"Not now. Jet and I will go for dinner, and meet you at the station. Can you lend the boy a revolver; one more weapon may come in handy in case of a fight, and unless those fellows have already made a change of base I reckon we shall have a lively time."
The chief gave Jet a weapon and plenty of cartridges, and District Messenger No. 48 felt exceedingly proud as he walked out of the station with the revolver in the inside pocket of his coat.
Harvey was no niggard so far as caring for the comfort of his small assistant was concerned.
A dinner at the Delavan House such as Jet had never set down to before was indulged in, and when the messenger arose from the table it was with the sensation of being full almost to bursting.
To the boy's relief Harvey informed him that the inspector never for a moment believed he had run away; but attributed his absence to exactly the true cause, and all which had been done toward finding him was with this view of the case.
"It will be a mighty big thing for you if we succeed to-night," the detective added, "for the rewards which have been offered, both for the counterfeiters and the murderers, amount to no small sum, a portion of which will, of course, belong to you."
"I'm satisfied if I make wages out of the thing; but it's too bad that money I found wasn't good, for I allowed to put the most of it away so's to pay my board till I got another job."
"You needn't hunt very far for work if this thing turns, out all right. I'll take care of that part of it."
Since Jet was to be the guide on the expedition his advice was asked for when the tickets were purchased, and in order to be certain of his bearings he thought best to return to the town where he boarded the cars during his flight.
Two officers, dressed in citizens' clothes, reported to Harvey at the depot, and one would say, judging from their personal appearance, that they were well able to cope with twice the number of desperate characters who might be found in the house in the woods.
It was late in the evening when the party alighted from the train, and Jet set out up the track leading the way, until he arrived at the point where he emerged from the woods.
"This is the place," he said, pointing to the trunk of a dead tree. "I took especial notice of that so's I'd be able to know where to strike in again."
"In what direction is the house situated?" Harvey asked.
"About there," and Jet pointed toward the north.
"Do you think you could find it in the night?"
"I'm certain I could when it was light; but there is a long distance to walk, so what's to hinder our goin' as far as I traveled, an' then waiting for morning."
"It's a good idea. Go ahead, and when you think we are far enough, call a halt."
"I don't fancy camping in the woods all night, and that is about what you are preparing to do," one of the Albany officers said, grumblingly.
"This is a case where we must put up with considerable discomfort for the sake of bagging our game. Let the boy do as he chooses; I'll answer for it that he's got brains enough to lead us right."
Harvey was ready to undergo any discomfort in order to gain the desired end; but his companions were not as enthusiastic. They complained at being under the guidance of a boy in whom they did not feel the most perfect confidence, and Harvey was obliged to speak very harshly before they would consent to follow.
Jet led the way with no slight degree of mental disquietude.
If he failed to conduct the party correctly it might be said he was playing the traitor, and the task set for him was a difficult one, considering the fact that he had only been over the ground once before.
Nevertheless he was willing to do all in his power, trusting for success to the chapter of accidents rather than any especial skill of his own, and the men followed close at his heels.
During his flight he had noted carefully all the prominent landmarks, and the fact that he had seen them only in the night aided him now.
During at least four hours he advanced at a rapid pace, stopping now and then to take counsel with Harvey, and at the expiration of that time he said, as he pointed toward a clump of alder bushes:
"There is where I first began the tramp after the fight with the dog."
"Are you certain of that?"
"You can make sure by crawling through the bushes three or four hundred yards, when the house should be in sight."
"I'll go ahead now. If I get off the course, stop me," and Harvey took command of the party.
That Jet had made no mistake was shown ten minutes later when the outlines of the building with its barricade of cord-wood could be seen against the gray sky.
The house was wrapped in darkness, presenting a striking contrast with the scene as viewed by Jet a few hours previous, and the latter said mournfully:
"I reckon all hands have skipped."
"It won't take us long to find out, for we'll overhaul the place at once."
The brute guardian of the house was at his post, as was soon learned when the new-comers drew nearer.
The deep baying of the dog was heard before the party had gained the edge of the woods where an unobstructed view of the house could be had, and Jet whispered to Harvey in a tone of satisfaction:
"It's a good thing I killed the other, for now there can't be much of a fight with only one to be taken care of."
"Does that wood-pile run all around the house?" the detective asked.
"It does, so far as I could see, except at the gate."
"Where is that?"
"To the right."
"How high is it?"
"About the same as the wood-pile, and made of planks."
It was evident the place had been built with especial reference to sustaining an attack, and there seemed little chance but that it would be stoutly defended.
"Three men inside could snap their fingers at a hundred," Harvey said, half to himself; "but at the same time four on the outside could keep a dozen of them prisoners."
"You are bound to have a fight," Jet whispered.
"There's little doubt about that, my boy. You are to stay under cover of the barricade near the gate while we rush in."
"Why don't I go with you?"
"Because there's too much danger. It will be enough if you prevent any of the crowd from giving us the slip."
"But I want to do my share; it was through me that you found out where they were, and it isn't fair to make me stay behind?"
"You're a brick, my boy," Harvey exclaimed as he grasped Jet's hand warmly. "If we finish this work all right I'll show you a chance to earn a living, for you shall be my partner."
"Do you mean it?" Jet cried, speaking incautiously loud in his excitement.
"Every word; but we'll drop the matter now and attend to business. I've got a general idea of the lay of the land, and there must be no more time wasted. Keep close behind me."
Harvey then held a whispered conversation with his companions, during which it was decided that the barricade should be scaled near the gate, and the dog silenced, if possible, in the manner Jet settled the other one.
"Don't shoot unless it is absolutely necessary," Harvey said in conclusion, "for we must take those fellows by surprise."
"It isn't likely they've been obliging enough to leave the door open so we can walk in," one of the party suggested.
"By attacking that with the heaviest sticks of cordwood after the brute is killed, we should be able to pound our way through in a very few seconds. Now come on, and work lively after we are in the yard."
Harvey led the way, and on arriving at the gate it was found to be an extremely difficult point at which to effect an entrance, because of its height, therefore the plan was so far changed as to move farther toward the rear of the building, where the party began clambering the wood.
During all this time the dog had kept up a furious barking, and when Harvey stood on the top of the barricade ready to leap down, the animal was directly beneath him ready for a spring.
It would have been an easy matter to shoot him then and there; but the detective was not willing to discharge his weapon, and, armed with a heavy stick, he leaped upon him.
Unfortunately, just as he jumped some of the wood rolled from beneath his feet, and he was turned in such a manner that he fell prostrate before the enraged brute.
In another instant, and before he could have scrambled to his feet, the dog would have had him by the throat but for Jet, who was on the alert for just such an accident.
In a twinkling he was inside the enclosure, and the remainder of the party hardly had time to understand what had happened before his club descended on the animal's head.
One such blow was sufficient to put an end to this portion of the battle, and when Harvey stood erect once more the dog was still in death, save for the muscular twitching of his body.
Again Harvey clasped the boy by the hand, for the latter's timely action had saved the man from severe wounds, if nothing more serious, and then all advanced cautiously toward the house.
Listening at the door an instant, not a sound could be heard.
From the silence all believed the men had made their escape, but yet it would not be wise to take that for granted.
Harvey raised his weapon, looked around to make certain his companions were ready to join in the assault, and then whispered:
"Now! Strike together, and keep it up till something gives way."
The words had hardly been spoken when the heavy sticks of wood were launched against the door, and before a second blow could be given the report of a revolver rang out sharp and angry on the night air.
"We have got them!" the detective shouted triumphantly, for there was no reason why they should remain silent. "Work quickly, boys!"
Again and again were the blows delivered, causing the barrier to splinter and creak on its hinges, and the fusillade of shots was kept up during this portion of the task.
The assaulting party were so near within the shadow of the building that those inside, who appeared to be in the upper story, could not take good aim without exposing themselves, and the bullets fled wide of their mark.
With each blow portions of the door were splintered off, until, before one hardly had time to count twelve from the beginning of the assault, the besiegers had free access to the building.
"Let one stay here and the others follow me!" Harvey cried, as he drew his revolver and rushed at full speed up the ladder.
Jet was close at his heels. He intended to take a man's part in the capture, and for the time being all thought of danger was forgotten.
The firing had come from the front room, and there Harvey ran after gaining the upper floor.
"Stand back, Jet, they're bound to shoot when the door is opened," he said as he halted before the second barrier.
"I'll take my share of it," the boy replied, and he pressed forward for the honor of entering first, but Harvey pushed him back quickly as he laid his hand on the wooden latch.
To the surprise of both the door yielded readily to the hand, instead of being locked, as was supposed.
Harvey sprang in and Jet stepped so close behind as almost to tread on his leader's heels.
One man stood in the center of the apartment brandishing a revolver, which he discharged full at the detective.
The latter had stooped suddenly on entering, and the bullet buried itself in the woodwork above his head.
Quick as thought Harvey threw himself forward, overturning the defender of the house and causing him to lose his weapon.
