THE RADIO BOYS ON THE MEXICAN BORDER
BY GERALD BRECKENRIDGE
"The Radio Boys on Secret Service Duty," "The Radio Boys with the Revenue Guards," "The Radio Boys' Search for the Inca's Treasure," "The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition."
A.L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers New York
THE RADIO BOYS SERIES
A Series of Stories for Boys of All Ages
By GERALD BRECKENRIDGE
The Radio Boys on the Mexican Border
The Radio Boys on Secret Service Duty
The Radio Boys with the Revenue Guards
The Radio Boys' Search for the Inca's Treasure
The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition
By A.L. BURT COMPANY 1922
THE RADIO BOYS ON THE MEXICAN BORDER
Made in "U. S. A."
Table of Contents
DIRECTIONS FOR INSTALLING AN AMATEUR RADIO RECEIVING TELEPHONE
CHAPTER I - A CRY IN THE AIR
CHAPTER II - THE ENEMY NEAR
CHAPTER III - A DARING LEAP
CHAPTER IV - SHOTS AT THE STATION
CHAPTER V - PLANS FOR THE FLIGHT
CHAPTER VI - A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
CHAPTER VII - KIDNAPPED
CHAPTER VIII - HELD FOR RANSOM
CHAPTER IX - ON THE DESERT TRAIL
CHAPTER X - A BRUSH WITH THE ENEMY
CHAPTER XI - JACK CANNOT SLEEP
CHAPTER XII - JACK DISCOVERS A TRAITOR
CHAPTER XIII - THE NET IS DRAWN TIGHTER
CHAPTER XIV - THE KEY TO THE MYSTERY
CHAPTER XV - TO THE RESCUE
CHAPTER XVI - A SOUND IN THE SKY
CHAPTER XVII - INSIDE THE CAVE
CHAPTER XVIII - THE FIGHT IN THE CAVE
CHAPTER XIX - RESTING UP
CHAPTER XX - CONFERRING BY RADIO
CHAPTER XXI - GAINING AN ALLY
CHAPTER XXII - FLYING TO THE RESCUE
CHAPTER XXIII - THE TABLES TURNED
CHAPTER XXIV - FRANK SAVES THE DAY
CHAPTER XXV - DANGER AT HAND
CHAPTER XXVI - THE NIGHT ATTACK
CHAPTER XXVII - SENORITA RAFAELA
CHAPTER XXVIII - THE FAIR TRAITRESS
CHAPTER XXIX - THREE CHEERS FOR THE RADIO BOYS
CHAPTER XXX - GOOD NEWS FOR ANXIOUS EARS
CHAPTER XXXI - CALM AFTER THE STORM
CHAPTER XXXII - MORE ADVENTURE AHEAD
The development of radio telephony is still in its infancy at this time of writing in 1922. And yet it has made strides that were undreamed of in 1918. Experiments made in that year in Germany, and by the Italian Government in the Adriatic, enabled the human voice to be projected by radio some hundreds of miles. Today the broadcasting stations, from which nightly concerts are sent far and wide across the land, have tremendous range.
Estimates compiled by the various American companies making and selling radiophone equipment showed that in March of 1922 there were more than 700,000 receiving sets installed throughout the country and that installations were increasing so rapidly it was impossible to compute the percentage with any degree of accuracy, as the gains even from week to week were great.
When you boys read this the problems of control of the air will have been simplified to some extent. Yet at the beginning of 1922 they were simply chaotic. Then the United States Government of necessity took a hand. The result will be, eventually, that certain wave lengths will be set aside for the exclusive use of amateurs, others for commercial purposes, still others for governmental use, and so on.
In this connection, you will note that in the story Jack Hampton's father builds sending stations on Long Island and in New Mexico. This is unusual and requires explanation.
The tremendous growth of amateur receiving stations is due in part to the fact that such stations require no governmental license. A sending station, on the other hand, does require a license, and such license is not granted except upon good reasons being shown. It would be natural for the government, however, to give Mr. Hampton license to use a special wave length—such as 1,800 metres—for transoceanic radio experiments. Extension of the license to the New Mexico plant would follow.
DIRECTIONS FOR INSTALLING AN AMATEUR RADIO RECEIVING TELEPHONE
In order that the boy interested in radio telephony may construct his own receiving set, the Author herein will describe the construction of a small, cheap set which almost any lad handy at mechanics can build. Such a set should be sufficiently powerful to permit of successfully picking up the concerts and other programme entertainments being broadcasted frequently by stations throughout the country.
Two drawings are given herewith which will enable boys to visualize the appearance of the set, and will be of aid in following instructions.
Referring to Figure 1 let us examine first the construction of the receiving inductance marked L. The latter is shown in detail in Figure 2, and consists of a heavy piece of cardboard. The back of an ordinary writing pad will do.
First, draw the circle out with a compass to the diameter shown and then divide off the outside into an unequal number of divisions as shown. Draw a light pencil line through each of these marks to the centre of the circle. Now with your scissors cut out the disc, after which you cut the slots as shown.
The slots should be about one-quarter of an inch in width and of the depth shown in the drawing. Two such discs should be made and, when all cut out, should be given several coats of shellac to add stiffness and to improve the insulating qualities.
Now at your hardware dealer's buy one-quarter pound of No. 24 double, cotton-covered wire and proceed to wind the coils in the manner shown. Keep the windings even and avoid all joints throughout the length of winding.
When you have finished, mount the coils as shown in the drawing. Make sure that the windings on both coils run in the same direction. If you fail to do this, the set will not work.
For the detector, it is better to purchase a good make of galena detector at any radio supply store. If you are handy with tools, however, you can buy the galena and make your own detector. It will work with more or less satisfaction.
Your next need will be the condenser. The condenser consists of a series of aluminum plates, some of which are movable and the rest stationary.
Buy a small variable condenser. Its function is to tune the secondary circuit, which is accomplished simply by turning the knob. Such a condenser could not be made without the use of a good set of tools, and the author strongly advises it be bought instead of made at home in order to avoid trouble. The aluminum plates are spaced very closely and great care should be taken to avoid bending them, as they must not touch each other.
The aerial for this set should be about 60 to 100 feet in length and as high and clear of surrounding objects as possible. A simple porcelain cleat at either end, as shown in the drawing, will serve to insulate it sufficiently.
Your ground connection can be made best by wiring to the cold water pipe, although wiring to a steam or gas pipe will do almost as well.
You are now prepared to mount the various instruments in their proper locations. For your table instruments, get a good pine board about seven-eighths of an inch thick. Buy four binding posts and use one for the aerial wire, one for the ground wire, and two for the phones or head set.
To operate the set, first bring the hinged coil of wire close up to the fixed coil and adjust the detector until you can hear in your receivers the loudest click caused by the turning on and off of the key to a nearby electric light. If no light is available, a buzzer and dry battery should be used. When the detector is properly adjusted you will be able to hear the buzz quite distinctly in the head phones if the buzzer is not too far away.
The actual adjustment of the detector is rather a delicate job, and once it is in the proper position it is a good plan to avoid jarring it, as it is liable to get out of adjustment very easily.
Once the sensitive spot on your detector is found, slowly turn the knob on your condenser and at some spot on it you should be able to pick up signals of some sort, either of radiophone or spark. If the set does not work, then go over all your wiring and be sure that the windings of the two coils are both running the same way.
The above set will work well for short distances, say up to twelve or fifteen miles. Beyond that, however, it will not receive music unless you have unusual facilities for putting up an aerial to a considerable height and well clear of surrounding objects.
Such a set should be constructed at a minimum of cost and may later, after you have become familiar with the operation of radio appliances, easily be converted into a set of much greater range by the use of a vacuum tube as detector and may even, by slight changes, be given the much desired regenerative effects.
A CRY IN THE AIR
"Well, Bob, here we are again. And no word from Jack yet."
"That's right, Frank. But the weather has been bad for sending so great a distance for days. When these spring storms come to an end the static will lift and well stand a better chance to hear from him."
"Righto, Bob. Then, too, the Hamptons may not have finished their station on time."
The other shook his head. "No, Jack wrote us they would have everything installed by the 15th and that we should be on the lookout for his voice. And when he says he'll do a thing, he generally does it. It must be the weather. Let's step out again and have a look."
Taking off their headpieces, the two boys opened the door of the private radiophone station where the above conversation took place and stepped out to a little platform. It was a mild day late in June, and the sandy Long Island plain, broken only by a few trees, with the ocean in the distance, lay smiling before them. A succession of electrical storms which for days had swept the countryside in rapid succession apparently had come to an end. The clouds were lifting, and there was more than a promise of early sunlight to brighten the Saturday holiday.
The boys looked hopefully at each other.
"Looks better than it has for days, Frank."
A few moments more they chatted hopefully about the prospects, then re-entered the station.
Frank Merrick and Bob Temple were chums, a little under 18 years of age each. It was their bitterest regret that they had been too young to take any part in the World War some years before. Frank was dark, curly-haired, of medium height and slim, but strong and wiry. Bob was fair and sleepy-eyed, a fraction under six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. A third chum and the leader of the trio was Jack Hampton, 19 years of age. He had gone to New Mexico several months before with his father, a mining engineer.
All three boys were sons of wealthy parents, with country estates near the far end of Long Island. Frank's parents, in fact, were dead, and he lived with the Temples. Mr. Temple was his guardian and administrator of the large fortune left by his father, who had been Mr. Temple's partner in an exporting firm with headquarters in New York City. Jack Hampton also was motherless.
