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Boy Scouts in an Airship
by G. Harvey Ralphson
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Collins tried to lift his hands, but was unable to do so, so he lifted his voice instead! Yerkes, in the whirr of the machine, doubtless mistook the voice for that of the boy, for he paid no attention to it.

"Help! Help!" roared Collins. "Stop the machine! He's got me tied down! Stop it, you fool! Stop it!"

Yerkes and the Indian looked stolidly on with grins on their faces, and Ned stuck an elbow into Collins' ribs.

"Keep still," he said, "or I'll have to put you out of the speech habit. I've got you just where you expected to get me, and you ought not to kick about the accommodations."

"Yerkes!" yelled Collins. "Why don't you stop the machine? Catch hold of the propellers and yank them off! Put a bullet through this young fiend! Anything to stop the crazy thing. I tell you he's got me tied in!"

Then Yerkes, recognizing the voice, sprang toward the propellers. He made a brisk spring, but was too late. The blades were just about an inch out of his reach. Foiled in this attempt, he drew a revolver and began firing foolish shots at the machine, none of which came near the mark.

In a moment the Vixen was under full speed, the ground dropped away, and the last Ned saw of Yerkes and the Indian they were performing a dance of rage on the growing vegetables below. Straight to the south the machine flew, the motors popping like mad.

The boy saw little crowds in the lighted streets below, looking and pointing up at the aeroplane, and then the city streets faded away into a dull mat, and there were only the silent peaks, the sea, and the deep, dim valleys.

Then Ned turned to his prisoner, who had by this time given over the useless struggle against the harness. Collins' eyes were fixed on the moonlit Pacific, away off to the west, and the boy's eyes followed those of his captive.

A steamer was creeping into the shallow harbor at Calleo, and the dark spot on the sand showed that a crowd was there to greet her. The Vixen was too far away for Ned to see the surf boats getting ready to take off the passengers and freight, but he knew that they were there.

It was now eleven o'clock, and the moon was well up in the sky. The ribs of the Andes lay like silver in its light. Strain his eyes as he might, there was no indication of the Nelson.

"Fine view!" Ned said, presently, giving Collins a nudge in the ribs with his elbow. "How do you like it?"

Thomas Q. Collins was near bursting with rage. He hitched about in his seat, but to no purpose.

"What does this mean?" he finally found words to say, screaming at the top of his voice, for the Vixen was now making good speed.

"I preferred to be the host rather than the guest," the boy said, with a shrug of the shoulders.

"I don't know what you mean by that," Collins replied.

"You meant to capture me tonight?" asked Ned.

"Nothing of the kind!" roared Collins.

"You got Leroy and Mike in jail, and you thought you'd burst up this relief expedition by putting me out of the way," Ned went on. "Now, we'll see who'll be put out of the way."

"What are you here for?" asked Collins.

"You know very well," replied Ned. "But it is too much exertion to talk at this speed. Wait until we land and I'll tell you all about your intentions! Understand? All about your intentions."

"Much you know about them," shrieked Collins.

Ned made no reply to this, for, away off to the southeast, he caught sight of the dipping lights of an airship which might or might not be the Nelson.



CHAPTER VII

THE BLACK BEAR IN TROUBLE

One still night on the Amazon Jack Bosworth got out a map and turned a flashlight on it. Frank and Harry stood looking over his shoulder.

"Right here," Jack said, presently, "is where we leave the main stream of the Amazon and take to the Madeira."

"How do you know that stream is the Madeira?" asked Frank. "We have passed so many large tributaries that I'm all mixed up."

"And why not try some other stream?" Harry questioned. "I've heard that the Madeira is full of falls and rapids."

"Anyway," Jack insisted, "it takes us away up into the Andes, almost to Lake Titicaca, and that's all any stream will do. As for the falls and rapids, do you expect any stream to creep down from that great plateau without jumping off occasionally?"

"All right," Frank cut in. "Go your own way to destruction! But how do you know that rippling sheet of water off there," swinging an arm to the south, "is the Madeira river? It looks like a lake to me."

"I found out while you were asleep this morning," Jack replied. "A chap came along in a launch and I asked him all about it. He said he had just come from the Andes, and advised me to turn back."

"Kind-hearted little fellow, eh?" laughed Harry.

"He wasn't very little," answered Jack. "He was six feet two, and was coming out with a finger off and a cut across a cheek bone which will last him for a spell, I guess. He cut his finger off because a poisoned arrow struck it."

"Cannibals?" asked Harry, with a laugh.

"The same," replied Jack. "Said they chased him for miles."

"We'll curb their appetites with lead," Harry observed.

"If we see them first," added Jack.

So the Black Bear was turned into the Madeira river, which is something like seven hundred miles long, and drains the wooded country where the black sheep of the land of Brazil live. Away up in the hills it is fed by the Beni river, which has its source in the mountains east of Lake Titicaca.

More than once the boys were obliged to haul their motor boat out on a rocky "bench," take it to pieces, carry it and most of the stock around rapids, and then put it together and load up again. Still, they made good time, and on the evening of the third day found themselves at the junction with the Beni river.

They were now in a wild and dangerous country. The forests swarmed with wild game, the thickets were full of serpents, and the trees were often crowded with monkeys. For two days they had seen no natives. This was suspicious as it was certain that they had penetrated to the home of the cannibal tribes so greatly dreaded by hunters and explorers.

It was on the evening of the 21st of August that Jack sent the Black Bear into a little creek, shut off the power, and turned to put up the panels. It was not very warm, but the atmosphere was sticky and heavy with the breath of the woods.

"We'll smother in there tonight," Frank said, observing the actions of the other. "Why not leave some of 'em out?"

"If you want a poisoned arrow nestling in your ribs you can sleep outside," Jack answered. "For my part, I want to wake up in this good old world in the morning."

"I don't think there's any danger yet," Frank said.

But the panels were put up and supper prepared. By this time the lads had become accustomed to preparing their own meals, as well as providing the fish from the river, and the repast was soon over. Then Jack lay back and gazed through the one glass panel of the top of the Black Bear.

It was a dark, lowering night. The wind is usually from the east in that part of Brazil. Blowing over the Atlantic it gathers up moisture to dump on the eastern slope of the Andes. The summits drain the clouds and makes Peru a dry country. It was murky now, and the clouds hung low.

"What do you see up there, Jack?" asked Frank. "Trying to study astronomy, with not a star in sight?"

"There you are wrong," Jack replied. "There is at least one star in sight."

"With that mass of clouds drifting over the sky?" laughed Harry. "I reckon you must be seeing things not present to the senses!"

"Come and look, then," Jack invited. "Look straight up, and you'll see a star."

Frank placed himself under the glass panel and looked up.

"Well?" Jack demanded, in a tone of triumph.

"It's something," Frank exclaimed, "but I don't believe it is a star."

"It may be a reflector at the top of the Flatiron building," grinned Jack. "What is it, if it isn't a star?"

"Look yourself!" cried Frank.

The boys were all looking now. They saw the light which Jack had mistaken for a star flashing to and fro under the clouds like a firefly. It rushed earthward with amazing speed for an instant, then spiraled upward again. Once it came directly over the Black Bear, and seemed about to drop down.

Jack threw a couple of panels open, and then the whirr of motors reached their ears. Frank sprang outside and turned a flashlight upward.

"There's your star!" he shouted to Jack.

"Quick!" Harry cried. "Wigwag with that light. It is the Nelson! They may be able to see us!"

"Yell, every soul of you!" directed Frank. "Yell! She is going away!"

The boys waved their lights frantically and shouted at the top of their voices, but the light in the sky crept away to the west and soon disappeared, evidently passing above the clouds which lay like a black blanket over the Brazilian forests.

"Great heavens!" Jack sighed. "If we could only have made them hear! I'll bet they've been to Paraguay and released Lyman. Now they're going back home! Fine show we now stand of having any fun with them!"

"They went west," Harry corrected. "That isn't the way home!"

"I'd like to know just what success they have had," Jack went on. "Say," he continued, "can't we do something to attract their attention? Why not set fire to some big dry tree and let her blaze up?"

"I just can't have it this way!" Harry said. "I can't stand it to have them come so close to us and then go away without knowing we are here. We've got to bring them down in some way."

"But they've gone!" Frank declared, gravely.

"If we make a big blaze," Jack hastened to say, "the reflection on the clouds will attract their attention, and they'll come back. They won't be able to see the fire itself, of course, but they'll see the reflection, and that will bring them down to investigate. Then we'll fire our revolvers and wigwag with blazing sticks until they see who we are."

"It may not be the Nelson," Harry suggested.

"I don't believe there's any other aeroplane sailing about the roof of the world," Frank replied. "Of course it is the Nelson!"

"Perhaps the Nelson was followed," Harry went on. "I've heard of such things. The chap in that machine may be looking for Ned. Anyway," he added, "it won't do any harm to let the aviator, whoever he is, know that we are here. Come on, let's go ashore and build a big fire."

"I certainly would give a year's growth to know whether that is the Nelson," Harry said, as the boys sought the shore and began gathering dry wood, which, it may be well to add, was not easy to find, as there had been quite a shower during the day. "For all we know," he continued, "there may be another aeroplane here. If the people who are trying for the Lyman concession are as active here as they seem to have been in Paraguay, they may have half a dozen airships out after the Nelson."

