Boy Scouts on Motorcycles
With The Flying Squadron
By G. HARVEY RALPHSON
BOY SCOUTS IN A STRANGE LAND
"Fine country, this—to get out of!"
"What's the difficulty, kid?"
Jimmie McGraw, the first speaker, turned back to the interior of the apartment in which he stood with a look of intense disgust on freckled face.
"Oh, nothin' much," he replied, wrinkling his nose comically, "only Broadway an' the Bowery are too far away from this town to ever amount to anythin'. Say, how would you fellers like a chair in front of the grate in the little old Black Bear Patrol clubroom, in the village of N. Y.? What?"
The three boys lying, half covered with empty burlap bags, on the bare earth at the back of the apartment chuckled softly as Jimmie's face brightened at the small picture he drew verbally, of the luxurious Boy Scout clubroom in the City of New York.
"New York is a barren island as compared with this place," one of the boys, Jack Bosworth by name, declared. "Just think of the odor of the Orient all around us!"
Jimmie wrinkled his nose in disdain and turned back to the window out of which he had been looking. The other boys, Ned Nestor, of the Wolf Patrol, and Jack Bosworth and Frank Shaw, of the Black Bear Patrol, all of New York, pulled their coarse covering closer under their chins and grinned at the impatient Jimmie, who was of the Wolf Patrol, and who was just then on guard.
It wasn't much of a window that the boy looked out of, just an irregular hole in a bare wall, innocent alike of sash and glass. Away to the east rolled the restless waters of the Gulf of Pechili, which is little more than a round bay swinging west from the mystical Yellow Sea.
To the south ran the swift current of the Peiho river, on the opposite bank of which lay the twin of Taku, Chinese town where Jimmie stood guard. Tungku, as the twin village is named, looked every bit as forlorn and disreputable as Taku, where the boys had waited four days for important information which had been promised by the Secret Service department at Washington.
The gulf of Pechili and the Peiho river glistened under the October sun, which seemed to bring little warmth to the atmosphere. Junks of all sizes and kinds were moving slowly through the waves, and farther out larger vessels lay at anchor, as if holding surveillance over the mouth of the stream which led to Tientsin, that famous city of the great Chinese nation.
"Look at it! Just look at it!"
Jimmie pointed out of the opening, his hand swinging about to include the river and the gulf, the slowly moving boats and the picturesque streets.
"'Tis a heathen land!" the boy went on. "They wear their shirts outside of their trousers an' do their trucking on their shoulders. Say, Ned," he added, "why can't we cut it out? I'm sick of it!"
"Cut it out?" laughed Jack Bosworth, "why, kid, we've just got to the land of promise!"
"Most all promise!" replied Jimmie. "We've got nothin' but promises since we've been here. Where's that Secret Service feller that was goin' to set the pace for us?"
"Perhaps he's lost in the jungle," laughed Frank Shaw. "He certainly ought to have been here three days ago. What about it, Gulf of Pechili and the Peiho river Ned?" he added, turning to a youth who lay at his side, almost shivering in spite of his shaggy burlap covering.
Ned Nestor yawned and threw aside his alleged protection from the growing chill of the October day. The boys, fresh from a submarine in which they had searched an ocean floor for important documents as well as millions of dollars in gold, had arrived at Taku five days before this autumn afternoon.
After concluding the mission on the submarine, Ned had been invited to undertake a difficult errand to Peking, in the interest of the United States Secret Service. Even after landing at Taku, he had confessed to his chums his utter ignorance of the work he was to do.
He had been requested by the Secret Service man who had engaged him for the duty to wait for instructions at the old house on the water front which, in company with Frank, Jack, and Jimmie, he now occupied. The house was old and dilapidated, seemingly having been unoccupied for years, so the lads were really "camping out" there.
Their provisions were brought to them regularly by a Chinaman who did not seem to understand a word of English, and, as the boys knowledge of the Chinese tongue was exceedingly limited, no information had been gained from him. The Secret Service man had not appeared, and Ned was becoming uneasy, especially as the curiosity of his neighbors was becoming annoying.
"I guess this is a stall," Jimmie grumbled, as Ned arose and stood at his side. "You know how the Moores, father an' son, tried to get us on the submarine? Well, I'll bet they've got loose, an' that we're bein' kept here until they can do us up proper without attractin' the attention of the European population."
Ned laughed at the boy's fears. He had no doubt that the man who had promised to meet him there had been delayed in some unaccountable manner, and that the information he was awaiting would be supplied before another day had passed.
"Anyway," Jimmie insisted, "I don't like the looks of things hereabouts! There's always some pigtailed Chink watchin' this house from the street. I woke up last night an' saw a snaky-eyed Celestial peering in at this window. I guess they've got rid of the man we are waitin' for."
"If we only knew exactly what we were to do in Peking," Frank said, approaching the little group by the window, "we might jog along and report to the American legation. I'm like Jimmie. I don't fancy this long wait here—not a little bit!"
"As I have told you before," Ned replied, "I don't know the first thing about the work cut out for us by the United States Secret Service people. There was some talk about following a brace of conspirators to Peking, the conspirators who tried to discredit the United States in the matter of the gold shipment but that was only incidental, and I was ordered to come here and await instructions. So I'm going to wait— until the moon drops out of the sky, if necessary."
"Oh, we'll stick around!" Frank put in. "Don't think, for a minute, that any of us thought of quitting the game. Still, I'd just like to know how much longer we have to remain here, and just what we are to do when we get to Peking, if we ever do."
"Of course we'll stick!" Jimmie exclaimed. "All I'm kickin' on is the delay. We might have remained on board the submarine, where we had cozy quarters an' somethin' to eat besides this Chink stuff."
"Whenever you want to bump Jimmie good and plenty," laughed Jack, "all you need to do is to tamper with his rations. What's the matter with this rice, kid, and this meat pie?" he added, as the man who had served their food since their occupancy of the old house approached with a large, covered basket on his arm.
Jimmie wrinkled his freckled nose again and laid a hand on his stomach, as if in sympathy with that organ for the unutterable Chinese concoctions it had been called upon to assimilate of late.
"Rat pie!" he said, in a tone of disgust.
"I'll bet a dollar to a rap on the nose that it's rat pie! I can hear the rats squeal nights when I'm tryin' to sleep an' can't."
"Say, Chink," Jack said, seizing the Chinaman by the shoulder and facing him about so that a good look into his slanty eyes might be had, "what do you know about this chuck?"
"No chuck! Pie!"
"Of course it's pie!" answered Jack. "It would be pie if it was made of old shoes, if it had a crust on. What I want to know is, where did you catch him, and who pays you to bring it to us, and who pays him to pay you to feed it to us? Where does he live, and is he black, white, or red? Come on, old top. You know a lot if you could only think of it."
The Chinaman, an evil-looking old fellow with a long cicatrice across his left cheekbone, shook his head and regarded his questioner craftily.
"No spik English!" he said.
"You spoke it then," Jack retorted. "I'll bet a pan of pickles that you know what we were saying when you came in here."
"Let him alone," Frank advised. "That head of his is solid bone. He would think his foot hurt if he had the toothache."
"What a filthy, yellow, toothless, wicked old devil it is!" Jack went on. "Some day when he comes here with that basket of rats I'm going to cut his pigtail off close behind his ears."
"I think he's the foulest old geezer I've ever met," Frank went on. "If I had a dog with a mug like that I'd hire him out to the man who manufactures nightmares."
The Chinaman stood looking stupidly about for a minute before placing his basket on the floor, then dropped it with a jar which rattled the few dishes within and scuffled out of the door. Jimmie followed to see that he did not loiter around the house listening, and came back with a mischievous grin on his face.
Long before the appearance of the Chinaman the boys had planned to use such uncomplimentary language in his presence as would be likely to excite his anger, if he understood what was being said. They did not believe he was as ignorant of the English language as he pretended to be.
"Well," Jimmie asked, of Ned, "did he tumble? What did you see?"
"I saw as evil a look as ever burned out of a human eye," Ned replied. "Looked to me like he would enjoy feeding Jack and Frank to the rats."
"Then he understood, all right?"
"Of course he did," Jack, answered. "I could see that with one eye. He's been coming here with his grub for four days, and picking up a word here and there every time. We ought to have had sense enough to have been on guard against such treachery."
"What's the answer now?" asked Jimmie, turning to Ned.
"I'm afraid we're in a bad predicament," Ned replied. "This shows me new light. The messenger we are expecting should have been here long ago, and I'm now sure that we've just got to do something. I'm getting afraid to eat the food they bring us, and I lie awake at night, listening for hostile footsteps."
"That sounds a little more like Manhattan!" Jack cried. "Sounds like action! We're off in a heathen land, surrounded by enemies, and not likely to get anything like a fighting chance, but I'm for doing something right now. I'm not going to lie still here and be poisoned, like a rat in a sewer!"
