"Where are they? You said that only two went down the mountain."
"That was right," was the reply. "I don't see where the others can be."
"Do you think they are officers?" asked Jimmie, as the men stumbled about the tents. "They aren't Mexicans."
"I'm afraid they are officers," replied Fremont, "and we must keep pretty still. I presume these are the fellows who were wig-wagging a little while ago."
The intruders were heard moving about the tents for a time, and then they went away, blundering along over loose stones which rattled as they swept down the declivity. When they were some distance off, and still going, judging by the sound, the boys walked back to the tents and tried to sleep, but the excitement of the time was too much for them, and they could not keep their eyes closed.
After a time there came a commotion in the valley below, from the direction Nestor and Frank had taken. There were shouts of rage and then shooting. Jimmie was on his feet instantly.
"They're attacking Nestor," he cried, "and I'm going down there to help him."
Before Fremont could protest the boy was off, scrambling down the mountain in the darkness like a goat. At first Fremont thought of following him, but he was very tired and sleepy and so gave it up.
He crept back into a tent and threw himself down on a blanket, closing his eyes only for a moment, as he thought.
Jimmie pressed on down the slope for some distance without discovering the source of the disturbance, then turned back. When, near the tents, he turned and looked over the valley, a torch far below was spelling out "O.K."
"There are a lot of Americans mixed up in this," the boy thought. "I've heard that this revolt was being financed and executed by our people, but I did not believe the story. Anyhow, they are giving their signals in United states."
As the lad approached nearer to the tents the silence which held the little dent on the slope sent a vague shiver of alarm through his veins.
When he came to the tents there was no one in sight. He whistled softly, but there was no reply. The moon, now peeping around a shoulder of the mountain, struck an object which glistened like silver, and the boy picked it up. It was Fremont's revolver, and the chambers were full. There had been no shooting. Fremont's cap lay on the ground not far from where the weapon had been found.
Filled with apprehension, Jimmie dashed into the tents. They were both empty. The boy had disappeared, leaving his weapon and his cap behind. It was plain to be seen, from marks on the rocks and the thin soil of the dent, that there had been a struggle.
Alarmed beyond the power of words to express, Jimmie crept into the hiding place they had used earlier in the evening and waited. He was angry at Nestor for going away, and angry with himself for leaving Fremont alone. While the latter possessed courage and strength, he was not as apt in such things as they were facing as his companions. He had been sheltered for years in the Cameron home, and was not so resourceful as his companions, not so ready to take advantage of any point which might occur in such a rough-and-tumble game as was now in progress.
Jimmie's fear was that Fremont had been captured by officers, and would be taken back to New York and thrust into the Tombs to await the action of the grand jury, based on the recovery or death of Mr. Cameron. This would be fatal to all his hopes. While the boy pondered and fretted over the matter, the long roll of a drum came around a cliff-corner, and then a file of ragged soldiers, or what seemed to be such, showed in the moonlight, with a diminutive drummer-boy, pounding for dear life, not far in the rear.
In the meantime the two who were in Jimmie's thoughts were making their way down the slope with such speed and caution as they were able to manage.
It was very rough going in the darkness, and more than once Frank received a bump which effectually banished all inclination to sleep. At last he sat down on a ledge and called out to Nestor.
"Dig in! Walk your head off!"
Nestor halted and looked back.
"What's doing?" he asked.
"I'm flabbergasted," was the reply. "How do you think you're goin' to get back up the hill?"
Nestor pointed to a point of flame a little lower down.
"It is only a short ways now," he said.
Frank grunted and arose to his feet.
"They ought to put in elevators," he grumbled.
The boys walked for perhaps half an hour longer and then drew up near to the point of fire which Nestor had pointed out.
"Now what?" demanded Frank.
"I want to see who they are. I'm expecting friends here," was the laughing reply. "Remain here while I investigate."
"If I stand up," grumbled Shaw, "I'll fall down; and if I sit down I'll go to sleep. I never was so sleepy in all me blameless life. You needn't hurry back."
Frank was as good as his word, although he had spoken in jest. No sooner was his companion out of sight than he dropped to the ground, and in spite of his efforts to keep his eyes open, was soon fast asleep. When he awoke an hour later, Nestor was pulling at his arm.
"Don't pull it off," he said. "I may want to use it again. What's doing below?"
"Were you ever in the Cameron building in New York?" Nestor asked, irrelevantly.
"Did you wake me out of me sweet dreams to ask that?" grinned the boy. "Why don't you go on and tell me what's coming off down there in that camp?"
"I've got the New York end of the Cameron case on my mind to-night," was the reply. "Tell me what you know about the Cameron building and the people who work there during the night—cleaning up, and that sort of thing."
"I don't think I was ever in the building, and Fremont never talked with me about the workers. You can ask Jimmie about that."
"Yes, Jimmie worked there. I've heard him talk about the night watchman and predict his future home. The boy came running into my room on the night of the tragedy and almost pulled me out of bed, saying that a member of the Black Bear Patrol was in trouble."
"What do you want to know about the building?"
"I was wondering if Jim Scoby, the night watchman, was permitted to carry a key to the Cameron suite. Jimmie does not know whether he was or not, and I thought you might have heard Fremont talking about matters there."
"I presume Fremont can tell you all about that. Suppose Scoby did have a key? What of it? Fremont says Mr. Cameron locked himself in that night, or was to do so, and that shows that the man who did the job did not need a key. He must have been admitted by Mr. Cameron."
"There were strange doings in that suite that night," Nestor said, almost as if talking to himself. "I can't quite get the hang of it," he added, taking a flat steel key from his pocket, and holding it up for the inspection of the other.
Shaw took the key and held it up in the moonlight, examining every detail of it.
"That is a key to the suite," he said. "Fremont has one like it. Where did you get it? It looks new."
"It is new," Nestor went on. "It looks as if it had been made to order recently. Now, whoever made it did not get it exactly right at first, and was obliged to file it down. I have known night watchmen to make keys."
"An old trick," admitted Frank. "Well, let us take it for granted that Scoby was not permitted to carry a key and that he had one made, for some purpose of his own. What does that lead up to?"
"I found this key in front of the safe," Nestor continued, after a moment's deliberation. "It was undoubtedly dropped there by one of the men who visited the rooms that night. I have been wondering if it was the watchman."
"You have some other reason for supposing it was Scoby," Frank said. "Go one and tell me about it."
"Yes, there is another reason." Nestor continued, smiling at the quick way Frank had taken him up. "I found this Grand Army button and this cloth raveling in front of the safe, too, not far from where the key was discovered."
"Well, did the watchman wear a Grand Army coat that night?" asked Frank. "Lots of unworthy people wear Grand Army coats."
"He did," was the reply. "He wore a blue coat with Grand Army buttons, and one of the buttons was missing from the right sleeve when I saw him in the corridor as I passed out. He probably caught his sleeve on something in the safe and ripped the button off. He either did not notice the loss of the button or had no time to pick it up."
"You're locating him in a compromising situation, all right," Frank said. "But you said 'one of the men who visited the rooms that night.' Who were the others?"
"Wait a minute," said Nestor. "Let me tell you what else I found there. I have in my pocket a piece of paper, a margin cut from a legal document, showing the thumb and fingermarks of a withered right hand. I also have a shoe heel near two inches high. These were taken from the Cameron suite. What do you make of that?"
"I understand," Frank said. "One of the other men was this Mexican, the man with the short right leg, the fellow who tried to geezle me at the El Paso restaurant. Well, that makes two who were there that night—two who were in front of the safe—two who had no right to be there."
"And this Mexican was a tenant of the building," Nestor went on, "and he might have had the key made. At least he was there the night the key was used, looking over papers he had no right to touch."
"It begins to look as if the Mexican went to the building for the purpose of robbery, and that he found a tool in Jim Scoby," said Frank. "Why don't you have the two of them pinched, so Fremont won't have all this trouble on his mind? The Mexican is somewhere about here, and Jim Scoby can't be far away, as the newspapers say he ran away from New York. Why couldn't you have studied this out that night?"
"Don't rush conclusions," smiled Nestor. "I said there were several people in the suite that night. Well, we have made sure of two of them, though we don't know how they go in there if Mr. Cameron had the door locked from the inside."
"If they hadn't used their false key," Shaw put in, "they wouldn't have had it in hand and wouldn't have lost it."
"Very clever," said Nestor.
"Who else was in there?" asked Frank, blushing at the compliment.
"The third man," Nestor continued, "had business with Mr. Cameron. He was there earlier in the evening."
"He didn't lose anything there, did he?" asked Frank, with a laugh.
"Yes," replied Nestor, "he did. He lost his temper."
"You're a corker!" Frank exclaimed. "What else did he lose?"
"His life, possibly."
"Come, children," Frank grinned, "it is time to wake up."
ABOUT THE THIRD SUSPECT.
Nestor laughed at the puzzled boy's exclamation and sat for some time looking down on the dim camp-fire near the tents he had visited a short time before. The night was cloudless, with a slight wind blowing from the west. Now and then the sound of hoarse voices came from the peaks above.
