The Boy Scout Camera Club
The Confession of a Photograph
Scout Master G. Harvey Ralphson
I LOST: A FOREIGN PRINCE!
II THE HOLE IN THE ATTIC FLOOR
III WHAT THE BOX CONTAINED
IV A CAMP IN THE MOUNTAIN
V JIMMIE AND TEDDY MISS A MEAL
VI SIGNALS IN THE CANYON
VII A MINT IN THE MOUNTAINS
VIII UNCLE IKE PRESENTS HIMSELF
IX A LANK MULE AS A DECOY
X "PACKED AWAY LIKE SARDINES"
XI JACK'S ELEGANT CHICKEN PIE
XII THE BLACK HAND GAME
XIII THREE DAYS TO MOVE IN
XIV POINTING OUT THE TRAIL
XV A NIGHT ON THE SUMMIT
XVI THE CALL OF THE PACK
XVII JUST A LITTLE DARK WASH
XVIII BRADLEY BECOMES INDIGNANT
XIX NED PLAYS THE MIND-READER
XX SHOOTING ON THE MOUNTAINSIDE
XXI TOLD BY THE PICTURES
XXII A RECRUIT FROM THE ENEMY
XXIII RACING MOTORS ON THE WAY
XXIV THE MAN-TRAP IS SET
XXV THE CONFESSION OF A PHOTOGRAPH
The Boy Scout Camera Club
The Confession of a Photograph
LOST: A FOREIGN PRINCE!
"Two Black Bears!"
"Quite a mixture of wild creatures to be found in a splendid clubroom in the city of New York!" exclaimed Ned Nestor, a handsome, muscular boy of seventeen. "How many of these denizens of the forests are ready to join the Boy Scout Camera Club?"
"You may put my name down twice—in red ink!" shouted Jimmie McGraw, of the Wolf Patrol. "I wouldn't miss it to be president of the United States!"
"One Wolf," Ned said, writing the name down.
"Two Wolves!" cried Jimmie, red-headed, freckled of face and as active as a red squirrel, "two wolves! You're a Wolf yourself, Ned Nestor!"
"Two Wolves, then!" laughed Ned. "Of course Jimmie and I can form a club all by ourselves, and he can be the officers and I can be the members, but we'd rather have a menagerie of large size, as we are going into the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee."
The boys who had not yet spoken were on their feet in an instant, all clamoring for membership in the Boy Scout Camera Club. Ned lifted a hand for silence.
"Why this present rush?" he asked. "I've been thinking that Jimmie and I would have to go to the mountains alone! Why this impetuosity?"
"The mountains!" shouted Frank Shaw, of the Black Bear Patrol. "It is the mountains that get us! We've been thinking that the club you were organizing wouldn't get outside of little old New York, but would loaf around taking snap-shots of the slums and the trees in the parks. But when you mention mountains, why—"
"I'm going right down stairs and pack my camera!" Jack Bosworth, of the Black Bear Patrol, declared. "When it comes to mountains!"
The clubroom of the Black Bear Patrol was on the top floor of the handsome residence of Jack's father, who was a famous corporation lawyer, and the boys persuaded Jack to wait until they had completed the organization of the Camera Club before he started in packing for the journey to the mountains!
"You'll want an Eagle, if you're going to the mountains!" shouted Teddy Green, of the Eagle Patrol. "I'll fly home and get my wardrobe right now!"
Teddy Green was the son of a Harvard professor, and was inclined to follow in the footsteps of his father in the matter of learning— after he had first climbed to all the high spots of the world and descended into all the low ones! He insisted on exploring the earth before he learned by rote what others had written about it!
"All right!" Ned grinned. "We'll need an Eagle!"
"And a Bull Moose!" yelled Oliver Yentsch, of the Moose Patrol. "You've got to have a Moose along with you!"
Oliver was the son of a ship builder, and had a launch and a yacht of his own. He was liked by all his associates in spite of his tendency to grumble at trifles. However, if he complained at small things, he met large troubles with a smile on his bright face. He now seized Teddy about the waist and waltzed around the room with him.
"And that's all!" Ned decided, closing the book. "We can't take more than six."
A wail went up from the others, but they were promised a chance at the next "hike" into the hills, and soon departed, leaving the six members of the Camera Club to perfect arrangements for their departure. It was a warm May night, still Ned closed the door leading out into the wide corridor which ran through the house on that floor.
"We can't afford to take others into our plans," he said, "for this is to be another Secret Service expedition."
"For the Government?" demanded Frank Shaw. "Then," he added, without waiting for a reply, "I'll call up dad's editorial rooms and have a reporter sent up here. Top of column, first page, illustrated! That's our Camera Club in the morning newspaper!"
Frank's father was owner and editor of one of the big New York dailies, and the boy always took along, on his trips, plenty of blank paper for "copy," but never sent in a line! His letters to his father's newspaper were usually addressed to the financial department, upon which he had permission to draw at will!
"Huh!" Jimmie commented, wrinkling his freckled nose, "if you should ever furnish an item for your daddy's newspaper he'd never live it down! You've been on all our trips with Ned, and never wired in a word!"
The Boy Scouts of the Black Bear and Wolf Patrols had been through many exciting experiences with Ned Nestor, who, young as he was, was often in the employ of the Secret Service department of the United States government. Frank, as Jimmie said, had been with Ned from the start, and had never sent in a line of "copy" for the paper.
"I'm going to furnish a column a day this trip!" Frank declared, making a motion to seize Jimmie. "We're going to take pictures, aren't we? We'll take 'em by the acre, and dad's newspaper is going to catch every one of them."
"Huh!" Jimmie declared, with a freckled nose in the air. "I'm a newspaper man, too. You needn't think you're the only cherry in the pie! I used to sell newspapers before I got into the Secret Service with Ned!"
From his earliest years Jimmie had indeed been a newsboy on the Bowery. He had never had a home except that provided by himself, and this, in the early days of his life, had as often been a box or barrel in an alley as anything else.
"Why the mountains?" asked Frank Shaw, presently. "Do you have to go to the hills on this trip? I'm glad if you do, of course, but I'd like to know something about it before we start. Dad will have to be shown this time, I reckon! He thinks we rather overdid the stunt when we went to Lady Franklin bay!"
"Never had so much fun in my life!" laughed Jimmie. "When you get where it is forty below, there's some delight in living!"
"What are we going to take pictures of?" demanded Teddy Green.
"Moonshiners!" laughed Frank. "Isn't that right, Ned?"
"Not exactly," was the answer. "This is not a whisky case at all."
"Counterfeiters, then?" queried Oliver. "They live in the hills!"
"No, not counterfeiters, either," Ned replied. "The government has plenty of men to look after counterfeiters and moonshiners. All we've got to do is to go into the mountains and take pictures, and keep our eyes open."
"Open for what?" insisted Jimmie. "My peepers will be open for a venison steak about the first thing! You remember how fine the venison steaks were up in British Columbia? That Columbia river trip was some exciting! What?"
"Well," Ned began, "you all know that I'm in the Secret Service, for you've been with me, some of you, at Panama, in China, and under the ocean, so we'll let the details go without explanation. I'm going to the mountains to look after a precious package stolen from Washington—from almost under the eyes of the president—three days ago!"
"Papers?" asked Jimmie. "You know we went to Lady Franklin bay after papers."
"And they think the mountaineers stole this package?" asked Oliver.
"Tell us what it was that was taken first!" insisted Frank. "I'm beginning to see a front-page story in this, right now!"
"The package stolen," Ned went on, with a smile, "was more precious than any bundle of papers could be! It wasn't of gold, silver, diamonds, or anything possessing that kind of value. It was of flesh and blood!"
"A child stolen!" cried Frank. "This goes to dad's sheet right now!"
"Boy or girl?" asked Oliver. "Age, please!"
"Boy," answered Ned. "A boy belonging to one of the ambassadors! Age seven!"
"But why should the mountaineers steal such a child?" asked Jimmie.
"I said the boy belonged to one of the ambassadors," Ned corrected himself. "I should have said he belonged at one of the foreign embassies."
"The son of one of the attaches?" asked Teddy. "That's strange! Why?"
"Teddy," reproved Jimmie, "you can ask more questions in a minute than a motion picture machine can take in a hundred years."
"The stolen boy is in no ways related to any one in this country," Ned answered, "yet his safety is of the utmost importance. It is up to us to find him."
"But why should the mountain men make a grab at a kid?" insisted Jimmie. "I've asked that question numerous times now," he added, with a wrinkled nose.
"It is not believed that the mountain men know anything about the matter," Ned replied. "No one suspects them of taking the child. Mountain men are not up to that sort of thing, as a rule. They will make moonshine—some of them will—and may hide a counterfeiter, but they don't steal children!"
"Then who did steal him?" asked Frank. "Don't be so mysterious."
"I want the matter to sink deep into your alleged minds!" was Ned's smiling rejoinder, "and that is the reason I'm drawing the explanation out. It is thought the boy was stolen by some one who came over the sea to do the job—some one never before in this country."
"I twig!" Jimmie declared, skipping about the room. "The stolen boy is next of succession to some measly old throne! What? And he was sent out here to get him out of the zone of danger, and now he's been nipped?"
The boys looked at Ned with redoubled interest. It had been interesting, the very idea of going into the mountains in quest of an abducted child, but the thought of going after a boy who would one day be a king! That was exciting indeed!
"I can't tell you who the boy is." Ned went on, "but I can tell you that he must be found! The Secret Service men at Washington have a pretty good idea as to who got him, and they believe the criminals are not above committing the crime of murder. In a certain sense, this boy is in the way in the old country!"
"Oh, they wouldn't kill a kid like that!" Jimmie asserted.
"Wouldn't they?" demanded Teddy Green. "If you read up on history, you'll soon find out whether ambitious men will murder children who stand in their way! I half believe the boy was murdered at the very moment he was taken!"
"He has been seen alive since that time," Ned responded. "This is Thursday. He was taken on Monday, and was seen yesterday. Or a boy believed to be the prince was seen yesterday, on a launch on the Potomac river."
"Prince, eh?" cried Frank. "It is a prince, is it? Say, but won't dad be glad to hear about this? I'd like to write the headlines!"
"We may as well call him the prince," Ned laughed.
Before more could be said, a servant knocked at the door and Jack opened it so as to look out. In a moment he turned back inside with a flushed face.
"Say, boys," he said, "there's something strange going on here to-night!"
