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The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks (Chapter17)

2006-08-28 14:05

  Chapter XVII. When the Dark Horse Won

  "Professor, Mr. Munson says there's going to be a roping contest and horse race near here, this afternoon. May we go over to see it?" asked Ned Rector early on the following morning.

  "Well, I don't know about that. Haven't you boys had enough straying from home for a time?"

  "We can get some one to go with us and show us the way," urged Walter.

  "Yes, let the lads go," said Mr. Munson, coming up at that moment.

  "Where is this place?" asked the Professor.

  "At Jessup's ranch. It is about ten miles to the southeast of here, just outside the foothills of the range."

  "I am afraid they would never find the way there and back," objected Professor Zepplin, shaking his head doubtfully.

  "That is easily taken care of. I will have some one go with them. Why not go yourself?"

  "I? No, thank you, not without a guide. I have had quite enough experience in trying to find my way about in these mountains," laughed the Professor.

  "Then I'll have Tom Phipps go with you. I understand the boys are fond of anything in the horse line, and they usually have a great time over at Jessup's. He is a cattle man and, besides his own men, cowboys from neighboring ranches for twenty miles around ride in to take part."

  "But, we have no ponies."

  "I think we can arrange that all right. Here, Tom, I want you."

  Mr. Phipps approached the little group, the superintendent, informing him in a few words of the plan he had in mind.

  "Of course I'll go with them," smiled Phipps. "I'll be glad of the chance to get out in the open once more. We had better get started pretty soon if we are going."

  "How about it, Professor?" queried Mr. Munson.

  "I do not object if Mr. Phipps accompanies them."

  "Hooray!" shouted the boys.

  "Wish we had our own ponies," added Ned.

  "So do I," chorused the others.

  "You will come along, won't you, Professor?" urged Walter.

  "No, I think not. I've had quite enough for a time. Think I will remain and study the geological formations of the strata hereabouts."

  "There's plenty of it to occupy you for some time," laughed Tom. "The most important zinc mines in the world are strung along this range. And besides, there's lead enough hereabouts to supply the armies of the world if they were all engaged in active warfare."

  Arrangements were quickly made for the trip to Jessup's, and the boys, full of anticipations for a pleasant day in the saddle, donned their chaps and spurs, and began practising with their ropes, while the ponies were being saddled and made ready for the journey.

  "Do we take our rifles, Professor?" asked Stacy.

  "You do not," answered the Professor, with emphasis. "What do you think you will need with guns at a horse race?"

  "I——I don't know but that we might meet some wild animals," stammered Stacy.

  Everybody laughed.

  "Why, there are no wild animals of any account here," laughed Tom.

  "Nothing bigger than a jack rabbit," said Ned.

  "And Ned Rector got all there was of them," added Walter.

  Laughing and joking, the lads mounted their ponies and set off for a day's pleasure.

  The entertainment at the ranch was scheduled for the afternoon, so they had plenty of time in which to make the journey. They arrived shortly before noon, just in time to see the preparations made for a barbecue. A large Texas steer had been chosen for the occasion and roasted in a pit, and they were making ready to serve it.

  Stacy's eyes stuck out as he saw the cook with a knife almost as long as a sword, cutting off slices as large as a good-sized platter, and serving them on plates scarcely large enough to hold the pieces, without the latter being folded over.

  The fat boy managed to get an early helping by pushing his way through the crowd of hungry men that had gathered about the savory roast. When there was anything to eat, Stacy Brown would always be found in the front rank.

  Just as they got started with the meal, a volley of shots sounded up the valley and a band of half a dozen cowboys, yelling, whooping and shouting came racing down on the Jessup ranch.

  With a wild "y-e-o-w!" they circled the roast ox, then bringing their ponies up sharply, threw themselves from their saddles and greedily attacked the portions that were quickly handed out to them.

  This barbecue and day of sports was one looked forward to by the cowmen with keen anticipation. Two a year were given on the Jessup ranch, one after the midsummer round up, and another late in the fall.

  "This is great," confided Tad to Tom Phipps, as the two seated themselves on the grass to eat the good things set before them.

  "It seems so to me. I don't get out of the mountains very often. I wish I could ride the way you boys do. You ride very well."

