Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Motor Matt's Clue - or, The Phantom Auto
Author: Matthews, Stanley R.
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 "Motor Matt's Clue - or, The Phantom Auto" ***

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



courtesy of the Digital Library@Villanova University
(http://digital.library.villanova.edu/))



  MOTOR STORIES

  THRILLING
  ADVENTURE

  MOTOR
  FICTION

  NO. 7
  APR. 10, 1909

  FIVE
  CENTS

  MOTOR MATT'S
  CLUE

  THE PHANTOM
  AUTO

  _by STANLEY R. MATTHEWS_.

  [Illustration: "Look a leedle oudt!" yelled
  Carl, as Motor Matt made a
  quick jump for the phantom
  auto.]

  _STREET & SMITH,
  PUBLISHERS,
  NEW YORK._



MOTOR STORIES

THRILLING ADVENTURE MOTOR FICTION

_Issued Weekly. By subscription $2.50 per year. Entered according to
Act of Congress in the year 1909, in the Office of the Librarian of
Congress, Washington, D. C., by_ STREET & SMITH, _79-89 Seventh Avenue,
New York, N. Y._

  No. 7.      NEW YORK, April 10, 1909.      Price Five Cents.

Motor Matt's Clue;

OR,

THE PHANTOM AUTO.

By the author of "MOTOR MATT."



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER I. A NIGHT MYSTERY.
  CHAPTER II. DICK FERRAL.
  CHAPTER III. LA VITA PLACE.
  CHAPTER IV. THE HOUSE OF WONDER.
  CHAPTER V. SERCOMB.
  CHAPTER VI. THE PHANTOM AUTO AGAIN.
  CHAPTER VII. SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES.
  CHAPTER VIII. THE KETTLE CONTINUES TO BOIL.
  CHAPTER IX. ORDERED AWAY.
  CHAPTER X. A NEW PLAN.
  CHAPTER XI. A DARING LEAP.
  CHAPTER XII. DESPERATE VILLAINY.
  CHAPTER XIII. TIPPOO.
  CHAPTER XIV. IN THE NICK OF TIME.
  CHAPTER XV. A STARTLING INTERRUPTION.
  CHAPTER XVI. THE PRICE OF TREACHERY.
  CHAPTER XVII. THE LUCK OF DICK FERRAL.
  BILL, THE BOUND BOY.
  A WINTER STORY OF COLORADO.



CHARACTERS THAT APPEAR IN THIS STORY.


  =Matt King=, concerning whom there has always been a mystery--a lad
  of splendid athletic abilities, and never-failing nerve, who has won
  for himself, among the boys of the Western town, the popular name of
  "Mile-a-minute Matt."

  =Carl Pretzel=, a cheerful and rollicking German lad, who is led by a
  fortunate accident to hook up with Motor Matt in double harness.

  =Uncle Jack=, a wealthy Englishman, with ways and means of his own
  for accomplishing things, who leads a hermit's life in the wilds of
  New Mexico.

  =Dick Ferral=, a Canadian boy and a favorite of Uncle Jack; has
  served his time in the King's navy, and bobs up in New Mexico where
  he falls into plots and counter-plots, and comes near losing his life.

  =Ralph Sercomb=, a cousin of Dick Ferral, and whose sly, treacherous
  nature is responsible for Dick's troubles.

  =Joe Mings=,    } three unscrupulous friends of Sercomb, all
  =Harry Packard=,} motor-drivers, and who come from Denver to help
  =Balt Finn=,    } Sercomb in his nefarious plans.



CHAPTER I.

A NIGHT MYSTERY.


"Oh, py shiminy! Look at dere, vonce! Vat it iss, Matt? Br-r-r! I feel
like I vould t'row some fits righdt on der shpot! It's a shpook, you
bed you!"

A strange event was going forward, there under the moon and stars of
that New Mexico night. The wagon-road followed the base of a clifflike
bank, and at the outer edge of the road there was a precipitous fall
into Stygian darkness.

A second road entered the first through a narrow gully. A few yards
beyond the point where the thoroughfares joined an automobile was
halted, its twin acetylene lamps gleaming like the eyes of some fabled
monster in the semigloom.

Two boys were on the front seat of the automobile, and one of them had
leaned over and gripped the arm of the lad who had his hands on the
steering-wheel. The eyes of the two in the car were staring ahead.

What the boys saw was sufficiently startling, in all truth.

Out of the gully, directly in advance of them, had rolled a white
automobile--springing ghostlike out of the darkness as it came under
the glare of the acetylene lights.

The white car was a runabout, with two seats in front and an abnormally
high deck behind. It carried no lamps, moved with weird silence, and,
strangest of all, _there was no one in either seat_! Yet, with no hand
on the steering-wheel, the white car made the dangerous turn out of the
gully into the main road with the utmost ease, and was now continuing
on between the foot of the cliff and the brink of the chasm with a
steadiness that was--well, almost hair-raising.

Motor Matt, who had been piloting the Red Flier slowly and carefully
along that dangerous course, had cut off the power and thrown on the
brake the instant the white car leaped into sight. As he gazed at the
receding auto, and noted the conditions under which it was moving, a
gasp escaped his lips.

"That beats anything I ever heard of, Carl!" he muttered.

"It vas a shpook pubble!" clamored Carl Pretzel. "I don'd like dot, py
shinks. Durn aroundt, or pack oop, or do somet'ing else to ged oudt
oof der vay. Shpooks iss pad pitzness, und schust vy dit it habben
don't make no odds aboudt der tifference. Ged avay, Matt, und ged avay
kevick! Py Chorge! I vas so vorked oop as I can't dell."

Carl released Matt's arm, pulled a big red handkerchief out of his
pocket and wiped the perspiration from his face. He was having a chill
and perspiring at the same time; and his mop of towlike hair was trying
to stand on end.

Matt started the Red Flier. There was gas enough in the cylinders to
take the spark, so that it was not necessary to get out and use the
crank.

To turn around on such a road was out of the question, even if Matt had
desired to do so--which he did not. Nor did he reverse the engine and
back away, but started along in the trail of the white car.

"Vat you vas doing, anyvay?" cried Carl.

"I'm going to follow up that phantom auto and see if I can find what
controls it."

"You vas grazy, Matt! Meppy ve ged kilt oof ve ged too nosey mit dot
machine. It don'd pay to dake some chances in a case like dose. I know
vat I know, und dot's all aboudt it. Go pack pefore der shpook pubble
hits us und knock us py der cliff ofer!"

Carl was excited. He believed in "spooks" and Motor Matt didn't, and
that was all the difference between them.

"Don't lose your nerve, Carl----"

"It vas gone alretty!" groaned Carl, crouching in his seat, hanging on
with both hands and staring ahead with popping eyes.

"Nothing's going to happen," went on Matt. "There's no such thing as
ghosts, Carl."

"Don'd I know ven I see vone?" quavered Carl. "You t'ink I vas plind,
Matt. Dot pubble moofs mitoudt nopody to make it go like vat it does;
und it don'd hit der rocks or go ofer der cliff. Donnervetter! I vish
I vas somevere else, py grickets. Ach! I vas so colt like ice, und I
sveat; und my teet' raddle so dot I don't hardly peen aple to shpeak
anyt'ing."

"We've seen the Red Flier moving along without anybody aboard, Carl,"
said Matt, in an attempt to quiet his chum's fears.

"Yah, so," answered Carl, "aber der Ret Flier vas moofing along some
shdraighdt roads, und der veel vas tied mit ropes so dot she keeps a
shdraighdt course. Aber dot shpook pubble don'd haf nopody on, und der
veel ain'd tied, und yet she go on und on like anyding. Ach, I peen as
goot as a deadt Dutchman, I know dot."

While the boys were thus arguing matters the Red Flier was trailing the
phantom auto. The white machine, still controlled in some mysterious
manner, glided safely along the treacherous trail. It was beyond the
glow of the acetylene lights, but the moonlight brought it out of the
gloom like a white blur.

In advance of the runabout Matt saw a place where the road curved
around the face of the cliff. The phantom auto melted around the curve.

Hardly had it vanished when a loud yell was wafted back to the ears of
the boys.

Carl nearly jumped out of his seat, and a frightened whoop escaped his
lips.

"Ach, du lieber!" he wailed. "Ve vas goners, Matt, ve vas bot' goners.
I can't t'ink oof nodding, nod efen my brayers! Vat vas dot? I bed you
it vas der teufel gedding retty to chump on us. Whoosh! I never had
some feelings like dis yet."

"Don't be foolish, Carl," said Matt. "There was no spook back of that
yell, but real flesh and blood. Keep a stiff upper lip and we'll find
out all about it."

Just then the Red Flier rounded the turn. A long, straightaway course
lay ahead of the boys, lighted brightly by the lamps and, farther on,
by the moon and stars. But _the phantom auto had vanished_!

Matt was astounded, and brought the Red Flier to a halt once more. With
a high wall of rock on one side of the road, and an abyss on the other,
where could the white car have gone?

"Ach, chiminy!" chattered Carl. "Poof, und avay she goes. Der pubble
vas snuffed oudt, und schust meldet indo der moonpeams. Dis vas a
hoodoo pitzness, all righdt. Ve ged der douple-gross pooty soon, I bed
you someding for nodding!"

"But that yell----"

"Der teufel make him! Id don'd vas nodding but der shpook feller,
saying in der shpook languge, 'Ah, ha, I ged you pooty kevick!' I vish
dot I hat vings so I could fly avay mit meinseluf."

Matt got down from the car and started to walk forward. Carl let off a
yell and scrambled after him.

"Don'd leaf me, Matt! It vas goot to be mit somepody ad sooch a dime.
Misery lofes gompany, und dot's vat I need."

"Come on, then," laughed Matt.

"Vere you go, hey?"

"I'm going to see if I can discover what became of that car."

"It vent oop on der moonpeams," averred Carl earnestly. "You can look,
und look, und dot's all der goot it vill do. Dake it from me, Matt, dot
ve don'd vas----"

"Ahoy, up there!"

The words seem to come from nowhere--or, rather, from everywhere, which
was equivalent to the same thing.

Carl gave a roar and tried to push himself into the face of the cliff.

"Vat I tell you, hey?" he groaned. "Dere it vas again. Matt, more und
vorse dan der odder dime. Righdt here iss vere ve kick some puckets;
yah, leedle Carl Pretzel und Modor Matt King vill be viped oudt like a
sponge mit a slate."

"Keep still, Carl!" called Matt. "There's no ghost back of that voice.
Listen a minute."

Turning in the road, Matt lifted his head.

"Hello!" he called.

"Hello, yourself!" came the muffled but distinct response.

The voice seemed to float out of the blackness of the chasm, and Matt
stepped closer to the edge.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"My name'll be M-u-d, Mud, if you don't man a line an' give me a boost
out of this."

"Where are you?"

"Down the wall, hanging like a lizard to a piece of scrub. Can't you
tell by my talk where I am? From the looks, I'm about a fathom down;
but I'll be all the way down if you don't get a move on. Shake yourself
together, mate, and be lively!"

Carl's fear, as this conversation proceeded, was gradually lost in
curiosity. The voice from over the brink had a very human ring to it,
and the Dutch boy was beginning to feel easier in his mind.

"Get the rope out of the tonneau, Carl," called Matt. "Hurry up!"

"Bully!" came from below, the person on the wall evidently hearing
Matt's order to Carl. "That's the game, matey. If you've got a rope,
reeve a bowline in the end and toss it over. I'm a swab if I don't
think it's up to you to do it, too. I wouldn't have slid over the edge
if your white devil-wagon hadn't made me dodge out of the way. How'd
it--Wow!"

The voice below broke off with a startled whoop.

"What's the matter?" called Matt.

"The bush pulled out a little," was the answer, "and I thought I was
gone. Rush things up there, will you?"

At that moment Carl came with the rope, and Matt, standing above the
place where he supposed the unseen speaker to be, allowed the noosed
end to slide down to him.

"I've got it!" cried the voice. "Are you ready to lay on?"

"Catch hold, Carl," said Matt, "and brace yourself. All ready," he
shouted, when he and Carl were planted firmly with the rope in their
hands.

"Then here goes!"

The rope grew taut under a suddenly imposed weight, and Matt and Carl
laid back on it and hauled in.



CHAPTER II.

DICK FERRAL.


A young fellow of seventeen or eighteen crawled over the brink of the
chasm and sat on the rocks to breathe himself. The lamps of the Red
Flier shone full on him, so that Matt and Carl were easily able to take
his sizing.

He wore a flannel shirt, cowboy-hat and high-heeled boots. His trousers
were tucked in his boot-tops. His bronzed face was clean-cut, and he
had clear, steady eyes.

"Wouldn't that just naturally rattle your spurs?" he asked, looking
Matt and Carl over as he talked. "I thought you fellows had put a stamp
on that rope and were sending it by mail. It seemed like a good while
coming, but maybe that was because I was hangin' to a twig and three
leaves with the skin of my teeth." He swerved his eyes to the Red
Flier. "You've lit your candles," he added, "since you scared me out of
a year's growth by flashin' around that bend. If you'd had the lights
going _then_, I guess I could have crowded up against the cliff instead
of makin' a jump t'other way and going over the edge."

"You vas wrong mit dot," said Carl. "It vasn't us vat come along und
knocked you py der gulch."

"That's the truth," added Matt, noting the stranger's startled
expression. "We were following that other automobile, and stopped when
we heard you yell."

Without a word the rescued youth got up and went back to give the
Red Flier a closer inspection. When he returned, he seemed entirely
satisfied that he had made a mistake.

"I did slip my hawser on that first idea, and no mistake," said he. "As
I went over, I saw out of the clew of my eye that the other flugee was
white. Yours is bigger, and painted different. What are your names,
mates?"

Matt introduced himself and Carl.

"I'm Dick Ferral," went on the other, shaking hands heartily, "and when
I'm at home, which is about once in six years, I let go the anchor in
Hamilton, Ontario. I'm a sailor, most of the time, but for the last
six months I've been punching cattle in the Texas Panhandle. A crimp
annexed my money, back there in Lamy, and I'm rolling along toward an
old ranch my uncle used to own, called La Vita Place. It can't be far
from here, if I'm not off my bearings. Where are you bound, mates, in
that steam hooker?"

"Santa Fé," answered Matt.

"Own that craft?" and Dick Ferral nodded toward the car.

"No; it belongs to a man named Tomlinson, who lives in Denver. Carl and
I brought it to Albuquerque for him. When we got there, we found a line
from him asking us to bring the car on to Santa Fé. If we got there in
two weeks he said it would be time enough, so we're jogging along and
taking things easy."

"If you've got plenty of time, I shouldn't think you'd want to do any
cruising in waters like these, unless you had daylight to steer by."

"We'd have reached the next town before sunset," Matt answered, "if we
hadn't had trouble with a tire."

"It was a good thing for me you were behind your schedule, and happened
along just after I turned a handspring over the cliff. If you hadn't,
Davy Jones would have had me by this time. But what became of that
other craft? I didn't have much time to look at it, for it came foaming
along full and by, at a forty-knot gait, but as I slid over the rock I
couldn't see a soul aboard."

"No more dere vasn't," said Carl earnestly. "Dot vas a shpook pubble,
Verral. You see him, und ve see him, aber he don'd vas dere; nodding,
nodding at all only schust moonshine!"

"Well, well, well!" Ferral cast an odd glance at Motor Matt. "That old
flugee was a sort of Flying Dutchman, hey?"

"I don'd know somet'ing about dot," answered Carl, shaking his head
gruesomely, "aber I bed you it vas a shpook."

"There wasn't any one on the car," put in Matt, "and it's a mystery how
it traveled this road like it did. It came out of a gully, farther back
around the bend, right ahead of us. We followed it, and when we had
come around that turn it had vanished."

"What you say takes me all aback, messmates," said Ferral. "I'm no
believer in ghost-stories, but this one of yours stacks up nearer the
real thing in that line than any I ever heard. Say," and Ferral seemed
to have a sudden idea, "if you fellows want a berth for the night, why
not put in at La Vita Place?"

"Sure, Matt, vy nod?" urged Carl.

"How far is it, Ferral?" asked Matt.

"It can't be far from here, although I'm a bit off soundings on this
part of the chart. I've never been to Uncle Jack's before--and shame
on me to say it--and likely I wouldn't be going there now if the old
gentleman hadn't dropped off, leaving things in a bally mix. They say
I'm to get my whack from the estate, if a will can be found, although
I don't know why anything should come to me. I've always been a rover,
and Uncle Jack didn't like it. My cousin, Ralph Sercomb--I never liked
him and wouldn't trust him the length of a lead line--stands to win his
pile by the same will. Ralph is at the ranch, and, I suppose, waitin'
for me with open arms and a knife up his sleeve."

"When did your uncle die?" inquired Matt.

"As near as I can find out, he just simply vanished. All he left was
a line saying he was tired of living alone, that he never could get
me to give up my roaming and come and stay with him, and that while
Ralph came often and did what he could to cheer him up, he had always
had a soft place in his heart for me, and missed me. He said, too, in
that last writing of his, that when he was found his will would be
found with him, and that he hoped Ralph and I would stay at the ranch
until the will turned up. That's what came to me, down in the Texas
Panhandle, from a lawyer in Lamy. As soon as I got that I felt like a
swab. Here I've been knockin' around the world ever since I was ten,
Uncle Jack wanting me all the time and me holding back. Now I'm coming
to the ranch like a pirate. Anyhow, that's the way it looks. If Uncle
Jack was alive he'd say, 'You couldn't come just to see me, Dick, but
now that I'm gone, and have left you something, you're quick enough to
show up.'"

Ferral turned away and looked down into the blackness of the gulch. He
faced about, presently, and went on:

"But it wasn't Uncle Jack's money that brought me. Now, when it's
too late, I'm trying to do the right thing--and to make up for what
I ought to have done and didn't do in the past. A fellow like me is
thoughtless. He never understands where he's failed in his duty till a
blow like this brings it home to him. He's the only relative Ralph and
I had left, and I've acted like a misbemannered Sou'wegian.

"When I went to sea, I shipped from Halifax on the _Billy Ruffian_,
as we called her, although she's down on the navy list as the
_Bellerophon_. From there I was transferred to the South African
station, and the transferring went on and on till my time was out, and
I found myself down in British Honduras. Left there to come across the
Gulf of Galveston, and worked my way up into the Texas Panhandle, where
I navigated the Staked Plains on a cow-horse. Had six months of that,
when along came the lawyer's letter, and I tripped anchor and bore away
for here. As I told you, a crimp did me out of my roll in Lamy. He
claimed to be a fellow Canuck in distress, and I was going with him to
his hotel to see what I could do to help him out. He led me into a dark
street, and somebody hit me from behind and I went down and out with
a slumber-song. Then I got up and laid a course for Uncle Jack's. If
you'll go with me the rest of the way, I'll like it, and you might just
as well stop over at La Vita Place and make a fresh start for Santa Fé
in the morning."

"We'll do it," answered Matt, who was liking Dick Ferral more and more
as he talked.

"Dot's der shtuff!" chirped Carl. "Oof you got somet'ing to eat at der
ranch, und a ped to shleep on, ve vill ged along fine."

"I guess we can find all that at the place, although I don't think the
ranch amounts to much. Uncle Jack was queer--not unhinged, mind you,
only just a bit different from ordinary people. He never did a thing
in quite the same way some one else would do it. When he left England,
a dozen years ago, he stopped with us a while in Hamilton, and then
came on here and bought an old Mexican _casa_. He wanted to get away
from folks, he said, but I guess he got tired of it; if he hadn't, he
wouldn't have been so dead set on having me with him after my parents
died. The bulk of his money is across the water. But hang his money!
It's Uncle Jack himself I'm thinking about, now."

"We'll get into the car," said Matt, "and go on a hunt for La Vita
Place."

Matt stepped to the crank. As he bent over it, Carl gave a frightened
shout.

"Look vonce!" he quavered, pointing along the road with a shaking
finger. "Dere iss some more oof der shpooks!"

Matt started up and whirled around. Perhaps a hundred feet from where
the three boys were standing, a dim figure could be seen, silvered
uncannily by the moonlight.

"Great guns, Carl!" muttered Matt. "Your nerves must be in pretty bad
shape. That's a man, and he's been walking toward us while we were
talking."

"Vy don'd he come on some more, den?" asked Carl. "Vat iss he shtandin'
shdill mit himseluf for? Vy don'd he shpeak oudt und say somet'ing?"

"Hello!" called Ferral. "How far is it to La Vita Place, pilgrim?"

The form did not answer, but continued to stand rigid and erect in the
moonlight.

"Ve'd pedder ged oudt oof dis so kevick as ve can," faltered Carl,
crouching back under the shadow of the car. "I don'd like der looks oof
dot feller."

"Let's get closer to him, Ferral," suggested Matt, starting along the
road at a run.

"It's main queer the way he's actin', and no mistake," muttered Ferral,
starting after Matt.

Matt was about half-way to the motionless figure, when it melted slowly
into the black shadow of the cliff. On reaching the place where the
figure had stood, it was nowhere to be seen.

