Chapter II. A Member of the Wolf Patrol.
 

When Fremont opened the door of the Cameron suite, facing the Great White Way, he saw that the room before him was dark and in disorder. The place was dimly illuminated from the high-lights on Broadway, and the noises of the street came stridently up, still, there seemed to the boy to be a shadowy and brooding hush over the place.

Remembering his subconscious impressions of some indefinable evil at hand, the boy shivered with a strange dread as he switched on the electrics, half afraid of what they might reveal. Why was the room so dark and silent? The lights had been burning when he looked up from below, and he had not met Mr. Cameron on his way up. Where was the man he had come to meet? What evil had befallen him?

At the left of the apartment, from which two others opened, to right and left, was a small safe, used privately by Mr. Cameron. Its usual place was against the wall, but it had been wheeled about so that it fronted the windows. The door was open, and, although no violence seemed to have been used, Fremont saw that the interior was in a mess, papers and books being scattered about in confusion.

At the right of the room, and near the doorway opening into the north room, stood a large flat-topped desk, most of the drawers of which were now open. One of the drawers lay on its side on the floor, and was empty. The articles on the desk's top gave evidence of rough handling. Papers appeared to be dripping from filecases, and a black pool of ink lay on the shining surface of the desk.

A swivel-chair which had stood in front of the desk was overturned, and its back now rested on the rug while its polished castors stuck up in the air. At first glance, there seemed to be no human being in the suite save the frightened boy.

With his mind filled with thoughts of robbery, George was about to rush out into the corridor and summon assistance, when a slight sound coming from the north room attracted his attention. He hastened thither, and was soon bending over an office couch upon which lay a still figure.

There was no longer doubt in the mind of the boy as to what had taken place there. Mr. Cameron had been attacked and the suite ransacked. The boy recalled the fact that the rooms had been lighted from within when he stood on the pavement, and wondered if it would not be possible, by acting promptly, to capture the assassin, as he must still be in the building, possibly hiding in some of the dark corners.

First, however, it was necessary that the injured man should receive medical help. Fremont saw a wound on the head, probably dealt with some blunt instrument, and then moved toward the telephone in the outer room. As he did so the corridor door was opened and a boy of perhaps fifteen years looked in. When the intruder saw that Fremont was observing him, he advanced to the connecting doorway.

For quite a minute the boys, standing within a yard of each other, remained silent. Fremont would have spoken, but the accusing look on the face of the other stopped him. The intruder glanced keenly about the two rooms which lay under his gaze and finally rested on the figure on the leather office couch. Then, while Fremont watched him curiously, he went back to the corridor door and stood against it.

"You've got your nerve!" he said, then. "You're nervy, but you ain't got good sense, doin' a think like that with the shades up, the lights on, an' the door unlocked. What did you go an' do it for?"

The sinister meaning of the words took form in the mind of the boy instantly. For the first time he realized that he would be accused of the crime, and that circumstances would be against him. If Mr. Cameron should never recover sufficiently to give a true account of what had taken place, he would be arrested and locked up as the guilty one.

If his benefactor should die without regaining consciousness, he might even be sent to the electric chair, and always his name would be mentioned with horror. While these thoughts were passing through the dazed mind of the boy, there came, also, the keen regret that Frank Shaw had not accompanied him to the building. That would have changed everything--just one witness.

"What did you go an' do it for?" repeated the intruder. "What had Mr. Cameron ever done to you?"

"You think I did it?" said Fremont, as cooly as his excitement would permit of. "You think I struck Mr. Cameron and robbed the office?"

"What about all this?" asked the boy, swinging a hand over the littered rooms, "and the man on the couch?" he added. "Who did it if you didn't?"

"I understand that circumstances are against me," Fremont said, presently. "It looks bad for me, but I didn't do it. I came here to accompany Mr. Cameron home, and found everything just as you see it now."

A smile of disbelief flitted over the other's face, but he did not speak.

"I hadn't been in here half a minute when you came in," Fremont went on. "I had just switched on the lights when I heard a noise in here and there Mr. Cameron lay. I was going to the 'phone when you entered."

"Tell it to the judge," the other said, grimly.

Fremont dropped into a chair and put a hand to his head. Of course. There would be a judge, and a jury, and a crowded court room, and columns in the newspapers. He had read of such cases, and knew how reporters convicted the accused in advance of action by the courts.

"Where did you get that badge?" the intruder demanded, stepping forward as Fremont lifted his arm. "The arrow-head badge with the lettered scroll, I mean."

"I earned it," replied Fremont, covering the scroll with one hand. "Can you tell me," he continued, "what the letters on the scroll say?"

"Be prepared," was the reply.

"Be prepared for what?"

"To do your duty, and to face danger in order to help others."

"What is the name of your patrol?"

"The Wolf. And your's is the Black Bear. I've heard a lot about the boys of that patrol, a lot that was good."

"And never anything that was bad?"

"Not a thing."

"Well then" said Fremont, extending his hand, which the other hastened to take, "you've got to help me now. You've got to stand by me. It is your duty."

"If you belong to the Black Bear Patrol," began the boy, "and have all the fine things you want--as the members of that patrol do--what did you want to go an' do this thing for? What's your name?"

"George Fremont. What is yours?"

"Jimmie McGraw," was the reply. "I'm second assistant to the private secretary to the woman who scrubs here nights. She'll be docking me if I don't get busy," he added, with a mischievous twinkle in his keen gray eyes. "Or, worse, she'll be comin' in here an' findin' out what's goin' on."

"Why didn't one of you come in here before I got to the top of the stairs?" asked Fremont, illogically. "Why did you just happen in here in time to accuse me of doing this thing?"