"Stand guard over this fellow, and shoot him as you would a dog if he so much as makes the least motion to get up," the detective shouted to Jet. Then he sprang back to the ladder. "They have given us the slip. Get into the yard while I search the other rooms."
The Albany detectives had not yet had time to ascend, and they obeyed at once, while Harvey ran quickly through the other rooms.
A search of five minutes was sufficient to show that the building had no other occupant than the prisoner whom Jet was guarding, and Harvey returned to the front room.
"When did your pals leave?" he asked as he slipped a pair of handcuffs on the fellow's wrists.
"They went away this morning. What right have you to break into innocent men's houses?"
"We will explain that matter later. Tell me where the others went."
"Don't you wish you may find out?"
"It will be better for you to give all the information possible if you want to save your own skin."
"I've heard roosters like you before, so there's no use in crowing to me."
"Can you find a light, Jet? I want to see what the scoundrel looks like."
"You'll see enough of me before this thing is ended," the man said with a growl, and Harvey looked around suspiciously, so confident was the fellow's tone.
Jet soon found a candle on the rude affair which answered as a table, but its light revealed nothing of importance.
The room had no other furniture than a cot bed on which were a pile of coarse blankets, two stools and a sort of shelf that served as a table.
By this time the detectives had come in from the yard with the report that nothing could be found to show when the others left.
The stable was empty, and had evidently been so for several hours.
"One of you stand guard over this fellow, and we will search the house. Come on, Jet, and show me where you were imprisoned," Harvey said as he took up the candle and left the room.
The boy obeyed and a thorough search was made of the premises.
To the surprise of all nothing of importance was found.
If the men had had machinery for making counterfeit money, everything had been taken away.
The building contained nothing more than might have been found in any honest dwelling, and Harvey said in a tone of disappointment:
"They must have worked like beavers from the time it was learned the boy had made his escape, and that fellow in the other room was pretty near right when he made his threats, for we have broken into a building without legal right to do anything of the kind."
"If they had presses here we should be able to find them in the morning, for the whole plant must be buried near by; it couldn't have been carried away in this short time," the men from Albany suggested.
This seemed reasonable, and Harvey decided to make a thorough search before returning.
The prisoner was secured to the heavy table in the back room on the lower floor, and until daylight the party discussed the matter in all its bearings.
Then Harvey said as he went toward the door:
"Now, let's get to work, and finish this job by night-fall if possible."
At that instant he stepped outside, and at the same moment the reports of two weapons were heard from the direction of the woods, the bullets striking within an inch of the detective's head.
He leaped back under cover, saying bitterly as he did so:
"The villains are sharper than I gave them credit for, and have got us like rats in a trap. We were allowed to come in, and now they propose to shoot us down at their leisure, for the gang can't afford to let us leave here alive!"
If either of the party had looked at the prisoner when the shots were heard it would have been possible to understand that he was expecting something of the kind.
His face lighted up with an expression of joy, and one could readily fancy he believed the time near at hand when the tables would be turned with a vengeance.
Harvey was more chagrined than frightened.
The fact that he had not suspected something of the kind when it was learned the house had been virtually abandoned, cut deep into his professional pride, and he blamed himself more severely than any other member of the party could have done.
"A child would have had more sense than to fancy they had given us the slip and taken all their stuff with them," he said, angrily. "I have simply done what they allowed a fool would do, and now we must pay the piper."
"But they'll make a mighty poor fist of trying to take us out of here," one of the detectives said, consolingly.
"That goes without saying; but how about our leaving when we get ready? They have us where we can't show our noses outside, and in this desolate spot we needn't expect any help for it would take a month of steady work for a person to find us, and I don't reckon the house is provisioned to stand such a siege."
"I haven't seen anything in the way of food, and I've been into every room."
"Most likely you'll find that the stock of water is quite as low. We're penned up here without a chance of helping ourselves unless we're willing to stand a regular battle."
"Well, I don't see why we shouldn't be able to do, that. According to the boy's story there are only three, without counting this man, therefore the forces are equal in numbers."
"That is true; but they have the advantage of position by being hidden in the woods, and we can't show our noses out of doors without the certainty of acting as targets while they are under cover."
It was not necessary to discuss the matter at any very great length in order to understand that they had voluntarily entered a trap, and the entire party gazed at each other in silence while the prisoner appeared to enjoy the situation hugely.
"I can't see why they want to pen us up here?" Jet said in a low tone to Harvey when the two were in one of the rear rooms gazing from the window, and the remainder of the party were with the prisoner.
"It is plain enough," was the petulant reply. "When they found that you had escaped it was quite natural to suppose you would lead officers here. Those fellows wanted to get their precious bodies out of the way; but yet were not willing to leave all their belongings behind. The work was done systematically. Everything was first carried a short distance into the woods, and a man left here on guard so we should be certain to come into the trap."
"Well, while we are here those fellows are carting off their stuff, and when that has been safely done we shall be allowed to go free, or they may possibly try to rescue the prisoner, although that would be needless, since we have no evidence against him."
"Wouldn't things be all right if you could know where the things were hidden?"
"Of course; why do you ask?"
"Because it seems to me that I might slip out of here after dark and watch them."
"There would be too much danger in such a job. They had rather get hold of you than succeed in carrying the stuff away, for you are an important witness against them, and once in their hands your lease of life would be cut mighty short."
"I'll run the risk of their getting hold of me."
"But I won't, so there is no need of discussing the matter. I am going to post the men at the windows in the hope we shall get a shot at one of the crowd, and while that is being done you must make another search of the house to find out what we have got in the way of water and provisions."
Jet obeyed at once, and the detective placed his assistants at different points where a view of the woods could be had, impressing upon them the importance of trying to shoot down one or more of the besiegers.
A search of the building failed to reveal anything which would aid in "holding the fort."
Not so much as a cracker could be found, and the supply of water was hardly more than a quart, which had been left in a pail on the kitchen table.
Harvey had nothing to say when Jet made his report. He had joined his assistants in trying to get a shot at the men, and seemed to think of nothing else.
Left to himself, Jet wandered around the building trying to devise some means of helping his companions, and before noon he fancied he had a plan which promised success.
At the rear of the house next to the barn was a pile of fuel prepared for the stove, and near by were two water barrels.
"There is enough around to prevent them from seeing me if I crawled out to the barn, and I'm going to do it to-night, whether Mr. Harvey is willing or not," he said to himself as he ascended the stairs.
All the men were on guard; but nothing suspicious had been seen.
"There is no need of their showing themselves, and I question if more than one is on guard," Harvey said in reply to the boy's question.
"I want to do something," Jet said, and then he explained the plan he had formed. "There must be an outlet from the barn at the back, and even if there isn't I can get through all right in the darkness."
"We can't stay idle while those fellows are carrying off their goods," the detective said after some thought, "and I believe I will go with you. We'll leave the others here a while, and see what it is possible to do."
Jet would have preferred to make the attempt alone, but he could say nothing against the officer's decision, and the latter at once began to make his plans.
The two men from Albany were told what was to be tried, and cautioned to keep the house well guarded during the absence of the others.
"Above all things have your eyes open for the prisoner," Harvey said warningly. "It is of the utmost importance that we hold him, and you must shoot the fellow rather than let him give you the slip."
A series of signals were decided upon so that the defenders might know when their comrades were coming back; the weapons were carefully examined to make certain they were in good working order, and then there was nothing to be done but await the coming of night.
All hands were both hungry and thirsty; but since nothing could be done to relieve their wants no one complained.
When the night had fully settled down Harvey laid his hand on Jet's shoulder to signify that he was ready, for the prisoner was to be kept in ignorance concerning their movements, and the two, followed by one of the other detectives, descended to the kitchen.
"Barricade the door as soon as we go out," the leader whispered, "for it isn't impossible that the men have crept nearer the building since sunset."
"Suppose you should meet them before getting out of the house?"
"Then we must fight alone, unless you can aid us from the upper window, for I would rather get the worst of it than to let that fellow escape. Follow me, Jet, and don't attempt to go ahead."
Harvey opened the door softly, dropped to his hands and knees, and crawled into the yard.
Jet copied every movement, and the two worked their way toward the barn, stopping every few feet to listen for some sound from the enemy.
All was quiet as the grave, and not even so much as the rustling of the leaves broke the stillness.
The barn door was not fastened, and Harvey pulled it open a short distance, rising to his feet as he gained the entrance.
A moment later the two were in the building groping their way from one point to another in the hope of finding a place of exit.
Now Harvey stopped for a final word.
"If it should happen that those fellows on the outside get the best of me, make every effort to escape."
"Not at the cost of leaving you alone."
"At any price, so that you can telegraph in my name for more men to be sent up."
"Do you want the inspector to know it?"
"No; wire the chief of police at Albany, and wait at the first station you reach for them to come. Here is money."
He handed Jet what seemed like quite a large roll of bills, and then advanced in the darkness once more.
By good fortune rather than skill he found, a moment later, that for which he was seeking.
A small window, used for throwing out offal, was before him, and through this he crawled, turning, as he gained the outside, to assist Jet.