"What do you think of that, Ferral?" Matt asked in bewilderment.

Ferral did not reply. His eyes were bright and staring, and he leaned
against the rock wall and drew a dazed hand across his brows.



CHAPTER III.

LA VITA PLACE.


"I'm all ahoo, and that's the truth of it," muttered Ferral. "This is
the greatest place for seein' things, and then losin' track of 'em,
that I ever got into. There was certainly a man standing right there
where you are, wasn't there?"

"That's the way it looked to me," answered Matt. "It can't be that we
were all fooled. Imagination might have played hob with one of us, but
it couldn't with all three."

Ferral peered around him then looked over the shelf into the gulch, and
up toward the top of the cliff.

"Well, sink me, if this ain't the queerest business I ever ran into!
Some one must be hoaxin' us."

"Why should any one do that?" asked Matt. "What have they got to gain
by such foolishness?"

"I'm over my head. There's no use staying here, though, overhaulin' our
jaw-tackle. Let's go on to the ranch."

"That's the ticket! If what we've seen and can't understand means
anything to us, it's bound to come out."

They started back.

"Are you on good terms with your cousin, Ralph Sercomb?" Matt asked, as
they walked along.

"The last time I saw him was six years ago, when I came to Hamilton
to settle up my father's estate. Ralph was there, and I licked him. I
can't remember what it was for, but I did it proper. He was always more
or less of a sneak, but he's got one of these angel-faces, and to take
his sizing offhand no one would ever think he'd do anything wrong."

"Does he live in Hamilton?"

"No, in Denver. His mother and my mother were Uncle Jack's sisters.
Last I heard of Ralph he was driving a racing-automobile for a
manufacturing firm--a little in your line, I guess, eh?"

By that time the two boys had got back to the machine. Carl was up in
front, imagining all sorts of things.

"I peen hearing funny noises," he remarked, as Matt "turned over" the
engine and then got up in the driver's seat, "und dey keep chabbering,
'Don'd go on, go pack, go pack,' schust like dot. I t'ink meppy ve
pedder go pack, Matt."

"We can't go back, Carl," returned Matt, starting the machine as soon
as Ferral had climbed into the tonneau. "We couldn't turn around in
this road even if we wanted to."

"Vell, hurry oop und ged avay from dis shpooky blace. Der kevicker
vat ve do dot, der pedder off ve vas. I got some feelings dot dere is
drouple aheadt. Dot shpook plew indo nodding ven you come oop mit it,
hey?"

"The man vanished mysteriously--that's the size of it. If it was
daylight, we might be able to figure out how he got away so suddenly."

Under Motor Matt's skilful guidance the Red Flier ran purring along
the dangerous road. Half a mile brought the car and its passengers to
the end of the cliff and the chasm, and they whirled out into level
country, covered with brush and trees.

"There's a light ahead, mates!" announced Ferral, leaning over the
back of the front seat, and pointing. "It's on the port side, too, and
that agrees with the instructions I got on leaving Lamy. That's La
Vita Place, all right enough, and Ralph's at home if that light is any
indication."

Owing to the fact that the house was almost screened from the road by
trees and bushes, it was impossible for the boys to see much of it. The
single light winked at them through a gap in the tree-branches, and was
evidently shining from an up-stairs window.

"While you're routing out your cousin and telling him he has company
for the night, Ferral," said Matt, turning from the road, "Carl and I
will look for a place to leave the car."

"Aye, aye, pard," assented Ferral, jumping out. "There must be a barn
or something, I should think. Go around toward the back of the house."

There was a blind road leading through the dark grove toward the rear
of the place. The car's lamps shot a gleam ahead and Matt pushed onward
carefully. When he and Carl came opposite the side of the house, they
heard voices, somewhere within the building, talking loudly. They could
not distinguish what was said, as the intervening wall of the building
smothered the words.

"Ve don't vas der only gompany vat dey haf do-nighdt, Matt," remarked
Carl, in a tone of huge relief. "It feels goot to be so glose py so
many real peoples afder dot shpook pitzness."

"I didn't think you believed in ghosts, Carl," laughed Matt.

"Vell, a feller vas a fool ven he don'd pelieve vat he sees, ain'd he?"

"That depends on how he looks at what he sees."

This was too deep for Carl, and before he could frame an answer, Matt
brought the Red Flier to a halt in front of a small stone barn.

The barn had a wide door, and Matt got out, took the tail lamp and went
forward to investigate. Opening one of the double doors, he stepped
inside.

The barn was a crude affair, the stones having been laid up without
mortar. The roof consisted of a thatch of poles and boughs, overlaid
with earth.

There was plenty of room in the structure, however, for the machine,
and there were no horses in the place to damage it.

While Carl opened both doors, Matt ran the Red Flier into its temporary
garage. Just as they had closed the doors and were about to start for
the house, Ferral ran up to them out of the darkness.

"Here's a go!" he exclaimed. "I pounded on the front door till I was
blue in the face, and no one showed up."

"There's some one in the house, all right," declared Matt. "Carl and I
heard them."

"Sure ve dit," struck in Carl, "so blain as anyt'ing. Und dare vas a
lighdt, Verral--ve all saw der lighdt."

"Well, there's no noise inside the house now, and no light, either,"
replied the perplexed Ferral. "What sort of a blooming place is it? As
soon as I began pounding on the door, the voices died out and the light
vanished from the window."

"Are you positive this is La Vita Place?" asked Matt, with a sudden
thought that they might have made a mistake.

Ferral himself had said that he had never been to the ranch before, and
it was very possible he had gone wrong in following directions.

"Call me a lubber if I ain't," answered Ferral decidedly. "Come around
front and I'll show you."

Together the three boys made their way back through the gloomy grove,
turned the corner of the building and brought up at the front door. The
house continued dark and silent.

Ferral scratched a match and held the flickering taper at arm's length
over his head.

"Look at that printing above the door," said he.

There, plainly enough, were the rudely painted words, "La Vita Place."

"We're takin' our scope of cable this far, all right," observed Ferral,
dropping the match and laying a hand on the door-knob, "and I guess
I've got as good a right in Uncle Jack's house as anybody. Open up, I
say!" he shouted, and shook the door vigorously.

No one answered. Not a sound could be heard inside the building.

Matt stepped back and ran his eye over the gloomy outline of the
structure.

It was a two-story adobe, the windows small and deeply set in the thick
walls. The window through which the light had been seen was now as dark
as the others. This was as puzzling as any of the other events of the
night, but it could be explained. Those inside were not in a mood to
receive callers; but, even if that was the case, why could not some one
come to the door and say so?

"I'm going to get in," said Ferral decidedly, stepping back as though
he would kick the door open.

"Wait a minute," suggested Matt, "and let's see if the kitchen door
isn't unlocked."

"It isn't--I've tried it."

"How about the windows?"

"The lower ones are all fastened."

"Then I'll try one of the upper ones."

There was a tree close to the corner of the house with a branch
swinging close to the window through which the boys had seen the light.
Watched by Ferral and Carl, Matt climbed the tree and made his way
carefully out along the branch. When opposite the window, he was able
to step one foot on the deep sill and balance himself while lifting the
sash.

"It's unlocked!" he called down softly. "I'll get inside and open the
door."

"There's no telling what you'll find inside there," Ferral called back.
"We'll all climb up and get in at the window, then look through the
house together."

Carl was beginning to have "spooky" feelings again. Not wanting to be
left alone by the front door, he insisted on being the next one to
climb the tree. Matt, who had got into the house, reached out and gave
his Dutch chum a helping hand. When Ferral came, they both gave him a
lift, and all three were presently inside the up-stairs room.

"There's been somebody here, and not so very long ago," said Matt. "I
smell tobacco smoke."

"It's t'ick enough to cut mit a knife," sniffed Carl.

"I'll strike a match and look for a lamp," said Ferral, "then we can
see what we're doing."

As the little flame flickered up in his hands, the boys took in the
dimensions of a small, square room. A table with four chairs around it
stood in the center of the room, and on the table was a pack of cards,
left, apparently, in the middle of the game. In the midst of the cards
stood a lamp.

Ferral lighted the lamp.

"Four people were here," said he, picking up the lamp, "and it's an
easy guess they can't be far away. We'll cruise around a little and see
what we can find."

Opening the only door that led out of the room, Ferral stepped into
the hall. Just as he did so, a sharp, incisive report echoed through
the house. A crash of glass followed, and Ferral was blotted out in
darkness.



CHAPTER IV.

THE HOUSE OF WONDER.


"Ferral!" cried Matt in trepidation.

"Aye, aye!" answered the voice of Ferral.

"Hurt?"

"Not a bit of it, matey. Strike me lucky, though, if I didn't have a
tight squeak of it. The lamp-chimney was smashed and the light put out.
If the bullet had gone a few inches lower, the lamp itself would have
been knocked into smithereens and I'd have been fair covered with
blazing oil. That flare-up proves the skulkers are still aboard." He
lifted his voice. "Ahoy, there, you pirates! What're you running afoul
o' me like that for? I've a right here, being Dick Ferral, of the old
_Billy Ruffian_. Mr. Lawton's my uncle."

Silence fell with the last word. There were no sounds in the house,
apart from the quiet, sharp breathing of the three boys. Outside the
faint night wind soughed through the trees, making a sort of moan that
was hard on the nerves.

Carl went groping for Matt, giving a grunt of satisfaction when he
reached him and took a firm hold of his coat-tails.

"Ve pedder go py der vinder vonce again," suggested Carl, catching his
breath, "make some shneaks py der pubble und ged apsent mit ourselufs.
Ven pulleds come ad you from der tark it vas pedder dot you ain'd
aroundt. Somepody don'd vant us here."

"I'm here because it's my duty," said Ferral, still in the hall, "and
by the same token I've got to stay here and overhaul the whole blooming
layout--but it ain't right to ring you in on such a rough deal. You
and the Dutchman can up anchor and bear away, Matt, and I'll still be
mighty obliged for your bowsing me off that piece of wall, and sorry,
too, you couldn't be treated better under my uncle's roof."

"You're not going to cut loose from us like that, Ferral," replied
Matt. "We'll stay with you till this queer affair straightens out more
to your liking."

"But the danger----"

"Well, we've faced music of that kind before."

"Bully for you, old ship!" cried Ferral heartily. "I'll never forget
it, either. Now, sink me, I'm going through this cabin from bulkhead to
bulkhead, and if I can lay hands on that deacon-faced Sercomb, he'll
tell me the why of this or I'll wring his neck for him."

Matt stepped resolutely into the hall and ranged himself at Ferral's
side. Ferral was drawing a match over the wall. The gleam of light
would make targets of the boys for their unseen enemies, but there
would have to be light if the investigation was to be thorough.

No shot came.

"Either we've got the swabs on the run," muttered Ferral, "or I'm a
point off. The lamp's out of commission, so I'll leave it here on the
floor. We've got to find another."

"Be jeerful, be jeerful," mumbled Carl. "Efen dough ve ged shot fuller
oof holes as some bepper-poxes it vas pedder dot ve be jeerful."

"Right-o," answered Ferral, moving off along the hall. "Only two rooms
on this floor," he added, looking around; "we'll go into the other and
try for a lamp we can use."

The door of the second room opened off the hall directly opposite
the door of the first. The boys stepped in and found themselves in
a bedroom. There was a rack of books on the wall, a trunk--open and
contents scattered--carpet torn up and bed disarranged.

"Looks like a hurricane had bounced in here," remarked Ferral.

"Here's a candle," said Matt, and lifted the candlestick from the table
and held it for Ferral to touch the match to the wick.

When the candle was alight, Ferral stepped to the table and looked at a
portrait swinging from the wall. It was the portrait of a gray-haired
man. A broad ribbon crossed his breast and the insignia of some order
hung against it. In spite of the surrounding perils, Ferral took off
his hat.

"Uncle Jack," he murmured, his voice vibrant with feeling. "The warmest
corner of my heart is set aside for his memory, mates. I wish I'd done
more for his comfort when he was alive."

He turned away abruptly.

"But we can't lose time here. What have you got there, Matt?"

Matt had seen a sword swinging from the wall. Drawing the blade from
its scabbard, he was holding it in his hand.

"I'd thought of borrowing this," said he, "until we see what's ahead."

"That's a regular jim-hickey of an idea!"

With one hand Ferral twitched at a lanyard about his neck and brought
out a dirk.

"I might as well carry this, too," he added.

"Und vat vill I do some fighding mit?" asked Carl anxiously. "I don'd
got anyt'ing more as a chack-knife."

"You stay behind and act as rear-guard, Carl," said Matt. "Dick and I
will go ahead."

With sword and dirk in readiness for instant use, Matt and Ferral
forged along the short hall to the stairs, peering carefully around
them as they went. They did not see anything of their enemies and could
not hear a sound apart from the noise they made themselves.

The flickering gleams of the candle showed a number of rich furnishings
in the lower hall. The first story consisted of three rooms, parlor,
library and kitchen. The parlor covered one side of the house, and was
divided by a passage from the two rooms on the other side.

But in none of the rooms, nor the hall, was any of their lurking foes
to be seen!

"Dis vas der plamedest t'ing vat efer habbened!" whispered Carl. "A
rekular vonder-house! Noises, und lights, und pulleds, und nopody
aroundt."

"Wait," warned Ferral, making for an open door that evidently led into
the cellar, "we haven't looked through the hold yet. We'll go down and
get closer to bilge-water! I warrant you we'll stir up the rats."

They descended a short flight of stairs into a rock-walled cellar. The
cellar covered the entire lower part of the house, and was so high as
to leave plenty of head-room.

On a shelf were a number of cobwebbed bottles, and in one corner was a
bin of potatoes--but there were no enemies in the cellar.

"Shiver me!" muttered Ferral, peering dazedly at Matt through the
flickering gleams of the candle. "How do you account for this?"

"The four people who were here," returned Matt, "must have got out
while we were in your uncle's room. If they have gone to the barn and
tampered with the Red Flier----"

This startling thought turned Motor Matt to the right about, and he
raced back to the first floor. Carl and Ferral followed him swiftly.

There were only two outside doors to the house, one leading from the
kitchen, and the other from the front hall.

Investigation showed that both of these doors were bolted on the inside.

All the lower windows were also securely fastened.

Ferral dropped down in a chair in the front hall and drew his hand
across his forehead.

"I'll be box-hauled if I can twig this layout, at all!" he muttered.
"Those fellows couldn't get out and leave those doors and windows
locked on the inside."

"And they couldn't have got past us on the stairs and got out the way
we came in," added Matt, equally nonplused. "We looked carefully as we
came down from the upper floor, and the rascals must have been driven
ahead of us. I'm knocked all of a heap, and that's a fact."

Carl cantered forward.

"Der shpooks vas blaying viggle-vaggle mit us," he averred in a stage
whisper. "Led us say goot-by, bards, und shkin oudt. It vas pedder so,
yah, so helup me."

"Are you getting cold feet, matey?" queried Ferral.

"I peen colt all ofer," admitted Carl, "efer since dot shpook pubble
vented off indo nodding righdt vile ve look. Den der man-shpook meldet
oudt, und dese oder shpooks faded. Yah, you bed my life, ve vill go oop
in shmoke ourselufs oof ve shtay here long."

"Carl does a lot of foolish talking, Dick," spoke up Matt, "but he's as
game as a hornet, for all that. Don't pay any attention to his spook
talk. I saw a lantern in the kitchen, and a padlock and key lying on a
shelf. While you two are trying to solve this riddle, I'm going out to
the barn and get a lock and key on the Red Flier. I can't afford to let
anything happen to that machine."

"I vill go mit you, Matt," said Carl.

"You stay here with Dick," Matt answered. "I'll not be gone more than a
minute."

Hurrying into the kitchen he lighted the lantern; then, with the
padlock and key in his pocket and the sword in his hand, he unbolted
the kitchen door and made his way to the barn.

He listened intently as he went, but there was no sound in the gloomy
grove save the hooting of an owl.

He found the Red Flier just as he and Carl had left it, and an
examination of the barn proved that no one had taken refuge there.
After putting the bolt upon the door and locking it--he already had the
spark-plug in his pocket--he felt easier, and returned unmolested to
the house.

While he was gone, Ferral and Carl had lighted a large lamp in
the parlor and drawn the shades at the windows. They were seated
comfortably in easy chairs, eating sandwiches of dried beef and bread.

"There's your snack, mate," cried Ferral, pointing to a plate on the
table. "Better get on the outside of it. We may have a lively time, and
it's just as well to prepare ourselves for whatever is going to happen."

Carl, now that the tension had eased a trifle and food was in sight,
was feeling better.

"I guess ve got der whole ranch py ourselufs," he beamed, his mouth
half-full of sandwich. "Ve schared dem odder fellers avay. Oof dey
shday avay undil ve clear oudt, dot's all vat I ask."

"Who were the lubbers, and how did they slip their cables?" queried
Ferral. "That's the point that's got me hooked. Do you think that white
car, and that man we saw in the road, had anything to do with the swabs
who were in here?"

Before Matt could answer, a rap fell on the front door and its echoes
ran through the house. Carl jumped up in a panic.

"Blitzen and dunder!" he cried chokingly, struggling with his last
mouthful of sandwich and peering wildly at Matt and Dick, "dere's
somet'ing else! Schust ven ve ged easy in our mindts, bang goes der
front door! Now vat?"

"We'll see what," returned Ferral grimly, getting to his feet and
starting for the hall.

Matt followed him, sword in hand, and ready for any emergency that
might present itself.



CHAPTER V.

SERCOMB.


The rapping on the door had grown to a vigorous thumping before Ferral
and Matt reached the entrance. Quickly throwing the bolt, Ferral pulled
the door open and a young man of twenty-one or two stepped in.

He was well built and muscular and had a smooth, harmless face. The
face was so void of expression that, to Matt, it showed a lack of
character.

Ferral was carrying the candle. Through its gleams, he and the newcomer
stared at each other.

"Why--why," murmured the youth who had just entered, "can this be my
cousin Dick?"

"You've taken my soundings all right, Sercomb," answered Ferral coolly.
"Wasn't you expecting me?"

"Well, yes, in a way," and Sercomb's eyes roamed to Matt. "We got track
of you down in Texas, and the lawyer said he'd sent word, but we didn't
know whether you'd come or not."

"Where have you been, Sercomb?" and Matt saw Ferral's keen eyes
studying the other's face.

Sercomb met the look calmly.

"I've been spending the evening at a neighbor's," he replied, "my
nearest neighbor's--a mile away through the hills."

"Got out of an up-stairs window, didn't you?" asked Ferral caustically.

"What do you mean?" demanded Sercomb, a slight flush running into his
face.

"Why, when you started to make that call you left all the lower windows
fastened and both outside doors bolted on the inside."

"There's some mistake," answered Sercomb blankly. "When I went away I
left the front door open. We don't go to the trouble of locking doors
in this country, Dick."

"Well, these were locked when I got here. What's more, there were four
men in a room up-stairs playing cards. Come, come, you grampus! Don't
try to play fast and loose with me. How did you and the other three
lubbers get out of the house? And why wouldn't you let me in when I
rapped?"

"Look here," blustered Sercomb, "what do you take me for? You never
liked me, and you're up to your old trick of suspecting me of something
crooked whenever anything goes wrong. I was hoping you'd got over that.
Uncle Jack was all cut up over the way you treated me, and he never
could understand it. Now that he's dead and gone, I should think we
might at least be friends."

"Dead and gone, is he," asked Ferral quickly. "How do you know?"

"Because I've found him--and the will."

Ferral was dazed, as though some one had struck him a blow in the face.
Matt, who was watching Sercomb intently, thought he saw an exultant
flash in his eyes as he spoke.

"The poor old chap," Sercomb went on, "was tucked away in a thicket of
bushes, less than a stone's throw from the house. I don't know whether
there was any foul play--I haven't been able to find his Hindu servant,
Tippoo, yet, but there weren't any marks on the body. I laid Uncle Jack
away in the grove, and I'll show you the place in the morning. The
will was in his coat-pocket, and wrapped in a piece of oilskin. It was
very sad, very sad," and Sercomb averted his face for a moment; "and
to think that neither you nor I, Dick, was with him. But come into the
other room. I'm tired and want to sit down and rest."

Ferral, like one in a dream, followed his cousin into the parlor.
Sercomb was standing in front of Carl, apparently wondering where
Ferral had picked up so many friends.

"Here, Ralph," said Ferral, suddenly rousing himself, "I'd forgot to
introduce my friends," and he presented Matt and Carl. "What you've
told me," he went on, "catches me up short and leaves me in stays. I
heard that Uncle Jack had disappeared, but not that Davy Jones had got
him."

For the moment, Ferral's feelings caused him to thrust aside his
dislike of Sercomb.

"It's too confounded bad, and that's a fact," said Sercomb, throwing
himself into a chair and lighting a cigarette. "I haven't been down
to see the old chap for six months. Our firm had a machine in the
endurance run from Chicago to Omaha, and I was busy with that, and in
getting ready for a big race that's soon to be pulled off, so my hands
were more than full. When I got the lawyer's letter, though, I broke
away from everything and came on here."