Finally a quantity of wood which was fairly dry was secured, and Jack bundled it up against a dead tree which seemed to run straight up into the sky until it touched the clouds. But when the boys came to apply matches they discovered that the wood was not dry enough to be ignited in that way.

"I'll get a gallon of gasoline and pour over it," Frank explained. "Then we can run like blazes when we touch her off. What?"

The gasoline was brought, and the blaze started with a mighty concussion of the air. A portion of the highly inflammable fluid had entered a great crevice in the dead tree, with the result that there was an explosion which resounded through the forests for miles. Then the flames mounted the tree, which was soon blazing like a great torch.

"I guess that will attract their attention!" Jack said, shielding his face from the intense heat.

"Yes," Frank replied, "and I'm afraid it will attract the attention of others, too. You know we were told to sneak through this country like little mice!"

"It is too late now!" Jack said, a shadow of anxiety coming over his face. "We are in for it, I guess. What shall we do?"

Above the crackling of the flames, above the drawing and sighing of the wind, there now came a strange sound which seemed to proceed from the fire-tinted clouds above. Now and then branches of the nearby trees stirred mysteriously, and at times a wild shriek rose above the monotonous chattering.

"Monkeys!" cried Jack. "They've come out to help us bring the airship to earth. Good little beasts!"

"Don't be in too much of a hurry to give the little devils a certificate of good character!" Harry answered. "They may make trouble for us."

After a time the foolish, wrinkled faces of the monkeys were seen peering from trees. Then, above the din they made, above the crackling of the fire, constantly mounting higher, came a scream almost like that of a child.

"That's a jaguar!" Harry declared, "a South American tiger, and we'd better be getting toward the boat."

"The animals won't come near the fire," Frank said. "We may as well remain here and see the menagerie."

Directly it seemed to the excited lads that all the wild animals in South America were assembled about their signal. Harry declared that he heard the call of the red wolf, the scream of the tiger cat, the wail of the puma, the vicious snarling of the wild dog.

While the boys listened to the chorus their efforts to attract the attention of the aeroplane had produced, there came into the discord another sound—the hissing of a monster serpent. Heretofore the boys had little to do with Brazilian forms of animal life, for they had kept near the middle of the main stream of the Amazon, and also about in the center of the Madeira and the much smaller Beni, which was only a creek when compared with the other rivers.

Occasionally they had seen a monster cayman nosing against the current, and at times their progress had been retarded by turtles, but they had never before seen anything like this. Their fire had certainly brought out a combination in nature which would have been decidedly interesting if it hadn't been so threatening.

"Me for the boat!" Jack said, with a shiver, as the serpent launched his head and a third of his body from the tree and swept about in widening circles. "I never could endure snakes!"

"I'm going to take a shot at it," Frank said. "I'd like to see him take a tumble into the fire."

"Better let him alone," Harry advised.

Frank was about to fire when Jack caught his arm and held up his hand in a listening attitude.

"What is it?" Frank asked.

"Human voices!" was the quick reply.

"Inhuman voices, I should say," Harry observed, after a second of silence.

A chant unlike anything the boys had ever heard before undulated through the forest. It rose and fell with the gusts of wind, and always nearer to the fire.

"This is a new one on me!" Jack cried. "It is also another reason for getting to the boat! Come on, fellows!"

"I'm not going to run until I find out what that is," insisted Frank. "I'm going to write a newspaper story about this menagerie!"

"If you want your story published in this world," Jack cried, "you'd better get under cover, for that's the chant of the head hunters!"

"Wow!" cried Frank, and he beat both his chums to the boat.

"I guess we've started something!" Jack said, as he busied himself putting up the few panels which had been removed when they went ashore. "Now, some one push that button, and I'll get the Black Bear out of this creek. A good old scout like the Black Bear has no business associating with the wild animals on shore."

"Right you are!" shouted Harry, and the propellers began moving. Still, the boat made no progress to the rear, the reverse being on.

"What's doing?" demanded Jack. "You'd better hurry, for the head hunters are coming right along. See that big chief over there? He's got a club that would level the Singer building at a blow!"

"I can't make her back," Harry complained. "There's something the matter below her in the stream. It was all clear when we came in."

In an instant all was intense excitement on board the motor boat. There was only one way in which the savages could reach them, and that was to block their passage out and starve them to death! Had this system been resorted to? Had the cunning savages obstructed the little stream while the lads were busy building their fire and observing their menagerie, as they called it?

These questions were in the minds of all as efforts to back the Black Bear were redoubled. Finally Jack opened a panel at the rear and looked out, a thing he should have done at first.

What he saw was a large log blocking the channel. The propellers were pounding against it, and one of them was broken.

"I guess the little brown men have got us good and plenty," he said, slowly, as he reached forward and shut off the power. "While we were playing about the blaze they plugged the river."

"They can't get in here, anyway!" Frank consoled.

"No; they'll wait for us to get good and hungry and go out!" Jack replied.

The situation was a serious one. The head hunters now appeared in the open space about the blazing tree and shook their spears and their clubs at the boat. Now and then an arrow with a poisoned tip struck the side of the Black Bear.

"They'll never leave until they get us!" Jack said, presently, "and so we may as well get a few of them. Get your guns, boys."

"Just you wait, old hard luck prophet," Frank exclaimed. "Look up through the glass panel above your head and tell me what you see."

"Well," Jack replied, "it looks like we had established communication with the Nelson at last. And also with the Greatest Show on Earth!" he added, as a mighty roar went up from the shore.

The other boys crowded the panel and looked out. The clouds above were red with the reflection of the blazing tree, yet against the mass a different light blazed out. This light moved about, from north to south and back again, as if searching out the reason for the strange happenings below.

The popping of her motors could be plainly heard, and so it was probable that those on the airship could hear the wild animal concert which was going on in the woods. Harry pushed a panel aside and fired three quick shots. The aeroplane wavered above the river a moment and then drifted away.

"They must know there's somebody down here in trouble!" said Harry. "Why don't they throw down dynamite? That would give the savages all the heads they wanted for a time, I guess."

The boys fired again and again, flashed their lights in wigwag signals, but the aeroplane did not come nearer. Instead it whirled swiftly about in a circle for a moment and then shot out of sight beyond the clouds.

And every moment the circle of savage faces gathered closer about the Black Bear, effectively blocked in the narrow stream.



CHAPTER VIII

THE VIXEN TAKES A TUMBLE

While Ned, from the driver's seat on the aeroplane he had so cleverly taken from the enemy, watched the distant light flashing over the mountains, the bulk of an airship came into view. While the boy was cheering himself with the hope that he would soon be in touch with Jimmie, however, the light disappeared, and the dark body of the machine was no longer visible.

"There's been an accident!" Collins muttered maliciously, in Ned's ear. "That little chap can't run an aeroplane!"

"What is there over in that direction?" Ned asked, without replying to the other's suggestion of evil. "Can one land there?"

"Not in the night," was the sullen reply. "Unless you want to commit suicide and murder me in the bargain, you'd better keep in the air."

"What's over there?" repeated Ned.

"Mountains," was the surly reply.

Ned pointed to a dark stretch below.

"That must be a valley," he said. "Anyway," he went on, "I'm going down, and if we come to a point where it is jump or go down with the machine, I'll cut you loose, so you'll have the same chance for your worthless life that I do. That's more than you would do for me under the circumstances!"

Ned guided the Vixen to, as near as he could make out, the location of the other airship at the time of her disappearance and dropped down. As he swept toward the earth the peaks of the Andes rose above him.

Down, down, down he dropped, looking out keenly for trees and jagged rocks. At last he saw a level stretch of land just below. The rains had carried sand and ruble down from the mountains and filled a valley perhaps three hundred feet in diameter with the wash of the slopes. This formed what seemed to be a pretty good landing spot, and Ned managed to bring the rubber-tired wheels of the airship down without mishap.

Then, rolling swiftly under the impetus given by the now shut-off motors, the wheels carried the bulk of the ship along for some distance and dropped. Ned felt himself falling.

Thomas Q. Collins cried out in fright, and tried to kick himself free from the harness, but the leather straps held. When the drop ended there was, a jar and a crash, and the planes lay in a confused heap in the bottom of a depression well stocked as to floor and sides with jagged rocks.

In descending, the dragging propellers had loosened some of the rocks, and they, rolling down the declivities after the machine, had fallen upon and crushed the planes. Several great boulders thunked near Ned's head, and Collins set up a great howl as a small stone landed on the back of his neck.

Although the stars were shining brightly and the moon was abroad, it was quite dark down in the hole into which the Vixen had fallen. Ned could see slanting walls on all sides, and glimpse, above, the slope of the deceiving level which had first caught the wheels, but that was about all.

Finding himself uninjured, his first move was to get out his searchlight and make an inspection of Thomas Q. Collins, who was roaring like a wounded bull.

"Are you hurt?" the boy asked.

"Hurt!" howled the captive. "My head is broken, and my arms are smashed! What do you mean by tying me up and then wrecking the machine?"

Ned searched the fellow's clothing, removed a revolver and a dagger, and then snapped off the harness which still held him to the seat. Collins stretched himself and lunged at the boy.

"Keep away!" warned Ned.

"I'll show you that no Bowery kid can double-cross me!" Collins screamed, paying no attention to the automatic in Ned's hand. "I'll show you!"

The next moment Ned would have fired, with the intention of wounding the enraged fellow, but a boulder intervened, and Collins went down, striking his head on a rock. When the boy bent over he found him to be unconscious.

