Chapter XVII. Using Boy Scouts for Bait!
 

Alarmed by the swift approach of the motor car in the tunnel, Jimmie and Jackson took to their heels and made swift progress toward the east entrance, throwing the searchlight about and keeping their eyes out for some hiding place as they ran.

Before long it became evident that they could not long maintain the pace they had taken. The motor car was gaining on them rapidly, as they knew by the steady approach of the clamor which the engines were making.

"Gee!" cried Jimmie, at last. "No use! I've got to drop in somewhere!"

Jackson was as ready to stop running as was Jimmie, so they drew up against the wall and Jimmie shut off the light from his electric candle.

"Do you think they saw that light?" asked Jimmie, pushing close to the rock wall. "I hope not."

"Probably not, as there was always an angle between us," was the whispered reply, "but their light is coming around that angle now. Stand close!"

It was of little use to stand close.

Under the great lamps every crack and crevice of the tunnel walls was in plain sight to the occupants of the car. The two fugitives might as well have attempted concealment under the limelight in the center of the stage of a Broadway theatre!

Jimmie's hand was on his automatic as the car halted in front of him. Jackson saw what was in the boy's mind and laid a hand on his arm.

"None of that!" he said.

"Well, I'm not goin' to be--"

Jackson forced the revolver out of the boy's hand as he brought it out of his pocket.

"They've got us," he whispered, "and will be only too glad of an excuse to shoot us down in cold blood."

"Well!"

This from Thomas Q. Collins, who sat in the front seat, looking at the two as if he could bite them in pieces!

Jimmie looked sullenly toward his automatic, in Jackson's hand, and said not a word. Jackson stepped forward.

"You've got us!" he said.

"You bet we have!" gloated Collins. "Where did that Nestor boy go with the man he picked up by the fire?"

"Did he get him?" asked Jimmie.

"Yes, he got him, worse luck!" was the reply. "Where did he go with him?"

"Don't know," replied Jimmie.

"I'll find a way to make you know!" gritted Collins. "Do you fellows know what it is to be hungry?"

"Honest," Jackson cut in, "we don't know where Nestor went with Lyman. When he left us, he was not certain that he could get him. Thought Lyman might not want to go away with a stranger on such short notice."

"Oh, what's the use?" demanded one of the others. "The fellow has gone back to Asuncion. That's easy to figure out. Who set you boys at work on this case?" he added, in a moment, at a whisper from his seat-mate.

"Ned set me at work," Jimmie answered.

"Yes, but who set him at work?"

"I'll tell you," Jackson said, with a smile of satisfaction on his face, "the United States government set Ned at work. You'd better watch out how you butt up against the Secret Service men."

"That's just what I told you!" sneered Collins. "You wouldn't believe me. Now what do you think?"

The speaker left his seat in the machine and walked over to where Jackson was standing, the revolver still in his hand.

"Give me that gun!" he demanded.

Jackson passed it over without a word of protest.

"Now your own gun," Collins demanded, extending his hand.

"I have no gun," was the reply. "You know that very well."

"I thought you might have stolen one since leaving the cow country," snarled the other. "There is no knowing what kind of property you light-fingered gentlemen will acquire."

"You're a liar, Collins," Jackson said, coolly. "You know I never ran off the cattle which were missed. I believe you stole them!"

Collins advanced angrily toward the speaker, but one of his company drew him back.

"Cut it out!" he said. "There will be plenty of time later on."

"What are you going to do with us?" asked Jimmie.

"You'll see!" Collins replied. "I wonder how you would like a game of chase-the-bullet? Similar to the one you gave me not long ago?"

"Like it fine," Jimmie grinned, "if it didn't do me no more harm than it did you. Never touched you!"

"It may be different in your case," Collins threatened.

After consulting together in whispers for some moments, the men loaded Jimmie and Jackson into the crowded motor car and put on the reverse movement. In half an hour, the progress being slow, they came to the valley where the campfire was still burning. Here they all alighted.

Half a dozen Peruvian Indians of vicious appearance now came forward, and Collins gave them instructions in an undertone, after which the two captives were led away to the cavern in which Lyman had been sheltered up to the time of the arrival of the Nelson. One of the Indians remained outside while the others hastened away.

"Well," Jimmie said, as he looked gloomily at the discouraged Jackson, "what do you think of this? I'd like to push the face of that Collins person in so it would mix with the back curtain."

"We're in for it!" moaned Jackson.

"Aw, what can they do to us?" demanded the little fellow.

"They can keep us here until we die of starvation," replied Jackson. "I've had a turn with starvation, and know what it's like."

Jimmie reached under his coat and brought out a can of beans.

"Here," he said, "get busy on this."

"They took mine away when they searched me for a gun," said Jackson.

"Buck up!" advised Jimmie. "We've got to figure out some way to give them the slip. What?"

"Yes, I suppose so!"

Jackson had counted on getting back to civilization without further difficulties, on the arrival of the Nelson, and now he was completely discouraged. Jimmie sat on the floor of the cavern and eyed him quizzically.

