JACK WRIGHT AND HIS ELECTRIC STAGE; OR, Leagued Against the James Boys.
By "NONAME," Author of "Jack Wright and His Electric Battery Diver," etc., etc.
CHAPTER I. THE BANDIT KING.
As the 11:30 A. M. express train from New York was speeding toward the fisher village of Wrightstown, one of the passengers went out on the rear platform of the last car and intently gazed back along the rails.
He was a compactly built man, with rather rough clothing on, and the soft felt hat on his head shaded a bearded face, which denoted a daring, reckless disposition.
A half smothered oath escaped his lips as he caught view of a locomotive chasing the train he was on, for he distinctly saw a man in the cab whom he recognized as one of his worst enemies.
"Sheriff Timberlake!" he growled between his clenched teeth, as a dark scowl mantled his brow. "Curse him! he is hot after us now, and if he overhauls this train he may give us no end of trouble."
"The skunk has followed us all the way from Missouri, and after we saw the sights of New York, and gave him the slip, he must have discovered that we started for home in this train. Now he has evidently hired that locomotive to chase and capture us. I'll go in and tell the boys. We must keep out of his reach."
His anxiety was caused by observing that the pursuing locomotive was slowly but surely gaining on the train.
Opening the door, he passed into the car.
It was occupied by four men, who were part of a gang of outlaws whom he commanded, for the bearded man was the notorious bandit king, Jesse James.
The men who were with him were known as Jim Cummins, Wood Hite, Clell Miller and Frank James—a brother of Jesse.
Sitting in a bunch, they were quietly laughing and talking over their experience in New York, when the chief hurried in with a look of supreme disgust upon his face.
The moment the rest glanced up at him and saw it, they knew something out of the ordinary had happened.
"What's the matter, Jesse?" demanded Jim Cummins.
"You look as if you'd seen a ghost!" laughed Frank, jocularly.
"What sent you out on the rear platform!" asked Wood Hite.
"Timberlake is after us," said Jesse, with a steely glitter in his eyes.
"Thunder!" roared Clell Miller.
With one accord the quartet pulled revolvers from their pockets, bounded to their feet and sprang into the aisle.
A grim smile passed over the face of Jesse James for a moment, and as it faded sway, he made as impatient gesture and said:
"He is on a locomotive that is chasing us."
"Sure!" asked Cummins, with a dubious look.
"I saw him in the caboose."
"Can he overtake us?" asked Frank.
"Eventually; but we mustn't let him."
"How can we prevent it?" queried Miller.
"By jumping off at the next curve and hiding."
"Good!" exclaimed Wood Hite, "Where's the curve?"
"Just before we reach Wrightstown."
"Let's get ready for it then," suggested Frank.
"All right," assented the bandit king; "but be careful that no one detects us. To avoid being seen we must leave by the rear platform."
As he said this he thrust his head out the open window, and peering ahead, he studied the roadbed.
Satisfied with his scrutiny; he said to his companions:
"There's the curve about a mile ahead."
"Well?" demanded Cummins.
"The train is bound to slacken speed when it goes around. A mass of timber, bushes and rocks abutt into the curve. It will hide our movements from the sheriff's view. We can easily hide there."
Stationing themselves near the rear door, they waited.
In a few minutes the cars reached the curve and went around.
As the last car turned they dashed out upon the rear platform, and one after another they sprang to the ground.
Then they plunged late the bushes.
Gathering speed again, the express train ran away without them, and a few minutes afterward a locomotive came flying along in pursuit of it with an engineer, a stoker and the sheriff in the cab.
The bandits glared from their coverts at Timberlake like so many wild beasts as he sped by, ignorant of the trick they played upon him, and nearly all of them gripped their pistols with a burning desire to fire at him.
It would have been too rash to do that.
In fact Jesse observed their anxiety, and hissed in warning tones:
"Don't drop him!"
In a moment more the locomotive was gone.
The outlaws emerged from their places of concealment.
"How long before Timberlake will discover our ruse?" asked Frank.
"If the train goes on, not for an hour yet," replied Jesse, as he cast a swift glance around. "But we are in a sorry plight now."
"How do you mean?"
"You know we all lost every dollar we had, playing faro in the city. How are we going to ride back to Missouri without a cent? It's my opinion that we'll have to do some work about Wrightstown to get ahead. The last dollar I had went for the purchase of tickets to Missouri, which we gave the conductor."
The gang looked very glum.
"What sort of a place is Wrightstown?" asked Cummins, finally.
"I've heard that it's a fisher village. A young fellow named Jack Wright lives there. He's an inventor of electric machines for flying through the air, navigating under water, and running over the land. Everybody has heard of him. He has the reputation of being one of the richest boys in the country. By means of his famous inventions he has made a barrel of money."
"Then he's our game," said Frank, decisively.
"Yes," assented Jesse. "He's about the only one from whom we could expect to make a rich haul. I hope he's at home. I've got a plan in view now by means of which I can bunco him out of several thousands of dollars, if we can operate the game before the Wrightstown Bank closes."
"What are you going to do?" eagerly asked Miller.
"I'll show you when I try the trick. It's a very smooth game, and if I'm clever enough I'll succeed. Come on to the village, and see if we can operate it. We've got to have money. If we can't get it by means of the plan in view, I'm going to lay out the first man I meet, and go through him."
The rest chuckled at this remark.
Going to the village, they found it to be a thriving place at the head of a beautiful bay on the Atlantic sea coast.
There was a bank on the main street, and when it was located, Jesse said to Frank:
"In nearly all banks there is a desk or table, for the benefit of depositors, on which are pens, ink, deposit slips, and blank checks. You go into the bank, and pocket several of the checks. There's an old hostelry down there near the bay called the Sea Spider House. We will register there, and you'll find us in the bar room."
Frank James nodded, and in a moment his compact and wiry body was going rapidly down the street.
Although Frank was a desperate, fearless ruffian, he had a pleasant face, keen gray eyes, a light mustache, and a most quiet air and unassuming manner.
No one would have suspected him of being a bandit, and as he was a fairly good talker, full of grit and coolness, and best suited for the work in hand, Jesse trusted him implicitly.
The outlaws registered at the hostelry with as much sang froid as if their pockets were lined with gold.
They patronized the bar liberally, had the drinks charged to their account, and ordered a fine luncheon.
Frank soon returned.
He had the blank checks.
Handing them to Jesse he said in low tones:
"No trouble at all. The clerks paid no attention to me."
"They'll soon have reason to remember us," grimly answered Jesse.
Telling his companions to remain there until he returned, he left the hotel, asked a pedestrian the way to Jack Wright's house, and having received the desired information, made his way there.
It proved to be a magnificent mansion, standing in the midst of a handsome garden which sloped down to a creek.
There was a fine big workshop standing at the foot of the garden, upon the bank of this creek, in which the young inventor constructed the machines that made him world renowned.
Jesse James boldly ascended the piazza, rang the bell, and an old sailor with a sandy beard, a glass eye and a wooden leg, answered it.
His name was Tim Topstay, and he lived with the inventor and not only aided him to build his inventions, but always went with Jack on the adventurous journeys he made.
"Waal, messmate," said he, in bluff, hearty tones, as he took a chew of navy plug, and scanned the outlaw with his solitary eye. "Wot kin I do fer yer ter-day?"
"Is Mr. Jack Wright in?" politely asked the bandit.
"He are," replied Tim. "D'yer wanter see him?"
"Yes, sir, and on important business too."
"Then step inter ther library an I'll call him fer ye."
Ignorant of the dangerous nature of the caller Tim ushered him into a cozy library and left him there.
A fat young Dutchman was in the room, but he immediately left it, casting an inquiring look at the bandit king.
His name was Fritz Schneider, and he had yellow hair, watery blue eyes, an enormous stomach and a pugnacious temperament.
Fritz and Tim were chums and the fat fellow occupied about the same position in the house as the old marine did.
A few moments afterward Jack Wright entered.
The outlaw keenly sized him up and observed that he was a well dressed young fellow with a sturdy figure, not particularly good looking as his features were very angular, but his dark eyes showed a very high spirit.
"You wish to see me, sir?" he asked, as he studied Jesse and felt a most repugnant sensation creep over him.
"I have called on a begging expedition," bluntly replied the bandit, inventing a plausible lie. "I live in Missouri, and wish to go home. I was unlucky enough to lose my pocket-book. I am an utter stranger here, and did not know what to do to raise ten dollars to pay my car fare. Having been told that you was a charitable man, I wish to know if you will lend me the money. I will gladly mail the amount to you when I reach home."
"Why certainly I'll let you have it," replied Jack.
"To prove to you that I want the money only for the purpose I mentioned," glibly preceded the outlaw, "you can make out a check payable to the bearer, and you will find the voucher stamped or endorsed by the railroad company in payment for my ticket."
"I would have been obliged to give you a check anyway," laughed Jack, "for I've only got three or four dollars in cash in my pocket. Just wait, and I'll give you the check."
He sat down at his desk, and Jesse saw him pick up several checks exactly like the ones purloined from the bank by Frank.
Jack filled out one of the orders for ten dollars.
He handed it to Jesse, and the bandit thanked him like a very grateful man, repeated his assurance that he would refund the money upon his arrival at home, and then departed.
Jesse James was delighted at his success thus far.
Returning to the hotel, he procured pen and ink, retired to his room and studied Jack's check intently.
The signature to it was a very peculiar one that the most expert forger in the world would have found it almost impossible to imitate.
But the rest of the writing was easy to copy.
The bandit practiced the formation of the different letters for over an hour, and made a good imitation of them.
"And now to raise Wright's cheek," he muttered in tones of exultation, when he saw how successful he was.
CHAPTER II. SWINDLING THE INVENTOR.
The date, number, amount, and figures designating the amount of money Jack's check called for were written.
Jesse now took one of the blank checks Frank got for him, and imitating Jack's writing, he filled it in with the same number as the good check; after the words: "Pay to the order of—-" he wrote, "Bearer," as Jack had done; before the word "Dollars," on the next line he wrote "Five thousand," and after the mark "$—" he put "5,000."
He left out the date and signature.
These were unnecessary in the trick he was playing.
Having satisfied himself that his writing bore a close resemblance to that on Jack's check, he laid the check he had filled out one top of the one Jack gave him with the greatest care, so that all the lines on one were exactly opposite the lines on the other.
This he ascertained by holding them up to the light and staring through the thin paper.
When he had them matched exactly, he located a spot across the width of both where no writing was seen.
Holding the checks tightly together he tore them in two, just as if the two checks were one thickness of paper.
Consequently both were torn exactly alike.
Taking off the two top pieces he laid them side by side, joining the edges where they were torn, and then did the same with the other check.
This done he took the right hand piece of Jack's check, upon which were the date at the top and signature at the bottom.
