Chapter III. A Shoe and a Surprise
 

"What do you mean by that?" asked Frank. "If he had reached the old house first, he would have waited here for us, wouldn't he?"

"Look what's here," Ned replied. "There has been a fight in the room. The combatants fought from the inner wall to the window, then a knife was used. These stains are by no means fresh, but they tell the story. And to think that we've been here all these days and never found them!"

"Well," Frank hastened to say, "we weren't suspicious; and, then, we had no occasion to visit this room."

"We should have been on our guard," Ned replied, "but there is no help for it now. This discovery may block our going on to Peking to-night."

"I don't see why," Jack said, in a disappointed tone.

"If the man who was wounded here and carried out of the window," Ned replied, "is really the messenger we are waiting for, we ought not to go away and leave him in the hands of the enemy. It may not be the one I fear it is, but we ought to find out about that."

"It might have been only natives fighting," urged Jack.

"Of course," Ned insisted, "but we ought not to leave if there is any possibility of our friend being in trouble. Besides, Jack," he went on, "a native fight here would hardly be umpired by a man wearing European shoes! Here are the tracks, and I found others like them on the ground outside not long ago. We may as well go out now and try to follow them."

Accompanied by Jimmie, Ned went out and made a closer examination. The tracks crossed the yard and ended at the street in the rear of the old house.

"Now," Ned said, as he stepped out on the beaten course of the unpaved street, "we shall have to take chances. The trail has disappeared, and we can only depend on our enemies for guidance."

"That's fine!" said Jimmie. "We may as well go back!"

Ned pointed to a little group of Chinamen standing not far away, at the corner of a street lined with miserable huts.

"We'll walk about here," he said, "and if we get somewhere near any point of information to us or danger to the others, I have a notion that that nest of Celestials will begin to buzz."

Jimmie laughed and the two passed on, merely looking in the direction of the group as they passed it. They moved on down the street on the opposite side. The Chinamen did not move.

When they turned back, however, on the other side of the thoroughfare and stopped, on speculation, for an instant before a hut somewhat larger and more dilapidated than the others, a pair of the watchers suddenly detached themselves from the group and hastened away in opposite directions. Two more strolled toward the boys.

"What next?" asked Jimmie, in a whisper.

"Seems to me that our halting here indicates that there may be something doing in this house," Ned replied. "Suppose we go in and ask some ordinary question?"

"An' get kicked out!" grunted Jimmie.

"That will be all right, so long as they let us out at all," Ned replied with a smile. "I just want to know why our stopping here excited the Chinks who were watching us."

As Ned turned toward the house the little fellow caught him by the sleeve and held him back.

"You look out," he said, "there's a snake in there, that black-eyed snake who claimed to be Lieutenant Rae! Do you want him to know that we are wise to his game?"

Ned turned and started away from the house, but there came a call from the structure, and the next instant two men were running out to greet him. More by gestures than by words they informed the boys that there was a man in the house wished to see them.

In a moment they stood facing the man who had called himself Lieutenant Rae. He advanced to meet them and pointed to chairs as they entered the room.

"Out for a walk?" he asked, with a smile.

Ned nodded and Jimmie grinned.

"The owner of this house," Rae went on, "is an old friend of mine. We met first, years ago, in San Francisco. I'm staying here while in the town. By the way, I was about to visit your quarters."

"Come along," Ned said. "We must be getting back."

Rae left the room, saying that he would bring a raincoat, and Jimmie pointed to a rear apartment where an old Chinaman with a long, sinister cicatrice on his left cheek was bending over a table.

"That's the Chink who brings our grub," he said. "What is this Rae person doing here? I don't eat no more grub that Chink brings."

Ned made no reply, for a swinging closet door attracted his attention at that moment. Inside the narrow closet, on the rough floor, lay a pair of European shoes. Ned slipped forward and seized one. When Rae returned it was hidden in a capacious pocket.

"What is it?" whispered Jimmie.

"If I'm not much mistaken," was the reply, "it is the shoe that made the tracks we have been following."

"Then this Rae person didn't always enter the old house where we are stopping by the front way," commented Jimmie. "Gee," he added, "I'll bet he umpired that fight, and the man the Chinks carried off is in this house now."

There was no more opportunity for conversation between the two boys at that time, for Rae stood watching them closely, a sneering smile on his face. Ned turned toward the door.

"Why venture out in the storm?" asked Rae. "Surely, there is no need of haste. Your friends will not lose themselves during your absence."

"You were ready to go, a moment ago," Ned said.

"It is the storm," the other observed, with a shrug of the shoulders. "It is increasing in violence every moment."

Glancing into the rear room, Ned saw the old Chinaman leave his work and pass through a door to the west. The boy thought he recognized a significant signal as the fellow disappeared,

The lads never knew exactly how it all occurred. They only knew at the time that there was a quick rush, a flash of weapons, a desperate struggle, then momentary unconsciousness.

They decided afterwards that their enemies had rushed upon them from every direction, and that the sneering face of Rae had gloated over their capture.

"Don't injure them," Rae ordered, as ropes were knotted about the wrists and ankles of the prisoners. "I'll go out now and see that the two Black Bears," with a double sneer in his voice, "are taken into camp in short order. Bad climate, this, for school boys who imitate wild animals," he added, with a malicious smile. "A bad climate."

"You're all right!" Jimmie called out, as Rae paused in the doorway for an instant. "You're all right! But let me give you a pointer. You keep the Bears and Wolves you get in strong cages! If they get out, they'll eat you up!"

"Oh! I'll pull their fangs!" laughed the other, and then he was gone.

"This China seems to be a nice country," Jimmie said, turning to Ned. "Some people would break our crusts in instead of tyin' us up."

"I rather think," Ned replied, "that they have planned to do that a little later on. We ought never to have taken such chances."

"You can't have a chicken pie," grinned Jimmie, "unless some one kills a chicken! No more can you find out what's goin' on by sittin' down in an old house an' waitin' for someone to bring you the news in a New York newspaper! We had to keep cases on this chap, didn't we?"

"I think you would talk slang if you were drowning," Ned smiled. "Anyway," he added, "we've caused Rae, if that is his name, to show his hand. That is something."

"If we never get away," laughed Jimmie, "we can leave the information to our friends in a will! I wonder if this gazabo will get Frank and Jack?"

"Possibly," Ned answered.

"They seem to be puttin' most all the Americans in China out of circulation!" said the little fellow. "Wonder if that old gear-face thinks he can guard us an' sleep, too? Say, you watch your chance, Ned, an' I'll roll over and geezle him an' you get out of the house. Roll out, tumble out, any way to get out! There," with a sigh of disappointment, "there's another Chink in the game. Listen to what they are saying!"