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Boy Scouts in Mexico; or On Guard with Uncle Sam
by G. Harvey Ralphson
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This hope, however, was soon shattered. The renegade Englishman consulted with the messenger for some moments, pointing away to the north, as he did so, and then the outlaws were ordered into line, Fremont placed in the center, and all moved in the direction which had been pointed out.

The course of travel, although due north in general, wound among crags and through little canons, over level plateaux and along dangerous precipices, it being the possible desire of the renegade to work his way to the Rio Grande without coming into contact with officers or hostile groups of armed men who might demand a division of the fat reward offered for the arrest of the boy.

Owing to the character of the surface, Jimmie was obliged to wait for some moments before following on after the party. In fact, it was only by moving cautiously and keeping cliffs and crags between himself and the renegade's group of outlaws that the boy could make progress without being seen.

Before leaving the spot where the prisoner had stood, Jimmie selected a rock of the size of a two-gallon jug, placed it in plain view, and laid on top of it a smaller rock. At the left he placed another stone, the size of the one on top. This would direct any of the boys who might come too late to his relief.

During his Boy Scout excursions the boy had often used this "Indian talk" to inform his friends of the course he had taken. All Boy Scouts are supposed to be versed in "Signs in Stones." The large rock with the small one on top read, "Here the trail begins." The smaller stone to the left read, "Turn to the left." If the stone had been placed on the right it would have read, "Turn to the right." If he had built a pyramid of three stones, two on top of the large one, it would have read, "You are warned: Proceed cautiously." Jimmie knew that Fenton understood signs in stones, and would therefore have no difficulty in following him if he came up later on.

As the boy followed on to the north, now and then sliding down declivities, turning with dizzy eyes from great heights, but forever keeping the direction taken by the hostile party ahead, he listened for the sound of a gun, for the rattle of Fenton's drum, but listened in vain. He feared that the boy had been captured on his way down.

Finally, after a rough journey of several hours' duration, the renegade came to a halt at a point where the summit fell away in two directions, to the north and to the east. The divide seemed at least three hundred feet lower than that to the south, and sloped gradually, on the east, to a desert-like plain, beyond which ran the river. Here the party turned east toward the river and the boundary.

Jimmie, perched on a ledge facing the north, watched Fremont moving away with a desire in his heart to send a bullet after the Englishman. He tried to attract the attention of the captive, but did not succeed. While the boy lay watching and listening for any sounds of rescuers coming up the slope, a great rock, somewhere to the south, went tumbling down the mountain, carrying smaller rocks with it until the rattle of falling stones sounded like the din of a battle.

The renegade started and looked about suspiciously, doubtless fearing that the slide had been caused by the incautious feet of a pursuer, but his companions smiled and informed him that such incidents were common there and not at all alarming.

Jimmie smiled, too, for when the rattle ceased he heard a Black Bear growling in a ravine not far away. In a second the snarl of a Wolf answered the growl of the Bear, and then, almost before he became aware of their stealthy approach, Frank Shaw and Peter Fenton lay beside him in his hiding place. It seemed to the boy, as they lay there panting from their long climb, that they had dropped out of the sky.

He gave each one a friendly kick and waited, with a grin on his face.

"Say," grunted Shaw, rolling over on his back, "I'm all fried out."

"You have plenty of fat left," grinned Jimmie. "How did you fellows get here?"

"By following the signs in the stones," Frank replied.

Then Jimmie turned to Peter, also panting from his climb.

"Where's the drum you went after," he demanded, tauntingly.

"I got lost on the way down," Peter explained. "I didn't think I'd ever see or hear a drum again. Then I came upon Frank. He was lost, too. I was on my way down to the camp, and he was on his way up to the camp, and we met half a mile to the south of the camp, both trudging along like fools."

The situation was explained in a few words. Both boys had missed the trail, and had found, not the camp, but each other. They had last met in New York. Frank had not the slightest notion that Peter had left the city. It was a fortunate meeting, for the two, after greeting each other like chums, had studied the situation out much better than one could have done, with the result that, after many false trails had been followed, they had struck the one left by Jimmie.

"Where are they going with Fremont?" Frank asked, in a moment.

"They seem to be going after the reward," replied Jimmie.

"He'll get all the reward that's coming to him before he gets over the river and claims the money," Frank exclaimed. "Do you think Fremont knows that you are here?"

Jimmie shook his head.

"I've had to keep back," he said, "and Fremont never will look my way when I get close up to where he is."

"He ought to know," the drummer said.

"I've done my best," Jimmie said, in a discouraged tone.

Frank Shaw smiled and dropped down behind a huge rock.

"Just wait a minute," he said. "Just wait until I catch me breath, and I'll put him wise to the fact that there's a Black Bear somewhere in this turned-up-on-edge country. Watch, and see him jump."

Frank put his hand to his throat and emitted a growl which would have done credit to a genuine black bear, a bear in a museum warning the inquisitive to keep away from his cage. The threatening sound, however, seemed to come from the other side of the slope where the prisoner stood.

The Englishman drew a revolver and glanced sharply around, while the outlaws seized their guns and held them ready for action. It was clear to the boys that they had been completely deceived by the signal, and were expecting an attack from the animal at any moment.

Fremont did not seem to notice the signal, which was one the members of the Black Bear Patrol had long practiced both in the forest and in their club room, but his eyes were for an instant lifted toward the hiding place occupied by the three boys.

"He's next," whispered Fenton.

"I should say so," grunted Frank. "I guess he'd know a Black Bear signal anywhere. We didn't learn that call by any correspondence school method. It is the genuine thing. We got it by dodging the keepers and stirring up the black bears at Central Park."

The outlaws were now making timid runs out toward the point from which the sound had come, and the boys thought best to drop back a short distance, still keeping Fremont in sight, however. Directly the outlaws assembled again and stood talking in the villainous lingo which they had used before. It was evident that they were not a little alarmed at the thought of a wild animal being so close to them.

"They'll think there's more than one Black Bear after them," Shaw whispered as the men turned down the eastern slope and again moved toward the desert-like plain which lay between the mountains and the river.

"There's a Wolf after them, too," grinned Jimmie. "If I had some of the Wolves I left in New York we'd eat 'em alive," he added. "I'm hungry enough to eat that big lobster at three bites."

As the boy ceased speaking a pebble struck him on the top of the head, and the whine of a wolf reached his ears. There was silence for a moment, and then the sharp, vicious, canine-like snap of a wolf on scent was heard.

"I reckon all the Wolves in the world are not in New York," Shaw said. "That was a patrol signal, Jimmie. Go out and find your chum."

"It's Nestor!" almost shouted the boy, and Nestor it was, climbing laughingly toward the astonished group.

"Get down! Get down," warned Frank. "You'll give us all away."

Nestor pointed to the ridge, from which the outlaws had now disappeared, and threw himself down by the side of the boys.

"Did you bring anything to eat?" demanded Frank, rubbing his stomach.

"Where are the secret service men?" asked Fenton.

"This looks like a Boy Scout convention," Jimmie put in. "Where did you come from, and why didn't the guards come with you?"

In a few words Nestor explained the situation. He had left the secret service men to convey the prisoners to El Paso, and had entered alone upon a search for his friends. In a short time he had come upon signs in stones left by Shaw and Fenton, and had followed them to the place of meeting.

"What's the matter with the secret service men?" asked Shaw.

"Aw, they're jealous of Nestor!" Jimmie put in. "I reckon they wouldn't much care if Nestor had been geezled instead of Fremont."

"They did all they were ordered to do," Nestor replied. "It is now up to us to release Fremont. I'm glad he knows we are here," Nestor added, after due explanation had been made by Jimmie and Shaw. "He'll be on the lookout for us."

"How are you going to get him?" asked Fenton.

"You've heard of cutting cattle out of a herd?" smiled Nestor. "Well, that is the way we are going to get Fremont. We're going to cut him out."



CHAPTER XVII.

PLENTY OF BLACK BEARS.

"There's four of us now," Jimmie urged, "and we've all got guns, so we ought to go after the lobsters and get Fremont away from them."

"They look like dubs," Frank put in, "and I believe they'll run when they hear us shooting. If you won't let me drum, you must let me shoot."

"You got no drum!" grinned Jimmie.

"I'm afraid they would turn their guns on their prisoner if we attached them," said Nestor. "We've just got to wait until we can cut him out."

"I'm hungry enough to eat 'em all alive," cried Frank.

"I could get along pretty well if I had a couple of gallons of water," said Peter.

