Boy Scouts in an Airship;
or, The Warning From the Sky
BY G. HARVEY RALPHSON
SPIES IN THE BOY SCOUT CAMP
Gates, the United States Secret Service man, closed the door gently and remained standing just inside the room, his head bent forward in a listening attitude. Ned Nestor and Jimmie McGraw, Boy Scouts of the Wolf Patrol, New York City, who had been standing by a window, looking out on a crowded San Francisco street, previous to the sudden appearance of the Secret Service man, turned toward the entrance with smiles on their faces.
They evidently thought that Gates was posing, as so many detectives have a silly habit of doing, and so gave little heed to the hand he lifted in warning. The boys knew little about Gates at that time, and so may be pardoned for the uncomplimentary thoughts with which they noted his theatrical conduct.
Young Nestor had been engaged by the United States government to undertake a difficult and dangerous mission to South America, and Gates had been sent on from Washington to post him as to the details of the case. The boys had waited at the San Francisco hotel three days for the arrival of the Secret Service man, and waited impatiently, as Sam Leroy, who was to be the third member of the party, was anxious for the safety of his aeroplane, the Nelson, in which the trip to "the roof of the world" was to be made.
The Nelson was lying, guarded night, and day, in a field just out of the city, on the Pacific side, and Leroy was impatiently keeping his eyes on the guards most of the time. There was a subconscious notion in the minds of all the boys that there were enemies about, and that the aeroplane would never be fully out of danger until she was well over the ocean on her way south. Gates had arrived only that morning, and now the lads were eager to be off.
A couple of hours before his appearance in the room that morning, the Secret Service agent had left the boys in the lobby below to arrange for the necessary papers and funds for the mission. Before going out, however, he had been informed of the boys' suspicions, and had made light of the idea that the aeroplane was in danger from secret enemies, pointing to the fact that no one was supposed to know anything about the proposed journey save the boys and himself as conclusive evidence that the suspicion of constant surveillance was not well founded.
Now, on his return, his cautious movements indicated that he, too, was alarmed and on his guard. While Ned was wondering what it was that had so changed Gates' point of view, there came a quick, imperative knock on the door of the room, which was occupied by Ned and Jimmie as a sleeping apartment.
Instantly, almost before the sound of the knock died away, Gates opened the door and stepped forward. The man who stood in the corridor, facing the doorway, was tall, slender, dark of complexion, like a Spaniard or a Mexican. His black hair was long, straight, thin; his black eyes were bright, treacherous, too close together, with a little vertical wrinkle between the brows. He was dressed in a neat brown business suit of expensive material.
When the door was opened he stepped forward and glanced into the interior of the room, apparently with the purpose of entering. But when Gates moved aside to give him passageway he drew back, the set smile on his face vanishing as he bowed low and swung his slender hands out in elaborate gesture.
"Pardon!" he said. "I have made a mistake in the room."
He was about to move away when Gates gritted out a question.
"For whom were you looking?" he asked. "We may be able to direct you to your friend," he added, more courteously, his alert eyes taking in every detail of the man's face, figure and dress.
"It is nothing!" was the quick reply. "I will make inquiries at the office—which, undoubtedly, I should have done before."
In a moment he was gone, moving gracefully toward the elevator. Gates watched his elegant, well-dressed figure with a smile of quiet satisfaction. When the visitor gained the elevator, he turned and bowed at the still open doorway, and the Secret Service man recognized the grin on his face as expressive of triumph rather than apology.
"What did he want?" asked Jimmie, as Gates, closed the door.
Gates did not answer the question immediately. Instead he asked one:
"Ever see that fellow before?"
Jimmie shook his head, but Ned looked grave as he answered:
"I have seen him about the hotel—frequently. He seems to have a suite off this corridor, or the one above it."
At this moment the door was opened again and Sam Leroy bounced into the room, his eyes shining with enthusiasm, his muscles tense with the joy of youth and health. He drew back when he saw Gates, whom he had not met before, and looked questioningly at Ned.
"This is Lieutenant Gates, for whom we have been waiting," Ned said, "and this, Lieutenant, is Sam Leroy, who is to take us to South America in his aeroplane."
"I hope the machine is above reproach as to strength and speed," laughed Gates, as the two shook hands cordially, "for there is likely to be doings down there."
"The Nelson is warranted for work and wind," said Ned. "She crossed the continent in a rush and spied on us through British Columbia and on down the Columbia river, not long ago, and I can recommend her as a very desirable bird of the air."
"She's all sound now," Leroy said, "but there's no knowing how long she will be if we don't get her out of San Francisco. There was a couple of men hanging around her last night, and one of them went away with a bullet in his leg. I'm glad you're here, Lieutenant, for now we can get away—quick!"
"Did you get a good look at either of the two men you speak of?" asked Ned, his mind going back to what seemed to him to be a secret conspiracy against the Nelson.
"One of them," Leroy answered, "was tall, slender, dark; with long straight hair and eyes like a snake. I noticed, too, that he had a habit of moistening his lips with the end of his tongue, and that made me think of a snake thrusting out his tongue. I got a shot at the other fellow, but not at this one."
Gates and Ned looked at each other with nods of mutual understanding. This was a pretty good description of the man who had just stood before the door of that room. Then the lieutenant turned to Jimmie.
"You asked a moment ago," he said, "what the fellow wanted here. Now I think I can tell you. He wanted to confirm his suspicions that the four of us axe working together. He has been sleuthing about the corridors all the morning, watching me; and his mission to this room was to make sure that my business in San Francisco is with Ned—that we are working together."
"He's sure doing a lot of Sherlock Holmes stunts," Jimmie declared. "And I reckon he's next to his job, for he appears to have inspected all the points of interest, from the field where the Nelson is to the room where the plans are being made."
"Yes," Leroy said, his manner showing apprehension as well as anger, "but how the Old Scratch did he get his knowledge, of what, we are about to do? I thought no one in the West knew except us four. And what's he trying to do, anyway? What difference does it make to him if we do go to South America in an aeroplane?"
"I have a notion," Gates replied, "that he objects to your going in an airship because you will make such swift time. Let me tell you something more about this case. Then you will be able to understand why efforts may be made to prevent your going to South America, in an airship or in any other way."
"It's just the airship they've been after so far," Leroy interrupted. "They haven't troubled us—and they'd better not!"
"I imagine," said the lieutenant, gravely, "that their activities will broaden out as they get warmed up to their work. Understand? What I mean is this: You boys are risking your lives in undertaking this mission. You will be followed and spied upon from the minute you leave San Francisco, and the chances will be all against you when you reach your field of operations. Even the Government cannot protect you in your undertaking, for the Government is not supposed to know anything about this case."
"We are to do something by stealth, then, which the diplomats of the State department are too cautious to undertake?" asked Ned.
"That is it exactly," was the reply. "If the State department should take cognizance of the situation down there and make any sort of a demand, war would be certain to follow in case the demand was denied, which it would be. Therefore, the State department does not wish to make a demand. Still, the American who is in trouble must be protected. You are to go and get him out of his dungeon, or wherever he may be, and the Department of State will wink at what you do and look innocent."
"Aw, why don't they send a warship to do the job?" demanded Jimmie.
"Because," replied the lieutenant, "Uncle Sam has taken the republics of South America under his protection, and he does not care to spank them in the presence of all the nations of the earth! He wants to get this man Lyman—Horace M. Lyman, to be exact—out of the clutches of a crooked gang in Paraguay without wasting money and lives. Hence the arrangement with you boys."
"I have read something about the Lyman case," Ned observed, "but I have forgotten all the material points, I guess."
"Lyman," Gates went on, "took up his residence in Paraguay some years ago and opened negotiations with the government for a cattle concession. The lands known as the 'Chaco' district, lying between the Paraguay and Pilcomayo rivers, are said to be the best for grazing purposes in all South America. Years ago they were considered worthless swamps, but this is all changed now.
"Well, Lyman entered into negotiations with the president of this alleged republic and got his concession. There is no knowing how much he paid for it, for every new president of Paraguay—and they have new ones quite frequently down there—seems to do business on the theory that what he doesn't get while the getting is good he never will get at all. There have been four or five new official heads of this alleged republic within a couple of years.
"The country is on the verge of revolution most of the time and as the army goes so goes the election. Jara was made prisoner last July, and one Rojes put in power. Now, in order to keep in good standing with the army, the government is obliged to have generals who are loyal to whoever is in power. These generals must be paid for their services, of course.