"I was just beginnin' on this floor," the boy replied. "I wish now that I hadn't come in here at all. You know what I've got to do?"

"You mean call the police?" asked Fremont.

"That's what I've got to do."

"I didn't do it. I wasn't here when it was done," exclaimed Fremont. "You've got to listen to me. You've got to listen to me, and believe what I say. It is your duty to do so."

"What did you want to go and be a Boy Scout an' do such a thing for?" demanded the boy. "Boy Scouts don't protect robbers, or murderers. You know I've got to go an' call the police. There ain't nothin' else I can do."

"If you call the police now," Fremont urged, "you'll rob me of every chance to prove that I am innocent. They will lock me up in the Tombs and I'll have no show at all. Mrs. Cameron will believe that I did it, and won't come near me. If he dies I'll be sent to the electric chair--and you'll be my murderer."

"What am I goin' to do, then?" demanded Jimmie. "I can't go out of the room and testify that I know nothing about it when the police do come. I can't do that for you, even if you do belong to the Black Bear Patrol. I wish I'd never come here to-night. I wish I'd never worked for the scrubwoman."

"To face danger in order to help others," Fremont repeated, significantly.

"Oh, I know--I know," said Jimmie, flinging his arms out in a gesture of despair. "I've heard that before, but what am I to do?"

"Who's your patrol leader?" asked Fremont. "Go and ask him, or the scoutmaster. One of them ought to be able to tell you what you ought to do."

"And you'll take to your legs while I'm gone " replied Jimmie, with a grin. "Good idea that. For you."

"Here," said Fremont, tossing out his key to the door, "go on away and lock me in. I couldn't get away if I wanted to, and I give you my honor that I won't try. Go and find some one you can talk this thing over with."

Jimmie's eyes brightened with sudden recollection of his patrol leader's love for mysterious cases--his great liking for detective work.

"Say," he said, presently, "I'll go an' bring Ned Nestor. He's my patrol leader, and the bulliest boy in New York. He'll know what to do. I'll bet he'll come here when he knows what the trouble is. And I'll do just as he says."

Jimmie turned toward the door, fingering the key, his eyes blinking rapidly, then he turned and faced Fremont.

"If Ned Nestor tells me it ain't no use," he said, slowly, reluctantly, "I'll have to bring the police. I'll have to do it anyway, if he tells me to."

"You'll find me here, whoever you bring," Fremont replied. "I won't run away. What would be the use of that? They'd find me and bring me back. Go on out and bring in anyone you want to. I guess I'll never make the trip to the Rio Grande we were planning to-night--just before I came here."

"The Black Bears?" asked Jimmie. "Were they planning a trip to the Rio Grande?"

Fremont nodded and pointed toward the door.

"Anyway," he said, "you can get me out of this suspense. You can let me know, if you want to, whether I am going to the Rio Grande or to the Tombs."

"Jere! What a trip that would be."

Without waiting for any further words, Jimmie darted out of the door and then his steps were heard on the staircase. Fremont had never in all his life had a key turned on him before. He threw himself into a chair, then, realizing how selfish he was, he hastened to the north room and again bent over the injured man.

There appeared to be little change in Mr. Cameron's condition. He moved restlessly at intervals. Fremont brought water and used it freely, but its application did not produce any immediate effect. Realizing that a surgeon should be summoned at once, the boy moved toward the telephone.

However, he found himself unable to bring himself to the point of communicating with the surgeon he had in mind. Questions would be asked, and he would be suspected, and the intervention of the Boy Scouts could do him no good. He understood now that his every hope for the future centered in the little lad who was hurrying through the night in quest of Ned Nestor, his patrol leader. If these boys of the Wolf Patrol should decide against him, and the injured man should not recover, there was the end of life and of hope. And only an hour ago he had planned the wonderful excursion down the Rio Grande. That time seemed farther away to him now than the birth of Adam.

And mixed with the horror of the situation was the mystery of it! What motive could have actuate the criminal? Had the blow been struck by a personal enemy, in payment of a grudge, or had robbery been the motive? Surely not the latter, for the injured man's valuable watch and chain, his diamonds, were in place. Stocks and bonds, good in the hands of any holder, lay on the floor in front of the open safe. A robber would have taken both bonds and jewelry.

The one reasonable theory was that the act had been committed by some person in quest of papers kept in the office files. The manner in which the desk and safe had been ransacked showed that a thorough search for something had been made. Directly the boy heard Mr. Cameron speaking and hastened to his side. If he had regained consciousness, the nightmare of suspicion would pass away.

"Fremont! Fremont! He did it! He did it!"

This was worse than all the rest. Mr. Cameron was still out of his head, but his words indicated that he might have fallen under the blow with the impression in his mind that it was Fremont who had attacked him. At least the words he was repeating over and over again would leave no doubt in the minds of the officers as to who the guilty party was. While Fremont was mentally facing this new danger, the corridor door was roughly shaken and a harsh voice demanded admittance.

It was Jim Scoby, the night watchman, a sullen, brutal fellow who had always shown dislike for the boy. Why should he be asking admission? Did he suspect? But the fellow went away presently, threatening to call the police and have the door broken down, and then two persons stopped in front of the door.

Fremont could hear them talking, but could not distinguish the words spoken. It seemed, however, that one of the voices was that of Jimmie McGraw, who had gone out after his patrol leader.

The question in the mind of the waiting boy now was this:

Had Jimmie brought his patrol leader, or had he brought an officer of the law?

And there was another question connected with this one, that depended upon the manner in which the first one was answered:

Would it be the Black Bear Patrol excursion down the Rio Grande, the sweet Spring in the South, or would it be the Tombs prison with its brutal keepers and blighted lives?