Now, as they stood in front of the New Willard at Fourteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, just around the corner from the White House, they were filled with pleasurable excitement and some nervousness, too. For they were going to meet the President of the United States.
"Be at the office of the President's Secretary at eleven o'clock," had read the note from Inspector Burton, awaiting them at the hotel. He had written he would be unable by reason of business engagements to meet them at the hotel and conduct them to the White House, but that he would meet them there.
It was a hot August day. Not a cloud was in the sky, and the sun shone with an intensity that was almost unbearable. Heat waves danced on the asphalt, and there were few people moving about. Washington in mid-summer is at its deadest, for then the legislators and major government officials have fled to seashore or mountain, the city is depopulated, and those remaining stir abroad no more than necessary. In its ring of hills, drowsy, somnolent, the governing center of the nation takes a summer _siesta_ and waits for the coming of crisper autumn when the wheels once more will begin to revolve.
For the President to be at the White House was unusual, but urgent business having to do with a crisis in a little-known corner of Latin America had demanded his presence. The boys had read of his return the day previous in their morning paper.
Being a little ahead of the appointed time they walked leisurely along Pennsylvania Avenue under the dusty trees, with the broad White House lawn showing green and pleasant behind the high iron fence, and with the White House handsome and dignified through the trees. Following directions, they did not turn in at the wide main gateway, but at Fifteenth Street turned and retraced their steps to the small thoroughfare between the State, Army and Navy Building and the left wing of the White House, where the executive offices are located.
Down this thoroughfare to the left they went, nervousness increasing, turned in at a gateway and entered the anteroom of the President's secretary. It was cool and quiet in there, and empty of its usual crowd of men and women clamoring to see the President on some business or other. Inspector Burton rose from a corner, and came forward hand extended, and at his smile and reassuring handclasp the knees of the chums ceased to be water and became a bit more solid once more.
After being introduced to the President's secretary they were taken to the Blue Room, instead of the President's office, and there, amid the summer dust cloths covering the furniture, in that room where the presidents of the past had conferred upon matters that shook the world, the President greeted them. Tall, elegant, elderly, gray, with a smile and a homely manner of talking which put them at ease at once in some magical way, he made a profound impression on the boys.
"Such boys as you," said he, in parting, "renew my faith in the future of America."
Then they were out, and walking along Pennsylvania Avenue with Inspector Burton, a bit dazed, sure that great distinction had been visited on them, but not yet able to understand it all.
At Fifteenth Street, where they had turned back on their previous stroll along the fenced White House lawn, the Secret Service man took them into the imposing pile of the Treasury Building.
"The Chief wants to thank you," was the only explanation he vouchsafed.
First the President! Now the head of the Secret Service! Things were coming fast. Jack and Bob looked solemn, but Frank the irrepressible, catching sight of their long faces, burst into laughter.
"Brace up, my hearties," he cried, thwacking each on the back. "He's not going to eat you. I have private information that assures me he won't."
The tension was relieved, as all laughed.
Then Inspector Burton conducted the chums into a high-ceilinged office lined with books, looking more like a student's library than the office of the head of the nation's great super-police force. A small man, compactly built, with a close-clipped gray mustache, rose from a desk and advanced to meet them.
"Well, well, so these are the young heroes," he said, grasping each in turn firmly by the hand as the introductions were managed.
Then he stood back and took a long look at them, a twinkle in his eye at the mounting color and embarrassed manner of the trio.
"I'd hate to meet any one of you in a rough-and-tumble fight," he said.
"No wonder you made things fly on the Pacific."
All sat down then and a general conversation about the break-up of the smugglers' ring followed. The boys learned that "Black George" and Wong Ho were in jail, awaiting trial, that three boats employed in the smuggling traffic had been captured, that Mexico had been asked and had agreed to prosecute the conspirators operating at Ensenada, that three employees of the government were under arrest for conspiracy in the smuggling operations, and that Matt Murphy was free on parole and the case against him would not be pushed.
Finally, Inspector Burton arose and the boys took that as a signal it was time to depart, and also got to their feet.
"I know of no way to reward you except to give you the thanks of the Service," said the Chief at parting. "But that is yours. Good-by."
"Wow," said Frank, when they were alone at their hotel once more, "I feel as if I owned the world."
"The common herd had better not talk to me for a while," declared Bob, grinning. "I wouldn't be able to notice anybody less than a general."
"Same here," said Jack. "Well, now, fellows, what are we going to do?
Now that we're on the ground with a fine chance to see the sights, we certainly aren't going to go right home, are we?"
"I move we stay until we take in everything," said Frank.
"Second the motion," said Bob. "But I tell you, going around in this heat is going to cost me some weight."
"Oh, it'll just get you in condition for football," said Jack. "You're getting too fat, anyhow."
That precipitated a general discussion of the forthcoming return to Harrington Hall Military Academy, the football prospects, the effect which recital of their thrilling summer would have on schoolmates, and other matters of similar ilk. It would be Jack's last year, while Frank and Bob, a class behind him, would have two years more before entering college. All three planned to enter Yale, of which both Mr. Hampton and Mr. Temple were graduates.
Three days they spent in sightseeing, paying visits to Mount Vernon, George Washington's old home; the national cemetery at Arlington, quaint Annapolis, where the Naval College is located, and inspecting the capital and all the great public buildings.
Browned, looking taller and broader, every one, than at the beginning of summer, they arrived home at length a week before the opening of school, and spent the interim mainly in swimming and in reassembling the airplane owned by Frank and Bob, which had been shipped on from New Mexico, or in working at Jack's radio plant.
Frank, as stated in a previous tale, was an orphan and lived with the Temples, Bob's father being his guardian. Jack, whose mother was dead and whose father still was in New Mexico, decided to make his home at the Temples instead of opening his own home. The Hampton and Temple estates, situated on the far end of Long Island, adjoined each other.
And here, with their preparations for school, we shall leave our three friends. But-here's a little secret-the following summer a mysterious airplane, a sandy and secluded cove and what they found there, strange lights at sea at night and the imprints of a one-legged man's wooden peg on the sand of a deserted stretch of beach, all combined to draw the three chums into adventures as exciting and thrilling as any that had gone before. And these will be related in _The Radio Boys With the Revenue Guard_.