"I can get you some gasoline—," he said. "A merchant here in town recently bought a launch and as the freight boats do not touch in here often he has laid in a large supply of the fuel. I have no doubt that at my request he will be glad to sell you as much as you require."
This was good news indeed, and the boys hastened round to the house of M. Desplaine's friend. To their unspeakable regret, however, he was absent on a fishing expedition in his launch.
"If that isn't tough luck," exclaimed Billy disgustedly, "what can we do now?"
"Wait till he gets back or else break into his warehouse," said Harry.
"We cannot commit burglary," said Frank, "we shall have to wait."
M. Desplaines invited the party to lunch at his house but as may be imagined they did not eat much. Each was in too much of a hurry to ascertain if the fisherman had not returned. Immediately the meal was dispatched, therefore, they hastened out into the street and here they encountered a strange scene.
A score or more of rough-looking characters had just landed from four ship's boats that lay moored at the small wharf. They had joined forces with the crew of the launch that had aided in the ivory hunt and all were bent on a carouse. The boys were hardly able to speak from excitement when they read on the stern of each of the boats the words "Brigand N. Y."
"Those boats are from Barr's yacht," cried Frank.
"So they are," cried M. Desplaines, "and from some of these men perhaps we shall be able to hear what has happened."
It was an easy matter to get the story from the crew.
The only trouble was they all wanted to talk at once. Bit by bit, however, the boys got the story and learned that the Brigand was sinking with a big hole in her bottom. While the others were talking a tall man, who formed part of the crew that had just landed, beckoned Frank aside:
"Come here, young master," he said, "I want a word with you. You are one of the Boy Aviators?"
"I am!" replied Frank, "who are you?"
"My name's Al Davis; I was a skipper once—but never mind that now. But if you want to make a piece of money out of salvage I'll tell you how if you make it worth my while."
"What is it you have to tell me?" asked Frank.
For reply the man put his hand up to Frank's ear and whispered cautiously.
"Is that worth anything?" he asked after he had imparted the information.
"Well I should say so," cried Frank joyously, and he slipped the man a bill of large denomination.
"I'll buy everybody a drink," shouted Davis, shuffling off.
"Come on, boys, we've no time to lose!" Frank exclaimed the next minute and they hastened round to the house of M. Desplaines' friend.
This time that worthy was at home and greeted them warmly. He had a plentiful stock of gasoline more than enough, he said—and he gladly sold them all they wanted.
In a few minutes the Golden Eagle II's main and reserve tanks were replenished to the full and the boys were ready for a record flight to the wreck.
So far Frank had not divulged to the others what his information concerning the wreck was that he had received from Davis, and he did not now though he felt sorely tempted to.
Amid cheers from the crowd the Golden Eagle II, with all the adventurers aboard, soared once more into the air; but this time headed out to sea. They had not risen a hundred feet before they sighted the wreck, which had struck round a low point out of sight from the town. She lay, a dismal-looking object, heeled over to one side; but Frank saw, to his intense joy, that there was still a feeble curl of smoke coming from her stack.
This meant that the water had not yet extinguished her fires and was favorable to the daring plan he had conceived.
As the Golden Eagle II drew nearer, the figure of old Luther Barr could be plainly seen rushing about on the upper bridge.
He seemed demented with terror.
"Save me! save me! the ship is going down!" he cried in agonized tones, as a few minutes later the aeroplane swung in big circles above his head.
The boys, despite their righteous anger at the wicked old man, yet could not help feeling some pity mingled with their amusement as the old coward ran about the bridge like a crazy man.
"We'll get you off if you'll agree to do something for us," hailed Frank through his megaphone as the aeroplane soared in big circles round the wreck and the distracted old man.
"Anything, anything!" cried back old Barr piteously.
"Will you sign a release for the ivory you stole from us, admitting your theft?" asked Frank.
"Yes, yes, my boys. I'll sign anything, but get me off. I don't want to die like this. Oh this is a terrible end!"
"What are you going to do, Frank?" asked Billy, as the Golden Eagle II, in obedience to Frank's controlling hand, began to drop.
