THE MERRIWELL SERIES No. 117
Frank Merriwell's Pursuit
By Burt L. Standish
Frank Merriwell's Pursuit
HOW TO WIN
BURT L. STANDISH
Author of the famous Merriwell Stories.
STREET & SMITH CORPORATION PUBLISHERS 79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York
Copyright, 1904 By STREET & SMITH Frank Merriwell's Pursuit
(Printed in the United States of America)
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian.
[Transcriber's Note: No Table of Contents was present in the original edition. The following Table of Contents has been prepared for this electronic edition.]
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I. THE OATH OF DEL NORTE. 5 CHAPTER II. THE TERROR OF O'TOOLE. 12 CHAPTER III. NEW ARRIVALS AT THE LAKE. 21 CHAPTER IV. TWO GHOSTS. 28 CHAPTER V. THE WOLVES. 32 CHAPTER VI. IN THE GRASP OF DEL NORTE. 46 CHAPTER VII. THE SENTINEL. 56 CHAPTER VIII. AT THE FOOT OF THE PRECIPICE. 67 CHAPTER IX. THE KNIFE DUEL. 73 CHAPTER X. THE LANDSLIDE. 82 CHAPTER XI. BURIED ALIVE! 90 CHAPTER XII. IN THE CAVE OF DEATH. 98 CHAPTER XIII. HOW RAILROADS ARE BUILT. 109 CHAPTER XIV. ANOTHER OBSTACLE. 122 CHAPTER XV. HAGAN SECURES A PARTNER. 137 CHAPTER XVI. ARTHUR HATCH. 144 CHAPTER XVII. EVIL INFLUENCE. 169 CHAPTER XVIII. THE POLICE RAID. 182 CHAPTER XIX. ALVAREZ LAZARO. 192 CHAPTER XX. THE AVENGER. 200 CHAPTER XXI. THE FIRST STROKE. 208 CHAPTER XXII. THE SECOND STROKE. 217 CHAPTER XXIII. OLD SPOONER. 226 CHAPTER XXIV. THE FLAMES DO THEIR WORK. 239 CHAPTER XXV. THE PATIENT AND THE VISITOR. 246 CHAPTER XXVI. A SURPRISE FOR FIVE THUGS. 258 CHAPTER XXVII. A DUEL OF EYES. 269 CHAPTER XXVIII. AT NIAGARA FALLS. 284 CHAPTER XXIX. IN CONSTANT PERIL. 300 CHAPTER XXX. THE END OF PORFIAS DEL NORTE. 306
FRANK MERRIWELL'S PURSUIT.
THE OATH OF DEL NORTE.
Rain had ceased to fall, but the night was intensely dark, with a raw, cold wind that penetrated to one's very bones.
Shortly after nightfall three men crossed the east branch of the Ausable River and entered the little settlement of Keene.
Of the three only one was mounted, and he sat swaying in the saddle, seeming to retain his position with great difficulty.
The two men on foot walked on either side of the horse, helping to support the mounted man. At intervals they encouraged him with words.
A few lights gleamed from the windows of Keene. Before a cottage door the trio halted, and one of the men on foot knocked on the door.
A few moments later a man appeared with a lighted lamp in his right hand, shading his eyes with his left as he peered out into the darkness.
"Who are you?" he gruffly asked, "and what do you want?"
"We want a surgeon or a doctor as soon as we can find one," answered the man at the door. "One of our party has been wounded by accident, and we wish to have his wound dressed."
"Another city sportsman shot for a deer, eh?" said the man in the doorway, with a touch of scorn in his voice. "It's the same old story."
"Yes, the same old story," acknowledged the man at the door. "He may die from the wound if we do not find a doctor very soon."
"There's no doctor nearer than Elizabethtown."
"Is there none in this place?"
"How far is Elizabethtown?"
"How is the road?"
"It might be worse—or it might be better. You can't follow it to-night."
"We must. This is a case of life or death. See here, my friend, if you will help us out we will make it worth your while. We will pay you well. Have you any whisky in the house?"
"It's worth five dollars a quart to us, and we will take a quart or more."
"I reckon I can find a quart for you," was the instant answer.
"If you will secure two horses and a guide to take us over the road to Elizabethtown to-night we will pay you a hundred dollars."
This offer interested the man with the lamp.
"Bring your friend in here," he said, "and I will see what I can do for you. Perhaps I can get the horses, and if I can——"
"Do you know the road?"
"I have been over it enough to know it, but it will be no easy traveling to-night. Better take my advice and stay here until morning."
The man outside, however, would not listen to this, but insisted that the journey to Elizabethtown must be made that night. He returned to his companions, and the mounted man was assisted to descend from the saddle. One of them held his arm while he walked into the house, and the other took care of the horse.
The lamp showed that the injured one had bloody bandages wrapped about his head. He was pale and haggard, and there was an expression of anxiety in his dark eyes. At times he pulled nervously at his small, dark mustache.
"Bring that whisky at once," said the wounded man's companion, as he assisted the other to a chair. "He needs a nip of it, and needs it bad."
The whisky was brought, and the injured man drank from the bottle. As he lifted it to his lips, he murmured:
"May the fiends take the dog who fired that bullet! May he burn forever in the fires below!"
The liquor seemed to revive him somewhat, and he straightened up a little, joining his companion in urging the man who had procured the whisky to secure horses and guide them, over the road to Elizabethtown.
"We have money enough," he said, fumbling weakly in his pockets and producing a roll of bills. "We will pay you every cent agreed upon. Why don't you hasten? Do you wish to see me die here in your wretched hut?"
The man addressed promised to lose no time, and soon hurried out into the night. He was not gone more than thirty minutes. Those waiting his return heard hoofbeats, and the light shining from the open door of the cabin fell on three horses as they stepped outside.
"It's fifty in advance and fifty when we reach Elizabethtown," he said, as he sprang off. "I will not start till the first fifty is paid."
"Pay him the whole of it," said the wounded man, "and shoot him full of lead if he fails to keep his part of the bargain."
Stimulated by the whisky, this man had revived wonderfully, and soon the four rode out of Keene on the road that followed the river southward.
Through the long hours of that black night the guide led them on their journey. The road was indeed a wretched one, winding through deep forests, over rocky hills and traversing gloomy valleys. As the night advanced it grew colder until their teeth chattered and their blood seemed stagnating in their veins. Many times they paused to give the wounded one a drink from the bottle. Often this man was heard cursing in Spanish and declaring that the distance was nearer a hundred miles than twenty-five.
Morning was at hand when, exhausted and wretched, they entered Elizabethtown. Soon they were clamoring at the door of a physician, into whose home the wounded man was assisted as soon as the door was opened.
"Examine my head at once, doctor," he faintly urged, as he sat back in a big armchair. "Find out where that infernal bullet is. Tell me if it's somewhere inside my skull, and if I have a chance of recovery."
In a short time the bandages were removed and the doctor began his examination.
"Well! well!" he exclaimed, as he saw where the bullet had entered. "How long ago did this happen? Yesterday afternoon? Forty miles from here? And you came all this distance? Well, you have sand! At first glance one would suppose the ball had gone straight through your head. It struck the frontal bone and was deflected, following over the coronal suture, and here it is lodged in your scalp at the back of your head. I will have it out in a moment."
He worked swiftly, clipping away the hair with a pair of scissors, and then with a lance he made an incision and straightened up a moment later, having a flattened piece of lead in his hand.
"My friend," he said, "you have grit, and I don't think you'll be laid up very long with that wound. You're not at all seriously injured. It must have been fired from some one below you. Was he shooting at a deer?"
"Yes, senor," was the answer.
"Very strange," said the physician. "This is a thirty-two-calibre bullet, and it's not like the kind used to shoot deer. Most remarkable."
He hastened to cleanse and dress the wound, again bandaging the man's head.
"You are certain, senor, that this injury is not serious?" questioned the wounded man, when everything had been done.
"I see no reason why it should be," was the answer. "It is not liable to give serious trouble to a man of your stamina, endurance, and nerve."
The doctor's bill was paid, and then they sought a hotel, where they found accommodations, and the wounded one was put into bed. Ere getting into bed he shook hands with his two companions and said:
"It's not easy, senors, to kill one in whose veins runs the blood of old Guerrero. They thought me dead, but the dog that fired the shot shall pay the penalty of his treachery, and I swear I will yet crush Frank Merriwell as the panther crushes the doe. That's the oath of Porfias del Norte!"
THE TERROR OF O'TOOLE.
Watson Scott, familiarly known as Old Gripper, was a man of great hardihood and endurance, and, therefore, for all of his recent experience with Frank Merriwell's enemies, for all that he had been imprisoned by his captors in a natural well and had stood for hours in water up to his hips, he rapidly recovered after arriving once more at the cottage of his friend and business associate, Warren Hatch, on Lake Placid.
But Old Gripper had been aroused, and he was determined to make it hot for his recent captors, who, led by Porfias del Norte, had gone to desperate lengths to obtain valuable papers which were the basis of a business combination that threatened the interests of Del Norte and his associates.
"Unless they move on the jump I'll have the bunch of them nipped before long," Old Gripper declared.
To his vexation he found it was impossible to properly swear out a warrant for the arrest of Del Norte's companions without making the journey to Saranac Lake.
