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A Whirlwind Chase






 

NANCY and Ned raced across the field at the rear of the riding academy. But the mysterious rider already had a good start. In the dim light of evening they caught a brief glimpse of horse and rider disappearing down the road.

Oh, I'm sure that was Belgian Star! Nancy cried.

But what makes you think she was being stolen? Ned questioned. Someone from here may just have been riding off on her.

Nancy shook her head. She explained that if the horse had felt friendly to her rider she would not have whinnied.

No, Ned, Nancy insisted. Belgian Star was frightened and didn't want to leave here. She was being whipped, I'm sure.

Ned suggested that they investigate to see if the mare was really gone. Nancy consented and led the way to the stable. The door squeaked protestingly as she opened it and turned on a light. From where they stood, the two could see that Belgian Star's stall was empty.

I guess you're right, said Ned. What say we take off after that fellow in the car?

Yes, let's do, Nancy agreed. Come on!

They hurried back to the car. Before stepping in, Nancy knelt and put her ear to the ground. She could hear the rhythmic beat of a horse's hoofs some distance down the road.

He's still on this road, she said.

Okay. Hop in and let's go, Ned said.

He turned the car around and started down the road. They rode nearly a mile before they began to hear the pounding hoofbeats.

The rider must have guessed that he was being pursued. Reaching an open field, he veered abruptly and raced along the edge of it.

We'd better stop and go the rest of the way on foot, Nancy suggested.

She put her hand on the door handle, but Ned cried, Wait! He made a sharp turn into the field and took off after the rider.

Apparently there was no longer any doubt in the mind of the fleeing rider that he was being trailed, for he made another sharp turn and raced directly across the field.

Ned did the same. But the ground, having been plowed recently, was soft and rutted.

Oh, you'll ruin your car! Nancy exclaimed. Let's stop here.

But Ned drove on doggedly until he came to a brook with a thick woods on the other side.

Now we can't go any farther, Nancy said, as Ned turned off the engine. She climbed out of the car and called at the top of her voice:

Star! Whoa! Belgian Star! Whoa! Come back!

The mare must have heard Nancy, for the hoofbeats and crashing of underbrush stopped. The next moment, Nancy and Ned heard a frantic Giddap! Giddap!

Still no sound from the horse.

Ned, have you a flashlight? Nancy asked.

Yes, in the glove compartment.

She ran back to the car and reached into the compartment. At that moment the horse whinnied. Again Nancy cried out:

Star! Come back!

Grabbing the flashlight, Nancy turned it on and held the light high in the air. She waved it back and forth, and kept calling to the horse. Suddenly there was a sound of hoofbeats and a frantic trampling of undergrowth. A moment later the car's headlights picked up the oncoming horse. It was Belgian Star with Hitch, the groom, astride her!

At the bank of the brook, the mare stopped. Hitch was straining on the bridle so tightly that the horse's head, with mouth wide open and teeth bared, was lifted toward the sky.

I'll get this guy! Ned yelled, and waded into the stream.

In desperation, Hitch jumped from Belgian Star and started off through the woods. Ned was only a few feet behind. Reaching the opposite shore, he plunged into the woods after his quarry.

Belgian Star slowly crossed the stream and came to stand at Nancy's side. The mare nuzzled the girl's neck, as if looking for sympathy. Nancy was stroking the horse when she heard a scream.

Oh, one of the men has been injured! she thought fearfully.

Quickly mounting the mare, Nancy urged her across the stream and into the woods. She started calling Ned's name. There was no answer. Fear clutched her.

Playing the flashlight around, she rode among the trees. A few minutes later, to her complete amazement, she saw both Ned and Hitch lying unconscious in a small clearing.

Dismounting, Nancy rushed to Ned's side first. He was beginning to revive. Nancy chafed his wrists and forehead, and presently he opened his eyes.

Ned, I'm so thankful you're all right, Nancy said, helping him to sit up.

Where's Hitch? he asked immediately.

Right here, Nancy replied, and pointed to the unconscious stableman.

When she turned the light on Hitch she could see that he had not suffered any serious injuries. He had merely blacked out.

What happened? Nancy asked Ned.

He told her that the two had grappled in the darkness. Hitch was clutching the boy's throat, but just before Ned blacked out, he had landed a knockout wallop on Hitch's jaw. Evidently they both had lost consciousness at the same time.

That guy's a fighter, Ned remarked.

They swung the man's unconscious form across the back of the horse, then they started Lack through the woods. Nancy led Belgian Star, while Ned watched the prisoner for signs of regaining consciousness.

When they reached the car, Nancy and Ned held a short consultation. They concluded that if they put Hitch in the car, and Nancy rode the horse, the man might revive and try to overpower Ned.

Do you think Belgian Star could carry two men? Ned asked.

It won't hurt her for a short distance.

Then I suggest, said Ned, that you drive the car and I'll ride with this fellow.

Nancy concurred, and Ned and his prisoner went ahead. Just before reaching the riding academy, Hitch began to regain consciousness. Fortunately, he did not become completely lucid until after Ned had carried him inside and laid him on the floor. Together, Nancy and Ned securely tied their prisoner with pieces of harness.

They had just finished when Hitch fully regained consciousness. He tried to sit up but found that he could not do so because of the straps that bound him. Screaming like a madman, he cried out that he had done nothing and they had no business to tie him up.

Hitch, said Ned, you have plenty to account for. You'd better start talking.

The groom insisted that he would reveal nothing about himself, except to say that he was merely borrowing Belgian Star to get somewhere.

You needn't tell us if you don't want to, Nancy said. You can give your story to the police.

She walked off, heading for a pay telephone which hung on the wall. Since she had no coins, Nancy called to Ned to bring her some.

I'll call Chief McGinnis for you, he offered. See if you can get anything out of Hitch.

Returning to the prisoner, Nancy asked him why he had tried to strangle her with the whip at the circus.

The man's eyes nearly bulged from his head. How'd you know I did that? he asked.

Nancy did not reply. Instead she asked, You know the police are looking for you. If you had no reason to run away, why did you leave Señ or Roberto's employ?

I don't have to work here if I don't want to, Hitch said stubbornly.

Did you have any reason for throwing the stone at me and injuring the rider at the circus, except that you don't like people to do trick riding? Nancy questioned the man.

I ain't talkin'.

Ned returned in a few moments. He told Nancy that Chief McGinnis himself was coming out to the riding academy to take charge of Hitch. While waiting for his arrival, Nancy and Ned discussed the case. Presently Ned remarked:

I'm surprised that a stable with such valuable horses as these would be left unguarded.

You're right, said Nancy. Roberto has an apartment upstairs, you know. He must be away.

The more Nancy thought about this, the more she became convinced that Roberto would not leave the stable unguarded. If he were going to absent himself, he would arrange for some friend to stay there.

Ned, she said, I'm worried. Would you mind going upstairs? I'd like to be sure that Roberto is not here.

Ned looked at her, reading the ominous thought in her mind. Without answering, he clicked on a second-floor light and dashed up a pair of narrow stairs which led from the stable. A moment later he cried out:

Nancy, come up here quick!

 


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