"It seems that Lyman fell under the displeasure of one of these powerful military chaps, probably because he refused to give up all his profits in the cattle business. Anyway, Lyman disappeared from home, quite suddenly, and his manager was notified that settlement could be made with one Senor Lopez, an army chief, said to be a relative of a former president. So Lopez was appealed to.
"Now Lopez is a slippery chap. He denied knowing anything about Lyman, but declared that unless the cattleman appeared shortly and took up his work on the cattle concession the grant would be taken from him. That is like South American justice. Lock a man up and then deprive him of his rights because he can't appear and claim them!"
"Must be a fine healthy country!" Jimmie interposed.
"It is all of that," laughed the lieutenant. "Then this manager, I think his name is Coye, appealed to the United States consul and the consul to the president. Nothing doing! Lyman, they insisted, had not been molested by the authorities. But Lyman's people in this country are kicking up an awful row, and something must be done.
"There is no doubt that the cattleman, is locked up in some of the old military prisons of the country, yet the State department can't get him out. The president offers any assistance in his power, of course! Lopez weeps when the matter is mentioned to him—weeps at the unfounded suspicions which are being cast upon him! So there you are! The only hope for Lyman lies in some such method as has been planned. If you fail, the situation will be desperate, indeed."
"Why don't Lyman buy the fellow off?" asked Jimmie.
"The purpose of Lopez in pursuing the course referred to is undoubtedly to find an excuse for robbing Lyman of the concession and selling it to another at a much greater price. So others besides the general and Lyman are concerned in this mix-up."
"You refer to a person, or corporation, waiting to buy the concession?" asked Ned, the reason for the surveillance in San Francisco coming to him like a flash.
"That is it."
"And these prospective concessionaires are looking to it that Lyman gets no aid from this country?"
"I had not looked at the matter in that way, had not thought of their venturing over here, but presume you are right."
"Look here," Leroy asked, "are you figuring it out that the people who are trying to steal or cripple the Nelson came here from Paraguay for the express purpose of watching this Lyman case and preventing his friends from assisting him?"
"You state the case in a way which gives it a good deal of importance," Gates replied, "But I believe you state it correctly. Just how the men who hope to gain the concession if Lyman loses it came to understand the attitude of our Government is more than I can imagine, but it is quite clear to me that they do understand the situation—that they are thoroughly posted as to every move that has been made by the Government and by the friends of the cattleman."
"It is a good thing to know that we are likely to be chased to South America," Ned said, "for we know exactly what to expect, and shall be on our guard."
"Chased to South America!" laughed Leroy. "They'll have to go some if the keep up with the little old Nelson! She can fly some—if you want to know!"
A FOX JOINS THE WOLVES
Nelson hung like a great gull over New Orleans one hot morning in early August. The boys who occupied seats on the light aluminum form under the sixty-foot wings glimpsed the Gulf of Mexico in the distance, while directly their feet ran the crooked streets of the French Quarter.
The departure from San Francisco had been for a delayed for a long time because of the non-arrival of important instructions from Washington, and because of a slight injury to the aeroplane while out on what Leroy called an "exercise run." Lieutenant Gates had remained with the boys until they started on their long flight to the mouth of the great Mississippi river, and had then returned to Washington.
I had first been the intention to proceed due from San Francisco, then wing toward the east where the coast of Peru showed. This plan was opposed by the lieutenant, for the reason that an airship far out on the Pacific ocean, directly in the steamship route, would be likely to attract attention sailing over the southwestern states and Central America. Daring aviators now venture in all directions and at all altitudes above the solid earth, but they are still cautious about proceeding far out over the merciless waters of the oceans which rim the continent of North America.
So, yielding to the wishes of the lieutenant, the Nelson had been directed by her navigators across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana until the great city of the South lay spread out before them. The distance covered by the airship in this flight was not far from thirty-five hundred miles, and the Nelson, leaving the coast city on Monday morning, August 7, had covered the run so as to reach New Orleans late Wednesday afternoon.
The boys might, it is true, have speeded up and made the distance in thirty-six hours, or less but they realized the necessity of taking good care of themselves, and so they had rested in quiet places both Monday and Tuesday night, landing about midnight and sleeping until long after daylight. Having provisions with them, they had not found it necessary to land except when gasoline was obtained at Santa Fe.
The machine had attracted little attention on the route, for it was painted a dull gray, and its aluminum motors gave forth little sound. It was two merits of the machine, which had been invented by young Leroy, that it could navigate in a clear sky a mile up without being observed from below, and could also run to within a short distance of the earth without making herself conspicuous by the popping of her motors. The United States authorities are now adapting these two qualities to the government airships to be used in the military service.
The boys remained in New Orleans until Thursday morning, August 10, and then, with full provision baskets and gasoline tanks, they set out across the Gulf of Mexico. They soon sighted Yucatan, which is really a province of Mexico, darted over British Honduras, and swung over the forests of Guatemala, the one country in Central America which is never bothered with revolutions.
When an ambitious person wants to wrest the reins of government from the officials in charge, they take him out and stand him up against a stone wall, with a firing squad in front. This manner of preventing revolutions is believed to be conducive to peace and also to the sanctity of human lives. Jimmie, who had been reading up on South and Central America while waiting in San Francisco, explained many points of interest as the Nelson sped on her way.
They took on more gasoline at Panama, and Ned and Jimmie were very glad to renew their acquaintance with that now model city. Those who have read the former books of this series will remember that the Boy Scouts at one time had a commission to stand guard over the great Gatun dam.
They did not remain long in Panama, however, as they were anxious to get to the scene of their future operations. They were all anticipating great fun in exploring "the roof of the world," which extends from Colombia to Argentina, north and south, through Equator, Peru, and Bolivia, more than 2,000 miles, or as far as from New York City to Denver. In many directions from this "roof" may be seen villages, cattle, sheep, llamas, and evidences of mining.
The boys made good progress down the coast of tropical South America. They had heard much of Peru, and were surprised to see only a great strip of sand, lying like a desert, between the Pacific and the mountains. Now and then a little stream, fed by the melting snows in the Andes, comes trailing out toward the sea, but it is usually smaller at its mouth than at its source for the reason that the precious water is utilized for irrigation purposes. Wherever there is water crops grow luxuriantly.
Thus far they had not been molested in any way. Indeed, considering the speed with which they had traveled, it would have been difficult for any one to have meddled with their plans. They were therefore in excellent spirits when they landed at Lima, which is the one large city of the country.
Lima, however, is not built on the coast, Callao being the seaport of the metropolis. Lima is a modern city in every way, with, handsome streets, electric lights, and all that any modern city has in the way of amusements.
The Nelson was anchored on the morning of August 14, in a sequestered spot, and the boys, after answering many foolish questions, laid plans to look over the wonderful city. It was necessary to station a strong guard about the machine, for the natives—many of whom spoke the English language fairly well—were overly curious concerning the man-made bird.
In answer to all questions as to their plans, the lads replied that they were seeking the headwaters of the Amazon, and would soon pass over the Andes and drift down into Brazil. This was not far from the actual truth, as it really was the Intention to return home by that route after their mission had been accomplished.
"But the wind is always from the east," was often urged against this plan, as explained by Jimmie, who lingered about the Nelson while the others were at the hotel.
When it was explained to the doubters that the Nelson was capable of making a hundred miles an hour against a stiff breeze, the natives seemed to doubt the veracity of the boys. The Peruvians knew little of airships, and when Jimmie exhibited to them daily newspapers showing how Germany was building a fleet of three hundred airships to use in case of war, they still looked incredulous.
"Look here, fellers," Jimmie explained to them, later in the afternoon of the arrival, as a group of curious ones stood about the roped-in enclosure where the Nelson lay, "I guess you don't know much about the navigation of the air. It used to be risky; now it is no more so than riding on a railroad train."
"You say it well!"
The words were spoken in good English, seemingly in a boy's voice, and Jimmie peered through his audience in order to catch a glimpse of the speaker. Presently, above the heads which surrounded him, the boy saw a hand and arm extended. The palm was out, the thumb and little finger flat and crossed, the three remaining fingers held straight out. The full salute of the Boy Scouts.
"Say, you!" the lad cried out, greatly pleased at finding a Boy Scout there. "Where did you get that?"
"Scouted for it!" was the reply.
"What does it read?"
"Where from?" was the next question.
"Fox Patrol, Chicago."
"You must be pretty foxy," Jimmie laughed, "to get away off here."
The member of the Fox Patrol now made his way through the crowd and extended a hand to Jimmie.
"You don't look as if it paid to be a Fox," laughed the latter.