He then took the left hand piece of the check he had made out and put it to the piece with the signature which Jack inscribed.
The check now, instead of being for ten dollars, called for $5,000 and although a composite thing the signature was no forgery, and that was the principal writing studied by the paying tellers of banks.
It looked like a perfectly genuine check torn in two, for as both checks had been torn together, the curves of one fit the grooves of the other piece to perfection.
Jesse now burned up the remaining two pieces.
"Eureka!" he exclaimed, with an evil smile. "I've done it well. The most experienced bank clerk in the country would fail to detect the deception. Now to get it cashed!"
He put on his hat, and holding the two pieces of check in his hand, he left the Sea Spider House.
Making his way to the Wrightstown bank, he coolly entered, and approaching the paying teller's little brass barred window, he thrust in the two pieces of check and said blandly:
"Please cash that for me."
"You've torn the check in two," said the paying teller.
"I had it in my breast pocket, and as I was coming in the door I put my hand in my pocket to draw it out, when the end of the check caught in some books and it ripped in two."
The paying teller matched the torn ends.
They fitted with the utmost accuracy.
He then keenly scanned the signature.
Familiar with Jack Wright's checks as he was, he saw at a glance that the signature was genuine.
Without the slightest hesitation he cashed the check, paying the bandit with one hundred dollar bills.
Jesse requested him to give him bills of smaller denomination for one of the bank notes, and when this was done, he leisurely counted the money, placed it in his pocket and strolled out into the Street.
Here he came face to face with Jack.
The young Inventor was just about to enter the bank.
The shock upon a man of weaker nerves than Jesse James had, to thus meet Jack, would have been awful.
But the bandit king bad nerves of steel.
He did not start, turn pale, or twitch a muscle.
On the contrary he assumed a cheerful smile, shook hands very heartily with Jack, and said in apologetic tones:
"I deemed it best to pay for my railroad fare in cash, so I came here and got the money for your check, Mr. Wright."
"It's just as well you did," replied the Inventor. "I'm a director of this bank, and hold the position of president. The board meets to-day, and as I need some cash, I'm killing two birds with one stone."
"Very clever," said Jesse. "Good-bye. I must be off."
"Good-day, sir," said Jack, and he entered the bank.
The bandit strode swiftly to the Sea Spider House.
He found his companions dining, and joining them, he made a good meal, and at its conclusion all hands repaired to the bar again, and indulged in several more drinks.
Jesse then startled his companions by pulling out his big wad of bills, and paying the landlord for their fare.
The moment the gang got him alone, Frank whispered:
"Where did you get the roll, Jess?"
"From Jack Wright," laughed the outlaw.
"Tell us about it!"
"Certainly. It was the easiest game I ever played, and I got $5,000 out of it, too. Ha, ha, ha!"
Looks of intense astonishment appeared on the faces of his friends.
He then explained what he had done.
A roar of delight went up from the gang when he finished.
"Bully for you, Jess!"
"Oh, Lord, what a game!"
"You've done splendidly."
"What a roasting for the bank!"
They laughed and chuckled over it for some time.
But suddenly the solemned-faced Frank exclaimed in startled tones:
"Say! Suppose Jack Wright finds out in the bank what you've done! We'll have all the police in this town looking for us. Hadn't we better get out of here?"
"Oh, don't hurry yourself," coolly replied Jesse, as he noted the blank look of dismay on the faces of the rest produced by his brother's words. "There's no danger."
The bandit king always exercised a powerful influence over his brother and his men, and they immediately became imbued with his reckless carelessness, and got over the sadden fright which had for a moment shocked them.
Jesse then questioned the hotel keeper about the departure of trains from there, and learned that they could not leave Wrightstown in less than an hour.
He told his companions the news.
Before the train came in which, they intended to depart, another one arrived from the opposite direction.
Sheriff Timberlake was aboard.
His locomotive had caught up with the express train, and he boarded her, and learned that a passenger had seen five men spring aground at the Wrightstown curve.
As Jesse James and his men were not aboard, he at once presumed it was they who had thus eluded him.
He, therefore, alighted at the next station, and boarded the first train back for Wrightstown.
By dint of inquiring, he discovered that five men who answered to the description of his prey, were at the Sea Spider Hotel, and made his way there.
When he reached the hotel, he learned that the men were there, and had retired to one of the rooms.
Timberlake was a man who never wasted words.
When he spoke or acted, it was to the point.
He therefore made no remark, but quickly made his way up-stairs, sure that he had his prey cornered.
By moving quietly, and listening at the different doors, he finally located the sound of several voices coming from the room occupied by the James Boys.
He recognized them at once as the voices of the gang whom he had tracked to New York.
"It's time to get ready, boys," he heard Jesse say.
"We've got ten minutes yet," replied Cummins.
"Just time enough to reach the depot," added Frank.
The sheriff smiled, and produced a brace of revolvers.
Flinging open the door he saw the five men in the bedroom, sitting around a table upon which stood an empty whisky bottle and a deck of cards with which they had been amusing themselves.
Leveling his pistols at the outlaws he cried:
"Timberlake!" roared Jesse.
"Quick, obey or I'll fire!"
"Caught!" muttered Frank.
"I've got the drop on you!"
They saw that resistance was simply madness, so up went their hands and the keen glance of the sheriff swept over the party and he counted four men.
Miller was missing.
For a moment there was deep silence.
The bandits had time to recover from their panic.
"Let up, Timberlake, and I'll give you $5,000," said Jesse.
"Not for ten times that amount," replied the sheriff.
"You can't take all of us."
"Two will do—you and Frank."
"Will nothing bribe you?"
"Absolutely nothing." Jesse uttered a sharp signal whistle.
It echoed piercingly through the hotel, and the sheriff started and demanded with a frown:
"What did you do that for?"
"To summon assistance," coolly replied Jesse.
"You won't get any here."
"Oh, yes, we will. You'll see."
"I am going—-"
He never finished that sentence.
Miller had heard the danger signal, came up in the hall, saw how the situation stood, and stealing up quietly behind Timberlake, he dealt the plucky officer a stunning blow with the butt of his pistol.
It knocked the sheriff down.
He was hardly prostrate before the whole gang was upon him, and while one took the pistols away from him, the rest bound and gagged him.
He thus was rendered perfectly helpless.
When he recovered from the effect of the blow, he found himself at the mercy of the gang, unable to move or speak, and tied up to the old-fashioned bed post.
"Fool," said Jesse, standing before him, and bending a burning glance upon him of mingled hate and rage. "Are you soft enough to imagine you can get away with all of us single handed?"
Timberlake did not reply of course.
But the look of intense fury he bestowed upon Jesse, amply evinced all that was passing in his mind.
"We are going to leave you here," preceded the king of the bandits, "and we are going back to Clay County. I'd like to blow your head off before we go, but that would run my bead in the hangman's noose. If you are unlucky enough to stumble across my path again, though, I shall be less merciful. I'd wipe you out as I would a viper."
Gagged as he was, Timberlake remained silent.
"Come, boys, let us begone," said Jesse turning to his companions. "We barely have time to catch the train."
They filed out of the room, and Jesse locked the door, carried the key away, and they left the hotel.
Making speed, they quickly reached the railroad depot.
A train was just leaving.
They quickly boarded it.
Away they were whirled to Missouri.
And that was the last Wrightstown ever saw of them.
CHAPTER III. THE ELECTRIC STAGE.
Toward evening a chambermaid in the Sea Spider House went up to the room which had been occupied by the James Boys and discovered Sheriff Timberlake bound and gagged.
She was very much frightened at first, and ran screaming from the room, for she thought the apartment was vacant and had gone up to put it in order.
The landlord heard her shrieks, learned what frightened her, and hastening up to the room liberated the sheriff.
"Another victim of these villains!" he exclaimed.
"Have they got the best of some one else?" asked Timberlake.
"Yes; the evening paper contains an account of a clever check swindle they played on the Wrightstown Bank, by duping Jack Wright, the most respected young citizen in this town."
"How long have they been gone?"
"They departed a few minutes after you went up here at noon."
"Do you know which way they went?"
"The paper says they boarded a westbound train."
"In that case they've given me the slip again."
"Why did they treat you this way?"
"I am the sheriff of Clay County, Missouri, and they were Jesse and Frank James, the notorious bandits, and three of their gang."
"Good heavens! and I harbored them here!"
"Of course you did not know who they were."
"Certainly not, if I had I would have handed them over to the police."
"Let me read the newspaper account."
The landlord handed him the paper.
He read the article, which gave an account of how Jack Wright had been cheated, and added, in conclusion, that after the inventor entered the bank he discovered the swindle.
The police were notified.
They traced the James Boys to the hotel.
But when they got there the birds had flown.
Hastening to the railroad depot, they discovered that the bandits had made their escape on the cars.
They telegraphed to the authorities ahead of the train at its first stopping place to arrest the bandits.
But the reply finally came back that the cars did not stop there, as the bandits had taken possession of the engine, and were seen forcing the engineer to keep the train going by menacing him with their pistols.
Timberlake was not surprised at this.
He knew that there were no more desperate men than the James Boys, and was aware that they would resort to any means to escape.
"I can't do anything farther," he sighed. "At least, not until I get back to Missouri. I think I'll call on Jack Wright, and get all the facts from him of the bank swindle."
He thereupon left the hotel.
Going to Jack's house, he found the inventor in.
Introducing himself, and showing his credentials, the sheriff had a long talk about the matter with the inventor.
In conclusion, he said:
"For a long time I have tried every means to capture those bandits. But they slip away from me with the most remarkable ease every time I feel surest I've got them. There's a reward of $5,000 offered by the governor of the State for their capture, and I and a Pinkerton detective named Carl Greene have been making the most desperate efforts to capture the James Boys, and break up their gang. We have thus far failed to do so."
"Why has it been such a difficult task?" asked Jack.
"In the first place, Jesse James owns a horse named Siroc which is unequaled in speed and intelligence by any horse in the world that I know of, and he can easily outfoot the fleetest animal that ever chased him."
"Well," asked Jack, "suppose an electric overland engine were to chase that remarkable quadruped, don't you think he might be overtaken? The engine I refer to can run at the rate of fifty miles an hour over rough ground."
"Any engine could last longer than a horse, and such a machine as you mention could outspeed that horse. But, of course, such an engine is an utter impossibility."
"You are mistaken," said Jack, quietly.
"How so?" asked Timberlake, with a puzzled look.
"Because I have got such an engine."
"Just finished building it."
"And it runs by electricity?"
"On the ground."
"And at fifty miles an hour?"
"Yes. I have tested her to that speed."
"This, if true, is most extraordinary."
"No, it isn't. I have constructed such machines before."
"I've been told you are an inventor of electrical contrivances."
