Boy Scouts on the Great Divide;
or, The Ending of the Trail
By Archibald Lee Fletcher
M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
MADE IN U.S.A.
I—A BOY SCOUT
III—THE CASE IS STATED
IV—A CHASE IN THE NIGHT
V—A DETECTIVE AND A ROBBER
VI—THE CALL OF THE BEAVER
VII—ARRESTED AS SPIES
VIII—A MIDNIGHT BEAR HUNT
IX—LYNCHING IS THREATENED
X—ONE DANGER TO ANOTHER
XI—A WYOMING HOLD-UP
XII—AN INTERRUPTED WIG-WAG
XIII—TOMMY GOES AFTER BEAR STEAK
XIV—A PAIR OF PRISONERS
XV—AN UNDERGROUND CHANNEL
XVI—CULLEN LOSES HIS STAR
XVII—A MEETING UNDER GROUND
XVIII—THE FINDING OF WAGNER
XIX—SHERIFF PETE'S WINK
XX—DETECTIVES IN TROUBLE
Boy Scouts on the Great Divide;
or, The Ending of the Trail
A BOY SCOUT CAMP
On a sunny September afternoon two shelter tents stood in a mountain valley, on the south bank of a creek which, miles and miles below, becomes the Sweetwater river.
Above the flap of each tent lifted a yellow pennant, in the center of which a blue beaver stood in an alert and listening attitude, his flat tail outstretched.
A campfire blazed in front of the two tents, and some distance away four bronchos fed noisily on the sweet grass of the valley. Tinned provisions and cooking utensils were scattered here and there in front of the blaze, and four boys wearing the khaki uniform of the Boy Scouts of America were busily engaged in preparing supper.
Those who have read the previous volumes of this series will require no introduction to Will Smith, George Benton, Charley (Sandy) Green, or Tommy Gregory. As will be remembered, they were all members of the Beaver Patrol, Chicago. Will Smith had recently been advanced to the important position of Scoutmaster, and George Benton had been elected to the position left vacant by the advancement of his chum, that of Patrol Leader. Besides carrying the badges of their offices and their patrol, the boys all wore medals showing that they had qualified in the Stalker, Ambulance, Seaman and Pioneer grades.
After rather striking adventures on Lake Superior and in the Florida Everglades the boys had been persuaded by Mr. Horton, a well-known criminal lawyer of Chicago, to undertake a mission in the interest of a client in whom he had become greatly interested. The lads had already arranged a vacation trip to the Great Divide, and it necessitated only a slight change in their program in order to make the investigation desired by the attorney, who had shown himself their friend on more than one occasion. In fact, the Superior trip had been taken at his expense.
Mr. Horton had presented the request which had changed the lads' vacation plans on the night before they left Chicago, and so no details whatever of the case had been given them. They had been asked to proceed to the city of Green River, in the state of Wyoming, and there secure burros, provisions and tents and travel to the valley lying south and west of Altantic peak.
The noted attorney had informed them on the morning of their departure that, in case further instructions did not reach them by wire before they came to Green River, a messenger would follow them into the mountains with full details, and also a history of the case in which they were to be employed. On this sunny afternoon they were awaiting the arrival of the messenger, no information having been received by telegraph.
The tents had been set up on the previous evening, and the boys did not think it possible that the messenger could be more than twenty-four hours behind them. While they waited for the supper to cook they watched the country off to the south anxiously.
"Last call for supper!" cried Sandy, spreading a great white cloth on the fragrant grass of the valley. "We can eat out-doors in this country without any danger of people butting in to see what we've got for supper."
"You say it well!" said Will, "but you can't prove it! For instance," he added, pointing to the south, "there's some one coming right now to see what we've got for supper!"
The figure pointed out was that of a tall and slender man who was climbing the slope to the southeast. He carried a long rifle over his shoulder and a cartridge belt was conspicuously displayed about his waist.
While the boys arranged their food on the table cloth, the man approached warily. When he came into the valley in which the camp was situated he turned away to the right as if about to circle the tents and the fire. Tommy stood up with a great slice of bread in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other and waved both at the stranger.
"Come on in!" he shouted. "The eating's fine!"
At this invitation the stranger came forward to the fire and stood for a moment without speaking, gazing at the boys with eyes strained to their utmost in an effort to make them look piercing.
"Thank you very much for the invitation!" replied the stranger, "I've had a long walk today and I'm both hungry and tired! My name is Katz—Joseph J. Katz, and I'm in business in a small way in Denver."
"I bought a burro at Green River," Katz went on, "but lost him twenty miles to the south. He got his foot in a prairie dog's hole or something of that kind and broke his leg so I had to shoot him."
"And you've been walking ever since?"
"Indeed I have!" was the reply. "And I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to extend your hospitality until morning. I have a friend who will be along sometime tomorrow with a couple of light tents and a couple of burro loads of provisions."
"Then you're going to camp in the mountains, I take it?"
"Yes," was the reply. "We're going farther in and take a rest and look for a good sheep valley while we do so."
"You're welcome to remain here until your friend comes in!" answered Will. "We have plenty of provisions."
"Then you are thinking of remaining in the mountains for some time?" asked the stranger. "In that case we may meet often."
"I hope so," replied Will. "We are boys from Detroit having a little vacation from the hills and it will be all the pleasanter if we have congenial company. But sit down and eat. You must be hungry."
Kata fell to with an appetite and Tommy saw that his plate was replenished as soon as it was emptied. While he was eating Sandy and Will arose from the cloth, excused themselves and passed into one of the tents, where Sandy stood regarding his companion with accusing eyes.
"Say," the boy asked, "are you getting to be such a liar that you just can't tell the truth?"
"What's the matter now?" demanded Will.
"Why did you tell that fellow we were from Detroit?"
"Because he lied to me!" was the rather indignant reply.
Sandy grinned and looked the question he did not ask.
"He told me he was from Denver," Will went on, "and Tommy says he's a Chicago detective. The kid says he saw a detective badge under the fellow's lapel. And I guess Tommy knows a detective badge," the boy continued with a wink. "I should think he would after the fun he's had with Chicago detectives, and the times he's been chased by them."
"You don't suppose he's come on here to pinch one of us, do you?" asked Sandy. "If he has, we'll pitch him into the stream that takes the longest road to Cape Horn."
"Of course not!" answered Will. "For all I know he may be the messenger sent by Mr. Horton."
"Then why should he lie about his home city?" asked Sandy.
"I don't know," answered Will. "He may be the messenger and he may not be. If he is a messenger, he's a fool, because he ought to know without further investigation that we're the boys he set out to find. If he isn't a messenger, he's a charter member of the Ananias club or Tommy's very much mistaken."
"I don't believe he's a messenger," Sandy answered and the two went out to the fire together.
"I have heard a great many stories of robbery and murder in this country," the boys heard Katz saying to Tommy, "but up to this time I have seen no unlawful acts committed."
"Oh, but they have a stage hold-up or some scrape of that kind every week or two!" replied Tommy with a wink at Will. "We remained over at Green River a couple of days and heard a good many stories about highway robbery. There is said to be gold in these mountains," the boy continued, "and there is also said to be a band of brigands who lie in wait for treasure hunters."
Katz appeared deeply interested in what the boy was saying. In fact he seemed rather excited, too, and the boys noticed that he reached out one hand to stroke the gun, which lay near his side, as he listened.
Sandy nudged George in the side and whispered:
"I'll bet Tommy's got him scared half to death!"
"I guess that's what the kid's telling him these stories for!" George ventured. "He's always up to tricks like that."
While the boys worked about the camp preparing beds for the night and clearing away the remains of the supper Tommy remained close to the side of the trench, asking of his experiences on the way in and telling many exciting stories of highwaymen, the most of which had origin in his own brain.
"Tommy'll have that fellow so scared that he can't sleep!" Sandy whispered to George.
"Then the fellow shouldn't get scared so easy!"
"I consider it very fortunate for you boys," they heard Katz saying after a time, "that I came along just as I did. If this country is as thoroughly infested with robbers and murderers as you seem to think it is, I may be of service to you before morning."
"Sure!" agreed Tommy. "We may have a battle with outlaws almost any time now! We're glad you're here to protect us!"
"Of course, one man can't fight a whole regiment," Katz went on rather boastfully, "but I'll do what I can to protect you in case the camp is attacked."
"I know you will!" answered Tommy with a sly wink at Sandy. "I knew you were a brave man as soon as I saw you!"
During the evening the boys taking the lead made by Tommy told numerous stories of train-robberies and murders in the mountains as they sat around the campfire. Katz listened attentively to them all and more than once the lads saw him involuntarily reach a hand back to his pistol pocket. On such occasions they nudged each other joyfully.
"I wish something would happen tonight," Tommy whispered to Will as they prepared for bed. "I'd just like to see how this Katz would act under fire. I've a good mind to make something happen!"
