front legs at the elbow,
after which the horse was released.  When the animals had staggered
about the enclosure a few times trying to throw off the leg-binders,
they were quite willing to stand still and nurse their anger.

"Sail in, boy!" called Bud.

Tad picked out a little bay that was kicking and squealing, dodging
every lariat that was thrown at it.  His first shot missed.  The lad
coiled his rope deliberately.

"I'll see that you don't dodge me this time, Mr. Bay," Tad muttered,
and began slowly following the animal about the ring.  The instant the
bay's head was turned away from him Tad let go the rope, and the next
second the stubborn animal lay on its side, another cowboy having made
a successful cast over its kicking hind legs the moment it struck the
ground.

Tad released his rope, then started for another cast.  So he went on
from one to another, and with as much coolness as if he had been roping
wild horses all his life.

After half an hour's work young Butler saw Bud motioning to him.  Tad
rode up.  The boy was bare-headed, having lost his sombrero somewhere
in the enclosure, and not having thought to look for it, even if he had
realized its loss.

"Take a rest," directed the horseman.

"I'm not tired."

"Yes, you are, but you don't know it.  First thing you know, you'll
tumble off your pony with a bad case of heat knock-out.  Your face is
as red as a lobster.  Too bad the stallions got away," added Bud, who
had been so thoroughly occupied in the corral that he had given no heed
to what had been taking place outside.

"Lost the stallions?" questioned Tad, elevating his eyebrows.

"Yes, Satan and the Angel."

"Why, Mr. Stevens, we didn't lose them."

"I know, we got them in the corral all right, but that isn't getting
them.  They always manage to give us the slip somehow."

Tad's eyes danced.

"Then you've got a surprise coming to you, Mr. Stevens.  Both stallions
are lying outside the corral at this minute, tied up so tightly that
they won't get away again."

"What!  You're joking."

"No, I'm not.  I mean it," laughed the lad in high glee.

Bud bent a steady look upon the boy.  He saw that Tad was speaking the
truth.

"How did it happen, kiddie?"

"Chunky roped the black by one of its hind feet just as the animal was
taking the jump.  Chunky got a bad fall, but he held fast to the black
till the others could get their ropes on it."

"Hurray!" shouted Bud, carried away by his enthusiasm.  "But what about
the Angel, eh?  Get him too, did you say?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"I jumped the fence after him, and ran a race with him out into the
foothills, where I managed to get my lariat over his head and pulled
him down.  We had quite a scrimmage, but I should have lost him if I
hadn't had help.  The boys came to my rescue just in time."

"Huh!" grunted the cowboy, observing his companion with twinkling eyes.
"You've got anything roped and hobbled that I ever saw."

That was Bud's only comment at the moment, but it carried with it a
world of praise, causing Tad to blush.

All the rest of the afternoon was devoted to securing the animals that
they had captured.  Not a horse had escaped.  Shortly after sunset the
task was completed and the horse-hunters gave utterance to their
feelings in a series of triumphant yells.

In the meantime three of the men had been sent back to bring over the
camp outfit, which, owing to the fact that it had to follow a
round-about trail, did not get in until some time after dark.  Ned and
Walter had accompanied the men back to camp to assist in packing their
own outfit, Tad and Stacy remaining to keep watch over the prizes that
they had captured.

Dinner that night, though a late one, was an occasion of boisterous
good-fellowship, the two happy Pony Rider Boys coming in for much
good-natured raillery.

"Don't want to join us, do you, kiddie?" asked Bud quizzically.

"I'd like to, of course.  But it is not possible," answered Tad.

"We'll be off in the morning with our stock, you know.  Better come
along.  You'll dry up and blow away down on the desert.  It's had
medicine where you're headed for."

"We're used to taking our medicine," laughed Tom Parry.  "You probably
have noticed as much in the short time you've known our bunch."

"You bet I have," laughed Bud.  "And you take it in big doses, too."

"Allopathic doses," interjected the Professor.

"Don't know what they might be," answered Bud.  "Sounds as though it
might be something hard to swallow, though."

This bit of pleasantry caused a general laugh.  The fun continued until
late in the evening.  Next morning the camp was astir at an early hour.

The captured horses were found to be considerably subdued after being
roped all night.  Bud's first work in the morning, after breakfast, was
to take the two stallions in hand.  They were freed of their bonds, and
after a battle during which nearly every member of the party had been
more or less mauled by the spirited beasts, the horse hunters succeeded
in saddling and bridling Satan and the Angel.

Bud Stevens rode them about in turn, to the delight of the Pony Rider
Boys who had never seen such bucking.

"Let me ride now," begged Stacy, after Stevens had to some extent
subdued Satan.

The horseman permitted the lad to take to the saddle, but no sooner had
Chunky done so, than Satan hurled him clear over the corral.  Chunky,
nothing daunted, came back smiling and tried it again, this time with
entire success.  Satan did not again succeed in unseating him.

Tad mastered the Angel without being thrown, and amid the cheers of the
cowboys, who shouted their approval of his horsemanship.

All was now in readiness for the start of the cowboy band and their
great herd of horses.  Stevens had directed his men to take the two
stallions outside the corral and stake them down securely.  Then the
men began driving the rest of the captured stock from the canvas
prison.  At first the animals evinced an inclination to run away.  But
with one leg in a sling this was not an easy task, and the horsemen
rounded up the bunch with little difficulty.

"Here, here!" cried Tad.  "You're forgetting the stallions, Mr.
Stevens.  You've left them staked down out back of the corral."

"Have I?" grinned Bud.  "What did you want me to do with them?"

"Take them with you, of course," answered Tad, as yet failing to
understand the horse-hunter's plan.

"Don't you want them, kiddie?"

"Want them--want them?" stammered Tad.

"Yes.  They're yours, yours and the fat boy's."

"Oh, no, no, Mr. Stevens!  I couldn't think of such a thing."

"Master Tad is right," approved the Professor.  "We have not the least
claim in the world on those animals.  We----"

"Say, Professor, who's running this side show?" demanded Bud.

"Why--why, of course it's your hunt, but----"

"All right then, seeing as it's my outfit, I've decided that I don't
want the stallions.  Look here!  We'd have lost part of that bunch, at
least, if it hadn't been for your kids.  Master Tad alone saved the
herd from scattering all over the Ralston Desert.  No, sir, I'm getting
off cheaply.  The stallions belong to the boys, and that's all there is
to be said.  S'long everybody.  Come up to Eureka on your way out, and
if I don't cut the town wide open for you, my name ain't Bud Stevens."

With a wave of his sombrero, Bud put spurs to his mount and galloped
away to join his companions, who had started the herd on its way to
Eureka, where the animals were to be shipped East.

Tad and Stacy were too full of surprise to express their feelings.



CHAPTER XX

VISITED BY A HALO

The Pony Rider Boys turned again to the Desert Maze.  A week had
elapsed since Bud Stevens and his party had left them.  One evening,
after a hard day in the saddle, the guide was sitting thoughtfully in
his tent, when Professor Zepplin entered.

"Sit down?" asked the guide.

"For a moment only," answered the Professor.

"Weather's fine to-night."

"Yes, even though we have no water to speak of.  Do you consider our
situation at all serious, Mr. Parry?"

"Same old story, Professor.  Sage brush and alkali.  Tanks full one
day, dry the next.  There's no accounting for the desert.  Every time I
get out of the Desert Maze, as somebody has called it, I chalk down a
mark on the wall."

