Chapter XXIII. Moonbeam Points the Way
 

The moon will be here in a moment."

"What was it the old Pueblo chief said, Mr. Marquand?"

"'When the full of the moon has come and shoots its first arrow over the crests of the Guadalupes, it points the way to the treasure of my ancient people,'" quoted Mr. Marquand.

"I presume that would be taken to mean that, at a certain phase of the moon, one of its beams points to where the treasure is hidden," explained Professor Zepplin. "But what leads you to believe this is the Pueblo village of your particular chief's ancestors?"

"Yes; I don't see why it might not be any of the ruined adobe houses in this valley?" said Ned Rector.

They had journeyed rapidly over mountain and plain to the valley of the Guadalupes, where Mr. Marquand had informed them that he expected to find the treasure. In the three days consumed on the journey, the travelers had seen nothing of either Lasar or Comstock. Evidently the pair had decided to leave the country while they still had the chance, fearing that perhaps Mr. Marquand might invoke the aid of the law to rid himself of them if they remained.

The Pony Rider Boys and their outfit had arrived that afternoon, and during the remaining hours of daylight they had been excitedly exploring the ancient dwellings, most of which were in a dilapidated condition. There was one, however, two stories in height, that was in an excellent state of preservation. In fact it appeared as if it had only recently been vacated. After an examination of all the ruins Mr. Marquand had discovered what led him to believe that this was the structure which the old Pueblo chief referred to in his description of the resting place of the treasure. The chief had said he had never been near the spot. He was the only member of his tribe to whom the secret had been handed down, and he in turn had transmitted it to the white man who now stood within the shadow of the ancient dwelling place.

"I have my reasons for believing this is the place," answered Mr. Marquand, in response to the Professor's question. "If I am wrong, we shall have to wait until the moon rises to-morrow night. Come inside now, and we will close the door."

All hands crowded into the cool chamber, closing the heavy wooden door that barred the entrance.

"Don't see how moonlight can get through solid walls," muttered Stacy. "Ought to leave the door open."

No one answered him. In the darkened chamber, with its peculiar, musty odors, the boys did not feel in the mood for hilarity or even for speech. There was something about their situation that seemed to impress them profoundly.

"Stand over against the wall on the side, so as not to obstruct any light that might possibly get in here," directed Mr. Marquand.

The others moved silently to the side of the room indicated by him. They had stood thus for fully five minutes when an exclamation from Stacy broke the stillness harshly.

"Look! Look!" cried the fat boy.

A slender shaft of light had suddenly pierced the blackness, coming they knew not whence. It was there.

"Must be a pin hole through the wall up near the ceiling," suggested Kris Kringle.

The silver thread shot across the chamber, ending abruptly on the adobe floor some three feet from the back wall.

"That's the spot!" shouted Mr. Marquand triumphantly.

He threw himself on the floor, and with his knife scratched a cross on the spot where the moonbeam rested. Scarcely had he done so when the delicate shaft of light disappeared as suddenly as it had come.

"It's gone," breathed the boys.

"But it has pointed the way."

"And we have followed the silver trail to its end," added Ned Rector poetically.

"Bring the tools!" cried Mr. Marquand.

While they were doing so, he struck a match and lighted the lantern that they had brought with them from their camp in the foothills. His first care was to bar the door with the heavy wooden timber that he had cut and which he now slipped into its fastenings.

A close examination of the floor revealed no marks save those put there by the treasure-hunter's knife.

"This house seems to be built on the solid ground. I do not think you will find anything under it," protested the Professor.

"There are houses under every one of these buildings," answered Mr. Marquand. He held a short, keen edged bar in place, while Kris Kringle swung the maul. Gradually they cut a ring about two feet in diameter about the cross. The material of which the floor had been made had been tempered with the years and was almost as hard as flint.

The steady thud of the heavy maul, accompanied by the click, click of the cutting bar, the dim light, the silent, expectant faces, formed a weird picture in this silent desert place.

After a full half hour of this the two men paused, and stood back, drawing sleeves across their foreheads to wipe away the perspiration.

Stacy Brown walked pompously over to the circle.

"Maybe I can fall through it. If I can't, nobody can," he said, jumping up and down on the spot where they had been cutting.

There followed a rambling sound, and with a yell, Stacy Brown suddenly disappeared from sight. In place of the circle in which he had been standing was a black, ragged hole, from which particles of the mortar were still crumbling and rattling to the bottom of the pit.

"Are you there?" cried Kris Kringle, leaping to the spot, thrusting the lantern down through the opening. "Master Stacy!"

"Wow!" responded the boy from the depths.

"Did it hurt you?"

"How far did you fall?"

This and other questions were hurled at the fat boy, as his companions crowded about the opening.

"I'm killed. That'll answer all your questions," replied Stacy. "Hurry up! Get my remains out of this place."

The rays of the lantern disclosed a short stairway, built of the same material of which the house itself had been constructed.

Mr. Marquand forced himself past the guide and was down the steps in a twinkling. He was followed by the wondering Pony Rider Boys, Professor Zepplin and Kris Kringle in short order, for all crowded down through the narrow opening.

