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Title: Under the Chinese Dragon - A Tale of Mongolia
Author: Brereton, F. S. (Frederick Sadleir), 1872-
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 "Under the Chinese Dragon - A Tale of Mongolia" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



                          Under the Chinese Dragon

                             A Tale of Mongolia

                          BY CAPTAIN F. S. BRERETON

Author of "The Hero of Panama" "Tom Stapleton, the Boy Scout" "The Great
Aeroplane" "Indian and Scout" &c.


    _ILLUSTRATED BY CHARLES M. SHELDON_

    BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
    LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY

    1912



[Illustration: "THE BRUTE SPRANG FULL AT DAVID"]



Contents


    Chap.                                           Page

        I. EBENEZER SPEAKS HIS MIND                    9

       II. THE ROAD TO LONDON                         28

      III. WANTED A JOB                               47

       IV. A RESPONSIBLE POSITION                     66

        V. LONDON'S ALIEN CRIMINALS                   84

       VI. THE PROFESSOR MAKES A SUGGESTION          101

      VII. AT SEA ON A CHINESE JUNK                  121

     VIII. IN A TIGHT CORNER                         138

       IX. A GAME OF LONG BOWLS                      157

        X. EBENEZER CLAYHILL'S INSPIRATION           176

       XI. DAVID GOES ON A JOURNEY                   194

      XII. CHANG ANNOUNCES HIS ERRAND                211

     XIII. IN A CHINESE PRISON                       230

      XIV. TSU-HI IS ASTONISHED                      247

       XV. DICK AND DAVID TURN THE TABLES            265

      XVI. FREEDOM AGAIN                             282

     XVII. A CHAPTER OF ADVENTURES                   299

    XVIII. TERRORS OF THE MONGOLIAN DESERT           317

      XIX. A FIGHT TO A FINISH                       336

       XX. THE SECRET OF THE RUINS                   352



Illustrations


                                                         Page

    "THE BRUTE SPRANG FULL AT DAVID"     _Frontispiece_   316

    BURGLARS AT THE STORE                                  82

    "A FLAME SUDDENLY ILLUMINATED THE 'TWEEN DECKS"       130

    "A ROAR OF APPLAUSE GREETED THE FIFTH SHOT"           172

    "IN A SECOND DAVID WAS ON HIM"                        252

    STORMING THE BARRICADE                                346



UNDER THE CHINESE DRAGON



CHAPTER I

Ebenezer speaks his Mind


Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill was a man who impressed his personality upon one,
so that those who had once obtained but a passing glimpse of him could
not fail but recognise him, however long afterwards.

'Fust it's his nose what strikes yer,' had declared old Isaac Webster,
when ensconced with his bosom friends of an evening down in the snug
parlour of the 'Three Pigeons.' 'It's just the most almighty one as ever
I seed, and I've seed a power of noses, I have, Mr. Jarney.'

He sniffed and looked across at that individual, as if he challenged him
to disprove the statement, or even to doubt it; for Jarney was a
cross-grained fellow, an old weather-beaten boatman, into whose
composition quite a considerable quantity of salt seemed to have been
absorbed. The man was short in stature and in manner. There was an
acidity about his voice which made him the reverse of popular, though
when he held forth in the cosy parlour of the public-house there were
few who failed to listen; for Jarney had travelled. Unlike Isaac
Webster, he had not been a stay-at-home all his days, but had seen
things and people which were strange for the most part to the old
cronies who gathered together of an evening. No one dare dispute
Jarney's statements, for to do so was to lay oneself open to a course of
scathing, biting sarcasm, in which Jarney excelled.

Isaac coughed, finding that Jarney had failed to answer. 'I've seed a
power of noses, I have, Mr. Jarney,' he repeated in his most solemn
tones.

The boatman, comfortably quartered in a huge arm-chair in the centre of
the circle about the blazing fire, twisted his eyes round till they were
fixed on the speaker. He pulled the short clay which he was smoking out
of his mouth with a hand bearing many a tar stain, and contemplated it
with much interest. His lips curled back in what was meant to be a
derisive smile, then back went the pipe between his toothless gums.

'You've seed a sight of noses, you have, Mr. Webster,' he growled.
'Well, so has we all. There's noses all round us most of the day. I
could yarn to yer about a nigger man 'way out in the Caroline Islands
who'd a nose that you couldn't pass in a day's walk, it war that big and
attractive. But you was talkin' of this here Ebenezer Clayhill.'

'Him as ain't long come to these parts,' interposed another of the men
gathered about the fire. 'Him as you're acting gardener to, Mr.
Webster.'

'Or rather, him as has gone and married the lady as you've been gardener
to this three years past,' ventured a third. 'Mrs. Harbor that was; now
Mrs. Ebenezer Clayhill.'

Webster nodded at the circle. It was true enough that he was gardener at
'The Haven,' the house occupied by Mrs. Clayhill, and it was also true
enough that that lady had recently married; for but a few months before
she had been known as Mrs. Harbor. The folks at Effington, a little
fishing hamlet along the Hampshire coast, were sufficiently acquainted
with the lady already; for in a small place there is not much news, and
what there is quickly becomes common property. But Mr. Clayhill was a
recent importation, of whom the villagers were as yet almost ignorant,
so that Isaac Webster, who, naturally enough, had better opportunities
of knowing him than the others at Effington, had been called upon to
give his opinion on his new master.

'Well, as I was sayin', when I was interrupted,' Isaac began again,
glaring across at the old salt lounging in his chair, 'I was sayin' that
the fust thing you notice is his nose, it's that big and red. I'd swear
to it in a court of law without a quiver. Then there's his eyes; ain't
they sharp, just! For the rest of him, I don't know as there's much to
say. He seems a pleasant-spoken gentleman, though I ain't so sure as he
don't want already to cut down wages.'

The announcement, short as it was, provided food for conversation for
the rest of that evening, and we may be sure that Mr. Ebenezer was as
frankly and as completely discussed in the parlour of the 'Three
Pigeons' as he had ever been in his life before. But we were saying that
he was a man who impressed his personality upon every one, and Isaac
was not by any means wrong when he stated that Ebenezer's nose was the
chief characteristic. It arrested one's attention at the first instant,
till one realised that further scrutiny would be a rudeness, and
promptly fixed one's gaze on some other part of his person. Elsewhere
there was not much that was favourable; for the gentleman who had so
recently married Mrs. Harbor was some fifty years of age, and had a
decidedly shifty air. His eyes were placed closer together than is
customary, while his jowly cheeks, his pendulous eyelids, and the lines
and seams about his face seemed all to accentuate the immediate
impression of distrust which he inspired. For the rest, he was
moderately tall, stout and broad-shouldered, and very bald.

Three months after his marriage, when he had settled down at 'The
Haven,' Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill was engaged one day within his study. The
morning post had brought him a number of bulky documents, and these lay
spread out before him. One in particular seemed to occupy his attention,
for he perused its contents for the third time at least, and sat
regarding the lines thoughtfully. Slowly, as he took in the meaning of
the document, his fat hands came together and he rubbed them over one
another, as if he were particularly pleased. His small pig-like eyes lit
up ever so little, while the lines across forehead and face smoothed
themselves out a trifle.

     'We have pleasure in informing you that this matter is now
     satisfactorily concluded,' he read, again beginning to go through
     the document. 'As we have advised you from time to time the
     question of Mr. Harbor's fate was one for the courts to deal with,
     and delay was inevitable. But we are now able to report that the
     Judge in chambers gave us leave to presume Mr. Harbor's death, on
     the evidence provided, and which, we may say, seemed to us to be
     absolutely conclusive. This being so, there is now no reason why
     Mrs. Harbor, as the executrix of the will of the late Mr. Harbor,
     should not at once proceed to obtain probate on it. For this
     purpose we shall hold ourselves at your disposal, and beg to
     remain.--Faithfully yours,

     JONES & JONES,

     _Solicitors_.

     _P.S._--We are in error in saying that Mrs. Harbor as executrix,
     etc. Of course, it should have been Mrs. Ebenezer Clayhill. We beg
     to apologise.'

The reader may wonder why such a short and apparently unimportant letter
should occupy Mr. Ebenezer so greatly, and we hasten at once to supply
that necessary information which will enable him to understand matters
completely. After all, with every fact before him, the reader can hardly
fail to comprehend Ebenezer's pleasure, for the letter before him
practically relieved him of all further worry as to the wants of this
life. A needy fellow till three months ago, Ebenezer, with that
communication before him, felt that he had no longer any need to scheme,
no cause to lay crafty plans and carry them out with much guile and
cunning; for his wife would benefit under the will mentioned, and with
her, as a natural consequence, Ebenezer himself.

But still Mr. Clayhill was not quite satisfied in his own mind as to
this fortune upon which he could now almost put his hand; and for some
three hours he paced his study, occupying himself sometimes in a
listless, harassed manner with the documents on the table, while he
awaited the coming of a member of the firm of solicitors who had written
to him.

'Shan't feel quite sure till I've had a talk with this fellow,' he told
himself, screwing his eyes up, while a deep line grooved his brow, which
added not at all to his attractiveness. Indeed, at such moments Ebenezer
looked more like a malefactor than a peaceful country gentleman. 'Shan't
feel comfortable or safe till I've had a chat, and not then till the
money is in the bank. Ah, there's David. A hulking big lout to be sure!
Seems to me the time has arrived when he should do something for his
living.'

The ugly frown was accentuated as Mr. Ebenezer looked out of his window.
The latter faced the wide, gravelled drive of 'The Haven,' and gave an
uninterrupted view down it as far as the gate, and beyond to the edge of
the village. And following his gaze one saw a lad mounted on a fine
horse, riding towards the house. He was some fifty yards distant, so
that a clear view of him was to be obtained, and though Ebenezer had
ventured to term the youth hulking, there were few who would have agreed
with him; for David Harbor was slim, if anything, and, as well as it is
possible to judge of a youth when mounted, of a good height. One thing
was very certain; he sat his horse splendidly, as if accustomed to the
saddle, and though the animal was without doubt spirited, as he proved
now that he was on the gravelled drive by curvetting and prancing, David
managed him with hand and knee and voice as only an accomplished
horseman can do. For the rest, the youth seemed to be some eighteen
years of age, was decidedly fair, and by no means ill-looking. Even as
Ebenezer regarded him with a scowl David wore a sunny smile, unconscious
of the unfriendly eyes that were scrutinising him. But a second later he
caught a view of Mr. Ebenezer, and at once the young face became serious
and thoughtful, while David returned the scrutiny with an honest glance
that caused the other to turn hastily away.

'A hulking lout is what I call him, and Sarah agrees,' muttered
Ebenezer. 'That is a comfort. When I married her I had fears that this
stepson of hers might create trouble between us. But I was wrong; Sarah
thinks as little of him as I do. We'll soon send him about his business;
then there'll be no riding of fine horses, or idling the hours away if I
know it. David shall work for his living, as I had to. He shall learn
what it is to be pinched, and then, if he does not behave himself, he'll
be thrown completely on his own resources. What luck that old Harbor
left things as he did!'

'Looks as if he'd like to eat me,' was the remark David made to himself
as he rode round to the stables. 'I've seen a row coming these past two
weeks since he and mother came back home. He doesn't like me any better
than--but there, I'll not say it. Only I've a feeling that I'm not
wanted here. I'm in the way; I'm expensive. My living costs money;
that's what I'm being rapidly made to feel.'

He slid from his saddle, unbuckled the girths, and having placed it on a
wooden horse outside the harness room, led the beast into the stable.
Within five minutes of his disappearance there a cab drove up to the
door, and Mr. Edwin Jones, the solicitor, was announced. At once he was
ushered into Mr. Ebenezer's room, and was presently seated in an
arm-chair. From that point of vantage he surreptitiously scrutinised Mr.
Ebenezer.

'Queer old boy,' he told himself. 'Lor', what a nose! And I don't like
his looks altogether. But then, he's a client; that's sufficient for me.
Ahem!'

Mr. Ebenezer picked up the letter which had attracted so much of his
attention.

'I wanted to ask some questions,' he said. 'There is now, I presume, no
further doubt as to this matter. Mrs. Clayhill is entitled to proceed
with the will left in your possession by Mr. Harbor?'

'Ahem! that is so,' admitted the solicitor. 'As mentioned in our letter,
and carrying out your instructions, we applied to the courts, and the
judge before whom the matter came has gone into the evidence fully, and
has given leave to presume Mr. Harbor's death. That being so, the way is
clear to prove the will and obtain probate. There can be no hitch,
unless, of course, ahem!--unless another later will is forthcoming.'

'Quite so, quite so,' exclaimed Mr. Ebenezer, hurriedly, 'But there is
no other will. Mr. Harbor left England three years ago for China. You
are aware that he was fond of unearthing old matters dealing with
buildings and _objets d'art_. He was attacked by Boxers and killed. He
executed this will two years previously, on his marriage to Mrs.
Clayhill, and, undoubtedly, he saw no reason to alter it.'

'Of course not, of course not,' came from the solicitor. 'Only, there is
the son. This will leaves a small sum for his maintenance and schooling
up to the age of twenty-one. Afterwards he comes in for two thousand
pounds. Not much, Mr. Clayhill, for an only child, when the estate is so
large, roughly eighty thousand pounds.'

The gentleman who was seated in the arm-chair coughed deprecatingly, and
glanced swiftly across at Mr. Ebenezer. He did not like the ugly frown
which showed on his client's face, as he surveyed him.

'Glad I'm not David,' he told himself. 'And from what I have learned I
can't help feeling that Mr. Harbor must have executed a later will. But
there you are; it is not to be found. We have no information about it,
while our late client is undoubtedly dead, killed out in China. It's bad
luck for David; I like the boy.'

'Perhaps,' he said, a moment later, 'you will obtain Mrs. Clayhill's
signatures to these documents, when we can at once set about proving the
will. As I am nominated as co-executor with Mrs. Clayhill, I can
complete them when I return to the office. I shall of course leave the
payment of David's allowance to Mrs. Clayhill.'

Mr. Ebenezer beamed when at length his visitor had gone. He rubbed his
hands together craftily, and then blew his enormous nose violently.

'Well, Sarah, what do you think of that?' he asked, looking across at
Mrs. Clayhill, who had joined him in his room. 'The matter is
practically finished. The will is to be proved in the course of a few
weeks, and then we can settle down. There will be no questions to ask,
and none to answer.'

'And so far as I am concerned, no answers forthcoming,' replied his
wife. 'After all, it is true that Edward wrote to me from China just
before his death, saying that he was settling his affairs again, in
other words that he was making a new will. But what is the good of
mentioning that? If he did as he intimated, no new will has been found.
Besides, I have reason to know that any alteration would not have been
to my benefit. Edward had of late been a worry to me.'

At the back of her mind Mrs. Clayhill remembered how she had come to
marry Edward Harbor. He was then forty years of age, and possessed of
one boy, David. His wife had died some years before, and there was no
doubt that Edward in selecting his second wife had chosen one whom he
imagined would willingly travel with him. But, after a year or more of
life in England, Mrs. Clayhill had resolutely refused to stir a foot out
of the country. Edward, to his great sorrow, had to go alone, leaving
David in his wife's charge. Moreover, there was little doubt but that
once her husband was out of sight, Mrs. Clayhill had endeavoured to
forget him, and that with some success, so that Edward received only the
most fragmentary letters, with long intervals between. Taking all the
circumstances into consideration, it was but natural that Edward Harbor,
smarting under the treatment meeted out to him by a wife, to whom at the
time of their marriage he had willed almost all his possessions, should
have made drastic alterations. Let us say at once that he had made a new
will, only the latter, owing to his untimely death, had never reached
the hands of his solicitors. Nor was there any record of it in China.
Mrs. Clayhill, it seemed, was the only one who knew that a change had
been made, and she had craftily not uttered a word on the subject. So it
happened that David was to be robbed of his father's possessions, while
his stepmother, who had disliked the lad from the beginning, with Mr.
Clayhill, the husband she had acquired after the death of Mr. Harbor,
were to come in for all the money, knowing all the while that, though
such a step was legal, it did not represent Edward Harbor's wishes.

'And the boy--what of him?' asked Mrs. Clayhill tartly.

Ebenezer grinned; matters were going splendidly for him. 'Oh, David,' he
said. 'He's got to learn what it is to work; I'll send him up to a city
firm. No more idling or riding blood horses for him, my dear.'

It was a heartless arrangement, and one is bound to admit, from the
acquaintance we have already of Mr. Ebenezer, it was to be expected of
him. As for Mrs. Clayhill, though boasting some attractions, she was
not, as the reader will have guessed, a fascinating woman. Where David
was concerned she could be a dragon, and we are stating but the truth
when we say that, for the past three years, the lad had been glad to
return to school to escape from a home which was that only in name to
him.

'Ah, there he is,' suddenly exclaimed Mr. Ebenezer, as a heavy foot was
heard in the hall, while, within a second, the door of the room was
flung unceremoniously open, and David entered.

'Helloo!' he cried, cheerily. 'I'm after a book. Disturbed you, eh?
Sorry.'

He turned on his heel, and prepared to leave, for he could see that the
two who were now responsible for him were discussing some matter.
'Having another jaw,' he told himself. 'That's what they're always after
now-a-days. Something to do with money, I suppose. Or it's me; shouldn't
wonder. They ain't over fond of David Harbor.'

It was not his fault that he did not speak or think more respectfully of
his parents. After all, though only related to him by the accident of
marriage, they were his lawful guardians, and had they been kind, David
would have been only too glad to behave as a son to them. Goodness knew,
the lad sometimes ached for a happy home.

'David!' The word came in peremptory tones from Ebenezer. He perched
himself in the centre of the hearth rug and blew his nose violently.
Mrs. Clayhill sank languidly back in her chair, and regarded her stepson
as if he bored her greatly. 'Come back, David.'

'Well? What is it?' David swung into the room again, and stood holding
to the handle of the door.

'Shut the door. Now, I want to speak to you. You're eighteen?'

'No, seventeen and five months. They tell me I look eighteen.'

'Humph! In any case you're old enough to understand. You realise, of
course, that I cannot be responsible for your upkeep.'

David staggered. He knew very little of monetary matters, but had always
understood that his father was a rich man and had made ample provision
for his family. 'I don't understand,' he replied.

'Let me put it plainly. Your father is dead; he has left a small sum
with which to defray your expenses. That must be sufficient; you must
now fend for yourself.'

'But,' gasped David, hardly able to gather the drift of the
conversation, 'he has left a great deal more than that for the upkeep of
the family. I am one of the family.'

'True,' admitted Ebenezer, ruefully, 'you are one of the family, but
that does not give you leave to enjoy yourself and be idle. Your father
specified only a sum for your expenses. The remainder of his possessions
are left to your stepmother to do with as she likes. She does not intend
that you should stay here longer and have a good time. You are to work
for your living. You are to go to an office in London, where your
success will depend on yourself entirely.'

'But--.' David was thunderstruck. He had no intention of idling. As a
matter of fact he hoped soon to enter an engineering school, where
there would be plenty of work for a keen young fellow. What staggered
him most was Ebenezer's iciness and his statements with regard to the
possessions left by Edward Harbor. 'But,' he gasped again, 'there is
surely some error. I don't count on money left me by father. I will work
for my living, and show that I can earn it the same as others. But he
made a will in China. He wrote to me about it. Everything was left to
me, with a handsome allowance to mother.'

The words came as a shock to the two conspiring to do our hero out of
his patrimony. Till that moment Mrs. Clayhill had imagined that she was
the only person to whom Edward Harbor had written. But she forgot David,
or put him out of her calculations because of his youth; whereas, as a
matter of fact, Edward had been more than open with his son.

'It is no use mincing matters, boy,' he had written. 'Money is more or
less useless to me, for I love the wilds, the parts forsaken by man
these many centuries. Still, I have, by the chance of birth, large
possessions to dispose of, and in the ordinary course they would go, in
great part, to your stepmother. But you are old enough to understand
matters. We cannot agree. She will not bear exile even for a few months,
for my sake, and, to make short work of an unpleasant matter, I fear I
must admit that I was mistaken in marrying her. As it is, I have
reconsidered my affairs, and have recently remade my will. At the first
opportunity I shall hand it into safe keeping. But here it must rest
till I go down country. Needless to say, I have arranged that my
property shall descend to you, with certain payments for your
stepmother.'

'But--gracious me! Hear him!' cried Mrs. Clayhill, in a high falsetto.

'That is a lie,' declared Ebenezer, flatly, his eyes narrow, his brow
furrowed, a particularly unpleasant look on his face. David flushed to
the roots of his hair. He had never been called a liar, save once, by a
boy bigger than himself, and him he had soundly thrashed. He stepped
forward a pace, while his eyes flashed. Then he pulled himself together,
and closed his lips firmly. A second later he was holding to the handle
of the door again.

'It is the truth,' he said, firmly. 'I have the letter to prove it. He
wrote telling me that he was sending the same information to my
stepmother.'

This was a bomb in the heart of the enemy's camp with a vengeance. Mrs.
Clayhill's face flushed furiously; she appeared to be on the verge of an
attack of violent hysteria. Ebenezer, on the contrary, became as white
as his own handkerchief. He glowered on David, and stuttered as he
attempted to speak. It was, in fact, a very sordid affair altogether.

'David! How can you?' came from Mrs. Clayhill. 'I never had a letter.
Your father made no change in his depositions.'

'In fact,' declared Ebenezer, bringing his hands together, and
endeavouring to display an air of placidity, 'he left but one will, and
that in favour of your stepmother. His death has been presumed by the
courts, and now the will I speak of shall be administered. You are a
pauper, more or less. You are dependent on a small allowance, payable by
us, and on your own wits. You will employ the latter from this moment. I
have accepted a post for you in a shipping office. You will live in
rooms in London, and your hours of work will extend from eight-thirty in
the morning to six at night. You begin immediately.'

To say that David was flabbergasted was to express his condition mildly.
It had been his intention from an early age to become an engineer, and
his father had encouraged his ambition. Suddenly he suspected that this
work in London was only a plot to get him out of the way, and that his
stepmother had received the letter of which he had spoken. It angered
him to have his future ordered by a man almost a stranger to him, and
one, moreover, who had taken no pains to hide his ill-feeling. Besides,
David was proud and quick-tempered.

'I'll do nothing of the sort,' he exclaimed quickly.

'You disobey me, then?' demanded Ebenezer angrily.

'I decline to go into an office.'

'Then you leave the house to-morrow. Your allowance shall be paid to you
regularly. You can fend for yourself.'

For a moment the two conspirators glared at David, while the latter held
to the door. Even now he was loth to think evil of his stepmother,
though there had never been any affection between them; for Mrs.
Clayhill was essentially a worldly woman. Had she not been so she could
not have sat there and seen this youth cheated of rights which she knew
were his. She could not have allowed her second husband to proceed with
the proving of a will which she knew thoroughly well did not represent
her late husband's wishes. But she was a grasping woman, and had long
since determined to oust David. Also she had in Ebenezer a cold-hearted
scoundrel who backed her up completely.

'You will do as you are ordered or forfeit everything,' she cried, in
shrill tones, that were a little frightened.

'Which means that you are not wanted very particularly here, and had
better go,' added Ebenezer sourly. 'Take this post or leave it. It makes
little difference to me; but idle and enjoy yourself here any longer,
you shall not.'

David took in a deep breath; the situation was only beginning to dawn
upon him. It was the climax that he had more than half expected, but
which, boy-like, he had put out of mind. But here it was, naked and
extremely sordid. He was not wanted; these people had no interest in
Edward Harbor or in his son. In fact, that son stood in their way. Money
was the cause of all the trouble. The two before him were conspiring to
rob him, David, of the possessions intended for him by his father.
Straightway David formed a resolution.

'You wish me to leave,' he said, as quietly as he could. 'I will go at
once. You tell me that I am a pauper. Very well, I will work for myself;
but I give you notice. I will search this matter out; it is not yet
absolutely proved that father was killed. He might have been made a
prisoner; his death has only been presumed. But I will make sure of it
one way or the other. I will hunt for that will of which he wrote to me
and to my stepmother. And when I find him or it I will return; till
then, remember that I ask no help from either of you. I will fend for
myself.'

He turned on his heel, closing the door noiselessly after him. Promptly
he went to his room, packed his few valuables and a spare suit in a
valise, not forgetting underclothing. Then he crossed to the stables and
emerged a few moments later with his bicycle. A somewhat scared couple
of conspirators watched him, as he pedalled down the drive and out
through the gate.

'Pooh! Let him go. A good riddance!' blustered Ebenezer, blowing his
nose.

'I'm afraid of him; he was always like that,' exclaimed Mrs. Clayhill
tearfully. 'David is a most determined boy; he will search this matter
to the bottom.'

'Which happens to be particularly deep,' ventured her husband. 'Come,
Sarah, threatened people live long. Before he is anywhere near China we
shall have the will proved, and the money will be ours. We can afford to
laugh at the young idiot.'

They saw David swing out into the road and disappear past the village.
From that moment for many a week, he was a dead letter to them. But
distance did not help them. The fact that they were committing a wrong
preyed on the newly wedded couple. In the course of a little while the
memory of David had become to Ebenezer and his wife even more trying
than his actual presence. The proving of the will, the free use of the
money could not end the matter. Conscience spoke sternly and unceasingly
to Mr. and Mrs. Clayhill.



CHAPTER II

The Road to London


It was approaching evening as David Harbor swung out of the drive gates
of 'The Haven,' and turned his back upon the inhospitable house and the
stepmother who had behaved so disgracefully to him. His head high, a
queer sinking at the heart, but his courage undaunted for all that, he
pedalled swiftly through the village of Effington, nodded to the sour
old salt Jarney, who, by the way, always had a smile for David, sped
past the 'Three Pigeons' public-house, where the local tittle-tattle of
the place was dispensed, together with ale, and was soon out in the open
country.

'Time to sit down and think a little,' he said to himself, resting on
his pedals and allowing his machine to glide along down the incline till
it came of its own accord to a rest. 'Now, we'll sit down here and think
things out, and have a look into this affair. I must consider ways and
means.'

He was a practical young fellow, was David Harbor, and already the
seriousness of the move he had made was weighing upon him. Not that he
was inclined to hesitate or to go back, not that at all, only the future
was so clouded. His movements were so uncertain; the absence of some
definite plan or course of procedure was so embarrassing.

'Three pounds, thirteen shillings and fourpence halfpenny,' he said,
emptying his purse, and counting out the money as he sat on a roadside
boulder. 'Riches a month ago when I was at school, poverty under these
circumstances, unless--unless I can get some work and so earn money.
That's what I said I'd do and do it I will. Where? Ah, London!'

Like many before him, his eyes and thoughts at once swept in the
direction of the huge metropolis, at once the golden magnet which
attracts men of ambition and resource, and the haven wherein all who
have met with dire misfortune, all who are worthless and have no longer
ambition, can hide themselves and become lost to the world.

'Yes, London's the place,' said David, emphatically, pocketing his
money. 'I'll ride as far to-night as I can, eat something at a
pastrycook's, and sleep under a hay-stack. To-morrow I'll finish the
journey. Once in the city I'll find a job, even if it's only stevedoring
down at the docks.'

For a little while he sat on the boulder letting his mind run over past
events; for he was still somewhat bewildered. It must be remembered that
such serious matters as wills and bequests had not troubled his head
till that day. Boy-like, he had had faith in those whose natural
position should have prompted them to support the young fellow placed in
their care. He had had no suspicions of an intrigue, whereby his
stepmother wished to oust him from a fortune which his father's letter
had distinctly said was to become his. He had imagined that things
would go on as they were till he had finished with his engineering
studies; then it would be early enough to discuss financial matters. His
recent interview had been a great shock to him.

'I begin to see it all now,' he said. 'And I can understand now what Mr.
Jones, the solicitor, meant when last I saw him. He wanted to warn me
against Mr. Ebenezer, but did not dare to make any open statement. I'll
go to him: I'll take that letter.'

He had taken care to carry away with him everything he prized most, and
his father's correspondence was at that moment securely placed in an
inside pocket. David laid his fingers on the letters, and then read the
one in which Edward Harbor had referred to the disposal of his fortune.

'Yes, I'll take this to Mr. Jones,' repeated David, with decision. 'I've
always liked him, and father trusted him implicitly. But I'll ask for no
help; I mean to get along by myself, if only to show Mr. Ebenezer that I
can be as good as my word. There; off we go again. No use in sitting
still and moping.'

It was wonderful what a difference a plan made to him: David felt ever
so much happier. The future, instead of appearing as a huge dark cloud
before him, dwindled away till it was but a speck; his old, sunny looks
came back to a face somewhat harassed a little while before, and
thereafter David pedalled at a fine pace, placing the miles behind him
swiftly, and sending the colour to his cheeks. It was getting so dark
that in a few minutes he would have to light his lamp when he detected a
figure walking along the road in front of him, and as he came level
with the man the latter hailed him.

'Helloo there,' came in cherry tones, 'how many miles do you make it to
London?'

'Sixty-four,' answered David promptly. 'You're walking there?'

'Every inch of it,' came the hearty answer. 'I've done it before, and
will do it again. Railways are too expensive for the likes of me to
waste money on 'em. You off there too?'

David jumped from his saddle, and walked his machine beside the
stranger, who was obviously a sailor. His baggy breeches told that tale
distinctly, while the breeziness of the man, and his many nautical
expressions would, even without the assistance of a distinctive dress,
have made his profession more than probable.

'Got a week's shore leave, and mean to walk up to see the old people,'
said the stranger. 'Stoker Andus I am, from the _Indefatigable_. Who are
you? By the cut of your gib you'll be a gent same as our orfficers.
Ain't that got it?'

David laughed at the man's breeziness and straight way of asking
questions.

'I'm looking for a job,' he said promptly, 'though I believe I am what
you have described. But I've had a row at home, and now I'm off to find
work.'

The stoker, a man of some thirty years of age, came to an abrupt halt,
and swung round to have a close look at David. 'Run away, has yer,' he
exclaimed. 'Then, bust me, if you ain't a silly kid. I did the same once
when I was about your age. Ran from a home as wanted me, ran from
parents that knew what was best for me. I can see that I was a fool now
that I'm older. Jest send her astern, mister, and let's get in and talk
it over. Now, what's the rumpus? Done something you was expressly
ordered not to, eh? Got into debt, perhaps. Been smokin' and takin' the
governor's bacca? It's one of them, ain't it? And here are you a makin'
your mother that wretched--'

'Heave to for a bit,' cried David, laughing in spite of himself, and
unconsciously employing one of the stranger's nautical expressions. 'You
think I'm a fool, eh? Think I'm treating some one badly?'

From the very first he had taken a fancy to the handsome, clean-shaven
tar tramping his way to London, and he realised in a flash that the
honest fellow, with experience of his own behind him to help, was
endeavouring to give advice, and encourage what he considered to be a
truant to return home. Brusquely and in true sailor fashion Andus
answered him.

'If I'm aboard the right ship, and you've cleared off from a good home,
then you are a fool, a precious big 'un, too,' he cried. 'And there
ain't a doubt as you're treatin' some one badly; mostlike it's your
mother. P'raps it's your father. Anyways, let's drop anchor hereabouts
and put on a smoke. I can yarn when I'm smokin', and since it's dark
now, there's no need for more hurry.'

He led the way to a gate, sat himself on the top rail, and having
produced a cake of tobacco, a knife and a pipe, shredded some of the
weed into the latter.

'Well,' he began again, when he had got the weed burning, and huge
billows of smoke issuing from his lips. 'You've had a few seconds to
think it over. Andus ain't a fool, mind you, youngster, and he ain't
tryin' to give lessons to one as has heaps more eddication. But I've
seed one as was sorry for running away from home. That's me. I know one
as has never ceased to feel that he did wrong, and has suffered in
consequence. That's me again, all the time. And I ain't a goin' to fall
in alongside of another and keep me mouth shut when I know as he's
headin' straight up for the same rocks and shoals, and is in danger of
breakin' hisself to pieces. There you are. Take that from one who knows
what he's talking about.'

He lapsed into silence for a while, puffing smoke from his lips, and
occasionally looking down at David, who stood within a few feet of him.
As for the latter, the more the sailor talked, the more he liked the
man. There was an honest ring about his breezy tones, a direct manner
about the words he used that captivated our hero. Not for one moment was
he fearful that he himself would change his plans, whatever was said.
No, David had now considered his movements very thoroughly. He told
himself that it was not he who had behaved badly. It was his stepmother
and her husband. But, in case of error, he would put the facts before
this open-minded sailor.

'Supposin' you was to stop here to-night, and then ride back to-morrow,'
suggested Andus, cooly, as if he were saying the most commonplace thing.
'This home of yours ain't far, and you'd be there by breakfast time.
They'd be so glad to see you that the row would be forgotten. You'd
start in fresh again, with new paint above and below, and everything
ship-shape. What do you say to that, youngster?'

'That your intention is a good one, and your advice the same under usual
conditions,' declared David, warmly. 'But this isn't an ordinary running
away. I'll tell you how I came to leave home.'

He sat down on the rail of the gate and told Andus quietly how his
parents had treated him, and how he was sure that the two were
conspiring to oust him out of property meant for him by his dead father.
'In any case,' he ended, 'I was not wanted. I was to leave the house and
go into an office, though it was well known that I hoped to go to an
engineering college. I refused the office, and was told to clear out.
Now, tell me frankly what you think.'

The sailor dug the blade of his knife deep into the bowl of his pipe,
and stirred the contents thoroughly before he ventured to reply. There
was a deep line across his forehead, while his eyes were half closed.
David could tell that easily, for the moon was up now, and the night was
unusually bright. Then Andus struck flint and steel, and sucked flames
into his pipe till our hero thought he would never cease.

'Tell me about this solicitor,' he suddenly demanded. 'He was a friend
of your father's?'

'And of mine,' answered David. 'I like him. I am sure that he tried to
warn me against the man who married my stepmother.'

'Then jest listen here, youngster,' cried Andus, breezily. 'I take back
all the words I was flingin' at you. You ain't such a fool as I took
you for. What's more, I'm precious nigh certain that it's you that's
bein' done harm to, and not these here parents of yours. A precious fine
couple to be sure! Heavin' overboard on a dirty night wouldn't be too
much for 'em. Seems to me that they has the best of the argument at this
moment. From what I've heard they has the handlin' of the money and the
arrangement of things. They know everything, while you ain't got a one
to help you. But if you was to see this solicitor you'd be better off.
You get right off to him and ax fer his advice. Andus may be all very
well for guiding a chap back to his home when he's makin' a fool of
hisself, same as Andus did when he was young, but bust me if he's fit to
advise here. Get right off to London.'

'I will; meanwhile we'll spend the night together. What were you going
to do?' asked David, feeling better already for his chat with the
sailor.

'Why, sling me hammock under one of these here straw stacks,' cried
Andus. 'It'll be warm in there, and a chap can sleep better than in a
strange bed. To-morrow I'll be up at the first streak of light, and
headin' for the nearest village. I'll be able to eat a bit by then, and
afterwards I'll leg it for London.'

'Then I propose that we leg it now for the nearest village, have a meal
and then find a suitable stack under which to sleep. I'm real hungry;
I've had little since breakfast.'

Andus fell in with the arrangement willingly, and together they tramped
along the high road till they came to a village. There they obtained a
meal of bread and meat, washed down with cocoa, for Andus was one of
many, a rapidly increasing band in the Royal Navy, who are sworn
teetotallers.

'And now for another smoke and a doss under a stack,' cried the sailor,
as they left the village. 'The moon's that bright we might jest as well
push on for a while till we get sleepy. Then we'll get into a harbour o'
some sort, and lay to for the night. To-morrow afternoon you'll be in
London, and with a bit of luck I'll be there by nightfall. I often get a
carter or some such chap to give me a lift. Once a gent on a motor ran
me clean through; but that was unusual luck.'

'I'll send you up by train,' declared David generously. 'I haven't much,
but can spare enough for your ticket.'

'Then you jest won't,' came warmly from the sailor. 'I tell yer, sir, I
don't forget those days when I was a fool and ran from home. Bust me! I
hadn't too much cash, and well remember there wasn't a halfpenny to
spare. You ain't got such a big cargo aboard that you can afford to
heave some of it over. I'm a goin' to foot it.'

'You'll ride,' said David, with determination. 'It will bring me good
luck to do a good turn to a friend picked up on the road. Besides, I
shall have sufficient. I shall sell this bicycle the moment I get to
London. Then I shall be able to draw from the solicitor some of the
allowance I am entitled to. But I mean to work; I'll not hang about
depending on an allowance. I'll make a way for myself, if only to show
my stepmother that I can do so.'

The breezy sailor brought a hand down on his shoulders with such force
that David coughed and choked.

'That's you all the time,' he shouted. 'I could see when I first took a
squint at you through my weather eye that you wasn't one of the soft
kind. The kind fer instance that they turns out of a dry canteen, or a
grocery store. Makin' a way for yerself is one of the finest things a
man can have to do, only there's so few as realise it. But you'll do it;
I'm tryin' the same. There's advancement for every one as shows he means
to work. But here's a lot of stacks. Pipes out; dowse all lights. We
won't risk firing property that doesn't belong to us.'

They searched for a suitable spot, and very soon were stretched on a
mass of loose straw which had been piled beside one of the ricks.
Pulling a heap of it over their bodies a delicious feeling of warmth
soon came to them, and in a twinkling they were asleep. The sun
streaming on his face wakened David on the following morning.

'Now,' he shouted, waking Andus, 'a wash and then on for breakfast.
We'll walk together as far as the nearest station.'

Half an hour later David had the satisfaction of seeing Andus enter a
railway train, and of shaking his hand heartily as the latter steamed
out.

'Don't you wait a little bit,' called out the hearty sailor, waving his
hand in farewell. 'Go right off to that solicitor. Stick to your guns,
and you'll come through in the end.'

Far happier for the meeting with this wayfarer, and for the chat he had
had with him, David mounted his bicycle again, and pedalled briskly
along the main road for London. He no longer felt that doubt and
uncertainty that had oppressed him on the previous day. He had made his
plans, and a man of the world, an honest fellow gifted undoubtedly with
common sense, had approved of his actions. Henceforth he would push on
without a halt and without hesitation.

'I'll sell the bicycle, find rooms in which to live, and insert an
advertisement for work,' he told himself. 'Then I'll see Mr. Jones.'

It was an hour later before the even course of his journey was
disturbed. He was running gaily before a strong breeze, with a hot sun
streaming down upon him when in the far distance he saw a vehicle
trundling along the road. Rapidly overhauling it, he soon saw that it
was a brougham, with a coachman seated on the box, though whether there
were passengers in the vehicle he could not say; but within a few
minutes he came alongside, and, as he passed, caught a glimpse of two
ladies within. Then he swept on, pedalled past a traction-engine engaged
in hauling stones, and was soon on a clear road again. Then a loud shout
reached his ears, followed by others. He turned his head and looked over
his shoulder, with the consequence that the machine wobbled. Indeed, so
occupied was David with what was taking place in rear that he neglected
to guide his steed. In a moment therefore he ran into the ditch at the
side of the road, and was flung headlong into a hedge.

'That comes of staring over one's shoulder,' he said, picking himself up
at once. 'But there seems to have been an accident behind there. I saw
the horse in that brougham rear as it got opposite the traction-engine.
Then it dashed forward, and--why, the coachman has jumped from the box!
The coward! He's left those ladies to be dashed to pieces--the coward!'

The distance was so short that he was able to take in the whole
situation, and it was clear that the coachman on the box of the vehicle
had lost his head and his nerve. David had watched him holding to his
reins as the horse plunged; but the instant it bolted down the road the
man had leaped from his seat, and striking the road heavily had rolled
over and over into the ditch. Left to itself, the horse was coming along
the road at a mad gallop, the brougham swaying behind him in an alarming
manner, and threatening to capsize at any moment.

'George! nearly over that time,' gasped David. 'The horse is scared out
of its wits. It'll not stop till it has smashed the carriage and those
in it. Don't that coachman deserve to be kicked.'

He darted into the centre of the road, and watched the maddened creature
bearing down upon him. Behind, in the neighbourhood of the
traction-engine, he could see men waving their arms, and running along
the road, while a little nearer the coachman was sitting up in the
ditch, holding on to a damaged elbow. A head appeared at one of the
carriage windows for an instant, and David caught a glimpse of a very
frightened face. A scream even reached his ears; then he leaped back
from the road and seized his bicycle.

'I'll dodge that carriage,' he told himself. 'I'd never be able to keep
up with it at the rate the horse is going unless on my bicycle; but on
the machine I could do it. Anyway, I'll have a try.'

He swung himself into the saddle and pedalled gently along. By now he
could hear the scrunch of fast-revolving wheels on the macadam, while
more than one shriek came from the interior of the carriage. Then the
horse seemed to make directly for him. David spurted forward, his head
over his shoulder, and darted across to the far side of the road, just
escaping the feet of the maddened animal. In a twinkling the carriage
drew abreast of him, and for a while he raced along beside it, noticing
that on many an occasion it was within an ace of capsizing. Then a
brilliant manoeuvre occurred to him.

'Couldn't possibly get aboard from the side or front,' he told himself.
'The pedal of the bicycle would catch something, and I should come a
cropper beneath the wheels. I'll try the back; but it'll want doing.
That brute is going all out.'

The runaway horse was indeed galloping as hard as he could, faster, in
fact, than before, so that even had David wished to come alongside he
found it impossible, for the carriage had now drawn slightly ahead. But
with a desperate effort he lessened the distance, keeping directly
behind the vehicle so as to escape the breeze, which at that pace was of
his own making. Gradually he approached the rear of the carriage till he
was almost between the wheels. Then, quick as a flash, he leaped from
his saddle, abandoning his machine, and flung himself toward the back
axle of the vehicle. His fingers fastened upon it, and an instant later
he was jerked from his feet, and went dragging along the road. But he
was not beaten. David was no weakling, and soon made an alteration in
his position. With a jerk and a heave he regained his feet. A frantic
spring took him on to the axle, and after that he felt that victory was
before him.

'Over the top, on to the box, and then along the shafts,' he told
himself. 'No use trying to clamber along the sides. This beastly thing
is on the point of upsetting already, and with my weight added to one
side would topple over. Here goes for the top.'

It was not an easy task he had set himself by any means, for the
carriage wobbled dangerously, and there was no rail to cling to. But
David made light of risks; he never even considered them. He stood on
the axle now, and reaching up gripped the top. With a bound he was on
it, and thereafter had all his work cut out to prevent being thrown off
to either side. But slowly he won his way forward till near the box.
Then a sudden swerve of the horse sent him sliding to the right, till
legs and thighs left the roof of the vehicle. Even then he was not
beaten. With a wriggle and a heave he flopped forward to the edge of the
box seat, and as his body slid from the roof, he managed to grip the
rail. One foot by good fortune met with a step, and thanks to that and
his grip of the rail he was soon located where the driver had been. Once
there David was in his element. He dragged the whip from its socket,
stretched over the side of the box, and with a dexterous thrust of the
stick managed to hook it under the reins, which were trailing along the
road. In half a minute he had them in his hands. And then began a battle
which would have delighted the heart of a horse-master; for David coaxed
and endeavoured to control the maddened beast with both voice and rein.

'Whoa! steady boy!' he called, pulling firmly on the mouth. 'Whoa!
gently boy, gently!'

However, finding that nothing resulted, he leaned back in his seat,
braced his feet, and began to pull in earnest, sawing at the beast's
mouth. Within a minute the pace had lessened. Promptly he began to call
to the horse.

'Whoa! gently boy, gently.'

In less than five minutes he had brought him to a standstill, and
dropping from the box had the animal by the head, and was patting and
soothing him.

'Please get out and stand at one side,' he called to the ladies. 'The
traction-engine startled him and caused him to bolt. He is still a
little nervous, but in a few moments he will be calm again. It would be
better, however, to get out. Please hurry.'

To tell the truth David was half expecting the animal to bolt again, for
even as he spoke it reared up dragging him from his feet. But he had the
huge advantage of understanding horses, and, as is so often the case,
the frightened brute seemed to realise that. Sweating heavily and still
trembling, it finally stood still, allowing him to pat its neck.
Meanwhile a lady had descended, and had assisted another to follow her.
David looked at them curiously. Both were very white after such a
terrifying experience, but the elder of the two seemed to be more
indignant than frightened. She walked across to David and inspected him
critically.

'How did you manage to get on to the carriage?' she asked; and then,
when he had told her, 'I consider you to have behaved nobly. You saved
our lives, not to mention the carriage. It was a brave act, and I and my
daughter are more than obliged to you. As for our coachman he is a
coward. I shall dismiss him promptly.'

A flush of anger came to her cheeks, and a little later she turned to
face the delinquent. 'You can drive back alone. I will walk,' she said
severely, as the man came up with David's bicycle. 'You are not fit to
be driving ladies. You deserted your post in the most disgraceful
manner. Come, Charlotte, perhaps this gentleman will walk with us.'

'I will drive you if you wish,' declared David promptly. 'The coachman
can ride my bicycle. Which way, please?'

He hopped briskly into the driving seat, and picked up his reins in a
manner which gave confidence. Then, the ladies having entered the
vehicle and directed him, he set off down the road. Within half an hour
he pulled up in front of a country mansion, enclosed in fine grounds. At
once a groom was called from the stables, and David was invited to enter
the house.

'You will lunch with us of course,' said the elder lady. 'I am Mrs.
Cartwell. This is my daughter, and--ah, Richard come here.'

She beckoned to a young fellow crossing the hall at that moment and
introduced him as her son. Then in a few words she explained the
situation.

'By Jove! That was a fine thing to do,' exclaimed the young fellow, whom
David took to be about twenty years of age. 'A real plucky thing. How on
earth did you manage to clamber on to the carriage when it was going at
such a pace, while you were on a bike? But let me thank you a thousand
times for your action. You have undoubtedly saved mother's life.'

Very cordially did he shake David's hand, and thereafter did his utmost
to put our hero at his ease and make him feel at home. Then, after
lunch, he pressed him to stay a day or so, for the two young fellows
took instantly to one another.

'Come,' he said, 'you've nothing in particular to do. Off for a bicycle
tour I suppose? Stay here a day or two and have a little fishing with
me.'

'Can't, though many thanks all the same,' answered David, wishing that
he could remain. 'I'm not on a bicycle tour. I'm going to London to find
work. I've some important business to do there.'

In a little while his new friends became aware of the fact that our hero
was launching himself on the world, and though he did not tell them his
reasons for leaving home, they realised that he was justified.

'If you cannot stay, you can at least remember the address of this
house,' said Mrs. Cartwell. 'We shall be glad to receive a visit from
you at any time, and I shall expect you to write. And now we will no
longer detain you.'

They sent him away with further words of thanks, while Dick Cartwell
accompanied him some five miles on the journey.

'Mind,' he said, as they gripped hands for the last time, 'we shall
expect to see you again, and hope you will write. I feel that we haven't
half thanked you.'

David waved the words aside, and straddled his bicycle. 'I don't want
thanks,' he said abruptly. 'But I'd like to come down. I'll write when
I've found work and am getting on a little. For the present I have no
time and no right to laze and enjoy myself.'

He went off down the road waving to Dick, never dreaming that the two of
them would come together again under strange circumstances. Pedalling
hard, he made up for lost time, and just as the shades of evening were
falling, found his way into the great city of London.

'Please direct me to some little house where I can obtain a lodging,' he
asked of a policeman who was walking on the pavement.

The constable, a fine, burly fellow, surveyed our hero from head to
foot. Then he smiled at him, and brought a massive hand on to his
shoulder.

'Come along with me,' he said. 'My missus wants a lodger. I was told
this morning when I went off on duty that I was to try and hear of one.
You'd do for a time. How'd you like to come?'

David smiled back at him promptly. 'Splendid!' he cried. 'I'd be glad to
come. I shall be saved heaps of trouble hunting for a room.'

That night he slipped into a cosy bed between the cleanest sheets
feeling that fortune had been really kind to him; for since he left
home he had done nothing but make friends. There was Andus, the breezy
sailor, Mrs. Cartwell, to say nothing of Dick, her jovial son. And now
there was the constable; for a nicer fellow than Constable Hemming did
not exist, while his wife took a motherly interest in David. It was a
good start in life; but would the future be equally prosperous?



CHAPTER III

Wanted a Job


The rattle of wheels in the street outside, and the brilliant rays of
the morning sun awakened David on his first morning in London. In a
twinkling he was up and dressed.

'Suppose you've come up to start life, sir,' said Constable Hemming when
his lodger put in an appearance. 'Breakfast's ready, and you can have it
at the back in the parlour, or here in the kitchen along with the missus
and me.'

'Then I'll stop with you,' declared David, smiling. 'Yes, constable, I'm
here to start life. I shall have to look round for work; but first of
all I must go into the city to see a firm of solicitors. I shall have to
find my way there.'

'I'll guide you,' came the answer. 'House rent is that dear towards the
city that I have to come out here. Every morning I take a 'bus to the
central police station and there get my orders. I'm on special duty
these days. We're hunting for a gang of foreign burglars that have come
to London to bother us; but what are you going to do? Medical student,
eh?'

David shook his head vigorously. 'Nothing so grand,' he said. 'I have
to find work of some sort, and I don't care what it is at first, so long
as I can earn something with which to pay my way while I look round.'

The constable's eyes opened wide with astonishment, and for a little
while he regarded his lodger critically, while his wife busied herself
with putting the breakfast on the table. He remembered the conversation
which he had had with her on the previous night. They had agreed without
the smallest hesitation that David was a young gentleman used to more or
less fine surroundings. There was nothing secret or underhand about him;
but they did not imagine that he had left home with the intention of
making his way alone in the world. This information that he must find
some sort of work showed at once that he was dependent solely on
himself.

'Why,' declared Hemming, 'you look as if you ought to be in an office,
or in the army as an officer. Want to find work? What about your
parents?'

Probably his official training caused him to regard David again, and
this time with some suspicion.

'I left home hurriedly after a row,' said our hero promptly. 'I was told
I was not wanted. There was a quarrel about money; I came away
determined to make my own way.'

'But,' began the constable, like Andus, the breezy sailor, feeling that
he ought to give some good advice here, advice culled from his own age
and somewhat wide experience. 'But, look here, sir. Ain't you made a
great mistake? Wouldn't it be better to think things over and turn
back? Most like your parents are advertising for you. I should have to
give information.'

David stopped him with a pleasant smile, lifting his hand as he did so.
Then in a few short words he told the constable and his wife what had
happened, refraining, however, from telling them about the will.

'Now,' he said, looking from one to the other.

'I take it all back; no chap with a bit of pride could do otherwise,'
declared Hemming, warmly. 'So you want work, any sort of work?'

David nodded. 'Anything to tide me over for the time being,' he said.
'Ultimately I mean to leave the country.'

'You wouldn't sniff if I was to mention the job of lift-boy?' asked
Hemming, somewhat bashfully, as if he were almost ashamed to introduce
such a job to David's notice.

'Where? When is it open? Could I work the lift?' asked our hero
promptly. 'To-day I could hardly begin; to-morrow I shall be free.'

'Then you can come along with me to the city,' said the constable,
laughing at his eagerness. 'It so happens that an old soldier, who
belongs to the corps of commissionaires, told me a night or two back
that his firm would be wanting a young chap. It's one of the big London
stores; we'll see what we can do for you.'

David thanked him warmly, and then, remembering his bicycle, mentioned
it.

'I want to sell it,' he said. 'I have some ready money on me; but the
machine will be useless here, and the cash I could get for it useful.'

'Of course, and I could take you to a place where a fair price would be
given; but if you'll take my advice you'll wait a little. Supposing this
London firm is a good way from your lodgings, a bicycle would be handy
to take you to work; the machine'll come to no harm for the moment, and
will fetch it's price whenever you want to part with it. You keep it for
a while. Now, sir, if you're ready we'll set out.'

In five minutes the two were in the street, the constable looking fine
and burly in his uniform, while the gentlemanly appearance of the young
fellow walking beside him caused the neighbours to remark. They
clambered on to a motor-bus at the end of the street, and made their way
into the city. Then they descended close to the Mansion House, and were
soon in conversation with the commissionaire.

'You mentioned a firm as wanted a young fellow for the lift,' said the
constable. 'Is that job still going?'

The commissionaire looked David up and down with an experienced eye, and
noted his straight figure, his good looks, and his general air of
superiority. Then he nodded his head several times in succession.

'That job's still going,' he said, 'and a young chap same as this is
just what's wanted; but he don't want to have kid gloves on his hands
all the while. This firm's looking for a lad as can appear smart when
he's in the lift, and can strip his livery off next moment and clean and
tidy things. Chaps as don't care to dirty their fingers ain't wanted.'

'Then I'm your man,' David blurted promptly. 'I'm not afraid of dirtying
my fingers with clean work--honest work I mean. As to smartness, there I
can't pretend to judge.'

Hemming winked slyly at his friend, who went by the name of Tiller,
while the latter again surveyed David with a critical eye, till the
latter flushed red under the scrutiny. Then Sergeant Tiller's head began
to wag forward and backward again, in a manner evidently characteristic
of him, while a smile broke out on his face.

'You'll do I should say,' he declared. 'Ready to work now?'

David thought for a moment. 'Ready to begin at this moment,' he said.
'But I must see some one in the city during business hours to-day.
To-morrow I could take to work steadily.'

'Then you can leave him to me, Hemming,' said the sergeant, 'I'll take
him right along, and the chances are he'll get the post. I used to work
for the same firm, and seeing as they knew that I had the best idea of
what sort of young chap they wanted, they left it to me to find a man.
One moment, mister, I'll get leave to be off for a while; then we'll
take a 'bus along to Oxford Street. The firm I'm talking about have a
big fashionable store close to Bond Street.'

Within an hour David and his new friend were at their destination,
waiting within the huge glass doors of an establishment, the size and
rich decoration of which filled our hero with amazement; for trips to
London had not often come his way. Mrs. Clayhill, his stepmother, had
never troubled to take him with her.

