"It certainly is!" he agreed, as he looked around the pleasant room. "But then, you know, business before pleasure."
"Not when it isn't absolutely necessary," remarked Mrs. Blake.
The living rooms of Jennie and her mother were upstairs, over the post office and the express department. There was a spare room that Jack used when he remained over night with his relatives.
"But I think I'll not sleep there to-night," he said, when preparations were being made for retiring.
"Why not?" asked Jennie.
"I want to be down here, near the safe," Jack replied, nodding toward the steel box in which the Argent letters and some registered mail had been placed for security until morning. "I suppose nothing will happen," he went on, "but I shall feel better if I am down here."
"But there is no place to sleep—no bed," objected Jennie.
"A blanket and the soft side of a board will do for me," Jack answered, with a laugh. "I've camped out and slept on the ground often enough not to mind one night of discomfort. Don't worry, I'll be comfortable enough here."
"We can bring down the old lounge if you insist on sleeping here," Mrs. Blake said.
"Well, I should like to, if you don't mind," Jack answered. And so it was arranged. Jennie and her mother went up stairs, and Jack, without undressing, stretched out on the couch, pulling the blankets over him, for the night was cool with the approach of fall.
Jack's improvised bedroom was in a part of the post office, and in the room adjoining stood the safe, containing the valuable letters. By peering out of a nearby door Jack could have a glimpse of the strong box.
"Maybe I'll have my trouble for my pains," Jack reasoned, "but I'll worry less this way. I wonder if they'll really make any attempt to get in here?"
He hardly knew what to think. When he recalled the desperate chance Ryan had taken to get possession of what he must have known was in the mail sack, Jack was sure the attempt would not easily be given up. But as the plotters had so far been successfully evaded and their tricks set at naught, it might be that they would give up now.
"It's about six of one and half a dozen of the other," Jack mused, "and I think the odds are in my favor."
He did not feel sleepy. Perhaps the after-effects of the drug were such as to produce an abnormally active state of the brain, and the brain must be quiet to have sleep come. For a time Jack lay quietly on his couch. Then he had an attack of the fidgets, and he tossed restlessly to and fro.
Up stairs all was quiet, and he hoped his aunt and cousin were sleeping in comfort. Now and then Jack assured himself that his revolver was ready to his hand. As the hours were ticked off on the office clock, Jack became more and more nervous.
"Come, this won't do!" he told himself. "I won't be fit for much to-morrow if I don't get some sleep, and I may have a hard day of it. Guess I'll get up and have a drink of water. I've heard that's a good thing to do when one can't sleep."
He tried to move about cautiously, so as not to disturb Jennie and her mother. But as often happens when one moves about in the dark, objects are struck that one hardly knew were in the room. The things all seem to mass themselves under foot.
Jack banged into a table, and knocked over a chair.
"Oh!" screamed Jennie from the room above. "Mother! Jack! They've come!"
"It isn't anything—I just got up to get a drink," quickly explained Jack, wishing he had kept still. "Sorry to have disturbed you."
"I haven't been asleep," Jennie confessed, calling down the stairway. "Isn't it nearly morning?"
"A little after twelve," Jack reported, striking a match and looking at his watch.
Going back to his couch he soon found himself sinking off into a comfortable doze. He really needed natural sleep after his experience that day, and a little later he found it stealing over him. He turned on his side, and, before he knew it, was oblivious to his surroundings.
How long he slept Jack did not know, but he awoke with a start, and he was at once aware that his awakening had been caused by some sudden noise. For a moment he was so confused that he could not think clearly, or recall where he was.
He passed his hand across his head, and this slight action seemed to make his brain work. Then he sat up. He was at once aware that something unusual was going on.
There was a dim light shining in through the room where the safe was. And as Jack had left none burning, and as there were no street lights in Golden Crossing, the express rider at once realized that some one had brought a light into the room since he had fallen asleep.
Jack was about to call out, thinking perhaps his aunt or cousin had come down stairs, but he restrained himself.
"I'll just go and see who it is," he thought. A wild idea came to him. He reached under his pillow and brought out his revolver.
"If it's any of the outlaws I'll be ready," he murmured.
Moving with the silence of a cat, Jack, who had taken off his shoes, tiptoed to the door between the two rooms. As he advanced he could hear a succession of small noises. One was a sort of purring sound. Then came the tinkle of metal on metal—a faint sound that would not have been audible but for the deep silence over the place. Then Jack saw a flicker of the light, as though some one or some object had come near enough to it to produce a shadow.
