THE BOY AVIATORS' TREASURE QUEST
Or, The Golden Galleon
Captain Wilbur Lawton (pseudonym for John Henry Goldfrap)
Author Of "The Boy Aviators In Nicaragua." "The Boy Aviators On Secret Service," "The Boy Aviators In Africa," etc.
Boy Aviators' Series
By Captain Wilbur Lawton
Six Titles. Cloth Bound. Price 50c
Uniform With This Volume
1 THE BOY AVIATORS IN NICARAGUA; or, In League with the Insurgents.
2 THE BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE; or, Working with Wireless.
3 THE BOY AVIATORS IN AFRICA; or, An Aerial Ivory Trail.
4 THE BOY AVIATORS' TREASURE QUEST; or, The Golden Galleon.
5 THE BOY AVIATORS IN RECORD FLIGHT; or, The Rival Aeroplane.
6 THE BOY AVIATORS' POLAR DASH; or, Facing Death in the Antarctic.
Chapter I. The Eagle and the Buzzard II. Billy's Strange Tale III. A Trial Flight IV. Eben Joyce Appears V. A Strange Story VI. The Golden Galleon VII. A Fire Alarm By Aeroplane VIII. Nearly Out of the Race IX. The Grasshopper's Mishap X. The Aero Race XI. Lost in the Fog XII. Billy Hears an Interesting Conversation XIII. Luther Barr's Trap XIV. Mr. "L. B.'s" Dirigible XV. Off for the Sargasso XVI. In Dire Peril XVII. Billy's Narrow Escape XVIII. Into the Sargasso XIX. The Rat Ship XX. The Golden Galleon XXI. Dirigible vs. Aeroplane XXII. On Board Barr's Ship XXIII. Prisoners in Dire Peril XXIV. The Inventor's Treachery XXV. The Fight on the Island XXVI. The Boys Win Out
THE EAGLE AND THE BUZZARD.
The shout went upward in a swelling volume of sound as a thousand voices took up the cry.
"Say, those boys can fly!"
"I should say so."
"Did you see that swoop!"
"Did I? I thought they were goners sure."
"They handle that sky-clipper like a bicycle."
These admiring exclamations came in a perfect hailstorm as the big biplane air-craft, which had called them forth, swept earthward, bearing her two young occupants downward in a long graceful glide, and landing them at the door of their red aerodrome with the precision of an automobile being driven up to its owner's front steps.
The drone of the engine ceased and little spurts of dust shot up from the landing wheels as the young aviator at the helm of the beautiful craft applied his brakes, threw out the spark and cut off the engine. The plane ran about one hundred feet on its wheels and then came to a standstill.
"Hurrah for the Golden Eagle!" shouted a voice. The enthusiasm was echoed all over the crowded field. From the long rows of autos, parked at the edge of the field and crowded with applauding men and women, came the "honk! honk!" of horns in a deafening clamor.
Smilingly making their way through the enthusiasts who swept down on them, Frank and Harry Chester, the Boy Aviators, who had just concluded a tuning up flight for the Hempstead Plains Cup—the contest for which was to take place in a week's time—entered the shed and, making their way to a screened-off room in the corner, shed their leather coats and woolen caps and removed the grime from their hands and faces. Their mechanics, in the meantime, had shoved the Eagle into the shed and closed the doors on the horde of the inquisitive.
The boys' flight had taken place above the aviation grounds of the Aeronautic Society, situated at Mineola, on Long Island, a few miles outside New York city. For several days they, and several others who had announced their intention of competing for the coveted Hempstead Plains Cup, had been making flights that had attracted vast crowds from the metropolis and filled the papers with air-ship news. The city was aviation mad.
The wide sweep of green flats was dotted at the end where the town encroached upon it with the sheds in which were housed the different aerial craft that were to take part in the great contest. Some of them had tents snuggled closely up to them in which the machinists, and others employed on them, made their temporary homes. Some were elaborate structures of galvanized iron, carefully fireproofed and covered with notices warning against smoking; others, again, were plain, hastily erected wooden structures. The Boy Aviators' shed was one of the latter, for they had returned from their adventures in Africa only a short time before this story opens.
In that far-off country, as told in "The Boy Aviators in Africa; or, an Aerial Ivory Trail," they had outwitted a wicked old man named Luther Barr, who tried to steal from them the ivory that they had recovered from the grip of an Arab slave-dealer. In Luther Barr's yacht, which they had acquired in a surprising manner, they had brought the ivory back to America and saved Mr. Beasley, the father of their chum, Lathrop Beasley, from financial ruin. After a short rest, they had announced that they would contest for the Hempstead Plains Cup. There was an interval of impatient waiting and then the freight steamer, which carried the Golden Eagle II from Africa, arrived safely and the work of setting the biplane up for the great contest had been at once begun.
The boys' first craft, The Golden Eagle, had been destroyed in a tropical storm in which they were blown to sea, as described in Volume One of this series: "The Boy Aviators in Nicaragua; or, Leagued With The Insurgents." The Golden Eagle II was the same craft in which, besides their African adventures, they had accomplished the dangerous mission for the Government, with the details of which our readers became conversant in "The Boy Aviators on Secret Service; or, Working with Wireless."
Their hasty toilet completed, the boys donned street clothes of neat fit and pattern and hastened to an automobile, halted at the roadside, in which their father and mother were seated. The two lads, as they leaned against the side of the car and chatted, made a pleasant picture of vigorous, adventurous youth. The eldest, Frank, was a little over sixteen, Harry, the younger boy, was about two years his junior. Both lads had crisp, curly hair and frank, blue eyes. Their faces were tanned to a dark tinge by their African trip.
Mrs. Chester looked eagerly about her at the shifting, colorful scene. There was certainly plenty to be seen and every minute held its own bit of interest. As they watched, another 'plane soared into view, black as a crow against the evening sky; it showed first as a mere speck, rapidly grew larger, and dropped to earth like a tired bird, while the crowd applauded once more.
"Whose 'plane is that?" asked Mr. Chester, as the machine was trundled into its shed—a pretentious affair built of corrugated iron and painted dark blue.
"Why, that's a mystery," laughed Frank, "but it's a dandy flyer. In fact it's about the only rival we really fear."
"What do you mean by 'a mystery,' Frank?" asked his mother.
"Well, mother, nobody knows who owns it. Its black-covered planes have earned it the name of The Buzzard and it can glide like one too, but as to its owner we are all in ignorance, though we should like to know."
"Whoever he may be he has made a lot of money," chimed in Harry. "Several enthusiasts who have watched the Buzzard fly have placed orders for similar machines."
"How much does such a craft cost?" asked his father.
"Oh, ones patterned after the Buzzard sell for $25,000," was the reply; "and if that machine wins this race, of course, it will give the mysterious manufacturer a tremendous prestige. But I think at that," he broke off with a merry smile, "that the Golden Eagle II is going to prove more than the Buzzard's match."
"Did you go over the whole course this afternoon?" asked his father.
"Yes, and the Eagle handled like a race-horse," replied Frank; "if she makes a like performance on the day of the race I think we have the cup as good as won."
"Don't be too sure, my boy," warned his father. "There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip—or rather the aeroplane, you know."
"That's so, father," replied the lad, somewhat abashed, "it doesn't do to be overconfident. There's only one thing I don't like about the course."
"What is that?"
"Why, the 'take off' at the Harrowbrook Club links."
"What do you mean by 'take off'?" inquired his mother.
"I mean the space in which an aeroplane makes its preliminary run, as you might call it, before it takes the air," rejoined the boy. "You see the rules of the race are that we fly from here to the Harrowbrook Club—a distance of twenty miles, alight there and refill our gasolene tanks, drink a cup of coffee in the club-house and then rise up once more and fly back."
"You mean that you are afraid that there will be difficulty in starting back from the Club grounds?" asked his father.
"Yes, father. You see, while we did it all right this afternoon, on the day of the race there will be a lot of 'planes all on the ground at the same time, and it's going to make it more difficult. However, I daresay we shall be able to manage it all right."
"Oh, Frank, do be careful," cautioned his mother.
"Of course I will, mother," the lad reassured her. "If I thought there was any serious risk I would not cause you anxiety by competing."
After a little more talk the elder Chesters drove off, as the boys had decided to sleep in their aerodrome that night, on the two camp cots they had provided for such emergencies. They intended to get an early start in the morning, on another practice sail, as at that hour there was usually little wind.
As they strolled across the grounds which were now rapidly being deserted, as all the aeroplanes were housed for the night, they encountered Armand Malvoise, the French driver of the mysterious Buzzard. He was a heavy-set, blue-chinned man with eyebrows that met in a black band, lending his face a perpetual scowl.
"You made a fine flight this evening," cried Harry cheerfully.
"You think so?" replied the Frenchman. "I shall make a better one on the day of the race. I mean to win that cup."
