The Aeroplane Boys on the Wing - Aeroplane Chums in the Tropics
by John Luther Langworthy
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Aeroplane Chums in the Tropics



The further trials and triumphs of the venturesome aeroplane lads are set forth in a particularly thrilling manner in the third volume of this series, now on sale everywhere, and which is entitled, "The Bird Boys Among the Clouds; or, Young Aviators in a Wreck."



























or, Aeroplane Chums in The Tropics

* * * * *



"But the Bird boys won the prize of a silver cup!"

"What if they did? It was by a hair's breadth, Mr. Smarty!"

"And their monoplane was proven to be faster than the big biplane you built, Puss Carberry!"

"Oh! was it? Don't you be too sure of that, Larry!"

"Didn't it land on the summit of Old Thunder Top ahead of you and Sandy, in the race that afternoon? Tell me that!" and Larry Geohegan bristled up to the recognized bully of Bloomsbury, while a dozen fellows clustered around on the deck of the big power boat, listening eagerly to this war of words.

They were on their way home from a very exciting game of baseball that had been played at Cranford, across the lake. And after ten innings of hot work the nine from Bloomsbury had won. But not until they had changed pitchers, upon tying the score in the ninth, after coming up from behind.

Puss and Larry both wore the uniform of the home players, and there were others on the boat who also belonged to the team. In fact, the staunch vessel had been placed at the disposal of the baseball club for this day, by Commodore Elliott, the rich owner.

Larry had never been one of the adherents whom Puss could call upon to back him up when he tried conclusions with a hostile faction; in fact, Larry had always been an admirer of Frank Bird, who was recognized as the most persistent rival the bully had ever encountered in his whole career since coming to Bloomsbury.

Puss allowed a contemptuous expression to take possession of his face, and even shrugged his broad shoulders, after a nasty fashion he had, that often angered the one he was arguing with more than words could have done.

"Aw! rats!" he said, in a disagreeable, rasping voice. "Everybody knows that I'd won that same race only for trouble with my engine. Frank was lucky, just like he generally is when he goes in for anything. Look at him today, being called in to pitch in the tenth! We had 'em badly rattled, and they were on the toboggan sure. Yet Frank, the great hero, gets credit for winning that game. Didn't the Bloomsbury crowd cheer him to the echo, though, and want to ride him on their shoulders? Wow! it makes me sick, to see such toadyism!"

"What's all this big noise about, fellows? Didn't I hear my name mentioned?" asked a tall lad with a frank face and clear brown eyes, as he pushed forward.

It was Frank Bird himself, who had been talking with his cousin Andy, and several other fellows, in the bow of the launch, and by accident heard the voices that were raised in dispute.

Percy Carberry, known among his comrades simply as "Puss," did not flinch when he found himself face to face with the boy he detested so thoroughly. They had never as yet actually come to blows; but Puss believed that his muscular powers were far superior to those of his more slender rival, and just now he was in a particularly bitter frame of mind.

"Oh! so you're there, are you?" he sneered "I was just telling your good friend Larry here that I considered you a greatly overrated substitute pitcher; and that luck had as much to do with our winning that game today as anything you did."

Frank Bird laughed in his face.

"Sure," he declared, cheerily. "I was a mighty small factor in the victory, for I only played in one short inning. If I'd faced those hard hitters of Cranford nine times I reckon it'd be hard to tell what they'd have done to my poor inshoots and curves."

"But you held them in that inning, Frank, you know you did!" cried Larry.

"Mere accident, my boy. Happened to be the weak end of their batting list!" observed Frank, as if determined to agree with his enemy, and thus spike his guns.

"Is that so?" demanded "Elephant" Small, who did not happen to be on the nine, because of his customary slow ways. "Perhaps you'll be saying that dandy two-bagger you whanged out, that brought in the winning run, was also an accident?"

"Well, I must have just shut my eyes, and struck. I seem to remember hearing a sound like a shot, and then they all yelled to me to run; so I did, going on to second in time to see Peterkin gallop home," and Frank looked as sober as a judge as he said this. The others saw the joke, however, and, led by Larry, burst out into a laugh that made Puss and his loyal backers scowl.

"If that bingle was an accident, don't we wish we had a few more players who could shut their eyes and meet Frazer's terrible speed balls and curves in the same way!" one fellow exclaimed.

"So say we all of us!" another cried.

Puss realized that the majority on board the Siren were against him. But he was not given to taking water; even his enemies, and he had many in Bloomsbury, could hardly say that Puss was lacking in a certain kind of grit; while stubbornness he possessed in abundance.

So he just shut his white teeth hard together, and looked scowlingly around the bunch of fellows. And many of them felt a little chill when those cold gray eyes rested upon them; for they knew of old what happened when Puss Carberry made up his mind to mark a boy for future attention.

Frank still stood there by the side of the boat, smiling. Perhaps his very apparent unconcern served to make the other still more angry. There had been bad blood between these two lads for a long time, and more than once it threatened an eruption, which somehow or other had up to now been stayed.

Although some weeks had passed since the much-talked-of race between the rival aeroplanes, piloted by these two boys, in which Frank took his little craft up to the lofty summit of Old Thunder Top ahead of Puss in his biplane, as narrated in the first volume of this series, entitled "The Bird Boys; or, The Young Sky Pilot's First Air Voyage," the latter had never ceased to feel ugly over his defeat.

As usual he had what he considered a good excuse for his arriving second; but few persons ever knew how Puss and his helper Sandy had tried to injure Frank's airship when it was directly beneath them, by deliberately dropping a sand bag, taken along, singularly enough, as "ballast," but with this very idea in view.

"Seems to me you've gotten the big head ever since you happened to drop on that rocky plateau on top of the mountain just three little seconds ahead of me, Frank Bird!" he said, with a steely glitter in his eyes that those who knew him best understood to mean coming trouble.

"Oh! I hope not, Puss," replied the other, with a smile. "I give you my word my hat fits me just as comfortably as ever. It was a close race, and the one who got there first hadn't much to crow about, for a fact. We happened to be lucky not to have any trouble with our new little Kinkaid engine, that was all."

"Huh!" grunted his cousin Andy, shaking his head, and scowling at Puss in turn. "But we had plenty of other sorts of trouble, all the same, sand bags full of it, in fact. They just rained down on us; but then Frank knows how to check up his engine suddenly, and the storm passed by without any hurt!"

Some of the fellows, who happened to know what this sly reference on the part of the hotheaded Andy meant, began to chuckle. Of course such a thing would only serve to make Puss more angry. He chose to believe that they were all only trying to bait him.

Frank in particular came in for his dark looks. And Larry, who had once run in the same company as Puss, so that he knew his whims better than many others, took occasion to give Frank Bird a sly nudge in the side, as he whispered:

"Look out for him, Frank; he's getting near the danger point, sure!"

But Frank did not have to be warned. He had grown tired of warding off this ever threatening danger of a broil with Puss Carberry. Like his cousin Andy, the other had no father; and his wealthy mother had long since given up in despair the idea of controlling the headstrong lad. So that Puss had his way, whenever he wanted to do anything out of the ordinary.

Because Mrs. Carberry was one of his father's patients, and Dr. Bird esteemed her very highly, Frank had postponed the reckoning just as long as he could endure the insults of the bully. But he believed the last ditch had been reached, and was determined to no longer raise a hand to avert the threatening storm.

Puss had turned when Andy spoke, to flash a look in his direction. But it had no effect upon the other, who could be as reckless at times as the next one. Indeed, Frank often had to curb the impatience and daring of his chum.

"Oh! that's what sticks in your craw, does it, Andy Bird?" demanded Puss. "Just because Sandy happened to drop that ballast, thinking we might make better time if we lightened ship, you choose to make all sorts of nasty insinuations about us wanting to knock you out! Shows where your mind is. Another fellow wouldn't ever let such a fool notion get a grip on him. And you'd better put a reef in that tongue of yours, my boy, unless you want to have it get you into trouble."

Andy flared up at once, and would have replied; but Frank calmly stepped in between the two, as though he claimed first right.

"Neither of us have charged you with intentionally trying to disable our aeroplane by dropping that sand bag, Puss," he remarked quietly. "All we say is that it was a queer coincidence you wanted to get rid of your ballast just when we were walking up on you hand over fist, and about to pass under you, to take the lead. That's all!"

Again there was a low laugh from among the boys who stood around listening. To them it was a rich treat to see the recognized bully of Bloomsbury baited to his very face in this characteristic way; and they were enjoying it hugely.

"Well, let me tell you it ain't all, not by a jugful!" exclaimed Puss, his face taking on a purple hue, as it always did when he became enraged. "Both of you fellows have got to stop speaking about that sand bag dropping, or there's going to be a licking in store for you. See?" and he thrust his face close to that of Frank as he said this. Larry Geohegan fairly held his breath. "Now it's coming; don't I know the signs?" he whispered to the boy next him.

Frank continued to stand there, close to the side of the speeding launch. They were about half way across the deep lake at the time. Evening was coming on, for the sun had just reached the distant rugged horizon in the west.

"Do you refer to me when you say that, Puss?" he asked, with that same queer little smile on his face—a look that mystified the other, who could not understand what it meant.