Then, as Jack looked, he saw the outlines of a man's head, and the man seemed bent over, of stooping. Again came the tinkle of metal on metal.
All at once the truth flashed into Jack's mind.
"They're going to blow open the safe" was his thought. "It's the outlaws! I've caught 'em! They've drilled the safe and are going to blow it open!"
He managed, by going slowly, and trying each board with his foot advanced, to guard against a creak, finally to reach the door that opened into the room where the safe stood.
And there, kneeling on the floor in front of the strong box, was a masked man. He was in front of the safe, and a partly-opened dark lantern gave light enough for Jack to see what was going on.
The safe was not open, but, as Jack looked, and as he was about to give the command: "Hands up!" he saw the masked man suddenly spring back and slide, on rubber-soled shoes, to a far corner.
There was a tiny curl of smoke near the door of the safe. Jack realized, too late, what it was—the fuse attached to a charge of nitroglycerine. The safe was about to be blown open.
And then, ere Jack could spring forward and tear loose the fuse, the explosion came.
It was not loud, but the force of if blew Jack backward, knocking him down. His head hit on something and, for the moment, he lost consciousness.
Jack did not remain senseless long. When he recovered he became aware of a confused shouting, and an acrid smell of smoke filled his nostrils.
"Jack! Jack!" he heard Jennie and her mother shouting. "Jack, are you hurt?"
By a great effort, overcoming the faintness that seemed to be returning, Jack scrambled to his feet. It was dead black in the place now.
"I'm all right!" Jack cried, "but something has happened. They've been here all right Stay up there until I call you."
He struck a match, for he had a box in readiness in his pocket.
A glance into the room where the safe stood showed what havoc had been wrought by the explosion. It was not much, for only a small charge had been used. But the door of the safe was blown off, and some damage was done to the fixtures and furniture of the place.
The interior of the strong box—for it was that and nothing more, being an old-fashioned safe—was plainly exposed to view. Jack was in front of it on the jump. Lighting another match he peered within.
"They're gone!" he cried aloud. "He's got the Argent letters! And me sleeping right beside them! This is fierce!"
With trembling fingers, and a deep sense of humiliation in his heart, Jack lighted a lamp. But even with this greater light there was no trace of the missing packet. Only that seemed to have been taken, as far as Jack could make out.
But now Jennie and her mother, frightened and alarmed, were begging to know what had happened. There was no trace of the masked man. He had slipped out while Jack lay unconscious, our hero thought. Though, indeed, he felt little like a hero just then.
"Oh, Jack, what is it? Can't we come down? Are you hurt?" Jennie begged.
"No, I'm not hurt. Come down if you like. They blew open the safe!"
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Blake, and there was fear and alarm in her voice. Certainly any one might fear those unscrupulous outlaws, who seemed to halt at nothing to gain their ends.
For a moment Jack gazed dumbly at the ruin wrought. His eyes sought for some trace of the package he had done so much to bring through with safety, but which, after all, had been taken while he slept. Certainly it was an unfortunate and distressing affair.
"Oh, isn't it awful!" gasped Jennie, as she and her mother picked their way through the confusion of furniture in the room, and looked at the looted safe. "It's just terrible!"
"Jack, sound an alarm at once!" cried Mrs. Blake, recognizing the need for quick action, "Fire your revolver out of the window—yell—do something!"
"Of course! And here I stand like a booby!" Jack cried. "We must get a posse after that fellow!"
An open window showed how the robber had entered and gone. Jack thrust his weapon outside and fired the five shots in quick succession. The explosion by which the safe was shattered did not appear to have roused any of the townspeople. Probably the report was too muffled to carry far.
But Jack's shots, ringing out in the open, were heard, and soon windows began to go up. Heads were thrust out, and there came many demands to know what was going on.
"Post office safe blown and robbed!" cried Jack. "It was done by one man, though there may have been more. We must get after them!"
"That's what we must!" cried Tim Mullane, one of the first on the scene.
Jack slipped on his shoes, and, with a lantern, hurried across to where Sunger was stabled. As he approached the place the open door made his heart sink.
"If he has taken Sunger—" he faltered.
That was what the masked robber had done. The pony's stall was vacant. Jack felt a fierce longing to do something desperate. This was the last straw.