"Why didn't the lawyer tell me Uncle Jack and the will had been found?"
asked Ferral.

"That only happened two days ago. The lawyer wrote you the same time he
wrote me."

"But I saw the lawyer in Lamy, day before yesterday----"

"He didn't know it, then."

"How does the will read, Ralph?"

"Everything was left to me, this place and all Uncle Jack's holdings in
South African stock. Of course, you know, you've never come near him,
Dick. If you had, the will might have read different."

"I don't care the fag-end of nothing about Uncle Jack's money; it
was Uncle Jack himself I wanted to see. If this place is yours,
Sercomb----" and Ferral broke off and started to get up.

"You and your friends are welcome to stay here all night," said
Sercomb. "It's not much of a place, and I'm going to pack up the
valuables, send them to Denver, and clear out."

"Going to keep up your racing?"

Sercomb smiled.

"Hardly; not with a mint of money like I've got now," he answered. "In
a few months, I'm off for old England."

A brief silence followed, broken suddenly by Sercomb.

"But I'm bothered about the intruders you say were here when you came.
They must have locked both doors on the inside."

"A rum go," said Ferral, "if strangers can come in and make free with a
person's property like that."

"Tell me about it. This country is a good deal of a wilderness, you
know, and strangers are likely to do anything."

Ferral said nothing concerning the phantom auto, nor about the man who
had so mysteriously vanished on the cliff road; he confined himself
strictly to what had happened in the house, and tipped Matt and Carl a
wink to apprise them that they were to let it go at that.

Sercomb seemed greatly wrought up, and insisted on taking a lamp and
making an investigation of the upper floor.

"They were thieves," Sercomb finally concluded. "They thought I had
gone away for the night, and so they came in here and tore up Uncle
Jack's bedroom like we see it. It was known that Uncle Jack had money,
and it was just as well known that he had disappeared."

"If you knew all that yourself," said Ferral, "why didn't you lock up
before you went visiting?"

"I was careless," admitted Sercomb, with apparent frankness. "The one
thing that bothers me is the fact that you were shot at, Dick! A nice
way for you to be treated in Uncle Jack's own house!"

"Don't let that fret you, Sercomb. I've had belaying-pins and bullets
heaved at me so many times that I don't mind so long as they go wide.
We'll have a round with our jaw-tackle to-morrow. Just now, though, I
and my mates are ready for a little shut-eye. Where do we berth?"

"Two of you can fix up Uncle Jack's bed and sleep there; the other
can bunk down on the couch in the room where those four rascals were
playing cards. I'll sleep down-stairs on the parlor davenport. Yes,"
Sercomb added, "it will be just as well to sleep over all this queer
business, and do our talking in the morning. Good night, all of you."

Leaving the lamp for the boys, Sercomb went stumbling down-stairs.

"What do you think of Ralph Sercomb, Matt?" whispered Ferral, when
Sercomb had left the stairs and could be heard moving around the parlor.

"I don't like his looks," answered Matt frankly, "nor the way he acts."

"Me, neider," put in Carl. "He vas a shly vone, und I bed you he talks
crooked mit himseluf."

"That's the way I always sized him up," admitted Ferral, "and strikes
me lucky if I think he's improved any since I saw him last. But he's
got the will, and poor old Uncle Jack----"

Ferral's eyes wandered to the picture on the wall, and he shook his
head sadly.

"I'd have a look at that will," said Matt, "and I'd get a lawyer to
look at it."

"These lawyer-sharps, of course, will have their watch on deck, but
I hate to quibble over the old chap's property when it's Uncle Jack
himself I wanted to find. Anyhow, I got my whack, all right, to be cut
off without a shilling; at the same time, Ralph got more than was his
due. But I'm no kicker."

"If Sercomb drives a racing-car," went on Matt, "he must have skill and
nerve."

"Nerve, aye! Cousin Ralph always had his locker full of that. But how
shall we sleep? My head's all ahoo with what's happened, and I need
sleep to clear away the fog. You and your mate take the bed, Matt, and
I'll----"

"No, you don't," said Matt. "I'm for the couch in the other room."

Matt insisted on this, and finally had his way. He was not intending
to sleep on the couch, but to go out to the barn and spend the night
in the tonneau of the Red Flier. If Sercomb knew so much about
automobiles, Matt felt that the touring-car would bear watching. He
had no confidence in Sercomb, and felt sure that he was playing an
underhand game of some kind.

Sitting down on the couch, Matt waited until the house was quiet, then
went softly to the open window, climbed through, and made his way to
the ground by means of the tree. Hardly had his feet struck solid
earth, when he heard the front door drawn carefully open.

Sercomb stepped out and noiselessly closed the door behind him. Matt,
intensely alive to the possibilities of the unexpected situation, drew
back into the darker shadows of the tree-branches.

Sercomb, moving away a little from the house, gave a low whistle. A
hoot, as of an owl, came instantly from the grove.

Sercomb started away rapidly in the direction from which the sound came.

Matt followed him, keeping carefully in the shadows.



CHAPTER VI.

THE PHANTOM AUTO AGAIN.


Sercomb did not follow the blind trail that led to the main road. He
made for the road, but took his way along a foot-path that led through
the grove.

It was not at all difficult for Matt to shadow him, and the young
motorist was considerably surprised to see Sercomb gain the road at a
point where a heavy touring-car had drawn up. The car was about the
size of the Red Flier and, in the semidarkness, looked very much like
it. But it had a top.

Three men were standing near the head of the machine, in the glow of
the lamps. They were all fairly well dressed, quite young, and there
was little of the ruffian about them.

They greeted Sercomb excitedly, and for several minutes all four of
them engaged in a brisk conversation. Their voices were pitched in too
low a tone, and Matt was too far away to hear what was said.

Undoubtedly, Matt reasoned, these three who had just come in the
automobile had formed part of the number who had been in the up-stairs
room. The fourth member of the party must have been Sercomb, himself.

But how had Sercomb and the other three got away? Their departure from
the house was a mystery. And where had they kept their automobile while
they were in the house? This was another mystery.

They were planning evil things of some sort, and against Dick Ferral.

Matt had a clue. It assured him that Sercomb had not told the truth
when he said he knew nothing about the so-called intruders who had
vanished from the house so strangely. Sercomb, by this stealthy meeting
with the three in the road, proved to Matt that he knew all about the
men.

From their earnest talk it was clear that they were plotting mischief.
Wishing that he could overhear something of what was said, Matt began
creeping carefully along the path. By getting a few yards nearer he was
sure that he would be within ear-shot.

Just as he had nearly reached the coveted point for which he was
making, and the mumble of talk was breaking up into an occasional word
which he could distinguish, the conversation broke off with a chorus of
excited exclamations.

Matt started up, at first fearing he had been seen, and that the four
in the road were coming to capture him. But in this he was mistaken.
All four of them, as a matter of fact, had started in his direction,
but they abruptly halted and whirled around. Matt's heart jumped when
he saw what it was that had claimed their attention.

_It was the phantom auto!_

The white runabout was wheeling swiftly along the road in the direction
of the treacherous cliff trail. The streaming lights of the touring-car
were full upon the ghostly runabout, showing the vacant seats
distinctly. The weird spectacle was more than enough to fill the four
men with momentary panic. They stood as though rooted to the ground,
watching the runabout turn of its own accord from the road, pass the
touring-car, and then come neatly back into the road again.

An oath broke from one of the men. Leaping to the touring-car he
cranked up the machine quickly and hopped into the driver's seat. Two
others jumped in behind him, one in front and the other behind, Sercomb
being the only one who remained at the roadside.

Swiftly the touring-car was turned and headed in pursuit. Then,
suddenly, there came the report of a firearm, shivering through the
still air.

At first, Matt thought one of those in the touring-car had fired at the
runabout; then, a moment more, he knew he was mistaken.

The shot had come from the runabout and had punctured one of the
touring-car's front tires.

The big car limped and slewed until the power was cut off and it came
to a halt. Those who were in the car piled out, sputtering and fuming,
and Sercomb ran forward and joined them. Together, all four watched the
white phantom whisk out of sight.

There followed a good deal of talking and gesticulating among Sercomb
and the three with him. Finally one of them took off the tail lamp and
all made an examination of the damaged tire.

A jack was got out and the forward wheel lifted.

From his actions, Sercomb was nervous and excited. He kept walking from
the road, looking toward the house and listening. He fancied, no doubt,
just as Matt did, that the sound of the shot might have awakened the
sleepers in the house.

However, this did not seem to have been the case.

Leaving one of the men to tinker with the tire, Sercomb took the other
two and led them off through the grove. They passed within a yard of
where Matt was crouching in the bushes, but their plans, whatever they
were, had been settled, and they were doing no talking.

Matt continued to dodge after Sercomb. The course he and the two with
him were taking did not lead toward the house, but angled off through
the grove on a line that would take them fully a hundred feet past the
nearest wall of the adobe building.

Abreast of the house, at that point, there was a circular space, clear
of timber and with only a patch of brush in the center. Matt, not
daring to venture beyond the edge of the timber, stood and watched
while Sercomb and his companions disappeared in the thicket.

Matt's position was such that he could see all around the little patch
of bushes, and he watched for the three men to appear on the other
side. They did not appear, and as minute after minute slipped away,
Matt's amazement and curiosity increased.

The men had gone into that little thicket, and why had they not shown
themselves again? What was there in that bunch of brush to attract them
and keep them so long?

Matt concluded to investigate. There might be danger in doing that, as
there would be three against him if he was discovered, but he knew he
had only to raise his voice to bring Ferral and Carl.

This clue, which he had picked up so unexpectedly in the night, called
upon him to make the most of it and, if possible, discover what Sercomb
was up to.

Hastening across the cleared space, he came to the thicket without a
challenge. Resolutely he plunged into the bushes--and the next moment
the ground seemed to drop out from under him.

Throwing out his hands wildly he plunged downward, struck an incline
and rolled over and over, finally coming to a jolting stop on hard
earth, on his hands and knees.

The suddenness of his fall had bewildered him. He was bruised a little,
but not otherwise hurt, and as his wits returned his curiosity came
uppermost.

What sort of a place was he in?

His groping hands informed him that the incline he had rolled down was
a rude stairway. A patch of starlight above revealed the opening into
which he had stumbled.

Climbing the stairway, he reached a stone landing and lifted himself
erect in the very center of the thicket. A flat slab, tilted upon its
edge, showed how the hole was covered when not in use.

Matt drew a quick breath. The mysteries of La Vita Place were clearing
a little.

Here, undoubtedly, was a passage communicating with the house. Sercomb
and the other three men must have used it in making their strange
escape from the up-stairs room, earlier in the night.

But why were Sercomb and his two companions going back through the
passage?

Instinctively Matt's suspicions flew to Dick Ferral. Sercomb was
planning some evil against him, and the two from the touring-car were
there to help him carry it out.

Matt hesitated a moment, trying to decide whether he should go through
the passage or reach the house by crossing the cleared place and
entering the front door.

He decided upon the passage. The rascals had gone that way and would
probably make their escape in the same manner.

Hurrying down the steps he began making his way along a gallery. The
passage was not wide, for he could stretch out his hands and touch
either side. It ran straight, and Matt pushed rapidly through the
gloom, trailing a hand along one wall.

He knew he had only a hundred feet to go before he should reach the
house, but in his haste he covered the distance before he realized it,
and stumbled against a flight of steps.

While he was picking himself up, he heard a commotion from somewhere
above--a wild scramble of feet, a thump of blows and an overturning of
furniture. Above the hubbub sounded the voice of Carl.

"Vat's der madder mit you? Hoop-a-la! Take dot, oof you like or oof you
don'd like, und dere's anoder! Matt! Come along for der fight _fest_!
Vere you vas, Matt, vile der scrimmage iss going on! Verral! Iss dot
you?"

Just then, as Matt began scrambling upward, a form came hurtling down.

"They're onto us, Joe!" panted a voice. "This way, old pal! Nothing
doing to-night. Cut for it! I ran into something at the foot of the
steps--look out for that!"

Matt, who had been thrown violently against the wall, heard forms
dashing past him. Before he could interfere with them, they were well
along the passage.



CHAPTER VII.

SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES.


Although the two men had got past Matt, nevertheless he followed them
to the end of the passage, arriving just in time to see them disappear
through the opening and close the aperture with the slab.

Only two went out. What had become of Sercomb? Had Ferral and Carl
captured him--catching him red-handed and so unmasking his treachery?

In any event, Ferral and Carl had proven more than a match for the two
miscreants who had stolen in upon them. Thankful that the affair had
turned out so fortunately for his friends, although still mystified
as to what Sercomb's purpose was, Matt groped his way back along the
corridor and mounted the steps.

It was a long flight--much longer than the one at the other end of the
passage--and, at the top, Matt was confronted by a blank wall. He ran
his hands over it, and, in so doing, must have touched a spring, for a
section of the wall slid back and a sudden glow of lamplight blinded
him.

"Ach, du lieber!" came the astounded voice of Carl. "Dere vas Matt, py
chincher! Vere you come from, hey?"

Matt stepped from the head of the steps into the room in which Ferral
and Carl had been sleeping. The panel closed noiselessly behind him.

"Sink me!" muttered Ferral, stepping past Matt to run his hands over
the wall. "A nice little trap-door in the wall, or I'm a Fiji!" He
whirled around. "How does it come you stepped through it, messmate?"

"Where's Sercomb?" whispered Matt, peering around.

"What's he got to do with this?"

Just at that moment Sercomb's voice came up from below.

"What's going on up there? Anything happened, Dick?"

"Two men came in and made trouble for us!" shouted Matt. "Didn't you
hear 'em run down the stairs?"

"No, I didn't hear anybody!" answered Sercomb.

"Take a look around, and we'll see what we can find up here."

During this brief colloquy, Ferral and Carl were staring at Matt in
open-mouthed astonishment.

Matt whirled to Ferral.

"Not a word to Sercomb about that hole in the wall," he whispered.
"Tell me quick, what happened in here?"

"I was sleeping full and by, forty knots," answered Ferral, in the
same low tone, "when I felt myself grabbed. It was dark as Egypt, and
I couldn't see a thing. I shouted to Carl, and we had it touch and go,
here in the dark. My eye, but it was a scrimmage! Right in the midst of
it the fellows we were fighting melted away. I had just got the glim to
going when you stepped in on us."

"Wasn't Sercomb in the fight?"

"Why, no. He must have been down-stairs, sleeping like a log. He only
just chirped--you heard him."

"Well, Sercomb came into this room with two other men, through that
hole in the wall----"

"Is that right?" demanded Ferral, his face hardening.

"Yes, but don't say a word about it. Wait till we find out what his
game is."

"How dit you know all dot, Matt?" queried Carl.

Briefly as he could Matt sketched his recent experiences. The
astonishing recital left his two friends gasping.

"The old hunks!" breathed Ferral, scowling. "I can smoke his
weather-roll, fast enough. What did I tell you about the soft-sawdering
beggar?"

Matt stepped into the hall and listened. Apparently, Sercomb was not
in the house. Coming back, he pulled his two friends close together so
they could hear him without his speaking above a whisper.

"Sercomb has gone out to hurry up the repairs on the big car and get
it out of the way. We can talk a little, but we've got to be wary.
Don't let Sercomb know anything about this clue I've picked up. We're
surrounded by enemies, Ferral, and you're the object of some sort of
game they've got on. By lying low, perhaps we can get wise to it."

"Dot shpook auto has dook a hant in der pitzness," murmured Carl,
flashing a fearful glance around. "I don'd like dot fery goot."

"This spook business will all be explained, Carl," said Matt, "and
you'll find that flesh and blood is mixed up in the whole of it.
That white runabout put a shot into one of the tires of that big
touring-car, and no revolver ever went off without a human hand back
of it. We know, too, how those men got away from that room where they
were playing cards. They ran in here, got through the hole in the wall
and went out by way of the tunnel. That shot that was fired at you,
Dick, and put out the lamp, must have come from this room, just before
Sercomb and the others dodged through the wall."

"Sercomb?" echoed Ferral.

"Sure! It's a cinch he was playing cards in that room with the three
men. He came here from Denver, and he must have traveled in that big
car and brought the others with him."

"Oh, he's the nice boy!" commented Ferral sarcastically. "A fine
cousin, that swab is! That phantom flugee is mixing in the game. I
wonder if Sercomb has anything to do with that?"

"No. When the phantom auto showed up in the road, Sercomb and all three
of the others were scared nearly out of their wits. I'll bet that was
the first time Sercomb ever saw it. Besides, the bullet that pierced
the tire of the big car came from the runabout. That wouldn't have
happened if the runabout was here to help Sercomb's plans."

"Right-o. What kind of a bally old place is this, anyhow? Holes in the
wall, tunnels, and all that--it fair dazes me. What could Uncle Jack
have wanted of a secret passage?"

"Didn't you tell me that this was an old Mexican house, and that your
uncle bought it?" asked Matt.

"That's how he got hold of the place, matey."

"Then it must have come into his hands like we find it. The Mexicans
used to build queer houses; I found that out while I was down in
Phoenix."

Matt turned away and took a look at the walls. They were wainscoted in
cedar, all around. Every little way there were panels, and the entrance
to the passage, which Matt had recently used, was by a panel.

"The walls of these adobe houses are always thick," went on Matt, "but
these walls are even thicker than common. There's room in this wall for
that stairway, and no one would ever suspect the wall is hollow, simply
because it's made of adobe."

"How does the door work?" queried Ferral, stepping to the wainscoting
and trying to manipulate the panel. "I'd like to know how to get the
cover off the blooming hatch; the knowledge might come handy."

Along the wainscoting, about five feet from the floor, were arranged
clothes-hooks. Matt, helping Ferral hunt for the secret spring that
operated the panel, pulled on one of the hooks. Instantly the panel
slid open, answering the pull on the hook with weird silence.

"Chiminy grickets!" murmured Carl, stepping back. "Dot looks like der
vay to der infernal blace."

Ferral stepped forward as though he would pass through the opening, but
Matt caught his arm and held him back.

"Don't go down there now, Ferral," said he. "When Sercomb comes we want
him to find us here. He doesn't guess that I'm next to what he's done
to-night, and none of his confederates know it. If we keep mum, the
knowledge may do us a lot of good. If we try to face him down with it,
we'll only show him our hands without accomplishing anything."

"The sneaking lubber!" growled Ferral. "Why, he berthed us in this room
so he and his mates could sneak in on us while we were asleep. But,"
and here Ferral rubbed his chin perplexedly, "what did they want to do
that for?"

"We'll find out," returned Matt, "if we play our cards right."

"You're the lad to discover things," said Ferral admiringly. "I never
had a notion you were going to slip out of the house when you left us."

"And I never had a notion what I was going to drop into," said Matt, "I
can promise you that. But it is a tip-top clue, and we'll be foolish if
we don't use it for all it's worth."

"You've started off in handsome style! Your head-work makes me feel
like a green hand and a lubber."

"Dot's Matt, Verral," declared Carl, puffing up like a turkey-cock.
"He alvays does t'ings in hantsome shdyle, you bed you. He iss der
lucky feller to tie to, dot's righdt. I know, pecause I haf tied to him
meinseluf, und I haf peen hafing luck righdt along efer since, yah,
so. Be jeerful, eferypody, und oof der shpooks leaf us alone, ve vill
all come oudt oof der horn py der pig end. But vat makes Sercomb act
like dot?"

"He wants Uncle Jack's property," scowled Ferral, "and I'll wager
that's what he's working for."

"But how can he be working for it when he's already got it?" put in
Matt. "He claims to have found your uncle, and to have secured the
will."

"That's his speak-easy for it. He's a long-winded grampus, and can talk
the length of the best bower, but that don't mean that there's any
truth in all his wig-wagging."

"Now you're hitting the high gear without any lost motion," said
Matt. "Between you and me and the spark-plug, Dick, I don't think he
ever found your uncle; and, as for the will, if he really has it, and
everything's left to him, what's all this underhand work for?"

A sudden thought came to Ferral.

"Say," he whispered hoarsely, "do you think that sneaking cur could
have handed out any foul play to Uncle Jack? I hate to think it of him,
but----"

"No," answered Matt gravely, "I don't think----"

He was interrupted by some one coming in at the front door, and stopped
abruptly.

"There's Sercomb now," he whispered. "Let's hear what he's got to say
for himself. Mind you don't let out anything about my clue. When you
had your trouble, I ran in here from the other room and lent a hand."

"Are you up there?" came Sercomb's voice. "I can't find a soul about
the place."

From the road the boys could hear the muffled pounding of a motor. And
they knew, even as Sercomb spoke, that he was not telling the truth.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE KETTLE CONTINUES TO BOIL.


Sercomb came up-stairs and stepped into the room. Daylight was just
coming in through the windows, and the gray of the morning and
the yellow of the lamplight gave Sercomb's face a ghastly look.
Nevertheless, it was a frank and open face--as always.

"Now, Dick," cried Sercomb, "what in the world has been going on here?
Do you mean to say that some one came into this room and attacked you?"