"The Mexican knocked off his heel there," he finally said, "and Scoby left his coat-button. They might just as well have left their cards in the papers they examined."
"What papers were they?"
"The Tolford estate papers."
"Yes, of course. The Mexican wanted to know something about the buried mine," Frank said. "We're getting at the motive now."
"Now, this third visitor," Nestor went on, "as I have said, went there on business—on business connected with a contract for the purchase of firearms and ammunition. Mr. Cameron undoubtedly opened the door to admit him after he had locked himself in. The door might not have been locked again that night, but that is immaterial at present. This third man, whom we may as well call Don Miguel, the diplomat, was not in the building when I got there. The others were."
"Then why didn't you have them both pinched?" demanded Frank.
"Partly because they were in the building," was the reply. "If they had been possessed of guilty consciences, they would have run away. At least, it looks that way to me. You see, this Don Miguel might have struck the blow and left the offices open and at the mercy of the others. Now you see how useless it is to draw hasty conclusions."
"That's so. He might," Frank admitted.
"No trouble to get Scoby, anyway," said Nestor. "He is asleep in that tent, and here are more exhibits in the case—another Grand Army button and another raveling. I cut them from Scoby's coat as he lay asleep over there."
"You never had the nerve to go into the tent?" asked Frank.
"They are all asleep," was the reply, "so I ran no risk in going in, and it was easy to crawl under the canvas. The Mexican we had been talking about—Felix, Jimmie calls him—is also there, with six or seven rough-looking fellows, probably miners. It is easy to imagine what they are here for."
"They got the description out of the safe, and are going to the mine," exclaimed Frank. "I believe they attacked Mr. Cameron in order to get the description. The man you call Don Miguel would have no motive in attacking him, would he?"
"We'll see about that later on," was the reply. "So far as I can see through it, the case stands as it did before, with three men in the suspect row."
"Gather them in, then," advised Frank. "Send for the soldiers and have these two pinched. Then go to New York, or wherever this third man is, and have him pinched, too. That will clear the atmosphere a little."
"I have an idea," Nestor said, "that this Felix went to New York on purpose to get the mine paper, or a copy of it. He probably had a description of his own, which would not take him to the mine, and went to the Cameron building hoping that he could get the one in the estate papers, and that the two of them, his own and the other, would enable him to reach his goal." "I reckon you have that right," Frank said, "and he got Scoby to work with him."
"I'm going to let him go ahead with his search," the patrol leader said. "He may show the way to the mine. Anyway, it is a chance worth taking. Otherwise, I might, as you advise, arrest him and the watchman with him. But here, again, this third suspect intervenes."
"You appear to think a lot of this third man," grinned Frank.
"Naturally," Nestor replied, "since he is the man who brought me to Mexico."
"You're getting to be a puzzle," exclaimed Frank. "I thought the safety of Fremont was the main thing, with the mine a close second."
"I might have hidden Fremont in New York, and the mine matter could have waited."
"Is this Don Miguel here?"
"He is expected here. I came down to meet him."
"Hope you'll know him when he comes."
"There will be no trouble about that," was the reply. "I know about how the fellow looks. And I rather think he will recognize me."
"He may see you first," suggested Frank.
"If he does, I probably won't see him at all. Well, I must take chances on that. I thought this might be his camp when I came down here."
"What is he coming here for?"
"To kick up a row."
"And is he going to succeed in doing it?"
"That is more than I can say at present."
"I wish you wouldn't be so mysterious," cried the boy. "You've told me all about the other two, why not tell me about this one?"
"There are international reasons," was the grave reply.
"Oh!" exclaimed Frank. "That's why you're hand-in-glove with the army, and why you're in the code row. Say, but you've told me all about how the others were identified as having been in the Cameron suite, now tell me something about this Don Miguel, if you can. Has he got a short leg, or a withered hand, or a long shoe heel? Go on and tell me how he looks and acts, if you can."
"Well, he's a dusky, slender fellow," Nestor laughed, "and shows culture and education. He dined at a lobster palace that night and wore evening clothes. He went directly to the Cameron building from the restaurant, using a taxicab and speaking both French and Spanish, as well as English, to the driver. He is a good dresser, and ordinarily a discreet man, yet he left a schedule of firearms in the Cameron suite when he left. He should have taken that with him."
Frank eyed his companion curiously, his face eager in the moonlight, his right hand rubbing his forehead, as if trying to scour away the cobwebs.
"Quit your kidding," he said.
"It is only a question of observation and inquiry," laughed Nestor. "There is no Sherlock Holmes business about it."
"And you think this man in evening dress will come down here and mix with these ragged bums?"
"I think he will come down here," was the reply.
Frank watched the small camp-fire below, just touching with red light the tents Nestor had so successfully entered a short time before. The logic of the case seemed to be sound enough. Any one of the three men might have committed the crime with which Fremont was charged.
Two of the three were sleeping in that tent, while the third one was expected. What connection could there be between the man in evening dress and the sullen Scoby and the villainous Felix? What significance could there be in the schedule of firearms he had left in the suite?
How were the attack on Cameron, the matter of the hidden mine, and the matter of international importance associated together? These questions and many others presented themselves to the boy as he watched the fire die out and waited for Nestor to go on.
"This third man is a diplomat, is he?" he finally asked. "Does that mean that he is in the diplomatic service of some government, and that he is acting here in that capacity?"
"Something like that," was the reply, "though it might be difficult to get any government to father the mission he is really on. He claims, I understand, to be acting for a junta. At least, he has not brought any government into the affair so far, that I know of."
"Well, what does he want?"
"His benevolent purpose is to bring on a war between Mexico and the United States," was the astonishing reply.
"I don't think he's next to his job as a statesman, then," observed Frank, "unless he wants to see Mexico cleaned out."
"However that may be, he believes that a raid on Texas soil from this side of the river would provoke our government to an invasion, as it probably would."
"I should hope so."
"And he believes, too, that in such an emergency the Mexican federals and insurrectos would join hands in fighting the common enemy."
"That is quite likely. He's got that figured out in good form," laughed Frank. "I guess he isn't such a dub, after all."
"He is probably right in the supposition that such a war would stop the fighting over here—that is, the fighting as it is now going on. He seeks peace in his own land at the risk of a war with our country."
"Then he ought to be shot," declared the boy.
"He was negotiating with Mr. Cameron for the purchase of firearms and ammunition," Nestor went on. "His people haven't got the guns, and Mr. Cameron dealt in them."
"I see. Go on—faster," cried the excited boy.
"He went to the office that night hoping to convince Mr. Cameron that he ought to sell him the arms he wanted. He doubtless expected to leave the office with a signed contract for what he wanted—arms and ammunition enough to make the proposed raid at least formidable. He failed. Mr. Cameron would not sell the arms, knowing that they were to be used against his own country."
"Good boy! Hope he gets well."
"Then this diplomat probably asked for the correspondence which had been carried on between the two men. He doubtless feared that Mr. Cameron would reveal the plot to the government, as he would have done."
"Say," cried Frank, "this is getting pretty swift."
"It has been swift from the start," replied the other.
"Did this diplomat get the arms of some one else?" asked the boy, presently.
"I don't know, but it is believed that he did."
"And is coming here with them?"
"Unless they are stopped at the border."
"Then," Frank said, soberly, "I know what all these men are gathering here for. I know what they are waiting for—guns."
"I'm afraid you are right."
"Does the War department know?"
"You found out about it and told Washington by wire?"
Frank reached forward and seized Nestor's hand and shook it as if he expected to keep it in his grasp forever.
"I know you did," he said. "You needn't say a word."
"The War department has the letters," said Nestor, "the letters the diplomat did not secure from Mr. Cameron. I don't know why he did not get them, I'm sure. They were in a drawer of the big desk. It is quite probable, however, that he was frightened away, as the others were. That must have been quite early in the evening, and who it was that scared him away is what is puzzling me."
THE WOLF MEETS A PANTHER.
The ragged soldiers halted when they came to where the amazed Jimmie stood, and in a moment were joined by the drummer, a slender boy of fourteen, who looked worn out.
When he saw Jimmie he smiled and saluted by extending the right arm horizontally, palm out, three fingers vertical, with the thumb and little finger crossed on the palm.
"Where did you get that?" demanded Jimmie.
"Did stunts for it," was the reply. "And look here."
The drummer swept his left hand down his right sleeve, tapping half a dozen badges. These were those worn by Boy Scouts who had passed as Fireman, Signaller, Pioneer, Marksman, Horseman, and Musician. The officer in charge of the squad looked on with an amused smile as the drummer exhibited his honors.
"The kid is crazy over the Boy Scouts," he said. "He's been hunting for comrades among the Mexicans, and I reckon he found a few, at that. Well, I'm in favor of the organization myself. It teaches, honor, manhood, self-reliance, and has made a man of many a flat-chested, cigarette-smoking youth. It will be the saving of boys in the city slums if carried out properly."
"Sure it is all to the good," cried the drummer. "A Boy Scout can find friends wherever he goes—and friends that will stick by him, too. We get into the game ourselves and do things, instead of sitting on the bleachers ad smoking cigarettes while others get the exercise."