The boy certainly did look like a tramp. He was a lad of about sixteen, well formed as to figure and attractive as to feature, with bright blue eyes, long, fair hair, and a complexion which would have been perfect only for the grime upon it. He blushed as Jimmie looked him over, and involuntarily turned his eyes down to his ragged clothing and broken shoes.
"Forget that!" Jimmie cried, in a moment. "I didn't mean anything by it. Where you stopping?"
The fact was that Jimmie suspected from the appearance of the lad that he was hungry as well as ragged and dirty. He certainly looked hungry. The boy hesitated before replying, his hands deep in his trousers pockets, his eyes on the ground. Then a whimsical smile came to his face and he looked Jimmie squarely in the face.
"No use of lyin' about it," he said. "I'm stoppin' down here at the Blue Sky Hotel. It's a dandy place to stop at. They never present a board bill."
Jimmie sat back on the rope which was drawn about the Nelson to keep meddlesome ones away from the machine and burst into a roar of laughter. The crowd looked on stupidly, glancing from boy to boy, and then at one another, as if wondering if these Americans always went crazy when they met in a foreign land.
"I know that Blue Sky Hotel," Jimmie said, presently, "though I've never heard it called by that name before. I had a room in one, in Central Park, New York, until a sparrow cop drove me out of it. I liked it because I didn't have to dress for dinner there," he added, whimsically.
"The feed is rather slim," observed the other.
"It's run on the European plan," grinned Jimmie. "You get your sleepins, an' no one cares whether you get your eatin's or not. What's your name?"
"Dougherty—Mike Dougherty, Clark street, south of Van Buren!"
"I guess you must be French," Jimmie grinned.
"You've guessed it. Now, what's your name, and what are you boys doin' here with this old sky-ship?"
"I'll tell you all about it when we get back to the hotel," Jimmie replied. "Do you know any of the gazabos about here? I want some one to watch the ginks who are watchin' the mutts who are watchin' the aeroplane."
Dougherty laughed at this suggestion of a treble surveillance and pointed out a lanky looking individual who was studying the machine closely from the outer side of the roped-circle.
"That's Pedro," he said. "He's all right. About all I've had to eat since I came here he's given me. He's a Peruvian Indian, and in need of money. Give him a dollar, and he'll guard your guards a month, and never leave the machine, night or day."
"Does he talk United States?"
"Oh, just a little."
Pedro talked quite a little United States, as Jimmie called it, and a bargain was soon struck with him. Then the two boys started away together. First they visited a clothing store, where Jimmie looked at the best suits in stock, and measured Dougherty cautiously with his eyes. A full outfit of under and outer clothing provided, they proceeded to the hotel, where Jimmie ushered his new-found friend into a commodious bathroom.
"Remove some of your real estate," the boy said, "an' hop into these new clothes. They ain't very nobby, but the best I could get here."
Mike Dougherty stood looking at Jimmie for a moment as if he could not believe what he heard. It had been a long time since he had been clean and properly clothed. Then there came a suspicious moisture to his keen eyes and he turned away.
"Oh, well," he said, with a tremble in his clear young voice, "mebbe I'll be able to pay you back some day. Just now I'm—"
"Cut it out!" Jimmie replied. "You hain't got anythin' on me. I've been there meself, an' the Boy Scout that helped me out told me to pass it along. That's what I'm doin' now, and there's nothin' more to be said. When you get washed and dressed, come on to No. 4, that's the second room from this tub, on the left of the corridor, an' I'll show you the rest of the bunch."
Jimmie went away to No. 4, where Ned and Sam Leroy were waiting for him. Somehow, it seemed to Ned that Jimmie kept him waiting about half the time when they were in a strange city. The little fellow had a way of wandering off alone and forgetting all about time in his delight at the strange things he saw. When he entered No. 4 he found Ned standing near the door.
"Were you out there before?" Ned asked, pointing to the corridor, as Jimmie stepped inside.
"Just got here," was the reply. "Found a Boy Scout from the Fox Patrol, Chicago, an' brought him along with me. He's washin' some of the Peruvian scenery off his frame, now, an' will soon be along."
Then Jimmie told of his discovery of Mike Dougherty, of his leaving a treble guard around the Nelson, and of numerous other adventures in the city, which, not being in any way connected with this narrative, are not set down here.
"I'm glad you brought this boy Mike here," Ned said, at the conclusion of the story. "We need some one who knows something about Lima to keep us posted."
"About what?" asked Jimmie.
"We're spotted!" Leroy cried out, before Ned could answer the question. "The wireless is swifter than the Nelson!"
"How do you know?" demanded the little fellow. "How do you know we're spotted?"
"Oh, Ned's been doping it out," was the reply. "He'll tell you, I guess."
"You thought you'd take the cream off the sensation!" laughed Ned. "Well, that is the boy of it! All I know about it, Jimmie," he continued, "is that I've been receiving telegrams which simply mean nothing. They are from people I have never heard of, and are most mysteriously worded."
"There's one that tells you to get out of the country," suggested Leroy.
"Yes, but the others seem to infer that the man who sent them is out of his mind. The three received are from Washington, San Francisco, and New Orleans."
"What have the messages to do with our being spotted?" asked Jimmie. "I don't see any connection."
"Stupid!" cried Leroy. "Can't you see the wires were sent to locate Ned? The person who delivered them to him sure wired back that they had been delivered to Ned in person—in other words, that he has reached Lima on his journey to Paraguay."
"I see!" Jimmie said, slowly. "It's clever, eh?"
"Too clever," Ned said. "I don't like the looks of it. It means, of course, that the people who are trying to get the cattle concession away from Mr. Lyman have secret agents here. And that means that everything we do at Lima will be watched and reported."
"Reported to whom?" asked Leroy.
"Probably to this military person, Senor Lopez, who is on the job with both hands out," suggested Jimmie. "Well? What about it?"
"I think," Leroy cut in, "that we'd better be getting out of this. They can't follow us after we get up in the air."
Here a knock came on the door, and Jimmie admitted Mike and presented him to his chums. The boy looked trim and handsome in his new suit, and all took a great liking to him. While they discussed their plans another interruption took place, and then Jimmie saw Pedro at the door, beckoning excitedly to Mike Dougherty. The boy talked with the Indian for a short time, and then turned to Ned, excitement showing in his face.
"He says there's another airship here," Mike said. "Prowling over the mountains."
"They can't follow us in the air, eh?" cried Leroy. "I guess this is going some!"
BLACK BEARS ON THE AMAZON
The handsome club room of the Black Bear Patrol, in the city of New York, was situated on the top floor of the magnificent residence of Attorney Bosworth, one of the leading corporation lawyers in the country. Jack Bosworth, the lawyer's only son, was a member of the Black Bear Patrol, and the club room had been fitted up at his request.
It was in this room that Ned Nestor, Jimmie McGraw, Jack Bosworth, Harry Stevens, and Frank Shaw had planned their motor-boat trip down the Columbia river, as described in the first volume of this series. Jack, Harry and Frank had returned to New York from San Francisco when Ned had decided to accept the Secret Service mission to Paraguay, at the conclusion of the motor-boat vacation on the Columbia, leaving the two boats, the Black Bear and the Wolf, stored at Portland, Oregon.
One evening—the evening of the 1st of August, to be exact—while Ned, Sam, and Jimmie were still in San Francisco, awaiting the slow action of the State department at Washington, Jack, Frank and Harry met in the club room for the purpose of "sobbing together," as they expressed it. They had left their friends in San Francisco reluctantly because of orders from home, and now they understood that they might have gone with Ned and Jimmie if they had only explained to their parents the purpose of the mission.
"I suppose," Frank Shaw said, at the end of a long pause in the conversation, "I suppose Ned and the others are out over the Andes by this time."
"No," replied Jack. "I heard from Jimmie by wire today, and they are still in Frisco, and likely to remain there nearly a week longer."
"If the airship was only large enough!" sighed Harry.
"We might still get there in time!" Frank suggested, eagerly.
"The Nelson wouldn't carry us if we were there," Jack exclaimed, in a disgusted tone. "I wish the Black Bear had wings! Say, wouldn't that be a peach? We could run over to Paraguay and scare the life out of the boys!"
"What good would it do if she had wings?" demanded Frank. "She is in storage at Portland, Oregon."
"No," replied Harry Stevens, whose father, a noted maker of automobiles, had presented the motor-boats to his son, "I ordered the boats sent on here the day after we left the coast. We can take a trip up the Hudson, anyway."
Jack walked thoughtfully around the room for a moment and then turned back to the others, looking moodily out of a window.
"I've got it!" he shouted, slapping Frank on the back.
"I should say you had!" remarked Frank. "What do you take for it?"