"You see that sand bank that the falling tide has exposed," was Frank's reply.
They all nodded.
"I am going to land there and we can wade through the water to the yacht. I judge the water isn't more than three feet deep at the deepest part."
The landing was made without a hitch—the sand being of the hard-ribbed variety that covers the numerous reefs along the west African coast.
After a short interval of wading the boys stood on the deck of the Brigand, where she hung on the edge of the reef. Frank's sharp eyes noticed that except for her forefoot the vessel was in deep water, as the reef dropped off quite abruptly.
Old Barr received them with almost hysterical joy.
"This is better than I deserve, boys; better than I deserve," he kept repeating.
"You had better stop your sniveling," said Frank sharply, thoroughly disgusted with the cowardly old rascal. "Where are pens, ink and paper?"
The ivory merchant led the way to the chart-house. "Be quick, boys—she might sink," he stuttered.
The document that Frank dictated, Luther Barr signed and the others witnessed, read like this:
I, Luther Barr, of New York, do here by deed, make over and assign to the Boy Aviators—namely Frank and Harry Chester, William Barnes and Lathrop Beasley, all my share, claim or equity in the ivory which I wrongfully stole from them, which fact I with shame acknowledge. I hereby affix my signature which I admit in the presence of witnesses to be my true manner of signing."
"Now," said Frank, "just to show we are not mean, there is some ivory left in the Moon Mountains, near the spot which is indicated on your map. Sikaso, a faithful Krooman, hid it for us when we could not carry it away. If you find it you can have it."
The old man rubbed his hands in greedy glee.
"Oh thank you, boys; thank you, I'll find it, I'll find it," he croaked, his wrinkled old face wreathed in smiles.
"Lathrop," ordered Frank, "you and Billy take Mr. Barr back to shore. Harry and I will stay here.
"We have a lot to do. Leave the Golden Eagle ashore to be packed and forwarded later. Hurry back in the launch."
"What are you going to do?" demanded Barr.
"I think that your interest in our movements ceased with the signing of this paper," rejoined Frank.
At that moment the Brigand gave a violent shudder as if she was indeed about to go down. With a shrill scream of terror old Barr ran out on deck and hastily clambered down on to the reef. From there he waded with Billy and Lathrop to the Golden Eagle II, and was taken ashore.
"Now then to work," said Frank as the aeroplane winged her way shoreward with their enemy.
"What are you going to do?" demanded Harry in an astonished tone. There didn't seem to be much to do to his mind but wait till they were taken off the stranded yacht by the launch.
"You'll see," replied Frank. "In the first place, Harry, the Brigand was never in any danger of sinking. She is as sound as a dollar."
"Are you crazy?" cried Harry, "why there's a lot of water in her engine-room. She must have sprung a leak as big as a house."
"There are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with cream," was his cryptic remark. "What would you say if I told you that in an hour's time we, will have every drop of water out of the yacht, and that following that we will have her afloat again at high-water."
"That you are a marvel."
"Well, it's going to happen—come with me."
Frank led the way to the engine-room.
"Luckily I know something about marine engines since we took that trip on the gun boat in Nicaragua."
He examined the gauges. They showed sixty pounds of steam still in the boilers.
"Not much—but enough," was Frank's comment. He then turned to two valve wheels on the working platform and started to screw them up.
"What in the world are you doing?" asked Harry.
"Closing the sea-cocks which were opened by Al Davis, the former bos'n, in revenge for a blow Luther Barr struck him when the ship went aground," was Frank's astonishing reply.
"But how in thunder do you know about that?"
"Davis told me while you were trying to get something out of those fellows who were all gabbling at once."
"And when you have closed up the sea-cocks?"
"Then I shall start the centrifugal pumps going to empty the engine-room, and we'll soon have her as sound as a dollar."
Luckily the water had not, as Frank had surmised, reached the fires, and though low there was enough pressure of steam to run the pumps till the boys were able to work in the stoke-hold. Then both boys set to work with a will and soon had the furnaces going full-blast, and the steam gauges registered seventy, then eighty and then one hundred and fifty pounds.
