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CHAPTER XII THE TOLLING OF THE BELL
The four boys hastily armed themselves to go and find the professor. Ned packed some provisions in a knapsack and slung it behind his saddle, not knowing just how long they might be on their hunt. The other boys watered their horses and Ned’s and waited around for him to get ready.

Just before leaving Ned made a final look around, greatly puzzled at the absence of Yappi and the cook. “Must have taken them prisoner, too,” was his conclusion, as he joined the others. It was a somewhat grim cavalcade that swung out of the ranch yard.

There were two possibilities, the sea and the mountains. One guess was as good as the other, but Ned chose the mountains and they headed that way. They had gone but a scant mile when Don pulled up.

“Who is this coming?” he asked, pointing to a lone figure which was running over a nearby hill.
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“Looks like the cook,” said Ned. It was Spanci and he drew nearer, evidently recognizing them. When he came up he was slightly out of breath but able to talk.

“Spanci, where have they taken my father?” asked Ned, in Spanish.

“They have taken him to the mountains, senor, but do not fear, Yappi is with him, trailing them.” The cook then went on to tell of the raid and of Yappi’s stealthy trailing and his own effort. “I ran to the ranch of the Senorita Mercedes, senor, and she has sent her overseer and two men out to the mountain to aid your father.”

Ned thanked the old Indian for his devotion and the cook went on back to the ranch, to await the turn of events. Ned was greatly relieved to hear that Yappi was on the trail, and he knew that the old mestizo would stick to it and help his father no matter what turned up. It was with a much more cheerful heart that the party rode on toward the mountains.

“No doubt they will stop and hold dad somewhere for a day or two,” argued Ned. “We should run across them shortly, and if it is possible Yappi will leave some kind of a guiding sign.”

“The best part of it is that we know now that they didn’t go toward the sea,” put in Terry and Ned nodded.
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They stopped briefly late in the afternoon to eat and rest the horses and in the early evening reached the edge of the mountain range. Once within the shadows of the mighty trees they were at a loss as to how to go. Had the party gone north or south? It was a big decision to make, for if they proceeded far in one direction and found that they were wrong they would have to retrace and lose valuable time. Just as the last shadows of the day were stealing across the sky they stopped for a council of war.

“There is nothing to indicate which way they would be likely to go,” said Jim.

“Wouldn’t they be most likely to go south, to get away into a wilder country?” asked Terry.

“Maybe,” said Ned. “But the northern part of the range is the wildest. So we can’t tell. They may have even gone right on over, to the waste of wilderness on the other side.”

“Whichever way we guess we may be dead wrong,” murmured Don.

“Yes, and we can’t afford to be wrong,” Ned answered. “Look here, we’ll have to split the party.”

“Split the party?” echoed the others.
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“Yes. Don and I will go south, and Jim and Terry north and over the top. In that way we should be able to cover a lot of territory. I propose that we make this spot our meeting place, and that we all assemble here at seven o’clock tomorrow morning to compare notes. Let’s have a signal of three shots. That will mean to either come back to the meeting place, or ride toward the shots.”

“Better make it the signal to ride toward the shots,” advised Don. “We’ll repeat the shooting and keep it up until the other party joins us. But if one party picks up Professor Scott it had better ride back here with him and fire the shots from here, because we all know just where this place is and can find it easily.”

“That’s right,” agreed Ned. “Of course, we are splitting our party and lessening our strength.”

“I don’t see that we can help that,” Jim argued. “If we were looking for something that didn’t require every minute we could keep together and take our time. But there is no knowing what the outfit will do to the professor. Besides, two of us should be able to handle those fellows, even if there are three of them.”

“We should be able to depend on a surprise attack,” said Terry.

“Yes,” agreed Ned. “What is that?”

The others looked at him questioningly. Ned listened intently. “I thought I heard the sound of a bell tolling,” he said.

“Where would there be a bell around here?” asked Don.
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“I don’t think that there is a bell nearer than the mines. I guess I must have imagined it, that is all. Well, it is growing dark. Shall we separate now?”

“Guess we might as well,” the others agreed.

With mutual goodbyes and agreeing to meet again at the grove in which they were at present stopped, the four boys split into two groups and went in opposite directions. Terry and Jim rode north and up the mountain, and Ned and Don began to make their way south, moving up the mountain on a gradual slant.

“Funny about that bell,” Ned said, as they rode slowly forward. “I could have sworn to it that I heard a bell ringing.”

“What kind of a bell?” asked Don.

“Sounded like a church bell, and it seemed to be tolling. But I guess it was some other sounds that I mistook. Certainly there is no church anywhere around here.”

“Doesn’t look as though there is,” grinned Don.