"Well, give us at least a look-in," laughed Frank good-naturedly.
"Bah, you are boys. I am a seasoned aviator. I have flown at Rheims and Vienna and in the south. It is absurd for you to compete with me."
"Personally I should like to see an American carry off the trophy, but if the best flyer wins I shall be quite satisfied," was Frank's quiet reply.
"You will see the colors of La Belle France floating over my aerodrome after the race," was the rejoinder.
"We shall see," was Frank's quiet answer, as the Frenchman strode off toward the village, where he usually remained gossiping in the hotel and complacently receiving the adulations of his admirers till late at night.
"Ach, he is as goot-natured as a caged lion, dot feller!" came a sudden exclamation behind the boys.
They turned about and faced old August Schmidt, the German aviator, who had started his career as a builder and operator of dirigibles, but was entered in the Hempstead Cup race as the flyer of a monoplane of his own design; and which, on account of its peculiar appearance, the crowds had already nicknamed the Grasshopper. As if in furtherance of this idea the German had painted his queer craft a bright green.
"Vell, you boys have a good chance for der cup got," the old man went on, between puffs at an enormous pipe with a china bowl that formed his inseparable companion when he was not in the air.
"Do you think so?" asked Frank.
"Ches, I do. Der Grasshopper is a goot leedle monoplane, but I am afraid dat some of der principles I have worked oud in her iss all wrong. Some day I break mein neck by der outside I am afraid much."
"Why you've done some good flying in the Grasshopper," consoled Harry.
"Ches, she is a goot leedle ship, bud she vont vin dees race, I dink. By der vay, boys, I have been meaning to warn you aboud dot Frenchman."
"How do you mean—'warn us'?" asked Frank.
"Vell he means to win dis race. I know dot he has bet a lot of money on himself. Den also the manufacturers of der Buzzard will make a lot of money already if der Buzzard wins der cup. If she does not—abend, dey lose. Yah, der is a lot to vin and much to lose for der Buzzard, and dot Frenchman vill do anything to make sure of vinning."
"Well, I guess we can take care of ourselves," laughed Frank, as he and his brother bade the queer old man good-night and entered their shed. It was filled with the appetizing odor of frying steak. On the top of the blue flame stove in a screened-off corner, Le Blanc, one of their mechanics, was cooking the simple meal with the loving care of a ten-thousand-dollar chef.
"Smells good!" remarked Harry sniffing. "Where's Sanborn?"
Sanborn was the other machinist and had been taken on in the place of their faithful old Schultz, who had fallen heir to a large sum of money in Germany, and gone home to spend his days in a cottage on the outskirts of Berlin.
"He has gone down to the village," replied Le Blanc, vigorously shaking the pan of sizzling potatoes.
"He seems to spend a lot of time down there lately," remarked Frank.
"I'd rather see him about the aerodome," put in Harry; "we don't want everybody to know all the details of our trials."
"That's so," assented his brother, "I'll speak to him about it when he comes in to-night."
The two lads fell to with keen appetites on their supper, which was served on tin plates and washed down with coffee out of tin mugs. Not a very aristocratic service, but the boys rather liked roughing it than otherwise, and you may be sure that the "dinner set" off which they ate did not engross a fraction of their attention. The meal disposed of, Le Blanc and the boys fixed up the folding camp cots and spread their blankets. There was still no sign of Sanborn. Frank was still struggling to keep awake in order to read the man a sharp lecture when he returned when drowsiness overcame him and he dropped off to sleep.
It was an hour later, and not far from midnight, when two dark figures crossed the deserted aviation field and threaded their way among the various aerodromes. They paused in front of the one in which the boys were asleep. Had the lads been onlookers they would have seen that one of the men was Sanborn, the new machinist, and the other was Malvoise, the driver of the sable Buzzard.
"You won't lose your nerve?" said the Frenchman.
"Not me. I'm sore at those kids, anyhow," was the reply. "The eldest one undertakes to call me down for going out at night all the time."
"Well, you have a good chance to get back at him and make some money at the same time," was the other's rejoinder.
"You are sure the money will be forthcoming?"
"Well, I should say! Old man Barr, who bought the patent of the Buzzard dirt cheap from her inventor, has a pile of it. He's going to manufacture the Buzzards to make money out of 'em and he'll stop at nothing to gain the prestige of winning this Hempstead Plains Cup."
"I've heard of old Barr before. He's a regular skinflint, but I suppose, if you say it will be all right about the money, I'll have to take your word for it. I need some coin too badly to stick at anything."
"That's the way to talk. By the way, talking of the inventor of the Buzzard, I saw a piece in the paper about him to-night."
"What was it?"
"Why it seems that the poor beggar applied for shelter at the Municipal lodging-house in New York and told them a long tale of Barr having robbed him of his invention. They sized him up as being just another of those inventor bugs and so sent him to the booby hatch in Bellevue."
"A good place for him," was the rejoinder, "these inventors are all crazy."
"Well, Luther Barr's found a way to make this particular crank pay," was the reply.
"That's so. Well, good-night. Oh, say what was the name of the man who planned the Buzzard?"
"Oh, Eben something—let's see—Eben—it began with a J. I've got it—Eben Joyce, that's it—Eben Joyce."
"Queer name that—Eben Joyce," was Sanborn's comment. "Well, good-night."
"Good-night. You won't fail us."
"Not I," responded the machinist, as he slipped into the aerodrome and was soon wrapped in slumber as profound as if the thought of committing a treacherous act had never entered his mind.
BILLY'S STRANGE TALE.
The next morning, as soon as the alarm clock rang out its summons at four-thirty, the boys were up and stirring, dashing the sleep out of their eyes with plenty of cold water. Le Blanc and Sanborn soon joined them, the latter heavy-eyed and sleepy-looking from the late hours of the night before. He was smoking a cigarette.
"Look here, Sanborn, I don't want to be too strict, but you know there's too much gasolene around here for it to be safe to smoke in the shed," said Frank, with some irritation, as he spied him.
Sanborn threw the cigarette away with an ill-tempered exclamation.
"Gee! It's a wonder you don't start a Sunday-school in here," he said.
"Well, I don't think it would do you any harm to attend one for a while," answered Frank, "and by the way, can't you make it possible to come in a little earlier? You are a valuable man to us and you can't do your best work if you are sitting up till all hours at the village hotel."
"You ain't got no complaint about my work, have you?" was the surly rejoinder.
"No, I think that you are a very capable mechanic but I hate to see you wasting your time and opportunities this way," replied Frank. The boy was in some doubt as to the wisdom or the utility of calling Sanborn's attention to the latter's bad habits, but having embarked on his admonition he was not going to quit just because the man was surly.
"When are you going to go up?" asked Sanborn, changing the subject abruptly.
"Right after breakfast," was the boy's reply, as he looked out of the big sliding doors and surveyed the cloudless sky. "There doesn't seem to be a breath of wind and it's ideal weather for a good long flight."
But if the boys were up early they were not the only ones astir. Gladwin, who was an experimenter and who, although he had only been up a few times, meant to compete in the big race, was already busy outside his aerodrome, lovingly adjusting the engine of his queer-looking monoplane which had already been wheeled out. Malvoise, his hands in his pockets and a red sash about his waist, was also studying the sky. As Frank gazed about in the crisp morning air a dozen other aviators opened up their sheds and the day-life of the aviation camp began.
After breakfast had been despatched the boys at once went to work on their engine, a hundred horse-powered, eight-cylindered machine which was capable of driving their twin-screwed craft through the air at a rate of sixty miles an hour. One of the cylinders needed a new gasket and they were engaged on the task of fitting it when a sudden hail outside the shed made them look up inquiringly. A short, fat youth with a pair of spectacles bestriding his round good-natured face stood in the doorway. The boys recognized him instantly.
"Why, hullo, Billy Barnes!" they cried, "come on in."
"Hullo, Frank, hullo, Harry," grinned the newcomer, frantically shaking hands. "I'm an early caller, but I slept at the village hotel last night and the beds there are as hard as a miser's heart. So I decided to get out early and take a chance on finding you fellows up and about."
After the first hearty greetings between the boys and the young reporter—with whom the readers of the other volumes in this series have already formed an acquaintanceship—the boys started asking questions.
"What are you doing here anyhow?" demanded Frank.
"Yes, you mysterious scribe, tell us what you are after—a scoop or a story of how it feels to ride in an aeroplane?"
"Well," laughed Billy in response, "I've had so many flights in the Golden Eagles—both one and two—that I really believe I've had too much experience to write a story about it from the novice's standpoint. No, the fact is that I am down here on a story—a good one too."
"You can't keep away from the newspaper field, can you?" laughed Frank.
"No, that's a fact," agreed Billy ruefully; "I've tried to, but it's no good."
"Well, you ought to be 'a man of independent fortune' now, as the papers say," cried Harry.
