Chapter XIII. Three Days to Move In.
 

Ned took the paper into his hand and read:

"You boys are not wanted in the hills. We give you three days to get out. On the morning of the fourth day, if you are still here, we shall send you your friend's right hand. On the fifth day you will receive his left hand. On the sixth day his right foot. On the seventh day his left foot. On the eighth day his head. If you obey this command he will be restored to you, in good health, at Cumberland."

"Is it a joke?" asked Frank, white to the lips.

"It must be!" cried Jack. "No one would mutilate Jimmie."

"It is a corase joke!" Teddy cut in.

"I'm afraid it is no joke, boys," Ned said. "I'm afraid we'll have to go."

"But we'll come back again!" shouted Oliver. "We'll come back with a whole company of Boy Scouts! There are enough Boy Scouts in New York to tear these mountains up by the roots!"

"But I don't understand how they got him," Teddy wailed. "He went away with you."

"He went into a hidden passage to make a picturesque effect," Frank said, "and did not return. We thought it one of his jokes, and paid little attention to his absence. We might have rescued him if we had known."

"Of course he was seized in that passage," Dode said. "Did you get the picture he was to be in?"

"Sure we did!" cried Frank. "I'll see if he was there when the camera opened."

As he spoke the boy made a rush for his suitcase, took out his development tank, printing frame and other tools, and set to work on his film roll. He used two powders instead of one, and in ten minutes was ready for the printing.

In a few minutes more he was at work in the tent, with the boys gathered around him. The developer had worked perfectly, notwithstanding the haste, and the printing was well advanced in the soft light of the tent. Directly he had the picture taken in the cave under view--the snapshot of the wall showing the entrance to the secret passage.

"Quick work!" Ned declared. "What does it show?"

They all gathered around the print, each trying to get the first glance at it.

"There's Jimmie!" Teddy shouted. "He was looking out of the door when the picture was taken! I can almost see his freckles!"

"There he is, sure enough!" Frank cried. "The little monkey!"

Ned took the print and examined it carefully, while the others waited for him to express any discoveries he might make.

"Did you see anything back of Jimmie?" he asked of Frank.

"Just the dark wall," was the reply.

Ned passed the print to him and left the tent.

"Yes," Frank said, with a threat in his voice, there's a face looking over Jimmie's shoulder. "Oh, I wish we had known!"

"Can you see the face plainly?" asked Teddy.

"Quite plainly," was the reply. "The door was open, as you see, and Jimmie stood with his hand on the edge of it, looking at the camera, his head in the room."

"Yes; that makes the picture good," Teddy observed.

"And there was a slant of light from the passage, and the head of the outlaw shows in that. He's an ugly looking brute!"

"Observe the alfalfa on his map!" exclaimed Teddy.

"That picture may send him to prison!" Frank cried. "I hope so!"

He put the tank, the printing frame, the print, and the other articles away in his suitcase and went out to where Ned was standing.

"Did you see the face behind the boy?" asked Frank--"get a good look at it?"

"Yes," was the reply. "It shows that this is not a joke!" Did you notice the face closely?"

"I think so."

"What about the beard?"

"Quite a growth, I should say."

"Anything else odd about it?" persisted Ned.

"Not that I saw," was the wondering reply. "What about it?"

"It was a false beard! The man was disguised!"

Frank's face looked, for an instant, as if he had received a blow.

"And I was counting on that beard," he said, "as a means of identification!"

"Keep the print safe," Ned advised. "It may be useful in that way yet."

"Well," Frank declared, "we've got to go away! We can take no chances on Jimmie being murdered. Isn't that your idea?"

"We certainly will take no such chances," Ned responded. "Up to this time we have been successful in getting out of trouble, though, and we may be able to rescue the boy without giving up the search for the abducted lad."

"Here's another question," Frank said, "was that note sent by the counterfeiters, or are the men interested in the abduction of the prince resorting to such tactics?"

"I have an idea that the abductors are the ones who are doing it," Ned answered.

"It may be moonshiners," suggested Frank.

"I don't think there are any illicit stills in this district," Ned replied.

"Well, we're up against a desperate gang now, anyway," Frank said, "and it looks as if they held the high cards! If we had only suspected what was going on in that passage, we might have rescued the boy before they got him away!

