JACK NORTH'S TREASURE HUNT
Daring Adventures in South America BY ROY ROCKWOOD
Author of "The Rival Ocean Divers," "The Cruise of the Treasure Ship," "A Schoolboy's Pluck," etc.
THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO. CLEVELAND NEW YORK
Made in U.S.A.
Copyright, 1907, by CHATTERTON-PECK COMPANY PRESS OF THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO CLEVELAND
I. A Chance for a Position II. The Test of Strength III. A Long Trip Proposed IV. Just in Time V. On the Island of Robinson Crusoe VI. A Terrible Mistake VII. A Plea of the Enemy VIII. The Lonely Pimento IX. Jack Becomes an Engineer X. A Narrow Escape XI. Under the Head of a Jaguar XII. Put to the Test XIII. Precious Moments XIV. The Attack on the Train XV. The Treasure Island XVI. At the Boiling Lake XVII. In the Nitrate Fields XVIII. An Alarm of Fire XIX. Chilians on Both Sides XX. Preparations for Departure XXI. A Panic on Shipboard XXII. The Fate of Plum Plucky XXIII. Jenny XXIV. Jack and the Ocelot XXV. In the Quicksands XXVI. A Night in the Jungle XXVII. Jack and the Big Snake XXVIII. Back from the Dead XXIX. The Treasure of the Boiling Lake XXX. A Ride for Life—Conclusion
Jack North's Treasure Hunt
A Chance for a Position
"Where are you going, Jack?"
"To the shops of John Fowler & Company."
"To look for a job?"
"Then you are in luck, for I heard this morning that they want another striker in the lower shop at once."
"Then I'll strike for the opening at once, and my name is not Jack North if I don't land it."
"It will be John Slowshanks when you do get it, mind me!" cried out another voice, from an alley-way near at hand, and before Jack North or his companion could recover from their surprise the speaker, a tall, awkward youth of twenty, sped up the street at the top of his speed.
The scene was in Bauton, a large manufacturing city of New England. The first speaker was a workman at the shops that had been mentioned, but beyond the fact that he placed the youth before him in the way of getting work, he needs no special introduction.
The other person was a lad of eighteen, with brown, curly hair, blue eyes, and a round, robust figure. His name was John North, and he was the son of a couple in humble circumstances.
"Take care!" cried the man, "that sneak will get in ahead of you, and then a snap of your little finger for your chance of getting the job at Fowler's."
Jack North did not stop to hear his friend through. He was very much in need of a situation, and he knew the young man who had rushed in ahead of him as a bitter enemy. That fact, coupled with his desire to get work, caused him to dash up the street as fast as he could run.
Naturally the appearance of the two running at such a headlong pace aroused the attention of the passers-by, all of whom stopped to see what it meant. Others rushed out of their houses, offices or workshops to ascertain the meaning of the race, until the street was lined with excited, anxious men, women and children.
"Is it fire?" asked an old, gray-headed man, and another, catching only the sound of the last word, repeated it and thus a wild alarm was quickly spread.
Meanwhile Jack North had found that he could not overtake his rival. He was not a fleet runner, while the other had gotten a start of him, which he could not hope to make up.
But he was too fertile in his resources to despair. In fact he was never known to give up a contest which he had once fairly entered. This persistence in whatever he undertook was the secret of Jack North's wonderful success amid environments which must have discouraged less courageous hearts.
Still it looked to his enemy, as the latter glanced back to see him leisurely turn into a side street leading away from their destination, that he had nothing further to fear from him.
"Thought you would be glad to give in," cried out the delighted seeker of the situation at the engine shops, and believing that he had nothing further to fear, the awkward youth slackened his gait to a walk.
Though Jack turned into the alley at a moderate pace, as soon as he had gone a short distance, he started again into a smart run.
"I shall have farther to go," he thought, "but Fret Offut will think I have given up, and thus he will let me get in ahead of him."
This seemed the truth, when, at last, Jack came in sight of the low-walled and scattering buildings belonging to John Fowler & Co., engine builders.
Fret Offut was nowhere in sight, as Jack entered the dark, dingy office at the lower end of the buildings.
A small sized man, with mutton chop side whiskers, engaged in overhauling a pile of musty papers, looked up at the entrance of our hero.
"Want a job as striker, eh?" he asked, as Jack stated his errand. "I believe Henshaw does want another man. I will call him. What is your name?"
"Alfret Offut, sir. It's me that wants the job, and it's me it belongs to."
It was Jack North's enemy who spoke, as he paused on the threshold panting for breath, while glaring at our hero with a baleful look.
"How come you here?" he demanded of Jack, a second later.
"My feet brought me here, and with less slowness than yours, judging by your appearance," replied young North.
With the arrival of the second person on the scene, the clerk had turned away to find Henshaw, and while he was gone the rival youths stood glaring upon each other.
After a short time a big, red-faced, soot-be-grimed man appeared, saying as he reached them:
"If Offut will come this way I will talk with him."
"Henshaw," said the clerk simply, returning to his work, leaving the newcomer to attend to the visitors as he thought best.
"Ha—ha!" laughed young Offut, softly, as he followed the foreman, "where are you now, Jack North?"
Though Jack gave slight token of his feelings, he was more vexed at this usurpation of his rights than he cared to show. He lost no time in starting after the others in the direction of the shop. "I'm going on twenty-one," Offut said, as they stopped at the door, "and there ain't a chap as can outlift me."
"Beg your pardon, Mr. Henshaw," said Jack, brushing up, "but it's I who am after the job and to whom it belongs. Mr. Jacobs—"
"Is your name Alfret Offut?" interrupted the other youth sharply in the midst of Jack's speech. "I reckon Henshaw knows who he is talking to." "It was me Mr. Jacobs recommended the place to, and you are trying to steal it from me," cried Jack. "You are telling a likely story, Jack North, and if you say another word I'll hit you. Henshaw called for me, and it's me he's going to give work."
Mr. Henshaw, who for the first time seemed to realize the situation, looked surprised, as he gazed from one to the other.
Disliking to raise a fuss Jack remained silent at first, but he felt bound to say:
"I was first at the office, and I claim—" "You'd claim the earth, as far as that is concerned, you miserable chick of nobody!" broke in Offut.
The last was more than Jack could stand, and stepping quickly forward, he cried: "Stop, Fret Offut! you have said enough. I don't want any quarrel with you, but I am as good as you."
"Are yer?" demanded the fiery Offut, whose greatest delight seemed to be in provoking a quarrel. "I can lick you out of your boots, and I will do it before I will let you get in here." By this time Mr. Henshaw, a rather rough man, as slow as he was of comprehension, was interested in the dispute, and not averse to encouraging sport of the kind, he said:
"That's it, boys; fight it out. I'll hire the lad that downs the other."
"Then the job is as good as mine!" cried Fret Offut, rushing at Jack with great bluster and no regard to fairness.
The Test of Strength
If taken unawares, Jack North did not allow his enemy to get very much the advantage of him. As the other rushed forward, expecting to overpower him by sheer force, he met him squarely in a hand-to-hand struggle for the mastery.
Mr. Henshaw seemed delighted, and he cried out:
"Limber up, lads, limber up! A job to him that comes out on top! Hi, there!"
Sundry other exclamations came from the excited foreman at every change of the situation, while several spectators, attracted to the place by the out-cries, gathered about the young contestants, lending their voices to the confusing sounds of the scene.
While Fret Offut was taller and larger than Jack North, he lacked the latter's firm-set muscles, and what was of even greater account, his unflinching determination to win. Our hero never knew what it was to possess a faint heart, and that is more than half the battle every time.
Thus when young Offut crowded him back against the wall of the building, and every one present felt sure he must be overpowered, Jack set his lips more firmly together and renewed his resistance with redoubled effort.
Then, as he struck his foot against a piece of scrap iron and reeled backward in spite of all he could, his friends groaned, while Fret Offut cried, exultantly:
"Ho, my fine cub, down you go this time! Henshaw—"
But Mr. Henshaw never knew what was to be said to him, neither did the young bully ever realize fully just what followed.
Jack, concentrating all the strength he possessed, rallied. He threw out his right foot in such a way as to catch his antagonist behind his left knee, when the latter suddenly found himself sinking. At the same time the grasp on his collar tightened, while with almost superhuman power he was flung backward. With such force did Jack handle his adversary that he sent him flying several yards away, where he fell in a pool of dark, slimy water.
The spectators cheered heartily, while Mr. Henshaw clapped his grimy hands and shouted at the top of his voice:
"Well done, my hearty! That's a handsome trick and well worth a job."
Fret Offut arose from his unwelcome bath, dripping from head to foot with the nasty mess, presenting a most unprepossessing appearance.
The foreman was turning back into the shop, followed by Jack, and the crowd was rapidly dispersing.
"Hold on!" he bawled, "that wasn't fair. I tripped—stop, Henshaw! don't let my job go to that miserable thief."
Getting no reply to his foolish speech, Offut followed the others into the shop. His appearance being so ridiculous he was greeted with cries of derision from the workmen, which only made him the more angry and belligerent.
"I'll get even with you for this, Jack North!" he cried, "if I follow you to the end! My father always said your family was the meanest on earth, and now I know it is so. But you shall hear from me again."
With these bitter words the defeated youth, who really had no one to blame but himself for his ill-feeling, disappeared, though it was not to be long before he was to reappear in the stirring life of Jack North, and bring him such troubles as he could not have foreseen.
It proved that Mr. Henshaw was anxious for another workman, and after asking Jack a few questions, told the lad he might begin his task at once.
The pay was small, less than five dollars a week, but Jack did not let that cause him to refuse the opportunity. He needed the money, for his folks were in poor circumstances, and he went about his work with a stout heart.
He quickly proved an adept workman, observing, rapid to learn and always diligent, so much so that the foreman took a strong liking to him.