The boys were keenly interested in scientific inventions, and were given every facility by Mr. Temple and Mr. Hampton for indulging their hobbies. Such indulgence required considerable sums of money, but the men believed the boys were worth it. In fact, both gentlemen were scientifically inclined themselves, and were able to give the boys much valuable advice.
When Mr. Hampton decided to go to Texas and New Mexico as the representative of a group of "independent" oil operators engaged in a bitter war with the Oil Trust known as the "Octopus," Jack begged so hard to be permitted to go along that his father let him quit Harrington Hall Military Academy two months before the end of the term.
It was agreed that when school ended, June 28, Frank and Bob should join Jack in the Southwest for their summer vacation. The two boys owned an airplane in which they hoped to make the trip when the time came. Mr. Temple, however, was dubious about letting them attempt to make so long a flight alone.
"But, Dad," Bob would argue, whenever the matter was discussed, "we'll be all right. We've made lots of flights without any accidents. We're as capable as anybody. You know yourself what the instructors up at Mineola told you. You say we are too young to fly away alone. But look at the young fellows that got to be 'aces' in the War! Not much older than we are now."
It must be confessed that Mrs. Temple thought little of the matter one way or the other. She had so many social duties to take up her time that there was little left for the boys. Accordingly, the boys had only Mr. Temple to persuade and they felt pretty certain of doing that in time. So the last two months of school were spent in poring over maps and routes, and in studying up on landing fields and flying conditions generally throughout the territory they would have to cover.
Much of this study for the proposed flight was carried on at the radiophone station on the Hampton estate. Mr. Hampton was an enthusiast about the development of radio telephony and it was through him the boys first had become interested in the subject. A year earlier he had built a powerful station for the purpose of making experiments in talking across the ocean. On that account the United States Government had granted him a special permit to use an 1,800 metre wave length.
Before leaving for the Southwest, Jack told the boys his father intended to build in Texas or New Mexico another radiophone station of similar wave length. This would enable Mr. Hampton to communicate with his New York confreres through his Long Island station. The big thing to the boys, however, was that they would be able to talk to each other across 2,000 miles of territory. Delays in construction in the Southwest had occurred, however, and communication between the two stations had not yet been established when our story opens.
As the boys re-entered the station after their inspection of the weather, Bob threw himself sprawlingly into a deep wicker chair and, picking up a book, began idly to turn the pages. Frank went to the table where the control apparatus was located and put on a headpiece. For a few moments there was silence, which Frank presently shattered with a loud cry of: "Bob. Bob. Come here."
Bob dropped his book and, leaping to his feet, strode to his chum's side.
"What is it?"
"Put on a headpiece, Bob," said Frank in a voice of great excitement. "I believe Jack is trying to get us."
Excited as his chum, Bob clamped a receiver on his head, while Frank manipulated the "amplifier" and "detector" knobs on the control apparatus.
A variety of sounds greeted the boys at first, whistles, calls, and chattering coming to their ears. Then as their tuner searched out the higher regions of the air, they shut out the sounds of the low-range air traffic. There was a thin, shrieking sound. Then, that also disappeared. And then quite suddenly the listening, expectant boys heard Jack's voice speaking to them just as plainly as if he stood in the room.
"Frank. Bob. Bob. Frank," Jack was saying. "Can you hear me? Can you hear me?"
"Hurray, Jack, sure we can hear you," cried Frank, bending forward to speak into the transmitter on the stand before him.
Then as Jack's voice continued calling without paying him any attention, he straightened up and laughed.
"Gee. I forgot," he laughed. Laying down his headpiece, he ran across the room; opened a door into the power house adjoining where the mechanic was dozing over his pipe and called to him to throw on the generator.
Galloping back, as the man obeyed, Frank again snatched up his headpiece. Bob already was bending over a transmitter, calling to Jack in faraway New Mexico. Both boys listened with straining ears for the response. Presently Jack answered: "I can hear you, but only very faintly. Put that band piece on the talking machine. You know the one I like so much. I can't think of its name. I'll tune to it."
Frank hastily shuffled through a pile of talking machine records. Finding the one he sought, he put it on the machine which stood directly in front of a big condensing horn strapped to the back of a chair to give it the proper height. A moment or two later, Jack's voice in the receivers declared:
"All right. Shut her off now. I'm fixed fine."
"Say, Jack, think of talking 2,000 miles like this," said Bob.
"Oh, we've been working some days out here," answered Jack. "But we couldn't get you."
"No," cut in Frank. "The static interfered, I guess. But it lifted today."
"How are things going, Jack?" Bob inquired next.
Jack's voice became excited. "Going?" he answered. "Fellows, I never knew what excitement was until this last week."
"What do you mean?" demanded both boys together.
"Oh, I couldn't tell you now," laughed Jack. "It would take all day and then some to tell you all that's happening around here. But, let me tell you, between Dad's business opponents and a gang of Mexican bandits that appeared on the scene lately, things are getting pretty lively. Say, when are you coming? Now's the time if ever——"
Suddenly, Jack's voice ceased abruptly, to be succeeded a moment later by his agonized cry for "Help." Then there was a crash that rang in the eardrums of the alarmed boys listening in. Then, silence.
"Jack. Jack," they called. "What's the matter?"
There was no answer.
THE ENEMY NEAR
Frank Merrick and Bob Hampton looked at each other in alarm. Their faces were pale.
That cry for "Help" which abruptly had cut off Jack's voice as he spoke to them from his radiophone station 2,000 miles away in New Mexico still rang in their ears. Their heads still hummed from the vibrating crash which had succeeded. What did it all mean?
Frank snatched the receiver from his head, while Bob removed his more slowly. Frank voiced the question in each mind as he said in a tone of apprehension:
"What do you think happened to Jack?"
"You know as much as I do," answered his chum.
"Well, do you know what I think?" asked Frank with energy. "I think those Mexican bandits he spoke about sneaked up on him."
"Well, if they did, they caught a Tartar," said Bob, with conviction, remembering Jack's athletic prowess. All three boys were athletic, good swimmers, boxers and wrestlers, as well as skillful fencers. Jack, however, was unquestionably the superior of the others, except that Bob was the best wrestler.
Frank shook his head dubiously. "I don't know," he said. "If there was a bunch of them and if they sneaked up from behind while he was talking."
"Just the same," said Bob, "old Jack would put up some battle. I'll bet you the furniture got mussed up all right, all right. That's the reason for that crash. Probably the microphone was torn from the cords. They may even have wrecked the station. Boy, oh boy, don't I wish I'd been there." And Bob doubled up his fists and pranced around, making deadly swings at imaginary foes.
"Calm down, Bob," said Frank, dropping into a chair and running a hand through his hair as he was in the habit of doing when perplexed. "We don't know that it happened the way we figure. We don't know what happened. Maybe Jack was badly hurt, maybe he was killed. Or he may be a prisoner of the bandits.
"Oh," he cried, leaping to his feet and beginning to walk up and down the room distractedly, "isn't there something we can do? This is maddening."
"Calm down yourself, Frank," said Bob, always the cooler of the two in a crisis. "If we can't do any better, at least we can wire to Jack's father and find out in a few hours what happened."
At this moment the door was pushed open. A tall man of distinguished appearance, still in the prime of life, and bearing a close resemblance to Bob, entered the room. He glanced inquiringly at the boys.
"Something gone wrong?" he asked. "What's the trouble?"
"Hello, Uncle George."
It was Mr. Temple, Bob's father and Frank's guardian, and there was relief in the boys' voices as they greeted him. He always was so capable in an emergency.
"Motored home at noon today," he said. "Guess I've got spring fever. Anyhow, I couldn't stand it in the city. Della told me you were over here and that you thought, perhaps, you would hear from the Hamptons today." Della was Bob's younger sister, and the Temples' only other child.
"We heard all right, Dad," said Bob gravely. Thereupon he proceeded to relate what had occurred.
Mr. Temple listened in silence. His face showed he was disturbed. At the conclusion of Bob's recital, he walked over to a headpiece and put it on.
"No use, Uncle George," said Frank, but Mr. Temple turned to him with a twinkle in his eye.
"That so?" he said.
With a cry, Frank leaped from his chair, seized a headpiece and put it on.
"Hurray, it's Jack," he shouted. Then he bent over to the telephone and called:
"Jack. Jack. Are you hurt? What happened?"
"Oh, I'm bunged up a little," came back Jack's voice, in a cheerful tone. "But there are no bones broken."
"Was it the bandits?" demanded Bob, who had clamped on a third headpiece, as he elbowed Frank aside to speak into the transmitter.
"Yes. Three of them," responded Jack. "A scouting party. They sneaked in behind me. Thought I was alone, I guess, but when I hollered for help Dad came in from the power house on the run and the pair of us put them down for the count. We've got them tied up here now. The microphone cord was snapped but I was able to make repairs. So I started calling for you right away."
"Jack, this is Mr. Temple," cut in the older man at this point. "If your father is there, please put him on the phone. I'd like to speak to him."
"All right, Mr. Temple," answered Jack. "He's right here. Wait just a minute."
Frank and Bob politely removed their headpieces and walked to a bookcase, talking in low tones, as they leaned their elbows on the top of it. This room, by the way, deserves a brief description.