Bringing the leather straps of the harness into use again, Ned bound the man's hands behind his back, so as to prevent a second attack, and set out to look for water. He had not long to look, for a tiny spring bubbled out of the bottom of the pit and found its way toward the valley below through a crevice in the rock. In a short time Collins, under the influence of a right cold bath, sat up and addressed the boy in language which would not have been considered suitable in the presence of a lady.

"You've done it now!" the alleged steam pump salesman cried. "You've dumped us into a pit in the heart of the Andes, and we'll starve before any one comes to our assistance. Take this strap off my wrists, or I'll have your life!"

"You're an excitable party," Ned laughed. "You want your own way! I've been wondering, while I've been giving you first aid to the indignant, what your name really is, and where you live."

"You'd better be trying to ascertain where we are," declared Collins, "and what chance we have of getting out alive."

"I think I can tell you about where we are," Ned replied. "We were in the air not far from five hours. The Vixen will run about sixty miles an hour, therefore we are not fax from three hundred miles from Lima, in a southeast direction. Do you know if we are near any town?"

Collins sulked a short time and then nodded toward a great peak which rose above all the others in the distance.

"That may be Vilcanota," he said.

"Old Vilcanota seems to be a whale," Ned observed, looking up at the snow cap.

"Over 17,000 feet high," was the sullen rejoinder.

"Well," the boy went on, "if that really is Vilcanota, we are still in the land of the living. In fact, we can't be more than twenty-five miles from a town, and there is a railroad—so my maps say—over to the east. It ends at Sicuani, and there the upper branch of the Uacayli river begins. This river empties into the Amazon at the head of steamboat navigation, the maps say."

"You seem to know a lot about this part of South America," gritted Collins.

"And over to the south," Ned went on, "is Lake Titicaca, and over the mountains from that body of water is Coroico, where the Beni river starts on its long run to the Amazon, by way of the Madeira river."

"Well," snapped Collins, drawing hard at the strap which held his wrists, "you can't sit here and figure yourself out of this hole. Why don't you do something?"

"Why, I thought it might be a good plan to wait until dawn," laughed Ned. "Then I may be able to repair this machine."

"Repair nothing!" stormed Collins. "And in the meantime, I presume you think you are going to keep me tied up like a calf going to market?"

"About that way," Ned responded, whereat the captive snorted out his rage and rolled over on his face and pretended to be asleep.

In a short time dawn shone on the tops of the tallest mountains, and directly it crept slowly down into the pit where the wrecked aeroplane lay. By this time Ned had mapped out a course of action.

The aeroplane he had seen in the night had descended not far from this spot, and he had decided to climb to some convenient height and look about for it. If he could come upon the Nelson, in good sailing condition, there would be no need of repairing the Vixen, or trying to do so.

Collins had counterfeited sleep until, utterly exhausted, he had actually dropped off into slumber, so Ned had no captive to watch for the time being. Before leaving for a tour of inspection he examined the broken planes and discovered that it would be impossible for him to repair them, at least without the necessary tools and materials.

Climbing to the level bit of sand, then, he faced the east and began the ascent of a mountain spur which seemed to reach the very heavens. It was a beautiful morning, the air being sharp and clear at that height. Ned felt that he could have enjoyed the beauties of nature more fully, however, if he had something in the way of breakfast!

He climbed steadily for an hour, and then came to a narrow ledge which seemed to surround one of the lower peaks of the mountain. Passing around to the south, he heard a shout, then a fall—a bumping fall which told of a body bouncing from one rocky level to another.

He ran around the angle ahead of him and came out on a shelf-like elevation from which a green little valley, half way up the side of the mountain, might be seen. In the center of the valley, carefully blocked against sudden motion, lay the Nelson.

Ned could have danced with delight. The aeroplane appeared to be in perfect condition, but there was no one insight. Jimmie and Pedro must be about somewhere, the boy thought, as he considered the most practical way of reaching the valley, but where were they?

He was about to call out in the hope of arousing one of the aviators to action when he saw a hand waving at him from underneath the gray planes. A more careful inspection of the spot revealed the dirty face of little Jimmie, who was lying on his face, an automatic in each hand. Pedro was nowhere to be seen.

Ned watched the signaling hand for an instant and then, in response to what it said to him, scudded around the angle of rock by which he had reached the shelf. As he did so an arrow whizzed past his right ear and blunted against the rocky wall.

The situation was not difficult to understand. Jimmie had dropped the Nelson into the little valley and had there been attacked, either by savages or those interested in the defeat of the Boy Scout expedition to Paraguay, though how the latter could have reached that lonely spot so soon after the landing of the aeroplane was a mystery which the boy could not fathom.

Following the attack, Jimmie had hidden under the planes, and Pedro had probably taken to his heels. The situation explained, doubtless, why the boy had not returned with the airship. He had been held there by the enemies, virtually a prisoner.

After a short pause, during which Ned listened intently for some sound of pursuit, the boy moved cautiously to the shoulder of rock and looked around it to the shelf. There was no one in sight, so he pressed on, and once more came within view of the aeroplane.

Back of the planes he saw a head lifted from the lip of a gully which cut the valley like a trench. It was not the head of a savage, nor yet the head of a Peruvian mountaineer, for it was covered down to the eyebrows by a flat-topped leather automobile cap which was adorned with driving goggles! Evidently an American!

While Ned, himself unseen, watched the cap and the goggles, the wearer lifted himself and looked up over the edge of the gully. He wore a gray suit, tailor-made, from all appearances.

Back of him three ill-visaged Peruvian Indians also raised themselves to get a view of what was doing in front.

So the savages were led by an American! Instead of the automatic of civilized warfare, the enemy was resorting to the poisoned arrow of the barbarian!

An American there and in automobile costume! Where was the machine, and how in the name of all that was wonderful had it been brought to that rough country?

And why were the enemies crouching there, when their only opponent was a boy, hidden if his position may be so termed—under the planes of an airship—planes which would offer little resistance to an arrow or a bullet?

But while the boy looked and wondered a shot came from the very shelf on which he stood, and one of the exposed Indians dropped in his tracks. Then the situation became a bit clearer.

Pedro had escaped from the valley to the shelf of rock, and was standing guard there shooting whenever the attacking party attempted to reach the aeroplane.

In a moment the automobile cap and goggle and the evil faces of the Indians disappeared from view. The attacking party had dropped back into the gully, which was some distance from the machine.

Waiting a moment, in order to make sure that no one was stirring behind the shoulder of rock, Ned called softly:

"Pedro!"

"Hello!" came the answer back.

"'Where are you?" asked Ned, recognizing the voice of the Peruvian he had talked with at Lima.

"In a notch of the rock," came the answer, in Spanish.

Ned moved along the shelf, and soon came to where Pedro stood, sheltered by a jutting ledge. The journey was not accomplished without attracting the attention of the others, for an arrow whizzed past his head as he crept into the angle with Pedro.

Pedro expressed great joy at the arrival of the boy, and explained that the situation as then shown had existed since dawn. On the afternoon of the previous day Jimmie, being then about to return to Lima, had found it necessary to land in order to repair a slight break in a plane.

The driver of the pursuing Vixen, noting the temporary disablement, had circled around the valley for a short time and then returned to Lima. It was Pedro's idea that the Vixen would not return with assistance, but with enemies who would destroy the machine, leaving Jimmie and himself to find their way out of the mountains as best they could.

Jimmie, Pedro said, had been unable to fix the Nelson for flight until about daylight, and then the attacking party had appeared. Since then it had been impossible to get the machine into the air, as every motion at the airship brought a bullet or a poisoned arrow.

Just before Ned's arrival, an Indian had, by making a long journey around the cliff, gained the shelf of rock where Pedro was stationed, and been caught unawares and thrown down into the valley. It was the cry and the fall of this foe that Ned had heard.

"But," Ned said, "the Vixen must have summoned some one active in the conspiracy before returning to Lima, for the man over there came in an automobile, and did not come very far either. He certainly did not come from Lima, which is more than three hundred miles away."

"He might have come from Sicuani," replied Pedro. "That is over to the east, and not more than twenty miles off. I have heard that there is a path by means of which a motor car can reach this place. Yes, he must have gone to Sicuani, otherwise this man of the motor car would not be here," Pedro added.

This cleared the situation not a little, and Ned was now encouraged to make an attempt to reach the Nelson, which Pedro declared to be in good condition for flight. If the others had come in an automobile, there could not be many of them. Probably not more than six in all, and two had been wounded, or killed.

Pedro insisted that, with Ned guarding him from the shelf, he could reach the machine, but the boy thought it wiser to make the desperate journey himself. Even if the Indian reached the Nelson, the two of them might not be able to get the machine into the air, as Jimmie had had little experience in running a plane.

So, after explaining to Pedro that he would be taken up later, Ned began the task of making his way down the almost perpendicular face of the cliff. Much to his surprise, there were no hostile demonstrations from the gully in which the attackers had disappeared a short time before.

Instead of shots and the whiz of arrows, the boy heard, when half way down the slope, the distant whirr of a motor car!

"There is some trick in the wind," Ned thought. "They would never run away in that manner because of the wounding of two Indians and the arrival of one boy from the outside."

It was deathly still in the valley where the aeroplane lay. Sounds from a distance came with remarkable distinctness, so the popping of the motors of the automobile were plainly heard, and the direction taken by the machine was thus made known.