"You'd better cut that out!" replied Will. "The messenger we are waiting for may be here at any time now and we may have to move camp at any time. So we want to rest while we can."
"All right!" Tommy answered reluctantly. "I'm just as anxious to get a good night's sleep as you are."
"Who's going to stay awake?" asked Sandy stepping up to where the boys were talking.
"I don't think it's necessary for anyone to stay awake," cried Will.
"I don't believe we ought to all sleep at once!" Sandy observed. "Not with this stranger in the camp, anyway," he added.
"Aw, the stranger's all right!" Tommy exclaimed. "He's a bum Chicago detective out after some fugitive from justice and he thinks its foxy to lie about his occupation and his residence. Don't you think I know the earmarks of a Chicago detective?" he added.
"You ought to, considering the number of times you've been mixed up with them," laughed Sandy. "You certainly ought to know all about Chicago detectives."
"What makes you go certain this man is a Chicago detective?" asked Will. "I haven't seen anything that looks like Chicago about him!"
"Why," answered Tommy, "he's mentioned Harrison street and Desplaines street and Chicago avenue half a dozen times when talking about the police department of Denver! And he's been telling about police boats on the lake and on the North and South branches and giving himself away generally. Of course, he doesn't know we're from Chicago and so he doesn't think it necessary to be careful in his speech."
"All right, time will tell!" exclaimed Sandy.
It was arranged that Will, Tommy and George were to sleep together in one of the tents until midnight while Tommy stood watch, and from that time on, the other boys were to watch two hours apiece. Katz was to have the second tent all to himself.
For sometime after the lads and Katz went to their tents, Tommy sat by the fire listening to coyotes and grey wolves howling off in the mountains. Occasionally a coyote came within a few paces of the fire and set up a howl which must have been heard in the dreams of the sleepers.
Along near midnight the boy heard, very indistinctly, shouts to the west of the ridge which lay to the south of the valley. Still more faintly, return shouts were heard. The men, whoever they were, seemed to be advancing toward the camp. While the boy listened a volley of shots came from the west, followed by hoarse shouts and imprecations.
It now became plain that two horsemen were speeding toward the valley and that the shots which were being fired were directed at them. There was no moon as yet although there would be one later on, and little could be seen of the horsemen who were doubtless seeking refuge in the canons farther to the north, but the heavy breathing of the horses and the creaking of the saddles could be distinctly heard.
"I just went to the tent to wake Katz!" Tommy chuckled, "and saw him sneaking away making flat-footed for the hills!"
The horses came on at a swift gallop, to an accompaniment of rifle shots and the jingling of spurs. Directly they were in the circle of light about the fire, their frightened eyes showing red as they ran. The faces of the riders glared viciously down at the boys, but the weapons swinging threateningly from their hands were not discharged as they dashed through the lighted space and were gone.
"Now what do you know about that?" demanded Tommy, as the horses disappeared in the darkness and the gradually receding hoof-beats showed that they were still keeping their course to the north.
"Looks to me like some one was being chased," observed Sandy.
"It would seem that way to the unprejudiced mind!" added George.
Directly the sound of heavy boots scrambling over broken rocks, accompanied by private and personal opinions of that part of Wyoming, of rocky surfaces, and of midnight expeditions, came to the ears of the listening boys. As the sounds drew nearer they grouped closer together.
"Here comes the boys who did the shooting!" exclaimed Tommy.
"I hope they won't mistake us for the men they're after!" George suggested. "They look like rather tough citizens," he added, as the bearded faces and roughly-clad figures of half a dozen men swept into the firelight.
The men were all heavily armed, and it was clear that they were angry from the top of their heads to the soles of their feet. Three presented guns at the breasts of the boys while the other three stepped closer and began asking questions.
"Sure, we saw the ginks go by!" Tommy answered in reply to the first question. "I reckon they won't have anything to ride in about an hour if they keep up that gait."
"Did they stop or say anything to you as they passed?" was asked.
"I should say not!" replied Tommy. "They went by like Mexicans going to a bull-fight! They showed their guns, but they didn't say a word or do any shooting!"
"What does it mean?" asked Will, approaching the man who appeared to be the leader of the party.
"It means," was the reply, "that those two fellows are wanted down in Sweetwater county for holding up a train on the Union Pacific. A party of officers had them safe at Green River a couple of days ago, but they broke loose in some way and came north."
"It's a wonder they headed straight for our campfire!" Will suggested.
"That's what puzzles me!" the other said. "Until I saw you were only boys, probably out on a vacation, I thought the robbers might be associates of yours."
"I hope they won't think so, too," Will answered. "We expect to stay here two or three weeks, and we don't want to get into any mixup."
"They probably won't trouble you any," the officer remarked, "as they're undoubtedly headed for the Bad Lands in Big Horn county. If they get into that country we may as well give up the search."
"Well," Will suggested, "they won't have any horses to ride before morning, and you may be able to overtake them after they slow down."
"Oh, we're going to keep on in pursuit!" cried the officer, "But we have little hope of overtaking them. They're probably five miles in the lead right now. They've been riding while we've been walking."
"Why walking?" asked the boy.
"Because they shot our horses," gritted the officer.
After partaking of a midnight supper, including several cups of hot coffee apiece, the man-hunters continued on their way, looking longingly in the direction of the burros as they passed out of the light of the fire.
"Now that's what I call rotten!" Tommy exclaimed as the voices of the men died away in the darkness. "We've just made camp in a place that looks good to me, and here comes a band of train robbers and a delegation of lynchers ready to make us all kinds of trouble."
"I don't see why they should make us trouble," Sandy objected.
"Well, they will just the same," Will broke in. "They'll hang around the hills to the north, and officers will be chasing in after them, and, between them they'll give us a merry little time! If the messenger doesn't come tomorrow, we'll break camp and get into some other locality."
"I should say so!" exclaimed Tommy. "We went to Lake Superior and got into a nest of diamond smugglers, and we went to the Florida Everglades and got into a bunch of swamp outlaws and wreckers, and I've been counting on a nice quiet vacation this trip."
"We surely do have bad luck on our outing trips!" laughed Sandy. "But I rather enjoy the excitement after all!" he added, with a grin.
"Well, you wait until you get a band of train robbers shooting from one side, and a band of cowboys shooting from the other side, and you won't think it's so funny!" exclaimed George.
While the boys talked they heard a rustling in the long grass to the north and east, and directly a figure, crouching low and apparently walking with great caution, appeared in view.
"That's one now!" whispered Tommy.
"That's right!" returned Sandy. "That's one coward!"
"Oh, I see," Tommy whispered. "That's Katz!"
The stranger now approached the fire, swinging his rifle jauntily in his hand and throwing his shoulders back until his body swung forward with a decided strut. He looked from one boy to the other as he came closer, apparently seeking to learn from their expressions exactly what was in their minds. The boys' faces remained perfectly grave.
"It's no use!" Katz said in a moment, putting the butt of his gun down to the ground and leaning on the barrel. "It's no use whatever!"
The boys eyed the speaker suspiciously, but said nothing.
"I followed on as fast as I could!" Katz continued. "But they were on horseback, and I was on foot, so what could I do? Besides, it was too dark that I couldn't see to shoot," he went on.
"Oh, you went out after the robbers, did you?" asked Will, not caring to call the fellow's attention to the fact that he ran away to the north before the riders made their appearance.
"Why, yes!" was the reply. "What else could I do?"
The boys suspected that Katz had returned to the vicinity of the camp in time to hear the officer explain exactly what was going on. They were satisfied that he had not pursued the horsemen at all after they had passed him, but decided not to enter into any argument with him.
"Well," Will said in a moment. "If you'll all go to bed now, I'll sit up until morning. I don't suppose you boys care to be wakened if we have any more midnight visitors?" he asked tentatively.
"You needn't wake me up for any running race!" Tommy commented.
"If it's all the same to you," Katz suggested, "I prefer to sleep the remainder of the night. Of course," he went on, "if you need me for your defence, you need have no compunctions in waking me."
The boys laughed at the idea of calling upon the fellow to assist in defending the camp should necessity arise, and the object of their mirth glared at them suspiciously as he turned away to his tent.
In half an hour the camp was quiet again, with Will sitting in front of the fire reading. The coyotes and wolves, which had been frightened away by the shooting and the clatter of hoofs, now came forward again, and Will was thinking seriously of taking a shot at a great gray beast when a soft call came from the darkness.
"Hello!" the voice said. "Hello!"
"Come up and show yourself!" returned Will.
"Will you give me something to eat if I come up?"
"Sure I will," replied the boy with a grin. "Meals at all hours, you know! We usually run a hotel where we stop."
"Well you've got a customer right now!" came the voice from the darkness, and the next moment the figure of a lad of about fourteen made its appearance in the glow of the fire.
