Chapter XXIV. Conclusion
 

The faces of the three boys were pale, though a half smile played about the lips of Tad Butler. "Lie down!" he said.

Tad was watching the enemy from behind a rock, nervously fingering the arrow that lay across his bow.

At last the men had approached to within three or four rods of them. Tad rose, not a muscle of his body appearing to quiver when they sent a few shots at him.

Deliberately drawing back his bowstring, the boy drove one of the heavy missiles that Walter had cut for him full into the evil face of Ab Durkin. They could hear the impact as the heavy stick landed.

Ab toppled over backwards with a yell of rage.

"That's our last shot." Tad threw down his bow, standing with folded arms calmly facing the enemy. "Hands up!" rang the stern command. At first, Tad thought the order was directed at himself. Then a puzzling expression settled over his face as he saw the mountaineers suddenly wheel, then throw their hands above their heads.

Lige Thomas, on his way to the Pass, had not gone far before he came up with the sheriff, to whom he explained what he had heard about the doings of Ab Durkin and his gang. While they were conversing, the sound of the shooting was borne faintly to them on the clear mountain air.

Suspecting something of the truth, Lige had wheeled his horse and ridden back with all speed, followed by the sheriff and his little posse. They had arrived at the moment when they were, perhaps, needed most.

Creeping down into an advantageous position, they had put a quick and sudden end to the onslaught of the mountaineers, who were in no mood for trifling with their young opponents now.

In a few moments the sheriff had each of the five men in handcuffs, and without having had to fire a shot. Tad, who had rushed out, followed by his companions, explained to the posse that the Professor and Jose were missing. He believed now that they were prisoners in the cave.

And there they found them--Professor Zepplin, Ben Tackers and Jose, bound hand and foot.

All of them bad been taken captive by the mountaineers when they visited the cave the night before.

Ab Durkin was fuming with rage.

"These cayuses was stealin' my claim," he snarled. "Understand me, they was stealin' the gold, and, when I tried to drive them off, they sailed into us----"

"Yes, I observed that you were shooting at three boys," retorted the sheriff, sarcastically.

"See, thar's my mark over that hole in the ground," continued Ab pointing to the sign that was flapping idly in the breeze. "That's my claim and no man ain't goin' ter take it away from me, neither."

"My friend," retorted Professor Zepplin, stepping forward frowning. "If I did what you deserve, I should send a bullet into your miserable carcass. Instead I'm going to tell you about a little paper I have here."

All eyes instantly were centered on the Professor.

"This little document, gentlemen, is a certificate from the register's office at Denver, stating that the Lost Claim, which lies just within this cave here, is the property of Herman von Zepplin. Had you examined this neighborhood more closely you would have found my claim stakes driven, as required by law. With the certificate is a report on the assay of the samples of ore I sent them, showing that, while the mine is a valuable property, it does not contain such untold wealth as generally has been believed. However, it may give these boys a few thousands apiece."

"The Lost Claim! Is it possible?" breathed the boys.

"Yes, Ben Tackers will tell you I am not mistaken. He has known this all along. I had the mine registered in my own name as this was the quickest way to secure it. However, Tad Butler is the rightful owner. Immediately upon our arrival at Denver, I shall take legal measures to transfer the property to him," announced the Professor. Tad slowly shook his head. "It's not mine alone," he answered, gazing at his companions, all of whom, now, were flushed with suppressed excitement. "The Lost Claim belongs to the Pony Rider Boys Club, of which Professor Zepplin is now a member and therefore entitled to share equally with us. Are you willing, fellows?"

"Yes!" they shouted, following it with three cheers and a tiger for Professor Herman von Zepplin.

"As for my share in the claim, Professor, I would prefer that you made it over to my mother," said Tad, with a glad smile. "That is, if no one in the club objects," he added.

"Well, I guess not," replied Ned, with strong emphasis.

Later in the day, the sheriff and his party set out for Eagle Pass with the prisoners. Each member of the gang was sentenced to a term in prison because of the attack on the Pony Rider Boys.

That same day the boys began their preparations for leaving the mountains. At Denver, where they arrived within a week, they effected a sale of the Lost Claim, with the permission of their parents, most of whom came on to fulfill the necessary legal requirements, and when the transfer of the mine had been made, the Pony Rider Boys were twenty-five thousand dollars richer, giving them exactly five thousand dollars apiece. Tad's share was promptly turned over to his mother. Though he did not know it, the money was deposited to his credit in Mr. Perkins's bank.

The exciting experiences of the Pony Rider Boys were not yet at an end. The boys will be heard from again in another volume under the title: "The Pony Rider Boys in Texas; Or, The Veiled Riddle of the Plains." In this forthcoming volume the narrative of how the boys learned to become young plainsmen, and the stirring account of their experiences in the great cattle drive, will be found full of fascination and in every detail true to the strenuous out-door life described.

THE END.