Chapter XVIII. The End of a Long Chase
 

On the 23d of August the Nelson, with Ned, Jack, and Frank on board, was sweeping over the mountains and valleys of Bolivia and Peru toward the twin valleys in which Jimmie and Jackson had been left. Plenty of provisions and gasoline had been taken on at the Hamlin storehouse, and the lads were well equipped for a week's cruise in the air.

They did not urge the aeroplane to its fullest speed, nor did they remain in the air longer than a couple of hours at a time. It had been decided to strike the eastern slope of the range just before dawn, so the Nelson was allowed to loiter on the way. Jack afterwards declared that Ned slept half the time!

Had the first decision, to run to the twin valleys as swiftly as possible, been held to, the two prisoners, guarded on that eastern slope, would have seen the Nelson coming toward their relief.

At the same time, on landing, Ned and his companions would have been confronted with armed Indians demanding immediate surrender. This would not have been according to the notions of the boys on the aeroplane, as they had figured that Jimmie and Jackson would be able to keep out of the hands of the Collins gang.

The 23d dawned slowly, with the Nelson loitering over the great brown and green map of South America and the boys tiring their eyes looking for the glistening planes of the aeroplane. The captives were provided with food, but it was decidedly cold on the mountainside when night came.

All that day and all that night the guards lay in wait in sequestered places, waiting for the Nelson. Although his only hope of immediate rescue lay in the arrival of the Nelson, Jimmie wished every minute of the time that Ned would in some manner be warned away from that dangerous locality.

Just before dawn of the 24th Jimmie, who had fallen into a light slumber, felt Jackson pulling at his arm.

"Wake up!" the man whispered. "There is a light in the sky!"

Jimmie was on his feet in an instant. Away off over a parallel ridge to the east, a ridge not so high as the one on which they stood, and which formed only a slight elevation in the general slope, a single light twinkled and swung up and down in the half light between night and morning. "That's the Nelson, all right!" Jimmie declared. "Ned is coming! Good old Ned! Now, what can we do to keep him from being murdered?" the boy added, tearfully.

"I give it up!" replied Jackson. "All we can do is to give them some signals and tell them to keep away."

Jimmie sprang out to one of the guards, who already stood erect, watching the light with his gun in his hand. The guard looked curiously at Jimmie as he advanced, his hands clasping his shoulders, his body shivering as from extreme cold. The Indian was cold, too, so it did not take him long to make out the boy's meaning.

Jimmie next pointed to sticks lying about, and to bunches of dry grass which stood in some of the crevices of the rocks. The guard nodded consent for a fire and Jimmie raced about like mad collecting principally dry grass.

Jackson ran to help him, piling his gatherings all on one heap.

"Make three piles!" Jimmie cried. "I want three fires! Three bright fires! Make three heaps!"

The three heaps grew fast. They were not arranged in a row on a level, but mounted one above another on the slope. Jimmies idea was to so place the fires one above the other, some thing like notches cut in a tree trunk.

The reason for this is apparent. Three fires in a line facing the point signaled to signal "Good News." Three notches cut in a tree trunk, one above another, mean "Important Warning!" Now the question was, would Ned understand that the fires represented warning notches, one above the other, and keep away until some safe plan for landing could be arranged?

If he accepted the signal as "Good News" signs, he would drop down to death. If he read them as Jimmie intended he should, he would sail away and wait for a more favorable opportunity.

When the three fires were going the Indian guards gathered about in order to warm themselves. Jimmie and Jackson hovered near them, too, but they never shifted their eyes from the light in the sky.

The Nelson hovered over the elevation to the east for a second, and then, much to the amazement of the lad, whirled about and shot downward, out of sight. The guards watched the light as long as it showed and then turned to the fires again.

Daylight came swiftly, and a finger of sunlight lay on the crest of the mountains when the' machine was in the air again. It was, perhaps, three miles away, across deep and dangerous canyons which it would require hours of the hardest kind of traveling to cross on foot.

Sailing low, almost touching minor elevations at times, the great airship came on, straight to the spot where the boys stood--where the Indians awaited them with guns in their hands!

In a moment Jimmie saw why this course was being taken. Unless the rascals in the twin valleys had seen the light when it first appeared they would not see it at all, for the bulk of the mountain shut off their view of the rough country over which Ned was traveling.

