"That's fine business—not!" grunted Jimmie.
Ned was not a little disappointed by the announcement. With Lyman in the hands of his enemies, it might be impossible to get him back to Asuncion in time to save his concession.
And here was another difficulty, one which might bring on a war between the United States and Paraguay. Ned, as an official of the United States Secret Service, now knew that those high in authority in the government of Paraguay were involved in the attempt to defraud Lyman of his rights. This had been only suspected before.
So long as only private interests were interfering with the treaty rights, so long as the government of the unruly republic was not mixed up in the attempt to cheat an American citizen out of his property, the government at Washington might well restrain its hand. But when the government of Paraguay itself, as Ned now believed, was involved in the crooked game, that was an entirely different matter.
Ned believed that a full disclosure of the facts in the case would send warships to Asuncion. He believed that an international complication might breed open war unless he succeeded in getting Lyman away without open conflict with the authorities of the little republic. But how?
Well, the State Department at Washington had trusted him, and he would do his best. The thing to do at that time, it appeared to him, was to await the action of the newcomers. They might be officers of Paraguay, with authority to make arrests in Peru, and they might be only four-flushers. He must temporize until he found out what they proposed to do in the matter.
And, then, he reasoned, if they had Lyman, he had Collins! That was not so bad! Perhaps an exchange of prisoners might be made! This did not seem very likely, but still there was hope. Collins, for all he knew, might be the man who expected to profit by the robbery of the American cattleman.
"So Mr. Lyman is there with you?" Ned called back. "Send him over here. I want to talk with him."
A harsh laugh was the only answer to this.
"You may as well come to terms with me," Collins exclaimed. "You have no chance of winning now. I like your nerve, but you're butting into too strong a game for a lad of your years."
"I shall have to take chances," Ned replied. "What will those men do with Lyman?"
"I don't know!"
"I know!" Jimmie cried. "They'll kill him!"
"I don't think they'll do that," Collins remarked, with a wicked sneer, "but it would clear the atmosphere if he should fall down a mountain!"
"If he does," Ned declared, flushing with anger at the brutality of the remark, "you will also take a tumble. If he is injured in any way, you'll answer to me for it."
"You wait!" warned Collins. "I've handled cases like this before. I can give you cards and spades and beat you out. You'll be getting hungry before long."
"And the Nelson will be ready for flight before long," Ned replied.
During all this conversation Jackson and Jimmie had kept steadily at work sewing the new, strong canvas taken from the tent on the frame of the planes. They could not make a very neat job of it, but they did their work well. Ned had hope of getting out of the valley that very night. Presently the men on the ledge withdrew for a time, and Ned began a closer examination of the Nelson. To his disgust he discovered that the gasoline was very low in the great tanks. Built for long flights, the Nelson's tanks were very large, fitted to carry a supply which would last a couple of days. Ned did not quite understand why the supply should be short after a run of only three or four hundred miles.
"I've got an idea!" Jimmie said, catching the worried look on Ned's face.
"I'm afraid it will take something more than an idea to get the Nelson back to Lima," Ned replied in a low tone, for he did not care to have Collins informed of this new difficulty.
Collins, however, had been watching the movements of the boys closely, and at once surmised what the trouble was. He laughed insultingly as he pointed to the great tanks.
"Empty?" he snarled. "I knew it. Now will you be good!"
"Shut up!" raged Jackson, who was only too anxious to get a pretext for attacking Collins. "We've heard enough from you!"
"'Tie him up!" ordered Ned. "He's likely to make a run for it, and then we should have to shoot him. Tie him up good and tight."
"You'll be sorry if you do!" threatened the captive.
Notwithstanding this threat, the fellow was bound hand and foot. During the process of the work, which was performed none too gently by Jackson, Collins called out to his friends in the other valley, but there was no response. They were probably too busy with their plotting against the boys to hear the shouts.
This business completed, Jimmie beckoned Ned aside.
"Here's my idea," he said. "The Vixen's tanks didn't blow up when she burned and dropped. When it comes night I can go and get the gasoline. The tanks were full, were they not?"
"Yes, chock full. The driver seemed to have fitted her out for a long run. But we may be able to get the stuff before dark. The Vixen did not land in the valley where they are, but in a canyon over to the west. Suppose you go over there and see what the chances are?"
"All right!" replied the boy. "And if the tanks of the Vixen are not full, we'll steal the fuel out of that automobile when it gets dark!"
"That's a good idea, too!" laughed Ned.
Jimmie hastened away, keeping in the gully as long as possible and dodging around friendly cliffs when it came to climbing over the ridge which shut in the valley on the west. The gully cut across the valley, east and west, and was very deep at the east end.
After the disappearance of the boy, Ned removed Collins to the deep end of the cut and placed Jackson there as a guard. He did not want the captive to know what was going on, as a shout to his friends, if they again visited the ledge, might put them in possession of the facts regarding the empty tanks of the Nelson. Then it would be an easy matter for them to prevent the getting of the gasoline from the wrecked Vixen.
Then Ned, hearing no more from the alleged officers, went to work on the planes, and succeeded in getting a long strip sewed in before Jimmie returned with his report.
"The tanks are almost full," the lad said, "and all we've got to do is to unscrew a couple of burrs and lug them right over here. We can't do that until, after dark, for they would shoot at us. Where's Collins?"
Ned pointed to the gully.
"Well," the boy continued, "when I got up on that ridge, I could see the men over in the other valley. They are getting reinforcements from somewhere. Anyway, I saw half a dozen Indians standing around. They've got a fire and are cooking dinner. Then I saw one of the white men pointing, and I'll tell you right now what they're going to do! They're going to station men around this little old crater and keep us in here until we starve, unless we give in."
"They forget that there's an air route," laughed Ned.
"Suppose we get up there on the Nelson!" exclaimed the boy. "And suppose they shoot us off! That wouldn't be funny, would it?"
"We've got to go in the night, then," Ned said. "But before we go I want to have a talk with those fellows."
"Then you'll get a word with Lyman, if you can?"
"That wasn't a bluff, then? They have captured him again?"
"Oh, yes, they've got him with them, all right. Anyway, there's four white men, and only three came in the car. Guess it's Lyman, sure enough!"
"What is he doing?"
"Just walking about. They haven't got him tied up, at least the man I took for Lyman isn't. He looks mad enough to bite nails, though!"
"That is a wonder," Ned said. "It may be that they are trying to make terms with him."
"Of course!" replied the boy.
Along in the afternoon one of the alleged officers appeared on the ledge again. He appeared to be somewhat excited, and Ned suspected that something had gone wrong with the other party. However, he remained quiet, waiting for the other to make his errand known. After a short silence the fellow asked:
"What has become of Collins?"
"He is still here," Ned answered.
"Held against his will?"
"Well, he is still doing some kicking."
"You'll be sorry if you don't let him go."
"How will you trade prisoners?" asked Ned. "Send Lyman down here and we'll send Collins up to you."
"Oh, Lyman doesn't want to leave us," was the reply. "We've arranged a settlement with him."
Ned did not believe this. He knew that the Lyman concession was a valuable one, and that the cattleman would put up a long fight before sacrificing it.
"Send him down here then," Ned answered. "If he is voluntarily staying with you, he can return if he wants to. Send him down!"
"He is afraid you'll try some trick on him," was the reply.
The whole afternoon passed in just such conversation as this—talk which brought no results worth mentioning. Ned did not believe that Lyman was remaining with the newcomers voluntarily. He did not believe that Lyman was suspicious of him.
The men in the other valley frequently visited the ledge and talked with Ned, but the boy saw that they were quietly making arrangements to surround him. Now and then the figure of an Indian appeared on the elevations about the valley, which was the crater of an extinct volcano.
A little study showed Ned that in some long forgotten time the two valleys had formed a great crater, and that this had been cut in two by the elevation of a mass in the center. High up above this dead crater, on the north, stretched the bulk of the mountain, the eruption having taken place on its south slope.
But while Ned talked with the visitors, argued with them, threatened, he kept at work on the planes, and at nightfall had them completed. The canvas had been put on double and sewed on very strongly, so the boy believed that it was as good a machine as ever that he contemplated getting out that night.
"But," argued Jimmie, when the plans were laid, "we can't all go in the Nelson. How are you going to carry Lyman, Jackson and me?"
Jimmie thought for a moment and then added: "But we haven't got Lyman yet. We'll have to come back after him, I take it, after we land Jackson outside."
"But I'm going to get him," Ned replied, "if this machine works all right. I'm going to leave you and Jackson here. What about that?"
"If you can grab Lyman," Jimmie grinned in disbelief, "I'll be willing to stay here as long as the grub lasts!"