Jimmie sprang up, uninjured, as Ned advanced and the two grasped hands with more than ordinary feeling. Almost the first thing Jimmie said was:

"I saw the lights of the Vixen last night, but thought the other fellows would be in charge of her. How did you manage to geezle her?"

"We stole her—and smashed her." Ned laughed, telling the remainder of the story in as few words as possible.

Presently Pedro came down from the cliff and went over to the place where the man he had thrown down the declivity had fallen. He found him quite dead. With a solemn shake of the head he laid the body in a sheltered nook and joined the others.

It took only a brief examination of the machine to show that she was in as good condition as ever, and Ned prepared to mount and leave the valley. Then the popping of additional motors broke out on the still air, and Jimmie grinned.

"I guess you didn't smash the Vixen much," he said. "Anyway that man in the motor car seems to have repaired her broken wings. Probably had the tools to do it with him. They've got some dirty scheme on!"

"Yes," Ned replied, grimly, "or they wouldn't have left the gully. Collins will be on deck again in about a minute!"



CHAPTER IX

A TRAGEDY IN THE AIR

"Then we'd better be gettin' up in the air, so we can see what's going on," Jimmie replied. "I'd like to see where the motor car goes."

"We can satisfy our curiosity on that point without going up in the air," Ned answered. "The Vixen was left just over that cliff. There is a valley—a dent in the slope of the mountain—on each side of that elevation, and the Vixen and the motor car are in one of them and the Nelson in the other."

Jimmie started away on a run almost before Ned had finished speaking. In a few moments he was seen on the shelf, then he darted around the shoulder of rock and was lost to view. The popping of the motors continued.

Ned hesitated a moment, uncertain as to the advisability of leaving the machine in the sole care of the Indian, and then followed. When he gained the shelf on the opposite side he saw the Vixen slowly lifting in the air. The automobile stood above her, on the level yet treacherous spot where Ned had landed. In it were Thomas Q. Collins and the man he had seen in the automobile cap and goggles!

The Vixen did not look to be in good repair, just as Ned had supposed, for the newcomer had had only a short time to work over her, but for all that she was slowly leaving the narrow pit into which she had tumbled. Her motors were working, but did not appear to be doing any lifting.

Then Ned saw that a rope attached to the machine was doing the work. The motor car, moving very slowly forward, was pulling her up the steep acclivity, her rubber-tired wheels drawing and bounding against the rocks.

"If they get her up on that level space," Jimmie predicted, "they'll get her up in the air. You can see where they've been patching the planes, and the motors are workin' all right."

"What I'm interested in, just now," Ned said, "is that automobile. I'd like to find the highway through which she entered that valley. It must be through some tunnel, for there's no path over the slopes."

"Then we'll keep out of sight an' watch," Jimmie observed. "See there!" he cried, as the wheels of the Vixen struck the level area. "She'll be in the air directly. One of the niggers is gettin' in!"

"What's that he's loading on?" asked Ned.

"Stones, as I'm a living boy!" he went on, excitedly. "Jump for the Nelson, kid, and get her into the air! You see what they are going to do?"

It was quite evident what the intentions of the others were. The Indians were loading the Vixen down with sharp-pointed stones and long wisps of dry grass; out from the nooks of the valley by Collins, who had now left the automobile.

"We've just got to get the Nelson up in the air!" Jimmie cried. "They're gettin' ready to drop stones an' blazin' grass down on her planes. We've just got to get there before the Vixen sails over her!"

Stopping no longer to observe the motor car, or watch her course out of the valley, both boys dashed around the shoulder of rock and began working their way down into the place where the Nelson lay, with Pedro, all unconscious of the approaching danger, sitting in the driver's seat and wondering if he was ever going to eat again!

The whirr of the motors in the air soon told the sweating lads that the Vixen was rising from the ground. Just how they had managed to repair her so quickly was a wonder to Ned, but he had no time to consider that side of the case then.

"Do you see her yet?" panted Jimmie, as the two paused a moment on their toilsome way downwards.

"Not yet," was the reply, and Ned almost dropped a dozen feet and caught on the point of a rock which jutted out from the wall.

"Gee!" cried Jimmie. "That was a tumble! Got a good hold, there? Then catch me!"

Before Ned could remonstrate the reckless little fellow had dropped. The impact of his body forced Ned from the crevice in which he clung, and together they rolled down a score of feet, bringing up in an angle from which a fall would have been fatal.

Ned came out of the tumble unharmed, but Jimmie lay like a rag in his arms as he straightened out and looked upward. The Vixen was rising over the cliff!

Ned drew his automatic and fired three quick shots in the air, but the aeroplane sailed on, apparently unharmed. In a moment she was directly above the Nelson, and Pedro was fleeing for his life.

Standing there helpless, with the unconscious boy in his arms, Ned saw the driver of the Vixen rain great stones down on the frail planes of the Nelson. Then a puff of smoke came from the driver's seat, and Ned saw that the wisps of straw were being ignited to finish the work begun by the rocks.

He fired volley after volley at the man who was doing the mischief, but he was so unnerved and excited that his bullets went wild. The crash of stones on the breaking planes sounded louder to him than did the explosions of his own revolver.

In a moment a blazing wisp of dry grass, or straw, dropped from the Vixen and sifted through the still air, the individual pieces of the bundle falling apart. Some of the little swirls of flame died out as the material passed downward, but others held, and dropped on the wounded planes!

Ned shouted to Pedro, ordering him to smother else incipient blaze with his coat, or anything the he could find, but the Peruvian was nowhere to be seen. Terrified at the movements of the aeroplane, he had hidden in the rocks.

Again and again the man on the Vixen lighted wisps of dry grass and hurled them down. Directly the planes were in a blaze. Ned laid Jimmie down on a narrow ledge and finished emptying his revolver, but to no purpose. He had never done such bad shooting in his life.

But Fate was abroad in the Andes that morning!

Presently the driver of the Vixen dropped his last wisp and shot upward, apparently not caring to engage in combat with the boy who had used him for a target so unsuccessfully.

As the aeroplane passed across the top of the valley, Ned saw a little tongue of flame on the under plane. The driver evidently did not understand his peril, for he mounted higher and drove straight to the north.

Ned watched the finger of flame grow as it bit into the fine fabric of the plane with something like awe in his heart. If the driver did not see his danger instantly and hasten down, nothing could save him.

While the boy watched, almost breathlessly, Jimmie stirred and opened his eyes. He had a bad cut on his forehead, but otherwise seemed to have suffered little from his terrible fall.

"Gee!" he cried, looking up at Ned with a grin. "I guess I took a drop too much!"

Ned did not answer. He was too busy watching the tragedy which was taking place in the air. Jimmie followed the direction of his eyes and caught his breath with a gasp of horror.

"He'll burn up!" he cried.

Both planes were now on fire, and the driver knew of his peril. It seemed to Ned that the fellow's clothes were on fire, too, for he writhed and twisted about as he turned the aeroplane downward.

"He'll get his'n!" Jimmie declared.

The Vixen came down almost like a shot, leaving a trail of flame and smoke behind her. Then the end came.

The charred planes gave way and the frame dropped, carrying the driver with it. They whirled over and over in the air as they came down. The fall must have been fully five hundred feet, and Ned knew that it would be useless for him to seek the man who had worked so much mischief to the Nelson with a view of doing him any service.

Below, the Nelson was sending up sheets of flame. Pedro now ran out of his hiding place and attempted to check the fire, but his efforts availed nothing.

"It is gone, all right!" Jimmie said, with a sigh. "Now, how are we goin' to get out of here? That's what I'd like to know."

"We'll have to get out the same way the others do," Ned replied. "They have lost their aeroplane too."

"Yes," agreed the little fellow, "but they have a motor car, and we've only our shanks' horses!"

Ned extinguished the burning woodwork on the Nelson and made a hasty estimate of the damage done.

"The motors are not injured," he reported. "If we can get something that will do for planes, we can get her out."

"Then," said Jimmie, "I reckon it's me for the highway! I'll chase that automobile into where it came from. I'll bet I'll find cloth of some kind there."

"It might be better to send Pedro," said Ned.

"All right!" the little fellow agreed. "Then you and I can sleuth about this rotten country in search of gold! They say there's gold in these hills!"

The purr of the motor car's engines now came again, and Pedro hastened up the ledge and followed down into the valley where she lay. In a moment she was out of sight, and the Peruvian was moving toward a rift in the wall of rock to the east.

But Ned, watching from above, saw that there was only one person in the car. Mr. Thomas Q. Collins had been left behind!

"That's strange!" Ned mused. "Why should he remain here? What further mischief has the fellow in mind?"

When Ned returned to the machine he found Jimmie busy polishing the scorched steel work.

"All she needs is new planes!" the lad cried.

"Jimmie," Ned asked, "when you came here yesterday, did the Vixen follow you closely, or did she stand off and on, as seamen say, and take note of your course indifferently? What I want to know is this: Did the driver seem anyway excited when you speeded over this way?

"He followed tight to my heels," replied the little fellow. "Then, when he saw me land, he whirled about and went away."

An idea which seemed almost too good to be true was slowly forming in Ned's brain. Why had the Vixen always followed the Nelson? Why had she spied upon her without in any way interfering?

Again, why had Thomas Q. Collins been left there in the wilderness? Surely there were no accommodations in sight in those valleys—nothing to subsist on, no shelter from the weather.

He might, it is true, have remained out of a spirit of revenge, hoping to punish Ned for his treatment of him, but this explanation did not appeal to the boy. With the Nelson hopelessly out of repair, he could well afford to leave the lads to their fate, as the chances that they would be able to get out alive—being strangers to that country and, supposedly, to mountain work—were about one to ten.

