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Title: Frank Merriwell Down South
Author: Standish, Burt L., 1866-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Frank Merriwell Down South" ***

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[Illustration: "'What's that!' howled the little professor, dancing
about in his night robe." (See page 109)]


Frank Merriwell Down South

BY

BURT L. STANDISH

AUTHOR OF "Frank Merriwell's School-Days," "Frank Merriwell's Chums,"
"Frank Merriwell's Foes," etc.

PHILADELPHIA DAVID McKAY, PUBLISHER 610 SOUTH WASHINGTON SQUARE

Copyright, 1903 By STREET & SMITH

Frank Merriwell Down South



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                 PAGE

      I--A Wonderful Story                 7
     II--Gone                             13
    III--Held for Ransom                  19
     IV--Unmasked                         27
      V--Kidnaped                         31
     VI--Carried into the Mountains       37
    VII--The Camp in the Desert           42
   VIII--The Treasure Seeker              46
     IX--The Professor's Escape           51
      X--The Stranger                     57
     XI--The Awakening Volcano            62
    XII--Doom of the Silver Palace        68
   XIII--A Stampede in a City             75
    XIV--The Hot Blood of Youth           80
     XV--Mystery of the Flower Queen      85
    XVI--Professor Scotch Feels Ill       90
   XVII--Led into a Trap                  95
  XVIII--Barney on Hand                  100
    XIX--A Humble Apology                106
     XX--The Professor's Courage         111
    XXI--Frank's Bold Move               116
   XXII--The Queen is Found              121
  XXIII--Fighting Lads                   127
   XXIV--End of the Search               132
    XXV--The Mysterious Canoe            138
   XXVI--Still More Mysterious           144
  XXVII--In the Everglades               149
 XXVIII--The Hut on the Island           155
   XXIX--A Wild Night in the Swamp       160
    XXX--Frank's Shot                    165
   XXXI--Young in Years Only             170
  XXXII--A Mysterious Transformation     177
 XXXIII--Gage Takes a Turn               181
  XXXIV--A Fearful Fate                  186
   XXXV--The Serpent Vine                192
  XXXVI--Right or Wrong                  196
 XXXVII--Frank's Mercy                   200
XXXVIII--In the Mountains Again          206
  XXXIX--Frank and Kate                  212
     XL--A Jealous Lover                 218
    XLI--Facing Death                    222
   XLII--Muriel                          228
  XLIII--Saved!                          240
   XLIV--Frank's Suspicion               248
    XLV--The Greatest Peril              257
   XLVI--The Mystery of Muriel           263


[Transcriber's Note: The following list of illustrations has been
created for this electronic edition. Some illustrations have been moved
to positions closer to their appearance in the text.]


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"'What's that!' howled the little professor, dancing
about in his night robe." (See page 109)

"Frank began shooting, and his first bullet brought
down one of the ponies of the pursuers." (See page 14)

"The white canoe had stopped, and was lying calmly on
the inky surface of the shadowed water." (See page 147)

"Kate grasped the assailant by the collar, and with
astonishing strength, pulled him off the prostrate
lad." (See page 218)



Frank Merriwell Down South.

CHAPTER I.

A WONDERFUL STORY.


"It is in the heart of the Sierra Madre range, one hundred and
twenty-five miles west of Zacatecas," said the dying man. "Across the
blue chasm you can see its towers and turrets glistening in the
sunshine. It is like a beautiful dream--dazzling, astounding, grand!"

"He wanders in his mind," softly declared Professor Scotch. "Poor
fellow! His brain was turned and he was brought to his death by his
fruitless search for the mythical Silver Palace."

The man who lay on a bed of grass in one corner of the wretched adobe
hut turned a reproachful look on the little professor.

"You are wrong," he asserted, in a voice that seemed to have gained
strength for the moment. "I am not deranged--I am not deceived by an
hallucination. With my eyes I have seen the wonderful Silver
Palace--yes, more than that, I have stood within the palace and beheld
the marvelous treasures which it contains."

The professor turned away to hide the look on his face, but Frank
Merriwell, deeply interested, bent over the unfortunate man, asking:

"By what route can this wonderful palace be reached?"

"There is no route. Between us and the Silver Palace lie waterless
deserts, great mountains, and, at last, a yawning chasm, miles in width,
miles in depth. This chasm extends entirely round the broad plateau on
which the wonderful palace stands like a dazzling dream. The bottom of
the chasm is hidden by mists which assume fantastic forms, and whirl and
sway and dash forward and backward, like battling armies. Indians fear
the place; Mexicans hold it in superstitious horror. It is said that
these mist-like forms are the ghosts of warriors dead and gone, a
wonderful people who built the Silver Palace in the days of
Cortez--built it where the Spaniard could not reach and despoil it."

Despite his doubts, the professor was listening with strong interest to
this remarkable tale.

The fourth person in the hut was the Dutch boy, Hans Dunnerwust, who sat
on the ground, his back against the wall, his jaw dropped and his eyes
bulging. Occasionally, as he listened to the words of the dying man, he
would mutter:

"Chimminy Gristmas!"

For several weeks Frank Merriwell, our hero, Hans, his chum, and
Professor Scotch, his guardian, had been exploring the country around
the city of Mendoza, Mexico. They had come to Mexico after having
numerous adventures in our own country, as related in "Frank Merriwell
Out West," a former volume of this series.

Only a short hour before they had run across the sufferer, whose head
seemed so full of the things he had seen at what he called the Silver
Palace. They had found him almost dead in a hut at the edge of a sandy
plain, suffering great pain and calling loudly for aid. They had done
what they could, and then he had begun to talk, as related above.

With surprising strength the man on the bed of grass sat up, stretching
out his hands, gazing across the sunlit sand-plain beyond the open door
of the hut, and went on:

"I see it now--I see it once again! There, there--see it gleaming like a
dazzling diamond in the sunshine! See its beautiful towers and turrets!
That dome is of pure gold! Within those walls are treasures untold!
There are great vaults of gold and silver ornaments, bars and ingots!
There are precious stones in profusion! And all this treasure would make
a thousand men rich for life! But it's not for me--it's lost to me
forever!"

With a stifled moan, he fell back into Frank's arms, and was lowered on
the bed of grass.

Professor Scotch hastily felt the man's pulse, listened for the beating
of his heart, and then cried:

"Quick, Frank--the brandy! It may be too late, but we'll try to give him
a few more minutes of life."

"That's right!" palpitated Frank. "Bring him back to consciousness, for
we have not yet learned how to reach the Silver Palace."

"There is no such place as the Silver Palace," sharply declared the
professor, as he forced a few drops of brandy between the lips of the
unfortunate man. "The fellow has dreamed it."

"Perhaps."

"Perhaps! Why, Frank, I took you for a boy of more sense! Think--think
of the absurdity! It is impossible!"

"It may be."

"I know it is."

"Vell, maype you don'd nefer peen misdooken, brofessor?" insinuated
Hans, recovering for a moment from his dazed condition.

The professor did not notice the Dutch boy's words, for the man on the
bed of grass drew a long, fluttering breath and slowly opened his eyes.

"I thought I saw the palace once more," he whispered. "It was all a
delusion."

"That is true," nodded the professor, "it is all a delusion. Such a
place as this Silver Palace is an absurd impossibility. The illness
through which you have passed has affected your mind, and you dreamed of
the palace."

"It is not so!" returned the man, reproachfully. "I have proof! You
doubt me--you will not believe?"

"Be calm--be quiet," urged the professor. "This excitement will cut your
life short by minutes, and minutes are precious to you now."

"That is true; minutes are precious," hastily whispered the man. "It is
not the fever I am dying of--no, no! The water from the spring you may
see behind the hut--it has destroyed many people. This morning, before
you came, a peon found me here. He told me--he said the spring was
poison. The water robs men of strength--of life. I could not understand
him well. He went away and left me. I could see him running across the
desert, as if from a plague. And now I am dying--dying!"

"But the Silver Palace?" observed Frank Merriwell. "You are forgetting
that."

"Yah," nodded the Dutch lad; "you peen forgetting dot, ain'd id?"

"The proof," urged Frank. "You say you have proof."

"Yah," put in Hans; "you say you haf der broof. Vere id peen?"

"It is here," declared the unfortunate, as he fumbled beneath the straw.
"You are my countrymen--you have been kind to me. Alwin Bushnell may
never return. It is terrible to think all that treasure may be
lost--lost forever!"

"Who is Alwin Bushnell?"

"My partner--the one who was with me when I found the palace."

"Where is he now?"

"Heaven knows! He went for another balloon."

"Another balloon?"

"Yes; it was with the aid of a balloon that we reached the Silver
Palace. Without it we could not have crossed the gulf."

"Absurd!" muttered the professor.

Despite the fact that the word was merely murmured, the miserable man on
the bed of grass did not fail to catch it.

"Oh, I will convince even you!" he exclaimed, gasping for breath, and
continuing to fumble beneath the straw. "You shall see--you shall know!
But our balloon--we had no means of obtaining a further supply of gas.
It was barely sufficient to take us across the gulf, with a few pieces
of treasure. We struck against the side of the bluff--we were falling
back into the abyss! Barely were we able to scramble out of the car and
cling to the rocks. Then we saw the balloon rise a little, like a bird
freed of burden; but it suddenly collapsed, fluttered downward, and the
mists leaped up and clutched it like a thousand exulting demons,
dragging it down from our sight. We crawled up from the rocks, but it
was a close call--a close call."

He lay exhausted, his eyes closed, his hand ceasing to fumble beneath
the straw. Once more Professor Scotch gave him a little of the brandy.

Frank Merriwell was more than interested; he could feel his heart
trembling with excitement. Something seemed to tell him that this man
was speaking the truth, and he was eager to hear more.

For a long time the unfortunate lay gasping painfully for breath, but,
at last, he was easier. He opened his eyes, and saw Frank watching him
steadily, with an anxious expression.

"Ah!" he murmured, exultantly, "you believe me--you do not doubt! I must
tell you everything. You shall be Jack Burk's heir. Think of it--heir to
wealth enough to make you richer than Monte Cristo! Witness--witness
that I make this boy my heir!"

He turned to the professor and Hans, and both bowed, the former saying:

"We are witnesses."

"Good! We escaped with our lives, but we brought little of the treasure
with us. I was determined to find the way back there, and I made a map.
See, here it is."

He thrust a soiled and crumpled piece of paper into Frank's hand, and
the boy saw there were lines and writing on it.

"How we found our way out of the mountains, how we endured the heat of
the desert I cannot tell," went on the weak voice of the man on the bed
of straw. "We reached Zacatecas, and then Bushnell went for another
balloon. He knows friends who have money and power, and he will get the
balloon--if he lives."

"But the proof--the proof that you were going to show us?"

"It is here! Look!"

From beneath the straw Jack Burk drew forth a queer little figure of
solid gold--a figure like the pictures of Aztec gods, which Frank had
seen.

"This is proof!" declared the man. "It is some of the treasure we
brought from the palace. Bushnell took the rest."

The professor excitedly grasped the little image, and gazed searchingly
at it.

"It is all right--it is genuine!" he finally exclaimed.

"Of course it is genuine!" said the man on the bed of grass. "And there
are more in the Silver Palace. There the treasures of the Aztecs were
hidden, and they have remained. The country all around is full of fierce
natives, who hold the palace in awe and prevent others from reaching it.
They have kept the secret well, but----"

"Vot vos dot?" interrupted Hans.

At some distance on the plain outside the hut were wildly galloping
horses, for they could hear hoof-beats and loud cries. Then came a
fusillade of pistol shots!


[Illustration: "Frank began shooting, and his first bullet brought down
one of the ponies of the pursuers." (See page 14)]



CHAPTER II.

GONE.


"Bandits!" cried Jack Burk. "It may be Pacheco!"

"Pacheco?" questioned Frank.

"Pacheco, the human hawk! He haunts the mountains and the desert. He
pursued us across the desert, but we escaped him. I have been in hiding
here to avoid him. He believes we brought much treasure from the
mountains."

The professor had leaped to the door, and was looking away on the plain.
Now he cried, excitedly:

"Look here! A band of horsemen pursuing a white man--plainly an
American. Look, he is shooting again!"

Once more the shots were heard.

Frank ran to the door, catching up a rifle that had been leaning against
the wall of the hut, for he knew he was in a "bad man's land."

"Stand aside!" he shouted, forcing his way past the professor. "No
countryman of mine can be in danger that I do not try to give him a
helping hand."

"What do you mean to do?"

"Get a crack at those Greasers."

"You are crazy! You will bring the entire band down on us!"

"Let 'em come! One Yankee is good for six Greasers."

Past the hut at a distance a single horseman was riding, hotly spurring
the animal which bore him. At least a dozen dark-faced, fierce-looking
ruffians, mounted on hardy little ponies, were in pursuit.

As Professor Scotch had said, the fugitive was plainly an American, a
native of the United States. He had turned in the saddle to send bullets
whistling back at his pursuers.

Frank ran out and dropped on one knee. The professor followed him, and
Hans came from the hut.

Just as Frank lifted the rifle to his shoulder and was on the point of
shooting, the voice of Jack Burk sounded from the doorway, to which he
had dragged himself:

"It is Bushnell, my partner! Al! Al! Al Bushnell!"

His voice was faint and weak, and it did not reach the ears of the man
out on the plain.

Then Frank began shooting, and his first bullet brought down one of the
ponies of the pursuers, sending a bandit rolling over and over in the
dust, to leap up like a cat, and spring behind a comrade on the back of
another pony.

"Dot peen britty goot, Vrankie," complimented Hans Dunnerwust.

Again and again Frank fired, and the bandits quickly swerved away from
the hut, feeling their ponies sway or fall beneath them.

In an astonishingly brief space of time the course of pursuit was
deflected, giving the fugitive a chance to get away into Mendoza, which
lay at a distance of about three miles from the hut.

The man in flight heard the shots, saw the figures in front of the hut,
and waved his hand to them.

The professor excitedly beckoned for Bushnell to come to the hut, but
the horseman did not seem to understand, and he kept straight on toward
the town.

"Confound him!" exploded the professor. "Why didn't he come?"

"He don'd like a trap to run into," said Hans.

"But there is no trap here."

"How he known dot?"

"Well, I don't know as I blame him. Of course he could not be sure it
was not a trap, and so he was cautious."

Frank was calmly refilling the magazine of the rifle with fresh
cartridges.

"Why you didn't shoot some uf der pandits deat, Vrankie?" asked Hans.

"I do not wish to shed human blood if I can avoid it."

"You don't done dot uf you shoot six or elefen uf dose togs."

"Oh, they are human beings."

"Don't you belief me? Dey vos volves--kiotes."

"Well, I did not care to shoot them if I could aid the man in any other
way, and I succeeded. See, they have given up the pursuit, and the
fugitive is far away in that little cloud of dust."

"Frank!"

"Yes, professor."

"We should follow him, and bring him back to his dying partner."

"And leave Jack Burk here alone--possibly to die alone?"

"We can't do that."

"Of course not."

"What then?"

"We'll have to consider the matter. But Burk---- Look--see there,
professor! He is flat on his face in the doorway! He fell like that
after trying to shout to his partner."

Frank leaped forward, and turned the man on his back. It was a drawn,
ghastly face that the trio gazed down upon.

Professor Scotch quickly knelt beside the motionless form, feeling for
the pulse, and then shaking his head gravely.

"What is it?" anxiously asked Frank. "Has he----"

He was silent at a motion from the professor, who bent to listen for
some movement of the man's heart.

After a few seconds, Professor Scotch straightened up, and solemnly
declared:

"This is the end for him. We can do nothing more."

"He is dead?"

"Yes."

There was an awed hush.

"Now we can leave him," the professor finally said. "Pacheco, the
bandit, cannot harm him now."

They lifted the body and bore it back to the wretched bed of straw, on
which they tenderly placed it.

"The idol--the golden image?" said the professor. "You must not forget
that, Frank. You have it?"

"Little danger that I shall forget it. It is here, where it fell from my
fingers as I ran out."

He picked up the image, and placed it in one of his pockets.

Then, having covered the face of Jack Burk with his handkerchief, Frank
led the way from the hut.

Their horses had been tethered near at hand, and they were soon mounted
and riding away toward Mendoza.

The sun beat down hotly on the plain of white sand, and the sky was of a
bright blue, such as Frank had never seen elsewhere.

Outside Mendoza was a narrow canal, but a few feet in width, and half
filled with water, from which rose little whiffs of hot steam.

Along the side of the canal was a staggering rude stone wall, fringed
with bushes in strips and clumps.

Beyond the canal, which fixed the boundary of the plain of sand, through
vistas of tree trunks, could be seen glimpses of brown fields, fading
away into pale pink, violet, and green.

The dome and towers of a church rose against the dim blue; low down, and
on every side were spots of cream-white, red, and yellow, with patches
of dark green intervening, revealing bits of the town, with orange
groves all about.

Across the fields ran a road that was ankle deep with dust, and along
the road a string of burros, loaded with great bundles of green fodder,
were crawling into the town.

An undulating mass of yellow dust finally revealed itself as a drove of
sheep, urged along by peons, appeared.

Groups of natives were strolling in both directions, seeking the shadows
along the canal. The women were in straw hats, with their black hair
plaited, and little children strung to their backs; the men wore serapes
and sandals, and smoked cigarettes.

Along the side of the canal were scattered scores of natives of all ages
and both sexes, lolling beneath the bushes or soaking their bodies in
the water, while their heads rested on the ground.

Those stretched in the shadow of the bushes had taken their bath, and
were waiting for their bodies to dry, covered simply by serapes.

From beneath such a covering dark-eyed native girls stared curiously at
the passing trio, causing Hans no small amount of confusion.

"I say, Vrankie," said the Dutch boy, "vot you dinks apoudt dot pusiness
uf dakin' a path in bublic mit der roadt beside?"

"It seems to be the custom of the country," smiled Frank; "and they do
not seem to think it at all improper."

"Vell, somepody better toldt dem to stob id. Id keeps mein plood mein
face in so much dot I shall look like you hat peen drinking."

"They think nothing of it," explained the professor. "You will notice
with what deftness they disrobe, slipping out of their clothes and into
the water without exposing much more than a bare toe."

"Oxcuse you!" fluttered Hans. "I don'd like to took mein chances py
looking. Somepody mighd make a misdake."

The sun was low down as they rode into the town.

"We have no time to lose," said Frank. "We must move lively, if we mean
to return to the hut before nightfall."

"That's right," nodded Professor Scotch.

They were successful in finding a native undertaker, but the fellow was
very lazy, and he did not want to do anything till the next day.

"To-morrow, señors, to-morrow," he said.

That did not satisfy, however, and he was soon aroused by the sight of
money. Learning where the corpse was, he procured a cart and a burro,
and they again set out along the road.

They found whole families soaking in groups in the canal, sousing their
babies in the water, and draining them on the bank.

Young Indian girls in groups were combing out their hair and chatting
merrily among themselves and with friends in the water.

"Dere oughter peen some law for dot," muttered Hans.

Leaving the canal, they set out upon the sand-plain, the undertaker's
burro crawling along at an aggravating pace, its master refusing to whip
it up, despite urging.

The sun had set, and darkness was settling in a blue haze on the plain
when the hut was reached.

Frank lighted a pocket lamp he always carried, and entered.

A cry of astonishment broke from his lips.

"Professor! professor!" he called; "the body is gone!"



CHAPTER III.

HELD FOR RANSOM.


"Gone!"

The professor was astonished.

"Shimminy Gristmas! I don'd toldt you dot!" came from Hans Dunnerwust.

"Yes, gone," repeated Frank, throwing the light about the room and
finally bringing it back to the bed of grass.

"But--but it's impossible."

"Impossible or not, it is true, as you may see."

"But the man was dead--as dead as he could be!"

"Yah!" snorted Hans. "Py shingoes! dot peen der trute. Dot man vos
teader as a goffin nail, und don'd you vorget him!"

The trio were silent, staring in stupefied amazement at the bed of
grass.

An uncanny feeling began to creep over Frank, and it seemed that a chill
hand touched his face and played about his temples.

Hans' teeth began to chatter.

"I am quite ill," the professor faintly declared, in a feeble tone of
voice. "The exertions of the day have been far too severe for me."

"Yah, yah!" gurgled the Dutch lad. "You vos anodder. Oxcuse me while I
go oudt to ged a liddle fresh air."

He made a bolt for the open door, and Professor Scotch was not long in
following. Frank, however, was determined to be thoroughly satisfied,
and he again began looking for the body of the dead man, once more going
over the entire hut.

"The body is gone, beyond a doubt," he finally muttered.

"There is no place for it to be concealed here, and dead men do not hide
themselves."

He went out, and found Professor Scotch and Hans awaiting his appearance
with no small amount of anxiety.

"Ah!" said the professor, with a deep breath of relief, "you are all
right."

"All right," said Frank, with amusement; "of course I am. What did you
think? Fancy I was going to be spirited away by spooks?"

The little man drew himself up with an assumption of great dignity.

"Young man," he rumbled, in his deepest tone, "don't be frivolous on
such an occasion as this. You are quite aware that I do not believe in
spooks or anything of the sort; but we are in a strange country now, and
strange things happen here."

"Yah," nodded Hans. "Dot peen oxactly righdt."

"For instance, the disappearance of that corpse is most remarkable."

"Dot peen der first dime I nefer known a deat man to ged ub un valk avay
all alone mit himseluf by," declared Hans.

"What do you think has happened here, professor?" asked Frank.

"It is plain Jack Burk's body is gone."

"Sure enough."

"And does it not seem reasonable that he walked away himself?"

"Vell, you don'd know apout dot," broke in Hans. "Maype he don'd pelief
we vos goin' pack here to bury him, und he got tiret uf vaiting for der
funerals."

"There must have been other people here after we left," said Frank.

"Right," nodded the professor.

"Bandits?"

"Bushnell?"

"One or the other."

"Perhaps both."

Frank fell to examining the ground for "signs," but, although his eyes
were unusually keen, he was not an expert in such matters, and he
discovered nothing that could serve as a revelation.

"The man was dead beyond a doubt, professor--you are sure?"

"Sure?" roared the little man, bristling in a moment. "Of course I'm
sure! Do you take me for a howling idiot?"

"Don't get excited, professor. The best of us are liable to err at
times. It would not be strange if you----"

"But I didn't--I tell you I didn't! The body may have been removed by
the bandits which hang about this section."

"Or by Al Bushnell, Burk's partner."

"Yes; Bushnell may have recognized him, although he did not seem to do
so. In that case, he has been here----"

"And that explains everything."

"Everything."

"He took the body away to give it decent burial."

"And we have had our trouble for nothing."

By this time the native undertaker got the drift of the talk, and set up
a wail of lamentation and accusation. He had come all that distance at
great expense to himself and great waste of time during which he might
have been sleeping or smoking. It was robbery, robbery, robbery. It was
like the _Americanoes_. He had a wife and many--very many children
depending on him. He had been tricked by the _Americanoes_, and he would
complain that he had been cheated. They should be arrested; they should
be compelled to pay.

"Oh, come your perch off, und gone took a fall to yournseluf!" cried
Hans, in disgust. "You gif me der lifer gomblaint!"

The native continued to wail and lament and accuse them until Frank
succeeded in quieting him by paying him three times as much as he would
have asked had the body been found in the hut. The old fellow saw how he
could make it appear as a clean case of deception on the part of the
strangers, and he worked his little game for all there was in it. Having
received his money, he lost no time in turning his cart about and
heading back toward Mendoza, evidently fearing the body might be found
at last and forced upon him.

"We'd better be going, too," said Professor Scotch.

"That's right," agreed Frank. "There is no telling what danger we may
encounter on the plain after nightfall."

"Vell, don'd let us peen all nighd apout gedding a mofe on," fluttered
Hans, hastening toward the horses.

So they mounted and rode away toward Mendoza, although Frank was far
from satisfied to do so without solving the mystery of the remarkable
disappearance.

Darkness was falling heavily on the plain, across which a cool and
refreshing breath came from the distant mountains.

Frank kept his eyes open for danger, more than half expecting to run
upon a gang of bandits at any moment. As they approached the town they
began to breathe easier, and, before long, they were riding along the
dusty road that led into the little town.

Entering Mendoza they found on each hand low buildings connected by
long, white adobe walls, against which grew prickly pears in abundance,
running in straggling lines away out upon the open country.

About the edges of the town were little fires, winking redly here and
there, with earthen pots which were balanced on smoldering embers raked
out from the general mass.

Withered and skinny old hags were crooning over the pots, surrounded by
swarthy children and lazy men, who were watching the preparation of the
evening meal.

Groups of peons, muffled to the eyes with their serapes, were sitting
with their backs to the adobe walls, apparently fast asleep; but Frank
noted that glittering, black eyes peered out from between the serapes
and the huts, and he had no doubt but that many of the fellows would
willingly cut a throat for a ridiculously small sum of money.

Within the town it was different. All day the window shutters had been
closely barred, but now they were flung wide, and the flash of dark eyes
or the low, musical laugh of a señorita told that the maidens who had
lolled all the hot day were now astir.

Doors were flung wide, and houses which at midday had seemed uninhabited
were astir with life. In the patios beautiful gardens were blooming, and
through iron gates easy-chairs and hammocks could be seen.

Many of the señoritas had come forth, and were strolling in groups of
threes or fours, dressed in pink and white lawn, with Spanish veils and
fans. The most of them wore white stockings and red-heeled slippers.

Many a witching glance was shyly cast at Frank, but his mind was so
occupied that he heeded none of them.

The hotel was reached, and they were dismounting, when a battered and
tattered old man, about whose shoulders was cast a ragged blanket, and
whose face was hidden by a scraggly, white beard, came up with a
faltering step.

"Pardon me," he said, in a thin, cracked voice, "I see you are
Americans, natives of the States, Yankees, and, as I happen to be from
Michigan, I hasten to speak to you. I know you will have pity on an
unfortunate countryman. My story is short. My son came to this wretched
land to try to make a fortune. He went into the mines, and was doing
well. He sent me home money, and I put a little aside, so that I had a
snug little sum after a time. Then he fell into the hands of Pacheco,
the bandit. You have heard of Pacheco, gentlemen?"

"We have," said Frank, who was endeavoring to get a fair look into the
old man's eyes.

"We surely have," agreed the professor.

"Vell, you can pet my poots on dot!" nodded Hans.

"The wretch--the cutthroat!" cried the old man, shaking his clinched
hand in the air. "Why didn't he kill me? He has robbed me of
everything--everything!"

"Tell us--finish your story," urged the professor.

Frank said nothing. The light from a window shone close by the old man.
Frank was waiting for the man to change his position so the light would
shine on his face.

For some moments the man seemed too agitated to proceed, but he finally
went on.

"My son--my son fell into the hands of this wretched bandit. Pacheco
took him captive. Then he sent word to me that he would murder my son if
I did not appear and pay two thousand dollars ransom money. Two thousand
dollars! I did not have it in the world. But I had a little home. I sold
it--I sold everything to raise the money to save my boy. I obtained it.
And then--then, my friends, I received another letter. Then Pacheco
demanded three thousand dollars."

"Der brice vos on der jump," murmured Hans.

"But that is not the worst!" cried the old man, waving his arms,
excitedly. "Oh, the monster--the demon!"

He wrung his hands, and groaned as if with great anguish.

"Be calm, be calm," urged Professor Scotch. "My dear sir, you are
working yourself into a dreadful state."

"How can I be calm?" groaned the stranger. "It is not possible to be
calm and think of such a terrible thing!"

"What terrible thing?" asked Frank. "You have not told the entire story,
and we do not know what you mean."

"True, true. Listen! With that letter Pacheco--the monster!--sent one of
my boy's little fingers!"

"Shimminy Gristmas! I don'd toldt you dot, do I?"

"Horrible! horrible!"

The professor and Hans uttered these exclamations, but Frank was calm
and apparently unmoved, with his eyes still fastened on the face of the
old man.

"How you toldt dot vos der finger uf your son, mister?"

"That's it, that's it--how could you tell?" asked the professor.

"My son--my own boy--he added a line to the letter, stating that the
finger had been taken from his left hand, and that Pacheco threatened to
cut off his fingers one by one and send them to me if I did not hasten
with the ransom money."

"Dot seddled you!"

"You recognized the handwriting as that of your son?"

"I did; but I recognized something besides that."

"What?"

"The finger."

"Oh, you may have been mistaken in that--surely you may."

"I was not."

"How do you know?"

"By a mark on the finger."

"Ah! what sort of a mark?"

"A peculiar scar like a triangle, situated between the first and second
joints. Besides that, the nail had once been crushed, after which it was
never perfect."

"That was quite enough," nodded Professor Scotch.

"Yah," agreed Hans; "dot peen quide enough alretty."

Still Frank was silent, watching and waiting, missing not a word that
fell from the man's lips, missing not a gesture, failing to note no
move.

This silence on the part of Merriwell seemed to affect the man, who
turned to him, saying, a trifle sharply:

"Boy, boy, have you no sympathy with me? Think of the suffering I have
passed through! You should pity me."

"What are you trying to do now?" asked Frank, quietly.

"I am trying to raise some money to ransom my son."

"But I thought you did raise money?"

"So I did, but not enough."

"Finish the story."

"Well, when I received that letter I immediately hastened to this land
of bandits and half-breeds. I did not have three thousand dollars, but I
hoped that what I had would be enough to soften Pacheco's heart--to save
my poor boy."

"And you failed?"

The old man groaned again.

"My boy is still in Pacheco's power, and I have not a dollar left in all
the world! Failed--miserably failed!"

"Well, what do you hope to do--what are you trying to do?"

"Raise five hundred dollars."

"How?"

"In any way."

"By begging?"

"I do not know how. Anyway, anyway will do!"

"But you cannot raise it by begging in this land, man," said the
professor. "This is a land of beggars. Everybody seems to be poor and
wretched."

"But I have found some of my own countrymen, and I hoped that you might
have pity on me--oh, I did hope!"

"What? You didn't expect us to give you five hundred dollars?"

"Think of my boy--my poor boy! Pacheco has threatened to murder him by
inches--to cut him up and send him to me in pieces! Is it not something
terrible to contemplate?"

"Vell, I should dink id vos!" gurgled the Dutch boy.

"But how did you lose your money?"

"I was robbed."

"By whom?"

"Pacheco."

"How did it happen?"

"I fell into his hands."

"And he took your money without setting your son free?"

"He did."

"Did you tell him it was all you had in the world?"

"I told him that a score of times."

"What did he say?"

"Told me to raise more, or have the pleasure of receiving my boy in
pieces."

"How long ago was that?"

"Three days."

"Near here?"

"Yes."

"How long have you been in Mendoza?"

"Two days, and during that time I have received this from Pacheco."

He took something from his pocket--something wrapped in a handkerchief.
With trembling fingers, he unrolled it, exposing to view----

A bloody human finger!



CHAPTER IV.

UNMASKED.


Hans and Professor Scotch uttered exclamations of horror, starting back
from the sight revealed by the light that came from the window set deep
in the adobe wall.

Frank's teeth came together with a peculiar click, but he uttered no
exclamation, nor did he start.

This seemed to affect the old man unpleasantly, for he turned on Frank,
crying in an accusing manner and tone:

"Have you no heart? Are you made of stone?"

"Hardly," was the reply.

"This finger--it is the second torn from the hand of my boy by Pacheco,
the bandit--Pacheco, the monster!"

"Pacheco seems to be a man of great determination."

Professor Scotch gazed at Frank in astonishment, for the boy was of a
very sympathetic and kindly nature, and he now seemed quite unlike his
usual self.

"Frank, Frank, think of the suffering of this poor father!"

"Yah," murmured Hans; "shust dink how pad you vould felt uf you efer
peen py his blace," put in Hans, sobbing, chokingly.

"It is very, very sad," said Frank; but there seemed to be a singularly
sarcastic ring to the words which fell from his lips.

"Have you seen your son since he fell into the hands of Pacheco, sir?"
asked the professor.

"Yes, I saw him; but I could scarcely recognize him, he was so
changed--so wan and ghastly. The skin is drawn tightly over his bones,
and he looks as if he were nearly starved to death."

"Did he recognize you?"

"Yes."

"What did he do?"

The man wrung his hands with a gesture of unutterable anguish.

"Oh, his appeal--I can hear it now! He begged me to save him, or to
give him poison that he might kill himself!"

"Where is he now?"

"In a cave."

"Where is the cave?"

"That I cannot tell, for I was blindfolded all the time, except while in
the cave where my boy is kept."

"It is near Mendoza?"

"It must be within fifty miles of here."

"Perhaps it is nearer?"

"Possibly."

"But you have no means of knowing in which direction it lies?"

"No."

"Your only hope is to raise the five hundred dollars?"

"That is my only hope, and that can scarcely be called a hope, for I
must have the money within a day or two, or my boy will be dead."

"Hum! hum!" coughed the professor. "This is a very unfortunate
affair--very unfortunate. I am not a wealthy man, but I----"

"You will aid me?" shouted the old man, joyously. "Heaven will bless
you, sir--Heaven will bless you!"

"I have not said so--I have not said I would aid you," Scotch hastily
said. "I am going to consider the matter--I'll think it over."

"Then I have no hope."

"Why not?"

"If your heart is not opened now, it will never open. My poor boy is
lost, and I am ready for death!"

The old man seemed to break down and sob like a child, burying his face
in his hands, his body shaking convulsively.

Frank made a quick gesture to the others, pressing a finger to his lips
as a warning for silence.

In a moment the old man lifted his face, which seemed wet with tears.

"My last hope is gone!" he sighed. "And you are travelers--you are
rich!"

He turned to Frank, to whom, with an appealing gesture, he extended a
hand that was shaking as if with the palsy.

"You--surely you will have sympathy with me! I can see by your face and
your bearing that you are one of fortune's favorites--you are rich. A
few dollars----"

"My dear man," said Frank, quite calmly, "I should be more than
delighted to aid you, if you had told the truth."

The old man fell back. He was standing fairly in the light which shone
from the window.

"What do you mean?" he hoarsely asked. "Do you think I have been lying
to you--do you fancy such a thing?"

"I fancy nothing; I know you have lied!"

"Frank!" cried Professor Scotch, in amazement.

"Shimminy Gristmas!" gurgled Hans Dunnerwust, in a dazed way.

The manner of the old man changed in a twinkling.

"You are insolent, boy! You had better be careful!"

"Now you threaten," laughed Frank. "Well, I expected as much from a
beggar, a fraud, and a scoundrel!"

Professor Scotch and Hans fell into each other's arms, overcome with
excitement and wonder.

Frank was calm and deliberate, and he did not lift his voice above the
tone used in ordinary conversation.

Still another step did the man fall back, and then a grating snarl broke
from his lips, and he seemed overcome with rage. He leaned forward,
hissing:

"You insulting puppy!"

"The truth must always seem like an insult to a scoundrel."

"Do you dare?"

"What is there to fear?"

"Much."

Frank snapped his fingers.

"Your tune has changed in the twinkling of an eye. You are no longer the
heart-broken father, begging for his boy; but you have flung aside some
of the mask, and exposed your true nature."

Professor Scotch saw this was true, and he was quaking with fear of what
might follow this remarkable change.

As for Hans, it took some time for ideas to work their way through his
brain, and he was still in a bewildered condition.

For a moment the stranger was silent, seeming to choke back words which
rose in his throat. Finally, he cried:

"Oh, very well! I did not expect to get anything out of you; but it
would have been far better for you if I had. Now----"

"What?"

Frank asked the question, as the speaker faltered.

"You shall soon learn what. I am going to leave you, but we shall see
more of each other, don't forget that."

"Wait--do not be in a hurry. I am not satisfied till I--see your face!"

With the final words, Frank made a leap and a sweep of his hand,
clutching the white beard the man wore, and tearing it from his face!

The beard was false!

The face exposed was smoothly shaven and weather-tanned.

"Ha!" cried Frank, triumphantly. "I thought so! This poor old man is
Carlos Merriwell, my villainous cousin!"



CHAPTER V.

KIDNAPED.


As our old readers know, Carlos Merriwell was Frank's deadly enemy,
although they were blood cousins.

Carlos was the son of Asher Merriwell, the brother of Frank's father.

At the time of his death, Asher Merriwell was supposed to be a crusty
old bachelor, a man who had never cared for women and had never married.
But he had not been a woman-hater all his life, and there was a romance
in his career.

Asher Merriwell had been snared by the wiles of an adventuress, and he
had married her. By this woman he had a son, but the marriage had been
kept a secret, so that when she deceived him and they quarreled they
were able to separate and live apart without the fact becoming public
that Merriwell had been married.

Fortunately the woman died without openly proclaiming herself as the
wife of Asher Merriwell. In her veins there had been Spanish blood, and
her son was named Carlos.

After the death of his wife, Asher Merriwell set about providing for and
educating the boy, although Carlos continued to bear his mother's maiden
name of Durcal.

As Carlos grew up he developed into a wild and reckless young blade,
making no amount of trouble and worry for his father.

Asher Merriwell did his best for the boy, but there was bad blood in the
lad's veins, and it cost the man no small sums to settle for the various
"sports" in which Carlos participated.

Finally Carlos took a fancy to strike out and see the world for himself,
and he disappeared without telling whither he was going.

After this, he troubled his father at intervals until he committed a
crime in a foreign country, where he was tried, convicted, and
imprisoned for a long term of years.

This was the last straw so far as Asher Merriwell was concerned, and he
straightway proceeded to disown Carlos, and cut him off without a cent.

It was afterward reported that Carl Durcal had been shot by guards while
attempting to escape from prison, and Asher Merriwell died firmly
believing himself to be sonless.

At his death, Asher left everything to Frank Merriwell, the son of his
brother, and provided that Frank should travel under the guardianship of
Professor Scotch, as the eccentric old uncle believed travel furnished
the surest means for "broadening the mind."

But Carlos Merriwell had not been killed, and he had escaped from
prison. Finding he had been cut off without a dollar and everything had
been left to Frank, Carlos was furious, and he swore that his cousin
should not live to enjoy the property.

In some ways Carlos was shrewd; in others he was not. He was shrewd
enough to see that he might have trouble in proving himself the son of
Asher Merriwell by a lawful marriage, and so he did not attempt it.

But there was a still greater stumbling block in his way, for if he came
out and announced himself and made a fight for the property, he would be
forced to tell the truth concerning his past life, and the fact that he
was an escaped convict would be made known.

Having considered these things, Carlos grew desperate. If he could not
have his father's property, he swore again and again that Frank should
not hold it.

With all the reckless abandon of his nature, Carlos made two mad
attempts on Frank's life, both of which were baffled, and then the young
desperado was forced to make himself scarce.

But Carlos had become an expert crook, and he was generally flush with
ill-gotten gains, so he was able to put spies on Frank. He hired private
detectives, and Frank was continually under secret surveillance.

Thus it came about that Carlos knew when Frank set about upon his
travels, and he set a snare for the boy in New York City.

Straight into this snare Frank walked, but he escaped through his own
exertions, and then baffled two further attempts on his life.

By this time Carlos found it necessary to disappear again, and Frank had
neither seen nor heard from him till this moment, when the fellow stood
unmasked in the Mexican town of Mendoza.

Frank had become so familiar with his villainous cousin's voice and
gestures that Carlos had not been able to deceive him. From the first,
Frank had believed the old man a fraud, and he was soon satisfied that
the fellow was Carlos.

On Carlos Merriwell's cheek was a scar that had been hidden by the false
beard--a scar that he would bear as long as he lived.

Professor Scotch nearly collapsed in a helpless heap, so completely
astounded that he could not utter a word.

As for Hans, he simply gasped:

"Shimminy Gristmas!"

A snarling exclamation of fury broke from Carlos' lips.

"Oh, you're too sharp, my fine cousin!" he grated, his hand disappearing
beneath the ragged blanket. "You are too sharp to live!"

Out came the hand, and a knife flashed in the light that shone from the
window of the hotel. Frank, however, was on the alert, and was watching
for just such a move. With a twisting movement, he drew his body aside,
so the knife clipped down past his shoulder, cutting open his sleeve,
but failing to reach his flesh.

"That was near it," he said, as he whirled and caught Carlos by the
wrist.

Frank had a clutch of iron, and he gave Carlos' wrist a wrench that
forced a cry from the fellow's lips, and caused the knife to drop to the
ground.

"You are altogether too handy with such a weapon," said the boy, coolly.
"It is evident your adeptness with a dagger comes from your mother's
side. Your face is dark and treacherous, and you look well at home in
this land of dark and treacherous people."

Carlos ground forth a fierce exclamation, making a desperate move to
fling Frank off, but failing.

"Oh, you are smart!" the fellow with the scarred face admitted. "But you
have been lucky. You were lucky at Fardale, and you were lucky in New
York. Now you have come to a land where I will have my turn. You'll
never leave Mexico alive!"

"I have listened to your threats before this."

"I have made no threats that shall not come true."

"What a desperate wretch you are, Carlos! I would have met you on even
terms, and come to an agreement with you, if you----"

"Bah! Do you think I would make terms? Not much! You have robbed me of
what is rightfully mine, and I have sworn you shall not take the good of
it. I'll keep that oath!"

A strange cry broke from his lips, as he found he could not tear his
wrist from Frank's fingers.

Then came a rush of catlike footfalls and a clatter of hoofs. All at
once voices were heard, crying:

"Ladrones! ladrones!"

Dark figures appeared on every hand, sending natives fleeing to shelter.
Spanish oaths sounded on the evening air, and the glint of steel was
seen.

"Shimminy Gristmas!" gurgled Hans Dunnerwust. "Uf we don'd peen in a
heap uf drouble, I know noddings!"

"It's the bandits, Frank!" called Professor Scotch. "They have charged
right into the town, and they----"

"Ha! ha!" laughed Carlos. "You fear the bandits! They are my friends.
They are here, and it is my turn!"

A horseman was riding straight down on Frank, and the boy flung Carlos
aside, making a leap that took him out of the way.

Something, glittering brightly, descended in a sweep toward Frank's
head, but the blow was stopped by Carlos, who shouted something in
Spanish.

Frank understood Spanish well enough to catch the drift of the words,
and he knew his cousin had not saved him through compassion, but for
quite another purpose.

Carlos coveted the riches into which Frank had fallen, and he meant to
have a portion of the money. If Frank were killed, there was little
chance that he would ever handle a dollar of the fortune, so he had
cried out that his cousin was to be spared, captured, and held for
ransom.

That was enough to warn Frank of the terrible peril that overshadowed
him at the moment.

Out came his revolvers, and his back went against the wall. Upward were
flung his hands, and the weapons began to crack.

Two horses fell, sent down by the first two bullets from the pistols of
the boy at bay.

But Frank found he could not shoot horses and save himself, for dark
forms were pressing upon him, and he must fall into the clutches of the
bandits in another moment unless he resorted to the most desperate
measures.

"If you will have it, then you shall!" he muttered, through his set
teeth, turning his aim on the human forms.

Spouts of red fire shot from the muzzles of the revolvers, and the
cracking of the weapons was followed by cries and groans.

Through a smoky haze Frank saw some of the dark figures fling up their
arms and topple to the ground within a few feet of him.

He wondered what had become of Hans and the professor, for he could see
nothing of either, and they had been close at hand a moment before.

In the midst of all this, Frank wondered at his own calmness. His one
thought was that not a bullet should be wasted, and then he feared he
would find his weapons empty and useless before the desperadoes were
rebuffed.

But this reception was something the bandits had not expected from a
boy. They had no heart to stand up before a lad who could shoot with the
skill of a Gringo cowboy, and did not seem at all excited when attacked
by twenty men.

Mexican half-bloods are cowards at heart, and, by the time they saw two
or three of their number fall before the fire from Frank's revolvers
they turned and took to their heels like a flock of frightened sheep.

"Say, holdt on avile und led me ged a few pullets indo you, mein
friendts."

It was Hans' voice, and, looking down, Frank saw the Dutch lad on the
ground at his feet, whither he had crept on hands and knees.

"What are you down there for, Hans?"

"Vot you dink, Vrankie? You don'd subbose I sdood up all der dime und
ged in der vay der pullets uf? Vell, you may oxcuse me! I don'd like to
peen a deat man alretty yet."

"That's all right, Hans. I admire your judgment."

"Dank you, Vrankie. I admire der vay you vork dose revolfers. Dot peat
der pand, und don'd you vorged him!"

At this moment, a horse with a double burden swept past in the flare of
light.

"Help! Frank--Frank Merriwell! Help--save me!"

"Merciful goodness!" cried Frank. "It is the professor's voice!"

"Und he vos on dot horse!"

"Yes--a captive!"

"Dot's vat he vos!"

"Our own horses--where are they? We must pursue! What have become of our
horses?"

"Dose pandits haf dooken them, I susbect."

This was true; Frank had killed two of the horses belonging to the
bandits, but the desperadoes had escaped with the three animals hired by
our friends.

But that was not the worst, for Professor Scotch had been captured and
carried away by the bold ruffians.

Frank heard the professor's appeals for help, and heard a mocking,
cold-blooded laugh that he knew came from the lips of Carlos Merriwell.

Then the clatter of hoofs passed on down the street, growing fainter and
fainter, till they left the town for the open plain, and finally died
out in the night.



CHAPTER VI.

CARRIED INTO THE MOUNTAINS.


In vain, Frank attempted to organize a party to pursue the bandits. The
citizens of Mendoza were completely terrorized, and they had no heart to
follow the desperadoes out upon the plain, which was the bandits' own
stamping ground.

Frank urged, entreated, begged, and finally grew furious, but he simply
wasted his breath.

"No, no, señor," protested a Mexican. "You no find anybody dat chase
Pacheco dis night--no, no, not much!"

"Pacheco? You don't mean to say--you can't mean----"

"Dat was Pacheco and his band, señor."

Frank groaned.

"Pacheco!" he muttered, huskily; "Pacheco, the worst wretch in all
Mexico! He is utterly heartless, and the professor will---- But Pacheco
is not the worst!" he suddenly gasped. "There is Carlos Merriwell, who
must be one of the bandits. He may take a fancy to torture Professor
Scotch simply because the professor is my guardian."

"What you say, señor?" asked the curious Mexican. "I do not understand
all dat you speak."

Frank turned away, with a gesture of despair.

"Vot you goin's to done, Vrankie?" asked Hans, dolefully.

"I do not seem to be able to do anything now. This matter must be placed
before the authorities, but I do not fancy that will amount to anything.
The officers here are afraid of the bandits, and the government is
criminally negligent in the matter of pushing and punishing the outlaws.
The capture of an American to be held for ransom will be considered by
them as a very funny joke."

"Vell, I don'd seen vot you goin' to done apout it."

"I do not see myself, but, come on, and we will find out."

He sought the highest officials of the town, and laid the matter before
them. In the most polite manner possible, they protested their pained
solicitation and commiseration, but when he urged them to do something,
they replied:

"To-morrow, señor, or the next day, we will see what we may be able to
do."

"To-morrow!" cried Frank, desperately. "With you everything is
to-morrow, to-morrow! To-day, to-night, now is the time to do something!
Delays are fatal, particularly in pursuing bandits and kidnapers."

But they shook their heads sadly, and continued to express sympathy and
regret, all the while protesting it would be impossible to do anything
before to-morrow or the next day.

Frank was so furious and desperate that he even had thought of following
the bandits with Hans as an only companion, but the man of whom he had
obtained the horses in the first place would not let him have other
animals.

That was not all. This man had gone through some kind of proceeding to
lawfully seize Frank and Hans and hold them till the animals captured by
the bandits were paid for at the price he should name, and this he
proceeded to do.

Now, Frank did not have the price demanded for the three horses, and he
could not draw it that night, so he was obliged to submit, and the two
boys were prisoners till near three o'clock the next afternoon, when the
money was obtained and the bill paid.

At the hotel Frank found a letter awaiting him, and, to his unbounded
amazement, it was from the professor.