They were now in the shadow of the building with a cleared space of about twenty yards to be traversed before they could gain the shelter of the trees.
Again the detective dropped to his hands and knees, Jet following his example.
Silently and cautiously they crept across the opening; but just as they were half way it seemed to Jet as if a solid sheet of fire lighted up the clearing, and the reports which followed were almost deafening.
The enemy had expected exactly the move which was being made, and were counting on killing their foes.
Fortunately the bullets had passed over the heads of the two reclining figures, and Jet was about to leap to his feet when Harvey said sternly:
"Stay where you are, and give them a dose!"
At the same instant he began firing his revolver, aiming at the place from which the flash of weapons had been seen.
Jet did as he was bidden until his weapon was emptied, and then he saw Harvey leap to his feet and run at full speed diagonally across the opening.
He did the same, loading the weapon as he went, and just as both reached the fringe of foliage the detective fell before the fire of those in the woods.
"Are you hurt?" Jet whispered as he knelt by the side of his friend regardless of the danger.
"They have put a bullet through my leg, and I reckon that does me up."
"Let me try to get you back."
"It can't be done, my boy. Remember what I told you, and start at once."
"But I don't want to leave you here?"
"You must; our only hope is that you can reach a telegraph station. Run the best you know how while I give them something to occupy their attention."
Jet hesitated no longer.
It seemed cruel to desert a wounded friend; but the order had been given, and he could not refuse to obey it.
Harvey discharged his weapon rapidly, and the boy ran at full speed in the opposite direction fearing he would never again see in life the man who had promised to befriend him.
Jet was now traveling over a country with which he was not familiar, and to continue on would be to take great chances of losing his way, at least during the hours of darkness.
It was necessary, therefore, or at least he thought so, to get into that section of the woods over which he had previously journeyed.
To do this he was forced to make a half circle around the building, and as he ran, keeping at about the same distance from the house as he and Harvey had gained, the sounds of the conflict could be distinctly heard.
Judging from the noise, one would say at least half a dozen men were engaged, and Jet said to himself:
"The men from Albany are taking a hand in the row, probably firing from the windows. If they could wipe the whole gang out there wouldn't be any need for me to try to strike a telegraph office."
He could not afford to await the result of the contest, however, for if his friends were worsted just so much valuable time would be lost, and he pressed on at full speed until, when he was near the spot where he began his first journey, there was a rustling of the foliage in front of him as a voice cried:
"Hold up or I'll fire!"
That this threat was made by one of the gang from whom he was trying to escape there could be no question, and Jet darted aside quickly as he cocked his revolver.
This had hardly been done when he saw a long tongue of flame leap out of the bushes at the right, not more than ten feet away, and a bullet whistled so near his ear that he could hear it shrieking like a minnie ball.
If he could wound one of these fellows matters would be just so much better for his friends, and jumping behind the trunk of a tree he fired every chamber of his revolver as rapidly as possible.
Not until the weapon was emptied did he start on his course again, shoving cartridges in the chambers as he ran, and followed by a volley of shots.
It was evident he had not done any damage, and once more he wheeled and fired.
There was no reply to this last fusillade, and he continued the flight, straining every muscle to outdistance the enemy in case an attempt should be made to follow him.
At the expiration of ten minutes he was forced to halt in order to regain his breath, and while standing panting and blowing behind a tree he listened for some token of the enemy.
Not a sound, save those made by himself, broke the silence of the forest, and there was every reason to believe he had for the second time given the fellows the slip.
But what about Harvey?
In fancy he saw him lying dead or dying within the shelter of the bushes, while the gang were making a desperate attack upon the house, and this thought nerved him to continue the flight before he had fairly recovered his wind.
The journey was a succession of brief halts and mad races, for every moment might be precious now, and he took no heed of fatigue, save when exhausted nature literally forced him so to do.
In less than half the time it had cost him to traverse the same distance when no one but himself was in danger, he accomplished the task, and stood on the platform of the station at which Harvey's party stopped the night previous.
The building was closed.
While he was rattling at the door in the vain hope that there might be a watchman inside, a resident of the town passed.
"What's going on?" he asked in an unsteady voice which told quite plainly why he was away from home at such an hour.
"I want to send a very important telegram."
"Well send—hic—her if you wanter."
"Where is the operator?"
"At home, I reckon, if he ain't, that's where he oughter be this time in the morning."
"Do you know when he will be here?"
"'Bout midnight, if he counts on lookin' out for the express."
"Can you tell me what time it is now?"
It was rather a difficult matter for the tipsy party to get at his watch; but he was in an obliging mood, and after some trouble succeeded in clutching the timepiece.
"Come here an' see for yourself," he said, after trying in vain to make out the position of the hands. "I reckon I must have bought four or five watches by the looks of these, though I'm blest if I remember anything about it."
"You've only got one there," Jet said, as he gazed over the stranger's shoulder. "It lacks only ten minutes of being twelve o'clock; I shan't have long to wait."
"I'd stay with you if I didn't have to call upon a sick friend," the man replied after some difficulty, and then he staggered on, while Jet paced to and fro as if only by exercise could he control his impatience.
In less than five minutes he was joined by two men, or at least they came on the platform; but seemingly took care to prevent him from seeing their faces.
He could hear them talking in low, earnest tones; but was so engrossed by his own thoughts that he made no attempt to distinguish the words.
Finally the station agent, who was also the telegraph operator, arrived, and as he unlocked the door Jet asked eagerly, and sufficiently loud for the strangers to hear:
"Can I send a message to Albany?"
"Not now. Come to-morrow morning after eight o'clock."
"But this is very important and must go as soon as possible."
"I'll attend to you in the morning."
"It will be too late then," Jet cried, excitedly. "The chief of police must have the news at once!"
The operator looked at Jet scrutinizingly, and the two men stepped a few paces nearer.
"What's the matter?" the official asked.
"It is necessary detectives be sent here at once."
"Murder, or something of that kind, eh?"
"All I know is that I was sent by a man who said the telegram must go at the earliest possible moment."
"Very well, come in and write it. I'll see if the Albany office will answer my call."
Jet walked into the waiting-room so excited that he failed to notice the strangers, who crowded behind him; but stood where their faces would be in the shadow.
After a moment's reflection he wrote the following:
"TO THE CHIEF OF POLICE, "Albany, N.Y.
"Send more men at once; they have us foul. My messenger will wait at the station until assistance arrives.
It was a simple matter for the strangers to read this by looking over Jet's shoulder, and as soon as they had done so they slipped quietly out of the building where the following conversation might have been heard:
"That's the boy Joe and Bob brought up from New York."
"I thought so, and now he is working for Harvey."
"Who has gone to the house in the woods to pull the boys, and has got the worst of it."
"I don't reckon we could prevent the operator from sending that message?"
"Not without putting ourselves in the hole."
"We can make sure though that the boy isn't here to show them the place when the officers arrive."
"Which forces us to stay here another day, and according to the looks of things I don't think it safe. What made the fools come after agreeing to lay over in the city till we showed up?"
"That's what I can't say. It's enough to know we've got to bear a hand, for if one of the crowd is caught all hands stand a good chance of being sent up."
"Shall we nab the boy as soon as the train passes?"
"No; I've got a better plan than that. We'll wait till the western express arrives, and make him think we're the officers who have come in reply to his telegram."
"Then we must keep out of sight. Let's take a turn around the town where he won't be likely to see us."
The men walked quietly away, and in the depot Jet was congratulating himself upon having been able to give the alarm so quickly.
The operator had been very eager to learn why officers should be summoned from the city; but Jet professed entire ignorance of the matter, repeating again and again that he had only brought the message from a stranger a short distance up the road, and the questioner finally ceased trying to extract information.
There was no difficulty about getting a telegram through, and in a few moments Jet rejoiced at hearing the man say:
"It's done, and now you'll only have to wait until the parties arrive."
"How long before they can come?'
"There's a morning express which leaves Albany in an hour; but it doesn't stop here, so they'll have to wait for the five o'clock train."
Jet was not troubled as to where he should spend the time.
He was so tired that he could sleep anywhere, and walked across the track to the waiting shed, where he laid down on one of the benches, glad of an opportunity to rest his weary limbs.
While paying for the telegram he noticed with surprise that Harvey had intrusted him with twenty dollars, and he said to himself as his eyes were closing in sleep:
"I wonder why he gave me so much? It can't be possible he thought the message would cost all that."
Then he was unconscious of everything around him.
The midnight express arrived, stopped, and with a loud snort from the engine went on again; but the noise barely sufficed to make Jet aware that something unusual had happened.
During the next hour he slept peacefully, and then the two strangers came up the track talking in low tones.
By the glare of the station lamp they saw the sleeping boy.
"What is the use of waiting for the train, when it may be possible the officers will come?"
"The morning express doesn't stop here."
"What of that? The conductor would let the officers off if the chief should ask him as an especial favor."
"Well, how can we hurry matters?"