"I am beginning to understand that it does hold perils of its own,"
answered Professor Zepplin, thoughtfully.

"Traveling over the desert is no picnic--that's a fact.  Got to take it
as it comes, though.  If we go dry one day, most likely we fill up the
next, or the day after that.  Don't pay to get down in the mouth and
fret."

"Yes, I understand all that.  But I don't wish to take any great
chances on account of the boys."

"The boys?" Tom Parry laughed.  "Don't you worry about them.  Those
boys would thrive where a coyote would die at sight of his own eternal
starvation shadow."

The Professor shook his head doubtfully.

"Turn 'em loose on the desert and they'd swim ashore somehow.
Especially young Butler.  He's quiet--he doesn't say much, but when he
gets busy there's something doing.  For sheer pluck he's got it over
anything I ever saw--like a circus tent.  Well, don't lose any sleep
worrying about water.  We'll catch a drop or two of dew out of a cactus
plant some of these nights.  See you in the morning.  Good night,"
concluded the guide, rising and knocking the ashes from his pipe on his
boot heel.

They had been working slowly toward the Death Valley region, and water
was becoming more and more scarce as they proceeded.  Indeed, the
problem of where to find sufficient water for their needs had become a
serious one.  For the last three days all the water holes that the
guide had depended upon to replenish their supply had failed them.
What lay before them none knew.

When the camp awakened, late the next morning, the guide was nowhere to
be seen.  His pony likewise had disappeared.  But they did not trouble
themselves over Parry's absence, knowing that he had not left them
without good reason and with many a sharp joke at each other's expense
proceeded to get the breakfast ready.  They had just sat down to the
table when Tom Parry came riding in, covered with dust.

"Morning, boys.  Fine day," he greeted, with his usual inscrutable
smile, which might indicate either good or bad tidings.

"Prospecting?" questioned Tad.

"Taking my morning constitutional.  Going to be hot enough to singe the
pin feathers off a bald-headed sage hen to-day," he informed them,
slipping from his saddle.  After beating a cloud of alkali dust from
his clothes he joined the party at the breakfast table.

"Find any?" asked Tad, eyeing him inquiringly, for Tad had an idea as
to the object of the guide's early morning ride.

"Nary," was the comprehensive reply.  "Have to take a dry shampoo
to-day, I reckon."

"I suppose there is no water in sight yet?" asked the Professor, he not
having caught the meaning of the brief dialogue between Tad and Tom
Parry.

"No, sir.  Not yet.  We'll be moving as soon as possible after
breakfast.  Better use sparingly what little water you have left in
your canteens.  You may need it before we strike another water hole,"
he advised.

As usual, however, the spirits of the Pony Rider Boys were in no way
affected by the shortage of water.  Time enough to worry when their
canteens were dry.  These days, Tad and Stacy were occupying all their
spare time in working with the two stallions they had captured.  The
Angel, under Tad's kind but determined training, was advancing rapidly
and already had been taught to do a few simple tricks.  Stacy, on his
part, was not doing quite so well with Satan.  The latter, like his
namesake, was inclined to be vicious, biting and kicking whenever the
evil spirit moved.

Ahead, on all sides of them as the sun rose that morning, lay wide
stretches of gray, dusty soil, blotches of alkali alternating with huge
patches of scattering sage brush, with no living thing in sight.

Overhead burned the blue of a cloudless sky; about them the suffocating
atmosphere of the alkali desert.

It was not a cheerful vista that spread out before the lads.  The
ponies, suffering for want of water, took up the day's journey with
evident reluctance.  With heads hanging low they dragged themselves
along wearily, half in protest, now and then evincing a sudden desire
to turn about and head for the mountains.

"What ails these bronchos?" grumbled Ned Rector.

"Guess they're afraid of heat prostration," replied Chunky.  "Don't
blame them.  I'm half baked myself."

"Glad you know what ails you," laughed Ned.  "You ought not to feel bad
about that, seeing it's your natural condition."

As they plodded on the guide's eyes were roaming over the plain in
search of telltale marks that would reveal the presence of that of
which they were in most urgent need--water.  The landscape, by this
time, had become a white glare, and the blue flannel shirts of the Pony
Riders had changed to a dirty gray as if they had been sprinkled with a
cloud of fine powder.

Their hair, too, was tinged, below the rims of their sombreros, with
the same grayish substance, while their faces were streaked where the
perspiration had trickled down, giving them a most grotesque appearance.

"How do you like it, Chunky?" grinned Ned.

"Oh, I've seen worse in Chillicothe," answered the fat boy airily.
"The dust in Main Street is worse because it's dirtier."

"Judging from the appearance of your face at this minute, I'm obliged
to differ with you," interjected the Professor, his own grim,
dust-stained countenance wrinkling into a half smile.  "Do we take a
rest at midday, guide?"

Parry shook his head.

"Think we'd better keep going.  Only be worse off if we stop now.
Hungry, any of you?"

Stacy made a wry face and felt of his stomach, which action brought a
laugh from the others.

Just then Stacy stiffened, then uttered a loud sneeze that shook him to
his very foundations, causing Satan to jump so suddenly that he nearly
unseated his rider.

"Whew!  Thought my head had blown off.  Guess we're all getting the
grippe," he grinned, as the others began sneezing.

"Alkali," answered Parry.  "You'll like that and the sage brush taste
in your mouth more and more as you get to know them better."

"Excuse me," objected Ned.  "I prefer talcum powder for mine, if I've
got to sneeze myself to death on something.  What time is it?"

"Dinner time," answered Stacy promptly.  "I'll take ice cream."

"Dry toast will be more in your line, I'm thinking," suggested Ned.

"Or a sandwich," added Walter humorously.

"Hurrah, fellows!  Walt Perkins has cracked a joke at last!" shouted
Ned.

"Yes, it was cracked all right," muttered Chunky maliciously.

"Put him out!  Put 'em both out!" cried Ned and Tad, while Tom Parry's
stolid face relaxed into a broad smile.

"It appears to me that you young gentlemen are very humorous to-day,"
laughed the Professor.

"It's dry humor, Professor," retorted Ned.

Tad unslung his lariat.

"I'll rope the next boy who dares say anything like that again," he
threatened.  "See, even the burros are ashamed.  They're hanging their
heads, they're so humiliated."

"I don't blame them.  Mine's swimming from the heat," rejoined the
guide.

"Say, what's that?" demanded Chunky, pointing ahead of him, with a
half-scared expression on his face.

"I don't see anything," answered the other lads.

"Chunky's 'seeing things,'" suggested Ned.

The fat boy was pointing to a bright circle of light that hung over the
desert some five feet from the ground, directly ahead of him.  The
peculiar thing about it appeared to be that the circle of light kept
continually moving ahead of him, and at times he caught the colors of
the rainbow in it.

Stacy looked intently, but the bright light hurt his eyes and he was
forced to lower his eyelids a little.  This made the circle seem
brighter than before.

Now Professor Zepplin had discovered the peculiar thing.

"What is that--what does it mean, guide?" asked the scientist.

"That--that ring of light?" asked Parry.

"Yes."

"That is a halo, sir."

"A halo?" chorused the boys.

"Must be Chunky's then," suggested Walter.

"I agree with you," added Ned.  "But I don't see what right he has to a
halo."

"That particular halo is a very common thing in the Desert Maze," Tom
Parry informed them.  "It is caused by heat refraction, or something of
the sort----"

"Yes, yes.  Oh, yes, I understand," nodded the Professor.  "I recall
having heard of something of the kind in hot countries, and----"

"Is this a hot country?" asked Stacy innocently.

