BOY SCOUTS IN MEXICO
Or On Guard with Uncle Sam
Scout Master, G. Harvey Ralphson
I. Planning a Vacation II. A Member of the Wolf Patrol III. The Wolf Advises Flight IV. The Wolf Talks in Code V. The Wolf in the Bear's Bed VI. Two Black Bears in Trouble VII. Signals on the Mountain VIII. A Strange Disappearance IX. About the Third Suspect X. The Wolf Meets a Panther XI. Black Bear and Diplomat XII. Wolf and Panther after Bear XIII. Captured the Wrong Boy XIV. The Case is Well Stated XV. Accusing Each Other XVI. Wolves on the Mountain XVII. Plenty of Black Bears XVIII. Fremont and the Renegade XIX. What was Found Underground XX. Black Bears to the Rescue XXI. Wolves Becoming Dangerous XXII. The Call in the Rain XXIII. Some Unexpected Arrivals XXIV. The Story of the Crime XXV. Ready for the Canal Zone
This book is dedicated to the Boys and Girls of America, in the fond hope that herein they will find pleasure, instruction and inspiration; that they may increase and grow in usefulness, self-reliance, patriotism and unselfishness, and ever become fonder and fonder of their country and its institutions, of Nature and her ways, is the cherished hope and wish of the author. G. Harvey Ralphson, Scout Master
BOY SCOUTS IN MEXICO;
OR, ON GUARD WITH UNCLE SAM.
PLANNING A VACATION.
"After all, it is what's in a fellow's head, and not what's in his pocket, that counts in the long run."
"That's true enough! At least it proved so in our case. That time in the South we had nothing worth mentioning in our pockets, and yet we had the time of our lives."
"I don't think you ever told us about that."
"That was the time we went broke at Nashville, Tennessee. We missed our checks, in some unaccountable way, yet we had our heads with us, and we rode the Cumberland and Ohio rivers down to the Mississippi at Cairo, in a houseboat of our own construction."
The speaker, George Fremont, a slender boy of seventeen, with spirited black eyes and a resolute face, sat back in his chair and laughed at the memory of that impecunious time, while the others gathered closer about him.
Fremont was ostensibly in the employ of James Cameron, the wealthy speculator, but was regarded by that worthy gentleman as an adopted son rather than merely as a worker in his office force. Seven years before, Mr. Cameron had become interested in the bright-faced newsboy, and had taken him into his own home, where he had since been treated as a member of the family.
"Went broke in the South, did you?" asked one of the group gathered before an open grate fire in the luxuriously furnished clubroom of the Black Bear Patrol, in the upper portion of a handsome uptown residence, in the city of New York. "Go on and tell us about it! What's the matter with the Tennessee river, or the Rio Grande?"
"If you had no money, how did you get your houseboat?" asked another member of the group. "Houseboats don't grow on bushes down there, do they?"
"Oh, we had a little money," George Fremont replied, "but not enough to take us to Chicago in Pullman coaches. The joint purse was somewhere about $10. We built the houseboat ourselves, of course."
"Must have been a strange experience, going broke like that!" one of the others said. "Hurry up and tell us about it! I believe it does a fellow good, once in a while, to get where he's got to hustle for himself or go hungry!" he added, glancing at the others for appreciation of the sentiment.
"I suppose it does seem funny for some other fellow to be broke in a desolate land," said another voice, "but it isn't so funny right there on the spot. Little Old New York looked a long way off when we were in Nashville!"
The speaker, a boy of sixteen, short, and heavily built, left a window from which he had been looking out on a wild March night and joined the group before the fire. This was Frank Shaw, familiarly known to his friends of the Black Bear Patrol, Boy Scouts of America, as "Fatty" Shaw. He was the only son of a wealthy newspaper owner of the big city, and in training to succeed his father in the editorial chair.
"So, 'Fatty' was there!" exclaimed one of the group. "How did you ever get him into a houseboat? Must have been a big one!"
"Yes, Frank was there," Fremont replied, with a friendly glance at young Shaw. "His father sent him along to report the expedition."
"I haven't seen any book about it!" broke in another.
"Frank wrote four postal cards and nine letters," laughed Fremont. "The cards were descriptive of the scenery, and the letters asked for more money."
"Why can't we get up a trip down the Rio Grande this spring?" was asked. "The soldiers are on the border, and it would be sporty. We can stand guard with Uncle Sam."
"I want to know how Fremont got his houseboat," said one of the lads. "Perhaps we can get one in the same way. It would be fun to build a boat. Anyhow, I'm for the Rio Grande trip this spring. It would be glorious."
"We might build the boat up in New Mexico," said the other, "and drop down to the Gulf. That is, I guess we could. The Rio Grande is shallow, and large boats run only a short distance up the river, but we might make it with a small one."
"Let Fremont tell how he built his boat and got his provisions."
"Well," Fremont began, "we were standing on the high bridge at Nashville, one day, when Frank Shaw brought out the brilliant thought. He was doing a thinking part just then, for there was a fine chance of our getting good and hungry before our checks got to us."
"Then he was thinking, all right!" a boy laughed.
"Frank explained," George continued, "that the Cumberland river had been placed in the scenery for the sole purpose of providing transportation for us to the Mississippi. Then he went on and told how we could build a flat-boat with a cabin on it and beat the railroads out of our fare to Cairo. So we counted our money, right there, on the bridge, and started for a lumber yard."
"It was a sporty notion, all right! Just you wait until we get a houseboat into the dirty waters of the Rio Grande!"
"When we got the lumber, we all turned to and built the boat. We didn't know much about boat-building, but we used what few brains we had and got the boards together in pretty good shape, considering. Boy Scouts can do almost anything now, since they're learning how to help themselves. There isn't a boy in the room who can't build a fire with sticks and cook a good meal on it. Also, we'll show, directly, that we can build a houseboat on the Rio Grande."
"If we are as slow at building the boat as we are in getting this story out of you, we won't get started toward the Gulf of Mexico until cold weather next fall."
"We bought two pine planks sixteen feet long," Fremont went on, with a smile at the impatience of the boys, "a foot wide, and two inches thick. We sloped the end so the boat would be scow-shaped, and bought matched flooring for the bottom. We put tar into all the seams, joints and grooves to keep the water out. Then we bought half-inch boards and built a cabin at the back end. That never leaked, either. The boat was sixteen feet long and six feet wide, and the bulliest craft that ever went anywhere. When we got to Cairo we sold it for $6, and that helped some."
"Tell us about your eatings. We'll have to cook when we get down to the Rio Grande. Where did you get your cook stove?"
"We nailed a piece of sheet-iron on the prowboard," laughed Fremont, "and put the bottom section of an old-fashioned coal stove on that. The hole where the magazine used to fit in made a place for the frying pan, and the open doors in front, where the ashpan used to be, took in the wood we collected along the river. Cook! We could cook anything there."
"What about the sleepings?" was asked.
"That was easy. We bought an old bedtick and stuffed it with corn husks, then a pair of back-number bed-springs, which we put on the floor of the cabin. Sleep! We used to tie up nights and sleep from nine o'clock until sunrise.
"With the money we had left we bought bacon, eggs, corn-meal, flour, butter and coffee. There wasn't much of it, because we had little money left, but we thought we might get fish on the way down. We never got one. They wouldn't bite. Still, we had all we needed to eat, and found our checks at Cairo. It took us eight days to float to the Mississippi. We were told at Nashville that we would spill out on the rapids, that river pirates would rob us, and that the big boats would run us down or tip us over, but we never had any trouble at all. We'll know better than to listen to such talk when we set afloat on the Rio Grande this spring."
"It was better than walking," said Frank.
"Frank was frisky as a young colt all the way down," Fremont added. "There are little trading places all along the river banks, kept mostly by farmers. When you want to buy anything you ring a bell left in view for that purpose, and the proprietor comes out of the field and waits on you. Frank wanted a record of being the prize bell-ringer, and once he got to the boat just a quarter of an inch ahead of a bulldog with red eyes and bowlegs.
"He holds the world's record for speed," Fremont continued, with a friendly glance at Frank. "The faster he runs the whiter he gets, through fear, and he left white streaks behind him all along the Cumberland river. Now, how many of you boys are ready for a trip down the Rio Grande, and, possibly, over into Mexico?"
Every boy in the room shouted approval of the plan, and Frank said he would go as war correspondent.
"It will be exciting, with the soldiers on the border," Frank said, "and I may make a hit as special news writer."
All was now excitement in the room, the story of the trip down to the Mississippi having stirred the lads' love of out-of-door adventure to the sizzling point. They capered about the handsome room in a most undignified manner, and counted the days that would elapse before they could be on their way.