It was circular and without windows. The walls were hung with a material resembling burlap in appearance, but of special construction and sound-proof. The ceiling was nine feet high. From a point six feet up the walls material like that in the walls stretched to a point in the middle of the ceiling. The room had somewhat the appearance of the interior of a small circus tent. This construction was for the purpose of increasing the acoustic properties.
While Mr. Temple conversed with Mr. Hampton, in whose oil operations he naturally was interested, as he had invested a considerable sum in them, the boys talked in whispers. They were frankly envious of Jack's adventures and wishing that they, too, were on the ground. Suddenly, something said by his father caught Bob's attention, and he stopped talking to Frank and turned to listen.
"Well, I'll tell you, Hampton," Bob heard his father say, "I've got a sharp attack of spring fever. I think I need a vacation. And if these two youngsters of mine will let me go along, I'll come out with them."
Bob couldn't control his eagerness. Going up to his father's side, he pulled insistently at his sleeve.
"Wait a minute, Hampton," said Mr. Temple. "Bob has something on his mind." He removed the receiver and regarded his son with a twinkle. "Out with it," he said. "I suppose that quite shamelessly you've been listening to my conversation."
"No, Dad, Honest Injun," protested Bob. "Only I couldn't help overhearing that part about you going with us. Say, Dad, we'll go by airplane, won't we?"
Mr. Temple groaned in mock dismay. "Run along," he said. "You'll drive me crazy with that airplane business." Then, once more adjusting his headpiece, he resumed his interrupted conversation with Mr. Hampton.
Bob returned to Frank, wearing a wide grin. "I couldn't resist putting over that piece of propaganda," he said.
"Do you think he'll let us fly?" whispered Frank.
"Say," answered Bob scornfully, "now that Dad has decided to go along, it's a cinch. He's as crazy about flying as Mr. Hampton is about the radiophone."
"Ssst. Ssst," came a warning whisper, interrupting them. They swung about to face the door into the power house. It was part-way open and the round good-natured face of Tom Barnum, filled now with anxiety, was framed in the opening. Tom was the mechanic-watchman. He beckoned, and the boys tiptoed across the room and into the power house, closing the door behind them. Old Davey, caretaker at the Hampton home, stood there, wringing his hands.
"What is it? What's the matter?" Frank Merrick asked sharply.
"Old Davey says there's a thief up at the house," said Tom.
"A thief?" said Bob. "How do you know?"
"Seed him myself with my own two eyes," quavered Old Davey, a little old man who was a pensioner of Mr. Hampton's. "He's a big dark ugly-lookin' feller. I seed him a-sneakin' into the house through the cellar door I left open to git out some garden tools."
"Then what did you do?" asked Frank.
"I run," said Old Davey, simply. "Leastways I tried to, but my legs ain't what they used to be."
"Come on, Bob," said Frank, impulsively. "Let's go see."
"Not till we tell Dad, first," said Bob, as always the cooler.
Re-entering the sending room, Bob once more gained the attention of his father, who still was in conversation with Mr. Hampton. He told him what Old Davey had reported. Mr. Temple readjusted the headpiece and swung about to the transmitter.
"Anything in your house a fellow could carry off in a pocket, Hampton?" he said. "Because the boys tell me there is a thief in it right now, and we're going up to try to catch him."
"I don't think so," said Mr. Hampton, and then added in a tone of alarm: "Great guns, Temple, yes. There is. There's a duplicate list among my papers that the Octopus would give anything to obtain possession of. It's a list of the lessees out here in the oil fields who have joined the independents."
"All right, Hampton," said Mr. Temple, "we're off."
Removing the headpiece, he hurried Bob back into the power house. There he ordered Tom to switch off the motor, lock up and follow them. Then accompanied by the boys and with Old Davey trotting alongside to keep up, he started in swift strides for the Hampton house, which could be seen above the intervening tree tops, about a quarter of a mile away.
"I thought you came out from town for a little peace and quiet, Dad," said Bob. "You're certainly getting it, aren't you? Hey. There he goes." And with a shout, Bob started running swiftly toward the figure of a man who had just emerged from the open cellar door at the rear of the Hampton house.
A DARING LEAP
At Bob's shout the intruder who had just emerged from the Hampton cellar looked back over his shoulder. Seeing he was discovered he broke into a desperate run. He was heading toward the front of the house where ran the long and winding drive which led to the main highroad.
The man shouted hoarsely, and from the front of the house came the sound of a powerful motor engine being set in motion.
"He's got a car waiting for him," cried Bob, who was in the lead. "Drat the luck, he'll escape us yet."
"Hey, Bob, we can cut 'em off at the Gut," called Frank, and he struck away at a tangent from their course as the man disappeared around the house and the motor car could be heard roaring off down the drive.
"Righto," cried Bob, and he followed his chum.
Old Davey had dropped far behind and Mr. Temple and Tom Barnum were laboring along some yards in the rear of the two boys and steadily losing ground.
"Careful, boys," called Mr. Temple gaspingly, as he grasped the meaning of the boys' maneuver. "Don't be rash. May be several of them."
"All right, Dad," sang out Bob over his shoulder. "We'll be careful. Follow along."
The boys were heading for a place in the woods where the drive ran between six-foot banks before turning a sharp corner. Cars perforce had to be slowed up going through this place which the boys called the Gut. Furthermore, the drive approached this place by a winding, circuitous route, while the boys were not far distant from it by the shortcut through the woods which they were following. Chances were even that they would be in time to intercept the fugitives. Yet what could they do even if they arrived in time? They gave no thought to that as they crashed through the underbrush.
Bob slightly in the lead reached the top of the bank overhanging the road ahead of his comrade and experienced a thrill of triumph as he heard the roar of the approaching car and realized he had arrived first. The car slowed down as it entered the Gut. Evidently the driver remembered the perilous place from when he had driven through on approaching the house.
The car passed below going at a snail's pace while Frank was still a short distance in the rear and Mr. Temple and Tom Barnum were not yet in sight. It was an open touring car with the top folded back. There were three men in it, one on the seat beside the driver and the third in the rear. He was the man who had entered the Hampton house. The driver appeared to be a New York taxi chauffeur, and probably had been employed for the trip. The others were swarthy men, foreign in appearance.
The man beside the driver, looking up, saw Bob, and shouted. At that moment the car passed directly beneath him, and Bob leaped. He landed on the running board beside the rear seat. Steadying himself as the car lurched from the impact of his weight, Bob reached in and grasped the man on the rear seat by the coat collar and half pulled him from the car, so that his body lay across the door.
Then the unexpected occurred. The driver opened his throttle and the car leaped ahead, and at the same time the man beside him stood up and struck at Bob.
Bob leaned back to avoid the blow, and the next moment found himself flat on his back in the road, with the car disappearing around the curve.
Frank, who by now had reached the top of the bank, dropped to the road beside him and bent over him with real anxiety in his voice as he said:
"Bob, Bob, are you hurt?"
Ruefully rubbing the back of his head, Bob sat up.
"No," said he, "But they got away, Frank."
Again there was a crashing in the underbrush on the top of the bank, and Mr. Temple and Tom Barnum came into view, red and perspiring.
"Escaped you, hey?" said Mr. Temple, leaping to the road, as Bob scrambled to his feet. "But, say, I see you captured something all right." And he pointed to a coat clutched fast in Bob's hand.
Then for the first time Bob noticed that in falling from the car he had dragged his victim's coat with him. He held it up and looked at it curiously.
"He must have been wriggling out of his coat when he found you wouldn't let go," surmised Frank. "I could see him threshing around just as I came up to the top of the bank. Then you fell and held on tight and the coat was pulled from him."
"Yes, I guess that's the way it happened," assented Bob. "Well, I'd rather have had the fellow. This isn't any good to me." And he tossed the coat away contemptuously.
"Not so fast, Bob," said Frank, stooping to pick up the garment. "Let's see what's in the pockets. There may be a clue as to the man's identity."
"That's right, Frank," said Mr. Temple. "Search it well. And, Bob, did you notice the license number of the car? We can telephone and have it intercepted."
"No," confessed Bob. "I was too busy to get that."
Frank interrupted the conversation with a shout of delight. "Look at this," he cried, holding up a long strip of paper. "Return trip ticket to Ransome, New Mexico. And a wallet with a big bunch of bills in it. And here, what's this?" he added, holding up a thick, legal-looking envelope. "Why, Mr. Hampton's name is written on it."
"Let me have that, Frank," said Mr. Temple, extending his hand. Frank passed him the envelope. Mr. Temple noted the seal had been broken, and opening it he pulled out a thick document down which he ran his glance hurriedly. Then his face became grave.
"Boys," he said, "Mr. Hampton has many things of value in his home, but this was the most valuable of all." Briefly he explained the paper contained a list of names of "independents" in the oil field, together with other information, which would give the Octopus a very great advantage in the business war between the Oil Trust and the "independents" if the document fell into its hands.
"This is pretty serious business, boys," Mr. Temple continued. "Bob, you were very rash, but you did a good stroke of business that time. Come," he added, "we'll go back to the house, and call up the police. Maybe that car can be stopped and its occupants arrested."
As they turned through the woods, another thought occurred to Mr. Temple, and he asked Frank what was the name of the man to whom the railroad ticket had been issued.
"Jose Morales," read Frank. "This is the portion for the return trip from New York. Evidently the man came from—why, Mr. Temple, he came here from Ransome, New Mexico. That's the nearest station on the railroad to the Hampton's camp."
"You're right, my boy," said Mr. Temple gravely. "There is some mystery here."
