Chapter XX. An Ending and a Beginning
 

Captain Harmon, of the warship Union, was a brave and capable officer. He understood at once the necessity for the trip to Canton. The conspirators must be identified. The United States Government must be informed as to the foreign power which had so nosed into her affairs.

"The power that is doing this," the Captain said, "will resort to other tricks when this one fails. We want to know who she is. On the whole, I think, I'll go to Canton with you--with your permission, of course."

"That's kind of you," Ned replied, pleased at the offer. "I can leave three of the boys on the Sea Lion and take one with me. I should be lost without that little rascal from the Bowery."

"And I'll send a file of marines on board the Sea Lion," the captain continued. "That will make all safe there. Now, about the papers. You have the packet?"

"Yes, of course."

"What does it contain?"

"Instructions which show the hand of private parties only. They completely exonerate our Government."

"And the other parties?"

"I regret that I must not mention names, sir."

"Very well," laughed the Captain. "You have performed your mission well. The slanders must now cease. But one thing more remains to be done--the meddling nation must be identified, as I have already said. We must go to Canton."

And so, leaving the Moores and Babcock safely locked in the den on board the Union and the important papers secure in the Captain's safe, Ned, accompanied by the Captain and Jimmie, set out for Canton by boat. The way was not long, and they arrived at noon, an early start having been secured.

Ned was entirely at sea in the city, but Captain Harmon had been there a number of times, and the English chop house was soon found. Next door to it was the curio shop mentioned to Ned.

The three lounged about the chop house nearly all the afternoon. The Captain was in plain clothes, and the trio seemed to be foreigners waiting for friends to come. After a long time Ned saw a man pass the chop house and turn into the curio shop who did not seem to be a Chinaman.

"Jimmie," he said to the little fellow, "suppose you go in there and buy a dragon, or a silk coat, or a tin elephant. Anything to give you a notion as to what is going on in the shop." The lad was off in a moment, and then the Captain turned to Ned.

"Why did you send the boy?" he asked.

"Because we may both be wanted outside," was the reply.

"You mean that others may come--others who should be followed and observed?"

"That's the idea," Ned replied.

Directly two more men, evidently not Chinamen, passed into the shop, then Jimmie came running out.

"They're going into a back room," he said.

Ned strolled into the shop, and in a moment the Captain followed. Jimmie remained at the door.

The two worked gradually back to the door of the rear room, and Ned "accidentally" leaned against it. It was locked. With the impact of the boy's shoulder against the panels came a scraping of chairs on the floor of the room beyond.

"You've stirred them up," whispered the Captain.

Then some one called from the inside.

"What do you want?"

"A word with you," Ned replied.

The shopkeeper now drew near and motioned the two away. When they did not obey he motioned toward the street, as if threatening to call assistance.

"Who is it?" was now asked.

"A messenger from Captain Henry Moore and his son," Ned answered, with a smile at the Captain.

There was a long pause inside.

"Where is he?" was asked.

"A prisoner. He wished me to come here."

Then the door was opened a trifle and the two saw inside. The shopkeeper, thinking that all was well, went back to the front of the shop.

When the door swung open both Ned and the Captain threw themselves against it. It went back against the wall with a bang, and the two nearly fell to the floor.

When they straightened up again they saw a servant standing between them and the still open doorway. At a round table in the back end of the apartment were three men--all Europeans.

Ned stepped forward to address them, but Captain Harmon drew him back and motioned toward the door.

"What do you want?" one of the three asked, in English. "Why this intrusion?"

Then Ned observed the face of the speaker, for the light was strong upon it. It was a face he had often seen pictured in reports of diplomatic cases. It was the face of one of the keenest diplomats in the world.

"I come from Captain Moore," Ned said, almost trembling at the thought of standing in the presence of the powerful man who had spoken.

"Can you send him here?" was asked.

"I'll try," was the reply.

"Who is your friend?" asked the other, pointing to Captain Harmon.

Ned turned toward the Captain and was amazed at the change which had taken place in his friend's appearance. The erect naval officer was no longer at his side. Instead, a shambling, bent figure stood there, with face bent to the floor.

"A seaman who is on sick leave," Ned replied.

"Well, step outside while we consider what to do in the matter," said the diplomat. "Chang!" he called.

The shopkeeper appeared at the door.

"Watch these fellows," came the orders. "Watch them, understand!"

The words were spoken in French, a language which Ned understood something of. The boy glanced keenly toward the man who had answered to the name of Chang. He decided that he was not a Chinaman.

