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Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE early summer morning was warm and very still, and the only sound in the bare, shed-like room was the slow sucking of waves at the foot of the granite cliff on which it was built. On a table in the centre of the room stood a five- valve wireless set, the wires coming down through the slated roof. Beside the wires there dangled two thin cords, the lower ends of which were within reach of Jim Selwyn, the tall, slim, keen-faced boy who sat with the headphones over his ears.
The door of the workshop opened softly, and a second boy came in. He was a queer contrast to the first, for he was nearly as broad as he was tall, and, while Jim Selwyn had dark brown hair and very dark blue eyes, the hair on Sam Lusty's square head was red as fire and his eyes were between green and grey. He was strong as a young bull, and a great deal more active than he looked.
"What are you getting, Jim?" he asked in a gruff voice.
Jim Selwyn looked round. "Not a thing, Sam," he said ruefully. "None of these stupid fellows in the States will talk to me."
Sam grunted. "I suppose you're trying some of your funny games on 'em," he remarked.
"My dear Sam, I never try funny games," Jim answered plaintively. "It's true I'm using a rather extra short wave- length, but that ought to make it all the easier for them to get me. These Western chaps are all asleep."
"If you can't get West try East," advised Sam.
"What's the use of that?" retorted Jim. "The sun's blazing all over Europe, and it isn't likely that anyone there will be trying to talk. America is the only dark continent at this hour of the morning."
There was a long wait, then at last Sam became impatient.
"Chuck it and come down to the beach for a swim," he suggested. "It's a proper nice morning."
"In a minute. Just wait till I've given my aerial one more swing." Taking hold of one of the cords, he began to pull it gently, and from above came a faint creaking as Jim's frame aerial, an invention of his own, began to revolve slowly.
All of a sudden Jim let go of the cord, and Sam saw a startled expression cross his friend's face. "What's up?" he asked.
Jim's arm shot out in a quick motion for silence, and for the next few moments the only sounds in the bare room were the sough of the sea on the cliff and a distant screaming of gulls. Then Jim looked round. "It's an S.O.S. call," he said sharply.
"Ship in trouble?" questioned Sam.
"No. Ships never use short wave-lengths."
"Then where does it come from?"
"South America. It must be, for that's where my aerial is turned. Wait! There it is again, plain as anything—three shorts, three longs, three shorts."
Sam came nearer. "Can't you get him, Jim—the chap that's calling?"
"I'm jolly well going to try," declared Jim. "Sit tight, Sam. This is either a hoax or something very queer." As he spoke his fingers were busy on the buzzer in front of him, while Sam stood stolidly watching.
Suddenly Jim's face lit up. "I've got him," he said breathlessly. "Steady on! He's telling me his wave-length. It's twenty-seven metres." His nimble fingers worked over the dials; then, when he had tuned in to the given length, he began to rattle out Morse. "It is from South America," he said presently, "from Brazil. A chap called Alan Upton."
"Brazil's a whopping big place, ain't it?" said Sam doubtfully, but Jim did not answer. He was listening and sending alternately, and Sam saw that he was frowning in puzzled fashion. It was nearly a quarter of an hour before he spoke again. "This is the rummiest go, Sam. Upton says he is speaking from a valley in Central Brazil, but he won't tell me where it is."
"Says he dare not give it away because he doesn't know who I am."
"Can't you tell him?"
"I have told him, but, of course, I've no proof to give him, and he's scared stiff that the story may get into the wrong hands. And here's the queerest thing of all. It's Gadsden he's afraid of."
Sam's eyes widened. "Not Mr Stephen Gadsden as lives here at Polcapple?"
"That's the man," replied Jim. "See here, Sam, so far as I can make out, this fellow Upton's an explorer, and he's got into some valley place right out in unknown country, and can't get out without help."
"But he's loony," said Sam. "How's anyone going to help him if they don't know where he is?"
"The man he wants to help him is Professor Thorold."
"A big gun in the science line. Great on archaeology."
Sam frowned. "I wish you'd use words a fellow can understand," he grumbled.
"Old cities and old peoples," explained Jim. "Thorold lives near Appledore—at a place called Ludford. He's Upton's uncle, and Upton wants me to go and see him and fetch him here."
"What's the good of that?" demanded Sam. "Those signals you send might just as well be sent by Gadsden as by Thorold."
"No. Thorold's got a password, and as soon as Upton gets this word he will know who is speaking, and tell where he is and all about it."
Sam stared. "What are you going to do?" he demanded.
"I'm going straight off to Ludford to see Professor Thorold."
"The fare's about twelve bob return," said Sam, "and all we've got is three and a tanner."
"I've got my bike," Jim answered. "I can do it in the day." He broke off short. "What was that?" he cried, and, springing up, dashed to the door, flung it open, and ran out.
Sam, hurrying after Jim, saw him bolting round the far end of the building, and met him coming back the other way. "You've got the jumps proper," said Sam.
"Don't talk rot," Jim answered breathlessly. "I saw a face looking in at the window."
"Whose face?" said Sam.
Before Jim could answer a sharp voice cut in. "What's the matter?" it said. "What makes you boys run about like that? I'm sure you eat enough without taking more exercise than you need to." The speaker was a tall, gaunt, vinegar-faced woman who had just come out from the back door of the house.
"It's all right, Aunt Sarah," said Sam. "We were chasing a tramp chap, that's all."
"Some one after my chickens, I'll be bound," exclaimed the woman. "Did you catch him?"
"No, he was too slick," replied Sam. "But we've scared him off. Is breakfast ready?"
"Yes, it's ready," was the answer, "and mind you wipe your feet, and don't bring mud into my nice clean kitchen."
Breakfast was porridge and skim milk with one slice of bread and butter for each. Poor fare for growing lads, but Sam was accustomed to it, and Jim did not complain. The house, it was true, belonged to him, but that was all he owned in the world, and he was glad enough to get board and lodging from Sam's aunt, Mrs Trant, as rental for the old place and the bit of land around it. Jim's father had been killed in the Great War, his mother had died two years before this story opens, and, so far as he knew, he had no relations anywhere.
"Them early potatoes needs earthing up," remarked Mrs Trant as she ladled out the porridge.
"I'll see to 'em, aunt," said Sam. "Jim's got a job on."
"What sort of a job?" snapped Mrs Trant.
"He's got to go to Appledore," Sam answered.
Mrs Trant glared at Jim. "Appledore," she repeated, "and where's the money coming from, I'd like to know?"
"I'm going on my bicycle," said Jim quietly.
"And what for?" she demanded.
"On business," replied Jim, who was getting tired of this questioning.
"Wasting more money on that there wireless, I'll be bound," said Mrs Trant sourly. "I wish Parson would teach you something sensible. I'd have thought you was getting too old to play with toys."
"Toys!" said Sam angrily, but Jim stopped him. "It's all right, Sam. Some day Mrs Trant will find out that toys may be made to pay."
Mrs Trant snorted, but said no more; and as soon as breakfast was over the boys hurried out to the shed where Jim kept his bicycle. Jim opened the door, then stopped short with a gasp.
"What's up?" asked Sam.
Jim pointed to his bicycle. "Look at that!" he said, and Sam looked and whistled softly. The tyres had been slashed all to pieces, and hung in rags and ribands.
"This is a nice go," said Sam. "Who could have done a dirty trick like that?"
"The chap I saw peering in at the window," Jim answered bitterly.
"Aye, but who was he?" questioned Sam.
Jim looked round cautiously. "Gadsden," he said in a whisper. Sam was too astonished to speak. He simply stood and stared. "Yes," Jim went on, "I thought at the time that the face at the window was Gadsden's, though I could hardly believe it, but now I'm getting the hang of it. He wants to stop me from going to Ludford."
Sam collected his scattered senses. "But how would he know anything about it?" he asked. "What would bring him round here at such an hour in the morning?"
"Simple enough. He's got a big wireless outfit and must have been listening in, like me, on a short wavelength, and have caught my sending."
Sam gazed at his friend. "Then he's got the whole thing," he said slowly.
"No, only my Morse. Upton's was so faint that no ordinary aerial would have caught it."
Sam nodded. If he hadn't much education he had heaps of common sense. "I see," he said. "It was your new sort of wire cage that caught this message from Brazil."
"That's it, Sam," Jim answered, "but if I'm right and Gadsden did get what I was sending he has heard quite enough to make certain where the message came from, and to know nearly as much as we do. Then he must have jumped on his bicycle and come here at once in the hope of hearing a bit more."
"And that's just what he did," said Sam quickly. "He was listening while you told me all about it. I say, Jim, I didn't think a lot of this at first, but if a man like Gadsden is so hot about it it must be a big thing."
"A very big thing," said Jim gravely. "It's quite plain that we've got to get hold of Thorold as soon as ever we can. But now that my bicycle is done for how are we going to do it?"
Sam stood silent a moment, then brought his big hand down with a loud smack on his leg. "I've got it. We'll take the boat," he said.
The boat lay in a little creek, and Jim was getting her ready when Sam came running down. "There's a car just gone from the big house," he said. "It went north."
Jim looked up quickly, "Gadsden in it?" he asked.
"Couldn't see who was in it, but I reckon it was Gadsden all right. Likely he's gone up to Ludford."
Jim shook his head. "What would be the good? If Upton's so scared of Gadsden's getting to know where he is it's not likely that Upton's uncle is going to give Gadsden the code-word."
"Aye, but suppose Gadsden tells Thorold that he's the only chap who can help him to speak to Upton— what about that?"
Jim frowned. "That's just what Gadsden might do. Then the sooner I get along the better."
"That's the ticket," said Sam. "With the breeze that's blowing we'll be at Appledore before dark."
"We," repeated Jim. "You're not coming."
"Course I'm coming. You didn't think I'd let you go alone?"
"But your aunt, Sam. She'll make an awful fuss."
"Let her. I've milked the cow, I've brought in sticks, and I've left a note to say I've gone. Do her good to have no one to scold for a day or two."
Jim grinned as he hauled up the sail. Sam and he did all the work on the place, except the cooking, and got no thanks for it. He quite agreed with Sam that a few days by herself would not hurt Sam's bad-tempered aunt.
A nice breeze was blowing from the south-west, and as it filled the sail the little boat heeled over, and went snoring away across the ripples at a fine speed. It was a perfect summer day, with only a few fleecy white clouds drifting across the blue sky, and even the huge, dark cliffs which towered to the right looked less grim than usual.
"Jim," said Sam presently, "what makes Gadsden so hot about getting hold of this chap Upton?"
Jim shook his head. "It beats me, Sam. It's a funny business any way you look at it."
"A jolly fine business if you ask me," returned Sam.
Jim opened his eyes. "Whatever do you mean?" he asked.
"Why, that Professor Thorold may be just the chap to give you a leg up with this wire thing you've invented."
"My new aerial, you mean. But when I told Gadsden about it he said it was no good."
"Jealous, I reckon," said Sam scornfully. "Haven't you proved it's good by getting on to this fellow thousands o' miles away in Brazil? I'll lay Gadsden's kicking himself that he didn't buy it off you."
"I didn't want to sell," said Jim. "I only wanted to know if I could patent it."
"Of course you could," declared Sam. "Why, it's wonderful! You've explained it all to me a dozen times over, and I don't know a thing more about it than when you started."
Jim burst out laughing, and then stopped short for fear he might hurt dear old Sam's feelings. But he need not have worried, for Sam was not looking at or listening to him. His eyes were fixed upon a long, dark craft that had just come into sight to the southward and was following dead in their wake. Sam's lips moved. "A launch," he said softly.
"Gadsden's launch," said Jim, "and coming like smoke. But who's in it if Gadsden was in that car you saw?"
"Wish I knew," said Sam, "but one thing's sure. That launch is chasing us."
"She'll catch us, too," Jim answered. "Look at the feather of foam under her bows. She's moving pretty near twice as fast as we are."
THERE was a thoughtful frown upon Sam's square face as he gazed at the launch. "If it's Gadsden in that craft what do you reckon he's going to do to us, Jim?" he asked.
Jim stared. "Why, stop us, of course, you juggins. Surely you see that he can't let us reach Thorold!"
"Aye, but it's against the law to stop anyone like that," said Sam.
"Much he'd care for that," jeered Jim. "Anyhow, there isn't a vessel of any sort in sight, so there's nothing to stop him from doing as he likes."
Sam nodded. "Then it's up to us to save ourselves the best way we can," he said. "I'll take the tiller, Jim, if you please."
"What good will that do?" demanded Jim. "Your steering won't make the boat sail any faster."
"Maybe not," said Sam peacefully, "but I can try."
"You're crazy," grumbled Jim, but all the same he shifted forward, and Sam took the tiller. The breeze had stiffened, and the boat was moving at very near her top speed, but even that was not much compared with the pace at which the long, low launch was racing up behind. Sam glanced once more at the launch, then looked eastward toward the land, where a long point runs out into the sea. Sharpstone Point it is called, and at its seaward end the waves break white among shoals and sandbanks. At once Sam pulled the tiller over and turned the bow of the boat toward the Point.
"You're not going to land?" exclaimed Jim in dismay.
"Not unless we got to," replied Sam, and held on his course.
Jim shrugged his shoulders, but said no more. He himself was a pretty good hand with a boat, but he was not ashamed to own that Sam was better. Sam's father had been skipper of a coasting schooner and been drowned at sea, and Sam had sailed since he could walk. With the breeze almost astern, the boat travelled at a great rate toward the Point, but Jim, watching the launch, saw that she too had changed course and was following them. There was no longer any doubt in his mind that she was chasing them.
As the little boat raced in toward the Point the roar of surf became louder, but Sam held on serenely, driving straight toward the tumble of broken water.
At last Jim could keep silence no longer. "Are you trying to drown us, Sam?" he demanded.
"Why, no," replied Sam. "I wasn't thinking of that."
"You jolly well will if you hold on much longer. The moment we touch ground we shall swamp."
"I wasn't reckoning to touch ground," said Sam. "With the tide as it is, there's three foot o' water in the Crooked Channel."
"Man alive, you're not going to try the Crooked Channel!"
"Why not?" asked Sam. "It'll save us all of two miles, and give us that much start of Gadsden."
"I'd have brought a life-belt if I'd known," said Jim grimly.