The club-room was in the residence of Henry Bosworth, whose son, Jack, was one of the liveliest members of the Black Bear Patrol. The walls of the apartment were hung with guns, paddles, bows, arrows, foils, boxing-gloves, and such trophies as the members of the patrol had been able to bring from field and forest. Above the door was a red shield, nearly a yard in diameter, from the raised center of which a Black Bear pointed an inquisitive nose. The boys were all proud of their black bear badge, especially as no Boy Scout patrol was so well known in New York for the character and athletic standing of its members.
On this stormy March night-one long to be remembered by every member of the party—there were only five members of the Black Bear Patrol present. These were Harry Stevens, son of a manufacturer of automobiles; Glen Howard, son of a well-known board of trade man; Jack Bosworth, son of a leading attorney; George Fremont, adopted son of James Cameron; and Frank Shaw, son of a newspaper owner.
They had been planning a trip to the South all winter, and now, as has been said, the mention of the journey down the Cumberland and Ohio rivers to the Mississippi had so fired their enthusiasm for the great out-of-doors that they were ready to start at short notice. They took down maps and hunted up books descriptive of Mexico, and so busied themselves with the details of the proposed trip that it was after eleven when their minds came back to the common things of life.
"Well," Harry Stevens said, then, "I've got to go home, but I'll be here to-morrow night to talk it over. As Glen says, the Rio Grande del Norte is a funny kind of a stream, like all the waterways in that section of the country, bottom full of sand, and all that, but I presume we can float a houseboat on it."
"Of course we can," Glen put in. "It doesn't take much water to run a houseboat. If we get stuck, you can wire your father to send a motor car down after us."
"He would do it, all right," replied Harry. "We'll take an auto trip across the continent, some day. Good night, fellows."
"I must go right now," George Fremont said. "Mr. Cameron is at the office, working over the Tolford estate papers, and he asked me to call at the rooms and go home with him. He's always nervous when working over that case. The heirs are troublesome, and threatening, I guess."
Frank Shaw walked with George to the nearest corner, where the latter decided to wait for a taxicab. The night had cleared, but the wind off the Bay was still strong and cold.
"I've a notion to ride down to the office with you," Frank said, as they waited. "You could leave me at home on the way up."
"I wish you would," Fremont said. "Skyscrapers are uncanny after dark, and the elevator will not be running. Mr. Cameron will be glad to see you. Come on!"
Frank hesitated a minute, and then decided to go on home, so the boys shook hands and parted for the night. Many and many a time after that night they both had good cause to remember how different the immediate future of one of their number would have been had Frank obeyed his first impulse and gone to the Cameron building with his friend.
When, at last, Fremont was whirled up to the front of the Cameron building he saw that there were lights in the Cameron suite. Believing that his benefactor would be there at his work, Fremont let himself in at the big door with a key and started up the long climb to the sixth floor.
The vacant corridors, as he passed them one by one, seemed to him to be strangely still. Even the people employed at night to clean the halls and offices were not in sight. The boy started suddenly half a dozen times on the way up, started involuntarily, as if some uncanny thing were spying out upon him from the shadows.
Then he came to the Cameron suite and thrust his key into the lock of the door. He had been told that he would find the door locked from the inside. Then, his premonition of approaching evil by no means cast aside, he pushed the door open and looked in upon a sight he was by no means prepared to see.
A MEMBER OF THE WOLF PATROL.
When Fremont opened the door of the Cameron suite, facing the Great White Way, he saw that the room before him was dark and in disorder. The place was dimly illuminated from the high-lights on Broadway, and the noises of the street came stridently up, still, there seemed to the boy to be a shadowy and brooding hush over the place.
Remembering his subconscious impressions of some indefinable evil at hand, the boy shivered with a strange dread as he switched on the electrics, half afraid of what they might reveal. Why was the room so dark and silent? The lights had been burning when he looked up from below, and he had not met Mr. Cameron on his way up. Where was the man he had come to meet? What evil had befallen him?
At the left of the apartment, from which two others opened, to right and left, was a small safe, used privately by Mr. Cameron. Its usual place was against the wall, but it had been wheeled about so that it fronted the windows. The door was open, and, although no violence seemed to have been used, Fremont saw that the interior was in a mess, papers and books being scattered about in confusion.
At the right of the room, and near the doorway opening into the north room, stood a large flat-topped desk, most of the drawers of which were now open. One of the drawers lay on its side on the floor, and was empty. The articles on the desk's top gave evidence of rough handling. Papers appeared to be dripping from filecases, and a black pool of ink lay on the shining surface of the desk.
A swivel-chair which had stood in front of the desk was overturned, and its back now rested on the rug while its polished castors stuck up in the air. At first glance, there seemed to be no human being in the suite save the frightened boy.
With his mind filled with thoughts of robbery, George was about to rush out into the corridor and summon assistance, when a slight sound coming from the north room attracted his attention. He hastened thither, and was soon bending over an office couch upon which lay a still figure.
There was no longer doubt in the mind of the boy as to what had taken place there. Mr. Cameron had been attacked and the suite ransacked. The boy recalled the fact that the rooms had been lighted from within when he stood on the pavement, and wondered if it would not be possible, by acting promptly, to capture the assassin, as he must still be in the building, possibly hiding in some of the dark corners.
First, however, it was necessary that the injured man should receive medical help. Fremont saw a wound on the head, probably dealt with some blunt instrument, and then moved toward the telephone in the outer room. As he did so the corridor door was opened and a boy of perhaps fifteen years looked in. When the intruder saw that Fremont was observing him, he advanced to the connecting doorway.
For quite a minute the boys, standing within a yard of each other, remained silent. Fremont would have spoken, but the accusing look on the face of the other stopped him. The intruder glanced keenly about the two rooms which lay under his gaze and finally rested on the figure on the leather office couch. Then, while Fremont watched him curiously, he went back to the corridor door and stood against it.
"You've got your nerve!" he said, then. "You're nervy, but you ain't got good sense, doin' a think like that with the shades up, the lights on, an' the door unlocked. What did you go an' do it for?"
The sinister meaning of the words took form in the mind of the boy instantly. For the first time he realized that he would be accused of the crime, and that circumstances would be against him. If Mr. Cameron should never recover sufficiently to give a true account of what had taken place, he would be arrested and locked up as the guilty one.
If his benefactor should die without regaining consciousness, he might even be sent to the electric chair, and always his name would be mentioned with horror. While these thoughts were passing through the dazed mind of the boy, there came, also, the keen regret that Frank Shaw had not accompanied him to the building. That would have changed everything—just one witness.
"What did you go an' do it for?" repeated the intruder. "What had Mr. Cameron ever done to you?"
"You think I did it?" said Fremont, as cooly as his excitement would permit of. "You think I struck Mr. Cameron and robbed the office?"
"What about all this?" asked the boy, swinging a hand over the littered rooms, "and the man on the couch?" he added. "Who did it if you didn't?"
"I understand that circumstances are against me," Fremont said, presently. "It looks bad for me, but I didn't do it. I came here to accompany Mr. Cameron home, and found everything just as you see it now."
A smile of disbelief flitted over the other's face, but he did not speak.
"I hadn't been in here half a minute when you came in," Fremont went on. "I had just switched on the lights when I heard a noise in here and there Mr. Cameron lay. I was going to the 'phone when you entered."
"Tell it to the judge," the other said, grimly.
Fremont dropped into a chair and put a hand to his head. Of course. There would be a judge, and a jury, and a crowded court room, and columns in the newspapers. He had read of such cases, and knew how reporters convicted the accused in advance of action by the courts.
"Where did you get that badge?" the intruder demanded, stepping forward as Fremont lifted his arm. "The arrow-head badge with the lettered scroll, I mean."
"I earned it," replied Fremont, covering the scroll with one hand. "Can you tell me," he continued, "what the letters on the scroll say?"
"Be prepared," was the reply.
"Be prepared for what?"
"To do your duty, and to face danger in order to help others."
"What is the name of your patrol?"
"The Wolf. And your's is the Black Bear. I've heard a lot about the boys of that patrol, a lot that was good."
"And never anything that was bad?"
"Not a thing."
"Well then," said Fremont, extending his hand, which the other hastened to take, "you've got to help me now. You've got to stand by me. It is your duty."
"If you belong to the Black Bear Patrol," began the boy, "and have all the fine things you want—as the members of that patrol do—what did you want to go an' do this thing for? What's your name?"
"George Fremont. What is yours?"
"Jimmie McGraw," was the reply. "I'm second assistant to the private secretary to the woman who scrubs here nights. She'll be docking me if I don't get busy," he added, with a mischievous twinkle in his keen gray eyes. "Or, worse, she'll be comin' in here an' findin' out what's goin' on."
"Why didn't one of you come in here before I got to the top of the stairs?" asked Fremont, illogically. "Why did you just happen in here in time to accuse me of doing this thing?"
"I was just beginnin' on this floor," the boy replied. "I wish now that I hadn't come in here at all. You know what I've got to do?"