"Sunger gone! Sunger gone!" Jack repeated, blankly.
He did not want to believe it, but there was nothing else to do. The masked robber had made his escape on Jack's speedy mount.
By this time all those living in the vicinity of the post office were aroused. They came, hastily dressed, mostly men and boys, to crowd into the small place and look at the wrecked safe.
"That job was done by professionals all right," said the town marshal. "That's no amateur work. He just put some of the nitroglycerine in a crack between the door and the casing, or maybe in a hole he bored, and touched it off with a fuse. Yes, it was a neat job."
"Neat!" Jock exclaimed, rather indignantly. "When he took that valuable package? Neat!"
"Oh well, you know what I mean," the marshal said. "Now, boys, we've got to get these fellows, and get after them hard!"
"I only saw one," Jack put in.
"Well, he probably had confederates. Now, boys, get your horses and we'll hit the trail. There's only two he could take, and we'll cover 'em both. You come along, too, Jack, that is if you feel able. I see you got a cut on your head."
Jack put up his hand. It came away bloody, and Jennie screamed.
"It's only a little cut where I fell, when the force of the explosion knocked me down," Jack said. Up to then, so great had been the excitement, he had not been aware of the slight injury.
"Well get on your pony then, and come along," the marshal urged him. "We'll want you to identify the fellow if we catch him. That is if you can."
"I'm not sure I could," Jack said. "I only saw his back, and he wore a mask."
"Well, come along anyhow. Hop on your pony and—"
"I can't!" Jack exclaimed. "The fellow took Sunger!"
"He did!" the marshal cried. "Well, now we certainly must get him! If he's a horse thief, as well as a safe-blower we sure will get him! Scatter, boys! Be lively! Jack, I'll lend you a horse. Come on now. Jim Hickey, you lead one bunch over the Tuckerton trail, and I'll head another on the road to Rainbow Ridge. But most likely the fellow will take to the mountains and hide out for a spell."
"He won't be very likely to go to Rainbow Ridge," said Jack.
"Because he's got a valuable package of letters and mining documents addressed to Mr. Argent of that place. He wouldn't go there."
"I don't know," returned the marshal. "He wouldn't stay there, but he might go through that way."
It did not take long to organize two posses, and Jack went with the one led by the marshal. The young express rider bestrode a borrowed steed, and though it was good enough, as horses go, it was not at all like his beloved Sunger.
"I wonder if I'll ever get him back," mused the lad, as he trotted along beside the others.
"A measly horse thief!" muttered the marshal. "We'll get him if it takes a year."
In the West horse-stealing is a crime almost on a par with killing; for out there a man's life often depends on his horse, and if a thief takes the horse away he may also be responsible for the death of the man. That is why horse-stealing is visited with such swift and sure vengeance when the culprit is caught.
Since there was a moon that night, there was fairly good light to see to follow the mountain trails. The robber had not much of a start, but he was riding Jack's fleet pony, and that, in itself, meant a great deal, for there were few horses in that part of the country who could distance him.
Over the trails they rode, and, as they went, the hope of soon catching the robber grew less and less.
"I'm afraid he's escaped us all right," the marshal said, ruefully. "But we'll get him yet. I'll never let a horse thief get the best of me!"
"You seem to forget that he also took those valuable letters," Jack remarked.
"No, I'm not forgetting it," the marshal said, "but to my way of thinking that ain't half so bad a crime as taking your horse. And I'd say the same thing if he took any other horse, or one of mine. I just naturally hate a horse thief!"
"That's right!" chimed in several of the men in the posse.
There were no places, or, rather, only one or two places, along the mountain trail, where inquiries could be made as to whether or not the robber—or some night-rider—had passed. But at such lonely cabins as Jack and his friends came to they roused the inmates and put their questions.
"Seems to me I did hear a hoss gallopin' about an hour back," said one old man. "I thought maybe it was the pony express goin' through, though, so I didn't pay no attention."
"I wish it had been the pony express," murmured Jack regretfully. "If I had taken the letters on the night ride I might have gotten safely through with them."
"I don't hardly believe it," the marshal told him. "I guess those outlaws were watching the trail. They were bound to get them, and when they found you weren't going through with 'em they came in and blowed the safe."
"I suppose so," murmured Jack.
Morning came. At least the dawn was heralded in the east, where the dark clouds turned to pink, growing brighter and brighter, until the sun himself peeped above the horizon.
