OF THE WILD CAT PATROL, MANILA.
The smoke from the steamer was now on the south end of the island, moving along toward the east with a speed which showed Ned that it would be impossible to outfoot the larger craft.
There was little time to lose, if the Manhattan was to continue the flight, and yet it was evident that Pat had something of importance to communicate or desired to be at once taken on board. Ned did not hesitate long, for the boy's life might be at stake.
But when the Manhattan neared the point of land upon which Pat stood the boy shook his head and pointed to the west. It was clear that he did not wish to be taken on board there.
Ned kept on toward the beach, however, notwithstanding Pat's frantic gestures, and was not a little annoyed when he saw the boy wade out into the water, down the sloping shore, lapped by tiny waves, and strike out boldly for the boat.
He reached the Manhattan in safety, was hauled in, and sank down in the cockpit with a grunt of exhaustion for he had exerted his full strength, "and then some" as he afterwards explained, in the long swim. Presently he arose and pointed to a little projection on the shore, perhaps three hundred yards ahead.
"There's a river runs in there," he said, "and the Manhattan will find a safe harbor, as the stream though narrow, is deep and overhung with trees and creepers."
"But they must know that there is a boat here," Frank said. "This engine of ours talks some when she moves."
"I don't think they heard it," Pat insisted.
"But the shot?" asked Ned.
"That might have come from the island. Anyway," Pat went on, "there is little commotion on the island except that made by the monkeys and the birds."
"Did you see anything of the boys?" asked Ned, the safety of Jack and Jimmie concerning him greatly.
"No," was the disappointing reply. "They got too good a start on me."
"How far inland did you go?" asked Frank.
By this time the Manhattan was under way, and the place of refuge spoken of by the boy was not far away.
"I climbed the hill that runs near the shore," was the reply. "The first thing I saw was a collection of tents and leaf shelters."
Ned and Frank both gave exclamations of amazement.
"Found at last!" Frank said.
"The next thing I saw," Pat went on, "was a small steamer lying in a bay on the west shore. There is a break in the hills which line that coast, and I could see the boat plainly. I have seen her in Manila. It is the Miles, and she is carrying the American flag. She got up steam just as I caught sight of her, and at first I thought her activity had been aroused by the shot which saved my life, but I've now reached the conclusion that she was merely making a perfunctory trip around the island."
"Then you think if we escape observation on this run we will be safe for some hours?"
"I am quite sure of it, so far as those on the boat are concerned. But what is the boat doing here? It is a government boat, used by officials in making tours of inspection. Perhaps the high brows at Manila are wise to what is going on here, and have sent the Miles to look into the matter. Then we're left, eh?"
As the Manhattan was now nosing her way into the mouth of the little stream referred to by Pat, and Ned was fully occupied in working her in, he made no reply to the suggestions thus presented. However, he was studying over the proposition with a wish in his breast that the Miles might not be at that time in the legitimate service of the government.
He was virtually disobeying the positive orders of Major John Ross in cruising about in the Manhattan at that time. If he had obeyed instructions he would doubtless be in Manila now awaiting the slow unwinding of red tape, instead of there in the channel. He had taken the bit in his teeth and desired to "make good."
Besides, he was satisfied that the government officers, if the Miles really was there on an official mission, would merely disperse the native chiefs if they were discovered and permit the plotters to escape. This would only put off the day of final action, for the chiefs would continue to assemble and discuss the treaty until the Philippines were in a blaze of war or the men who were urging them on were in prison.
"There," said Frank, presently, "no person out there in the bay can get a look at us so long as we remain here."
Indeed the harbor was an ideal hiding place. The stream turned sharply to the east from its northerly course just before it reached the white beach, ran a few yards in that direction, and then turned north once more and emptied into the sea. This placed a dense growth of jungle between the beach and the position taken by the Manhattan, which had passed into the channel running east and west and was effectively screened from view on either side by the growths of the jungle.
As soon as the boat was in the position desired, Ned crossed the arm of land lying between the stream and the beach and looked out with his glass. The Miles passed while he stood there, the American flag flying from her masthead. When he went back to the Manhattan there was a troubled look on his face.
"She's on government service, all right," he said to Pat and Frank, "I saw men in uniform on her deck."
"I didn't see anybody land," said Pat.
"Did she communicate with the shore in any way?" asked Ned.
"Well, there were native boats plying about and they might have taken some of the brown men off to her."
"It is all of a piece with the counterfeit instructions," Ned said. "There is an unknown interest working in this case. If the officers at Manila suspected or had wind of what is going on here, why didn't they send a troop ship and capture the chiefs, and so screen out the men responsible for the conspiracy?"
"That's another thing we've got to find out," Frank said, with a grin. "We've got a good many things to find out!"
"And the first thing to discover," Ned said, "is what has become of the boys."
"Right you are!" cried Pat. "I'll go back to the top of the hill and see if there's any commotion on the island."
"What does the island look like?" asked Frank.
"Looks like a valley with a line of hills shutting it in. Looks like a saucer with a high rim. The dago chiefs are encamped in the middle of the saucer."
"In a thicket, of course?"
"It is quite free from jungle growths down there," was the reply--"so clear that I was able to see the encampment and the people moving about. And I think I saw the treaty box, at that!"
"Treaty box?" laughed Frank. "Don't you ever think these brown men have any box to put their treaty in!"