"You mean with the percentage I got of the recovered ivory?"
The others nodded.
"I always felt I didn't really deserve that money," urged Billy. "You fellows did most of the work in Africa, I just trailed along."
"Oh, get out, Billy Barnes!" cried Frank. "You did as much as any of us in overreaching old Barr."
"Go ahead and tell us about this story of yours," demanded Harry.
"Well, it sounds like a weird dream and perhaps you fellows will laugh at me for taking it seriously, but a few days ago an old fellow in a tattered blue suit called at the Planet offices and said he wanted to see the city editor. Of course nobody ever does see the city editor, so I was sent out to ascertain what the visitor wanted. I saw at once he had been a seafaring man. He told me his name was Bill Hendricks, known better as Bluewater Bill. He beat about the bush a good while before he would tell me what he was after, and finally he unfolded the wildest tale about buried treasure you ever heard—that is, I don't mean buried treasure—floating would be a better word to describe it. He told me that he had been one of the crew of a sailing vessel that had drifted, after being dismasted in a storm, into the Sargasso Sea."
"You might tell us where the Sargasso Sea is," struck in Harry. "I never heard of it."
"Why, it's a vast expanse of floating seaweed brought together by circling ocean currents," explained Billy. "There are hundreds of miles of seaweed in it and from the name of the weed it gets its title of Sargasso. It is in the north Atlantic, just about off the Gulf of Mexico roughly speaking, though many hundred miles from land. It is shifting all the time though, I understand, and a ship that once gets into it never gets out. The weed just holds her in its grip till she rots. Bluewater Bill told me that, after his ship drifted into it, he counted ten steamers and four sailing vessels drifting idly about on the brown expanse that spread like a desert on all sides. But the most remarkable of all, according to his story, was a high-pooped, castle-bowed affair with three masts that the tattered sails still hung to. According to him she was a real, sure-enough galleon. One of the old treasure vessels that used to ply the Spanish Main."
"Oh, I say, Billy, you don't believe such a yarn as that, do you?" burst out Frank and Harry, both at once.
"Well, I don't know," replied Billy, "the fellow seemed serious enough and I am half inclined to believe he was telling the truth. He wanted to get somebody to finance an expedition to go down there and prove that he was not falsifying, and give him a small share of the treasure he is sure the vessel is laden with, in return for his information."
"In other words he is seeking a backer for an enterprise that looks ridiculous on the face of it," commented Frank.
"I'm not so certain of that," went on Billy. "Look here," and with the air of a conjurer producing a card from the empty air, he dived into his pocket and then, after a moment's fumbling, held out a round gold coin for the boys' inspection.
"A Spanish pistole!" exclaimed Frank, as his eyes fell on the dull yellow metal of the golden coin.
"That's right," said Billy. "I took it to a coin-dealer and had him give it a name. Of course the paper laughed at the story, so I'm after it now on my own hook. I got a leave of absence to dig it up. Bluewater Bill lives in Mineola and I'm going to see him later to-day and get more details from him. The more I think it over the more I think it's worth looking into."
The boys, whose opinion of the old sailor's story had been much altered by Billy's production of the indisputable evidence of the gold coin, agreed with him that it was indeed worth investigating further.
"But you haven't told us half the story, Billy," objected Frank. "How did Bluewater Bill escape? What became of the other men on the ship? How did he get aboard the galleon and get the coin? Oh, and heaps of other hows? and whys?" he broke off, laughing at Billy's serious face.
"I haven't got time to tell you all that now, and besides I am not clear on many of those points myself," replied Billy. "Suppose, if you are not doing anything this evening, you come round with me to Bluewater Bill's home and talk to him about it yourselves."
"Say, are you trying to lure us into any fresh adventures?" said Frank with mock seriousness. "Didn't we have enough of them in Africa?"
"I don't see how we could get at the galleon, supposing there is one there, even if we did go after it," chimed in Harry, whose active mind had already jumped ahead of the boys' conversation.
"Why not?" demanded Billy.
"Why, you chump, if ships get in there and can't get out, how are we going to sail in there—get the treasure—always supposing there is any—and then return to civilization?"
"Do you mean to say that your gigantic brain can't grasp that?" demanded the reporter.
"No, my brilliant literary friend, it cannot—can yours?"
"Well, let us have it."
"Well, in the first place," began Billy, "if—I only say if—the galleon is there and—if—please remark I say 'if' once more—if we should decide to go after the treasure—if (useful word that) we did do so, we wouldn't have to sail INTO the Sargasso Sea at all."
"No. We could sail OVER it."
"By George! that's so, isn't it?"
"Of course it is," concluded the young reporter; and he artfully added, "it would be a great chance to demonstrate Frank's pet theory that an aeroplane that can float on the water on pontoons would be as easy to construct as one that will fly in the air."
"What if a storm came up?"
"It is always calm in the Sargasso Sea, so Bluewater Bill told me. The great mass of tangled weed prevents the waves breaking while the severest storm may be raging all about. Nothing more alarming than a gentle swell ever disturbs its repose."
Frank, the mechanical-minded, already had fished out an envelope, and on its back was scribbling the rough outlines of the aluminum pontoons, he had frequently made a mental resolve to attach to the aeroplane, so as to render it safe on the water as well as over the land. He had no intention then of embarking on the enterprise that Billy had outlined—at least he didn't think he had—but any suggestion of aeroplane improvement always interested the boy keenly and set his inventive mind at work.
While the three boys had been discussing Bluewater Bill's strange tale there had been a fourth auditor whose presence, had they known it, would have caused them to talk in lowered voices. Sanborn, the mechanic, from behind the canvas screen where he was supposed to have been eating his breakfast, had been listening greedily to every word the young reporter said. His eyes fairly burned in his head as he listened and a half-formed resolve entered his mind.
There might be other persons who would be interested in learning of the treasure ship which Sanborn's greedy mind already had regarded as a reality.
"Guess I'll take a run down to Bluewater Bill's myself to-night," he said to himself as he prepared to go to work on the aeroplane, at which Le Blanc had been busy tinkering during the boys' talk.
"Well, Frank," said Billy at length, "what do you think of it?"
"I'll reserve decision till we see Bluewater Bill to-night," quietly rejoined the other, rising from the box on which he had been sitting and slipping into his leather coat.
A TRIAL FLIGHT.
When the boys wheeled the Golden Eagle II out of its shed, the green plains which stretched in an apparently limitless level on all sides were flooded with bright sunshine. They had delayed longer than they had intended to in making their start and already most of the other prospective contestants had concluded testing their engines or giving a final look over to brace wires and turn-buckles. A sparse sprinkling of spectators from the village was already on the grounds, early as was the hour.
The Golden Eagle's fuel and lubricating tanks were quickly filled, and every bit of metal about her shone and glistened in the sunlight, making a score of bright points of light. Her great planes, with their covering of yellow vulcanized silk, were in marked contrast to the inky hue of the Buzzard's surfaces, whose driver, Malvoise, was just settling into his seat, his inevitable cigarette still in his mouth. The Buzzard was even larger than the Golden Eagle, but her lifting capacity was a good deal less, as she was not so well designed. Malvoise, however, was a reckless driver, and had already had several narrow escapes from upsets.
The other air men bustled about and from their engines came an occasional gatling-gun-like rattle and roar, as they tried their motors out. In the air was the raw smell of gasolene and the odor of trampled grass. Clouds of blue smoke arose from where the proprietor of a small biplane had drenched his cylinders with too much oil. Occasionally an auto or a motor cycle chugged up, and the early comers watched with intense interest the flying men preparing for their trial flights.
Frank and Harry paid little attention to the others as they drew on their gloves, and carefully inspected their propellers. A man had been almost killed on the grounds a few days before, when a propeller blade had torn loose under the terrific strain of its 1200 revolutions a minute, and the boys were not anxious for anything like that to happen to their machine.
At last, everything seemed to be in order and the Chester boys scrambled into their chassis. The Golden Eagle had been stripped of all the appliances she usually carried as a passenger craft. Her searchlight and wireless were missing. Her transom seats were gone. Several braces had been taken out also, as the removal of her passenger accommodations had rendered the strain on her framework much less.
"I'd hardly know her," remarked Billy, watching the boys, as they took their places on two small seats with slender steel arm rests. Harry's seat was by the engine and Frank sat at the steering wheel, which manipulated the dipping and diving rudders as well as the rearward steering surface. One of his feet was on the brake—an automatic contrivance that cut off the spark. The other reposed on the foot pump which was used in case anything went wrong with the force-feed lubrication.
"All right," said Frank, twisting the valve that sent the gasolene flowing to the carburetor and adjusting the switch.
Billy could stand it no longer. He had been watching with anxious eyes the preparations and apparently the boys were going to fly without him.
"Say, Frank," he began hesitatingly, "I don't suppose you could—"
Frank turned and saw the wistful look in the young reporter's eyes.