"I'm going to get him," Ned replied. "I don't know how, but I've just got to get him back to Asuncion before the 31st."
"And what about Collins?"
"We'll have to let him go. When I get out, let him go, and then you two will have to hide away until I can come back after you."
"All right," replied Jimmie, with a sigh. "Only hurry back! I don't want to starve to death here."
After dark Ned, Jackson and Jimmie lugged the tanks of the wrecked Vixen over to the valley and dumped the gasoline into the Nelson's tanks. Even this accession did not quite fill the latter.
"Wish we could get to the motor car," Jimmie suggested.
"Now," Ned said, "I want you two to kick up an awful rumpus here, directly. Shoot and do all the yelling possible. Let Collins loose and chase him! He deserves it! Then, when the fellows over there run up on the ledge to see what is doing, I'll swoop down in the aeroplane and pick up Lyman—that is, if he is willing to come with me. If he isn't, I can't get him, that's all."
"Then, when we get up in the air, we take to our heels?"
"Exactly. If you don't these fellows will make trouble for you. Hide, but keep making to the east. When I come back after you I'll come in from that way."
"How long will it be?" asked the lad, who did not quite like the notion of being left there with Jackson.
"I can't say," was the reply. "I may leave Lyman in the nearest town, or he may want to go to Asuncion. I may be back by daylight, and I may be gone two days. I hope to be back by daylight."
"All right," Jimmie grunted. "We'll keep off to the east, and when you return you can pick us up before they know what's going on. Here's hoping you get Lyman!"
"I'll get him!" Ned replied, shutting his teeth hard together.
So, all arrangements made, Jimmie crept up on the ledge, about nine o'clock, and looked over into the twin valley.
There was a campfire burning, and Lyman, or the man the boy took for the cattleman, sat close beside it. The others were walking about. Now and then an Indian stepped inside the circle of light cast by the fire, consulted with the others for a moment, and disappeared again.
It was certain that the alleged officers were preparing to advance on the boys, bent on putting the Nelson out of commission for good. The planes had not been repaired any too quickly. When Jimmie reported Ned stepped into the machine.
"When I get within sight of those in that valley," he said, "make all the noise you can. If you can cause them to think you're killing Collins, all the better. Make him yell! I'll go straight up and drop down by that fire before they get over their excitement."
A few strong shoves, a dozen revolutions of the rubber-tired wheels, and the Nelson left the ground, as strong and capable as ever. The motors made little noise, and no signs of discovery came from the other side until the machine was high up. Then a few ineffectual shots were fired at her.
Jimmie and Jackson began their part of the performance promptly by shooting and yelling. They loosened Collins, much to that gentleman's delight, and started him off in the dim light on a run. As Jackson took great delight in landing his bullets close to Collins' feet, the alleged salesman ran for dear life toward the ledge, screaming and calling for help at every jump.
This was exactly what the others wanted, and in a short time they saw a huddle of dark figures on the ledge. In the excitement the firing on the Nelson had ceased.
Jackson and Jimmie were not long in getting out of the valley after that. They whirled around the elevation between the two valleys, sometimes feeling their way in the darkness, climbed over a ledge, and made for the black entrance to the tunnel through which Jackson had entered.
When they were at the mouth of the tunnel they turned and looked back. The Nelson was lifting from the valley where the fire had been seen, whirling up, up into the night sky. They could not determine from where they stood whether there were two or one on the big aeroplane. They had no means of knowing whether Ned had succeeded or failed.
The two watched the dim bulk of the aeroplane as it winged over their heads. Now and then, after it was too late to do her any harm, a few vengeful shots were fired at her. The fact that Ned kept going convinced them that he had picked up Lyman and was on the way out with him.
After the aeroplane had disappeared from sight Jackson and Jimmie hurried on through the dark tunnel, which, as has been said, was merely the dry channel of a stream which had cut its way out of the valley years before. Jimmie proposed that they remain there all night, but Jackson objected to this.
Their pursuers knew that he knew of the tunnel, he explained, in support of his objection, as they were aware that he had entered the valley by that route, so they would naturally look there for them.
This was convincing, of course, and the two hastened on their way, lighted by the little searchlight. For a long time there were no indications of pursuit, then a popping roar came beating down the passage.
"That's the automobile!" Jimmie cried. "Sounds like an express train, eh?"
"It certainly does," Jackson replied, "and it is up to us to get out of the way, somewhere. They won't take extra pains to catch us alive."
ARRESTED FOR SMUGGLING
The Nelson swept out of the air like a bird and landed so close to the fire that Ned felt the warmth of it on his face. The wheels cut the earth at first, under the force of the quick descent, then stopped.
The firelight shone on the white planes, bringing them out strongly against the darkness, and Ned knew that he could not remain there a minute without being discovered by the alleged officers of the little republic he was just then warring against. When he landed the men were out of sight around the ledge, but they of course saw the aeroplane and came running back.
Lyman, or a man Ned believed to be the cattleman whose financial operations had stirred up an international row, stood moodily by the fire when the Nelson dropped down, almost on top of his head. He sprang away, rubbed his eyes as if trying to awake himself from a bad dream, and then stood stock still, watching.
"Lyman?" Ned called.
There was no reply, and Ned spoke the name again.
"Yes, Lyman," the man by the fire answered, then. "What new wrinkle is this?" he added, stepping a little closer to the machine.
"If you're Lyman," Ned replied, hastily, "you can't get in here any too quickly. Those fellows will be here directly, with Thomas Q. Collins in the lead, if my boys do their duty. There will be little chance for either of us then. Jump in!"
"But I've never been on one of those things, and I'm afraid," Lyman said, with a shrug of the shoulders. "I'm afraid I'd fall out."
A shot came from the ledge, and Ned reached for the button which would start the motors going.
"You've only a minute to decide," he said. "I've come a long way to find you. If you reject this chance you won't get another."
"Well," Lyman cried, stepping up to the seat, very shaky as to nerves and pale as death, "I may as well die from a fall as from a bullet or a knife. If Collins is coming back with the officers, I'll have to do something."
The instant he was in his seat, Ned threw the leather straps about his legs and wrists and buckled them tight. Lyman shivered with fright.
"I thought so!" he cried, mistaking Ned's motives. "This is only another trick!"
The wheels bumped for an instant over the inequalities of the surface, the machine rocked lightly, then the planes lifted into the air, the propellers running like mad. A few ineffectual shots came from the men who were running down from the ledge. Ned saw Jimmie and Jackson chasing Collins out of the valley, heard their shots, and then, in a few moments, saw them at the mouth of the tunnel.
In five minutes more the Nelson was out of all danger, purring through the darkness like a contented cat. Lyman sat moodily in his harness, saying not a word, but fully convinced that this was only another trick of his enemies. Directly the boy slowed the motors down so as to make conversation possible.
"Well," he said, turning on one of the electric bulbs so as to see the face of his passenger, "what do you think of the Nelson? Peach, isn't she?"
"Where are you taking me?" was the only reply to the question.
"That is for you to say. We are not very far from Sicuani, Peru, and from there you can secure transportation back to Asuncion—if you think it safe to go there, under the circumstances. About a hundred miles to the north is Cuzco. You can go there and prepare for your visit to Asuncion if you care to. Then, over here in Bolivia, is Sucre. It might be well for you to go there. Anyway, it is up to you."
"Who is doing this?" asked Lyman, suspiciously.
"I can't see as that makes any difference to you," Ned replied.
"I was in the hope," Lyman went on, "when you came down upon me so unexpectedly, that my friends had found me. You speak English like a New York man," he went on. "Perhaps you live over there?"
"Yes," was the reply. "I live in New York, when I am home."
"Nice little old rotten government we've got!" almost shouted Lyman. "The people at Washington let any crooked little republic do anything it has a mind to do to a citizen of the United States. They're too busy getting themselves into office and keeping in to pay any attention to their duties. England wouldn't stand for a minute the tricks that have been played on me, not by business rivals, but by the government of Paraguay! England protects her citizens, wherever they are!"
"Well," Ned replied, with a laugh, "you may be right about England, but you are wrong about Uncle Sam. He looks after his own, too; if he didn't I wouldn't be here now. You wouldn't be on earth!"
"Do you mean to say—"
Lyman hesitated, and Ned went on and told him as much of the history of the expedition as he thought it necessary for the cattleman to know.
"And now," he concluded, "Where do you want to go?"
"I want you to go with me, wherever I go," was the reply. "And I think we'd better go straight to Asuncion."
"Do you think that a safe plan?"
"Oh, yes; they won't dare abduct me again."
