Chapter XV. Why Escape Was So Easy
 

As Sandy finished speaking two figures dropped down the ladder, not stopping to descend rung by rung. As they landed on the floor the boys sprang toward them, ready to make a battle for their liberty. Then came another surprise.

Instead of making hostile demonstrations, the two newcomers, Chinamen so far as appearances went, threw up their hands and dropped back against the wall. Then shouts of laughter echoed through the place.

Directly the newcomers seemed to forget to keep their hands up, for they gripped their waists with them and roared. There was something about the laughter, too, which was not at all like the Orient.

"Go it!" Jack exclaimed.

"Have your fun before we come to settlement with you," Frank threatened.

"Let me soak heem!" Hans pleaded.

Sandy stood by with wonder showing in his face.

"What kind of a play house is this?" he asked. And still the others laughed, bending over, now, and covering their faces with their hands. The change from tragedy to comedy had been so sudden that for a time the boys did nothing at all to solve the mystery of the sudden outbreak of laughter.

Then Frank stepped closer and peered down at the larger of the two figures. Then he turned his searchlight on the bowed head.

Then a smile came over his face and he reached out a hand and took the bobbing pigtail into his hand and gave it a quick jerk. The result was amazing.

The pigtail came away in his hand, and with it a bunch of coarse hair and an odor!

"Look here, kids!" Frank cried. "Look who's here!"

It was Ned, and the shaking figure by his side was that of Jimmie. In a moment both were out of their disguises and making an inspection of the tunnels and the underground chamber.

"You've got Herlock Sholmes beaten to a frazzle," said Jack, as Ned stooped over to examine the knocked-out Chinamen.

"How did you do it?" demanded Frank. "We thought you were on the road to Peking until we heard some of the Chinks talking, not long after daybreak, then we thought you might be in trouble."

"It was long after daybreak when we mixed with the bunch," Jimmie answered. "Anythin' you heard before eight o'clock was fright an' not fact."

Sandy was now presented and his share in the adventures of the night given proper recognition.

"I thought he was a sneak at first," Jack explained, "but he showed us the way out in the end."

"What did you go an' sit down there an' wait for?" asked Jimmie. "Why didn't you get a move on?"

"They did the very thing they should have done," Ned remarked. "If they had tried to fight their way out they might have been killed,' as there was, I am told, a strong guard here at daybreak."

"But how did you get here?" asked Frank.

"When we got out of the old temple," Ned replied, "we had no motorcycles to go on with, so we came back to hunt up more. There was little use in going on by any way other than the one mapped out for us.

"The scamp we almost captured had been kind enough to tell us that you boys were in trouble and perhaps that had something to do with our coming back."

"But how did you get here?"

"Easy," laughed Ned. "We knew that you boys had been captured, and it was easy to see who had had a hand in it. The people at the telegraph office would know more about the matter than any one else.

"So we went to the American consulate and got into these disguises. The consul says he never saw anything smoother, though he must be prejudiced in our favor, for he helped get up the disguises himself.

"Then we went to the vicinity of the telegraph office and waited. In a moment we saw that something unusual was going on. Directly a messenger started off in this direction and we followed him. I knew then, as well as I know it now, that you boys had been detained in the hope of keeping us all out of Peking, so I bought some strong opium on the way and doped the pipes of the guards after I mixed with them."

"How could you mix with them?" asked Jack. "You know about as much Chinese as a robin."

"Oh, they thought we were sullen brutes sent down from their headquarters, and took us into their confidence all right. We were just ready to explore the underground places when we heard the scrap below."

"And now what?" asked Frank.

"Now, we're goin' to Peking!" cried Jimmie.

"You said that before!" Jack taunted.

"Well, we didn't get tied up in a hole we couldn't get out of," retorted the little fellow.

"I guess you'd have been in the old temple until now if you hadn't traveled with an escort," Jack cut in.

The boys, laughing and "roasting" each other, passed up the ladder and to the half earthen, half-board floor of the mud hut. There they found the woman Chee moving about with a swollen face.

She tried to talk with Ned, but as neither could understand what the other said, little progress was made. However, she finally managed to make Ned understand that she wanted him to take the unconscious men out of the cellar, also the man who had been tied up by Jack and Sandy.

Ned finally made her understand that she could call the police half an hour after their departure. This seemed to satisfy her, and the piece of silver Ned presented was received with many gestures of gratitude.

"Won't the finding of them men there get her into trouble?" asked Sandy, as the lads walked away.

"I'll explain the matter to the American consul," answered Ned, "and ask him to inform the authorities. You see, these people who are making us all this trouble are about as afraid of the officers as they are of us. The government is keeping a sharp lookout for the revolutionary leaders, and some are captured every day."

"What do they do with them?" asked Jack.

"They are never heard of again."

"Murdered? Without trial?"

"That is the belief."

"Then why don't we ask this good, wise, benevolent, sane, and all the rest of it government to keep the revolutionary party off Uncle Sam?" asked Jack. "We represent Uncle Samuel, you know."