Frank thwacked Bob gleefully on the back. "Say, Bob," he declared, "old Jack isn't having all the fun after all, is he?"
SHOTS AT THE STATION
"Boys," said Mr. Temple, when the Temple home, a short distance from the Hampton place, was reached, "come into the library with me. I want to have a serious talk with you."
Obediently, Bob and Frank filed into the room and sat down in deep leather armchairs, while Mr. Temple sat back in a swinging chair by his broad, flat-topped desk. Selecting a cigar from the humidor at his elbow, he lighted it and puffed thoughtfully several moments before addressing the chums.
"First of all," he said at the conclusion of this period of silence, "I've decided that we will not notify the police of this affair."
"Why not, Dad?" demanded Bob in surprise.
"We want to keep this matter to ourselves until we can see more clearly what it means," explained Mr. Temple. "We recovered what was stolen, anyhow. But more than that, I begin to suspect there is something more behind all this than mere business rivalry between the independent oil operators and the Trust."
"What do you mean, Uncle George?" asked Frank, puzzled.
"Well, boys, I'll tell you," said Mr. Temple, speaking deliberately and thoughtfully. "In the first place I know the men at the head of the so-called Octopus. They are keen business men and quick to seize every legitimate advantage. But they are above such unscrupulous tactics as this.
"I know the signs point to them as the instigator of our troubles at Mr. Hampton's camp and then here today. But those signs point to something else, too. If you will recall, Jack said the fellows who raided the Hamptons today, or rather tried to do so but failed, were Mexicans. And this man who entered the Hampton house today was a Mexican, too. What was his name, Frank?"
"Morales. Jose Morales," said Frank, promptly.
"Yes, Jose Morales," said Mr. Temple. "Well, I believe that certain Mexicans are responsible for our troubles, and not our business rivals, at all."
"What in the world?" said Bob, puzzled.
"But why, Uncle George?" demanded Frank.
"In order to make trouble between the United States and Mexico," said Mr. Temple, promptly.
"Oh," said Bob, "I begin to see what you're driving at. You mean, then, that by attacking the independents in the Southwest these Mexicans would get us so stirred up that Uncle Sam would take a hand to protect our properties, and might even send troops to the border?"
"That's exactly what I mean, Bob," said Mr. Temple approvingly.
"But in that case, Uncle George," demanded Frank, "why wouldn't the Mexicans be making trouble for the Octopus, too?"
"Because, Frank," explained the older man, "the properties throughout the region where we are located are mainly held by independent operators. The Octopus is trying to gobble us up, but it hasn't succeeded, and won't if we can prevent. But, just the same, it isn't there for the Mexicans to attack. If they want to harass anybody in the hope of getting the United States Government to intervene, they must attack us and our friends and allies."
"Yes, I see that now," said Frank, nodding. "But what makes you think the Mexicans want to get into a war with Uncle Sam?"
"They don't particularly yearn to come to blows with us, Frank," said Mr. Temple. "And not all Mexicans are involved, if my suspicions are correct, but only a faction. You see, boys, General Obregon has been President of Mexico now for several years, but the country is far from pacified and far from submitting to his rule. The rebel forces in the northern part of Mexico are gaining in strength right along. One of these days they will be in open revolution.
"Now these Mexicans who want to depose Obregon would like to get him into trouble with the United States in the hope that what they desire would then come to pass."
"I begin to understand you," said Bob, with more animation than usual. "You mean the rebels would like to stir up trouble on the border and get Obregon into hot water with Uncle Sam in just the same way that Pancho Villa some years ago made trouble between our government and Carranza by his raid on Columbus, New Mexico?"
"That's it, Bob," said his father.
"Gee, Dad," cried Bob. "This time, if there's a war, I'm going to enlist, believe me."
"Same here, Uncle George," declared Frank. "Bob and I could go as aviators."
"Hurray for the young aviators of the Rio Grande," cried Bob, swinging his arm like a cheer leader of the school team.
"You boys don't know what you're talking about," said Mr. Temple, but with an indulgent smile. "I should imagine you would have read enough of the horrors of war during the past few years to make you never want to see a battlefield or shoot a gun at a man."
"That's right, Uncle George," said the sensitive Frank, shuddering as he recalled some of the things he had read of Europe's devastation.
"No, boys," said Mr. Temple, "if I am right about this, we'll have something more important to do than to fight battles or track bandits across the Mexican desert by airplane."
"What?" chorused the chums.
"Instead of making war," said Mr. Temple slowly, "we'll have to prevent it."
"Righto, Uncle George," cried Frank, springing up. "When do we pack?"
"Young man, you're in a hurry, aren't you?" smiled Mr. Temple. "Well, boys, I believe that by day after tomorrow I can have my affairs in order so that I can leave them for awhile. Then we'll start. That is, of course, if you'll carry me as a passenger."
"Will we carry him?" said Bob, striding to his side. "Good old Dad." And he thumped his father on the shoulder, a resounding blow that made the older man grimace humorously and draw away from him.
They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Frank opened the door to find a maid standing in the passage. She was trembling with excitement.
"Oh, Mister Frank," she gasped. "I heard several shots. Seemed like they came from the radiophone station of Mr. Hampton's. I'm so worried about Tom."
"That's right, Tom's your sweetheart, isn't he?" said Frank. The maid blushed. Frank re-entered the room, and explained the maid's message practically all in one breath.
"We were talking so much that we didn't hear the reports, I suppose," said Mr. Temple, jumping up and snatching at his hat. The boys already were at the door but he called them back. "This time," he said grimly, "I'm not going to have you taking any chances on being killed. You will wait for me, and please remember it." Opening a drawer, he drew out a heavy automatic, broke it open to assure himself it was loaded, and then dropped it in his coat pocket. "All right now," he said. "Let's go."
PLANS FOR THE FLIGHT
The boys needed no second bidding. Out of the door, down the passageway, and out of the house, they dashed. Then they headed across an intervening stretch of lawn for the radiophone station, concealed from sight by a clump of trees. Mindful of Mr. Temple's admonition not to rush into danger without him, they checked their pace. But the older man was making good time himself.
Through the woods they dashed, emerging within sight of the door of the power house. There stood Tom Barnum unharmed, revolver in hand. At the noise of their approach, he swung about abruptly, bringing up his revolver in doing so. Mr. Temple and the boys shouted, and he dropped the threatening weapon again to his side.
"Thought they were comin' back," he said.
"What happened, Tom?" queried Mr. Temple, as they surrounded the watchman-mechanic in charge of the Hampton radiophone station with whom they had pursued a thief fleeing from the Hampton home only a short time before.
"Well, sir, when we come back from chasin' them fellers in the motor car," Tom explained, "I stopped at your back door a minute to chin Mary an' tell her the news. She wanted to know what all the excitement was about.
"Then I come on down here, an' thinks I to myself: 'I'll just get out the old army revolver that I carried in France an' I'll be better fixed for trouble the next time.' So I took 'er out of my locker in the shop here an' swabbed her up an' just got everything slicked when I hear a fellow creeping up to the door an' then voices whisperin' together.
"Then the door starts to open slow an' easy like. I seen somebody what hadn't no business here was nosin' around an' I says to myself: 'Tom, it's a good thing you got the ol' army gun fixed up in time.'
"Then one of 'em stumbles an' falls agin the door an' open she comes with him a-sprawlin' on the floor. The other fellow is right behin' him but he sees me an' lets out a yell an' turns an' runs. Man, he was a regular jackrabbit, too. I'll say that for 'im.
"Well, I been crouchin' by the dynamo an' let out a screech like wild Injun an' fired off a shot through the doorway. Maybe two shots. Say, you'd oughta seen that bird fly then. As for the other fellow, the one that stumbled an' fell, he picks himself up an' tuk out like a whitehead.
"I fired agin, high, just to scare 'em. I scared 'em all right, I guess. Anyhow, they disappeared over south there toward that old wood road that nobody uses no more. An' then I hear a motor car roar an' off she goes."
"Why," cried Frank, "they must have been the same two men we chased."
"Were," said Tom. "Dark-lookin' fellers an' one didn't have no coat. That was the guy Bob peeled his coat off of. I'd know 'em agin easy."
For several minutes there was an animated discussion of the exciting events of the afternoon. What puzzled Bob and Frank was the reason for the return of the thieves to the scene from which they had been driven. Nobody could offer a good solution of the mystery until finally Bob said:
"Say, I'll bet they were going to hide here in the station and lay for me in the hope of getting back that coat and the papers the thief stole from Mr. Hampton's house."
"Yes," put in Frank, "and the wallet with the railroad ticket to Ransome, New Mexico, and all that money, too."
"I believe you are right, boys," said Mr. Temple. "These certainly are no ordinary thieves, but desperate men."
Tom had re-entered the power house and was pottering around the machinery.
"Dad," said Bob, who had been knitting his brow in thought, "according to what you believe, this is all part of a plot of certain Mexicans to embroil their country and ours by making trouble for the independent operators in the Southwest represented by Mr. Hampton. In that case, why should they try so hard to steal that list of the names of the independents. That looks to me like a move on the part of your business rival, the Octopus."
"I know it does, Bob," said his father. "The thing isn't clear to me by a good deal. But I believe I am right. However, let's go into the station now and call up the Hamptons out in New Mexico. Both Mr. Hampton and Jack will be interested to hear about what has happened here this afternoon."
The boys agreed enthusiastically, and with a word to Tom Barnum to switch on the motor in order that they might have power to telephone, all three entered the station. But, despite repeated calls, they received no response.