"Do you doubt the probability of such an engine?"
"Candidly, I do."
"Do you want me to prove it?"
"By all means."
"Then come with me. I'll show it to you."
"I am burning with curiosity to see the wonderful affair."
Jack smiled and led his caller out into the yard.
Proceeding to the door of the workshop he opened it with a latch key and they entered a very large room.
It was cast in gloom.
Jack turned a switch on the wall.
Instantly scores of brilliant incandescent electric lamps were put in circuit and blazed out, illuminating the room as if by day.
A strange-looking vehicle in the form of a stage was disclosed standing in the middle of the apartment.
Jack pointed at it and said:
"There's the machine that will do all I claimed for it."
"By thunder, that's an odd looking affair!"
"She certainly is a peculiar carriage."
"Yet she is very handsome, light, and durable."
"Lift one end of her. You will be amazed at her weight."
"How can one man lift such a heavy thing as that?"
"Try, and you'll see."
The sheriff complied.
He was astonished to find he could raise her,
Jack burst out laughing at his amazed expression.
"I can't imagine what material she can be made of!" said the officer.
"It's aluminum," replied Jack, "Have you a revolver?"
"Yes—a 32 calibre weapon."
"If you will put a bullet through her I'll give you $10,000."
Timberlake's surprise increased, and he drew his weapon.
Aiming it at the vehicle in various places he blazed away.
Six shots were thus fired.
He then closely examined the Terror, as the stage was named, and although he saw where each of the heavy caliber bullets had struck the machine, he failed to find a perforation.
In fact he picked up the bullets from the ground fused and battered out of shape.
Jack watched him with an amused smile.
"What do you think of that for bullet-proof armor?" he asked.
"It is simply wonderful—extraordinary!"
Timberlake scanned the engine with newly awakened interest.
It was about thirty feet long, by ten in breadth, rode on four broad cogged wheels, and was set on strong, flexible springs.
Under the middle of the car was a powerful motor for revolving the wheels, in front of the dashboard was a projecting ram over which stood a search-light of 90,000 candle power, above the forward wheels were air brakes, the driver's seat was in front, and before it stood a steering wheel and several levers.
All the actions of the Terror were controlled by these levers.
Each side of the car was indented with four windows and four bull's-eyes, there was a door front and back, and a rear platform from which hung a ladder to get on and off.
The lower section of the walls consisted of metal plates, while the upper part was made of aluminum wire netting, there was a small smokestack on top of the roof, and on each side a railed platform.
Her interior was divided by partitions into three rooms, the forward one being a general living room containing bunks for sleeping, the middle one was a combined dining room and kitchen, the cooking being done on an electric stove, and the rear room was for storage.
In it water and provisions, arms and ammunition, tools and many other useful articles were to be stowed.
There were two compartments—one under the sleeping room floor in which stood the mechanism for running the Terror, and the other beneath the store room floor, in which stood a small powerful dynamo which operated automatically by a spring clockwork.
All the room lamps and the search-light derived their current from the dynamo, while it worked the motor, and that in turn operated the driving wheel machinery.
"It don't require a skilled electrician to see how the Terror operates." said Jack, as he showed the sheriff the interior, "for I have based her construction upon the simplest known principles."
"Oh, I can readily see how she ought to work."
"I'll give you an example," said Jack, seating himself behind the steering wheel and pulling a lever.
That set the clockwork in motion, it spun the dynamo armature, a current was generated, flashed into the motor, the shaft operated the machinery, and the Terror rolled ahead.
When she reached the end of the room he reversed the lever and she backed to the other wall.
He then ran her around the room in a circle, steering by the wheel, and attained a tremendous velocity; he put on the brakes and she stopped within a few feet, and he turned a switch that caused the search-light and lamps in her to glow.
By the time he finished the sheriff was wild with admiration of the extraordinary vehicle.
"For what purpose did you build her? he asked Jack, when they finished maneuvering her, and alighted.
"Just for fun, I have plenty of money and leisure, and a strong liking for building these electrical inventions."
"But why did you say she could catch Jesse James' horse Siroc?"
"Simply because I have made up my mind to do so?"
"What! Go to Missouri in pursuit of the James Boys?" asked Timberlake, as he took up Jack's remark.
"Yes, sir. I or the bank have lost five thousand dollars by a mean trick the bandit king played on me, and I mean to recover it."
"League yourself with the State Government against the outlaws, and you may not only recover the stolen money, but you stand a mighty good chance of winning the standing reward of five thousand dollars for the arrest and conviction of the James Boys."
"The money is no temptation to me whatever," asserted Jack. "I don't need it. But you must consider that I was greatly chagrined and mortified when I discovered what a clever game had been played upon me, and I am very anxious to even matters up with those villains. Besides, I rather like the wild, exciting adventures in view if I run after those outlaws."
"You must not forget that it may cost your life."
"Oh, I am aware of that! And say—-"
"How would you like to accompany us?"
"First-rate. I would be of great help to you, too, as I am familiar with all parts of the State."
"That settles the matter then. You go with us."
"When will you depart?"
"I'm going to write to the Governor of Missouri, and I'll go just as soon as I get a reply from him."
"I'll write him at the same time then, and I feel confident that we won't be there long before we break up that gang of outlaws, and have the James Boys behind the bars."
CHAPTER IV. OFF FOR MISSOURI.
The sheriff resolved to remain in Wrightstown, and start from there on the Terror, with Jack and his two friends.
While awaiting a reply from the Governor of Missouri he put up at the Sea Spider house, and went daily to the young inventor's workshop to help get the engine ready.
Jack had to purchase many necessary articles to equip the electric engine, and while they were stocking her, he said one day to Timberlake:
"As you are the sheriff of Clay County, Missouri, I cannot understand what, right you had to desert your post of duty there, and go off on a chase after the James Boys all the way to New York."
"That mystery can easily be explained," replied Timberlake with a smile. "I was taking a vacation, to which I am entitled, when I learned of their proposed trip to the metropolis to see the sights. Instead of taking a rest, I became excited into a longing to capture them, and started in pursuit as a detective would have done."
"Oh, that accounts for it!"
"You see I always carry with me a warrant for the arrest of the James Boys and their gang, and therefore was prepared to take them had luck favored me."
Just then Tim stumped up to them, and proffering a plug of tobacco to the sheriff he asked:
"Have a chew?"
"No, I never use plug."
"Yer werry welcome, said Tim, and he took a bite.
"Don't mention it," laughed the sheriff.
"I've been havin' a awful hard time o' it, Timberlake."
"You don't say, Tim! What has happened?"
"Oh, 'twuzn't nuthin' wot occurred lately."
"To what do you refer then?" asked the perplexed sheriff.
"A leetle incident wot happened ter me when I wuz aboard o' the ole frigate Wabash in ther navy."
"Indeed! Was you in the navy?"
"A good many years, sir. Whar else did I git this leg blowed off?"
"You was just going to mention something that happened."
"Ay, ay. So I wuz. Yer see, it happened this way. We wuz a coastin' through ther Red Sea one brilln' arternoon, watchin' ther monkeys an' crocodiles on ther Arabian shore when all at onct I noticed a queer yaller-redness in ther sky on ther Afriky shore. It wuz caused by a simoom. Great clouds o' sand, driv' by the wind, wuz a-rushin' acrost ther desert toward ther ship, an' as it came out toward us, we seed we wuz doomed."
"You were in a mighty tight box," observed the sheriff, interestedly.
"Keel haul me if we wuzn't," agreed Tim, with a nod. "Waal, sir, we knowed that ther minute them ere clouds o' red-hot sand came down on ther ship, it would bury us an' bake us ter death. All my messmates wuz skeered ter death, an' droppin' down upon thar marrer bones about ther deck, they begun ter pray like sons of guns. Did I give away ter ther general panic? Not much.
"Cause why? I'll tell yer. A way ter save ther ship an' crew occured ter me. Wot wuz it? Yer'll see. Yer know as crocodiles is reckoned ther fastest swimmers in ther water. Waal, sir, as soon as I seed that ere storm abarin' down on us I knowed as our only chance to save ourselves laid in runnin' away from it. Now thar wuzn't wind enough for ther sails ter do it, so wot does I do but gits a rope; then I jumped overboard right in ther midst o' them crocodiles. Afore yer could count ten I made a slipnoose fast about ther necks o' forty o' them animiles, got back aboard the frigate an' tied ther other and o' ther line ter the capstan. Then I took a spear an' cllmbin' out on ther bowsprit I began ter jab 'em an' away they went, pullin' ther frigate along like greased lightning—-"
"I ain't done yet—-"
"But I tell you—-"
"Awarst thar! As I wuz asayin' along we went like fury, ther simoon chasing arter us. It wuz a terrible race an' I yelled and poked at them ere crocodiles like mad.
"In a few moments we wuz makin' eighty knots an hour, an' I noticed as we wuz pullin' away from that ere storm werry stiddy, ontil at last we lef it astarn, an' ther ship wuz saved. You'd oughter seed how glad my poor messmates wuz when I finally cut ther crocodiles loose an' we sailed in clear water—-"
"It must have been great," dryly said Timberlake.
"Ay now," proudly replied Tim. "That it wuz, sir."
"Say, Tim, that would be a splendid yarn only for one thing."
"An' wot might that be, Mr. Timberlake?"
"Crocodiles can't live in salt water, and as the Red Sea is exceedingly briny, I don't understand how the ones you captured could have been there and submitted to being harnessed as you did it, without offering to make a meal of you."
A rather startled look crossed Tim's face.
He thoughtfully rubbed his big red nose and gasped:
The fact was Tim was an awful liar.
He seldom spun a yarn without being tripped up.
That is the trouble with most liars; they generally make an error in their stories which won't stand analysis.
"Will you be kind enough to explain how those saurians happened to be in that sea in such a docile frame of mind, Tim?" asked Timberlake, with a provoking smile of derision.
"No, sir," flatly answered the old sailor, who was utterly at a loss how to clear himself. "The fact are, sir, as I never gives explanations e' my yarns, an'—-"
But here he was interrupted.
By the wild shriek of an accordeon.
In the hands of Fritz.
The Dutchmen hated Tim's yarns.
And Tim hated Fritz's music with equal fervor.
Consequently, while the yarn caused the fat fellow to strike up his frantic melody, the music grated on Tim's ears so that a wild desire entered his soul to pulverize the Dutchman.
"Hey!" he howled, shaking his fist at Fritz. "Belay thar!"
"Shiminey Christmas, vos yer tink I vould listen ter some more ohf dem lies mitoud dot I trownd it oud alretty?" fiercely bellowed Fritz, working away at the wheezy box.
"Ye kin dash my toplights if I don't wipe up ther floor wi' yer then!" yelled Tim, and he made a rush for Fritz.