The little fellow smiled winningly at Jimmie, cast his eyes up the mountain, and then asked:
"Where did you come from? What patrol do you belong to? I'm Panther Patrol, New York."
"New York Wolf Patrol," was the reply.
"What you doin' here with the ragged army? Say, but they'd make a hit on a Bowery stoige, them soldiers."
"What do you know about the Bowery?" demanded the drummer. "Have you been reading about it in the Newsboy's Delight?"
"I know every inch of the Bowery," was the indignant reply. "When I walk down to Chatham Square the lamps bow to me. I'm hungry for it right now."
The drummer threw out his arms in a gesture of approval.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, then.
"I'm editing this end of a detective case," laughed Jimmie.
"All alone?" grinned the drummer. "Where are the others?"
"Lost," cried Jimmie. "Jere! I wish Frank Shaw was here and had hold of that drum. There'd be something doin'. He came down here to drum for Uncle Sam, but they wouldn't have him. They said he was too short an' fat."
The drummer held his sides with his hands while he laughed, and then dropped down on a convenient rock. The officer in charge of the file of soldiers shook him by the shoulder, though he was laughing too.
"Get up," he said. "What kind of a minstrel show is this?"
"Frank Shaw!" roared the drummer, paying no attention to the order. "He got sore because I told him I'd enlisted as a drummer and lit out. His father'll be sending after him, though. He's a good scout. Where is he now?"
"Lost," repeated Jimmie. "I don't know where he is. Just dropped into a hole."
"Not into any small hole," observed the drummer. "Are those your tents?" he added, with a longing look at the soft blankets.
"Sure," replied Jimmie. "Want to sleep? Go to it then. You're welcome."
"You bet I will," said the drummer.
He started for one of the tents and then turned back.
"Did you see the wig-wagging awhile ago?" he asked.
"Sure I did," was the reply.
"It was brief," said the officer in charge of the file, "but, still, long enough to convince me that we arrived here at the right time. There is an army forming here, no one seems to know what for, and renegade Americans are mixing in the game. The signals called for a gathering some distance above us."
"That's the way I took it," observed Jimmie. "They are calling the men together, I reckon, and there must be Americans in charge for they talk United States."
"When you came up," began the officer, "did you observe the fellows near the bottom? They seemed to me to be asking questions of the ones up above."
"We saw no one except stragglers when we came up," was the reply. "After the signals came, Ned Nestor and Frank Shaw went down there to see who they were, and they are down there yet, I guess. At least, they haven't returned."
The soldiers, who were now laying aside their weapons and preparing to cook supper, late as the hour was, observed the lad eagerly at the mention of Nestor's name. The lad noticed, too, as they gathered about him with questioning looks, that they were not at all like Mexicans in appearance, now that they had thrown off their outer clothing. Jimmie glanced from the officer to his men.
"You don't look like Greasers to me," he said.
The officer laughed but made no reply.
"You came in with Ned Nestor?" he asked.
"Sure I did."
"And you say he went back down the mountain to see who was signaling down there?"
"That is what he said when he went away."
"What did he say about coming back?"
"Of course he'll come back," declared Jimmie. "He's needed here. Since his departure the boy he left here with me has been geezled by some one. I left him alone just a minute, and when I returned he wasn't here. They're all lost but me, and I'm from the Bowery, so nobody can lose me."
"Who was it that was taken from the camp?" asked the officer.
Jimmie hesitated, for he did not know what reply to make. These men might be in quest of Fremont. Tempted by the large reward offered for the capture of the boy, they might have crossed the river and followed Nestor into the mountains.
On the other hand, if they were not in search of Fremont, they might render valuable assistance in running down the men who had taken him away. It was rather a hard place to put the loyal little fellow, but he proved equal to the occasion by reserving his decision until further information concerning the new arrivals should be at hand.
"His name is Smith," he replied, shortly.
"And why did these unknown people abduct Smith?" laughed the officer, who understood from the manner of the boy that the name was a fictitious one.
"I don't know," was the truthful reply.
"Well, we'll look into this later on," said the officer. "Just now we've got to travel down this hill and see what Ned Nestor is about."
The officer talked with his men in whispers for some moments, and Jimmie saw that they were all anxious about something. Finally, directing two of his men to remain under arms at the tents, he set off down the mountain with the other four. As they disappeared Jimmie beckoned the drummer aside.
"What do they want of Ned Nestor?" he asked.
"They want some information he has," was the reply. "They were sent here to confer with him. Did you think they were Greasers because they wore the ragged clothes over their good ones? Huh! They had to do that, and talk Spanish, too, in order to get in here. The insurrectos think they're new recruits."
"Who are they?" asked Jimmie. "What do they want to see Nestor for?"
"They are United States secret service men," was the reply. "They are here on a clue provided by Nestor, and they want to confer with him, as I said before."
"Jere!" cried Jimmie. "I didn't know that Ned was in partnership with the United States army. What is it all about?"
"You'll have to ask Ned," was the unsatisfactory reply. "He has been keeping the wires to Washington hot ever since he left New York, and these men were sent here at his request. There's something doing here, but I don't know what it is."
"I thought they were here to arrest Fremont," said Jimmie. "If I had known who they were, I wouldn't have lied about the boy. I said his name was Smith."
"Oh, it is George Fremont, is it?" asked the drummer. "That is the boy wanted for robbery and attempted murder in New York. Did Nestor bring him here?"
"Yes," was the reply. "He wanted to keep him away from the officers until the truth is known. Now he's gone and left us, and Fremont has been captured."
"Perhaps United States officers captured him," suggested the drummer. "If so, he is now on his way back to New York. I'm sorry."
"I don't believe civil officers got in here," said Jimmie. "When the secret service men come back, I'm goin' to ask them to help find him. I recon, now, that the Greasers caught him. I hope so, that is, I would rather they would have him than the others. We may get him away from the Greasers, but we couldn't get him away from officers."
A new view of the incident was now presented by one of the secret service men, who began questioning Jimmie about the boy he had called Smith. The boy thought best to tell him the truth, and did so.
"It may be all right," the secret service man said, after hearing the story. "It strikes me that the Greasers mistook Fremont for Nestor. In that case, they may release him as soon as they discover their mistake."
"Don't you ever think that," the other man cut in. "They are more likely to stand him up against a wall and shoot him. When the lieutenant comes back we'll see what can be done about it."
"But why should the Greasers want to capture Ned Nestor?" demanded Jimmie. "You said they might have mistaken Fremont for Ned."
"I can imagine that the man responsible for this gathering is interested in papers Nestor has," was the reply.
Jimmie and the drummer were now advised to get what sleep they could, the guards explaining that they were "expecting company," and that the talking might frighten the prospective callers away.
It was now nearing midnight, and Jimmie tried hard to lose himself in sleep, but, tired as he was, this seemed to be impossible. Fremont might be in deadly peril, and Nestor and Shaw were still unaccountably absent. His idea now was that the secret service man had advanced the correct theory regarding the abduction of Fremont. He had no doubt that the boy had been mistaken for Nestor.
Besides, the boy's mind was naturally excited over the strange revelations of the night. The arrival of the secret service men, the announcement that Nestor was working with the War department, the story that he had been in communication with the government at Washington ever since leaving New York, the hint that he held very important papers in his possession, all these supplied food for thought.
Under ordinary conditions the boy would have enjoyed himself to the limit in the mountains. He loved the forests and the wild places, the great spaces; he loved the light of the campfire and the rustle of foliage in the night. However, he was now by far too anxious to appreciate the outing he was having.
While he lay there trying to sleep he heard the guards whispering together. They were speaking of the important part Nestor was playing in the happenings there, and the boy was proud of his association with the resourceful patrol leader.
In a short time the boy heard the guards moving about as if acting under strong excitement. There was also the rattle of arms, as if they were preparing to meet an enemy.
Jimmie crept out of his blankets and crawled to the opening of the little tent. The guards were crouching low in the shadow of a rock, with their guns in hand, and the boy joined them.
"I thought you were asleep, kid," one of the men whispered. "Better go back to your tent. There may be shooting here."
"I didn't come down here to skulk," replied the boy, indignantly. "Are the stragglers coming here again?"
"There is some one moving about," was the reply.
"Perhaps it is Fremont, coming back," suggested Jimmie, hoping with all his heart that he had solved the riddle.
"If Fremont ever gets back here," the other guard observed, "we will have to bring him back. The men who took him away doubtless thought they were getting Nestor, and they will be so angry when they discover their mistake that the boy will receive very little consideration," was the discouraging explanation.
"Then we may as well be out after him," declared Jimmie. "I'm not goin' to lie in any old tent while they are killing him. I'm going out to find him."
"In that case," said the guard, "we'll have to go and find you. Wait until the lieutenant returns, and we'll see what can be done. He may bring Nestor with him, you know, and he can assist."
Although this seemed good sense, it did not please Jimmie at all, and he went back to his tent resolved to get away from the guards as soon as possible and do what he could to find Fremont. At the very door of the tent, however, he came to a halt, for the signals were going again, and a great rocket flashed across the sky.
