Chapter XVII. Plenty of Black Bears.
 

"There's four of us now," Jimmie urged, "and we've all got guns, so we ought to go after the lobsters and get Fremont away from them."

"They look like dubs," Frank put in, "and I believe they'll run when they hear us shooting. If you won't let me drum, you must let me shoot."

"You got no drum!" grinned Jimmie.

"I'm afraid they would turn their guns on their prisoner if we attached them," said Nestor. "We've just got to wait until we can cut him out."

"I'm hungry enough to eat 'em all alive," cried Frank.

"I could get along pretty well if I had a couple of gallons of water," said Peter.

"If them lobsters find anything to eat or drink down there," Frank said, "we'll go down and take it away from them. Looks like they were making for a feed."

The boys now clambered cautiously to the summit and looked down the slope to the east. The renegade and his men were slowly making their way toward the bottom. The prisoner was moving forward as briskly as any of them, and the big fellow appeared to be paying special attention to him, as he was walking by his side most of the time.

The distance to the level plain below did not seem to be great. Although the peaks of the Sierra del Fierro range seem high when looked upon from the level of the Rio Grande, they do not appear to be so lofty when viewed from the plateau upon which the actual ascent begins.

The level table-lands or plateaux of Mexico lie from four to nine thousand feet above sea level, making many distinct climates as one goes up or down. These plateaux are girt by mountain chains. The high summits are those of Cofre del Perote, 13,400 feet; Origava, 17,870 feet; Istaccihuatl, or the White Woman, 16,000 feet, and the famous Popocatapetl, known as "Smoking Mountain," which lifts its fire-scarred head 17,800 feet above the level of the ocean.

It seemed to the boys that the distance between the summit where they stood and the plain below might, even at the slow pace at which the outlaws were moving, be made by nightfall. The eastern slope was not so rough and broken as that on the west. In fact, the outlaws were now traveling down a declivity so clear of cliffs and breaks that the boys did not dare follow them. To be observed by the renegade at that time might prove fatal to the hope of the immediate rescue of Fremont, as the outlaws would then be on their guard.

"We've either got to wait until night, or wind down through the wild places off to the south," Nestor said, after looking over the locality for a time.

"We just can't wait until night," Jimmie said. "There's no knowing what treatment Fremont will receive at their hands before that time."

"We may actually gain time by waiting," Nestor advised. "We may be obliged to travel scores of miles around precipices and canons if we take to the rocks."

Suppose we wait, then," Frank said. "We can go over into the bumps to the south and get out of the sunlight, then. I'm about roasted. There may be a cave over in that direction, or a ruined temple."

"Or a Turkish bath, or a lobster palace," grinned Jimmie. "We might find a pie-counter over there, too," he added, with a poke at Frank.

"There are no ruined temples in the State of Chihuahua," declared Peter Fenton, glad of an opportunity of unloading his knowledge of the country, "at least, I have never heard of any being here. The teocalli, or temples, are farther south, down in the State of Chiapas, and in Yucatan."

"But we might find some underground temple up here," insisted Jimmie. "The natives worshiped in this region, didn't they?"

"They built their temples on top of pyramids," continued Fenton, "and not underground. There is one at Palenque said to be built on the lines of Solomon's temple. It has sanctuaries, sepulchers, cloisters, courts, subterraneous galleries, and dismal cells where the priests lived. No one knows how old the ruins are. No one knows how many distinct civilizations have held sway there, one, literally, on top of the other."

"It is too hot up here to talk ancient history," said Frank, "and I'm hungry, too, but I'd like to know where you find any pyramids in Mexico."

"The pyramid-temple of Cholulu," went on the delighted drummer, "is the largest and best known. It makes the pyramids of Egypt look like thirty cents in comparison, for it is nearly fifteen hundred feet on each side and almost two hundred feet high. Gizeh, the big Egyptian pyramid, is only 763 feet along the sides, but it has the Mexican one beaten in height, it being over five hundred feet high. Perhaps you fellows will wake up, directly, and find out what a wonderful country you are in."

"Who built this pyramid-temple?" asked Jimmie.

"No one knows," was the reply. "Whoever did it had correct ideas of architecture and knew lots about decoration. The ruined city of Palenque had temples, palaces, baths, and aqueducts. It was twenty miles long, and must have had an enormous population. It is said that there is not a record left. Cortes and his gang took care of what the Toltecs and Aztecs left."

"It is a wonderful country." Nestor said, "but it needs stability in population. Just now, however, we need rest. It is evident that the outlaws are headed for the plain below, and we must catch up with them when they camp for the night."

"I wonder what Fremont will think?" observed Jimmie. "I'll bet he's thinkin', right now, that we've gone back on him."

"There is no other way," explained Nestor. "It would be folly to attempt rescue now, and worse folly to attempt to follow the party down this slope, in the broad light of day. Did any of you boys notice a square package I had on a shoulder-strap as I came up? I laid it down somewhere. It contained a dozen egg and ham sandwiches," he added, with a provoking smile.

"Great Scott!" cried Frank Shaw, springing straight up in the air, like a rubber ball. "Holy smoke! You haven't lost it, have you?"

Nestor sat back and laughed at the hungry boy's antics and then brought forth the precious packet. The boys gathered around him, but he motioned them away.

"I'm not going to open it here," he said. "What until we find a place where we can rest a bit. There must be a cliff-hole over there somewhere."

Disappointed, and making wry faces, the boys followed Nestor to the south until they came to a shelf of rock which faced the east. The ridge above sheltered the spot from the hot sun, and there was a cavity in the cliff which promised a secure resting place. As he stepped out on the shelf Nestor paused and pointed to a collection of three rocks lying in plain view.