"I suppose there's nobody at their station, that's all," said Bob.
"I suppose so," said his father. "But this business has me worried. Let's hope nothing has gone wrong out there."
Reluctantly, all three abandoned their efforts, removed their headpieces, and with a "good-bye" to Tom, who lived in a room at the rear of the station, started for the house. If New Mexico were to call, a light bulb would flash the signal in Tom's quarters, and he would telephone the house.
It was twilight when they reached home, and all three went to their rooms to dress for dinner.
"Tomorrow," said Mr. Temple in parting, "we'll all drive over to church, and then in the afternoon you boys can go to work preparing the airplane, and I'll lend a hand." Mr. Temple was chairman of the Board of Trustees of an old ivy-covered church in a sleepy village some miles away, and never let Sunday pass without attending divine worship.
At dinner the talk was all of the prospective airplane flight to New Mexico. The events of the day were told in detail to Mrs. Temple and Della, Bob's sister. Della, who was an athletic girl of 16, declared she wanted to go with them, but Bob answered rudely, as boys too often speak to their sisters:
"Huh," he said, "you'd just get in the way."
Mrs. Temple made no objections to the proposed trip, but began immediately to lay plans for filling the house with guests during their absence. And in discussion of the details, Della was appeased.
"Say, Bob, why are you so rude to Della?" Frank queried later, in the library, as they awaited Mr. Temple's coming to discuss preparations for the flight.
"Huh, she's not your sister, Frank," said Bob. "Anyhow, I believe you're sweet on her."
"No, I'm not," said Frank hotly, "but she's a good kid and you ought to treat her better."
"Yes, you are, too," said Bob. "I know you. But there's no use getting hot about it. Here comes Dad now," he added, as a familiar footstep sounded in the hall. "Let's get at those maps and guides and we'll dope this out together."
For several hours the discussion continued. For months the boys had been making their plans, going over routes, selecting landing fields, etc. Now that Mr. Temple had decided to accompany them, they laid their plans before him. He nodded, well satisfied in the main, but making a few pointed suggestions of value.
"And with the radiophone that we carry on the airplane," said Frank, "we can be in touch with Tom at this end and Jack out in New Mexico all the way. That all-metal body of the plane makes a fine ground, better than hanging wires possibly could. And with that new detector Bob and I have worked out, I'll bet we can hear all the way."
"Sure," said Bob, getting up and stretching, "Well, come on, Frank. Let's turn in. It's near midnight. I for one need a good night's sleep. And I hope there'll be no trouble to disturb us tonight."
Alas, poor Bob could not foresee what calamity the night held in store.
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
"Wake up, Bob, you old sleepyhead."
Bob stirred under vigorous shaking, opened his eyes sleepily, and saw Frank bending over him. His chum had thrown a bathrobe over his pajamas. The door between their connecting rooms stood open. The early morning sunlight of a bright June day streamed in the open windows.
"Whazzamatter?" grunted Bob, and closing his eyes he turned over and prepared to snatch an extra forty winks. But Frank shook him again.
"Come on," said he. "Stir your stumps. We can slip out before anybody else awakes, grab something to eat in the pantry, and go down to the shed and tinker on the plane. Come on, Bob, we can get in a couple of hours work before going to church."
Bob was wide awake by now, and pleased at the prospect held out by his chum. Tumbling out of bed, he headed for the shower in the bathroom which the boys used in common, but Frank restrained him.
"Make too much noise," said Frank. "Anyhow, we can take a plunge down at the beach before going to the shed. Come on, get into some old duds and let's hurry."
The boys were dressed in short order. In the pantry, to which they tiptoed, they found cold tongue and ham, bread and butter, with which they hurriedly made several sandwiches apiece. It was not much of a breakfast, but their appetites were those of youth and they enjoyed it. Letting themselves out of the back door of the sleeping house, they started on a trot for the little private beach, a good half mile away. The last few yards were made with the boys shedding garments as they ran. Then with a shout they plunged naked into the rollers coming in from the open Atlantic.
It was great sport. For twenty minutes they crashed through breakers, wrestled, ducked each other, shrieked aloud secure in the knowledge there was nobody within hearing distance, and in general had a glorious time of it. At the end of that period they rubbed down briskly with rough towels until their bodies were in a healthy glow, then dressed and set out for the airplane shed.
This was located some distance back from the beach where a long, level stretch of sandy soil, unbroken by tree or bush, made an ideal landing field. The "shed," as the boys termed it, was, in reality, a substantial structure of corrugated iron, well-anchored to resist the severe Atlantic coastal storms. It stood to one side of the route followed by the boys in going from the house to the beach, with the rear to them, and was midway between the two points and concealed from the house by a clump of trees.
When the matter of buying a plane was up for discussion more than a year before, after the boys and Jack Hampton, their absent chum, as well as Mr. Temple—himself an enthusiast about flying—all had become licensed pilots by taking a course at the Mineola flying fields, the question had been whether to buy a hydroplane.
That question finally had been solved by the purchase of a light, all-metal plane capable of carrying two passengers besides the pilot and able to alight on water and land. It was not a stock model but was built after a special design. All three boys had flown it, as well as Mr. Temple, and none had ever had an accident. Equipped with a radiophone head set, to which had been added recently a detector designed by Bob and Frank to increase the receiving radius, this plane was the boys' especial pride.
What was their dismay, therefore, when they rounded the shed from the rear and found the great doors which they had left padlocked several days before standing open and the interior empty. For several moments they stood as if rooted to the ground, staring in stupefaction. Then Bob groaned, and Frank echoed him.
Frank was the first to recover from his dismay and ran forward to look at the broken padlock, dangling from one leaf of the great folding doors. "Cut through with a file," he called excitedly to his chum. "And this set of big bar locks above and below the padlock were cut the same way."
"I always said we should have had one of those rolling iron screens, fitting solidly into the ends of the side walls and rolling up into the roof," groaned Bob, passing on into the interior. "But what's the use locking the barn after the horse is stolen." Disconsolately he moved around the interior of the shed, as if expecting to find concealed somewhere the airplane which he could not yet bring himself to believe had been stolen.
Suddenly he let out a whoop. "Frank, look at this."
"Great Scott, an Iron Cross," cried Frank, seizing the object held out. A German Iron Cross it was. "And here you can see how this ribbon frayed through and parted from the clasp," added Frank.
"Turn it over," said Bob. "If it's a real one given by the Kaiser it will have the recipient's name on it."
Sure enough, there it was:
"Ober-Lieutenant Frederik von Arnheim."
And beneath was inscribed:
"Pour le merite."
"Great Scott, Bob," said Frank. "What do you make of this?"
"Some Hun officer stole our airplane," said Bob. "That's what I make of it."
"But the war is over," protested Frank.
"Maybe it is," said Bob darkly. "But if that bird doesn't fly back with our airplane I'll make war on Germany myself."
Despite his gloom, Frank grinned. He slapped big Bob on the back. "Come on, old boy," he said. "No use hanging around here. We may as well go back to the house and report the latest mystery."
"I wonder," said Bob, as they set out, "whether there is any connection between the two—between this theft of our airplane and that stuff yesterday."
It was Mr. Temple who was able to provide an answer to that question. The boys found him up and dressed when they reached home, and himself considerably excited over a telephone call from New York City. He, too, was dismayed when told of the theft of the airplane. But when the boys showed him the German Iron Cross he hit the desk before him a resounding blow with his fist. Their conversation took place in the library.
"That fits right into the puzzle," said he. "Boys, while you were out of the house I had a long distance telephone call from New York City. The man who called said he was a chauffeur who had driven two men down here yesterday, that he thought they were on legitimate business, but that when Bob tried to stop them he saw they were bad ones, as he put it. Later, when they made him drive them over to the radiophone station and he heard Tom rout them with his pistol shots, he said he drove off as they ran for his car and left them. He inquired in the village and learned my name, and so called me up to clear himself in case I intended starting a pursuit.
"And he said," added Mr. Temple, leaning forward and speaking impressively, "that he was pretty certain one man was a Greaser and the other a Hun. Those were his own words. Of course, he meant one was a Mexican and the other a German."
"So when this chauffeur abandoned them they stole our airplane to get away," cried Frank excitedly.
"Maybe," said Bob, "I copped every cent they had in pulling that Mexican's coat off his back, and they were without carfare back to the city."
"Oh, I suppose the German had money," said his father. "The German probably was an aviator. And they stole the airplane in order to escape from here quickly before we could get in pursuit of them. I imagine they'll land in some deserted spot—plenty of them in the sandy reaches along the New Jersey coast, for instance—make their way to a railroad, after abandoning the plane, and go——"
"To the Southwest," said Frank, emphatically, interrupting Mr. Temple.
"What do you mean?" asked Bob.
"Weren't there a bunch of German spies in Mexico, stirring things up there against us, during the war? Well, I'll bet there are some of the same breed there now making all this trouble for Mr. Hampton," said Frank.
"A good idea," said Mr. Temple, approvingly. "Well, boys, there will be no church for us today. This matter has got to be attended to."
"Not a trace, Bob. I don't know what to make of this."
"Nor I, Frank. A fellow wouldn't believe that right here near New York, in the most densely populated part of the East, two men could steal an airplane and escape without a trace."
"Oh, I don't know, Bob. You remember last winter when that aviator from the upper end of Long Island was last seen flying across the Sound toward the Connecticut shore and was never seen or heard of again."