"He is asleep, and all we have to do is to swear the train has just passed. He probably hasn't got a watch, and can't tell whether one hour or four has passed since he closed his eyes."
"But if he should be suspicious, he might make trouble."
"Say, you're getting to be a regular coward. We've got to take some chances if we want to prevent Joe and Bob from being pulled, and it will be rough if you and I can't handle a boy like that."
"Do as you please; of course I'm bound to stand at your back all the time."
The first speaker looked around once to make certain no one was near, and then stepping quickly into the shed shook Jet roughly.
"What's the matter?" Jet cried, as he arose to a sitting posture, and rubbed his eyes.
"Are you the fellow who sent a message to the Albany chief of police?" one of the men asked.
"Yes; has there been an answer?"
"I should say so. Don't we look like a pretty substantial reply to almost any kind of a telegram?"
"But how did you get here?"
"On the morning express. It wasn't much of a job to persuade the conductor to slow up about here when he knew what our business was."
"The morning express?" Jet repeated. "Why, it hasn't been more than ten minutes since I fell asleep."
"You are not awake yet. It's twenty minutes past three," and the man looked at his watch, as if to assure himself that he had made no mistake. "Now, what is the matter, and where did you leave Harvey?"
Jet gazed around him in bewilderment at the thought that he had been sleeping so long; but as the man asked these last questions it seemed certain everything was all right, and he replied, without hesitation:
"I left Mr. Harvey wounded near a house about five miles from here."
Then he told the entire story, the men glancing triumphantly at each other as he proceeded.
"Can you lead us to the place?" one of them asked, when he concluded.
"Of course, that's what I waited for."
"How many men has Harvey with him?"
"Didn't you know he brought two from Albany?"
"So he did; I remember now. And they are shut up in the house?"
"I suppose so."
"Then the sooner we leave the better, for it stands us in hand to arrive about daybreak."
"Are you well armed?"
"Don't worry about us, my son. We know what we are about when we start on a job like this."
"I only spoke because they have been shooting pretty lively."
"Things will be changed when we get there," was the reply in a significant tone.
"If you are ready, we'll tramp along."
Jet leaped to his feet, feeling woefully stiff and sore; but the thought that he was guiding those who would aid Harvey served to make him forget, in a measure, his weariness.
He led the way down the track to that portion of the woods with which he was familiar, and then struck across the country, walking so rapidly that more than once his companions insisted on less speed.
"We must get there as soon as possible," he said, slackening his speed unwillingly.
"A few minutes more or less can't make any difference, and we were mighty nigh used up before we started. The next time Harvey undertakes a job I hope he'll have sense enough to carry it through without calling on all the men in the country."
Jet was about to make an angry protest against this criticism of his friend, but he reflected that it would not be well to get into a controversy, and more especially when he could better employ his breath.
He continued on as rapidly as his companions would permit, stopping to rest only when they insisted upon it, and succeeded in making such good headway that the sun had not yet shown himself when they arrived at a point near the house.
"Here we are," Jet said, as he halted and listened for some sound which would give him an inkling of the position of affairs.
"Where is the building?"
"About a hundred yards in that direction," and Jet pointed toward the east.
"Are you certain Harvey and his men are there?"
"I know the men are inside, if they obeyed orders; but I'm afraid the villains have got Mr. Harvey. Say, we must have walked mighty quick, if it was past three o'clock when you wakened me, for it isn't daylight yet."
"I said you was rushing too fast. Now, how are we to get inside?"
"Go over the wood-pile on this side."
"They'll shoot, not knowing who we are."
"Whistle twice while you are in the woods, and wait for an answer before coming out of cover. That was the signal agreed upon."
"Then, you young cub, I reckon we are through with you," and as the man spoke, he clasped Jet tightly around the waist, while his companion clapped his hand over the boy's mouth.
Jet was taken so completely by surprise that he did not struggle for an instant, and then the humiliating truth began to dawn upon him.
"Where is the rope you brought to tie him with?" the man who was holding Jet asked, and after a moment's pause the other said with a curse:
"It has slipped out of my pocket while we were coming through the woods. Now, what shall we do?"
"You can manage to spoil a good thing quicker than any fellow I ever knew. Why didn't you look out for it?"
"Because I didn't," was the surly reply. "If I'd had my way, these fools would have been left to take care of themselves."
"Don't turn rusty now when our work is about done. Use a stick of wood for a gag, and tie it in with your handkerchief."
When this had been done, and it required several moments, owing to the shortness of the impromptu rope, Jet's hands were secured with another handkerchief, and his body lashed to a tree with a pair of suspenders. In this position he was unable to make any outcry; but he felt positive he could release himself from the bonds after two or three attempts.
"Now, listen to me," one of the men said, in a low tone, as he shook his fist unpleasantly near Jet's nose. "I reckon you're made fast here; but if by chance you should find anybody fool enough to untie you, and undertake to run away, it will be a case of shooting you on sight. You've been too fresh altogether, and both Joe and Bob are to blame for not having taken the wind out of your body long ago."
Jet made no reply, for the very good reason that it was impossible for him to speak, and the men walked hurriedly away in the direction of the house.
That he had suffered himself to be thus fooled caused the boy more distress of mind than did the fact of his being powerless at the very time when he was most needed.
The real officers would soon arrive from Albany; but if no one met them at the depot they could do nothing, since they had no idea of the location of the house.
His whole night's work had resulted only in bringing aid to the enemy, and what made the situation worse was the fact that he had explained how the villains could gain access to the house without a struggle.
"If Mr. Harvey knew what I had done he'd give over trying to help me along, in case we ever do get out of this scrape," he said to himself. "I ain't fit even to carry a message, let alone trying to help a regular detective."
Then came the thought that Mr. Harvey might no longer be alive, and this caused Jet such mental distress that several moments passed before he was sufficiently composed to make any attempt at effecting his own rescue.
He began by stiffening his muscles and throwing his body forward, with the idea of stretching the suspenders to such an extent that he could crawl out of them; but was suddenly stopped by hearing sounds as of some one coming through the underbrush.
The only thought in his mind was that one of the enemy was coming to kill him, and he redoubled his efforts until a familiar voice whispered:
"Jet, Jet! Is it you?"
He could not reply in words; but he managed to give vent to a faint moan, at the same time moving his feet over the dead leaves to make a yet louder noise.
"It's me, Harvey," the voice continued. "I heard a couple of men talking about having left some one tied up, and thought it must be you."
While he spoke the detective continued to advance, drawing himself along the ground by the hands, as if his lower limbs were useless, and on reaching Jet raised his body with an effort until he could feel the bonds which held the boy.
It was but the work of an instant to remove the gag, and untie his hands, after which he could finish the work without assistance.
"Did you send the message?" Harvey asked, eagerly.
"Yes, and made a fool of myself afterward," Jet replied, quickly.
"Tell me what you mean, and speak quickly, for there is no knowing how long we may be able to talk with each other."
In the fewest words possible the boy related the events of the night, sparing himself not one whit, and when he had finished the detective said, soothingly:
"An older hand than you might have been taken in. They probably got a glimpse of your telegram, and were thus able to deceive you, so don't feel badly."
"But they will now be able to get into the house."
"I'm not so sure of that. Those there must fancy that one or both of us were hurt in the scrimmage, and would look mighty close before letting two enter without a struggle."
"Are you wounded badly?" Jet asked.
"My leg is useless, and I lost considerable blood before I had time to get a bandage around it."
"How did you give them the slip?"
"After you left I fired two rounds, and then crawled into the bushes. They didn't dare to hunt me out while it was dark, because I could have killed the first who came near, so I had a chance to circle around the clearing. I wanted to be here when you came up with the reinforcements."
"Have the fellows in the woods done much firing?"
"No; they have kept mighty quiet, and I'm hoping that some of our bullets hit the mark by chance. We must get out of here as soon as possible. Can't you find something that would answer as a crutch? Thus far I've hunted in vain."
"I'll do better than that, Mr. Harvey, if you'll get on my back."
"You can't carry me."
"Indeed I can for a while, and at a good pace."
At that instant a shrill whistle sounded twice, and Jet said, in a mournful tone:
"Now they are trying to get into the house."
"There's the answer," the detective said, a moment later. "We shall hear some firing soon, whether they are successful or not."
He had hardly ceased speaking when the sound of firearms rang out on the still air, and Harvey exclaimed, as he pointed toward the sky:
"We'll hope they tried their plan too late. Day is breaking, and in the clearing it should be possible to distinguish the forms of men quite distinctly. If our fellows are fooled, I fancy we shall never see them again."
"Are we to leave without making one try to give them warning?"
"It is too late now, and was when I first found you. I'll see if you can carry me a short distance, and then we must find a hiding-place, for whether they are successful in this scheme or not, the counterfeiters will soon be on the hunt for me."
For Harvey to attempt to walk, however good a crutch might be found, would have been foolhardy, for it was only with the greatest difficulty he could stand upright.
Jet understood this quite as well as did the detective and he also knew there was no time to be lost, if they expected to find a hiding-place before the day had fairly dawned.
