Chapter XVI. Wolves on the Mountain.
 

"And so you are George Fremont, the scoundrel wanted by the police of New York City for attempted murder and robbery--the rascal for whose capture there is a reward of $10,000 offered!"

As the renegade repeated the accusation, his eyes flashed malignantly. Fremont listened silently, apparently unmoved by the vilifying words.

A moment's reflection convinced Jimmie--still observing the group from the shelter of his rocky hiding place--that the arrival of the messenger had slightly improved the situation so far as the interests of his friends were concerned. The critical moment had for the present passed or been delayed, and the prisoner was no longer threatened with immediate death. Jimmie, too, had been temporarily relieved of the responsibility of the act he had decided upon--the shooting of the renegade if he lifted an arm to signal the murder of the prisoner.

Still, Fremont was yet in the power of the renegade, and might soon be, through the latter's malice and greed, in the hands of the Mexican police and on his way back to the Tombs unless something was done immediately. Before, the renegade had been alone in his wish for the destruction of the boy; that is, alone of all the group about him, and of all the outlaws gathering in the mountains. Now, with the news of the reward published abroad by the messenger and the renegade, every native man, woman and child in Mexico would take a personal interest in delivering the prisoner to officials competent to hand over the large reward.

Jimmie listened intently and with a fastbeating heart for the strident voice of a drum. It seemed to him that Peter Fenton had been gone long enough to gain the camp. The secret service men, he knew, had not had time to reach the point of danger, but they had, he thought, had time enough to make a noise like an advancing army. There were bright-plumaged birds singing in the early sunshine, but no indications of the approach of the help Fenton had gone to arouse. What the next move of the renegade and his companions would be the boy could not even guess. He hoped, however, that the party would linger about the vicinity until the secret service men could come up.

This hope, however, was soon shattered. The renegade Englishman consulted with the messenger for some moments, pointing away to the north, as he did so, and then the outlaws were ordered into line, Fremont placed in the center, and all moved in the direction which had been pointed out.

The course of travel, although due north in general, wound among crags and through little canons, over level plateaux and along dangerous precipices, it being the possible desire of the renegade to work his way to the Rio Grande without coming into contact with officers or hostile groups of armed men who might demand a division of the fat reward offered for the arrest of the boy.

Owing to the character of the surface, Jimmie was obliged to wait for some moments before following on after the party. In fact, it was only by moving cautiously and keeping cliffs and crags between himself and the renegade's group of outlaws that the boy could make progress without being seen.

Before leaving the spot where the prisoner had stood, Jimmie selected a rock of the size of a two-gallon jug, placed it in plain view, and laid on top of it a smaller rock. At the left he placed another stone, the size of the one on top. This would direct any of the boys who might come too late to his relief.

During his Boy Scout excursions the boy had often used this "Indian talk" to inform his friends of the course he had taken. All Boy Scouts are supposed to be versed in "Signs in Stones." The large rock with the small one on top read, "Here the trail begins." The smaller stone to the left read, "Turn to the left." If the stone had been placed on the right it would have read, "Turn to the right." If he had built a pyramid of three stones, two on top of the large one, it would have read, "You are warned:

Proceed cautiously." Jimmie knew that Fenton understood signs in stones, and would therefore have no difficulty in following him if he came up later on.

As the boy followed on to the north, now and then sliding down declivities, turning with dizzy eyes from great heights, but forever keeping the direction taken by the hostile party ahead, he listened for the sound of a gun, for the rattle of Fenton's drum, but listened in vain. He feared that the boy had been captured on his way down.

Finally, after a rough journey of several hours' duration, the renegade came to a halt at a point where the summit fell away in two directions, to the north and to the east. The divide seemed at least three hundred feet lower than that to the south, and sloped gradually, on the east, to a desert-like plain, beyond which ran the river. Here the party turned east toward the river and the boundary.

Jimmie, perched on a ledge facing the north, watched Fremont moving away with a desire in his heart to send a bullet after the Englishman. He tried to attract the attention of the captive, but did not succeed. While the boy lay watching and listening for any sounds of rescuers coming up the slope, a great rock, somewhere to the south, went tumbling down the mountain, carrying smaller rocks with it until the rattle of falling stones sounded like the din of a battle.

The renegade started and looked about suspiciously, doubtless fearing that the slide had been caused by the incautious feet of a pursuer, but his companions smiled and informed him that such incidents were common there and not at all alarming.

Jimmie smiled, too, for when the rattle ceased he heard a Black Bear growling in a ravine not far away. In a second the snarl of a Wolf answered the growl of the Bear, and then, almost before he became aware of their stealthy approach, Frank Shaw and Peter Fenton lay beside him in his hiding place. It seemed to the boy, as they lay there panting from their long climb, that they had dropped out of the sky.

He gave each one a friendly kick and waited, with a grin on his face.