With haste he tore it open, and these words are what he read:

     "DEAR FRANK: Pacheco commands me to write this letter. We are at
     the headwaters of the Rio de Nieves, but we move on to the westward
     as soon as I have written. He tells me we are bound for the
     mountains beyond Huejugilla el Alto, which is directly west of
     Zacatecas as the bird flies one hundred and ten miles. He bids me
     tell you to follow to Huejugilla el Alto, where he says
     arrangements will be made for my ransom. Remember Jack Burk. He
     spoke of the mountains to the west of Zacatecas. Pacheco threatens
     to mutilate me and forward fragments to you if you do not follow to
     the point specified. He is watching me as I write, and one of his
     men will carry this letter to Mendoza, and deliver it. The
     situation is desperate, and it strikes me that it is best to comply
     with Pacheco's demands in case you care to bother about me. If you
     want me to be chopped up bit by bit and forwarded to you, do not
     bother to follow. I have no doubt but Pacheco will keep his word to
     the letter in this matter. I am, my dear boy, your devoted guardian
     and tutor,

                                            "HORACE ORMAN TYLER SCOTCH."

That this letter was genuine there could be no doubt, as it was written
in the professor's peculiar style of chirography; but it did not sound
like the professor, and Frank knew well enough that it had been written
under compulsion, and the language had been dictated by another party.

"Poor old professor!" murmured the boy. "Poor old professor! He shall be
saved! He shall be saved! He knows I will do everything I can for him."

"Yah, but he don'd seem to say dot der ledder in," observed Hans, who
had also read every word.

"Huejugilla el Alto is one hundred and ten miles west of Zacatecas."

"Vere you belief they findt dot name, Vrankie?"

Frank did not mind the Dutch lad's question, but bowed his head on his
hand, and fell to thinking.

"We must have horses, and we must follow. 'Remember Jack Burk.' Surely
the professor put that part of the letter in of his own accord. He did
not speak of the Silver Palace, but he wished to call it to my mind.
That palace, according to Burk, lies directly west of Zacatecas,
somewhere amid the mountains beyond this place he has mentioned. The
professor meant for me to understand that I would be proceeding on my
way to search for the palace. Perhaps he hopes to escape."

"Yah," broke in Hans, "berhaps he meant to done dot, Vrankie."

"We would be very near the mountains--it must be that we would be in the
mountains."

"I guess dot peen shust apoudt vere we peen, Vrankie."

"If he escaped, or should be rescued or ransomed, we could easily
continue the search for the palace."

"You vos oxactly righdt."

"We must have horses and a guide."

"We can ged dem mit money."

"We had better proceed to Zacatecas, and procure the animals and the
guide there."

"Shust oxactly vot I vould haf suggestet, Vrankie."

"We will lose no time about it."

"Vell, I guess nod!"

"But Carlos--Carlos, my cousin. It is very strange, but Professor Scotch
does not mention him."

"Py shimminy! dot peen der trute!"

"And I am certain it was Carlos that captured the professor. I heard the
fellow laugh--his wicked, triumphant laugh!"

"I heardt dot meinseluf, Vrankie."

"Carlos must be with the band."

"Yah."

"And Pacheco is carrying this matter out to suit my cousin."

"Yah."

"Hans, it is possible you had better remain behind."

"Vot vos dot?" gurgled the Dutch lad, in blank amazement. "Vot for vos I
goin' to gone pehindt und stay, Vrankie?"

"I see a trap in this--a plot to lead me into a snare and make me a
captive."

"Vell, don'd I stood ub und took mein medicine mit you all der dimes?
Vot vos der maddetr mit me? Vos you lost your courage in me alretty
yet?"

"Hans, I have no right to take you into such danger. Without doubt, a
snare will be spread for me, but I am going to depend on fate to help me
to avoid it."

"Vell, I took some stock dot fate in meinseluf."

"If I should take you along and you were killed----"

"I took your chances on dot, mein poy. Vot vos I draveling aroundt mit
you vor anyhow you vant to know, ain'dt id?"

"You are traveling for pleasure, and not to fight bandits."

"Uf dot peen a bard der bleasure uf, you don'd haf some righdt to rob me
uf id. Vrank Merriwell, dit you efer know me to gone pack mit you on?"

"No, Hans."

"Dot seddles dot. You nefer vill. Shust count me indo dis racket. I am
going righdt along mit you, und don'd you rememper dot!"

Frank laughed.

"Hans," he said, "you are true blue. We will stick by each other till
the professor is saved from Pacheco and Carlos Merriwell."

"Yah, we done dot."

They clasped hands, and that point was settled.



CHAPTER VII.

THE CAMP IN THE DESERT.


Without unnecessary delay, they took the train from Mendoza to
Zacatecas, which was a much larger place.

In Zacatecas they set about the task of finding a reliable guide, which
was no easy matter, as they soon discovered.

The Mexican half-bloods were a lazy, shiftless set, and the full-blooded
Spaniards did not seem to care about taking the trip across the desert.

Till late that night Frank searched in vain for the man he wanted, and
he was finally forced to give up the task till another day.

Such a delay made him very impatient, and he felt much like starting out
without a guide, depending on a compass, with which he believed he would
be able to make his way due west to Huejugilla el Alto.

The landlord of the hotel at which they stopped that night was a
fine-appearing man, and Frank ventured to lay the matter before him.

The landlord listened to the entire story, looking very grave, shook his
head warningly, and said:

"Do not think of attempting to cross the desert alone, young señors.
Without a guide you might get lost and perish for water. By all means,
take a guide."

"But how are we to obtain a trustworthy guide, sir?"

"That is truly a problem, but I think I may be able to assist you in the
morning."

"If you can, it will be a great favor."

"Many thanks, young señor. I will see what can be done. If you would
take my advice, you would not go to Huejugilla el Alto."

"Why not?"

"It is far from the railroad, and is situated in a very wild region. If
you were to go there and should never be heard of again, it would not be
easy for your friends to discover what had become of you. Pacheco
directed you to go there, and he means you no good. It is likely you
will walk into a trap that Pacheco has set for you."

"I have considered that," said Frank, quietly; "and I have decided to
go."

"Oh, very well," with a gesture expressive of regret. "I know it is
quite impossible to change the determination of you Americans. If you
have firmly decided to go, you will go, even though you knew all the
deadly dangers that may lie in wait for you."

Being again assured that the landlord would do his best to obtain a
guide, Frank proposed to retire for the night.

For all of the troubles that beset him, Frank was able to sleep soundly,
having trained himself to sleep under almost any circumstances. Hans
also slept and snored, to be awakened in the morning by Frank, who was
shaking him roughly.

"Come, Hans, it is time we were stirring."

"Vot vos dot?" cried the Dutch lad, in surprise. "We don'd peen asleep
more as fifteen minutes alretty yet."

"It is morning."

"I don'd toldt you so! Vell, dot peats der pand!"

Hans got up and dressed with great reluctance, yawning, and declaring
over and over that the nights in Mexico were not more than fifteen or
twenty minutes in length.

The landlord had prepared a special breakfast for them, and it proved
the best they had found since leaving "the States," so they ate heartily
and felt much better afterward.

After breakfast the landlord himself informed them that he had been able
to obtain a guide.

"He is the very person you want, young señors, for he knows the desert
and he knows the mountains. You may depend on him to lead you straight
across to Huejugilla el Alto."

The guide was waiting for them, wrapped to his chin in a crimson poncho,
and smoking a cigarette. He was a dark-faced, somewhat sinister-looking
fellow, and he gave his name as Pedro.

While Frank did not like the appearance of the man, he felt that it was
not policy to delay longer, and a bargain was soon made. Pedro not only
agreed to take them quickly across the desert, but he contracted to
furnish horses for them.

The forenoon was not far advanced when they rode out of Zacatecas, and,
with the sun at their backs, headed toward the west.

Before the day passed Pedro showed by many things that he was quite
familiar with the desert. He knew where shade and water were to be
found, and, at noonday, they rested long beside a spring, with the sun
beating on the wide waste of sand, over which the heat haze danced, and
where no cooling breath seemed astir.

The heat affected Hans much more than it did Frank. The Dutch boy
suffered, but he made no complaint.

With the sun well over into the western sky, they pushed onward again.
They did not halt as the grateful shadows of night lay on the desert,
but followed Pedro on and on.

At last, far across the desert, they saw the twinkling of a light that
seemed like a fallen star.

"It's a camp-fire," declared Pedro, in Spanish. "Who can be there?"

"It may be bandits," suggested Frank, somewhat wary.

"No," declared the guide, "bandits do not build fires on the open
plains. Bandits it cannot be."

He did not hesitate to lead them straight toward the fire.

Frank whispered to Hans:

"Have your weapons ready. This may be the trap."

As they approached the fire, they were able to make out the figures of
two or three horses, but no human being was to be seen, although a
coffeepot sat on some coals, fragrant steam rising from the nozzle.

Pedro stopped, seeming somewhat uneasy for the first time.

"What is it?" asked Frank, with apprehension.

"Yah, vot id vos?" asked Hans. "Vos der camp left all alone mit ids
lonesome?"

"Not that, señors; but we have been heard, and the ones at the camp are
hiding and watching."

"Vell, I like dot. Maype dey haf der trop on us alretty soon."

"That is likely," said Frank.

Pedro called out something in Spanish, but there was no answer, save
that one of the horses lifted its head and neighed.

Then Frank tried it in English:

"Ho, the camp! Who is there, and where are you?"

Almost instantly a man's voice replied:

"I'm out hyar whar I kin take a peep at yer, as I heard yer comin'.
Didn't know but you wus Greasers, an' I ain't got no use fer ther onery
varmints. As yer kin talk United States, just move right up ter the fire
and join me at supper."

There was a hearty freedom about the invitation that dispelled Frank's
fears immediately, and they rode forward into the firelight.

As they did so, a man rose from where he had been stretched on the sand,
and came forward to meet them.

"Great Scott!" shouted Frank, as the firelight fell on the man's face.
"It's Alwin Bushnell, Jack Burk's partner!"



CHAPTER VIII.

THE TREASURE SEEKER.


"Thet thar's my handle," acknowledged the man; "but I'm strapped ef I
understand how you 'uns happen ter know it!"

He stared at the boys and the guide in blank amazement. Seeing Pedro's
face fairly, he gave a slight start, and then looked still more closely.

"There's no doubt," palpitated Frank; "you are Alwin Bushnell?"

"That's me," nodded the camper.

"And you are alone?"

"Certun sure."

"Bound west?"

"I reckon."

"For the mountains and the Silver----"

Frank caught himself, and stopped short, remembering Pedro, and knowing
the guide's ears and eyes were wide open to hear and see everything.

Bushnell fell back a step, a look of still greater surprise coming to
his bronzed and bearded face.

"W'at's thet thar you wus goin' ter say?" he demanded.

"Wait," said Frank, "I will tell you later. It is better."

Plainly, Alwin Bushnell was puzzled, and not a little amazed.

"You know my handle, an' you seem ter know whatever way I'm trailin'.
This yere lays over me, as I acknowledges instanter."

"That's not hard to explain."

"Then I begs yer to explain it without delay."

"Your partner told us of you."

"Old Jack?"

"Yes."

"When, and whar?"

"Two days ago, outside of Mendoza."

"He wuz thar?"

"Yes."

"But how did yer know me?"

"We saw you."

"When?"

"When you were pursued across the plain by bandits."

Bushnell slapped his thigh.

"Thar!" he cried; "I remembers yer now! You wuz near a doby hut, an' yer
opened up on ther pizen skunks as wuz arter me."

"That's right."

"Wall, I'm much obliged, fer you socked ther lead ter them critters so
they switched off an' let me get away. You kin shoot, boy."

"Some."

"Some! Wa'al, that's right, you bet! Give us a wag of your fin! I'm
mortal glad ter clap peepers on yer, fer I never expected ter see yer
an' thank yer fer thet trick."

Frank swung from the saddle, and surrendered his hand into the broad
"paw" of the rough and hearty Westerner, who gave it a crushing grip and
a rough shake, repeating:

"I'm mortal glad ter see yer, thet's whatever! But I want ter know how
you happened to chip inter thet thar little game. You took a hand at
jest ther right time ter turn ther run of ther cards, an' I got out
without goin' broke."

"I chipped in because I saw you were a white man, and you were hard
pressed by a villainous crew who must be bandits. I believe in white men
standing by white men."

"Say, thet's a great motter, young man. 'White men stand by white men.'
As fer me, I don't like a Greaser none whatever."

As he said this, Bushnell gave Pedro another searching look, and the
guide scowled at the ground in a sullen way.

"Now," continued the Westerner, "w'at I wants ter know next is w'at yer
knows about Jack Burk. We had a place all agreed on ter meet w'en I
returned, but he wusn't thar, an' I hed ter go it alone. That's why I'm
yere alone."

"It was not Burk's fault that he did not meet you."

"Say you so? Then lay a straight trail fer me ter foller."

"He was sick."

"Is that whatever? Wa'al, derned ef I could seem ter cut his trail
anywhar I went, an' I made a great hustle fer it."

"He was in the hut where you saw us."

"Wa'al, dern my skin! Ef I'd knowed thet, I'd made a straight run fer
thet yere ranch, bet yer boots!"

"He came to the door, and shouted to you."

"You don't tell me thet! An' I didn't hear him! Wa'al, wa'al! Whar wuz
my ears? Whar is he now?"

"Dead."

Bushnell reeled.

"Is he that?" he gasped, recovering. "An' I didn't get to see him! Say,
this clean upsets me, sure as shootin'!"

The man seemed greatly affected.

"Poor old Jack!" he muttered. "We've made many a tramp together, an' we
struck it rich at last, but he'll never git ther good of thet thar
strike."

Then he seemed to remember that he was watched by several eyes, and he
straightened up, passing his hand over his face.

"Jack shall hev a big monumint," he cried. "Tell me whar my old pard is
planted."

"That is something I do not know, Mr. Bushnell."

The man was astonished.

"Don't know? Why, how's thet?"

Frank told the entire story of Burk's death and mysterious
disappearance, to which Bushnell listened, with breathless interest.
When it was finished, the man cried:

"Thet thar beats me! I don't understand it, none whatever."

"No more do I," confessed Frank. "There is no doubt but Burk was dead,
and the corpse did not walk away of its own accord. It was my intention
to investigate the mystery, but later events prevented."

Frank then explained about the kidnaping of Professor Scotch by the
bandits.

While the boy was relating this, Bushnell was closely studying the
guide's face, as revealed by the firelight. Frank noted that a strange
look seemed to come into the eyes of the Westerner, and he appeared to
be holding himself in check.

When this explanation was finished, Bushnell asked:

"And you are on your way ter Huejugilla el Alto with ther hope of
rescuin' ther professor?"

"We are," replied Frank.

"You pet my life," nodded Hans.

"This is the guide who was recommended to you in Zacatecas?"

"Yes."

"You trust him fully?"

"We are obliged to do so."

"Wa'al, boys, ef this yere critter can't take yer straight ter Pacheco,
nobody kin."

"What do you mean?"

"Jest this!" cried Bushnell, explosively; "this yere Greaser galoot w'at
yer calls Pedro is nobody but Ferez!"

"Who is Ferez?"

"He's Pacheco's lieutenant!"

Frank uttered a cry of amazement and anger, wheeling quickly on the
Mexican, his hand seeking the butt of a revolver.

But the dark-faced rascal seemed ready for such an exposure, for, with a
yell of defiance, he dropped behind his horse, and the animal shot like
a rocket from the firelight into the shadows which lay thick on the
desert.

Bushnell opened up with a brace of revolvers, sending a dozen bullets
whistling after the fellow, in less than as many seconds.

At the first shot, Hans Dunnerwust fell off his horse, striking on his
back on the sand, where he lay, faintly gurgling:

"Uf you don'd shood der odder vay, I vos a tead man!"

"Don't let him escape with a whole skin!" shouted Frank, as he began to
work a revolver, although he was blinded by the flashes from Bushnell's
weapon so that he was forced to shoot by guess.

Ferez seemed to bear a charmed life, for he fled straight on into the
night, sending back a mocking shout of laughter. From far out on the
waste, he cried:

"Bah, Gringo dogs! You cannot harm me! I will see you again,
_Americanoes_. This is not the last."

With an angry exclamation of disappointment and anger, Bushnell flung
his empty revolvers on the sand at his feet.

"Dern me fer a fool!" he roared. "Ef I'd done my shootin' first an' my
talkin' arterward, he wouldn't got away."

But Ferez had escaped, and they could only make the best of it.

When this was over and the excitement had subsided, they sat about the
fire and discussed the situation. Frank then showed the golden image
which Burk had given him, and explained how the dying man had told of
the Silver Palace.

Bushnell listened quietly, a cloud on his face. At the conclusion of the
story, he rose to his feet, saying:

"Ef Jack Burk made you his heir, thet goes, an' I ain't kickin' none
whatever. Old Jack didn't hev no relatives, so he hed a right to make
any galoot his heir. But thar's goin' ter be plenty of worry fer anybody
as tries ter reach ther Silver Palace. How'd you 'spect ter git 'crost
ther chasm?"

"As yet, I have not taken that into consideration. The kidnaping of
Professor Scotch has banished thoughts of everything else from my mind."

"Wa'al, ef Jack Burk made you his heir, you're entitled ter your half of
ther treasure, providin' you're ready ter stand your half of ther
expenses ef we fail ter git thar."

"You may depend on me so far as that is concerned."

"Wa'al, then, you see I hev three hawses. One is fer me ter ride,
another is ter kerry provisions, and ther third is ter tote ther
balloon."

"The balloon!"

"Thet's whatever. I hev another balloon with which ter cross thet thar
chasm. It's ther only way ter git over. In crossin' ther balloon will be
loaded with a ballast of sand; but when we come back, ther ballast will
be pure gold!"



CHAPTER IX.

THE PROFESSOR'S ESCAPE.


They did not expect to reach Huejugilla el Alto without being molested
by bandits, for it was presumed that Pacheco's lieutenant would carry
the word to his chief, and the desperadoes would lose no time in moving
against them.

Knowing their danger, they were exceedingly cautious, traveling much by
night, and keeping in concealment by day, and, to their surprise, the
bandits made no descent upon them.

Huejugilla el Alto proved to be a wild and picturesque place. Being far
from the line of railroad, it had not even felt the touch of Northern
civilization, and the boys felt as if they had been transported back to
the seventeenth century.

"Hyar, lads," said Bushnell, "yer will see a town thet's clean Greaser
all ther way through, an' it's ten ter one thar ain't nary galoot
besides ourselves in ther durned old place thet kin say a word of United
States."

The Westerner could talk Spanish after a fashion, and that was about all
the natives of Huejugilla el Alto were able to do, with the exception of
the few whose blood was untainted, and who claimed to be aristocrats.

However, for all of their strange dialect and his imperfect Spanish,
Bushnell succeeded in making himself understood, so they found lodgings
at a low, rambling adobe building, which served as a hotel. They paid in
advance for one day, and were well satisfied with the price, although
Bushnell declared it was at least double ordinary rates.

"We ain't likely ter be long in town before Ferez locates us an' comes
arter his hawses. Ther derned bandits are bold enough 'long ther line of
ther railroad, but they lay 'way over thet out hyar. Wuss then all, ther
people of ther towns kinder stand in with ther pizen varmints."

"Stand in with them--how?"

"Why, hide 'em when ther soldiers is arter 'em, an' don't bother 'em at
any other time."

"I presume they are afraid of the bandits, which explains why they do
so."

"Afeared? Wa'al, I'll allow as how they may be; but then thar's
something of ther bandit in ev'ry blamed Greaser I ever clapped peepers
on. They're onery, they are."

Frank had noted that almost all Westerners who mingled much with the
people of Mexico held Spaniards and natives alike in contempt, calling
them all "Greasers." He could not understand this, for, as he had
observed, the people of the country were exceedingly polite and
chivalrous, treating strangers with the utmost courtesy, if courtesy
were given in return. Rudeness seemed to shock and wound them, causing
them to draw within themselves, as a turtle draws into its shell.
Indeed, so polite were the people that Frank came to believe that a
bandit who had decided to cut a man's throat and rob him would first beg
a man's pardon for such rudeness, and then proceed about the job with
the greatest skill, suavity, and gentleness.

Having settled at the hotel, Bushnell ordered a square meal, and, when
it was served, they proceeded to satisfy the hunger which had grown upon
them with their journey across the desert.

Bushnell also took care to look after the horses and equipments himself.

"Ef Ferez calls fer his hawses, I don't want him ter git away with this
yar balloon an' gas generator," said the Westerner, as he saw the
articles mentioned were placed under lock and key. "Ef we should lose
them, it'd be all up with us so fur as gittin' ter ther Silver Palace is
concerned."

Frank expected to hear something from Pacheco as soon as Huejugilla el
Alto was reached, but he found no message awaiting him.

"Poor professor!" he said. "I expect he has suffered untold torments
since he was kidnaped."

"Yah," nodded Hans. "Uf Brofessor Scotch don'd peen britty sick uf dis
vild life mit Mexico, you vos a liar."

That night they were sitting outside the hotel when they heard a great
commotion at the southern end of the town.

"Vot vos dot?" gasped the Dutch boy, in alarm. "Sounds like dere vos
drouple aroundt dot logality."

"That's right," agreed Frank, feeling for his revolvers; "and it is
coming this way as fast as it can."

"Mebbe another revolution has broke out," observed Bushnell, lazily.
"Best git under kiver, an' let ther circus go by."

They could hear the clatter of horses' hoofs, the cracking of pistols,
and a mingling of wild cries.

All at once Frank Merriwell became somewhat excited.

"On my life, I believe I hear the voice of Professor Scotch!" he
shouted.

"Yah!" said Hans, "I belief I hear dot, too!"

"They may be bringin' ther professor in," said Bushnell. "Ef he's thar,
we'll take an interest in ther case, you bet yer boots!"

Into the hotel he dashed, and, in a moment, he returned with his
Winchester.

Along the street came a horseman, clinging to the back of an unsaddled
animal, closely pursued by at least twenty wild riders, some of whom
were shooting at the legs of the fleeing horse, while one was whirling a
lasso to make a cast that must bring the animal to a sudden halt.

"Ten to one, the fugitive is the professor!" shouted Frank, peering
through the dusk.

"Then, I reckon we'll hev ter chip in right hyar an' now," said
Bushnell, calmly.

He flung the Winchester to his shoulder, and a spout of fire streamed
from the muzzle in an instant.

The fellow who was whirling the lasso flung up his arm and plunged
headlong from the horse's back to the dust of the street.

"Professor! professor!" shouted Frank. "Stop--stop here!"

"Can't do it," came back the reply. "The horse won't stop!"

"Jump off--fall off--get off some way!"

"All right! here goes!"

In another moment Professor Scotch, for it really was that individual,
flung himself from the back of the animal he had ridden, struck the
ground, rolled over and over like a ball, and lay still within thirty
feet of Frank, groaning dolefully.

In the meantime, Al Bushnell was working his Winchester in a manner that
was simply amazing, for a steady stream of fire seemed to pour from the
muzzle of the weapon, and the cracking of the weapon echoed through the
streets of Huejugilla el Alto like the rattling fire from a line of
infantry.

After that first shot Bushnell lowered the muzzle of his weapon, as, in
most cases at short range, his motto was to "shoot low," for he well
knew more lead could be wasted by shooting too high than in any other
manner.

In about three seconds he had thrown the pursuing bandits into the
utmost confusion, for they had never before encountered such a reception
in Huejugilla el Alto, and it was the last thing they had expected. With
all possible haste, they reined about and took to flight, hearing the
bullets whistling about them, or feeling their horses leap madly at the
sting of lead or go plunging to the ground.

The inhabitants of the town had fled into their houses before the rush
of the bandits, so there was little danger that any of Bushnell's
bullets would reach innocent persons.

The confusion and rout of the bandits was brought about in a few
seconds, and Bushnell was heard to mutter:

"One white man is good fer a hundred onery Greasers any time! Ther
derned skunks hain't got a blamed bit of sand!"

Frank ran and lifted the fallen professor, flinging the man across his
shoulder, and carrying him into the hotel.

Hans followed with frantic haste, and Bushnell came sauntering lazily in
after the bandits had been routed and driven back.

"Are you badly hurt, professor?" asked Frank, anxiously.

"I'm killed!" groaned Scotch, dolefully. "I'm shot full of holes, and
every bone in my body is broken! Farewell, my boy! We'll meet in a
better land, where there are no bandits to molest or make afraid."

"Where are you shot?"

"Everywhere--all over! You can't touch me where I'm not shot! They fired
more than four hundred bullets through me! I am so full of holes that I
wonder you can see me at all!"

Bushnell made a hasty examination of the professor, who lay on the
floor, groaning faintly, his eyes closed.

"Look hyar, pard," said the Westerner, roughly, "ef you want ter pass in
yer chips ye'll hev ter stand up an' let me put a few more holes in yer.
I can't find a place whar you're touched by a bullet an' I'm blowed ef I
'low you broke a bone when ye tumbled from ther hawse."

The professor sat up with a sudden snap.

"What's that?" he cried. "I'm not shot? I'm not all broke up? Is it
possible? Can I believe you?"

"Yah," nodded Hans, gravely; "I can belief me. You vas all righdt
brofessor, und dot is sdraight."

"Wow!" shouted Scotch, bounding to his feet like a rubber ball. "That's
what I call great luck! Why, I thought I must be killed sure! I don't
know how I escaped all those bullets. And then the fall! Providence must
have been with me."

"Vell, I don'd know apoudt dot pefore you come der town in," said Hans;
"but you vos alone mit yourself when we saw you, brofessor."

The landlord of the hotel came bustling up in a perfect tumult of
terror, wringing his hands and almost weeping.

"Oh, señors!" he cried, in Spanish, "what have you done? You have ruined
me! You stopped at my house, and you shoot the ladrones. Ah, señors, you
know not what that means to me. Pacheco will come down on me--he will
raid my house; I am a ruined man, and you are responsible for it. You
must leave my house without delay! If you remain here, the whole town
will rise against me! All the people will know this must make Pacheco
very angry, and they will know he must take revenge on the place. They
will be angry with me because I allow it. Carramba! How could I help it?
I could do nothing. It came, and it was all over before I know what was
doing. Señors, you must have pity on me--you must leave my house
immeditely."

Bushnell caught enough of this to translate it to the others.

"Ther best thing we kin do is ter git out instanter," he said. "Ef we
wait, ther outlaws will watch every road out of ther town, an' we'll hev
trouble in gittin' away."

"Then let's get away immediately," fluttered the professor. "If I fall
into their hands again, I'm a dead man!"

"Yes, we will get out immediately," decided Frank; "but we'll do it as
secretly and silently as possible."

Bushnell nodded his satisfaction, and, thirty minutes later, the party
was ready to move. They left the hotel by a back way, and, guided by the
landlord, made their way along dark and narrow streets, creeping
cautiously through the town till the outskirts were reached.

There Frank gave the landlord some money, and, after calling down
blessings on their heads, he quickly slipped away and disappeared.

"Now we'll hustle right along," said the Westerner. "We'll put a good
long stretch between ourselves an' Huejugilla el Alto before mornin'.
We're off, bound straight inter ther mountains----"

"And straight for the Silver Palace," added Frank.



CHAPTER X.

THE STRANGER.


They were fortunate in getting away without being seen by any of the
bandits, and at dawn they were well up into the mountains, where
Bushnell found a secluded place for them to camp and rest, as rest was
something of which they all sorely stood in need.

Bushnell prepared breakfast, and Frank insisted that Professor Scotch
should explain how he escaped from Pacheco's gang.

"Don't ask me," sighed the little man, fondling his red whiskers. "I
can't explain it--really I can't."

"Why not?"

"Well, you see, I don't know how I happened to do it. They forced me to
write that letter against my will, two of them standing over me with
drawn daggers while I was writing, and prodding me a bit whenever I
refused to put down the words Pacheco ordered written."

"Then Pacheco speaks English?"

"As well as I do."

"What does he look like?"

"I don't know."

"How is that?"

"He kept his face concealed with his serape quite up to his eyes."

"Thar's a mystery about Pacheco," broke in Bushnell. "No one seems ter
know jest what ther varmint looks like."

"Go on, professor," urged Frank; "tell us just how you escaped."

"I tell you I do not know myself. All I know is that they tied me to a
horse, and brought me across a plain of burning sand, where I nearly
perished for want of water, and was nearly sawed in two by the backbone
of the horse I rode. I believed it was a case of gone goose with me. At
last they camped in a wild spot, and I was so badly used up that I could
scarcely eat or do anything but lay around and groan. They seemed to
think there was no need of watching me very closely, and I noticed that
I was alone sometimes. Then, feeling utterly reckless, I began to watch
for a chance to sneak away. I didn't care if I were shot, or if I
escaped and perished from hunger and thirst. I was bound to make the
attempt. Last night I made it. A saddleless horse strayed along where I
was, and I made a jump for the animal. Before they knew what I was
doing, I was on the beast's back and yelling into its ears like a
maniac. The horse scooted out of the camp, and I clung on. The bandits
pursued me, and everything else is a haze till I heard Frank calling for
me to jump off. I recognized his voice and fell off the horse, although
I had not the least idea in the world where I was."

"Wa'al," chuckled Bushnell, "thet's w'at I call dead fool luck, beggin'
yer pardon fer speakin' so open like, at which I means no harm
whatever."

"Oh, ye needn't beg my pardon," quickly said Professor Scotch. "I don't
want any credit for getting away. It wasn't a case of brains at all."

Breakfast was prepared, and they ate heartily, after which Frank, Hans,
and the professor lay down to sleep, while Bushnell smoked a black pipe.

But even Bushnell was not made of iron, and the pipe soothed him to
slumber, so the entire party slept, with no one to guard.

All at once, some hours later, they were awakened by an exclamation from
Frank, who sat up and stared at the form of a stranger, the latter being
quietly squatting in their midst, calmly puffing at a cigarette, while
his poncho was wrapped about him to his hips.

Frank's exclamation awakened Bushnell like an electric shock, and, even
as his eyes opened, his hand shot out, the fingers grasping the butt of
a revolver that was pointed straight at the stranger.

"Stiddy, thar!" called the Westerner. "I hev ther drop on yer, an' I'll
sock yer full of lead ef yer wiggle a toenail! You hear me chirp!"

The stranger continued smoking, his coal-black eyes being the only part
of him to move, for all of the threatening revolver.

Hans sat up, gasping:

"Shimminy Gristmas! Der pandits haf caught us alretty soon!"

At this Professor Scotch gave a groan of dismay, faintly gurgling:

"Then I'm a goner!"

That the stranger was a half-blood could be seen at a glance.

"Drap thet cigaroot, an' give an account of yerself instanter right
off!" ordered Bushnell, threateningly. "Who in blazes be yer?"

The cigarette fell from the man's lips, and he answered:

"I am Rodeo."

"Wa'al, who is Rodeo?"

"The brother of Pacheco."

"Don't I toldt you dot!" panted the Dutch boy.

Professor Scotch groaned again, and rolled a little farther from the
half-blood, but still made no effort to sit up.

"Wa'al, dern your skin!" cried Bushnell. "You've got a nerve to come
hyar! I s'pose Pacheco an' his gang of onery varmints is within whoopin'
distance?"

"I am alone; there is no one within call."

"Wa'al, w'at be yer hyar fer, thet's what I wants ter know?"

"I found you asleep, and I came to warn you."

"Of what?"

"Danger. The ladrones are on your trail already. Before the sun sinks
behind the mountains they will be here. If you are not gone, you must
all fall into their hands."

Bushnell looked doubtful and suspicious, while a puzzled expression came
into his bronzed face.

"Look hyar," he said; "you're up ter some game, an' I'm derned ef I know
what she am, but yer wants ter understand yer can't monkey with this old
coon none whatever. I hold the drop on yer, Old Socks, an' I may take a
fancy ter bore yer once jest fer fun, so ye'd best talk straight an'
squar', an' be lively about it."

"Yah," nodded Hans, threateningly, "you petter peen in a plamed pig
hurry apoudt dot talking pusiness."

"What do you wish me to say, señors?"

"Explain why you're hyar ter warn us."

"Because I'm the brother of Pacheco."

"Thet don't go down with this old coon. Pacheco is ther leader of ther
bandits."

"He was the leader of the bandits."

"Was the leader?"

"Si, señor."

"An' ain't he now?"

"No, señor."

"How long since?"

"At least one month."

"Oh, say, thet thar won't do--I tells yer it won't, fer we know er
blamed sight better! Rodeo, lying is dangerous with me 'round."

"Señor, I do not lie; I tell you the truth. One month ago Pacheco was
the leader of the band; now he is dead, and another is in his place.
This other killed him in a battle, and by that he won the right to be
leader of the band. He has taken my brother's name, and he calls himself
Pacheco. Señors, I swear to you I speak the truth--I swear by all the
saints! My brother is dead, and there is an impostor in his place."

Frank was impressed, and his hand fell on Bushnell's arm.

"I believe the fellow really speaks the truth," he said. "He seems
sincere, and his eyes are square and steady."

"Yer can't tell about ther skunks," muttered the Westerner; "but still
this one does seem ter be layin' a straight trail."

"I have taken my oath," continued the half-blood, a red light in his
dark eyes--"I have sworn to kill the murderer of my brother, and I will
keep the oath. That's why I am here. I have been watching the band for
two weeks; I know every move they will make. I know when you leave
Huejugilla el Alto, and I know they will follow. I make sure of that,
and then, with my heart full of joy, I ride fast in advance. At last--at
last they go to my country in the mountains! My people are there--my
other brothers, my cousins, my relatives. They will all stand by me, and
they will be ready to avenge Pacheco. The wrath of my people shall fall
on the head of the impostor! You wonder why I warn you? I will explain.
You are bound far in the mountains, and the false Pacheco will follow.
If you are captured, he may turn back. I want him to follow you--I want
you to lead him into the snare. That is why I am here, and that is why I
have warned you, señors. It is done, and now I will go."

He arose to his feet, heedless of Bushnell's command to "keep still,"
and strode toward the horses. They saw an extra animal was there, and,
in a moment, he had flung himself on the creature's back.

"_Buenos dias, señores._"

A clatter of hoofs, the flutter of a poncho, and a crimson serape, and
Rodeo's horse was galloping up the ravine that still led deeper into the
mountains. Man and horse soon vanished from view.



CHAPTER XI.

THE AWAKENING VOLCANO.


Two days later, shortly after sunset, the party camped far in the depths
of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

The words of Rodeo, the half-blood, had proved true, for they were
pursued by the bandits, but, thanks to the skill of Bushnell, they had
been able to give the desperadoes the slip.

"By ther end of another day we oughter be able ter clap our peepers on
ther Silver Palace," declared the Westerner.

Professor Scotch was now as eager as any of them to see the wonderful
palace, all his doubts having been dispelled by Bushnell's
straightforward narrative of the discovery of the place by himself and
Jack Burk.

"I wonder what causes that column of smoke we saw rising amid the
mountains to the westward to-day?" said Frank.

Bushnell shook his head.

"Thet thar has troubled me some," he admitted. "It seems ter be fair an'
squar' in ther direction of ther Silver Palace."

"Maype dose pandits peen aheadt uf us und purn der balace up," suggested
Hans, with an air of very great wisdom.

"I scarcely think they would be able to burn a building made of stone,
gold, and silver," smiled Frank.

"Wa'al, not much," said Bushnell. "Ther palace will be thar when we
arrive. You needn't worry about thet."

They were very tired, and, feeling secure in the depths of a narrow
ravine, they soon slept, with the exception of Frank, who had the first
watch.

The moon came up over the mountain peaks, which stood out plainly in the
clear light, every gorge and fissure being cut black as ink, and showing
with wonderful distinctness.

The shadow was deep in the narrow ravine, and Frank sat with his back
to a wall of rock, looking upward, when he was startled to see a figure
rise in the bright moonlight.

On the brink of the ravine above stood a man who seemed to be peering
down at them.

"Awaken!" cried this man, in a loud voice. "You are in great danger!"

The cry aroused every sleeper, and Bushnell started up with his
Winchester clutched ready for use.

"What is it?" he asked.

Frank clutched his arm, gasping:

"Merciful goodness! look there--look at that man's face! Can the dead
return to life?"

He pointed at the man on the brink of the ravine above them. The light
of the moon fell fairly on the face of this man, which was plainly
revealed to every one of the startled and thunderstruck party.

"Move lively, down there!" cried the man, with a warning gesture.

"There have been spies upon you, and Pacheco knows where you have
stopped for the night."

Bushnell dropped his rifle, clutching at the neck of his shirt, and
gasping for breath.

"By ther livin' gods!" he shouted, "it's my pard, Jack Burk, or it's his
spook!"

"Id vas a sbook!" gurgled Hans Dunnerwust, quivering with fear. "Id vos
der sbook uf der man vot we seen deat as a toornail!"

In truth, the man on the brink of the ravine looked like Jack Burk, who
had been declared dead in the adobe hut near Mendoza.

"It is a resemblance--it must be a resemblance!" muttered Frank.

Once more the man above uttered a warning:

"You were trailed by a spy," he declared. "The spy saw you camp here,
and he has gone to bring Pacheco and the bandits. They will be here
soon. If you escape, you must move without further delay."

"It not only looks like my pard," said Bushnell, hoarsely, "but it has
ther voice of my pard! Ef Jack Burk is dead, thet shore is his spook!"

And then, as suddenly as he had appeared, the man above vanished from
view.

"Gone!" gasped Professor Scotch, wiping the cold perspiration from his
face. "I never took stock in ghosts before, but now----"

"Remember his warning," cut in Frank. "We had better heed it."

"Dot vos righd," nodded Hans.

"Yes, thet's right," agreed Bushnell. "We'll git out of hyar in a
howlin' hurry. Ef Jack Burk is dead, then thet wuz his spook come to
warn his old pard."

There was saddling and packing in hot haste, and the little party was
soon moving along the ravine.

For at least thirty minutes they hastened onward, and then the Westerner
found a place where the horses could climb the sloping wall of the
ravine and get out of the gorge. It was no easy task to make the animals
struggle to the top, but Bushnell succeeded in forcing them all up. When
the party was out of the ravine every one breathed with greater freedom.

"There," said Frank, "I do not feel as if we might be caught like rats
in a trap."

Frank was the last to move from the ravine, and, just as he was about to
do so, he seemed to catch a glimpse of something moving silently in the
darkness.

"Hist!" came the warning from his lips. "Come here, Bushnell--professor,
Hans, stay with the horses. Be cautious, and come lively."

He flung himself on his face in the shadow of a great bowlder, and
peered down into the darkness below.

The Westerner and the professor came creeping to his side.

"What is it?" asked Bushnell.

"Look," directed Frank. "What do you make of it?"

Peering down into the dark depths of the gorge, they saw black figures
flitting silently past, men and horses, as they were able to make out.

"Horsemen!" breathed the professor. "They must be the bandits!"

"But look!" came cautiously from Frank's lips; "they are riding swiftly,
yet the feet of their horses make no sound!"

"That's right!" gasped Scotch. "Great Jupiter! can they be more ghosts?"

"Mysteries are crowding each other," said Frank.

Bushnell was silent, but he was watching and listening.

Like a band of black phantoms, the silent horsemen rode along the ravine
and disappeared. Frank could hear the professor's teeth chattering as if
the man had a chill.

"This bub-bub-beats my tut-tut-tut-time!" confessed Scotch. "I rather
think we'd better turn back and let the Silver Palace alone."

"Rot!" growled Bushnell. "Them varmints wuz Pacheco's gang, an' they hed
the feet of their critters muffled, thet's all. Don't git leery fer
thet. All ther same, ef Jack Burk or his spook hedn't warned us, them
onery skunks w'u'd hed us in a consarned bad trap."

This was the truth, as they all knew, and they were decidedly thankful
to the mysterious individual who had warned them.

Bushnell now resorted to the trick of "covering the trail," in order to
do which it was necessary to muffle the feet of their horses and lead
them over the rocky ground, where their bandaged hoofs could make no
mark. At length he came to a stream, and he led the way into the water,
following the course of the stream, and having the others trail along in
single file directly behind him.

When they halted again Bushnell assured them that there was little
danger that the bandits would be able to follow them closely, and they
rested without molestation till morning.

At daybreak the Westerner was astir, being alive with eagerness and
impatience, as he repeatedly declared they would behold the wonderful
Silver Palace before another sunset.

Eating a hasty breakfast, they pushed forward, with the Westerner in the
lead.

Once more the tower of smoke, which they had noted the day before, was
before them, but now it seemed blacker and more ominous than on the
previous day.

It was not far from midday when, away to the westward, they heard
rumbling sounds, like distant thunder.

"Vot id vas, ain'd id?" asked Hans, in alarm. "I don'd seen no dunder
shower coming up somevere, do I?"

"It did not seem like thunder," said Frank, soberly. "It was more like a
rumbling beneath the ground, and I fancied the earth quivered a bit."

"Perhaps it is an earthquake," put in the professor, apprehensively. "I
believe they have such convulsions of nature in this part of the world."

Bushnell said nothing, but there was a troubled look on his face, and he
urged them all forward at a still swifter pace.

The smoke tower was now looming near at hand, and they could see it
shift and sway, grow thin, and roll up in a dense, black mass. It cast a
gloom over their spirits, and made them all feel as if some frightful
disaster was impending.

Again and again, at irregular intervals, they heard the sullen rumbling,
and once all were positive the earth shook.

It was noticed that directly after each rumbling the smoke rolled up in
a thick, black mass that shut out the light of the sun and overcast the
heavens.

The professor was for turning back, but Bushnell was determined to go
forward, and Frank was equally resolute. Hans had very little to say,
but his nerves were badly shaken.

"In less than an hour we shall be able to see the Silver Palace,"
assured Bushnell. "We would be fools to turn back now."

So they went on, and, at last, they climbed to the top of a rise, from
which point the Westerner assured them that the palace could be seen.

An awe-inspiring spectacle met their gaze. They looked across a great
gulf, from which the smoke was rolling upward in clouds, and out of
which came the sullen mutterings they had heard.

"Merciful goodness!" cried Professor Scotch. "It must be the crater of a
volcano!"

"Yah!" gasped Hans; "und der volcano vos doin' pusiness at der oldt
standt alretty yet."

"The volcano may have been dormant for centuries," said the professor,
"but it is coming to life now!"

"Where is the Silver Palace?" demanded Frank.

Bushnell clutched the boy's arm with a grip of iron, pointing straight
through the smoke clouds that rose before them.

"Look!" he shouted, hoarsely; "it is thar! See--the smoke grows thinner,
an' thar she am! See her glitter! In thet thar palace is stored enough
treasure ter make us richer then ther richest men in ther world, an' ten
thousand volcanoes ain't goin' ter keep me from it, you bet yer boots!"

True enough, through the parted smoke clouds gleamed the towers and
turrets of the wonderful palace that had remained hidden in the heart of
the mountains hundreds of years, jealously guarded by the fierce
natives, who believed it sacred, and who had kept the secret well from
the outside world.



CHAPTER XII.

DOOM OF THE SILVER PALACE.


Bushnell leaped from his horse and began tearing the packs from the
backs of the led animals. He worked with mad haste, and there was an
awesome, insane glare in his eyes.

"The man is crazy!" roared Professor Scotch. "The volcano is certain to
break forth before long--it must be on the verge of breaking forth now.
If we remain here we are doomed!"

"Oxcuse me!" fluttered Hans. "I vos retty to gone righd avay queek."

The professor turned to Frank with his appeal:

"Come, boy, let's get away before destruction comes upon us. We must not
remain here."

Frank sprang down from his snorting horse, flung the rein to Hans, and
leaped to Bushnell's side.

"You are mad to think of remaining here!" he said, swiftly. "Come away,
and we will return when the volcano is at peace."

"No!" thundered the treasure-seeker, "I will not go! The Silver Palace
is there, and I mean to have my share of the treasure. Go if you are
afraid, but here I stay till the balloon is inflated, and I can cross
the chasm. The wind is right for it, and nothing shall stop me!"

He picketed the horses, and began ripping open the packs.

Frank turned to Professor Scotch, saying, quietly:

"Bushnell will not go, and I shall stay with him. At the same time, I
advise you to go. Take Hans with you, and get away from here. Leave a
plain trail, and Bushnell will be able to follow it, if we succeed in
reaching the palace and returning alive."

The professor entreated Frank to change his mind, but the lad was
determined, and nothing could alter that determination.

At last Scotch gave up in despair, groaning:

"If you stay, I stay. I am your guardian, but you seem to have things
all your own way. If this volcano cooks us all, you will be to blame for
it."

Frank said no word, but went about the task of assisting Bushnell in the
work of inflating the balloon.

The Westerner had a "gas generator," which he was getting in order. As
soon as this was ready, the balloon was unrolled, spread out, drawn up
by means of poles and lines, and then secured to the ground by one stout
rope, which was hitched about the base of a great bowlder.

Then Bushnell built a fire and set the "gas generator" at work.

In the meantime the volcano had continued to mutter. At intervals the
clouds of smoke parted, and they saw the wonderful Silver Palace
standing on a plateau beyond the chasm.

The palace seemed to cast a spell over them all, and they felt the fever
of the gold-hunter beginning to burn in their throbbing veins.

It was more than an hour after their arrival that the balloon began to
fill with gas and Frank uttered a cheer as he saw the silk bulging like
a bladder that is inflated with wind.

"Ha, ha!" laughed Bushnell, wildly. "In a few minutes we'll go sailin'
over ther gulf, right through ther smoke, ter ther Silver Palace. Ha,
ha, ha!"

The man's face was flushed till it was nearly purple, and his eyes were
bloodshot. The fever had fastened itself firmly upon him.

More and more did the balloon expand. Bushnell had brought out a folding
car, which he securely attached.

"In ten minutes more we'll be ready for the trip!" he shouted.

At that instant a series of wild cries reached their ears, and, turning
swiftly, they saw a band of dark-faced men pouring through a fissure in
the rocks to the north of them.

"Shimminy Gristmas!" cried Hans Dunnerwust, in terror. "Dot seddles us!"

"Who is it? Who are they?" fluttered the professor.

"They look like bandits," acknowledged Frank.

"It is Pacheco's band!" cried Bushnell, hastily securing his rifle.
"Ther pizen varmints hev come ten minutes too soon! Ther balloon would
take us all over in another ten minutes, but now it won't carry more
than two. We must hold ther skunks off till she fills."

"Right!" shouted Frank Merriwell. "And we must be ready to go the
instant she does fill. We can't hold 'em back long, for we have no
shelter here. Professor, Hans, into that car! Get in, I say, and be
ready! We'll try to stand the whelps off till the balloon is inflated,
but we must be ready to start at any instant."

Professor Scotch and Hans were hastily bundled into the car.

The bandits hesitated long enough to gather and prepare for the charge,
with their chief in the lead. It was plain they saw the treasure-seekers
had no shelter, and they meant to close in without delay.

"Reddy for 'em, Frank!" called Bushnell, dropping on one knee, his
Winchester in his hands. "They're comin' right soon!"

This was true. With mad cries and a fusillade of shots, the bandits
charged.

Bushnell opened fire, and Frank followed his example. Several of the
bandits were seen to fall, but still the others came on.

"Lead won't stop 'em!" snarled the Westerner. "It'll be hand ter hand in
a jiffy."

"And that means----"

"We'll get wiped out."

"The balloon----"

"Won't carry more'n two--possibly three. In with ye, boy! You may
escape! It don't make any diffrunce 'bout an old coon like me."

"Not much will I get in and leave you!" cried Frank. "We are partners in
this expedition, and partners we'll stay to the end!"

"But ther others--ther professor an' ther Dutch boy! They might escape
if----"

"They shall escape!"

Out flashed a knife in Frank Merriwell's hand, and, with one sweeping
slash, he severed the strong rope that held the tugging, tossing balloon
to the earth. Away shot the balloon, a cry of amazement and horror
breaking from the lips of the professor and Hans.

"Mein gootness!" gasped the Dutch boy. "Vot vos happened?"

"I'll tell you," groaned the professor. "The balloon could not carry all
four of us, and Frank Merriwell, like the noble, generous, hot-headed,
foolish boy he is, refused to leave Bushnell. At the same time he would
not doom us, and he cut the rope, setting the balloon free. He has
remained behind to die at Bushnell's side."