"Shtood beck!" roared the Dutchman. "Stob a leedle, or py yiminey I soak yer in der chaw mit dot moosic!"
He brandished his accordeon in the air by the strap as he spoke, and as it opened out and his fingers were pressing on several of the keys, it let out a shrieking groan horrible to hear.
Tim did not pause.
His spunk was up.
As soon as he reached Fritz be gave a whoop and jumped on him.
The next moment they were tangled up in a heap on the floor, and a terrific struggle began between them, the sailor trying to put his wooden leg through the accordeon, and the Dutchmen industriously striving to gouge Tim's glass eye out.
In the midst of the scuffle, a monkey and parrot came flying in from the next room, howling like fiends.
The parrot was named Bismarck.
Whiskers was the name of the monkey.
Fritz owned the bird, and Tim claimed the animal.
They had once been captured in Africa by their masters.
Since then the sailor and Dutchman invariably took their pets off on the expeditions they made in Jack's inventions.
Between Bismarck and Whiskers there existed a deep rooted enemity, which always culminated in pitched battles.
The monkey had been chasing the parrot when Tim and Fritz got fighting, and as these two creatures possessed more than ordinary intelligence, they at once determined to take sides with their respective owners.
"Whee!" bowled Whiskers, and he hopped on top of Fritz's head, grabbed him by the hair, and tried to pull it out by the roots.
"Mild up, Boilvar!" yelled the slangy bird, as he fastened his beak in Tim's ear. "Waow! Whoop her up, boys! Cracker! Crack—-"
Biff! went Tim's hand against Bismarck's head, interrupting him.
Bang! went Fritz fist against the monkey's neck sending him spinning.
"Wow!" screamed Whiskers.
"Root, you sucker, root!" yelled Bismarck.
Then he made a dive at the monkey, and as Whiskers scampered away, the parrot flew after him, plunged his beak in Whiskers' tail, and away they flew into the next room.
Just then Jack interrupted the fracas.
"Stop, boys, and attend to business!" he sung out.
Tim and Fritz were accustomed to obeying him, and ceasing hostilities at once, they rose, and the old sailor asked solemnly:
"Goin' ter stop playin' if I stops yarnin'?"
"For sure, Mikes," replied Fritz. "Put it dere."
They shook hands and that settled the matter.
Work on the electric stage was resumed, and by noon they had her in perfect condition for her long journey.
When they entered the house they met Jack's beautiful wife and bright little son.
Answers had arrived from Missouri.
The governor wrote Jack the following lines:
"Mr. Jack Wright,—In reply to your letter I beg to assure you of my heartfelt gratitude for your kind offer to try to apprehend the James Boys and break up their villainous gang. These outlaws have too long been a terror to the community, and there is not a decent man, woman or child in the state who would not be glad to hear of the extermination of the gang. The list of crimes for which the James Boys are amenable is too long and too horrible to enumerate here in detail. Let it suffice that there are charges of every description in the category against them, including many atrocious murders.
"So bitter is the feeling against them that a reward of five thousand dollars has been offered for the James Boys, dead or alive. I enclose warrants and all necessary authority for you to act in league with the officers of this State in the capture or killing of the bandits in question, and sincerely trust that you will meet with entire success. By this mail have also written to Sheriff Timberlake whom I am delighted to hear intends to go with you on your perilous expedition. He is a brave and true man, in whom I have the most implicit confidence. Yours truly, John Doe."
The papers in Jack's envelope were entirely satisfactory.
Timberlake's letter was of a personal nature, and when he finished reading it, and heard what was communicated to Jack, he said:
"Well, now that all details are settled, when do you intend to go in pursuit of the outlaws?"
"To-night," replied Jack. "We have everything ready but the stowage of our clothing aboard."
"Good! The sooner the better."
"I tink so neider," agreed Fritz.
"That settles it, then," Tim added.
It did not take them long to put their clothing and the parrot and monkey aboard the Terror.
When night fell, Jack took leave of his wife and child.
They all then boarded the electric stage. Jack taking his seat at the wheel, and she started.
Many people in the village streets saw them as they went flying by, and heartily cheered them on their way, as the news of Jack's intention had got abroad.
The Terror soon left Wrightstown behind.
Following the hard country road he sped along swiftly, and soon was lost to the view of the villagers.
CHAPTER V. THE JAMES BOYS' MOTHER.
The trip to Missouri was made without adventure by the Terror, but her peculiar appearance aroused the wonder of everybody who saw her during her journey through several States.
Late in the afternoon of a pleasant day she passed Kearney, in Clay County, and followed an old country road.
A few miles from the town she arrived near a neat old log house standing back in a wooded pasture near the road.
This house contained three rooms; in the front yard were several lilac bushes, and all the way from its fences to the town many farm houses lined the road.
Sheriff Timberlake sat on the steerer's seat of the electric stage beside Jack, and the moment the old fashioned Western home referred to came in view he pointed at it and said:
"There is the home of the James Boys."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Jack, eying the house intently.
"Yes; it is the residence of Dr. Reuben Samuels, their step-father, and the mother of the two villains. She's a Tartar about her boys—a regular she-fiend in temper, although a woman of fifty-five. Ah—see! There she is now!"
He pointed at the house.
The woman, in a gingham dress, stood at the door.
She was shading her eyes with her hand.
A look of surprise crossed Jack's face as he glanced at her.
"Why," said he, "she has only got one arm."
"Yes; the other was blown off by the explosion of a hand grenade which a Pinkerton detective threw into the house some years ago in an attack upon her sons. There was a younger son of hers killed by the same bomb."
Mrs. Samuels was suspiciously and curiously eying the Terror as it rolled toward her.
Then she suddenly disappeared in the house.
Her action struck Jack as being very significant.
"Did you see that!" he asked the sheriff.
"Yes. She's a queer, violent tempered woman,"
"Perhaps she has gone in to warn her sons of our coming."
"By thunder, you may be right."
"We'd better search that house, Timberlake."
"I intend to do so."
"The woman is acquainted with you, ain't she?"
"Well, I should say so," laughed the officer. "I've been here often enough to be pretty well known. My posse has shot bullets into nearly every square inch of that house and the fence, in our past efforts to get at the two bandits."
"The woman can't have much affection for you."
"She would gladly kill me, I believe, if she had the chance."
By this time the Terror reached the house.
Jack cut out the current and alighted with his companion.
They knocked at the door, and a moment later it was opened by Mrs. Samuels, who glared at her callers and demanded:
"Well—what do you want, Timberlake?"
"Your sons, madam," blandly replied the officer.
"They ain't here."
"I am not sure of that."
"Search the house if you like."
"Thank you. I shall."
He swiftly passed inside and went through the rooms, but saw nothing of the James Boys.
Jack remained at the door with the woman.
He saw by her nervous manner that she was smothering a feeling of intense agitation.
Whether it came from her aversion of the officer, or because her sons were around, Jack could not judge.
"That's a mighty queer wagon you've got there," she remarked presently, as she pointed at the Terror.
"Yes," replied Jack. "It is designed to run down your sons."
She started, and a tigerish look flashed from her eyes.
"So you are leagued against them, too, eh!" she hissed.
"Yes. I am here to capture them if I can."
"But you will never succeed."
"That remains to be seen."
At this moment Timberlake rushed out.
He was terribly excited.
A smothered cry of alarm escaped Mrs. Samuels.
"I've seen them!" gasped the officer.
"Where?" demanded Jack, quickly.
"Both were here. She warned them. They got down in the cellar. I found a tunnel there, leading over to that timber. They had gone through. Jesse's horse, Siroc, and Frank's horse, Jim Malone, must have been tethered there, for they mounted and dashed away."
"Get aboard, and we'll chase them."
"You shall not go!" hissed the woman.
She slammed the door shut, and put her back against it, a look of fierce determination upon her face.
It was clear that she designed to delay them so as to give her fugitive sons as long a lead as possible.
Jack saw through her scheme.
"Get away from there! he cried, sternly.
"You can't leave this house!" she shrieked.
"I see through your plan."
"Stand back, or I'll brain you with this!"
She had been holding her hand behind her back.
As she now brought it into view, they saw that she held a hatchet with a keen, glittering edge.
"This way, Mr. Wright!" cried Timberlake.
And he dove headfirst through a window.
Jack started to follow him, when the woman rushed after him with the hatchet upraised.
There was no such emotion as fear in the mother of the Missouri bandits, and she had bred her ferocity and evil will into her two detestable children.
Jack's life was in danger, for she could have dealt him a death blow with the weapon before he could get out the window after the sheriff.
He therefore turned upon her.
The young inventor was noted for his enormous strength.
Avoiding an ugly blow she aimed at his head by nimbly leaping aside, he seized the hatchet before she could raise it again and made an effort to take it away from her.
She was wonderfully strong in her single arm.
In fact, the strength she lost with the arm which had been blown off seemed to have concentrated in this remaining arm.
Jack found it no easy matter to get the weapon, for she held on to it with great persistence, and exerted every device to delay him as long as possible.
"You shall not have it!" she raved as she struggled.
"Let up!" cried Jack, losing patience. "I don't want to use you roughly on account of your sex and crippled condition. But I'll have to do it."
He thereupon tore the hatchet from her hand.
Flinging it into the next room, he saw her spring toward him, and make an effort to grapple him.
Struggling with women was very distasteful to Jack.
He therefore avoided her and rushed out the door.
She ran after him screaming and threatening, but he kept out of her reach and got upon the stage.
The sheriff was already aboard.
Jack sent the Terror flying along the road.
In a few moments she was out of reach of the woman.
There was a door in the forward part of the vehicle beside Jack, and Tim and Fritz now opened it.
"Gee whiz," chuckled the old sailor. "She wuz ther most piratical craft in petticoats wot I ever seen!"
"I don't blame her for trying to protect her sons."
"Yah; but she vos delay us!" growled Fritz.
"Only a few moments."
"There they go now!" cried Timberlake.
He pointed up the road at two flying horsemen.
They were so far away that their figures could hardly be distinguished, and their steeds were going like the wind.
"What a magnificent black horse," commented Jack.
"That's Siroc," informed the sheriff, "Jesse's horse."
"We'll overhaul them though."
"Let her fly if you wish to succeed."
"Are you sure they were the James Boys?"
"Certain. I did not get very near them, but noticed that one wore a heavy beard and the other a mustache. They had on riding boots, with the legs of their pants tucked in the tops, flannel shirts and soft felt hats, while around their waists were buckled cartridge belts into which were thrust a knife and brace of revolvers a piece."
"Does that description tally with the general appearance of the James Boys?" asked Jack.
"Yes. I am sure it was them."
The young inventor put on full voltage.
It caused the motor to fairly buzz, and the Terror shot ahead along the road with the velocity of an express train.