"Take you up?" he said, with a laugh at Billy's downcast appearance.
"Well, there's not much room for passengers the way she is fixed at present," laughed Harry catching Frank's mirth, "but if you want to squeeze in by me here, you can. Here, Le Blanc, bring out that spare seat."
A few seconds later the delighted reporter was sitting on a small aluminum seat fitted with clamps to screw to the framework, and handles to grasp hold of tightly when the craft was in mid-air.
"Let her go," cried Frank, as soon as the delighted Billy had taken his place.
Sanford and Le Blanc, one at each of the propellers, gave them a few twists, and after about the third silent revolution there came the startling roar of the exhaust that told the boys that all the cylinders were getting down to work. Blue flames and smoke belched out of the vents and the mechanics sprang back, as the propellers whirled round at a pace that made them seem blurred shadows.
"Hang on till I get up speed," shouted Frank to the two mechanics, who, with several volunteer helpers, seized hold of the rear framework and held the struggling aeroplane back with all their might. Her frame shook as if it was being swept by some mighty convulsion. The racket was terrific, ear-splitting. The wind from the propellers blew hats in every direction and streamed out the hair of the men holding the aeroplane back, as if they had been poking their faces into an electric fan.
Faster and faster the propellers revolved, as Frank increased the power of his mixture and advanced the spark. At last, when the men holding the craft were shouting that they couldn't hang on much longer, Frank dropped his hand, the signal that the craft was to be released.
Like a scared jack-rabbit, the big-winged craft shot forward over the uneven ground at race-horse speed. Several boys on bicycles, who started after the air-ship, were speedily distanced.
After a short run, Frank jerked forward his control wheel, and the Golden Eagle, amid a cheer that was of course inaudible to the boys above the uproar of the engine, shot upward into the blue.
A few seconds later there was another roar of applause as the black Buzzard darted forward, and was soon soaring upward in pursuit of the speedy Golden Eagle. Old Schmidt in his monoplane was the next off—the crowd howling with mirth as the queer green contrivance scuttled over the ground in a series of spasmodic hops, just like its grasshopper namesake. Then came Gladwin, the novice, and a half dozen others. Presently the air above the plains was full of ambitious air craft, but with the exception of old Schmidt, who rose to a height of about a hundred feet and contented himself with circling about the grounds, none of them made any but the shortest of flights.
The attention of the crowd, therefore, naturally centered on the two rivals—as they were universally conceded to be—the Golden Eagle and the Buzzard. There was no difficulty in telling the craft apart, as they circled about high above the now crowded grounds. The spirit of emulation seemed to have seized on Malvoise. He followed the boys closely, and every feat they performed he attempted to imitate.
Frank at first contented himself with practicing swoops and glides, but after a while, tiring of this, he headed his craft due east and the Golden Eagle was soon a diminishing speck against the sky. The crowd watched till the big 'plane became a pin point and then vanished altogether. The Buzzard was off after them in a flash and the crowd cheered her just as impartially as they had the boys, as the graceful, black flyer stopped her soaring and headed off in the direction in which the Golden Eagle had rapidly vanished.
Before she had gone a mile, though, it was apparent to the watchers that something was wrong. A cloud of black smoke enveloped her engine and she wobbled badly. A rush across the field began. Suddenly the black aeroplane made a dash downward at a speed that seemed as if her driver had lost control of her altogether.
"He'll be dashed to death," cried the crowd, as they saw the craft shoot downward.
Indeed it seemed so.
But Malvoise was too experienced an aviator to be caught napping. As soon as his engine began to miss fire and to smoke, he had set his guiding planes at a sharp angle and dropped in the manner described.
Had the Buzzard not been fitted with air-cushion buffers on her landing wheels and steel springs on the skids that supported her stern, a serious accident must have inevitably occurred. But, as it was, the Frenchman only received a severe jarring and was scowling over his engine when the crowd rushed down on him.
As the crowd of curious onlookers swept down on the disabled aeroplane and her furious driver, a loud "honk-honk" was heard and a big touring car came dashing across the plain. The people scattered right and left as soon as it was apparent that the car's destination was the stranded Buzzard.
Beside its driver, the car had only a single occupant, an old man it seemed by the tuft of gray hair that was projected from his chin, and which was all that could be seen of his face. The rest of his features were covered by a motoring mask with large glass eye-holes that made him look not unlike a goggle-eyed frog.
"Come here, Malvoise," croaked the newcomer, in a voice strangely like that of the creature he remotely resembled.
The Frenchman instantly left his engine and hurried to the side of the automobile. The two conversed in low tones, though it was easy to see that the old man was in a violent rage.
"I tell you the Buzzard must win," he concluded, after storming at Malvoise for an accident that had really been no fault of his. "I've put up a $50,000 plant for the manufacture of aeroplanes of her type and I've got to have that cup in order to sell them."
"I told you, Mr. Barr," rejoined the Frenchman, "that I had found a man who would do what we want. I told you that over the 'phone last night, you recollect."
"Oh, yes, I recollect," croaked the old man impatiently, "but he doesn't seem to have done much. You are sure we have no other dangerous rivals?"
"Quite," was the reply. "Old Schmidt's monoplane is the only other one that comes near us and we can easily outdistance her."
"Good! that only leaves the Golden Eagle to contest for the cup with us."
"Yes, and she is never going to get it," grinned the Frenchman.
"She must not," said the old man, earnestly, "I owe those boys a grudge for the way they robbed me of my ivory. I never found the other tusks they said they had left behind either. I believe that ill-favored black rascal, Sikaso, got them."
"You leave it to me," was the rejoinder of the Frenchman, to whom the latter part of this speech had been incomprehensible of course, "the Buzzard will win the cup, never fear."
At this moment, the heavy-set figure of Sanborn was seen shouldering its way through the crowd.
"Why here's our man now," whispered Malvoise to old Barr. "This is the mechanic of the Chester boys of whom I spoke to you."
Old Barr greeted Sanborn graciously, but he seemed somewhat surprised when the mechanic, after some talk, suddenly said:
"I have something important to tell you, Mr. Barr."
"What is it?" demanded the magnate, not without impatience.
"I cannot tell you here, somebody might overhear us. I'll take a ride with you in your car."
"But it won't do for the Chester boys to see us together."
"They won't be back for some time. They are off on a long flight. I can tell you my proposition and be back at the aerodrome by the time they return."
"Very well, I will hear what you have to say."
As the car moved slowly off, the chauffeur steering it carefully among the scattered crowd, the two occupants of the tonneau were engaged in a conversation that must have been deeply interesting, judging from old Barr's gestures and exclamations. If one could have penetrated behind his mask they would have seen his thin lips curled in a delighted smile and his eyes glisten with cupidity at the proposition Sanborn was craftily unfolding.
EBEN JOYCE APPEARS.
Hardly had the automobile containing the old man and the machinist vanished down the road in a cloud of dust before a shout from the crowd proclaimed that the Golden Eagle was once more in sight. At first a mere speck against the blue, she rapidly assumed shape and was soon circling above the heads of the onlookers, her engine droning steadily, as if she had been some gigantic beetle.
"I say, Frank, this is glorious. How much better she flies than when she was laden down with her cabin and fittings."
Billy shouted this comment at the top of his voice, so as to be heard by the others above the roar of the engine.
Far below them—spread out like the figures on a carpet—they could see the plain; with its big crowd massed in one corner and dozens of tiny figures scuttling about so as to get a better view of the air-craft by getting right underneath it.
"Watch, I'm going to give them a scare."
It was Frank who spoke, and, as he did so, he shoved forward his control-wheel post till the front elevating planes were dropped at an acute angle. There was a sharp snap as he opened the circuit and the roar of the propellers came to a sudden stop.
"Good Lord, Frank, what are you going to do?" gasped Billy, to whom floating in the air with the engine cut out was a new and somewhat terrifying sensation.
"Glide," was the reply.
"Hold on tight now!"
Suddenly the great craft began to descend in a quick dropping rush that sent the air tingling against Billy's cheeks as though they had been plunging through a hailstorm. There was a mighty buzzing in his ears, and every stay and wire on the big craft sang its own song, as the wind rushed through them as if the Golden Eagle had been converted into a monster Aeolian harp.
Down and down they dropped.
A sudden fear shot into Billy's mind.
What if Frank couldn't start the engine again?
They would be dashed to death to a certainty.
And now it seemed that instead of the aeroplane gliding down on the earth that the earth was rushing upward with terrific velocity to meet them.
Just as Billy was about to shout aloud in actual terror at the disaster that seemed unavoidable, there was a sharp "click" as Frank closed the circuit with his emergency foot pedal and the engine began to revolve once more.
Her two propellers shoving her ahead with a mighty push, the big aeroplane began to shoot upwards again in a long swinging arc. She had dropped to within twenty feet of the ground.
