Chapter XXlV. Conclusion
 

The enemy answered the shots with a volley, and for a few moments a lot of ammunition was wasted while the odor of gunpowder assailed nostrils on both sides.

After that, the shooting died away. As the minutes lengthened into an hour, and no word of Tad's mission had been received, the defenders began to grow restless. They were under a double tension now. Mr. Marquand was pacing up and down the floor.

Suddenly, forgetful of the danger that lurked out there, he poked his head out of the window.

A sharp pat on the stone window frame beside him, after the bullet had snipped off the tip of his left ear, caused Mr. Marquand to draw back suddenly. He stalked about the floor, holding a handkerchief to the wounded ear, "talking in dashes and asterisks," as Chunky put it.

Kris Kringle's face wore a grim smile. He was taking chances of being shot, every second now, but he insisted in holding his place at the side of the window so he could listen and watch.

A thin, fleecy veil covered the moon, but it was not dense enough to fully hide objects on the landscape.

"All keep quiet, now," warned Kris Kringle. "We should get a signal pretty soon."

"I'm afraid something has happened to the boy," muttered the Professor. Then all fell silent.

"There it goes!" exclaimed the guide in a tone of great relief.

The crack of a rifle afar off sounded clear and distinct.

"He's made it. Thank heaven!" breathed Mr. Marquand fervently.

Chunky leaped to the opening, swung his sombrero as he leaned out, and uttered a long, shrill "y-e-o-w!"

A bullet chipped the adobe at his side. Stacy ducked, throwing himself on the floor, sucking a thumb energetically.

"Wing you?" inquired Kris Kringle.

"Somebody burned my thumb," wailed the fat boy.

"It was a bullet that burned you. Served you right too. Somebody tie that boy up or he'll be killed," counseled the guide.

The besiegers could not have failed to hear the shot from Tad's rifle, but it did not seem to disturb them. They evidently did not even dream that one of the party had escaped their vigilance and that he was well on his way for assistance.

The wait from that time on was a tedious and trying one, though each felt a certain sense of elation that Tad Butler had succeeded in outwitting the enemy.

It was shortly after two o'clock in the morning when Kris Kringle espied a party of horsemen slowly encircling the adobe house. The riders were strung out far off on the plain. Those hiding in the sage in front of the house could not see the approaching horsemen.

"There they come," whispered Kris Kringle. "Begin shooting!"

The two men started firing, while the besiegers poured volley after volley through the window.

The posse at this, closed in at a gallop. Their rifles now began to crash.

In a few minutes it was all over. The sheriff's men surrounded the besiegers, placing every man of them under arrest. After this the officers quickly liberated the Pony Rider Boys. Three of the besiegers had been wounded. Among them, was the Mexican whom Tad had defeated in the tilting game a few days before.

When all was over, the boys hoisted Tad Butler on their shoulders and marched around the adobe house shouting and singing. Mr. Marquand decided to go back with the posse, using these men as a guard for his treasure. It was understood that the Pony Rider Boys were to follow the next morning. Before leaving, Mr. Marquand called the Professor aside.

"There is, on a rough estimate, all of sixty thousand dollars in the treasure chest. Had it not been for you and your brave boys I should have lost it. So, when you reach Hondo to-morrow, I shall take great pleasure in presenting to each of you a draft for two thousand dollars."

Professor Zepplin protested, but Mr. Marquand insisted, and he kept his word. After the posse, with their prisoners and the treasure, had started, the Pony Rider Boys, arm in arm, started off across the moonlit meadows toward their camp. It was their last night in camp. Their summer's journeyings had come to an end-- a fitting close to their adventurous travels. Not a word did they speak until they reached the camp. There, they turned and gazed off over the plain which was all silvered under the now clear light of the moon.

"It has been a silver trail," mused Tad Butler.

"It has indeed," breathed his companions

"And we've reached the end of The Silver Trail," added the Professor, coming up at that moment. "To-morrow I'll breathe the first free breath that I've drawn in three months."

The boys circled slowly around him and joined hands. Then their voices rose on the mellow desert air to the tune of

"Home, Sweet Home."

A week later saw the wanderers back in Chillicothe. Their welcome was a warm one. Banker Perkins found his once ailing son now transformed into a sturdy young giant.

We shall meet them again in the next volume of this series-- in a tale of surpassing wonders-- published under the title: "The Pony Rider Boys in the Grand Canyon; Or, the Mystery of Bright Angel Gulch." It will be found to be by far the most interesting volume so far published about the splendid Pony Rider Boys.

The End.