Chapter XXIII. Some Unexpected Arrivals.
 

Nestor gazed into the pain-drawn face of the newcomer with a feeling akin to awe. There seemed something uncanny in the fellow being there at all. Had there come some new and unexpected development, in consequence of which he had been released by the secret service men? Or had he managed to elude their vigilance? If the latter, had Don Miguel and Felix also gained their freedom?

And how had the man succeeded in crossing the mountain in the weakened condition he was in? He was now so weak and faint from loss of blood and long suffering that he dropped to the floor like a dead man. Had he escaped, or been released soon after the departure of the party for San Jose, and spent the entire day among the crags and canyons? The man on the floor seemed a trick of the imagination, or, at least, a case of mistaken identity.

Nestor did not believe that Lieutenant Gordon would release the fellow under any circumstances. There was some mystery about his appearance there that could only be solved by the man himself, and so such restoratives as the Boy Scouts carried in their camping outfits were hastily brought forth.

There were bandages and a small flask of brandy which had formed a part of many an outfit and had never been uncorked, and these were soon on the floor by the side of the sufferer. The injury proved to be a compound fracture of the right leg, and Nestor shook his head gravely as he inspected it. Little could be done save to force the shattered bones back into place and bind the whole up firmly.

The acute pain of the operation and the stimulating drink that was given him caused Scoby to open his eyes and, screaming with the agony of the injury, look about the room. His pale features contorted with rage or some other strong emotion, as he looked upon the renegade. Big Bob eyed the fellow malevolently.

"You chaps appear to know each other pretty well," Nestor said, glancing from one to the other. "It would be interesting to know where and when, and under what circumstances, you last met."

The wounded men glared at each other but made no reply. Big Bob then turned his head away with an exclamation of rage. Scoby pointed to the brandy bottle and moved his white lips. Frank, who held the stimulant, asked a question with his eyes.

"Yes, Nestor said, "give him a stiff dose. He is about all in."

The drink was taken greedily, and in a few moments the fellow appeared to be gaining temporary strength. Then Nestor asked:

"Where are Don Miguel and Felix?"

"I know nothing about the foxy guy," growled the watchman.

"Then where is the Mexican?" was the next question.

Scoby fixed his gaze on the brandy flask longingly, and Nestor saw that he was bargaining for another drink of the liquid.

"Very well," he said. "Tell me what I want to know, and you shall have more."

"What do you want to know?" growled Scoby.

"How did you manage to escape from the secret service men?"

"We, Felix and I, got away while they were arranging for a boat to cross to San Jose. They chased us up the slope and fired at us, but there were so many men in the hills that they did not care to follow us in."

"And Don Miguel?"

"We left him with the officers. He would not even try to get away."

"And why did your flight take this direction?" asked Nestor, glad that the diplomat was still in custody, where he would be obliged to give an account of his doings.

"We came to look for the mine," was the impatient reply.

"And you found it, and left Felix there?"

Scoby's haggard face again contorted with anger.

"There is no mine!" he almost shouted. "We have been on a fool errand! The map is a fake and a lie!"

The boys glanced at each other and smiled triumphantly. Scoby caught the expression on their faces and dropped back hopelessly.

"And so you found it?" he said, consternation as well as inquiry in his voice.

"Never mind that now," Nestor replied. "Where is the Mexican?"

"Dead!" was the startling and unexpected reply.

"You quarreled, then?" asked Nestor.

"He fell over a cliff," was the reply. "I tried to save him, but he drew me over with him. I broke my leg and he broke his neck. Give me the flask!"

The request was complied with, and the fellow drank thirstily, the strong liquor slipping down his throat like water. He passed the flask back and closed his eyes. Then Big Bob, who had evidently been listening to the conversation, beckoned to Fremont. Wondering what the fellow could have to say to him, the boy approached the side of the dying man.

"You recall my asking bout your first meeting with Cameron?" Big Bob asked.

"Yes, and I wondered at it."

"There was a photograph in the Tolford envelope. Have you ever seen it?"

Fremont shook his head, wondering if the man was going out of his mind. He had often handled the papers, and had never come upon a photograph.

"There was one there," the other insisted. "When you get back to New York look it up. It will pay you to do so."

"Very well," replied the mystified boy, "but why talk of that at such a time?"

Big Bob regarded the boy questioningly, as if doubting his word.

"When the man of the photograph," he said, weakly, "was of your age, he must have looked exactly as you look now. It is no wonder that Cameron recognized in the newsboy the heir to the Tolford estate."

Fremont looked from Big Bob back to Nestor, then swept his eyes around the circle of interested faces.

"He is raving!" the boy said. "What have I to do with the Tolford estate?"

"There can be no mistake," the other declared, with a long pause between the words. "Cameron knew who you were, and that is why he took you into his own home; that is why the settlement of the estate was delayed year after year. He was waiting for you to come of age."

Jim Scoby was glaring at the speaker as if he thought to finish him by a look. The night watchman appeared to be waiting for some development which had not yet been put into words--possibly some revelation regarding the night of the crime.

Nestor saw the look and understood it. Fearful that Big Bob would not have the strength to speak the words which appeared to be forming on his lips, he bent over him and whispered:

"What about that night in the Cameron building? We can work out the problem of the heirship later on. Tell us what took place in the Cameron suite on the night you went there last--the night of the crime."

"Let him tell the truth, then!" almost shouted Jim Scoby. "Let him tell the thing as he found it!"

"So you saw him there that night?" asked Nestor, turning to Scoby.

"Let him answer!" was the rasping reply. "Only make him tell the truth! He might put the crime on the wrong shoulders."

It was long after midnight now, and the storm had died out. Save for an occasional dash of rain and an infrequent roll of electricity over the mountains, the night was normal, and here and there a star crept out to meet the coming dawn.

"I was in the Cameron building that night," Big Bob said, glancing painfully in the direction of the night watchman. "I saw him there!"

"The fourth man!" whispered Frank, nudging Nestor with his elbow. "The fourth man you have been talking about!"

The dying man opened his lips again, but did not speak, for voices were heard outside, and then a sharp command was given. The order was to shoot if resistance was offered by those inside. Then the door was thrown open and a bit of polished steel flashed in the light of the fire. The alarmed boys dropped the weapons they had drawn at a signal from Nestor.

The man in the doorway, wet, draggled, and exhausted with the exertions of the night was Lieutenant Gordon, and back of his stalwart figure the light showed a dozen armed men in plain clothes. Some of them, at least, were known to Nestor.

"You are safe, then?"

With a sigh of relief the lieutenant dropped down on a rude bench that stood against the wall and beckoned his men into the shelter of the hut. Then he noted the two men on the floor and turned inquiringly to Nestor.

"Wait!" the latter said. "We shall have plenty of time for explanations later on. This man is dying, and there is something he wishes to say."

The secret service men, standing before the fire and swarming over the two rooms, uncovered their heads and checked the questions on their lips.

Again Fremont stooped over the big fellow, and again the lips opened, but again there came an interruption. A sharp report came from the outside and Lieutenant Gordon hastened to throw the door open. A rocket was mounting the sky, its red light giving the floor of the hut a tint of blood.

It was followed by another, and another, then the lieutenant stepped out and saw code signals flying in the night above the peaks to the west!