"That's the how of it, old ship," answered Ferral, repressing his real
feelings admirably. "As near as we can figure out, there were two of
them. It was so dark, though, we couldn't see our own fists, so there
may have been more than two."

"Some of the gang who dropped in here while I was away, I'll bet," said
Sercomb.

"I'm thinking the same thing, Ralph," returned Ferral, with a meaning
look at Matt. "They were handy, too, but not handy enough. They left us
all at once, and how they ever did it beats me. We boxed the compass
for 'em, though, and when we'd worked around the card they thought they
had enough--and ducked."

"Where did they go?"

"Didn't you hear them go out the front door?"

"Not I, Dick! If I had, I'd have taken a part in the scrimmage myself."

"You were slow hearing the racket, Ralph. It was all over when you
piped up."

"I heard it quick enough, but I was sound asleep when it aroused me.
Being a little bewildered, I went out into the kitchen."

Something like loathing swept over Matt as he watched Sercomb's face
and listened to his smooth misstatement.

"Wonder how Uncle Jack managed to hang on in such a lawless country as
this," said Ferral.

"No one ever bothered him. He was pretty well liked by the scattered
settlers."

"Everybody liked the old chap! I thought no end of him myself."

"Too bad you didn't show it, Dick, while he was alive," said Sercomb.

There wasn't any sarcasm in his voice--only a dry, expressionless
statement of what Ferral knew were the cold facts. Nevertheless, there
was a gratuitous slur in the words. Ferral bristled at once, but a look
from Matt caused him to curb his temper.

"Belay a bit on that, Ralph," said Ferral mildly. "I know it well
without your say-so to round it off. From now on, though, I'll do my
best to show Uncle Jack what I think of him."

Sercomb looked a little puzzled.

"His will shows everybody what he thought of you--at the last," said he.

It looked as though Sercomb was deliberately trying to force a quarrel,
but Ferral, still with Matt's glances to admonish him, did not fall
into the trap.

"I'll go down and get breakfast," observed Sercomb, after waiting in
vain for a response from Ferral. "Some Denver friends are coming up
from Lamy to make me a little visit, and we may be a bit crowded here.
There are three of them."

It was a broad hint for Dick Ferral to take his two friends and leave,
as soon after breakfast as he could make it convenient. Ferral fired up
at that. Matt and Carl had served him well, and he was not the one to
put up with any back-handed slaps from his cousin Ralph.

"By the seven holy spiritsails, Sercomb!" he cried, "I'll have you know
that I and my friends have as much right under Uncle Jack's roof as you
and yours. We'll be here to breakfast, and as long as we want to stay."

"Now, don't fly off at a tangent, Dick," returned Sercomb, with a
distressed look. "I didn't mean anything like that, and why do you go
out of your way to take me in any such fashion? I'll go down and get
the meal for all of us--if you can put up with my cooking."

"Go and help, Carl," said Matt. "We don't want to make Mr. Sercomb any
extra trouble. We won't be here very long, anyhow."

"Dot's me," said Carl, as cheerfully as he could.

He hated to be associated with Sercomb, but the idea of a meal always
struck a mellow note in Carl's get-up.

"You understand, don't you, Mr. King?" said Sercomb, in a whining tone,
turning to Matt and jerking his head toward Ferral.

"Perfectly," smiled Matt.

Carl and Sercomb went out. When they were going down the stairs Ferral
shook his fist.

"Shamming the griffin!" he growled; "the putty-faced shark, I'd like to
lay him on his beam-ends! Do you wonder I've had a grouch at him all
these years, Matt?"

"No, I don't," said Matt frankly; "but stick it out. I've a hunch,
Dick, that you're soon going to be done with your cousin for good and
all. He's playing a game here that's going to get him into hot water."

Matt stretched himself out on the bed.

"I'm going to lie here," said he, "and you can talk to me. Carl will
keep an eye on Sercomb. Tell me more about your uncle."

"He was no end of a toff in London," replied Ferral, taking a chair and
casting a look at the portrait. "His wife died, and that broke him up;
then his daughter died, and that was about the finish. He bucked up,
though, and crossed the pond. When he was in Hamilton he said he wanted
to go some place where there wasn't so many people. Then he came here."

"This last move of his," said Matt, "looks like a strange one to me."

"He was full of his crochets, Uncle Jack was, but there was always a
good bit of sense down at the bottom of them. Sercomb would have gone
down on his knees and licked his boots, knowing Uncle Jack had money,
and nobody but him and me to leave it to. There's another cut to my
jib, though. I wouldn't go around where he was because I was afraid
he'd think the same of me. I've got a notion, Matt, and it just came to
me."

"What is it?"

"I'll bet that, when Uncle Jack left, he hid that will, and that he
signed it and left blank the place where his heir's name was to be. The
one that was shrewd enough to find it, you know, could put in his own
name."

"Why should he do that?"

"Just to see whether Sercomb or I was the smarter."

"But you overlook what your uncle said about being found wherever the
will was discovered."

"Right-o. I'm always overlooking things. You see, I'm taken all aback
with this game of Sercomb's. If I knew what his lay was, or what he's
trying to accomplish, I'd have my turn-to in short order. Still, as you
say, he's going to get his what-for no matter which way the wind blows."

"There's a lot of things happened that are mighty mysterious," mused
Matt; "little by little, though, they're clearing up. That clue I
hooked onto last night makes several things clear. Did Sercomb know you
were coming?"

"The Lamy lawyer must have told him he'd found out where I was, and had
written to me. One thing I did do, and that was to sling my fist to a
letter for Uncle Jack, once a month, anyhow. So he knew I was down in
the Panhandle."

"When you pounded on the door last night, Sercomb must have suspected
it was you. If he hadn't, he'd have let you in."

"He'd have let me in anyhow, only he didn't want me to see those other
three swabs. And then for him to play-off like he did, and say he was
calling at a neighbor's! It would have done me a lot of good to blow
the gaff, when he came in on us a spell ago, and let him understand
just where he gets off."

"That wouldn't have helped any, and it might have spoiled our chances
for finding out what he's up to."

What answer Ferral made to this Matt did not hear. The young motorist
had put in a strenuous night, and he was worn out. Ferral's words died
to a mumble, and before Matt knew it he was sound asleep.

Some one shook him, and he opened his eyes and started up.

"Dozed off, did I?" he laughed. "Sorry, old man, but I didn't sleep
any last night, you know. You were saying----"

An odor of boiling coffee and sizzling bacon floated up from
down-stairs.

"What I was saying, mate," answered Ferral, "was some sort of a while
ago. I've had my jaw-tackle stowed for an hour, letting you do the
shut-eye trick. But now it's about mess-time, I reckon; and, anyhow,
those friends of Sercomb's are here from Lamy. Listen!"

The chug of a motor on the low gear came to Matt. Getting up, he looked
out of a window that commanded the front of the house.

A car was coming slowly along the blind trail from the road, following
the same course the Red Flier had taken the night before.

As the automobile drew closer, Matt gave a startled exclamation.

"Some new kink in the yarn, Matt?" queried Ferral.

"I should say so!" answered Matt. "That's the same car that was in the
road last night----"

"What?" demanded Ferral, grabbing Matt's arm.

"There's no doubt of it, Dick," said Matt; "and the three in the car
are the same ones Sercomb met and talked with. Two of them, of course,
are the handy-boys who blew in here and roughed things up with you and
Carl."

The car came to a stop in front. Just then the front door opened and
Sercomb rushed out.

"Hello, fellows!" he called. "Mighty glad to see you. Pile out and
clean up for the grub-pile----"

Matt heard that much, and just then had to turn around to look after
Ferral. With an angry growl, Ferral had broken away and started down
the stairs.

"Dick!" called Matt, running after him.

But Ferral gave no heed to the call. He was down the stairs and out of
the door like a shot. Matt was close on his heels, but he was not close
enough to keep him from trouble.

"You two-faced crimp!" Matt heard him yell. "You'll down me in Lamy and
take my money, will you, and then show up here! Now, strike me lucky if
I don't play evens!"



CHAPTER IX.

ORDERED AWAY.


Matt remembered at once what Ferral had said about having been robbed
while on his way to La Vita Place. Now that Ferral had recognized one
of the newcomers as the man who had made the treacherous assault on
him, a new light was thrown on that Lamy robbery. If the thief was
one of Sercomb's friends, it looked as though Sercomb must have had a
guilty knowledge of the affair--perhaps had planned it.

Matt attempted to grab Ferral and pull him away, but Sercomb and the
other two got ahead of him. The three laid hold of Ferral so roughly
that Matt immediately gave them his attention.

"Let up on that!" he cried, catching Sercomb and jerking him away just
as he was about to strike Ferral with his clenched fist. "There's no
need of pounding Dick."

"I'll pound _you_ if you give me any of your lip!" answered Sercomb.

"The latch-string's out," answered Matt grimly. "Walk in."

At that moment Carl rolled out of the door.

"Vat's der rooction?" he tuned up, his eyes dancing over the squabble.

Carl was always as ready to fight as he was to eat, which is saying a
good deal.

"Help me get Ferral away from that fellow, Carl," called Matt.

"On der chump!"

Carl landed right in the midst of the struggle, and in about half a
minute he and Matt had separated Ferral from his antagonist. With a
neat crack, straight from the shoulder, Matt disarmed a fellow who had
jerked a wrench out of the automobile. This put the last finishing
touch to the clash, and both sides drew apart, bunching together, and
each panting and glaring at the other.

"Dere iss only vone t'ing vat I can do on a embty shtomach, und dot's
fighdt," wheezed Carl, slapping his arms. "It don'd vas ofer so kevick?
I got a pooty leedle kitney-punch vat I vould like to hant aroundt,
only I don'd haf der dime."

"Take off your grappling-hooks, Matt," puffed Ferral, squirming to get
out from under Matt's hands. "Dowse me if I've taken that crimp's full
measure, yet. The nerve of him, breezing right up here with my money in
his clothes!"

"Steady!" said Matt, closing down harder on Ferral and easily holding
him. "This has gone far enough."

"I should say it had," spoke up Sercomb, showing a flash of temper.
"Pretty way for my friends to be treated! I won't stand for it."

"When you've got thieves for friends, Sercomb," cried Ferral, "you're
liable to have to stand for a good deal!"

"Hand him one for that, Joe!" urged one of the newcomers. "That's the
first time I ever heard a thing like that batted up to Joe Mings, and
him not raising so much as a finger against the man that said it."

"We've got to think of Ralph, Harry," said Joe Mings. "This row makes
it uncomfortable for him."

"Especially since the chap that's making such a holy show of himself is
my own cousin," remarked Sercomb, with bitter reproach.

"The more shame to you," flared Ferral, "to let the hound that robbed
your own cousin come here like he's done, and take his part. Keep your
offing, Joe Mings," he added, to the thief, "or I'll tie you into a
granny's knot and heave you clean over your devil-wagon! Where's that
money? I need it, and I'm going to have it."

"I don't know what you're talking about," answered Mings. "You must be
dippy! Why, I never saw you before until you rushed out and tried to
climb my neck."

"You two-tongued swab! Do you mean to stand up there and say you
didn't meet me in Lamy, tell me you were a Canadian in distress, and
ask me to go to your boarding-house with you and square a bill with
your landlady? And will you say you didn't land on me with a pair of
knuckle-dusters in a dark street and run off with my roll?"

"That's a pipe," asserted Joe Mings. "Somebody's doped you."

"Enough of this, Dick," said Sercomb. "Joe's a friend of mine. All
these lads are friends, and all of them drivers of speed-cars. They're
here by my invitation. As for you, you're not here by anybody's
invitation----"

"Except Uncle Jack's," interposed Ferral grimly.

"Uncle Jack has cashed in, and he's not to be counted. This ranch
belongs to me, and you and your ruffianly friends will leave it. Your
friends can't ever come back here--and neither can you until you learn
how to behave. Come on in, boys," he added to the others. "Grub's on
the table."

"Avast a minute!" called Ferral. "I'm ready to trip anchor and slant
away--having never liked you so you could notice, and liking you less
than ever after this round--but I and my mates will have our chuck
before we go. What's more, that shark will hand over my funds, or I'll
come back here with an officer and make him more trouble than he can
get out of."

"He hasn't got your money," said Sercomb, "so he can't turn it over.
What's more, you'll dust out of here _now_!"

"Oh, I will!" Ferral lurched for the door, and Matt and Carl followed
him. "You may have right and title to this bally old dugout, Sercomb,
but you'll have a chance to show me that in court; and Uncle Jack may
be dead and gone, but that's something I'll find out for myself, and
make good and sure of it, at that. His money don't bother me, for I've
my two hands and know the ropes of a trade, so I won't starve; but
it's Uncle Jack himself I'm thinking of. As for you, you were always a
mixture of bear, bandicoot, and crocodile, and I wouldn't trust you the
length of a cable. I and my mates are going in and eat, and if you want
to avoid a smash, don't cross our hawser while we're doing it."

He turned from the door, and, followed by Matt and Carl, went into the
sitting-room, where the table had been spread.

"Now we've got Sercomb's signals," said Ferral, dropping into a chair
at the table, "and know where we all stand. What do you think of this
new twist in the game, Matt?"

"Too bad it happened," answered Matt, as he and Carl likewise seated
themselves. "We were just getting squared away to find out something
worth while, Dick."

"I couldn't hold myself in, that's all. The idea of Sercomb having that
crimp in tow! I'm a Fiji if I don't think my dear cousin put up that
Lamy job with Mings."

"I'd thought of that, too. But why should he do it?"

"To knock the bottom out of my ditty-bag and keep me away from La Vita
Place. More belike, he'd a notion Mings would land me in a sick-bay.
You remember Uncle Jack's room was all torn up when we first saw it?"

Matt nodded.

"Why was that?" Ferral went on. "Carpet torn away, sea-chest dumped all
over the floor, everything in a raffle. Why was that?"

"What do you think was the cause of it?"

Ferral leaned across the table.

"Sercomb had been looking for Uncle Jack's will!" he declared. "He
never found Uncle Jack, and he never found the will. If he's got a
piece of paper, it's one he's fixed up for himself."

"Mighty serious talk, old chap," said Matt gravely, "but I've a
hunch you've got the right end of it, at that. But for this row, we
might have been on fairly good terms with Sercomb, and have used our
knowledge, in a quiet way, to discover what he's trying to do."

"Vell," remarked Carl, "he has rushed dot gang in here, und dot makes
four to dree. Meppy id vas pedder ve don'd shday. Aber I'd like to
hang on, you bed you! Sooch a chance for some fighding I nefer foundt
yet."

Then followed a brief interval of silence, during which the boys gave
their whole attention to their food. Ferral was first to speak.

"You were going to set sail for Santa Fé this morning, Matt."

"We could never pull out and leave you in this mess," answered Matt.
"Mr. Tomlinson has given us plenty of time to get to Santa Fé."

"Sure, ve shday undil you vas pedder fixed to be jeerful, Verral," put
in Carl. "Dot's der greadt t'ing in life, my poy, alvays to make some
shmiles, no madder vich vay chumps der cat, und be jeerful."

"You're a pair of mates worth having," averred Ferral, with feeling.
"I don't know what I'd have done if it hadn't been for you. The very
first thing you haul me off a cliff wall. If you hadn't done that, by
now Sercomb would be having the run of the ship. I'll do something for
you some time, even if I have to travel around the world to do it. Just
now, though, I'd like to know what's become of Tippoo, Uncle Jack's
_kitmagar_ and _khansa-man_."

"Vat's dose?" inquired Carl.

"The Hindu foot-servant and steward," explained Ferral. "Uncle Jack was
in India for a while, and that's where he picked up Tippoo. Sercomb,
when we first met him here, hinted that Tippoo may have handed Uncle
Jack his come-up-with, but that was unjust. Tippoo would lay down his
life for Uncle Jack, and has been devoted to him for years."

A noise from the barn reached those in the sitting-room. A window of
the room commanded a view of the barn. Matt, suddenly looking through
the window, uttered an exclamation, sprang up, grabbed his hat, and
rushed through the kitchen and out of the house.

"What's the bloming racket now?" cried Ferral, likewise getting to his
feet.

"Look vonce!" answered Carl, pointing through the window. "Dere iss
a shance for more scrimmages! Led us fly some kites so ve don'd lose
nodding oof der seddo."

Through the window Ferral could see that the barn doors had been broken
open, and that Sercomb and his three companions were around the Red
Flier.

Knowing Matt's concern on account of the machine, Ferral lost not a
moment in running through the kitchen and following Matt and Carl.



CHAPTER X.

A NEW PLAN.


"Get away from that machine!" cried Matt, leaping into the barn.

He had grabbed up a club on the way, and as he spoke he advanced
threateningly upon Sercomb and his friends.

All four were in the car or around it. What they were trying to do Matt
did not know, but he felt pretty sure they had not broken into the barn
with harmless intentions concerning the Red Flier.

Sercomb turned away from the front of the machine and the others got
out.

"What are you intending to do with that club?" Sercomb demanded.

"That depends on what you're trying to do to that car," answered Matt.

"This is my property and the car has no business here. We want this
place for the other machine."

"Then leave the barn and I'll run the machine out. I don't allow any
one to fool with that car."

"There ain't one of us," struck in Mings, "that don't know more about a
car in a minute than you do in a year."

"That may be," said Matt, "but I'm boss of the Red Flier, all the same."

"I've heard about you, King," went on Mings. "Dace Perry, of Denver, is
a friend of mine, and he told me just what kind of a four-flusher you
are--always sticking your nose into other people's business, same as
now."

"Glad to hear Perry has a friend," returned Matt amiably, "but he could
have told you a whole lot that I guess he thought he hadn't better."

Just then Carl and Ferral flocked into the barn.

"Are they trying to scuttle that red craft, Matt?" asked Ferral.

"No," was the reply, "they're just going to run it out of the barn to
make room for the other car. I told them I'd attend to it."

"And when you get the car out of the barn," said Sercomb pointedly,
"just keep going, all of you."

"We'll do that to the king's taste," averred Ferral. "I wouldn't hang
around here with you and your outfit for a bushel of sovs, Sercomb,
although I'm coming back after my roll."

"Come on, fellows," called Sercomb, and left the barn with his friends
at his heels.

Matt got the Red Flier in shape, Carl climbed into the tonneau and
Ferral into the front seat, and they moved out of the barn.

As they passed around the house they saw Mings sitting in the other
car, evidently watching it to make sure it would not be tampered with.
He scowled at the Red Flier as it passed.

"Dey like us a heap--I don'd t'ink," chuckled Carl. "I bed you dot
Mings feller iss vone oof der chumps vat come indo der room lasht
nighdt, Verral."

"He don't like me any too well," said Ferral grimly. "And he's none too
easy in his mind, either. He knows what I can do to him for that Lamy
business."

"Are you really going to get an officer in Lamy and come back here?"
asked Matt.

"Strike me lucky if I'm not!"

Reaching the main road, Matt turned in the direction of Lamy and the
cliffs.

"We'll take you to Lamy," said Matt, "and bring the officer back. We've
the whole day before us, though, and there's something else I'd like to
do."

"Name it, mate. I'm in for anything."

"I'd like to go along the top of those cliffs and see if I can find how
and where that white runabout went to last night."

"If you go along the cliffs, you'll have to walk. Why not make your
examination from the road?"

"We can't see enough from the road, Dick. There may be something on the
other side of that ridge. By walking, and staying on the cliffs, we
can see both sides. The mystery of that white auto may be the key to
the whole affair at La Vita Place. Now's the time to settle it. If we
don't, Sercomb and those other fellows will."

"Right-o! We'll leave the Red Flier somewhere and tackle the game on
foot."

"We can't leave the Red Flier alone," said Matt. "I was going to
suggest, Dick, that we run the car off the road, between here and
the cliffs, and that you stay with it. I've got to look out for the
machine, you know. I came pretty near losing it, near Fairview,
in Arizona, and that gave me a jolt I'll never forget. It's a
five-thousand-dollar car, and if anything happened to it it would be
difficult to explain the matter satisfactorily to Mr. Tomlinson."

"I smoke you, mate," returned Ferral. "You've butted into this affair
of mine, and if you were to lose the old flugee on account of it, I'd
feel worse than you. I'll stay with the thing, and you can be sure
nothing will happen to it. You and Carl go hunt for the spook-car. I'll
wait. How far do you intend to hoof it over the cliffs?"

"If necessary, I'd like to go clear to that gully where the machine
flashed into the cliff road ahead of us; but I'm particularly anxious
to look over the ground this side of the turn, at the place where the
white car vanished so mysteriously."

"Crack the nut! If any one can do it, by jingo, it's Motor Matt."

By then they had reached a point about half-way between La Vita Place
and the cliffs. Here, off to one side of the road, there was a patch of
timber, and Matt turned the Red Flier, ran across the flat ground, and
drew up among the trees.

"Here's a good shady place for you to wait, Dick," said Matt. "Carl and
I may not be back before noon."

"Take your time, mate. I'm the greatest fellow to sojer in the
dog-watch you ever saw. Take your turn-to, and when you want me on
deck, just give the call."