"I'm for going on to Peking," Frank said. "We can report to the American ambassador there, and, at least, get something to eat besides rat pie and something better than a bare floor to sleep on. If we only had the Black Bear, the motor boat we cruised with on the Columbia river, we wouldn't be long on the way."
"Huh!" Jimmie observed, taking out a minute memorandum book, "it is seventy miles by the river from Taku to Tientsin, and only twenty-seven by the road."
"And how far to Peking by the road?" asked Jack.
"It is seventy-nine Miles from Tientsin to Peking," was the reply, "and the roads ought to be good."
"That's more than can be said of the natives!" Jack said.
"The allied armies marched over the road to Peking in 1900," Frank explained, "and I rather think the inhabitants of strip of country have a wholesome respect for foreigners. With our high-power motorcycles, ought to make Peking before daylight, if we start right after dark."
"And don't run across any cutthroats on the way," added Jimmie.
"Let's see," grinned Frank, "we were to have a flying squadron of marines with us? What? I reckon they're flying so high that they are out of sight!"
"Suppose we see if the horses are in good shape," Ned said, going to an adjoining apartment.
He made his appearance again in a minute trundling a magnificent motorcycle. It was been built expressly for army use, with a long, powerful stroke 10 h. p. motor. It was as indestructible and as auto machine as could well be designed. With a perfect muffler, automatic carburetor and lubrication, it was a machine to cover miles silently and with little danger of delay.
The open door behind Ned revealed three machines arranged along the wall, and the boys rushed to the examination of them. In second all were in the room, bending over their steel pets.
"Say!" Jimmie cried, presently, "we'll get Peking to-night—not! This machine has been tampered with, and some parts are missing."
"Yes, I reckon the Yellow Peril is on deck!" said Frank.
A DISQUIETING DISCOVERY
The four boys regarded each other in silence for a moment. Jack was the first to speak.
"How badly are the machines damaged?" he asked.
"Mine is all right," Jimmie reported, after a careful examination of his steel steed, "except that a couple of burrs are missing."
"And mine," Frank hastened to say, "is all right except that the oil feed is blocked and the electric battery is shut off—that is, it is so arranged that the machine will spark for a short distance and then buck. Great doings!"
"And yours, Jack?" asked Ned.
"Just a few burrs gone."
"And mine is o.k.," Ned went on, "except that the carburetor has been tampered with. I think we'll get off for Peking before long."
"How?" demanded Jimmie. "We can't make burrs out of wood, or patch up with rat pie, which seems to be about the only thing we have plenty of. I don't suppose we can get repairs in this yellow hole."
Ned took a handbag from under the burlap. "I am carrying my own repair shop with me," he said, taking out a box of burrs and a pair of pincers. "I've got all the small parts right here in duplicate, and some of the larger ones are in the big suitcase."
"You're a wonder!" Jimmie cried, dancing about his chum and wrinkling his nose until it looked like that of a comedian in a motion picture. "I wonder if you haven't got a hunk of Washington pie in that keyster!"
The lads fell to work on their machines, and in a very short time all were ready for the road. Then Ned put away his handbag and began an examination of the large suitcase, which contained the larger repairs for the motorcycles. It had not been molested.
"There's one thing certain," he said, "and that is that the Chinese who are watching us expect us to make a dash for Peking. They took the pains to leave our machines in such shape that their tampering with them would not be suspected. I'd like to know just when this mischief was accomplished."
"Yes," Frank observed, "they wanted us to get out of Taku and break down on the road to Tientsin. They would have us at their mercy out there— or they figured it out that way."
"The work on the machines must have been done sometime during the day— or last night," Ned replied. "Possibly while we were dozing."
"I don't believe it!" Jimmie insisted. "I've had me eyes open every minute to-day."
"Well," Ned went on, laughing, "we had a high wind yesterday, didn't we? A wind that tumbled the dust of the streets in upon us? Well," pointing to a portion of his machine frame which he had been careful not to touch, "here is some of the dust which fell upon the motorcycle then. The person who did the job brushed a lot of the dust away, so, you see, he must have worked since the dust fell."
"Did he brush it all away?" asked Jimmie.
"No," Ned replied, pointing, "here is a brace which he touched with his hands but did not wipe off. In a short time I'll tell you just what sort of a chap it was that did the trick."
The boy got his camera out of the suitcase and took a picture of the spot on the machine frame where the print of human fingers showed. The motorcycle owned by, or in charge of, Jimmie also showed a similar mark, and this, too, was photographed.
This completed, Ned laid the films aside for a time while he made a circuit of the old house, walking slowly as if out for chest exercise, but really seeing every square inch of the earth's surface where he walked. Once he dropped a pocketknife which he carried in his hand and stooped over to pick it up.
The boys thought he was a long time in securing the knife, although it was plainly in sight. When he stood up again and continued his circuit of the house there was a strange, inscrutable smile on his face.
"What is it?" asked Jack, the instant Ned entered the house.
"We've been blind and deaf since we have boon here," Ned answered. "Hostile influences have been operating all around us. Now," he continued, as Frank opened his lips to ask a question, "we'll see what sort of a tale the camera has to tell."
As he looked at the films his face hardened and his eyes snapped. In a moment he put the telltale sheets away.
"European fingerprints," he said, quietly, "and European footprints out there. It is not Chinamen that we have to look out for."
"What the Old Harry—"
Jimmie checked himself as a figure darkened the doorway. Ned stepped forward to greet the newcomer.
The visitor was a youngish man with black hair, growing well down on a narrow forehead, small black eyes, a straight-lipped mouth, and hard lines about his deep-set eyes. His manner and carriage was that of a man trained to military service.
"You are Mr. Nestor?" he asked, extending his hand as Ned approached him. "I have come a long distance to meet you," he added, before Ned could answer the question.
"From Washington?" asked Ned.
The visitor nodded; glanced sharply about the apartment, where the motorcycles were still lying, and then squatted on one of the burlap bags. Jimmie shook his fist behind the newcomer's back. It was evident that the boy did not like his appearance.
"I am Lieutenant Rae, of the Secret Service," he said, in a moment. "I have been delayed on my way here. You were about to start on without your final instructions?" he asked, lifting a pair of eyebrows which seemed to make his little black eyes smaller and more inscrutable than ever.
Ned looked at the man, now lolling back on the burlap, and for a moment made no reply. Then he lied deliberately—in the interest of Uncle Sam and human life, as he afterwards explained!
"No," he said, "we were merely overhauling the machines. We are in no haste to be away."
"I see," grinned the other. "You are taking life easily? Well, that is not so bad. However, you are to start on your journey early to-morrow morning."
"I shall be ready," Ned replied. "You have just landed?"
For just a second Lieutenant Rae's eyes sought the ground, then he lifted them boldly. Ned was watching his every movement.
"No," he said, then, "I came in three days ago, but I was obliged to await the movements of others before reporting to you."
Jimmie caught Frank by the arm and drew him out of the house. Out in the deserted garden—which was only a yard or two of hard-packed earth— he whispered:
"That feller's a liar!"
"What makes you think so?" Frank asked.
"He's no Englishman," Jimmie insisted. "He's a Jap. You bet your last round iron man that's the truth. Now, what do you think he's doin' here?"
"Well," Frank replied, "I think you are right. He's not an Englishman. The nerve of him to put that up to us!"
"Perhaps he's the gazabo that monkeyed with our machines," suggested Jimmie. "Wish I'd 'a' caught him at it!"
"But Ned says that was an European," Frank said.
"Then they're thick around us," Jimmie went on, "and we're up to our necks in trouble. I wonder what instructions this Rae person will give Ned?"
"Suppose we go inside and see," Frank answered.
When the lads reached the interior of the house again Ned and Rae were bending over a road map of the country between Taku and Peking. The visitor was indicating a route with his pencil.
"Very well," Ned said, as if fully convinced of the honesty of the other, "now about the private orders. You understand, of course, that I know little concerning the work cut out for me."
"You are to receive final instructions at Peking."
Ned smiled, but there was something about the smile which told the boys that he was of their way of thinking.
"He's on!" Jimmie whispered in Frank's ear.
"You bet he is," was the reply.
"I'll come here in the morning," the visitor said, looking at his watch, "and go out with you. The chances are that we'll have to make a quick run. Machines in good order?" with a glance at the motorcycles lying against the wall.
"We haven't as yet looked them over carefully," Ned lied again, "but presume they are in good shape. As a matter of fact," he continued, hardly able to suppress a smile as Jimmie looked reprovingly at him, "as a matter of fact, we know little about the machines. This is new business for us."
Lieutenant Rae bowed himself out of the door, and the boys gathered in an inner room to discuss the situation.
