Chapter XXII. A Recruit from the Enemy.
 

"So you know the men who have taken the boy we call Mike III.?" asked Ned.

"I know him too well," was the bitter answer. "He's one of the men who use their friends up to the limit and then drop them!"

"You say 'him,'" Ned suggested. "Is there only one in this outrage?"

"There are several, but all bow to the will of the leader. I can't tell you anything more about it! I don't like the way I have been treated, or I wouldn't have said as much as I have."

"I thought your motive was to secure the return of the boy to his grandmother?"

"I want that done, of course, but I wouldn't have suggested it to you only for the high and mighty airs of the man placed over me."

"Why don't you tell me who this man is?" asked Ned. "Why don't you tell me the object of this abduction of the prince? Why not tell me where to find this little chap you seem honestly interested in?"

"I don't know anything about any prince!" insisted Bradley.

"Look here," Ned said, "I believe I can tell you just how this man you hate looks. If I describe him, will you tell me if I am right?"

"I will tell you nothing, except that you ought to look in the vicinity of Chimney rock for the grandson--not at the rock, but close to it! That is more than I ought to tell you."

"This man you speak of," Ned went on, recalling the features of the face caught above the rock by the camera, "has a very slim face, a prominent nose, a wide, thin-lipped mouth, high cheek boned, small eye-orbits, and eyebrows which tip up at the outer corners. He is fond of children, and will play with any child he comes across. He is also fond of mountain climbing, and delights in long tramps over the hills."

Bradley looked at Ned with the old cynical smile on his face.

"Where did you run across him?" he asked eagerly,

"That is enough!" laughed Ned. "You needn't say another word. We have two snapshots of him--one without a head. In one he has hold of the hand of a child, and in the other he has the child on his back, with the little fellow's legs hanging down over his shoulders. A man would not be apt to ride children about on his shoulders unless he was fond of little ones generally, would he?"

"I presume not," Bradley admitted.

"And he wears in both pictures a mountain-climbing costume," Ned went on. "He evidently likes the errand he was sent here on!"

"The man I referred to a few moments ago as unscrupulous does," Bradley said.

"But if he likes children he won't be apt to injure this Mike III., will he?"

"He is a man who will do anything for expediency's sake. Now go away and leave me to my very entertaining thoughts! If I ever get out of these hills alive, and free, I'll never leave Manhattan island again."

"I remember you saying that you had never set foot in New York!" laughed Ned. "You'll have to make your stories consistent if you want them believed!"

"Never mind all that now," Bradley replied. "You get busy restoring that child to Mrs. Brady! Say, boy, but he is a bright-one!"

"Learned French quickly, didn't he, and consented to being blacked up like a negro minstrel, in order to pose as a prince?" asked Ned. "I reckon, however, that the credit does not all belong to the lad. He seems to have had a good instructor."

"If you'll release me," Bradley offered, after a pause, "I'll go and get the boy."

"That's an easy promise to make," laughed Ned.

"But I'll go and get him and bring him to you, and you can return him to his grandmother. Then you may put these bracelets on me again if you like. But, boy, let me tell you this: You've got nothing on me! I haven't done a thing in this state at least, to render myself liable to punishment. I supplied, for good pay, certain information in New York, and I brought the boy you call Mike III. on here from Washington, where I know his father well."

"You must have known what you were doing it for?"

"I did know--for money!"

"But you must have known that the boy was to personate some one else?"

"I didn't care about that. I had my orders! See here, boy, if you ever work with these highbrow rulers of petty kingdoms, you'll soon find out that you're to obey and not ask questions! Do you get me?"

"That's enough!" laughed Ned. "You haven't betrayed your employer, but you have told me all I wanted to know."

The boys unlocked the handcuffs and laid them aside.

"I believe you'll do the right thing," he said. "Go and get the boy. If you need any help let me know."

Bradley arose and stretched out his arms luxuriously.

"That's the first time I ever stood in the accused row," he said, "and it will be the last! But, see here, boy, I can't get the kid in a minute! I'll go to the mother and tell her what I'm doing, if I live to get there!"

"You think your ex-friends may seek to terminate your lease of life?"

"They surely will--now. And, here's a pointer for you, look out for yourself."