Will stood regarding the boy with open-eyed amazement for a moment and then swung his hand forward in the full salute of a Boy Scout.
"That's all right!" the strange boy cried. "I'm glad to see that you're a Boy Scout. I mean to be one some day, but I'm only a tenderfoot now! I haven't had any chance for advancement yet."
"What Patrol?" asked Will.
"Beaver, Chicago!" was the reply.
"That's my patrol!" exclaimed Will in amazement.
"You're the scoutmaster," the boy said, "I've seen you in Chicago."
"Strange I don't remember you!" replied Will.
"Oh, I'm only a tenderfoot," was the answer, "and of course, you don't know all the new boys!"
"What are you doing here?" asked Will.
"I'm running away!" was the reply. "You see," the boy went on, "I got tired of living in Chicago, and sleeping in alleys in summer and warm hallways in winter, so I just made up my mind I'd make a break for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
"But how did you come to walk up into this country?"
"I started out to get a job herding sheep," was the answer, "and I kept travelling, and travelling, without getting any job, and so here I am, hungry, and ready to go back to Chicago on the slightest provocation!"
"What's your name?"
"Well, Chester," Will laughed, "it won't take me long to get you something to eat, and then you'd better go to bed. You'll have to double up with another stranger who came along earlier in the evening, but I guess you can sleep two in a bed, especially as the bed is made up on the ground and you can't fall out."
The boy ate a very hearty supper, and five minutes later Will heard him snoring. When daylight came and the sleepers arose, Katz stumbled out of his tent with angry exclamations on his lips.
"What's doing here?" he shouted. "Have I come into the home of the Forty Thieves? When I went to bed last night I had a police badge, and a rifle, and a revolver, and quite a lot of money! Now I haven't got a thing except the clothes I've got on! What kind of a game do you call this? If it's a joke, it's a mighty poor one!"
Will went to the tent Katz had occupied and looked inside. There was no one there, and he hastened back to the angry man.
"Where's the strange boy who slept with you last night?" he asked.
"Strange boy?" repeated Katz scornfully. "You can't work that game on me! You boys have taken my property, and you'd better be giving it up! If you don't there'll be trouble!"
"We're not afraid of any trouble from you!" Tommy said, with an angry snort. "If you go to accusing us of stealing your stuff, you'll get your crust caved in!"
Then the boy turned to Will with an interrogation point in both eyes. Will saw the question and answered it.
"Shortly after midnight," he said, "a boy who gave the name of Chester Winslow, his age as fourteen, his rank as Tenderfoot, came here and told a hard luck story about tramping from Chicago. I gave him something to eat and put him to bed with Mr. Katz."
"Then the fellow is a little thief! That's all I've got to say about it!" exclaimed Katz, not quite so aggressive, now that he saw that the boys were inclined to resent insults, and remembering that he had no revolver with which to enforce his demands!
Shortly after breakfast the figures of four burros, heavily laden, and two men appeared at the south, heading directly for the camp.
"There's my associate bringing in the burros and the provisions!" Katz shouted.
"And there's our messenger!" whispered Tommy to Will.
THE CASE IS STATED
"It may be that your messenger has come in with my associate," Katz blustered, as the little caravan came nearer to the camp, "but if I'm not very much mistaken, both men are here to assist me!"
"You must need a lot of assistance!" Tommy said, with a wrinkling of his freckled nose. "You look the part, too!"
"Now see here, young man," exclaimed Katz, angrily. "I don't want any lip from you boys. I've been robbed in this camp, and as soon as my men come up I'm going to know whether my property is here or not!"
"If you try any funny business with us," Sandy cut in, "you'll get your block knocked off!"
"We'll see about that when my men come up!" retorted Katz, defiantly. "I'm not going to submit to being held up by four boys who ought to be spanked and put to bed instead of being permitted to roam about the mountains robbing unwary travellers."
Tommy was about to make an angry reply, but Will motioned for him to remain silent. No more was said until the two men came up with their heavily-loaded burros. Katz was first to address the newcomers.
"Well, Cullen," he said, extending a hand to a short, heavily-built man with a dissipated-looking face, "I'm glad you came in on time. I am also glad that you brought a man in with you, and plenty of provisions," he added with a look of challenge at the boys.
"Why," replied Cullen, "I don't know anything about this fellow with me. He came out of Green River with his two burros just ahead of me, and so we decided to travel together. I should judge from what he said that he's looking for the camp we have just blundered into."
Katz stepped back as if annoyed at the statement, and finally drew Cullen away to one side, where they engaged in a whispered conversation.
In the meantime, the messenger advanced toward Will and extended a sealed envelope. He was a well-built young fellow with a clean-shaven face which gave every indication of intelligence and determination.
"I guess you're the boys I'm looking for," he said, with a smile, "I'm John Johnson, of Chicago, special messenger at this time for Mr. Horton."
"We're glad to see you," Will answered, shaking the young man's hand heartily. "We have been waiting for instructions, and, besides," he continued, "this cheap skate that you found here is trying to make us trouble over something which took place in the camp last night."
"You think he's a cheap skate, do you?" Johnson asked, with a significant smile. "Well, I don't think anything about it. I know it. That's Joe Katz, one of the rankest plain-clothes policemen on the Chicago force! The fellow who came in with me is Ed. Cullen, another imitation detective. Now tell me what took place last night."
Will related the story of the arrival of the boy and of the claim made by Katz in the morning. He explained how the detective had threatened them all when the loss of his property was discovered. Also, how he had renewed his threats when he believed that he would have the backing of both newcomers. Johnson smiled at the recital.
"Now, about this boy," he said, without referring to the two detectives or the threats. "I wish you would describe him to me as accurately as possible. Tell me exactly how he looked and how he talked."
Will gave as complete a description of the boy as possible, and also repeated the account the lad had given of himself. Johnson threw back his head and laughed until the echoes came back from the mountains.
"Well, boys," he said, "you seem to have lighted in a hornet's nest the first jump out of the box. And so the kid stole the detective's badge and weapons and money, did he?" he went on, with another roar of laughter. "That's about the best thing I've heard yet!"
"I don't see anything funny about it!" replied Will.
"You will directly," replied Johnson. "Read your instructions, and then I'll tell you all about this boy, and all about these two imitation detectives. Then you'll see how funny this incident is."
Will opened the sealed envelope and held up a sheet of paper which was entirely blank, except for eight words and a signature written in the middle of the page. The words were:
"Introducing Mr. John Johnson. He'll tell the story."
The signature was that of the famous criminal lawyer who had induced the boys to undertake the mission to the Great Divide.
"It won't take very long for me to read the instructions," Will laughed, as the other boys gathered around him. "It seems to be up to you to tell us what we want to know!"
"Yes, that's the idea!" replied Johnson. "Mr. Horton explained to me that he didn't care to put what he had to say to you into writing. But perhaps we'd better get rid of these imitation fly-cops," he added, nodding his head toward the two Chicago detectives. "We don't want them hanging around the camp while we are making our plans."
Katz and Cullen saw that they were being regarded with suspicion and at once came forward to where the boys stood.
"I've been talking the matter of the robbery over with Cullen," Katz said, with a smile intended to be conciliating, "and he says that he's heard of this boy before, and that he's a noted thief. And so," the detective continued, "I'm very glad to be able to apologize to you for anything I might have said at a time when I was excited over my loss. I am satisfied now that you boys are friendly to me, and I sincerely hope that we'll often meet while we are in the hills."
Tommy was about to make some angry reply, as the insincerity of the man was plainly discernible, but Will gave him a nudge in the back which caused him to change his mind.
"And now," Cullen began, "that everything is satisfactorily explained, perhaps we'd better be on our way!"
"That's a fact!" exclaimed Katz. "I'm very much obliged to the boys for their friendly shelter and their well-cooked meals, and I hope they'll all come and partake of our hospitality as soon as we make permanent camp. We'll take steps to let you know where we are," he added, as the two turned toward their burros and led off to the north.
Tommy could not give over the thought of landing an irritating observation as the men walked away by the side of their beasts.
"Remember," he cried, "that the two train robbers and the cowboy viligance committee went, in that direction last night! You fellows would better watch out, or you'll get mixed up with hold-up men!"
Katz turned an angry face toward the boy, muttered something to his companion, and went on without speaking.
"Those fellows won't dare to sleep a single night after that!" laughed Johnson. "They're scared right now!"
"I don't know anything about Cullen," Tommy answered with a grin, "but I know that the man Katz is a false alarm. You should have seen him take to his heels last night, when the train robbers rushed through the camp. I'd like to know what he's in here for, anyway!"
"That's the very thing I'm here to explain!" replied Johnson. "The story," he continued, "begins with the death of Thomas T. Fremont, a Chicago banker, some weeks ago."