  "We have to. At first some of us came a few croppers," laughed Ned, who had overheard the conversation. "Chunky had the most trouble, his legs being so short that it's difficult for him to reach the stirrups."

  "I fell off," interjected the fat boy.

  "That's a habit of his," laughed Ned.

  "I wonder if they would let us take part in some of the games this afternoon," inquired Tad.

  "Why, of course they will. I'll speak to Mr. Jessup about it," answered Tom Phipps.

  When the owner of the ranch passed them later on, Tom called him, and after introducing the boys to him, told the rancher what they desired to do.

  Mr. Jessup looked the lads over critically.

  "It's a pretty rough game, boys," he smiled. "But you look as if you were able to take care of yourselves. Of course you may go in for the fun if you want to. I'll tell the bunch."

  "Thank you," said Tad, rising.

  Mr. Jessup shouted to attract the attention of the noisy cowboys.

  "Hey, fellows, we have a bunch of tenderfeet lads from the East with us to-day. They're taking a trip over the mountains and they want to know if they can join you in the fun this afternoon?"

  "Sure!" roared the cowboys. "We'll give the tenderfeet all the fun they want."

  Tad smiled appreciatively.

  "Don't let them disturb you," warned Tom. "They mean all right."

  "Yes, sir; I understand cowmen pretty well. Have spent quite a little time with them."

  "I guess they are getting ready for something."

  "Line up for the hurdle race!" shouted the ranch foreman, who was acting as master of ceremonies. "Half mile down and back with a hurdle every quarter!"

  "Here's where you see some real fun," announced Mr. Jessup, nodding significantly to Tad and Tom Phipps. "Are you boys going into this?"

  "Guess we might as well. Will these ponies take hurdles, Mr. Phipps?"

  "You try them and see. Every one trained down to the ground."

  "That's not the way I want to go," laughed Tad. "I want to stay above it while I'm riding."

  Ned Rector already was tightening his saddle girths preparatory to entering, so Tad hurried to his own mount to get ready for the contest.

  When the contestants had finally lined up, the Pony Rider Boys were surprised to observe that Stacy Brown had ridden down to the scratch with the others. He was sitting on his pony as solemn as an owl, industriously munching a sandwich that he had made for himself.

  "You'll break your neck. You'd better keep out of this," advised Ned Rector.

  "Better look out for your own neck," retorted Stacy. "Guess I know how to ride as well as the rest of you."

  "All right, it's not my lookout. Remember I gave you good advice," was Ned's parting admonition.

  Stacy's pony was a glossy black, the only one of that color among the contestants, and between pony and boy the cowmen were undecided as to which was the most conspicuous.

  "At the second shot of the pistol you will start," announced the foreman. "All ready for the first?"

  "Yes!" roared the impatient riders.

  The foreman pulled the trigger and the ponies began to dance about.

  Bang!

  "Whoop-e-e-e!" yelled the riders, digging in the rowels of their spurs.

  A dozen ponies fairly leaped into the air under the prod of spur and quirt. Away they dashed enveloped in a cloud of dust.

  "They're off!" roared the crowd.

  Stacy, still clinging to his sandwich, was well up with the leaders of the bunch when they got away. He was riding with elbows up to a level with his shoulders, one hand grasping reins and quirt, the other holding the sandwich to his mouth.

  The spectators shouted with laughter at the sight.

  "There goes somebody!" cried Walter.

  One of the ponies had fouled the first hurdle and gone down, plowing the dust with its nose, while the cowboy made a fairly graceful dive through the air, landing on his head and shoulders. The riders directly behind him were obliged to hurdle pony and rider, which they did without mishap to either. Stacy, fortunately was ahead, else he too might have come a cropper.

  This left a field of eleven, all of whom were bunched, their mounts almost rubbing sides. By this time the dust cloud was so dense that the spectators were able to make nothing at all of what was going on at the other end of the course.

  "I hope the youngsters are all right," said Phipps a little anxiously, for the race was one of the roughest he had ever seen, and then the young miner was not much of a horseman, which made the contest seem much more hazardous to him than it really was.

  "They're coming back," shouted a voice.