The sun had now set on the other side of the giant range and they were in total darkness. Knowing that it would be useless to push on very rapidly during the night they planned to put up a temporary camp on some ridge and wait there until daylight came. That would give them a few hours to look around before returning to their meeting place to compare notes.
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“Guess we might as well camp and eat,” Ned suggested, and they found a spot that was dry and sheltered, where they speedily kindled a small fire and made some coffee. Sandwiches went with it and then they settled down beside the fire, talking quietly and keeping both ears and eyes open for any strange sound. It was early when they turned in and slept soundly.

How long they had been asleep was a matter of conjecture, but they were shocked into a state of wakefulness by the furious tolling of a bell. It was near at hand, and they leaped to their feet with rapidly beating hearts. Alone there on the mountain fastness the sound was awe-inspiring and unpleasantly thrilling, and both boys felt chills running up and down their backs. The bell which was ringing so mysteriously was not more than a hundred feet from them.

“My goodness, what in the name of glory is that!” gasped Ned, as the horses moved restlessly back and forth.

“Your bell,” cried Don, snatching up his rifle. “We were camped almost on top of it!”

Ned secured his weapon. “Never mind the horses, let’s see what is up,” he shouted. They started on a run in the direction of the sound of the bell, breaking recklessly through the undergrowth. In less than a hundred yards they emerged into a clearing and came upon the ruins of a castle, in the tower of which the bell was tolling madly.
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A man stood in a doorway, a faint light behind him. He had seen them coming and shouted something to someone within. The bell ceased to toll and the boys pressed on, straight for the figure in the doorway. It was joined by another and Ned raised a shout.

“Sackett!” he cried. “I guess we’ll find dad now!”

His answer was a shot from Sackett’s revolver, and they threw themselves flat on the ground, to send two high shots whistling through the narrow doorway. Had Sackett and Abel known that they were alone the two outlaws would not have run, but they were unable to make out anything accurate against the black trees and thought that a full party had arrived. The two men did not linger, but made their way out over the ruins of the first floor and escaped the boys hearing them take to their horses.

“They didn’t take dad with them,” cried Ned, leaping to his feet. “He must be in the house yet.”

They entered the castle, to find a candle in a bottle giving light to the single good room which remained of the ruins. Seeing the door in the side of the wall Ned and Don made for it, the former taking up the candle as they did so. They had no more fear of the bandits and they fairly ran down the stairs, to find Professor Scott waiting at the barred door.
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“Dad!” cried Ned in delight. “So you are really here?”

“Oh, yes, and I thought I’d be here for sometime,” smiled Mr. Scott. “You boys arrived just in time. How did you like my bell concert?”

“If it hadn’t been for that we might never have found you,” said Ned. He broke the padlock with the butt of his gun, and then stepped hastily back. “What is that?”

A dark figure was worming through the hole in the wall of the dungeon. “Don’t be afraid,” the professor said cheerfully. “It is Yappi, who is joining the party.”

The padlock was broken off, the door opened and Ned and his father embraced warmly. He shook Don by the hand and after hasty explanations had been made they followed Yappi up the stairs. The mestizo had refused to accept any thanks and took the lead in getting them out of the place.

They made a hasty search but found nothing of importance. The men had escaped on their mounts, and it was useless to think of following them. Yappi took them to the mouth of the underground passage and showed them how to drop down in it, and they walked along it back to the dungeon and then once more went back to the courtyard before the castle.
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“The rascals either took my horse or loosed it,” said the professor. “I guess I’ll have to walk home.”

“No, no, senor,” said Yappi, quietly. “I have provide for that. Two horses in yonder bush.”

And he went to the thicket indicated and led out two horses. They praised his foresight lavishly but he was indifferent to their praises. Ned then proposed that they go back to the meeting place.

Accordingly they mounted and went down the mountain to the place where they had left Terry and Jim. It was decided to wait until morning for the other two, rather than fire off their guns to attract them.

“They should be here at seven in the morning, and it won’t be long before it is that time,” Don said. “So we might as well wait.”

So they waited, sleeping by turns, waking at last to greet a fine warm day. Seven o’clock came and passed and no sign of the others was to be seen. When a half hour had passed they began to fire their guns at intervals, but there was nothing but silence after the echoes had broken in different places over the mountain sides.
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Refusing to be worried over it they ate breakfast and again fired their guns, riding out from their camp for a few miles in either direction. But when ten o’clock in the morning came they once more assembled in the camp and faced the bitter facts.

“Well,” said Ned, in despair. “Now those fellows are gone. They must have become lost.”

“Either that,” said Don, gravely. “Or they have fallen into the hands of Sackett!”


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