"I'll do that the first thing in the morning," he said.
In the morning, however, he found himself stiff and lame, and he was induced to delay until noon.
During the forenoon he decided to return without further delay to New York. Having settled on this, he sent a message to Saranac Lake, stating his charges against Porfias del Norte's band of desperadoes, and asking that the warrant be drawn up and brought to him at the station as he was passing through. He also gave instructions that officers should be on hand to immediately take up the work of running the gang down.
Before noon Belmont Bland, Old Gripper's private secretary, was apparently taken ill, and when the time came for Scott to depart Bland seemed unable to travel. He asserted that it was one of his usual nervous attacks, and declared he would be all right by the next day. Therefore it was arranged that he should remain at Lake Placid.
Frank Merriwell had given in to the urging of Warren Hatch, who almost begged him to stay over another day and fish again in the morning.
"It's not often I strike a fisherman after my own heart," said Hatch. "When I do I don't like to let him slip through my fingers. Stay over until to-morrow at least, Merriwell. There is no reason why you should tear away in such a hurry."
"You can stay, Merriwell," declared Scott. "We have settled the railroad deal right here. Bragg and I will get things to moving in the city. Leave that to us."
"I'm very willing to leave it to you," laughed Frank. "I'll stay one more day, Mr. Hatch."
"If we can have another good morning to fish—ah, we won't do a thing!" chuckled Hatch, ending with a cough.
"You ought to stay up here for the next month," declared Old Gripper. "That cough of yours——"
"Oh, it's nothing! I've had it for a year, and it's not serious in any way—only annoying."
At Saranac Lake Scott saw that the warrant for Del Norte was placed in the proper hands and the machinery of the law set in motion.
When Frank and Warren Hatch returned to the cottage of the latter they were surprised to find the place locked, the shutters closed, and an air of desertion hanging over everything.
But it was not deserted.
While Hatch was fumbling on the door they heard a stir within and a voice shouted:
"Be afther getting away from there, ye divvils, ur Oi'll blow yez full av lead! It's arrmed Oi am to th' tathe!"
It was the voice of Pat O'Toole, an Irishman who had been one of Del Norte's gang, but out of gratitude, had saved Frank's life and had been actively concerned in the rescue of Old Gripper.
"O'Toole!" cried Frank; "why the dickens have you locked yourself up this way?"
"Is it you, Misther Merriwell?" cried O'Toole, joyously. "It's a great relafe to hear your foine, musical voice wance more! Wait a minute unthil Oi open th' dure."
The door was unlocked and thrown open. O'Toole stood with a rifle in his hands, looking pale and agitated. Around his waist was a belt holding a pair, of pistols and a knife.
"What's the matter, man?" asked Hatch. "You look like a walking arsenal?"
"It's me loife Oi'm ready to defind to th' larrust gasp," declared the Irishman.
"Your life? Why, what——"
"Oi'm in danger of bein' murthered."
"Ivery minute av me ixistence."
"What makes you think that?"
"Oi don't think it; Oi know it. Afther ye wint away to th' shtation Oi sat on th' verandy shmokin' me poipe an' thinkin'. The longer Oi thought th' more froightened Oi became. It wur Porrfeeus dil Noort thot paid me well to assist him in a litthle schame to trap a certain young gintleman named Frank Merriwell. Oi took his money and promised to rinder me best assistance. Oi know this parrut av th' counthry well, an' so Oi was valuable to Dil Noort. Oi towld him about th' owld hut in th' valley an' th' natural well. Oi towld him a man dhropped inther thot well moight shtay there an' rot widout ivver bein' found. That wur pwhere he meant to dispose av you, Misther Merriwell. Afther that it was yersilf thot saved me loife at Sarrynack Lake. Thin Oi says, says Oi, 'O'Toole, ye miserable divvil, av ye don't git aven wid thot foine young gint, ye ought to be hanged fer a shnake.' Oi knew ye would be thrapped thot same noight, Misther Merriwell, an' Oi rode loike th' ould bhoy to cut yez off an' get me finger in the poie. You remimber pwhat happened."
"I remember that you aided me to escape from the hands of Del Norte and his paid desperadoes," nodded Frank.
"An' got mesilf disloiked fer it. Oi knew Dil Noort would be ready to cut me throat on soight. Oi thought th' safest thing wur to hilp capture Dil Noort, an' thot's pwhat took me here, pwhere Oi arrived just in toime to hilp in the search fer Misther Shcott."
"And help us you certainly did," nodded Merry. "Aided by you, we lost no time in finding the valley and the well in which Mr. Scott was imprisoned."
"But it's th' divvil's own doin's there was before thot," said O'Toole. "Oi wur in a bad shcrape whin Oi run inther th' hands av Bantry Hagan an' he marruched me to thot old hut, where Oi was bound hand an' foot. Nivver a bit did Oi drame th' drunk aslape on th' flure av th' hut an' shnorin' away wur yersilf, Misther Merriwell. Aven whin Oi lay chlose to yez an' ye began to untoie me bonds Oi couldn't suspict it was yersilf. Whin Dil Noort showed up Oi knew it meant throuble, an' sure it wur a relafe to feel in me hand th' pistol ye put there. Th' divvil bent over me wid a knoife in his hands, an' Oi saw murther in his oies. Thin Oi didn't wait, but Oi shot him through th' head."
"But I don't understand what all this has to do with the fear you profess to feel," said Hatch. "I didn't fancy you were a coward, O'Toole."
"No more Oi am; but Porrfeeus dil Noort is a moighty dangerous mon, and he——"
"Is dead. You're not afraid of dead men?"
"It's dead Oi saw him before me," nodded the Irishman; "but Oi wish Oi had seen him buried, so Oi do. Whin we returned afther pulling Misther Shcott out av th' well Dil Noort's body wur gone."
"His companions carried it away," said Merry.
"Mebbe thot's roight," said O'Toole; "but afther ye left me here, wid Joe gone an' mesilf all alone, it's nervous Oi became. Oi took to thinkin' it all over, an' in th' air Oi hearrud a voice whisper, 'O'Toole, yure goose is cooked, fer, dead ur aloive. Porrfeeus dil Noort will get aven wid ye!' It made me have cowld chills down me back, an' out in th' grove yonder Oi saw shadows movin' an' crapin'. Oi began to ixpect a bullet through me body, an' afther a whoile Oi joomped up an' run inther th' cabin, jist shakin' loike Oi had a chill an' me tathe knockin' togither. Oi fashtened th' dures an' closed th' shutters av ivery windy. Thin Oi arrmed mesilf, an' nivver in all me loife did Oi hear swater music than whin ye shpoke outside, Misther Merriwell."
"I declare, O'Toole, I'd never expect a man of your courage and wit to be frightened in such a manner. Del Norte is dead, and it's almost certain his companions have taken to their legs to get away as fast and as far as possible. Mr. Scott will have officers searching high and low for them. They are fugitives from justice. Even though they were not under the ban of the law, with Del Norte gone, there is not one chance in a hundred that any of them would ever lift a hand to annoy or molest you or me. The fall of their leader put an end to their work, and they will scatter and keep under cover until the storm blows over."
"That's right, O'Toole," declared Warren Hatch. "You rendered Mr. Merriwell and the rest of us a great service when you fired the shot that brought Del Norte down. They won't dare have you arrested for that shooting, as no one would venture to appear against you. If they escape from the officers, I expect we'll hear in a few days how Del Norte's body was carried out of the mountains and expressed to friends somewhere."
"They may not dare do that," said Frank. "They may bury him here in the mountains, rather than take any chances of being captured themselves. At any rate, it's foolish for you to worry, O'Toole. Of course it's not a pleasant thing to think you have shot a man, but you did it in self-defense, and were justified."
"It's roight ye are on thot point, me bhoy; but it's a long toime before Oi'll rist aisy from thinkin' av it an' belavin' me own loife in danger. Oi'll be afeared av me own shadder in th' darruk. Porrfeeus dil Noort wur th' firrust man Oi ivver saw that made me fale as if bullets wouldn't kill him an' kape him dead. Wur he to roize before me this minute nivver a bit surphrised would Oi be."
Although Merry jollied the Irishman, it was no easy matter to relieve O'Toole's nervousness.
Later Belmont Bland appeared at the cottage, having sought the advice of a physician who was spending an outing at the little settlement on the southern shore.
"I'm feeling better already," said Bland. "The doctor gave me some medicine to quiet my nerves. I'll be all right to leave for the city to-morrow, I hope, although I feel that I need several days of rest."
Frank wondered why Bland had lingered at the lake.
NEW ARRIVALS AT THE LAKE.
Late that afternoon Warren Hatch and Frank went out to fish and remained until after nightfall.
Lights were gleaming from the cottage windows as they rowed slowly back.
Away at the southern end of the lake were other lights, indicating the location of the little settlement of cottagers. Lake Placid was a popular resort at this season of the year.
Joe, the man of all work, came down to the shore and took care of the boat.
"Take care of the fish, Joe," called Hatch, as he hastened after Merry, who was striding toward the cottage.
The shades were drawn and the place seemed silent enough until Frank opened the door and stepped inside. Then he was surprised and startled to find himself seized by four pairs of hands, which hustled him about amid bursts of laughter and shouts of welcome.