She rapidly bore down upon the fugitives.
It was a long and exciting chase, though, for Siroc and Jim Malone were wonderfully fleet horses.
Several miles were thus covered.
Finally, though, the machine drew close to the two riders.
"Halt!" shouted Jack.
Casting a quick glance back the riders obeyed.
So suddenly did they pull up their steeds, that they rose on their haunches and pawed the air.
The four inmates of the Terror had them covered with their rifles, and when the horses came down and wheeled around, a shout of chagrin escaped Timberlake.
"What do you mean?" asked Jack, in surprise.
"They ain't the James Boys."
"Sure enough. But the horses belong to the bandits."
"Yes; that's how I was deceived. Now I see through it. I've been tricked. I really chased Jesse and Frank from the tunnel. They put these men on their horses and hid, while their two men rode off to decoy us from the spot so they could escape."
Such was really the way it happened.
Jack had stopped the Terror, and now shouted to the two men, who were part of the James Boys' gang.
"Throw your hands up!"
Both men obeyed.
"Don't fire!" pleaded one of them.
"That depends on how you answer me."
"What do you want to know, sir?"
"You just heard our version of how the James Boys eluded us?"
"We did, sir."
"Is it correct?"
"Are you members of their gang?"
"Where have they gone!"
"I refuse to tell you!"
"Your life depends upon it."
"I don't care. I won't betray them."
"Fool! I will count three. If you don't answer, we'll fire!"
"Go ahead!" was the defiant reply.
"One!" exclaimed Jack.
The two bandits did not flinch.
"Two!" sternly cried the inventor.
Still the men stubbornly refused to speak.
A deathly silence ensued for a moment.
Then the weapons in the hands of our friends were discharged.
CHAPTER VI. SHADOWING A LONE HORSEMAN.
Although there was a tacit understanding among the crew of the Terror to fire over the heads of the two bandits to frighten them they imagined that they were to be shot down in cold blood.
It electrified them.
An instant before Jack gave the order to fire they plunged their spurs into the flanks of the horses.
One animal sprang to the right and the other to the left.
It was done like lightning.
Both steeds were well trained.
Siroc cleared a hedge and wheeling to the right went flying back in the direction he came from, while Jim Malone went thundering in among some rocks and vanished.
Both bandits imagined they had a narrow escape from death, although the fact was they had been in no danger at all of being shot from their horses.
Our friends burst out laughing.
"Badly scared," said Jack.
"Oh, Lord, wot cowards!" Tim chuckled.
"Ain't they likely to return to the James Boys?" asked the sheriff.
"Dot vas more as likely," agreed Fritz. "If dem vas der Chames Poys' horses vunct, dey vill back by deir owners go, don't it?"
Jack peered around.
At some distance off to the south was a forest.
He caught view of both horses plunging into it.
"That settles our pursuit of them!" he exclaimed, in disgust. "We can't follow them among those trees, and as they seem to realize it, they've taken advantage of the timberland."
"We might keep a watch upon the woods anyway," suggested Timberlake. "They are bound to come out somewhere sooner or later. If we can get upon their track we may yet force them to lead us to the bandits' rendezvous."
"It won't hurt to follow the plan," assented Jack; "for we haven't the remotest idea where to look for the villains."
He thereupon steered the Terror toward the trees, and as Fritz was a good cook and had charge of the culinary arrangements, he set about getting their supper ready.
It was a waste of time to guard the forest.
Several days passed by and nothing was seen of the two men.
They had gone straight through the timberland at a gallop, and emerging on the other side, rode rapidly away.
Jack and his friends had therefore been watching and hunting for a mere phantom, as it were.
The young inventor quickly arrived at this conclusion, and on the evening of the third day he said to Tim:
"It's my opinion that there isn't anyone at all in the woods, and I'm going to give up the watch and move on."
"Ay, ay, that's ther bes' plan. I quite agree wi' yer, lad."
"Those fellows would not be foolish enough to remain in that forest all this time for nothing."
"If they wuz thar, I'm mighty sure as we'd a sighted somethin' o' them long afore this, my hearty. I recollect when I wuz in ther navy how I wuz once fooled this way. Yer see we'd been chasin' one o' ther enemy's ships, an' drove her into a lagoon. Thar we pounded her with our guns, an' ther crew desarted her, an' went ashore. We sunk ther ship, an' mannin' ther boats, we pulled ashore arter ther crew. We found ther shore lined with cliffs a thousand feet high. Thar wus no coast, that water beatin' up again ther base o' ther cliffs on all but ther seaward side o' ther lagoon. There wuz one indentation in the cliffs, covered wi' trees an' bushes, inter which ther hull crew went an' hid. Waal, sir, we landed thar, an' beat about lookin' fer 'em. Thar wuzn't no possible way fer 'em ter git away unseen, with ther water in front, them high cliffs surroundin' 'em on three sides, an' only a small plot o' ground filled wi' trees an' bushes fer 'em to hide in. So yer see we wuz sure o' catchin' 'em. Yet, when we'd sarched ther hull place not a sign o' them wuz ter be found! They'd wanished as complete as if ther arth had swallered 'em up. Now wuzn't that a worry mysterious perceedin'?"
As Tim asked this, he refreshed himself with a chew of tobacco.
Jack did not reply.
He had his glance fixed upon the woods.
Taking it for granted that he had aroused the curiosity of the young inventor to fever heat, Tim continued:
"Waal, sir, everybody wuz puzzled cept me. Wot had become o' them lubbers wasn't werry plain. Howsome ever, when they gave up huntin' I made up my mind as I'd locate ther fugitives. Goin' over ter ther cliff I examined ther face of it, an' found a trap door. Openin' it, I entered a cave. Thar they was, armed wi' rifles, pistols, cutlasses and knives, an' ten o' them sprung ter thar door astarn o' me ter cut off my retreat while ther rest aimed thar weapings at me. Did I run? No, sir. Wot did I do? Stood. Wot happened then? Pointin' my finger at 'em I ses, surrender yer swabs, or I'll blow yer brains out! All o' them wuz so skeerd o' my threat they begged fer mercy. An' ther joke of it wuz, I didn't hev no pistol neither. It wuz so dark in ther cave yer couldn't see ther smellin' tackle on yer figger head, an in that gloom they mistook my finger fer a gun. Waal, sir, in less'n two minutes I made prisoners o' ther fifty men, an' marched them out ter my messmates in triumph. Now how wuz that fer a bloodless wictory?"
And with a triumphant grin Tim turned to Jack.
The young inventor made no answer.
"He must be struck dumb with astonishment!" thought Tim.
Then he seized Jack by the arm and shook him.
"Say, my lad, how wuz that fer a wictory?" he asked.
"What victory?" asked Jack, rousing from a deep reverie.
"That one I jist told yer about, o' course."
"Did you tell us about something?"
"Of course I did. Didn't yer like ther yarn?"
"I didn't hear a word of it. I've been thinking."
Jack's answer crushed him.
"Oh, gee!" he gasped. "I've been a-talkin' ter myself!"
Jack burst out laughing at him, when he realized into what a ridiculous position Tim had placed himself.
Unable to bear it, the old sailor retreated into the stage.
Jack then turned the Terror away from the forest, and sent her flying across the rolling country.
He had come to the conclusion to make inquiries at the nearest town for information about where the James Boys had last been seen terrorizing the community.
It was his hope to thus get on their trail.
The gloom of night fell.
Heavy, dark banks of clouds covered the sky.
The electric stage finally reached an alluvial bottom, through which wound a broad deep creek.
Here she went among a dense growth of bushes, and Fritz served an excellent supper.
While the rest were partaking of the meal Jack remained on duty, and suddenly caught view of a lone horseman moving slowly along the bank of the creek like a shadow.
As quick as a flash Jack turned a switch, putting out the lights.
He could barely discern the horseman, and did not remove his glance from him for an instant.
Jack was suspicious of the man.
It did not seem likely to him that any honest wayfarer could be wandering along that unfrequented section of the country at night, acting in such a stealthy manner.
At all events he made up his mind to keep the man in view without being seen himself.
He therefore graded the speed of the terror to accord with that of the walking horse, and kept along the clearest ground he could distinguish in the gloom.
The sudden extinguishing of the lights alarmed Jack's friends, and brought them to the front room with a rush.
"Vot's der droubles?"
"Is ther lamps injured, my lad?"
These three questions were discharged at him together.
Jack gave a warning hiss, pointed ahead, and said:
"I've just spotted a horseman ahead, boys."
"Who he vos?" eagerly asked Fritz, peering out.
"I haven't got the least idea."
"Be yer follerin' him?"
"Yes, Tim. Ha! there he goes!"
The rider had turned abruptly to the left, out across the course of the Terror, and headed for a mass of trees, rocks and bushes, that formed a hollow near the creek side.
Jack stopped the machine.
He had caught view of a gleaming light ahead.
It came from a camp-fire down in the hollow, and flung a lurid glow upon the scene around.
Timberlake gave a slight start and now said:
"Do you know that the James Boys generally prefer to make their camp in just such hollows as this is?"
"Is that so?" asked Jack. "Then you have an idea that by following the lone horseman we have accidentally run into the outlaw's encampment?"
"Well, I'm going ahead to see."
"I'll go with you, if you like."
"Very well; arm yourself."
They procured a pair of deadly pneumatic rifles and revolvers of Jack's invention that hurled explosive ballets.
Then they left the stage in Tim's care.
Alighting, they crept toward the hollow.
In a few minutes they reached it.
The lone horseman had disappeared.
Jack and the sheriff proceeded with the caution of two cats, and slowly worked their way down into the hollow.
They presently neared the fire, when a startling scene met their view.
CHAPTER VII. THE SHERIFF'S MISFORTUNE.
Jack and Timberlake had reached the bottom of the verdure clad hollow, and were lurking behind a clump of bushes.
It was darker down there, if possible, than it had been above, but the ruddy glow of the camp-fire lit up a patch in the scene.
Around the fire were grouped a dozen ruffians, among whom Jack recognized the two James Boys.
Among the others were Jim Cummins, Wood Hite, Clell Miller, Cole Younger and his three brothers, John, Jim and Bob, Dick Little, Jack Keene, Ed McMillan, Bill Chadwell, Hobbs Kerry, Charley and Bob Ford and Oll and George Shepard.
The horses belonging to the gang, most of which had been stolen, were tethered to the nearby tree.
An exciting dialogue was going on among the bandits, and Jack and the sheriff heard Jesse say:
"Yes, Timberlake has got the Governor at Liberty to league Jack Wright against us. It's been hard enough to fight the sheriff's posse and the military reserve but it's going to be a blamed sight harder to get the best of that inventor. Wright owes me a grudge. He has soured on me for doing him out of that $5,000 in Wrightstown."