THE HOLE IN THE ATTIC FLOOR
Ned sprang to his feet in an instant and beckoned Jack to one side. The others gathered around, but Ned motioned them back.
"Let us find out exactly what Jack means before any remarks are made," he said.
"Well," Jack began, almost in a whisper, "the servant who came to the door said—"
"Wait a moment!" Ned requested. "Let us get this at first hand. Is the servant you refer to still out in the corridor? Look and see."
Jack opened the door an inch and looked out.
"Yes," he reported, facing Ned, with the door still ajar, "he is still there."
"Then ask him to come in here," Ned suggested, "and you, boys," he added, turning to the wondering faces at the other side of the apartment, "you get as close as you wish while this man is talking, but don't interrupt. It may be that we shall have to do something right soon. I reckon our hunt for the prince starts right here, in the Black Bear Patrol clubroom, in the heart of little old New York."
The servant Jack had beckoned to now entered the room and stood with his back to the door, looking from one boyish face to another. He was a heavily built, muscular fellow, evidently an Irishman, judging from his face and manner.
"Will you kindly come over here and sit down?" Ned asked.
The servant complied and the others gathered around him.
"Now," Jack began, "tell Ned what you just told me—about the man in the attic, and about the hole in the ceiling."
Every eye in the room was instantly turned toward the lofty ceiling, but nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen there.
"The hole he refers to," Jack, smiling, explained, "is not in sight. It is under the ornamental brass piece that circles the rod from which the chandelier hangs. It was made to listen at, and not to see through, I take it!"
"That makes a good starter," Ned smiled, "so go on."
"Half an hour ago," the servant began, "I was called to this floor by one of the maids, Mary Murphy it was, and she was that scared she looked like a bag of flour! She pointed to the staircase leading to the attic and asked me to go up there.
"So I says to her: 'Why do you want me to go up there? If there's a haunt there, or a burglar, or a man after one of the girls, why should I risk the precious neck of me, when it's the only one I've got, with no prospect of ever getting another in case this one was damaged beyond repair?' So she says to me, she says—"
"Never mind what she said," Ned interrupted, fearful of a long, involved dialogue between the two servants. "Tell me what you did."
"I went up the staircase, three steps at a jump, an' bumped the head of me on the edge of the door at the top of it. You can see the dent in my coco now!"
"And what did you find there?" asked Ned.
"There was a rug on the floor and a hole in the floor, and a twinkle of light shining into the attic from this room. Some one had been listening there!"
"You saw no one?"
"Never a soul! I'm that sorry I can't express it!"
"When were you in that attic before—the last time before to-night?"
"Late yesterday afternoon it was."
"Was there a rug in the middle of the floor at that time?" Ned went on.
"No more than there is a bold lion in the middle of this floor, sir."
"Well, what did you do after you got up there to-night?"
"I hunted around for the man who had been lying there listening to the talk in this room, but I didn't find him, sir."
"Did you ascertain where all the servants were at the time the listening must have been going on?" asked Jack, after a short pause.
"All but one," was the reply.
"And that one? Where is he now? That is, tell, if you know where he is?"
"I don't know, sir. He has left the house, I reckon—bag and baggage."
"Who was it?" demanded Jack, moving toward the door.
"Chang Chu, the Chink, may the Evil One get into his bed!"
"And then you came here and notified Jack?" asked Ned. "As soon as you learned that Chang Chu was not in the house?"
"Indeed I did—within a minute and a half."
"Where is this girl, Mary Murphy?" asked Ned, turning to Jack. "We must get hold of her right away. I want to hear her story of what she saw in the attic."
Jack went out of the room, but was back in a minute with the girl, a pretty, modest maid of about eighteen. She looked frightened at finding herself the center of interest, but was soon in the midst of her story.
"I went up to the attic to get a piece of cloth for a bandage, Sally having cut her hand with the bread knife. When I got to the door of that room I heard some one inside of it. I listened at the crack there is between the panel and the stile and heard footsteps, slow and soft like. I thought it was one of the maids, and opened the door quick, so as to give her a scare."
The girl paused and wiped her face with a white apron bordered with pink.
"Go on," Ned requested. "Tell us what you saw in the attic."
"It wasn't much, sir," was the agitated answer. "I saw just a flash of dark blue, coming at me like the lightning express, and then I was keeled over—just as if I had been a bag of meal, sir!"
"He bunted into you, did he?" asked Jack. "Who was it?"
"Indeed I don't know, sir," was the reply. "It was dim in the room, there being only the light from the hall as I opened the door. Then he came at me with such a bunt that it took the breath out of me body!"
"And what followed?" asked Ned.
"She wint down f'r the count!" chuckled the servant who had been first questioned.
"I did not!" was the indignant retort. "When I got up the man was still on the stairs leading to this floor, and I picked up the great shears which had tumbled out of me hand and heaved thim at him. I had brought the shears up to cut a bandage, sir."
"Did you hit him?" asked Jack with a smile. "Where are the shears?"
"I never went back after them!" answered the girl. "I'll go this minute."
"Wait," Ned said, "and I'll get them. Now, you say you saw a blue streak coming at you, head-on! Who wears blue clothes around the house?"
"Chang Chu, the Chink, sir."
"You saw him dressed in blue to-day?" asked Ned.
"All in blue he was!" the male servant interrupted, "with his shirt on the outside of his trousers, like the bloody heathen he is."
"And so you looked for him and failed to find him on the premises?" asked Jack.
"He's gone, bag and baggage," answered Terance, the coachman. "Bad luck to him!"
"Still, you don't really know that it was the Chinaman?" asked Ned.
"He was dressed like the Chink," was the reply. "He smelled like a saloon!"
"Does the Chinaman drink?" asked Ned, facing Terance. "Does he get drunk?"
"He does not," was the reply. "He doesn't know the taste of good liquor!"
"That's all," Ned concluded. "Now you two keep on looking for the Chinaman. He may be hiding in the house, or he may be at some of the dens such people frequent. You, Mary, look for him in the house, and you, Terance, see if you can learn where he usually went when he left the house."
"Pell street!" cried Jimmie. "Look in Pell street!"
"Or Doyers!" Jack exclaimed. "Look in the dumps in Doyers street."
The two went away, forgetting all about the shears which Mary had hurled at the mysterious man she had caught in the attic. Asking the boys to remain where they were, Ned went out to the staircase and secured the article. Taking it carefully by the handle, he returned to the room and held up one blade.
Jack looked at the blade casually at first, then cried out that there was blood on it, and that Mary had speared the sneak.
"Yes," Ned explained, "there is blood on it. Mary hit the fellow on the head with this blade. What else do you see on the steel?" he asked with a smile.
Jimmie looked and backed away in disgust. His freckled face was thrust out of the door for an instant, and they heard him calling to Mary, who, being in the kitchen, beyond sound of his voice, did not respond.
"What do you want of Mary?" demanded Jack. "Shall I call her?"
"She said it was the Chink, didn't she?" the boy asked. "Or, she said it was a man dressed like the Chink? Well, it wasn't the Chink."
Ned laughed and looked at the boy admiringly.
"How do you know that?" he asked. "Why are you so sure it was not the Chink?"
Jimmie looked up into Ned's face with a provoking grin.
"You know just as well as I do that it wasn't the Chink," he said. "Just you look on that blade again! Ever see a Chink with light brown hair?"
"Now, what do you think of that?" roared Jack. "Sometimes this boy, Jimmie, seems to me to be possessed of almost human intelligence!" The lads gathered closer around the shears, one blade of which Ned was still holding out for inspection. There was the blood, and there was the long, blonde hair!
"Hit him on the belfry!" Jimmie grinned. "Knocked off a shingle and brought away a piece of it! Now, why did the Chink run away? That's what I'd like to know!"
"Where did the man get the Chink's dress?" asked Oliver. "That's what you'd better be asking? Why did the Chink let him in and then loan him the dress?"
"I rather think that's why the Chinaman ran away!" laughed Ned. "You boys seem to have reasoned it all out. He might have let the sneak in and then let him have some of his own clothes to wear! And that will make trouble for us!"
"Do you think the fellow heard about the Camera Club trip, and the object of it?" asked Oliver. "If he was scared away half an hour ago he didn't learn much, for we hadn't begun to talk much about it at that time!"
"He may not have heard anything important," Ned replied, "but the fact that he was sent here to listen is significant! Some one in Washington knows that we have been chosen to search the mountains for the prince! Some one knows that we are going out as an innocent- looking Boy Scout Camera Club, but really to find the boy. Now, what will that person do to the Camera Club, after we get out into the mountains?"
"The question in my mind," Jimmie broke in, "is what we shall do to him!"
"I'm sorry the information about our going leaked out," Ned said, gravely. "As boy snapshot friends we might have been able to do things which the Secret Service men could not do. No one would pay much attention to a group of boys roaming over the mountains. But now I'm afraid our investigations will be all in the limelight!"
"Tell you what," Jimmie cut in, "suppose we find the Chink and make him point out the man who was in the house—listening?"
WHAT THE BOX CONTAINED
"All right," Oliver encouraged. "Let's go out and make a throw at finding him, anyway! He may be in the garage, or the carriage house right this minute."
Jimmie and Oliver rushed away to find Terance, the coachman, and undertake the search suggested, while Ned, Jack, Frank and Teddy sat at the open windows looking out on the street.
"Chang Chu was at liberty to go into the attic at any time?" asked Ned, tentatively.
"Oh, yes," Jack answered, "the other servants sent him about on errands. He is a handy man about the premises—or was, rather."
"Is he a man to do such a thing as we are accusing him of?" Ned then asked.
"I never thought so," was the puzzled reply. "I hope you don't think that he was beaten up by the man who secured his blue clothes! That would be tough on the fellow."
"I have been thinking of that," Ned responded, "and while the boys are looking for the Chinaman in the outbuildings suppose we look for him in the upper part of the house."
"But if the sneak could get into the upper part of the house without the use of the disguise," reasoned Jack, "he wouldn't need it at all, would he?"
"He might have been surprised while at work by the Chinaman," Ned suggested. "In that case he might have taken the clothes as an afterthought. Suppose we look and see?"
Leaving Frank and Teddy sitting by the window, looking out on a perfect May night, Ned and Jack climbed the staircase to the attic and entered the room directly over the Black Bear Patrol clubroom. It was a large room, more of a storeroom than an attic, with a hardwood floor and papered walls and ceiling.
