Chapter IV. Two Black Bears in Trouble
 

Jack and Frank sat long by the window, waiting for Ned and Jimmie to return. The doors of the adjoining rooms were wide open, so they had a full view of the lower floor.

There were windows, unglazed like that which looked out on the Gulf of Pechili, too, and the lads could see for some distance along the street which ran parallel with the one upon which the miserable old structure faced.

Presently a mist crept over the sky, and black clouds rolled in from the threatening canopy over the gulf. There was evidently a storm brewing, and, besides, the night was coming on.

In spite of the fact that they had a good view all about them, so far as the house and its immediate vicinity was concerned, both boys felt that almost indescribable sensation which one experiences when being observed from behind by keen and magnetic eyes. They were not exactly afraid, but they had premonitions of approaching trouble.

"I wonder what's keeping Ned?" Jack asked. "Hope he hasn't gotten into trouble."

"Oh, he'll look out for that!"

"Of course! Ned's no slouch!"

While the boys cheered themselves with such remarks as these, the rooms grew darker and the black clouds from off the gulf dropped nearer.

"What an ungodly country!" Jack exclaimed. "I feel as if I were surrounded by snakes, and all kinds of reptiles. How would you like to take a New York special, just now?"

"I'm not yet seared of the job we are on," Frank replied, "but I'd like a half decent show of getting out alive. I feel like we were in a hole in the ground, with all manner of creeping things about us. The very air seems to be impregnated with treachery and cunning."

"That's the breath of the Orient," smiled Jack, not inclined to continue in the vein in which the conversation had started.

"I don't know why the breath of the Orient should differ from the breath of the Occident," replied Frank, well pleased at the change of subject. "It wouldn't, if the natives of the far East would put bathtubs in their houses and garbage cans on the street comers."

"Well, there certainly is an odor about the East," grinned Jack. "Perhaps it is the hot weather."

"Hot weather has nothing to do with the sanitary conditions of this part of the world," Frank went on. "Peking is in the latitude of Philadelphia, or New York. You wouldn't think so to hear people talk about the Orient back home, but you'll change your mind if you don't get out of this before winter sets in."

"Somehow I never associated cold weather with the East," Jack said.

"Why," Frank continued, "this river freezes over about the middle of December and they run sledges on the ice until the middle of March. In summer it is often 106 above zero, while in the winter it drops to about 6 degrees below. If the natives were half civilized, you might get the idea that you were in Ohio, because of the fields of corn."

"We don't know much about China, do we?" mused Jack.

This was Frank's opportunity. Before reaching the coast he had spent many hours studying up on the history of the strange land he was about to visit. His father was owner and editor of one of the most powerful newspapers in New York City, and the boy had had plenty of inspiration for historical research from the time he was old enough to read. His father's library had supplied him with all the facilities necessary to the carrying out of his inclination, and his travels with the Boy Scouts had brought him into contact with many of the countries whole history he had studied so enthusiastically.

Now he saw an opportunity of talking China to Jack, and started in at once. Jack listened eagerly, for, while interested in the past of the strange land, he was too busy a young man to spend much time in any library. His father was one of the leading corporation lawyers in New York, but the boy's inclinations pointed to mining as a future profession--when he had investigated the wilds of the world!

"We don't know much about China," Frank began, "because for centuries China has shunned what we call civilization. This is said to be the most ancient and populous nation in the world, although it seems to me that history goes back farther on the banks of the Nile and the Euphrates than on the western shore of the Yellow Sea.

"The authentic history of China goes back 2207 years before the birth of Christ, while Egyptian records and the data found along the Euphrates and the Tigris point to a much older organization of men into communities. However, it is said by some that Fuh-hi founded the Chinese empire eight hundred years before the date given, when Yu the Great began to make history.

"One reason why the story of China is so short, comparatively, is that Ching Wang, the old fellow who caused the Chinese wall to be built to keep out the Tartars, ordered all books and records previous to his time to be destroyed. This was to dispose of the stories of wars, in which China, before his time, was always engaged.

"China has always been at war with the Mongolians. In 1300 A.D., Genghis Khan raised a Mongolian army and captured Peking. Later, one Kublai Khan overthrew the Sung dynasty and established a Mongolian empire. The members of the defeated royal family drowned themselves in the river at Canton. This Mongolian dynasty lasted until the middle of the fourteenth century, when it was overthrown.

"The Chinese governed their own land, then, until 1644, just before which time the emperor was murdered by native sons. Then the Tartars got to Peking, in spite of the Great Wall, and established the dynasty now on the throne.

