Chapter VII. Signals on the Mountain.
 

Fremont saw that Frank was putting up a nervy battle with the man who had seized him, and was in the act of going to his assistance when Frank made a quick motion which seemed to bring every muscle in his body into action, and the Mexican shot into the air, landing, finally, on the back of his companion, and going to the floor with him.

The movement executed by the boy had been so lightning-like that none of the details had been noted, yet Fremont recognized it as a clever ju jitsu trick he had often seen the boys of the Black Bear Patrol practicing. Frank laughed as the man seemed to spill off his round figure, and before the amazed and raging Mexican could get to his feet both boys were off like the wind, followed at a distance by policemen who had been called by the owner of the restaurant.

"We may as well circle back to the hotel now," Fremont said, as they brought up on a corner to rest and catch their breath. "I'm anxious about Jimmie. We should never have left him there alone."

"If we go back to Jimmie without a cart-load of provisions," laughed Frank, "he'll call the police. Besides, I'm starving. Here's another feed shop, so we may as well load up."

Fremont did not enter the place, but waited in a dark stairway for Frank to return with the food that was to be taken to Jimmie. When Frank showed up he was devouring a thick ham sandwich.

"Now we can face the lad," the boy laughed. "He'll be hungry, though."

When they came to within a block of the hotel, Fremont waited for his companion to bring him news of the situation there. Much to his relief, he soon saw Shaw returning, accompanied by both Jimmie and Nestor. And Jimmie was munching a great sandwich as he drew near to the waiting boy.

"S-a-y!" Jimmie exclaimed, as the boys met and walked away together, apparently free of surveillance. "That was a fresh cop. Wanted to geezle me for a robber. If Ned hadn't come across just as he did, there'd 'a' been a scrap. Say, Ned," he added, turning to the patrol leader, "how did you get your stand-in with the soldiers?

Wasn't that a colonel who talked the bull cop out of pinching both of us?"

"That was Colonel Wingate," was the reply. "I can't tell you anything more about the matter just now. Anyway, we've got our work cut out for us to-night. We must be far from the border by morning. There's a train from Juarez about midnight."

There were many questions which Fremont wanted to ask Nestor as the boys, each busy with his own thoughts, crossed the bridge, after giving a password supplied by Colonel Wingate, and took train at Juarez for San Jose, but he remained silent. He wanted, among other things, to ask why they were going to San Jose so directly--as if the town had been the object of the journey from the beginning. He saw, however, that Nestor, who was becoming a good deal of a mystery to him, did not care to talk, and so he held his tongue.

Long before noon on the following day, after a comfortless ride on a bumping train, the boys found themselves at San Jose, a scraggly town on the west shore of beautiful Lake de Patos. As they were both hungry and tired, they secured rooms in a little hotel, ordered dinner served there, and rested for a short time. The dinner was plentiful, but thoroughly Mexican. The menu smelled of garlic, and the walls of the room were decorated (?) with cheap colored prints wherein matadors calmly awaited the onslaught of maddened bulls, while women, shrouded in mantillas and smoking cigarettes, leaned out of their seats and applauded.

After the siesta, provisions were brought and enclosed in neat packages convenient for carrying on the back, and at dusk, after a swift row across the lake, the boys were at the foot of a high range of mountains which looked down upon the lake and the town.

On their way across the lake, and on the gentle slope of the foot of the hills, they had frequently observed parties of roughly dressed men, some with muskets and some without, making their way, by boat and on foot, toward the mountain. Those on the water were in rude, makeshift boats, of which there seemed to be an insufficient quantity at hand, groups waiting on the shore for the return of conveyances in order that they might in turn be carried across.

There was great excitement in the little town, and men, women and children were huddled in the streets, looking apprehensively at the rough men who were hurrying, for some unknown reason, to the east. Finally two men who appeared to know something of the English language asked Nestor for a ride in the rather swift boat he had secured for the trip across the lake. This request was gladly granted, for Nestor was anxious to talk with some one who might be able to tell him something of the movement to the east. He had his own suspicions of the motive of the march, and they were not agreeable ones.

The men taken into the boat proved to be ignorant, sullen fellows, and so little information of the kind sought was gained from them. Presently the boat was left behind and the boys, each with a typical Boy Scout camping outfit on his back--the same including provisions--were soon making their way up the slope.

"Jere!" cried Jimmie, throwing himself on the ground after the first steep climb. "Let's wait for the elevator. What do you expect to find up here, anyway?"

"We're looking for a place to hide a boy, for a lost mine, and for a Mexican with one leg shorter than the other and a withered right hand," laughed Nestor. "Move on."

"That description listens to me like the Mexican we saw in the restaurant," said Shaw. "He had a withered right hand. Say, but he got a drop."

"He looked to me like a man I have seen in New York," said Fremont. "I wonder if there is any one left in New York?" he added, with a grin. "It seems to me that about all the people I ever knew there are on their way south."