The posse with which Jack was riding had come almost all the way to Rainbow Ridge, and so far had not had a sight of the robber or any of his confederates, if he had any, which was scarcely to be doubted.
"Well, boys, we may as well go back, I guess," the marshal said. "We'll have to organize a regular hunt, and scatter through the mountains. But we'll have to go back and get some grub. I'm getting hungry, and a man can't hunt a horse thief on an empty stomach."
"That's right!" several of the men agreed.
"Why not keep on?" some one asked. "We can get to Rainbow Ridge quicker than we can to Golden Crossing."
"That's true," added Jack. "I'd ask you all to our cabin, but there's nothing there to eat, since dad is being taken care of by Mrs. Watson."
"Oh, we can get grub easily enough," the sheriff said. "I guess it will be as well to go on to Rainbow Ridge. We want to spread the news there anyhow, and get some men out after the robbers from this end. And I suppose you'll have to report the robbery, won't you?" he asked Jack.
"Yes," replied the pony express rider, and his voice was sad. "I'll have to admit that they got the best of me."
"Oh, shucks! It wasn't your fault at all!" declared the marshal. "Those fellows were bound to get the letters, and if they didn't one way they would another. You couldn't help it."
"But I was asleep right alongside the safe."
"Yes, but maybe they chloroformed you. Such things have been done."
"No, that wasn't done," declared Jack with conviction.
"Well, you'd gone through enough, in that drugging business, to make anybody tired enough to sleep hard," one man said. "They can't blame you."
"No indeed!" agreed another.
But Jack blamed himself. He felt that he had failed in his trust. He did not know what to do. His brain seemed incapable of thinking. If he could only catch the robber and get back the letters!
As he went along with the others over the mountain trail in the early morning, he looked eagerly about, as though he might see some sign of the much-wanted rascal. But the trail was deserted, save for the posse.
They rode into Rainbow Ridge, and that place was soon buzzing with the startling news. As soon as possible a number of men were started out through the mountains, to cover even the bridle paths and trails seldom used. All strangers who could not give a good account of themselves were to be brought into the town.
Mr. Argent was told of the stealing of the valuable letters. He looked grave when Jack explained what had taken place.
"Of course it isn't your fault, Jack," the miner said, "and I'm not in the least blaming you."
"I wanted to come through with them last night, but—"
"It probably wouldn't have done any good, and you might have been attacked and hurt. I'm glad that didn't happen. Of course losing the papers is going to make it very bad for my friends and myself in making good our claim to the mine. But it can't be helped. You did the best you could. No one could have done more. That was a plucky thing you did—tying yourself on the pony's back when you felt you were going to become unconscious."
"But it didn't result in any good in the end," said Jack bitterly. "And now Sunger is gone, too."
"That's too bad. But still we may catch this fellow. So my package was the only one he took?"
"Well, I didn't stay until all the mail was checked up," answered Jack, "but I'm sure that was missing from the opened safe. I half hoped that this might be another dummy package," said Jack, "and that your other letters might be in the one addressed to the postmaster here."
"No such luck!" exclaimed the miner. "The package addressed to me contained the real and important letters and mine plans that I've been expecting so long. There was some stuff for me in that other package you mention, but it isn't important.
"I wish now," he went on, ruefully, "that I had had a dummy package come through. But I worked that plan once, and I didn't think it would have an effect a second time. Well, it's all in the game, and if I lose this inning I may make it up later. But whatever happens, Jack, don't in the least feel that I blame you."
"Well, it's awfully good of you to say so," replied the pony rider, "but I can't help feeling bad about it."
"Oh, I feel bad myself," the miner said. "But there's no use crying over spilled molasses."
"I think you mean milk," Jack corrected, with a smile.
"Well, perhaps I do. Anyhow the thing to do now is to see if we can't round up these fellows. For there were more than one of them, though you only saw one at the safe. I have an idea who some of them are, too."
As soon as it was seen that a hasty and quick search was not going to result in the capture of the robber and his confederates, a well-planned organized hunt was instituted, to take in as much as possible of the surrounding mountain country. Jack could not take part in this, as he had to ride the express route.