"You mean call the police?" asked Fremont.
"That's what I've got to do."
"I didn't do it. I wasn't here when it was done," exclaimed Fremont. "You've got to listen to me. You've got to listen to me, and believe what I say. It is your duty to do so."
"What did you want to go and be a Boy Scout an' do such a thing for?" demanded the boy. "Boy Scouts don't protect robbers, or murderers. You know I've got to go an' call the police. There ain't nothin' else I can do."
"If you call the police now," Fremont urged, "you'll rob me of every chance to prove that I am innocent. They will lock me up in the Tombs and I'll have no show at all. Mrs. Cameron will believe that I did it, and won't come near me. If he dies I'll be sent to the electric chair—and you'll be my murderer."
"What am I goin' to do, then?" demanded Jimmie. "I can't go out of the room and testify that I know nothing about it when the police do come. I can't do that for you, even if you do belong to the Black Bear Patrol. I wish I'd never come here to-night. I wish I'd never worked for the scrubwoman."
"To face danger in order to help others," Fremont repeated, significantly.
"Oh, I know—I know," said Jimmie, flinging his arms out in a gesture of despair. "I've heard that before, but what am I to do?"
"Who's your patrol leader?" asked Fremont. "Go and ask him, or the scoutmaster. One of them ought to be able to tell you what you ought to do."
"And you'll take to your legs while I'm gone," replied Jimmie, with a grin. "Good idea that. For you."
"Here," said Fremont, tossing out his key to the door, "go on away and lock me in. I couldn't get away if I wanted to, and I give you my honor that I won't try. Go and find some one you can talk this thing over with."
Jimmie's eyes brightened with sudden recollection of his patrol leader's love for mysterious cases—his great liking for detective work.
"Say," he said, presently, "I'll go an' bring Ned Nestor. He's my patrol leader, and the bulliest boy in New York. He'll know what to do. I'll bet he'll come here when he knows what the trouble is. And I'll do just as he says."
Jimmie turned toward the door, fingering the key, his eyes blinking rapidly, then he turned and faced Fremont.
"If Ned Nestor tells me it ain't no use," he said, slowly, reluctantly, "I'll have to bring the police. I'll have to do it anyway, if he tells me to."
"You'll find me here, whoever you bring," Fremont replied. "I won't run away. What would be the use of that? They'd find me and bring me back. Go on out and bring in anyone you want to. I guess I'll never make the trip to the Rio Grande we were planning to-night—just before I came here."
"The Black Bears?" asked Jimmie. "Were they planning a trip to the Rio Grande?"
Fremont nodded and pointed toward the door.
"Anyway," he said, "you can get me out of this suspense. You can let me know, if you want to, whether I am going to the Rio Grande or to the Tombs."
"Jere! What a trip that would be."
Without waiting for any further words, Jimmie darted out of the door and then his steps were heard on the staircase. Fremont had never in all his life had a key turned on him before. He threw himself into a chair, then, realizing how selfish he was, he hastened to the north room and again bent over the injured man.
There appeared to be little change in Mr. Cameron's condition. He moved restlessly at intervals. Fremont brought water and used it freely, but its application did not produce any immediate effect. Realizing that a surgeon should be summoned at once, the boy moved toward the telephone.
However, he found himself unable to bring himself to the point of communicating with the surgeon he had in mind. Questions would be asked, and he would be suspected, and the intervention of the Boy Scouts could do him no good. He understood now that his every hope for the future centered in the little lad who was hurrying through the night in quest of Ned Nestor, his patrol leader. If these boys of the Wolf Patrol should decide against him, and the injured man should not recover, there was the end of life and of hope. And only an hour ago he had planned the wonderful excursion down the Rio Grande. That time seemed farther away to him now than the birth of Adam.
And mixed with the horror of the situation was the mystery of it! What motive could have actuate the criminal? Had the blow been struck by a personal enemy, in payment of a grudge, or had robbery been the motive? Surely not the latter, for the injured man's valuable watch and chain, his diamonds, were in place. Stocks and bonds, good in the hands of any holder, lay on the floor in front of the open safe. A robber would have taken both bonds and jewelry.
The one reasonable theory was that the act had been committed by some person in quest of papers kept in the office files. The manner in which the desk and safe had been ransacked showed that a thorough search for something had been made. Directly the boy heard Mr. Cameron speaking and hastened to his side. If he had regained consciousness, the nightmare of suspicion would pass away.
"Fremont! Fremont! He did it! He did it!"
This was worse than all the rest. Mr. Cameron was still out of his head, but his words indicated that he might have fallen under the blow with the impression in his mind that it was Fremont who had attacked him. At least the words he was repeating over and over again would leave no doubt in the minds of the officers as to who the guilty party was. While Fremont was mentally facing this new danger, the corridor door was roughly shaken and a harsh voice demanded admittance.
It was Jim Scoby, the night watchman, a sullen, brutal fellow who had always shown dislike for the boy. Why should he be asking admission? Did he suspect? But the fellow went away presently, threatening to call the police and have the door broken down, and then two persons stopped in front of the door.
Fremont could hear them talking, but could not distinguish the words spoken. It seemed, however, that one of the voices was that of Jimmie McGraw, who had gone out after his patrol leader.
The question in the mind of the waiting boy now was this:
Had Jimmie brought his patrol leader, or had he brought an officer of the law?
And there was another question connected with this one, that depended upon the manner in which the first one was answered:
Would it be the Black Bear Patrol excursion down the Rio Grande, the sweet Spring in the South, or would it be the Tombs prison with its brutal keepers and blighted lives?
THE WOLF ADVISES FLIGHT.
The question was settled in a moment, for a key was thrust into the lock and the door swung open. The night watchman had possessed no key when at the door, for which the boy was thankful. Two persons entered and the door was closed and locked.
"Who's been here?" asked Jimmie, panting from his long climb. "We heard a voice in this corridor, and met the watchman down below. He's red-headed about something. That feller's of about as much use here as a chorus lady painted on the back drop. I told him that you'd probably gone to sleep over your work. Here, Black Bear," he continued, with a grin, "meet Mr. Wolf, otherwise Ned Nestor. You fellers get together right now."
Fremont saw a sturdy boy of little less than eighteen, a lad with a face that one would trust instinctively. His dark eyes met the blue ones of the patrol leader steadily. There was no suspicion of guilt in his manner.
Ned Nestor extended his hand frankly, his strong, clean-cut face sympathetic. Fremont grasped it eagerly, and the two stood for a moment looking into each other's eyes.
"I've brought Ned Nestor to talk it over with you," Jimmie said. "He's a good Scout, only he thinks he's a detective. He gets all the boys out of scrapes—except me, and I never get into any. That is, he gets out all the honest ones."
"Jimmie told me about the trouble here," Nestor said, "and I came to learn the exact truth from you. If you struck this man and rifled the safe, tell me so at once. There may be extenuating circumstances, you know."
"I didn't do it," Fremont broke out. "I hadn't been in the room a minute when Jimmie came in and accused me of the crime. There is some mystery about it, for no man could get into this building at night unless he was helped in, or unless he hid during the day, in which case he would be observed moving about."
Nestor smiled but made no reply.
"There has been no robbery," Fremont continued. "There are negotiable bonds on the floor by the safe, and Mr. Cameron's watch and chain and diamonds are still on him."
"Do you know," Nestor said, smiling, "that the points to which you refer are the strongest ones against you? Tell me all about it, from the moment you came into the room."
Fremont told the story as it is already known to the reader, Nestor sitting in silence with a frown of deep thought on his brows. When the recital was finished he went into the north room and stood over the unconscious man.
"Fremont! Fremont! He did it! He did it!"
Over and over again the accusing words came from the white lips. Nestor turned and looked keenly at the despairing boy at his side. Then he stooped over and examined the wound on the head.
"It is a hard proposition," he finally said. "It appears to me that his mention of your name is more like an appeal for help than an accusation, however. Jimmie," he went on, facing the boy, "you heard Fremont coming up the stairs?"
"Yes; he was whistling. He couldn't make enough noise with his feet."
"You followed him up here?"
"Yes," with a little grin.
"Why did you do that?"
"Well, I wanted to see if it was all right—his coming in here."
"Very commendable," smiled Nestor. "Do you think he would have attracted attention to himself by whistling if he had had no business here?"
"Anyway," observed Jimmie, "I followed him up. Wish I hadn't, and wish you wouldn't hop onto me so."
"Do you think he was in these room before he whistled on the stairs?" was the next question. "That is, in the rooms within a couple of hours of the time you heard him coming up the stairs?"
"No; I don't think he was. I heard him whistling down at the bottom. There was a light in this room then, and it was put out; or it might have been put out just before I heard him whistling."
"How long was he in here before you came in?" was asked.