"If them lobsters find anything to eat or drink down there," Frank said, "we'll go down and take it away from them. Looks like they were making for a feed."

The boys now clambered cautiously to the summit and looked down the slope to the east. The renegade and his men were slowly making their way toward the bottom. The prisoner was moving forward as briskly as any of them, and the big fellow appeared to be paying special attention to him, as he was walking by his side most of the time.

The distance to the level plain below did not seem to be great. Although the peaks of the Sierra del Fierro range seem high when looked upon from the level of the Rio Grande, they do not appear to be so lofty when viewed from the plateau upon which the actual ascent begins.

The level table-lands or plateaux of Mexico lie from four to nine thousand feet above sea level, making many distinct climates as one goes up or down. These plateaux are girt by mountain chains. The high summits are those of Cofre del Perote, 13,400 feet; Origava, 17,870 feet; Istaccihuatl, or the White Woman, 16,000 feet, and the famous Popocatapetl, known as "Smoking Mountain," which lifts its fire-scarred head 17,800 feet above the level of the ocean.

It seemed to the boys that the distance between the summit where they stood and the plain below might, even at the slow pace at which the outlaws were moving, be made by nightfall. The eastern slope was not so rough and broken as that on the west. In fact, the outlaws were now traveling down a declivity so clear of cliffs and breaks that the boys did not dare follow them. To be observed by the renegade at that time might prove fatal to the hope of the immediate rescue of Fremont, as the outlaws would then be on their guard.

"We've either got to wait until night, or wind down through the wild places off to the south," Nestor said, after looking over the locality for a time.

"We just can't wait until night," Jimmie said. "There's no knowing what treatment Fremont will receive at their hands before that time."

"We may actually gain time by waiting," Nestor advised. "We may be obliged to travel scores of miles around precipices and canons if we take to the rocks."

"Suppose we wait, then," Frank said. "We can go over into the bumps to the south and get out of the sunlight, then. I'm about roasted. There may be a cave over in that direction, or a ruined temple."

"Or a Turkish bath, or a lobster palace," grinned Jimmie. "We might find a pie-counter over there, too," he added, with a poke at Frank.

"There are no ruined temples in the State of Chihuahua," declared Peter Fenton, glad of an opportunity of unloading his knowledge of the country, "at least, I have never heard of any being here. The teocalli, or temples, are farther south, down in the State of Chiapas, and in Yucatan."

"But we might find some underground temple up here," insisted Jimmie. "The natives worshiped in this region, didn't they?"

"They built their temples on top of pyramids," continued Fenton, "and not underground. There is one at Palenque said to be built on the lines of Solomon's temple. It has sanctuaries, sepulchers, cloisters, courts, subterraneous galleries, and dismal cells where the priests lived. No one knows how old the ruins are. No one knows how many distinct civilizations have held sway there, one, literally, on top of the other."

"It is too hot up here to talk ancient history," said Frank, "and I'm hungry, too, but I'd like to know where you find any pyramids in Mexico."

"The pyramid-temple of Cholulu," went on the delighted drummer, "is the largest and best known. It makes the pyramids of Egypt look like thirty cents in comparison, for it is nearly fifteen hundred feet on each side and almost two hundred feet high. Gizeh, the big Egyptian pyramid, is only 763 feet along the sides, but it has the Mexican one beaten in height, it being over five hundred feet high. Perhaps you fellows will wake up, directly, and find out what a wonderful country you are in."

"Who built this pyramid-temple?" asked Jimmie.

"No one knows," was the reply. "Whoever did it had correct ideas of architecture and knew lots about decoration. The ruined city of Palenque had temples, palaces, baths, and aqueducts. It was twenty miles long, and must have had an enormous population. It is said that there is not a record left. Cortes and his gang took care of what the Toltecs and Aztecs left."

"It is a wonderful country." Nestor said, "but it needs stability in population. Just now, however, we need rest. It is evident that the outlaws are headed for the plain below, and we must catch up with them when they camp for the night."

"I wonder what Fremont will think?" observed Jimmie. "I'll bet he's thinkin', right now, that we've gone back on him."

"There is no other way," explained Nestor. "It would be folly to attempt rescue now, and worse folly to attempt to follow the party down this slope, in the broad light of day. Did any of you boys notice a square package I had on a shoulder-strap as I came up? I laid it down somewhere. It contained a dozen egg and ham sandwiches," he added, with a provoking smile.

"Great Scott!" cried Frank Shaw, springing straight up in the air, like a rubber ball. "Holy smoke! You haven't lost it, have you?"

Nestor sat back and laughed at the hungry boy's antics and then brought forth the precious packet. The boys gathered around him, but he motioned them away.

"I'm not going to open it here," he said. "What until we find a place where we can rest a bit. There must be a cliff-hole over there somewhere."

Disappointed, and making wry faces, the boys followed Nestor to the south until they came to a shelf of rock which faced the east. The ridge above sheltered the spot from the hot sun, and there was a cavity in the cliff which promised a secure resting place. As he stepped out on the shelf Nestor paused and pointed to a collection of three rocks lying in plain view.

"What is it?" asked Jimmie, his eyes on the sandwich packet.

"Read it," replied Nestor.

"Head to the south!" shouted Shaw. "Who put that here?"

Nestor looked keenly into the astonished face before him.

"No tricks, now," he said. "Which of you boys placed this stone signal?"

No one made answer, and Frank bent down to make a closer inspection of the rocky floor of the shelf. Presently he gave a wild whoop and arose to his feet with something in his hand.

"What do you know about this?" he demanded. "What do you know about it, anyway?"

"Crazy," grunted Jimmie. "What is it?"

"The badge of the Black Bear Patrol," was the amazing reply. "Now, who put it there? Some of the Black Bears said they were coming down here, but how could they get to the top of this range?"

It was, indeed, a puzzling find. The stone sign had certainly been placed where it had been found within a few hours, for one side of the large rock was still a trifle damp, having undoubtedly been taken from some shady place.

But how should the Black Bears of New York reach that almost unknown country? That was the question.

"They said they'd sleuth on Fremont," Frank said, after a pause.

"But they couldn't have followed him here," insisted Fenton. "And, if they had, they would not have been putting up stone signs when we were only a few yards away."

"The sign says, 'Keep to the south,'" Nestor observed, "and we may find the solution of the mystery there."

Anxious for a sight of his old chums of the Black Bear Patrol, and unable to control his feelings, Shaw darted on ahead, passed around a corner of rock, and disappeared from the sight of the other members of the party.

"I hope he won't go an' get lost," Jimmie said, taking a swifter pace.

In a moment, however, it became evident that Shaw was not lost; that, in fact, he was very much found, and with an undiminished lung capacity. Such Black Bear growls and sniffs as came from around the corner of the cliff were never heard before outside of a Wild West show. There seemed to be half a dozen Black Bears growling at, and ready to devour each other.

When Nestor turned the corner of the cliff he saw four boys mixed up in what seemed to be a desperate struggle. It was from this group that the wild growls were coming. Now and then a word of greeting or a joyful laugh came from the storm-center, but the playful struggle went on.

"Holy Smoke!" Frank cried presently, drawing himself away from the bunch. "What do you think of it? Look who's here! Three Black Bears, Harry Stevens, Glen Howard and Jack Bosworth. How did you get here, boys, and did you bring anything to eat with you?"

The three Black Bears were introduced to the other members of the party, then tongues ran swiftly, and they all talked at the same time. Occasionally Nestor stepped to the shelf, just around the angle of the cliff, and looked down on the outlaws, making their way to the plain below. When Harry Stevens asked about Fremont, the boys pointed at the distant party and told the story of his capture.

"We'll have him back before night," Stevens declared. "There are seven of us now, and that's enough to put up a lively fight."

"But how did you happen to light on this mountain?" asked Frank, still staring with the wonder of the meeting.

"It was as easy as following a white elephant," laughed Stevens. "The El Paso papers told all about Fremont being there, and about his escaping to Mexico. We were there the morning after you left. We took train for San Jose, and found where you had purchased provisions. Then there was the boatman who took you across the lake, or lagoon, and the guards coming down the slope with three prisoners. Oh, it was easy as falling asleep until we left your little camp. In an hour, however, we came upon the trails left by Jimmie and by Shaw, and came on. For the past two hours we have been higher up than you, so we did not see each other."

"You're a nice lot of fellows to go sleuthing," laughed Jack Bosworth. "Why, it was no trick at all to follow you. If the police are as prompt and industrious as we were, they're out here in the hills somewhere right now, after Fremont."

