“Where did he come from?” asked Frank. “I’m certain he was not in the house. Perhaps he was up to some deviltry.”
“He wasn’t here with any bouquets,” Jimmie answered. “I’m goin’ out an’ run around the house. Perhaps I can find out where he was hidin’, an’ find his mate there.”
No objections being offered to this, the little fellow left the group and started in on a tour around the old house. He was gone perhaps two minutes, then came dashing back, his face white and horror-stricken in the circle of light which met him.
“Grab ’em! Grab ’em an’ get out!” he shouted.
“Where did you get it?” demanded Jack.
“You’re scared stiff!” Frank laughed.
“Grab the wounded men an’ beat it!” Jimmie repeated. “This ranch will go up in the air in a second!”
“That’s cheerful!” Jack cut in, half believing that Jimmie was up to another trick.
Jimmie dashed into the house, seized one of the wounded men by the shoulders and tried to drag him off the improvised bed on which he had been laid.
“All right!” he yelled. “You boys may stay here an’ get shot up into blue sky if you want to, but I’m goin’ to get these men out.”
“Why don’t you tell us what the danger is?” demanded Ned, shaking the little fellow by the arm.
“You listen!” Jimmie replied.
There was dead silence for an instant. Then, seemingly from underneath the floor, came a low, sinister hissing sound which every one of the boys recognized.
A great fuse was burning below, and might at any moment reach the explosive to which it was attached. The Chinese tools of the man at the head of the conspiracy were taking desperate chances.
In order to destroy the clues which Ned had found in the house, and also to prevent the boy ever discovering any more, they were taking the long chance of murdering the soldiers of a friendly power and bringing on international complications. Ned was by no means idle while these thoughts were swarming in his brain.
In fact, all the boys sprang to action instantly. Captain Martin was told to order his men farther away from the point of danger. In less time than the result of their activities can be written down the wounded men were lying in the grove, surrounded by their fellows, and the boys were waiting for what seemed inevitable, the complete destruction of the house.
A BROKEN MATCH SAFE
“Why don’t she go up?” asked Jack, as the boys crouched in the grove. “I don’t mind seeing a little fourth of July!”
“She’s coming,” Frank answered. “Do you see the light in the cellar? That’s the fuse burning.”
“It must be a long one,” Jimmie said. “Gee, but I was scared stiff when I saw it burnin’ right under where you all were!”
“How did the sneak who set the fuse on fire ever get down there?” wondered Jack.