It was autumn, and the produce of the field was ripe for barter. There were loads attached to horses and loads drawn in carts; there were ’rickshaws, and bundles on backs, and on long poles carried over bent shoulders.
The strange procession of the motorcycles and the marines caused many a surprised halt in the procession of industry. Chinamen stood at one side while the steel horses shot by them, and then gathered in little groups by the wayside to discuss this newest invention of the foreign devils.
The sun rose in a cloudless sky and the earth steamed under its rays, sending back in eddying mist the rain which had poured upon her with such violence the night before. It would be a hot day, notwithstanding the lateness of the season, and the eyes of the boys soon turned to a shaded grove not far from the highway.
“Me for breakfast!” Jimmie declared, and the marines looked as if the lad had echoed their own thoughts.
“We may as well halt a little while,” Captain Martin said to Ned, “as my boys are beginning to look empty. They have had a hard night of it, and we can’t afford to cultivate any grouches!”
Ned, although he was anxious to go forward, saw good judgment in this and ordered a halt. In five minutes little fires were burning in the grove and the odor of steaming coffee soon rose softly with the mists of the morning.
THE MYSTICISM OF THE EAST
“You remember what the consul said regarding trouble on the road to Peking?” asked Ned of Captain Martin as the two took seats under a tree not far from the cooking fires.
“Yes, and I wondered at his expressing such gloomy predictions. He gave me quite a scare.”
“I think I understand, now, why he did it,” Ned said, with a smile. “He was following instructions.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that he had been communicated with by the Washington office, during the day, and given instructions.”
“To scare you?”
“No; to keep me up to the mark in caution.”
“I don’t think you needed that.”
“Well,” Ned went on, “this is a queer case. At first I could not make up my mind why the Secret Service people insisted on my making this trip to Peking on a motorcycle, guarded by soldiers like a passenger in time of war. Now I think I know.”
“Then you have the advantage of me,” said the officer. “I’ve been thinking that over quite a lot, and the answer is still to find.”
“Unless I am mistaken,” Ned replied, “I am expected to do my work on the way to Peking.”
“Come again!” smiled the Captain.
“In other words,” replied Ned, “I’m set up on a motorcycle as a mark for the diplomats of Europe to shoot at.”
“Then I must be a mark, also,” grumbled the Captain.
“Exactly. How do you like it?”