Chapter XXV. The Confession of a Photograph.
 

"There's a ravine off to the right where the machines may be hidden," the clerk said, when the racing automobiles stopped at the foot of the hills.

"Show the way, then, quick," hastily commanded the leader. "We want to see what sort of people they are who ride at break-neck speed in the darkness."

The machines were driven into the ravine referred to, and the secret service men and the boys secreted themselves in a clump of undergrowth close to the roadside. The horsemen came on swiftly, and would have passed only that the detectives closed in about them, three in front and three in the rear.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded the dark little man who had shown himself at the telegraph office.

The two men with him whispered together but said nothing in the way of protest.

"Dismount!" ordered the leader.

The men hesitated, and a bullet cut the air within a fraction of an inch of the right ear of the leader. There was now no delay in reaching the ground.

"You shall pay for this!" shouted the little dark man.

"Of course," laughed the leader.

Jimmie pulled at the sleeve of the chief.

"That is one of the men I saw in the mountains," he declared. "He is the second one in command, as far as I could determine."

"What does the boy say?" demanded the other.

"What are you doing here?" asked the chief, impatiently.

"We are hunting in the hills."

"Hunting at this season?"

"Hunting and resting. Please now do we go on?"

The chief made a significant motion, and before the three men knew what was going on they were securely handcuffed. They roared at their captors and at each other in a foreign language for a moment and then sat down stolidly at the side of the road.

"You, Jerry, and you, Sam, take them back to the town and lock them up," ordered the chief. "Perhaps you, Charley, would better go with them. Ride and make them walk!"

"Locked up!" shouted the dark little man. "What for?"

"Treason to your country," was the short reply.

For a moment there was no word spoken, then the three men arose to their feet and approached the chief, standing with a hand on his revolver.

"There is money," one of the men said. "Plenty of money."

"Cut that out!" ordered the chief, curtly.

"Not in the thousands!" the other went on, "In the millions!"

"If they renew this proposition on the way in," ordered the chief, "gag them!"

In a moment the three men were away with their prisoners, the sound of the horses' feet dying away in soft echoes from the hills.

Then the chief turned to the clerk.

"Does our auto ride end here?" he asked.

The clerk shook his head.

"A few rods further on," he said, "you can turn into the bed of a half dry stream which runs out of the hills almost at the rocky wall of the mountain itself."

"And the bottom of the stream?" asked the chief.

"Sand and fine gravel. The grade is not steep."

"And how far from the summit shall we be when we get to the end of the water route?" asked the chief.

"Not more than three miles, but it is a stiff climb."

"Get under way then," was the order, and the motors sang their tune in the hills once more.

"What time does the moon rise?" the chief asked, after a few moments of splashing in the bed of the stream, which at that season of the year was not more than three inches deep, except in places, which were avoided.

"About twelve," was the reply.

"We must be well up the hill before that," the chief declared.

When they came to the end of the water course the machines were hidden in a canyon not far away and the men and the boys proceeded on up the slope.

In the meantime Ned and those with him were listening for the sound of footsteps in their immediate vicinity. The call of the pack had aroused the suspicions of the guard, and it was evident that he had left his place at the entrance of the cave to learn the meaning of it.

After a brief wait Ned heard the sound he was listening for and clutched Frank eagerly by the arm.

"Move away to the right and repeat the wolf call, only lower," he directed. "When you have done so dodge back here-quick! The guard may shoot!"

"What are you going to do?" whispered Bradley. "Be careful! Those Orientals are dangerous people to handle! Be careful!"

"I guess we won't start anything we can't finish," Frank grinned.

The boy did as requested, and Ned moved up the slope. Bradley sat watching the dim figures disappear and wondered what sort of company he had fallen into.

When the call of the pack came from the spot indicated by Ned, there was a rush of footsteps. The guard evidently, was advancing toward the suspicious sound.

The next event was so sudden, so unexpected, so startling, that Bradley almost held his breath for an instant. There was a choking gurgle, a blow, and a noise of falling bodies. Then Ned and the guard rolled into the little dip where the others were hiding.

Frank, back by this time, threw himself on the struggling mass and the guard was soon handcuffed and gagged. Then Frank sat back and laughed until Dode tried to gag him with a handkerchief.