And so, Ned reasoned, there must be some other incentive for the action taken by Collins. He had a subconscious impression that he knew what that incentive was, but hardly dared to whisper it to himself.

The boy's reverie was interrupted by Jimmie, who had been running back and forth in the valley in quest of wild berries, or something which would serve as food.

"I could eat a whale!" the little fellow shouted.

"Catch a hare and cook him," Ned suggested.

"The hares here are not exactly like our rabbits, but they are good to eat. If you go over into the little jungle below, at the end of this bowl, you might find one."

Ned, still wondering if what he hoped might be true, turned to the cliff which separated the two valleys and began a careful inspection of the rock formation. Away around to the east, under the shelf which ran like a terrace around the elevation, he came upon what he was looking for.

The shelf extended outward from the face of the rock, and under it, setting back into the cliff perhaps a dozen feet, was a cavern which looked out on the valley where the Nelson lay, but from which the machine itself was not in sight.

The floor of the cavern showed traces of human habitation. It had undoubtedly been occupied as a shelter from storms by mountaineers for centuries.

But the evidences of occupation which Ned saw were not those showing distant use. There was a tiny fire burning in a crevice which served as a chimney, carrying the smoke far up into the sky before discharging it.

Scattered about the fire were tin cans, some empty, some containing food of various kinds. Thrown over a heap of broken boxes in a corner was a coat—a tailor-made coat of fine material.

On a little ledge at the rear were a safety razor, a small mirror, and a shaving mug. Ned picked up the coat and thrust a hand into an inside pocket. That, he thought, would be an easy way to ascertain the identity of the owner.

In a moment he drew forth a folded paper, covered with figures in pencil. The figures were in columns, as if the maker had been setting down items of expense and adding them up. The total was in the millions. The calculations of a cattleman, covering shipments and receipts!

Ned continued his search of the coat and presently came upon a packet of letters, all enclosed in envelopes and neatly ticketed on the back. They were enclosed in a rubber band, and showed careful handling.

And the envelopes, every one of them, were addressed to Dr. Horace M. Lyman, Asuncion, Paraguay!



CHAPTER X

DINNER IS SERVED

Ned stepped to the mouth of the cavern and looked out. Jimmie was making his way back to the machine, empty handed and evidently dejected. Ned gave a sharp whistle and beckoned to the lad when he looked up.

He did not care to make any unnecessary noise there, for he believed that Collins was not far away.

He was now half convinced that Lyman had been secreted in that vicinity after being abducted from Paraguay; that he had been closely guarded and comfortably provided for, the idea being to keep him out of Paraguay until his concession reverted to the government.

It was his notion, too, that Lyman had inhabited this cavern until the appearance of the Nelson, when he had been removed by his attendants and placed in custody in some other natural hiding place.

Whether he was still in that locality the boy could not say, but of one thing he was certain. That was that Lyman had not been taken away in the motor car.

And so the quest had been shifted! There would now be no need of proceeding to Asuncion. Probably to prevent getting mixed up in the crooked game, the plotters in Paraguay had ordered those interested in the disappearance of Lyman to get him out of the alleged republic.

This would account for his being in the mountains of Peru. It might also account for the presence in Lima of the Vixen and Mr. Thomas Q. Collins.

The telegrams without meaning which Ned had received on his arrival at Lima pointed out the fact that the conspirators knew that the Nelson was heading for that city as a base of operations. Ned's receipting for the telegrams was proof positive that he had arrived.

"A very pretty plot!" Ned thought, as he waited for Jimmie to make his way up the face of the cliff to the mouth of the cavern.

"Gee!" the little fellow cried, as his head showed above the level of the floor of the hiding place. "I never was so hungry in me blameless life!"

Ned backed up so as to conceal the tinned food.

"What will you give for a couple of tins of pork and beans?" he asked, with a provoking smile.

"I'll sign a check for any amount!" grinned the boy.

Ned stepped aside, disclosing the food, and handed Jimmie a small hatchet which he had found under the rubbish.

"Go to it!" he said.

Jimmie almost dropped with amazement. It was like getting water out of the desert. Like finding milk in the heart of a rock. Like uncovering snowballs from a bed of hot coals! American tinned goods in the mountains of Peru!

The boy examined the cans attentively. They were all correct on the outside. Then he cut one open with the hatchet and brought out a spoonful of beans on the corner of the implement.

"Wow!" he cried, in a moment. "They're all right! Come on an' fill up!"

Both boys fell to, and the supply of tinned food was considerably diminished before they had finished their breakfast. Then, fearful that the owners of the food might seek to remove it before another meal time came, they carried a considerable portion of the cans away and hid them in a small cache near the Nelson.

"We won't starve for a few days," Jimmie said, when this work had been finished.

"Now, tell me what it all means. I wanted to ask you before, but, somehow, I couldn't keep my mouth empty long enough to talk. What about it?"

"I think," Ned replied, "that we have blundered on the country residence of Mr. Horace M. Lyman!"

"What does he come up here for?" asked the little fellow. "Ain't he got no sense?"

"The decision wasn't up to him, I take it," laughed Ned. "The schemers in that crooked little country wanted to get him out of the way, so they wouldn't be getting into a quarrel with the little old U. S. A."

"I don't see him anywhere around," the other said.

"He doesn't seem to be on exhibition, and that's a fact," Ned replied.

"Perhaps," Jimmie grinned, "we'd better look up this Thomas Q. Collins! I guess, he could lead us to him."

"No doubt of that," Ned admitted.

Having securely hidden the tinned food, the boys still lingered in the vicinity of the Nelson. The machine lay shining in the sunlight, seeming to look reproachfully up at the boys, accusing them of getting her into a very bad predicament.

"Good old girl!" Jimmie cried, stroking the motors. "We'll get you out of this mix-up, all right!"

"If we do," Ned replied, studying the ground about the machine, "we'll have to get cover somewhere and watch her night and day." He pointed to footprints close up to the motors as he spoke, and Jimmie began measuring the impressions in the soft earth.

"They've been here since we landed, all right," the boy exclaimed, in a minute. "We never left these tracks. They're big enough for an elephant to make!"

"They were made by muckers," Ned continued. "You know the kind of shoes the men who work in mines wear? Big ones, looking more like a mud scow than a shoe. They have turned some of the copper workers loose on us, little man."

"Gee! How long will it take Pedro to get back?"

"Probably three days, if he has no bad luck—if they let him come back at all," Ned answered.

"You can take it from me that they won't let him come back at all if they have anything to say about it!" the lad muttered. "I reckon I'll have to go an' find him."

"I think it will take both of us to prevent the Nelson being broken up," was Ned's reply. "We shall, as I have already said, have to guard it night and day. And, besides, we've got to keep out of the way of bullets and poisoned arrows."

"This is a cute little excursion, when you look at it up one side and down the other," Jimmie grunted. "We've left Leroy in trouble at Lima, and we've got the Nelson all banged up. Perhaps they'll hang Leroy before we get back!"

"Cheer up!" laughed Ned. "The worst is yet to come!"

"And here it comes!" cried the little fellow, as a handkerchief which might once have been white fluttered above a boulder not far away, held aloft and waved frantically back and forth by a hand which could only faintly be seen.

"Come on out!" Ned shouted.

A figure lifted from behind the rock and stood straight up, waving a dilapidated slouch hat, now, instead of a handkerchief. The fellow wore a suit of clothes which was much too small for him, so that his wrists and ankles protruded a good six inches. The clothes were dirty and ragged too, and the man's face looked as if it had been a long time since it had been brought into contact with water.

At a motion from Ned he advanced toward the machine. Ned thought he had never seen a sadder face on a human being.

"Looks like Calamity!" Jimmie muttered

"Have you boys got anything to eat?" asked the stranger, rubbing his palms over the waist band of his ill-fitting trousers.

"You look like you needed something to eat!" Jimmie put in. "How long you been sleuthin' at us from that rock?"

"Not long," was the reply, in a slow, sober tone. "Just a minute. I fell down a mountain not so very long ago."

"Then," said Jimmie, pointing to the wound on his head, "you haven't got anything on me. I'm quite a hand at fallin' down precipices, myself!"

"You didn't say if you had anything to eat," insisted the stranger. "I'm so hungry that I could eat a fried griddle."

"Well," replied Ned, "we're just out of fried griddles, but we've got a tin of beans we might give you."

"Slave for life if you do!" drawled the other. "I've been wandering in the mountains for more than a week, and am so empty that it will require several tins to fill me up, but if one is the limit, why—"

Jimmie uncovered the cache and brought out a can of beans, which he opened with the hatchet and presented to the other, with a grave bow.

"Dinner is served, me lud!" he said.

The stranger did not wait for formalities. He had no knife, fork, or spoon, but he managed to remove the beans from the can and convey them to his mouth without the aid of such artificial aids to the hungry. He sighed when the can was empty, and wiped his hands on the grass at his feet.

"How did you get in here?" asked Ned, then, curious to know how any one could have the nerve to face a mountain journey in the condition this man was in.

"I came after the mother lode," was the reply.

"Have you got it in your pocket?" asked the little fellow.

