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"Two Black Bears!"
"Quite a mixture of wild creatures to be found in a splendid clubroom in the city of New York!" exclaimed Ned Nestor, a handsome, muscular boy of seventeen. "How many of these denizens of the forests are ready to join the Boy Scout Camera Club?"
"You may put my name down twice--in red ink!" shouted Jimmie McGraw, of the Wolf Patrol. "I wouldn't miss it to be president of the United States!"
"One Wolf," Ned said, writing the name down.
"Two Wolves!" cried Jimmie, red-headed, freckled of face and as active as a red squirrel, "two wolves! You're a Wolf yourself, Ned Nestor!"
"Two Wolves, then!" laughed Ned. "Of course Jimmie and I can form a club all by ourselves, and he can be the officers and I can be the members, but we'd rather have a menagerie of large size, as we are going into the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee."
The boys who had not yet spoken were on their feet in an instant, all clamoring for membership in the Boy Scout Camera Club. Ned lifted a hand for silence.
"Why this present rush?" he asked. "I've been thinking that Jimmie and I would have to go to the mountains alone! Why this impetuosity?"
"The mountains!" shouted Frank Shaw, of the Black Bear Patrol. "It is the mountains that get us! We've been thinking that the club you were organizing wouldn't get outside of little old New York, but would loaf around taking snap-shots of the slums and the trees in the parks. But when you mention mountains, why--"
"I'm going right down stairs and pack my camera!" Jack Bosworth, of the Black Bear Patrol, declared. "When it comes to mountains!"
The clubroom of the Black Bear Patrol was on the top floor of the handsome residence of Jack's father, who was a famous corporation lawyer, and the boys persuaded Jack to wait until they had completed the organization of the Camera Club before he started in packing for the journey to the mountains!
"You'll want an Eagle, if you're going to the mountains!" shouted Teddy Green, of the Eagle Patrol. "I'll fly home and get my wardrobe right now!"
Teddy Green was the son of a Harvard professor, and was inclined to follow in the footsteps of his father in the matter of learning-- after he had first climbed to all the high spots of the world and descended into all the low ones! He insisted on exploring the earth before he learned by rote what others had written about it!
"All right!" Ned grinned. "We'll need an Eagle!"
"And a Bull Moose!" yelled Oliver Yentsch, of the Moose Patrol. "You've got to have a Moose along with you!"
Oliver was the son of a ship builder, and had a launch and a yacht of his own. He was liked by all his associates in spite of his tendency to grumble at trifles. However, if he complained at small things, he met large troubles with a smile on his bright face. He now seized Teddy about the waist and waltzed around the room with him.
"And that's all!" Ned decided, closing the book. "We can't take more than six."
A wail went up from the others, but they were promised a chance at the next "hike" into the hills, and soon departed, leaving the six members of the Camera Club to perfect arrangements for their departure. It was a warm May night, still Ned closed the door leading out into the wide corridor which ran through the house on that floor.
"We can't afford to take others into our plans," he said, "for this is to be another Secret Service expedition."
"For the Government?" demanded Frank Shaw. "Then," he added, without waiting for a reply, "I'll call up dad's editorial rooms and have a reporter sent up here. Top of column, first page, illustrated! That's our Camera Club in the morning newspaper!"
Frank's father was owner and editor of one of the big New York dailies, and the boy always took along, on his trips, plenty of blank paper for "copy," but never sent in a line! His letters to his father's newspaper were usually addressed to the financial department, upon which he had permission to draw at will!
"Huh!" Jimmie commented, wrinkling his freckled nose, "if you should ever furnish an item for your daddy's newspaper he'd never live it down! You've been on all our trips with Ned, and never wired in a word!"
The Boy Scouts of the Black Bear and Wolf Patrols had been through many exciting experiences with Ned Nestor, who, young as he was, was often in the employ of the Secret Service department of the United States government. Frank, as Jimmie said, had been with Ned from the start, and had never sent in a line of "copy" for the paper.
"I'm going to furnish a column a day this trip!" Frank declared, making a motion to seize Jimmie. "We're going to take pictures, aren't we? We'll take 'em by the acre, and dad's newspaper is going to catch every one of them."
"Huh!" Jimmie declared, with a freckled nose in the air. "I'm a newspaper man, too. You needn't think you're the only cherry in the pie! I used to sell newspapers before I got into the Secret Service with Ned!"
From his earliest years Jimmie had indeed been a newsboy on the Bowery. He had never had a home except that provided by himself, and this, in the early days of his life, had as often been a box or barrel in an alley as anything else.