BLACK BEAR AND DIPLOMAT.
"It looks to me as if there might be civil war down here, with all these men waiting for guns and ammunition," said Shaw, as Nestor concluded the story of the letters which had been forwarded to Washington. "I didn't know what I was getting into when I left New York. I wish I could send that story to my father. What a scoop he would have on the other newspapers!"
"That is the very last thing you should think of," declared Nestor. "The publication of the story now might bring about the very thing we are trying to prevent. There is no knowing what the Texans would do if they learned of the plot to invade their state. We are here to defeat the plot to arm these men who are waiting to cross the river, and not to furnish newspapers with scoops, as you call them."
"How are you going to do it?" asked the boy.
"The intention originally was to stop the purchase of arms. That failing, it was determined to prevent the purchases crossing the Rio Grande. If that cannot, or has not, been done, then some other means must be resorted to. That is why I am here, and that is why United States secret service men are waiting for me somewhere about here."
"I see," said Shaw, "and you thought your men might be down here? Well, if it is the other end of the conspiracy that we find in this camp, at least the other end of the Cameron robbery conspiracy—anyway not your associates—what then?"
"I am expecting the diplomat," was the reply. "If I can't get the arms I hope to get him."
"Would that check the invasion of Texas?" asked the boy.
"It might delay it until we have a strong force on the other side of the river."
"I believe you mean to kidnap him," cried Shaw. "Is that right?"
"I'm going to do something to disarrange the plans of the conspirators, if I can. We don't want a war with Mexico just now. Such an event might bring on complications with other nations, at least with one other nation."
"You mean Japan," cried Shaw. "I've heard that Mexico is full of Japs, all trained and ready to fight. And I've heard about a secret treaty between Mexico and Japan, too. Let the Japs butt in, if they want to. We'll drive them into the Pacific."
"I have said nothing about Japan," replied Nestor. "I don't believe half this sensational stuff about Japan's warlike attitude toward the United States that the newspapers are printing."
"Well, you didn't say Japan, but I know what you meant, all right," declared Shaw. "How much longer are you going to watch that camp?"
"I'm not watching the camp," replied Nestor. "I'm waiting to see if some important individual doesn't make his appearance here, bound for the peaks above."
"You mean the third man—the diplomat?"
"Exactly. He'll be here to-night, according to all reports. I thought it might be his party wig-wagging when I came here, provided it was not my associates. If he doesn't come pretty soon I'll return to our camp. The boys will be getting anxious over our long absence."
Presently, while the two waited, a signal rocket came blazing out of the east, swept a wide curve in the sky, and dropped out of sight. It was almost immediately followed by a blue rocket, sent up from the foot of the range, not very far away. Then the men in the camp below were heard moving about.
"The fellows down there," said Shaw, "appear to be about as astonished as we are at the display of fireworks. I don't think they are next to this game at all. They have their minds too crowded with mine-dreams to leave room for any international complications, I guess."
Indeed, this seemed to be the case, for the night watchman, the Mexican, and the miners were now assembled in a little open space before the tents, gazing perplexedly into the sky, which now showed red and blue rockets, apparently sent up in answer to each other.
"There's our third man," said Shaw, as a moving light appeared not far away. "Listen, and you'll hear him coming."
The boy almost danced up and down in his excitement.
"Let me geezle him," he whispered. "Let me make a record for valor down here," he added, with a grin. "I might get a Carnegie medal."
"You'll probably get a bullet if you don't keep quiet," advised Nestor. "Come, we may as well hide ourselves in the thicket over there and await the turn of events."
Within ten minutes the sound of hoofs was heard, indicating the advance of, perhaps, half a dozen horsemen, and then came a challenge from the night watchman's camp. There followed a short conversation in Spanish, only a portion of which Nestor could understand. However, he learned from what he did hear that the party just coming in had missed a guide, and was seeking the easiest way to get to the top of the range.
After a short time the conversation suddenly changed into English, and Nestor heard a soft voice ask:
"Are you going up?"
"In the morning," was the reply, in the voice of the night watchman.
"Why not go now and guide us?" came another question.
"Because we prefer to wait until morning," was the gruff reply.
"Have you seen any men going up?" was asked, then
"There are stragglers all about," was the ungracious reply. "We have been disturbed by them before."
There was a short silence, then a shot and a struggle.
"Say," said, Shaw, "the newcomer is tying Felix and Scoby up, and the miners have all taken to their heels. What do you think of that?"
"I think that our friend, the third man, needs a guide up the mountain, and is not at all particular how he gets one. The Mexican seems to be the one he wants."
"He's got his nerve," Frank grinned.
"That is only his pleasant little way," replied Nestor, with a quiet smile. "He is a very arrogant fellow."
"If that is really the third man," Shaw said, presently, as the soldiers came up the hill, Scoby and the Mexican being almost forced along, "we've got 'em bunched. We've got the three men who were in the Cameron suite that night all in a heap. Guess you can pick out your man now. I reckon you did some thinking before you planned this trip to Mexico, Ned."
"Don't forget that the United States secret service men had a hand in the deal from the beginning," replied Nestor, modestly. "Within six hours of the time I left the Cameron building I was talking with Washington. The fact that the Mexican and the night watchman are also here now is a lucky change, that is all. The trap was laid for this diplomat. The others could have been found later on."
"Oh, you didn't do a thing, I guess," laughed Shaw as the two turned up the acclivity, planning to keep some distance in advance of the party behind. "Say, do you think this third man recognized Scoby as a person he had seen in the Cameron building? What? That might be one reason for marching the two off."
"I can't say," Nestor replied, "but the diplomat probably had his eyes open when he was in that building. Don't ask so many questions."
Twice within a few moments the boys heard some one approaching them, coming down the mountain side at a great pace, and twice they saw a man hasten by the place where they had hastily secreted themselves and confer with the party below.
"Spies! Messengers! Japs!" commented Shaw. "I heard that jargon in a Jap restaurant in New York. What about it?"
"You are as full of the Yellow Peril scare, to-night, as the sensational newspapers," replied Nestor, as they moved on up the mountain side. "We are not looking for trouble with the Japs, but we can take care of ourselves if it ever comes."
After a time the boys paused on a ledge of rock and looked over the moonlit space about them, Nestor expectantly, Frank with apprehension. The party with the unwilling guide was now far below them, and during the last few moments they had walked boldly, Nestor watching for a signal which he now thought he saw.
While they stood there a light flashed for an instant in a little gully off to the right, and Nestor replied with a bird-call which was so natural that Shaw gave a little start and looked about for the bird. There was another flash of light, and then five men made their appearance. There was a further exchange of signals, and then the newcomers advanced to where the boys stood.
"You are Ned Nestor?" the leader of the party asked.
"And you are Lieutenant Gordon?"
"The same," replied the other, grasping Nestor by the hand. "We found your camp but you were not there, so we came on down to the place where the boy said you had gone."
"Weren't there two boys there?" asked Frank, a sudden fear gripping him. "We left two there."
"I'm sorry to say that we found only one," replied Lieutenant Gordon. "The other had been kidnapped, the little fellow said."
"Come on, then," Shaw shouted, speeding away as rapidly as the nature of the ground would permit. "We've got to go and find him. Was it Fremont who was taken?" he added, turning back for a moment.
"The boy we saw told us his name was Smith," laughed the lieutenant.
"He probably thought you were after Fremont," Nestor said. "We must hasten up there, after we do a little important business here."
Lieutenant Gordon and the patrol leader conferred together for some time, and then instructing Shaw to make his way to the camp as quickly as possible, the little force of six awaited the arrival of the other party. In half an hour they came up, panting, their horses having been left behind as not being adapted to mountain work. When they stepped out on a little plateau they found themselves looking into the muzzles of six automatic revolvers, held in the hands of the civil service men and Nestor.
"You are Don Miguel?" asked the lieutenant of a tall, well-dressed man who was in the lead.
"What is the meaning of this outrage?" demanded the man addressed. "We are citizens of Mexico, going about our legitimate business."
"You are mistaken," replied the lieutenant, grimly. "You three," indicating Don Miguel, Felix and Scoby, "are citizens of the United States. We are in the secret service of your government, and place you under arrest for treason and robbery. Take their weapons, Charley," he added, addressing one of his men, "and if one of the soldiers lifts a hand, shoot."
The weapons were quickly surrendered, the soldiers standing aside with fright in their faces. Then Lieutenant Gordon and Nestor held a short but earnest conversation with Don Miguel, at the termination of which the latter ordered his soldiers back to the valley, "to await the execution of plans now proposed," as he said.
"It is an outrage," Don Miguel complained, as the soldiers disappeared, "and my government shall hear of it. You shall all suffer for what you are doing."
"You are a naturalized citizen of the United States," the lieutenant repeated, "and you are under arrest for treason. The others are held for attempted murder and robbery. Now, this being understood, we may as well proceed to camp."
The night watchman and the Mexican also made vigorous protests against their arrest, but no attention was paid to them. Nestor was at that time too anxious over Fremont's disappearance to halt for a lengthy explanation.
WOLF AND PANTHER AFTER BEAR.