A great sack upon which clothing and odds and ends of all descriptions were hanging stood at the south end of the apartment, while a long row of boxes and packing trunks occupied the floor at the north end. The rug, which had been thrown down on the floor near the hole bored through a plank, was still there where the servants had seen it. The listener had, at least, a good notion of personal comfort!
"Where was this rug taken from?" asked Ned.
"It was on the rack the last time I saw it," Jack answered.
"Was it clean at that time?" Ned continued, examining the rug with a glass.
"What do you mean by clean? It was dusty, of course, like everything else here."
"Were there any stains on it—stains like blood?" Ned went on, dragging the rug under the electric lights which had been switched on.
"Why, of course not. It was originally in the little den off the library, but father became tired of it and told Terance to bring it here."
"How long ago was that?"
"Oh, a month or two. I can't be exact as to the date, you know."
Ned handed his chum the glass and indicated a certain portion of the rug.
"What do you call that?" he asked. "What does it look like?"
"It looks like a spot of blood," Jack declared. "And it is wet, too! What do you make of this, Ned? Was Chang Chu attacked and killed by that sneak thief?"
"That is for us to find out," Ned answered. "At the present moment, it looks as if Chang Chu wouldn't be found on Pell or Doyers street. What is there is those boxes—the large ones sitting against the wall?"
"About everything, I take it. I never looked into them. Why?"
"We may as well see what they contain," Ned replied, advancing to the largest box and throwing up the cover. "What do you think now?" he asked, as a huddled figure stirred in the box and opened a pair of suffering eyes. "This is the Chink, I suppose?"
Before Jack could reply, Ned had the man out of the box, with the cords cut from his hands and feet, the cruel gag removed from his mouth. His blue blouse was gone! Chang Chu tumbled over on the floor when Ned tried to stand him on his feet. There was a small cut on his head.
"Chang velly much bum!" he said, with his hands on his stomach.
"Chang never forgets a word of slang," Jack laughed. "He will remember the slang word for anything when he forgets the real word! What did they do to you, Chang?" he continued, addressing the Chinaman.
Chang pressed his hands to his nose significantly and dropped his head back.
"Chloroform!" Ned declared, sniffing at the contents of the box.
The Chinaman could not describe the man who had attacked him. He had been alone in the attic, putting away old clothes, when he had been struck and seized from behind by a man he described as a giant for strength, stripped of his blouse, and lifted bodily into the box. There he had been bound, gagged and rendered unconscious by the use of the drug.
"The man who did it," mused Ned, "is an adept at crime, resourceful, daring. The chloroform would have attracted the attention of the servants at once if it had been administered in the open air. Then his taking the Chink's blouse as a disguise shows that he is quick to take advantage of his opportunities. A clever man."
"And he left no clue!" Jack complained. "Just our luck, Ned!"
"All we know is that he is tall, has light brown hair, and is very strong," Ned replied. "But there are ten thousand people in New York this minute who answer to that description."
"How do you know he is tall?" demanded Jack.
"When he lay on the rug," Ned explained, "he stretched out on his stomach to look through the hole, if he could. He couldn't; he could only listen, for the cut was made so as to be hidden by the ornamental brass piece that circles the rod from which the chandelier swings. The marks of his elbows and toes were on the soft fiber of the rug, showing him to be a man at least six feet tall."
Ned walked over to the large box again and bent over it.
"Crumbs!" he exclaimed, in a second. "Crumbs!"
"Then he must have brought a lunch up with him," Jack exclaimed excitedly. "There is no knowing how long he was here!"
"Some one in Washington has leaked!" Ned declared, angrily.
"Why Washington?" demanded Jack. "Why not New York?"
"Because no one in this city knows about our being engaged to hunt down the abductor. My instructions have all come in cypher, and some of them have, as you know, been addressed to this house. And there you are!"
Chang Chu arose limply, rubbing a small wound in his head from which blood had come, and tottered off toward the staircase. As he did so, Ned noticed that his pigtail was very black, very long, and very greasy.
"Did he take you by the cue?" asked the boy. "Did he pull your hair?"
"Velly much lough-neck pull—dam!" answered the Chinaman.
Ned went back to the box where the Chink had been hidden and began taking out the articles it held, slowly and one by one.
"The cloth he poured the chloroform on must be here," he said. "He would naturally throw it into the box before shutting down the cover, as there might still be enough of the drug in it to put the Chink to sleep."
"Here it is," Jack said, reaching into the box and lifting out a rag and smelling of it. "Here is the dope cloth, all right and pretty strong yet."
"That's it, all right," Ned answered. "A worn white handkerchief, eh?"
"Name or mark on it?" asked Jack, passing the cloth to Ned.
"Nothing of the sort," was the answer, "but there's something better. When the fellow pulled at the Chink's greasy pigtail he got his hand smeared with oil. Then he grasped this white cloth fiercely, and there you are! See! The mark of the thumb couldn't be plainer if it had been printed on. Observe the long cicatrice on the ball of the thumb? I'll take this down and photograph it."
"Tall, strong, blonde, scar on the thumb!" laughed Jack. "We are getting on."
"It would be interesting to know how he got into the house," Ned mused.
"If we could only catch him and shut his mouth," Jack muttered, "we wouldn't have such a rotten bad time in the mountains."
"It is not what he knows," Ned suggested. "It is what his master as Washington knows. We might put this chap under ten feet of earth, but the opposition from Washington would go right on."
"When was the child abducted?" asked Jack. "When and how?"
"He was taken from in front of the embassy early in the morning. The ambassador brought him out for a spin in his automobile and left him out in front a moment. When he went back to continue his morning ride the automobile and the boy were nowhere to be seen! This was before nine o'clock Monday morning. Yesterday, along about noon, the boy—or a lad very much resembling him—was seen by a lieutenant of infantry in a motor boat, speeding up the Potomac."
"Why didn't he catch him, then?" asked Jack.
"Because he did not know at that time that the prince had been kidnapped. The authorities kept everything quiet! I presume they thought the thief didn't know that he had committed a crime, and were afraid the newspapers would tell him about it!"
"Tell that to Frank!" laughed Jack. "He'll go up in the air!"
The boys found Jimmie and Oliver in the club-room when they went down. The garage and carriage house had been searched—in vain, of course, for the boys had encountered the Chinaman on his way down to the basement as they ascended the stairs, the elevator being closed for the night.
"I believe that Chink had something to do with it, all the same," declared Jimmie. "He ought to be watched every minute of the time!"
"Now, here's another point I don't understand," Jack said, going back to the conversation he had had with Ned in the attic. "Why do the authorities think the boy has been taken to the mountains?"
"Because that would be a natural place for the thieves to hide," Ned answered. "The mountains are easily within reach of Washington, and they are virtually inaccessible to known officers of the law—at least so it is reported. The mountains run from central Pennsylvania to central Alabama, a distance of about a thousand miles, and afford many desirable hiding places."
"Yes, and we're likely to get our crusts split down there!" Teddy grinned. "We will if they find out that we belong to the Secret Service!"
"The Potomac river rises in West Virginia," continued Ned, "and the prince may have been taken to the foothills in the launch he was seen in."
"Are we going in a motor boat?" asked Jimmie.
"We are going by rail as far as we can go," Ned answered, "and then take shank's horses for the wild country, with mules to tote the baggage. In the eastern part of West Virginia, we are likely to travel forty miles without seeing a cabin."
"Where do we get our eatings?" demanded Jimmie. "It makes me hungry to climb mountains. We'll have to have a relief expedition sent after us if we don't get plenty of eatings," he added, with a wink at Teddy.
"Plenty of game up there," Ned grinned. "Plenty of deer, turkeys, coon, rabbits, birds and bears! We can dodge the game laws! Also a few wildcats are reported to have been seen there. And there is said to be plenty of moonshine in the caves, too. Oh, we'll have a sweet old vacation, boys. And we start tomorrow!"
A CAMP IN THE MOUNTAINS
It was early June, and the members of the Boy Scout Camera Club were camped on a mountain top in West Virginia. They had spent about two weeks in making the trip to the point where they had established camp.
Three mules, divested of their burdens now, were "staked out" in a little corral fragrant with grass down near the timber line. The tent they had carried was a short distance below the summit, on the eastern slope, with packages and bags and boxes of provisions piled around it.
To the south lay Virginia, to the north, east and west stretched the mountainous district of West Virginia. Far below them ran the North Fork of the Potomac river.
What they saw was a wild and lonely country, with more deer, wild turkeys, and raccoons than human beings. On their hard and frequently delayed journey in they had passed cabins, surrounded here and there by rail fences, but there were none in sight from where they now stood.
The sun, a round ball of fire in the west, would be out of sight in half an hour, and then the desolate darkness of the mountains would surround them. A wild turkey called to its mate in the distance, and small creatures of the air fluttered about, as if determined to know what human beings were doing there, in their ordinarily safe retreat.
The boys had visited Washington the day following the incidents at the clubroom of the Black Bear Patrol, but had learned nothing of importance there. The launch in which the young prince had been seen had been traced up the river to the vicinity of Cumberland, but there the trail had ended.
"It is a case of needle-in-the-haystack," the Secret Service chief had said to Ned, on the morning of his departure for the mountains. "We have men looking over every inch of the large cities. We want you to rake those mountains with a fine-tooth comb! Personally, I believe that the prince is there."
"But," Ned had replied, "how are we to communicate with you in case we require more definite instructions?"
"You know what Sherman did when he left Atlanta?" laughed the chief.
"Why, he cut the wires," returned Ned, "so as not to have his movements hampered by orders from men who, not being on the ground, could not possibly know as much as he did of what ought to be done."
"That is what I want you to do!" the chief continued. "Cut the wires."
"But that is assuming a great responsibility," urged the boy.
"Very true, but I have an idea that you want to work in your own way, so go to it. A mess of lively boys running up and down the mountain sides looking for game and snap-shots ought not to arouse the suspicion of the thieves if they are there. Make friends with the mountain people if you can. They are naturally suspicious, but good as gold at heart."
That was his last talk with the chief. After that supplies had been bought and transported by rail to the nearest point, and there the mules had been bought and the difficult journey begun. They had just made their first permanent camp.
"I wouldn't mind living here a few years!" Teddy said. "It beats the hot old city! If I had plenty of reading matter and a full larder, I don't think I would ever go back. I wish Dad could step out of that Harvard thing and eat supper with us!"
The shrill scream of a mule now came up from the feeding ground below, and a commotion at the tent showed that one of the animals was kicking up a row there.