"Led me git oudt!" sobbed Hans. "I vant to go pack und die mit him!"

"It was too late now. Look--see there! We are directly over the Silver
Palace! What a beautiful----"

The professor's words were interrupted by a frightful rumbling roar that
came up from the gulf surrounding the plateau on which the palace stood.
All the way around that gulf a sheet of flame seemed to leap upward
through smoke, and then, paralyzed, helpless, hypnotized by the
spectacle, they saw the plateau and the palace sink and disappear into
the blackness of a great void. Then, like a black funeral pall, the
smoke rolled up about them and shut off their view.

But they knew that never again would the eyes of any human being behold
the marvelous Silver Palace of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

When the balloon had ascended higher another current of air was
encountered, and the course changed. Away they floated over the mountain
peaks and out beyond the great range.

At last they came down, made a safe landing, and, to their satisfaction,
found themselves within a mile of Huejugilla el Alto.

They had escaped the most frightful perils, but Professor Scotch's heart
lay like lead in his bosom, and Hans Dunnerwust was not to be comforted,
for they had left Frank Merriwell to his doom.

In Huejugilla el Alto they remained four days, neither of them seeming
to have energy enough to do anything.

And, on the fourth day, Frank, Al Bushnell, and two others rode into
town and stopped at the hotel.

Picture the meeting between Frank and his friends! Hans shed nearly a
bucketful of joyful tears, and Professor Scotch actually swooned from
sheer amazement and delight. When the professor recovered, he clung to
Frank's hands, saying:

"This is the happiest moment of my life--if I am not dreaming! Frank, my
dear boy, I never expected to see you again. How did you escape?"

"The eruption of the volcano broke the bandits up," explained Frank;
"and, by the time they had recovered and were ready to come at us again,
a band of natives, headed by Rodeo, Pacheco's brother, came down on
them. A terrible battle ensued. The bandits were defeated, many of them
slain, among the latter being the false Pacheco. And whom do you fancy
the impostor proved to be, professor?"

"I haven't the least idea."

"He was my villainous cousin, Carlos Merriwell."

"And he is dead?"

"Yes."

"That is a good thing. He will not trouble you any more."

"No, I shall never be troubled by him again. With Rodeo and the natives
was Jack Burk----"

"Jack Burk! The man is dead!"

"Not quite, professor," declared a familiar voice, and Burk himself
stepped forward. "I am still quite lively for a dead man."

"But--I saw you dead!" declared the astounded professor.

"You saw me nearly dead, but not quite. You remember I told you of a
native who had found me in the hut, and how he had said it was not a
fever that ailed me, but was a trouble brought on by drinking the water
of the spring near the hut?"

"Yes, I remember."

"And I told you the native hastily left me--left me to die alone, as I
supposed."

"I remember that."

"He did not leave me to die, but went for an antidote. While you were
away he returned and administered some of the antidote for the poison,
bringing me around, although but a feeble spark of life fluttered in my
bosom. Then he took me on his shoulders, and carried me from the hut to
another place of shelter, where he brought me back to my full strength
in a remarkably brief space of time."

"I understand why we did not find you," said the professor.

"We followed the bandits," Jack Burk continued. "This native was Rodeo,
the brother of the true Pacheco, and he is here."

Rodeo stepped forward, bowing with the politeness of a Spanish don.

"Rodeo made me swear to aid him in hunting down the murderer of his
brother. That was the pay he asked for saving my life. I gave the oath,
and it was his whim that I should not reveal myself to you till the
right time came. But when I saw the spy tracking you, saw him locate
you, and saw him hasten to tell the bandits, I was forced to appear and
give a warning."

"We took you for a ghost."

"I thought it possible you might, and I fancied that might cause you to
give all the more heed to the warning."

"Well, of all remarkable things that ever happened in my life, these
events of the past few days take the lead," declared Scotch. "However, I
have come through all dangers in safety, and I am happy, for Frank is
alive and well."

"But the Silver Palace is gone, with all its marvelous treasure," said
Frank.

"Thet's right, boy," nodded Bushnell, gloomily. "Ther palace has sunk
inter ther earth, an' nary galoot ever gits ther benefit of all ther
treasure it contained."

"Don't take it so hard, partner," said Jack Burk. "Mexico is the land of
treasures, and we may strike something else before we cross the Death
Divide."

"Vell," sighed Hans Dunnerwust, "you beoples can hunt for dreasure all
you don'd vant to; but I haf enough uf dis pusiness alretty soon. I
nefer vos puilt for so much oxcitemend, und I vos goin' to took der next
drain for home as soon as I can ged to him. Uf I don'd done dot I vos
afrait mein mutter vill nefer seen her leedle Hansie some more."

"I fancy I have had quite enough of Mexico for the present," smiled
Frank. "The United States will do me a while longer, and so, if you are
going home, Hans, Professor Scotch and myself will accompany you till we
strike Uncle Sam's domain, at least."

A few days later, bidding their friends adieu, they left Mexico, taking
their way northward to New Orleans, where new adventures awaited them,
as the chapters to follow will prove.



CHAPTER XIII.

A STAMPEDE IN A CITY.


It was the day before Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the "Queen City of
the South" was in her gayest attire, being thronged with visitors from
the North and from almost every part of the world.

It was Monday, when Rex, king of the carnival, comes to town and takes
possession of the city.

Early in the forenoon the river front in the vicinity of Canal Street
was thronged with people seeking advantageous positions from which to
witness the king's landing.

It was a jovial, good-natured gathering, such as is never seen in any
other city. Every one seemed to have imbibed the spirit of the occasion,
and there was no friction or unpleasantness. Every one was exceedingly
polite and courteous, and all seemed to feel it a duty to make the
occasion as pleasant for other folks as possible.

The shipping along the river was decorated, and flags flew everywhere.
The sun never shone more brightly and New Orleans never presented more
subtle allurements.

Seated in a private carriage that had stopped at a particularly
favorable spot were Professor Scotch and Frank, who had arrived a few
days before.

"Professor," said Frank, who was almost bursting with pent-up enthusiasm
and youthful energy, "this makes a fellow feel that it is good to be
living. In all the places we have visited, I have seen nothing like
this. I am sorry Hans is no longer with us to enjoy it."

"And you will see nothing like it anywhere in this country but right
here," declared the professor, who was also enthused. "Northern cities
may get up carnivals, but they allow the spirit of commerce to crowd in
and push aside the true spirit of pleasure. In all their pageants and
processions may be seen schemes for advertising this, that or the other;
but here you will see nothing of the kind. In the procession to-day and
the parade to-morrow, you will see no trade advertisements, no schemes
for calling attention to Dr. Somebody-or-other's cure for ingrowing
corns, nothing but the beautiful and the artistic."

Frank laughed.

"It's seldom you speak like this, professor," he said. "You must be in
love with the South."

"I am a Northerner, but I think the South very beautiful, and I admire
the people of the South more than I can tell. I do not know as they are
naturally more gentle and kind-hearted than Northerners, but they are
certainly more courteous and chivalrous, despite their quick tempers and
more passionate dispositions. Northerners are too brusque. If they ask
pardon for rudeness, they do it as if they regretted the breath spent in
uttering the words. It is quite the opposite with Southerners, for they
seem----"

"Hold on, professor," interrupted Frank. "You may tell me all about that
some other time. Hark! hear the whistles on the river? The king must be
coming!"

"Yes, he is coming."

There was a stir among the people, a murmur ran over the great throng.
Then the royal yacht, accompanied by more than a dozen other steamers,
all gayly decorated, was seen approaching.

The great crowd began to cheer, hundreds of whistles shrieked and roared
at the same instant, bands of music were playing, and, as the royal
yacht drew near the levee at the foot of Canal Street, the booming of
cannons added to the mad uproar of joy.

All over the great gathering of gayly dressed people handkerchiefs
fluttered and hats were waved in the air, while laughing, excited faces
were seen everywhere.

The mad excitement filled Frank Merriwell's veins, and he stood erect in
the carriage, waving his hat and cheering with the cheering thousands,
although there was such an uproar at that moment that he could scarcely
hear his own voice.

The king, attired in purple and gold, was seen near the bow of the royal
yacht, surrounded by courtiers and admirers.

To Frank's wonder, a dozen policemen had been able to keep Canal Street
open for the procession from the levee as far as could be seen.
Elsewhere, and on each side of the street, the throng packed thickly,
but they seemed to aid the police in the work of holding the street
clear, so there was no trouble at all. Not once had Frank seen the
pushing and swaying so often seen when great crowds assemble in Northern
cities, and not once had the policemen been compelled to draw a club to
enforce orders.

As the royal yacht drew into the jetty a gathering of city officers and
leading citizens formed to greet and welcome him. These gentlemen were
known as "dukes of the realm," and constituted the royal court. They
were decorated with badges of gold and bogus jewels.

The yacht drew up at the levee, and King Rex, accompanied by his escort,
landed, where he was greeted with proper ceremony by the dukes of the
realm.

Then the king was provided with a handsomely decorated carriage, which
he entered, and a procession was formed. The king's carriage somewhat
resembled a chariot, being drawn by four mettlesome coal-black horses,
all gayly caparisoned with gold and silver trimmings and nodding plumes.

A magnificent band of music headed the procession, and then came a barge
that was piled high with beautiful and fragrant flowers. In this barge
was a girl who seemed to be dressed entirely in flowers, and there was a
crown of flowers on her head. She was masked, but did not seem to be
more than sixteen or seventeen years of age.

She was known as "the Queen of Flowers," and other girls, ladies of the
court, dressed entirely in white, accompanied her.

The king's carriage followed the flower barge, and, directed by the
queen, who was seated on a throne of flowers, the girls scattered
flowers beneath the feet of the horses, now and then laughingly pelting
some one in the throng with them.

As the procession started, the cannons boomed once more, and the steam
whistles shrieked.

And then, in less than a minute, there came a startling interruption.
The cheering of the people on one of the side streets turned to shrieks
of terror and warning, and the crowd was seen to make a mad rush for
almost any place of shelter.

"What's the matter, Frank?" asked Professor Scotch, in alarm.

"Don't know," was the reply, as Frank mounted to the carriage seat, on
which he stood to obtain a view. "Why, it seems that there are wild
cattle in the street, and they're coming this way."

"Good gracious!" gasped the professor. "Drive on, driver--get out of the
way quickly!"

"That's impossible, sir," replied the driver, immediately. "If I drive
on, we are liable to be overturned by the rushing crowd. It is safer to
keep still and remain here."

"Those cattle look like Texas long-horns!" cried Frank.

"So they are, sir," assured the driver. "They have broken out of the
yard in which they were placed this morning. They were brought here on a
steamer."

"Texas long-horns on a stampede in a crowded city!" fluttered Frank.
"That means damage--no end of it."

In truth, nearly half a hundred wild Texan steers, driven to madness by
the shrieking whistles and thundering cannons, had broken out of the
fraily constructed yard, and at least a dozen of them had stampeded
straight toward Canal Street.

Persons crushed against each other and fell over each other in frantic
haste to get out of the way for the cattle to pass. Some were thrown
down and trampled on by the fear-stricken throng. Men shouted hoarsely,
and women shrieked.

Mad with terror, blinded by dust, furious with the joy of sudden
freedom, the Texan steers, heads lowered, horns glistening, eyes glowing
redly and nostrils steaming, charged straight into the crowd.

It was a terrible spectacle.

"For Heaven's sake, is there no way of stopping those creatures?" cried
Frank.

"We'll all be killed!" quavered Professor Scotch.

Into Canal Street rushed the crowd, and the procession was broken up in
a moment. The one thought of everybody seemed to be to get out of the
way of the steers.

The horses on the flower barge became unmanageable, turned short,
snorting with terror, and upset the barge, spilling flowers, girls, and
all into the street. Then, in some way, the animals broke away, leaving
the wrecked barge where it had toppled.

The girls, with one exception, sprang up and fled in every direction.

The one exception was the Queen of Flowers, who lay motionless and
apparently unconscious in the street, with the beautiful flowers piled
on every side of her.

"She is hurt!" cried Frank, who was watching her. "Why doesn't some one
pick her up?"

"They do not see her there amid the flowers," palpitated the professor.
"They do not know she has not fled with the other girls!"

"The cattle--the steers will crush her!" shouted the driver.

"Not if I can save her!" rang out the clear voice of our hero.

Professor Scotch made a clutch at the lad, but too late to catch and
hold him.

Frank leaped from the carriage, clearing the heads of a dozen persons,
struck on his feet in the street, tore his way through the rushing,
excited mob, and reached the side of the unconscious Flower Queen. He
lifted her from the ground, and, at that very instant, a mad steer, with
lowered head and bristling horns, charged blindly at them!



CHAPTER XIV.

THE HOT BLOOD OF YOUTH.


A cry of horror went up from those who beheld the peril of the brave boy
and the Queen of Flowers, for it looked as if both must be impaled by
the wicked horns of the mad steer.

Well it was that Frank was a lad of nerve, with whom at such a moment to
think was to act. Well it was that he had the muscles and strength of a
trained athlete.

Frank did not drop the girl to save himself, as most lads would have
done. She felt no heavier than a feather in his arms, but it seemed that
he would be unable to save himself, if he were unincumbered.

Had he leaped ahead he could not have escaped. With all the energy he
possessed, he sprang backward, at the same time swinging the girl away
from the threatening horns, so that his own body protected her in case
he was not beyond reach of the steer.

In such a case and in such a situation inches count, and it proved thus
in this instance.

One of the steer's horns caught Frank's coat sleeve at the shoulder, and
ripped it open to the flesh as far as his elbow, the sharp point seeming
to slit the cloth like a keen knife.

But Frank was unharmed, and the unconscious girl was not touched.

Then the steer crashed into the flower barge.

Frank was not dazed by his remarkable escape, and he well knew the peril
might not be over.

Like a leaping panther, the boy sprang from the spot, avoiding other mad
steers and frantic men and women, darted here and there through the
flying throng, and reached a place where he believed they would be safe.

It was a brave and nervy act--the act of a true hero.

The stampeded steers dashed on, and the danger at that point was past.
Men and women had been trampled and bruised, but, remarkable though it
seemed, when the steers were finally captured or dispatched, it was
found that no person had been killed outright.

Men crowded about Frank and the Flower Girl. The lad had placed the girl
upon some steps, and he called for water.

"Remove her mask," directed some one. "Give her air."

"Yes, remove her mask!" cried scores of voices.

They were eager to see her face, that they might again recognize the
girl who had passed through such peril.

Frank hesitated, although he also longed to look on the face of the girl
he had saved. She was most beautifully formed for a girl of her age, and
that her face was pretty he had not a doubt.

He reached out his hand to unfasten the mask. As he did so his wrist was
clutched by strong fingers, and a panting voice hissed in his ear:

"Would you do it? Well, you shall not! I will take charge of that young
lady, if you please!"

Looking over his shoulder, Frank saw the dark, excited face of a youth
of twenty or twenty-one. That face was almost wickedly handsome,
although there was something decidedly repellent about it. The eyes were
black as midnight, while the lips were full and red.

With a twisting snap Frank freed his wrist.

"You?" he said, calmly--"who are you?"

"One who knows this unfortunate young lady, and has a right to protect
her."

"Which is ver' true, sah," declared a man with a bristling white
mustache and imperial, who stood just behind the youth with the dark
face. "I give you my word of honah, sah, that it is true."

The words were spoken with great suavity and politeness, and Frank noted
that the speaker seemed to have a military air.

Frank hesitated, and then straightened up, stepping back and bowing, as
he said:

"That settles it, gentlemen. If you know the young lady, I have nothing
more to say."

The young man instantly lifted the Flower Queen in his arms. As he did
so she opened her eyes, and Frank saw she was looking straight at his
face.

Then came a staggering surprise for the boy from the North. He saw the
girl's lips part, and he distinctly heard her faintly exclaim:

"Frank Merriwell!"

Frank fell back a step, then started forward.

"You--you know me?" he cried.

Quick as a flash, the youth with the dark face passed the girl to the
man with the white mustache and imperial, and the latter bore her
through the throng to a carriage.

Frank would have followed, but the dark-faced youth blocked the way,
saying, harshly:

"Hold on! You did her a service. How much do I owe you?"

"Stand aside!" came sharply from Frank's lips. "She knows me--she spoke
my name! I must find out who she is!"

"That you cannot do."

"Who will prevent it?"

"I will!"

Frank measured the other from head to heels with his eyes.

"Stand aside!"

"Now, don't go to putting on any airs with me, my smart youngster. By
sheer luck, you were able to save her from possible injury. Like all
Northerners, you have your price for every service. How much do I owe
you?"

Frank's face was hot with anger.

"You say 'like all Northerners,' but it is well for the South that you
are not a representative Southerner. You are an insolent cad and a
puppy!"

"You have insulted me!"

"I simply returned what you gave."

"And it shall cost you dear!" hissed the youth with the dark face.

Quickly he leaned forward and struck Frank's cheek with his open hand.

Then something else happened.

Like a bolt, Frank's fist shot out and caught the other under the chin,
hurling him backward into the arms of a man behind him, where he lay
gasping and dazed.

Frank would have rushed toward the carriage, but he saw it move swiftly
away, carrying the mysterious Queen of Flowers, and, with deep regret,
he realized he was too late.

The man with the bristling white mustache and imperial did not depart in
the carriage, but he again forced his way through the crowd, and found
his companion slowly recovering from the stunning blow he had received.

"Mistah Raymon', sah, what does this mean?" he cried, in amazement.

"It means that I have been insulted and struck!" hissed the one
questioned, quivering with unutterable anger.

"Struck, sah!" cried the man, in unbounded amazement. "You were struck!
Impossible, sah--impossible!"

"It is true!"

"Who struck you, sah?"

"This young coxcomb of a Northern cur!"

The man glared at Frank, who, with his hands on his hips, was quietly
awaiting developments, apparently not at all alarmed. He did not quail
in the least before the fierce, fire-eating look given him by the man
with the bristling mustache and imperial.

"If this--ah!--young gentleman struck you, Mistah Raymon', sah, there
can be but one termination of the affaiah. He will have to meet you,
sah, on the field, or humbly apologize at once."

"That's right!" blustered the young man, fiercely. "I'll have his life,
or an instant apology!"

Frank smiled as if he were quite amused.

"As I happen to feel that I am the one to whom an apology is due, you
will have to be satisfied with taking my life," he said.

The youth with the dark face drew out a handsome card case, from which
he extracted an engraved card, which he haughtily handed to Frank, who
accepted it, and read aloud:

"'Mr. Rolf Raymond.' A very pretty name. Allow me; my card, Mr. Raymond.
I am stopping at the St. Charles Hotel. You will be able to find me
without difficulty."

"Rest assured that a friend of mine will call on you without delay, Mr.
Merriwell," stiffly said Raymond, thrusting Frank's card into his
pocket.

Professor Scotch had forced his way through the crowd in time to catch
the drift of this, and the full significance of it dawned upon him,
filling him with amazement and horror.

"This will not do--it will never do!" he spluttered. "Dueling is a thing
of the past; there is a law for it! I will not have it! Frank, you
hot-headed young rascal, what do you mean by getting into such a
scrape?"

"Keep cool, professor," said the boy, calmly. "If this young gentleman
insists on forcing me into a duel, I cannot take water--I must give him
satisfaction."

"I tell you I won't have it!" roared the little man, in his big, hoarse
voice, his face getting very red. "I am your guardian. You are a minor,
and I forbid you to fight a duel."

"If Mistah Merriwell will apologize, it is possible that, considering
his age, sah, Mistah Raymon' will not press this mattah," smoothly said
the man with the bristling mustache.

"What has he to apologize for?" asked Scotch.

"He struck Mistah Raymon', sah."

"Did you do that, Frank?"

"Yes; but he struck me first."

"He did, eh?" roared the professor, getting very red in the face. "Well,
I don't think you'll apologize, Frank, and you're not going to fight.
You're a boy; let him take a man. If he wants to fight anybody, I'm just
his hairpin, and I'll agree to do him up with any kind of a weapon from
a broad-ax to a bologna sausage!"



CHAPTER XV.

MYSTERY OF THE FLOWER QUEEN.


Frank looked at Professor Scotch in amazement, for he had never known
the little man to use such language or show such spirit in the face of
actual danger.

"I wonder if the professor has been drinking, and, if so, where he got
his drinks?" was the thought that flashed through Frank's mind.

"Mistah Raymon', sah, has no quarrel with you, sah," said the individual
with the bristling mustache. "If there is to be any further trouble,
sah, I will attend to your case."

"You? Who are you?"

"I, sah, am Colonel La Salle Vallier, the ver' particular friend of
Mistah Raymon'. If yo' say so, we will exchange cards, sah."

"Then we will exchange. Here is mine."

"And here, sah, is mine."

"This," said Colonel Vallier, "precludes yo' from interfering in this
othah affair, Professor Scotch."

"Hey? It does! How's that, I'd like to know?"

"I am at your service, professor," bowed the colonel. "You shall make
such arrangements as yo' choose. Pistols or swords make no difference to
me, for I am a dead shot and an expert swordsman. I trust yo' will
excuse us now, gentlemen. We will see yo' later. Good-day."

He locked arms with the young man, and they turned away, with a sweeping
salute. The throng parted, and they passed through.

Professor Scotch stood staring after them till Frank tapped him on the
shoulder, saying:

"Come, professor, we may as well get out of this."

"Excuse-a me, señors," said a soft, musical voice, and a young man with
a Spanish face and pink cheeks was bowing before them. "I t'ink you
need-a to be tole 'bout it."

"Told about what?" demanded Frank, who took an instant dislike to this
softly smiling fellow with the womanish voice and gentle ways. "What do
you mean?"

"Excuse-a me," repeated the stranger, who was gaudily dressed in many
colors. "Yo' are strangar-a-rs from de Noath, an' yo' do not know-a de
men what you have a de troub' wid. Excuse-a me; I am Manuel Mazaro, an'
I know-a dem. De young man is son of de ver' reech Señor Roderick
Raymon', dat everybody in New Orle'n know. He is ver' wile--ver'
reckless. Ha! He love-a to fight, an' he has been in two duel, dough he
is ver' young. But de odare, señors--de man wid de white mustache--ah!"

Manuel Mazaro threw up his hands with an expression that plainly said
words failed him.

"Well, what of the other?" asked Frank, impatiently.

"Señors," purred Mazaro, "he is de wor-r-rst fightar ever leeve! He
like-a to fight fo' de sport of keelin'. Take-a my advice, señors, an'
go 'way from New Orle'n'. Yo' make ver' gre't mistake to get in troub'
wid dem."

"Thank you for your kind advice," said Frank, quietly. "I presume it is
well meant, but it is wasted. This is a free country, and a dozen
fire-eaters like Colonel La Salle Vallier and Mr. Rolf Raymond cannot
drive us out of New Orleans till we are ready to go. Eh, professor?"

"Well, I guess not!" rumbled the little man, stiffening up and looking
as fierce as he could.

"Oh, ver' well, ver' well," said Mazaro, lifting his eyebrows, the ghost
of a scornful smile on his face. "You know-a your own biz. Good-day,
señors."

"Good-day, sir."

They passed through the crowd and sought their carriage, which was
waiting for them, although the driver had begun to think they had
deserted him.

The procession, which had been broken up by the stampeded steers, was
again forming, making it evident that the pleasure-loving people were
determined that the unfortunate occurrence should not ruin the day.

The Queen of Flowers and her subjects had vanished, and the flower barge
was a wreck, so a part of the programme could not be carried out.

The procession formed without the flower barge, and was soon on its way
once more, the band playing its liveliest tune.

The way was lined with tens of thousands of spectators, while flags
fluttered from every building. All along the line the king was greeted
with cheers and bared heads. It was a most magnificent spectacle.

The carriage bearing Frank and the professor had found a place in the
procession through the skill of the driver, and the man and boy were
able to witness this triumphal entrance of King Rex to the Crescent
City.

At the City Hall, the Duke of Crescent City, who was the mayor, welcomed
Rex with great pomp and ceremony, presenting him the keys and the
freedom of the city.

Shortly afterward, the king mysteriously disappeared, and the procession
broke up and dispersed.

Frank and the professor returned to the St. Charles Hotel, both feeling
decidedly hungry.

Frank had little to say after they had satisfied their hunger and were
in their suite of rooms. He had seemed to be thinking all the while, and
the professor again repeated a question that he had asked several times:

"What in the world makes you so glum, Frank? What are you thinking
about?"

"The Queen of Flowers," was the reply.

"My boy," cried the professor, enthusiastically, "I am proud of
you--yes, sir, proud! But, at one time, I thought you were done for.
That steer was right upon you, and I could see no way for you to escape
the creature's horns. I held my breath, expecting to see you impaled.
And then I saw you escape with no further injury than the slitting of
your coat sleeve, but to this minute I can't say how you did it."

Frank scarcely seemed to hear the professor's words. He sat with his
hand to his head, his eyes fixed on a pattern in the carpet.

"She knew my name," he muttered. "She spoke it distinctly. There can be
no doubt about that."

Professor Scotch groaned dismally.

"There you go again!" he exclaimed. "Now, what are you mumbling about?"

"The Queen of Flowers."

"Confound the Queen of Flowers!" exploded Scotch. "You saved her life
at the risk of your own, but you don't know her from Adam."

"She knows me."

"How is that?"

"She spoke my name."

"You must be mistaken."

"I am not."

Professor Scotch looked incredulous.

"Why, she was unconscious."

"She was when I saved her from the steer."

"And she recovered afterward?"

"Yes; just as Colonel Vallier was taking her to the carriage."

"And she spoke your name then?"

"Yes. First I saw her open her eyes, and I noticed that she was looking
straight at me; then I heard her distinctly but faintly pronounce my
name."

The professor still looked doubtful.

"You were excited, my boy, and you imagined it."

"No, professor, it was no case of imagination; I know she called me
Frank Merriwell, but what puzzles me is the fact that this young cad,
Raymond, was determined I should not speak with her, and she was carried
away quickly. Why should they wish to keep us from having a few words of
conversation?"

"That is a question I cannot answer, Frank."

"There's a mystery here, professor--a mystery I mean to solve. I am
going to find out who the Queen of Flowers really is."

"And get into more trouble, you hot-headed young rascal. I should think
you were in trouble enough already, with a possible duel impending."

A twinkle of mischief showed in Frank's eyes.

"How about yourself, professor?"

"Oh, the young scoundrel won't dare to meet me," blustered Scotch,
throwing out his chest and strutting about the room.

"But he is not the one you will have to meet. You exchanged cards with
Colonel La Salle Vallier."

"As a mere matter of courtesy."

"That might go in the North, but you exchanged under peculiar
circumstances, and, taking everything into consideration, I have no
doubt but you will be waited on by a friend of Colonel Vallier. You will
have to meet him."

"Hey!" roared the professor, turning pale. "Is it possible that such a
result will come from a mere matter of politeness? Why, I'm no fighter,
Frank--I'm no blood-and-thunder ruffian! I did not mean to hint that I
wished to meet the colonel on the field of honor."

"But you have, and you can't back out now. You heard what Manuel Mazaro
had to say about him. He is a dead shot and a skilled swordsman. Oh,
professor, my heart bleeds for you! But you shall have a great funeral,
and I'll plant tiddly-wink posies all over your grave."

"Cæsar's ghost!" groaned Scotch, collapsing on a chair, and looking very
ill indeed. "This is a terrible scrape! I don't feel well. I fear I am
going to be very ill."



CHAPTER XVI.

PROFESSOR SCOTCH FEELS ILL.


Frank found it impossible to restrain his laughter longer, and he gave
way to it.

"Ha, ha, ha!" he merrily shouted. "You surely look ill, professor! I'd
like to have your picture now! Ha, ha, ha! It would make a first-rate
picture for a comic paper."

"This is no laughing matter," came dolefully from Scotch. "I don't know
how to fire a pistol, and I never had a sword in my hand in all my life.
And to think of standing up and being shot full of holes or carved like
a turkey by that fire-eater with the fierce mustache! It is awful,
awful!"

"But you were eager to fight the young fellow."

"No, I was not. I was simply putting up a bluff, as you call it. I was
doing my level best to get you out of the scrape, Frank. I didn't think
he would fight me, and so I pretended to be eager to meet him. And now
see what a scrape I am in! Oh, my soul and body! What can I do?"

"Fight."

"Never!"

"I don't see how you can get out of it."

"I'll run away."

In a moment Frank became very grave.

"That is impossible, professor," he said, with the utmost apparent
sincerity. "Think of the disgrace! It would be in all the papers that
Professor Scotch, a white-livered Northerner, after insulting Colonel La
Salle Vallier and presenting his card, had taken to his heels in the
most cowardly fashion, and had fled from the city without giving the
colonel the satisfaction that is due from one gentleman to another. The
Northern papers would copy, and you would find yourself the butt of
ridicule wherever you went."

The professor let out a groan that was more dismal and doleful than any
sound that had previously issued from his lips.

"What can I do?" he gasped.

"There is one way to get out of the difficulty."

"Name it! name it!" shouted the wretched man. "I'll do anything!"

"Then commit suicide."

The professor collapsed again.

"Are you entirely heartless?" he moaned. "Can you joke when I am
suffering such misery?"

His face was covered with perspiration, and he was all a-quiver, so that
Frank was really touched.

"You can apologize, professor."

"Apologize for what? I don't know that I have done anything to apologize
for; but then I'll apologize rather than fight."

"Well, I guess you'll be able to get out of it some way."

But it was no easy thing to reassure the agitated man, as Frank soon
discovered.

"I'll tell you what, professor," said the boy; "you may send a
representative--a substitute."

"I don't think it will be easy to find a substitute."

"Oh, I'll find one."

"Perhaps Colonel Vallier will not accept him."

"But you must be too ill to meet the colonel, and then he'll have to
accept the substitute or nothing."

"But who will act as substitute? I don't know any one in New Orleans
who'll go and be shot in my place."

"Barney Mulloy has agreed to join us here, and he may arrive on any
train," went on Frank, mentioning an old school chum.

"That wild Irishman!" cried the professor, hopefully. "Why, he'd fight a
pack of wildcats and think it fun!"

"Yes, Barney is happiest when in trouble. According to my uncle's will,
I am at liberty to carry a companion besides my guardian on my travels,
and so, when Hans Dunnerwust got tired of traveling and went home, I
sent for Barney, knowing he'd be a first-class fellow to have with me.
He finally succeeded in making arrangements to join us, and I have a
telegram from him, stating that he would start in time to reach here
before to-morrow. If you are forced into trouble, professor, Barney can
serve as a substitute."

"That sounds very well, but Colonel Vallier would not accept a boy."

"Then Barney can disguise himself and pretend to be a man."

"I'm afraid it won't work. Not that Barney Mulloy will hesitate to help
me out of the scrape, for he was the most dare-devil chap in Fardale
Academy, next to yourself, Frank. You were the leader in all kinds of
daring adventures, but Barney made a good second. But he can't pass
muster as a man."

"Perhaps he can. But you have not yet received a challenge from Colonel
Vallier; so don't worry about what may not happen."

"I can't help worrying. I shall not take any further pleasure in life
till we get out of this dreadful city."

"Oh, brace up! Come on; let's go out and see the sights."

"No, Frank--no, my boy. I am indisposed--I am quite ill. Besides that, I
might meet Colonel Vallier. I shall remain in my room for the present."

So Frank was obliged to go out alone, and, when he returned for supper,
he found the professor in bed, looking decidedly like a sick man.

"I am very ill, Frank--very ill," Scotch declared. "I fear I am in for a
protracted illness."

"Nonsense, professor! Why, you'll miss all the fun to-morrow, and we're
here to see the sport."

"Confound the sport! I wish we had stayed away from this miserable
place!"

"Why, you were very enthusiastic over New Orleans and the people of the
South this morning."

"Hang the people of the South--hang them all! They're too
hot-headed--they're altogether too ready to fight over nothing. Now, I'm
a peaceable man, and I can't fight--I simply can't!"

"Well, well! I don't fancy you'll have to fight," said Frank, whose
conscience was beginning to smite him.

"Then I'll have to apologize, and I'll be jiggered if I know what I'm
going to apologize for!"

"What makes you so sure you'll have to apologize?"

"Look at this--read it!"

The professor drew an envelope from beneath his pillow and passed it to
Frank. The envelope contained a note, which the boy was soon reading. It
was from Colonel Vallier, and demanded an apology, giving the professor
until the following noon in which to make it, and hinting that a meeting
of honor would surely follow if the apology was not forthcoming.

"Whew!" whistled Frank. "This does seem like business. When did you
receive this?"

"Shortly after you went out."

"I scarcely thought the colonel would press the affair."

"There's a letter for you on the table."

"From whom is it?"

"Don't know. Raymond, I suppose. The same messenger brought them both."

Frank picked up the letter and tore it open. It proved to be from Rolf
Raymond, and was worded much like the note to Professor Scotch.

The warm blood of anger mounted to the boy's cheeks.

"This settles it!" he exclaimed. "Mr. Rolf Raymond shall have all the
fight he wants. I am a good pistol shot and more than a fair swordsman.
At Fardale I was the champion with the foils. If he thinks I am a coward
and a greenhorn because I come from the North, he may find he has made a
serious mistake."

The professor literally writhed in the bed.

"But you may be killed, and I'd never forgive myself," he moaned.

"Killed or not, I can't show the white feather!" cried Frank, warmly.

"I do not believe in duelling."

"Nor do I, but I have found it necessary to do some things I do not
believe in. I am not going to run, and I am not going to apologize, for
I believe an apology is due me, if any one. This being the case, I'll
have to fight."

"Oh, what a scrape--what a dreadful scrape!" groaned Scotch, wringing
his hands. "Why did we ever come here?"

"Oh, do brace up, professor!" cried Frank, impatiently. "We have been in
worse scrapes than this, and you were not so badly broken up. It was
only a short time ago down in Mexico that Pacheco's bandits hemmed us in
on one side and there was a raging volcano on the other; but still we
live and have our health. I'll guarantee we'll pull through this scrape,
and I'll bet we come out with flying colors."

"You may feel like meeting Rolf Raymond, but I simply can't stand up
before that fire-eating colonel."

"There seems to be considerable bluster about this business, and I'll
wager something you won't have to stand up before him if you will put on
a bold front and make-believe you are eager to meet him."

"Oh, my boy, you don't know--you can't tell!"

"Come, professor, get out of bed and dress. We want to see the parade
this evening. They say it will be great."

"Oh, I wish the parades were all at the bottom of the sea!"

"We couldn't see them then, for we're not mermaids or fishes."

"Will you never be serious?"

"I don't know; perhaps I may, when I'm too sick to be otherwise. Are you
going to get up?"

"No."

"Do you mean to stay in bed?"

"Yes."

"And miss the parade to-night?"

"I don't care for the old parade."

"Well, I do, and I'm going to see it."

"Will you see some newspaper reporters and state that I am very
ill--dangerously ill--that I am dying. Do this favor for me, Frank.
Colonel Vallier can't force a dying man to meet him in a duel."

"I am shocked and pained, professor, that you should wish me to tell a
lie, even to save your life; but I'll see what I can do for you."



CHAPTER XVII.

LED INTO A TRAP.


Frank ate alone, and went forth alone to see the parade. The professor
remained in bed, apparently in a state of utter collapse.

The night after Mardi Gras in New Orleans the Krewe of Proteus holds its
parade and ball. The parade is a most dazzling and magnificent
spectacle, and the ball is no less splendid.

The streets along which the parade must pass were lined with a dense
mass of people on both sides, while windows and balconies were filled.

Shortly after the appointed time the parade started.

It consisted of a series of elaborate and gorgeous floats, the whole
forming a line many blocks in length.

Hundreds of flaring torches threw their lights over the moving
_tableau_, and it was indeed a splendid dream.

Never before had Frank seen anything of the kind one-half as beautiful,
and he was sincerely glad they had reached the Crescent City in time to
be present at Mardi Gras.

The stampede of the Texan steers and the breaking up of the parade that
day had made a great sensation in New Orleans. Every one had heard of
the peril of the Flower Queen, and how she was rescued by a handsome
youth who was said to be a visitor from the North, but whom nobody
seemed to know.

Now, the Krewe of Proteus was composed entirely of men, and it was their
policy to have nobody but men in their parade. These men were to dress
as fairies of both sexes, as they were required to appear in the
_tableau_ of "Fairyland."

But the managers of the affair had conceived the idea that it would be a
good scheme to reconstruct the wrecked flower barge and have the Queen
of Flowers in the procession.

But the Queen of Flowers seemed to be a mystery to every one, and the
managers knew not how to reach her. They made many inquiries, and it
became generally known that she was desired for the procession.

Late in the afternoon the managers received a brief note, purporting to
be from the Flower Queen, assuring them that she would be on hand to
take part in the evening parade.

The flower barge was put in repair, and piled high with the most
gorgeous and dainty flowers, and, surmounting all, was a throne of
flowers.

Before the time for starting the mysterious masked queen and her
attendants in white appeared.

When the procession passed along the streets the queen was recognized
everywhere, and the throngs cheered her loudly.

But, out of the thousands, hundreds were heard to say:

"Where is the strange youth who saved her from the mad steer? He should
be on the same barge."

Frank's heart leaped as he saw the mysterious girl in the procession.

"There she is!" was his thought. "How can I follow her? How can I trace
her and find out who she is?"

As the barge came nearer, he forced his way to the very edge of the
crowd that lined the street, without having decided what he would do,
but hoping she would see and recognize him.

When the barge was almost opposite, he stepped out a little from the
line and lifted his hat.

She saw him!

In a moment, as if she had been looking for him, she caught the crown of
flowers from her head and tossed them toward him, crying:

"For the hero!"

He caught them skillfully with his right hand, his hat still in his
left. And the hot blood mounted to his face as he saw her tossing kisses
toward him with both hands.

"What's it mean?" asked a spectator.

"Don't know," answered another.

But a third cried:

"I'll tell you what it means! That young fellow is the one who saved the
Queen of Flowers from the mad steer! I know him, for I saw him do it,
and I observed his face."

"That explains why she flung her crown to him and called him the hero."

"Yes, that explains it."

"Three cheers for the hero!"

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"

The crowd burst into wild cheering, and there was a general struggle to
get a fair view of Frank Merriwell, who had suddenly become the object
of attention, the splendors of the parade being forgotten for the time.

Frank was confused and bewildered, and he sought to get away as quickly
as possible, hoping to follow the Queen of Flowers. But he found his way
blocked on every hand, and a hundred voices seemed to be asking:

"What's your name?"

"Where do you belong?"

"Won't you please tell us your name?"

"Haven't I seen you in New York?"

"Aren't you from Chicago?"

Somewhat dazed though he was, Frank noted that, beyond a doubt, the ones
who were so very curious and who so rudely demanded his name were
visitors in New Orleans. More than that, from their appearance, they
were people who would not think of such acts at home, but now were eager
to know the Northern lad who by one nervy and daring act had made
himself generally talked about in a Southern city.

Some of the women declared he was "So handsome!" and "So manly!" to
Frank's increasing dismay.

"I'd give a hundred dollars to get out of this!" he thought.

He must have spoken the words aloud, although he was not aware of it,
for a voice at his elbow, low and musical, said:

"Come dis-a-way, señor, an' I will tek yo' out of it."

Frank saw Manuel Mazaro close at hand. The Spaniard--for such Mazaro
was--bowed gracefully, and smiled pleasantly upon the boy from the
North.

A moment Frank hesitated, and then he said:

"Lead on; I'll follow."

Quickly Mazaro skirted the edge of the throng for a short distance,
plunged into the mass, made sure Frank was close behind, and then
forced his way through to a doorway.

"Dis-a way," he invited.

Frank hesitated.

"Where does it lead?"

"Through a passage to annodare street, señor."

Frank felt his revolver in his pocket, and he knew it was loaded for
instant use.

"I want to get ahead of this procession--I want to see the Queen of
Flowers again."

"I will tek yo' there, señor."

"Lead on."

Frank passed his hand through the crown of flowers, to which he still
clung. Without being seen, he took his revolver from his pocket, and
held it concealed in the mass of flowers. It was a self-cocker, and he
could use it skillfully.

As Mazaro had said, the doorway led into a passage. This was very
narrow, and quite dark.

No sooner were they fairly in this place than Frank regretted that he
had come, for he realized that it was a most excellent chance for
assassination and robbery.

His one fear was of being attacked behind. He was quite ready for any
that might rise in front.

"Dis-a way, señor," Mazaro kept repeating. "Dis-a way."

Frank fancied the fellow was speaking louder than was necessary. In
fact, he could not see that it was necessary for Mazaro to speak at all.

And then the boy was sure he heard footsteps behind them!

He was caught between two fires--he was trapped!

Frank's first impulse was to leap forward, knock Mazaro down, and take
to his heels, keeping straight on through the passage.

A second thought followed the first quite swiftly.

He knew not where the passage led, and he knew not what pitfalls it
might contain.

At that moment Frank felt a thrill of actual fear, nervy though he was;
but he understood that he must not let fear get the best of him, and he
instantly flung it off.

His ears were open, his eyes were open, and every sense was on the
alert.

"Let them come!" he almost exclaimed, aloud. "I will give them a warm
reception!"

Then he noticed that they passed a narrow opening, like a broken door,
and, the next moment he seemed to feel cat-like footfalls at his very
heels.

In a twinkling Frank whirled about, crying:

"Hold up where you are! I am armed, and I'll shoot if crowded!"

He had made no mistake, for his eyes had grown accustomed to the
darkness of the passage, and he could see three dark figures blocking
his retreat along the passage.

For one brief second his eyes turned the other way, and it seemed that
Manuel Mazaro had been joined by two or three others, for he saw several
forms in that direction.

This sudden action of the trapped boy had filled these fellows with
surprise and dismay, and curses of anger broke from their lips, the
words being hissed rather than spoken.

Frank knew he must attract attention in some way, and so of a sudden he
fired a shot into the air.

The flash of his revolver showed him several dark, villainous faces.

"Upon him!" cried Mazaro, in Spanish. "Be quick about it!"

"Back!" shouted Frank, lifting the revolver. "I'll not waste another
bullet!"

"Thot's th' talk, me laddybuck!" rang out a familiar voice. "Give th'
spalpanes cold lead, an' plinty av it, Frankie! O'im wid yez!"

"Barney Mulloy!" Frank almost screamed, in joyous amazement.



CHAPTER XVIII.

BARNEY ON HAND.


"Thot's me name, an' this is me marruck!" cried the Irish lad, from the
darkness.

There was a hurrying rush of feet, and then--smack! smack!--two dark
figures were seen flying through the darkness as if they had been struck
by battering-rams.

"Hurrah!" cheered Frank, thrusting the revolver into his pocket, and
hastening to leap into the battle. "Give 'em glory, Barney!"

"Hurro!" shouted the Irish youth. "Th' United Shtates an' Ould Oireland
foriver! Nothing can shtand against th' combination!"

This unexpected assault was too much for Manuel Mazaro and his
satellites.

"Car-r-r-ramba!" snarled the Spaniard. "Dis treek is spoiled! We will
have to try de odare one, pardnares."

"We're reddy fer yer thricks, ye shnakes!" cried Barney.

"Are you armed?" asked Frank.

"To th' muzzle wid grape-shot an' canister!" was the reply.

But the boys were not compelled to resort to deadly weapons, for the
Spaniard and his gang suddenly took to their heels, and seemed to melt
away in the darkness.

"Musha! musha!" gasped Barney. "Where hiv they gone, Oi dunno?"

"They've skipped."

"An' lift us widout sayin' good-avenin'?"

"So it seems."

"Th' impoloight rascals! They should be ashamed av thimsilves!"

"Barney!"

"Frankie!"

"At school you had a way of always showing up just when you were needed
most, and you have not gotten over it."

"It's harrud to tache an ould dog new thricks, Frankie."

"You don't want to learn any new tricks; the old ones you know are all
right. Barney, give me your hand."

"Frankie, here it is, an' I'm wid yez, me b'y, till Oi have ter lave
yez, which won't be in a hurry, av Oi know mesilf."

The two lads clasped hands in the darkness of the passage.

"Now," said Frank, "to get out of this place."

"Th' sooner th' quicker."

"Which way shall we go?"

"Better go th' way we came in."

"Right, Barney. But how in the world did you happen to appear at such an
opportune moment? That sticks me."

"Oi saw yez, me b'y, whin th' crowd was cheerin' fer yez, but Oi
couldn't get to yez, though Oi troied me bist."

"And you followed."

"Oi did, but it's lost yez Oi would, av ye wasn't sane to come in here
by thim as wur watchin' av yez."

"Which was dead lucky for me."

"Thot it wur, me darlint, unliss ye wanter to shoot th' spalpanes ye wur
wid. Av they'd crowded yez, Oi reckon ye'd found a way to dispose av th'
lot."

"They were about to crowd me when I fired into the air."

"An' th' flash av th' revolver showed me yer face."

"That's how you were sure it was me, is it?"

"Thot wur wan way. Fer another, Oi hearrud yer voice, an' ye don't
suppose Oi wouldn't know thot av Oi should hear it astraddle av th'
North Pole, do yez?"

"Well, I am sure I knew your voice the moment I heard it, and the sound
gave no small amount of satisfaction."

The boys now hurried back along the narrow passage, and soon reached the
doorway by which they had entered.

The procession had passed on, and the great crowd of people had melted
from the street.

As soon as they were outside the passage, Barney explained that he had
arrived in town that night, and had hurried to the St. Charles Hotel,
but had found Professor Scotch in bed, and Frank gone.

"Th' profissor was near scared to death av me," said Barney. "He
wouldn't let me in th' room till th' bellboy had described me two or
thray toimes over, an' whin Oi did come in, he had his head under th'
clothes, an', be me soul! I thought by th' sound that he wur shakin'
dice. It wuz the tathe av him chattering togither."

Frank was convulsed with laughter, while Barney went on:

"'Profissor,' sez Oi, 'av it's doice ye're shakin', Oi'll take a hand at
tin cints a corner.'"

"What did he do then?"

"He looked out at me over the edge av th' bed-sprid, an' he sez, sez he,
'Are ye sure ye're yersilf, Barney Mulloy? or are ye Colonel Sally de la
Vilager'--or something av th' sort--'in disguise?'"

Frank laughed harder than before.

"What did you do then, Barney?"

"Oi looked at him, an' thot wur all Oi said. Oi didn't know what th' mon
mint, an' he samed to be too broke up to tell. Oi asked him where yo
wur, an' he said ye'd gone out to see th' parade. Whin Oi found out thot
wur all Oi could get out av him, Oi came out an' looked fer yez."

When Frank had ceased to laugh, he explained the meaning of the
professor's strange actions, and it was Barney's turn to laugh.

"So it's a duel he is afraid av, is it?"

"Yes."

"An' he wants a substitute?"

"Yes."

"Begobs, it's niver a duel was Oi in, but the profissor wuz koind to me
at Fardale, an' it's a debt av gratitude Oi owe him, so Oi'll make me
bluff."

"I do not believe Colonel Vallier will meet any one but Professor
Scotch, but the professor will be too ill to meet him, so he will have
to accept a substitute, or go without a fight."

"To tell ye th' truth, Frankie, Oi'd rather he'd refuse to accept, but
it's an iligant bluff Oi can make."

"You're all right, Barney."

"Tell me what brought this duel aboit."

So Frank told the whole story about the rescue of the Flower Queen, the
appearance of Rolf Raymond and Colonel Vallier, and how the masked girl
had called his name just as they were taking her away, with the result
already known to the reader.

Barney was intensely interested.

"An' thot wur her Oi saw in th' parade to-noight?"

"Yes."

"She flung ye some flowers?"

"She did. It was her crown of flowers. I still have it here, although it
is somewhat crushed."

"Ah, Frankie, me b'y, it's a shly dog ye are! Th' girruls wur foriver
getting shtuck on yez, an' Oi dunno what ye hiv been doin' since l'avin'
Fardale. It's wan av yer mashes this must be."

"I've made no mashes, Barney."