"But, Frank, here forty-eight hours have passed. Here we are, Tuesday morning. Dad has wired every city, town and hamlet in the East. Not a sign of the machine, nor of the men."
It was, in truth, Tuesday morning. The morning when, everything going as planned, they should have been setting out on their flight to the Hampton camp in New Mexico. Instead, the boys were moodily pecking at breakfast, the airplane had disappeared, and the trip seemed more and more remote.
To add to their worries, they had been unable to reopen communication with their chum, Jack Hampton, by radiophone, since that first and only time the previous Saturday afternoon. All their efforts to call him met with no response. The day before, moreover, a telegram had been sent Mr. Hampton by Bob Temple's father, informing him in code of recent mysterious occurrences, including the theft of the airplane, telling him the boys had tried to call Jack by radiophone, but without response from his powerful New Mexico station, and asking whether all was well with him. No answer had yet been received.
"Mister Robert," said Mary, the maid, entering the breakfast room, as the two boys sat in moody silence, "your father wants you and Mister Frank in the library."
The boys hurried to the library at once, where they found Mr. Temple, very grave of face, bent above a lengthy telegram which he had just finished decoding.
"It's from Jack," he said, "And the poor fellow is in a lot of trouble. Listen."
"Dear Friends, Father has been kidnapped. Two men in airplane carried him away into Old Mexico. Since getting your telegram few minutes ago realize it may have been your airplane. Wasn't there and didn't see it but description of machine given by cowboy on the range who saw it all tallies with description of your machine."
Mr. Temple paused for breath, and Frank, who had been computing mentally, interrupted.
"Our plane could do it all right," he said. "That is, if—When did this happen?"
"Monday noon or a little later," said Mr. Temple.
"Well, they stole it sometime Saturday night," said Frank. "Yes, they wouldn't have had to make more than eighty miles an hour steady flying to do it. But where did they get the petrol?"
"Why," Bob reminded him, "we had her stocked with oil and gas. And the spare tanks filled, too. That wasn't impossible."
Mr. Temple resumed:
"Haven't answered your radiophone calls because didn't get them. Have been so busy running around in circles, haven't had time to watch the telephone. But if you call me when you get this shall be on the watch. Father was kidnapped Monday noon. No word from him. Need your help."
"He certainly does," said Mr. Temple, emphatically, as he concluded reading. "And he'll get it, too. Come on, boys, let's call him up."
Evidently Jack was on the watch for their signal, for he answered at once, and as soon as each had tuned to their private 1,800-metre wave length, the Temples and Frank were given the full details as to the kidnapping of Mr. Hampton.
He had been riding horseback across the range, miles from any oil derricks or pumping stations, on his way to visit one of the "independent" oil operators.
A lonesome cowboy hunting a stray was the only other human being in sight, and he was a half mile away. Suddenly out of the sky swooped an all-metal airplane, glistening in the sun. It made a beautiful landing on the sandy soil, bumped along over a few clumps of mesquite, and came to rest close beside Mr. Hampton. The latter jumped from his horse, and started running toward it. Evidently, Jack thought, his father believed the Temples and Frank had unexpectedly arrived.
Then the watching cowboy saw two men leap from the airplane and start for Mr. Hampton, who turned as if to run. Thereupon, one of the two pointed a revolver at him and he turned, perforce, and surrendered. He was put into the airplane, the two men again climbed aboard, and the machine soared up into the sky before the astonished cowboy could more than set his horse in motion.
All this Jack explained and then asked:
"Mr. Temple, what would you advise me to do?"
"Does anybody else know of this?"
"Only the cowboy who saw it and I," said Jack. "This cowboy knew father by sight, and came direct to me with the information. I've made him promise not to tell anybody until he hears from me."
"That's right, Jack," said Mr. Temple, very earnestly. "This information must not get out. I believe, Jack, your father will be safe from harm and that the men who seized him are intent on embroiling Mexico and the United States. Now we don't want any more wars, Jack, and we must try to get your father back without the aid of troops."
"Yes, sir," said Jack. "Father and I have suspected what the game was, and that was why I told the cowboy to say nothing."
"Good," said Mr. Temple, approvingly. "Now, Jack, that the mystery of the airplane's disappearance has been cleared up, we are ready to leave at once. We can get out of New York City on the 6 o'clock train tonight. Look for us Friday. I'll say good-bye until then, and let the boys speak to you, for I know they are dying to do so."
While the boys and Jack conversed, Mr. Temple sought out his wife. After explaining the necessity for his abrupt departure with the boys for New Mexico, he said:
"I should worry if I thought you would be subjected to annoyances while we were away. But I believe there will be no more trouble here. And with the servants in the house and the guests you have invited, you may feel perfectly safe."
"Oh, Dad, I think you're awfully mean not to take me along," pouted Della, who was present.
"Why, Lassie," said her father, "with a bunch of harum scarum boys to look after, my hands will be full enough."
"Yes, you think they're just boys," flashed his young daughter. "But you wait and see. They'll be taking care of you. Just you wait and see. Frank is awfully clever."
"Frank?" said Mr. Temple teasingly, with a meaning look.
Della flushed, and made an excuse to leave the room a moment later.
"I wish, George, that you wouldn't tease her about Frank," said Mrs. Temple. "She's such a child."
"Yes," said Mr. Temple, thoughtfully. "I suppose so. But," he added, "I'm glad she likes Frank."
HELD FOR RANSOM
"Great Scott, Jack, how different you look. What a peach of a get-up."
The Temples, father and son, and Frank Merrick stood on the gravel-bed outside the little wooden box doing duty as station at Ransome, New Mexico. The transcontinental flier which had dropped them, was dwindling in the distance. Jack Hampton, whom the chums and Mr. Temple had crossed the country from New York to join, was in the center of the group. Greetings had been exchanged, they had all slapped each other on the back indiscriminately and enthusiastically, and now Bob Temple stood off at arm's length to admire his chum.
"Yes, sir. Some get-up," he added.
"Righto," agreed Frank, also gazing at the handsome Jack admiringly. "Where do you get 'em? Lead me to the store right away."
Jack, who was 19 and the oldest of the three chums, was almost as tall as the six-foot Bob, but of more slender build than that gridiron warrior. He had the build of a thoroughbred, long legs, flat hips, trim waist, deep chest and broad shoulders and a flat back. Both at dashes and distance running Jack easily was supreme at Harrington Hall Military Academy, which all three boys attended. Like Bob he was fair and had curling chestnut hair. His eyes were blue and lively, his features not too regular. Altogether, he was a striking figure.
Today he was dressed in khaki shirt and breeches. Instead of puttees he wore high, laced leather boots that reached to his knees. On his head, pushed back so that his wavy hair showed in front, was a wide-brimmed sombrero. By his side, suspended from a cartridge belt, swung an automatic revolver in its holster. This was the outfit so admired by his chums from the East, trim in their light-weight summer suits of the latest cut and wearing low tan shoes more adapted for city streets than for the sands stretching inimitably on every hand.
"We've worried considerably while aboard the train, Jack," said Mr. Temple, "for fear something dire might happen to you these last two or three days. I'm glad to see you are all right. Any word from your father?"
Jack shook his head in negation. "Not a word," said he, "since those two rascals picked him up in your airplane and headed for Old Mexico."
"Well, don't worry, Jack," said Mr. Temple. "I don't believe his life is in danger."
"I'm trying not to worry, sir," said Jack. "But now that you and the fellows are here, we shall have to get busy at once. It has been pretty hard to wait for you. I wanted to ride into Old Mexico myself at once."
Bags in hand the group was moving to the rear of the station, and now came in sight of a ramshackle automobile with a Mexican at the wheel, easily distinguished by his swarthy coloring and his ragged mustaches, as well as by his peculiar dress—a steep crowned hat like a sugar loaf, with a very wide brim, a tight bolero jacket that did not reach to the waist and disclosed a dark blue silken shirt beneath and tight-fitting trousers that flared at the bottom.
"That is Remedios and his flivver," explained Jack. "He does odd jobs all through this region. I hired him to take us out to camp. But before we climb aboard, take a look at this view."
Obediently, they paused and gazed at the surrounding country. In the foreground was a wide dirt street at the rear of the station. For the equivalent of the length of a city block it was lined on both sides with wooden structures one-story in height, but with the false fronts of the frontier country pretending to second stories—a front wall sticking above the roof and with the semblance of windows painted on it. A dry goods store, a Chinese laundry, an alleged hotel, several restaurants, several ex-saloons still carrying on some kind of business—these comprised the lot. At one end the street ran abruptly into the desert. At the other was a cluster of old freight cars made into dwellings, with Mexican men, women and children loitering in front in the sun. This was Ransome.
"Not much of a town," said Jack, "just a trading post for a wide stretch of this country around here. But look at the setting, will you?" And he swept a hand in a wide gesture indicating the horizon.
On every hand stretched the desert, broken by clumps of mesquite and cactus with the only trees in the landscape the thick belt of cottonwoods lining the banks of a stream that rose in the mountains to the north and ran by the town. North, east, south and west lofty mountains gleamed on the far horizon, while closer at hand rose the foothills. These latter were of fantastic shapes, like castles, tables or crouching animals, and of the most vivid coloring. Over all was the warm and brilliant sunshine of late afternoon. As for the air, it was clean and despite the warmth of the day already beginning to turn cool as the sun hovered on the rim of the farthest mountains to the west.