"We may as well face the truth," Ned said, calmly. "The man who was to meet us here has fallen into the hands of our enemies. We are alone in China without instructions and surrounded by foes. Now, what shall we do? We may be able to reach the water front and get off to one of the British ships in sight."
"And go back?" demanded Jimmie. "Not for me! I'm goin' to stay an' see this thing out."
"That's me!" Frank said, and Jack echoed his words.
"Well, then," Ned went on, with a smile of satisfaction at the attitude of the lads, "if we are going on, we've got to get to Peking without delay. I'll tell you what I think. The conspirators are aware that we are trying to run them down. If they can stop us before we fully identify them, their part in the plot against Uncle Sam will never be known." Rest assured, then, that they will stop us if they can."
"Then it's us for the road to-night!" said Jimmie. "That is fine."
In referring to conspirators, Ned indicated the men who had been involved in a plot to get the United States into trouble with a foreign government over a shipment of gold to China. This shipment had gone to the bottom of the Pacific.
It had been claimed that the gold shipment, which was marked for the Chinese government, had really been intended for the revolutionary party, now becoming very strong. It was now insisted that the revolutionists had been posted as to the shipment, and that it was on the books for them to seize it the moment it left the protection of the American flag.
These claims having been made, and believed, in the state department of a foreign government, none too friendly to the government of the United States. A ship had been sent out to watch the transfer of the gold. At least, that was what had been claimed, but this ship, so sent out, had, by an "accident," rammed and sunk the treasure boat. If the Chinese government did not get the gold, neither did the leaders of the revolutionary party.
It had been claimed at Washington that the whole thing was a plot to discredit the United States government in the eyes of the nations of Europe, and Ned Nestor and his chums had been sent out to search the wreck for papers which would disprove the statements made. The papers had been secured.
The point now was to connect the foreign statesmen who had burned their fingers in the plot with the affair. Ned knew that the papers would establish the falsity of the charges, but he wanted to place the blame for the whole matter where it belonged. He wanted to track the man who had conferred with known conspirators back to his home. He wanted to be able to point out the treacherous government which had so sought to belittle the United States in the eyes of the world.
The boy had no doubt that this was actually the mission upon which he had been sent when ordered by the Secret Service department to report at Taku and there await instructions before proceeding to Peking. He did not understand why he had been instructed to make the trip to Peking on a motorcycle when there were easier ways, but he was quick to obey orders. Later on he learned just why this order had been given.
"Yes," Ned replied to Jimmie's remark, "I think we may as well set out for Peking to-night. If we wait until morning, we may not be at liberty to start out."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Jack.
"Study it out," smiled Ned, "and you may be able to find an answer."
While the boy was speaking, he bent over and looked keenly at a footprint on the earthen floor of the room. It was not such a print as the foot-covering of a Chinese man would leave. It had been made by the long heel of an European shoe.
When Ned looked closer, he saw that the ground was stained a deep red, that there were dark crimson spots on the window casing. Then he saw that a struggle must have taken place in the room, for the few things it held were in disorder.
"Boys," he said, "perhaps our Secret Service man got here before we did."
A SHOE AND A SURPRISE
"What do you mean by that?" asked Frank. "If he had reached the old house first, he would have waited here for us, wouldn't he?"
"Look what's here," Ned replied. "There has been a fight in the room. The combatants fought from the inner wall to the window, then a knife was used. These stains are by no means fresh, but they tell the story. And to think that we've been here all these days and never found them!"
"Well," Frank hastened to say, "we weren't suspicious; and, then, we had no occasion to visit this room."
"We should have been on our guard," Ned replied, "but there is no help for it now. This discovery may block our going on to Peking to-night."
"I don't see why," Jack said, in a disappointed tone.
"If the man who was wounded here and carried out of the window," Ned replied, "is really the messenger we are waiting for, we ought not to go away and leave him in the hands of the enemy. It may not be the one I fear it is, but we ought to find out about that."
"It might have been only natives fighting," urged Jack.
"Of course," Ned insisted, "but we ought not to leave if there is any possibility of our friend being in trouble. Besides, Jack," he went on, "a native fight here would hardly be umpired by a man wearing European shoes! Here are the tracks, and I found others like them on the ground outside not long ago. We may as well go out now and try to follow them."
Accompanied by Jimmie, Ned went out and made a closer examination. The tracks crossed the yard and ended at the street in the rear of the old house.
"Now," Ned said, as he stepped out on the beaten course of the unpaved street, "we shall have to take chances. The trail has disappeared, and we can only depend on our enemies for guidance."
"That's fine!" said Jimmie. "We may as well go back!"
Ned pointed to a little group of Chinamen standing not far away, at the corner of a street lined with miserable huts.
"We'll walk about here," he said, "and if we get somewhere near any point of information to us or danger to the others, I have a notion that that nest of Celestials will begin to buzz."
Jimmie laughed and the two passed on, merely looking in the direction of the group as they passed it. They moved on down the street on the opposite side. The Chinamen did not move.
When they turned back, however, on the other side of the thoroughfare and stopped, on speculation, for an instant before a hut somewhat larger and more dilapidated than the others, a pair of the watchers suddenly detached themselves from the group and hastened away in opposite directions. Two more strolled toward the boys.
"What next?" asked Jimmie, in a whisper.
"Seems to me that our halting here indicates that there may be something doing in this house," Ned replied. "Suppose we go in and ask some ordinary question?"
"An' get kicked out!" grunted Jimmie.
"That will be all right, so long as they let us out at all," Ned replied with a smile. "I just want to know why our stopping here excited the Chinks who were watching us."
As Ned turned toward the house the little fellow caught him by the sleeve and held him back.
"You look out," he said, "there's a snake in there, that black-eyed snake who claimed to be Lieutenant Rae! Do you want him to know that we are wise to his game?"
Ned turned and started away from the house, but there came a call from the structure, and the next instant two men were running out to greet him. More by gestures than by words they informed the boys that there was a man in the house wished to see them.
In a moment they stood facing the man who had called himself Lieutenant Rae. He advanced to meet them and pointed to chairs as they entered the room.
"Out for a walk?" he asked, with a smile.
Ned nodded and Jimmie grinned.
"The owner of this house," Rae went on, "is an old friend of mine. We met first, years ago, in San Francisco. I'm staying here while in the town. By the way, I was about to visit your quarters."
"Come along," Ned said. "We must be getting back."
Rae left the room, saying that he would bring a raincoat, and Jimmie pointed to a rear apartment where an old Chinaman with a long, sinister cicatrice on his left cheek was bending over a table.
"That's the Chink who brings our grub," he said. "What is this Rae person doing here? I don't eat no more grub that Chink brings."
Ned made no reply, for a swinging closet door attracted his attention at that moment. Inside the narrow closet, on the rough floor, lay a pair of European shoes. Ned slipped forward and seized one. When Rae returned it was hidden in a capacious pocket.
"What is it?" whispered Jimmie.
"If I'm not much mistaken," was the reply, "it is the shoe that made the tracks we have been following."
"Then this Rae person didn't always enter the old house where we are stopping by the front way," commented Jimmie. "Gee," he added, "I'll bet he umpired that fight, and the man the Chinks carried off is in this house now."
There was no more opportunity for conversation between the two boys at that time, for Rae stood watching them closely, a sneering smile on his face. Ned turned toward the door.
"Why venture out in the storm?" asked Rae. "Surely, there is no need of haste. Your friends will not lose themselves during your absence."
"You were ready to go, a moment ago," Ned said.
"It is the storm," the other observed, with a shrug of the shoulders. "It is increasing in violence every moment."
Glancing into the rear room, Ned saw the old Chinaman leave his work and pass through a door to the west. The boy thought he recognized a significant signal as the fellow disappeared,
The lads never knew exactly how it all occurred. They only knew at the time that there was a quick rush, a flash of weapons, a desperate struggle, then momentary unconsciousness.
They decided afterwards that their enemies had rushed upon them from every direction, and that the sneering face of Rae had gloated over their capture.
"Don't injure them," Rae ordered, as ropes were knotted about the wrists and ankles of the prisoners. "I'll go out now and see that the two Black Bears," with a double sneer in his voice, "are taken into camp in short order. Bad climate, this, for school boys who imitate wild animals," he added, with a malicious smile. "A bad climate."
"You're all right!" Jimmie called out, as Rae paused in the doorway for an instant. "You're all right! But let me give you a pointer. You keep the Bears and Wolves you get in strong cages! If they get out, they'll eat you up!"
"Oh! I'll pull their fangs!" laughed the other, and then he was gone.
"This China seems to be a nice country," Jimmie said, turning to Ned. "Some people would break our crusts in instead of tyin' us up."
"I rather think," Ned replied, "that they have planned to do that a little later on. We ought never to have taken such chances."