"Then," Ned added, "we may as well get on the way. Asuncion is somewhere about twelve hundred miles from here, and we've got to make it by daylight."
"What's that?" asked Lyman, hardly believing he had heard aright. "You would better say in two days."
"The Nelson can make it in eight hours," Ned replied, "if we don't drop into any holes in the air or adverse currents."
"Holes in the air!" repeated Lyman.
"Sure," answered Ned. "The atmosphere surrounding the earth is just like the water in the large reservoirs—there are deep places and shallow places, holes you can drop in, and currents like the Gulf Stream current, the Japanese current, which warms the northern states and British Columbia, and the Arctic Humboldt current, which sends a cold stream down the Pacific coast of South America. If we have no difficulties with these rivers of the air, and the wind does not come up too strong, we can make Asuncion by six o'clock in the morning. It is about ten now."
"What sort of an airship have you here?" demanded Lyman, amazed at the thought of running at the rate of two hundred miles an hour or a hundred and fifty, at least.
"She was built for speed and endurance," was the reply. "Now cover your face with this mask, unless you want to have your breath blown out of the back of your head, and we'll get under way."
That was a night ride which neither of the participants ever forgot. The first part of the night was dark. Then a moon shone down from a cloudless sky, showing all the beauties of that magnificent country.
The mountains, the forests, the headwaters of the rivers which help to make the Amazon, were under their feet. Now and then they swept over a point of light which denoted the presence of a small town. Occasionally the cry of frightened wild beasts—the vicious mountain lion, the savage tiger cat, the prowling puma—came up to their ears.
After a short run to the southeast, Ned wheeled about and struck straight off to the east. The wind was growing stronger, and the Nelson was not making as good time as the boy desired.
There was a fierce current about the top of Mt. Sorata, which is something over 21,000 feet in height, and again Ned swung off to the north. Dropping down, then, he swept into the valley of the Beni river, which joins the Madeira river, some distance beyond the Bolivian border.
He knew that at the eastern rim of Bolivia there was a series of high mountain ranges which would protect him from the drifts blowing over from the Atlantic—Serre Geral, Serre Paxecis, Serre Aguapehy—and he reasoned that he could make better speed under the lee of these elevations. So he swept down the valley of the Beni until it joined with the Madeira, crossed a line of hills, and made for the Serre Geral range, something under a hundred miles away.
As the Nelson cleared the valley, however, Lyman gave Ned a punch in the ribs with an elbow and nodded toward the ground. His wrists were fast in the harness so he could not use his hands. Ned looked down and instantly dropped the Nelson a few hundred feet.
Some distance down the Madeira, in the center of the stream, were the lights of a boat which seemed to be anchored there. Ned swept closer and tried his best to make out the outlines of the craft, but he could not do it without descending close to the river, and this he did not care to do.
"It looks like the Black Bear," he thought, as he shot up into the air again, "but of coarse it can't be. Those Boy Scouts are not fools enough to bring her up into this country."
So he came to the protection of the mountains and proceeded south toward Asuncion at a speed which caused Lyman to gasp for breath. Of course he was ignorant of the fact that Frank, Jack, and Harry had started out, during his absence, to explore the headwaters of the Amazon, hoping to come upon the Nelson before returning.
As for the lads on the Black Bear, they did not even know that the Nelson was so close to them that night. It was three nights later that they first saw the aeroplane drifting above them. Asuncion does not at all compare in beauty or in thrift with the other capital cities of South America. The government of the republic is so unstable that business men are loath to make heavy investments there.
For one thing the town is poorly lighted, and when Ned came, in view of the place at five O'clock the few street lamps were already out. People were abroad at that early hour, however, and small crowds soon gathered on the street corners to watch the great airship approach.
What Ned could not see was the intense excitement around the government offices. In ten minutes from the time the airship showed above the city, messengers were out in the streets and officials of the lower rank were headed for their offices. In a few minutes this alarm was communicated to police headquarters and to the military station where the governor's guard was stationed.
If the boy had been able to understand the situation below, if he had known that Asuncion had been communicated with from Lima and also from Sicuani, he would have given the city a wide berth. He saw the gathering of crowds below, of course, but naturally attributed this to curiosity. He had no doubt that the Nelson was the first airship ever seen at Asuncion.
"Where are you going to take me?" asked Lyman, as the machine slowed down and he found himself able to speak.
"To the American consul," was the reply.
Lyman sighed and shook his head.
"I'm afraid he will take little interest in me," he said.
"Doubtless," Ned replied, "he has received instructions from Washington. Anyway, I fail to see how they can molest you now, even if they have the inclination to do so. You just go about your business as usual, and leave this abduction matter to the future. You can gain nothing now by stirring that up. Report to the consul and go on about your business as if nothing had happened."
"That is the only thing there is to do," Lyman responded, with a sigh. "Still, I'm suspicious of those chaps. They'll have some trick ready."
Before long Ned found a level spot not far from the capitol building where he could, drop the Nelson. When he headed for that locality he was followed through the streets below by a shouting, howling mob.
"I can't understand this," he thought, and Lyman was still more suspicious.
At last the Nelson was brought to the surface of the earth and Ned and Lyman stepped out, very willing to stretch their legs after such a long ride. They had been in the air about twice the time set for endurance by noted aviators.
They did not get much of a chance to stretch their legs, however, for they bumped into a squad of soldiers on stepping out of their seats.
"You are under arrest!" a gaily-dressed officer said, flashing his sword out of its scabbard.
"What for?" demanded Ned, speaking in Spanish.
"Smuggling!" was the reply.
Ned laughed heartily. Arrested for smuggling!
"Search us, and search the machine, then," he replied, "and let us go on about our business. We have no time to lose."
"In time! In time!" was the drawling reply. "Such things are not done so quickly here! In three-four days—in a week—in three, four weeks, perhaps. In the meantime you go to the jail."
Ned thought of the swiftly-slipping days, of the peril Jimmie and Jackson were in, of Leroy in prison at Lima, and was about ready to fight. The officer refused to take him to the president, or to the American consul. In a quarter of an hour he was in a cell, alone, wondering what had been done with Lyman, and also wondering what would become of the Nelson.
He knew that the charge of smuggling, of bringing goods into the republic by means of an airship, would be held against him as long as it pleased his accusers to keep him in prison. That would be until the concession expired and, possibly, until the Nelson lay a total wreck in the streets.
He saw no one who could give him any information as to what was going on in the outside until the morning of the 21st, after he had been incarcerated forty-eight hours. Then a turnkey unlocked his door and motioned him out.
"For trial?" Ned asked, hopefully.
"It is the wish of the president," was the reply.
"But what, why, when—"
"You have yet to see," was the impertinent reply. "You have yet to see if you can do these things to our countree!"
And so, mystified and, if the truth must be told, not a little discouraged, Ned was led through the prison corridors, his mind filled wit thoughts of Leroy, Jimmie, the Nelson, an, strangely enough, the Black Bear!
THE WARNING FROM THE SKY
There was a shock when the prow of the Black Bear struck a canoe which lay full in its path. The momentum was retarded for only a second. Then the motor boat was beyond the line of war canoes with their screaming, gesticulating occupants.
Looking out of the rear ventilator, Frank saw a smashed canoe running down with the current, with a dozen or more natives clinging to it. But there was still a large number of canoes up the river, and the Black Bear was struck more than once by forceless bullets and poisoned arrows as she sped past them.
Armed with modern rifles, the Indians would have made short work of the occupants of the Black Bear, but the muskets they used were old and mostly out of condition. The arrows were far more deadly, although they stood less chance of penetrating the tough panels.
"Now," Harry said, as they passed a racing fleet of Indian boats, "we can open up a little and get a breath of fresh air! I'm just about suffocated!"
"Not just yet," Jack, who was at the front, said, "for there's a mess of the black scamps just ahead. They are on the bank, both banks, and seem to be waiting for something to happen. I wonder what it can be?"
"Some trap, I suppose," Harry gritted. "Well, all we can do is to ran on through them, if they come out in boats, and get out of their reach. We ought to be able to be out of this blasted country in a couple of hours."
"That's all right," Jack replied, "but you just listen a moment."
But the racing motors shut out all individual sounds, and Harry shut them down for a minute. Seeing this, Jack dropped an anchor at the prow, and the boat lay pulling at the cable in the current.
"What did you do that for?" asked Frank, addressing both boys from the stem.
"Listen!" commanded Jack.
"Look!" ordered Harry.
What Frank heard was the heavy, continuous roar of a waterfall. What he saw, as he crowded up under the plate glass panel in the top, were the lights of an airship!
"I tell you," Harry cried, excitedly, "that that's the Nelson. You can't fool me about that."