"That's that long-eared Uncle Ike," Jimmie McGraw exclaimed. "I feel in my bones that I'm going to love that mule! He's so worthless! If he had two legs less he'd beat Jesse James to the tall timber in piracy! He won't work if you don't watch him, and he'll steal everything he gets his eyes on! Yes, sir, I feel that there's a common sympathy between that mule and me, yet I know that we'll have a falling out some day! He's so open and above-board in his mischief."
"Can you see what he's doing now?" asked Teddy.
"Why, I saw him knocking at the door of the tent, and I presume that by this time he is sitting in my chair picking his teeth, after devouring the bread! That sure is some highwayman, that mule, yet I feel that I'm going to love and admonish him!"
The boys dashed down the slope to the tent and found Uncle Ike, as Jimmie insisted on calling a tall, ungainly, raw-boned mule, chewing at a slice of ham which he had pilfered from a box by the side of the fire.
"There's one thing about Uncle Ike," Jimmie grinned, as Ned drove the animal away with a club. "He always looks like he had been sent for to lead an experience meeting! He'll put on a face as long as a cable to a freight train, and then he'll turn to me and wink one eye, as if explaining that it was all for a joke."
"That's your ham he's chewing, Jimmie!" Ned declared.
"I suppose so," the boy replied. "That's what you get by being brother to a long-eared mule that for cussedness has Becker's gunmen backed up a creek with the oars lost!"
While the mule was being restored to his companions, Jimmie and Teddy began getting supper. They had plenty of tinned goods, plenty of flour, potatoes, meal and ham and bacon. Still, they thought they ought to have something in the way of game.
"I saw a wild turkey back there," Teddy volunteered.
"And I saw a coon," Jimmie added.
"Is there any law on turkeys and coons?" asked Jack, who was trying to make the fire burn bright with lengths of green wood.
"There ain't no law of any kind up here," Frank insisted.
"Then we'll go and get a coon," Jimmie declared. "You boys get a red-hot fire and I'll have the bird here before Ned gets that mule tied up!"
"Guess I'll go along," Teddy suggested. "I never did like to have anyone else go to the trouble of getting my wild meat for me! I'll go along, and Frank and Ned and Oliver can get supper."
Without waiting for any affirmative replies from their companions, the two lads darted away, and were soon lost in a canyon which ran at right angles with the ridge much farther down. Frank and Oliver began piling dry wood on the fire.
"Those boys will be back here in time for breakfast—just about!" Frank commented, as the coffee water boiled and the bacon began sizzling in the pan. "If they get any supper here they'll have to cook it!"
Presently Ned came back from the little valley where the mules were feeding and took a field glass from the tent.
"What's up now?" Teddy asked, as Ned walked back to the ridge and looked down into the valley of the North Fork. "Ned must be seeing, things!"
Ned remained oh the summit a long time, until the sun sank behind the range to the west and the valleys became ribbons of black between the lighter crests of the mountains.
Presently Frank scrambled up the yards of rugged, rock-strewn slope which led to the summit where Ned was standing, still with his field glass in his hand.
"Anything in sight over that way?" the boy asked, as he came to Ned's side.
"There is a column of smoke in the valley," Ned answered. "I thought at first that there were two, but I may have been mistaken. Do you remember what two columns of smoke would have indicated?"
"Of course!" laughed Frank. "If I should become lost in woods or mountains, or anywhere, I'd build two fires and get wet wood to make smudge, good and plenty. That would mean that I was lost and needed assistance. That's the Boy Scout Indian signal for help. I remember when we saw it north of the Arctic Circle, don't you?"
"I won't be apt to forget it right away," was the reply.
The boys remained standing on the summit for some moments, although it was now too dark for them to distinguish objects in the valley below. All around the June night called to them with its silences and its sharp and sudden rasp of sounds. There were the mountains, brooding, heavy, mysterious, and there were the fleets of flying clouds reaching down to wrap their summits!
"It is simply great up here!" Ned exclaimed presently. "That is the only word that seems to express it—great!"
"Yes, it is fine for a change," Frank admitted, "though I don't believe in the wilds as a permanent thing! Everything in the mountains and forests seems to me to be crude and half done. This, I presume, is because the world isn't finished yet. Those who come to places like this catch the Creator with his sleeves rolled up, if that isn't a coarse way of saying it."
"I like it, just the same!" Ned declared. "It is glorious! It is life!"
"It is healthful so far as animal life goes," laughed Frank, "but what about mental life? There would never have been anything wonderful in the way of inventions—like the wireless, and the telephone, and the uses of electricity—if mankind had been content to live and die in the wilds! It is crude, as I said before, unfinished, out of line with all the decrees of art. I'll take the city for mine, with its marble buildings, its wonderful art galleries, its beautiful parks!"
"Say, you mooners!" came a voice from the camp below, "if you've got done surveying the beautiful black landscape, suppose you come down to supper?"
The boys went down to the tent to find Jimmie and Teddy still absent.
"There are two things we'll have to set aside time for," Ned declared, as he took a seat on the ground before the blaze, with a great plate of food in his lap. "We'll have to arrange for keeping Uncle Ike, the mule, out of mischief, and for keeping track of Jimmie and Teddy. Those boys will get lost in the mountains yet, and go hungry for a few days. That would be punishment enough for Jimmie— hunger!"
The boys sat by the campfire a long time, heaping dry wood on the blaze until they were obliged to widen the circle about it. There was only the light of the stars, looking down from a cloud-flecked sky, but there would be a moon shortly after ten o'clock.
"If the boys don't return before long," Frank broke out, after a moment of silence, "I'm going to take a searchlight and go out looking for them."
The boy expressed the thought which was brooding in the minds of them all. They were more than anxious for the safety of the two truants. Oliver arose and walked away from the fire up the slope, until his figure was out of sight, but shortly came back and sat down again, his face expressing impatience as well as anxiety.
"There's no reason why they shouldn't see this fire," he said. "I walked over the summit a bit to see if the light was reflected over there. It is. If anywhere within two miles, they ought to see this blaze or the glow from it. They're just doing this to make us worry. I'd like to get them by the neck, this minute," he added.
Uncle Ike, the mule, gave vent to a vicious scream at that moment, and Ned arose and started in the direction of the feeding ground. When he reached the spot he saw that the mules were agitated, weaving about on the tying lines in either fear or anger.
"Uncle Ike," Ned said, patting the ugly beast on the neck, "what is it about your sleeping chamber that you don't like? Or it is your supper you object to?"
Uncle Ike thrust his long ears forward and elevated his heels, as if kicking at some imaginary object back of him. Then Ned saw a figure moving in the darkness.
"Come out of that!" he called. "Why are you sneaking around here?"
The figure advanced toward the boy then—the figure of an old woman!
JIMMIE AND TEDDY MISS A MEAL
"I was scared to come up until I heard your voice," the old lady said, as she came close to Ned. "I didn't know you were only a boy."
The woman appeared to be very old. Her hair was white and her lean face was wrinkled and leathery with time and storm and exposure to the winds of the hills. Still, old as she seemed to be, she walked alertly, with the swinging grace of the true mountain woman. She was very plainly dressed in a one-piece gown of dark calico. Her head was not covered at all, and the white hair took on a tinge of gold from the distant campfire. Her black eyes were sharp, yet kindly in expression.
"Good evening, mother," Ned said, removing his cap as he greeted the old lady, "we didn't expect to meet ladies here. Do you live in this locality?"
"Quite a step," the old lady said, in a gentle, hesitating tone, "quite a bit down the slope is where I live. I wanted to know what the fire meant, and so I came up. You don't mind my being here, do you?"
"Glad to have you come!" Ned responded, truthfully. "If you care to come up to our camp we'll be glad to give you a cup of tea and whatever else you want."
"I'll be glad to get a cup of tea" the woman declared. "We don't get tea up here in the mountains—not very often. We don't have the money to pay for it, and, then it is such a long way to go after it. Yes, I'll go with you."
Ned noted that the woman did not speak the dialect of the mountains. He wondered how long she had lived there, and if she lived alone. She did not long leave him in doubt on these points, for she seemed anxious to talk.
"I'm Mary Brady," she said, as they ascended the slope toward the fire. "I came here years ago with my husband, Michael Brady, to live in peace. Mike was a good man when he was himself, but the saloon men of New York were always after him when he had any money. We came here to be rid of them."
"That was the correct thing to do, it strikes me," Ned said, for want of something better, as she seemed to expect some friendly comment.
"I don't know," she went on. "We meant it for the best—but there was the moonshine! I didn't know about the moonshine when we came here. All I thought of was to get away from Houston street! He fell one day and they brought him home dead."
Ned was strangely interested in this simple life history. The poor old woman living there, probably alone and in want, after such an ending to a hopeful plan!
"And you kept on here?" he asked. "Why didn't you go back to the city?"
"There was the boy," she answered. "He was ten when we came here. I didn't want him to get the thirst! After Mike died I lived here to keep him in the good path. He is a good boy, but when he was twenty they got him, too—the moonshiners!"
"And he left you?" asked Ned.
"He said he couldn't make anything of himself here, so he went to Washington. He's never come back, though I've always kept a home for him, and never ceased to look for him. He writes me now and then that he's coming home, but he doesn't come! When I saw your fire I thought he might be with you."
By this time they were at the camp, and Mary Brady was presented to the boys and made comfortable by the fire, with tea and canned fruit before her. She enjoyed the lunch immensely and looked the gratitude she did not speak.
"When did you hear from your boy last?" asked Frank, by way of keeping the conversation going. "Did he write from Washington? Was it to Washington you said he went?"
"It was Washington," was the reply. "He wrote me a month or more ago that he would be here with friends in June. I thought he might be with you. He has been married since he left home, and has a child, though his wife is dead."
"And he said he was thinking of bringing the child here?" asked Ned, glancing significantly at Frank. "Did he say that in his last letter?"
"Yes, that he was thinking of bringing the boy here. It is only a mite of a boy—not more than seven years old, he said. I'm anxious for him to come."
Jack and Oliver gathered closer about the old lady in order to hear every word that was spoken. One brought her more tea and the other filled the sauce dish with peaches. Ned motioned to them to remain silent.
"And so you expect him to drop down on you any time?" Ned asked.
"Yes, my son and the boy. He's a cute little chap, Mike says. Mike was named for his father, and the lad's name is Mike, too. I'm anxious for him to get here. And I'm wondering whether he's light and blonde, with brown hair and blue eyes like his father, or dark, like my side of the family.
"What do you make of it?" Jack whispered to Oliver.