Chunky had hit the top step and rolled all the way down. He had scrambled to his feet and was rubbing his shins by the time his friends reached him. His clothes were torn and he was covered with dust.

"Fell down the cellar, didn't I?" he grinned.

But no one gave any heed to him now. Mr. Marquand had snatched at the lantern and was running from point to point of the chamber in which they found themselves. He was laboring under great excitement.

"Here's another opening," he shouted. "We haven't got to the bottom yet."

Another flight of stairs led to still another and smaller chamber below. Mr. Marquand let out a yell the moment he reached the bottom. The others rushed pell-mell after him.

There, with it's top just showing above the dirt was a long iron chest.

"Give me the maul!" shouted the excited treasure seeker.

He attacked the rusty iron fastenings; at last the cover yielded to his thunderous blows and falling on its edge, toppled over to the floor with a crash.

"Somebody's old clothes," chuckled Stacy, peering into the open chest.

The garments, priestly robes that lay at the top, fell to pieces the instant Mr. Marquand laid violent hands on them.

"Look! Look! Was I right or was I wrong?" he cried, beside himself with joy.

There, before their astonished eyes, lay a chest of gold-- coins dulled by age, small nuggets and chunks of silver, all heaped indiscriminately in the treasure chest.

"I did it!" shouted Chunky. "I did it with my little feet! I fell in and discovered the treasure!"

The tongues of the Pony Rider Boys were suddenly loosened. Such a shout as they set up probably never had been heard before in the ancient adobe mansion of the Pueblos. Cheer after cheer echoed through the chambers and reached the ears of a dozen desperadoes who were skulking amid the sage brush without.

Professor Zepplin scooped up a handful of the coins and examined them under the lantern.

"Old Spanish coins," he informed them. "Pure gold. And look at these nuggets! Where do you suppose the Indians found them?"

"There are hidden mines in the State," informed Mr. Marquand. "Some of these days they will be discovered. I have been hunting for them myself, but without success. Boys, what do you think of it now? If it had not been for you I might never have seen this sight."

Their eyes were fairly bulging as they gazed at the heap of gold. Chunky squatted down scooping up a double handful and letting the coins run through his fingers. Then the other boys dipped in, laughing for pure joy, more because their adventure had borne fruit than for the love of the gold itself.

"Must be more'n a bushel of it," announced Stacy.

"Those old Franciscans must have been saving up for a rainy day. And it never rained here at all," suggested Ned humorously.

"Shall we count it?" asked Mr. Marquand.

"Just as you wish," replied the Professor.

"Were I in your place, Mr. Marquand, I should get the stuff out of here as soon as possible. You can't tell what may happen. I would suggest that we secure the treasure and be on our way at once. You will want to get it to a bank as quickly as possible. This is one of the things that cannot be kept quiet."

"You are right. Will somebody go over to the camp and get those gunny sacks of mine? I don't want to lose sight of my find for a minute. You know how I feel about it-- not that I do not trust you. You know--"

"Surely we understand," smiled Tad.

"And you all have an interest in it-- you shall share the treasure with me--"

"No, we don't," shouted the boys. "We've had more than a million dollars worth of fun out of it already."

"Certainly not," added the Professor.

"We'll discuss that later," said Mr. Marquand firmly. "Just now we must take care of what we have found. Who will get the bags?"

"We will," answered the boys promptly.

"No; you stay here. I'll get them," answered Kris Kringle. "Light me up the stairs so I don't break my neck in this old rookery.

One of the boys lighted the way to the next floor, then stepped back into the cellar, where Mr. Marquand was turning over the treasure in an effort to find out if the pile extended all the way to the bottom of the chest.

In the meantime Kris Kringle unbarred the door and threw it part way open. He did it cautiously, as if half expecting trouble.

He threw the door to with a bang, springing to one side, and dropping the bar back into place.

The reason for his sudden change of plans was that no sooner had the door opened than several thirty-eight calibre bullets were fired from the sage brush outside.

Kris Kringle waited to learn whether those in the cellar had heard the shots. But they had not. They were some distance below ground, and their minds were wholly taken up with the great treasure before them.

After a few moments the guide once more removed the bar, first having drawn his revolver in case of sudden surprise. Then he cautiously opened the door an inch or so.

At first nothing happened. The moonlit landscape lay as silent and peaceful as if there were not a human being on the desert.

There were six distinct flashes all at once and a rain of lead showered into the door.

Kris Kringle took a pot shot at one of the flashes, then slammed the door shut and barred it.

"Well; I hope that would get you," he muttered.

Hastily retracing his steps he called the party up to the second cellar.

"Did you fetch the sacks?" called Mr. Marquand.

"No, but I've fetched trouble. It's coming in sackfuls."

"What do you mean?"

"We're besieged."

"Besieged?" wondered the Professor.

"Yes; there's a crowd outside, and they've been trying to shoot me up. Must be some of your friends, Mr. Marquand."

"Lasar and Comstock? The scoundrels!" growled Mr. Marquand. "But we'll make short work of them."