"I am going to take you on my back," he said in a decided tone, "and we mustn't fool around here talking about it. Will you climb up without making a row, or must I use force?"
"I will obey," Harvey replied with a smile, as Jet backed toward him, and a few seconds later the boy was making his way through the underbrush.
Jet's burden was heavier than he had anticipated, and he staggered from side to side before twenty yards had been traversed, causing Harvey to say firmly:
"It is no use for you to try anything of the kind, Jet. This will only result in both of us being overhauled."
"Here's a place where we can stop for a rest," and Jet halted in front of a thick clump of fir bushes. "By crawling in there we shall soon be out of sight, and I'll start back for the depot as soon as you think it is safe."
He lowered the detective gently to the ground, aided him in making his way through the tangled underbrush to the center of the clump, and then returned to the outside of the little thicket, in order to replace the branches and foliage generally to their ordinary position, that those who should come in search might not be able to see the trail.
This done he skirted around to the opposite side, and entered in a manner which would have done credit to an Indian.
"Now you've got a chance to tie up your leg as it ought to be," he said. "Shall I take that handkerchief off?"
"I don't think it will pay to disturb it, my boy. The flow of blood has been stopped, and might start again if the compress was removed. Besides there is no water with which to wash it."
"How long are you counting on staying around here?"
"Until you can get to the town, and send some one back to help me in. I couldn't crawl that far in a month."
"Then the sooner I go the better," and Jet rose to his feet, despite the fatigue which almost overpowered him.
"Wait a while. In the first place, you need rest, and secondly, those men will soon come back to find you, after which a hunt is certain to be made for both of us. Hold on until we see what they are going to do, in order to the better decide upon our own course of action."
Jet was not sorry to sit down again, although, in view of the desperate situation, he knew he could afford to halt but a short time.
"Do you think you can make another round trip to-day?" Harvey asked after a short pause.
"It has got to be done, so there's no use in thinking anything about it. What troubles me is how you are going to get along without food or water while I am gone."
"Probably in the same way you will keep on your feet after having walked nearly all night—by sheer force of will."
Jet ceased speaking very suddenly, for at that instant the sound as of some one coming through the underbrush was heard.
Harvey drew his revolver, and Jet followed his example.
Both weapons were fully loaded, and those in hiding knew it must be a fight to the death, if they were discovered.
By parting the bushes in front of him slightly, Jet could see through to where the foliage was less dense, and, as he did so, Joe, the tall man who had been the cause of all his trouble, came in view, walking slowly, and peering from side to side.
That he was searching for Harvey there could be no doubt, and, seeing him alone, a bold plan came into Jet's mind.
Without making any sign to his companion he began to move noiselessly toward the new-comer on his hands and knees, arriving at the edge of the bushes just as Joe had passed.
Harvey laid his hand on Jet's leg as a signal for him to come back; but the boy paid no attention to the mute command.
Joe had halted about three feet from the edge of the bushes, and was evidently trying to decide in which direction he should go, when Jet rose up behind him so noiselessly that not even the rustling of a leaf could have been heard.
By reaching up, he could just touch the back of the man's head, and, suddenly pressing the muzzle of the revolver against the fellow's neck, he said quickly:
"Throw up your hands or I'll fire!"
Under such circumstances there was but one thing for Joe to do.
He raised both hands, not daring to so much as turn his head, and Jet continued, sternly:
"Stay where you are, or a bullet goes into your head. I ain't sure, anyway, but what it would be better to shoot first and talk afterward."
Harvey understood from the words exactly what had been done, and Jet heard him crawling out from the bushes, in order to assist at the capture.
"Take your time, sir," the boy said, calmly. "I've got this fellow where he won't care to run the chances of wiggling very much."
"I'll kill you some day," the man growled, hoarsely.
"You won't try it for quite a while yet. Look out. Hold your hands higher!"
This last remark was called forth as Joe lowered his arms ever so slightly, probably for the purpose of learning if his captor was on the alert.
By this time Harvey had managed to crawl from his place of concealment, and, at the expense of severe pain, raised himself to his feet directly in front of the prisoner.
"Keep your revolver where it is, and fire at the least show of resistance," he said to Jet, as he proceeded to search Joe's pockets.
"Now, lower your hands, but don't take a step forward," he said when the man's weapons and money had been thrown on the ground.
Joe obeyed sullenly, and Jet heard the dick of a pair of handcuffs as they were fastened on the former's wrists, with his arms behind his back.
"Now sit down," the detective said, as he gathered up two revolvers, an ugly looking dirk-knife and a well-filled pocket-book.
Joe obeyed in silence, but if a glance could have killed, his captors would soon have been lying lifeless before him.
"Hadn't we better take him into the thicket?" Jet asked.
"No. Stand in front of him while I write a note. Now, you must start for the town without delay."
"And take this fellow along?"
"Certainly; we can't afford to run the chances of a rescue."
It was such a job as Jet did not fancy, but he made no protest.
When Harvey had ceased writing on a leaf of his note-book, he handed it to Jet as he said:
"March your prisoner into the first town you come to, and demand to be shown to a magistrate. Give him the letter, which will explain the outlines of who this fellow is, and tell him all of the story save such as is connected with the murder. That we will keep secret for a while. Then telegraph to the inspector to send an officer without delay to carry him to the city."
"Is that all, sir?"
"Except as to the manner of traveling. Keep your prisoner in advance, and do not hesitate to shoot if he fails to obey every reasonable order. Above all, do not allow him to face you."
"Suppose some of the gang should overtake us?"
"Put this fellow in front and let them shoot through him if they choose. Aim to kill or seriously disable if you are attacked, and in order that there be no lack of ammunition, take one of his revolvers in addition to your own. By dividing his cartridges we shall each have enough to stand quite a siege."
"What about sending help to you?"
"I hope the officers from Albany will wait around the depot until you arrive, when they can decide what is best to be done; but don't make another mistake as to the identity of those you want to see."
"I reckon I shan't fall into the same kind of a trap for a long while to come."
"Get something to eat while you are in town, and take a short rest. Matters won't be very serious here until nightfall."
"I shan't stop long, for it would be a pretty poor sort of a fellow who couldn't walk twenty miles under these circumstances."
"Do as you choose; you have money enough for all expenses, and it may be as well to hire a saddle horse to carry me back."
"I'll attend to everything," Jet replied, "and the sooner I leave the better."
"You are right. Remember what I said about shooting the prisoner if he shows a disposition to turn rusty, and keep him in front of you."
"I won't forget, sir."
"Then good luck to you."
Harvey held out his hand, Jet grasped it for an instant, and said to his prisoner:
"Get up now, and go ahead at your best pace. You have heard the advice given me, and I shall act upon it without hesitation."
Joe looked sullenly around and then obeyed, asking as he set out:
"Which way shall I walk?"
"Straight ahead. I reckon you know the road better than I do."
"That's a fact. There is a short cut after we get down here a bit, which will save nearly two miles of distance."
"Don't let him guide you," Harvey shouted, he having heard the remark. "Keep on the course you are familiar with."
"Never fear I'll let him show me anything," Jet replied cheerily, and he ordered the man to step out more briskly.
During the next ten minutes the two walked at a rapid pace in silence, and then Joe said without turning his head:
"I suppose you count on making a big pile by taking me to prison?"
"That's where you are mistaken. I'm only trying to square things after the scrape you got me into."
"Would you like to make five thousand dollars?"
"Of course I would."
"Then unfasten these handcuffs, and I'll guarantee to give you that amount within the next three days."
"More likely you'd give me a clip over the head. But even if I was certain of having the money, you couldn't get away, so walk on briskly and don't let me hear you speak again."
Joe glanced savagely around at the boy, and there was that in his face which told what desperate chances he would take in order to effect his escape.
"He's studying mischief," Jet said to himself, "and I've got to look sharp, or find myself in the soup as I was this morning."
At the best it was a difficult task to walk at any degree of speed through the woods; but the labor was more than doubled by having a prisoner over whom it was necessary to keep the strictest watch.
During the first hour Jet thought it would be impossible for him to hold out to reach the town; but the knowledge of what the result would be, not only to himself, but to those whom he had left behind, enabled him to battle against the fatigue which threatened to overpower him.
Not a word had been spoken since Joe made the proposition to purchase his liberty, until fully an hour passed, and then he said in a meek tone:
"Don't you think it is about time to take a rest? I'm pretty nigh played out."
Jet was only too willing to do so, and said:
"Sit down at the foot of that tree; I'll stay in the rear as Mr. Harvey advised."
"What damage do you think I could do with my arms handcuffed behind me?"
"That is exactly what I don't know, and shall take good care you haven't a chance to show me."
"I don't deny that I would run a good many risks rather than be taken to jail; but at the same time I'm not such a fool as to kick when there isn't the least show of getting the upper hands."
"You are wasting your breath talking to me in that manner, for I intend to follow Mr. Harvey's advice to the letter."