"No, you ninny; this is a section of Greenland that's been dropped down
here by an earthquake or something," laughed Walter.

"You're mistaken.  It was washed down by the flood," corrected Ned.

All this helped to pass away the hours as well as to make the boys
forget their troubles for the time being.  Perhaps the lads did not
fully realize the extent of their predicament.  Not so the guide,
however.  He knew that they must find water soon.  Not many hours would
pass before the stock, unable to stand the strain longer, would give
out, leaving the party in a serious plight.  They would then be without
water, and without horses to take them to water.  The wild stallions,
however, were accustomed to going without drink for long periods at a
time, so that they were doing much better than the rest of the stock.

Tom Parry reasoned that they would be able to go through that day and
part of the next without fresh supply, and that no serious consequences
would result from it.  Beyond that, he did not attempt to forecast what
the result would be.

Late that afternoon, without having informed his charges, Parry varied
his course, turning more to the west of south, eventually picking up a
copper colored butte that rose out of the desert.  Reaching it at last,
Parry dismounted, and, bidding the others wait for him, he climbed up
the rocky sides of the miniature mountain, quirt in hand.

They watched him until he had disappeared around the opposite side of
the butte.  When they caught sight of him again Tom had descended to
the desert, and was approaching them along the base of the mountain.

"Anything encouraging?" called the Professor.

Parry shook his head.

"Why can't we all go up there and get a breath of fresh air?  There
must be some breeze on the top of the mountain," suggested Ned.

"No, I couldn't think of it," replied the guide firmly.

"Why not, please?" asked Walter.

"Because you might not come back," replied the guide, with a grim
compression of the lips.

Later, upon being pressed by Tad for his reasons, he confided to the
lad that there were snakes on the butte.  He said he did not care to
tell that to the boys, adding that "what they don't know won't hurt
them."

Camp was made at dusk, some five miles further on, much to the relief
of man and beast, for it had been the most trying day they had
experienced.

The boys threw off their sombreros, shaking the dust from their heads.
They then removed their clothes, giving them a thorough beating.  After
a brisk rub down with dry bath towels, the lads announced themselves as
ready for supper.

"Our dry spread," Ned Rector called it, for not a drop of anything did
they have to drink.  They had drained their canteens of what little
remained in them.

"It isn't good for one to drink with meals anyway," comforted Stacy.
"That's what my uncle's doctor says," he explained, munching his bacon,
forcing it down his parched throat.

Chunky was a philosopher, but he was unaware of the fact.

"That is right.  Not until an hour and a half after meals," agreed the
Professor.  "I imagine we shall have to wait longer than that this
time."

"Never mind; we'll pull through somehow.  We always have," encouraged
Tad cheerfully.  "We've gotten out of some pretty tight places, and I
am sure we'll manage to weather this gale in one way or another."

"Gale?  Huh!  I wish we had a gale to weather," murmured Walter.

"Providing it was a wet one," added Stacy.

"That's so.  Now wouldn't it be fine to have a rainstorm?" agreed Ned,
with enthusiasm.

"We could cuddle in our tents and listen to the raindrops patter on the
roof," suggested Stacy.

"No; we'd lie down on our backs outside, open our mouths wide----"

"Like a nest of young robins," laughed Tad.

"Yes.  Only we'd fill our mouths with water instead of----"

"Boys, boys!" warned the Professor.  "I fear you are drifting into
questionable dinner topics again."

"Why, we're talking about water, Professor," replied Ned in a tone of
innocent surprise.  "Surely you do not object to that?"

"Not so long as you confine your remarks to the subject of water.  That
seems to be our principal need at the present time."

"Speaking of water----" began Chunky.

"Hold on; is this a story or a joke?" interrupted Ned.

"I heard of a case like ours once," continued the fat boy, without
heeding the interruption.  "A party of travelers on the desert found
themselves without water.  In the party was a bookkeeper.  He was from
the East.  Well, they were thinking about dying from thirst.  But they
didn't.  The bookkeeper saved them."

There was silence in the group for a moment.

"I'll be the goat.  How did he save them?" asked Ned.

"He had a fountain pen," replied the fat boy sagely.

"Y-e-o-w!" howled the Pony Rider Boys.  "Put him out!  Put him out!"



CHAPTER XXI

OFF ON A DRY TRAIL

"We shall have to divide up our forces to-day, Professor.  We'll make a
desperate effort to find a water hole," announced Tom Parry.

"What do you propose doing?  You mean you're going to let us help you?"

"Yes."

"I'm glad."

"We'll make a big pull to-day.  Should we fail to find water there is
only one thing left for us to do."

"And that?"

"Leave the burros to shift for themselves.  We'll head hack toward the
San Antonio Range as fast as the bronchos will carry us.  I don't know
whether they'll be equal to the strain or not.  If they give out we'll
have to walk, that's all."

"Impossible!" exclaimed the Professor aghast.

"Nothing's impossible when you're up against it.  We'll go through with
this, see if we don't.  Just keep your nerve, and----"

"But the boys," protested the Professor.

"Look at them," said Parry.  "They're somewhat the worse for wear, it's
true, but they're all right, every single one of them.  Boys, come over
here!"

The lads hastened to obey his summons.

"What is it, Mr. Parry?" questioned Tad.

"We've got to do some real work to-day, boys, and I want you to take a
hand."

"We are ready for anything, sir," spoke up Ned.

"Yes, I know that," replied Parry; then went on: "This is the
situation.  We are without a drop of water.  All the water holes that I
have been depending upon are dry and there is no certainty that we
shall find any that are not in the same condition if we continue on our
journey.  We can go along for another day, perhaps, so far as we are
concerned."

"But the stock won't," interposed Tad.

"No."

"I noticed this morning that some of the ponies were pretty gaunt in
the flanks."

"Regular scarecrows.  We've got to make an organized search for a tank,
and the sooner we begin the better off we'll be--or the worse," added
the guide under his breath.  "If we fail, we'll ride all night, taking
the back trail.  We ought to hold out long enough to reach the last
water hole we left.  Though even that may be dried up by the time we
get to it."

"Then you want us to spread out, as it were, and cover all the
territory about here?" questioned Tad.

"That's it.  You've caught the idea."

Professor Zepplin shook his head.

"I don't like the idea.  The boys will be lost."

"They mustn't, that's all," replied the guide, with a firm setting of
the lips.  "I think we can arrange so they will find their way back to
camp all right.  Listen!  This is my plan.  Master Tad will ride west,
due west.  Master Ned, on the other hand, will proceed east, and I'll
go south.  Each of us will ride as far as he can until noon.  If by
then none of us has found any trace of water, we'll all turn about and
hurry hack to camp."

"Yes, but how do you expect the boys to find their way hack?" demanded
Professor Zepplin.

"I'm coming to that.  To begin with, I'm going to splice the ridge
poles of the tents together, making a flagpole of them.  On this we'll
tie a shirt or something, planting the pole on the top of that ridge
there.  While the boys will be too far away to see it from where they
should be by twelve o'clock, they can get near enough, by using their
watches as compasses, so they can pick it up.  Each one will take a
rifle with him, and in the event of finding water he is to remain
there, firing off the gun at frequent intervals."

"What'll we be doing here all the time?" interrupted Walter.

"Starting at twelve o'clock, you will begin firing a rifle to help
guide the boys in.  Fire a shot every five minutes.  No chance to get
lost at all.  Do you think so, Professor?"