"Hold on! hold on!" he gasped, in the greatest astonishment, for he recognized his four assailants as his friends, Bart Hodge, Bruce Browning, Inza Burrage, and Elsie Bellwood. "Where in the world did you all drop from?"
"We have run you down at last," said Hodge; "but you gave us a merry old chase."
"It's been the greatest game of hide and seek I ever played," grunted Browning, ceasing from his attack on Frank and dropping lazily on a chair, which creaked beneath his weight. "Just when we would think we were going to put our hands on you sure you would disappear like a wizard."
"Aren't you glad to see us?" demanded Inza.
"If you're not, we'll go right away," said Elsie.
"Glad!" cried Frank. "I'm speechless with delight. But I don't understand it yet."
Then they explained how they had followed him to Boston and from that city to New York, and how in the latter place, after no end of trouble and detective work, they learned that he was off for Lake Placid, in the Adirondacks. Arriving at Newman late that afternoon, they had driven over to the cottage of Mr. Hatch, which they reached while Frank and his host were still out fishing.
"Here is Mrs. Medford, Frank," said Inza, calling his attention to a smiling, middle-aged lady who sat near the open fireplace.
Mrs. Medford was a relative of Inza's who often accompanied her as companion and chaperon.
"Mrs. Medford," said Merry, hastening to clasp the smiling woman's hand, "I am delighted to see you again. I'm quite overcome with surprise and pleasure. It's evident I am, for I have forgotten Mr. Hatch."
No wonder Mr. Hatch had been overlooked, for he had stepped back and remained quiet during all the chatter and laughter of the meeting between Frank and his friends.
"I am greatly pleased to meet your friends, Mr. Merriwell," he declared, as Frank introduced one after another. "If the accommodations at my poor cottage——"
"Oh, we wouldn't think of putting you to the slightest inconvenience!" declared Inza. "We can find accommodations in Newman, Mr. Hatch, and we wouldn't think of——"
"Unless it is too uncomfortable here," Hatch hastened to say, "I shall consider it a favor to entertain you as the friends of the cleverest fisherman and finest young man it has been my good fortune to meet in twenty years. Anything and everything here is yours as long as you choose to remain, and you can't remain too long for me."
That was quite enough, for they saw he was in earnest. He could thaw out and be genial and pleasant when he chose, and this was an occasion when he had no difficulty in thawing. He called Joe and gave orders about supper, and soon the delightful odor of cooking fish came faintly to their nostrils.
While supper was being prepared Frank related the story of the many adventures which had befallen him since he hastily left Maine in pursuit of the Mexican who had stolen one of his valuable papers.
As she listened Inza flushed and paled by turns. She was elated by his success, and she found it difficult to check a tremor as she realized how many times he had been in deadly danger.
"Where is O'Toole?" cried Hodge, as Frank finished. "I want to congratulate him on his job in ending the career of that snake, Del Norte."
O'Toole was aiding Joe in the cook house, and he was finally induced, under protest, to appear in the cottage. He stood before Frank's friends, grinning bashfully and bowing awkwardly.
"O'Toole," said Bart, shaking the Irishman's hand, "you never did a better bit of work in all your life than when you shot Porfias del Norte."
"It's not so sure Oi am av that," declared the man. "It's nivver a bit will Oi shlape till Oi know fer sure th' baste is dead an' burried six fate under ground."
"Why, Frank said you shot him through the head."
"Oi did thot, but whin we returned to th' hut pwhere he was it's up an' gone he had."
"Frank says the body was carried off by his friends."
"Mebbe it wur, Oi dunno; but whoy th' ould scratch they wur afther takin' all thot throuble an' risk is pwhat bates me. Somehow Oi'm thinkin' th' mon up an' walked away all by hissilf, an' it's cowld chills Oi git from thinkin' he may be lookin' fer me to sittle our account."
"You'll get over that feeling after a while," said Hodge. "Frank knows when a man is dead, and you heard him pronounce Del Norte dead."
In Browning's ear Frank whispered:
"I confess I'd feel better satisfied if I had seen him buried; but I don't intend to tell O'Toole that."
In due time supper was cooked and served in the plain but comfortable dining room. The death of Del Norte was forgotten, and it was a jolly crowd that gathered about the large table.
"Hold me!" cried Browning, as he drank in the odor of baked potatoes, cooked fish and steaming coffee. "If you don't look out I'll wade in here and create a famine. I feel as if I might eat everything on this table without half trying."
"There is plenty of everything," said Warren Hatch. "Joe tells me there is more fish. Here he comes with some of his hot biscuits right out of the oven."
Joe appeared with a heaping plate of biscuits, and soon all were enjoying the meal.
Inza was unusually vivacious, her cheeks being flushed and her dark eyes sparkling. The pleasure of being with Frank again was enough to put her at her best, and indeed she was a most beautiful girl.
Elsie was quieter, but there was no mistaking the expression of deep satisfaction which hovered on her sweet face. The fact that Inza was happy was enough to give her pleasure.
In the midst of the meal there came a rapping at the door. Mr. Hatch answered the summons and was gone some time. When he returned he explained that there was to be a masquerade dance at a pavilion used for dances and picnics down at the cottage village, and, having learned of the presence of guests at his cottage, invitations had been extended to them all.
"Perfectly jolly!" cried Inza. "But we have no costumes."
"Never mind that," said Mr. Hatch. "Without doubt there will be others in the same predicament. You can easily manufacture some masks, and, being strangers here, no one outside your own party will recognize you. I'm sorry I can't assist you in the matter of dress, but I can help the male members of the party. I have a full Indian rig and a cowboy outfit, which will do for two. The third can dress in old clothes, like a hunter or guide. The whole thing can be arranged somehow if you care to go. Where there's a will there's a way, you know."
"Oh, say," grunted Browning, "count me out. I'm no dancer. Besides that, I'm tired."
"The same old complaint," laughed Frank. "What do you think about it, Elsie?"
"If Inza wishes to go, I'm ready," answered Elsie. "We might have a good time."
Hodge expressed a willingness to go along, and then Frank cried:
"It's a go, my children! Let's enter into this thing in earnest and have a high old time. Bruce, you ought to be ashamed of your laziness."
"Don't begin that old song!" said the big fellow. "There's not enough laziness in this world. Everybody howls about strenuousness and hustle, and people wear themselves out and die before they should. I'm setting a good example, and I'll continue to set."
"Or sit," nodded Merry. "All right, Lazybones, stay here by your lonesome and content yourself thinking what a fine time we're having."
"Thanks," grunted Bruce.
The colony on the south shore of Lake Placid was about to break up. Cold weather was setting in. Already many of those who had spent much of the summer there were gone. Others were going. Soon that region would be left entirely to the hunters and the fishermen.
Before returning to the city the cottagers had planned a last grand time in the form of a masquerade dance. They did not call it a "ball." There was to be nothing formal about it.
Thus it happened that the party at Warren Hatch's cottage received an invitation.
Mrs. Medford was tired; she would not attend the dance; but she offered to assist the girls in getting up their costumes.
"Costumes!" cried Inza. "Where will we find them? We'll have to go without special preparation in that line. Frank and Bart are the lucky ones."
"Come with me," smiled Mrs. Medford, after consulting in a low tone with Mr. Hatch, who smiled and nodded. "Perhaps we can find something."
The girls followed her to the upper part of the cottage, leaving Frank and Bart to make up below.
Merry gave Bart his choice of the two rigs, and Hodge took the Indian outfit, leaving the cowboy costume for Frank.
At intervals the sound of laughter came from above, indicating that the girls were making progress.
Mrs. Medford came down first and announced that the girls would follow in two or three minutes.
"They are putting on the finishing touches," she said.
She professed to be alarmed by the fierce appearance of Merriwell, who swaggered toward her in "chaps," woolen shirt, and wide-brimmed hat, a loose belt about his waist, with a pistol peeping from the holster, while his face was hidden by a mask in keeping with the rest of his outfit.
"It's a whole lot tired we're getting of waiting for them yere gals, madam," said Frank. "I opine they'd better hurry some, for we'll have to hike right lively if we shake a hoof at this dance to-night."
Then Hodge danced forward in his Indian rig, flourishing a tomahawk and uttering a war whoop.
"Heap right," he cried. "White woman bring gals."
"Mercy!" gasped Mrs. Medford, retreating toward the table and suddenly turning the lamp very low.
Then came a rustling sound on the stairs, followed by a low moaning, and into view glided two ghostly figures in flowing robes of white. These figures paused in a corner of the room where the shadows were deepest, and the surprised witnesses seemed to see through their white draperies the gleaming outlines of the upper portions of two skeletons. The ribs, the waving, bony arms, and the horrible, shining skulls were plainly beheld. After a moment the two apparitions advanced.
"Heap spook!" cried Hodge, while Frank pretended to be greatly alarmed.
Browning sat bolt upright, uttering a grunt of surprise.
As the forms came forward into the dim light the skeleton figures faded and disappeared.
"I reckon these are the real things, Injun," said Frank.
"Much so," nodded Bart.
Then the girls broke into laughter and Mrs. Medford turned up the lamp.
With the aid of two sheets, a needle and thread and a few pins, Mrs. Medford had made some very ghostly garments for the girls, fitting them with a skill which partly revealed and partly concealed the graceful outlines of the wearers. Eyelets had been cut, and the general effect was indeed striking.
