Chapter XX. The Emperor Takes a Hand
 

Ned stepped to the window and looked out. The street in front of the hotel was filled from curb to curb with an excited mob.

That the efforts of those below were directed toward the building and its occupants there could be no doubt. Many a shaking fist was thrust up to the lighted panes where Ned stood.

The boy turned to Jimmie, spoke a few words in a whisper, and the little fellow left the room. With him went the interpreter who had been engaged that day.

Shouts, howls and groans of rage now came up from the street, and Ned stepped away from the window. As he did so the prisoner who had been making a partial confession when the uproar came, moved forward, as if to show himself to those below.

Seeing his intention, Ned seized him by the shoulder and hurled him to the back end of the room. The prisoner smiled and again seated himself in the chair he had occupied before.

"Your friends are excited," Ned said, drawing the curtain at the window.

The other nodded in the direction of the window and smiled.

"My friends?" he asked.

"Certainly."

"Why do you attribute this outbreak to me?"

"Because those not in league with you and your cause would hardly threaten American tourists, in the face of the law."

"American tourists!" snarled the other, and Ned laughed.

Jimmie now came bustling into the room, his eyes staring with excitement. The interpreter was only a trifle less moved by the information which had been gained.

"What is it?" Jack asked.

"He's crazy with fear again!" Frank put in.

"Say," Jimmie cried, "you'd all better be gettin' out of this place. The people out there are goin' to raid it in a minute!"

The prisoner uttered a defiant laugh and again started for the window. Again Ned forced him back.

"What's the trouble?" asked Frank.

"Why," was the reply, "this gink here," pointing toward the prisoner whose disguise had been removed, "this gazabo hadn't much confidence in his own ability to win this fight, so he appealed to the revolutionary leaders."

"That's fine!" Jack said. "We may have the luck to see a full-fledged revolution doing business."

"You are quite likely to."

This from the prisoner, now standing with the others at the back of the room.

"You arranged for this demonstration in case you should be taken?" asked Ned.

The prisoner snarled out some ugly reply.

"You planned this?" demanded Ned, resolved to know the truth.

"Yes," almost shouted the other, "and you will soon discover that it is something more than a demonstration."

The interpreter drew Jimmie aside and whispered in his ear. Then the boy turned to Ned.

"This boy says he saw a signal given from a window as soon as this bunch was taken," he said. "Then crowds began forming. Say, but we'd better be gettin' out!"

"Save yourselves the exertion," the prisoner said. "They will find you, wherever you go!"

"Possibly," Ned said.

Then he walked to the window and again looked out on the mob. The street was packed. Faces showing rage and desperate bravery were uplifted. Fists were shaken at the window where he stood. In a moment a stone came hurtling against the wall of the house.

Here and there, on the outskirts of the crowd, policemen in the funny uniforms the police of Peking wear, were seen trying vainly to force their way to the door of the hotel. The main entrance seemed to be guarded, for the mob did not succeed in forcing its way in.

Presently, however, Ned saw long ladders being carried forward on the shoulders of the rioters. Then they were dropped against the wall and men with bloody faces--bloody from the acts of their own fellows--fought to be first to climb.

"In three minutes," the prisoner said, "you will be torn limb from limb if I am not released."

"Your friends certainly do insist on something of the kind," Ned replied.

"Remove these irons and place me before the window," commanded the other. "That will quiet them."

"And make terms with a pack of rioters?" smiled Ned.

"You can save your life, and the lives of your friends, in no other way," insisted the other.

Ned went to the window again, although bricks and stones were flying quite freely. The ladders swarmed with excited men, but no one seemed able to gain entrance at the windows which were attacked.

Instead, a ladder now and then went toppling backward, carrying dozens of rioters to death or injury. When the ladders began falling the mob moved away from that side of the street.

"You see," Ned said to the prisoner, "that we were on the lookout for something like this."

"How could you have been?" gasped the other.

"Our interpreter heard some of the messages sent out by mouth by the revolutionists. I connected your possible capture with the gathering. We were warned and made ready."

"But my men will soon be here!" shouted the other. "They are sworn to go to death for the cause if necessary."

"But I don't see them doing anything of the kind," Ned replied. "On the contrary, they seem to be taking pretty good care of their yellow old hides!"

"You'll see!" howled the other.

Directly the heavy beat of marching feet came up to the window, heard above the roar of the mob below. Far down the street Ned saw the advancing line, bearing the colors of the Emperor.

The rioters saw the line, too, and the crowd in front of the hotel began to thin. Then the soldiers arrived and the thoroughfare was empty save for their presence. By this time the prisoner was in a condition of collapse. He had planned this thing carefully, and was now in the meshes of failure.

The street below soon cleared of the few who gathered about to witness the arrival of the soldiers. The few prisoners, who had been taken marched sullenly to prison. In ten minutes the city of Peking was as quiet as if the machinations of the conspirators had never stirred the people to riot.

"Well?" Ned said, facing the prisoner. "What do you think we ought to do with you?"

"After all," was the reply, "you have no charges against me. My government alone can discipline me for what has been done."

"Your government will deny any knowledge of the conspiracy," Ned replied. "From this time on, you have no government."

"And yet I acted under instructions."

"What was the motive?" asked Frank, who saw a fine cablegram for his father's newspaper in the story.

"The purpose," replied the other, weakly, "was to so entangle your government that it would not dare lend aid to the revolutionary leaders."

"And you were engaged in it?"

A nod of the head was the only reply.

"Yet you pretended to be assisting the revolutionary party. You were present at their councils. Can it be possible that you were treacherous to both sides?"