"Another matter kept us in the vicinity of this alleged civilization," replied Nestor, referring to the necessity of capturing Don Miguel, "but now that is over, and we're going to burrow like rabbits in the mountains, after we get hold of Fremont, until the truth is known."

"Well," said Stevens, "there's a good place to hide back here-a cave, with no one knows how many rooms. It was a fine residence some day. Come on. We found it while looking for a place to rest."

"And you said there were no subterraneous temples in Chihuahua," said Shaw, addressing himself to Fenton. "You said they were all in the neck of Central America."

"You wait a second, and you'll see whether there are or not," said Glen Howard.

Then the speaker led the way to the entrance of what appeared to be a very large ante-chamber, there being openings which resembled doorways at the back. Both the side walls and the floor were of rock, and showed evidences of the work of man. A square of light lay on the floor, the sunlight falling through a cut in the rocky roof.

"We haven't ventured any farther than this," Glen said. "We were shaky about coming in this far, for there is no knowing what one will find in these holes. It is dark in the rooms beyond, and it is what one can't see that he is afraid of."

"Besides," Jack Bosworth cut in, "we were hungry when we got here, and—"

"Great Scott!" shouted Shaw. "Do you mean that you've brought something to eat? Lead me to it. I never was so hungry in all me blameless life."

Following the custom of Boy Scouts when preparing for a trip into an unknown country, the three boys had provided themselves with a good supply of provisions, and the hungry ones they had found were soon enjoying a very satisfying meal.

"After we fill up," Frank said, busy with a whole pie, "we'll get our flashlights and see what's in those other rooms. Say," he added, turning to Nestor "what's the matter of bringing Fremont here—-when we get him?"

"I'll bet these rooms are ten thousand years old," said Peter.

After the repast was over Nestor drew Frank aside, while the others were searching their outfits for the electric torches, and asked:

"You remember what I said about there being three men in the Cameron suite the night of the tragedy?"

"Of course," was the reply. "Got something new on the subject? I guess you have that matter on your mind day and night."

"I have," was the reply. "I'm always thinking about it. Well, I now believe that there were four men there, but I can't think what the fourth man wanted."



CHAPTER XVIII.

FREMONT AND THE RENEGADE.

While the boys were discussing the situation in the outer chamber of what appeared to be a subterranean, prehistoric temple, or at least an ancient habitation or place of shelter, George Fremont was moving down the slope of the mountain at a slow pace, the outlaws showing signs of exhaustion.

The big Englishman, known as "Big Bob" by the messenger who had identified the boy for him, had ordered the boy's bonds removed, and so he was scrambling along in comparative comfort, the way being quite free of dangerous cliffs and fissures.

Occasionally Big Bob approached him with some question connected with the night of the tragedy, but at first Fremont refused to talk on the subject, well knowing that the big fellow would only criticize what he said. After a time, however, Fremont decided that it might be to his advantage to draw the fellow out, and the next time he came up he asked, abruptly:

"What do you know of Nestor's movements that night?"

"Did I say that I knew anything of them?" was the astonished reply.

"When you thought you had captured Nestor you said you knew of every move he made that night. Not my movements, but Nestor's."

"Don't get gay, now," growled the other. "I'll talk about that with Nestor, when I find him. I'll talk about your movements with you. There's plenty of proof that you did the job there."

"And you've got it, of course?" said Fremont, with a shrug of disbelief.

"Of course I've got it. The only thing I can't dope out is the motive you had."

"You ought to be able to find that," sneered the boy. "Your imagination seems to be working well to-day. Were you there that night? If not, how does it come that you know so much about what didn't take place?" he added, provokingly.

"You were seen to strike the blow," was the blustering reply.

"Where were you at that time?" asked Fremont, knowing, of course, that the fellow was lying to him, and hoping to confuse him by the abruptness of the question.

"That does not matter," was the reply. "It is known that you sneaked into the building after the elevator stopped, and went up to the Cameron suite. After stopping there for some moments, long enough to create the disorder that existed there, you returned to the lower floor. Then you started up, giving notice of your approach by whistling."

Fremont could not repress a smile at the positive manner of the man as he described a situation which was purely imaginary. Then, anxious to learn what other untruths the fellow would relate, he asked:

"You know Jim Scoby, the night watchman, and Felix, the Mexican?"

"I know nothing of them," was the reply.

The two walked on side by side for some time in silence, the big fellow turning now and then to look with disapproval at the smiling face of the boy. Indeed, if the proof against him was no stronger than this, the boy could well afford to smile, for lies in evidence discredit any truth there may be on the side of the falsifiers.

"Where are the men you refer to?" the big fellow asked, at length.

"They are down here looking for the Tolford mine," was the reply. "They stole a description of it that night. Ever hear of the Tolford mine?" he added abruptly.

The renegade gave a quick start at the question.

"How do you know they are down here?" he asked.

"Nestor says they followed on down after us. Were you there when they got into the office and got the description?" he continued.

"I've heard of this mysterious mine," was the guarded reply, "and I understand that this boy Nestor has a copy of the description."

"Is that why you wanted Nestor?" asked Fremont. "Are you after the mine, too?"

The big fellow walked on in silence. It was plain to Fremont that his abrupt questions were irritating him, so he decided to go on with them.

"Are you one of the Tolford heirs?" he asked.

No reply, save a threatening scowl.

"Are you the heir who has been making Mr. Cameron so much trouble?" persisted the prisoner, glad to note that Big Bob was fretting under his cross-examination.

"Do you expect to find the mine down there in the sand?" continued Fremont. "That doesn't appear to me to be a good place to look for gold."

"It is a good place to look for a reward for a fugitive from justice," snapped the big fellow. "Now cut out the gab!"

"You think you can get me across the border without meeting with opposition from my friends?" asked Fremont, not obeying the latest command.

"Your friends!" ejaculated Big Bob. "Who are your friends? A mess of school-boys who get lost in the hills! A gang of high-brows who can't take care of themselves off Broadway! Your friends!"

The idea of meeting with any effective opposition from Fremont's boy friends was so amusing to the big fellow that he burst into a hearty laugh.

"Your friends!" he repeated. "Ho! Ho! Baby dudes!"

"About this reward," Fremont went on, resolved to keep Big Bob talking if he could, "about this blood money! You will have to cut it up into several piles, won't you?" glancing around the file of outlaws. "Or do you intend to cut the throats of these fellows instead of cutting up the reward? That would be something in your line, and quite profitable."

"I'll cut your throat," threatened Big Bob, "if you don't close your yawp. Speak when you are spoken to!"

"All right," replied Fremont. "I'm spoken to now. Did you steal the Tolford will out of the envelope that night? If you are the heir who has been trying to get it, you certainly got a chance then."

Big Bob started violently, walked rapidly for a few moments, and then dropped back to Fremont's side, just as the boy had figured on his doing. This talk of the Tolford estate seemed to be attractive to the fellow. Fremont saw that it was, but could find no reason why it should be unless, indeed, he had hit on the truth in one of his questions, and the fellow was really an heir.

"What do you know about that will?" Big Bob asked as he took step with his prisoner.

"Not a thing, except that it has been in good demand for a long time, and that it has made trouble for Mr. Cameron."

"You have had charge of the Tolford papers, including the will, on several occasions? You have taken the papers to and from the bank?"

"Sure," answered Fremont. "Where did you learn so much?"

"Never mind! You would know the will if you saw it anywhere?"

"No; I never looked at it."

It seemed to the boy that this answer brought forth a sigh of relief from the breast of the big fellow, so he decided to keep on with his questions about the will.

"You have seen the will?" he asked.

"Never. What caused you to think I had seen it?"

"You talk so much about it."

Big Bob grunted and walked on in silence. Fremont turned back for an instant and swept his eyes over the slope, hoping to catch sight of one of the Black Bears. Not a friendly face or form was in sight, however, and he trudged on, wondering what line of questions would be most likely to throw the big fellow off his guard.

"Why don't you take my advice and confess?" Big Bob asked, presently.

"I might do so," Fremont replied, provokingly, "but for one thing."

"And what is that?" was asked eagerly.

"I want to see the guilty man punished!"

"If you confess," the other went on, angrily, "you'll get a light sentence if Cameron lives, and a life sentence instead of the electric chair if he dies. There is always hope in a life sentence—and you are young!"

"Why do you ask me to confess?" demanded Fremont.

"Well, to tell you the truth," was the reply, "I have a friend who may be accused of the crime. He can't be convicted, of course, for the proof goes to show you to be the guilty one, but the cops can make him a lot of trouble and expense!"