"Yes, both you and that loud-mouthed cousin of yours. Just because luck favored you, and you won that blooming race by a head, you think I can't manage an aeroplane as well as you. Huh! perhaps you don't know that I'm going to take my machine with me when I go down to the cocoa plantation we own along the Amazon, and use it exploring where a white man has seldom been seen. You can just stay here and grow up with the country, while I'm doing great stunts. But as long as I stay here I'm going to stop this talk about trickery and low-down dodges. You're responsible for most of it, Frank Bird. I warn you what's coming to you." "Perhaps," said Frank, pleasantly, "you would be kind enough to tell me also when this awful punishment is going to fall on my poor devoted neck?"

"Any time, hang you! Right now, if you say another word!" roared Puss, doubling up his fists, and making ready for one of his well known and feared bull rushes, that had brought him a speedy victory many a time.

"So? That's comforting; and with all these good fellows around to see how you wipe up the deck with me. Suppose you begin the swabbing act, Puss!" and Frank pretended to throw himself in a position of defense.

The other gave utterance to a hoarse cry of rage, and lowering his head after the manner of a bull, jumped forward. But the agile Frank simply stepped aside; and unable to check himself in time, Puss Carberry shot over the side of the power boat, disappearing in the clear waters of Sunrise Lake with a great splash.

"Oh!" shouted his crony, Sandy Hollingshead, standing there as if petrified; "and Puss can't swim a single stroke, either!"



"My goodness, what a splash!"

"Served him right, that's what!"

"He's gone under, fellows! Dove just like a big frog!"

"Stop the boat! He'll drown!"

Half a dozen were shouting in unison, as the boys crowded to the side over which the bully had pitched when Frank avoided his forward rush.

But Frank heard only that startled exclamation from Sandy Hollingshead:

"Puss can't swim a single stroke, either!"

With Frank Bird to think was to act. The two things were almost synonymous in his mind. Forgotten was the fact that the imperiled lad had been endeavoring to strike him in the face at the time of his submersion in the waters of Sunrise Lake.

Not a single word did he utter, but throwing off his coat, he made a leap over the side of the boat, already slowing up as the power was cut off.

"Frank's gone back after him!" cried one.

"And he'll get him, too," another hastened to say; for they understood that when the leader of the team known as the "Bird boys" attempted anything he usually got there, as some of them said "with both feet."

Meanwhile Frank was swimming with all his might toward the spot in the foamy wake of the boat, where he knew the unfortunate Puss must be battling for his life.

It seems strange that occasionally a boy may be found who has never taken the trouble to learn how to swim. In the country this is a rare occurrence; which would make the neglect of such an athletic fellow as Puss seem more remarkable.

He was threshing about in the deep water like a cat that has fallen overboard; and managing to keep partly afloat after a fashion; though it would have been all over with him long ere the power boat could be turned around and arrive at the spot where he struggled, gasping for breath, and sucking in much water.

Frank was wise enough to understand that it is always desirable to approach a drowning person from the rear, so that a grip may be taken before the would-be rescuer's presence is discovered. Once let those frenzied fingers clutch hold of him, and the chances of a double tragedy would be good.

So Frank was keenly on the watch as he swam toward the splashing and gurgling that announced Puss Carberry's fight for his life.

He could see him by now, and never would Frank be apt to forget the look of absolute terror he discovered upon the agonized face of the bully. Puss had detected the presence of some one near by, and was trying to shout, as well as stretch his appealing hands out, though not with much success.

He actually went under while Frank looked; and the heart of the would-be rescuer almost stood still with a terrible fear that that was the end.

But he kept on, and in another moment a head once more bobbed up, with Puss threshing the water frantically. Once he had gone down. According to what most people said, he would possibly vanish twice more, and after that never rise again.

If anything was to be done, there was no time for delay. Frank was within ten feet of the struggling figure when it came up. He immediately dove, and managed to rise to the surface behind Puss. Then, just as the other was floundering beneath the surface of the agitated water again, Frank caught hold of his sweater close to his neck, and held on with might and main.

He had a serious job of it, for the half-drowned lad made a desperate attempt to turn around, doubtless with the intention of throwing his arms around his rescuer. This was just what Frank was desirous of avoiding. He simply wanted to keep the head of Puss above water until the boat could come and willing hands be stretched down to relieve him of his burden.

So he kept treading water and fighting Puss off as best he was able. It was no easy task, since he still had his baseball shoes on; and swimming in one's clothes is always a difficult proposition. But Frank knew no such word as fail and continued to strive, keeping one eye on Puss and the other on the approaching power boat.

"Steady now, Puss!" he kept saying, again and again, trying to instill some sense in the head of the frantic boy, who still believed he must be going down again. "Keep your breath in your lungs and you'll float! Don't kick so; I'm going to hold you up till the boys come. It's all right, Puss; you're safe!"

All the same Frank was mighty well pleased when the launch did swing close alongside and half a dozen hands reached out to clutch hold of them both.

"Puss first, fellows!" he said, with a half laugh. "I can crawl in myself, I guess." But they would not hear of it, so willing hands lifted him up as soon as the other dripping figure had been deposited in the bottom of the boat.

Frank made light of the adventure, after his usual style.

"Oh, come, let up on that!" he remarked, when some of the fellows were patting him on the back and calling him a hero and all such things that were particularly disagreeable to Frank. "It was just a cinch to me, you know. I'm half a water spaniel, anyway. Besides, if it hadn't been for the way I riled him, Puss wouldn't have fallen overboard. Drop it, please."

By the time the boat reached the landing near the dock where the lake steamer touched, Puss seemed to have discharged his cargo of water, swallowed unintentionally.

He made his appearance, with several cronies clustered about him. Frank was not the one to hold a grudge. Besides, he had come out of the affair with flying colors and had nothing to regret. So he strode up to Puss at once, holding out his hand.

Every boy on board crowded around, eager to see how the bully would behave, for they knew his natural disposition and wondered whether any sort of miracle had been wrought in his disposition because of his recent submersion.

"I hope you're feeling all right now, Puss," Frank said, pleasantly. "I wanted to ask your pardon for treating you so roughly; but knowing you couldn't swim, I was afraid that if you closed with me we'd both go down."

"But you struck me once right in the face, you coward!" exclaimed the other, as he put his still trembling hand up to where a bruise of some sort could be seen.

"Yes, I admit it," returned Frank, quickly; "and that was what I wanted to apologize for. You grabbed me and it was the only way I could break your hold. I've been told by life savers that often they have to strike a man and knock him senseless to save themselves from being dragged down. You must understand that it was no time to be particular. I had to save myself in order to help you!"

The other stared hard at him. Evidently Puss had not yet entirely recovered after his close call. At any rate it was positive that he could not understand how he actually owed his very life to the speedy action of this boy whom he hated so bitterly.

They saw him shake his head, much as a dog might that is worrying a rat.

"Well, you only undid your own dirty work. You pushed me in and then you got cold feet. For fear that I'd drown and you'd be hung you jumped in to do your usual grandstand act of hero! Didn't I hear these softies calling you that right now? No, I don't want to touch your hand. Keep your friendship for those who can appreciate it. There's a long account between us that's going to be settled some fine day."

And with these ungrateful words Puss Carberry strode off the boat, surrounded by his cronies, who were doubtless pleased with the course of things.

"Well, did you ever hear of such base ingratitude in all your born days?" exclaimed Larry Geohegan, making a gesture of supreme disgust.

"And to think of the skunk saying Frank pushed him in!" echoed Elephant, "when he actually risked his life to save the cur. Ain't I glad now I didn't carry out my first impulse and jump after Puss, even before Frank went. Why, maybe he'd have even said I tried to drown him!"

The idea of that proverbial slow coach of an Elephant ever doing anything on the spur of the moment was really too much for the rest of the boys and a general roar went up. "Don't bother your heads about me, fellows," remarked Frank, quietly, when the laughter had ceased again. "That was just about the kind of treatment I should have expected to get from Puss Carberry. Still, I'm not sorry I did it. Life would seem very tame without that schemer around to try and liven things up for me. But I hardly expected him to accuse me of pushing him in when all I did was to step aside and avoid a blow at his hands. Forget it, please."

He walked off with his cousin Andy, who had been boiling over at the time the rescued Puss made his astonishing accusation.

"Wouldn't that jar you some now?" remarked Andy, after his customary fashion.

"I suppose you're referring to the way Puss turned on me after I went and got my baseball suit wet just to give him a helping hand?" laughed Frank, good naturedly. "Oh, I don't bear any malice. Perhaps he was still a little stunned by that knock I gave him. But I thought he was going to get his arms around my neck, you see, and then it would be all up with us both. It worked, too, for he was as limp as a dishrag from that time on. Remember it, Andy, in case you ever jump over after Puss."

"Me after that snake? Why, hang it, I'd see him in Guinea before I'd ever lift a hand to save him! I tell you I'd—I'd—" stammered the indignant Andy.

"I don't believe it of you," declared his cousin, quickly. "You may think you'd stand by and see him drown, but that's all gammon. I know you too well to believe you're half as vindictive as you try to make out. But did you hear what he said about going down there to South America, visiting a plantation his mother partly owns and taking his biplane along with him?"

Andy was all excitement now.

"Sure I did," he said. "And ten to one he learned somehow that we thought of going down in that region for another purpose. It would be just like Puss and that sneak of a Sandy Hollingshead to try and beat us out. That fellow wouldn't mind a trip to the other end of the world if he thought he could get your goat, Frank. He hates you like poison. Pity you didn't feel a cramp just when you were swimming to him—not enough to endanger your own life, you see, but sort of make you stop short."

"Shame on you, Andy," remarked Frank. "I hope I'll always carry myself so that I won't be afraid to look at myself in a glass. But what do you know about that place—didn't he call it a cocoa plantation or something of the kind?"