"Oh, about half a minute, I reckon."
"Not long enough to make all this muss with the papers?"
"Of course not. He couldn't do all this in half a minute."
"Then you think that if he did this at all he did it before he whistled on the stairs. That he did it and went back, to indicate that he had just entered the building?"
"That's just it, but I'm not sayin' he did it, mind you, Ned."
"Whoever did this took plenty of time for it," said Nestor, turning to George. "Will you tell me where you spent the evening, and with whom?"
Fremont told of the meeting of the Black Bear Patrol, of the plans which had been made at the club-room, and of his parting with Frank Shaw at the corner.
"Frank will know what time it was when he left me," said the boy, hopefully, "and the taxicab driver will know what time it was when he left me at the door of the building. That ought to settle it."
"It might," was the grave reply, "if Mr. Cameron would not speak those accusing words. Your danger lies there now. For my part, I believe that, as I said before, the words are more an appeal to you for assistance than an accusation, but the police will want to arrest some one for the crime, and so they will doubtless lock you up without bail until there is a change in the injured man's condition."
"The police are dubs!" exclaimed Jimmie.
"We have to figure on the working of their alleged minds if they are," said Nestor.
Then he turned to Fremont and asked:
"You were on good terms with Mr. Cameron?"
"Yes; well, we had a few words at dinner to-night about office work. We did not quarrel, exactly, of course, but he seemed to think that I ought to pay more attention to my duties, and I told him I was studying hard, and that I was doing my best."
"Did he appear to be satisfied with the explanation?"
"You are friendly with the other members of the family?"
"Yes, sir; though I hardly think Mrs. Cameron likes me. She thinks her husband favors me above his own sons."
"Then she would not be apt to believe you innocent of this crime if the police should arrest you? She would not come to your assistance?"
"With Mr. Cameron unconscious and likely to die—no, sir."
"There was silence for a moment, and then Fremont asked:
"Do you think they will lock me up, sir?"
"The police will want to do something at once," was the reply. "They like to make a flash, as the boys say on the Bowery."
"Suppose I send for a man high in authority, here now, and tell him the truth?" suggested Fremont. "Wouldn't I stand a better show than if the matter passed through the hands of some ambitious detective?"
"They are all ambitious," was the non-committal reply.
"You keep the whole matter out of the hands of the cops until you know just what you want to do," advised Jimmie. "I don't like the cops. They pinched me once for shootin' craps."
After further talk, Fremont decided to leave the course to be taken entirely to his new friends, and that point was considered closed. Then Nestor turned to another phase of the matter. Mr. Cameron needed immediate attention, but the office must be looked over before others were called in, so he set about it, Fremont and Jimmie looking on in wonder.
First Nestor went to the door opening into the corridor and examined every inch of the floor and rug until he came to the front of the safe. Then he went through the big desk, carefully, and patiently. Three or four times the boys saw him lift something from the floor, or from the desk, and place it in a pocket. He spent a long time over a packet of papers which he took from a drawer of the desk.
One of the papers he copied while the boys looked on, wondering what he was about, and from another he cut a corner. This scrap he wrapped in clean paper and placed in his pocketbook. During part of the time spent in the investigation Fremont sat by the side of the unconscious man in the north room.
"Now," asked Nestor, presently, "do you know what business brought Mr. Cameron to his office to-night?"
"Yes; he was closing up the Tolford estate."
"He asked you to come and go home with him?"
"That is the fact, but how did you know it?"
"Because he was timid about being here alone?" asked Nestor, ignoring the question.
"Yes, I think so. He was always nervous when dealing with the Tolford heirs. I believe they threatened him. He brought his gun with him to-night. You will find it in a drawer of the desk if the assassin did not take it."
"Where were the Tolford papers usually kept?"
"At the deposit vaults. I brought them over this afternoon."
"See if you can find them now."
Fremont went to the safe and then to the desk, from which he took the packet of papers he had previously seen Nestor examining. It was a sheet from this packet that the Wolf Patrol leader had copied. He passed the large envelope containing the papers over to the other.
"What occurred when these papers were last left in this office over night?" Nestor asked, and Fremont, a sudden recollection stirred by the question, replied that there had been an attempt at burglary the last time the Tolford estate papers were left there at night.
Nestor smiled at the startled face of the boy as he related the occurrence, but made no comment. He was examining a bundle of letters at the time, and ended by putting them into a pocket as if to carry them away with him.
"They concern a proposed transaction in firearms and ammunition," the patrol leader said, in answer to Fremont's inquiring look.
"Now, it appears to me," Nestor said, after concluding his examination of the suite, "that you ought to keep out of the hands of the police until this affair can be thoroughly looked into. Nothing can prevent your arrest if you remain here. What about the proposed Black Bear Patrol trip down the Rio Grande and over into Mexico?"
"I wouldn't like to run away," Fremont replied. "That would show guilt and cowardice. I'd much rather remain here and take what comes."
"If you are arrested," the patrol leader went on, "the police, instead of doing honest work in unraveling the mystery, will bend every effort to convict you. They will not consider any theory other than your guilt. Every scrap of evidence will be twisted and turned into proof against you, and in the meantime the real criminal may escape. It is a way the police have."
"It seems like a confession of guilt to run away," Fremont said.
"Another thing," Nestor went on, "is this. I have made a discovery here—a very startling discovery—which points to Mexico as my field of operations. I cannot tell you now anything more about this discovery, except that it is a most important one. I might hide you away in New York where the police would never find you, but you would enjoy the trip to Mexico, and I want you with me."
"Mexico!" cried Jimmie. "I'll go with you, Mr. Nestor. A houseboat on the Rio Grande. Well!"
"Have you money enough for the trip?" asked Nestor of Fremont, not replying to the generous offer of the boy.
"I have about $300 which Mr. Cameron gave me yesterday for my Spring outfit," was the reply. "He was very generous with me."
"That will pay the bills until I can get some money," Nestor said, "so we may as well consider the matter settled. This business I am going to Mexico on will pay me well, and I will share the expense of the trip with you."
"Not if you go to protect me," Fremont replied.
"Not entirely to protect you," Nestor answered, "although I believe that the solution to this mystery will be found on the other side of, the Rio Grande."
"It seems strange that the Rio Grande should mix in every situation which confronts me to-night," Fremont said. "What can the affairs of turbulent Mexico have to do with the cowardly crime which has been committed here to-night?"
THE WOLF TALKS IN CODE.
"I can't tell you much about it at this time," replied Nestor. "I can only say that you ought to get out of the country immediately, and that Mexico is as good a place to go to as any other. I may be able to tell you something more after we are on our way."
"Me, too!" cried Jimmie. "Me for Mexico. You can't lose me."
"I'm sorry to say that you'll have to remain here," said Nestor, noting with regret the keen disappointment in the boy's face. "After we leave the building you must call a surgeon and see that Mr. Cameron is cared for. The surgeon will call the police if he thinks it advisable."
"The cops will geezle me," wailed Jimmie.
"I think not," was the reply; "not if you tell them the truth. Make it as easy for Fremont as you can by saying that he had been here only a minute when you came in, and that he had just entered the building. You may say, too, that we have gone out to look up a clue we found here, in the hope of discovering the assassin. Tell the truth, and they can't tangle you up."
"They can lock me up," said the boy. "I'll call a surgeon an' duck. You see if I don't. It is Mexico for mine."
"I suppose you have the price?" laughed Nestor.
"I haven't got carfare to Brooklyn," was the laughing reply, "but that don't count with me. I guess I know something about traveling without money."
Having thus arranged for the care of the unconscious man, and tried to console Jimmie for his great disappointment, Nestor and Fremont left the big building, seeing, as the latter supposed, no one on their way out. As they turned out of the Great White Way, still blazing with lights, directing their steps toward the East River, Fremont turned about and glanced with varying emotions at the brilliant scene he was leaving. He was parting, under a cloud, from the Great White Way and all that the fanciful title implied. He loved the rush and hum of the big city, and experienced, standing there in the night, a dread of the silent places he was soon to visit under such adverse conditions.
He loved the forest, too, and the plains and the mountains, but knew that the burden he was carrying away from the Cameron building would hang upon him like the Old-man-of-the-Sea until he was back in the big city again with a name free from suspicion. Nestor stood waiting while the boy took his sorrowful look about the familiar scenes.
"I know what you're thinking about," he said, as they started on again. "You're sorry to go not entirely because you love the city, but because you feel as if you were turning coward in going at all. You'll get over that as the case develops."
"I'm afraid it will be lonesome down there where we are going," said Fremont. "I had planned something very different. The Black Bears were to go along, you know, and there was to be no fugitive-from-justice business."
"Fugitive from injustice, you should say," said Nestor. "The Black Bears may come along after a time, too. Anyway, you'll find plenty of Boy Scouts on the border. I have an idea that Uncle Sam will have his hands full keeping them out of trouble."