"It would seem not.  Did I not know from past experiences how easy it
is for the boys to get into trouble, I should not hesitate an instant."

"Anyway, we've got to do it.  We are at a point where we shall have to
take chances.  We are taking some as it is.  Now, hurry your breakfast.
I'll fix up the signal pole while you are doing so, then we'll be off
as soon as you have finished."

Both Tad and Ned were enthusiastic and anxious to show themselves
capable of taking a man's part in the proposed operations.

"If Chunky only had a fountain pen now all this trouble would be
unnecessary," teased Ned as they were hurrying through their breakfast.

The fat boy's soulful eyes held an expression of mild protest, but he
made no reply.

The meal finished, Tad and Ned brought out their rifles, which they
loaded, taking with them a box of cartridges each.  The guide did the
same.  The flagpole had been planted and from its top fluttered a pair
of pink pajamas belonging to the Professor.

"That ought to scare all the coyotes off the desert," commented Ned as
the party surveyed the result of the guide's work.

"It will serve still another purpose," grinned the guide.  "Some
traveler may see it.  In that event he'll head for it, thinking it's
some one in distress.  If he does, you may be able to get a few drops
of water from his canteen, providing it's not as empty as our own."

"Oh, how dry I am," whistled Ned softly.

"There doesn't seem to be much probability of our meeting strangers in
this desolate place," commented the Professor.  "What time do you think
we shall see you back?  Have you any idea?"

"Somewhere about sunset, in all probability."

"I'd like to go along with Tad," said Stacy.

"Why--no, I think you'd better not," said the Professor.

"Please.  I know I shall be able to help him.  You do not need two boys
in camp with you, Professor."

"Yes; he might as well go along, if he wants to," decided the guide.

"Very well, then.  But Walter must remain here."

"Use your old ponies.  Do not take the stallions," advised Parry.  "If
the stallions were to get away from you while you are off on the desert
alone it would leave you, and perhaps us as well, in pretty bad shape.
And, by the way, Professor, when you begin firing your signals, go to
the top of the hill yonder and shoot straight up into the air.  The
sound will carry further than were you to shoot from here.  You've no
idea how perplexing this Desert Maze is to those not familiar with it
and its tricks."

"I'm learning fast," smiled the Professor.  "Furthermore, I am
convinced that I shall know all about it if I live long----"

"Never," answered Parry promptly.  "No man ever lived who knew all
about the desert.  I----"

"If we rough riders don't get started pretty soon we'll be back before
we get started," warned Stacy humorously.

"You're right.  We are wasting time.  Now, Masters Tad and Ned, you
understand what you are to do?"

"We do," answered the boys.

"Follow my directions to the letter.  If you do you will keep out of
trouble.  If you do not, there's no telling what may happen."

"We are to find water.  That's what we are going out for," added Tad.

"Exactly.  But the instant you hear a gun fired, turn about and ride
home.  That will mean either that the time's up, or that one or the
other of us has found what you are looking for.  Keep your eyes clear
for signs and for crusts of alkali that may have a water tank under
them."

"We'll do our duty, Mr. Parry," answered Tad.

"I know it.  Good-bye and good luck!"

The three lads swung their hands in parting salute, as they left the
camp at an easy gallop, Tad and Stacy riding side by side, Ned Rector
moving off alone.  Ascending the rise of ground where the pajamas were
drooping listlessly from the top of the signal pole, Tad and Stacy
slipped down the opposite side of the hill and disappeared from view.

The two lads were destined to pass through some exciting experiences
before they rejoined their companions.

"I hope we don't get lost," said Stacy, apprehensively, as they glided
across the desert.

"We mustn't!"

"Yes; but what if we do?" insisted the fat boy.

"It will be because you disobeyed orders, Chunky.  You and I have a
task to perform, and we're going to do it like men.  The lives of our
companions may depend upon our own efforts--yours and mine."

"I can't see the Professor's pajamas," insisted Chunky.  "I believe we
are lost already, Tad."

"Then we'll stay lost," answered Tad shortly.



CHAPTER XXII

IN THE HERMIT'S CAVE

The conviction that they did not know where they were grew upon Stacy
as they proceeded.  Not that Stacy cared particularly whether they were
lost or not, but it gave him something to talk about.

"Don't talk so much, Chunky," begged Tad, after they had gone on some
distance.  "You should keep your eyes out for signs."

"What kind of signs?"

"Water signs.  Come, be serious for a little while.  You can have all
the sport you want when we get back.  I think, Chunky, that we can both
work to better advantage if we separate----"

"What, you want to get rid of me so soon?"

"No, no!  Listen!  You ride off there to the right, say half a mile.
Keep within sight of me all the time, and watch carefully for what we
are in search of.  We shall be able to do twice as effective work in
that way."

"I see.  I guess that would be a good idea.  Got anything to eat in
your pocket?"

"Some dry bread.  I'll divide with you.  You should have brought
something."

The fat boy, well satisfied now, rode away to the north, munching the
dry food that Tad had given him.  So long as Chunky had plenty to eat,
nothing else mattered.

Tad soon espied what appeared to him to be a cloud on the horizon
ahead.  After a time he discovered that it was a range of irregular
buttes.  On some of them he eventually made out what looked like
scattering trees.  Tad increased the speed of his pony as much as he
thought the animal would stand.  If there were trees, there surely
should be water as well, he reasoned.  After a time he succeeded in
attracting the attention of Stacy, whom he motioned to him.

The fat boy put spurs to his mount, racing along one side of the
triangle, heading for the range, for which he observed that Tad was
riding.  It was now a test of speed to see which one should get there
first.  Tad having the shorter distance to travel, made the mark ahead
of his companion, though with little to spare.

"You started before I knew what you were up to," laughed Stacy.  "I can
beat you on an even start."

"Haven't any doubt of it, Chunky.  But let's see what's to be found
here.  It looks promising.  You hold the horses while I climb up among
the rocks."

"There's a man up there!" exclaimed Stacy.  "What's he doing?  I wonder
if he's a hermit?  Looks as if he might be."

"I'll find out.  If some one is living here, there's water," cried Tad
triumphantly, leaping from his saddle and tossing the bridle reins to
his companion.

The lad ran lightly up the rocks toward the point where he saw the
stranger standing, observing them suspiciously.  As he drew nearer to
the figure, Tad felt some apprehension.  The man was thin and gaunt, a
heavy growth of beard covering his face so completely as to hide
everything except the nose and eyes.

"I believe he's crazy," muttered the lad, when he got near enough to
note the strange expression in the fellow's eyes.  As yet, the man had
not spoken a word.

"How do you do, sir!" greeted the boy.

The hermit, for such he proved to be, grunted an unintelligible reply.

"We are looking for water.  My friends are camped off yonder, a dozen
miles or more, and our water is all gone.  Please tell me where I can
find some?"

"Got money?"

"Yes, yes, I've got money.  I will pay you for your trouble if that is
what you want.  Let me have a drink first and take some to my
companion; then I will do whatever you wish in the way of paying,"
begged the lad.

The hermit eyed him with a steady, disconcerting gaze that gave Tad a
creepy feeling up and down his spine.

"You want water?"

"Yes, yes."

A moment's hesitation, then the hermit grasped Tad by the arm and
strode rapidly back among the rocks.  Pushing aside a growth of tangled
vines he stooped to enable him to enter the opening that was revealed,
dragging Tad in after him.

