Boy Scouts in an Airship by G. Harvey Ralphson
Chapter II. A Fox Joins the Wolves
Nelson hung like a great gull over New Orleans one hot morning in early August. The boys who occupied seats on the light aluminum form under the sixty-foot wings glimpsed the Gulf of Mexico in the distance, while directly their feet ran the crooked streets of the French Quarter.
The departure from San Francisco had been for a delayed for a long time because of the non-arrival of important instructions from Washington, and because of a slight injury to the aeroplane while out on what Leroy called an "exercise run." Lieutenant Gates had remained with the boys until they started on their long flight to the mouth of the great Mississippi river, and had then returned to Washington.
I had first been the intention to proceed due from San Francisco, then wing toward the east where the coast of Peru showed. This plan was opposed by the lieutenant, for the reason that an airship far out on the Pacific ocean, directly in the steamship route, would be likely to attract attention sailing over the southwestern states and Central America. Daring aviators now venture in all directions and at all altitudes above the solid earth, but they are still cautious about proceeding far out over the merciless waters of the oceans which rim the continent of North America.
So, yielding to the wishes of the lieutenant, the Nelson had been directed by her navigators across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana until the great city of the South lay spread out before them. The distance covered by the airship in this flight was not far from thirty-five hundred miles, and the Nelson, leaving the coast city on Monday morning, August 7, had covered the run so as to reach New Orleans late Wednesday afternoon.
The boys might, it is true, have speeded up and made the distance in thirty-six hours, or less but they realized the necessity of taking good care of themselves, and so they had rested in quiet places both Monday and Tuesday night, landing about midnight and sleeping until long after daylight. Having provisions with them, they had not found it necessary to land except when gasoline was obtained at Santa Fe.
The machine had attracted little attention on the route, for it was painted a dull gray, and its aluminum motors gave forth little sound. It was two merits of the machine, which had been invented by young Leroy, that it could navigate in a clear sky a mile up without being observed from below, and could also run to within a short distance of the earth without making herself conspicuous by the popping of her motors. The United States authorities are now adapting these two qualities to the government airships to be used in the military service.
The boys remained in New Orleans until Thursday morning, August 10, and then, with full provision baskets and gasoline tanks, they set out across the Gulf of Mexico. They soon sighted Yucatan, which is really a province of Mexico, darted over British Honduras, and swung over the forests of Guatemala, the one country in Central America which is never bothered with revolutions.
When an ambitious person wants to wrest the reins of government from the officials in charge, they take him out and stand him up against a stone wall, with a firing squad in front. This manner of preventing revolutions is believed to be conducive to peace and also to the sanctity of human lives. Jimmie, who had been reading up on South and Central America while waiting in San Francisco, explained many points of interest as the Nelson sped on her way.
They took on more gasoline at Panama, and Ned and Jimmie were very glad to renew their acquaintance with that now model city. Those who have read the former books of this series will remember that the Boy Scouts at one time had a commission to stand guard over the great Gatun dam.
They did not remain long in Panama, however, as they were anxious to get to the scene of their future operations. They were all anticipating great fun in exploring "the roof of the world," which extends from Colombia to Argentina, north and south, through Equator, Peru, and Bolivia, more than 2,000 miles, or as far as from New York City to Denver. In many directions from this "roof" may be seen villages, cattle, sheep, llamas, and evidences of mining.
The boys made good progress down the coast of tropical South America. They had heard much of Peru, and were surprised to see only a great strip of sand, lying like a desert, between the Pacific and the mountains. Now and then a little stream, fed by the melting snows in the Andes, comes trailing out toward the sea, but it is usually smaller at its mouth than at its source for the reason that the precious water is utilized for irrigation purposes. Wherever there is water crops grow luxuriantly.
Thus far they had not been molested in any way. Indeed, considering the speed with which they had traveled, it would have been difficult for any one to have meddled with their plans. They were therefore in excellent spirits when they landed at Lima, which is the one large city of the country.
Lima, however, is not built on the coast, Callao being the seaport of the metropolis. Lima is a modern city in every way, with, handsome streets, electric lights, and all that any modern city has in the way of amusements.
