Chapter XV. A Night on the Summit.
 

"Now," Ned said, as the signal columns died down, "we'll hike back to camp with our pictures and get supper! How does that strike you?"

Jack turned toward Ned impatiently. There was not light enough for his face to show clearly, but Ned knew how the boy was scowling!

"And go off and leave Jimmie here?" Jack said. "I'd like to know what you're thinking of! Why have you changed your mind? I'm going to stay here until it gets good and dark and then go up there."

"You may spoil all my plans if you attempt to reach him to-night," Ned replied, in a matter-of-fact tone. "On the way back I want to stop at the cabin a moment."

"All right," Jack grumbled. "I suppose I'll have to go with you! When are you thinking of rescuing Jimmie? After they send us one of his hands?"

"Donft be sarcastic," laughed Ned. "You'll understand it all before long."

Jack was not at all pleased with the idea of returning to camp, and said so repeatedly as they walked along both keeping in the thicket as far as possible, but Ned seemed to take no offense at his remarks.

"What I can't get through my head," Jack finally said, changing the topic of conversation, "is why they let us travel through here without nipping us."

"I have an idea," Ned answered, "that they are pretty busy just now."

"Well, what was the use of our going at all if we sneak away as soon as we get where we might accomplish something?" demanded the boy, reverting to the old subject.

"You did a good job in finding and following them," Ned replied, ignoring the question, "and another good job in showing me the way. We have accomplished more than you think! I'm anxious for the end to come, so you'll know just how much you have accomplished! There is the cabin light," he added.

The boys walked boldly up to the door and Ned knocked. Mrs. Brady looked out with a welcoming smile on her faded face. She invited them in and tried to appear pleased at their visit, but Ned saw that she was under a great mental strain.

Judd Bradley sat by the hearth, with the child by his side. He smiled when Ned nodded to him and pointed to a chair.

"Pardon my not arising," he said. "The fact is that I'm a bit leg-weary to-night. This little chap ran away to-day, and I had a long chase after him!"

"We were worried about him," Mrs. Brady added.

"Aw, what's the matter wid youse folks, anyway?" demanded the boy, in a strident tone. "I didn't promise to sit in a chair an' play wid a cat all day!"

"I've had quite a busy day myself," Ned observed, "for one of the boys has been abducted by the counterfeiters, as I suppose, and we've been looking for him."

"Have you found him?" asked the old lady, anxiously.

"No," was the reply. "He must be securely hidden."

"The poor little fellow!"

Ned glanced casually at Bradley and saw that he was all interest.

"It seems," he went on, "that the counterfeiters blame us for what took place last night, and want us to leave the district. If we do they will send the boy out to us unharmed, at least that is what they promise."

"I don't see how they can blame you for the trouble of last night," Bradley said, and Ned caught a tone of irony in his voice.

"That's what I can't see," Ned went on, "but it seems that they do."

"And so they have ordered you out of the hills?" asked Bradley. "That's too bad, just as we were getting well acquainted. But, then, you don't have to go!"

"I think we'll go," Ned replied. "There are other localities where we can take pictures, and we can't afford to take any chances on the boy being injured."

"Sorry to have you go," Bradley remarked, "but that may be the wisest course."

"We think so," Ned replied. "Anyway, we're going day after to-morrow, in time to meet Jimmie at Cumberland. I think we can get packed up and out by that time."

"Shall we see you again before you go?" asked the old lady, anxiously.

"Oh, I presume so. I am going now to leave a note in the cave, saying that we are going out, and then on to camp."

When the boys stepped outside the cabin the old lady followed as far as the threshold standing with her gray head outside.

"I'm sorry," she said. "If there is anything I can do--"

Jack stood a couple of yards away, whistling shrilly. At a word from Ned the old lady stepped out into the open air, half closing the door after her. From the inside came the heavy tread of Bradley approaching the door.

But before the visitor gained the threshold Ned and Mrs. Bradley had exchanged half a dozen short sentences, and when Bradley looked out she was saying.

"I shall look for you if you ever come this way again."

"I'll surely be back, some bright day!" laughed Ned, and the two boys walked on.

"Well," Jack said, as they left the cabin behind, "of all the fire- proof, enthusiastic, gilt-edged, slicky-slick members of the Ananias club I ever heard mentioned, you certainly take the bakery! What did you go and tell Bradley we were going out for?"

"Because," Ned answered, "we are going out."

"Not by day after to-morrow?"

"I hope so! We ought to get ready by that time!"

"I don't ask any more questions!" grumbled Jack. "I don't know hot from cold! I'm deaf and dumb and blind from this minute on. Uncle Ike has a classical education in comparison with what I know. Go to it, Neddie, boy!"

They stopped at the cave and Ned wrote a note to the effect that they were going out inside the limit set, placed it in a conspicuous place on the shelf with the dies, and then the two boys set out for camp. It was a long, hard climb, but they made it before the boys were in their bunks.

"You're a nice party!" Frank exclaimed, as Ned came up. "We thought you had been pinched! There's plenty of hot supper in the oven for you, but you don't deserve a thing! Square yourself!"

"Don't ask him a single question!" grumbled Jack. "He won't tell you a thing! We've been within sight of a signal from Jimmie this afternoon, and we've had a chance to tell the outlaws where they can go, but he's muffed every play! I'm going to eat and go to bed!"

Jack really was out of temper, so no objections were made to his going to his bunk as soon as he had finished supper! Ned laughed goodnaturedly at the boy's remarks and thought no more about them.

Frank came and sat down by Ned while the latter was eating a hearty supper.

"The worry doesn't seem to affect your appetite!" the boy laughed. "Have you solved the riddle, that you are so calm through it all? If you have, just tell me this:

"Is it the prince, or is it Mike III.?"

"I've written the answer to that in my little red book," laughed Ned.

Frank eyed the other with a grin, but made no reply for a time, then he merely said:

"You are up to your old tricks! Well, what is on for to-night?"

"Why," Ned answered, "if you would like a stroll by moonlight, I think we might get a good view of the south country from the top of the mountain."

"I don't know what you're up to," Frank answered, springing to his feet, "but I'm game for anything. I've been eating my heart out all day."

"What about the prints?" asked Ned.

"They are remarkably good," Frank replied, "but there are no special features. In one picture, taken down in the canyon, there is a face that we did not see, though."

"What sort of a face?"

"A strange one to me. But I'll show them all to you in the morning. When are you going out for that stroll in the moonlight?"

"In two hours. That will be about midnight. Between now and that time I'm going to get a little sleep. Wake me at twelve, will you--and, by the way, say nothing to the others about it. They'll all want to go! We can notify whoever is on watch when we get ready to start."

Ned hastened to his bunk and lay down. Five minutes later, when Frank looked in, he was studying a French dictionary by the light of his electric candle. Ten minutes later he was sound asleep. At twelve the boys were ready to start, and Teddy, who was on watch, was warned to keep wide awake and listen for noises from the south.

"If you hear shooting," Ned said, "two of you jump on Uncle Ike and charge along the summit to the south. Make all the noise you can! Don't go down the slope, but keep to the summit."

"Now where?" asked Frank, as they walked over the rocks and wound around jutting crags. "If you'll give me time I'll take some moonlight pictures for Dad's newspapers. He must be expecting some by this time!"

"Poor old Dad!" laughed Ned. "By this time he must have given up sitting around the New York postoffice, waiting for your pictures to come!"

"I'm going to send him some on this trip, sure!" declared the boy. "He deserves them, you know, and his newspaper needs them! Besides, we are planning another Boy Scout trip, and I shall want a whole lot of money!"

"I see!" cried Ned. "You are casting an anchor to windward!"

"In other words," grinned Frank, "I'm laying the foundation for another appropriation! I'm going to send on some of the pictures of the counterfeiters' den!"

The summit of the ridge was by no means a level pathway. There were peaks, canyons, gulleys and twistings to east and west which caused the boys to travel two miles or more for every mile they advanced toward the point where the two men Jack had followed had taken refuge.

It was about two o'clock in the morning when they came in sight of the chimney rock which Ned had noted on the trip of the afternoon. It rose from the west slope of the mountain like a tower, tall, bulky, forbidding.

Looking down upon it from the east, Ned saw that there was a small canyon in between it and the slope, much the same as the formation near the cave of the counterfeiters. It was evident that the rock had been cast down from the summit, and had caught there--on a projecting ridge of stone.

"Looks like a fortress!" Frank whispered as the rock sparkled in the light of the moon. "Notice the campfire in the canyon?" "There were two there this afternoon," Ned said, "and we thought one of them was there simply to make the second column--the Boy Scout call for assistance."

"If Jimmie isn't tied up hand and foot," Frank suggested, "if he is allowed to move about, under guard, and help in the cooking, he could easily build two fires, and the outlaws wouldn't know what he was up to. That is how Dode came to signal to us, you remember. The counterfeiters never suspected that he was making Indian talk!"

"I think it was Jimmie," Ned declared. "He would find some way to make the signal, if he wasn't tied hard and fast! Anyway," the boy added, "I'm going down the slope right now to see if he is there!"