"I say I've got an idea!" Jack explained, jumping up and down and swinging his hands over his head. "A peach of an idea!"
"Does it hurt?" asked Harry.
"Oh, cut out that funny stuff!" Jack cried. "When will the two motor-boats be here?"
Harry counted on the fingers of his left hand.
"We've been home two days," he said, "and we were four days getting to Chicago. There we laid over a day, and came on here in twenty hours. We are eight days from the Pacific coast. That right?"
"It seems to be."
"Well, then, it is seven days since I ordered the Black Bear and the Wolf sent on here in a special express car. They ought to be here now."
"Then," shouted Jack, pulling Harry around the room, "we're all right—fit as a brass band at a free lunch! Whoo-pee!"
"It must be hungry," Frank exclaimed, regarding Jack with seeming terror. "Does it ever bite when it puts out these signals of distress?"
"Don't get too funny!" Jack warned.
"Then loosen up on this alleged idea!" Frank replied.
Jack rushed across the room and brought out an atlas of the world, which he dumped on the floor and opened.
"Look here, fellows!" he said, squatting over the map of South America, his chin almost on his knees.
"We're looking," grinned Frank. "What about it?"
"Here we are in New York," Jack went on. "Here they are in San Francisco. Now, they've got to sail to Paraguay, which is just about twice as far from San Francisco as is New York. Anyway, that's the way it looks on the map."
"It is all of that distance," Harry put in.
"Well," Jack continued, "as I said before, here we are in New York, with the mouth of the Amazon river about as far away as San Francisco, perhaps a little farther."
"Well?" demanded Harry.
"I begin to see the point!" Frank admitted. "But will the folks stand for it?"
"Mine will," Harry answered. "Dad didn't make the Black Bear to lie in storage. He'll stand for it, all right."
"So will mine," Frank said, then. "I'll tell him I'll send him a lot of news for his paper."
Frank's father was owner and editor of the Planet, one of the leading morning newspapers in the big city, and it was always a fiction of the boy's that he was going out in the interest of the paper when he wandered off on a trip with the Boy Scouts.
"I'm afraid you can't make that work again," laughed Jack. "Ned says that you sent only four postal cards and six letters back from Panama."
"Well, wasn't that going some?" asked Frank.
"Of course, only Ned says the postal cards carried the correspondence for the Planet, and the letters carried requests for more money!"
"Anyway," Frank insisted, "Dad will stand for it. What is it?"
"Well," Jack went on, "I'm sure my Dad will let me go. He wants me to go about all I can. Says it brightens a fellow to rub up against the rough places of the world."
"There's rough corners enough in South America," laughed Harry.
"Now, let us get down to figures," Jack continued. "We ought to be able to get to the mouth of the Amazon on a fast boat, with the Black Bear and the Wolf on board, in a week or ten days-say ten days. About that time they will be getting into Paraguay. What do you think of it?"
"Fine!" cried Harry.
"The best ever!" Frank responded. "But what then? We can't run up to Paraguay in the Black Bear."
"We can get away up in the Andes," answered Jack, with the map of Brazil before him. "See these crooked little lines? Well, those are rivers. Just see how far we can go in a motor boat."
"But that won't bring us to the aeroplane," Frank objected.
"Yes, it will," Harry answered. "They are coming back by way of the Amazon valley, and we can't miss them. Oh, what's the use? Suppose we begin packing?"
"Well, I don't know exactly what we are to do after we get up the Amazon," Harry laughed, "but I'm game to go. There are head-hunters and cannibals up there, and we may find a little amusement."
"We're going after Ned and Jimmie," Jack explained. "This is a relief expedition! After they get to Paraguay they'll snatch that Lyman person out of the cold, damp dungeon keep he is supposed to be in and then sail off over the Amazon valley. There's where we catch up with them. Do you suppose we can find a ship going to the mouth of the Amazon early in the morning?"
"You certainly are fierce when you get started!" laughed Harry. "Well," he added, "you can't get ready any too soon to please me."
It was two days before the boys found a vessel going their way, and even then Jack insisted that his father bribed the owners to run off their course in order to set the boys and their motorboats down at the mouth of the Amazon river. The boat, however, was a fast one, equal in speed to a modern ocean liner; and in ten days from the time of starting from New York—on the 12th of August—the boys were stemming the current of the great river—more like a shoreless sea there at the mouth than a river!
"Huh!" Frank exclaimed, as they left the island of Joannes to the south, "this is no river! It is a blooming sea!"
"Pretty near three hundred miles wide at the delta, including that big island," Harry said. "It is some river, eh?"
"Four thousand miles long!" Jack contributed. "It is navigable for commercial purposes for 2,200 miles, and our boats can go up clear to the foot of the Andes."
"Boats went there in the days of Columbus," Frank said. "A companion of Columbus first discovered this great delta. The river fertilizes two million square miles of territory, and is the greatest water system in the world."
"Why," Harry observed, desiring to contribute something startling to the discussion of the river, "the current is so strong that it carries fresh water and sand five hundred miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is just a fresh water river in a salt water sea for five hundred miles!"
That night the boys kept the engines of the Black Bear going, one remaining on watch all through the dark hours. They had plenty of gasoline in the tank, and the tender, the Wolf, was carrying a load of fuel which Jack declared would last them until the end of the year!
It may be well to state here that the Black Bear, the Boy Scout motorboat, was a specially constructed vessel, built by Harry's father for river work. The materials were light yet strong, and the boat could easily be taken apart and put together again when occasion required. Between the cross-grained slices of tough wood of which the craft was built were plates of steel, thus rendering the boat virtually bullet proof.
The Black Bear was constructed so that it could be almost entirely thrown open to the sunshine when so desired or closed tightly against cold or rain. The roof could be rolled up in a bundle in the middle like the curtain of a modern desk. The sides were composed of oblong panels which could be inserted in grooved steel uprights when it was desired to close in the interior of the boat. The motors were very powerful.
In fact, it was just such a boat as was needed on the trip the boys had in mind. It had done excellent service on the Columbia, and nothing less could be expected of it on the Amazon. The Wolf, which was merely a tender, was watertight in construction, being shaped like a banana, and was towed by the motor-boat. Here the extra stocks of gasoline, provisions, and ammunition were packed. The interior of the Wolf was about six feet by eighteen in size, while the distance from rounded floor to convex roof was about four feet.
On both sides of the interior were gasoline tanks, which also extended under the floor, lifting the bottom of the interior space three feet. Above the tanks were spaces for provisions and ammunition. The space between the tanks and the lockers was about two feet, and here one might ride in comfort, after getting used to the rolling of the boat. There were tight glass panels of thick plate glass at the ends and the top.
Ventilators and loopholes, controlled by wires from the center, were cut in the ends and protected by sliding covers. Lying in the passageway, one might look out at either end, and shoot out, too, if occasion required. When fully loaded, the Wolf was submerged about half its height. On the top was a staff from which floated an American flag. The boys were very proud of the Wolf, and Jimmie had often declared, on the Columbia river trip, that he would some day take an exciting ride in it.
During their passage up the river the boys were often hailed from passing craft, but they took little heed, as they did not care to lose time gratifying the curiosity of those they met. Indeed, if they had stopped to talk with all who hailed them, they would have made slow progress. Up to about sixty years ago the Amazon was closed to all save Brazilian vessels, but now it is open to the commerce of the world.
There are now vessels coming from and going to all parts of Europe and America from Amazon ports. There are lines of great steamers on the main stream, lines of smaller steamers on the big tributaries, and launches and small craft of all sizes on the affluent branches. Often the passing ships, steamers, launches, etc., almost took the form of a procession on the lower waters.
Everywhere the smaller ships were gathering the products of the great Amazon basin-rubber, cocoanuts, hardwoods, dyewoods, pelts, tropical fruits and other commodities. Every year over three million tons of products come down the great river. The Amazon drains a country as large as the United States east of the Mississippi. Its feeders reach the Andes, draining watersheds within a hundred miles of the Pacific ocean. It has tributaries fifteen hundred miles long.
It did not take the Black Bear very long to pass the green islands near the delta. The river there looks like an ocean. In fact, the main branch of the Amazon is from fifty miles to two hundred miles in width. Some of the tributaries are a hundred miles wide. It is from fifty to two hundred feet deep. The water is always dark colored because of the wash brought down from the uplands. For a long time it did not seem possible to the boys that they were sailing on a river instead of an ocean.
"Ned and the boys must be over Paraguay now," Jack said, one day, after they had been on the river nearly a week without accident or important incident of any kind.