"Why doesn't she come down, then?" demanded Jack.
"Because she doesn't know that this is the Black Bear. That is an easy one! If she did she'd be here in a second."
The boys studied the lights a moment and then turned their attention to the Indians, who were now making a great clamor. In a short time it was easy to see what they were up to.
Above roared the falls and the rapids. At this point in the Beni river there is a swift drop from the mountain plateau above. It will be remembered that the Beni reaches away up into the Illimani mountains, with its springs not far distant from the summit of the Andes.
Where the boys were the Paredon and the Paderneira, falls and the Araras and the Misericordia rapids made the navigation of the river, even in the protected Black Bear, impossible for many miles. The Indians seemed to understand this, for they had gathered at the foot of the falls, possibly expecting to see the craft attempt the ascent.
Jack watched them from the prow for a time and then asked:
"What's that they are throwing into the river?"
"Logs!" replied Harry, looking out over Jack's shoulder, "and brush!"
"Well, of all the—"
The sentence was not finished. Frank, at the stern, gave a yell and fired out of the loophole. "Come here!" he shouted, then, "if you want to see what the devils are doing. This takes the cake!"
A glance showed the others what the plot against them was. Harry went to his locker for his revolver and Jack drew his from a pocket.
"I guess it is a fight now!" Frank said. "You see what they are doing?"
"Of course. Anybody can see that."
Jack reached out of the opening and fired a perfect volley down stream. Frank crowded against him to look out.
"Never touched them!" he cried.
"No," Jack went on, "they're forming a bridge with their canoes and running logs and brush down against it. They've got an obstruction already that the Black Bear never can get through."
"What's the matter with dynamite?" asked Harry.
"Oh, we can use dynamite as long as we have it," was the reply, "but there will be Indians on guard there long after we are out of the stuff."
"I guess that's right!" with a sober drawing of the lips.
"I'll tell you what we've got to do," Harry said, presently. "We've got to put on full power and try to run up the rapids."
"Why, there is noise enough for a ten-foot fall," Frank replied.
"We've got to risk it," Jack went on.
"Now, you just wait," Frank cut in. "I don't think you've got this thing sized up right at all. Harry," he continued, "who does this boat belong to?"
"To the Black Bear Patrol," was the reply. "You know that well enough."
"Then we can do what we please with it, so long as we make it right with the other members of the Patrol?"
"Why, of course."
Jack looked at his chums with a grin.
"What are you figuring on?" he asked. "One would think you were planning to blow the Black Bear into smithereens."
"That's about it," Frank replied.
"And go to kingdom come with her?" laughed Jack. "Not any of that for me. I'm headed, eventually, for little old N.Y."
"I'm tired of fooling with these cannibals," Frank explained. "We haven't molested them, and yet they are after our scalps. They'll get them, too, if something isn't done—and done right away, at that."
"I'm with you!" Jack exclaimed. "I'm willing to try anything once. Only let me in on the secret!" he added, chuckling.
"You had it right," Frank said. "What I propose is to blow the Black Bear into smithereens, and about a thousand of those bloodthirsty natives with it. The world will be all the better for their being out of it. They are worse than the savage beasts in the forests."
"But what is to become of us?" asked Harry.
Frank pointed to the Wolf, tugging at the cable which held her nose to the stem of the Black Bear.
"We'll be safe in there when the explosion takes place," he said.
Jack clapped the speaker on the shoulder.
"You're all right!" he cried.
Harry looked mystified for a moment, and then said, speaking loudly in order that his voice might be heard above the shouts of the savages and the beating of arrows against the panels of the boat:
"It looks as if we'd have to do it. I hate to leave the Black Bear in such a mess away off here in South America, but I don't see how we are to get her out. The Wolf will carry us all right, I suppose?" he said, tentatively.
"Sure thing!" Frank replied. "I've been thinking it all out. We'll do it this way: When we get ready we'll put on full speed ahead on the motors, with the prow turned against that obstruction below. Then we'll hop into the Wolf and shut everything down tight. The Black Bear will weaken the jam below, and the sharp nose of the Wolf will poke through the rest of the logs and canoes. And there you are!"
"Free of the natives, and bobbing down the, river in safety!" cried Jack. "That looks good to me!"
"But about the dynamite?" asked Harry.
"Well," Frank replied, "we've got to use the Black Bear for a battering ram anyway, and she'll be all smashed up, so we may as well go the whole hog with her. We'll put a lot of dynamite down under the motors and fix a cap so it will blow up when the concussion comes. By that time the natives will be swarming around her, and they'll get what's coming to them."
"And where will we be when the explosion is rocking this half of the world?" demanded Harry. "Up in the air?"
"We'll be a cuddled up in the Wolf, between the lockers, with plenty of grub and ammunition, sailing down the river in a bullet-proof vessel. This move will burst up our meeting with the Nelson, of course, but there is no other way. They'll get us if we remain here."
While this talk had been going on, the cannibals had drawn nearer to the Black Bear, pressing forward from both banks in canoes and pounding at the panels with their arrows. It seemed only a question of time when they would board the craft and force the panels. Their shouts of victory were shrill and exasperating.
"You see how it is," Frank said, "the Black Bear can never be pushed up over the falls, and we can never get her past the obstructions below, even by the use of dynamite. If we could blow the those logs out of the way, the Indians would board us instantly. We could give them only a charge or two of dynamite and a few shots before they would be inside. Now' we can drift down the river in the Wolf without fear of entertaining man-eaters on board. They may get on top of the boat, but they can never get inside."
"And so we'll have to give up our trip!" wailed Harry. "We'll have to drift down stream in that hot hole and take a steamer at the nearest river town!"
"It strikes me," Frank observed, "that it is a mighty good thing we've got that hot hole to drift down stream in. If the Black Bear had only been constructed on the principle of the Wolf, we'd be in a position to give these heathens the laugh. Well, let us pull the Wolf up and throw out stuff enough to give us room. Then we'll get out the dynamite."
The boys drew the Wolf up by the cable as Frank tried to elude the watchful eyes of the savages long enough to open the hatch on top and climb inside, but a dozen arrows whizzed by his head when he looked out.
"Can't do it!" he said.
"Never in the world!" Jack assented.
"Another good scheme gone wrong!" Harry ejaculated. "What next?"
"Dynamite," almost shouted Jack. "We'll give them dynamite as long as it lasts, and then ram the logs below."
"We may kill, a couple of hundred," Frank said, "but it seems to me that there will be about ten thousand left."
The boys were indeed in a tight box. With their automatics and their dynamite they might keep the natives at bay for a time, but in the end they would be obliged to surrender or starve to death.
"Well," Jack said, grimly, "let's get out the dynamite. I want to see some of these devils blown up!"
Just then an arrow struck the plate glass panel at the top of the Black Bear's deck covering and Jack looked up. He gazed a moment in wonder and then let out a shout that rose above the yelling of the savages and the pounding of arrows against the panels of the Black Bear.
"Glory be!" he shouted.
Frank and Harry crowded to his side and looked up.
"It is the Nelson!" Harry exclaimed.
"You bet it is!" Frank admitted.
"Good old Ned!" Jack roared.
The aeroplane was only a few yards above the Black Bear. Already the natives were slinking away in their canoes. Those on the banks were slowly withdrawing into the shelter of the forests.
"They're running away!" Jack cried. "Now we'll have some fun with good old Ned Nestor!"
For a moment it looked as if the statement was correct; as if the natives, alarmed at the sight of the aeroplane would disappear from sight without a fight. But this supposition was soon disproved.
As the Nelson came nearer, a dozen bullets from the forests struck her planes. The boys, in the boat raised the panel and shouted to the aviator to look out for poisoned arrows.
Then the aeroplane shot up again. They could see that there was only one person on the machine, and that he was busy arranging something which looked like a stick of dynamite which he held in his hands.
In a moment something grim and sinister whirled and hissed through the air, and then there came a terrific explosion in the forest to the right. Trees were leveled, and a great hole showed in the bank. In an instant, following close on the roar of the dynamite, there came a chorus of cries from savage throats-cries of fear, of terror, of rage—and then silence.
For a moment it seemed as if the forests held no forms of animal life, then the sharp call of the tiger-cat, the wail of the puma, the chattering of the monkeys, came to the ears of the listening boys.
"I guess this coming act will consist of a feed for the wild beasts!" Jack said.
For a long time there was no sound of savage life in the forests, save that from the throats of beasts of prey, scenting blood and slowly drawing closer to the river's banks. The boys on the Black Bear looked into each other's faces and wondered.
"They didn't act that way when we exploded dynamite!" Jack said.
"No. They came right back at us!" Frank replied.