"I think I can fix you out so they will receive you with open arms," Ned grinned. "Here. I'll put these cuffs on again, with one arm locked carelessly. You can draw the bar out when you pull right hard. Now, eat what you need and take a run up the slope. We'll follow you with a serenade of bullets. When you join the outlaws down in the canyon you'll be a hero."

"That's a fine notion!" said Bradley, actually smiling.

"And don't come back here with the boy. Send him home to the old lady. Then, if you want to help me in the work I'm on--"

"I don't, and I won't!"

"Don't blame you a mite! I never did like a traitor! If you won't help me, then cut sticks for New York. Some day when you are in better mood, come to the Black Bear Patrol clubroom. You know where it is! Well give you a look into the place without sending you up to the attic!"

Bradley's face twisted into a laugh, but Ned did not seem to notice the fact.

"I'm not saying anything more about the prince, understand, or the attic, or the French, or the black stain, but perhaps you'll tell me the whole story some day!"

And so, handcuffed again, Bradley was taken back to the tent, where he was given a hearty meal. Then he carefully made his way out and ran for the summit. Ned and his chums sat back and laughed at the tumbles he took in his eagerness to deceive any one who might be watching the camp. Now and then he fell down behind a rock and lay there for a moment, peering out in the direction of the tent.

Just before he gained the summit, Ned and the others ran out of the tent with shouts of alarm and dashed up the slope, firing as they went. At that time Bradley's speed might have shown a world record if it had been set down! He cleared the summit, shouting for assistance from anyone who might be below, and half rolled down toward the canyon. Ned fired a few shots and went back to the tent.

"What's the game?" asked Frank, as Ned sat down and roared. "This man Bradley seems to be It--Tag!"

Ned explained the situation and Frank immediately began taking notes for a story for his father's newspaper.

"If I had had a motion picture machine here," Frank declared, "I could have made a fortune out of the films! It was glorious, the way the old boy tore up the rocks on his way down. Think he'll return?"

"I think he will," was the reply.

"But if he doesn't?"

"Then we shall have to find the boy ourselves, just as we are going to find the prince! That is the next job, you understand."

"And geezle the man who stole him--that's in the job, isn't it?"

"Nothing said about that, but I hope to get him and have the goods on him, too. When I present him to the chief he can do whatever he likes with him."

"But how are you going to get the goods on him?" asked Oliver.

"I'll manage that easily," laughed Ned. "The first thing is to catch him. Now, Frank, you saw where Bradley went?"

"Why, he headed for the old counterfeiter den."

"Think you can keep track of him for a short time?"

"Can I?" You know it!"

"Then take Dode with you, so as to be in communication with the camp, and follow him! Don't show yourself if you can help it, but if you are discovered keep busy with your camera. We are here only to take pictures, you know!"

"So you don't trust that chap, after all?" asked Frank.

"Yes, I trust him, but he won't betray the men he has been working with. In order to get the boy he'll have to go to the man I want."

"All right!" Frank laughed. "Come on, Dode! I might have known that Ned was next to his job. I'll come back just before sunset to report, if not before. If you love me have a supper fit for six of us ready for me!"

The two boys started away, and Ned, Teddy and Oliver went back to the pictures. After an hour or more Ned went down to the corral, as if looking after the mule. He saw no one on the way there, but when he reached the level spot, rich with June grass, he saw that it had had visitors during the day.

The grass was beaten down flat behind a boulder on the edge of the fertile spot, and there were cigarette stubs and half-burned matches scattered about. The lush grass still carried the odor of tobacco, and the boy knew that the watcher had not been long absent from his post.

He went back to the camp, and, much to the surprise of Teddy and Oliver, began packing.

"What's doing now?" the boy asked.

"Why," laughed Ned, "haven't I agreed to get out of here to-morrow or next day?"

"Yes, but--"

"We're going to pack, anyway," Ned said, "whether we leave or not! There are people watching every move we make, and I want to convey to them the idea that we are going at once."

"If they are watching us," Oliver suggested, "they doubtless saw Jack and Jimmie leave the camp."

"They undoubtedly did," Ned admitted.

"And will follow them, I'm afraid."

"I've been wondering whether the boys got out of the hills in safety," Ned went on. "They were well mounted, and should have been able to dodge the outlaws. Besides, Jimmie and Jack are, as the boys say on the Bowery, inclined to be 'foolish in the head--like a fox.' So they are probably safely out by this time."

"But, still, I'm worrying about them!" Oliver replied.