Chapter XVII. Boy Scouts in a Lively Mixup
 

Ned took the gold piece into his hand and examined it.

"It is American money, sure enough," he observed, "and was made at the San Francisco mint."

Frank and Jack now joined the little group in the library and regarded the piece with interest.

"What does it mean?" Frank asked.

"Why," Jack volunteered, "it means that some American man is mixed up in this dirty affair."

"Perhaps that gold came out of the wreck," Jimmie suggested. "Say, are we ever goin' back after that gold?" he added.

"Ned's got all the gold he can attend to right here," commented Frank. "He's got to find out how that came here."

"Why, there was an American in the bunch, and he lost it out of his pocket," Jack ventured.

"That's the very point," Frank observed. "What was an American doing in that bunch?"

"It might have been the American who planned to send the gold to the revolutionary leaders by way of a shipment to the Chinese government," Ned said, thoughtfully. "You know some American had to send the gold."

"Of course."

"Well, suppose he is now here trying to get something in exchange for the gold which lies at the bottom of the Pacific?"

"He naturally would be doing business, with the revolutionary party," Frank exclaimed. "What a trick that was!"

"I haven't got it through my head yet," Jack said. "I don't know any more about the plot than a robin."

"Look here," Frank said, in a superior tone, "there are a lot of Chinese in the United States who want to assist the revolutionary party. Got that?"

"You know it!"

"These men arrange with the Chinese government to send over a cargo of gold."

"That's easy. What were they to get for the gold?"

"I don't know," Frank answered. "But they arranged to send the gold right out of the subtreasury at San Francisco--or was it New York?--to the Chinese government."

"All right," laughed Jack. "I see daylight."

"Then they notify the rebels-to-be that the gold will be shipped on such a vessel at such a time."

"Warmer!" grinned Jimmie.

"And the rebels undertake to have a ship ready to snatch off the gold when the right time comes. So the Chinese government will have to pay for the yellow stuff and the rebels will have the good of it."

"Great scheme!"

"Yes, well, some other nation gets wise to what is going on, and sets out to burst up the combination."

"Naturally."

"So this foreign nation sends out a ship to ram the vessel carrying the gold."

"Oh! I got that long ago!"

"And the vessel is rammed and the gold goes to the bottom. Then this other government, thinking to kill two birds at one shot, gives it out, in certain diplomatic circles, that Uncle Sam shipped that gold directly to the Chinese government from the subtreasury, with the full knowledge that the rebels were to get it."

"Yes, I've heard about that."

"So Uncle Sam sends Ned over here to dig up that gold and see if the shippers didn't put documents in the bags or boxes which would prove out the whole transaction."

"An' Ned found the documents!" cried Jimmie. "Good old Ned!"

"Yes, he found the documents which prove that the United States had nothing to do with the matter, but which do not show who started the slander.

"And then Ned is sent out to track the statesman who had been doing business with the rebels down to his hiding place. It is thought that his nation is the one that tried to mix Uncle Sam in the matter."

"But why should this man be doing business with the rebels?" asked Jack.

"That is what we don't know," was the reply. "Still, we know that he is allied with the rebels. We met him at Taku. Ned met him at the ruined temple. He may be treacherously in the company of the men who lead the revolutionary party, but he is there."

"You have that figured out correctly," Ned cut in. "If the man we are after had been doing business with the Chinese government, we would have had officers of the law after us at Tientsin and Taku, instead of men who ran when it came daylight."

"What national seal made that stamp on the wax you have in your pocket, Ned?" Jimmie asked.

Ned made no reply.

"Was the stamp made with the seal you have with you?" was the next question.

Still Ned did not answer. He was in a quandary. It did not seem possible that the two nations pointed out by the seal and the wax could be engaged in such dirty business. He hoped to prove to his own satisfaction that they were not.

"The only way to find out what we want to know," he said, "is to go on to Peking."

"Your proof will assist you when you get there?" asked Frank.

"Yes, I'm afraid so," Ned answered, tentatively.

"I don't understand that reply," Frank observed, with a serious face. "You must have discovered something in this house which is not to your liking."

"Time will show," Ned said.

Captain Martin, of the marines, now entered the room where the discussion was going on. His face was pale, and his eyes showed greater anger than Ned had ever seen reflected there before.

"Just a moment, Ned," he said, and the two stepped into another room. The Captain dropped into a chair.

"We have struck the hornet's nest," he said.

"Do you hear them buzzing?" asked Ned, with a smile.

"Worse than that," was the reply. "I am feeling their stings. Two of my men have been attacked in the dark."

"And wounded?"

"Yes; one of them seriously."

"I'm sorry for the poor fellow," Ned said. "Do you think we can get him on to Peking?"

Captain Martin shook his head.

"It is a bad wound," he said. "The man was on guard not far from the edge of the grove when a figure loomed up before him. He challenged and was about to shoot, for no reply came, when he got the knife in his back. He can't be moved."