Several days passed and it became evident to Jack that if he had left one enemy outside the shop, he had another within, who was ready to improve every opportunity to trouble him. This was a small, thinfaced man who worked with him, and whose name was Mires. Besides being physically unable to carry an even end with him, this workman was prone to shirk every part of his work that he could, this portion falling largely on Jack to do in addition to his own.
Jack paid no heed to this, however, but kept about his work as if everything was all right, until a little incident occurred which completely changed the aspect of affairs.
Unknown to our hero, there had been a practice of long standing among the workmen of "testing" every new hand that came in, by playing what was believed to be a smart trick upon him. The joke consisted in sending the new hand in company with a fellow workman to bring from a distant part of the shop a pair of wheels, one of which was of iron and weighed over four hundred pounds, while its mate was made of wood and finished off to look exactly like its companion. The workman in the secret always looked out and got hold of the wooden wheel, which he could carry off with ease, while his duped associate would struggle over the other to the unbounded amusement of the lookers-on.
It heightened the effect by selecting a small, weak man to help in the deception, and Henshaw, liking this joke no less than his men, on the third day of Jack's apprenticeship, said:
"North, you and Mires bring along them wheels at the lower end. Don't be all day about it either," speaking with unusual sharpness.
In a moment every one present was watching the scene, beginning to smile as they saw Mires start with suspicious alacrity toward the wheels. Some of the men, in order to get as good a view as possible of the expected exhibition, stationed themselves near at hand, having hard work to suppress their merriment in advance.
"Purty stout, air ye?" asked Mires, as he and Jack stood by the wheels.
"I never boasted of my strength," replied Jack, beginning to wonder why so much interest was being manifested over so slight a matter. His surprise was increased at that moment by discovering Fret Offut among the spectators, his big mouth reaching almost from ear to ear with an idiotic grin.
"Come to see the fun!" declared the latter, finding that he had been seen by Jack.
"I'll take this one," said Mires, stooping over the nearest wheel which was half buried in dust and dirt.
Then, without any apparent effort, the small sized workman raised the wheel to his shoulder and walked back from the direction whence they had come.
"Now see the big gawk lift his!" exclaimed Fret Offut, who had somehow been let into the secret. Still ignorant of the deception being played upon him, Jack North bent over to lift the remaining wheel.
A Long Trip Proposed
Having seen Mires carry off the other wheel with comparative ease, Jack naturally expected to lift the remaining one without trouble.
His amazement may be therefore understood when, at his first effort, he failed to move it an inch from the floor.
It lay there as solid as if bound down!
His failure was the signal for Fret Offut to break out into a loud laugh, which was instantly caught up by the workmen, until the whole building rang with the merriment.
"Baby!" some one cried. "See Mires carry his. North ain't got the strength of a mouse!"
By that time Mires had reached the opposite end of the shop, and was putting down his burden to turn and join in the outbursts over the discomfiture of his young companion.
Jack had now awakened to the realization that he had been the easy victim of a scheme to cast ridicule upon him.
Mires could never have carried away this wheel. The thought of the trick which had been played upon him aroused all the latent energy he possessed. He did not believe the wheel could weigh five hundred pounds, and if it did not he would lift it, as he believed he could.
Thus, with the shouts and laughter of the spectators ringing in his ears, Jack stooped for a second attempt to accomplish what no one else had ever been able to do.
"I'll grunt for you!" called Offut in derision. "Spit on your hands!" said a workman. Jack compressed his lips for a mighty effort, and his hands closed on the rim of the wheel, while he concentrated every atom of strength he had for the herculean task.
The cries of the onlookers suddenly stopped as they saw, to their amazement, the ponderous object rise from the floor, slowly but surely, until the young workman held it abreast of him. Not a sound broke the deathlike stillness, save for the crunching of his own footsteps, as Jack North walked across the shop and dropped his burden upon the wheel Mires had placed there.
A loud crash succeeded, the heavy iron wheel having broken the imitation into kindling wood and smashed into the floor.
The cries of derision were supplemented by loud calls of admiration, which rang through and through the old building until a perfect din prevailed.
Fret Offut waited to see no more, but stole away unobserved by the stalwart iron workers, who crowded around their victorious companion with hearty congratulations. Jack had won the friendship of nearly all by his feat, while Henshaw at once boasted of the act.
Mires, fancying that the laugh had been turned upon him, and he was about right, allowed all of the bitterness of his sullen nature to be turned against the young apprentice. In his wicked heart he vowed he would humiliate Jack in the eyes of his admirers in some way and at some time. But no opportunity came for him, as month after month passed.
Jack showed a wonderfully industrious nature, and he never seemed idle. When not at work he was studying some part of the ponderous machinery about him, as if anxious to learn all there was to be known about it. The knowledge he thus obtained was to be of inestimable value to him in the scenes to come.
This trait of his pleased Henshaw, who, if a rough man, was honest in his intentions, and he caused Jack's wages to be raised to seven dollars a week. This was done in opposition to his assistant, who had taken a strange dislike to him. His reasons for this will become apparent as we proceed. About that time Jack was surprised to find that Fret Offut had found employment in the building, though it was more as a helper than as a regular workman, his chief task being to wheel the scraps of iron and waste material away and to wait upon the boss of the big steam hammer.
He did not offer to speak to Jack, but the latter soon saw him holding whispered conversations with Mires and the second boss, Furniss, when he felt certain by their looks and motions that he was the subject of their remarks. Once he overheard Offut tell a companion:
"I sha'n't wheel scrap iron always and Jack North won't be boss, either."
Jack had been at the engine works about six months, when he accidentally learned that the company were planning to ship one of their machines to South America, and that they were looking about for a suitable person to send with it, to help unload it properly and set it up. A few days later, as he was leaving the shop to go home, Henshaw came to him, saying:
"Let me put a flea in your ear, Jack. John Fowler has got his eye on you for the one to go to South America."
Scarcely any other announcement could have brought greater joy to Jack, for he had a great desire to travel, and this long journey would take him away from home for many months, he felt it would be a grand opportunity. But he knew that Furniss had been working for the place, and he could not realize that such good fortune was to fall to him, so he said to Henshaw:
"I thought that Furniss was sure of the chance. I heard him say as much only yesterday." "A fig for Furniss! Old John had a long talk with me this morning, and I told him you were just the chap for the place, young and capable. He nodded his head and I could see that you were as good as taken. Of course we shall miss you, but it's a trip a youngster like you can't afford to miss."
"I should like to go, Mr. Henshaw, and I thank you for your kind words."
"Don't cost nothing," returned the bluff foreman, as he started homeward.
Jack was too happy over his prospects to mind the baleful looks of Furniss the next day, or to hear the jibes of Fret Offut. Could he have foreseen the startling result he must have been bound with dismay.
The following Monday, when the day's work was done and he was leaving the shop, Mr. Henshaw came along, and slapping him on the shoulder, said: "Let me congratulate you, my lad. It is just as I said; you are going to South America,—if you will."
"It seems too good to be true, Mr. Henshaw." "It's the blessed truth and I know it I don't blame you for feeling well over such an appointment, for it is something any of us might be glad of. But you deserve it."
The appearance of Furniss checked Jack's reply. He could see the other understood that he had lost. He had another proof of the fact before he got home from Fret Offut, who said:
"Feel mighty stuck up, don't yer? But let me tell yer,'twon't do any good."
This was the first time he had spoken to Jack since he had begun work in the shops, and our hero made no reply.
The following day, as he was about to leave the shop at the close of his work, Jack was accosted by Furniss, who asked him to assist him a moment at the big hammer.
Jack started at once to his help, noticing that the building was completely deserted at the time, except for the second boss and himself; even Henshaw, who generally stayed until after the workmen had left, was gone.
His surprise may be imagined then when he saw Fret Offut step from behind a huge boiler as he approached. Still he did not dream of any sinister purpose in the minds of the two, and he was about to stoop to lift a piece of iron at the request of Furniss, when he discovered a bar of iron so suspended over his head from the cross timber that a slight movement on his part was sure to bring it down upon his head.
No sooner had he seen his precarious situation than he started back, when Fret Offut flung a heavy slug at his feet. The effect was startling, for the concussion on the floor sent the menacing bar overhead downward with fearful force.
Jack succeeded in dodging the blow so far that he escaped the full weight of the falling iron, which struck the floor endwise with a heavy thud. But before he could get beyond its reach the massive bar tipped over, falling in such way as to strike him in the side of the head, and felling him senseless to the floor.
In a moment Furniss and Offut were bending over him with anxious looks on their grimy countenances.
"Is he killed?" asked the younger of the twain.
Jack answered the question himself by opening his eyes, though he was still too bewildered to attempt to rise.
"What did you do that for?" he demanded.
"Do what?" questioned Fret Offut. "You know well enough. You fixed that bar so it would hit me."
"Hear the boy talk!" came from Furniss. "It is true. If I get the chance—"
"Stop, you shan't get us into trouble," yelled the man, in a rage.
"Not much," put in Offut. "Let's teach him a lesson he won't forget!"
"So we will," answered Furniss; and both started forward to attack Jack.
Just in Time
Though still somewhat dazed by the blow on his head, Jack realized that the unprincipled twain in their desperation would stop short of no crime in order to carry out their purpose.
Thus Furniss had barely laid his hand on him before he was on his feet ready to fight for his life if necessary.
Flinging aside the second boss, he turned to meet the assault of Fret Offut, whom he caught by the collar and flung headlong upon a pile of scrap iron and ashes still warm from the furnace.
Shrieking with pain the big youth scrambled to his feet and began to dance around as if he had a coal of fire in the heel of his shoe.
Furniss rallied to grapple anew with Jack, but though a strong man he found his match. Used to hard work all of his life, Jack's sinews seemed like bands of steel and there was no breaking from his grasp.
"Help, Offut—quick!" cried Furniss, as his head was jabbed into the midst of a box of coal. "He—he'll kill me!" spluttered the discomfited man.
But Fret Offut failed for good reasons to heed the supplications of his friend.
The next instant Furniss managed to get a hold on Jack which enabled him to throw him upon the floor.