"Not m'anin' to, perhaps, but ye can't hilp it, laddybuck, fer they will
get shtuck on yez, av ye want thim to or not. Ye don't hiv ter troy to
catch a girrul, Frankie."

"But I give you my word that I cannot imagine who this can be. All the
curiosity in my nature is aroused, and I am determined to know her name
before I rest."

"Well, b'y, Oi'm wid yez. What shall we do?"

"Go to the place where the Krewe of Proteus holds its ball."

"Lade on."

As both were strangers in New Orleans, they did not know how to make the
shortest cut to the ballroom, and Frank found it impossible to obtain a
carriage. They were delayed most exasperatingly, and, when they arrived
at the place where the ball was to be held, the procession had broken
up, and the Queen of Flowers was within the ballroom.

"This is most unfortunate!" cried Frank, in dismay. "I meant to get here
ahead of the procession, so that I could speak to her before she got
inside."

"Well, let's go in an' spake to her now."

"We can't."

"Whoy not?"

"This is a very exclusive affair."

"An' we're very ixclusive paple."

"Only those having invitations can enter the ballroom."

"Is thot so? Thin it's outsoide we're lift. What can we do about thot?"

"Nothing."

"Is it too late to git invoitations?"

"They can't be bought, like tickets."

"Well, what koind av a shindig do ye call this, Oi dunno?"

Barney was thoroughly disgusted.

Frank explained that Professor Scotch had been able to procure
invitations, but neither of them had fancied they would care to attend
the ball, so the opportunity had been neglected.

"Whinever Oi can get something fer nothing, Oi take it," said Barney.
"It's a use Oi can make fer most things Oi get."

The two boys lingered outside the building. Frank hoped the Flower Queen
would come out, and he would be able to speak to her before she entered
a carriage and was carried away.

Sweet strains of music floated down to the ears of the restless lads,
and, with each passing moment, Frank grew more and more disgusted with
himself.

"To think that I might be in there--might be waltzing with the Queen of
Flowers at this moment, if I had asked the professor to obtain the
invitations!" he cried.

"It's harrud luck!" said Barney; "but ye'll know betther next toime."

"Next time will be too late. In some way, I must meet this girl and
speak to her. I must, and I will!"

"That's th' shtuff, me b'y! Whiniver ye say anything loike thot, ye
always git there wid both fate. Oi'll risk yez."

Two men in dress suits came out to smoke and get a breath of air. They
stood conversing within a short distance of the boys.

"She has been the sensation of the day," said one. "The whole city is
wondering who she is."

"She seems determined to remain a mystery."

"Yes, for she has vanished from the ballroom in a most unaccountable
manner. No one saw her take her departure."

"Not even Rolf Raymond."

"No. He is as much mystified as anybody. The fellow knows her, but he
positively refuses to disclose her identity."

Frank's hand had fallen on Barney's arm with a grip of iron, and the
fingers were sinking deeper and deeper into the Irish lad's flesh as
these words fell on their ears.

"It is said that the young fellow who saved her from the steer to-day
does not know her."

"No. She saw him in the crowd to-night, and flung him her crown, calling
him a hero. He was nearly mobbed by the crowd, that was determined to
know his name, but he escaped in some way, and has not been seen since."

"That settles it!" Frank hissed in Barney's ear. "They are speaking of
the Flower Queen."

"Sure," returned the Irish lad; "an' av yersilf, Frankie, b'y."

"She is no longer in the ballroom."

"No."

"We are wasting our time waiting here."

"Roight ye are."

"Then we will wait no longer. Come, we'll go to the hotel."



CHAPTER XIX.

A HUMBLE APOLOGY.


Barely were they in their apartments at the hotel when there came a
knock on the door, and a boy entered, bearing a salver on which were two
cards.

"Colonel La Salle Vallier and Mr. Rolf Raymond," read Frank. "Bring them
up."

"What's that?" roared Professor Scotch, from the bed. "Are you crazy?"

Frank hustled the boy out of the room, whispering:

"Bring them up, and admit them without knocking."

He slipped a quarter into the boy's hand, and the little fellow grinned
and hurried away.

Frank turned back to find Professor Scotch, in his night robe, standing
square in the middle of the bed, wildly waving his arms, and roaring:

"Lock the door--barricade it--keep them out! If those desperadoes are
admitted here, this room will run red with gore!"

"That's right, professor," agreed Frank. "We'll settle their hash right
here and at once. We'll cook 'em."

"Whoop!" shouted the little professor, in his big, hoarse voice. "This
is murder--assassination! Lock the door, I say! I am in no condition to
receive visitors."

"Be calm, professor," chirped Frank, soothingly.

"Be calm, profissor," echoed Barney, serenely.

"Be calm!" bellowed the excited little man. "How can I be calm on the
eve of murder and assassination? I am an unarmed man, and I am not even
dressed!"

"Niver moind a little thing loike thot," purred the Irish lad.

"It's of no consequence," declared Frank, placidly.

"No consequence!" shouted Scotch. "Oh, you'll drive me crazy! You want
me to be killed! It is a plot to have me murdered! I see through the
vile scheme! I'll call the police!"

He rushed into the front room, and flung up a window, from which he
howled:

"Fire! Police!"

He would have shrieked murder and several other things, but Frank and
Barney dragged him back and closed the window.

"Great Scott!" gasped Frank. "It'll be a wonder if the whole police
force of the city does not come rushing up here."

"Perhaps they'll not be able to locate th' spot from which th' croy
came," said Barney. "Let us hope not."

"Yes, let us hope not."

The professor squirmed out of the grasp of the two boys, and made a wild
dash for the door.

Just before he reached it, the door was flung open, and Colonel Vallier,
followed by Rolf Raymond, strode into the room.

The colonel and the professor met just within the doorway.

The collision was violent, and both men recoiled and sat down heavily
upon the floor, while Rolf Raymond barely saved himself from falling
astride the colonel's neck.

Sitting thus, the two men glared at each other, the colonel being in a
dress suit, while the professor wore a night robe.

Frank and Barney could not restrain their laughter.

Then a most remarkable thing happened.

Professor Scotch became so angry at what he considered the unwarranted
intrusion of the visitors that he forgot how he was dressed, forgot to
be scared, and grew fierce as a raging lion. Without rising, he leaned
forward, and shook his fist under Colonel Vallier's nose, literally
roaring:

"What do you mean by entering this room without knocking, you miserable
old blowhard? You ought to have your face thumped, and, by thunder! I
believe I can do it!"

"Sah!" gasped the colonel, in the greatest amazement and dismay.

"Don't 'sah' me, you measly old fraud!" howled Scotch, waving his fists
in the air. "I don't believe in fighting, but this is about my time to
scrap. If you don't apologize for the intrusion, may I be blown to ten
thousand fragments if I don't give you a pair of beautiful black eyes!"

"Sah, there seems to be some mistake, sah," fluttered Colonel Vallier,
turning pale.

"You made the mistake!" thundered Scotch, leaping to his feet like a
jumping jack. "Get up here, and let me knock you down!"

"I decline to be struck, sah."

"You don't dare to get up!" howled the excited little man, growing still
worse, as the colonel seemed to shrink and falter. "Why, I can lick you
in a fraction of no time! You've been making lots of fighting talk, and
now it's my turn. Get up and put up your fists."

"Will somebody kindly hold this lunatic?" palpitated Colonel Vallier. "I
am no prize-fightah, gentlemen."

"That isn't my lookout," said the professor, who was forcing things
while they ran his way. "Get up and take off your coat! We'll settle
this affair without delay."

"With pistols, sah?"

"Yes, with pistols, if you want to!" cried the professor, to the
amazement of the boys. "I am ready, sir. We will settle it with pistols,
at once, in this room."

"But this is no place foh a duel, sah; yo' should know that, sah."

"This is just the place."

"The one who survives will be arrested, sah."

"There won't be a survivor, so you needn't fear arrest."

"No survivah, sah?"

"No."

"How is that?"

"I'll tell you how it is. You are such a blamed coward that you won't
fight me with your fists, for fear I will give you the thumping you
deserve; but you know you are a good pistol shot, and you think I am
not, so you hope to shoot me, and escape without harm to yourself. Well,
I am no pistol shot, but I am not going to miss you. We'll shoot across
that center table, and the width of the table is the distance that will
divide us. In that way, I'll stand as good a show as you do, and I'll
agree to shoot you through the body very near to the heart, so you'll
not linger long in agony. Come, sir, get ready."

Colonel Vallier actually staggered.

"Sah--sah!" he fluttered; "you're shorely crazy!"

"Not a bit of it. Come, get ready!"

"This is murder, sah!"

"It is a square deal. One has as good show as the other."

"But I--I never heard of such a duel--never!"

"There are many things you have never heard about, Colonel Vallier."

"But, sah, I can't fight that way! You'll have to excuse me, sah."

"What's that!" howled the little professor, dancing about in his night
robe. "Do you refuse to give me satisfaction?"

"I refuse to be murdered."

"Then you'll apologize?"

The colonel gasped.

"Apologize! Why, I can't----"

"Then I'm going to give you those black eyes just as sure as my name is
Scotch! Put up your fists!"

The colonel retreated, holding up his hands helplessly, while the
professor pranced after him like a fighting cock.

"This is disgraceful!" snapped Rolf Raymond, taking a step, as if to
interfere. "It must be stopped at once!"

"Hold on!" came sternly from Frank. "Don't chip in where you're not
wanted, Mr. Raymond. Let them settle this matter themselves."

"Thot's roight, me laddybuck," said Barney Mulloy. "If you bother thim,
it's a pair av black oies ye may own yersilf."

"We did not come here to be bullied."

"No," said Frank; "you came to play the bullies, and the tables have
been turned on you. Take it easy."

The two boys placed themselves in such a position that they could
prevent Raymond from interfering between the colonel and the professor.

"Don't strike me, sah!" gasped Vallier, holding up his open hands, with
the palms toward the bantam-like professor.

"Then do you apologize?"

"You will strike me if I do not apologize?"

"You may bet your life that I will, colonel."

"Then I--ah--I'll have to apologize, sah."

"And this settles the entire affair between us?"

"Eh--I don't know about that."

"Well, you had better know. Does this settle the entire affair?"

"I suppose so, sah."

"You apologize most humbly?"

"I do."

"And you state of your own free will that this settles all trouble
between us?"

The colonel hesitated, and Scotch lifted his fists menacingly.

"I do, sah--I do!" Vallier hastened to say.

"Then that's right," said Professor Scotch, airily. "You have escaped
the worst thumping you ever received in all your life, and you should
congratulate yourself."

Frank felt like cheering with delight. Surely Professor Scotch had done
himself proud, and the termination of the affair had been quite
unexpected by the boys.



CHAPTER XX.

THE PROFESSOR'S COURAGE.


Colonel Vallier seemed utterly crestfallen and subdued, but Rolf
Raymond's face was dark with anger, as he harshly said:

"Now that this foolishness is over, we will proceed to business."

"That's right," bowed Frank. "The quicker you proceed the better
satisfied we will be. Go ahead."

Rolf turned fiercely on Frank, almost snarling:

"You must have been at the bottom of it all! Where is she?"

Frank was astonished, as his face plainly showed.

"Where is she?" he repeated.

"Whom do you mean, sir?"

"It is useless to pretend that you do not know. You must have found an
opportunity to communicate with her somehow, although how you
accomplished it is more than I understand."

"You are speaking in riddles. Say what you mean, man."

"I will. If you do not immediately tell us where she is, you will find
yourself in serious trouble. Is that plain enough?"

A light came to Frank.

"Do you mean the Queen of Flowers?" he eagerly asked.

"You know I mean the Queen of Flowers."

"And you do not know what has become of her?"

"How can we? She disappeared mysteriously from the ballroom. No one saw
her leave, but she went."

"She must have returned to her home."

"That will not go with us, Merriwell, for we hastened to the place where
she is stopping with her father, and she was not there, nor had he seen
her. He cannot live long, and this blow will hasten the end. You will be
responsible. Take my advice and give her up at once, unless you wish to
get into trouble of a most serious nature."

Frank saw that Raymond actually believed he knew what had become of the
Flower Queen.

"Look here," came swiftly from the boy's lips, "it is plain this is no
time to waste words. I do not know what has become of the Flower Queen,
that is straight. I did know she had disappeared from the ballroom, but
I supposed she had returned to her home. I do not know her name as yet,
although she knows mine. If anything has happened to her, I am not
responsible; but I take a great interest in her, and I am ready and
eager to be of assistance to her. Tell me her name, as that will aid
me."

Rolf Raymond could not doubt Frank's words, for honesty was written on
the boy's face.

"Her name," he said--"her name is--for you to learn."

His taunting laugh brought the warm blood to Frank's face.

"All right!" cried the boy from the North. "I'll learn it, no thanks to
you. More than that, if she needs my aid, she shall have it. It strikes
me that she may have fled of her own accord to escape being persecuted
by you. If so----"

"What then?"

"We'll meet again."

"That we will! Colonel Vallier may have settled his trouble with
Professor Scotch, but mine is not settled with you."

"You are right."

"We may yet meet on the field of honor."

"I shall be pleased to accommodate you," flashed Frank; "and the sooner,
the better it will satisfy me."

"Thot's th' talk!" cried Barney Mulloy, admiringly. "You can do th'
spalpane, Frankie, at any old thing he'll name!"

"The disappearance of Miss ----, the Flower Queen, prevents the setting
of a time and place," said Raymond, passionately; "but you shall be
waited on as soon as she is found. Until then I must let nothing
interfere with my search for her."

"Very good; that is satisfactory to me, and I will do my best to help
find her for you. Now, if your business is quite over, gentlemen, your
room would give us much more pleasure than your company."

Not another word did Raymond or Vallier say, but they strode stiffly to
the door and bowed themselves out. Barney closed the door after them.

Then both the boys turned on Professor Scotch, to find he had collapsed
into a chair, and seemed on the point of swooning.

"Professor," cried Frank, "I want to congratulate you! That was the best
piece of work you ever did in all your life."

"Profissor," exclaimed Barney, "ye're a jewil! Av inny wan iver says you
lack nerve, may Oi be bitten by th' wurrust shnake in Oireland av Oi
don't break his head!"

"Boys!" gasped the professor, "fan me! I can't seem to get my breath!
How did I do it? It scares me to think of it."

"You were a man, professor, and you showed Colonel Vallier that you were
utterly reckless. You seemed eager for a fight."

"Fight!" groaned the little man. "I couldn't fight a child! I never
fought in my life. I don't know how to fight."

"Colonel Vallier didn't know that. It was plain, he believed you a
desperate slugger, and he wilted immediately."

"But I can't understand how I came to do such a thing. Till their
unwarranted intrusion--till I collided with the colonel--I was in terror
for my life. The moment we collided I seemed to forget that I was
scared, and I remembered only that I was mad."

"And you seemed more than eager for a scrap."

"Ye samed doying fer a bit av a row, profissor."

"What if he had struck me!" palpitated the little man. "Oh, gracious! It
would have been terrible!"

"For him. If he'd struck you, you'd been so mad that nothing could have
stopped you. You would have waded into him, and given him the worst
thrashing he ever received."

"Thot's pwhat ye would, profissor, sure as fate."

Scotch began to revive, and the words of the boys convinced him that he
was really a very brave man, and had done a most daring thing. Little by
little, he began to swell, like a toad.

"I don't know but you're right," he said, stiffening up. "I was utterly
reckless and desperate at the time."

"That's right, professor."

"Profissor, ye're a bad mon ter buck against."

"That is a fact that has not been generally known, but, having cowed one
of the most desperate duelists in the South, and forced him to
apologize, I presume I have a right to make some pretensions."

"That's a fact."

"Ye've made a riccord fer yersilf."

"And a record to be proud of," crowed the little man, getting on his
feet and beginning to strut, forgetful of the fact that he was in his
night robe and presented a most ludicrous appearance. "The events of
this evening shall become a part of history. Future generations shall
regard me as one of the most nervy and daring men of my age. And really,
I don't know but I am. What's the use of being a coward when you can be
a hero just as well. Boys, this adventure has made a different man of
me. Hereafter, you will see that I'll not quail in the face of the most
deadly dangers. I'll even dare to walk up to the mouth of a cannon--if I
know it isn't loaded."

The boys were forced to laugh at his bantam-like appearance, but, for
all of the queer twist he had given his last expression, the professor
seemed very serious, and it was plain that he had begun to regard
himself with admiration.

"Think, boys," he cried--"think of my offer to fight him with pistols
across yonder narrow table!"

"That was a stroke of genius, professor," declared Frank. "That broke
Colonel Vallier up more than anything else."

"He wilted at that."

"Of course you did not mean to actually fight him that way?"

"Well, I don't know," swelled the little man. "I was reckless then, and
I didn't care for anything."

Suddenly Frank grew grave.

"This other matter they spoke of worries me," he said. "I can't
understand what has happened to the Queen of Flowers."

"Ye mustn't let thot worry yez, me b'y."

"I can't help it."

"She may be home by this toime."

"And she may be in desperate need of a helping hand."

"Av she is, Oi dunno how ye can hilp her, Frankie."

"Nor do I know of any way. Why should any one kidnap her?"

"Oi dunno."

"It would be a most daring thing to do, as she is so well known; but
there are daring and desperate ruffians in New Orleans."

"Oi think ye're roight, me b'y."

"It may be that she has been persecuted so that she fled of her own
accord, and yet I hardly think that is true."

"No more do Oi, Frankie."

"If it is not true, surely she is in trouble."

"Well?"

"Oh, I can't remain quietly here, knowing she may need aid!"

"Pwhat will yez do?"

"I am going out."

"Where?"

"Somewhere--anywhere! Will you come along?"

"Sure, me b'y, Oi'm wid yez firrust, larrust, an' all th' toime!"



CHAPTER XXI.

FRANK'S BOLD MOVE.


The professor declined to go out. He returned to bed, and the boys left
the hotel.

"Where away, Frankie?" asked Barney.

"I don't know," replied Frank, helplessly. "There is not one chance in
millions of finding the lost Flower Queen, but I feel that I must move
about. We'll visit the old French quarter by night. I have been there in
the daytime, and I'd like to see how it looks at night. Come on."

And so they made their way to the French quarter, crossing Canal Street
and turning into a quiet, narrow way, that soon brought them to a region
of architectural decrepitude.

The streets of this section were not overlighted, and seemed very silent
and lonely, as, at this particular time, the greater part of the
inhabitants of the quarter were away to the scenes of pleasure.

The streets echoed to the boys' feet. There were queer balconies on
every hand, the stores were mere shops, all of them now closed, and many
windows were nailed up. Rust and decay were on all sides, and yet there
was something impressive in the almost Oriental squalor of the place.

"It sames loike we'd left th' city intoirely for another place, so it
does," muttered Barney.

"That is true," admitted Frank. "New Orleans seems like a human being
with two personalities. For me this is the most interesting part of the
city; but commerce is beginning to crowd in here, and the time is coming
when the French quarter will cease to be an attraction for New Orleans."

"D'ye think not, Frankie?"

"It is a certain thing."

"Well, we'll get our look at it before it is gone intoirely."

A few dark figures were moving silently along the streets. The night was
warm, and the shutters of the balcony windows were opened to admit air.

At a corner they halted, and, of a sudden, Frank clutched the arm of his
companion, whispering:

"Look--see that man?"

"Yes, me b'y."

"Did you see his face?"

"Nivver a bit."

"Well, I did, and I do not believe I am mistaken in thinking I have seen
it before."

"Whin?"

"To-night."

"Pwhere?"

"In the alley where I was trapped by Manuel Mazaro and his gang."

"It wur darruk in there, Frankie."

"But I fired my revolver, and by the flash I saw a face."

"So ye soay."

"It was the face of the man who just passed beneath this light."

"An' pwhat av thot, Frankie?"

"He might lead me to Manuel Mazaro."

"Pwhat do yez want to see thot spalpane fer?"

"Mazaro knows a good deal."

"Fer instance, pwhat?"

"Why I was attacked, and the object of the attack. He might be induced
to tell."

"It sure wur a case av intinded robbery, me b'y."

"Perhaps so, perhaps not. But he knows more. He knows all about Rolf
Raymond and Colonel Vallier."

"Well?"

"Rolf Raymond and Colonel Vallier know a great deal about the lost
Flower Queen. It is possible Mazaro knows something of her. Come on,
Barney; we'll follow that man."

"Jist as ye say, me lad."

"Take the other side of the street, and keep him in sight, but do not
seem to be following him."

They separated, and both kept in sight of the man, who did not seem to
fear pursuit or dream any one was shadowing him.

He led them straight to an antiquated story and a half Creole cottage,
shaded by a large willow tree, the branches of which touched the sides
and swept the round tiles of the roof. The foliage of the old tree half
concealed the discolored stucco, which was dropping off in many places.

Over the door was a sign which announced that it was a café. The door
was open, and, in the first room could be seen some men who were eating
and drinking at a table. There was another room beyond.

The man the boys had followed entered the cottage, passed through the
first room, speaking to the men at the table, and disappeared into the
room beyond.

Frank and Barney paused outside.

"Are yez goin' to folly him, Frankie, b'y?" asked the Irish lad.

"To be sure I am."

"There's no tellin' pwhat koind av a nest ye will get inther."

"I'll have to take my chances on that."

"Thin Oi'm wid yez."

"No, I want you to remain outside, so you will be on hand in case I need
air."

"How'll I know ye nade it?"

"You'll hear me cry or shoot."

"Av Oi do, you'll see Barney Mulloy comin' loike a cyclone."

"I know I may depend on you, and I know this may be a nest of assassins.
These Spaniards are hot-blooded fellows, and they make dangerous
rascals."

Frank looked at his revolver, to make sure it was in perfect working
order, dropped it into the side pocket of his coat, and walked boldly
into the cottage café.

The men in the front room stared at him in surprise, but he did not seem
to give them a glance, walking straight through into the next room.

There he saw two Spanish-looking fellows talking in low tones over a
table, on which drinks were setting.

One of them was the man he had followed.

They were surprised to see the boy coolly walk into the room, and
advance without hesitation to their table.

The one Frank had followed seemed to recognize the lad, and he appeared
startled and somewhat alarmed.

With the greatest politeness, Frank touched his cap, asking:

"Señor, do you know Manuel Mazaro?"

The fellow scowled, and hesitated, and then retorted:

"What if I do?"

"I want to see him."

"And you have come here for that?"

"Yes."

"I will see if he be here. Wait."

At one side of the room was a door, opening on a dark flight of stairs.
Through this doorway and up the stairs the fellow disappeared.

Frank sat down at the table, feeling the revolver in the side pocket of
his coat.

The other man did not attempt to make any conversation.

In a few minutes the one who had ascended the stairs reappeared.

"Señor Mazaro will soon be down," he announced.

Then he sat at the table, and resumed conversation with his companion,
speaking in Spanish, and not even seeming to hear the "thank you" from
Frank.

It was not long before Mazaro appeared, and he came forward without
hesitation, smiling serenely, as if delighted to see the boy.

"Oh, señor!" he cried, "yo' be not harm in de scrape what we run into?"

"I was not harmed, no, thanks to you, Mazaro," said the boy, coolly. "It
is a wonder that I came out with a whole skin."

"Señor, you do not blame me fo' dat? I deed not know-a it--I deed not
know-a de robbares were there."

"Mazaro, you are a very good liar, but it will not work with me."

The Spaniard showed his teeth, and fell back a step.

"De young señor speak-a ver' plain," he said.

"It is my way. Mazaro, we may as well understand each other first as
last. You are a scoundrel, and you're out for the dollars. Now, it is
possible you can make more money by serving me than in any other way. If
you can help me, I will pay you well."

Mazaro looked ready to sink a knife into Frank's heart a moment before,
but he suddenly thawed. With the utmost politeness, he said:

"I do not think-a I know what de señor mean. If he speak-a litt'l
plainer, mebbe I ondarstan'."

"Sit down, Mazaro."

The Spaniard took a seat at the table.

"Now," said Frank, quietly, "order what you wish to drink, and I will
pay for it. I never drink myself, and I never carry much money with me
nights, but I have enough to pay for your drink."

"De señor is ver' kind," bowed Manuel, and he ordered a drink, which was
brought by a villainous-looking old woman.

Frank paid, and, when Mazaro was sipping the liquid, he leaned forward
and said:

"Señor Mazaro, you know Rolf Raymond?"

"Si, señor."

"And Colonel Vallier?"

"Si, señor."

"And the Queen of Flowers?"

"I know of her, señor; I see her to-day."

"You know more. She has disappeared, and you know what has become of
her."

It was a chance shot, but Frank saw it went home.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE QUEEN IS FOUND.


Mazaro changed color, and then he regained his composure.

"Señor," he said, smoothly, "I know-a not what made you t'ink dat."

"I do not think; I know."

"Wondareful--ver' wondareful," purred the Spaniard, in mock admiration.
"You give-a me great s'prise."

Frank was angry, but he held himself in restraint, appearing cool.

"Your face betrayed it."

"Ah! Dat show yo' have-a ver' gre't eye, señor."

"You do not deny it?"

"Why should I do dat when you know-a so much?"

"You dare not deny it."

"Dare, señor? I dare ver' many thing you do not know."

Mazaro was exasperatingly cool.

"Look here, man," said Frank, leaning toward the Spaniard; "are you
aware that you may get yourself into serious trouble? Are you aware that
kidnaping is an offense that makes you a criminal of the worst sort, and
for which you might be sent up for twenty years, at least?"

The Spaniard smiled.

"It is eeze to talk, but dat is not proof," he said.

"You scoundrel!" exclaimed the boy, his anger getting the better of him
for the moment. "I have a mind to convey my suspicions to the police,
and then----"

"An' den what, señor? Ah! you talk ver' bol' fo' boy like you. Do you
know-a what? Well, see; if I snappa my fingare, quick like a flash you
get a knife 'tween your shouldares. Den you not tell-a the police."

Frank could not repress a shiver. He looked swiftly around, and saw the
black eyes of the other two men were fastened upon him, and he knew
they were ready to obey Mazaro's signal.

"W'at yo' t'ink-a, señor?" smiled Manuel, insolently.

"That is very well," came calmly from Frank's lips. "If I were to give
the signal my friends would rush in here to my aid. If you stab me, make
sure the knife goes through my heart with the first stroke, so there
will be little chance that I'll cry out."

"Den you have-a friends near, ha? I t'ink so mebbe. Call-a dem in."

"No, thank you. They will remain outside till they are needed."

"Ver' well. Now we undarestan' each odder. Yo' have-a some more to say?"

"Yes."

"Say him."

"I have told you that you might find it profitable to serve me."

"I hear dat."

"I meant it."

"W'at yo' want done?"

"No dirty work--no throat-cutting. I want information."

"Ha! W'at yo' want-a know?"

"I want to know who the Queen of Flowers is."

"Any more?"

"Yes; I want to know where she is, and you can tell me."

"Yo' say dat, but yo' can't prove it. I don't say anyt'ing, señor. 'Bo't
how much yo' pay fo' that info'mation, ha?"

"Good money, and a fair price."

"Fair price notting; I want good-a price. Undarestand-a?"

"I understand."

"W'at yo' gif?"

"To know where she is? A hundred dollars."

Mazaro smiled scornfully.

"Dat notting. Yo' don' talk de biz. Yo' don' have-a de mon' enough."

"Wait," urged Frank. "I am a Yankee, from the North, and I will make a
trade with you."

"All-a right, but I don't admit I know anyt'ing."

Manuel leaned back in his chair, lazily and deftly rolling a cigarette,
which he lighted. Frank watched this piece of business, thinking of the
best manner of approaching the fellow.

And then something happened that electrified every one within the café.

Somewhere above there came the sound of blows, and a crashing,
splintering sound, as of breaking wood. Then a shriek ran through the
building.

"Help! Help! Save me!"

It was the voice of a female in great terror and distress.

Mazaro ground a curse through his white teeth, and leaped to his feet,
but Frank was on his feet quite as quickly.

Smack! Frank's arm had shot out, and his hard fist struck the Spaniard
under the ear, sending the fellow flying through the air and up against
the wall with terrible force. From the wall Mazaro dropped, limp and
groaning, to the floor.

Like a flash, the nervy youth flung the table against the downcast
wretch's companions, making them reel.

Then Frank leaped toward the stairs, up which he bounded like a deer.

"Where are you?" he cried. "I am here to help you! Call again!"

No answer.

Near the head of the stairs a light shone out through a broken panel in
a door, and on this door Frank knew the blows he had heard must have
fallen.

Within this room the boy fancied he could hear sounds of a desperate
struggle.

Behind him the desperadoes were rallying, cursing hoarsely, and crying
to each other. They were coming, and the lad on the stairs knew they
would come armed to the teeth.

All the chivalry in his nature was aroused. His blood was leaping and
tingling in his veins, and he felt able to cope with a hundred foes.

Straight toward the broken door he leaped, and his hand found the knob,
but it refused to yield at his touch.

"Fast!" he panted. "Well, I'll try this!"

He hurled himself against the door, but it remained firm.

There were feet on the stairs; the desperadoes were coming.

At that moment he looked into the room through the break in the panel,
and he saw a girl struggling with all her strength in the hands of a
man. The man was trying to hold a hand over her mouth to keep her from
crying out again, while a torrent of angry Spanish words poured in a
hissing sound from his bearded lips.

As Frank looked the girl tore the fellow's hand from her lips, and her
cry for help again rang out.

The wretch lifted his fist to strike her senseless, but the blow did not
fall.

Frank was a remarkably good shot, and his revolver was in his hand. That
hand was flung upward to the opening in the panel, and he fired into the
room.

The burst of smoke kept him from seeing the result of the shot, but he
heard a hoarse roar of pain from the man, and he knew he had not missed.

He had fired at the fellow's wrist, and the bullet had shattered it.

But now the ruffians who were coming furiously up the stairs demanded
his attention.

"Halt!" he shouted. "Stop where you are, or I shall open fire on you!"

He could see them, and he saw the foremost lift his hand. Then there was
a burst of flame before Frank's eyes, and he staggered backward, feeling
a bullet near his cheek.

Not till that moment did he realize what a trap he was in, and how
desperate was his situation.

"It is a fight for life!" he muttered, as he lifted his revolver.

The smell of burned powder was in his nostrils, the fire of battle
gleamed from his eyes.

The weapon in Frank's hand spoke again, and once more he found his game,
for the leading ruffian, having almost reached the head of the stairs,
flung up his arms, with a gurgling sound, and toppled backward upon
those who were following.

Down the stairs they all tumbled, falling in a heap at the bottom, where
they struggled, squirmed, and shouted.

"So far everything is very serene!" half laughed the daring boy. "This
has turned out to be a real lively night."

Frank was a lad who never deliberately sought danger for danger's sake,
but when his blood was aroused, he entirely forgot to be afraid, and he
felt a wild thrill of joy when in the greatest peril.

For the time, he had entirely forgotten the existence of Barney Mulloy,
but now he remembered that the Irish lad had waited outside the cottage
café.

"He has heard the rumpus," said Frank, aloud. "I wonder where Barney can
be?"

"Whist, be aisy, me lad!" retorted the familiar voice of the Irish
youth. "Oi'm wid yez to th' ind!"

Barney was close behind Frank!

"How in the world did you get here?" cried our hero, in great
astonishment.

"Oi climbed the tray, me b'y."

"The tree? What tree?"

"Th' willey tray as shtands forninst th' corner av th' house, Frankie."

"But that does not explain how you came here at my side."

"There was a windy open, an' Oi shlipped in by th' windy."

"Well, you're a dandy, Barney!"

"An' ye're a birrud, Frankie. What koind av a muss hiv ye dhropped into
now, Oi'd loike ter know?"

"A regular ruction. I heard a girl shout for help, and I knocked over
two or three chaps, Mazaro included, on my way to her aid."

"Where is she now, b'y?"

"In here," said Frank, pointing through the broken panel. "She is the
missing Queen of Flowers! There she is, Barney! See here!"

Then Frank obtained a fair look at the girl's face, staggered, clutched
Barney, and shouted:

"Look! By heavens! It is not strange she knew me, for we both know her!
She is Inza Burrage!"



CHAPTER XXIII.

FIGHTING LADS.


While attending school at Fardale Military Academy, Frank had met and
become acquainted with a charming girl by the name of Inza Burrage. They
had been very friendly--more than friendly; in a boy and girl way, they
were lovers.

After leaving Fardale and starting to travel, Frank had written to Inza,
and she had answered. For a time the correspondence had continued, but,
at last, Frank had failed to receive any answers to his letters. He
wrote again and again, but never a line came from Inza, and he finally
decided she had grown tired of him, and had taken this method of
dropping him.

Frank was proud and sensitive, and he resolved to forget Inza. This was
not easy, but he thought of her as little as possible, and never spoke
of her to any one.

And now he had met her in this remarkable manner. Some fellow had
written him from Fardale that Mr. Burrage had moved from the place, but
no one seemed to know whither he had gone. Frank had not dreamed of
seeing Inza in New Orleans, but she was the mysterious Queen of Flowers,
and, for some reason, she was in trouble and peril.

Although dazed by his astonishing discovery, the boy quickly recovered,
and he felt that he could battle with a hundred ruffians in the defense
of the girl beyond the broken door.

Barney Mulloy seemed no less astonished than Frank.

"Be me soul! it is thot lassie!" he cried.

"Inza! Inza!" shouted Frank, through the broken panel.

She heard him.

"Frank! Frank! Save me!"

"I will!"

The promise was given with the utmost confidence.

At that moment, however, the ruffian whose wrist Frank had broken,
leaped upon the girl and grasped her with his uninjured arm.

"_Carramba!_" he snarled. "You save-a her? Bah! Fool! You never git-a
out with whole skin!"

"Drop her, you dog!" cried Frank, pointing his revolver at the
fellow--"drop her, or I'll put a bullet through your head, instead of
your wrist!"

"Bah! Shoot! You kill-a her!"

He held the struggling girl before him as a shield.

Like a raging lion, Frank tore at the panel.

The man with the girl swiftly moved back to a door at the farther side
of the room. This door he had already unfastened and flung open.

"_Adios!_" he cried, derisively. "Some time I square wid you for my
hand-a! _Adios!_"

"Th' spalpanes are comin' up th' shtairs again, Frankie!" cried Barney,
in the ear of the desperate boy at the door.

Frank did not seem to hear; he was striving to break the stout panel so
that he could force his way through the opening.

"Frank! Frank! they're coming up th' shtairs!"

"Let them come!"

"They'll make mince mate av us!"

"I must follow her!"

"Well, folly, av ye want to!" shouted the Irish lad. "Oi'm goin' to
shtop th' gang!"

Crack! The panel gave. Crack! splinter! smash! Out came a long strip,
which Frank flung upon the floor.

Barney caught it up and whirled toward the stairs.

The desperadoes were coming with a rush--they were well up the stairs.
In another moment the leading ruffian would have reached the second
floor.

"Get back, ye gossoons! Down, ye haythen! Take thot, ye bloody pirates!"

The strip of heavy wood in Barney's hands whirled through the air, and
came down with a resounding crack on the head of the leader.

The fellows had not learned caution by the fate of the first man to
climb the stairs, and they were following their second leader as close
as possible.

Barney had a strong arm, and he struck the fellow with all his power.
Well it was for the ruffian that the heavy wood was not very thick, else
he would have had a broken head.

Back he toppled upon the one behind, and that one made a vain attempt to
support him. The dead weight was too much, and the second fell, again
sweeping the whole lot to the foot of the stairs.

"Hurro!" shouted the Irish boy, in wild delight. "This is th' koind av a
picnic pwhat Oi admire! Come on, ye nagurs! It's Barney Mulloy ye're
runnin' up against, an' begobs! he's good fer th' whole crowd av yez!"

At the foot of the stairs there was a writhing, wrangling, snarling mass
of human beings; at the head of the stairs was a young Irishman who
laughed and crowed and flourished the cudgel of wood in his hands.

Barney, feeling his blood leaping joyously in his veins, felt like
singing, and so he began to warble a "fighting song," over and over
inviting his enemies to come on.

In the meantime Frank had made an opening large enough to force his body
through.

"Come on, Barney!" he cried, attracting the other boy's attention by a
sharp blow.

"Pwhere?"

"In here--somewhere."

"Frankie, ye're muddled, an' Oi nivver saw yez so before."

"What do you mean?"

"Nivver a bit would it do for us both to go in there, fer th' craythers
moight hiv us in a thrap."

"You're right, Barney. I will go. You stay here and hold the ruffians
back. Here--take my revolver. You'll need it."

"G'wan wid yez! Quit yer foolin', Frankie! Oi hiv an illigant shillaly
here, an' thot's all Oi nade, unliss ye have two revolvers."

"This is the only one I have."

"Thin kape it, me b'y, fer ye'll nade it before ye save the lass, Oi
think."

"I think you may be right, Barney. Here goes! Hold them back. I'll not
desert you."

"It's nivver a bit Oi worry about thot, Frankie. G'wan!"

Through the panel Frank forced his way. As soon as he was within the
room he ran for the door through which the ruffian had dragged Inza.

Frank knew that the fellow might be waiting just beyond the door, knife
in hand, and he sprang through with his revolver held ready for instant
use.

There was no light in the room, but the light from the lamp in the
adjoining room shone in at the doorway.

Frank looked around, and, to his dismay, he could see no one.

"Are they gone?" he asked himself. "If so, whither?"

It was not long before he was convinced that the room was empty of any
living being save himself.

The Spanish ruffian and the unfortunate girl had disappeared.

"Oh, confound the infernal luck!" raved the boy. "He has escaped with
her! But I did my best, and I followed as soon as possible."

Then he remembered that he had promised Inza he would save her, and it
wrung a groan from his lips.

"Which way have they gone?" he cried, beginning to look for a door that
led from the room.

By this time he was accustomed to the dim light, and he saw a door. In a
twinkling he had tried it, but found it was locked or bolted on the
farther side.

"The fellow had little time and no hands to lock a door. He may not have
gone this way. He must, for this is the only door to the room, save the
one by which I entered. He went out this way, and I will follow!"

Retreating to the farther side of the room, Frank made a run and plunged
against the door.

It was bolted on the farther side, and the shock snapped the iron bolt
as if it had been a pipe stem.

Bang! Open flew the door, and Frank went reeling through, revolver in
hand, somewhat dazed, but still determined and fierce as a young tiger.

At a glance he saw he was in a small room, with two doors standing
open--the one he had just broken down and another. Through this other he
leaped, and found himself in a long passage, at the farther end of which
Barney Mulloy was still guarding the head of the stairs, once more
singing the wild "fighting song."

Not a trace of the ruffian or the kidnaped girl could Frank see.

"Gone!" he palpitated, mystified and awe-stricken. "Gone--where?"

That was a question he could not answer for a moment, and then----

"The window in that room! It is the one by which Barney entered! It must
be the one by which the wretch fled with Inza!"

Back into the room he had just left he leaped. Two bounds carried him to
the window, against which brushed the branch of the old willow tree.

He looked out.

"There they are!"

The exultant words came in a panting whisper from his lips as he saw
some dark figures on the ground beneath the tree. He was sure he saw a
female form among them, and his ears did not deceive him, for he heard
at last a smothered appeal for help.

Then two other forms rushed out of the shadows and fell upon the men
beneath the tree, striking right and left!

There was a short, fierce struggle, a woman's shriek, the death groan of
a stricken man, a pistol shot, and scattering forms.

Without pausing to measure the distance to the ground, Frank sprang over
the window sill and dropped.



CHAPTER XXIV.

END OF THE SEARCH.


Like a cat, Frank alighted on his feet, and he was ready for anything
the moment he struck the ground.

There was no longer any fighting beneath the tree. The struggling mass
had melted to two dark figures, one of which was stretched on the
ground, while the other bent over it.

Frank sprang forward and caught the kneeling one by the shoulder.

"What has become of her?" he demanded, fiercely.

The man looked up, astonished.

It was Colonel La Salle Vallier!

"Yo', sah?" he exclaimed.

"You?" cried Frank.

Then the boy recovered, again demanding:

"What has become of Miss Burrage? She was here a moment ago."

The colonel looked around in a dazed way, slowly saying:

"Yes, sah, she was here, fo' Mistah Raymon' heard her voice, and he
rushed in to save her."

"Raymond? Where is he?"

"Here, sah."

The colonel motioned toward the silent form on the ground, and Frank
bent forward to peer into the white, ghastly face.

It was, indeed, Rolf Raymond.

"Dead?" fluttered Frank.

"Dead!" replied Colonel Vallier.

"He was killed in the struggle?"

"He was stabbed at the ver' start, sah. The knife must have struck his
heart."

"Merciful goodness!" gasped the boy, horrified. "And how came he here?"

"We were searching fo' Manuel Mazaro, sah. Mistah Raymon' did not trus'
the rascal, and he believed Mazaro might know something about Miss
Burrage. Mazaro is ready fo' anything, and he knew big money would be
offered fo' the recovery of the young lady, so he must have kidnaped
her. We knew where to find Mazaro, though he did not suppose so, and we
came here. As we approached, we saw some figures beneath this tree. Then
we heard a feminine cry fo' help, and we rushed in here, sah. That's
all, except that Mistah Raymon' rushed to his death, and the rascals
have escaped."

"They have escaped with the girl--carried her away!"

"But they will not dare keep her now, sah."

"Why not?"

"Because they are known, and the entire police of the city will be after
them."

"What will they do with her?"

"I don't know, but I do not think they will harm her, sah."

"What was she to Rolf Raymond?"

"His affianced bride, sah."

"Well, she will not marry him now," said Frank; "but I am truly sorry
that the fellow was killed in such a dastardly manner."

"So am I, sah," confessed the queer colonel. "He has been ver' valuable
to me. It will be a long time before I find another like him."

Frank did not understand that remark then, but he did afterward, when he
was told that Colonel Vallier was a professional card sharp, and had
bled Rolf Raymond for many thousands of dollars. This explained the
singular friendship between the sharp old rascal and the young man.

More than that, Frank afterward learned that Colonel Vallier was not a
commissioned officer, had never been such, but had assumed the title.

In many ways the man tried to imitate the Southern gentleman of the old
school, but, as he was not a gentleman at heart, he was a sad failure.

All at once Frank remembered Barney, and that he had promised to stand
by the Irish lad.

"Great Scott!" he cried. "Barney Mulloy is in there with that gang of
raging wolves!"

"Nivver a bit av it, Frankie," chirped a cheerful voice. "Oi am here."

Down from the tree swung the fighting Irish lad, dropping beside his
comrade.

"Th' craythers didn't feel loike comin' up th' shtairs inny more,"
Barney explained. "They seemed to hiv enough sport fer wan avenin'.
Somebody shouted somethin' to thim, an' away they wint out doors, so I
took to lookin' fer yez, me b'y."

"And you found me?"

"Oi looked out av th' windy, an' hearrud yer voice. Thot's whoy Oi came
down. Phat has happened out here, Oi dunno?"

Frank hastily explained.

"Well, it's the avil wan's oun luck!" exclaimed Barney. "But av we shtay
here, Frankie, it's pinched we'll be by the police as will be afther
getting around boy and boy. We'd betther take a sneak."

"Inza----"

"She ain't here inny more, me lad, an' so ye moight as well go."

"You are right. Come on."

Swiftly and silently they slipped away, leaving Colonel Vallier with the
dead youth.

Frank was feeling disgusted and desperate, and he expressed himself
freely as they made their way along the streets.

"It is voile luck," admitted Barney; "but we did our bist, an' it's a
jolly good foight we had. Frankie, we make a whole tame, wid a litthle
yaller dog under th' waggin."

"Oh, I can't think of anything but Inza, Inza, Inza! She----"

"Frank!"

Out of a dark shadow timidly came a female figure.

With a cry of joy, Frank sprang forward, and clasped her in his arms,
lifting her off her feet and covering her face, eyes and mouth with
kisses, while he cried:

"Inza, girl! at last! at last! We fought like fiends to save you, and we
thought we had failed. But now----"

"You did your best, Frank, but that dreadful wretch dragged me to the
window and dropped me into the arms of a monster who was waiting below.
I did not faint--I would not! I made up my mind that I would keep my
senses and try to escape. The man jumped after me, and then a signal was
given that brought the others from the building. They were going to wrap
something about my head when I got my mouth free and cried out. After
that I scarcely know what happened. There was fighting, and I caught a
glimpse of the face of Rolf Raymond. How he came there I do not know. I
felt myself free, and I ran, ran, ran, till I fell here from exhaustion,
and here I lay till I heard your voice. I knew it, and I replied."

"Frankie, me b'y!" cried Barney, "it's a bit ago we were ravin' at our
luck: It's givin' thanks we should be this minute."

"True, Barney, true! It is all right at last. Inza is safe, Rolf Raymond
is dead, and----"

A cry broke from the lips of the girl.

"Rolf Raymond dead?" she exclaimed, wildly. "Are you sure?"

"Sure," replied Frank, coldly. "You will not marry him now."

"I should not have married him anyway."

"But you were affianced to him?"

"By my father--yes. My father and Roderick Raymond, who is a cripple and
has not many more years to live, were schoolmates and friends in their
younger days. Roderick Raymond has made a vast fortune, and in his old
age he set his heart upon having his son marry the daughter of his
former friend and partner. It seems that, when they first got married,
father and Raymond declared, in case the child of one was a boy, and
that of the other was a girl, that their children should marry. Rolf was
Mr. Raymond's only son, as I am an only daughter. Believing himself
ready to die, Roderick Raymond sent to my father and reminded him of
their agreement. As you know, father is not very wealthy, and he is now
an invalid. His mind is not strong, and he became convinced that it was
his duty to see that I married Rolf Raymond. He set his mind on it, and
all my pleadings were in vain. He brought me here to the South, and I
saw Rolf. I disliked him violently the moment my eyes rested on him,
but he seemed to fall madly in love with me. He was fiercely jealous of
me, and watched me as a dog watches its mistress. I could not escape
him, and I was becoming entangled deeper and deeper when you appeared. I
knew you, and I was determined to see you again--to ask you to save me.
I took part in the parade to-night, and went to the ballroom. Rolf
followed me about so that I became disgusted and slipped from the room,
intending to return home alone. Barely had I left the room when a fellow
whispered in my ear that he had been sent there by you--that I was to go
with him, and he would take me to you. I entered a closed carriage, and
I was brought to the place where you found me a captive in the hands of
those ruffians."

Frank had listened with eager interest to this explanation, and it made
everything clear.

"It was ordained by fate that we should find you there," he declared.
"It was known the Queen of Flowers had disappeared, and we were
searching for you. Something led us straight to that place. Rolf Raymond
came there, also, and he came to his death. But, Inza, explain one
thing--why didn't you answer my letters?"

"I answered every one I received. You stopped writing."

"I did not; but I received no answers."

"Then," cried the girl, "your letters must have been intercepted. You
were constantly changing about. I did not know your address, so I could
not ask for an explanation."

"Well, it has come out right at last. We'll find a carriage and take you
home. To-morrow I will see you."

They reached Canal Street, and found a carriage.

Inza's invalid father was astounded when he saw Frank and Barney Mulloy
appear with his daughter, and he was more than ever astounded and
agitated when he knew what had happened.

But Inza was safe, and Rolf Raymond was dead.

It was a lively tale the boys related to Professor Scotch that night.
The little man fairly gasped for breath as he listened.

"Well! well! well!" was all he could say.

In the morning the police had taken hold of the affair, and they were
hot after the fellows who had killed Rolf Raymond. Frank and Barney were
called on to tell their story, and were placed under surveillance.

But the cottage café was deserted, and the Spanish rascals were not
captured. They disappeared from New Orleans, and, to this day, the law
has never avenged the death of Roderick Raymond's only son.

The murder of his boy was too much for Raymond to endure, and he died of
a broken heart on the day of the son's funeral. Knowing he was dying, he
had a new will swiftly made, and all his wealth was left to his old
friend Burrage.

Frank and Barney thoroughly enjoyed the rest of their stay in New
Orleans. In the open carriage with them, at Frank's side, rode the
"Queen of Flowers" as they went sight-seeing.

