Chapter XII. Night in an Ancient City
 

Frank Shaw and Jack Bosworth, suddenly awakened from a sound sleep in the little mud shack in the cornfield, in the suburbs of Tientsin, were not a little astonished at finding themselves rolled deftly out of the blankets in which they had wrapped themselves before lying down.

"What's coming off here?" demanded Frank, rubbing his eyes and gazing blankly about the hovel. "What kind of a hotel is this?"

"What did you do that for?" asked Jack, edging newer to Frank. "Why this midnight industry? What did you pull me out of me covers for?"

"I didn't!" cried Frank. "You pulled me out!"

"Not me!" Jack answered. "I was catching German carp, in the upper lagoon in Central Park, N.Y., just a second ago. Sorry I woke up before I got a mess!"

"Who did it, then?" asked Frank. "Some one gave me a thump in the wind and then rolled me out of the drapery of me elegant couch."

"Search me!" Jack replied. "I got something like that, also. I'll bet it's the blooming marines, playing an alleged joke! I'm going out to heave a rock at them."

"Wait!" whispered a voice. "Don't make so much noise, either. You're pinched!"

"That's Bowery!" cried Jack.

"Come on and show yourself!" Frank commanded. "What are you hiding back there in the darkness for? Who are you, and where did you come from? What did you wake me up for, anyway?"

"Black Cat Patrol, Chicago!" was the reply that came through the darkness. "You're both Black Bears, New York," the voice went on. "I saw the badges on your vests."

Both boys sprang to their feet instantly. This was something worth while. A Boy Scout in China!

"Got a light?" asked Frank. "I'll just like to see whether you're a Black Cat or not."

"Nix on the light," was the reply.

"That's South Clark street, below Van Buren," laughed Jack.

"All right," Frank said, in answer to the boy's negative, "I've got a flashlight."

"Then keep it out of sight," advised the other. "I don't want to stir up these soldiers. Perhaps they won't let you go with me."

"Oh, they won't?" Jack grumbled. "We'll see! Turn on your light, Frank, old top!"

Frank, "old top." turned on his light, and the two saw a boy of apparently fifteen standing immediately in front of them. He was slender but muscular, and his red hair and blue eyes betokened anything but Asiatic ancestors.

The lad extended his right hand in full salute and waited.

"Correct!" Jack said. "Turn out your light, Frank. Sit down, kid, and tell us why this surprise party."

"I came down to tell you that there's doin's up town," was the quick reply. "You'd better get a move on!"

"We're ready," Frank said, then, "but we'd like to know what we're going to move against."

"Your friends are in trouble. That's the answer."

"How do you know?"

"I have just left them at the telegraph office."

"That's where they went."

"Well, that's where they're gettin' theirs," declared the lad. "So buck up!"

"Who--what--"

"Aw, come along!" the boy cut in. "They're goin' to be arrested, an' they won't get their cablegram, an' there'll be worse if you don't wake up. See?"

"You'll have to explain to us," Frank observed.

"You go tell that to the marines!" Jack exclaimed. "They're right outside there."

"All right!" the lad answered. "I'm goin' back. You can all go to Halifax for all me."

"Wait," said Frank. "Where did you get this information you're favoring us with? What's your name? How did you get to China?"

"I'm a delivery boy at the telegraph office," the lad answered. "I loafed around there tonight to see you folks, for I knew that the cablegram would be called for. Before showing myself, I heard what was going on an' ducked. Now, come on."

"What's your name?"

"Sandy McNamara."

"How did you get to China?"

"Hid in a ship an' got caught an' beat up."

"A stowaway, eh?"

"You bet! I'd do it again to get back to South Clark street, in little old Chi."

"What they doing to Ned and Jimmie?" asked Jack.

"Oh, come along!" Frank exclaimed. "The boys may be in need of good advice and exclusive society! We'll go and see."

"Well," Sandy put in, "this ain't no case for the bulls. You've got to get to them without makin' any show of fight. You'd be eat up in this town with them few soldiers."

"What do you propose?"

"Why, we'll go to the American consul an' get him out."

"You seem to be almost human in your intelligence," Jack cried. "Let go your anchor and heave ahead!"

"We'll have to make good time," said Sandy. "Can you run?"

"We're the original record-breakers when it comes to working our legs!" Jack said, and the three, after moving quietly through the lighted circle, so as not to attract the attention of the guard, broke into a run which fast lessened the distance between the camp and the telegraph office. At the end of half a mile Sandy drew up against a mud wall. The rain was still falling, and the boys were soaked to the skin and shivering with cold, notwithstanding their exertions.

"I'm winded," Sandy explained, panting.

"I'm frozen stiff," Jack declared.

"I'm wet enough to swim home," Frank put in.

"Well," Sandy continued, "there's a little shack behind us--looks like one of the squatter shacks on the Lake front--an' we can go in an' rest up. Here's where the only friend I have in China lives."

"Go on in, then," Jack replied, his teeth chattering with the cold.

"We ought to keep on," Frank advised. "This is no time to rest and get dry when Ned is in trouble!"

"That's right," from Jack. "Trot ahead, little one!"

"I've got to go in here, anyway, an' get my uniform," the boy explained. "I'll be more protection to you boys if I have it on."

"Protection to us!" laughed Jack. "You're a joker!"