"I take it that they think there's something supernatural in this dropping of dynamite from the sky," Harry observed. "Anyway, they seem to have taken themselves off, and we'll open up and signal to the Nelson! Say, won't it be fine to see good old Ned Nestor again? I wonder how he knew we were here?"
"And I wonder where Jimmie and Leroy are?" Harry reflected. "There is only one person on the machine, and that must be Ned."
Jack was about to throw open the top panels when he caught sight of the aeroplane again, nearer to the water than before.
"What's Ned doing?" he asked, pointing upward.
"Talking!" exclaimed Frank.
"Wigwagging!" Harry broke out. "Now, let us see what he says."
Slowly to the right and left, up and down, an electric bulb flashed in the sky. Harry counted.
"That's C;" he said, "and that's 'a,' and that's 'u,' and that's 't,' and now 'i,' and 'o,' and 'n.' 'Caution!' That means that we've got to stand pat for a time yet."
"It also means," Jack said, "that we've made no mistake about that being the Nelson, with a Boy Scout on board. Those wigwag signals show the supposition to be true."
"Well," Harry puzzled, "he wouldn't be sending us a warning from the sky if there wasn't some danger we were not aware of. There is something going on that we are not wise to."
There was a short silence on board and then Frank remarked:
"We must be nearer the falls than we thought, for the water seems to be a ripple about us. Rear it! I'm going to look out and see it looks like."
In a moment he was jamming the panel shut and springing the slides over the loopholes and the ventilators.
Jack sprang to the prow, not knowing what danger threatened, but obeying the sudden gestures of his chum to close every opening. Before he sprung the steel panel over the ventilator he glanced out on the river.
"Great heavens!" he cried. "Get your guns, boys!"
The whole surface of the stream, as far as the boy's eyes reached, seemed covered with savage heads, floating, drifting, down upon the Black Bear.
RED FIRE FROM THE SKY
Under the light of the moon the rushing river seemed full of leering, cruel eyes. The bodies of the swimming savages were not visible—only the upturned faces and the threatening eyes, with now and then a hand or the point of a glistening shoulder. There appeared to be thousands of the cannibals; their mass reaching from shore to shore.
Then, while the boys looked, expecting every instant to hear the sound of feet outside the panels, a rocket shot out from the Nelson and a score of parti-colored balls curved and hissed toward the earth.
"Gee!" Jack cried. "He's giving them a fourth-of-July celebration!"
"Hope it scares them off," said Harry.
Looking through the heavy glass panel at the top, they saw a rain of red fire drop down on the swirling river. For a moment the whole upper air, then river and forest, was painted a bloody red by the burning powder.
Cries came from the river, and the mass of floating heads parted and swung swiftly toward the shores; then silence. The aeroplane circled about cautiously and then dropped down lower. Jack opened the panel.
"Hello the boat!" cried a voice from the aviator's seat.
"Hello, Ned!" all three boys called back.
"How do you know it's Ned?" was asked.
"We saw that beautiful face of yours in the red fire," replied Jack. "How are we going to get out of here? They've blockaded the river below, and the falls are above."
"I presume I have dynamite enough to blow up that improvised dam," replied Ned. "Why didn't you do it?"
Before Jack could explain the situation, the Nelson drifted past, and he knew that his voice would not carry to her.
"I'm going to open up now," Harry said, as the Nelson drifted out of range of the glass pane. "I'm pretty near choked in here."
"Nice time we would have had in the Wolf," laughed Jack.
"Anyway," urged Harry, "we should have been in her in a minute if the Nelson hadn't shown up. Say, won't they give us the laugh in New York? Came away off out here alone, and then had to be rescued by Ned!"
Very cautiously the panels giving on the stern were opened. There were no savages in view. The banks of the stream seemed as quiet and harmless as a thicket in Central Park.
"I guess the rocket and the red fire got them!" grinned Frank.
"Yes, but they won't stay scared forever!" Harry put in. "We'd better be getting out of this before they come back to their senses."
"They never had any senses!" claimed Jack.
Looking out from the interior, now guarded only by the panels at the front and sides, the boys saw Ned drop half a dozen sticks of dynamite on the logs and brush which had been floated down on top of a number of canoes. In some places the logs had pushed up until they were high above the surface of the water.
The pressure of the current was continually making the obstruction more compact. The canoes seemed to have been bound firmly together and stretched from shore to shore. At least the moorings were strong, for the logs were heavy and the current pulled heavily at them.
The explosions made great havoc with the barricade, and presently the line was broken and the whole mass swung shoreward or drifted down stream.
Then Ned called out:
"Now drop down stream and I will join you."
"Better look out where you land!" Harry called back.
"I hope I won't get into any such scrape as you did," Ned replied.
"Oh, you're not out of it yet!" laughed Frank. "These woods are full of man-eaters. Look out where you go, and we'll find a place for you to come down."
The anchor of the Black Bear was lifted and the power turned on. In a minute she was going down stream at a thirty-mile gait.
Directly they passed the wrecked barricade, rolling and tumbling in the waters, the canoes either broken or half full of water. The Nelson still led the way down the stream.
"I guess he's never going to stop."
"Wonder if he's going back to New York?"
"Perhaps he's lost control!"
The boys looked and wondered as the aeroplane drifted on to the north and cast. They were miles from the scene of the battle now, but the airship went on.
Presently they saw the purpose of the aviator in making this long run. A little nest of houses flashed out on the river bank, with here and there a light showing, and here the onward course of the Nelson became a circling descent.
In the east there was a faint line of dawn in the sky when the Black Bear was pushed up to a primitive wharf. The aeroplane was still circling in the air.
"He wants us to pick out a spot for him to land on," Jack said. "There's one over by that hill," he added.
When Ned saw the three boys gather at the spot indicated and motion to him to come down he lost no time in doing so. When he stepped out of his seat all three lads were upon him. One would have thought they were determined to tear him in pieces the way they seized his hands, his legs, and pulled at his neck.
"You old fraud!"
"How did you know?"
"You're a nice old chaperon!"
For a moment Ned could not say a word, then he pushed the boys away and sat down on the ground.
"You're a nice bunch!" he said.
"Sure!" said Jack.
"The people back there thought so much of us that they wanted us to remain to dinner!" grinned Harry.
"There ain't no better people!" Frank insisted.
"How did you happen to get out here?" demanded Ned. "Why, you fellows ought to have a chaperon. Those cannibals would have had a good dinner today if the Nelson hadn't come that way."
"Now, don't crow over us!" pleaded Frank. "We know all about it. You've gotten us out of many a scrape, but this is the large event. We take off our hats to you. Now, where's Jimmie and Leroy?"
"I don't know," answered Ned, gravely.
"I guess you are the one who needs a—"
"I guess you are right," Ned replied. "I've been up against the pricks good and plenty since I left you. If I get to New York alive, I'm going to stay there for good."
"Where did you leave Leroy?" asked Frank.
"Wow!" cried all three boys.
"And Jimmie? I don't see how you happened to lose him."
"Jimmie is lost in the Peruvian mountains," Ned said.
"Well, why don't we go and get him?" asked Harry.
"Yes," laughed Frank. "We might ride in the Black Bear over the storm-tossed summits of the Andes!"
"At least," Ned said, "you boys can help me a lot. I have my hands full. We can all ride the Nelson, I take it. She was built to carry three average-weight men, you know, and I think she ought to manage three boys and one man!"
"Oh, you man!" laughed Jack, poking Ned in the side. "You man who has to come to the three boys for help!"
"Tell us about it," Frank said.
"The quicker we start in on the search for Jimmie the quicker he will be found," Harry insisted.
It was not much of a town where the Nelson had landed. There were a few native houses and a great warehouse, at one end of which was a small office. Such river products as came from up stream were packed there to await transportation down to the Amazon.
By the time the sun was up a score or more natives and a couple of British traders were gathered about the aeroplane and the Black Bear. One of the traders, Mr. Hamlin, invited the boys to his home for breakfast, and left some of his employees on guard at the Nelson and the Black Bear.
During the breakfast Ned recounted his adventures, to which the host listened with the closest attention. Frank then told of the cruise of the Black Bear, adding that they had hoped to reach the very last yard of water flowing down the Andes slope to the east.
"It is wonderful what American Boy Scouts will accomplish!" Mr. Hamlin said, when the tales had been told. "A few years ago no boy of your age would have undertaken such a duty as sent you to Paraguay," he added, addressing Ned, "and no boys would have dared to navigate the Beni river," he continued, smiling at the three bright faces on the other side of the table.
"The Boy Scout training makes for courage and resourcefulness," Ned said. "We have not been caught in many traps. In fact, I think we are now up against the very worst situation we have ever encountered."