"You can't have a chicken pie," grinned Jimmie, "unless some one kills a chicken! No more can you find out what's goin' on by sittin' down in an old house an' waitin' for someone to bring you the news in a New York newspaper! We had to keep cases on this chap, didn't we?"
"I think you would talk slang if you were drowning," Ned smiled. "Anyway," he added, "we've caused Rae, if that is his name, to show his hand. That is something."
"If we never get away," laughed Jimmie, "we can leave the information to our friends in a will! I wonder if this gazabo will get Frank and Jack?"
"Possibly," Ned answered.
"They seem to be puttin' most all the Americans in China out of circulation!" said the little fellow. "Wonder if that old gear-face thinks he can guard us an' sleep, too? Say, you watch your chance, Ned, an' I'll roll over and geezle him an' you get out of the house. Roll out, tumble out, any way to get out! There," with a sigh of disappointment, "there's another Chink in the game. Listen to what they are saying!"
TWO BLACK BEARS IN TROUBLE
Jack and Frank sat long by the window, waiting for Ned and Jimmie to return. The doors of the adjoining rooms were wide open, so they had a full view of the lower floor.
There were windows, unglazed like that which looked out on the Gulf of Pechili, too, and the lads could see for some distance along the street which ran parallel with the one upon which the miserable old structure faced.
Presently a mist crept over the sky, and black clouds rolled in from the threatening canopy over the gulf. There was evidently a storm brewing, and, besides, the night was coming on.
In spite of the fact that they had a good view all about them, so far as the house and its immediate vicinity was concerned, both boys felt that almost indescribable sensation which one experiences when being observed from behind by keen and magnetic eyes. They were not exactly afraid, but they had premonitions of approaching trouble.
"I wonder what's keeping Ned?" Jack asked. "Hope he hasn't gotten into trouble."
"Oh, he'll look out for that!"
"Of course! Ned's no slouch!"
While the boys cheered themselves with such remarks as these, the rooms grew darker and the black clouds from off the gulf dropped nearer.
"What an ungodly country!" Jack exclaimed. "I feel as if I were surrounded by snakes, and all kinds of reptiles. How would you like to take a New York special, just now?"
"I'm not yet seared of the job we are on," Frank replied, "but I'd like a half decent show of getting out alive. I feel like we were in a hole in the ground, with all manner of creeping things about us. The very air seems to be impregnated with treachery and cunning."
"That's the breath of the Orient," smiled Jack, not inclined to continue in the vein in which the conversation had started.
"I don't know why the breath of the Orient should differ from the breath of the Occident," replied Frank, well pleased at the change of subject. "It wouldn't, if the natives of the far East would put bathtubs in their houses and garbage cans on the street comers."
"Well, there certainly is an odor about the East," grinned Jack. "Perhaps it is the hot weather."
"Hot weather has nothing to do with the sanitary conditions of this part of the world," Frank went on. "Peking is in the latitude of Philadelphia, or New York. You wouldn't think so to hear people talk about the Orient back home, but you'll change your mind if you don't get out of this before winter sets in."
"Somehow I never associated cold weather with the East," Jack said.
"Why," Frank continued, "this river freezes over about the middle of December and they run sledges on the ice until the middle of March. In summer it is often 106 above zero, while in the winter it drops to about 6 degrees below. If the natives were half civilized, you might get the idea that you were in Ohio, because of the fields of corn."
"We don't know much about China, do we?" mused Jack.
This was Frank's opportunity. Before reaching the coast he had spent many hours studying up on the history of the strange land he was about to visit. His father was owner and editor of one of the most powerful newspapers in New York City, and the boy had had plenty of inspiration for historical research from the time he was old enough to read. His father's library had supplied him with all the facilities necessary to the carrying out of his inclination, and his travels with the Boy Scouts had brought him into contact with many of the countries whole history he had studied so enthusiastically.
Now he saw an opportunity of talking China to Jack, and started in at once. Jack listened eagerly, for, while interested in the past of the strange land, he was too busy a young man to spend much time in any library. His father was one of the leading corporation lawyers in New York, but the boy's inclinations pointed to mining as a future profession—when he had investigated the wilds of the world!
"We don't know much about China," Frank began, "because for centuries China has shunned what we call civilization. This is said to be the most ancient and populous nation in the world, although it seems to me that history goes back farther on the banks of the Nile and the Euphrates than on the western shore of the Yellow Sea.
"The authentic history of China goes back 2207 years before the birth of Christ, while Egyptian records and the data found along the Euphrates and the Tigris point to a much older organization of men into communities. However, it is said by some that Fuh-hi founded the Chinese empire eight hundred years before the date given, when Yu the Great began to make history.
"One reason why the story of China is so short, comparatively, is that Ching Wang, the old fellow who caused the Chinese wall to be built to keep out the Tartars, ordered all books and records previous to his time to be destroyed. This was to dispose of the stories of wars, in which China, before his time, was always engaged.
"China has always been at war with the Mongolians. In 1300 A.D., Genghis Khan raised a Mongolian army and captured Peking. Later, one Kublai Khan overthrew the Sung dynasty and established a Mongolian empire. The members of the defeated royal family drowned themselves in the river at Canton. This Mongolian dynasty lasted until the middle of the fourteenth century, when it was overthrown.
"The Chinese governed their own land, then, until 1644, just before which time the emperor was murdered by native sons. Then the Tartars got to Peking, in spite of the Great Wall, and established the dynasty now on the throne.
"One cause of the growing revolt in China is the fact that the Tartars are still in power. But the Tartars who were warlike enough when China lay before them for conquest quieted down as soon as Sun-chi took the throne. Peace has been the rule since then.
"It seem strange, but it is true, that China has not progressed, has not been given the respect conferred on other nations, because she would not, or could not fight. Talk about peace all you like, but it is the fighters that win whether in private or national life.
"China has been kicked about by all the nations of the world, large and powerful as she is, because it was understood that she could be insulted with impunity. England put the opium curse on her against only feeble resistance. She has stood for peace, not conquest, and had been treated condescendingly, like a big booby of a boy at school who is afraid of lads half his size. The secret organization now forming in this country may overthrow the Manchu dynasty, but if it does it will build a Chinese republic and not a new Chinese empire.
"It is claimed by some that the United States is favoring this new Chinese party of liberty, that the gold recently lost in the Pacific was our contribution to the cause—by the roundabout way we have heard so much about—and that the Washington government will be the first to recognize the new republic.
"I don't know whether all this is true or not, but father says it is, and he ought to know. Anyhow, there will be plenty of fighting before the present rulers release their grip on the royal treasury. It may be that our mission here is to find out something more about this new movement.
"You see," he added, "if our government is for the new movement, the nation which rammed the gold ship, which set the conspirators at work, which sent a great statesman, as we believe, to negotiate with the conspirators, is against it, and Uncle Sam possibly wants to know what power it is that is likely to assist the present Emperor of China in holding his job. If Ned can get the proof he needs to establish what he already knows and suspects, he will do a good piece of work."
"I wish he would return," Jack said, with an apprehensive look about the room. 'I don't see what is keeping him."
"Here he comes, now!" Frank cried, "or it may be Jimmie," he added, "blundering through the window."
Both boys arose and hastened to the door of the room from which the sounds of approach had been heard. The apartment was dark and still, save for the whipping of the wind at the open casement. While the boys stood there, expecting every instant to hear the voice of one of their chums, rain began to fall, and a sharp zigzag of lightning cut across the sky.
By this natural searchlight the lads saw a figure crouching just under the window. The illumination lasted for an instant only, and it was not possible for them to see whether the visitor was dressed in native or European costume. His face was not in sight, and only the barest outlines of his figure were discernible.
Jack was for rushing forward on a tour of inspection, but Frank took a firm grip on his friend's arm and held him back. He not only prevented him springing upon the crouching figure, but drew him away from the open door-way, believing that both had been observed by the intruder.
"We ought to get him!" Jack panted, in a whisper. "We ought to find out if he is one of our enemies or only a common thief."
"Much good it would do to capture him!" Frank whispered back. "We couldn't force the truth out of him, and the things they call courts of justice here would soon be after us."
"Then what can we do?" demanded Jack.
Frank did not reply, for footsteps, now plainly heard above the sweep of the wind and rain, were approaching the room where the boys were standing, with automatic revolvers in their hands.
"He's got his nerve!" Jack said. "Why doesn't he come into the place with a brass band? Shall we sneak out of a window, or remain here and find out what he wants?"
"I'm for getting out!"
Frank leaped from the window as he spoke, and in a second Jack came piling out on top of him.
"Gee whiz!" Frank whispered. "Why don't you knock a fellow over?"
"What are you trying to do?" demanded Jack.
"Not a thing," was the reply. "Say, but we'll get a nice soak if we remain here."
"You'll get a nice soak on the coco, if you don't stop pulling me around," came back from Jack.
"Then keep your hands off me!" Frank responded.