"You won't need no life-belt," Sam assured him, and just then the boat lifted to a big wave, and Jim held his breath as she swooped toward a patch of weed-hung rock bared by the falling tide. But Sam was quite cool, and with a quick twist of the tiller wrenched the boat round. She cleared the reef by less than half her length, and the spray broke over her in sheets as she breasted a second wave, then shot deftly into calmer water.
"Close call," muttered Jim, who was feeling rather shaky, but Sam merely hauled in the sheet and with his eyes fixed on the narrow line of blue water sent the boat flying up the Channel. It wound in and out among reefs and sandbanks, twisting in most confusing fashion, and the roar of the waves breaking over the shoals was deafening, but Sam paid no attention to the noise or the spray and held on his course quite steadily. After a minute or two Jim began to feel better—so much better that he dared to take his eyes off the Channel and glance back at the launch. He gave a gasp of dismay. "Sam, she's following us."
"I reckoned she would," Sam answered calmly.
"Then we're taking all this risk for nothing," said Jim bitterly.
"Sit tight," said Sam, and, as there was nothing else to do, Jim took the advice. The launch was tearing up behind, gaining fast, and as she came closer Jim saw that Gadsden himself was steering. Gadsden was a tall, powerfully built man with a sallow, clean-shaven face and a big hawk nose, and he handled the launch with skill. Being much bigger than the sailing-boat, and well decked in forward, the launch made much better weather of it than the boat, and Jim's heart sank as he saw her shoot safely into the south end of the Channel. "If he catches us here we're in for trouble," he murmured to himself, and just then Sam swung the boat round another curve into a broader part of the Channel, and Jim's heart was in his mouth as he felt her keel grate against the sand. But it was only a touch, and she drove on in safety. Yet the launch gained fast, and soon was so close that Jim could actually see Gadsden's face and that of the man with him. He recognized the latter as Simon Harth, Gadsden's chauffeur, a small, wiry fellow who was always known as Silent Harth. He was of the old Cornish mining stock, almost as dark as a Spaniard, and with close-cut, curly black hair. The tide was running down the Channel from the north, and this told against the boat. What was worse, the wind was failing. "Better stop!" shouted Gadsden, his big voice rising above the roar of the surf. "You can't get away."
"He's right, Sam," said Jim. "He'll be up with us in less than three minutes."
"Maybe," replied Sam briefly, but so far from stopping he hauled in the sheet and kept the boat on her course.
"Stop!" roared Gadsden angrily. "You've given me quite enough trouble already, and if I lose my temper—" What the threat was Jim did not hear, for in the very middle of the sentence the bow of the launch suddenly shot upward, jerking Gadsden back against the stern with a force that must have knocked the breath out of him. As for Harth, he did a sort of back somersault into the bottom of the boat, and lay with his legs in the air.
"She's aground," shouted Jim, "hard aground."
"About time too," grunted Sam, "and with the tide running down it'll be pretty near five this evening before she gets off again."
The breeze remained fair, and there was plenty of it, so the rest of the journey was made at a good pace and without any trouble. The sun was still high in the sky when Sam pointed to a great wall of stones which the sea has piled up all across the front of what was once a big bay, but is now the Westward Ho! Golf Links. "There's the Pebble Ridge," he said. "Appledore's just beyond."
"A jolly good trip, Sam," declared Jim. "It's not five o'clock yet."
Sam chuckled. "Gadsden's launch is just beginning to float," he said.
"But what about that car of his?" asked Jim uneasily. "It must have got here by this time."
"Yes, that's likely at Thorold's, but whoever the chap is that Gadsden sent I reckon we can put a spoke in his wheel."
The breeze was blowing fresh, and the boat lay over and spun along at a round pace. Jim was watching the shore when he noticed two boys running along the beach, waving their arms and shouting. "What's up with those chaps, Sam?" he said. "I can't hear what they say, but it looks to me as if they were signalling to us."
"Likely it's some trick of Gadsden's man," growled Sam, holding to his course. But Jim jumped up, and, stepping forward into the bow, stood holding on to the mast and looking at the two boys on the beach. Both were close to the water's edge, and one was flinging off his clothes. The other was waving wildly and pointing out to sea. Suddenly Jim gave a shout. "There's a chap in trouble in the water. Over there, Sam. I can just see his head."
"Right!" said Sam briefly, and at once turned the boat in the direction where Jim and the boy ashore were pointing. He and Jim could just see a head bobbing among the waves and two arms beating the water. Their owner had evidently been caught by the tide and was being swept out to sea.
"Quick, Sam!" cried Jim. "Quickly, or we'll be too late. He's going under."
"Doing all I know," said Sam. The boat lay right over, but, just before she reached the spot where the swimmer was struggling, he flung up his arms and vanished.
Jim did not hesitate for a second. He already had his coat and boots off, and now he made a great jump and, striking the water within a few yards of the spot where the swimmer had disappeared, dived. Sam flung the boat up into the wind, hauled down the sail, and got out the sculls. Quick as he was, the boat had drifted some distance, and he was pulling desperately back when he saw Jim's head bob up nearly fifty yards away. There was a sharp little sea running, and Sam, glancing over his shoulder, saw that Jim had hold of the other fellow, but was having his work cut out to keep him up. Each wave broke over his head, and he was swimming with one arm only.
Sam pulled like a fury and was in time, but only just in time. He grabbed Jim by the collar of his shirt just as he was sinking, and got him to the boat. "Get this fellow in," panted Jim. "I can hang on."
The chap Jim had rescued was a tall lad of sixteen or seventeen, and, strong as he was, it was all Sam could do to haul him in over the stern, and by the time he got Jim aboard the boat was half full of water. Jim set to baling, and Sam pulled for the beach.
"Good for you," cried one of the boys on the beach, as he waded out and laid hold of the boat. "I say, you are toppers. We thought poor old Greg was done for."
"He's coining round," said Jim. "Do you chaps know anything about first aid?"
"Yes, luckily we know all about that," was the answer as the two boys, both nice-looking lads, lifted their friend out and carried him ashore.
"Then that's all right, Sam," said Jim. "And we'd best shift along. We haven't any time to waste." Sam merely nodded, and in another minute they were bearing up for Appledore.
"Not cold, are you, Jim?" asked Sam.
"Nothing to speak of," replied Jim, who had stripped and was wringing the water out of his clothes. "Soon get warm, walking up to the house." The rest of the journey went smoothly, and twenty minutes later the boat was berthed by the quayside at Appledore, and the two boys, having asked the way to Ludford, set out to walk briskly up the road.
Ludford was about a mile out of the town, and when they reached it they found it to be a big, square, comfortable-looking house standing among some fine trees a little way back from the road.
"I don't see a car," said Jim as they reached the door. "I wonder if Gadsden's chap is ahead of us."
"We'll soon know," replied Sam briefly as he put his finger on the bell-push. Almost at once the door was opened by a stout, sleek-headed little man dressed in blue serge, who looked the two boys up and down with a very scornful air. "Ho, so you've come!" he remarked sharply.
Jim, conscious of his sopping clothes and rather disreputable appearance, got a bit red, but Sam was equal to the occasion. "As you ain't blind, you can see for yourself we've come," he answered. "Now maybe you'll tell who you think we are."
"We know all right who you are," returned the other significantly, "and you'd best make yourself scarce before I 'phone for the police."
Jim pulled himself together. "You can call the police if you wish to," he said with dignity, "but, as we have done nothing wrong, I can't see what you want them for. We have called to see Professor Thorold."
"Well, you won't see Professor Thorold," was the curt answer, and with that the sleek-headed man slammed the door in their faces.
Sam looked at Jim in blank amazement. "The chap's loony," he said.
"Not he!" replied Jim. "Gadsden's man has got ahead of us, and warned them all against us."
Sam pursed his lips in a mournful whistle. "So that's how the land lies," he said slowly.
JIM stood gazing at the closed door, frowning slightly. "We've got to get hold of Thorold some way or another," he said slowly. "I suppose we shall just have to hang round and wait."
Sam shook his head. "That's no use. Even if he's in the house, it isn't likely he'll come out again this evening. We might have to wait all night."
"Then we jolly well will wait all night," replied Jim doggedly. When roused Jim could be very determined.
"You won't, anyway," retorted Sam. "You're wet through, and if you stayed out all night like as not you'd be dead by morning."
"Not me!" returned Jim. "I'm a lot tougher than you think, Sam, and anyhow I'm bound to see this Professor person some way or another. Why, Gadsden himself may be here to-morrow."
Before Sam could answer the door was flung open again, and the sleek-headed man stepped out into the porch. "Clear out!" he ordered angrily. "You're trespassing on private property, and that's something you can be took up for. If you aren't outside the front gate in two minutes I give you my word I'll ring up the police." Jim jumped forward. "I've come fifty miles to see Professor Thorold, and it's frightfully urgent," he said earnestly. "Ask him to come to the door to speak to me for just a minute. That can't hurt anyone."
The sleek-headed man looked at Jim. "What's it about?" he asked curtly.
"His nephew," Jim answered quickly. "His nephew in Brazil. I have a message from him for Professor Thorold."
A grin curled the lips of the sleek-headed man. "So that's the game, is it?" he jeered. "Then I'll tell you that we've had the message already, and the gentleman who brought it warned Mr Thorold as you two lads was coming after with some lying story. Now get right out, and my advice to you is to go back quick where you came from before you get into real trouble."
Jim's temper was hot, and, though he generally had it under control, now it cracked. "You idiot!" he cried, jumping forward. "It's the first man was lying, not we. Let me see the Professor for one minute, and I'll convince him."
"You'll see the inside of Barnstaple Police Station—that's what you'll see," retorted the other, and as he spoke his hand shot out and, striking Jim in the chest, sent him spinning back. If Sam had not caught him he would have fallen on the gravel. Then for a second time the door crashed to.
Sam, usually so placid, was raging. "Come out!" he roared. "Come out, you bully. I'll fight you."
"Stop it, Sam," said Jim sharply. "That sort of thing won't help. It serves me right for losing my temper and abusing the man. After all he was only doing his duty. No doubt he had his orders from the Professor." Sam was still breathing hard. "He hadn't no business to hit you," he said, "I'm going to break that door down."
"Then we'll both really go to prison," said Jim.
"Sober down, Sam. It's our wits, not our muscles, we've got to use."
"How'll wits help us?" asked Sam almost sulkily. "The door's shut, and, unless we can get through it, we can't see the Professor. And if we don't see him we might as well let the whole business slide. After all, why shouldn't we? We're not getting anything out of it."
Jim shook his head. "We can't let it slide, Sam," he said. "It wouldn't be playing the game. This chap Upton's in trouble, and it's up to us to give him a hand. See here. We'll go to the village to get something to eat, then we'll come back here and hang round. It's a fine night, and most likely some of them will be out in the garden, and then we can catch them." He turned as he spoke, and Sam followed silently.
Just as they reached the gate it opened, and three young fellows came through. The moment they saw Jim and Sam they stopped, "Why, here they are!" exclaimed one of them in a tone of great surprise. He ran forward. "You beauties!" he cried, laughing. "We've been combing the whole town for you."
Jim stared a moment, then suddenly recognized the other. It was the same fair-haired youngster who had pointed out the boy who was drowning. And, of the rest, one was his friend, the other the rescued boy.
The fair-haired boy seized Jim's hand. "Here he is, Greg. Here's your rescuer. Say thank you nicely."
The boy called Greg stepped forward quickly. "You might have given me the chance before," he said in a rather hurt voice. "I should have been drowned for a dead cert if you hadn't been so jolly smart."
"I—I'm awfully glad we happened to be there," replied Jim, rather confused.
"Lots of people might have been where you were without doing me any good," returned Greg. "It was your diving and the way your pal handled the boat that saved me. I do think you might have waited till I came round so that I could have had a chance to thank you."
"You were in good hands," said Jim. "And Lusty and I were in a big hurry."
"Lusty's his name, is it? A jolly good one too," said Greg. "Took a lusty chap to lug a great lump like me into a small boat." He grabbed Sam's hand as he spoke, and shook it heartily. "Now I'd like to know your name," he said to Jim.
"Selwyn—Jim Selwyn," replied Jim smiling. He liked this pleasant, cheery-faced young fellow.
"Well, I can't help how busy you are, Selwyn," said Greg. "You and Lusty have got to come up to the house and meet my dad."
Sam spoke up. "Is this your house?" he demanded sharply.
"Why—yes," replied Greg, rather surprised at Sam's tone. "Any objection?"
"Only we've just been chucked out of it," said Sam gruffly.
"Been chucked out of it?" repeated Greg in amazement, and his two friends looked equally surprised.
"We came here to see Professor Thorold," Jim explained, "but a black-haired man who came to the door wouldn't let us in, and threatened us with the police."
Greg turned to his two friends. "You'd better bunk off, you chaps," he said, "there's something funny here, and I've got to settle it."
"Well, mind you do, Greg," said the fair-haired boy, "for if you don't we will. These two stout lads deserve well of you."
"I know it," said Greg earnestly. "I'll look after them, don't make any mistake about that. Good night."
The two cleared off, leaving Greg with Jim and Sam.
"I'm Professor Thorold's son," said Greg. "If you want to see him I'll take you straight to him."
Jim hesitated. "Perhaps I'd better explain first," he said.
"No, you come right in," said Greg. "The air is getting cool, and you're still all wet. You come straight in, and I'll warrant there won't be any more trouble."
It was the sleek-headed man who opened the door, and the expression on his face when he saw Greg's companions was so funny that Jim nearly laughed. "You can't bring these fellows in, Mr Gregory," he said.
"Why not, Jarvis?" demanded Greg.
"They're wrong 'uns, sir, the master's been warned against them."
"Well, they saved me from drowning less than an hour ago," said Greg dryly. "So, wrong 'uns or right 'uns, they're coming in."
Jarvis's jaw fell. He looked so dismayed that Jim had to bite his lip to stop himself from bursting out laughing.
"They never told me that, sir. They said they wanted to see the master, and the master's had warning that two boys might come here this evening with a cock-and-bull story about Mr Alan."
"Well, you've made a bloomer this time, Jarvis," said Greg Thorold. "Come on, you chaps, and see Dad."