"What is it?" asked Jimmie, his eyes on the sandwich packet.

"Read it," replied Nestor.

"Head to the south! shouted Shaw. "Who put that here?"

Nestor looked keenly into the astonished face before him.

"No tricks, now," he said. "Which of you boys placed this stone signal?"

No one made answer, and Frank bent down to make a closer inspection of the rocky floor of the shelf. Presently he gave a wild whoop and arose to his feet with something in his hand.

"What do you know about this?" he demanded. "What do you know about it, anyway?"

"Crazy," grunted Jimmie. "What is it?"

"The badge of the Black Bear Patrol," was the amazing reply. "Now, who put it there? Some of the Black Bears said they were coming down here, but how could they get to the top of this range?"

It was, indeed, a puzzling find. The stone sign had certainly been placed where it had been found within a few hours, for one side of the large rock was still a trifle damp, having undoubtedly been taken from some shady place.

But how should the Black Bears of New York reach that almost unknown country? That was the question.

"They said they'd sleuth on "Fremont," Frank said, after a pause.

"But they couldn't have followed him here," insisted Fenton. "And, if they had, they would not have been putting up stone signs when we were only a few yards away."

"The sign says, 'Keep to the south,' Nestor observed, "and we may find the solution of the mystery there."

Anxious for a sight of his old chums of the Black Bear Patrol, and unable to control his feelings, Shaw darted on ahead, passed around a corner of rock, and disappeared from the sight of the other members of the party.

"I hope he won't go an' get lost," Jimmie said, taking a swifter pace.

In a moment, however, it became evident that Shaw was not lost; that, in fact, he was very much found, and with an undiminished lung capacity. Such Black Bear growls and sniffs as came from around the corner of the cliff were never heard before outside of a Wild West show. There seemed to be half a dozen Black Bears growling at, and ready to devour each other.

When Nestor turned the corner of the cliff he saw four boys mixed up in what seemed to be a desperate struggle. It was from this group that the wild growls were coming. Now and then a word of greeting or a joyful laugh came from the storm-center, but the playful struggle went on.

"Holy Smoke!" Frank cried presently, drawing himself away from the bunch. "What do you think of it? Look who's here! Three Black Bears, Harry Stevens, Glen Howard and Jack Bosworth. How did you get here, boys, and did you bring anything to eat with you?"

The three Black Bears were introduced to the other members of the party, then tongues ran swiftly, and they all talked at the same time. Occasionally Nestor stepped to the shelf, just around the angle of the cliff, and looked down on the outlaws, making their way to the plain below. When Harry Stevens asked about Fremont, the boys pointed at the distant party and told the story of his capture.

"We'll have him back before night," Stevens declared. "There are seven of us now, and that's enough to put up a lively fight."

"But how did you happen to light on this mountain?" asked Frank, still staring with the wonder of the meeting.

"It was as easy as following a white elephant," laughed Stevens. The El Paso papers told all about Fremont being there, and about his escaping to Mexico. We were there the morning after you left. We took train for San Jose, and found where you had purchased provisions. Then there was the boatman who took you across the lake, or lagoon, and the guards coming down the slope with three prisoners. Oh, it was easy as falling asleep until we left your little camp. In an hour, however, we came upon the trails left by Jimmie and by Shaw, and came on. For the past two hours we have been higher up than you, so we did not see each other."

"You're a nice lot of fellows to go sleuthing," laughed Jack Bosworth. "Why, it was no trick at all to follow you. If the police are as prompt and industrious as we were, they're out here in the hills somewhere right now, after Fremont."

"Another matter kept us in the vicinity of this alleged civilization," replied Nestor, referring to the necessity of capturing Don Miguel, "but now that is over, and we're going to burrow like rabbits in the mountains, after we get hold of Fremont, until the truth is known."

"Well, said Stevens, "there's a good place to hide back here-a cave, with no one knows how many rooms. It was a fine residence some day. Come on. We found it while looking for a place to rest."

"And you said there were no subterraneous temples in Chihuahua," said Shaw, addressing himself to Fenton. "You said they were all in the neck of Central America."

"You wait a second, and you'll see whether there are or not," said Glen Howard.

Then the speaker led the way to the entrance of what appeared to be a very large ante-chamber, there being openings which resembled doorways at the back. Both the side walls and the floor were of rock, and showed evidences of the work of man. A square of light lay on the floor, the sunlight falling through a cut in the rocky roof.

"We haven't ventured any farther than this," Glen said. "We were shaky about coming in this far, for there is no knowing what one will find in these holes. It is dark in the rooms beyond, and it is what one can't see that he is afraid of."

"Besides," Jack Bosworth cut in, "we were hungry when we got here, and--"

"Great Scott!" shouted Shaw. "Do you mean that you've brought something to eat? Lead me to it. I never was so hungry in all me blameless life."

Following the custom of Boy Scouts when preparing for a trip into an unknown country, the three boys had provided themselves with a good supply of provisions, and the hungry ones they had found were soon enjoying a very satisfying meal.

"After we fill up," Frank said, busy with a whole pie, "we'll get our flashlights and see what's in those other rooms. Say," he added, turning to Nestor "what's the matter of bringing Fremont here---when we get him?"

"I'll bet these rooms are ten thousand years old," said Peter.

After the repast was over Nestor drew Frank aside, while the others were searching their outfits for the electric torches, and asked:

"You remember what I said about there being three men in the Cameron suite the night of the tragedy?"

"Of course," was the reply. "Got something new on the subject? I guess you have that matter on your mind day and night."

"I have," was the reply. "I'm always thinking about it. Well, I now believe that there were four men there, but I can't think what the fourth man wanted."