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   Chapter 5 AN APPOINTMENT ON THE TRAIL.

The Motor Rangers Through the Sierras By John Henry Goldfrap Characters: 9514

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Something's up," whispered Joe, as if this fact was not perfectly obvious.

"Hush," warned Nat, "that fellow who just came down the trail is the chap we noticed at supper."

"Alkali Ike?"

"Yes. That's what you called him."

"He must have a date here."

"Looks that way. If I don't miss my guess he's here to meet whoever is coming on horseback down that trail."

"Are you going to stay right here?"

"We might as well. I've got an idea somehow that these chaps are up to some mischief. It doesn't look just right for them to be meeting way off here."

"That's right," agreed Joe, "but supposing they are desperate characters. They may make trouble for us."

"I guess not," rejoined Nat, "we're well hidden in the shadow here. There's not a chance of their seeing us."

"Well I hope not."

But the arrival of the horsemen on the trail put a stop to further conversation right then. There were two of them, both, so far as the boys could see, big, heavy men, mounted on active little ponies. Their long tapaderos, or leather stirrup coverings, almost touched the ground as they rode.

"Hello, Al," exclaimed one of them, as the black mustached man came forward to meet them.

"Hello, boys," was the rejoinder in an easy tone as if the speaker had no fear of being overheard, "well, you pulled it off I see."

"Yes, and we'd have got more than the express box too if it hadn't been for the allfiredest noise you ever heard at the top of the trail all of a sudden. It came just as we was about ter go through ther pockets of the passengers. Sounded like a boiler factory or suthin'. I tell you we lit out in a hurry."

The speaker was one of the pony riders. As he spoke Nat gave Joe a nudge and the other replied with a look of understanding. The men who stood talking not a score of paces from them had taken part in the stage-robbery.

The man on foot seemed immensely amused at the mention of the "terrible noise" his companions said they had been alarmed by.

"Why, that was an automobubble," he laughed.

"A bubble!" exclaimed one of the others, "what in the name of the snow-covered e-tarnal hills is one of them coal oil buckboards doin' in this neck of ther woods?"

"Why, three kids are running it on a pleasure trip. The Motor Rangers, or some such fool name, they call theirselves. They hitched the bubble on ter ther stage and towed her inter town as nice as you please."

"Did you say they called theirselves the Motor Rangers?" asked the other mounted man who up to this time had not spoken.

"That's right, why?"

"One of 'em a fat, foolish lookin' kid what can't talk straight?" asked the other instead of replying.

Nat nudged Ding-dong and chuckled, in imminent danger of exposing their hiding place. It tickled him immensely to hear that youth described in such an unflattering manner.

"Why yep. There is a sort of chumpish kid with 'em. For the matter of that all three of 'em are stuck up, psalm singin' sort of kids. Don't drink nor smoke nor nuthin'."

"True for you. We're not so foolish," breathed Nat to Joe.

"Why are you so anxious about 'em, Dayton?" asked the other rider who had remained silent while his comrade was making the recorded inquiries.

"Cos I know 'em and I've got some old scores to even up with them," was the rejoinder. "Do you remember what I told you about some kids fooling us all down in Lower California?"

"Yep. What of it?"

"Well, this is the same bunch. I'm sure of it."

"The dickens you say. Do they travel with much money about them?"

It was the black-mustached man who was interested now.

"I don't know about that. But their bubble is worth about $5,000 and one of them has a gold mine in Lower Cal. Then, too, they always carry a fine stock of rifles and other truck."

"They'd be worth plucking then?"

"I guess so. At any rate I'd like to get even with them even if we didn't get a thing out of it. Ed. Dayton doesn't forgive or forget in a hurry."

Small wonder that the boys leaned forward with their ears fairly aching to catch every word. Nat knew now why the outline of one of the riders had seemed familiar to him. The man was evidently none other than Ed. Dayton, the rascal who had acted as the millionaire Hale Bradford's lieutenant in Lower California.

Nat, it will be recalled, was captured on the peninsula and an attempt made to force him to give up papers showing his right to the mine, which the gang Hale Bradford had gathered about him was working. I can tell you, Nat was mighty glad that he and his companions happened to be there in the shadow; for, thought he to himself:-

"Forewarned is forearmed, Mr. Ed. Dayton."

But the men were resuming their talk.