"Say," grunted Shaw, rolling over on his back, "I'm all fried out."

"You have plenty of fat left," grinned Jimmie. "How did you fellows get here?"

"By following the signs in the stones," Frank replied.

Then Jimmie turned to Peter, also panting from his climb.

"Where's the drum you went after," he demanded, tauntingly.

"I got lost on the way down," Peter explained. "I didn't think I'd ever see or hear a drum again. Then I came upon Frank. He was lost, too. I was on my way down to the camp, and he was on his way up to the camp, and we met half a mile to the south of the camp, both trudging along like fools."

The situation was explained in a few words. Both boys had missed the trail, and had found, not the camp, but each other. They had last met in New York. Frank had not the slightest notion that Peter had left the city. It was a fortunate meeting, for the two, after greeting each other like chums, had studied the situation out much better than one could have done, with the result that, after many false trails had been followed, they had struck the one left by Jimmie.

Where are they going with Fremont?" Frank asked, in a moment.

"They seem to be going after the reward," replied Jimmie.

"He'll get all the reward that's coming to him before he gets over the river and claims the money," Frank exclaimed. "Do you think Fremont knows that you are here?"

Jimmie shook his head.

"I've had to keep back," he said, "and Fremont never will look my way when I get close up to where he is."

"He ought to know," the drummer said.

"I've done my best," Jimmie said, in a discouraged tone.

Frank Shaw smiled and dropped down behind a huge rock.

"Just wait a minute," he said. "Just wait until I catch me breath, and I'll put him wise to the fact that there's a Black Bear somewhere in this turned-up-on-edge country. Watch, and see him jump."

Frank put his hand to his throat and emitted a growl which would have done credit to a genuine black bear, a bear in a museum warning the inquisitive to keep away from his cage. The threatening sound, however, seemed to come from the other side of the slope where the prisoner stood.

The Englishman drew a revolver and glanced sharply around, while the outlaws seized their guns and held them ready for action. It was clear to the boys that they had been completely deceived by the signal, and were expecting an attack from the animal at any moment.

Fremont did not seem to notice the signal, which was one the members of the Black Bear Patrol had long practiced both in the forest and in their club room, but his eyes were for an instant lifted toward the hiding place occupied by the three boys.

"He's next," whispered Fenton.

"I should say so," grunted Frank. "I guess he'd know a Black Bear signal anywhere. We didn't learn that call by any correspondence school method. It is the genuine thing. We got it by dodging the keepers and stirring up the black bears at Central Park."

The outlaws were now making timid runs out toward the point from which the sound had come, and the boys thought best to drop back a short distance, still keeping Fremont in sight, however. Directly the outlaws assembled again and stood talking in the villainous lingo which they had used before. It was evident that they were not a little alarmed at the thought of a wild animal being so close to them.

"They'll think there's more than one Black Bear after them," Shaw whispered as the men turned down the eastern slope and again moved toward the desert-like plain which lay between the mountains and the river.

"There's a Wolf after them, too," grinned Jimmie. "If I had some of the Wolves I left in New York we'd eat 'em alive," he added. "I'm hungry enough to eat that big lobster at three bites."

As the boy ceased speaking a pebble struck him on the top of the head, and the whine of a wolf reached his ears. There was silence for a moment, and then the sharp, vicious, canine-like snap of a wolf on scent was heard.

"I reckon all the Wolves in the world are not in New York," Shaw said. "That was a patrol signal, Jimmie. Go out and find your chum."

"It's Nestor!" almost shouted the boy, and Nestor it was, climbing laughingly toward the astonished group.

"Get down! Get down," warned Frank. "You'll give us all away."

Nestor pointed to the ridge, from which the outlaws had now disappeared, and threw himself down by the side of the boys.

"Did you bring anything to eat?" demanded Frank, rubbing his stomach.

"Where are the secret service men?" asked Fenton.

"This looks like a Boy Scout convention," Jimmie put in. "Where did you come from, and why didn't the guards come with you?"

In a few words Nestor explained the situation. He had left the secret service men to convey the prisoners to El Paso, and had entered alone upon a search for his friends. In a short time he had come upon signs in stones left by Shaw and Fenton, and had followed them to the place of meeting.

"What's the matter with the secret service men?" asked Shaw.

"Aw, they're jealous of Nestor!" Jimmie put in. "I reckon they wouldn't much care if Nestor had been geezled instead of Fremont."

"They did all they were ordered to do," Nestor replied. "It is now up to us to release Fremont. "I'm glad he knows we are here," Nestor added, after due explanation had been made by Jimmie and Shaw. "He'll be on the lookout for us."

"How are you going to get him?" asked Fenton.

"You've heard of cutting cattle out of a herd?" smiled Nestor. "Well, that is the way we are going to get Fremont. We're going to cut him out."