“What is it?” asked Jack.
“Sounds like the roaring of a mob,” answered the officer. “You understand that a word will stir the natives to arms against foreigners. As there is no knowing what this fake Lieutenant Rae and the men we drove away from this house may have said to the Chinks, we may as well be moving. It may be safer out on the road!”
“I should say so!” exclaimed Jack. “We can’t fight a whole nation, can we? Look there! That was a rocket, and means trouble.”
The distant murmur was fast growing into a roar, and rockets were flecking the clouds with their green, red, and blue lights. Shadowy figures began to show in the darkness, and a group was seen ahead, in the street which led away toward Peking.
“More dangerous than wild beasts!” exclaimed the officer. “Be careful to keep together and in the middle of the road, when we get under way, for if one of us gets pulled down there’s an end of all things for him!”
“It is too bad we can’t stay long enough to find Hans,” Ned said.
“If we remain here five minutes longer,” the officer replied, “someone will have to come and find us. Are you ready?”
All were ready, and the next moment sixteen motorcycles shot out into the street and headed northwest for Tientsin, which city lay in the direct path to Peking. The group in the road ahead parted sullenly as the squadron pressed on its outer circle and the company passed through without mishap.
That was as wild a ride as any living being ever engaged in. Nothing but the speed of the motorcycles saved the boys, for enemies sprung up all along the way. Some mysterious system of signaling ahead seemed to be in vogue there.
The sky cleared presently. The road was muddy, but the giant machines made good progress, especially through little towns, through the doors and windows of which curious eyes peered out on the silent company, marching, seemingly, to the music of the spark explosions.
After a run of two hours the officer halted and dismounted.
“Now,” he said, “we’ve got a bit of work cut out for us here. If we make it, we may go on in peace. If we fail, all must keep together and take chances on speed.”
THE MIDNIGHT CALL OF AN OWL
Ned glanced about keenly as he left his seat on the machine and stood awaiting further instructions. There was little rain in the air now, but it was still dark except for the faint reflection of a distant group of lights.
“Where are we?” Ned asked.
“So soon? Why, I thought we’d be a long time on the way.”
“I reckon you don’t know how fast we have been traveling,” said the officer. “Fear led me to take risks. I’ll admit that.”
“I want to look through the city before I leave the country,” Ned remarked.