In the throng of spectators, with two detectives near at hand, they saw
Colonel La Salle Vallier. He lifted his hat and bowed with the utmost
courtesy.

"The auld chap is something of a daisy, after all, Frankie," laughed
Barney. "Oi kinder admire th' spalpane."

"Ha, hum!" coughed Professor Scotch, at Barney's side. "He is a great
duelist--a great duelist, but he quailed before my terrible eye--he was
forced to apologize. Hum, ha!"

Frank leaned toward Inza.

"If anything happens when we are again separated that you should fail to
receive my letters, you will not doubt me, will you?" he asked, in a
whisper.

And she softly replied:

"No, Frank, but----"

"But what?"

"You--you must not forget Elsie Bellwood."

"I haven't heard from her in a long time," said Frank. And there the
talk ended.

But Frank was to hear from his other girl friend soon and in a most
unexpected manner.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE MYSTERIOUS CANOE.


From New Orleans Frank, Barney and the professor journeyed to Florida.

Frank was anxious to see the Everglades and do some hunting.

Our hero was particularly anxious to shoot a golden heron, of which he
had heard not a little.

One day a start was made in a canoe from a small settlement on the edge
of the great Dismal Swamp, and on went our three friends deeper and
deeper into the wilds.

At last the professor grew tired of the sameness of the journey.

"How much further into this wild swamp do you intend to go, Frank?" he
asked.

"I am going till I get a shot at a golden heron."

"Nonsense! There is no golden heron."

"You think so?"

"I know it. The golden heron is a myth. White hunters have searched the
remote fastnesses of the Florida swamps for a golden heron, but no such
bird have they ever found. The Indians are the only ones to see golden
herons."

"If the Indians can see them, white men may find them. I shall not be
satisfied till I have shot one."

"Then you'll never be satisfied."

"Oh, I don't know about that, professor. I am something of an Indian
myself. You know the Seminoles are honest and peaceable, and----"

"All Indians are liars. I would not take the word of a Seminole under
any condition. Come, Frank, don't be foolish; let's turn round and go
back. We may get bewildered on these winding waterways which twist here
and there through swamps of cypress and rushes. We were foolish to come
without a guide, but----"

"We could not obtain one until to-morrow, and I wished to come to-day."

"You may be sorry you did not wait."

"Now, you are getting scared, professor," laughed Frank, lifting his
paddle from the water and laying it across the bow of the canoe. "I'll
tell you what we'll do."

"All right."

"We'll leave it to Barney, who has not had a word to say on the matter.
If he says go back, we'll go back."

Professor Scotch hesitated, scratched his fingers into his fiery beard,
and then said:

"Well, I'll have to do as you boys say, anyway, so we'll leave it to
Barney."

"All right," laughed Frank, once more. "What do you say, Barney, my
boy?"

Barney Mulloy was in the stern of the canoe that had been creeping along
one of the sluggish water courses that led through the cypress swamp and
into the heart of the Everglades.

"Well, gintlemin," he said, "Oi've been so busy thrying to kape thrack
av th' twists an' turruns we have been makin' thot Oi didn't moind mutch
pwhat ye wur soaying. It wur something about turning back. Plaze repate
it again."

So the matter was laid before him, and, when he had heard what Frank and
the professor had to say, he declared:

"Fer mesilf it's nivver a bit do Oi care where we go ur pwhat we do,
but, as long as we hiv come so fur, an' Frankie wants to go furder, Oi'd
soay go on till he is sick av it an' reddy to turn back."

"There, professor!" cried Frank; "that settles it!"

"As I knew it would be settled," growled Professor Scotch, sulkily. "You
boys combine against me every time. Well, I suppose I'll have to
submit."

So the trio pushed on still farther into the great Dismal Swamp, a weird
section of strange vegetable and animal life, where great black trees
stood silent and grim, with Spanish moss dangling from their branches,
bright-plumaged birds flashed across the opens, ugly snakes glided
sinuously over the boggy land, and sleepy alligators slid from muddy
banks and disappeared beneath the surface of the dead water.

The professor continued to grumble.

"If we should come upon one of these wonderful golden herons, Frank
could not come within a hundred yards of it with that old bow and
arrow," he said.

"Couldn't I?" retorted Frank. "Perhaps not, but I could make a bluff at
it."

"I don't see why you won't use a gun."

"Well, there are two reasons. In the first place, in order to be sure of
killing a heron with a shotgun I'd have to use fairly large shot, and
that might injure the bird badly; in the second place, there might be
two, and I'd not be able to bag more than one of them with a gun, as the
report would scare the other. Then there is the possibility that I would
miss with the first shot, and the heron would escape entirely. If I miss
with an arrow, it is not likely the bird will be alarmed and take to
flight, so I'll have another chance at it. Oh, there are some advantages
in using the primitive bow and arrow."

"Bosh!" exploded Scotch. "You have a way of always making out a good
case for yourself. You won't be beaten."

"Begobs! he is a hard b'y to bate, profissor," grinned Barney. "Av he
wurn't, it's dead he'd been long ago."

"That's right, that's right," agreed Scotch, who admired Frank more than
he wished to acknowledge. "He's lucky."

"It's not all luck, profissor," assured the Irish boy. "In minny cases
it's pure nerve thot pulls him through."

"Well, there's a great deal of luck in it--of course there is."

"Oh, humor the professor, Barney," laughed Frank. "Perhaps he'll become
better natured if you do."

They now came to a region of wild cypress woods, where the treetops were
literally packed with old nests, made in the peculiar heron style. They
were constructed of huge bristling piles of cross-laid sticks, not
unlike brush heaps of a Western clearing.

Here for years, almost ages, different species of herons had built their
nests in perfect safety.

As the canoe slowly and silently glided toward the "rookeries," white
and blue herons were seen to rise from the reed-grass and fly across the
opens in a stately manner, with their long necks folded against their
breasts, and their legs projecting stiffly behind them.

"Pwoy don't yez be satisfoied wid a few av th' whoite wans, Frankie?"
asked Barney, softly. "Shure, they're handsome enough."

"They're handsome," admitted Frank; "but a golden heron is worth a large
sum as a curiosity, and I mean to have one."

"All roight, me b'y; have yer own way, lad."

"He'll do that, anyhow," mumbled Professor Scotch, gruffly.

They could now see long, soldier-like lines of herons stretched out
along the reedy swales, standing still and solemn, like pickets on duty.

They were not particularly wary or wild, for they had not been hunted
very much in the wild region which they inhabited.

Little green herons were plentiful, and they kept flying up before the
canoe constantly, scaring the others, till Frank grew very impatient,
declaring:

"Those little rascals will scare away a golden heron, if we are
fortunate enough to come upon one. Confound them!"

"Let me shoot a few of th' varmints," urged Barney, reaching for one of
the guns in the bottom of the canoe.

"Not much!" returned Frank, quickly. "Think what the report of a gun
would do here. Keep still, Barney."

"All roight!" muttered the Irish lad, reluctantly relinquishing his hold
on the gun. "Av ye soay kape still, kape still it is."

Frank instructed the professor to take in his paddle, and Barney was
directed to hold the canoe close to the edge of the rushes. In this
manner, with Frank kneeling in the prow, an arrow ready notched on the
string, he could shoot with very little delay.

Beyond the heron rookery the waterway wound into the depths of a dark,
forbidding region, where the Spanish moss hung thick, and the great
trees leaned over the water.

They had glided past one side of the rookery and were near this dark
opening when an exclamation of surprise came from Frank Merriwell's
lips.

"Phat is it, me b'y?" asked Barney, quickly.

"A canoe."

"Phere?"

"See it yonder."

"Yes, Oi see it now. It's white."

"There must be other hunters near at hand," said the professor.

"The canoe is not drawn up to the bank," said Frank, in a puzzled way.
"It seems to be floating at some distance from the shore."

"Perhaps it is moored out there."

"Why should it be moored in such a place? There are no tides here, and
alligators are not liable to steal canoes."

"Do ye see inny soign av a camp, Frankie?"

"Not a sign of a camp or a human being. This is rather strange."

A strange feeling of wonder that swiftly changed to awe was creeping
over them. The canoe was snowy white, and lay perfectly motionless on
the still surface of the water. It was in the dark shadow beneath the
trees.

"Perhaps the owner of the canoe is lying in the bottom," suggested the
professor.

"We'll see about that," said Frank, putting down the bow and arrow and
taking up a paddle. "Head straight for her, Barney."

With the very first stroke in that direction a most astonishing thing
happened.

The white canoe seemed to swing slightly about, and then, with no
visible occupant and no apparent motive power, it glided smoothly and
gently toward the dark depths of the black forest!

"She's floating away from us!" cried the professor. "There must be a
strong current there!"

"Nivver a bit is she floating!" gasped Barney Mulloy. "Will ye look at
her go! Begobs! Oi fale me hair shtandin' on me head!"

"She is not floating!" Frank said. "See--she gains speed! Look at the
ripple that spreads from her prow!"

"But--but," spluttered Professor Scotch, "what is making her move--what
is propelling her?"

"That's a mystery!" came from Frank, "but it's a mystery I mean to
solve! Get out your paddle, professor. Keep straight after that canoe,
Barney. We'll run her down and look her over."

Then a strange race began, canoe against canoe, the one in the lead
apparently empty, the one pursuing containing three persons who were
using all their strength and skill to overtake the empty craft.


[Illustration: "The white canoe had stopped, and was lying calmly on the
inky surface of the shadowed water." (See page 147)]



CHAPTER XXVI.

STILL MORE MYSTERIOUS.


"Pull!" panted Frank.

"Pull!" mumbled the professor.

"Pull!" snorted Barney, in disgust, great drops of perspiration rolling
down his face. "As if we wurn't pullin'!"

"We're not gaining."

"The white canoe keeps just so far ahead."

"Begobs! it's not our fault at all, at all."

Indeed, no matter how hard they worked, no matter how fast they made the
canoe fly through the water, they could not gain on the mysterious white
canoe. The distance between the two canoes seemed to remain just the
same, and the one in advance slipped through the water without a sound,
following the winding water course beneath the dark trees and going
deeper and deeper into the heart of the swamp.

Other water courses were passed, running away into unknown and
unexplorable wilds. It grew darker and darker, and the feeling of awe
and fear fell more heavily upon them.

At last, exhausted and discouraged, the professor stopped paddling,
crying to his companions, in a husky voice:

"Stop, boys, stop! There is something supernatural about that fiendish
boat! It is luring us to some frightful fate!"

"Nonsense, professor!" retorted Frank. "You are not superstitious--you
have said so at least a score of times."

"That's all right," returned Scotch, shaking his head. "I do not take
any stock in rappings, table tippings, and that kind of stuff, but I
will confess this is too much for me."

"Begobs! Oi don't wonder at thot," gurgled Barney Mulloy, wiping the
great drops of perspiration from his forehead. "It's the divvil's own
canoe, thot is sure!"

"Oh, it's simple enough!" declared Frank, nettled.

"Thin ixplain it fer me, me b'y--ixplain it."

"Oh, I won't say that I can explain it, for I do not pretend to
understand it; but I'll wager that the mystery would be readily solved
if we could overtake and examine that canoe."

"Mebbe so; but I think it nades a stameboat to overtake it."

Professor Scotch shook his head in a most solemn manner.

"Boys," he said, "in all my career I have never seen anything like this,
and I shall never dare tell this adventure, for people in general would
not believe it--they'd think I was lying."

"Without doubt," admitted Frank. "And, still I will wager that the
explanation of the whole matter would seem very simple if we could
overtake that canoe and examine it."

"Perhaps so."

"You speak as if you doubted it."

"Possibly I do."

"I am surprised at you, professor--I am more than surprised."

"I can't help it if you are, my boy."

"I am afraid your mind is beginning to weaken."

"Soay, Frankie," broke in Barney. "Oi loike fun as well as th' nixt wan,
but, be jabbers! it's nivver a bit av it can Oi see in this!"

"See that infernal canoe?" cried the professor, pointing at the mystic
craft. "It has stopped out there in the shadows."

"And seems to be waiting for us to pursue again."

"That's what it's doing."

"I'm ready!" exclaimed Frank.

"I am not," decisively declared Professor Scotch.

"Nayther am Oi!" almost shouted the Irish youth. "It's enough av this
koind av business Oi've been in!"

"We'll turn about," said Scotch, grimly. "That canoe will lure us into
this dismal swamp so far that we'll never find our way out. We'll turn
about at once."

Frank laughed.

"All right," he said. "I suppose I'll have to give up, but I do dislike
to leave without solving the mystery of that canoe."

"It may be thot we're so far in thot we can't foind our way out at all,
at all," said the Irish lad.

"I'm afraid we'll not be able to get out before nightfall," confessed
the professor. "I have no fancy for spending a night in this swamp."

Barney promptly expressed his dislike for such an adventure, but Frank
was silent.

The canoe turned about, and they set about the task of retracing the
water courses by which they had come far into the swamp.

It was not long before they came to a place where the courses divided.
Frank was for following one, while both Barney and the professor
insisted that the other was the right way.

Finally, Frank gave in to them, although it was against his better
judgment, and he felt that he should not submit.

They had not proceeded far before, as they were passing round a bend, a
cry of astonishment fell from Barney's lips.

"Howly shmoke!" he shouted. "Thot bates th' band!"

"What's the matter?" asked Frank and the professor, together.

"Thot whoite canoe!"

"What of it?"

"Look back! Th' thing is afther follying av us!"

They looked back, and, sure enough, there was the mysterious canoe,
gliding after them, like a most uncanny thing!

"Well, I like that!" said Frank, in a tone that plainly indicated he did
not like it. "This is very pleasant!"

"Pull, pull!" throbbed the professor, splashing his paddle into the
water and very nearly upsetting them all. "Don't let the thing overtake
us! Pull, pull!"

"Oi think it's a foine plan to be gettin' out av this," muttered Barney,
in an agitated tone of voice.

"Steady, there, professor," called Frank, sharply. "What do you want to
do--drown us all? Keep cool."

"It's coming!" fluttered the little man, wildly.

"Let it come. As long as we could not overtake it, let it overtake us.
That is a very good scheme."

"Th' skame won't worruck, me b'y. Th' ould thing's shtopped."

It was true; the white canoe had stopped, and was lying calmly on the
inky surface of the shadowed water.

"Well, I can't say that I like this," said Frank.

"And I scarcely think I like it more than you do," came from the
professor.

"An' th' both av yez loike it as well as mesilf," put in the Irish
youth.

"What are we to do?"

"Go on."

Go on they did, but the white canoe still followed, keeping at a
distance.

"I can't stand this," declared Frank, as he picked up a rifle from the
bottom of the canoe. "I wonder how lead will work on her?"

"Pwhat are yez goin' to do, me b'y?" cried Barney, in alarm.

"Shoot a few holes in that craft," was the deliberate answer. "Swing to
the left, so that I may have a good chance."

"Don't shoot!" palpitated the professor.

"Don't shoot!" gurgled Barney.

"What is the matter with you?" demanded Frank, sharply. "You both appear
like frightened children!"

"No telling what'll come of it if you shoot."

"I'll simply put a few holes through that canoe."

"It may be the destruction of us!"

"It may sind us all to glory by th' farrust express."

"Nonsense! Don't be foolish! Swing her to the left, I say. I am going to
shoot, and that settles it."

It was useless for them to urge him not to fire; he was determined, and
nothing they could say would change his mind. The canoe drifted round to
the left, and the rifle rose to Frank's shoulder.

Spang! The clear report rang out and echoed through the cypress forest.

The bullet tore through the white canoe, and the weird craft seemed to
give a leap, like a wounded creature.

"Hit it!" cried Frank, triumphantly.

"Hit it!" echoed the professor, quivering with terror.

"Hit it!" groaned Barney Mulloy, his face white and his eyes staring.
"May all the saints defind us!"

"Look!" shouted Frank. "She is turning about--she is going to leave us!
But I'll put another bullet through her!"

Up the rifle came, but, just as he pressed the trigger, Professor Scotch
pushed the weapon to one side, so the bullet did not pass within twenty
feet of the white canoe.

"Why did you do that?" demanded Frank, angrily.

"I couldn't see you shoot into that canoe again," faltered the agitated
professor. "It was too much--too much!"

"What do you mean by that?"

Professor Scotch shook his head. He could not explain, and he was
ashamed of his agitation and fears.

"Well, you fellows lay over anything I ever went up against!" said
Frank, in disgust. "I didn't suppose you could be so thoroughly
childish."

"All right, Frank," came humbly from the professor's lips. "I can't help
it, and I haven't a word to say."

"But I will take one more shot at that canoe!" vowed Frank.

"Not this day," chuckled Barney Mulloy. "She's gone!"

It was true. The mysterious canoe had vanished from view while they were
speaking.



CHAPTER XXVII.

IN THE EVERGLADES.


"Gone!"

"Disappeared!"

The exclamations came from Frank and Professor Scotch.

Barney's chuckle changed to a shiver, and his teeth chattered.

"Th' Ould B'y's in it!" he chatteringly declared.

"The Old Boy must have been in that canoe," agreed the professor.

Frank was puzzled and disappointed. He still refused to believe there
was anything supernatural about the mysterious, white canoe, but he was
forced to acknowledge to himself that the craft had done most amazing
things.

"It simply slipped into some branch waterway while we were not looking,"
he said, speaking calmly, as if it were the most commonplace thing
imaginable.

"Well, it's gone," said Scotch, as if greatly relieved. "Now, let's get
out of this in a great hurry."

"I am for going back to see what has become of the white canoe," said
Frank, with deliberate intent to make his companions squirm.

Barney and the professor raised a perfect howl of protest.

"Never!" shouted Scotch, nearly upsetting the boat in his excitement,
and wildly flourishing his arms in the air.

"Nivver!" squealed the Irish lad. "Oi'll joomp overboard an' swim out av
this before Oi'll go back!"

Frank laughed.

"You are most amusing," he declared. "I suppose I'll have to give in to
you, as you are two to one."

"Come on," fluttered the professor; "let's be moving."

So Frank put down the rifle, and picked up his paddle, and they resumed
their effort to get out of the swamp before nightfall.

But the afternoon was well advanced, and night was much nearer than they
had thought, as they were soon to discover.

At last, Barney cried:

"Oi see loight enough ahead! We must be near out av th' woods."

Frank said nothing. For a long time he had been certain they were on the
wrong course, but he hoped it would bring them out somewhere. He had
noted the light that indicated they were soon to reach the termination
of the cypress swamp, but he held his enthusiasm in check till he could
be sure they had come out somewhere near where they had entered the
dismal region.

Professor Scotch grew enthusiastic immediately.

"Ha!" he cried, punching Frank in the back. "What do you think now,
young man? Do you mean to say that we don't know our business? What if
we had accepted your way of getting out of the swamp! We'd been in there
now, sir."

"Don't crow till you're out of the woods," advised Frank.

"Begobs! Oi belave he'd be plazed av we didn't get out at all, at all!"
exclaimed Barney, somewhat touched.

In a short time they came to the termination of the cypress woods, but,
to the surprise of Barney and the professor, the swamp, overgrown with
tall rushes and reed-grass, continued, with the water course winding
away through it.

"Pwhat th' ould boy does this mane?" cried the Irish lad.

"It means," said Frank, coolly, "that we have reached the Everglades."

"Th' Ivirglades? Well, pwhat do we want iv thim, Oi dunno?"

"They are one of the sights of Florida, Barney."

"It's soights enough I've seen alreddy. Oi'd loike ter git out av this."

"I knew you wouldn't get out this way, for we have not passed the
rookeries of the herons, as you must remember."

"That's true," sighed the professor, dejectedly. "I hadn't thought of
that. What can we do, boys?"

"Turn about, and retrace our steps," said Frank.

But Barney and the professor raised a vigorous protest.

"Nivver a bit will yez get me inther thot swamp again th' doay!" shouted
the Irish lad, in a most decisive manner.

"If we go back, we'll not be able to get out before darkness comes on,
and we'll have to spend the night in the swamp," said Scotch, excitedly.
"I can't do that."

"Well, what do you propose to do?" asked Frank, quietly. "I don't seem
to have anything to say in this matter. You are running it to suit
yourselves."

They were undecided, but one thing was certain; they would not go back
into the swamp. The white canoe was there, and the professor and the
Irish lad did not care to see that again.

"Whoy not go on, Frankie?" asked Barney. "We're out av th' woods, an',
by follyin' this strame, we ought to get out av th' Iverglades."

"What do you say, professor?" asked Frank, who was rather enjoying the
adventure, although he did not fancy the idea of spending a night on the
marsh.

"Go on--by all means, go on!" roared the little man.

"Go on, it is, then. We'll proceed to explore the Everglades in company
with Professor Scotch, the noted scientist and daring adventurer. Go
ahead!"

So they pushed onward into the Everglades, while the sun sank lower and
lower, finally dropping beneath the horizon.

Night was coming on, and they were in the heart of the Florida
Everglades!

The situation was far from pleasant.

Barney and the professor fell to growling at each other, and they kept
it up while Frank smiled and remained silent.

At length, Scotch took in his paddle in disgust, groaning:

"We're lost!"

"I am inclined to think so myself," admitted Frank, cheerfully.

"Well, who's to blame, Oi'd loike to know?" cried the Irish lad.

"You are!" roared the professor, like a wounded lion.

"G'wan wid yez!" exploded Barney. "It's yersilf thot is to blame!
Frankie wanted to go the other woay, but ye said no."

"Me! me! me!" howled the professor. "Did I? You were the one! You
insisted that this was the proper course to pursue! You are to blame for
it all!"

"Profissor, ye're a little oulder thin Oi be, but av ye wur nigh me age,
Oi'd inform ye thot ye didn't know how to spake th' truth."

"Do you mean to call me a liar, you impudent young rascal?"

"Not now, profissor; but I would av ye wur younger."

"It's all the same! It's an insult, sir!"

"Well, pwhat are yez goin' to do about it?"

"I'll make you swallow the words, you scoundrel!"

"Well, thot would be more av a male thin the rist av ye are loikely to
get th' noight, so it is!"

"Come, come," laughed Frank; "this is no time nor place to quarrel."

"You're right, Frank; but this ungrateful young villain makes me very
tired!"

"Careful, professor--slang."

"Excuse me, but you know human beings are influenced by their
surroundings and associates. If I have----"

"Professor!" cried Frank, reproachfully. "You would not accuse me of
having taught you to use slang?"

"Ah--ha--ahem! No, no--that is, you see--er--well, er, that Dutch boy
was always saying something slangy."

"Hans?"

"Yes."

"Professor! professor! He's not here to defend himself."

"Oh, well! Oh, well! Ha! ha! ha! Quite a joke--quite a little joke, you
know! You always appreciate a joke, Frank. You are full of fun
yourself."

As under the circumstances there was nothing else to do, they finally
paddled slowly forward, looking for a piece of dry land, where they
could stop and camp for the night.

They approached a small cluster of trees, which rose above the rushes,
and it was seen that they seemed to be growing on land that was fairly
high and dry.

"We'll stop there," decided Frank. "It's not likely we'll find another
place like that anywhere in the Everglades."

As they came nearer, they saw the trees seemed to be growing on an
island, for the water course divided and ran on either side of them.

"Just the place for a camp!" cried Frank, delightedly. "This is really a
very interesting and amusing adventure."

"It may be for you," groaned the professor; "but you forget that it is
said to be possible for persons to lose themselves in the Everglades and
never find their way out."

"On the contrary, I remember it quite well. In fact, it is said that,
without a guide, the chances of finding a way out of the Everglades is
small, indeed."

"Well, what do you feel so exuberant about?"

"Why, the possibility that we'll all perish in the Everglades adds zest
to this adventure--makes it really interesting."

"Frank, you're a puzzle to me. You are cautious about running into
danger of any sort, but, once in it, you seem to take a strange and
unaccountable delight in the peril. The greater the danger, the happier
you seem to feel."

"Thot's roight," nodded Barney.

"When I am not in danger, my good judgment tells me to take no chances;
but when I get into it fairly, I know the only thing to be done is to
make the best of it. I delight in adventure--I was born for it!"

A dismal sound came from the professor's throat.

"When your uncle died," said Scotch, "I thought him my friend. Although
we had quarreled, I fancied the hatchet was buried. He made me your
guardian, and I still believed he had died with nothing but friendly
feelings toward me. But he knew you, and now I believe it was an act of
malice toward me when he made me your guardian. And, to add to my
sufferings, he decreed that I should travel with you. Asher Dow
Merriwell deliberately plotted against my life! He knew the sort of a
career you would lead me, and he died chuckling in contemplation of the
misery and suffering you would inflict upon me! That man was a
monster--an inhuman wretch!"

"Look there!" cried Barney, pointing toward the small, timbered island.

"What is it?"

"May Ould Nick floy away wid me av it ain't a house!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE HUT ON THE ISLAND.


"A house?"

"A cabin!"

"A hut amid the trays."

In a little clearing on some rising ground amid the trees they could see
the hut.

"Is it possible any one lives here?" exclaimed the professor.

"It looks as if some one stops here at times, at least," said Frank.

"Av this ain't a clear case av luck, Oi dunno mesilf!"

"We'll get the man who lives there to guide us out of the Everglades!"
shouted the professor, in a relieved tone.

Then Frank cast a gloom over their spirits by saying:

"This may be a hunter's cabin, inhabited only at certain seasons of the
year. Ten to one, there's no one living in it now."

"You'd be pleased if there wasn't!" almost snarled Professor Scotch.
"You're a boy without a heart!"

Frank laughed softly.

"We'll soon find out if there's any one at home," he said, as the canoe
ran up to the bank, and he took care to get out first.

As soon as Frank was out, the professor made a scramble to follow him.
He rose to his feet, despite Barney's warning cry, and, a moment later,
the cranky craft flipped bottom upward, with the swiftness of a flash of
lightning.

The professor and the Irish lad disappeared beneath the surface of the
water.

Barney's head popped up in a moment, and he stood upon his feet, with
the water to his waist, uttering some very vigorous words.

Up came the professor, open flew his mouth, out spurted a stream of
water, and then he wildly roared:

"Help! Save me! I can't swim! I'm drowning!"

Before either of the boys could say a word, he went under again.

"This is th' firrust toime Oi iver saw a man thot wanted to drown in
thray fate av wather," said Barney.

Frank sat down on the dry ground, and shouted with laughter.

Up popped the professor a second time.

"Help!" he bellowed, after he had spurted another big stream of water
from his mouth. "Will you see me perish before your very eyes? Save me,
Frank!"

But Frank was laughing so heartily that he could not say a word, and the
little man went down once more.

"Hivins! he really manes to drown!" said Barney, in disgust.

"Grab him!" gasped Frank. "Don't let him go down again. Oh, my! what a
scrape! This beats our record!"

For the third time the professor's head appeared above the surface, and
the professor's voice weakly called:

"Will no one save me? This is a plot to get me out of the way! Oh,
Frank, Frank! I never thought this of you! Farewell! May you be happy
when I am gone!"

"Stand up!" shouted Frank, seeing that the little man had actually
resigned himself to drown. "Get your feet under you. The water is
shallow there."

The professor stood up, and an expression of pain, surprise, and disgust
settled on his face, as he thickly muttered:

"May I be kicked! And I've been under the water two-thirds of the time
for the last hour! I've swallowed more than two barrels of this
swamp-water, including, in all probability, a few dozen pollywogs,
lizards, young alligators, and other delightful things! If the water
wasn't so blamed dirty here, and I wasn't afraid of swallowing enough
creatures to start an aquarium, I'd just lie down and refuse to make
another effort to get up."

Then he waded out, the look on his face causing Frank to double up with
merriment, while even the wretched Barney smiled.

Barney would have waded out, but Frank said:

"Don't attempt to land without those guns, old man. They're somewhere on
the bottom, and we want them."

So Barney was forced to plunge under the surface and feel around till he
had fished up the rifles and the shotgun.

Frank had taken care of his bow and arrows, the latter being in a quiver
at his back, and the paddles had not floated away.

After a time, everything was recovered, the canoe was drawn out and
tipped bottom upward, and the trio moved toward the cabin, Frank
leading, and the professor staggering along behind.

Reaching the cabin, Frank rapped loudly on the door.

No answer.

Once more he knocked, and then, as there was no reply, he pushed the
door open, and entered.

The cabin was not occupied by any living being, but a glance showed the
trio that some one had been there not many hours before, for the embers
of a fire still glowed dimly on the open hearth of flat stones.

There were two rooms, the door between them being open, so the little
party could look into the second.

The first room seemed to be the principal room of the hut, while the
other was a bedroom. They could see the bed through the open doorway.

There were chairs, a table, a couch, and other things, for the most part
rude, home-made stuff, and still every piece showed that the person who
constructed it had skill and taste.

Around the walls were hung various tin pans and dishes, all polished
bright and clean.

What surprised them the most was the wire screens in the windows, a
screen door that swung inward, and a mosquito-bar canopy over the bed
and the couch.

"By Jove!" cried Frank; "the person who lives here is prepared to
protect himself against mosquitoes and black flies."

"It would be impossible to live here in the summer," gravely declared
Professor Scotch, forgetting his own misery for the moment. "The pests
would drive a man crazy."

"Oh, I don't know about that," returned Frank. "If a man knew how to
defend himself against them he might get along all right. They can't be
worse than the mosquitoes of Alaska in the warm months. Up there the
Indians get along all right, even though mosquitoes have been known to
kill a bear."

"Pwhat's thot?" gurgled Barney. "Kill a bear? Oh, Frankie, me b'y, Oi
nivver thought that av you!"

"It's true," affirmed Professor Scotch. "Sometimes bears, lured by
hunger, will come down into the lowlands, where mosquitoes will attack
them. They will stand up on their hind legs and strike at the little
pests with their forward paws. Sometimes a bear will do this till he is
exhausted and falls. Then the mosquitoes finish him."

"Thot's a harrud yarn to belave, profissor; but it goes av you soay so,"
said Barney, thinking it best to smooth over the late unpleasantness.

"Up there," said Frank, "the Indians smear their faces and hands with
some kind of sticky stuff that keeps the mosquitoes from reaching their
flesh. In that way they get along very well."

But they had something to talk about besides the Indians of Alaska, for
the surprises around them furnished topics for conversation.

Exploring the place, they found it well stocked with provisions, which
caused them all to feel delighted.

"I'm actually glad we came!" laughed Frank. "This is fun galore."

"It will be all right if we are able to get out of the scrape," said
Scotch.

Barney built a fire, while Frank prepared to make bread and cook supper,
having found everything necessary for the accomplishment of the task.

The professor stripped off his outer garments, wrung the water out of
them, and hung them up before the fire to dry.

His example was followed by the Irish boy.

They made themselves as comfortable as possible, and night came on,
finding them in a much better frame of mind than they had expected to
be.

Frank succeeded in baking some bread in the stone oven. He found
coffee, and a pot bubbled on the coals, sending out an odor that made
the trio feel ravenous.

There were candles in abundance, and two of them were lighted. Then,
when everything was ready, they sat down to the table and enjoyed a
supper that put them in the best of moods.

The door of the hut was left open, and the light shone out upon the
overturned canoe and the dark water beyond.

After supper they cleaned and dried the rifles and shotgun.

"By jingoes!" laughed Frank; "this is a regular picnic! I'm glad we took
the wrong course, and came here!"

"You may change your tune before we get out," said the professor, whose
trousers were dry, and who was now feeling of his coat to see how that
was coming on.

"Don't croak, profissor," advised Barney. "You're th' firrust mon Oi
iver saw thot wuz bound ter drown himsilf in thray fate av wather. Ha!
ha! ha!"

"Oh, laugh, laugh," snapped the little man, fiercely. "I'll get even
with you for that some time! What fools boys are!"

After supper they lay around and took things easy. Barney and Frank told
stories till it was time to go to bed, and they finally turned in, first
having barred the door and made sure the windows were securely fastened.

They soon slept, but they were not to rest quietly through the night.
Other mysterious things were soon to follow those of the day.



CHAPTER XXIX.

A WILD NIGHT IN THE SWAMP.


Clang! clang! clang!

"Fire!"

"Turn out!"

The boys leaped to their feet, and the professor came tearing out of the
bedroom, ran into the table, which he overturned with a great clatter of
dishes, reeled backward, and sat down heavily on the floor, where he
rubbed his eyes, and muttered:

"I thought that fire engine was going to run me down before I could get
out of the way."

"Fire engine!" cried Frank Merriwell. "Who ever heard of a fire engine
in the heart of the Florida Everglades?"

"Oi herrud th' gong," declared Barney.

"So did I," asserted the professor.

"I heard something that sounded like a fire gong," admitted Frank.

"Pwhat was it, Oi dunno?"

"It seemed to come from beneath the head of the bed in there," said
Scotch.

"An' Oi thought I herrud it under me couch out here," gurgled Barney.

"We will light a candle, and look around," said Frank.

A candle was lighted, and they looked for the cause of the midnight
alarm, but they found nothing that explained the mystery.

"Whist!" hissed the Irish boy. "It's afther gettin' away from here we'd
better be, mark me worrud."

"What makes you think that?" demanded Frank, sharply.

"It's spooks there be around this place, ur Oi'm mistaken!"

"Oh, I've heard enough about spooks! It's getting tiresome."

The professor was silent, but he shook his head in a very mysterious
manner, as if he thought a great many things he did not care to speak
about.

They had been thoroughly awakened, but, after a time, failing to
discover what had aroused them, they decided to return to bed.

Five minutes after they lay down, Frank and the professor were brought
to their feet by a wild howl and a thud. They rushed out of the bedroom,
and nearly fell over Barney, who was lying in the middle of the floor,
at least eight feet from the couch.

"What is the matter with you?" cried Frank, astonished.

"Oi was touched!" palpitated the Irish lad, thickly.

"Touched?"

"Thot's pwhat!"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Oi wur jist beginning to get slapy whin something grabbed me an' threw
me clan out here in th' middle av th' room."

"Oh, say! what are you trying to make us believe!"

"Oi'll swear to it, Frankie--Oi'll swear on a stack av Boibles."

"You dreamed it, Barney; that's what's the matter."

"Nivver a drame, me b'y, fer Oi wasn't aslape at all, at all."

"But you may have been asleep, for you say you were beginning to get
sleepy. There isn't anything here to grab you."

"Oi dunno about thot, Frankie. Oi'm incloined to belave th' Ould B'y's
around, so Oi am."

"Oh, this is tiresome! Go back to bed, and keep still."

"Nivver a bit will Oi troy to slape on thot couch again th' noight, me
b'y. Oi'll shtay roight here on th' flure."

"Sleep where you like, but keep still. That's all."

Frank was somewhat nettled by these frequent interruptions of his rest,
and he was more than tempted to give Barney cause to believe the hut was
really haunted, for he was an expert ventriloquist, and he could have
indulged in a great deal of sport with the Irish boy.

But other things were soon to take up their attention. While they were
talking a strange humming arose on every side and seemed to fill the
entire hut. At first, it was like a swarm of bees, but it grew louder
and louder till it threatened to swell into a roar.

Professor Scotch was nearly frightened out of his wits.

"It is the end of everything!" he shrieked, making a wild dash for the
door, which he flung wide open.

But the professor did not rush out of the cabin. Instead, he flung up
his hands, staggered backward, and nearly fell to the floor.

"The white canoe!" he faintly gasped, clutching at empty air for
support.

Frank sprang forward, catching and steadying the professor.

"The white canoe--where?"

"Out there!"

Sure enough, on the dark surface of the water, directly in front of the
hut, lay the mysterious canoe.

And now this singular craft was illuminated from stem to stern by a
soft, white light that showed its outlines plainly.

"Sint Patherick presarve us!" panted Barney Mulloy.

"I am getting tired of being chased around by a canoe!" said Frank, in
disgust, as he hastily sought one of the rifles.

"Don't shoot!" entreated the professor, in great alarm.

"Av yer do, our goose is cooked!" fluttered Barney.

Frank threw a fresh cartridge into the rifle, and turned toward the open
door, his mind fully made up.

And then, to the profound amazement of all three, seated in the canoe
there seemed to be an old man, with white hair and long, white beard.
The soft, white light seemed to come from every part of his person, as
it came from the canoe.

Frank Merriwell paused, with the rifle partly lifted.

"It's th' spook himsilf!" gasped Barney, covering his face with his
hands, and clinging to the professor.

"That's right!" faintly said Scotch. "For mercy's sake, don't shoot,
Frank! We're lost if you do!"

Frank was startled and astonished, but he was determined not to lose his
nerve, no matter what happened.

The man in the canoe seemed to be looking directly toward the cabin. He
slowly lifted one hand, and pointed away across the Everglades, at the
same time motioning with the other hand, as if for them to go in that
direction.

"I'll just send a bullet over his head, to see what he thinks of it,"
said Frank, softly, lifting the rifle.

Then another startling thing happened.

Canoe and man disappeared in the twinkling of an eye!

The trio in the hut gasped and rubbed their eyes.

"Gone!" cried Frank.

"Vanished!" panted the professor.

"An' now Oi suppose ye'll say it wur no ghost?" gurgled Barney.

It was extremely dark beneath the shadow of the cypress trees, and not a
sign of the mysterious canoe could they see.

"It is evident he did not care to have me send a bullet whizzing past
his ears," laughed Frank, who did not seem in the least disturbed.

"What are your nerves made of?" demanded Professor Scotch, in a shaking
tone of voice. "They must be iron!"

"Hark!"

Frank's hand fell on the professor's arm, and the three listened
intently, hearing something that gave them no little surprise.

From far away through the night came the sound of hoarse voices singing
a wild, doleful song.

"Hamlet's ghost!" ejaculated the professor.

"Pwhat the Ould Nick does thot mane?" cried Barney.

"Hark!" Frank again cautioned. "Let's see if we can understand the words
they are singing. Be still."

    "We sailed away from Gloucester Bay,
      And the wind was in the west, yo ho!
    And her cargo was some New England rum;
      Our grog it was made of the best, yo ho!"

"A sailor's song," decided Frank, "and those are sailors who are
singing. We are not alone in the Everglades."

"They're all drunk," declared the professor. "You can tell that by the
sound of their voices. Drunken men are dangerous."

"They're a blamed soight betther than none, fer it's loikely they know
th' way out av this blissed swamp," said Barney.

"They may bub-bub-be pup-pup-pup-pirates!" chattered the professor.

"What sticks me," said Frank, "is how a party of sailors ever made their
way in here, for we are miles upon miles from the coast. Here is another
mystery."

"Are ye fer takin' a look at th' loikes av thim, Frankie?"

"Certainly, and that without delay. Come, professor."

"Never!"

"What do you mean?"

"I am not going near those ruffianly and bloodthirsty pirates."

"Then you may stay here with the spooks, while Barney and I go."

This was altogether too much for the professor, and, when he found they
really intended to go, he gave in.

Frank loaded the rifles and the shotgun, and took along his bow and
arrows, even though Barney made sport of him for bothering with the
last.

They slipped the canoe into the water, and, directed by Frank, the
professor succeeded in getting in without upsetting the frail affair.

"Oi hope we won't run inther the ghost," uttered the Irish boy.

"The sound of that singing comes from the direction in which the old man
seemed to point," said Frank.

This was true, as they all remembered.

The singing continued, sometimes sinking to a low, droning sound,
sometimes rising to a wild wail that sounded weirdly over the marshland.

"Ready," said Frank, and the canoe slipped silently over the dark
surface of the water course.

The singing ceased after a time, but they were still guided by the sound
of wrangling voices.

"They are quarreling!" exclaimed Frank, softly.

"This is tut-tut-terrible!" stuttered the professor.

Suddenly the sound of a pistol shot came over the rushes, followed by a
feminine shriek of pain or terror!



CHAPTER XXX.

FRANK'S SHOT.


Frank and his two companions were profoundly astonished. As soon as he
could recover, Frank asked:

"Did you hear that?"

"Av course we hearrud it!" returned Barney, excitedly.

"It sounded very much like the voice of a woman or girl," said Professor
Scotch, who was so amazed that he forgot for the moment that he was
scared.

"That's what it was," declared Frank; "and it means that our aid is
needed in that quarter at once."

"Be careful! be cautious!" warned the professor. "There's no telling
what kind of a gang we may run into."

"To thunder with thot!" grated Barney Mulloy, quivering with eagerness.
"There's a female in nade av hilp."

"Go ahead!" directed Frank, giving utterance to his old maxim.

The professor was too agitated to handle a paddle, so the task of
propelling the canoe fell to the boys, who sent it skimming over the
water, Frank watching out for snags.

In a moment the water course swept round to the left, and they soon saw
the light of a fire gleaming through the rushes.

The sounds of a conflict continued, telling them that the quarrel was
still on, and aiding them in forming their course.

In a moment they came in full view of the camp-fire, by the light of
which they saw several struggling, swaying figures.

Frank's keen eyes seemed to take in everything at one sweeping glance.

Six men and a girl were revealed by the light of the fire. Five of the
men were engaged in a fierce battle, while the sixth was bound, in a
standing position, to the trunk of a tree.

The girl, with her hands bound behind her back, was standing near the
man who was tied to the tree, and the firelight fell fairly on the faces
of man and girl.

A low exclamation of the utmost astonishment broke from Frank's lips.

"It can't be--it is an impossibility!" he said.

"Pwhat is it, me b'y?" quickly demanded Barney.

"The man--the girl! Look, Barney! do you know them?"

"Oi dunno."

"Well, I know! There is no mistake. That is Captain Justin Bellwood,
whose vessel was lost in the storm off Fardale coast! I am certain of
it!"

"An' th' girrul is----"

"Elsie Bellwood, his daughter!"

"Th' wan you saved from th' foire, Frankie?"

"As sure as fate!"

"It can't be possible!" fluttered Professor Scotch. "Captain Bellwood
has a new vessel, and he would not be here. You must be mistaken,
Frank."

"Not on your life! That is Captain Bellwood and his daughter. There is
no mistake, professor."

"But how----"

"There has been some kind of trouble, and they are captives--that is
plain enough. Those men are sailors--Captain Bellwood's sailors! It's
likely there has been a mutiny. We must save them."

"How can it be done?"

"We must land while those ruffians are fighting. We are well armed. If
we can get ashore, we'll set the captain free, and I fancy we'll be able
to hold our own with those ruffians, desperate wretches though they
are."

"Wait!" advised the timid professor. "Perhaps they will kill each other,
and then our part will be easy."

Frank was not for waiting, but, at that moment, something happened that
caused him to change his plan immediately.

The fighting ruffians were using knives in a deadly way, and one man,
bleeding from many wounds, fell exhausted to the ground. Another, who
seemed to be this one's comrade, tore himself from the other three,
leaped to the girl, caught her in his arms, and held her in front of
him, so that her body shielded his. Then, pointing a revolver over her
shoulder, he snarled:

"Come on, and I'll bore the three of ye! You can't shoot me, Gage,
unless you kill ther gal!"

The youngest one of the party, a mere boy, but a fellow with the air of
a desperado, stepped to the front, saying swiftly:

"If you don't drop that girl, Jaggers, you'll leave your carcass in this
swamp! That is business, my hearty."

Frank clapped a hand over his mouth to keep from uttering a great shout
of amazement. The next moment he panted:

"This is fate! Look, Barney! by the eternal skies, that is Leslie Gage,
my worst enemy at Fardale Academy, and the fellow who ran away to keep
from being expelled. It was reported that he had gone to sea."

"Ye're roight, Frankie," agreed the no less excited Irish lad. "It's
thot skunk, an' no mistake!"

"It is Leslie Gage," agreed the professor. "He was ever a bad boy, but I
did not think he would come to this."

"An' Oi always thought he would come to some bad ind. It wur thot
spalpane thot troied to run Frank through with a sharpened foil wan
toime whin they wur fencing. He had black murder in his hearrut thin,
an' it's not loikely th' whilp has grown inny betther since."

"Keep still," whispered Frank. "Let's hear what is said."

The man with the girl laughed defiantly, retorting:

"You talk big, Gage, but it won't work with me. I hold the best hand
just at present, and you'll have to come to terms. Keep back!"

"You don't dare shoot," returned the young desperado, as he took still
another step toward the sailor.

In a moment the man placed the muzzle of the revolver against the temple
of the helpless girl, fiercely declaring:

"If you come another inch, I'll blow her brains out!"

"The dastard!" grated Frank. "Oh, the wretch! Wait. I will fix him, or
my name is not Merriwell!"

He drew an arrow from the quiver, and fitted the notch to the
bow-string. His nerves were steady, and he was determined. He waited
till the man had removed the muzzle of the weapon from the girl's
temple, and then he lifted the bow.

Barney and the professor caught their breath. They longed to check
Frank, but dared not speak for fear of causing him to waver and send the
arrow at the girl.

The bow was bent, the line was taut, the arrow was drawn to the head,
and then----

Twang! The arrow sped through the air, but it was too dark for them to
follow its flight with their eyes. With their hearts in their mouths,
they awaited the result.

Of a sudden, the ruffian uttered a cry of pain, released his hold on the
girl, and fell heavily to the ground.

The firelight showed the arrow sticking in his shoulder.

"Ugh!" grunted a voice close beside the canoe. "Very good shot for a
white boy. Not many could do that."

The trio turned in amazement and alarm, and, within three feet of them,
they saw a shadowy canoe that contained a shadowy figure. There was but
one person in the strange canoe, and he immediately added:

"There is no need to fear Socato, the Seminole, for he will not harm
you. He is the friend of all good white men."

It was an Indian, a Seminole, belonging to the remnant of the once great
nation that peopled the Florida peninsula. Frank realized this in a
moment, and, knowing the Seminoles were harmless when well treated, felt
no further alarm.

The Indian had paddled with the utmost silence to their side, while they
were watching what was taking place on shore.

The arrow had produced consternation in the camp. The fellow who was
wounded tried to draw it from his shoulder, groaning:

"This is not a fair deal! Give me a fair show, and I'll fight you all!"

"Where did it come from?" asked Gage, in dismay.

The two canoes were beyond the circle of firelight, so they could not be
seen from the shore.

Gage's two companions were overcome with terror.

"This swamp is full of Indians!" one of them cried. "We've been attacked
by a band of savages!"

Gage spoke a few words in a low tone, and then sprang over the prostrate
form of the man who had been stricken down by the arrow, grasped the
girl, and retreated into the darkness. His companions also scudded
swiftly beyond the firelight, leaving Captain Bellwood still bound to
the tree, while one man lay dead on the ground, and another had an arrow
in his shoulder.

Close to Frank's ear the voice of Socato the Seminole sounded:

"Light bother them. They git in the dark and see us from the shore. Then
they shoot this way some."

"Jupiter and Mars!" gasped Professor Scotch, "I don't care to stay here,
and have them shoot at me!"

"White boys want to save girl?" asked Socato, swiftly. "They pay to get
her free? What say?"

"Of course we will pay," hastily answered Frank. "Can you aid us in
saving her? If you can, you shall be----"

"Socato save her. White man and two boys go back to cabin of Great White
Phantom. Stay there, and Socato come with the girl."

"Begorra! Oi don't loike thot," declared Barney. "Oi'd loike to take a
hand in th' rescue mesilf."

"Socato can do better alone," asserted the Seminole. "Trust me."

But Frank was not inclined to desert Elsie Bellwood in her hour of
trouble, and he said:

"Socato, you must take me with you. Professor, you and Barney go back to
the hut, and stay there till we come."

The Indian hesitated, and then said:

"If white boy can shoot so well with the bow and arrow, he may not be in
the way. I will take him, if he can step from one canoe to the other
without upsetting either."

"That's easy," said Frank, as he deliberately and safely accomplished
the feat.



CHAPTER XXXI.

YOUNG IN YEARS ONLY.


"Well done, white boy," complimented the strange Indian.

"Pass me one of those rifles," requested Frank.

"White boy better leave rifle; take bow and arrows," advised Socato.
"Rifle make noise; bow and arrow make no noise."

"All right; what you say goes. Return to the hut, Barney, and stay there
till we show up."

"But th' spook----"

"Hang the spook! We'll know where to find you, if you go there."