"He'll have a nest on his hands if they take a notion to flock over the Rio Grande," replied Fremont. "It is hard to keep a boy away from the front when there are campfires on the mountains."
The two boys passed east to Second avenue, south to Twenty-third street, and there crossed the East River on the old Greenpoint ferry. Still walking east, an hour before daylight they came to a cottage in the vicinity of Newtown Creek, and here Nestor paused and knocked gently on a door which seemed half hidden by creeping vines, which, leafless at that time of the year, rattled noisily in the wind.
The door was opened, presently, by a middle-aged lady of pleasant face and courteous manner. She held a night-lamp high above her night-capped head while she inspected the boys standing on the little porch. Nestor broke into a merry laugh.
"Are you thinking of burglars, Aunty Jane?" he asked. Then he added, "Burglars don't knock at doors, Aunty. They knock people on the head."
"Well, of all things, Ned Nestor!" exclaimed the lady, in a tone which well matched her engaging face. "What are you doing here at this time of night?"
"I want to leave a friend here for the day," was the reply. "Come, Aunty, don't stand there with the lamp so high. You look like the Statue of Liberty. Let us in and get us something to eat. I'm hungry."
"I suspected it" smiled the lady. "You always come to Aunty Jane when you are hungry, or when you've got some one you are hiding. Well, come in. I'm getting used to your manners, Ned."
The boys needed no second invitation to step inside out of the cold wind. After Fremont had been presented to Aunty Jane, they were shown to the sitting-room—an apartment warmed by a grate fire and looking as neat as wax—where they waited for the promised breakfast.
"She is a treasure, Aunty Jane White," explained Nestor, as the boys watched the cold March dawn creep up the sky. "She really is my aunt, you know, mother's sister. She knows all about my love for secret service work, and lets me bring my friends here when they want to keep out of sight."
"You said something about leaving me here to-day," Fremont observed. "Why are you thinking of doing that? Why not keep together, and both get out of the city?"
"I can't tell you now," Nestor replied, a serious look on his face. "I've got something to do to-day that is so important, so vital, that I dare not mention it even to you. It does not concern your case, except that it, too, points to Mexico, but is an outgrowth from it."
"Strange you can't confide in me," said Fremont, almost petulantly.
Nestor noted the impatience in his friend's tone, but made no reply to it. He had taken a packet of letters from his pocket, and was running them thoughtfully through his hands, stopping now and then to read the postmark on an envelope.
"Do you remember," he asked, in a moment, "of seeing a tall shadow in front of the door to the Cameron suite just before we left there?"
"I did not see any shadow there," was the astonished reply. "How could a shadow come on the glass door?"
"Because some tall man, with one shoulder a trifle lower than the other, stood between the light in the corridor and the glass panel," was the reply, "and his shadow was plainly to be seen. I thought you noticed it."
"Was that when you opened the door and looked out?"
"Yes; I opened the door and look out into the corridor and listened. I could hear footsteps on the staircase, but they died out while I stood there. The man was hiding in the building, for the street door was not opened, and we did not see him on the way down. I suspect that the watchman knew he was there."
"The watchman, Jim Scoby, is a rascal," replied Fremont. "I don't like him. What am I to do if you leave me alone here all day?" he added, with a sigh.
"Read, eat, sleep, and keep out of sight," was the reply. "I'll return early in the evening and we'll leave for the South at midnight."
"I wish I could communicate with the Black Bears," said Fremont.
Nestor smiled but said nothing. In a short time breakfast was served and Nestor went away. That was a long day for Fremont, although Aunty Jane endeavored to help him pass the time pleasantly. He dropped off into sleep late in the afternoon, and did not wake until after dark.
Instead of its being a long day for Nestor, it seemed a very short one. From the Brooklyn cottage he went directly to a telegraph office in the lower section of the city and asked for the manager, who had not yet arrived, the hour being early. The clerk was inquisitive and tried to find out what the boy wanted of the manager, but Nestor kept his own counsel and the manager was finally reluctantly sent for.
When the manager arrived Nestor asked that an expert code operator be procured, and this was reluctantly done, but only after the boy had written and sent off a message to a man the manager knew to be high in the secret service department of the government. In an hour, much to the surprise of the manager, this important gentleman walked into the office and asked for the boy.
After a short talk there, the two went to a hotel and secured a private room, and two clerks familiar with code work were sent for. When a waiter, in answer to a call, looked into the room he was astonished at seeing the four very busy over a packet of letters.
Then, in a short time, code messages began to rain in on the manager. They were from Washington, from the Pacific coast, and from various forts scattered about the country. The manager confided to his wife when he went home to luncheon that it seemed to him as if another war was beginning. All the military offices in the country seemed talking in code, he said.
"What has this boy you speak of got to do with military operations?" asked the wife, wondering at a lad of Nestor's age being mixed up in a state affair.
"That is what I don't know," was the reply. "He came to the office this morning and sent for me, as you know. When I met him he asked for a code expert and wired to the biggest man in this military division. Then the code work began."
It was late in the evening when Nestor returned to the cottage and announced himself ready for the southern trip. Fremont, who had been impatiently awaiting his arrival, was eager to know the status of the Cameron case.
"Mr. Cameron is alive, but unconscious," was the unsatisfactory reply. "The police ordered him taken to a hospital and his people summoned. It is said that Mrs. Cameron is very bitter against you."
"That's because I ran away," Fremont said, gravely. "What about Jim Scoby?"
"The watchman has disappeared," was the reply. "He left with a Mexican called Felix who occupied a room in the building. The police are after them."
"And of course they are looking for me—egged on by Mrs. Cameron?"
"There is a reward of $10,000 offered for the arrest of the guilty party," was the unsatisfactory reply, "and the police officers are raking the city to find any one who was in the building last night."
"Did they arrest Jimmie McGraw?" asked Fremont, hoping that the bright little fellow had not been placed in prison.
"Jimmie ran away, just as he said he would, called a surgeon and left the building before he arrived. The police followed him to a room where members of the Wolf Patrol meet occasionally, but he was not there. The boys who were there, night messengers and the like, who had dropped in before going home, said that he had gone South. I met a boy named Frank Shaw, and he said the Black Bears were getting ready to do something for you, though he would not say what it was."
"Good old Frank!" exclaimed Fremont.
"The Black Bears are loyal," Nestor went on, "and so are the Wolves. We may hear from both patrols after we cross the Rio Grande."
"I wish some of them were going with us," said Fremont, with a sigh.
"If I am not mistaken," Nestor said, with a frown, "we'll have plenty of company on the way down. We may not see our traveling companions, but they will be close at hand."
"Do you mean that the police will trail us to Mexico?" asked Fremont.
"I don't know," was the reply. "I give it up. There are others beside the police to reckon with. Well, we'll see what Boy Scouts can do to protect a friend who is in trouble."
THE WOLF IN THE BEAR'S BED.
The two boys traveled for three days and nights, the general direction being south. There were, however, numerous halts and turns in the journey to the Rio Grande. Three times Fremont was left alone at junction towns while Nestor took short trips on cross lines. Once the patrol leader was absent hours after the time set for his return, and the boy was anxious as well as mystified.
Fremont knew that his traveling companion was receiving telegrams in code all the way down, and knew, also, that his movements were in a measure directed by them. Still, one delay seemed to lead to another, as if new conditions were developing. The movements of the boys, too, were carefully guarded, so carefully, indeed, that it seemed to Fremont that Nestor was continually spying upon some one, as well as hiding from those who were spying upon him.
Time and again Fremont asked his friend to explain the mystifying situation, but never succeeded in gaining satisfactory information on the subject of the frequent halts and seemingly useless journeys back and forth. At various times during the journey he secured newspapers containing wild and improbable theories of the crime which had been committed in the Cameron building. Mr. Cameron's death, the dispatches said, was hourly expected, so the unfortunate boy received little encouragement from his reading of the New York news.
Early in the evening of the third day out the boys reached El Paso, on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. They found the city looking like a military encampment. Soldiers wearing the khaki uniforms of Uncle Sam were everywhere, martial music filled the air with its shrill fifings and deep drum-beats, and there was a gleam of polished steel wherever the boys walked.
It was a scene well calculated to stir the imagination and excite the patriotism of the Boy Scouts, and for a time the excitement of it all forced Fremont's troubles from his mind. The boys dined at a restaurant and then Fremont went to a comfortable room which had been engaged in a small hotel while Nestor went out into the city, "to spy out the resources of the land," as he declared.
Fremont, however, knew that his friend was very anxious over something. There appeared to be some new complication which the patrol leader was having a hard time puzzling out. It may well be imagined that his return was awaited with impatience. His face was very grave when at last he entered the room.