"But the skeletons we saw?" questioned Frank.
"A little phosphorus produced them," explained Mrs. Medford. "I drew the skeleton outlines on the sheets with phosphorus. Of course they'll be visible only in the dark."
"Mrs. Medford, you're a wonder!" declared Hodge. "Now we're all right. There'll be ghosts abroad in the Adirondacks to-night."
After a general inspection of their costumes, the party prepared to start.
"Almost wish I had decided to go," confessed Browning. "But I'll stay here and take care of Mrs. Medford."
"If you wish to go, I can take care of her," assured Warren Hatch.
"It's too late now," said Bruce quickly. "Besides that, it's quite a walk over there, and I'd get tired of dancing in short order. I'll stay here and rest."
They paused a moment on the veranda. The night was very still, and the moon was just rising above the treetops, silvering the mirror-like surface of the lake.
From far away on the southern shore came the sound of music and they could see the gleaming lights.
"Take care of those girls, boys," called Mrs. Medford. "If anything happens to them I'll never forgive myself for letting them out of my sight."
"Don't worry," advised Frank. "You may rest assured that they are quite safe in our care. We'll guard them with our lives, but there is no possibility of danger to-night."
Little he knew what would happen before the night passed.
The pavilion was brilliantly lighted. Hundreds of Chinese lanterns were suspended from the beams and cross timbers. The musicians were hidden by an arbor of green at one end of the floor. The floor itself swarmed with dancers wearing all sorts of grotesque and beautiful costumes.
Amid the whirling throng two ghosts were waltzing, the partner of one being a cowboy, while the right arm of a redskin encircled the waist of the other.
The waltzing of these couples was the poetry of grace and motion. They seemed to glide over the floor without effort of any sort. The ease of their movements was admired by many.
"Isn't it delightful, Frank?" enthusiastically whispered one of the ghosts; and her cowboy partner answered:
"It's all the more delightful being unexpected and unplanned, Inza. I feel to-night as if I hadn't a care in the world."
"Why have you any great cares to worry you now?" she asked. "All your great business projects are coming out right, and the man who could make you trouble has paid the penalty of his villainy. He'll never interfere with you again."
"That's right. With him out of the way, his railroad plan and mining and development company will never mature."
"I see no reason why you should hurry back to Mexico now. Can't you remain in the East longer?"
"I'll know better about that after consulting with Watson Scott. If possible to linger, I'll be in no hurry to go."
They swept past a solitary man who stood watching the dancers. His mask was the head of a wolf. Through the twin holes of the mask his eyes gleamed strangely as they followed Merry and Inza.
Another wolf approached and touched the first on the shoulder.
"Have you found him yet?"
"Look!" exclaimed the first. "See the girl in flowing white?"
"With the Indian?"
"No; with the cowboy."
"I have noticed both."
"Well, it is the cowboy I want you to watch. Listen near him. Hear him speak. I think it is our man. If so—well, to-night I strike the blow that makes me the master!"
"Never mind. I have taken pains to hide well anything that might betray me. The dead seldom rise, and I am dead, you know."
"It's the greatest wonder in the world that you are not."
The music stopped. Frank escorted Inza to one of the great, open windows, through which came a grateful breath of the cool, still night. Through the trees outside they could see the lake, with the silver moonlight shimmering on its bosom.
"It's a beautiful spot here," said the girl. "See how peaceful everything is out there, Frank."
After a few moments they strolled out together beneath the trees, where the shadows were heavy. Arm in arm, they walked up and down, pausing at intervals to listen to the music which came from the pavilion, where the dancers were again whirling over the polished floor.
Suddenly they came face to face with a silent figure beneath the trees. This figure started back, uttering a low exclamation, turned suddenly, and almost fled round a corner of the building.
"You gave him a start, Inza. The phosphorus skeleton shows plainly here, you know."
"Somehow I didn't fancy that was why he fled so quickly," she said.
"What other reason could there have been?"
"I don't know, but there seemed something familiar in his movements. It was fancy, I suppose."
"It must have been. We know no one here, save Hodge and Elsie."
"Let's go in. Somehow a feeling of apprehension is on me. I'm not often nervous, you know; but something is the matter with my nerves now."
He laughed at her, but they returned to the floor and danced out the latter part of the two-step.
When this dance was over Merry left Inza, departing to find and bring her a glass of water.
Barely was he gone when she was surprised to hear a harsh voice at her elbow saying:
"I'll not believe your ghostly garments hide nothing save the hideous skeleton I saw a few moments ago. I must confess you gave me a shock."
One of the wolves had paused close at hand.
Knowing the dance was informal, as masquerade affairs must be, she was not surprised to be addressed in this manner.
"Then it was you who fled before me?" she laughed. "It seems that even a wolf may be frightened by a ghost."
"Quite true, fair wraith; but you are not the only ghost at this dance to-night."
"I have a sister ghost with me."
"It was not your sister I spoke of," growled the wolf. "There is still a third ghost present."
"Indeed? I have not seen——"
"I think you will later. For all of your awesome aspect I would entreat you to favor me with one dance were it not that something I cannot explain denies me the pleasure of dancing to-night."
"Why do you growl in that manner? Are you trying to disguise your voice? It is not necessary, for I know only my own friends at this dance."
"It is natural for wolves to growl," he retorted. "Although you know few here, it is possible you are known. I think I can describe you."
"I doubt it."
"You are dark, with black hair and eyes."
"Your lips are like the reddest rose, and your teeth are so many pearls."
"Flattering, at least."
"Of your sex you are the fairest ever beheld by the eyes of wolf."
"You forget you have not seen me."
"If that is true, I'll convince you that the sagacity of some wolves passes human understanding. Your name is—Inza!"
She fell back in amazement, betraying her surprise by the movement.
From behind the wolf mask came a low, growling chuckle.
"It is enough!" he declared. "To deny it now would be useless. The cowboy returns, and cowboys do not like wolves, so I will slink away."
Filled with amazement, Inza watched him as he walked swiftly away. Frank came up and she clutched his arm, pointing at the retreating figure and almost panting:
"Who is that man?"
"I don't know, Inza. Has he bothered or insulted you? If so, I will——"
"Frank, he knows me!"
"He spoke my name! He called me Inza. His words were strange and somewhat faltering. He spoke with a growl that I am certain he assumed to disguise his voice. There is something familiar about him—something familiar in his movements and his walk. Frank, I know him! Is there no way to find out who he is?"
Merry was aroused.
"Drink, Inza," he said, "and I'll find a way to discover who he is. Perhaps Warren Hatch has put up a joke on us. If so, we must turn the joke."
Bart and Elsie came up. Frank left Inza with them as he returned with the empty glass.
Leaving the glass, he set out to find the wolf. As he was passing one of the wide windows he saw two wolves standing outside. Immediately he stepped through the window and joined them.
"Howdy, pards," he said, with an assumption of the cowboy manner. "I opine one of you two was chinning with my friend, the ghost, a few moments ago. Now, even a wolf won't take advantage of a lady, and so, as you happened to call her name, I reckon it's up to you in natural politeness to give her yours in return."
They appeared somewhat startled, but one of them said:
"You're mistaken, sir; neither of us has spoken to a lady since arriving here to-night. We have not danced yet, and therefore have not had occasion to speak to any of the fair sex."
Frank rested his hands on his hips and eyed them searchingly.
"I have the word of the lady herself," he said. "I don't opine you're going to dispute a lady?"
"You are at liberty to opine what you like," sneered the second wolf; "and I advise you to go about your business, unless you are looking for trouble. If it's trouble you are after, you may get more than you want."
"I never hunt trouble; but I thought it possible that, out of politeness, the one who spoke to the lady would give his name."
"Get about your own business and leave us alone," advised the pugnacious chap. "If you don't you'll get your make-up ruffled."
Now, Frank had not confronted them with the idea of pressing a quarrel. His first thought had been to draw them into conversation that he might hear their voices, thinking it possible he would recognize one or both of them. There was nothing familiar about their voices, however, and now their offensive atmosphere aroused him and caused his blood to stir warmly in his body.
"Although there are two of you," he said, "I would advise you some not to try any ruffling business with me. It might work unpleasantly for you."
This angered them, and suddenly they both attacked Frank.
Instantly there was a stir within the pavilion, for men uttered exclamations, and women gave cries of alarm.
Hodge had remained with Inza and Elsie, but at the first alarm, thinking Frank might be in trouble, he left the girls and dashed across the floor. Elsie called to him, starting to follow. Suddenly she stopped, turning back to Inza, whom she had left by the open window.
Inza was gone.
"Where is she?" gasped Elsie, looking around. "I am sure——"
She paused in bewilderment, a sudden feeling of terror seizing her.
From somewhere in the grove outside the pavilion came a smothered cry of distress.
Elsie Bellwood had left Inza standing close to the huge, open window. Barely was Elsie's back turned when the heavy folds of a blanket were thrown over Inza's head and she felt herself lifted bodily and snatched through the window.
Remarkable though it was, no one within the pavilion saw this happen. The attention of all was turned toward the opposite side of the building, where the encounter was taking place between Frank and the two wolves.
