THE BOY AVIATORS IN AFRICA
AN AERIAL IVORY TRAIL
By Captain Wilbur Lawton
"Here, Harry, catch hold."
"Ouch—I dropped that cartridge box on my pet corn."
"Say, you fellows, are we going to Africa or are we on a Coney Island picnic?"
"Be serious now, Billy Barnes, you may be all right as a reporter, but as a shipping clerk you're no more good than a cold storage egg."
"Well, I'm doing the best I can," was the indignant reply, "here—I've got it all down: Box 10— One waterproof tent, one rubber-blanket, tent-pegs, ropes, more ropes.—Say, Frank, what in the name of the 'London Times' and jumping horn-toads do you want so much rope for?"
"To tie up a certain young reporter named William Barnes when he gets too fresh," was the laughing reply.
The three boys sat about a heaped, confused collection of ammunition, cooking-utensils, rifles, and camp "duffle" in general, one evening late in May. The eldest of the group, a sunny-faced, clear eyed lad of about sixteen, held in his hand a notebook from which he called out the inventory of the articles piled about him as his brother, a youth of fourteen, sorted them out. The third member of the trio was a short, stocky chap of possibly seventeen, with sharp, blue eyes that gleamed behind a pair of huge spectacles. He was examining a camera with care; from time to time turning his attention to an open notebook that lay beside him in which he was supposed to be entering the list as the other called it off.
The place where the boys were busying themselves was the upper floor of a large garage in the rear of the Chester residence, on Madison Avenue, New York City, which had been turned into a workshop for the two young Chesters—Frank and Harry—already well known to our readers as The Boy Aviators. The well set-up lad who was so industriously calling off the equipment that lay scattered about was Frank Chester, and the ready classifier of the mixed-up outfit was Harry, his younger brother. The third member of the group was Billy Barnes, the young reporter, already down to us as the chronicler of the Chester boys' adventures in Nicaragua and the depths of the Everglades of Florida. Since the boys' return from Florida on the U. S. torpedo boat, the Tarantula, they had been busy putting into shape the rough working plans of the African hunting expedition they had planned as a sort of vacation.
The ample bonus the government had awarded them for their singularly clever work in rescuing Lieutenant Chapin, the inventor of Chapinite, by their aeroplane Golden Eagle II, had supplied them with ample funds for their trip. As for Billy Barnes (or "Our Special Staff Correspondent, William Barnes," as he was now known), besides the sum realized from the sale of the rubies the boys found in the Quesal Cave in Nicaragua, the money the youthful scribe had made on writing up the boys' Florida adventures had provided him with a good fat nest-egg.
The natural stimulus given to the red-blooded Chester boys by Mr. Roosevelt's hunting adventures had a good deal to do, with their resolution to go to Africa. And now—after several weeks of work on getting together as good an outfit as was procurable—they were putting what Billy called "the finishing touches" on their accoutrements. Stacked in corners of the room were big chests painted blue and marked with the boys' names and neatly numbered in white painted characters. These cases contained the different sections of the Golden Eagle II, the aeroplane equipped with wireless, that had made history in Florida.
There were twenty of these cases besides the ones labeled "Camp Outfit," "Medical," "Armory Chest," "Grub Chest," and several nondescript ones containing the odds and ends that an expedition of the kind they planned would find indispensable. In some smaller boxes also were packed yards and yards of bright-colored cloth and calico, spangles, cheap jewelry and brass ornaments for use among the natives. In making up their outfit the boys had taken the advice of a well-known African traveler who had retired from his adventurous life to purchase a place in New Jersey, where he intended to spend his remain days. Through a mutual friend the boys obtained an introduction to him and his advice in selecting the outfit had been simply invaluable.
"Go easy, carry lots of quinine, don't waste ammunition, and count ten before you pick a quarrel with a native," had been his simply laid-down rules for getting along in Africa, and these rules the boys had determined to adhere to strictly.
"Say, is this going to be a hunting trip or an invasion of Africa?" inquired Billy, quizzically as Harry sorted out and Frank read off ceaselessly the apparently interminable inventory of the supplies of the Chester party. "I'm getting writer's cramp."
"A hunting party of course," laughed Frank, "but you know that hunters who go into the bush depending on their rifles usually come out a good deal thinner than when they went in.
"That's so," assented Billy, "but when we have a sixty-mile aeroplane like the Golden Eagle II we can easily fly out to civilization in case of necessity."
"Yes, if we have enough gasoline," assented Harry, "but how much can we carry into the bush?"
"Just enough for our purposes and no more," replied Frank, readily, "fortunately the soluble tablets of picric and glycerine will help out our supply materially. A few of these tablets dissolved in gasoline render the efficiency of one ordinary gallon equal to three; but I don't care to use them except in a case of absolute necessity as they are very hard on an engine."
"Then we can count on every gallon we carry being of triple efficiency?" asked Billy.
"Certainly," replied Frank, who had invented the tablets in question, and which were an extremely useful addition to the equipment of the modern aviator. As the boys worked on and the equipment, as it was classified, was packed away in the cases assigned to each class of articles, there came a sharp knock at the door of the garage building and a servant entered with a special delivery letter to Frank. The boy tore it open eagerly and then gave a low whistle of astonishment.
"Read it out, Harry," he said, handing the missive to his brother. "It concerns all of us."
Harry took it and read as follows:
DEAR FRANK AND HARRY:
Shall be in town to-morrow morning with my father and Mr. Luther Barr, the well-known ivory importer. He has a communication of importance for you. What it is I am afraid to trust to writing, but you will know full details when you see us. Will you call at the Waldorf at ten-thirty and have breakfast? We can discuss the matter over the meal. All I can say now is that if the Golden Eagle is still in shape for her old-time stunts there is work ahead of her that will prove harder than anything she has yet tackled. However, I know you are not the chaps to balk at a little danger—particularly when exciting adventures are in the wind.
So long, then, till to-morrow:
"Well, what do you know about that?" gasped Billy Barnes, here we are fixing up for a nice little holiday trip to rest our shattered nerves, and here comes, a job along that looks as if we should have to work all summer."
"It certainly is curious," replied Frank musingly.
"What can Lathrop mean? Who is Luther Barr? I have heard the name but I cannot place him."
"Lathrop says he is an ivory importer," suggested Harry.
"Easy to find out," said the resourceful Billy. "Where's the 'phone book?"
Frank handed the volume to him from its hook beside the instrument.
"Ah—here we are," exclaimed Billy, as he ran his finger triumphantly down the "B" list. "Barr, Luther—that's our man, eh? Ivory importer, offices No. 42 Wall Street—home, White Plains."
"White Plains, that's where Lathrop's folks live," exclaimed Harry. "That's where he first became associated with the Golden Eagle."
"And turned out to be a good partner," added Frank.
"A jim dandy," agreed Billy. "I tell you boys, I've got a good nose for news and if there isn't some sort of a story back of Mr. Luther Barr and Lathrop's letter I'll eat my hat without sauce."
Any acceptance of the young reporter's generous offer was interrupted by a sudden noise in the usually quiet street.
"I tell you the fare's a dollar!" the boys heard an angry voice declaim.
"'Tain't nothing of the kind or I'm a lubber—fifty cents is all I'll pay. I'll be horn-swoggled if you get a cent more, yer deep-sea pirate," was the indignant phrased reply.
Something in the voice was strangely familiar but the "horn-swoggled" settled it.
"Ben Stubbs," gasped all the, boys simultaneously and rushed out of the garage to the street.
Here they found a stoutly-built, crisp-bearded man with a face tanned to what Billy called a "weathered oak finish," arguing loudly with a taxicab chauffeur. The man was obdurate over his fare and just at, the boys came on the scene was suggesting that his equally determined passenger get back in the cab and take a ride to the police station.
"The sergeant will settle our dispute," he said angrily.
"What's the trouble, Ben?" exclaimed Frank, giving the angry man on the pavement a hearty slap on the back.
"Why, this here piratical craft," the other was beginning when suddenly he dropped the battered bag he carried and burst into a mighty roar—a regular Cape Horn hail.
"Back my topsails if it ain't you, Frank," he cried, wringing the other's hands till the boy's arms were almost dislocated. "And you too, Harry, and keel haul me ef here ain't Billy too. Well, if it ain't good to see, you Chester boys again."
"Say, are you the Chester Boys—the Boy Aviators?" suddenly cut in the chauffeur in a respectful tone.
"We are," replied Frank, "why?"
"Oh, well," said the chauffeur, "then I'll let your friend off with fifty cents. I thought he was a 'greeny'."
With that, he calmly twisted the dial of the cab which registered $1.00 back to the fifty cent mark and coolly pocketed the coin the indignant Ben handed.
"Does that thing work backwards?" demanded the amazed old adventurer, as the taxi whizzed off before he could frame words to express his indignation.
"Not often," replied Billy with a laugh. "I guess that chap reads the papers and thought it wouldn't do him any good to try to fool a particular friend of the Boy Aviators."
"Well, boys, what are your plans?" demanded Ben, as—after the rugged fellow had been introduced to Mrs. Chester, a sweet-faced old lady, and Mr. Chester, a fine-looking, gray-haired man of about fifty—he and the boys sat in the garage discussing the African outfit.
"We hardly know now," replied Frank, and then in a few words he described Lathrop's letter and its contents.
"Wherever that boy is there's bound to be doings," remarked Ben, sententiously, when the young leader had finished. "Down in Florida when he wasn't tumbling into alligators' mouths or getting bit by serpents he was allers up to some mischief—you mark my words there's something in the wind now."
The boys talked late and long that night over the letter and what possible plan Mr. Barr, the ivory importer, could have to discuss that would be of interest to them, but they were able to arrive at no definite conclusion except that there was nothing to be done about it till morning.