"Yes," Frank replied, "they must be there by this time. Jimmie said they were to leave San Francisco on the 7th, or about that time. It would take a week or more to get to Lima, for they couldn't remain in the air long at a time, and the resting spells would set them back a little. Suppose they got to Lima on the 14th, which was last Monday, they could rest up and go prowling over that dirty little republic—which is not a republic at all, but a despotism tempered by revolution."
"I'd like to know just what course Ned has decided on," Harry said. "I don't see how he's going to get to Mr. Lyman."
"He'll find a way," Jack insisted. "He always has, and he always will."
It will be seen that the boys were tolerably accurate in their estimates of the speed of the Nelson. On the day they were discussing the possible location of the big airship, which was the 18th of August, the Nelson was in the center of as pretty a muss as Ned had ever mixed with.
The boys in the Black Bear put on all speed, traveling nights as well as days, and before long began watching the heavens, for an aeroplane. But the lads on the Nelson were not looking for a boat poking her nose toward the Andes—"a relief expedition," as Jack called it!
A CHASE IN THE NIGHT
Following the excited announcement by Mike that an airship was prowling about over the mountains and Leroy's sudden cry of exultation at the prospect of a struggle for supremacy above the clouds, there was for a moment absolute silence in the hotel room where the boys stood. Finally Pedro entered and closed the door.
Ned walked to a window and looked out. The day was fading, and already the feet of the distant mountains were wrapped in purple twilight. The window faced the north, giving a fair view of the city and the Andes as they strung along in that direction, looking like a chain of bald heads lifting from the obscurity of a fog. The airship was not in sight from where he stood.
Pedro saw what he was looking for and stepped to his side, one hand pointing off to the east.
"Out there!" he said.
"When did you first see it?" asked Leroy, not waiting for Ned to conduct the cross-examination.
The Indian talked with Mike for a moment.
The latter did not seem to understand all that was said to him, but presently he turned to Ned.
"He says he saw it only a minute before he came here," he explained. "He says a lot more that I can't understand. I've been here only a month, and I'm not quick at learning new speech."
"Ask him if he knows whether she landed anywhere near the city," Ned directed.
The Indian did not know. The airship was over the mountains when he first saw it, and that was all he could say about it.
"Do you think we've been followed down here?" asked Jimmie.
"Of course!" Leroy broke in. "What else would an airship be here for just at this time? And if she wasn't sneaking about after us, what would she be hanging up there in the sky for? Why doesn't she come down to town, like we did?"
"It may be that the arrival of this airship just at this time is a coincidence," Ned said, "but it seems to me that there is something significant about it. I have felt all along that we were not yet rid of the rascals who tried to make us trouble at San Francisco."
"Some one must want the cattle concession that Lyman has pretty badly," Leroy ventured. "Well, we'll, have to run away from them, I take it!"
"Then how are we going to find out where this Lyman person is?" demanded Jimmie. "No, Sir!" he went on, rubbing his freckled nose in meditation. "We've just naturally got to bust 'em up!"
The proposition was indeed a serious one. If the airship was really there to take note of the activities of the boys on the Nelson, the situation could hardly be improved by following either line of conduct suggested by the boys.
Nothing could be gained by "running away" from the unwelcome visitor. Nothing was to be gained by following the advice to "bust 'em up." A race would only serve to draw the Nelson away from the point of action, away from the place where Lyman was held in captivity. To "bust 'em up" would be to set all the official rings of Paraguay in operation against the lads, place the Boy Scouts under the ban of the law!
"If we only knew just where to find this Lyman person," Jimmie went on, "we might swoop down an' get him an' give the lobsters a run for their money."
"Perhaps," Ned suggested, "we'd better wait for this new navigator of the air to show us where he is."
"I see him doing it!" cried Leroy.
"You bet he will!" Jimmie cut in. "He'll hang around the point of danger! He'll show us where the man is by standing guard over him! What?"
"That's my idea," Ned replied, "still, he may devote his energies to keeping track of us. One can never tell what an enemy will do."
"Well," Leroy said, "I'm going back to the Nelson. There's a chance of the lobster dropping down and trying to cripple her."
"A very good idea," Ned agreed.
Jimmie and Mike hastened away with Leroy, but Pedro remained at the request of Ned. A plan for meeting the emergency was already forming in the active brain of the Boy Scout, and an important detail depended on information which the Indian might be able to give.
Before opening the question, however, Ned, motioning to the Indian to follow, made his way to the flat roof of the hotel building. There he found several men, smoking, chatting, and watching the airship, now almost directly over the city. In Peru many houses are built with especial reference to providing a lounging place on the roof.
It was growing darker, and the lights of the airship shone brightly against the dimming sky. The aviator was now circling around the city, dropping lower at times, then skimming in spirals to a higher point. While Ned stood watching the machine, realizing that the fellow in charge was no novice in aviation, a gentleman whom he had noticed three times before that day observing him closely advanced and stood by his side. He was a well dressed, clean-shaven man of perhaps thirty, with an intelligent face, a bustling manner, and a suit of clothes which Jimmie would have described as "loud enough to lead a circus parade."
"Evidently an American commercial traveler," Ned thought, as the stranger stood by his side a moment without speaking, his eyes fixed on the airship.
"She goes some, eh?" the stranger observed, presently.
"The aviator seems to know his business," Ned admitted.
"You came in an aeroplane yourself, didn't you?" asked the other.
Ned answered in the affirmative.
"Thought so," the other went on. "Hadn't seen you about the city until this afternoon, and some one said you came in an airship. Where from?"
"New York," Ned replied, half amused at the impertinence of the question.
"Good old town!" the other exclaimed. "Hot old town! I like it. There's something always going on there. I'm from New York myself, but I'm selling goods for a Chicago firm—steam pumps! I've got the best steam pump in seven countries! Came here to sell to a mining company. Nothing doing. What's your name? Mine is Thomas Q. Collins."
"Nestor," Ned replied, shortly.
"And you're out for fun?"
"That's the idea." Ned did not think it necessary to enter into details.
"Hope you get all that's coming to you! Say, will you give me a ride in that machine of yours? I went out to see it today. Looks to me like it could knock the spots off anything of the kind in the world. I don't know anything about airships, but I do know about steam pumps, and also about machinery. I know a good piece of work when I see it. That boat of yours is a peach!"
"It isn't my machine," Ned replied, "but if we remain here over tomorrow I'll see about granting your request."
The two talked for a moment longer, and then Collins left the roof. Later, Ned saw him moving through the street below in the direction of the place where the Nelson had been left. The boy hardly knew what to make of Collins. He might be a steam pump salesman, just as he had described himself, and, again, he might be a spy sent out by Lyman's enemies to discover the plans of the Boy Scouts—even to wreck the Nelson if possible. He decided to, if possible, learn something of the fellow before taking him on board the aeroplane.
After a time the strange airship fluttered away to the north and then Ned and Pedro descended to the former's room. Sitting at the north window, the two could see the lights of the aeroplane dropping downward, and they concluded that the aviator was seeking a resting place for the night.
"He's going to bed in Inca Valley," Pedro said, watching the descending bird. "It is a good place to hide the machine."
The words were spoken in pretty good Spanish, and Ned turned quickly and asked:
"You speak Spanish then?"
The question was asked in Spanish, and the Indian's face brightened.
"Yes," he said, "but I never suspected that you knew the language."
"Only a smattering of it," laughed Ned, "but, still, I think you can understand what I say to you. As I want you to do most of the talking, we may get on very well together."
"What do you want to know?" asked Pedro.
"First, I want you, after we have had our talk, to go out into the city and find out, if you can, all about that aeroplane. I want to know if it has ever been seen here before, if the aviator comes to the city after descending, if he is a stranger here—all about him, in fact."
The Indian bowed.
"Then," Ned went on, "I want you to find out whether the machine is well guarded. I also want to know what kind of a machine it is, and where it came from. If you think it advisable I want you to get into conversation with the aviator and see what kind of a chap he is."
Another bow from the Indian, whose face expressed pleasure at the prospective employment. Ned pondered for a moment, as if not quite certain of his ground, and then asked:
"How, well are you acquainted with the country lying between Lima and Asuncion?"
"Oh," was the astonished reply, "but that is a long, long distance—two, three thousand miles."
"Yes, I know, but have you ever been over the Andes?"
"Oh, yes. I am a guide."
Ned pondered a moment.
"How far east and south?" he asked, then.
"To Lake Titicaca."
"That is on the boundary between Peru and Bolivia?"
"And you know that country—the country around the lake?"
"Very well, indeed."
"It is a long way from Asuncion?"
"It is barely a third of the way. You will see on the map."