"The Great White Phantom will not harm those who offer him no harm,"
declared the Indian.

"I am not so afraid of spooks as I am of---- Jumping Jupiter!"

There was a flash of fire from the darkness on shore, the report of a
gun, and a bullet whirred through the air, cutting the professor's
speech short, and causing him to duck down into the canoe.

"Those fellows have located us," said Frank, swiftly. "We must get away
immediately. Remember, wait at the hut."

Socato's paddle dropped without a sound into the water, and the canoe
slid away into the night.

The professor and Barney lost no time in moving, and it was well they
did so, for, a few seconds later, another shot came from the shore, and
the bullet skipped along the water just where the canoes had been.

Frank trusted everything to Socato, even though he had never seen or
heard of the Seminole before. Something about the voice of the Indian
convinced the boy that he was honest, for all that his darkness was such
that Frank could not see his face and did not know how he looked.

The Indian sent the canoe through the water with a speed and silence
that was a revelation to Frank Merriwell. The paddle made no sound, and
it seemed that the prow of the canoe scarcely raised a ripple, for all
that they were gliding along so swiftly.

"Where are you going?" whispered Frank, observing that they were leaving
the camp-fire astern.

"White boy trust Socato?"

"If I didn't, I shouldn't be here. Of course, I do."

"Then keep cool. Socato take him round to place where we can come up
behind bad white men. We try to fool 'um."

"Good!"

The light of the camp-fire died out, and then, a few moments later,
another camp-fire seemed to glow across a strip of low land.

"See it?" whispered the Indian, with caution.

"Yes. What party is camped there--friends of yours, Socato?"

"Not much!"

"Who, then?"

"That same fire."

"Same fire as which?"

"One bad white men build."

Frank was astonished.

"Oh, say! how is that? We left that fire behind us, Socato."

"And we have come round by the water till it is before us again."

This was true, but the darkness had been so intense that Frank did not
see how their course was changing.

"I see how you mean to come up behind them," said the boy. "You are
going to land and cross to their camp."

"That right. They won't look for us that way."

"I reckon not."

Soon the rushes closed in on either side, and the Indian sent the canoe
twisting in and out amid their tall stalks like a creeping panther. He
seemed to know every inch of the way, and followed it as well as if it
were broad noonday.

Frank's admiration for the fellow grew with each moment, and he felt
that he could, indeed, trust Socato.

"If we save that girl and the old man, you shall be well paid for the
job," declared the boy, feeling that it was well to dangle a reward
before the Indian's mental vision.

"It is good," was the whispered retort. "Socato is poor."

In a few moments they crept through the rushes till the canoe lay close
to a bank, and the Indian directed Frank to get out.

The camp-fire could not be seen from that position, but the boy well
knew it was not far away.

Taking his bow, with the quiver of arrows slung to his back, the lad
left the canoe, being followed immediately by the Seminole, who lifted
the prow of the frail craft out upon the bank, and then led the way.

Passing round a thick mass of reeds, they soon reached a position where
they could see the camp-fire and the moving forms of the sailors. Just
as they reached this position, Leslie Gage was seen to dash up to the
fire and kick the burning brands in various directions.

"He has done that so that the firelight might not reveal them to us,"
thought Frank. "They still believe us near, although they know not where
we are."

Crouching and creeping, Socato led the way, and Frank followed closely,
wondering what scheme the Indian could have in his head, yet trusting
everything to his sagacity.

In a short time they were near enough to hear the conversation of the
bewildered and alarmed sailors. The men were certain a band of savages
were close at hand, for they did not dream that the arrow which had
dropped Jaggers was fired by the hand of a white person.

"The sooner we get away from here, the better it will be for us,"
declared Leslie Gage.

"We'll have to get away in the boats," said a grizzled
villainous-looking, one-eyed old sailor, who was known as Ben Bowsprit.

"Fo' de Lawd's sake!" gasped the third sailor, who was a negro, called
Black Tom; "how's we gwine to run right out dar whar de critter am dat
fired de arrer inter Jack Jaggers?"

"The 'critter' doesn't seem to be there any longer," assured Gage.
"Those two shots must have frightened him away."

"That's right," agreed Bowsprit. "This has been an unlucky stop fer us,
mates. Tomlinson is dead, an' Jaggers----"

"I ain't dead, but I'm bleedin', bleedin', bleedin'!" moaned the fellow
who had been hit by Frank's arrow. "There's a big tear in my shoulder,
an' I'm afeared I've made my last cruise."

"It serves you right," came harshly from the boy leader of the ruffianly
crew. "Tomlinson attempted to set himself up as head of this crew--as
captain over me. You backed him. All the time, you knew I was the leader
in every move we have made."

"And a pretty pass you have led us to!" whined the wounded wretch.
"Where's the money you said the captain had stored away? Where's the
reward we'd receive for the captain alive and well? We turned mutineers
at your instigation, and what have we made of it? We've set the law
agin' us, an' here we are. The _Bonny Elsie_ has gone up in smoke----"

"Through the carelessness of a lot of drunken fools!" snarled Gage. "She
should not have been burned. But for that, we wouldn't be here now,
hiding from officers of the law."

"Well, here we are," growled Ben Bowsprit, "an' shiver my timbers if we
seem able to get out of this howlin' swamp! The more we try, the more we
seem ter git lost."

"Fo' goodness, be yo' gwine to stan' roun' an' chin, an' chin, an'
chin?" demanded Black Tom.

"The fire's out, and we can't be seen," spoke Gage, swiftly, in a low
tone. "Get the boats ready. You two are to take the old man in one; I'll
take the girl in the other."

"It's the gal you've cared fer all the time," cried Jaggers, madly. "It
was for her you led us into this scrape."

"Shut up!"

"I won't! You can't make me shut up, Gage."

"Well, you'll have a chance to talk to yourself and Tomlinson before
long. Tomlinson will be jolly company."

"You've killed him!" accused the wounded man. "I saw you strike the
blow, and I'll swear to that, my hearty!"

"It's not likely you'll be given a chance to swear to it, Jaggers. I may
have killed him, but it was in self-defense. He was doing his best to
get his knife into me."

"Yes, we was tryin' to finish you," admitted Jaggers. "With you out of
the way, Tomlinson would have been cap'n, and I first mate. You've kept
your eyes on the gal all the time. I don't believe you thought the cap'n
had money at all. It was to get the gal you led us into this business.
She'd snubbed you--said she despised you, and you made up your mind to
carry her off against her will."

"If that was my game, you must confess I succeeded very well. But I
can't waste more time talking to you. Get the boats ready, boys. I will
take the smaller. Put Cap'n Bellwood in the larger, and look out for
him."

The two sailors obeyed his orders. Boy though he was, Gage had resolved
to become a leader of men, and he had succeeded.

The girl, quite overcome, was prostrate at the feet of her father, who
was bound to the cypress tree.

There was a look of pain and despair on the face of the old captain. His
heart bled as he looked down at his wretched daughter, and he groaned:

"Merciful Heaven! what will become of her? It were better that she
should die than remain in the power of that young villain!"

"What are you muttering about, old man?" coarsely demanded Gage, as he
bent to lift the girl. "You seem to be muttering to yourself the greater
part of the time."

"You wretch! you young monster!" grated the old shipmaster. "Do you
think you can escape the retribution that pursues all such dastardly
creatures as you?"

"Oh, you make me tired! I have found out that the goody-good people do
not always come out on top in this world. Besides that, it's too late
for me to turn back now. I started wrong at school, and I have been
going wrong ever since. It's natural for me; I can't help it."

"Spare my child!"

"Oh, don't worry about her. I'll take care of her."

"If you harm her, may the wrath of Heaven fall on your head!"

"Let it go at that. I will be very tender and considerate with her.
Come, Elsie."

He attempted to lift her to her feet, but she drew from him, shuddering
and screaming wildly:

"Don't touch me!"

"Now, don't be a little fool!" he said, harshly. "You make me sick with
your tantrums! Come on, now."

But she screamed the louder, seeming to stand in the utmost terror of
him.

With a savage exclamation, Gage tore off his coat and wrapped it about
the girl's head so that her cries were smothered.

"Perhaps that will keep you still a bit!" he snapped, catching her up in
his arms, and bearing her to the smaller boat, in which he carefully
placed her.

She did not faint. As her hands were bound behind her, she could not
remove the coat from about her head, and she sat as he placed her, with
it enveloping her nearly to the waist.

"Is everything ready?" asked Gage. "Where are all the guns? Somebody
take Tomlinson's weapons. Let Jaggers have his. He may need them when we
are gone."

"Don't leave me here to die alone!" piteously pleaded the wounded
sailor. "I'm pretty well gone now, but I don't want to be left here
alone!"

Gage left the small boat for a moment, and approached the spot where the
pleading wretch lay.

"Jaggers," he said, "it's the fate you deserve. You agreed to stand by
me, but you went back on your oath, and tried to kill me."

"And now you're going to leave me here to bleed to death or starve?"

"Why shouldn't I? The tables are turned on you, my fine fellow."

"Well, I'm sure you won't leave me."

"You are?"

"Yes."

"Why won't I?"

"This is why!"

Jaggers flung up his hand, from which a spout of flame seemed to leap,
and the report of a pistol sounded over the marsh.

Leslie Gage fell in a heap to the ground.



CHAPTER XXXII.

A MYSTERIOUS TRANSFORMATION.


"Ha! ha! ha!" wildly laughed the wounded sailor. "That time he did not
escape! Leave me to die, would he? Well, he is dead already, for I shot
him through the brain!"

"That's where you are mistaken, Jaggers," said the cool voice of the
boyish leader of the mutineers. "I saw your move, saw the revolver, and
dropped in time to avoid the bullet."

Gage sprang to his feet.

A snarl of baffled fury came from the lips of the wounded sailor.

"The foul fiend protects you!" he cried. "See if you can dodge this
bullet!"

He would have fired again, but Gage leaped forward in the darkness,
kicked swiftly and accurately, and sent the revolver spinning from the
man's hand.

"You have settled your fate!" hissed the boy, madly. "I did mean to have
you taken away, and I was talking to torment you. Now you will stay
here--and die like a dog!"

He turned from Jaggers, and hurried back to the boat, in which that
muffled figure silently sat.

"Are you ready, boys?" he called.

Captain Bellwood had been released from the tree, and marched to the
other boat, in which he now sat, bound and helpless.

"All ready," was the answer.

"All right; go ahead."

They pushed off, settled into their seats, and began rowing.

Gage was not long in following, but he wondered at the silence of the
girl who sat in the stern. It could not be that she had fainted, for she
remained in an upright position.

"Which way, cap?" asked one of the men.

"Any way to get out of this," was the answer. "We will find another
place to camp, but I want to get away from this spot."

Not a sound came from beneath the muffled coat.

"It must be close," thought Gage. "I wonder if she can breathe all
right. I wish she would do something."

At last, finding he could keep up with his companions without trouble,
and knowing he would have very little difficulty in overtaking them,
Gage drew in his oars and slipped back toward the muffled figure in the
stern.

"Elsie," he said, softly.

No answer; no move.

"Miss Bellwood."

Still no answer.

"You must not think too hard of me, Miss Bellwood," he said, pleadingly.
"I would not harm you for anything. I love you far too much for that,
Elsie."

He could have sworn that the sound which came from the muffling folds of
the coat was like a smothered laugh, but he knew she was not laughing at
him.

"I have been wicked and desperate," he went on; "but I was driven to the
life I have led. Fate has been against me all along. When I shipped on
your father's vessel it was because I had seen you and knew you were to
be along on the cruise. I loved you at first sight, and I vowed that I
would reform and do better if you loved me in return, Elsie."

He was speaking swiftly in a low tone, and his voice betrayed his
earnestness. He passed an arm around the muffled figure, feeling it
quiver within his grasp, and then he continued:

"You did not take kindly to me, but I persisted. Then you repulsed
me--told me you despised me, and that made me desperate. I swore I would
have you, Elsie. Then came the mutiny and the burning of the vessel. Now
we are here, and you are with me. Elsie, you know not how I love you! I
have become an outcast, an outlaw--all for your sake! Elsie, dear Elsie!
can't you learn to love me? I will do anything for you--anything!"

Again a sound came from beneath the coat. He was sure she was sobbing.
It must be that he was beginning to break down that icy barrier. She
realized her position, and she would be reasonable.

"Elsie--little sweetheart!"

He began to remove the muffling coat.

"Do not scream, Elsie--do not draw away, darling. Say that you will love
me a little--just a little!"

He pulled the coat away, and something came out of the folds and touched
cold and chilling against his forehead.

It was the muzzle of a revolver!

"Keep still!" commanded a voice that was full of chuckling laughter. "If
you chirp, I'll have to blow the roof of your head off, Gage!"

Leslie Gage caught his breath and nearly collapsed into the bottom of
the boat. Indeed, he would have fallen had not a strong hand fastened on
his collar and held him.

It was not Elsie Bellwood!

"I don't want to shoot you, Gage," whispered the cool voice. "I don't
feel like that, even though you did attempt to take my life once or
twice in the past. You have made me very good natured within the past
few moments. How you did love me! How gently you murmured, 'Do not draw
away, darling; say that you love me a little--just a little!' Ha! ha!
ha! Really, Gage, you gave me such amusement that I am more than
satisfied with this little adventure."

"That voice--I know it!" grated Gage, through set teeth. "Still, I can't
place you."

"Indeed, you are forgetful, Gage. But it is rather dark, and I don't
suppose you expected to see me here. We last met at Fardale."

"Fardale?"

"Yes."

"And you are--Frank Merriwell!"

Gage would have shouted the name in his amazement, but Frank's fingers
suddenly closed on the fellow's throat and held back the sound in a
great measure.

"Now you have guessed it," chuckled Frank. "Oh, Gage! I can forgive you
for the past since you have provided me with so much amusement to-night.
How you urged me to learn to love you! But that's too much, Gage; I can
never learn to do that."

Leslie ground his teeth, but he was still overcome with unutterable
amazement and wonder. That Frank Merriwell, whom he hated, should appear
there at night in the wilds of the Florida Everglades was like a
miracle.

What had become of Elsie Bellwood? Had some magic of that wild and
dreary region changed her into Frank Merriwell?

Little wonder that Gage was dazed and helpless.

"How in the name of the Evil One did you come here?" he finally asked,
recovering slightly from his stupor.

Frank laughed softly once more. It was the same old merry, boyish laugh
that Gage had heard so often at Fardale, and it filled him with intense
anger, as it had in the days of old.

"I know you did not expect to see me," murmured Frank, still laughing.
"I assure you that the Evil One had nothing to do with my appearance
here."

"It was trickery--magic! I left her in the boat a few moments. What
became of her? How did you take her place?"

"I will let you speculate over that question for a while, my fine
fellow. In the meantime, I fancy it will be a good idea to tie you up so
you will not make any trouble. Remember I have a revolver handy, and I
promise that I'll use it if you kick up a row."

At this moment, one of the sailors in the other boat called:

"Hello, there, Mr. Gage! where are you?"



CHAPTER XXXIII.

GAGE TAKES A TURN.


Gage was tempted to shout for help, but the muzzle of the cold weapon
that touched his forehead froze his tongue to silence.

"Hello! Ahoy, there, cap'n! Where are you?"

Ben Bowsprit was growing impatient and wondering why Leslie did not
answer. It had occurred to the old tar that it was possible the boy had
deserted them.

The voice of Black Tom was heard to say:

"He oughter be right near by us, Ben. 'Smighty strange dat feller don'
seem to answer nohow."

"Shiver my timbers!" roared Bowsprit. "We'll pull back, my hearty, and
take a look for our gay cap'n."

They were coming back, and Gage was still unbound, although a captive in
Frank Merriwell's clutch.

Frank thought swiftly. There would not be enough time to bind Gage and
get away. Something must be done to prevent the two sailors from turning
about and rowing back.

"Gage," whispered Frank, swiftly, "you must answer them. Say, it's all
right, boys; I'm coming right along."

Gage hesitated, the longing to shout for help again grasping him.

"Do as I told you!" hissed Frank, and the muzzle of the revolver seemed
to bore into Gage's forehead, as if the bullet longed to seek his brain.

With a mental curse on the black luck, Gage uttered the words as his
captor had ordered, although they seemed to come chokingly from his
throat.

"Well, what are ye doing back there so long?" demanded Bowsprit.

"Tell them you're making love," chuckled Frank, who seemed to be hugely
enjoying the affair, to the unspeakable rage of his captive. "Ask them
if they don't intend to give you a show at all."

Gage did as directed, causing Bowsprit to laugh hoarsely.

"Oh, you're a sly dog!" cackled the old sailor, in the darkness. "But
this is a poor time to spend in love-makin', cap'n. Wait till we git
settled down ag'in. Tom an' me'll agree not ter watch ye."

"Say, all right; go on," instructed Frank, and Gage did so.

In a few seconds, the sound of oars were heard, indicating that the
sailors were obeying instructions.

At that moment, while Frank was listening to this sound, Gage believed
his opportunity had arrived, and, being utterly desperate, the young
rascal knocked aside Frank's hand, gave a wild shout, leaped to his
feet, and plunged headlong into the water.

It was done swiftly--too swiftly for Frank to shoot, if he had intended
such a thing. But Frank Merriwell had no desire to shoot his former
schoolmate, even though Leslie Gage had become a hardened and desperate
criminal, and so, having broken away, the youthful leader of the
mutineers stood in no danger of being harmed.

Frank and Socato had been close at hand when Gage placed Elsie Bellwood
in the boat, and barely was the girl left alone before she was removed
by the Seminole, in whose arms she lay limp and unconscious, having
swooned at last.

Then it was that a desire to capture Gage and a wild longing to give the
fellow a paralyzing surprise seized upon Frank.

"Socato," he whispered, "I am going to trust you to take that girl to
the hut where my friends are to be found. Remember that you shall be
well paid; I give you my word of honor as to that. See that no harm
comes to her."

"All right," returned the Indian. "What white boy mean to do?"

"Have a little racket on my own hook," was the reply. "If I lose my
bearings and can't find the hut, I will fire five shots into the air
from my revolver. Have one of my friends answer in a similar manner."

"It shall be done."

"Give me that coat. All right. Now skip with the girl."

Frank took the coat; stepped into the boat, watched till Gage was
approaching, and then muffled his head, sitting in the place where Elsie
had been left.

In the meantime, the Seminole was bearing the girl swiftly and silently
away.

Thus it came about that Gage made love to Frank Merriwell, instead of
the fair captive he believed was muffled by the coat.

When Gage plunged into the water, the small boat rocked and came near
upsetting, but did not go over.

But the fellow's cry and the splash had brought the sailors to a halt,
and they soon called back:

"What's the matter? What has happened?"

"I rather fancy it will be a good plan to make myself scarce in this
particular locality," muttered Frank.

Gage swam under water for some distance, and then, coming to the
surface, he shouted to the men in the leading boat:

"Bowsprit, Black Tom, help! Turn back quickly! There is an enemy here,
but he is alone! We can capture him, boys! Be lively about it!"

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Frank, merrily. "You will have a fine time
catching me. You have given me great amusement, Gage. I assure you that
I have been highly entertained by your company, and hereafter I shall
consider you an adept in the gentle art of making love."

"Laugh!" fiercely shouted Gage from the water. "You are having your turn
now, but mine will soon come!"

"I have heard you talk like that before, Gage. It does not seem that you
have yet learned 'the way of the transgressor is hard.'"

"You'll learn better than to meddle with me! I have longed to meet you
again, Frank Merriwell, and I tell you now that one of us will not leave
this swamp alive!"

"This is not the first time you have made a promise that you were not
able to keep. Before I leave you, I have this to say: If Captain
Bellwood is harmed in the least, if he is not set at liberty with very
little delay, I'll never rest till you have received the punishment
which your crimes merit."

Frank could hear the sailors rowing back, and he felt for the oars,
having no doubt that he would be able to escape them with ease, aided by
the darkness.

Then came a surprise for him.

When Gage stopped rowing to make love to the supposed Elsie he had left
the oars in the rowlocks, drawing them in and laying them across the
boat. In the violent rocking of the boat when the fellow leaped
overboard one of the oars had been lost.

Frank was left with a single oar, and his enemies were bearing down upon
him with great swiftness.

"I wonder if there's a chance to scull this boat?" he coolly speculated,
as he hastened to the stern and made a swift examination.

To his satisfaction and relief, he found there was, and the remaining
oar was quickly put to use.

Even then Frank felt confident that he would be able to avoid his
enemies in the darkness that lay deep and dense upon the great swamp. He
could hear them rowing, and he managed to skull the light boat along
without making much noise.

He did not mind that Gage had escaped; in fact, he was relieved to get
rid of the fellow, although it had been his intention to hold him as
hostage for Captain Bellwood.

It was the desire for adventure that had led Frank into the affair, and,
now that it was over so far as surprising Gage was concerned, he was
satisfied to get away quietly.

He could hear the sailors calling Gage, who answered from the water, and
he knew they would stop to pick the fellow up, which would give our hero
a still better show of getting away.

All this took place, and Frank was so well hidden by the darkness that
there was not one chance in a thousand of being troubled by the
ruffianly crew when another astonishing thing happened.

From a point amid the tall rushes a powerful white light gleamed out and
fell full and fair upon the small boat and its single occupant,
revealing Frank as plainly as if by the glare of midday sunlight.

"Great Scott!" gasped the astonished boy. "What is the meaning of this,
I would like to know?"

He was so astonished that he nearly dropped the oar.

The sailors were astonished, but the light showed them distinctly, and
Gage snarled.

"Give me your pistol, Bowsprit! Be lively!"

He snatched the weapon from the old tar's hand, took hasty aim, and
fired.

Frank Merriwell was seen to fling up his arms and fall heavily into the
bottom of the boat!



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A FEARFUL FATE.


"Got him!" grated the triumphant young rascal, flourishing the revolver.
"That's the time I fixed him!"

The mysterious light vanished in the twinkling of an eye, but it had
shone long enough for Gage to do his dastardly work.

The sailors were alarmed by the light, and wished to row away; but Gage
raved at them, ordering them to pull down toward the spot where the
other boat lay.

After a time, the men recovered enough to do as directed, and the
smaller boat was soon found, rocking lightly on the surface.

Running alongside, Gage reached over into the small boat, and his hand
found the boy who was stretched in the bottom.

"Here he is!" cried the young rascal, gleefully. "I'll bet anything I
put the bullet straight through his heart!"

And then, as if his own words had brought a sense of it all to him, he
suddenly shuddered with horror, faintly muttering:

"That was murder!"

The horror grew upon him rapidly, and he began to wonder that he had
felt delight when he saw Frank Merriwell fall. The shooting had been the
impulse of the moment, and, now that it was done and he realized what it
meant, he would have given much to recall that bullet.

"Never mind," he thought. "I swore that one of us should not leave this
swamp alive, and my oath will not be broken. I hated Frank Merriwell the
first time I saw him, and I have hated him ever since. Now he is out of
my way, and he will never cross my path again."

There was a slight stir in the small boat, followed by something like a
gasping moan.

"He don't seem to be dead yet, cap'n," said Ben Bowsprit. "I guess your
aim wasn't as good as you thought."

That nettled Gage.

"Oh, I don't think he'll recover very fast," said the youthful rascal,
harshly.

He rose and stepped over into the smaller boat.

"Give me some matches," he ordered. "I want to take a look at the chap.
He must make a beautiful corpse."

"You'll find I'm not dead yet!" returned a weak voice, and Frank
Merriwell sat up and grappled with Gage.

A snarl of fury came from the lips of the boy desperado.

"So I didn't finish you! Well, you'll not get away!"

"You'll have to fight before you finish me!" panted Frank.

But Merriwell seemed weak, and Gage did not find it difficult to handle
the lad at whom he had shot. He forced Frank down into the bottom of the
boat, and then called to his companions:

"Give me some of that line. I'll make him fast."

A piece of rope was handed to him, and Black Tom stepped into the boat
to aid him. Between them, they succeeded in making Frank fast, for the
boy's struggles were weak, at best.

"Now it is my turn!" cried Leslie, gloatingly. "At Fardale Frank
Merriwell triumphed. He disgraced me, and I was forced to fly from the
school."

"You disgraced yourself," declared the defiant captive. "You cheated at
cards--you fleeced your schoolmates."

"And you exposed the trick! Oh, yes, I was rather flip with the papers,
and I should not have been detected but for you, Merriwell. When I was
exposed, I knew I would be shunned by all the fellows in school, and so
I ran away. But I did not forget who brought the disgrace about, and I
knew we should meet some time, Merriwell. We did meet. How you came here
I do not know, and why my bullet did not kill you is more than I can
understand."

"It would have killed me but for a locket and picture in my pocket,"
returned Frank. "It struck the locket, and that saved me; but the shock
robbed me of strength--it must have robbed me of consciousness for a
moment."

"It would have been just as well for you if the locket had not stopped
the bullet," declared Gage, fiercely.

"By that I presume you mean that you intend to murder me anyway?"

"I have sworn that one of us shall never leave this swamp alive."

"Go ahead, Gage," came coolly from the lips of the captive. "Luck seems
to have turned your way. Make the most of it while you have an
opportunity."

"We can't spend time in gabbing here," came nervously from Bowsprit.
"Let's get away immediately."

"Yes," put in Black Tom; "fo' de Lawd's sake, le's get away before dat
light shine some mo'!"

"That's right," said the old tar. "Some things happen in this swamp that
no human being can account for."

Gage was ready enough to get away, and they were soon pulling onward
again, with Frank Merriwell, bound and helpless, in the bottom of the
smaller boat.

For nearly an hour they rowed, and then they succeeded in finding some
dry, solid land where they could camp beneath the tall, black trees.

They were so overcome with alarm that they did not venture to build a
fire, for all that Gage was shivering in his wet clothes.

Leslie was still puzzling over Frank Merriwell's astonishing appearance,
and he tried to question Frank concerning it, but he could obtain but
little satisfaction from the boy he hated.

The night passed, and morning came.

Away to the west stretched the Everglades, while to the north and the
east lay the dismal cypress swamps.

The party seemed quite alone in the heart of the desolate region.

Leslie started out to explore the strip of elevated land upon which they
had passed the night, and he found it stretched back into the woods,
where lay great stagnant pools of water and where grew all kinds of
strange plants and vines.

Gage had been from the camp about thirty minutes when he came running
back, his face pale, and a fierce look in his eyes.

"I have heard of it!" he kept muttering. "I have heard of it! I have
heard of it!"

"Avast there!" cried Bowsprit, with an attempt at cheerfulness. "What
are you muttering over? What is it you have heard about, my hearty?"

"The serpent vine," answered Gage, wildly.

"What is the serpent vine?"

"You shall see. I did not believe there was such a thing, but it tangled
my feet, it tried to twine about my legs, and I saw the little red
flowers opening and shutting like the lips of devils."

"Fo' de Lawd's sake! de boss hab gone stark, starin' mad!" cried Black
Tom, staring at Leslie with bulging eyes.

"Not much!" shouted Leslie, hoarsely. "But I have thought of a way to
dispose of Frank Merriwell. I will feed him to the serpent vine! Ah,
that will be revenge!"

Frank had listened to all this, and he noted that Gage actually seemed
like a maniac.

Captain Bellwood, securely bound, was near Frank, to whom he now spoke:

"God pity you, my lad! He was bad enough before, but he seems to have
gone mad. He will murder you!"

"Well, if that's to be the end of me, I'll have to take my medicine,"
came grimly from the lips of the undaunted boy captive.

"My child?" entreated the captain, anxiously. "What became of her? Can
you tell me? Where is she now?"

"She is safe, I believe. She is with friends of mine, and they will
fight for her as long as they are able to draw a breath."

"Thank Heaven! Now I care not if these wretches murder me!"

"I scarcely think they will murder you, captain. They have nothing in
particular against you; but Gage hates me most bitterly."

"That's right!" snarled Leslie, who had overheard Frank's last words.
"I do hate you, and my hatred seems to have increased tenfold since last
night. I have been thinking--thinking how you have baffled me at every
turn whenever we have come together. I have decided that you are my evil
genius, and that I shall never have any luck as long as you live. I
shall keep my oath. One of us will not leave this swamp alive, and you
will be that one!"

"Go ahead with the funeral," said Frank, stoutly. "If you have made up
your mind to murder me, I can't help myself; but one thing is
sure--you'll not hear me beg."

"Wait till you know what your fate is to be. Boys, set his feet free,
and then follow me, with him between you."

The cords which held Frank's feet were released, and he was lifted to a
standing position. Then he was marched along after Gage, who led the
way.

"Good-by," Frank called back.

Into the woods he was marched, and finally Gage came to a halt,
motioning for the others to stop.

"Look!" he cried, pointing; "there is the serpent vine!"

On the ground before them, lay a mass of greenish vines, blossoming over
with a dark red flower. Harmless enough they looked, but, as Gage drew a
little nearer, they suddenly seemed to come to life, and they began
reaching toward his feet, twisting, squirming, undulating like a mass of
serpents.

"There!" shouted Leslie--"there is the vine that feeds on flesh and
blood! See--see how it reached for my feet! It longs to grasp me, to
draw me into its folds, to twine about my body, my neck, to strangle
me!"

The sailors shuddered and drew back, while Frank Merriwell's face was
very pale.

"It did fasten upon me," Gage continued. "If I had not been ready and
quick with my knife, it would have drawn me into its deadly embrace. I
managed to cut myself free and escape."

Then he turned to Frank, and the dancing light in his eyes was not a
light of sanity.

"Merriwell," he said, "the serpent vine will end your life, and you'll
never bother me any more!"

He leaped forward and clutched the helpless captive, screaming:

"Thus I keep my promise!"

And he flung Frank headlong into the clutch of the writhing vine!



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE SERPENT VINE.


With his hands bound behind his back, unable to help himself, Frank
reeled forward into the embrace of the deadly vine, each branch of which
was twisting, curling, squirming like the arms of an octopus.

He nearly plunged forward upon his face, but managed to recover and keep
on his feet.

He felt the vine whip about his legs and fasten there tenaciously, felt
it twist and twine and crawl like a mass of serpents, and he knew he was
in the grasp of the frightful plant which till that hour he had ever
believed a creation of some romancer's feverish fancy.

Frank did not cry out. A great horror seemed to come upon him and benumb
his body and his senses.

He could feel the horrid vines climbing and coiling about him, and he
was helpless to struggle and tear them away. He knew they were mounting
to his neck, where they would curl about his throat and choke the breath
of life from his body.

It was a fearful fate--a terrible death. And there seemed no possible
way of escaping.

Higher and higher climbed the vine, swaying and squirming, the blood-red
flowers opening and closing like lips of a vampire that thirsted for his
blood.

A look of horror was frozen on Frank's face. His eyes bulged from his
head, and his lips were drawn back from his teeth. He did not cry out,
he did not seem to breathe, but he appeared to be turned to stone in the
grasp of the deadly plant.

It was a dreadful sight, and the two sailors, rough and wicked men
though they were, were overcome by the spectacle. Shuddering and
gasping, they turned away.

For the first time, Gage seemed to fully realize what he had done. He
covered his eyes with his hand and staggered backward, uttering a low,
groaning sound.

Merriwell's staring eyes seemed fastened straight upon him with that
fearful stare, and the thought flashed through the mind of the wretched
boy that he should never forget those eyes.

"They will haunt me as long as I live!" he panted. "Why did I do it? Why
did I do it?"

Already he was seized by the pangs of remorse.

Once more he looked at Frank, and once more those staring eyes turned
his blood to ice water.

Then, uttering shriek after shriek, Gage turned and fled through the
swamp, plunging through marshy places and jungles, falling, scrambling
up, leaping, staggering, gasping for breath, feeling those staring eyes
at his back, feeling that they would pursue him to his doom.

Scarcely less agitated and overcome, Bowsprit and the negro followed,
and Frank Merriwell was abandoned to his fate.

Frank longed for the use of his hands to tear away those fiendish vines.
It was a horrible thing to stand and let them creep up, up, up, till
they encircled his throat and strangled him to death.

Through his mind flashed a picture of himself as he would stand there
with the vines drawing tighter and tighter about his throat and his face
growing blacker and blacker, his tongue hanging out, his eyes starting
from their sockets.

He came near shrieking for help, but the thought that the cry must reach
the ears of Leslie Gage kept it back, enabled him to choke it down.

He had declared that Gage should not hear him beg for mercy or aid. Not
even the serpent vine and all its horrors could make him forget that
vow.

The little red flowers were getting nearer and nearer to his face, and
they were fluttering with eagerness. He felt a sucking, drawing,
stinging sensation on one of his wrists, and he believed one of those
fiendish vampire mouths had fastened there.

He swayed his body, he tried to move his feet, but he seemed rooted to
the ground. He did not have the strength to drag himself from that fatal
spot and from the grasp of the vine.

It seemed that hours passed. His senses were in a maze, and the whole
world was reeling and romping around him. The trees became a band of
giant demons, winking, blinking, grinning at him, flourishing their arms
in the air, and dancing gleefully on every side to the sound of wild
music that came from far away in the sky.

Then a smaller demon darted out from amid the trees, rushed at him,
clutched him, slashed, slashed, slashed on every side of him, dragged at
his collar, and panted in his ear:

"White boy fight--try to git away! His hands are free."

Was it a dream--was it an hallucination? No! his hands were free! He
tore at the clinging vines, he fought with all his remaining strength,
he struggled to get away from those clinging things.

All the while that other figure was slashing and cutting with something
bright, while the vine writhed and hissed like serpents in agony.

How it was accomplished Frank could never tell, but he felt himself
dragged free of the serpent vine, dragged beyond its deadly touch, and
he knew it was no dream that he was free!

A black mist hung before his eyes, but he looked through it and faintly
murmured:

"Socato, you have saved me!"

"Yes, white boy," replied the voice of the Seminole, "I found you just
in time. A few moments more and you be a dead one."

"That is true, Socato--that is true! I owe you my very life! I can never
pay you for what you have done!"

In truth the Indian had appeared barely in time to rescue Frank from the
vine, and it had been a desperate and exhausting battle. In another
minute the vine would have accomplished its work.

"I hear white boy cry out, and I see him run from this way," explained
the Seminole. "He look scared very much. Sailor men follow, and then I
come to see what scare them so. I find you."

"It was Providence, Socato. You knew how to fight the vine--how to cut
it with your knife, and so you saved me."

"We must git 'way from here soon as can," declared the Indian. "Bad
white men may not come back, and they may come back. They may want to
see what has happen to white boy."

Frank knew this was true, but for some time he was not able to get upon
his feet and walk. At length the Indian assisted him, and, leaning on
Socato's shoulder, he made his way along.

Avoiding the place where the sailors were camped, the Seminole proceeded
directly to the spot where his canoe was hidden. Frank got in, and
Socato took the paddle, sending the light craft skimming over the water.

Straight to the strange hut where Frank and his companions had stopped
the previous night they made their way.

The sun was shining into the heart of the great Dismal Swamp, and Elsie
Bellwood was at the door to greet Frank Merriwell.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

RIGHT OR WRONG.


Elsie held out both hands, and there was a welcome light in her eyes. It
seemed to Frank that she was far prettier than when he had last seen her
in Fardale.

"Frank, I am so glad to see you!"

He caught her hands and held them, looking into her eyes. The color came
into her cheeks, and then she noted his rumpled appearance, saw that he
was very pale, and cried:

"What is it, Frank? You are hurt? You are so pale!"

Socato grunted in a knowing way, but said nothing.

"It is nothing, Miss Bellwood," assured the boy. "I have been through a
little adventure, that's all. I am not harmed."

He felt her fingers trembling in his clasp, and an electric thrill ran
over him. He remembered that at their last parting she had said it were
far better they should never meet again; but fate had thrown them
together, and now--what?

He longed to draw her to him, to kiss her, to tell her how happy he was
at finding her, but he restrained the impulse.

Then the voice of Barney Mulloy called from within the hut:

"Phwat ye goin' to do me b'y--shtand out there th' rist av th' doay?
Whoy don't yez come in, Oi dunno?"

"Come in, Frank--come in," cried Professor Scotch. "We have been worried
to death over you. Thought you were lost in the Everglades, or had
fallen into the hands of the enemy."

"Your second thought was correct," smiled Frank, as he entered the hut,
with Elsie at his side.

"Phwat's thot?" shouted the Irish boy, in astonishment. "Ye don't mane
to say thim spalpanes caught yez?"

"That's what they did, and they came near cooking me, too."

Frank then related the adventures that had befallen him since he started
out on his own hook to give Leslie Gage a surprise. He told how Gage had
made love to him in the boat, and Barney shrieked with laughter. Then he
related what followed, and how his life had been saved by the locket he
carried, and the professor groaned with dismay. Following this, he
related his capture by Gage and how the young desperado flung him, with
his hands bound, into the clutch of the serpent vine.

The narrative first amused and then thrilled his listeners. Finally they
were horrified and appalled by the peril through which he had passed.

"It's Satan's own scum thot Gage is!" grated Barney, fiercely. "Iver let
me get a crack at th' loike av him and see phwat will happen to th'
whilp!"

"I hate and despise him!" declared Elsie. "He is a monster!"

Then Frank explained how he had been saved by Socato, and the Seminole
found himself the hero of the hour.

"Soc, ould b'y," cried Barney, "thot wur th' bist job ye iver did, an'
Oi'm proud av yez! Ye'll niver lose anything by thot thrick, ayther."

"Not much!" roared the little professor, wiping his eyes. "Man, give me
your hand!"

Then the Seminole had his hand shaken in a manner and with a heartiness
that astonished him greatly.

"That was nothing," he declared, "Socato hates the snake vine--fight it
any time. Don't make so much row."

When all had been told and the party had recovered from the excitement
into which they had been thrown, Barney announced that breakfast was
waiting.

Elsie, for all of her happiness at meeting Frank, was so troubled about
her father that she could eat very little.

Socato ate hastily, and then announced that he would go out and see what
he could do about rescuing Captain Bellwood.

Barney wished to go with the Seminole, but Socato declared that he could
do much better alone, and hurriedly departed.

Then Frank did his best to cheer Elsie, telling her that everything was
sure to come out all right, as the Indian could be trusted to outwit the
desperadoes and rescue the captain.

Seeing Frank and Elsie much together, Barney drew the professor aside,
and whispered:

"It's a bit av a walk we'd better take in th' open air, Oi think."

"But I don't need a walk," protested the little man.

"Yis ye do, profissor," declared the Irish boy, soberly. "A man av your
studious habits nivver takes ixercoise enough."

"But I do not care to expose myself outdoors."

"Phwat's th' matther wid out dures, Oi dunno?"

"It's dangerous."

"How?"

"There's danger that Gage and his gang will appear."

"Phwat av they do? We can get back here aheed av thim, fer we won't go
fur enough to be cut off."

"Then the exercise will not be beneficial, and I will remain here."

"Profissor, yer head is a bit thick. Can't ye take a hint, ur is it a
kick ye nade, Oi dunno?"

"Young man, be careful what kind of language you use to me!"

"Oi'm spakin' United States, profissor; no Irishmon wauld iver spake
English av he could hilp it."

"But such talk of thick heads and kicks--to me, sir, to me!"

"Well, Oi don't want to give yez a kick, but ye nade it. Ye can't see
thot it's alone a bit Frank an' th' litthle girrul would loike to be."

"Why should they wish to be alone?"

"Oh, soay! did ye iver think ye'd loike to be alone wid a pretty swate
girrul, profissor? Come on, now, before Oi pick ye up an' lug ye out."

So Barney finally induced the professor to leave the hut, but the little
man remained close at hand, ready to bolt in through the wide open door
the instant there was the least sign of danger.

Left to themselves, Frank and Elsie chatted, talking over many things of
mutual interest. They sat very near together, and more and more Frank
felt the magnetism of the girl's winning ways and tender eyes. He drew
nearer and nearer, and, finally, although neither knew how it happened,
their hands met, their fingers interlocked, and then he was saying
swiftly, earnestly:

"Elsie, you cannot know how often I have thought of you since you left
me at Fardale. There was something wrong about that parting, Elsie, for
you refused to let me know where you were going, refused to write to me,
expressed a wish that we might never meet again."

She caught her breath. Her head was bowed, and her cheeks were very
pale.

"All the while," she softly said, "away down in my heart was a hope I
could not kill--a hope that we might meet again some day, Frank."

"And we have met!" he cried, exultantly. "When we have to part again,
Elsie, you will not leave me as you did before? You will let me write to
you? You will write to me occasionally?"

"Would it be right?"

She was looking straight into his eyes now, her face was near his, and
the temptation was too great for his impulsive nature to resist. In a
moment his arm was about her neck, and he had kissed her.

"Right!" he cried. "I do not know! Oh, we cannot always be right!"

She quickly released herself from his hold and sprang to her feet, the
warm blood flushing her cheeks.

"We cannot always be right," she admitted; "but we should be right when
we can. Frank, Inza Burrage befriended me. She thinks more of you than
any one else in the wide world. Do not forget Inza!"

He lifted his hand to a round hole in his coat where a bullet from
Leslie Gage's revolver had cut through, and beneath it he felt the
ruined and shattered locket that held Inza's picture.

"I will not forget!" he said, his voice far from steady.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

FRANK'S MERCY.


The forenoon passed, and the afternoon was well advanced, but still
Socato the Seminole did not return.

But late in the afternoon a boat and a number of canoes appeared. In the
boat was Leslie Gage and the two sailors, Black Tom and Bowsprit. The
canoes were filled with Indians.

"Great shnakes av Ireland!" cried Barney Mulloy, amazed. "Phwat th'
dickens does this mane, Oi dunno?"

"It means trouble," said Frank, quickly. "Have the rifles ready, and be
prepared for hot work."

"Indians!" gurgled Professor Scotch. "We're all dead and scalped!"

"Those must be Seminoles," said Frank. "It is scarcely likely that they
are very dangerous."

The boat containing the three white persons ran boldly up to the shore,
and Leslie Gage landed. Advancing a short distance toward the hut, the
door of which was securely closed, he cried:

"Hello in there!"

"Talk with him, Barney," Frank swiftly directed. "The fellow does not
know I am alive, and I do not wish him to know it just now."

So Barney returned:

"Hello, yersilf, an' see how ye loike it."

"You people are in a bad trap," declared Gage, with a threatening air.
"Look," and he motioned toward the water, where the canoes containing
the Indians were lying, "these are my backers. There are twenty of them,
and I have but to say the word to have them attack this hut and tear it
to the ground."

"Well, Oi dunno about thot," coolly retorted the Irish lad. "We moight
have something to say in thot case. It's arrumed we are, an' we know how
to use our goons, me foine birrud."

"If you were to fire a shot at one of these Indians it would mean the
death of you all."

"Is thot so? Well, we are arrumed with Winchester repeaters, an' it
moight make the death av thim all av we began shootin'."

"They do not look very dangerous," said Frank. "I'll wager something
Gage has hired the fellows to come here and make a show in order to
scare us into submitting. The chances are the Indians will not fight at
all."

"You're not fools," said Gage, "and you will not do anything that means
the same as signing your death warrant. If you will come to reason,
we'll have no trouble. We want that girl, Miss Bellwood, and we will
have her. If you do not----"

He stopped suddenly, for there was a great shouting from the Indians.

"The phantom! the phantom!" they cried, in tones that betokened the
greatest terror.

Then they took to flight, paddling as if their very lives depended on
it.

At the same time, the mysterious white canoe, still apparently without
an occupant, was seen coming swiftly toward them, gliding lightly over
the water in a most unaccountable manner.

Exclamations of astonishment broke from the two sailors, and Leslie Gage
stared at the singular craft in profound astonishment.

When the attention of the crowd was on the remarkable sight, Frank
unfastened the door and before Gage was aware of it, our hero was right
upon him.

"You are my prisoner, Gage!" Frank shouted, pointing a revolver at the
fellow. "Surrender!"

Gage saw the boy he believed he had destroyed, uttered a wild shriek,
threw up his hands, and fell in a senseless heap to the ground.

Frank swiftly lifted the fellow, and then ran into the cabin with him,
placing him on the couch.

The two sailors did not pursue. In fact, they seemed almost as badly
scared as the Indians, and they got away in their boat, rowing as if for
their very lives, soon passing from sight.

"Well, begobs!" exclaimed Barney Mulloy; "this is phwat Oi call a
ragion av wonders. It's ivery doay and almost ivery hour something
happens to astonish ye."

Gage was made secure, so he could not get away when he recovered from
the swoon into which he seemed to have fallen.

A short time after, Socato was seen returning, but he was alone in his
canoe.

"He has not found my father--my poor father!" cried Elsie, in distress.
"Those terrible men will kill my father!"

"Wait!" advised Frank. "Let's hear what he has to say. I have great
confidence in Socato."

"The bad white men leave their captive alone," said Socato, "and I
should have set him free, but the great white phantom came, and then the
white captive disappeared."

"What's that?" cried Frank, in astonishment. "Make it plain, Socato.
Whom do you mean by the great white phantom?"

"The one who owns the canoe that goes alone--the one who built this
house and lives here sometimes. Every one fears him. My people say he is
a phantom, for he can appear and disappear as he likes, and he commands
the powers of light and darkness. Socato knew that the bad white man had
hired a hunting party of my people to come here and appear before the
house to frighten you, but he knew you would not be frightened, and the
bad men could not get my people to aid them in a fight. Socato also knew
that the great white phantom sent his canoe to scare my people away, but
he does not know what the great white phantom has done with the man who
was a prisoner."

"Well, it is possible the great white phantom will explain a few things
we do not understand," said Frank, "for here he comes in his canoe."

"And father--my father is with him in the canoe!" screamed Elsie
Bellwood, in delight.

It was true. The white canoe was approaching, still gliding noiselessly
over the water, without any apparent power of propulsion, and in it were
seated two men. One had a long white beard and a profusion of white
hair. He was dressed entirely in white, and sat in the stern of the
canoe. The other was Captain Justin Bellwood, quite unharmed, and
looking very much at his ease.

The little party flocked to the shore to greet the captain, who waved
his hand and called reassuringly to Elsie. As soon as the canoe touched
and came to a rest, he stepped out and clasped his daughter in his arms,
saying, fervently:

"Heaven be thanked! we have come through many dangers, and we are free
at last! Neither of us has been harmed, and we will soon be out of this
fearful swamp."

The man with the white hair and beard stepped ashore and stood regarding
the girl intently, paying no heed to the others. Captain Bellwood turned
to him, saying:

"William, this is my daughter, of whom I told you. Elsie, this is your
Uncle William, who disappeared many years ago, and has never been heard
from since till he set me free to-day, after I was abandoned by those
wretches who dragged us here."

"My uncle?" cried the girl, wonderingly. "How can that be? You said
Uncle William was dead."

"And so I believed, but he still lives. Professor Scotch, I think we had
the pleasure of meeting in Fardale. Permit me to introduce you to
William Bellwood, one of the most celebrated electricians living
to-day."

As he said this, Captain Bellwood made a swift motion which his brother
did not see. He touched his forehead, and the signal signified that
William Bellwood was not right in his mind. This the professor saw was
true when he shook hands with the man, for there was the light of
madness in the eyes of the hermit.

"My brother," continued Captain Bellwood, "has explained that he came
here to these wilds to continue his study of electricity alone and
undisturbed. He took means to keep other people from bothering him. This
canoe, which contains a lower compartment and a hidden propeller, driven
by electricity, was his invention. He has arrangements whereby he can
use a powerful search-light at night, and----"

"That search-light came near being the death of me," said Frank. "He
turned it on me last night just in time to show me to my enemy."

"He has many other contrivances," Captain Bellwood went on. "He has
explained that, by means of electricity, he can make his canoe or
himself glow with a white light in the darkest night."

"Begorra! we've seen him glow!" shouted Barney.

"And he also states that he has wires connecting various batteries in
yonder hut, so that he can frighten away superstitious hunters who
otherwise might take possession of the hut and give him trouble."

"Whoop!" shouted Barney. "Thot ixplains th' foire-allarum an' th' power
thot throwed me inther th' middle av th' flure! Oi nivver hearrud th'
bate av it!"