But in a moment both boys knew that they were not struggling with each other. A brilliant flash of lightning cut the sky, and by its light they saw each other lying on the ground under the window, each with a couple of men in native costume perched on top.
Jack fired, but the pressure on his back was not lessened. Instead, he felt a snaky hand slip down his arm, seize his fingers and twist the gun away.
"Frank!" he called out. "Frank! Shoot at the heathens! I missed, and one of them has my gun."
Frank obeyed the suggestion, and three reports were heard. Jack, though not naturally bloodthirsty, was overjoyed at the sound of a groan which came from the spot where Frank lay.
"Don't try that again, son!"
"That will be enough!"
Both sentences were spoken in English. Then the boys were carried bodily into the house and sat down against a wall. Then a lighted lantern was brought in, and the prisoners saw six sleepy-looking Chinamen grinning at them.
A COLLECTION OF WILD ANIMALS
"Well, what do you think of it?"
The voice was that of an Englishman, and the words were spoken in the room, but the struggling prisoners could not discover where the person who uttered them stood. It seemed to them that there were only the six sleepy-looking Chinamen and themselves in the apartment.
Frank ceased his useless struggling with the rope which held both feet and hands in its strong coils, and glanced along the row of stupid faces.
"What did you say?" he asked, hoping that the speaker would say something more and so locate himself.
"How do you like it?"
That was the same voice, and it was in that room, but, still, there were only the six Chinamen and Jack in sight. Frank looked at his chum with a smile on his face. In that moment he resolved to meet whatever Fate might have in store for him with a cheerful heart. He had little doubt that both Ned and Jimmie had been caught in the trap into which Jack and himself had fallen.
There was no knowing what the fate of himself and his friends would be, but whatever had been planned for them by their enemies, there would be no relief in sighs and pleas for pity. They were alone in the land of mystery. Owing to the necessity for secrecy regarding their movements, no one with whom they had been associated in the Secret Service work knew of their whereabouts, save only Lieutenant Scott, who had sent them on to Taku, and who had failed to keep his promises to them.
And Lieutenant Scott? Frank believed him dead or in the clutches of the conspirators.
Otherwise, he would have kept his appointment at the old house on the water front. The view ahead was not a long one, as the boy considered the matter, nor a smooth one, but he decided that nothing was to be gained by subserviency.
"I like it!" was Jack's quick reply. "Who is it that is doing the talking?"
"One of the six in front of you," came the answer in English.
Jack cast his eyes quickly along the row of faces, but failed to catch the movement of a lip, the twinkle of an eye.
"You're a funny bloke," Jack went on. "How much will you take for a month in vaudeville?"
"He'd make a fine spirit medium," Frank cut in. "Can you make the talk come from behind me?" he added, with a grin.
"Of course I can!"
Although the boys watched closely, there were no signs of motion in any one of the six yellow, foxy faces, still the words seemed to come from the wall directly back of Jack's head.
"If I had you on the Bowery," Jack continued, "I'd give you a hundred a month. Come on over and get busy in the little old United States!"
"I think I'll wait until the boys bring in the other two wild animals," replied the unknown speaker. "I rather want to see the finish of you Wolves and Black Bears before I see the Bowery again."
"You'll find more wild animals of our stripe on the Bowery than you will want to meet," Jack replied, "especially when it is known that you've been mixed up with Boy Scouts, to their harm, in China."
"I'll take my chances on that," was the reply. "You have been very successful, you wild beasts, in butting into the business of other people, and getting out again uninjured, but it is going to be different now. There are two black Bears and two Wolves that I know of who will never get back to New York again."
"All right," Frank said. "We've had fun enough out of the Secret Service work we have done to pay for whatever trouble we have now. Ned will be along presently, and then you'll have another think coming."
"Sure, he'll be along directly," was the reply. "In fact, he's right here now!"
But it was not Ned who was pushed, bound hand and foot, into the circle of light in the room. The little fellow came near falling as he was thrust forward, but he regained his equilibrium, and turned around to face his tormentor.
"You're a cheap skate!" he said. "If I had you on Chatham Square I'd change your face good and plenty!"
Then he saw that he was speaking to empty air. There was no one in the doorway. The person who had brought him there and hustled him into the room had disappeared.
"Now, what do you know about that?"
Jimmie chuckled as he asked the question of the six silent figures ranged along the wall. As yet his eyes had not fallen on the figures of Frank and Jack, farther back in the shadows.
There was, of course, no answer to his question, and the boy leaned forward, a grin on his freckled face.
"Say, but you're a bum lot!" he cried. "Why don't you go back to the Pyramids and sleep for another thousand years? There ain't no nourishment in sitting up there like a dime museum, for there's no one sellin' tickets at the door."
"Look behind you!"
That was the English voice again, seemingly out of the heavy air, or out of the storm outside. Jimmie turned quickly and saw his chums nicely tied up.
In a moment he turned back to the row of six, without even exchanging a look with his friends.
"Who's doin' the talkin'," he asked.
Frank and Jack were now too impatient to know what had become of their leader to delay longer. The latter asked:
"Ask this lineup," Jimmie replied. "I don't know. Gee! If I had a face like that man on the end, I'd sell it to the wild man of Borneo, its an improvement on anythin' he could get up. Say, Old Socks!" he added, "where is Ned?"
"Packed up, ready for delivery," was the reply. "Say, how would you wild animals like to take a jaunt on your motorcycles to-night? Nice cool night for a ride! You might reach Poking by morning and report to the American ambassador!"
"We'll get there in due time," Frank answered.
"I've drawn the teeth of this collection of wild animals, at all events," said the voice. "No more Wolves and Black Bears will be apt to come to China. Such collections are not popular here."
Jimmie dropped back to where his chums were seated. Serious as the situation was, the boy could not restrain a smile as he threw himself down beside Frank. The storm was still thundering outside, and splashes of rain now and then whirled in at the open casement.
The lantern which illuminated the interior of the room showed only a round blotch against the darkness. In this circle sat the six silent men, watchful but motionless.
"It might be a scene in a play!" Jimmie exclaimed.
Frank nodded and whispered:
"Did they get Ned, too?"
Jimmie nodded. His face was grave in an instant.
"Where is he?" Frank whispered.
The little fellow shook his head. Then the voice which seemed to come from nowhere was heard again:
"You'll meet him in due time," it said.
A long silence followed. The lantern which gave out the light flickered in the wind and the beat of the rain increased in violence. In all the adventurous lives of the Boy Scouts nothing so weird, so uncanny, as this had ever occurred.
"Well," Jack said, more to break the strange silence than for any other purpose, "why don't you say something?"
Then, through the clamor of the storm, came the sharp ring of steel. It sounded to the listening boys like the purring of two swords directed against each other by strong hands.
Instantly the light was extinguished, and the shuffling of feet told the captives that the watchful six were getting into upright positions.
"Hello, the house!"
The challenging call came from the street outside.
"That's good, honest United States!" Jimmie whispered. "Shall I risk an answer?"
"You'll probably get a knife in your side if you do," Frank answered. "The Chinks are still in the room."
"Show a light!"
The voice was nearer than before, and the three boys lifted to their feet and moved toward the window, which was just above where they had been sitting. Frank was about to throw himself out into the storm when a muscular hand seized him by the arm.
"Nothing doing!" a voice said in his ear.
"If you move again, or try to answer the call, that will be the last of one Black Bear. Remain silent while I talk with your friends."
"Our friends?" repeated Frank.
"Certainly," was the reply—given with a chuckle. "Your very good friends from the American ship in the harbor."
There was torture in the words, in the fierce grip on the arm. The promised assistance had arrived and the boys were powerless to make their perilous situation known!
But a hopeful thought came to the brain of the boy as he was dragged away from the open window. It was barely possible that Ned had escaped, that he knew of the peril his friends were in, and would arrive before the Americans were, by some treacherous falsehood, sent away.
"Nestor!" cried the voice outside. "Are you there? Show a light."
There was a rustle in the room, then black silence.
WITH THE FLYING SQUADRON
"Go around to the front and come in," a voice said—a voice from the room where the boys were. "I've just got here, and am trying to find a light."
There was a rattle of arms outside, then the heavy tread of men still making some pretense, even in the darkness and the rain, of moving in marching order. The men who had come to the assistance of the Boy Scouts were preparing to enter the house.
How would they be received? This was the question uppermost in the minds of all the boys as they waited.
Would they be greeted with treacherous words, or with a murderous fusillade of bullets and knives stabbing in the darkness? It would seem that the Chinamen would hardly dare attack an American military squad, yet these men were outlaws, and there was no knowing what they might do.
