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The Pony Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers by Frank Gee Patchin

Part 4 out of 4

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"I'm with you. Where shall we begin?"

"You go to the left and I'll go to the right. We will meet somewhere
near the fallen tree unless we get side-tracked."

The tree referred to was a huge one. It lay at the base of a great
pile of rocks, from which it evidently had slipped. In falling it had
carried its roots with it. These roots, massed with dirt and stone,
stood up in the air all of fifteen feet. The top of the tree was a
hundred feet further out. It must have been a magnificent tree when
it stood towering from the top of the rocks there and no doubt was a
landmark for all that part of the Guadalupe Range. The trunk at the
top stood free of the ground several feet, the trunk nearer the roots
resting on an almost knife-like edge of rock that had cut deeply into
the trunk when the tree fell.

Stacy gazed at the tree and decided that it would make an excellent
thing to climb. He stepped up on the trunk at the roots, walking out
toward the top.

"Come on up. The walking's great, Tad," he cried.

"I'll be there pretty soon."

After looking about for several minutes Butler followed his companion.
But Tad paused before climbing up. He eyed that towering mass of
roots, dirt and stones with interest.

"See anything funny?" called Stacy.

"No, nothing particularly funny. I do see the print of a horseshoe
here on the rocks where some dirt has stuck to the shoe and been left
on the stone. It isn't any of our stock as nearly as I can determine.
I guess it must have been some of those fellows last night. They
evidently were shooting from behind the tree here."

"They weren't shooting from behind much of anything, as well as I
could judge," answered the fat boy.

Tad climbed up and made his way slowly along the tree trunk. As he
neared his companion, he felt the tree settle a little. This at the
moment did not make any particular impression on the Pony Rider Boy.
Their combined weight might cause the outer end to give a little.
Then all at once a howl from Chunky caused Tad to grasp a branch to
save himself.

The tree top was settling slowly.

"Look, look!" cried the fat boy.

Tad turned, amazement growing on his face. The roots of the tree had
slowly risen several feet into the air, disclosing a hole in the rocks.

Chunky was so excited that he fell off before Tad could say a word. The
tree settled back, closing the hole in the rocks.



The top of the tree sprang up with such force, when relieved of the
weight of the fat boy, that Tad Butler lost his hold and was catapulted
to the ground, which he struck with a force that made his bones ache.

The two Pony Rider Boys sat up rubbing themselves and looking into
each others' faces.

"Well, what do you think of that?" jeered Stacy Brown.

"I think we got a fine tumble," replied Tad, grinning.

"And I think something else, too."

"Yes, we've made a discovery!"

"A great discovery," breathed Stacy tensely.

"I think so, but that remains to be seen. Who would have thought it?
But get away from here! We may have disturbed some one."

The lads quickly scrambled up and, skulking into the bushes, crouched
down, watching the roots of the tree, almost expecting them to rise
into the air again. Nothing of the sort happened. The birds were
singing in the trees, the sun was shining brightly, the heat was intense.

"I'm going to investigate," declared Tad.

"Maybe we've discovered another gold mine, or perhaps a German dugout,"
suggested Chunky.

"Perhaps, but not in the way you think."

"How do you mean?"

"Wait until we investigate. There may be more to this than either of
us think. I wonder if we can weight that tree down so the roots will
stay up in the air?"

"I saw some rocks there near the top. Perhaps we can make them stay
on so the top will be held down."

"You get up on the tree again and I'll pass the rocks up to you. Place
them so they won't slide off. I don't want to get crushed by them
falling on me."

"Neither do I want to get thrown off again. I'm black and blue all
over, right this minute."

"I think I must be by the feel of my skin. Hurry!"

Stacy ran back to the roots, once more clambering to the trunk, along
which he ran clear to the outer end. Tad was ready with a heavy, flat
rock which he carefully raised by main strength.

"Now, don't you dare let that drop on me or I'll be mashed flat,
Stacy Brown."

"I---I won't let it d-d-rop un---unless I---I fall off."

The rock nearly got away from the fat boy. Butler leaped back out of
the way, but Stacy recovered himself in time and after some effort
succeeded in placing the rock in the limbs of the tree.