"I remember the case," Will interrupted. "The police declare that the man was murdered, while his relatives insist that he might have committed suicide."
"That's exactly the point," Johnson went on. "The police are working on the theory that Fremont was murdered at his private room at the bank one hot night in July. The relatives declare that there was no reason whatever for him to have committed suicide, yet they insist that he must have done so. Now, understand me," Johnson continued, "the relatives are all interested in the defense of a disinherited son of the banker who is charged with the crime of murder. And so, you see, when the police ask them to point to some one fact substantiating the suicide theory they are unable to do so.
"The result of this peculiar situation is that the police insist that the relatives are advancing the suicide theory solely for the purpose of securing the acquittal of the son. To the average citizen, it would seem that the police are right. The son was always a thorn in the flesh of his father. He has squandered thousands of dollars in riotous living, and brought no end of disgrace on the family whose name he bears. And still the relatives insist that he is innocent, and are willing to spend a million in order to prevent his dying the death of a murderer. Mr. Horton represents the relatives."
"I begin to see daylight!" Will exclaimed. "I guess this case isn't such a little baby affair as we thought it might be!"
"Indeed it is no baby case!" exclaimed Johnson. "The family of the dead banker have a well-defined theory concerning the death of the old man which might help their case with the police if they would only present it to the chief. This, however, they refuse to do, declaring that the police would only take advantage of the confidence and use the information received to the prejudice of the prisoner."
"I don't blame them for doubting the honesty of the police!" declared Tommy. "The detectives are certainly a bum lot!"
"This theory," continued Mr. Johnson, "insists that there was a second person in the private office of the banker that hot July night. It is claimed that this person went to the office to secure financial help from the banker. It is said, too, that he possesses at this time positive proof, in the form of written documents, showing that Fremont committed suicide. The family believes this proof to be perfect."
"Then why don't they find this fellow and bring him forward?" asked Will.
"That is just what they are trying to do," replied Johnson. "That is just what you boys are expected to do!" he added with a smile. "You are expected to bring this witness forward, and so establish the innocence of the son. That's what you're here for."
"That's nice!" exclaimed Tommy. "That's an easy little undertaking for four school boys! When other means fail, hire Boy Scouts!"
"That's right!" replied Johnson.
"And we won't see him if those two imitation detectives get to him first!" the boy went on.
"And that's right too," Johnson answered. "For my part, I can't understand how the Chicago police department got wise to the whereabouts of Wagner at this time. When it was arranged to send you boys out here in quest of him, it was understood that the police had no clue whatever as to his whereabouts. In fact, we all believed that the officers had abandoned the search for the escaped convict."
"Well, they're here all right!" Sandy cut in. "And look here," he went on, "we've got something worse than imitation detectives in our midst! We've got a couple of train robbers, and a band of cowboy vigilantes!"
"Exactly!" Johnson agreed. "And you've got something equally dangerous for the purposes of our cause. You've got that fourteen-year-old Chester Winslow, whose name isn't Winslow at all, but Chester Wagner, son of the escaped convict!"
"Jerusalem!" exclaimed Tommy. "That boy didn't do a thing to Will, did he?" he added with a roar of laughter. "He told him a story about coming in on blind baggage, and sized up the camp, and stole the badge and the weapons and money of the detective sent in here to capture his father. Just think of the kid coming in here and stealing the detective's badge! He'd have taken his necktie if he'd 'a' thought of it!"
"I thought you'd see something humorous in the occurrence as soon as you found out about the boy!" laughed Johnson.
"The little rascal!" shouted Sandy. "The nerve of him! To come in here and steal the badge of the detective sent out to catch his father! Say," he went on, "I hope we'll run across that boy and make friends with him. I rather like his grit!"
"You won't be apt to find him as long as he thinks it necessary to keep his father in hiding!" Johnson suggested.
"He's an awful little liar!" exclaimed Will.
"I guess you'd lie, too," laughed Tommy, "if you had the same motive for lying that he had. He's standing by his father like a brick! And I won't lay it up against him if he tells lies enough to fill a book! He drew one friend in me when he stole that policeman's badge."
"These detectives," Will asked in a moment, "are here to take Wagner back to the penitentiary if they can find him, I suppose?"
"That's the idea! Unless some one of the relatives has leaked, the police do not understand that Wagner is a factor in the Fremont case. They are here to take him back to the penitentiary if they can find him and that's all they know about it."
"Well," Tommy exclaimed, "let them get him and take him back to the penitentiary! As soon as he gets run in for the remainder of his sentence he'll tell about being in the banker's private office that hot July night, and that will secure the release of the boy who is charged with the murder. It seems to me that the police are helping along this case."
"Not so you could notice it!" replied Johnson. "The fact is," he went on, "Wagner is entirely innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He has had what the officers call a vindictive grouch on ever since the day he was sent to prison. In other words, he is at war with every person in the world except his son, the boy who told you such pretty fairy stories last night. If he is ever retaken and sent back to the penitentiary, he will never open his lips, not even if the accused son dies on the scaffold."
"And that's another beautiful little complication!" exclaimed Sandy.
"The friends of the accused man," continued Johnson, "must find Wagner and contract to establish his innocence. If the police get him first, we lose our case. I say this positively because there is no doubt that he will kill an officer or two before he is taken. Now you boys see exactly what you have undertaken to do."
"It's interesting, anyhow!" Tommy declared.
"Reads like a novel!" cried Sandy.
"Think of that little rat coming here and stealing the detective's badge!" laughed George. "It's a sure thing he'll lead those amateur officers a merry dance while they are in the hills! If I could just get hold of him, I wouldn't mind helping him along now and then!"
"Well, get hold of him then," advised Johnson.
"But how?" asked Will. "Why, from this time on, you might as well try to catch a flea in a load of hay as to get your hands on that boy! He can find you, but you can't find him!"
"But he was hungry last night!" Tommy explained. "And he may become hungry again!"
A CHASE IN THE NIGHT
Shortly after dinner Johnson decided to make a start on his return trip at once. It would take him, he said, two days in addition to the half day to reach Green River, and he was due in San Francisco on the evening of the third day. One of the burros was relieved of his burden of provisions and the young man started away, leaving the boys feeling rather lonely and also rather overloaded with responsibility!
"Do you really think Wagner and the boy are out of provisions?" asked Tommy as twilight settled down over the camp.
"I don't see how they can procure provisions," Will suggested.
"We've just got to find out!" exclaimed Sandy. "You must remember," he continued, "that this Chester Wagner is a Tenderfoot in the Beaver Patrol, Chicago. He's afraid of us, but we've just got to help him out! We wouldn't be good Boy Scouts if we didn't! Suppose we put up a smoke signal for help and see if he'll come."
"Oh, yes, he'll come—not!" exclaimed Tommy.
"We can try it, anyway," insisted Sandy.
The lad carried embers from the campfire a short distance to the west and built another roaring fire. Then he set about gathering green grass in order to make a greater volume of smoke.
"You'll have to hurry with your telegraph apparatus," laughed George, "if you want the boy to read your signal by daylight. It'll be so dark in half an hour that he couldn't see a column of smoke fifty feet away! Perhaps he isn't near enough to see them, anyway!"
"If I do all I can," Sandy declared, "I won't be to blame if he doesn't see them. I believe we ought to find some way to help that kid!"
The fires were now burning at a great rate, and Sandy heaped huge armfuls of green grass on top of the blazing sticks, with the result that two great columns of white smoke lifted to the evening sky.
When the grass burned out and the smoke became thinner the boy put on more and sat listening patiently for some sound, watching intently for an answering signal from the hills.
"I guess it's no good!" Sandy declared, mournfully, as the third supply of grass burned down. "The chances are that the train robbers and the imitation detectives have frightened Wagner and the kid out of the hills."
"I don't believe he'll come if he does see it," Will declared.
After a time the boys permitted one of the fires to die out and began preparations for supper. Tommy went back to one of the tents for the knives and forks directly, and in a moment came rushing back without any knives or forks but with a folded paper in his hand.
"Look here," he exclaimed excitedly, "while I was entering the tent something hit me a clip on the back. When I turned around to see what foolishness you fellows were up to, I found a piece of rock lying on the ground at my feet and close beside it, this piece of paper."
"Do you think the paper was wrapped around the rock?" asked George.
"Of course it was!" replied Tommy. "You can see the folds now, and there's the place where a a corner of the rock cut a hole!"
Will turned a searchlight on the paper, now held outstretched in Tommy's hands, and burst into a laugh as he read the words written there:
"Nix on the help signal."
"The little rascal!" exclaimed Tommy, reading the sentence.
"He's wise, that boy!" declared Sandy.
"He thinks we're setting a trap for him," Will explained, "and I can't say that I blame him much for sending just that kind of a message."
