The Pony Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers by Frank Gee Patchin
Chapter XXIV. Conclusion
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 belt.
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 friends.
"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 felt."
"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.