"I didn't say I found it," was the grave reply. "I said I came in here looking for it. There was a party left Sicuani, over to the east, two weeks ago, and I trailed in behind. You see, I had a fool idea that these people were on the track of a big gold find, and so just naturally sneaked along. They had an automobile. I walked. They had plenty of provisions. I had no one to grub-stake me. They feasted while I starved, but the way is rough and slow, especially when tires break, and I managed to keep up with them until two days ago. Then they got away from me."

"Did you find gold?" asked Ned.

The stranger shook his head.

"Nothing doing!" he said. "I've been grubstaked all over Australia, and up the Yukon, and over Death Valley, but I have never found a spot where there's so little gold as there is in these hills."

"So, you are an American tourist?" asked Ned.

"I am," was the grave reply. "I stowed away on a ship bound for Asuncion and got a job shoveling coal to pay for the rottenest grub I ever ate. When we got up the river to Asuncion I hired out to a man to herd cattle. That was worse, only the air was not so confining."

"So you left and went to Sicuani?" asked Ned.

"Exactly, after many days. I liked the cattle business all right, but I had to move on. Horace M. Lyman is a good chap to—"

"Wait!" Ned said. "It was Horace M. Lyman you worked for, eh?"

"Sure. He's an American, and a fine fellow."

"Well," Jimmie cut in, "you're likely to see him if you stick around here. They geezled him, so another gazabo could get his concession."

"And marooned him off here? Is that it?" asked the stranger. "Well, there's a pair of us, then, that don't find anything nourishing in the scenery. Where is he?"

"We haven't found him yet," Ned answered, "but we're on the trail. If you had one more can of beans, do you think you could help us hunt him up?"

"Certainly. Of course. I'll do that without the beans, but—"

"I see," Ned answered. "You haven't the strength, just now, to do much looking. All right, we'll fat you up, and then—"

Ned did not complete the sentence, for a long, wavering call came from the west, and the stranger started off in that direction without a word of explanation. Ned wondered for a moment whether this fellow wasn't another hypocrite of the Collins stripe.

"Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "Suppose you tell us something about that call?"

"I'm agreeable," replied the other. "Don't you know what that coo-coo-ee-ee is? Then you've never lived in the cattle country. That is a cowboy salute, pard, and my private opinion is that Horace M. Lyman is the party that uttered it."

"Then he's not far away," Jimmie said.

"Suppose I answer him?" asked the stranger.

"Go on an' do it," the little fellow advised, and Ned nodded.

The cod-coo-ee-ee which the ex-cowboy emitted rang through the valley and came back in weird echoes from the crags around.

"Now he knows there's some one here looking after him," the stranger explained. "He knows that Old Mose Jackson is right on the job. What might your name be, pard?" he added, turning to Ned.

"Nestor," was the reply.

"Ned Nestor, of course!" Jackson exclaimed. "I read about you being in Mexico, and in the Canal Zone. Strange I should bump into you away off here! And I'll bet this is Jimmie? What?"

"The same!" the little fellow replied. "Ned can't lose me!"

Hardly had the words left the boy's mouth when a bullet came zipping through the air. It struck a metal section of the Nelson and flattened out.

"Before now," Jackson said, coolly, "when I've found myself on the open plain with redskins popping away at me I've dug a hole in the ground and stowed myself away in it. What do you think of the notion, pard?"

"It looks good to me!" Jimmie cried. "But," he went on, "We've got nothing to dig with, so we'll just have to move back to that gully, an' take the grub with us."

The change was soon made, the Nelson being run back to the edge of the trench-like depression, and then the three awaited the next move on the part of the enemy.

Presently a shout was heard, and then the flashily-dressed figure of Mr. Thomas Q. Collins appeared on the shelf of rock.

"Don't shoot!" he cried, swinging both hands aloft. "I want to come down and talk with you."

"There's some trick in that!" Jimmie said.



CHAPTER XI

A STICK OF DYNAMITE

"If we could only get out of this cul-de-sac," Jack said, as the savages gathered closer about the Black Bear, "and make the Beni river, we could leave them behind like they were painted on the trees."

"There ought to be some way," Frank mused.

Harry, who had been rummaging in a trunk of clothing and tools which stood under the bridge which half concealed the motors, now came forward with a package in his hand.

"What is it?" asked Jack.

"Dynamite!" was the cool reply.

"That ought to induce them to go on about their business—if properly administered," Jack said. "I didn't know we had any on board."

"I didn't know what we might come across up here," Harry replied. "Shall we light a fuse and give one of these persuaders a toss over into that mess?"

"It would amount to wholesale murder," Frank replied.

Harry's face hardened as he held up a hand for silence. The howling on the banks of the little stream was now almost deafening, and every second there came the thunk of arrows against the boat.

"You see what they would do to us," he said.

"Yes, I know," Jack said, "but we are supposed to be civilized! It would be a wicked thing to do, to murder fifty or a hundred of those savages. Suppose we toss a stick where it will do little damage and still attract their attention from the boat? Then we might get that log out of the way."

"We'll see what show we have for getting it out of the way-the log, I mean," Jack replied.

He cautiously opened one of the lower panels at the rear and looked out. The log which blocked the narrow channel was afloat, for it was the trunk of a dry tree, and the water was deep. What held it in place was the end which lay on the shore. It had been rolled in at a point where the bank was low, and at least two-thirds of it lay on the ground.

"I'd like to know how they got it in there!" Jack said. "It looks too big for a hundred men to handle."

"Anyway, there it is," Frank replied, "and there the propellers are—one of them broken. Can we make speed with that busted wing?"

"We've got to," Harry said. "Just hear the devils! They will rush the boat in about a minute!"

The cries coming from the forest were now blood-curdling in their ferocity. The cannibals were evidently working themselves into a pitch of excitement which would give them courage to charge the Black Bear.

Now and then the frightened howl of some wild beast was heard in the distance, adding not a little to the excitement of the scene. The tree which had been set on fire to attract the attention of the airship still blazed, sending a twist of flame far up into the sky.

In the glare of the fire the savages looked like fiends ready for any act of deviltry. Now and then three figures larger than the rest stood together as if in conference, and then the shouts grew louder, and the line about the boat closer drawn.

"I've got a notion that we can make pretty good speed with that broken wing," Jack mused. "Anyway, we can drift down stream if we can't steam up stream, and that will take us out of this mess."

"Then let's blow that log up with dynamite," suggested Frank.

"Yes," said Jack, "and finish the propellers!"

"Blow up the shore end," continued Frank. "Who can pitch it so that it will knock that blooming dry wood into the stream?"

"I'm willing to try," Harry said. "I used to pitch a tricky ball! I'll get a fuse ready, open a panel, and give it a throw. While I have the panel open, though, you fellows open up a loophole in front and do some shooting out of it to attract attention. I don't want any poisoned arrows biting me."

This was agreed to, and Harry arranged a fuse and prepared to throw it. When Jack opened a panel in front and sent a volley of bullets ashore, the boy pushed open a panel in the rear and, waiting until the attention of the savages was attracted to the front of the boat, tossed out the dynamite.

It hurled through the air, flashing in the red light of the fire, and landed at the very end of the fallen tree, rolling into the angle between the wood and the earth. A fine throw!

Harry yelled to Jack to close his panel, and all three boys stood on the tips of their toes, fingers in ears. In a moment the explosion came.

The Black Bear rocked violently, so that it was with difficulty the boys kept their footing. Wild cries of distress and fright came from the forest, and, in a few seconds, the crash of falling trees. The dynamite had done its work well, at least, so far as noise was concerned. They could not yet see what effect the explosion had had on the tree.

Had it loosened the obstructing log so that the boat could pass out into the Beni river? Had the concussion damaged the propellers so that the trip up the valley of the Amazon would have to be abandoned?

These questions were in the minds of all three boys as Jack cautiously opened a rear panel and looked out. The first thing he saw was the log, splintered and broken into half a dozen pieces, floating down stream.

The explosion had whirled the great trunk high up in the air and brought it down, broken, in the channel of the stream. There seemed nothing to do now but to set the motors at work and run out of the dangerous position.

But the motors refused to work. Something more than showed on the surface was the matter with them. Harry looked out at the rear and saw a great red patch of earth without a single human being in sight. The fire was still burning brightly, but there were no savages dancing about in its fierce light.

At the sound of the explosion the head hunters had taken to their heels. At first view, no one seemed to have been injured by the dynamite, but, on giving the scene a closer inspection, the boy saw three bodies lying near where the log had been. They might be dead or only stunned; the lad had no means of knowing.

While Harry watched for some sign of life, the roar of a wild animal came from the forest, and he knew that a tiger cat was approaching. The humans—if the man-eating savages may be so termed—were still running, it appeared, while the wild beasts of prey were returning to the scene of the explosion.

"Come," Harry cried, "we must get out of this now if we can get the propellers to working. There is no one in sight, only three men lying near where the log lay, and there are man-eating animals coming, so I'd rather not see what takes place next."

Jack threw open another panel and stepped out. The roar in the forest was growing again, but no savage was in sight. He moved to the back of the boat and bent down to look at the propellers.

"I can't see from here!" he shouted, in a moment. "Look out for me, you fellows!"

Like a shot he was in the river, diving under the stem of the Black Bear. Harry and Frank, knowing the rivers of that district to be swarming with caymen, grouped at the rear and watched with anxious eyes for the reappearance of their chum.

In a few seconds Jack's face appeared above the surface of the water. He seized a rope passed to him and climbed on board, shaking the water from his clothing like a great dog.