'There's thousands of pounds worth of things here,' whispered the
sergeant, as they waited for an interview with the manager, 'and, very
naturally, the firm is careful as to whom it employs. There's the lift
yonder. The man working it should really be at the door. From that I
take it that the hand who was here has left. That'll make 'em extra
anxious to get a substitute. Ah, come along.'

David's heart fluttered a trifle as he was ushered into the sanctum of
the manager; for he felt that the interview meant much to him. To be
truthful, he would rather have begun his life at some post more in
accordance with his upbringing; but then, he reflected, beggars must not
be choosers, and so long as the work was honest, it would tide him over
a difficult time. Besides, there was his interview with the solicitors.
It would be fine to be able to declare that he had already found a job,
and was in need of nothing. A second later he was before a diminutive
man, dressed very smartly, who regarded him with the same critical eye
as in the case of the sergeant.

'Just the young fellow, sir,' said the latter, nodding towards our hero.
'Constable Hemming introduced him to me. He's fresh to London, and this
will be his first job.'

'Know anything about lifts and machinery?' demanded the manager sharply.

'Yes, sir; I've worked in the shops at school, and meant to become an
engineer.'

David blurted the words out thoughtlessly, and then could have bitten
his tongue off the next instant. For if he had been candid with other
people, and described how he had left home, here, where he might be
employed to work, he wished his past history to remain unknown. But he
forgot that his whole appearance, his speech, his carriage, all told the
tale of his upbringing. He did not see the old sergeant wink at the
manager. He watched him bend forward and whisper.

'Constable tells me he was driven away from home, sir,' said the
sergeant, in the manager's ear. 'The lad's as honest as they make them.
I'll back him to give satisfaction. Give him a trial. He's the kind of
lad you could turn on to anything; he's a gentleman all over.'

David would have flushed red could he have heard the words, but he was
watching the manager. The latter looked closely at him again, smiled
suddenly, and then asked a question.

'What wages?' he asked.

'Fifteen shillings a week,' answered our hero.

'Nonsense! We start our men with a pound a week. We will give you a
month's trial. Hours eight-thirty in the morning till six. When can you
come?'

'To-morrow, sir. I'd like to have a trial now, but I must see some one
in the city this afternoon.'

'Then go to the lift and have a lesson. To-morrow we shall expect you.
Have you a dark suit?'

David nodded promptly.

'Then come in that: we have livery which ought to fit you. Good-bye.'

It was a much-excited David who emerged from the manager's office. The
sudden succession to a post at a pound a week made him feel giddy, it
was such good fortune. He hardly heard the old sergeant explaining his
errand to the lift-man. Almost unconsciously he shook hands with the
former and thanked him for his help. Then he entered the lift, and
watched his instructor as he ran it up and down. Ten minutes later he
was controlling the affair himself, and within half an hour was
efficient. That morning, he ran the elevator for some two hours all
alone, to the entire satisfaction of his employers, conveying a number
of purchasers to other parts of the building.

'You'll do,' declared the manager, when mid-day arrived. 'You're steady
and keep your head. Don't forget, it is a strict rule that all doors be
closed before the lift is moved. Accidents so easily happen. Now take a
word of advice. Every one can see what you are. Don't talk; keep
yourself to yourself and you'll make no enemies. To-morrow morning at
half-past eight.'

He dismissed him with a nod, and very soon David was out in the street
once more.

'And now for Mr. Jones, the solicitor,' he told himself. 'I don't feel
half so bad about the interview as I did yesterday. That job makes such
a difference. I'll telephone down to his address, and ask when he can
see me.'

He went at once to a call office, and promptly was able to arrange to
see the solicitor at two o'clock. Then he journeyed down into the city,
ate heartily at a cheap restaurant, and finally went to Mr. Jones's
office. It was a very astonished solicitor who received him.

'Why, you of all people!' he declared, as our hero entered. 'Sit down
there. You've got something to tell me; something is troubling you, that
I can detect at once. What is it?'

David at once told him how he had left home, and the cause for such
action.

'I made up my mind to fend for myself,' he said. 'I decided to find work
in London, and to decline the post in an office which Mr. Clayhill
offered.'

There was a serious air on Mr. Jones's face as he listened. 'That was a
bold course to pursue,' he said. 'Work is hard to find in this huge
city. There are so many applicants; but, of course, there is your
allowance. It will enable you to live for the time being.'

David shook his head promptly. 'I've got work already at twenty
shillings a week,' he said. 'I want you and the others to understand
that I mean to stand alone and fight my own battle. I mean to be
independent; I'll not call for that allowance till I actually need it.'

'Then, my lad, all the more honour to you,' declared Mr. Jones, gripping
his hand. 'But, of course, the allowance is yours. I shall make
arrangements to have it at my own disposal, not at that of your
stepmother's. So there was a scene, David? You were told to go. But why?
Money, I suppose.'

In a few words David recounted what had happened, and how he had been
told that he had next to no interest in his father's possessions.

'I knew that father had written home,' he declared. 'He sent me a letter
saying that he proposed to change his will, and he wrote to my
stepmother intimating the same. She denies this fact; but there is my
letter.'

He drew it from his pocket and waited, watching Mr. Jones while the
latter perused it And slowly he saw the solicitor's expression become
sterner and sterner.

'This is very serious, David,' he said at last, 'and though this letter
proves without doubt that your father made a later will, and that your
stepmother has deliberately obscured that fact, yet I fear that matters
cannot be altered. This later will is not to be found. Evidence has come
to hand which is so conclusive that the courts have presumed your
father's death. Nothing can now prevent the execution of the will now in
our possession.'

He looked thoughtfully at David for some few moments, and then pushed
his spectacles back on to his furrowed forehead. 'Nothing can alter the
matter now,' he added, 'unless this later will is found. That seems to
me to be out of the question.'

'I think not. I intend to find it; I shall go to China.'

David's sudden and unexpected declaration took the breath from Mr.
Jones. He pulled his spectacles from his forehead, wiped the glasses
feverishly, and put them back on to his nose. He gripped the two arms of
his chair before he replied.

'What!' he demanded. 'Go to China! But--'

'China is a vast country, yes,' agreed our hero, taking the words from
his mouth; 'but I was in close correspondence with my father. I know
precisely where he was staying, and the roads he travelled. That limits
the part to be searched. How I shall go out there I do not know. It may
take years to bring about; but go I will. Something tells me that I
shall be fortunate.'

There was a long silence between them before Mr. Jones ventured to break
it. At first he had been inclined to look upon David as a foolish young
fellow; but he had some knowledge of the lad, and of his father before
him, and knew our hero to be a steady-going individual. Moreover he had
heard that he was practical, and extremely persistent. He conjured up in
his mind's eye the figures of Mr. and Mrs. Ebenezer Clayhill, and turned
from them with some amount of annoyance.

'The whole matter is very unfortunate,' he said at last, 'and were it
not that I now feel that I have your interests to protect, I should be
tempted to retire from the post of executor to which your father
expressly appointed me. Of course, I shall have an interview with Mr.
Ebenezer and Mrs. Clayhill, and, as I have said, I shall insist that I
have the paying of your allowance. Further, I will consult one of my
legal friends on your behalf. With this letter before him, it is
possible he will advise you to apply to the courts to arrest the
administration of the will by Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill and his wife,
pending a further search. In that case you would have time to go to
China, and traverse the ground covered by your father. But how you will
manage to get there passes my comprehension.'

He looked across at David, and slowly his serious expression melted into
a smile. He recollected some words which Mrs. Clayhill had let fall at
an interview he had once had with her. Of David she had remarked, when
Mr. Jones had asked after him, 'he is an obstinate boy. Once he has made
up his mind to accomplish a thing, nothing will shake him. He is just
like his father.' And there was David searching the solicitor's face,
unconsciously wearing an expression of dogged resolution. The square
chin, already at such a youthful age showing firmness of purpose, was
set in bulldog fashion. The thin lips were closed in one strong line.
The eyes never flinched nor wavered.

'George!' cried Mr. Jones, suddenly stirred out of his professional
calm, 'I'll help you. I like your spirit immensely, and, unofficially of
course, I believe that you are being victimised. If it's money, why--.'

David held up his hand promptly. 'No thank you, Mr. Jones,' he said,
warmly. 'I am going to do this on my own. It's awfully kind of you to
think of offering money; but I'll make what I want, and put it to my
allowance if need be. If I can, I won't touch the latter. Those people
at 'The Haven' shall see that I am equal to my word. But you are helping
me enormously by discussing the matter. Consult with this friend of
yours, and if he says that an application on my part, with this letter
of my father's, can arrest the splitting up of all his possessions for
the time being, then there is hope. I shall have some time. I may be
able to find the will we know he made.'

Looking at the matter when left to himself, Mr. Jones could not but
admit that there was something of the wild-goose chase about our hero's
resolution to go to China. The finding of the will left by Mr. Edward
Harbor, since murdered by Boxers, was so extremely improbable that the
effort seemed but wasted energy, failure but a foregone conclusion.

'But, on the contrary, the boy might have luck,' he told himself. 'There
is a Providence that watches over such young fellows when their own
parents ill-treat them. Perhaps David will come across the document,
perhaps he will not. In any case, travel to China will open his mind and
help him in the future, and if that is so, the time will not be wasted.
That he will go there I am absolutely certain.'

He had dismissed our hero with a warm and encouraging shake of the hand,
and a promise to communicate with him; and less than a week had passed
when David was in the solicitor's office again.

'I have consulted with my friend,' Mr. Jones told him, 'and he believes
that an application to the courts would be successful. I shall have it
made on your behalf, and, of course, I shall bear the expense. Some day
you may be able to repay me. If not--.'

David stood up at once. 'I shall repay you without doubt,' he declared
solemnly. 'I mean to get on in the world; some day I shall be able to
spare the money.'

'And that "some day" will be soon enough. In the meanwhile I shall go to
the courts. This letter of yours, which I shall take care of, will be
put in as evidence, and the judge will be told that you are going to
China. As a result he may very well order that the estate be left in the
hands of trustees, the income to be given as in the will we have, while
the estate itself will remain untouched for a certain period. In three
weeks' time the case should come forward.'

During those days our hero worked very hard at the establishment where
he had charge of the lift.

'We couldn't have obtained a smarter young fellow,' the manager had
declared more than once, 'while nothing seems a trouble to him. He keeps
his lift and his livery spotlessly clean, and is most careful with our
clients. I shall raise his wages.'

And raise them he did, David receiving twenty-two shillings a week after
he had been there a fortnight. Up and down he travelled all day long in
his lift, announcing at each floor the various departments of the store
to be found there. Sharp young fellow that he was, he soon knew the ins
and outs of the establishment, and was a perfect mine of information. He
looked up trains for the firm's clients, directed others to various
parts of London, and always displayed willingness and politeness. It was
not to be wondered at, therefore, that he gained the esteem and
confidence of his employers. As to the other employees, he was on
excellent terms with them, except in a very few cases, the latter being
men who, like the rest, detected our hero's evident superiority, and
being jealous endeavoured to make matters unpleasant for him.

'Call David Harbor,' sounded across the floor of the store one day, when
the place was empty of customers, while our hero was engaged in cleaning
his lift. Promptly he rolled down his sleeves, slipped on his livery
jacket, and stepped briskly to the manager's office, wondering why he
was wanted.

'Sit down,' said the latter, when he had entered and closed the door.
'Now, Harbor, I wish to be confidential. For six weeks past we have been
missing a number of valuables.'

At the words David rose from his seat, flushing a furious red, while his
eyes flashed at the manager.

'You don't mean to suggest that I----'

'Tut, tut,' came the interruption instantly. 'Sit down, Harbor. I said
that valuables had been disappearing for the past six weeks. You have
been here one month exactly; things were going before you came. Your
arrival here has made no difference.'

David pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his forehead;
for the news, the sudden thought that he might be the suspected person,
had thrown him into a violent heat. 'I'm glad you put it like that,
sir,' he said. 'I began to feel uncomfortable.'

'And I endeavoured at once to show you that you were by no means the
suspected person. I told you I wished to talk to you confidentially.
Well now, there is some one engaged here, we believe, who is robbing the
firm. Up till now our efforts to trace the miscreant have proved
unavailing. We applied to the police. They advised us that some one,
wholly trustworthy, Mr. Harbor, wholly trustworthy, and whose
resolution and pluck we could count on, should be left here to watch.
The directors asked me to suggest a name. I gave yours without
hesitation.'

He sat back in his chair to watch the effect his news had on our hero,
and smiled serenely when he saw the latter tuck his handkerchief away
and assume his most business-like expression.

'Yes, sir,' said David promptly, awaiting further information.

'This is the plan. You and the police are to work together, and when
every one has left this establishment, you will pass in again with the
help of a key I shall hand you. You will patrol the various departments
during the night, and slip out before the hands arrive in the morning.
Your place at the lift will be taken by a substitute for the time being.
It will be given out that you are ill. Of course, there might be some
risk attached to the undertaking.'

'I'll chance that,' declared David at once. 'I should rather enjoy the
experience, not that I am anxious to be a thief taker. Still, I am in
your employ and will obey whatever orders are given me.'

'Then you consent?' asked the manager.

'Certainly: I shall obey your orders seeing that I am in your service.'

'But you could decline to take this risk if you wished. However, we have
considered the matter. There will be a salary of a pound a night while
you are watchman, and a liberal reward if the offender is apprehended.
Now I want you to finish your work, and join me at the police station.
Don't let other employees see you going there. We will make our final
arrangements with the officials of the police.'

It may be imagined that David was somewhat excited after such an
announcement. Not for one moment did he think of declining the task
required of him; for he looked upon it as a duty. He obtained good
wages, these people had been kind to him, and if he could serve them,
all the better. Besides, it might lead to a better and more highly-paid
post. He polished the brass of his lift, put aside his livery, and
emerged from the building, leaving one of the officials to close the
establishment. Then, taking a side street, he hurried to the police
station. Once there the final arrangements were soon made. The manager
already knew that David was lodging with a policeman, and to our hero's
pleasure he learned that Constable Hemming was to take duty outside the
store, being relieved by a friend. Both were to be provided with keys,
while David was presented with a basket containing food and drink. An
electric torch was handed to him, as well as a life preserver and a
whistle. Thus equipped he drove back to the establishment at ten that
night, and slipped cautiously into the store.

Just keep moving and doing things all the while,' Hemming advised him.
'Lights are always kept going on all the floors, so that you'll have no
difficulty in seeing. But it's wonderful how sleepy a fellow gets,
especially when he's done the job on more than one occasion. Keep moving
is the thing. Always remember to walk softly. If you spot anything
funny, keep quiet, and come along to warn me. The end of a stick pushed
through the letter-box will tell me I'm wanted. Don't get scared. It's
only fools and babies as fly from their own shadows.'

Nevertheless David found the ordeal of promenading the huge store all
alone in the silent hours of the night something of an ordeal. For there
were a hundred minor sounds and queer noises to arrest his attention and
rouse his suspicions. However, he mastered his fears, and soon began
really to like the work. Nor did he forget the constable's advice.
During the whole time he was on duty he never once sat down, save to eat
a meal. All the rest of the time he was walking through the place,
making not a sound with his cotton-padded soles, and because of the
movement easily managing to keep awake. Indeed, so well did he sleep
during the day when he returned with the constable, that he found no
wish to rest at night. The exercise he took kept him wakeful and brisk,
ready for anything. But a week came and went, and till then nothing had
happened. It was on a Saturday night, soon after midnight, that our hero
suddenly realised that another strange mixture of sounds was coming to
his ear and echoing dully through the store. Instantly he was on the
_qui vive_.

'Some one moving down below,' he told himself. 'Yes, in the basement:
I'll slip down in that direction.'

Gripping his life preserver, and with the electric torch in his other
hand, he stole across to the stairway, and crouching there peered over
the banisters. No one was to be seen, and now his ear could not detect a
noise. Then, suddenly, a sound reached him. It was a man whispering.
Instantly David clutched the banister and lowered himself head foremost
till he was able to look into the basement, in the centre of which one
single light glimmered. Click! There was the sound of a muffled
footstep, and then a sudden gleam of light over on the far wall. As
David looked he saw the door of a huge cupboard, in which employees were
wont to hang their hats and coats, slide open, while the figure of a man
appeared. There was an electric torch in his hand, and with this he lit
the way behind him. Then another figure appeared, and following him two
others. They stepped into the store, carrying a heavy burden with them.

'At last,' said our hero, struggling back into the stairway. 'Time I
went to warn Constable Hemming.'



CHAPTER IV

A Responsible Position


There was the muffled sound of many feet in the basement as David
slipped across to the doorway of the store, where was situated the
letter-box through which he would be able to pass a signal to Constable
Hemming; and for a while he stood still listening.

'Better make absolutely sure that they are coming up here,' he told
himself, tip-toeing back towards the head of the basement stairs. 'And
there's another thing to consider. If they have entered through that
cupboard, they will escape that way, unless, of course--my word! that
would alter matters very materially.'

For at first sight, and remembering what he had read about other
burglaries, David had taken it for granted that the men he had seen
stepping into the basement had gained access to the cupboard through a
hole in the wall. Then, suddenly, the idea had flashed across his brain
that probably they had merely secreted themselves there during the day,
unseen by any save, perhaps, an accomplice in the store. In which case
their retreat was cut off.

'Out of the question,' he told himself, bending over the basement
banisters. 'There is that heavy parcel. They couldn't have brought that
in. No, they have broken through the wall in some manner. Let me see.'

In his mind's eye he inspected the surroundings of the store, but
obtained little help from his review of the dwellings. For though a
mixed property lay adjacent to the store, and, indeed, was attached to
its walls, the majority of the premises were divided into numerous
offices and workrooms, while there was an enormous number of tenants.
However, his reflections were suddenly cut short, for one of the four
men below suddenly put in an appearance, and came hurrying up the
stairs, his rubber soles making not a sound. Instantly David took to his
heels and ran across to the manager's office, the latter affording a
safe asylum near to the door through which he was to give his signal. He
bolted through the open swing-doors of the office, and turning round
peered through the glass screen which helped to form it. His heart began
to beat furiously; for the men had all reached the ground floor by now,
and were advancing direct for the manager's office.

'They'll see me at once, of course,' thought David, on the verge of
panic 'I can't get out without their catching sight of me. Where am I to
hide?'

The answer came to him within the second as he ran his eyes round the
office, for all the world as if he were a hunted animal. 'Ah, behind the
bookcase. That'll do for me.'

Quite close to him, with its back placed within a foot of one wall of
the office was a big desk, with a leather top, on which ink, paper, and
pens were scattered. And posted on it, right at the back, was a small
bookcase, filled with directories and a heterogeneous mixture of books
and papers, besides a bale of leather samples. It afforded the only
hiding-place possible, and David slid towards it eagerly. The space
behind was barely sufficient to accommodate him, for our hero was
inclined to be somewhat bulky, and showed promise of one day possessing
broad shoulders and big limbs. However, by pushing firmly, he was able
to roll the desk a couple of inches outward on the parquet flooring, and
that without so much as a sound. He was hardly ensconced in the space
behind when one of the strangers entered.

'Bring it in here, bring it in here,' David heard him say, with a
peculiarly nasal accent, while the words were slurred as if a foreigner
had given vent to them. 'There, lay it down, we are not ready for it
yet. Bah! why not a light here of all places? There are lamps going all
over the store, and the police know them and take no further notice. But
here, where we want them, none. _Peste!_ How stupid of the owners!'

There came a snigger from the man directly behind him, while David could
hear the deep breathing of the two who were carrying the long, strange
object.

'It's heavy, at any rate,' he told himself. 'Let's take a squint at 'em.
Jolly glad I am that there isn't a lamp going here. The light would come
through between the books and show me nicely. My word! This is a fine
peep show! There are a dozen niches through which I can get a view.
That's an electric torch. Ain't the chap careful to keep the light on
the floor too! Every one of them wearing gloves. This is interesting.'

He almost forgot to think of himself and the undoubted danger of his own
position. For the four men in the manager's office, one of them not more
than the desk's width from David, occupied the greater part of his
thoughts. It was true that there was no light in this particular part of
the store; but, then, elsewhere there were electric lamps, and the
illumination of the whole place and of this office in particular, though
not brilliant, was ample for our hero. His eyes were used to the
dimness, and as he stared between the books on their dusty shelves, he
was able first of all to detect the fact that all four burglars wore kid
gloves on their hands and rubber shoes on their feet For the rest, three
were undoubtedly of dark complexion and wore moustaches, while the
fourth, the only one whose aspect was decidedly English, was
clean-shaven. He leaned his back against the wall close to the bookcase,
and breathed heavily while David surveyed his companions.

'Can't think why them cylinders are so heavy,' our hero heard him
grumble. 'From the look of the things, with their rope coatings, you'd
say as they was that light a child could play with 'em. But, my! they
make a chap blow. Where's the safe?'

'S-s-sh, my friend. People will find us before we find the safe if you
make such a bother,' declared the man who had led the way into the
office, and who for a moment had used his electric torch. 'The safe is
here, without doubt, seeing that it was here this morning, and such
things are not moved as easily as are boxes. Behold the safe, my
friend.'

Tucked away in his hiding-place David went hot all over, till beads of
perspiration streamed from his forehead, and his clothing clung to him
uncomfortably; for in the leader of the gang--for such the speaker
seemed to be--he suddenly recognised an official of the store who had
had some years of service with his employers, and who was an expert in
the jewellery department.

'And is a burglar all the while,' thought David, common sense telling
him that the man was an expert in this branch also; for otherwise, how
could he wear such a business-like air? How could he appear so
unconcerned, so used to midnight entries into closed premises? 'Queer,'
thought our hero. 'It just shows his cunning. The articles which have
been disappearing have not been stones or jewellery. Valuable furs have
gone, and Henricksen has nothing to do with that department. So they're
after the safe? I should laugh right out if it didn't happen to be
distinctly dangerous; for our manager took care to empty it. There are
useless books inside; nothing more.'

'Behold the safe, my friend,' said Henricksen again, triumphantly, his
eyes flashing as he turned towards the clean-shaven man beside the
bookcase, while his electric torch played on the huge mass of painted
steel, wherein the most valuable jewels and the money of the store were
wont to rest at night. 'You grumble at the weight of a couple of
cylinders; let us see if you will grumble when we come to handle the
gold. But we must be moving; there is big work before us, and it is now
twenty minutes after midnight. Yes, precisely that time.'

His coolness was amazing. David saw him refer to a neat little watch
strapped to his left wrist, and noted at the same moment that the gloves
he wore were of reddish colour, while the left one was split up the
back. Then his eyes went to the cylinders lying snugly on the floor, and
from them to the other men.

'They might be any nationality,' he thought. 'To look at them now they
don't appear to be ruffians, but there you are, old ideas are being
exploded every day of the year. A criminal face does not always mean a
murderer or a burglar. Some of the most cunning fellows known to the
police of late have had quite a sanctimonious appearance. The
well-groomed, gentlemanly criminal who is a clever hypocrite has a
better chance to-day than the man with the face of a bull dog, the
forehead of a Cree Indian, and the narrow, half-closed eyes of a Chinee.
What are they up to now?'

He might well ask the question, for David was not used to burglarious
enterprises. Up till this moment he had hardly dared to imagine how the
men would endeavour to force the huge safe in the office. Then he
remembered the cylinders, and remembering them, and drawing upon his
slender engineering knowledge, he realised that modern methods are
adopted not alone by scientists who mostly discover them, and by
up-to-date manufacturers, but also by up-to-date malefactors. The
oxy-acetylene flame, he knew, would eat its way into a mass of steel so
tough that not even a finely-tempered drill would touch it. Also, that
it would burn a path far sooner than the same could be formed by the
aid of the best of tools. His past knowledge told him all that. But how
would these men set about the task, and----

'That's not the sort of thing I want to be interested in just now,' he
suddenly told himself. 'I want to get out of this, and without their
knowing; how's that to be done? A fine fool I shall look if I have to
watch their operations and see them get away without summoning those
posted outside. How's it to be done?'

He might ask himself the question a thousand times, but yet there was no
answer. Puzzle his wits as he might, he could see no way out of the
difficulty. He was trapped; he was virtually a prisoner. A movement on
his part would be fatal; these men were armed perhaps.

'Armed--that's a shooter, a magazine pistol!' He almost said the words
aloud of a sudden, for his danger was brought full face before him. The
man, Henricksen, pulled something from his trouser pocket and deposited
it on the desk behind which David was crouching. The thing glittered in
the feeble rays. It flashed brightly as the electric torch happened to
cast a beam in its direction. It was a Browning pistol without a shadow
of doubt. It brought David Harbor to a full stop for the moment; even
his heart seemed to arrest its palpitations.

'Unstrap the rugs,' he heard Henricksen say, as if he were a mile off,
'fix the props, and let us get going. When all is ready Spolikoff will
get along and watch the door and windows, while Ovanovitch will mount
the stairs and clear every jewel that he thinks worth having. The
Admiral will lend me a hand. Got those glasses, Admiral?'

The individual alluded to, he with the clean-shaven face, searched in an
inner pocket, and produced two long cases. He placed them on the desk,
and then proceeded to help his companions. Nor could there now be a
doubt in David's mind that the gang was experienced and well drilled.
There was not a hitch, not a false move in the proceedings. They went
about the work like men who had done the same before, and who in each
case knew what was required of them. A huge, thick rug or mat--David
could not tell which--was unwound from the outside of the two
rope-covered cylinders, and was quickly supported on four wooden legs,
so contrived as to telescope at the will of the owners. A second rug was
slung at one side, making a species of tent, the roof being meant
without doubt to arrest the glare of the flame about to be employed, and
keep it from reflecting on the ceiling. While the side curtain would
keep the rays from the shop windows and from the eyes of curious or
suspicious passers.

'And now for the burner,' Henricksen said, seating himself on a chair
beneath the tent, and donning a pair of dark-coloured spectacles. 'Put
on your pair of glasses, Admiral. I've known a man pretty nigh blinded
by the glare of the flame, and in any case, supposing there was trouble,
you wouldn't be able to see when you wanted to hook it. Fix those rubber
tubes. We'll have things going nicely in a second.'

David took in a long breath as he watched the scene, and once more his
eyes surveyed each member of the gang. 'Two Russians,' he told himself,
looking at the dark moustached men told off to leave the office.
'Spolikoff and Ovanovitch. The sort of alien not wanted in this country,
and the Admiral is, I suppose, an ex-sailor--a bad hat, dismissed from
the lower deck, a confirmed criminal. The only Englishman amongst
them--what an artful fellow Henricksen must be! Who would have thought
that the man employed in the jewellery store could be such a
double-faced rascal! And there's his pistol.'

Yes, there it was, twinkling in the dim light, fascinating David,
drawing his eyes in its direction every half minute, inviting him to
inspect it further, rousing his envy, making his fingers itch to possess
and handle it.

'Why not? With a long reach I could do it. Why not? It's a risk. I'll
take it.'

It was typical of the lad that he should come to a sudden decision, and
having so decided, should proceed to carry the task out with all his
courage and determination. Was that not David's character? Had he not
already shown courage and determination? What were Mrs. Clayhill's words
on our hero? 'Stubborn and obstinate,' she had misrepresented him.
'Perseveres in a thing he has decided on; just like his father.'

At such times her none too pleasant features bore a somewhat ferocious
aspect 'Ain't she just angry?' David used to say, as he went his way,
deeming it best to absent himself for the moment. 'Just sparks flashing
from her eyes. She doesn't seem as if she could be friendly. I must be
an out and out obstinate fellow.'

And so he was. David was an obstinate fellow without a shadow of doubt,
but with this saving clause--he was not selfish, and he was possessed of
common sense; he could criticise his own actions and impulses. If he
once, on maturer reflection, came to the conclusion that a certain
decision was wrong, he had the sense to change it. His obstinacy was
confined to matters wherein he felt that there could be no error.
Witness his intention of fending for himself, of making his way alone in
the world. David had that as a fixed and firm-rooted purpose before him
now. His strong chin squared itself in the most emphatic manner whenever
the matter crossed his mind, which was nearly always. But here was the
pistol.

'I'll have it,' he told himself, his muscles tightening. 'One long
stretch and there it is. Ah! they're turning their backs; I'll have a
chance before very long.'

'Now the match; set the flame going,' he heard Henricksen say, and
looking beneath the tent-like structure saw a sudden flash, and the
profiles of this man and the 'Admiral.' The latter was holding a match
towards the end of the long brass burner which Henricksen gripped in his
hands. David noticed that two separate pipes converged towards the end
into one, from which a small flame now spouted, while Henricksen
controlled two taps, one for each of the tubes, with his fingers.
Farther back a rubber tube went to each of those of metal leading to
the burner, and ended at one of the cylinders, or rather, to put it in
the correct order, began there, carrying the gas to the burner.

'You two get off,' said Henricksen, seeing that he had a flame.
'Spolikoff, keep moving up and down, and if you hear a latch click, sit
down as tight as possible. The police look into the store every time
they pass, and might see you. Admiral, pull that rug round a bit. The
light will break too much round the corner.'

What a clever criminal he was! David marvelled that it could be the same
sleek, suave man who waited in the jewellery department, and enticed
customers to buy the things he offered. Then his eyes closed suddenly,
for Henricksen's fingers manipulated the taps of his burner, and at once
a fierce flame spurted out, casting about it a dazzling light. Peering
round the corner of the rug which the 'Admiral' had drawn towards him,
and shading his eyes behind an enormous directory, David caught a
glimpse of the intensely hot jet of flame playing on the door of the
safe in the neighbourhood of the lock. It seemed that he could actually
see the paint peeling off, while, almost at once, the metal beneath
became white hot. In less time than he could have believed it possible
it seemed to be pitting, as if the flame were devouring portions of it.
Then, very suddenly, the 'Admiral' pulled at the rug again, and the
glare and the figures beneath the tent were obliterated. David gently
removed one of the ponderous volumes, stretched his arm through the
opening, and possessed himself of the Browning revolver.

'So far, so good!' he thought. 'Now to get out of the place. Wonder
whether I could climb over the glass partition? No, wouldn't do; I
should be seen by Henricksen at once.'

He forgot for the second that the ruffian who went by that name, and who
in his everyday life was looked upon as a clever and capable salesman in
the store, was at that moment wearing dark spectacles, through which he
could see nothing but the glare of the acetylene flame. David failed to
remember that, even armed with those glasses, the glare was such that a
man manipulating the blow-pipe would require a few moments rest to
accustom his eyes to lesser illumination. Then the thought occurred to
him. He stretched his neck round the edge of the bookcase, and caught a
glimpse of the flame. Its brilliance was intense. It caused his pupils
to contract with painful suddenness, and turning his head away, he found
that everything was a dark blank. For the moment his own eyes were
useless. The experience emboldened him.

'I'll creep out and across the office behind the tent,' he said. 'Then
I'll dodge the Russian Spolikoff. Ah! what's that?'

A motor horn sounded suddenly out in the street, and he heard the rattle
of a passing automobile. The next instant there came a sharp click,
which was easily heard above the gentle roar of the oxy-acetylene flame.
Promptly the glare died down. Henricksen had manipulated the taps and
had shut down the gas.

'Stay still,' David heard him whisper to the man known as the
'Admiral.' 'It's a policeman inspecting. He won't see the glare; he
couldn't with this tent. What's he making all that noise about?'

It was Constable Hemming without a doubt, and if the truth had been
guessed at, the honest fellow had suddenly become fearful for the safety
of our hero. There was a second constable on duty with him, patrolling
the outskirts of the store, and the latter had reported a sudden glare
within. Hemming was sceptical; but he went at once to the letter-box,
and opened the flap with a loud click. Yes, there did seem to be a glare
over the manager's office, he thought, but it died away at once.

'He's been having a feed,' he suggested to his comrade. 'Switched on a
light in the office for a while, and then turned it out again. He'll
have heard the latch go, he'd have shouted if there was trouble.'

But the sound he had made had been sufficient to alarm Henricksen and
his comrades. David saw the 'Admiral' suddenly crouch close to the floor
and grope in his pocket. Henricksen tore his glasses from his eyes, and
emerging from the tent, groped on the desk for the weapon he had left
there. A growl escaped him as he failed to find it. His fingers ran over
the leather surface, over the pens and ink bottle and paper, but still
they were unsuccessful. Then he turned to his comrade.

'That fellow made a heap of noise,' he said. 'I thought he might be
suspicious. Suppose he didn't see or hear Spolikoff; but where's my
Browning? I could swear that I left it on the desk here.'

'I saw you,' came the answer. 'You put it down close to the ink bottle:
ain't it there?'

'Not a sign of it. Can't very well see yet, for that glare is terrific
in spite of smoked glasses. But I've run my fingers everywhere, and
there's no shooter. Spolikoff's taken it perhaps.'

Meanwhile, David had crouched behind the bookcase again, and for the
moment almost shivered. It was true that he was now armed; but would
that help him against such miscreants, considering he was like a rat in
a trap, hemmed in the closest quarters? He even thought wildly of making
a dash for the outside of the manager's office, and was bracing his
muscles for the effort, when a dusky figure came sliding in through the
glass doorway, to be detected instantly by our hero, but not so by the
others, for their backs were in that direction, while even if it had
been otherwise their eyes were still hardly fit for such a task.

'S-s-shish!' said the man, whispering. 'It's Spolikoff. A policeman came
to the opening and rattled. I dived down and sat still; then I managed
to get to a place where I could see through a chink in the shutters. Two
constables were talking outside. I saw them part and walk away along the
pavement. It's all clear again.'

The 'Admiral' gave vent to a sigh of relief, and wiped the sweat from
his forehead, while Henricksen turned round and stared hard at the man,
still unable to see him.

'You get back to that peep hole right away,' he commanded gruffly, 'and
watch out for the police. Give us a signal when they're coming. I'm
afraid they may see the glare. Did you walk off with my shooter?'

Spolikoff denied the charge promptly. 'Here's my own,' he said. 'But
perhaps Ovanovitch took it; he has a way of borrowing things! I will go
and ask him.'

'You'll just get right off to that peep hole,' he was commanded.
'Ovanovitch can hand over the gun when he comes down. Should say he'll
not be long; that place upstairs don't take long clearing. My! won't
this be a haul! I've done the firm in for a thousand pounds already
during the past six weeks. Monday's their day for banking, and I reckon
we shall clear double the amount once we get this safe open. Get along,
Spolikoff. Now, Admiral, put your back to it; we've a long job before
us.'

David breathed more easily as Henricksen gave up for the moment his
quest for the revolver. Then he watched the two men creep into the tent
again, and drag the side curtain still more round them. He waited till
the glare of the flame once more reached his eyes, and then began to
slide along to the far side of the bookcase. Bang! crash! A volume which
had been resting unbeknown to him on the very edge of the desk toppled
over at the movement, and went to the floor with a thud. Henricksen and
his comrade darted from beneath their covering as if they had been shot.

'What was it? What was it?' the former asked breathlessly, evidently
scared by the noise. 'Something fell quite close to us. Look about.'

But that was just exactly what they found a difficulty in doing, for
they had again donned their smoked spectacles, and had had their flame
playing on the safe. However, the 'Admiral' dropped on to his knees and
went groping about the floor close to the desk till his fingers came in
contact with the fallen book. A low guffaw broke from him.

'Here's what's caused all the pother,' he laughed. 'In searching for
that shooter you must have just balanced the book on the edge of the
desk. Of course it went bang: it would do--just to scare us. Blessed if
these glasses don't bother a fellow. Even now I can't see a thing; it's
all feeling. But it's a book all right, no mistake about it.'

Another growl came from Henricksen: he hated such interruptions. True,
he had had to put up with them before in the course of his criminal
career, but he imagined that by now he was hardened. It angered him to
find himself so easily scared. For the moment, too, he was almost
suspicious; the strange disappearance of his revolver, coupled with the
fallen book, tended to alarm him.

'I'm jumpy to-night,' he told himself, with an oath. 'Fact is, if I am
ever to be taken I'd fifty times rather have it elsewhere, and not here
where I'm at home as it were. Come along, let's get to at the job; it'll
take a couple of hours to work round this lock.'

A couple of hours: then David had plenty of time before him. Should he
stay where he was, and not risk further movement till matters had
settled down a little?

To be absolutely candid regarding him, there was doubt in his mind on
this occasion, doubt engendered by fear of what might happen. And who,
remembering all the circumstances, could feel surprise? Where he was
there was security. He had already had it proved to him that the back of
the bookcase was an excellent hiding-place. Why not stay there in
safety, then? Why not wait a little and see what turned up?

'Bah!'--he could have kicked himself--'Funking, are you?' he almost
growled aloud. 'Putting your tail between your legs because you are
afraid of these men--afraid when you've got a revolver! Gurr!'

He flicked beads of perspiration from the corners of his eyes, and once
more squeezed stealthily along behind the case. Yet again he caught the
glare of the oxy-acetylene flame, while the gentle buzz of the jet
struck upon his ear. Another motor car passed in the street with a gurr
and a blast from its horn; then there was silence. David reached the
edge of the case, looked cunningly about him, and stole straightway to
the door. He turned to watch the glare, and caught a glimpse of the
'Admiral's' leg as it showed beyond the curtain. Then he stared into the
main portion of the store looking eagerly for Spolikoff, but without
success.

'Got to dodge him,' he told himself. 'Got to reach the door and give the
alarm. Supposing I do? What'll happen?'

He was now some fifteen paces from the office, and stood for a few
seconds considering the question. What would the burglars do once the
alarm was given, and Constable Hemming had placed his key in the lock
and thrown the door open?

[Illustration: BURGLARS AT THE STORE]

'It's as clear as daylight,' thought David. 'They'll run below right
away. Perhaps they'll shoot as they go. In any case, they'll be out and
away before the police can guess what they're doing. I've got to put a
stop to that.'

He stole forward again in the direction of the door, wondering what
course he ought to pursue; then, as if doubtful, he turned towards the
entry to the stairway leading to the basement.

'Why not?' he asked himself. 'I'll go down there and--'

His hair almost stood on end; his heart seemed to stop abruptly and his
muscles felt paralysed all in one brief second; for a figure was coming
towards him, a dusky figure, sidling silently across the floor; and in a
flash he recognised the man. It was Spolikoff, the Russian, sent by
Henricksen to keep watch and ward.



CHAPTER V

London's Alien Criminals


If ever David Harbor had felt inclined to play the coward it was at the
precise moment, on this adventurous night when he came so abruptly, and
so unexpectedly, face to face with one of the men who were engaged in
robbing his employers' store. Behind him, in the office, he had left
Henricksen and the ruffian known as the 'Admiral' busily engaged with
their oxy-acetylene flame, eating a hole into the safe which they hoped
and imagined was well filled with gold. Upstairs was the man Ovanovitch,
clearing the cases of all their portable valuables, while here, on the
main floor, was Spolikoff, a Russian--a man given naturally to deeds of
violence--placed there to watch for the very police whom it was our
hero's object to summon. The very man from whom he wished to keep
farthest away was stealing towards him in the semi-darkness.

David drew in a deep breath. His hand clutched the revolver he had
managed to secure. With an effort he controlled his muscles.

'Run! Shout for help!' some one seemed to scream in his ear. 'Steady,'
he told himself, summoning all his pluck. 'Steady, my boy; play the
game. No use bolting; he'll be just as surprised as I am.'

But, as it turned out, there was no question of surprise. While David
was prepared for anything--to shoot at the man, to knock him to the
ground with his fist, to rush over towards the door and bang upon
it--Spolikoff sidled up to him, and spoke in a whisper that almost
cloaked his foreign accent.

'That you, Admiral?' he asked. 'They've passed again, those policemen;
but I didn't signal. There's no need; no one can see the glare now.
You've pulled the curtain round so well.'

David nodded. He was wondering whether he could trust himself to answer
the fellow, for it was obvious that his own identity was not even
suspected. Then, emboldened by that fact, he answered the man in a
hoarse whisper.

'I came along out here to make sure. It's fine, ain't it? Them police
couldn't suspect that we'd got a hot flame going against the safe. Look
here, my boy, Henricksen wants you to go along up to Ovanovitch and give
him a hand. When you've cleared the jewels, get away up to the next
floor. He says some new furs came in yesterday, and you could carry away
in your arms enough to keep you for a year. Get along quick.'

The Russian looked at him for a moment as if he suspected, though, as a
matter of fact, he was merely puzzling to translate the meaning of the
words, for as yet he was not an excellent English scholar.

'Get along up and help Ovanovitch, yes,' he repeated. 'Then--I did not
follow--you said?'

'S-s-sh! The police!'

There came a sudden rattle at the letter-box, whereat both he and the
Russian sank promptly to the ground, while David imagined that a faint
light over by the office lessened. Then there was silence again. A heavy
footfall was heard on the pavement, and after it, silence once more.
Slowly he and the Russian rose to their feet.

'What was it?' asked the man. 'You said I was to help Ovanovitch.'

'Listen,' whispered David, speaking very plainly, 'help Ovanovitch with
the jewels.'

'Yes, yes; I have that'

'Then take him to the floor up above.'

'Floor up above. Yes, yes; I have that too.'

'Where you will find some valuable furs brought in only yesterday.'

'Only yesterday, furs; valuable furs. Yes; go on.'

'You can carry enough away on your arm to make you rich for a year. Got
it?'

Spolikoff nodded vigorously, and gave expression to some guttural words
of approval.

'Now?' he asked. 'You watch here?'

'Yes,' said David, 'Go at once; no need to hurry back.'

His hand was shaking ever so little as he took the Russian by the sleeve
and urged him towards the stairs; for the feeble light above the place
had suddenly shown him another figure. The man was descending the
stairs, and was almost at the bottom. David could see that a bundle was
suspended over his back. It was Ovanovitch without doubt, descending
now that his task was completed.

'Tell him; go up at once,' David managed to whisper, though his tongue
almost stuck to the roof of his mouth. 'I am going back to Henricksen.'

He slid off at once, slipped behind a huge showcase, and then stared
back through the glass at the two Russians. And as he did so the tight
feeling about his chest and neck slowly lessened. He drew in the first
comfortable breath he had taken for some minutes. A sigh almost escaped
him; for Spolikoff had been absolutely deceived. It was clear that he
was not in the smallest degree suspicious. He had taken our hero for the
Admiral, and was obeying instructions in a manner almost child-like. He
went at once to Ovanovitch, and for a few seconds they whispered on the
stairs. Then they turned their backs to the ground floor and went up two
steps at a time, as if eager to get to their destination.

'Got 'em,' David could have shouted, though he restrained himself,
hugging his arms instead. 'Got 'em, I do believe. Now for the rest of
the business.' His brain had been working hard in the last few minutes,
and already he had mapped out a course of procedure. After all, that was
exactly like the young fellow; his friends knew him to be exceedingly
practical. Edward Harbor, his father, had endeavoured to train his boy
to conduct matters of any moment with sense and discretion.

'Decide first of all what you're going to do,' he had often said. 'Don't
start without a plan, all haphazard, and find when you are half way
through that matters aren't promising. Stand away a bit, as it were,
and have a clear view; then make your plans, and set to at the
business.' Practical? Of course it was. Common sense management? Who can
doubt it? A little advanced for one of David's age? Certainly, if you
wish so to describe it. But that is worth remedying. Others can be
trained as our hero had been, and the training has its undoubted
advantages; for a practical young fellow is of infinitely greater value
in these strenuous days than a lad always wool-gathering, who lacks
energy and initiative, who begins a task only to fail, who succeeds only
where a course of procedure has been already laid down, and when
previous practice has made perfect. It is the uncertainties we want to
train our lads to face, as well as the hum-drum certainties of this
life.

'Got 'em,' David ejaculated again, in a deep whisper. 'Now to close the
holes and divide the conspirators. First downstairs--that is the main
burrow I have to see to.'

He had lost all his trepidation now. True, he was more than a little
excited; but his hand no longer shook. He had seen already the
possibilities of making a gigantic success of what had at first appeared
to be an enormously difficult task. Straightway he stole across to the
stairway leading to the basement, and tripped down three steps at a
time. Then he ran across to the cupboard through which the four men had
gained access to the store. Out came his electric torch, and a beam was
flashed into the interior.

'As I thought: these fellows must have hired a house or a room in one
of the buildings lying up against this place, and have knocked a hole
clean through the wall. Then they cut through the back of the cupboard.
No; no they didn't; they bored holes through the wood in a big circle,
and so managed to remove a piece without making a sound. If they had
employed a saw I should have heard them. Now, I shut the cupboard, and
lock the door.'

It was not a flimsy affair, this cupboard, but a strongly built piece of
furniture, firmly attached to the wall, and having doors which slid
along in grooves. David gently moved the doors into place, found a key
in the lock, and shot the bolt to. Then he tried to open the cupboard.
It was closed and defied his efforts.

'Number one loop hole gone,' he said. 'Now for the warning and number
two.'

He had planned out the whole course of movement, and came hopping up the
stairs again, three at a time. A quick glance told him that the
oxy-acetylene flame was still in use. A dull glow on the ceiling told
its tale without shadow of error, while as he listened a gentle buzz
came to his ear. From the upper floor there was not so much as a sound.
At once he crossed to the door, and pulled the flap of the letter-box
open. Click! Down went the glare over by the manager's office. Lying
prone on the floor, and staring in that direction, David saw a man's
head protruding from the opening. Then the fellow stepped out and stood
listening. A whisper came to his ear, and at once the Admiral--for he it
was without doubt--slid back into the manager's office to help in the
task of forcing the safe. The reflection on the ceiling told its tale
again promptly.

'Out with the life preserver, and then upstairs,' said David. 'No time
to wait; those fellows will have found their furs by now.'

Very craftily he pushed the end of the life preserver through the flap,
and left it wedged in position. Then he ran across the floor to the
stairs and raced up them. Passing the first floor, he was soon at the
entrance to the second. And as he reached it his eyes fell on the two
figures of the Russians. They were staggering along the centre passage
between the glass show cases, their arms piled with furs. They were
thirty paces away, perhaps, whispering as they came.

Dare he do it? Dare he pull the door of this portion of the store to in
their faces?

David closed his teeth with a firm click; his chin assumed that very
bulldog squareness for which he was notorious. He stepped coolly into
the opening, gripped the iron fire door, with which the entrance to
every one of the departments of the store was furnished, and brought it
to with a bang. The hand-operated latch went to its socket with a
scrunch. The door was fast. Number two loop hole was closed. The
burglars were inevitably separated.

'And now for the last move.'

Conscious that the noise he had made might well have reached Henricksen,
and yet hopeful that it had not done so, David descended the stairs
faster than ever before in his life. He reached the ground floor just as
a sound came from the letter-box. He fancied he heard voices outside. He
was sure that the oxy-acetylene flame was working, and at that second
watched as its reflection seemed to be wiped away from the ceiling above
the manager's office. Then he did a smart thing. He opened the outside
doors of the lift with a bang, leaped in, and ran the elevator up till
it was half way through the gap leading to the first floor. He brought
it to a rest there with a sudden jerk, and throwing himself flat on its
floor, levelled his weapon at the door of the manager's office. And by
then there was a commotion in that direction. Two figures come
helter-skelter from the opening, their hands held before them, their
smoked glasses already torn from their faces. At the same instant there
came the sound of a key in a lock, and then the main entrance of the
store was burst open.

'Stop there, Henricksen and the Admiral!' David shouted. 'Stop where you
are or I fire. Constable, hold the door, I have closed the other
places.'

Ping! Bang! From some point up above our hero, there came a revolver
shot, and he heard the missile thud against the roof of the elevator and
tinkle on to the floor near him. Ping! A second came, and then he felt
the elevator moving. It was ascending. Some one had put it into
operation from above. At once he guessed what had happened. The two
Russians, shut into the fur department, had heard the lift working. They
had torn the doors open, and reaching through had gripped the rope by
means of which it was operated. David at one sprang to his feet and
gripped the handle which operated the rope. Instantly he brought the
machine to a stop, and turning the handle again, brought the elevator
back to its former position, a shot coming from above as he did so.
Then he cast his eyes into the store, and at once took in the position,
which had altered in the space of a few seconds. There were two
constables at the door, Hemming and another, the latter of whom was at
that moment lustily blowing his whistle. At the entrance to the stairs
leading to the basement stood the Admiral, a revolver in his hands,
while the other rascal was nowhere visible; but a minute later he came
racing up the stairs, and burst into the department.

'Give me the shooter,' he cried, breathlessly. 'They've shut the
cupboard below and boxed us in. Give it me. I'm not afraid to use it.'

He seized the weapon from his comrade's hand, and in an instant there
was a flash. The constable blowing his whistle staggered into the
doorway. David at once leaned forward, levelled his own weapon, and
pulled on the trigger. And in the space of a second he had ejected three
bullets in the direction of Henricksen; for his was an automatic pistol,
the class of weapon that wants careful controlling, and which will fire
seven shots in less number of seconds, automatically moving a fresh
cartridge into position after each shot. Certainly the bullets astounded
David, and Henricksen also. He swung round, and then our hero knew what
it was to be under fire. Something hissed past his cheek. The hair on
his head stirred restlessly. A red-hot brand appeared to have been of a
sudden thrust right through his body. But he was game to the last. He
leaned over a little, fixed his revolver sights as well as he was able,
and pressed his trigger again.

An instant later Henricksen went staggering up against one of the glass
show cases. He upset the whole affair, and came crashing to the floor
with glass smashing and splintering all about him; then his comrade
darted forward, and stooped to pick up the weapon which he had dropped.

'Stand away from that place,' David commanded hoarsely. 'I'll drop you,
Admiral, as sure as you move a step. Now, hands up above your head.'

'Admiral, Admiral, what's that?' came from the doorway. 'Where are you,
David Harbor?'

'In the lift, half way up,' our hero called out, wondering vaguely at
the weakness of his own voice. 'Half way up, Hemming. The man who fired
at you, and whom I have just sent down is Henricksen, one of the
employees here. The fellow with his arms up is known as the Admiral.'

'Phew.' There came a shrill whistle from Hemming. 'The Admiral did you
say? Wanted in a dozen capitals. Swindler, forger, burglar, everything.'

'And two Russians upstairs, whom I have trapped in the fur department.
Now, Hemming, got those handcuffs?'

Feeling curiously shaky David touched the handle of the lift again, and
brought it down to the floor level, unmindful of the shots which still
came from above. And all the while he held his weapon directed at the
man standing so close to Henricksen.

'Now, Hemming,' he called out. 'Shut the door, or he might try to bolt.
Slip the handcuffs on him; but first of all, switch on the lights just
inside the door.'

It was all done in a few moments. Constable Hemming was a sharp officer,
and was not above taking advice or instructions from any one. He flooded
the store with light with one movement of his finger. Then there came
the metallic ring of steel. Something bright flashed under the electric
lamps, while the officer strode across the floor, banging the door
behind him. Click. One of the bracelets went over the wrist of the
disconsolate Admiral.

'Come you along here,' commanded Hemming, dragging the man across to a
radiator, bolted to the floor. 'Put that other hand there. Now, move if
you can. You'll have to take the house with you.'

He passed the end of his chain through an interval in the radiator, and
clicked the bracelet over the man's other wrist, leaving the Admiral
firmly chained to the place.

'What now?' he demanded. 'Guess you've made a haul here. The Admiral!
Gosh! The most wanted of 'em all! This is a doing!'

'Get to the door and open it. First, though, pick up that shooter,' said
David. 'Don't forget that we have those Russian fellows upstairs.'

'Russians! Who? Where?' demanded Hemming, his face expressing unbounded
surprise.

'Spolikoff and Ovanovitch, two men of about thirty years of age, dark
complexioned, wearing black moustaches,' answered David, staggering out
of the lift. 'They've done nothing but fire down on me. The top of the
lift is like a sieve.'

He tripped as he stepped, and went staggering up against one of the show
cases, to which his fingers clung. Meanwhile Hemming stood back
exclaiming.

'Spolikoff! Ovanovitch! Russians. Men of about thirty. Dark. Dark
moustaches--Mister Harbor, you've hit up against a fine crowd. The
wonder is that they haven't made mincemeat of you. Spolikoff and
Ovanovitch! Notorious anarchists; burglars who have been cracking cribs
up and down this country.'

He wiped his forehead with a brilliantly red handkerchief which he
withdrew from the inside of his helmet, and puffed cheeks and lips out.
It was a staggerer to Constable Hemming, this capture which he and David
were making. Then he walked across to the door as if he were in a dream,
and opened it just as three constables arrived on the scene.

'We heard the whistle and came along,' explained one. 'Crispen lay on
the mat. He's hit in the head; a bad scalp wound I should say. We've
applied a first dressing. He's sitting with his back against the wall,
feeling chippy. What's all this?'

'What's all this!' Constable Hemming could hardly contain himself.
'What's all this!' he gasped again. 'Why, just a fine capture! You know
there's been a young fellow watching. Bless me, he's cornered the
Admiral. I've got the bracelets on that gentleman and have chained him
fast to the radiator. There's one of the fellows down, while upstairs,
barred in, are two Russians, the two Russians we have been after this
many a day--Spolikoff and Ovanovitch.'

There was no doubt that the news impressed his comrades, who came
crowding into the store after Hemming.

'They'll shoot at sight,' said one of the constables, as they discussed
the matter. 'How are we to nab them?'

'Let's ask Harbor. Harbor,' shouted Hemming, coming across the store,
while a further reinforcement of half a dozen police officers poured in
at the door. 'Where is he?'

They discovered David grovelling on his knees, looking particularly
white about the gills.

'Felt a little upset,' he explained lamely. 'What's happened? Have you
taken the Russians?'

There was little doubt but that he had actually lost consciousness while
the officers were discussing matters, and now was puzzled to know what
they had been doing. Hemming helped him to his feet and looked sharply
at his lodger. He wondered what had caused David to fall to the floor,
and never guessed the reason.

'Too much excitement, perhaps,' he thought 'Anyway, we'll give him a
draft. Here, Sergeant, some sal volatile for this youngster.'