"Some country," said Bob emphatically.
"Wait until you have known it day in and day out for months," said Jack. "You will never want to go back to Long Island."
"Is that the way you feel about it, Jack?" asked Frank.
"Oh, well, I suppose I'll want to go home sometime," said Jack. "But just the same, I'm in love with this country. As for the old-timers off there in the hills, you couldn't drive them away."
"Say, Jack," said Frank, as they all continued standing and gazing at the surrounding scene, "I thought we'd see some oil derricks around here. But there isn't one in sight."
"No, Frank," interposed Mr. Temple, in explanation, "you see the Independents are mainly located over in the Panhandle, or upper western portion of Texas and in Oklahoma. That is east from here. But Mr. Hampton had his geologists in through this region, and they reported the prospects for finding oil favorable. Then the Independents came in quietly and took up leases, and Mr. Hampton followed to prepare for development of the field."
"Yes, that's the way of it," agreed Jack.
"Say, Jack," said Frank, "I'm hungry as a hunter. If we are going to get dinner at your camp, let's move along. How far is it, by the way?"
"Ten miles," said Jack, leading the way toward the automobile with its dozing Mexican at the wheel. "Come on."
The others followed and were about to climb into the automobile when the rapid hoofbeats of a galloping horse ringing on the sun-baked clay of the street drew their attention, and they paused.
"Why, it's Gabby Pete," said Jack in surprise, moving forward a step as the rider reined up his horse so sharply that it reared and slid on braced hind legs. The animal came to rest so close to him that Jack was forced to give back a step, and it stood there snorting and blowing.
An oldish man of tremendous girth, but who sat his horse easily despite his size, grinned down at Jack. He was white-haired and under the brim of his sombrero little eyes twinkled genially and shrewdly in a round, fat face.
"What brings you here, Pete?" asked Jack, sharply. "I thought you were at camp, getting dinner for my guests." He indicated the boys and Mr. Temple, who stood close at hand, looking on. "Who will prepare dinner for them now?"
Gabby Pete, the talkative camp cook, scratched his head under his sombrero, and looked solemn. "Waal, they'll have ter wait a bit," he said. "But I kin rustle grub in a hurry onct I git back ter camp. An', anyhow, Mr. Jack, a feller came to camp a while ago in one o' them there aeryoplanes. Jest flew up almost to the door an' steps out an' gin me this yere letter." Here Gabby Pete produced a missive from the front of his shirt, and passed it to Jack. "He sez as how it war most partickler that you git it right away. So I rid in with it," said Gabby Pete, adding aggrievedly: "an' now you hop on me fur it."
Jack seized the missive in a sudden fever of anxiety. An airplane? He opened the letter, took in its contents at a glance, and turned excitedly to his chums.
"Father's held for ransom," he cried. "Here. Read this."
ON THE DESERT TRAIL
Eagerly Mr. Temple, Bob and Frank gathered around Jack, crowding to read over his shoulders the missive left at camp by a messenger in an airplane and brought to Ransome by Gabby Pete, the camp cook, following Jack, who had gone to the little New Mexican town to meet the party from the East.
The writing was cramped and foreign, as if the pen were wielded by a hand more accustomed to form German script than English letters. The missive was brief:
"Sir, this is to inform you that Mr. John Hampton is held in a secure place. One hundred thousand dollars must be paid for his release. A man riding alone must bring the money in United States bills of one thousand dollars each to the Calomares ranch two weeks from today. He must wear a white handkerchief in his hat."
While the others read, Jack turned to Gabby Pete and said authoritatively:
"Pete, you heard me say something just now about my father being held for ransom. I believe you are my friend." Gabby Pete nodded violently. "Well, forget what you heard. If anybody asks you, remember that father has gone East on business."
"Sure, boy," said Pete. "I'm a tombstone. Well, me an' Angel Face here," and he slapped his horse affectionately, whereat Angel Face reared and pranced, giving the lie to her name, "we may as well git started fur camp so's to feed you when you arriv."
Jack laid a restraining hand on Pete's knee. "Wait just a minute, Pete. Do you know where the Calomares ranch is located?"
Pete nodded. "Aw, sure," he said, "that must be Don Fernandez y Calomares, down in Ol' Mexico. That's a good hundred mile acrost the border. It's in a valley in them mountains," he added, pointing to the darkening southern horizon.
"And who is this Don?"
"Waal," drawled Gabby Pete, plaintively, "I stick to hum so much o' the time I never git to talk to nobody nor hear the noos. But seems to me I did hear onct about him. Yes, sir, somebody sez as how Don Fernandez lives in a palace in that wilderness jest like a king of old, with armed ree-strainers or whatever you calls 'em——"
"Retainers, Pete," said Jack, suppressing a smile.
"Yes, that's the word. An' this feller what tol' me sez as how he's very proud and haughty-like an' has a beyootiful daughter, an'——an'——"
Pete dropped his voice, and paused, eyeing Remedios, the Mexican in the nearby flivver.
"Think he kin hear me," he whispered.
"Guess not," said Jack. "Why?" He, too, looked toward Remedios. The latter had his back to them and was blowing indolent wreaths of smoke from a brown paper cigarette.
"I don't trust that feller, that's all," whispered Gabby Pete hoarsely. "He's down acrost the border too much o' the time. Anyhow, as I was sayin', this yere Don Fernandez is agin the Obregon gov'ment an' backin' a new revolution. That's what the feller tol' me, anyhow. Waal, Mr. Jack, Angel Face an' me will go an' git dinner." And with a slap on his horse's flank that caused her to spin about and dash away, Gabby Pete was off.
Jack turned to his companions.
"First thing is to get to camp, I guess," he said. "Then after dinner we can talk over what has to be done. What do you say?"
"I say let's eat," said Frank, plaintively.
"He's got the biggest appetite for his size I ever saw," said Bob, affectionately, slapping his smaller chum on the back.
"I second Jack's motion," said Mr. Temple, seizing his bags and leading the way to the car. The others also picked up their bags and followed. "We know now that your father is safe, Jack," said Mr. Temple. "So the news in that note wasn't so bad, after all."
"That's right," agreed Jack. "Well, climb in fellows, and let's get started."
It was a tight squeeze. Jack sat in front with Remedios and one of the bags. Mr. Temple and Bob, both big individuals, filled the rear with the balance of the bags. Frank, who had gone to the front of the car to crank it, found no room within for him when he returned. He leaped to the running board.
"I'm light," he said. "I'll sit on the door. Let's go."
Remedios opened the throttle and with a rattle and roar, the ramshackle old car darted ahead on the road taken by Gabby Pete, and soon had left the town behind and was out on the desert.
Only the upper edge of the sun stood now above the western mountains, and the purple shadows were long across the plain. In the east the sky was darkest blue and the stars already twinkled brightly. A rosy light lingered at the zenith, while above the western mountains the sky was ruddy bright with the afterglow as the sun slipped farther and farther down and finally vanished altogether. Then night began to descend with a swiftness unknown in the East. The rattle of the car made conversation difficult and the newcomers lapsed into silence, becoming absorbed in watching the majesty of the scene.
Presently the engine began to miss fire, then emitted a final groan as Remedios closed the throttle, cutting off the flow of gas, and stopped. Remedios threw the clutch into neutral, applied the brake, and climbed out. Raising the cover of the hood, he peered within. Then he shook his head dolorously.
"It is of no use, Senor," he said to Frank, who had jumped from the running board and stood beside him. "She is finish. The spark plug, she is on the—what you call it?—the bum." And with an air of finality, he closed the cover. At the same moment he turned to peer anxiously down the road ahead, whence came now on the still twilight the thudding hoofbeats of a galloping horse, rapidly growing louder.
His mechanical instincts awake, however, Frank paid no attention to the approaching horseman. He had again lifted the cover, as Remedios turned away, and, lighted match in one hand, was twisting at a spark plug with the other.
"Shucks," he cried, withdrawing his head, "that Number One plug wasn't screwed in tightly enough, that's all. I'll bet she'll go now, just the way I tightened her by hand. And if I only had a pair of pliers——"
At that moment, the galloping horseman dashed up alongside, pulling his horse back on his haunches. It was Gabby Pete, his hat gone, his face red with excitement. Far over he leaned to call to the astonished occupants of the car.
"Bandits," he cried hoarsely. "Greasers. Comin' in an auto. I come back to warn you." And facing about he pointed to where a cloud of dust behind him on the desert road indicated a rapidly oncoming car.
"Grab that crank," cried Frank to Remedios, and he sprang for the driving wheel. "I'll make this old bus go."
"Not so fast, Senor," said Remedios suavely, and seizing Frank's arm he whirled the young fellow about.
Frank looked into the muzzle of a revolver which Remedios held leveled at him.
A BRUSH WITH THE ENEMY
The explosion of a revolver shot.
A yell of pain.
Remedios seized his shooting wrist in his left hand and danced up and down in the road, while his weapon fell to the ground.
Frank, who a moment before had been gazing into the leveled weapon of the traitorous Mexican chauffeur, whirled about to face his friends in the car.
Smoking revolver in hand, Jack Hampton stood upright in the front seat. It was he who had fired the shot.
"I didn't touch him," cried Jack, "merely shot his revolver from his hand. Jump in Frank, for here come the bandits."
With a rattle and roar the car of the bandits approached, not the length of two city blocks away on the desert trail.
Frank took in the situation at a glance.