"Fits as if it had been here before," declared Chunky.

"Perhaps it has. We shall see. Are you ready?"


"Here's another."

By the time the third stone had been put in place the top of the tree
began to settle. The fourth rock brought the tree down to the ground,
exposing the opening in the rocks once more.


"Keep still. Don't move till I get enough up there to equalize your
weight. Then you may come down."

The remaining stones were quickly laid in place. Tad motioned for
Chunky to descend. The fat boy leaped down. The tree top remained
on the ground leaving a wide opening in the rocks.

"Now, Chunky, keep your nerve. You may need it."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going in there. I think perhaps it might be the wiser plan for
you to remain out here and keep watch."

"No, sir, I guess not! I've helped discover that hole and I'm going to
reap my reward by exploring the inside."

"Come along then. It is taking long chances, but I guess the tree is
safe unless some one should come along and trip the stones. Then we
would be in a fine fix, shouldn't we?"

"I reckon we would. We wouldn't be getting out of that hole, right
smart, should we, Tad?"

"I guess not. We should be buried alive."

"Still, there may be some other opening to the place. We will take a
chance. Got your matches?"


"Then you light a match when we get inside. I'll have my revolver
ready in case there is anything in there."

Taking a final glance about, Tad moved toward the opening in the rocks
with brisk step. Chunky was trotting along behind him, the fat boy
full of importance over the discovery they had made. At the opening
they paused, glancing apprehensively at the great roots towering
above them. Were the butt of that giant tree to settle down now, it
would crush them.

The boys stepped inside. They could see but a few feet ahead of
them, but saw that they were in a huge crevice in the rocks, a sort
of cave formed by the splitting apart of the rocks themselves, perhaps
from some long past earthquake disturbance.

"Light a match, Stacy."

The fat boy did so.

"There have been horses in here," announced Tad.

"Yes, I guess there have, but there aren't any here now."

"Fortunately for us."

The air was cool, though a little damp in the cave. To this the boys
gave no heed. They had more important matters on hand than observing
the atmosphere of the place. The cave they found was much larger than
they had had any idea of. In places the roof was all of ten feet high.
But as they penetrated further in, moving cautiously, lighting the way
with every step, the walls sloped toward the back, approaching nearer
to the floor.

Except for the light from the matches, the boys were in darkness, so
that they were not able to observe that the opening to the cave had
closed. A strong breeze, swaying the upper limbs of the tree, had
dislodged the stones and allowed the roots to slip quietly into place
again. The boys, without knowing it, were prisoners.

"You aren't throwing your matches on the floor, are you?" demanded
Tad turning sharply.

"Yes, why not?"

"Show me a light here," commanded Tad going down on his knees and
gathering up all the burnt matches he could find. "That is a fine
trail you are leaving. Why, were any one to come in here, he would
discover instantly that strangers had been here."

"I---I never thought of that," stammered Chunky.

"We must think of everything. Our very lives may depend on our
doing so."

"Wha---what do you mean, Tad?"

"Don't you understand yet?"

"I---I guess I begin to. Some---somebody's been here."

"Yes. It is my opinion that the very men Captain McKay is looking for
have been here. Come, we must be quick! We are likely to be
interrupted at any time, though I hardly think any of them would
come here in the daytime."

The boys were obliged to stoop in order to continue their explorations
further. After creeping under the low-hanging rock they found that
they were able to stand erect once more. Then they discovered something
else. There were bales piled on top of one another, packs securely
tied lying about, guns, rugs, in fact a miscellaneous assortment of
goods which the boys believed to be of great value. In one corner
stood a chest securely padlocked. It was a rough chest, bound with
iron bands that looked as if they might have been used on cotton bales.

"Well, we have made a discovery, Stacy Brown!" breathed Tad.

"We have," agreed the fat boy, his eyes growing large with wonder.
"What do you suppose is in that chest?"

"I don't know."

"Let's open it," suggested Stacy eagerly.

Tad shook his head.