The Nelson was anchored on the morning of August 14, in a sequestered spot, and the boys, after answering many foolish questions, laid plans to look over the wonderful city. It was necessary to station a strong guard about the machine, for the natives--many of whom spoke the English language fairly well--were overly curious concerning the man-made bird.
In answer to all questions as to their plans, the lads replied that they were seeking the headwaters of the Amazon, and would soon pass over the Andes and drift down into Brazil. This was not far from the actual truth, as it really was the Intention to return home by that route after their mission had been accomplished.
"But the wind is always from the east," was often urged against this plan, as explained by Jimmie, who lingered about the Nelson while the others were at the hotel.
When it was explained to the doubters that the Nelson was capable of making a hundred miles an hour against a stiff breeze, the natives seemed to doubt the veracity of the boys. The Peruvians knew little of airships, and when Jimmie exhibited to them daily newspapers showing how Germany was building a fleet of three hundred airships to use in case of war, they still looked incredulous.
"Look here, fellers," Jimmie explained to them, later in the afternoon of the arrival, as a group of curious ones stood about the roped-in enclosure where the Nelson lay, "I guess you don't know much about the navigation of the air. It used to be risky; now it is no more so than riding on a railroad train."
"You say it well!"
The words were spoken in good English, seemingly in a boy's voice, and Jimmie peered through his audience in order to catch a glimpse of the speaker. Presently, above the heads which surrounded him, the boy saw a hand and arm extended. The palm was out, the thumb and little finger flat and crossed, the three remaining fingers held straight out. The full salute of the Boy Scouts.
"Say, you!" the lad cried out, greatly pleased at finding a Boy Scout there. "Where did you get that?"
"Scouted for it!" was the reply.
"What does it read?"
"Where from?" was the next question.
"Fox Patrol, Chicago."
"You must be pretty foxy," Jimmie laughed, "to get away off here."
The member of the Fox Patrol now made his way through the crowd and extended a hand to Jimmie.
"You don't look as if it paid to be a Fox," laughed the latter.
The boy certainly did look like a tramp. He was a lad of about sixteen, well formed as to figure and attractive as to feature, with bright blue eyes, long, fair hair, and a complexion which would have been perfect only for the grime upon it. He blushed as Jimmie looked him over, and involuntarily turned his eyes down to his ragged clothing and broken shoes.
"Forget that!" Jimmie cried, in a moment. "I didn't mean anything by it. Where you stopping?"
The fact was that Jimmie suspected from the appearance of the lad that he was hungry as well as ragged and dirty. He certainly looked hungry. The boy hesitated before replying, his hands deep in his trousers pockets, his eyes on the ground. Then a whimsical smile came to his face and he looked Jimmie squarely in the face.
"No use of lyin' about it," he said. "I'm stoppin' down here at the Blue Sky Hotel. It's a dandy place to stop at. They never present a board bill."
Jimmie sat back on the rope which was drawn about the Nelson to keep meddlesome ones away from the machine and burst into a roar of laughter. The crowd looked on stupidly, glancing from boy to boy, and then at one another, as if wondering if these Americans always went crazy when they met in a foreign land.
"I know that Blue Sky Hotel," Jimmie said, presently, "though I've never heard it called by that name before. I had a room in one, in Central Park, New York, until a sparrow cop drove me out of it. I liked it because I didn't have to dress for dinner there," he added, whimsically.
"The feed is rather slim," observed the other.
"It's run on the European plan," grinned Jimmie. "You get your sleepins, an' no one cares whether you get your eatin's or not. What's your name?"
"Dougherty--Mike Dougherty, Clark street, south of Van Buren!"
"I guess you must be French," Jimmie grinned.
"You've guessed it. Now, what's your name, and what are you boys doin' here with this old sky-ship?"
"I'll tell you all about it when we get back to the hotel," Jimmie replied. "Do you know any of the gazabos about here? I want some one to watch the ginks who are watchin' the mutts who are watchin' the aeroplane."
Dougherty laughed at this suggestion of a treble surveillance and pointed out a lanky looking individual who was studying the machine closely from the outer side of the roped-circle.
"That's Pedro," he said. "He's all right. About all I've had to eat since I came here he's given me. He's a Peruvian Indian, and in need of money. Give him a dollar, and he'll guard your guards a month, and never leave the machine, night or day."
"Does he talk United States?"
"Oh, just a little."
Pedro talked quite a little United States, as Jimmie called it, and a bargain was soon struck with him. Then the two boys started away together. First they visited a clothing store, where Jimmie looked at the best suits in stock, and measured Dougherty cautiously with his eyes. A full outfit of under and outer clothing provided, they proceeded to the hotel, where Jimmie ushered his new-found friend into a commodious bathroom.
"Remove some of your real estate," the boy said, "an' hop into these new clothes. They ain't very nobby, but the best I could get here."
Mike Dougherty stood looking at Jimmie for a moment as if he could not believe what he heard. It had been a long time since he had been clean and properly clothed. Then there came a suspicious moisture to his keen eyes and he turned away.
"Oh, well," he said, with a tremble in his clear young voice, "mebbe I'll be able to pay you back some day. Just now I'm--"
"Cut it out!" Jimmie replied. "You hain't got anythin' on me. I've been there meself, an' the Boy Scout that helped me out told me to pass it along. That's what I'm doin' now, and there's nothin' more to be said. When you get washed and dressed, come on to No. 4, that's the second room from this tub, on the left of the corridor, an' I'll show you the rest of the bunch."
Jimmie went away to No. 4, where Ned and Sam Leroy were waiting for him. Somehow, it seemed to Ned that Jimmie kept him waiting about half the time when they were in a strange city. The little fellow had a way of wandering off alone and forgetting all about time in his delight at the strange things he saw. When he entered No. 4 he found Ned standing near the door.
"Were you out there before?" Ned asked, pointing to the corridor, as Jimmie stepped inside.
"Just got here," was the reply. "Found a Boy Scout from the Fox Patrol, Chicago, an' brought him along with me. He's washin' some of the Peruvian scenery off his frame, now, an' will soon be along."
Then Jimmie told of his discovery of Mike Dougherty, of his leaving a treble guard around the Nelson, and of numerous other adventures in the city, which, not being in any way connected with this narrative, are not set down here.
"I'm glad you brought this boy Mike here," Ned said, at the conclusion of the story. "We need some one who knows something about Lima to keep us posted."
"About what?" asked Jimmie.
"We're spotted!" Leroy cried out, before Ned could answer the question. "The wireless is swifter than the Nelson!"
"How do you know?" demanded the little fellow. "How do you know we're spotted?"
"Oh, Ned's been doping it out," was the reply. "He'll tell you, I guess."
"You thought you'd take the cream off the sensation!" laughed Ned. "Well, that is the boy of it! All I know about it, Jimmie," he continued, "is that I've been receiving telegrams which simply mean nothing. They are from people I have never heard of, and are most mysteriously worded."
"There's one that tells you to get out of the country," suggested Leroy.
"Yes, but the others seem to infer that the man who sent them is out of his mind. The three received are from Washington, San Francisco, and New Orleans."
"What have the messages to do with our being spotted?" asked Jimmie. "I don't see any connection."
"Stupid!" cried Leroy. "Can't you see the wires were sent to locate Ned? The person who delivered them to him sure wired back that they had been delivered to Ned in person--in other words, that he has reached Lima on his journey to Paraguay."
"I see!" Jimmie said, slowly. "It's clever, eh?"
"Too clever," Ned said. "I don't like the looks of it. It means, of course, that the people who are trying to get the cattle concession away from Mr. Lyman have secret agents here. And that means that everything we do at Lima will be watched and reported."
"Reported to whom?" asked Leroy.
"Probably to this military person, Senor Lopez, who is on the job with both hands out," suggested Jimmie. "Well? What about it?"
"I think," Leroy cut in, "that we'd better be getting out of this. They can't follow us after we get up in the air."
Here a knock came on the door, and Jimmie admitted Mike and presented him to his chums. The boy looked trim and handsome in his new suit, and all took a great liking to him. While they discussed their plans another interruption took place, and then Jimmie saw Pedro at the door, beckoning excitedly to Mike Dougherty. The boy talked with the Indian for a short time, and then turned to Ned, excitement showing in his face.
"He says there's another airship here," Mike said. "Prowling over the mountains."
"They can't follow us in the air, eh?" cried Leroy. "I guess this is going some!"