"The trouble is," Ned replied, "that we got here too soon."

"What's the answer to that?"

"We did not give the plotters time enough to finish their business. When that old Chink, back there at the gate, signaled to them with his rockets, they cut and ran, leaving important evidence behind them."

"And you think they will hang about the flying squadron until they recover what they have lost?"

"They certainly will try to recover it. Now you see the wisdom of the Washington people in sending me to Peking on a motorcycle! You see that I was right in saying that we were being set up as marks for other nations to shoot at!"

"Yes," said Martin, "you never could have got to the fellows in the old way. It was right to plan it so that they would come to you, although it was placing you in great danger."

"But the danger has rippled off our backs like water off the feathers of a duck! If we meet no more peril than we have now encountered, we'll get back to New York fat and healthy."

"One thing I fail to comprehend," Captain Martin said, "and that is why a flying squadron was sent with you."

"To attract attention," laughed Ned.

"To get you out of scrapes, I should say," the Captain retorted.

"Well, then, both!"

"I don't get it yet."

"We might have reached Peking without our presence in the country being known to our enemies," Ned said, "but that was not the idea of the Washington people. I have already explained to the boys that we were to do our real work in identifying the man we want while on the way."

"Oh, all right," replied the officer, "but it seems to me that you might have made the trip in a quieter way with the same result. These chaps would have found you, depend on that."

"Yes, but we needed help," replied Ned, "and we got it in the nick of time. Guess the Secret Service people at Washington are all right."

"Perhaps," the Captain said, then, "we would better get the wounded men into the house and look after their wounds. The others I'll leave on guard."

The injured marines were carried into the house and given such attention as could be bestowed in the absence of a surgeon.

"What next?" asked Frank.

"Peking!" answered Jack. "We can't heal these wounds by remaining here, and we can help by going on and sending a surgeon back."

"But my orders are to remain with you," Captain Martin said.

"Then leave most of your men here and come on," Ned replied.

This plan was agreed upon, and would have been carried out at once had not something not on the program of the night intervened. Captain Martin had detailed two men to sit with the wounded and stationed the others in a circle about the house when a shot was fired off to the east.

"I didn't think they would have the nerve to attack the house openly before we got away," Captain Martin remarked.

All listened intently, but there was no more shooting.

"That sounded to me more like a signal than anything else," Ned observed. "I wonder if they are out in force?"

"I think I'd better call the men in," Captain Martin remarked.

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a skulking form appeared in the dim light which now fell from the stars. The fellow was creeping from the house outward.

"A spy!" Jack whispered. "Shoot, some one. I haven't my gun with me. Shoot!"

The skulking man appeared to hear the words, though they were spoken in a very low tone, for he sprang to his feet and dashed away at full speed. In a second he was lost to view in the thicket.

"Say, but that chap is some runner!" Jimmie cried. "He went so fast I never thought to wing him!"

"Where did he come from?" asked Frank. "I'm certain he was not in the house. Perhaps he was up to some deviltry."

"He wasn't here with any bouquets," Jimmie answered. "I'm goin' out an' run around the house. Perhaps I can find out where he was hidin', an' find his mate there."

No objections being offered to this, the little fellow left the group and started in on a tour around the old house. He was gone perhaps two minutes, then came dashing back, his face white and horror-stricken in the circle of light which met him.

"Grab 'em! Grab 'em an' get out!" he shouted.

"Where did you get it?" demanded Jack.

"You're scared stiff!" Frank laughed.

"Grab the wounded men an' beat it!" Jimmie repeated. "This ranch will go up in the air in a second!"

"That's cheerful!" Jack cut in, half believing that Jimmie was up to another trick.

Jimmie dashed into the house, seized one of the wounded men by the shoulders and tried to drag him off the improvised bed on which he had been laid.

"All right!" he yelled. "You boys may stay here an' get shot up into blue sky if you want to, but I'm goin' to get these men out."

"Why don't you tell us what the danger is?" demanded Ned, shaking the little fellow by the arm.

"You listen!" Jimmie replied.

There was dead silence for an instant. Then, seemingly from underneath the floor, came a low, sinister hissing sound which every one of the boys recognized.

A great fuse was burning below, and might at any moment reach the explosive to which it was attached. The Chinese tools of the man at the head of the conspiracy were taking desperate chances.

In order to destroy the clues which Ned had found in the house, and also to prevent the boy ever discovering any more, they were taking the long chance of murdering the soldiers of a friendly power and bringing on international complications. Ned was by no means idle while these thoughts were swarming in his brain.

In fact, all the boys sprang to action instantly. Captain Martin was told to order his men farther away from the point of danger. In less time than the result of their activities can be written down the wounded men were lying in the grove, surrounded by their fellows, and the boys were waiting for what seemed inevitable, the complete destruction of the house.