"Anyway," Tommy went on, "it shows that he isn't far away. If he'll only hover around within reaching distance, we'll soon convince him that we don't mean him or his father any harm."
"I wonder if he took any provisions with him when he ran away this time!" laughed George. "I really hope he did. That is, if they haven't got any in their own camp."
The boys looked at the provisions which had been taken out for supper, and discovered that two loaves of bread and several tins of preserved meats had been taken.
"Good for him!" shouted Tommy.
After supper it was arranged that two of the boys should watch the camp until one o'clock, and then awake the others, who were to stand guard until morning. Tommy and Sandy were to take the first watch.
"I don't think there's much use of anyone standing guard!" exclaimed Will. "Our lovely burros over there will probably lift up their voices if any stranger comes nosing around in the dark."
"Anyhow," Tommy suggested, "we may be able to get sight of young Wagner if we keep watch all night."
Will and George were in bed by nine o'clock, and then Sandy and Tommy began planning the excursion into the hills which each one, independent of the other, had determined to make.
"Now it's just this way," Tommy began, "wherever those fellows are, they have a fire. It's September, but the nights are cold here, just the same. Now, you remain here and watch the camp and I'll make my way to one of the summits to the north and take a peep over the country. If I see a campfire, and it isn't too far away, I'll sneak down and see whether it belongs to Wagner, to the cheap detectives, to the train robbers, or to the cowboy vigilantes."
"That's quite a collection of interests to be assembled in one spot on the Great Divide!" laughed Sandy.
"Oh, we always get into some kind of a mess like this," grumbled Tommy. "We could have a nice peaceful time catching Wagner if the detectives, and the train robbers, and the cowboys had remained away. I hope the cowboys will catch the robbers and lug them out, anyway!"
"I have an idea that the detectives will soon get tired of wandering around in the hills and meeting grizzly bears, and rattlesnakes, and wolverines every half hour."
"Grizzly bears!" exclaimed Tommy. "What are you talking about grizzly bears for?"
"There are more grizzly bears in Wyoming," declared Sandy, "than in all the other western states put together. The Bad Lands are full of them, and up in the Yellowstone National Park, they have them trained to eat with a knife and fork!"
"All right!" exclaimed Tommy. "I'll take your word for it, but I don't believe it! I know there are rattlesnakes, all right, but I don't believe there's a grizzly bear within a hundred miles of this spot!"
The words were hardly out of the boy's mouth before a rumbling growl came to the ears of the watchers.
"There!" cried Tommy. "You've called the roll and that's the first response. But I'll bet he's the only one around here!" the boy added.
Sandy laid a hand on his friend's shoulder to invoke silence.
"Listen," he said, "that's no bear!"
"Perhaps it's a rattlesnake, then!" scorned Tommy.
"It's a boy!" declared Sandy. "That's what it is!"
Both lads darted into the darkness, waving electric searchlights as they advanced, and calling out in such words as a Boy Scout would be apt to understand. They ran for some distance, until they fell over a bit of rocky ground, and then stood looking toward a point in the darkness from which a sound of footsteps came.
"You go on back to camp," whispered Tommy to Sandy, "and make all the noise you can going, and talk to yourself, so he'll think we're talking together. I'll put out my light and follow that chump by the noise he makes. I guess I can do it all right!"
"Aw, let's both go," pleaded Sandy.
"One's got to go back to camp to put him off his guard!" insisted Tommy, "Run along, like a good little boy, now," he added with a grin.
Sandy departed, talking to himself, and trying his best to make noise enough for two boys, while Tommy turned off his light and crept forward in the darkness in the direction of the sounds he had heard.
For a time he seemed to gain on the person who was making his way some hundred yards or more ahead of him, but at last, try as he might, the sound of footsteps gradually died away, and there were only the sounds of the night in the boy's ears.
He paused, after a time, and threw himself down on the rocky slope. The campfire seemed to be a long distance away, now, and the boy had just decided to give over his search at that time and return to the camp.
When he started to rise, however, he found a heavy hand pressed down on either shoulder. His amazement was so great that for a moment he sat perfectly still.
But there were cowboy vigilantes, train robbers, and detectives somewhere in the hills, so the boy was not quite so sure of the personality of the other as he had been at the first instant of contact.
"Well?" he said in a moment.
"Who are you?" came the question, not in the voice of a boy, but in the gruff tones of a man who was taking no pains to make a good impression.
"A boy from the camp down yonder," Tommy answered.
The boy was thinking fast. This might be one of the detectives, or it might be one of the train robbers, or it might be one of the cowboys, or it might be the escaped convict himself.
"What are you boys camping there for?" was asked.
"Vacation!" was the reply.
"Which way did the cowboys go?" was the next question.
Tommy needed no further introduction to the man who was clinging to his shoulders with a grip that was positively painful. No one but the train robbers would be apt to be interested in the direction taken by the cowboys. Tommy declares to this day that he felt the hair rising straight up on his head when he realized that he was talking with one of the hold-up men. He also says that his teeth chattered with fright.
"The last we heard of the cowboys," he answered, "they were going straight north. I thought you went that way, too," he added.
"We couldn't get too far away from our base of supplies," replied the other with a cynical laugh. "We were just thinking of going back to your camp for a square meal when we heard you blundering up the slope. You'll have to feed us for a few days, young fellow!"
A DETECTIVE AND A ROBBER
Half way back to the camp, Sandy crouched down at the sound of approaching footsteps.
"I'll bet that's Tommy trying to give me a scare," was the boy's thought.
He listened intently for a moment, without hearing a repetition of the noise, and started on again.
"If I thought that really was Tommy," he mused, "I'd arrange a neat little surprise for him. He's always up to his tricks."
The sound of heavy breathing came to his ears directly, and, not having the least doubt that the approaching figure was that of his chum, he waited for an instant until the labored breathing seemed to be passing the spot where he stood and leaped forward.
Much to his amazement he struck a pair of broad, muscular shoulders instead of the slender shoulders of his chum and felt himself in the grasp of a pair of powerful hands.
"What are you prowling around in the night for?" was asked.
Sandy pulled away at the hand which was smothering him and taking the hint, his captor released him for a moment.
"I can't talk with my mouth and nose all stopped up!" returned the boy. "What did you want to go and do that for?"
"What are you prowling about in the night for?" repeated the other.
Sandy thought he recognized the voice as that of Katz, the plain-clothes policeman who had lied on the previous evening regarding his residence and his calling.
"I might ask the same of you," replied Sandy, mopping his face with his handkerchief. "What are you prowling around for?"
"Keeping an eye on your camp," replied the other gruffly.
"What for?" demanded Sandy.
"Because you're suspicious characters."
"You're Katz, aren't you?" asked Sandy.
"Who told you that?" snarled the other.
"John Johnson," was the reply.
"I recognized him as one of Horton's men," declared Katz.
"That's what he is!" Sandy answered.
"What has Horton got to do with you?"
"That's some more of our business!" replied the boy.
"Now, look here," the detective said in a moment, "we're here, as you probably know by this time, in search of an escaped convict. We have positive information that he is hiding somewhere in this district. We have brought in plenty of supplies, and intend to remain here until we find him. He's a slippery fellow, but we'll get him yet."
"That doesn't interest me any," suggested Sandy.
"But I'm going to interest you in just about one minute!" declared Katz. "The boy who stole my property and left your camp in the night is likely to return there at any time. We want that boy. Will you help us get him? If you don't, you're likely to get into trouble yourselves."
"I guess there isn't much chance of his coming back to us!" Sandy answered. "I guess you know that yourself."
"You know who he is?" ask the detective.
"We've been told," was the reply, "that he is the son of the man you're hunting for, but we don't believe it."
"Well, we've made up our minds that he is," Katz went on, "and we've also made up our minds to watch your camp until the boy shows up again. I'll teach him to steal my badge of authority!"
"When you catch him," Sandy requested, "just let us know. We want to see him ourselves. Will you do that?"
"I guess you'll see him before we do," replied Katz, gruffly. "And now, if you don't mind," the detective went on, "I'll just go over to the camp with you and see what the other boys say about him. And while I'm there, you might make me a couple of cups of coffee. I'm a long distance from my camp and quite hungry."
Notwithstanding the impudence of the request, the boy consented to the arrangement and the two were starting away together when the sound of approaching footsteps was heard.
"Gee whiz!" exclaimed Sandy. "This deserted country seems to me about like the corner of State and Madison streets tonight. There's always some one walking around in the dark."
"Suppose we wait and see who it is," suggested the detective.
Now, Sandy had an idea that one of the persons approaching was Tommy and that the other might possibly be Chester Wagner. He had no notion of assisting the detective to get his hands on the boy, and so hung back when Katz would have stepped forward to intercept those who were advancing toward him. Thinking this an attempt to break away, Katz caught the lad by the arm and held fast to him while the others went by.
