Chapter III. Black Bears on the Amazon
 

The handsome club room of the Black Bear Patrol, in the city of New York, was situated on the top floor of the magnificent residence of Attorney Bosworth, one of the leading corporation lawyers in the country. Jack Bosworth, the lawyer's only son, was a member of the Black Bear Patrol, and the club room had been fitted up at his request.

It was in this room that Ned Nestor, Jimmie McGraw, Jack Bosworth, Harry Stevens, and Frank Shaw had planned their motor-boat trip down the Columbia river, as described in the first volume of this series. Jack, Harry and Frank had returned to New York from San Francisco when Ned had decided to accept the Secret Service mission to Paraguay, at the conclusion of the motor-boat vacation on the Columbia, leaving the two boats, the Black Bear and the Wolf, stored at Portland, Oregon.

One evening--the evening of the 1st of August, to be exact--while Ned, Sam, and Jimmie were still in San Francisco, awaiting the slow action of the State department at Washington, Jack, Frank and Harry met in the club room for the purpose of "sobbing together," as they expressed it. They had left their friends in San Francisco reluctantly because of orders from home, and now they understood that they might have gone with Ned and Jimmie if they had only explained to their parents the purpose of the mission.

"I suppose," Frank Shaw said, at the end of a long pause in the conversation, "I suppose Ned and the others are out over the Andes by this time."

"No," replied Jack. "I heard from Jimmie by wire today, and they are still in Frisco, and likely to remain there nearly a week longer."

"If the airship was only large enough!" sighed Harry.

"We might still get there in time!" Frank suggested, eagerly.

"The Nelson wouldn't carry us if we were there," Jack exclaimed, in a disgusted tone. "I wish the Black Bear had wings! Say, wouldn't that be a peach? We could run over to Paraguay and scare the life out of the boys!"

"What good would it do if she had wings?" demanded Frank. "She is in storage at Portland, Oregon."

"No," replied Harry Stevens, whose father, a noted maker of automobiles, had presented the motor-boats to his son, "I ordered the boats sent on here the day after we left the coast. We can take a trip up the Hudson, anyway."

Jack walked thoughtfully around the room for a moment and then turned back to the others, looking moodily out of a window.

"I've got it!" he shouted, slapping Frank on the back.

"I should say you had!" remarked Frank. "What do you take for it?"

"I say I've got an idea!" Jack explained, jumping up and down and swinging his hands over his head. "A peach of an idea!"

"Does it hurt?" asked Harry.

"Oh, cut out that funny stuff!" Jack cried. "When will the two motor-boats be here?"

Harry counted on the fingers of his left hand.

"We've been home two days," he said, "and we were four days getting to Chicago. There we laid over a day, and came on here in twenty hours. We are eight days from the Pacific coast. That right?"

"It seems to be."

"Well, then, it is seven days since I ordered the Black Bear and the Wolf sent on here in a special express car. They ought to be here now."

"Then," shouted Jack, pulling Harry around the room, "we're all right--fit as a brass band at a free lunch! Whoo-pee!"

"It must be hungry," Frank exclaimed, regarding Jack with seeming terror. "Does it ever bite when it puts out these signals of distress?"

"Don't get too funny!" Jack warned.

"Then loosen up on this alleged idea!" Frank replied.

Jack rushed across the room and brought out an atlas of the world, which he dumped on the floor and opened.

"Look here, fellows!" he said, squatting over the map of South America, his chin almost on his knees.

"We're looking," grinned Frank. "What about it?"

"Here we are in New York," Jack went on. "Here they are in San Francisco. Now, they've got to sail to Paraguay, which is just about twice as far from San Francisco as is New York. Anyway, that's the way it looks on the map."

"It is all of that distance," Harry put in.

"Well," Jack continued, "as I said before, here we are in New York, with the mouth of the Amazon river about as far away as San Francisco, perhaps a little farther."

"Well?" demanded Harry.

"I begin to see the point!" Frank admitted. "But will the folks stand for it?"