At first he feared lest he might be discharged for having been robbed, but, as a matter of fact, technically he was not in the least to blame. The matter taken was not in his charge, but was in the safe in a post office, and his responsibility ended with the delivery of the mail. Nor was Jennie Blake blamed. The post office authorities did not in the least censure her or her mother. In fact they paid them the compliment, and Jack, too, of saying that extraordinary precautions had been taken, but that the robbery had occurred in spite of them.
Another point was that no express stuff was taken, but only United States' mail. And so the express people had no complaint against Jack, or any one else, as they had lost nothing. Such being the case, there was no good reason for displacing Jack, especially as the robbery had not occurred on his route. So those who hoped to get his position were disappointed.
"You can keep right on riding for us, Jack, my boy," said Mr. Perkfeld. "We're glad to have you. It isn't often we get as plucky a lad as you. And when your father gets well, and wants his place back, he can have it, and I'll find an opening for you on another route, if you like."
"I certainly would like!" Jack exclaimed, warmly.
In addition to the posse organized in Golden Crossing and Rainbow Ridge the post office authorities also sent out inspectors and detectives to try and round up the robbers. This was done the day after it occurred, so that within forty-eight hours the mountain trails were being well patrolled by men eager to apprehend the offenders. And in the mountains, off the trails, were others on the same errand. Jack wished he could be with them, but he had to keep to the mail and express route.
As far as Mr. Argent could learn, no use had yet been made of the stolen documents.
"And that is a good sign," he said to Jack. "I've been in touch with matters, and I and my friends would know as soon as some use was made of them. The people who could best use those documents would have an injunction out against us in a jiffy, and be in possession of the mine as soon as they laid their hands on the papers. But they haven't got them yet, that's sure."
"What does that mean?" asked Jack.
"Just this. Those who would gain the greatest advantage from the possession of our papers, which would give them control of the mine, didn't do the actual stealing themselves. They hired these outlaws to do it, and from the fact that no action has been taken makes me sure that the robber who blew open the safe and took the letters, has not had a chance to deliver them."
"You mean he has them in his possession yet?"
"That's about it, Jack. He is probably hiding out somewhere in the mountains, waiting for a chance to deliver them. He dare not mail them, and he can't get in touch with the rascals who hired him or worked with him. And if any of our men see him first, why we'll save the day yet."
"Good!" cried Jack. "I wish it would be my luck to nab him!"
"Yes. And I suppose you want your pony back?"
"Do I?" cried Jack, and there was no mistaking his longing.
He had provided himself with another horse to ride the mountain trail, and, though it was good, still it was not Sunger.
Mrs. Blake and Jennie were very nervous after the safe robbery, and Mrs. Blake wanted her daughter to give up the post office. But the plucky girl would not.
"They won't bother us again," she said. "It's like lightning. It won't happen the second time In the same place. I'm not afraid, though I am a little shaken."
The damage done by the explosion was soon repaired, and a new and more up-to-date safe provided by the post office department.
It was a week after this momentous occurrence that one afternoon, as Jack was riding along the trail from Golden Crossing to Rainbow Ridge, he stopped to water his horse at the lonely cabin where the old man, on the night of the chase, had told of hearing some one riding past, he thinking it was the pony express.
"Well, Jack," asked the old man, as the lad paused for a moment's chat, "they didn't catch that there safe burglar, did they?"
"No, haven't seen a trace of him, worse luck! Anybody been along to-day?"
"Why, yes, there was a feller here not long ago. He stopped for a drink, and asked for a bite to eat. He looked as if he was in hard luck."
"What sort of a fellow was he?"
"Oh well, I didn't take particular notice. He was afoot."
"Afoot?" cried Jack. "That's queer."
"I thought so myself," agreed the old man. And it was queer to see a man traveling afoot in a country where riding and driving was universal. "I asked him where his horse was, and he said down the road a piece!"
"That was also queer," Jack said. "I wonder why he didn't ride right up here? No excuse for walking when one has a horse."
"That's what I thought," the old man went on. "But I didn't want to ask too many questions. He didn't seem relishin' answerin' 'em."
"Which way was he going?" asked the pony express lad.
"Towards Rainbow Ridge. It wa'n't more'n ten minutes ago."
As Jack rode off a sudden thought came to him.
"I wonder if this could be a clew to the robber?" he asked himself. "Queer thing about his not riding his horse up to Ford's cabin. Why should he do that unless he was afraid the horse would be recognized. Why should he—Great Scott!" suddenly exclaimed Jack aloud. "I believe I know why. He had Sunger, and didn't dare let Ford see him! That's it! I believe I'm on the track of the man who has my pony and the Argent letters!"