"It is all right," he said, as soon as he could get his breath. "There was a piece of the log wedged in back of the paddles and I got it out. Get a pole and push. She's in the mud, I guess."

The pole was used before the motors were turned on again, and the Black Bear was soon out of the little creek, sailing slowly down the Beni. However, the boat did not behave well, and it was decided to tie up for a day and go over her carefully. The propellers needed fixing, and there might be some other injury which had not been discovered.

Not caring to strain the weakened propellers, they permitted the boat to drift down stream.

When a mile away the illumination of the fire which had been so injudiciously set could still be seen distinctly, and when the boys listened they could hear the cries of the savages and the fierce howls of the wild beasts.

During the day the boys had passed a level plateau on the east bank of the river, and it was decided to float down to that, as they could beach the Black Bear there and work without danger of being attacked from the shelter of a forest.

They gained the spot about midnight and anchored some distance out, resolved to take no chances on the shore that night. The stream was quite wide, and they opened the top panels so as to get what fresh air they could.

Jack was the first one to see the airship hovering over them.

"Look!" he cried. "Look! Look! We've just got to attract their attention in some way! See! They are going away again! Confound the luck!"

The airship seemed about to dip down, then it floated off to the west and whirled to the south.

"They're signaling!" Harry cried.

This seemed to be true, for there were lights moving about in the air in queer combinations.

"Get a glass!" shouted Jack, in great excitement. "We'll soon see about this!"

But the airship seemed interested in the spot where the fire was burning, and did not remain overhead long enough for the boys to get a good view of her. At last she disappeared entirely.

Although anchored out in the stream, which was at least two hundred feet wide at that point, the lads kept a close watch of the shores that night. Once, just before dawn, they caught the sound of paddles, but the canoe which appeared on the west soon sneaked away.

The hubbub on shore kept up all night long. The beasts took up the chorus when the savage tribesmen retreated.

"Beautiful country this!" Jack said, as the, sun rose over the great valley. "I think I'll like to live here always—not!"

"Yes," grunted Frank, whose eyes were heavy with the long watch, "even on the Great White Way, the enthusiasm quiets down after three o'clock."

"It is all in the game!" grinned Harry. "We came out here for excitement, and you mustn't complain when you get it."

After breakfast, which was keenly enjoyed, the Black Bear was beached on the cast banks and the injury to the propellers examined. Some of the blades were broken while others were strained.

"Well," Harry said, as he scratched his head in deliberation, "we've got extra blades, and we've got the tools, and I don't know as we're in a hurry anyway. We've got all the time there is!"

"Not if we catch the Nelson before it gets out of the country," Jack objected. "This is the 22d of August, and the Nelson must have sighted Lima about the 14th, so you see we've got to do some sailing if we get to the headwaters of the Beni before the boys get back home."

If they had only known, the lads might not have been so anxious to get on, for the boys with the Nelson were having troubles of their own about that time. Besides, there were difficulties ahead much greater than those entailed by the breaking of the blades of the propellers.

They worked all day at repairing the injuries, and at night were ready to proceed. It was dark again, and there seemed to be a great commotion on shore.

"For one," Frank observed, "I don't like the idea of going on up an unknown river in the night. There are rapids, and there may be obstructions. And then we may follow off some tributary which will land us in some swamp after an all night ride."

"I'm not anxious to go on tonight," Harry contributed, "for I'd like to see what that mess on shore will amount to. There's something besides the appearance of the Black Bear exciting those fuzzy little natives, and we may miss something if we run away. I wouldn't like to do that."

So it was decided to remain where they were until morning. The panels were put up, leaving only the openings for ventilation, and the Wolf was brought close alongside.

Frank got the first watch in the drawing of sticks, and stationed himself at the prow, where he could look out on the river. Jack and Harry were soon asleep.

About midnight a great clamor arose on the west bank. In a moment it was echoed from the opposite shore. There was a beating of drums—the foolish drums which the natives made so crudely—and long chants, rising in the darkness like the monotonous melodies the boys had heard in the cotton fields of the South.

Frank shook Jack and Harry out of their bunks, much to the disgust of the two sleepy-heads. They did not need to ask questions as to the reason for this, for the chant was coming nearer, and the drums were beating like mad.

"They're arranging an attack!" Jack said, turning a searchlight out of the front loophole. "I can see half a dozen canoes hanging off and on at a bend above. I guess we made a mistake in stopping here."

"Perhaps we'd better drop down the river," Harry suggested. "I don't want those heathens swarming over the Black Bear."

Jack went to the stern and looked out on the swirling river from that point.

"If we do," he said, in a moment, "we'll bunt into a fleet of war canoes. We've got to put on all speed and drive ahead."

"Why not drop back?" asked Harry.

"Because," was the reply, "we can go up stream about as fast as we can go down stream, and the canoes can't. We'll shut everything tight but the loopholes and go through them like a shot through paper. If they board us we'll have to open up and drop them into the river with our automatics."

"Put the big light out in front then," Harry said, "and stand there and tell me which way to steer, and let her go!"

The next moment the Black Bear, closely followed by the Wolf, was nearing the canoes, now drawn up in line of battle in front.



CHAPTER XII

A BRIBE OF HALF A MILLION

"What do you want to talk about?" asked Ned, as Thomas Q. Collins advanced a step, both hands still high above his head, as an indication that he was unarmed.

"I want to reach an understanding with you," was the reply.

"About what?"

"About—well, about your errand here."

"Oh! Well, what about it?"

Collins hesitated a moment and then asked:

"Why can't I come to you and sit down? I'm not armed. This is not an easy or a dignified position for me to hold."

"You say you are not armed," Ned replied. "Will you say as much for the savages who are with you in this dirty game?"

"There are no savages here with me," Collins protested. "Your Indian killed one by throwing him from the ledge, one was killed when the Vixen burned and dropped, and one was shot by one of your boys. The other went away with the motor car. You must have seen them riding away?"

"There were five people with him when he first came out here in the car," Jackson said, under his breath. "Ask him where the other white man now is."

"Did you see the other white man?" asked Ned of Jackson.

"Not distinctly."

"Would you have recognized him if it had been Lyman?"

"I might. I can't say. I wasn't very near to them. They kept me scouting over the hills to keep them in sight."

"Well," Collins called out, impatiently, "are you going to let me come in for a talk? If not, I'll go back and bring some shooters out here."

Without answering that special question, veiled, as it was, with a threat, Ned asked the one proposed by Jackson.

"Where is the white man who was with you when you first came here in the car?"

"I did not come in a motor car," was the reply. "I came in the Vixen."

"That's a lie!" Jackson whispered. "The Vixen, if that is what they call their airship, never showed up until a few days ago. I tried to signal to the driver; or, rather, I did signal to him, but he ignored me. This man Collins came in with the car more than two weeks ago, and went out in it, too, and the other white man remained. The next time he came, he was in the Vixen."

"Who is that fellow who is filling you with prejudice against me?" demanded Collins, presently. "It looks like a man wanted for stealing cattle from the Lyman ranch."

"Why didn't you communicate with him, if you were so hungry?" asked Ned of Jackson, suspiciously. "You say he has been here at least twice."

Jackson frowned and looked away. Then his forehead flushed and he said:

"I guess there's no use lying about it. I was accused of running cattle off the Lyman range. That is the man who accused me. I never did. He knows that. Now you know why I didn't approach him and ask for food."

"Well," insisted the boy, "why didn't you browse around and find the white man he left here? That is what he came in here for, isn't it—to hide some one he wanted out of the way?"

"I thought he came to look for gold," was the reply. "Now, about the other question. I did try to find the man he left here. I wanted to eat with him! I knew there was some one in the hills, but I never found him. It beats the Old Scratch where he is!"

"Come, come!" Collins cried, impatiently, "you can do your visiting after we have our talk. Shall I come to you, or will you come to me?"

"Don't you go out there!" Jimmie warned. "He's got some one hidden. You'll be shot if you do. Tell him to come here."

"Keep your hands up and come here," Ned ordered, thinking this good advice.

He had already experienced the treachery of the fellow, and did not care to take any chances. Collins came along sullenly, stood stock still, while Jimmie searched him, and then sat down on the framework of the Nelson.

"That aeroplane would look handsomer," Ned said, grimly, "if your men had not set it on fire."

"That was war!" Collins replied. "It is war still, unless we can come to some kind of agreement."

"I haven't much faith in your word," Ned replied. "You played a dirty game on me at Lima, you know."

"The chances of war!" Collins replied. "Now," he went on, "we can come to terms without any reference to the International Peace Congress, if we want to. I'll admit that if things were a little different I wouldn't be asking for terms, but that is neither here nor there. I want your assistance."

"On the level?" demanded Jimmie.

Jackson grinned scornfully, and Collins glared at both.

"The man we brought out here—merely as a matter of business—has disappeared," Collins went on. "We left him in the little cavern where you found his coat and the food. He's got away."

"You refer to Lyman?"

"Of course."

"You were keeping him a prisoner until his concession should lapse?"

"That's only business."

"When does it lapse, in case he does not appear and make payment?"

"On the 31st of August."

"And this is the 18th?"

"I think so. I'm pretty well mixed as to time, as well as everything else."

"Then he has only fourteen days in which to get back to Asuncion and make a large payment?"

"That is just it."

"And he is lost?"

"Yes."

"When did you see him last?"