"Ned will come back after us," the little one said, presently. "You put your bloomin' trust in Ned, an' you'll come a four-time winner out of the box. I know. I've been out with him before."

"But how will he ever find us here?" asked Jackson.

"How did he ever find Lyman?" demanded the boy. "You hush your kickin' an' leave it all to Ned. Guess he knows enough to get us out of this sink of iniquity! That boy eats 'em alive!"

"I can't see why they should keep us here," Jackson remarked, presently, prying off the top of the can of beans with his pocket knife. "Why don't they go back to Asuncion and look after that cattle concession?"

"Because they've got some one there to look out for it for them," replied the boy. "They're waitin' here for Ned to come back an' get us, if anybody should ask you," he went on, his cheerful smile not at all matching the serious import of his words. "This Collins person has cards up his sleeve, an' he wants to get hold of Ned. He's set his trap with us for bait."

"You're a cheerful little cuss!" grinned Jackson, beginning to see the dangerous side of the situation. "And what are we going to do when Ned comes back? Let them soak him?"

"Not so you could notice it," was the reply. "When Ned comes back we'll be out at the other end of that tunnel, an' he'll swoop do in in the Nelson an' pick us up, an' we'll be back in little old N. Y. before you can say scat."

"But how can we--"

The entrance to the cavern was darkened for a moment and then the flashily-dressed form of Collins made its appearance.

"What's that about getting back to little old N. Y.?" he asked. "When do you start for Manhattan Island?"

"You heard, then?" asked Jackson.

"Of course."

"Well?"

"Well, we'll see that you don't get away until this Ned comes back after you. We need him in our business."

"He'll land Lyman at Asuncion before you see him again," Jimmie said.

"Not a doubt of it," was the sullen reply, "but don't you ever think we haven't got people there who will look out for our interests. Lyman won't be at liberty long, and your Ned will come back here to get what's coming to him."

"Is that so?" exclaimed the boy, putting on a bold front, but inwardly fearful that the situation was a tragic one.

Leaving the captives with this cheering (?) information, Collins went back to his companions, leaving the Indian still on guard. For a time the Indian stood stolidly in front of the cave, then, looking carefully about to see that he was not observed by his employers, he faced the opening and uttered one English word:

"Prepared."

Jackson opened his eyes in amazement, but Jimmie saw an extended hand and sprang forward. The Indian's right hand was extended toward the boy, palm up, the thumb and little finger meeting across the palm and crossed, the remaining fingers straight out.

"You mean, 'Be prepared'?" Jimmie asked.

"'Be prepared,"' repeated the other, like one rehearsing a lesson.

"Gee!" laughed the boy. "Here's a Boy Scout lingerin' in little old Peru! Now wouldn't that stop a clock?"

"You just wait a minute," Jackson said, hopefully. "I think I can talk with this chap a little in Spanish."

Then followed a great picking of words to match gestures, and gestures to explain words, during which the full salute of the Boy Scouts of America was often repeated by the Indian. Then Jackson said:

"He says that there were Boy Scouts down here six months ago, and that he guided them through the mountain passes to the headwaters of the Beni river. From there they went through to the valley of the Amazon in a boat--a steam launch."

Jimmie reached under his waistcoat collar and produced his Wolf badge, pointing to it with his finger inquiringly. The Indian shook his head.

"Not Wolves," the boy said, in a moment. "Let's see if they were Black Bears."

When a Black Bear badge which belonged to Jack Bosworth was shown the Indian still shook his head. Then he pointed to the sky and whirled his hand around significantly, finishing with a waving, flying motion.

"I see!" cried Jimmie. "They were Eagles!"

"This ought to help some," Jackson observed, his face growing more cheerful.

"Of course it will," replied the boy. "Ask him if he wants to get out of this blasted country and go to New York. We'll take him if he'll get us out on the east slope before Ned gets back."

Jackson talked with the Indian again, but did not seem to be able to come to terms with him.

"He doesn't want to commit himself," the ex-cattleman said. "We'll have to wait until he thinks it over."

The Indian seemed moody and sullen for the next few hours. When dawn came and the little fire which had blazed in the cavern all night went out, he was called away and another native placed on guard.

"That settles it," Jimmie said. "We lose!"

"I'm the losenest feller you ever seen," said Jackson. "I never won a bet in my life. You're unlucky to get dumped in a mess with me."

About the time Ned and Lyman landed in Asuncion the boys in the cavern began looking for his return. They were not permitted to leave the cavern, but they watched the eastern sky intently every minute.

They watched the sky, too, during the long days when Ned was in prison at Asuncion. Late on the afternoon of the 21st, as the reader knows, Ned searched the eastern slope for them but they did not see him. On the morning of the 23d they were taken from the cave and placed in full sight on the eastern slope, where they would be sure to be seen from the sky. They did not know what to make of this at first, but directly, when they saw Indians, heavily armed, stationed in hiding places all about them, they understood.

Jimmie had expressed the situation exactly. The cowards were baiting their trap for Ned with his friends.

Unless some means of warning him could be found, Ned would drop down to his death if he landed to rescue the ones he had left behind.