Chapter XV. Accusing Each Other.
 

Don Miguel stopped in his nervous pacing of the small space in front of the tents and thrust his passion-swept face to within a foot of that of the speaker.

"A desperate crime!" he repeated. "Do you have the temerity to mention my name in connection with crime?"

"On the night of your visit to Mr. Cameron," Nestor went on, coolly, "you dined at one of the famous lobster palaces on Times Square. Early in the evening, let us say not far from nine o'clock, you left the restaurant and took a cab for the Cameron building. You spoke both French and Spanish to the driver, as well as English, and tipped him liberally, paying the charge in gold."

Don Miguel swung away again, his face expressive of a desire to do murder.

"You found Mr. Cameron in his office," Nestor continued, "busy with the papers of the Tolford estate. There are only two persons who know what took place at that interview, Mr. Cameron and yourself, but we are certain that the purpose of it was to urge Mr. Cameron to complete the contract for munitions of war which was under discussion. It is also quite likely that, failing in this, you sought the return of the compromising letters which you had written to him."

The enraged diplomat made a desperate dash for the freedom of the hills, such a short distance away, but was brought back by a guard--brought back almost frenzied with the hate of the boy that possessed him.

"Sit down," thundered the lieutenant. "Another break of that kind will lead to handcuffs."

Don Miguel obeyed, throwing himself on the ground as far as possible from his accuser. With a smile Nestor moved closer to him and went on.

"You did not get the letters. They are now safe in the vaults of the War department. Why you did not secure them I cannot say, for they were later found on the desk. One strong point in your favor, when the accusation is weighed, is that you did not take the letters. Had you left Mr. Cameron unconscious, you certainly would have secured them."

The harassed man lifted his eyes as if about to comment on the spoken words, but finally decided to remain silent.

"Mr. Cameron was attacked that night by some person having murder in his heart, and an innocent boy is accused of the crime. As I stated a moment ago, the fact that the incriminating letters were not taken speaks in your defense, still, you might have been frightened away after striking the blow."

Jim Scoby and Felix, who had been listening intently to the conversation, now whispered together for a moment, glancing malevolently toward Don Miguel as they did so. The latter saw the looks of hate and said a few words in Spanish which Nestor could not understand.

It seemed to the boy that the three men were endeavoring to arrive at some mutual defensive understanding with each other, so he asked Lieutenant Gordon to separate them. He did not propose to have any secret compact made there before his eyes.

"But there is still another view of the case," Nestor continued, after listening for a moment to the enraged protests of the three prisoners, who objected to the action that had been taken, "for, even if you did not attack Mr. Cameron, you might have sent some person in to do the work after your departure. You might have depended upon this accomplice to secure the letters. I don't know. The courts must decide.

"Anyway, whether you left Mr. Cameron in an unconscious state or not, his suite was visited by others soon after your departure. At least two persons were there, but I do not know whether they entered at the same moment or not. These men copied a paper they found in the Tolford estate envelope--the description of a lost mine--and went away. When Fremont entered the rooms, after all these visits, he found Mr. Cameron unconscious.

"It seems reasonable to suppose that one of you three men attacked Mr. Cameron--either Jim Scoby, Felix, or yourself, Don Miguel. We do not know which one dealt the blow, or whether you were all in the conspiracy against him, so we are taking you back to New York for trial. The matter of treason against you can be taken up later on."

"Your story is not exact, and your suppositions are forced," Don Miguel said, with a sneer, as if about to confound the conclusions of the boy with the logic of a man. "As purchasing agent for a perfectly legitimate concern, I visited that suite that night in the interest of the contract referred to by you. I was disappointed in the outcome of the negotiations, but I did not ask for the letters. They were confidential, and Mr. Cameron promised to regard them as such. When I left his office, Mr. Cameron was at work at his desk. That is all I have to say."

"And I was in that suite that night," Jim Scoby broke in. "I went in with a key I had had made, for the night-lock was on. I found Cameron unconscious on the couch. Felix, the man who sits there, entered with me. We were after the mine paper, and we got a copy of it. He will tell you whether what I have said is the truth."

"What Scoby says is the truth," Felix grunted.

The three prisoners had the earnestness of men telling the truth. They admitted having visited the Cameron suite on the night of the tragedy, and told how and why they went there. At least they gave good reasons for going, that of Don Miguel being legitimate, that of the others based on crime, for they admitted that they went there to steal a paper from the Tolford estate envelope, or, at least, to copy it.

The three admitted all that Nestor had discovered, and nothing else. Was this because they knew that he was certain of his facts regarding the visits and the men who had made them? Anyway, there was no dispute as to the details. It was the important conclusion that was denied.

"If you found Mr. Cameron lying there unconscious," Nestor asked of Scoby, "why didn't you summon help? You had no cause for enmity against him, had you?"

"I wasn't there as first aid to the wounded," replied Scoby, sullenly. "I was there on business, and in danger of being caught at it, at that. Besides, I looked Cameron over, and thought he was out for the count and nothing more. Why don't you ask that foxy-looking guy over there," pointing to Don Miguel, "what he done it for?"

Don Miguel glared at Scoby, but said nothing.

"He says Cameron was well and hearty when he went in there. Well, Cameron wasn't well at all when he went in there, and I don't believe there was anybody in there between us. You search him for a reason."

"Were the lights on when you went in there?" asked Nestor.

"Yes," was the reply.

"And you switched them off?"

Scoby nodded and glanced toward Felix,

"How long was it after you left the room that Fremont came up?"

Both men refused to make any definite statement as to this, and Nestor saw that they were concealing something, that he had struck a feature of the case upon which they had made no agreement as to what should be told and what kept secret.

"These men are trying to put their crime on me," Don Miguel now said, fury in his tone. "They know that I left Mr. Cameron working at his desk. They were in the corridor and saw me pass down the elevator, which was making its last trip at that moment. They were whispering in a corner, in sight of the door to the Cameron suite. They took advantage of circumstances to place the crime on me."

This was what Nestor was aiming at. The three men, the only ones there that night, so far as he knew, were quarreling with each other. This would help in bringing out the truth. He decided to talk no more on the case for the time being.

"We ought to be looking up the boys," he said, by way of changing the subject.

"It will be daylight very soon now," Lieutenant Gordon replied, "and then something may be done. Rest assured that we shall do all we can to bring them back."

"It appears to me," Nestor said, thoughtfully, "that you ought to be getting these prisoners over the river."

"Yes, that is important," said the lieutenant.

"We do not know what is going on over there," the boy continued. "The arms which this man succeeded in purchasing may be on this side, for all we know. In that case, war may break out at any moment."

"Perhaps I would better start at once," agreed the lieutenant.

"Our boys over the river are prepared for a raid?" asked Nestor.

"Yes, all ready."

"Then you would better get the prisoners over before the trouble begins."

He turned to Don Miguel with a smile and asked:

"How is it? Were the arms you bought delivered on this side, or did the United States troops stop them?"

"They were to have been sent across last night," with a grin of triumph.

"And the signal from the peak shortly after midnight?"

"The O.K. signal meant that the men were there ready to receive them."

"Then you anticipate rescue almost immediately?" asked Lieutenant Gordon.

Don Miguel shrugged his slender shoulders.

"The hills are full of men," he said. "If they are armed--well."

"And you will accompany us? asked Gordon of Nestor.

"I shall remain here and look after my friends" was the reply. "After all, one may be able to accomplish more than half a dozen. Get the prisoners over the border before the shooting begins, and I will find the lost boys."

When the secret service men turned down the slope, Nestor moved toward the summit.