"What do you think about it, Ned?" asked Pat.
"I hardly think they unlock their pocket-books with keys like the one I found," replied Ned. "And, besides," he added, "the white men back of this conspiracy would naturally want a treaty signed up with all the ceremony that could be hatched up, in order to impress the chiefs. Yes, I think there must be a treaty box!"
"And you think you've got a key to it?" asked Frank.
"I've got a key to something," was the reply.
Frank opened his lips to make some remark, but Ned laid a hand on his arm and drew closer to him so that a low voice might be heard, at the same time motioning to Pat to remain quiet.
"Now, don't move, or turn to look," Ned said, "but in a few seconds, after I have turned away, look, casually, toward the great balete tree which rises above the jungle straight to the south."
Ned turned away directly and faced the jungle to the north.
"What do you see?" he asked, turning toward the boys again but not looking at them.
"Monkeys wiggling in the creepers," Frank said.
"Filipinos," answered Pat.
"How many?" asked Ned.
"Well," replied Pat, "I thought I saw two, but I guess there is only one. We've got to get him," he added.
"Of course!" Frank said. "If we don't, he'll go back to camp and tell about seeing us here; then they'll swarm down on us, and it will be all off with the whole bunch of us. We've got to get him!"
"But how?" asked Pat.
In the short silence that followed all three boys cudgeled their brains for some idea which might serve, but the case was assuming a hopeless aspect when a shrill voice in pretty good English came from the tree.
"Hi, there!" cried the voice.
"If that's Jimmie, made up as a little brown man," Pat said, "I'll beat him up when he comes aboard."
"More likely to be Jack," said Frank.
"Hi, there!" repeated the voice from the tree.
"That's not Jimmie, or Jack either," Ned said. "What do you want?" he asked.
The reply came in the form of a feline growl which might have issued forth from the throat of a wild cat.
"What does the badge say?" asked the voice, then.
The boys looked at each other in wonder for a moment and then Ned answered:
"Now, what do you think of that?" Pat demanded. "What do you think of meeting a Boy Scout out here?"
"What patrol?" asked Frank, half doubting whether the person in the tree would find the correct answer.
"Wild Cat, Manila!" came the reply.
"Then come out of the tree, Wild Cat," Ned laughed, "and tell us how you came to be here."
There was a great rustling of foliage, and then a Filipino boy not more than fourteen years of age appeared on the trunk. He worked his way down and disappeared in the jungle. In a moment, however, he made his appearance on the margin of the little stream and was on board.
He was a rather good looking young fellow, with keen eyes and a lithe, muscular figure. He was well dressed in a suit of light material, and wore a Boy Scout badge on the lapel of his coat.
"We're gettin so we find 'em in the woods!" Frank said, as the boy stepped on the bridge deck. "Did you come to the island on the steamer which just passed here?" he added, as the lad looked about him with a grin.
"Yes," was the reply. "Come as servant."
"Well, why aren't you on board now?" asked Frank, suspiciously.
"Run away!" was the short reply.
"What for?" demanded Frank, determined to know all that there was to know about the new-comer, and urged on by Ned's nods, which told him to proceed.
"Tired of city," was the grinning reply.
As the boy spoke he turned around to the jungle and waved his hand, as if taking it all in at one motion. Then he laid a finger on his own breast and said:
"That for mine!"
"I'm afraid you've been in bad company," laughed Frank. "You're talking slang! What's your name?"
"Minda," was the reply.
"Sounds like a girl's name," grunted Pat. "What are the chiefs doing on the island?"
"Conference," was the reply.
"They're forming a confederacy, are they?"
Minda shook his head and looked perplexed.
"Don't know," he replied.
"Where are the two Scouts who went ashore a long time ago?" asked Ned.
"Tied," replied Minda, crossing his wrists to indicate what he meant.
"That's nice!" Pat broke in. "Where are they?"
Again Minda shook his head, saying that he did not know where the boys were, that they might have been put on board the steamer.
"So the officers on board the steamer communicated with the shore?" asked Ned.
"Yes; that's how I got away," was the reply.
"Do the officers know what is going on?" continued Ned. Again Minda shook his head.
"I reckon you're off there," Pat exclaimed. "They do know, and the man in charge on board the steamer is a traitor! I know him!"
Again the Filipino looked puzzled.
"Good man!" he said, and sat down on the bridge deck.
"Do you really believe the boys were put on board the steamer?" asked Frank of Ned, in a moment.
"I think the native chiefs would put us all on board the steamer, if they could do so," was the reply.
Then the patrol leader turned to Minda again.
"What did the steamer come down here for?" he asked.
"Patrol," was the reply.
"On no special mission?" Ned went on.
"Just to patrol," was the reply.
"I don't believe it!" Frank burst out. "That boat was sent down here to investigate this conspiracy matter, and the man in command is making a perfunctory job of it. He'll then go back to Manila and report nothing doing!"
"And the conspiracy will go on, and there'll be war!" Pat added.
"Just so!" Frank commented.
"Well," Ned said, "we can't find out whether you are right or not by asking the officers, either on the steamer or at Manila. We've got to find out by watching the brown men! We've got to leave the Manhattan here and go into the jungle and see what is going on, and find out what company the chiefs receive. It is my idea that some of the men in uniform are leading double lives!"