They mixed the stuff before his face, and David drained the glass at a
gulp.

'Now,' he gasped. 'Those Russians?'

'They're upstairs right enough,' said the sergeant. 'I heard 'em a
moment ago. How are they placed? Give us an idea as to how we can get at
them? Suppose they're armed?'

The young fellow, looking so exceedingly pale still, took the officer
by the sleeve and led him into the lift. Then he switched on the light
and invited him to inspect the roof.

'Goodness! There are a dozen holes, bullet holes. And--blood on the
floor. Whose? Yours?'

He swung round on David instantly, and like Hemming treated him to a
very critical stare.

'A mere nothing,' said our hero, somewhat feebly, smiling all the same.

'Set men to watch all round the place.'

'Done already,' came the prompt answer. 'I placed the men as soon as we
heard there was an alarm.'

'Put two at the entrance to the basement staircase, and send two more
down to the large cupboard with its back to the wall--here's the key.
Let them go through the hole these burglars entered by, at the back of
the cupboard, and learn what happened there, whose premises they are,
and all that.'

'He's like an officer,' cried the sergeant. 'Hole in the wall! You don't
mean to say these fellows broke through from outside premises, and
cloaked the entrance by means of a cupboard? That looks like an inside
accomplice.'

'He's there,' said David promptly, jerking his finger at the form lying
amid the debris of broken glass and the contents of the overturned case.
'Henricksen we knew him as; from the jewellery department. Sergeant,
there's a steel flap on the outside of the fire doors I closed on those
Russians. Second floor, don't forget. A man might see them through it.
Then we might rush them through the door or get at them by the lift.'

It took but a few minutes to prepare their plans. The sergeant relieved
David of his revolver, and himself went to the door upstairs, reporting
that the Russians were to be seen at the far end of the store. Then
Hemming joined him, while a constable was sent off to the nearest
station to procure more arms. By the time he was back again there were
fifty constables on the scene, the outside of the house as well as the
inside being guarded. As for our hero, that he was wounded by
Henricksen's shot he knew, and no doubt the shock and loss of blood had
caused him to lose consciousness. But he had got over that now. The
draught he had received had revived him wonderfully, and that and the
desire to see the matter to its very end kept him bright and smiling. He
took a revolver from one of the officers, and at a signal from the
sergeant above, set the lift in motion. With him there was an inspector
and four officers, all armed with revolvers.

'The sergeant and Hemming have orders to fire if the men do not halt at
their order,' said the former. 'You can take us clear up, please. We're
going to rush them.'

He had hardly spoken, the elevator had not reached the level of the
first floor when there was a loud call from above. Dull reports were
heard, and then two sharp explosions. David jerked the handle over and
sent the lift shooting up. With another jerk he brought it to a stand
still at the second floor, and threw the doors open. Instantly all the
occupants burst out. But, fortunately for them, there was no need for
fire-arms. The sergeant had managed the situation with wonderful skill.
He had seen the two Russians running towards him, and waiting till they
were near enough, had ordered them to stop. Shots at once answered him,
the bullets crashing against the door. And then he had sent two in
return. Only two, but with the desired effect. Spolikoff dropped his
weapon and nursed his right arm. Ovanovitch plunged forward heavily and
fell on his face. In two minutes they were securely in the hands of the
police.

When Hemming and the inspector, together with the manager of the store,
hastily summoned to the scene by the police, went in search of David,
they found him huddled in a corner of the room, as white as a sheet,
bleeding slowly from the mouth.

'Chest wound,' said the inspector, gripping the situation with an
experienced eye. 'We have a surgeon below; I'll send for him.'

When our hero came to his senses he was lying in a beautifully
comfortable bed, with bright rays from a warm fire playing on him. A
nurse stood near at hand, and beside her, discussing some matter very
seriously, was some man whose features seemed to be familiar. David
puzzled wonderfully. He began to fret about the matter; then, fatigued
by even such a little thing, he went off into a blissful slumber.

'The best of everything, please, nurse,' said the manager of the store,
before he departed. 'Order anything you want. I will be responsible for
all expenses. And please do send constant information to the porter at
the lodge. I am arranging with him to 'phone to me constantly.'

'Wouldn't lose that lad for a whole heap,' he told Hemming, when the
latter was ensconced in his office with the manager of the store. 'He
did magnificently; splendid pluck and resource he showed; seemed to have
worked his plans out like a general. I feel horrible about the matter;
as if by offering such a bright young fellow such a job I was
accountable for his wound. Certainly, I'll send you a wire every three
hours, saying how he is progressing.'

Yes, David had made a stir in the London world. Mr. Ebenezer's none too
handsome face went scarlet when he read the accounts, and saw the
photograph of our hero in the papers. He blew his huge nose violently,
then he sat down and stared moodily into the fire. David Harbor had
already become an excessively big thorn in this gentleman's side.



CHAPTER VI

The Professor makes a Suggestion


'So you've been fighting again, have you?' quizzed Mr. Jones, when he
came to visit David in the accident ward of the general hospital, to
which he had been conveyed straight from the store. 'And this time there
has been real bloodshed. Do you know that you have lain here precisely
four weeks, two days short of a complete month?'

'And a precious long time it does begin to feel,' came the joking
answer, for the patient so ill but a short while before was now well on
the high road to recovery. 'I'm just longing to be out again. To-morrow
I get up; in a week I am to be allowed out in the park. In two I shall
be back at my lodgings.'

'Perhaps,' agreed Mr. Jones, drawling the word in a manner decidedly
professional. 'If you are well enough. If not--well, no matter for the
moment. But you are strong enough to sign your name; listen to what I
read, and sign if you agree. Of course, I am not going to bother you
with a number of details. You can rely upon me implicitly; I will manage
things for you.'

He rapidly intimated certain matters to David in connection with the
letter he had had from his father, and the will which Mr. Ebenezer
Clayhill was so anxious to have settled. Then he obtained our hero's
signature.

'The next thing you will hear about the matter will be from the papers,'
said Mr. Jones, as he bade farewell. 'I hope we shall be successful.'

Imagine the interest of the public when it leaked out that the hero of
the burglary near Bond Street was also the claimant through his
solicitor to have the execution of a certain will delayed. The papers
rapidly obtained the whole story; for Mr. Jones, though accustomed, as a
rule, to professional taciturnness and silence, now opened his lips with
a will, and told the whole story as he knew it.

'Not that the tale will affect the judgment of this matter,' he told his
friends. 'British justice is too evenly balanced for such a thing; but
it will gain more friends for the boy. It will put his case as it is,
not as others might garble it, and will obtain the sympathy of all.'

And sympathy it did gain for our hero. Not only that; for information
having been received he would be out of hospital very shortly, the case
was put back for trial on a later date, no special reason being given.

'Unless, of course, the Judge and jury are anxious to see you,' laughed
Mr. Jones, coming to see David again, and quizzing as was his wont. 'But
I'm glad to hear you are doing so well. In a week you come home.'

'Home,' said David. 'Yes, to Constable Hemming's. He's been here to
arrange.'

'Home with me,' interrupted Mr. Jones, placidly. 'You must understand
that you are an invalid as yet. You require care and comfortable
surroundings. Not that I assert that Constable Hemming would deny you
those; but you will obtain them to greater degree where I live, in the
country, outside London. Hemming knows of the suggestion and approves.
By the way, he's Sergeant Hemming now--promoted for his share in the
work of capturing those men. Now I'll see the House Surgeon and get his
report.'

'Oh, David?' said the latter, cheerily, when accosted by the solicitor.
'Davie is going strong; we've had him examined under the Roentgen Rays.
The bullet struck the fourth rib on the left side, and ought to have
killed him outright. But he has luck; he was born to be lucky it seems.
The bullet turned along the rib, left it half way back, and emerged. The
trouble with him is that the rib was fractured, and one of the broken
ends pierced the lung. Hence bleeding from the mouth and other nasty and
troublesome symptoms; but he'll do now if he takes it easy for another
month. When can he go out, Mr. Jones? Let us say in a week's time.'

Accordingly David was driven away from the hospital at the termination
of that period, deeply grateful for all the care and kindness shown him,
and leaving many a friend behind. A motor car conveyed him to Mr. Jones'
house, and thereafter he came under the care of that gentleman's wife.
Three weeks later he attended the inquest on Henricksen, and there for
the first time gave a description of how he had seen the burglars come
into the store, and of how he had been forced to hide himself. Then
followed the trial of the Admiral and of Spolikoff and Ovanovitch, the
latter two having by then recovered from their wounds. Needless to say
both Judge and jury highly commended the behaviour of our hero.

'Of course, we don't expect that you will care to come back to us,' said
the manager of the store, when the trial was finished, 'though if you
wish to come, we shall be glad to have you. But you are so well off now
that you can look for something better. To begin with, our directors
have handed me a cheque for one hundred pounds, to be paid at once to
you.'

David coughed at the intimation. It made him breathe so deeply that his
already healed wound pained him. 'One hundred pounds,' he gasped.
'That's enough to take me to China.'

'Hardly, I think; but there is some more. Spolikoff and Ovanovitch were
much wanted by the police for extradition to their own country. They are
a dangerous class of criminal who have infested this country of late. In
Russia they were Anarchists, and are known to have held up and robbed a
train. Russia became too hot for them, and so they came to these
hospitable shores to continue robbing. There was a reward offered for
their apprehension. You, of course, obtain that. The sum is three
hundred pounds.'

Little wonder that David gasped again. When he agreed to remain on watch
at the store he was almost penniless. True, he had a few pounds by him,
as well as a bicycle, while there was always the small allowance which
was due to him; but the prospect of earning much was by no means
brilliant. And here were four hundred pounds--four hundred shining
sovereigns, to do with as he liked, to pay his passage to China if he
wished it.

'Then off I go to China!' he cried, when he had recovered from his
astonishment at such good fortune. 'I'll sail on the first opportunity.'

'Which means that you will go when I, as your appointed guardian, allow
you to do so,' exclaimed Mr. Jones, severely, endeavouring to hide a
smile; for David's eagerness and enthusiasm delighted this gentleman.
Mr. Jones was the sort of man whom a stranger would imagine never even
smiled, much less laughed outright. David had himself always considered
him somewhat of a wet blanket; but he did not know him so well then. As
a matter of fact the solicitor was the prince of good fellows, and
kind-hearted to a degree. And it was true that he had constituted
himself David's guardian.

'Till the court has put me in that position officially,' he said, 'and,
of course, till you are fit again; for then I am well aware that you
will kick over the traces, and put up with no interference. Now, David,
hand over that money to me. I'll give you a formal receipt for it, and
when you need money you can have it, and without a question. For the
moment I'll take care of it. Golden sovereigns have a way of burning
holes in the pockets of young people.'

When at length the case in which our hero was so interested came before
the courts, he was perfectly restored to health; and his straightforward
evidence, the narrative of how he had set out from home to make his own
way in the world, and his adventures _en route_ won for him the
good-will of hosts of people. The whole case read like a romance, and
proved wonderfully attractive, while Mr. Ebenezer, who was compelled to
give evidence, as was also his wife, provided the villains to this
all-absorbing drama. Then came the intimation that David had decided to
go to China, there to make inquiries and search for his father's will.

'As a sensible man I suppose I ought to throw cold water on that
scheme,' declared the judge, 'but, honestly, it has my sympathy. I like
the pluck of the claimant.'

It appeared that others did also. For while Mr. and Mrs. Ebenezer
Clayhill were thoroughly exposed, and held up to public execration,
David became more of a hero, and the following day received a most
important letter.

     'DEAR SIR'--it ran--'Having read the facts of your appeal to the
     courts, and being, moreover, an old friend of your father's, I have
     the pleasure to offer you a post on the staff I am collecting to
     take to China. We go to investigate old Mongolian Cities, the ruins
     of which have been long since located. I understand that your
     father was also interested in this work. We sail in rather less
     than a month, and should you accept this proposal, your passage
     will be paid, as also the return, while the question of salary can
     be arranged in the immediate future. Kindly write by return.'

David telegraphed. 'Coming. Delighted,' he sent, laconically, though he
was not given as a rule to such abruptness, while the following morning
found him at the address which headed the letter he had received. A
short, stout, clean-shaven man rose from a seat as he was announced and
advanced towards him with outstretched hand.

'David Harbor?' he asked, with a welcoming smile.

'Yes, sir. Come on the receipt of a letter from Professor Padmore.
Is--er--are you--?'

The little gentleman laughed outright now, beaming on our hero, while
his fleshy chin shook visibly. 'Am I the Professor?' he shouted, putting
a hand on David's shoulder. 'You don't think I look like one, now do
you? Admit to that. As a Professor I should be as bald as a coot, wear
enormous goggles, stutter a trifle, and be somewhat deaf. Eh! isn't that
it?'

David couldn't help laughing; the little man's good temper was strangely
infectious. Nor did he attempt to deny what had been said; it was true
enough. Professors were often enough the class of individual painted by
this gentleman. 'You're so different, sir,' he blurted out. 'You're----'

'I'm Professor Padmore, a terrible person, I do assure you,' chuckled
the little man, 'and I happen also to have been a friend of your
father's. A fine man, David, a gallant fellow, but rash, a trifle rash.
Trusted the Chinese too far. That was the cause of the whole trouble.
Well now, sit down. Smoke?'

He held out a cigarette case, but David shook his head.

'Never mind then,' smiled the Professor. 'No harm if you don't. You may
later on. You're plenty young enough yet--too young, in fact. Boys who
smoke are fools, fools, sir, with a capital F to it. But I wrote you,
yes, I saw the name in the paper, and was attracted by the case. It was
so unusual, the majority of such disputes are so commonplace. All are
sordid; this one had peculiar features. It so happened, too, that I was
wanting a young fellow, a gentleman, you understand, to come out to
China with me. Well then, there you were, openly stating your desire to
go to China. You were just the man for my situation, while I was just
the opportunity you were looking for. Good; I wrote. You are coming;
there'll be danger and hardships innumerable.'

He had lit a cigarette by now, and turned on the hearth rug at his final
words to stare hard at David. He found the latter laughing.

'Eh? What?' he asked pleasantly.

'Nothing, sir,' declared David, 'only everything is so jolly and so
pleasant I was just thinking then that you were just the reverse of the
usual Professor. You ought to be very severe and unbending to young
fellows.'

'Whereas I am not. Exactly so; to tell the truth I feel young myself, as
young as you do, and try hard to forget that the years are going along,
and that I am getting stouter as they go. But I can be severe. David,
there will be many dangers to be faced, and many hardships. I want you
to know that I want you to be fully prepared. And though I am pleasant
enough as a general rule, there is one thing to learn--without
discipline, without one recognised leader, and one only, no expedition
can be a success. This expedition must succeed. I have led several
others, but this is more important than all. Absolute obedience to my
orders must be the rule, and you must be prepared to give it.'

For a few brief seconds the character of the little man seemed to have
entirely changed, while certainly his facial appearance had done so. For
of a sudden he became stern. Lines wove themselves across his forehead,
while the half-closed eyes regarded David in a manner which impressed
him. He realised then, if he had not done so before, that Professor
Padmore could be a very different gentleman to the jolly individual who
had welcomed him a few minutes earlier, could be stern and dictatorial,
and could lead men whenever needed, and however pressing the danger.

'I am prepared to give the same obedience I should give in the army,'
said David, soberly. 'As for the dangers and hardships, they come in in
the day's work. I do not look for ease and enjoyment out in China. My
business is serious. I shall not succeed with it until I have travelled
far and had many an adventure.'

'Then you will do for me. Sit down there; now for your salary.'

It took but a few moments to decide that item, and then the Professor
proceeded to outline his project.

'There are these Mongolian cities,' he said. 'Well, I have already done
some excavating, and have brought some rare objects home with me; but
there are thousands still lying buried for every one we have unearthed.
We go to find them. Our ship carries us to Hong-Kong. There we
disembark and remain for a while till we have obtained the necessary
servants, some of whom I have employed before. Then we take steamer for
Shanghai, and finally travel to Pekin. When we leave the city for the
north, our real work will begin. You still wish to come? You are not
frightened?'

David laughed again. He could not help himself; for the Professor was
once more the jovial, pleasant comrade, treating the young fellow as if
he himself were one also. 'I will come, and only too happy to be one of
the party, sir,' he said. 'How many do you take?'

'We shall be four sailing from England. When we march from Pekin there
should be twenty of us all told. Labourers for the task of digging can
be obtained at the various spots we visit. Now for an outfit I shall
purchase that for you; I have a list by which I always go. Long
experience has taught me what is wanted.'

It was no use for David to exclaim at such generosity, and to mention
the fact that he had plenty of money. The Professor silenced him at
once.

'Put it away, sir,' he said. 'Put it into a safe investment. Don't worry
about it till you come home. By then it will have grown wonderfully. But
come along now; we'll drive to the house which always provides my
equipment.'

When David returned to Mr. Jones' roof that evening he had been measured
for a couple of thick tweed suits, of a brownish, khaki colour. Likewise
for two pairs of strong boots and gaiters.

'The shirts and things of that description we can get ready made,' the
Professor said. 'In the hot weather you will wear cotton only, and that
sort of thing is best obtained in China. In the very cold weather, and
often at other times, we shall wear native costume. Now you will want a
magazine pistol, of the same pattern as carried by us all, thus
necessitating only one class of ammunition for that sort of weapon, a
rifle, and a gun. Those, with a compass, will complete your equipment.
Come here in a week's time, and we will see the clothes tried on.'

Those were busy days for our hero. There seemed a thousand and one
things to be done, so much so that the hours flew. But at last the most
exciting day of all arrived. He bade farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and
went over the river to see Sergeant Hemming and his wife. Then he joined
the Professor, and together they drove to the docks. It was not till the
following morning, when they were well away at sea, that David was
introduced to the two who were, besides the Professor, to be his
travelling companions, and who went to complete the staff of the
expedition going to China to investigate Mongolian ruins.

'David,' shouted the Professor, unceremoniously, as he leaned against
the ship's rail talking with a passenger, 'come along and meet one of
the band. Dick, this is David. David, Dick. Shake hands.'

'You! Why, this beats me altogether!'

The passenger who had been conversing with the Professor swung round,
smiling, as the words were spoken, and stretched out his hand; but the
instant his eyes fell on our hero he started back in amazement. The
next second he had leaped forward, and was shaking David's hand as if he
would never cease.

'You! David Harbor of all people! You and I to be travelling companions,
on the staff of the same expedition. This is too good!'

It was Dick Cartwell, the young fellow to whom David had taken such a
fancy on his eventful ride up to London, the son of the lady who had so
narrowly escaped an accident in a runaway brougham.

'Ripping!' ejaculated David on his part, delighted beyond anything. 'I
never asked the name of the other fellow. Just fancy it's being you!
What a time we shall have together!'

'Perhaps,' said the Professor, smiling at the keenness and the
friendship displayed by the two, and delighted beyond measure to find
that they knew one another, 'perhaps you will have the goodness to
explain. When Dick Cartwell came to me and begged of me to take him on
this trip, I hesitated.'

He looked severely at the handsome young fellow, though there was a
smile on his lips.

'I say!' exclaimed Dick, protesting.

'I hesitated,' went on the Professor, silencing Dick with uplifted
finger. 'I said to myself, I want a man, a steady man, used to
expeditions. Besides, I had just read about a certain David Harbor,
quite a youngster, and I conceived that one young fellow would be ample
trouble and to spare. But I gave way, and here I find you known to one
another. Did David tell you to come to me, sir?'

Dick protested again, amid much laughter, and then turned abruptly on
the Professor. 'It's just all chance, sir,' he said. 'But the happiest
chance imaginable. David and I became acquainted only a little while
ago. He made my mother's acquaintance on the high road to London. There
was almost a nasty accident. He stepped in in the nick of time.'

'As he did in the case of the burglars. Tell me all about it,' asked the
professor, in the peculiar jerky way he had. 'And so you saved those
ladies, David,' he said, a little later, becoming serious. 'I'm glad;
you have shown now on more than one occasion that you have a cool head
on your shoulders, and that is just what is wanted out in China. I hope
Dick will cultivate similar coolness, and joking apart, I'm delighted to
have you both with me. Now to introduce you to the other member of our
party. He has been with me once before, and is perfectly invaluable.
Here he comes. Alphonse, _mon cher_.'

The jovial Professor had set his eyes on the quaintest figure of a man
imaginable, and called to him as he promenaded the deck. And at his
summons the passenger approached David and Dick and their employer in
the most humorous manner. A little man, smaller in fact than the
Professor, Alphonse was remarkably broad. His shoulders were
extraordinary in their width, while one was struck by the fact that his
head--a tiny, bullet-like head, covered with the shortest, bristly crop
of hair, which stood upright everywhere--was sunk deep between the
shoulders. For the rest, an extremely ample waistcoat expanse, short,
thick legs, which nevertheless moved very swiftly, and a most engaging
face made up the personality of Alphonse. From the long, pointed toes
of his French boots, to the crown of his stubble-covered head, the
passenger was an oddity, while voice and jesture added to his
eccentricity.

'Monsieur, I have the honour to hear you call,' said the little man,
advancing at the Professor's summons, with little prancing steps which
might have been employed by a professor of dancing, while he bowed
deeply, flourishing a cap with a mighty peak, again, like his boots and
his whole person, entirely and convincingly French in origin. 'You
called Alphonse.'

'To make him known to these two gentlemen. Alphonse, these are the two
who accompany us. I trust that they may be as well pleased with you when
our travels are over as I have been. Alphonse Pichart, David, Dick.'

The three shook hands eagerly, with vast enthusiasm in the case of the
Frenchman. Indeed, David found himself unconsciously wondering at the
little man, and marvelling whence came all his energy. And how the face
of Alphonse attracted him. Beneath the stubbly, shock head of hair was a
wide forehead, a pair of honest, sparkling, blue eyes, a good nose, and
strong mouth and chin.

Not a hair was visible on this shining, healthy-looking countenance till
one arrived at the chin, from which depended a peaky little beard, cut
very narrow and curling forward at the tip.

'I shall have the honour and the pleasure to serve all three, then. Eh?'
said Alphonse, backing and bowing once more, and replacing his hideous
hat with a flourish. 'Monsieur can rely on me. I shall see to every
one's comfort. And now, if Monsieur will permit, I go to the cabins to
unpack.'

The Professor dismissed him with a nod and a smile.

'The best of fellows,' he exclaimed. 'Came last expedition as cook and
valet.'

'Cook and valet!' exclaimed David, surprised that such individuals
should be necessary, when the members of the expedition were obviously
going to a part where they would have to rough it. 'I thought we should
do our own cooking, or have a Chinaman for the job. As for a valet, why,
clothes won't trouble us much I should think.'

'Perhaps not,' came the answer. 'But then, Alphonse is more cook than
valet. I shall tell you something. An army, it is said, lives on its
stomach. An exploring party does so, but in a different sense. The work
is sometimes arduous, and all our attention will be required. Very well,
one might have a good native cook. On the other hand one might very well
have a villainous one. See the result--uncooked food, dyspepsia; you and
I and Dick unfit for really good work. Lost time. Lost opportunities.
Besides, Alphonse does more than cook or valet. He is shrewd, and has an
abundance of courage. But you will see. He is the life and soul of the
expedition. He keeps us and himself all going.'

Before the ship had been at sea a whole week, Dick and David found this
to be very true; for Alphonse was always smiling, always humorous. And
if there happened to be nothing in his actual words to make one laugh,
his comical antics, his bows and flourishes always drew a smile, if not
a roar of laughter, at which the little man beamed, for he was never
angered.

No need to describe the voyage as far as Hong-Kong. It passed as other
voyages do, with numerous deck games amongst the passengers, an
occasional dance or concert, and one terrific gale, which swept the
decks clear of all but the crew and confined the passengers to the
saloon. Dick and David revelled in the movement of the ship. Not once
did they shy from the saloon when the hours for meals arrived, nor feel
squeamish.

'Just the lads for me,' the Professor told himself, rubbing his hands
together, his face shining with enjoyment and good health. 'Nothing
mamby pamby about them. They will prove excellent companions.'

At Hong-Kong the party transhipped to a coaster, and having reached
Shanghai chartered a native boat.

'Our journeying may be said to begin here,' said the Professor, as he
watched Alphonse arranging their belongings in the huge, roomy cabin
aft. 'We run up the coast to a certain spot abutting on a portion of the
Gulf of Pechili. Then we land and inspect certain ruins of which I have
heard. From thence we can return to Shanghai, and take the train to
Pekin, or we can journey overland. My lads, to-morrow we shall don our
rougher clothing.'

That cruise up the Gulf of Pechili proved to be a most enjoyable
experience, and David and his friend Dick made the most of every hour of
it. They fell in with the four native hands whom the Professor had
engaged at Hong-Kong, Chinese whom he had had in his service before, and
helped the crew of the huge, wide-built boat haul at the ropes, and
hoist extra canvas on her. Then, at the Professor's wish, they studied
the language for three hours every day, sitting amongst the men, or more
often with the four engaged with the expedition. And even a week, they
found, saw some improvement in their knowledge.

'You have only to stick to it and you will become excellent linguists,'
declared the Professor, 'and will find the power to converse most
valuable. As for your instructors, a Chinaman when he takes an interest
in anything is not to be beaten, and those servants of mine seem to have
made up their minds that you shall both learn to speak in a record short
time.'

Head and baffling winds delayed the progress of the boat immensely, so
that ten days after leaving Shanghai, she was only half way toward her
destination. Then there came a fair wind, lasting two whole days, which
bore her a long way in the right direction. But towards evening it fell
away altogether, leaving the huge native vessel wallowing in an oily
yellow swell, and slowly drifting landward.

'Nothing to do but wait and hope for a change for the better,' said
Alphonse. 'Monsieur the Professor can sleep; the other gentlemen can
work at the language. Already they know more than I, who have been
months and months in the country.'

But there were other things to attract the attention of our hero and his
friend beside the Chinese language. Indeed, that very night there was
an interruption. Awakening in the small hours David listened for a
moment to the flop of the swell as it heaved against the side of the
vessel. Then he heard a chain rattle, while, an instant later, a gentle
hail came across the water. Throwing off the mosquito curtain, under
which all now slept, he slid out of the deck cabin, and went to the
rail. There was a figure already there dimly seen against the places
where the swell broke at its summit and washed in white froth across the
surface. 'Hist!' David heard, and a moment later realised that it was
Alphonse.

'Ah, ha, that is Monsieur David? Good,' he heard the little Frenchman
whisper. 'I can trust Monsieur David. He has been in danger before; he
understands caution.'

'But--what is it? Why is there need for caution?' asked our hero,
careful to keep his voice low, and wondering what the Frenchman could
mean. 'I heard someone hail us; there must be another ship.'

At once Alphonse's arm swung out, he became as rigid as a board, while
he pointed towards the bows of the vessel.

'See there, Monsieur. You are right; there is a boat. She has come
alongside, and so silently that few of us have heard her. Does Monsieur
know what she is here for?'

David could not even guess, but then he had never been in the Gulf of
Pechili before. However, Alphonse knew the part, and had an idea of its
dangers.

'Listen, Monsieur,' he whispered. 'I saw a boat three days ago, and
thought I detected signals passing between us and her. She sailed right
out of sight, but that night a lantern flashed right ahead of this
vessel. To-night I detected the same, but knowing that there was a calm
I felt sure that none could approach us without our hearing, for they
would have to employ sweeps. _Bien!_ I would not sleep. I crawled out on
deck. I waited and watched. And presently a gentle breeze got up. Our
men made no movement; they made no effort to put the vessel on her
course, though they were moving about on the deck. Again I saw a lantern
flash, and then, just a few minutes ago, I caught sight of a stranger
approaching us. Monsieur, that is a Chinese pirate. She comes to take
our weapons, and to loot those boxes the Professor carries with him.'

'Then the sooner he is warned the better,' said David, his voice hardly
audible. 'This is serious.'

'Monsieur will perhaps go to the cabin and wake the two gentlemen,'
suggested Alphonse, not a tremor in his words. 'I will remain and
watch.'

'Listen to this,' whispered David, eagerly. 'I will warn the two in the
cabin, and will then go to the four Chinese who form part of our staff.
I will bring them back to our quarters as soon as possible. Meanwhile,
if there is a movement in this direction, retire to the cabin yourself,
and close the door firmly. It is the only means of entrance, except by
way of a large port under the companion ladder leading to the roof of
the cabin.'

'And that?' asked Alphonse, still as cool as ever, as if this were an
everyday matter.

'Will do for me and the four men,' declared David. 'If the main door is
shut we will slip in there. Warn the others about it.'

He was gone in a moment, and within the space of half a minute had
awakened the Professor and Dick. In a few words he related what was
happening.

'Stand by the door and admit Alphonse,' he said. 'I am going for the men
we engaged at Hong-Kong; they are to be trusted.'

He took his magazine pistol from the rack in which all the weapons were
housed, and slid out on to the deck again. Then, bending low, he ran
towards the hatchway which led to the quarters occupied by the men
attached to the expedition. He was just disappearing down it when his
eyes fell upon some two dozen bent and dusky figures creeping along the
deck. A moment later one of them gave a sharp order, and at once, with
shouts and cries, the whole party dashed toward the stern of the vessel.
The attack on the Professor's party was about to begin. David's retreat
was entirely cut off by the enemy.



CHAPTER VII

At Sea on a Chinese Junk


'Steady!' David commanded himself, feeling for the moment as if he were
about to give way to panic. 'Go below and get the four men, then make a
rush. You couldn't get back to the cabin alone.'

He stood on the narrow steps, with his head just above the level of the
hatch and watched for a moment; for the sudden view he had obtained of
the attackers, and their unexpected rush aft had taken him unawares. As
he stared into the gloom he could see the figures which had passed him
at a rush moving about from side to side of the vessel, just outside the
huge deck cabin that occupied the whole of the stern. He heard blows
struck against the woodwork, and a loud, resounding bang, as the door
was locked and bolted. Then the shouts died away. A man stood out
prominently from his comrades, and gave a sharp order. A second later
there was a blinding flash, a deafening roar rolled along the decks and
over the sea, while the flame lit up the surroundings.

'Fired a blunderbuss or some other ancient weapon,' David told himself.
'Blew a hole clean through the door. I do hope that none of my friends
were behind it. Ah! that is the answer.'

For one brief second he had obtained a clear view of the attackers. Some
twenty-four in number, they crouched on the deck as the weapon was
fired, so that the ruffian who pulled the trigger became all the more
prominent. He was a tall, lanky Chinaman, dressed in loose cotton
clothing, and with arms bared to the shoulder. David even caught a view
of his swaying pigtail. Then darkness descended again, and blotted out
the figure. A moment later startled voices came to his ear from below;
at once he dropped to the bottom of the ladder.

'Gently, Ho Hung,' he whispered, calling to one of the four men who had
joined the staff of the expedition, and who had been with the Professor
on a previous occasion. Ho Hung, indeed, was well known to our hero, for
it was he who made such valiant efforts every day to teach him the
language. 'Gently, Ho Hung,' he called again, speaking in Chinese as
well as he could. 'I am here, at the bottom of the ladder.'

Something touched his leg. Strong fingers closed about the ankle, and
sent a thrill throughout David's frame. He clenched his teeth, and
stooping, gripped the wrist of the man below, prepared to throw himself
upon him.

'Speak,' he commanded, hoarsely. 'Who are you?'

'Ho Hung, Excellency. I heard you call; there is trouble on the deck?'

'Listen,' said David, breathing deeply, a huge sigh of relief escaping
him. 'We are attacked. My friends are in the cabin; we must reach them,
you and I and the other three. Where are they?'

Not a sound had he heard below, save Ho Hung's voice; but at his
question three more figures rose up before him as if they were ghosts,
though in the dense darkness of the 'tween decks he could not perceive
them. But the men spoke huskily, their tones strangely different from
the high-pitched notes they were wont to employ.

'Lo Fing, Excellency, here, ready.'

'And Hu Ty, at your orders.'

'With John Jong, Excellency, prepared to obey.'

The latter individual impressed his presence upon our hero by stretching
out a long, thin hand in the darkness, and laying it upon his shoulder.
But that was often this Chinaman's salutation in the case of David or
Dick, though he would never have dared in the case of the Professor or
in that of Alphonse. Still he was a merry, privileged rascal, and
enjoyed the name of John, probably because of its similarity to his own
of Jong, and also, perhaps, because he was the only one of the four who
could understand and speak English.

'Allee lightee, Excellency David,' he said, using his queer
pidgin-English. 'Allee four here. What then? Trouble above? Dat rascal
captain up to some nicee little game?'

But David ignored the questions. Ho Hung was the leader of this little
quartet, and by far the most reliable. He swung round upon the Chinaman,
who still gripped his ankle, as if to assure him of his presence all the
while, and spoke hastily, his knowledge of the language, small though
it was, proving of the greatest service.

'You will stand by us then?' he asked.

'We swear it,' came solemnly from Ho Hung, while the other three gave
guttural approval. 'And you are armed?'

From the neighbourhood of John Jong there came the sound made when a
match is struck, and almost at once a flame illuminated the
surroundings, showing the four Chinamen, their eyes strangely big and
prominent in the flare, and David at the foot of the ladder. Jong held
the match forward, and each man in turn showed the weapon he possessed.

'See, Excellency, a staff,' said Ho Hung, displaying a massive staff,
that would prove a formidable weapon.

'And knives here, and here, and here.' Jong pointed to the one he had in
his own belt, while Lo Fing and Hu Ty held theirs forward, smiling
grimly.

'Then wait while I see what is happening. We have to join the others,
and I have arranged to make use of the port under the ladder leading to
the top of the cabin. We shall have to make a rush--you understand that?
You follow what I mean?'

The match had burned down to Jong's finger tips by now, and he let the
end drop on to the boards, stamping the ash out with his feet; but the
light given even by such a small incandescent piece of wood in the
darkness was sufficient to show up the figures for a few seconds. David
watched the men and nodded. There was no doubt that they had understood
his laboured rendering of their own language.

'Then wait,' he said curtly. 'I will see what is happening. One of the
crew fired a gun at the cabin door. I heard a shot in return, and
believe the man fell; since then there has not been a sound. Wait; I'll
be back in a moment.'

He stole softly up the ladder, for he had only a pair of soft bedroom
slippers on his feet, and they were as good for the purpose as even the
cotton-soled shoe worn by the Chinese themselves. In a twinkling his
head was on a level with the hatch, and then he cautiously raised it.

'Men creeping about as if they were in search of something,' he told
himself, seeing moving figures. 'One lying on the deck just where that
fellow stood to fire his shot. Killed, I expect, by our own party. What
on earth are the rascals up to?'

He was puzzling his brains as to what could be passing, for there seemed
no object in the movement of the men on deck, while the attack on the
cabin appeared to have been forgotten. Then a sharp exclamation reached
his ears, and one of the attackers stood upright, lifting something from
the deck. David could not be sure, but believed it was an axe, and again
wondered what would be done with it.

'Break in the door, I suppose,' he told himself. 'That'll want doing;
there are pistols there, my friend, as you will soon learn to your cost.
Ah! Another seems to have discovered a similar weapon.'

It was not at all remarkable that such a search should be needed for
these two axes--and axes they undoubtedly were--for the methods of the
commander of the native boat were anything but excellent. Untidiness was
noticeable everywhere; odds and ends of things, bales and boxes and
coils of rope and tackle of every description littering the deck. And
amidst the various items were the axes.

'Talking the matter over amongst themselves,' thought David, seeing the
dusky figures come together at one side of the deck. 'That shows they
counted on winning their way into the cabin at the first rush. They made
sure that they would pounce upon us unawares, and never imagined that we
should be ready for them. Now they'll decide upon some plan for forcing
their way in. This would be our chance for rushing along to join our
comrades.'

The thought had hardly crossed his mind when those long, firm fingers
closed again round his ankle, a sure signal that Ho Hung wished to
communicate with him. Instantly David slid down into the depths of the
vessel.

'Well?' he asked, somewhat curtly, for he was anxious not to lose sight
of the enemy. 'They have been searching the decks for axes and have
discovered two. I think they are about to rush at the door and attempt
to beat it in. That will be the moment for us to run. You have all that,
Hung? Can't make it a bit clearer.'

A guttural response reassured him. 'We have understood. His Excellency
speaks plainly, though he makes many mistakes. Hung wished only to tell
of something which has been forgotten. There is no need to go out on
deck and enter by the port, for there is a path to the cabin by this
way. Does his Excellency forget that meals are brought to his friends
through a hatchway leading up through the floor of the cabin?'

The position of that hatch flashed across David's brain instantly, and
he could have struck himself for having forgotten it so readily. Of
course, it was the only way by which to rejoin the party in the cabin,
and offered a perfectly safe road.

'We will make along it at once, Hung,' he said. 'Let Jong run and warn
our friends immediately. I will watch at the top of the ladder, while
you and the other two search about for something with which to block the
foot of the ladder leading up to that hatch. Quick with it! They may
have remembered it too.'

Feeling sure that his orders would be carried out promptly, he swarmed
up to the level of the deck again, and once more cautiously protruded
his head. At the same moment a heavy thud reached his ears; there came
the sound of splintering wood, then the sharp, distinctive snap of a
magazine pistol. As on a former occasion, though to a lesser degree this
time, the flash of the weapon gave our hero an instant's view of his
surroundings. Thirty feet away was the wall of the cabin, with the dark
lines of the doorposts in the centre, while the deck on either hand was
occupied by crouching figures. One Chinaman alone was prominent, and he
stood before the door, frantically struggling to drag the blade of the
axe he had been wielding out of the woodwork. He staggered backwards
with the weapon, as the darkness fell like a screen about him. Then the
sound of splintering wood was repeated, a pistol snapped, and after it
another, illuminating the scene for the space of a few seconds. David
saw the Chinaman reel across the deck, and heard the axe fall heavily
upon the boards, then his eye fell upon other figures. Half a dozen men
were creeping towards the hatchway from which he was watching, and the
leader of the band was within a few inches.

'One of the foreign devils,' he heard a man call. 'Hold him! Seize him!
He has stolen out of the cabin.'

'I have him. Follow. Push your knives into his carcass.'

The leader so close to our hero recovered from his astonishment far
sooner than did David, and hardly had his companion shouted when the man
threw himself forward as if he were diving, and landing full upon the
lad, who was standing on the steep steps that lead to the 'tween decks,
gripped him round the neck in an embrace that was stifling. The result
must have been as much of a surprise to him as it was to our hero; for
the latter's feet slipped, his soft, felt soles failing to grip the
rungs of the ladder, and at once both were precipitated to the bottom.

'Yield, foreign devil,' the man hissed in his ear. 'Yield, or I will
thrust my knife through you.'

He made frantic efforts to get at the weapon, and releasing one hand
groped at his belt. But the fall had shaken the weapon from its place,
and had sent it tinkling on to the boards, while the movement gave David
an opportunity he took the utmost advantage of. Naturally strong and
active, and by this time fully restored to health, he was a good match
for the Chinaman. Indeed, he was more; for, exerting all his strength,
he thrust the man beneath him and held him there, wondering what next he
should do with him. However, he was not to be spared time for such a
purpose, for by now a second man was beside them. David felt his hand on
his shoulder as the Chinaman sought in the darkness to assure himself
which was friend and which foreign devil. In a moment he would know, for
the clothing would tell its own story promptly, and if David were to
escape a thrust from the long knife the rascal bore he must act on the
instant. It may have been an inspiration--perhaps the whole thing was
done unconsciously--in any case our hero braced his muscles as he had
never done on a former occasion, and stretching out a hand gripped the
pigtail of the man beneath him. Then he lifted the head sharply and sent
it back against the deck with a sickening thud that stunned his
antagonist instantly. A moment later something struck hard against his
own shoulder, and, though he did not realise the fact then, the
explanation came afterwards. The second Chinaman had thrust at him in
the darkness, and missing his aim, had sent his blade within a couple of
inches of his back, and far across it till his wrist came against the
shoulder.

'Which shows he means business in any case,' thought David, recoiling
before the blow. 'How's that?'

Kneeling up, with a swift motion, and realising that he had no time to
get to his feet, he lunged forward sharply with his right fist, met
something solid and sent it flying. Indeed, he heard the man stagger
across the alley-way, and crash against a bulkhead two yards from him.
Then, long before the fellow could pounce upon him, David was on his
feet.

'Hist!' he heard at his elbow, then there was the scrape of a match
against the roughened paper on the box. A flame suddenly illuminated the
'tween decks, showing our hero, dishevelled and somewhat breathless,
close to the foot of the ladder, Ho Hung beside him, and the Chinaman
advancing again with upraised weapon. More than that, it showed faces
filling the dark square of the hatchway, and a man already half-way down
the ladder.

[Illustration: "A FLAME SUDDENLY ILLUMINATED THE 'TWEEN DECKS"]

'On to him,' shouted David. 'I'll see to the other.'

His hand dipped into his pocket swiftly, and reappeared with his
magazine pistol. Before the flame had quite died out, or the Chinaman
could reach him, he pressed the trigger, and caught a glimpse of the
fellow as he doubled up like a rabbit, and crashed to the boards. A
second later he was swept from his feet by Ho Hung and the Chinaman, who
had by now reached the foot of the ladder.

If ever there were a time when David felt inclined to lose his head and
act in an aimless manner, it was at this very moment, when he was swept
from his feet by the fall of Hung and the villain who had grappled with
him. Tumbled on the deck with a crash, he stretched out his hands to
help himself to rise, and, instead of feeling his fingers fall upon the
boards, realised at once that they had come in contact with a man. He
pounced on the fellow, and after gripping his arms, he shifted his
fingers to the neck. A growl of vexation escaped him.

'He's the other fellow. The chap I shot a moment ago. Call this acting
steadily?' he asked himself fiercely. 'Where's Hung? What's he doing?'

It was useless to ask the question, for the sound of a violent scuffle
at his feet, and the fact that he was again nearly felled to the deck
provided sufficient answer to any but the most unintelligent. Obviously
Hung was locked in the arms of one of the enemy, and in the darkness who
could say who was the victor? Then that coolness which David had
momentarily lost, and which was so essential under such circumstances,
returned to him like a flash. He dropped his pistol into his pocket,
extracted a box of matches and struck one.

'Now,' he thought, 'we shall see how matters are going. Ah! another of
the fellows.'

The many faces of which he had caught a glimpse a little while before
filling the dark square of the hatchway were blotted out by the figure
of a Chinaman sliding down the ladder, while the light was reflected
brightly from almost a yard of steel that was gripped between the
newcomer's teeth. In a second or two he would be at the bottom of the
ladder, and then, even if David wished to help Hung, he would be unable
to. It was just one of those acute moments when instant decision is
necessary, and immediate action, consequent on that decision, of vital
importance. We have said that David Harbor was assailed but a minute
earlier by one of those strange panics which come to the best of men,
to the very bravest. Who knows? perhaps his meeting with the burglars in
the store so close to Bond Street had in a measure unnerved him; or
even, though his healthy colour and obvious robustness gave the lie
direct to the suggestion, he was not yet entirely recovered from his
injury sustained in that memorable conflict with Henricksen and his
accomplices. Whatever the cause, David had without a shadow of doubt
been on the verge of losing his head and his coolness entirely within a
few seconds of Hung's arrival to help him. Perhaps the shame he felt
immediately afterwards helped him now to behave in the coolest possible
manner, and with a promptness that was commendable. Seeing the Chinaman
just at the foot of the ladder, he tossed the match to the floor, and
stepping forward seized the man round the waist. Then he lifted him from
his feet as if he weighed a mere nothing, and using all his strength
threw him across the alley-way. The crash had hardly died away when he
had another match burning.

'Now we will run to the cabin, Excellency,' he heard Hung say, and
turning towards him he saw the gallant fellow standing within a foot of
him, a long knife in one hand, and the staff which he had carried at the
foot of the ladder. Also the light showed the hatchway above, with its
gallery of staring faces, and a huddled figure at Hung's feet. As for
the man David had tackled, he lay in a heap against the bulkhead,
stunned and helpless after such a rough experience.

'Lead the way,' commanded David, promptly. 'I'll bring the ladder with
me. Stand aside, and let us have another match.'

He gripped the sides of the steep ladder leading from the hatchway, and,
as Hung fumbled for a match, tore it from its flimsy fastenings. Then he
pointed down the alley-way, and seeing Hung advance, slid along after
him. Nor was their retreat undertaken a moment too soon. For as David
stepped away from the hatchway a dozen more heads were suddenly shown
there, standing out dimly against the starlight. Men shouted and
bellowed, while one yellow ruffian slid a long, skinny arm downwards,
took hasty aim, and pulled the trigger of a huge horse pistol. The
concussion in the narrow alley-way deafened our hero, though the bullet
did not touch him--for it was as big almost as a pigeon's egg--and
crashing against the deck planks, it bored a hole clean through them.
The smoke which belched from this antique weapon formed an excellent
screen, behind which Hung and his companion were able to cloak their
movements.

'You follow closely, Excellency,' David heard the Chinaman say. 'Not
safe to strike more matches, for some of the men may have dropped
through the hatchway and will fire at us. Follow closely, and bring the
ladder. Our friends are within short distance of us.'

'And they have warned the others?' asked David. 'They have made some
preparation to hold the enemy?'

'That I cannot say,' came the swift answer. 'But Jong is cunning, while
the others will have obeyed his Excellency's orders. Ah! we have
arrived. Hist! we are coming towards you.'

In the black darkness at the end of the alley-way a faint sound was
heard, as if some one had sharply closed the lid of a metal match-box,
though as a matter of fact it was the cocking of a pistol held in Dick's
hands. Then the light from a lantern was thrown for one brief instant in
David's direction, showing the walls of the alley-way, Hung's hurrying
figure, and ahead of him a huge square mass, covered in sacking. Dick's
cheery voice broke the silence immediately.

'Cheer oh! David!' he cried. 'What news? We were beginning to get the
fidgets about you. Thought those fellows might have bagged you
altogether. What's happened?'

'Heaps,' came the laconic answer. 'Just let me get past this bale and
take a breather. I've never been so scared in all my life.'

There was a savage note in his voice, a note altogether foreign to
David, and hearing it Dick realised that something altogether out of the
common had happened.

'Come and sit down on the deck beside me,' he said. 'You can go up into
the cabin later. I've sent word to say you were arriving. What's upset
you?'

'Look here,' David blurted, turning upon him, 'would you feel yourself
if you had been within an inch of proving a funk, of running away with
your tail between your legs? Would you? Eh? That's the question.'

'Depends,' came the cautious answer. 'Perhaps there was reason for
getting funked. I tell you I was at first when you woke me. Well? What's
all the bother?'

'I'll tell you,' said our hero, feeling somewhat relieved and in better
favour with himself, now that he heard Dick admit to the fact that he
himself had been scared. 'I met our men at the bottom of the hatchway,
and sent them on various errands. Then, as I watched from the top of the
ladder a beggar threw himself on me, and we both went crash to the
bottom. A second fellow followed, and then a third, whom Hung tackled.
Well, I stunned my first man, and knocked the breath out of the second.
I could feel Hung scuffling with his man in the darkness, and I tell you
I nearly bolted. I got into a panic, and might very well have fired in
all directions. Gurr! It makes a fellow ashamed of himself.'

Dick roared with laughter, till a sharp command from the cabin above
stopped him. 'You do amuse me, David,' he said, dropping his voice to a
whisper. 'Stun one man, knock the wind out of another, and then get
scared. As if a fellow hadn't a right to be, after such an experience;
but what happened then?'

'Pulled myself together, I suppose; did the only sensible thing under
the circumstances. I struck a match, and only just in time. There was
another beggar at the foot of the ladder, with a whole heap staring
through the hatchway. I bet I shook that last rascal. I heaved him
across the alley-way as if he were a box, and I should say that he's
hardly fit to move yet awhile. Talk about collaring a chap out of the
scrum, or getting a quick man extra well when coming all out down the
field--that Chinaman don't need to fear a game of footer in the future.
He'll never be collared or slung harder. Well, there you are: Hung had
finished his man with the most murderous knife you ever saw, while I
ended the matter for the moment by tearing the ladder away; but they
won't be long in coming after us. What have you done?'

'Half-blocked the alley-way near the bottom of our hatchway with bales
of cotton, leaving room for you to come through. Jong's been shoving
others into position since. Beyond that I've done nothing; the Professor
and Alphonse have been watching the door of the cabin.'

'Then supposing we show that lamp again,' said David. 'If all's clear
I'll hop up and report progress, then I'll get leave to come down to
you. There'll be a ruction in this neighbourhood before many minutes.'

Dick reached for the dark lantern from the corner in which he had placed
it, and turned the slide swiftly, showing first the figures of Jong, of
Hu Ty, and Lo Fing crouching behind the barrier erected in the
alley-way. Then he flashed the light over the top of the bales of
cotton, and illuminated the alley-way beyond. The rays fell upon a dozen
eager faces, upon a mass of half-clad men hemmed in the narrow place,
and was reflected from a number of brandished weapons. A deafening shout
greeted the appearance of the lantern, and the bales it showed barring
the progress of the attacking party. Then the same lean, skinny arm
which had dropped from the other hatchway, and had fired a horse pistol,
jerked itself into a horizontal position, a crashing report filled the
alley-way, while a bullet roared between the heads of Dick and David,
and thundered against the woodwork behind. Hidden by the eddying smoke
the Chinese pirates struggled forward and threw themselves with fury
upon the barrier behind which lay the Professor's slender party.



CHAPTER VIII

In a Tight Corner


'Excellency, we will see to those men for a time,' said Hung, as the
mass of Chinese pirates crowding in the dark alley-way came charging
forward. 'The bales of cotton will hold them in check, and a knife will
be easier to use in such crowded quarters. But bring the lamp; hold it
above our heads, so that the rays do not fall upon us, but upon the
enemy.'

He gabbled the words at such a rate that David could scarcely follow his
meaning, nor Dick either. But Jong came rapidly to the rescue, stopping
for a while on his way to the barrier.

'Him tink you speakee and understandee ebelyting, Excellencies,' he
said, smiling as if the fact amused him, and as if the affair in hand
was a mere nothing. 'Hong say, supposee you comee along, leavee de fight
altogeder to us Chinaboys. Yo hold de light high, so as to shine on de
enemy only. Soon kill all dem men.'

He was wonderfully confident, and now went forward at a run. Meanwhile
the other three Chinamen had reached the immediate neighbourhood of the
barrier, which was placed some four yards along the alley-way, leaving,
therefore, ample room for the defenders to stand at the foot of the
ladder leading to the cabin above. At once Dick snatched up the lantern,
while David dragged his magazine pistol from his pocket.

'Come along,' he shouted, for the din in this confined space was
appalling. 'I think I know a trick that'll trouble them. Get along with
the lantern, and hold it up at arm's length. I'll make use of the ladder
I took from along there, and get well above our fellows; then I shall be
able to shoot down into the enemy. Ain't they kicking up a row?'

'Enough to deafen any one; but be careful when you're roosting on that
ladder. Don't forget the fellow with the pistol.'

David made a note of the warning promptly, and having reached the scene
of the conflict, reared his ladder against one wall of the alley-way,
leaving, however, ample room between its foot and the bales for Hong and
his comrades to have free movement. Dick pushed his way right to the
centre of the barrier, and finding a foothold on the edge of a low case,
which formed the base of the obstruction, stepped on to it, and lifted
the lantern at arm's length. At once he heard an exclamation of
satisfaction come from their friends, for till that moment it was almost
impossible for the defenders to take any action against the enemy. All
they knew was that the latter were slashing and tearing at the far side
of the bales, and with such exertion that the whole barrier threatened
to topple over. However, the lamp flung its rays forward on to the
struggling mass of men, leaving the part behind the barrier in dense
darkness. At once a roar of anger went up from the pirates. One thin
and exceedingly active man, whose eyes seemed actually to blaze in the
lamp-light, pushed his comrades back forcibly, and with a howl of rage
leaped at the top of the barrier. Clutching the sacking with his
fingers, and digging his bare toes into any crevice he could find, he
was on the summit in a wonderfully short space of time. Then his hand
sought the long knife which, as seemed to be the custom with these
marauders, he carried in his mouth. He was on the point of launching
himself down upon the defenders, while David had already levelled his
pistol at the man, when Hung gave a loud shout.

'Stand aside, let me deal with him,' he cried, and turning swiftly, as
he dropped his pistol, David was able to catch a view of the gallant
fellow as he prepared for the attack. His arms were thrown back over one
shoulder, and the faint light reflected from the sides of the alley-way,
and from the cotton clothes of the enemy, showed that he gripped in his
hands the huge staff which he had showed some minutes before to our
hero. It swished through the air as Hung swung forward, and meeting the
Chinaman above as he leaped downward it felled him to the deck, striking
him so hard that the man never even moved once he had fallen, but lay in
a heap, his limbs curled up and contorted beneath him. Then, indeed, the
turmoil and the din became so great that those defenders might have been
forgiven had they suddenly lost heart, and, turning tail, had rushed to
the ladder, there to struggle for the right to be the first to ascend to
the security of the cabin above. But Hung was no chicken. To look at
Jong he loved this class of thing, for he burst into a roar of laughter
as the Chinaman was struck down, while Hu Ty and his comrade crouched
behind the barricade, their sallow faces flushed, their eyes dancing,
eager for more active effort. But let us remember that David and Dick
never once flinched. The latter had been forced to step aside, else the
man who had leaped upon the barricade would have jumped down on him, and
also he would have been in Hung's way. But he was back in his place now,
smiling, still holding the lamp above his head, cheering madly at this
first success. As for David, all his old coolness had come back to him.
Perched on the ladder well above the combatants, he felt as a general
does who is posted on some commanding hill from which he is able to
observe every movement in a battle, and give swift orders accordingly.
He shouted encouragement to Hung, and then called suddenly to all his
comrades to be cautious.

'Some more men have come into the alley-way,' he said, 'and there'll be
a strong rush in a moment. Keep well down below the barricade; I can see
that rascal reloading his pistol.'