"Mine will," Harry answered. "Dad didn't make the Black Bear to lie in storage. He'll stand for it, all right."

"So will mine," Frank said, then. "I'll tell him I'll send him a lot of news for his paper."

Frank's father was owner and editor of the Planet, one of the leading morning newspapers in the big city, and it was always a fiction of the boy's that he was going out in the interest of the paper when he wandered off on a trip with the Boy Scouts.

"I'm afraid you can't make that work again," laughed Jack. "Ned says that you sent only four postal cards and six letters back from Panama."

"Well, wasn't that going some?" asked Frank.

"Of course, only Ned says the postal cards carried the correspondence for the Planet, and the letters carried requests for more money!"

"Anyway," Frank insisted, "Dad will stand for it. What is it?"

"Well," Jack went on, "I'm sure my Dad will let me go. He wants me to go about all I can. Says it brightens a fellow to rub up against the rough places of the world."

"There's rough corners enough in South America," laughed Harry.

"Now, let us get down to figures," Jack continued. "We ought to be able to get to the mouth of the Amazon on a fast boat, with the Black Bear and the Wolf on board, in a week or ten days-say ten days. About that time they will be getting into Paraguay. What do you think of it?"

"Fine!" cried Harry.

"The best ever!" Frank responded. "But what then? We can't run up to Paraguay in the Black Bear."

"We can get away up in the Andes," answered Jack, with the map of Brazil before him. "See these crooked little lines? Well, those are rivers. Just see how far we can go in a motor boat."

"But that won't bring us to the aeroplane," Frank objected.

"Yes, it will," Harry answered. "They are coming back by way of the Amazon valley, and we can't miss them. Oh, what's the use? Suppose we begin packing?"

"Well, I don't know exactly what we are to do after we get up the Amazon," Harry laughed, "but I'm game to go. There are head-hunters and cannibals up there, and we may find a little amusement."

"We're going after Ned and Jimmie," Jack explained. "This is a relief expedition! After they get to Paraguay they'll snatch that Lyman person out of the cold, damp dungeon keep he is supposed to be in and then sail off over the Amazon valley. There's where we catch up with them. Do you suppose we can find a ship going to the mouth of the Amazon early in the morning?"

"You certainly are fierce when you get started!" laughed Harry. "Well," he added, "you can't get ready any too soon to please me."

It was two days before the boys found a vessel going their way, and even then Jack insisted that his father bribed the owners to run off their course in order to set the boys and their motorboats down at the mouth of the Amazon river. The boat, however, was a fast one, equal in speed to a modern ocean liner; and in ten days from the time of starting from New York--on the 12th of August--the boys were stemming the current of the great river--more like a shoreless sea there at the mouth than a river!

"Huh!" Frank exclaimed, as they left the island of Joannes to the south, "this is no river! It is a blooming sea!"

"Pretty near three hundred miles wide at the delta, including that big island," Harry said. "It is some river, eh?"

"Four thousand miles long!" Jack contributed. "It is navigable for commercial purposes for 2,200 miles, and our boats can go up clear to the foot of the Andes."

"Boats went there in the days of Columbus," Frank said. "A companion of Columbus first discovered this great delta. The river fertilizes two million square miles of territory, and is the greatest water system in the world."

"Why," Harry observed, desiring to contribute something startling to the discussion of the river, "the current is so strong that it carries fresh water and sand five hundred miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is just a fresh water river in a salt water sea for five hundred miles!"

That night the boys kept the engines of the Black Bear going, one remaining on watch all through the dark hours. They had plenty of gasoline in the tank, and the tender, the Wolf, was carrying a load of fuel which Jack declared would last them until the end of the year!

It may be well to state here that the Black Bear, the Boy Scout motorboat, was a specially constructed vessel, built by Harry's father for river work. The materials were light yet strong, and the boat could easily be taken apart and put together again when occasion required. Between the cross-grained slices of tough wood of which the craft was built were plates of steel, thus rendering the boat virtually bullet proof.

The Black Bear was constructed so that it could be almost entirely thrown open to the sunshine when so desired or closed tightly against cold or rain. The roof could be rolled up in a bundle in the middle like the curtain of a modern desk. The sides were composed of oblong panels which could be inserted in grooved steel uprights when it was desired to close in the interior of the boat. The motors were very powerful.

In fact, it was just such a boat as was needed on the trip the boys had in mind. It had done excellent service on the Columbia, and nothing less could be expected of it on the Amazon. The Wolf, which was merely a tender, was watertight in construction, being shaped like a banana, and was towed by the motor-boat. Here the extra stocks of gasoline, provisions, and ammunition were packed. The interior of the Wolf was about six feet by eighteen in size, while the distance from rounded floor to convex roof was about four feet.

On both sides of the interior were gasoline tanks, which also extended under the floor, lifting the bottom of the interior space three feet. Above the tanks were spaces for provisions and ammunition. The space between the tanks and the lockers was about two feet, and here one might ride in comfort, after getting used to the rolling of the boat. There were tight glass panels of thick plate glass at the ends and the top.

Ventilators and loopholes, controlled by wires from the center, were cut in the ends and protected by sliding covers. Lying in the passageway, one might look out at either end, and shoot out, too, if occasion required. When fully loaded, the Wolf was submerged about half its height. On the top was a staff from which floated an American flag. The boys were very proud of the Wolf, and Jimmie had often declared, on the Columbia river trip, that he would some day take an exciting ride in it.

During their passage up the river the boys were often hailed from passing craft, but they took little heed, as they did not care to lose time gratifying the curiosity of those they met. Indeed, if they had stopped to talk with all who hailed them, they would have made slow progress. Up to about sixty years ago the Amazon was closed to all save Brazilian vessels, but now it is open to the commerce of the world.

There are now vessels coming from and going to all parts of Europe and America from Amazon ports. There are lines of great steamers on the main stream, lines of smaller steamers on the big tributaries, and launches and small craft of all sizes on the affluent branches. Often the passing ships, steamers, launches, etc., almost took the form of a procession on the lower waters.

Everywhere the smaller ships were gathering the products of the great Amazon basin-rubber, cocoanuts, hardwoods, dyewoods, pelts, tropical fruits and other commodities. Every year over three million tons of products come down the great river. The Amazon drains a country as large as the United States east of the Mississippi. Its feeders reach the Andes, draining watersheds within a hundred miles of the Pacific ocean. It has tributaries fifteen hundred miles long.

It did not take the Black Bear very long to pass the green islands near the delta. The river there looks like an ocean. In fact, the main branch of the Amazon is from fifty miles to two hundred miles in width. Some of the tributaries are a hundred miles wide. It is from fifty to two hundred feet deep. The water is always dark colored because of the wash brought down from the uplands. For a long time it did not seem possible to the boys that they were sailing on a river instead of an ocean.

"Ned and the boys must be over Paraguay now," Jack said, one day, after they had been on the river nearly a week without accident or important incident of any kind.

"Yes," Frank replied, "they must be there by this time. Jimmie said they were to leave San Francisco on the 7th, or about that time. It would take a week or more to get to Lima, for they couldn't remain in the air long at a time, and the resting spells would set them back a little. Suppose they got to Lima on the 14th, which was last Monday, they could rest up and go prowling over that dirty little republic--which is not a republic at all, but a despotism tempered by revolution."

"I'd like to know just what course Ned has decided on," Harry said. "I don't see how he's going to get to Mr. Lyman."

"He'll find a way," Jack insisted. "He always has, and he always will."

It will be seen that the boys were tolerably accurate in their estimates of the speed of the Nelson. On the day they were discussing the possible location of the big airship, which was the 18th of August, the Nelson was in the center of as pretty a muss as Ned had ever mixed with.

The boys in the Black Bear put on all speed, traveling nights as well as days, and before long began watching the heavens, for an aeroplane. But the lads on the Nelson were not looking for a boat poking her nose toward the Andes--"a relief expedition," as Jack called it!