Jim stopped. "Is Alan Upton your cousin?" he asked.
"You bet he is, but what do you know about him?"
"A good deal," replied Jim. "And before we go any farther I want to say straight out that I have got a message from him, and that it's because of that message I want to see your father."
"There, I told you so, Mr Greg," put in Jarvis.
A puzzled look crossed Greg's face, but passed in a moment. "I don't care a bit," he said stubbornly. "They saved my life, and this chap"—pointing to Jim—"you can see for yourself, Jarvis, that he's still soaking wet from diving into the sea after me. Not the sort of thing a wrong 'un would do. Who gave the warning?"
At this moment the door of a room opening on the hall swung back, and two men came out. The first was a square-shouldered, stoutly built man with a big head and a strong, clever face. He looked to be about fifty, had a high, bald forehead and a closely cut, dark beard streaked with grey. The other, small and skinny, with very pale face, long nose, and hair so light it was almost white, made Jim think at once of a white rat.
At sight of the boys the pale-faced man stepped quickly forward. "I told you so, Mr Thorold," he said in a thin, sharp voice. "These are the very ones I warned you against."
"I thought I told you not to let them in, Jarvis," said Professor Thorold, and his big voice boomed like a drum.
"I let them in, Dad," said Gregory Thorold quickly.
"I don't know anything about this warning, but I'll tell you straight that if it hadn't been for them I'd have been at the bottom of the bay this minute. I swam out too far this afternoon, and the tide caught me; I got fagged and was absolutely done in when these chaps came up, and Selwyn here dived after me and got me out. They took me to the beach, handed me over to Dick and Harry Neale, and then bunked off without even waiting for me to thank them. I've been hunting for them all over Appledore, and then I meet them coming out of the gate here, wet and cold and hungry."
Greg rattled all this out almost in one breath. His cheeks were rather red and his eyes very bright. His father's thick eyebrows rose as he listened, and he breathed deeply. Then suddenly he swung round on the rat-like man. "Mr Roland, my son's story does not tally with yours," he said in his deep, booming voice. "You told me that these were two disreputable boys who had listened in to your sending and meant to get money from me on false pretences."
"False pretences!" broke in Sam hotly. "The boot's on the other foot. It's Gadsden's been listening in to Jim while he talked to this chap in Brazil."
Professor Thorold turned to Sam. "What's this about Gadsden, boy? What do you know of him?"
"Why, he lives in the big house just above ours at Polcapple," replied Sam. "And this fellow's name isn't Roland. It's Sneed, and he's Gadsden's man."
Sneed's pasty face turned dull yellow, and he shrank away. The Professor fixed his eyes on the wretched man, and Jim had a notion that he would hate to have to face such a glare. "Can you deny this?" demanded the Professor in a voice that was a very good imitation of distant thunder.
Sneed seemed to shrivel under the accusing eyes. "I—I—it's a mistake," he stammered. Then all of a sudden he made a dart back into the room from which he had just come, and banged the door behind him. The rest were so amazed that for a second or two no one moved. Greg was the first to recover, and, springing to the door, turned the handle, "Locked!" he cried as he tugged at it uselessly.
"The French window is open," said his father. "He has no doubt gone out that way."
Greg turned to make for the front door, but his father shot out a long arm and caught him. "Let him go!" he boomed. "Let him go back to his master."
"He won't find him at home," said Sam with a grin.
"Why not, boy?" demanded the Professor.
"Because Sam and I left him hard aground off Sharpnose Point, sir," said Jim.
"Explain," demanded the Professor, but Greg spoke up. "Selwyn is still soaking, Dad, and he oughtn't to be standing about in wet clothes. Let me find him a change, and you shall hear all about it at supper."
"Right," agreed his father, "but be quick, for supper will be ready in ten minutes."
Greg found a suit of good grey flannels for Jim, and Jim came down feeling so warm and comfortable and smart that he hardly knew himself. At the bottom of the stairs he met Jarvis, who stopped and waited for him. "I'm sorry, sir," he said. Jim laughed. "All right, Jarvis. You only obeyed orders. No hard feelings on my part."
"Thank you very much," said Jarvis, and slipped away. Mrs Thorold came down, and Jim was introduced. She was so kind that he felt at home at once. Then they went in to supper.
The meal set out in the big, comfortable dining-room was such as neither Jim nor Sam had ever seen. There were cold chickens, a fine ham, beautifully made salad, a green-gooseberry tart with rich crust, and a great bowl of clotted cream.
Eager as he was to hear Jim's story, the Professor courteously refused to let him speak until he had finished. Then Jarvis brought in coffee, and Jim began. Jim told the whole story from his first getting into touch with Upton, and the Professor and his son and Mrs Thorold listened with the greatest interest. The only interruption was a great burst of laughter from the Professor when Jim told how they had left Gadsden hard and fast on the shoal.
The moment Jim finished the Professor spoke. "Alan Upton is my nephew," he said. "I sent him out to search for a hidden city in Brazil, which he was to reach if possible by aeroplane, and where, I believe, will be found relics which will give the history of the Hulas, the race who lived in that country long before the Incas. I am most grateful to you, my boy, for getting me into touch with Alan, and equally so for saving me from being hoaxed by this man of Gadsden's."
Jim spoke up. "Why is Gadsden so keen, sir? He is not interested in old races."
The Professor's lip curled. "Old races!" he repeated. "If you had said new money you would be more correct. Alan and I have reason to believe that this hidden city is perhaps the richest place on earth. It is love of gold that draws Gadsden, not of knowledge. And let me tell you this," he boomed out. "There is very little that Gadsden will stick at to lay his greedy hands on the ancient treasures of the Hulas."
JIM and Sam were used to getting up at half-past six at Polcapple, but it was an hour later than that time when Jim awoke on the morning after his arrival at Ludford. The first thing he saw was Sam, sitting up in bed. Sam, wearing a suit of blue and white pyjamas belonging to Greg Thorold, was looking with amazement at a pretty little tray with a teapot and some slices of thin bread and butter which Jarvis had just laid on the stand by his bed. "But I ain't ill," he objected. "I don't reckon I need to have my breakfast in bed."
Jarvis did not smile. "It's not your breakfast, sir. That will be ready downstairs at half-past eight, but Mrs Thorold thought you would like a cup of morning tea. Will you have a hot or cold bath?"
Sam's eyes widened. "I mostly goes down for a swim in the sea," was all he could find to say.
"Then I'll make it cold, sir," said Jarvis. "The bathroom's just across the passage." He left the room, and Sam stared after him, then turned to Jim. "Do rich folk always have two breakfasts?" he asked.
"Always," said Jim gravely, and Sam gasped. Then he lifted the little teapot cautiously in his big, red hands and poured out a cup. Jim, too, drank his tea. He loved the dainty china, the soft sheets, the well-sprung bed, and all the comforts surrounding him. They reminded him of the old happy days when his people were still alive. He had hardly realized, until now, how rough everything was at Polcapple.
Greg burst into the room. "Hurry up, you chaps. Dad says we are to start at nine."
"Where for?" asked Sam.
"Polcapple, of course," replied Greg. "He wants Jim here to put him in touch with Alan as soon as possible."
Jim spoke. "We shan't be able to do that before to-morrow morning. Your cousin won't try to get through in daylight. Besides I arranged with him not to call for forty-eight hours."
"I see," said Greg. "But all the same we'd best push on as soon as possible. We don't want Gadsden monkeying with your wireless outfit."
"He won't do that," said Sam grimly. "Not so long as my aunt's around. I tell 'ee she'd take her broom to him pretty quick."
Greg shouted with laughter. "Good for her. I hope she'll give it him hot." He went off to dress, and Sam followed to get his bath.
Breakfast was ready sharp at half-past eight, and Sam was startled at the number of good things he had to choose from. As for Jim, it was pure joy to find himself among all the little luxuries he had missed so long, and secretly his heart sank at the idea of having to go back to the rough life at Polcapple. Not that Jim minded hardships, but what made him sad was that he had no prospect of anything else. What he wanted above everything was to train as an electrical engineer, but, since he had no money, he saw no chance of anything of the sort. The only way he could raise money was to sell the house—an idea which he hated, for the old place had belonged to his family for generations and he was very fond of it.
As soon as breakfast was over Greg brought round a roomy four- seater, and the Professor said that Sam had better sit with Greg in front because he himself wanted to talk to Jim. The Professor had arranged for a fisherman to take the boat home.
To drive in a car was a new experience for both the boys, but Jim soon got so deep in talk with Professor Thorold that he forgot everything else. The Professor asked him all sorts of questions about his wireless, and Jim soon came to see that he was really interested in the new aerial. "And who taught you?" asked the Professor.
"No one, sir, but our clergyman, Mr Trevenna, who gives me lessons, has lent me books."
"Then you have had no regular training, Selwyn?"
"No, sir," said Jim simply.
The Professor nodded his big head. "Very creditable," he said. "Very creditable. I shall be much interested to see this new invention of yours."
Jim fairly glowed with delight. He had never been so happy since the days when his father had been alive. He forgot all about Gadsden, and began asking questions on his own account. He soon found that his companion was a mine of knowledge on electrical matters, and it was quite a shock to him when the car pulled up in front of a hotel and Greg announced briefly that this was Bude, and that he thought lunch would be rather a good egg. "I hope I haven't been bothering you, sir," said Jim apologetically.
"Bothering me!" boomed the Professor. "I don't know when I have enjoyed a drive so greatly."
Greg burst out laughing. "Why, Dad, you and Jim have never seen a thing the whole way. If I'd taken you to Exeter, instead of Bude, you'd have been none the wiser."
"Humph!" grunted his father. "For once I have had an intelligent companion"—a remark which made Greg roar and Jim turn a delicate pink.
They had a capital luncheon, and it was three before they pushed on again. "Don't know what your Aunt Sarah will say when she sees us turning up like this," remarked Jim aside to Sam as they started.
"Let her say anything she's a mind to," returned Sam. "After all, the place is yours, ain't it?"
"Is there a hotel in your village?" asked Greg.
Sam grinned. "Polcapple don't run to hotels, but Mrs Capper, she keeps the Fishermen's Arms, and I reckon she can fix you up with beds."
Presently they were running along the narrow coast road into Polcapple. "Is that where Gadsden lives?" asked Professor Thorold pointing to a large, bare-looking house with a high roof of blue slate. "That's it, sir," answered Jim. "There's the gate and"—he drew a quick breath—"there he is himself." Gadsden's tall figure had just turned in at the iron drive-gate, but as the Thorolds' car came along he stopped and stood looking at it. He made no sign of recognizing Jim—merely stood and stared stonily at the car and its occupants.
"Sweet smile he's got, hasn't he?" remarked Greg as they passed. Sam scowled. "Up to more mischief, I'll be bound," he grumbled. But Professor Thorold was looking at the long aerial stretched from the roof of Gadsden's house to a forty-foot mast carefully stayed. "Have you any notion what sort of installation he has, Selwyn?" he asked.
Jim shook his head. "I've never been inside his house, and I never expect to. But they say he has a seven-valve set, and I know he has a transmitting licence."
Professor Thorold grunted. "I fancy we shall have more trouble with him before we have finished. We shall have to be very careful that he does not get hold of the code-word."
After leaving the Thorolds at the inn Jim and Sam hurried to the house, and, going straight to the wireless shed, Jim unlocked it and went in. "It's all right," he said with a sigh of relief. "There's no sign that anyone has been in here."
Sam grinned. "I wouldn't worry about that—not so long as Aunt Sarah is around."
The door burst open behind them. "I'm around, Sam Lusty," his aunt cried, "and so you'll know afore you're much older, you great lazy lump, you. I'm going to learn you a lesson what it means to run away like you did and leave me all the work to do. You go right out and hoe them potatoes, and not a bite of supper do you get till you've finished them all." Mrs Trant's cheeks were dull red, her eyes glittered unpleasantly, and her voice was shrill with anger. "If I was a man I'd give you a good threshing," she cried.
Sam said nothing, for he had learned by long experience that silence was best when his aunt was in her tantrums. But Jim, whose temper was usually peaceable enough, felt a sudden sense of disgust. "The potatoes will have to wait till to-morrow, Mrs Trant," he said curtly. "I need Sam's help myself this afternoon."
Mrs Trant gave a sort of gulp. She stared at Jim as if she could not believe her ears. Then she began, "You dare to talk to me like that, Jim Selwyn. A beggar's brat like you as depends on me for every bite of food!"
Jim cut in. "You are forgetting, Mrs Trant. The house you live in is mine, and what food I eat is cheap rent for it, to say nothing of the work I do. If you can't be civil I shall ask my lawyer to find another tenant or to sell the place."
Mrs Trant gasped as if some one had thrown a bucket of cold water over her. She had bullied the boys so long that she had quite forgotten the fact that Jim was really her landlord. There was a very unpleasant look on her hard face as she stared at Jim. Then suddenly she turned and, without another word, flounced out of the place.
"Fine, Jim!" said Sam. "You talked proper, you did." But Jim shook his head. "I hate myself for it," he said in a tone of disgust. "And now she'll hate me, Sam."
"I reckon she hates every one except herself," replied Sam soberly. "Now let's put up that there aerial."
Jim had taken down the aerial before leaving Polcapple, and it was quite a job to put it up again. When it was done he went through all his apparatus very carefully, fitted a freshly charged battery, and tested by tuning in first to the London station, then to various foreign stations. It was past six when all was finished, then Jim locked up, and he and Sam went to the house to wash and tidy, for Professor Thorold had asked them to supper at the inn.
Fresh-grilled mackerel and apple pasties provided by Mrs Capper made an excellent meal, and afterward they sat in the twilight and talked. But it was still quite early when Professor Thorold sent the boys off. "We must be up by four at latest," he told Greg. "So we had all better get to bed early. I shall be with you by half-past four, Selwyn."
Mrs Trant said never a word when the boys came in, but the look on her hard face was not pleasant, and Jim, after visiting the wireless shed to see that all was right, went off to bed, feeling rather depressed.
His alarm clock roused him at half-past three, and he got up quietly and went out. The night was dark but fine, and, as on the night when he had first got Alan Upton, the only sound was the low boom of the surf on the base of the cliff. He got all ready, and just as the first grey of dawn lightened the gloom Sam brought in the Professor and Greg.