"Yes," replied the other moodily; "I was told that his mother owned two-thirds of some such place along the Amazon or somewhere down there. But let them go. It's a tremendous big country and there isn't the least danger that we'll ever butt into them, if we should decide to take a run down."

"Still," observed the taller lad, thoughtfully, "you never can know. I've heard travelers say that sometimes the world seems to be very small; when you meet your next door neighbor on the top of some Swiss mountain. Puss may know nothing about your plans and this is perhaps only a coincidence, as they say. Since he has had such poor luck getting to the top of our mountains around here he wants to try his hand on those poor South American Andes."

Andy's father had been a professor in one of the colleges, who, having taken up aeronautics, had made many balloon voyages in quest of scientific information, so that his name had become quite famous. Then, about a year before, he had been lost when attempting to solve the air currents on the Panama Isthmus, where the government had thirty thousand laborers digging the big ditch.

Nothing had ever been heard of the professor from the day he started from the Atlantic side of the isthmus, intending to cross the mountains and land on the Pacific beach. And it was becoming a positive mania in the mind of Andy, who lived with his guardian, Colonel Josiah Whympers, to some day go down there and follow in the track of his lost father, in the hope of discovering his sad fate.

It was with this idea in mind that he had united his forces with Frank's inventive genius and helped build the monoplane with which they had won the race to the top of the neighboring mountain, during Old Home Week at Bloomsbury.

And every day he was thinking more and more of what strange things the future might have in store for him, if he ever started on that exploring venture.



"How about coming over tonight?" asked Frank, as the boys halted at the gate of Dr. Bird's place, where Andy had gone to get his wheel, since he lived some little distance away.

"I'd like to first rate, Frank, because there are some things I want to talk over with you. But I promised Colonel Josiah to get at his books tonight and straighten them out. It'll take me all evening, I reckon."

"Oh, well," remarked Frank, "see you in the morning anyway. This breeze will have worn itself out by then, perhaps, and if we feel like it we can take a little trip somewhere in the 'Bug,' as you like to call our dandy little aeroplane."

"I hope so," replied Andy, eagerly. "It's been some days now since we were up, and I'm more than curious to find out if that new arrangement of yours is going to help us any in getting a quick start."

"Does the colonel still persist in having old Shea sleep outside the shed?" asked the other, as Andy pushed in to get his wheel out from under a side porch, where he had thrust it before starting off to the baseball game.

"Sure," came the reply. "When Colonel Josiah once starts on a thing it would take an earthquake to stop him. I tried to tell him that there was no danger of our monoplane being injured now that those two men who robbed the jewelry store were locked up at police headquarters, waiting for some formality to start them on the road to a ten-year sentence; but he only shook his head and said Shea had nothing else to do and might as well be earning his salt."

The incident to which Andy referred was related at length in the preceding volume of this series, "The Bird Boys; or, The Young Sky Pilots' First Air Voyage," and had created a ten days' sensation in the quiet little lake town of Bloomsbury.

Two rogues had robbed the extensive jewelry establishment of Mr. Leffingwell and carried off the loot in a couple of suit cases taken from the store. Unable to get clear away on account of a quick chase, they had hidden in the vicinity of the town. One of them, named Jules, had been an aviator at some time in his near past over in France, and learning that the Bird boys had built a monoplane, which was even then ready for a flight, they had attempted to steal the same, with the intention of giving their pursuers, who were hunting the woods for them, the laugh.

But their well laid plans were spoiled through the vigilance of the Bird boys and the quick wit of Frank in particular. The consequence was that both men were eventually captured by Chief Waller and his officers and still languished in the town lock-up, awaiting the day of trial.

"Oh, well!" laughed Frank, as his cousin wheeled his bike out to the front gate, where he could mount better, "it makes mighty little difference, because, from what I've seen of Shea, I imagine he sleeps on his post. I'm glad we didn't let him inside, because, like all Irishmen, he is fond of his pipe and might have set fire to the shed. It's dangerous smoking where there's a lot of gasoline about."

"Of course we've got that Puss Carberry and his mean crony, Sandy Hollingshead, to consider. They tried to injure our machine once and might again, especially after what happened today," said Andy, throwing one leg over his saddle and standing there a minute.

"Oh, I guess not, Andy. They understand that we're keeping tabs of that hangar, with its precious contents. Besides, they've got their hands full of other matters, if what Puss said about that big trip to the Amazon country is true."

The other sighed.

"I only wish I was as sure of going down there as Puss seems to be," he observed. "I don't know how it is, but something queer seems to be drawing me that way. Day and night I have pictures rising in my mind. I've read every scrap concerning the Isthmus and northern coast of South America, until I guess I'm as well posted on such things as one who had been there."

"Yes," said Frank, softly, "and I'm afraid you let your mind dwell too much on that subject, old chum. It's more than a year now since your father disappeared. And the chances of your ever finding what became of him are like searching for a lost diamond in the sand of the seashore. It's affecting your mind, Andy. You look all fagged out. I wish you could cheer up and be something like your old self."

But the other only shook his head sadly.

"I don't believe I ever can, Frank, until I've had my chance to go down there and make a good try to find all that is left of my poor father. Just as you say, it seems almost silly to think that I could ever succeed, but no matter, I've got it arranged in my mind and the colonel is coming around slowly."

"Well," Frank hastened to declare, "you know if it ever does get to the point that you do go down to make that search, I'm with you. My father would never throw any obstacle in the way, I'm dead sure. And Andy, of course we'd take our aeroplane along. Think how many trips we could make in her over country that no one could ever penetrate on foot."

Andy was too full for further words. He simply turned and squeezed the hand of his cousin; but the look of affection which he gave Frank told what was in his mind just then.

Frank watched him go spinning along the road and then with a sigh turned into the house.

The day had been replete with excitement for him. First there was the keenly contested game with their rivals across the lake and a tie in the ninth inning, which gave the Bloomsbury boys a chance to win out in the tenth. His pitching had held the enemy safe, and in their half of the inning Frank had made the hit that brought the game to a conclusion. As a rule the home club took the last chance at the bat, but the Cranford manager had chosen differently on this occasion, for some reason of his own, and with disastrous results.

Then, on the way home, had come that little diversion aboard the launch, when his old enemy, Puss Carberry, in attempting to strike him, had miscalculated and gone plunging into the lake, himself being unable to swim.

Frank had nothing to regret in connection with his leap after the struggling lad and his subsequent saving of Puss. True, the latter chose to crush down the natural spirit of gratitude that should have made him accept the hand Frank offered later. But Frank felt that he could afford to smile at such an exhibition of a small nature.

At the supper table his father and Janet, his sister, just home from boarding school a couple of weeks back, plied him with questions concerning the game. Of course, the girl had been present and had seen her brother carry off the honors on the diamond; but there were lots of things she wanted explained.

And before Frank knew it he was asked point blank what had happened on the way across the lake, for Janet had been aboard another boat, it seemed.

"Marjorie Lee told me she heard that you jumped overboard to save some one, she didn't just know who?" was what Janet said, and the good doctor pricked up his ears as he looked inquiringly toward the boy of whom he was so proud.

Frank turned red and then laughed.

"Oh, pshaw!" he said. "I had hoped that would be kept quiet. But some of the fellows like to talk too much."

"Who was it you jumped over after? They said you held him up until the boat got around—that he could not swim a stroke, and must surely have drowned only for your prompt action. It couldn't have been Cousin Andy, because he can swim nearly as well as you. Tell us, Frank," Janet persisted.

So Frank found himself compelled to relate the whole circumstance. In his usual generous manner he tried to gloss over the conduct of Puss and spoke as though the other had tumbled overboard during a little boyish roughhouse business; but Janet knew of the enmity between the pair, and she could read between the lines.

Frank spent a couple of hours after supper in poring over a book Andy had loaned him. And it might easily be assumed that it had to do with the birds, animals, fauna and inhabitants of that great country lying north of the equator, down in Central and South America.

It was about nine o'clock when his father called to him. The doctor had just come in from a few last visits and looked anxious.

"Frank, I'm in a peck of trouble," he said, with a whimsical smile, "and I wish you could help me out, though I dislike putting you to so much trouble."

"Oh, don't mind that, dad, one little bit; you know I'm only too glad to be of any assistance to you. What's gone wrong now? Machine laid off again and garage closed? But you won't need it till nine tomorrow, will you?"

There was a world of affection in the very way Frank used that word "dad." It might seem disrespectful coming from the lips of many boys, but to the ears of the good doctor it was as sweetest music.

"That's the trouble, Frank. I do need some means of getting around tonight the worst kind. Fact is the car broke down just as I got it in the yard. Same old trouble, and will take an hour to fix it up. And all at once it dawned on me that I had forgotten to take the medicine out to Farmer Lovejoy, which I surely promised tonight. It lies under the seat of the machine. Slipped my mind entirely when I was out. And Frank, there may be a serious turn to that child's sickness unless that medicine gets there within the next hour or so."

"Don't say another word, dad," declared Frank, jumping up and getting his cap. "My wheel is in fine shape and with a good lantern I can make the run in a jiffy. Only too glad to be able to help out. The packet is under the seat in the car and you left that in the side yard? All right, I'm off!"



It did not take Frank many minutes to get started on his little trip.

As he had said, his wheel was in good shape, with neither tire needing any pumping up. And even his acetylene headlight had only to be attached, which task took but a short time.

