The point now was to connect the foreign statesmen who had burned their fingers in the plot with the affair. Ned knew that the papers would establish the falsity of the charges, but he wanted to place the blame for the whole matter where it belonged. He wanted to track the man who had conferred with known conspirators back to his home. He wanted to be able to point out the treacherous government which had so sought to belittle the United States in the eyes of the world.
The boy had no doubt that this was actually the mission upon which he had been sent when ordered by the Secret Service department to report at Taku and there await instructions before proceeding to Peking. He did not understand why he had been instructed to make the trip to Peking on a motorcycle when there were easier ways, but he was quick to obey orders. Later on he learned just why this order had been given.
“Yes,” Ned replied to Jimmie’s remark, “I think we may as well set out for Peking to-night. If we wait until morning, we may not be at liberty to start out.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Jack.
“Study it out,” smiled Ned, “and you may be able to find an answer.”
While the boy was speaking, he bent over and looked keenly at a footprint on the earthen floor of the room. It was not such a print as the foot-covering of a Chinese man would leave. It had been made by the long heel of an European shoe.
When Ned looked closer, he saw that the ground was stained a deep red, that there were dark crimson spots on the window casing. Then he saw that a struggle must have taken place in the room, for the few things it held were in disorder.
“Boys,” he said, “perhaps our Secret Service man got here before we did.”
A SHOE AND A SURPRISE
“What do you mean by that?” asked Frank. “If he had reached the old house first, he would have waited here for us, wouldn’t he?”
“Look what’s here,” Ned replied. “There has been a fight in the room. The combatants fought from the inner wall to the window, then a knife was used. These stains are by no means fresh, but they tell the story. And to think that we’ve been here all these days and never found them!”
“Well,” Frank hastened to say, “we weren’t suspicious; and, then, we had no occasion to visit this room.”
“We should have been on our guard,” Ned replied, “but there is no help for it now. This discovery may block our going on to Peking to-night.”
“I don’t see why,” Jack said, in a disappointed tone.
“If the man who was wounded here and carried out of the window,” Ned replied, “is really the messenger we are waiting for, we ought not to go away and leave him in the hands of the enemy. It may not be the one I fear it is, but we ought to find out about that.”
“It might have been only natives fighting,” urged Jack.