The lads heard the marines, as they supposed the newcomers to be, pass around an angle of the old house and stand for an instant talking in the doorway to which they had been directed by the voice of the man on the inside. Frank was preparing to set up a cry of warning, let the consequences be what they might, when the rattle of arms told him that the marines had surrounded the house, and that every door and window was guarded! The men who were guarding the boys evidently knew what was taking place, for they released their clutches on the lads and moved away.
Next came a struggle at the window, and then a strong electric light swept into the room. Jimmie jumped forward and bumped into Ned, who was clambering over the decayed window sill.
There were several shots exchanged on the outside, followed by shouts of both rage and pain, then three men in the uniform of the United States marine service entered the room. One of them picked up Ned's searchlight, which had fallen to the floor when Jimmie bunted its owner, and turned its rays on the mix-up under the window.
There was a flutter of arms and legs, as Frank and Jack, half choking with laughter at the manner in which tragedy had so suddenly and unexpectedly been changed into comedy, pulled Ned and Jimmie apart. Jimmie sat up, wrinkling his nose until one would think it never would smooth out again, and gazed at Ned with provoking grin.
"Gee!" he cried. "I thought I was mixing it with six Chinks! Wonder you wouldn't knock before entering a private room!"
"I did knock," laughed Ned, rising from the floor and taking the flashlight.
"Yes, you knocked me down," grunted Jimmie.
The three marines, standing in the middle of the room with amused faces, regarded the four boys curiously for a moment and then moved out of range of the window. Also Ned was asked to shut off the light.
"We're not out of it yet," one of them said. "Our men chased the Yellow Faces into a bad part of town, and they are likely to be chased back, not by a few, but by a mob! These Chinks like Americans about as much as brook trout love the desert."
"Perhaps I'd better go out an' see what's comin' off," suggested the little fellow.
"You'll only get captured again," Jack suggested, provokingly.
"I ain't got nothin' on you in getting tied up with ropes," Jimmie retorted. "You looked like one of these mummy things when the light was turned on."
The officer in charge of the marines motioned to Jimmie to remain where he was, but the order came too late. Having been relieved of his bonds by Ned's quick fingers, he fairly dived out of the window into the darkness.
"Now there'll be trouble catching him again," complained the officer. "If he doesn't get a hole bored through him, we'll have to hunt the town over to get him out of the Chinks' hands. Why can't you boys behave yourselves?"
"Ruh!" Jack retorted, annoyed at the tone of superiority adopted by the officer. "I guess we've been doing pretty well, thank you! I reckon you fellows must have followed off a cow path! We've been waiting here for you long enough to walk to Peking on our hands!"
"That's the fact!" the officer replied, speaking in a whisper in the darkness. "We were the first ones to fall into the snares set by the Chinks. Only for Ned, we would still be waiting for you in a house something like this one, in a distant part of the town. How the boy found us I can't make out, but find us he did."
"What are you going to do about that runaway kid?" asked Frank of Ned. "Shall I go get him?"
It was not necessary for Ned to reply to the question, for at that moment a figure came tumbling through the window and a voice recognized as that of the little fellow cried out:
"Gee!" he said, feeling about in the darkness, "what do you think of my ruinnin' into a sea soldier an' getting chucked through the hole the carpenter left?"
"If you boy will get ready now," a voice said, "we'll be on, our way toward Peking."
"How many of the Chinks did you catch?" asked Ned.
"Not a blooming one," was the disgusted reply. "They ran away like water leaking into the ground."
"If you'd only let me alone," wailed Jimmie, "I'd have got one. I want to soak the man that tied me up."
The marines, a full dozen of them, now gathered in the old house and all made ready for departure. Directly a motorcycle for every man was wheeled up to the door.
"We have been practicing riding while waiting for you," the officer in charge explained, "and the fellows think they can go some!"
"It is a wild night for such a ride," Frank suggested.
"Couldn't have been better for our purpose," said the officer.
"Do you know why we are going on motorcycles?" asked Ned.
"I think I do," was the reply.
"Why don't you out with it, then?" asked Jack.
"You'll learn of the reason soon enough!" replied the other. "Before we go to Peking you may understand why you are going with a flying squadron of Uncle Sam's men!"
"Who directed you to the house where I found you?" asked Ned.
"A chap who called himself Lieutenant Rae," was the reply.
"Japanese-lookin' chap?" asked Jimmie.
"That's the fellow."
"There's one more question," Ned went on. "Are all the men you took from the ship with you?"
"Every one of my men is here," answered the officer, "but there was a fellow, a friend of yours, with us at first who is not with us now. Queer chap he was, too! German, I think, and a master at tangling up the United States language. He came on board the ship, and managed to get off with us when we left. In two days he disappeared."
"That was Hans!" cried Jack.
"A German Boy Scout we picked up on an island. A member of the Owl Patrol, of Philadelphia, he said. We left him on the submarine."
"Well, he asked after you boys, and looked disappointed when we did not find you, owing to the misleading statements of that fraud, Rae. He left us without a word of explanation, and is probably looking for you. Did he know where you were going?"
"Yes," admitted Ned, "I told him we were going to Peking by way of Tientsin. I should not have done that."
"Oh, it can do no harm, and may be for your benefit. If the lad was not killed by the Chinks, he is doubtless on his way to Peking."
"Then you think he knew there was something wrong because we did not meet you?" asked Ned.
"Yes; he acted queerly."
"There are evidences of a struggle in this house," Ned went on, "and we thought the messenger we were waiting for had been attacked, but it may have been Hans after all. I hope he is not in serious trouble."
"I am the only messenger sent to you," the officer said, "so, as you say, it might have been the German who was attacked, though no one knows how he ever found this house, or why, when attacked, he didn't make himself heard."
The rain was now falling heavily, and it was decided to remain under shelter for a time, so the flashlight was brought into use again.
"If your men can keep up with us," Jack said to the officer, "we can get to Peking in six hours, so there is no need of hurrying."
"If you get to Peking in six weeks you'll be doing well," laughed the officer.
"What do you mean by that? Demanded Ned, who was anxious for a start.
"I can't tell you," was the answer. "But it was never believed you could make a quick jump to the capital city. There maybe things to do on the way there. That is why you have to escort. I don't like this diplomacy game, but have to obey orders."
"What I want to know," Jimmie broke in, "is how Ned got away. They had him tied up plenty last time I saw him. And, after he got away, how did he happen to blunder into the company of our escort? China is a land of mystery, all right!"
"They didn't watch me closely," Ned replied, modestly, "after they took you away, and when I did get out of the house I had only to follow one of my captors. Believing that I was safely tied, my captors talked a lot about having the marines waiting in the wrong house while they disposed of the Boy Scouts!"
"This man Rae?" asked the officer. "Was he there with your captors? That's one of the men we must take."
"Oh, he is the man that caused us to be taken," Jimmie cut in. "I'd like to break his crust for him. I'm gettin' sick of bein' tied up in every case, like the hero in a Bowery play!"
"Was there a Chink who spoke English like a native?" asked Jack.
"There were two."
"Dressed in native costume?"
"Yes, and looking bored and weary."
"Then they're the men that sat with the others in a grinning row up against the wall," Frank exclaimed. "Do you think they are Chinamen?"
"Disguised Englishmen," Ned replied.
"That's my notion," Frank went on. "Oh, we'll get this all ironed out directly! If we could find Hans we might start off with a thorough understanding of how the game was carried out here."
The rain now slacked a little, and here and there stars showed through masses of hurrying clouds. The boys led their steel horses to the door and prepared to mount.
"Plenty of mud," Jack suggested.
In the little pause caused by the marines getting out their machines a dull, monotonous sound came to the ears of the party. It was such a sound as the Boy Scouts had heard on the rivers of South America, when the advance of their motor-boat was blocked, and hundreds of savages were peering out of the thickets.
"What is it?" asked Jack.
"Sounds like the roaring of a mob," answered the officer. "You understand that a word will stir the natives to arms against foreigners. As there is no knowing what this fake Lieutenant Rae and the men we drove away from this house may have said to the Chinks, we may as well be moving. It may be safer out on the road!"
"I should say so!" exclaimed Jack. "We can't fight a whole nation, can we? Look there! That was a rocket, and means trouble."
The distant murmur was fast growing into a roar, and rockets were flecking the clouds with their green, red, and blue lights. Shadowy figures began to show in the darkness, and a group was seen ahead, in the street which led away toward Peking.
"More dangerous than wild beasts!" exclaimed the officer. "Be careful to keep together and in the middle of the road, when we get under way, for if one of us gets pulled down there's an end of all things for him!"
"It is too bad we can't stay long enough to find Hans," Ned said.
"If we remain here five minutes longer," the officer replied, "someone will have to come and find us. Are you ready?"
All were ready, and the next moment sixteen motorcycles shot out into the street and headed northwest for Tientsin, which city lay in the direct path to Peking. The group in the road ahead parted sullenly as the squadron pressed on its outer circle and the company passed through without mishap.