Ned did not seem to mind the fire signals. Perhaps, Jimmie thought, he had recognized the warning as a "Good News" signal. In that case the boy thought, the end of everything, for them, would come right there!

Moving slowly and softly, with little noise of motor or propeller, the Nelson approached the spot, circled about, and dropped in a little depression just below the place where Jimmie was standing. Then the strangest thing happened!

The boy had expected to hear rifle shots, to see his friends attacked, perhaps murdered before his eyes. But the first one to spring from the machine was the Indian who had given the Boy Scout salute some days before!

The Indians on guard saluted him gravely and stood eyeing the aeroplane critically. No hostile move was made. It was the strangest thing! Where had Ned taken the Indian up, and why had the latter volunteered to render this assistance?

It was no use to wonder, so Jimmie and Jackson sprang toward the machine, grasped Ned by the hand, and swung into seats. The Indian who had piloted the Nelson to the place and prevented an attack by the guards, stood with his arms folded across his broad breast. For a moment Ned grasped his hand. The others followed, with what emotion may well be understood, and the Nelson was away, purring through the sweet air of the morning as if there were no perils at all in life!

Later revelations showed that the Indian, wishing to protect the Boy Scouts, had made his way to the elevation where the Nelson had first dropped down, signaled to Ned, and informed him of the plans of the Collins people. Frank and Jack had been left farther down the slope, as it was feared that the Nelson would not be able to get away with so much weight to carry. It is almost needless to say that the Indian was rewarded for his loyalty to the Boy Scouts, and that he carried back with him enough money to make each of the guards a substantial present.

When the Nelson first rose above the rim of the twin valleys shrill cries came from the direction of the cavern, and half a dozen shots were fired. But all to no purpose. The last the boys saw of Collins and his adherents they were shouting angrily at the Indians, who were rapidly disappearing from sight over the west wall.

After a time the aeroplane dropped down again, and Jimmie's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw Jack and Frank sitting complacently on a rock watching him with grins on their faces. The greeting of the three boys may well be imagined.

"You're a nice bunch!" Jimmie cried, after many handshakes and much pulling about. "We left you on the way to little old N.Y. Where you been?"

"We just took a run in the Black Bear!" was the reply.

"The Black Bear!" repeated the little fellow actually rubbing his eyes to see if he was awake. "Where is the Black Bear?"

"Down in the Madeira river," laughed Ned, "and there's no knowing where she would have been by this time only for the--"

"Cut it out, Ned!" broke in Jack. "Let us break it to him gently. He'll have fun enough with us without getting it all in a bunch!"

Jackson was introduced to the two boys, and then a council of war was held. It was finally decided that Jackson should be taken to Sicuani in the Nelson and left there, with money enough to make his way out. Pedro was found at Sicuani and richly rewarded. He did not return to Lima.

Then Ned was to return for the boys and proceed straight to Asuncion, where the search for the missing cattleman was to be renewed. This programme was carried out. Later the boys met Jackson in New York and royally entertained him at the Black Bear club room and saw that he secured a fine position.

When the Nelson reached Asuncion Ned proceeded directly to the office of the president, taking the boys with him. There the story of the trip was told, and Frank and Jack saw to it that Ned's official position was made known to the head of the republic.

"And so this Mr. Thomas Q. Collins is the man at the bottom of the trouble?" asked the official. "Well, he will be taken care of if he returns here. And this military chief? He shall be sent out of the country!"

It transpired later on that the president had been deceived in the two men, and that Collins had secured the assistance of the general by false statements and by offers of large sums of money in case the cattle concession was taken from Lyman. A good many officials were found to be mixed up in the conspiracy, and there were numerous vacancies in the government service.

"And now," the president said, after the whole truth was known, "the next thing to do is to find Lyman and restore him to his rights."

"It seems to me," Ned suggested, "that this general ought to be able to produce him in Asuncion in a few hours' time."

"It may be so," admitted the official. "At least, we'll see what can be done in that direction."

Lyman was safe in his home in one day. When the general learned that it was the wish of the president that the cattleman should be brought forth, the thing was as good as accomplished.

"It seems to me," Ned said to the boys, that night, "that this thing has been settled without much help from me. All the president needed was to be set right."

"What he needed," laughed Jack, "was the proof that Collins had abducted Lyman, and that he was prepared to prevent his return to Asuncion until his concession had expired. Perhaps you can tell me how all this proof could have been obtained if you had not undertaken the job offered you by the Secret Service men at San Francisco?"

"Of course he can't," Jimmie put in. "Lyman man would have died there in the mountains and Collins would have taken over his property. The president might have been in with the deal at first, but he certainly wasn't willing to stand for such coarse work."

"And when Lyman didn't show up, his heirs would have demanded the property, and then there would have been an international quarrel-- perhaps work for gunboats," Frank added. "I think the case was settled just right, and in the right way."

"And what does this Lyman person say?" asked Jimmie.

"Not a thing!" cried Jack. "He just offers Ned all the money there is in the world in the shape of a reward. I should have taken it!"

"I know better," Ned commented. "We don't need his money, any more than we need the half million or so Collins offered us."

"Wonder what Collins will do now?" asked Frank.

"He'll duck!" replied Jimmie.

The little fellow was right. Thomas Q. Collins was heard of no more, either in Paraguay or Peru. When Ned, leaving the others at Asuncion, speeded over to Lima he found Leroy and Mike lounging about the hotel, waiting anxiously for news from their chums. They had been released on the day following Collins' departure, there being no one to press the charge of assault and battery against them.

Now there was work cut out for the Nelson. She carried Ned, Mike and Leroy over to Asuncion and then made two long trips to the little town on the Madeira where the Black Bear lay.

The meeting between the boys and Harry was an enthusiastic one, and the latter pointed with a good deal of pride to the motor boat, good as new and as bright and clean as a new gold piece.

After a few days spent exploring the country up the Beni, the boys started home, their errand satisfactorily accomplished. Jimmie decided to go with Jack, Frank, Harry and Mike in the motor boat, leaving the Nelson to Ned and Leroy.

"One thing I'd like to do," Jimmie said, as the Black Bear lay waiting for the boys, "and that is to go up into that cannibal country and have some fun with the fellows who captured the Black Bear and made the occupants of it look like thirty cents in postage stamps!"

"They never did capture the Black Bear!" yelled Frank. "They tried to, and got dynamited for their pains. That's what they got."

"And of course," tormented the little fellow, "you wished the Nelson had stayed away, and left you all the glory--not!"

"Well," Jack interposed, "we didn't get tied up in a mountain cave by a lot of cheap skates. We never got where we had to let an Indian get us out of a mess."

"Rats!" shouted Jimmie. "Ned would have recognized our fire signals and remained away! We could have gotten off without the Indian."

"You say it well!" laughed Frank. "I think that fire signal was punk!"

And so the lads roasted each other all the way down the Amazon, with the Nelson sailing above them, dropping down at night and, perhaps, changing passengers each day.

"I wish I had the frame of the Vixen," Leroy said, one day. "I could make a fine aeroplane out of it. Shame to have an airship smashed like that!"

Ned pointed to the planes of the Nelson.

"You've got quite a job making this little lady look like new," he said. "Those tent canvas planes look rather cheap."

"I'll have the new planes in place in a week after we get back to New York," said the other.

"And send the repair bill to the government," advised Ned. "It will be paid without a cross word."

At the mouth of the Amazon the Black Bear was taken apart and packed aboard a fast steamer bound for New York. The five boys accompanied her, of course, while Ned and Leroy completed the trip home in the Nelson. When the four reached the Black Bear club room they found Ned there with a mass of letters and telegrams before him.

"Look here, lads," he said, "we've got more trouble on hand. You know about the revolution in China, and all that? Well, there's a lot of gold which belongs to the republic been dumped in the sea, and I've got to go and help get it out!"

"Let 'em get their own gold," Jimmie said.

"But in this case, it is claimed that there was fraud in the shipment of gold, also, that the vessel carrying it was rammed for the purpose of concealing the fraud. Anyway, Uncle Sam wants me to look it up."

"What's he got to do with it?" asked Frank.

"Something connected with the sub-treasury," laughed Ned. "That is all I can say to you about it."

"And how you goin' to get it?" demanded Jimmie.

"By working with a submarine," was the reply.

"Down in the bottom of the sea!" sang Frank.

"Well," Ned said, presently, "figure the thing out for yourselves. Find out if you can get permission to go, and all that. The government will provide the submarine and all the supplies, of course, and land us near the spot we are to search."

But the story of the search for the gold is quite another tale. It will be found in the third volume of this series, entitled:

"Boy Scouts in a Submarine; or, Searching an Ocean Floor."

THE END