He handled his own weapon, for through a break in the mass of men in
front he had caught a view of the skinny individual, who was possessed,
by the way, of a most malevolent and ugly countenance, busily ramming a
fresh charge into his ancient pistol. Through the sudden silence, which
followed the downfall of the man who had attempted to scale the
barricade, there came the ring of a ramrod, and now as David watched he
saw the rascal pushing his way forward.

'Lie low all of you,' he called again. 'That fellow's going to fire his
pistol.'

Up went his own weapon, though he did not fire, for other men as yet
covered the ruffian. Suddenly the man with the pistol appeared to have
caught a glimpse of the figure perched above the level of the barricade.
He shouted; the same skinny arm was thrown up, and before David could
realise his danger he was staring into the expanded muzzle of as
murderous a weapon as could be found anywhere. Yes, murderous; for it
was but ten feet away, and carried a ball like a young cannon-shot. And
how it roared as the rascal pulled the trigger! A wide stream of flame
spurted from the muzzle, and then such a dense cloud of smoke that the
alley-way, the men within it, even the barricade was swallowed up.
Moreover, the bullet as near as possible put an end to this narrative,
and to the quest of David Harbor; for it tore past his cheek, rattled
and ricochetted along the stout wooden wall of the passage, and striking
the runner of the ladder behind more than half severed it. In addition,
it considerably startled our hero.

'Hit?' called out Dick, swinging his head round, for, of course, he like
David had obtained a clear view of the man. 'There still, old chap?'

A growl was his only answer, and then a hasty order.

'You've swung the light off him, though the smoke is too thick to let
one see just now. Get it shining down the passage. We must put a stop to
that fellow's antics; his bullet as near as possible took my head off.
Ah, steady! I can see.'

Yes, he could see. The lamp-light shining into the alley-way was
directed upon the ruffian who had just fired; but it showed more than
he. It showed a couple of dozen men pressing along behind him, the look
on their faces telling plainly that they were determined to rush the
barricade. Instantly David gave warning, and levelling his own weapon
fired at the pirate who had so recently discharged the pistol; but he
did not stop him. The bullet went astray, and striking a man just behind
him brought him tumbling to the deck. However, the next proved more
successful. The rascal howled with pain, then, as if driven frantic by
it, he threw his pistol at the figure which he could only dimly discern
above the barricade, and led his comrades forward. For ten whole minutes
none of the defenders had so much as a breathing spell. Those four
Chinamen at the back of the barricade fought as if they were possessed,
and fought too, like Englishmen, in silence. Their knives rose and fell
constantly. Now one of them would spring upward, and grabbing an
attacker by the shoulder would haul him within reach; now Hung would
give vent to a guttural exclamation, at which Dick and his comrades
would unconsciously move aside. Then there came the thud of the huge
club he wielded, a sickening, dull thud, followed by a heavy fall on the
far side of the bales placed across the alley-way. A sudden fusillade
from David's magazine pistol drove the assailants out of sight, and
allowed the defenders to rest after their exhausting efforts.

'Put the lamp on the top of the bales,' said David at once. 'We must
chance a fellow firing at it and smashing it altogether. Hung, post a
man up here to watch. I'll go up and report progress, unless, of course,
you'd like to, Dick.'

The latter shook his head vigorously, and was about to answer when
another voice came from behind them in the alley-way. It was the
Professor, jaunty and high-spirited as ever, a silent witness of the
late conflict. He stepped from the foot of the ladder, and came towards
them, turning the slide of a lantern he carried. And the light reflected
from the narrow passage showed up everything distinctly--the dead
Chinaman at the foot of the barricade; David on the ladder, and Dick and
the other defenders at their posts. It even showed the huge splinter of
wood half torn from the ladder by the bullet which had so nearly put an
end to the existence of one of the party. And the Professor was as
easily seen as any one. There was a bland smile on his clean-shaven
face. His eyes sparkled; he laughed outright.

'Please don't move,' he said, coming closer. 'A more perfect picture I
never beheld; but I do congratulate you all. You know I hate fighting,
and always have done so; but when it's necessary, I can admire the men
who show a good front. No need to report, David boy; my own eyes have
shown me everything.'

Turning suddenly to the Chinamen, he spoke to them in their own
language, which he knew as a native, praising them warmly, and sending
the blood flying once more to their cheeks.

'A gallant fight, well organised and generalled,' he said, turning again
to Dick. 'Whose idea was the ladder?'

'His,' came the curt answer. 'He fixed everything: David is a born
leader.'

'I say!' came indignantly from our hero, who was still perched on his
ladder.

'It's true,' came warmly from Dick, for the young fellow had formed a
great opinion of David. Secretly he had admired the lad, partly for the
courage which he knew he possessed, for had he not been instrumental in
saving Dick's mother; and also there was the case of those burglars at
Bond Street. But it was not pluck alone that roused his enthusiasm for
our hero; it was his grit, his staunchness.

'Just fancy a fellow doing so much all on his own,' Dick had exclaimed
more than once to the Professor. 'Many fellows of his age would have
been browbeaten by that man who married his stepmother. Very few would
have taken the post of lift-boy as he did. I've known young fellows sent
up to London to make their way who would have turned up their noses at
it, and because they could not get just the class of job that suited
them would prefer to live with relatives and do nothing. That's out and
out cadging. And here's David, still all alone, determined to go out to
China to find a will which may never have existed.'

'I beg your pardon; it did exist,' the Professor corrected. 'I knew
Edward Harbor. If he said he had made a new will, he had done so without
doubt. He was most exact and painstaking in everything. He made that
will in David's favour, but circumstances over which he had no control
prevented his having it conveyed to a safe quarter. He perished; perhaps
the will perished with him. Perhaps it was purloined along with his
other belongings by some rascally mandarin, and is lying forgotten at
the bottom of a heap of rubbish at this moment. But I interrupted.'

'I was saying he's so determined,' said Dick. 'He says he'll go to China
when he has hardly a sixpence to bless himself with. But he takes the
post of lift-boy, and in a twinkling he's made enough to take him round
the world. It's grit that does it, sir. Sheer perseverance and
doggedness.'

'And knowing that your cause is just; yes,' reflected the Professor.

But to return to our friends in the alley-way, the Professor again
demanded who had led in the conflict which he had watched from the foot
of the ladder.

'He did without a doubt,' declared Dick, pointing at David. 'Ask him
about the ruction along there, sir, and then ask Hung and the others.'

Slowly the Professor dragged the details from David and from the
Chinamen. Then he solemnly shook hands with every one present.

'I'm awfully glad I wrote that letter to you, David boy,' he said, when
he came to the figure still perched on the ladder, 'and it was a lucky
chance which sent Dick here along to trouble me. Together you've made a
fine defence in this quarter. Alphonse will be delighted. But now let us
go to the cabin; Hung and his friends will watch here and send us a
warning if there is to be another attack. Meanwhile, there are other
parts to be considered. I tell you plainly, those demons will not rest
till they have taken every one of us and looted our belongings. I know
the pirates of this gulf; they are a detestable set of cut-throats. But
don't let that statement trouble you; we're a long way from being taken,
or I'm much mistaken.'

The smile came back to his face, a cheery, confident smile. He spoke
swiftly to the men present, and then skipped to the ladder.

'My word,' he cried, as he reached it, and his lamp fell upon the
woodwork. 'That must have been done by the shot I heard. It was a big
bullet that tore away this piece of the ladder.'

'And precious nigh took David with it,' laughed Dick. 'He got quite
angry.'

That set them all laughing, for, somehow, what with the success they had
already had, and the Professor's cheery presence, there seemed ample
cause for merriment, merriment that was accentuated to no small degree
when they reached the cabin; for Alphonse was there, in his shirt
sleeves, and posted beside a huge rent torn through the doorway.

'Ah, ha!' he cried, coming towards them. 'You have made much noise
below. There has been shooting. None are hurt I hope?'

'None but the fellows who attacked us,' answered Dick. 'How have things
gone here?'

'Wonderful! I tell you, wonderful.'

The little man puffed out an enormous chest, and stretched his arms
before him. He was pomposity itself, while the manner in which he swung
the rifle, that he gripped with one hand, hardly gave one confidence.
That and his peaky little beard, which seemed to project even more
abruptly forward now, the huge check pattern of his shirt, and the long
pointed-toe boots, which he still insisted on wearing, made one more
inclined to smile at little Alphonse; and if not at his appearance, then
at his gestures and his antics, for the lamp which the Professor carried
played full upon him. But a moment or two later one gathered a different
impression of the man.

'Ah!' he ejaculated suddenly, bending his head to one side as if he were
a bird, and placing his hand behind the ear. 'Did I hear some one
coming? Monsieur, Alphonse was never deaf, and he has trained his ears
to catch the sound of bare feet. You do not believe it? _Bien_, then
see.'

His eyebrows went up a little, as if he were unable to credit the fact
that his listeners did not believe him, then calling on all for silence,
he stole towards the door of the cabin, and almost at once his rifle
went to his shoulder. He bent swiftly, then there came a sharp report. A
crash on the deck outside, and a thunderous explosion told all within
the cabin that Alphonse had accomplished something, and crowding at once
to the gaping hole which the ringleader of the pirates had torn in the
door with his muzzle-loader, they stared beyond at the deck. A man was
crawling painfully along the boards, while immediately outside the door,
as shown by the lantern, the blunder-bus the man had carried, that
undoubtedly he had intended firing through the hole in the door, lay
still smoking after its recent discharge.

'_Parbleu!_ Did I not say so?' declared Alphonse with a flourish. 'I
have ears to hear, monsieur. I caught the slither of a bare foot and I
was warned. My shot caught him just at the right moment. But it might be
well to hold a council. Eh? A council of war, monsieur.'

He dragged a seat close to the door, and sat down there with his head at
the jagged opening. The Professor drew a cigar from his pocket, bit the
end off with a snap, and lit the weed.

'A council, yes,' he said. 'I will state the facts. We chartered a ship
at Shanghai captained by a rascal, and with a crew none the better. They
had accomplices in the Gulf of Pechili, and the ruffians hoped to secure
their booty without a struggle. Of course, we should have been cut to
pieces and dropped overboard.'

Alphonse shivered, though every one could see that he was merely making
pretence to be frightened. '_Dites donc_,' he cried pleadingly, 'but
that is dreadful. It makes me feel faint. They would surely not be so
harsh with us.'

The grimace he made set Dick roaring, while the Professor smiled grimly.

'Easy enough to make fun of it, Alphonse, but if it hadn't been for your
watching we should be down below already. Other Europeans have suffered
in the same way, have disappeared and never been heard of again.'

Unconsciously David's thoughts went to his father. He had been assailed
more than once when in China; for even at this day, when Western
influence is slowly beginning to gain ground in the Celestial Empire,
Europeans are still foreign devils to the common mob, intruders, to be
killed whenever possible. True, in some quarters the old animosity is
beginning to disappear. Wealthy Chinese travel now-a-days, and return
home imbued with the wish to give up old and useless institutions and
habits, to substitute a modern education for one dating back to the days
of Confucius, and to throw open the doors of their native land, so that
the miles and miles of rich territory may be developed and bring forth
its wealth. That is something. Thirty years ago there was hardly one
single Chinaman amongst all the millions the Emperor boasted of who had
been away from his native shores, and though an ambassador here and
there may have returned with his eyes widely opened, with a desire to
westernise his country, what was the value of his influence when all
else were against him? It was death almost to suggest change. Arrogance
was always a failing of the pig-tailed race, and only time and severe
lessons could teach the people that there were other races on a higher
footing. And lessons China has had. She has seen foreigners snatch
corners of her territory. She has stood helplessly aside and watched
Russia enter Manchuria and lay her railways to Port Arthur, and again
has watched her neighbour, whom she formerly despised, throw herself
upon the Russians and conquer them. And why? Because she had westernised
her people. Because Japan had organised her navy and her army on modern
lines, and armed them with modern guns. Then why should China not
follow? Slowly but surely the desire to do so is filtering through the
country, and slowly the change will come. As we have said, a European
is still a 'foreign devil' to the bulk of the people to-day. To-morrow
he may be as a brother.

'My father was killed during a sudden attack,' said David. 'He was up
country, north of Pekin----'

'Where I shall hope to take you all,' interrupted the Professor. 'That
is to say, if these rascals will allow us.'

'There was a missionary with him, one who knew the people well. But they
were murdered for what they carried, and, as it afterwards appeared, on
a sudden suggestion made to the people in the nearest village. There had
been several cases of fever, and four persons had died. It was put down
to the white men, and that was the excuse for their murder.'

'And that is nearly always the case ashore,' agreed the Professor. 'A
missionary, for example, is the best of fellows. He helps the people, is
great friends with them, and all goes well till some bigoted ruffian
comes along. He wants the odds and ends the missionary possesses. He
trumps up some paltry charge, works up his ignorant comrades into a
fury, and sends them to murder the "foreign devil." The rascal himself
generally disappears with all the white man's possessions. But here
there is no working up. The pirates of the Gulf have existed for
centuries; murder and pillage is their profession.'

'Hark! I heard something more; stay still if you please, messieurs.'

Alphonse again canted his head to one side like a bird, and one could
see that he was listening. His peaky little beard seemed actually to
bristle. He jerked his head. His blue eyes sparkled in the lamp-light,
then he leaped to his feet.

'The lamp, monsieur,' he cried, 'put it out. They are above us; they
have clambered on to the roof of the cabin.'

David could hardly believe it, and though the whole party stood
absolutely silent for nearly five minutes, it was not till that time had
elapsed that a sound came to their ears to confirm Alphonse's statement.
There was a loud bang on the roof, followed by others.

'Pardon, monsieur,' said Alphonse quietly, taking the lantern from the
Professor's hand. 'I go to see what is doing. Perhaps one of the
messieurs will support me.'

He moved to the doorway promptly, and David sprang to follow. Dick and
the Professor drew the bolts silently, though there was little fear of
being heard, for the noise above was now very great, the sound of
rending wood coming clearly to them. Then they pulled the door open, and
Alphonse and David stepped out.

'Up the ladder, _mon cher_,' whispered the Frenchman. 'I will climb, and
you after me. I will cast the light upon them, and at once descend. You
can cover me with your pistol; but first to see if the deck is clear.'

They stood still for some seconds, staring into the gloom. But already
the light was coming, so that they could see further than at the
beginning of the attack. Without a doubt the deck was unoccupied, save
by the bodies of those who had fallen. Alphonse nudged David at once,
and slid across to the ladder that mounted to the roof of the cabin
right at the side of the ship. In a minute both were high enough, then
Alphonse coolly turned the slide and threw a broad beam on the enemy.
The roof was packed with them. A dozen men, at least, armed with native
adzes, were hacking at the deck in as many different places. The
Frenchman, undismayed by the angry shouts which greeted his appearance,
coolly cast the beam on either side, and only desisted when one of the
enemy, a huge fellow with muscular limbs, leaped forward, swinging his
adze.

'Monsieur, I think it rests with you,' he said quickly, sliding to one
side to allow David to clamber a little higher. 'Monsieur shoots well.
He has nerve, eh? That fine fellow will trouble us no longer.'

There was no trace of excitement about him, even when David with a
well-directed shot brought the ruffian crashing to the deck. Alphonse
merely chuckled, then squeezed himself still more to one side, politely
making more room for our hero.

'We will return now if monsieur is ready,' he said. '_Merci_, I will
follow.'

He came slowly down the ladder after David, and entered the cabin again
as unconcerned as if he had merely been out to look at the weather. As
for our hero, the recent exploit concerned him far less than did the
report he brought to the Professor.

'Two dozen of them, working like demons to break through into the
cabin,' he said. 'I can't see how we can prevent them. We can shoot
through one or more of the gaps, but when there are so many we shall not
be able to watch them.'

The Professor took a long pull at his cigar. David and Dick saw the end
of the weed redden in the darkness, while the smoke he blew from his
lips was visible in the reflected light. Then Alphonse opened just a
crevice of the lamp, thus allowing them to see one another. Even now the
features of the leader of the expedition were anything but mournful. The
jaw was, if anything, a little squarer. The Professor wore the
appearance of a man who is confident, but who at the same time has his
back against a wall.

'Call Hung,' he commanded, and when that worthy appeared, 'Run along
beyond the barricade,' he urged him. 'Take Hu Ty with you. Report if men
are in the bows, and if so, how many. Do not appear on deck. Send the
other two to me.'

They came clambering up from the dark alley-way a moment later, Jong
still grinning, the more so when he listened to the racket taking place
overhead, while Lo Fing kow-towed before his master.

'We are here, Excellency,' he said. 'Your orders?'

'Take everything you see that is of value. You know what the boxes
contain; carry them down below at once. Quickly! There is no time to
lose. Dick, David, Alphonse, put your backs into the work.'

'Going to make a stand down below,' thought our hero. 'The only move we
can make. I wonder if we could get right forward.'

Like the others, he seized upon the boxes that contained all their
possessions, and which the Professor, with a knowledge of Chinese
cupidity and cunning, had insisted should be stacked in the cabin.
Then, when after some three minutes every bale and box was below, he
ventured to broach his ideas to the Professor.

'Thought of it myself,' came the short answer. 'Go along with Hung. He's
been back to say that the coast is clear. Report as soon as possible if
there is a place where we can make a stand. I don't care for this
alley-way. Too much like rats in a trap. Quick with it, David.'

In that instant, if never before, David realised that here was indeed a
leader; for the Professor was not in the smallest degree flurried. His
cheroot still glimmered redly. He drew in the smoke and blew out huge
billows. But all the while he was listening to the sounds above,
calculating the chances of his party, thinking how best to act so as to
secure their safety.

'Why not?' he suddenly exclaimed aloud. 'It's been done before. Why not
again?'

'Pardon, monsieur,' ventured Alphonse, standing beside his master, as if
to guard him. 'You spoke.'

'Of something that occurred to me. All in good time, my friend. What do
you think of the situation?'

The Frenchman threw up his eyes and shrugged his shoulders in a manner
sufficiently expressive. 'Monsieur knows better than I,' he said. 'I
shall still live to cook and valet for monsieur.'

'Then you shall if I can contrive it. Ah, there is David. Well?' asked
the leader of the party.

'Not a soul forward. It's lighter by a long way,' reported our hero. 'I
sneaked on deck, and counted forty-three Chinese over our heads. They
are hacking away like madmen.'

'Then we will leave them to it. In five minutes at least they will have
broken through into the cabin. Get below and shoulder a box, David. We
are following.'

The Professor marshalled his little force into the alley-way, and
stepped coolly down the ladder after them. Not one word did he utter to
hint what were his intentions. All that his supporters knew was that
they were retreating from a position that was no longer tenable. But as
to the future--well, Alphonse's shrug gave them little indication.



CHAPTER IX

A Game of Long Bowls


'Excellency, we have come to the end of the passage; we can go no
further,' declared Hung, some two minutes after the Professor and his
party had set out down the alley-way. 'A ladder leads to the deck above,
while there are sleeping places for the crew on either side. Is it here
that you will make a stand?'

'Halt! Put your loads on the floor and wait. Come with me, David.'

The leader of the expedition, still puffing heavily at his cigar, and
showing an almost unruffled countenance in the lamp-light, stepped
casually to the foot of the ladder and began to ascend to the deck of
the native craft which he had chartered at Shanghai for the
accommodation of his staff, and upon which such a treacherous and
unforeseen attack had been made. But if he were the essence of coolness,
and declined to hurry, he was by no means a fool, as he showed very
plainly in the course of a minute. For while the Professor refused to be
frightened and scared out of his wits, he declined at the same time to
throw away the lives of his party for the want of necessary caution.

'Don't come higher,' he whispered to David. 'I'll beckon if I want you.
Ah, it is still too dark for those ruffians to see us from the poop
where they are at work. Come up, lad, and look about you.'

He tossed his cigar over the side, and David heard the hiss of the water
as it met the burning weed. A moment later he was beside the Professor.

'Well?' demanded the latter, when some seconds had elapsed. 'What do you
say to the situation? Critical I think, eh? Very critical. By the row
those demons are making they have broken through into our cabin in more
places than one. In a few minutes they will have a leader, and then
there will be a rush. We certainly couldn't have stemmed it; they would
have killed us with the greatest ease; but where shall the next stand be
made?'

Where indeed? David cast his eyes in every direction, piercing the gloom
as far as possible. The bare decks gave no promise of successful
defence. To retreat to the wide cabin below, which served as the crew's
quarters, was but to repeat a former experiment. There remained the
rigging and the alley-way, and neither was very enticing. He shrugged
his shoulders, as if he had caught the habit from Alphonse, and then
turned to his employer.

'We can put up a fight anywhere almost,' he said. 'Out here we should
soon be rushed and knocked down. In the alley-way we could hold them for
hours. But it couldn't go on for ever; there are too many of them. My
idea was calmly to board the other ship and push her off. That would
give us a breathing spell. We could then discuss matters again and
consider our plans from a different standpoint.'

The Professor chuckled loudly; unconsciously he reached in an inner
pocket for his cigar case, and extracting a weed, bit the end off. David
even heard the sharp snap of his teeth coming together. 'Boy,' suddenly
exclaimed the leader, 'they say that great minds think alike; then yours
and mine are great indeed, for the plan you have suggested is mine also.
That is why we carried our baggage all along the alley-way. Summon the
others on deck. We go aboard the stranger and merely change our
quarters; but bid them be silent, for even now those fiends might hear
something to rouse their suspicion.'

However, it was not a likely contingency, for as David went to the
hatchway to call to those below fiendish yells rose from the poop of the
vessel. Then some ponderous weapon was fired, the flame for a moment
allowing the Professor to catch a sight of the crowd on the roof of the
cabin. A second later they were swallowed up in the gloom, though their
shrieks and shouts still told of their presence.

'All on deck, sir,' reported David in his most official manner.

'Then follow to the other ship. Not a sound, friends; not a sound. Once
aboard David and Dick run to find a suitable place which we can defend;
Hung and his comrades set their boxes down and prepare to stop a rush.
Alphonse and I cut the hawsers which hold the two ships and push them
apart. Forward!'

In one corner of his mouth the unlighted weed was held, and all
unconscious of the fact that he had not set flame to it, the Professor
sucked hard at the weed, exclaiming as he found it did not draw. Then,
as if habit were too strong for him, or perhaps because he realised that
none were likely to see him in that gloom, he stepped back to the
hatchway, descended a few rungs of the ladder, and opening his lantern
sucked at the flame. Then he followed the others, and was soon at the
side of the vessel. Casting his eyes upward, he could see the rigging of
the other ship against the stars, while a dull creaking, and an
occasional bump showed that the two ships were riding close together.

'But with rope fenders between them,' he told himself, 'else in this
swell they'd grind holes in one another. Ah, the rascals threw planks
across from rail to rail, which was most thoughtful of them.'

With half his attention given to the enemy, and the other half to his
own following, he helped to hand the various bales and boxes across the
planks connecting the two ships. Then he crossed over himself, and
searched for the ropes it was necessary to sever. Here a sudden
difficulty presented itself. One of the connecting links was a stout
chain, which the swell and the drift of the vessels had pulled so taught
that there was no unloosening it.

'We shall have to cut it,' cried the Professor. 'Alphonse, an axe,
quick, those rascals are dropping into our cabin.'

But to call for such an article when just arrived on a strange ship is
one thing; to find it an altogether different matter. Neither Alphonse
nor Hung, nor any of the Chinese could hit upon one. And while they
searched the uproar made by the enemy, which had almost ceased for a
time, became of a sudden even more deafening.

'Discovered our absence; awfully bothered,' ejaculated the Professor.
'But they won't be long in discovering our ruse. Can no one find an axe?
David, the scheme fails if we do not hit upon one within the minute.'

Alphonse ground his teeth in a manner which would have made our hero
squirm on any ordinary occasion. The Professor sucked hard at his cigar
and muttered beneath his breath, while Hung threw himself upon the
tantalising chain and tugged vainly at it. Then David recollected an
incident he had watched at the beginning of the battle between
themselves and the Chinese pirates.

'One moment, sir,' he said. 'An axe? Yes, I know where to find one.'

Without hint of his intentions, he cooly stepped on to the planks still
uniting the two vessels, and leaped down upon the deck of the one which
had proved such insecure shelter for them. Not a sound did his light
shoes make, while his figure was swallowed up within a few seconds; for
though it was already lighter, the dawn was not there yet, and gloom
still hung over the water. Behind him he left a Professor not so
unruffled as he had been. To speak the truth the leader of the party was
dumfounded for the moment, and only awoke to the danger our hero was
necessarily likely to encounter when the latter was already out of
sight. He called to him loudly; he even leaped on to the planks
himself. Then Alphonse stopped him with a grimace and a tug at the
sleeve of his jacket.

'Pardon, monsieur,' he said, 'a leader stays with the bulk of his
command. It is the young and brave who attempt such deeds. Monsieur
David is no chicken; he will be back with us within the minute.'

'Or hacked to pieces by those villains; but you are right, I will stay.
Still I wish that I had guessed his intentions. Dick there, and all the
others, get ready, in case he is seen and pursued.'

Alphonse clicked the lock of his rifle promptly, while Dick ranged up at
the end of the planks, his magazine revolver gripped in his hand. Then
the ever-smiling Jong lisped an apology, pushed the Professor aside, and
solemnly clambered on to the planks and crossed them. There was a huge
knife in his hand, and his smile was but the cloak to a most sinister
expression.

'Velly likely he no wantee helpee,' he lisped, as he dropped to the deck
of the other vessel. 'But velly likely also he velly glad. Jong stay
here unless he happen to see de Excellency; den p'laps he go towards
him.'

The words had hardly left his lips, and his padded soles scarcely gained
the deck when a figure was seen coming swiftly towards him. It was
David. No, it was a Chinaman, a burly, thick-shouldered individual; then
close on his heels another figure followed.

'David,' whispered Dick, scarcely able to breathe. 'George! that other
chap is coming aboard.'

Certainly that was the man's intention. He was returning to his own ship
to fetch a mighty muzzle-loader which he had previously forgotten. He
reached the rail, placed a hand upon it, and was about to spring on to
the plank bridge when Jong was upon him. And if any one had ever doubted
the grinning Chinaman's courage before, his doubts would have been for
ever silenced if he could have witnessed what followed. For this was not
one of those sudden conquests, when an unsuspecting man is struck down
without time for self-protection. The stranger saw Jong as the latter
moved towards him, and faced round with the swiftness of a panther. Then
his head went back, and such a shout went up that none could have failed
to hear it. A moment later the two were locked in one another's arms,
rolling this way and that on the deck, tearing madly at one another. And
over them David stepped, with an axe across his shoulders.

'Grandly done! Bravely done!' cried the Professor, showing not a little
excitement. 'David, stand by to cut that chain. Hung.'

But Ho Hung was not there to acknowledge the summons. He had flown
across the bridge of planks the instant David gave room for passage,
while Lo Fing chased close on his heels. How exactly they ended the
contest between the two rolling figures none of their own party ever
knew; but end it they did.

Meanwhile a lamp flared suddenly in the cabin which David and his
friends had so recently vacated, while shouts resounded from various
parts. Then the half shattered door of the cabin was burst open with a
bang, and a crowd of men swarmed on to the deck. They were met by
another group ascending from the hatch by which the Professor had
brought his party, and then by a solitary man, who shouted and bellowed
at them.

'They have fooled us; they have slipped across into the other vessel.
While we have been cutting holes through the roof of the cabin they have
been transferring themselves and their possessions.'

The greeting which the news received was such that Dick winced, and felt
almost unnerved for the moment. But the Professor reassured him; a
glance at the leader showed that he was still drawing heavily at his
weed, while his features and his general pose were almost jaunty.

'Shout yourselves hoarse, my beauties,' Dick heard him say. 'I fancy
we've fooled you finely. Now, lad, you can strike your hardest.'

And strike David did, careless of the shots which two of the enemy aimed
at him. He brought the edge of his axe down with a thud on the chain,
and severed it easily. Then he leaped from the plank bridge and helped
to throw the boards over.

'Moving asunder already, sir,' he said. 'Might just as well get under
cover.'

'Quite so; it will want an active man to leap that breach. Get beneath
the rail all of you,' commanded the Professor. 'Don't trouble to return
their fire, for they cannot damage us easily, while we have already read
them a handsome lesson. Ah, they are more than vexed, I fear.'

Through the rising gloom it was seen that the rail of the ship which had
so lately borne David and his friends, and which had proved well nigh a
death-trap, was lined with men. Some had clambered on to it, and held
their places there with the aid of the rigging. All were shouting and
gesticulating, all save the few possessed of fire-arms, and these rammed
charges home with frantic haste, and poured their shot into the vessel
slowly and steadily drifting away. If their defeat so far had enraged
the piratical crews, their anger now was almost stifling. At the very
beginning the feat of murdering the foreign devils, and of purloining
all their possessions, was one not to be considered twice. Had the
Professor been gifted with second sight, or had he had the help of some
clever native detective, he would have learned that the rascally captain
who had been so eager to charter his boat was already gloating over his
gains when the ship set sail from Shanghai, while the leader of the
pirates treated the whole affair as if already accomplished. There was
to be a secret meeting, a sudden attack, and then cold-blooded murder.
And see the result! Men here and there stark and dead on the deck or in
the alley-way, others grovelling in the scuppers useless to their
comrades, stricken hard by the knives of Hung and his fellows, or by the
bullets of the foreign devils. Worse than all, the men whose death had
been aimed at were drifting quietly away, not showing so much as a head,
bearing with them all their possessions--yes, all their possessions. The
pirate leader had already assured himself of that fact, exclaiming
bitterly at it. David and his friends caught a glimpse of the man, a
bull-necked, almost bald-headed Chinaman, with long, swinging pigtail,
and possessed of most powerful arms and legs. They saw him standing on
the rail, clinging to the rigging, brandishing a huge sword which, could
it have come into close contact with them, would have done grave injury
to more than one. The rascal seemed to be almost mad. The failure of a
well-laid scheme, the loss of his own vessel on top of that, seemed to
have combined to rob him of his wits. His eyes were staring. He frothed
at the mouth, while the cruel lips curled back from a row of fangs as
yellow as his own skin. And how he shrieked! Then he suddenly dropped
back on to the deck, and they saw him beckoning to his comrades, rushing
at those nearest him and dragging them along with him by main force. He
drove them with threats from his weapon to the halyards, and shouted at
them as they hauled at the rigging.

'Going to set sail on her,' said the Professor, raising his head now
that a greater distance separated the two vessels, and the shot had
ceased to hail upon the one on which he and his party had taken refuge.
'Well, two can play at that game. I'm not much of a sailor myself, but
Alphonse knows something about other things besides cooking and
valeting. Eh, _mon ami_?'

'_Parfaitement_; the Professor has a memory. Alphonse can certainly sail
a boat, though he has never attempted much with one of these native
craft. But the thing shall be done. Will monsieur be good enough to
order the hands to come to the rigging?'

It was remarkable how swiftly the gloom lifted, now that the dawn was
actually at hand. A second or so before it had seemed certain that the
two vessels drifting slowly apart would soon be out of sight of one
another. But though the distance sensibly increased David could still
see men lining the rail of the enemy. He could still hear frantic
shouts, while now and again a muzzle-loader belched forth its contents,
the flame of the discharge showing less redly than on former occasions.
Then the dawn arrived. The expanse of oily, yellow sea, hitherto
invisible, widened on every hand, while a pinky redness towards the east
told of an approaching sunrise. The Professor sucked with satisfaction
at his weed and glanced aloft. Alphonse was swarming into the rigging,
no doubt to inform himself of its arrangement. Then he came scuttling
down, his frightful check shirt fluttering in the fresh morning breeze.

'It is easy, monsieur,' he said, with a bow, dropping on the deck at the
Professor's feet. 'All is plain and straightforward. I shall set the
sails with the help of our friends, and then I shall go below and see
what can be done in the way of coffee and something to eat. _Parbleu!_
but the inside needs attention after such a night There are things a man
loves more even than fighting.'

He called loudly to the Chinese, and then, with David and Dick and the
Professor to help him, soon got sail on the ship. A vast expanse of
coarse canvas was soon stretched from the rigging, and catching the
breeze caused the vessel to careen nicely. She gathered way, and was
soon tearing away with white foam washing about her stern post.
Meanwhile the pirates had crowded every stitch of canvas they could find
on to their own ship, and came heading up a little in rear and on a
parallel course with the one the Professor had so cleverly taken from
them. As for the latter, his jovial, fleshy face shone with good humour
and _bonhomie_ as he stood at the tiller. Now and again he took his
cheroot from his lips and regarded it affectionately, then he put it
back between his fine, white teeth with such relish that one could see
that he was decidedly enjoying it. In fact, Professor Padmore was
proving himself a leader in more than one respect. For after all, beyond
the power to command, such an one has need to show other virtues. Of
what use even the most astute leader, if he be not confident even in the
midst of acute danger? For confidence is as catching as is a display of
fear. Men will run from a fight with little reason if there be one
suddenly to set the base example and arouse needless alarm. And on the
other hand even those possessed of no extravagant share of courage will
stand firm if they have a leader who laughs at danger, who scoffs at the
enemy, who openly exposes himself to bullet and shot. But here there
were no cravens. David and Dick had proved their fortitude, while the
four Chinamen were to be trusted entirely. But the odds were vastly
against them, so great indeed that even bold men might have been
intimidated. However, the Professor smoked as if he had forgotten the
existence of the enemy, though now and again he cast his eye over his
shoulder.

'Holding them nicely, I think, David. They're not likely to come
alongside before breakfast's ready, and that'll be a comfort, for I
confess to being ravenous. Just fancy a professor being anything so
vulgar. But there you are, I admit to the vulgarity; this morning breeze
spurs a man's appetite.'

He felt in his waistcoat pocket, and drew out a metal case, somewhat
bigger than a watch. With a movement of the finger he sprang the lid
open, and exposed the face of a compass.

'H-hm! North-north-east,' he said. 'That's our course. Not for a moment
will I allow those ruffians to set me off it.'

Perhaps a quarter of an hour elapsed from the time when sail had been
set before Alphonse put in an appearance. He came clambering to the
deck, his enormous hat set far back on his head, and showing the stubbly
growth beneath it. In one hand he bore a smoking coffee pot, and with it
beckoned to the Professor.

'I have the honour to announce breakfast!' he exclaimed, in his most
pompous manner, and with his most portly bow. 'There is a cabin below
decks, not big, monsieur, not very clean either; but serviceable, and
possessed of a table. There I have laid the things.'

The whole thing seemed so impossible, that as they squatted before a
table not more than a foot high, and ate rashers of bacon which were
steaming hot, David could hardly believe that but an hour ago they had
been fighting desperately. The change in their circumstances was so
extraordinary. It was so entirely unexpected, and withal, so fortunate.
And here they were, satisfying the inner man, for Alphonse was an
excellent caterer. The boxes which the Professor had brought with him
contained a multiplicity of things, including cameras and other
instruments necessary for exploration. And amongst them was one fitted
with all the implements to make a field kitchen. There was a charcoal
stove, as well as one designed for the use of kerosene under air
pressure, an instrument with which a good-sized kettle of water could be
made to boil within a few minutes. Then there were pots and pans
innumerable, while other boxes contained stores of groceries and tinned
goods sufficient to keep every member of the expedition satisfied for a
considerable period.

'Now to discuss the position,' said the Professor, when he had swallowed
a third cup of coffee and had begun to smoke again. 'Hung has just sent
a report to inform me that we still hold our place ahead of those men
who so dearly long to draw level with us. We sail, as I have said
already, on a course which suits us exactly. That being so, we shall
continue till we reach some port, where we will run in and demand
protection, or until we meet with some other vessel. There are gun-boats
in these waters at times, and we might have the fortune to hit upon one
belonging to Great Britain, or to France or Germany. I fancy those
rascals would quickly beat a retreat if that were to happen.'

'Meanwhile, perhaps, sir,' began David, 'we might as well see if,
supposing the worst were to happen, there are means aboard to make those
fellows keep their distance.'

'Cannon?' asked the Professor.

David nodded. 'That was my idea, sir,' he said. 'This vessel belongs to
pirates; the chances are that they have some sort of weapons.'

'And we might make good use of them. Good! we'll make a search.
Alphonse, we leave you here for the moment.'

They clambered to the deck hurriedly, to find the ship careening well to
a freshening breeze, and bowling along merrily through a sea that was
sunlit in all directions. Some distance astern, and now on a dead line
with them was the other craft, white foam at her fore foot. Even her
white decks could be seen as she canted over, while with the naked eye
one could distinguish figures moving about on it. Suddenly Dick gave a
shout of satisfaction, and pointed to a canvas cover at the back of the
steersman.

'A long tom, or I'm much mistaken!' he cried. 'Covered up to keep the
weather from it, and used only to bring some stubborn captain to his
senses. Couldn't we manage----'

'I rather think so,' agreed the Professor, smiling gleefully. 'I rather
fancy we might make use of that weapon, Dick. Strip the covering, and
let us obtain a glimpse of it.'

It took but little effort to lift the cover which had attracted Dick's
attention, and then, as they had suspected, there was a long, swivel gun
cast in brass, and no doubt capable of throwing a shot some considerable
distance.

'Then we'll put it in action,' decided the Professor. 'Not that I want
to damage any more of those rascals; but there might be some accident to
our rigging. Or, in a fresher breeze, which I fancy is coming, this
vessel might prove slower than the other. We'll make the most of fairly
smooth water and of our new possession; perhaps it will scare them.'

Once more the handy and invaluable Alphonse was in request. The natty
little Frenchman seemed to have had a hand in almost everything. He
could cook, as all knew, particularly his employer, while he was the
tidiest of valets. Moreover, Alphonse could fight, and with a spirit
that matched the Professor's. Now he showed his capacity as a gunner. He
led the search for shot and powder, and then ranged himself behind the
gun.

'Once I was a soldier, monsieur,' he said, 'and though I did not belong
to the artillery, still I had to do with a gun; for I was in garrison
where a mid-day gun was fired, and to me that duty fell. _Oui,
vraiment_, we shall be able to manage. We must guess the charge of
powder. Not too much at first, monsieur David; else there will perhaps
be only pieces of us left for the pirates. We will watch where the ball
strikes the water, and add more if necessary. You shall see; Alphonse
will send those men a pill which will make them ill at ease and cause
them to go elsewhere in search of a doctor. Ah, there is the powder; we
have rammed it home. Now a piece of the sacking as a wad. Now the ball.
Push with me on the rod and we will soon send it home.'

The practical little fellow slewed the muzzle of the gun round, and used
the screw as he squinted along the sights. Already he had sprinkled
powder on the touch hole, and presently announced that all was in
readiness.

'I have laid it to be fired as we rise to the top of the swell,' he
said. 'Now for a match with which to fire it.'

David had thoughtfully prepared a match, consisting of a candle end tied
to a stick, and shaded by a paper hood which kept the wind from it. It
was a makeshift affair, and the flame blew out twice in succession. Then
the gun splashed out a stream of flame, followed by a dense volume of
smoke, which, however, blew away instantly. Their ears were still
tingling after the loud report when a jet of water was seen to rise a
hundred yards in front of the pursuer. Instantly Alphonse tossed his hat
into the air and shouted.

'_Bon! Bon!_ The next time we will do it, yes,' he said. 'Now to sponge
the gun clean, and then for a fresh charge.'

That second shot proved far more encouraging. The ball struck the
surface just to one side of the vessel that was following them, and
ricochetted some three or four times before it finally sank to the
bottom. But the third shot plumped clear on to the deck of the enemy,
causing considerable commotion.

'_Bien_, we have the charge at last, and with this long swivel the aim
is easy,' cried the Frenchman. 'Let us try again.'

A roar of applause greeted the fifth shot, for though fired by amateurs
it struck the mast of the pursuer, and as they watched, the Professor
and his friends saw the rigging sway and come tottering over.

[Illustration: "A ROAR OF APPLAUSE GREETED THE FIFTH SHOT"]

'Thus ends all our trouble,' he cried. 'We can shorten sail, and go on
slowly.'

Late that evening Hung announced a ship in the offing, and before
darkness had fallen a gun-boat ranged up beside them. In fact, she fired
a shot across the bows of this suspicious-looking vessel, and then sent
a boat's crew aboard her. A dapper little Chinese officer swarmed up on
her deck, and even he, with all his native impassiveness, showed unusual
surprise as his eyes fell upon the Professor and his party.

'English?' he asked pleasantly, bowing courteously, and then, when he
had received an assuring answer, 'Then there is something to explain. We
are in search of a notorious pirate.'

He spoke English with hardly an accent, and his face lit up wonderfully
as the Professor answered. Then, as he listened to the tale the latter
told him, a flush rose to his sallow cheeks.

'You will please to come aboard at once,' he commanded. 'This news is
very important. My commander will require the fullest information.'

It appeared, in fact, that news of the pirate's presence in those waters
had come to the Chinese navy officials, who had despatched a gun-boat.

'Some one gave information in Shanghai,' explained the dapper little
officer. 'No doubt he did so for a reward. But we learned that some
Europeans had set off in a native boat, and that there was a plot to
seize them. We made sure when we sighted you that you were the pirate.
Now, of course, we shall take them easily.'

Which actually happened, for four hours' steaming brought the gun-boat
within easy range of the vessel that had so lately accommodated the
Professor and his party. Then, such is the summary justice handed out by
the celestial race, the ship was callously bombarded, and sent with all
the villains aboard her to the bottom.

'For which one cannot really grieve, though it does seem a barbarous way
of executing them,' said the Professor. 'And now to get ashore and
pursue our search for ruins.'

Two days later saw them landed, and within a little while the expedition
had left for the interior.



CHAPTER X

Ebenezer Clayhill's Inspiration


Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill was not the man to be thwarted without displaying
some show of opposition, and though the course which David Harbor had
taken, and the result of his action in the Courts had considerably
perturbed the owner of 'The Haven,' the latter did not remain despondent
for long.

'The young rascal!' he exclaimed to his wife one day, as they sat in the
flat which they had rented in London, for longer residence in their own
house was hardly possible, the publication of their doings having roused
the ire of the countryside. Indeed, both Ebenezer and his wife had been
hooted in the village, while, on rising the morning after their return
from the trial of the case they had been astounded to discover a huge
notice board in the garden, prominently displayed, with 'To Let' in
large figures, a very obvious hint that their presence in those parts
was no longer required.

'The young rascal!' he exclaimed again, blowing his huge nose with
unusual violence. 'I suppose he thinks to have things all his own way.'

'And so far he has won all along the line,' came the brusque if not very
encouraging answer from Mrs. Clayhill. 'I knew what it would be if you
quarrelled with the boy. A more stubborn, strong-headed youth I never
met. It was your sending him from home which upset matters.'

Mr. Ebenezer glared at his wife over the top of his handkerchief, and
when he at length exposed the whole of his countenance it was flushed a
deep red to match the wonted colour of his proboscis.

'We won't discuss that,' he said icily. 'The boy hasn't won, though he
appears to have done so. Recollect that he has yet to find that will,
and China is a big country.'

The reflection appeased Mrs. Clayhill for the moment. 'Yes, China is a
big country,' she agreed, thoughtfully. Then she again recurred to
David's stubbornness, as she was pleased to characterise his pluck and
staunchness. Indeed, the reader will have been able to draw his own
conclusions. If standing up for oneself, and fighting one's own battles
when a most evident wrong was attempted was stubbornness, then David was
undoubtedly of that persuasion, decidedly stubborn to say the least.
'China is a big country, as Edward Harbor was never tired of telling me.
But he'll do it. If that will exists, as I believe it does--for my late
husband was most careful and particular--then David will discover it.
Drat the boy!'

'Precisely! We will allow that he will hunt high and low,' said Mr.
Ebenezer, assuming a soothing tone of voice. 'We will even assume that
he will find the will, though of that I am extremely doubtful. But will
he bring it back in safety? That is the question.'

At his words his wife looked up sharply. She was accustomed to Ebenezer
now, and had found him to be a schemer. Not that that fact annoyed her.
On the contrary, as has been already mentioned, this lady was not of the
nicest disposition. Had the whole truth been known, she had schemed to
marry Edward Harbor, knowing him to be a rich man, while she was almost
penniless. She was, indeed, not altogether guiltless of scheming
herself, and found in Ebenezer a man somewhat after her own heart. She
looked up sharply, questioningly, and waited for him to continue.

'Well?' she demanded, after a while, finding he remained silent, save
for the fact that he drew his handkerchief from his pocket again and
applied it to his nose, trumpeting loudly, an old and disagreeable habit
that was often annoying. 'Put that handkerchief away, Ebenezer, and tell
me what you mean. What are you driving at? The boy may find the will,
you say, but you doubt his bringing it back safely. Why shouldn't he be
able to do so? If he actually finds this will, surely that is the most
difficult part of the task. I don't understand you.'

'My dear,' came the answer, as Ebenezer pulled at his handkerchief
again, and then, suddenly remembering that it annoyed his wife, tucked
it away. Instead he rose and placed himself in his favourite position on
the hearth-rug, expanded his chest, and put on an air of great
importance. 'My dear,' he said, 'let us assume that he gets this
document. He discovers it in China, in the part where his father carried
out research work in connection with some old Mongolian city. I say,
let us assume that he is so fortunate. Well, China is a country of
disturbances. Foreign devils are not over loved, and--er--well, you
see--er--sometimes there are robberies committed. Edward Harbor was
murdered, probably for his small possessions, his guns and other things
necessary to him on such an expedition. David might----'

'Be murdered! You don't mean that!' exclaimed Mrs. Clayhill, holding up
her hands in horror, and sitting up sharply in her chair. For that was
going too far. A scheme was a scheme, she told herself. She had gone so
far already in her efforts to oust her stepson from all benefit in his
father's possessions, that she would not hesitate to scheme further; but
she drew the line sharply at personal violence. That was against her
wishes altogether.

'Ebenezer,' she cried severely, 'I forbid you even to talk of such a
thing. If we cannot enjoy this money without doing actual violence to
David, then I will at once go to the solicitor, Mr. Jones, and show him
that letter Edward wrote me. If I produced it, there is not a shadow of
doubt but that a judge would advise a jury against the will we have put
forward. The wording is so strong that there can be no doubt not only of
my late husband's intentions, but also of the fact that he actually
executed a will in David's favour. It would end the matter for good and
all; we should be almost paupers.'

Mrs. Clayhill was quite agitated, to say the least, and was almost angry
with her husband. In any case she was consistent; for while she was not
averse to a scheme which would do no one personal or bodily harm, she
would rather resign all interest in the possessions of her late husband
than have David injured. And as might be expected, Ebenezer was not left
altogether unruffled. The excitement was too much for his powers of
self-control. He dragged his handkerchief from his pocket and trumpeted
again, a shrilly, discordant note which seemed to match with Mrs.
Clayhill's temper. Then he regained his coolness, and held his hands up
in a soothing manner.

'My dear, my dear,' he cried, somewhat querulously, still hot and
perturbed at the thought of the consequences of such an act as his wife
had threatened, 'whoever said a word about violence? Not I; of that I am
sure. I merely remarked that China was a disturbed country, and that
Europeans are hated people, open to robbery and violence. I was about to
proceed when----'

'What then?' asked Mrs. Clayhill, abruptly, relieved to hear that no
violence to David was premeditated, and eager at the same time to learn
what her crafty husband could have thought of. 'What is the scheme,
Ebenezer? You keep me in a whirl. The anxiety of this will is making me
quite miserable. See what has happened already. The people in the
village actually insulting, hooting us in the street; servants leaving
us _en masse_, even the outside staff ceasing work and departing. Why,
we shall have to let the house. We can never show our faces there again.
And then think of what the papers said. It makes me hot and cold all
over in turn as I remember the names they called us.'

It was all very true. Mr. Ebenezer and his scheming wife had imagined
that everything would go very smoothly for them; for they had but a lad
to deal with. Up to the time of David's being told that he must now
work, and must leave home for London, there had not been even a question
as to the succession to Edward Harbor's money. It had been a recognised
fact that all his wealth was to descend, and at once too, to Mrs.
Ebenezer Clayhill and her husband. Even the solicitor, Mr. Jones, with a
natural liking for our hero, and, therefore, with every wish to see him
done justice to, had been unable to demur. Unwillingly, it is true, but
as a matter of ordinary business, he had carried through the proving of
the will put forward by Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill and his wife, and had
obtained judgment allowing him to presume Edward Harbor's death. Then,
when everything should have gone smoothly, trouble had begun. David had
for the first time shown an inclination to contest the will. He had
mentioned the existence of a letter from his late father, evidently
written at the same time as that sent to Mrs. Ebenezer, and intimating
that he was to be the chief beneficiary under his father's will. That
bomb-shell had caused consternation, even greater consternation than
David's sudden determination to leave home. From that moment the two
schemers had known little peace; their scheme was threatened. They began
to wonder whether they would actually succeed to the money, and whether
also by their action in suppressing that important communication from
Edward Harbor they laid themselves open to punishment. David's sudden
accession to popularity, the laudatory remarks made concerning him in
the papers after the burglary at the store near Bond Street had served
to increase their ire and vexation. Finally, they were forced to attend
the courts to show reason why the will of the late Edward Harbor should
not remain unexecuted, pending a search for a later one mentioned in the
letter which David's advisers laid before the courts. Let the reader
imagine their anger and mortification. Let him add to that the fact that
Ebenezer and his wife were the talk of the country, universally
condemned by all, and that their own home no longer afforded them an
asylum; he will then readily agree that retribution was coming, that
these two schemers were not finding their path of the smoothest. But
they were not beaten. Ebenezer spread out his hands again, in an
attitude meant to be most soothing, and addressed his wife once more.

'We are wandering from my point,' he said, as placidly as he could,
though he found it hard to keep his temper. 'I mentioned no violence to
the young cub whom you have the misfortune to own as a stepson. I merely
said that he might find it difficult to bring the document home with
him, even if he were so fortunate as to discover it.'

'Ebenezer, you have something to tell me,' came the sharp answer. 'What
is it? You have been hatching some plan.'

His wife smiled encouragingly at him, and awaited his reply with obvious
eagerness. For she had found in this new husband a crafty fellow, and
even now had faith in his powers to bring this matter to a successful
issue. 'Come,' she said, 'what have you done?'

'I have had a most distinct piece of good fortune. All this prominence
which the papers have given us, and which has been so disagreeable, has
been useful nevertheless. It has roused a vast amount of interest in the
case. People have read every word the papers have written.'

'As we know to our cost,' sniffed Mrs. Ebenezer.

'Precisely. People have read every word, even foreigners, and as a
result I received a few days ago a letter from a man living in the east
end of London--from a Chinaman.'

Mrs. Ebenezer pricked up her ears; the plan was beginning in a promising
manner. 'A Chinaman,' she ejaculated. 'Indeed!'

'A Chinaman engaged in the East End; a man recently come from his own
country, where he had come in contact with Europeans. He had actually
been with Edward Harbor on one occasion, and seems to have made himself
invaluable, for he speaks English well, and can cook and do other
things. He offered to help us.'

'For money, of course!' exclaimed Mrs. Ebenezer, satirically.

'Of course, my dear; for what else? He has no direct interest in us. But
supposing he were to succeed in helping us, then his interest comes in.
We could afford to reward him handsomely.'

The lady leaning back in her chair nodded sharply, and looked at her
husband with a cunning gleam in her eyes. She was beginning to see
daylight Here, perhaps, was a means to defeat David Harbor and without
subjecting him to violence. She fanned herself with a newspaper, for
the sudden hope which the tale brought made her feel oppressively hot.
'We could afford to reward him handsomely,' she declared, in the most
unctuous manner. 'What did you offer?'

'I gave him a hundred pounds for his expenses, and promised a thousand
if he were successful.'

Mrs. Ebenezer clapped her hands energetically. She was delighted, and
thoroughly in agreement with her husband. What a shrewd fellow he was,
to be sure, she thought. Why, a thousand pounds was well spent if only
they could destroy that will, the existence of which paralysed their own
schemes, and might make paupers of them. Then a sudden doubt came to her
mind, for like every schemer and dishonest person this lady was quick to
perceive where this plan might break down. She imagined herself in the
place of the Chinaman who had come to her husband, and cogitated what
she would do under similar circumstances.

'Why,' she suddenly declared, in no little alarm, 'a hundred pounds is
riches to a Chinaman. Supposing this ruffian makes off with your money,
and does not try to help you. Supposing he forgets all about us once he
has left the country?'

'He has left the country already,' came the swift and somewhat
disconcerting answer. 'I sent him off hurriedly; he will not fail us.'

'Why?' Mrs. Clayhill was insistent. More than that, she was more than
usually artful. In fact, Edward Harbor, poor fellow, could not have come
across a woman less suited to his tastes and feelings, while Ebenezer
Clayhill found in the widow of the late Edward Harbor a woman cunning
and clever, and to some extent unscrupulous. To some large extent one
might say, for who could describe the action of this pair as other than
unscrupulous? Alas! the attempt to deprive a near relative of
possessions due to him is nothing new. The same sort of sordid scheme
has been practised many a time with variations, and sometimes with
success. Not every case has been associated with a lad of David Harbor's
nature, nor with one possessed of his determination and courage. Still,
if in this particular affair there were such a person, as these two
schemers had found already to their chagrin and cost, on the other side
our hero was opposed to a couple of crafty people, of whom Mrs. Clayhill
was by no means the inferior.

'How do you know that this fellow will not fail us?' she demanded,
rising from her seat and walking to the window, which she threw up, as
if the room were too hot for her. 'How? I am suspicious.'

'You always are, my dear,' chuckled her husband. 'But it will be all
right. This Chinaman is the very man we want. I told you it was a piece
of extraordinary good fortune his writing to me, for there is more to
tell you about him. He is a deposed mandarin.'

'I thought no such person existed,' said Mrs. Clayhill quickly. 'A
mandarin at fault is a dead mandarin, so far as I have been able to
gather.'

