Chapter XIX. A Boy Scout Surprise Party
 

When Ned heard the assaults of the midnight visitor on his door he looked at his watch, then slipped over to the window facing the street. Twelve o'clock and the thoroughfare below still teeming with life. Peking has something over three millions of population, according to the records, but, as a matter of fact, no one knows the exact size of the town as to humanity, for the Chinese live in densely-packed districts, and there are no census reports given out.

The city is many centuries old. It was a thriving capital three thousand years before Christ was born and during all the years of war and starvation and intrigue it continued to grow.

The hardy races from the North, which overran the country and kept a Tartar on the Chinese throne for centuries, are virile and pertinacious. It has been the fate of every civilization we know anything about to be wiped out by hardy races. Rome went down before the Northmen, and England had its oversea conqueror. Greece and Italy succumbed to the might of brawny arms, and civilization shrank back for hundreds of years. So China fell before the men of the mountains, and her records were destroyed.

As in all large cities, there is a night side to the life of Peking. If you traverse the streets at night you will find shops which have been closed all day opening for the trade of the night workers. You will see people who have slept through all the daylight hours walking through the streets to their nightly toil. You will see about the same things, only on a smaller scale, that you see in the daytime.

This night was no different from any other, except that there were more men who did not appear to have any particular business there lounging along the streets. Now and then these loiterers, walking slowly along the business ways, slipped unostentatiously into alleys and narrow by-ways and so on into basement and garret halls where others of their kind were assembled.

When Ned looked out of his window, listening meanwhile to the steady boring sound at his door, he saw a light at a window opposite to the building in which he stood waving slowly to and fro. There was a long vertical motion, and then the light moved from side to side again.

Ned counted the slow strokes. Left to right, right to left, back again and yet again!

"Six," he mused, "and all in action!"

The mouse-like gnawing at his door continued, the sounds seemingly louder than before. The intruder was evidently gaining courage!

Presently the boy leaned out of his window, which was on the third floor of the hotel, and watched the entrance below. There appeared to be a great rush of customers at that time. At least a score of natives passed in at the large door.

Then Ned turned to the right and studied the window of the room next to his own on that floor. There was a light in that room, too, but it seemed to be a red light. Then it changed to white, then to blue.

Ned laughed and began drawing on his clothes. Still the boring continued, and Ned bent over to see if he could discover any holes in the stile of the door.

There being no light in his room and, presumably, one in the corridor outside, he thought he might be able to see when a cut through the stile had been made. There were no indications of a break yet, and Ned settled back on his bed to wait.

Just at that moment he hardly knew what he was waiting for. He had been very busy all the afternoon, laying plans and conferring with a man who came from the police bureau, and who appeared to be working under instructions from the boy. Ned considered his plans as near perfect as any human plans can be, still he did not know exactly what would happen at a quarter past twelve.

At ten minutes past midnight the boy heard a rush of footsteps in the corridor. They passed his door and the boring ceased. Then they faded away in the distance and the gnawing was resumed. There was a little more noise in the hotel than before.

Ned smiled at the crude efforts that were being made to enter his room. In New York man disposed to enter for the purpose of robbery would have a skeleton key. He would be inside the room in three seconds after entering the corridor and finding the apartment he sought wrapped in darkness.

"But this isn't New York," the boy mused. "This is the Orient, and the patience of the Orient, and the stupidity of the Orient!"

At exactly a quarter past twelve there was a commotion in the corridor. Several people seemed to be moving toward the door of Ned's room. Once there was a little cry of alarm.

Ned looked out of his window. The panes where he had observed the signals, across the street, were dark. There was no light in the window next his own which had shown red, white and blue but a moment before.

The clamor in the corridor increased, and Ned walked to the door and undid the fastenings. Then it swung open, almost striking Ned in the face.

Facing the boy, in the corridor, were six Chinamen, or men in native dress, rather. Back of them were a score of stern-faced Chinese policemen. To the right, and struggling with all their might to get into the room were Frank, Jack, and Jimmie, the latter with his nose wrinkled and wrinkling to such an extent that it resembled a small ocean with the wind undulating its surface.

"Trap's closed!"

That was Jimmie, of course. Frank and Jack stood by laughing. The faces of the six men who stood before the door were anything but pleasant to look upon.

They expressed hate, despair, desperate intents. As they stood there Frank reached forward and snatched a queue-wig from the head of the man nearest him.

"There he is!" Jimmie cried. "There's the old boy, Ned--the smooth gink we saw at Taku, at Tientsin, and at numerous places on the road. I wonder how he likes the scene?"