"There, that will do," exclaimed Frank, as, pretty well tuckered out, they threw aside their shovels. "Now we have to wait for the tide and reinforcements."
They had not long to wait.
Of course at the height the tide now was the reef was pretty well covered and it would have been impossible to make a landing in the air-ship, so Billy had chartered the power launch of the friend who had sold them the gasoline.
Ben Stubbs and Sikaso, who had arrived late that' afternoon, were on board the little craft and Ben's loud "Ahoy!" brought the Boy Aviators to the rail on the jump—waving and shouting greetings.
But there were others in the launch, and among them the boys spied several faces of bronzed men who looked thorough seamen. M. Desplaines, who was in the launch, explained that they had formed part of the crew of a steamer that had been wrecked down the coast some weeks previously. They had been waiting for a ship and were willing to work their passage home: to New York. Among them was their captain, a good seaman and a former yacht skipper.
"But—but," said Frank amazedly, as the men piled on board and the boys all shook hands madly with everybody. "We can't take this yacht—it isn't ours, we have no right."
M. Desplaines held out a piece of paper; smiling as he did so. It was covered with writing in Luther Barr's cramped hand and was a characteristic document. Stripped of its legal phraseology it was an agreement to the effect that if the boys would make no salvage charges for saving the yacht, they could have her free of cost to sail back to New York.
"But," said Frank, "how did he know we intended to save her?"
"'The man Davis got boisterously drunk and when arrested admitted that the yacht was in no danger and that he had flooded her stoke-hold out of revenge," explained M. Desplaines.
"In that case, why does not Mr. Barr come back to New York on her?" demanded Frank.
The consular agent smiled.
"He thinks he is on the track of more ivory and has already engaged part of an expedition," he replied. "To tell you the truth, his anxiety to save expense on the yacht has had quite as much to do with his loaning her to you as anything else. He expects you to pay the crew. If you wish to go back to New York on this yacht I will have your aeroplane dismantled and forwarded by freight."
"Well," laughed Frank, "will we, boys?"
"I should say we will!" came in a chorus.
"And steam back to old New York?"
As Frank had anticipated, at flood-tide the yacht was backed off under her own power and then came the time for farewells—and warm ones they were. To Sikaso the boys presented a rifle and an automatic revolver as the noble old fellow would not hear of taking money. The last glimpse they had of their black friend, as the yacht headed due west for America, he was standing gloomily in the stern of the launch—one hand on his faithful axe and the other raised against the blue sky as if in benediction.
"Well," said Frank, as the distance shut out the picture, "we are bound for home at last."
"What ever will they say when they hear of our adventures?" cried Harry.
"And the recovery of the ivory?" chimed in Lathrop, "my father's business is saved. We must cable from the Canaries of our success."
"And the narrative of George Desmond and our own experiences with the Flying Men?" chimed in Billy.
"Oh, you'll have to can that rarebit dream!" cried Harry.
"I will not!" exclaimed Billy indignantly. "I'm going to print it."
"On the funny page maybe. I'd like to see the newspaper that would publish such a yarn."
Alas for poor Billy! Harry was right.
Nobody would believe his strange tale and last he grew tired of telling it, and even to hardly credit it himself.
As for George Desmond's time-yellowed pages they repose in the Smithsonian Institute, and after a learned wrangle between savants of all countries—lasting many months—it was agreed that the poor explorer must have lost his mind and that the narrative of the Flying Men was the offspring of a brain crazed by suffering.
"It's a strange termination to our adventures to be steaming home on Barr's yacht," said Frank, after a long pause in which they had all gazed back at the fast dimming shore of the Dark Continent.
"I should say so," cried Lathrop. "It's as near as I ever want to get to him, too."
"Same here," joined in Billy, "but I don't suppose we shall ever hear from him again."
But Billy was wrong.
The boys did hear from Luther Barr again and in an extraordinary manner. The malevolent old man was to be the cause of some surprising adventures in which the boys at the risk of their lives were once more pitted against powerful enemies.
With what flying colors they emerged from their dangers, difficulties and adventures will be told in the next volume of this series—"THE BOY AVIATORS' TREASURE QUEST; or THE GOLDEN GALLEON."