"So you want me to confess and skip the country?"

"Yes, to skip out of the country, just as you skipped out of New York."

"And permit this friend of yours, who committed the crime, to go free?"

"My friend did not commit the crime!" threateningly.

"Oh, yes he did! Who is your friend—yourself?"

Big Bob lifted a hand as if to strike the boy, but he changed his mind, or got control of his temper, and lowered it again.

"At least," Fremont said, "you know who did commit the crime. That is something."

The big fellow grumbled out some sarcastic reply and trudged ahead. Fremont, knowing that a valuable point had been gained, hastened along by his side.

"And, with my false confession in your pocket," the boy went on, "you would find it convenient to leave me out there under the sand?"

"You're a plucky cub to talk like that to me."

Big Bob was in a great rage, but he did not lift his heavy hand again.

"I was wondering if your friend would pay for leaving me out there," the boy said. "If I went back to New York, you know, I might deny the confession, or claim that it was secured under duress. You know what a confession is worth when secured under duress? What about it?"

"You're a fool!" shouted Big Bob so loudly that the others turned inquisitive faces toward him. "That was only a joke, that about my friend. I wanted to see what you would say if I asked you to confess, and then when you asked why I wanted a confession I gave you the first reason that came into my head. So shut up about it."

"Sure," said Fremont, "after you give me the real reason you asked for a confession."

Big Bob saw that he had made a mistake in talking with the shrewd youngster, and decided to get out of it the best way he could.

"All right! I'll tell you," he said. "A reward will be paid right down on the nail when a confession is filed with the prisoner. Now you know all about it!"

"Your imagination is working all right to-day," Fremont laughed. "The last explanation is more foolish than the first. You knew very well that the payment of the reward would follow conviction, and you know that I am innocent."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because you know who the real criminal is."

"That is not true!" thundered the other. "Now, I've had enough of this. You mog along and keep your mouth shut or it will be the worse for you."

Fremont knew very well that Big Bob was considering a desperate means of retrieving the error he had made in speaking of a friend who might be accused of the crime. The boy was afraid that he had gone too far in his desire to provoke the big fellow.

For there would be no one to ask questions if the boy should never leave the hills alive. Unless the Black Bears were within striking distance, no one would ever know what had become of him. He looked and listened again for some signs of his friends, but the slope behind told him nothing.



CHAPTER XIX.

WHAT WAS FOUND UNDERGROUND.

While Fremont was clambering down the eastern slope, studying the renegade Englishman whenever opportunity offered, and puzzling over the source of the fellow's information concerning the Cameron building and the Tolford estate papers, Ned Nestor and his companions were preparing to visit the interior of the strange shelter-place in which they found themselves.

The outer chamber, which, for convenience they marked "Chamber A" on the rough map they afterward made, was 30x40 feet in size, with the eastern side running parallel with the almost perpendicular face of rock which shot upward from the shelf which has before been alluded to. The opening faced directly east, and from it one could look miles over the desert of sand lying between the foot of the range and the Rio Grande del Norte, something like a hundred miles away.

To the north and south of this main chamber the boys found niches in the rock, evidently hewn there by man hundreds of years before. The rock was very hard here, and it seemed that work had ceased for that reason.

On the west side of the chamber there were two openings, perhaps four feet by six, each leading into a chamber 20x30 feet in size. Before entering these rooms, which held an odor of dampness and decay, the recently arrived Black Bears produced electric flashlights.

"We looked up Old Mexico," Harry Stevens said, turning on the flame, "and knew we'd be nosing around in caves and tunnels before we got back to God's country, so we brought our glims along with us."

"Well, don't burn them all at once," advised Nestor. "We shall need them for several days, probably, and there are no shops in the next block where dry batteries can be bought. Leave one out and put the rest away."

"We have a few extra batteries," said Harry. "We looked out for that."

"We shall doubtless need all you have, no matter how economically they are used," Nestor said. "Let me take the one you have, and I'll go on an exploring expedition into the south chamber."

"Me for the exploring expedition too!" cried Harry. "I want to see how it seems to go into a room ten thousand years old."

"Nixt ten thousand years!" observed Jimmie.

Harry nudged Peter Fenton and pointed to the west wall of the chamber, across which he threw the brilliant circle of the flashlight.

"There is the record," he said.

"Nix ten thousand years old!" insisted Jimmie.

"No one knows how old," Fenton said. "No one has ever been able to translate the picture talk of the very early inhabitants. The man who carved those lines might have existed when the sandy desert out there was under water."

"Speaking of water, let's go on and see where they got their drinkings," put in Frank Shaw. "I'm nearly choked, and I'll bet there's a spring about here somewhere."

"Any old time you don't want something to eat or drink!" laughed Harry. "Well," he added, handing the flashlight to Nestor, "we may as well go in and see if there is a water system here."

"There surely is," Fenton said. "The people who dug this shelter out did not work where there was no water. If Nature did not supply it, they built aqueducts to convey it to locations where it was wanted. But Professor Agassiz says they lived ten thousand years ago, so, if they did put in a water system here, it may be out of commission now."

"How does he know how long ago they lived?" asked Jack.

"By their bones," was the reply. "Near New Orleans, under four successive forests, one on top of the other, and each showing traces of having been occupied by man, explorers recently discovered a human skeleton estimated to be fifty thousand years old. That fellow must have lived just after the last glacial epoch."

"I don't believe they know anything about how long ago he lived," observed Jimmie. "How can any one tell how long ago the last glacial epoch closed?"

"Figure out how far the melting line traveled from south to north," said Fenton, "then figure that the glaciers receded at the rate of only twelve feet every hundred years, and you'll know something about it."

"Come on!" cried Frank, "let's get in there and find their Croton system. I'm so thirsty my throat sizzles. Come on!"

Nestor, closely followed by the others, led the way into the south chamber, called, for convenience, "Chamber B" on the rough map made later on. The place was damp and cold, and a current of air came from the southwest corner, indicating an opening there.

After clearing away a heap of rocks and loose sand, which might once have been rock, the boys found an opening which had been, apparently, closed for a long period of time. When finally cleared, after an hour of hard work, the opening from which the current of air had come was discovered to be a door like arch in the west wall of the main chamber.

The electric flashlight, however, when introduced into the opening, showed a narrow passage beyond the opening instead of a square room. This tunnel-like passage was not far from six feet in width and about that in height. The walls showed that it had been cut through solid rock.

The boys listened for some indication of life or motion in the tunnel, but all was silent. Not even a bird or creeping thing disturbed the stillness of the place.

"Shall we go in now?" asked Nestor.

"Sure!" replied Shaw. "We may find a well in there!"

"Or a soda fountain, or a modern filter," grinned Jimmie. "How would they ever get a well down through this mountain?"

"Water in wells comes from elevations before it gravitates to the bottom of the holes from which we pump it," Shaw declared, in defense of his suggestion. "There may be a reservoir here somewhere."

"How far is this cavern floor from the surface above it?" asked Harry Stevens, with a judicial air.

"About four hundred feet," was the reply. "We must be about that distance from the highest point here."

"Then there is no reason why there should not be a reservoir above us," said Harry. "Water would filter through these rocks, all right."

The boys passed on in a southwesterly direction to the end of the tunnel, which was about fifty feet from the opening. Here they found a chamber about 10x16 feet in size. At the south side of this chamber was a trough-shaped place cut in the rock, and through this a small rivulet of water ran.

"I knew the people who built this shop wouldn't put in their time where no water could be procured," declared Fenton. "Why, this is simply fort, a mountain residence, where valley people came in time of war and secreted themselves. If we could read the hieroglyphics on the walls, we would be able to write a history of their troubles."

"Were they the real thing in cave-dwellers?" asked Jack, who was not noted for his studious habits, and who depended on his companions for a knowledge of the countries he visited as a member of the Black Bear Patrol.

"Earlier than some of the cave-men," replied Harry. "I wonder if this water is any good to drink?" he added, looking longingly at the crystal stream flowing under the round circle of the flashlight. "Who wants to try it?"

Frank Shaw did not wait to make many tests. Tormented with thirst, he felt of the water by rubbing it between his thumb and fingers, smelled of it, put it cautiously to his lips, and then, experiencing no bad effects from this contact, took a few drops into his mouth.

"It is fine!" he shouted, then. "Cold as ice and sweet as sugar! This beats a soda fountain, Jimmie!"

"Now, was this tunnel constructed on purpose to reach this spring?" asked Harry.