"This fellow may be fascinated by our good looks," Frank put in. "He seems to be in need of polite society."

"Polite society!" repeated Jimmie. "You give him a dump on the floor for polite society. Is he the man who is lookin' for the mine youse fellers have been talkin' about ever since we left El Paso?"

"If we should follow him to the mine, " George suggested, "and arrest him there, that ought to end the case. It would end the mystery, anyway, and show why the assault was made. I guess you have been after this man all the way down, Nestor," he added.

"When he hasn't been after me," laughed the patrol leader. "But you mustn't be too certain that the arrest of this man would end the case. He may be after the mine, may even have a copy of the description in Mr. Cameron's office, and yet be entirely innocent of the crime."

"He ought to be pinched for trying to geezle me in the eats house," grinned Frank.

The boys ascended the slope until darkness set in, and then rested in a little valley, or dent, between two peaks, and pitched their two small shelter tents. Then they built a fire of such light wood as they could find and prepared supper. As soon as the meal was cooked they put out the fire, fearful that the smoke might betray their presence there. Presently Jimmie called attention to two columns of smoke rising high up on the mountain.

"They're signals," he said, "because there wouldn't be two camp-fires close together. They're signals, all right."

"What do they mean?" asked Nestor, with a smile.

"One column means come to camp," replied Jimmie, "two mean that help is needed, three mean that there is good news, and four mean come together for a council. They are Indian signals, and the Boy Scouts use them in the woods when out hunting."

"Then this means a call for help," said Fremont.

"That's what," from Jimmie.

"It may mean for the man with the short leg to come on," laughed Frank. "I wish I had my drum. I could make him think he had help coming. You wait until I get that drum. I'll show you what's what."

Lights could now be seen moving on the mountain. It seemed clear that men were massing there for some purpose. Soon Frank and Jimmie were asleep. Then Nestor asked:

"George, do you remember whether the bolt in the corridor door of the Cameron suite turned under your key that night? In other words, was the door locked?"

"I thought it was," was the reply.

"But you are not certain?"

"No, because I was dazed when I opened the door and found the room dark and still. I had expected to find Mr. Cameron at his desk, as there were lights there before I entered the building."

"You saw no one on the stairs?"

"Not a soul."

"When did you first meet Mr. Cameron?"

"Seven years ago, when I was selling newspapers."

"He was a customer?"

"Yes, and a good one. He talked with me quite a lot, and finally asked me to come to live with him and take a position in his office when I got older."

"And you were glad to go?"

"Naturally. My life was not a pleasant one."

"Did he ever talk to you about that old life?"

"Often. He asked me lots of questions about my parents."

"And what did you tell him?"

"There was noting to tell. I could not remember my parents. At first there was Mother Scanlon, who beat me as often as she fed me, and then I was on the streets, sleeping in alleys and stairways."

"Have you seen this Mother Scanlon lately?" was the next question.

"Never, but why are you asking me all these questions? I'm no fairy prince under enchantment. Just a waif left alone in New York. There are plenty such."

"I want you to look Mother Scanlon up when you get back to New York" Nestor said. He might have given some reason for the remark, only Jimmie and Frank awoke and called attention to signals on the mountain.

"I know that wig-wag game," the latter said. "Keep still and I'll tell you what he says."

Four pair of eyes were instantly fixed on the heights above, where a slender column of flame, like a torch on fire most of its length, was plainly to be seen. It was not a stationary column, however, for it moved to right and left in an arc of ninety degrees, starting at vertical and swinging back of it. At times the point was lowered, as if the column had been dipped to the ground in front.

"If he is talking United States instead of Spanish," Jimmie said, "I'll read it for you. The Scouts use those signals. The motion from vertical to right is ONE, that from vertical to left is TWO, and that from vertical to the front is THREE. See! It is United States, for there are two left motions, meaning A. Now there's two twos and a one, repeated. That means two 1's. 'All' is the word."

"That is the way I read it," said Nestor.

"Wait, said Jimmie. "He didn't give the signal which indicates the end of the word.

Here's one two and two ones. That means R. One one is I. Two twos and two ones make G. One one and two twos make H. One two makes T. There! He's said 'All Right, 'and in English. Now, what are Americans doing up there?"

"That may not be the end of the message," suggested Fremont.

"See the three threes?" asked Jimmie. "That means the end of the sentence. Now, there's double two, double two, double two, triple three. That means for the other fellow, who must be down the mountain somewhere, to quit signaling. He's gettin' exclusive, eh?"

"I don't understand why those signals are in English," said Nestor. "There are plenty of Americans mixed up in this mess, but they are not doing the signaling, so far as I have heard. It would seem that the wig-wag ought to be in Spanish. I wonder if I could get down the mountain to the man there? It would be easier than climbing."

"I'll go with you," decided Frank. "If I fall it will be like rolling a feather bed down the mountains. Besides, you may need assistance."

And before the others could protest, the two boys were on their way down the steep descent.