"But you haven't yet told us how you got out of jail at Asuncion, only that you got in on a smuggling charge and were released. Who brought about the release?"
"The president of the Republic," was the reply. "He learned of the matter and ordered me brought before him. Well, I had been searched, and the Nelson had been searched, and nothing found, so I was let go. The president also ordered the Nelson returned to me. It had been appropriated by an official who had declared it forfeited. Not a bad chap that president, still, I think he saw Uncle Sam in the background!"
"And about this man Lyman?"
"I was told that he had gone back to his concession. I went out there in the airship, but failed to find him. After we find Jimmie and get Leroy out of the jail at Lima I'm going to find Lyman once more."
"This," Jack said, "is the 23d of August. Now, we saw you last night, the 22d, and the night before, the 21st. Why didn't you come down then?"
"Because I was not certain that it was the Black Bear, and because I wanted to investigate the place where I last saw Jimmie and the man Jackson. I was over the boat longer ago than the night of the 21st, but you did not know it, I guess."
"Well, you came at the right time, when you did come," Jack said. "I only wish you hadn't found us in such a pickle!"
"It doesn't seem to me," Mr. Hamlin suggested, "that the Nelson ought to carry four. You may have to go pretty fast. Now, one of you can remain with me, in welcome, and look after the Black Bear. I have plenty of gasoline, and we can amuse ourselves with trips on the river. Later, you can come back after the boat."
"I think I'd better stay," Harry Stevens said. "I'm not stuck on long rides in the air. Besides, you can do just as well without me. How far is it to the place where you left Jimmie and this man Jackson?"
Ned took out his pocket map and bent over it.
"Here we are," he said, presently, "in the valley of the Madeira, with a range of mountains on each side. Below are the rapids and the falls. You must have had a sweet time traveling up from Fort San Antonio. You passed about three hundred miles of swift rapids and falls. How many times did you have to take the Black Bear to pieces?"
"Not once there," was the reply. "We managed to steam up. But, say, we had a lovely time getting up over one waterfall!"
"Well," Ned went on, "here we are at the big bend of the upper Madeira. We are not far from a thousand miles from the place where I found Lyman. We can get there by nightfall."
"Not for me," Jack said, with a shrug of the shoulders. "We should have to ride continuously to make it in that time, and I don't like to remain in the air that long. We ought to have five rests of an hour each, and get there in the morning."
"Yes," Ned replied, "I'm getting tired of long rides myself. We'll go slower."
After breakfast the boys went to the Black Bear and looked her over. The propeller which had been broken could easily be repaired, they found, so they left that matter to Harry, replenished the tanks of the Nelson with gasoline, and prepared for the long journey back to the mountains of Peru.
"When are you coming back?" asked Harry, as the three mounted the machine.
"In three days," replied Ned. "And we'll bring Jimmie with us."
"If they haven't fed him to the mountain lions before now!" Harry said, with a strange premonition of evil in his heart.
And the Nelson was up and away, and Harry set to work cleaning up the motor boat, hoping to forget in toil how lonely and apprehensive he was.
USING BOY SCOUTS FOR BAIT!
Alarmed by the swift approach of the motor car in the tunnel, Jimmie and Jackson took to their heels and made swift progress toward the east entrance, throwing the searchlight about and keeping their eyes out for some hiding place as they ran.
Before long it became evident that they could not long maintain the pace they had taken. The motor car was gaining on them rapidly, as they knew by the steady approach of the clamor which the engines were making.
"Gee!" cried Jimmie, at last. "No use! I've got to drop in somewhere!"
Jackson was as ready to stop running as was Jimmie, so they drew up against the wall and Jimmie shut off the light from his electric candle.
"Do you think they saw that light?" asked Jimmie, pushing close to the rock wall. "I hope not."
"Probably not, as there was always an angle between us," was the whispered reply, "but their light is coming around that angle now. Stand close!"
It was of little use to stand close.
Under the great lamps every crack and crevice of the tunnel walls was in plain sight to the occupants of the car. The two fugitives might as well have attempted concealment under the limelight in the center of the stage of a Broadway theatre!
Jimmie's hand was on his automatic as the car halted in front of him. Jackson saw what was in the boy's mind and laid a hand on his arm.
"None of that!" he said.
"Well, I'm not goin' to be—"
Jackson forced the revolver out of the boy's hand as he brought it out of his pocket.
"They've got us," he whispered, "and will be only too glad of an excuse to shoot us down in cold blood."
This from Thomas Q. Collins, who sat in the front seat, looking at the two as if he could bite them in pieces!
Jimmie looked sullenly toward his automatic, in Jackson's hand, and said not a word. Jackson stepped forward.
"You've got us!" he said.
"You bet we have!" gloated Collins. "Where did that Nestor boy go with the man he picked up by the fire?"
"Did he get him?" asked Jimmie.
"Yes, he got him, worse luck!" was the reply. "Where did he go with him?"
"Don't know," replied Jimmie.
"I'll find a way to make you know!" gritted Collins. "Do you fellows know what it is to be hungry?"
"Honest," Jackson cut in, "we don't know where Nestor went with Lyman. When he left us, he was not certain that he could get him. Thought Lyman might not want to go away with a stranger on such short notice."
"Oh, what's the use?" demanded one of the others. "The fellow has gone back to Asuncion. That's easy to figure out. Who set you boys at work on this case?" he added, in a moment, at a whisper from his seat-mate.
"Ned set me at work," Jimmie answered.
"Yes, but who set him at work?"
"I'll tell you," Jackson said, with a smile of satisfaction on his face, "the United States government set Ned at work. You'd better watch out how you butt up against the Secret Service men."
"That's just what I told you!" sneered Collins. "You wouldn't believe me. Now what do you think?"
The speaker left his seat in the machine and walked over to where Jackson was standing, the revolver still in his hand.
"Give me that gun!" he demanded.
Jackson passed it over without a word of protest.
"Now your own gun," Collins demanded, extending his hand.
"I have no gun," was the reply. "You know that very well."
"I thought you might have stolen one since leaving the cow country," snarled the other. "There is no knowing what kind of property you light-fingered gentlemen will acquire."
"You're a liar, Collins," Jackson said, coolly. "You know I never ran off the cattle which were missed. I believe you stole them!"
Collins advanced angrily toward the speaker, but one of his company drew him back.
"Cut it out!" he said. "There will be plenty of time later on."
"What are you going to do with us?" asked Jimmie.
"You'll see!" Collins replied. "I wonder how you would like a game of chase-the-bullet? Similar to the one you gave me not long ago?"
"Like it fine," Jimmie grinned, "if it didn't do me no more harm than it did you. Never touched you!"
"It may be different in your case," Collins threatened.
After consulting together in whispers for some moments, the men loaded Jimmie and Jackson into the crowded motor car and put on the reverse movement. In half an hour, the progress being slow, they came to the valley where the campfire was still burning. Here they all alighted.
Half a dozen Peruvian Indians of vicious appearance now came forward, and Collins gave them instructions in an undertone, after which the two captives were led away to the cavern in which Lyman had been sheltered up to the time of the arrival of the Nelson. One of the Indians remained outside while the others hastened away.
"Well," Jimmie said, as he looked gloomily at the discouraged Jackson, "what do you think of this? I'd like to push the face of that Collins person in so it would mix with the back curtain."
"We're in for it!" moaned Jackson.
"Aw, what can they do to us?" demanded the little fellow.
"They can keep us here until we die of starvation," replied Jackson. "I've had a turn with starvation, and know what it's like."
Jimmie reached under his coat and brought out a can of beans.
"Here," he said, "get busy on this."
"They took mine away when they searched me for a gun," said Jackson.
"Buck up!" advised Jimmie. "We've got to figure out some way to give them the slip. What?"
"Yes, I suppose so!"
Jackson had counted on getting back to civilization without further difficulties, on the arrival of the Nelson, and now he was completely discouraged. Jimmie sat on the floor of the cavern and eyed him quizzically.
"Ned will come back after us," the little one said, presently. "You put your bloomin' trust in Ned, an' you'll come a four-time winner out of the box. I know. I've been out with him before."
"But how will he ever find us here?" asked Jackson.
"How did he ever find Lyman?" demanded the boy. "You hush your kickin' an' leave it all to Ned. Guess he knows enough to get us out of this sink of iniquity! That boy eats 'em alive!"
"I can't see why they should keep us here," Jackson remarked, presently, prying off the top of the can of beans with his pocket knife. "Why don't they go back to Asuncion and look after that cattle concession?"