At first Inza was stunned and bewildered. Her hands and arms were enfolded in the blanket, and she was unable to make anything like effective resistance. The blanket was twisted about her until she could not cast it off, and she felt herself lifted and carried away in a pair of arms that held her tightly.
Had she been of a nervous or timid nature she might have fainted at once. But she was brave and nervy and she struggled hard for her freedom, seeking to cast off the blanket which was smothering her and giving her a sensation of agony.
The man had not carried her far when she nearly succeeded in getting her head clear of the blanket. She uttered a cry that was broken and smothered, for, with an exclamation of dismay, her captor again twisted the blanket tightly about her head and neck.
It was this cry which reached the ears of Elsie, who had just missed her friend.
Inza continued to struggle, kicking and uttering muffled cries beneath the blanket; but she was helpless, and, holding her thus, the man, who wore a wolf mask, almost ran through the grove to the shore of the lake.
By the time the shore was reached the girl's struggles had become very weak, and the only sounds issuing from the smothering folds of the blanket were choking moans.
As Inza's captor approached the water he uttered a low, peculiar whistle.
It was answered by a similar whistle.
The answer served to guide the man with the wolf mask to the spot where a canoe lay floating with its prow touching the shore, guarded by a man who stood straight and silent on the bank.
"Ben!" excitedly yet softly called the man with the girl.
"Here," was the answer.
"Ready with the canoe! Back there you hear them shouting. Thank the saints the senorita no longer struggles! She has fainted."
"What got?" asked the man on the shore, who was a full-blooded Indian guide, known as Red Ben. "Big bundle."
"Never mind what I have here. I paid you to wait and be ready to take me away in a hurry, and now it is in a hurry I must go. Swing the canoe so I may put her in it."
The shouts of men and excited voices of women came to their ears from the pavilion.
"Let them bark!" muttered Inza's captor. "I'll soon be far away, and the water will leave no trail for Merriwell, the gringo, to follow. Once he trailed me, but I have taken precautions this time."
Unhesitatingly he stepped into the water beside the canoe, in the bottom of which he placed Inza, with the blanket still wrapped about her. A moment later he was seated in the canoe, which Red Ben pushed off from shore, springing in himself and seizing a paddle.
"Keep in the shadows near the shore," directed the wearer of the wolf mask. "Paddle hard, for much trouble it might make us both should we be seen."
"You steal gal?" questioned the curious Indian.
"She belongs to me," was the answer. "My enemy claims her, but she is mine. Don't talk, Ben—paddle for your life. Were we to be seen now——"
"Point out there," said the redskin. "We go by him, nobody back there see us."
"Then get past the point at your finest speed, and it is doubly well you shall be paid for this night's work."
The Indian made the canoe fly over the surface of the water. He kept close to the shore of a little cove and then swept out in the shadow of the trees along the rim of the lake, soon reaching the point.
As Ben sent the canoe shooting past that point it came near colliding with another canoe that contained a single occupant, who was smoking a pipe and paddling along leisurely.
"Look out, you lubbers!" grunted the man with the pipe. "What are you trying to do?"
It was Bruce Browning, who, after all, had found it impossible to remain at the cottage. In Joe's canoe Bruce was leisurely paddling over to the south shore, thinking he would look in on the dancers. He had not heard the approach of the other canoe and knew nothing of its presence until it shot past the point and nearly struck him.
Neither Red Ben nor his companion made any retort. The Indian swerved the canoe aside and continued to ply the paddle, flashing past Bruce.
Browning stared in surprise, for the moonlight fell full and fair on the redskin's companion, showing the wolf mask.
"One of the dancers, I judge," he mumbled. "Nice, sociable fellow! Never said a word when they came so near cutting me in two. What's he doing now?"
Bruce swung his canoe so he could watch the other without cramping his neck, for he saw that something like a struggle was taking place, the masked man seemingly holding some object helpless in the bottom of the frail craft.
"Queer doings," growled the big fellow. "I'd like to know what it means. There seems to be some sort of excitement going on yonder."
He turned from the canoe to listen to the sounds on shore.
"Guess I'll poke along and find out what all the racket is," he decided, as he resumed his lazy paddling, giving no further attention to the other canoe.
Arriving at the landing, Bruce made his way to the pavilion. Ere he reached it he was certain something of an unusual nature had taken place. Persons were searching with lights in the grove, and he encountered a party of four, who surveyed him searchingly and passed on.
He had reached the pavilion when he encountered Hodge, who was doing his best to quiet Elsie, the latter apparently being on the verge of hysterics.
"What's the matter, Bart?" asked Bruce, wonderingly. "What's happened here, anyhow?"
Hodge clutched him by the shoulder.
"Inza!" he exclaimed. "She has disappeared mysteriously."
The big fellow immediately threw off his apathy. His careless, lazy air vanished in a twinkling and he asked some questions that brought a brief but complete explanation from Bart.
"Where is Frank?" demanded Browning.
"He is with the searchers."
Bruce lost no time in looking for Merriwell, soon coming face to face with him in the grove. Frank's face was pale and stern, and there was a dangerous, desperate gleam in his eyes.
"You're wasting your time here, Merry," declared Bruce. "Hodge has just told me of the men who wore the wolf masks. There must have been three of them. While you were having that set-to with two of them the third carried Inza off."
"But where is she?" asked Frank hoarsely. "Where did he take her?"
"You won't find her on shore. Look on the lake."
Immediately Browning told how he had seen one of the men wearing a wolf mask in the canoe which so nearly collided with the one he occupied.
"There was something in the bottom of that canoe. I fancied a struggle was taking place. I thought it mighty singular."
"By Heaven!" cried Frank, "if a hair of Inza's head is harmed the guilty wretch shall pay the penalty with his life!"
IN THE GRASP OF DEL NORTE.
There are two large, heavily wooded islands in Lake Placid. Into a little cove of the northern island Red Ben ran his canoe. His companion, still wearing the wolf mask, stepped out and lifted the helpless girl, bearing her along a path that led to a little opening where the moonlight fell brightly. He placed her on the ground and stood gazing down at her, his arms folded. He had removed the stifling blanket from her head and shoulders.
"By my soul she is beautiful!" he murmured, and the words were spoken in Spanish. His voice was soft and musical, quite unlike the growling hoarseness of the wolf with whom Inza had conversed at the pavilion.
A silent shadow slipped into the opening and stood near. It was the Indian.
"Much dangerous business," he said. "You tell Ben you want to square old score with Merriwell man. Tell me be ready to take you quick away in canoe. No tell me you carry off gal."
"I did not know she would be there," explained the wolf. "When I found her there my plans I changed. It can make no difference with you. You have been paid, but I will pay you doubly if you stick by me to the end. You know every mile of these mountains and forests. You can help me get away, and by it you shall lose nothing."
The Indian shook his head.
"Much bad! much bad!" he declared. "What you do with gal?"
"I shall keep her."
"How you do it. Mebbe she no want to stay. She have many friend. They hunt you same like a real wolf."
"Then they shall find that the wolf has teeth. I expect her gringo lover will hunt. Ha! ha! ha! It is the joy of my soul to wring his heart and make it bleed! I hate him! Between him and me it is a struggle to the death, and in my body runs the blood of old Guerrero, who feared no peril and never paused to count the cost when he struck at a foe. Could I leave him dead, even as he thought me dead, my path would be clear. The prize is worth the peril, for it is a double prize, the fairest senorita and a great fortune. Listen, Ben: if by me you stay fast and I slay my enemy, five hundred dollars shall be yours. Think of that. Five hundred is as much as you can obtain as guide in a season."
"But the white man's law," said the Indian. "I know him. Once I steal a hoss. White man officer arrest me, take me to court, where white man judge say go to jail one year. I go. No want some more like that. Once I 'most kill man down at Long Lake. White man officer hunt me long time. I remember jail. No want some more. I hide. Send word no let um officer take me alive. Bimeby they no hunt me some more. 'Nother time I git drunk, burn house. Have to hide again long, long while till snow come, an' nobody look for me some more. If I help you do some bad things now, mebbe git officer after me 'gain."
"You will not be to blame for anything I do, and the money will pay you so you can afford to hide until the trouble is past. My friends will join us here, as we planned. After that we can get away into the woods. With you to guide, we can baffle all pursuit. But I pray the senorita's gringo lover seeks to follow, so that we may meet. I'll leave him for the wild beasts, with my knife in his heart!"
"But gal she hate you then."
"I'll teach her to love me. I have sworn she shall be mine, and the oath of a Del Norte is never broken. Leave everything to me. Go back and watch for our friends. They will come as soon as they can get away and reach us without being seen."
Silently the redskin turned away and disappeared into the path.
Then the wolf once more turned to the girl. He was somewhat startled to discover her eyes were wide open and fastened upon him. Quickly he bent over her, speaking softly and with an effort to reassure her.
"Fear not, senorita; you are not injured, and in my hands you are safe, for I will guard you with my life. A thousand pardons I ask if I have caused your heart to beat with alarm."
With an effort she rose on one hand, holding up the other as if to ward him off.
"Don't touch me, you monster!" she gasped. "I shall scream!"
"Spare yourself the effort, fair one," he said, "for though you were to shriek with all your strength no one could hear you. You were unconscious, and while thus I brought you here."'
"Where am I?"
"Many miles from the spot where I found you, senorita."