"Not so easy as you think There are more than two out there-- there's a crowd and they've got rifles. Our rifles are over in the camp. I've got a six-shooter and so have you, but what do they amount to against half a dozen rifles?"

"I'll talk to them, if I can get any place to make them hear," announced Mr. Marquand, starting up the stairs.

"I reckon there's a window on the second floor, but you'd better be careful that you don't get winged," warned the guide.

Mr. Marquand went right on, and the others followed. As the guide had said there was a small window on the floor above the ground, apparently the only one in the house.

Mr. Marquand hailed the besiegers.

"Who are you and what do you mean by shooting us up in this fashion?" he demanded.

"You ought to know who we are, Jim Marquand, and you know what we want!"

"Yes, I know you all right, Lasar, and I'll make you smart for this."

"The place is as much mine as it is yours," answered Lasar. "And I propose to take it! If you'll make an even divvy of what you have found, or expect to find, we'll go away and let you alone. If you don't we'll take the whole outfit."

"Take it, take it!" jeered Marquand. "You couldn't take it in a hundred years-- not unless you used artillery."

"Then we'll starve you out," replied the man in the sage brush.

"Look out!" warned the guide.

Mr. Marquand sprang to one side just as a volley crashed through the opening, the bullets rattling to the floor after bounding back from the flint-like walls.

"I guess they've got you, Mr. Marquand. We can't hold out forever. If we had rifles we could pick them off by daylight. But when morning comes they'll draw back out of revolver range and plunk the first man who shows himself outside. Have you any title to this property?"

"Yes. I have bought up a hundred acres about here. The deeds are in my pocket. I guess nobody has a better title.".

"His title is all right," spoke up Professor Zepplin. "I made sure of that before I decided to come with Mr. Marquand."

"Then there's only one thing to be done."

"What's that?"

"Get a sheriff's posse and bag the whole bunch."

Mr. Marquand laughed harshly.

"If we were in a position to get a posse we should be able to get away without one. I think we had better go below. This is not a very safe place with this open window."

"I'll remain here."

"What for, Kringle?"

"Somebody's got to watch the front door to see that they don't play any tricks on us. It's clouding up, and if the night gets dark they'll try to get in."

"How far is it to a place where we could get a sheriff?" asked Tad, who had been thinking deeply.

"Hondo. Fifteen miles due east of here as the moon rises. Why?"

"If I were sure I could find my way, I think I might get some help," answered the lad quietly.

"You!" snapped Mr. Marquand, turning on him.

"If I had a rope. Perhaps I can do it without one."

"I'd like to know how?"

Mr. Marquand was inclined to treat the proposition lightly, believing that such a move as proposed by Tad Butler was an impossibility. Kris Kringle, however, was regarding the boy inquiringly. He knew that Tad had some plan in mind and that it was likely to be a good one.

"The rascals are all out in front of the house, aren't they?"

"Yes, Master Tad. There's no reason why they should be behind the house. They know we can't get out that way; because there is no opening on that side."

Tad nodded.

"Then I can do it."

"Tad, what foolish idea have you in mind now? I cannot consent to your taking any more chances

"Professor, we are taking long enough chances as it is. Unless we are relieved soon, we shall be starved out and perhaps worse."

"What's your plan?" interrupted Kris Kringle.

"See that hole in the roof up there?" Tad pointed.

They had not seen it before, but they did now. A light suddenly dawned upon Kris Kringle.

"Boy, you are the only level-headed one in the outfit. You would have made a corking Indian fighter."

"I'm the Indian fighter," chimed in Stacy.

"You can boost me up to the hole and I'll go over the rear of the house, get to the camp and from there ride to Hondo."

Tad's three companions started a cheer, which the guide sternly put down.

"I can't consent to any such plan," decided the Professor sternly.

The rest reasoned with him until, finally, he did consent, though he knew the lad would be taking desperate chances. Tad understood that as well as the rest of them, but he was burning to be off.

Kris Kringle gave him careful directions as to how to get to the place.

"Take your rifle with you, if you can get it. After you get half a mile or a mile away shoot once. That will tell us you are all right."

"You can help me in getting away from here, if you will do some shooting to cover my escape," suggested Tad.

"That's a good idea," agreed the guide. "You wait on the roof until we begin to rake the sage with our revolvers. Then drop. Take a wide circuit, so that you won't stumble over the enemy."

Tad gave his belt a hitch, stuffed his sombrero under it and announced himself as ready.

The guide stepped under the hole. Tad quickly climbed to his shoulder and stood up like a circus performer. He could easily reach the roof with his hands. A second more and his feet were lifted from the shoulders of the guide. They saw the figure in the opening; then it disappeared.

A slight scraping noise was the only sound they heard.

Tad flattened himself out and wriggled along toward the rear of the roof. Peering over the edge he made sure that there was no one about. He then lay quietly waiting for the shooting to begin.

"Let 'em have it," directed Kris Kringle.

A sudden fusillade was emptied into the sage brush.

Tad swung himself over the edge of the roof, hung on for a few seconds, then dropped lightly to the ground.