"Crank for your life," he ordered Remedios. "Jack, keep him covered."
As the Mexican sprang to the crank, and started turning, Frank leaped to the driver's seat of the flivver and manipulated throttle and spark. With a clatter the engine turned over and began to race.
Closer came the bandits, their car slowing down as it approached.
Jack leaned far over the windshield, his weapon leveled at Remedios.
"Up on the hood," he shrieked. "Up with you, or I'll shoot you full of holes."
Remedios threw himself sprawlingly over the hood.
The bandits' car had slowed almost to a stop, four or five lengths away. Frank released the hand brake, pressed the clutch into low with his foot, and shot ahead.
Shifting the clutch into high, Frank opened the throttle wide and the old rattletrap seemed fairly to leap ahead, its wheels spurning the ground. The lights of the other car which had theretofore seemed dimmed were switched to full brightness. Before the blinding glare in his eyes, Frank involuntarily ducked his head.
As his eyes left the road, the car swerved. A shot rang out from the car of the bandits, ripping high and doing no damage.
"Look out, Frank. Swing her over," cried Jack in alarm.
Shouts of panic rose from the car of the bandits, too.
There was a crash, the flivver lurched, then sped on. As rapidly as possible Frank brought it to a stop and then stood up to look back and view the damage.
Mr. Temple and Bob, in the rear seat, already were on their feet. Jack stood beside Frank, peering into the shadows behind. The moon was in its first quarter, low down and shed only a faint radiance. But even by the wan light, it could be seen that something dire had happened to the car of the bandits. It stood sideways across the road, leaning drunkenly to one side. And to the ears of the boys came groans from a number of dark figures in the road.
Gabby Pete, temporarily forgotten by the boys in the excitement, galloped up, cheerful voiced.
"As neat a trick as ever I see," he cried approvingly to Frank. "You tuk off their hind wheel jest like a knife cuttin' butter. They're tumblin' around in the road, a half dozen of 'em. Hey, look out." And Gabby Pete bent low on his horse as a bullet whistled overhead. Another and another followed, and there were shouts of vengeance, and imprecations.
"They're a-comin' to," cried Gabby Pete, slapping Angel Face on the flank, so that the horse leaped forward with a snort. "I'm on my way." And he disappeared into the darkness.
"We're on our way, too," cried Frank, opening the throttle and pressing down the clutch, as more bullets whistled overhead. "Give 'em a shot, Jack, and everybody stoop down."
Jack fired off his revolver, shooting high purposely. He wanted merely to frighten their pursuers into desisting. Then the car gathered momentum, and was soon out of range. Presently Frank, who had been driving the flivver as fast as it would go, with the result that they were all tossed about while the car lurched precariously over the rutted road, slowed down to a more moderate pace.
"Anybody hurt?" he called. "They never touched me."
"Not a scratch," answered Mr. Temple.
"Same here," cried Bob and Jack together.
"Say, though," cried Frank, suddenly realizing Remedios no longer sprawled on the hood, "we've lost our passenger."
"Good riddance," said Bob.
"Must've thrown him off when we struck the other car," decided Jack.
"Or else he jumped off when his chance came," surmised Mr. Temple.
To a query from Frank as to the route to be followed and the distance to camp, Jack made answer that the road lay straight ahead with no laterals cutting into it, and that camp was only a couple of miles beyond.
"Say, Jack," declared Bob with a laugh, "that was some reception committee you got out to meet us."
"Yes," kidded Frank, "what were you aiming to do, anyway? Put on a Wild West thriller for a bunch of tenderfeet fresh from New York?"
Jack laughed. "Tenderfeet, your grandmother," he said. "It looked to me as if the effete Easterners put on the thriller for the bandits."
Relieved at the safe outcome of their adventure, everybody joined in the laugh, and for several minutes the high good humor manifested itself in jokes bandied back and forth. Then a 'dobe ranch house loomed ahead, low-lying, of four or five rooms, a wide, dirt-floored porch along its length, upon which the rooms gave through separate doors. At the rear were a clump of shadowy outbuildings and a corral. To one side and some distance away stood a low frame building and a high, latticed tower with antennae, which the chums recognized with a shout of delight.
"There's the radiophone station, hey, Jack?"
Frank drew the car to the porch, and Gabby Pete, at the sound of its approach, opened the door of the kitchen and emerged, big spoon in hand, the lamplight streaming from the room behind him, and savory odors floating out to the hungry boys.
"Come an' git it," he called sonorously.
"What does he mean Jack?" asked Bob.
"I hope he means dinner," said Frank, sniffing hungrily.
"He does," laughed Jack. "That's the way camp cooks announce food is ready in the cow camps, as I understand it. And Gabby Pete is an old cowman."
"Well, lead me to it," said Frank, and all followed Jack into the house.
JACK CANNOT SLEEP
"Well, now, boys, let's see where we stand," said Mr. Temple, after all had partaken heartily, amid excited but disjointed conversation, of a surprisingly good dinner of pork and beans, boiled potatoes, fresh tomatoes and lettuce, bread pudding and coffee. He pushed back his chair as he spoke, and lighted a cigar.
"First of all," he said, "we have got to consider the kidnapping of Mr. Hampton and decide what shall be done in the matter, what moves we must make. Then there is this series of mysterious happenings, all of which have a bearing on the case, if we can find the solution.
"Here, for instance, is this man Remedios. Evidently he was in league with the Mexican bandits who attacked us, and it was his part of the conspiracy to stage a breakdown so that we could be easily attacked. Now who were the bandits, and what did they want? Were they ordinary robbers after money, or was their object something deeper? Was it part of this plot against our oil interests?"
He paused to puff his cigar into renewed life. All three chums had been listening with eager attention. Now Jack Hampton spoke. Mr. Temple earlier had elaborated for Jack's benefit his theory that a faction of Mexican rebels was responsible for the outrages of which they had been the victims, hoping thereby to embroil Mexico and the United States and thus cause trouble for President Obregon.
"Mr. Temple," said Jack, leaning forward, "I do not believe those bandits were after money. Didn't it strike you all as strange that they were in an auto? Well, it did me. The bandits of the border usually are mounted on horseback. These men, on the contrary, had a high-powered car. No, that attack was due to a carefully laid plan. And do you know what I think their purpose was? It was to capture you."
Bob and Frank, elbows planted on the table, leaned forward surprised. Mr. Temple, however, showed no surprise, but merely looked thoughtful.
"You see," continued Jack, "you are an American of wealth and position. They already have captured father. Now, if they were to capture you, there certainly would be some commotion at Washington, the national capital, that would make trouble for President Obregon of Mexico. Maybe another punitive expedition would be sent into Mexico, like General Pershing led in the time of Carranza, after Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico. At least, that's what they expect, I guess."
Mr. Temple nodded, but remained silent.
"But, Jack," demanded Frank, "if you are right in your surmise, then it means that these fellows knew in advance of our coming."
"Yes," said Jack, "that's the puzzling thing about it."
"Anybody here know we were coming?" asked Bob, speaking for the first time.
"Sure," said Jack, "Gabby Pete knew. And Rollins, father's assistant. But you met the one, and you know he can be trusted. As for Rollins, I don't know much about him. He's a queer, silent man. Not here tonight, because he left early this morning to see a man on business over here some twenty miles or so. He said he might not return tonight. But I know father trusted him."
"Then, Jack, there is one other thing to be considered," said Bob. "And that is, has anybody among our enemies—for I suppose we can call them that—listened-in when we spoke by radio?"
"Of course," said Jack, "with all these amateur receiving sets in use nowadays it is pretty hard to get absolute secrecy. But, in the first place, since that Washington conference, the government has limited the use of certain wave lengths. Now we are licensed to use an 1,800 metre wave length, and I imagine there are very few—at least in this region—who could 'tap' our conversation. In addition, of course, we used our code in discussing when you would arrive."
"No, you're wrong," said Bob. "You used the code when you telegraphed that your father was kidnapped. But, as I recall it, when we spoke by radio after getting your wire, we all were so excited we never thought of the code."
Frank nodded agreement. "That's right," he said. "But, anyhow, we never thought of making it a secret. Perhaps your cook—this Gabby Pete—said something innocently in town. Or the word got around somehow."
"Yes, I suppose that's the way it happened," said Jack, dismissing the subject. "But the question now is, what are we going to do? Shall we, telephone the county sheriff about this attack on us tonight and about Remedios? And—what shall we do about father?"
Mr. Temple who had been puffing thoughtfully throughout this discussion, his head bowed, now looked up, and shook his head in negation.
"Let's not notify the sheriff," he said. "The minute we bring the authorities into this, we run the danger of letting our whole story become known. Then the end which these mysterious enemies of ours seek will be attained. That is, the government will be drawn into the situation.
"As to your father, Jack," and Mr. Temple paused, "well, we shall have to think the matter over pretty carefully before we undertake to do anything. In the first place, as I have said before, I believe he was captured in order to make trouble between Mexico and the United States. Now, here comes a note from his captors demanding that we pay a ransom of one hundred thousand dollars. How does that fit into my theory?
"Well, if we appeal to Washington and ask our government to demand Mr. Hampton's release, there certainly will be trouble. And that, I believe, is what the enemy counts on us to do. If they really were after a ransom, and had no other object in view, it is likely they would not have asked for so big a sum, and also would not have given us two whole weeks in which to carry out their demands. No, I am convinced they expect us to go to Washington and make trouble. Therefore, that is the one thing we must try to avoid doing."