"What do I make of what?" demanded the other.
"Of the old lady and her three Mikes?" replied Jack, scornfully. "Have you been asleep all this time?"
"I was waiting for you to express an opinion," Oliver declared. "Do you think it possible that they would change the name of a prince of the royal blood to Mike?"
"So you've caught on, at last!" whispered Jack. "Do you really think we've tumbled on a streak of luck at the send-off?"
"I don't know," was the hesitating reply. "We'll have to cultivate this old lady."
"Did she say where her cottage is?" asked Oliver, directly. "We ought to verify her story, it seems to me. I'd like to hear Ned's opinion!"
"Do you remember what she said about Mike II. having blonde hair and blue eyes?" asked Jack, presently.
"Sure!" was the answer. "That made me sit up and take notice. It brought back to my memory the light brown hair on the bloody blade of the shears."
"Same here," announced Jack. "If this Mike II. comes here we'll have to find out if he has a cicatrice on the right thumb and a scar on the head, a scar which might have been brought about by a pair of shears thrown by a frightened maid in the city of New York!"
"Think of a crown prince being called Mike!" chuckled Oliver.
"Ned didn't say it was a crown prince!"
"He might just as well have said it! He didn't dispute me when I asked if it was a crown prince who had been abducted."
"If Jimmie and Teddy don't return soon," Jack said, changing the subject, "we'll have to start the Boy Scout Camera Club out looking for them."
"They'll be back when they get hungry!" laughed the other.
But Jimmie and Teddy were still away when the moon rose over the ridge to the east. Mrs. Brady was still by the campfire. She appeared to delight in the companionship of the boys. Having lived alone for years, she would have been delighted at any companionship whatever, but the boys were full of life and vitality, they were sympathetic, and, besides, they were from her old home—New York!
As the moon showed her round face over the summit of the range to the east she arose and stretched out a withered hand to Ned.
"I'm going," she said. "I've had a pleasant evening. You don't know how much it has been to me to sit here and talk with you! If you'll come down to my cabin some day I'll try to make it pleasant for you!"
"Some day," laughed Ned. "What do you say to my going right now? Of course I've got to see you home! Couldn't think of letting you go away alone."
"I've walked these mountains night and day for more than twenty years," faltered the old lady, "and I'm not afraid now!"
"You don't object to my going?" asked Ned.
"I'm awful glad to have you go," was the reply. "But you'll find it a long walk, there and back," she added.
"If it is too far for me to walk back," Ned laughed, "you may give me a bunk on the floor! Anyway, I'm going to see you home!"
As the boy spoke he beckoned to Frank to step to one side with him.
"Of course this looks all straight, on the face of it," he said, when the two were alone together, "but one can never tell. We've got to be pretty careful, for we are in a strange country, and are here for a purpose which may be resented by the mountaineers. We can't afford to take any chances."
"Do you suspect the old lady?" asked Frank, in amazement.
"I don't know what to think," was the hesitating reply. "The first night we spend in a permanent camp, up she comes with a story about a son being about to bring in a boy of seven for her to mother! Then, as if that wasn't enough of a bait for us to snap at, she goes on to say that the son is blonde, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Looks like we were being led on!"
"You bet it does," Frank replied. "Jimmie and Teddy have disappeared, and this may be a frame-up, and so I wouldn't go off alone with her. And, look here," Frank went on, "do you believe Uncle Ike would have kicked, and screamed, and made a row generally, if only this old lady had approached him? Do you, now?"
"She might have frightened him," Ned replied, "for he may not be used to women. Still, she may have had some one with her! I was thinking that Uncle Ike sounded a warning on slight cause," he added.
"Well, if I were you, I wouldn't go away alone with her," advised Frank. "Let me go with you if you insist on going."
"Of course I've got to go now," Ned went on. "I've promised her, and she is expecting me to go. But I'll tell you what you may do. You can wait until I have gone some distance and then follow on behind, not so as to be seen by any other person trailing us, but still close enough to be available in case of trouble."
"All right," Frank agreed. "I'll keep back far enough to see any one who might be following the two of you! I wish Jimmie was here! He'd be just the one to go with me. And there's always something doing when Jimmie is around!"
"I'm worried about those boys!" Ned answered. "I'm going to keep a sharp lookout for them, all the way to the cabin."
"There's something wrong," Frank hastened to say. "They never would have remained away from camp like this. And without supper, too! Jimmie is particular to be on hand when it comes to eating time. There! There's Uncle Ike talking in his sleep! I wonder what's eating him now? Shall I go and see?"
"No," Ned said, hastily, seizing Frank by the arm. "Don't even look in that direction. Watch Mrs. Mary Brady!"
The old woman's face was turned toward the spot where the mules were staked out, her figure was straight, tense, alert. She appeared to be listening and watching for some agreed-upon signal from the corral. Ned moved over toward her cautiously.
Once the old woman moved, involuntarily, toward the mules, but she drew back in a moment and stood, waiting, with her eyes on the boys, now in a little group not far from the spot where she stood.
SIGNALS IN THE CANYON
Jimmie and Teddy passed over the summit to the west of the camp and took their way down a difficult incline toward the headwaters of the Greenbrier river. They traveled some distance, walking, sliding, creeping, before they came in sight of a copse which appeared to be worth looking over for wild game.
"I don't know about this wild turkey business," Teddy said, as the boys stood on an elevation lifting above the patch of timber. "If I've got it right, wild turkeys are precious birds in West Virginia."
"I never once thought of that!" Jimmie exclaimed. "Why, we won't have any fun hunting at all! I wonder if there is a closed season for coons?"
Teddy took out a memorandum book and turned to an insert pasted on the inside of the cover. Dropping to the ground, so as not to attract the attention of any natives who might be near by, he read the slip by the aid of his electric searchlight.
"Open season for wild turkeys in West Virginia from October fifteen to December one," he read. "Now, what do you know about that? Rotten, eh?"
"I guess we can get one to eat, all right," grumbled Jimmie. "Who's going to know anything about it if we do, I'd like to know? Away off here in the mountains!"
"I presume there are constables and justices up here who would be glad to soak us for fifty or a hundred apiece!" Teddy grinned. "I reckon we'd better eat hens, and coon, and fresh fish—if we can get them! And deer! We get no venison steaks!"
"Not this season!" Jimmie grunted. "They'd take great joy, as you say, in getting us into jail and extracting all our vacation money! I'm going to take photographs of the West Virginia game laws. A man is about the only creature one can shoot down here during the summer and get away with it! I'll have Frank put that idea in his dad's newspaper!"
"We've got enough to eat, anyway," laughed Teddy. "The question before the house right now is how are we going to get down into that patch of trees?"
"The laws of gravity will take us down!" answered Jimmie. "Just step off this ledge and see if I'm not right. What do we want to go down there for, anyway, if we can't shoot a wild turkey after we get there? I'm going back to camp."
The night was falling fast, and stars were showing between masses of clouds. The boys had traveled farther from the camp than they had intended, and the return journey was all up hill. They surveyed the prospect gloomily.
"I could eat the top off one of the mountains!" Jimmie declared, as they turned to make the climb. "I never was so hungry in my life. Wish we were back in camp!"
Teddy, who had turned to look down into the valley, now caught Jimmie by the arm and pointed downward, where a low-lying ridge jutted out of the general slope and made a small canyon between itself and the body of the mountains, a canyon in which a trinkle of water showed.
"Do you see that column of smoke?" he asked, as Jimmie turned.
"There must be a camp there," Jimmie exclaimed. "I thought we would be all alone up here for a time—until we got a line on the men who stole the prince."
"Wait a minute!" Teddy answered. "There! Now do you see two columns of smoke?"
The two columns lifted skyward for only a second, then died down.
"That's the Boy Scout signal for help!" Jimmie commented. "I wonder what shut it off so quickly? It would be strange if we found Boy Scouts here in the mountains—eh?"
"According to all reports," Teddy answered, "you boys found Scouts in all parts of the world, even in China and the Philippines! If it is a Scout making that Indian sign for help, he'll get the smoke going again before long. There they are!"
The two columns of smoke were in the air again, ascending from the canyon between the mountainside and the outcropping ridge. Directly a gleam of fire was seen.
"That's the call for help, all right!" Jimmie cried. "What shall we do about it?"
"We ought to go right there. The boy may have been injured in a fall, and may be starving! We ought to get there as soon as possible."
"Without going back to camp to tell the boys?" asked Jimmie. "We have been gone a long time now, remember. They will be worrying about us pretty soon."
"But we ought to go right now!" insisted Teddy. "The boy may be in trouble."
"Something else coming!" cried Jimmie, then. "See that blazing stick working overtime? He's going to talk in the Myer code! Now count right and left."
"There's one to the right!" Teddy said. "I've lost track of the code already."
"No. 1 motion is to the right," Jimmie quoted from the wig-wag lesson he had learned on first becoming a Boy Scout. "It should embrace an arc of ninety degrees, starting at the vertical and returning to it without pause, and should be made in a plane exactly at right angles to the line connecting the two stations.
"And No. 2 motion is the same, only on the left side. And three is the same, only the signal goes to the ground and comes back to the vertical! Now I've got it! Then he wig-wags again I'll tell you what he says. You read, too, and see if we agree."
"One to the right!" cried Jimmie, "and two to the left!"
"That means H," Teddy translated. "What comes next?"
"No. 1 and then No. 2," replied Jimmie. "That's plain enough!"
"It stands for E," Teddy went on, "and I know what the next letter will be, too."
"No. 2, No. 2, No, 1! I knew it! That is L. The other will be P!"
"No. 1, No. 2, No. 1, No. 2!" read Teddy, following the flight of the blazing stick as it moved through the darkness. "That's L, and the word is HELP!"
"And here we go to see about it!" Jimmie decided, moving down the slope. "The boy can't be very far off. I'd like to know how a Boy Scout got lost out here."
"We may become lost ourselves," laughed Teddy, "if we don't look out where we are going. I wouldn't know where to head for if I wanted to go back to camp right now."
"All we would have to do would be to climb the mountain," Jimmie declared.
"There's more than one summit," persisted Teddy. "We'd better get a line on something to guide ourselves by when we go back."
"We came straight west," the other said, "and if we get lost the moon will tell us which way to go—if it doesn't rise in the west down here!"
The wig-wag code below was still in evidence, always repeating the same word, "Help." The boys hesitated no longer, but went rattling down the slope at a speed which spoke well for their balancing powers! As they entered the little canyon from the north, Jimmie halted and settled back on a rock, his hand on Teddy's shoulder.