"In the first place we have no business to do anything of the sort.
In the second place I don't want to stay here much longer. We had
better be getting back to camp as quickly as we can. Of course we
can't do anything until Captain McKay returns, but the more quickly
we get away from here the better it will be for us."

"I---I'm scared. Aren't you?" stammered the fat boy apprehensively.

"No, I am not scared, but I realize that we are in danger every
minute we stay here. Those men wouldn't trifle with us, were they
to catch us. Do you know what they would do to us if they caught
us here, Chunky?"


"They would fill us full of lead, that's what they would do. Light
another match while I look into this niche. Then we will be making
tracks for the outside."

Tad was back by Stacy's side a moment later. He motioned that they
were to go back. The boys started briskly for the opening. The
instant they had crawled out into the outer chamber they realized
that all was not as it should be. At first they did not understand
what had occurred.

Tad was the first to make the discovery of what had occurred.

"We're caught!" he cried.


"The tree has closed the opening to the cave. Now we are in a nice

Stacy was speechless. He held a burning match in his hand until the
match burned up to his finger, whereat Chunky dropped the match with
an exclamation.

"I---I'll tell you what let's do. Let's dig through the roots. We can
do it. Come on."

Tad laid a restraining hand on the fat boy's arm.

"We won't do that just yet. This may have been an accident. Those
stones may have slipped off. I am inclined to think that is what has
happened. If so, we don't want to leave any clues---"

"I'd rather leave clues than to leave my dead body in here," wailed

"Buck up! Don't show a yellow streak, Chunky!" commanded Tad sharply.

"I'm not yellow. But I know enough to know when I've got enough. I
know I've got enough of this bandit-chasing business. I ought to have
known better than to go out with you. They think I can't keep out
of trouble. I can keep out of trouble all right if other folks don't
lead me into it. Now see what a fix you've got me into, Tad Butler!"

"It strikes me that I am in the same fix. But we're going to get
out of it, Stacy---"

"Yes, but how?"

"I don't know, but I'll find a way."

"Why, we'll starve to death in here. They'll find our bones here a
few years from now and they'll wonder---I wish I had something to eat."

"Tighten your belt. Remember, whatever occurs, you are to leave your
revolver in its holster. Don't you dare to draw it unless I tell you
to. One little slip might be the death of us. For once in your life
be prudent."

"I'll be prudent, but I wish I had a sandwich. Have you looked to see
if there's anything to eat in this hole?"

"No, I have something of more importance than food to think about at

Tad struck a match, taking a long, careful look about the outer chamber
of the cave. He saw nothing to encourage him. Rocks everywhere, with
here and there a discolored spot where tiny streams had trickled
through, perhaps during a heavy rainstorm.

Tad was thinking with all his might, trying to devise some plan by
which they might protect themselves in case they were surprised by
the return of the bandits, which he did not think would occur before
night, even if then. He reasoned that the bandits were far away else
the Rangers would not have gone on a long journey in search of them.
That meant that the bandits would not be likely to return until matters
had quieted down and the Rangers had left the locality.

"I am afraid we are in here for a long stay, old chap," Butler said

"Another case of being buried alive, eh?" questioned Stacy. "I told
you so. I always am right. But I wasn't when I trusted myself to you.
You can get into more trouble, and faster than---"

"At least I don't try to shave the professor with my revolver," retorted
Tad sharply. "Hark! What was that?"

"I---I didn't hear anything."

"Sh-h-h!" Tad gripped the arm of his companion. Stacy repressed an
"ouch" with some difficulty. The two lads stood listening.

Particles of dirt were rattling from the roots of the fallen tree,
sounding like hailstones as they fell to the rocks in the cave. Then
a faint ray of light appeared under the bottom of the mass of roots.

"Somebody is coming," whispered Tad. "Stand perfectly still until I
tell you to move."

"They can't see us at once. Don't make a sound on your life."

"Wha---what are you going to do?" whispered Stacy, his teeth chattering

"Duck, if I get half a chance. But I don't think I shall. There it

The great mass of roots rose clear of the ground, exposing the full
height of the opening, and the eyes of the two Pony Rider Boys grew
large at what they beheld there in the framed circle of light,



As root mass swung upward, a man with a vicious slap on the animal's
thigh, sent a horse bounding in. He followed the horse. Then after
him came five other men, crowding in with every appearance of haste.
Not a word had been spoken up to this time.