"That machine of his'n must be a wonder," said one of the men.
"You have no idea what a dangerous article it is," promptly replied Jesse, with a fierce expletive. "Ripley and Barker had a taste of it, though, when the machine chased them on Siroc and Jim Malone. It was awful the way the electric engine overhauled them, I can tell you. Our only salvation now lies in leading them to places where the Terror can't run."
"If Barker hadn't put on false whiskers to look like you and if I hadn't fixed myself up to resemble Frank," spoke up one of the men, "we wouldn't have no Wright after us. But seeing us on your horses increased the deception so that we had no trouble about the matter. You should have seen how disgusted they were when they discovered how we fooled them."
"No doubt," said Frank, with a grim smile.
"What are you going to do about the hold-up to-night, Jesse?" asked Jim Cummins impatiently. "We've arranged to meet here and settle the whole matter and not gab about things of no interest to the case."
"There's plenty time," quietly replied the bandit king.
Jack squeezed Timberlake's arm.
"They're going to lay a plot!" he whispered.
"We'll hear the whole thing," replied the sheriff.
"Perhaps we can baffle them."
"Yes, if they give themselves away."
"Then we can't attack them now."
"Not if they have got work in view. If we should tackle them now we might not fustrate any game they might play when they get away. We can't expect to scoop the whole gang you know. Some would be bound to escape."
"Well, we'll hear what they have to say anyhow."
"Of coarse. We can grade ourselves according to circumstances afterward," whispered Timberlake cautiously.
The gang had been drawning closer around Jesse.
When they were close enough, the bandit rose, and said:
"Boys, we've got a big haul in view for to-night."
"What is it, anyway?" demanded Miller.
"An express package on the M. & M. road, which will go through on the midnight express, it's worth $10,000."
Whistles and exclamations of surprise and delight escaped the gang.
This was something unusually rich.
Besides they were all pretty hard up.
"Let's hear about it," said Cole Younger.
"Well, I was in Kansas City and there learned that the Fourth National Bank sends a keg of $10,000 in gold coin on the tenth of each month, to the banking firm of Bradford & Co., in Springfield, Illinois. That train will reach a point between Polo and Cowgill, according to the timetable, shortly after midnight. As it is the only train which carries an express car bound for Springfield, it must be the one we are after."
"That's fair to presume," said Frank.
"We had better stop it and see!" Jesse exclaimed. "We can hold it up at the curve, and as there's a dense mass of bushes on each side of the track, you all can conceal yourselves there until I get the cars stopped. Then an attack can be made upon the passengers, while I and several others get into the express car after the keg of money."
A plan of operations was then agreed upon.
When they finished, Jack whispered to the sheriff:
"There are three things we can now do. One is to attack the bandits here; the next is to notify the railroad people to look out for them; and the last is to let them attempt to carry out their plan and raid them in the act. Now, what shall we do?"
He wanted to avoid making any mistake.
Finally he muttered:
"If we were to run away to the railroad to apprise the company, something might happen that would delay us. Then the villains could carry out their purpose anyway. We can't do that. Now if we tackle them here, some of them are apt to give us the slip, an' do the job in spite of us. I think it will be safer to let them go to the rendezvous, and try to stop the cars. Then we can sail into them, and frustrate their plans."
"I quite agree with you," said Jack.
"Then let us return to the Terror."
Creeping silently away, they were getting safely out of the hollow, when suddenly a sentry came along, and almost stumbled over them.
"Hello!" he roared. "Who goes there?"
"Caught!" gasped the sheriff bounding to his feet.
"Timberlake!" groaned the man, recognizing him. "Hey! Help! Help!"
He yelled furiously.
The sheriff sprang at him like a tiger.
"Shut up!" he hissed, grappling the bandit.
"A spy! A spy!" howled the guard, wildly.
He clung to the sheriff with all his might, and they fell struggling to the ground, locked in a tight embrace.
Jack was startled.
He heard the gang rushing toward them.
"Can you manage him?" he panted.
"Yes—run!" replied the sheriff.
Thinking he might have to call his friends to help, Jack slipped away unseen, and Timberlake might have gained the mastery of his opponent, had not the gang at that moment dashed up to them.
Surrounding him, they attacked the sheriff upon all sides, and in a twinkling made a prisoner of him.
He was knocked senseless, bound and gagged.
As soon as Jack found that the sheriff was not following him, he paused.
"I wonder if he's in trouble?" he muttered. "I can't go on this way. No! I'll return and see."
With this resolution he retraced his steps.
Reaching the spot where he had left Timberlake, he found that the sheriff had vanished.
Looking across the hollow, Jack saw the bandits mounting their horses.
He could just see them by the light of the camp-fire.
A moment afterward they went galloping out of the hollow, and he saw Timberlake a prisoner among them.
"They've captured him!" he muttered.
Jack's dismay increased.
He could not do anything single handed to save his friend, so he hurried back to the electric stage.
"Hello!" called Tim, seeing him alone. "Whar's ther sheriff?"
"Caught by the James Boys," replied Jack.
"Ach du lieber Gott!" gasped Fritz.
Jack hastily got aboard.
"We must chase them!" he exclaimed.
"Wuz them lubbers down in that 'ere holler?" asked Tim.
"Yes—the whole gang," replied Jack.
"Den dot feller by horses back vos van ohf dem?"
"He was, Fritz, and a nice plot they have formed."
"Wot is it?" asked Tim.
The inventor briefly explained.
When he finished he sent the stage ahead.
Tim and Fritz armed themselves, to be prepared for trouble, and they sped along the course of the creek.
Nothing was seen of the bandits for some time.
They had gone several miles in this manner from the place where Timberlake was captured, when the moon suddenly burst from behind a cloud bank.
Just then Jack uttered a stifled cry.
"There they are!" he exclaimed.
"Whar?" eagerly asked Tim, peering out.
"Across the creek! See there!"
He pointed to the eastward and stopped the Terror.
A league away rode a large body of horsemen, and as Jack leveled a glass at them, he saw that there was no mistake about the matter—they were the James Boys' gang.
"How ve get across dot streams ter shase dem?" asked Fritz.
"That's what worried me," replied Jack. "I can't see a means anywhere. It's bound to delay us. Before we can do anything for Timberlake, they may kill him."
"Ay, ay, an' wot's more," added Tim, "they may reach ther railroad an' stop them cars afore we kin stop them."
"What a pity that I did not have a pair of air cylinders under this stage!" regretfully said Jack. "We could then have floated her across the stream."
He noted the direction the bandits were pursuing, and sent the Terror running along again.
Tim and Fritz maintained an anxious lookout in the meantime for an opportunity of getting over the creek.
CHAPTER VIII. HOLDING UP A TRAIN.
"Dere vos der roat."
"Ay, but whar's the bandits?"
The Inventor had been obliged to run the Terror to the headwaters of the creek ere they were able to pass the stream.
Considerable time had thus been lost.
Indeed, it was twelve o'clock before they reached the railroad track at a point between Polo and Cowgill.
"The question is, has the train passed?" said Jack.
"Ve ditn'd seen nodding ohf her yet," replied Fritz.
"Ay, but that ain't no sign as it didn't pass," growled Tim, as he took a chew of tobacco. "I recollect when I wuz in the navy how we started fer ther rendezvous o' a enemy's ship—-"
"I won't listen!" exclaimed Jack, with a frown.
"Waal, I'll tell Fritz," said Tim, in nowise abashed. "Yer see it wuz sich a dark night we missed ther spot, which was a lagoon, on the coast o' Georgie—-"
"Try ub!" roared Fritz.
"I'll be blowed if I will!"
"I don'd vant ter hear dot yarn."
"I don't keer if yer don't. Ter continer: But although we missed ther lagoon in ther gloom, an runned inter a leetle bay, our enemy did ther same. Thar we had him. Gee whiz, how we socked it ter him! He sailed aroun' and aroun' ther bay, an' we arter him. I manned ther long Tom, an' pickin' 'em out one by one, I gave it ter each o' ther crew—-"
"For Heaven's sake, stop!" cried Jack.
"How could you see in the dark?"
"Why, every time I fired ther moon popped out, an' as soon as I stopped it hid itself agin," explained Tim, "Waal, sir, arter ther crew o' that ship surrendered, wot d'yer s'pose?"
"Ve don't vos tink noddings!" roared Fritz.
"But I wants yer ter, I'll tell yer. We diskivered as ther ship wot we wuz firin' at wazn't no enemies wessel at all. It wuz our own consort, an'—-"
"Oh, you old liar! You positively asserted it was your enemy—-"
"But I wuz mistooken. I—-"
A startling report rang out.
It came from beneath the stage.
The Terror stopped.
"By jingo, she's broken!" gasped Jack.
"How?" asked Tim, forgetting his yarn.
"It must be in the truck."
"Himmel! How ve go ahet now ter safe dot drain?"
He quickly examined the gear.
"It's one of the driving rods snapped in two!" he cried, finally.
"Kin ye fix it, my lad?"
"I don't know till I take it off. We are crippled."
He got a wrench and unfastened the bolts, took off the two pieces, and then saw that the rim of one of the wheels had picked up a long stone which flew around with it.
It jammed between the body of the stage and one of the spokes, and the sudden shock had caused the rod to snap.
Just as Jack examined it, he heard the distant tooting of a locomotive whistle, momentarily drawing nearer.
"Here comes the express now!" he exclaimed.
"Kin yer git her ready in time?"
"No. It will take an hour to fix this."
"Donner und blitzen! Dey holt her ub!"
"No doubt of it."
"We must do somethin', my lad."
"Arm yourselves, if you're anxious. Don your metal suits. We'll follow the train. She must be nearing the curve to whistle like that. Hurry up, and we'll leave the Terror here."
They all put on suits of aluminum mail and armed themselves.
Then they ran at full speed along the track in the direction from whence the whistle sounded.
The moon was then flooding the scene.
Far ahead the polished rails described a curve in a wide, deep cut, filled with trees and shrubbery.
In the middle of the north-bound track stood Jesse James waving a red lantern to an oncoming train, the headlight of which was blazing upon the bandit king with a silvery glow.
Jesse had a black mask on, and clutched a revolver in his hand.
None of the men were visible.
The train had slackened speed to round the curve, and as soon as the engineer saw the danger signal he stopped the cars.
"Hello!" he cried, "What's the matter?"
"Rail broken!" replied Jesse, approaching the cab.
"Here comes the conductor."
"I'll speak to him about it. Come down."
"Can't. It's against the rules for me to leave the caboose."
The conductor and several brakemen had alighted and now came running toward the outlaw to learn the news.
As they drew near Jesse dropped his lantern.
That was the signal for his men to emerge, and to the alarm and astonishment of the train crew, the gang of masked men rushed from the shrubbery toward them.