Sandy was certain that he heard Tommy's voice as the two passed, but was not certain that he recognized the voice of his companion in the low reply which was made. The boy realized that he must have occupied considerable time in his return to camp, after leaving his chum.
"And so, one of your chums was prowling around in the darkness, too," snarled the detective. "Who is that person with him?"
"I don't know," answered Sandy.
"Yes you do know, too!" gritted Katz, "You just came from that direction yourself, and you probably left the two together when you came away."
"You're off there," Sandy answered.
"I'll tell you what I think," the detective went on, "and that is that you boys have been out after that Wagner kid. I believe he's going into the camp with your chum right this minute. Anyway, I'll take you in and find out about it."
As the two advanced toward the campfire they watched in vain for the two figures which had gone on ahead.
"You walk in there and see whether that boy thief is there or not," commanded the detective. "And remember," he went on, threateningly, "that I'm waiting here in the darkness with an automatic revolver in my hand, so you'd better not attempt any funny business!"
When he reached Tommy's side he saw that the boy was frying bacon and eggs and making coffee. The large skillet used by the boys contained at least half a dozen eggs and about half a pound of breakfast bacon.
"Where's your friend?" Sandy asked in a whisper.
Tommy laid a finger on his lips as a request for low-voiced conversation. All the time he kept busy with the skillet.
"He's back there watching us with a loaded automatic in his hand," whispered the boy. "I wish one of the boys would get up and put a bullet through his head. That's what he deserves!"
"Who is it?" whispered Sandy.
"One of the train robbers!" was the startling reply.
"Where'd you get him?"
"He geezled me out here on the slope!"
"And came in with you and ordered his dinner?"
"That's it!" was the reply.
Sandy sat down on the grass beside the fire and chuckled until he was red in the face. Tommy almost permitted the bacon to burn while he watched his chum with wide-open eyes.
"If that train robber should send a bullet out this way, you wouldn't think it so funny!" Tommy declared. "He's a mighty suspicious fellow. He wouldn't permit me to wake any of the boys to help get supper."
"Look here," whispered Sandy, "I've got that imitation detective out there waiting for me to tell him whether Chester Wagner is here or not. He says he's hungry, too, and insists that I give him a night lunch. Now I'll tell you what we'll do," the boy continued. "I'll go and steer the detective up against the train robber, and we'll see what he'll do."
Before Tommy could reply, Sandy was away in the darkness, whistling softly to the detective.
"Say," he said, when Katz came lumbering into the edge of the illumination, "the boy isn't there, but I've got good news for you, just the same. The man who went in with my chum is one of the train robbers the cowboys are in search of. There's ten thousand dollars reward offered for him, and all you've got to do is to walk in there, hold a gun to his head, and march him off to Green River. You ought to give me half the reward, though," the boy added, "for you wouldn't have caught him only for me."
"All right," whispered the detective in a shaking voice. "I'll creep back into the shadows and come up from behind. When you go back, point with your hand to where he is. I'll be right there with a gun on him in half a minute!"
"All right," replied Sandy, and the detective disappeared from view.
Then the boy walked back to Tommy's side and explained what sort of circus there would be there in about a minute.
THE CALL OF THE BEAVER
"Oh, I don't believe there'll be any circus!" whispered Tommy.
"And why not?"
"Because Katz will get the fellow handcuffed so quick by that there won't be any fun in it! There's a big reward out for that fellow!"
"Huh!" grinned Sandy. "You didn't see how scared the detective was when I told him the train robber was here by our fire. It's a hundred to one that the train robber will give the detective a swift kick in the pants and go back to his own camp."
The boys listened and waited for a considerable length of time, but heard no evidence of the approach of the detective.
"Say," Tommy whispered, "this is a pretty nice supper I've been getting for that robber. It looks good enough for me to eat myself!"
"We can eat it after Katz takes the robber away," suggested Sandy.
"I don't see anything of Katz, do you?" asked Tommy with a wink.
"Je-rusalem!" exclaimed Sandy. "You don't think he's run away, do you? He wouldn't do that, I'm sure!"
"He wouldn't," laughed Tommy. "I'll bet that fellow's running away now with a face so pale it leaves a white streak in the night."
"Well, it takes him a long time to get here, anyway," admitted Sandy.
"You just wait a minute," Tommy chuckled, "and I'll fix this business all right. You just tend this skillet until I come back."
Tommy moved away toward where the robber sat on the ground, watching every move that was made, and keeping a particularly keen eye on Sandy, whose temporary absence from the camp had attracted his suspicions.
"Look here," Tommy whispered, "we're not anxious to see you boys get into trouble, and so we're going to give you a tip. Sandy went out a moment ago to steer away one of the detectives who came in from Chicago last night."
The hold-up man got softly to his feet and began moving out of the light of the fire. Tommy urged him by look and a motion to remain where he was for the present.
"I didn't know that there were any detectives from Chicago in here," he said. "They must have made a quick jump to get here!"
"I guess they did," replied Tommy. "One of them was here before you were yesterday. He chased you up the valley, but came back, saying that he couldn't get a shot."
"Pretty nervy kind of a fellow, eh?" asked the train robber.
"He looks to me," declared Tommy, "as if he'd fight a rattlesnake and give him the first bite. He may have a swarm of his men in the vicinity of the camp, and if I were you, I'd turn away to the east and get out of sight as soon as possible."
"I can't fight a whole army," declared the train robber, as, crouching low, he moved away.
"Wait a minute," whispered Tommy chuckling so that he was afraid the other would discover the merriment in his voice. "Why don't you wait and have some of the supper I've been cooking for you?"
The train robber did not even pause to hear the conclusion of the boy's remarks, and Tommy went back to the fire and lay down and rolled back and forth until Sandy threw a cup of water into his face.
"What do you think of that!" he exclaimed. "There's a bum Chicago detective chasing off to the north at a forty mile gait, because he thinks there's a train robber after him, and there's a a train robber chasing off to the east at a forty-mile gait because he thinks there's a Chicago detective after him! Some day," the boy added, "I'm going to make a motion picture scenario of that."
While the boys were enjoying the joke, Will and George came out of the tent where they had been sleeping. Both looked grave when the incidents of the night were related to them.
"It means," Will declared, "that we are suspected by the train robbers of harboring a detective, and suspected by the detective of harboring the convict and his son."
"Aw, they won't come back here again, any of them!" asserted Tommy.
"Don't you think they won't," replied Will. "Here," he added, as Tommy dipped into the skillet of bacon and eggs. "What are you boys doing with the third or fourth supper?"
"I cooked this for the train robber!" grinned Tommy, "How'd you like to have a few bites of it?"
"I don't mind!" declared Will.
"Of the four parties representing four diverse interests," Will said, at the conclusion of the meal, "two have been represented here tonight. Before morning we may receive a call from the cowboys and the escaped convict. The visits might not be very agreeable ones but, still, they would complete the roll-call."
"You remember that trip to the Florida Everglades, don't you?" asked Tommy, with a most satisfying yawn. "Well, if you haven't forgotten all about it, you'll remember that we didn't have any sleep there for a couple of nights, and that I actually began to grow thin because of being kept awake so much."
"It was your own fault," insisted Sandy.
"That may be," replied Tommy, "but, all the same, I'm not going to let anything like that happen on this trip. I'm going to bed right now, and there's nothing on the face of the earth that can get me out of bed again until morning."
"That's me, too!" declared Sandy.
The boys entered the tent recently vacated, drew down the flap and were soon in bed, and asleep. Will and George, sitting by the fire, discussing the unusual combination of circumstances, heard a succession of sounds which any member of the Beaver patrol, Boy Scouts of America, would have recognized instantly.
It was the beaver call which consists in slapping the open palms together violently in imitation of the play of the flat tail of the beaver upon the surface of the water.
"Slap, slap, slap!" came the challenge from the darkness.
"That's a Beaver!" exclaimed George.
"Slap, slap, slap!" went the reply from Will's open palms.
"Why doesn't he come in?" asked George in a moment.
"I guess I'll have to go and find out!" declared Will. "This, you see," he added with a smile, "is the third interest to be represented here tonight. There is no doubt but that we'll hear from the cowboys before morning. It never rains but it pours."
"Slap, slap, slap!" came the call from the darkness again.
Will gave a low whistle in recognition of the signal and stepped forward. An answering whistle directed his steps, and presently he saw the light of the fire shining on the pale face of the lad who had stolen the badge of office from the detective.
"Why didn't you come on in?" asked Will.
"Why," was the reply, "I wasn't afraid of you boys, but I didn't know who might be watching the camp. I've been loitering around here most of the time since dark and just got the courage to call you out. Some one chased me away once."
"Are you hungry?" asked Will. "If you are, now's the time to say so. Last call for dinner in the dining car!"