"Shall I call, sir?" asked Jim.
"Better not, in case Gadsden is listening," replied the other. "Wait until Alan calls." He put on one pair of phones, and Jim had the other. For a long time they sat quiet, then Sam got up. "I'm going to watch outside," he said. "We don't want no one sneaking round like they did the other day."
He was hardly out of the room before Jim put up his hand. Morse signals had begun to tap softly on his ear-drums. Professor Thorold bent forward in his chair. "Yes, it is my nephew," he said eagerly. "I recognize his sending."
"Then I had better answer, sir," said Jim.
"Yes, tell him I am here."
Jim tapped out his message, and there was a quick reply. Jim turned inquiringly to the Professor. The latter nodded. "Yes, I heard. He refuses to believe until he gets the code-word. Very wise of him too. The worst of it is that if we send it Gadsden may catch it."
"What is it, sir?" asked Jim.
"It is 'hoip.'"
"That's a funny word. Does it mean anything?"
"Yes, 'Help or I perish.'"
Jim considered a moment. "I shall have to give it, sir, but I'll give it in code."
"How do you mean?"
"In the numbers of each letter from the beginning of the alphabet. I think that Upton will be smart enough to understand."
"I hope he will. You can try it at any rate."
Jim's fingers became busy again, and in a little while his face lit up.
"It's all right. He's got it, and says he understands the reason for our caution. Next time the word is to be in letters. Now he is going to talk."
For a long time the silence was broken only by the scratch of the Professor's fountain-pen as he rapidly took down the message, then at last the writing stopped, and presently Jim turned to the other. "His power has given out, sir," he said gravely.
"I heard him say so," was the answer, "but, thank goodness, not before he was able to tell us where he is. And what a story, Selwyn! What a story!"
Greg broke in eagerly. "Do tell us. I'm crazy to hear where Alan is. What is he doing? Has he really found this wonderful city he used to talk of?"
"He has found the city, Greg," answered his father, "but it is not deserted, and the people who inhabit it are the Hulas, the old white race mentioned in the early Spanish records as being 'fair as the English.' But they and he are in deadly danger." He paused. "But wait, I had better tell you the whole story."
"LET'S get Sam in," said Greg. "He'll be as keen to hear as I am." He fetched Sam; then they locked the door and closed the windows. "There ain't anyone outside," Sam told them. "I've made sure of that."
"Then go ahead, Dad," said Greg. "I'm just crazy to hear what Alan's been doing."
"He has done a very wonderful thing," said the Professor. "He has found what I think will prove to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. Hulak he calls it, and it is inhabited by this ancient white race who, I firmly believe, are descendants of the Atlantean race from the sunken Atlantic continent."
"But how did he get there?" demanded Greg.
"By aeroplane. It seems that he and his companion, Juan Almeida, the young Brazilian of whom he wrote before he started on his flight, were caught in a storm which slowed them badly and forced them to use nearly double the amount of petrol which they had expected to use. They had only a few gallons left when they sighted a large circular valley surrounded by a ridge of steep hills—an old volcanic crater, I fancy—and there were able to land in safety. It was nearly dark when they landed, and in the morning they were amazed to see a great city before them. The people—white people—came out and received them kindly. Indeed, they were delighted to see them, for it seems they had an ancient prophecy saying that white men would come by air to deliver them."
"Deliver them!" put in Greg. "What from, Dad?"
"That is the extraordinary part of it," his father answered. "They are besieged by a tribe of Bakaīri Indians who appear to be a very savage race. The cliffs are unscalable, so the savages have so far been unable to break in, but the Hulas, it seems, are getting short of food. Alan says they cannot hold out for more than three months."
Greg whistled softly, but his father went straight on. "He says that if the Bakaīri break in, all these priceless relics of the past will be destroyed."
"What relics are they?" asked Greg.
"Don't be foolish!" boomed the Professor. "Do you suppose that Alan had time or opportunity to describe them in his message? But I can fancy them. Monuments, statues, inscriptions, perhaps even manuscripts. It will be a treasure such as old Egypt herself never yielded."
"What—golden coffins like Tutank's?" questioned Greg eagerly.
"Gold. Gold seems to be almost the only metal they know," said his father shortly; "but what does gold matter when compared with these marvellous relics?"
"Gold's pretty useful at times," remarked Greg. "Anyhow, Gadsden seems to think so."
"That man!" snapped the Professor, frowning. "He must never be allowed to get his greedy fingers into this business. It would be nothing short of disaster."
Greg nodded. "You're right, Dad, but he'll do his darnedest, and from what Jim and Sam have told me he is pretty hot stuff. We shall have our work cut out to head him off."
"He can do nothing so long as he does not know where to find the city of Hulak," returned his father; "and that knowledge must be kept from him."
"But not from me," said Greg. "Where is it, Dad?"
"In Matto Grosso, which is the western province of Brazil," replied the Professor. "It is beyond the Xingu River, roughly ten degrees south and fifty-five west."
"A horrid long way off," said Greg, rather dismayed. "But see here, Dad, how in the world did he manage to send his message right across to us. I don't know a lot about wireless, but I do know that a 'plane can't usually send more than a couple of hundred miles."
"Ask Selwyn," said the Professor.
Jim looked up from his writing-pad. "You're right, Greg," he said. "The ordinary wireless set on an aeroplane has a range of only one hundred and twenty miles, and it uses a nine-hundred- metre wave. But your cousin got us on a very short wave—only twenty-seven metres. I expect he wound a low-loss coil, two turns widely spaced. He'd be sure to have some spare valves, and, working that way on a very short wavelength, he could get a tremendous distance with a very small amount of power."
"Then what's to prevent Gadsden from getting him?" questioned Greg.
"The signals were very faint," replied Jim, "and I could not have got them at all without my special directional aerial. Unless Gadsden has something of the same sort, I don't believe for a moment that he can have heard Upton's Morse."
Greg nodded. "Jolly good for you, Jim. If Dad manages to get Alan out of this place he will owe it all to you."
"That is absolutely true," declared the Professor. "And I shall make it my business to see that Selwyn gets credit for what is a very remarkable invention. He must patent it at once, and when I return I shall see to marketing it."
Greg bent forward. "You mean you are going to Brazil, Dad?"
The Professor looked at his son. "Of course I am going to Brazil. I shall go up to London to-day to make arrangements, and sail by the very next boat."
"But, Dad," cried Greg, "how are you going to get through these savages?"
"I do not know," replied his father, "but a way will be found. Now come at once and get the car."
Jim went with them as far as the inn. He felt horribly down in the mouth as he watched the car disappear down the winding road. Sam saw his disappointment. "They'd ought to have taken you along," he said curtly.
"I wish they could," answered Jim wistfully, then pulled himself up short. "I'm an ungrateful beast, Sam," he said. "My job is here, for I have to listen every night on the chance that Upton may be able to get through again."
"But I thought his petrol was all gone," said Sam.
"Yes, but he was trying to rig up a water-wheel, and if he can do that he'll have plenty of power. So, of course, I must just wait and listen. Anyhow, Sam, this has been the most wonderful luck for me, for the Professor says my aerial is to be patented, and that I ought to get a lot of money out of it. If I do, we'll both go to a good school."
"Me, I'd rather get apprenticed to sea," said Sam.
"You shall do anything you like, once I've got the money to help you," vowed Jim, slapping his friend on the back. "Now let's go back. We've promised to hoe those potatoes."
"Aye, we must do that, and then we'd best see if we can mend that there bicycle o' yours."
"I shall have to have new tyres," Jim told him, "but that will be all right. Look here," he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a wad of Treasury notes which made Sam stare. "Ten pounds," said Jim. "A present from the Professor. Isn't he a good sort?"
"Aye, and Greg too. I like him," said Sam. "But, gosh, that's a lot of money, Jim. Where be you going to keep it? Aunt Sarah keeps hers in her old tea-caddy. Regular old miser, she is; I saw her last night, counting of it."
"I shall lock mine up in my cupboard in the wireless room," Jim said. "But I'm going to spend part in a pair of new tyres before we leave the village. Old Pratt at the garage keeps them." They got the tyres, then went back and started on the potatoes and worked so hard that by four they had finished the lot. Sam grinned as he looked at the neatly hoed rows. "Let's go down to the beach and cast the seine, Jim. Tide's just right, and fried fish would go fine for supper. Aunt's got no kick coming, now we've done the job."
Jim agreed, and they went down, got the seine net, and, borrowing a dinghy, ran it out. The haul was not a big one, but they got a number of small bass and a few whiting and pollack. They were busy picking the fish out of the net when Jim jumped up, wringing his hand. "A weever," he said, his face twisted with pain.
Sam rushed him back to the house, and ran for the doctor. A weever, sometimes called a sea-viper, is a small fish with a spiked back fin which is very poisonous. The sting is worse than that of a hornet.
Luckily, the doctor was at home, and came at once and put some stuff on Jim's hand which eased the pain. But the whole hand swelled up badly, and throbbed and ached a great deal. Sam made Jim go to bed and brought up some supper, but Jim could not eat. What was worse, he could not sleep, and he lay and tossed for hours. At last he tired of it, and got up and went to the window and leaned out, taking deep breaths of the fresh, cool air.
Suddenly he stiffened. A sound came from the darkness below. It was like a key being turned in a latch. In a flash Jim had thrust his feet into a pair of slippers, flung on a coat, and was running downstairs, pausing only to waken Sam.
The sound came from the wireless shed, and Jim's first idea was that some one had somehow found out that he had locked up his money there and was after it. Sure enough, as he got near the shed he saw a dim figure hurriedly leaving the place. It was too dark to make out the face, but what Jim did see was that the man was carrying a large square thing that looked like a box. He made for the trees to the right, and Jim, with a shout, started after him.
In spite of having his arm in a sling, Jim gained fast, but the man dived in among the trees and Jim lost sight of him. There was a path through the trees leading to a wicket-gate, and Jim spurted, hoping to catch the thief before he could reach and open the gate. Next instant he caught his foot in something and came down with a force that knocked every bit of breath out of his body and left him lying gasping and half stunned. A length of cord had been stretched right across the path.
"Jim, Jim!" sounded Sam's anxious voice as he ran up, carrying a lantern. "Jim, are you hurt? What's up?" demanded Sam.
"That man—the thief," Jim managed to gasp out. "Catch him!"
Sam ran on, and presently Jim was able to pick himself up and limp after him. Sam came back. "Can't see a sign of him," he panted. "Who was he?"
"I wish I knew. He came out of the wireless shed. I expect he's got my money."
"But the shed door was locked," said Sam.
"It's open now, I'll bet," said Jim bitterly, and when they reached the place they found he was right; the door was open.
"Must have got the key somehow," muttered Sam. "Or a duplicate," said Jim. "Let's have the light." He went straight to the cupboard. "Why, it's locked," he exclaimed in a tone of great relief. He took the key from the pocket of his coat and unlocked the cupboard door. "It wasn't the money," he said. "Here it is, quite safe."
"Then what the mischief was the fellow after?" demanded Sam. "Must have been your wireless."
"There's nothing secret about that, except the aerial," Jim told him, "and he couldn't reach the aerial without getting on the roof."
"Was he listening in for Upton?" suggested Sam.
"Not likely. Upton wouldn't be sending as early as this, even if he could send at all."
"Then what the mischief was he after?" asked Sam for the second time.
Jim's lips tightened. "That's what you and I have got to find out, Sam," he answered.
"You think he was Gadsden?"
"No, not big enough," Jim replied, "but it might have been the sneaky little Sneed. Come on, Sam, we've got to search the whole place and see if anything is missing."
"Are you fit, Jim?" asked Sam.
"Oh, I'm all right. The shake up has made me forget my hand. Now you start that end of the room, and I'll try this."
Jim first went through his wireless stuff, but there was nothing missing. Not even the drawer where he kept his notes had been touched. He was beginning to feel utterly puzzled when Sam exclaimed, "Jim, this pile of junk in the corner has been moved."
Jim darted over. "How do you know?"
"Why, because I sorted it myself two days ago. You haven't been touching it, have you?"
"Haven't so much as looked at it," replied Jim.
"Well, it's all been moved and look here, there's a mark in the dust where some square thing has been standing."
Jim drew a quick breath. "Yes, and—hold your light closer, Sam—yes, here are marks of a rubber-soled shoe."
"You're right," growled Sam. "And neither of us wear them, and Greg didn't have 'em either. Besides, his feet were bigger than these marks."
"They're Sneed's, then," said Jim. He straightened and stood frowning. "I've got it!" he exclaimed sharply. "That box—it was a dictaphone."
"What's that?" demanded Sam. "I never heard tell of it."
"It's an invention for recording speech," Jim explained. "Set it anywhere and every word that's been said within earshot is recorded.
"Oh, Sam!" he groaned. "Gadsden has tricked us. He's got the password after all."
SAM stood frowning. "You mean that this here dic-dictaphone works like a gramophone, and that once Gadsden's got it he can tell all the Professor said last night?"
"That's it exactly," replied Jim, biting his lip with vexation. "While we're talking here Gadsden is listening to every word that any of us said. He knows as much as we do by this time."
"Then it's no use following that chap as was here," said Sam with his usual common sense. "What we got to do is to let the Professor know what's happened quick as ever we can."
"You're right, Sam, but how are we to do it?"
"You got his address, haven't you? You can send him a telegram."
"The office doesn't open till eight, and it's not one yet. Before the telegram reaches the Professor, Gadsden will have started."
"Aye, that's true," said Sam soberly. He thought a moment. "See here, Jim. Do you reckon we could get him on the telephone? It's true there's none in the village, but I could take your bicycle and ride to Bude. There'll be an all-night service there."
"I'll go," said Jim.
"That you won't, Jim. Not with that hand o' yours. You write down what I'm to say, and give me the money, and I'll get it through."
Jim hesitated, and Sam spoke again. "Oh, I know you think I'm a fool, Jim, and it's true I ain't got much education, but—"
Jim cut in. "Don't talk nonsense, Sam. You'll do it just as well as I could. It was only that I was so keen to talk to the Professor. Get your clothes on while I write out the address and message."