"Come!" Ned whispered, giving the boy a poke in the ribs. "We're going into the cave now! Are you going, Bradley?" he added, turning to the blonde fellow.

"If you forget what took place at the club-room in New York, I'll--"

"You're on!" whispered Ned. "Now--quick and cautious!"

The old lady, sitting dejectedly with her grandson in her arms, in a rough cave-room, saw the boys creeping forward. Ned held up a warning hand and waited. The old lady, evidently knowing what was wanted, pointed to a small opening to the south.

"They are in there, two of them, asleep!" she whispered a moment later, when Ned had reached her side. "The others are away!"

"And the other boy?" asked Ned, anxiously.

"He is with them," was the gratifying reply.

It was Frank who accompanied Ned into the sleeping chamber where the heads of the conspiracy lay asleep. It was Frank who snapped the manacles on the wrist of the one who was lying across the entrance as a guard.

The supreme head of the wicked conspiracy struggled, half awake, as Ned slipped the handcuffs on and searched him for weapons. But it was all over in a moment, much to the amazement of Bradley, who, attracted by a gleam of light, looked through the low opening to see the searchlights of the Boy Scouts lighting up two angry faces. The prince--the real prince this time!--was asleep on a costly rug not far away. Later, when awakened, his attention was at once attracted to Mike III., who made a pretty good playfellow for him for the time being.

For there was little sleep in the Boy Scout Camera Club camp that night. When the boys, the old lady, the prince and the others came out of the cave, just as the moon was showing above the rim of the world, a rocket was mounting the sky to the north.

"One of the boys!" Ned exclaimed. "I reckon something is wrong there!"

But nothing was wrong there--nothing at all, so far as the boys were concerned. Oliver and Teddy had succeeded in capturing the man who was watching the camp. Pretending to fall asleep by the fire, they had lain in wait for the spy and captured him just as he was in the act of setting fire to the tent.

Dode accompanied Mrs. Brady and her grandson to the cabin, where, at her request, he remained a welcome guest for many days.

When the stories of the night had been told Jack, Jimmie, and the three secret service men made their appearance, puffing from their long climb. Then new stories had to be told, and the prince was by no means slow in telling of his adventures in the hills.

"The boy lies!" the leader of the conspirators declared. "I had nothing to do with the boy! I was not here when he was brought in. I came on separate business with one of the men already here, and did not know of the lad's presence here until to-night, and even then I did not know who he was."

"All the others will swear to that," Bradley said, "in an attempt to save the man's life by sacrificing their own."

"Never mind," Ned said, "you can testify to his interest in the abduction."

"I don't know a thing about it," was the reply. "I was hired to watch you in New York, and to bring Mike III. in here. I never saw this man while here--never saw the prince. I don't even know how they got Mike III. from his father! They kept me in ignorance of all their moves."

"Well," laughed Ned, "then we'll fall back on the confession that has been made."

"Confession!" repeated the others. "Who has confessed?"

"The photograph!" smiled Ned, taking out the two pictures in which the man and the prince were shown. "The pictures show this man in the company of the prince, and the prince will tell the rest. This closes the case."

"When are you going out?" asked the chief of the secret service men.

"Why," replied Ned, "I promised the outlaws that I would get away to-morrow morning. I'm going to keep my word!"

"You'd better go out with us and travel in the machines, then," said the other.

"And leave Uncle Ike?" demanded Jimmie. "Not for me! I'm going to ride that blessed mule to Cumberland, and ship him to New York."

And he actually did! While the others were riding at their ease in the racers, Jimmie was urging his mule along the country road, alighting now and then to let him thrust a soft muzzle into a pocket in quest of sugar.

At Cumberland Ned met Mike II., who was going in to spend a long time with his mother and the boy. He had sent the son in by a Washington friend, he said! That was all! Dode, he said, would be asked to remain there permanently. No one even knew how much the father knew of the trick to be played with his son.

And so, save for a few raveled ends, the story of the Boy Scout Camera Club is told.

Bradley was given a position by Oliver's father, and became very friendly with the boys. He insists to this day that he did not know about the abduction of the prince.

The conspirators were turned over to their own government, and there the record ends, though none of them was ever seen out of prison again!

Those who wish to follow the Boy Scouts farther can do so by reading the next book of this series, entitled: "The Boy Scout Electrician; or, the Hidden Dynamo."