"Go to South America, will you?" cried the exultant Furniss. "Let that settle it," and he aimed a furious blow at his victim's head.
But Jack was too nimble to remain still and receive whatever attack the other might rain upon him, and when Furniss' fist descended it missed its mark, to strike plump upon the sharp edge of a bar of iron, peeling the skin on its back from knuckle to wrist.
At the same time Jack turned his adversary and, clearing him, vaulted to his feet, carrying the other backwards by the impetuous movement and sending him headfirst into a bucket of water.
Before he could rise Jack had caught him by the throat with one hand, and he immediately began to "churn" the other's head up and down in the black water, while the discomfited wretch, trying in vain to break away, exclaimed in gasps:
"Help—don't—you'll kill me! I—Of—ut—h-e-l-p—murder!"
"Will you promise to let me alone after this?" demanded Jack, giving his victim another plunge in the bucket.
"Yes. Let me go or I'll tell Fowler. Oh—oh!"
"Tell Fowler, will you?"
"No—no! Let me go!"
"You promise it?"
"Yes," spluttered the man as soon as he could speak.
"I think that will be enough this time." declared the triumphant Jack. "If I could get my hands on you, Fret Offut, I would give you a dose of the same medicine."
"I ain't done nothing!" cried the terrified youth. "Don't you dare to touch me!" and by that time he had reached the door, to disappear an instant later.
Feeling that he had nothing more to fear from his enemies, Jack left the shop to go to his home, his mind soon occupied with thoughts of his South American voyage rather than with the more unpleasant memory of his recent trouble with young Offut and Furniss.
Before going direct to his home to tell the news there, Jack sought another home that he might first break the account of his good fortune to one whose fair countenance had been in his mind's eye all the afternoon.
He knew the hardest part of his starting on his long voyage would be in tearing himself away from a certain blue-eyed damsel named Jenny Moodhead.
At her home he was met by the girl's mother, who, in answer to his inquiries for Jenny, said:
"Jane is not here, and I do not see why you have not met her, as she said she was going to see you as you came from the shops. I am afraid something has happened to her."
Without further loss of time, Jack started to retrace the way to the engine shops, though going by a different course from that which he had come.
He had got about half way there, and was passing near an old ruined mill, which stood more than half over the river, when he was startled by the sound of a voice, which was too familiar for him not to recognize.
"Don't you dare come any nearer, Fret Offut! Stand back, or the worst will be your own!"
It was Jenny speaking, and as Jack dashed down to the side of the old mill he discovered her at the further extremity of the ruins defiantly facing young Offut, who was kept from approaching any nearer to her by a club she held in her hands, uplifted over her head.
Between the two was a gulf of dark waters a dozen feet or more in width, but spanned by a plank over which the girl had evidently passed in reaching her place of retreat.
"I'll take up the plank so you can't come back!" declared young Offut. "You see if you do not answer me in a becoming manner I can—"
Fret Offut did not have the opportunity to finish his sentence before a stout hand was laid on his shoulder and he was plunged headfirst into the river. "Get out the best you can!" cried Jack North.
He turned to the girl. "Has he dared so much as to lay a ringer on you, Jenny?"
"Oh, Jack! I am so glad to see you! No, he had not touched me, though I don't know what he might have done if you had not come. You won't let him drown?"
"It would serve him about right, if I did. But he will take care of himself. See, he is crawling out below the mill. Come with me, Jenny, for I have important news to tell you. I am going to South America!"
"To South America! Oh, Jack, why?"
"The firm want me to go, and they will pay me well for my services. I am to look after some machinery that is to be shipped."
"But you will come back?" questioned Jenny, anxiously.
"Sure, as soon as my task is done. But now tell me about Fret Offut."
"Oh, there is not much to tell. He—he wanted to be sweet on me and—and I wouldn't have it. That made him angry, and he followed me to this place, and—you saw the rest."
"I hope he won't bother you again."
"I don't think he will," said Jenny. "Anyway, I'll keep my eyes open for him."
After that Jack spent a pleasant hour in the company of the girl who was his dearest friend, and then went home to prepare for his trip of so many thousand miles.
His parents already knew something about the proposed journey, so they were not much surprised. They had seen Mr. Fowler and talked it over with the manufacturer. Mrs. North did what she could to get Jack's outfit ready for him.
"I'll be glad to leave such fellows as Fret Offut behind," said Jack, to his father.
"Fret Offut is a bully and a fool," said Mr. North, who was a blunt-spoken man. "He will never get along in life."
Jack had spoken without knowing the truth. He was not to get rid of Fret Offut just yet, as we shall soon see.
On the Island of Robinson Crusoe
Ho! for South America!
Bravely did the good steamer Standish keep on her long, and, at times, stormy voyage to the far distant shore of Western South America. She escaped the severest storms of the Northern Atlantic, Grossed the equatorial line in fine shape, and stemmed the farious wrath of Cape Horn in safety. But every one on board felt freer and in better spirits, when at last they entered the Pacific regions where storms are of rare occurrence.
The steamer's destination was Valparaiso, Chili, and the commander talked of getting into port shortly.
Among those looking most hopefully forward to the termination of the voyage was our hero, who had been sent by his employers on the responsible errand of seeing that one of their engines was properly delivered and put into good running order. He fondly believed it was the great opportunity of his life.
He was never more surprised than he was upon finding at the last moment that Fret Offut had been delegated to accompany him as helper.
At first he could not believe it; but there the awkward youth was, and that he was sent for that purpose was plainly indicated by the order from John Fowler & Co.
To his still greater surprise, the other seemed to have forgotten or overlooked their differences, and he greeted Jack with all the warmth of an old friend.
"If he can afford to be friendly I can," thought Jack, who was not a person to cherish long any bitterness of feeling against another, and he resolved to treat Fret as well as possible.
This, coupled with that bond of sympathy for an associate one is sure to have on leaving those dear to him far behind, made the two seem somewhat like friends.
Had Jack known the truth, known the frequent and long conversations his deceitful companion had held with the plotting Furniss, and how the latter had worked to get Offut sent on this voyage with him, our hero would have felt different toward the other. The second boss's parting words had been: "Remember you owe this opportunity to me, Fret Offut, who might have gone but for my willingness to let you. Don't forget either that if, for any reason, North does not get to Valparaiso you will step into his place, and gain the honor he is anxious to get."
This was spoken with such signs and indications as only one in the secret could understand, and young Offut nodded knowingly, as much as to say:
"I understand perfectly, and will not fail in my part to gain our ends."
It may have been that the looked-for opportunity did not come, as he had expected, or that his courage failed him in his cowardly purpose, for no harm befel Jack until on the evening before the day, which, if nothing unfavorable occurred, the commander had promised would bring them within sight of land. Jack stood by the quarter-rail a long time watching the sun sink into the distant water, and then the silent coming of the stars into the firmament overhead.
It was a beautiful evening, though fleecy clouds were beginning to fringe the horizon, and he was certain the whole sky would be obscured soon.
But his mind was more engrossed with thoughts of his parents and Jenny at home than with the calm grandeur of a tropical sea, and he was wondering how many months must pass before he should be able to meet her, when the sound of a cat-like step behind him arrested his attention.
Thinking of no harm, he turned slowly to greet the one approaching, to find himself confronted by the tall figure of Fret Offut.
A look of wild fierceness was on the other's features, and before Jack could speak his arms were uplifted, swinging overhead a belaying pin.
Reading at a glance Offut's horrible purpose, Jack attempted to seize his upraised hands, but he had barely made a move before the weapon descended upon him!
With an indistinct recollection of a dull sense of pain in his head, Jack knew no more until he was brought back to consciousness by the feeling of water around him and it slowly dawned upon him that he had been sent overboard from the ship into the sea by the blow from Fret Offut.
It was too dark for him to see any distance, so he listened for some sound of the steamer.
Once he thought he caught the regular swish, swish of the big wheel; but he must have been mistaken, for after a moment he realized that the Standish was not within hearing.
He had begun to shout for help, and this shouting he kept up until he was hoarse, and he felt that it would be better to save all of his strength in the great battle for life ahead.
No one, who has not been there, can know the utter hoplessness of being castaway upon the great, boundless ocean with not even a plank to keep him from a watery grave.
Jack North was brave and sanguine, but for a time he felt that it was useless for him to try and keep up. Then the thought of home and loved ones, with all the bright dreams and hopes of life, gave him the resolution to fight for victory over defeat until the very last. He had heard of sailors who had been cast away, and who had managed to keep afloat a whole night and day. Might not he keep from drowning until morning?
At any rate he would not give up while he had the strength to struggle against fate.
Buoyed up with hopes which he knew were groundless, he swam on and on through the dark expanse of waters girdling him.
When he had gone as far as he deemed prudent he would turn upon his back and thus float upon the bosom of the great deep, borne by its ceaseless tide he knew not whither.
Perhaps he was being carried further and further out to sea, or it might be he was slowly approaching the shore of the southern continent.
That was the longest, most gloomy night Jack North ever knew. He saw nor heard nothing of the steamer during the long hours of darkness and desolation.
With the first faint streak of daylight he scanned the surrounding sea with anxious, eager gaze. But whither he would look, north, south, east or west, not an object broke the monotony of the view.
He felt that he was hopelessly lost, and he wondered in his despair if his true fate would be known.
As it grew lighter he continued to watch the sea for some welcome sight, until he saw, away on his left, a dark rim on the horizon. Was it a cloud or—land?
He dared not hope it was the latter at first, but as it grew plainer he felt a thrill of joy pass through his worn-out frame.
"Land!" he cried, coming near drowning in the exuberance of his new-found discovery.
Even after he had seen land it seemed he was doomed to disappointment.
It did not appear that he had strength to reach it. Still the prospect ahead served to give power to his weary limbs and a new lease of endurance to his overworked body.
As he swam nearer he saw that great pointed peaks pierced the sky wherever he looked, while abrupt walls of rock rose from the water's edge to the height of many hundred feet.