"Tell you what you fellows do," sai

d the black-mustached man. "Just lie off here in the brush for an hour or so and I'll go back to the hotel and look around. Then I'll come back and tell you if the coast's clear. They've got their auto out in some sort of a shed and if we could run it we could swipe the whole thing. Can you run an auto, Ed.? Seems to me I've heard you talk about them."

"Can a dog bark?" inquired the other, who if the memory of my readers goes back that far, they will recall had at one time been a chauffeur for Mr. Pomery.

"Very well then, that's settled. At all events it might be a good thing to smash up the car if we can't do anything else with it."

"That's right Al.," agreed Ed. Dayton's companion, "we don't want any nosy kids around in the mountains. They might discover too much."

"That's so, too. Well, you leave it to me, Al. Jeffries, and I'll bet you that after to-night they'll all be glad to go home to their mammies."

But right here something happened which might, but for good fortune, have caused a different ending to this story.

Ding-dong Bell, among other peculiarities, possessed a pair of very delicate nostrils, and the slightest irritation thereof caused him to sneeze violently. Now at the time of the year of which we are writing the California mountains are covered with a growth, called in some localities tar weed. This plant gives off an irritating dust when it is shaken or otherwise disturbed, and the hoofs of the two riders' ponies had kicked up a lot of this pungent powder. Just as the rascals concluded their plans a vagrant puff of wind carried some of it in Ding-dong's direction.

Realizing what serious consequences it might have, the lad struggled with all his might against his immediate inclination to sneeze, but try as he would he could not keep the ultimate explosion back.

"A-ch-oo-oo-oo-oo!"

It sounded as loud as the report of a cannon, in the silent canyon, and quite as startling.

"What in thunder was that?" exclaimed Ed. Dayton wheeling his pony round.

He, of course, saw nothing, and regarded his companions in a puzzled way.

Al. Jeffries was tugging his black mustache and looking about him likewise for some explanation. But he could not find it. In the meantime, the boys, in an agony of apprehension, scarcely dared to breathe. They crouched like rabbits behind their shelter awaiting what seemed inevitable discovery.

"Must have been a bird," grunted Ed. Dayton's companion.

"Funny sort of bird," was the rejoinder.

"That's right. I am a funny sort of bird," thought Ding-dong with an inward chuckle.

"Sounded to me more like somebody sneezin'," commented Ed. Dayton who was still suspicious.

"It'll be a bad day for them if there was," supplemented Al. Jeffries grimly.

"Tell you what we do, boys," came a sudden suggestion from Ed.'s companion, which sent a chill to the hearts of the boys; "let's scatter about here and look around a bit."

"That's a good idea," was the alarming rejoinder.

Nat was just revolving in his mind whether it would be the better expedient to run, and trust to hiding in the rocks and chaparral, or to leap up and try to scare the others' ponies, and then escape. But just then Al. Jeffries spoke:

"No use wastin' time on that now, boys," he said, "it's gettin' late. You do as I say, and then in a while we'll all take a little spin in that grown up taxi cab of the Motor Rangers."

To the intense relief of the boys the others agreed. Soon after this the trio of rascals separated. Ed. Dayton and his companions rode back up the trail while Al. Jeffries started off for the hotel.

As soon as their footsteps grew faint Nat galvanized into action.

"We've got a lot to do in a very short time," he announced excitedly. "Come on, Joe! Shake a foot! We've got to beat Mr. Al. back to the hotel."

"How?" inquired Joe amazedly, but not doubting in his own mind that Nat had already thought the matter out thoroughly.

"We'll skirt along the mountain-side above him. If we are careful he won't hear us."

"That is, if Ding-dong can muffle that nasal gatling gun of his," grunted Joe. "Say, young fellow, the next time you want to sneeze when we're in such a tight place, just oblige us by rolling over the edge of the canyon, will you?"

"I c-c-c-o-o-ouldn't help it," sputtered Ding-dong sorrowfully.

"Couldn't," exclaimed the indignant Joe, "you didn't even try."

"I did too. But I couldn't remember whether the book said that you could stop sneezing by pulling the lobe of your ear or rubbing the bridge of your nose."

"So you did both?"

"Y-y-y-yes; why?"

"Well, they were both wrong. You should have wiggled your right big toe while you balanced a blade of grass on your chin."

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