Matt and Carl got out, returned to the road, and proceeded on toward
the cliffs.

The road was a straight stretch clear to the first turn that carried it
to the edge of the precipice. Matt and Carl remarked upon this as they
strode forward.

"A pad blace for any one to come in der nighdt, oof dey vas regless,"
observed Carl. "I don'd vant to go ofer dot roadt again in der nighdt,
nod me."

"We won't have to go over it again with our lamps, Carl," said Matt.
"It won't take us long to run to Lamy, get an officer, and come back to
La Vita Place. If we get back to the Red Flier by noon, we can make the
round trip to town by four o'clock, and have half an hour to get our
dinner."

"Sure! Dot's der talk. Aber I don'd t'ink ve vas going to findt der
vite car, Matt."

"I'm not expecting to find the white car, but I want to discover how it
managed to vanish like it did."

Carl shook his head gruesomely. He was still half-inclined to credit
the runabout with "shpook" proclivities, and Matt's new plan didn't
appeal to him very powerfully.

When they came to the chasm they paused to note how the road, in
reaching its treacherous path along the edge, broke suddenly from a
straight line into a sharp curve. Certainly it was a bad place for
motoring.

In order to get to the top of the cliff that edged the road on the
right, the boys had to do some hard climbing; but when they were on the
crest of the uplift, the view that stretched out around them was ample
reward for their toil.

On their left they could look down on the ribbon of road, winding
between the foot of the cliff and the chasm; and on their right they
looked away toward a swale, which made the cliff-tops a sort of divide.

"Dot gulch down dere," shuddered Carl, looking over the cliff, "iss
more as a million feed teep, I bed you."

"I don't know about that," said Matt, "but it's deep enough."

"Oof Verral hat dumpled from dot push," went on Carl, "he vould haf
gone clear py China."

"That swale," said Matt, pointing in the other direction, "is where
the gully enters the hills. As the gully runs on toward Lamy it comes
closer and closer to the cliff trail."

He turned and looked behind him.

In the distance he could see the clump of timber where Ferral had been
left with the Red Flier; and beyond the little patch of woods could be
seen the larger grove that sheltered La Vita Place. The touring-car
was screened from sight, and so was the adobe house. Matt was not
interested in either of them just then, however, but was working out
another problem in his mind.

"Carl," said he, "there's just a hint of a road leading out of the
swale and off toward La Vita Place."

"Vell, vat oof dot?" asked Carl.

"Incidentally," answered Matt, "if one wanted to cut off a good big
piece of that dangerous road, in going to Lamy, he could leave La Vita
Place and follow the blind track through the swale and gully, coming
out on the cliff trail just where the white runabout showed itself in
front of us last night."

"Py shiminy!" exclaimed Carl. "You're der feller to vork mit your
headt, Matt. Yah, so. Meppy dot's der vay dot shpook car come oudt on
us, hey? You t'ink she come from La Fita Blace?"

"That's only a guess. The white car had to come from somewhere. Let's
go on."

They climbed across the rugged cliff-top, and as they neared the turn
where the white runabout had vanished the night before, the gully
angled quite close to them; then, bending with the curve of the cliff
road, went on until it merged with the face of the cliffs.

At this point the cliff was not so high, with respect to the road, and
its face was not so steep. While Matt was trying to figure out how the
phantom auto had made its abrupt disappearance, a sudden cry from Carl
drew his attention.

"Ach, du lieber!" faltered Carl. "Der teufel is coming some more. See
here, Matt!"

Matt, following Carl's shaking finger with his eyes, saw the white
runabout. Apparently of its own volition, it was proceeding Lamyward
along the gully. Sometimes it darted out of sight behind a rise in the
gully wall, and again it came into full view, white, gleaming, and
presenting a most uncanny spectacle.



CHAPTER XI.

A DARING LEAP.


While Matt watched the car an idea darted through his head.

"The way to find out about that auto is to capture it," said he,
speaking quickly.

"How you vas going to do dot?" queried Carl. "Oof ve hat der Ret Flier
along, meppy ve could oferhaul der shpook, aber I don'd know vedder it
vould be righdt to indulch in any sooch monkey-doodle pitzness. Ven der
car puffs oudt mit itseluf, ve vould puff oudt mit it. Vere you vas
going, Matt?"

Matt was lowering himself over the top of the steep bank, just around
the curve above the cliff road.

"Come on," he called back, "and be careful. This is dangerous work."

Carl was not in a mood to tamper with the white runabout, nor was he in
a mood to let Matt do the tampering alone. Sorely against his will, he
began lowering himself down the steep bank, close beside his chum.

"Vy dis iss, anyvay?" he asked. "Vat a regless pitzness! Oof ve lose
holdt oof somet'ing, ve vould fall in der roadt, undt meppy scood
righdt ofer der roadt und go down vere Verral ditn't go."

"Hang on, Carl, that's the thing to do," returned Matt.

"Yah, you bed you I hang on! I don'd vant to fall py China und make
some visits mit der Chings. I vouldn't enchoy dot, as I vould be all in
bieces. Aber for vy iss dis, Matt? Vy you do dot?"

As they worked their way down the desperate slope, hanging to stunted
bushes and projecting rocks, Matt explained.

"The white runabout may be going to Lamy," said he, "but I hardly think
it would show up in the town like that----"

"Id vould schare der peobles oudt oof deir vits oof it dit!" puffed
Carl. "Wow!" he fluttered, making a slip and only saving himself a
fall by grabbing a bush with both hands. "A leedle more, Matt, und you
vouldn't haf hat no Dutch bard."

"But it's my opinion," pursued Matt, completely wrapped up in the work
in hand, "that the runabout is going to make the turn, just as it did
last night, and come back toward La Vita Place along the cliff road."

"Vy it do dot foolishness, hey?"

"Give it up. Perhaps we'll know all about it before long. Find a good
place, about six feet above the road, and hang on."

"Yah, you bed my life I don'd ged indo der roadt oof der shpook pubble
iss coming. I vould haf to ged oudt oof der vay, und meppy I vould go
ofer der edge like vat Verral dit, und you couldn't haf some ropes to
helup me oudt. I vas fixed all righdt, Matt."

Carl had planted himself on a good foothold and was clinging to a
stunted bush. Matt was on a level with him and a little to one side.

"Listen!" cried Matt.

It was impossible, of course, for the boys to see around the shoulder
of the cliff, but a low murmuring sound reached their ears, growing
quickly in volume.

"Dot's it!" said Carl excitedly; "she vas coming, I bed you! She vill
go py righdt unter us, und ve can look down und see vat ve can see,
vich von't be nodding. Aber I vish dot I vas some odder blace as here.
Oof dot----"

Carl broke off his talk. Just then the white car came spinning around
the curve.

What Motor Matt was intending to do Carl hadn't the least notion, but
he was pretty sure it must be something reckless.

The car was nearly upon them when Motor Matt, a resolute gleam in his
gray eyes, loosened his hold on the rocks. Carl's shock of tow-colored
hair began to stand up like porcupine bristles. Something was about to
happen, and he caught his breath.

Then something _did_ happen, and the Dutch boy got back his breath with
a rush.

"Look a leedle oudt!" yelled Carl, as Motor Matt made a quick jump for
the phantom auto.

It was a daring leap--so daring that Carl hung to his bush with both
hands and expected to see his chum either miss the machine altogether
or else carom off the opposite side, bound into the road, and go
hurtling into the chasm.

But Matt was too athletic, his nerves were too steady, and his eyes too
keen for that.

Carl saw him land in the front of the white runabout in a heap. He was
thrown violently against the seat, and then went sprawling against the
dash. The runabout slewed dangerously, and something like a squeal came
from somewhere.

"Ach, chincher," panted Carl; "he vas some goners! I don'd nefer expect
to see Motor Matt alife any more! Donnervetter! Vy he do dot?"

Quickly as he could, Carl dropped into the road.

"Matt!" he called, whirling about and looking in the direction the
white car had been going.

Then he staggered back against the rocks.

The auto had disappeared and taken Motor Matt along with it!

Carl's nerves were in rags. He didn't know what to do. Possessed with
the notion that Matt had faded into nothing along with the spook car,
he turned and began running the other way.

He stopped suddenly, however. Matt was his pard, and to run away from
him like that was something Carl knew he ought not to do. But was he
running away from Matt? If Matt had been snuffed into nothing with the
car, how could he be running away from him?

This was all foolish, of course, but Carl was so upset he wasn't
himself.

He stopped his running, however, and came stealthily back, staring on
all sides of him with eyes like saucers.

"Now vat I vas going to do?" he groaned. "Dere don'd vas a Modor
Matt any more, und dere iss der Red Flier, pack along der roadt, und
Verral, und sooch a mess as I can't dell at der La Fita Blace. Ach,
himmelblitzen!"

Carl, overcome by the dark outlook, sank down on the rocks and covered
his face with his hands.

Near him the face of the cliff was covered with a growth of bushes and
trailing vines.

Suddenly Carl heard a voice that lifted him to his feet as though a
spring had been released under him.

It was his name! Somebody had called his name, and it sounded like
Matt's voice.

"Vot it iss?" demanded Carl, a spasm of hope running through him.

"Come here!"

Carl looked all around, but without seeing where he was to go.

"Iss dot you, Matt?" he asked.

"Sure."

"Vere you vas, den? How you t'ink I come py you oof I don'd know dot?
Chiminy grickets, aber dis iss keveer!"

"I'm inside the cliff," Matt answered. "Push through the bushes."

Carl stepped in front of the trailing vines and brush.

"Iss it all righdt?" he quavered.

"Come on, come on," called Matt impatiently.

Carl pushed the bushes and vines aside, revealing a wide clear space
which had been completely masked by the foliage. The ground, breaking
in a level stretch from the cliff road, led smoothly away into the very
bosom of the cliff.

Still dubious, Carl pushed slowly on into the darkness. The vines fell
back behind him and the parted bushes snapped across the opening.

"I can't see nodding!" he wailed.

"Come straight ahead," said Matt reassuringly. "I'm only a little ways
off, and the car is here, too."

"Iss der shpook in der car?"

Matt laughed.

"We'll settle this spook business in short order," said he.

Carl reached the car, and felt Matt's hand guiding him around the side.

"How you shtop der pubble, Matt?" faltered Carl.

"I didn't stop it; somebody else did that."

At that moment a muffled voice called:

"Get in de car, sahib! We go on to de daylight."

Carl gave a jump and grabbed hold of Matt.

"Who iss dot?" he fluttered.

"We'll find out before we're many minutes older," said Matt. "Get in,
Carl."

Assisted by Matt, Carl got into one of the seats, while Matt climbed
into the other.

"All ready," announced Matt, in a loud voice.

Instantly a glow from the acetylene lamps flooded the gloom ahead.
The boys could see a rocky tunnel, wide and high, leading straight on
through the heart of the cliff.

"Ach!" chattered Carl. "Ve go py kingdom come now, I bed you."

"Hardly that," laughed Matt. "We're bound for daylight once more. Wait
and watch."

Swiftly and surely the white car glided on. Presently the boys saw
trailing vines and bushes ahead of them, similar to the screen at the
other end of the tunnel.

_Snap!_ Off went the lights. Then, with startling suddenness, they
brushed through the screen and were once more in the broad light of day.

The gully lay before them, and when they had reached the center of it
the car came to a halt.

"Vouldn't dot knock you shlab-sitet?" murmured Carl wonderingly. "In
vone door und oudt der odder! Ach, blitzen, und den some! Aber who vas
dot vat shpoke in der tark?"

"Here's where we find out," rejoined Matt, leaping down.

Carl likewise gained the ground. As he did so, the deck of the car,
behind the seats, lifted slowly until it lay wide in an upright
position.

Then a form slowly rose, a form with a chocolate-colored face, the head
crowned with a white turban. Jumping from the boxlike recess in the
rear of the car, the form stretched itself and salaamed.

"You surprise', sahib? Ah, ha!"



CHAPTER XII.

DESPERATE VILLAINY.


Although Matt and his friends did not know it, yet the course taken by
the Red Flier on leaving La Vita Place was watched.

Joe Mings, climbing a tree, kept the car under his eyes. In the
distance he saw it leave the road, then he could make out two figures
returning on foot to the road and proceeding toward the cliffs. He
called down the result of his observations.

"What do you suppose they're up to?" asked Sercomb, with a worried
look, as Mings slid back to the ground.

"I pass," replied Harry Packard, one of the most lawless of the
quartet; "but it's a fair gamble, Ralph, that they're not up to any
good."

"I should say not," said Balt Finn, the driver of the touring-car.
"That Ferral is after Mings' hide."

"Well," said Mings sullenly, "I wouldn't have gone through Ferral in
Lamy if you hadn't said so, Ralph."

"I'd like to know what their game is," mused Sercomb. "Mings, you and
Packard go to the place where they left the car. If you can smash the
car some way, they won't be able to go to Lamy until we're ready to
leave here."

"A nice jaunt before breakfast!" muttered Packard.

"We can stand it, I reckon," scowled Mings. "Let's take a drink all
around and try it, anyhow."

Packard pulled a flask from his pocket and took a swallow of its fiery
contents; then he passed the flask to Mings.

"You fellows have got some in the house," said Packard, corking the
flask and returning it to his pocket. "Joe and I will take this with
us. Maybe we'll need it," and he winked at Mings.

"Be careful what you do to the fellow that stayed with the car,"
cautioned Sercomb.

"Suppose it's Ferral?"

"Then," returned Sercomb, with a significant look, "be careful _how_
you do what you're going to. You fellows fell down last night."

"I'll not forget in a hurry the thumping that Ferral and the Dutchman
gave us," growled Packard.

"And don't you forget, Mings," said Sercomb, "what Ferral will do to
you if he gets to Lamy. Smash the car."

Mings and Packard started off briskly toward the place where the Red
Flier had been left. The spot was not more than half a mile from La
Vita Place.

Ferral, all unconscious of the fact that two of his enemies were
approaching, sprawled out in the front seat of the Red Flier and
puzzled his brain over the queer situation in which he found himself.

He could make nothing of it, and as time slipped away his brain grew
more and more befuddled. He was hoping Matt and Carl might discover
something of importance, or, if they did not, that when the Red Flier
returned from Lamy with an officer, the law might do something to clear
up the mystery in which Uncle Jack had plunged everything at La Vita
Place.

A deep quiet reigned in the little grove. A droning of flies was the
only sound that disturbed the stillness. The warm air and the silence
made Ferral drowsy.

Once he roused up, thinking he heard a sound somewhere around him;
then, assuring himself that he was mistaken, he sank back on the front
seat and his nodding head bowed forward.

Suddenly, before he could do a thing to protect himself, a quick arm
went round his throat from behind, and he felt some one catch his feet
from the side of the car. He gave a shout of consternation as his head
bent backward and his eyes took in the face that leered above him.

It was the face of Mings!

"Caught!" laughed Mings hoarsely. "Thought you'd shaken us, eh? Well,
you were shy a few!"

"Just a few!" tittered the voice of the man on the ground.

"Here's a rope," went on Mings, kicking the coiled riata, which Matt
carried in the car, out through the swinging door. "Take it and tie his
legs, Harry. I'll hold him. Got a strangle-grip and he can't budge."

As soon as Packard let go his hold, Ferral began to kick and struggle;
but Mings was in such a position that he could keep him very easily
from getting away.

Packard, although tipsy from the effects of the liquor he and Mings had
imbibed on the way from La Vita Place, tied one end of the rope quickly
about Ferral's ankles. The free end of the rope was then wound around
the seat and Ferral's hands were made fast behind him. In a few minutes
he was bound to the seat and absolutely helpless. Mings and Packard,
gloating over his predicament, got around in front of the car.

"How do you like that?" asked Packard.

"He likes it," hiccoughed Mings; "you can tell that by the looks of
him."

"You're a fine lot of swabs!" exclaimed Ferral contemptuously. "Sercomb
ordered me off the place, and I slanted away; now you follow me with
your beach-comber tricks. Oh, yes, you're a nice lot! What are you
trying to do?"

"Going to smash the car," answered Mings.

"You keep your hands off this car!" cried Ferral, realizing suddenly
that he had been caught napping, and that Motor Matt might get into a
lot of trouble on account of it.

"Well," grinned Packard, "you just watch us."

"Are you going to Lamy?" demanded Mings.

"That's where I'm going!" declared Ferral resolutely.

"Not to-day you won't; and not in this car. We're going to fix Motor
Matt for butting into our plans, and we're going to fix you so you
won't get to Lamy and back before we're on the road to Denver. You're
cute, but you're not so cute as we are. Oh, no! Is he, Packard?"

"We're the boys!" observed Packard.

They were both partly intoxicated. Naturally lawless, the liquor they
had taken had made them more so.

"See here," said Ferral, desperately anxious to save the car, "you've
got some of my money, Mings, and I could have you jugged for taking
it, but if I'll promise not to get an officer and to let you keep the
money, will you leave this car alone? It doesn't belong to Motor Matt,
and he's responsible for it. I was left here to watch it----"

"Nice watchman!" sputtered Packard; "fine watchman! Eh, Mings?"

"Dandy watchman!" and Mings laughed loudly. "He didn't hear a sound
when I sneaked into the tonneau. I tell you what, Packard!" he
exclaimed, as a thought ran suddenly through his befogged brain.

"Well, tell it!" urged Packard.

"Let's send him to Lamy."

"Send him to Lamy?"

"Sure! Let's put him in the road and open the car up! Mebby he'll get
to Lamy."

"He'll smash into the rocks, that's what he'll do."

"Well, that'll fix the car. By the time Motor Matt pulls Ferral out of
the wreck, I guess he won't feel like getting an officer."

Ferral could hardly believe his ears.

"You scoundrels wouldn't dare do a thing like that!" he cried.

"He says we wouldn't dare, Packard," mumbled Mings.

"He don't know us, eh, Mings?"

"Not--not even acquainted. Let's throw the old benzine-buggy against
the rocks, and give Motor Matt a surprise."

"He'll be surprised, all right. Serve him right, too, for meddling with
Sercomb's business."

"He's a meddler, that's sure. Dace Perry told me all about him."

"Dace Perry's a blamed good fellow. He's one of our set."

"Can you navigate the car to the road?" asked Packard.

"Navigate a dozen cars! Anything more in the flask?"

"All gone," answered Packard gloomily.

"Well, there's more back at the house."

Mings got into the car and Packard did the cranking. When the car
started it nearly ran over Packard.

"Trying to kill me?" shouted Packard, rolling out of the way.

"You're too slow," laughed Mings.

Fumbling awkwardly with the levers and the steering-wheel, Mings
managed to get the car into the road and headed for the cliffs.

"Cut off a piece of that rope, Packard," called Mings. "I'll tie the
wheel so as to be sure the car goes to Lamy."

"That's right," answered Packard, "you want to be sure."

He took out his knife, slashed a piece from the free end of the rope,
and handed it up to Mings. The latter began lashing the wheel.

"Sercomb ought to give us a chromo for this," said Packard, watching
Mings as he worked.

"You tell him we ought to have a chromo," returned Mings, with a
foolish grin. "Sercomb's a blamed good chap; nicest chap I know."

Meanwhile, Ferral's face had gone white. He was fighting desperately
with the ropes, but they held him firmly and he could not free his
hands. A sickening sensation ran through him.

Neither Mings nor Packard had a very lucid idea of what they were
attempting. They were fair examples of what liquor can do for a person
in certain situations.

"Belay!" cried Ferral desperately. "You don't understand what you're
doing, you fellows! You've headed me for the cliffs, and----"

"They're big and hard, those cliffs," said Mings, "and you'll hit 'em
with quite a jolt. But it'll only smash the car, Ferral, and we had
orders to smash the car."

Having finished with the wheel, Mings got on the running-board. Packard
cranked up again. Mings threw in the clutch with his hand, pushed on
the high gear, and was thrown off as the car jumped ahead.

He collided with Packard, and both tumbled on the ground and rolled
over and over. When they had struggled to their feet, the two
scoundrels saw something that almost sobered them.

_It was the white runabout racing across the level ground in the
direction of the road and the flying red car!_

But, what was even more strange, Motor Matt was in the driver's seat
of the runabout, and beside him was a strange, turbaned figure which
neither Packard nor Mings had ever seen before.

On the ground, a long way in the rear of the racing runabout, stood a
figure which Packard and Mings recognized as being that of Motor Matt's
Dutch chum.



CHAPTER XIII.

TIPPOO.


The little brown man in the turban Matt instantly recognized as a
Hindu, undoubtedly the servant of Mr. Lawton, Ferral's uncle.

Here was a find, and no mistake!

Tippoo had vanished at the same time Mr. Lawton effected his queer
disappearance, and the discovery of one might easily lead to the
finding of the other.

"Is your name Tippoo?" asked Matt.

"_Jee_, sahib."

"Vat iss dat?" muttered Carl. "Gee! Iss it a svear vort? He don'd look
like he vas madt mit himseluf."

The Hindu certainly was taking his discovery in good part. His brown
face was parted in a perpetual smile, and he seemed morbidly anxious to
please.

"Does _jee_ mean yes?" asked Matt.