These he realized could not be scaled by him, and as he gazed on the gray, moss-covered rocks dripping with the spray of the ocean that continually beat against their rugged sides, hopelessness again came near overpowering him.
Above the granite front of this lonely island, as he believed it to be, he could see stupendous ridges of reddish earth rise in countless numbers and always running back toward the centre, with here and there green pastures of grass, but he looked in vain for a break in the adamantine barrier which made this ocean-bound realm unapproachable.
In his despair he was nearly overjoyed to suddenly see a boat, with two men in it, come around an angle of the rock-bound shore.
He shouted as loudly as he could in his exhausted state for help, and then gave up the battle, and sank.
But strong arms were near, and the boatmen, hearing his cries, rowed rapidly to his assistance and picked him up as he was going down for the last time.
When Jack recovered consciousness he found himself lying on a rude couch, with a friendly face looking into his and his hand held by the same person.
"Well, here you are," said the man. "I had about given up looking for you to come out of it. You must have had a long, hard pull against the sea."
"Where am I?" asked Jack. "Who are you?"
"You are on the island of Robinson Crusoe. As to myself, I am an American by the name of William Pearce. Before I shall ask you even your name I shall advise you to keep quiet and go to sleep if you can. You are among friends."
Jack was fain to follow this well-meant advice, and a few minutes later he was sound asleep.
It was nearly night before he awoke, and even then his friend would not allow him to leave his couch.
"Here is a dish of goat's milk and I will soon have some warm oat porridge."
Jack felt stronger when he had partaken of the simple food offered him, but he was still too weak to move about very much, and in less than five minutes he was again asleep.
He did not awake until the following morning this time, when he found himself in pretty good condition.
His host being absent at the time, he had an opportunity to examine his surroundings. He found himself in a small hut built of the straw of wild oats, interwoven with long, slender sticks, while the roof was treated in the same way. Only a few rather primitive utensils of cooking and living were to be seen, and he was wondering what sort of a hermit he had fallen in with when the man entered.
He was past middle life, with a sunburned, bearded and honest countenance.
Upon seeing that Jack had awakened, his looks instantly brightened and he spoke cheerily:
"Glad to see you looking so well. You will be all right in a day or two."
"Is it possible that I am on the island where Robinson Crusoe spent his lonely years?"
"It is so."
"I can hardly believe it."
"Nevertheless it is a fact."
"If I ever get away from it I will read the story all over again."
The man laughed.
"But do you live here alone?"
"Oh, no; there are six Chilian families here with me. But you are beating me at asking questions, for you have learned all there is to be learned of me, while I cannot name you from any descendant of old Adam."
Without further delay Jack told his companion the story of his adventures.
A Terrible Mistake
Jack found Robinson Crusoe's island a pleasanter place than he had expected. Among the ridges were many pretty valleys which were covered with patches of woods or grass. Everything bore a peculiar hue of green, from the groves of myrtle, pimento and corkwood to the grassy plots, the natural fields of oats and even to the moss-covered rocks of the spinelike mountains.
The coast, as far as he could see, overhung the sea or rose perpendicular to such a height as to make it inaccessible, except at one place where a rent in the wall allowed man to enter the almost sacred domain.
The rude, picturesque huts of Mr. Pearce and his associates stood in a romantic valley, where the American told him had stood the "castle" of the Crusoe inhabitant of the island, Alexander Selkirk, whose strange story has been read the wide world over.
Jack had been at the island nearly a week, and he was looking forward to an opportunity to go to the mainland in a few days, when Mr. Pearce informed him that something singular had transpired during the night.
"Though no vessel is in sight this morning, I am sure some one landed here last night between midnight and daylight."
"Do you think there is anything to fear from such a visit, providing some one has been here?" asked Jack.
"I don't know. This island was used several years as a penal colony for Chili, but an earthquake so upset things that the one hundred and fifty odd prisoners escaped, and since that no one has been sent here. But it has been the refuge of two or three outlaws since, as if the place had a strange fascination for them. Perhaps they think it is a safe place to flee to after what has occurred here. I have had no trouble with them worth mentioning."
"Do you think one came last night?"
"Looks like it. But I will find out before I am much older. I will get the Chilians to go with us and we will explore the cells."
Jack was not kept in suspense long as to Mr. Pearce's meaning.
Upon reaching the foot of a bluff about half a mile from the ruins of what looked like an old fort, but which was now embedded in banks of clay and overgrown with moss and rank weeds, he found that the whole structure had been built of stone.
"It was done by the Chilian government in 1767," said Mr. Pearce, "and was undone by an earthquake in 1835. This you see here nearest was the front wall of the main rampart. But here is the greatest wonder in the hillside. This old building—fortress, as it might be truthfully called—was the abode of the officers and their men who were stationed here to watch and guard the island, while these other retreats which are marked by those black mouths were used for an altogether different purpose."
Mr. Pearce pointed, as he spoke, to numerous dark openings in the side of the hill, there being many completely hidden by the rank ferns hanging in festoons at their entrance.
"It was in these pits, dug into the earth to the depth of two or three hundred feet, that the Chilian government confined their convicts, and where, if all reports be true, they underwent tortures that made life a living death. The earthquake tore down all the heavy doors, as if the elements were in league with the poor captives, every one of whom thus managed to escape.
"It is in these places the fugitives who seek this island for safety conceal themselves. We can find some sign at the mouth if any one has entered a cell since yesterday."
He then led the way along the broken-down entrances of the underground excavations, now occupied by bats, toads and vermin, but where once miserable wrecks of manhood had found a terrible punishment for their crimes.
A wild goat sprang out from one of the cells and bounded away, but no trace of a human being was found, until at last Mr. Pearce stopped before one cell which was reached by descending several stone steps.
"This was one of the cells for exceptionally bad prisoners," said Mr. Pearce. "It is not as deep as some of the others, but reeks with a cold sweat, and the air is so damp and chilly as to make one shiver the moment he enters. Just think of the poor wretches confined here, where no ray of sunlight could ever reach them, and no living soul to pity them in their hopeless despair! This does not run into the earth more than twenty-five feet. Your eyes are younger and sharper than mine; see if those are not fresh footprints."
"They are," replied Jack, as soon as he had made a hasty examination; "and I am sure they are made by an American shoe!"
"Whew!" exclaimed Mr. Pearce, "that makes it more mysterious, and it behooves us to move with great caution. One of us had better remain on the outside, while the other makes an exploration of the den. Which will you do?"
"I will go inside, if it makes no difference to you, only I wish you would let me have one of your pistols."
"Of course, and you can take this knife, too. Move cautiously, for if there is an American run to earth in there, you may count on it that he will fight for his life. It will be different from facing one of those Chilians, who make a good deal of noise and but a little resistance."
Jack promised to act with caution, and taking the weapons tended him by his companion, he boldly pushed his way down the rough stairway leading to the dark dungeon.
"Give the signal at the least sign of danger, and I will be there in a trice," were Mr. Pearce's parting words. "Meanwhile if you hear me whistle, don't fail to come back as quickly as possible."
By this time Jack was at the foot of the descent, and parting the damp ferns that overhung the mouth of the cell, he was about to enter the dismal passage, when his foot struck something that rustled.
Reaching down in the darkness, his hand touched a sheet of paper or parchment, which he picked up.
He had hardly done this before Mr. Pearce gave a shrill whistle, which caused Jack to return to his side, wondering what had happened.
His surprise may be imagined when he saw a squad of armed men drawn up in front of them!
"They are Government soldiers in search of the fugitive," whispered Mr. Pearce. "Don't do anything rash if you value your life. Let me speak to them."
A short consultation then followed in Spanish, the new-comers all the time covering the twain with their cocked carbines.
Finally Mr. Pearce turned to Jack, saying: "It is just as I thought. They are looking for an escaped prisoner-an Englishman, or rather youth, as they tell me. They think you are the one and demand your immediate surrender. The best thing you can do is to give up without resistance. I will stand by you when the time comes for the need of my help. They won't believe a word I say now. See they are getting impatient. What answer shall I give them?"
Jack, who did not understand a word that they had said, realized from their manner that he could expect no mercy from the Chilians. If Mr. Pearce could not benefit him now, how could he later? Still his only alternative seemed to be to surrender, upon the condition that he be given fair treatment at the hands of the government.
But notwithstanding this stipulation, no sooner had he signified his intention of yielding without resistance than he was roughly siezed and bound. Then some of his captors dragged him back against the side of the bluff. The leader gave a few words of command to his followers, who obeyed by instantly bringing their firearms to their shoulders, pointed at Jack!
"Great sun!" exclaimed Mr. Pearce, his face turning white as marble as he witnessed this summary threat, "they mean to shoot you on the spot!" He had barely uttered these startling words before the leader of the squad raised his right hand, as a signal for the marksmen to fire.
A Plea of the Enemy
Jack realized that only a desperate effort could save him.
Mr. Pearce, whose friendship he had no reason to doubt, stood speechless and horrified at the inhuman act of the Chilians, unable to lift a finger if it would have saved his life.
Jack was standing near to the entrance of the convict cell and as the Chilian commander raised a hand for his men to fire, he suddenly doubled himself up like a jack-knife, turning a complete somersault in the direction of the underground stairway.
His feet had not been secured, though his hands were fastened behind him.
Acting on the impulse of the moment, without any consideration for the result other than an escape from the murderous fire, he plunged head-first into the entrance at the very instant the volley of bullets sped on their deadly mission.
So closely timed were the two actions that the Chilians mistook his jump for the result of their shots, and an exclamation of satisfaction left the leader's lips, while no immediate attempt was made to reach the side of their victim. This enabled Jack to regain his feet and to disappear into the dark mouth of the cavern before his enemies had recovered from their surprise.
Though severely shaken up by his precipitation into this retreat, unheeding the creeping creatures under his feet, which made a furious rush to and fro, Jack groped his way further and further into the gloomy place. The damp, sweaty walls covering him with a slimy moisture. Now and then some of the loosened earth would fall upon him, adding to the uncanny experience of his advance.