"That voice!" she whispered, shrinking in terror. "It cannot be that you are—— I am dreaming!"
"It is no dream, sweet one. Could you see into my heart you would fear me no longer. Trust me and all will be well."
"Trust you! Trust a monster who has done what you have done! I fear you as I would fear a venomous reptile!"
"Ah! how little you understand, senorita!"
He knelt on one knee before her, holding out his open hands.
"If you would only believe in me and trust me, my beautiful gringo flower! You will learn in time to do so, for I shall teach you. Some day you shall bless your guardian angel that to-night I found you and snatched you from your boastful lover."
To his surprise, she leaned toward him, as if to permit him to clasp her in his arms. A moment later, with a swift movement, she caught at the wolf mask and tore it from his head.
"Porfias del Norte!" she cried, falling back and staring at him as he knelt with the moonlight shining on his face and his bandaged head.
He smiled in that remarkable manner that ever made his face seem handsome to a wonderful degree.
"Yes, senorita," he murmured, with that strange sweetness in his voice, "I am Porfias del Norte."
"Far from it, fair one."
"But Frank said——"
"He thought he had left me dead in the old hut where I was shot down by a treacherous dog who shall pay the penalty with his life. The bullet struck me here, but Heaven changed its course and spared my life. My time had not come, Senorita Inza."
"Heaven had no hand in it!" cried the girl. "Some evil spirit protected you!"
"Some time you will think differently."
"Never! You monster, how dared you do what you have done to-night?"
"Dare!" he laughed. "Have you yet to learn that a Del Norte dares anything? Have you yet to learn a Del Norte will risk anything to secure the woman he loves?"
She fought against the great terror that threatened to overcome her and rob her of consciousness once more.
"You must be deranged!" she said. "You cannot realize what your act will bring about. It is plain you do not yet know Frank Merriwell. If you did you would not fancy you could do this thing and escape the punishment he will surely bring upon you. Why, he will find you and make you suffer, even though he had to employ a hundred men and rake over every inch of these mountains. Once arouse him, as he must now be aroused, and he will follow like a Nemesis on your trail. There is but one escape for you."
"Only one?" questioned the man, with a touch of mockery in his voice.
"And that is—tell me what, senorita?"
"You must permit me to return to him without delay. You must see that I return unharmed. If you do that, I give you my promise to keep him still long enough for you to get far away. If you are wise you will make all haste back to your own country."
Del Norte laughed softly.
"You have yet much to learn of me. In this game I hold the winning cards. In my employ is an Indian who knows where in these mountains we may hide so securely that a thousand men cannot find us. In one of these hiding places I shall keep you secure. If your gringo lover comes, I'll meet him. I'll fight him to the death. One of us will conquer, and no man ever triumphed over one in whose blood was the spirit of old Guerrero. If we meet in fair battle and I am his master, then you will realize how much superior I am to the boasting Americano you thought you cared for. In time you will learn to love me a thousand times more deeply than you ever loved him."
"It's plain you reckon all women on the standard of such women as you have known. Only women of savage races transfer their affection from dead lovers to their slayers. But you do not yet comprehend the fearful task before you. Your conceit is colossal. In single combat with Frank Merriwell you would not have one chance in a thousand."
He could not help feeling the scorn and contempt in her face and words, but still he laughed.
"Time will show you your mistake, senorita; words cannot. Do not fear me. I have sworn that you shall love me, and to win your love I'll be as tender and considerate as possible."
"Tender and considerate!" panted the trembling girl. "After this night I shall fear and loathe you a thousand times more than ever before. Keep away! Don't touch me!"
"It saddens me to see that you fear me so," he sighed, rising to his feet and standing with folded arms. "I have ventured everything on this move, and I shall carry it through. You American women love wealth and power. Senorita, all the vast wealth that is coming to me will I place at your feet. Yours shall be all the power it can command. As my wife you shall some day be admired and envied by all women."
"Now I know you are deranged!" she declared, also rising. "Any man in his right mind could not think to win the love of a woman after such a fashion. Porfias del Norte, that wound has made you a madman!"
"It is love that has made me mad, my Northern flower. Since parting from you on the crown of Mount Battie, up in Maine, I have thought of you, and dreamed of you, until you took possession of my whole being. I felt that I must have you for my own to keep always until death came between us. I have felt that to have you thus I would face a thousand deadly perils. To-night I saw you at the dance. Even though your face was hidden, my heart gave a leap the moment my eyes rested on you. By your grace I recognized you, yet I was not certain until I found an opportunity to speak with you. I watched my opening and grasped it the moment Merriwell left you. Even though I felt that you might discover my identity and betray me, I ventured to speak with you."
"I believed you dead; otherwise I should have recognized you, even though you disguised your voice."
"No doubt, senorita. I feared then that you might tell him, and he would make a move that should baffle me. I spoke to my comrades. Fortune aided me in the wild plan I quickly formed. He saw them and engaged in altercation with them, which gave me the opening I sought. You were again left alone, and in a moment I acted. I carried you away, but in the struggle your garment of white was torn from you, and it lies in the canoe that brought us to this spot. I have no doubt that my comrades will join me soon, and then we shall move again. By daybreak we will be safely hidden in one of the many safe places known to the Indian who is with me."
Inza was desperate. She did not know they were on an island, and now her terror led her, having somewhat recovered her strength, to wheel suddenly and flee as fast as her feet would carry her. By chance she struck into the path and came quickly to the shore where lay the canoe, with Red Ben standing near it.
"Help!" she cried, appealing to him. "Save me! You shall be paid—anything, anything you ask!"
In her excitement she clutched his arm. He turned toward her a grim, immovable face. Not a word did he speak in reply.
Del Norte issued from the path and deliberately approached.
"It is useless, senorita," he declared. "Flee whither you will, there is no escape. You are on an island. This is my Indian comrade."
"Others come," said Red Ben.
"Where?" asked the Mexican anxiously.
The redskin lifted his arm and pointed away over the surface of the silent lake.
"My friends!" gasped the girl. "They are coming to rescue me."
In the distance a black spot lay on the water. The faint clanking of oars was heard.
Del Norte whistled a sharp signal.
In return there was a similar answer.
"Senorita," he laughed, "you are wrong; those who come are my friends."
With the sun slipping down toward the western peaks, another day was passing.
Hidden on the side of a wooded mountain, yet having a position that commanded a wide expanse of country, with a view of the lower hills and valleys, Red Ben lay prone on his stomach. At his side lay a loaded rifle.
In front of the Indian was a precipice, over which he peered at intervals, his keen eyes searching the valley below.
Finally he stirred quickly, sat up and turned with the rifle in his hands.
A man was approaching, but the moment this man appeared plainly in view Red Ben put down the rifle.
Del Norte came hurriedly forward.
"Have you seen anything of pursuers?" he anxiously questioned.
The redskin nodded.
"They near," he answered.
"You have seen them?"
"Down there," with a motion of one brown hand toward the valley beneath them.
"Whither did they go?"
"So," with another gesture up the valley.
"Then they are not on the trail. Your trick in covering our tracks in case they found and followed the trail was successful. Are you sure they were pursuers? Perhaps they were hunters looking for deer."
"No," asserted the Indian decidedly. "Ben he know. Make no mistake. They hunt for lost gal."
"They'll never find her. In that cave she is as safe as if buried a thousand feet underground. Even if they passed within ten feet of the entrance they could not discover it. Was Merriwell with them?"
Ben shook his head.
"No can tell. Ben not know him. Two young men; others older."
From a pocket the Mexican drew a pistol, which he examined, making sure it was in perfect working order. His usually handsome face wore a look that transformed it, while there was a deadly glitter in his black eyes.
"Listen, Ben," he said; "I will describe the hated gringo to you. If he is near, I wish to find the opportunity to meet him again face to face. Twice he has nearly destroyed me, but my escapes have told me my life is charmed, and I know it is next his turn. When again we meet I'll leave him food for the wolves, with this in his heart!"
He suddenly produced and flourished a keen dagger. His description of Frank was accurate and flattering, for he confessed that the young American was handsome and manly in appearance, with a resolute face and a fearless eye. He declared that the redskin could not mistake Merriwell, as the very appearance of the latter proclaimed him a leader among his companions.
"Of course," he added, "I wish no chance to face him in company with many of his friends, but I pray the Virgin he may give me the opportunity alone."
"Not much chance," grunted Red Ben. "How gal?"
"She is wonderful in her courage and defiance. Never did I see her equal, and it is this spirit that makes me love her all the more. How long do you think we'll have to hide here in the cave, Ben?"
"Can't stay long. Little grub."
"If necessary you could bring food at night."
"Mebbe so. Much dangerous to stay long. First chance we best go quick. Your friend they watch her?"
"Yes, they are guarding her now."
"She run quick she git chance."
"She'll have no chance."
The redskin surveyed Del Norte curiously.
"You want marry gal?" he asked.
"I have sworn to make her my wife."
"No good! She no do it. You waste time. You fix um your enemy, better leave her, git out fast. Canada up there. You reach Canada, have chance to git 'way."
"Even with the gringo dead, my triumph would not be complete if she escaped me. I will take her to Mexico."
"Where Mexico?" asked the Indian. "No hear of it any before."
"It is far from here, my own fair land!"