The lads examined the walls minutely, but there was no opening from the chamber, save the one by which they had entered.

"This must have been the milk house," laughed Frank, always ready to turn any subject under discussion into a joke. "I wonder if they kept their cows on the top of the peak? If they had tied their tails together and put one over each side, they never could have run away."

On their way back to Chamber B the boys discovered an opening in the north wall of the tunnel. This led to another tunnel, running in a northwesterly direction for about one hundred feet and ending in a chamber larger than any of the others. Nestor caught sight of a sparkle on the walls as he swung the flashlight about and pointed glittering sections out to the boys.

"Gold!" cried Frank.

"I'll bet a cooky we've found the hidden mine!" cried Jimmie.

"It is gold, all right," Harry Stevens said, "but there's no knowing whether it is here in quantities sufficient to pay the expense of mining and crushing the ore."

"Huh!" cried Jimmie, in a tone of reproach. "Don't you know that rock that will produce a dollar a tone is worth working? Well, then, look at this! There's ten dollars worth in the spot I cover with my hand! We've found somethin', boys!"

"So it wasn't to escape their enemies that the old chaps sequestered themselves here," said Fenton. "It was to dig out gold!"

"I never heard that there was gold in this part of Mexico," observed Jack. "I reckon we'll wake up when we get out into the sunlight."

"If you'll read up," Fenton replied, "you'll find that the state of Chihuahua abounds in niter and other salts, and is rich in mines of gold and silver. Do you really think we have come upon the deserted mine Jimmie talks about so much?" he added, turning to Nestor.

The latter took a folded paper from his pocket and examined it under the light of the electric torch.

"It seems that we have," was the reply. "I was not thinking much about the mine as I ascended the mountain, but now it strikes me that I unconsciously followed the directions given in this paper."

"That big lobster of an Englishman was looking for the mine," Jimmie said, "and so it was natural that he should lead you to it. I can't see how it belongs to any old estate, though," he added. "Looks like everybody's property to me."

"Perhaps it was the knowledge of the whereabouts of the mine that had value," suggested Nestor, "and not the fact of ownership. Anyway, we've found it."

The walls of the cavern appeared to blaze with gold, in flakes and in small nuggets. Here and there were empty pockets which appeared to have been stripped of their rich holdings. Upon inspection the floor of the chamber was found to be covered, in places, with crushed rock, where blocks cut from the walls had been broken up.

"There is no knowing how many million dollars worth of gold have been taken from here," Nestor said, "and there is no way of estimating, at this time, how far this rich rock extends into the mountain. The fact that the mine was abandoned may indicate that the ore became less valuable as the workers cut out from the center."

"It is rich enough now to pay for working, all right! cried Jimmie.

"There appears to be millions in sight," Nestor said, putting away his paper.



CHAPTER XX.

BLACK BEARS TO THE RESCUE.

Frank Shaw drew Nestor aside as the boys searched about the cavern for nuggets. As a small one was occasionally discovered, the quest was conducted with an enthusiasm which left the two to themselves.

"It is a strange chance that has brought us to this mine," Nestor said, thoughtfully. "It seems like a fairy tale come true."

"Do you really think this is the long lost Tolford mine?" asked Frank. "I think it is," was the reply. "The location is right, at least."

"It is remarkable," Frank said, "but we can talk of that at another time. I called you over here to ask you more about the fourth man—the one you referred to, but a short time ago, as having visited the Cameron suite that night. I didn't think much of the idea when you suggested it, but, somehow, I can't get it out of my head. Do you still believe there was a fourth man? If so, what was he there for?"

"That will show in time," replied Nestor, with a little pause after each word.

"But," insisted Frank, seeking to argue the matter in order to bring out the opinion of his chum, "these other men had strong motives in doing what was done there, and you don't indicate any motive the fourth man might have had!"

"I have a faint hint of a motive humming in my brain," Nestor answered, "but it is not sufficiently well developed to talk about now. There was something afoot in the building that night that has not yet come to the surface."

"You surely don't believe the tales told by Scoby and Felix, or by Don Miguel, either?" asked Frank.

"They may be telling the truth, or part of the truth. However, Scoby and Felix are not sincere in their statements. There is something they are not telling."

"Well," Frank observed, "we ought to be getting down to brass tacks. If we get Fremont away from those ruffians to-night he'll want to be jumping at something right away, and there ought to be a line of work laid out."

"Don't get excited," laughed Nestor. "We're getting along pretty well. We've found the mine, and we've taken three prisoners. If there was a fourth man in the mixup that night, we'll soon know who he was and why he was there."

"I wish I knew whether the munitions of war got across the border," Frank said, after a pause.

"The mountain has been remarkably quiet to-day," suggested Nestor.

"What does that mean?"

"Don't you think the men would be making a lot of noise if they had arms in their hands?" Nestor asked.

"Perhaps they are making noise somewhere."

"They may make all the noise they want to, if they keep off Texas soil," replied Nestor.

"I have been talking with Stevens," Frank went on, "and he gives a doleful account of the situation in New York. They left nearly two days after you did, you remember. It is said that Cameron is not likely to recover, and that he still, in a rambling way, talks of Fremont as the person who assaulted him. That looks bad."

"It is fortunate that we got the boy out of New York," replied Nestor. "Even the temporary captivity he is undergoing is better than the Tombs."

"I'm afraid he's on the way to the Tombs now," Frank said. "He surely is unless we can do something immediately. The big rascal may come upon a band of outlaws any minute that would be too strong for us to attack."

During this talk Jimmie had been searching for nuggets on the eastern side of the chamber, finding a small one occasionally when the light was turned toward him. As Shaw finished speaking the boy found another, and the watcher was wondering how rich the earth was.

Then he saw the boy, stooping to the floor of the cavern, evidently in quest of more gold, he being at that time close to the east wall, suddenly throw up his arms and disappear, apparently through the very floor of the chamber.

Frank stood for a second looking toward the place where this strange disappearance had taken place, rubbed his eyes to make sure that he was wide awake, and then uttered a cry which brought the others hastily to his side.

When the boys reached the point of disappearance they looked for a fissure in the rocky floor, but found none. Instead, they saw a round, smooth opening into what seemed to be another tunnel. The light, when held into the dark break in the rock, revealed a landing about six feet down, but Jimmie was not in sight. Presently, however, the alarmed boys heard his voice, coming up out of the darkness.

"Hey, there!" he said. "Get a rope and a light! I'm on a toboggan!"

"In a second," Harry replied. "Are you falling?"

"No, I'm hangin' on with me toes!" was the reply. "Hurry up, you fellers! I'll drop clear into the middle of the world if I let go!"

Harry darted away to the outer chamber and brought a line from his camping outfit. Tying a piece of stone to one end, to act as a sinker, he dropped it into the mouth of the tunnel.

"Catch it!" he called to the boy.

"Nothin' doin'!" returned Jimmie. "I'm hangin' out in space. If I should let go with one finger or one toe I'd take a tumble through to China. One of you fellows come down on the rope. Hurry!"

"Are you hurt?" asked Nestor, anxiously.

"Not on your life, only in me feelings," replied Jimmie. "It breaks me tender heart to get into a hole I can't help meself out of! Come on down with that rope!"

Nestor drew up the line, tied one end about his waist, and, wondering what might lie within the forbidding place, and where it might lead to, was slowly lowered into the tunnel. The flashlight showed a level space about two yards in extent at the bottom of the shaft, directly under the opening, but beyond that the tunnel dropped away toward the east and the middle of the Chinese empire, as Jimmie declared. The fall of the passage, which was not more than six feet in diameter, was at least fifty degrees.

As soon as his feet struck the little landing Nestor saw Jimmie lying flat on his stomach on the incline below, hanging on with his fingers for dear life. As Nestor looked the boy's fingers slipped on the smooth rock and he started, feet foremost, down the dark passage.

Calling to the boys above to cling tightly to the rope and to pay it out slowly, Nestor slid swiftly downward until the slack of the line was gone, and was then brought up with a quick jerk, with the still slipping boy's head a foot away from his hands. He whirled about and dropped his feet down the passage.

There was a second of nervous strain, and then he felt Jimmie's hands clinging to his shoes. He called to the boy to hang on and to the others at the top to draw the line, and both were soon on the landing at the bottom of the shaft.

"I wonder where that hole goes?" Jimmie asked, examining his fingers, the ends of which were torn from slipping on the rock.

"You came near finding out," Nestor replied. "Regular rabbits, these old-timers were, to dig tunnels!" he added.