He expected the Chilians would follow him, but he hoped in some way he might escape them. He kept on without hearing any sound of a pursuit, until he was suddenly conscious of being confronted by some one, while a trembling voice called out from the darkness ahead:
"Stop! I am armed, and you come nearer at the peril of your life!"
It was too dark for him to see any one, but he heard a slight movement as the words were uttered, and he instantly recalled to mind the fact that the fugitive fleeing from the Chilians was supposed to be hiding in this place.
Accordingly, as he stopped, he said in a low tone:
"Be careful and you have nothing to fear from me."
Jack had been glad to notice that the unknown had used pure English in addressing him. In a moment he asked:
"Who are you?"
"A friendless American boy who has been hunted down like a dog because—"
"Fret Offut!" broke in Jack recognizing the other's voice.
"Jack North!" gasped the fugitive "You have betrayed me, Jack!"
"Not a bit of that. I am here on account of you."
That was no time to question one's motives. Jack knew that the other was his mortal enemy, but just then and there he could do no better than to forget the past. Whatever the offense he had committed against the Chilians, Fret was scarcely in worse color with them than himself.
It did not occur to honest Jack North that by delivering up his enemy he might save his own life.
Though Fret had abused his confidence shamefully, he did not have the wish to give him over to these foreign pursuers. For aught he knew his companion might be as guilty of crime against them as against himself.
Meanwhile why had the Chilians not entered the cell in pursuit of their prisoner? Were they in fear of him? Not so much that as they were in fear of entering that underground retreat, teeming with superstitious traditions.
In fact no Chilian could have been induced to enter there under any provocation short of death!
Mr. Pearce knew this, and when he saw Jack disappear he was confident the lad was safe for awhile.
It is true the leader of the party did command his men to enter, and uttered all sorts of threats against them, but they simply listened without moving.
Neither did their commander offer to lead the way.
Mr. Pearce, knowing this superstitious dread of all Chilians to enter the subterranean prisons, waited until the leader had stopped commanding and abusing his soldiers, when he ventured to interpose on Jack's account.
As he was a man of consequence in the opinion of the Chilian chief, his words soon had the desired effect.
"Somebody,—the person you are in pursuit of—may have landed on the island last night, but this boy is a friend of mine and knows no more of him you want than I do. I vouch for his honesty, and as he has been here over a week you can see that he is not the one you are looking for, who you say must have come here since sunset yesterday."
No doubt the Chilian was glad to get off so easily in doing what he deemed was his duty, for he ordered his men to return to their vessel without further delay.
That was the last to be seen of them, but Mr. Pearce cautiously waited until he saw the ship sailing away from the island before he spoke to Jack.
"Come out of that hole if the bugs have not carried you off," he called out in his blunt way. "The Chilians have gone back to Valparaiso to report that they could not find their man here."
Jack and Fret Offut had come to something of an understanding, though the latter was reluctant to meet Mr. Pearce.
The islander was surprised at sight of him, but Jack hastened to say:
"It proves the person those Chilians were so anxious to catch is an acquaintance of mine, being none other than one of the Standish's passengers."
"A friend of yours, eh? Those infernal—excuse me, I don't believe I will say it. Come, let's go down to the house."
If Mr. Pearce was not pleased with the appearance of young Offut he did not show it, though he told Jack privately that it might be best for all concerned if they should leave the island as soon as an opportunity offered itself.
"You see another searching party may come at any hour, and I might not be as successful with another, particularly with two to answer for."
Jack had no desire to remain any longer than he could help, as pleasant as he had found life with his newly-made friend. He was anxious to get to Valparaiso before the Standish should leave on her return voyage.
He had another reason, too, and a most important one.
He handed the paper he had picked up at the entrance to the convict cell to Mr. Pearce for him to read if possible, for it was written in Spanish, which he could not make out at the time.
Mr. Pearce read it with some difficulty, explaining it as best he could when he had carefully studied it for half a day.
The Lonely Pimento
"The writer of this strange manuscript," began Mr. Pearce, "was evidently an unlettered person, for it is filled with so many errors as to be difficult to get the author's meaning in many places. He was also a fugitive from justice.—I should judge, nearly all his life. He speaks of the diamond mines of Brazil and the hoarded treasures of the children of the sun in the same sentence. Then he goes on to describe a wonderful island that he discovered while hiding from pursuers under the shadows of the Andes in Tarapaca, Peru. Let me read:
"'I had come out of a dense growth of corkwood to look on a big body of water hemmed in by the mountains, when I saw some way from the shore a small island. I noticed it particularly on account of a solitary pimento tree standing in the centre, with a big rock at its foot.
"'I was hard pressed by my enemies, and seeing what I believed was a hole under the rock I swam out to the island. I did find plenty of room to hide in and my pursuers did not think of looking there for me, though they made the entire circuit of the water.
"'I stayed there two days before I dared to venture out, but it was not until I had decided to leave the place that I made the most wonderful discovery of my life.
"'The island, which was made up mostly of rocks, was fairly honey-combed with tunnels and underground passages, little and big, every one of which was filled with gold!
"'Gold lay under my feet; gold on my left hand; gold on my right; gold overhead; gold everywhere! I knew from certain inscriptions that I could partly decipher that this hidden treasure was a part of the Incas wealth in the days of Pizzaro.
"'At first I was so bewildered by my discovery that I could do nothing, but finally I took as much of it as I could carry and left the place.
"'I was, as I thought, careful to note all of its surroundings so I could come again when I should wish to get the rest of my hoard. I say I did this carefully, but a year and a half later when I came to get the rest of my treasure I could not find it. I could not even find the island, though I went over the ground from Titocaca to Atacama a hundred times.
"'I could not even find the lake!
"'I felt sure I should know that pimento tree anywhere on account of its odd shape. It had three branches leaving the trunk, one of which ran up several feet higher than the others, a dead branch pointing to the northward like a skeleton finger. There was a rim of mountains around the lake, except for a break in the range on the north.
"'Since I have been there the whole mystery has been solved in my mind and I can see that the lonely pimento with its skeleton finger is the key. I was there during the wet—"
"The rest is missing," said Mr. Pearce, "but I have given you the substance of the illiterate scrawl in tolerable English as far as it remains. Looks as if the sheet had been torn apart. There is a fortune for you if you can only find it."
Mr. Pearce spoke somewhat lightly, but Jack could see that he was deeply interested in the account.
Our hero had been cautious enough not to let Fret Offut into the secret, knowing he could not be trusted.
"I believe I could find that wonderful island which plays at hide and seek if I were to try it," said Mr. Pearce. "What do you say to going fortune hunting?"
Naturally Jack's sanguine nature was thoroughly aroused and nothing could have suited him better, and from that time they discussed the lost island with its treasure at every opportunity they had when Fret was not with them.
There was one serious drawback to their plans.
It might be a long time before they would have an opportunity to leave the island where Robinson Crusoe had spent so many lonely years. During his stay there Jack explored every part of the island. He noticed that the soil had every promise of great fertility, but that even his friend had so far taken on the laziness of the Chilians that he cultivated as little as possible. This island had become a sort of rendezvous for the ships rounding Cape Horn, and many of them had contributed to its natural and animal wealth by planting orchards and sowing grains and in leaving there many domesticated creatures.
But at this season of the year it was likely to be considerable time before a vessel should touch there, and Jack had been on Robinson Crusoe's island a little over a month, before he found a chance to go to Valparaiso.
He was glad for the opportunity, but disappointed at the last moment to find that Mr. Pearce had concluded to give up going with him.
"Too much like work, Jack. You see I have fitted in here, and if we should find that treasure it would be of no earthly good to me as I am alone in the world. I hope you will find it, my lad, and that it will help you and Jenny to make a happy home. Good bye."
"Good bye," said Jack, as he pressed his friend's hand warmly, for he had grown to like the kindhearted gentleman.
Fret Offut nodded lightly to the other, as he entered the boat which was to take them to the vessel.
The trip to Valparaiso was uneventful, but there Jack met with a great disappointment.
The Standish had left for its homeward voyage.
Thus Jack found himself left alone among strangers, save for the companionship of Fret Offut, who seemed disposed to hold aloof from him. The other had refused to tell him the cause of his being hunted by the Chilians, though Jack suspected that it was in some way the result of his attack upon him. Fret had told enough in his sleep for our hero to know that he had been arrested for the deed, and that he had afterwards escaped. But Jack did not feel like saying anything to Fret about it, as long as he showed no inclination to mention the subject.
Knowing that it might be several months before he could return to his home and being short of money, Jack at once began to look about for an opportunity to earn a living. Unable to find anything to do in Valparaiso, he walked to Tocopilla, though Fret declined to accompany him. In this town he found work as a machinist at the princely income of four Spanish dollars a week. But this was better than nothing and he went to work with a hearty good will.
He worked in Tocopilla steadily for a month. During the time he heard nothing from home or from Fret Offut.
He still kept the paper describing the mysterious island holding its vast, hidden treasure, but he had not felt like undertaking the long journey necessary to search for it.
Seeing no prospect of advance in his position, Jack was beginning to think of seeking his fortune elsewhere, when his whole future life was changed into a different groove by the appearance of a stranger at the place where he was working.
The newcomer was a Peruvian, who had been an engineer on a railroad running through the southern part of Peru, but had left to come to Tocopilla.
He and Jack soon became friends, when the latter said to him one day:
"What was the trouble with engineering, that you should leave to come here, where you can't begin to get the pay you did there?"
"The pay was good enough, but the shooting was better. I care more for my life than I do for a few silver doubloons."
"I am afraid I do not understand you. I was not aware that shooting and engineering went together."
"They do in the case of the St. Resa road, Jack."
"Tell me about it, Francis. I am interested."