Jack called to his horse, which really was a speedy mount.
"Come on, old boy!" he cried. "You may not be as good as Sunger, but he's had a hard time lately, being kept out among the mountains, and I don't believe he's up to the mark. We may catch him if that fellow stays to the road, though ordinarily my pony would run away from you, Dobbin."
Jack didn't care much what he called this horse. But he really liked the animal, as he did all horseflesh, and the beast responded readily to him.
On they swept down the mountain trail. Jack's eyes watched eagerly as he made turn after turn at top speed; but for some time he saw no signs of any rider ahead of him.
"There's no way of getting off on a side trail for the next half mile," reflected Jack, as he rode on. "If I can come up to him in that distance I'll have him."
He felt to see if his revolver was in readiness. He did not know just what he would do, but it was a desperate situation, or it would be if he should overtake the fellow.
And luck was with Jack—luck and good judgment. As he made the last turn in that part of the trail from which there was no escape by a side road, he saw, just ahead of him, a rider on a horse which Jack knew in a moment.
"That's Sunger!" he cried. "I've found him!"
Of course Jack could not be sure that the man on his pony was the same one who had robbed the safe. But Jack knew his own steed, and when, out West, a man is found riding a stolen horse, it is prime evidence against him. He has to prove his case, and is subject to arrest on sight. Of course he may have innocently acquired the stolen animal; but he has to prove this to be the case.
"That's my pony, and I'm going to have him back!" thought Jack. "And I'm going to get that man, too! Come on, boy!"
For one of the few times in his life Jack used the whip. But he was humane. His horse responded with a burst of speed. But now the man ahead, hearing galloping hoofs behind him, urged on Sunger. And Sunger still could run. Though Jack saw, with regret, that his pony had suffered, still the wonderful speed of the animal had abated but little.
"He's going to get away from me!" cried the lad, as he saw how Sunger was running. "And that's the man, else why should he try to escape?"
Then Jack began to think quickly. He had trained Sunger to halt instantly when he called "Whoa!" to him, in a certain tone. If the animal were going at top speed, and Jack yelled that word, Sunger would brace up with his fore feet, slide with his hind ones, and bring up standing, like a train of cars when the engineer throws on the emergency air brakes.
Of course Jack was never in the saddle when he worked this trick with Sunger. Had he been he might have been hurt. But he had given his pony this training so that in going down dangerous slopes Sunger would know how to bring himself suddenly to a halt.
"I wonder if I can make him hear," thought Jack. "If I can, and if he'll stop, there'll be something doing in a minute."
Jack saw that he could not hope to overtake the man ahead of him by an ordinary chase. The horse the pony rider bestrode was not fast enough. And a short distance ahead was a place on the trail where the suspect could escape by a side path.
"Here goes!" murmured Jack.
In his loudest voice he cried out:
Something happened at once. The pony, which had been running his best in order not to let the horse behind pass him, pulled up so short that the man was flung with great force from the saddle, and over Sunger's head. Over he went, vainly trying to save himself, and the next moment he landed heavily on the side of the trail and did not move.
"Well, I guess that ends your riding for a time," thought Jack, grimly. Then he rode forward while Sunger, with a whinny of delight, turned back to meet his master.
"Oh, Sunger! Sunger, old boy! You did it!" cried Jack. Then his heart smote him as he saw the motionless figure beside the trail.
Pausing only a moment to caress his recovered pony, Jack hastened to the side of the man who had been thrown off by Sunger's sudden stopping. The fellow was a stranger to Jack, who could not tell whether or not he was the post office robber. The man was unconscious, and, with little compunction, Jack rapidly searched through his pockets.
In an inner one he came upon a package. With beating heart Jack pulled out the bundle. He knew it in a moment. It was the packet of letters addressed to Mr. Argent. A look at the seals convinced the lad that they had not been broken.
"Talk about luck!" he cried, "I'm certainly in it to-day! I've got Sunger, got the papers back, and caught the robber, too. At least I think he must be the safe-cracker, though I can't be sure. I've got him right! Sunger, old boy, we worked the trick to perfection!"
Jack thrust the strangely-recovered package into his pocket, and then gave more attention to the man. He lay senseless, and from the manner in which one leg was doubled up under him Jack felt sure it was broken.