The turban ducked vigorously.

"_Jee, Jee!_"

"Dot's two gees, vich means gootness cracious," bubbled Carl, very
happy to find that the ghost had been laid; "und also it means jeerful.
Led's try to be dot. So der shly brown roosder vas in der pack oof der
pubble all der time! How he make it go, I vonder, ven he don'd vas aple
to see der vay?"

Matt was also curious on that point. Stepping closer to the automobile,
he looked into it, and saw a wonderful combination of mirrors and
levers.

The smiling Hindu, observing the trend of the boys' interest, advanced
and doubled himself up in the back of the runabout.

As he lay there, in tolerable comfort and with a cushion under his
head, there was a mirror in front of his eyes. Other mirrors, set at
various angles, cunningly reflected the scenery in front of the car.
When the deck was closed down it was evident that the enclosed space
became a sort of camera obscura.

Convenient to the Hindu's right hand was a small wheel with an upright
handle on its rim. As he turned the wheel he steered the car--entirely
independent of the steering-wheel in front. The spark was manipulated
by a small lever near the wheel, and so were the throttle, the brakes,
and the gears. Strangest of all, though, was the arrangement for
cranking inside the box. This device was so ingenious that it should
have entitled its originator to a patent.

"But vat's der goot oof it all?" queried Carl. "For vy shouldt a feller
vant to pen himseluf oop in a smodery leedle blace like dot und leaf
der two frondt seads vagant? Ach, vat a foolishness!"

Matt also wondered at that.

"Why do you ride in such cramped quarters, Tippoo," asked Matt, "when
you could just as well ride on a seat?"

"Baud mens, sahib," said Tippoo, clutching his forehead with one hand
and bowing forward.

"Where were you going in the car?"

"'Round-around, 'round-around."

"Ring aroundt a rosy," said Carl. "I haf blayed dot meinseluf, aber nod
mit a pubble."

"Where is Lawton, sahib?" asked Matt.

"_Jee, jee!_" exclaimed the Hindu.

"He talks vorse der longer vat he speaks," said Carl disgustedly. "Ven
ve vas in der tunnel, he shpeak pooty goot, aber now he don'd say
nodding like vat ve can undershtand."

Matt despaired of being able to find out anything he wanted to know,
and thought it would be well to take Tippoo to Ferral.

"You know Dick Ferral?" queried Matt.

"_Jee!_"

"Do you know where we left the red automobile?"

"_Jee!_"

"Gee stands for grazy, too, vich he iss," said Carl.

"Will you take us to our car?" went on Matt.

"Awri'," answered the Hindu.

"Dot's pedder," said Carl.

Tippoo lowered the deck carefully over the queer mechanism in the box,
and motioned Matt and Carl to get into the car. Matt got into the
driver's seat, having a mind to run the car himself, and Carl got into
the other one. Tippoo stood in front of Carl, getting in after he had
"turned over" the engine by means of the crank in front. He watched
Matt sharply, evidently wanting to make sure that he knew what he was
about.

Matt started along the gully, marveling at the smooth course its bottom
offered.

The runabout responded quickly to the slightest turn of the
steering-wheel, and every other part of the mechanism worked to
perfection.

Tippoo, delighted at the skill with which Matt handled the car, bent
over and gave him an approving slap on the shoulder.

"Chimineddy!" laughed Carl, "der prown feller likes you, Matt."

"I guess he likes the way I run the car," said Matt. "It's a little
dandy! I never handled a machine that purred along in neater style. I
wish I knew more about the get-up in the back part of it."

"Ven somebody blays der shpook schust for foolishness, I don'd like
dot," said Carl. "You mighdt haf got your prains knocked oudt by
chumping indo der car--und all pecause der prown feller vanted to blay
shpook!"

"Me play gose, sahib, but not to scare de good white mans--only de baud
white mans."

This from Tippoo, who was plainly keeping track of the conversation.

"Did you see us on the cliff road last night?" queried Matt.

"_Jee._"

"And you got away by running the machine into the cliff?"

"_Jee_, sahib."

"You didn't have any lights. How could you see where you were going?"

"Me know de road, no need de light till me get in de tunnel, sahib."

"You stopped the car in the tunnel last night, and came back into the
road?"

Tippoo nodded.

"Why was that?"

"Me see fin' out if Dick sahib be awri'."

"Ah! You were worried about Dick, eh, and you came back to see if he
was all right."

"Sure."

"Why didn't you wait till we could speak with you?"

"Naboob sahib give order no."

"Who is the 'nabob sahib'?"

Tippoo affected not to hear the question.

"He don'd vant to talk about dot," put in Carl. "He shies all aroundt
dot Uncle Chack."

"You came past the house in the road last night?" asked Matt.

This question evidently startled the Hindu.

"Sahib see de car las' night?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Me no see sahib."

"What were you riding past the other car for?"

"Try scare baud white mans. Try see dem. Naboob sahib say so. _Jee!_"

"Then you must have been the one who fired that revolver and put a
bullet through the tire?"

For answer to this, Tippoo pulled a revolver from a sash about his
waist.

"Make lift board with head, make _dekke_, den bang!" He laughed. "Fine
shoot, eh?"

"Certainly it was a fine shot," answered Matt. "Were you trying to keep
away from Dick sahib?"

"Try keep 'way from Dick sahib, and from Ralph sahib. All same. Leave
'em 'lone. Naboob sahib say so."

This conversation, which cleared up some more dark points, carried the
runabout out of the swale and onto the flat stretch which led off in
the direction of La Vita Place. The course to the ranch paralleled, at
a distance of about a quarter of a mile, the other road that led from
the cliffs.

Matt turned the nose of the runabout so as to lay a direct course for
the patch of trees where the Red Flier had been left. Before they had
covered more than half the distance between the swale and the trees, a
loud cry escaped the Hindu. His eyes were fastened upon the other road.

"_Dekke!_" he called, pointing.

Matt looked in the direction indicated.

"Ach, dunder!" cried Carl. "Dere iss der Ret Flier in der roadt, und
some fellers vas aroundt it--two oof dem."

"Dick sahib him tied in car!" shouted Tippoo. "Dey let car go! Car go
to de cliff, Dick sahib tied! _Kabultah! Hurkut-jee! Hur-r-r-kut-jee!_"

Tippoo lifted his hands and wrung them in an agony of fear and
apprehension.

By that time Matt was able to take in the situation. He saw Ferral,
bound in the front of the car, and the car speeding toward the cliffs
and the chasm. Vividly before his eyes floated that turn of the
treacherous road. The car would go straight until it reached the turn,
and then, if no one was at hand to stop it, the Red Flier would go into
the chasm and carry Ferral with it.

Motor Matt's face set resolutely.

"I'm going to slow down, Carl," said he, "and you pile out! There's
too much freight for the race we've got to make."

"All righdt! Don'd led nodding habben, bard, now ven ve're so near droo
mit dis monkey-dootle pitzness."

Carl jumped for the ground, and Tippoo sank limply into his seat.

Matt immediately threw on the high speed, giving an angle to the car's
course which would lay it alongside the Red Flier.

Like a flash, the white car leaped over the flat ground, Tippoo still
wringing his hands and muttering fearfully to himself.



CHAPTER XIV.

IN THE NICK OF TIME.


There was no road-bed under the wheels of the white runabout, but, for
all that, the earth was firm, although rilled, at irregular distances,
with little sandy ridges. The car, being light, seemed fairly to leap
over these small rises.

The Hindu had to hang to his seat with both hands in order to keep from
being hurled out of the car. His turban was jolted down over his eyes,
and after he had tried to knock it back into place half a dozen times,
he flung it down on the floor of the car.

"We come close, closer!" he breathed, leaning forward in his seat and
peering steadily at the big touring-car. "Naboob sahib be big mad at
dis. We save Dick sahib!"

Matt could see that they were rapidly overhauling the Red Flier, but,
as he measured the gain, he knew they would have only a scant margin,
at best, if they kept Ferral and the car from shooting into the chasm.

Flinging across the road a dozen feet behind the Flier, Matt brought
the runabout closer on that side.

"I'm going to jump from this car to the other one, Tippoo," he shouted,
"as soon as we get where I can do it. The minute I jump, you be sure
and grab the steering-wheel and take care of the runabout. Understand?"

"_Jee_, sahib!"

Ferral was able to twist his head around and keep track of the gallant
race the runabout was making. He must have been astounded to see the
white car, with Matt and the Hindu, trailing after him.

"You're coming, mate!" he yelled. "Let 'er out for all she's worth! The
brink of the precipice is right ahead!"

Matt was aware of their nearness to the abyss. A few rods farther and
they would be at the turn of the road. The touring-car, of course,
being lashed to run on a straight line, would plunge to destruction
unless halted.

With a final spurt, Matt drove the runabout abreast of the Red Flier.
The two cars were now running side by side, and not a second could be
lost if Matt was to transfer himself to the Flier in time to be of any
assistance to Ferral.

As he took his hands from the wheel, Tippoo leaned sideways and gripped
the rim. For an instant Matt was poised on the foot-board, steadying
himself by holding to the seat. A moment more and he had thrown himself
across the gap between the two cars.

It was his second daring leap for that day, but this jump was more
dangerous than the other one, for, if he had slipped, he would have
had two cars to reckon with, instead of one. Both cars were racing
furiously, and the Red Flier, with no hand to hold it, was taking all
inequalities of the road and plunging and swaying as it rushed onward.

But Motor Matt never put his mind to anything that he did not
accomplish. Ferral drew back in the seat to give him every chance, and
Matt sprawled with a jar that made the car shiver from crank to tail
light.

Whether he was hurt or not did not appear. In a flash he was up,
cutting off the power and bearing down on the emergency-brake.

It was a stop such as Matt hated to make, for fear of wrenching the
machinery, but it was either that or go over into the chasm. As it
was, the Red Flier ran across the curve and quivered to a halt, with
the front wheels on the very brink. Matt and Ferral, from their seats,
could look over the hood and down into the dizzy, swirling depths below.

Ferral's face was white as death, and he relaxed backward, limp and
gasping. Matt backed the Flier away, and turned around, then drew his
knife from his pocket and cut the ropes that bound Ferral.

"Who did this, Dick?" he asked huskily.

"Two of my cousin's friends," replied Ferral, drawing his hands around
in front of him and rubbing his chafed wrists. "Toss us your fin! What
you've done this day, messmate, Dick Ferral will never forget."

A shiver ran through him as he gripped Matt's hand.

"The murderous scoundrels!" muttered Matt, his eyes flashing.

"They didn't mean it to be as bad as it was, I'll have to give 'em
credit for that. They had about three tots of grog aboard, and aimed
only to run the flugee into the rocks and stave it in. They didn't know
about that jumping-off place, or else they'd forgotten about it."

"It's bad enough, all right. No matter if the Flier had only smashed
into the rocks, you might have been killed, tied as you are. They
sneaked up on you, back there in that patch of timber?"

"Aye, and it was all my fault. I was mooning, and that gave them a
chance. If they hadn't caught me from behind, I could have bested the
two of them, for they had been topping the gaff strong. I was careless,
Matt, and you might have lost the machine on account of it."

"Bother the machine, old fellow! It was you that brought my heart in
my throat. In a pinch like that, it's the man that counts, not the
machinery he happens to have along with him."

"Right-o! If there hadn't been a whole man in that white car, I might
as well have been sewed in a hammock and slipped from a grating, with a
hundred-pound shot at my pins."

Tippoo had halted the runabout and had watched with wide eyes while
Matt made his hair-raising jump and stopped the big car. He now leaped
down from the runabout and hurried to Ferral. Catching one of his
hands, he bowed over and pressed it to his temples.

"Sink me, but the fix I was in fair hid the curious part of the
rescue," went on Ferral. "Where'd you get hold of Tippoo, Matt? And how
did you come to have the white car handy?"

In a few words Matt straightened out the situation so it was clear to
Ferral.

"I'm a Fiji, Matt," breathed Ferral, "if you ain't chain-lightning when
it comes to doing things. Tippoo, where's Uncle Jack?"

"Me no say, Dick sahib," answered Tippoo, dodging the question.

"You can tell me whether he's dead or alive, can't you?" roared Ferral.

"Me no say, Dick sahib," persisted Tippoo. "You come 'long La Vita
Place--come 'long with Tippoo."

"I was ordered away from there by Sercomb. If I go any place, it will
be to Lamy after an officer. I'll raise a jolly big row with that gang
at La Vita Place, scuttle 'em!"

Tippoo stared blankly at Ferral.

"Ralph sahib order Dick sahib away?" repeated the Hindu, as though he
scarcely believed his ears.

"He said he had found Uncle Jack's remains, and the will, and that the
will left everything to him, and he ordered me and my mates away."

Tippoo bent forward and gripped his forehead.

"_Joot baht, joot baht!_" he mumbled.

"Blast his lingo!" growled Ferral. "It takes Uncle Jack to get the lay
of him."

"Dick sahib, you go with Tippoo back to La Vita Place?"

The Hindu was so deeply in earnest that he compelled Ferral's attention.

"What do you want me back there for?"

"You go, you learn all--ever'thing," and Tippoo flung his arms out in a
comprehensive gesture.

"Now, strike me lucky, the beggar knows something. Yes, we'll go, if
for nothing more than to walk in on my dear cousin Ralph and face Mings
and Packard. Get into your old catamaran, Tippoo, and bear away. We'll
hold you hard during the run, if I'm any judge of Motor Matt."

Tippoo went back to the runabout, got into the seat, and started for La
Vita Place.

"Old Chocolate certainly is an A. B. at running that craft," mused
Ferral, watching the ease with which Tippoo handled the runabout. "But
what was the good of all that Flying Dutchman business? Why did Tippoo
want to tuck himself away in the locker behind when he could ride up in
front in comfort and like a gentleman?"

"I suppose," answered Matt, "that we'll find all that out when we get
back to La Vita Place."

A glint came into Ferral's eyes.

"Will we?" he cried, bringing his fist down on his knee. "Aye, mate,
even if I have to take Ralph Sercomb by the throat and shake the whole
blessed truth out of him. If it's a game of dirks they're playing, I
warrant you they'll find me handy with mine."

"Go slow, Dick, whatever you do," counseled Matt. "You've held yourself
pretty well in hand, so far, and you'll be the gainer for it."

They had been wheeling along the road at a good clip, and came finally
to a place where Carl was waiting for them.

"Vell, vell!" cried Carl, as Matt stopped for him to hop into the
tonneau, "vot kindt oof a rite vas dot you dook mit yourseluf, Verral?"

"The kind, mate," answered Ferral, "that I hope I'll never take again."

"Yah, I bed you! Modor Matt chumped in und shtopped der car, hey? I
knew dot he vould. Ven he geds dot look in his eyes, py chincher, like
vat he hat, you can bed someding for nodding his madt vas oop. How did
it habben, Verral?"

And while Ferral was rehearsing the whole story for Carl's benefit, the
white runabout and the Red Flier came to a halt in the road in front of
La Vita Place.

Tippoo jumped down and motioned for those in the rear car to follow him.

"Tippoo is the boss, Dick," said Matt; "get down and we'll trail after
him. Don't let your temper get away from you when we're in the house."

"The way I feel now, matey," answered Ferral, "I'd like to sail in and
lay the 'cat' on the whole bunch. A precious crew they are, and no
mistake."

Tippoo led the way along the foot-path, and Ferral, Matt, and Carl
followed him closely.

Voices could be heard in the house, and it was clear Sercomb and his
companions had not noticed the approach of the two cars.

Standing by the door, the Hindu motioned for the boys to pass in ahead
of him.



CHAPTER XV.

A STARTLING INTERRUPTION.


The parlor at La Vita Place, as has already been stated, covered half
of the first floor of the house. The distinctive feature of the large
room was an immense fireplace, which, after the Mexican fashion, was
built across one corner. Above the fireplace, on the angling surface
that reached from wall to wall, was a dingy, life-size painting of a
saint. The painting was in a heavy frame, which was set flush with the
wall.

There were a few things about the old adobe _casa_ which had been left
exactly as they had come into Mr. Lawton's hands from the original
Mexican owners of the place. This picture of the saint was one of them.

The parlor was finely furnished. The floors were laid with tiger and
lion-skins, trophies of the chase, and on every hand were curios
and ornaments dear to the eccentric old Englishman because of their
associations.

In this room Sercomb and his Denver friends were gathered. They had had
their breakfast--Mings and Packard had just finished theirs--and all
were excitedly discussing what Mings and Packard had done, and what
they had seen.

Mings and Packard, it may be stated, had been sufficiently sobered by
their experiences, and not a little frightened.

"Confound the luck, anyhow!" cried Sercomb. "Nothing seems to go right
with me. If you fellows had got hold of Ferral last night, all this
couldn't have happened to-day."

"If we'd done that, Ralph," said Mings gloomily, "we don't know what
would have happened to-day. Motor Matt and that Dutch pal of his would
have been left, and they'd have kicked up a big ruction when they found
Ferral had disappeared."

"We could have taken care of Motor Matt and the Dutchman," snapped
Sercomb, "and Mings and Packard could have run Ferral away in the
automobile and dropped him so close to the quicksands that he'd have
wandered into them in the dark. He'd never have shown up here to make
me any trouble." Bitterness throbbed in Sercomb's voice. "That fellow
has been a drawback to me ever since we were kids, and now he's got to
step in and try to knock me out of Uncle Jack's money!"

"You wasn't a favorite of your Uncle Jack, eh?" queried Balt Finn.

"No, blast the old codger! He never seemed to like me, and I was always
around him. Dick, who never came near, was the one he had always in
mind."

"Well, has the old fluke cashed in?" asked Packard. "That's the point."

"Of course he has! He was always a high liver, and it's a wonder
apoplexy didn't take him long ago. Feeling that he was about to die, he
made his will, put it in his pocket, and tucked himself away somewhere,
just to see whether Dick or I would be first to locate him. Precious
little I care about the old juniper, if I could lay hands on the will."

"The one you've made out, Ralph," said Packard, "is pretty well gotten
up. You've imitated your uncle's signature in great shape."

"The deuce of it is," returned Sercomb, "I don't know just what
property he's got, so I can schedule it. If I could find the original
will, I could copy that part of it."

"Maybe," suggested Finn, "this is only a tempest in a teapot, and that
the old man left you all his property, after all."

"I don't know, of course, but I'm afraid he's given Dick too much. I
don't want him to have a cent."

"Well," growled Mings, "I'm hoping you'll make good your claim to the
estate, Ralph. You've promised to remember us all around, you know."

"That promise goes!" averred Sercomb. "Once I get my hooks on Uncle
Jack's money, you can bet I'll do the handsome thing by you fellows.
Just now, though, what we've got to think about is this: Dick was
started toward the cliffs in that car of King's, and King showed
up in that confounded white runabout and chased after Dick and the
touring-car. What I'd like to know, did King save Dick? Everything
hangs on that. If Dick got smashed against the cliffs, he can't tell
about that Lamy business, nor about Mings and Packard tying him in the
car. You fellows," and here Sercomb turned to Mings and Packard, "ought
to have hung around to see how it came out."

"Oh, yes," returned Mings sarcastically, "we ought to have hung around
and given them a chance to nab us. I guess not! We got back here as
quick as we could. But you take it from me--King never saved Ferral."

"You fellows went too far," continued Sercomb. "I told you to smash the
car, but I didn't tell you to smash Ferral along with it."

"That's what you meant, Sercomb, whether you said it or not," spoke
up Packard. "You wanted him taken away last night and dropped in the
quicksands----"

"I wanted him put out of the car close to the quicksands," qualified
Sercomb, "so that he'd have got into them himself."

"It's all the same thing," said Balt Finn. "Call a spade a spade and
don't dodge."

"Who was that fellow with the queer head-gear we saw in the car?" asked
Packard.

A look of dismay crossed Sercomb's face.

"If that was Tippoo----" he began, but got no farther.

Just then there were steps in the hall, and Ferral entered the room,
followed by Matt and Carl. Sercomb and his guilty associates jumped to
their feet.

"Why--why, Dick!" exclaimed Sercomb, staring.

"Yes, you cannibal!" shouted Ferral; "it's Dick, but no thanks to you
and your gang of pirates that I'm here, alive and kicking. Now, Mings,
confound you, you and Packard have got a chance to tell me whether my
dear cousin put you up to that job over toward the cliffs."

"We've got a chance to run you off the place, that's what we've got,"
answered Mings.

"Heave ahead!" cried Ferral, squaring himself. "I'd like a chance at
you, just one."

Mings glared at him, but remained sullenly silent. Ferral turned to
Sercomb.

"I'm here to sink a lead to the bottom of this, my gay buck," said he,
"and before I turn my back on La Vita Place I'll know the truth. What
have you done with Uncle Jack? A scoundrel who'd treat me as you have
wouldn't hesitate to deal foully with----"

"There, there, Dick," interrupted Sercomb, fluttering his hand, "that
will do you. You're judging me by yourself."