"Now run for your life!" whispered Tad in the ear of his companion.
"No, this way. Stoop low. I don't want to get pinned in that other

Tad had been using his eyes while glancing about the compartment, and
using them to good purpose. He had espied a heap of blankets, either
discarded ones or some that had been used for the ponies. He was
inclined to the former opinion. He was quite sure that blankets would
not be used for the animals at this time of the year. At any rate
there was now no time for reflection. It was a time for quick action.

Leading Chunky to the heap, which lay under a projecting ledge of rock
some four feet from the floor, Tad forced his companion over behind
the pile, then himself crawled in, puffing the blankets over them.

Stacy's teeth were still chattering.

"Stop it!" commanded Tad, giving the fat boy a violent pinch.

This time Chunky did say "ouch!" But before the word was out of his
mouth Tad had clapped a blanket over the offending mouth.

"Do you want to be killed?"


"Then keep still!"

"Wha---what are they doing?"

"That is what I want to find out if you will lie quiet and not give me
any further trouble. They are staking their horses. This must be the
stable. The men, as I thought, will go back further. I hope we can
hear what they say."

"I don't care what they say. I want to get out of here."

"You never will if you don't muzzle yourself. Now do try to keep
quiet while I listen."

Tad raised his head cautiously, but quickly drew it back. What he had
seen was the face of the man who had passed himself off as captain of
the Rangers when visiting the camp of the Pony Rider Boys a few days
before that. This was Willie Jones, the man for whom every Ranger in
the state was searching at that moment. And then---Tad shivered in
spite of himself when he made the discovery---stepping up to the leader
to ask him a question was Dunk Tucker, the fellow whom Tad had
captured. Dunk had regained his freedom and had joined his band. His
presence here indicated that it was not a good place for the Pony
Rider Boys. Tad hoped his own fellows might keep close to their camp.
He wondered if the Rangers would be able to trace the bandits to their
lair, or if the former even knew the outlaws had returned to that
locality again. The words of Tucker answered his question.

"Well, we outrode them, Cap," said Tucker.

"Yes, but if you hadn't made a fool of yourself and tried a pot shot
on McKay they wouldn't have known we were anywhere about. That was
a fool play on your part, Dunk. Your temper will be the death of you.
We'll be lucky if it isn't the death of the whole outfit. I don't want
any more of it. If you can't control yourself better, the word will
go out that you aren't safe. You know what that means?"

Dunk grinned maliciously.

"I reckon I do. How long we going to stay in here this time?"

"I'll let you know when I am ready to go."

"But ain't you going to clean out that camp?"

"If you mean the boys, I am not. I am looking for bigger game just
now. When we get through you can settle your little grudge if you
want to. I reckon you'll get your fingers burnt, the same way you
did before, if you try it. Those boys are pretty slick."

Tucker's face grew black. No need to tell Tad of what the outlaw was
thinking at that moment. He was thinking of the time when the boys
had made him a prisoner and how they had been responsible for his
having been taken to El Paso and locked up. There was murder in the
heart of Dunk Tucker at that moment, as Tad Butler well knew.

The men had lighted candles and stuck them in crevices in the rocks,
so that the chamber was fairly well lighted. The horses were white
with foam, showing that they had been ridden hard. The watching boy
understood. The bandits had been hard pressed by the Rangers.

Jones walked away, leaving Tucker standing there nursing his deadly
rage. After a time Dunk followed into the other chamber, where the
men fell to discussing their escape in tones plainly audible to the
boys hidden under the blankets. From the conversation Tad drew that
the men had been on a raid and that they had been forced to throw away
much of their plunder because of having been so hard pressed by the
pursuing Rangers. Still, three small packs had been unloaded from
the ponies in the cave and carried to the inner chamber. The outlaws
were not in good humor. Their leader was the only one whose face
reflected a smile. Willie could smile even when facing a gun.
That smile had upset more than one man's aim and saved Willie's life.
Jones fully realized the value of his disconcerting smile.