Ned motioned to the six to step into the room. Three of them objected, then swords flashed in the light of the corridor and they moved on.

They were followed by the three boys and half a dozen policemen, all with automatics in view. At a motion from the leader of the officers the six were searched and ironed. Jack nudged Frank in the ribs with his elbow as the handcuffs clicked on the wrists of the man who had so persistently followed them from the coast of the Yellow Sea.

"That's a good sport," he said. "I like to see a fellow play the game!"

The prisoner turned a pair of treacherous eyes on the boys and a cynical smile curled his thin lips.

"You have the cards now," he said, in English, "but look out for the new deal. I'll keep you busy yet."

"Go to it!" laughed Jack. "Go as far as you like, only I fail to see how you're going to get into the game again. Looks like you were all in, just now!"

"Wait!" said the other, scornfully.

There now came a knock at the door and Ned opened it to admit Captain Martin, who looked as if he had just left his bed after an unsatisfactory sleep. He cast his eyes about the room with amazement showing in every glance.

"What does this mean?" he asked.

"Surprise party!" Jimmie cried.

"Who are these men?"

The Captain pointed to the six prisoners lined up against the wall of the room.

"Our friends from Taku, from the ruined temple, from Tientsin, from the farm house loaded with gunpowder, and from the tea house," laughed Ned. "Do you recognize the fellow with his disguise off? Jimmie gave him a haircut and shave just now."

"And you have captured them?"

"It doesn't look as if they had captured us," Jimmie broke in.

"But how, when, why?"

"All of that!" grinned Jimmie.

Ned spoke a few words to the officer in charge of the squad and in a moment the room was occupied only by the handcuffed prisoners, the four boys, and Captain Martin. The latter stood looking at Ned with a question in each eye.

"When you get time," he said, "I'd like to have you tell me how you brought this case to a close so suddenly."

Ned motioned to the man who had been stripped of his disguise to take a chair at the table. The fellow did so reluctantly, turning his face this way and that, as if seeking some opportunity of escape.

"Well," he said. "You have the floor. Go On."

"You were at Taku?" asked Ned.

"I deny everything!"

"You will deny your own fingerprints, the shoeprints?" asked Ned.

"Well, supposing, for the sake of argument, that I was at Taku, what has that to do with this brutal and illegal arrest?"

"You placed the powder under the house where the wounded men lay?"

"No."

"I have something I want to show you," Ned said, taking a paper from his pocket. "Have you a match?"

Almost involuntarily the fellow put his hand to his right vest pocket and brought forth a gold match safe. Ned took it into his hand and touched the spring which lifted the top.

"There seems to be a new wire in the hinge," he said.

"Yes, the old one wore out."

Ned opened his pocketbook and took out the gold wire he had found in the cellar by the side of the powder. The prisoner started violently when he saw it.

"Is this yours?" Ned asked.

"No!"

"All right!" Ned said.

With the point of his knife he pushed the sale and put the old new hinge from the match safe and put the old one in its place.

It fitted exactly.

"There!" Ned said, "you see the old one did not wear out entirely. It wore away so that it dropped out. Do you know where I found it, my friend?"

"It is immaterial to me where you found it."

"Even if I found it in a cellar by the side of a half barrel of gunpowder to which a lighted fuse had been attached?"

"Hadn't you better make your case--if you can make it at all--in the courts?" asked the prisoner.

Ned took the state department seal, the sealing wax, and the bits of parchment from his pocket.

"Who met you in the library at the house you attempted to destroy?" he asked.

There was no reply.

"Were these men present?" with a sweep of the hand toward the other prisoners.

"What has this to do with my case?"

"This," Ned replied. "You were still conspiring to fix upon my government the crime of interfering in the private affairs of another nation--with the crime of providing, by a treacherous and despicable route, the money needed by the revolutionary party of China. You were doing business in that house with the representatives of another nation. Who were they? What nations did they represent, or pretend to represent?"

"I have nothing to say to that."

Ned held up the seal.

"This was not used?" he asked.

"It was not used."

"Why not?"

"Because the representative of that nation refused to consider the terms offered him."

Ned held forth the sealing wax.

"This shows that the seal of another nation was used. Where is the paper to which the seal was attached?"

"Destroyed!"

"Is that true?" asked Ned.

"It is true, they all deserted me. They all ran away when they knew you were in the country, but I brought them back, and held them until the incident at the house where you found those things."

"So you are now the only one to look to for the history of this bit of deviltry?"

"I stand alone," was the reply. "Alone, with the exception of these men I who were arrested with me. The plot has failed, and we know what to expect."

The prisoner was about to say more, but just then a clamor in the street below attracted the attention of all in the room.