"I'm judging you by your actions," stormed Ferral. "It's been
tack-and-tack with you ever since I knew you, and you never yet shifted
your helm without having something to gain for Sercomb. You cozzened
around Uncle Jack, toadying to him for his money; when he disappears,
you bear away for here, rip things fore and aft looking for a will,
and, when you fail to find one, fix a document up to suit yourself.
You're as crooked as a physte's hind leg, and you couldn't sail a
straight course to save your immortal soul. Now, here's where I stand,
Ralph Sercomb: Either you'll tell me the whole of it about Uncle Jack,
or I go to Lamy and come back here with an officer. If I do that, I'll
round-up every man Jack of you, and give you the hottest time you ever
had in your lives; but tell me the truth about Uncle Jack, and I'll
leave here and stay away."

"Uncle Jack is dead," declared Sercomb. "How many times do you want me
to tell you that?"

"That's still your play, is it?" scoffed Ferral. "Then, between you and
me and the capstan, my buck, you lie by the watch!"

A hoarse cry escaped Sercomb. His hand swept under his coat, and when
it appeared a bit of steel glimmered in his fist.

"Put up your gun," ordered Ferral. "You took one shot at me with it
last night, and if you try it again I'll turn a trick you'll remember."

"Get out of here!" ordered Sercomb. "You can't come into my place and
talk to me like that."

He lifted the weapon, the muzzle full upon Ferral. Matt and Carl
stepped up shoulder to shoulder with Ferral, and Mings, Packard, and
Finn drew nearer to Sercomb.

A tense moment intervened, followed by a quick, pattering footfall.
Tippoo glided in and placed himself resolutely between Ferral and the
leveled weapon.

"Tippoo!" gasped Sercomb, stepping back and letting the revolver drop
at his side.

"_Jee!_" answered the Hindu.

His eyes were not fixed on Sercomb, nor on any one else in the room,
but on the dingy saint in the frame over the mantel. He waved his arms
sternly, separated Sercomb and his friends, and passed through their
gaping ranks toward the fireplace.

The he salaamed, calling loudly: "Naboob sahib! Is de time not come?
_Dekke!_"

Thereupon a most astounding thing happened. While those in the room
stared like persons entranced, the great frame that enclosed the
pictured saint quivered against the wall. Slowly it moved outward at
the top, dropped lower and lower, until it had passed the mantel and
its upper edge was resting on the floor. The inner side of the picture,
now disclosed, was arranged in a series of steps, so that a stairway
was formed from the mantel downward. At the top of the short flight,
gaping blackly over the fireplace, a square recess was disclosed in the
angle formed by the two walls of the room.

For an instant the blank gloom was undisturbed; then, slowly, a tall,
gray-haired form showed itself. The form was erect and soldierly, clad
in black; the face was fine, the forehead high, and the eyes quick and
keen.

For a space this figure stood in the opening, the eyes sweeping the
room and finally resting on Ferral. While still gazing at Ferral, the
figure stepped over the mantel with military decision and descended
step by step until it reached the floor.

The stairway lifted itself, when relieved of the weight, swung upward,
and closed the opening. Once more the pictured saint was in the
accustomed place.

"Dick!" called a voice.

The figure in black stepped forward with outstretched hand.

"Uncle Jack!" exclaimed Ferral, starting forward.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE PRICE OF TREACHERY.


This most astounding event had left everybody gasping. A ghastly pallor
had rushed into Sercomb's face. His three companions were hardly in
better case. All four realized that the unexpected had happened, and
that it boded ill for them.

But Sercomb was not long in pulling himself together.

"Why, uncle!" he exclaimed, forcing a laugh; "this is a tremendous
surprise, and a glad one. I have been worried to death about you!"

He offered his hand. Mr. Lawton looked at him steadily. Under that look
Sercomb's assurance faded, his hand dropped, and he fell back.

"I would like you better, sir," said the old Englishman, "if you
showed the courage to acknowledge what you have done and face the
consequences. You must know that I am aware of all that has taken place
here; and yet you have the brazen insolence to step forward and offer
me your hand!"

"I guess we'd better be going, Sercomb, old chap," said Mings.

"I think so, too," spoke up Balt Finn. "It's getting along toward noon,
and we'll get out the car and start north."

"Come on, boys," urged Packard.

They started toward the door. At a gesture from Mr. Lawton, Tippoo
stepped in front of the door and drew the revolver from his sash. The
Denver man fell back in trepidation.

"You'll start north very soon," said Mr. Lawton keenly, "and when you
go you'll take Sercomb with you. First, however, there is something to
be told, and you'll wait to hear it.

"Ever since I came to America I have had Ralph and Dick in mind. Either
I was to divide my property between them, or else I was to cut off one
and leave all to the other. In some respects I am a particular man.
What property I have collected I want to fall into hands that will do
the most good with it. With that end in view I have tried to make a
study of Ralph and Dick.

"It was easy for me to study Ralph. Whenever I asked him to come here
and see me, he came; and he remained, as a rule, until I asked him to
go. He had ways about him which I did not like, but I feared that was
merely a prejudice. I like the youth who is open and aboveboard, who
says what he means and who is frank and fearless. Ralph did not seem to
be that.

"Dick I never could get to come to me." Mr. Lawton lifted his hand and
rested it on Ferral's shoulder. "I couldn't understand this, for by
making a little of me he had everything to gain. He was serving his
king afloat--I liked that--but I felt that he might take a little time
off for a visit, every two or three years, with the forlorn old man
'way off here in the American wilds.

"When Dick wrote me from Texas, I conceived a plan. By this plan I
hoped to bring both my nephews here, and to find out, beyond all cavil,
just which was the better entitled to what I shall some day leave.

"With the Lamy lawyer to help, the little conspiracy was hatched.
Identically the same letters were sent to Ralph and Dick, each stating
that I was tired of living alone, that I was going to get out of the
way, and that wherever I was found my _will_ would be found with me."

A grim smile hovered about the bristling gray mustache of the old man.

"I did not say what the will was," he went on, "but I will remark here
that it was purely the mental process by which I intended to judge
which of my nephews was the more worthy.

"Ralph lost no time in coming to La Vita Place. He brought with him
these friends of his"--Mr. Lawton swept his hand about to indicate
Finn, Mings and Packard--"and they carried on with liquor and cards,
spending their time sleeping, eating, gambling and hunting for the
will. There was never any concern about Uncle Jack--their interest was
all in the will and Uncle Jack's money. Everything that went on in this
house I knew about--as well as everything that went on outside. Tippoo,
with the aid of the runabout, kept me informed of events beyond the
walls; and, as for the others, I heard and saw for myself.

"This old adobe house is like a medieval castle. In the old times, when
settlers were even fewer in this country than they are now, lawless
Mexicans used the place for nefarious purposes; and, back beyond their
time, the old friars who were here under the Spaniards made this their
retreat. The walls are honeycombed with passages, and every room can be
reached secretly and secretly watched. I discovered these passages for
myself, and have passed many a lonely hour unearthing the mysteries of
the place.

"Ralph, during one of his visits here, found the passage leading from
the bushes to my sleeping-room, up-stairs. He knew of that, but none of
the others.

"One thing I did not know about until now was Ralph's plan to have
Mings meet Dick in Lamy, when he was coming here, and steal his money.
It is hard to think one of my blood is a thief----"

"Uncle!" gasped Sercomb.

"Stand as you are, sir!" cried Mr. Lawton sternly. "Let us name the
truth as it should be! It was not your hand that struck Dick down, and
his money is not now in your pocket, but yours was the plan, and you
are even more guilty than Mings. Although I could not protect Dick from
that danger, yet he was equal to it himself.

"When he came here, I was watching Ralph and his friends playing cards
up-stairs; I saw them put out the light and retreat noiselessly to my
bedroom; and I heard the shot that was fired at Dick before the young
rascals left the house by the secret way.

"All the rest that followed, during the night, I understood, save that
I did not know, until I heard Matt talking with Carl and Dick in my
room, how he had been able to spy upon Sercomb and his friends and
gather a clue to Sercomb's duplicity.

"The ruffianly attack on Dick and Carl by Mings and Packard, who, under
orders from Sercomb, were plotting to carry Dick off to the quicksands,
horrified me. I would have shown myself then and there had not Dick and
Carl protected themselves so valiantly and turned the tables on Dick's
would-be abductors.

"Tippoo, in the car, was watching the automobile in front, and he
disabled the machine so that Dick could not be carried off, in case
Mings and Packard succeeded.

"The most contemptible act of all was that where Mings and Packard
followed Dick and his friends, when they had been ordered away, and
attempted Dick's life----"

"I did not sanction that!" cried Sercomb desperately. His hopes were
crumbling in his grasp like a rope of sand. "I did not tell Mings to
tie Dick in the car and set the car toward the cliffs! Uncle! I----"

"Silence!" thundered Mr. Lawton. "I will have no false excuses. I know
what you wanted! You wanted to get Dick out of the way. In your greed
to get all of my property you shut your eyes to the heinousness of your
conduct and struggled only to achieve your aim.

"Here, in this house, Ralph, I have watched barefaced duplicity and
murderous resolve battling with frankness and fearlessness! I have seen
you deliberately, and with three unscrupulous friends to help, play
every card you could in an attempt to beat your own cousin. And I have
felt shame that one of our line could act so like a cur.

"Had I known, in the beginning, just how far your greed would lead
you, had I even remotely imagined all the dangers that would encompass
Dick when he tried to follow out my last request, I would never have
proceeded in the way I did.

"But now it is over. I have seen you both when you could not know I was
near; I have watched your actions, weighed even your words, and I am
able to judge between you."

A certain grimness of resolve came into the fine old face as Mr. Lawton
went on.

"Ralph, you can expect from me--nothing. When I leave this place for
good and all, and go to Denver--which will be in a few days--there
will not be even a deed to La Vita Place to go to you. Considering
my present mood, not a shilling of my money, sir, will go to you. To
whom it _does_ go, I will leave you to guess. Go back to your racing;
and if, before I die, you have come nearer making a man of yourself,
perhaps I will reconsider. You and your friends have an automobile in
the barn. Take it, at once, and leave here."

A deep silence fell over the room. Tippoo stepped away from the door
and tucked the revolver back into his sash. Mings, Packard and Finn
bolted--glad, no doubt, to get away so easily. Sercomb started after
them, but hesitated.

"Uncle," he began tremulously, "if you will----"

"Go!" ordered Mr. Lawton sternly.

Then Sercomb's true character came uppermost. Halting in the door he
shook his fist at Matt and Dick.

"I'll play even with both of you for this!" he gritted, then whirled
and darted after his crestfallen companions.

"Come, Carl," said Matt, hurrying toward the hall door, "we'll go and
keep an eye on the car."

"You bed you," exulted Carl, running after Matt. "It vas easy for
Verral to be jeerful now, hey? Aber id don'd vas so easy for dose odder
chaps. Donnervetter, vat a surbrise!"

When the other touring-car whisked out of the barn, through the grove
and into the road, there were four very gloomy passengers aboard.
Hardly looking at Matt and Carl, they kicked up the dust toward Santa
Fé and Denver.

Tippoo appeared, as soon as the car had vanished.

"Sahib," said he to Matt, "you go to de house. I take care of bot'
cars. Naboob sahib say so."

"Napoo sahip cuts a goot deal oof ice mit us, Tibboo," said Carl, "und
I guess dot ve go, hey, Matt?"

"Sure, we will," replied Matt. "But be careful of this car, Tippoo. It
has had so many close calls lately that I am scared of my life when
it's out of my hands."

"Me take good care, sahib," answered Tippoo reassuringly.

Matt and Carl, full of wonder and satisfaction because of the way the
affair had ended, started back along the foot-path to the house.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE LUCK OF DICK FERRAL.


Mr. Lawton and Ferral met Matt and Carl in the parlor. They had been
having a brief talk together, and there was a pleased look on Lawton's
face and a happy light in Ferral's eyes.

Mr. Lawton stepped forward and caught Matt cordially by the hand.

"Matt," said he, "you have been a stanch friend of Dick's in the
little time you have known him, and you have twice saved his life. He
is indebted to you, but I am under an even greater obligation. But
for your aid, the little plan I conceived for getting at the relative
merits of my two nephews might have ended disastrously and given me
something to regret till the last day of my life. I thank you, my lad;
and you, too, Carl," he finished, turning to the grinning Dutch boy.

"Oh, vell," said Carl, "it don'd vas nodding vat I dit. Matt vas der
vone. He iss alvays der vone dot geds dere mit bot' feets ven anyding
iss bulled off."

"You both did nobly, and perhaps some time, somewhere, I can show you
that I am not insensible of the debt I owe," went on Mr. Lawton. "Just
now," he added, turning away and walking to the end of the mantel,
"Dick has expressed a desire to see the place where I have lived for
several days, and I presume you and Carl, Matt, are also interested."

He pressed a spring under the end of the mantel and the great frame
descended and presented its flight of steps.

"I will go first, as I know the ropes," said Mr. Lawton. "The rest of
you will follow."

He ascended the stairs. Dick, Carl and Matt went after him and the
frame closed and left them in a narrow space in the dark. Mr. Lawton
lighted a candle and flashed it across the inner side of the picture
and above the last step.

"The eyes of the picture, you will see," he observed, "are cut out.
That gave me an opportunity to note what took place in the parlor. A
very old device which I have seen in old castles on the Rhine, and even
in one or two houses in Delhi. Now," and he faced about, "we will go
on."

The passage wound around the house through the hollow wall. Two steps
led up and over the front door. In the sitting-room there was a niche
with a crucifix and candles. Holes in the back of the niche enabled one
to look out and observe all that took place in the sitting-room. In
like manner, there was a concealed place for keeping track of what went
on in the kitchen.

In the kitchen wall a dozen steps led upward to the second floor, and
in the two upper rooms there were also peep-holes cleverly arranged.

"The passage Ralph knew about," explained Mr. Lawton, "has no
connection whatever with this other burrow. It is entirely distinct and
apart. The only way to get directly into the house from these corridors
is by the opening over the parlor mantel. Now we will descend to the
subterranean part of the establishment."

A continuation of the steps that led upward in the kitchen wall
conducted the explorers downward into a place that was a sort of
basement, although having no connection with the cellar of the house.

Here the boys were surprised to find the white runabout.

"Here's a point I'm twisted on, Uncle Jack," said Dick. "What in the
name of the seven holy spritsails, did you ever let Tippoo go spooking
around the country for?"

Mr. Lawton laughed.

"Dick," said he, "this country is full of scoundrels who would not
hesitate to get the better of an old man and his Hindu servant if
there were a few dollars to be gained. Now, rascals of that ilk are
superstitious, and I have kept them at bay by this harmless deception.
This old, ill-favored shell of a house is supposed to be haunted,
for dark deeds are known to have taken place here. That auto is my
own idea. Tippoo has made regular trips with it every night up the
gully, around on the cliff road, through the cliff and so back to the
house. La Vita Place, by that means, has lived up to its unenviable
reputation, and the thieves have left me severely alone.

"The auto came in very handily during this play of Ralph's. Ralph knew
nothing about the car, and during his visits here I was careful to keep
a knowledge of it away from him. Tippoo would take a trip abroad and
watch events outside; then he would come back and report to me. When
Matt jumped into the car, there on the cliff road, Tippoo was willing
enough to be discovered, for he knew that I was planning to show myself
very soon, anyhow. Tippoo, however, had orders from me to say nothing
about what I was doing. Here," added Mr. Lawton, stepping off along the
rock-walled room, "is the way the car left its quarters whenever it
wanted to make its ghostly round."

Matt, as he followed Mr. Lawton, noticed a supply of gasoline and oil,
and congratulated himself on the fact that there would be no difficulty
in getting the Red Flier fit for the road when the time came for Carl
and himself to start.

A wide passage led for a hundred feet or more beyond the end of the
stone room, a gentle grade, at its farther end, leading upward. A door,
flush with the earth, was pushed upward by Mr. Lawton, and the blinding
light of day flooded the passage.

"We might as well get out here," said Mr. Lawton, and the rest followed
him into a brushy covert in the grove.

On one side of the covert the brush had been cleared away to leave a
smooth track for the car.

"The road," explained the old man, "leads directly to the gully.
Tippoo, when he desired to make his round, had only to push up the
door, take his ghostly ride, and then come back again."

"That idea of a crank in the machine for turning over the engine," said
Matt, "is a mighty good one and ought to be patented."

"You may have it, Matt," said Mr. Lawton. "I am too old to bother with
patents."

The door was closed and the little party wandered back through the
grove to the house. Tippoo, in the kitchen, was busily at work getting
a meal ready.

"This," observed Mr. Lawton, as they all seated themselves on a bench
in the shade, "is one of the happiest, as well as the saddest, days of
my life. I have discovered what Dick really is, and that's where the
bright part comes in; but I have also found out that my sister's son is
a contemptible scoundrel--and I would rather have lost everything I own
than to have discovered it. This racing-game must be demoralizing."

"It isn't the game, Mr. Lawton," interposed Matt earnestly, "but the
character of the fellows who take it up. There isn't a thing in a speed
contest to demoralize any one."

"You may be right, Matt," answered Mr. Lawton, "but it's hard to
understand how Ralph could prove so false to all the Lawton ideals.
His father was a gentleman in every sense of the word; and his
mother--there was never a finer woman on earth."

After a short silence, Mr. Lawton turned once more to Matt.

"You are going to Santa Fé?" he queried.

"Yes," replied Matt, "and then to Denver. Mr. Tomlinson, who owns
the Red Flier, has a place for me on the racing-staff of a firm of
automobile-makers."

"Ah! I would have spoken differently a moment ago, if I had known that
you intended entering the racing-field. You'll never go wrong. But,
when you get to Denver, beware of the rascally crew who just left here.
They are very bitter against you."

"They'll not bother me, sir," said Matt stoutly.

"Oof dey dry it on," spoke up Carl, "py chincher dey vill ged somet'ing
vat dey don'd like."

"Dick and I will be in Denver soon," said Mr. Lawton, "and then we
shall look you up. You will hear from us again, Matt. The debt we are
under to you cannot be easily canceled."

"I've been repaid already," returned Matt. "What I have done has given
me a friend in Dick Ferral--and that's worth everything."

"Your fin, mate," said Ferral, reaching over and clasping Matt's hand.

Just then Tippoo appeared in the kitchen door.

"Tiffin, sahib!" he called, and they all filed into the house--Carl, as
usual when there was eating in prospect, leading the way.


THE END.



  THE NEXT NUMBER (8) WILL CONTAIN

  MOTOR MATT'S TRIUMPH

  OR,

  Three Speeds Forward.


  The White-caps--Motor Matt's Foes--Suspicious Doings--A Villainous
  Plot--Matt Goes Trouble-hunting--Higgins Tells What He Knows--Brisk
  Work at Dodge City--Matt Interviews Trueman--No. 13--Where Is Motor
  Matt?--Running Down a Clue--Forty-eight Hours of Darkness--At the
  Last Minute--The First Half of the Race--Well Won, King!--Conclusion.



MOTOR STORIES

THRILLING ADVENTURE MOTOR FICTION

NEW YORK, April 10, 1909.


TERMS TO MOTOR STORIES MAIL SUBSCRIBERS.

(_Postage Free._)

Single Copies or Back Numbers, 5c. Each.

  3 months                    65c.
  4 months                    85c.
  6 months                 $1.25
  One year                  2.50
  2 copies one year         4.00
  1 copy two years          4.00

=How to Send Money=--By post-office or express money-order, registered
letter, bank check or draft, at our risk. At your own risk if sent by
currency, coin, or postage-stamps in ordinary letter.

=Receipts=--Receipt of your remittance is acknowledged by proper change
of number on your label. If not correct you have not been properly
credited, and should let us know at once.

  ORMOND G. SMITH, }
  GEORGE C. SMITH, } _Proprietors_.

  STREET & SMITH, Publishers,
  79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York City.



BILL, THE BOUND BOY.


Bill Bradley was a blacksmith boy. He was an orphan, and had been
apprenticed to old Carnahan the day Lincoln was elected, and had pumped
the bellows and swung the sledge every day since. Old Carnahan was
a stern task-master, and got out of his bound boy all the law would
allow. We used to pass the shop every time we drove from our farm in
the country, and there was nothing in the county seat, the greatest
town we had ever seen, so notable as the great shock of fiery red hair
displayed by Bill Bradley. He always stood at the door of the shop as
we passed at noon-time and nodded at us with the cheeriest sort of a
smile. It was a thing to remember with pride when a town boy honored us
with recognition.

Money was mighty scarce in our house those days. Dimes were things to
treasure carefully; and dollars, when they came, were something spoken
of with bated breath and hidden away--or paid out grudgingly. And iron
was in demand. The cannons made those first years of the war called
into requisition it seemed to me all the fragments of old cast iron
there was in the country. Blacksmiths were paying first a cent, then
two cents, and finally two and a half cents a pound; though they did
not make a difference whether you "took it out in trade" or demanded
cash.

We boys in the country used to gather up every bit of metal that would
sell, and carefully save it till we had a hundred pounds or more, and
then take it to town and convert it into the infrequent cash or the
almost as acceptable and quite costly groceries.

One day when we took our plunder to town we found the streets in
strange commotion.