"I'm sorry I have no better report to make," Nestor said, throwing himself into a chair, "but the fact is that we've got to lose ourselves in the mountains across the river as soon as we can do so. We can get across to-night, of course, but must hustle after we get across. We can get provisions at San Jose."
"We've got to carry the provisions into the mountains on our backs?" asked Fremont.
"We surely have," was the reply, "and we've got to lay low while we are cooking and eating them. The Sierra del Fierro mountains, where we are going, are lined with insurrectos, and they are not in good humor just now."
"I'm game for anything, so long as we can get out of the beaten way," replied Fremont. "I've felt all the way down that we were being followed. Anyway," he continued, more cheerfully, "I shall enjoy the sight of a mountain campfire again. We don't have to take any matches with us. I can build a fire, Indian-fashion, with dry sticks and a cord. My Boy Scout experiences will be of service now, I take it."
"And you must fix up a little disguise to get over the river in," continued Nestor. "The New York police are in communication with the officers here, and the latter are out for the $10,000 reward. As you suspected, we have been shadowed from New York. More than once I threw the shadows off the track, but they landed again. There are most unusual conditions around us, and we must be very discreet. After we get across the Rio Grande the danger will decrease."
"It makes me feel happy again," Fremont said, after putting on a new, cheap suit and tinting his face, "this idea of meeting a different sort of danger. I can't stand this lurking peril—this obsession that some one may spring out upon me from some dark corner at any minute. Get me out by a mountain camp-fire, old fellow, and I'll be game for anything."
There was a short silence, and then the boy went on.
"I don't understand exactly why you are heading for Mexico, but one country is as good as another just now. The police over there are said to be in close touch with those here, and to be brutal in their handling of prisoners. However, let us make up our minds that we will have nothing to do with the police."
"We are going to Mexico for three reasons," Nestor said, in a moment. "I can't tell you all about the three now, but one is to get you out of the way until the real criminal is discovered. The other two will show in time, and are likely to bring out a great deal of excitement."
"I have been wondering all the way down here," Fremont said, "why you copied one of the papers in the Tolford estate packet. I know now. There is in that sheaf of papers a description of a lost Mexican mine—a very valuable mine which has been lost for any number of years. I remember of hearing Mr. Cameron discuss the matter with one of the heirs. The lost mine seems to be the most valuable item in the estate schedule," the boy went on. "At any rate, there has been a lot of quarreling over it. That paper contains the only description in existence, and all the heirs want it."
"So you think I'm going after the lost mine?" laughed Nestor.
"If you are not, why did you copy the description?"
"How do you know that I copied the description?"
"You copied something."
"Yes; I copied the description of the lost mine. I thought it might be of use to us, and it may prove of the greatest importance."
"Then you think the man who invaded the office and struck Mr. Cameron down is interested in the lost mine?" exclaimed Fremont. "You think he committed the crime to get the description? That he copied it, and left the original paper there to throw off suspicion? That the man we are in quest of will go directly to the lost mine? Is that why you are going to Mexico? Is that why you said, from the start, that the clue pointed across the Rio Grande?"
"Don't ask so many questions," laughed Nestor. "There is a shadowy suspicion in my mind that the assassin is interested in the Tolford estate, if you must know, but I may be entirely mistaken. Still, we must remember that on the occasion when the Tolford papers were in the office over night, there was an attempt at robbery. This may be a coincidence, but it is worth looking into."
"I should say so," cried Fremont, with enthusiasm. "I should say it was worth looking into. Now I begin to see what you mean by coming this way, and why you dodged about on the route down. You think the lost mine man is watching us."
"I don't think anything about it," said Nestor. "I never imagine issues, and I never form theories. One thing I know, and that is that we shall find friends over in Mexico. You may even come upon some of the Black Bears there."
"I hope so," was the cheerful reply.
"In which case," continued Nestor, "you might take the suggested ride down the Rio Grande."
"Not with the mountains in sight, and a lost mine to find," exclaimed Fremont.
"And a brutal assassin to bring to punishment," added Nestor.
"And the third motive for visiting Mexico to develop," smiled Fremont. "I wish I knew about that third motive. I understand the first two—one you told me and one I guessed."
"You shall know the other in time," said Nestor. "Just at present, however, the secret is not mine. Important issues are at stake, and I must keep my lips shut, even when talking with you, concerning our mission."
"All right," said Fremont. "Don't worry about me. I'll get it out of you in some way. See if I don't."
Shortly after this conversation closed Nestor went out into the city to arrange for the trip to the mountains. As he left the little hotel he imagined that he saw men bearing unmistakable stamp of plain-clothes policemen hanging about, and it also seemed to him that he was followed as he walked down the crowded street toward the river.
It was late when he returned to the room where he had left Fremont. His suspicions had proven to be more than suspicions, for he had indeed been tracked from the hotel, and had been obliged to do a great deal of walking in order to leave his pursuers behind. When he entered the hotel he saw that the plain-clothes men were no longer on duty at the front.
He climbed the stairs to his room and opened the door with a little quiver of the lips, for the place was dark and silent. When he turned on the lights, however, he was easier in his mind, for there was the sleeping figure he had hoped to find.
In a moment, however, his eyes fell upon a heap of clothing lying across a chair near the head of the bed. Those were not the clothes Fremont had worn. These were soiled and torn. Whose were they, then, and how was it that they were there?
He shook the sleeper lightly and a dust-marked face was lifted from the sheltering bed-clothes. But the face was not that of Fremont, but of Jimmie McGraw. Nestor started back in wonder. How had the boy come there, and where was Fremont? Had he been taken by the police? Was he already on his way back to the tombs? Then Jimmie sprang out of bed with a grin on his face.
TWO BLACK BEARS IN TROUBLE.
Left alone in his room by the departure of Nestor, Fremont busied himself for a time with the newspapers which his friend had brought in. On the first page of the evening newspaper he found the source of Nestor's information concerning the movements of the police.
The story, under a New York date line, was highly colored, the reporter taking advantage of every strange happening to bring in paragraphs of what he doubtless termed "local color." From first to last, every clue was bent and twisted so as to point to the guilt of the boy. It seemed that some cunning enemy was directing the reporters.
It was stated that Fremont had been seen in the building earlier in the evening, and that the night watchman had "reluctantly" admitted that he had heard high words passing between Mr. Cameron and his employe. The interview with the watchman had taken place on the very night of the crime. Since that time, the newspaper said, no one had seen him in New York, at least no one who would admit knowledge of his movements to the police.
On the whole, the newspaper made out a pretty good case against the boy, and Fremont was pleased to think that he had taken the advice of his friend and left the city. If he had not done so, he would now be in the Tombs, he had no doubt.
After a time he tossed the paper aside and began walking up and down his room, anxious for Nestor's return, anxious for a breath of mountain air—for the freedom of the high places, for the sniff of a camp-fire. It was then that he heard a footstep at his door.
He turned the lights down and waited, his hand on a weapon which had been given him by Nestor. Then the door was opened softly and an arm clad in khaki was thrust through the narrow opening. Fremont waited, but no face followed the arm into view. Then, approaching nearer, he saw something on the sleeve which sent the hopeful blood surging through his veins. It was the badge of the Black Bear Patrol, and beneath it was the Indian arrow-head badge of the Boy Scouts. With a shout he caught at the door and threw it open. There, with a delightful smile on his broad face, stood Frank Shaw.
Fremont seized his chum about the neck and dragged him into the room, where the hugging and pulling about rivaled the efforts of real black bears. Then Fremont closed and locked the door and dropped into a chair, eyeing his friend as if he would like to devour him, black bear fashion.
"You didn't expect to see me here, did you?" asked Frank.
"I should say not. How did you know where to find me? When did you leave New York? How is Mr. Cameron? Tell me all about everything."
"When you get done asking questions," cried Frank. "First, Ned Nestor told me where to look for you. He told some of the others, too, but I reckon they got lost on the way down. I've been waiting for you half a year—it seems to me—a whole day, any way. And that reminds me that you've got to beat it."
"And how is Mr. Cameron? Is he conscious yet?"
"Not yet, and they say he can't live. Say, I came down here to enlist as drummer, so I could get a stand-in with the army fellows, and, what do you think, they wouldn't enlist me! Said I was too short and fat. Me short and fat! I'm going to write up that recruiting officer and have Dad publish him to the world."
"There is a lot of talk about the case?" asked Fremont.
"Of course there is," was the reply. "But what do you think about that recruiting officer? He ought to be pinched. Me too short and fat! Ever hear me drum?"
"Only once," was the reply. "Then the boys held me while you drummed."
"Never you mind that," Frank replied. "I'm going to tell you now that you've got to beat it. Understand? You've got to get out right away—not to-morrow, but now."
"Yes, I know the police are after me," said Fremont, gravely. "There is some one who is keeping them posted as to our movements. It appears to me that this crime was directed against me as well as against Mr. Cameron. What are you going to do now?"