'Unless he escapes. Unless he escapes, my dear,' suggested Mr. Ebenezer.

'Then this man?----'

'Escaped. Disguised himself, and made for Canton on a river boat. Then,
thanks to his knowledge of English, he was able to ship aboard a vessel
sailing for England. Once China was left behind he was safe, and the
crafty fellow so contrived matters that it was assumed in his own
country that he had become desperate, and had thrown himself into the
river. That mandarin, to all intents and purposes, is dead. He can begin
life again in China as an altogether different person, without incurring
any suspicion. No one, not even the mandarin who had his trial in hand,
and who had caused him to be arrested for an attack upon some Europeans
would recognise him. Dao Chang is a name which none will associate with
Hang Chiou, the mandarin who was to have been beheaded.'

'Attack on Europeans! This man a mandarin, and yet a servant to
Europeans,' protested Mrs. Clayhill. 'I am bewildered. There is
something missing in your description, Ebenezer.'

It was not at all remarkable that she was to some extent confused, for
at the beginning of his tale of this Chinaman, the ruffian, who was the
instigator of this attempt to rob David Harbor, had declared that the
man had taken service with some Europeans, and could cook, as well as
speak English. Then how could he be servant and mandarin at one and the
same time? Surely there was an error in the narrative! But Ebenezer
smiled cunningly as he noticed his wife's bewilderment, and again spread
his hands out in a manner calculated to soothe her. Then he made a dive
for his handkerchief, but remembering in time, rubbed both fat members
together as if he were washing them. To speak with absolute impartiality
the man looked, as he stood there in front of the fire, precisely and
exactly what he was. He had the appearance of a mean, sneaking villain,
capable of planning the most cunning plot from the security of his
fireside, but sure to turn tail and decamp at the first sign of danger.
But his wife was blind to his imperfections. Had she been as other women
are, no doubt, she would have recoiled from this man. But Mrs. Clayhill
was what she was, and guile and cunning pleased her. She went back to
her chair, and sat down in the most placid manner, as if she were
listening to the most ordinary tale.

'Go on, Ebenezer,' she lisped. 'You interest me vastly. Tell me more of
this man who was mandarin and common servant.'

'And who was arrested for complicity in the murder of certain
Europeans,' remarked her husband, promptly, and in the quietest tones,
to which, however, he contrived to lend some subtle note that was easily
detected. Swiftly his wife looked up, loosing all appearance of
placidity.

'For complicity in the murder of certain Europeans,' repeated Ebenezer,
watching his wife closely, and bringing into special prominence the last
two words of his short sentence.

'Certain Europeans 'What do you mean? Ebenezer, I do declare, you
bewilder me. Certain Europeans! Why, you can't mean that----'

There was a sleek smile on the man's face as she looked up at him. He
appeared to be in that position where he hardly knew whether it would
do, considering all the circumstances, to show pleasure here, though,
knowing his wife as he did, he rather fancied she would not take umbrage
if he were to show some trace of satisfaction. And he was right. Mrs.
Clayhill smiled. After all, poor Edward Harbor was only a bitter memory
to her.

'You can't mean that this man had to do with the murder of poor Edward,'
she cried, attempting to assume horror, though there was no doubt at all
that she was vastly interested. 'Tell me more,' she demanded eagerly.
'This man is a find indeed. I can't believe it possible. He implicated
in that wretched affair! You will tell me next that he had something to
do with this will which David has gone in search of.'

If Ebenezer ever allowed himself to laugh outright, he was as near as
possible permitting himself that luxury on this occasion. His fat face
reddened and beamed. His nose became peculiarly prominent on account of
its heightened colour, and once more his hands washed oilily together.
Ugh! He would have given an honest person a cold shiver.

'You are wonderfully far-seeing, my dear,' he laughed. 'And now you seem
to have got to the depth of the story. This Hang Chiou, or to give him
his modern name, Dao Chang, is as crafty as he is long-headed. It
appears that Edward Harbor and his staff were working in his district,
for Chang was only a minor official, and very poor at that. He saw that
the expedition was possessed of certain riches, and moreover, he knew
that they had discovered ancient bronzes which would bring money in one
of the open ports. He decided to have that money. He gave out that he
was going to Pekin on an official visit, and quietly disguised himself
as a coolie. Then he took service with Edward Harbor and his partners.
One day he led a band of coolies against them, and killed them all. Then
he swore all the coolies to secrecy, and declared himself as the
mandarin of the district. Of course, the bulk of the booty fell to him,
and with it all Edward's papers. He had hardly returned home, however,
making believe that he was from Pekin, when he was betrayed by a coolie,
and at once arrested. You know the rest of the story.'

Truly it was a marvellous narrative; it was almost unbelievable--yet,
why not? Unless the whole thing was a plot to obtain money. Mrs.
Clayhill promptly voiced the doubts in her mind.

'He may have fooled you,' she declared. 'One hundred pounds would hardly
tempt him to return to China. Most likely he is still here.'

But there was no doubt in the face of the man who had been speaking.
Ebenezer looked confident. He chuckled as he thought of his own
astuteness.

'My dear,' he proclaimed, with unusual emphasis, 'it requires a clever
man to deceive me. Besides, I am very careful. I booked the man's
passage. I saw him off. He was aboard when the ship was in mid-ocean.
The wireless telegraph told me that with ease and certainty. No, let us
have no doubts. Dao Chang does not require money alone to tempt him to
China. He willingly risks his head to get even with the coolie who
betrayed him, as also to work his revenge on the mandarin who was the
actual cause of his downfall. Besides there is another reason. If he
could earn the money I have promised, he could buy evidence to clear his
name with the greatest certainty. He could even buy a position of some
power, and of greater affluence. In fact, he could reinstate himself.
There is his object.'

'But----'

'You cannot see farther. Quite so,' said this soft-spoken ruffian. 'I
will proceed at once. Chang sailed promptly so as to land in China
before the party to which David is attached. He will enter himself as
one of their servants. Then he will earn his reward from us by taking
possession of the will should they happen to find it. If not, he himself
will make search for it on his own account. Should that happen he will
have done with your stepson and his friends, though I suspect that he
will relieve them of any valuables. He will send us the document so that
we may destroy it, and will then be free to carry out his own business.
Our affair first, you understand, his own afterwards.'

It was a crafty piece of scheming when all things were considered, and
looking at the matter from Ebenezer's point of view there was no reason
at all why he should not be eminently satisfied. For fortune seemed to
have played fairly with him. The very ruffian who had instigated the
murder of Edward Harbor had offered his services; and it was this
Chinaman's direct interest to find the will for which David was
journeying to the country of the Celestials. It was not as if the man
had been asked to discover a jewel of vast value. For then one might
easily have suspected his honesty and good intentions. Here only a
document was in question, a piece of parchment, perhaps, with a few
written lines upon it, valueless to all but our hero and the two
schemers who should have been father and mother to him. Valueless in any
case to Chang, the ruffianly Chinaman, so useless, in fact, that he
would be eager to change it for the thousand pounds so readily offered
by Ebenezer. Undoubtedly, the man who had married David's stepmother was
delighted, and by the time he had finished his narrative, so also was
Mrs. Clayhill.

'It is all wonderful and most fortunate. I can sleep in peace,' she
ventured, 'for I know that no violence will be offered.'

She departed from the room in high feather, while hardly had the door
closed when her husband smiled broadly, and in a most suggestive
manner.'

'Clever woman,' he told himself. 'Precious clever; but I have to
remember that she is a woman, with natural distaste of murders and
sudden attacks. Glad I didn't tell her all that Chang hinted. What luck
to be sure to have dropped on the fellow. You could have knocked me down
with a hat pin when I received his letter.'

Perhaps it was as well that Ebenezer had not told his wife all the
story; for there were parts of it to which that lady would most
certainly have taken exception. As Ebenezer had remarked, Chang had
hinted many things, and had, in fact, spoken openly.

'You leave it to me to stop this English boy, then?' he had asked,
prior to his departure on the boat. 'If, for instance, I could send
certain news that he was killed or drowned, or something of that sort,
that would be sufficient?'

'I will pay a thousand pounds for that will with pleasure,' Ebenezer
answered promptly. 'Of course, should this young fellow come by an
accident, and his death be sworn to by a British Consul, then the money
would be paid with equal pleasure.'

There was no need to say more. The two ruffians parted with the most
perfect understanding, Chang to formulate schemes to bring about David's
undoing. And very soon he had an opportunity to carry them out. He
disembarked at Hong-Kong, and waited for the arrival of the steamer on
which David and his friends had left England. Then he sneaked on board
as a deck passenger, disembarking at Shanghai, where it will be
remembered, the Professor and his party landed. And at once news reached
Chang that a native boat was about to be chartered. It was an
opportunity not to be missed. The Chinaman dived in amongst the ruck of
men in the bazaar, and soon discovered others of equal villainy. It took
little persuasion on his part to induce a man to offer his boat to the
Professor, and but little work to organise a scheme of attack with a
piratical vessel. Then Chang watched the departure with a grin on his
ugly features.

'I think I shall be able to apply for that money very quickly,' he told
himself. 'The scheme of attack is one which can hardly fail to be
successful.'

Yet it failed, much to his fury. Thanks to Alphonse's watchfulness, and
to the heroism of the whole party David and his friends escaped. It was
the miscreants hired by Chang who suffered in the adventure, and indeed
lost life and everything. Chang found himself at the beginning of his
task again, and what was worse, was now far removed from the Professor
and his party. However, that was a matter which could be remedied, and
taking a boat along the coast it was not long before he landed at the
port where the gun-boat commanded by the dapper little, English-speaking
Chinese officer had set them.

'Foreign devils marched up country,' he was told, when he made cautious
enquiries. 'Been gone some days, but you will easily catch them. They
are making for the Ming To ruins.'

It was in that neighbourhood that the rascal Chang actually came up with
the expedition, and thereafter set his wits to work to bring about the
destruction of the party, and failing that, the death of David Harbor.

'I can crawl into the camp at night and slay him,' he told himself. 'Or
I can fire at him while at work in the ruins. Yes, that is better. I
shall certainly kill him.'

He crept off to a hovel where he had obtained a lodging, and throwing
himself upon the kang, closed his eyes and gave himself up to deep
contemplation. In Chang David had all unknowingly an enemy even more
subtle and more dangerous than Ebenezer Clayhill.



CHAPTER XI

David goes on a Journey


'And now to investigate the secrets of the ruined city wherein dwelled
Tsin the mighty, Tsin, the ruler of a tiny principality, who years and
years ago set himself one of the biggest tasks man has ever undertaken.'

They were seated in their tent in the light shed by a candle lamp, and
the Professor lolled back on the tiny camp-bed which was to be his own
special property. Indeed, a glance round the camp showed clearly that
the expedition was organised thoroughly, and promised by the equipment
it carried to give comfort to every one. For first, there was the large
tent for the use of the Professor, David, and Dick, with its three
narrow beds, its collapsible table and chairs, and its waterproof
flooring. Then, a little distance away was a smaller, bell tent, in
which Alphonse was to repose, and beside it, within easy reach, a field
kitchen, while further still was a third tent, similar to that occupied
by Alphonse, for the accommodation of the four Chinese.

'Of course, those whom we employ to help us with the digging will have
to find their own quarters,' said the Professor at the very beginning of
their forming camp. 'There happens to be a village some two miles away,
and no doubt the inn there will take them in. But there are also one or
two old buildings still standing in this ruined place, and they will
probably elect to settle there.'

That, in fact, was what the dozen coolies whom he had hired had decided
on. Already they had secured the basement of what had been a two-storied
house, though now the upper part had gone, while to effect an entrance
into that below needed quite a lot of excavation. For the rest, the camp
was pitched on a grassy knoll some hundred yards from the ruins and
within three miles of the huge Chinese wall, which, not so perfect
now-a-days as it was wont to be, is still a marvel of human ingenuity
and perseverance, stretching as it does for fourteen hundred miles over
hill and valley, cutting the northern provinces of China from the rest
of the world.

'As I was saying,' began the Professor again, 'we are about to
investigate the ruins of the city--quite a small place, I imagine--in
which dwelt Tsin, the one-time ruler of a small province in this
neighbourhood. You must understand that he was one of many kings
controlling the numerous provinces into which China was divided some two
thousand years ago, a somewhat different condition to that now ruling,
for there are only some fifteen provinces now-a-days. Tsin, like all the
rest of these little kings, was for ever squabbling with his neighbours,
so that there were frequent little wars, and as a natural consequence
many additions were made to, or territory taken from, the various lands
belonging to these kings. However, Tsin seems to have been fortunate,
for he made additions. In fact, he ate up his neighbours, and with more
wealth and more men increased wonderfully in power. He ended by
conquering every part of China, and becoming Emperor of the Celestial
Empire.'

'And richly deserved his reward, no doubt,' ventured David. 'I should
imagine that the people were all the happier for having one ruler only.
Trade and other matters must have gone more smoothly.'

'I agree with you; things probably were more fortunate. But Tsin was not
without his troubles; his kingdom was for ever being invaded by
Mongolian nomads from the north, nomads who were as elusive as they were
warlike. They devastated portions of his kingdom, and when armies were
sent in pursuit they melted away, taken in ambush, or lost hopelessly in
the desert. It was to check those nomads that Tsin started the Great
Wall of China beside which we lie, and no doubt, once completed, it
fulfilled its purpose. It will repay a visit one of these days.'

Dick and David had, as a matter of fact, already visited the huge wall,
and had marvelled at its vastness. For this Great Wall of China is not
merely an erection two bricks thick; it is a huge earth wall, faced with
masonry, buttressed and supported everywhere, and freely supplied with
fortified gates and quarters for its garrison. Fourteen hundred miles of
it, stretching across the kingdom! Think of the enormous labour, think
of the host required to guard its length. And to-day it is deserted, or
almost so. The broad track on its summit, constructed of such a width
that three carts could conveniently be driven side by side, is now no
longer of service. Mongolia has ceased to send in her nomads. Perhaps
the very presence of the wall has prevented them, or maybe they have
become less warlike. There the wall lies, a work to rouse the admiration
of modern-day people.

'And now to speak of these ruins. They are small, as I have said
already,' the Professor told them, 'and since I do not expect to
discover much of interest, I have decided to send you two lads forward.
John Jong shall go with you, while the naval officer who spoke such
excellent English has provided me with passports. It seems that his
father is a mandarin, and commands the district a hundred and fifty
miles north, where are located the Mongolian ruins I am so anxious to
investigate. Will you go?'

Would they go? David and Dick were as eager as the Professor himself to
dip into the past by investigating the ruins of the city in which Tsin
had dwelled so many hundreds of years before. But a journey through
China offered superior attractions; and besides, there was another city
to be visited, or rather the ruins of one that had formerly existed.

'Go, sir? Of course!' declared David, with marked enthusiasm. 'Nothing I
should like better.'

'Quite a little experience for us, sir,' declared Dick. 'Do we march or
ride?'

'The latter. You will go in state; that is, you must create a good
impression wherever you travel, for that will appeal to the natives. I
don't think that there should be any difficulty, nor any danger. The
passports I have and the letter you will carry to Twang Chun should
command attention, for it seems that he is a very important official.
More than that, like his son, he is westernised, speaks English and
French, and longs for the day when his country will be less bigoted and
cramped. Of course you will take arms with you, and since it is always
as well to keep on the right side of the natives and attract little
attention, you will travel in native costume. Jong will see to that part
for you.'

There was jubilation in the faces of our hero and his friend. They
glanced at one another as the Professor ceased speaking, and then
grinned openly.

'Ripping!' exclaimed the latter. 'Swells we shall be. Jong will be too
big after such a journey to speak to his countrymen. But how about
putting up for the night, sir?'

'As far as possible you will avoid staying in a village, and in case it
should happen that you find yourselves a long way from a town of any
importance, you will camp in the open. I brought three _tentes d'abris_
with me, and those will accommodate you very nicely. Of course you might
go to the native rest-house or inn; but I don't advise it. There is, as
a rule, only one guest-chamber, with one long _kang_ or couch on which
to lie, and since the Chinese are none too clean in their persons you
would find such quarters most unpleasant, besides laying yourselves open
to robbery. In the big towns you will at once ask for the residence of
the mandarin, and this letter which I shall entrust to you will
certainly obtain a lodging under a fine roof and with comfortable
surroundings, unless, of course, the mandarin happens to be bigoted,
and hates all foreign devils. There are few, I imagine, who will care to
displease Twang Chun, the Governor of the province. Now, as practice in
such matters is excellent for all people, I leave it to you two to
organise your own expedition. Get out a list of the things you imagine
you will want. You will each have a Tartar pony for riding purposes, and
can take three more besides the one Jong will ride, making roughly a
spare horse apiece for your baggage. Let me see the list when
completed.'

It may be thought that such a task as was now given to the two young
fellows would take but a little while to complete. But when they came to
make the list of which the Professor had spoken they discovered that
they were often in doubt. For instance, with regard to the question of
ammunition.

'Twelve rounds apiece for magazine pistols, ditto for rifles,' said
Dick, as if he had been at this sort of work a long while.

'More!' exclaimed David, with a knowing wag of his head. 'There might be
a ruction; we might be attacked.'

'Pooh! Never did come across such a firebrand,' laughed Dick. 'Always
imagining that we are going to run our heads up against some sort of
trouble. Still, if you think so, we'll carry more. Say forty rounds
each. How's that?'

'Right; far more sensible. Now for grub. My word, we mustn't run short
of that!'

David was always a good man at his trencher. The open-air life they were
now leading, the novelty of his surroundings, and the exercise he
enjoyed had given him an appetite there was no denying.

'Of course we might shoot something,' he said, 'though we haven't seen
much so far that would be worth the while. Besides, in this queer
country one hardly knows what it would be proper to kill and what not.
The Professor says one has to be careful not to touch other people's
belongings, and the latter are often straying about. Vote we make our
list of stores a handsome one.'

In the end they took sufficient tinned meats to last them for two weeks,
having reckoned that the journey would not take longer than eight days.
A small bottle of brandy was included in their stores, rice for Jong, a
bag of biscuit, and a box of dried apples.

'Makes a splendid sweet,' declared David. 'Soak 'em over night in water,
or milk if you can get it. Same with the rice you mean to use. Then put
the two into a cloth, tie up the top and pop the whole into a kettle.
Boil it, my boy, till the rice is done to a turn, and serve it with a
sprinkling of sugar. That reminds me--tea's wanted, sugar too, and don't
forget a kettle, a frying-pan, and a saucepan.'

'Besides tin mugs, a teapot, spoons, forks and knives.'

'And a filter to pass the water through. Can't be too careful,' said
David. 'Water supplies in this country are not often too reliable, and
though one can be quite secure by drinking boiled water, yet one hasn't
always the time, nor the fuel, so we'll take a filter.'

Having completed their list to their entire satisfaction, they consulted
Jong, and with his help packed their stores into three lots, which were
so arranged as to be easily secured on the pack saddles which the
Professor had purchased. Then they took their list to the latter and
asked for his approval.

'Very complete,' he agreed. 'All that I can suggest now is cash. You
will want an abundance of the small coins on which the Chinese coolie
places such value. A little scattered now and again will gain friends
for you. A handful will buy you a sack of rice when your store is
exhausted; I shall hand over a sufficiency, while for funds on your
arrival, should you need money, this letter will obtain the same from
Twang Chun. And now, the sooner you get away the better; let us say
to-morrow. You had best be up early so that Jong can complete your
toilets. Don't forget that it is necessary that your appearance should
be correct in every particular, just as if you were endeavouring to
disguise yourselves.'

On the following morning, before the sun had risen, and while still a
grey mist hung over the cold land, David and Dick turned out of the
tent, took a dip in a lake close at hand, and then submitted themselves
to Jong's attentions.

'Allee lightee,' he lisped, grinning as they came to him. 'Soon makee
Excellencies same as one Chinaman. Allee same, so that mother not be
able to knowee dem. Jong shavee de head now. Den put on de pigtail. Not
eber wear him before, Misser Davie? Den you soon see. Fine, Misser
Davie. You one great big swell, wid a tail reachin' lightee down to de
middle ob you. Now boil de kettle, get de soap, sharpen de razor.'

He set about his work humming a Chinese refrain devoid of all tune,
while Alphonse emerged from his tent in his shirt sleeves, and using a
native bellows soon had his fire going. It made the lads laugh to watch
him hopping quickly about, and to see the extraordinary costume which he
still adhered to. For if David and his friends out there in China were
still, in spite of their local surroundings, in spite of essentially
Celestial environment, undoubtedly Englishmen, Alphonse was as decidedly
a Frenchman. His peaky little beard, and the way he carried himself, as
well as the quickness of his movements, told one that. It was not
necessary to regard his extremely loud shirt, his appalling cap, nor the
pointed boots which he found comfort in wearing.

'_Bien!_ You depart to-day. _Bon voyage, messieurs_,' he said, as he
brought them each a steaming cup of tea. 'Let Alphonse tell you that you
will find native costume comfortable, as comfortable as is mine, for he
has tried it. _Oui, messieurs_, he has tried it. He owed his life to the
disguise once.'

David could not imagine how any disguise could cloak this very obvious
Frenchman. He smiled a little dubiously.

'Ah, you do not believe. Then I will tell you. It was on our last
journey, the Professor's and mine. The people were angry with us; we
were foreign devils who had caused the rain to fall for a month in
succession. They surrounded the house; guns were fired; there was a
great commotion.'

'What happened then?' asked Dick, eagerly.

'They dragged us out, the Professor and myself. They put us into wooden
cages and carried us in them to their mandarin. But he, though he did
not love foreign devils, was afraid to harm us. He took us into his
house, saying to the mob that he would hand us over in the morning. Then
he dressed us like natives, and passed us out through a back door very
secretly. _Bien, messieurs_, we strolled through the mob. They would
have torn us to pieces had they known that we were the foreign devils
they had captured. We passed through them and got right away. It was
what you call a narrow shave.'

'And the mandarin, how did he explain your flight?' asked David, curious
to hear how such a matter would be arranged in this country of
surprises, of ignorance and bigotry.

'I will tell you. He barred the door and the window. He burned our
clothes. In the morning he took the ringleaders of the mob to the room
and announced that they were free to kill us. Then he feigned as great
surprise as they. He pointed to the charred remains of our clothing, and
suggested that we had vanished into the air, perhaps to stop the rain,
for as luck would have it, the downpour ceased that very evening. I tell
you, for us it was a close shave.'

He bustled off to his camp kitchen, leaving the lads wondering greatly.
To them the tale seemed impossible. But then they did not know China
very well. They had no idea of the crass ignorance and superstition
which even to-day sways the mass of the people. Had they had more
knowledge, they would instantly have realised that such a sequel was
possible, and that in the Celestial Empire one can encounter hopeless
ignorance on one hand, and a depth of cunning adjacent to it. But Jong
had his pot of water boiling now, and had put a fine edge on to the
wedge-shaped native razor which he intended to use. He quickly lathered
the hair over the temples and round the crown of each lad's head, and
rapidly removed those portions. Then he produced two wonderful pigtails,
and having snipped the hair left on the crown as short as possible, he
heated the base of the pigtails, thus melting the adhesive already
there, and applied them. A touch with a stick of charcoal to their
eyebrows made a vast effect, while a line drawn outside the eyes gave a
distinctly Celestial expression. After that it took but little time to
don the native costume, and before Alphonse announced breakfast both
David and Dick were dressed for their journey.

'You look at least forty,' declared the latter, surveying his friend,
and bursting into a merry peal of laughter, 'and as wise as any judge.'

'While you should be at least the governor of a province,' grinned
David, delighted at his friend's appearance. 'Now for the Professor.'

'Excellent!' declared the latter, walking all round them. 'I can find no
fault; Jong has turned you out wonderfully well. But you mustn't stride
along like that, David--nor walk with such an elastic step, Dick, my
lad. Recollect that a Chinese gentleman, as you are supposed to be, has
little if any call to show energy. He is essentially a tranquil person.
His face is as impassive as that of a Red Indian's, while he seldom
smiles. And above all he is deeply imbued with his own dignity. So,
however youthful and merry you may feel when by yourselves, remember to
look austere when in the company of strangers. And now to discuss the
route. I have a map here, and as I have been over the ground before I
have been able to put down all the chief towns you will pass. Of course
there are thousands of completely walled cities in China, particularly
up in this direction, where Mongolian incursions are always likely. You
will pass several, and will, no doubt, sleep the night in more than one.
Now, I have looked over your list of stores, and have suddenly
remembered drugs. Alphonse has packed a box containing useful tabloids
and other medicines, besides a supply of bandages and dressings. Ah!
breakfast's ready; come along.'

An hour later the little cavalcade was ready to set out, and once more
the Professor inspected the lads and their mounts. To speak the truth,
even a native of the country would easily have been deceived, for David
and his friend looked exactly what they were meant to look, namely, two
Chinese gentlemen of some importance travelling through the country with
their servant.

'Of course you are not bent on commerce,' said the Professor. 'No
Chinaman of any importance would soil his hands with trade. You are two
officials going through to see Twang Chun. Good-bye! Look for me in a
month's time.'

'Gee-up!' shouted Dick, shaking his reins. 'Good-bye, Professor!'

They headed at once for the road that stretched across the country
adjacent to the camp, and which perhaps had even borne Tsin, the mighty
ruler of the Celestial Empire in those far-off days. Then they settled
down to their long journey, David and Dick alongside one another,
chatting and laughing, and Jong behind, his bare toes in the
stirrups,--for the cold weather was not yet on them,--his reins knotted
on his pony's neck, and leads from the other three animals attached to
the bow of his native saddle.

'I rather fancy it will be as well to have some sort of regulations for
marching,' said David, when they had accomplished some ten miles, and
the camp was only a memory to them. 'You see we are foreigners, though
we don't look it, and something might turn up when we least expect it.'

Dick laughed loudly. David vastly amused him, and, if he had only made a
clear confession, interested him also. For the lad displayed so many
sides to his character. At one moment he was as dashing and plucky as
one could wish. A regular fire-eater he had shown himself in the affair
in the gulf of Pechili. And at other times he was as cautious as any old
woman.

'You do make me smile,' declared Dick, searching for a handkerchief, a
luxury which neither had yet abandoned, but for which, nevertheless, it
was somewhat difficult to find a handy place in the strange garments
they were wearing. ''Pon my word, you make a chap roar. Always imagining
danger's coming; always taking precautions; always getting ready; and
then, no sooner does something spring up, all unforeseen, as it were,
than you chuck all precautions, venture out into the open, and
practically invite people to shoot you. Look at the ship--helped to get
the party away from what was an ugly trap, and then, when all were safe,
walked peacefully back in search of an axe. You do really take it.'

'Shut up!' growled David, crossly. 'I'm serious.'

'So am I.'

'Look here,' declared our hero, with some warmth, 'I'll not stand any
more of--oh, I say, let's be serious,' he laughed, for who could be
angry with Dick--Dick the merriest and most light-hearted of the party?
For if ever contrasts were asked for, a better example could not be
brought forward than David and his companion. The one, as Dick had said,
a strange mixture of dash and daring, and of shrewd, almost nervous
caution; and the other, Dick Cartwell, as jolly as the day was long, the
most thoughtless individual breathing, an inconsequent, harmless sort of
fellow, who made friends of all and sundry with an ease which was
astonishing. Caution! Dick threw it to the winds.

'Don't get looking round for trouble till trouble troubles you, old
boy,' he had said on more than one occasion when twitting David. Dick
followed the proverb strictly. He made no effort to look into the
future, to prepare for squabbles, even in a country not altogether
friendly. Left in command of the Professor's party, he would have been
soundly asleep when the pirates so stealthily slipped aboard the vessel
and slid along the decks towards the cabin. But once the danger was
present, once he was with his back against a wall, there was no better
nor more reliable fellow. Dick fought with as light a heart as he
possessed when eating his dinner. Light-heartedness was his one fault,
in fact, if one could actually declare it a fault; for on the march and
under everyday conditions it cheered his companions and helped
wonderfully to keep every one going.

'Well, let's hear all about this matter,' he asked, smiling at our hero,
and urging his steed beside him with a kick from his heel. 'You are
anticipating trouble.'

'Nothing of the sort. I do declare you are an aggravating fellow. I say
that we are in a country where foreign devils are not too popular, and
though we don't appear to be foreigners, yet people might discover our
nationality. In fact, they are sure to when we put up in the towns. Very
well, then. We must take it turn and turn about to watch, Jong doing his
share with us. Of course I'm speaking of the time when we are out on the
road, or in camp, should we settle down outside a village or town. In
the house of a mandarin we should be free from interference. Now, what
do you say to the plan?'

'A beastly bother, but necessary perhaps. I agree. When do we start?'

'Right away; nothing like getting settled down to our duties. We'll have
a chat with Jong.'

They pulled their ponies round and edged them up alongside the single
store pony trotting at the Chinaman's left hand.

'We're going to take it in turns to watch when on the road,' said David.
'I'll start now, and continue till noon; then Dick till late in the
afternoon; then you'll come on duty. We'll share the night out evenly
when we're in the open.'

Jong took a few minutes to absorb his meaning. Not that the man was
dense; it was simply because he had not a very abundant command of
English.

'Allee lightee; savvey,' he exclaimed at last, with a curious little
lisp which rather became him. 'Jong say dat allee lightee. Watch, den no
easy to be cut to piecee. Neber know who or what comin' along. P'laps
dere robbers. Dey make mincemeat of de lot of us before you have time to
breathe. Jong watch like a dog. Him savvey!'

'Then I start right off; let's get back to our places.'

The two young fellows kicked their lazy little ponies into a canter, and
pulled them in again when they were some fifty yards ahead of the
Chinaman. And until the hour of noon David kept a careful eye all about
him. Then they halted for a spell, Jong quickly getting a kettle over a
fire and the water boiling. A cup of tea and a slice from a tin of meat
put all in a good temper, and made them ready to proceed. That evening,
as the shades were lengthening, they slid through the gates of a walled
city. Dick's hours for duty were almost ended. In a little while they
would be under a roof and, they hoped, in hospitable quarters. But
neither Dick nor David nor the talkative Jong saw that figure trailing
along behind them on the main road. Not one had observed a man creep
from a ditch a mile from the gates of the city, and slink cunningly
after the party. For it was Chang, and his object so far was to remain
in the background, undiscovered till the hour for action had arrived.



CHAPTER XII

Chang announces his Errand


Never before had David or Dick been within a Chinese city, and from the
moment of their arrival at Hatsu they were vastly interested with their
surroundings.

'Lidee light through de gate, Misser Davie,' advised Jong. 'Not take no
notice of de guards. Dey common fellows. Den Jong lead you to de house
of de mandarin; you have fine food and lodgin' dere.'

But as it turned out, there was no easy admission to the city. A dozen
quaintly dressed Tartar soldiers barred the way, bearing modern rifles
across their shoulders.

'Who are you? Say where you come from!' demanded one, who seemed to be
an under-officer. 'Do you come from the country where sickness rages?'

Jong at once came forward as interpreter.

'My masters come from the sea-coast,' he said, with an air of authority,
which carried weight at once with the soldiers. 'There is no sickness in
the parts where they have been. They bear important letters to Twang
Chun, and passports for your governor.'

'Show them,' demanded the Tartar under-officer, who seemed to be
bursting with his own importance. 'Perhaps you are telling lies. Show
the letters.'

He stepped up to David and seized his pony by the head. Then he closely
scrutinised our hero.

'Bring a lamp,' he ordered one of his men. 'It's too plaguey dark to
see, particularly under this gateway. Bring a light; we shall then be
able to look at these fellows.'

He jerked at the bit, causing the animal to rear, and the man himself to
let go his hold. At once David put his heel to the pony's side, and sent
him plunging in amongst the soldiers, upsetting the officer with a
crash. At the same instant a lamp was brought, and the light showed the
Tartar picking himself up, while already he had drawn his sword. Then,
fuming with rage, he advanced again and seized the pony.

'Let us look closely at you, you who bear important letters,' he cried.
And then he gave vent to a shout of astonishment. 'Mandarins of
importance, did you say, rogue?' he shouted, turning on Jong. 'These are
foreigners, white men, hated foreigners from the West.'

He gripped at David's clothing and would have torn it from him, had not
the young fellow again set his mount plunging. Then Jong pressed his own
animal forward; for whatever else he might be, however amusing and
garrulous, Jong was not a laggard where blows were being given and
received, nor did he hang in the background when there was need for
instant action. He gripped the Tartar by the shoulder and shook him as
a dog would shake a rat.

'Fool! he growled, angrily. 'Who said that my masters were indeed
mandarins? They are people of importance, and bear important letters.
Are you so anxious then to incur the anger of Twang Chun, the Excellency
who commands the province, that you thus interfere with us? My masters
will show the letters, but you shall not read them. Bring the lamp; if
you are not careful we will take you with us to His Honour who commands
in this city.'

At a sign from the faithful fellow David produced the pouch in which the
letters were carried, and showed them to the man, looking askance as he
did so at the soldiers, for it was evident that they were fully ready
for mischief. Indeed, had he but known it, Hatsu bore none too enviable
a reputation. It appeared, indeed, that only some few months before an
attack had been made in this city upon some European missionaries, and
had resulted in the death of one. As a consequence the commander of the
place had been dismissed, while a number of the delinquents had been
beheaded; and the common people still smarted under what they imagined
was a grievance. However, the magic name of Twang Chun carried the day.
The Tartar officer drew back grudgingly, eyeing Jong as if he would
dearly have loved to kill him. Nor did he regard the disappearing
figures of David and his merry companion with any better favour.

'Foreign devils in disguise!' he growled to his men. 'Why in disguise?
Tell me that. Answer me that question. Why do foreign devils come to
our city and demand entrance when the dusk has fallen? Why?'

He held the lamp up to each face in turn, and receiving no answer bade
them enter the guard-house with him. He caused the doors to be closed,
and then spoke with no little show of excitement.

'Why do foreign devils reach us when the evening has come, and attempt
to pass us disguised as mandarins? I will tell you now. You who are
ignorant and do not gather news have heard only as a rumour, perhaps,
the fact that death stalks through the provinces of Manchuria--black
death!'

They recoiled from him at the words. Lethargic and eminently fatalists
as are the Celestials, their fatalism and their easy resignation to all
that is inevitable are not proof against the terrible epidemics that
sweep across the country at times. Even small-pox, which makes its
ravages in different quarters practically the year through, and being,
therefore, no new thing to the natives, scares them wonderfully when it
makes its appearance in any particular locality. But small-pox is not to
be compared with the black death, not to be mentioned in the same breath
with that hideous pneumonic plague, which decimates cities in a week,
attacks both young and old, and once it has seized a victim, rarely
spares his life. Besides the Tartar officer was right. Pneumonic plague
had appeared in Manchuria, and was stalking through the land. Cases had
even been reported in the adjacent provinces of Russia, while the
disease was spreading in the direction of Pekin. Everywhere in the
neighbourhood of the infected area distracted creatures were fleeing,
carrying the disease with them, and spreading it across the land. What
more natural thing in a country of amazingly simple and ignorant people
than that the onset of this black death should here and there be put
down to some outside influence? The foreign devil was a target at which
to throw all the blame. And this Tartar under-officer, no doubt as
bigoted and ignorant as his fellows, found in the coming of David and
Dick a subtle scheme to import the plague to Hatsu.

'We have heard that there is great sickness,' said one of his men. 'We
have been told that plague assails the people. It has even been reported
that soldiers have been called to positions north and east of Pekin to
hold the frightened people back.'

'True, comrade, true, every word of these reports. Our commander has
himself been called away to receive orders with regard to the placing of
the soldiers. But see how the foreign devils manage these things. They
come to us in disguise. They enter our city with letters of introduction
to his Excellency Twang Chun. With forged letters, you may be certain.'

The gaping mouths of his audience showed how the news affected them.
Give the Tartar soldier his due, he is one of the best soldiers China
possesses, but he is as ignorant and as bigoted as any of the people.
Moreover, he is just as ready to run from the cry of plague as he is
ready to discover in a European the cause of his misfortune. Growls of
anger came from the men, disturbed, however, a moment later by a loud
challenge from the sentry. He was calling for men to help him to shut
the gates--for the hour for closing the city had arrived--and as he did
so espied a figure creeping in through the archway. He brought the man
to a stop with his bayonet within an inch of his breast.

'Move not,' he commanded, 'else will I plunge the blade home and send
you to converse with your ancestors. Son of a dog, what do you here at
this time?'

Another shout brought the Tartar officer running out with his men, while
one carried the native lantern, a huge affair of oiled paper. They held
it up close to the stranger's face, while the officer approached
closely.

'Who are you?' he asked suspiciously. 'A follower of those foreign
devils?'

'In their service, no,' came the emphatic answer. 'Take this; let us
talk.'

The man pulled a handful of money from a bag suspended to his girdle,
and gave it to the under-officer. 'Let us talk,' he repeated. 'I follow
these foreign devils it is true, but not as their servant. I come to
bring a warning.'

'There! did I not say so?' declared the officer instantly, his sallow
face flushing. 'I have but just told these comrades that Hatsu would be
well without such visitors. I have warned them of the plague.'

Chang, for he it was--the rascal paid to proceed to China in search of
David, paid by Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill--beamed on the soldiers, and
followed them into the guard-house eagerly. To speak the truth, the
artful scoundrel knew something of the history of Hatsu, and recollected
that certain of her people had received punishment for an attack on
Europeans. He had come to the city with the intention of stirring up
popular hatred of the foreigners, if that were possible, and of setting
the people on them. If not here, then elsewhere. And here, there was
already a beginning with an excellent excuse for further action; for the
faces of the Tartar guard showed that even the mention of foreign devils
caused them to grunt with anger.

'Then you have been speaking to them, friend,' said Chang, when he was
comfortably seated. 'Tell me their story.'

'There is little in it I was suspicious of them on the instant my eyes
fell upon them, in spite of the dusk. Mark you, these foreign devils
came in the gloaming, in disguise, and told of letters to Twang Chun,
the Excellency who commands the province.'

Chang's crafty features twisted at the mention of the high official, for
he recollected that it was he who would have executed him. But he told
himself that absence and his change of name, to say nothing of the fact
that it was supposed that he had been drowned, made him safe from
detection. He laughed loudly at the story.

'And you believed all this?' he asked, feigning incredulity.

'I knew they lied. I was but just telling my comrades that they came to
bring plague to us, no doubt to increase the punishment already suffered
by our people for the justifiable attack made on others of the same
race.'

'Then you told them the truth. The foreign devils will scatter the
plague in this city of a certainty if they be not removed. Listen,
friends. Who knows of their arrival, who but you?'

'None, none save the deputy-commander,' came the answer. 'They have gone
to him to seek a lodging. Their letter to his Excellency Twang Chun will
command attention. They will be handsomely lodged.'

'And this deputy-commander; tell me of him.'

Chang's eyes gleamed maliciously as he listened to the reply. He tucked
his hands into his baggy sleeves and hugged himself with unrestrained
delight. Already he began to feel the weight of that thousand pounds
which his rascally employer had promised.

As for the Tartar officer, he at once allied himself with this stranger
who had come so opportunely to warn the people of Hatsu. Not only
because in his ignorance he was genuinely a believer in the fable that
David and his friend, or any other Europeans for the matter of that,
could at will bring a plague to the city. No, that was not the only
reason for his instant decision to help this Chang. It was because he
himself, this Tartar under-officer, had suffered for the death of that
European attacked some while before. Cunning alone had saved him his
head. He had been degraded and soundly thrashed, for in China
punishments are by no means half-hearted. People are still put to the
torture, wretched criminals still suffer penalties that have long since
disappeared from the penal codes of other nations. The man had been
degraded and soundly thrashed, and the indignity and the sting of the
lash were still fresh with him.

'Listen,' he whispered hoarsely, his eyes glinting dangerously. 'This
deputy-commandant is no lover of the foreign devil. It is well known,
though it is denied, mark you, that he it was who led the soldiery in
that affair when certain people of the west were attacked. He would have
been governor here, but the suspicion that he was one of the attackers
caused him to lose the high post. Of a surety he is with us.'

'And would dare to hang these wretches on the report we bring him?'
asked Chang, his wicked face lit up with eagerness. 'He is bold enough
for that?'

The cunning smile on the face of his listener told its own tale. What
need had such a man as Chang to question further? For had he not
arranged such little matters himself many a time? To a Chinaman was
there any difficulty in such an affair, demanding cunning and intrigue?
Let it be remembered that in all our dealings with the Celestial race
craft has been always met with. In business circles amongst the large
commercial firms of which China can now boast, it has come to be well
understood and believed in that a Celestial's word is as good as his
bond; that he does not depart dishonourably from an undertaking; but
amongst the high officials such trust has not been gained. China's word
has too often been broken. And here was this deputy-governor of Hatsu at
that very moment receiving David and Dick with every sign of deference,
though, to speak the truth, the man's ugly face was heavy with scowls
when his guests were not observing. Would he dare to attack the
foreigners who were about to eat his salt and partake of his
hospitality?

'My brother,' declared the Tartar officer, becoming wonderfully friendly
with the stranger, 'his Excellency Tsu-Hi will defend his guests if need
be with his life. But----'

'But, Yes----'

'But he has other duties. He goes the rounds two hours after sundown,
and repeats the visit once more before he goes to his repose. In his
absence----'

Chang grinned an expansive grin. This little Tartar was a man after his
own heart, and was proving a wonderful ally. He sat as immovable as a
statue for some few minutes, his eyes shut, reviewing every side of the
situation.

'No one knows of their arrival save these guards here,' he told himself,
'and, of course, the servants employed by his Excellency. Now if a mob
in the quarter of the city where his house is situated rises when he is
absent on the walls, and captures these foreign devils, how can his
Excellency be blamed? How can I be made to appear in the matter, when
there is this lusty Tartar to do the work for me. It shall be done. I
will proceed without delay.'

Meanwhile David and Dick had been received by the deputy-governor of the
city, and had been shown to their rooms, which were plainly but
beautifully furnished. Then, as the governor excused his immediate
absence on the plea of duty, the two lads called upon Jong to supply
them with refreshment 'Not like dis,' said the faithful fellow, as he
came into David's room bearing a steaming dish with him. 'Dis not
receiving guests as a mandarin or high officer should do. Not at all.
Not light. Him should stay and give a feast dat takes much time eating.
He should put allee de best dat he have before de foleigners. He should
bow allee de time, and ask what next he can do. Not go off as if he hate
de sight of white men.'

'Can't say I took a violent fancy to the fellow myself,' laughed Dick,
who ate as if he were as hungry as a hunter. 'Can't say the beggar was
over handsome either. Seemed to wear a scowl on his face most of the
time, as if he particularly disliked foreign devils. But that don't make
any difference to a fellow's appetite, do it? Pass along that dish
again, David. My! Jong's a cook in a hundred.'

The Chinaman grinned appreciatively, while David scarcely seemed to have
heard his friend. His brow was furrowed; he paused long and often
between the mouthfuls.

'Bothering again. Letting trouble come along and trouble you before it's
time to trouble?' laughed Dick. 'Here, David, I give you fair warning.
This is my second go. If you're not pretty slippy the dish'll be empty.
You'll be hungry when you go to your bed.'

'I shall sit up to-night.'

'What! sit up! Watch in the house of the governor of Hatsu? David,
you're a bit mad I'm beginning to think,' cried Dick, still eating
heartily and quizzing his comrade. 'But, seriously,' he went on,
'where's the need? The jolly old fellow didn't wear the most handsome of
faces, as I've admitted; but then he's our host. Twang Chun--beg his
pardon, his Excellency--seems to be the kind of boy it would be bad
practice to fall foul of. Supposing this governor fellow, what's his
name?----'

'Tsu-Hi, deputy-governor, I understand.'

'Don't mind what sort o' governor he is any way,' laughed Dick, who was
feeling wonderfully jolly and facetious. 'Let's call him Hi for short.
This Hi, we'll suppose, hates foreign devils like poison; but there's
always Twang Chun, ain't there? There's always this jolly old boy Twang,
who, we're told, is ready to wring the neck of any fellow who doesn't
offer us hospitality. _Bien!_ as Alphonse says. There we are, safe as
houses.'

'Just so,' agreed David, curtly. 'All the same, I shall watch to-night.
I've got a kind of feeling that something may happen.'

'Indigestion!' cried Dick. 'Better let me dose you, my boy. One of those
pills of the Professor's'll make you feel as right as a hay-stack--A1,
in fact. A good sleep'll put you right by morning.'

But though David enjoyed his friend's chaff, and indeed laughed heartily
at his last suggestion, he shook his head when invited to turn in. Why,
he could not explain. But the fact remained, indigestion or no
indigestion, the lad was filled with a sense of insecurity. Perhaps it
was the roughness of the Tartar under-officer, perhaps it was the sounds
of brawling which had come lately to his ear--who knows? It may have
been a genuine premonition. He saw Dick plump himself on the narrow
_kang_ in his room, and bade him good-night. Then he lay down on his
own, his eyes wide open and staring.

'Suppose it must be indigestion,' he said after a while, 'or is it the
face of this Tsu-Hi? I didn't like him. I swear I caught him scowling
and muttering.'

As is so often the case with those who lie awake in the silence, David's
busy brain was occupied with a vast number of things--matters some of
little moment, passed and done with, others of greater interest, his own
aims and ambitions in this country of China. He wondered what his
stepmother was doing, and sighed when he thought of how things might
have been had she been a different woman. Then his mind branched off to
the sturdy sergeant of police who had lodged him, to his pleasant little
wife, and to Mr. Jones, staunchest of friends and solicitors. Then he
gave his thoughts to the matter always uppermost in his mind, the
finding of his father's papers; perhaps the discovery of some evidence
which would prove or disprove his death. Perhaps even an agreeable
surprise was awaiting him. Stranger things had occurred before. It might
be even that Edward Harbor was still living. Ah! there was a noise of
shouting out in the street. David rose and went to the window. Gently
pushing back the wooden frame, with its oiled-paper covering in lieu of
glass, he stood in the moonlight listening.

'Nothing,' he told himself. 'Some brawlers, perhaps. I suppose even in
this country of placid people, there are men who return late to their
houses, and who make a noise in doing so. I'll leave 'em to it.'

He lay down once more, his head on his hands, and gave himself again to
thinking. It seemed but a minute later when he awoke with a start, for
he had been sleeping. There were men in the room, though none of them
uttered so much as a syllable. Four or more gripped his hands and feet,
while another thrust something between his teeth with decided roughness.
Then David pulled himself together; he strained every muscle to throw
off his silent attackers. He struggled, kicking one man to the end of
the room, and causing the _kang_ to topple over; but, in spite of his
strength and the rage which added to it, he was helpless. The men held
him as if he were in a vice. In a trice he felt ropes being tied about
his hands and feet, while one of the attackers secured the gag in its
place with a strip of linen, thereby almost smothering our hero. A
minute later he was being carried from the room, and before he could
realise what was happening, was tossed like a bundle into what was
evidently a basket. And then how he kicked! He made the basket roll on
its side with his efforts, while he himself was pitched half out of it;
but a moment later he was hustled into the depths again, while something
pricked his chest, causing him a twinge of pain.

'Lie still, fool,' he heard in English, though the man who spoke was
decidedly a foreigner. 'Lie still, else will I plunge the blade home
here and now. A dog of an Englishman deserves no mercy.'

Bewildered and utterly confused by all that had happened, and not a
little exhausted after his efforts, David lay still as he was ordered,
and presently the silent band lifted the basket and bore it between
them. A gust of cool air came through the wicker, while David fancied he
could see stars overhead. Or was it the light of the moon? He could not
be certain, for a length of cotton matting had been thrown over the
basket. He found himself counting the almost noiseless footfalls of his
bearers, then he eagerly strained his ears to catch the sound of
rescuers; but none came. The street was silent, silent but for the
slither of the padded soles of the attackers, silent save for that and
the almost soundless tread of others following bearing a similar burden.

'That fellow Tsu-Hi is responsible for this, I suppose,' groaned David,
breathing as deeply as he could. 'But what is his object, and how is it
that they took us unawares?'

Bitterly did he blame himself for his carelessness in falling asleep;
for he realised now with a pang of remorse that that was what had
happened.

'Made a whole heap of fine resolutions,' he growled beneath his breath,
'and then was weak enough to break them. I deserve to be trapped. But
why? What can be the meaning of this sudden attack?'

Well might he ask the question, for there must be some reason. David had
no knowledge of that rascal Chang, hired with Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill's
money. He had no idea that the sinister individual who had married his
stepmother was even then awaiting news from the Chinaman he had engaged
to do his bidding, and that, with a cunning which matched that of the
Celestial, Ebenezer had arranged that anything might be done if only
David Harbor could be silenced and finished--anything at all. Yet, when
his wife broached the subject, as she did with great regularity, once at
least every day, he would smile and answer her in a manner all his own.
It was always his habit to take up a commanding position on the
hearth-rug, and there, with a preliminary blast of his gigantic and
exceedingly red nasal organ, to hold forth with a pomposity which suited
him not at all.

'Violence, my dear! Violence to be offered! Why do you harp so
constantly on such a matter? Of course there will be no violence. This
man Chang goes in search of the will, not of the young pup you have the
misfortune to own as a stepson. Don't be alarmed; no harm will come to
him through Chang.'

But, once his wife's back was turned, the ruffian would tell himself
with a chuckle that if anything did actually happen to David, why, it
would be at the hands of some others hired by the rascal he had sent to
China.

'She'll never, know,' he said. 'As for me, I'd rather hear he was dead
than have the actual will sent to me; for that young pup is capable of
mischief. I'll not be comfortable till he's dead.'

Seeing that David was ignorant of Chang's existence, what else could he
put this sudden attack down to? Tsu-Hi's cunning and enmity? Why? Then
to what? For in these days of slowly gathering enlightenment a European
can travel in China with some degree of safety, particularly when armed
with a letter to the powerful governor of a province. True, there are
sudden fanatical attacks; but then, he reflected, in such cases there is
always a cause. Where was there a cause here? where the smallest excuse
for this violence?

However, no amount of wondering helped him. His indignation merely made
his breath come faster, and seeing that breathing was already a matter
of difficulty, he soon lay quiet at the bottom of the basket, listening
dully to the footsteps of his bearers; and then he felt that he was
being carried up some stairs. A chilly sensation came to him, while the
faint light flickering in through the wicker was cut off entirely. More
stairs were mounted, the basket being borne at an angle that sent David
into a heap at the lower end. Then the bearers went through a doorway.
Of that he was sure, for he heard the creak of the hinges and the rattle
of bolts. An instant later the basket was tossed to the ground with as
much ceremony, or lack of ceremony, as would have been devoted to a bale
of clothes.

'Bring him out,' he heard in guttural Chinese. 'Now cut his bonds; fetch
the light hither.'

David was rolled out of the basket, jerked to his feet, and then
relieved of his bonds, while the gag was dragged from between his teeth.
It was a welcome relief. He breathed easily for the first time for some
minutes.

'Now,' said the same voice, but in broken English this time, 'you see
me, no doubt. You are David Harbor.'

'Right,' nodded our hero.

'I am Chang; I helped to kill your father.'

'And will probably kill me,' answered David, somewhat bewildered, and
inclined to look upon this fellow as a madman.

'You are right. To-morrow evening you will be beheaded. I myself shall
carry out the sentence.'

'But why?' asked David, cringing slightly, for the ordeal was trying.
Indeed, the man standing over him, with the lamp shining in his face,
looked a most heartless villain.

'Why?' he repeated, mocking our hero. 'The answer is simple. David
Harbor has become a nuisance. There is a man of the name of Ebenezer
Clayhill; he does not love David Harbor.'

So there it was. Even in his lowest estimation of the man who had
married his stepmother, David could not imagine such a depth of
villainy. But this fellow Chang was in earnest. He was undoubtedly
speaking the truth. What answer could our hero give to him? He merely
bowed his head, while a shiver of apprehension passed through him. Then
he pulled himself together and faced the ruffian.

'I hear you,' he said. 'What then?'

'For you, nothing; for me, reward.'

The Chinaman swung round on his heel, gave a swift order, and strode out
of the place. Then one by one the bearers followed. The door was banged
to, the bolts shot home, and David was left alone, alone in his prison,
with the moon staring in at him through a window high up in a stone
wall, staring in inquisitively as if to ask how this young fellow would
face the coming ordeal.

'So it is like that? Ebenezer's hatred of me reaches even to Hatsu,'
thought our hero. 'He has hired this rascal to kill me, and it looks as
if the man would succeed. So he will if I don't move a little. But I'm
not dead by a long way yet; I've still got a kick or two left in me.'



CHAPTER XIII

In a Chinese Prison


If Chang, the man who had so unexpectedly and suddenly led an attack
upon the little party journeying via Hatsu to interview Twang Chun, the
governor of the province, imagined that he had left David in a condition
of terror at the thought of the execution he had threatened for the
evening of the morrow, he was very much mistaken, and showed therefore
that he knew his prisoner very little indeed; for David was not the one
to be long down-hearted. It was not in his nature to give in without a
serious struggle. No sooner had the door of his prison been banged and
barred, than his spirits rose wonderfully, while he set about seeking
for a remedy to enable him to beat his enemies. And the first thing that
caused him joy was a discovery he made within a couple of minutes.

'The fools!' he whispered to himself, chuckling. 'The fools! They took
me because I was idiot enough to fall asleep, but they forgot to search
my pockets. Why, here is my magazine shooter, and here the letters I was
carrying. George! Mr. Chang, I shall have something to say when the time
for execution comes along; but I ain't going to wait for it if I can
help; let's have a look at this cage they've put me in.'

It was a long, narrow cell, with walls formed of hewn blocks of hard
stone, and lit by a range of narrow windows placed close to the ceiling.
The openings themselves were innocent of glass, or of the Chinese
equivalent, namely, oiled paper. Otherwise, the floor was of stone, the
ceiling of a dusky white, while, save for himself and the basket in
which he had been carried to the place, there was not another thing
present. All was in darkness, except a wide stretch of floor on which
the moonbeams played, as they crept up one of the walls till the bright
patch of light ended at an abrupt edge, a faithful _silhouette_ of the
range of windows above placed on the outside wall of the prison.