"Then I can take out that interest shortly. The road runs through debatable ground from St. Resa to de la Pama. Not an inch of it but what is being hotly contested. But it isn't the regulars that make the trouble, for at present the territory belongs to Peru, though how soon she will lose it is not for me to say. It's the murderous bush-raiders that are making the trouble."
"Who are the bush-raiders?"
"That question shows a lamentable ignorance. The bush-raiders are bands of guerillas united to make war upon anybody and anything that crosses their path. They pretend to favor Chili, but they are merely using that for a cloak, and are robbers of the worst class, outlawed by all governments. Of course you know that Chili and Peru are at war?"
"I have heard of it."
"Well, these bush-raiders, pretending to favor Chili, are making hot times all along the St. Resa. It is necessary to keep the road open if Peru hopes to hold the country, and the company are doing their best, backed by the government. They have had as many as twenty men on in the last six months.
"The three men on before me were killed by the bush-raiders, and the one before the first of them fell off and was killed while running the gantlet of fire set by the fiends."
"You say the road is all in Peru?"
"Yes, in Southern Peru. It runs through the nitrate regions. Bless me if I don't think there is a fortune in those mines if properly worked.
"Say, Jack, if you are dissatisfied with the money you are making here there is an opportunity for you. You are young and full of fire, just such a rash head as the bush-raiders like to get hold of. The company is offering as high as twenty pistoles a month for a man to run that engine. More for one day than you get here in a week. But bless me, if every pistole was a doubloon and I had as many of them as I could carry I would not try another trip. What are a few paltry pistoles to a man's life?"
"I believe I would like to get that position as engineer on the St. Resa," said Jack, after a moment's pause. "I can run an engine, you know."
"You have only to apply for it," replied the other. "But say, Jack, if you should be fool enough to go up to get killed on that old engine, you had better take a fireman along with you, for you will not be able to find a helper up that way."
Another silence fell upon the twain, during which Jack's hands were not as busy as his brains, until finally he laid aside his work, saying in his blunt way:
"I shall start within a week for St. Resa, unless in the meantime I get some sort of word from John Fowler & Company, or from my folks."
After that the days flew by on the wings of the wind. Eagerly Jack waited for some kind of word from his home, but not a letter reached him, for the reason that his folks were very poor and had many troubles of their own, and because the manufacturing company that had sent him to South America were in financial difficulties.
Sunday passed and then Monday, and the week came to an end. Jack had another talk with the Peruvian about the railroad position and then slapped his hands together.
"I'm going to have a try at it, come what may," he said, determinedly.
Jack Becomes an Engineer
Jack as usual, was as good as his word.
He stopped long enough to lay down his tools and seek the foreman for a leave of absence.
"Going to St. Resa? You will make the journey but one way. You will never come back."
But Jack was determined, and nothing that the other could tell him of the perils he was sure to encounter could deter him from his purpose.
An hour later he turned his back on Tocopilla.
He was passing one of the outer gates, near the edge of the city, when he was stopped by one of the many beggars which invest the town.
"Only a miserable pittance," implored the ragged wretch, holding out a dirty hand for the gift.
Something in the beggar's tone and manner arrested Jack's attention. He had been addressed in English, which was unusual, but there was more than the language to attract him to the poor alms seeker.
Then, as he bent a closer gaze on the person, he exclaimed:
"Fret Offut! can this be you?"
"Jack North!" exclaimed the other. "I did not think of seeing you here."
"Nor I you, most of all in this condition."
"It was all I could do, Jack," whined the other. "I have had such bad luck since you left me! But ain't you looking like a peacock!"
"I have managed to get a living by working hard."
"I'll warrant you have; but I wouldn't work at the starvation wages they offered me. Say, where are you going?"
"To St. Resa."
"In South Peru?"
"What do you expect to do there?"
"Going to apply for a situation as engineer on a railroad."
"Whew! I heard a man say this morning they were offering big pay. Let me go with you, Jack? You will do this for old time's sake? I will be fireman."
Jack's first thought was to refuse the other's company. He felt that Fret had already done him harm enough, and that his presence would be a positive injury to him. But upon second thought he became more generous. In spite of all Fret had done against him he could not help pitying the young fellow now in his forlorn condition, and thus he said:
"If you will promise that you will not try to make trouble for me and that you will do the very best you can for yourself. You mustn't forget, too, that you are going where you may not come back alive."
Fret Offut promised very solemnly to all that Jack asked, and the couple started on their hazardous journey into the interior of the country which was about to become the battleground of three nations.
They received a warm welcome at the railroad company's office as soon as the object of their call was known. It had been a week since the last train had gone over the route, and a big accumulation of freight wanted to be moved. They were offered big wages and accepted.
"Well, Fret, we're in for it now," said Jack, as they went to the station to make their first trip.
The young fireman made no reply. He was already beginning to regret the step he had taken, though Jack's fearlessness was not without its effect on him.
A big crowd was at the station to see the train start, which made Fret feel the importance of his position.
The train had a fifty-mile run and Jack found that he was expected to make it and return the same day. This did not seem a difficult task, providing the bush-raiders let them alone.
The road was in a terrible condition, yet the first trip was made without adventure and Fret's spirits rose.
"Probably the bush-raiders did not know we were going yesterday," said Jack, as his helper was boasting of their easy job.
Jack could not say as much when he got back from his second trip, for no less than three shots had been fired into the caboose.
Fret Offut was in genuine alarm. The situation was worse than had been described to Jack. Reports showed that the bush-raiders were gaining in numbers every day, and growing more bold as they increased in strength. The country, sparsely settled, through which the railroad ran seemed especially fitted for their guerrilla warfare, to say nothing of the poor state of the road-bed, which at places actually made the passage dangerous. Then, too, the cars and engine were cheap and simple affairs, offering no protection from the bullets of the enemies.
But Jack had no intention of giving up at this stage of the situation, and Fret concluded to risk a third trip.
The company were anxious for the train to be kept running, but offered no protection, if it could supply any.
The round trip on this day was made without any shots being fired by the enemies, though at least twenty bush-raiders were seen drawn up in sight of the train, as it wound its way through one of the gloomiest spots of the entire route.
One of the disreputable looking party waved a red cloth on the muzzle of his short-barreled carbine as they whisked past.
"Look out for to-morrow," said Jack. "That looks to me like a sort of warning."
It proved that he was not the only one who had his suspicions, for as he swung himself upon the engine the following morning some one stepped from out of the motley crowd collected about the station and thrusting a scrap of paper into his hand instantly disappeared.
As soon as they were fairly on their way Jack smoothed out the crumpled paper to read in a scrawling hand:
"Look out for the bush-raiders to-day."
The sheet bore no signature or date.
"Looks like a scare by some one," remarked Jack, as he handed the missive to Fret. "But there can be no harm in keeping a sharp lookout," he admitted. "I suppose the trouble has got to begin soon, and it might as well be to-day as to-morrow."
Fret Offut, whose stock of courage was small, turned pale, as he read the brief message:
"You ain't going to keep on, Jack?"
"What else are we hired for? We should be the laughing stock of the country if we stopped now."
"But this warning makes it different."
"Not a bit as I can see. We came up here expecting to take our chances, and as for me it seems the bush-raiders have been very modest in opening proceedings. It is too late for us to turn back. I—"
"No—no! Stop, Jack, and I will get off."
"If you don't get off until I stop you will ride into de la Pama. Now don't be foolish and let that little piece of paper upset you. It was no more than we expected. Keep a cool head and stand to your post.
"It may not be as bad as it threatens. But if you persist in leaving you can do so when we have made this trip. I don't propose to be left in the lurch by losing my fireman at a time I cannot afford to let him go."
Jack's quiet determination and assurance served to quiet Fret's fears, so he said nothing further about quitting his duty.
After leaving St. Resa, the train, which was a mixed one, made up of two passenger coaches and a dozen freight cars, had to stop at irregular intervals, following which the road ran through a twenty-mile wilderness, the most of the way rugged in the extreme.
It was during this part of the journey that Jack expected trouble if anywhere, and as he approached the broken region he kept a sharp watch on every hand.
Fret, though pale and trembling, kept his post.
"Give me every pound of steam possible," said Jack. "If we don't go through Whirlwind Gap flying it will be because the old engine has lost her cunning."
They were now rushing along at a tremendous rate of speed considering the condition of the track, and the old engine rocked and lurched as if it would leave the track at any moment. There were but a few passengers aboard, for only those who were compelled to do so traveled during this dangerous period. Jack knew there was a valuable freight behind him, to say nothing of human lives, and he was determined to get into de la Pama if it lay in his power.
Thus, with a full realization of the peril of his situation, he was standing at his post, with one hand on the throttle and the other on the reversing lever, peering intently ahead, taking in every object as they sped furiously over the rails, when he suddenly beheld a sight which for a moment fairly took away his breath.
They were swiftly approaching the foot of a high bluff, upon the top of which he had discovered a dozen of the bush-raiders looking down upon him. But they were not the most startling part of what he saw and heard.
As the train dashed madly under the rocky wall, above its terrific thunder rang a deafening crash, and he saw with horror a huge bowlder coming down the side of the cliff, directly toward the engine!
It had been loosened from its bed by the bush-raiders, and so well had they timed their work that it would be impossible for the engine to get beyond its reach before the rock should fall upon it!
It would be equally hazardous to try and stop the train.
Fret Offut had seen the appalling sight, and with a despairing cry, feeling that it would be death to remain on the engine, he leaped far out over the embankment.
"Fret!" cried Jack, but no answer came back to the call.
Jack North felt that it was all over with him, but true to the instinct of his nature, he stood bravely at his post.
A Narrow Escape
With the wild cry of Fret Offut and the exultant yells of the bush-raiders ringing in his ears above the thunder of the rushing train, Jack North heard the ominous crash, of the descending bowlder, and saw with a dazed look its swift approach.
The locomotive, throbbing and panting like a human being in a race for life, was fairly flying along the winding track.