As for Ben with his usual philosophic attitude toward mysteries, he filled his pipe and silently smoked. To those of our readers who have not met Ben this phase of his character may seem inexplicable, but to the boys Ben's passive acceptance of any situation had become quite familiar. Ever since they had rescued the rugged old adventurer from a marooned treasure-mine in Nicaragua and he had shared their strange adventures in Florida on the Chapin Rescue Expedition, the old man had become as much a part of their necessary equipment as the Golden Eagle itself. He had arrived that night in response to a telegraphed request to his cottage at Amityville on Long Island, where he cultivated an extensive farm—also part of the Quesal ruby profits—and devoted himself to fishing and hunting.
'The Boys' mere word, however, that they were off to Africa had been sufficient to arouse the old man's roving instinct and here he was on deck once more as active as a boy and almost as impatient for the start for the Dark Continent. Ben slept at the Chester's home that night and if his dreams were not as populated with visions of elephants, leopards, deer, huge snakes and pigmy savages as theirs it was not any lack of interest in the coming expedition that was responsible for it.
THE STOLEN IVORY
"Will you please send this card up to Mr. Beasley's rooms and tell him that the visitors he was expecting are here?"
It was Frank Chester who spoke early the next day, as the boys, in response to Lathrop's letter, stood at the Waldorf desk. The clerk looked at them a little disdainfully. Frank and Harry Chester were not the sort of boys who devoted much time to thinking about clothes and while they both wore dark neat-fitting suits they certainly did look a little out of place among the pasty-faced, cigarette-smoking youths in loud-looking garments who constituted most of the young men with whom the clerk was in the habit of coming in contact.
"I don't think that Mr. Beasley can see you now, call later," he began, superciliously turning round to the letter-rack and sorting out the mail and putting each guest's letters in the proper box.
For a second an angry flush rose to Frank's face. The man's manner was enough to irritate any high spirited boy. But Frank Chester was not given to what Bill Barnes called "flying off the handle." He calmly took another card from his pocket and in a rather sharp voice, though his tones were even enough said:
"Are you going to send that card up at once or shall I call the room on the telephone?"
The clerk faced quickly about. The two youths he had looked upon as rather awkward country bumpkins, judging as he did from their tanned faces and broad shoulders, were evidently not to be trifled with. He glanced at the card as he rolled it up and handed it to a boy to be placed in a pneumatic tube and shot up to the fourth floor, on which Mr. Beasley and his party had taken rooms.
"Oh, you are the Chester boys?" he exclaimed with a strong accent on the "the" and in markedly more respectful tones.
"We are," said Frank with a smile which was reflected on his brother's face.
"I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting, I'm sure," said the clerk with an apologetic leer, meant to be an engaging smile.
"That's all right," said Frank shortly, turning away from the desk.
"Well, having your name in the paper does do you some good after all," remarked Harry with a laugh. "That fellow certainly turned a flip-flop, when he found out who we were."
Five minutes later the boys were ushered into the Beasley rooms and were busily engaged shaking hands and exchanging all sorts of boyish exclamations of welcome with Lathrop Beasley, a tall, rather slender youth who had been their companion in Florida. Like the boys, Lathrop was an accomplished aviator and wireless operator, although he had not the initiative or the sturdy pluck to perform the feats that they had. He was, however, a boy of considerable brain and skill and among the boy-aviators of the country held an enviable position.
"About your letter," began Frank when the first greetings were over.
"In a minute," replied Lathrop, "here's father now."
As he spoke, the portieres parted and a stout, fresh complexioned gentleman, ruddy from his bath and shaving, appeared. He had the pompous manner of the successful man of business and seemed to the Chester boys to be the least bit patronizing in his manner.
"Mr. Barr will be here in a minute," he said, after introductions had been made by Lathrop, "he will explain to you his idea. I am merely a partner in the enterprise. You will, of course, be glad to accept any restrictions he may impose?"
"We hardly care to discuss that yet," said Frank, rather nettled by Mr. Beasley's pompous manner, "until we know what he requires." He exchanged glances with Harry.
"In fact," he went on, "we were planning to take a complete rest and follow in Mr. Roosevelt's foot-steps, by taking a hunting trip in Africa, only," he added with a smile, "we meant to hunt by aeroplane."
"Wonderful," said Mr. Beasley, evidently much impressed by Frank's ready manner, "when I was a boy, if a lad had a "bone-shaker" bicycle he thought he was doing something fine, and as for flying—why, we never thought of it."
"Perhaps the boys of to-day are further sighted," said Frank with quiet note of sarcasm in his tone that was quite lost on the well-meaning old merchant. Indeed at that moment Mr. Beasley rose heavily from his chair and stepped forward to greet a new arrival who appeared from another room of the suite.
"This is Mr. Luther Barr, the famous ivory importer," he said, with far more respect in his tones than he had used to the boys; whom indeed, he looked upon as talented chaps, but still boys—which to men of his caliber is an infallible sign that anything such youthful persons may attempt is extremely likely to go wrong. How erroneous such an opinion is, those of our readers who have followed the adventures of the Chester boys know.
Mr. Luther Barr deserves a new paragraph. Long, lean and hollow cheeked, the term "gangling" fits him better than any other. Mr. Luther Barr's black suit hung on him as baggily as the garments of a cornfield scarecrow and Mr. Luther Barr's sharp features were not improved by a small growth of gray hair; of the kind known as a "goatee" that sprouted from his lower rip. For the rest of the boys noticed that Mr. Barr was gifted with a singularly gimlet-like pair of steely blue eyes that seemed to bore through you.
"As sharp a man as ever drove up the price of ivory," added Mr. Beasley as he introduced the boys to this singular figure, "he can scent an ivory bargain—"
"From here to Africa," struck in Mr. Barr in a sharp nasal tone that grated unpleasantly, "and you and I are going to be Kings of Wall Street if these boys put this deal through for us," he added with what was meant to be an amiable smile, but which, as a matter of fact, distorted his face till it looked uncommonly like an old Japanese war mask. Indeed the boys, who had seen the collection in the Metropolitan Museum, could not help smiling to themselves, as the same thought struck each of them.
"Well, Beasley," exclaimed Barr suddenly, "I'm as sharp set as a Long Island fox. Let's have a bite of breakfast and then we can get down to business."
From Mr. Barr's manner of dispatching his breakfast and the remarkable skill with which he wielded his knife, in conveying various morsels to his mouth, it was evident that he had spent so much time piling up money that his social education had been sadly neglected. Once or twice the boys caught Lathrop's eye and they saw that the lad was blushing with shame at the uncouth manners of his father's friend. For this reason the boys refrained from paying any apparent attention to Mr. Barr's actions, although—as, they remarked afterwards—he was as well worth watching as the "sword swallower in a circus side show."
"Yes, boys," said Mr. Barr with his mouth full of buttered toast and ham and eggs, "I guess I know more about Africa than any man alive."
"You have crossed that continent?" asked Frank..
"No, sir," replied the old ivory merchant with some contempt. "I wouldn't waste my time where there ain't no ain't no money. What I mean is, I know more about the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast and the Slave Coast than any man in this or any other country and have got more good solid coin out of them."
Mr. Beasley looked up admiringly from his plate. Here was evidently a man after his own heart.
"The Slave Coast?" echoed Harry inquiringly, "I thought—"
"Thought there wasn't no more slaves, eh?" inquired Mr. Barr amiably, swallowing his coffee with a noise like water running out of a bath tub, "wall, that's because yer young. When yer git older you'll larn that there's money in everything here's a demand for, and there's just as big a demand for slaves on some rubber plantations I could tell yer of as there ever was in the old days of the South—and more money in 'em on account of its being more dangerouser."
"Do you mean to say that there is slave-running now?" asked Mr. Beasley, while both Frank and Harry wondered and Lathrop looked uncomfortable.
"Sure I do," chirped Mr. Barr, "but no more for me. There's too many British gunboats and 'Merican gunboats and Dutch gunboats and what not about now to make it comfortable or healthy. No, I've retired from that business—but there's money in it," he concluded with a regretful sigh.
Immediately Mr. Barr had concluded his breakfast—and with his apparently slim accommodations it was a wonder to the boys where he put it all—he snapped, with a flinty glint of his small pig-like eyes:
"Now, let's git down to business. You boys want ter make a bit of money?"
"'To be sure we do," replied Frank, "but we don't want to make any that isn't honest money."
"We'll, there's no accounting for boys nowadays," sighed Mr. Barr, "however, you needn't worry about this money—there'll be plenty of it and it'll all be good honest coin."
"What do you wish us to do?" demanded Frank.
"Just this: Mr. Beasley here and me is in on a deal in ivory. That is, we were, but the big cache we had hoarded up in the Kuroworo Mountains in the Bambara country has been stolen by a rival trader, an Arab named Muley-Hassan. We know where he's hidden it and we know, too, that he won't dare to bring it out till he thinks that we aren't watching him. Now the time is ripe for a big deal in Ivory. There is a shortage in the market. Prices will go up sky high. If we get it out in time we'll make a barrel of coin, but if we don't we stand to lose heavily."
Mr. Beasley gave a groan; to the boys' amazement he seemed to be about to collapse. Lathrop too looked ill and anxious. Old Barr paid no attention, however, but went on.
"Now, I heard about you boys and your air-ship, and I heard, too, that you was planning a little trip to Africa and thought you might like to combine business and pleasure."
He drew from his pocket a much-thumbed, crudely drawn map and spread it out on the table. How he obtained it, the boys never learned exactly, but they heard later that a treacherous attendant of the ivory dealer had sold it to him for a good round sum.
"This country down here," he said, indicating it with a black rimmed finger nail, "is the Southern Soudan. Here's the Bambara country to the north of Uasule. Now right at this point, in the Moon Mountain range,"—he pointed to a red-marked trail zigzagging across the map to the range and terminating in a red star—"right at that thar point, old Muley-Hassan, the Arab, has hidden our ivory cache. You see the latitude and longitude is marked and furthermore—and here's the most remarkable part of it—you will know the spot when you see it by the fact that the mountains above the cache present an exact facsimile of an upturned human face. In a direct line drawn from the nose of this face, where you see the red star, lies the ivory."