"Gal make heap trouble 'fore you git um there. Ben him know. Him see in her eye how she hate you. Gals no good. Alwus make bad trouble for anybody. Men big fools over gals. Ben know. Once him git foolish over 'nother man's squaw. Heap fight over her. Prit' near git um head shot off. Let squaws 'lone sence that."
"You cannot understand," declared Del Norte, with a gesture. "This thing I have set myself to do I will do, and all the powers of earth shall not thwart me."
Ben grunted and shrugged his shoulders.
"When white man gits that way him go it lickety split till him finish up done for. All right. Ben he got nothin' to say. No waste talk. You pay him, he do all he can for you."
"That's all I ask and all I want. Keep your eyes open. If the hunters come near, give me warning. If Merriwell strays alone, let me know and I will hasten to meet him."
A few moments later the redskin was again left as a sentinel on the mountain side, while Del Norte retraced his steps to the cave where he had sought concealment with his fair captive.
* * * * *
The sun was touching the tip of a rocky western peak. For a long time Red Ben had been watching a solitary man who was making his way slowly and cautiously up the mountain. The eyes of the Indian glittered and his fingers closed firmly on his rifle, which was ready for use.
Nearer and nearer came the unsuspecting man. At times he disappeared from view amid the timber, only to reappear at some point anticipated by the watcher.
Finally he drew near the spot where the Indian lay. Slowly Red Ben pushed forward his rifle, bringing the butt against his shoulder. The muzzle covered the heart of the unsuspecting man, who also carried a rifle.
At that moment the man dropped like a flash and rolled over twice until he lay behind a sheltering bowlder.
Red Ben was astonished, for he realized that the other had scented danger, yet how this had happened was more than the redskin could comprehend.
"Howld on there, ye spalpane!" cried a voice. "Don't be afther shootin' yer bist friend. Oi know ye're there, fer Oi saw th' bushes wiggle a wee bit. If it's Red Ben ye are, ye ought to know Pat O'Toole, so ye had."
The astonishment of the Indian increased, but for some moments he neither spoke nor made a sound.
"Nivver a bit av good will it do to kape so shtill," declared he of the rich Irish brogue. "Oi know ye're there. It's not often Pat O'Toole makes a mishtake."
The Indian sat up, exposing the upper part of his body.
"Come," he invited. "Ben no shoot."
O'Toole rose from his place of concealment, grinning triumphantly.
"Begorra, Oi think Oi saved mesilf a foine hole in me shkin," he chuckled, as he advanced. "Whin Misther Browning towld me about th' Injun in th' boat wid the wolf, sez Oi to mesilf, sez Oi, 'Oi'll bet me loife Oi know th' mon, an' it's Red Ben.' Misther Merriwell wur sure th' spalpane he's afther must be somewhere here, an' it's the counthry all over they are searchin'. Oi took it on mesilf to invistigate this soide av th' mountain, but Oi had me oies open all th' toime. Something towld me ye'd be on th' watch if ye wur with them; an' it's sudint Oi dhropped whin Oi saw th' bushes move."
"How," said Red Ben, accepting O'Toole's extended hand.
"Howdy yersilf. Long toime no see, eh?"
"What you do here?"
"Pwhat th' divvil are you doin', Ben? It's a bad shcrape ye're afther gettin' yersilf in through this girrul business. Arter Oi saved ye from bein' shot full av lead fer foolin' round Bill Curran's woife Oi thought ye'd know betther than to iver monkey wid a female again."
"Ben he no monkey. White man him gal crazy."
"But ye're afther hilpin' him, ye lunatick, an' it's a schrape ye'll foind yersilf in. Oi've known ye tin year now. We've worruked togither guidin' more than wance, and nivver a bit av a quarrel did we have. Oi'd not tell ye a loie, an' Oi want ye to know thot Frank Merriwell will rake these mountains down an' lay them level av he don't foind thot girrul. It's a big oath he has taken to make anny wan shmart thot has caused her wan minute av distress."
"How you know so much 'bout him?" asked Red Ben, a heavy frown on his face.
"It's a long shtory, an' Oi'll not tell ye the whole av it. Oi wur paid to hilp do him a bad turn, an' Oi troied to bate th' head off him. It's a foine lickin' Oi got. Afther thot he saved me loife whin a mad buck had me down an' wur about cuttin' me to pieces wid his hoofs. Sure Oi found him a foine young gintleman, an' it's his friend Oi became. Wid me own hand Oi put a bullet through the head av thot shnale Porrfeeus dil Noort; an' now it's some av Dil Noort's gang that's seekin' to git square by carryin' off Merriwell's girrul. As yer friend, Ben, Oi ax ye to give th' spalpanes th' double-cross an' hilp Frank Merriwell git back th' girrul. Av ye do thot Oi promise ye Oi'll see that nivver a bit av throuble do ye get into. Av ye refuse it's more than wan year ye'll be afther spindin' in jail fer your foolishness."
The Indian had listened with the frown growing deeper.
"Mebbe you go back on me?" he questioned. "Mebbe you tell um Merriwell Red Ben help carry off gal?"
"Oi didn't have to tell him. His bist friend saw ye in your canoe afther ye shtarted wid th' girrul. Ye're in fer it, Ben, me bhoy, onliss ye turrun roight-about-face an' do pwhat ye can fer th' girrul an' to have the indacint rascals pwhat shtole her poonished."
"Sit down," invited the redskin, motioning toward the ground at his side. "We talk it over."
O'Toole accepted the invitation and squatted on the ground.
"Ben he must think," said the Indian. "He must have time to make up him mind."
"Take yer toime, me bhoy," nodded O'Toole, in his pleasantest manner; "but don't yez fergit Oi'm yer friend, an' it's fer your good Oi'm advisin' ye. Th' divvils pwhat shtole th' girrul can't git away, fer Merriwell has tilegraphed it all over this parrut av th' counthry, an' it's big rewards he has offered fer th' apprehinsion av th' rascals. Whin th' shtorm comes, Ben, ye want to git out from under. There'll be a terrible crash, moind pwhat Oi say."
"Ben him git big money for what him do."
"It's litthle good money will do yez wid yer neck shtretched, an' th' bhoys are carryin' ropes fer th' gints pwhat run off wid th' girrul. Oi'd not fool yez fer th' worruld," O'Toole continued, in his most convincing manner. "Says Oi to mesilf whin Oi made up me moind ye wur wid the gints pwhat done ut, said Oi, 'Pat, me bhoy, Ben is yer friend, an' ye are his friend, an' it's up to ye to go along an' foind him an' give him a tip to git under cover before it rains.' Oi'm here. It's roight foine luck Oi found yez. A foine broth av a bhoy is Frank Merriwell, an' whin he knows ye hilped save th' girrul, Oi'll shtake me loife he pays ye well fer it."
The Irishman was doing his level best to win the Indian over, and his words were not without effect. After a while Red Ben said:
"You go to um Merriwell, ask how much he give Ben to bring gal. Ask if him swear Ben no git hurt. Ask if him dare meet Ben an' swear he no git hurt to bring gal. Come soon, tell what him say."
"It's darruk it will be, fer th' sun is down now."
"Ben stay here. Men who steal gal leave him to watch. He stay. You know owl hoot. When you come back make owl hoot so Ben no think it somebody else an' shoot um. Must know what Merriwell him say. Must have him promise."
Evidently the Indian was determined to drive the best bargain possible, and at the same time he was resolved to take every precaution to insure his own safety in case he betrayed Inza's captors.
O'Toole knew the redskin well enough to comprehend quickly that further argument and pleading would be a waste of words. Once Red Ben had set his mind on anything he was stubborn as a mule.
"All roight me bhoy," said the Irishman, rising. "Oi'll do jist pwhat ye say; but don't yez be afther lettin' thim carry off th' girrul whoile Oi'm spinding toime this way. It's a bit nervous Oi am about thrampin' round through th' woods afther darruk since Oi shot thot divvil Dil Noort, but it's no more he'll bother any wan at all, at all, an' soon Oi think some of his foine friends will be in th' same box wid him."
"You shoot um Del Norte?" asked Red Ben, with a show of interest. "Him say Irishman do it, but Ben no think it him friend."
"He said so?" cried O'Toole. "Begorra, thot's th' firrust toime Oi ivver knew av anny wan thot had hearrud a dead mon talk!"
"You think you kill um Del Norte?" asked the Indian.
"Oi know Oi did onless a man can live wid a bullet clean through his head," declared the Irishman.
Out of the shadows suddenly appeared a man, who exultantly cried, as he pointed a finger at O'Toole:
"Diablo! I have you! Traitor, this is my time of vengeance!"
As O'Toole saw before him Del Norte, with a white bandage about his head, the face of the Irishman turned ashen gray and his knees smote together.
"Howly saints!" he groaned. "It is the dead aloive!"
A moment later, uttering a wild shriek of terror, he turned and ran blindly toward the precipice close at hand, over which he rushed, being unable to check himself when he reached the brink.
As the poor fellow fell he uttered another shriek, which was followed by the silence of death.
AT THE FOOT OF THE PRECIPICE.
The strange disappearance of O'Toole, who was unaccountably missing, caused much wonderment among the searchers for Inza Burrage and her captors.
There were at least thirty of these searchers in that vicinity, Frank Merriwell being their leader.