Sam dressed in almost no time, and Jim gave him the message and some money. "I haven't got his telephone number," he said, "but I have written the address on the message, and if you ask the operator to let you look at the London Telephone Directory you will easily find it."
"I'll get it some way, depend on that!" said Sam as he wheeled the bicycle out of the shed. "I'll be back before daylight. You go back to bed, Jim. There won't be no more trouble to- night."
"What a brick he is!" said Jim as he watched the light twinkling away in the distance. Then he turned and walked slowly back toward the house. He was thinking hard, wondering how on earth Gadsden's man could have got hold of a key to open the shed. It was a good lock and not one that could be easily picked with a skeleton key. Jim had seen to that himself. Also, there was only one key, and that Jim kept in a drawer in his own bedroom.
As he reached the house another thing struck him, which was that Mrs Trant had not waked up. There was no light in her room. This was odd, because she was a light sleeper, and, what with his shout and Sam calling out, there had been a good deal of noise. He remembered too what Sam had said about seeing his aunt counting her money the previous evening. An ugly suspicion began to form itself in his mind, and, instead of going into the house, he went into the wireless shed, unlocked the cupboard, took out his money, and put it into his pocket. Then after carefully locking the shed door he went back to his bedroom, took off his coat, and lay down. Oddly enough, the excitement had stopped his hand from hurting so badly as before, and he fell asleep.
He woke with a start. The room was quite light, and he jumped up like a shot and went to the window, where he saw that the sun was just rising over the brown ridge of moor to the east. Without even waiting to put on slippers, he went out of his room and across the passage to Sam's room. He opened the door softly and peeped in, only to see that there was no one there. "He must be back," he said anxiously. "It couldn't take him more than two hours to ride to Bude and back."
Going back to his room, Jim dressed quickly, then went to the shed. But the bicycle was not there, nor was there any sign of Sam. Jim began to feel really worried, and, after making certain that Sam was nowhere about the place, he started down the road. There had been a little shower early in the night, and the tracks of the new bicycle tyres were quite plain in the drying dust. They led straight along the road as far as Gadsden's gate. There it seemed, from the marks, that Sam had dismounted, but why he had done so Jim could not imagine. The entrance to the drive was covered with gravel, on which marks were not easy to trace, and Jim went down the road some way to see if he could find any fresh wheel-marks. There were none, so he came back to the gate and after a bit made certain that Sam had gone no farther.
That being the case, it was plain that he must have gone in, and Jim came to the conclusion that Gadsden or his men had stopped him, for he could hardly imagine that Sam had gone in of his own free will. Come to think of it, this was exactly what Gadsden was likely to have done. His messenger would have told him that he had been chased, and Gadsden, of course, put two and two together and laid his plans to stop news from getting to Professor Thorold.
Jim boiled over. He went straight to the gate and lifted the latch. To his surprise it was not locked. It opened; he walked in, and for the first time in his life found himself inside Gadsden's grounds.
The grounds were big, and sloped toward the edge of the cliff. They were surrounded by a high and solid stone wall, and, though they had once been well planted, had a dreary, neglected look, showing that their owner cared nothing for them. The house stood about two hundred yards back from the road. It was bigger than Jim had fancied, a great, gaunt building of granite with a grim and forbidding appearance. At present the blinds were down, no smoke was rising from the chimneys, and the whole place was as quiet and deserted-looking as an enchanted castle.
Jim was too angry to be cautious. He walked up the drive to the front door, and put his finger on the button of the electric bell. He did not really suppose that anyone would be up yet, so he was surprised when almost at once the door opened and he found himself facing Gadsden's rat-like secretary, Sneed.
Jim did not wait for Sneed to speak. "Where is Sam Lusty?" he demanded curtly.
"Search me," answered Sneed with a faint grin. "Have you lost him?"
Jim took no notice of the sneer. "He's here," he said. "I've tracked him."
"I don't know where he is," said Sneed. "You'd best come in and see Mr Gadsden."
Jim hesitated, but only for an instant. He knew the risk he was taking, but Sam was in the house, and he had to get him out. He walked in, and Sneed closed the door behind him.
"Mr Gadsden is dressing," said Sneed. "Come this way."
He led the way across the hall to stairs running up at the far side. The house was better inside than out. The furniture was far finer than Professor Thorold's; there were handsome paintings on the walls, and the ashes of a wood fire were in the great fireplace in the hall. Clearly Gadsden had an eye to comfort.
Sneed went straight upstairs, and Jim followed. Reaching the first floor, they went down a broad corridor with doors on each side. Sneed opened a door, and went in. "This is Mr Gadsden's sitting-room," he said to Jim. "His bedroom is beyond. I will find out if he is ready to see you." He went to a door on the far side of the room, knocked, then went through, and closed the door behind him.
Jim heard a sound of voices, and waited. Some minutes passed, but Sneed did not come back. At last Jim lost patience and tried the far door. It was locked. "Are you there, Mr Gadsden?" he asked sharply, but there was no reply. He hurried back to the passage door, only to find that that was locked.
Then he realized that he too was trapped, and the knowledge drove him nearly frantic. He was furious with himself for having been foolish enough to walk into the trap in this fashion, but the worst of it was the knowledge that now Gadsden had things all his own way. He could pack at leisure and go off, knowing quite well that there was no chance of Professor Thorold hearing anything about his movements.
Jim ran to the window and looked out. It was twenty feet to the ground and bare gravel below. If he tried to drop he was certain to smash himself up, and there was nothing in the room of which to make a rope. He shouted, but there was no reply. Jim was not the sort to give up easily. He set himself to see if there was any way of breaking down the door. But it opened inward and was solid as a rock, and he soon found that nothing but a hammer and cold chisel would be of any use. He had made his poisoned hand ache badly by his efforts, and at last dropped panting into a chair.
Time dragged miserably, and Jim was nearly frantic when at last a key turned in the lock and Gadsden himself came in. Jim sprang up, ready to make a rush, but Gadsden stood in the way and Jim had sense enough to know that he had not a dog's chance. Well over six feet, gaunt, powerfully built, Gadsden was a fine figure of a man. But his eyes were the colour of steel and as hard. He smiled slightly. "Rather put your foot in it, haven't you, Selwyn?" he remarked.
Jim paid no attention to the sneer, but went straight to the point. "Where is Sam Lusty?" he demanded.
"Just getting up, I believe," said Gadsden. "He was my guest last night."
"Then you confess you are holding him prisoner?"
"Why not?" replied Gadsden coolly. "If you and he are foolish enough to walk into the lion's den you can hardly expect the lion to let you out again."
Jim bit his lip. "It's a pretty serious thing to go kidnapping people," he said.
Gadsden laughed. "I assure you I am not at all alarmed. In the first place I must remind you that your word would not go for much against mine, but in any case I shall be out of the country before you can lay any complaint."
"Mrs Trant will be looking for us," returned Jim. "And when she doesn't find us she will go to Mr Trevenna."
Gadsden shook his head. "I am not worrying about Mrs Trant," he said coolly.
All Jim's suspicions of the previous night boiled up again. "You mean that she is in your pay?" he asked sharply. "Then it was through her that you were able to hide that dictaphone in my wireless room?"
"We never tell tales out of school, Selwyn," said the big man mockingly. "By the by, that was smart work on your part. I mean your realizing that it was a dictaphone which I had been using."
Jim paid no attention to the compliment. "You haven't told Sam?" he said earnestly.
Gadsden shook his head. "No, certainly not. There is no reason that he should even suspect it so long as you keep your mouth shut." Then, seeing Jim's look of surprise, he added sharply, "I wish you would understand, Selwyn, that I have no grudge against you or Lusty."
"Then why not let us go?" said Jim quickly.
"I will do so at once if you will give me your word not to communicate with Professor Thorold."
"You know I can't do that, Mr Gadsden," replied Jim.
"Then I am afraid that you and Lusty will have to stay here until after I have left. I can't have my plans interfered with."
"But you have nothing to do with Alan Upton or this city," cried Jim indignantly.
"It is true I have nothing to do with Upton," replied Gadsden, "but, as for the Hula city, I have been working on it for years. I was in Rio before the War, and there got information which made me certain that the Hulas still existed. Now that I know where to find them I am certainly not going to lose my chance."
Jim's jaw set doggedly. "You stole the information," he declared.
Gadsden remained quite cool. "I've got it anyhow, and I shall make much better use of it than Thorold. I am going into this thing on a big scale, and hope to come out of it a rich man." He paused a moment. "There is no reason why you should not share in the profits, Selwyn," he added.
"What do you mean?" asked Jim in amazement.
"Why, that I can make good use of a youngster who knows Morse as well as you do. I'll take you as wireless operator and give you ten pounds a month and all found, as well as a share in the proceeds. That's more than Thorold has offered to do for you."
JIM stood and gazed at Gadsden. Such an offer was so startling that he could hardly believe his ears.
Gadsden read his thoughts. "I mean it," he said. "What is more, I shall not interfere with your friend Thorold so long as he does not interfere with me."
A thousand thoughts whirled through Jim's mind. It would be absurd to say that he was not tempted, for such an offer was in itself a great compliment, and if there was one thing he longed for more than another it was for a chance of seeing the world. And a trip like this—it was not likely that he would ever get a second chance of such a kind. But next moment the current of his thoughts changed, and, oddly enough, it was not of the Thorolds he began to think, but of Sam. It seemed to him that he could see the expression on Sam's square, honest face when he heard the news that his chum had taken service under the man who had tricked them both.
"Well?" he heard Gadsden say at last.
Jim shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mr Gadsden," he said with sudden decision, "but I can't accept."
Gadsden showed no sign of anger. He merely shrugged his great shoulders. "Just as you like, Selwyn, but if that is your decision, why then, mine too holds good, and you and Lusty will have to stay here until after I have left."
"I shall do my best to get away," Jim told him.
A cold smile crossed Gadsden's face. "You are welcome to try. But, as I don't want you destroying furniture or perhaps burning the house down, I will trouble you to come with me. If you come quietly you will not suffer in any way, but I should advise you for your own sake not to try any tricks." He opened the door and went out, motioning Jim to follow. And Jim, seeing no chance at present for making a bolt, went quietly after.
Gadsden took him to the ground floor, then along a stone- flagged passage behind the hall and opened a very solid-looking door. "That is your sitting-room," he said with his chilly smile. "I will send you some food, and if you change your mind within the next two hours you can ring the electric bell three times. After that it will be too late."
Before Jim quite knew what was happening he was inside, the heavy door clanged behind him, and he heard the key turn in the lock.
"So he've got you too," came Sam's voice, and there was Sam himself, with a grimmer expression on his weather-burned face than Jim had ever before seen.
"How did he get you?" asked Jim.
"Tricked me proper. As I rode along by the gate I heard some one moaning as if he were hurt bad. Like a fool, I never thought 'twas a trick, and next minute a rug was over my head and I didn't see nothing more till I found myself in the house. I was in a sort of cellar first. They only brought me in here a few minutes ago." He paused. "I reckon you came after me?"
Jim nodded. "I was a bigger fool than you, Sam, for I walked into the trap with my eyes open."
"It's no use worrying over spilt milk," said Sam quietly. "What we've got to do is to get out."
Jim looked round the room. It was small and bare, a sort of pantry or perhaps a gun-room. The door was enormously solid, and the one small window had three heavy iron bars across it. "That sounds very nice, Sam," he replied dryly, "but a rat could get out of a trap more easily than we out of this place. How do you propose to start?"
"On the window," said Sam. "The bars ain't set in the stone; they're screwed to the woodwork."
Jim went across and looked at the bars. "You're right, Sam, but without a good screwdriver we can't possibly shift the screws."
Sam grinned as he took from his pocket a useful-looking screwdriver. "Gadsden's smart," he said, "but he wasn't smart enough to search me. I'd been fixing up the bicycle before I started, and I slipped the screwdriver into my pocket. Lucky, wasn't it?"
"I should rather think it was," declared Jim. He looked at the window again. "If we could get one bar off I believe we could squeeze through."
"I was thinking that," agreed Sam. "I was just going to start on it when I heard him and you coming down the passage. That's what I'm scared of—that some one may catch us at the job."
"Yes, we shall have to be careful," agreed Jim, "for Gadsden is going to send us some food. But I'll listen at the door and warn you if I hear anyone coming." He went to the door, and Sam started at once. For the next five minutes the only sound was Sam's panting breath. At last he spoke. "It's no use, Jim. The screws are rusted in so I can't shift them. If we'd got a drop of oil we might manage, but I don't reckon we'll do it without."
At this very minute Jim heard steps in the passage. "Some one coming," he whispered sharply. "Hide the screwdriver, Sam." Sam slipped the screwdriver behind a bookshelf. "See here, Jim," he whispered quickly. "Suppose it's Sneed. We could handle him."
"Collar him and tie him up, you mean?"
Jim shook his head. "No good. He'd be missed, and Gadsden or Harth would come to look for him. We'll try the lock of the door if we can't manage the window."
Before Sam could reply the key turned in the lock, and Sneed himself came in. He was carrying a tray of food, which he dumped down with a bang on the table. "It's more than you deserve, you brats," he said angrily. "If I was Gadsden you'd starve."
"Just as well for us that you're not," replied Jim with a smile which seemed to enrage Sneed. "You want a good hiding to teach you manners," he growled.
Sam stepped forward. "Maybe you'd like to give me one," he suggested. Sneed looked at the boy and noticed his stocky shape and powerful arms. "I can do better than licking you," he remarked with a grin, and went straight out of the room.
"Now you've done it," said Jim as the key turned in the lock.
"What can he do?" asked Sam.
"Keep us here," replied Jim. "The chances are that Gadsden will leave him to let us go, and he'll keep us here."
"All the more reason for us to get out," said Sam. "As soon as we've had our grub I'll get to work on the door."
The grub was a loaf of bread, a pat of butter and a pot of tea—plain fare, but plenty of it. Sam began to cut bread, but Jim, instead of sitting down, stood staring at the tray. "What's the matter with you?" demanded Sam quite sharply.
"Oil!" said Jim. "You wanted oil."
"Course I did, but where is it?"
"The butter, you ass."