  The turn had been made, but at the expense of two riders, whose mounts, less sure footed than the rest, had gone down in the sharp whirl for the home stretch.

  The prize in this contest was to be a handsome telescope repeating rifle, and the rivalry for it was keen. The battle would be a stern one, and it was a foregone conclusion that the best horse would win.

  Stacy Brown had not leaned far enough in at the turn, his saddle girth slipping a little as a result. He felt the saddle give a little beneath him, but did not realize what had happened until the pony had straightened away on the home stretch. The saddle then slipped still further under the weight of the rider.

  Stacy threw almost the whole force of his weight on the right stirrup to offset the list of the saddle on the other side, where the stirrup had gone down too far for him to reach. And the first hurdle found the lad clinging desperately to the pony's mane with one hand, the jolt of the jump nearly dislocating his neck as the animal took it.

  The youthful rider, finding himself safely over, uttered a series of shrill yells and began urging on the pony with quick, short encouraging blows of the quirt, though the blows were not heavy enough to hurt the tough little beast at all. It was used to much more serious treatment.

  Somehow the animal seemed bent on doing its best, though the more it strove to reach the goal, the greater was the fat boy's torture.

  Stacy Brown's grit was aroused. He seemed to have come into his own at last.

  "They laughed at me," he muttered. "I'll show them that Chunky Brown isn't a tenderfoot. Even if I don't win the race, there will be some others who will finish after I get through." He was reasonably certain of this from his present position. "But I hope I don't fall in," he grinned.

  By this time the dust caused by their first trip over the course, had settled so that the spectators were enabled to get a view of the last quarter of the race. And they all admitted, without exception, that it was a real race that they were watching.

  Over the last hurdle went two ponies in beautiful curving leaps, ahead of all the others. With their cowboy riders they took the obstruction neck and neck. A full length behind them rode Stacy with the rest of the field strung out to his rear.

  The spectators were able to identify the black now from their point of vantage, and Stacy could hear their cheers, though unaware that these were for him. Tad Butler, second to him in the race, was getting every ounce of speed from his pony that the animal possessed. Yet instead of feeling chagrin over the fact that his companion was out-footing him, Tad was elated.

  "Go it, Chunky! Go it!" he encouraged.

  "I am going," floated back to Tad faintly, causing him to laugh so heartily that he was nearly unhorsed when his pony rose to the hurdle.

  As Stacy's mount cleared the last barrier, the fat boy fell forward on the pony's neck, which he grasped wildly, for the saddle in that final leap had, with disheartening suddeness, given way beneath him, slipping clear down under the animal's stomach.

  Nothing daunted, Stacy, with his newly discovered grit, worked both spurs vigorously, eyes staring straight ahead of him over the head of his fleeing pony.

  They were almost at the finish. Now the dust of the two cowboy leaders in the race did not smite him in the face as heretofore. He was too close up with them for that.

  All at once the lad realized that he was gaining. Excitement among the spectators ran high. Observing his predicament and understanding full well the grit he was exhibiting, they were yelling like mad. Chunky began to yell also, uttering a series of shrill whoops, using voice and spurs incessantly, urging the pony to the goal.

  The black pony, almost gray with the dust that had settled on his sleek, glossy coat, forged ahead in a noble sprint with head on a level with its back, nose reaching for the finish.

  A roar of applause sounded in the fat boy's ears. Yells, cat calls and shrill whoops rent the air.

  All at once a pistol barked, the black pony's feet plowed the dust, bringing it to a sharp halt.

  The suddenness of the movement caused Chunky's feet to rise straight up into the air. For a few brief seconds he was standing on his head on the pony's neck like a circus performer.

  Then, as the animal lowered its head, the rider toppled over, still clinging to the neck of his mount. Such a chorus of laughter and shouting the Jessup ranch had never known before.

  "How is it, Mr. Umpire?" piped Stacy, releasing one hand from the pony's neck and raising it questioningly.

  "This isn't a baseball game, young fellow," jeered the foreman. "This is a hoss race and you've won it. The black wins and you get the rifle."

  The grimy hand that the lad had held aloft still clung to the remnants of the roast sandwich that he had carried throughout race.

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