When the rocket flared across the sky Jimmie rushed into the tent where the drummer was sleeping and shook him savagely.
"Get up an' blow out the gas!" he cried, as the boy gasped and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Get up!"
"This must be the Fourth of July," the drummer grunted, as another rocket, this time a blue one, flashed across the zenith. "What's doing?"
"They're bombardin' us with red an' blue fire," whispered Jimmie! "Get up. I'm goin' out to see what's comin' off here. Want to go?"
"Of course I want to go," replied Peter. "I didn't come down here to sleep my head off, did I? Shall I take my drum?"
Jimmie sat down on the ground and chuckled.
"You an' your drum!" he exclaimed, being careful to speak in a tone which would not reach the ears of the guards.
"That is a fine drum," urged Peter, the drummer.
"What do you want to lug it around for, then?" demanded Jimmie. "They won't let you beat on it."
"That's what I came down here for—to drum," was the impatient reply. "Think I came down here to get my hair cut?"
"You may get it cut off under your chin before you get back to the Great White Way," Jimmie said. "This is no joke."
"I haven't had a chance to drum since I got here," complained the boy. "The time you heard me is the only one. That's rotten!"
"Why did they let you drum then?" asked Jimmie.
"I just rolled it out before they could stop me."
"I was wondering," Jimmie said, with a sly smile, "if these secret service men went sleuthing with a brass band ahead of them."
"Indeed they don't!" declared the drummer, in defense of his friends. "They found me broke and lost and picked me up, which was mighty good of them. Say," he added, with a slight scowl on his face, "this is a fine, large country to get lost in."
"I should think so," agreed Jimmie. "I wasn't lost, but I hadn't any more money than—than—than a—a—a rabbit when I found Fremont and Ned at El Paso. And my clothes looked like they'd come out of a ragbag. Wore 'em out reclinin' in my side-door Pullman."
"You're fixed up all right now for clothes," observed the drummer, looking the boy's well-dressed, muscular figure over with approving eyes.
"George Fremont bought these," said Jimmie, looking down at his suit. "All right, ain't it? I'm goin' to pay him back when I get to working again. I don't want anybody to give me anything."
"Lieutenant Gordon's son is a patrol leader at Washington," the drummer said, after a thoughtful pause, "and I suppose that's the reason he helped me out. I reckon a Boy Scout can find friends in any part of the world, if he is deserving of them. I found a Mexican boy, over here in the hills, who belongs to a patrol he calls the Owl. We may meet him if we remain about here very long."
"A Boy Scout who is on the square won't have trouble in getting through," Jimmie observed, "but we've got to be moving. I imagine the guards want us to remain here, so we'll have to sneak off if we leave camp. The guards seem to think we couldn't find our way back. We'll show 'em."
Without further words the boys crept out of the tent, waited until the guards were at the other end of the little valley, and dashed away into a shadowy place behind a rock, which they had no difficulty in leaving, presently, without being seen.
Once away from the tents, they turned toward the high peak from which the rockets had been sent up. The way was steep and rough, and it was hard climbing, and more than once they stopped to rest. It was, as has been said, a brilliant moonlit night, and, from the elevation where the boys were, the valley below lay like a silver-land of promise.
"It is a beautiful country," the drummer said, as they paused to rest on a small shelf in the rock. "It is a rich and fertile country, too, one of the most desirable in the world, but I'm afraid the people don't get much out of life here."
"They are selfish and cruel," Jimmie said, "and no nation of that stripe ever prospered. What they need here is less strong drink and more school-houses—more real freedom and less mere show of republican government. We read up on Mexico in the Wolf Patrol when this trouble broke out. We always do that—keep track of what's going on in the world, I mean."
"I know something about the country, too," the drummer said, looking in admiration down on the beautiful valley below, bathed in the sweet moonlight, "and sometimes I wonder that the people are as decent as they are. Although they have never had much of a show, and although they come, many of them, of rude ancestors, the people of Mexico compare favorably with those of other countries."
The boys climbed on again, mounting higher and higher, their aim being to gain the very top of the ridge. After half an hour's hard work they stopped and sat down, to look over the valley again.
"There are no written records of the origin of these people," the drummer said, almost as if thinking aloud. "No one knows the origin of the people. Cortez found them here when he arrived with his brutal soldiers. All that is known is that the inhabitants came from the North."
"Twice the country was populated from the North," Jimmie put in, the readings at the Wolf Patrol club coming back to his mind. "Now I wonder why, in reading history, we always find that invaders came from the North?"
"I've read," the drummer went on, quite enthusiastic over the subject in hand, "that the present North Polar regions were tropical in temperature and in animal and vegetable life, a long time ago."
"Yes, they find there, skeletons of animals which now exist only in the tropics," said Jimmie, "and tropical trees deep under the ice. The earth, they say, shifted in its orbit and it grew cold up there. I guess that is why we read of people always coming down from the North."
"They had to get out of the North," the drummer mused, "because during the Glacial period an ice-cap miles in thickness covered the world down as far as the dividing line between the British possessions and the United States. That is the way California and Mexico and Central America were populated, anyhow."
"You mean that the immediate ancestors of the people of those countries came from the North," Jimmie criticized. "For all we know, the people who lived before them came from the South. They left no records to show that they ever existed, but the earth was not bare of animal life back of the period our scientists figure from."
"The first ones came from the East, by way of Iceland, Greenland, and Baffinland; from the Eastern continent, and about the vicinity of the Caspian sea, and so kept on South on this continent as the climate grew colder. But we were talking of the people of Mexico. I wanted to show you that they have never been favored as the people of our country have, and that they've got years of national childhood to go through yet before they become a great people."
"Go on and tell me about it," urged Jimmie. "We may learn as much about what's going on here by sitting on this plateau as we could by climbing our heads off."
The boys listened a moment, but there were no suspicious sounds about. The mountain lay as silent under the moon as if no human foot had ever pressed its surface. There were lights far down in the valley, but none on the slopes in view.
"About as far back as the books go in Mexican history," the drummer began, "is the seventh century, even when England wasn't much. About that time the Toltecs came out of the North and took possession of the valley where the City of Mexico now is. They were industrious, peaceful and skilled in many of the arts. They kept their records in hieroglyphics.
"They had a year made up of eighteen months of twenty days each, the other five and a fraction being chucked into the calendar any old way. They knew about the stars and eclipses, and built great cities.
"When they build their temples, it is said, they found ruins of other temples beneath them. And the ones who built the temples, the ruins of which the Toltecs found, doubtless found ruins of temples when they began to dig. It is wonderful. The ages and ages that have gone by, with new civilizations growing up and dying out."
"I feel like I was in a land older than the solar system," said Jimmie. "What became of the Toltecs?"
"They were crowded out by the Aztecs somewhere about the twelfth century. The Aztecs were warlike and cruel. It is said that they murdered twenty thousand victims a year on the altars of their gods. They were able people, too, but murderous in all their instincts. They were cultivated to a degree far above the other peoples of the North American continent at that time, but they lacked the feelings of humanity as expressed to-day.
"They built temples—mounds of clay faced with brick, surmounted by great towers where the priests dwelt. It was at the summits of these mounds, on a sacrificial stone, before all the people who could get in view, that the victims of their religious frenzy were slain.
"Then Cortes came, in fifteen hundred and something, and the deluge of blood began. If you have read up on the subject at all, you doubtless know how merciless the Spaniards were in their attitude toward the Aztecs. They killed them by thousands, in open battle and by treacherous means, and they tortured Aztec priests to force them to reveal the places where the vessels of gold used in worship were hidden.
"It is easy to see where the modern Mexican gets his ideas of amusement, as shown in the bull fight. The Aztec-Spanish blood is still in his veins. Of course there are cultured and refined Mexicans, but the great mass of the people are pretty primitive. Outside the cities, in many instances, old tribal relations continue, and the people are unsettled in habitation as well as in spirit, selfish and cruel, too.
"One revolution after another—brought about by unscrupulous leaders in the hope of personal gain—has devastated the country. It seems easy to stir up a revolution in Mexico, for the people are volcanic in temperament, like the earth under their feet, and their eruptions do not always follow usual lines, either, but break out in unexpected places and for unheard of reasons—just as the volcanoes refuse to follow the central mountain chains, but break out in undreamed of localities."
"It requires a strong hand to rule such a people," Jimmie mused. "I guess Diaz has troubles of his own."
"There is no doubt of it," the drummer continued. "In future years Mexico will become one of the garden spots of the world. It is clear why one people after another selected the Valley of Mexico for their abiding place. But blood will tell for evil as well as for good, and the bad strain here must be thinned down. The hills are rich in minerals, and the valleys are fertile, and all the land needs is a race of steady, patient workers—fewer bull fights and less pulque and more days' work."
As the drummer ceased speaking, Jimmie laid a warning hand on his shoulder and bent his head forward in a listening attitude.
"Listen!" he said. "There are men talking just over that slope."
CAPTURED THE WRONG BOY.
As the boys listened voices came distinctly to their ears. It was evident that the men who were talking had only recently arrived at the spot where they stood, for all had been quiet a short time before.