'Door as safe as houses; heard the bolts shot home,' David told himself.
'Then I've got to reach those windows. Should say they're a good twelve
feet from the floor; perhaps the height's even greater. Couldn't reach
'em I fancy, even with a big leap. However, I'll try; nothing like
trying.'

There was nothing like keeping up his pluck either, which David did with
a vengeance. He was even smiling as he stared up at the range of
windows, with their edges so unnaturally abrupt as the moonbeams
streamed past them, while one hand went every now and again to the
depths of the secret pocket in which his magazine pistol was lying. Then
he walked over to the wall and felt the surface with his fingers.

'One could get a grip with these cotton-padded soles, I should say.
I'll try a running jump and see where it will land me.'

He went back to the opposite wall, and squeezed hard against it; then he
sprang forward, and leaping at the far wall endeavoured to run up it. He
succeeded in gaining a point within two feet of the windows, or perhaps
it was less. Then he tried again and again till he was exhausted.

'No good; can't do it,' he told himself. 'I shall have to think of
something else.'

He sat down on the basket and cudgelled his brains, but the more he
thought and worried, the longer he stared at the range of windows, the
more impossible the task seemed. Then he swung round swiftly. There was
a clatter outside the door, the bolts were being pushed back from their
sockets. A moment or two later the hinges creaked, while the door was
thrown open. A coolie entered at once, while a second held a lamp behind
him. There were half a dozen more just outside in a dimly lit passage,
while in their midst stood none other than the Tartar under-officer.
David rubbed his eyes, and wondered where he had seen the fellow before.
Then hearing him speak, he remembered.

'Put the food and water down,' he commanded, 'and leave. It is time that
we were all in our beds. Do not go near the foreign devil. There is
never any saying when he and his may do injury to one of our people.'

He eyed his prisoner with none too friendly a glance, and hurried the
coolie from the room. David heard the bolts shot to again, and the faint
slither of departing feet. Then he rose to his feet with flushed face
and a new hope in his heart. Not a second thought did he give to the
food and water, for who could say that it was not poisoned? If Ebenezer
Clayhill could hire a ruffian to come all that way to molest him
anything might be expected. No, the food and drink did not attract him.
Our hero was roused by the help which the lamp had brought him; for it
had shone on the basket on which he was seated, and in a flash David
realised that the affair was not merely a flimsy collection of wicker,
but a well-made basket of considerable length, strengthened with pieces
of bamboo, which, although light, kept the whole in shape, and gave it
considerable power to resist weights placed within it. He picked it up
with an effort, and running his fingers along it, came upon the holes
left for the bamboo runners with which it was hoisted on the bearers'
shoulders. Then, with the utmost care, and in deadly silence, he propped
it up on end against the wall, at the summit of which ran the range of
windows. Would it reach high enough? David stepped back, and cast an
anxious eye upward.

'Might,' he said, with a doubtful shake of his head. 'Might not; anyway,
I'm going to reach those windows.'

He gathered his somewhat ample allowance of Chinese garment about his
knees so as to free his legs, and began to clamber upward; and presently
he had reached the summit. To stand there and balance himself on the end
was no easy matter, and as if to persuade him of that fact the basket
suddenly canted, bringing itself and our hero with a crash to the
ground. Instantly his hand went to his pistol, while he crouched over
the fallen basket, endeavouring to regain his breath, for the jar of the
fall had driven it out of his body. But there was not a sound from the
passage; not a sound from outside his prison. Not a foot stirred; no
alarm was given.

'Shows I'm in an out-of-the-way place, for that basket made no end of a
clatter. When once beat, try again. Don't give up in a hurry.'

He propped up the basket again, but this time with greater care, and
swarmed up it, finding little difficulty in that part of the task, for
it was almost as easy as climbing a ladder, there being numerous gaps
affording a foothold in the wicker. Then he steadily raised himself to
his full height, and stretched his arms above his head. The window was
within two feet of his fingers.

'And has to be reached. Can't get much of a spring here,' he thought,
'but it's worth trying. I'll chance the fall, for if I miss, there's a
good chance of coming down standing.'

With a sharp kick he leaped at the window, and actually contrived to
grip the edge with the fingers of one hand. But they slid off instantly,
and within a second he was back on the floor of his prison, not so
shaken or jarred on this occasion, but hot and desperate, exasperated at
his want of good fortune. But as we have had occasion to remark before,
David was nothing if not determined. It was that very characteristic in
the lad which troubled his stepmother, and which had, no doubt, carried
him safely and successfully through many an undertaking. He propped the
basket into place again, ascending with all speed and caution, and
drawing in a long breath, made a huge spring at the window. On this
occasion the fingers of both hands obtained a grip of the edge, and
retained it. He hung in mid-air, flattened against the wall of his
prison, listening to the basket as it slid sideways, and finally came
with a crash to the floor. Then he pulled himself up, flung one arm
round a pillar dividing the window, and soon had himself hoisted higher.
After that it was easy enough to squeeze his body through the narrow
opening, and to lie there securely while he regained his breath.

'And what now?' he asked himself, when he was again ready for further
exertion. 'Outside here there's nothing that's very promising. We came
up stairs. That is to say, I recollect that my bearers carried me up a
flight before entering the prison. That makes the drop below me pretty
big, bigger than I'm anxious to tackle. But there's nothing else.'

It did appear as if there were no other alternative, for as he cast his
eyes downwards David could detect nothing that offered a foothold below
him. The smooth stone wall descended sheer to the street, which ran
along under the bright moonbeams some thirty or more feet under the
window. It was not an impossible drop. On the other hand, it was none
too easy, and might very well result in a sprained ankle, or something
equally hampering and disagreeable. Then David did the wisest thing
under the circumstances. Bearing in mind the old motto, perhaps, 'look
before you leap,' he cast his eyes in all directions, first in front and
then behind him, without obtaining any encouragement, and then up over
his head. Ah! He could have shouted: the roof was within a few inches of
his hand, a roof composed of large, flat tiles, with a deep channel at
each side, and sloping so gradually that to walk upon it should be easy.
He reached up a hand, gripped the edge of the roof, and hoisted himself
cautiously upon it. Then he lay down flat, and rolled himself slowly
upward. For there was something to alarm him. A man was standing out in
the moon-lit road, and was gesticulating violently.

'Seen me I'm afraid,' thought David. 'Wants to make sure before he kicks
up a ruction; but they don't have me without a little trouble. Out here
on this roof I ought to be able to put up a fight that'll make them
careful. Bother that chap! He must have been hiding in the deep shadow
over yonder, and have watched me as I clambered out of the window.'

'Misser Davie, Misser Davie.'

The words came to him as if in a nightmare. David could not believe that
he had actually heard them. He put his fingers to his ears and rubbed
them vigorously. But he had no sooner removed them than the words came
again, 'Misser Davie, Misser Davie.'

'Awfully queer,' he thought, mopping his forehead with the tail end of a
voluminous sleeve, 'I could have sworn that that----'

'Misser Davie, am dat youself, Misser Davie?'

It was undoubtedly some one calling him, and that some one was the man
down below in the street. The figure gesticulated even more violently,
while the voice was raised to a higher pitch.

'Am dat youself, Misser Davie? Dis Jong, John Jong, de China boy, what's
you sarvint.'

It set David's heart beating like a sledge hammer. He slid at once to
the very edge of the roof and stared over.

'Jong,' he called. 'That you? What's all this business about?'

'Not know't all, Misser. Me asleep, den hear a noise, and hide under de
_kang_. Men come into de place and look for me. Den hear dem going away
carryin' baskets.'

'Carrying me, Jong. I was a prisoner till a moment ago. I've just crept
out of the cell in which they placed me.'

'Where Misser Dick, den?' asked Jong, promptly.

'Dick? Isn't he with you?'

David asked the question anxiously, for the safety of his friend had
given him cause for great anxiety, even in spite of his own sad
condition. He had not seen that second basket borne along behind him,
and had no idea that his chum Dick was also a prisoner. 'Where is he?'
he demanded eagerly.

'Not know; but Jong follow de fellers, and see dem carry you both in
dere in de baskets. Den him wait here to see what happening. Not know
what to do, Misser Davie. If me go back to de palace, den Tsu-Hi take
me.'

David whistled in a low key. This was indeed a facer, though, to tell
the truth, the presence of Jong in the street below was a wonderful
fillip to both courage and spirits. But Dick; what was he to do about
his friend?

'Can't leave him all alone, that's certain,' he told himself without the
least hesitation. 'Supposing I go on a tour of inspection, for it seems
to me that there is no one watching or listening. Look here, Jong,' he
called out gently, 'stay where you are and watch. I'm going to find Mr.
Dick, if it's possible.'

Promptly he crept away over the roof, his feet making not so much as a
sound as he went, for his native shoes were as soft as bedroom slippers.
Then he came to a sudden halt. David's old characteristic asserted
itself. His desire to be practical, to have a plan always where such was
possible, came to the fore, and he lay flat again cogitating, trying to
decide how to proceed.

'No use ranging round and round aimlessly,' he told himself. 'Where's
Dick most likely to be kept a prisoner? That's the question. Where's he
been put? If only I can find the cell I'll manage somehow to get at
him.'

A couple of minutes later he was sidling slowly again to the very edge
of the roof, for higher up there was no opening. The slight slope of the
big tiles led to a wall some five feet in height, rising abruptly at the
highest edge of the roof, and capped itself by a second roof of huge,
artistic tiles, which overhung their support far more than was the case
down below. This second part went steeply upward to the summit, where
the ridge was capped with a number of ludicrous and marvellously wrought
dragons. It was a dead end as it were, not only to the building in that
part, but also to David's hopes in that direction. Obviously there was
nothing to be done there, and equally obviously the wall below him,
through which he had contrived to squeeze by way of the window offered
something far more likely. For was it not in the bounds of possibility
that the range of windows was continued, and, if so, why should Dick not
be held a prisoner in a cell into which one of the openings gave light
and air?

'Hist! Jong! are you still there?'

The figure of the Chinaman steeped out into the white road, silhouetted
blackly against it, and fore-shortened from the aspect from which our
hero observed him.

'Misser Davie, here John Jong.'

'I may want a rope; got one?'

'Find him easy; I go now to look. Be back and hide along here till you
want me.'

The dark figure slid again into the dense shadow in the far edge of the
road, and though David stared and stared into it, not a movement could
he discern, not a sound did he catch. Not a sound? Then what was that?
Surely voices? Yes, without shadow of doubt. He kneeled up to listen,
and then, as if he had forgotten all thought of the windows, one of
which, if they did indeed exist, might give access to Dick, he went
crawling off up the slope to the erection above it. And arrived there he
hastened along the wall till he came to the edge, when he slipped round
the corner. About ten feet away there was a large gap in this other side
of the building, and a soft light was streaming from it. Voices were
also issuing into the night air. David crawled forward without a
moment's hesitation, halted when close to the gap, which was, as a
matter of fact, another large window, and craned his neck round the
edge. Down below him, twenty feet perhaps, there were a number of
Chinese, and amongst them the rascally Tartar under-officer who had
admitted them to the city. The men were stretched lazily on a long
_kang_, which did service as bed for all of them, and were discussing
matters idly. David listened for a while, then, creeping past the
opening, hastened to a second of equal size, and from which also a ray
of light issued. A glance into the place caused him suddenly to duck his
head and retreat a little.

'Chang, Chang, of all people, eating his supper, and writing as he does
so. If only I dared.'

If only he had none others to think of, save himself, David could have
shot the man where he sat, though such an act would have gone hard
against his conscience and his ideas of what was proper and fair play.
But there was Dick to be considered, and Dick was somewhere in the
building.

'Mustn't wait,' he told himself, 'no good to be obtained by staring down
at that fellow. Chang was the name he gave himself. I shall remember,
and one of these days I shall hope to meet him under different
circumstances. Now for those other windows.'

He slipped back to his old position, crawled to the edge of the roof on
to which he had at first climbed, and hung his head over it. Yes, there
was a long row of windows, all in darkness, any of which might give
access to the cell in which his comrade was a prisoner.

'Can't remember which I came from myself,' he groaned. 'But I'll try the
lot of them. First thing is to get down, then I'll make my way from one
to the other.'

To an active lad the task was nothing out of the ordinary, and in a
little while David was seated on the edge of one at the far corner of
the building. He peered at once into the interior, and, with the aid of
the moon's rays, was able to make out the opposite wall and the actual
dimensions of the place. It appeared to be empty, but the dark shadow
directly beneath him might contain someone. He called Dick's name
gently, repeating it till he was sure that he could not be there.

'Even if he were asleep he'd hear that,' he told himself. 'But even
Dick, the happy-go-lucky Dick, wouldn't be asleep now. This business
would be far too upsetting for any man. I'll get along to the next. Ah!
not there. That's the crib from which I so lately scrambled.'

There was no doubt on the last question, for the moonbeams played on the
platter of food and the jar of water which had been brought to him, and
he realised that this was indeed the cell he had so lately vacated, for
the two objects were in precisely the same position in which he had seen
them placed. More than that, the edge of the huge basket which had
contained his own perspiring and wriggling body was peeping out of the
shadow. At once he went crawling on again, peeping into four other
cells, only to find each one tenantless. Then a gentle hail from below
attracted his attention.

'Masser Davie, I'se got a rope; what den?'

Jong's strange figure stood outlined on the white road again, his face
as clearly seen as in broad daylight, so powerfully did the moon play
upon it.

'I found de rope along de road here, and borrowed him for a little. You
found de oder one? You found Masser Dick?'

There was a note of anxiety in the faithful celestial's voice, and a
responding note in that of David's. For his lack of success was making
him feel desperate. Supposing he could not find his chum? Could he leave
the place and desert him entirely? Never.

'I'm game to do something desperate,' he breathed. 'If I don't find him
in this place I'll slip along to the palace where we were given
quarters, and tackle Tsu-Hi. The rascal must have been an accomplice in
this attack, and with him under my pistol I could do a great deal, a
very great deal I imagine.'

He sat still for a little while, running the plan over in his head. And
desperate as it undoubtedly was, he decided then and there that if he
failed in his quest for Dick he would carry the idea out. It should be
neck or nothing. It should be Tsu-Hi's life or Dick's. Then another
inspiration floated across his mind.

'Chang, why not?' he asked himself. 'If he has the power to manage a
thing like this, he will have further power. With a pistol to his head
he would undo what he has already managed to bring about. But it
wouldn't be quite as good as the deputy-governor. What's that, Jong?'

'You sit still dere while I throw up de rope. Now, catch him.'

A coil left the Chinaman's hand, and thrown with dexterity whizzed just
in front of David. He caught it with ease, and at once slipped it about
his shoulders.

'Remain there,' he said. 'I'm going on looking for Mr. Dick.'

'Den you take heap of care. Dere's a light a little farder along de
wall.'

Jong's arms slid out and his finger pointed.

Craning his neck and stretching out from the wall as far as possible
David thought he could detect a beam of light coming from a window a
little farther along. But he was not sure, for the moon was so strong
and clear that it stifled every other ray of light, just as the sun's
rays quench a fire. However, Jong could see, and guided by him he
scrambled to the roof again, crawled along it, and then leaned over.

'A light sure enough. Better investigate--here goes.'

He was over the edge in a twinkling, and since greater caution was
needful here, he dropped the toes of his padded shoes very gently on the
framing of the window. Then getting a grip of the upper edge he stooped
and peeped into the interior. A paper lantern hung from the ceiling and
showed him a bare room, with the same stone walls. But in the far
corner there was a narrow _kang_ on which a man was seated. He raised
his head as David looked in, appearing to have heard a sound. And the
brief glimpse our hero obtained told him that this was the Tartar
under-officer, the officious individual with whom he had already come in
contact.

'Evidently got tired of the others and come to bed. Hallo! here comes
another of them.'

Right opposite him was the doorway, the door being half open, and
through this stepped the same man who had brought the jar of water and
the platter of food. A bunch of keys jangled at his girdle, while the
man yawned widely.

'Prisoners safe,' he said. 'I shall now go to my rest.'

'One moment. You have fed them? Our friend who came to the city to warn
us gave strict orders to that effect.'

The gaoler nodded sleepily. 'They are fed,' he answered surlily. 'The
one nearly an hour ago, the second who is placed next to you this very
minute. Now I go to take food and drink to the principal apartment. The
stranger of whom you speak, and who indeed seems to be of the greatest
importance, tells me that his Excellency comes to talk with him.'

'S-s-she! not a word more. Forget that, friend,' said the Tartar,
eagerly, his voice hardly raised above a whisper. 'Remember that his
highness Tsu-Hi is ignorant as yet of these matters. He goes the rounds
on the walls. When he returns to the palace and discovers that his
guests are gone he will raise an uproar. He will make good his face for
the enquiries which must certainly follow. Mention not the name of the
deputy-governor in this affair if you wish to live longer. There, go; I
too am sleepy. But wait. You said his Excellency--er--this guest comes
now to speak with our friend?'

'He comes now; he is expected any moment.'

'Then I will have a word with him. He must know that I too have had a
share in this business. Perhaps it will fall out that I shall regain the
post which I lost but lately. Ah! foreign devils were the cause of my
undoing. Willingly will I slay all with whom I come in contact.'

'The ruffian! That's the sort of fellow I've got to deal with, is it?'
muttered David, who had listened eagerly, and, thanks to his own
quickness and keenness to learn the language, had managed to pick up the
gist of the conversation. 'So Chang and the deputy-governor are hand in
glove in this affair, and the deputy seeks to throw dust in the eyes of
the authorities, in other words to make his face good, as is the saying
in this queer country. Why! If this isn't my opportunity! Supposing I
find Dick and hoist him out, we are still in a walled city. We've still
to get clear away, and very little chance of doing that as matters are.
If this isn't the very thing I've been wanting.'

He shrank back as the gaoler left the room, lurching sleepily, and
watched the Tartar as he too stepped towards the door. A moment later
the man was gone, leaving the room empty.

'My turn now. Here goes to clear up the whole business.'

With reckless courage, and yet without neglecting his usual caution,
David first peered into every corner of the room. Then he rapidly made
fast his rope to the centre pillar of the window, waved to Jong in the
deep shadow beyond, and at once slipped inside the building. A second
later he was sliding down to the floor of the place in which the Tartar
had been sitting.



CHAPTER XIV

Tsu-Hi is Astonished


For perhaps one whole minute David Harbor stood perfectly still, once he
had slid down the rope from the window above and had gained the floor of
the room in which he had seen the Tartar under-officer. He leaned
forward, still gripping the cord, listening intently for any sounds
there might be, and fancied as he did so that he could hear the
soft-footed slither of some one in the passage.

'That fellow going along to interview Chang and the deputy-governor.
Going to put in a word for himself,' muttered David. 'In that case he
should be absent sufficiently long to let me take a look round. Let me
see. Dick was in the next cell. Right! I'll make straight away for him.'

He crept across the stone-flagged floor, making direct for the doorway,
and thrust his head round the edge so as to obtain a good view of the
passage. It was empty as far as he could see. Almost directly overhead a
huge paper lantern swung in the breeze, emitting a soft light, and
casting its rays on either side. It was possible, in fact, to see as far
as the end of the passage in one direction, where it evidently turned
abruptly to the left and swept round the other side of the building. In
the opposite direction shadow and gloom obscured the passage, but it
made little difference to our hero.

'Runs along past all the cells into which I have already looked,' he
told himself. 'I don't need to take any notice of it. Now for the one in
which Dick is imprisoned. It ought to be just here on my right. No harm
in searching for him at once. There doesn't seem to be a soul about this
part of the building.'

He stepped into the passage promptly, and crept cautiously towards the
bend where it turned along the other face of the prison. At the very
corner there was a door, and the sight set his heart fluttering. But he
did not venture to touch the bolts before taking the precaution to look
along the gallery after it had turned. He craned his head round the
corner, caught a view of a second elaborately painted lantern swaying
like the first, for if this building lacked many comforts it was at
least well-ventilated. The winds of heaven had free access to the
interior by way of the unglazed windows, and gusts came sweeping down
the gallery, beautifully cooling gusts which set the lanterns swinging
slowly, twisting them upon the plaited ropes by which they were
suspended, till they twirled this way and that, presenting a most
picturesque appearance. But there were other things to remark on. This
second lamp was hung some twenty paces along the gallery, at the foot of
a flight of stone steps, by which, no doubt, the gaoler and the Tartar
soldier had disappeared. David even noticed that the centre of each step
was badly worn, probably with the coming and going of many people,
proving either that the prison was of ancient construction, as was
extremely probable, or that the stone was of a soft nature and readily
worn. But here again was food only for passing interest. A man situated
as he was does not find time for delaying, when his life and that of his
friend are in the balance. The door just behind him had far more
attractions for David, and at once he turned to it, casting his eye over
the strong bolts with which it was secured.

'Done!' he groaned. 'The gaoler has the keys. How on earth am I to
effect an entry?'

Then he suddenly bethought him of the window by which he had made good
his own escape. Why should he not climb outside again, and creeping
along the roof gain entrance to Dick's cell by way of the window? He
turned to retrace his steps, and then stepping swiftly to the door he
examined the lock. A second's inspection proved to him that the bolt was
not shot. It was easy to make sure of that matter, for the huge, clumsy
affair, the work of centuries before perhaps, was placed so far from the
catch into which it should glide that one could see at once that it was
not in order.

'Good! Then there are only the bolts shot by hand. This lock seems to be
out of order.'

Up went his hand to the topmost bolt, and very slowly he drew it out of
its socket, shivering lest the grating which was inevitable with such a
rusty affair should be heard along the passage. Then he suddenly leaped
round the corner of the gallery, for his ears had detected a sound. It
was the slip, slip, slip of a native footstep, the slither of a
cotton-padded sole coming down the flight of stone steps. The
perspiration started to David's forehead, his heart beat against his
ribs as if it were a sledge hammer, while the blows dinned into his ears
till he felt deafened. And his eyes almost bulged from their sockets as
he stared in the direction from which the sounds were coming. For though
only the legs of the oncomer were as yet visible, they were sufficiently
distinctive. The high boots, with their thick, white soles, could belong
only to the Tartar under-officer. The colour of the garment coming into
view was the same as that worn by the soldier, while, as the man's
girdle came within David's vision, he saw the hilt of his sabre, heard
the rattle of the scabbard as it dragged on the steps, and then caught a
glimpse of the revolver which the ruffian carried. Yes, of the revolver,
for if China to-day still lags behind western nations in much which
appertains to learning and commerce and a host of other matters, there
have been outside influences at work giving her subtle advice, and
urging her to arm her soldiery not as before, with swords and lances and
useless bows and arrows, but with modern rifles, with revolvers, and
with the latest cannon. In that particular at least the efforts of some
western nation have been successful. Careless of those of her own colour
who in days to come, days perhaps very close at hand, may find
themselves arrayed against the celestial nation, they have forced a
market here for the surplus output of their arsenals, and have gathered
Chinese gold for modern weapons which may well be employed to slay
their own people. But here was only a single illustration. David had
remarked when entering this walled city of Hatsu upon the modern rifles
of the Tartar-guard. His sharp eyes had detected the weapon carried by
their under-officer. And here it was again, proof positive that the man
who was descending the last few steps was this very individual, than
whom he would have rather encountered any one. What was he to do? Rush
back into the cell and clamber up the dangling rope?

'No,' he told himself promptly, though he retraced his steps at once and
darted into the cell. 'There's no time for that. He'd catch me half-way
up, and besides, even if he didn't I couldn't get the rope hauled out of
sight before he entered. I might slip along the passage, but I should be
no better off, for still he would see the rope. I'll chance a meeting.'

As if it were the old days at school, and he were about to engage in a
tussle with the gloves on, he gripped at the baggy sleeves which were
such a constant nuisance to him, and folded them up near his shoulders,
leaving his arms exposed. Then he stood stiffly upright behind the
half-closed door to listen, holding his breath, trying vainly to still
the beating of his heart. Suddenly as the Tartar's steps were heard
outside the cell, David became as calm as he had ever been in his life
before; for after all, he was by no means different from many men of the
same temperament as himself. To worry before trouble came along, as Dick
was so fond of saying, was only natural to our hero. He was by instinct
cautious and careful, and as is the case with many of similar
disposition, there was always a tendency to fluster and unusual
excitement prior to a struggle. David had been all of a tremble before
now, although he had acquitted himself right well when blows were
actually falling. And the same thing had happened here. Like the man who
enters an action with his knees knocking, and who readily admits that he
is nervous, David had prepared for this inevitable meeting with a
fast-beating heart, with trembling limbs, and with a forehead from which
the moisture was dripping. One who did not know him might almost have
accused him of cowardice. But now that the struggle was about to begin
he was a different individual. His eyes were bright, his mouth fast
closed, and his muscles braced and ready. Not the smallest sound escaped
his attention. He heard the Tartar enter the cell, then saw his fingers
close on the door and caught the creak of the rusting hinges. Then he
stepped forward.

'Silence!' he commanded sternly, placing his back against the door and
pushing it to with a bang. 'Not a word, or I will kill you.'

Utter astonishment was written on the man's face; the soft rays of the
swaying lantern falling on his features showed that he was entirely
taken aback. The corners of his mouth drooped suddenly, his eyes started
forward, while his fingers clutched at his clothing. But it was only for
a moment. An apparently unarmed man stood before him, the youth whom he
had so lately helped to capture. Promptly his hand sought his revolver.

'Dog! It is you, then? You are my prisoner.'

The revolver was more than half out of the girdle by now, and in another
second would be at David's head; but the latter was watching the Tartar
like a cat. His sharp eyes caught every movement, and at once, with a
swift movement, he was on the man. His right arm went back quickly, and
then jerked out like a flash, the fist striking the Tartar hard and full
between the eyes. The result of this telling blow, so far as the Chinese
rascal was concerned, was disastrous. He was knocked clear from his
feet, for the youth who had struck was no chicken. David had weight and
strength behind his arm, and, moreover, a desperate man finds added
strength on such occasions. The blow, in fact, tossed the Tartar
backward, causing him to perform a half sommersault, and to come to the
ground with an alarming crash, his head being the first portion of his
anatomy to come in contact with the stone flagging. And in a second
David was on him, gripping him by the neck.

[Illustration: "IN A SECOND DAVID WAS ON HIM"]

'Silence! Not a word,' he repeated, while his hand went to the man's
revolver and drew it from his girdle. But the Tartar did not wince when
the cold muzzle was thrust in his ear. He lay inert, his eyes closed, as
listless as a sleeping baby.

'Stunned! Knocked out of time. Not used to an Englishman's fist,' gasped
David. 'Let's make quite sure that he isn't foxing.'

He leaned over the man, and placed his ear close to his mouth. Yes, he
was breathing--breathing loudly. In fact there was considerable stertor.
David lifted a limp arm, and when he released it it fell back with a
hollow thud to the ground. He tilted back the eyelids, and though he had
but little knowledge of such matters, he could not help but remark that
the pupils were equally dilated. There was little doubt, in fact, that
the unfortunate but scheming and pugnacious Tartar was stunned by the
terrific blow which he had received. It was altogether a revelation to
the young fellow crouching beside him. He kneeled close by the man,
staring into his face and wondering. He could hardly believe that a
moment before he had been face to face with extreme danger and
difficulty, and that one sudden movement on his part, one strong blow,
had set aside the trouble.

'But has it? There are other people in the prison who will have to be
dealt with. There is Chang; there is Tsu-Hi, the dishonest
deputy-governor who has so far forgotten himself, and the honour to
which all decent-minded Chinamen cling in their belief that, come what
may, hospitality to a guest should never be abused. Yes, there is
Tsu-Hi, who has shown the utmost treachery.'

David told himself sternly that they must be dealt with. He stood up,
still with his eyes on the fallen Tartar. But he was not thinking of his
late enemy; he was thinking of the arch-schemer hired by the man in
England who should have been as a father to our hero. He was thinking
also of the difficulties still before him, of the opposition still to be
set aside before he and Dick and Jong could set foot outside the city.
Then his face became sterner than ever; the eyes were half-closed as he
stared at the Tartar. The scheme which he had first happened on when
clambering along the ledge of the windows came back to his mind with
redoubled force.

'Yes,' he said, 'they must be dealt with, those two men. First to
release Dick, and then we'll talk to them.'

But even now he did not venture out of the cell. He pulled the door open
quietly and peeped round into the passage, to find it deserted. There
was not so much as a sound, save the gentle rattle of the stiffened
paper streamers attached to the lantern swaying overhead.

'No one about. Goaler gone to bed, and the rest of them upstairs where I
saw them with the Tartar fellow who is lying stunned in here. But
supposing some one were to come along, I should be spotted in a minute.
I must have some disguise, I----'

His eyes swung round to the figure stretched on the floor, and for a
little while he stared at the fallen under-officer. A keen light came
into his eyes, and once more he closed the door of the compartment.
Then, swiftly and full of his purpose, he stripped the man of his
clothing.

'Just about my size,' he told himself. 'Anyway, I've got to get into his
things, whatever happens. Wish there was a glass here; but, as there
isn't, I must make the most of it. Ah, boots fit to a T. Cap ditto. This
big cloak fits only where it touches, so that don't matter. Now for the
gentleman himself. Won't he have a headache in the morning!'

Quickly he pulled off his own garments, coiled his pigtail up on top of
his head, and jammed the Tartar's cap on top of it. Then, having donned
all his garments, which were voluminous, to say the least of them, he
tied the frayed, silken girdle round his middle, attached the clanking
sabre, and pushed the revolver home. When he stood up he was by no means
a bad copy of the truculent individual who had first greeted him at the
entrance of the city.

'And now to get rid of him and my own clothes. Ah! I know. Into the bed
with him. Shy the clothing out of the window.'

He was not the one to waste time when the minutes were flying swiftly,
and when there might be an interruption at any moment. David bundled the
unconscious Tartar on to the _kang_, covered him with a faded quilt, and
tied his own discarded clothing into a bundle. A dexterous heave sent it
through the window, and if only he had known it, caused the faithful
Jong the greatest consternation.

'What dat?' he asked, standing back in the dense shadow which hid him.
'Something come plump from de window. Not likee de look of him at allee,
not at allee. Heart go plippee-plappee when ting like dat happen.
Suppose I go over and have a look.'

He was in the very act of stepping out on to the white highway, which
gleamed in the pure rays of the moon, when his sharp ears caught a
sound. Some one was treading the narrow path which ran beside the road;
some one was approaching. Jong lay flat in the shadow, hugging the wall,
and stared out into the open. Presently a man's figure hove in sight--a
man dressed in elaborate military costume, his flowing robes blowing
about his feet, the flat cap on his head surmounted by a wide button.
Nor did it want two glances at the stranger to disclose the fact that
this was Tsu-Hi, the deputy-governor of the walled city of Hatsu, an
official with absolute powers for the moment of life and death; one who,
discovering Jong where he lay, could, with one single nod, condemn him
to instant execution. No wonder, therefore, that the Chinaman shivered,
and squeezed his body still further into the shadow, wishing that the
ground might rise in a friendly manner and cover him. He scarcely dared
to breathe, while, so terrified was he, that his teeth almost chattered
together. Then, quite by accident, his hand touched the hilt of the
knife he carried in his belt. The sudden contact seemed to bring him
courage. Jong gripped the weapon and drew it, his eyes fixed all the
while on the figure of Tsu-Hi.

'He is alone; he is the cause of all this trouble,' he whispered. 'Let
him show that he has seen me and I will send him to join his ancestors;
yes, to join them with treachery in his heart.'

But the official made no sign. He came stepping down the path slowly, as
if deeply engaged with his thoughts. His hands were tucked into the
baggy sleeves he wore, while his eyes were dropped on to the roadway. He
passed the spot where Jong was secreted, advanced slowly to the steps
which led to the door of the prison, and lifted a hand to summon those
within. Jong heard the clang of a gong somewhere in the distance. And
David heard it. He was at that very moment about to slide back the last
of the two bolts that secured the door of the cell in which he imagined
Dick to be when the deep, musical note of the gong sounded down the
passage, coming from a spot somewhere above, at the top of the flight of
steps down which he had watched the Tartar descending. And then he heard
a sharp rapping in the opposite direction.

'A visitor; perhaps Tsu-Hi,' he thought. 'What's to be done now? Who'll
admit him?'

For one instant the mad idea occurred to him that he himself would go to
the door and let the deputy-governor in.

'I could overawe him at once, and bring him in here,' he told himself.
Then he shook his head emphatically. 'Might spoil everything. I want
help before I move any further; I must have Dick beside me.'

Clang! The gong sounded again, the note ringing down the passage, and
then there was silence. No one answered the summons; there was not so
much as a step to be heard. David reflected that the gaoler was in bed,
and fast asleep in all probability.

'While the fellow outside will be getting impatient, he'll make more and
more noise, and we shall be having some of the Tartar soldiers. That
won't suit my plans. There! he's hammering. I'll do it; I'll chance the
whole thing. In for a penny in for a pound, isn't a bad motto on some
occasions.'

He made up his mind in an instant, and pulled the door open. Listening
for a few seconds, and hearing no sound from the interior of the prison,
he hurried along to the left, where he guessed the door must be. And at
the far end of the gallery, where the shadows lurked, he came upon it,
and stood for a while listening to the rat-a-tat-tat of the impatient
official outside.

'Open!' he heard the man call, angrily. 'Open for Tsu-Hi. Do not keep me
waiting out here where folks may see me.'

David pulled the bolts back swiftly, and tugging at the door dragged it
open, keeping himself well within the passage.

'Dog! Why do you keep me so? Sleeping, eh? Sleeping when you should be
on duty? Have a care. Though the governor is away from the city on
important business, there are yet powers in the hands of his deputy
which may make a servant sorrow. A head has been chopped for an offence
even less than this.'

If he had expected an answer Tsu-Hi was disappointed, for David still
held himself in the background, kow-towing as he judged the gaoler would
do, and saying not a word.

'Mustn't open my mouth or he'll see that I'm not a Chinaman, nor even
the Tartar officer. If he don't move in precious quick I'll take him by
the neck and drag him into the passage.'

Our hero's teeth were set fast together, while he was fully ready for
any emergency. Now that matters had gone so far favourably for him, he
was determined that this treacherous deputy-governor should not
overthrow all his plans. That it was Tsu-Hi a swift glance had told him
without error. His hands itched to get a grip of the ruffian, and
silence him, but still he bent low, kow-towing humbly; and perhaps it
was his silence and his apparent humility which appeased the governor.
He stepped into the passage and waited there, his hands tucked out of
sight again, while David pushed the door, and shot the bolts home.

'Now lead me to the room occupied by this Chang, who came so
unexpectedly to the city.'

To say that David was in a serious dilemma was hardly to describe the
situation correctly. He was desperate, for he judged that Tsu-Hi must
have some knowledge of the prison, and was it likely that he would
expect to discover Chang, a man considered already to be of some
importance, in a cell abutting on this dreary passage? Surely there must
be guest chambers, guest apartments for the few who came to such a place
as a prison for any other reason than to fill the cells?

'Can't help it if there are,' muttered David. 'He's got to come with me,
and if he thinks that the place in which I found the Tartar fellow is
not good enough, well I can't help it. I'll give him a crack that'll
knock the wind out of his body.'

He lifted the scabbard of his sabre, fearful that its clanking might
arouse the suspicion of his visitor, and then stepped in front of him
down the passage. At the open door of the room he had just vacated he
came to a halt, kow-towing in that direction.

'In here! Why, fool, this is not a guest chamber.'

'In here, Excellency,' David murmured. 'He wished to be near his
prisoners.'

Would the governor detect the broken accent? Did he already suspect
that his companion was other than he imagined? For Tsu-Hi stood still
regarding the man who had admitted him. Something about the accent
undoubtedly attracted his attention. But he was thinking more of Chang
than of anything or any one else, Chang and the foreign devils whom
they, between them, had so cleverly captured. Then he put back his head
and laughed, an almost silent laugh, in which there was a ring of
triumph.

'He, he, he! So as to be near his prisoners,' he gurgled, opening a wide
mouth between the thin lips of which an uneven and irregular row of
yellow fangs were displayed. 'To be near his prisoners, as if he would
take a tender farewell of them and see as much of their faces as
possible before their hour comes. He, he, he! This Chang is a witty
fellow.'

'What an old ruffian!' thought David, still, however, kow-towing.
'Little tenderness we may expect from him, or from Chang either. In a
moment I'll make him laugh on the other side of his ugly mouth. Here,
Excellency,' he murmured once more, pushing the door a little wider
open. 'Enter.'

The gorgeously dressed official was still shaking with suppressed
amusement as he passed under the doorway. His hands were buried in his
sleeves, and he was actually hugging himself.

'A right merry fellow, this Chang! Who is he? Whence does he come with
such a timely warning? He will be an excellent fellow with whom to chat
and pass a few hours while others are sleeping. And then, when this
thing is finished, he will go. The Government will send urgent orders
for his arrest, while I shall have already despatched men to search for
him, men who are led by a blind officer unable to find the right track.'

It made him hug himself the harder when he considered how cunning he
was, and how he would hoodwink every one; for the deputy-governor was a
cunning rascal. Still smarting under the severe reproof he had had
administered on a former occasion when Europeans were molested in this
walled city of Hatsu, and by the loss of dignity which had resulted, the
man, like thousands more of his countrymen, bore a lasting grudge
against foreign devils. He was one of the many jacks-in-office who still
help to sway the affairs of the celestial empire, clinging tenaciously
and with great stubbornness to old methods, for a Chinaman is nothing if
not conservative. The views his ancestors held are good enough for him,
their education fills his needs, while the ancient system whereby a few
live in luxury, and the vast majority in grinding poverty is a model of
all that is required. Some there are, and their numbers are steadily
increasing, who have gained much by contact with the outside world, for
whom travel has relieved them of much arrogance. But the knowledge they
possess of the superiority of western nations in many things is lost in
the sea of ignorance, of bigotry, which is prevalent throughout the
kingdom. One swallow does not make a summer. One enlightened mandarin
does not result in the rising of a mighty nation, in the break-up of all
its cherished customs, in its advancement in the paths followed by
others privileged to live under wiser government.

'To-morrow this Chang shall go. I myself will direct him, and also those
who shall set out in pursuit in the opposite direction. Greeting, my
friend.'

Tsu-Hi stalked majestically into the room and stood beneath the swaying
lantern, his eyes blinking in the light as he searched for the man he
had come to visit. He had half-expected him to be there before him,
kow-towing to the ground, for this jack-in-office loved humility in
those who served him. Then he caught sight of the figure huddled beneath
the patched and stained quilt spread over the _kang_, and chuckled
loudly.

'He sleeps, worn out with his efforts to warn us, but he will welcome
the deputy-governor. I will rouse him.'

He stepped across to the kang, and touched the figure lying there. He
pulled the quilt back with a sharp jerk, disclosing the face of the
Tartar under-officer. But even then he did not realise that this was not
Chang, the man whom the Tartar had brought so secretly to him that
evening. It was only when, hearing the door bang, and turning slowly he
discovered the figure of the Tartar who had admitted him advancing
swiftly that Tsu-Hi became alarmed.

'Insolence!' he cried. 'What is this? Who bade you follow in here?
Begone at once, else----'

Even then he had not penetrated the disguise of the youth before him,
though his alarm increased seeing that David did not halt, but came on
towards him. But, of a sudden, he grasped the real truth, for a revolver
already grinned within two feet of him. He started backward against the
_kang_ and fell upon it A second later he was up again, and running
towards the door like a startled rabbit, but David stopped him in a
manner to which this very important official must have been a stranger
since his earliest boyhood. He gripped Tsu-Hi by the shoulder, and with
a heave tossed him heavily into the corner. Then he dragged him to his
feet again, and pressed the muzzle of his weapon hard against his head.

'Silence! Make a sound and you are a dead man. Strip off your garments.'

How Jong would have giggled had he been able to see what was passing,
for he would have enjoyed to the full the terror of this mandarin.
Tsu-Hi's eyes indeed threatened to start from his head, while he shook
so violently that his limbs would hardly support him. But the revolver
gave him some sort of strength, that and the threatening looks of this
hated foreign devil. Rapidly, as if he longed to be rid of them, he
dragged off his gorgeous garment.

'Boots, too,' commanded David fiercely. 'Now lie down on that _kang_.
You can push the man farther over. Not a sound, mind, or I'll rid this
city of a deputy-governor.'

Little more than ten minutes later David emerged from the cell, leaving
Tsu-Hi trussed like a fowl, bound hand and foot with strips torn from
the quilt, and nicely muzzled with a ball of the same wedged between his
teeth and secured in position. He pulled the door to, shot the bolts
home, and strode along the passage.



CHAPTER XV

Dick and David Turn the Tables


'Dick, it's time we were moving. Come along out of this hole, and give
me a hand to get us out of the city.'

David had thrown back the bolts of the cell next to the one into which
he had so boldly descended, and stood in the doorway holding a huge
paper lantern before him. He had taken it but a minute before from the
roof of the passage, the operation being easy for the simple reason that
there was a pulley and tackle, whereby the man who saw to the
replenishing of the lanterns could gain access to them. Now he was
staring into the cell, his eyes fixed on the figure of his old comrade.

'Come along, lad,' he called again softly, seeing that Dick did not move
from his position on the basket, where he sat somewhat disconsolately.
'Time we were moving.'

It made him laugh to see the prisoner rise slowly to his feet and rub
his eyes as if he could not believe what they were telling him. Then he
had occasion to speak sharply. For it appeared that Dick had fallen
asleep while seated, and imagining that he had heard David's voice in a
dream, and not when possessed of all his senses, he took it for granted
that the figure at the door was actually that of the Tartar. He dashed
forward swiftly, evidently with the intention of attacking.

'Stop!' cried David sharply. 'Don't be a fool. Shake yourself, and then
you'll see who I really am. Quick! We've no time to waste. We've heaps
of work before us.'

'Well, I never! You take my breath away. What next will you appear as?'
gasped Dick, recovering his senses, and stepping forward to wring
David's hand. 'What next? A Tartar under-officer now, and I suppose you
had to steal to get the clothing. To-morrow you'll be stalking about as
the deputy-governor.'

'No, I shall not; but you will.'

'I! Disguised as the deputy-governor! Look here, David, are you silly,
or have I gone clean staring mad? I as Tsu-Hi, indeed! The rascal's
safely tucked in bed at this moment.'

'He is; agreed,' admitted David curtly, a grin on his lips.

'As safe as houses in his gilded palace,' said Dick bitterly.

'Wrong! He's not in his gilded palace. He's tucked safely in bed along
with that pompous Tartar under-officer. He's tied up as if he were a
dangerous hyena.'

Dick scratched his head energetically, and rubbed his eyes again. He was
seriously anxious about his old friend, who had so suddenly come to
visit him. The stubborn look on his face, his evident determination,
and the curtness of his answer roused an awful suspicion in his mind.
Was David mad, driven out of his mind by this sudden trouble? Then he
shook his head.

'It's I who am a fool,' he whispered. 'Here he is in Tartar uniform.
That shows he's been moving. But this business of Tsu-Hi beats me
altogether; it knocks the stuffing entirely out of yours truly.'

'It'll knock the stuffing out of someone else I know of.'

David blurted out the words gruffly, while a frown crossed his forehead.

'Sit down for a moment,' he said shortly. 'I'll tell you what's been
passing. Don't ask a heap of questions. We're still in a beastly hole,
and unless everything is in readiness we shall be too late to slip out
of the city. Sit down; for goodness sake don't interrupt.'

He sate himself down beside his friend, and told him as swiftly as
possible of Chang's visit, of his own escape, and of what had followed.

'And now you're going to be Tsu-Hi,' he said abruptly. 'No use in my
changing these clothes. You can do the work as well as I can. Let's get
along into the other room, and then you can strip off your things and
dress in Tsu-Hi's gorgeous raiment.'

'And then?' asked Dick, beginning to grin and bubble over, for the
adventure amused him vastly. 'And then, my noble sir, what do I do? Go
to the palace and command the foreign devils to be brought before me.
Sign their death warrants, and see them executed. Oh, Lor'! I see it
all. Here's a splendid ending. We put this Tartar beggar into your
clothes, and Tsu-Hi into mine, and let Chang behead 'em as if they were
actually foreign devils.'

He would have roared with laughing, had not David stopped him angrily.

'Utter rot you do talk, Dick,' he said severely, though he was bound to
smile at the reckless jollity of his comrade. 'You become the
deputy-governor, and in due course you will go to the palace, and I with
you. For the moment, you've got to dress. Come along--no more jawing.'

They crept along the passage to the cell in which Tsu-Hi and the Tartar
lay together, where Dick quickly arrayed himself in the finery of the
fallen governor.

'How do I look, old chap?' he asked, posing beneath the lantern, and
before the eyes of the man he was representing. 'A bit of a sport, I
think. What? Ain't I handsome?'

'You're an idiot!' declared David crossly, though he was bound to laugh.
'Tsu-Hi looks as if beheading wouldn't be enough for you. But let's get
to business. Tie your own clothing into a bundle. Now, let me have it.'

Gripping the rope which dangled from the window-frame, and holding the
bundle between his teeth, David swarmed up till he was able to get a
grip of the edge above. He straddled it at once, and then whistled
softly. At once Jong's figure shot from the shadow. The Chinaman crept
into the centre of the road.

'Catch!' called David, tossing the bundle; 'and pick up the one I threw
before. 'Listen to this, Jong. Mr. Dick and I have captured Tsu-Hi.
We'll be coming out in a moment, when we shall go direct to the palace.
Once there, you'll have to bring out the ponies without delay, and get
our goods packed on them. I shall want a cart also.'

He waved to the man, and slid into the room again, slipping down the
rope as if he were a sailor.

'Where'd it come from?' asked Dick, nodding to the dangling cord. 'Who
fixed it?'

'I did. Jong is outside; he threw it up to me.'

'Then you could have slipped down then and there, and got clear away?
Ain't that it?'

'I suppose so,' admitted David grudgingly.

'My uncle! Then why didn't you?'

Dick turned sharply upon him, his face serious, a flush on his cheeks.

'Why didn't you?' he demanded fiercely.

'Because--oh, look here,' said David lamely, 'we're wasting time. What's
the good of jawing?'

'Why didn't you?' demanded Dick again, his manner resolute, ignoring his
comrade's efforts to change the conversation; then, finding that David
did not answer, he clapped a hand on his shoulder.

'All right,' he said, with a curtness which matched that of the lad who
had released him. 'I know well enough. It's one up for you, anyway.
Could have escaped, but wouldn't, simply because there was a wretched
beggar owning to the name of Dick still left in the building. Right, my
boy, I'm not going to forget it. Now, what orders?'

'Glad you've returned to business,' exclaimed David. 'What orders?'

'Yes. You give 'em. This is your own little affair. What are they? Call
up the garrison, march to Chang's quarters, and then set fire to the
city? Eh? What are they?'

The merry fellow was bubbling over again at the thought of his own
impertinence. He smacked his thigh loudly, as he considered what a
reversal of fortune the night had shown to the various parties. It made
him giggle hugely to see Tsu-Hi, trussed indeed, glaring from over the
top of the greasy bandage with which David had had the temerity to
secure the gag that silenced him. In fact, Dick was ready for any piece
of mischief that David cared to invent, and, if he were backward, this
young fellow was ready himself to supply the want, and urge a plan which
for recklessness would easily have matched that of his comrade. But then
he was a merry, light-hearted youngster. He wanted the depth and
stability that David enjoyed. The latter put a stop to his chatter with
a sudden movement.

'Don't imagine we're out of the wood yet,' he said. 'I've got my plans,
but whether we can carry them out is another matter. First and foremost,
we have to collar Chang. I've seen him already in a room on a higher
level than this, located on the other side of the building. You're game,
I suppose?'

Dick led the way to the door, his eyes flashing. 'Game for anything,' he
cried. 'But I'll be silent and cautious. You can trust me.'

'Then come along; bring the lantern with you. If we meet any one don't
utter a word. Pass them in silence. Recollect that you are
deputy-governor, the chief official of the city, to whom all will give
obedience. And one thing more. This Chang is expecting a call from you.
When we reach the room pass in boldly. I shall make a jump at him.'

Picking up the lantern Dick fell in beside David, and the two passed
into the passage, having first, however, inspected their prisoners. The
Tartar under-officer was breathing stertorously, and was still evidently
unconscious. As for Tsu-Hi, he was as helpless as a baby. All he could
do was to glare at the foreign devils; for his eyes were the only parts
that the unfortunate governor could completely control. They pulled the
door shut after them, and shot the bolts. Then they hastened past the
cell in which Dick had been imprisoned, closing the door as they did so,
and proceeded up the flight of stone steps which led from the far end of
the passage. Nor had they much difficulty in calculating where Chang was
in residence. For David had a fair bump of locality, and his meanderings
on the roof of the prison had given him invaluable information. He came
to a halt opposite a narrow door, and motioned to Dick to move along
farther. Then he slid to the floor, and applied his eye to the crevice
which existed beneath the woodwork. A moment later he was on his feet,
his face beaming.

'There's a light in there,' he whispered, 'and I'm sure I saw his legs.
Half a minute while I make another inspection.'

This second time he was sure that he could see the feet of some
individual, though whether it were Chang or some one else there was no
saying. It was a man. That was sufficient.

'I'll give a knock,' he whispered. 'When he calls I'll push the door
open and announce Tsu-Hi. Enter at once without hesitation. But first,
pull that cap well down over your eyes. That'll do. Walk straight across
the room. He's nearly certain to follow. Then I'll jump on his back. Got
it?'

Dick grinned. He had got the plan securely. The effort he was about to
make was just the one to delight him. It appealed to his merry mind, for
the idea was so bold that there was huge excitement in the attempt to
carry it out. How he longed to bring about the discomfiture of this
rascal, for David had told him enough to allow him to gather what had
happened, though it was hard to believe that the man who had married his
friend's stepmother could from England, so far away, control the action
of an accomplice in China. Chang was an out and out ruffian, he told
himself, but nothing in comparison with Ebenezer Clayhill.

'Righto!' he smiled. 'I'm ready. You bet, I'll be his haughtiness
himself.'

'Enter,' came a sharp summons from inside, as David knocked. 'Enter, and
welcome.'

'I don't think,' muttered Dick, with a grin. 'Open it, David, my boy.'

It would have done the Professor's jovial heart a world of good could he
have seen how the young fellow carried himself. It seemed that Dick was
a born actor. He waited tranquilly for David to push the door open, and
then, with hands tucked well within his sleeves, and his magazine pistol
secured within one of them, he advanced pompously and slowly, casting a
single glance at the individual who had summoned him to enter. It was
Chang without a doubt. He had risen from the table pen in hand--for he
had been writing--and stood aside to allow free passage to his
Excellency, kow-towing deeply.

'His Excellency, Tsu-Hi,' announced David, mimicking as well as he was
able the voice of the Tartar he represented.

'Enter, and welcome to His Highness.'

Chang kow-towed even more deeply, turning as Dick passed him. A second
later he was sprawling on the floor, for David had leaped upon him,
gripping him by the neck with both hands and capsizing him completely.
As for Dick, he turned instantly, raced to the door and closed it, and
then very coolly presented his weapon at the head of the individual to
whom he had made a visit.

'Just one word,' he whispered, in execrable Chinese, 'and there won't be
a Chang left to worry us. Just one little word, my friend.'

'Get up!' commanded David, for Chang had become of a sudden but a limp
heap of terrified humanity. 'Don't worry him with your Chinese, dear
boy. He understands and speaks English as well almost as we do. But
listen to this, you rascal. If you stir an inch or make a sound you'll
be shot without mercy. Now, stand there. No humbug, mind you.'

Leaving Dick still with his weapon at Chang's head David went to the
door and completely closed it, having first of all peeped out into the
passage. Then he returned, and sat himself down in the seat which the
rascal had but lately vacated. There was an ornamental ink-pot within
reach, while the pen which Chang had been using lay on the floor where
he had dropped it. And just in front of David was a sheet of Chinese
paper, on which the rascal had been writing. It is not the sort of thing
that a decent Englishman does to read correspondence meant for other
people. But here there was more than sufficient excuse. Chang might have
been putting down some orders respecting his prisoners. David picked up
the paper and held it closer. Then he started violently; for the
Chinaman was using English, and the letter was addressed to Ebenezer
Clayhill.

     'SIR--This is to inform you that David Harbor, he of whom you spoke
     to me, has come by a misfortune at Hatsu, a walled city in northern
     China. He was accused with another of bringing plague to the
     people, and though the Governor attempted to protect him, the mob
     seized him during his Excellency's absence. He was beheaded this
     morning. Such news entitles your servant to the payment of one
     thousand pounds. Be so good as to mail it to the firm of Kung Kow,
     at Shanghai. Within I send you an official notice of the death
     vouched for by the British Consul.

     CHANG.'

David gasped. The words made him tingle all over. He glared at the
prisoner as if he could eat him. And then he laughed. He rocked to and
fro on the low Chinese stool, stifling his merriment as well as he was
able.

'Of all the bits of cheek that I ever met, this really beats
everything,' he declared. 'Here, read it, Dick; I'll put my pistol to
this rascal's head willingly.'

He rose from his seat, and with the practice he had already had with the
Governor of Hatsu, contrived to apply his revolver in a manner which
made the trembling Chang squirm. Indeed, utter ruffian as Chang had
proved himself to be, not alone by his recent interview with our hero,
but by reason of the words which he had written, it was not surprising
that such an one should turn out to be a coward of the worst
description. Cruelty and courage do not often go together. The man who
loves to browbeat others, and thrust his fellows into unpleasant places,
likes least of all retaliation. Chang squirmed beneath the touch of the
cold muzzle. He whined for mercy, and then sank in a dead faint on the
floor. Meanwhile Dick had slowly read the letter, and from what his
friend had already told him was quick to gather its meaning. One might
have expected the merry fellow to roar as David had done, to see the
funny point in this amazing writing; but there were some things which
Dick resented, and this cold-blooded announcement of David's death,
before that ceremony had taken place, rendered him furious.