Joe's face was contorted with a grimace of rage as Jet thus showed that it would be impossible to wheedle him into carelessness, and, suddenly changing his tone, he said, angrily:
"You don't have any idea of the trap you're running into. There's more belonging to our gang than that fool detective fancies, and the minute we show up in town you'll be marked."
"That won't hurt I reckon."
"It will be enough to cause your death."
"Then I'm to be murdered, eh?"
"That is exactly what will happen when any of our crowd get the chance, and you may make sure they won't lay down till you're out of the way."
"That's all, unless you're willing to make a trade with me. There'll be more in it than by sticking to Harvey, who'll throw you over as soon as this job is finished."
"Get up and make another start," Jet said, abruptly. "If you have rested enough to talk, I reckon you can push ahead."
"You'll regret not having listened to me while there is a chance."
The man obeyed with a very bad grace, and once more the two were traveling at a fair rate of speed toward the village.
Twice again during the journey did Joe attempt to bribe or frighten his captor, and desisted from his efforts only when they were within sight of the town.
This walking through a settlement behind a man at whose head a cocked revolver is held, naturally created considerable excitement, and Jet found himself surrounded by a curious throng before he had reached the main street.
The thought occurred to him that among these people might be friends of his prisoner, and his anxiety became even greater than while they were in the woods.
He was overwhelmed with questions; but refused to make any explanations, asking simply that some one would show him the nearest magistrate's office, and his silence served to anger the crowd.
"Are we going to let a boy walk through this town with his revolver at a man's head?" one of the party shouted, angrily, and Joe's face lighted up wonderfully.
"I'm an innocent man whom a party of villains are trying to down," he cried. "If there are any here who like fair play, take me along decently, rather than in this style. I can explain who and what I am."
"Shove that boy out of the way!" another member of the crowd shouted, and Jet believed his prisoner was about to be rescued.
Drawing his second revolver, he held it in his left hand, as he said firmly:
"This fellow has nearly killed a detective who was sent to arrest him, and I have the proof of that in my pocket, which I will show to the magistrate. My orders were to deliver him up to justice, and make sure he didn't give me the slip. If any one interferes, I shall fire first at the prisoner, and then at him who dares try to help him."
Just for an instant the crowd fell back, and then the man who had first spoken, cried angrily:
"Hasn't somebody got the nerve to knock that cub down? I'll see to it that the prisoner is taken before the magistrate in a proper manner."
"That's a fair offer," Joe said, eagerly. "I'm willing to go along peaceably; but I don't want to walk with a revolver at my head, as if I was too dangerous to be in a town with my hands behind my back."
"Knock the boy down!"
"Don't let such an outrage be committed in our town!"
"Will you let a cub like that play the part of desperado in a quiet village?"
These and similar shouts were heard as the throng drew nearer Jet, who now understood that Joe's friends must be making the row for the purpose of releasing the prisoner, and he looked around in vain for a friendly face.
"Will no one help me do my duty?" he cried.
"We'll take the man to the magistrate decently," some one replied.
"That simply means that a few of you are determined on a rescue."
He would have said more; but Joe's pals, fearing the influence his words might have upon the crowd, drowned his voice by angry shouts.
Jet realized that the crisis was at hand.
He and his prisoner had just turned down the main street, and the plot must be carried out at once.
Half a dozen men had crowded so near that they could easily have thrown him to the ground before he would have an opportunity to use his weapons.
It was high time to carry his threat into execution; but he knew that the instant he fired for the purpose of keeping the nearest back, his prisoner would be torn from him.
"I have failed at the moment when I thought the work was done," he said to himself, despairingly, and at that instant two men ranged themselves either side of him.
"Have you been sent here by Harvey?" one of them asked, and Jet could have shouted for very joy, for he understood these must be the officers who had come from Albany.
"Yes, and this is one of the men he was so anxious to arrest."
"Where is he now?"
"Hiding in the woods, wounded so badly that he can't walk."
"And the others?"
"Penned up in the building with a prisoner."
During this short conversation the crowd had grown more unruly, and were now clustered around Joe so closely as to impede his progress.
The officer who had been speaking to Jet motioned to his companion, and the two sprang in front of the prisoner, as the former shouted:
"Make way, or I shall do more than the boy promised," and he drew a revolver.
"Who are you?"
"Officers from Albany who have come to assist in the arrest of this man. The first who interferes shall be taken in custody, and I warn you that it is a serious matter to try to rescue a prisoner."
This short speech had a decidedly good effect upon the majority of the crowd, who fell back at once; but Joe's friends had not yet despaired of success.
They faced the officers boldly, trying to force their way between the prisoner and Jet, and in a twinkling two of them were seized by the strangers, who clasped bracelets on their wrists without delay.
"If there are any more who want to try the same, we've got plenty of time to attend to them, for all we ask is a chance to pick out this fellow's pals."
The street was now cleared, each member of the throng endeavoring to be the first to escape suspicion, and the officers called to Jet:
"Start your man along lively. We'll lead you to a magistrate, and then come back for a few of those who were shouting the loudest."
Ten minutes later Jet's work was accomplished. The prisoners were confined in the village lock-up, and a message sent to the inspector, detailing what had been done.
Before Jet had finished the meal he was so much in need of, an answer came.
It read as follows:
"Have sent for the tall man by train which is just leaving. Report the result of Harvey's injuries as soon as possible."
"That will be when we come back from the woods," one of the officers said, as he read the telegram which Jet handed him. "You had better lie down an hour or so, and then we'll start."
"I'd rather go now. If we can hire a horse with which to bring Mr. Harvey here, I'll be able to ride part of the way."
One of the officers went out to attend to this portion of the work, and when he returned it was with the information that he had secured just the kind of an animal they required.
"He's too old to be afraid of anything, and there's no danger of his running away after Harvey mounts."
Both the men insisted that Jet should ride the entire distance, and when he objected they reminded him that by so doing it would be possible to arrive at the desired place just so much sooner.
The strain of caring for his prisoner had fatigued him quite as much as the tramp, and it is doubtful if he could have covered the distance again in less than three or four hours.
The officers walked on either side of the horse, and during the journey he had ample opportunity to explain why he had not met them at the arrival of the train.
"We knew from the station agent that a boy had sent the telegram, and intended to wait for us, therefore it was only natural to suppose some of the crowd had got the best of you. When we heard the row both of us hurried from the depot, thinking you were in some way the cause of it."
"I was afraid you might leave when I failed to show up."
"Not much. On such a job as this we'd have stayed here more than one day before jumping back."
During the last portion of the journey, Jet dozed as he rode along, forcing himself to open his eyes now and then to make certain he was on the right course, and it was while he was thus in a semi-conscious condition that a shout from a clump of bushes told the tramp was nearly at an end.
"That is Mr. Harvey," Jet cried, gleefully, all desire for slumber gone from his eyelids now.
ON THE TRAIL.
The detective had crawled out of the bushes by the time the new-comers were opposite his place of concealment, and, before speaking to the two men, he clasped Jet warmly by the hand, as he said:
"I knew you could do the job, if it was in the power of any one, my boy. After making the capture, single-handed, it would have been strange if you had failed at the last minute."
"He didn't tell us that it was him who took the fellow prisoner," one of the men said, in surprise.
"But he did it nevertheless, and I would trust him as far as any person I ever saw."
Then the men held a short consultation as to what should be done, and Harvey insisted on making a detour, in order to approach the house on the side opposite where he believed the enemy were stationed.
"If you help me on the horse I can ride," he said, "and it will be possible to hold communication with the besieged, if nothing more."
"But you should go where your wound can be dressed properly."
"There is time enough for that. I want to get hold of Bob, and then I'll give you fellows a chance to clear up the counterfeiting case."
Since Harvey was really the leader of the expedition, the others could do no more than advise against his engaging in work, and he led the way, seated on the saddle, with his wounded leg fastened to the pommel in such a manner that it would not be injured by the trees while they were passing through the woods.
In due time the party came to a point from which the building could be seen.
A deep silence reigned. One would have said the house had long been deserted.
"I'll go where they can see me, and, if no one shoots, climb over the wood-pile," Jet suggested.
To this plan Harvey would not listen.
He first sent the new-comers to beat the thicket on this side, for the purpose of learning if any of the enemy were in the vicinity, and, when they returned with the information that no one had been seen, he advanced to the very edge of the bushes, where the signal was given.
"They won't be likely to answer it after having been fooled this morning," Jet suggested, and, without waiting for orders, he stepped beyond the shelter of the trees.
Instantly he did so one of the besieged appeared at the window, and hailed:
"Are you alone?"
"There are three besides me," Jet replied, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before the remainder of the party came into view.
"Are you all right?" Harvey shouted.
"Except for being mighty hungry and thirsty."
"Have you seen anything of the enemy?"
"Not since early this morning. It's my opinion that they have skipped after trying to get in here."
"We can soon find out," Harvey said. "We'll go boldly up to the gate, and before it is torn down we shall know how many are in the vicinity."