"They're listing soldiers," said a nervous voice in our ears, and when
we turned we found Bill Bradley, wide-eyed, excited, and reckless. We
were surprised, for we knew it was time for him to be at the forge, and
we knew how strict was his employer in the matter of time.

We drove to the blacksmith shop with the fragments of iron, and found
Bill Bradley there before us. He was pumping the bellows, and old man
Carnahan was rating him soundly for his absence. The red head was a
trifle higher, the blue eyes a trifle wider, and the breath was quicker
and more charged with warning. Carnahan should have known. But he
didn't. He grew more enraged, till at a word of defense from the boy he
lost his temper completely, and, in a fit of exasperation, struck his
apprentice.

The blow was not a severe one, and Bill could not have suffered a
twinge of pain. But his pride was hurt, and that blow ended for him, as
that larger, later blow ended for four millions of others, his season
of servitude.

"I'll quit you," he cried, trembling and almost weeping with excitement
and rage. "I'll list for a soldier."

We left the iron in a pile on the shabby floor, and followed him with
palpitating hearts to the little lobby of the post-office. He was
greeted with a chorus of shouts, as was each new recruit, and a touch
of ridicule must have mingled with the hailing, for it straightened him
and stiffened him and sent him to the captain with as firm a front as
ever was borne by a novice.

If the men were changed by the donning of the blue, what transformation
was this wrought in our blacksmith boy? He was inches taller and
fathoms deeper. He was a man. He stood about with the recruits, his
brow darkening a little when Carnahan approached, for he did not yet
understand the privilege of a warrior. But more than any other man in
uniform he was severed from civil life. He was one of this wonderful
legion that was filling the world with comment--and filling the homes
with woe. We came to town that Saturday when the troops were mustered
in, and watched them drilling. We saw our blacksmith boy, and wondered
how we ever had addressed him, he was a being so different from all
he had been before. We saw the march by twos and fours and company
front, the double-quick and the charge; and we heard the fledgling
officers swear with strange oaths at the men they were later to push
into conflict. We fancied Bill Bradley would not stand much of that. We
saw them march to the depot, and then wept, I fear, at the passionate
good-bys. There were fathers and younger brothers and desolate wives;
but the saddest of all were the partings from mothers. It was so
piteous, the hopelessness of their despair, the utter abandon of their
tears.

And then after much shaking of hands and waving of hands the train was
away. We saw load after load go by on the cars after that, and always
looked eagerly for the sight of some face we knew. But the faces which
we knew were swallowed and lost in a sea of strangeness--a sea, we
pray, which never may grow familiar.

We read of the terrible battles that Western army fought; we read of
their victories, and the far too frequent defeats. We read the lists
of killed and wounded, and saw at last in the longest column the name
of Private William Bradley. How far that name removed him from us! He
was William now--not common Bill; not Bill the blacksmith's bound boy.
We wondered if there was anything we could do for him, and in the next
box that went from our town mother sent underclothes and stockings to
the youth; for there was no one near us by blood or friendship who
weathered that winter in the South, and no one near Bill to remember
him. And one day toward the dawn of spring a letter came from the
hospital, written in the clumsy hand of the orphan, acknowledging the
receipt of the clothes, and thanking for them with the clumsy, genuine
feeling of one who seldom speaks and never forgets a favor. He was well
again, he said, and would be returned for duty in the morning. They
looked for another hard battle, for the enemy was massing, and this
new general that had won in the past believed in sledge-hammers and
decisive measures. At the end of the letter was the sentence:

"Tha have mad me a corprl."

How proud he was of that--prouder of it than were the thousands who had
other things to comfort them. And how near us he seemed to come as the
weary months went by and the fighting began again. Once fix your mind
on a man in the distance and a man who stands front face with danger
night and day and never flinches; and it is wonderful how completely he
will fill your sky. You imagine all manner of great things about him,
dread all manner of terrible things, and end at last by loving him.
So, when that other battle was fought by the general who believed in
sturdy blows, and when Vicksburg laid down her arms at the feet of a
victorious army, we read again in the terrible lists of the killed and
wounded the name of our blacksmith boy. This time, too, it was among
the wounded--in the longest column; but it bore a prefix that surprised
us. It was "Sergeant Bradley" now. The meager details of that time did
not help us to all the information we wanted. We did not know how badly
he was injured, but we sent a box of jellies and pickles and things
that are not issued with the rations; and got another letter telling of
the battle. And it makes no difference how many of these reports you
read in the paper, this letter from a man who was in the thick of the
fight was far more authentic. It was far more real.

But Sergeant Bradley was sorely wounded this time. We found more about
it later when a letter from the captain was printed in the county
paper, detailing the events that had been important from a subaltern's
standpoint and boasting of the prowess of his men. In this was told the
story of a Mississippi regiment, those tigers of the South--a charge
that was met by the tattered remnant of the Indiana brigade. He told of
the clashing of man against man, and the loss of the banner over and
over again--that banner that went down to the army with the blessings
of a thousand women when Corinth fell. And it told how, when the
howling, shouting, slashing, shrieking legions swept the Northerners
back for a moment, and the guns were taken and not a thing could live
in the sea of triumphant assault, Corporal William Bradley had wrapped
his shattered arms about the flag and rolled with it right under the
guns that were turned against his brethren.

"I knew you would come back again," said the hero, when the charge was
repulsed and the battery was recaptured. "I knew you would come back,
and I saved the flag."

He had, and he wore a sergeant's chevron for his heroism. But the hurt
would not heal. The sulphurous smoke, the fearful concussions of earth
and air as he burrowed under the guns and waited for rescue, the sword
thrusts and bayonet pricks, the white flesh torn by whistling ball, and
the two bones broken by the shattered shell--all this was tribulation
which would not pass away. Sergeant Bradley lay long in the hospital.

One night in the autumn, as we sat there under a waning moon and
listened to the shrill complaint of a hidden cicada, we were conscious
of a figure making slow progress along the path by the roadside. It
was a man, and even in the darkness of night we could see it was not
familiar. For the matter of that, the figure of a man at all those days
was not a common thing. Men were away in the South, as a general rule.
But this figure grew stranger as it came nearer. Presently the gate
swung open, and the watch-dog gave challenge. We silenced him and rose
to meet a limping, swaying figure in Federal blue. He said nothing, and
seemed, with that grinning insistence of the uncouth man, to wish we
might remember him. We had filled our thought with Bradley, no doubt;
but this could not be he.

It was, however, and when we were sure of that we gave him a welcome
and hearty cheer. But he was very weak. It seemed, after the first
timid acceptance of our greeting, he began to fail, and to take less
and less of interest in the things about him. We thought he would like
to hear news from town. He had forgotten all about the town. We hoped
a little later he would enjoy a word of cheer from the front. There was
no army for him now. He lay there so white on the pillow, his red hair
making the whiteness more vivid; his blue eyes looking so steadily, yet
so listlessly, at a single point in the wall; he stirred so slightly at
the passing of day and night--and then he closed his eyes.

It was long before he opened them again. When he did he saw mother
beside him. She was cooling the cloth she laid on his forehead.

"I thought I wanted to come home," he said, and then closed his eyes
again. There was no relevancy in the remark. No one had spoken to him,
and there had never been a thought of this or other place as a home for
him. It must have been on his mind all the time.

But there was youth to support him, and the blessings of twenty years
to pour their vigor into his veins. His mending was slow, but it was
sure. He walked about the farm at Thanksgiving, and returned to duty at
Christmas. He was a different man. It seemed impossible he ever could
have been a bound boy. He was dignified, self-reliant. He spoke easily
and without embarrassment, no matter if it was a general addressed. And
he was a lieutenant when the war was done.

No, he didn't die. He lived to remember twenty battles and a dozen
wounds. He lived to make a modest beginning in business, and to follow
it to comfortable success. He owns his home now and under his broad hat
hides red hair that will never be quite gray. He stands to-day with his
children at the graves of the men who were with him in the army, who
were with him in danger and suffering and success. He stands with those
children and tells them the story and the lesson of the day.

To him it was the working out of a problem, the right solution after
years of wrong. To him and to me his record typifies the average of
that darker period. Thousands and tens of thousands went in with a
whim to come out with a halo. They enlisted under the spur of example,
of banter, of pique. Yet they fought like Greeks, and forgave like
Christians. It was the hand of the common man that left home duties and
home obligations to take up the greater cause of a nation. It was the
triumph of simplicity--that silent legion which boasted little before
the war, and never complained when hardship came. It was the triumph of
all that is good in the American who lives to see the realization of
dreams that were not bold enough to paint their horoscope when prophecy
was loudest.



A WINTER STORY OF COLORADO.


The wild beasts upon Hicks Mountain were limited almost entirely to the
coyotes; these persisted, in spite of advancing settlement, but in this
section of Colorado the grey wolf, the mountain-lion, and the bear had
been practically exterminated. For five years the stock had run the
hills quite unmolested. A coyote will kill sheep, but its depredations
are confined otherwise to the poultry, barring now and then a sick and
abandoned calf.

However, in the winter of 1905, rumors spread that the grey wolves had
returned. Calves were being killed and eaten, sows mutilated, and even
large steers torn about the legs and chest. One rancher discovered in
the timber across the pasture from his house the remains of a yearling
heifer killed only that night; whatever had attacked it had devoured
it, hide and all, to the very largest bones, leaving only the scattered
remnants of a skeleton.

Now, a mountain-lion would have eaten part and buried the rest; a bear
would also have eaten part, and saved the rest for later; coyotes would
only have gnawed and mangled the carcass; the great grey wolf alone
would have worked a destruction so complete.

The ground was bare of snow, and covered with pine-needles, thus
being unfavorable for tracks. Mr. Jeffries had heard no howling.
Nevertheless, the grey wolf, the stockman's scourge, was blamed.

Traps were set, and poisoned meat was discreetly put out, but only the
coyotes suffered, apparently. Then Ned Coswell, early one morning,
while searching for a lost milk-cow, came over a little rise, and saw
below him in a hollow in the park a number of wolfish animals collected
about a dead body, tearing at it. Ned was unarmed, but, spurring his
horse, he rode down upon them recklessly, whooping.

"There were about a dozen of them," related Ned, "and I knew they
weren't wolves, because they were colored differently, more like dogs.
They looked at me coming, and, boys, I didn't know for a minute whether
they were going to get out of the way or not. Old Medicine Eye"--his
horse--"wasn't a bit afraid; just pricked his ears and kept on, which
made me think all the more they weren't wolves.

"They were dogs, boys, nothing but dogs. There was a brindled one that
looked like a bulldog, and several woolly dogs, like sheep-dogs, and
one big black-and-white shaggy fellow, biggest of all. They all lifted
their heads, and stood staring at me, and I was beginning to think
that maybe I'd been in too much of a hurry. But first one sneaked off,
showing his teeth, into the brush, and another and another, and they
all went, and I was mighty glad to have them go. They'd been eating at
a dead steer--mine, too--but I don't know whether they'd killed it or
not. I wish I'd had a gun."

After that the ranchers made it a habit again to carry a gun of some
kind when out on the range. However, for a long time nobody, when
armed, caught any glimpse of the wild dogs. That is likely to be the
case in hunting; the unprepared frequently have the opportunities.

For instance, Frank Warring, while on his way home from town in his
wagon, toward evening of a cloudy day, beheld the pack cross the road
right in front of him, the animals in single file, one following
another, silent as specters, noses outstretched, the big, shaggy
black-and-white fellow leading. In the rear were two or three puppies,
perhaps nine months old. Frank had no gun. Somebody else also saw the
pack.

The brutes' depredations continued, being limited, so far as we could
ascertain, to our vicinity, as if they had selected Hicks Mountain
for a hunting-ground. They hunted without howling. A spasmodic, rabid
bark was the only sound that we could attribute to them, but it was
sufficient.

We were afraid of this wild pack; more afraid than of wolves. There is
something uncanny about a dog gone wild, for he combines the lessons
taught by domesticity with the instincts of savagery.

As nobody from our section had missed dogs, we concluded that this band
had come down upon us from Wyoming, a hundred and fifty miles north.
Up in Wyoming wild dogs had been bothering the sheep-range. Probably
energetic measures adopted by the irate sheep men had driven the
marauders to seek new fields.

Finally, Sam Morris had a chance to retaliate. He was hunting deer
afoot. The day was dark and snowy. As he was sitting motionless beside
a boulder, watching the slope below and the ascent across the draw,
the dog-pack suddenly streamed out from the pines down there, and all
at a lope threaded the bottom of the draw, onward bound. The shaggy
black-and-white was leading, as usual.

Sam's gun was loaded with buckshot, and he waited greedily, that he
might get more than one dog with his charge. But the animals were
too shrewd to travel bunched; they left intervals, as do the wolves
when trailing, and when at last Sam would desperately have "whanged
away," his gun missed fire. Rather chagrined was Sam, telling his tale
afterward. He confirmed the previous statements that the pack was
variously colored, made up of different breeds; a strange invasion
surely.

The trail through the draw remained unobliterated, for no snow fell
for two weeks thereafter. We found that the dog-pack was utilizing
this draw for a pass. It appeared to lead from one favorite point to
another. The trail grew more distinct, but it scarcely widened; the
dogs stepped always, so it seemed, in the same spots. It was vain to
set traps; the disturbance of the snow was noticed at once. Poison was
disregarded. The pack kept on ranging the country and attacking stock.

Sam was anxious to retrieve himself, and he and I agreed to put in our
time watching that trail until we should "fix" some of those outlaws. I
remember that it was the tenth day of January, and toward four o'clock
in the afternoon, when, for perhaps the sixth or seventh time, we
ensconced ourselves between two boulders on the slope overlooking the
trail below.

The sky was cloudy; a snowstorm was evidently approaching. Cloudy
days seemed to be those upon which the dog-pack was most likely to be
sighted. Probably upon such days it emerged earlier on account of the
waning light. This afternoon we had been in ambush only a half-hour
when the pack appeared.

In silent, single file the pack came trotting out of the timber on
our right, and across before us, following the trail in the draw. The
big, black-and-white, shaggy fellow was the first; next to him was the
brindle. I recognized them, for every narrative had contained them.

I don't know exactly why, but the sight of them all, trotting so
silently, so swiftly, business-bent, thrilled me with a little chill.
About their steady gait was something ominous, unreal. A pack of wolves
I could have surveyed without special emotion, for I should have known
what to expect, but a pack of dogs, gone wild--ugh! They are neither
dogs nor wolves, but, as has been said, an uncanny blending.

We had agreed what to do. Sam only nudged me, and levelled his gun.
There was an instant of suspense, and we fired practically together.

We had rifles, and were using black powder, and the smoke was
momentarily thick. When it cleared, the shaggy leader was kicking in
the snow, and the brindle was lying still. My bullet had not sped quite
as truly as Sam's; his aim had been the brindle. The rest of the pack
were racing madly onward, and although we fired twice more, we did not
hit any of them.

We went down to our victims. The brindle had just life enough in him to
snarl at us ere he died. The big black-and-white was gasping.

Then a strange thing occurred. As I stood over him, he wagged his bushy
tail; his eyes were not wild, but soft, suffering, appealing. He was
now all dog and would turn to his chosen friend, man, for sympathy and
aid.

"Poor old chap!" I said.

His eyes were glazing fast; he hauled himself on his side over the snow
toward me.

"Look out!" warned Sam.

But there was no need. With a final effort, the animal just managed to
lick my boot-toe, and with his head upon it, he shivered and was still.
I declare, a lump rose in my throat.

As I bent to pat his coat--I love dogs, and he had struck me right
to the heart, marauder though he had been--I felt a collar round his
neck, concealed by his long, curly hair. Upon the collar was a plate,
engraved "Prince." Somebody's "Prince" had he been, somebody's pet. But
whose?

A more perfect example of atavism, reversion to type--call it what you
will--would be hard to present.

The dog-pack never again, as far as there was evidence, traversed that
trail. Nor was it seen again upon Hicks Mountain. It seemed almost as
if it had been composed of weird phantoms, like the spectral packs of
German and Provençal legend, and had dissolved at our gunshots.



_ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT!!_

MOTOR STORIES

_A New Idea in the Way of Five-Cent Weeklies._


Boys everywhere will be delighted to hear that Street & Smith are now
issuing this new five-cent weekly which will be known by the name of
MOTOR STORIES.

This weekly is entirely different from anything now being published.
It details the astonishing adventures of a young mechanic who owned a
motor cycle. Is there a boy who has not longed to possess one of these
swift little machines that scud about the roads everywhere throughout
the United States? Is there a boy, therefore, who will not be intensely
interested in the adventures of "Motor Matt," as he is familiarly
called by his comrades?

Boys, you have never read anything half so exciting, half so humorous
and entertaining as the first story listed for publication in this
line, called "=Motor Matt; or, The King of the Wheel=." Its fame is
bound to spread like wildfire, causing the biggest demand for the other
numbers in this line, that was ever heard of in the history of this
class of literature.

Here are the titles to be issued during the next few weeks. Do not fail
to place an order for them with your newsdealer.

  =No. 1.--Motor Matt; or, The King of the Wheel.=
  =No. 2.--Motor Matt's Daring; or, True to His Friends.=
  =No. 3.--Motor Matt's Century Run; or, The Governor's Courier.=
  =No. 4.--Motor Matt's Race; or, The Last Flight of the "Comet."=
  =No. 5.--Motor Matt's Mystery; or, Foiling a Secret Plot.=
  =No. 6.--Motor Matt's Red Flier; or, On the High Gear.=
  =No. 7.--Motor Matt's Clue; or, The Phantom Auto.=
  =No. 8.--Motor Matt's Triumph; or, Three Speeds Forward.=
  =No. 9.--Motor Matt's Air-ship; or, The Rival Inventors.=

  32 LARGE SIZE PAGES      SPLENDID COLORED COVERS

PRICE, FIVE CENTS PER COPY


AT ALL NEWSDEALERS, OR SENT POSTPAID BY THE PUBLISHERS UPON RECEIPT OF
THE PRICE.

_STREET & SMITH, Publishers, NEW YORK_



_THE BEST OF THEM ALL!!_

MOTOR STORIES

IT IS NEW AND INTENSELY INTERESTING


We knew before we published this line that it would have a tremendous
sale and our expectations were more than realized. It is going with a
rush, and the boys who want to read these, the most interesting and
fascinating tales ever written, must speak to their newsdealers about
reserving copies for them.

=MOTOR MATT= sprang into instant favor with American boy readers and is
bound to occupy a place in their hearts second only to that now held by
Frank Merriwell.

The reason for this popularity is apparent in every line of these
stories. They are written by an author who has made a life study of
the requirements of the up-to-date American boy as far as literature
is concerned, so it is not surprising that this line has proven a huge
success from the very start.

Here are the titles now ready and also those to be published. You will
never have a better opportunity to get a generous quantity of reading
of the highest quality, so place your orders now.

  =No. 1.--Motor Matt; or, The King of the Wheel.=
  =No. 2.--Motor Matt's Daring; or, True to His Friends.=
  =No. 3.--Motor Matt's Century Run; or, The Governor's Courier.=
  =No. 4.--Motor Matt's Race; or, The Last Flight of the "Comet."=

TO BE PUBLISHED ON MARCH 22nd

  =No. 5.--Motor Matt's Mystery; or, Foiling a Secret Plot.=

TO BE PUBLISHED ON MARCH 29th

  =No. 6.--Motor Matt's Red Flier; or, On the High Gear.=

TO BE PUBLISHED ON APRIL 5th

  =No. 7.--Motor Matt's Clue; or, The Phantom Auto.=

TO BE PUBLISHED ON APRIL 12th

  =No. 8.--Motor Matt's Triumph; or, Three Speeds Forward.=

=Price, Five Cents=

To be had from newsdealers everywhere, or sent, postpaid, upon receipt
of the price by the publishers


_STREET & SMITH, Publishers, NEW YORK_



Transcriber's Notes:


Italics are represented by _underscores_, bold by =equal signs=.

Retained some unusual spellings (e.g. "bloming") within dialogue on the
assumption they are intentional.

Page 4, changed "Billy Ruffin" to "Billy Ruffian" to match second
instance of ship's nickname.

Page 12, added missing quote after "while I was down in Phoenix."
Changed oe ligature in "Phoenix" to oe (ligature retained in HTML
edition).

Page 13, removed unnecessary quote after "slaps from his cousin Ralph."

Page 17, removed unnecessary quote before "It was impossible, of
course...." Changed "intendeing" to "intending" ("What Motor Matt was
intending to do").

Page 18, changed "Someting" to "Something" ("Something was about to
happen").

Page 19, removed unnecessary apostrophe after "Mings" ("Mings was in
such a position").

Page 20, changed "medding" to "meddling" ("meddling with Sercomb's
business").

Page 21, changed "Mat" to "Matt" ("Matt started along the gully").

Page 25, changed "than" to "that" ("frame that enclosed").

Page 26, changed "in" to "is" ("house is like").

Page 28, changed "Villianous" to "Villainous" in "Villainous Plot."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Motor Matt's Clue - or, The Phantom Auto" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home