It all lasted but a moment, the downward rush of the deadly body, the cries of exultation and despair, the lightning-like passing of the fatal spot by the engine, and the ordeal was over as quickly as it had come!
The descent of the ponderous missile was swift and sure until a projection on the side of the cliff was reached, when with a terrific concussion the bowlder glanced. It suddenly shot outward like a cannon ball, and was carried fairly over the engine into the gulch below.
Jack witnessed this miraculous movement with breathless eagerness bordering upon terror.
The huge rock passed so near that it scraped the top of the caboose, and the current of air it raised swept the boy engineer's cap from his head.
The train had got its length beyond the place before Jack could realize that he had escaped.
The bush-raiders reminded him of it then, if he needed any further notification, by a volley of bullets and renewed yells of rage.
Though some of the leaden missiles flew uncomfortably near his head, Jack was unharmed, and as he was borne on by the iron horse around the next curve in the track, leaving his enemies out of sight, he offered a prayer of thankfulness for his providential escape.
Fret, he was certain, must have been killed by his mad leap from the engine. As much as he would have liked to have gone back and looked for the youth, he knew such a course would have been the height of folly. Besides his own life to look after, there were the passengers who had intrusted themselves to his care.
"Poor Fret! I could do no good now, and I must remember the others. If you had only remained on the engine it would have been better for you."
To his infinite relief, Jack saw nor heard nothing further of the baffled bush-raiders, who must have been greatly surprised at the escape of the train with its rich freight.
At the first station, which was several miles away from the scene of the outlaws' attack, the young engineer told of the loss of his fireman and his own narrow escape from death, when an armed squad of men started to search for the body of the missing youth, and to rout the bush-raiders if they could be found.
Finding an assistant at this place, Jack finished his run to de la Pama and then came back to this station, which was known as Resaca.
The relief party had not returned, but Jack was told that a bridge had been found to be unsafe for the passage of the train, so he could not reach St Resa that day, while it might be a week before the road would be in a condition to resume his regular trips. But he was willingly allowed to start after the relief party with the engine and one car, accompanied by a dozen armed men.
They were approaching the bridge mentioned, when they met the others coming back, bearing in their midst the lifeless form of Fret Offut.
Jack immediately stopped to have the body of his associate put on the car, when he started on the return to Resaca.
The untimely fate of Fret Offut impressed him with the great uncertainty of life. It was true the other had never been his friend, but now that was forgotten and he felt a deep regret over the youth's sad end.
The return to Resaca was made in safety. In fact nothing had been seen of the raiders since the start, and it was uncertain what might be their next move.
The following day Jack saw that Fret's body was given burial in a little plot within sight of the low-walled church of this clustered settlement, he being the only mourner.
"If I should fall in my hazardous work, I could not expect as much as poor Fret gets in this land of strangers. The last bond between this wild country and home seems to be broken. Little did we think of this, Fret, when we anticipated that South American trip!"
The last sad duty done for Fret Offut, and finding that the bridge would not be repaired inside of a week, Jack resolved to take a little outing on his own account.
He still carried with him the paper so strangely found on Robinson Crusoe island, and he was determined to make a search for the hidden treasure which it mentioned.
Accordingly, mounted on a small but sure-footed and faithful pony, with a supply of provisions, Jack set out on his uncertain journey without telling any one his intentions, little dreaming of the result which was to come of his secret movement.
He believed the mysterious island was nearly north of Resaca, so he shaped his course in that direction, keeping a sharp lookout for any enemy that might be in his pathway.
He was in the heart of the great dry region of South America, a district of nearly a thousand miles in length, where rain seldom if ever falls, and the country is afforded sufficient moisture by the sea vapors condensed on the Andes and sent down upon the plains and lowlands. The desert of Atacama lay many miles to the south, but as he progressed he often found sections of the country without a thing growing upon the land, though sometimes these spots were bordered by the most abundant growth he had ever seen, even in that realm of grand forests and magnificent flora.
Everywhere, save on these dark patches of waste land, the vegetation was on the boldest scale imaginable, the magnitude of the trees being simply beyond the comprehension of him who had never seen them, while some of even the largest were adorned with beautiful flowers, making them seem like gardens of themselves.
On account of the density of the growth, Jack often found it difficult to advance, and many times he was obliged to make long detours in order to reach a certain point.
Zig-zagging about, always keeping his eyes open for bush-raiders, wild beasts, and, above all, for the strange island, he had spent four days in the wilderness, when he felt that it was time for him to think of returning to civilization.
He had seen no sign of the looked-for body of inland water with its treasure island, though the increasing presence of cinchona trees told him that he was already ascending into the region of the Peruvian Andes.
"I am sure it is at the foot of these mountains that the strange island exists," he thought, as he paused on the summit of one of the foothills of the snow-crowned Monarch of Mountains. "But there is no sign of water, and how can I expect to find an island where there is no water?"
The involuntary speech brought a smile to his lips. As he would explain his thoughts, he said aloud:
"Somehow I got it into my head that there was a lake in this region, and there I was to find my treasure island. But I have been a fool to look for either. Come, Juan," patting the neck of his pony, "let us go back while we have sense enough to do so."
But while he spoke he lingered around the place, as if there was some strong fascination for him. It was a beautiful scene, made up almost entirely of forest, but such a forest as only Peru, with its wonderful natural wealth, can produce.
The trees were composed largely of rosewoods in all their varied beauty, the giant quassia in all their hues and tints of foliage, with a sprinkling of cinchona, lending a happy blending of more sober coloring, while from the lowlands was wafted to him on the gentle breeze of that tropical clime the perfume of the tinga.
The finger of silence lay on the lip of Nature, even the broad leaves of the quassia rising and falling on the shifting breaths of air, without that peculiar rustling sound generally belonging to the forest domain.
It was the most beautiful scene he had ever looked upon, and as he allowed his gaze to slowly move around the encircling country, he found himself looking down upon the strangest valley or mountain pocket he had ever beheld.
The singular feature of this isolated, wood-environed retreat was its complete absence of all kinds of growth, except for a sort of silky grass which covered its uneven surface like a rich carpet of the deepest green tint. Near the centre was an oval elevation of rock and earth higher by a few feet than knobs and miniature hills which dotted it elsewhere.
It was bare of vegetation, not even the silken tasia ornamenting its sides, though a solitary tree did rise in lonely grandeur from its utmost crest.
Jack uttered a low exclamation as he saw that this tree was a pimento.
In a moment his mind reverted to the description given in the strange manuscript, but a look of disappointment succeeded his eager anticipation.
"What a fool!" he exclaimed. "That tree stood on an island—"
A rustle in the undergrowth arrested his attention at that moment, and, before he could avoid the unexpected attack, a dark lissom body shot through the air, to alight squarely upon his pony, that, with a snort of terror, started madly through the growth.
Under the Head of a Jaguar
Jack was nearly unseated by the sudden dash of his pony, and managing to retain his position he was in imminent danger of being swept off by the branches of the trees.
The deep growl of the creature at his back rang in his ears, and he could feel the poor pony quiver in every muscle, as the fearful claws of the brute were buried deep into its flesh.
This occupied but a moment's time from the attack of the wild beast to the end of the pony's flight, but it was such a moment as Jack never forgot.
He had seen a precipice in the pathway of the terrified animal, but not in season to stop the maddened creature or turn it aside, though he did make a frantic effort to do so. As if bent upon its own destruction, the pony made a suicidal leap down the precipitous descent.
The frightened creature struck upon its feet, but immediately fell over on its right side, carrying its rider with it and pinning him under its body.
The savage beast had not lost its hold, and as Jack lay there within its deadly reach he saw for the first time that it was the most dreaded of the wild beasts of South America, the jaguar.
He had barely taken a swift glance at the furious brute before a warning growl above him broke the momentary silence and then a second form, the mate of that beside him, plunged down from the top of the cliff, landing beside the first, that uttered a fierce growl at the same time.
Jack's heart fairly stopped its beating, and finding himself unable to move his right limb, he felt that it was all over with him.
The pony had apparently been killed by its fall, together with the attack of the jaguar, as it did not move after it fell over on its side.
The ferocious beasts, with a succession of sharp growls and snarls, began to feast upon the still warm carcass of the poor horse.
It was fortunate, and showed Jack's remarkable presence of mind as well, that at that critical moment he remembered that old hunters had said if one feigned death he might escape the attack of a wild beast under ordinary circumstances, the story of Dr. Livingstone lying under the lion's paw coming vividly into his mind. But his left leg lay on top of the pony's body and close to where the two jaguars were exercising their teeth and claws on the flesh.
That morning before starting from Resaca he had put on a pair of boots with stout tops as a means of protection from the bushes and brambles he might encounter on his long ride. But he could not hope these would protect him long, if at all, from the attacks of the voracious brutes.
Words cannot describe his feelings as he lay there listening to the ominous growls and crunching of the hungry animals, expecting every moment to feel their sharp teeth in his own flesh.
Two or three times he felt one or the other of the jaguars push savagely against his foot, which was lifted and carried forward upon the pony's neck in their eagerness to get at the warm meat.
All of that horrible scene Jack heard and felt rather than saw, for he did not dare to open his eyes—dare to draw a full breath.
After awhile he heard one of the pair move away a short distance, and he could hear it licking its dripping chops after its feast.
Its mate continued its voracious attacks upon the carcass, the grinding of its jaws and the crackling of the pony's bones making horrible sounds for the helpless boy.
When this had continued for several minutes longer, the second jaguar stopped eating and began to lick Jack's boots.
Nothing so far had equaled the horror of that sensation.
It seemed to Jack that he must go mad if it continued long!
After what seemed a long time to him in his intense agony, the dull, rasping sound ceased; the jaguar had ended its licking, but, as if loath to leave the spot, it allowed its head to fall forward on the half eaten body, with its nostrils lying on Jack's foot. Its slow and regular breathing finally told that it had fallen asleep after eating its dinner.
Jack a little later heard the cat-like steps of its mate leaving the place, until the pitter-patter died away in the distance.