"One cause of the growing revolt in China is the fact that the Tartars are still in power. But the Tartars who were warlike enough when China lay before them for conquest quieted down as soon as Sun-chi took the throne. Peace has been the rule since then.

"It seem strange, but it is true, that China has not progressed, has not been given the respect conferred on other nations, because she would not, or could not fight. Talk about peace all you like, but it is the fighters that win whether in private or national life.

"China has been kicked about by all the nations of the world, large and powerful as she is, because it was understood that she could be insulted with impunity. England put the opium curse on her against only feeble resistance. She has stood for peace, not conquest, and had been treated condescendingly, like a big booby of a boy at school who is afraid of lads half his size. The secret organization now forming in this country may overthrow the Manchu dynasty, but if it does it will build a Chinese republic and not a new Chinese empire.

"It is claimed by some that the United States is favoring this new Chinese party of liberty, that the gold recently lost in the Pacific was our contribution to the cause--by the roundabout way we have heard so much about--and that the Washington government will be the first to recognize the new republic.

"I don't know whether all this is true or not, but father says it is, and he ought to know. Anyhow, there will be plenty of fighting before the present rulers release their grip on the royal treasury. It may be that our mission here is to find out something more about this new movement.

"You see," he added, "if our government is for the new movement, the nation which rammed the gold ship, which set the conspirators at work, which sent a great statesman, as we believe, to negotiate with the conspirators, is against it, and Uncle Sam possibly wants to know what power it is that is likely to assist the present Emperor of China in holding his job. If Ned can get the proof he needs to establish what he already knows and suspects, he will do a good piece of work."

"I wish he would return," Jack said, with an apprehensive look about the room. 'I don't see what is keeping him."

"Here he comes, now!" Frank cried, "or it may be Jimmie," he added, "blundering through the window."

Both boys arose and hastened to the door of the room from which the sounds of approach had been heard. The apartment was dark and still, save for the whipping of the wind at the open casement. While the boys stood there, expecting every instant to hear the voice of one of their chums, rain began to fall, and a sharp zigzag of lightning cut across the sky.

By this natural searchlight the lads saw a figure crouching just under the window. The illumination lasted for an instant only, and it was not possible for them to see whether the visitor was dressed in native or European costume. His face was not in sight, and only the barest outlines of his figure were discernible.

Jack was for rushing forward on a tour of inspection, but Frank took a firm grip on his friend's arm and held him back. He not only prevented him springing upon the crouching figure, but drew him away from the open door-way, believing that both had been observed by the intruder.

"We ought to get him!" Jack panted, in a whisper. "We ought to find out if he is one of our enemies or only a common thief."

"Much good it would do to capture him!" Frank whispered back. "We couldn't force the truth out of him, and the things they call courts of justice here would soon be after us."

"Then what can we do?" demanded Jack.

Frank did not reply, for footsteps, now plainly heard above the sweep of the wind and rain, were approaching the room where the boys were standing, with automatic revolvers in their hands.

"He's got his nerve!" Jack said. "Why doesn't he come into the place with a brass band? Shall we sneak out of a window, or remain here and find out what he wants?"

"I'm for getting out!"

Frank leaped from the window as he spoke, and in a second Jack came piling out on top of him.

"Gee whiz!" Frank whispered. "Why don't you knock a fellow over?"

"What are you trying to do?" demanded Jack.

"Not a thing," was the reply. "Say, but we'll get a nice soak if we remain here."

"You'll get a nice soak on the coco, if you don't stop pulling me around," came back from Jack.

"Then keep your hands off me!" Frank responded.

But in a moment both boys knew that they were not struggling with each other. A brilliant flash of lightning cut the sky, and by its light they saw each other lying on the ground under the window, each with a couple of men in native costume perched on top.

Jack fired, but the pressure on his back was not lessened. Instead, he felt a snaky hand slip down his arm, seize his fingers and twist the gun away.

"Frank!" he called out. "Frank! Shoot at the heathens! I missed, and one of them has my gun."

Frank obeyed the suggestion, and three reports were heard. Jack, though not naturally bloodthirsty, was overjoyed at the sound of a groan which came from the spot where Frank lay.

"Don't try that again, son!"

"That will be enough!"

Both sentences were spoken in English. Then the boys were carried bodily into the house and sat down against a wall. Then a lighted lantern was brought in, and the prisoners saw six sleepy-looking Chinamen grinning at them.