'Of all the cold-blooded diabolical plots I ever heard or read of this
is the worst,' he said. 'David, you will pocket that letter.'

'Why?'

'So as to prove the guilt of this Ebenezer Clayhill.'

'No, thank you,' declared our hero, slowly, 'There's been enough
stirring of mud in our family. I don't want the world to know that I've
such a connection.'

'Perhaps not. There's no need; the possession of this will make that
ruffian retire from the position he has taken up with regard to you. He
will no longer contend that his wife comes in for Edward Harbor's
possessions. Anyway, I'll pocket the letter. We can discuss the matter
later on. Now? What next. We kill this fellow.'

He was as cool as possible as he made the request. There was an angry
iciness about Dick to which David was entirely a stranger. But he
realised some of the thoughts passing through his friend's mind, and
appreciated his attitude.

'Kill him,' he answered. 'Certainly not. For the moment it is necessary
that he and I should change places.'

'What! More disguises? Why?'

'Because Chang, the friend of Tsu-Hi, your own noble self, is a far more
important being than is the humble individual I at present represent.
Let's take him along to the place where we've left our prisoners. I'll
do the changing there. By the way, bring some paper and that pot of ink.
Now, blow the light out. I'll see to this ruffian.'

'He went out of the door, dragging the senseless body of Chang after
him, and with Dick to help him soon arrived at the cell where Tsu-Hi lay
glaring. Then David clambered to the window, and looking out, called to
Jong. The faithful fellow popped out of the shadow instantly.

'Come over to the door. I want to speak to you,' called David, and
promptly slid back into the prison. 'Now,' he said, when at last Jong
was before him, just within the passage. 'We've captured a man called
Chang, who was the cause of this attack, and also Tsu-Hi, the
deputy-governor. Our aim and object is to get securely outside the city.
Are you afraid to return to the palace with an order written by the
governor himself? It needs courage, but the scheme should not fail. This
is what his Excellency will write:--

"Hand over to the bearer of this letter the six ponies and the
possessions of the foreign devils. Send also a cart with a strong animal
between the shafts, and three men to help with the loading. Despatch a
man to the northern gate of the city, and warn the guard that his
Excellency comes with two in his service. There must be no challenge. He
must be passed through in silence, for he bears important prisoners."
Now, Jong, are you afraid?'

The Chinaman giggled. Perhaps he had caught some of David's own
enthusiasm, or some of Dick's reckless jollity.

'Likee dat,' he said. 'Me go sure. Not know Jong 't 'all at de palace.
Wait here for the letter?'

'Yes. Then go quickly. Make no noise when you return, but wait outside
till I fetch you. Then do as I order. I will be with you in a few
minutes.'

The lad's busy brain had been exceedingly active, while he had mapped
out a course of action likely enough to stagger the placid folks of
Hatsu city, and one, moreover, which would probably defeat the
deputy-governor and the rascal who had aided and, indeed, instigated the
attack made upon our hero and his comrades. David slipped back to join
Dick, only to find Chang still semi-conscious. As for the others, the
Tartar snored stertorously, not having yet shaken off the effects of the
blow he had received, while the deputy-governor, wriggling in his bonds,
looked the quintessence of rascality.

'Prop him up,' commanded David. 'Now show him your pistol.'

Dick did it with a vengeance. He demonstrated his power to the exceeding
discomfort of Tsu-Hi, not to mention the damaging of his dignity.

'Now loose his hands, and put the pen and ink and paper before him.
That's right; I'm going to stir Chang into sensibility.'

There was a jar of water in the cell, and David liberally sprinkled the
countenance of Chang with it. In a little while he had the fellow seated
on the edge of the kang.

'Listen to this,' he commanded sternly; 'you will tell the Governor what
to write, and will see that he puts down what I dictate. If there is a
mistake, if there is a secret warning in his letter, then----'

Dick jerked his head on one side in an expressive manner. 'You've pretty
well guessed what'll happen,' he laughed drily. 'Just you don't be
foxy.'

Nor did Chang attempt such boldness. The man was in the depths of
terror, and thinking perhaps to lighten his own punishment, eagerly
dictated David's words to the Governor. As for the latter, the revolver
tickling the nape of his neck was such strong persuasion that he wrote
with a swiftness there was no gainsaying.

'Tie him up again,' commanded our hero, when the note was finished.
'Now, Dick, shoot this beggar if he dares to move while I'm absent. I am
merely going to the door. Let him get ready to make an exchange of
clothing.'

He went at once into the passage, and handed the note to Jong, who
scanned it eagerly. 'Me lead samee as you, misser Davie,' he said. 'Dis
allee lightee. No one tink dat dat not come from Tsu-Hi. Ebely one leady
to obey.'

He went off at a run down the moon-lit street, careless if he were
observed, now that he had that important letter. David watched him
depart, and then strolled back to the cell. He began to feel that the
worst part of their troubles were over, as if safety lay before them.
The lines left his forehead as he thought of the success which had
already attended their efforts, while he smiled a meaning smile as he
began to pull off his clothing.

'Strip yours,' he commanded Chang. 'Quick with it.'

'And am I to dress in those of the Tartar, Excellency?' asked the
wretch.

'Just as you like. In any case I'm going to provide you with another
covering. I don't fancy there'll be any chance of your getting cold.'

'But, Excellency----' whined the man.

'You be slippy and don't waste time talking,' cried Dick, beginning to
fathom his chum's meaning. 'Going to provide him with another covering,
eh?' he grinned. 'You don't mean that you're----'

'Here, help me with these boots. I thought I should never be able to get
into them. Now I'm a bit doubtful that I'll be successful in pulling
them off. Ah, thanks. Chang, your shoes are far more comfortable. Don't
you trouble to put these boots on. You won't want 'em. You ain't going
to walk.'

'Because, you see,' added Dick, enjoying the discomfiture of the rascal
immensely, 'you'll be carried--carried, Chang. Got it?'

It was evident that the wretch had, for he shivered and whined as he sat
on the edge of the _kang_. But David took no more notice of him for the
moment. He coolly dressed himself in the clothes this secret enemy had
been wearing, and then walked out of the cell. A quarter of an hour
later, when Jong arrived on the scene, and the scrunch of wheels was
heard outside on the road, two men stood ready to accompany the party.

'Carry out the baskets,' whispered one, who seemed to be none other than
the man who had come to warn the inhabitants of Hatsu of the foreign
devils. 'You will give all orders till we are out of the city.'

It took but five minutes to load those two heavy baskets on the cart,
and then the party set forward, Chang, and to all who peeped at him, the
noble deputy-governor following closely. David, as he stepped along the
white, moon-lit road in the garments lately worn by Chang, could hardly
believe that the fortunes of his little party had been so utterly
changed. It was hard to credit the fact that the pompous individual
beside him, at whose nod men cringed, was indeed, and in fact none other
than, his chum Dick, while it brought a broad smile to a face, which he
struggled hard to keep impassive, when he thought of the contents of the
baskets. Could it actually be that those long, creaking shapes hid in
their depths the mighty Tsu-Hi, deputy-governor of the walled city of
Hatsu, and Chang, conspirator, villain, the hired ruffian of Ebenezer
Clayhill?

But the gates of the city were yet before them. A challenge there, a
shriek from the burdens the cart carried, the smallest untoward event
would change their fortunes, and might yet land himself and Dick back in
the prison, there to await the execution which had been promised.



CHAPTER XVI

Freedom Again


The gates of the walled city of Hatsu were not calculated to inspire a
person eager to pass without them with a feeling of the greatest
enthusiasm, for they stood black and forbidding against the moon-lit
background, the battlemented wall on either side, the flanking towers
and bastions sharply outlined. Beneath the towers yawned a huge cavern,
so dark that no one could see beneath it, carrying the white road to the
huge double doors which, if they were shut, could bar the egress or the
entry of an army.

'Beastly looking place,' whispered Dick, as the little party came near
to it. 'Hope there won't be any parleying. Ah! here's Jong, come to ask
instructions.'

'Masser Davie,' whispered the man, 'what now? What do wid dese China
boys I bring wid me to help carry out de baskets?'

'Dismiss them here. Wait till they have gone out of sight, and then go
on. You have that note?'

'Yes, sar; him here. But not sure dat dey open de door for him. Suppose
not? What den?'

'You can expect to be busy, Dick,' whispered David, as Jong went ahead
again; 'if there's trouble here we've a way left out of it. You know
which basket contains his Excellency?'

'One on the left, the heaviest. Being a governor gives a fellow a chance
to put on flesh. He leads a life of ease and luxury.'

'You could manage, perhaps, to open it at the head, and pull the gag
from the noble fellow's mouth?'

'In a twinkling,' came the ready answer.

'Then, if I call, do so. I'll cover the guard while you get the fine
gentleman into a position for talking. If we're held up, he'll have to
give definite orders to the soldiers to open to us. If not----'

'If not?' echoed Dick, 'you'll shoot him.'

'Without hesitation, as if he were a dog, which indeed he is. Now, those
men have gone. Jong's moving forward. It does look a beastly hole to go
into.'

'Look, a gate is open,' whispered Dick quickly. 'That's promising. A man
has come into the archway with a lantern. Hope he won't hold it up so as
to inspect our faces.'

The same fear had evidently come to Jong, who was by no means a dullard,
and without doubt the intention of the guard who had so suddenly stepped
into the dark gateway was to take stock of those who passed with the aid
of his dangling paper lantern.

'Beware at whom you look,' cried Jong suddenly. 'Has not an order come
bidding you pass a party without noise and without inspection? Go then,
else his Excellency will not be best pleased with you. Does he desire
that any fool should see him passing, and be able to talk. Away with the
lamp quickly.'

They were already beneath the huge gateway, and glancing upward David
was able to distinguish the roof, which was blackened with the smoke of
ages, for in the cold months the guards were accustomed to place
braziers on the roadway so as to make watching possible. A second later,
however, the swaying lantern disappeared, the man who carried it diving
out of sight into a gallery leading from the gateway. On went the party,
Jong leading the ponies, while David had taken the rein of the animal
drawing the cart. He heard the wicker of the baskets creaking, and
guessed that his prisoners were struggling with might and main. But
there seemed no one near enough to hear the noise, while the strong
native cart did not feel the movement of the ruffians it carried. Just
at the very exit from the gates there stood one solitary sentry, and he,
as if bearing in mind the caution which Jong had given his fellow,
turned his face away. It was not well, perhaps, he thought, to look too
closely upon the doings of such a high personage as the deputy-governor.

'Else it might happen that I should be called in evidence,' he told
himself, 'when, had I, indeed, seen his honour, it would be hard to find
a reason for denying the fact. A deputy-governor is a mighty person. He
may come and go as he likes.'

After all, the incident in such a country as China, where conspiracy is
common enough, was not so very remarkable. 'Saving face' is an
expression thoroughly well known, and many and many an exalted person
has been under the need of cloaking his movements, so that when an
accusation of complicity in some conspiracy was levelled at him, he
could bring evidence to prove that he had never been seen in that
locality, and that, on the contrary, he was at home with his servants.
And, no doubt, here was some similar movement. His Excellency was,
without fear of contradiction, asleep in his palace. His servants could
swear that on the morrow. It was not the business of the guard at the
gate to inspect too closely, when he had received a direct message
ordering him to pass the governor secretly. Besides, there were the
foreign-devils, of whom the rumour had reached him that they had been
attacked. Doubtless the baskets he heard creaking in the cart held them
securely, though for his part, the guard was not going to be too
curious.

'Pass! All's well,' he whispered, as the cart issued from the gate and
crossed the drawbridge, with Dick in close attendance. 'Pass to your
business.'

The revolving gate scrunched on its runners. The huge hinges creaked.
The mass of wood, with its heavy bronze bolts and locks, swung into
position with a bang. Then the dull reverberation beneath the drawbridge
died away, while the wheels of the cart began to rattle on the hard
roadway. David wiped the perspiration from his forehead, while Dick let
go a gentle whistle. But not one dared to alter his position. There
might be, and probably were, many pairs of eyes watching them from the
narrow slits on the outer face of the towers and bastions, the slits
from which, even now-a-days, should there be a siege, Chinese soldiers
would discharge arrows, using precisely the same weapons as did their
forefathers, and that in spite of the fact that many of their comrades
were armed with modern rifles. Yes, no doubt, many an inquisitive glance
was cast after the party, and it was still necessary to preserve
caution. And so they continued, showing black and easily distinguishable
on the white roadway, till the latter curled out of sight of the city in
a stretch of forest. It was only then that David dared to bring the
animal hauling the cart to an abrupt halt, while a whistle caused Jong
to draw rein promptly.

'I think,' began Dick, struggling to keep his impassiveness, and yet
almost bursting in consequence, 'I think things begin to look a little
more healthy. A fellow begins to actually believe that he may be wanting
another breakfast. In fact, one may go so far as to say that it's a case
of all right.'

Then he went off into a fit of the most hilarious laughter, which
doubled him up, till he looked anything but the noble Governor of the
city they had just quitted.

'What a tale for the Professor!' he shouted. 'Won't he enjoy the whole
thing, and roar when he hears how you've turned the tables.'

'I! We, you mean,' came sharply from David, who was enjoying his
friend's remarks immensely. 'We, you should have said.'

'You're wrong. I said you, and I meant you. It's you all the time.
There's no one else in it,' declared Dick warmly.

'But, you----'

'Oh, yes, we know all about that,' interrupted the fine young fellow
impersonating Tsu-Hi. 'I did a terrible lot. I started the business, of
course. It was I who managed to clamber out of my cell, and was then
such a good comrade that instead of getting clear away, as sensible
fellows would have done----'

'Sensible fellows! Oh, come now,' cried David hotly.

'Yes. Just what I said. Sensible fellows, just as sensible fellows would
have done. I repeat, instead of clearing off as I had a right to do, of
course it is well known that I went back again at the risk of my skin,
knocked the sense out of the gentle Tartar soldier, took his place for a
few moments, nobbled the Governor of the city, and then, when things
were getting ship-shape, called in the help of my friend to cure the
wounds of the wretches I had been operating on. Look here, David, here's
my hand. I'm not going to chip in with heaps of thanks. But I know how
it is that I am alive and capable of thinking of a breakfast.'

Out there, beneath the shade of the trees, they gripped hands firmly,
and thereafter never a word did Dick say with regard to his gratitude.
But he knew who was his benefactor. David had stalked inches higher in
his estimation.

'What'll you do with the baggage?' he asked after a while. 'Drop it into
the river, upset it at the side of the road? What?'

'Take those villains on another fifteen miles,' answered David. 'Then
fish out Tsu-Hi and send him back. Guess he'll have a deal of difficulty
in explaining his absence. As for the other, this Chang, I shall keep
him till I can hand him over to the authorities. It seems to me that if
I fail in that he may very well attempt some other game and perhaps
actually earn the money Ebenezer promised him. But now for breakfast,
then we'll put our best leg forward.'

That afternoon they dragged the discomfited and almost suffocated
deputy-governor from the basket in which he had been reposing, and
having handed him his clothing; for both lads had by now donned their
own, they sent him back to the city of Hatsu a sorry and unhappy figure.
Then they pushed on again, arriving in the hours of dusk at Chi-Luang,
another walled city of great age, where their request to see the
governor brought them at once a polite invitation written in purest
English. Judge of their delight in discovering that Twang Chun himself,
the enlightened governor of the province, was the writer, and that he
was in those parts on a tour of inspection. He greeted them warmly, sent
their prisoner to the cells, and at once arranged for comfortable
quarters to be given to David and his following. And that night, after
having joined them at dinner, which, by the way, was a feast of the
utmost attraction, being of purely Chinese origin, and therefore most
interesting to our heroes as well as appetising, Twang Chun called on
the lads to give their story.

'I'm glad I had the good fortune to be in this direction,' he said, when
Dick had finished; for no persuasion would induce David to tell of his
own exploits in the prison. 'Very glad indeed, for had the question been
left to the city's governor he would have found it difficult to decide
how best to act. To be candid, foreign devils are still foreign devils
to the majority of my countrymen, and more so at a time such as this
is, when plague is stalking through Manchuria, and threatening to reach
Pekin. I assure you that the people are driven frantic, and that I am
here and am patrolling the province, solely with a view to making
arrangements to stop all travellers who may come from infected areas,
and to arrest, if possible, the course of the disease. But, as I said,
Europeans are not much loved. The Chinese do not understand them, and in
a case such as this, with such an exalted personage as Tsu-Hi
implicated, the governor here could only hold him in prison till orders
came from Pekin; that might take months. I have known years to elapse,
so that the course of justice does not run either smoothly or for the
benefit of the people. However, I am here, and will sift the matter. An
example must be made of these wretches.'

Let the reader imagine the terror of Chang on the following morning when
he was brought into the presence of Twang Chun, the governor who had
once before condemned him. Little by little the whole story leaked out,
so that David learned that this heartless rascal had been engaged in the
murder of his father. In any case, there was no doubt of his guilt on
this occasion. He had been taken red-handed, while the letter which he
had had the boldness to write to Ebenezer Clayhill condemned him.
Justice might be slow and lagging when the authorities at Pekin
controlled it; but here it was swift--terribly swift--for the
wrong-doer. Chang was beheaded that very morning, and thus Ebenezer
Clayhill's rascally scheme came to an ending.

'To-night I shall be in the city of Hatsu,' said Twang Chun, when the
sentence on Chang had been carried out. 'Perhaps you will accompany me.'

David and his friend agreed with the greatest pleasure, for seeing that
they had now met the governor of the province, the very individual to
whom the Professor had sent them, and had delivered their letter, it
appeared hardly necessary to proceed.

'Might just as well return to our camp, and then come up with the whole
party,' said David. 'Besides, I fancy his Excellency would be glad to
have our evidence at Hatsu.'

This was, in fact, the case, and arriving at that city after nightfall,
the party, who were accompanied by a strong escort of mounted soldiers,
rested there for two whole days, two days of abject misery for Tsu-Hi,
the rascally deputy who had so readily fallen in with the plans which
Chang had formed. Indeed it was hardly likely that such an act as he had
been guilty of could go unpunished, and, like his comrade-in-guilt, he
too was beheaded.

'Do not think that I love these executions,' said Twang Chun, when
seated with the lads. 'Had I my way, matters would be conducted as in
your country. But we must always remember that we are in China, and that
I am dealing with my own countrymen, who do not understand the meaning
of leniency. In a case such as this the sternest example must be read,
and were I to behead the Tartar under-officer alone, and merely admonish
Tsu-Hi, the people of the city would see in such leniency an
encouragement to attack Europeans again. And see what follows. The tale
is spread abroad. Your people, Americans, all the white race having
dealings with us will distrust us absolutely. That feeling of amity
between the white and the yellow race, for which I and men like me aim
at, will be farther away than ever. Incalculable harm will, in fact, be
done, and the advancement of this nation retarded to some extent.
Therefore, to deter others who should set a good example, and who, above
all things, should never descend to a depth where guests beneath their
roof are abused and injured, I have had Tsu-Hi beheaded, and with him
the Tartar under-officer. Only by such severity will the lesson be
learned.'

'And now, Mr. David, tell me more about yourself. I know the name of
Harbor.'

'My father,' exclaimed our hero promptly. 'He came out here to
investigate ruins, just as the Professor has done before. He was killed.
Chang had a hand in his assassination.'

When they came to discuss the matter Twang Chun quickly learned that
David was the son of the very man in whose interests Chang had once
before been arrested. He listened with the greatest attention as the
question of the will was propounded, and lifted a hand to arrest David's
conversation.

'You have come out here on a hopeless errand, I fear,' he said. 'But
that your father made this will I am positive, since I myself witnessed
the signature, though I was not aware of all of the contents. As to the
fate of the document itself, it was doubtless burned, for the camp in
which the party of excavators was located caught fire. It is strange to
think that you are going to the very same spot; for the letter which
your friend the Professor has sent me asks permission to investigate the
relics of an ancient Mongolian city situated outside the Great Wall, the
same city which engaged the attention of your parent. Whether you will
reach that spot is a matter of doubt at the moment.'

Dick's eyebrows went up questioningly. With this important personage he
dared not be so free and easy in his remarks as with the Professor.

'But tell us why, your Excellency,' he asked, politely. 'What will
prevent us, supposing you give your consent?'

'The plague may prevent your going,' came the answer. 'You have no idea
of the nature or of the importance of this pest. Manchuria to-day is in
the last stage of disorder. Thousands die every twenty-four hours, while
there is no time and not enough men to conduct the burials. The victims
are being burned. From Manchuria to Pekin is not such a far cry, while
the neighbourhood of these ruins you seek is even closer to the infected
area. You must understand me, I do not say that your own fear of
contagion will hold you back. That is not the position at all. What I do
suggest is that it may be prudent of your leader to remain in these
parts, rather than go farther afield. For disaster does not come of its
own accord in the eyes of my countrymen. You have seen for yourself how
their thoughts run. The poor ignorant fellows believe that a pest is
brought, is settled upon them by way of punishment, and should you and
your friends be away in some savage part, all alone, you might very
well be set upon as the cause of the disaster. In this city of Hatsu,
thanks to the scheming of that rascal Chang, you were accused of this
crime, and his ignorant tools snapped at the chance of killing you. In
the neighbourhood of those Mongolian ruins the natives are, I fear,
likely to be even more ignorant and stupid. However, we will see what
can be done; I might be able to send an escort. And now I propose
travelling farther with you. I myself shall visit the camp where your
friends are situated, so that I may formally welcome them to my
province.'

Imagine the Professor's astonishment at the return of David and Dick. He
emerged from a deep excavation, which the coolies had been engaged in
beneath the debris covering the ruined city wherein Tsin had dwelt once
on a time, and advanced with something approaching consternation on his
face.

'Returned already,' he cried. 'Why? And with an escort, and a mandarin
too if my eyes don't cheat me. Not got into trouble, I do hope.'

'Heaps,' laughed Dick, enjoying the position. 'The exalted official
following comes to greet you. He's already chopped off three heads while
in our company.'

'It's Twang Chun himself, the governor of the province,' explained
David, laughing at his chum's fun. 'We happened to meet him. The
chopping off of heads is a long story. But his Excellency comes to
welcome you to the province, and to discuss the question of your journey
to the Mongolian city. He thinks there may be difficulties.'

'I trust not, indeed. This expedition of ours would be shorn of half
its profit if we were unable to go to Chi-Seang, for, if report speaks
true, there are relics to be discovered of the very greatest interest.
But I will speak with his Excellency; bring him to the tent. I will get
washed, and put on clean clothing.'

The meeting between the two gentlemen was most cordial, and as may well
be imagined, every one belonging to the Professor's staff worked hard so
as to prepare entertainment for his Excellency, since Twang Chun was,
indeed, an exalted official, and as became one of his high rank and
importance, travelled with an escort and retinue to match. In a very
short space of time his camp had been pitched, when David had an
opportunity of seeing how such things could be done in this country of
the Dragon. A most gorgeous silken tent was erected, boasting of an
inner lining of painted silk which made of the place a veritable palace.
And in rear were placed tents for his retinue, less imposing perhaps,
but grand in their magnificence when compared with those to be seen in
this country.

'Him wonerful man,' lisped Jong, who was something of a hero now that he
had returned to his comrades, and whose busy tongue was already wagging
freely. Indeed, long before the Professor or Alphonse gathered the full
details of David's exploit, and of Dick's assistance, all else within
the camp were familiar with them. There was even violent movement
amongst the stolid Chinese. Ho Hung leaped wildly into the air, and gave
free vent to his enthusiasm, while the more placid Fing chuckled
hugely. As for Jong himself, he vowed that he would never stop
giggling, for the reversal of the fortunes of attackers and attacked was
so amusing. It tickled the faithful Chinaman immensely, when he
recollected how he and his masters had hoodwinked every one, and how
they had conveyed the deputy-governor of Hatsu from the city and right
under the noses of the soldiery. Next to David and Dick, perhaps the
wise and strong Twang Chun claimed his admiration.

'Velly velly fine, Excellency,' he lisped again. 'Him knowee so velly
well how to manage little tings like dat which happen to us. Him oh so
nicee and gentle. Kuttee off de heads of de rascal nicee. Jong tink him
fit almost to be de Empelor.'

It was queer to see even this somewhat Westernised native of the
Celestial Kingdom cover his face and kowtow deeply when he mentioned the
name of the Emperor of China, or when he even referred to that august
personage. For while we in Europe give due observance and respect to
rulers, and while the King of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the huge
Empire we possess beyond the seas, is at once the king and the first
gentleman in all our vast territories, yet one may speak of him without
sign of fear, and without grovelling. But in China, the home of much
that is extremely ancient and mysterious, the Son of Heaven, as the
Emperor is known to his millions of people, is as far removed from the
masses as is the sun from the earth. He is never seen save by the palace
attendants. He lives for the most part in majestic seclusion. And should
he venture abroad, borne in a palanquin of the utmost gorgeousness, it
is not that he may be seen by those who bow to his rule; for in China
it is death to look upon the Son of Heaven. All who happen to be abroad
when the Emperor sets out in procession must fly to their houses, there
to hide their faces, and if that is not possible, they must retire from
the streets through which his cavalcade will pass, and turn towards the
wall.

But if Jong were interested in Twang Chun, the governor of the province,
so also was Alphonse.

'_Parbleu!_' he cried, when David accosted him, 'this is a man to cater
for, this Excellency. I tell you he has travelled, he has dined on the
best that Paris can provide, and where else, Monsieur David, in all this
wide world is there entertainment to be found to equal that in Paris.
Ah! You think in London. That is not so. I, Alphonse, tell you so. It is
true that we send some of our finest gentlemen to London, some of the
grandest chefs that we have ever produced. _Bien!_ what then? There is
the Parisian atmosphere. How can even the king of chefs turn out even so
simple a thing as an omelet to perfection in your city of fogs and
blizzards?'

The pompous little fellow bustled about his camp kitchen, still clad in
those curious clothes, so altogether incongruous with such surroundings.
The perspiration stood on his forehead, his peaky little beard was
thrust if anything a little more abruptly forward, while the hideous hat
he insisted on retaining was perched somewhat jauntily on the side of
his head, where his energetic movements had jerked it.

'_Nom du Roi_, but he shall have a dinner to-night that even _Monsieur
le Président_ would not sniff at, this Excellency,' he cried, as he
shifted pot and pan swiftly. 'Ah, you shall see, Monsieur David. Here,
in the wilds, I will serve up a dainty feast that shall make the eyes to
open. Yes, I tell you. _Hors-d'oeuvres_ to commence with. Soup, ah,
you will wonder from what it is produced. An _entrée a la Reine
d'Angleterre_ that will make the Excellency clap his hands. _Légumes_!
Pah! such a country as this is for their provision. I tell you not one
_haricot vert_ is there to be obtained between this and the south of
China. But, there, it is not finished, the telling of this dinner. You
shall see. You will applaud. His Excellency will be delighted, and when
_Monsieur le Professeur_ has complimented me, I, Alphonse, shall retire
to bed as proud as any Emperor of China.'

That dinner was, indeed, a feather in the cap of the voluble and clever
Frenchman. He surpassed all previous attempts in his culinary art, and
delighted Twang Chun and all who sat at the table.

'My friend, this is indeed a surprise,' said the governor, when course
followed course without cessation. 'And I speak not of the variety which
you so liberally place before me. It is the cooking that delights my
heart. Not that we in China do not produce chefs who study their
profession, or art, whichever you style it; we do. But then the dishes
are peculiar to the country. And there, believe me, is one of the charms
of travel, even to the man who is not a gourmand. There is pleasure to
be obtained by tasting food as foreigners eat it, and always there is
charm in partaking of a dainty meal, such as this one, originating, as
one may fairly claim, in Paris, and brought to a triumphant issue in
the wilds of China. Ah! it brings one back to Western civilization.'

That night there was no happier nor prouder man in all the world than
Alphonse. The statement is a bold and wide-sweeping one, we imagine, but
still we repeat it. Alphonse was undoubtedly in the seventh heaven of
enjoyment. The praise he received spurred him to greater effort, so that
had Twang Chun been but a luke-warm friend on his arrival, he left the
camp a firm and undoubted adherent of the party.

Then tents were packed, ponies laden, and the Professor and his staff
set off for that Mongolian city.

'We shall have to chance trouble,' he said. 'I cannot afford not to see
the place and undertake excavations. We must hope for the best, and if
there is need, make good use of the escort the governor has promised.'

Two weeks later they arrived in the neighbourhood of the ruins, nor was
it long before the Professor had reason to congratulate himself that
Twang Chun had proved so friendly.



CHAPTER XVII

A Chapter of Adventures


Snowflakes were whirling through the air on the morning after the
arrival of the Professor's party in the neighbourhood of the half-buried
Mongolian ruins which they had come to inspect. When David emerged from
the tent and looked into the open, an icy blast made him shiver, while
he smiled at seeing Alphonse, still in his shirt sleeves, dancing about
to warm his toes, and snapping his fingers to bring the circulation to
them.

'_Parbleu!_ but we may expect cold weather now, Monsieur David,' he
called out. 'The winter is on us, and I say that it will be well for us
all when the excavations have been begun.'

'And why? How will that help us?'

'How! Ah, it is clear that you have not been on such an expedition
before, monsieur, nor experienced a Chinese winter. It can freeze here
almost as it does in the Arctic regions, while the winds come sweeping
across these plains unbroken, and with a bite that searches every joint,
and finds every crevice in the dwellings. Who knows? It may even be that
the brave fellows who lodged amongst these ruins years ago were driven
thence by the cold and exposure. But I was saying----'

'You were going to tell me why it will be a good thing for the party
when excavations are begun, Alphonse.'

'_Vraiment!_ Then this is why. A rabbit loves to burrow below ground,
where he can defy the weather. Just so, we can also smile at the worst
winds and the most violent snow-storms, once we have dug a hollow. You
follow, monsieur? We shall have a shelter which nothing can break down,
whereas a tent, what is it? What protection does it offer?'

There was no doubt that the Professor with all his experience was also
of the same opinion; for no sooner was the camp completely pitched--as
they had arrived late on the previous evening they had not been able to
complete the matter--than he set Ho Hung and his comrades to work.

'I imagine we must be very adjacent to the site chosen by your father,
David,' he said. 'The prevailing wind is from the north-east, as one can
tell at once by inspecting the cant of the few trees there are. Also,
all the sand-dunes, of which there are so many, are heaped with their
steep sides to leeward, and present a smooth, evenly-rounded surface to
the prevailing wind. As you can see for yourself, we have the ruins
between us and the wind, and so have shelter. Also, there is a stream
near at hand. But this snow is not to be ignored. Ho Hung and his
fellows will dig us a chamber somewhere in the ruins, where we can hide
away and be warm. Once it is finished and furnished, and all other
matters are seen to, we will set about getting helpers, for even small
excavations demand a large amount of labour.'

That day and the three which followed were, indeed, very busy ones, so
much so that few of the party wore their coats, strenuous effort being
necessary, and even in that cold blast a coat was a hindrance. David and
Dick themselves went in search of fire-wood, and with the help of axes
cut down a number of fair-sized trees. These were lopped of their
branches, placed side by side with the branches on them, and faggots on
top all, then the whole was hauled close to the ruins by a team of
ponies harnessed to ropes. That done, the trunks and branches were sawn
in shorter lengths, and the big pieces split with wedges and a big
mallet.

'We shall want every log you can cut,' said the Professor, looking his
approval, 'and it is essential to make the most of the open weather. You
have seen for yourselves that snow has been threatening. We shall get it
any time now, and then there will be little moving around.'

Meanwhile, Ho Hung and his comrades had delved deeply. They had hit upon
a spot where close investigation proved that others had been at work,
though the fierce winds, which had blown since, had covered up almost
all traces. Yet it was certain that a considerable amount of debris had
been removed; and thanks to that fact the base of the actual ruins were
soon reached.

'Might have been your father who had his men working at this spot,' said
the Professor thoughtfully. 'On the other hand, it may have been a band
of nomads wintering here. It is a wild district, very sparsely
inhabited, and droves of men do ride here and there, not always with the
best intentions I fear. However, with the half-dozen soldiers Twang Chun
was good enough to lend us, we should be secure, for he has seen that
the men are really trained, and I think we can rely upon their courage.'

David never knew whether to admire the huge expanse of ruins, to which
they had come, more when a wintry sun poured down upon them, or when the
moon's cold beams swept softly over them. In any case, there was
something fascinating and awe-inspiring about this lonely place.
Standing on a huge sand-dune a few hundred yards from the edge of what
had once been a big city, he would allow his mind free play at times,
trying to imagine the place as it was when tenanted, when its broad
streets hummed with human activity, when its battlemented walls frowned
down upon all would-be intruders, and when its dwellings sheltered
thousands of families long since gone and forgotten. And always his eyes
would wander to the relics of a tower, once a stately edifice no doubt,
which even now, thousands of years after the chimneys of the city had
grown cold and the streets had reverberated for the last time to the
tread of inhabitants, was decidedly impressive. It seemed to beckon to
him, to attract him strangely, as perhaps it had done his father. Once,
since his arrival there, he had found his way across the ruins to that
tower; for the feat was not impossible. Clambering up what appeared to
be a breach in the rotting outer walls of the city--and who could say,
since no history existed to tell of the doings in this part so long ago,
that very breach might have been the undoing of the city? It may have
given entry to a besieging army, and have resulted in the sacking and
desolation of the place. David clambered over the sand swept into the
breach and toiled over a sandy waste now piled into high pinnacles, and
then drooping suddenly in a long line, where, no doubt, a street ran.
Finding a way across this and others he at length arrived at a point
within hailing distance of the tower. But to approach closer was
impossible. A deep ditch surrounded it, with steeply sloping walls of
soft sand, while on the far side a battlemented wall arose, tottering in
parts, but strong and defiant in other directions.

'Just the place I should go for,' he declared when discussing the matter
with the Professor. 'Should think it was the palace, and if it was, then
one would imagine relics to be more abundant in such a place.'

'Precisely! And it is for that tower that I shall aim,' answered the
leader of the party. 'But observe, the approach from any point outside
is most difficult. To dig our way there, is almost out of the question,
seeing that we have only a few months to spare in the effort. So that we
must win our way by other methods, which you will see and understand
when we begin to work seriously. And now, David, I have a task for you.
Take two of the soldiers and Jong, and investigate the country north of
us. I wish you to locate the nearest village, and make arrangements for
a supply of labourers, also to discover the nearest point at which we
can buy supplies, for that is more necessary even than to arrange for
labour. If you take a couple of tents with you and two spare ponies you
should be able to fare comfortably, and I needn't say that the sooner
you are back with us the better.'

David seized upon the opportunity of a private expedition with avidity,
for he had found something particularly attractive about a journey in
this wild country. Carefully selecting sufficient stores and weapons,
since one never knew what might happen, he set out with Jong and two of
the Chinese soldiers, each of whom led a pony laden with a tent and
abundance of warm coverings. Hastily swallowing his breakfast he was
away almost before the sun was up, and at once rode off in a northerly
direction.

'We'll do as we did before, Jong,' he said, speaking in Chinese, for it
was good practice; besides he was becoming daily more proficient, so
much so that he could now make himself understood with ease, while to do
him justice, his rendering of the language was almost as good as Jong's
mastery of English. By common consent, therefore, he spoke the native
language, while the faithful servant with him adhered to English,
probably with a view to showing himself superior to his two countrymen.

'We'll take turn and turn about to watch, both day and night. Every two
hours the man on duty will be relieved, so that we shall have six hours
free between our watches.'

'Dat good, mister Davie,' said Jong, with emphasis. 'Me not knowee dis
part, but de soldiers been near before. Chu-li--de big man wid de tick
lip and showing teeth--him say dere sometimes danger. Huan Hu--de fellow
who look as if him sick and solly allee de while--him tell me dat him
hab row once wid brigand. So Jong say watchee alee de while. Not sleepee
too much, elsee perhaps sleep for good, and not want dat yet. No, Jong
velly velly comfolable, tank you, sar.'

Plodding along at a slow walk--for the ground was too soft for a faster
pace to be set--evening was approaching before the first sign of a
habitation was discovered. It proved to be a small village, where David
was received, if not with a friendly greeting, at least with civility.
The sight of the two soldiers wearing the governor's own uniform, which
was distinctive, and a letter from that august official obtaining
quarters for the little party and an offer of fresh provisions. On the
following morning our hero called the chief man to him and discussed the
question of labourers.

'We will gladly come,' said the man, 'for here in the winter months
there is little to do and still less to be earned. If, as you say, the
required work is merely the digging away of sand which has covered the
ruins, we can undertake that, though why any man with wisdom in his mind
should desire to see what is hidden passes my comprehension. We will
willingly engage, though had you asked us to excavate where our
ancestors lie, we should have refused.'

An hour or more was then spent in haggling over terms, for the Chinamen
of the north,--the natives in this part, who were of Mongolian aspect
and descent,--were no different from the wily individuals who labour in
the south of China. The head man of the village asked what was to him a
fabulous wage. David promptly offered a quarter, and after
expostulations on the part of the head man, and a heated statement to
the effect that such a wage meant starvation, the cunning fellow at
length acquiesced to one-half of what he had demanded, smiling affably
as David agreed.

'And no doubt they will be coining money,' thought our hero, 'for though
I don't know a great deal about this country, yet I do know that wages
are miserably small. However, that's arranged. There are thirty in the
village, and they will pack up and march to the ruins in a couple of
days, taking their women and children with them. Now for supplies.'

Having completed a portion of his task in a most satisfactory manner, he
rode on with his little party, intent on visiting a colony of nomads
living some twenty miles farther north, and since the whole distance
could not be accomplished that afternoon, they halted and camped under a
sand dune as the light was fading.

'Shouldn't like to be lost in a bleak country such as this is,' thought
David, as he surveyed his surroundings. 'One part is so much like
another that one would soon lose all bearings, and if one were short of
provisions or water it would mean disaster. Going to snow I think.'

Flakes were blowing about when he rose on the following morning, and
continued to do so as they progressed.

'Tink we have a lot, Misser Davie,' said Jong, looking, for the first
time since our hero had known him, a little anxious. 'Not like it to
snow when we out here. Cold bitee oh so velly muchee. Not like de snow.
Look as if wind comee wid him.'

They had just finished a mid-day meal when a gust of cold wind swept
past them, causing David to look up. The sky was black in one direction,
while the sand all around was distinctly disturbed. The flakes of snow
were also more frequent, so that Jong's prophecy of more was likely to
come about.

'Tink we better get along quick, sar,' he said, nervously. 'Not do to be
caughtee out here in de open. Dat bad for us and de animals.'

By the time they had packed the few odds and ends that they had taken
from their saddle-bags for the meal, it was snowing heavily, while the
gusts of wind had increased in frequency and violence. Sand was whirling
everywhere, while the falling snow had drawn a species of curtain across
the landscape, blotting out all surroundings.

'We're in for a scrape, I fear,' cried David, as he jumped into his
saddle. 'I don't like things at all, and as we must have shelter I shall
make over there to the left where I caught sight of some hilly ground.
In this open part a tent would never stand, and consequently we should
soon be frozen.'

In less than ten minutes the threatening storm had burst, and David,
with his experience of England, could hardly believe that snow could
fall so heavily. It came whirling everywhere in thick flakes, that soon
powdered the ground white, and then began to pile in ridges. He and his
comrades were smothered in less time than it takes to record that fact,
while the force of the wind was so great that the ponies could not face
it. It was fortunate, therefore, that the hilly ground which David had
located was in the opposite direction.

'Tell the men to ride in close to us, Jong,' he ordered. 'The snow is so
thick that though they are only a few paces to one side I can scarcely
see them. A man might easily stray away without himself or his comrades
being the wiser.'

For a quarter of an hour the party plodded along, their heads down, and
collars drawn up close to their caps. By then they could not see more
than a dozen feet before them, and for all they knew might have been
travelling in a circle.

'Wouldn't be difficult to do that,' thought David. 'But the wind helps;
when we face it one can scarcely breathe. If we keep it astern all the
while we must be going in the right direction.'

He was already deadly cold and frozen almost to the marrow before a
shout from Chu-Li announced that he had made a discovery. He pointed to
the front, and peering between the snowflakes David saw a mass of white
barring their progress.

'Must be the hilly ground,' he shouted, for the wind was now so fierce
and the noise so great that the ordinary voice was drowned. 'Swing to
the left; we have evidently got a little out of our course and have
struck the place beyond the end.'

A biting wind swept them, as they turned to force their way along the
foot of the hilly ground. So keen was it that David found himself
gasping for breath, and knew that unless he and his comrades could
discover some sheltered spot swiftly, they would be overcome by cold
and exposure. Pressing to the front he led the small party, encouraging
his sturdy little pony at every stride. He gave a shout of joy when the
white wall on his left suddenly fell away, and was lost in the obscurity
of the falling snow. And what a relief it was to be able to swing again,
and turn his back to the wind! None who have not experienced such an icy
blast can judge of its fierceness. But even with their backs turned the
danger was great, and to halt there was to court disaster. Stiffened in
every limb as he was, David urged on his following, shouting to
encourage them while he spurred his pony to still further effort. At
last they had some reward. They rounded the tail end of the hilly ground
and gained the sheltered side, where the full force of the wind could
not play upon them. But even here shelter was absolutely necessary.

'Keep a sharp look-out for a gap in the rocks,' he called out. 'If we
don't find a place soon we never shall, for we shall be dead men. What's
that, Jong?'

'Tink I see a hole ober dere, sar. Not sure, but tink.'

His voice was almost completely muffled behind the mass of material he
had wound round his neck, but the hand he held forward stiffly was
sufficient. David halted the party.

'Wait here while I go and see!' he shouted. 'Call out now and again so
that I can find you again. Don't move from where you are.'

He spurred his pony towards the face of the hill, and uttered a cry of
delight when he discovered that Jong had made no error. At once he
called the men.

'There's what looks like a cave here,' he said. 'Dismount and bring the
ponies right in. Then we'll get a lamp alight, and take a look round.'

The lamp showed that they had gained the shelter of a large hollow, the
opening to which was so large that, had the wind been in the opposite
direction, snow would certainly long since have filled the place. As it
was, it was already drifting in, carried by back eddies. The floor was
covered with fine sand, blackened in one part where a fire had once been
lit, while drift wood, blown from the outside plateau, filled all
corners and crannies. David surveyed the whole place closely, then gave
his orders without hesitation.

'Pitch the two tents at the entrance,' he said. 'They'll fill the gap
and keep the snow out. Then we'll get a fire going, and with that and
the heat from our ponies we ought soon to become a little less frozen.
Lucky thing we happened upon this hole.'

It was, indeed, a fortunate thing for all concerned, for as they dropped
from their saddles not one of the party could walk easily. Their limbs
were stiffened, while even the ponies moved slowly, their heads down,
their shaggy necks stretched out. However, movement would help the
process of unfreezing, and at once David set the men an example. He
helped to unpack the tents, and with the aid of the others soon had them
erected in the very entrance of the cave. By then, too, Jong had a fine
fire blazing, so that when the party had finished their labours, there
was an air of comfort about the place.

'May just as well get something cooking,' said David, for the small
experience he had had of travelling in the wilds had taught him that
when men are in difficulties, and the position is still uncertain, a
hearty meal, with warmth and comfort attached, go a great way to ease
their minds, and make them look at possible danger lightly. 'Get a
kettle on, Jong, and let us have a brew of tea. I'm beginning to
unfreeze already, though a good hot drink would help matters
wonderfully.'

The grinning Jong, who shivered violently between his grins, soon had a
kettle unstrapped from one of the ponies, and a dash outside provided
him with sufficient snow with which to fill it. In half an hour the
water was boiling merrily, causing the kettle to sing a tuneful air,
that attracted the eyes of all. Moreover, the Chinese soldiers proved
most jovial comrades. Chu-Li, he with the prominent teeth and big lips,
as Jong had made free to describe him, was a bit of a wag in his own
way, and his remarks kept all smiling. In fact, the quartet settled down
round the fire like boon companions, due respect, however, being paid to
his Excellency, the young white leader of the party. Huge enamelled mugs
held the steaming tea that Jong provided, while he had hardly poured it
out when there was a mess of rice for the men, for they habitually
steeped their rations for the following day over night, and sometimes
half-boiled them, so that no great length of time was required to make
the food fit for consumption. For the carniverous David there was one
of those tins of delicious ready-cooked ration, consisting of beef and
potatoes, with carrots and other vegetables, a regular Irish stew, in
fact, for the preparation of which all that was required was to open the
tin, and plunge it into a pannikin containing boiling water. Within a
quarter of an hour there arose a savoury odour that set David's mouth
watering.

'And now we may as well settle down for the night,' he said, when he had
been to the entrance, only to find that the snow was falling as heavily
as ever. 'I will take the first watch, and you others can arrange your
turns. We'd better melt some snow in a couple of kettles and wash out
the mouths of our ponies. That will put them on till morning, when we
ought to be able to get away and find water. Fortunately we have feeds
with us, so they won't go hungry.'

Before the night had fallen things inside the hollow wore a ship-shape
appearance. Packs were stored not far from the opening, while a huge
pile of brushwood was banked near the fire, so that it might be easily
replenished. Then the Chinamen threw themselves down on the floor, and
wrapped in their blankets were soon snoring.

'Where I shall not be sorry to be,' thought David, as he watched their
figures near the fire. 'I could never believe that a snowstorm could be
such a severe affair. That wind absolutely wearied me, so that I feel
downright tired. However, a good sleep will make me fresh and fit again.
Wonder how things are going outside.'

He went to the opening, and pushed back the edge of one of the tents.
Flakes were still falling, but the wind seemed to have dropped with as
much suddenness as it had arisen. More than that, the sky was clear, and
was filled with thousands of bright, twinkling stars.

'Promising well for to-morrow,' he thought, 'though it won't be very
easy travelling with this heavy fall on the ground. Perhaps we shall
have to wait a little.'

As it turned out, the snow continued to sprinkle the ground all that
night, and well on towards the following evening, so that David's little
party remained in their snug quarters all day, save for a short
excursion when they took the ponies out by couples and walked them up
and down, allowing them to thrust their noses through the soft snow, and
so obtain a few blades of grass.

'Fleezing hard now, sar,' said Jong, as the dusk fell. 'Dat be good for
us, 'cos it harden de snow and let us get along easy. Not able to walkee
much when de snow soft. It stick to de feet, and makee balls at de
bottom of the ponies' hoofs. Fleeze to-night, den get away easy
to-mollow.'

As it turned out, however, the movements of the party were not to be so
straightforward a matter as Jong anticipated; for though it froze very
hard that evening, as it can freeze in the north of China, the night
brought more than intense cold with it. David's was the middle watch,
and he was standing near the fire, struggling to keep himself fully
awake, when of a sudden a distant sound fell on his ear. He listened
intently, and then went to the opening. At once a faint whimpering sound
came from a point some little way distant. He fancied he heard something
remarkably like a loud snarling, while as he watched he was almost sure
that he caught sight of several sneaking forms passing to and fro
outside, like black shadows crossing the snow.

'Come and look out into the open,' he asked of Jong, whose turn it was
to take the next watch. 'There is something there, but what I am not
sure. Come and listen.'

They pushed the flaps of the tent back cautiously and stared out. Jong
instantly gave vent to an expression of astonishment, not unmixed with
alarm, and darting into the hollow waked the two soldiers.

'Come out and tell us what you hear and see,' he demanded anxiously.
'His Excellency heard sounds, and is sure he saw figures passing across
the snow. The news is disquieting.'

There was a decided expression of fear written on Chu-Li's not too
handsome features as he withdrew into the hollow.

'Excellency,' he said gravely, 'those are wolves who prowl about
outside. In Mongolia they can be very dangerous, though I hardly
expected to find them here, or would have warned you. But there is
forest land to the north, and it may happen that the cold has been very
severe there for a little while, causing these beasts to travel for
their food. If they are hungry, then they become very dangerous. Their
ferocity is extraordinary.'

David learned the news with a distinct qualm. He had fought against
human beings already, and had displayed a fair amount of courage; but
against savage beasts was an altogether different matter.

'Why,' he exclaimed, taken aback at the announcement, 'I had no idea
that such beasts were to be found in these parts. And you think they may
be dangerous, Chu-Li? What has attracted them?'

'The ponies, Excellency; they would smell the animals a long way off,
and if there were none they would scent us. Their powers of detecting
food are extraordinary.'

There could be no doubt, in fact, that the presence of David's little
party had been the attracting cause that had brought the wolves in their
direction, while all doubt as to the animals themselves was cleared up
within a few minutes. Standing at the exit of the hollow or cave in
which he and his men had taken refuge from the storm, our hero soon saw
the wolves distinctly. They crept hither and thither past the hollow,
their eyes always directed on it. Sometimes there was a whimper from one
of the brutes, but for the most part they went to and fro silently like
ghosts, making those within the hollow almost shiver.

'I suppose they are waiting till they can screw their pluck up for a
rush,' thought David, surveying the new-arrivals with disgust. 'From the
fact that they haven't attacked yet I should imagine that they are not
over hungry.'

But Chu-Li shook his head promptly and with emphasis. 'Not good to think
that, Excellency. They are hungry, else they would not have travelled to
these parts. They merely await a leader. When one can rouse his courage
to gallop forward, or when they are sure that the time for attack has
come they will dash at us. It would be well to make preparations. Let us
put more on the fire, and place stakes with their points to the centre.
A blazing brand is a fine weapon I have heard. To shoot when they are
running, and hit the brutes, is no easy matter.'

Ten minutes later it was evident to all that they would have to defend
themselves against the wolves, of whom there must have been at least a
hundred. Had David's party but known it, it was the flapping canvas
walls at the entrance which scared the animals, and which so far had
been sufficient to keep them from attacking. But hardly had the fire
been built up, and brands laid in it, while all their packs were hastily
bundled, so as to form a wall across the entrance, when a long, stealthy
form crept beneath one of the tents, and suddenly became visible to all.
For a moment or two it stood, its tongue depending from its mouth, its
wicked eyes shining in the fire light. Then, as the frightened ponies
neighed and stamped, the brute leapt the barrier with a bound and sprang
full at David.



CHAPTER XVIII

Terrors of the Mongolian Desert


Never in all his existence had David had need for such rapid movement as
on the occasion when the wolf suddenly sprang over the barrier at him,
for the brute's flight was like that of lightning, giving but little
time for preparation. And if the matter had, in fact, been left entirely
to our hero, he would most certainly have been badly mauled. As it was,
he drew his magazine pistol swiftly, and fired almost the moment it had
left his belt. But the ball did not stop the animal, though it pierced
his body. Nothing could arrest his attack, save death, and that Chu-Li
brought to him swiftly. As the beast struck David on the chest his fangs
closed on his coat sleeve, fortunately missing the arm, and clung there
for a minute. By then Chu-Li had drawn his knife, and with a quick stab
he ended the struggle.

'Did I not say that they can be dangerous, Excellency?' he said. 'When
they are hungry they are as mad people, knowing no fear. Let us all take
the brands in our hands. I will cast this animal out to his fellows.
Perhaps that will appease them for a while.'

He stooped over the beast, and lifting him with an effort--for he was
very large--cast him out at the side of the tent flap. And at once there
arose such a snarling that all of the party within the hollow held their
breath.

'It would be like that were we to be taken,' said Chu-Li grimly.
'Perhaps it is as well for us to know; for then we shall fight the more
fiercely. I say that there are many who imagine, never having seen a
wolf, that such beasts cannot be so very dangerous. One has to meet them
to understand. Now, we will take the brands and stand ready.

Giving a kick to the fire so that it burned more brightly the four men
stood behind their barricade, flaming brands gripped in their hands. Nor
was it long before they had need for them; for the wolves had by now
devoured their dead comrade, and still scenting food within the hollow,
and having as it were got their courage and their blood up, came
squeezing in twos and threes beneath the tents. Their ferocity was
extraordinary. Time and again David shot one of the brutes through the
body with no apparent result, for it still came forward, leaping at the
barrier and endeavouring to get at those behind it. The brands, however,
were far and away the best weapon. When one was dashed into the face of
a wolf it turned tail promptly and retreated; but it was back again
within a minute, back with its comrades till the crush beneath the tents
threatened to level them, and till the defenders were hard set to it to
preserve their lives.

'This kind of thing can't last much longer,' declared David at last,
when the wolves drew off after some fifteen minutes. 'They are getting
bolder and bolder, and I am inclined to think that the tents help them.
They sneak beneath them till quite close, when it is an easy matter to
spring upon us. I am for firing the tents, and so having a clear view.'

'And I agree, Excellency,' said Chu-Li readily. 'Let us destroy the
tents, when we shall be able to see the brutes coming. Moreover, we can
fire at them in the open, and reserve the brands till they are close at
hand.'

There was a quick nod of acquiescence from Jong and the other Chinaman,
showing that they were in agreement. Jong, in fact, stepped forward to
apply his brand to the canvas. But David stopped him quickly.

'Not yet,' he said. 'Wait till they come on again; perhaps having a
blazing roof over them will give them such a scare that they will clear
off. Besides, it occurs to me that once our tents are destroyed we shall
find ourselves in sad need of them. Let us contrive to save one at
least. Wait while I see what the pack is doing.'

His appearance at the opening was the signal for a chorus of howls and
cries from the wolves, for all the world as if they were human beings.
David watched them for a minute as they sat for the most part collected
about the hollow in a wide circle, watching the place with sharp eyes
which never strayed from it. Once one of the brutes, seeing him in the
open, made a rush forward, but a quick shot caused it to halt and slink
back amongst its fellows. Then our hero unhitched the rope outside from
the peg to which it was attached, and signalled to those within to pull
the canvas towards them.

'I'll watch the beasts while you do it,' he called. 'Pile it up on the
barricade so as to make it higher. Hurry up. They've all got on to their
legs and are moving.'