The boys were deeply interested. Unpleasant as was the impression old Barr had made on them, yet what he was disclosing was impressive; but as yet they did not show that they were anything more than casually struck by it.
"Well, Mr. Barr?" said Frank, as the old matt paused impressively.
"Well—" said Mr. Barr, "the scoundrel stole it and it's up to you to get it out of there, if you will undertake it."
"How does it depend on us?" asked Frank.
"In just this way. Muley-Hassan has his eye on us—-we can do nothing toward locating the ivory. You can pitch a camp there and scout about for it in your aeroplane or dirigible or whatever you call it."
"But even if we do find the Arab's hiding-place, what good does that do?" objected Frank.
"We can arrange with the French government to send soldiers up into the country and get the stuff out, if necessary," readily replied the wrinkled old ivory dealer, "but we can make no move till the cave is located. If they suspected we were after it, they would soon move it to another hiding-place or even pack it cross-country to the Nile and ship it out by the Mediterranean."
Frank and Harry asked leave to hold a brief consultation at the conclusion of which, they announced that they would think the matter over, and see Mr. Barr at his office the next day. The old man was far too shrewd to insist on a decision then and there, and so he left the hotel with the boys' promise to consider the matter carefully. As for Frank and Harry, they had pretty well made up their minds not to have anything to do with Mr. Barr, but an unforeseen circumstance altered their determination. As Barr left the room with Mr. Beasley, Lathrop turned on them with troubled eyes.
"Will you do it, Frank?" he asked anxiously. "Please say yes."
"Why, Lathrop, whatever is the matter," asked Harry, noticing the almost painful anxiety, with which the boy looked at Frank and hung on his decision.
"It's just this," said the boy in a voice that shook, as he tried to steady it, "if that ivory isn't found, we shall be ruined. My father will be beggared."
"Beggared," exclaimed both the Boy Aviators who had regarded Mr. Beasley—as indeed did his friends in general—as one of the "best fixed" business men in New York.
"It's true,"' said Lathrop, despairingly. "He has been speculating foolishly and entered into an agreement with this man Barr to borrow money for still further stock deals. The only hope he has of paying his debts is the realization of the profits he could have made on the ivory. Its theft was a bitter blow to him, not so much for his own sake, as for my mother and sisters. Myself I don't care, I can get out and work, but it would break my heart to see them reduced to poverty."
The situation was a difficult one for the Chester Boys. They had taken a hearty dislike to the crafty old ivory merchant and had made up their minds not to enter into any enterprise in which he was interested. Here, however, was a new complication.
"Give us half-an-hour, Lathrop," said Frank at length, and the two boys withdrew to another room to talk the matter over. It was ten minutes past the agreed time when they came back.
In the meantime Lathrop had been joined by his father and the two had waited in painful anticipation for the Boy Aviators' verdict.
"Well—," began Lathrop eagerly as the two boys with grave faces reentered the room.
"Well," said Frank, with a smile, "I guess we'll help you out, Lath."
Tears stood in the eyes of both Mr. Beasley and his son, as in shaky voices they endeavored to thank the Chester Boys.
"That's all right, Lathrop," said Frank at length—"turn about's fair play. You drove the aeroplane to Bellman's island you remember and saved us—now, we'll save you and your father, if we can—how long can you give us, Mr. Beasley?" he asked, briskly turning to the thoroughly humbled merchant.
"Eight weeks—if I hear from you by cable in eight weeks I can keep things going," was the reply.
"Phew!" whistled Frank, "that's not an awful lot of time."
"Can you do it, Frank?" asked Lathrop eagerly.
"We'll try as hard as we know how," was the modest answer.
"And—and you'll take me along?" faltered Lathrop.
"Sure, you can come as your father's representative at large," laughed Frank.
THE DARK CONTINENT
About a month after the events related in the last chapter the bluff-bowed French coasting steamer, Admiral Dupont, dropped anchor in the shallow roadstead off the steamy harbor of Fort Assini on the far-famed Ivory Coast. A few days before, the boys had left Sierra Leone and engaged quarters on the cockroach-infested little craft for the voyage down the coast. It was blisteringly hot and from off the shore there was borne on the wind the peculiar smell that every traveler knows as "African." It is the essence of the dark continent. Our young voyagers and Ben sniffed at it eagerly.
"Smells like marigolds," said Billy at last—and it did.
But there was soon plenty more to discuss than the strange appearance of the town, which in reality was little more than a big village with here and there one, or two houses of some pretension scattered about. For the rest, it consisted of the wickerwork huts of the natives. Back of the town were dense forests and beyond these again a long blue line of hills. An unhealthful looking lagoon lay between the houses and the mainland, into which the boys had been told the Bia River, up which they were to begin their voyage to the interior, emptied.
A broad yellow beach stretched in front of the houses and from this, as soon as the little steamer dropped anchor, whaleboats and canoes in great numbers were launched through what looked to be a thunderous surf. They were navigated by Kroomen—or Krooboys as they are sometimes called—and who are a superior race to most of the natives of Africa.
Some of the paddlers and oarsmen in the boats that surrounded the Admiral Dupont were almost six feet in height and splendidly built.
"Good looking fellows those," said the captain, who had joined the group of wondering young adventurers, "but in spite of their good looks they are petty thieves, if they get the chance."
Of this quality, the boys were soon to get an example. Frank had laid down his field-glasses on a deck chair and didn't give them any more thought, even when the decks were fairly swarming with half-naked, chattering, laughing Kroomen. When he looked around for them, however, for the purpose of making out more clearly the outline of the distant mountains, the glasses had vanished.
The young leader quickly divined what had occurred and stepping to the rail he held above his head an English sovereign and a pair of glasses, borrowed, from Billy.
"I'll give this money to the man who finds my field glasses," he shouted.
"It's a long chance," he remarked to Harry, "there may be some one there who understands English. Anyway they can see that I'm willing to give money for something like the object I held up."
As much to Frank's astonishment as anyone else the next minute they heard a hail from a canoe containing two particularly black Kroomen.
"Hey, boss;" one of them was shouting, "what you lost, eh?"
"Some one stole my field-glasses," shouted back Frank.
"All right, American massa," hailed back the Krooman, "I sail long time 'Merican ships. I catch him for you."
"Well, what do you think of that?" demanded Billy. "If the Statue of Liberty had come off her perch and done a song and dance you couldn't have astonished me more than to hear that sack of coal talk English."
"They take several of those fellows to sea on trading ships, that stop in here for logs from the interior," struck in Ben. "It wouldn't surprise me but what that fellow there has been in New York harbor, yes, and in San Francisco too."
The boys looked their astonishment.
"They are good hard workers," went on Ben, "and make good sailormen. They always come back here though in the end. They are as home loving as a house cat."'
While the boys talked, their baggage was being hoisted into a lighter that lay alongside, ready for shipment ashore. They were about ready to quit the ship when their attention was attracted by a terrific uproar among the natives alongside. Two or three canoes had been upset and in the water half a dozen Kroomen were splashing about like big, black fish.
"They'll drown," gasped Harry, as he watched the furious water battle.
"Not them," sniffed Ben, "they are as much at home in the water as they are ashore. Hello!" he exclaimed, suddenly pointing, "there's your field-glasses again, Frank."
Sure enough, from the hands of a spluttering, half-drowned native, the Krooman who spoke English had just wrested a dripping pair of black morocco-covered field-glasses. He held them aloft in triumph, treading water while he held the other's head under the sea as a punishment for his thievery.
"I catch 'um, boss, I catch um," he kept shouting triumphantly. A few seconds later, having half drowned the unfortunate thief, he stood dripping like a figure cut out of black basalt before the boy. As he received his recovered property Frank presented its rescuer with the sovereign. If it had been a fortune the man could not have been more overcome with gratitude. He sank on his knees.
"You come ashore my boat?" he begged. "Cost nothing to United States boys."
The adventurers assented and, having seen their baggage properly stowed on the lighter, they landed through the surf a short time later and found themselves on the flat, yellow beach facing the rather dreary looking row of Europeans' houses. The method of landing the surf boats and the wonderful dexterity with which the natives handle them is worth a whole chapter to itself. But it might prove tedious reading, so suffice it to say, that with one man standing erect in the stern with a steering oar, and the others paddling like demons, the Ivory Coast boatmen invariably land their passengers, in a smother of foam which seems overwhelming, without spilling a drop of water on them. Not a visitor to this coast but has been impressed by their wonderful skill.
"Well, here we are," remarked Billy, looking about him at the novel surroundings.
"The first thing to do," announced Frank, "is to go to the house of Monsieur Desplaines, to whom Mr. Barr gave us a letter of introduction, and talk over our plans."
Monsieur Desplaines was the consular agent of the United States government at Assini, which is a French port, and had promised by cable to Mr. Barr to give, the young travelers all the advice that his experiences could suggest. He had also volunteered to select for them a train of native baggage carriers, and hunters that would be reliable. There are no roads into the heart of Africa and everything is transported by human pack-trains. The natives of this part of the coast are strong, muscular men not easily fatigued and are capable of carrying burdens on their heads twenty-five miles or more a day without exhaustion.
As the boys started to make their way up the beach a trim figure with neatly waxed black mustaches, almost extinguished in a huge pith helmet and dressed in white duck with a red sash about the waist, emerged from the nearest house and hastened toward them.
"Welcome to Africa!" cried the newcomer as he approached and who, as Frank at once guessed, was M. Desplaines himself. "Come with me to the house and make yourselves at home."
The boys shook hands warmly with the little Frenchman who seemed so hospitably inclined and followed him eagerly toward the whitewashed house from which be had emerged.
"I would have been at the steamer to meet you," he exclaimed apologetically; "but she got here a day ahead of time and I was not prepared."
Inside the house, which was delightfully cool and darkened by jalousies from the glaring heat outside, the young adventurers were introduced to Madame Desplaines and two little girls, who constituted the family of the consular agent, who also kept the general supply store at Assini.