"I declare!" he exclaimed, as he rested his wheel against the gate and turned back, "that would have been a rough joke on me if I'd gone spinning off and only remembered after I'd almost got there that I forgot to take the package of medicine out of dad's little runabout. So much for having my brain full of that wonderful scheme of Andy's."

He found the medicine, and as the packet turned out to be small enough to be stowed away in one of his coat pockets, Frank so disposed of it. Then wheeling his machine out into the road he took a last look at the lantern, to see that the water might not be dripping on the carbide too rapidly to combine the greatest efficiency. After that he swung into the saddle, starting off with the perfect freedom that proclaims the rider a master of his wheel.

Once he passed out of town Frank made good progress. He had a ride of several miles before him, ere he could expect to reach the farmhouse of Jason Lovejoy, one of his father's oldest customers and friends.

There was no help from the moon, because the sky had clouded up and screened the young queen of the skies. But Frank needed no other light than the brilliant glow that spread out along the road ahead of him coming from his lamp.

It happened that he passed the home of Colonel Josiah Whympers, the retired and lame traveler, in whose care Andy had been left by the will which his father had made before starting on what had proven his last air voyage.

"Guess Andy's gone to bed," he mused, as he saw the house wrapped in darkness, for it was now after half past nine.

Frank cast a glance back toward the big field where the shed stood in which the great little monoplane, in which they had won their victory during Old Home Week, was stored. But he could just barely make it out, owing to the distance and the faint light of the moon coming through the clouds.

Naturally the hearts of both lads went out toward the gallant aircraft which had answered every call made upon it for speed and endurance. It was equipped with an engine of the latest make, weighing only a third as much as the average aeroplane motor and a triumph of modern scientific discovery. Since the Bird boys had constructed that monoplane themselves, after patterns obtained elsewhere, surely they had reason to be proud of their work and the gallant victory which had come to them.

Frank pedaled on, thinking nothing of the trip. He was accustomed to being abroad at night with his wheel, and, indeed, had taken many a twenty-mile run by the light of his lamp alone.

What was there to fear? Bloomsbury was a peaceful community. Rarely did anything occur to indicate that a spirit of lawlessness was abroad. Occasionally the police had some trouble with wandering tramps, but Chief Waller's strong point seemed to lie in that direction, and as a rule hoboes gave Bloomsbury a wide berth. The word had gone out that they made stragglers work when caught there, and nothing could be more horrible in the eyes of these "Wandering Willies."

After passing Andy's home it was not more than twelve minutes before Frank found himself approaching the quiet farmhouse where he was to leave the medicine.

The doctor had told him to ask a number of questions with regard to the little sufferer, and Frank was well enough up in medicine to know what to say when he learned how matters were going.

A big watchdog boomed his hoarse bark upon the night air, as Frank dropped off his wheel at the gate where the mail box was fastened.

"Hello, Kaiser! Good dog! Don't you know me, old fellow? Come here and be friends, Kaiser! It's all right! I'm coming in!"

Frank knew how to use a wheedling voice that a dog instantly recognized as belonging to a friend. Besides, instinct doubtless told Kaiser that any one who had evil intentions would come sneaking around and not in this bold fashion.

At any rate, the big mastiff began to wag his tail, and though he still barked, it was by way of a welcome now. Frank fearlessly opened the gate and walked in. The guardian of the farm came up to him, sniffing, and Frank, without hesitation, rubbed his hand over the shaggy head of Kaiser.

So side by side they advanced to the house. Already a door had opened, showing Farmer Lovejoy with a lamp in his hand. Evidently they had been anxiously waiting for the coming of the good doctor, and were possibly beginning to worry because he had failed as yet to show up with the medicine he had promised.

"It's you, Frank, is it?" asked the farmer, as the lad drew near the stoop.

"Yes, sir," replied the boy, cheerily. "His machine broke down and I had to come on my wheel. But father said it was very important that you have this medicine tonight. He expects great things of it by morning."

"Well," said Farmer Lovejoy, warmly, "that was right nice of you to come all this way on your wheel, Frank. But I guess it's on'y what we'd expect from Doc Bird's boy. I saw ye make that trip up to the top of the mountain in your airship, Frank. I tell ye it was wuth seein'! Won't you come in? The missus'd like to see ye."

"Why, yes, I will; because dad asked me to explain something to you and also get some information about Sue. A few minutes will make little difference," Frank said.

But, although he did not suspect it just then, even seconds came very near being of the greatest importance.

Perhaps he spent all of ten minutes in the Lovejoy home and in that time learned what his father wished to know. The old farmer came to the door with him, shaking hands warmly.

"Once again I say I'm obliged to ye, Frank," he remarked, with feeling, "for comin' away out here to fetch the medicine. It may be the means of savin' our gal to us, who knows? But I've got faith in your father. If anybody kin fetch our Sue around he will. Good night, lad. Kaiser, mind your manners. This is one of the best friends we've got."

"Oh, that's all right, sir," declared Frank, quickly, as he patted the shaggy head of the big mastiff. "We understand each other, don't we, old boy? He knew my voice, because a dog never forgets a friend, and I've played with him many the time. Good night, Mr. Lovejoy. Keep up your spirits. Dad says Sue is going to get over this all right in a little time."

Once again on the road he turned his face toward home. After all, this six or seven-mile run was only a good touch of exercise, and he would sleep all the sounder on account of it. Besides, Frank loved nothing better than to do something for the parent who all his life had been so indulgent to him.

As he pedaled along, keeping his eyes well ahead, so as to glimpse any vehicle that might loom up in his path, he was thinking of what Andy had in mind. While the project was as yet rather uncertain, Frank seemed to feel that his cousin could never be wholly satisfied that he had done his duty by his father until he had spent some time down on the Isthmus trying to get some traces of the lost aeronaut.

"I reckon I ought to know something of Andy's persistence," he said to himself, with a chuckle. "And now that he's got this bee in his bonnet there'll be no peace until he tries the scheme out. Sure I'm with him from the word go. It makes me shiver all over with expectation just to think of what glorious times we two chums might have—hello! there's something ahead, and I'd better slow up!"

It proved to be a farm wagon, pulled by two tired nags, and headed for home, after a day in the town market. The driver was asleep on the seat, leaving to the sagacity of his animals the successful navigation of the road.

Perhaps some movement of the horses or else the bright light of the acetylene headlight falling on his face aroused the man, for he sat up as Frank was about passing.

"Hello! is that you, Frank Bird?" he asked, leaning forward to look closer at the rider of the bicycle.

"Sure; just been up to your neighbor's, Lovejoy's, with some medicine for his Sue," returned the boy, recognizing the farmer.

"How is the gal gettin' on?" called the other, over the canvas top of his seat.

"Fine. No danger, dad says!" answered Frank.

"That's good!" he heard the sympathetic neighbor remark, as he moved on.

Five minutes later and Frank once more found himself approaching the Whympers place. As before, the house was in complete darkness, as if the inmates were long since abed. Frank knew that the old man kept early hours, seldom sitting up, for he read much during the day, having nothing else to look after.

Then, as was only natural, the eyes of the bicycle boy turned once again with more or less affection toward the quarter where he could just dimly make out the long, squat shed out in the field, in which the precious monoplane was stored.

As he did so Frank uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"Why, there's a light over by the hangar!" he burst out. "Now, what under the sun do you suppose that old fool of a Shea can be doing? Oh, my! Look at the flame jump up! Why, as sure as you live I believe the shed's afire! And I can see the figure of a man moving about. This is no accident, but something worse! And it looks as if the little 'Bug' might be going up in smoke in a jiffy unless I can sprawl over the fence here and get on the spot mighty quick!"



"Fire! Fire!"

So Frank shouted, even as he jumped over the fence, and made a bee line for the center of the big field, where the shed lay in which the precious monoplane was stored.

He had hastily leaned his bicycle against the fence as he made the plunge. Nor did he cease to let out constant yells while running across the open as fast as his agile legs could carry him. Twice he tripped over some object and nearly fell, only to recover himself and speed on.

As he ran he kept his eyes upon the low building beyond. In this manner he plainly saw the stooping figure of a man or boy making off in a roundabout way so as to avoid him.

Frank's heart was burning with indignation because of this dastardly attempt to ruin the gallant little airship that had so nobly stood all tests and proven itself a splendid piece of workmanship.

"Oh, the contemptible coward! I'd just like to chase after him and get my hands on him once!" was the thought that passed through his brain.

But he knew he could not. The scoundrel, no matter who it was, must be allowed to escape in order that he turn his attention to the burning shed and try to save the airship from destruction. Once the fire got inside, there was enough of the dangerous gasoline about to insure the speedy burning of the whole flimsy fabric, all but the motor itself.

So Frank kept headed straight for the hangar, trying to shut out the sight of that crouching, fleeing figure. He continued to lift his sturdy young voice in repeated shouts:

"Fire! Fire!"

Those in the house must hear; yes, and the neighbors, too. He might not be able to master the flames alone and single handed, and would need help. Besides, it was only right that Andy, being part owner in the monoplane, should be made aware of its sudden peril.

As he thus drew near the low building he saw that the fire had already gained considerable headway, just as if the incendiary might have used kerosene or some other inflammable fluid, to hasten matters.

Frank's heart grew cold as ice as he contemplated the rapidity with which those hungry flames were crawling up the dry boards that constituted the side of the shed.

But he did not lose his head in this sudden crisis. It was characteristic of Frank Bird that, no matter what the emergency, he was always cool enough to think out the proper thing to be done or else jump at it through instinct.