"Do?" demanded the other. "Do? I'm going to stay here and fight for you. What else could I do? And I'm going to write to father and tell him all about the case, and say you are innocent, and he'll show the other newspapers where to head in at."
"We've got to get the proof first," said Fremont. "The case looks dark for me," Fremont added with a sigh. "Nestor will soon be here, and he'll be glad to see you."
"I hope he'll come before the police, do," said Frank. "I'll tell you, old man, that they're hot after that reward. They know you're in this hotel. I don't doubt that they know the room you're in. You've got to beat it, I tell you."
"I've got to wait for Ned Nestor," said Fremont.
"Say," said Shaw, "do you know who it is that brought you here?"
"Ned Nestor, of course."
"But do you know who he is? He's the best amateur detective in the world. He's always looking for a chance to help those accused of crime. Even the high police officers of New York ask him to look into cases for them. Some day he'll be at the head of the United States secret service department. You see. He'll get you through if any one can. Leave it to him. Here's some one coming now. Perhaps it is Ned."
But it was not Ned, for there were noises in the hall, just beyond the door, which indicated a struggle, and then a sharp voice called out:
"Cut it out, youse feller! Cut it out, or I'll bring out me educated left. Let me alone, I say. I ain't no tramp."
Both boys recognized the voice, and Fremont hastened to unlock the door. When it was opened the second surprise of the evening confronted the fugitive. Jimmie McGraw stood in the hall threatening an angry waiter with his clenched fists. Although the boy was small, and no match for the waiter, he was exceedingly nimble, and the waiter was unable to lay hands on him.
"He's tryin' to throw me out," exclaimed Jimmie, grinning at sight of the boys. "Tell him it is all right."
"We are expecting the boy," Fremont said. "Kindly let him alone."
"I'm ordered to throw him out of the hotel," roared the waiter. "He's a tramp."
Fremont pacified the fellow with a silver offering and, drawing Jimmie inside of the room, closed the door. Then the three boys, looking from one to the other, broke out in uproarious laughter. For Jimmie was a sight to behold. His clothing was torn, and his hands and face looked as if they had never seen water.
"How did you get down here?" asked Fremont, after a moment. "I left you in New York, to look after that end of the Cameron case."
"Huh!" exclaimed the boy. "You didn't take the railroad iron up with you when you came down, did you? Nor yet you didn't lock up the side-door Pullmans. I got fired as second assistant to the private secretary to the scrubwoman, 'cause she got pinched, so I came on down here to help Uncle Sam keep the border quiet."
"They won't let you drum," interrupted Fatty. "You're too short."
"I don't want to drum," was the indignant reply. "I want to get over into Mexico an' live in the mountains. Say, if you boys have any mazuma, just pass it out. I'm hungry enough to eat the Statue of Liberty in the harbor."
"I'm hungry, too," said Frank Shaw.
"I knew it," observed Jimmie. "Come on. Let's go out and eat."
"Wait," said Frank, "there's something doing here. Fremont's got to get out of this room right away and I'll go with him. There is a window we can climb out of. When we get out I'll plant Fremont somewhere and circle back here with some provisions for you. Understand?"
"Me for the hike out of the window, too," said Jimmie. "I see myself waitin' here for you to come back with grub after you get your share. You'll come back—not."
"Sure I'll come back," replied Frank. "Besides, some one's got to stay here. You for the bed, Jimmie," he added, with a sudden smile on his face, brought out, doubtless, by the arrival of a brilliant idea, "you for the bed, and if the cops come here you're the boy that has the room—see? And there ain't no other boy that you know of. That will keep them guessing. They'll think they've been following the wrong kid, and we'll all get across the Rio Grande before they wake up. You for the bed, Jimmie."
But Jimmie held back, saying that he did not feel in need of a bed, but did feel in need of a square meal. But the boys, laughing at the wry faces and savage speeches he made, helped him off with his clothes, turned out the lights, and dropped out of the window into an alley which ran, one story below, at the rear of the hotel.
They were none too soon in concluding their arrangements, for as they lit on the ground below a heavy knock came on the door of the room they had just left. As they slipped off in the darkness they heard Jimmie doing a pretty good imitation of a snore.
"Say," Fremont said, as they drew up on a street corner after a short run, "they'll arrest Jimmie. If the cops ask the waiters, they'll soon know that there were others in that room, and they'll arrest him for obstructing an officer. I wish we had brought him with us. Poor Jimmie!"
"He'll get out of it in some way," laughed Frank. "They won't hold him long if they do pinch him. Anyway, we want him around there to meet Nestor when he comes back. He'll tell some cock-and-bull story that will put him to the good with the cops."
But Fremont was not so sure of the resourcefulness of Jimmie, and worried over the matter not a little as they walked the streets, quieting down now, for the soldiers had been called back to camp and the citizens of the town were seeking their homes and beds. As for Frank, he was talking most of the time of the supper he was hoping to get before long. The boys did not care to enter a conspicuous restaurant, and so they chose an obscure eating house on a side street.
At first glance the place seemed without customers as they entered, and the boys were glad to have the room to themselves, but as soon as they were seated two men came in and took seats at a table not far away from their own. The men were dusky fellows, with long hair and sharp black eyes. They ordered sparingly, as if they cared little for food, and, after glancing furtively around the room, spent their time in whispered conversation.
Fremont thought he saw something familiar in one of the men, and kept his eyes on his face until the coarse features, the sullen grin, became associated in his mind with the Cameron building in New York. It did not seem possible that this could be true, yet there was a face he had seen in the corridors of the great building, and every moment the identification was becoming more definite.
"Ever see that man before?" he asked of Frank, nudging the boy and pointing with his fork, held so low down that it could not be seen by the others.
"I'm sure I have," was the reply. "He was at the hotel when I went upstairs to your room," Frank went on. "I remember now."
Before anything more could be said the two men arose and approached the table where the boys sat. Railing at the adverse fate which had brought him in contact with this man after a successful flight from the New York police, Fremont arose and darted toward the door. He gained the doorway before the other could seize him, and there turned to look back.
Shaw had not been so fortunate in escaping the grasp of the Mexican, for such he appeared to be. When Fremont looked back the fellow was trying his best to throw the boy to the floor, while his companion stood by with clenched fists. The boy was about to turn back to the assistance of him chum when he saw with joy that this would not be necessary.
SIGNALS ON THE MOUNTAIN.
Fremont saw that Frank was putting up a nervy battle with the man who had seized him, and was in the act of going to his assistance when Frank made a quick motion which seemed to bring every muscle in his body into action, and the Mexican shot into the air, landing, finally, on the back of his companion, and going to the floor with him.
The movement executed by the boy had been so lightning-like that none of the details had been noted, yet Fremont recognized it as a clever ju jitsu trick he had often seen the boys of the Black Bear Patrol practicing. Frank laughed as the man seemed to spill off his round figure, and before the amazed and raging Mexican could get to his feet both boys were off like the wind, followed at a distance by policemen who had been called by the owner of the restaurant.
"We may as well circle back to the hotel now," Fremont said, as they brought up on a corner to rest and catch their breath. "I'm anxious about Jimmie. We should never have left him there alone."
"If we go back to Jimmie without a cart-load of provisions," laughed Frank, "he'll call the police. Besides, I'm starving. Here's another feed shop, so we may as well load up."
Fremont did not enter the place, but waited in a dark stairway for Frank to return with the food that was to be taken to Jimmie. When Frank showed up he was devouring a thick ham sandwich.
"Now we can face the lad," the boy laughed. "He'll be hungry, though."
When they came to within a block of the hotel, Fremont waited for his companion to bring him news of the situation there. Much to his relief, he soon saw Shaw returning, accompanied by both Jimmie and Nestor. And Jimmie was munching a great sandwich as he drew near to the waiting boy.
"S-a-y!" Jimmie exclaimed, as the boys met and walked away together, apparently free of surveillance. "That was a fresh cop. Wanted to geezle me for a robber. If Ned hadn't come across just as he did, there'd 'a' been a scrap. Say, Ned," he added, turning to the patrol leader, "how did you get your stand-in with the soldiers? Wasn't that a colonel who talked the bull cop out of pinching both of us?"
"That was Colonel Wingate," was the reply. "I can't tell you anything more about the matter just now. Anyway, we've got our work cut out for us to-night. We must be far from the border by morning. There's a train from Juarez about midnight."
There were many questions which Fremont wanted to ask Nestor as the boys, each busy with his own thoughts, crossed the bridge, after giving a password supplied by Colonel Wingate, and took train at Juarez for San Jose, but he remained silent. He wanted, among other things, to ask why they were going to San Jose so directly—as if the town had been the object of the journey from the beginning. He saw, however, that Nestor, who was becoming a good deal of a mystery to him, did not care to talk, and so he held his tongue.