"Because," was the reply, "there are spies in every branch and department of the government. While the traitors who are serving the government while seeking its destruction may not be powerful enough to secure the release of such confederates as are caught, they are undoubtedly able to send out reports calculated to assist their party."

"And every move we made under the protection of the Chinese government would be noted and reported," mused Jack. "I see how it is! Guess the people at Washington knew what they were about when they issued instructions regarding the trip to Peking."

"Yes, I think they did," Ned replied. "Observe how they tested us. We did not know about the cablegram at the office here when we started on our long ride. If we had weakened in any way we never should have known about it, but would have been ordered back home."

"Land flowing with milk and honey, and breakfast foods, and choice beef cuts at a dollar a pound!" Jack exclaimed now. "Are we never going to get anything to eat?"

"I haf one vacancy!" observed Hans, laying a hand on his stomach. "I haf a misery!"

"You had a good breakfast, Jack!" reproved Frank.

"What! Where! What was it? Yes, I haf a breakfast two days ago. This morning I haf cellar air for breakfast. It isn't nourishing. Where is there an eatery?"

Before long Ned stopped at a little tea house where an American sign hung in a window, and the boys ordered such viands as the place afforded. It was not much of a meal, as Jack insisted, but just a teaser for a dinner which would be procured later on.

"Where are the marines?" asked Frank, as he and Ned seated themselves at a little table apart from the others.

"Encamped in the grove," was the reply.

"They will not be attacked there?" asked Frank, in some amazement.

"Certainly not. All Chinamen hate us, but we are safe except when the revolutionists take a hand in the game. The marines are probably surrounded by a crowd of sullen curiosity seekers, but they will not be molested unless the revolutionists decide to take another chance with them."

"And the machines are gone for good?"

"No, the American consul is getting them back, or was when I left his office, one by one. The men who were fighting were too frightened to take the machines with them, but the mob got them. They were taken by individual thieves, and will soon be restored."

"We ought to have come over in our aeroplane," smiled Frank.

"That would have defeated our purpose," Ned replied. "We are here to catch the leaders of this conspiracy, and the only way we can do it is to wait until they show themselves.

"Just see how foolish they are!" Ned went on. "If they had been content to wait, to manufacture such evidence as they needed to show their innocence, we could never have located them. They would have lied us out of countenance if we charged any one man with being the leader, or any one nation with fostering the conspiracy.

"But they tried to make a clean record for themselves by wiping us off the face of the earth and so showed themselves to us. I am told by police officers that if criminals would keep away from women, away from the scenes of their crimes, and keep their mouths shut when given the famous--and disgraceful--third degree, not one in twenty would ever be convicted."

"Well," Frank said, "here's hoping that the man we want will come within reach again!"

After breakfast the boys headed for the American consulate, where they found the machines which had been stolen.

"That was quick work," Ned congratulated. "How did you do it?"

The consul laughed.

"Why," he replied, "you might as well try to bide a fifty story building in China as one of those machines! The natives believe the devil is in them!"

"I've known Americans to express the same opinion," laughed Frank.

While they talked with the consul a message was brought him from the telegraph office. It read:

"Report progress."

Ned laughed.

"Nothing to report but disaster," he said.

"Well," the consul replied, "we expected something of the kind. You have gained the very point we expected you to gain. You know exactly who is at the head of this mess. Thinking he had you where you would never get away, he talked too much."

"I think I should know him in any disguise," Ned said. "I should know him anywhere, and under any circumstances. Do you think he would have kept faith with me if I had given up the documents and promised never to implicate either his country or himself in the trouble?"

"Certainly not. The fact that he revealed himself to you shows that he meant to have you murdered there. Only for the marines breaking in just as they did, it would have been all off with you, my boy."

"He must be a treacherous old chap!" Ned commented.

"His life and everything he loves is at stake."

"Then he should have kept out of the mess! Why should he want to get us into a war?"

"My boy," replied the consul, "we are sure to have a war with some great European nation before many years."

"Because the people are getting too thick over here. Because they are going to America in droves. Because the governments of Europe desire to retain control of their people after they leave the confines of their own countries. They want English, German, Russian, Italian, French colonies held under their hand instead of a mass of their subjects doing reverence to a foreign flag."

"And they will fight for that?"

"Of course. The only way we can keep out of a great and disastrous war is to abandon the Philippines, throw our island possessions to the dogs, and tumble the Monroe doctrine into the sea. Then these foreign nations can buy, steal, or conquer all South and Central America. We don't want the land there, and we can't afford to fight for the dagoes who live there."

"There is too much jingo in our country to ever do what you suggest," Ned suggested.

"I'm afraid you are right," the consul replied. "But now to business. Get your machines here and mount them! You are to leave for Peking to-night."

"And I'll not come back until I reach the town!" declared the boy.

"By the way," said the consul, "where are the papers you took from the captain of the Shark--the boat you fought with your submarine?"

"I have them here," was the reply.

"Better leave them in my safe."

Ned consented to this, and later, on the march to Peking, he was very glad that he had done.

At twilight the boys joined the flying squadron, and were all off for the imperial city, little suspecting that the perils before them were greater than any they had encountered.