Chapter XVIII. Fremont and the Renegade.
 

While the boys were discussing the situation in the outer chamber of what appeared to be a subterranean, prehistoric temple, or at least an ancient habitation or place of shelter, George Fremont was moving down the slope of the mountain at a slow pace, the outlaws showing signs of exhaustion.

The big Englishman, known as "Big Bob" by the messenger who had identified the boy for him, had ordered the boy's bonds removed, and so he was scrambling along in comparative comfort, the way being quite free of dangerous cliffs and fissures.

Occasionally Big Bob approached him with some question connected with the night of the tragedy, but at first Fremont refused to talk on the subject, well knowing that the big fellow would only criticize what he said. After a time, however, Fremont decided that it might be to his advantage to draw the fellow out, and the next time he came up he asked, abruptly:

"What do you know of Nestor's movements that night?"

"Did I say that I knew anything of them?" was the astonished reply.

"When you thought you had captured Nestor you said you knew of every move he made that night. Not my movements, but Nestor's."

"Don't get gay, now," growled the other. "I'll talk about that with Nestor, when I find him. I'll talk about your movements with you. There's plenty of proof that you did the job there."

"And you've got it, of course?" said Fremont, with a shrug of disbelief.

"Of course I've got it. The only thing I can't dope out is the motive you had."

"You ought to be able to find that," sneered the boy. "Your imagination seems to be working well to-day. Were you there that night? If not, how does it come that you know so much about what didn't take place?" he added, provokingly.

"You were seen to strike the blow," was the blustering reply.

"Where were you at that time?" asked Fremont, knowing, of course, that the fellow was lying to him, and hoping to confuse him by the abruptness of the question.

"That does not matter," was the reply. "It is known that you sneaked into the building after the elevator stopped, and went up to the Cameron suite. After stopping there for some moments, long enough to create the disorder that existed there, you returned to the lower floor. Then you started up, giving notice of your approach by whistling."

Fremont could not repress a smile at the positive manner of the man as he described a situation which was purely imaginary. Then, anxious to learn what other untruths the fellow would relate, he asked:

"You know Jim Scoby, the night watchman, and Felix, the Mexican?"

"I know nothing of them," was the reply.

The two walked on side by side for some time in silence, the big fellow turning now and then to look with disapproval at the smiling face of the boy. Indeed, if the proof against him was no stronger than this, the boy could well afford to smile, for lies in evidence discredit any truth there may be on the side of the falsifiers.

"Where are the men you refer to?" the big fellow asked, at length.

"They are down here looking for the Tolford mine," was the reply. "They stole a description of it that night. Ever hear of the Tolford mine?" he added abruptly.

The renegade gave a quick start at the question.

"How do you know they are down here?" he asked.

"Nestor says they followed on down after us. Were you there when they got into the office and got the description?" he continued.

"I've heard of this mysterious mine," was the guarded reply, "and I understand that this boy Nestor has a copy of the description."

"Is that why you wanted Nestor?" asked Fremont. "Are you after the mine, too?"

The big fellow walked on in silence. It was plain to Fremont that his abrupt questions were irritating him, so he decided to go on with them.

"Are you one of the Tolford heirs?" he asked.

No reply, save a threatening scowl.

"Are you the heir who has been making Mr. Cameron so much trouble?" persisted the prisoner, glad to note that Big Bob was fretting under his cross-examination.

"Do you expect to find the mine down there in the sand?" continued Fremont. "That doesn't appear to me to be a good place to look for gold."

"It is a good place to look for a reward for a fugitive from justice," snapped the big fellow. "Now cut out the gab!"

"You think you can get me across the border without meeting with opposition from my friends?" asked Fremont, not obeying the latest command.

"Your friends!" ejaculated Big Bob. "Who are your friends? A mess of school-boys who get lost in the hills! A gang of high-brows who can't take care of themselves off Broadway! Your friends!"

The idea of meeting with any effective opposition from Fremont's boy friends was so amusing to the big fellow that he burst into a hearty laugh.

"Your friends!" he repeated. "Ho! Ho! Baby dudes!"

"About this reward," Fremont went on, resolved to keep Big Bob talking if he could, "about this blood money! You will have to cut it up into several piles, won't you?" glancing around the file of outlaws. "Or do you intend to cut the throats of these fellows instead of cutting up the reward? That would be something in your line, and quite profitable."

"I'll cut your throat," threatened Big Bob, "if you don't close your yawp. Speak when you are spoken to!"