"I believe we'll do well to watch Bradley," he suggested.

"But Bradley was at the cabin when we got there."

"Oh, he had plenty of time to get Jimmie away and get back to the cabin!" Frank insisted. "We remained at the cave half an hour after Jimmie left us, and we took our time in getting to the cottage."

"Also we took a great many snap-shots at the scenery," Ned went on. "Now, I wish you would take all the films out of the cameras and develop and print a picture of each."

"I'll go right at it," Frank replied, turning back to the tent.

"And if any of the boys were taking pictures about the tent, or the corral, have them developed. It may be that one of the snap-shots will show the person who slipped the note into the tent."

"I don't see how it was ever done without the man being seen," Frank exclaimed.

"But it was done," Ned replied, "and we've got to find out when and how if we can."

When Frank left for the tent Ned started on toward the summit. He had traveled only a short distance when Frank came puffing after him.

"Here's another print Jack and Teddy took," he said. "It shows something in the cave we never noticed. See if you can tell what it is."

Ned glanced at the print and returned it.

"There is another opening in the wall at the east side," he said. "The picture shows it. I noticed something there, but neglected to investigate."

While the two talked Jack came up the slope, his camera over his shoulder.

"I think it is about time for me to be having an outing," he said. "I've been in the camp most of the time since we've been here."

"Come along, then," Ned replied. "I'm going back to the cave, and it may be just as well to have some one with me."

Frank went down the slope to the tent and Ned and Jack hastened down the slope on the other side. They were busy with their thoughts and for a long time neither spoke.

"Of course it is the abductors?" Jack asked, presently.

"I have no doubt of it," was the reply.

"Do you connect the man Bradley with it?" was the next question.

"There is no proof against him," Ned replied.

"But you must have some idea about it," persisted Jack.

"For all we know," Ned remarked, "he may be entirely innocent in the abduction matter. He may have brought the real grandchild here."

"The grandchild!" repeated Jack. "Here's the old question once more: 'Is it the prince, or is it Mike III.?'"

"I have the answer to that question written down in my memorandum book," Ned said. "I don't want to show it to you now, because I may be mistaken. When the case is closed I will show you the entry. Then you may laugh at me if you feel like it."

"I'd like to see it now," Jack coaxed.

"I want all you boys to think for yourselves," Ned went on. "Don't get a theory and pound away at it. If you do, you'll overlook everything which doesn't agree with that theory. If I should show you what I have written, you might look only for clues calculated to prove it to be correct, or you might look only for opposing clues."

A second examination of the counterfeiters' cave revealed nothing of importance except that the broken wall on the east side showed a small room into which Jimmie and his captor might have fled after the abduction. Still, there was no proof that they had done so, Ned explained.

"Why didn't the little fellow yell?" asked Jack.

"I think he would have yelled if that had been possible!" Ned said.

The boys left the cave in a short time and passed south, toward the valley and the cabin. Instead of going directly to the cabin, however, Ned kept away to the west and came out south of it, in the section where Bradley had walked with the child.

After a time Jack wandered away to the east, so as to come up on that side of the cabin. Although the boys had circled the building, no sign of life had been seen.

While Ned was yet some distance away he saw Jack standing on the slope of the valley watching the front door. He walked back and looked in at a small window in the rear wall. The child lay asleep on a bed in one corner of the room, and Mrs, Brady sat by his side. Bradley occupied a chair not far away.

"Quite a domestic scene!" Ned muttered.

While the boy watched through the window, the old woman arose and left the cabin by the front door. Then Bradley arose, went to a suitcase in a corner by the hearth, took therefrom a small green paper parcel, and went to the cupboard, hanging on the north wall.

After feeling about for a time he took out a cup, filled it with warm water from a kettle on the fire and stirred the contents of the green package into it with a brush which he took from a pocket. Ned could not see the contents of the cup, but when the man held the brush up to the light he saw that it was soaked in what seemed to be a black dye. It appeared too thick to suit the taste of the man, and he poured in more water out of the kettle.

Then, with the brush wet in one hand and the cup in the other, Bradley drew closer to the bed where the child slept. Ned watched for a few seconds more, then the footsteps of the old lady were heard approaching the door, ringing on the hard earth at the front of it. Ned made another entry in his memorandum book and turned away.