The three stepped out into the shop together, Ned watching the seeming Chinaman closely. It was his idea that the fellow would give a signal which would call a score or more of mercenaries to his assistance. He believed that it was not the intention of the men in the rear room to let them leave the place.

When the three neared the center of the shop the alleged Chinaman lifted a whistle to his lips, as if about to signal. Ned snatched the whistle away and seized the fellow by the throat.

"Now, Captain," he whispered.

The Captain, now his old self, sprang forward and the shopkeeper was soon tied fast, gagged, and laid behind one of the counters. Then the two walked calmly out of the place.

Jimmie paused long enough to lean over the counter and make a face at the prisoner, then followed on.

"You know the truth now?" asked Ned, as the two stopped on a street corner not far away.

"Yes."

"The name of the meddlesome power is no longer a mystery?"

"Yes, I understand that, but what are we to do?"

"Make our report."

"Then you think the case is closed?" asked the Captain.

"Well," replied Ned, "we have all the documents, and we have the name of the diplomat who was waiting for Moore. What more do you want?"

"Rather a clean job of it," mused the Captain. "I wonder what the Washington people will say when the papers are laid before them; with the name of the man Moore was doing business with?"

"What will be done about it?"

"Nothing. All Uncle Sam can do is to block such games."

"And the Moores and Babcock?"

"They may be punished for attempting to wreck the Sea Lion."

"I don't like diplomatic cases," Ned said. "The rascals usually get free of punishment."

"Well," Captain Moore said, "suppose we go on board the Union while we can. As soon as the alleged shopkeeper is found behind the counter, there will be the dickens to pay. They will know that the identity of the big gun has been established, and every attempt to murder us will be made."

"You think the man knew you?" asked Ned.

"I don't know. You noticed how I changed my attitude all I could when he looked at me. I rather fancied he saw something military about me before that."

"Then we may as well go aboard," Ned said.

"You have made a wonderful success of the mission," the Captain said, that night. "You have done everything expected of you and more. Has it been easy?"

"Well," was the reply, "we have been kept busy!"

The Captain laughed and pointed to the shore of the inlet in which the Union lay.

"There are people who want to come aboard!" he said. "See the commotion on shore?"

"Shall you permit them to board?"

"Decidedly not. I have cabled to Washington for instructions. Until they arrive I shall keep everybody off the boat."

"That listens good to me," Ned said.

Boats which seemed to have no business there prowled around the warship all night, and once a sneak was caught hanging to the forward chains. However, no one succeeded in getting aboard.

In the morning the Captain came to Ned's cabin with a number of cablegrams, all from Washington.

"I have orders for you," he said.

Ned yawned and shook his head.

"Not for a submarine trip," he said.

"I am going north," the Captain said, "north through the China Sea, into the Yellow Sea, and so on to the Gulf of Pechili. Do you know where that is?"

"It is the highway to Peking," laughed Ned. "I hope you are not going there."

"Sure, and you are going with me."

"What for?" asked the boy.

"To find the two men who sat at the table with the diplomat at Canton," was the reply. "The Government wants them."

"We might have taken them, a few hours ago," mused Ned.

"Doubtful," said the Captain. "Besides, there is other work for you in the Imperial City. Your friends are going with us, and the Sea Lion is to be left here."

"And the prisoners?"

"They remain on board. In fact, the Government has a surprise for the conspirators. We may want Babcock and the Moores at Peking."

"And you'll send the papers to Washington?"

"Yes. Write your report, briefly, for they now know a lot about the wonderful success you have had."

"But how are we to get from the coast to Peking?" asked Ned. "It is quite a trip, and the diplomats will be after us."

"Motorcycles have been provided," was the reply, "and a flying squadron of my boys will go with you."

"Whoopee!" yelled Jimmie, who entered the cabin just in time to hear the latter part of the talk. "Me for the Chink land! I'll go and tell Frank and Jack."

The boy dashed off, and all preparations for the trip were made.

That night the Union sailed out of the China Sea. The case of the missing papers was closed. The gold was still at the bottom of the sea, but that was not Ned's fault. He had followed orders. However, the gold could be taken out at any time. The discovery of the men who had conspired with the famous diplomat could not wait.

What the boys did, the luck they had, and the adventures they met with, on the way from the coast to the Imperial City, will be told in the next volume of this series, "Boy Scouts on Motorcycles; or, With the Flying Squadron."

THE END.