"Because they've got some one there to look out for it for them," replied the boy. "They're waitin' here for Ned to come back an' get us, if anybody should ask you," he went on, his cheerful smile not at all matching the serious import of his words. "This Collins person has cards up his sleeve, an' he wants to get hold of Ned. He's set his trap with us for bait."
"You're a cheerful little cuss!" grinned Jackson, beginning to see the dangerous side of the situation. "And what are we going to do when Ned comes back? Let them soak him?"
"Not so you could notice it," was the reply. "When Ned comes back we'll be out at the other end of that tunnel, an' he'll swoop do in in the Nelson an' pick us up, an' we'll be back in little old N. Y. before you can say scat."
"But how can we—"
The entrance to the cavern was darkened for a moment and then the flashily-dressed form of Collins made its appearance.
"What's that about getting back to little old N. Y.?" he asked. "When do you start for Manhattan Island?"
"You heard, then?" asked Jackson.
"Well, we'll see that you don't get away until this Ned comes back after you. We need him in our business."
"He'll land Lyman at Asuncion before you see him again," Jimmie said.
"Not a doubt of it," was the sullen reply, "but don't you ever think we haven't got people there who will look out for our interests. Lyman won't be at liberty long, and your Ned will come back here to get what's coming to him."
"Is that so?" exclaimed the boy, putting on a bold front, but inwardly fearful that the situation was a tragic one.
Leaving the captives with this cheering (?) information, Collins went back to his companions, leaving the Indian still on guard. For a time the Indian stood stolidly in front of the cave, then, looking carefully about to see that he was not observed by his employers, he faced the opening and uttered one English word:
Jackson opened his eyes in amazement, but Jimmie saw an extended hand and sprang forward. The Indian's right hand was extended toward the boy, palm up, the thumb and little finger meeting across the palm and crossed, the remaining fingers straight out.
"You mean, 'Be prepared'?" Jimmie asked.
"'Be prepared,"' repeated the other, like one rehearsing a lesson.
"Gee!" laughed the boy. "Here's a Boy Scout lingerin' in little old Peru! Now wouldn't that stop a clock?"
"You just wait a minute," Jackson said, hopefully. "I think I can talk with this chap a little in Spanish."
Then followed a great picking of words to match gestures, and gestures to explain words, during which the full salute of the Boy Scouts of America was often repeated by the Indian. Then Jackson said:
"He says that there were Boy Scouts down here six months ago, and that he guided them through the mountain passes to the headwaters of the Beni river. From there they went through to the valley of the Amazon in a boat—a steam launch."
Jimmie reached under his waistcoat collar and produced his Wolf badge, pointing to it with his finger inquiringly. The Indian shook his head.
"Not Wolves," the boy said, in a moment. "Let's see if they were Black Bears."
When a Black Bear badge which belonged to Jack Bosworth was shown the Indian still shook his head. Then he pointed to the sky and whirled his hand around significantly, finishing with a waving, flying motion.
"I see!" cried Jimmie. "They were Eagles!"
"This ought to help some," Jackson observed, his face growing more cheerful.
"Of course it will," replied the boy. "Ask him if he wants to get out of this blasted country and go to New York. We'll take him if he'll get us out on the east slope before Ned gets back."
Jackson talked with the Indian again, but did not seem to be able to come to terms with him.
"He doesn't want to commit himself," the ex-cattleman said. "We'll have to wait until he thinks it over."
The Indian seemed moody and sullen for the next few hours. When dawn came and the little fire which had blazed in the cavern all night went out, he was called away and another native placed on guard.
"That settles it," Jimmie said. "We lose!"
"I'm the losenest feller you ever seen," said Jackson. "I never won a bet in my life. You're unlucky to get dumped in a mess with me."
About the time Ned and Lyman landed in Asuncion the boys in the cavern began looking for his return. They were not permitted to leave the cavern, but they watched the eastern sky intently every minute.
They watched the sky, too, during the long days when Ned was in prison at Asuncion. Late on the afternoon of the 21st, as the reader knows, Ned searched the eastern slope for them but they did not see him. On the morning of the 23d they were taken from the cave and placed in full sight on the eastern slope, where they would be sure to be seen from the sky. They did not know what to make of this at first, but directly, when they saw Indians, heavily armed, stationed in hiding places all about them, they understood.
Jimmie had expressed the situation exactly. The cowards were baiting their trap for Ned with his friends.
Unless some means of warning him could be found, Ned would drop down to his death if he landed to rescue the ones he had left behind.
THE END OF A LONG CHASE
On the 23d of August the Nelson, with Ned, Jack, and Frank on board, was sweeping over the mountains and valleys of Bolivia and Peru toward the twin valleys in which Jimmie and Jackson had been left. Plenty of provisions and gasoline had been taken on at the Hamlin storehouse, and the lads were well equipped for a week's cruise in the air.
They did not urge the aeroplane to its fullest speed, nor did they remain in the air longer than a couple of hours at a time. It had been decided to strike the eastern slope of the range just before dawn, so the Nelson was allowed to loiter on the way. Jack afterwards declared that Ned slept half the time!
Had the first decision, to run to the twin valleys as swiftly as possible, been held to, the two prisoners, guarded on that eastern slope, would have seen the Nelson coming toward their relief.
At the same time, on landing, Ned and his companions would have been confronted with armed Indians demanding immediate surrender. This would not have been according to the notions of the boys on the aeroplane, as they had figured that Jimmie and Jackson would be able to keep out of the hands of the Collins gang.
The 23d dawned slowly, with the Nelson loitering over the great brown and green map of South America and the boys tiring their eyes looking for the glistening planes of the aeroplane. The captives were provided with food, but it was decidedly cold on the mountainside when night came.
All that day and all that night the guards lay in wait in sequestered places, waiting for the Nelson. Although his only hope of immediate rescue lay in the arrival of the Nelson, Jimmie wished every minute of the time that Ned would in some manner be warned away from that dangerous locality.
Just before dawn of the 24th Jimmie, who had fallen into a light slumber, felt Jackson pulling at his arm.
"Wake up!" the man whispered. "There is a light in the sky!"
Jimmie was on his feet in an instant. Away off over a parallel ridge to the east, a ridge not so high as the one on which they stood, and which formed only a slight elevation in the general slope, a single light twinkled and swung up and down in the half light between night and morning. "That's the Nelson, all right!" Jimmie declared. "Ned is coming! Good old Ned! Now, what can we do to keep him from being murdered?" the boy added, tearfully.
"I give it up!" replied Jackson. "All we can do is to give them some signals and tell them to keep away."
Jimmie sprang out to one of the guards, who already stood erect, watching the light with his gun in his hand. The guard looked curiously at Jimmie as he advanced, his hands clasping his shoulders, his body shivering as from extreme cold. The Indian was cold, too, so it did not take him long to make out the boy's meaning.
Jimmie next pointed to sticks lying about, and to bunches of dry grass which stood in some of the crevices of the rocks. The guard nodded consent for a fire and Jimmie raced about like mad collecting principally dry grass.
Jackson ran to help him, piling his gatherings all on one heap.
"Make three piles!" Jimmie cried. "I want three fires! Three bright fires! Make three heaps!"
The three heaps grew fast. They were not arranged in a row on a level, but mounted one above another on the slope. Jimmies idea was to so place the fires one above the other, some thing like notches cut in a tree trunk.
The reason for this is apparent. Three fires in a line facing the point signaled to signal "Good News." Three notches cut in a tree trunk, one above another, mean "Important Warning!" Now the question was, would Ned understand that the fires represented warning notches, one above the other, and keep away until some safe plan for landing could be arranged?
If he accepted the signal as "Good News" signs, he would drop down to death. If he read them as Jimmie intended he should, he would sail away and wait for a more favorable opportunity.
When the three fires were going the Indian guards gathered about in order to warm themselves. Jimmie and Jackson hovered near them, too, but they never shifted their eyes from the light in the sky.
The Nelson hovered over the elevation to the east for a second, and then, much to the amazement of the lad, whirled about and shot downward, out of sight. The guards watched the light as long as it showed and then turned to the fires again.
Daylight came swiftly, and a finger of sunlight lay on the crest of the mountains when the' machine was in the air again. It was, perhaps, three miles away, across deep and dangerous canyons which it would require hours of the hardest kind of traveling to cross on foot.
Sailing low, almost touching minor elevations at times, the great airship came on, straight to the spot where the boys stood—where the Indians awaited them with guns in their hands!
In a moment Jimmie saw why this course was being taken. Unless the rascals in the twin valleys had seen the light when it first appeared they would not see it at all, for the bulk of the mountain shut off their view of the rough country over which Ned was traveling.