Jim Cummins and Wood Hite clambered into the cab.
There the plucky engineer and fireman had armed themselves with a monkey wrench and a crowbar.
They attacked the two bandits as they climbed into the cab, dealing them such terrible blows that they were knocked down.
Just as the engineer seized the throttle valve to start the cars, Dick Little and Hobbs Kerry rushed up, and aiming their revolvers at the driver and stoker, the former yelled:
"Throw up your hands!"
"All right!" gasped the engineer.
He knew he had to do it or get shot.
The fireman wanted to resist.
A word from the engineer sufficed to change his mind.
While Dick held them up Hobbs climbed into the cab and pitched the two men out, so they could not run away with the train.
A swarm of the thieves had approached the passenger coaches under the leadership of Frank, and dividing into several detachments, each party took a car.
The train only consisted of the locomotive, the express car, two day coaches and two sleepers.
As the bandits crowded into the doorways they began to fire into the cars to intimidate the passengers.
A tremendous clamor arose.
Women shrieked and fainted, men yelled for mercy, and a wild panic ensued that beggars description.
The bandits rushed in in the midst of the confusion, and flourishing their knives and pistols in the faces of the terrified passengers, they demanded their valuables.
Out came pocketbooks, watches, rings, studs, bracelets, lace pins, and scores of other things.
While this was going on, Jesse and several of the men had gone to the door of the express car.
It was guarded by an express messenger, and a trainman.
"Open that door!" yelled Jesse.
"Never!" came the determined reply from within. "Never for you!"
"If you don't we'll blow it open!"
"You can't do it!"
"We can't, hey?"
And crack—bang! went Jesse's revolver.
The ball tore a hole through the car.
It was echoed by a fusillade from within.
One of the bullets hit Jack Keene, and made him yell with pain.
It infuriated the bandits to have the two men resist them in that summary fashion, and they let drive a volley.
Bang! went the shots.
"There's but a slim show to hit them," said McMillan.
"I'll teach them a lesson!" said Jesse, savagely.
He got several sticks of dynamite, tied them in a bunch, and fastened them along the door sill.
Standing back, he aimed his revolver at it and fired.
Boom! thundered the explosive.
There was a lurid gleam, and the stout planks of the door were torn and shattered, and a yell of delight pealed from the bandits, for an opening had been made into the car.
The force of the explosion had almost hurled the express car from the tracks.
Jesse made a rush for the opening.
He looked like a demon now, for his temper was up.
"Charge!" he yelled.
After him rushed several of the men.
Before they could get into the car, three strange-looking apparitions came dashing down the track.
They were Jack, Tim and Fritz, in their metal suits.
Losing not an instant, they opened fire upon the bandits, their bullets flying noiselessly from the pistols, and bursting with terrific force when they struck.
A roar went up from the bandits.
"Jesse!" yelled one of the men.
The bandit king gazed at the three daring fellows in surprise.
Raising his pistol, he aimed and fired at Jack, there sounded a metallic click as the ball struck the aluminum suit, and then the inventor uttered a mocking laugh.
"Here's your bullet back, Jesse James!" he cried.
Then he fired a shot at the bandit.
CHAPTER IX. A CLEVER RUSE.
The bullet from Jack's pneumatic pistol struck Jesse James, and a hoarse yell of pain escaped the bandit king.
He reeled back and would have fallen, had not Oll Shepard caught him in his arms.
"I'm wounded!" he gasped.
"Who are they?" hissed Shepard.
"Jack Wright. I recognize his voice."
"There's only three of them."
"But they are firing bomb-shells."
"We'll bring them down!"
He yelled to the gang, and over a score of rifles and pistols were aimed at Jack, the Dutchman, and the sailor.
Bang! rattled the shots.
A hail of leaden pellets struck the trio.
But their suits shed the bullets as if they were rain drops, and they continued to pour a deadly fire into the outlaws.
Every time a bullet burst it either scattered and injured many or else it lodged in a solitary man and blew a big piece out of him.
It was impossible to withstand such fire.
The worst of it was their bullets failed to injure the three.
As man after man was getting wounded Jesse gasped:
"By heavens, we'll have to retreat!"
"This is awful, and only three of them too!" groaned Bill Chadwell.
"To horse!" roared Jesse.
He had recovered from the shock of the shot he got and the whole gang made a rush for the bushes firing back at Jack and his friends as they went.
By this time the train crew recovered from their panic, and those of the passengers who had weapons drew them and began firing out the windows.
The bandits broke into a run.
"That settles them!" cried Jack. "They see that they can't hurt us, while we stand an excellent chance of killing them."
"Chase 'em! They've got Timberlake yet," said Tim.
The outlaws' horses were concealed among the shrubbery, and they mounted and sped away through the railroad cut.
Jack and his friends ran after them.
The inventor now saw the sheriff.
One of the outlaws held him on a horse.
Jack aimed at the animal and fired a shot.
True to its mark sped the bullet, a wild neigh of agony escaped the animal, and it bounded high in the air and fell dead, the two riders being thrown to the ground.
The bandit was stunned.
But the sheriff, although pounded and bruised, escaped fatal injury and retained his senses.
"I've saved him!" said Jack.
"Bully fer you, my lad!"
"I vill catch dot oudlaw!"
While Jack was cutting Timberlake's bonds and ungagging him, Tim and Fritz secured the bandit.
"Well," said the sheriff, when he was free, "this is luck."
"I see they got away from you at the hollow."
"Yes; I was too confident of beating them."
"What were they doing with you?"
"They already had my death sentence passed, and were going to put me out of the way as soon as they finished that train job. But you have baffled them nicely."
"Not only with you, but we stopped them getting into the express car. We arrived just in time."
"Where's the Terror?"
"Up the road, crippled."
"That's a pity!"
"Come back to the train till I see the amount of damage they've done," said Jack. "Are you hurt any?"
"Scratched and bruised a trifle."
Tim and Fritz went ahead of them, carrying their prisoner, and when they reached the cars they found two more of the bandits badly wounded in the train crew's hands.
All had recovered from the panic by this time.
The conductor now rushed up to Jack, followed by the train crew and passengers.
He gave the young inventor a hearty handshake, and cried:
"Let me thank you on behalf of all the people and myself for your gallant conduct, sir. If you had not come to our rescue, God only knows what would have become of us at the hands of the James Boys' gang."
"You exaggerate the case," quietly replied Jack.
"No, no, no! Gentlemen, three cheers for these noble fellows!"
"Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!" shouted the passengers.
Some of them had been robbed.
But the majority escaped, owing to the timely arrival of Jack's party upon the scene.
Moreover, the contents of the express car had been kept out of the clutches of the bandits.
True, the explosion had slightly injured the two men who had been in the car, but their condition might have been worse had Jack not interfered.
All the bandits had vanished except the three who had been captured, and they were bound hand and foot, and put aboard the car.
The conductor took charge of them.
He intended to put them in the hands of the law.
As soon as the passengers were back in the coaches, and the engineer and stoker in the cab, every one gave Jack and his friends a parting cheer.
The train then moved ahead.
"We didn't do so blamed bad arter all," chuckled Tim.
"Did yer see me drop forty o' them pirates vi' one shot?"
"Forty?" grinned Fritz.
"Ay—that's wot I see," Tim answered, haughtily.
"Nein! Yer vos misdooken."
"How so?" growled the old sailor.
"It vos eight hundert. But dere only vos dirty in ther gang."
"Come!" interposed Jack. "Quit your fooling, and let us get back to the stage. She's so disabled that we can't chase the bandits with her now. The sooner she's repaired the quicker we'll be able to get upon their trail and hunt them down."
They strode back to where they left the Terror.
Both the parrot and monkey were yelling furiously inside, and did not cease their clamor until their owners went in and pacified them.
It required several hours to repair the driving rod, and when it was finished, although not as strong as it was before, it was very firm.
They could not do anything further that night, so they divided the watch and turned in.
After breakfast on the following morning, Jack mounted the steersman's seat, and sent the Terror rolling to the place where the bandits were last seen.
There he saw a large plain trail they had left.
"I'll follow their tracks," said he to Tim, who had taken a seat beside him. "It's an easy trail to follow, and if we have say sort of a chance, we are bound to run them down in a short time."
"I ain't so sure about that my lad."
"Jesse James are mighty cunnin'."
"That's a fact. He may fool us yet,"
"Still thar ain't no harm in tryin'."
Jack sent the Terror flying off in pursuit of the bandits, and they ran out on the open plain.
It was a rolling, grassy country.
The trail led them on for a distance of about five miles when an old blasted oak tree was met.
Here the cunning of the James Boys was shown.
Evidently fearing pursuit, they had ordered the gang to scatter in every direction, each one going to a different point of the compass.
It was then utterly impossible to follow any particular one of the gang, and know which one it was.
Jack was rendered angry.
"See there how they've baffled us!" he cried with a frown, as he pointed down at the scattered trails.
"Gee whiz!" groaned Tim, "they've throwed us off ther course entirely now, Wot one'll we foller?"
"If you mean so that we can corral the James Boys, I cannot say—one trail is the same as another."
"Blast thar lubberly hides!"
"I've got a plan though."
"An wot's that?"
"To pursue any one at random."
"But mebbe it won't be ther one we wants."
"Any one will do. Whoever the man is, we can perhaps catch him and force him to confess where the rest are to meet. By that means we can find them again."
"Jist ther plan, by thunder!" cried Tim, pounding his good leg with his fist. "Keel haul me if you ain't got as long a figgerhead as Jesse James, cute though he be."
Jack told Fritz and the sheriff what occurred, and what he now intended to do.
They agreed with his plan.
In fact it was the only feasible thing to do.
Accordingly Jack selected the most likely trail.
He then sent the Terror flying off after it, and she sped along until the afternoon set in before they finally sighted the man they were after.
Then they saw that he was Frank James.
CHAPTER X. FRANK JAMES' ESCAPE.
Frank James was mounted upon his horse Jim Malone, and had paused on the crest of a hill from whence he gazed back at the bottom traversed by the Terror.
He saw the stage, and realized at once that it had followed his particular trail to the exclusion of the rest of the band.
It was clear enough to him that he could not outstrip the Terror in a running race, and would therefore be obliged to retain his liberty by resorting to strategy.
What course he could follow would depend entirely upon circumstances, but he turned over fifty plans in his mind.
Jack was a league from the man when he recognized him, but he had a powerful field glass, which plainly showed him every feature of Frank James' face.
"The rascal sees us," he commented.
"Wot's he standin' thar for like a statoo?" asked Tim.
"Probably sizing up our intentions."
"Dot retskal vos a gone goose," said Fritz, decisively.