It was a hair-raising feat and the crowd that had scattered in terror, as the monster craft bore down on them, quickly reassembled and sent up a cheer.
There was an even heavier scowl than his habitual frown on the face of Malvoise as, having completed his repairs on the engine that had caused him to make such an abrupt descent, he prepared to go up once more.
"Sacre!" he muttered, "those pigs of American boys would certainly get the cup if it wasn't for my foresight in providing against such an emergency."
The crowd scampered across the field to the Frenchman's side as it was seen he was about to take the air again, and a dozen volunteers laid on to the rear frames of his craft and held her back while he started the engine. The Frenchman took his seat with deliberation and adjusted his gloves with care. It was easy to see that he fairly reveled in the admiration he excited.
Just as the Frenchman was about to start his engine, preparatory to giving the word to let go, there was a shout from the crowd and cries of:
"Let him through."
"No, keep him out."
"Who is he, anyhow?"
"Aw, he's an old man; let him get through."
"No, he isn't."
"I am not crazy," came in a shrill, cracked voice, "unless it is with my wrongs."
Malvoise looked up quickly.
He saw an old man with long, flowing gray hair and clothes of the shabbiest making his way toward him. Close behind followed a young woman of unusual beauty, who seemed to be endeavoring to stop the aged man from going further. But he was not to be restrained. In a few strides he was at the side of the Buzzard, and gazing with piercing eyes into the French aviator's face.
"Well, what do you want, old man?" asked Malvoise sharply.
"I want the world to know that the Buzzard is my invention, my design, the child of my brain from her top-plane to her landing wheels;" shrilled the old man, who seemed beside himself with excitement.
"Father, do be calm, I beg of you," entreated the young woman.
"Calm, child! how can I be calm when I realize that I have been robbed of the work of years by the craftiness of this old man, Barr?"
"Hush!" exclaimed the Frenchman, as the old man voiced the name of his employer, "don't talk so loud. I know who you are now. You are Eben Joyce, the inventor."
"Yes, I am," replied the old man in a lower voice, for he too saw that the more curious members of the crowd were pressing so close to them that every word of their conversation must have been audible. "I am indeed Eben Joyce, the unfortunate inventor from whom Luther Barr by trickery secured my working drawings and specifications for the Buzzard. For a paltry five hundred I sold them all to him on the understanding that I was to have a share in the business. There will be millions in it—millions in it for him, but not a cent for me; for the agreement that I foolishly signed contains a clause that resigns all my interest in the Buzzards. Fool that I was, in my lack of knowledge of business trickery, I did not realize what the cunningly-worded sentence meant till it was too late. The five hundred went to pay my debts, and my daughter and I now face starvation."
"Well, that's none of my business," was the brutal reply. "I simply am here to drive the Buzzards, not to talk about them."
"What!" stammered the old man, "will you have no pity on us nor even direct where we may find Luther Barr if he is on the grounds?"
"I can't waste any time on you, I tell you," cried the Frenchman, his eye scanning the sky, where the Golden Eagle was maneuvering in circles and swoops.
"Moreover," went on Malvoise, "I should not advise you to mention Barr's name as the manufacturer of the Buzzards. He has a business deal on in which it is important he should not be known as an aeroplane speculator. If he learns that you are giving his secrets away, he will make it hot for you, I can tell you. You were sent to Bellevue yesterday, were you not?"
"I was—yes," pitifully cried the old man, "but I was at once released, and it was with money given me by one of the doctors who heard my story and pitied me that I came down here to-day to find Luther Barr and see whether—although in law he owes me nothing—whether I could not persuade him to at least give me something to keep the wolf from the door till I have perfected my new automatic balancing device for air-craft."
As he spoke, the old man's eyes kindled with pride at the achievement he hoped to accomplish. He shook off the touch of his daughter's hand on his ragged coat-sleeve. In his kindling enthusiasm he seemed to have forgotten his cares and anxieties.
"Oh, sir," he went on eagerly, "it would take very little money now before the invention is ready and if Mr. Barr could find it in his heart to help me I would gladly share the proceeds with him. It is the most needed improvement of the age for air-craft and—"
"Oh, you are like all crazy inventors," brutally blurted out Malvoise, "every idea that enters your cracked brain you think is the greatest improvement of the age, as you say. What good would your inventions be anyway without money to back them up—they'd only be junk for the scrap pile."
The old man's eyes filled with tears as the Frenchman began his rough speech, but the look in them changed rapidly to one of amazed anger as the aviator continued. Drawing himself up to his full height the old man seemed about to launch a terrific denunciation at the other when his daughter once more intervened.
"Come, father," she said gently, "we shall gain nothing by remaining here. You have been robbed of your invention and it is evident that Mr. Barr means to adhere closely to what he and his like call business methods. Come, let us get back to the city and—"
Her words were cut short by a shout from Malvoise. He started up his engine suddenly and before the old man could step back out of the way, the helpers, taken by surprise, let go of the rear structure to which they had been clinging.
"Out of my way!" yelled Malvoise, as like some huge juggernaut the black aeroplane bore down on old Eben Joyce. But the warning came too late.
A horrified cry of:
"He's killed!" went up from the crowd, as the end of one of the planes struck the old man and knocked him on to the grass with crashing force.
His daughter shrieked aloud as she saw the accident and rushed to her father's side as the Buzzard swept on.
Old Mr. Joyce lay very still. There was a deep gash in his head where the aeroplane had struck him.
In the midst of the excitement there fell over the crowd a dark shadow. Everybody looked up to see what had caused it, and there, right above them, was the Golden Eagle. Frank had seen the crowd and driven the aeroplane above it to see what was the matter.
The next minute the great aeroplane glided groundward and landed within a few feet of the crowd. The press made way as the Eagle's occupants hastened to the side of the wounded man.
"Here, Harry, here, Billy, carry him to our shed and lay him on one of the cots," commanded Frank. "I'll tell Le Blanc to get on his motor cycle and hurry back with a doctor."
The boys picked the unconscious man up and carried him to the Golden Eagle's shed. His pitiful emaciation made their task an easy one. The unfortunate old man was reduced almost to a skeleton.
"Oh, thank you so much, sir," exclaimed Eben Joyce's daughter, clasping her hands gratefully, you—you don't think that he is badly hurt, do you?"
"Why, he has a nasty cut," replied Frank, who had hastily examined it, "but I think it is only a flesh wound. He'll pull through, never fear. You are a relative of his, miss?"
"I am his daughter," exclaimed the girl.
At this moment, Malvoise, who had checked the Buzzard and dismounted, hastened up. His face was livid and his hands shook as though with palsy.
"It was an accident—it was all an accident," he cried. "I didn't mean to. Is—is he dead?"
"He is not,—and he is not likely to die," sternly replied Frank, looking full into the Frenchman's cringing face, "do you know who he is?"
"Do I know who he is?" repeated the Frenchman slowly, "why, no, monsieur, I never saw him before in my life."
A STRANGE STORY.
It was not long before, under the friendly administrations of the boys, Old Eben Joyce opened his eyes on a cot in their aerodrome and gave a long sigh. It was several minutes, however, before he realized what had happened.
"How can I thank you—?" he concluded, after he had informed the boys of his name and profession.
"Hush," said Frank, "you must not exhaust yourself by talking now," and the aged inventor remained silent therefore, till Le Blanc returned with a doctor from Mineola.
The physician, after a brief examination, pronounced that the wound in the old man's head was not at all serious, but recommended his removal to the hospital notwithstanding.
"It is nothing more than a flesh wound," he said, "but at the hospital he can get better treatment than at home."
And so it was arranged that for the present old Eben Joyce was to go to the hospital,—being driven thither in Dr. Telfair's rig,—and that his daughter would return to New York and make her home with relatives till such time as her father had recovered. These arrangements made, and the inventor's daughter having being driven to the train, it was time to think of accompanying Billy Barnes to Bluewater Bill's cottage, on the outskirts of the little town.
Just as the lads were about to take their departure, leaving Le Blanc in charge of the aeroplane, Sanborn made his way into the tent shed. He had heard from loungers about the grounds of the plight of aged Eben Joyce as he returned from his ride in Luther Barr's car. He was somewhat perturbed as he entered the shed for fear that he would have to face the inventor, fresh as he was from an interview with the man that had practically robbed the aerial genius of his life-work. But Eben Joyce and his daughter had both left and he had no more of an ordeal to undergo than Frank's searching glance.
Knowing as he did what he had been talking to old Luther Barr about, Sanborn's eyes dropped as he met Frank's gaze.
"I—I have been to the village for a little tobacco," he stammered, "I hope you have not needed me. I did not think you would be back so soon."
"You had better help Le Blanc bring in the Golden Eagle," rejoined Frank shortly. He felt no wish to enter into an argument with the man whom he had already made up his mind to discharge at the first opportunity.