After dinner that evening, M. Desplaines talked long and earnestly to the boys. Of the real object of their mission, he had of course no knowledge. That was kept a secret even from Barr's intimates. There was too much at stake to let it leak out. His idea was the boys had come on a hunting and exploration, much of which was to be performed by aeroplane. He informed the boys that, acting on cabled instructions, he had laid in a good supply of gasoline by the last steamer from Sierra Leone and that arrangements for a train of carriers and for boats up the river had been made. There was a wheezy steam launch belonging to the trading post which would tow the boats up the Bia River as far as they desired. The Kroomen the boys engaged would take them to that point would then be abandoned, as they refused to go far from the coast. Such was the outline of M. Desplaines' conversation with the travelers.
The evening was far advanced when already the little party was ready for bed and already their imaginations had been fired by the tales that the consular agent had told them of the interior of the wild Bambara country. As they were saying good night to their hospitable host and hostess, there was a knock at the door. In response to M. Desplaines shouted: "Come in," a tall coal-black figure stalked into the lamp-light. The glow shone warmly on his black skin and lit up the mighty muscles that played beneath it. The strength of the man was evidently tremendous. The boys, to their surprise, recognized him at once, as the rescuer of Frank's opera-glasses. He paid no attention to Desplaines or his family, but walked straight up to Frank.
"Hi boss, you go hunt, you go far into land of Bambara," he said, raising his mighty arm and pointing to the northeast.
It was a strange scene. The boys and Ben in their hunting costumes and stout boots, M. Desplaines, short and inclined to be fat and as neatly barbered and tailored as if he had just stepped off the boulevards, Madame Desplaines and her little girls in cool, white frocks—and in the center of the group—dominating it by his impressive manner and mighty form—the huge, ebony Krooman.
"In the land of Bambara much game," went on the Krooman.
"So we have heard," replied Frank.
"In the land of Bambara much danger," continued the Krooman, fixing his dark eyes full on Frank, "much danger to the white boys, who fly like birds."
"Why, how do you know that?" exclaimed Frank, amazed that the Krooman should not only know their destination—which might have been a guess—but have divined the fact that they had an aeroplane.
"Krooman know much that white man not know!" replied the giant black.
Then, rising his finger, he counted the amazed group of adventurers who stood transfixed at the scene.
"One—two—three—four—five go to Bambara," he intoned. "Come back one—two—three. Two die. Sikaso, know."
Before any of the astounded party could frame a question or open their lips, the huge figure had stalked to the doorway and vanished.
"He'd make a nice, comfortable house-pet that fellow," said Billy, who was the first to speak. "One, two, three, four, five go to Bambara," he mimicked. "Come back one, two, three. Two die. Sikaso know. Br-r-r-r-r, he gives me the creeps."
They all laughed at Billy's absurd aping of the stately negro, but nevertheless none of them felt inclined for more talk that night. Somehow, the Krooman had cast a gloom on the party. Had they known how nearly his prophecy was to come to fulfillment they might even have been tempted to abandon the expedition.
Bright and early the next day Frank and Harry were up and stirring, and the other members of the party were not long in joining them. The almost innumerable packing cases and chests containing the duffle, ammunition, armament and the sections of the Golden Eagle were scattered about the little "compound" or garden of M. Desplaines' residence, having been brought ashore overnight by a crew of Kroomen. M. Desplaines appeared while the boys were still contemplating their outfit and wondering if it would be possible to accommodate it all in the little flotilla which, it had been arranged previously, was to take them up the river to the camping place from which they were to strike out for the Ivory Mountain.
"I really almost envy your trip," he said, "although it will be fraught with danger. Still you go well armed and provisioned, and from what I have heard of you, you are not the sort of boys to let a few obstacles upset you."
While they were still talking and waiting for breakfast to be announced they were joined by a singular figure. It was that of a white man in rather shabby ducks and crowned, as was M. Desplaines, with a huge, white pith helmet. Over one shoulder he carried a green butterfly net and under one arm he had tucked a tin box. Round his waist was a leather belt from which hung, in addition to a revolver and cartridges, a glass bottle with a wide stopper with a chloroformed sponge reposing in the bottom. It did not need the introduction of the newcomer by M. Desplaines as Professor Ajax Wiseman, to tell the boys that Dr. Wiseman was a naturalist.
"My dear professor, what are you doing here?" exclaimed M. Desplaines as soon as the introductions were over.
"I arrived this morning from Grand Bassam on a coasting schooner," replied the professor, carefully setting down his tin box. "I have a remarkable specimen of the Gladiolus Gorgeosi in there," he remarked importantly. "I am contemplating a trip into the interior via the Bia River and came to you to see if you could arrange transportation."
M. Desplaines looked at the boys.
"These young men have engaged the steam launch, to tow their expedition up the river," he said hesitatingly; "they are going on a hunting trip, into the interior, and have, I venture to say, one of the most complete outfits I have ever seen."
The naturalist looked wistfully at Frank.
"I suppose there would not be the least objection to my availing myself of your assistance in getting up the river," he said, blinking behind his spectacles like an old bat who has unexpectedly emerged into the sunlight. "I have only two canoes and as I carry my own attendant I shall be no trouble."
"We shall be delighted to accommodate you," rejoined Frank heartily, "but I shall have to place one restriction on you. When we reach our destination we must part company as we have work to do of a confidential nature. Our employer, Mr. Barr—"
"Old Luther Barr," burst out Professor Wiseman suddenly.
"Why, yes," rejoined Frank, rather taken aback, "you know him then?"
"I—I have heard of him," replied the other with a slight hesitancy which was, however, so faint as to be hardly noticeable. The voice of Madame Desplaines summoning them to breakfast broke off any opportunity for further questions on a matter that plainly, for some strange reason or other, seemed to have heartily interested—even disturbed—the naturalist. Frank felt troubled for a moment at the idea of having let Professor Wiseman form a portion of their party even for a short distance. But he dismissed the idea almost instantly. The queer expression that passed over Professor Wiseman's face at the mention of the ivory trader's name might have simply been due to astonishment at hearing it again. Still Frank decided to keep an eye on Professor Wiseman.
The conversation at breakfast naturally enough dealt with the little known country the boys were to penetrate. Then it was for the first time that they heard mention of the mysterious tribe of the Flying Men who were reported to be equipped with rudimentary wings—like those of an undeveloped bat with which they managed to flit from tree top to tree top like true flyers.
"Oh, come," laughed Billy, "I've heard of tailed men and white Africans with red top-knots like Lathrop, but a race of winged men is coming it too strong."
"Laugh if you like," declared Professor Wiseman who had brought up the subject, "but some time ago I articulated a skeleton brought me by an Arab slave trader and found extending from the shoulder blade two distinct bony frames which had in life apparently been covered with a thin fleshy substance of leathery like tenacity stretching thence to the wrists. I asked the slave trader where he had found the skeleton," went on the savant, "and he told me he had come across it at the foot of a giant silk cotton tree in the Bambara country."
The boys exchanged glances. It was to the Bambara country—the country of the legendary Flying Men—that they were bound.
"Is any more known of this tribe?" inquired Frank.
"Very little except what you can pick up from the natives, which is little enough," replied Professor Wiseman, "they seem to have a dislike to speaking of the Flying Men—to whites at any rate. I think, too, they fear them. Report has it that they live in cave-like holes in the side of a giant, black basalt cliff reached by a subterranean river. They reach the ground by taking short flights from the holes they live in and regain the cliff dwellings by means of rope ladders formed of twisted creepers."
"Then they cannot fly upward?" asked Frank.
"It would seem not," replied the naturalist, "their wings only serve as gliders. Possibly once in the remote ages they could fly as well as great birds but with the course of the ages and disuse their wings have dwindled."
As may, be imagined the idea that within a short time they were to be in the country of the mysterious tribe caused a tremendous stir among the boys and when after breakfast their strange friend of the night before, Sikaso, appeared they at once overwhelmed him with questions. But strangely enough Sikaso made no reply to their eager queries.
He shook his great bead and seemed to be embarrassed, if not by fear at any rate by reticence.
"In Misoto Mountains many strange Ju-jus (fetishes)," he said in an awed tone, "Misoto Mountains no good for white boys—white boys stay away."
"Not much," chimed in Harry, "that's just where we are going."
"You go Misoto Mountain," said the giant black in an astonished tone.
"That's what we are," exclaimed Lathrop.
The black gazed at the ground and drew a small circle on the dust with his toe. In the center of it he made a cross.
"That my dukkeri (fate)," he said slowly, "you go, Sikaso he go too. I see it in the smoke."
"Saw it in the smoke?" repeated the amazed boys.
"In smoke of Ju-ju fire I see it written. I see five go, three come back, in smoke too. I have spoken."
He stalked off as I suddenly as he had the night before and left the boys to gaze in a bewildered way after his huge figure as it swung down the road.
"That fellow's the best disappearer I ever saw," said Billy Barnes at length.
"I wish he'd stop that stuff about 'five go three come back,"' said Lathrop, "it gets on your nerves."
"What could he have meant by seeing it in the smoke?" asked Harry bewilderedly.
"Just this," broke in a quiet voice behind them. It was Professor Wiseman, who had glided up to them as silently as a cat. "It is a common trick among the witch doctors—of whom our friend yonder seems to be one—to divine events by means of the smoke from a fire built to the accompaniment of special incantations."
"Well, that's cheerful," commented Billy, "but tell us, Professor, how often do they hit it right?"
"Nine times out of ten, young man," said Professor Wiseman impressively fixing Billy with his gaze just as he would have impaled a bug or grasshopper, "and the tenth time they come so near the truth as to be uncomfortable."
"I have heard of such things, but I always put them down as impossibilities," gasped Frank.
"Just travelers' tales," said Billy.
"There are many things for the young to learn in Africa," remarked Professor Wiseman coldly and gazing at Billy with squashing intentness; "the young do not believe many things merely because they are young—and foolish."