"Yes, I'm hungry," was the reply, "but I haven't got time to wait for supper. If you'll snatch a loaf of bread and can of something and come along with me, you'll do the greatest favor one Boy Scout ever did for another. You'll come, won't you?"
"Sure I will," was the reply, "and I'll bring something more than a loaf of bread and a can of something," he went on.
"You can't carry much," replied Chester, "for we've got a rocky road to climb, and we'll have to go fast, too!"
"You haven't told me what the trouble is, yet!"
"It's father!" the boy answered hesitatingly. "I suppose you know now that I didn't tell you the truth when I was at your camp. I saw John Johnson there after I stole that bum detective's badge and ran away, and I suppose he told you all about me."
"Yes, he did," replied Will, rejoicing inwardly that the very thing they had been wishing for had taken place.
All he had to do now was to win the confidence of the boy, find his way to the father, and so clear up the mystery of the Fremont case.
"Yes," Will went on, "he told me all about you and all about your father, and I've been wondering ever since how you, a Boy Scout, could find the nerve to make up such a mess of lies as you told to me."
"I wanted to find out what you were here for, and who you were, and get something to eat," replied the boy, "and so I told you the first thing that came into my head. And now," he continued, "I'm going to tell you something that I wish might be classed as a fairy tale later on."
"Go ahead," answered Will. "Two days ago I had no idea that I'd ever become mixed up in the Fremont case, but I'll tell you right now that I'm becoming interested in it."
"A few days ago," the boy began, "father fell from a ledge of rock near our hiding place and injured his head. I have taken as good care of him as I could, but it was impossible for me to remain with him all the time, because I had to fish and hunt and provide food for both of us."
"You're welcome to any provisions we have," said Will, feeling genuine sympathy for the boy.
"That isn't the point now," Chester went on.
"While I was in your camp last night waiting, for the chance to steal provisions to take back to father, he left the hiding place. I know he's out of his head, and so I believe him to be wandering about the hills in a demented condition. There's no knowing what will happen to him if he is not found and placed in hiding again. I want you to go and help me find him. The detectives who came in last night, or some time yesterday, are here to take him back to prison, and they're likely to get him at any minute if he continues to wander about while insane from the recent injury to his head. There's no one to help me but you. Will you go?"
Here was the very chance the Boy Scouts had been waiting for.
ARRESTED AS SPIES
"Of course, we'll go with you!" replied Will, in answer to the boy's anxious question. "Do you think anything can be done tonight?"
"I think we ought to begin the search tonight," replied Chester. "One of father's hobbies is the campfire. It is my idea that if he has matches he will build himself a rousing fire, if he comes to dry wood. If he doesn't do this, he's likely to make his way to the first campfire he sees. I was in hopes that he'd come here."
Will called his chums into the tent for a general discussion of the matter, Chester remaining just outside the fire line. The boy seemed to have a mortal fear of being watched and followed.
Before entering fully into the conference, Will carried a liberal supper out to the hungry boy. Chester said that he had eaten very little since disposing of the provisions taken from the camp. Owing to the sudden disappearance of his father, he had not had time to hunt and fish. Will thought he had never seen a boy eat so industriously.
"Why don't he come into the tent," queried Tommy, as Will returned.
"He's afraid some one's watching the camp," was the reply.
"What if there is some one watching the camp," Tommy insisted, "they'll see something's going on and follow us when we go away with Chester. So he might just as well come on in!"
"Watch us when we go away?" repeated George. "Who do you think is going away with the boy in search of his father?"
"I'm going, for one!" declared Tommy.
"Not so you could notice it!" Will cut in. "You and Sandy have been doing all the scouting tonight, and now George and I will take a turn at it!"
Tommy winked slyly at Sandy but said nothing.
Will, however, caught the look which passed between the two boys, and declared that he meant to tie them both up before he left the camp.
"You boys are always running away, and always getting into trouble!" he declared. "You remember what a scrape you got us into down in the Everglades. If it hadn't been for the Seminole, you'd 'a' had us all under ground before we'd been there two days!"
"Aw, who said anything about leaving camp?" demanded Sandy.
"No one said anything about it," returned the other, "but I understand what you boys have in your minds, and I'll tell you right now that I don't think it's right for you to leave the camp until we return."
"Of course we won't!" declared Tommy.
"Well, I've said all I'm going to say about it!" Will went on. "Of course, you'll go if the notion comes into your heads, anyway, so what's the use? I hope you'll get into something that'll keep you home for a week if you do go out tonight."
"All right," laughed Tommy. "We know all about you! If we got into trouble anywhere, you'd be the first one to help get us out."
"And now about plans for the search," Will went on, without seeming to notice the last remark of the boy, "it is nearly midnight now, and we may not be back by morning, so perhaps we'd better take something to eat with us. We may be miles from camp at sunrise."
"And when we find Wagner, we may find a hungry man," George added.
"That's a fact!" cried Tommy darting away to the provision box.
In a very short time the boy brought a great package of egg and ham sandwiches to the two lads who were about to start away.
"Now, don't eat all this truck before sunrise," Tommy advised. "As George says, when you find Wagner, you'll find a hungry man."
After stowing the sandwiches away in their pockets, and seeing that their automatics and searchlights were in good condition, the boys went out to the place where they had left Chester and found him sound asleep in the long grass.
"The poor fellow is about all in!" exclaimed George.
"I wish we could get him to remain in camp while we make the search!" Will suggested. "He's in no shape to take a long trip into the mountains."
"And still," George began, "we haven't any idea where to look for his father. And the boy may have a very clear notion as to where to look first. I guess, after all, we'll have to take him with us!"
"I suppose so," Will agreed, "but I tell you what we can do. We can get him to tell us what he knows about his father's habits and inclinations, and then ask him to rest up while we investigate some of the points suggested. Perhaps he'll do that."
"I guess he'll have to!" smiled George. "He's so sound asleep now that we could carry him bodily into the tent and he'd never know it!"
It was quite a difficult task to wake the boy, but at last when he sat up rubbing his eyes he pretended, as all boys will, that he had just dozed off for a minute.
"I was pretty tired," he declared, "and I guess the supper I ate made me a little bit sleepy."
"Well," Will said, "we may as well be on our way. I suppose you'll take us first to the place where you and your father have been hiding."
"That was my intention."
The sky was clearing now, and the light of the stars made it possible for the boys to walk at a swift pace over the level valley and up the easy slope which led to the top of a low and rocky range of hills lying at the western foot of Atlantic peak.
When the boys finally reached the summit of the ridge, Chester led the way down an incline facing the east to a gulch which ran in between the great mountain and the lower range.
"Here's where we've been stopping," he said, pointing to what is known in that part of the country as a limestone cave. "It's quite comfortable in there if you have a fire near the entrance, and no one can see the blaze from the valley, so it's reasonably safe."
The boys stepped into the cavern and looked around. A rude couch had been made of the boughs of spruce and white pine, and saplings had been roughly hewn into a table and two chairs.
"You must have been here some time?" asked Will, pointing to the skins on the floor.
"Several long, dreary weeks," was the reply.
"Did you come here with your father?"
"Yes, we came together."
"Were you with him in Chicago just before he left for Wyoming?"
The boy opened his eyes wider.
"How did you know we were ever in Chicago?" he asked.
"We know more about your father and yourself than you think we do."
"Perhaps," said the boy suspiciously, "I have done wrong in asking you for assistance."
"Oh, you've come to the right shop for help," George cut in. "You'll find that we'll help you while you're in the hills, and continue to help you after you get out of the hills. You're a Beaver, you know."
It was on Will's lips to tell the boy exactly why they were there, and how glad they were that he had come to them in his trouble, but he refrained from doing so.
After half an hour's walk they came to the place where the gulch opened into a small valley.
"I think," Chester said, as they stepped into one of these openings, "that father may be hiding somewhere in this vicinity."
"Do you think so," asked Will, "because of that light in there?"
"I didn't see any light when I spoke," replied the boy, "but I see the reflection of a fire now. It must be some distance from this opening."
The boys moved forward softly until they came near a campfire which was in a passage connecting the cave they were in with one to the north. When they came close enough they saw three figures sitting before the fire. Chester clutched Will fiercely by the arm and declared that one of the men was his father. He was for rushing forward immediately, but the boys held him back.
"If the other fellows are the detectives," George suggested to Will, "it's all up with us, unless we can get him away."
"But they are not the detectives," replied Will.
"Those fellows are the men who are wanted for the Union Pacific train robbery!"
While the boys were advancing the three men at the fire disappeared as if by magic! The next moment the circle of light showed the figures of half a dozen cowboys darting hither and thither in search of the men who had taken themselves off so suddenly.
Believing that the cowboys might be induced to assist in the search for the missing man, the boys advanced toward the fire. As they did so the cowboys swarmed down upon them. Before they could utter a word of protest they were securely bound with ropes and dragged to the opening.