And Frank had foreseen just some such possible need as this. He even kept several buckets of moist sand handy, where it could be snatched up at a second's warning, knowing that most fires can be smothered, when quenching them with water is out of the question.

"The buckets!" he gasped, as he arrived close to the building, one part of which was now fairly covered with the creeping tongues of ruddy fire. "I must use them on it!"

He had to turn the corner of the shed to get to where they stood. And as he did so he ran plump into a figure that was coming toward him. Just in time did Frank dodge a big fist that shot out. And in that second he recognized in the other Shea, the Irishman who had been hired to keep watch of the shed.

"Hold on, Shea!" shouted Frank. "It's me, Frank Bird. Somebody has set fire to the shed! Grab up a bucket of sand and carry it around here. We can put it out yet if we're busy!"

Shea had evidently only been aroused from a sound sleep by the approaching cries of the boy and was still in a daze. He had discovered the fire, and hearing Frank running toward him, supposed that this must be the one who had done the evil deed.

But he had sense enough to do as he was told now, snatching up one of the sand buckets and following the boy. Frank immediately commenced fighting the flames with a vim. He slapped the wet sand at the creeping fire, and wherever it struck there seemed to come a quick abatement of the conflagration. But it was by this time so extended that as fast as he succeeded in knocking it out in one place it cropped up afresh somewhere else.

His ammunition would not last if this kept up.

"Get busy, Shea!" he cried. "Find something and slap at the fire for all you're worth! Fight it, man, fight it!"

As Frank happened to turn his head to learn what the other was doing he saw something that made very little impression on his mind just then, but which had considerable bearing on the matter later.

A light was speeding along the road, heading away from town, and Frank realized that the firebug had seized upon his convenient wheel and was making his escape.

Later on he might figure out the meaning of this movement. Just then he really had no time to give it a thought, no matter if a dozen wheels were concerned. The fire demanded every atom of his attention.

Shea did get busy. Once he became stirred up, and he proved a valuable helper. He went for the flames tooth and nail, smothered them with his coat, regardless of consequences, after he had slipped that article of wearing apparel off; kicked and tore and fought until it became evident that between them they were certainly making a decided impression on the threatening conflagration.

All this while it seemed to Frank that his heart was in his throat. Not so much because he feared that they would fail to gain the mastery over the fire as that some spark might find ingress to the shed and happen to alight upon a can of the dangerous gasoline.

If such a thing occurred he knew that it would be all over. The hangar must be completely destroyed and, of course, their little darling airship would share in its fate.

So, even though he saw the end of the conflagration in sight, Frank knew he had no reason to breathe easily until every spark had been trampled under foot.

By now he was conscious of loud shouts coming from points near at hand and realized that doubtless Andy as well as others had been awakened by the racket and were coming on the run to assist. Had the safety of the airship depended on their reaching the shed in time, though, its chances would have been next to nothing.

Frank was just stamping on what seemed to be the very last vestige of the fire when Andy came galloping to his side.

"W-what's all this mean, Frank? Where in the wide world did you come from, and who set our hangar afire?" he gasped, almost winded from his exertions, for he had dressed in about a minute, despite his trembling fingers, and was barefooted even then.

"Don't know who did it, but he ran off on my wheel a few minutes ago. I was on the way home—carrying medicine to Susie Lovejoy. Saw flames and gave alarm. Got here on the jump and we managed to get the better of it. But it was a close shave, all right, I tell you, Andy!"

Frank himself had no breath to spare, nor could it be wondered at, considering the recent valiant fight which he had made against big odds.

"So the ornery skunks did try to burn us out, after all!" burst forth the other part owner of the monoplane, bitterly. "Say, where was Shea all this time? What use was he as a watchman?"

"He helped me good and hard at any rate. Only for Shea I'd never have got the better of it, I'm afraid," said Frank, always ready to cover up any little failing on the part of another, though never hesitating to denounce his own shortcomings.

"But just to think of the meanness of it all," continued Andy, shaking his head in the aggressive way he had. "That Puss Carberry ought to be shut up behind bars, that's my opinion straight from the shoulder, and if I could only find out for sure that he was in this I'd get Colonel Josiah to prosecute him to the limit."

"But we have no proof that it was Puss," remarked Frank. "The fellow who stole my wheel went off along the road away from town. And he went licketty split, too, as if he had business over in Shelby or Newtown. Perhaps it was only a hobo. He may have started the fire by accident, and was trying to put it out when I saw him first. Then, when I shouted, of course, he had to scoot."

"What's this?" demanded Andy, kicking some object, and then seizing hold of his foot, for he had forgotten that he had no shoes on.

Frank uttered a cry and picked it up.

"Look here, don't you recognize this?" he asked, as he held a can up.

It was Andy's turn to give vent to a low exclamation.

"Why, it's our kerosene can, Frank!" he said.

"That's what I thought. And it is kept on a bench just outside the kitchen door, isn't it?" demanded the other, quickly.

"That's a fact. And neither of us ever brought it here. Shea, did you ever see this oil can before?" and Andy dangled it before the eyes of the watchman who had slept on his post.

"I niver did the same, sor," replied the man, as he surveyed the can.

"Then that settles it, Frank. The mean skunk grabbed that can and fetched it over here to spray the wall of the shed with oil and making the fire jump."

"True as you live," said the other. "Do you know, I thought I smelled burning kerosene. And that was why the flames kept crawling up everywhere so fast. Well, it was a good job that we saved the place. And ain't I glad I didn't wait just five minutes longer at Lovejoy's place. Nothing could have helped then, and we'd just have to build another airship. But here comes the colonel stumping along, Andy!"



"Heigho! what's all this fuss and feathers about?" demanded the old retired traveler, as he came limping along, with his crutch and cane.

Several neighbors accompanied him, having been aroused by the clamor.

"Same old story, sir," remarked the disgusted Andy, still clutching his bruised toe tenderly. "They've been trying to beat us one way, if they couldn't another."

Frank gave him a nudge.

"Be careful what you say, Andy," he remarked. "There is no proof as yet that any one we knew had a hand in this business. You may get in trouble if you mention names offhand. Go slow now. We'll find out the truth later on, perhaps."

So Andy, taking heed, managed to tell what had happened without directly accusing any one. Nevertheless, it was not difficult for those who listened to guess where his suspicions lay. And perhaps they thought, after all that had occurred in the past, with the hand of Puss Carberry moving the pieces on the chessboard, that Andy was justified in believing as he did.

After a while the excitement died away. The boys had opened the shed and made sure that no lingering spark remained to threaten their beloved little aeroplane with destruction. But it was all right and they feasted their eyes on it, as if they never before realized how precious it had become.

"Getting to be a regular thing, seems to me, these night alarms, boys," remarked one of the neighbors, for not long before they had been aroused in the middle of the night when the two jewelry thieves tried to steal the aeroplane and were baffled in their design by the two boys, sleeping at the time in the shed, so as to guard their flying machine.

"If one watchman ain't enough I'll get three—half a dozen if necessary," declared Colonel Josiah, as he glared at the offending Shea and pounded on the turf with his heavy cane. "But these lads are going to be protected, if it takes my last dollar. I'll get a Gatling gun and train it here, so we can blow the rascals to smithereens if they try such a dastardly job again."

But everybody knew that the genial old colonel did considerable talking and blustering, but was harmless withal.

Shea promised to remain awake the balance of the night. He even went to the house and armed himself with a big horse pistol that the colonel owned and which had many a story connected with its keeping company with the traveler in foreign lands.

"Huh! I've got half a notion to camp right here again, like we did that other time, Frank," said Andy, before they locked the wide doors of the shed. "Here's my cot and blankets, you see, just as I left 'em."

"No need of that, Andy," returned his chum, smiling. "After all this rumpus you couldn't hire that fellow to come back here tonight. He may be ten miles away by now. Wonder if that's the last I'll see of my wheel?"

"Now," continued Andy, "if you're addressing that to me I'd like to prophesy that you'll find the bike somewhere off the road a mile or two away, where the fellow pitched it when he concluded to make a sneak back to town."

"There you go, barking up that same tree again. I never saw such a positive fellow as you are," declared the other, smiling. "Your name ought to be Thomas, for you seem to doubt everything that you can't just understand."

"Well, if not Puss, who, then?" demanded Andy, aggressively.

"I confess that I don't know at this minute," admitted Frank. "But I hope to discover the truth in some way. Remember how that other time, when some one tried to injure us by sneaking in here and cutting the canvas wings of our monoplane all to flinders, I picked up a playing card and we afterwards traced it to the owner?

"Yes," cried the other, instantly, "and wasn't that party Puss Carberry all right?"

"It sure was," laughed Frank. "But forget this thing for now. Perhaps tomorrow we may be able to find some clue that will tell which way the wind blows—it might be the print of a shoe in the earth or something like that. Lots of ways to pick up information, if only you keep your wits at work."

"Yes," returned Andy, "and if it's Frank Bird who's doing the thinking. But perhaps it would be silly in me sleeping out here tonight. I'd better be traipsing back to bed right now, because, you see, I'm only half dressed and it's chilly."

"Good. I'll see you to the house, because I've got to walk home, now that my wheel has gone up the flume," remarked Frank.

"What's the matter with you using mine?" demanded the other. "That plug you put in holds dandy, and there's nothing the matter with it right now. Same old place, under the side porch here. Guess the lamp is on the bum, but you hardly need that. If a cop holds you up, explain what happened."

"All right, I guess I might as well ride as walk. But I hope I get my wheel back. It's nearly new, you know, and cost a heap," Frank remarked, as he dove under the stoop, to presently appear dragging the other bicycle.