A slow grin crossed Sam's face. "You're right, Jim. I'm certainly thick. It's the very thing. See here. I'll put some on them screws at once, and by the time we've finished it ought to have worked in."
With the help of some hot tea Sam melted a small piece of butter, and ran it round the screws. Then he went back to the table, and he and Jim between them made the loaf look small. While they were breakfasting there came a sudden rattling sound. "Rain," said Jim, looking round.
"Aye, and heavy too," agreed Sam.
"All the better for us," said Jim. "That is, if we can get out. They won't be so likely to spot us."
Sam got up, took the screwdriver, and went to work again. His forehead wrinkled as he put all his strength and weight upon the first screw.
"Let me try," said Jim after a while.
"No, she's coming," panted Sam, and, sure enough, the screw turned a little. A minute later it was out. Sam took hold of the bar and pulled. Jim added his weight, and presently, with a crunch, the upper screw gave and the bar came clean away. Jim poked his head out. It was still raining hard. After a look round he drew back, and there was a worried look on his face. "What's up?" asked Sam. "Can't we get out?"
"We can get out all right, but I don't see how we can get away. There are big walls on both sides running right down to the cliff. And you know what the cliff's like."
"Can't we get over the wall?" asked Sam.
"Not a chance. It's twelve feet high and topped with broken glass. Even if we had a ladder it would be a job, and some one would be sure to spot us from the windows."
"Then we'll have to try the cliff," said Sam shortly. "We can get to that without being seen, for there are lots of bushes."
"We can reach the edge all right," agreed Jim, "but what's the good. It's over a hundred feet high and straight up and down."
"No," said Sam quickly. "It's not as bad as that. I believe we can find a way down." He paused. "But, after all, what's your hurry, Jim?"
Jim's eyes widened. "Why, to tell Professor Thorold, of course."
"But what's the good? Gadsden's got the password. Seems to me it's Upton you've got to warn."
"Yes, that too, of course," said Jim impatiently.
"But there you're up against it again," said Sam, "for Gadsden, or whoever he leaves in charge, is bound to get your message to Upton."
Jim groaned. "I hadn't thought of that. What on earth are we to do?"
"There's only one thing to do," replied Sam. "Bust up Gadsden's wireless."
Jim turned and looked at Sam. "Sounds all right, but it means getting into the house, and if we try that we'll be nabbed for a certainty."
"We don't have to get into the house at all," said Sam. "The lead from the aerial comes in the very next window to this. If we can nip the wire without being spotted the chances are they'll never find out what's wrong before to-night and you'll get a chance to send off your message before they have time to find the damage and repair it."
Jim's face cleared. "Good enough, Sam. Here, let me out and I'll do the trick."
The rain was still falling heavily as Jim wormed his way between the two bars. He dropped to the ground, and, keeping close under the wall, glanced round. The windows were all closed, and there was no sign of anyone about. And there, just as Sam had said, was the lead-in wire, coming down from the tall aerial, and running through a small hole in the casement of the ground-floor window next the one from which he had escaped. Whipping out his knife, he tackled the wire, and in a few moments had managed to saw it through.
"Here's a bit of string," came Sam's voice beside him. "Tie the ends and they'll be a moon before they find what's wrong."
The rain was heavier than ever. It was a regular thundershower, drumming on the roofs and splashing up from the ground. Both boys were wet to the skin inside a couple of minutes, but neither minded that, for without the rain their chances of getting away unseen would have been precious slim. Jim tied the cut ends of the wire, then he and Sam dodged away into the thick, low-growing shrubs, and, bending double, moved quietly toward the cliff.
Jim grabbed Sam's arm. "Steady!" he whispered, and, pulling him down, pointed back toward the house. "It's Harth," he muttered, and sure enough there was the silent chauffeur standing at the open back door and looking out into the rain.
"It's all right," said Sam in a very low voice. "He can't see us."
"I don't believe he can," replied Jim, "but it's been a jolly narrow squeak. A minute sooner and he'd have had us."
"A miss is as good as a mile," said Sam, but he kept very still until Harth turned and, closing the door, disappeared from sight.
"Come on," said Sam urgently, and Jim followed him as he crept away down the slope. A couple of minutes later they were on the edge of the cliff. "I told you so," said Jim as he peered over the sheer edge down to the sea fully one hundred feet beneath them. "We can never get down there. It's like a wall."
Instead of answering, Sam went down flat on his face. "Hold my legs," he said, and when Jim had got firm hold of them Sam wriggled forward until his head and shoulders were over the edge. It looked a hair-raising performance, but both boys had good heads for high places, and there was no chance of either going giddy.
Sam signed to be pulled up. "It's bad enough," he said, "but not so bad as it looks. There's a ledge starts about ten yards over to the left, and it looks to me as if it runs all the way down the face of the cliff, right to the sea. Are you game to try it, Jim?"
"Rather!" replied Jim quickly.
"It'll be a bit awkward," said Sam slowly.
"I expect it will," Jim answered, "but if you say we can do it that's all right. I'd take a few risks to score off Gadsden."
Sam nodded. "Come on, then," he said.
It was still raining when they reached the ledge, or what Sam called a ledge. It was actually a sort of crack in the sheer face of the cliff and it sloped downward rather more steeply than an attic staircase. Sam went first, and Jim followed. Sam, for his age, was as good a cragsman as any on that coast, and luckily for Jim he had been well coached by Sam. But it was breathless work. Neither could take a step until they had got good hand-hold, and both knew only too well that one mistake or slip would be enough. Whoever made it would never get a chance to make another. The rain which had helped them so far was now their worst enemy, for water was trickling down the cliff face in every direction and made the granite rock most terribly slippery. It took ten minutes to climb down the first twenty-five feet, then they reached a projection big enough to stand on. "We'll rest awhile," said Sam. "There's a nasty bit ahead."
"If it's worse than the last I don't believe I can do it, Sam," Jim confessed.
"You'll do it right enough," said Sam quietly; "but I reckon it'll be easier if we take our boots off."
Jim said nothing but his heart sank a little, for he knew that if Sam thought it needful to take off his boots the climb before them must be uncommonly bad. But he did not speak; he took his boots off, tied the laces together, and slung the boots over his back.
Sam stood up. "The ledge breaks off just below," he explained. "It goes on again just over there, but we've got to get across a bit of sheer cliff face to reach it. You game, Jim?"
Jim set his teeth. "I'm ready," he said.
"SEE that bush?" said Sam, pointing to a stunted broom-bush which sprouted from a crevice in the cliff about five feet away. "If I can get a grip on that I can get my feet on that bit of rock sticking out just below. There's another point of rock juts out a bit farther on, and one big stride will reach it, and from that it ought to be easy to get to a broad ledge beyond. Take a good look at it, Jim. You want to know just where to put your hands."
"I'd want a magnifying glass to see the places," replied Jim, with a poor attempt at a smile. "But you go ahead, Sam, and I'll follow." Sam reached out, caught hold of a ledge so narrow that it gave him finger-grip and no more, then swung slowly outward, and with his right hand got a good grip of the bush. He pulled hard on it, but it held; then he let go with his left, and Jim gasped as he saw his chum dangling in mid-air with only the broom-stem between him and destruction.
Quite calmly Sam stuck out his right leg and felt about until he got his foot on the projecting knob of rock; then, pressing his body close to the cliff face, balanced himself and let go of the bush. "All right, Jim," he said. "It ain't so bad as it looks. You can come along now."
Jim was scared, and knew it, but he was not going to be beaten, and anyhow there was no way up again. He took one deep breath and started. He got to the broom-bush, and, letting go with his left hand, found himself dangling just as Sam had dangled a moment earlier, but with a difference, for he could not find the knob of rock below. And then suddenly he heard a slight cracking sound just above him. "Sam," he cried sharply, "the bush is breaking."
The roots were pulling out, he felt that the whole thing was slowly giving way, and knew that next minute he would drop from the height of a four-story house into the sea. And still he could not find the knob of rock.
"Hang on!" came Sam's quiet voice, and suddenly Jim felt his ankle grasped and his foot placed on solid rock. "Lean hard against the cliff," continued Sam, and just as Jim's weight came against the cliff face the last tendrils of the tough broom-plant tore loose.
For a moment Jim could not move. He could hardly breathe. Then he heard Sam speak again. "There's good handhold just to your right. Get a grip and give me a pull."
Jim got the grip, and looked down to see Sam sprawled across the cliff face clinging with his right hand to a little projection. He had had to come right back from his safe perch beyond in order to help Jim. His danger made Jim forget his own, and, leaning down, he got firm hold of Sam and held him till he could find foothold. A minute later and the two were both safe on the broad ledge beyond.
"Thanks awfully, Sam," said Jim drawing a long breath. He pointed to the sea below. "I'd have been down there if you hadn't grabbed me."
"A nasty place," was all Sam said. "It's better now." He started down the ledge, and Jim followed. Though the going was simply wicked, it was nothing to what they had already crossed, and they went on down at a good rate until they reached a point eight or ten feet above the water. There the ledge broadened and ended abruptly. Sam looked down into the swells that heaved slowly against the base of the cliff. "Up against it again, Jim," he said, "and climbing won't help us this time."
"No, but swimming will," replied Jim. "And this time it's my turn."
"You're not going down into them waves!" said Sam sharply.
"They won't hurt me," declared Jim, stripping off his coat. "I'm not rotting, Sam. I promise you I shall be all right. You stay here, and I'll bring the boat." He waited for a swell to rise, then when it was at its full height jumped with all his might.
Sam, leaning forward, watched Jim disappear into the heart of the great, green swell. Ten seconds passed, seeming like ten minutes, then up bobbed Jim's head yards out from the cliff and Sam saw him set to swimming strongly. If Sam was the stronger of the two on the rocks Jim was by all odds the better in the water, and with the tide helping him he went rapidly toward the bathing beach. Sam sighed with relief as he saw Jim scramble out on to the shingle, and make for a dinghy which was drawn up on the beach.
Another few minutes, and Jim was back beneath the ledge. "You'll have to jump, Sam," he said.
Sam hesitated. "I'm scared stiff," he confessed.
"I'll bet you're not so scared as I was up above there," replied Jim. "Chuck me my boots first, then jump. I'll get hold of you as soon as you come up."
"Don't believe I'll ever come up," groaned Sam, and then he made a huge jump and landed in the sea with a most terrific splash. He came up puffing and blowing, and Jim had him in a moment and helped him aboard; then he jumped to the oars and pulled like mad to keep the boat off the cliff. Sam rubbed the salt water from his eyes and looked up at the cliff. "I wonder if they know we're gone yet," he said.
"It doesn't make much odds," replied Jim. "They can't get us again now."
Sam shook his head. "Don't you be too sure; Gadsden don't stick at much."
The boat grounded on the beach, and Jim jumped out. It had stopped raining, and the sun was breaking through. "What do we do now?" asked Sam.
"Change. Then one of us has to get to a telephone and be jolly quick about it."
"You'd better go this time, Jim," said Sam rather humbly, but Jim clapped him on the back. "Not a bit of it, old chap. You go ahead. I'm jolly sure you won't let Gadsden humbug you again."
"Likely he'll be watching the road," said Sam.
Jim thought a little. "Then I'll tell you what to do. Take the bus to Bude. He can't interfere with that."
"That's a good notion," agreed Sam. "And you better watch that wireless of yours. They'll mess that up for you if they get a chance."
Jim's lips tightened. "I'll be precious careful they don't get a chance. Hullo, there's your Aunt Sarah. I wonder—" He stopped short as he remembered what Gadsden had said about Mrs Trant.
"She looks scared-like," said Sam in a puzzled tone.
Sam was right, for there was a very odd expression on Mrs Trant's sour face as she stood at the back door, watching the two dripping boys come up the slope. She began to bluster. "Where've you been to, I'd like to know. Out half the night and coming home like this. Pretty goings on, I do think."
"We've been busy, Mrs Trant," said Jim curtly. "Now we are going to change."
"Aye, and now I got to dry all them wet things," she exclaimed bitterly. "I do all the work while you two run around and amuse yourselves."
Jim looked at her very straight. "Yes, we have had a very amusing time this morning," he said, and to his surprise the woman's face went dull red, and, turning right round, she walked back into the house without another word.
"What's up with her?" asked Sam in surprise. "She acted like she was ashamed—or scared." But Jim said nothing and went straight upstairs.
It was pleasant to strip, have a good rub down, and get into dry things.
While they changed they talked, and Jim told Sam of Gadsden's offer of the job as wireless operator for the trip. Sam's eyes widened. "Offered you that, did he? Well, of all the cheek I ever heard!"
Jim coloured. He was thinking how much he had been tempted to accept, and was minded to confess to Sam. But Sam suddenly laughed. "Gadsden's no fool. He knows a good chap when he sees one. After all, it's a bit of a feather in your cap, Jim." He pulled on his coat in a hurry. "I must get along. It's ten to twelve, and the bus comes through sharp at twelve. About all I'll do to catch it."
"Have you got money, Sam?" asked Jim.
"Aye, they didn't take that from me. And I got the message too. I'll cut along, and you stay and watch your wireless."
"When will you be back?"
"Can't say. Likely I'll have to wait some time, for the Professor may be out."
"Yes, he may," said Jim. "Well if you miss the last bus you'd better take a car."
Sam stared. "Me hire a motor-car. Why, it would cost a quid."
"Here's the money. You do as I say. I may need you before morning."
Sam hurried off, looking rather dazed, and Jim went into the wireless room to see all was right. He was relieved to find that nothing had been interfered with, but just to be on the safe side he did not try to do any sending, for he felt it was as well to take no risks. Presently Mrs Trant called him to his dinner, and he went into the house. Mrs Trant sat sulkily silent, and Jim did not offer to speak. In a way he felt sorry for the woman, yet at the same time he hated the idea of being obliged to live in the same house with her. His one night in the Thorolds' pleasant, cheerful house had opened his eyes to what a home could be, and he longed greatly for something of the sort for himself and Sam. He thought again of Gadsden's offer, and felt half sorry that he could not have accepted it. When he had finished his food he took the dishes to the scullery and washed them, then he went back to his wireless room. He had more than a notion that Sam was right and that, when Gadsden found that he had escaped, he would do his best to stop him from sending any message to Alan Upton.