Then assisting Jimmie out of the shaft, Nestor asked the boys to get all the rope they had in their outfits, making a line as long as possible, and ease him down the steep incline. In five minutes all was ready and, with a line 400 feet long attached to his waist, Nestor started down the tunnel.

As he passed along, half sliding, with the rope holding him back, the flashlight in hand, he saw that the passage had been cut along the line of a natural fault in the volcanic rock. It was clear that, during some seismic disturbance, probably hundreds of years before, the continuity of strata, until then on the same plane, had been broken, leaving a fissure where the drop had taken place.

There was no means of estimating the extent of the vertical displacement, but the boy was satisfied that it was the difference between the height of the range at the place where the cavern opened and the height to the north, probably three hundred feet or more. The north end of the range had dropped down. The horizontal displacement was not more than six feet, and it was through this that the tunnel ran.

The walls of the passage were smooth, and the floor was like polished glass, a fact which the boy was at first at a loss to account for. On the north side the wall was dark and there were no traces of gold, while that on the south showed spots of precious metal.

Nestor proceeded down the incline until there was little more rope left, as the boys called out from above, and then came to an opening. He was now nearly 400 feet from the gold chamber. When he looked out of the round opening to which he had come he saw that beyond ran a deep gully, or canyon. At the point where the opening cut the wall of the canyon, however, there was a gradual descent for perhaps 400 feet to the bottom of the break in the mountain.

Elsewhere the walls of the canyon seemed to stand perpendicular, and Nestor was for a moment puzzled to account for the filling of the break at that particular spot, as if a rude stairway had been laid to the ground below. Then the truth flashed upon him. The tunnel had been built as a chute for the disposition of the rock crushed in the mine.

There was no knowing how many years the natives had worked in that underground mine, crushing out the gold with rude appliances and disposing of the refuse by means of the tunnel cut through the fault in the rock. The canyon into which the crushed rock had been cast was a wild and almost inaccessible break almost at the top of the mountain range, and might have been used for years—perhaps for centuries—without the truth of its gradual filling up becoming known to hostile peoples.

Looking down into the canyon, Nestor wondered if an easy route to the bottom might not be found there. He was already more than 200 feet below the shelf of rock from which the mine opened. The floor of the canyon was at least 400 feet below him, and at the south another cut, running east and west, seemed to connect with the first. He heard the trinkle of water below, and was satisfied that there was a succession of canyons leading to the plain below, in which case descent would be comparatively easy.

This piece of good fortune, Nestor congratulated himself, would enable the boys to reach the camping place of the renegade and his men shortly after dark, as the approach to the sandy plain would be comparatively free of obstruction. This was an important thing, as there might be many miles to travel before the next day after Fremont was rescued.

It was not so easy getting back to the shaft, but in a short time Nestor made his way there and was soon in consultation with his friends. All were eager to pass through the tunnel, and so, one by one, they were let down until all were at the slope which led to the bottom of the canyon.

They found it easy to clamber down the heap of crushed rock to the floor of the canyon, and also to pass along the bottom at the edge of the small stream of water which flowed toward the south. The water had cut a passage under a ledge at the south, and now flowed eastward, toward the plain.

Following steadily on, now stooping under natural bridges in the rock, now wading through cuts which the water covered, and which must have been roaring torrents during time of storm, the boys finally came to a little shelf looking east from which the renegade and some of his companions could plainly be seen.

"Fremont is not so very far away now," Jack said, "and we ought to swarm down there and take him back with us. We ought to take the big lobster Jimmie seems to have on his mind back with us, too!" he added.

Nestor shook his head, for, much as he desired to hasten the hour of Fremont's release, he saw that an attempt at rescue now would be dangerous. It was certain that the outlaws, not suspecting that they had been trailed over the mountain by the tireless Boy Scouts, would be off guard at night.

"Of course we want to capture that big lobster," Jimmie said. "We want to know why he was so anxious for Nestor's society!"

"I think that question can easily be answered now," Nestor said, but he did not answer it.

Leaving the view of the spot where Fremont was a captive reluctantly, the boys went back to the gold chamber by the series of canyons by which they had left it. It was not an easy journey, for there were places where strength and skill were required, but at last they drew themselves up the chute by means of the rope, after which they again fell to investigating the provision boxes which the newcomers had brought in.

By the time they had finished a second tolerably satisfactory repast, it began to grow dark, although the sun was still an hour from setting. Black masses of clouds were forming, and now and then flashes of lightning, darting from cloud to cloud, and from cloud-mass to earth, cut the gathering darkness.

Then a drenching rain-storm came on, and Nestor believed that the time for the attack on the captors of his friend had arrived. In the darkness and storm the outlaws would not be expecting danger. The wind almost flung the boys from their feet when they came to open shelves of rock on their way to the plain below, but they kept steadily on their course.



CHAPTER XXI.

WOLVES BECOMING DANGEROUS.

On the last slope of the mountain, where the sand of the desert crept up to the ridge of rock which might, at some distant day, become sand, too, Big Bob and his band of cut-throats came upon a deserted hut which had undoubtedly been used at some time by men who were searching there for gold.

The storm-clouds were shutting out the light of day when they paused before the one-hinged door of the two-room habitation. Seeing the approaching tempest, the renegade ordered his men to gather fuel and build a fire on the hearth, preparatory to passing the night there. This order was obeyed with reluctance, for the men were worn out with their exertions and ready to roll up in their blankets and seek rest without the comfort of a fire. Besides, fuel was not plentiful there, and it was a long time before enough to satisfy the renegade could be gathered.

Fremont was placed in a room to the west, a room only roughly partitioned off from the other. There was one window opening to this room, and that faced the west and the mountain range.

The storm was soon dashing in fury against the roof of the hut. The frail structure trembled beneath the blows of the wind, and the clamor of the beating rains made all interior sounds inaudible. The prisoner knew that the outlaws were sitting before the fire in the outer room, probably jesting and smoking, but they might have been far away for all evidences of their presence he heard.

With individual noises thus shut away by the noise of the downpour, the boy felt himself isolated and alone. For the first time since his capture, his courage was wavering, not so much because of the peril of the moment, but because of the general hopelessness of the situation.

Only a few days before he had been a trusted and respected member of the Cameron family, one of the wealthiest and most exclusive in New York. Now, discredited and in danger from the threatened exercise of a law he had not violated, he was presumably a prisoner on his way back to the Tombs. And yet, was he really on his way there? That was a question fully as puzzling as any other feature of the case.

It seemed a short time since he, with other members of the Black Bear Patrol, had visited in their luxurious club-house, planning a trip to Mexico. He had reached Mexico, all right, he thought, bitterly, but under what adverse circumstances. Instead of the companionship of his friends, instead of the jolly camps on the hills and long, pleasant days on the river, he was here a prisoner.

And he was the prisoner of a man who was desperate enough to take his life at any moment. Indeed, the renegade might not be taking him to the border at all. Fremont suspected another purpose. With this thought came the memory of the signals he had heard on the mountain, and he arose and went to the window opening, barren of sash and glass, and looked out, hoping to again hear, above the rain, the calls of the Black Bears. But no such sounds greeted his ears. There was only the rush of the rain.

Fremont knew that the renegade would not be paid the reward until after conviction, and he did not believe that any jury would convict him. It was not the fear of a penalty that had caused him to consent to flight, but the dread of the waiting in prison. He had an idea that Big Bob knew that he could not secure the reward at all unless he succeeded in securing a confession, and that he had given this up.

Under these circumstances the renegade might not go to the trouble of taking him to the border. Still, he seemed to be making for Texas with all secrecy and speed. Was there some other motive for landing him on Texas soil? The renegade had shown a strange familiarity with conditions in the Cameron building, and might be in some way interested in some other affair there. There seemed to be no answer to the puzzling questions the boy asked himself.

Looking into the immediate future, the boy could see but one ray of hope, and that centered about Nestor, Jimmie, and the Boy Scouts. He knew, from the call of the Black Bear Patrol signal, on the mountain, that his friends, loyal to the core, were not far away, but he did not know how many there were in the party, or what chances of success they had.

"Good old Black Bears!" the boy whispered. "They are in the hills somewhere, and will make themselves known when the right time comes."

After a couple of hours of such unpleasant thoughts as no boy of his years ought to be obliged to entertain, Fremont arose and again went to the window looking out on the mountain. The rain came a little less swiftly now, and the thunder heads were rolling away in heavy masses, leaving lighter spaces in the sky. He knew that a guard was at the angle of the building, placed there to prevent his escape, for he could hear the angry mutterings of the fellow as he moved about.