"Gee! that was a nailer for fair," said Billy afterward. "I felt as if the Doc was running a big blue pin through me and sticking me on a bit of cork,"
That morning, as the start for the interior was not to be made till the next day, M. Desplaines asked the boys if they would care to try a little fishing at the foot of the famous Jumbari Falls which lay on a branch of the Bari river a short distance from the town. Of course the boys assented eagerly, but as it was found that only Frank and Harry were expert canoeists, it was agreed that the others should fish from the bank while the two young leaders trolled their lines from a native built craft. This canoe was kept at the falls—to which they tramped the two miles overland by a narrow trail.
The falls were a magnificent sight. From a dark red rock, fully two hundred feet in height, a great volume of water poured its roaring current into a boiling pool below. The cliffs shot up sheer on all sides and were covered at the bottom with luxuriant green growth like seaweed, while higher up, ferns, as big as rose-bushes at home, and trees of a hundred varieties clung wherever they could find a root-hold. As the party arrived at the top of the ravine and gazed down, the uproar of the water was so terrific as to render any speech inaudible. M. Desplaines, who led the party, pointed to a hole in the rocks and a second later vanished into it.
At first, consternation seized on the boys who thought that an accident had happened, but seeing not hearing Professor Wiseman's reassuring laugh and noticing him plunge after M. Desplaines, the boys rightly concluded that the aperture was a subterranean entrance to the foot of the falls. And so it proved. A steep flight of steps was cut in a deep cleft of the cliff down to the water's edge. A few minutes after they had begun the descent, the little party stood on the brink of the whirling pool into which the mighty falls roared their thousands of tons of water. Following M. Desplaines, they advanced down the stream to a point where a bend shut off like a rock curtain the deafening uproar of the cascade. Here a canoe lay moored and Frank and Harry stepped into it and shoved off. Their lines and other equipment they had in their pockets.
As they shoved out M. Desplaines shouted something that they did not catch and pointed down the stream. How near the fact that they could not hear his words was to come to costing them their lives neither of the boys guessed.
THE POOL OF DEATH
"Say, Frank, have you noticed that we are going to have a hard paddle back against this current?"
The boys had been fishing about an hour when Harry spoke. So engrossed had they both been pulling in fish of a dozen strange varieties and brilliant hues that neither of the lads had noticed that the canoe had drifted down stream far from the starting point and that in fact when they looked up they were in an entirely strange part of the river.
"You are right, Harry," rejoined Frank, as he looked up at the steep banks on either side of them, "we have drifted a considerable distance. Come on, out with the paddles and we'll be getting back."
But it was one thing to talk of getting back and quite another thing to do it. The boys, after an hour of paddling, were dismayed to find that although their arms ached with the exertion and they were dripping with perspiration, they had made hardly any progress against the current.
"It's too much for us," gasped Frank.
"What on earth are we going to do?" asked Harry with blanched cheeks.
Frank glanced at the shore on either side. For a minute he had entertained a thought of landing and walking back along the beach. But there was no beach.
The river boiled along between narrow walls which shot sheer up from the water. There was not even a niche in their smooth surface to afford a foothold to a mountain goat. They were caught in a trap.
The only thing to do was to drift down the river and trust to luck to find a landing-place. In their extremity they shouted at the top of their voices to let their comrades know of their plight, but their cries were unanswered and they began to wish that they had saved their breath to use in the task of keeping the canoe steady in the current.
While they had been pondering their situation, moreover, they had been swept with almost incredible rapidity down the river. The walls here grew narrower and narrower and the water fairly boiled in its narrow confines. Its dark surface was flecked with white foam, and to make matters worse, as the walls closed in the light became fainter, till the boys were being carried downward through almost subterranean darkness.
In the intense gloom their white strained faces shone out like pallid beacon-lights.
"Hold her steady," said Frank in a tense voice as the canoe wobbled crazily in the swollen current.
"I'm doing the best I can," gasped out poor Harry desperately plying his paddle.
It the canoe was to get broadside onto the current, even for the fraction of a second, Frank well knew that nothing could save them. It was a terrible situation.
Helplessly they were being borne at dizzy speed to what seemed almost certain death—for certain it was that they could not hold out much longer. Already their overstrained muscles were only mechanically doing their duty, but before long Frank realized that even his-well-trained young body must collapse—and then, what?
Suddenly there was borne to their ears a sound that made both boys chill with terror.
It was a mighty roaring like the furious boiling of some giant kettle. A thousand shouting voices seemed blended into one to form the music, of this ominous orchestra. Louder the noise grew and louder, as the pass through which the river now tore like a runaway race-horse grew narrower and blacker.
What could the awful uproar mean?
They had not long to wait before the truth burst upon them. They were nearing, at what seemed express speed, a whirling, roaring mass of waters that shouted at them like some animal calling for its prey. The boys' cheeks blanched as they realized that nothing but a miracle could save them from being sucked into this watery abyss.
Desperately they plied their paddles but if they had been useless further up the stream they were doubly inefficient now. If they had stroked against the rushing current with feathers they could not have had less effect in checking the death rush of the canoe, which was tossed along on the racing tide like a chip of wood.
Suddenly the canoe was struck a terrific blow.
Before either boy could realize what had happened they were both struggling in the water. So dazed were they by the mishap that it was several minutes before they understood that they were clinging to the to the trunk of some huge tree. It was this trunk that had wrecked the canoe and thrown them overboard.
In reality, though, they were little better off now than they had been while the canoe was being whirled down the river. It looked as if they had been saved from one death only to face a worse. With all their might they clung side by side. Dripping wet, half-blinded and bruised by the battering they got as the trunk smashed from side to side of the narrow passage, the indomitable American pluck of the two lads yet held good in this extremity.
"Is it good-by, Frank?" Harry found strength to murmur.
"While there's life there's hope," came Frank's brave reply in his favorite axiom. "We'll live to fly the old Golden Eagle yet, let's hope."
There was no time for further talk, even had the boys been in any position to consider conversation. The trunk was rapidly nearing the whirlpool—and death.
Small wonder that brave as the boys were a despairing cry burst from their throats as they saw what seemed the end of their ride close upon them. It was as if they could feel the breath of the Pale Horseman already blowing chilly in their faces.
But suddenly a strange thing happened.
Both boys had closed their eyes and only moved their lips in prayer as they saw that inevitably in a few minutes they must be sucked into the maelstrom. Now, however, they opened them in amazement.
The swift rush of the log to which they clung like drowned rats had stopped.
It took them only a few seconds to take in what had occurred. The great log swinging one end toward the swirling current had jammed clear across the stream and for a time at any rate they were saved from immediate death. In their joy they clasped each other's hands warmly but their first rush of relief did not last long. As a matter of fact they were not any nearer safely than they had been a few minutes previous.
The log, it was true, was jammed across the stream, but the consequent backing up of the impetuous current caused it to rush across the boys' refuge in such volumes as to almost sweep them from their perches.
It was very evident that they could not hold put indefinitely in this position.
Their attention was attracted as they clung to their water-swept tree-trunk by a dark object whirling about in the boiling pool. It was swept dizzily round and round in ever decreasing circles toward the middle of the fatal vortex. Suddenly it shot downward out of sight, but as it did so Frank had seen something that kindled one ray of hope—though a feeble one. Before the canoe had taken the fatal downward plunge it had hesitated for a minute as though caught on something; and then the boy leader saw for the first time that in the center of the pool there was a rock, although the water that submerged it to the depth of an inch or so prevented its being seen at first glance.
Frank turned to Harry and told him of his discovery.
"If we are cast into the pool let us make up our minds to get to that rock. Keep your mind concentrated on it. Don't let the idea leave you for a second and perhaps—I say 'perhaps'—we can make it."
Harry shook his head despairingly.
"I can hardly keep my grip on this tree. I don't believe that I could possibly manage to swim even a few yards," he groaned.
"You must," said Frank sharply. "Don't give in now, Harry. Stick it out."
Then as a sudden thought struck him he continued.
"See here, it's no good our wasting our strength clinging to this trunk any longer. Sooner or later we shall be swept off and the longer we wait the less reserve strength we shall have. Let us leave go now and swim for it."
Whatever reply Harry might have tendered to this desperate proposal he was spared making, for at that moment a wave of more than ordinary force—caused by the backed-up water striking the log—struck him full in the face and before he knew it the boy had been washed from the tree trunk and was being carried like a straw down the stream.
As Harry felt himself being carried along there was only one thought in his mind. It was not of death. When death is right upon a man or a boy he rarely thinks of it, but casts about for the best means of saving himself. Nor does—as some imaginative writers have told us—a man's whole past life come before him at such moments. No—the instinct of self-preservation is strongest when a human being is in the direst need, and so it was that in Harry's mind one thought kept hammering away like the strokes of a tolling bell.
Frank's insistence had done this much. It had caused the boy to recollect the one hope of salvation that the desperate situation held out. As he was swept down the torrent Harry made no effort to swim. It would have been worse than useless and besides he needed to husband his strength for the final struggle he knew was upon him.
The next minute he felt a sickening swirling sensation and realized that he was in the whirlpool's death-grip at last.
Faster and faster the boy was hurried in ever decreasing circles. Dizzy, half-choked with water, blinded and almost exhausted Harry, with the tenacity of a bull dog, still clung tenaciously to the one idea:
Suddenly, he was flung against a hard substance. With outstretched fingers he clutched at the slimy surface as of what he realized was the end of his journey at last. The great stone was covered with slimy weed, however, and his grasping fingers refused to clutch at any friendly niche in its surface.
With a despairing cry the boy was being swept in to the terrible mouth of the pool when he felt himself seized and pulled up out of the grip of the torrent. He knew no more till he opened his eyes and found Frank by his side. Both boys were on the rock—sitting on it in two inches or more of water. Fortunately in that climate the water was not so chilly as to cause discomfort, but this was about the only crumb of satisfaction the situation held for them.
"Well done, old fellow," said Frank as Harry opened his eyes. "You had a narrow escape, though."