"All right," replied Fremont. "I'm spoken to now. Did you steal the Tolford will out of the envelope that night? If you are the heir who has been trying to get it, you certainly got a chance then."

Big Bob started violently, walked rapidly for a few moments, and then dropped back to Fremont's side, just as the boy had figured on his doing. This talk of the Tolford estate seemed to be attractive to the fellow. Fremont saw that it was, but could find no reason why it should be unless, indeed, he had hit on the truth in one of his questions, and the fellow was really an heir.

"What do you know about that will?" Big Bob asked as he took step with his prisoner.

"Not a thing, except that it has been in good demand for a long time, and that it has made trouble for Mr. Cameron."

"You have had charge of the Tolford papers, including the will, on several occasions? You have taken the papers to and from the bank?"

"Sure," answered Fremont. "Where did you learn so much?"

"Never mind! You would know the will if you saw it anywhere?"

"No; I never looked at it."

It seemed to the boy that this answer brought forth a sigh of relief from the breast of the big fellow, so he decided to keep on with his questions about the will.

"You have seen the will?" he asked.

"Never. What caused you to think I had seen it?"

"You talk so much about it."

Big Bob grunted and walked on in silence. Fremont turned back for an instant and swept his eyes over the slope, hoping to catch sight of one of the Black Bears. Not a friendly face or form was in sight, however, and he trudged on, wondering what line of questions would be most likely to throw the big fellow off his guard.

"Why don't you take my advice and confess?" Big Bob asked, presently.

"I might do so," Fremont replied, provokingly, "but for one thing."

"And what is that?" was asked eagerly.

"I want to see the guilty man punished!"

"If you confess," the other went on, angrily, "you'll get a light sentence if Cameron lives, and a life sentence instead of the electric chair if he dies. There is always hope in a life sentence--and you are young!"

"Why do you ask me to confess?" demanded Fremont.

"Well, to tell you the truth," was the reply, "I have a friend who may be accused of the crime. He can't be convicted, of course, for the proof goes to show you to be the guilty one, but the cops can make him a lot of trouble and expense!"

"So you want me to confess and skip the country?"

"Yes, to skip out of the country, just as you skipped out of New York."

"And permit this friend of yours, who committed the crime, to go free?"

"My friend did not commit the crime!" threateningly.

"Oh, yes he did! Who is your friend--yourself?"

Big Bob lifted a hand as if to strike the boy, but he changed his mind, or got control of his temper, and lowered it again.

"At least," Fremont said, "you know who did commit the crime. That is something."

The big fellow grumbled out some sarcastic reply and trudged ahead. Fremont, knowing that a valuable point had been gained, hastened along by his side.

"And, with my false confession in your pocket," the boy went on, "you would find it convenient to leave me out there under the sand?"

"You're a plucky cub to talk like that to me.

Big Bob was in a great rage, but he did not lift his heavy hand again.

"I was wondering if your friend would pay for leaving me out there," the boy said. "If I went back to New York, you know, I might deny the confession, or claim that it was secured under duress. You know what a confession is worth when secured under duress? What about it?"

"You're a fool!" shouted Big Bob so loudly that the others turned inquisitive faces toward him. "That was only a joke, that about my friend. I wanted to see what you would say if I asked you to confess, and then when you asked why I wanted a confession I gave you the first reason that came into my head. So shut up about it."

"Sure," said Fremont, "after you give me the real reason you asked for a confession."

Big Bob saw that he had made a mistake in talking with the shrewd youngster, and decided to get out of it the best way he could.

"All right! I'll tell you," he said. "A reward will be paid right down on the nail when a confession is filed with the prisoner. Now you know all about it!"

"Your imagination is working all right to-day," Fremont laughed. "The last explanation is more foolish than the first. You knew very well that the payment of the reward would follow conviction, and you know that I am innocent."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because you know who the real criminal is."

"That is not true!" thundered the other. "Now, I've had enough of this. You mog along and keep your mouth shut or it will be the worse for you."

Fremont knew very well that Big Bob was considering a desperate means of retrieving the error he had made in speaking of a friend who might be accused of the crime. The boy was afraid that he had gone too far in his desire to provoke the big fellow.

For there would be no one to ask questions if the boy should never leave the hills alive. Unless the Black Bears were within striking distance, no one would ever know what had become of him. He looked and listened again for some signs of his friends, but the slope behind told him nothing.