Tad's reflections were interrupted by the voice of one of the outlaws.

"They're here," said the voice. "I'd like to take a pot at them."

"It'll be your last if you try it," threatened Jones. "This is the
only safe retreat we've got. We don't propose to give it away by any,
such fool play as shooting at a Ranger from it, much as we'd like to
get rid of some of those fellows. They're crowding us pretty close.
And right here, I've got a proposition to make. By the way, Gregg,
what are they doing?"

"Looking for trails."

The outlaw captain smiled grimly.

"Let 'em look. Precious little trail they'll find, and precious little
good it'll do them if they do find it."

"Joe said those stones weren't where he'd left them."

"That's all right. Probably some of those boys have been fooling
around here. They're a nosey crowd. But there's no chance that they
have discovered anything yet. Give them time and they may. Once we
break up the Ranger camp the boys will take French leave mighty quick.
It will be too warm for them here. As I was about to say, I have a
proposition to make to you. Until things quiet down a little it is
my suggestion that we get across the Rio Grande and go into retreat
there in our old joint. We've got a lot of valuable stuff here that
we can't get out at present and we'll have to leave it here. The
Rangers are watching this locality altogether too closely for comfort
so far as we are concerned. Withem is nosing around El Paso as you
know, lying low for some folks that we know of there. No use to
take chances when we don't have to. If you're all agreed we'll just
slope to the other side of the river and lie low for a month. What's
your idea?"

"I'm agreed, if you'll give me a chance to get even with that gang of
boys first," spoke up Tucker.

"You mean that you want to stay here after we've gone?" smiled Captain

"I reckoned I'd like to until I'd done what I told you."

"Well, I reckon you won't do anything of the sort. When we go out of
here, none of us comes back till the whole crowd returns. Is that
clear, Dunk?"

The outlaw growled an unintelligible reply.

"The Rangers have drawn off, Captain," called the lookout.

"Which way?"

"Toward the camp."

"They're going to stay there all night," decided the leader. "Well,
we'll watch our chance and perhaps we'll be able to get away some time
late in the night. Are you all agreed on getting across the river if
we can make it?"

The men said they were.

"Then that's settled. Get out the grub. We'll feed up while we've got
the chance."

No fire was built. The men munched their food cold. Little was said
among them.

And now Tad began to ponder over certain other phases of his situation.
How were these outlaws going to get out? There surely must be some
way of opening the way to the outside. Still, the boy did not see
how they could move the tree from the inside. If they could do it
he could. He decided, however, that it would not be safe to trust
to his finding the secret of the opening. Far better would it be to
bolt at the first opportunity.

Stacy had kept unusually quiet, though his eyes had grown large when
he heard the conversation of the men. At least there was a peep-hole
through which the lookout was keeping watch. It occurred to Chunky
that he could yell after the men left, and thus attract the
attention of his own fellows. Tad had a different idea in mind,
though he had not yet fully formulated his plans along this line.

The outlaws having finished their lunch, some rolled up in their
blankets and went to sleep undisturbed by the fact that a band of
Rangers was encamped within a short quarter of a mile of them.

As for the boys who were in such a tight place, they hardly dared move
for fear of frightening the horses and thus exciting the suspicions
of the outlaws further down the underground passage. When the boys
did change their positions it was done as cautiously as they knew how.
One Pony near them evidently scented them, for it grew restless and
kept snorting, but that was all.

The hours dragged on wearily. The boys did not know whether it were
night or day. Finally the lookout came down to where Jones was
pacing steadily back and forth.


"Something going on over there," answered the lookout, jerking his head
toward the opening.

"What do you think?"

"I don't know. They're running around out there with torches."

"Where are they?"

"On the other side of the clearing."

"Got their rifles with them?"


"McKay there?"

"The whole crowd's there."

"They've missed us," whispered Chunky. "They're looking for us."

"Sh---h---h---h," warned Tad softly. Jones pondered for a moment, then
he turned to the lookout sharply.