Then, for the first time, he dared to open his eyes, though he did not venture to move his head or hand a particle.
He could see the sleeping jaguar's head and that was all that was in sight of the creature, that still remained motionless but likely to start up at his first movement.
As Jack's gaze followed his narrow orbit of vision he soon saw his firearm, which had slipped from him in his ride over the precipice and fallen near where he lay in that terrible situation.
He had no sooner seen the weapon than a wild desire to get possession of it filled his mind. If he only had that in his hands he believed he could shoot the jaguar before it could do him harm.
The longer he pondered upon this the stronger became the desire to make the attempt. Failure could not be any worse than that awful suspense, which in all probability must end in death.
Then, as he realized that the jaguar's mate might return at any moment, he resolved to make the bold venture without more delay.
He was first careful to make himself sure that the brute was still asleep, when he slowly and cautiously raised his hand enough to reach for the carbine, which fortunately lay stock toward him.
Not a sound broke the deathlike stillness of the lonely scene, save the labored breathing of the sleeping jaguar.
Never allowing his gaze to leave the creature, he continued to reach for the firearm until he felt his hand touch the stock.
As complete control as he had maintained over himself so far in the trying ordeal, at this critical moment he so far forgot himself as to draw a long breath—a breath of relief to think that he had something with which to defend himself.
That breath was instantly answered by a terrific growl!
It had awakened the light-sleeping beast, which quickly raised its head, and its whole appearance immediately changed, as it glared furiously around.
It seemed to realize at once that it had been fooled by this human creature within its clutch, and with another growl, louder, fiercer and more startling than any yet, it prepared to spring on its new victim.
But it was no quicker of action than Jack, who knew that his life hung on prompt work. At the same time he lifted the carbine from the ground, he cocked the weapon. At that moment the open jaws of the aroused jaguar were thrust into his face, and the hot breath of the wild creature fanned his cheek. The next instant he ran the muzzle of the firearm into the maddened brute's throat and pulled the trigger.
A dull report followed, the jaguar's head was blown into fragments, and Jack knew that his life was saved.
Put to the Test
Though he had no more to fear from this jaguar, Jack knew that its mate was likely to return at any moment, and as soon as he had recovered somewhat from the effect of the ordeal through which he had passed, he freed himself from the weight of the pony's body.
He was glad to find that his limb had not received any serious injury, though it was so paralyzed from lying under the pressure that it was a few minutes before he could stand alone.
But he lost no more time than he could avoid before he left the place, feeling that his situation even then was not pleasant to contemplate. He was not only afoot in the heart of a trackless wilderness, but many miles from the nearest point of civilization.
Half an hour after leaving the scene of the jaguar's attack, he made a discovery which caused him no little concern.
He had lost his compass.
Realizing the risk of returning to the fatal spot, as well as the uncertainty of finding the lost instrument, he kept on without it, endeavoring to pursue as direct a course as possible.
In this he was unsuccessful, and two days later he was wandering at random through the intricate labyrinths of a Peruvian forest, nearly worn out and disheartened.
Hoping that his shots might be heard by some one who would come to his rescue, he had fired all but the last load of ammunition he had with him, and that charge was in his carbine.
"I might as well discharge that," he said to himself. "It is my last chance and I might as well take it now as later. It is useless for me to try to find my way out of this wilderness."
In his desperation he cocked the weapon, and pointing it skyward pulled the trigger.
Loud and long rang out the report on the deep silence of the forest, the distant foothills taking up the sound and flinging it back to the valleys in echoes that repeated the detonation far and wide. As the last sullen sound died away in the distance he leaned against one of the trees, saying half aloud:
"I might as well meet the worst here as anywhere."
Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed away, and satisfied that his last shot had been fired in vain, Jack started to resume his aimless wanderings, when the sound of footsteps fell upon his ears.
At first he thought it might be some wild beast prowling through the woods, but it was not long before a human figure burst into sight.
There was little of beauty in the youthful stranger who had thus unceremoniously appeared, but Jack had never been so glad to see any one in his life.
At sight of his woebegone countenance the newcomer came to a sudden halt in his impetuous advance, exclaiming in a voice with a peculiar and characteristic nasal twang:
"Consarn ye! who air yeou scrouched down there in that way? Aair yeou the feller who has been wasting ammunition so like a scart peon?"
The speaker's tone was not unfriendly, and Jack was nearly overjoyed to find that the new-comer was not a Peruvian.
Springing from his seat on a fallen tree, where he had sunk in his respair, he cried in genuine gladness:
"You're an American!"
"No more'n yeou air!" replied the other, brushing back his long blonde hair from his forehead as he spoke, and looking straight into our hero's countenance with a pair of deep blue eyes.
Then, when the two had stared upon each other for fully a minute, both burst into a fit of laughter.
"Shoo neow!" exclaimed the Yankee boy, "who air yeou and what air yeou doing here?"
"I might ask the same question of you," replied Jack. "My name is John North and I come from Banton, Connecticut.
"Bet yeou air called Jack every time. My name is Plummer Plucky, but I'm called Plum for short, though that is all they can make short about me. I hail from New England too, and I'll bet my dad is hoeing taters in sight of Plymouth Rock."
"I am lost in this wilderness," went on Jack. "I hope you can show me the way out."
"Bet your boots on that. I live, leastways stop, not three hours' tramp from here, though if yeou had come to-morrer yeou wouldn't found me here. I have been working on the estancia of Don de Estuaray, the dirtiest, meanest, miserliest, yellowest old Spaniard that ever drew the breath o' this beautiful country."
"Evidently you love the Don," said Jack, with a smile.
"Do I? Do you know what he pays me fer work thet's enought to kill a man?"
"I haven't the slightest idea."
"No more you have. He pays me three dollars and sixty cents a month—think of it—if you can!"
"That's a small fortune" went on Jack. He rather liked the fellow before him. "I suppose you've got a pile saved up in the bank out of it."
"Think so? Consarn ye, yer ain't got no right to think so!" And now the other really looked somewhat angry.
"No, I don't think so," answered Jack, promptly. "I was only fooling. They don't pay big wages down here—I've found that out—down near the coast, where I worked at starvation wages myself."
"Wall, I aint jest starved," said the other youth, somewhat mollified. "I git feed enough—leas'-wise, I take what I want. But it ain't enough money—no it ain't—nohow, consarn him anyway!"
Jack had too much at stake to desire a quarrel with his new-found acquaintance, so he hastened to say:
"I hope you will forgive me if I have said anything to offend. I trust we shall be friends."
Whatever of anger Plum had shown quickly left his honest countenance, and frankly holding out a hand, he said:
"I never pick a quarrel with any one, but I won't let any one tread on my toes. I reckon we shall be friends."
The clasp of the hands which followed cemented the firmest friendship of Jack North's life, an acquaintance which, notwithstanding its inauspicious beginning, was destined to ripen into a heart-felt intimacy.
The hand-shaking over, the twain, Plum leading the way, started in the direction whence the latter had come at the sound of Jack's carbine. On the way toward the estancia where the former had been working, our hero learned the complete story of his past life; how he had left home to win a fortune and drifted over the world until he was now employed by this Don de Estuaray at the princely sum which had been the crumb of argument between them a few minutes before.
Jack in turn told the other his story, except that part bearing upon the island of treasure, and long before they had reached signs of civilization they had become fast friends.
So favorably impressed was Jack with the appearance of his new-found chum that he proposed that Plum should apply for the position of fireman on the St. Resa railroad, a proposition which met the other boy's hearty approval the moment he learned the wages he was likely to get His first question was:
"Do yeou s'pose they will have me?"
"Gladly. It isn't a question of that, but whether you have the sand to stand up in a spot where you are likely to lose your life any minute."
"Reckon I can stand up where you can, and if I do lay down it will be to stay there. Give me your hand, old feller. I like yeou."
They were now approaching the estancia of Don de Estuaray, who lived in a pleasant valley several miles from any settlement, and as they advanced Jack could not help noticing the tall growth of a patch of vegetation on their right hand, as they were entering the spacious grounds.
To his wonder he saw cotton plants that reached far above his head and sugar cane which stood like forest trees. Plum Plucky, standing on his shoulders, with Fret Offut, had he been living then and there, on his shoulders, could not have reached the top of the lowest plants!
He saw indigo plants that amazed him for their size, and altogether it was such a sight as he had never seen.
A short distance away he saw a field of oats which reared their heads into the air to a height of more than fifteen feet.
Plum Plucky seeing the look of surprise on his countenance, said:
"Can't guess what made that stuff grow so? I can tell you. I just brought down some of that funny dirt found in the barren spots on the hills yonder and put a good lot round the roots. It beats all creation how it sends the stuff into the air. The don said I'd kill it all, but I knowed better, for I had seen the wild stuff growing like fun all round the edges of sich places. But it don't seem to hitch on in the spots themselves. S'pect it's too stout there."
Jack at once recalled the accounts he had heard of the nitrate beds on the Peruvian hills, though he did not dream then of the importance of this discovery to him.
Our hero was anxious to get back to Resaca, knowing that his prolonged absence might have already cost him his situation as engineer on the railroad, and as Plum Plucky had fully decided to go with him, they lost no further time in starting for that place.
They found the railroad officials in a fever of excitement.
Believing that Jack had left them and finding no one to take his place, the bush-raiders having grown bolder in their depredations, in their despair, the managers were offering double their previous pay for a man who would dare to undertake the work of getting a train through from St. Resa to de la Pama.
Jack felt unbounded delight upon finding that the pay had been raised to over a hundred dollars a trip, and without any explanation he offered himself for the situation a second time.
He was gladly accepted, with no questions asked while Plum was given the position of fireman at a salary which caused him to look with amazement.
"Well!" he exclaimed, "it's too good to last."
"Wait till you meet the bush-raiders," said Jack.
"I reckon I can take any medicine that you can," was the answer, and the boy engineer realized that he had filled Fret Offut's place with a companion of altogether different make-up.