[Illustration: The Hermit Grasped Tad by the Arm.]

"See here, where are you taking me?" demanded the lad, pulling back
instinctively from the dark opening.

The hermit made no reply, but tightening his grip, which was of
vise-like firmness, jerked the boy into the center of the chamber.  Tad
observed by the single ray of light that penetrated the place through
the mat of vines at the entrance that they were in a cave.

"You want water?" snapped the hermit.

"Yes, I do want water more than anything else in the world at this
minute, but there is no necessity for dragging me to it.  I can walk."

"Water in there," answered the hermit, thrusting Tad into a dark
recess.  No sooner had he done so than the lad heard a heavy wooden
door slammed shut and a bar thrown across it from the outside.

Tad, instantly realizing that he was being shut in, threw himself
against the barrier with all his strength.  But he might as well have
tried to break through the rocks which walled him in on the other three
sides.  He shouted at the top of his voice, hoping that Chunky might,
perchance, hear him and come to his rescue.  Chunky could use the rifle
that hung in the holster on Tad's saddle and intimidate the hermit if
he understood Tad's predicament.

At that instant the lad's ears caught the faint trickle of water.  The
sound stirred him to sudden action.  "Where was it?" he asked himself,
his hands groping over the rocks about him.

"Here it is!" he cried exultingly.

What he had found was a tiny stream that was creeping down the side of
the rocks.  Tad pressed his lips against the cool stones, enabling him
to lick a few drops of the precious fluid into his parched mouth.
Never had anything tasted so refreshing to him.

"A-h-h-h-h!" gasped the boy, taking a fresh breath preparatory to
another draught.  "It's almost worth being made a prisoner for this.
I'll bet Chunky would wish to be in here if he knew.  And I almost wish
he were."

As if in answer to his expressed wish, the door was suddenly pushed
inward, a heavy body was hurled in, landing in a heap on the rocky
floor.

The door slammed shut and the bar once more fell into place.

For the moment Tad could not determine what had happened.

"I--I fell in," moaned a voice from the heap.

"Chunky!" cried Tad.  "How did you get in here?"

"I--just dropped in," wailed the fat boy.

"Get up!  Don't be a baby!  Come here and have a drink of water----"

"Water?  Water?" fairly shouted Stacy, leaping to his feet, bumping
against a rock in his haste.  "Where?  Where?"

"Here.  Put your lips against the rock right here.  There, you have it.
Does it taste good?"

"U-m-m-m."

"Now, you've had enough for the moment.  Tell me how you got here?  How
did you happen to come up?" questioned Tad.

"The--the wild man--say, Tad, he looks like a monkey, doesn't he?"

"I hadn't thought of it in that light.  I guess you're right, though,
Chunky."

"Well, he went out on the rocks and motioned to me.  I told him I
couldn't leave the ponies.  He said you wanted me right away, and he
came down to help me stake the ponies.  He was awful kind," mused
Stacy, as if talking to himself.

"Go on," urged Tad.  "We've got to think about what's going to become
of us."

"That's all.  He just led me up here.  Said you were inside getting
water.  Then--then he threw me in.  Think I hurt the floor when I hit
it, Tad?"

"I guess not quite so bad as that," laughed the lad.  "I want you to
strike a match while I look around the place."

Stacy did so, taking his time about it.  By the dim light thus made,
they discovered a little pool of water in a far corner of the chamber,
where the trickling stream had found it's way.  With their drinking
cups, which, with their canteens, the boys always carried, they dipped
the pool almost dry, filling their canteens with the cool, refreshing
water, after having first fully satisfied their thirst.

"Got anything to eat?" questioned Stacy, his thoughts turning to food.

"Yes, and I'm going to keep it," answered Tad promptly.

"That's mean."

"See here, Chunky.  We are prisoners.  We don't know when or how we are
going to get out.  I have a few crusts of bread left and I propose to
keep them, because we may find ourselves starving later on.  You'll be
glad then that I saved the bread.  What do you think the hermit intends
to do?  Did he say anything that gave you any clue?"

"Nope."

"We'll wait a while and if he does not let us out, we'll have to find a
way for ourselves."

For a time they made the best of their situation, Stacy grumbling now
and then, Tad bright and cheery, though in his heart he felt far from
cheerful.

"I'm going to try to break the door down," announced Tad finally, after
listening intently.  "I can't hear anything.  I believe the hermit has
gone away and left us.  Get up here beside me.  Take hold of my hand
and we'll rush it together."

They did so, throwing their combined weight against the door.

"Ouch!" yelled Stacy.

"Never mind, try it again," encouraged Tad, laughing in spite of
himself.

Once more they hurled themselves on the obstruction.  It resisted all
their efforts.  Tad lighted a match, examining the door carefully.  The
light revealed a heap of blankets in a corner of the chamber, where the
old hermit slept.

"Must be his bedroom," decided Chunky.

"We've got to try something else," announced Tad.  "Got your knife!"

"Yes."

"Out with it.  We're going to whittle.  Lucky for us that our knives
are big and sharp.  Hold a match while I mark out the spot we're going
to try to cut out."

Tad had sounded the door with his fist until he found the place where
the bar on the other side held it.  He also discovered sockets for an
inner bar, by which the hermit probably locked himself in at night.
Then he began cutting.

"You start in here and keep to your side so you don't cut my hands,"
the lad directed.

The crunching sound of their knives began immediately, the work going
on more slowly in the darkness than would have been the case had they
had light.  Now and then the lads would pause to listen.  Not a sound
penetrated to their prison.  Tad thought this very strange, unless
perhaps the hermit might be lying in wait to fall upon them in case
they did succeed in freeing themselves.

"Say, Tad."

"Well?"

"I've got an idea."  Chunky's knife had been silent for a few moments.

"What is it?"

"Let's burn down the old door."

"How!"

"I'll show you."

Stacy scraped industriously for a time, then lighting a match applied
it to the spot on which he had been working.  The splinters caught fire
burned up briskly then went out.  Stacy repeated the process with a
similar result.

"I guess that will help a little," decided Tad, running his fingers
over the spot.

"Just like singeing the pin feathers off an old hen--the feathers burn,
but the hen doesn't," grumbled Stacy.

"Whew! the smoke's getting thick in here.  We've got to stop the
burning or we'll suffocate," warned Tad.  "Wish I had an ax.  I'd make
short work of the old door."

They then began working with a grim determination, Stacy ceasing his
joking.  At last a tiny ray of light showed through the heavy door.

"Hurrah!" shouted Tad.  "I see daylight."

"Then give me some bread.  I'm hungry."

"Not yet.  We're not out of our prison," laughed Tad.  "Keep cutting.
It will take all of an hour to make an opening large enough for me to
get my hand through----"

"I got my finger through," cried Stacy triumphantly.  "Ouch!" he yelled
as a club of some sort was brought against the door on the outside with
terrific force, bruising the end of the lad's finger.

"The hermit is out there waiting for us!" gasped Tad, with sinking
heart.



CHAPTER XXIII

LOST IN THE DESERT MAZE

A rifle shot sounded from the camp of the Pony Rider Boys.  At regular
intervals shot followed shot.

It was the warning signal agreed upon to notify the others that water
had been found.  Ned Rector had ridden into camp with the joyful
tidings that he had discovered a water tank about three miles to the
eastward.  Immediately Walter sprang for his rifle, and running to the
top of the little hill began shooting into the air.  Ned, in the
meantime, not waiting for the return of the others, had fetched the
water-bags from the burros, and started off at a rapid pace to bring
back water for the stock.  His canteen he left for Professor Zepplin
and Walter.

"It's horrible stuff, but it is water," breathed the Professor as he
swallowed the brown alkali fluid.  "If ever I get a drink of real water
again, I know I shall be able to appreciate it."

In the meantime Walter's rifle was booming its warning over the desert
maze.

Two hours later, Tom Parry, hot, dusty and well-nigh spent, rode into
camp with the steam rising from his pony in a thin, vaporous cloud.

"Have you found it?" he called hoarsely.

"Yes; Ned's found a water hole," the Professor informed him.

"Give me a drink, quick.  The alkali's cutting furrows in my throat,"
he begged.  "Never got such a hold of me before."

The Professor pressed his canteen to the guide's lips, and Parry drank
eagerly.  A few moments later he pulled himself together sharply.

"I'm going to take the stock out to the water hole," he announced,
starting the burros off across the desert.  "I'll water the stallions
when I return."

"You had better let me attend to that," protested the Professor.
"You're in no shape to go out in the sun again."

"That's all right, Professor.  But tell me how I am going to get out of
the sun?" begged Parry, with a grim smile.

"The tent----"

"Hotter than the sun.  No, I guess I can stand it if those boys are
able to.  By the way, have you seen anything of the other two?"

"I'll ascertain if Walter has discovered them yet."

Walter's straining eyes had failed to make out Tad and Stacy, however,
so the Professor bade him continue firing his rifle.  This was a
pleasant occupation for Walter, for, like his companions, next to a
pony he loved a gun.

Ned had returned with the water-bags, and Parry had finished watering
the stock.  It was now near sunset.

"No signs yet?" questioned the guide, joining Walter on the knoll.

"Not a thing."

"That doesn't seem right.  Stop your firing and come get some supper.
We must eat and put ourselves in shape or we'll be good for nothing.
Did those boys take any food with them?"

"I think I saw Tad stowing something in his pockets before he started.
I'm sure I did," spoke up Ned Rector.

"There's a lad who knows his business," approved Parry, moving toward
the camp with Walter.

"Why have you discontinued the shooting?" demanded the Professor in
surprise.

"To eat.  Half an hour's intermission will make little difference.  If
the lads are on their way, we'll be able to call them in before it gets
dark.  If not, then I shall go out to look for them.  They're all
right.  I think you need feel no concern over them."

"Must have gone a long way," spoke up Ned.

"Yes, they undoubtedly followed orders."

"And perhaps exceeded them," added the Professor.

It was a real supper that they sat down to that evening, with hot
coffee, fried bacon and other good things, and the party would have
been a jolly one had Tad and Stacy been on hand to participate in it.

Walter hurried through his meal, then took his position on the hill
once more, where he renewed his signaling with the rifle.

All at once he uttered a shout, following it with a quick volley of six
shots, thus emptying his magazine.

"Do you see them!" called Parry, hastening over to the knoll, and
joining Walter.

"I think I see a cloud of dust approaching over the desert," he made
reply.

"Where?"

Walter pointed with his rifle.

"Yes, that's the boys, I guess.  Nothing but a broncho could kick up
the alkali like that.  I'll go back and have their supper ready.  You
keep on shooting.  The light is growing fainter and they won't be able
to find their way in otherwise."

"Is it the boys?" called the Professor, as they saw Parry hastening
toward them.

"I think so.  Put the coffee on, Master Ned.  They'll want to boil the
alkali out of their systems as soon as they get here."

"That's the time Tad Butler got left," chuckled Ned Rector.  "He's
always been around when there was any glory coming.  But when it comes
to finding water where there isn't any, I guess they can't beat Ned
Rector."

"What's that boy shooting so rapidly for?" asked Parry.

"He's excited about something," answered Ned.  "He's dancing around as
if he's suddenly gone crazy.  What's that?  He's calling and motioning
to us.  Guess he wants you, Mr. Parry."

"What is it!" called the guide, making a megaphone of his hands.

Unable to make out what it was that Walter was shouting to him, Tom
Parry deserted the camp-fire, where he was assisting to get the second
supper, and hastened to the knoll.

"What's the trouble, my lad?"

"Come and see.  I want you to take a look at that pony.  He's tearing
across the desert as if something were chasing him.  But I can't make
out anyone on his back."

"The light is weak and he's throwing a lot of dust.  Of course there's
some one his back, and there must be two horses."

The guide shaded his hands, gazing off across the plain.

"What--what----" he stammered.

"Wasn't I right, Mr. Parry?"

"That's very strange.  I don't understand it at all."

"That's what I thought."

"There's only one pony and he's riderless," exclaimed Tom Parry.  "I'm
afraid something has happened.  It may not be one of our ponies,
however.  We'll know in a few minutes."

The running animal was drawing steadily nearer the camp.  Those over by
the camp-fire were busy getting the meal ready for the two missing
lads.  The pony reached the foot of the knoll.  Observing Parry and
Walter there, the little animal shied, making a wide detour, and
finally galloping up to the camp.

Walter and the guide hurried down.

"Hello!" cried the Professor, as he saw the horse dash in.  "What does
this mean!"

"Why, it's Tad's pony!" exclaimed Ned in amazement.

"Is that Master Tad's mount?" called the guide as he approached them on
the run.

"Yes.  Do you think there's anything wrong?" questioned Ned.

"Looks that way.  Don't let him get away.  I want to look the critter
over.  Perhaps we may learn something."

Ned caught the pony without difficulty, and led it to the guide.  Parry
went all over the animal, even going through the saddlebags.

"The rifle and the rope are missing.  Everything else seems to be in
order," he announced.

"Then I'll guarantee that Tad's all right," spoke up Ned.

"That's what I think," agreed Walter.  "He's taken his gun and rope up
into some mountain or other and while he was away the pony got away and
started for home."

"Is that your opinion, Mr. Parry?" questioned the Professor.

"What's the use in offering any opinions?  I don't know.  But I'm going
to find out.  Let's see.  We have a new moon to-night.  I've got about
two hours before it goes down.  I want you all to remain right here in
camp until I return.  Even if it's until to-morrow.  I'm going out to
look for the boys."

With that Parry hastily filled his canteen, slung one of the bags of
water over the back of his pony, and springing into the saddle dashed
away, following the trail that the returning broncho had left.



CHAPTER XXIV

CONCLUSION

"No use trying to go any further to-night, Chunky."

"Where'll we stay, then?"

"Right here, I guess," answered Tad.  "It's as good a place as we'll
find."

But to understand this, we must take up the fortunes of Tad and Stacy,
whom we left imprisoned in the hermit's cave.

After waiting for a full hour in the cave, following the hermit's blow
on the door, the lads not having heard anything further of him, had
renewed their whittling.  After long and arduous effort they had
succeeded in making an opening in the wood sufficiently large to enable
Tad to push his hand through.

Before doing so, however, he made reasonably sure that the hermit was
not standing there with a club ready to bring it down with crushing
force.

Being satisfied on this point, Tad thrust a hand through.  His upturned
hand had grasped the bar that held the door in place.  Pushing upward
with all his strength he felt the bar give.

Stacy, with ready resourcefulness, began forcing up on Tad's elbow.  In
a moment more they had the satisfaction of hearing the bar clatter to
the rocks.  Yet one end of it had stuck in its socket, still holding
the barrier in place.

They tried their former tactics.  Backing off, both lads rushed at the
heavy door.  It gave way with a suddenness that they had not expected.
The boys tumbled out, each landing on his head and shoulders, then
toppling over to his back.

There was a lively scramble.  They were up in a twinkling, fully
expecting to find the hermit standing over them.  To their surprise,
they found themselves entirely alone.  To their further surprise,
neither of their ponies was in sight when they stepped out on the rocks.

Upon examining the hoof prints a few minutes later they discovered that
one animal had set off on the back trail, while the other had
apparently gone in the opposite direction.

After a brief consultation they decided that they must start back on
foot.  Without a moment's hesitation, the lads, laying their course by
Tad's watch, started pluckily toward camp, many miles away.

After a few hours night overtook them.  They still had the moon,
however, and by its light they trudged along for two more weary hours.
Then the moon's light left them and Tad decided that it were worse than
useless to continue.

Absolute darkness had settled over the Desert Maze as the boys dropped
down, footsore and weary after their long tramp in the stifling heat.

"Got anything to eat?" asked Stacy.

"That I have, and a canteen of water besides.  We have a lot to be
thankful for yet, Chunky.  Haven't we?"

"I'll tell you after I try the bread," answered the fat boy.

Tad laughed merrily.

"Always a humorist, aren't you?"

"Except when I fall in somewhere," replied Stacy.

"How does the bread go?"

"Fine!"

"Aren't you glad you didn't eat it up back there in the hermit's cave?"

"Oh, I dunno.  If I'd eaten it then, I wouldn't have to eat it now."

"Oh, Chunky, you're hopeless.  I shall have to give you up----"

"What do you think has become of those ponies?" interrupted the fat boy.

"Guess they must have gotten away and gone home--at least one of them,"
answered Tad.

"Wrong."

"Why?"

"One went one way and the other another, didn't he?"

"Yes.  What of that?"

"If they'd gotten away they'd both traveled together.  One of them was
ridden away and I'm thinking the hermit was on his back.  I'll bet he
carried my broncho off."

"You mean you think your broncho carried him off?" laughed Tad.  "I
didn't give you credit for so much sense, Chunky.  I guess you are
right at that.  The ponies surely would have left together.  Seems to
be our luck to lose horses.  Guess my gun has gone, too, but I picked
up the rope back by the mountain."

"Glad I didn't bring my rifle along," chuckled Stacy.  "I'll bet I'd be
throwing good-bye kisses after it now if I had."

"I don't understand what that old man meant by making us prisoners
unless it was that he wanted a horse to get out of the Desert Maze.  If
that was his reason, I don't blame him," laughed Tad.  "Mr. Parry did
us a real service when he advised us to leave our stallions back in
camp.  They surely would have been gone by this time, and we never
could have caught them again."

"Yes; I can see Satan legging it for the hills," replied Stacy.
"Legging it is his strong point."

They had finished their slender meal by this time and drunk their fill
of water from the canteens.  As a result, they felt better than they
had felt at any time during the past three days.

"We have a long, hot walk ahead of us to-morrow, unless they come out
to look for us, Chunky," averred Tad.

"Yes.  And I love to walk," replied Stacy, with droll humor.
"Especially when the sun is one hundred and fifty in the shade, or
where the shade ought to be.  If ever I come down in this baked country
again, I'm going to bring that sweet apple tree out of uncle's orchard,
even if I have to drag it all over the desert with me."

"Think we'd better make our beds and turn in?" suggested Tad.

"I guess.  I'll take a drink of water first; then I'm ready."

In a few moments the plucky lads had stretched out on the still hot
ground, without feeling the least fear.  They were too self-reliant to
feel any fear, and they had passed so many nights in the open that the
mysterious darkness of the outside world held no terrors for them.
They knew there was nothing to harm them.

Tad was beginning to doze off when Stacy nudged him in the ribs.

"What is it?" asked Tad sharply.

"I think the girl forgot to put a fresh pillow case on my pillow
to-day.  The pillow feels awful rough."

"Oh, go to sleep.  Dream all the funny things you wish to, but don't
bother me till daylight."

From that moment until long past midnight the boys slept soundly,
neither having moved since he lay down for his night's rest.  Even when
the coyotes began to howl, off on the desert, the lads merely stirred,
only half conscious of what the sound meant.  But when the howls
gradually drew nearer, Chunky cautiously opened one eye.  The night was
so dark that he could not see anything about him.

The beasts drew nearer.  Tad was awake now.

"Keep still, don't scare them until I give the word," he said in answer
to Stacy's poke.

Emboldened by the quietness, the coyotes kept creeping closer and
closer, their mournful howls increasing in volume every minute.  All at
once Tad reached down for his rope.  He lay still for a few minutes
until satisfied that the animals had not observed his movement.
Suddenly the great loop shot from his hand.

A quick, violent tug at the other end, a wild, frightened howl from the
cowardly beasts, and all but one, with tails between their legs, fled
over the desert.

"I've got one, Chunky," yelled Tad.  "Quick!  Help me here, or he'll
get away!"

It required all the strength of the two boys to hold the animal that
Tad had roped in the dark.  Gradually they shortened up on the rope,
Tad standing in front of his companion until he felt the animal
dangerously near.  Then he let out a swift kick.  By good luck, it laid
the coyote flat.

Tad was upon the beast before, in its half-dazed condition, it could
rise.  Together they tied the animal's feet, its jaws snapping at them
viciously before their task was completed.

There was no more sleep for the lads that night.  They feared the
coyote would gnaw the rope in two, if left alone.  All during the night
the boys were obliged continually to jerk on the line about its neck to
keep the beast from doing this very thing.

Morning came at last.  Making a harness from a piece of the rope, they
bound up one of the animal's forefeet, just as Bud Stevens had done
with wild horses.  Then they released the hind feet.  Mr. Coyote hopped
about like a rabbit for a time, snarling and snapping, to their keen
delight.  They felt no fear of him, though Mr. Coyote had several times
expressed a willingness to fight his captors.

After eating their remaining crumbs of bread, the boys decided to move
on.  Tad, believing that he knew the direction to follow, did not wait
for the sun to rise.  Yet, although they were not aware of the fact,
they already had strayed far from the trail.

"I'm afraid the coyote is going to be a drag on us, much as I should
like to take him along," said Tad.

Stacy begged to keep the animal, and Tad decided to try it.  The next
question was, how to move it.  It was finally decided that one boy
should lead the coyote while the other prodded it from the rear when
the animal lagged.

At noon they halted to rest, draining the last drop from their
canteens.  Then they started on again, suffering more and more from the
heat as they proceeded.  About the middle of the afternoon Tad halted,
gazing helplessly about him.

"Chunky, we're lost in the Desert Maze.  I don't know where I am any
more than if I were in the middle of an ocean.  I'm pretty nearly
exhausted, too."

"So's the coyote," comforted Stacy.

"But we've got to keep on going.  My watch is missing.  I must have
lost it where we slept last night.  I can only guess at the direction
we ought to take.  Have you any idea where we are?"

Stacy gazed at the sky meditatively.

"On a rough guess, I should say we were on the Nevada Desert."

"Oh, come on!  Come on!"

Still clinging to the angry coyote, the lads took up their weary tramp.
The baking alkali burned their feet almost to the blistering point; the
burning, withering heat made their heads whirl; the desert began to
perform strange antics, while the halo that they had seen a few days
before again appeared before them, first whirling like a giant pin
wheel, then oscillating in a way that made them giddy.

"Chunky, I can't stand this any longer," cried Tad, suddenly sinking to
the ground.  "I'm ashamed of myself to give way like this."

Stacy moved around to the sunny side of his companion, placing his own
body where it would shade Tad's head from the sun.  The fat boy took
off his sombrero, unheeding the burning rays that were beating down on
his own head, and began to fan Tad with the hat.

"I don't believe I can go any further, Chunky.  You are still in fairly
good shape and you'll be able to make the camp if you go on.  Leave me
and make a try for it."

"You--you want me to go on without you?  Want me to leave you here
to--Say, Tad, do you think I'm that kind of a coyote?  I'd thrash you
for that if you weren't already properly done up.  You'll feel better
when night comes and your head gets cooled off.  In the morning we'll
make another attempt to get out of the Desert Maze.  You lie still,
now."

Thus admonished, Tad closed his eyes.  At last the sun went down, and
with its passing, came a breath of refreshing air.  They inhaled long
and deeply of it.  After a little, Stacy got up.

"Where you going?" demanded Tad, opening his bloodshot eyes.

"Going to tie up my dog, then go to bed."

Five minutes later both were sleeping the sleep that comes from utter
exhaustion of mind and body.

Stacy awakened first, his eyes opening on the burning blue above him.
After a few moments he rolled over on his stomach to gaze at the
coyote.  Instantly something else attracted his attention.  What he saw
was a crossed stick on a standard.  The whole resembled a cross,
standing barely six inches above the ground.

The lad eyed the strange object inquiringly, then wriggled over toward
it.

"Maybe there's water here.  I'll see," he muttered.  Stacy began
digging industriously with knife and hands.

After a time the knife struck some hard substance.  This, upon further
digging, proved to be a bottle.  The boy pulled his find out quickly.

"There's a piece of paper in it," he exclaimed in surprise.  "Guess
somebody must have thrown it off a sinking desert schooner."

Stacy drew the paper from the bottle.

"'To the lost on the Desert Maze,'" he read "That's me and the coyote.
'Water ten paces to the east.  Grass Peak fifteen miles to the east.
Belted Range about eighteen miles west.  Cross piece on stick, points
due east and west.  A Traveler.'"

With a sharp glance at his sleeping companion, Stacy tramped off ten
paces.  There being no sign of water, the lad began stamping about with
his heels.  Suddenly the alkali crust gave way beneath him.  One leg
went through.  He felt it plunge into water.

"Y-e-o-w!" howled Stacy.

Tad Butler scrambled to his feet, rubbing his eyes.

"Water!  Water!  Water!  I fell in!" shrieked the fat boy, dancing
about joyously.  "I've found a key to the Desert Maze, and I've
unlocked one blind desert alley with my foot."

The lads drank and drank of the villainous, brown fluid.  Then, after
having laved their faces and filled the canteens, they set out on their
journey.  Grass Peak was the hill from which the Professor's pajamas
had been unfurled to the idle desert breeze.

Twilight was descending when two gaunt-eyed, hollow-cheeked lads, each
with an arm thrown about the other's waist for support, were described,
staggering across the Desert Maze.  Behind then, at the end of a
lariat, slouched a disconsolate, cowardly coyote.

A great shout went up from the camp of the Pony Riders.

They dashed out to meet their exhausted companions.  Hoisting the two
boys to their shoulders, they carried them triumphantly to camp.

Tom Parry, the guide, had been thrown by his pony stepping through a
crust on the alkali, and had lain all night on the desert.  Next day he
had staggered back to camp, where he found his pony, and after a few
hours' rest had taken up his fruitless search again.

Stacy's pony in the meantime had come in.  The boys never knew how the
animals got away, though from the fact that Tad's rifle was missing, it
was believed that the hermit had ridden the pony off, turning it adrift
later.

But the brave lads had found their way through the Desert Maze to camp,
having passed through hardships and perils that would have daunted
stronger and more experienced desert travelers.

Next morning the Pony Rider Boys struck their tents and broke camp.  A
few days later they crossed the line into California, where, after
loading their stock and equipment into a large stock car, they started
for the East.

Yet, though their summer vacation was rapidly drawing to a close, the
Pony Rider Boys had not seen the end of their thrilling adventures.
Another exciting trip lay before them; one which was destined to linger
in memory for many years to come.  The story of this, the end of the
Silver Trail, will be related in a following volume entitled, "THE PONY
RIDER BOYS IN NEW MEXICO."



THE END



Dave Darrin Series No. 3

By _H. Irving Hancock_

  1 Dave Darrin at Vera Cruz
  2 Dave Darrin on Mediterranean Service
  3 Dave Darrin's South American Cruise
  4 Dave Darrin on the Asiatic Station
  5 Dave Darrin and the German Submarines
  6 Dave Darrin after the Mine Layers



Aviator Series No. 3

By _Captain Frank Cobb_

  1 Battling the Clouds
  2 An Aviator's Luck
  3 Dangerous Deeds



Boy Scout Series No. 3

By _George Durston_

  1 The Boy Scouts in Camp
  2 The Boy Scouts on the Trail
  3 The Boy Scouts to the Rescue
  4 The Boy Scout Aviators
  5 The Boy Scouts Afloat
  6 The Boy Scouts' Victory



Idle Hour Series No. 3

  1 Hilda's Mascot--_Ireland_
  2 Betty the Scribe--_Turner_
  3 Peggy-Alone--_Byrne_



Ivy Hall Series No. 3

By _Ruth Alberta Brown_

  1 Tabitha at Ivy Hall
  2 Tabitha's Glory
  3 Tabitha's Vacation



Peace Greenfield Series No. 3

By _Ruth Alberta Brown_

  1 At the Little Brown House
  2 The Lilac Lady
  3 Heart of Gold



Pony Rider Boys Series No. 3

By _Frank Gee Patchin_

   1 The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies
   2 The Pony Rider Boys in Texas
   3 The Pony Rider Boys in Montana
   4 The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks
   5 The Pony Rider Boys in the Alkali
   6 The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico
   7 The Pony Rider Boys in the Grand Canyon
   8 The Pony Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers
   9 The Pony Rider Boys on the Blue Ridge
  10 The Pony Rider Boys in New England
  11 The Pony Rider Boys in Louisiana
  12 The Pony Rider Boys in Alaska



Circus Boys Series No. 3

By _Edgar B. P. Darlington_

  1 The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings
  2 The Circus Boys across the Continent
  3 The Circus Boys in Dixie Land
  4 The Circus Boys on the Mississippi
  5 The Circus Boys on the Plains



The Battleship Boys Series No. 3

By _Frank Gee Patchin_

  1 The Battleship Boys at Sea
  2 The Battleship Boys' First Step Upward
  3 The Battleship Boys in Foreign Service
  4 The Battleship Boys in the Tropics
  5 The Battleship Boys Under Fire
  6 The Battleship Boys in the Wardroom



The Submarine Boys Series No. 3

By _Victor G. Durham_

  1 The Submarine Boys on Duty
  2 The Submarine Boys' Trial Trip
  3 The Submarine Boys and the Middies
  4 The Submarine Boys and the Spies
  5 The Submarine Boys' Lightning Cruise
  6 The Submarine Boys for the Flag



Young Engineers Series No. 3

By _H. Irving Hancock_

  1 The Young Engineers in Colorado
  2 The Young Engineers in Arizona
  3 The Young Engineers in Nevada
  4 The Young Engineers in Mexico
  5 The Young Engineers on the Gulf





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