It was dull work hanging about, and after a while he slipped out and went across to a point of high ground near the edge of his own land, a spot from which he could keep watch on his wireless shed, and at the same time see if anyone was coming from the direction of Gadsden's place. After about an hour he heard the honk of a horn and saw a car come out of Gadsden's gate and turn north. There were two people in it, one of whom was Gadsden, while the other seemed to be Harth. Jim sighed with relief. If they were out of the way he was not afraid of Sneed.
Tea-time came and passed, but still there was no sign of Sam. The bus was due back through the village at five, so he knew that Sam must have missed it. It was past seven when Sam at last turned up. "I didn't have to hire a car," he said. "A chap gave me a lift as far as King Tor, and I walked the rest of the way."
"But did you get the Professor?" asked Jim eagerly.
"Aye, I got him," replied Sam, but he spoke rather heavily.
"What's wrong?" asked Jim.
"Naught's wrong, Jim. I got good news for you."
"Good news," repeated Jim in surprise.
"Mr Thorold, he's starting for America straight off, and he told me to tell you he wants you to go along."
Jim fairly leaped up. "Wants me to go with him? Sam, you don't mean it?"
"Aye, it's right enough. He'll take you along to run the wireless for the party. It—it'll be fine for you, Jim."
"Fine. Oh, Sam, I can hardly believe it. It's too good to be true. But how came he to make such an offer?"
"Why shouldn't he?" Sam answered. "You're as good with the wireless as any grown man. I reckon you'll earn your pay."
"But he didn't say anything about it before," returned Jim. He paused. "Sam, you didn't ask him to take me?" he said sharply.
"No," Sam answered stolidly. "I didn't ask him."
"What did you say?" questioned Jim.
"I gave him the message. Then he asked where I was speaking from, and I told him. He wanted to know all about it, and I told him how we'd been hung up by Gadsden."
"Sam," said Jim, "did you tell him about Gadsden's offer to me?"
Sam went rather red. "Why shouldn't I?" he growled.
"Oh, Sam!" said Jim reproachfully. "Then it's you have done the whole thing for me."
"Well, I'm glad," said Sam flatly, then turned quickly away.
Jim stepped after him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Sam, you're the best pal a chap ever had," he declared, "and I'm a selfish pig. You've got me this wonderful chance, and I'm to leave you to stick in this dull hole without a soul to speak to. I won't go. I'll stay here with you."
Sam swung round sharply. "Don't go for to talk nonsense, Jim. I'd never forgive you if you didn't go. I won't say I'll enjoy being here alone, but I'll make out well enough, and when you get back maybe you'll find some sort of a job for me. Anyways, if Aunt Sarah gets too worrying I can always get work at the fishing. Silas Coaker would have me any day. I'm a good cook, and could take a hand at most jobs aboard."
"I should rather think you could," said Jim, "but you're a jolly sight too good for a fishing-boat. You ought to get a job on a yacht."
"I wish I could," said Sam longingly. "But see here, Jim, I haven't told you all the Professor said. He says he's going to get off quick as ever he can and try to beat Gadsden. There's a ship sailing from Bristol on Saturday for Rio—the Chester Castle. That's what he's going by. And he said you were to go up to Bristol to-morrow, and meet him at the office of the South Atlantic Shipping Company. So you'll need to catch an early train from Bude."
Jim whistled. "It doesn't leave much time," he said. "I've got to be up at three to get Upton if he's listening."
"Then you go right to bed now and get some sleep. I'll watch here in the wireless room till you come. You needn't trouble about kit, for Mr Thorold said he'd get that for you in Bristol."
"You're a brick, Sam," said Jim. "All right. I'll go and get a snooze, but I'll—" He stopped short. "What's that—a gun!" he exclaimed.
"Sounds to me more like a rifle," replied Sam.
"Who'd be firing a rifle this time of the evening?" demanded Jim in a puzzled voice. "Why, there it is again." He went to the door and looked out. "Can't see anything," he said. "Can you tell where the shots came from, Sam?"
As he spoke a third report smacked through the silence of the summer evening and was followed by a loud clang. "That bullet hit the roof," cried Jim.
Sam ran out. "It's Sneed," he said. "I'll lay it's Sneed."
"What's he doing—not trying to shoot us?"
"No, that 'ud be a bit beyond him. I'll tell you what he's at. He's trying to smash up your aerial."
"SMASH up my aerial!" cried Jim, and before Sam knew what he was about he had dashed up the ladder which he always kept handy so as to get on to the roof of the shed.
Sam hurried after him. "Come down, Jim," he called. "He'll plug you next thing."
"Not he," returned Jim, who was already busy dismantling the aerial. "If it's Sneed he won't shoot any more while I'm up here. He'd be too scared of what would happen to him if he hit me."
Sam hesitated, but only for a moment. It was all odds that Jim was right. So, leaving him to his work, he ducked in among the bushes and started running fast, but very quietly, toward the boundary of Jim's bit of land. Of all the big property that had once belonged to the Selwyns there was nothing left but the house, the garden, one field, and a piece of rough common along the cliff. This last was thick with gorse and broom, and into this thick stuff Sam vanished.
Jim rapidly dismantled his aerial and carried the parts down into the shed. Nothing had been touched by the three shots fired, except the galvanized roof, through which a ragged hole had been torn. "Must have been Sneed," said Jim scornfully. "His shooting is as crooked as the rest of him. All the same, it's a beastly nuisance, for now I shall have to rig it all up again before I can call Upton, and that won't be easy if I have to wait till after dark." He looked round. "Hullo, where's Sam?"
He had not seen Sam disappear, and could not imagine where he was. He went out and looked round, but Sam had quite vanished. Suddenly the silence was broken by a shout—no, not a shout, but a howl, a most curious sound in which surprise and fear were equally mixed. It was cut off short, then followed a distant bumping and thudding as if heavy bodies were rolling over and over the turf.
Jim ran like a hare in the direction of the sound, which came from the south end of the gorse, and, bursting out into a little open patch, saw Sam kneeling on a battered-looking individual who was flat on his back on the turf. "It's all right, Jim," remarked Sam quite coolly. "I've got him."
"Got what—why, it's Sneed!"
"Of course it's Sneed," replied Sam. "As luck had it, I spotted where that last shot came from, and caught him just as he was trying to sneak away. He thought himself smart to come round the other side from Gadsden's place, but I reckon I was a bit smarter."
"You let me go," blustered Sneed. "What business have you got to interfere with me? I'll have the law on you for this."
"I wouldn't talk about the law if I was in your shoes, Sneed," Sam told him. "You might find yourself in the wrong box—aye, and your boss too, for I'll lay he put you up to this. You wouldn't have had sense enough to think of it yourself."
"Me! I was out rabbit-shooting, I'd have you know," said Sneed.
"Rabbits don't live on the top of a tin roof," said Sam, "and anyway you were trespassing." He grinned. "Catch hold of him, Jim."
"What are you going to do with him?" asked Jim.
"Give him a dose of his own medicine," Sam answered. "He was going to leave us shut up in Gadsden's place. Now we'll see how he likes being shut up in ours."
"You daren't do it," cried Sneed. "It's against the law."
"A nice one you are to talk about law," retorted Sam. "Come on at once, and don't make too much noise about it, or perhaps we'll make you climb down the cliff like we had to this morning."
The threat scared Sneed thoroughly, and he walked quietly enough between Sam and Jim. They took him straight to the wireless shed, pushed him in before them, and shut the door. "Shall we tie him, Jim?" said Sam.
"No, don't tie me," begged Sneed. "I won't try to run away."
"I wouldn't trust you," said Sam scornfully, "but if you do try it you'll be sorry. We can both run faster than you, and either of us is more than a match for you. Sit there on that stool."
Sneed sat on the stool and glared. He was very angry but also badly scared. Sam turned to Jim. "Suppose you fetch the policeman from the village, Jim. We can get him for trespassing on your land, even if we can't prove he was trying to smash your aerial."
Jim stared, then caught a solemn wink and understood. "Yes," he said gravely, "that would be the best plan, but I think we ought to prosecute him for trying to destroy my aerial. We've got proof, for there's the bullet-hole in the roof. Indeed, it really looks as if he had been shooting at us."
Sneed went quite pale. "Don't do that," he said quickly. "You know very well I wasn't shooting at you. You let me go, and if there's any damage done I'll pay for it."
"Pay for it, will you?" said Sam.
"Yes," eagerly. "See here, I'll give you five pounds if you'll let me go and say nothing about it."
Sam looked at Jim. "Bribery, Jim. This makes it a lot worse. You take a note of what he says. It'll go against him at the trial."
Jim took up a pad, and began to write. He looked solemn as a judge, though he was nearly bursting with laughter. He didn't quite know what Sam was driving at, but felt sure he had something up his sleeve.
Sneed was actually shaking. "I'm not trying to bribe you," he cried. "I'm offering to pay for any damage I did by accident."
"You know precious well that's not true," said Sam grimly. "Who put you up to trying to smash the aerial?"
"I shan't answer," said Sneed sulkily.
Jim took up his cap and started for the door. "I'll bring the policeman back with me," he said.
Sneed gave a sort of howl. "Stop! What do you want to know?"
Sam's question came sharp and short. "I want to know which way Gadsden is going to Brazil."
"If I tell you will you let me go?" Sneed asked anxiously.
"We won't prosecute you—that's all I'll promise," replied Sam.
"And you won't tell Mr Gadsden?"
"No, we won't tell him."
"All right. He's going by the La Plata from Plymouth. She sails to-morrow evening."
"Does she go to Rio?"
"No, to Pernambuco."
"That's north of Rio," said Jim quickly.
"I know," said Sam. "And how's Gadsden going on from there?"
"I don't know," Sneed answered. "I swear I don't know anything about his plans."
"I don't suppose you do," said Sam scornfully.
"Can I go now?" begged Sneed.
"No, you can't," retorted Sam. "We're not going to take any chances with our aerial to-night. You'll stay here till morning, and then you can go to any place you please so far as we're concerned." He turned to Jim. "We'll put him in the loft. He can't get out. There's hay to sleep on, and we'll give him some supper."
Jim agreed, and they stowed their prisoner in the loft and locked the door on him; then they went in to supper. If Mrs Trant knew anything of what they had been about she did not say so, but remained stonily silent. The boys took some food up to Sneed, and afterward went back to the wireless room and set up the aerial again. "It was jolly smart of you, Sam, to get that out of Sneed," he said as they worked.
Sam grinned. "That sort scares easy," he said. "Do you reckon he was telling the truth?"
"I'm pretty sure of it," said Jim.
"Then Gadsden's got the start of your folk."
"He's starting a day earlier," agreed Jim, "but Pernambuco's a long way from Rio."
Sam nodded. "Tell you what, Jim. If you can get on to Upton you better ask him the best way up to where he is."
"Yes, of course I will, but the whole thing is a funny mix-up. I can't see how either the Professor's party or Gadsden's is going to get through a whole horde of savages like these Bakaīri, and even if they do, how they're going to get out again."
"Beats me," allowed Sam. "But you go to bed, Jim. You hadn't much sleep last night, and you've got to shift out early to- morrow. I'll call you along about three."
"Right you are," said Jim, who was very weary, and went off. He was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow, and it seemed only about five minutes before Sam was shaking him awake. "Quarter to three, Jim. Time to get busy. I've made you a cup of tea."
"You're a brick," declared Jim. "I'll be down in a tick. I only hope I can get Upton this morning, for if I don't now I can't tell when I shall have another chance."
"You'll get him when you get to Brazil," said Sam comfortingly. "You're to take your aerial along."
Jim sat down, put on the head-phones, and began calling, then for a long time there was dead silence in the room. Jim looking round, saw that Sam had dropped off asleep in his chair. "Poor old chap!" he said to himself. "He got less sleep than I last night. He must be simply done in."
An hour passed, and outside it was growing light. Jim called and called, but got no answer. "Upton can't have any power," he said at last, and was raising his hands to take off the phones when all of a sudden Morse signals began to tap against his ear- drums:
H O I P
Jim knew it at once, he could even recognize the sending, for to an ear trained as Jim's was each operator's touch has some tiny difference. In a flash he was answering, and then all across the width of a great ocean and half a continent the two who had come so strangely into touch began to talk. "Your signals stronger," Jim tapped out.
"Got my water-power," was the answer. "What news?"
Jim quickly told him how Gadsden, by means of his hidden dictaphone, had got hold of the code call, and asked Alan Upton to change it. "Use T.L.S." he told him, but did not think it worth while to explain that the letters were the initials of Thorold, Lusty, and Selwyn.
"Noted," came the answer. "When Gadsden starting?"
Jim told him this and also the ship by which the Professor was sailing.
"Good," was the answer. "Gadsden will probably come up Francisco River. You'll do better from Rio. Rail to Goyaz. Then mules. 'Plane no use. Can't carry petrol double flight."
Jim began to ask the questions that were troubling him. "How are half a dozen of us to get through savages?" he inquired. "And if we do, how get out again?"
"There's a secret way into the valley," was the reply. "You will be met and guided. Bring petrol for my 'plane. I'll handle the Bakaīri if you can bring even a dozen gallons. Can't explain fully now, but trust me."
"Can do," replied Jim. "But don't know if can bring wireless beyond railhead."
"Are you coming then?"
"Good. Bring wireless to Rio and talk from there. When starting?"
"Leaving here this morning," Jim told him. "How you holding out?"
"Easily, except for food. Bakaīri prevent leaving valley, so can get no game. Living chiefly on maize and milk, but will have to start killing stock soon."
"How many Hulas?"
"About five hundred. Good folk, but small and scary. They won't fight. Anything more can tell you?"
"Lots, but won't worry now. See you inside three months."
"Hope so. Love to Uncle and Greg and yourself. Tell Uncle no end bucked to think he's coming."
"Right. Good-bye," tapped Jim and closed down.
"You got him?" said Sam. The tapping had roused him, and he had been standing by for some time. Jim handed him his sheet of notes and Sam read them. His usually stolid face lit up. "A secret entrance," he said. "And a guide to take you through! Oh, Jim, but you're in luck."
Jim fairly groaned. "If I could only take you, Sam," he said longingly.
