Chapter III. What the Box Contained.
 

"All right," Oliver encouraged. "Let's go out and make a throw at finding him, anyway! He may be in the garage, or the carriage house right this minute."

Jimmie and Oliver rushed away to find Terance, the coachman, and undertake the search suggested, while Ned, Jack, Frank and Teddy sat at the open windows looking out on the street.

"Chang Chu was at liberty to go into the attic at any time?" asked Ned, tentatively.

"Oh, yes," Jack answered, "the other servants sent him about on errands. He is a handy man about the premises--or was, rather."

"Is he a man to do such a thing as we are accusing him of?" Ned then asked.

"I never thought so," was the puzzled reply. "I hope you don't think that he was beaten up by the man who secured his blue clothes! That would be tough on the fellow."

"I have been thinking of that," Ned responded, "and while the boys are looking for the Chinaman in the outbuildings suppose we look for him in the upper part of the house."

"But if the sneak could get into the upper part of the house without the use of the disguise," reasoned Jack, "he wouldn't need it at all, would he?"

"He might have been surprised while at work by the Chinaman," Ned suggested. "In that case he might have taken the clothes as an afterthought. Suppose we look and see?"

Leaving Frank and Teddy sitting by the window, looking out on a perfect May night, Ned and Jack climbed the staircase to the attic and entered the room directly over the Black Bear Patrol clubroom. It was a large room, more of a storeroom than an attic, with a hardwood floor and papered walls and ceiling.

A great sack upon which clothing and odds and ends of all descriptions were hanging stood at the south end of the apartment, while a long row of boxes and packing trunks occupied the floor at the north end. The rug, which had been thrown down on the floor near the hole bored through a plank, was still there where the servants had seen it. The listener had, at least, a good notion of personal comfort!

"Where was this rug taken from?" asked Ned.

"It was on the rack the last time I saw it," Jack answered.

"Was it clean at that time?" Ned continued, examining the rug with a glass.

"What do you mean by clean? It was dusty, of course, like everything else here."

"Were there any stains on it--stains like blood?" Ned went on, dragging the rug under the electric lights which had been switched on.

"Why, of course not. It was originally in the little den off the library, but father became tired of it and told Terance to bring it here."

"How long ago was that?"

"Oh, a month or two. I can't be exact as to the date, you know."

Ned handed his chum the glass and indicated a certain portion of the rug.

"What do you call that?" he asked. "What does it look like?"

"It looks like a spot of blood," Jack declared. "And it is wet, too! What do you make of this, Ned? Was Chang Chu attacked and killed by that sneak thief?"

"That is for us to find out," Ned answered. "At the present moment, it looks as if Chang Chu wouldn't be found on Pell or Doyers street. What is there is those boxes--the large ones sitting against the wall?"

"About everything, I take it. I never looked into them. Why?"

"We may as well see what they contain," Ned replied, advancing to the largest box and throwing up the cover. "What do you think now?" he asked, as a huddled figure stirred in the box and opened a pair of suffering eyes. "This is the Chink, I suppose?"

Before Jack could reply, Ned had the man out of the box, with the cords cut from his hands and feet, the cruel gag removed from his mouth. His blue blouse was gone! Chang Chu tumbled over on the floor when Ned tried to stand him on his feet. There was a small cut on his head.

"Chang velly much bum!" he said, with his hands on his stomach.

"Chang never forgets a word of slang," Jack laughed. "He will remember the slang word for anything when he forgets the real word! What did they do to you, Chang?" he continued, addressing the Chinaman.

Chang pressed his hands to his nose significantly and dropped his head back.

"Chloroform!" Ned declared, sniffing at the contents of the box.

The Chinaman could not describe the man who had attacked him. He had been alone in the attic, putting away old clothes, when he had been struck and seized from behind by a man he described as a giant for strength, stripped of his blouse, and lifted bodily into the box. There he had been bound, gagged and rendered unconscious by the use of the drug.

"The man who did it," mused Ned, "is an adept at crime, resourceful, daring. The chloroform would have attracted the attention of the servants at once if it had been administered in the open air. Then his taking the Chink's blouse as a disguise shows that he is quick to take advantage of his opportunities. A clever man."

"And he left no clue!" Jack complained. "Just our luck, Ned!"

"All we know is that he is tall, has light brown hair, and is very strong," Ned replied. "But there are ten thousand people in New York this minute who answer to that description."

"How do you know he is tall?" demanded Jack.

"When he lay on the rug," Ned explained, "he stretched out on his stomach to look through the hole, if he could. He couldn't; he could only listen, for the cut was made so as to be hidden by the ornamental brass piece that circles the rod from which the chandelier swings. The marks of his elbows and toes were on the soft fiber of the rug, showing him to be a man at least six feet tall."