"Wake up the men," he said.

"I reckon something is going to be did," whispered the irrepressible
Chunky. Something was.



The waking of the men was a matter of seconds merely. A touch on the
shoulder and the man touched was on his feet as if propelled by
springs, hand instinctively going to the revolver dangling from his

Tad, now keenly alive to what was going on, had partially thrown the
blankets off, Chunky having done the same.

"Don't stir. I'll tell you when it is time to move," warned Tad.

"Men, I've changed my mind," announced the leader. "Are you ready for
a fight?"

"Sure we are if it's Rangers you want us to fight," answered a voice.

"Yes, it's the same old crowd, and a bunch of youngsters thrown in. I
don't know what the trouble is, but they're racing around out there
with torches---"

"Mebby they've found the trail," suggested one.

"No, I reckon some of the youngsters have strayed away and got lost.
All the better for us. The Rangers won't be looking for us."

"They have left their rifles in the camp. They've got their revolvers
with them, of course. Take your rifles. Put out all the lights, then
while the watch is being kept we'll step out and give them a volley.
Be careful to get to one side of the opening so we don't draw their
attention too sharply to the opening. That might leave some marks and
lead them to investigate when day comes. We'll be a long way from
here by that time, but I hope we'll leave a few dead Rangers behind us."

Dunk Tucker was grinning broadly. This was the opportunity for which
he had longed.

"Sneak out quietly. Take a good aim. Give them a rattler of a volley.
Every man pick his mark. You can't miss. I'll look for McKay. But
don't all aim at the same mark or you won't do much damage."

Tad could not repress a shudder. He realized the desperateness of
Willie Jones' character fully now. A man who could plan such a
cold-blooded crime could have no heart. And the worst of it was that
Tad saw no way to prevent the crime.

"How about it up there?"

"They're over in the bush now."

"I want them when they are just outside the bush. If their backs are
turned toward us, all the better. We'll give them a hot dose that will
give them something to think about," jeered Willie.

"Well, isn't he the cold-blooded fish?" whispered Chunky. "I'd like to
take a pot shot at him right where he stands."

"So should I," answered Tad. "But I couldn't do it, bad as he is."

"No, I guess it wouldn't be exactly prudent," returned the fat boy.

"That wasn't what I meant. Prudence hasn't anything to do with it.
It would be cold-blooded."

"Ready! Work the lever," commanded the captain as the voice of the
lookout called down the one word "Right!"

"Get ready," whispered Tad. "I'm going to bolt. Don't make a sound.
We may lose our lives, but I'm going to save the others. If I shoot,
drop in your tracks, but be careful not to drop in the opening. Now
think as you never thought before!"

"Wha---what are you going to do?" stammered the fat boy.

"Watch me. I can't explain it to you now. There goes the tree."

The operation of the huge bulk was very simple. One of the men
procured a long pole from a crevice in the rock. This he thrust down
under the roots of the tree, adjusted it and then began working the
pole as one would a pump handle. The tree began to rise at once.
Tad saw that the outlaw was working a pneumatic jack, on which he
figured a piece of timber had been placed so as not to crumble the
dirt from the roots when the bulk was raised by the jack. From the
outside the bandits no doubt used the same method that the Pony Rider
Boys had used to gain an entrance.

"Keep clear of the opening and don't shoot until we're all ready.
One volley will be enough, then back and trip the jack. All ready!"

The men began creeping out, Willie Jones in the lead.

"Now!" whispered Tad. "Follow me! Look out for squalls! Things
will happen rapidly when they begin."

The boys crept out, following the outlaws as closely as they dared.
Once outside the bandits quickly skulked off to one side or the other.

"Get down quick!" whispered Tad.

"Bang, bang, bang!"

Tad Butler fired three shots from his revolver, then threw himself
on the ground. Almost with the first shot he heard the voice of the
Ranger captain. McKay, ever on the alert, was not caught napping.

"Throw torches away! Down!" he roared.

A thundering volley crashed from the rifles of the outlaws, answered
by a rattling fire from the revolvers of the Rangers. Tad heard an
outlaw utter an exclamation of pain and knew that one at least of
the bad men had been raked by a bullet.

