Chapter VIII. A Strange Disappearance.
 

It was weirdly lonely in the dark little dent on the side of the mountain after the departure of the two boys, and Jimmie drew closer to his companion. The wind which swept the heights was chilly.

The two lay close together in silence for a long time, each, doubtless, thinking of the Great White Way and the lights which would now be glittering there, of the bay, of the East River with its shipping, and of the hundred things which make New York a city, once seen, to be remembered forever. Then a rumble as of a stone crashing down came to their ears and they sprang to their feet.

"There's some one coming," whispered Jimmie, and they listened, but the only sound they heard was made by a bird winging its way through the dim upper light. Then, in a moment, signals flashed out again.

"One, two, one," counted Jimmie, "Now, two, one, one, two, two, one, and then one, two. That means come. Now, where does he want the other fellow to come?"

"There's a lot going on here to-night," said Fremont. "I wonder if they can see us from where they are?"

"We may as well get away from the tents," was the reply. "There's a good place to hide behind that rock. When Nestor and Frank come we can let them know where we are."

Fremont agreed to this, and the lads were soon hidden in a shallow gully which cut a ridge not far from where the tents had been pitched. For a time all was still, then came the rattling of steel on steel, sounding threatening enough in the darkness.

"Some one's got a gun," whispered Jimmie.

"Our fire may have been seen from above," Fremont ventured.

"Well, they can't find us here," consoled Jimmie. "Anyway, we'll lie here and listen for a few minutes."

The boys lay quiet for a considerable time. There were no more signals then, but they could not banish the feeling that emissitious Mexicans were watching them from the shadows. Directly noises were heard at the tents and a voice asked, in good English:

"Where are they? You said that only two went down the mountain."

"That was right, was the reply. "I don't see where the others can be."

"Do you think they are officers?" asked Jimmie, as the men stumbled about the tents. "They aren't Mexicans."

I'm afraid they are officers," replied Fremont, "and we must keep pretty still. I presume these are the fellows who were wig-wagging a little while ago."

The intruders were heard moving about the tents for a time, and then they went away, blundering along over loose stones which rattled as they swept down the declivity. When they were some distance off, and still going, judging by the sound, the boys walked back to the tents and tried to sleep, but the excitement of the time was too much for them, and they could not keep their eyes closed.

After a time there came a commotion in the valley below, from the direction Nestor and Frank had taken. There were shouts of rage and then shooting. Jimmie was on his feet instantly.

"They're attacking Nestor," he cried, "and I'm going down there to help him."

Before Fremont could protest the boy was off, scrambling down the mountain in the darkness like a goat. At first Fremont thought of following him, but he was very tired and sleepy and so gave it up.

He crept back into a tent and threw himself down on a blanket, closing his eyes only for a moment, as he thought.

Jimmie pressed on down the slope for some distance without discovering the source of the disturbance, then turned back. When, near the tents, he turned and looked over the valley, a torch far below was spelling out "O.K."

"There are a lot of Americans mixed up in this," the boy thought. "I've heard that this revolt was being financed and executed by our people, but I did not believe the story. Anyhow, they are giving their signals in United states."

As the lad approached nearer to the tents the silence which held the little dent on the slope sent a vague shiver of alarm through his veins.

When he came to the tents there was no one in sight. He whistled softly, but there was no reply. The moon, now peeping around a shoulder of the mountain, struck an object which glistened like silver, and the boy picked it up. It was Fremont's revolver, and the chambers were full. There had been no shooting. Fremont's cap lay on the ground not far from where the weapon had been found.

Filled with apprehension, Jimmie dashed into the tents. They were both empty. The boy had disappeared, leaving his weapon and his cap behind. It was plain to be seen, from marks on the rocks and the thin soil of the dent, that there had been a struggle.

Alarmed beyond the power of words to express, Jimmie crept into the hiding place they had used earlier in the evening and waited. He was angry at Nestor for going away, and angry with himself for leaving Fremont alone. While the latter possessed courage and strength, he was not as apt in such things as they were facing as his companions. He had been sheltered for years in the Cameron home, and was not so resourceful as his companions, not so ready to take advantage of any point which might occur in such a rough-and-tumble game as was now in progress.

Jimmie's fear was that Fremont had been captured by officers, and would be taken back to New York and thrust into the Tombs to await the action of the grand jury, based on the recovery or death of Mr. Cameron. This would be fatal to all his hopes. While the boy pondered and fretted over the matter, the long roll of a drum came around a cliff-corner, and then a file of ragged soldiers, or what seemed to be such, showed in the moonlight, with a diminutive drummer-boy, pounding for dear life, not far in the rear.

In the meantime the two who were in Jimmie's thoughts were making their way down the slope with such speed and caution as they were able to manage.

It was very rough going in the darkness, and more than once Frank received a bump which effectually banished all inclination to sleep. At last he sat down on a ledge and called out to Nestor.

"Dig in! Walk your head off!"

Nestor halted and looked back.

"What's doing?" he asked.

"I'm flabbergasted," was the reply. "How do you think you're goin' to get back up the hill?"

Nestor pointed to a point of flame a little lower down.

"It is only a short ways now," he said.

Frank grunted and arose to his feet.

"They ought to put in elevators," he grumbled.