"Better wait till you get your paws on him before you feel so certain about it," dryly remarked the sheriff. "If you knew the James Boys as well as I do, you would realize that no slipperier men exist on the face of the earth. Just when you are surest you have them is the time you haven't got the scoundrels. Ha! There he goes!"
Frank had galloped away.
He went down the other side of the hill.
In a few moments he disappeared from view.
Jack increased the speed of the stage.
She ran ahead like a locomotive.
In less than ten minutes she reached the crest of the elevation where they had seen the bandit.
From this point a view was commanded of the country for many miles in various directions.
Jack soon saw the outlaw.
He had gone down the valley, and was furiously galloping toward the rocky, well wooded foothills on the other side of the depression, and Jack exclaimed:
"He is well aware of our weakest point."
"Vot veak point?" growled Fritz unwilling to admit such a thing.
"Our inability to run among rocks and close setting trees and bushes.
"It looks mighty like as if he wuz atryin' ter git inter sich a spot."
"You an right, Tim. But he has lost a mile though."
Down the declivity shot the stage, and she swiftly reduced the distance that separated her from the fugitive.
As the flying horseman went up the hill on the other side of the valley, he glanced back over his shoulder and saw that the Terror had arrived within a mile.
Fast as Jim Malone was on a level stretch, he could not race up the steep grade of a hill with anything like the speed at which the Terror went.
In consequence, long before the bandit reached the plateau he was heading for, the engine was close behind him.
Jack sat outside steering.
He did not have on his armor.
Frank suddenly paused.
Wheeling his horse around he raised his rifle.
It was a good shot.
The bullet struck the stage within an inch of Jack's head.
Frank dared not remain to attempt it again as every second was precious now.
He therefore dashed away again.
Bang! came three shots.
Tim, Fritz and the sheriff had fired.
Exploding around Frank the awful bullets tore up the ground, chipped the rocks, trees and bushes and stung the horse, but failed to injure the rider.
The bandit reached the shelter of the rocks and trees on the plateau before any of the bullets hit him.
He then disappeared.
Along thundered the electric stage.
She had a hard climb, but her dynamo and motor were very powerful, and carried her up to the level ground.
There she got on Frank's trail again.
The plateau was a picturesque place, as it was covered with flowers, tumbled rocks, vine-clad trees, and dense shrubbery.
A plain track through it was seen.
"We'll reach him in a few moments!" muttered Jack.
He cast his glance ahead, and as the ground gently sloped down from there, he saw the outlaw.
And he also saw a wide chasm.
It stretched straight across the horse's path.
Frank James was caught in a sort of natural trap, for he had gone plunging in between two steep rocky walls.
He could not turn to the left or right, and ahead of his sweating horse there yawned the wide deep chasm.
If he wished to escape he would have to clear the gulf, and as it was fully twenty-five feet wide, such a feat seemed to be entirely out of the question.
He glanced back again.
The Terror was swiftly coming along after him.
It rendered the fugitive desperate.
He headed his gallant steed straight for the chasm and plunged toward it a furious pace.
"By heavens, he is going to attempt to leap that split!" cried Jack, observing what the outlaw intended doing.
"He can't clear it, said Tim.
"Vell, he vos got der nerve ter dry!" Fritz exclaimed.
"He's bound to go down!" cried Timberlake, excitedly.
"If he does, he may perish!" said the inventor. "The man must be fearfully desperate to attempt the jump."
"Gief him a hall vunct."
"Hey, Frank James!" called Jack.
The man looked back, but did not answer.
He did not look in the least unnerved by the terrible ordeal.
Jack could not help admiring his courage.
He hailed him again from sheer pity.
"Halt there, you madman, you are committing suicide.
"You'll not nab me!" came back the defiant reply.
"Pause—quick! We'll spare you."
"Never! Good-bye! Now, Jim, up, boy, up!"
The gallant horse seemed to gather every muscle to a high tension when he reached the verge of the chasm.
He bounded high in the air.
For an instant the horse and rider were poised there.
It was a brave effort.
But it failed.
Three-fourths of the distance was covered.
Then down the animal plunged into the abyss.
As they sunk out of sight Jack whirled the wheel around and applied the air brake.
The Terror barely had time to swing around to avoid the edge of the chasm, and a cloud of dirt and dust flew up from beneath her wheels.
She quickly paused.
Going to the edge of the abyss he peered down.
It was not more than twenty feet deep.
Along the bottom flowed a wide, deep mountain stream.
Frank James and his horse had alighted in it without the slightest injury, and Jack saw the beast swim ashore and wade out.
They had been swept some distance down the stream by the fierce current, and had got out near a wide opening in the rocks on the side opposite Jack.
"Stop where you are!" shouted Jack.
The drenched fugitive looked at him and laughed ironically.
Then he dashed ahead, for Jack had drawn a pistol, and was aiming it at him.
Just as the horse leaped into the opening in the rocks, the young inventor fired at the bandit.
The ball cut the spot Frank had just evacuated, and striking against the rocks, exploded there.
Up jumped the young inventor, and he ran along until he arrived opposite the split rocks.
But he failed to see the fugitive as Frank had gone around a bend in the opening, and was then hidden from view.
As he could not do anything there, he hastened back to the Terror, sprang aboard, and started her back the way she came from, at the same time telling his friends what happened.
Jack made a wide detour, and passed the end of the gorge.
The stream there broadened and became so shallow that he easily drove the stage through it.
Reaching the other side, he began a search for Frank, but it finally proved to be in vain.
The shadows of twilight fell when he finally gave up the hunt and headed for a tiny hamlet near where he was.
It was a place which had built up about a general store, at which the stage coach, paused which carried passengers from the northern railroads who wished to make connections with the smaller branch lines dissecting that portion of the state.
At this place—called Jones' Corners—there was a big surprise in store for our friends.
It came about when Jack drove the Terror up to the store and quietly made inquiries of the owner as to whether he had seen a man answering to Frank James' description about that vicinity that day.
The man told him he had seen such an individual.
CHAPTER XI. A SUSPECTED PLOT.
The store at which the electric stage paused was a small, dingy place, used as a grocery, a post-office, a saloon, and, in fact, half a dozen different kinds of business.
Its owner was a typical Missourian, in raw hide boots, his pants tucked in the legs, a flannel shirt upon his ample body, a felt hat on his long hair, and one of his bewhiskered cheeks distended with a huge quid of tobacco.
When he had eyed the electric machine, and commented upon it at some length, he finally said:
"Yas, neighbur, I reckon thar wuz sich erchap hyar ez you wuz quizzin me erbout. It's ergoin' on two hour ergo as he stuck his nose into this ere place, an' ast me all erbout ther runnin' er that stage-coach from hyer ter Independence."
"Asked you about the stage-coach, eh!" said Jack, his attention particularly attracted by this remark. "What did you tell the gentleman about it?"
"Why, I jist guv him ther time table all erlong its route, an', ses I, thar's ter be one erlong ter-night erbout ten er-clock from ther south'ard, which'll stop hyar ter water ther nags. It ginerally kerries from five ter ten people, yer see, an' I allers hev ter laugh when I hears how skeered they gits while er-crossin' ther ledge down yander on thet ere spur er ther hills."
"Wall, I reckon it be. Hev a chaw er terbacker?"
"No, I thank you. What time does the stage leave the next town?"
"Nine o'clock—it's jist one hour difference."
"Did the gentleman inquire particularly about this stage?"
"Certain. It's ther only one wot's due fer two days."
"Did he say anything about the ledge?"
"Sure he did, an' axed me werry pertickler all about it. I was erwondsrin' wot he was erquizzin' me about so much, but reckon it wuz only his pesky curiosity."
"Very likely," said Jack, in grim tones. "Then he rode off?"
"Yes, an' or mighty likely nag it wuz, too, which he called Jim."
"That's Jim Malone," thought Jack.
The information he received plainly showed him that Frank James intended to rob the people of the Independence stage at the mountain ledge.
In order to do this he would very likely summon some of the gang and be at the pass at nine o'clock that night.
The storekeeper had no idea of this.
Indeed, as he did not know who Frank James was, not a suspicion of the truth of the matter was likely to enter his mind, for the bandit led him to suppose he was anxious to travel to the northern main line on that vehicle.
"In which direction did that man go?" asked Jack, in conclusion.
"Ter ther west'ard. But why d'yer want all or this infermation?"
"Simply became he is one of the James Boys."
"Holy—jumpin'—jingo!" gasped the man.
"He intends to rob that stage!"
"Oh, thunder! wot er big fool I wuz ter post him!"
"We will block his game. You keep mum."
"Yes kin jist bet I will!"
Jack returned aboard the Terror, and told his friends all he had learned, and a consultation was held.
It was then seven o'clock.
They had but little time to waste,
"Our plan to save the people in that stage coach from robbery is a very simple one," said Jack. "We must run ahead and intercept them."
"Supposin' them 'ere lundsharks is on ther road now? They will sight us again along ther trail," said Tim.
"We can make a detour," replied Jack. "The only place they are apt to use to waylay the coach will be along the ledge mentioned by the storekeeper."
"Fer sure." assented Fritz, "Ach, I vish me dot ve vos fighdin' dem now! Let her gone, Shack!"
The inventor started the Terror off.
It had begun to rain.
There was every indication of a wet night.
Jack had informed himself about the roads.
Both he and Tim put on their rubber clothing and occupied the front seat, where they managed the wheel.
A detour was made, and several miles further along they struck into the high road again.
"If the stage-coach in any manner resembles the Terror," said the young inventor, as they ran along, "I think I know of a way in which we can substitute this vehicle for it and fool the bandits, should they waylay her."
"Decoy 'em, eh?"
"Yes. We can easily disguise this coach."
"By hitchin' ther stage horses onter it, yer kin do it."
"I'll make the venture anyway, if I can meet the stage."
"When I wuz aboard o' ther frigate Wabash, we once played that ere trick on a pirate," said Tim. "Yer see, it happened—-"
But Fritz heard him.
And produced his accordeon.
Its horrible tones rang out.
Tim stopped and was just going to expostulate, when Jack put an end to the playing by saying:
"Stop that, Fritz!"
"But dot yarn—-"
"The road agents may hear it."
That settled it; the music ceased.
It made Tim chuckle, and he said:
"Gosh blame yer fat mug, I'll spin ther yarn anyway now! As I wuz a-tellin' yer, we wuz arter a pirate, an' as a passin' ship captain told us he seen ther lubber a-hidin' in a bay, we made up our minds ter disguise ther frigate so's ter haul up inter gun range o' ther lubber. So we sot ter work, an' paintin' her white, we altered her rig, an' bore down on ther bay. In we went, but ther pirate had gone. Whar? Nobody knowed. We was disappinted. Whar wuz we ter look next? No one knowed. So we sailed away. Night fell. We hadn't gone far afore we sighted her ten leagues away ter ther—-"