"But it couldn't be helped," he mused. "I had to stop you, and you brought it on yourself. I'll go and get help for you, though."
Jack worked quickly. His first care was for his pony, who was delightedly rubbing his velvet nose against his master. Sunger did not appear to have suffered so much as Jack had feared.
"I guess you can ride trail yet," Jack mused. "I'll use you in place of Dobbin."
He transferred the mail sacks to his own pony, and then rode back to the cabin, taking the other horse with him.
"For you might come to, and manage to ride off," Jack said looking at the unconscious man. But the fellow did not. He was still senseless when the help sent by Jack reached him.
As for our hero, he rode post-haste into Rainbow Ridge, where, after stopping but a moment to tell his father the good news, he hastened to deliver the recovered packet to Mr. Argent and tell his news.
"Say, you don't mean to say you have it Jack!" cried the miner. "Why, that's great! And it's all here, too—every paper!" he added as he broke the seals and made a quick examination. "Now everything will be all right, and we'll start to work the mine. That fellow you caught didn't have time to deliver the goods and didn't dare go where he could do so. It was a great trick! Great!"
Jack was pretty well pleased with himself.
The rest of the story is soon told. The man whom Jack had caught by the trick of making the pony stop suddenly was not mortally hurt, though a broken leg, and other injuries laid him up for some time. He confessed he was the safe-robber, and a member of the outlaw gang that had been engaged by the enemies of Mr. Argent to get possession of the papers.
And, as the miner had surmised, the trails had been so quickly and closely watched and guarded, that he had had no chance to communicate with those who engaged him, to give them the papers he stole from the safe. He and Ryan, as well as others, had worked together to waylay Jack, or, in any manner they could, get possession of the documents.
This much was learned from the man's confession, and, though he did not disclose the whereabouts of his confederates, they were captured a little later, and sent to prison for long terms. Jack's testimony went far in this, for he identified Ryan, as well as the bogus post office inspector, who was also one of the men who held him up.
Ryan was among the first arrested, and admitted that he had planned for some time to drug Jack, and had seen his opportunity the day the pony went lame.
Not only was Mr. Argent's mine secured to him, and the pony express route rendered safe by the capture of the outlaw band, but several other crimes in the vicinity were cleared up. The gang was at the bottom of them.
"Well, I only wish I could be cleared of suspicion in that Harrington matter," said Mr. Bailey one day, a month or so later, when he had so far recovered that he was thinking of going back to the pony express route.
"Maybe you will be. The trials of those fellows aren't ended yet," Jack said. "Maybe something will come out in them."
And that is just what happened. In the testimony, it was brought out that, for some time, confederates of the outlaws, of whom Jake Tantrell was one, had been trying to get for one of their number the position of pony express rider. They thought if they did this they would have no trouble in robbing the mail.
One of these unscrupulous men was responsible for the leakage of the information contained in the Harrington letter. This was admitted, and Mr. Bailey was cleared of all blame in the matter.
It was Tantrell, too, who loosened the planks in the bridge, just as Jack suspected.
"Well, that makes me feel fine!" Mr. Bailey said, when the good news came to him. "It's all your doings, Jack, catching that fellow!"
"No, it's Sunger's," Jack said, with a laugh. "If he hadn't learned the trick of stopping suddenly the man might have gotten away, and the mine might have been lost to Mr. Argent."
"But it wasn't lost," said the miner, "and as a little reward for your pluck and services, Jack, I'm going to give you a small interest in one of my mines, for I have two."
"Oh, I don't want any reward!"
"But you're going to need it some day. You can save the income for the time when you'll want to get married; eh?" and he pinched Jennie's blushing cheek.
Jennie didn't say anything. But she looked at Jack, and he would have blushed as red as she, only he could not. He was too tanned.
In due time Mr. Bailey fully recovered, and was able to take up his former work of riding pony express. Jack regretted giving it up, glad as he was to have his father out again. But Mr. Perkfeld was as good as his word, and Jack soon had another route to ride, and one where he could see Jennie nearly as often as before.
Jennie still kept her place as postmistress at Golden Crossing, but there was no more danger from the outlaws or the bogus inspector, as they had the prospect of long terms in prison before them.
"And when they do come out you won't be working in the office here any more," said Jack, with a smile.
"How do you know?" Jennie asked demurely.
"Oh, I just guess it," was the answer, and he looked at Jennie in a way that meant a good deal.