The boys crept closer and saw a party of rough-looking natives gathered about an evil-looking man, who appeared to be an Englishman, and a slender figure which Jimmie had no difficulty in recognizing as that of George Fremont. The sinister Englishman, undoubtedly the leader of the party, was a giant of a fellow.
As the boys looked, he reached forth a great hand and, seizing Fremont by one shoulder, shook him fiercely. Then it was seen that Fremont's hands were tied behind his back. Jimmie started forward, involuntarily, at sight of the brutality of the act, but the drummer drew him back.
"You'll have to remain quiet," the latter said, "if you want to help your friend. We can't fight the whole party. Have you a gun with you?"
Jimmie nodded and laid a hand on his hip.
"I am unarmed," the other said, in a minute, "and so couldn't do much in a fight; so, perhaps I'd better go down and bring up the guards."
"Just the thing," whispered Jimmie. "I'll remain with this gang of bandits and manage to leave a trail that can be followed if they leave the place. Go on down an' bring the guards. And," he added, a half smile on his anxious face, "don't forget to bring your drum."
"My drum!" repeated the other, in amazement. "What is the good of bringing a drum, I'd like to know?"
"Bring it, anyway," directed Jimmie. "If you hear a shot up here, play it to beat a band. Beat it for keeps. Rattle off a charge, and make a noise like a regiment of cavalry. And if you can't make good time climbing down, slip on a rock an' roll down. Somethin' must be done quick!"
"I don't believe they will shoot him," the drummer said, tentatively, hesitating for an instant.
"If that big lobster gives the order to do it," Jimmie said, his eyes flashing, "I'll get him before the order can be obeyed. They may get me after that, but I'll have the satisfaction of knowin' that I got to him first. Now, run!"
The dawn was strong in the east when the drummer disappeared down the side of the mountain. It had been an eventful night, a long one to the boy standing there watching for an opportunity of making his presence known to the prisoner. There was a deal of talking going on in the group about the prisoner, but Jimmie could catch only part of what was said.
The soldiers—if the ragged, sullen-looking natives might so be termed—talked fast and in a villainous tongue which did not seem to be Spanish. They appeared to be greatly excited, and it was only when the heavy voice of the leader boomed forth that they reverted to silence.
Jimmie could not understand what the prisoner had been brought there for. If the idea of his captors was to restore him to his friends, that would be the work of only a minute. They would only have to cut the bonds and Fremont would do the rest. If the idea was to murder him, why the delay? It had been hours since his capture, and it would have taken only a minute to discover that the wrong boy had been taken.
If, as Jimmie considered gravely, the big man should prove to be a civil officer from Texas, a a man with a warrant for Fremont, then it seemed that he would be getting him across the border as quickly as possible, taking no chances with slow Mexican criminal procedure. This last view of the case was the one which Jimmie feared most. He might be able to get his friend away from Mexican bandits, but not from a Texas sheriff.
The next words of the leader settled every doubt on the question the boy was puzzling over. Although they showed that Fremont was in immediate peril of his life, the watcher was in a measure relieved at the knowledge they brought him. So long as Fremont was held a prisoner by those who were breaking and not enforcing the law in doing so, there was hope of rescue.
"Nestor," the Englishman said, thrusting his bewhiskered face into that of Fremont, "tell me where the papers are, and I'll set you free in an instant."
"I know nothing about the papers you speak of," was the reply. "I have never had them in my possession."
The renegade whispered with his companions for a moment. Jimmie could not hear what was being said, but the soldiers seemed to be insisting on some point which the leader was not quite certain of. Then the latter asked:
"You are certain you made no mistake?"
The others nodded and pointed at Fremont.
"It is as you commanded," one of them said, in fair English.
Then the big man turned back to the prisoner, an ugly frown on his repulsive face.
"You are not telling me the truth," he said. "You know well enough where the papers are. It is useless for you to deny."
The leader believed the prisoner to be Nestor. That was plain now. And Fremont had been captured by these brigands in the absence of the leader, and he was taking their word that they had abducted the right boy. This might account for the delay. The leader might have joined his men only now.
"I don't know anything about the papers," insisted Fremont.
"Huh!" muttered Jimmie, from his hiding place. "Why don't he tell his nobbs who he is? Then he might be released."
Jimmie did not know that Fremont had long been considering this very point, and finally decided that the correct course for him to pursue would be to permit his captor to remain in ignorance of his identity. The instant he knew that his brigands had made a mistake, the fellow would be out after Nestor with a larger force, and that would make it dangerous for the boy, would hamper him in the work he was there to do. Besides, he believed that the course he proposed would gain time, and that Nestor would certainly come to his rescue.
"You are making a mistake," the big man threatened, as Fremont again denied knowledge of the papers. "You are known to have been in the Cameron building that night. You are known to have taken the papers away from there, and to have made use of them. I won't say what treacherous use now. If the papers are not on your person, they are hidden somewhere."
Fremont only shook his head. In the growing light Jimmie could see that he was very pale, that he seemed tired out, as if he had been traveling all night. However, the white face he saw had a determined look, and Jimmie marveled at the mental processes which should so obstinately defend a wrong idea, which, of course, he only guessed.
"Everything you have done since you left the building that night is known to me," the big man went on. "You deserve death for the marplot that you are, but I will release you if you will restore the papers."
Fremont made no reply whatever to this. As a matter of fact, he did not even know the nature of the papers which were so in demand, Nestor having told him little of his real mission to Mexico. In the meantime Jimmie way trying in every way he could think of, without revealing his presence, to catch Fremont's eye and make him understand that help was at hand, and that he ought to reveal his identity and so create delay, as well as escape whatever cruelty the big fellow had in store for the boy he was being mistaken for.
"I'll give you three minutes, Nestor," the leader finally said, "to tell me where the papers are. At the end of that time, if you remain obstinate, I'll order you shot. Decide!"
Jimmie twisted and wiggled about until he became fearful that the noise he was making must disclose his presence, but Fremont did not cast a look in his direction. The leader stood grimly in the foreground with watch in hand. The seconds seemed to Jimmie to be running by like a mill-race.
Fremont's face did not change, except for a slight tightening of the lips. Jimmie listened intently for the sound of a drum on the mountain side below. It now was quite light, and the watcher could see every movement made by the men he believed to be brigands and their prisoner. A chill of terror ran through his veins as he saw the ragged squad examining their guns as if they expected to use them at the expiration of two more minutes.
The leader snapped out the words viciously; his evil eyes sparred for an instant with those of his captive and were then lowered to the ground. Jimmie took his revolver from his pocket and held it ready for action. As he had declared to the drummer, it was his deliberate intention to shoot the leader an instant before he gave the order to fire. He knew that the discharge would point out his place of concealment, and did not doubt that the volley intended for Fremont would be turned upon himself, but the knowledge did not swerve him from his purpose.
He counted the next seconds by his own fierce heart-beats. Thirty-four. Thirty-five. Thirty-six. It seemed to him that a second was never so short before. At sixty he would fire if he saw no evidence of weakening in Fremont. And he did not believe that Fremont would weaken. He was coming to understand that Fremont was obsessed with the idea that he was protecting Nestor by the course he was taking. This being true, he would remain loyal to the very end.
Thirty-nine. The leader seemed about to lift his hand as a signal for the squad to level their guns, when a shout came from up the slope, and a figure every whit as ragged and disreputable in appearance as the men gathered about the prisoner swung into sight, leaping over ledges and lifting voice and hand in warning as he advanced.
The men, now swinging their guns into position, paused and held them motionless while they gazed at the intruder. The leader shifted about uneasily and muttered something under his breath. Released, for the moment at least, from the strain he had been under, Jimmie dropped back in his hiding place, his weapon clattering to the ground. It was not the fact of his own peril that had wrought him up to the point of breaking, but the thought that it might be necessary for him to take a human life.
It seemed to the boy that there was displeasure half hidden in the leader's manner as he conferred with the messenger. He did not appear to approve of the interruption.
"Why didn't you tell me that you had made a mistake and taken the wrong boy?" he demanded, then turning to the men. "Why didn't you tell me this was not Nestor?"
The men made no reply except that one of them grumbled that they had captured the boy whose description they had been given, and the leader turned to Fremont.
"Why didn't you declare your identity?" he demanded.
"I had no reason to believe that anything I could say would be credited," was the cool reply. "You saw fit to disbelieve what I said about the papers."
"What is your name?" the other asked, laying a hand on the boy's arm.
Fremont remained silent, but the messenger stepped forward and declared that he knew the fellow well by sight, and that his name was George Fremont.
"Is that true?" demanded the renegade, and Fremont nodded.
Somehow it seemed to Jimmie that the renegade expected the answer that he had received, and that he way angry with the messenger for bringing out the boy's name. At any rate he glanced furtively at his men as the name was mentioned.
"And so," he said, then, "you are the boy wanted in New York for attempted murder and robbery? The boy with a reward of $10,000 on his head."
THE CASE IS WELL STATED.