There was no answer.

"Suppose," Ned said, "suppose I turn you over to the revolutionary leaders, with a statement of what you have just said? What would be your fate? Remember that the men of the revolution were ready to fight for you not long ago."

Still no reply. The prisoner only looked sullenly down at the floor.

"What government do you represent?" asked Frank. "What nation is it that is protecting the imperial government of China?"

"You need not answer that question," Ned said, with a sigh.

Frank laughed.

"I see," he said. "You don't want to further implicate matters by giving out the name of the power whose seal shows on the wax! All right, old boy, I'll get it yet!"

"No good can come of a representative of the United States Government presenting charges of such a character against another power," Ned replied.

Captain Martin now arose from the chair where he had been seated for a long time. He glanced keenly into the faces of the six prisoners and then turned to Ned.

"Shall I take them in charge?" he asked,

"That would be useless."

"Then what can be done with them?"

"I am going to turn them over to the authorities on the charge of attempted murder, based on the effort they made to kill us in the old house."

"Very well," the Captain said, "now will you tell me how you set this trap so, cleverly?"

"It was only a matter of detail," Ned replied. "I took good care to let the native waiters here know that I had the clues I had found secreted in my room. I also let it be known that I was a heavy sleeper.

"My interpreter, who is by no means as treacherous a chap as his looks would indicate, heard the robbery of my room planned. He heard the hour fixed-a quarter past twelve. So all the rest was easy."

"Oh, yes, easy, but how did you do it?"

"Frank, Jack and Jimmie helped," added Ned. "Jack was at a window over the way. He told me by signals just how many men were to take part in the attack on me.

"Frank, in the next room to mine, told me when the time came to be on guard. I really do not wake easily, and he rigged a cord through the wall so I could rest comfortably until the time for action came.

"Then when all was ready, he told me by means of colored light that all the six were in the corridor, and that the officers I had engaged during the afternoon were on hand."

"And you went to sleep with all this on your mind and slept up to within a quarter of an hour of the time set for action?" asked the Captain in wonder.

"Why, certainly," was the reply. "You see, we have been having some exciting nights, and I needed rest. The other boys slept a good deal this afternoon, so I left them to wake me at night. Nothing odd about that, is there?"

"Nothing save the nerve of it."

Two high officers now made their appearance in the room and beckoned to the prisoners. All arose save the man from whom the disguise had been stripped. He remained in the chair into which he had dropped, seemingly in a stupor.

"Come," said the officer.

The man arose, desperation in his eyes, and moved toward the door. A few days before that miserable night he had been one of the leaders in the statecraft of the world. Now he was being marched to a prison like any ordinary criminal.

The speaker was interrupted by a quick movement on the part of the prisoner, the man he had addressed as Count. There was no one between he desperate man and the still open window. Ned was at the door, Captain Martin was out in the corridor, and Frank, Jack and Jimmie were talking together in a corner.

Handcuffed as he was, the Count leaped to the window and shot down to the hard pavement below. There was a shrill cry as his body hurtled through the air, then a crash.

Below passersby drew away from what lay in a bloody heap on the pavement. A little crowd gathered, at a distance, but none knew that the body of one of the most distinguished statesmen in the world lay there.

"It is finished!" Ned said, with a sigh. "The whole story of the conspiracy will never be told. It is the story of a treacherous government and a treacherous statesman.

"The documents I have will fully prove that the United States had no hand in the gold shipment, and that is all that we care for. The old world may take care of its own political messes."

"It is a mess indeed," Captain Martin, said. "In less than a year China will be red with blood, and the streets of Peking will witness the retreat of the royal family."

How true this prophecy was the readers of the daily newspapers now know.

"Well," Jack said, with a yawn, as the boys and the Captain were left alone in the room together, "I presume it is us for little old New York to-morrow. How do you like this motorcycle-flying-squadron business, boys," he added. "We seem to have flown ahead of the flying squadron."

"Then we ought to fly back and look after the ones who were wounded on the road," Frank said. "Suppose we all go back on our machines, and really see something of the country?"

This was agreed to, and the party separated for the night. In the morning Ned paid his respects to the American ambassador, who greeted him courteously, but wanted to know all about the events of the trip from the coast.

"You have gotten Uncle Sam out of a bad mess," the ambassador said, when Ned had finished his narration, "and you will find that you will be well rewarded when you return to Washington."

The ambassador also requested the boys to visit the other legations, but they did not care to do so.

"Well," he said, then, "you must take a letter from me which may help you on your way. I have been expecting you here all the week, but it seems that you completed your work without my assistance,"

"Just what I was figuring on," Ned replied.

"I worked under surveillance all the way here, and I desired to show that I could do something on my own account."

The boys left Peking early the next morning, and were not long in reaching the house where the powder trap had been set for them. There they found Hans and Sandy! The boys had followed them on from Tientsin in an automobile which an English merchant was taking through.

Both boys were riding motorcycles, and were already proficient enough to proceed with the others, using the machines which had been ridden by the wounded marines, who were sent on to Peking in charge of Captain Martin.

A week was spent on the road to Taku, and the lads enjoyed every minute of the time. The letter given them by the American ambassador brought them every attention at Tientsin and Taku.

It was late in the fall when they reached New York. On the night of their arrival there were many joyful meetings in the clubroom of the Black Bear Patrol. The next day Ned went on to Washington to file his report. When he returned it was with a very substantial reward.

"Now," he said, with a laugh, "I'm ready for the next trip. I wonder where it will be?"

THE END