The two mechanics therefore were soon at work, wheeling in the aeroplane, as the boys trudged off down the road to the village. Half-way there they were startled to hear the loud "honk-honk" of a rapidly approaching auto behind them and to be hailed in an imperious voice that shouted:
"Get off the road!"
The boys had no choice but to step nimbly aside as the car whizzed by in a cloud of dust, but quick as had been its passing, Frank and Harry gave a simultaneous sharp exclamation as they both recognized the face of its occupant. Luther Barr, once clear of the grounds, had removed his uncomfortably warm autoing mask and the two lads, as the car vanished in a cloud of yellow dust, both cried out his name in sharp astonishment.
"Whatever can he be doing here?" exclaimed Billy.
"I don't know; but you can depend on it he is up to no good," was Frank's reply.
"The old fox,—I wonder if he recognized us?" cried Harry.
"If his eyes are as keen as they used to be, he did, without a question," rejoined Frank.
The boy was right. Old Barr had recognized them, and knew them all the more readily indeed for the reason that at that very moment his mind was bent on frustrating a plan that Sanborn had informed him the boys had in mind, and which they were on their way to culminate.
"I'll bet, if he knew what we are on our way to talk over, he'd give a few dollars to be present at the conversation," remarked Billy.
"You may well say that," laughed Frank, "anything that there seems to be a dollar in, is old Luther Barr's highest ideal."
By this time they had passed through the village and, after walking about half a mile down a country road, they emerged on a green, park-like meadow, at the further side of which stood a neat cottage. Portions of a whale's huge bones dotted either side of the path as ornaments, and in front of the cottage stood a flagpole from which fluttered the Stars and Stripes. The cottage was painted white and was as neat and ship-shape as the quarterdeck of a man-of-war.
As they walked up the path the door opened and a grizzled face, set in a perfect forest of white whiskers, protruded itself with a smile of welcome.
"Hello, boys—welcome to my cuddy," cried Blue-water Bill's hearty voice. "I've a fine dish of lobscouse, a raisin pie and some cider from Farmer Goggins's press all ready for you. Come in—come in."
He ushered them into a small sitting-room, furnished with all sorts of sea curiosities, and, after explaining several of the curios to the boys, he announced, following an interval of visiting in the kitchen, from whence proceeded an appetizing odor, that the meal was ready. The boys were nothing loath to fall to on the sea banquet the old salt spread before them, and so busy were they despatching the sailor's cooking, that it was not till after they concluded the meal and Bluewater Bill had his old brier pipe going that they came down to the discussion of what each of the boys had uppermost in his mind—namely, the history of Bluewater Bill's discovery of the lost treasure galleon of the Sargasso Sea.
As for Bluewater Bill he was delighted to spin his yarn to such sympathetic listeners and told it with so much embroidery and discursive oratory that to repeat it in his words would be tedious. We shall therefore condense it as follows:
Bluewater Bill had been mate on the Bath, Me., barque, Eleanor Jones. They were bound for South America with a cargo of chemicals and assorted canned stuffs. From the first day out misfortune assailed the vessel. She encountered heavy weather and, during a towering climax of the storm, part of her deck load of American lumber fetched away and carried with it three of her crew of ten men. Shortly after that the cook's big copper boiler ripped loose and fell on him, scalding him so badly that when the ship finally emerged from her storm-battering he died and was buried at sea.
The captain of the craft, however, was what Bluewater Bill termed "a masterful man." Despite the urgent entreaties of his depleted crew to put into some port and refit, he kept on, with favoring breezes, and soon entered what are called the "doldrums" in which fierce hurricanes alternate with periods of dead flat calm in which a ship will float on a rippleless sea "as idle as a painted craft upon a painted ocean." The Eleanor Jones drifted about in one of these flat, hopeless calms till the pitch boiled in her seams and the sails seemed dried to tinder.
After a week of this, without the slightest warning, one of the sudden storms, that are common to the region in which she was navigating, came up.
"Caught aback," as they were, with all canvas set in the hope of catching what breeze might come to disturb the flat calm, the Eleanor Jones' main and fore masts were ripped out of her as if by a giant's hand. The crew managed to cut the wreckage away before it had pounded a hole in her side, and with what canvas they could set on the mizzen the captain attempted to drive her before the wind. But naturally enough the ship had no steerage-way and simply revolved in the huge seas.
Every time a comber caught her broadside, the water swept over her decks in tons of overwhelming fluid. As they fought desperately to retain footing, under the constant assaults of the waves, there came a sudden cry of:
"Heaven help us!"
More from instinct than anything else Bluewater Bill cast himself flat on his face, clinging to a ring-bolt in the deck. Dazed and almost senseless, he felt the mighty onslaught of the wave, which, strong as was his grip, plucked him from his hold and sent him tumbling and half drowned into the lee scuppers. Fortunately he managed to get a firm grip on the mizzen shrouds and clung there till the wave had passed. As he staggered to his feet he gazed about him on the seemingly doomed ship.
He was alone.
Every soul on board but himself had been swept from the deck by that mighty mass of water.
For two days the storm tossed the ship about like a plaything. Her lone voyager had no means of knowing whither he was being driven. He ate at times mechanically and scarcely emerged on deck at all. The fear of sharing the fate of his comrades possessed him and he remained in the cabin, not knowing from one minute to the next whether the succeeding instant would not prove his last. At last, however, the storm blew itself out and Bluewater Bill ventured on deck.
What a sight met his gaze!
At first he thought he was dreaming.
All about him for miles—as far as he could see in fact—stretched a gently-heaving, brown expanse. It looked like a vast prairie. From it rose the sharp, pungent odor peculiar to seaweed and the old mariner had no difficulty in recognizing the stunning fact that he was adrift in the Sargasso Sea of which he had heard so many ominous tales.
The realization was a shocking one. It meant, as he knew, that he was to all intents and purposes a doomed man. Despairingly he gazed about him and almost uttered a shout as at a distance of not more than a mile or two he made out the outlines of a queer-looking three-masted ship. Here at least was company. Obtaining the glasses, which the ill-fated skipper had left in his cabin, the mate of the Eleanor Jones scanned the neighbor vessel eagerly. She was as motionless under the cloudless blue dome of the sky as the ship on which he stood.
But she seemed to have men on board of her.
At least there were figures leaning against her rail.
The castaway lost no time in lowering the one boat that had not been smashed and sliding down the "falls" into her. Then he sculled, not without difficulty, through tangled weed to the side of the strange vessel. But a strange sight met his eyes as he drew nearer. His neighbor in the vast entangling expanse was a high-sided craft with great ports, of which one or two had fallen away, revealing the grinning muzzles of great guns. Her sails hung in torn fragments from her square yards, and on her lofty poop the gilding had faded from three big battle-lanterns and the carved scroll work surrounded her name, El Buena Ventura. (The Fortunate Venture.)
But the men leaning over the side?
Alas for poor Bluewater Bill's hopes of human companionship.
It was many long years since they had been men, and it was a dozen or more grinning skeletons in time-tattered garments that gazed over the galleon's faded side at the lone castaway in his cockle-shell. How they had died, the sailor, even after he had clambered on board, could make no guess; but there they stood, a ghastly row of dead sailors, held upright, as they had died, between the big gun-carriages of the lost galleon's deck carronades.
Whatever Bluewater Bill's failings might have been, he was no faint heart, and despite the shock of the gruesome discovery he continued his investigation of the silent ship. Apparently some attempt had been made when first the Buena Ventura was caught in the deadly embrace of the Sargasso to convey her treasure to the boats, for, at the head of the main companion-way, Bluewater Bill found a chest of antique pattern, the lid of which he ripped open without much opposition from the moldering lock.
He staggered back at the sight that greeted him as the lid fell open. Within the chest were gold pieces, jeweled candlesticks and other costly articles. A score of other chests examined by the castaway, in what had evidently been the officers' cabin, yielded like discoveries.
The galleon was a veritable treasure ship.
The castaway was examining a marine candlestick that fairly blazed with its setting of precious stones when he dropped it with a crash.
A hoarse cry from outside the cabin had caused his scalp to tighten and his heart to start pounding like a trip-hammer.
THE GOLDEN GALLEON.
With his seaman's knife drawn ready for action—the badly-scared sailor rushed out on to the deck prepared to sell his existence dearly. To his amazement the deck was empty of all life, however.
Suddenly the hoarse cry sounded again, and this time he located its source correctly. Seated on the crumbling maintop of the ship was a huge, evil-looking bird of the kind called "Gallinazos" in South America. The carrion creature eyed the newcomer with a red malevolent eye and again gave voice to its harsh croak—the sound that had so startled him at its first utterance.
"Ah, you old death bird, so you think you are going to get me, do you?" shouted the indignant castaway, as the bird looked at him with unpleasant anticipation.