It was a long, tedious climb back up the side of the slope. With almost every step the night watchman and the Mexican clamored for a hearing, for details of the charge against them, but they met with scant courtesy. Both Nestor and Lieutenant Gordon understood that they were fearful that they were to be taken at once back to New York, in which case they would be deprived of a chance to plunder the hidden mine, which they had come so far to find. Nestor had explained, very briefly, to the lieutenant that the Mexican and the watchman were there in quest of treasure, but had not confided to him the whole story of the Cameron tragedy, it being separate and distinct from the issue which had brought the secret service men to Mexico.
Don Miguel maintained a dignified silence—as dignified as a panting man can hold—through-out the tiresome journey, except on one occasion. Once, while the night watchman was violently demanding information concerning the crime with which he was to be charged, the diplomat asked:
"Why are you so silent concerning the man's alleged crime? It appears to me that you are conducting an abduction rather than an arrest. I, also, am anxious to know something of the charges against me."
"You shall know in good time," replied the lieutenant.
"I believe," Don Miguel went on, "that I can convince even you, prejudiced though you are, that you are making a great mistake—a costly mistake, both for yourself and your government."
"When we reach the tents I will listen to you," was the short reply, and the little party went on its way in silence for a long time, silent save for the mutterings of the Mexican and his fellow-conspirator, as Nestor believed the watchman to be.
Moonlight lay like a silver mist over the stubborn paths the party was following. Moving objects could be observed at a great distance, where the character of the surface permitted, and now and then moving bodies of men were discernible on the slopes of faraway peaks. Don Miguel's dusky face seemed to brighten, his eyes to gather almost a smile, whenever such parties were seen. It was plain to his captors that he looked upon the wandering bands as friendly to his interests.
Always the marching men—if scrambling up a mountain side in undignified positions may justly be described as marching—were headed for heights above. All were proceeding as silently as possible, too, and that gave an air of secrecy, of mystery, to the wild scenery and the romantic moonlight. Occasionally the flickering gold of a camp-fire mingled with the silver of the moon.
Just before dawn, when the members of the party were nearly ready to drop from exhaustion, a sharp challenge rang out ahead, and Lieutenant Gordon gave a word which caused a cautious guard to withdraw his threatening gun, and to hasten forward to greet his chief. With his first breath he asked a question.
"Have you seen anything of those confounded boys?"
"The drummer and the Bowery lad?" asked the lieutenant. "Why, we left them with you when we went down the hill."
"Well, they're gone!" exclaimed the guard, despondently.
"Gone!" repeated Nestor, stepping forward. "Where have they gone? Has anything been heard of Fremont?"
"Not a word," said the guard, answering only the last question. "It is my idea that the other boys sneaked off in the hope of finding him. I sent them into one of the tents to sleep, and when I looked in a short time later, they were not there."
"It is certain that they were not carried off?" asked Lieutenant Gordon.
"Certain," was the reply. "We watched the tents every second."
"And yet the boys got away without being seen," said the lieutenant, angrily.
"I don't see how they did it," was the abashed reply.
"I have little doubt that they have been carried away by the men who captured Fremont," Nestor said, gravely. "Still, it may be that they have only wandered off in search of the boy. It is a serious situation."
"The mountain is swarming with men," the lieutenant said. "The only wonder is that we have not been attacked. I fear that the boys have been captured, even if they only wandered away to look for their friend."
Nestor walked restlessly about the little camp for a moment and then looked into the two tents, as if expecting to find some one there.
"Where is Shaw?" he asked, then, alarm in his voice. "Where is the boy we sent on ahead of us? He must have reached here a long time ago."
The guards looked surprised at the question.
"Why," one of them said, "no one came here from below but yourselves. We have seen no one."
Nestor stood for a moment as if he thought the men were playing a trick on him, then the gravity of the situation asserted itself. What mischief was afoot in the mountains? Why had the boys disappeared, while there had been no attempt to obstruct the passage of the secret service men as they moved about?
"It seems, then, that there is another lost boy," said Lieutenant Gordon. "That makes four. It is most remarkable."
"Yes," said Nestor, "Fremont, Jimmie, Shaw, and this drummer you told me about. I think we have our work cut out for us now."
"It is the second time Peter Fenton has been lost to-night," Gordon said, with a smile. "He was lost and we found him—lost and hungry, but full of courage."
"Peter Fenton!" exclaimed Nestor. "I know him well as a member of the Panther Patrol. A bright boy, and full of information concerning Mexico. I have often heard him speak of this country. Well, let us hope that the four boys are all together, wherever they are. It seems strange that the outlaws should go about picking up boys."
"It will soon be daylight now," Lieutenant Gordon said, "and then we'll see what we can do. It may be that the lads will return and bring Fremont with them, though that is almost too much to hope for. Anyway, it seems to me that we have accomplished the principal object of our journey here," he added, with a glance at Don Miguel.
The diplomat turned about and faced the lieutenant with a sneer on his face.
"You are not the only one who is making progress here to-night," he said. "If you wish the return of your friends, release me and I will restore them to you."
"I think we'll take chances on finding the boys," Gordon said. "You are wanted very particularly at Washington."
"Then permit me to send word to my friends," urged Don Miguel. "I can cause the patriots who doubtless have the boys to return them to you. Odd that they should have carried them off," he added, with a scowl.
The man's inference was that the boys were being held as hostages, but this Nestor did not believe. Fremont had been taken away before the arrest of Don Miguel.
"That would be a very good move—for your interest," Nestor said, in reply to the suggestion. "As the lieutenant says, we prefer to take our chances on finding the boys. Your friends might want to interfere with your trip to Washington if they knew our intentions concerning you."
"You will soon see your mistake," was the significant reply.
During this talk the night watchman and the Mexican had remained silent, but it was plain that they had not lost a word that had been said. Especially when the talk of restoring Fremont to his friends was going on, the watchman had cast significant glances at Felix.
"Was it a part of the conspiracy," Nestor asked, facing the three men, "to abduct Fremont if he left New York? Or was it the intention to murder him there?"
Don Miguel turned to Nestor with a sneer on his rather handsome face. It was evident that he did not relish being questioned by a mere youth.
"I know nothing of the urchin to whom you refer," he said, scornfully. "I do not deal with precocious infants."
Nestor checked an angry rejoinder, and Don Miguel directed his attention to Lieutenant Gordon, whom he seemed to consider more worthy of his notice.
"Down there on the mountain side," the diplomat said, "you promised to further inform me as to the reasons for my being held a prisoner, deprived of freedom of action. I am waiting for you to speak."
Lieutenant Gordon smiled and referred the diplomat back to the boy.
"I know very little about the matter," he said. "I am working under orders from Washington, definite orders, which leave me virtually under the direction of Mr. Nestor. If you ask him to do so, he may be willing to go into the details of the matter with you."
"Must I deal with the infant class in such an important matter?" demanded the other. "Then perhaps, you will condescend to do as the lieutenant suggests," he added, turning back to Nestor, with a look of helpless rage on his face.
"I have no objection whatever," replied Nestor, seeing in the request a chance to inform the lieutenant, in the presence of the prisoner, of the exact status of the case, and also to observe the effect upon the latter of a statement dealing with the particulars of his treasonable actions.
"Proceed, then, my boy," said Don Miguel, patronizingly.
"A few weeks ago," Nestor began, only smiling at the weak condescension displayed, "you entered into correspondence with Mr. Cameron, of New York City, with reference to the purchase of arms and ammunition in large quantities. At first your letters met with prompt answers, for Mr. Cameron was in the business of selling the class of goods you had opened negotiations for. Then your letters grew confidential, finally suggesting a private arrangement between Mr. Cameron and yourself under which the arms and ammunition to be purchased were to be delivered to secret agents on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande."
Don Miguel's face was now working convulsively, his hands, clenched, were fanning the air in denial, and it seemed as if he would spring upon the boy.
"It is false!" he shouted. "All false!"
"Suspicious that the arms and ammunition were to be used against his own country, Mr. Cameron drew you out on this point, how cleverly you well know, until the whole plot lay revealed. You were purchasing the goods in the interest of a junta which proposed to arm such outlaws and rag-a-muffins as could be assembled, and to send them across the Rio Grande on a hostile mission in the guise of Mexican soldiers."
"False! False!" almost howled the diplomat. "How is it that you, a boy, a mere child, who should be with his mother in the nursery, should know such things?" he demanded; then seeing his error, he added, "should place such a construction on a plain business transaction?"
"It was the purpose of this junta," Nestor went on, not noticing the interruption, "in marching this ragged army across the border to precipitate war between the United States and Mexico. With an invader on their soil, the members of the junta reasoned, all Mexicans would flock to the standard of their country, and the war with the United States would be fought out by a united Mexico."
Don Miguel was now walking fiercely about the little dent in the side of the mountain where the camp was built, pressing close to the loaded guns of the guards, each time, before he turned back to swing and rave over the ground again.
"This very pretty conspiracy to involve the United States in a war with Mexico," Nestor continued, "was unwittingly foiled by a desperate crime—perhaps committed by yourself."
ACCUSING EACH OTHER.
Don Miguel stopped in his nervous pacing of the small space in front of the tents and thrust his passion-swept face to within a foot of that of the speaker.