"Do you suppose he heard us coming down the slope?" he asked.
"He must have been deaf if he didn't," was the reply. "We brought about half the mountain down with us, it seemed to me. Of course he heard us."
"Well, we ought to have been more cautious," Jimmie declared.
"I guess we aren't likely to frighten him away," suggested Teddy.
"But this may be a frame-up" warned the other. "Look here! The people who sent that spy to Jack's house knew the Boy Scouts were going out to look for the prince, didn't they? We have never seen or heard anything of them since that night, but there is good reasons for believing that they have had us under surveillance."
"And you think this may be a trap for us?" asked Teddy.
"It may be," was the reply. "If they wanted to trap us, they would go about it in just about this way, if they were wise, wouldn't they? Sure they would."
"Then we'd better sneak up to that campfire and find out what is going on before we show ourselves," suggested Teddy. "We ought to have come down here as softly as two flakes of snow? What? We'll know better then to make so much noise next time!"
"There may be no next time," Jimmie advised, as they moved down the canyon, in the middle of which ran a small stream of water, a rivulet connecting with the Greenbrier river farther to the south and west. It was now quite dark, and they were obliged to feel every step of their way, for there were numerous crevices in the floor of the canyon.
Pressing on, slowly, cautiously, their weapons within easy reach, the boys finally turned a little angle of rock and came within sight of a camp-fire not far away.
"There!" Jimmie whispered. "I had a notion that we should find more than one here. Why did the Scout wig-wag for help when there were three husky men with him?"
Teddy opened his eyes wider, but attempted no solution of the puzzle.
"There's a little chap sitting alone by the fire," Jimmie went on, peering through his field-glass, "and there are three men gathered in a huddle on the other side of the fire. They all look like they were listening for something."
"I don't wonder—the way we came down the slope!" The other grinned.
While the boys watched one of the men strode over to where the boy was sitting and, evidently, began questioning him. The watchers were too far away to hear any conversation between the two. Presently the boy sprang up and started to run.
In a moment the heavy hand of the man was on his shoulder and he was dragged back to the fire and dumped down like a sack of grain. He lay quite still for a moment.
"I'd like to know what that means!" Teddy whispered. "That's brutal!"
"That gives me faith in the boy!" exclaimed Jimmie.
"What's the answer to that?" demanded Teddy.
"They probably saw him doing the wig-wag!" was Jimmie's reply. "They're threatening him."
"And they may have been beating him up for doing it? That may be."
"And, again," the other continued, "that may be a little rehearsal all for our benefit! There are men in the world sharp enough to put up just that kind of a bluff."
"That's very true," was the reply. "We've got to lie here until we know what it all means. We can't go away and leave the little fellow without knowing more about the signals. Those men may be moonshiners. We might get a reward!"
"We'll be lucky if we don't get into jail!" Jimmie grunted. "If we don't, we'll get into an infirmary for the hungry! If I have to lie on this rock much longer with nothing to eat I'll have to be carried back on a stretcher!"
"You always were the brave little man with the knife and fork!" grinned Teddy.
The four figures by the fire remained in the old order for a long time, the men grouped together, the boy alone on the side of the blaze next to the watchers.
"I wish I could get up to him?" Teddy said, as if requesting advice on the question of a nearer approach to the boy. "I'd like to see if it is the prince!"
"The prince isn't a Boy Scout!" declared Jimmie. "Besides, this boy is too old to be the prince! The prince is only seven years old—just a little baby."
"Anyway, I'm going to make a sneak up there," insisted Teddy.
Before Jimmie could stop him he was away, crawling on hands and knees through the heavy shadows of the cliffs which lay about the camp- fire. Jimmie watched him anxiously for a moment and then started to follow him. The two were not far away from the lad, and were thinking of doing something to attract his attention when a stone rolled into a crevice with a great bumping sound. The boys dropped down on their faces and waited, their hearts beating like trip- hammers as the men around the fire sprang to their feet.
"What was that?" demanded a hoarse voice. "Who is out there?" he added, turning to the darkness beyond. "I'm going to shoot out that way in a minute!"
"I like this!" whispered Jimmie. "This is some adventure! What?"
A MINT IN THE MOUNTAINS
"Why," the old woman said, stepping closer to the group of boys, "that's Buck!"
A heavily-built man with a scraggly beard stepped away from the corral and approached the group by the fire, his stubby fingers twining in and out of his unkempt whiskers as he walked along, his eyes fixed on the fire and those about it.
"That's Buck Skypole," the old woman went on, as the advancing figure stopped. "I didn't know you was to come after me Buck," she added, speaking to the new-comer.
"I 'lowed you'd be right skeered of the dark," the man answered, "so I 'lowed I'd come on up an' tote you home."
He rubbed his left thigh carefully for a moment and then spoke to Ned.
"That's a right pert mule," he said.
"Did Uncle Ike kick you?" asked Jack, nudging Oliver in the ribs with an elbow. "We'll have to wallop him a bit, if he did."
"I reckon I ain't got no mad at the creeter," Buck replied. "A man must keep out'n reach of a mule. Seein' the mule's got only a few feet of play in his laigs, he ought to be able to do that! No; I ain't goin' to recommend no beatin's f'r the mule!"
"Buck," said the old lady, "these are boys from New York, my old home! They're taking pictures of the mountains."
"They c'n take the mountains, too!" Buck laughed. "F'r all me!"
"I thought Mike might have come in with them," the old lady went on. "He isn't here, but I've had a real pleasant time with the boys. I'm much obliged to you, lads," she added, facing Ned. "I'm grateful for the tea and the fruit. They're rare here."
"I reckoned you wouldn't find Mike here," Buck chuckled, "f'r while you was gone a message come from Mike. He can't get here now, but he's sent the kid!"
"He has?" cried the woman, joyfully. "Do you mean to tell me, Buck, that the boy is right down there this minute, in my cabin?"
"Sure I do," was the reply, "an' a bright little feller he is."
"Give us a guess on that," whispered Jack to Oliver. "Is the kid in the cabin Mike III., or is he the prince? Give you three guesses!"
"I give it up!" the boy whispered back.
"Why didn't you bring the kid along with you?" asked Frank. "We all want to see him. His grandmother has been telling us about him."
"Its a right smart walk for a little one!" Buck answered.
"You're welcome to come down and see him" Mrs. Brady said. "I'd be proud to give you all a snack in the morning."
"Suppose we do go and see the kid?" asked Oliver. "I'm curious to know all about the little shaver!"
"I'm for it!" Frank exclaimed.
"And I'll be the first one there!" Jack put in. "I always liked kids— from Washington! No one will molest the camp while we are gone."
"I wouldn't leave it alone, if I were you," advised the old lady. "There's a heap of bad people come into the mountains sometimes. Don't all leave at once."
"That's good advice, mother," Ned said. "Two will go and two will remain here. In a short time the two out in the hills will return, and then there will be a good-sized guard for what little stuff we have."
"All right," Jack declared, "if any one is going to stay here, it will be me! Come to think of it, I'm too blamed tired to walk another step to-night. Eh, Oliver?"
"I'll remain here if you do," the boy replied. "I'm worn out up to my knees now, climbing mountains. And, besides, Uncle Ike would be lonesome without me away!"
"Very well" Ned agreed. "That leaves Frank and me for the visit. When Jimmie and Teddy come, put them to bed without supper!"
"You'll know when they come, then," laughed Jack, "for Jimmie going to bed without supper will be a noisy proposition. You can hear him for ten miles."
"I'm anxious about the boys," Ned went on. "I'm afraid something is wrong with them. They should have been back here hours ago."
"You remember the Indian signal for help you saw in the valley?" asked Frank, in a moment. "Well, they may have seen that, too, and taken a notion to find out about it. They went in that direction when they left the camp."
"That may be the reason for their delay," Ned answered. "We should have attended to that signal ourselves," he added. "There may have been some one in serious trouble down there. I hope the boys did go— that is, if nothing happens to them because of their going. Boy Scouts should assist each other at every opportunity."
After a little more talk regarding the boy who had been sent to Mary Brady by her son in Washington, and after Buck had been given a couple of cups of steaming hot coffee, the four started down the slope to the west.
"Did any one say how far it was to the old lady's cabin?" asked Jack of his chum, as they nestled down by the fire, the mountain air being cold, even in June.
"Buck said it was three whoops and a holler!" almost shrieked Oliver. "Do you know what he meant by that?"
"I don't know," answered Jack, "but I should think, from what she said, that the boys won't feel like walking back up the mountain to-night. Therefore, if Jimmie and Teddy don't come, well be alone."
"I wonder if they would know the prince if they met him in the road?" laughed Oliver. "That kid down there is just as much the prince as I am. What did they steal the kid for, anyway?"
"Politics!" yawned Jack.
"What did they send him over here for, anyway?"
"Politics!" with another yawn.
"Aw, go on to bed!" grinned Oliver. "I'll build up another fire, to serve as a sort of lighthouse for the boys and sit up for them."
So Jack went into the tent, pulled down a great heap of blankets, drew off his coat and shoes and stockings, and was soon asleep in a neat little nest!
Oliver sat by the fire for a short time and then went up to the summit to look over the valley. The moon was rising now, and he could see the four who had recently left the camp working their way over a ridge to the south and west.
Straight down, in a canyon made by an outcropping ledge of rock, he saw a faint light, as from a campfire which had been allowed to die down.
"The mountains are full of people to-night!" he mused. "If I thought I could make Uncle Ike behave himself, I'd ride down there and see who those campers are."
The boy stood undecided for some moments, then his eyes opened wider and he moved downward toward the fire. He was thinking of the Boy Scout signals for help which Ned and Frank had mentioned seeing!
"I wonder if Jack would go down there with me!"
When he reached the camp Jack was in the land of dreams, and he decided not to awake him. He could go alone just as well!
He went on down to the feeding ground and presented Uncle Ike with a lump of sugar. The mule thanked him with wiggling ears and dived a soft muzzle into his coat pocket for another lump.
"Not until you come back, Uncle Ike!" Oliver explained. "If you do a good job traveling up and down the mountainside, you're going to have another piece of sugar when we get back!"
The boy saddled and bridled the animal, mounted, and urged him away from the feeding ground. Uncle Ike, thinking his day's work finished, objected to being put into harness again, and reared and kicked until Oliver was obliged to dismount and bribe him with more sugar.
"Will you go now, you fool mule?" he asked.