"Well," Ned said, after a short silence, "I may as well tell you what I want. I want to be directed to a place in the mountains where I can securely hide our aeroplane. It must be a hiding place absolutely out of sight, especially from the sky. Do you understand?"
The Indian nodded, a knowing smile on his dusky face.
"You mean to hide from the other airship?" he asked.
"There are caverns near Lake Titicaca."
"So I understand. Caverns which defy exploration. But, you see, I must have a hiding place from which the airship can be brought out with speed and returned in the same way."
"To dodge out and in? Yes, I comprehend."
The two dwelt over the maps and plans until; Leroy and Jimmie came romping in to report that all was quiet at the machine, and that Mike was to remain on guard until midnight, when Jimmie was to relieve him. Then Pedro went out in the city to listen to such talk of the strange airship as was floating about the streets. He was back in a couple of hours with the information that the airship had not landed in the city, and that it had never been seen there before.
"It seems to me," Ned said after the Indian ceased speaking, "that now is our time. We ought to be a long way from Lima before dawn."
"The other fellow'll see us!" Leroy objected.
"We'll have to chance that," Ned replied. "We needn't have any lights you know, and the motors make very little noise. Get your traps ready, boys!"
It was arranged that Pedro was to remain, under pay, in Lima, storing up such information as he could secure against the day of the return of the Nelson. Mike was to remain with him, of course, as there would be no room on the Nelson for him. The young man when told of the plans, objected strenuously to being left, but was finally consoled by the promise that the aeroplane would be sent back after him when opportunity offered.
It was after midnight when all the arrangements were made and the boys passed out of their rooms into the hotel lobby. At that hour they thought the driver of the other aeroplane would be likely to be sleeping. At the very door of the hotel they came upon Mr. Thomas Q. Collins! He strolled up as Ned stepped into the doorway and extended his hand. Ned took it, gave it a perfunctory grasp, and attempted to paw on.
"If you don't mind," Collins said, with a persuasive mile, "I'll walk with you if you are going out to your aeroplane. I've been to bed and find that I can't sleep."
"All right," Ned replied, thinking that he would rather have the man with him than on his way to report the departure of the Nelson. "We are just going to look the ship over—perhaps take a little spin. Come along."
"I should like very much to go with you, in case you decide to go sailing tonight," Collins said. "Perhaps you may be able to arrange it?"
"I'm afraid not tonight," Ned replied, wondering just what this new acquaintance was up to. "However," he added, "you may as well come along and look over the ship."
Collins seemed glad of even this slight concession on the part of the boy, and walked along briskly. Presently, however, he began to fall back, talking with Jimmie, who was a few paces behind. Then, before very long, the little fellow missed Collins. He had disappeared in a dark alley. Ned worried over this when informed of the fellow's strange and contradictory conduct. The man might have gone to make report to the other aviator! This was not a pleasant reflection.
Mike was found sitting in front of the Nelson, talking with a native who was trying to learn all about an aeroplane from, a boy who knew nothing about it himself! It took only a short time to make ready for flight, then the Nelson was up and away, making little noise as she cut the air, her great planes flashing in the light of the moon.
"This is pretty poor, I guess!" Leroy exclaimed, glancing over the mighty map of sea and plain and mountain. "How fast do you want to go?"
"At full speed," Ned replied.
"I should say it would be full speed!" Jimmie said, half covering his mouth with his hand, to keep his words from being blown back down his throat. "That is," he added, "if you want to make a sneak!"
Ned turned away to the north and saw the white planes of the strange aeroplane gleaming in the moonlight. She seemed to stand still for an instant, and then sped off to the southeast. Ned sighed with apprehension, but Leroy laughed.
"Come along, you!" he cried, looking back. "If you want a race, come on, and I'll give you the run of your life!"
JIMMIE TAKES A RUN IN THE AIR
The white aeroplane flashed by, going farther to the east, and Ned laid a hand on Leroy's arm as he was about to increase speed.
"Don't hurry," he said, almost screaming the words into the boy's ear.
"I don't want him to beat me!" the driver called back.
"Let him go," Ned commanded. "Play about the scenery a little while, and then we'll go back to Lima."
"Let me catch him!" pleaded Leroy. "Just let me chase around him a couple of times. I want to see him make a sneak when he sees the Nelson in action!"
"Can you do it?" asked Ned.
"Sure I can do it. Just give me a chance. There isn't a machine in the world that can win a race against the Nelson!"
"I'm sure of that," Ned answered, "and I hope that fellow over there won't find it out right away. Let him think he can go by us like we were tied to a cloud, if he wants to. There will come a time when his confidence in his machine will cost him his job!"
Leroy saw that Ned was really in earnest in the expressed wish to deceive the aviator of the rival aeroplane, and also saw that there was good reason for doing so, so he shut off the motors and started to volplane downward.
"No," Ned said, "that's not right. Make him think we're trying to catch him. Give him the impression that we want to overhaul him, but haven't the speed."
"The Nelson will blush red with shame to be bested by a water wagon like that!" Leroy grumbled, but he did as requested.
The white aeroplane's driver appeared to take the bait. He loitered, as if waiting for the Nelson to come up, then circled away from her in great wide swaths. Once he swept around the Nelson, and Leroy almost shed tears of chagrin.
"Just see him!" the boy wailed. "He thinks I've got a dirt cart here! He is putting it all over me! I can go two miles to his one, and yet I'm taking all his guff! Let me get at him! I'll run him down!"
In a short time the stranger, apparently satisfied that he could outfly the Nelson, should he desire to do so, moved off to the south and soon disappeared in the distance.
"Now what?" asked Leroy, half angrily.
"He'll watch for us," Ned replied, "but he won't find us chasing him. Go through some of your flip-flaps and then go back toward Lima. I want to say a few words to that Mr. Thomas Q. Collins."
Half mollified at the thought of getting a little speed out of the Nelson, Leroy drove straight for the zenith. Up, up, up he went, onward toward the stars, shining no brighter for his approach, yet luring him on. All the world below was flooded with moonlight and starlight. The mountains were dim in spots, where higher peaks dominated the light, the Pacific shone in the radiance of the night. The blue dome of heaven rounded away like a precious bowl set with diamonds.
The roofs of Lima drew closer together, apparently, and the whole town looked like a little cluttered point of land. And the mountains and the sea stretched away endlessly, and earth took on the look of a great rug woven with invisible stripes. Up, up, up, until the air became thin and the lungs staggered for breath.
Then the motors were shut off and the ocean and the mountain chains seemed to rise up to meet the aeroplane, sailing at the speed of the, fastest express. Over the water and down until even Jimmie clutched Ned's arm and gave forth an exclamation of alarm. Then a turn of a lever sent the Nelson skimming over Calleo and back toward Lima. Avoiding the vacant space where the Nelson had rested before, Leroy, under Ned's directions, landed on the dry sand some distance away.
"Of course that other chap will find us when he comes back," Ned said, when the boys stood on solid ground again, "but we'll try to make him think we're hanging around Peru just for the fun of it."
"Perhaps he won't come back," suggested Leroy. "Then I'll lose my chance of showing him what the Nelson can do."
"I have an idea that he'll be back by morning," Ned replied.
In this the boy was right, for the white aeroplane showed in a couple of hours, just about dawn, circled around the city, hovered for a moment over the Nelson, and then went off to the north again.
"It is a certainty that she is here to butt into our game!" Jimmie said, as the white planes disappeared. "She'll start when we start, an' stop when we stop, an' there won't be any getting away from her. How does she get into the air so quick after we cut loose? That's what I'd like to know."
"Some system of signals, undoubtedly," Ned answered. "Now," he continued, "we'll cuddle up in our blankets here and sleep as long as the natives will let us. Who'll keep awake?"
Each one wanted to be the one to stand guard, but the point was decided by the appearance of Mike and Pedro, who had watched the maneuvers of the Nelson, had noted her landing place, and hastened forward. Thus relieved of the care of the machine, the three boys hastened to the hotel and were soon sound asleep.
It was noon when Ned awoke, brought out of a deep slumber by an impatient knocking at his door. He was out of bed in an instant and, clad only in his pajamas, opened the door and looked out. Mr. Thomas Q. Collins stood in the corridor with a look of alarm on his face.
"Thought I'd never get you out," he said, stepping, uninvited, into the room and taking a chair. "Thought that you ought to know what's been going on."
Ned had little confidence in Collins. The fellow's strange conduct of the night before naturally made the boy suspicious. After requesting a ride in the Nelson, or, at least, the company of the Boy Scouts to the place where the machine had been left, he had disappeared without a word of explanation.