"A desperate crime!" he repeated. "Do you have the temerity to mention my name in connection with crime?"
"On the night of your visit to Mr. Cameron," Nestor went on, coolly, "you dined at one of the famous lobster palaces on Times Square. Early in the evening, let us say not far from nine o'clock, you left the restaurant and took a cab for the Cameron building. You spoke both French and Spanish to the driver, as well as English, and tipped him liberally, paying the charge in gold."
Don Miguel swung away again, his face expressive of a desire to do murder.
"You found Mr. Cameron in his office," Nestor continued, "busy with the papers of the Tolford estate. There are only two persons who know what took place at that interview, Mr. Cameron and yourself, but we are certain that the purpose of it was to urge Mr. Cameron to complete the contract for munitions of war which was under discussion. It is also quite likely that, failing in this, you sought the return of the compromising letters which you had written to him."
The enraged diplomat made a desperate dash for the freedom of the hills, such a short distance away, but was brought back by a guard—brought back almost frenzied with the hate of the boy that possessed him.
"Sit down," thundered the lieutenant. "Another break of that kind will lead to handcuffs."
Don Miguel obeyed, throwing himself on the ground as far as possible from his accuser. With a smile Nestor moved closer to him and went on.
"You did not get the letters. They are now safe in the vaults of the War department. Why you did not secure them I cannot say, for they were later found on the desk. One strong point in your favor, when the accusation is weighed, is that you did not take the letters. Had you left Mr. Cameron unconscious, you certainly would have secured them."
The harassed man lifted his eyes as if about to comment on the spoken words, but finally decided to remain silent.
"Mr. Cameron was attacked that night by some person having murder in his heart, and an innocent boy is accused of the crime. As I stated a moment ago, the fact that the incriminating letters were not taken speaks in your defense, still, you might have been frightened away after striking the blow."
Jim Scoby and Felix, who had been listening intently to the conversation, now whispered together for a moment, glancing malevolently toward Don Miguel as they did so. The latter saw the looks of hate and said a few words in Spanish which Nestor could not understand.
It seemed to the boy that the three men were endeavoring to arrive at some mutual defensive understanding with each other, so he asked Lieutenant Gordon to separate them. He did not propose to have any secret compact made there before his eyes.
"But there is still another view of the case," Nestor continued, after listening for a moment to the enraged protests of the three prisoners, who objected to the action that had been taken, "for, even if you did not attack Mr. Cameron, you might have sent some person in to do the work after your departure. You might have depended upon this accomplice to secure the letters. I don't know. The courts must decide.
"Anyway, whether you left Mr. Cameron in an unconscious state or not, his suite was visited by others soon after your departure. At least two persons were there, but I do not know whether they entered at the same moment or not. These men copied a paper they found in the Tolford estate envelope—the description of a lost mine—and went away. When Fremont entered the rooms, after all these visits, he found Mr. Cameron unconscious.
"It seems reasonable to suppose that one of you three men attacked Mr. Cameron—either Jim Scoby, Felix, or yourself, Don Miguel. We do not know which one dealt the blow, or whether you were all in the conspiracy against him, so we are taking you back to New York for trial. The matter of treason against you can be taken up later on."
"Your story is not exact, and your suppositions are forced," Don Miguel said, with a sneer, as if about to confound the conclusions of the boy with the logic of a man. "As purchasing agent for a perfectly legitimate concern, I visited that suite that night in the interest of the contract referred to by you. I was disappointed in the outcome of the negotiations, but I did not ask for the letters. They were confidential, and Mr. Cameron promised to regard them as such. When I left his office, Mr. Cameron was at work at his desk. That is all I have to say."
"And I was in that suite that night," Jim Scoby broke in. "I went in with a key I had had made, for the night-lock was on. I found Cameron unconscious on the couch. Felix, the man who sits there, entered with me. We were after the mine paper, and we got a copy of it. He will tell you whether what I have said is the truth."
"What Scoby says is the truth," Felix grunted.
The three prisoners had the earnestness of men telling the truth. They admitted having visited the Cameron suite on the night of the tragedy, and told how and why they went there. At least they gave good reasons for going, that of Don Miguel being legitimate, that of the others based on crime, for they admitted that they went there to steal a paper from the Tolford estate envelope, or, at least, to copy it.
The three admitted all that Nestor had discovered, and nothing else. Was this because they knew that he was certain of his facts regarding the visits and the men who had made them? Anyway, there was no dispute as to the details. It was the important conclusion that was denied.
"If you found Mr. Cameron lying there unconscious," Nestor asked of Scoby, "why didn't you summon help? You had no cause for enmity against him, had you?"
"I wasn't there as first aid to the wounded," replied Scoby, sullenly. "I was there on business, and in danger of being caught at it, at that. Besides, I looked Cameron over, and thought he was out for the count and nothing more. Why don't you ask that foxy-looking guy over there," pointing to Don Miguel, "what he done it for?"
Don Miguel glared at Scoby, but said nothing.
"He says Cameron was well and hearty when he went in there. Well, Cameron wasn't well at all when he went in there, and I don't believe there was anybody in there between us. You search him for a reason."
"Were the lights on when you went in there?" asked Nestor.
"Yes," was the reply.
"And you switched them off?"
Scoby nodded and glanced toward Felix,
"How long was it after you left the room that Fremont came up?"
Both men refused to make any definite statement as to this, and Nestor saw that they were concealing something, that he had struck a feature of the case upon which they had made no agreement as to what should be told and what kept secret.
"These men are trying to put their crime on me," Don Miguel now said, fury in his tone. "They know that I left Mr. Cameron working at his desk. They were in the corridor and saw me pass down the elevator, which was making its last trip at that moment. They were whispering in a corner, in sight of the door to the Cameron suite. They took advantage of circumstances to place the crime on me."
This was what Nestor was aiming at. The three men, the only ones there that night, so far as he knew, were quarreling with each other. This would help in bringing out the truth. He decided to talk no more on the case for the time being.
"We ought to be looking up the boys," he said, by way of changing the subject.
"It will be daylight very soon now," Lieutenant Gordon replied, "and then something may be done. Rest assured that we shall do all we can to bring them back."
"It appears to me," Nestor said, thoughtfully, "that you ought to be getting these prisoners over the river."
"Yes, that is important," said the lieutenant.
"We do not know what is going on over there," the boy continued. "The arms which this man succeeded in purchasing may be on this side, for all we know. In that case, war may break out at any moment."
"Perhaps I would better start at once," agreed the lieutenant.
"Our boys over the river are prepared for a raid?" asked Nestor.
"Yes, all ready."
"Then you would better get the prisoners over before the trouble begins."
He turned to Don Miguel with a smile and asked:
"How is it? Were the arms you bought delivered on this side, or did the United States troops stop them?"
"They were to have been sent across last night," with a grin of triumph.
"And the signal from the peak shortly after midnight?"
"The O.K. signal meant that the men were there ready to receive them."
"Then you anticipate rescue almost immediately?" asked Lieutenant Gordon.
Don Miguel shrugged his slender shoulders.
"The hills are full of men," he said. "If they are armed—well."
"And you will accompany us? asked Gordon of Nestor.
"I shall remain here and look after my friends," was the reply. "After all, one may be able to accomplish more than half a dozen. Get the prisoners over the border before the shooting begins, and I will find the lost boys."
When the secret service men turned down the slope, Nestor moved toward the summit.
WOLVES ON THE MOUNTAIN.
"And so you are George Fremont, the scoundrel wanted by the police of New York City for attempted murder and robbery—the rascal for whose capture there is a reward of $10,000 offered!"
As the renegade repeated the accusation, his eyes flashed malignantly. Fremont listened silently, apparently unmoved by the vilifying words.
A moment's reflection convinced Jimmie—still observing the group from the shelter of his rocky hiding place—that the arrival of the messenger had slightly improved the situation so far as the interests of his friends were concerned. The critical moment had for the present passed or been delayed, and the prisoner was no longer threatened with immediate death. Jimmie, too, had been temporarily relieved of the responsibility of the act he had decided upon—the shooting of the renegade if he lifted an arm to signal the murder of the prisoner.
Still, Fremont was yet in the power of the renegade, and might soon be, through the latter's malice and greed, in the hands of the Mexican police and on his way back to the Tombs unless something was done immediately. Before, the renegade had been alone in his wish for the destruction of the boy; that is, alone of all the group about him, and of all the outlaws gathering in the mountains. Now, with the news of the reward published abroad by the messenger and the renegade, every native man, woman and child in Mexico would take a personal interest in delivering the prisoner to officials competent to hand over the large reward.
Jimmie listened intently and with a fastbeating heart for the strident voice of a drum. It seemed to him that Peter Fenton had been gone long enough to gain the camp. The secret service men, he knew, had not had time to reach the point of danger, but they had, he thought, had time enough to make a noise like an advancing army. There were bright-plumaged birds singing in the early sunshine, but no indications of the approach of the help Fenton had gone to arouse. What the next move of the renegade and his companions would be the boy could not even guess. He hoped, however, that the party would linger about the vicinity until the secret service men could come up.