That was as wild a ride as any living being ever engaged in. Nothing but the speed of the motorcycles saved the boys, for enemies sprung up all along the way. Some mysterious system of signaling ahead seemed to be in vogue there.
The sky cleared presently. The road was muddy, but the giant machines made good progress, especially through little towns, through the doors and windows of which curious eyes peered out on the silent company, marching, seemingly, to the music of the spark explosions.
After a run of two hours the officer halted and dismounted.
"Now," he said, "we've got a bit of work cut out for us here. If we make it, we may go on in peace. If we fail, all must keep together and take chances on speed."
THE MIDNIGHT CALL OF AN OWL
Ned glanced about keenly as he left his seat on the machine and stood awaiting further instructions. There was little rain in the air now, but it was still dark except for the faint reflection of a distant group of lights.
"Where are we?" Ned asked.
"So soon? Why, I thought we'd be a long time on the way."
"I reckon you don't know how fast we have been traveling," said the officer. "Fear led me to take risks. I'll admit that."
"I want to look through the city before I leave the country," Ned remarked.
"You are standing now where the allied armies encamped in 1900," the officer went on. "You doubtless recall the time the allied armies were sent to Peking to rescue the foreign ambassadors during the Boxer uprising? That was an exciting time."
"Hardly," laughed Ned, "although I have read much about that march. I must have been about eight years old at the time."
"Well here is where the American brigade encamped on the night before the start for Peking was made. At that time it was believed that the foreigners at Peking had all been murdered. I was here with the boys in blue."
"Then you ought to know the road to Peking."
"I certainly do."
"What are we halting here for?"
"There is a dispatch from Washington due you here," was the reply.
"Telegrams in China?"
"Certainly. Why, kid, this city has over a million of inhabitants, and thousands of the residents are foreigners. Of course they have telegraph facilities."
"But how am I to get it to-night?"
To the east lay a great cornfield, to the west a broken common upon which were a few houses of the meaner sort. The corn had been cut and was in the shock. In the houses the lights were out. But far over the poverty-stricken abodes of the poor shone the reflections of the high lights of the city.
Tientsin is a squalid Oriental city, its native abodes being of the cheapest kind, but the foreign section is well built up and well lighted. These were the reflections, glancing down from a gentle slope, that the boys saw.
The officer pointed to the north, indicating a low-roofed hut half hidden in the corn shocks.
"We are to remain there," he said, "until you receive your instructions from Washington."
"But why were they not given me before?" demanded Ned.
"Because the man in charge of this matter for the Secret Service department doubted your ability to make the trip to Tientsin. That is the truth of it. If you had failed back there at Taku, I should have taken the message from the office and mailed it, unopened, back to Washington. You have made good, so you get it yourself."
"They never put me to such a test before," grumbled Ned.
The officer turned, gave a short order to his men, and passed his machine over to one of them.
"I am going into the city with Mr. Nestor," he said; "see that none of these youngsters gets away during my absence."
"I'm goin' to get away right now," Jimmie exclaimed. "I'm goin' with Ned to the city. I guess I'm not visiting China to live in a cornfield. I want to see the wheels go round!"
The officer glanced at Ned questioningly, while the little fellow made a face back.
"Let him come along," Ned said. "He'll come anyway, whether we give him permission or not. How far must we walk?"
"Walk?" repeated Jimmie. "I'm goin' to take my motorcycle."
"That may be a good idea," admitted the officer. "I had not thought of that."
"We may have to make a run for it, judging from the experiences we had at Taku," Ned suggested.
"Nothing of the kind here," the other said. "You are as safe in this city as you would be in New York, under the same conditions, of course. You know there are sections of New York which strangers do well to keep out of at night."
So, mounting their cycles again, the three set off for the foreign section of Tientsin. At first the streets were very bad, but in time they came to smoother running and good time was made.
It was now approaching midnight, but the city, was still awake and stirring. The streets were well filled with pedestrians, and many of the small shops were open.
Naturally the three motorcycles, speeding through the streets of the ancient city, attracted no little attention. Here and there little groups blocked the way for an instant, but on the whole fair progress was made.
Jimmie, by no means as anxious as were his companions, enjoyed every moment of the dash. He was thinking of the stories he would have to tell when he returned to the Bowery again!
It is quite possible that the way would have been more difficult for the riders only for the uniform of the officer. Foreigners are not given much consideration by the street crowds in China—especially by such crowds as enliven the thoroughfares at night—but, since the march of the allied armies to Peking, uniforms have been held in great awe.
At last the telegraph office was reached, and Ned was glad to see that lights still burned within. His night ride would at least prove of avail. He would receive instructions directly from Washington, and that would be more to the purpose than traveling along like a blind mole in the earth, receiving his information by bits from underlings in the Secret Service.
Besides, the boy was wet and cold, for the night was growing more disagreeable every moment, and he would now have an opportunity to warm himself by a blaze such as foreigners ordinarily insist on in the cold months in China.
The man at the desk bowed courteously as the three entered the office. He was evidently a native of China but seemed to have profited by a foreign education.
When Ned gave his name and asked for a message, the operator, who appeared to be the sole employee there, coolly surveyed him critically from head to foot. Then he turned questioning eyes to the marine.
"It is all right," the officer said. "This is the person brought here by the flying squadron."
"A boy!" cried the operator. "Only a boy!"
"Aw, cut that out!" cried Jimmie, always ready to resent any seeming discourtesy to his chum.
The operator scowled at the little fellow and turned to the officer with the remark that he should be obliged to consult with his superior.
"All right," was the officer's reply. "Only make haste."
The operator entered a back room and presently returned with a boy who evidently served as messenger during the daytime. After receiving whispered instructions, the lad passed out of the office, with a furtive glance over his shoulder at Jimmie.
Then the operator went back to his desk, while the officer and Ned stood waiting. There was no fire in the outer office, but a wave of warm air came from the rear room.
"We have been riding in the rain," the officer said, seeing that they were not to be invited into the heated apartment. "May we go back to the fire?"
The operator scowled, but the uniform won the day, and the three were ushered into a small room where an American oil stove was sending forth a generous heat. Then the grouchy operator slammed the door and left his guests to their own reflections.
"Say," Jimmie whispered, in a moment, "I don't believe that chump is on the level!"
"Well," Ned replied, "he's got to give me the dispatch. He can't get out of doing that."
"Perhaps he knows what the message contains," the officer suggested, "and is not inclined to deliver it."
"I hardly think he knows what it contains," Ned answered, "for it is undoubtedly in cipher."
"And you have the Secret Service code?" asked the officer, amazement showing on his face.
"Well, they have a lot of confidence in you, then," said the other.
At the end of half an hour a man said to be the assistant in charge of the station entered the room and eyed all three occupants keenly. His glances were met frankly by Ned and the officer, but Jimmie could not resist an inclination to wrinkle his nose at him.
"Which is Ned Nestor?" the man asked, addressing the officer.
The marine pointed toward Ned.
"Do you know him to be Ned Nestor?" was the next question, and Ned thought he felt a hostile spirit in the tone.
"Certainly I do, else I would not be here with him."
"This is important business of state," suggested the other, "and I have to be cautious."
"Your conduct seems more like curiosity than caution," the officer declared. "Have you the message with you?"
"Yes, but I can't deliver it except in the presence of the manager."
"Is it in the code of the Secret Service?" asked Ned.
"It is in some code unknown to me."
"If you don't deliver it in five minutes," declared the officer, "I shall call the American consul!"
The official made no reply.
"You can read this code, I suppose?" he asked of Ned.
"Well, I'll communicate with the manager, and if he says it is all right I'll give you the message and take your receipt for it. Will that answer?"
"It must, I suppose," replied the officer.
The obdurate official left the room.
"Gee, but it's close in here!" Jimmie declared, in a moment. "Seems like a hop joint in Pell street."
"There is opium in the air," the officer said. "See if you can find a window."
Jimmie found a window opening on a large court and lifted the lower sash. Then he called to Ned.
"I don't like the looks of this," he said. "If they should try to hold us here, what?"
"They won't do that."
"Oh, they won't tie us up, I guess," said the little fellow, "but they may delay our departure."
"Go on," smiled Ned.
"An' communicate with the ginks that have been chasing us ever since we left the submarine," concluded the boy.
"In time, Jimmie," Ned answered, "you may even get into the thinking row. I have been wondering ever since we came in here if we were not with enemies instead of friends."
"I can soon find out," declared Jimmie.
"Yes? How, may I ask?"
"I'll rush out into the other room an' try to get to the street. If there's anythin' in the notion we have, they'll turn me back."
"You might try that," smiled Ned, and the officer clapped a hand on the boy's shoulder and declared that he was a "brick."
So Jimmie hustled out into the front office. The listeners heard sharp words, and then a slight scuffling of feet. Then next instant the boy was pushed back through the doorway.