"Apply to Puss and Company for further information," called Andy, holding the door open a crack to shoot the words out and then closing it.

Frank, laughing at the obstinate ways of his chum, pushed the machine out to the road and was soon moving along. Evidently he lacked the same confidence in Andy's wheel that he felt in his own, for he made no attempt to speed as he went toward town and home.

Fortunately he met no policeman, who might ask impertinent questions as to just why he was riding after dark without a light. And reaching home he found his father sitting up in his office waiting to hear his report.

Dr. Bird was quite satisfied with what Frank had to say in regard to the condition of the sick girl. He knew that the boy was well up in medicine, even though he had never tried to push him in the least. Frank gave evidence of being what is known as a "natural born doctor," keenly alive to everything pertaining to surgery. More than once he had set broken limbs for dogs and cats and done it in a manner that aroused the warmest praise from his father, who, deep down in his heart, knew the boy had it in him to become a famous surgeon, if he kept along in this path when he came to take up his life pursuit.

Frank believed he ought to tell about the dastardly attempt to destroy the monoplane. And, of course, the good doctor, who always thought the best of people, was horrified to hear his story.

He shook his head sadly after Frank had finished.

"I don't know what people are coming to nowadays," he remarked. "No matter who did that mean act, it was wicked. Man or boy, he ought to be severely punished for it. The rights of property seems to be getting less respect every year. It puzzles me to lay the blame for this spirit at the right door. But things were not so in my young days, Frank. We live in fast times, my boy, fast times!"

Frank thought so himself, as he went off to his room. Imagine his father, some forty years ago, ever dreaming of building an air-ship and speeding through the upper currents, perhaps thousands of feet above the earth, at the rate of a mile a minute! And yet that was what he and Andy had been doing, thinking nothing of the feat, as they became accustomed to its performance.

Fast times, indeed!

Frank did not allow the startling incidents of the night to keep him awake. He knew just how to get a grip on himself and put all these things out of his mind, once his head touched the pillow.

Time enough in the morning to begin worrying about that lost wheel and trying to figure out who the firebug could have been.

At breakfast Frank had to go over the whole story again for the benefit of Janet, who had heard enough about it from the doctor before her brother came down to whet her appetite for more.

Frank could see that she shared the suspicions entertained by Andy. Janet knew Puss Carberry of old and despised him most heartily. At one time he had taken a great liking to Frank's pretty sister, but when she learned what his nature was Janet had cut him dead on the street. And from that day on she had believed Puss capable of almost anything.

"Even after you saved his life yesterday, too!" she exclaimed, indignantly.

"Hold on there, sis," cried Frank, laughing. "You're as bad as Andy, who is ready to condemn on general principles. We haven't got a scrap of evidence to prove Puss guilty. Just as like as not he would show an alibi if we accused him of it, and prove that he was at home all evening. So please don't mention his name to anybody or I may get in a scrape."

"But you're going to find out, aren't you!" demanded Janet.

"I surely hope to, and recover my poor bike in the bargain. Luckily I've got my name and address scratched on the underpart of the frame, if the finder only takes the trouble to look. And now I'm off downtown, to speak to Chief Waller about it."

Ten minutes later Frank dropped off in front of police headquarters. And no sooner had he alighted than the lad discovered that there was a buzz of excitement about the place, for several men were conferring and the chief himself seemed disturbed. He looked eagerly at Frank as the boy came forward and started to relate what had occurred on the preceding night out near the residence of Colonel Josiah Whympers.

Immediately the face of the chief began to light up and an eager glow shine in his eyes. It seemed as though what Frank was telling must have given him a connecting link that he had found himself badly in need of.

"Now we know where he went!" he exclaimed, calling to one of his men. "Go out to Colonel Josiah Whympers', Green, and see what traces you can get of him." Then once more turning to the astonished boy, he went on: "You see, we had a jail delivery here last night. A desperate scoundrel managed to slip away undetected and we only found it out this morning. And the man who got out was your old friend, Jules Garrone, the French aviator, who was caught by the help of the Bird boys and their bully little aeroplane! Get that, Frank?"



"Then it was Jules who set fire to our shed!" exclaimed the boy, astounded.

"None other, you may be sure," replied Chief Waller, nodding his head.

"And made off on my wheel?" continued Frank, beginning to grasp the truth.

"That's just what he did," went on the official. "Found he couldn't steal your aeroplane and was bound to lay his hands on something belonging to the Birds that would carry him out of danger. Glad you came, Frank. I'll just call up all the surrounding towns and ask if a bicyclist has been seen there. I hope you can describe the wheel so they might know it."

"Yes, I even know the number. Besides, I've got my address scratched on the under-part of the frame. But whatever do you suppose Jules wanted to set our hangar on fire for?" Frank asked.

"Huh!" replied the chief; "don't know, unless it was a spirit of revenge. Some of these French rascals have the same nature as the Corsican or the Sicilian and hug the idea of revenge to their hearts."

"Revenge!" Frank cried. "But when did we ever injure them? Oh, yes, I forgot! We chased them off at the time they tried to steal our aeroplane, and they even neglected to take those two suit cases of jewelry with them, so the stolen property was recovered."

"Yes," the chief went on, "and that wasn't all, either. Remember that it was you Bird boys who discovered that they were hiding in the old shack deep in the forest. You saw them near there when you were sailing over that region in your airship and reported to me. And so we surrounded the cabin and nabbed our game. It may be they learned who gave them away, and Jules, on finding himself at large, made up his mind to get even before running off."

Turning to the phone on his desk the chief now started to call up several of the neighboring towns. Some were only six or eight miles away, while others might be double that and more.

Frank knew where the road ran that passed the Whympers place and when finally the police head got Shelby he pricked up his ears. Immediately he saw Chief Waller show signs of sudden interest. A smile crept over his face as though he were hearing news that pleased him. Then he engaged in a hurried conversation with the police official at the other end of the wire, after which he turned to Frank.

"I think I've located your wheel, Frank," he observed.

"Over at Shelby, you mean?" queried the other.

The chief nodded in the affirmative.

"Yes, over at Shelby," he said. "It seems that early this morning a wagon belonging to a countryman coming in to market was stopped by something lying on the road. Getting down, the farmer found that it was a man, badly injured, as if he had taken a header from a wheel. And, indeed, a bicycle was found close by, with some parts of it damaged, as if it had been run at full speed against a rock, sending the rider ten feet away, where he landed on his head and was knocked out."

"Was it my wheel?" asked Frank.

"He described it, for the farmer brought both man and wheel to police headquarters, and there can be no doubt but that it's yours. And the unfortunate rider answers to Jules. Now, I'm going to get an automobile at the garage and go over. If you want to go along I'd be glad to have you, Frank."

"I certainly would," replied the boy, quickly. "I hope the poor fellow didn't go so far as to break his neck. But let me go after a machine for you, chief. I've got an errand at the garage anyhow, as my dad wants a mechanic sent up to potter at his little runabout, out of commission as usual. He's ordered a better car, you know, and is only waiting for it to be delivered. Shall I go?"

"Yes. Tuttle will know which machine I generally use when on official business, for you see the town pays the bill. Be back as soon as you can, Frank."

"Yes, sir," replied the other, hastening away.

The mystery was now solved, and, after all, Puss had been proven innocent on this last count. Frank laughed to think how amazed Andy would likely be when he heard the news.

"I only hope he doesn't happen to run across Puss before I get a chance to open his eyes," he was saying to himself, as he headed for the nearby garage. "Because I really believe Andy is mad enough to challenge our old enemy and throw the accusation in his teeth. Then there would be a high old mix-up, with Puss in the right for once."

It did not take him long to deliver both messages. He saw a mechanic start off to tackle the disabled runabout for the doctor, so he could carry out his round of morning visits by ten o'clock. And then a chauffeur ran a car out of the garage into which he invited Frank to jump.

When they arrived at police headquarters the chief was awaiting them. Evidently he was not at all averse to this delightful spin across country on a fine July morning and with nothing to pay. Official business might sometimes prove worth cultivating.

Presently they were off. Frank, of course, knew every rod of the way. He had more than a few times made the trip over to Shelby on his wheel in company with Andy. And since they had taken to the air they had looked down upon that road for miles, as they whirled along hundreds of feet up, discovering features about the landscape that they had never dreamed of before they had this "bird's-eye view," as Andy delighted to call it, playing upon their own name.

In due time they reached Shelby and drew up in front of the building where the police held forth. The first one to meet their eyes as they entered was a familiar figure seated in a chair and attended by a doctor and a couple of officers.

"It's Jules, sure enough!" said Frank, as, despite the many bandages about the head of the man, he recognized the dapper little French aviator with whom he had had more or less trouble in the past.

And Jules grinned as he saw them. His spirit was not crushed, even though it began to look as though he might be the football of fate.

"It ees ze fortunes of war, messiers," he said, wincing at the pain speech caused him. "And after all, it was ze machine of ze young inventor zat downed me. I am von lucky man not to haf been five thousand feet up in ze air when it occur. Had eet been ze monoplane zat kicked me, pouf! poor Jules he would haf been as flat as ze pancake. As eet is, after I haf serve my time I am yet alive."

Frank found his bicycle badly damaged. In fact, the front wheel was smashed beyond recovery, for it had been driven against some stone at a tremendous pace. Strange to say, the lamp had gone through it all without any apparent damage.

"A few dollars will fix it up, all right," he said, cheerfully. "And I guess I ought to be thankful ever to see it again."