It seemed to Ned that he had good grounds for the belief that Collins had spied around until he had learned that the aeroplane was going up, and had then communicated the information to the man on the white machine. At least, the strange aviator had shown in the air directly after the disappearance of Collins.
But it was no part of Ned's purpose to permit Collins to see that he was suspected. It was rather his idea to keep on good terms with the fellow and watch him for any evidences of treachery. He therefore greeted him cordially and asked:
"Something interesting going on in the city? We did not return until nearly dawn, and I've been asleep ever since."
"You haven't heard about the attack on our aeroplane, then?" asked Collins, looking Ned over keenly.
The boy tried not to exhibit the least emotion or excitement at the disturbing question. Leaning back in the chair he had taken, he asked:
"The curiosity of the people got the better of their courtesy, eh? I have been afraid of that. Well, I hope the Nelson was not seriously injured."
Thomas Q. Collins had the appearance of one who had expected to unwrap a great sensation and had failed. His face was a study.
"Well, no," he replied. "The fact is, when the rush was made the aeroplane shot up into the air."
"Then one of the boys must have been there," Ned said, calmly, although his heart was beating like a drum.
"The little fellow was there, the one you call Jimmie," was the reply.
"And he went into the air alone?"
"No; at the last minute a Peruvian Indian who has been hanging about the machine ever since you came here went with him."
"Then there is no danger," Ned replied, really feeling relieved at the thought that Jimmie was not alone in the aeroplane. "The lad will bring the Nelson back in good time. Anyway, he is entitled to a little excursion, 'all by his lonely,' as he puts it."
"He can operate the machine?"
"Certainly. He can handle the Nelson easily."
Thomas Q. Collins regarded Ned steadily for a moment, his brusque, salesmanship manner all gone, and then asked:
"'Where are you going from here?"
The fellow was showing his hand at last! Or was this just natural curiosity? At that moment Ned was more interested in discovering something about the attack on the Nelson than in fighting off personal and impertinent questions, so he said:
"We haven't made up our minds as to our future course. By the way, what was the cause of the attack on the aeroplane?"
"Oh," replied Collins, frowning slightly, "there were a lot of people gathered about the ropes, and one of your guards was a little coarse in protecting your property, and there was a blow struck, then the mob rushed the roped-in enclosure. I think there was no one seriously injured."
"I wonder if the other aviator is also having trouble with his machine?" asked Ned, anxious to know what Collins would say about the white aeroplane.
"I don't know about that," Collins replied. "In fact, the other fellow went off to the south soon after the departure of the Nelson."
"Chased Jimmie up, eh?"
"Well, anxious for a race, it seemed to me."
"Has the Nelson returned?" asked Ned, then.
Collins shook his head.
"If you'll excuse me, then," Ned said, presently. "I'll dress and take breakfast and go down to see what's doing."
"Your breakfast will be luncheon, I guess," laughed Collins. "I was on my way to the dining room when I thought of you. If you don't mind I'll wait for you in the lobby. These natives are not very good table companions. I'm sick for the sight of my own countrymen, anyway, and I can't tell you how glad I am to see you here."
Collins went out and closed the door and Ned set about his toilet. He did not know what to make of the alleged steam pump salesman. At times he appeared to be perfectly frank and honest, then there would come to his eyes a look of half-concealed cunning and greed which put the boy on his guard.
However, Ned thought, the correct way to fathom the fellow's intentions would be to remain in his company as much as possible. So the boy bathed and dressed and went down to Collins in the lobby with a cheerful face.
During the meal Collins talked incessantly of the country and his prospects in South America. Ned listened, saying little, even in the short spaces of silence. He was waiting for the fellow to strike some chord which tuned with his actions of the night before. At last it came.
"I'm thinking of going over to Asuncion," he said, when the meal was nearly over. "There are mines over that way, and I may stand a chance of selling a pump. Rotten luck in Peru, and I can't afford to spend all this expense money and not sell a thing. I hear that there are a few Americans over in Paraguay," he added, tentatively, smiling over at Ned.
"I know very little about the country," Ned said, coolly, fearful that Collins would drop that line of conversation, "and I never heard that foreigners of any sort were made welcome in Paraguay. I don't think we'll go out of our way any to visit that hot little republic."
Collins looked disappointed. Ned could see that. In a moment he tried again to bring the subject out, but Ned seemed entirely indifferent.
When the two left the hotel and walked in the direction of the sand lot where the Nelson had been left, the boy was fully satisfied that Collins was in league with his enemies. For all he knew, the fellow might be the very man who was trying to get Lyman's concession away from him. This might be the man who was bribing the crooked military chief to make it impossible for the cattle man to carry out his contract.
"What time did the Nelson leave?" Ned asked, as they drew near a little group of natives standing on the sand lot.
"Not far from nine," was the reply.
"I didn't think Jimmie would be out that early," laughed Ned. "He is a little sleepy head, ordinarily."
Pushing their way into the center of the little crowd, Ned and Collins found Leroy and Mike Dougherty engaged in a heated debate with a police officer who was threatening arrest. Ned stepped back so as not to attract the attention of the boys, and kept his eyes fixed on Collins. In a moment he saw that gentleman give an impatient gesture which seemed to urge the officer on.
Ned thought fast for a moment. He was considering whether or not he had been brought there for the purpose of getting into a row in defense of his chums and being arrested with them. He was heartily glad that the Nelson was out of the way, although he would have been better pleased had he been safe aboard of her.
"These Peruvian officers are too fresh!" Collins said, in a moment. "What do you mean by molesting these boys?" he added, in Spanish, turning to the officer.
"They are charged with assault," the latter replied.
"By whom?" asked Ned, also speaking in Spanish.
"They struck half a dozen citizens," was the indefinite reply. "We must take them to jail."
"I'll give you a bump in the eye if you come near me!" Leroy put in, as he searched the sky eagerly for some sign of the Nelson.
"That wouldn't help matters any," Ned said, speaking in English. "Go along with the officer, and I'll pay your fine."
Collins looked annoyed at this cautious advice. He came nearer to Ned and whispered:
"The courts are slow and uncertain here. It may be weeks before the boys will be restored to liberty if they are locked up. If we could get them away into the mountains until the Nelson returns that would end the whole affair."
"And so you want to get me mixed up in it, too!" thought Ned, as the officer glared at him. "You want to get me on a charge of resisting arrest! When we get out of here, Mr. Thomas Q. Collins, I'll see that you get what's coming to you!"
If Collins could have known what was passing in Ned's mind, could have understood how suspicious the boy was of him, he would not have urged the lads, in English, to cut and run. By doing so he merely confirmed Ned's unfavorable opinion of him. From that moment Ned knew him for what he was, and resolved to get him out of the way in some manner.
Leroy and Mike paid little attention to what Collins said, as a shake of the head from Ned gave them to understand what was passing in his mind. In a moment Ned stepped to the side of the policeman.
"You are all right, officer," he said. "You are only doing your duty. The boys will go with you, and I'll pay their fines."
But, as Ned discovered, it is easier to get into jail in Peru than it is to get out.
NED IS GUILTY OF LARCENY
Night came on and no Nelson showed in the sky. Ned wandered restlessly about the rather handsome city, anxious for the aeroplane as well as for the boys who were in the city prison. Collins was always with him, at first, expressing sympathy and suggesting plans for getting the prisoners out on bail. The complainant in the case, it was claimed by the officers, was too badly injured to appear in court.
Ned grew sick of the constant talking of the fellow at last, and went to his room, saying that he was due for a little sleep. But the boy, as may well be imagined, did not sleep. Instead, he sat by his window watching the sky.
Where had Jimmie gone with the machine? This question was always in his mind. Had he met with an accident and was he lying, crushed from a long fall, in some mountain canyon? Had the pursuing aeroplane overtaken him and destroyed or captured the Nelson?
It was not like the little fellow to disappear so utterly. Even supposing he was afraid to return to Lima, he ought to understand how anxious his friends would be and signal them from the upper air. Surely, Ned reasoned, this would be safe, for the hostile machine could not approach the Nelson in speed, and, after giving a reassuring signal, the boy could disappear in the mountains again.
It was dark now in the room where Ned was, and he sat looking out at the sky in the hope of seeing the welcome lights of the aeroplane. Presently, he saw a flicker of light off to the east. It increased in size rapidly, and Ned knew that it was an airship he saw approaching at wonderful speed, but he had no means of knowing whether it was Jimmie on the Nelson or the hostile aviator.
If it was Jimmie, he thought, there would be a signal directly. He waited eagerly, but no signal showed. Presently the airship drifted off to the north, and Ned saw the glint of moonlight on white planes. It was the hostile ship, sure enough, but why had she abandoned pursuit of the Nelson?
Ned resolved to secure a closer view of the airship, but the next question was how to avoid Collins, who was at that moment pacing to and fro in front of the hotel. The alleged salesman would be apt to accost him as soon as he appeared and insist on going with him.
He had had enough of Collins. He had no doubt that the fellow was in the conspiracy against him. It seemed reasonable that he had been warned by wire of the approach of the Boy Scouts, and had hastened to Lima to intercept them. Ned thought over the situation deliberately, and then a daring smile came to his face.
"I wonder if I can?"
He chuckled as he asked himself the question.
"I wonder if I can?"
He paced his room for a moment, and then continued.
"If he goes with me, there will be less suspicion, provided I am right in my estimate of the fellow. We may be even left alone with the aeroplane! Ah, that would be too good to come true!"
The boy watched the sky to the east from the roof as well as from his window, but there were no signs of the aeroplane which Jimmie had taken away.
"The little rascal knows what he is doing!" Ned told himself, "but I wish he would let me know, too! I reckon I'll take a chance on the plan. I'll try anything once, as the Bowery boys say."
Having settled the vexed question in his own mind, Ned went whistling down the broad stairway and came out in the lobby. Just as he had figured, Collins sat where he could keep an eye on the front entrance. When Ned appeared the fellow arose and stepped over to him.
"There is nothing new, I'm afraid," Collins said. "I've just been over to the police station, and nothing can be done tonight."
Ned thought that Collins must have made pretty good time to get over to the police station and back during the short space of time he had been out of sight, but he did not say so.
"Anything new about the aeroplane?" asked Ned. "I saw the white one come back."
"Perhaps she can give us the information we want about your ship, or, perhaps the aviator can," he added with a laugh.
"Why not go and see?" asked Ned, his heart bounding with hope and excitement as he noted how eagerly Collins took the bait. "Can we get a motor-car here? The machine must be quite a distance away."
"It does look that way," Collins replied, with a yawn, "and we may as well take a car, if we can find one. I hope you don't mind my going with you."
"Why, I wouldn't go alone!" Ned replied, speaking with perfect truth, as Collins discovered later on. "You don't know how glad I am to find you up and ready for a little adventure!"
Collins, in turn, told how pleased he was to be of service, and the two found a motor-car and started off, taking a road which ran along a level strip of land which lay between the sand and the mountains. They had proceeded a couple of miles when a motor-car appeared in sight just ahead of them, traveling toward the city.
Collins arose in his seat and waved his hand frantically.
"I believe that's Sherman!" he cried. "Sherman's here for a rival steam pump firm, but I'll be good to him, especially as there is nothing doing in the way of trade. Hey, there, Sherm!" he shouted as the two cars drew nearer. "Pull up and give an account of yourself!"
Sherman was a dark-faced, black-haired, bewhiskered fellow of perhaps forty. He was dressed in a dark business suit and wore glasses. The two men talked shop for a moment, and then Collins asked:
"Where have you been?"
"Just out for a ride," was the reply.
"You saw the airship come down?"
"Of come, but I'm not interested in airships."
"Then you haven't been out there?"
"Hardly. It doesn't interest me—this aviation craze."
"Then you don't know whether the aviator is out there or not?" continued Collins.
"Why, yes, I do know about that," Sherman replied. "I heard this driver of mine talking Spanish with a shoofer we met, and learned from the mix-up in tongues that the aviator has gone to the city, leaving a couple of natives in charge of the machine."
Ned's heart bounded so fiercely that he feared that Collins would hear its quick beats! The aviator was not there. Only two Peruvians, timid chaps at best! Mr. Thomas Q. Collins might receive his reward for his treachery sooner than he imagined, the boy thought!
"Well, so long!" Collins cried. "We'll see you in the city tonight."
The cars parted, each going its separate way, and Ned and Collins were soon within sight of the white aeroplane, which lay in a valley a short distance from the road. The spot where it lay was well irrigated, and fruits and vegetables were growing all around the rope which had been strung about the machine. The aviator had evidently paid a good price for the privilege of landing there.
A short distance away from the site of the machine was a small house, a tiny affair, with plenty of porches and a flat roof. As the two men left the car and advanced toward the machine a man left the porch and walked in their direction.
"Probably the farmer," Collins said. "We may have to pay for the privilege of looking over the machine."
Much to the amazement of the boy, the man who approached from the porch spoke to the two in English.
"What do you want?" he asked.
Ned waited for Collins to make a reply. If Collins really was in the conspiracy against Lyman, he would probably show his hand within the next few minutes. Just as Ned anticipated Collins gave the other a sly signal before he opened his mouth. Ned was not supposed to see this evidence of a common understanding, but his watchful eyes caught not only that but the answering sign of the other.
"We came up to look over the machine," Collins said.
"Well, you keep away from it," the other replied, fixing his eyes keenly on the face of the boy.
"This lad," Collins said, then, motioning toward Ned, "knows something about an aeroplane, and wants to inspect this one."
A sly wink followed the remark. It was getting rather cheap to Ned. The collusion between the two was so evident that their attempts to conceal it appeared very slazy.
"Yes," Ned put in, "I'd like to look the machine over."
"You came in that other aeroplane?" was asked.
Ned nodded, and Collins broke in:
"He's an expert, but he has no machine just at present. A member of his party took his machine away this morning," he added, with a chuckle.
"So Rowan said," the alleged farmer replied.
"Rowan?" repeated Ned. "Is that the name of the aviator who runs this machine?"
"Yes; he is a New York man. Do you know him?"
Ned replied that he had heard of him, knew him to be a splendid operator, but had never met him.
After some further talk Ned and Collins were given permission to look at the machine, which was called the Vixen. Collins expressed his thanks in elaborate language, but Ned went straight to the Vixen, which was then guarded by a Peruvian Indian. He was weary of the cheap pretense of the other.
"This is a peach of a machine," the alleged farmer explained, following Ned as he walked about the great planes. "See here! No cranking at all! You just get into the seat, which will carry two nicely, and push this button. That releases a spring which whirls the propellers until the spark is made, then off you go."
Ned admired the arrangement fully, as he was expected to do. The Nelson was fitted out in the same way, but he did not say so. Presently the Indian left the circle created by the rope and, going into the shelter of the porch, left Collins and Ned with the alleged farmer, who announced that his name was Yerkes.
Ned thought this action on the part of the Indian was in obedience to a signal from Collins, but could not be too sure of it. Then Collins and Yerkes trailed about after Ned as he wandered around the airship. The boy saw the former remove certain bits of wood which blocked the wheels of the Vixen, also he saw Yerkes, testing the gasoline gauge and looking the carburetor over carefully.
"It is all right," the boy thought. "Two hearts with but a single thought, two souls that beat as one—or the reverse anyway, they are thinking of giving me a ride in this old ice wagon! Pretty soon they'll be asking me to get up on the seat and see how easy it is. Then one of them will slip this harness about me—the harness provided for timid riders—and I'll be off in the air—a prisoner!"
Collins and Yerkes tinkered about the aeroplane for some moments, while Ned seemed to be studying the machine. The boy was anxious for the decisive moment to come.
Finally Yerkes, went back to the porch and stood there in conversation with the Indian for a number of minutes.
When he returned Collins stepped forward toward the seat.
Knowing that the time for action had come, Ned sprang into the driver's seat. Collins looked vexed at the movement, but Ned laughed down at him.
"I won't hurt your old machine," the boy said. "Get up here, so we can see how it rides."
Collins obeyed, first giving Yerkes a significant look which was not lost on the watchful boy.
The harness for the visitor's seat was a peculiar one, as Ned had noted with considerable satisfaction. There were leather cuffs for the wrists and a broad leg band which prevented the guest leaving his seat. The cuffs held the hands close together in the lap, the idea being to prevent a timid person from grasping the arm of the driver in a moment of terror.
"Move on over!" Collins called, as he stepped up, "and I'll see if I can take you out of the valley without breaking your neck. Don't say a word to Yerkes about his race with the Nelson," he added, in a whisper. "He got beaten, and doesn't like to talk about it."
Ned noticed but remained where he was, so Collins reluctantly took the other seat. As he did so Yerkes stepped forward, and the Indian stationed himself at the back of the machine, where he could give it a push down the incline which lay before it, and against which the wheels had been blocked.
As soon as Collins was fairly in the seat, Ned gave the harness a quick snap, and the click of metal told him that the cuffs had closed about Collins' wrists, that the broad strap which held him down was in position. Then he pushed the button and the spark caught. The Vixen moved down the incline.