Ned did not seem to mind the fire signals. Perhaps, Jimmie thought, he had recognized the warning as a "Good News" signal. In that case the boy thought, the end of everything, for them, would come right there!
Moving slowly and softly, with little noise of motor or propeller, the Nelson approached the spot, circled about, and dropped in a little depression just below the place where Jimmie was standing. Then the strangest thing happened!
The boy had expected to hear rifle shots, to see his friends attacked, perhaps murdered before his eyes. But the first one to spring from the machine was the Indian who had given the Boy Scout salute some days before!
The Indians on guard saluted him gravely and stood eyeing the aeroplane critically. No hostile move was made. It was the strangest thing! Where had Ned taken the Indian up, and why had the latter volunteered to render this assistance?
It was no use to wonder, so Jimmie and Jackson sprang toward the machine, grasped Ned by the hand, and swung into seats. The Indian who had piloted the Nelson to the place and prevented an attack by the guards, stood with his arms folded across his broad breast. For a moment Ned grasped his hand. The others followed, with what emotion may well be understood, and the Nelson was away, purring through the sweet air of the morning as if there were no perils at all in life!
Later revelations showed that the Indian, wishing to protect the Boy Scouts, had made his way to the elevation where the Nelson had first dropped down, signaled to Ned, and informed him of the plans of the Collins people. Frank and Jack had been left farther down the slope, as it was feared that the Nelson would not be able to get away with so much weight to carry. It is almost needless to say that the Indian was rewarded for his loyalty to the Boy Scouts, and that he carried back with him enough money to make each of the guards a substantial present.
When the Nelson first rose above the rim of the twin valleys shrill cries came from the direction of the cavern, and half a dozen shots were fired. But all to no purpose. The last the boys saw of Collins and his adherents they were shouting angrily at the Indians, who were rapidly disappearing from sight over the west wall.
After a time the aeroplane dropped down again, and Jimmie's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw Jack and Frank sitting complacently on a rock watching him with grins on their faces. The greeting of the three boys may well be imagined.
"You're a nice bunch!" Jimmie cried, after many handshakes and much pulling about. "We left you on the way to little old N.Y. Where you been?"
"We just took a run in the Black Bear!" was the reply.
"The Black Bear!" repeated the little fellow actually rubbing his eyes to see if he was awake. "Where is the Black Bear?"
"Down in the Madeira river," laughed Ned, "and there's no knowing where she would have been by this time only for the—"
"Cut it out, Ned!" broke in Jack. "Let us break it to him gently. He'll have fun enough with us without getting it all in a bunch!"
Jackson was introduced to the two boys, and then a council of war was held. It was finally decided that Jackson should be taken to Sicuani in the Nelson and left there, with money enough to make his way out. Pedro was found at Sicuani and richly rewarded. He did not return to Lima.
Then Ned was to return for the boys and proceed straight to Asuncion, where the search for the missing cattleman was to be renewed. This programme was carried out. Later the boys met Jackson in New York and royally entertained him at the Black Bear club room and saw that he secured a fine position.
When the Nelson reached Asuncion Ned proceeded directly to the office of the president, taking the boys with him. There the story of the trip was told, and Frank and Jack saw to it that Ned's official position was made known to the head of the republic.
"And so this Mr. Thomas Q. Collins is the man at the bottom of the trouble?" asked the official. "Well, he will be taken care of if he returns here. And this military chief? He shall be sent out of the country!"
It transpired later on that the president had been deceived in the two men, and that Collins had secured the assistance of the general by false statements and by offers of large sums of money in case the cattle concession was taken from Lyman. A good many officials were found to be mixed up in the conspiracy, and there were numerous vacancies in the government service.
"And now," the president said, after the whole truth was known, "the next thing to do is to find Lyman and restore him to his rights."
"It seems to me," Ned suggested, "that this general ought to be able to produce him in Asuncion in a few hours' time."
"It may be so," admitted the official. "At least, we'll see what can be done in that direction."
Lyman was safe in his home in one day. When the general learned that it was the wish of the president that the cattleman should be brought forth, the thing was as good as accomplished.
"It seems to me," Ned said to the boys, that night, "that this thing has been settled without much help from me. All the president needed was to be set right."
"What he needed," laughed Jack, "was the proof that Collins had abducted Lyman, and that he was prepared to prevent his return to Asuncion until his concession had expired. Perhaps you can tell me how all this proof could have been obtained if you had not undertaken the job offered you by the Secret Service men at San Francisco?"
"Of course he can't," Jimmie put in. "Lyman man would have died there in the mountains and Collins would have taken over his property. The president might have been in with the deal at first, but he certainly wasn't willing to stand for such coarse work."
"And when Lyman didn't show up, his heirs would have demanded the property, and then there would have been an international quarrel— perhaps work for gunboats," Frank added. "I think the case was settled just right, and in the right way."
"And what does this Lyman person say?" asked Jimmie.
"Not a thing!" cried Jack. "He just offers Ned all the money there is in the world in the shape of a reward. I should have taken it!"
"I know better," Ned commented. "We don't need his money, any more than we need the half million or so Collins offered us."
"Wonder what Collins will do now?" asked Frank.
"He'll duck!" replied Jimmie.
The little fellow was right. Thomas Q. Collins was heard of no more, either in Paraguay or Peru. When Ned, leaving the others at Asuncion, speeded over to Lima he found Leroy and Mike lounging about the hotel, waiting anxiously for news from their chums. They had been released on the day following Collins' departure, there being no one to press the charge of assault and battery against them.
Now there was work cut out for the Nelson. She carried Ned, Mike and Leroy over to Asuncion and then made two long trips to the little town on the Madeira where the Black Bear lay.
The meeting between the boys and Harry was an enthusiastic one, and the latter pointed with a good deal of pride to the motor boat, good as new and as bright and clean as a new gold piece.
After a few days spent exploring the country up the Beni, the boys started home, their errand satisfactorily accomplished. Jimmie decided to go with Jack, Frank, Harry and Mike in the motor boat, leaving the Nelson to Ned and Leroy.
"One thing I'd like to do," Jimmie said, as the Black Bear lay waiting for the boys, "and that is to go up into that cannibal country and have some fun with the fellows who captured the Black Bear and made the occupants of it look like thirty cents in postage stamps!"
"They never did capture the Black Bear!" yelled Frank. "They tried to, and got dynamited for their pains. That's what they got."
"And of course," tormented the little fellow, "you wished the Nelson had stayed away, and left you all the glory—not!"
"Well," Jack interposed, "we didn't get tied up in a mountain cave by a lot of cheap skates. We never got where we had to let an Indian get us out of a mess."
"Rats!" shouted Jimmie. "Ned would have recognized our fire signals and remained away! We could have gotten off without the Indian."
"You say it well!" laughed Frank. "I think that fire signal was punk!"
And so the lads roasted each other all the way down the Amazon, with the Nelson sailing above them, dropping down at night and, perhaps, changing passengers each day.
"I wish I had the frame of the Vixen," Leroy said, one day. "I could make a fine aeroplane out of it. Shame to have an airship smashed like that!"
Ned pointed to the planes of the Nelson.
"You've got quite a job making this little lady look like new," he said. "Those tent canvas planes look rather cheap."
"I'll have the new planes in place in a week after we get back to New York," said the other.
"And send the repair bill to the government," advised Ned. "It will be paid without a cross word."
At the mouth of the Amazon the Black Bear was taken apart and packed aboard a fast steamer bound for New York. The five boys accompanied her, of course, while Ned and Leroy completed the trip home in the Nelson. When the four reached the Black Bear club room they found Ned there with a mass of letters and telegrams before him.
"Look here, lads," he said, "we've got more trouble on hand. You know about the revolution in China, and all that? Well, there's a lot of gold which belongs to the republic been dumped in the sea, and I've got to go and help get it out!"
"Let 'em get their own gold," Jimmie said.
"But in this case, it is claimed that there was fraud in the shipment of gold, also, that the vessel carrying it was rammed for the purpose of concealing the fraud. Anyway, Uncle Sam wants me to look it up."
"What's he got to do with it?" asked Frank.
"Something connected with the sub-treasury," laughed Ned. "That is all I can say to you about it."
"And how you goin' to get it?" demanded Jimmie.
"By working with a submarine," was the reply.
"Down in the bottom of the sea!" sang Frank.
"Well," Ned said, presently, "figure the thing out for yourselves. Find out if you can get permission to go, and all that. The government will provide the submarine and all the supplies, of course, and land us near the spot we are to search."
But the story of the search for the gold is quite another tale. It will be found in the third volume of this series, entitled:
"Boy Scouts in a Submarine; or, Searching an Ocean Floor."