"Well, you're not. Not if I have to shoot you."
With a heavy flop of its wings the carrion bird soared slowly away toward the west as the sailor fairly shouted his defiance.
"Ah, my fine fellow," cried Bill to himself, "you have given me renewed hope. I know that birds of your feather are good strong flyers, but you've got to light somewhere. I judge from the fact that you came visiting here that I can't be more than two hundred miles from land—maybe not so much."
The thought was a cheering one and as the sailor, having filled his pockets with doubloons and other coins, and given the dead men a sea-burial by consigning them to the deep, sculled slowly back to the Eleanor Jones, his mind was busy with plans of escape.
Now it chanced that among the cargo carried by the barque was a small launch intended for the use of a plantation owner in South America. Bill recollected it with peculiar vividness on account of the peculiar shape of its propeller, which he could see through the crate that surrounded it when it was hoisted on board. He had asked the manufacturer's representative, who had superintended the loading of the motorboat at Bath, why the wheel was shaped in such a queer way. He recollected the answer now with joy, for he had conceived a daring plan.
"Why, Mr. Mate," the manufacturer's representative had replied to his query, "that's what we call a weedless wheel. That is, it is specially designed for service in South American rivers of shallow draught where an ordinary propeller would soon get entangled in the weeds and water plants and stop. We guarantee this wheel to go through any tangle, just as an eel would."
"To go through any tangle."
The words sang in Bill's brain.
Why couldn't he get out of the Sargasso seaweed tangle in the little sixteen-foot craft?
"At least, it is better than waiting here for a horrible death," he reasoned to himself.
After a hasty meal in the lonely galley, Bluewater Bill set to work to uncrate the little launch. Fortunately for his purpose the Eleanor Jones had been fitted, in common with many modern sailing vessels, with a "donkey engine" for trimming the heavy sails and hoisting cargo, which was operated by a gasolene engine. Several cans of gasolene formed part of the engine's equipment. This solved the problem of fuel and for the rest—though Bill had never run a launch—the manufacturer's directions seemed explicit enough. These directions Bill discovered stored away in a locker of the tiny craft. He spent the rest of the day reading them carefully and going over every part of the engine till he had familiarized himself with the function of each.
After a good night's rest, the next day he set about laying in a stock of provisions and filling several kegs with water from the ship's tanks. This done, and the little vessel's gasolene receptacle filled and her lubricating devices furnished from the supply intended for oiling the "donkey engine" of the Jones, Bill was ready to start. Ready, that is, except for the fact that as yet he had not considered how he was going to get the launch over the side.
For a time this seemed an insurmountable problem, but Bill had all the ingenuity of a sailor. With a small "jack" he tilted first one end of the launch and then the other and passed slings under it. Then he rigged a block and tackle to the mizzen-mast, and heaved on it till he had dragged the launch along the deck on rollers, made by sawing a spare spar into lengths, and hoisted it up on the poop deck. Then, detaching his tackle from the mast, he swung the boom overside with his tackle attached to its outer end. The end of the tackle was once more made fast to the slings supporting the launch and Bill attached another rope to her which was then belayed around the mast, in order to prevent the little craft swinging out to the end of the boom as soon as he raised her a few feet from the deck. This done, he hauled away on his tackle till the tiny motor-boat swung free. Then he made fast his tackle on a belaying-pin and gently paid out the restraining rope he had fastened round the mast till the launch swung at the end of the boom suspended twenty feet in the air. It was then an easy task to lower her with the block and tackle till she floated on the water.
Bill swarmed out on the boom and cut loose the tackles, and soon had the launch snuggled alongside the Eleanor Jones. He then proceeded to stock her with food and water he had made ready, and in addition strapped round his waist the captain's revolver which he had found in the cabin. These preparations concluded he was ready to cast off. His eye had taken in, during the brief period he had been in the Sargasso, that while it appeared to be at a casual glance simply a wide expanse of weed, in reality there were "water-lanes" in it which were clear of the entanglement. Bill resolved to follow these passages wherever practicable.
"The longest way round may be the shortest way out," he told himself.
He soon had the small three-horse engine going, following to the letter the instructions set forth in the book of directions he had found.
It was with a light heart that he steered his tiny craft from the side of the imprisoned Eleanor Jones,
"Good-bye, old ship," he exclaimed, as he headed his craft toward the west—the direction in which the gallinazo had flown and in which he judged land must lie.
To his delight the patent wheel worked perfectly. Occasionally, it is true, Bill was compelled to stop the engine and, leaning over the stern, clear it of the few weeds that clung to it with a boat-hook he had brought for the purpose, but otherwise it answered every claim of its makers, that it could not be checked by even the densest tangle.
As the sun set and darkness closed in, Bill noticed, to his gratification, that the weed seemed to be thinning out and that the water-lanes grew more and more frequent.
He made a hasty meal off the provisions he had brought with him and, after a long period spent in trying to keep his eyes open, he was fain to lie down on the bottom of the launch and, with the engine shutoff, drift through the blackness till daylight. He awoke with a start. The launch was tossing about wildly and an occasional shower of spray flew over her side.
She had cleared the Sargasso and was in the open sea at last.
Bill started up the engine as soon as he got the sleep out of his eyes, and tossing the spume from her bow the little craft fairly leaped through the tumbling waters. But Bill soon saw that if she was to handle in such a sea he would have to reduce speed or risk getting swamped. He therefore throttled down the engine and rigged a tarpaulin over the bow to keep out the wave crests, part of which came tumbling aboard.
"If it freshens I don't stand much of a chance to get out alive," mused the sailor, as he sat in the stern of his cockle-shell, with only a frail bottom of half-inch planking between him and the floor of the sea.
The launch in fact, while a staunch little craft, was better adapted for lake or river navigation than as a sea-goer.
"However, I might as well keep on as stay still," mused the philosophical Bill, baling out the water that now came tumbling aboard in far too great quantities to render the situation a pleasant one. So the day passed and it was not till the next morning, after an exhausting night of constant terror that the launch was about to sink, that Bill saw the smoke of a distant steamer as he rose on a wave crest.
Would her officers see him?
That was the question that agitated his mind as he waved frantically while she drew nearer and he saw that she was one of the crack liners of the Central American Trading Company. As she raced through the water a great "Bone" of white spray was sent out from each side of her keen cutwater. A volume of thick black smoke rolled from her yellow funnels. She would have made a fine sight to any one less in fear of his life than Bluewater Bill.
Till she was within half-a-mile of him it seemed the big craft was going to pass him by, but suddenly, to his joy, Bill saw her change her course and bear down for him. As she drew nearer, rolling mightily in the high sea, a man on the bridge hailed him in stentorian tones through a megaphone.
"Ahoy! what lunatic are you?"
"Bluewater Bill of the Eleanor Jones of Bath,—castaway," yelled back the drifter in the launch, who had by this time shut off his engine.
"We'll stand by and lower a boat," was the next hail and soon Bill was on his way aboard the Yucatan—for that was the vessel's name—and the tiny launch, which had been the means of saving his life and almost of his losing it, was tossing far astern.
But Bill, perilous as his position was until he was actually in the Yucatan's lifeboat, had not lost his presence of mind. He realized in a flash that a castway with a pocket full of gold would be an object of suspicion and he had his own reasons for not wanting to tell how he had obtained it, so, before the ship's boat reached the launch the old mariner emptied his pockets of their golden freight and sent the coins tumbling into the sea. He retained only the one piece that he had loaned to Billy Barnes as an evidence of his good faith.
"And now, boys," concluded the old mariner, "what do you think of my story?"
"Why, it's the most marvelous thing I ever heard of!" exclaimed Frank.
"But do you think it is TRUE? You believe me?"
"We certainly do," chorused both the boys, much impressed by the old salt's narration.
"Well, the only problem is to get to the galleon," resumed Bill.
"That would be easy in the Golden Eagle," was Frank's quiet rejoinder. "She could be fitted with aluminum pontoons, and, with a propeller device installed, we could start her upward from the water as easily as from the land."
"By the Lord High Admiral's slippers!—do you think you could, lads?" exclaimed the old mariner in great excitement.
"I am certain of it," was the quiet rejoinder.
"Boys, there's enough gold there to make us all millionaires."
"Hardly enough for that, I should think," smiled Frank, "but at least it is worth trying for. What do you say, boys, shall we make a dash for the golden galleon?"
"Will we? Why, Frank, if you'll lead the way we'll follow all right," cried Billy, wild with excitement at the notion.
Hastily the eager group sketched out the rough details of the expedition and it was agreed that the boys should start on their treasure quest immediately after the cup race—provided they could obtain their father's permission.
"Hurray for the treasure of the Sargasso!" shouted Billy, throwing up his hat and catching it again and almost upsetting the lamp in his enthusiasm.
But his excitement received a sudden check.