So he placed the wheel in the back of the big touring car. The doctor announced that Jules might be moved without danger if they were careful, and this Chief Waller promised he would be.

"You're giving us a heap of bother, Jules," he said, after the captured rascal had been safety stowed away in the tonneau of the car, with the chief beside him and Frank mounting to the front with the chauffeur. "But this winds you up. I understand your trial comes off tomorrow and you'll soon be snug in the pen."

"Zat was ze knowledge zat urge me to break out," remarked the prisoner, blandly.

"Well," remarked the other, with a tightening of his lips, "we'll make sure you don't get another opportunity, that's all."

Frank watched as they drew near the place of Colonel Josiah. He anticipated that the prisoner would be eager to look across the field to where the shed stood. Nor was Frank surprised to hear him give a low cry.

"Eet is wonderful, ze luck zey haf!" Jules remarked, as he discovered that the hangar had not burned to the ground as he expected, and after that he relapsed into gloomy silence.

Frank had caught sight of Andy passing along the street ahead and entering the Bloomsbury postoffice. So as soon as he could get his broken wheel into the bicycle store, where he left orders for its being fixed at once, he hurried off, in hopes of intercepting his cousin and breaking the great news.

He was just in time to see Andy coming out of the building and staring hard at something he held in his hand. Frank could see that it was a letter and he also noticed that his chum was unusually pale.

"Now I wonder what he's got?" asked Frank, talking to himself, as many boys often do at times. "Looks like a letter, too. Once in a while the colonel asks him to go down when the mail comes in and see if there is an important one for him, which he can't wait for the carrier to bring out. And Andy has got one this time, sure."

A moment later and he came upon Andy, who at sight of his chum showed signs of relief.

"I'm awful glad you came along, Frank," he said, seizing the other by the sleeve; "I was at your house and they told me you had gone downtown somewhere. Then, as the mail was in, I remembered Colonel Josiah was expecting one of his letters from London, and so I dropped over. But there was nothing for him. Mr. Guthrie handed me out this and said he guessed it was for me. Oh, look where it is from, Frank! Do you think—can it be possible that it means some news, after all this time, from my father?"

Frank saw it was rather a bulky letter and that the postmark showed a station in South America. Remembering all that had passed between them in connection with this country he understood the cause of Andy's great emotion.

"I was almost afraid to open it, Frank," said the other, brokenly.

"Well, do it now," remarked Frank, and Andy tore the end off hurriedly.

He appeared to read hungrily for a minute, and then gave a cry of amazement.

"Oh!" he said, taking in a big breath, "how strange! how wonderful!"



Frank Bird could restrain his curiosity no longer.

"What is it, Andy?" he asked, as he laid an affectionate arm across the shoulders of his cousin.

The other turned his eyes upon Frank, and there was something in their depths that stirred the other tremendously.

"Is it about your father, Andy?" he demanded, eagerness plainly showing in his whole manner; for he understood what a hold the subject had on his chum.

Andy nodded, and as soon as he could command his quivering voice, said:

"Yes, nothing more than a letter from the grave, I fear! See, Frank, written in his own dear hand. Oh! to think of it, that at least three months ago he was alive, even though a prisoner, the sport of fate."

"A prisoner!" echoed Frank, astonished. "Whatever can you mean? Did he fall into the hands of some of those strange Indians we have been reading about, who have their homes around the headwaters of the Orinoco River in Venezuela?"

This time Andy shook his head in the negative.

"It is stranger than that—almost beyond belief!" he replied. "My poor father has for months been imprisoned in a great valley, surrounded by impassable cliffs. Don't you remember something of the sort occurred in one of Captain Mayne Reid's books, where the young plant hunters found themselves prisoners in that way? But here, Frank, look for yourself."

"Where does the letter come from, in the beginning?" asked the other, quietly, wishing to advance by slow degrees, so that he could understand everything.

"A town in Columbia, called Barranquila," replied Andy, readily enough. "I'm not sure, but I think it lies at the mouth of the big Magdalena River, and is upon the coast. You know I've just devoured the map of that region for months, and every name is familiar to me."

"Besides this queer communication, which you say is from your father," Frank went on, "there seems to be another letter?"

"That is from Senor Jose Almirez. Read it, Frank, and you will begin to understand."

The letter was in a crabbed hand, apparently unused to writing in English, though grammatically correct. And this was what Frank saw:

"To Senor Andrew Bird:

"I received the enclosed from a correspondent and customer, one Carlos Mendoza, located in the vicinity of Manangue, a town about one hundred and fifty miles up-river.

"He is a grower of cocoa in the rich valley. I do not enclose his letter, because it is written in Spanish. But it simply says that he found the written communication close to his plantation house one morning in April of this year. At first he could not understand how it came there. Then, upon having the writing translated, he noticed that the missive was attached to what seemed to be a little parachute, or balloon, made up of a fragment of silk belonging to a balloon. Knowing that I had spent several years in Washington, in the service of my country, he finally concluded to send the same to me. I have the honor to transmit it to the address given in the communication.

"With respect, and expressing a willingness to help you all I may, Senor Andrew Bird, believe me to be most sincerely yours,

"Jose Costilena Almirez."

Frank read this amazing communication, and then turned to stare at his cousin.

"No, don't stop yet!" exclaimed the trembling Andy. "Read the other, the missive that Carlos Mendoza picked up on his cocoa plantation, in the valley of the Magdalena River."

And so Frank again turned his attention to the enclosure that had been sent on by the friendly merchant of Columbia.

It seemed to be a sheet of thin but pliable bark from a tree, and in some respects reminded Frank of birch bark, which he had often used in lieu of paper, when in the woods. The juice of some berry had afforded ink; and doubtless the college professor had easily made a pen from a bird's quill. And this was what Frank read, a small portion of the communication being missing, as though it had received rough usage somewhere, en route:

"Whoever finds this, I pray that it be forwarded to Andrew Bird, in the town of Bloomsbury, State of New York, U. S. A. In my balloon I was carried away by a sudden storm while crossing the Isthmus of Panama. As near as I can calculate I was swept some three hundred miles, more or less, in a south-easterly direction, much of the time above the clouds. Then something happened, and I felt myself falling. Giving myself up for lost, I awoke from a swoon to find myself in the branches of a tree, with the wreck of the balloon near me. A merciful Providence has saved my life, but I fear only to prolong my agony of soul. For months now I have been a prisoner in a remarkable valley, a sink-pit, enclosed by inaccessible cliffs. Many times have I struggled to climb to their top, but only to meet defeat.

"All this time I have sustained life by means of fruits that grow in abundance in this tropical valley. In the hope that I may manage to communicate my horrible condition to the outside world I have made scores of small parachutes, and when the breeze at the top of the cliffs appeared favorable, send them up by means of hot air, each carrying a message to my son. God in His infinite wisdom only knows if one of these will ever reach him. I shall continue to have hope, and sustain life as long as my mind remains—

"Professor Philip B——"

When he had finished this astonishing document Frank turned to his chum.

"Oh! what a remarkable thing! I never heard its equal in all my life. To think that your father has been alive all these months, though a prisoner in that cliff-bordered valley! But Andy, don't you see that now nothing is going to keep us from going down there, and finding him? Here is the clue you wanted, only instead of discovering his sad fate you are going to rescue him, and bring him home again!"

They reached out and gripped hands. There was something in that act to stamp the more than brotherly feeling existing between them.

"Do you think we could do it, Frank?" exclaimed Andy, more than ever willing that his clear-eyed chum should take the lead in this most eventful moment of his whole young life.

"Sure I do," answered the comforter, readily. "Didn't we conquer one battery of cliffs that were said to be insurmountable, when we sailed in our dandy little monoplane up to the crown of Old Thunder Top, and snatched that silver cup for a prize? Make up your mind, my boy, that that was just meant to get us in practice for better things. The time's come for us to show what we're made of. And instead of a silver cup, the prize this time will be—"

"My father's life!" murmured Andy, tears in his eyes, as he again squeezed that faithful hand which held his so firmly.

"That's right," Frank continued. "We can go straight to this fine Spanish gentleman, Senor Almirez, and get all the points he knows. From there we'll get up-river to this valley town and visit Carlos Mendozo on his cocoa plantation. Depend on it he'll be able to set us on the track, somehow or other."

"Oh! it seems like a strange dream," said Andy, as he raised the piece of bark to his young lips, and passionately kissed it, regardless of the fact that some one passing the post office might notice him.

"Well, you want to wake up right away then," remarked Frank, smiling, "because we've just got to get a hustle on us, if we're going to start on this wonderful trip. Here's where our aeroplane is going to help us out. Just imagine how we can pass over regions where it would be next to impossible for us to navigate on foot—mountainous country, tropical valleys where wild beasts roam and poisonous snakes abound; and jungles where the natives have to cut a passage foot by foot, I understand, with their machetes. And to think that we can sail freely over it all, looking for that spot where that bark letter came from."

"Come, let's go home!" exclaimed Andy. "I'm sure Colonel Josiah will be tremendously interested in what we've learned. He'll be the most disappointed man in the whole U.S. just because he's so crippled that he can't go along. For many years he's traveled in every country under the sun. Perhaps he might tell us more about the interior of Colombia than we know right now."

Accordingly they hurried away. Frank came near forgetting the news he had been bearing at the time he met his cousin. But then, that was hardly to be wondered at. The capture of the escaped robber was of minor importance when compared with this wonderful business connected with Professor Bird.