Some hunters camped on the northeastern shore of Lake Placid had seen Del Norte and his companions, having the girl a captive, land at a certain point after leaving the island, conceal the boat and canoe there, and then strike into the wilderness.
These hunters had aided the party of searchers led by Frank to pick up the trail early on the morning following the kidnapping of the girl.
Merriwell's skill as a trailer had enabled him to follow the villains to a point in the vicinity of the mountain where, at the suggestion of Red Ben, Del Norte had sought concealment in a cave, the mouth of which was hidden by thick shrubbery.
The craft of Red Ben in covering the trail had bothered and baffled the pursuers for some time. They had broken up into smaller parties for the purpose of scouring the woods thereabouts. Belmont Bland had insisted on accompanying them, and he clung to Merriwell with a persistence that annoyed Frank, who could not help suspecting the man of treachery.
It was Merry's belief that Bland had been well paid by Del Norte while in New York to betray Old Gripper's plans and keep the Mexican posted on Frank's movements. He had no proof of this, but all Bland's actions had seemed suspicious down to his seeming illness that had prevented him from returning to New York with Watson Scott.
Merriwell communicated his suspicions to Hodge, whom he urged to keep a close watch on Bland. He then divided the searchers into five parties, leaving Bart in charge of the one including Bland, while he took O'Toole with him.
The Irishman had disappeared, and, having appointed a definite spot at which to meet, Frank's party scattered to look for O'Toole and continue the search at the same time.
Was it chance or fate that led Merry to the vicinity of the foot of the precipice over which O'Toole plunged in his unreasoning terror? At any rate, Frank was down there in the gloom of the valley. He heard the last cry that came from the doomed man's lips as he fell, and a few moments later, a short distance away, there came a crashing amid the trees, followed by a sodden thud and silence.
Merry shuddered, for he knew the cry had been that of a human being, and he felt that he would find the unfortunate wretch at the spot where the crash and thud had sounded. With his rifle ready for use, he tried to obtain a position which would command a clear view of the brink of the precipice far, far above him, but this was not easy, and up there on the mountain no living thing seemed stirring.
Darkness was gathering in the silent valley. Through the trees the western sky glowed redly, but this glow was fading and dying behind the black peaks.
That a terrible tragedy had occurred Merry was certain, but whether a human being had fallen from the mountain by some misstep or had been hurled to his doom he could not say.
He did not hesitate long.
Advancing swiftly, alert and ready for anything, he sought the one who had fallen. His keen eyes soon discovered a dark form sprawled on the ground.
"I was not mistaken," he muttered, as he knelt beside the form. "It is a man. Here is where he crashed down through the branches of this tree. Poor devil! Who can it be? I wonder if he still lives."
He turned the man upon his back, discovering signs of life as he did so. Hastily lighting a match, he held the blaze protected by his curved hands and threw the light upon the man's face.
"O'Toole!" he gasped.
The Irishman was breathing faintly, and instantly Frank did what he could to restore him. In a few moments the poor fellow moaned a bit.
Striking another match, Merry found O'Toole's eyes were wide open, but he was bleeding from the mouth and presented a ghastly appearance. He was conscious, however.
"O'Toole, where are you hurt?" asked Merry.
"Me back is broke," was the faint answer. "Oi'm a dead mon."
"What happened? How did you fall? Tell me, for, at least, I may be able to avenge you."
"It's the dead returned to loife!" gasped the dying man. "Oi saw him up there, me bhoy!"
"Who did you see?"
"Thot human divvil Porrfeeus dil Noort."
"Impossible! Del Norte is dead."
"Thin it wur his ghost, fer Oi saw him, with his—face pale—an' a whoite bandage about his head. This is me punishmint—fer havin'—fer havin' anything to do wid th' loikes av him!"
O'Toole labored through this speech with failing strength, and Frank saw he was sinking rapidly.
"Tell me quickly, man," urged Merry, "just where you saw him."
"Up yonder, me bhoy. Red Ben is there. Oi found him, an' Oi wur—talkin' wid him. Oi know Ben, an' Oi saved his loife wance by—by stroikin' up the hand av a mon who wur—goin' to shoot him."
It was with the greatest difficulty that O'Toole labored to draw his breath. Frank was deeply moved by the dying agonies of the unfortunate fellow, for Merry's experience convinced him that the Irishman was indeed dying.
However, Frank felt it his duty to learn everything possible while O'Toole could speak, and so he urged him to go on.
"It's me best Oi—did fer ye, Misther Merriwell—an' fer th' girrul. Oi had Red Ben ready to—ready to turrn on th' villains—pwhat carried her off. It's your promise av protiction he asked fer if he—done thot. Oi wur comin'—to foind ye. Jist thin th'—the divvil—dead ur aloive—walked out, pointin' av—his finger at me. Oi shtarted to run away, an' thin—an' thin Oi fell. Thot's all, me bhoy."
Remarkable and unaccountable though it seemed, Frank came to believe, while O'Toole talked, that Del Norte still lived. That explained the kidnapping of Inza. Merry had wondered that Del Norte's late companions should make such a move; but now, knowing the Mexican's passion for her, the motive of her capture was clear.
The thought of Inza in the hands of that villain fired Frank's blood.
"If Del Norte lives, O'Toole," said Merry, "I swear to you now that you shall be avenged, for never will I know a moment of rest until Inza is rescued and he is dead beyond the shadow of a doubt."
A gurgling groan came from the Irishman. Striking another match, Frank saw the man was dead.
THE KNIFE DUEL.
The moon came up in due time and flooded the wooded mountain wilds with its mellow light.
With the caution of a creeping panther Frank Merriwell had climbed the mountain side. He had waited patiently for the moon to rise, believing it would aid him on that unfamiliar ground. He was now in the vicinity of the top of the precipice over which the Irishman had plunged to his death.
Suddenly a sound reached his ears, causing him to crouch on the alert, with his rifle ready for use.
He quickly decided that some one was approaching the precipice, and in this he made no mistake. Twice he caught a glimpse of the man before the latter appeared in the full moonlight. When this man did appear, Frank's heart gave a mighty bound of exultation, and the butt of the rifle leaped to his shoulder.
"Halt, Del Norte!" he commanded, in a low, distinct voice. "Stand in your tracks! If you try to run I'll shoot you dead!"
Del Norte it was, and he stopped like a man turned to stone.
"Up with your hands!" ordered Merriwell. "Your heart is covered by my rifle!"
For a single instant it seemed that the villain would make an effort to reach cover. Had he attempted it Frank would have shot him down. This Merry did not wish to do, as he intended forcing the scoundrel to give Inza up.
The Mexican's courage to attempt escape by a plunge into the shadows failed him, and reluctantly he lifted his empty hands, snarling an oath.
"Keep them up!" ordered Merry, as he slowly advanced.
But when he was fairly in the moonlight another voice issuing from the shadows near at hand brought him to a halt.
"Drop um gun! Ben him ready to shoot!"
It was the redskin sentinel.
Frank glanced round without turning his head, but he could see nothing of Red Ben.
"Shoot, Ben—shoot him down!" panted Del Norte.
"Ben got him foul," was the assurance. "Him shoot you, Ben shoot him."
"Shoot first, you fool!" snarled the Mexican.
"No shoot 'less have to," was the retort. "Ben he no want hang for murder."
Frank realized that he was in a trap. Were he to fire at Del Norte it was almost certain the hidden redskin would shoot from cover. In his eagerness he had stepped into a bad snare. His wits worked swiftly to discover a manner in which he might extricate himself.
"Del Norte," he quickly said, "listen to me. We have met here face to face, and we are deadly enemies. The end of our enmity must be destruction for one of us. There can be no other end."
"You are the one, Senor Merriwell," declared Del Norte. "Had you shot me from cover you might have escaped. But now——"
"I never strike a foe from cover. We are face to face, and I propose that we settle our trouble man to man in combat. I challenge you to fight me."
"Heap fair," said Red Ben, from the shadows, satisfaction in his voice.
"Why should I agree?" cried Del Norte. "I have the best of you now. A friend of mine has you covered, gringo dog, and he can shoot you down."
"Ben him no do it 'less forced," declared the hidden Indian. "Him make fair offer. Let best man win. You kill him, you have gal. He kill you, he git gal. Heap fair."
Plainly the redskin was delighted with the proposition, and Frank saw this was the only way out of the trap.
"Select the weapons, Del Norte," he said. "I accept Red Ben as the referee. It's plain he believes in fair play."
The Mexican realized there was no method of avoiding the encounter, so he cried:
"It shall be knives, and I'll drive mine through your heart, cur of a gringo! With pistols you would be my equal, but I know the art of fighting with the knife, and I'll cut you to pieces!"
"Knives it shall be," agreed Frank, still holding the man covered. "If you have a pistol, cast it aside. Should you try to shoot as you pretend to drop the pistol, I'll drop you where you are."
Uttering a sneering laugh, Del Norte removed and flung aside his coat, saying his pistol was in it. He produced a knife, the blade of which glittered in the moonlight.
"I have no weapon of that sort," said Merry. "Have you another?"
"Here," called Red Ben.
Something whizzed through the air and fell at Frank's feet.
It was the Indian's hunting knife.
Del Norte was advancing, the moonlight showing a deadly look of hatred on his face.