"Hurry up, then, and get it," Frank urged. "We've got to be getting along toward the telegraph office."

"Ain't you comin' in?" asked Sandy.

"No; we'll want to remain if we go in. Hurry."

"Do you think he's on the level?" asked Jack, as the boy disappeared through the low doorway.

"I don't know," was the reply. "It doesn't seem as if an American lad, and a Boy Scout at that, would play a treacherous game against his own countrymen."

"No, it doesn't; yet what is he stopping here for? He ought to be as anxious as we are to get over the ground."

Then Sandy came stumbling to the door, on the inside, and asked the boys, through the rough boards, to come in with their lights.

"There's somethin' mighty strange here," he said.

"This may be a trap!" Jack said. "Shall we go in?"

"We may need this boy as a guide," Frank observed.

"All right, then. In we go."

There was only one room to the shack, which was of mud, with thick walls and a leaky roof. There was a table, a chair, a heap of clothes in a comer, and nothing else, save for a puddle of water on the floor.

Sandy stood in the middle of the floor, his feet in the puddle, when Frank's searchlight illumined the bare room. His eyes were staring in a strange way and his face was deadly pale.

"Look there!" he exclaimed, his lips forming the words badly. "The old woman who fed me when I was broke an' sick lies under the clothes, stupid from some dope. The house has been poked over. I saw a face at the little hole in the wall as I came in. What does it mean?"

Whisperings were heard at the door. Frank extinguished his light and the boys stood in darkness as complete as ever fell since the dawn of creation.

"What do you think?" asked Jack, of Frank.

"Looks like a trap."

Sandy sprang forward and seized Frank by the arm, and his voice shook as he began.

"No! It ain't no trap! I didn't bring you here to get rolled for your wads, or anythin' like that. I stopped here to get me telegraph messenger uniform. I can go anywhere in the city with that on, and not be molested. I don't know what this means, but there are Chinks all around this house."

"Perhaps you've been followed ever since you left the office," Frank suggested. "Where is your uniform?"

"Gone," replied Sandy, "an' everythin' else I had in that old box in the corner."

Frank walked to the door and opened it a trifle. There was no need to open it wider to see what kind of trouble they were in. In front, patient in the downpour, stood six Chinamen.

The flashlight dwelt on the silent row for an instant and was then turned off. Frank closed the door and stood with his back against it.

"Is there another way out?" he asked.

Sandy pointed to a small door at the rear. Frank opened it a trifle, as he had the other, and again the flashlight bored a round hole in the night. There were six Chinamen there.

"They mean to keep us here!" Jack cried. "I'll show them."

"I hear them all around the place," Sandy almost sobbed. "You'll think I brought you here for this. I didn't! I'm on the square with you boys. I wanted to help you."

"Perhaps they'll go away soon," Jack suggested.

"Never!" Frank replied. "This is purely an Oriental shut-in! They will wait out there until the hot summer tans their hides if they are told to. The patience of the Orient is something awful to run up against."

"But why?" asked Jack.

"Oh, they got next to me!" Sandy observed.

"They want to keep you from goin' to the assistance of your friends. They'll let you go after they've found some mysterious way of disposing of the others. If I could get out, I'd go to the camp."

"Dig around! There may be some way of getting out. These slant-eyed peoples are slant-eyed in their ways. There may be a hole under the hut that leads somewhere."

"I've seen the woman go down cellar," said Sandy.

"Then you go down cellar," advised Frank, "and see if there is no way out from there. I'm bound to get to Ned and Jimmie if I have to begin operations with my gun."

Presently Sandy's voice was heard from below. He said that he felt a current of air, as if there were a passage leading outside.

"Come on down an' see," he said.

The boys went down a steep ladder, after fastening both doors on the inside, and soon found themselves on the cellar bottom. Frank turned on his flashlight and looked about. There was a hole in one of the walls which seemed to lead downward, in the direction of the river.

"I'm going to try it," Jack exclaimed, taking out his light. "When I say for you to come on, come a-running."

He said for them to come on in a moment, and Sandy and Frank soon found themselves in a square subterranean room which must have been cut near the surface and just outside the wall of the hut. It was a comfortless place, and they lost no time in looking for a way out.

"Here it is!" Sandy called out, directly. "Here is a tunnel. Say, but I never knew about this before. Come on!"

Frank led, but proceeded only a short distance. Then his light rested on the grinning face of a Chinaman.

The tunnel was guarded. The boy turned back and looked into the tunnel by which they had entered the chamber. Within a foot of the muzzle of his searchlight he saw the grinning face of another Chinaman.

He stepped back to the mouth of the tunnel and motioned Jack to guard the exit, explaining, briefly, that they had been trapped, not in a hut on the street level, but in a subterranean chamber where they could not be heard, and where no one would ever think of looking for them.

"Oh, no," Jack cried, regarding Sandy angrily, "you didn't know anything about this--not a thing! You treacherous dog!"

"I didn't! I didn't!" shouted the boy. "Call them men in an' ask them if I did."

"You wait a minute," Jack gritted out, "and I'll see if the Chinks will stand quiet while I beat their accomplice up!"

"Quit it!" Frank commanded. "We're in trouble enough now, without bringing the Chinks down on us. I'd give a good deal to know if Ned and Jimmie are still alive!"