"Why the mountains?" asked Frank Shaw, presently. "Do you have to go to the hills on this trip? I'm glad if you do, of course, but I'd like to know something about it before we start. Dad will have to be shown this time, I reckon! He thinks we rather overdid the stunt when we went to Lady Franklin bay!"
"Never had so much fun in my life!" laughed Jimmie. "When you get where it is forty below, there's some delight in living!"
"What are we going to take pictures of?" demanded Teddy Green.
"Moonshiners!" laughed Frank. "Isn't that right, Ned?"
"Not exactly," was the answer. "This is not a whisky case at all."
"Counterfeiters, then?" queried Oliver. "They live in the hills!"
"No, not counterfeiters, either," Ned replied. "The government has plenty of men to look after counterfeiters and moonshiners. All we've got to do is to go into the mountains and take pictures, and keep our eyes open."
"Open for what?" insisted Jimmie. "My peepers will be open for a venison steak about the first thing! You remember how fine the venison steaks were up in British Columbia? That Columbia river trip was some exciting! What?"
"Well," Ned began, "you all know that I'm in the Secret Service, for you've been with me, some of you, at Panama, in China, and under the ocean, so we'll let the details go without explanation. I'm going to the mountains to look after a precious package stolen from Washington--from almost under the eyes of the president--three days ago!"
"Papers?" asked Jimmie. "You know we went to Lady Franklin bay after papers."
"And they think the mountaineers stole this package?" asked Oliver.
"Tell us what it was that was taken first!" insisted Frank. "I'm beginning to see a front-page story in this, right now!"
"The package stolen," Ned went on, with a smile, "was more precious than any bundle of papers could be! It wasn't of gold, silver, diamonds, or anything possessing that kind of value. It was of flesh and blood!"
"A child stolen!" cried Frank. "This goes to dad's sheet right now!"
"Boy or girl?" asked Oliver. "Age, please!"
"Boy," answered Ned. "A boy belonging to one of the ambassadors! Age seven!"
"But why should the mountaineers steal such a child?" asked Jimmie.
"I said the boy belonged to one of the ambassadors," Ned corrected himself. "I should have said he belonged at one of the foreign embassies."
"The son of one of the attaches?" asked Teddy. "That's strange! Why?"
"Teddy," reproved Jimmie, "you can ask more questions in a minute than a motion picture machine can take in a hundred years."
"The stolen boy is in no ways related to any one in this country," Ned answered, "yet his safety is of the utmost importance. It is up to us to find him."
"But why should the mountain men make a grab at a kid?" insisted Jimmie. "I've asked that question numerous times now," he added, with a wrinkled nose.
"It is not believed that the mountain men know anything about the matter," Ned replied. "No one suspects them of taking the child. Mountain men are not up to that sort of thing, as a rule. They will make moonshine--some of them will--and may hide a counterfeiter, but they don't steal children!"
"Then who did steal him?" asked Frank. "Don't be so mysterious."
"I want the matter to sink deep into your alleged minds!" was Ned's smiling rejoinder, "and that is the reason I'm drawing the explanation out. It is thought the boy was stolen by some one who came over the sea to do the job--some one never before in this country."
"I twig!" Jimmie declared, skipping about the room. "The stolen boy is next of succession to some measly old throne! What? And he was sent out here to get him out of the zone of danger, and now he's been nipped?"
The boys looked at Ned with redoubled interest. It had been interesting, the very idea of going into the mountains in quest of an abducted child, but the thought of going after a boy who would one day be a king! That was exciting indeed!
"I can't tell you who the boy is." Ned went on, "but I can tell you that he must be found! The Secret Service men at Washington have a pretty good idea as to who got him, and they believe the criminals are not above committing the crime of murder. In a certain sense, this boy is in the way in the old country!"
"Oh, they wouldn't kill a kid like that!" Jimmie asserted.
"Wouldn't they?" demanded Teddy Green. "If you read up on history, you'll soon find out whether ambitious men will murder children who stand in their way! I half believe the boy was murdered at the very moment he was taken!"
"He has been seen alive since that time," Ned responded. "This is Thursday. He was taken on Monday, and was seen yesterday. Or a boy believed to be the prince was seen yesterday, on a launch on the Potomac river."
"Prince, eh?" cried Frank. "It is a prince, is it? Say, but won't dad be glad to hear about this? I'd like to write the headlines!"
"We may as well call him the prince," Ned laughed.
Before more could be said, a servant knocked at the door and Jack opened it so as to look out. In a moment he turned back inside with a flushed face.
"Say, boys," he said, "there's something strange going on here to-night!"
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