"You remember how I came to be here? You brought me, trussed up like a hen in that aeroplane harness. Well, when the Vixen went into that pit and you went away to look over the scenery, I knew that the motor car would be along soon, so I didn't try to get away. I knew what would happen if I did. You'd shoot! Just as soon as the car came and I was released—the car brought in food for Lyman— I sent a man over to the cave to find Lyman. He wasn't there. Understand? He wasn't there."

"But there were live embers in the cave when I got there," Ned said.

"I know. That was built by one of my men, who wanted to make coffee, but didn't. The food you stole was brought in by the car as I said before. You found Lyman's coat, didn't you?"

"Yes, and a packet of letters."

"I knew what you were in Lima for from the first. I knew of your mission before you left San Francisco. So I did not lie to you when you asked if the man who was brought in, something over two weeks ago, in a motor car was Lyman. I knew that you knew. You see, we had to get him out of Paraguay when it was learned that the United States had placed the Lyman affair in the hands of the Secret Service."

"Go on," Ned said. "You are getting pretty close to the point now."

"I thought at first," Collins went on, "that you had blundered into this district just by blind luck. Now I know better. I gave myself away by my fool antics at Lima. Then the Vixen showing up and chasing the Nelson around increased your suspicions. Oh, I know how it happened. You fooled us all. We led you right to the spot where Lyman was hidden by our attempts to mislead you. More fools we!"

"You have stated the case correctly," Ned said. "If you had kept away from me at Lima, and the Vixen had kept out of sight, I should have gone straight on to Asuncion, and should have been wasting my time there this minute."

"Yes, that's the truth! Well, now I've been perfectly frank with you, and I want you to be equally honest with me. Do you know where Lyman is?"

"I do not."

"You haven't seen him?"

"Never saw him."

"If you find him, what do you propose doing?"

"I shall take him back to Asuncion and see that he gets justice."

"Acting as a Secret Service man of the United States?"

"No, as an individual."

"But you are in the employ of the government?"

"Yes, but I'm not authorized to mix the two countries up in a war."

"Yes, I know, but your government will back you in whatever you do. That is the point with me. If you report no cause for interference down in Paraguay, there will be no danger of our getting into trouble. Your government wouldn't make a demand for Lyman's release, although it was understood he was kept in duress by a high official of the republic. Still, it sends you out to act unofficially. Now, this being the case, you are the person I want to talk with."

"Well?"

"I want you to help find Lyman, and then I want you to help me come to terms with him—we can't fight the United States!"

"In other words, you want me to betray my trust and help you rob him?"

"No. There are two sides to everything—where there are not three, or more. So there are two sides to this cattle concession business. I think that Lyman will be glad to settle if we find him—if he does not know that the United States has Secret Service men on the ground!"

"So you really do want to buy my silence?"

"I want to make sure that you will not attempt to defeat our plans."

"Nothing doing," Ned replied.

"Wait!" Collins continued. "You haven't heard me out. We'll see that Lyman gets all his money out of the deal, with something besides, and also that you get a quarter of a million dollars for saying nothing."

"Nothing doing!" Ned repeated.

Collins actually gasped with amazement. He had offered bribes before, but had never started out with so large a sum. And he had never been denied!

"Understand the proposition," Collins said, presently, as soon as he could catch his breath, "it is not you we want. We don't care a continental cuss for you. What we want is for you to keep quiet after we find Lyman. It is the Secret Service of the United States we axe afraid of. I'll make it half a million."

"It must be a rich concession," Ned said.

"It is, and Lyman got it for a song, for no one ever supposed that swamp would make good grazing ground."

"I guess Mr. Lyman will earn all he gets out of it," Ned laughed.

"He will never get anything out of it, unless he comes to terms with me," Collins said, impatiently. "We'll find some way to keep him out of Asuncion until after the 31st. It is a long way from here to Paraguay!"

"All the more reason why we should get busy looking for him," Ned said.

"And when we find him?" asked Collins, tentatively.

"I shall take him back to Asuncion."

"Then you'd better not find him," threatened Collins. "If you're going to oppose me, I'll leave it to you to look him up. I'll go back to Asuncion and bring men out here who will see that you never leave the mountains."

"Gee! That's a cheerful proposition!" grinned Jimmie.

Collins, disgusted at his failure to either bribe or frighten the boys, started away, but Jackson laid a heavy hand on his shoulder and swung him around.

"Wait a minute!" he said.

"What do you mean?" demanded Collins.

"You're not going to Asuncion after help," Jackson said. "I have a little score to settle with you myself! You're the man who accused me of running off cattle. Well, you're going to remain right here with me until I go out with you and give you a chance to make that right."

Collins glanced at Ned.

"Is this by your order?" he asked.

Ned shook his head.

"I have no present quarrel with you," he said.

Collins started away again, but Jackson thrust him back, not any too gently.

"If you make a touse," he said, "I'll tie you up. Now," he added, as Collins, almost foaming with rage, threw himself on the ground, "I want you to tell me where you left that tent."

Both Ned and Jimmie sprang to their feet at the mention of the word.

"A tent! Here!"

Collins snarled out some impertinent reply, and Ned asked:

"Did they bring in a tent?"

"You bet they did!" Jackson answered. "This fine-haired duck with the circus parade clothes wasn't going to sleep in no cavern. He was going to have a nice, soft, cool bed under a tent while he was waiting for the Lyman concession to lapse. He was reared a pet—he was!"

The ex-cowboy was so enraged at Collins for the insinuations he had cast upon him that he pushed up to where he lay and would have assaulted him if Ned had not interposed.

"Let him alone," the boy said. "We'll leave the law to make payment in his case. Are you going to tell us where the tent is, Collins?" he added, turning to the angry captive.

"I guess you can get along without the tent," Collins said. "You won't have to remain here long. I've got men coming in. They may be here at any moment. Officers of the Republic of Paraguay!"

"I shall be glad to meet them!" Ned laughed. "If you'll tell me where the tent is I'll be able to entertain them properly."

"Aw, I can find the tent if it is around here anywhere!" Jimmie broke in.

"What do you want of it?" demanded Collins

"A little tent cloth," Ned smiled, "would make a serviceable machine of the Nelson. We could make new planes in no time. What do you think of the idea?"

"I'm not going to have the tent cut up," shouted Collins.

"I guess yes," Jimmie said, provokingly. "You burned our planes, and you've got to supply material for new ones."

The little fellow darted away as he spoke, working his way over the ledges which separated the two dents on the mountain sides. In a short time Ned heard him calling and saw him looking down from the shelf above the cavern.

"Come on up," the lad cried. "I can see the tent over in the other valley, and there's another automobile coming. What do you think of that? This must be a regular station on the underground railroad between Asuncion and Lymanville!"

Ned lost no time in gaining the ledge. The white body of the tent was in plain sight, just where the men had dropped it out of the machine. The two boys hastened into the depression, seized the canvas in their arms, and started back toward the Nelson. On the shelf again, Ned asked:

"Where did you see a motor car?"

"Over east," was the reply. "There's a tunnel under the range off that way. I take it that a river ran there once, draining this valley."

Presently the machine appeared in the valley from which the Vixen had slipped off into the pit. There were four men in the two seats. One was the Indian in goggles who had driven the car away, the others were white men. The car could not have gone far, so these men must have been picked up just outside.

The boys carried the canvas down to the Nelson and began the work of making new planes, keeping close watch, but leaving the newcomers to do the calling if there was any to be done. There was plenty of canvas and the tools necessary for the work were found in the Nelson's tool chest. Collins watched the doings angrily.

"These men," he finally said, "are officers. Two from Paraguay and one from Peru. They have warrants for your arrest."

He started to his feet as if to join the others as he spoke, but Jackson saw that he did not get very far.

"Tell your friends," Jackson said, "that we're too busy to be bothered now. We'll soon have this aeroplane fixed, and then we'll give an imitation of men sailing out of this mess. Lyman knows a friend is here, for he heard my cowboy call. He will soon come out of his hole, and we'll take him back to Asuncion—just to prevent international complications!" he added with a grin.

The work of preparing the new planes progressed swiftly, but before it was completed the men who had arrived in the automobile appeared on the ledge and called down to those below.



CHAPTER XIII

THE NELSON IN THE SKY

"Well," Ned called back, as the new arrivals shouted down from the ledge, "what do you want?"

"We want to talk with you."

"Cripes," Jimmie grinned, "we're in good demand today. The stock of Boy Scouts must be gettin' shy!"

"Go on and talk, then," Ned answered, well satisfied as to what the fellows wanted.

"Shall we come down there?"

"You stay away!" Jimmie replied. "We're a little particular about our company!"

"Is that little runt speaking for you?" demanded the man on the ledge. "If he is, we'll do something besides talk."

"For the present he is," Ned replied. "What can I do for you?"

"You can surrender yourself. We have warrants for your arrest."

"Couldn't think of it!" was the cool reply. "We prefer to remain at liberty."

"I told you!" Collins grunted, rising from his reclining position and moving toward the ledge. "I told you that you'd get into trouble. You'll sweat for this!"

Jackson caught him by the shoulder and whirled him back.

"You stay here!" the ex-cowboy gritted. "The less trouble you make the better treatment you will receive."

"What are you doing to Collins?" asked the newcomer. "Tell him to come up here."

"I'm being held a prisoner!" Collins shouted. "Train your guns on these kids and drive them off. And find Lyman. He left the cavern, but he's somewhere about, for he answered a cowboy call not long ago."

"We already have Lyman!" was the answer. "He thought we were the friends who had called him and joined us. We'll take care of him, all right."

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