"What is the trouble?" asked the marine of the assistant, whose flushed face showed in the half-open doorway.
"You'll all have to be identified before you can leave here," was the curt reply. "You have asked for important state dispatches, and we want to know what your motive is."
"My motive is to get them," replied Ned, coolly.
"Wait until you prove your right to them," said the other, and the door was slammed shut. Ned stepped back to the window and looked out into the court. The walls were four stories high, and there seemed to be no passage out of the box-like place. The officer suggested that he force his way through the outer office and reach the American consul, but Ned did not approve of this. He thought there must be some other way. Then a hint of that other way came from the court in the call of an owl.
"That's a Boy Scout signal, and not a bird!" almost shouted Jimmie.
THE MESSAGE FROM WASHINGTON
"Surely," the marine officer said, in answer to the boy's exclamation, "that is a genuine, feathered owl. No boy could make so perfect an imitation."
"It's Dutchy, all right," insisted Jimmie. "I've heard him make that noise before. Now, how did he ever get to Tientsin, and how did he locate us?"
"It doesn't seem possible that it is Hans," Ned said. "How could he make the journey on foot, through a country suspicious of every foreigner? And how comes it that he chanced on this building?"
"Didn't he know that you were expecting instructions from Washington while on the way to Peking?" asked the officer.
"I did not know, myself, that I was to receive instructions while on the way until I met you," Ned replied. "If Hans is indeed here, he has either blundered into his present position or gained pretty accurate information from some one unknown to me."
"If he is here?" repeated Jimmie. "Of course he is here. I'm goin' out in the court an' give him the call of the pack!"
"What does he mean by that?" asked the officer of Ned. "Call of the pack?"
"The call of the Wolf pack," answered Ned. "We both belong to the Wolf Patrol, of New York."
"And you think Hans, if it is he, will understand?"
"Of course!" scorned Jimmie.
The little fellow was about to step out of the low window to the floor of the court when a mist of light appeared at one of the glazed windows on the opposite side. The three watched the illumination with absorbing interest for a moment.
"Hans must be up there," Ned, muttered, "although I would almost as soon expect to find him up in a balloon."
"I reckon you'll find an owl with wise eyes and feathers up there, if you wait," said the officer, with a smile. "The boy you refer to never could have traveled here alone."
"You just wait," advised Jimmie.
Presently the mist of light centered down to three small flames, apparently coming from three narrow twists of paper, burning in a row in front of a window on the second floor. Jimmie grasped Ned's arm as the three tiny columns of flame showed for an instant and then vanished.
"There!" he said. "Do you know what that means?"
"It is a warning of danger," Ned muttered.
"Say that again," exclaimed the officer. "What kind of a game is this?"
"It is a Boy Scout warning," Ned replied. "In the forest three columns of smoke express the warning. How did this German boy learn all this?" he continued, turning to Jimmie.
"Don't you ever think the Philadelphia Boy Scouts are slow!" answered the boy. "Hans has been out in the forest with them, and knows all about woods work, an' signs, an' signals. Give it up, now?"
"Yes," replied the officer, "I give it up. You boys must have a wonderful organization."
"We certainly have," Ned replied.
The three waited for a moment, but no more signals came from the window. Instead a heavy footfall sounded outside the door and a man they had not seen before stepped into the room.
He was a heavily built man, with broad shoulders, black hair and eyes, and a wicked mouth. His face looked hard and repulsive, like the face of a reckless, intolerant, whisky-drinking captain of police in a graft-ridden district. He closed the door with his back as he entered.
"You are Ned Nestor?" he asked of the officer. The latter pointed toward Ned.
"That child!" exclaimed the newcomer.
Jimmie restrained himself with an effort, for he knew that this was no time to engage in a quarrel. He turned his back to the group and looked out of the window into the court.
There was now no light at the window from which the warning had been given, but there were flickers of uncertain candles at some of the others. The hooting of the owl had undoubtedly attracted the attention of the occupants of the building.
As Jimmie looked, however, the sash of the window he was watching was pushed up and a tousled head appeared. Other sashes were pushed up in an instant, and pigtailed heads and slanting, evil eyes were in view.
"I guess they're keepin' cases on the kid!" Jimmie thought, as he made an almost imperceptible motion toward Hans. "It would be pretty poor, I reckon, if I could get up there," he added, not meaning that it would be "pretty poor" at all, but, on the contrary, a very good move indeed.
While the lad watched the window, from which the tousled head had now disappeared, some of the other windows closed. The natives were evidently in no mood to lose their sleep because of a foreign-devil noise in the middle of the night.
The little fellow was certain that the head he had for a moment seen was that of Hans, the Philadelphia Boy Scout who had been so strangely encountered during the visit of the submarine to an island off the coast of China. He knew, too, that the German understood that something unusual and hostile to his friends was going on below.
He did not stop to consider the means by which Hans had reached the city of Tientsin and that particular building. He accepted it for granted that he was there, and wondered just what steps he, the German, would be apt, or able, to take in the emergency which threatened the failure of the mission to Peking.
Presently the voices of the marine officer, the official who had been summoned by the assistant manager, and Ned reached his ears. The officer was clearly in an angry mood and Ned was trying his persuasive powers on the newcomer.
"Are you an officer of the telegraph company?" the officer asked, in an angry tone.
"I am not," was the equally discourteous rejoinder. "I am a private detective employed, by the manager here. It is my duty to look after just such cases as this."
"Well," Ned said, calmly, "ask any questions you desire and we will answer them frankly. I came to China at the request of the Washington government, and am to receive instructions here. The operator tells me that there is a cablegram here for me, but refuses to deliver it on the ground that I may be an impostor."
"I think he has you sized up right," grated the detective.
"Then we may as well be going," Ned said, still coolly. "There is nothing for us to do now but try to establish our identity before the American consul."
The boy moved toward the door as he spoke, but the brawny detective obstructed his passage to the outer room. Ned drew back with a smile on his face.
"You can't leave here just at present," said the detective. "You will remain in custody until morning."
"Why morning?" asked Ned, with alight laugh.
"Because your accuser will be here then."
"Why didn't you say something of an accuser before?" asked Ned.
"It was not necessary."
"What does the accuser say?"
"He only warns us against delivering important papers to a youth answering your description."
"Now I understand why all this rumpus has been kicked up!" cried the marine officer. "The man who warned you is Lieutenant Rae?"
The detective nodded.
"Then he is causing us to be delayed for purposes of his own," the officer stormed. "He aims to get to Peking in advance of us. We must be permitted to depart immediately."
He moved toward the door, but the detective stood in his way. Without a word he seized the fellow by the shoulder whirled him around, put his beery face to the wall, and passed out of the room. Ned was about to follow him when the strange attitude of the detective caught his attention and he stood waiting while a scuffle on the outside told of a physical complication there.
"Much good that break will do him," said the detective, straightening out his twisted coat collar. "He will find a squad of police at the street door."
"European police?" asked Ned.
"Native police," with a snarl of rage as the commotion in the outer room continued.
Knowing that it would be no trouble at all to secure the release by any American officer taken into custody by Chinese police, Ned turned to the window and looked out on the court. He understood, too, that his own arrest would mean a long delay in prison while his identity was being established. So he thought best to keep out of the squabble the hot-headed officer had engaged in.
How sane this decision was only those foreign citizens who had been arrested and cast into prison in China or Russia can appreciate. While an accredited officer of a foreign power may almost instantly regain his liberty, a plain citizen, such as Ned was forced to appear, might be kept in jail for any number of days, weeks, or months.
The detective stood glaring at the two boys for an instant, as if anxious to inflict physical punishment upon them, but, as they remained at the window and said no more to him, he was obliged to take a different course. After rapping out several insulting observations concerning school children who ought to be spanked and put to bed, he flung himself out of the room.
"You saw Hans?" asked Ned, then.
Jimmie opened his eyes in amazement.
"Did you?" he asked.
"I saw the tousled head you saw," replied Ned.
"I thought you were looking another way," commented the little fellow. "That was Hans, all right.'
"But why does he remain inactive? He knows there is something doing down here, else he would not have shown the signal of warning. He ought to be out of that window by this time."
"This is a country of hard knots," laughed Jimmie. "They may have tied up his fat little trotters."
In spite of the serious situation, Ned laughed.
"The tying up in this case makes it seem like a cheap drama on the lower East Side in New York," he said.
"I think I might get up to that window," Jimmie suggested.
"How?" asked Ned.
"By the lower window frames an' castings. If you'll manage to keep the Chinks off me I'll try."
"It is worth trying," Ned mused.
The other windows opening on the court were now closed. The sleepy natives, possibly doped with opium, had wearied of watching the figures in the rear room of the telegraph office and tumbled back into bed, or back on such miserable heaps of dirty matings as they chose to call beds.