Long before noon on the following day, after a comfortless ride on a bumping train, the boys found themselves at San Jose, a scraggly town on the west shore of beautiful Lake de Patos. As they were both hungry and tired, they secured rooms in a little hotel, ordered dinner served there, and rested for a short time. The dinner was plentiful, but thoroughly Mexican. The menu smelled of garlic, and the walls of the room were decorated (?) with cheap colored prints wherein matadors calmly awaited the onslaught of maddened bulls, while women, shrouded in mantillas and smoking cigarettes, leaned out of their seats and applauded.
After the siesta, provisions were brought and enclosed in neat packages convenient for carrying on the back, and at dusk, after a swift row across the lake, the boys were at the foot of a high range of mountains which looked down upon the lake and the town.
On their way across the lake, and on the gentle slope of the foot of the hills, they had frequently observed parties of roughly dressed men, some with muskets and some without, making their way, by boat and on foot, toward the mountain. Those on the water were in rude, makeshift boats, of which there seemed to be an insufficient quantity at hand, groups waiting on the shore for the return of conveyances in order that they might in turn be carried across.
There was great excitement in the little town, and men, women and children were huddled in the streets, looking apprehensively at the rough men who were hurrying, for some unknown reason, to the east. Finally two men who appeared to know something of the English language asked Nestor for a ride in the rather swift boat he had secured for the trip across the lake. This request was gladly granted, for Nestor was anxious to talk with some one who might be able to tell him something of the movement to the east. He had his own suspicions of the motive of the march, and they were not agreeable ones.
The men taken into the boat proved to be ignorant, sullen fellows, and so little information of the kind sought was gained from them. Presently the boat was left behind and the boys, each with a typical Boy Scout camping outfit on his back—the same including provisions—were soon making their way up the slope.
"Jere!" cried Jimmie, throwing himself on the ground after the first steep climb. "Let's wait for the elevator. What do you expect to find up here, anyway?"
"We're looking for a place to hide a boy, for a lost mine, and for a Mexican with one leg shorter than the other and a withered right hand," laughed Nestor. "Move on."
"That description listens to me like the Mexican we saw in the restaurant," said Shaw. "He had a withered right hand. Say, but he got a drop."
"He looked to me like a man I have seen in New York," said Fremont. "I wonder if there is any one left in New York?" he added, with a grin. "It seems to me that about all the people I ever knew there are on their way south."
"This fellow may be fascinated by our good looks," Frank put in. "He seems to be in need of polite society."
"Polite society!" repeated Jimmie. "You give him a dump on the floor for polite society. Is he the man who is lookin' for the mine youse fellers have been talkin' about ever since we left El Paso?"
"If we should follow him to the mine," George suggested, "and arrest him there, that ought to end the case. It would end the mystery, anyway, and show why the assault was made. I guess you have been after this man all the way down, Nestor," he added.
"When he hasn't been after me," laughed the patrol leader. "But you mustn't be too certain that the arrest of this man would end the case. He may be after the mine, may even have a copy of the description in Mr. Cameron's office, and yet be entirely innocent of the crime."
"He ought to be pinched for trying to geezle me in the eats house," grinned Frank.
The boys ascended the slope until darkness set in, and then rested in a little valley, or dent, between two peaks, and pitched their two small shelter tents. Then they built a fire of such light wood as they could find and prepared supper. As soon as the meal was cooked they put out the fire, fearful that the smoke might betray their presence there. Presently Jimmie called attention to two columns of smoke rising high up on the mountain.
"They're signals," he said, "because there wouldn't be two camp-fires close together. They're signals, all right."
"What do they mean?" asked Nestor, with a smile.
"One column means come to camp," replied Jimmie, "two mean that help is needed, three mean that there is good news, and four mean come together for a council. They are Indian signals, and the Boy Scouts use them in the woods when out hunting."
"Then this means a call for help," said Fremont.
"That's what," from Jimmie.
"It may mean for the man with the short leg to come on," laughed Frank. "I wish I had my drum. I could make him think he had help coming. You wait until I get that drum. I'll show you what's what."
Lights could now be seen moving on the mountain. It seemed clear that men were massing there for some purpose. Soon Frank and Jimmie were asleep. Then Nestor asked:
"George, do you remember whether the bolt in the corridor door of the Cameron suite turned under your key that night? In other words, was the door locked?"
"I thought it was," was the reply.
"But you are not certain?"
"No, because I was dazed when I opened the door and found the room dark and still. I had expected to find Mr. Cameron at his desk, as there were lights there before I entered the building."
"You saw no one on the stairs?"
"Not a soul."
"When did you first meet Mr. Cameron?"
"Seven years ago, when I was selling newspapers."
"He was a customer?"
"Yes, and a good one. He talked with me quite a lot, and finally asked me to come to live with him and take a position in his office when I got older."
"And you were glad to go?"
"Naturally. My life was not a pleasant one."
"Did he ever talk to you about that old life?"
"Often. He asked me lots of questions about my parents."
"And what did you tell him?"
"There was noting to tell. I could not remember my parents. At first there was Mother Scanlon, who beat me as often as she fed me, and then I was on the streets, sleeping in alleys and stairways."
"Have you seen this Mother Scanlon lately?" was the next question.
"Never, but why are you asking me all these questions? I'm no fairy prince under enchantment. Just a waif left alone in New York. There are plenty such."
"I want you to look Mother Scanlon up when you get back to New York," Nestor said. He might have given some reason for the remark, only Jimmie and Frank awoke and called attention to signals on the mountain.
"I know that wig-wag game," the latter said. "Keep still and I'll tell you what he says."
Four pair of eyes were instantly fixed on the heights above, where a slender column of flame, like a torch on fire most of its length, was plainly to be seen. It was not a stationary column, however, for it moved to right and left in an arc of ninety degrees, starting at vertical and swinging back of it. At times the point was lowered, as if the column had been dipped to the ground in front.
"If he is talking United States instead of Spanish," Jimmie said, "I'll read it for you. The Scouts use those signals. The motion from vertical to right is ONE, that from vertical to left is TWO, and that from vertical to the front is THREE. See! It is United States, for there are two left motions, meaning A. Now there's two twos and a one, repeated. That means two 1's. 'All' is the word."
"That is the way I read it," said Nestor.
"Wait," said Jimmie. "He didn't give the signal which indicates the end of the word. Here's one two and two ones. That means R. One one is I. Two twos and two ones make G. One one and two twos make H. One two makes T. There! He's said 'All Right,' and in English. Now, what are Americans doing up there?"
"That may not be the end of the message," suggested Fremont.
"See the three threes?" asked Jimmie. "That means the end of the sentence. Now, there's double two, double two, double two, triple three. That means for the other fellow, who must be down the mountain somewhere, to quit signaling. He's gettin' exclusive, eh?"
"I don't understand why those signals are in English," said Nestor. "There are plenty of Americans mixed up in this mess, but they are not doing the signaling, so far as I have heard. It would seem that the wig-wag ought to be in Spanish. I wonder if I could get down the mountain to the man there? It would be easier than climbing."
"I'll go with you," decided Frank. "If I fall it will be like rolling a feather bed down the mountains. Besides, you may need assistance."
And before the others could protest, the two boys were on their way down the steep descent.
A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE.
It was weirdly lonely in the dark little dent on the side of the mountain after the departure of the two boys, and Jimmie drew closer to his companion. The wind which swept the heights was chilly.
The two lay close together in silence for a long time, each, doubtless, thinking of the Great White Way and the lights which would now be glittering there, of the bay, of the East River with its shipping, and of the hundred things which make New York a city, once seen, to be remembered forever. Then a rumble as of a stone crashing down came to their ears and they sprang to their feet.
"There's some one coming," whispered Jimmie, and they listened, but the only sound they heard was made by a bird winging its way through the dim upper light. Then, in a moment, signals flashed out again.
"One, two, one," counted Jimmie, "Now, two, one, one, two, two, one, and then one, two. That means come. Now, where does he want the other fellow to come?"
"There's a lot going on here to-night," said Fremont. "I wonder if they can see us from where they are?"
"We may as well get away from the tents," was the reply. "There's a good place to hide behind that rock. When Nestor and Frank come we can let them know where we are."
Fremont agreed to this, and the lads were soon hidden in a shallow gully which cut a ridge not far from where the tents had been pitched. For a time all was still, then came the rattling of steel on steel, sounding threatening enough in the darkness.
"Some one's got a gun," whispered Jimmie.
"Our fire may have been seen from above," Fremont ventured.
"Well, they can't find us here," consoled Jimmie. "Anyway, we'll lie here and listen for a few minutes."
The boys lay quiet for a considerable time. There were no more signals then, but they could not banish the feeling that emissitious Mexicans were watching them from the shadows. Directly noises were heard at the tents and a voice asked, in good English: