Chapter XVIII. Bradley Becomes Indignant.
 

Frank and Jimmie hastened down the slope to the west, after toiling up and crossing the broken summit, and soon caught sight of the man they had been instructed to take prisoner. Bradley was walking swiftly, his haste not at all matching the leisurely air he had affected at the camp.

"How do you feel now?" asked Jimmie, wrinkling his nose at Frank. "How does it seem to be a bold, bad gunman?"

"I think it is a little shivery," Frank answered. "When I get back to New York," he went on, "I'm going to write a story for Dad's newspaper entitled: 'Desperate Desmonds I have Shot Up in the Hills.' That title ought to make a hit on the East Side, south of First street!"

"I feel like a second-story man, and a gopher-worker, and a train- robber, and a confidence operative all rolled into one!" Jimmie admitted. "This holding people up is new exercise for us! Say, will you agree to let me push the gun into his face?"

"We'll both have guns, you little highway-man!" Frank replied. "You needn't think I'm going to look on and miss all the fun!"

"Then you let me tie him up!" coaxed Jimmie. "I won't tie him very tight, just so he can't breathe, and so his blood won't circulate!" "You're the fierce little bandit!" declared Frank.

"Well, the gang he belongs to tied me up!" complained the boy. "I'm going to get even on this geek! We can walk right down on him at any time now. He'll never suspect that we're pirates."

"First," Frank observed, "I'd like to know where he is going so fast."

"He may go so fast that he'll get to friends before we harness him!" warned Jimmie. "Then we couldn't get him at all, but might, instead, get geezled ourselves."

"There seems to be a little sense left in that head of yours," Frank laughed, "even if your friends do think it is solid bone! So we'd better skip along and take him under our protection before we have an army to fight. Say, but won't he take a tumble to himself when he finds himself stuck up by two boys?"

Not withstanding their half-humorous talk concerning what they were about to do, the boys both realized that they were facing a serious situation. They had every confidence in Ned's judgment, still they had no knowledge of Bradley which seemed to them to warrant the bold step they were about to take.

Jimmie was under the impression that Bradley belonged to the coterie which had taken him prisoner, but he had no proof of it. Bradley had been, apparently, accepted by Mrs. Mary Brady, and that seemed a good recommend for him. Still, there were the instructions, and they were resolved to carry them out. Neither expressed to the other his secret thought on the subject.

"Where are we going to hide him, after we take him?" asked Jimmie, after a time, during which the lads had managed by hard work to decrease the distance between themselves and Bradley. "How about the old counterfeiters' den?"

"That's the first place his friends will look for him! No, sir, we've got to find a little retreat of our own, and one of us must guard him. Do you know how long Ned wants to keep him?" asked Frank.

"Don't know a thing about it," was the reply. "I don't even know why he wants him captured, or what proof he has against him."

The boys were now not far away from Bradley, and, hearing the rattle of broken rock behind him, he turned and looked back at the boys, who were swinging along with their hands in their pockets. He waited for them to come up.

"Taking a little walk, eh?" he questioned, as the boys came to the level space on the mountainside where he had paused.

Bradley seemed to be entirely unconscious of danger, for he turned his back to the boys presently, after a few short sentences had passed between them, and moved forward, as if to continue his way down the slope.

"Just a minute!" Frank said, sharply, and he faced them.

Two automatic revolvers were within a foot of his head, and the eyes of the boys back of them declared that the situation was not the result of a joke.

"Hold out your hands!" Jimmie ordered. "We want to see if you're toting any smoke-wagons! Push 'em out, Mister!"

Bradley did not hesitate a second. His hands went out like a flash. There was a smile on his lips as Jimmie removed his revolver, but his jaw was threatening.

"And so you are just common thieves?" he said.

"Aw, quit it!" Jimmie answered. "We're taking care of you so you won't fall over a precipice and hurt yourself."

"You'll find very little money on me," Bradley went on. "I've sent in to the city for a couple of hundred. You ought to have waited a few days."

"We don't want your money," Frank cut in, "all we want is the benefit of your society for a time."

Bradley flushed angrily when Jimmie adroitly snapped a pair of handcuffs on his outstretched wrists, but he made no protest.

"Now you can put down your hands," Jimmie announced. "They'll get stiff if you hold 'em out too long. Now, sit down and pick out your hotel. You may have a room in most any section of this district. Immaterial to us where we put you!"

"What does it mean?" demanded Bradley. "I presume you boys know what you are doing. There's law in this state, as wild as this country looks to be. You'll get years behind prison bars for this."

"Before I forget it," Jimmie asked, with a wink at Frank, "I want you to tell me something. Will you?"

"That depends. What is it you want to know?"

"This: Is the boy down at the cabin the prince, or is he Mike III?"

The eyes of both boys were fixed keenly on Bradley's face as the question was put. So far as they could see, it did not change a particle in color or expression.

"That's a queer question for you to ask," he said. "You'd better asked Mrs. Brady whether it is her grandson or not! And I don't know what you mean, talking about a prince. I haven't seen any prince about here--except the prince of the son of thieves!"

"So you won't tell, eh?" asked Frank.

"The boy I brought in is Michael Brady, son of the son of Mrs. Brady."

Sitting on the level space half way down to the outcropping ledge which held the workroom of the counterfeiters, Bradley looked anxiously in the direction of the canyon.

Jimmie noted the look and took out his field glass. People were moving about in the canyon, and down in the valley to the south, where the cabin stood, something out of the ordinary seemed to be going on.

"You are expecting friends?" asked Frank.

"They are liable to come any minute," was the cool reply.

"Then we'd better be going," Jimmie cut in. "There are men in the canyon, and in the valley, and they may be coming up here to find out why you don't meet them, as per agreement! Are they good waiters? If they are, you may find them still in the valley after you've served a couple of terms in a Federal prison!"

"Be careful what you say," warned Bradley. "I'm in your power now, but there'll come a time when I won't be. Remember that!"

Jimmie's glass showed him that the men below were starting up the slope.

"We'll go back toward camp," he said to Frank. "I guess the fellows down there are watching us through glasses. If you don't mind," he added, turning to Bradley with a provoking laugh, "we'll stow you away in a hole in the rocks somewhere until they get tired of looking for you!"

"Go as far as you like!" was the reply.

Frank and Jimmie stepped aside and conversed together in low tones, trying to make up their minds what to do with the prisoner. It had taken little trouble to capture him, but it seemed to them that it would be no easy matter to hold him.

"There's a cute little dip in the summit not far from the camp," Frank said, at length. "A boulder tumbled out of the slope, and there's a cave big enough to hide three in, only there is a part of it which has no roof."

"Don't mind that!" Bradley said, in a sarcastic tone. "We won't have a long residence in any place you select now."

"The summit is spotted with queer little openings where soft rock has been washed out," Frank said, "and we can locate not far from the camp if we want to."

"I suppose you boys are doing this under the orders of this Nestor boy?" asked Bradley. "When you get to him, kindly ask him to call on me. I want to know what all this means."

"Let's see, what was it you said about the child you brought in with you?" asked Jimmie, wrinkling his freckled nose until it did not seem possible to ever get it out straight again, "what was it you said his name was? Was it Prince Abductable or Mike the Third?"

Bradley scowled but said nothing. The boys now set off up the slope with their prisoner. Now and then they turned to look into the canyon and the valley below.

The men they had observed in the canyon were slowly ascending. There were four of them, and it seemed to the boys that they were examining every foot of the ground they covered. Bradley looked downward, too, and a smile came to his face as he did so. It was plain that he expected help from that quarter.

The boys walked as swiftly as possible, and soon came to the summit, where a view of the camp was had. The corral where the mules were feeding was also in sight, farther down, and Teddy was seen making friends with Uncle Ike.

The camp looked so quiet and deserted that Jimmie took out his field glass again and looked closely. The flap of the tent was up, and the boy could see for some distance into the interior.

Trunks and boxes were open, their contents scattered about the floor. A figure lay still on the floor, as if asleep. Jimmie could not see the face, but from the size and expression of the shoulders he imagined it to be Dode.

Oliver was not to be seen. Then, while the boy watched, with a premonition of approaching evil in his mind, he saw two men move out into the center of the tent. They were looking through handfuls of papers, or pictures, or something similar. Jimmie could not determine at that distance just what they were carrying.

"Look here, Frank," the boy said, "just take a look at the tent."

Not a word to arouse the interest of the prisoner was said. Frank looked and handed the glass back to his chum. Jimmie knew what his chum feared as well as if he had put that fear into words. Bradley was smiling calmly.

"They have raided the tent!" Jimmie whispered, and Frank nodded.

"And they are destroying our plates and prints," Jimmie went on, "and so we'd better be getting down there to see about it."