A man was racing by the house on a galloping horse and as he tore along he shouted the alarming cry of:
"Fire! fire! fire!"
A FIRE ALARM BY AEROPLANE.
They all raced out of the house and soon saw that the fire was some distance off. The glare of the flames spread redly on the sky and illuminated the low hanging clouds till they glowed like red-hot coals. It was evidently a fierce blaze.
"It's Farmer Goggins's place!" announced Bluewater Bill as he noted the direction of the glow.
"That's just beyond the aviation grounds," cried Harry. "I know, because old Schmidt fell into a field, with a bull in it there, one afternoon and his Green Grasshopper was nearly broken up."
"Come on, boys; I'll get out my little mare and we'll drive over there," shouted Bill.
In a few minutes the horse was hitched to Bill's old carryall and, the boys piling in, they drove rapidly off. As they passed through the gate in Bill's neat fence, the carriage lamp they carried suddenly flashed on a dark figure that the next minute was obliterated in the darkness.
"Hello, somebody skulking around here," shouted Bill, drawing up his horse almost on her haunches.
"Hey there, come out and show yourself!"
There was no answer.
"I'll make it hot for you, my hearty, if I find you," shouted Bill. He leaped out of the rig and after entering the house returned with a revolver.
"Go on, boys, you drive to the fire and then send the buggy back by a boy. I'm going to find who that fellow was."
"Somehow, even in the second I saw him, he seemed a familiar figure to me," exclaimed Harry.
"Who could it have been?" wondered Frank.
"Oh, some no-good hobo," replied Bill. "If I catch him, I'll teach him to come snooping around folks' houses this Way."
"I hope he didn't overhear our conversation about the galleon," suddenly exclaimed Frank, who had been struck by a sudden apprehension that perhaps this was no ordinary loafer or burglar, but some man who had got wind of Bill's discovery and meant to turn his find to advantage.
"By jumping rat-tailed land-sharks, I never thought of that," exclaimed Bill. "Why, any one that knew our secret could sell it for a large sum."
"That's so," agreed the boys; "but perhaps it was only a tramp and we are scaring ourselves unnecessarily."
"I hope so, I'm sure," rejoined the old sailor, "but now, boys, you drive on. You may manage to be of help at the fire."
"Won't you come, Bill?" asked Frank.
"No, thank you, lad, I'll stay here and guard my shanty. That feller may hev been after some of my dried shark or stuffed land-crabs. I wouldn't put it by him to steal that picture of the schooner, Boston Girl, in a heavy blow off Hatteras. That's a real work of art, boys."
As the boys drove off they heard the old man grunting and grumbling and poking about among the bushes in search for the intruder.
"I don't envy that fellow whoever he is, if Bill catches him," remarked Frank, as he urged the old sailor's little horse along.
"Nor I," laughed Billy; "but depend upon it he is a long way off by this time."
As they drew near the aviation grounds, the boys saw that the fire was indeed a serious one.
Everything in the vicinity was lit up as bright as day by the glow, and they passed scores of men, women and children from the village, all hastening along the road to the scene of the conflagration.
Farmer Goggins's place was a large one, and as they reached the orchard which surrounded the house the boys saw that a big barn at the rear of the dwelling-house was in flames and that two smaller structures had already gone. Men and boys were leading out horses and driving cows from adjoining sheds.
"The whole place is going!" the boys heard a man say as they drove up.
And indeed it looked so.
The flames, fanned by a brisk breeze, were roaring through the ancient timbers, devouring them eagerly. Farmer Goggins and his family, wringing their hands despairingly, gazed at the scene.
"Where is the fire brigade?" shouted some one.
"They started out but they've broken down on the road," came back the reply. "They won't get here before the entire farm is destroyed."
"What's that?" cried Farmer Goggins, near whom the speaker had been standing. "The fire department's broken down. Then I am a ruined man. The barns that are burned I used for hay and though my loss is heavy I can stand it, but if the fire spreads it will burn down my dairy plant and destroy my home."
"Is there no other fire department near?" asked Frank.
"No, none nearer than Westbury," was the reply.
"Why don't you telephone for them?"
"We have tried to but, as luck would have it, there is something the matter with the wire and we cannot raise the Westbury exchange at all."
"If only the Westbury department could be notified they might still get here in time to save the house," cried another onlooker, "they've got an automobile fire-engine that just eats up the road."
"That's so, but how are you going to get them. It's fifteen miles away and a horse couldn't do it in less than an hour and a quarter."
"How about an auto?"
"Even if they was one handy, the roads are too bad, except for a high-powered car."
"I have it," shouted Frank suddenly. "I'll get the engines and try to hurry them here in time to save the house at least."
"How's that, young feller?" asked Farmer Goggins, who had stepped up. "Say that again."
"I said I'll get the engines for you and in jig time too," cried the boy.
"Don't see how."
"Well I do; watch me."
Leaving the horse in charge of a lad and calling on the others to "come on," Frank, with his brother and Billy, raced toward the Golden Eagle's shed.
Most of the crowd followed them.
"He's one of them flying kids," shouted a man.
"He's never goin' ter fly ter Westbury ter-night. It's as black as yer hat."
"Looks like he's going ter try," was the answer as the boys trundled the Golden Eagle out of her stable.
And this was indeed the lad's intention.
It was the work of a minute to test the gasolene tank and rapidly see that the engine was in running order.
"How can we tell when we strike Westbury?" asked Frank, as he and his brother clambered into the machine. Billy Barnes, it had been settled, was to wait at the aerodrome in order to save weight.
"Why, there's two red lights at the railroad crossing there and the village is just beyond," cried Farmer Goggins; "but, boys, don't risk your necks on my account."
"Oh, we are not risking our necks," laughed Frank reassuringly; "but, tell me, is there a good meadow or a bit of flat land there to light on?"
"The whole ground just beyond the red lights at the crossing is as flat as the back of your hand and unfenced," was the reassuring reply, "it is used for a circus and show ground. It will make a good place for you to light."
"All right," cried Frank, "that's all I wanted to know. Now then, Harry, are you ready?"
"All right here," answered the boy.
"Then let her go."
The propeller roared and as the craft sped forward, with a warning shout from Frank that scattered the crowd like chaff, the lad threw on the searchlight which had been rapidly adjusted as the plane was wheeled out.
A dazzling shaft of white light cut the darkness ahead of the Golden Eagle, as on her wings, tinted crimson by the glare of the fire, she rose into the night.
Frank headed her for the direction in which he knew Westbury lay, and gradually increased the speed till the craft, her great single eye shining like some strange star, was skimming above the sleeping countryside.
Far behind them, the cheer that had greeted the boys' rising died out and the glow, too, faded as they dashed along.
It seemed almost no time at all before beneath them they heard the roar of a train, and as it dashed by far below the two red lights of the crossing were sighted.
"Now for taking a chance," laughed Frank, as he set the descending blades and the Golden Eagle glided downward. It was "taking a chance," indeed, and the slightest mishap might have resulted in a catastrophe.
However, Farmer Goggins's directions turned out to be quite correct and the aeroplane landed perfectly in a big field, as smooth as a board, only a few minutes after she had left the scene of the fire.
As she struck the ground there was a wild yell from down by the railroad tracks and the boys saw the old switchman on watch there dart out of his tiny hut and dash down the road shrieking:
"Robbers! Murder! Ghosts!" at the top of his voice.
"Hi, there! come back," shouted Frank, "we won't hurt you."
At the sound of a human voice the old man checked his mad career and tremblingly approached.
"Gee! you 'most scared me to death," he said, as the boys stepped forward into the glare cast by the searchlight and stood revealed as two human boys and no spirits of the air, such as the old man had imagined they were, when they first alighted.
"Say, who are ye, anyway, and what are ye doing round here in that sky-buggy?"
"We have come to summon help from the Westbury fire department," said Frank, "can you direct us to the headquarters?"
"Sure, right up the street about six blocks."
"Good. Is there any one on watch?"
"Sure, some of the boys sleep there every night."
"Is it a good engine?"
"None better. She's an automobile engine. Goes sky-hooting 'long like a joy-rider. Just got her two weeks ago. Cost ten thousand dollars."
Leaving the garrulous old man to examine the Golden Eagle with timorous interest, the two boys ran at top speed down the street till they reached a building surmounted by a high tower and with a small red light burning over the door.
Frank seized the rope that dangled at one side of the portal and, rightly surmising that it was placed there to summon the firemen on duty, gave it a tug. The clamor that followed was startling. The rope was connected with a big bell in the tower, and as its clamor rang out several heads were poked out of an upper window.
"What's the matter?" cried a voice.
"Big fire—Goggins's farm—Mineola fire department bust up—hurry," cried Frank all in a breath.
"All right, we'll be on the job in ten minutes," cried the voice, and in a short time the big doors of the fire-house were flung open and lights switched on.