Uncle Ike finally decided to go, and his sure feet were soon pressing the slope toward the campfire. Oliver struck the canyon just about where Jimmie and Teddy had entered it.
He left Uncle Ike there and advanced toward the campfire on foot. There were only a few embers left, and no signs of the fires which had sent up the two columns of smoke! There was no one in sight from the place where Oliver first came in direct view of the blaze.
He stepped along cautiously, listening as he walked, and soon came to a second fire. This, too, was burned down low. Beyond this he saw the dark opening of a cave in the outcropping ridge.
As Oliver stepped toward it, thinking the boys might have taken refuge there for the night, he stumbled over something which rolled under his foot and nearly fell to the ground. When he stooped over to see what it was that had tripped him, he saw an electric flashlight lying before him.
"The boys have been here, all right" he mused. "Now, I wonder if this was taken from them, or whether they lost it, or whether it was placed here to mark the trail? Either supposition may be the correct one!"
The question was settled in a moment, for a voice which he knew came out of the darkness.
"Found it, eh? Give it to me!"
"Jimmie!" whispered Oliver.
"Get in here out of the light of the fire!" Jimmie whispered, "and bring the electric in with you. Come on in, and see what we've found."
The opening in the ridge was a shallow one, Oliver discovered as he entered it. To his surprise he found three lads there instead of the two he had been looking for.
"You saw the fires?" asked Jimmie, in a low tone.
"Of course I did. Why didn't you come to camp?"
"This is the boy that built the Boy Scout signals!" Jimmie said, bringing the other forward. "His name is Dode Surratt, and he's a bold, bad boy, being at present lookout for a gang of counterfeiters!"
"That's a nice clean job," Oliver replied. "Where are the counterfeiters?"
"At work in a hole in the ground. Hear the click of their machines? They are turning out silver dollars faster than we can spend them. We hid around until they went to work, then came up to talk with Dode."
Jimmie pointed to a crevice in the rock and invited Oliver to look. A lance of light came up into the cave, and the boy's eyes followed it. He could see a square room below, with a bright fire burning at one end and figures moving about it.
"Making counterfeit money, are they?" asked Oliver.
"That's what they're doing! We were just thinking of getting out when you came. Dode wants to go with us, but we tell him to remain with the gang until they can be rounded up by the officers."
Dode started to make some remark, but Jimmie stopped him.
"They haven't got any consideration coming from you, have they?" he asked. "They stole you, didn't they? They brought you here from Washington to make a thief of you, didn't they?"
"And they beat you up for making the signals, too," Teddy put in. "And they're coming out now!" he added. "So we'll all git—but Dode!"
UNCLE IKE PRESENTS HIMSELF
Mrs. Brady and Buck walking together, Ned and Frank discussed the situation thoroughly as they descended the mountainside.
"This may be a frame-up," Ned observed, "but it is up to us to see it through. The boy who has just been brought in may be the prince, or he may be the grandson, and we are here to get the answer."
"Or there may be no boy at the cabin at all!" Frank suggested. "The conspirators know that we are in the mountains for the purpose of looking up the prince. What better plan than the one now working could they have settled on? If they are sharp at all, they would understand that a story of a child brought on from Washington would set us in motion—would be likely to get us into a trap!"
They scrambled on down the slope for some distance, too busy keeping upright to do any talking, then Frank went on.
"You know very well that I'm no prophet of evil, Ned, but it looks to me that we have betrayed our mission here by taking such an interest in the child. Would a lot of boys looking for snap-shots trail off in the night to see a boy when they might have taken a look at him the next day?"
"If I know anything about human nature" Ned answered, "those two people ahead of us are honest. If it is a frame-up, they are not in it."
"Anyway," Frank went on, "I'm glad the plans were changed by the arrival of Buck. It is much better for us to meet whatever is coming to us side by side than to have me sneaking back in the distance!"
Ned agreed to this, and the two quickened their pace in order to come up with Buck and Mrs. Brady, who were now turning from the west to the south, keeping along the slope of the mountain. Directly they came to a narrow trail which led into a green valley.
Following this, they soon came to a couple of acres of cleared land, in the middle of which stood a rough cabin of peeled logs. A dim light came from a square window by the door, and there came from the interior the sound of a man's voice humming a song.
The woman drew up and looked suspiciously at Buck.
"Who is that?" she asked. "You didn't tell me my son came, too."
"No," replied Buck, "I didn't, because, you see, Mike didn't come! He sent this young fellow in with the kid, bringing word that he would be along later."
"And who is it?" demanded the woman.
"A likely young chap," was the reply. "He asked me to get you home to-night, because he wants to leave early in the morning."
"He won't leave early in the morning if he sees us here," Ned whispered to Frank. "If that is the prince in there, the man with him may be the fellow who made his way into Jack's house and listened from the attic."
"What are we going to do about it, then?" asked Frank, anxiously.
"We've got to meet him," Ned replied. "Whoever he is, he knows from Buck that Mrs. Brady went up the mountain to visit a camp of strangers. We've got to go in and face him! I wish we had kept away from here to-night."
Mrs. Brady and Buck now opened the door and entered the cabin, the boys close behind them. A log fire was burning on a stone hearth, and a tall, rather handsome young man with light hair and blue eyes was sitting in a homemade chair before it.
He stirred the fire to a brighter blaze as they entered, and the leaping flames disclosed a dark-haired child of perhaps seven years asleep on a bed in a corner of the small room. Without speaking, without so much as a glance at the visitor, the old lady walked swiftly to the bed and took the child in her arms.
The boy opened his eyes and started to cry, but she quieted him with low words and sat down on the edge of the bed, swinging him back and forth with a motion of her arms and shoulders. The man at the fire glanced sharply at the woman and then turned his eyes to the boys, now standing not far from the bed.
"The little dear!" the woman cried, mothering the child. "He's all tired out with his long journey!"
"This is the man that brung the boy in," Buck said, pointing to the figure by the fire. "A mess of a time he must have had of it, too."
"You are the grandmother?" asked the stranger. "Yes, I understand. And are these boys your sons, too?" he added, nodding at Ned and Frank, suspiciously.
"Only New York boys spending a vacation in the mountains," Ned said, answering the question. "Mrs. Brady came to our camp tonight looking for her son and we came home with her. We are looking for good pictures," he added.
The stranger pointed to the old lady, sitting with the sleeping child on her breast.
"There is one," he said.
"Yes, and I'm sorry I haven't my camera with me."
"Are you thinking of remaining in this section long?" the visitor asked.
"We can't say," laughed Ned. "We may move on to-morrow, and may stay here a week."
The man's suspicions seemed to have vanished. He talked frankly with the boys, and occasionally addressed a word to the old lady. He gave her, briefly, a good report of her son's progress in Washington, and handed her a roll of bank-notes.
"He is coming here himself soon," he said, "and he will bring more. He is doing very nicely there."
Ned was wishing the boy would waken when the old lady arose from the bed and laid him gently down. He stirred uneasily in his sleep and she stood by his side, smoothing his dark hair away from his forehead.
"He favors my side of the family, being dark," she said. "The Stileses are all dark. If one of you boys will sit with him a moment," she added, with mountain hospitality, "I'll get you all a snack. It was a long road over the mountains."
Ned accepted the invitation eagerly and sat down by the child. The face was dark and slender, the eyebrows turned up a trifle at the outer comers.
"Is it Mike III., or is it the prince?" he was asking himself when the boy awoke and sat up in bed with a jerk.
"What's comin' off here?" he demanded, rubbing his sleepy eyes. "What kind of a bum game is this? I want my daddy."
The visitor by the fire laughed.
"He's up in city slum talk," he said. "And he's learned something of French, too, knocking around with the boys in school."
"I can talk Franch like a native," asserted the boy.
"And what else?" asked the man by the fire.
"Any old thing!" boasted the child. "They keep me at books all the time. I'm glad I'm with grandmother in the hills. Are you my grandmother?" he asked, pointing to the old woman, now bending over the fire.
"Yes, deary," was the reply. "I'm going to take care of you now."
The boy tumbled back on the bed again and closed his eyes. Frank looked at Ned significantly.
"There's no doubt about it!" his eyes said. "This child is Mike III."
The old lady made hot corn bread and brewed a pot of mountain tea. The boys were not at all hungry, but managed to eat and drink moderately. Then Ned arose.
"We've got to be on our way," he said. "It will be morning before we get back to camp if we don't start pretty soon!"
When the boys, after a cordial good night from Mrs. Brady and Buck, left the cabin the visitor followed them out. Ned stopped breathing, almost, as he took him by the arm.
"There's one thing I want you to explain to the old lady after a time," the man said. "I suppose I might do it myself, but I prefer to let her know from personal observation something of the case first. That boy is not exactly right."
"Not mentally sound, you mean?" asked Ned. "He appeared to be all right just now."
"Oh, he's bright enough," answered the other, "but he's been ill and has been in a hospital at Washington, and has been cuddled and humored so long that he likes to boss! Not good people to boss, the attendants in a hospital, you will say, but I guess they let this kid have his way. When he was delirious they told him all sorts of fairy tales about kings and princes, and he actually thinks some of them are true. If he breaks out in any of his tantrums before you leave, kindly tell the old lady what I am telling you, will you?"
Ned almost gasped! So the boy was likely to talk of kings and princes! He was likely to become masterful in his manners!
"I may have to change my mind," he thought. "This may be the prince, and not Mike III. But the boy's English, and there's his street slang! What about that? I reckon that we have a job on our hands!"
The two stood talking together in the moonlight for some moments, the stranger evidently resolved to make a good impression on the boys, while Frank walked on along the trail, looking back now and then to see if his chum was coming.
"This boy's father," the man went on, "has permitted him to have his own way about everything. That was a mistake, of course, but he is trying to rectify it now by placing him under the care of his grandmother, who, if I mistake not, will see that he is properly disciplined."
"It has been a long time since the father left here," Ned suggested.
"Yes, along time."
"He is doing well in Washington?"
"Yes, he is connected with the State department."
Ned made a mental note of that!
"And is receiving a fair salary?" he asked.
"Oh, yes; he's doing nicely, far better than his mother has any notion of."
Here was more food for thought. Why had the father delegated the pleasant duty of taking the boy back to the old mountain home to another if he had been situated so that he might have taken the journey himself?
"Is it the prince, or is it Mike III.?" he kept asking himself.
While they stood there together a great clattering came down the trail, and they saw Frank turn aside and stand at attention, as if waiting for some object, seen in the distance, to come up. Directly the sounds settled down to the rattling of stones and the steady pounding of hoofs.
"Look what's here!" Frank shouted, pointing.
Ned moved forward, closer to the trail, and in a moment caught sight of a tall, lank, ungainly mule coming galloping toward him!
"What do you think of him?" called Frank. "He's come to tell us that it is time we were home and in bed."
"Uncle Ike!" called Ned. "Come here, you foolish mule!"
Uncle Ike, now in plain sight, kicked up his heels in derision but finally came to an abrupt halt in front of Ned, and stood with ears pitched forward and forelegs braced back, evidently very much frightened.
A LANK MULE AS A DECOY
Judd Bradley, the young man who had brought the boy into the mountains, stood for a moment watching the mule curiously. Then he stepped nearer to Ned, who was trying to quiet the fractious animal.
"Be careful," Ned warned, as Bradley approached. "Uncle Ike doesn't take to strangers. He may kick if you come within reach."
"Hell kick you whether you come within reach or not!" grumbled Buck, who had been brought from the cabin by the clatter of the mule's hoofs. "He reached over forty acres of rock to hand me one on the laig!" he added, rubbing his left thigh.
Mrs. Brady came to the doorway of the cabin and stood there, outlined against the red firelight within, with the boy in her arms. The child reached forth his arms impatiently, then began beating the old woman with his small fists.
"Go an' get me the horse!" he commanded. "Mike wants a ride!"
"That's the prince, all right!" whispered Frank to Ned. "That's the prince of some slum alley in Washington. What he needs is a club, applied just before and after meals, and just before retiring, with a dose at intervals during the night!"
"I'm not thinking of the prince now," Ned returned, still in a low tone, for the others were not far off, "I'm wondering how Uncle Ike came to be here."
"Broke away and eloped with himself, probably," laughed Frank.
"Yes," grinned Ned, "and put on saddle and bridle before he started!"
Frank's eyes now began to stick out.
"S-a-a-y!" he whispered. "We'd better be getting back to camp! There's something out of whack there! If the mule could only talk!"
Bradley, who had backed away at Ned's warning, now came up to the mule's head.
"He doesn't kick with his ears, does he?" he asked, with a smile.
"He's an outlaw," Ned answered, wishing Bradley would return to the cabin. "He's thrown one of the boys, and we must be on our way. If you have time before you leave, come up to the camp. We've got the latest things in cameras and photographic material."
"I may get up there in the morning," was the reply.
Bradley and Mrs. Brady entered the house and closed the door, and Ned turned to his chum with an odd look on his face.
"I've seen that man somewhere before tonight!" he said.
"Then you'd better try hard to place him" Frank answered, "for we are going to see more of him in the future, if I'm not mistaken. Perhaps you saw him on one of your visits to Washington."
"That may be," Ned replied. "Anyway, I may be able to think it out before morning."
Uncle Ike laid his nose against Ned's shoulder and gave him a push.
"He's in a hurry!" the boy laughed. "We ought to be, too! Is it possible that one of the boys saddled him for a ride on the mountain in the night?"
"Just like Jack or Oliver. Or Jimmie may have returned and planned one of his midnight expeditions!"
"Get up and ride," Ned advised. "I'll walk and try to place that man's face."
"You might have seen it in the rogue's gallery," suggested Frank, leaping into the saddle and starting away, the mule pulling and rearing every moment.
Finally Ned called out to him to stop, and walked up to his side.
"What is the matter with Uncle Ike?" he asked.
"He insists on keeping down toward the canyon," was Frank's reply. "We came cat-cornering down the slope, didn't we?"
"We certainly did," Ned answered, considering the matter gravely. "Tell you what you do," he went on, "let the mule have his head! Let him go just where he wants to. It is the instinct of animals to follow precedent, same as men. A man will follow a cow path until it becomes a city street, and a cow, a horse, or a mule will follow a trail previously used—if only passed over once! Let the mule have his head, and he may take us to the place where somebody was dumped!"
"Solomon had nothing on you, Ned!" laughed Frank. "Go to it! Uncle Ike, it is you for the scene of the abduction! And you may go just as fast as you please!"
The mule started off at a fast pace, keeping to the bottom of the valley and finally entering the canyon at the south end. Ned walked by Frank's side, his hand on the stirrup, listening for a sound he dreaded to hear. He was afraid one of the boys had been thrown from the animal's back, and might be lying, suffering, in one of the crevices or breaks which marked the bottom of the canyon.
After traveling some little distance in the canyon, Frank drew up and pointed ahead.
"Right over there," he said, "is the spot where we saw the smoke signs!"
"That's a fact!" Ned answered. "One of the boys must have come here to investigate and left Uncle Ike without tying! The mule has been here before, or he wouldn't plod along so steadily. Suppose we leave him here and walk on cautiously?"
"Just what I was about to propose," Frank agreed.
Uncle Ike seemed to resent being left alone in the canyon, which was now almost as light as day, save where the shadows of the mountain to the east lay along the wall on that side. The mule was finally quieted and left in a dark angle.
Moving in the shadows, the boys soon came to an angle in the cut and looked out on the remains of a campfire. They pushed on until they came opposite to it, but saw no one. In order to reach it they would be obliged to cross the canyon, not very wide there, but flooded with moonlight in the center.
While they stood in the shadow of the mountain a man came stumbling down the slope ten yards away from them. At first they thought it was one of their chums, but when the man's figure came into the moonlight they saw that he was tall, heavily built, and also heavily bearded. He walked straight across to the fire and passed it, turning into a shallow cave there was in the rock of the outcropping ridge.
The boys saw him enter the cave and look sharply around, then he disappeared as suddenly and completely as if he had walked into the solid rock.
"We're getting all the stage effects!" Frank whispered. "That man ducked into a moonshiner's establishment!"
"He ducked in somewhere, all right," Ned answered. "I wish we could get across there without exhibiting ourselves to the whole country."
"I believe the boy that rode the mule is over there!" Frank suggested.
"Yes; and he's probably been picked up by the moonshiners," Ned agreed. "We've got to get over there, so here goes!"
The boys went across the streak of moonlight like a couple of flashes, and drew up at the mouth of the cavern. So far as they could determine no one had observed them.
They crept to the very back of the cave and huddled close together, listening.
"Not a soul in sight!" Frank whispered. "That might have been a ghost!"
"Do ghosts rattle metal?" asked Ned.
There followed another silence, and then the clink of metal came clearer to the ears of the listening boys.
"Where does it come from?" asked Frank. "There's not a crack in sight in this rock."
A puff of soft coal gas wafted into the cave, causing the boys to hold their breaths. Then, in spite of all he could do to prevent it, Frank sneezed.
Almost instantly a dark figure appeared between the place where the boys were hidden and the space of moonlight in front. The man stepped out, looked up and down the canyon, and came slowly back to meet another figure.
"Nothing doing!" a gruff voice said.
"But that wasn't any bird!" insisted another gruff voice.
"Well, you may look for yourself!"
"I tell you," the second speaker went on, "that those boys are still out in the hills! When I was at the camp there was only one in the tent, and he sat there with a gun in his lap, watching for the others to come back."
"Did you speak with him?"
"What for would I speak with him?"
"To get his story. What are they here for? That is worth knowing."
"Well, I didn't show myself because we're not supposed to be here ourselves!" came the other voice. "If you hadn't built the fire outside to-night we'd have been in no danger. Now we've got a lot of boys sneaking around. What did you do with the others?"
"They're in the work-room."
"In the work-room, seeing everything! You're a bright lot! You know now, I suppose that we've got to leave those lads here when we go away?"
"I have known that all along. There are plenty of kids in the world. These won't be missed. It is a bad job, but it must be done!"
"They shouldn't have come sneaking around!"
The two men disappeared again, but this time Ned saw the opening to the work-room, as they had termed the underground apartment, when they swung an imitation rock made of plank aside and stepped down. For a moment their figures were illumined by the red light of the fire within, and then they were no longer in sight.
"They're a cheerful pair!" Frank whispered.
"Counterfeiters!" Ned whispered, in reply. "And murderers!"
"How are we going to get the boys out?" asked Frank. "They'll be killed if we don't."
"One must raise a ruction on the outside, and the other must sneak in while the outlaws are gone. That is the only way I can think of now. If you go out there and get Uncle Ike, and coax a couple of sobs out of him, and rattle stones, and shoot your automatic like rain, the outlaws may all rush out of the cave."
"I can do all that, but how will you get in?"
"When they run out, they will pass me. Then I'll get in through the door," Ned replied. "If there's no one in there it won't take me long to find the boys and turn them loose."
"But if there is some one in there?"
"Then you'll hear shooting," Ned answered, grimly. "In that case, mount the mule and get back to camp and bring Jack and Oliver and a lot of guns."
"But one of those boys must be in there," Frank insisted. "Some one rode Ike here!"
"We don't know who it is that is here," Ned reflected. "Anyway, you've got to get away with the mule after making all that noise. Don't go in the direction of the Brady cabin. We don't want that man Bradley mixing us up with police officers!"
"Every minute counts!" Frank declared, "I'm off. You'll hear a racket like the blowing up of a world in about three minutes! Good luck!"
The lads shook hands and parted. It seemed to each one that the other was going to his death, but only encouraging words were spoken.
In five minutes a horrible clamor rang down the canyon. Uncle Ike screamed, and the beating of hoofs sounded like a charge of cavalry. Then came sharp, quick pistol shots.
Three men dashed out of the cavern and Ned crept in at the open door!
"I don't know what I shall find in here!" he mused, as he came into the light of a great fire, "but I'll know all about it right soon!"
"PACKED AWAY LIKE SARDINES"
Even in that underground room Ned could hear the shooting outside and the screams of the aggravated mule. Several weapons seemed to be pouring out lead, and the boy wondered if the outlaws were getting the range of his chum.
The firing seemed to grow fainter as he advanced into the room. Either the outlaws were pursuing Frank or the shooters were taking refuge behind rocks which deadened the sound.
At first the boy kept his eye out for an attack on himself, but there seemed to be none of the outlaws left in the subterranean place. The fire was built at one side, and the light from it filled the whole apartment. Counterfeit dollars lay about, scattered over the floor as if dropped in great haste.
Halting in the center of the room, after closing and baring the outer door, Ned put his fingers to his lips and gave out a low whine, one of the signals used by the boys of the Wolf Patrol. While he listened for a response, the firing outside came nearer, or appeared from the sound to do so.