"We didn't get the robbers," the man who seemed to be leader of the party said, "but we can amuse ourselves lynching these spies!"
A MIDNIGHT BEAR HUNT
"I have heard," Tommy said with a wink, soon after the departure of the boys, "that the best time to get a grizzly bear rug for a Boy Scout club room in Chicago is at moonrise."
"I think I've heard something like that, too," Sandy answered, with a grin. "That is," he went on, "if you want to get a grizzly bear rug for a Boy Scout club room in Chicago in the month of September."
"Yes," Tommy admitted, "I think the month of September was mentioned in the information I received on the subject."
"And the best place to get a grizzly bear rug for a Boy Scout club room in Chicago," Sandy laughed, "is in a range of foot hills built mostly of limestone. You see," the lad continued, "water washes out limestone and leaves caves and holes which the bears occupy. Sometimes these caves and holes furnish accommodation for a whole family of baby bears, I have heard, so we may be able to take a pet cub back to Chicago with us. That would be pretty poor, I guess!"
"Well," Tommy said, rummaging the provision box, "if we start out to get a couple of grizzly bear rugs for a Boy Scout club room in Chicago, we probably won't get back before sunrise, so we may as well take a little something to eat with us."
"Trust you for always taking something to eat with you!" laughed Sandy. "It's a sure thing you'll never starve to death."
The boys provided themselves with plenty of sandwiches and a couple of cans of pork and beans and, after seeing that the fire was safe and not likely to spread to the tents and provisions, and after changing the feeding ground of the burros so that they had plenty of grass, started away toward the foothills.
"Of course," Tommy said as they walked along, "we may find Wagner while we are looking for bear, and Will and George may find bear while they're looking for Wagner. I've heard of such things before now."
The boys crossed the valley to the foothills and clambered up the slope not far north of the spot where their chums and Chester had gained the summit. They descended into the gulch, too, and turned to the left.
"Now," Tommy said, seating himself on the slope, "the moon ought to be up in half an hour. I've heard that at the time the moon comes up bears leave their beds in search of food. We'll just sit here on the slope and watch the line of foothills."
"And I suppose," Sandy scoffed, "that you've got a notion in your nut that a couple of grizzly bears will come walking out into the gulch, take off their hides, and make you a present of them in a nice little speech."
"Now don't get smart, Freshy!" exclaimed Tommy. "According to all accounts, the walls of many of these foothills are punctured with limestone caves. There's where the bears live. From where we sit we can see a long ways to the north, as soon as the moon rises and we may be able to catch sight of a grizzly coming out for an early lunch."
The lads were seated not very far from the entrance to the cavern which had been occupied by Wagner and his son, but they had no knowledge of the fact. It was not their purpose to investigate one cavern at a time, but to watch the valley for anything that might come out of any one of them.
They could see only a short distance when they halted but presently the moon lifted into the sky and diffused a faint light over the hills. It would be some minutes before the direct rays would, strike into the gulch, and so the boys waited, hiding in the shadows, for that time to come.
"I guess we've got one already," Tommy observed, whispering the words excitedly in his chum's ear.
"I don't see anything that looks like a grizzly."
"Can't you see that there's a movement in the shadows about a hundred feet, to the north?" asked Tommy.
"I see something moving but I can't tell what it is."
"It's a bear!" shouted Tommy, taking no pain now to control his voice.
"Yes," exclaimed Sandy, "and it's two bears, if anybody should ask you, and they're coming this way!"
"Then we'd better get back a little ways," advised Tommy.
"I should say so!" cried Sandy. "At least we want to get into a position where they can't get in behind us."
The boys turned back a few paces and sought a position where their backs would be supported by the almost perpendicular wall of the bluff to the west. Then Sandy grinned as he pointed to the south.
"I guess this is a bear convention," he said. "There's another grizzly old scout coming from the other way."
"Three bear rugs," chuckled Tommy.
"Say, look here!" Sandy exclaimed. "Do we stand here and let these brutes come up and smell of our clothes before we do any shooting?"
"We don't do any shooting from here," Tommy answered moving back to the south. "If we should wound those big brutes without shutting off their motive power, they'd chew us into rags, in about three minutes. We've got to get some place where we can run!"
"Then what'd you back up against this rock for?" demanded Sandy.
"I didn't know how many bears there were in the world," grinned Tommy.
The boys moved a few paces and stopped at the mouth of a cavern. Tommy threw his searchlight into the interior and saw only bare walls. On his right as he looked in, appeared to be some sort of connection with the cave beyond.
"Gee—whiz!" he exclaimed. "There seem to be passages and corridors in this big bear tenement building. I wonder if there isn't an elevator, too."
"I wouldn't mind going up a few hundred feet!" suggested Sandy.
The bears came lumbering along toward the cavern where the boys stood, apparently not much interested in the visitors. When the moon rose they snuffed about the crevices along the slope, and finally fixed their attention on the spot where the boys were standing.
Both boys, realizing that a mistake had been made, dashed into the cavern and kept firing as the animals came into view, rather sharply outlined now against the growing moonlight.
"Now you have done it!" cried Sandy.
"Aw, what have I done?" demanded Tommy. "We came out to get grizzly rugs for our clubroom in Chicago, didn't we?"
"Yes, and you went and fired without killing them, and now we've been chased into a hole! If they've got the sense to stand there and wait for us to come out, they'll have a feast of boy flesh in a few hours."
"Huh!" exclaimed Tommy, "I didn't see you bringing down any of the bears, and you shot as often as I did."
"It sure was bum shooting," admitted Sandy.
The bears were now out of view, but the boys knew that they were still watching the entrance to the cavern. Tommy's searchlight showed the entrance to the connection between the two caverns, and the boys lost no more in changing their position. Tommy looked out of the entrance to the hiding place and saw that the brutes had shifted their quarters and were watching from a new position.
"I guess we've got into the kind of a mess Will predicted," Tommy declared. "This looks like we'd have to stand a siege."
Tommy moved to the side of his chum and fired a couple of shots at the sentinel outside.
"Look here," Sandy advised. "You'd better save your bullets!"
"All right!" Tommy answered. "I suppose that's what we're here for—to save bullets!"
"Well, you needn't be throwing them away where there's no chance of hitting anything," grumbled Sandy.
Tommy retreated into the cavern and began investigating the wall with his searchlight.
"If we could only find another corridor in this steam-heated old collection of bear traps," he said, "we might get out of sight of the brutes. I wish we could find a hole leading up to the roof!"
The boys finally found a small opening which led into the wall on the south. After investigating and finding that it connected only with the cavern they had just left, the boys turned back.
Tommy, who was in the lead, sprang back when he came to the main cave with a suddenness which almost threw his chum to the floor.
"Now we've gone and done a fine thing!" he cried. "The bears are out there in the cave we're shut in good and tight!"
LYNCHING IS THREATENED
"Spies!" repeated Will, indignantly, as the cowboys gathered around.
"Yes, spies!" exclaimed the leader of the party excitedly. "You thought you pulled the wool over our eyes down at your camp the other night, but you didn't! We have good reason to believe that the robbers have visited your camp every day and that you fed them!"
"That isn't true!" declared George angrily.
"If you're not in with these bandits, what are you doing here?" demanded another member of the party.
"Why, we came in search of—"
Will closed his teeth with a snap as he realized that on no account must he reveal the real motive for this night visit to the cavern.
"Go on!" shouted the leader.
Will glanced significantly at George and remained silent.
Chester seemed about to speak, but George gave him a nudge with his elbow and the boy remained silent.
"You said you came here in search of some one!" the leader demanded.
"I didn't say anything of the kind," Will contradicted.
"Well, out with it! What did you say?"
"I was about to say that we were prowling around just for the fun of the thing."
"Prowling around in the ante-room of a robbers' den in the middle of the night just for the fun of the thing!" laughed the leader.
"That story is so bald that it's funny!" laughed another member of the party. "You ought to make up something better than that!"
"It's the truth!" answered George.
"Look here!" the leader exclaimed. "If you boys'll tell us where those three men went to, we'll take you into Green River and see that you have a fair trial. If you don't, we'll string you up right here in the mountains!"
"We don't know where they went!" answered Will.
A member of the party who had been called Seth by his companions now stepped forward and began an examination of the Boy Scout badges which adorned the coats of the two lads.
"Where did you get them?" he asked.
"Chicago," was the reply.
"The Beaver Patrol, I see," the man went on.
"Yes, sir!" replied Will.
"You look like a young man," George cut in. "Were you ever a Boy Scout?"
"Hardly," was the reply, "but I have a son who is very much interested in the organization. He belongs to the Eagle Patrol, at Lander, and I hear nothing but Boy Scout rules, and tactics, and that sort of thing, from morning till night."