They had barely time to drag the tent within the cave when the pack of
hungry and maddened beasts outside dashed forward, snarling and yelping,
causing David to retreat at once to the shelter of the barricade.

'Wait till they are well in the opening before you fire the second
tent,' he called to Jong, 'and take care that they don't catch sight of
you. Once down there would be an end to any one.'

For a few anxious moments the defenders of the cave wondered whether
they had been right in clearing the entrance, for now that there was
ample room the wolves swarmed in in a mass, crushing one another,
yelping and snapping viciously, madly struggling to come at those behind
the barricade. Bullets made not the smallest impression. Even the
red-hot brands failed to stop them. It looked, indeed, as if they would
flood the place and kill the whole party. Then Jong set his brand to the
second tent, and almost at once a sheet of flame flared across the
opening. The result was wonderful. The pack of wolves struggled and
fought to get away, and, finally freeing themselves, bolted into the
open, where they sat themselves down again in a ring, their eyes
reflecting the glare of the flames cast by the blazing tent. And there
they continued to squat when the canvas was consumed, their tongues
lolling from their mouths, their cruel white teeth showing.

'I think we might as well begin to fire at them,' said David. 'We have
ample ammunition, but may as well carry out the work methodically, so
that no two men will fire at the same animal. I will take those to the
left. Chu-Li, you fire at those seated on the right. Jong and his friend
will take the left and right of the centre of the circles. Aim
carefully, and make every shot count.'

There was a huge commotion amongst the brutes seated outside as a volley
burst from the cave. They started to their feet and dashed here and
there yelping loudly. Then, led by one huge animal, they headed straight
for the hollow, as if determined to gain an entrance.

'Fire quickly,' shouted David. 'Empty your magazines into them and then
take up the brands.'

It was a fortunate thing for the party that the Chinese soldiers were
armed with modern weapons, and trained to use them, and also that Jong
had been provided with a magazine pistol. Otherwise the rush of the pack
of wolves could not have been stopped. But as it was the storm of
bullets pelting into their ranks, as well perhaps as the flashes of
flame from the dark opening, caused the line to halt. Then those who had
not been hit fell with terrible ferocity on their wounded comrades,
tearing them to pieces.

'It's not a nice thing to look at,' said David, as he re-loaded, 'and I
rather think a fellow will be inclined to dream the whole thing over one
of these nights and have the jumps in consequence. But it will help us
wonderfully by easing their hunger. Now, we will fire again. The more we
knock over the better.'

Little by little the wolves drew away from the hollow as the bullets
swished amongst them. At first they had contented themselves with
changing their respective positions. But finding that their comrades
were still falling, the bulk at length crept away till they were hidden
in the darkness. But they were still within easy distance for a rush.
Occasionally a slinking form crept into view against the white
background, only to slide away into the shadow. And then, after hours
and hours of toilsome and anxious waiting, the dawn came, causing the
whole pack to turn tail and seek cover in the distance.

'May we never see or hear them again is what I fervently hope,' declared
David, seating himself for the first time since the animals had put in
an appearance. 'I fancy we have had as narrow an escape as is possible,
and am devoutly thankful. Now, Jong, food and drink, and then we'll get
away from the hollow.'

'And ride direct for the nearest village, Excellency,' advised Chu-Li.
'For one cannot say that the wolves have gone far. There may be a forest
close at hand, and were they in hiding there, and to catch us in the
open, then indeed all our struggling would have been in vain. With no
hollow to help us we should quickly be torn to pieces.'

'Then before we go far we had better have a good look round. I shall
climb to the top of the hill now. It is quite clear, and the sun looks
as if it would appear. No doubt I shall be able to see a long way, and
if there is a wood anywhere near I shall catch sight of it.'

David left Jong squatted over the fire, preparing a much-needed morning
meal, and issued from the cave. The snow outside was a couple of feet
deep, while here and there, where the wind had swept it into drifts, it
was as much as twenty feet from top to base. Everywhere adjacent to the
cave were the foot-marks of the wolves, with a distinctly outlined
circle where they had squatted between their attacks. As for the beasts
themselves, there was not a living one in sight. Only numerous
half-knawed bones could be seen, for the ravenous beasts who had escaped
the bullets of the defenders had eaten everything else.

'I couldn't have believed it possible unless I had actually seen such a
result with my own eyes,' said David to himself. 'People in Old England
would probably smile incredulously if I told them the yarn how a pack
had simply devoured twenty or more of their fellows when knocked over by
our weapons. But here's the evidence, as clear as one can wish it. Now
for the hill top.'

It was hard work scrambling up, and many a time he slid down many yards
on the surface of the hard-frozen snow. But by sticking to the task he
at length reached the top. It presented in ordinary times, no doubt, a
sharp ridge, that was now smoothly rounded by the snow, and which ran
north and south for some four hundred yards. It was the only high ground
to be seen, so that David and his little party were peculiarly lucky to
have come upon it. And its elevation gave one a wonderful view over the
snow-clad landscape, that glistened and shone now under a wintery sun.
As far as the eye could see the white expanse was unbroken, save in one
direction where there was a smear of black across it, from the
neighbourhood of which smoke was rising.

'A village,' he thought. 'Not a sign of a forest, so I presume that
those beasts have quitted this part of the country, only they must have
gone precious quickly, for there is not one to be seen anywhere. I think
we can safely set out.'

An hour later, after a hearty breakfast, the ponies were loaded with the
stores accompanying the party, and David and his men set out. Though the
going was not as easy as it had been when there was no snow, it was not
particularly difficult; for there had been a severe frost, and the hoofs
of the animals sank only a little way below the surface.

'I think we'd better keep well together, and have the pack ponies
between us,' said David, once they were clear of the hill. 'To tell you
the truth, now that we are in the open I'm beginning to wonder whether I
can have made a mistake about those brutes. If they have gone right off,
then they must have got away at their fastest pace, else I should have
seen them. It makes me a little anxious.'

'It is one of those matters which one cannot well help, Excellency,'
Chu-Li reassured him. 'It may be that the brutes have found some hollow
which was not visible from the top of the hill, and have taken shelter
in it. I mean some dip in the ground. There is this to be said in our
favour. The animals have had a fine feed during the night, and will
therefore not be so ravenous, while it is well-known that wolves do not
attack so fiercely during the day time. But I have known of a party
being torn to pieces, and for that reason we had best hasten.'

They urged their willing animals forward after that, and were soon more
than half-way to the village, which could now be distinctly seen. It was
then that Jong announced that there was something following the party,
causing David to call a halt. At once he, too, caught sight of a
slinking object, while Chu-Li declared that he had seen several.

'They are wolves without doubt, Excellency,' he said, 'and keep
themselves as low down on the snow as possible, so as to come near
without being seen. I had rather fight twenty men than the same number
of those fierce brutes.'

'And I too,' agreed David. 'However, we have got to face the matter out.
Jong, do you go on, leading the pack-ponies as fast as possible. Hu-Ty
can take my mount as well as Chu-Li's, while we two will walk, firing at
the wolves whenever we see them. A few good shots should make them keep
their distance. If not, we will mount and ride as fast as the beasts
will take us. In less than an hour at any rate we shall be at the
village.'

Slipping out of his saddle he handed the reins to Hu-Ty, and took his
rifle from him, together with a handful of ammunition. Chu-Li at once
joined him, while Jong took the leads of the other animals and sent them
towards the village at a smart rate. Indeed, the ponies were only too
willing. For though they may not have seen the prowling enemy in rear,
they shivered visibly and fretted greatly, showing that they had
probably scented the wolves.

'Now, we will take it in turns, Chu,' said David. 'One good shot is
better than twenty misses, and besides, if we knock one wolf over, he
provides food for his comrades.'

Catching a clear view of a slinking form at that moment he dropped on to
one knee, levelled his rifle and took careful aim. The snap of the
weapon was followed by a distant howl, while the animal he had fired at
leaped into the air and fell backward into the snow.

'Showing that a bullet at a fair range is more deadly than one fired
point blank,' he remarked, remembering that when in the cave many of the
wolves though perforated had still dashed forward.

'It was a fine shot, Excellency,' exclaimed Chu, with enthusiasm. 'As to
a bullet being more deadly, I am sure of it. I have seen men dash
forward with mad impetuosity. Nothing could stop them, unless the bullet
struck them in the head or heart. Such fanatics seemed to feel nothing
till they had given a blow, and then many a man fell never to move
again. I know, for I was one of the few who helped my masters, the
English, when the legations at Pekin were besieged during the revolt of
the Boxers. Those were fierce times, Excellency.'

He drew himself up proudly, while David looked at the soldier in a new
light. It was clear that Chu was something like his leader, the astute
and travelled Twang Chun, Governor of the province. He at least was not
one of the masses who saw in a European a foreign devil meant only to be
killed.

'You have much to be proud of, Chu,' he said warmly. 'That must have
been a fine experience.'

'It was, Excellency; we fought against huge odds, and the attackers were
even as fierce as these beasts. But see: the others have fallen upon the
one you shot. I will send a bullet amongst them.'

It was an easy shot, and the Chinaman laid a second wolf low. Then he
and David leaped into their saddles, while the whole party went on at as
great a pace as the ponies could accomplish, leaving the wolves, of whom
there seemed to be a great number, huddled around their fallen comrades.
It gave David and his men a breathing space, and for ten minutes they
were able to press on without halting. Then the wolves, having devoured
the two which had been shot, came after them again, slinking over the
snow, and showing themselves as little as possible.

'We'll do as we did before,' cried David, looking over his shoulder,
'only this time, as there seem to be so many, we had better kill four at
least if possible. Come along, Chu. No need to stop Jong and the pack
ponies. We shall easily catch them up.'

Two minutes later when they were again in their saddles and had drawn
level with Jong, the latter reported that he had seen some of the dark,
slinking forms to his left, while within a few minutes Chu announced
that others were coming up on the right. It was a very serious position,
and though David discussed the matter quickly, no one could devise any
other plan than that of hurrying forward.

'We've given those in rear reason to halt for a while at any rate,' he
told his men. 'We must wait and see what these others are going to do,
and if they look as if they were coming close in we shall have to halt
and fire at them. I admit I don't like the business at all. How long
will it take us to get to the village at this rate, Chu?'

'Half an hour, Excellency. By then if the wolves mean to attack, there
will be little left of us.'

There was a deep line across the soldier's brow, while his eyes were
drawn and anxious; but of his pluck there could be no two opinions.
Chu-Li was a fine soldier and feared nothing, nothing perhaps that was
human. But wolves were different altogether. However, the situation was
one that had to be faced, and for that reason the party went on as fast
as possible, taking no notice of the brutes which were attempting to
outflank them. But at length the latter had drawn in perceptibly, while
half-a-dozen were in front of the party between them and the village.

'Then there's nothing for it but to dismount and fire as we go,' said
David, as he set an example by dropping from his saddle. 'Hu-Ty must
help. The ponies are not likely to stray with these beasts so near them,
and will more likely huddle closely together. Come, let us do our utmost
to drive the wolves off.'

Walking rapidly beside their ponies David and the two Chinamen stopped
every few seconds to fire at the wolves, knocking several over. But as
fast as one fell, others seemed to leap into his place, as if they came
from the snow itself. And a bad sign for the fortunes of the party,--the
beasts were now ignoring their fallen comrades.

'Looks as if they preferred humans,' thought David, grimly. 'I begin to
see that we shall have to halt and make a stand. Chu,' he called loudly.
'They look as if they were about to make a rush. They have come in a lot
closer and are all round us now. If they run in make a dash for the
ponies, and take up your posts in the very centre. It's hard luck for
our mounts, but we must put them between us and our enemies. Ah! they're
moving. That big one out there seems to be a leader.'

Up went his rifle, and the beast he aimed at howled as he pulled the
trigger. But he did not fall as had the others. Glaring at David's party
for a moment, he suddenly sank his head, and with his limbs bent beneath
him came dashing forward over the snow. And as he came his mates
followed, howling and yapping.

'Into the centre!' shouted David. 'Put the ponies outside. Begin to fire
at once.'

Bunched in a little group, the forlorn little party made the utmost of
the situation. The four stood close together with the ponies immediately
outside them. And the poor animals seemed to have guessed that they were
to act as a bulwark, for they cowered, shivering and stamping their
hoofs, and pressing in upon the men who were to defend them. It was just
before a volley belched from the rifles of his party that David heard a
distant gong, and then a loud report. Looking round in the direction of
the village he was overjoyed to see a number of men running towards him,
many of whom carried flaming brands, while the weapons they bore were as
many and as various as the garments of the strangers.

'Fire as hard as you can!' he shouted. 'The villagers are running out to
help us, so that if we can keep the wolves at bay for a couple of
minutes we shall be safe.'

Those two minutes were perhaps the most strenuous he had ever spent in
all his life. Even Chu-Li admitted that the defence of the legations at
Pekin was hardly equal to that last attack. For the wolves had heard the
gong and the shout of the villagers, and as if determined that their
prey should not escape them, they dashed in madly, their eyes flaming,
their teeth parted in a snarl. More than one managed to leap on to the
backs of the ponies, only to be at once shot or struck down by the
knives the Chinese carried. One even fixed its fangs in the neck of a
pony, till the poor beast, driven frantic with pain and fear, dashed
away from the circle. Twenty wolves were on it immediately, and would
have had it down and torn to pieces in little time had not a crumb of
sense returned to the pony. It kicked madly in all directions, and then
galloped back to its comrades, where Chu and Jong slashed at the wolves
still holding to it. By then the villagers were close at hand, running
forward in a compact body, and at once, with many a snarl of rage, the
wolves took themselves off.

'Who are you?' demanded one of the strangers, who was muffled to the
eyes, and dressed in padded clothing which made him of enormous size.
'You come from the north or the south? Answer immediately. If from the
north, then in spite of the wolves you must go on your journey.'

'We come from the south. This Excellency is a friend of Twang Chun, the
noble Governor of this province,' answered Chu, putting himself forward
as spokesman. 'The Excellency bears letters to all whom it may concern.
He is a noble Englishman.'

'Then follow; a friend of the noble Twang Chun is our friend. You will
be welcome.'

David bowed as the Chinese headman kow-towed before him, looking as if
he found it hard to bend, so many garments had he on him. Then our hero
thanked him warmly, and asked why, if he had come from the north, he
would not be welcome.

'Because, Excellency, there is plague there, and in spite of the cold
weather people are flying from it. Mobs have passed us, but we have kept
them at a distance. Elsewhere the frantic people have burst into
defenceless villages, and have murdered every one so as to take their
food supplies. We had rather welcome wolves than these maddened
individuals. But tell me about the beasts who attacked you. You have had
a very narrow escape without doubt. I myself have never seen the brutes
attack so fiercely, and I am accustomed to them.'

Nowhere else had our hero been made so welcome as in the village to
which they had now come, and he and his party spent three days there,
resting after their adventures, and waiting till the snow had cleared.
For a thaw had set in, and the wet made the ground almost impossible
for horses. But on the fourth day they were able to start, and set out
from the village, having made arrangements that supplies of rice and of
chickens should be forwarded to the ruins weekly.

'Unless, of course, something occurs to prevent our despatching the
food, 'said the headman.' We have abundance here, and shall be glad to
sell it. But this trouble in Manchuria is very pressing, and it may be
that we shall not be able to spare men to go to you. Everywhere reports
say that mobs are parading the country, and when a Chinaman is homeless
and hungry no law is sufficient to stop his thieving and killing. A fine
journey, Excellency. It has been a pleasure to meet you.'

Three days later David reached the ruins where his comrades were
working, and was hailed with delight by the Professor.

'I began to get really nervous about you,' he declared, 'especially when
the snowstorm broke over the country. Come and tell me all that has
happened to you.'

'And now let me hear something about the work here, Professor,' asked
David when he had told him about the discovery of the hollow during the
snowstorm, and the attack of the wolves. 'How are you progressing?'

'Splendidly; couldn't be better,' exclaimed the Professor, rubbing his
hands together with energy. 'We seem to have dropped upon the very part
which your poor father excavated. Of course, he did not go very far;
that we know, for Chang and his ruffians so soon interrupted him.
However, he removed a mass of debris, which has made our work all the
lighter. We have already made discoveries. We have opened up some
wonderful inscriptions, and Dick hit upon a buried bronze bowl which is
unique I should say, and will find a place in the British Museum. The
only contretemps we have experienced was two days after the snowstorm. A
band of most villainous-looking fellows came this way and demanded
provisions. They were from Manchuria, from the plague-infested area,
and, of course, my workers would have nothing to do with them. They
moved off soon afterwards, though there is little doubt that had they
been in greater strength they would hardly have let us off so lightly.
Come in, and see what we have been doing.'

For three weeks David worked with the excavators, finding the task of
the greatest interest. For the diggers had come upon a covered way,
built in stone, and absolutely perfect, and from this, as the debris was
cleared away, it was possible to enter houses, the roofs of which were
just visible above the all-pervading sand, while the interiors were
often almost free of that material. And in them was found abundance of
food for reflection--domestic articles in great numbers left by those
ancient residents, tiled ways which could not be improved upon by the
later Romans; and bronze vases and receptacles of every shape and
design, some so elegant, in fact, that the Professor, who was a
connoisseur in such matters, declared that the form was similar to that
found in ancient Grecian vases, and that this old Mongolian civilization
had undoubtedly sent its artistic wares broadcast, till they reached
the far west, and were copied by a race less ancient than these
Mongolians, but ancient for all that.

'Believe it or not as you will,' he said, impressively, 'but there is
reason in my statement. Here are vases similar to those made by the
ancient Greeks. But Greece was probably only rising in power and to the
summit of her artistic attainments when this city had ceased to exist,
for the civilisation of these parts is extremely ancient. Yet the work
of the two nations has a decided similarity. What more natural than to
conclude that here in China was laid down the model for future designers
in bronze? One sees the same elsewhere. Japan, famed for long now for
her art in bronze, is merely a copyist. Her designers took their curves
and angles from the modellers of the Celestial Empire.'

It was all extremely fascinating, and David threw his heart into the
work. Often and often, too, he wondered whether some day he and the
diggers would come upon a part where there could be no doubt that his
father had worked. And then, why should he not discover the will for
which he had come to the country?

'It's not the money,' he said, many and many a time, when discussing the
matter with the Professor. 'I don't really care a pin about it just now,
though I daresay it will prove very useful. But I said I would come out
to China to search for it. Here I am. I mean to discover it, if the will
is actually in existence.'

'All of which proves you to be what your respected stepmother
proclaimed,' smiled the Professor. 'David, I'm afraid you are an
exceedingly stubborn customer.'

Stubborn or not, the lad had set his heart on the undertaking, and the
further the excavations progressed the more eagerly did he move about
the ruins. Then the course of his search was interrupted, for peace and
tranquility are never to be long expected in such a country as China.



CHAPTER XIX

A Fight to a Finish


'Monsieur, I see men coming across the plain, and they are hurrying,'
said Alphonse, one early morning, bursting unceremoniously into the huge
apartment which the diggers had discovered in the ruins, and which for
nearly a month now had served as quarters for the Professor's party.
Indeed, thanks no doubt to the preservative nature of the material which
for ages now had covered up the ancient Mongolian city, there had been
no difficulty in finding room for all engaged in the work of excavating.

'_Monsieur le Professeur_, it would be well to come above with me and
see who it is who comes,' cried Alphonse again, striding across to the
little cot occupied by his employer. 'I declare to you, I was above
lighting the fire so as to boil the water for a cup of tea when, in the
far distance, I saw figures. There were many of them. They were
hastening hither as if they were pursued.'

It took the Professor and his two young comrades less than two minutes,
perhaps, to jump into their clothing, when all hastened out of the
apartment, and passing along the ancient covered way, clambered up the
steep, log-paved steps which led to the surface. It was a glorious
morning, with a cold, wintery sun flooding the dreary landscape, and
shining upon the uneven surface of sand where it lay over the ruins, and
on the tower, tottering near the centre, the same which had attracted
David so often.

'See!' cried Alphonse, dancing to the top of the steps as if he were
standing on hot bricks. 'See, there are thirty of the figures at least,
and now they are running.'

The Professor instantly threw up his field-glasses and fixed them upon
the advancing strangers. There was a look of anxiety on his face when he
lowered them again.

'Call Chu-Li and the other soldiers,' he commanded abruptly. 'Issue arms
to Ho-Hung and our other servants, and tell the diggers we may need
their help. David, those are the people who once helped you and your
comrades when you were attacked by wolves in the open. They are running
here as if they were pursued. I fear we are in for trouble, and had
better make our preparations now.'

At a sign from the Professor, David doubled out from the ruins, so as to
meet the men who were running towards them, and was soon in conversation
with the headman, who panted so hard that he could hardly explain
himself. But halting for a few moments he managed to tell his tale.

'It is as I have feared,' he said breathlessly. 'The country to the east
of us is in a turmoil. Scarcely a day passes that stray parties fleeing
from the plague scourge do not demand food from us, often with threats,
while one village has to my knowledge been burned, and every soul
within it murdered. The night before last we received news that a
thousand men were marching south and west, and had turned in our
direction from the more direct course, as soldiers had been sent to
intercept them. They passed the night in a village ten miles from us,
and ruthlessly robbed every one. Those who opposed them were killed. It
was clear that they would serve us in the same manner, and for that
reason we left hastily, bringing what possessions we could, as well as a
supply of provisions. This morning the invading army was within sight of
us, for they carry nothing but their clothes.'

'And are now near at hand?' demanded David eagerly, for common-sense and
scraps of news which had reached him told him that the danger was real.
The people of Manchuria, and portions of Mongolia, had in fact gone
stark staring mad in the past few weeks. Black plague was upon them, and
was decimating whole villages, while those not attacked were fleeing
towards Pekin regardless of the consequences, and without having made
provision for such a journey. And as a natural sequence they were soon
on the borders of starvation.

'There's not a doubt that we have come to China at a most unfortunate
time,' the Professor had declared. 'If I had heard of the plague in this
district before we sailed, I should have delayed my departure. But it is
always the same with severe epidemics. There is a case here, and another
there at first; then, suddenly, the disease blazes out in all
directions, spreads like wild-fire, and creates pandemonium and terror
everywhere. China is a country less prepared for such an event almost
than any other, for the people are so intensely ignorant. You see they
think to escape by rushing away from the infected areas, forgetting that
in every case they carry the infection with them.'

'There was news from a place forty miles to the east that a band had
taken up its quarters in a town of small proportions, and were
terrorising the inhabitants,' David reminded himself. 'Tell me,' he
asked of the headman, who had now almost recovered his breath, 'what is
there to fear from these fellows? A thousand strong you place them?'

'There is that number at least, Excellency. As to their intentions, I
tell you they will eat up all before them. Already they have emptied
every sack and bin in our village. That was two nights ago, or almost
so. By now they are starving once more, and will seize the first
provisions which come their way. They will know at once that men have
been camping here. They will investigate, and will gather the fact that
it is a European expedition, and therefore rich. That will be enough for
this army of frightened people, for though the thought of plague
terrifies them, they fear nothing else. Hunger makes them terribly
savage. They will murder us all if we do nothing to prevent them.'

'If that's the case I shall certainly object, and pretty strongly,' said
David, with a decision which seemed to put heart into the headman.
'Bring your men along. We will see at once what can be done.'

They found on their return to the entrance of the stairway that the
Professor and his helpers had been wonderfully busy. Every article of
value had been carried down from the surface, while even the ponies had
been transported bodily and placed in a position of safety.

'We've done all that's possible, I imagine,' said the leader. 'Now we
have only to wait and see what happens. I trust these people will pass
without giving us a call. Perhaps they will miss us altogether.'

'I hardly think so,' ventured David. 'The headman tells me that they are
wonderfully well informed, and that they have come round this way so as
to avoid soldiers sent to arrest their progress, and who are situated at
this moment about forty miles to the east. Wouldn't it be as well to
send a message across to their commanding officer?'

The Professor jumped at the suggestion. He hastily scrawled a message in
Chinese, explaining the situation, and then, having caused two of the
ponies to be carried to the surface again, he despatched one of the
soldiers with the note.

'Ride fast,' he ordered. 'If these men attack us we shall have need of
all the help that can be sent.'

No one who caught a glimpse of the fleeing army from Manchuria could
doubt that statement, for a more tattered and desperate set David had
never set his eyes on. They reached the excavation works in a straggling
mass of hollow-eyed people, many of whom were almost too weak to drag
one foot after the other. But there were strong men amongst them, in
spite of their sunken cheeks, men whose blazing eyes and hungry looks
showed that nothing but superior force would prevent their carrying out
whatever they aimed at. Nor did they leave the Professor and his party
long in doubt as to their intentions. A couple of ragged but huge men
came down the stairway, their pigtails swaying from side to side, and
called hoarsely to any one who might be in hearing. The Professor at
once showed himself at the door of the apartment which he and his
friends were occupying.

'What do you wish?' he asked.

'Food; give us food,' cried one of the men, not as if he were asking for
a favour, but as if for something that he would as soon take by force.

'I will give you three bags of rice; that is all we can spare,' answered
the Professor steadily.

'Hear him! Three bags of rice, when we know he has a pile. Hear the
foreign devil, brother,' shouted one of the men, the one who had not
previously spoken. 'Listen, foreign devil,' he bellowed, as if he wished
to terrorise the Professor by the force of his voice, 'we will be
satisfied with fifty.'

'Three is the allowance I will make; take it or leave it,' came the curt
answer.

'And you refuse more?'

The Professor nodded coolly. 'We refuse more; we have to provide for our
own needs.'

'Then we will take every sack you have, and strip you of all your
possessions. You have had fair warning.'

Without the smallest indication of what he intended doing the rascal
levelled a pistol, and fired point blank at the Professor, sending a
bullet crashing against the ancient doorpost. Then the two men turned
and swaggered up the stairs, calling loudly to their comrades. Nor was
it long before the latter put in an appearance.

'They will attack us without fail,' said the headman, when appealed to
by the Professor. 'In fact, you may say that they are bound to do so,
for the next place where they can possibly obtain food is more than a
day's march from here. Also, no doubt, they have learned that you have a
goodly store, and fancying you to be an easy prey they will fight to
take everything from you, thereby supplying the needs of all in the band
till they arrive in the neighbourhood of Pekin.'

'What arms do they carry?' asked David, suddenly.

'A few have pistols and guns, but the majority carry knives or swords,
and a few pikes. But it is their numbers which make them formidable.'

There was little doubt that that was the true aspect of the affair, for
this army of people flying from Manchuria, and rendered desperate by
their hunger were dangerous even if unarmed. Their huge numbers told
wonderfully in their favour, while the ease with which they had wiped
out other parties had given them confidence. The situation was, in fact,
one of extreme danger.

'Hadn't we better block up every sort of place through which they could
fire?' asked David. 'We can easily leave port-holes for ourselves, and
if we place them properly we shall be able to command the stairway. I
rather think, too, that it would be as well to set our diggers at work
to discover a way out of this apartment. We may be so hard pressed that
flight will be necessary.'

The suggestion was one which the Professor eagerly accepted, and as
promptly adopted. Calling Ho-Hung he set him to work to organise some of
the diggers, and requested David to supervise the work they were to do
until the enemy appeared in sight. Then every available man was pressed
into the task of blocking up the wide doorway leading to this ancient
house, and in filling the only window. But in spite of the many helpers
the task was only half completed when there was a commotion above. The
two ragamuffins who had descended and so haughtily demanded food
appeared in sight, leading a huge following to the stairway. Those who
led bore with them the trunk of a tree felled a week before to serve as
fire-wood, but now intended to be used as a species of ram.

'Silence!' called the Professor. 'Let every man go on with his work
quietly and take advantage of every second we have. Use anything you can
lay your hands on to help the barricades so long as it be not
provisions. Ah, they are coming in their hundreds.'

The wide stairway which the men employed by the Professor had made as
they proceeded with their work, and which they had paved with stout tree
branches, was now crammed with men who presented a terrible spectacle.
For, whereas in former attacks David had noticed that the Chinese
advanced with loud shouts, these people crowded down the stairway in a
stony silence that was remarkable. Not one but wore a haggard
appearance. Their faces were pinched without exception, while in every
pair of eyes there was a desperate look, something altogether savage
that reminded him of the eyes of the wolves which had so recently
surrounded himself and his three comrades.

'One can see that it is not a question of bearing us ill will,' he
whispered in the Professor's ear. 'It is a case of sheer necessity.
Either they must secure what we have, or they will starve.'

'It is they or us, David,' answered the Professor solemnly. 'If I had
food in abundance, willingly would I give it. But were I to dole out all
we have, there would hardly be enough to go the round of this multitude,
and even so we ourselves would starve. Tell me, what are the diggers
doing?'

'Cutting a hole through the wall at the back, Sir. We thought it sounded
hollow, and have an idea that there may be another covered way there.
They will make only a hole large enough to let us get through with the
ponies, so that we can easily fill it again. What are you going to do
with these fellows?'

'Warn them that we shall defend our goods. Then leave it to them to
clear off or to make the first attack. I hate firing at poor wretches
such as these are, but, candidly, I look upon them as infinitely more
dangerous than a well-fed mob.'

Rearing his head over the top of the barricade with which the doorway
was now almost completely blocked, the Professor called loudly to the
mob, and at once they came to a halt. Perhaps three hundred pair of
hungry eyes were directed on his face.

'Good people,' he called, 'I beg of you to retire and be satisfied with
what I have already said. If I feed you all, my stores will but allow
for one meal at most, while I and my men must starve. Go, therefore, for
if you persist I warn you I will defend this place till I and all are
killed.'

A loud chorus of shouts greeted his words. Men shook their fists at him
and brandished a hundred different weapons, while the very mention of
food seemed to madden the desperate individuals. Then the rascal who had
fired at the Professor, and who was leading the band, once more lifted
his weapon and sent a second bullet thudding against the doorpost.

'Listen to him, comrades,' he bellowed. 'He admits that he has food
there sufficient for all of us. Are then we who own the country to
starve while foreign devils live on the fat of the land? Forward! We
have cleared more than one roost now with more bantams in it to stand in
our way.'

At once there was a rush outside. The covered way, which no doubt had
sheltered many a thousand Mongolian in the old days, was soon crammed to
overflowing, while still more of the mob thronged the stairs. Then with
shouts the leaders cleared a patch for the men carrying the tree trunk.

'Rush at the barricade with it,' called the rascally leader. 'Smash it
and then fetch out the food which is ours by right. You will know how to
deal with the foreign devil and his supporters, my comrades.'

There was a growl from the mob, and then a roar, as the men bearing the
tree trunk rushed forward. As for the defenders, they sprang to the
loopholes which had been left and awaited the Professor's signal. It
came in a moment, for the battering-ram almost levelled the barrier at
the first effort.

'Fire on them!' shouted the Professor. 'Pick off every man who attempts
to lift the tree. That is where our real danger lies. Once this barrier
is down they will be on us; nothing can resist such numbers.'

David and Dick, with Ho-Hung and his comrades, as well as Chu-Li and his
four fellow-soldiers, had before now each chosen an aperture for his
weapon, and at once a hot fire was opened on the enemy. Meanwhile every
available article was thrown on the barricade to strengthen it, for
there were numbers of willing hands amongst the Professor's party. As
for the mob outside, half a dozen fell at the first discharge, all of
whom bore the ram, while every time a man leaned over to pick it up
again he was fired at instantly. In three minutes a round dozen were
biting the sand.

'Then let us tear it down with our hands, comrades,' shouted the burly
ringleader. 'They can hit one man as he leans to pick this thing up, but
they cannot kill us all. Better to eat than to live on starving.'

The words drew a howl from the mob. Those on the stairway were now so
pressed and packed together that they could not turn, while the space
below was filled to overflowing. With an angry roar the latter leaped
forward close on the heels of their leader, and struggled desperately
with one another to come at the barricade. Those who could reach it tore
madly at the sawn logs, striving to pull them out of the way.

[Illustration: STORMING THE BARRICADE]

'Steady, lads!' called out the Professor, by whose side stood Alphonse,
his hat awry, his keen eyes shining. 'If they break through we must make
a sortie. I shall lead the way.'

'With Alphonse beside you, monsieur,' cried the Frenchman. 'But I am
thinking Ho-Hung can wield a stake, and Jong also. Those two perched on
our barricade could deal hard blows to these ruffians, while we at the
loopholes could shoot down those who have fire-arms. What says
monsieur?'

'That the plan is excellent. Hung! Jong!' He shouted, and at once gave
them their instructions. The movement did indeed help the defenders
wonderfully, for few of the attackers had fire-arms, and those who had
could use them with difficulty only owing to the press. With swinging
blows the two Chinamen beat back the mob tearing at the barricade, while
the more dangerous of the latter were shot down from the loopholes. Then
the Professor again stood before them.

'Good people,' he shouted, so that all could hear, 'I beg of you to
retire. You see for yourselves that we are able to oppose you, and
already numbers of your brothers have fallen. Let that suffice. Go now
before worse happens.'

For one whole minute, perhaps, there was silence outside, while not a
man moved. No doubt the opposition had taken the mob by surprise, for
elsewhere they had been able to rob and murder without danger or
difficulty. The sight of wounded and fallen men unnerved a few, and
made them wish that the stairway were not so crammed and that retreat
were possible. But deep embedded in the hearts of the majority was the
knowledge that they were hungry, and that failure here meant starvation.
It needed, therefore, but a tiny spark to kindle their courage once
more. The rascally fellow who had so nearly hit the Professor on two
occasions was still at hand, and he it was who quickly had them once
more racing for the barrier.

'It is a dodge,' he shouted. 'Believe not the foreign devil. Pull the
barricade aside and you have every bag of food that belongs to these
people. Hesitate now, and go on your way. What will happen? You will
starve. You will leave your bones by the road. The dogs and the wolves
will come and feed off your carcases. Forward, then. There is food, and
plenty of it behind that barricade.'

He led a silent host at once against the defenders, a host frantic with
its woes, rendered as fierce as any pack of wolves by its privations.
And in a trice it seemed that it must succeed. Even the lusty blows of
the two Chinamen and the shots of those at the loopholes failed to keep
it back. Already a foot or more of the barricade had toppled over, while
a dozen of the men outside had again seized the battering-ram. And then,
so fickle and so changing is fortune in such matters, a small affair
turned the scale in favour of the defenders. The excitement of those who
were unable, because of their position on the stairway, to join in the
contest was so intense that they struggled and pushed their way
downward in spite of all difficulties till the covered way was crammed.
But still they came till even those struck by the bullets from the
loopholes could not fall on account of the press. Then someone above
bellowed a warning.

'I see men coming!' he shouted. 'I see soldiers--they are galloping this
way; they will cut us to pieces.'

Instantly there was a rush for the stairway. Two hundred and more
frantic people fought to be the first away. They tore at one another
with as much ferocity as they had displayed when attacking the
barricade, and those who were strongest, or who had taken up the most
commanding positions, prevailed. Men were dragged down and trodden
underfoot, an eddy as it were on the stairway caused the mass thronging
every step to heave backward, and at once numbers lost their balance and
fell, helped to their death by those who were nearest. Knives flashed
here and there. Men snarled at one another. Altogether it was a horrible
and terrifying spectacle. And the movement itself proved to be as
unnecessary as it was horrible in its results, for the same man appeared
above once more.

'It was a false alarm,' he shouted. 'Stop, comrades, there is nothing to
fear. They were not soldiers; they were men like ourselves who had
stolen ponies doubtless from the last village. Stop or you will all be
crushed and killed.'

Deep and bitter were the voices of those who had survived. They turned
again, and slowly descended where a moment before they had struggled to
mount And catching sight of David standing at the barricade they set up
a howl which showed something more than mere desperation induced by the
pangs of hunger. There was hate in their tones. The matter had now
become a personal one as between them and the defenders.

'We warn you people down below that we will kill you all,' shouted the
same leader. 'We will kill you slowly, making you suffer for what you
have done. Stop, my comrades. I have a plan to propose. Let some rest
here and watch for us; we will be back ere many minutes have passed.'

He raced up the stairway accompanied by a mob, leaving the Professor and
his party to wonder what movement would now be attempted.

'Perhaps another battering-ram,' suggested the Professor.

'Or these rascals will supply themselves with hooks with which they will
the easier be able to reach the logs on our barricade,' chimed in
Alphonse.

'Or perhaps it's worse,' said David slowly. 'I wish we had shot that
rascal, for he is capable of the worst mischief. Ah! see them! I guessed
what they were up to. They are going to smoke us out.'

There could be little doubt as to the intentions of the mob. They had
seized bundles of fodder kept on the level sand above for the use of the
ponies, and a couple of dozen of the men were bearing these down the
stairway, while the same mass followed on their heels, shouting
excitedly, and shaking their fists in the direction of the defenders.

'Put them down against the barricade in a heap,' called their leader.
'Be not afraid of the foreign devils, for harm will not come to you.
When the bundles are placed I will fire them.'

'_Parbleu_, I think not,' exclaimed Alphonse, smiling grimly, for he had
understood. 'Monsieur, with your permission I will shoot this man.'

Shoot him the Frenchman did. His bullet caused the rascally leader to
sway from side to side and to grip at the air. Then with a shriek he
came bounding forward, and, clambering the outside of the barricade,
attempted to enter. There was a flash as Dick Cartwell ended the matter.

'Look out! There's a fellow coming along with a torch,' called out the
Professor. 'Shoot every man who attempts to light those bales.'

But in spite of every effort a cunning fellow armed with flint and steel
managed to set fire to a bunch of straw which he picked from the ground
and held behind his fellows. Then with a quick jerk he threw it forward,
causing it to fall at the edge of the piled-up bales of fodder. Next
second a sheet of flame was sweeping up to the ancient roof of the
covered way, while, owing to dampness in the bales, a dense smoke was
given off, and began to penetrate the apartment occupied by the
defenders. Indeed, in a few seconds they were coughing loudly, while
every member of the party was forced to retire as far as possible from
the flames. Death from suffocation, if not from burning, stared them in
the face. David and his friends were in a horrible dilemma.



CHAPTER XX

The Secret of the Ruins


Blank despair was written on the faces of the Professor and his party as
columns of suffocating smoke were swept into their quarters; for all
realised that in a very short space of time they would be smothered.
More than that, the flames had now got such a hold of the bales of straw
and fodder that the heat was terrible, driving every member of the party
into the farthest corner, and even causing the enemy outside hastily to
retreat up the stairway. And there, at the summit, looking down into the
excavations which exposed this small portion of the ancient ruins they
gloated over the foreign devils and their helpers, shrieking in their
mad delight, and bawling every insult that their degraded minds could
think of.

'I fear it looks like a case with us,' gasped the Professor, tying a
handkerchief about his mouth and nose, an example which the others were
swift to follow. 'We're in a horrible trap, with no way out of it, I
fear.'

'Unless, monsieur, we could dash at the barrier and kick all the bales
aside,' said Alphonse, coughing violently, for the exceeding pungency of
the smoke made breathing difficult and speech next door to impossible.
'I am ready to make the attempt. It is better than being scorched here
in this corner.'

At once he started forward, and with him Dick Cartwell, both eager to do
something. But who could face such dense smoke, or the hot flames which
poured in over the top of the barrier? Not Alphonse, even with all his
dash and pluck. Nor Dick, with his reckless disregard of the
consequences.

'It is sad but inevitable then,' declared Alphonse, with a resigned
shrug of his shoulders. 'Monsieur, I have the honour to bid you
farewell. I lose a good and generous master.'

'And I a brave and willing servant. But, Alphonse, where is Monsieur
David? I have not seen him since we retired from the barrier, and the
smoke is so thick now over there that one can see nothing. Where is the
lad? I begin to feel anxious.'

It was like the Professor to think of his comrades at such a time. But
the question brought a shout from Dick.

'He's over here, sir,' he called out 'As soon as they fired the bales I
saw him dart back into the room, and couldn't imagine why. Running away
from the thick of an attack isn't like him. David, where are you?'

'Here,' came the crisp and half-stifled answer, while the figure of our
hero loomed darkly before them, his face muffled in the half of a
garment which he had secured from somewhere. 'Come along this wall of
the room with me. I realised when they fired that heap of stuff that our
position would be untenable, and went to the men who have been working.
They have managed to break a hole through the wall, and one has just
slipped to the other side. Of course, if the place is filled with sand
we can do nothing. I have hopes, though, that it will be clear, for how
else could he have been able to pass through.'

Choking and coughing the party crept along the wall, keeping close to
the base; for the smoke rose to the ceiling, and the latter being of
great height gave it space in which to distribute itself. But in spite
of that, the supply of air down below was small, to say the least of it.
They had hardly proceeded more than ten feet when there came a cry of
triumph from a point just in front of them, while the click of a metal
instrument was heard.

'Come quickly. Come, Excellencies,' called the voice of the head man who
controlled the excavators. 'Our comrade reports that the far side is
quite clear. Some one has been at work there before us. Let us pass
through at once, else we shall be suffocated.'

The words brought them rushing forward, and a gust of wind happening at
that moment to sweep the smoke and flames away from the room, all saw
that a hole had been cut through the wall, which being massively built,
had resisted the efforts of a number of men armed with crow-bars for
some time, but once the first stones were removed the rest was easy. The
Professor took in the situation at a glance.

'I believe this will save the situation,' he cried, snapping his
fingers, and then coughing so violently that his remarks came to a
sudden ending. However, in a few moments he had regained his breath.
'See for yourselves,' he shouted, showing greater excitement than David
had ever seen him display before. 'The draught enters by this hole, and
is already sweeping the smoke from our quarters. It is driving the
flames out into the covered way. Now, let the men pass through as
quickly as possible. I shall stay here and attempt to save our goods and
chattels.'

'And I too,' declared David, overjoyed that his men had been so
successful. 'There are also the ponies; the poor beasts are up there in
the far corner and must be almost stifled. Still, as we have lived
through it, so also may they.'

'Monsieur, I also shall remain,' announced Alphonse. 'You will need
helpers. I will go to the ponies.'

And go he did, with Dick creeping through the smoke after him. As for
David, he seized a crow-bar, and with the help of others attacked the
wall furiously. Meanwhile every one of the men who had joined them in
such great haste that morning, and who to do them but justice, had shown
a brave front, and had done their utmost to help in the defence, crept
through the gap in the wall, each man carrying something with him. Jong
and his friends too, made the most of the time at their disposal. Now
that the smoke was clearing, and the heat decidedly less, they bustled
about, gathering the belongings of the party, and were soon passing them
through to their comrades on the far side.

'You can take it more easily now, David, lad,' sang out the Professor.
'This gap has checkmated the attempts of those fellows. There's a
perfect gale coming through, and one can see nicely now, and feel quite
comfortable in this atmosphere. It'll be an eye-opener to the enemy to
discover us gone when the flames die down. Ah, here's Alphonse and
Dick.'

One by one the latter led the ponies towards the gap, many of the poor
beasts being almost exhausted. But they were able to use their legs, and
were soon forced through to the far side. Then Dick and Alphonse
followed David, and lastly, the Professor crept through the gap.

'Now pile all the stones into the hole again,' said our hero,
superintending the job. 'As soon as the place is cool enough those
gentlemen will return, and we shall want another barrier. Quick with it.
Those bales are nearly burned out now, and a starving mob don't wait for
much. A little heat under foot will be nothing if they can only appease
their hunger. Poor beggars! I'm sorry for them. But then, what would you
have? This is a case of saving one's self.'

Less than ten minutes later a man descended the stairway, and peeped
over the barrier. His shout of amazement brought a crew of cut-throats
racing after him; then such yells of anger and disappointment arose as
they discovered the chamber empty that the men who had joined the
Professor that morning were terrified. There was a determined rush for
the gap, now more than half-filled, a rush which Chu-Li and two of his
comrades checked instantly. Indeed, the enemy bolted at once from the
chamber.

'Pick off every man you can see,' said David, staring over the barrier
of stones. 'Don't let any one enter the room. This is a much easier
place to defend than the other. Ah! They're moving. What new game are
they up to?'

The whole party listened to the shouts of the enemy, and were amazed to
see them bolting from the covered way. Chu-Li slid through the gap like
an eel, and ran to the door. Then he waved his arms frantically, and
rushed back to his comrades.

'They are bolting, Excellencies!' he shouted. 'They are completely gone.
I heard firing above, and caught sight of several soldiers. I believe a
relief party has arrived.'

Five minutes later there was no doubt of the fact, for when the
Professor and his staff clambered up the stairway there was a troop of
Chinese cavalry drawn up. Not a troop of men armed with ancient bows and
arrows, but soldiers that China is training now-a-days, armed with
modern weapons, equipped to the last button, able to manoeuvre with
the best. A dapper little officer spurred forward, saluted in German
style, and at once addressed the Professor in the purest English.

'I have the honour to speak with the Professor who undertakes
excavations, is it not so?' he demanded. 'Then let me explain. Five
thousand troops were sent into these parts by His Excellency, Twang
Chun, to arrest the movement of people from the plague-stricken country,
and to break up the gangs of half-starved and dangerous men prowling
about. I heard yesterday that a mob had passed west with the intention
of evading me. I rode this way before sunrise, and met your messenger. I
have the pleasure to find that I am in time.'

Near at hand the remainder of the gang which had attacked the party at
the ruins were huddled together in a forlorn group, surrounded by
soldiers, while the plain was dotted with the bodies of those who had
shown fight, and had fallen. It was clear, in fact, that the danger had
passed altogether.

'I give you the thanks of every one here,' said the Professor, gripping
the little officer's hand. 'You came in time and have done us a great
service. Step down below and see what happened.'

'Truly, you put up a fine defence,' declared the commander of the troop
of horsemen, as he inspected the chamber below. 'That gap undoubtedly
saved the situation, and not my arrival. Still, those desperate men
would have fought on till you or they were conquered. I am vastly
interested in this work which you have undertaken. How strange that you
should have hit upon another part from which all debris had been
cleared?'

It was more than strange; it was almost beyond belief. For when the
matter came to be thoroughly investigated the Professor declared that
they had stumbled upon the path by which Edward Harbor had gained
entrance to the interior parts of the ruins.

'The whole thing is perfectly clear,' he said. 'He excavated a few yards
to our right, and gained a spot at the back of the chamber in which we
took refuge. Some of his diggers also worked on our side, but ceased,
perhaps because the prospect was more promising elsewhere. To-morrow we
will pursue the search more thoroughly.'

Let the reader imagine what a condition of excitement David was thrown
into when it became established without shadow of doubt that he was
actually treading in the steps his father had followed. For three days
after the attack made by the band of Chinese he worked with the
excavators, removing debris from parts which had evidently been cleared
not so long ago, but to which the wind had again swept masses of sand.
It was remarked, also, that on this side no objects of art or of any
value were come upon.

'Been removed by those before us, proving we are in their works,' said
the Professor. 'This is indeed most interesting. It must have been here
that your father made that will, David, and here also, alas, that he
lost his life. Chang fell upon him in the ruins, I am told, and even
secreted his gains in these parts. Be patient, lad. Something may yet
come of this quest of yours, though one can hardly hope that it is
possible.'

On the morning of the fourth day the excavators came to a wall which had
been broken through, and on passing to the far side discovered another
covered way, as dark as pitch, but altogether free of sand and debris.
David led them eagerly till they came to a part where the ruins had
fallen in entirely, and where sand blocked their path. But three hours'
work cleared it, and allowed them to proceed, there being still evidence
of the fact that others had been before them. It was with a sudden
fluttering of the heart that he realised that they were passing
somewhere near to that tower which had so often attracted his notice.
And then he gave vent to a shout of amazement; for undoubtedly
excavators had been before them. The covered way led beneath the walls
surrounding the tower into a wide, open space, from which the height of
the surrounding walls had kept more than a little sand blowing. There
was a wide doorway at the foot of the tower, the posts of which were
tottering, while, now that he was so close, he observed that the
original crown of the tower had gone, and one wall, the far one,
crumbled away entirely. But the fallen stones helped to form a chamber,
and that was piled with objects of every description.

'Here, undoubtedly, were stored all the bronzes which your father
unearthed,' said the Professor, surveying the scene and inspecting the
objects. 'This is a find, though it makes one feel sad, remembering what
misfortune befell him. Ah! As I live, that is baggage.'

There was not a doubt about it. The sandy surroundings had preserved
things wonderfully, and in one corner, covered with dust, was
undoubtedly a pile of baggage, while there were cases galore, a box of
cash for the payment of the workers, arms, and a hundred other things.

'Here you see the items for which that scoundrel Chang committed the
foul murder,' declared the Professor. 'David, Dick, we will see into
that baggage.'

More than one of the trio trembled as the locks were broken. For the
first time for many a day David wore a pasty complexion. There was a
subdued air of excitement about the lad which his comrades felt rather
than saw. Then there came a sharp exclamation from the Professor as the
last of the cases was opened, the others having been found to contain
clothing only. There was a tin despatch-box nestling in one corner. He
dragged it out and presented it to our hero.

'It belonged to your father; it is yours,' he said kindly. 'Open, lad.
We will leave you if you wish it.'

'Stay, please,' came the answer. 'If I am to enjoy success I shall want
your congratulations. If not, perhaps you will condole with me. In any
case I have done what I decided was the right thing under the
circumstances. I have come to this spot to set at rest a dispute which
has been a good deal more than bitter.'

Cool and calm now that he was faced with the despatch-box, David broke
the lock by inserting the edge of a spade beneath the lid. Then he
slowly withdrew the contents.

'Five pounds in English coin, two notes of the value of fifty pounds,
and a draft on a bank at Hong-Kong,' he said, his tones not in the least
ruffled. 'A packet of letters tied with string. One to my stepmother. I
shall hope to deliver it. One to myself. I am glad. Perhaps you will
excuse my opening it at the moment. And one to Mr. Jones, his solicitor.
Nothing else, Professor.'

'Open the last of the letters then, lad. Open! Open!' cried the leader
of the party eagerly. 'If that does not contain the will, then look into
your own. Quick, boy! The suspense makes me nervous.'

He wiped his face with his handkerchief and then fixed his eyes on the
letters. David opened the one addressed to Mr. Jones, the friend who had
helped him so much in England, and smoothing out the sheet read the
contents slowly. 'It is a business letter purely,' he explained. 'This
is what my father says: "Dear Mr. Jones, I have to-day sent away under
separate cover the last will and testament I shall ever make, and you
will find that it is duly signed and attested. I need merely mention the
contents briefly, so that you may draft out something similar for my
inspection and signature on my return to England, for posts in this
country are precarious. I leave an annuity of five hundred pounds to my
wife. The rest in trust for my son, David, till he is twenty-five years
of age, when he will have it absolutely. Trusting this may find you
well, as it leaves me. Yours truly, Edward Harbor."'

Dick looked positively glum as he listened. 'Bad luck!' he exclaimed. So
the will's gone. Lost somewhere between this and Pekin.'

But the Professor chuckled loudly. 'That document is as good as any
other,' he cried. 'Put alongside with the letter which was before the
courts in England, it clearly shows Edward Harbor's wishes. See, it is
clearly dated. David, you are to be heartily congratulated.'

No need to say that our hero was delighted. It pleased him wonderfully
to know that in spite of many difficulties he had carried out his
intentions. He smiled even when he considered what his stepmother would
have to say, not a satirical smile, nor one of triumph, merely one
expressive of pleasure.

'She'll put it down to my obstinacy and to good luck,' he thought. 'She
won't know anything about the dangers and difficulties the Professor and
all of us have gone through. Heigho! I'm glad it has turned out like
this.'

Three months later he received a note from Mr. Jones in reply to the one
he had sent. There were hearty congratulations and an assurance of the
writer's good feeling. Then came an announcement of the utmost moment.

'You have done well, David,' ran the letter, 'but when you ask me of
what value is the document you sent me, I say none, for circumstances
have arisen which alter everything. Mr. Ebenezer Clayhill died soon
after you quitted the country, while I regret to say that your
stepmother followed him swiftly.'

'Then, after all, the journey wasn't necessary,' cried our hero. 'I'm
awfully sorry to hear about the step-mater and Mr. Ebenezer. But--no,
I'm not a bit sorry I came to China. I've enjoyed nearly every moment of
this trip, and excavating is a job which suits me admirably.'

A year later he returned to England with his comrades, and by then had
imbibed such a fondness for investigating ruins and ancient places that
he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and the Professor.
David made a handsome allowance from his income to a home for the sick
and needy; for those scenes he had witnessed had made a lasting
impression on him. Then he went again to China. He is there at this
moment, prying into the secrets left by the ancients.

       *       *       *       *       *

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN

_At the Villafield Press, Glasgow, Scotland_

       *       *       *       *       *

BY CAPTAIN F. S. BRERETON


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=Roger the Bold.= A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico.

=With the Dyaks of Borneo.= A Tale of the Head Hunters.

=Foes of the Red Cockade.= A Story of the French Revolution.

=A Knight of St. John.= A Tale of the Siege of Malta.

=Indian and Scout.= A Tale of the Gold Rush to California.

=John Bargreave's Gold.= Adventure in the Caribbean.

=Roughriders of the Pampas.= A Tale of Ranch Life in South America.

=Jones of the 64th.= A Tale of the Battles of Assaye and Laswaree.

=With Roberts to Candahar.= A Tale of the Third Afghan War.

=A Hero of Lucknow.= A Tale of the Indian Mutiny.

=A Soldier of Japan.= A Tale of the Russo-Japanese War.

=Under the Spangled Banner.= The Spanish-American War.

=In the King's Service.= A Tale of Cromwell's Invasion of Ireland.

=In the Grip of the Mullah.= Adventure in Somaliland.

=With Rifle and Bayonet.= A Story of the Boer War.

=One of the Fighting Scouts.= A Tale of Guerrilla Warfare in South Africa.

=The Dragon of Pekin.= A Story of the Boxer Revolt.

=With Shield and Assegai.= A Tale of the Zulu War.

=A Gallant Grenadier.= A Story of the Crimean War.





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