"Back!" came the command from the leader of the bandits. The word
was not spoken loud enough to be heard far away, but every man there
heard it, and back they rushed into the cave. A shower of dirt fell
over the two Pony Rider Boys, who were by this time crawling on all
fours to get away from the tree that they knew would come down with
a bump.

It did. The Rangers were still shooting. Tad and Stacy were in a
dangerous position. The Rangers were firing right over them. The
instant the boys heard the base of the tree fall into place, Tad
uttered the owl call.

"Don't shoot, don't shoot!" howled Chunky.

"It's the boys! Stand fast. Lie low!" commanded the Ranger captain.
"Something is going on here that we don't know about."

A moment later Tad and Chunky came staggering into the arms of their

"Surround the base of the tree. They're in the cave," cried Tad.

"Wait, wait!" commanded the Ranger.

In the cave the outlaws were beginning to think. Tad's shots had been
laid to the carelessness of one of the men. Each one denied that he
had fired them.

"That was a signal. Somebody here is a traitor!" cried the leader.

Out there in front of the cave Tad was rapidly whispering to the
Ranger captain what had occurred. He told him the bandits were all
in the cave and that he believed the only exit was there behind the
roots of the big tree.

"Boys, we've got 'em!" cried Billy. "We've got 'em in a trap.
Hurrah! Tad, you've saved the lives of some of us. That was as brave
a thing as ever a Ranger did and I'll tell you what I think about it
after we have smoked those ruffians out."

The smoking-out process was a matter of some time. At the captain's
direction, a row of fires was built in front of the cave so that none
of the outlaws could escape. On each side of the row of bonfires
McKay placed flanking parties who stood with rifles ready to train
on the opening should the bandits seek to escape.

All that night and the following day did the Rangers keep silent
watch over the cave. The second night fires were built up as before,
and part of the force stood watch while the others slept on the
ground with rifles for pillows.

It was not until about noon of the third day that any sign of life
was observed in the cave. Willie Jones hailed the captain, declaring
that he was ready to surrender. Terms were quickly made. The men
were to walk out singly, leaving their arms in the cave. There was
no need to caution Willie Jones as to what would follow the least
sign of treachery. He knew without being told. Grim Rangers were
standing on one side so that they should have a clear shooting space
in front of them. Billy McKay stood directly facing the opening, as
if for the purpose of tempting one of those desperate men in there
to take a shot at him. None had the pluck to try it.

Jones was the first one out. He was manacled and searched. One by
one the bandits emerged until every man was a prisoner.

That afternoon all were on their way to El Paso. It would be many
years before they would again terrorize the Rio Grande border if at
all, for there were many charges against them. Among the charges
preferred against the bandits was that of aiding the Germans by
stirring up trouble on the border. Not a man confessed, but while
the government was unable to prove this particular charge, it was
positive that in the arrest of this desperate gang a nest of dangerous
traitors had been broken up.

The entire credit for the capture was given to the two Pony Rider Boys,
Tad Butler and Stacy Brown. The Pony Rider Boys party accompanied the
Rangers to El Paso, whence, later on, they continued their journey down
the Rio Grande. The boys were praised by every one for their bravery,
and especially were Tad and Stacy, who had so bravely risked their own
lives to save the lives of their young companions and the Rangers.

A big reward was earned by the Rangers, but at Captain McKay's
suggestion, a thousand dollars was turned over to Professor Zepplin to
be divided between Tad and Chunky later on. The professor's protests
availed him nothing. McKay said the professor might throw the money
in the gutter if he didn't want it, so the professor sent the thousand
dollars to the father of Walter Perkins. That gentleman deposited it
to the credit of the two plucky young lads, though it was some time ere
they knew the existence of this special fund, all their own.

It was the last night in camp before ending their wonderful outing, and
every one was solemn-eyed and thoughtful. Their playspell was at an
end and they were sad. Tad and Ned were speaking of the war, each
confiding his desire to the other, to get into the fight, and
expressing his intention of doing so soon.