Harry could only look at his brother gratefully. How deep was his debt of gratitude to him both boys realized without their talking of it.
"How did you gain the rock, Frank?" asked Harry.
"When I saw you swept off the tree trunk I slipped off too," replied Frank, "and when I felt myself dragged into the pool I struck out for the rock. I confess, though, I didn't have much hope of reaching it till I was slammed into it with a blow that almost cracked my ribs and knocked all the wind out of me. I managed however to grab hold of a depression in the surface and maintain my grip on it. I had hardly dragged myself up when you were hurled against it. I thought I had lost you, for the water pulled like a draught-horse, but I managed to hold on to you and here we are."
"And a worse position we could not possibly be in," added Harry.
"Unless we were in there," retorted Frank pointing, not without a shudder, to the whirling open mouth of the pool which had sucked down the wreck of their canoe.
"What is it do you suppose?" asked Harry wonderingly.
"The mouth of a subterranean river I guess," replied Frank. "I have read of such things."
"But why didn't Desplaines warn us of our danger," said Harry bitterly, "if we ever get out of this I shall tell him my opinion of him pretty strongly. We might have been killed and we may yet."
"He did warn us," replied Frank calmly.
"I should like to know when?"
"When we shoved off."
"You mean when he shouted something we couldn't catch and pointed down the river?"
"I thought he meant there was better fishing down, here," snapped Harry indignantly, "what idiots we were."
"Yes; not to notice how we were drifting," rejoined Frank quietly, "it's no use to blame Mr. Desplaines for this pickle. We have only ourselves to be angry with. I don't suppose he ever thought that two boys would not notice how they were drifting in a ten mile current."
"The point is how are we ever going to get out of it?"
As the boys looked about they saw little to encourage them. The chasm in which they were beleaguered was not more than fifteen feet across, but on either side shot up walls of rock so steep and smooth that not even a fern could find root on their polished surfaces.
Where the whirlpool sank into the bowels of the earth the walls came together at an angle forming a sort of triangular prison. At the top of this trap the boys could see a strip of blue sky and the outlines of the graceful tops of some bulbous stemmed palms but nothing else. Once a vulture sailed across the strip and sighting the two boys came lower to investigate. The sight of the carrion bird made both of the boys shudder.
"Ugh, he scents a meal, he thinks we're dead already," cried Harry disgustedly.
The sound of his voice echoed gloomily among the rocks.
"We're dead already," came back in sepulchral tones.
"I shan't try to wake that echo up again," said Harry in a low tone and shivering at the uncanny voice of the rock.
Neither of the boys spoke for a long time. They sat there silently, occasionally standing up to get the stiffness out of their limbs till the strip of sky above began to darken to gray.
"Well, here goes!" exclaimed Harry suddenly.
Frank glanced sharply up. He did not like the wild tone in which the words were spoken.
"What is it?" he asked sharply.
"I'm tired of this, I'm going to swim for it," replied Harry with a foolish, hysterical laugh.
Frank saw what had happened. The boy had become half-delirious under the mental strain he had undergone.
"Sit down, old fellow," he said kindly, "help will come soon I am sure."
"Yes, a steamboat will come sailing down the river and take us home in the captain's cabin I suppose," said Harry foolishly.
But nevertheless Frank's stern command to "shut up" and not make a foot of himself brought him to his senses and he said no more till the stillness was broken by a sudden cry from above.
"Ahoy there; castaways!"
Frank looked up.
The cry of joy he gave set the echoes flying in the gloomy canyon.
It was the black face of Sikaso that was gazing down on them and beside it was Ben Stubbs' weather-beaten countenance. Behind them were Billy, Lathrop and the rest.
"Hold on there and we'll get you out of that in two shakes of a duck's tail," cheerily hailed the old adventurer. "We guessed you'd be here and we brought a rope as long as a man of war's cable with us. Lucky thing we did."
The next minute a long rope of vegetable fiber came snaking down the side of the cliff and to one end of it clung Ben Stubbs. As he reached the bottom—the rope being cautiously paid out from above by his companions—the old seaman swung himself outward from the face of the rock and "in a brace of shakes," as he would have said, stood alongside the two boys. In a second his sharp eye took in Harry's wild looks and hysterical greetings and realized what had happened.
"Now, Frank," he ordered, giving the young aviator the end of the rope—"catch hold tight and when you are ready give the word."
"But Harry—" gasped Frank, "I can't leave him. Let him go first."
"I'll bring him up. He can't look after himself in the shape he's in and you are too weak to attempt to help him. Now no talking back. I'm boss now. Up aloft with you. Haul away there!"
The next minute Frank, clinging to the rope, was being hauled cautiously up the side of the sheer cliff by careful hands and shortly he was in the arms of his friends.
Ben Stubbs—to whom the rope with a weight at the end of it had been swung pendulum wise—next appeared at the summit with Harry in his strong grip. But it was a white faced inanimate burden he carried. The boy had swooned.
"He'll be all right in a few minutes," said Ben Stubbs as M. Desplaines and the others all tried to explain at once to Frank how Sikaso had guessed what had happened when the boys did not return. The Krooman had led the party by secret native trails to the cliff top. Frank clasped the huge black's hand with real gratitude and tears of thankfulness brimmed in his eyes.
"How can I ever thank you," he said.
"Um—white boys keep away Pool of Death, Sikaso much pleased," replied the Krooman turning slowly away with a sad expression on his face.
"His own son was drowned in it several years ago," said M. Desplaines briefly.
A SNAP-SHOT FIEND IN TROUBLE
The morning after the events recorded in the last chapter was one of these sparkling ones that are occasionally to be met with on the West African coast and was the forerunner of a day of great bustle and activity for the boys. With the vitality of healthy youth Harry had completely recovered and was indeed surprised to find himself feeling so good after what he had been through. Privately he inspected his hair in the mirror to see if it had turned white and was secretly much astonished to find it the same color as before.
"I wish mine would turn white or potato color or something," said Lathrop, to whom Harry confided his expectation, "this red thatch of mine is a nuisance. At school I was always Brick-top or Red-Head and out here the natives all look at my carrot-colored top-knot as if they'd like to scalp me and keep it for a fetish."
Both boys laughed heartily over Lathrop's half-assumed vexation. As a matter of fact he had been the butt of many jokes in school on account of his blazing red hair and in Africa the natives with their love for any gaudy color had already christened him Rwome Mogo or Red-Top. Of this, however, he was fortunately ignorant, as he might have been tempted to go out and dispatch half a dozen of them if he knew of their term for him.
Down at the river bank, cross the evil-smelling lagoon at the back of the town, Frank and Harry had their hands full directing shouting, laughing Kroomen how to load up the canoes. From the canopied steam launch that lay alongside the rickety wharf the black engineer—an American Negro—watched with great contempt their labors, which they enlivened with songs from time to time.
"Them's de mos' good fur nuffingest niggahs I ever did see," remarked Mr. Rastus Johnson—that was his name—with undisguised contempt.
Nevertheless by noon the canoes had all been leaded and the farewells to the kind M. Desplaines and his family said. After a swift final inspection Frank pronounced everything ship-shape and even Doctor Wiseman who had been fussing about as Billy said "like a hen with one chicken—and that a lame duck," over his tin cases and poisonous looking bottles, announced that he was ready to start. The twelve chattering Kroomen who were to go as far as the Bambara country with the expedition were seated two in each canoe. They were along simply as camp attendants and packers and would by no means go any further than the borders of the Bambara country which they said was the dwelling-place of "bery bad man sah."
Just as the little launch, flying the stars and stripes out of compliment to the boys, was drawing out into the stream with a long blast of her whistle, a tall, black form came racing along the bank and with one bound cleared the five feet or so between the launch and the shore. It was Sikaso.
"So you came after all," said Frank, turning to him, after a bend in the, river had hidden the waving Mr. Desplaines from sight and they were settling down in the launch.
"Sikaso see in the smoke I come—I come. If I see in smoke I no come—I no come," remarked the Krooman.
"He's traveling light anyhow," remarked Billy.
Indeed the giant negro's only bit of baggage was a huge axe, the handle of which was dented and scarred as if by many combats. Billy was about to run his thumb along its edge when with a gesture the mighty negro waved him aside. Instead he took Billy's handkerchief from the young reporter's pocket and drew it gently along the axe blade.
It fell in two pieces on each side of his blade, severed by its razor-like edge.
"Sikaso is a good fellow to be friends with when he can make little ones out of big ones like that," remarked Billy, picking up the two fragments of his handkerchief, "that's a fine way to cut up a gentleman's wardrobe."
Bit by bit as the launch drove steadily up the muddy river—from whose jungle-grown banks arose a warm, moist vapor—Frank drew from the grim-faced old Krooman some of his history. He had been a mighty warrior in the old days, he said, and the weapon be carried was his war axe with which he had killed uncounted enemies. A rival tribe, however, had killed his father and mother and driven him to the coast with the few survivors of his village. Here he had shipped on an American trading brig for New York where he had picked up the knowledge of English he possessed. He also worshiped America as "free man's country." But Africa had called to him and some three years before he had returned on another ship and meant to die there, he said.
"Why did you wish to go with us?" asked Frank as the native concluded his story.
"It was written so in the smoke, white boss," replied the veteran simply. "The ju-ju in the smoke strong ju-ju. He knows many things."
"Is that the only reason you have for coming?"
"No, boss, I tell you truth," replied the old warrior, "some day I find the chief who kill my father and my mother and kill my friends." He glanced significantly at his axe.
"In the Moon Mountains maybe I find him—maybe not. But some day I shall and then—"
He said no more, but as Frank remarked to Harry when the former recounted his conversation to his brother later:
"I shouldn't much like to be that man when Sikaso meets him."
