Chapter V. A Collection of Wild Animals
 

"Well, what do you think of it?"

The voice was that of an Englishman, and the words were spoken in the room, but the struggling prisoners could not discover where the person who uttered them stood. It seemed to them that there were only the six sleepy-looking Chinamen and themselves in the apartment.

Frank ceased his useless struggling with the rope which held both feet and hands in its strong coils, and glanced along the row of stupid faces.

"What did you say?" he asked, hoping that the speaker would say something more and so locate himself.

"How do you like it?"

That was the same voice, and it was in that room, but, still, there were only the six Chinamen and Jack in sight. Frank looked at his chum with a smile on his face. In that moment he resolved to meet whatever Fate might have in store for him with a cheerful heart. He had little doubt that both Ned and Jimmie had been caught in the trap into which Jack and himself had fallen.

There was no knowing what the fate of himself and his friends would be, but whatever had been planned for them by their enemies, there would be no relief in sighs and pleas for pity. They were alone in the land of mystery. Owing to the necessity for secrecy regarding their movements, no one with whom they had been associated in the Secret Service work knew of their whereabouts, save only Lieutenant Scott, who had sent them on to Taku, and who had failed to keep his promises to them.

And Lieutenant Scott? Frank believed him dead or in the clutches of the conspirators.

Otherwise, he would have kept his appointment at the old house on the water front. The view ahead was not a long one, as the boy considered the matter, nor a smooth one, but he decided that nothing was to be gained by subserviency.

"I like it!" was Jack's quick reply. "Who is it that is doing the talking?"

"One of the six in front of you," came the answer in English.

Jack cast his eyes quickly along the row of faces, but failed to catch the movement of a lip, the twinkle of an eye.

"You're a funny bloke," Jack went on. "How much will you take for a month in vaudeville?"

"He'd make a fine spirit medium," Frank cut in. "Can you make the talk come from behind me?" he added, with a grin.

"Of course I can!"

Although the boys watched closely, there were no signs of motion in any one of the six yellow, foxy faces, still the words seemed to come from the wall directly back of Jack's head.

"If I had you on the Bowery," Jack continued, "I'd give you a hundred a month. Come on over and get busy in the little old United States!"

"I think I'll wait until the boys bring in the other two wild animals," replied the unknown speaker. "I rather want to see the finish of you Wolves and Black Bears before I see the Bowery again."

"You'll find more wild animals of our stripe on the Bowery than you will want to meet," Jack replied, "especially when it is known that you've been mixed up with Boy Scouts, to their harm, in China."

"I'll take my chances on that," was the reply. "You have been very successful, you wild beasts, in butting into the business of other people, and getting out again uninjured, but it is going to be different now. There are two black Bears and two Wolves that I know of who will never get back to New York again."

"All right," Frank said. "We've had fun enough out of the Secret Service work we have done to pay for whatever trouble we have now. Ned will be along presently, and then you'll have another think coming."

"Sure, he'll be along directly," was the reply. "In fact, he's right here now!"

But it was not Ned who was pushed, bound hand and foot, into the circle of light in the room. The little fellow came near falling as he was thrust forward, but he regained his equilibrium, and turned around to face his tormentor.

"You're a cheap skate!" he said. "If I had you on Chatham Square I'd change your face good and plenty!"

Then he saw that he was speaking to empty air. There was no one in the doorway. The person who had brought him there and hustled him into the room had disappeared.

"Now, what do you know about that?"

Jimmie chuckled as he asked the question of the six silent figures ranged along the wall. As yet his eyes had not fallen on the figures of Frank and Jack, farther back in the shadows.

There was, of course, no answer to his question, and the boy leaned forward, a grin on his freckled face.

"Say, but you're a bum lot!" he cried. "Why don't you go back to the Pyramids and sleep for another thousand years? There ain't no nourishment in sitting up there like a dime museum, for there's no one sellin' tickets at the door."

"Look behind you!"

That was the English voice again, seemingly out of the heavy air, or out of the storm outside. Jimmie turned quickly and saw his chums nicely tied up.

In a moment he turned back to the row of six, without even exchanging a look with his friends.

"Who's doin' the talkin'," he asked.

Frank and Jack were now too impatient to know what had become of their leader to delay longer. The latter asked:

"Where's Ned?"

"Ask this lineup," Jimmie replied. "I don't know. Gee! If I had a face like that man on the end, I'd sell it to the wild man of Borneo, its an improvement on anythin' he could get up. Say, Old Socks!" he added, "where is Ned?"

"Packed up, ready for delivery," was the reply. "Say, how would you wild animals like to take a jaunt on your motorcycles to-night? Nice cool night for a ride! You might reach Poking by morning and report to the American ambassador!"

"We'll get there in due time," Frank answered.

"I've drawn the teeth of this collection of wild animals, at all events," said the voice. "No more Wolves and Black Bears will be apt to come to China. Such collections are not popular here."

Jimmie dropped back to where his chums were seated. Serious as the situation was, the boy could not restrain a smile as he threw himself down beside Frank. The storm was still thundering outside, and splashes of rain now and then whirled in at the open casement.

The lantern which illuminated the interior of the room showed only a round blotch against the darkness. In this circle sat the six silent men, watchful but motionless.

"It might be a scene in a play!" Jimmie exclaimed.

Frank nodded and whispered:

"Did they get Ned, too?"

Jimmie nodded. His face was grave in an instant.

"Where is he?" Frank whispered.

The little fellow shook his head. Then the voice which seemed to come from nowhere was heard again:

"You'll meet him in due time," it said.

A long silence followed. The lantern which gave out the light flickered in the wind and the beat of the rain increased in violence. In all the adventurous lives of the Boy Scouts nothing so weird, so uncanny, as this had ever occurred.

"Well," Jack said, more to break the strange silence than for any other purpose, "why don't you say something?"

Then, through the clamor of the storm, came the sharp ring of steel. It sounded to the listening boys like the purring of two swords directed against each other by strong hands.

Instantly the light was extinguished, and the shuffling of feet told the captives that the watchful six were getting into upright positions.

"Hello, the house!"

The challenging call came from the street outside.

"That's good, honest United States!" Jimmie whispered. "Shall I risk an answer?"

"You'll probably get a knife in your side if you do," Frank answered. "The Chinks are still in the room."

"Show a light!"

The voice was nearer than before, and the three boys lifted to their feet and moved toward the window, which was just above where they had been sitting. Frank was about to throw himself out into the storm when a muscular hand seized him by the arm.

"Nothing doing!" a voice said in his ear.

"If you move again, or try to answer the call, that will be the last of one Black Bear. Remain silent while I talk with your friends."

"Our friends?" repeated Frank.

"Certainly," was the reply--given with a chuckle. "Your very good friends from the American ship in the harbor."

There was torture in the words, in the fierce grip on the arm. The promised assistance had arrived and the boys were powerless to make their perilous situation known!

But a hopeful thought came to the brain of the boy as he was dragged away from the open window. It was barely possible that Ned had escaped, that he knew of the peril his friends were in, and would arrive before the Americans were, by some treacherous falsehood, sent away.

"Nestor!" cried the voice outside. "Are you there? Show a light."

There was a rustle in the room, then black silence.