"Professor," called Tad. "We know of course how you feel on the
subject, but this is a good time for us all to make our confessions,
on this the last night of our season's outing, and know where we stand
on the war."

"We are all patriots here," interjected Walter Perkins.

"All but one and he's a German," spoke up Stacy Brown. "I refer to
that noble man, Professor Zepplin, first cousin to the airship known
as a Zeppelin---"

Professor Zepplin's whiskers fairly bristled.

"Young man, that will do!" he thundered. "I am an American citizen,
and you have no right to question my loy-----"

"There, there, Professor, don't you know Chunky by this time? All he
wished was to draw your fire and stir you up, which I reckon he's
done," soothed Tad laughingly.

Stacy chuckled under his breath, at the same time keeping a weather
eye out for any hostile move that Professor Zepplin might make, for
the professor plainly was excited.

"That is all very well, young men," returned the professor. "I know
that you know what my Americanism is. I have no need to tell you
that, but, as Tad says, this is a good time for us all to declare our
loyalty, and we should reiterate it every day of our lives."

"That's the talk," cried Ned Rector.

"As you boys know, I was born in Germany. I attended a German military
school and, to cut the story short, I became a German officer. I fought
in many battles---"

"At the battle of the Nile he was fitting all the while," murmured the
fat boy under his breath. Tad rebuked Stacy with a look.

"One day, after I had served my time, I emigrated to America. It was
not until then that I realized that I had been wrong, that I had been
upholding an unworthy cause. That was years ago. Soon I had absorbed
the spirit of American liberty and became at one with its ideals.
I became a citizen. Of course I looked back on my army experience with
a certain amount of pride. No one who has fought and bled can help
doing that---up to a certain point."

"I can well understand that," murmured Tad. "I think I know how you

"When Germany made war on little Belgium and France my pride of
service turned to regret. I was sorry deep down in my heart that
I had served the Fatherland, but I rejoiced that I was then an American,
a loyal American. It was when---when the despicable Huns sank the
Lusitania, the most dastardly crime in the world's history, that my
soul was suddenly filled with loathing. I offered my services to the
country of my adoption, believing that they would go to war at once,
but I was too old, and then America was not yet prepared for the
great conflict. Since we went to war I have again offered my
services. I can still fight, young men."

"I should say you can," interjected Tad.

"My name, at this time, is an unfortunate one," continued the professor.
"It is not the name, but the heart that counts, and my heart is in and
for America, and my life and all that I have or ever shall have is
hers for the asking."

The Pony Rider Boys with one accord sprang to their feet and, tossing
their hats in the air, uttered a wild cowboy yell. Professor Zepplin
held up a hand.

"Wait!" he commanded. "There is something yet to be done and now is
the time to do it." Thrusting a hand into a pocket he drew forth a
leather case and opened it with unsteady fingers. From the case he
drew a small object wrapped in tissue paper.

"The Iron Cross," murmured the boys.

"Yes, it is the Iron Cross," agreed the professor. "Time was when this
was my most priceless possession. Now I loathe it. Its possession has
troubled me greatly of late and it has been my intention to rid myself
of the hateful thing. Boys, what shall be done with it?"

"That is for you to say, Professor," answered Tad in a low voice.

"Get an axe," advised Chunky.

"Yes, yes, the axe," agreed the professor.

Tad handed the tool to the professor. The latter placed the once
prized decoration on a stone and with one blow from the axe smashed
the cross. Blow after blow he rained on the medal until it lay
scattered in pieces. These the professor gathered up and hurled far
from him.

"That is what I think of Germany, monarchial Germany, the assassin of
innocent women and children."

"Boys, 'The Star-spangled Banner,'" cried Tad after a moment of
impressive silence.

The youthful voices of the Pony Rider Boys rose in the National anthem,
the deep bass voice of Professor Zepplin booming out above all the rest.

When next we meet our boys we shall find them in utterly different
surroundings. In the next volume of the present series our readers
will find an extremely fascinating tale. It is published under the
title, _The Pony Rider Boys On The Blue Ridge; Or, A Lucky Find in
the Carolina Mountains_.


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