The boys walked for perhaps half an hour longer and then drew up near to the point of fire which Nestor had pointed out.

"Now what?" demanded Frank.

"I want to see who they are. I'm expecting friends here," was the laughing reply. "Remain here while I investigate."

"If I stand up," grumbled Shaw, "I'll fall down; and if I sit down I'll go to sleep. I never was so sleepy in all me blameless life. You needn't hurry back."

Frank was as good as his word, although he had spoken in jest. No sooner was his companion out of sight than he dropped to the ground, and in spite of his efforts to keep his eyes open, was soon fast asleep. When he awoke an hour later, Nestor was pulling at his arm.

"Don't pull it off," he said. "I may want to use it again. What's doing below?"

"Were you ever in the Cameron building in New York?" Nestor asked, irrelevantly.

"Did you wake me out of me sweet dreams to ask that?" grinned the boy. "Why don't you go on and tell me what's coming off down there in that camp?"

"I've got the New York end of the Cameron case on my mind to-night," was the reply. "Tell me what you know about the Cameron building and the people who work there during the night--cleaning up, and that sort of thing."

"I don't think I was ever in the building, and Fremont never talked with me about the workers. You can ask Jimmie about that."

"Yes, Jimmie worked there. I've heard him talk about the night watchman and predict his future home. The boy came running into my room on the night of the tragedy and almost pulled me out of bed, saying that a member of the Black Bear Patrol was in trouble."

"What do you want to know about the building?"

"I was wondering if Jim Scoby, the night watchman, was permitted to carry a key to the Cameron suite. Jimmie does not know whether he was or not, and I thought you might have heard Fremont talking about matters there."

"I presume Fremont can tell you all about that. Suppose Scoby did have a key? What of it? Fremont says Mr. Cameron locked himself in that night, or was to do so, and that shows that the man who did the job did not need a key. He must have been admitted by Mr. Cameron."

"There were strange doings in that suite that night," Nestor said, almost as if talking to himself. "I can't quite get the hang of it," he added, taking a flat steel key from his pocket, and holding it up for the inspection of the other.

Shaw took the key and held it up in the moonlight, examining every detail of it.

"That is a key to the suite," he said. "Fremont has one like it. Where did you get it? It looks new."

"It is new," Nestor went on. "It looks as if it had been made to order recently. Now, whoever made it did not get it exactly right at first, and was obliged to file it down. I have known night watchmen to make keys."

"An old trick," admitted Frank. "Well, let us take it for granted that Scoby was not permitted to carry a key and that he had one made, for some purpose of his own. What does that lead up to?"

"I found this key in front of the safe," Nestor continued, after a moment's deliberation. "It was undoubtedly dropped there by one of the men who visited the rooms that night. I have been wondering if it was the watchman."

"You have some other reason for supposing it was Scoby," Frank said. "Go one and tell me about it."

"Yes, there is another reason." Nestor continued, smiling at the quick way Frank had taken him up. "I found this Grand Army button and this cloth raveling in front of the safe, too, not far from where the key was discovered."

"Well, did the watchman wear a Grand Army coat that night?" asked Frank. "Lots of unworthy people wear Grand Army coats."

"He did," was the reply. "He wore a blue coat with Grand Army buttons, and one of the buttons was missing from the right sleeve when I saw him in the corridor as I passed out. He probably caught his sleeve on something in the safe and ripped the button off. He either did not notice the loss of the button or had no time to pick it up."

"You're locating him in a compromising situation, all right," Frank said. "But you said 'one of the men who visited the rooms that night.' Who were the others?"

"Wait a minute," said Nestor. "Let me tell you what else I found there. I have in my pocket a piece of paper, a margin cut from a legal document, showing the thumb and fingermarks of a withered right hand. I also have a shoe heel near two inches high. These were taken from the Cameron suite. What do you make of that?

"I understand," Frank said. "One of the other men was this Mexican, the man with the short right leg, the fellow who tried to geezle me at the El Paso restaurant. Well, that makes two who were there that night--two who were in front of the safe--two who had no right to be there."

"And this Mexican was a tenant of the building," Nestor went on, "and he might have had the key made. At least he was there the night the key was used, looking over papers he had no right to touch."

"It begins to look as if the Mexican went to the building for the purpose of robbery, and that he found a tool in Jim Scoby," said Frank. "Why don't you have the two of them pinched, so Fremont won't have all this trouble on his mind? The Mexican is somewhere about here, and Jim Scoby can't be far away, as the newspapers say he ran away from New York. Why couldn't you have studied this out that night?"

"Don't rush conclusions," smiled Nestor. "I said there were several people in the suite that night. Well, we have made sure of two of them, though we don't know how they go in there if Mr. Cameron had the door locked from the inside."

"If they hadn't used their false key," Shaw put in, "they wouldn't have had it in hand and wouldn't have lost it."

"Very clever," said Nestor.

"Who else was in there?" asked Frank, blushing at the compliment.

"The third man," Nestor continued, "had business with Mr. Cameron. He was there earlier in the evening."

"He didn't lose anything there, did he?" asked Frank, with a laugh.

"Yes," replied Nestor," he did. He lost his temper."

"You're a corker!" Frank exclaimed. "What else did he lose?"

"His life, possibly."

"Come, children," Frank grinned, "it is time to wake up."