During the time Jet and the two men were forcing an entrance nothing more was heard from the adjoining woods, and when the party entered the yard it was with the belief that the gang had been frightened away by the escape of the detective and Jet, and the disappearance of their leader.
"It won't do to take chances," Harvey said, as his friends opened the door of the house. "Go out with these gentlemen who have just arrived, and make careful search. The boy and I will care for things here."
This order was obeyed after the detective had been assisted into the building, and the horse fastened in the stable.
The prisoner was occupying the same position as when Jet saw him last, and appeared to be thoroughly tired of the whole business.
"If you had brought up some food we might have stayed here until morning; but as it is I reckon we must make a move pretty soon."
"How strange that I never thought of such a thing," Jet replied, and straightway he began to blame himself, until his companion said soothingly:
"After what you have gone through with, it is not strange such a thing should have escaped your mind. We shan't suffer very much if we don't get anything for a few hours more."
A short time later the searchers returned laden down with provisions, and reported that they failed to find any signs of the enemy.
They had come upon a place where the ground appeared to have been lately disturbed, and on digging there discovered a large store of bacon, hard-tack, flour and potatoes.
Before waiting to discuss the situation, the hungry men at once proceeded to cook a hearty meal, two of them going in search of water, and while this work was being done Harvey had a long, serious conversation with Jet.
"There is no question but that they have grown frightened and run away," he said by way of beginning, and to this remark Jet assented, nodding his head.
"Our trip will have been a failure, despite the fact of having captured Joe, unless we also get Bob."
"It'll be mighty hard work to find him now."
"That may be; but yet I am depending upon you to do the work."
"Me?" Jet repeated in surprise.
"Certainly; what is to prevent?"
"I don't even know where to look for him."
"Neither do I; but we shall hit upon the trail after a while, for I believe in the maxim that 'all things come to him who waits.'"
"But surely some of these men could do better than I."
"Are you afraid to try it?" Harvey asked, as he looked Jet full in the face.
"Not a bit of it. I only thought that there'd be more chance of success if somebody else took the job. You see I've made a big fool of myself half a dozen times since this thing was started."
"And by so doing have gained just so much experience. I want the whole work done by you and I, except when we have to call for assistance, as in the present case. It's professional pride, my boy, and I look to you to take my place, until I can crawl around once more."
"I'll be only too willing to do anything you say, Mr. Harvey."
"Then it is all right, Jet, and before three months go by we'll have our friend Bob behind the bars. Now, lie down and take a nap so as to be in condition for our final trip to the town."
"Then you have given up all hopes of finding the men here?"
"Yes; although it may be possible they will be foolish enough to come back. We'll leave two men here on watch for a few days."
Jet threw himself on the floor, and in a very few seconds was sleeping soundly.
When he was awakened the hunger of those who had been so long without food was appeased, and all preparations made for the return trip.
As a matter of course Harvey rode on the horse; Jet walked by his side, and the officers traveled in advance.
The last arrivals were perfectly willing to remain on guard in the house a few days, now that there were plenty of provisions, and they were busily engaged repairing the gate when the little party started.
Nothing of especial interest occurred during the journey, and when they arrived in town an officer was met who had come from New York to take charge of the prisoner.
The two men who had attempted to rescue Joe were held on the charge of resisting an officer, and it was believed they could be detained until it might be possible to connect them with the manufacture or passing of counterfeit money.
To this last, however, Harvey paid but little attention, allowing the officers from Albany full charge of the case. He was on the trail of a murderer, and all else seemed of but trifling importance.
A surgeon in the village dressed Harvey's wound, and when that had been done there was yet two hours remaining before a train bound for Albany would arrive.
"Now you and I will have a final talk, Jet," the detective said, when the two were left alone in one of the rooms at the hotel.
"Why? Ain't you counting on taking me with you?"
"Certainly not. I thought it was agreed you were to search for Bob."
"So I am; but I didn't know I was to be left here."
"That is not exactly what will be done, although it amounts to much the same thing. I propose to have you get on the train with us, as if you were going off, and then, stopping at the next station, travel back thirty or forty miles to whichever town we may decide upon as the most promising."
"What am I to do there, sir?"
"Look for Bob. Move about from town to town just as seems best at the moment, and I have no doubt but that you will soon strike his trail."
"Am I to let you know when I find it?"
"Certainly. Can you write?"
"Then let me hear from you every day. Here is an address where the letters will reach me at the earliest possible moment."
"But, Mr. Harvey, can't you tell me how to begin the work?"
"No; circumstances must decide. I have no question but that you will succeed finally, and in two weeks, if the job isn't finished before, I hope to be with you again."
The detective wrote on a slip of paper the address to which letters should be sent, gave Jet more money, and concluded the interview by saying:
"It isn't well to let even the officers from Albany know what you propose to do. I will cook up some story to satisfy their curiosity. Now, go and buy me a through ticket, and one for yourself to the next station."
Jet did as he was directed, and, as he entered the depot saw Joe, who, guarded by the officer sent from New York, was waiting the coming of the train.
The alleged murderer bestowed a wicked look on the boy who had captured him, and then turned his head away.
"If he ever gets the chance I shall have a hot time of it," Jet thought, as he transacted his business with the ticket-seller and then returned to Harvey.
The latter was just being brought down stairs, for the time of departure was near at hand, and Jet followed him to the station, where the detective was warmly greeted by Joe's guard.
Here Jet felt proud by being introduced as the one who had made the arrest and afterward brought his prisoner safely through the woods where the remainder of the gang were lurking, and District Messenger No. 48 felt amply rewarded by the words of praise for all he had suffered.
The cars arrived. Jet followed his companions on board, and, twenty minutes later, alighted at a small village where it would be necessary he should wait half an hour before a western bound train came along.
"It's a tough job I've undertaken," he said to himself, when the long line of coaches had pulled out, leaving him alone, "and somehow or other I feel pretty certain I'm going to come to grief before this thing is ended."
AN OLD FRIEND
To Jet the idea of loitering around first one town and then another with no definite plan, unless the simple hope of meeting the man by accident could be called one, was in the highest degree unsatisfactory.
He had embarked on the enterprise, however, and it was now too late for regrets.
In due time the train arrived, and, stepping on board, he was surprised at hearing a familiar voice ask:
"Hello Jet! Have you concluded to join us again?"
It was his old friend the manager of the minstrel company, who appeared to take it for granted Jet had boarded this particular train for no other purpose than that of going into the show business again.
"Where are you playing?" the boy asked without answering the question.
"Nowhere to-night, or I shouldn't be here. We've been having mighty hard luck, and had to lay off to reorganize—— At least that's the best way of putting it. The company is about twenty miles down the road, and we shall play that town to-morrow."
While the manager was speaking, Jet thought to himself that he could attend to his particular business as well, if not better, by traveling with the show a few days than in any other way, and he asked:
"Do you want a good dancer?"
"If you mean yourself, I'll say yes mighty quick. Will you come?"
"There is no reason why I shouldn't for a while, providing you won't make any objection if I should leave very suddenly."
"Say, my boy, what are you up to in this section of the country, eh?"
"Nothing in particular, or perhaps it would be best to say, nothing that I can explain."
"Then I won't ask any questions. How much do you want a night to do two turns, and help us out in any other way that may come up?"
"If you'll pay my traveling expenses and hotel bills, I'll go on for one night, and, perhaps a week, but when it comes to leaving this section of the country I shall have to stay behind."
"I'll accept the offer, and reckon we can keep you with us a good while, if you are so stuck on this part of the State, for we intend to remain within a circle of fifty miles for a couple of weeks. Business has been so bad that we can't afford to make many long jumps, and there are plenty of little towns where I hope to pull out money enough to set us on our feet."
This plan exactly suited Jet, and he believed he had been very fortunate in thus meeting the manager.
When the conductor came for the tickets, Jet's friend paid his fare to the town where the company had been waiting for funds ever since the day the young dancer felt forced to leave them.
It was a very cordial greeting which he received from the members of the show party that night, and many times was he forced to give an evasive answer in reply to their searching questions, lest his secret should be discovered.
During the evening he wrote to Harvey, telling him how he proposed to travel, and concluded by saying:
"You see, by this means I can stay around here a long while without spending any of your money, and it seems as if there is less chance of being suspected by friends of Bob's whom I might meet without knowing them."
During the following day he helped distribute programmes, put the hall to rights, and otherwise made himself so useful that all looked upon him as a decided acquisition to the company.
On this night he did his regular turn, and instead of trying to prevent himself from looking at the audience, stared at each person every time he came on the stage, hoping he might get a glimpse of Bob.
It was doubtful, he admitted to himself, whether he would recognize the two who had played the part of Albany officers, for he saw them only at night and in the feeble rays of light cast by the station lamps.
As to Bob, he was confident of knowing him under almost any disguise that might be assumed.
However, this night's appearance before the public brought him no other result than that of establishing himself yet more firmly in the minds of his companions as a good dancer, and he had no reason to be discouraged since that which must necessarily be a long task had but just begun.