The launch and the small flotilla she towed forged steadily up the stream all that day and at nightfall drew alongside the bank at a spot where a clearing planted with bananas clearly indicated the presence thereabouts of a native village. As soon as the launch was moored to the bank the adventurers scrambled out—not sorry of a chance to stretch their legs—and looked about them wonderingly. They were really in equatorial Africa at last, and even as they looked there was a sound borne to their ears that brought home to them strongly how very far away they were from old New York. It was a pulsing, rhythmic beating something like a drum and yet unlike it. They looked questioningly at Sikaso.
"Tom-tom," said he briefly.
"Is it a friendly village, Sikaso?" inquired Doctor Wiseman.
"Friendly to some—not to all," replied the Krooman, who for some unaccountable reason had taken a strange dislike to the professor. "Come," he said, intoning to Frank and Harry, "we go see get chicken, maybe pork."
"Say, can't we come along, Frank?" asked Billy and Lathrop their faces falling.
Frank consulted Sikaso who merely said:
"Little fat white boy, with round, glass four-eyes talk too much."
"Well," laughed Frank, "I think I can promise for him that he won't do any talking that will cause any harm this evening."
"Talk too much, indeed," grumbled Billy highly offended, "why at home my folks were thinking of having a doctor treat me for bashfulness I'm so retiring in my disposition."
As soon as the laugh that this remark of the disgruntled reporter had caused had subsided—even old Sikaso giving a grim smile as he took in the purport of it—the little party set out down a native trail toward the village.
As the tom-tom beating increased in loudness as the village drew near, the boys' hearts began to beat a little faster. At last they were about to see a real African village—such as they had read about in Stanley's and Livingstone's books—and other less authentic volumes. They almost stumbled on the place as they suddenly emerged into a clearing. It was a strange sight that met their eyes.
Arranged in a circle were fifty huts that resembled nothing so much as a collection of old-fashioned straw covered beehives, enlarged to shelter human bees. All about them women and children were bustling; setting about getting the evening meal. Before one hut sat a woman, pounding something in a stone pestle—"like the drugstore men use at home,"—whispered Lathrop to Billy.
The arrival of the little band created a stir. The hideous old man, with a sort of straw-bonnet, who had been beating on the antelope skin drum called by Sikaso a "tom-tom" saw them and instantly picked up his instrument and waddled off with as much dignity as his age and a much distended stomach would allow him. The younger men, however, advanced boldly toward the party. Some of them carried, spears, others held Birmingham matchlocks of the kind the British and French Governments have in vain tried to keep out of the hands of the West African natives. These guns are smuggled in by hundreds, by Arab traders who exchange the "gas-pipe" weapons worth perhaps two dollars a-piece for priceless ivory, and even human flesh for the slave dhows.
"Seesanah (peace)," said Sikaso gravely, advancing in his turn.
"Seesanah," echoed the tribesmen, who evidently recognized Sikaso from their greetings. The boys stood grouped in the background— Billy Barnes and Lathrop even viewing with some alarm the advance of the savage-looking natives.
"Well, he seems to have fallen in with several members of his club," remarked the irrepressible Billy as old Sikaso and the natives talked away at a great rate.
"I'm going to get a picture of some of these niggers when they get through," he continued aside to Lathrop.
"What; you brought a camera?" asked the other boy.
"Sure thing," replied Billy, "and if their ugly mugs don't break the lens, I mean to get some good snaps."
He drew a small flat folding camera from his pocket as he spoke and got it ready for action.
"Do you think Frank would stand for it? It might make trouble you know," said Lathrop.
"Pshaw," retorted the cocksure Billy, "what trouble can it make? I wish I knew bow to say 'Look pleasant, please,' in Hottentot, or whatever language these fellows talk."
By this time old Sikaso's 'pow-wow' was over and he motioned Frank and Harry forward. After they had been introduced to the chiefs and headmen of the village, the "big chief," a villainous-looking old party with only one eye and his legs thrust into a red shirt—into the armholes that is, with the rest of the garment rolled round his waist—announced he was ready to give fresh provisions for calico, red and blue, and several sections of the brass rod that passes for currency on the West Coast. While Frank, Harry and Sikaso were bargaining behind a hut, over the price to be charged for a razor-backed porker of suspicious appearance the village suddenly became filled with an uproar of angry shouts and tumult.
"What can be the matter?" exclaimed Frank, as the boys, followed by the old chief and Sikaso, rushed from behind the hut to ascertain the cause of the disturbance.
Standing in the center of a crowd of excited villagers was Billy Barnes, his helmet knocked off and an arrow sticking through it. He looked scared to death as well he might, for by his side was a stalwart young African, brandishing a heavy-bladed spear above his head. At the young reporter's feet lay the ill-fated camera that had caused all the trouble.
What had happened was this. As soon as Frank and Harry and their companions had left him and Lathrop alone, Billy had started to carry out his determination to take some pictures. The first subject he selected was a serious-faced little baby, innocent of any clothing, that sat playing with a ragged dog at, the entrance of one of the beehive huts. He had just clicked the button and exclaimed:
"This will be a jim-dandy," when he felt something whistle through the air and the next minute his hat lay at his feet with an arrow in it. In an instant the child's father—convinced that Billy was putting Ju-ju medicine on the child—was upon him, armed with his big hunting spear and followed by half the village. Even Billy—scared as he was—did not realize how very near to death he actually came to being. Sikaso's shouted words in a native dialect caused the tribesmen to fall back but they still muttered angrily.
Stepping swiftly up to the camera Sikaso with a single blow of his axe smashed it to pieces.
"Here, that's no way to treat my camera!" Billy was indignantly beginning, when Frank gripped his shoulder in an iron-clutch and whispered:
"Shut up; if you don't want to make more trouble."
Billy was starting on an angry remonstrance when he caught Frank's eye. The young leader was really angry and Billy prudently refrained from saying any more.
As for Sikaso—after demolishing Billy's machine, he turned to the tribesmen and addressing them in stately tones said—as he afterward translated it to Frank:
"Village fools. You see there is no magic in the little black box. It is nothing but a child's plaything for the fat, spectacled idiot." (This part of the oration Frank did not communicate to Billy.) "You see I have smashed it. Do I fear? Do I look now like a man in terror of the white man's medicine. It is nothing. It is broken and gone like the cloud before the wind, like the shadow on the mountain side."
The effect of all this was soothing and the boys left the camp, to order some of their packmen to bring home the provisions, with light hearts. As for Billy his ears burned by the time Frank got through reading him a lecture.
"I'm sorry," he said bravely, "and I won't do it again. Gee! talk about 'press the button and we'll do the rest.'"
"They nearly did it—didn't they," laughed Frank, his good humor quite restored.
A TRAITOR IN CAMP
It was a week later, and the launch having towed the expedition as far up the river as Frank decided was necessary—before they struck out into the unknown land of the cannibals, winged men, and the ivory hoard—had returned to civilization several days before, carrying with it letters from all the adventurers which they felt might be the last they would write for some time. The spot selected for the permanent camp was a sort of park-like space covered at its edges with masses of manioc and banana bushes. Beyond towered huge tropical trees and beyond these again the blue outlines of the distant Moon Mountains in which, according to old Barr's map, lay the ivory cache.
It had been a busy week. The Golden Eagle II had been re-erected and her own wireless and the field wireless apparatus put in order. As our readers who have followed this series are familiar with the manner of setting up the great Chester aeroplane and her fittings, it would be tedious to repeat the description of the process. Suffice it to say that thanks to the clever simplicity of the "knock-down" arrangement, by which the ship could be taken apart and set up again, the operation of equipping her for active work was a comparatively light one. The extra gasoline and supplies for the camp in general were stored in a separate tent removed from the circle in which the boys' tents and those of Ben Stubbs and Professor Wiseman were pitched.
There was, too, a newcomer in the camp—a Portuguese named Diego de Barros. He was not a particularly well-favored individual, but he bore the reputation of having great power over the natives and of being very friendly to the white traders who penetrated into the interior. Once or twice there had been ugly talk about his being in league with the Arab slave and ivory traders, but he had managed to clear his name and along the Ivory Coast enjoyed the reputation of being an honest, reliable man. He had joined the boys' camp a few days before and his manner of coming was this.
While everybody was busy getting things in shape there had come a loud hail from the quarters of the native helpers, just outside the white man's encampment, announcing that a canoe was coming up the river. All hands had hastened to the river bank to find de Barros just putting his foot ashore from the canoe in which two natives had paddled him from the coast. He had with him some bales of cotton goods and a few gewgaws of various kinds and was bound, so he said, on a trading expedition into the back country. Further down the river he had heard, he explained, that the boys were camped where he found them, and he had determined to pay them a visit. The brief stay that the boys had interpreted this as meaning, however, had extended itself into three days and still Diego showed no inclination to leave.
"If he doesn't move on soon I shall be compelled to ask him to go," said Frank in an annoyed tone to Harry. "I don't want to be inhospitable, but we can't afford to have strangers hanging round the camp, there is too much at stake."
Harry agreed with him and the two boys decided to tell the Portuguese that evening as tactfully as possible that they were on a private enterprise and could not accommodate strangers. This decision arrived at, Frank turned to the steel strong box that was never out of his sight and drew from it the precious map of the Moon Mountains. Seated at the little camp-table—(the conversation just related had taken place in the Boy Aviators' tent)—the two pored over the document for hours. With dividers, compass and parallel rulers Frank, who was a skilled navigator, laid out an aerial course that would bring them, he calculated, unerringly to the spot marked by a red cross where—so old Luther Barr declared—lay the ivory that was to save Mr. Beasley from financial ruin and disgrace.
Frank laid his finger on the spot and exclaimed enthusiastically:
"There it is, Harry, and we are not so far from it now. In a few days we shall know whether we are on a wild-goose chase or not."
"Why, no doubt has ever entered your head that the ivory is there?" questioned Harry.
"Well, old fellow, you know there are others interested in this ivory beside ourselves—Muley-Hassan for instance."
"You think he had got ahead of us?"
"I did not say I thought so, I only say that it is possible that he may have done so."
"How could he have got wind of our coming?"
"In Africa there is a sort of underground wire for news," replied Frank. "I have no doubt that hundreds of natives far in the interior are by this time apprised of our coming."