While he stood before the small window, he heard the call of a wolf not far away on the mountain. He bent nearer to the window and listened intently. Yes; that was the whine of a wolf, but such a whine as he had heard Jimmie give in showing the call of the Wolf Patrol.

His friends—the loyal Boy Scouts—were not far away! He wondered for a moment why the call of the Wolf Patrol had been given instead of the call of the Black Bears, and then remembered that there were really wolves in the mountains, while there were no black bears.

The guard at the corner growled something under his breath as the second signal came, and finally called out sharply:

"In the hut there!"

There was a short silence, silence except for the falling rain and the lashing wind, and then the voice of the renegade was heard.

"What do you want?" was asked.

"How much longer am I to remain here?" demanded the guard.

"Until there is no longer need of guarding the window," was the reply. "You are the only man here I can trust. You must remain on guard."

"He has as yet made no move to escape," the guard said, in fair English.

"I know that very well," came in Big Bob's voice, "for I have heard no shooting."

So that was why he had been left alone there so long! He was to be permitted to leave the hut by way of the window, and was to be murdered as soon as he touched the ground. The renegade figured that there could be no penalty for shooting at an escaping man who was charged with a serious crime.

"Perhaps it is just as well," Big Bob said, directly, "for I have not talked with him yet."

"Then you'd better do so at once," grunted the guard. "This is no picnic out here in the rain!"

"Have patience!" replied the renegade, and the voices ceased.

In a few moments Fremont heard the renegade at his door, speaking in a whisper to the guard there. Then the door was opened and the big fellow came bulkily into the room.

Fremont glanced up at the brutal face, only half revealed by the flaring candle he carried on a level with his enormous ears, but did not speak. From the outer room came a clatter of Spanish words.

"I have been wondering," the fellow said, in a voice which showed a degree of education and culture not proclaimed by the coarse face, "why you attacked Cameron?"

"I didn't!" replied Fremont, hotly.

"The proof is against you!"

Fremont did not answer. He was listening for the call of a wolf on the mountain.

"The proof is against you, boy," repeated the renegade.

After hearing the brief talk at the angle of the hut, Fremont had little desire for a conversation with the fellow. The inference to be drawn from that conversation was unmistakable. He was to be murdered by his captors. However, the boy could let this repetition of the charge go unchallenged.

"Remember," he said, "that you have heard only one side of the case. I do not know where you receive the information you claim to possess, but it goes without saying that it came from an enemy—probably from a man implicated in the crime with which you charge me. In fact, you have already opened up negotiations with me in the interest of the criminal."

"How so, boy?" demanded the other.

"You offered me my freedom if I would make a false confession. Why should you want a confession unless in the interest of one connected with the crime?"

"I told you why I wanted the confession," replied Big Bob, trying to force a little friendliness into his voice and manner. "It would give you a lighter sentence, and it would make it easier for me to get the reward."

Fremont made no reply to this. The manner of the fellow was so insincere that he could find no satisfaction in talking with him. Big Bob, however, did not go away. Instead, he sat down on a packing box which stood in the corner of the room and stuck the candle he carried up on the floor, under the window ledge so the wind would not extinguish it, in a pool of its own grease.

"If Cameron gets well," he said, "he'll be likely to forgive you if you do the right thing now."

No reply from the prisoner, sitting not far from the window, listening for another wolf call from the mountain.

"Cameron has always been your friend," the other went on.

"Indeed he has!" exclaimed the boy, almost involuntarily testifying to the kindness of the man who had taken him from the streets and given him a chance in life.

"He took you from the gutter?"

Fremont looked out into the rain, only faintly seen in the glimmer of the flaring candle, and made no reply.

"He took you into his family?"

Fremont arose and went nearer to the opening where the sash had been, and stood for an instant with the rain beating on his face.

"How did he come to do it?"

Fremont began to see a purpose in this strange form of questioning. Nestor had asked questions similar to these, and had suggested that Mother Scanlon, the woman who had cared for him in a rough way at one time, be looked up on their return to New York. Why this suggestion?

"Where did you first see Cameron?"

The voice of the renegade was threatening. Fremont heard only the sweep of the rain outside for a moment, and then the voice of the guard came through the sashless window opening.

"I'm going in to warm up a bit," he said.

"All right," the renegade replied. "I'll let you know when to go on guard again. Boy," he added, facing Fremont with lowering brows, "I can make it to your advantage to tell me all about your connection with Cameron."

Fremont heard the words dimly, for as the door of the hut slammed behind the drenched guard and his voice was heard in the outer room, the howl of a wolf came from the darkness just outside the window.

"Confound the wolves!" the renegade snarled. "They are becoming dangerous!"

"What you say may be true, so far as you are concerned!" Fremont replied, grimly.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE CALL IN THE RAIN.

There was a sudden splash, heard above the downpour of the rain, followed by an exclamation of surprise, and then Jimmie's voice called out:

"Say, you fellers, throw me that life preserver!"

Nestor turned the flame on the electric flashlight and directed it toward the spot from which the voice had come. Jimmie, who had been feeling his way cautiously a few paces in advance of the party, was seen floundering about in a pool of water.

"Come on in!" the boy cried out. "The water is fine!"

"What you doing in there?" demanded Frank, nearly choking with laughter at the odd plight of the little fellow.

"I came in to get measured for a suit of clothes!" replied Jimmie. "Say, you fellows, give me a hand and I'll climb out."

The pool was neither wide nor deep, and the boy was soon on solid earth again. The storm had filled one of the depressions in the canyon the boys were following, with muddy water, and in the darkness Jimmie had tumbled into it.

"You're a sight!" Nestor said, turning the light on the boy, whose clothes were now a mixture of mud and briars acquired while descending the mountain slope above.

"I ain't any wetter than you are!" retorted the boy, as the rain switched his hair about his face. "Why don't you let me take the light when I go on ahead, then?"

"For the same reason that we do not head our procession with a fife and drum," laughed Frank. "We're not supposed to be here at all!"

"There's nobody out lookin' for a light in this canyon to-night," grumbled Jimmie.

As he spoke he seized Nestor by the arm and drew him back.

"What's that square of light down there?" he asked.

"Probably the camp we are bound for," was the reply.

"Then we've made better time down here than that lobster of an Englishman did," the boy exclaimed. "It took him most of the afternoon to climb down the hills, and we've been only about two hours on the way."

"It seems that we came by a much shorter and easier route," Nestor replied. "Where the other party was obliged to wind around precipices and crags, we made our way along the beds of what was once a succession of streams, cutting the side of the mountain into canyons. Wait here, boys," he added, "until I go down there and see what the situation is."

"Just you hold on until I let Fremont know we are coming!" Jimmie said, and the next moment the wolf-cry which Fremont had first heard rang out.

"Sounds like a wet wolf!" declared Frank.

"I know of a Black Bear that ain't any dryer!" replied Jimmie.

Nestor reached the level space in front of the west window of the hut just as the guard left the corner in the interest of a little warmth. The steady fall of the rain and the swish of the wind drowned any noises he made, and so he crept up to the wall of the structure without fear of discovery.

During the talk between the renegade and Fremont the patrol leader crouched under the window, listening. He heard the inquiries concerning Fremont's early connection with Mr. Cameron with surprise. Who was this man, he asked himself, who knew so much of Fremont's early life? What motive could he have in seeking to learn more about it than he already knew?

Unable to solve the problem, and realizing that the time for prompt action had come, he retreated from the window and with a low whistle summoned the boys to his side. As they joined him, led on by the irrepressible Jimmie, the boys gave the wolf call again.

"Just to let the kid know we're comin'!" Jimmie explained.

Then, while the boys stood considering the course to pursue, the square of light was cut by a figure standing between the flame and the window space. The watchers could not, of course, see the face which was looking out on the stormy night, but they knew that it was Fremont who stood there.

"There's no one in the room with him but that big lobster," Jimmie whispered, "and there's no one watching outside! If I were in his place I'd take a dive into the night! You bet I would."

"Perhaps he will," Nestor replied. "It would be a good thing to do provided he can get out of the window and out of the little circle of light before the Englishman can get out his gun and shoot."

"I'll give him a little advice on the subject," Frank observed, and the next moment the low whine of a bear sounded through the storm. It whined, then lifted into a deep growl, then died away into a whine again.

"What does that mean?" asked Jimmie.