Ned walked over to the large box again and bent over it.

"Crumbs!" he exclaimed, in a second. "Crumbs!"

"Then he must have brought a lunch up with him," Jack exclaimed excitedly. "There is no knowing how long he was here!"

"Some one in Washington has leaked!" Ned declared, angrily.

"Why Washington?" demanded Jack. "Why not New York?"

"Because no one in this city knows about our being engaged to hunt down the abductor. My instructions have all come in cypher, and some of them have, as you know, been addressed to this house. And there you are!"

Chang Chu arose limply, rubbing a small wound in his head from which blood had come, and tottered off toward the staircase. As he did so, Ned noticed that his pigtail was very black, very long, and very greasy.

"Did he take you by the cue?" asked the boy. "Did he pull your hair?"

"Velly much lough-neck pull--dam!" answered the Chinaman.

Ned went back to the box where the Chink had been hidden and began taking out the articles it held, slowly and one by one.

"The cloth he poured the chloroform on must be here," he said. "He would naturally throw it into the box before shutting down the cover, as there might still be enough of the drug in it to put the Chink to sleep."

"Here it is," Jack said, reaching into the box and lifting out a rag and smelling of it. "Here is the dope cloth, all right and pretty strong yet."

"That's it, all right," Ned answered. "A worn white handkerchief, eh?"

"Name or mark on it?" asked Jack, passing the cloth to Ned.

"Nothing of the sort," was the answer, "but there's something better. When the fellow pulled at the Chink's greasy pigtail he got his hand smeared with oil. Then he grasped this white cloth fiercely, and there you are! See! The mark of the thumb couldn't be plainer if it had been printed on. Observe the long cicatrice on the ball of the thumb? I'll take this down and photograph it."

"Tall, strong, blonde, scar on the thumb!" laughed Jack. "We are getting on."

"It would be interesting to know how he got into the house," Ned mused.

"If we could only catch him and shut his mouth," Jack muttered, "we wouldn't have such a rotten bad time in the mountains."

"It is not what he knows," Ned suggested. "It is what his master as Washington knows. We might put this chap under ten feet of earth, but the opposition from Washington would go right on."

"When was the child abducted?" asked Jack. "When and how?"

"He was taken from in front of the embassy early in the morning. The ambassador brought him out for a spin in his automobile and left him out in front a moment. When he went back to continue his morning ride the automobile and the boy were nowhere to be seen! This was before nine o'clock Monday morning. Yesterday, along about noon, the boy--or a lad very much resembling him--was seen by a lieutenant of infantry in a motor boat, speeding up the Potomac."

"Why didn't he catch him, then?" asked Jack.

"Because he did not know at that time that the prince had been kidnapped. The authorities kept everything quiet! I presume they thought the thief didn't know that he had committed a crime, and were afraid the newspapers would tell him about it!"

"Tell that to Frank!" laughed Jack. "He'll go up in the air!"

The boys found Jimmie and Oliver in the club-room when they went down. The garage and carriage house had been searched--in vain, of course, for the boys had encountered the Chinaman on his way down to the basement as they ascended the stairs, the elevator being closed for the night.

"I believe that Chink had something to do with it, all the same," declared Jimmie. "He ought to be watched every minute of the time!"

"Now, here's another point I don't understand," Jack said, going back to the conversation he had had with Ned in the attic. "Why do the authorities think the boy has been taken to the mountains?"

"Because that would be a natural place for the thieves to hide," Ned answered. "The mountains are easily within reach of Washington, and they are virtually inaccessible to known officers of the law--at least so it is reported. The mountains run from central Pennsylvania to central Alabama, a distance of about a thousand miles, and afford many desirable hiding places."

"Yes, and we're likely to get our crusts split down there!" Teddy grinned. "We will if they find out that we belong to the Secret Service!"

"The Potomac river rises in West Virginia," continued Ned, "and the prince may have been taken to the foothills in the launch he was seen in."

"Are we going in a motor boat?" asked Jimmie.

"We are going by rail as far as we can go," Ned answered, "and then take shank's horses for the wild country, with mules to tote the baggage. In the eastern part of West Virginia, we are likely to travel forty miles without seeing a cabin."

"Where do we get our eatings?" demanded Jimmie. "It makes me hungry to climb mountains. We'll have to have a relief expedition sent after us if we don't get plenty of eatings," he added, with a wink at Teddy.

"Plenty of game up there," Ned grinned. "Plenty of deer, turkeys, coon, rabbits, birds and bears! We can dodge the game laws! Also a few wildcats are reported to have been seen there. And there is said to be plenty of moonshine in the caves, too. Oh, we'll have a sweet old vacation, boys. And we start tomorrow!"