Harry looked alarmed.
"That's bad," he said.
"Well, it couldn't be helped: but we may have other enemies nearer at hand."
"What do you mean?"
"That I don't like the looks of that Portuguese fellow. If he got wind of what we are doing he would be likely to ruin the whole object of our expedition."
"That's so. We'll have to get rid of him."
"Well, we are going to, and if he won't go for gentle means we'll try rough ones."
"Hullo, what's that?" exclaimed Harry suddenly.
The flap at the end of the tent toward which both of their backs had been turned had been suddenly drawn aside and in one quick, backward glance Harry made out the smiling figure of de Barros standing in the doorway. It might have been fancy, but he thought for a minute that the Portuguese had a peculiarly villainous expression on his dark, handsome features.
"Ah, senors," he said, as Frank, with a quick movement swept the map off the table—but not before de Barros's quick eyes had spied it. Fearing to replace the precious chart in the strong box, while the Portuguese lingered, Frank tucked it into his pocket.
"Ah, senors, good afternoon," grinned the unwelcome visitor. "I have come to say 'adios.' I am going up the river to-night and may not see you again for a long time."
"I am sorry to have you leave," said Frank with a heartfelt wish that de Barros would hasten his departure.
"I knew you would be," smiled the Portuguese, "but it is the lot of man to meet and part. Adios, senors, I go to make ready."
He vanished as suddenly as he had come upon the scene.
"What do you make of that?" inquired Harry.
"I don't know what to think. I have an idea that he was listening to every word of our conversation just now and that he saw the map before I had time to sweep it off the table."
Harry looked vexed.
"That's tough luck," he said. "If he overheard even a part of our talk he must realize the object of our presence in Africa. And," he went on, "I don't know a man on the Dark Continent whom I would trust less than Diego de Barros, even the little we've seen of him."
"It can't be helped now," said Frank briefly; "come on, let's go and put the finishing touches on the good old Eagle."
They worked the rest of the afternoon putting the big aeroplane in shape for her flight to the Moon Mountains which it had been determined to make the next day. It was almost dusk when Harry, who was working over the engines, asked Frank for the reserve park-plug box.
"It's in one of the canoes. I'll go and get it," said Frank, and at once set off toward the river bank for that purpose. His path led through a thick grove of bamboos which hid him from the view of the camp after he had traversed a short distance. As he merged on the river bank, whistling softly to himself, the young leader suddenly felt himself pinioned by arms that seemed of enormous strength— though, as the attack had come from behind, he could not see the faces of his assailants. The next minute he was lying flat on his back, bound and helpless with a bit of greasy cloth shoved in his mouth for a gag.
"Keep still, senor, and you shall not be hurt;" said a quiet voice near at hand, and Frank saw bending above him the sallow features of the smiling Portuguese.
"I just have to trouble you for that map I saw you put in your pocket, that is all," went on his captor, while the two huge negroes who had made Frank prisoner stood to one side immovable as carved figures,
"It is lucky for me that you came down to the river bank," grinned the Portuguese as he ran his hand over Frank's clothes, to ascertain the hiding-place of the precious map of the ivory cache, "otherwise I should have had to delay my departure till to-night, and possibly have cut your throat while you slept."
Frank felt as if his heart would burst with rage and mortification as the greasy, smiling Portuguese deliberately drew out the priceless document and gazed at it in triumph. He laid it on the ground beside him while lie resumed his search for other clues.
"That ivory belongs to my master—Muley-Hassan—now," he sneered; "did you think for a minute that we would ever let you white fools get it back again."
It was well for the Portuguese that Frank's hands were not free then. Had they been the dark-skinned traitor would have had a fight on his hands in a few seconds. But suddenly events took a strange turn.
The two blacks uttered a sharp cry of warning as the bushes parted and a huge form dashed out, whirling about its head a glistening axe.
It was Sikaso!
The next minute would have been Diego's last but that his two followers lifted him to his feet and, picking him up like a child, ran for his canoe with him. With a few rapid strokes they were in midstream and paddling up the river with powerful strokes while Sikaso raged impotently on the shore.
"Oh for one of the white men's fire-tubes!" he sighed, and even as he spoke a sharp reminder of the efficiency of these same "fire-tubes" whizzed past his ear in the shape of a bullet from Diego's revolver.
In a few steps the old black was beside his young leader and with a couple of strokes of his keen blade had set him free.
"Quick, Sikaso; the canoes—we must pursue him. Call the boys and Ben while I cast off the canoes. Quick, we have not a minute to lose."
Although Diego in his hurry had not carried off the map but left it lying on the ground, still Frank realized that the Portuguese had not actually needed the document to aid Muley-Hassan to find the cache. The Arab was no doubt familiar with the location anyway, but to head off all danger of the boys getting there first, it was vital to stop Diego at all costs. In a few bounds Frank reached the little indentation in the bank where the canoes were kept.
As he gained it he fell back with a groan and, brave boy as he was, he leaned weakly against a tree for support as the true extent of the crushing disaster that had occurred was borne in on him.
The canoes were gone!
The cunning rascal, Diego, had devised his plan well.
The painters of all the craft had been cut, and by this time they were doubtless miles down the stream.
A BATTLE IN THE AIR
The consternation with which the news of the loss of the canoes was received by the young adventurers may be imagined. It meant that they were cut off from communication with the coast entirely unless some unforeseen circumstances arose. But in spite of the oppression that naturally affected them at the first news of their serious loss, Frank's confident manner had its effect in restoring some sort of hope. Like the born leader that he was, Frank, the minute he recovered from the first effects of his bitter dismay, set about cheering up the others.
"We've always got the Golden Eagle," he comforted, "and anyway it's likely if no one stops them, that some at least of the canoes will drift down the river to the coast. M. Desplaines will no doubt be able to surmise something serious has happened when he hears of their arrival and will send aid. In the meantime we have to consider what we are to do about the ivory cache."
As a matter of fact, as the boys learned later, none of the canoes ever reached the coast, being intercepted by river-tribes.
"I vote for going ahead," cried Harry, catching the optimistic note that his brother's words conveyed.
"That's the stuff," cried the young leader, "that is exactly what I was going to propose."
"How about you, red-top?" asked Billy turning to Lathrop.
"Of course I'm on," was the reply.
"I hate to dash your enthusiasm," said Frank, "but you fellows must see that it is impossible for all of us to go. My plan is to take Ben Stubbs along and leave you fellows and Sikaso here to guard the camp. Then, too, there is the possibility of a relief expedition arriving as soon as they discover that we have lost our canoes."
Old Sikaso leant apart on his mighty war-axe. He seemed to regret heartily that he had not had an opportunity of testing its metal on the head of the knavish Portuguese.
"What do you say to that plan, Sikaso?" asked Frank, who already placed a high value on the old warrior's judgment.
"That it is good, my white brother. Sikaso will stay with the four-eyed one and the ruddy-haired one and we will see that no harm comes to the camp of the young white warriors."
"It is well," replied Frank, who was falling into a trick of addressing the stately Krooman in the same grandiloquent fashion as the latter was in the habit of using, "I place my trust in you."
"Hum," snorted Billy, "four-eyes and red-top that's a nice combination for you! I'd like to do something to show that old chap that we can do just as much as anyone else when it comes to a show-down."
This remark, however, was made sotto voce to Lathrop, as Billy really stood in great awe of the six foot-two of ebony flesh and muscle that was Sikaso.
But Stubbs was delighted at his selection to accompany the boys in their aerial dash for the ivory cache. He spent half the night by lantern light pottering about the great craft and stocking her up with provisions and equipment for the journey. By the time he had finished it was almost midnight and he turned in to join the boys in the land of dreams where Frank and Harry, and doubtless the others, too, were already busy shooting down Diegos and hippopotami and flitting through the air above the great African forest and performing all sorts of wonderful feats.
At dawn everybody was up and about and after farewells had been said the Chester boys and their sturdy old companion clambered into the chassis of their craft. Frank had already laid out his course, which lay about two points west of north. The boy calculated that this direction would bring them within a few miles at any rate of the cache. To find it they would have to trust to persistence and a modicum of luck.
Old Sikaso, who had, of course, never seen anything even remotely resembling an aeroplane, stood apart from the excited group clustered about the big craft and gazed at it with astonishment, not unmixed with awe. The other Kroomen—the packers and camp-workers, however, gathered close about the machine and the boys had a lot of trouble keeping their busy fingers from unscrewing nuts and loosening turnbuckles.
"Anything more like a pack of monkeys on a picnic I never saw," exclaimed Billy as for the twentieth time he chased a long, skinny native away from the propellers, where he would have assuredly been decapitated if he had remained till the engine was started.
A few turns with the clutch thrown out showed the engine was running as true as on the day the Golden Eagle made her trial trip. The muffler was cut out and the effect of the wide-open exhaust on the Kroomen was magical. Within a second from the time that Harry threw in the switch and the gatling gun uproar of the exhaust made itself manifest, not a solitary one was to be seen. From the greenery of the jungle that rimmed the clearing, however, their frightened faces could be seen peering, like some strange sort of fruit among the tropical growth. Only old Sikaso stood his ground.
But even that stolid old warrior grasped his great war-axe a little tighter and stood erect as if about to face an unknown enemy as jets of blue flame and smoke shot from the detonating exhaust.
"All ready, Harry?" cried Frank to the younger boy who was at his old station by the engines.
"Ay, ay!" came the response in a hearty tone. "Then let her go."
With a quick movement Frank threw in the clutch.
The mighty propellers began to beat the air with the whirring sound of a swarm of gigantic locusts in full flight, and after a short run the great aeroplane took the air in a long graceful rising arc. Half an hour later, to the watchers in the camp, she was little more than a speck against the sky.
Frank, his eye constantly on the compass, kept the ship on a true course for the Moon Mountains which, now that they were flying far above the dense forest region, lay a rugged mass of blue and brown, piled like some giant's playthings—on the northwestern horizon.