"It is wonderful, wonderful!" gasped Professor Scotch.

At this moment, a series of wild shrieks came from the hut, startling
them all.

"It is Gage," said Frank. "He seems to be badly frightened."

They hurried toward the hut, Frank leading. Gage was still on the couch,
and he shrieked still louder when he saw Frank; an expression of the
greatest terror coming to his face.

"Take him away! Take him away!" screamed the wretched fellow. "He is
dead! I killed him! Don't let him touch me!"

Then he began to rave incoherently, sometimes frothing at the mouth.

"He is mad!" cried Professor Scotch.

"It is retribution!" came solemnly from Frank's lips.

Two days later a party of eight persons emerged from the wilds of the
great Dismal Swamp and reached a small settlement. They were Frank
Merriwell, Barney Mulloy, Professor Scotch, Leslie Gage, Captain
Bellwood and his brother William, Socato the Seminole, and last, but far
from least, Elsie Bellwood.

"What shall be done with Gage?" asked Professor Scotch.

"He shall be given shelter and medical treatment," declared Frank; "and
I will see that all the bills are paid."

"Thot's the only thing Oi have against ye, me b'y. Ye wur always letting
up on yer inemies at Fardale, an' ye shtill kape on doin' av it."

"If I continue to do so, I shall have nothing to trouble my conscience."

Frank did take care of Gage and see that he was given the best medical
aid that money could procure, and, as a result, the fellow was saved
from a madhouse, for he finally recovered. He seemed to appreciate the
mercy shown him by his enemy, for he wrote a letter to Frank that was
filled with entreaties for forgiveness and promised to try to lead a
different life in the future.

"That," said Frank, "is my reward for being merciful to an enemy."

If Jack Jaggers did not perish in the Everglades, he disappeared. Ben
Bowsprit and Black Tom also vanished, and it is possible that they left
their bones in the great Dismal Swamp.

William Bellwood, so long a hermit in the wilds of Florida, seemed glad
to leave that region.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

IN THE MOUNTAINS AGAIN.


Leaving their friends in Florida, Frank, Barney and the professor next
moved northward toward Tennessee, Frank wishing to see some of the
battlegrounds of the Civil War.

The boys planned a brief tour afoot and were soon on their way among the
Great Smoky Mountains.

Professor Scotch had no heart for a "tour afoot" through the mountains,
and so he had stopped at Knoxville, where the boys were to join him
again in two or three weeks, by the end of which period he was quite
sure they would have enough of tramping.

Frank and Barney were making the journey from Gibson's Gap to Cranston's
Cove, which was said to be a distance of twelve miles, but they were
willing to admit that those mountain miles were most disgustingly long.

They had paused to rest, midway in the afternoon, where the road curved
around a spur of the mountain. Below them opened a vista of valleys and
"coves," hemmed in by wild, turbulent-appearing masses of mountains,
some of which were barren and bleak, seamed with black chasms, above
which threateningly hung grimly beetling crags, and some of which were
robed in dense wildernesses of pine, veiling their faces, keeping them
thus forever a changeless mystery.

From their eyrie position it seemed that they could toss a pebble into
Lost Creek, which wound through the valley below, meandered for miles
amid the ranges, tunneling an unknown channel beneath the rock-ribbed
mountains, and came out again--where?

Both boys had been silent and awe-stricken, gazing wonderingly on the
impressive scene and thinking of their adventures in New Orleans and in
Florida, when a faint cry seemed to float upward from the depths of the
valley.

"Help!"

They listened, and some moments passed in silence, save for the peeping
cry of a bird in a thicket near at hand.

"Begorra! Oi belave it wur imagination, Frankie," said the Irish lad, at
last.

"I do not think so," declared Frank, with a shake of his head. "It was a
human voice, and if we were to shout it might be---- There it is again!"

There could be no doubt this time, for they both heard the cry
distinctly.

"It comes from below," said Frank, quickly.

"Roight, me lad," nodded Barney. "Some wan is in difficulty down there,
and' it's mesilf thot don't moind givin' thim a lift."

Getting a firm hold on a scrub bush, Frank leaned out over the verge and
looked down into the valley.

"I can see her!" he cried. "Look, Barney--look down there amid those
rocks just below the little waterfall."

"Oi see, Frankie."

"See the flutter of a dress?"

"Oi do."

"She is waving something at us."

"Sure, me b'y."

"She has seen us, and is signaling for us to come down."

"And we'll go."

"Instanter, as they say out West."

The boys were soon hurrying down the mountain road, a bend of which
quickly carried them beyond view of the person near the waterfall.

It was nearly an hour later when Frank and Barney approached the little
waterfall, having left the road and followed the course of the stream.

"Is she there, Frankie?" anxiously asked Barney, who was behind.

"Can't tell yet," was the reply. "Will be able to see in a minute, and
then---- She is there, sure as fate!"

In another moment they came out in full view of a girl of eighteen or
nineteen, who was standing facing the waterfall, her back toward a great
rock, a home-made fishing pole at her feet.

The girl was dressed in homespun, the skirt being short and reaching
but a little below the knees, and a calico sunbonnet was thrust half off
her head.

Frank paused, with a low exclamation of admiration, for the girl made a
most strikingly beautiful picture, and Frank had an eye for beauty.

Nearly all the mountain girls the boys had seen were stolid and
flat-appearing, some were tall and lank, but this girl possessed a
figure that seemed perfect in every detail.

Her hair was bright auburn, brilliant and rich in tint, the shade that
is highly esteemed in civilization, but is considered a defect by the
mountain folk. Frank thought it the most beautiful hair he had ever
seen.

Her eyes were brown and luminous, and the color of health showed through
the tan upon her cheeks. Her parted lips showed white, even teeth, and
the mouth was most delicately shaped.

"Hivvins!" gasped Barney, at Frank's shoulder. "Phwat have we struck, Oi
dunno?"

Then the girl cried, her voice full of impatience:

"You-uns has shorely been long enough in gittin' har!"

Frank staggered a bit, for he had scarcely expected to hear the uncouth
mountain dialect from such lips as those but he quickly recovered,
lifted his hat with the greatest gallantry, and said:

"I assure you, miss, that we came as swiftly as we could."

"Ye're strangers. Ef you-uns had been maounting boys, you'd been har in
less'n half ther time."

"I presume that is true; but, you see, we did not know the shortest way,
and we were not sure you wanted us."

"Wal, what did you 'low I whooped at ye fur ef I didn't want ye? I
nighly split my throat a-hollerin' at ye before ye h'ard me at all."

Frank was growing more and more dismayed, for he had never before met a
strange girl who was quite like this, and he knew not what to say.

"Now that we have arrived," he bowed, "we shall be happy to be of any
possible service to you."

"Dunno ez I want ye now," she returned, with a toss of her head.

"Howly shmoke!" gurgled Barney, at Frank's ear. "It's a doaisy she is,
me b'y!"

Frank resolved to take another tack, and so he advanced, saying boldly
and resolutely:

"Now that you have called us down here, I don't see how you are going to
get rid of us. You want something of us, and we'll not leave you till we
find out what it is."

The girl did not appear in the least alarmed. Instead of that, she
laughed, and that laugh was like the ripple of falling water.

"Wal, now you're talkin'!" she cried, with something like a flash of
admiration. "Mebbe you-uns has got some backbone arter all. I like
backbone."

"I have not looked at mine for so long that I am not sure what condition
it is in, but I know I have one."

"An' muscle?"

"A little."

"Then move this rock har that hez caught my foot an' holds it. That's
what I wanted o' you-uns."

She lifted her skirt a bit, and, for the first time, they saw that her
ankle had been caught between two large rocks, where she was held fast.

"Kinder slomped in thar when I war fishin'," she explained, "an' ther
big rock dropped over thar an' cotched me fast when I tried ter pull
out. That war nigh two hour ago, 'cordin' ter ther sun."

"And you have been standing like that ever since?" cried Frank, in
dismay. "Lively, Barney--get hold here! Great Scott! we must have her
out of that in a hurry!"

"Thot's phwat we will, ur we'll turrun th' ould mountain over!" shouted
the Irish lad, as he flew to the aid of his friend.

The girl looked surprised and pleased, and then she said:

"You-uns ain't goin' ter move that rock so easy, fer it's hefty."

"But your ankle--it must have crushed your ankle."

"I 'low not. Ye see it couldn't pinch harder ef it tried, fer them rocks
ain't built so they kin git nigher together; but it's jest made a
reg'ler trap so I can't pull my foot out."

It was no easy thing for the boys to get hold of the rock in a way to
exert their strength, but they finally succeeded, and then Frank gave
the word, and they strained to move it. It started reluctantly, as if
loath to give up its fair captive, but they moved it more and more, and
she was able to draw her foot out. Then, when she was free, they let go,
and the rock fell back with a grating crash against the other.

"You-uns have done purty fair fer boys," said the girl, with a saucy
twinkle in her brown eyes. "S'pose I'll have ter thank ye, fer I mought
a stood har consider'bul longer ef 'tadn't bin fer ye. Who be ye,
anyhow? an' whar be ye goin'?"

Frank introduced himself, and then presented Barney, after which he
explained how they happened to be in the Great Smoky Mountains.

She watched him closely as he spoke, noting every expression, as if a
sudden suspicion had come upon her, and she was trying to settle a doubt
in her mind.

When Frank had finished, the girl said:

"Never heard o' two boys from ther big cities 'way off yander comin' har
ter tromp through ther maountings jest fer ther fun o' seein' ther
scenery an' ther folks. I s'pose we're kinder curi's 'pearin' critters
ter city folks, an' you-uns may be har ter cotch one o' us an' put us in
a cage fer exhibition."

She uttered the words in a way that brought a flush to Frank's cheeks,
and he hastened to protest, halting in confusion when he tried to speak
her name, which he did not know as yet.

A ripple of sunshine seemed to break over her face, and she laughed
outright, swiftly saying:

"Don't you-uns mind me. I'm p'izen rough, but I don't mean half I say. I
kin see you is honest an' squar, though somebody else mought think by
yer way that ye warn't. My name's Kate Kenyon, an' I live down toward
ther cove. I don't feel like fishin' arter this, an' ef you-uns is goin'
that way, I'll go 'long with ye."

She picked up her pole, hooked up the line, and prepared to accompany
them.

They were pleased to have her as a companion. Indeed, Frank was more
than pleased, for he saw in this girl a singular character. Illiterate
though she seemed, she was pretty, vivacious, and so bright that it was
plain education and refinement would make her most fascinating and
brilliant.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

FRANK AND KATE.


The boys did not get to Cranston's Cove that night, for Kate Kenyon
invited them to stop and take supper at her home, and they did so.

Kate's home was much like the rough cabins of other mountain folks,
except that flowering vines had been trained to run up the sides and
over the door, while two large bushes were loaded with roses in front of
the house.

Kate's mother was in the doorway as they approached. She was a tall,
angular woman, with a stolid, expressionless face.

"Har, mammy, is some fellers I brung ter see ye," said this girl. "This
un is Mr. Merriwell, an' that un is Mr. Mulloy."

The boys lifted their hats, and bowed to the woman as if she were a
society queen. She nodded and stared.

"What be you-uns doin' 'round these parts?" she asked, pointedly.

Frank explained, seeing a look of suspicion and distrust deepening in
her face as he spoke.

"Huah!" she grunted, when he had finished. "An' what do you-uns want o'
me?"

"Your daughter invited us to call and take supper," said Frank, coolly.

"I ain't uster cookin' flip-flaps fer city chaps, an' I don't b'lieve
you kin eat the kind o' fodder we-uns is uster."

The boys hastened to assure her that they would be delighted to eat the
plainest of food, and their eagerness brought a merry laugh from the
lips of the girl.

"You-uns is consid'ble amusin'," she said. "You is powerful perlite. I
asked 'em to come, mammy. It's no more'n fair pay fer what they done fer
me."

Then she explained how she had been caught and held by the rocks, and
how the boys had seen her from the mountain road and come to her
rescue.

The mother's face did not soften a bit as she listened, but, when Kate
had finished, she said:

"They're yore comp'ny. Ask 'em in."

So the boys were asked into the cabin, and Kate herself prepared supper.

It was a plain meal, but Frank noticed that everything looked neat and
clean about the house, and both lads relished the coarse food. Indeed,
Barney afterward declared that the corn bread was better than the finest
cake he had ever tasted.

Frank was particularly happy at the table, and the merry stories he told
kept Kate laughing, and, once or twice, brought a grim smile to the face
of the woman.

After supper they went out in front of the cabin, where they could look
up at the wild mass of mountains, the peaks of which were illumined by
the rays of the setting sun.

Mrs. Kenyon filled and lighted a cob pipe. She sat and puffed away,
staring straight ahead in a blank manner.

Just how it happened Frank himself could not have told, but Barney fell
to talking to the woman in his whimsical way, while Frank and Kate
wandered away a short distance, and sat on some stones which had been
arranged as a bench in a little nook near Lost Creek. From this position
they could hear Barney's rich brogue and jolly laugh as he recounted
some amusing yarn, and, when the wind was right, a smell of the black
pipe would be wafted to them.

"Do you know," said Frank, "this spot is so wild and picturesque that it
fascinates me. I should like to stop here two or three days and rest."

"Better not," said the girl, shortly.

"Why?" asked the boy, in surprise.

"Wal, it mought not be healthy."

"What do you mean?"

"You might be tooken fer revenue."

"For revenue? I do not understand."

"I wonder ef you air so ignerent, or be you jest makin' it?"

"Honestly and truly, I do not understand you."

"Wal, I kinder 'low you-uns is all right, but thar's others might not
think so. S'pose you know what moonshine is?"

"Yes; it is illicitly distilled whiskey."

She nodded.

"That's right. Wal, ther revenues say thar's moonshine made round these
parts. They come round ev'ry little while to spy an' cotch ther folks
that makes it."

"By revenues you mean the officers of the government?"

"Wal, they may be officers, but they're a difrrunt kind than Jock
Hawkins."

"Who is Jock Hawkins?"

"He's ther sheriff down to ther cove. Jock Hawkins knows better'n to
come snoopin' 'round, an' he's down on revenues ther same as ther rest
o' us is."

"Then you do not like the revenue officers?"

"Like 'em!" cried the girl, starting up, her eyes seeming to blaze in
the dusky twilight. "I hate 'em wuss'n pizen! An' I've got good cause
fer hatin' 'em."

The boy saw he had touched a tender spot, and he would have turned the
conversation in another channel, but she was started, and she went on
swiftly:

"What right has ther gover'ment to take away anybody's honest means o'
earnin' a livin'? What right has ther gover'ment to send spies up har
ter peek an' pry an' report on a man as is makin' a little moonshine ter
sell that he may be able ter git bread an' drink fer his fam'ly? What
right has ther gover'ment ter make outlaws an' crim'nals o' men as
wouldn't steal a cent that didn't b'long ter them if they was starvin'?"

Frank knew well enough the feeling of most mountain folks toward the
revenue officers, and he knew it was a useless task to attempt to show
them where they were in the wrong.

Kate went on, passionately.

"Yes, I has good right to hate ther revenues, an' I do! Didn't they
pester my pore old daddy fer makin' moonshine! Didn't they hunt him
through ther maountings fer weeks, an' keep him hidin' like a dog! An'
didn't they git him cornered at last in Bent Coin's old cabin, an' when
he refused ter come out an' surrender, an' kep' 'em off with his gun,
didn't they shoot him so he died three days arter in my arms! Hate 'em!
Wal, I've got good reason ter hate 'em!"

Kate was wildly excited, although she held her voice down, as if she did
not wish her mother to hear what she was saying. Frank was sitting so
near that he felt her arm quivering against his.

"Hate 'em!" continued the girl. "I has more than that to hate 'em fer!
Whar is my brother Rufe, ther best boy that ever drored a breath? Ther
revenues come fer him, an' they got him. Thar war a trial, an' they
proved ez he'd been consarned in makin' moonshine. He war convicted, an'
he's servin' his time. Hate 'em! Wal, thar's nuthin' I hate wuss on this
earth!"

"You have had hard luck," said Frank, by way of saying something. "It's
lucky for us that we're not revenues."

"Yer right thar," she nodded. "I didn't know but ye war at first, but I
changed my mind later."

"Why?"

"Wal, ye're young, an' you-uns both has honest faces. Revenues is
sneaks. They show it in their faces."

"I don't suppose they have been able to check the making of
moonshine--that is, not to any extent?"

She laughed harshly.

"Wal, I judge not! Did ye ever hear o' Muriel?"

"Who is he?"

"A moonshiner."

"What of him?"

"He makes more whiskey in a week than all ther others in this region
afore him made in a month."

"He must be smarter than the others before him."

"Wal, he's not afeared o' ther revenues, an' he's a mystery to ther men
ez works fer him right along."

"A mystery?"

"Yes."

"How so?"

"None o' them has seen his face, an' they don't know Who he is. They
ain't been able to find out."

"And they have tried?"

"Wal, Con Bean war shot through ther shoulder fer follerin' Muriel, an'
Bink Mower got it in ther leg fer ther same trick."

"I rather admire this Muriel," laughed Frank. "He may be in unlawful
business, but he seems to be a dandy."

"He keeps five stills runnin' all ther time, an' he has a way o' gittin'
ther stuff out o' ther maountings an' disposin' of it. But I'm talkin'
too much, as Wade would say."

"Who is Wade?"

"He's Wade Miller, a partic'lar friend o' our'n sence Rufe war tooken by
ther revenues. Wade has been good to mammy an' me."

"I don't blame him. If I lived near, I might try to bother Wade
somewhat."

She glanced at him swiftly. It was now duskish, but he was so near that
he could see her eyes through the twilight.

"I dunno what you-uns means," she said, slowly, her voice falling. "Wade
would be powerful bad to bother. He's ugly sometimes, an' he's jellus o'
me."

"Then Wade is paying attention to you?"

"Wal, he's tryin' ter, but I don't jes' snuggle ter him ther way I might
ef I liked him right. Thar's something about him, ez I don't edzac'ly
like."

"That makes it rather one-sided, and makes me think all the more that I
should try to bother him if I lived near. Do you know, Miss Kenyon, that
you are an exceptionally pretty girl?"

"Go 'long! You can't stuff me! Why, I've got red hair!"

"Hair that would make you the envy of a society belle. It is the
handsomest hair I ever saw."

"Now you're makin' fun o' me, an' I don't like that."

She drew away as if offended, and he leaned toward her, eager to
convince her of his sincerity.

"Indeed, I am doing nothing of the sort," he protested. "The moment I
saw you to-day I was struck by the beauty of your hair. But that is not
the only beautiful feature about you, Miss Kenyon. Your mouth is a
perfect Cupid's bow, and your teeth are like pearls, while you have a
figure that is graceful and exquisite."

She caught her breath.

"Never nobody talked to me like that afore," she murmured. "Round har
they jes' say, 'Kate, you'd be a rippin' good looker ef it warn't fer
that red hair o' yourn.' An' they've said it so much that I've come to
hate my hair wuss'n pizen."

"Your hair is your crowning beauty. It is magnificent!"

"Say!" she whispered, drawing toward him.

"What?"

"I kinder take to you."

Her hand found his, and they were sitting very near together.

"I took to you up by ther fall ter-day," she went on, in a low tone.
"Now, don't you git skeered, fer I'm not goin' to be foolish, an' I know
I'm not book-learned an' refined, same ez your city gals. We kin be
friends, can't we?"

Frank had begun to regret his openly expressed admiration, but now he
said:

"To be sure we can be friends, Miss Kenyon."

"Partic'ler friends?"

"I am sure I shall esteem your friendship very highly."

"Wall, partic'ler friends don't call each other miss an' mister. I'll
agree ter call you Frank, ef you'll call me Kate."

Frank hesitated.

"I am going away to-morrow," he thought. "It won't do any harm."

"Is it a go?" she asked.

"It is a go," he answered.

"Frank!"

"Kate!"

A fierce exclamation close at hand, the cracking of a twig, a heavy
step, and then a panther-like figure leaped out of the dusk, and flung
itself upon Frank.


[Illustration: "Kate grasped the assailant by the collar, and with
astonishing strength, pulled him off the prostrate lad." (See page
218)]



CHAPTER XL.

A JEALOUS LOVER.


The attack was so sudden and fierce that the boy was hurled to the
ground before he could make a move to protect himself.

"You shall not have her!" hissed a voice in his ear.

A hand fastened on his throat, pinning him fast. The man's knee crushed
into his stomach, depriving him of breath. The man's other hand snatched
out something, and lifted it aloft.

A knife was poised above Frank's heart, and in another moment the blade
would have been buried to the hilt in the lad's bosom.

Without uttering a sound, Kate Kenyon grasped the wrist of the
murderous-minded man, gave it a wrench with all her strength, which was
not slight, and forced him to drop the knife.

"You don't murder anybody, Wade Miller!" she panted.

"I'll choke ther life outen him!" snarled the fellow, as he tried to
fasten both hands on Frank's throat.

By this time the boy had recovered from the surprise and shock, and he
was ready to fight for his life.

Kate grasped the assailant by the collar, and, with astonishing
strength, pulled him off the prostrate lad.

In the twinkling of an eye, Frank came to his feet, and he was ready for
a new assault.

Snarling and growling like a mad dog, the man scrambled up and lunged
toward the boy, trying to grasp him.

Frank was a skillful boxer, and now his skill came into play, for he
dodged under the man's right arm, whirled like a cat, and struck the
fellow behind the ear.

Spat! sounded the blow, sending the assailant staggering, and Frank
followed it up by leaping after him and striking him again, the second
blow having the force of the lad's strength and the weight of his body.

It seemed that the man was literally knocked "spinning," and he did not
stop till he landed in the creek.

"Wal," exclaimed the girl, "I 'low you kin take keer o' yerself now!"

"I rather think so," came coolly from the boy. "He caught me foul, and I
did not have a show at first."

"Look out fer his gun."

"I will. Who is he?"

"Wade Miller."

Frank whistled. It was a case of jealousy, and he had aroused the worst
passions of the man who admired Kate Kenyon. Miller came scrambling and
snorting from the water, and Barney Mulloy rushed toward the spot,
crying:

"Pwhat's th' row, Frankie, me b'y? Do ye nade inny av me hilp?"

"I think not. So far, I am all right, thanks to Miss Kenyon."

"An' you kin fight!" breathed the mountain maid, in sincere admiration.
"I didn't s'pose city chaps knowed how ter fight."

"Some do," laughed Frank, keeping his eyes on Miller.

"I'll have his life!" panted the man, springing toward Frank, and then
halting suddenly, and throwing up his hand.

"Look out!" screamed the girl. "He's got a pistol!"

Frank knew this well enough, and he was expecting just such a move, so
it happened that the words had scarcely left the girl's lips when the
revolver was sent flying from Wade Miller's hand.

The boy had leaped forward, and, with one skillful kick, disarmed his
foe by knocking the weapon out of his hand.

Miller seemed dazed for a moment, and then he started for Frank, once
more grinding his teeth.

"Oh, let me take a hand in this!" cried Barney Mulloy, who was eager for
a fight. "Me blud is gittin' shtagnant."

"Keep away!" ordered Frank. "I can look out for myself."

"I'll kill ye! I'll kill ye!" snarled the infuriated man.

"Well, you have tried that trick twice, but I do not see that you have
succeeded to any great extent."

"I'll hammer yer life out o' yer carcass with my bare hands!"

"Possibly that will not be such a very easy trick to do."

The boy's coolness seemed to add to the fury of his assailant, and the
man made another rush, which was easily avoided by Frank, who struck
Miller a stinging blow.

"You'd better stop, Wade," advised the girl. "He-uns is too much fer
you-uns, an' that's plain enough."

"Oh, I'll show ye--I'll show ye!"

There was no longer any reason in the man's head, and Frank saw that he
must subdue the fellow some way. Miller was determined to grapple with
the boy, and Frank felt that he would find the mountaineer had the
strength of an ox, for which reason he must keep clear of those grasping
hands.

For some moments Frank had all he could do to avoid Miller, who seemed
to have grown stolid to the lad's blows. At last, Frank darted in,
caught the man behind, lifted him over one hip, and dashed him headlong
to the ground.

Miller lay still, stunned.

"Wal, that's the beatenest I ever saw!" cried Kate Kenyon, whose
admiration for Frank now knew no bounds. "You-uns is jes' a terror!"

Barney laughed.

"Whoy, thot's fun fer Frankie," he declared.

Miller groaned, and sat up, lifting his hands to his head, and looking
about him in a dazed way.

"What's happened ter me?" he asked, speaking thickly.

"Ye run ag'in' a fighter this time, Wade," said the girl. "He done ye,
an' you-uns is ther bully o' these parts!"

"It was an accident," mumbled the man. "I couldn't see ther critter
well, an' so he kinder got----"

"That won't go, Wade," half laughed the girl. "He done you fa'r an'
squar', an' it's no us' ter squawk."

"An' ye're laffin' 'bout it, be ye, Kate? Wal, I ain't done with him."

The girl became serious instantly.

"Better let him erlone, Wade. You-uns has made fool enough o' yerself.
Ye tried ter kill me, an'----"

"What I saw made me do it!" grated the man. "He war makin' love ter ye,
Kate--an' you-uns liked it!"

"Wal, Wade Miller, what is that ter you-uns?" she haughtily demanded.
"He has a right ter make love ter me ef he wants ter."

"Oh, yes, he has a right, but his throat'll be slit before long, mark
what I say!"

"Ef anything o' that kind happens, Wade Miller, I'll know who done it,
an' I swa'r I'll never rest till I prove it agin' ye."

"I don't keer, Kate," muttered the man, getting on his feet and standing
there sulkily before them. "Ef I can't hev ye, I sw'ar no other critter
shall!"

"Be keerful, Wade Miller! I've stood all I kin from you, an' from now on
I don't stan' no more. Arter this you-uns an' me-uns ain't even
friends."

He fell back a step, as if he had been struck a blow, and then he
hoarsely returned:

"All right, Kate. But I'll stick ter my oath. I ain't ter be thrown
aside so easy. As fer them city chaps, ther maountings ain't big enough
ter hold them an' me. Wade Miller has some power, an' I wouldn't give a
snap for their lives. The Black Caps don't take ter strangers much, an'
they know them critters is hyar. I'm goin' now, but that don't need ter
mean that I'll stay away fer long."

He turned, and, having picked up his revolver, strode away into the
darkness, quickly disappearing.

Kate's trembling hand fell on Frank's arm, and she panted into his ear:

"You-uns must git out o' ther maountings quick as you kin, fer Wade
Miller means what he says, an' he'll kill ye ef you stay hyar!"



CHAPTER XLI.

FACING DEATH.


Frank Merriwell's blood was aroused, and he did not feel like letting
Wade Miller drive him like a hunted dog from the mountains.

"By this time I should think you would have confidence in my ability to
take care of myself against this man Miller," he said, somewhat testily.

"Yo're ther best fighter I ever saw, but that won't 'mount ter anything
agin' ther power Miller will set on yer. He's pop-ler, is Wade Miller,
an' he'll have ther hull maountings ter back him."

"I shall not run for Miller and all his friends. Right is right, and I
have as good right here as he."

"Hang me!" cried Kate, admiringly; "hang me ef I don't like you-uns'
pluck. You may find that you'll need a friend afore yo're done with
Wade. Ef ye do--wal, mebbe Kate Kenyon won't be fur off."

"Thank you," said Frank. "It is a good thing to know I shall have one
friend in the mountains."

"Huah!" grunted a voice, and Mrs. Kenyon was seen stolidly standing in
the dusk. "Mebbe you-uns will find my Kate ther best friend ye could
have. Come, gal, it's time ter g'win."

So they entered the cabin, and Barney found an opportunity to whisper to
Frank:

"She's a corker, me b'y! an' Oi think she's shtuck on yez. Betther be
careful, lad. It's dangerous."

"Don't worry," returned Frank.

Shortly after entering the house, Mrs. Kenyon declared she was tired,
and intended to go to bed. She apologized for the bed she had to give
the boys, but they assured her that they were accustomed to sleeping
anywhere, and that the bed would be a positive luxury.

"Such slick-tongued chaps I never did see before," declared the old
woman. "They don't seem stuck up an' lofty, like most city fellers.
Really, they make me feel right to home in my own house!"

She said this in a whimsical way that surprised Frank, who fancied Mrs.
Kenyon had no sense of humor.

Kate bade them good-night, and they retired, which they were glad to do,
as they were tired from the tramp of the day.

Frank was awakened by a sharp shake, and his first thought was of
danger, but his hand did not reach the revolver he had placed beneath
the pillow, for he felt something cold against his temple, and heard a
voice hiss:

"Be easy, you-uns! Ef ye make a jowl, yo're ter be shot!"

Barney was awakened at the same time, and the boys found they were in
the clutches of strong men. The little room seemed filled with men, and
the lads instantly realized they were in a bad scrape.

Through the small window sifted the white moonlight, showing that every
man wore a black, pointed cap and hood, which reached to his shoulders.
In this hood arrangement great holes were cut for the eyes, and some had
slits cut for their mouths.

"The Black Caps!" was the thought that flashed through Frank's mind.

The revolvers pressed against the heads of the boys kept them from
defending themselves or making an outcry. They were forced to get up and
dress, after which they were passed through the open window, like
bundles, their hands having been tied behind them.

Other black-hooded men were outside, and horses were near at hand.

"Great Scott!" thought Frank Merriwell. "We are in for it! We should
have been ready for them."

But when he thought how tired they had been, he did not wonder that both
had slept soundly while the men slipped into the house by the window,
which had been readily and noiselessly removed.

It did not take the men long to get out as they had entered. Then Frank
and Barney were placed on horses, being tied there securely, and the
party was soon ready to move.

They rode away, and the horses' feet gave out no sound, which explained
why they had not aroused anybody within the cabin.

The hoofs of the animals were muffled.

Frank wondered what Kate Kenyon would think when morning came and she
found her guests gone.

"She will believe we rose in the night, and ran away. I hate to have her
believe me a coward."

Then he fell to wondering what the men would do with himself and Barney.

"We are harmless travelers. They will not dare to do anything more than
run us out of this part of the country."

Although he told himself this, he was far from feeling sure that the men
would do nothing else. He had heard of the desperate deeds perpetrated
by the widely known "White Caps," and it was not likely that the Black
Caps were any less desperate and reckless.

As they were leaving the vicinity of the cabin, one of the horses
neighed loudly, causing the leader of the party to utter an exclamation
of anger.

"Ef that 'rousts ther gal, she's li'bul ter be arter us in a hurry," one
of the men observed.

The party hurried forward, soon passing from view of the cabin, and
entering the shadow that lay blackly in the depths of the valley.

They rode about a mile, and then they came to a halt at a command from
the leader, and Frank noticed with alarm that they had stopped beneath a
large tree, with wide-spreading branches.

"This looks bad for us, old man," he whispered to Barney.

"Thot's pwhat it does, Frankie," admitted the Irish lad. "Oi fale
throuble coming this way."

The horsemen formed a circle about the captives, moving at a signal from
the leader, who did not seem inclined to waste words.

"Brothers o' ther Black Caps," said the leader, "what is ther fate
we-uns gives ter revenues?"

"Death!"

Every man in the circle uttered the word, and they spoke all together.
It sounded dismal and blood-chilling.

"Right," bowed the leader. "Now, why are we assembled ter-night?"

"Ter dispose o' spies," chorused the Black Caps.

"Where are they?"

"Thar!"

Each one of the black-hooded band extended a hand and pointed straight
at the captive boys.

"How shall they be disposed uv?" asked the leader.

"They shall be hanged," solemnly said the men.

"Good!" cried the leader, as if well satisfied. "Produce ther rope."

In a moment one of the men brought forth a rope. This was long enough to
serve for both boys, and it was quickly cut in two pieces, while
skillful hands proceeded to form nooses.

"Frankie," said Barney Mulloy, sadly, "we're done for."

"It looks that way," Frank was forced to admit.

"Oi wouldn't moind so much," said the Irish lad, ruefully, "av we could
kick th' booket foighting fer our loives; but it is a bit harrud ter go
under widout a chance to lift a hand."

"That's right," cried Frank, as he strained fiercely at the cords which
held his hands behind his back. "It is the death of a criminal, and I
object to it."

The leader of the Black Caps rode close to the boys, leaned forward in
his saddle, and hissed in Frank's ear:

"It's my turn now!"

"And you mean to murder us?" demanded Frank, passionately.

"Not murder," answered the man. "We-uns is goin' ter put two revenues
out o' ther way, that's all!"

"It's murder," cried Frank, in a ringing tone. "You know we are not
revenue spies! Men, we appeal to you. We can prove that we are what we
claim to be--two boys who are tramping through the mountains for
pleasure. Will you kill us without giving us a chance to prove our
innocence?"

The leader laughed harshly.

"It's ther same ol' whine," he said. "Ther revenues alwus cry baby when
they're caught. You-uns can't fool us, an' we ain't got time ter waste
with ye. Git reddy, boys!"

About the boys' necks the fatal ropes were quickly adjusted.

"Stop!" Frank commanded. "If you murder us, you will find you have not
killed two friendless boys. We have friends--powerful friends--who will
follow this matter up--who will investigate it. You will be hunted down
and punished for the crime. You will not be allowed to escape!"

Again the leader laughed.

"Pore fool!" he sneered. "Do you-uns think ye're stronger an' more
po'erful than ther United States Gover'ment? Huah! Ther United States
loses her spies, an' she can't tell who disposed o' 'em. We won't be
worried by all yore friends."

He made another movement, and the rope ends were flung over a limb that
was strong enough to bear both lads.

Hope was dying within Frank Merriwell's breast. At last he had reached
the end of his adventurous life, which had been short and turbulent. He
must die here amid these wild mountains, which flung themselves up
against the moonlit sky, and the only friend to be with him at the end
was the faithful friend who must die at his side.

Frank's blood ran cold and sluggish in his veins. The spring night had
seemed warm and sweet, filled with the droning of insects; but now there
was a bitter chill in the air, and the white moonlight seemed to take on
a crimson tinge, as of blood.

The boy's nature rebelled against the thought of meeting death in such a
manner. It was spring-time amid the mountains; with him it was the
spring-time of life. He had enjoyed the beautiful world, and felt strong
and brave to face anything that might come; but this he had not reckoned
on, and it was something to cause the stoutest heart to shake.

Over the eastern mountains, craggy, wild, barren or pine-clad, the
gibbous moon swung higher and higher. The heavens were full of stars,
and every star seemed to be an eye that was watching to witness the
consummation of the tragedy down there in that little valley, through
which Lost Creek flowed on to its unknown destination.

How still it was!

The silence was broken by a sound that made every black-hooded man start
and listen.

Sweet and mellow and musical, from afar through the peaceful night, came
the clear notes of a bugle.

Ta-ra-ta-ra-ta-ra-tar! Ta-ra-ta-ra-ta-ra-tar!

A fierce exclamation broke from the lips of the leader of the Black
Caps, and he grated:

"Muriel, by ther livin' gods! He's comin' hyar! Quick, boys--finish this
job, an' git!"

"Stop, Wade Miller!" cried Frank, commandingly. "If that is Muriel, wait
for him--let him pronounce our fate. He is the chief of you all, and he
shall say if we are revenue spies."

"Bah! You-uns know too much, fer ye've called my name! That settles ye!
Ye must hang anyway, now!"

Ta-ra-ta-ra-ta-ra-tar!

From much nearer, came the sound of the bugle, awakening hundreds of
mellow echoes, which were flung from crag to crag till it seemed that
the mountains were alive with buglers.

The clatter of a horse's iron-shod feet could be heard, telling that the
rider was coming like the wind down the valley.

"Cut free ther feet o' ther pris'ners!" panted the leader of the Black
Caps. "Work quick! Muriel will be here in a few shakes, an' we-uns must
be done. All ready thar! Up with 'em!"

The fatal moment had arrived!



CHAPTER XLII.

MURIEL.


Ta-ra-tar! Ta-ra-ta-ra-ta-ra-tar!

Through the misty moonlight a coal-black horse, bearing a rider who once
more awakens the clamoring echoes with his bugle, comes tearing at a mad
gallop.

"Up with 'em!" repeats Wade Miller, fiercely, as the black-hooded men
seem to hesitate.

The ropes tighten.

"Stop!"

One of the men utters the command, and his companions hesitate.

"Muriel is death on revernues," says the one who had spoken, "an' thar
ain't any reason why we-uns shouldn't wait fer him."

"That's so."

More than half the men agree with the one who has interrupted the
execution, filling Wade Miller with unutterable rage.

"Fools!" snarled the chief ruffian of the party. "I am leadin' you-uns
now, an' ye've gotter do ez I say. I order ye ter string them critters
up!"

Nearer and nearer came the clattering hoof-beats.

"Av we can have wan minute more!" breathed Barney Mulloy.

"Half a minute will do," returned Frank.

"We refuse ter obey ye now," boldly spoke the man who had commanded his
companions to stop. "Muriel has signaled ter us, an' he means fer us ter
wait till he-uns arrives."

"Wait!" howled Miller. "They sha'n't escape!"

He snatched out a revolver, pointed it straight at Frank's breast, and
fired!

Just as the desperate ruffian was pulling the trigger, the man nearest
him struck up his hand, and the bullet passed through Frank's hat,
knocking it to the ground.

Miller was furious as a maniac, but, at this moment, the black horse
and the dashing rider burst in upon the scene, plunged straight through
the circle, halting at the side of the imperiled lads, the horse being
flung upon its haunches.

"Wal, what be you-uns doin'?" demands a clear, ringing voice. "What work
is this, that I don't know erbout?"

The men were silent. Wade Miller cowered before the chief of the
moonshiners, trying to hide the revolver.

Muriel's eyes, gleaming through the twin holes of the mask he wore,
found Miller, and the clear voice cried:

"You-uns has been lettin' this critter lead ye inter somethin'! An' it's
fair warnin' I gave him ter keep clear o' meddlin' with my business."

The boys gazed at the moonshiner chief in amazement, for Muriel looked
no more than a boy as he sat there on his black horse, and his voice
seemed the voice of a boy instead of that of a man. Yet it was plain
that he governed these desperate ruffians of the mountains with a hand
of iron, and they feared him.

"We-uns war 'bout ter hang two revernues," explained Miller.

Muriel looked at the boys.

"Revernues?" he said, doubtfully. "How long sence ther gover'ment has
been sendin' boys hyar ter spy on us?"

"They know what happens ter ther men they send," muttered Miller.

"Wal, 'tain't like they'd be sendin' boys arter men failed."

"That's ther way they hope ter fool us."

"An' how do you know them-uns is revernues?"

"We jest s'picions it."

"An' you-uns war hangin' 'em on s'picion, 'thout lettin' me know?"

"We never knows whar ter find ye, Muriel."

"That is nary excuse, fer ef you-uns had held them-uns a day I'd knowed
it. It looks like you-uns war in a monstr'us hurry."

"It war he-uns," declared one of the black hoods, pointing to Miller.
"He-uns war in ther hurry."

"We don't gener'ly waste much time in dinkerin' 'roun' with anybody
we-uns thinks is revernues," said Miller.

"Wal, we ain't got ther record o' killin' innercent boys, an' we don't
begin now. Take ther ropes off their necks."

Two men hastened to obey the order, while Miller sat and grated his
teeth. As this was being done, Muriel asked:

"What war you-uns doin' with that revolver when I come? I heard ye
shoot, an' I saw ther flash. Who did you-uns shoot at?"

Miller stammered and stuttered till Muriel repeated the question, his
voice cold and hard, despite its boyish caliber.

"Wal," said Wade, reluctantly, "I'll have ter tell yer. I shot at
he-uns," and he pointed at Frank.

"I thought so," was all Muriel said.

When the ropes were removed from the necks of the boys, Muriel directed
that their feet be tied again, and their eyes blindfolded.

These orders were attended to with great swiftness, and then the
moonshiner chief said:

"Follow!"

Out they rode from beneath the tree, and away through the misty
moonlight.

Frank and Barney could not see, but they felt well satisfied with their
lot, for they had been saved from death for the time being, and,
somehow, they felt that Muriel did not mean to harm them.

"Frank," whispered Barney, "are yez there?"

"Here," replied Frank, close at hand.

"It's dead lucky we are to be livin', me b'y."

"You are quite correct, Barney. I feel like singing a song of praise and
thanksgiving. But we're not out of the woods yet."

"Thot Muriel is a dandy, Frankie! Oi'm shtuck on his stoyle."

"He is no more than a boy. I wonder how he happened to appear at such an
opportune moment?"

"Nivver a bit do Oi know, but it's moighty lucky fer us thot he did."

Frank fell to speculating over the providential appearance of the
moonshiner chief. It was plain that Muriel must have known that
something was happening, and he had signaled with the bugle to the Black
Caps. In all probability, other executions had taken place beneath that
very tree, for the young chief came there direct, without hesitation.

For nearly an hour they seemed to ride through the night, and then they
halted. The boys were removed from the horses and compelled to march
into some kind of a building.

After some moments, their hands were freed, and, tearing away the
blindfolds, they found themselves in a low, square room, with no
windows, and a single door.

With his back to the door, stood Muriel.

The light of a swinging oil lamp illumined the room.

Muriel leaned gracefully against the door, his arms folded, and his eyes
gleaming where the lamplight shone on them through the twin holes in the
sable mask.

The other moonshiners had disappeared, and the boys were alone in that
room with the chief of the mountain desperadoes.

There was something strikingly cool and self-reliant in Muriel's
manner--something that caused Frank to think that the fellow, young as
he was, feared nothing on the face of the earth.

At the same time there was no air of bravado or insolence about that
graceful pose and the quiet manner in which he was regarding them.
Instead of that, the moonshiner was a living interrogation point,
everything about him seeming to speak the question that fell from his
lips.

"Are you-uns revernues?"

"Why do you ask us?" Frank quickly counter questioned. "You must know
that we will lie if we are, and so you will hear our denial anyway. That
can give you little satisfaction."

"Look hyar--she tol' me fair an' squar' that you-uns warn't revernues,
but I dunno how she could tell."

"Of whom are you speaking?"

Frank fancied that he knew, but he put the question, and Muriel
answered:

"Ther gal that saved yore lives by comin' ter me an' tellin' me ther
boys had taken you outer her mammy's house."

"Kate Kenyon?"

"Yes."

"God bless her! She did save our lives, for if you had been one minute
later you would not have arrived in time. Dear girl! I'll not forget
her!"

Muriel moved uneasily, and he did not seem pleased by Frank's words,
although his face could not be seen. It was some moments before he
spoke, but his voice was strangely cold and hard when he did so.

"It's well ernough fer you-uns ter remember her, but ye'd best take car'
how ye speak o' her. She's got friends in ther maountings--true
friends."

Frank was startled, and he felt the hot blood rush to his face. Then, in
a moment, he cried:

"Friends! Well, she has no truer friends than the boys she saved
to-night! I hope you will not misconstrue our words, Mr. Muriel."

A sound like a smothered laugh came from behind that baffling mask, and
Muriel said:

"Yo're hot-blooded. I war simply warnin' you-uns in advance, that's all.
I thought it war best."

"It was quite unnecessary. We esteem Miss Kenyon too highly to say
anything that can give a friend of hers just cause to strike against
us."

"Wal, city chaps are light o' tongue, an' they're apt ter think that
ev'ry maounting girl is a fool ef she don't have book learnin'. Some
city chaps make their boast how easy they kin 'mash' such gals. Anything
like that would count agin' you-uns."

Frank was holding himself in check with an effort.

"It is plain you do not know us, and you have greatly misjudged us. We
are not in the mountains to make 'mashes,' and we are not the kind to
boast of our conquests."

"Thot's right, me jool!" growled Barney, whose temper was started a bit.
"An' it's mesilf thot loikes to be suspected av such a thing. It shtirs
me foighting blud."

The Irish lad clinched his fist, and felt of his muscle, moving his
forearm up and down, and scowling blackly at the cool chief of
moonshiners, as if longing to thump the fellow.

This seemed to amuse Muriel, but still he persisted in further arousing
the lads by saying, insinuatingly:

"I war led ter b'lieve that Kate war ruther interested in you-uns by her
manner. Thar don't no maounting gal take so much trouble over strangers
fer nothin'!"

Frank bit his lip, and Barney looked blacker than ever. It seemed that
Muriel was trying to draw them into a trap of some sort, and they were
growing suspicious. Had this young leader of mountain ruffians rescued
them that he might find just cause or good excuse to put them out of the
way?

The boys were silent, and Muriel forced a laugh.

"Wal, ye won't talk about that, an' so we'll go onter somethin' else. I
judge you-uns know yo're in a po'erful bad scrape?"

"We have good reasons to think so."

"Begorra! we have thot!" exclaimed Barney, feeling of his neck, and
making a wry face, as if troubled by an unpleasant recollection.

"It is a scrape that you-uns may not be able ter git out of easy,"
Muriel said. "I war able ter save yer from bein' hung 'thout any show at
all, but ye're not much better off now."

"If you were powerful enough to save us in the first place, you should
be able to get us out of the scrape entirely."

"You-uns don't know all about it. Moonshiners have laws an' regulations,
an' even ther leader must stan' by them."

Frank was still troubled by the unpleasant suspicion that Muriel was
their enemy, after all that had happened. He felt that they must guard
their tongues, for there was no telling what expression the fellow might
distort and turn against them.

Seeing neither of the lads was going to speak, Muriel went on:

"Yes, moonshiners have laws and regulations. Ther boys came nigh
breakin' one o' ther laws by hangin' you-uns ter-night 'thout givin' ye
a show."

"Then we are to have a fair deal?" eagerly cried Frank.

"Ez fair ez anybody gits," assured Muriel, tossing back a lock of his
coal-black hair, which he wore long enough to fall to the collar of his
coat. "Ain't that all ye kin ask?"

"I don't know. That depends on what kind of a deal it is."

"Wall, ye'll be given yore choice."

"We demand a fair trial. If it is proven that we are revenue spies,
we'll have to take our medicine. But if it is not proven, we demand
immediate release."

"Take my advice; don't demand anything o' ther Black Caps. Ther more ye
demand, ther less ye git."

"We have a right to demand a fair deal."

"Right don't count in this case; it is might that holds ther fort.
You-uns stirred up a tiger ag'in' ye when you made Wade Miller mad. It's
a slim show that ye escape ef we-uns lets yer go instanter. He'd foller
yer, an' he'd finish yer somewhar."

"We will take our chances on that. We have taken care of ourselves so
far, and we think we can continue to do so. All we ask is that we be set
at liberty and given our weapons."

"An' ye'd be found with yer throats cut within ten miles o' hyar."

"That would not be your fault."

"Wal, 'cordin' to our rules, ye can't be released onless ther vote ur
ther card sez so."

"The vote or the cards? What do you mean by that?"

"Wal, it's like this: Ef it's put ter vote, one black bean condemns
you-uns ter death, an' ev'ry man votes black ur white, as he chooses. I
don't judge you-uns care ter take yer chances that way?"

"Howly Sint Patherick!" gurgled Barney Mulloy. "Oi sh'u'd soay not!
Ixchuse us from thot, me hearty!"

"That would be as bad as murder!" exclaimed Frank. "There would be one
vote against us--one black bean thrown, at least."

Muriel nodded.

"I judge you-uns is right."

"Pwhat av th' carruds?"

"Yes, what of them?"

"Two men will be chosen, one ter hold a pack o' cards, and one to draw a
card from them. Ef ther card is red, it lets you-uns off, fer it means
life; ef it is black, it cooks yer, fer it means death."

The boys were silent, dumfounded, appalled.

It was a lottery of life and death.

Muriel stood watching them, and Frank fancied that his eyes were
gleaming with satisfaction. The boy began to believe he had mistaken the
character of this astonishing youth; Muriel might be even worse than his
older companions, for he might be one who delighted in torturing his
victims.

Frank threw back his head, defiance and scorn written on his handsome
face.

"It is a clean case of murder, at best!" he cried, his voice ringing out
clearly. "We deserve a fair trial--we demand it!"

"Wal," drawled the boy moonshiner, "I warned you-uns that ther more yer
demanded, ther less yer got. Ye seem ter fergit that."

"We're in fur it, Frankie, me b'y!" groaned Barney.

"If we had our revolvers, we'd give them a stiff fight for it!" grated
Frank, fiercely. "They would not murder us till a few of them had eaten
lead!"

Muriel seemed to nod with satisfaction.

"You-uns has stuff, an' when I tell yer that ye'll have ter sta' ter
vote ur take chances with ther cards, I don't judge you'll hesitate.
It's one ur t'other."

"Then, make it the cards," said Frank, hoarsely. "That will give us an
even show, if the draw is a fair one."

"I'll see ter that," assured Muriel. "It shall be fair."

Without another word, he turned and swiftly slipped out of the room.
They heard him bar the door, and then they stood looking into each
other's faces, speechless for a few moments.

"It's a toss-up, Barney," Frank finally observed.

"Thot's pwhat it is, an' th' woay our luck is runnin' Oi think it's a
case av heads they win an' tails we lose."

"It looks that way," admitted Frank. "But there is no way out of it.
We'll have to grin and bear it."

"Pwhat do yez think av thot Muriel?"

"He's an enigma."

"Worse than thot, me b'y--he's a cat's cradle toied in a hundred an'
sivintane knots."

"It is impossible to tell whether he is friendly or whether he is the
worst foe we have in these mountains."

"Oi wonder how Kate Kenyon knew where to foind him so quick?"

"I have thought of that. She must have found him in a very short time
after we were taken from the cabin."

"An' she diskivered thot we hed been taken away moighty soon afther we
wur gone, me b'y. Thot is sure."

"Remember one of the horses neighed. It may have aroused Kate and her
mother, and caused them to investigate."

"Loikely thot wur th' case, fer it's not mesilf thot would think she'd
kape shtill an' let ther spalpanes drag us away av she knew it."

"No; I believe her utterly fearless, and it is plain that Wade Miller is
not the only one in love with her."

"Who ilse?"

"Muriel."

"Mebbe ye're roight, Frankie."

"It strikes me that way. The fellow tried to lead me into a trap--tried
to get me to boast of a mash on her. I could see his eyes gleam with
jealousy. In her eagerness to save us--to have him aid her in the
work--she must have led him to suspect that one of us had been making
love to her."

Barney whistled a bit, and then he shyly said:

"Oi wunder av wan of us didn't do a bit av thot?"

"Not I," protested Frank. "We talked in a friendly manner--in fact, she
promised to be a friend to me. I may have expressed admiration for her
hair, or something of the sort, but I vow I did not make love to her."

"Well, me b'y, ye have a thrick av gettin' all th' girruls shtuck on yez
av ye look at thim, so ye didn't nade ter make love."

"It's not my fault, Barney."

"It's nivver a fault at all, at all, me lad. Oi wish Oi wur built th'
soame woay, but it's litthle oice I cut wid th' girruls. This south av
Oireland brogue thot Oi foind mesilf unable to shake counts against me a
bit, Oi belave."

"I should think Miller and Muriel would clash."

"It's plain enough that Miller is afraid av Muriel."

"And Muriel intends to keep him thus. I fancy it was a good thing for us
that Kate Kenyon suspected Wade Miller of having a hand in our capture,
and told Muriel that we had been carried off by him, for I fancy that is
exactly what happened. Muriel was angry with Miller, and he seized the
opportunity to call the fellow down. But for that, he might not have
made such a hustle to save us."

"Thin we should be thankful thot Muriel an' Miller do not love ache
ither."

The boys continued to discuss the situation for some time, and then they
fell to examining the room in which they were imprisoned. It did not
seem to have a window anywhere, and the single door appeared to be the
only means of entering or leaving the place.

"There's little show of escaping from this room," said Frank.

"Roight ye are," nodded Barney. "This wur built to kape iverything safe
thot came in here."

A few minutes later there was a sound at the door, and Muriel came in,
with two of the Black Caps at his heels.

"Ther boys have agreed ter give ye ther chance o' ther cards," said the
boy moonshiner. "An' yo're goin' ter have a fair an' squar' deal."

"We will have to submit," said Frank, quietly.

"You will have ter let ther boys bind yer hands afore ye leave this
room," said Muriel.

The men each held the end of a stout rope, and the boys were forced to
submit to the inconvenience of having their hands bound behind them.
Barney protested, but Frank kept silent, knowing it was useless to say
anything.

When their hands were tied, Muriel said:

"Follow."

He led the way, while Frank came next, with Barney shuffling sulkily
along at his heels. The two men came last.

They passed through a dark room and entered another room, which was
lighted by three oil lamps. The room was well filled with the
black-hooded moonshiners, who were standing in a grim and silent
circle, with their backs against the walls.

Into the center of this circle, the boys were marched. The door closed,
and Muriel addressed the Black Caps.

"It is not often that we-uns gives our captives ther choice uv ther
cards or ther vote, but we have agreed ter do so in this case, with only
one objectin', an' he war induced ter change his mind. Now we mean ter
have this fair an' squar', an' I call on ev'ry man present ter watch out
an' see that it is. Ther men has been serlected, one ter hold ther cards
an' one ter draw. Let them step forrud."

Two of the Black Caps stepped out, and Frank started a bit, for he
believed one of them was Wade Miller.

A pack of cards was produced, and Muriel shuffled them with a skill that
told of experience, after which he handed them to one of the men.

Miller was to draw!

Frank watched every move, determined to detect the fraud if possible,
should there be any fraud.

An awed hush seemed to settle over the room.

The men who wore the black hoods leaned forward a little, every one of
them watching to see what card should be drawn from the pack.

Barney Mulloy caught his breath with a gasping sound, and then was
silent, standing stiff and straight.

Muriel was as alert as a panther, and his eyes gleamed through the holes
in his mask like twin stars.

The man who received the pack from Muriel stepped forward, and Miller
reached out his hand to draw.

Then Frank suddenly cried:

"Wait! That we may be satisfied we are having a fair show in this
matter, why not permit one of us to shuffle those cards?"

Quick as a flash of light, Muriel's hand fell on the wrist of the man
who held the cards, and his clear voice rang out:

"Stop! Unbind his hands. He shall shuffle."

Frank's hands were unbound, and he was given the cards. He shuffled
them, but he did not handle them with more skill than had Muriel. He
"shook them up" thoroughly, and then passed them back to the man who
was to hold them.

"Bind him!"

Muriel's order was swiftly obeyed, and Frank was again helpless.

"Draw!"

The cards were extended. Wade Miller reached out, and quickly made the
draw, holding the fateful card up for all to see.

It was the ace of spades!



CHAPTER XLIII.

SAVED!


"Death!"

From beneath the black hoods sounded the terrible word, as the man
beheld the black card which was exposed to view.

The boys were doomed!

Frank's heart dropped like a stone into the depths of his bosom, but no
sound came from his lips.

Barney Mulloy showed an equal amount of nerve. Indeed, the Irish lad
laughed recklessly as he cried:

"It's nivver a show we had at all, at all, Frankie. Th' snakes had it
fixed fer us all th' toime."

"Hold on thar!"

The words came from Muriel, and the boy chief of the moonshiners made a
spring and a grab, snatching the card from Miller's hand.

"Look hyar!" he cried. "This won't do! Let's give ther critters a fair
show."

"Do you mean ter say they didn't have a fair show?" demanded Wade
Miller, fiercely. "Do you say that I cheated?"

"Not knowin' it," answered Muriel. "But ther draw warn't fair, jes' ther
same."

"Warn't fair!" snarled Miller, furiously. "Why not?"

"Because two cards war drawed!" rang out the voice of the masked youth.
"Look--hyar they be! One is ther ace o' spades, an' ther other is ther
nine o' hearts."

Exclamations of astonishment came from all sides, and a ray of hope shot
into Frank Merriwell's heart.

"Did I draw two cards?" muttered Miller, as if surprised. "Wal, what o'
that? Ther black card war ther one exposed, an' that settles what'll be
done with ther spies."

"It don't settle it!" declared Muriel, promptly. "Them boys is goin' ter
have a squar' show."

It was with the greatest difficulty that Miller held himself in check.
His hands were clinched, and Frank fancied that he longed to spring upon
Muriel.

The boy chief was very cool as he took the pack of cards from the hand
of the man who had held them.

"Release one of the prisoners," was his command. "The cards shall be
shuffled again."

Once more Frank's hands were freed, and again the cards were given him
to shuffle. He mixed them deftly, without saying a word, and gave them
back to Muriel. Then his hands were tied, and he awaited the second
drawing.

"Be careful an' not get two cards this time," warned Muriel as he faced
Miller. "This draw settles ther business fer them-uns."

The cards were given to the man who was to hold them, and Miller stepped
forward to draw.

Again the suspense became great, again the men leaned forward to see the
card that should be pulled from the pack; again the hearts of the
captives stood still.

Miller hesitated. He seemed to feel that the tide had turned against
him. For a moment he was tempted to refuse to draw, and then, with a
muttered exclamation, he pulled a card from the pack and held it up to
view. Then, with a bitter cry of baffled rage, he flung it madly to the
floor.

It was the queen of hearts!

Each man in the room seemed to draw a deep breath. It was plain that
some were disappointed, and some were well satisfied.

"That settles it!" said Muriel, calmly. "They-uns won't be put out o'
ther way ter-night."

"Settles it!" snarled Miller, furious with disappointment. "It war
settled afore! I claim that ther first draw counts."

"An' I claim that it don't," returned the youthful moonshiner, without
lifting his voice in the least. "You-uns all agreed ter ther second
draw, an' that lets them off."

"Oh, you have worked it slick!" grated the disappointed Black Cap. "But
them critters ain't out o' ther maountings yit!"

"By that yer mean--jes' what?"

"They're not liable ter git out alive."

"Ef they-uns is killed, I'll know whar ter look fer ther one as war at
ther bottom o' ther job--an' I'll look!"

Muriel did not bluster, and he did not speak above an ordinary tone, but
it was plain that he meant every word.

"Wal," muttered Miller, "what do ye mean ter do with them critters--turn
'em out, an' let 'em bring ther officers down on us?"

"No. I'm goin' ter keep 'em till they kin be escorted out o' ther
maountings. Thar ain't time ter-night, fer it's gittin' toward mornin'.
Ter-morrer night it can be done."

Miller said no more. He seemed to know it was useless to make further
talk, but Frank and Barney knew that they were not yet out of danger.

The boys seemed as cool as any one in the room, for all of the deadly
peril they had passed through, and Muriel nodded in a satisfied way when
he had looked them over.

"Come," he said, in a low tone, "you-uns will have ter go back ter ther
room whar ye war a bit ago."

They were willing to go back, and it was with no small amount of relief
that they allowed themselves to be escorted to the apartment.

Muriel dismissed the two guards, and then he set the hands of the boys
free.

"Thar ye are," he said. "Yo're all right fer now."

"Thanks to you," bowed Frank. "I want to make an apology."

"Fer what?"

"Suspecting you of double-dealing."

"You-uns did suspect me?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"It looked that way once. It seemed that you had saved us from being
hanged, but that you intended to finish us here."

"Ef that war my scheme, why did I take ther trouble ter save ye at all?"

"It looked as if you did so to please Miss Kenyon. You had saved us, and
then, if the men disposed of us in the regular manner, you would not be
to blame."

Muriel shook back his long, black hair, and his manner showed that he
was angry. He did not feel at all pleased to know his sincerity had been
doubted.

"Wal," he said, slowly, "ef it hadn't been fer me you-uns would be gone
coons now."

"Begobs! we know thot!" exclaimed Barney.

"You-uns know I saved ye, but ye don't know how I done it."

There was something of bitterness and reproach in the voice of the
youthful moonshiner. He continued:

"I done that fer you I never done before fer no man. I wouldn't a done
it fer myself!"

Frank wondered what the strange youth could mean.

"Do you-uns want ter know what I done?" asked Muriel.

"Yes."

"I cheated."

"Cheated?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"When I snatched ther first card drawn from ther hand o' ther man what
drawed it. It war ther ace o' spades, an' it condemned yer ter die."

"But there were two cards drawn."

"No! Thar war one card drawed, an' that war all!"

"But--but you showed two!"

Muriel nodded.

"That war whar I cheated," he said, simply. "I had ther red card in my
hand ready ter do ther trick ef a black card war drawed. In that way I
knowed I could give yer two shows ter escape death."

The boys were astounded by this revelation, but they did not doubt that
Muriel spoke the truth. His manner showed that he was not telling a
falsehood.

And this strange boy--this remarkable leader of moonshiners--had done
such a thing to save them!

More than ever, they marveled at the fellow.

Once more Muriel's arms were folded over his breast, and he was leaning
gracefully against the door, his eyes watching their faces.

For several moments both boys were stricken dumb with wonder and
surprise. Frank was not a little confused, thinking as he did how he had
misunderstood this mysterious youth. Even now Frank could not understand
him. It seemed most unaccountable that he should do such a thing for two
lads who were utter strangers to him.

A sound like a bitter laugh came from behind the sable mask, and Muriel
flung out one hand, with an impatient gesture.

"I know what you-uns is thinkin' of," declared the young moonshiner. "Ye
wonder why I done so. Wal, I don't jes' know myself, but I promised Kate
ter do my best fer ye."

"You have kept your promise!" cried Frank, "kept it nobly! Muriel, you
may be a moonshiner, you may be the leader of the Black Caps, but I am
proud to know you! I believe you are white all the way through!"

"Thar!" exclaimed the youth, with a show of satisfaction, "that makes me
feel better. But it war Kate as done it, an' she's ther one ter thank;
but it ain't likely you-uns'll ever see her ag'in."

"Then, tell her," said Frank, swiftly, "tell her for us that we are very
thankful--tell her we shall not forget her. I'll never forget her."

Muriel moved uneasily. He seemed about to speak, and then checked
himself.

"You will tell her?" said Frank, appealingly.

"I'll tell her," nodded Muriel, his voice sounding a bit strange. "Is
that all you-uns want me ter tell her?"

"Tell her I would give much to see her again," came swiftly from Frank's
lips. "She's promised to be my friend, and right well has she kept that
promise."

"That's all?" questioned the boy moonshiner.

"That is all."

"Then I'll have ter leave you-uns now. Take it as easy as yer kin.
Breakfast will be brought ter ye, and when another night comes, a guard
will go with yer out o' ther maountings. Good-by."

He was going.

"Wait!" cried Frank. "Will you shake hands before you go?"

He held out a hand, and Muriel seemed to hesitate. After a few moments,
the masked lad shook his head, and, without another word, left the room.

"Begorra!" cried Barney, scratching his head, "thot felly is worse than
Oi thought! Oi don't know so much about him now as Oi did bafore Oi met
him at all, at all!"

The boys were given much food for conversation. They made themselves as
comfortable as possible, and talked over the thrilling events of the
night.

"If Kate Kenyon had not told me that her brother was serving time as a
convict, I should think this Muriel must be her brother," said Frank.

"Av he's not her brither, it's badly shtuck on her he must be, Oi
dunno," observed Barney. "An' av he be shtuck on her, pwhoy don't he git
onter th' collar av thot Miller?"

That was a question Frank could not answer. Finally, when they had tired
of talking, the boys lay down and tried to sleep.

Frank was beginning to doze when his ears seemed to detect a slight
rustling in that very room, and his eyes flew open in a twinkling. He
started up, a cry of wonder surging to his lips, and being smothered
there.

Kate Kenyon stood within ten feet of him!

As Frank started up, the girl swiftly placed a finger on her lips,
warning him to be silent.

Frank sprang to his feet, and Barney Mulloy sat up, rubbing his eyes and
beginning to speak.

"Pwhat's th' matter now, me b'y? Are yez---- Howly shmoke!"

Barney clasped both hands over his mouth, having caught the warning
gestures from Frank and the girl. Still the exclamation had escaped his
lips, although it was not uttered loudly.

Swiftly Kate Kenyon flitted across the room, listening with her ear to
the door to hear any sound beyond. After some moments, she seemed
satisfied that the moonshiners had not been aroused by anything that had
happened within that room, and she came back, standing close to Frank,
and whispering:

"Ef you-uns will trust me, I judge I kin git yer out o' this scrape."

"Trust you!" exclaimed Frank, softly, as he caught her hand. "We have
you to thank for our lives! Kate--your pardon!--Miss Kenyon, how can we
ever repay you?"

"Don't stop ter talk 'bout that now," she said, with chilling
roughness. "Ef you-uns want ter live, an' yer want ter git erway frum
Wade Miller, git reddy ter foller me."

"We are ready."

"Begorra! we're waitin'!"

"But how are we to leave this room? How did you enter?"

She silently pointed to a dark opening in the corner, and they saw that
a small trapdoor was standing open.

"We kin git out that way," she said.

The boys wondered why they had not discovered the door when they
examined the place, but there was no time for investigation.

Kate Kenyon flitted lightly toward the opening. Pausing beside it, she
pointed downward, saying:

"Go ahead; I'll foller and close ther door."

The boys did not hesitate, for they placed perfect confidence in the
girl now. Barney dropped down in advance, and his feet found some rude
stone steps. In a moment he had disappeared, and then Frank followed.

As lightly as a fairy, Kate Kenyon dropped through the opening, closing
the door behind her.

The boys found themselves in absolute darkness, in some sort of a
narrow, underground place, and there they paused, awaiting their guide.

She came in a moment. Her hand touched Frank as she slipped past, and he
caught the perfume of wild flowers. To him she was like a beautiful wild
flower growing in a wilderness of weeds. The touch of their hands was
electric.

"Come."

The boys heard the word, and they moved slowly forward through the
darkness, now and then feeling dank walls on either hand.

For a considerable distance they went on in this way, and then the
passage seemed to widen out, and they felt that they had entered a cave.

"Keep close ter me," directed the girl.

"Here, give me your hands. Now you-uns can't git astray."

At last a strange smell came to their nostrils, seemingly on the wings
of a light breath of air.

"What is that?" asked Frank.

"Ther mill whar ther moonshine is made."

"Oh!"

Now the boys recognized the smell.

Still she led them on through the darkness. Never for a moment did she
hesitate; she seemed to have the eyes of an owl.

All at once they heard the sound of gently running water.

"Is there a stream near?" asked Frank.

"Lost Creek runs through har," answered the girl.

"Lost Creek? Why, we are still underground."

"An' Lost Creek runs underground. Have ye fergot that?"

So the mysterious stream flowed through this cavern, and the cave was
near one of the illicit distilleries.

Frank cared to know no more, for he did not believe it was healthy to
know too much about the makers of moonshine.

It was not long before they approached the mouth of the cave. They saw
the opening before them, and then, of a sudden, a dark figure arose
there--the figure of a man with a gun in his hands!



CHAPTER XLIV.

FRANK'S SUSPICION.


"It's all right."

Kate uttered the words, and the boys began to recover from their alarm,
as she did not hesitate in the least.

"Who is it?" asked Frank.

"Dummy."

"Who is Dummy?"

"A cousin o' mine. He'll do anything fer me. I put him thar ter watch
out while I war in hyar."

They went forward. Of a sudden, Kate struck a match, holding it so the
light shone on her face, and the figure at the mouth of the cave was
seen to wave its hand and vanish.

"Ther coast is clear," assured the girl. "But it's gittin' right nigh
mornin', an' we-uns must hustle away from hyar afore it is light. We
won't lose any time."

The boys were well satisfied to get away as quickly as possible.

They passed out of the dark cavern into the cool, sweet air of a spring
morning, for the gray of dawn was beginning to dispel the darkness, and
the birds were twittering from the thickets.

The phantom of a moon was in the sky, hanging low down and half-inverted
as if spilling a spectral glamour over the ghostly mists which lay deep
in Lost Creek Valley.

The sweet breath of flowers and of the woods was in the morning air, and
from some cabin afar on the side of a distant mountain a wakeful
watchdog barked till the crags reverberated with his clamoring.

"Thar's somethin' stirrin' at 'Bize Wiley's, ur his dorg wouldn't be
kickin' up all that racket," observed Kate Kenyon. "He lives by ther
road that comes over from Bildow's Crossroads. Folks comin' inter ther
maountings from down below travel that way."

The boys looked around for the mute who had been guarding the mouth of
the cave, but they saw nothing of him. He had slipped away into the
bushes which grew thick all around the opening.

"Come on," said the girl, after seeming strangely interested in the
barking of the dog. "We'll git ter ther old mill as soon as we kin.
Foller me, an' be ready ter scrouch ther instant anything is seen."

Now that they could see her, she led them forward at a swift pace, which
astonished them both. She did not run, but she seemed to skim over the
ground, and she took advantage of every bit of cover till they entered
some deep, lowland pines.

Through this strip of woods she swiftly led them, and they came near to
Lost Creek, where it flowed down in the dismal valley.

There they found the ruins of an old mill, the moss-covered water-wheel
forever silent, the roof sagging and falling in, the windows broken out
by mischievous boys, the whole presenting a most melancholy and deserted
appearance.

The road that had led to the mill from the main highway was overgrown
with weeds. Later it would be filled with thistles and burdocks. Wild
sassafras grew along the roadside.

"That's whar you-uns must hide ter-day," said Kate, motioning toward the
mill.

"Why should we hide?" exclaimed Frank. "We are not criminals, nor are we
revenue spies. I do not fancy the idea of hiding like a hunted dog."

"It's better ter be a live dorg than a dead lion. Ef you-uns'll take my
advice, you'll come inter ther mill thar, an' ye'll keep thar all day,
an' keep mighty quiet. I know ye're nervy, but thar ain't no good in
bein' foolish. It'll be known that you-uns have escaped, an' then Wade
Miller will scour ther country. Ef he come on yer----"

"Give us our arms, and we'll be ready to meet Mr. Miller."

"But yer wouldn't meet him alone; thar'd be others with him, an' you-uns
wouldn't have no sorter show."

Kate finally succeeded in convincing the boys that she spoke the truth,
and they agreed to remain quietly in the old mill.

She led them into the mill, which was dank and dismal. The imperfect
light failed to show all the pitfalls that lurked for their feet, but
she warned them, and they escaped injury.

The miller had lived in the mill, and the girl took them to the part of
the old building that had served as a home.

"Har," she said, opening a closet door, "I've brung food fer you-uns, so
yer won't starve, an' I knowed ye'd be hongry."

"You are more than thoughtful, Miss Kenyon."

"Yer seem ter have fergot what we agreed ter call each other, Frank."

She spoke the words in a tone of reproach.

"Kate!"

Barney turned away, winking uselessly at nothing at all, and kept his
back toward them for some moments.

But Frank Merriwell had no thought of making love to this strange girl
of the mountains. She had promised to be his friend; she had proved
herself his friend, and as no more than a friend did he propose to
accept her.

That he had awakened something stronger than a friendly feeling in Kate
Kenyon's breast seemed evident, and the girl was so artless that she
could not conceal her true feelings toward him.

They stood there, talking in a low tone, while the morning light stole
in at one broken window and grew stronger and stronger within that room.

Frank was studying Kate's speech and voice. As he did so a new thought
came to him--a thought that was at first a mere suspicion, which he
scarcely noted at all. This suspicion grew, and he found himself asking:

"Kate, are you sure your brother is still wearing a convict's suit?"

She started, and looked at him closely.

"Sure o' it?" she repeated. "No, fer he may be dead."

"You do not know that he is dead--you have not heard of his death?"

"No."

"Is he bold and daring?"

Her eyes flashed, and a look of pride swept across her face.

"Folks allus 'lowed Rufe Kenyon wa'n't afeard o' ary two-legged critter
livin', an' they war right."

"Perhaps he has escaped."

She clutched his arm, beginning to pant, as she asked:

"What makes you say that? I knowed he'd try it some day, but--but, have
you heard anything? Do you know that he has tried it?"

The suspicion leaped to a conviction in the twinkling of an eye. If Rufe
Kenyon was not at liberty, then he must be right in what he thought.

"I do not know that your brother has tried to escape. I do not know
anything about him. I did think that he might be Muriel, the
moonshiner."

Kate laughed.

"You-uns war plumb mistooken thar," she said, positively. "Rufe is not
Muriel."

"Then," cried Frank, "you are Muriel yourself!"

Kate Kenyon seemed astounded.

"Have you-uns gone plumb dafty?" asked the girl, in a dazed way. "Me
Muriel! Wal, that beats all!"

"But you are--I am sure of it," said Frank, swiftly.

The girl laughed.

"Well, that beats me! Of course I'm not Muriel; but he's ther best
friend I've got in these maountings."

Frank was far from satisfied, but he was too courteous to insist after
this denial. Kate laughed the idea to scorn, saying over and over that
the boy must be "dafty," but still his mind was unchanged.

To be sure, there were some things not easily explained, one being how
Muriel concealed her luxurious red hair, for Muriel's hair appeared to
be coal-black.

Another thing was that Wade Miller must know Muriel and Kate were one
and the same, and yet he preserved her secret and allowed her to snatch
his victims from his maws.

Barney Mulloy had been more than astounded by Frank's words; the Irish
youth was struck dumb. When he could collect himself, he softly
muttered:

"Well, av all th' oideas thot takes th' cake!"

Having seen them safely within the mill and shown them the food brought
there, Kate said:

"Har is two revolvers fer you-uns. Don't use 'em unless yer have ter,
but shoot ter kill ef you're forced."

"Begorra! Oi'm ready fer th' spalpanes!" cried Barney, as he grasped one
of the weapons. "Let thim come on!"

"I feel better myself," declared Frank. "Next time Wade Miller and his
gang will not catch us napping."

"Roight, me b'y; we'll be sound awake, Frankie."

Kate bade them good-by, assuring them that she would return with the
coming of another night, and making them promise to await her, and then
she flitted away, slipped out of the mill, soon vanishing amid the
pines.

"It's dead lucky we are ter be living, Frankie," observed Barney.

"I quite agree with you," laughed Merriwell. "This night has been a
black and tempestuous one, but we have lived through it, and I do not
believe we'll find ourselves in such peril again while we are in the
Tennessee mountains."

They were hungry, and they ate heartily of the plain food that had been
provided for them.

When breakfast was over, Barney said:

"Frankie, it's off yer trolley ye git sometoimes."

"What do you mean by that, Barney? Is it a new sell?"

"Nivver a bit. Oi wur thinkin' av pwhat yez said about Kate Kenyon being
Mooriel, th' moonshoiner."

"I was not off my trolley so very much then."

"G'wan, me b'y! Ye wur crazy as a bidbug."

"You think so, but I have made a study of Muriel and of Kate Kenyon. I
am still inclined to believe the moonshiner is the girl in disguise."

"An' Oi say ye're crazy. No girrul could iver do pwhat thot felly does,
an' no band av min loike th' moonshoiners would iver allow a girrul
loike Kate Kenyon ter boss thim."

"They do not know Muriel is a girl. That is, I am sure the most of them
do not know it--do not dream it."

"Thot shows their common sinse, fer Oi don't belave it mesilf."

"I may be wrong, but I shall not give it up yet."

"Whoy, think pwhat a divvil thot Muriel is! An' th' color av his hair is
black, whoile the girrul's is red."

"I have thought of those things, and I have wondered how she concealed
that mass of red hair; still I am satisfied she does it."

"Well, it's no use to talk to you at all, at all."

However, they did discuss it for some time.

Finally they fell to exploring the old mill, and they wandered from one
part to another till they finally came to the place where they had
entered over a sagging plank. They were standing there, just within the
deeper shadow of the mill, when a man came panting and reeling from the
woods, his hat off, his shirt torn open at the throat, great drops of
perspiration standing on his face, a wild, hunted look in his eyes, and
dashed to the end of the plank that led over the water into the old
mill.

Frank clutched Barney, and the boys fell back a step, watching the man,
who was looking back over his shoulder and listening, the perfect
picture of a hunted thing.

"They're close arter me--ther dogs!" came in a hoarse pant from the
man's lips. "But I turned on 'em--I doubled--an' I hope I fooled 'em.
It's my last chance, fer I'm dead played, and I'm so nigh starved that
it's all I kin do ter drag one foot arter t'other."

He listened again, and then, as if overcome by a sudden fear of being
seen there, he suddenly rushed across the plank and plunged into the
mill.

He ran fairly upon Frank Merriwell.

In the twinkling of an eye man and boy were clasped in a close embrace,
struggling desperately.

"Caught!" cried the fugitive, desperately. "Trapped!"

He tried to hurl Frank to the floor, and he would have succeeded had he
been in his normal condition, for he was a man of great natural
strength; but he was exhausted by flight and hunger, and, in his
weakened condition, the man found his supple antagonist too much for
him.

A gasp came from the stranger's lips as he felt the boy give him a
wrestler's trip and fling him heavily to the floor.

The man was stunned for a moment. When he opened his eyes, Frank and
Barney were bending over him.

"Wal, I done my best," he said, huskily; "but you-uns trapped me at
last. I dunno how yer knew I war comin' har, but ye war on hand ter meet
me."

"You have made a mistake," said Frank, in a reassuring tone. "We are not
your enemies at all."

"What's that?"

"We are not your enemies; you are not trapped."

The man seemed unable to believe what he heard.

"Why, who be you-uns?" he asked, in a bewildered way.

"Fugitives, like yourself," assured Frank, with a smile.

He looked them over, and shook his head.

"Not like me," he said. "Look at me! I'm wore ter ther bone--I'm a
wreck! Oh, it's a cursed life I've led sence they dragged me away from
har! Night an' day hev I watched for a chance ter break away, and' I war
quick ter grasp it when it came. They shot at me, an' one o' their
bullets cut my shoulder har. It war a close call, but I got away. Then
they follered, an' they put houn's arter me. Twenty times hev they been
right on me, an' twenty times hev I got erway. But it kep' wearin' me
weaker an' thinner. My last hope war ter find friends ter hide me an'
fight fer me, an' I came har--back home! I tried ter git inter 'Bije
Wileys' this mornin', but his dorg didn't know me, I war so changed, an'
ther hunters war close arter me, so I hed ter run fer it."

"Begorra!" exclaimed Barney; "we hearrud th' dog barruckin'."

"So we did," agreed Frank, remembering how the creature had been
clamoring on the mountainside at daybreak.

"I kem har," continued the man, weakly. "I turned on ther devils, but
when I run in har an' you-uns tackled me, I judged I had struck a trap."

"It was no trap, Rufe Kenyon," said Frank, quietly.

The hunted man started up and slunk away.

"You know me!" he gasped.

"We do."

"An' still ye say you-uns are not my enemies."

"We are not."

"Then how do you know me? I never saw yer afore."

"No; but we have heard of you."

"How?"

"From your sister Kate."

"She tol' yer?"

"She did."

"Then she must trust you-uns."

"She saved us from certain death last night, and she brought us here to
hide till she can help us get out of this part of the country."

Rufe Kenyon looked puzzled.

"I judge you-uns is givin' it ter me straight," he said, slowly; "but I
don't jes' understan'. What did she save yer from?"

"Moonshiners."

The man seemed filled with sudden suspicion.

"What had moonshiners agin' you-uns? Be you revernues?"

"No. Do we look like revenue spies?"

"Yer look too young."

"Well, we are not spies; but we were unfortunate enough to incur the
enmity of Wade Miller, and he has sworn to end our lives."

"Wade Miller!" cried Rufe, showing his teeth in an ugly manner. "An' I
s'pose he's hangin' 'roun' Kate, same as he uster?"

"He is giving her more or less trouble."

"Wal, he won't give her much trouble arter I git at him. He is a snake!
Look har! I'm goin' ter tell you-uns somethin'. Miller allus pretended
ter be my friend, but it war that critter as put ther revernues onter me
an' got me arrested! He done it because I tol' him Kate war too good fer
him. I know it, an' one thing why I wanted ter git free war ter come har
an' fix ther critter so he won't ever bother Kate no more. I hev swore
ter fix him, an' I'll do it ef I live ter meet him face ter face!"

He had grown wildly excited, and he sat up, with his back against a
post, his eyes gleaming redly, and a white foam flecking his lips. At
that moment he reminded the boys of a mad dog.

Woe to Wade Miller when they met!

When Kenyon was calmer, Frank told the story of the adventures which had
befallen the boys since entering Lost Creek Valley. The fugitive
listened quietly, watching them closely with his sunken eyes, and,
having heard all, said:

"I judge you-uns tells ther truth. Ef I kin keep hid till Kate gits
har--till I see her--I'll fix things so you won't be bothered much. Wade
Miller's day in Lost Creek Valley is over."

The boys took him up to the living room of the old mill, where they
furnished him with the coarse food that remained from their breakfast.
He ate like a famished thing, washing the dry bread down with great
swallows of water. When he had finished and his hunger was satisfied, he
was quite like another man.

"Thar!" he cried; "now I am reddy fer anything! But I do need sleep."

"Take it," advised Frank. "We will watch."

"And you'll tell me ef thar's danger?"

"You may depend on it."

"You-uns will watch close?"

"Never fear about that."

So the hunted wretch was induced to lie down and sleep. He slept soundly
for some hours, and, when he opened his eyes, his sister had her arms
about his neck.



CHAPTER XLV.

THE GREATEST PERIL.


"Rufe!"

"Kate!"

He sat up and clasped her in his arms, a look of joy on his face.

It is quite unnecessary to describe the joys of that meeting. The boys
had left brother and sister alone together, and the two remained thus
for nearly an hour, at the end of which time Rufe knew all that had
happened since he was taken from Lost Creek Valley, and Kate had also
been made aware of the perfidy of Wade Miller.

"I judge it is true that bread throwed on ther waters allus comes back,"
said Kate, when the four were together. "Now looker how I helped
you-uns, an' then see how it turned out ter be a right good thing fer
Rufe. He found ye har, an' you-uns hev fed him an' watched while he
slept."

"An' I hev tol' Kate all about Wade Miller," said the fugitive.

"That settles him," declared the girl, with a snap.

Rufe explained.

"Kate says ther officers think I hev gone on over inter ther next cove,
an' they're arter me, all 'ceptin' two what have been left behind.
They'll be back, though, by night."

"But you are all right now, for your friends will be on hand by that
time."

"Yes; Kate will take word ter Muriel, an' he'll hev ther boys ready ter
fight fer me. Ther officers will find it kinder hot in these parts."

"I'd better be goin' now," said the girl. "Ther boys oughter know all
about it soon as possible."

"That's right," agreed Rufe. "This ain't ther best place fer me ter
hide."

"No," declared Kate, suddenly; "an' yer mustn't hide har longer, fer
ther officers may come afore night. I'll take yer ter ther cave. It
won't do fer ther boys ter go thar, but you kin all right. Ther boys is
best off har, fer ther officers wouldn't hurt 'em."

This seemed all right, and it was decided on.

Just as they were on the point of descending, Barney gave a cry, caught
Frank by the arm, and drew him toward a window.

"Look there, me b'y!" exclaimed the Irish lad. "Phwat do yez think av it
now?"

A horseman was coming down the old road that led to the mill. He
bestrode a coal-black horse, and a mask covered his face, while his
long, black hair flowed down on the collar of the coat he wore. He sat
the horse jauntily, riding with a reckless air that seemed to tell of a
daring spirit.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Frank Merriwell, amazed. "It is Muriel!"

"That's pwhat!" chuckled Barney. "An' it's your trate, me lad."

"I will treat," said Frank, crestfallen. "I am not nearly so smart as I
thought I was."

"Muriel?" cried Kate, dashing to the window. "Where is he?"

She did not hesitate to appear in the window and signal to the dashing
young moonshiner, who returned her salute, and motioned for her to come
out.

"He wants ter see me in er hurry," said the girl. "I sent word ter him
by Dummy that ther boys war har, an' that's how he happened ter turn up.
Come, Rufe, go out with me. Muriel will be glad to see yer."

"And I shall be glad ter see him," declared the escaped convict.

Kate bade the boys remain there, telling them she would call them if
they were wanted, and then, with Rufe following, she hurried down the
stairs, and hastened to meet the boy moonshiner, who had halted on the
bank at some distance from the old mill.

Watching from the window, Frank and Barney saw her hasten up to Muriel,
saw her speak swiftly, although they could not hear her words, saw
Muriel nod and seem to reply quite as swiftly, and then saw the young
leader of the Black Caps shake her hand in a manner that denoted
pleasure and affection.

"Ye're a daisy, Frankie, me b'y," snickered Barney Mulloy; "but fer
wance ye wur badly mishtaken."

"I was all of that," confessed Frank, as if slightly ashamed. "I thought
myself far shrewder than I am."

As they watched, they saw Rufe Kenyon suddenly leap up behind Muriel,
and then the doubly burdened horse swung around and went away at a hot
pace, while Kate came flitting back into the mill.

"The officers are returnin'," she explained. "Muriel will take Rufe whar
thar ain't no chance o' their findin' him. You-uns will have ter stay
har. I have brung ye more fodder, an' I judge you'll git along all
right."

So she left them hurriedly, being greatly excited over the return of her
brother and his danger.

The day passed, and the officers failed to appear in the vicinity of the
mill, although the boys were expecting to see them.

Nor did Wade Miller trouble them.

When night came Frank and Barney grew impatient, for they were far from
pleased with their lot, but they could do nothing but wait.

Two hours after nightfall a form suddenly appeared in the old mill,
rising before the boys like a phantom, although they could not
understand how the fellow came there.

In a flash Frank snatched out a revolver and pointed it at the intruder,
crying, sternly:

"Stand still and give an account of yourself! Who are you, and what do
you want?"

The figure moved into the range of the window, so that the boys could
see him making strange gestures, pointing to his ears, and pressing his
fingers to his lips.

"Steady you!" commanded Frank. "If you don't keep still, I shall shoot.
Answer my question at once."

Still the intruder continued to make those strange gestures, pointing to
his ears, and touching his lips. That he saw Frank's revolver glittering
and feared the boy would shoot was evident, but he still remained
silent.

"Whoy don't th' spalpane spake?" cried Barney. "Is it no tongue he has,
Oi dunno?"

That gave Frank an idea.

"Perhaps he cannot speak, in which case he is the one Kate calls Dummy.
I believe he is the fellow."

It happened that the sign language of mutes was one of Frank's
accomplishments, he having taken it up during his leisure moments. He
passed the revolver to Barney, saying:

"Keep the fellow covered, while I see if I can talk with him."

Frank moved up to the window, held his hands close to the intruder's
face, and spelled:

"You from Kate?"

The man nodded joyfully. He put up his hands and spelled back:

"Kate send me. Come. Horses ready."

Frank interpreted for Barney's benefit, and the Irish lad cried:

"Thin let's be movin'! It's mesilf that's ready ter git out av thase
parruts in a hurry, Oi think."

For a moment Frank hesitated about trusting the mute, and then he
decided that it was the best thing to do, and he signaled that they were
ready.

Dummy led the way from the mill, crossing by the plank, and plunging
into the pine woods.

"He sames to be takin' us back th' woay we came, Frankie," said the
Irish lad, in a low tone.

"That's all right," assured Frank. "He said the horses were waiting for
us. Probably Kate is with them."

The mute flitted along with surprising silence and speed, and they found
it no easy task to follow and keep close enough to see him. Now and then
he looked back to make sure they were close behind.

At last they came to the termination of the pines, and there, in the
deep shadows, they found three horses waiting.

Kate Kenyon was not there.

Frank felt disappointed, for he wished to see the girl before leaving
the mountains forever. He did not like to go away without touching her
hand again, and expressing his sense of gratitude for the last time.

It was his hope that she might join them before they left the mountains.

The horses were saddled and bridled, and the boys were about to mount
when a strange, low cry broke from Dummy's lips.

There was a sudden stir, and an uprising of dark forms on all sides.
Frank tried to snatch out his revolver, but it was too late. He was
seized, disarmed, and crushed to the earth.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed a hateful voice. "Did you-uns think ye war goin'
ter escape? Wal, yer didn't know Wade Miller very well. I knowed Kate'd
try ter git yer off, an' all I hed ter do war watch her. I didn't waste
my time runnin' round elsewhar."

They were once more in Miller's clutches!

Frank ground his teeth with impotent rage. He blamed himself for falling
into the trap, and still he could not see how he was to blame. Surely he
had been cautious, but fate was against him. He had escaped Miller
twice; but this was the third time, and he feared that it would prove
disastrous.

Barney had not a word to say.

The hands of the captured boys were tied behind their backs, and then
they were forced to march swiftly along in the midst of the Black Caps
that surrounded them.

They were not taken to the cave, but straight to one of the hidden
stills, a little hut that was built against what seemed to be a wall of
solid rock, a great bluff rising against the face of the mountain. Thick
trees concealed the little hut down in the hollow.

Into this hut the boys were marched.

Some crude candles were lighted, and they saw around them the outfit for
making moonshine whiskey.

"Thar!" cried Miller, triumphantly; "you-uns will never go out o' this
place. Ther revernues spotted this still ter-day, but it won't be har
ter-morrer."

He made a signal, and the boys were thrown to the floor, where they were
held helpless, while their feet were bound.

When this job was finished Miller added:

"No, ther revernues won't find this still ter-morrer, fer it will go up
in smoke. Moonshine is good stuff ter burn, an' we'll see how you-uns
like it."

At a word a keg of whiskey was brought to the spot by two men.

"Let 'em try ther stuff," directed Miller.

"Begorra! he's goin' ter fill us up bafore he finishes us!" muttered
Barney Mulloy.

But that was not the intention of the revengeful man.

A plug was knocked from a hole in the end of the keg, and then the
whiskey was poured over the clothing of the boys, wetting them to the
skin.

"Soak 'em!" directed Miller.

The men did not stop pouring till the clothing of the boys was
thoroughly saturated.

"Thar!" said Miller, with a fiendish chuckle, "I reckon you-uns is ready
fer touchin' off, an' ye'll burn like pine knots. Ther way ye'll holler
will make ye heard clean ter ther top o' Black Maounting, an' ther fire
will be seen; but when anybody gits har, you-uns an' this still will be
ashes."

He knelt beside Frank, lighted a match, and applied it to the boy's
whiskey-soaked clothing!



CHAPTER XLVI.

THE MYSTERY OF MURIEL.


Not quite! The flame almost touched Frank's clothing when the boy rolled
over swiftly, thus getting out of the way for the moment.

At the same instant the blast of a bugle was heard at the very front of
the hut, and the door fell with a crash, while men poured in by the
opening.

"Ther revernues!" shouted Wade Miller.

"No, not ther revernues!" rang out a clear voice; "but Muriel!"

The boy chief of the Black Caps was there.

"An' Muriel is not erlone!" thundered another voice. "Rufe Kenyon is
har!"

Out in front of Muriel leaped the escaped criminal, confronting the man
who had betrayed him.

Miller staggered, his face turning pale as if struck a heavy blow, and a
bitter exclamation of fury came through his clinched teeth.

"Rufe!" he grated. "Then it's fight fer life!"

"Yes, it's fight!" roared Kate Kenyon's brother, as a long-bladed knife
glittered in his hand, and he thrust back the sleeve of his shirt till
his arm was bared above the elbow. "I swore ter finish yer, Miller; but
I'll give ye a squar' show! Draw yer knife, an' may ther best man win!"

With the snarl that might have come from the throat of a savage beast,
Miller snatched out a revolver instead of drawing a knife.

"I'll not fight ye!" he screamed; "but I'll shoot ye plumb through ther
heart!"

He fired, and Rufe Kenyon ducked at the same time.

There was a scream of pain, and Muriel flung up both hands, dropping
into the arms of the man behind.

Rufe Kenyon had dodged the bullet, but the boy chief of the Black Caps
had suffered in his stead.

Miller seemed dazed by the result of his shot. The revolver fell from
his hand, and he staggered forward, groaning:

"Kate!--I've killed her!"

Rufe Kenyon forgot his foe, dropping on one knee beside the prostrate
figure of Muriel, and swiftly removing the mask.

The face of Kate Kenyon was revealed!

"Sister!" panted her brother, "be ye dead? Has that rascal killed ye?"

Her eyes opened, and she faintly said:

"Not dead yit, Rufe."

Then the brother shouted:

"Ketch Wade Miller! Don't let ther critter escape!"

It seemed that every man in the hut leaped to obey.

Miller struggled like a tiger, but he was overpowered and dragged out of
the hut, while Rufe still knelt and examined his sister's wound, which
was in her shoulder.

Frank and Barney were freed, and they hastened to render such assistance
as they could in dressing the wound and stanching the flow of blood.

"You-uns don't think that'll be fatal, do yer?" asked Rufe, with
breathless anxiety.

"There is no reason why it should," assured Frank. "She must be taken
home as soon as possible, and a doctor called. I think she will come
through all right, for all of Miller's bullet."

The men were trooping back into the hut.

"Miller!" roared Rufe, leaping to his feet. "Whar's ther critter?"

"He is out har under a tree," answered one of the men, quietly.

"Who's watchin' him ter see that he don't git erway?" asked Rufe.

"Nobody's watchin'."

"Nobody? Why, ther p'izen dog will run fer it!"

"I don't think he'll run fur. We've tied him."

"How?"

"Wal, ter make sure he wouldn't run, we hitched a rope around his neck
an' tied it up ter ther limb o' ther tree. Unless ther rope stretches,
he won't be able ter git his feet down onter ther ground by erbout
eighteen inches."

"Then you-uns hanged him?"

"Wal, we did some."

"Too bad!" muttered Rufe, with a sad shake of his head. "I wanted ter
squar 'counts with ther skunk."

Kate Kenyon was taken home, and the bullet was extracted from her
shoulder. The wound, although painful, did not prove at all serious, and
she began to recover in a short time.

Frank and Barney lingered until it seemed certain that she would
recover, and then they prepared to take their departure.

After all, Frank's suspicion had proved true, and it had been revealed
that Muriel was Kate in disguise.

Frank chaffed Barney a great deal about it, and the Irish lad took the
chaffing in a good-natured manner.

Rufe Kenyon was hidden by his friends, so that his pursuers were forced
to give over the search for him and depart.

One still was raided, but not one of the moonshiners was captured, as
they had received ample warning of their danger.

On the evening before Frank and Barney were to depart in the morning,
the boys carried Kate out to the door in an easy-chair, and they sat
down near her.

Mrs. Kenyon sat on the steps and smoked her black pipe, looking as
stolid and indifferent as ever.

"Kate," said Frank, "when did you have your hair cut short? Where is
that profusion of beautiful hair you wore when we first saw you?"

"That?" she smiled. "Why, my har war cut more'n a year ago. I had it
made inter a 'switch,' and I wore it so nobody'd know I had it cut."

"You did that in order that you might wear the black wig when you
personated Muriel?"

"Yes."

"You could do that easily over your short hair."

"Yes."

"Well, you played the part well, and you made a dashing boy. But how
about the Muriel who appeared while you were in the mill with us?"

She laughed a bit.

"You-uns war so sharp that I judged I'd make yer think ye didn't know
so much ez you thought, an' I fixed it up ter have another person show
up in my place."

"I see. But who was this other person?"

"Dummy. He is no bigger than I, an' he is a good mimic. He rode jes'
like me."

"Begorra! he did thot!" nodded Barney. "It's mesilf thot wur chated, an'
thot's not aisy."

"You are a shrewd little girl," declared Frank; "and you are dead lucky
to escape with your life after getting Miller's bullet. But Miller won't
trouble you more."

Mrs. Kenyon rose and went into the hut, while Barney lazily strolled
down to the creek, leaving Frank and Kate alone.

Half an hour later, as he was coming back, the Irish lad heard Kate
saying:

"I know I'm igerent, an' I'm not fitten fer any educated man. Still, you
an' I is friends, Frank, an' friends we'll allus be."

"Friends we will always be," said Frank, softly.

After this little more was said.

It was not long before our friends left the locality, this time bound
for Oklahoma, Utah and California. What Frank's adventures were in those
places will be told in another volume, entitled, "Frank Merriwell's
Bravery."

"We are well out of that," said Frank, as they journeyed away. "Am I not
right, Barney?"

"Sure, Frankie, sure!" was Barney's answer. "To tell the whole thruth,
me b'y, ye're nivver wrong, nivver!"

And Barney was right, eh, reader?

THE END.





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