Bill Saves the Mail
O NE day the rider from the east was late in reaching Julesburg. Bill, standing by Prince, watched anxiously for a cloud of dust on the trail. On the dry plains the first sign of a rider was the dust kicked up by his galloping horse.
As Bill watched the trail, Prince moved about uneasily as if he were reminding Bill that they should be on their way. Every now and then, the agent came out of the station and looked down the trail toward the east.
"I wonder if he has run into trouble," said Bill as he patted Prince. "He has never been this late before."
The station agent made no reply, but he was worried.
Bill and the other riders of the Pony always waited for one another's arrival with concern. There was a deep feeling of friendship among the boys who shared the dangers and thrills of the Pony. They were quick to praise the daring deeds of their fellow riders, but were modest about their own experiences.
At last the telltale cloud of dust appeared on the trail. Bill turned to the station agent and said, "Here he comes." He tried to act as though he had not been worried.
The station agent laughed. "Bill," he said, "you are just like the rest of the boys. If your rider is late you wait quietly, but you are restless. Then the minute you see him coming you pretend that you have not been worried." He slapped Bill on the back. "I know because that is the way I feel, too."
The rider pulled his horse to a stop in front of the station.
"Is Slade here?" he asked, swinging from the saddle. Quickly the station agent removed the rnochila and fitted it over the saddle on Prince.
"No," answered the agent. "He left a week ago for Red Buttes, one of his stations northwest of here. The riders up there are having some Indian trouble and he went up there to settle the trouble."
The rider shook his head. "I wish he were here to settle what Bill should do."
"Why?" asked Bill.
"When I left on this ride, I was told to watch out for Black Marlin, the outlaw. He is waiting somewhere along the trail to rob the Pony," answered the rider.
"That must mean that we are carrying a large sum of money on this trip, doesn't it?" asked Bill.
"Fifty thousand dollars in currency," answered the rider. "I don't know how Marlin found out about it. But someone gave him the tip-off."
"Bill," broke in the station agent, "I don't think you should ride today. Wait until tomorrow. If the Pony doesn't go through today, Marlin will know we have been warned. He will then move on, or lay low for a couple of days."
"He may," said Bill, "but I was hired to carry the mail. Black Marlin is not going to stop me. I am riding today."
"What will you do if you meet the outlaw?"
"I will go prepared to meet him," answered Bill. "We have an extra mochila in the station, haven't we?" continued Bill.
"Yes," answered the agent. "What are you planning to do?"
Bill grinned. "Marlin is out to get a mochila and I am going to get one ready for him."
He ran into the station. The agent and the other rider followed him.
The agent gave Bill the extra mochila. Bill explained his plan as he filled the pockets of the mochila with paper. The pockets looked as though they were full of mail or money. As Bill locked the pockets he asked, "Why were you late today?"
"Indians," answered the rider. "Luckily I met a stagecoach and the driver warned me to look out for Indians ahead. To avoid them I left the trail and rode about ten miles out of my way."
"Did the driver tell you what Indians were on the trail?" asked Bill.
"Yes, Yellow Hand and his Cheyenne braves."
"Yellow Hand!" exclaimed Bill. "That horse thief!"
"Bill," laughed the rider, "don't tell me again how Yellow Hand stole Prince and how Kit Carson got your horse back for you."
"I am not thinking of Prince this time," said Bill. "I am thinking of how much trouble Yellow Hand can make for the Boys of the Pony. He is a tricky and dangerous enemy. Now that he is on the trail again we are liable to have a run-in with him any time. Watch out for him."
Bill picked up the mochila and hurried back to Prince. Quickly he removed the mochila with the money and the mail. Then he removed the saddle and the saddle blanket. Carefully he placed the mochila with the money on Prince's back and then covered it with the saddle blanket. Next he saddled Prince and threw the mochila with the paper in its pockets over the saddle.
"I still think you should wait until tomorrow, Bill," said the station agent. "You are riding straight into trouble and you may be killed."
"I know that I am taking a risk," said Bill, "but if my plan works, the mail goes through."
Bill sprang into the saddle and called, "Come on, Prince. Let's go. We're late."
"Good luck, Bill," called the rider and the station agent as Prince sped away.
Bill rode swiftly, but he watched the trail carefully for signs of the outlaws or Indians. The endless stretch of plain was broken only by the sandy hills in the distance. And the only sounds were those of Prince's pounding hoofbeats on the rough trail.
"If I can get through the narrow pass ahead of me where the trail runs between two hills, I can make the first relay station," he said to himself. "That is the one place on this ride that an outlaw or Indian would pick for a holdup."
When they neared the hills, Bill leaned flat against Prince's neck. "Come on, old boy!" he cried.
Just as Prince reached the hills, two masked men stepped out on the trail. Both outlaws held their rifles ready to fire. They blocked the narrow pass completely.
Bill pulled Prince to a stop.
"Reach for the sky!" commanded one of the outlaws.
Without a word, Bill raised his hands above his head.
"Get down!" ordered the outlaw, "but keep your hands up."
Bill hesitated. He said to himself, "If I seem too willing to let them take the mochila they may become suspicious; and if I make a wrong move they may shoot me."
"Hit the dirt!" repeated the outlaw.
"Is this a hold up?" asked Bill.
"What do you think?" sneered the second outlaw. "Get off your horse and give us that mochila."
"Let me handle this," snapped the first outlaw. "Son," he said turning to Bill, "stop wasting our time. Give me the mochila and I will let you go."
"But I can't," protested Bill. "The mochila is carrying United States mail."
"And fifty thousand dollars," added the outlaw.
"Are you Black Marlin?" asked Bill.
The outlaw nodded.
"Robbing the United States mail is a serious crime," said Bill, jumping to the ground. "Sooner or later the government will catch you."
"Let me worry about that," laughed Marlin.
"All right." Bill began to remove the mochila. He said to himself, "I must get away before they open the mochila and find out that I have tricked them." Aloud he said, "Of course you know I will report this robbery."
"Sure, but by that time we will be gone," smiled Marlin. "You are a plucky youngster. I like your nerve. You don't seem to be the least bit afraid."
"I'm not." Bill snatched the mochila from the saddle, turned quickly, and flung it with all his might straight at Marlin's head.
The sudden move startled the outlaws who no longer had Bill covered with their rifles. Stepping back out of the way, Marlin stumbled over a rock and fell to the ground. The other outlaw leaned over to pick up the mochila. In that instant Bill whipped out his revolver.
"Drop your guns and back away," he ordered.
Still keeping his revolver trained on them Bill mounted his horse. He touched Prince with his spurs.
Before the robbers could recover their rifles, Bill was galloping rapidly away toward the west.
"When they open the mochila they will come after me," he said to himself as he urged Prince to greater speed.
He looked back over his shoulder. The outlaws were opening the mochila. Suddenly one of them reached for his rifle, took quick aim, and fired. The bullet whistled past Bill's head. Several more shots were fired, but they all went wild. In another few seconds, Bill was out of their range.
Bill dashed into the relay station on time. "Black Marlin is on the trail!" he called.
"And he robbed the Pony!" exclaimed the agent as Bill removed Prince's saddle.
"No, he didn't." Bill pulled back the saddle blanket. "The mail is safe. I thought my plan would work, and it did. But," he added, and he laughed a little, "I wasn't really sure until I was out of their rifle range."
"Another dangerous ride made by a Boy of the Pony!" praised the agent. "Good for you, Bill."