And just as Andy had said, Colonel Josiah was tremendously interested when he heard about it, and with his own eyes looked upon the letter that had come from a living tomb.

"Somebody pinch me," he said, looking at the boys almost helplessly. "I surely must be asleep, and dreaming this. It seems too strange to be true. Philip alive all these months, and in that terrible situation, while we were enjoying the good things of the world up here. It is monstrous! You must go down there with as little delay as possible, Andrew. Who knows but what it may be your blessed good fortune to rescue your dear father, and bring him back with you. Money—all you need; and the prayers of an old man go with you."

"But think," said Andy, uneasily, "this was written three months ago. What may not have happened in all that time? There must be beasts in that sunken valley, and doubtless many poisonous reptiles. Perhaps—"

"Hold on!" cried Frank, interrupting him, "don't you go to imagining all sorts of terrible things. He had been there at least nine months already. Nothing had happened to injure him. He does not even hint at such a thing; but says he means to sustain his life as long as he retains his proper mind. Your father was not in the least like you, Andy. He possessed a wonderfully well-poised mind, and laid out his plans with deliberation. Believe me, the chances are ten to one he is still there, and waiting. We are going to find him. Don't allow any other idea to take possession of your head. Find him, do you hear?"

Of course that sort of talk had its effect on Andy, and he braced up. They began to make preparations and plans without delay. The monoplane was taken apart, and carefully crated. Then Frank ran down to the city and returned with several duplicate parts, secured at an aeroplane agency he knew of, and which would come in handy in case of an accident in that strange country, where they must depend entirely on themselves.

For two days there was a tremendous lot of bustle around both homes. Dr. Bird had no longer any valid excuse for refusing Frank permission to go, since it was a mission of mercy that beckoned the boys on to that South American mountainous region. Besides, he had always been very fond of his elder brother, who had done so much to make the name of Bird famous, in college and out; even though the professor had thought best to make his old friend, Colonel Josiah, his boy's guardian instead of the physician.

The aeroplane had been shipped to New York, to be put upon a steamer sailing for Maracaibo, in Venezuela, and which they expected to take also. From this port they would have to make their way to the mouth of the Magdalena River by means of some smaller craft. But with virtually unlimited means to back them, the boys did not fear but that they could overcome any difficulties that might arise in their path. Indeed, Frank had a disposition that would never allow anything to balk his plans, if it were at all within the power of human nature to accomplish results.

The last thing they heard, just before leaving Bloomsbury, was that Puss Carberry and his crony, Sandy Hollingshead, had gone away, taking their biplane along; and it was said that they expected to do wonderful stunts with their airship somewhere in the South. But our two boys were too deeply interested in their own fortunes to give more than a passing thought to the flitting of their rivals. Besides, it would not seem that there could be one chance in a thousand that they would ever run across Puss and Sandy in all that great country, lying south of the Caribbean Sea, and north of the mighty Amazon.

And one morning Frank and Andy said goodbye to those whose best wishes were wafted after them, taking train to New York City, so as to go aboard the steamer, that was scheduled to sail that P.M.



"Oh! how glad I am to think we've arrived at last!"

Andy uttered these words as he stood at the rail of a small but staunch steam yacht, of rather ancient vintage, that he and Frank had leased when arriving at Maracaibo, the city on the bay of the same name, from whence so much of Venezuela's coffee is shipped to the States.

It had belonged to some Englishman who, becoming stranded at this South American port while on a globe circling trip, was forced to let it go; and the agents gladly secured a crew for the adventurous young Americans, who were bound up the Magdalena River for some unknown purpose.

"Yes," observed Frank, who leaned on the same rail close beside him, "there's the town of Barranquila, all right. We've navigated the five hundred miles in this little steam craft" with only a few break-downs of the machinery, and just two days' delay. And the second step on our journey comes to a close."

"The third ought to take us to that valley town up the river; ain't I right?" asked the anxious Andy.

"Sure. As near as I can make it, Magangue must be not over two hundred miles upstream. With good luck we can cover that in a couple of days," returned Frank.

"But why do you say good luck?" demanded his cousin, suspiciously.

"Oh! well, we are now in the land of tomorrow, you remember," laughed Frank.

"You mean where they put off everything they can, saying 'no hurry; plenty of time, senors all; the world was not made in a day'? Is that it?" Andy went on.

"Partly. I was also thinking of another thing," admitted Frank.

"Yes, and I bet I can give a mighty good guess what it is, old fellow."

"Perhaps you can," Frank said, a little gravely. "Suppose you spout it out."

"You've been pondering on what old Quito was telling us, in his broken English, about this little revolution that has been slumbering around the region of the Magdalena River of late. You have a hunch that we may just be unlucky enough to run across some of those ragged chaps, who want to upset the present government of Colombia, and seat some old ex-president fossil in the chair again."

"Anyhow, you're a fine guesser, Andy," admitted Frank.

"Then that's what was on your mind?" asked the other. "I've noticed you frown a whole lot lately, which is unusual for my cheery pard, Frank."

"Oh! well," observed Frank, calmly, "I acknowledge the corn. I was wondering whether we might be troubled by any of those fellows while we were navigating this river. I hope they'll just let us severely alone. But you know, Andy, just as Colonel Josiah warned us, these Colombians don't have any too much love for Yankees, ever since that Panama rebellion, when, as they believe, our government openly assisted the people of the Isthmus throw off the Colombian yoke, because we just had to control that strip of territory for the canal."

"But why should the revolutionists want to stop us?" insisted his cousin. "We are here only on a private quest. We seek no gold mines or cocoa plantations. Our only object is a mission of mercy. And besides, if these men are in open rebellion, they ought to be glad to see anybody that their government detests, Yankees or not."

"Well," pursued Frank, with a cautious glance around, "I was thinking that some of the people in Maracaibo took altogether too much interest in our little monoplane. A lot of dark-faced men hovered around, and asked many questions. They have heard and read much about the wonderful things being done today in aeronautics, but have seen little or nothing."

"Frank, that's so!" exclaimed Andy, quickly. "Please go on. You are gripping my attention a heap, I admit. Tell me, do you suspect that some of those same chaps may have been Colombians?"

"I'm dead sure of it, and more than that, old Quito gave me to understand he believed they were connected with the junta that was pushing this new revolution in Colombia."

"Yes?" Andy said, in a way that plainly invited further explanation.

"Stop and think," Frank continued. "Suppose now, they conceived the idea that it would further their forlorn cause a heap if they only had such an airship, and could threaten to drop all sorts of bombs into the camps of the government troops!"

"Good gracious! I suppose that is so. I never thought of that, Frank!"

"You know how nervous and excitable these people are? Don't you think they'd give the government the worst scare it ever had? And couldn't they make almost any sort of terms of settlement?" Frank demanded.

"Yes, that's true. Then you imagine those fellows may have planned to somehow steal our aeroplane, and that they've sent word ahead to their friends along the Magdalena to look out for us?" was Andy's startling question.

"Partly that. But don't you see, Andy, the little monoplane would be utterly useless to them unless they had some one who knew how to run it?"

The other gave utterance to a low whistle, just to indicate how his feelings had been stirred.

"You mean they might try to capture us in the bargain, and force us to operate the aeroplane? But suppose we did, what would hinder our just sailing away, once we got up in the clouds? Tell me that, Frank?"

"Oh! well, I'm not looking that far ahead," smiled the other. "Possibly they might only let one of us go up, keeping the other as a hostage. Or perhaps, there might be a fearless revolutionist officer aboard with that one, sworn to shoot at the first sign of treachery. But don't let us cross a bridge until we come to it."

"That's right. We don't want to fall into the hands of any ragtag revolutionists, and we won't! We've got our work laid out for us, and nothing must stop us. All the same I'm going to keep an eye on that precious case in which our aeroplane is boxed, as well as the engine. And Frank, I'm carrying the little shooting-iron Colonel Josiah gave me as a parting present."

"Ditto myself," replied the other, in a low tone, as one of the crew happened to draw near, while getting ready to make a landing at the wharf. "He told us that down in this country it paid to be ready for trouble; though I keep hoping we're not going to have anything of the sort."

It was toward noon when they steamed up to the town that nestled near the mouth of the great Magdalena River. Of course it was hot, for the season of the year made that a foregone conclusion; but both boys were dressed in suitable attire, and also wore pith helmets calculated to allow a current of air fan the head.

Andy was shivering in a mixture between hope and fear. In this city they would meet the writer of that pleasant letter, Senor Jose Almirez. What if he had received further intelligence from the correspondent up-river since the time he had mailed that letter? What if some terrible news awaited the coming of the daring young Yankees, who had ventured to this faraway country, bent on solving the mystery connected with the long absence of Professor Bird?

But, as usual, it was Frank who buoyed his spirit up. There never was a chum more devoted to the interests of his friend. Andy would long since have succumbed to his fears but for the cheery words of the other.

It was said to be the rainy season in this country that lay in the tropics. Up on the high mountain peaks lay snow the year around; but in the low lands, and along the valleys and sides of the uplifts, they could grow coffee, cocoa, bananas pineapples, oranges and all manner of similar products.

A small crowd gathered at the wharf to see the little steam yacht come in. Perhaps the former English wandering owner had been here before, and some of them even recognized the vessel.

Scowls greeted her passengers when it was discovered that they were not English but Americans. Frank and Andy paid little heed to these frowns. They did not mean to leave the boat, if so be it were possible to have Senor Almirez come aboard. And for that purpose they had written to him ahead of time, telling him how they expected to reach Barranquila about a certain date.

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