"That is one Black Bear telling another to take to his heels!" was the reply. "You will see Fremont making for that opening in a second. Here he comes!"

Fremont was indeed springing through the opening where the sash had been. The boys saw the renegade clutch at his clothing, saw the cloth hold for an instant, then tear away under the impetus of the boy's movement, and heard Fremont's answer to the call as he struck the ground under the window.

Instead of going through the outer room and leaving the hut by means of the door, for some reason Big Bob concluded to follow the boy through the window. The opening was large enough for the passage of his burly frame, but he was clumsy in getting through, with the result that Fremont was nearly beyond the circle of light when at last he came to the surface outside.

Then the renegade made another mistake, a fatal one. He lifted up his great voice in warning the boy to return, and fired his revolver into the air as a means of intimidation. As he did so, the door of the hut, situated on the east, flew open and the outlaws rushed out, doubtless under the impression that they had been attacked. They left the door wide open, and a red square of light lay on the rain-soaked ground before it.

The only members of the party who did not exit by way of the doorway was the messenger who had identified Fremont. He dashed into the inner room when the cry and the shot came and looked from the window opening, there being no one in the room.

For hours this man, known to his companions as Ren Downs, had been observing the actions of Big Bob with suspicion. When the renegade talked with the prisoner, as he had many times on the way down, Ren sauntered close to the two in a vain attempt to hear what was being said. He doubted the honesty of the big fellow, believing that it was his purpose to break away from the others, himself included, and so escape the necessity of dividing the reward.

Doubting the loyalty of the renegade as he did, it was natural that he should decide that the fellow was planning an escape with the boy. Therefore, when he saw Fremont disappearing from view in the darkness, with Big Bob close after him, he drew his revolver and fired at the renegade. The shot took effect and Big Bob dropped to the ground.

"I hope he's killed him!" Jimmie said, heartily.

"No such luck as that!" Frank exclaimed. "See, the lobster is getting out his own gun!"

Big Bob lay in an awkward pose on the ground, his face and the muzzle of his automatic revolver turned toward the window. The boys almost held their breath as the figure of the messenger appeared, blocking the opening. When they saw what the purpose of the wounded man was they shouted to Downs to warn him, but were too late.

The automatic sent a hail of bullets toward the opening, and Downs fell limply across the window-ledge. At the fusillade of shots the outlaws came to the corner of the hut and glanced fearfully about. The square of light before the windows showed Big Bob lying on the ground and Downs hanging, head downward, from the window. Their natural supposition was that the hut had been attacked by a large force, so they took to their heels and were seen no more by the boys.

After a minute devoted to Black Bear hugs, and handshakes, and words of congratulation over his escape, the boys left Fremont in the shelter of the darkness and advanced to where Big Bob lay.

"It is all off with me, lads!" the big fellow said, as he turned his face to the boys. "I can't walk, for he shot me through the back. Will you get me into the hut?"

"Sure!" replied Jimmie. "You're pretty tough as a human proposition, but we can't see you suffer out here in the rain."

"Before you go any further," the man said, then, "see if Downs is dead. If I didn't get him right, he'll kill some one before he dies."

Nestor and Frank walked over to the body and made a quick examination.

"Stone dead," they said. "He never knew what hit him!"

"I am glad of that," Big Bob said. "Now get me into the hut."

The wounded man was carried into the hut and laid down on a heap of coats before the fire. It was easy to see that he was fatally injured, and the boys gathered about him with pale faces.

"I'm glad none of us shot him!" Frank said.

The storm grew wilder at midnight, the wind blowing in great gusts and the rain falling in sheets. By dodging out into the rain now and then the boys managed to keep the fire going. Big Bob lay perfectly silent before the fire for a long time and then motioned to Fremont.

"You're a good lad!" he said.

"Not long ago you were accusing me of crime," the boy said.

"Gather the boys around," the man said, then, "I want them to hear what I am going to say. You may write it down if you want to."

The wounded man did not speak again for a long time, and while the watchers waited a call came from outside of the hut—a long, wavering scream, as of some one in dire distress.

"Some one lost on the mountain!" Frank exclaimed.

Nestor opened the door between the two rooms so that the light of the fire might show through the open window from which Fremont had escaped. The candle used by Big Bob had long since burned out.

The cries continued, seeming to come no nearer, and Frank went out into the storm with the flashlight, watched by the others from the window. They saw him force his way against the wind until he came to the end of the gentle slope which terminated at an outcropping of rock, then they saw him halt and stoop over.

In a moment more he was back at the hut, his face paler than before, his eyes showing terror.

"There's some one out there with a broken leg," he said, "and we must go and get him in."

"Who is it?" asked Jimmie.

"I don't know," was the reply. "It seems to me that I have seen him before, but I can't place him now."

"What hurt the man?" asked Jimmie. "Is he shot?"

"He says he fell down the mountain," was the reply. "He heard the shooting, and made his way here. Come on. Let's go and bring him into our hospital!"

Three minutes later Fremont sprang to his feet as the man's face showed in the light.

"The night watchman!" he cried, and Jimmie echoed the identification.



CHAPTER XXIII.

SOME UNEXPECTED ARRIVALS.

Nestor gazed into the pain-drawn face of the newcomer with a feeling akin to awe. There seemed something uncanny in the fellow being there at all. Had there come some new and unexpected development, in consequence of which he had been released by the secret service men? Or had he managed to elude their vigilance? If the latter, had Don Miguel and Felix also gained their freedom?

And how had the man succeeded in crossing the mountain in the weakened condition he was in? He was now so weak and faint from loss of blood and long suffering that he dropped to the floor like a dead man. Had he escaped, or been released soon after the departure of the party for San Jose, and spent the entire day among the crags and canyons? The man on the floor seemed a trick of the imagination, or, at least, a case of mistaken identity.

Nestor did not believe that Lieutenant Gordon would release the fellow under any circumstances. There was some mystery about his appearance there that could only be solved by the man himself, and so such restoratives as the Boy Scouts carried in their camping outfits were hastily brought forth.

There were bandages and a small flask of brandy which had formed a part of many an outfit and had never been uncorked, and these were soon on the floor by the side of the sufferer. The injury proved to be a compound fracture of the right leg, and Nestor shook his head gravely as he inspected it. Little could be done save to force the shattered bones back into place and bind the whole up firmly.

The acute pain of the operation and the stimulating drink that was given him caused Scoby to open his eyes and, screaming with the agony of the injury, look about the room. His pale features contorted with rage or some other strong emotion, as he looked upon the renegade. Big Bob eyed the fellow malevolently.

"You chaps appear to know each other pretty well," Nestor said, glancing from one to the other. "It would be interesting to know where and when, and under what circumstances, you last met."

The wounded men glared at each other but made no reply. Big Bob then turned his head away with an exclamation of rage. Scoby pointed to the brandy bottle and moved his white lips. Frank, who held the stimulant, asked a question with his eyes.

"Yes," Nestor said, "give him a stiff dose. He is about all in."

The drink was taken greedily, and in a few moments the fellow appeared to be gaining temporary strength. Then Nestor asked:

"Where are Don Miguel and Felix?"

"I know nothing about the foxy guy," growled the watchman.

"Then where is the Mexican?" was the next question.

Scoby fixed his gaze on the brandy flask longingly, and Nestor saw that he was bargaining for another drink of the liquid.

"Very well," he said. "Tell me what I want to know, and you shall have more."

"What do you want to know?" growled Scoby.

"How did you manage to escape from the secret service men?"

"We, Felix and I, got away while they were arranging for a boat to cross to San Jose. They chased us up the slope and fired at us, but there were so many men in the hills that they did not care to follow us in."

"And Don Miguel?"

"We left him with the officers. He would not even try to get away."

"And why did your flight take this direction?" asked Nestor, glad that the diplomat was still in custody, where he would be obliged to give an account of his doings.

"We came to look for the mine," was the impatient reply.

"And you found it, and left Felix there?"

Scoby's haggard face again contorted with anger.

"There is no mine!" he almost shouted. "We have been on a fool errand! The map is a fake and a lie!"

The boys glanced at each other and smiled triumphantly. Scoby caught the expression on their faces and dropped back hopelessly.

"And so you found it?" he said, consternation as well as inquiry in his voice.

"Never mind that now," Nestor replied. "Where is the Mexican?"

"Dead!" was the startling and unexpected reply.

"You quarreled, then?" asked Nestor.

"He fell over a cliff," was the reply. "I tried to save him, but he drew me over with him. I broke my leg and he broke his neck. Give me the flask!"

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