According to promise, he wrote a short letter to Harvey, and on the following morning received, a reply to his first.
Among other things the detective wrote:
"I am glad you had an opportunity to join the company, for it is the best way you could prosecute the search. It would do no harm to go even farther from the house in the woods than you propose doing, since Bob will most likely give that place a wide berth for some time to come. Do not get discouraged, and use as much money as may be necessary for your comfort. My wound is improving rapidly under proper treatment, and I am told that in two weeks I shall be able to walk with the aid of a cane."
It is true this was not a very important communication; but it was highly satisfactory to Jet, since it showed that the detective approved of his course.
The second performance after the "reorganization" of the company, was given in a small town of about twelve hundred population, and the receipts at the door were not enough to pay the hotel bill and traveling expenses to the next town, therefore on that same evening the manager called the performers to his room for consultation.
"We shall take big money in the next place, providing we can get there early enough in the morning to make a parade; but I am broke again, and want your advice."
No one spoke for some time, and Jet asked:
"How far is it?"
"Only six miles."
"I will walk, or pay my own expenses, either one you choose."
"Now, that's what I call coming to the front in great shape. Who's willing to walk?"
It was some time before he could persuade the other members of the company to agree. They had received no wages for several weeks, and it seemed particularly hard to ask them to work for nothing, and, in addition, tramp from town to town.
It was finally decided two of the company should ride, in order to transport the baggage, and that the remainder would take to the road as soon as sunrise next morning.
The manager, knowing that Jet had some money, because of his offer to pay his own railroad fare, borrowed five dollars of him, with the promise that it should be repaid with the first money taken at the door on the next evening, and the amateur detective went to bed feeling that, perhaps, he could travel around the country more cheaply than by working for a manager who borrowed his funds.
All hands were called at an early hour on the following morning, and Jet set out immediately after breakfast with those who were to travel on "Shank's mare."
It was unfortunate that some of these involuntary pedestrians, while not having enough to pay their railroad fare, managed to scrape together sufficient to buy a large bottle of whisky, and when a trifle more than half the distance had been traversed, several were under the influence of the fiery liquor.
Jet had many invitations to drink, but he stoutly refused even to taste of the stuff, and walked on ahead with the other temperate members of the company.
The dissipated portion of the party danced and sang to the amusement or disgust of the inhabitants whose houses they passed, and the town was in sight when a loud shout from the rear caused Jet and his companions to look back.
Half a dozen of the men had scaled a fence, and were industriously engaged filling their pockets with fruit, paying no attention to the damage done the trees as they broke branches or threw heavy clubs up to bring down the apples or pears.
"Say, this won't do!" Jet shouted as he ran toward them. "You stand a good chance to be arrested, and then how shall we get out of town?"
"Walk, as we had to this time," some one replied with a laugh, and the thefts went on with redoubled eagerness.
Jet tried to persuade the fellows to desist, but deaf ears were turned to all his entreaties, and he was leaning over the fence when two women and a boy came out to drive the intruders away.
The drunken men paid no attention either to threats or entreaties, but continued at the work until a sufficient amount of fruit had been obtained, when they continued the journey.
Immediately after arriving in town Jet had plenty to do in the way of distributing programmes, and finished the task only to take his place in the street parade.
The drunkards had sobered off in a measure by this time, and managed to march through the village without reeling; but the fumes of liquor were quickly driven from their brains on returning to the hotel, when one after another was arrested for trespass and theft preferred by the owner of the orchard, who brought the two women and boy into town as witnesses.
Jet was not made a prisoner when the majority of the party were marched to the squire's office, nor did he anticipate any trouble, for he had done nothing more than try unsuccessfully to prevent the mischief.
Therefore he followed those under arrest to learn what disposition would be made of the case, and as he entered the closely-packed room was surprised at hearing one of the women say, in a voice loud enough to be understood by all:
"There's another of 'em—that boy. I seen him standin' there all the time."
"But I was only trying to make the others stop," Jet said quickly, as if the remark had been addressed to him.
"Don't you believe him, squire, he was doin' that to poke fun at me, an' jest egged the others on."
To Jet's surprise the magistrate included him in the list of prisoners, and he had the questionable satisfaction of hearing all three of the witnesses swear that he was aiding and abetting the thieves.
Jet tried hard to defend himself, but the squire had evidently made up his mind in advance as to what the sentence should be, for without allowing the prisoners to make more than a shadow of defense, he said sternly:
"It's time you show people got to learn that you can't travel 'round the country cuttin' up shines an' then tryin' to excuse yourselves by sayin' you was under the influence of licker. This court don't recognize any sich pleadin', an' sentences every one of the crowd to pay ten dollars an' costs."
"Do you mean that each man must pay that fine?" the manager asked in dismay.
"That's what I said, an' if there's any row kicked up I'll double it."
Jet was literally stunned and could make no reply. It is true he had sufficient money with which to settle his fine, but he did not feel that he was entitled to do such a thing, and besides, the injustice of the verdict was so great as to overshadow everything else.
Extra constables were sent for to convey the prisoners to the village lock-up until such time as they should pay the money, and when one of these officials entered the room, Jet's anger and surprise was changed to bewilderment.
The man who advanced to carry him to jail was none other than a member of that party of alleged tramps who had attempted to rob him on the railroad track, and consequently a pal of the murderers.
The fellow was unquestionably at the house in the woods when Harvey and his men were besieged, and had since then returned to this town, where, of course, he lived.
The question in Jet's mind now was as to whether Bob and the others had accompanied this one.
"Being arrested may turn out to be a mighty good thing, after all," he said to himself, "and I wouldn't be surprised if I held off a long while before paying my fine."
The manager of the minstrel company was, and quite naturally, in a high state of excitement when his people were marched off to the lock-up.
If he was not able to raise sufficient money to pay for the railroad tickets, it was useless to think he could satisfy the claim which alleged justice had against the men.
To remain there even for twenty-four hours without giving a performance would result in utter bankruptcy, and in case he was willing to desert the company he did not have money enough to go out of the town, except by leaving the baggage behind and walking.
An hour after the now saddened minstrels had been lodged behind the bars the manager called upon them.
"I've been trying to chin that old fool of a squire into letting you off for this evening, so's we can give a show, but he won't listen to anything of the kind," the visitor announced in a disconsolate tone.
"If you could rope off the yard and put up some seats we might perform behind the bars. Advertise that the gentlemen composing the greatest aggregation of minstrel talent in the known world will attempt the difficult feat of playing themselves out of jail."
This suggestion was made by the "funny" man of the party, but the distressed manager failed to see in it anything witty or comical.
"Can't some of you fellows suggest a plan?" he asked.
"Announce that we are to lay off a short time in order to—to—well anything you can think of."
"That is no plan at all; it would look rather fishy to reorganize twice in one week."
"Say that we are studying our parts for a realistic drama, entitled 'Would You put Yourself in Their Places.'"
"Now see here, boys, this isn't a thing to joke about. We must give a show to-night, and the question is how can it be done?" the manager asked in a tone of despair.
This was what no one could answer.
It surely seemed as if the squire had been prompted by an unkind fate to lay the heavy hand of the law upon this particular branch of the minstrel business, in order to deter others from traveling in the same path, and to prevent this company from inflicting stale jokes upon the public.
Finding that the chief performers could not suggest a way out of the difficulty, the manager took Jet as far aside as the size of the cell would permit.
"How much money have you got?" he asked in a whisper.
"None that belongs to me. The five dollars I loaned you was put in my hands for an especial purpose, and I really had no right to dispose of it as I did."
"But if you've got enough to pay these fines, I'll promise faithfully that you shall have every cent we take in until the full amount is paid back. There isn't any risk, my boy, for we shall certainly do a big business here."
Although Jet had had but little experience in this line, he knew that the receipts at the door, even if the small hall should be filled, would not amount to enough to settle the bills, and from it must necessarily be taken sufficient to carry the party to the next town.
"I haven't got half as much as you need, and if I had it would be wrong to use it."
"Then you intend to pay your own fine and give us the slip, eh?"
"I should have a perfect right to do so, because I took no part in the stealing of the fruit; but I shall stay with the rest."
During the next ten minutes the manager pleaded in vain with the boy, and then recognizing the uselessness of his arguments, left the building in a pet.
Meanwhile the members of the company did not look upon the imprisonment as such a very great hardship.
"Say, who has to pay our board while we are here?" one of the party asked the jailer.
"I reckon it'll come on the town."
"Then so long as it costs us nothing, what's the use of repining?" and the man started a song, in which he was joined by his companions, until the dilapidated building fairly shook with the alleged melody.
As a matter of course, this had the effect of drawing the idle ones to the jail doors, and the applause from the outside induced a continuance of the free concert.
All those who could show any right to enter the building crowded in, and among them was the constable whom Jet had recognized.
While his companions were amusing the visitors and themselves, he edged along as near this particular man as he could without exposing himself too freely, and during the pauses between the songs he was fortunate enough to overhear the following conversation between the fellow in whom he was interested and a brother constable: