“Here! where you goin’?” demanded the foreman after the retreating cowboy.
“To see if I can catch that imp of Satan before he does any mischief,” was the reply, shot back over Gimp’s shoulder. “I can’t see how Jerry took the wrong pony.”
“They look a heap alike to a fellow that don’t know much about hosses,” was the answer. “But if he doesn’t know Go Some’s tricks he sure will be throwed, and likely trampled on. Think you can get to him in time?”
“I don’t know. They didn’t say where they was goin’, but I’ll do my best.”
Gimp threw his saddle over his own mount that was having a “breather” after dinner, pulled tight the girths and swung himself up with a peculiar hitch that, as much as had his reputed ability to dance, had gained him his nickname.
“Try down by Bubblin’ Spring,” directed the foreman. “I think I heard the professor say he was goin’ that way, and he asked the boys to stop and flag him if they got the chance. He said he was after some new kind of frog or other. The spring’s full of ’em.”
“All right,” answered Gimp, as he galloped off.
“Queer, though, how Jerry took the wrong pony,” murmured the foreman as he went back to his office. “They look a bit alike—his’n and Go Some, but the last is meaner’n pizen. He’ll trot along with you for an hour or so and then he’ll get as wild as the wust buckin’ bronco that ever stiffened his legs and humped his back. Never could account for it—never. Guess I’ll get rid of him—if Jerry comes out of this all right. If he don’t I’ll shoot the imp.”
“What’s the matter? You got money in the bank?” asked Hinkee Dee, sauntering out of the bunk house.
“Why?” the foreman queried.
“Talkin’ to yourself like that.”
“Oh! I was just wonderin’ why he took him.”
“Who took him?”
“Jerry—you know—one of the boys. He rode off on Go Some and left his own pony. Mistake, I reckon, but it’s like to be a bad one for him. You know Go Some.”
“I should say I did! Don’t care for his acquaintance, either.”
“Well, think of that tenderfoot lad on him. Gimp has rid off trying to catch him. Maybe if you was to——”
“No thank you! I’ve got something else to do besides going to the rescue of thick-headed tenderfeet.”
“But Jerry made a mistake I tell you! He took Go Some thinking he was his own pony. Must have been tethered where he left his mount, though I don’t see how that could be, as Go Some is never fastened with the saddle ponies any more.”
Hinkee Dee said nothing as he strode away, but there was no look of concern on his face as there was on the countenance of the foreman.
“What’s the matter with your pony, Jerry?” asked Bob as he and Ned rode beside their tall chum.
“Nothing that I know of. Why?”
“He seems to want to hurry up all the while. Never knew him to be that way before. He was always at the tail end.”
“He is a bit speedy,” admitted Jerry, as he saw that his mount was stepping along at a good pace. “I never paid much attention to him before. Maybe he has some friends over this way. I wonder,” went on Jerry, speculatively, “if any of the cow rustlers’ ponies could be grazing around here?” for they were in the vicinity of the place where they had picked up the trail of the last raiding party.
“It might be,” agreed Ned. “Horses have relations, same as other animals, I reckon, and if your pony got a whiff of the family he might be in a hurry to rub noses. But, however that may be, I’d give a good bit to know where they hide their horses and the cattle. Hold on there! Don’t be in such a rush!”
Jerry tried to rein in his mount, but it was too late, for, a moment later, the animal had taken the bit in his teeth and was dashing across the plain.
“What are you trying to do—start a race?” cried Ned.
“I’ll give you a brush!” added Bob, but he had a glimpse of Jerry’s face as the lad tore past him, and Jerry’s countenance showed anything but delight in a coming test of speed.
Meanwhile, Gimp, his anxious eyes scanning the horizon at every rise he topped, was riding on, muttering to himself.
“That change of horses never was made natural,” he said. “Somebody who didn’t like Jerry had a hand in it. Now I wonder who it could be? Well, better not ask too many questions, I reckon. But I’ll keep my eyes open.”
He trotted on, now and then speaking to his horse as a range rider will often do. But Gimp saw no trace of the boys of whom he was in search—at least not for over an hour after he had fared forth. Then, as he turned away from Bubbling Springs where his search had been unsuccessful, and headed for the defile where the trail of the cattle rustlers had been lost, he descried in the distance three figures, one far in advance of the others.
“That’s them, sure!” exclaimed Gimp. “And Go Some has done his famous boltin’ stunt. Anyhow, Jerry’s still in the saddle. How long he’ll stay is another matter. Hop along you rat-tailed runt!” and with this affectionate epithet directed at his own steed, Gimp shook the reins and galloped off, making sure Lizzie, his horned toad pet, was safe in his pocket.
He was within five hundred feet of the leading, onrushing Go Some when the maddened horse did just what was to be expected of him. He began to buck, and as Jerry was no expert in the saddle he shot out at the second landing. And then, with fury, Go Some turned and rushed at the prostrate, motionless figure.
With yells of dismay, Ned and Bob tried to spur their already half-exhausted animals forward to stop the maddened brute, but their mounts were unable to give the necessary burst of speed.
“Leave him to me!” yelled Gimp, who rode up just then. “I’ll ’tend to him!”
“Hump yourself now, you rat!” he yelled to his animal.
Like a polo pony, Blaze collided with the infuriated Go Some, the two horses coming together with a thud that could be heard for a long distance. Then Ned and Bob saw Gimp’s plan. He fairly knocked the maddened animal to one side so it could not trample on the unconscious Jerry.
But the shock was only momentarily successful. Thrown out of his stride, and away from the object of his attack, Go Some swerved to one side for an instant. But as he came on again, with no thought of giving up his plan, Gimp was ready for him.
Drawing his revolver, the cowboy fired directly at the furious animal. The bullet, as the marksman intended, creased a red line along the beast’s neck, making a smarting, stinging wound.
“Maybe that’ll cure you!” muttered the cowboy as he saw the mad horse turn and gallop away across the rolling plain. Then Gimp reined Blaze in, and slipped out of the saddle. He knelt beside Jerry, as Bob and Ned jumped from their mounts.
“Is he—is he——” faltered Chunky.
“Not by a long shot!” exclaimed Gimp. “There’s a lot of fight left in him yet! He struck on his head and he’s insensible, but there don’t nothin’ seem to be busted,” he added, feeling all over Jerry who lay with closed eyes.
“How’re we going to get him home?” asked Ned, when his chum had not aroused after they had wet his face with water and had tried to force some between his lips.
“Guess one of you’ll have to ride back for the ambulance—I mean a wagon,” Gimp answered.
“Our auto would be best,” suggested Ned. “I’ll go get it and run it back here.”
Ned made good time back to the ranch, considering the half-exhausted state of his pony, and he made better time back with the automobile. Jerry was just opening his eyes when Ned returned, but he went off in another spell of faintness as they lifted him up on the pile of blankets that had been slipped in by the anxious foreman.
As the automobile, carefully and slowly driven by Ned, while Bob and Gimp rode beside it, came within view of the Square Z buildings they saw a horseman riding toward them.
“What’s up now; more trouble?” asked Gimp, as he recognized the Parson, who seemed excited.
“I should say so! Munson’s been shot.”
“In a cattle raid. There’s been another.”
“Here! where you goin’?” demanded the foreman after the retreating cowboy.