"No good thinking of that, Jim," replied Sam soberly. "Hadn't we better get that aerial packed up? You'll have to start pretty soon."
Jim felt very sad as he packed, but the wrench came when he had to say good-bye to Sam. Sam came with him to the motor-bus which would take Jim to the station, and just before they parted Jim took five pounds of the money which the Professor had given him and pushed it into Sam's hand. "You must take it, Sam," he said; "for if things get too bad here and you want to go to sea you'll need the money for your kit."
Sam hesitated, then he pocketed the notes. "All right, Jim, I'll take it, but if I don't need it you shall have it back. You'll write me a letter?"
"Of course I'll write—as often as ever I can," Jim told him. The bus was moving, there was just time for one last handshake, then Jim was off on his travels.
He got to Bristol soon after midday, and went straight to the hotel, where he found Greg waiting. Greg greeted him cheerily. "Jolly glad you're coming," he said, "but where's Sam?"
"Sam?" repeated Jim. "Your father didn't say anything about his coming."
"But of course he's to come. He's the very chap for us if we have to use boats. I know Dad wants him. Sam must have misunderstood what was said over the telephone."
Jim seized his cap. "I must wire to him. Is there time for him to get here before we start?"
"Plenty. Yes, send him a wire. Has he got money?"
"Yes, I gave him some of mine."
"Get to it then," said Greg. "I'll take you to the post office."
Inside five minutes the wire was on its way, and Jim, feeling happier than he had all day, went back to the hotel, where he met the Professor and told him all that had happened, and showed him the notes of his talk with Alan.
"Excellent!" said the Professor. "You have done well, Selwyn. Now we had better get your kit, and at the same time we will buy some things for Lusty. He ought to be here by eight this evening." They did their shopping and had dinner; then Jim went to the station to meet Sam.
He did not arrive. Jim went back and then returned to meet the ten-thirty. Still no sign of Sam. He hardly slept that night and was up at five to meet the first morning train. But Sam did not come, and the boat was due out from Avonmouth at nine o'clock.
JIM stood with Greg Thorold on the upper deck of the Chester Castle as she steamed down the Channel. He pointed to the line of dark cliffs away to the east. "If we had a good glass you could almost see Polcapple," he said.
"Should we see Sam, I wonder," said Greg.
Jim shook his head. "It beats me what's become of him. The only thing I can imagine is that he had some sort of trouble with Mrs Trant when he got back to the house, and that he cleared out and went straight to the fishing."
"You don't think that this fellow Sneed could have had anything to do with Sam's not turning up?" suggested Greg.
"No. It was Sam who caught Sneed, and Sneed is thoroughly scared of him. Of course, Sneed is as spiteful as a cat, and would do Sam an ill turn if he had the chance, but I can't think of any way in which he could have prevented his coming. Sam was as keen to come as I was, and if he'd had my telegrams he'd have found some way of getting to Bristol in time."
"It's poor luck," said Greg.
"Dreadful!" groaned Jim. "You simply can't think what a good pal Sam has been to me all these years. And you wouldn't ask for a better chap alongside you in any kind of trouble. You ought to have seen the way he saved me when we were climbing down that cliff and the bush I was hanging to pulled out."
"I spotted him for one of the best," agreed Greg. "He struck me as being such a straight sort of chap."
"The straightest ever. I'd give all I've got to have him here." Jim stood staring silently at the coast that slipped by so fast. He could plainly see the bold height of King Tor outlined against the sky. Every mile of those cliffs was familiar to him. He wondered what Sam was doing.
Greg saw how troubled he was and felt very sorry for him, but, as he could find nothing to say to comfort him, he presently moved away. And Jim stood there by the rail until the ship turned south-west and slowly the familiar coast faded out of sight. Then at last he heaved a long sigh and went below.
While Jim missed Sam badly and thought of him often, he couldn't help enjoying the voyage. The Professor was very good to him, and the more he saw of Greg the better he liked him. There were a lot of passengers aboard, and Jim, who had nice manners and looked very well set up and smart in his new outfit, soon became popular among them. Everything around him was new and interesting, but what he was keenest on was the ship's wireless. He had never before had the chance of seeing a big set, and everything, from the coils and condensers to the valves and microphone, were full of interest.
The Chester Castle, like all big ships, carried two wireless men. One of these, Frank Robson, a neat, dark-eyed little man, was a thoroughly good sort and look a great fancy to Jim. On the third day out Jim, who had been told by Robson that he could come into the wireless cabin any time that he, Robson, was on duty, tapped at the door about ten in the morning and walked in. To his surprise Robson was not there, and the man who sat at the phones was a long, lank, towheaded chap.
He turned and stared hard at Jim, who at once began to apologize. "I'm so sorry. I thought it was Robson's spell," he said.
"It doesn't matter whose spell it is," returned the other sourly. "Passengers have no business in the wireless cabin."
"I'm not just an ordinary passenger," explained Jim. "I'm on a wireless job myself."
The long man took off his phones. "A nipper like you!" he remarked so scornfully that Jim's cheeks went red. "Tell us another."
"It's quite true," replied Jim sharply. "If you don't believe me you can ask Professor Thorold."
"I'll be sure to," sneered the other. "Meantime, get out of here."
"You may be jolly sure I shan't trouble you again," retorted Jim hotly. "I prefer people with decent manners."
The long man jumped up. "Get out of this," he ordered very angrily. "Get out before I put you out, you cheeky brat."
Jim did not move, but stood facing the man with a quiet resolution which somehow checked the other. "Good morning," said Jim at last. "Many thanks for your kindness and courtesy." Then he turned and went quietly out, closing the door carefully behind him.
Later in the day Robson found Jim sitting in a deck-chair, studying a Spanish grammar. "I say, Selwyn," said Robson, "what have you been doing to Aplin?"
"Aplin?" repeated Jim. "Is he the other wireless man?"
"Yes, and he's pretty wroth with you."
"I think it's I who ought to be cross," replied Jim. "I'll tell you just what happened."
Robson listened, then nodded. "You're right, Selwyn. Aplin was most offensive and thoroughly deserved all you said to him. But he's a sour-tempered fellow at best, and I should advise you not to have more to do with him than you can help."
"You can be quite certain I shan't speak to him again unless he apologizes," said Jim.
"I think he will when you next see him," said Robson quietly.
In spite of this assurance, Jim was much astonished when Aplin did apologize. "Robson tells me you're a bit of an expert, Selwyn," he said. "I'm sorry I was rude to a brother of the craft, but the fact was I had a touch of fever and was a bit off my balance. I hope you'll forgive me."
"Of course," said Jim readily. "Please don't say anything more about it." He was glad the man had apologized, but he did not like him and wished he would clear out. Aplin, however, sat down and began to talk and ask questions. Jim did not say more than he could help, but he had to try to be civil, and in the end the tall man got a good deal of information out of him. Then Greg came up, and to Jim's relief Aplin went off.
"Queer-looking bird, that, Jim," said Greg as he watched the long fellow go shambling down the deck, and Jim agreed. Then they began to talk about the trip, and Jim forgot all about Aplin.
The rest of the voyage passed pleasantly enough, except that the weather was unusually bad and that south of the Equator they ran into a stiff gale from the south which slowed the ship down to six knots. So they were two days late getting into Rio.
Rio Harbour is one of the most lovely in the world, and early on a perfect morning Jim stood on deck and gazed with delight at the wonderful green mountains rising out of the intense blue of the sea. The big ship steamed steadily in, and presently they were lying alongside a great wharf where scores of black-faced stevedores were ready to begin the unloading. Professor Thorold came to Jim. "Have you got all your stuff ready?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. Everything is packed."
"Then as soon as we are through the customs we will go to the Alcazar Hotel."
There was trouble in the customs-house, for Professor Thorold had brought a lot of stuff for the expedition, and the customs people wanted to charge an enormous duty on it. The Professor spoke to Jim. "Greg and I are going to the British consul to get his advice about these cases. You take the personal luggage to the hotel, order rooms, and wait until we come."
So presently Jim found himself in a taxi which might almost have come out of Regent Street, only that the driver's face was the colour of well-roasted coffee, and with all the smaller packages drove off to the hotel. It was fearfully hot, and he was glad when he reached the Alcazar and got unloaded. He took rooms, looked at them to see they were all right, then came down and, seating himself in the hall, ordered an iced orangeade.
It was a delicious drink, and he had just finished sipping it through a straw when a bell-boy came up. "Eas your name Selwyn, seņor?" he asked in pretty good English, and when Jim told him it was, the boy informed him that some one wanted him on the telephone.
"Is that Mr Selwyn?" came a voice that was strange to Jim.
"Selwyn speaking," answered Jim.
"I am Mr Price, speaking from the consular office for Professor Thorold. He has gone down to the harbour with my chief. He finds that it will be necessary to stay a week in Rio, and as the heat is so great he is going to a private hotel on the high ground in Tres Montes. He says you are to take the case containing your aerial and wireless set, go to the house and set it up there."
"Very good," replied Jim. "What is the address?"
"Number three Calle Constantino, Tres Montes. Have you got it?"
Jim jotted it down. "I have it, thank you. Am I to stay there?"
"Yes. Professor Thorold will join you later in the day. Good- bye."
"Stay a week!" said Jim to himself as he walked slowly back to the office. "That's a nuisance." He spoke to the clerk, who was an American. "Can I order a taxi, please."
"Sure!" was the answer, "I'll ring one up for you."
It was quite a distance up the slopes behind the town, and Jim had time to look round. He was surprised at the splendid shops and the equally splendid motor-cars. The size of the city too astonished him. Rio lies all along the sea-front, and behind it the ground rises steeply. The taxi came down to second speed and went grinding up a long hill. Jim passed lovely gardens ablaze with all sorts of tropical flowers. There were huge bushes of pink and white oleanders, and poinsettias twenty feet high with great crowns of scarlet leaves.
At last the cab turned into a side road with a very bad surface. Here the houses were at some distance apart, each standing back from the road in gardens full of trees. The driver pulled up at the gate of one of these houses, and Jim got out. "Number three Calle Constantino?" he asked, to make sure.
"Sí, seņor," replied the driver, and put out his hand for the fare. Jim saw a man coming from the house to the gate, so, after signing to the driver to unload his case, he paid him and let him go.
The man who opened the gate was a stocky sort of person, and looked more like a warehouse porter than a house servant. "I'll carry the case in, sir," he said.
"Why, you're English!" exclaimed Jim in surprise.
"Yes, sir. Name of Drew. We are all English here. I reckon that is why Mr Thorold chose this place to stay in."
"I'm glad," said Jim. "Can you help me in with the case?"
"Don't trouble. I can carry it," said the man, and as he spoke he shouldered the case and walked off up the path.
Jim followed him into a good-sized, but rather bare- looking, hall. "Where'll you have this?" asked the man.
"It's a wireless outfit," Jim told him. "Did Mr Thorold arrange about a room?"
"Yes, it's up at the top, sir," replied the other, and led the way upstairs. The house had only two storeys, and Jim's guide showed him into a small room with a window facing out at the back. "This is the place," he said. "There's a trap-door in the roof, and you can fix your aerial as you like. I'll bring you a step-ladder and any tools you want."
Drew was most obliging, and Jim was pleased to think that the Professor had found such a good house to stay in. The only thing that troubled him was the thought of spending a week in Rio. With Upton in such straits every day was of value, and he knew that, once beyond the railhead they had nearly nine hundred miles of very rough country to cover. However, his present job was to get the wireless set up and if possible get into touch with Upton. It would cheer him no end to know they were in Brazil. So he set to work. The roof was flat, and Drew helped him set up a pole. Drew seemed to know something about the job, and told Jim that he had served his time in an engineering shop.
When the pole was fixed Jim told Drew that he could finish by himself. The fact was that, though he had no reason to distrust the man, he did not want him to see the details of the aerial. So Drew took himself off, and Jim went on alone. In about an hour he had everything to his liking, so he sat down and put on the ear- phones to see what he could get. He knew, of course, that it was no use calling Upton until after nightfall. He soon had proof that the set was working all right, for he began to get Morse from ships at sea. Presently Drew knocked. "Come after the ladder, sir," he, explained, "I want to clean some windows." He took it and went out.
By this time it was nearly one o'clock, and presently Jim began to wonder if there was any chance of luncheon. Come to think of it, he had not seen anyone about the place except Drew, and the house had been wonderfully quiet all the time he had been working. "I'll go down and have a look round," he said aloud, and, laying the phones aside, got up, switched off, and went to the door.
He turned the handle, but the door would not open. He tried again only to find that it was fast. "Must have stuck," he grumbled and pulled with all his might. Then he bent down and had a look at the lock. "Why, the key's turned!" he exclaimed. Even now he was not uneasy, for his idea was that some one passing, not knowing that he was in the room, had turned the key.
Jim looked for a bell, but there was none. Then he went to the window, only to find that it was barred. And these bars, unlike those in Gadsden's house at Polcapple, were bedded in solid concrete. At last an uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong began to come over him, but it was not until he remembered that the man Drew had taken away the step-ladder, and so had left him no means of reaching the trap in the roof, that he decided that he was really being kept a prisoner.
Naturally the first person that came to his mind was Gadsden, but second thoughts showed him that this was impossible, for Robson had told him only the previous evening that the La Plata had also been delayed by storm, and had only got into Pernambuco three days before the Chester Castle reached Rio. Even if Gadsden had come on in her he would not reach Rio for another forty-eight hours.
Then another idea came to him. It was on the cards that Gadsden had friends in Rio, in which case he might have wirelessed to them to catch him (Jim). Of course, he would have had to do it in cipher, because no wireless man would have sent such orders in plain words.
But Jim did not waste much time in thinking. After all he had his tools, and surely he could either pick the lock or cut through a panel of the door. He started at once, but had hardly begun operations before quick steps came up the passage, and the key turned in the lock. The door opened, and Jim could hardly believe his eyes when Gadsden himself, looking even bigger than usual in a suit of white duck, walked into the room.
GADSDEN smiled. It was the sort of smile Jim hated, for, while his lips moved, his eyes, which are what most people really smile with, remained cold and hard as always. "Good day to you, Selwyn," he said. "Busy as usual, I see."
"You!" gasped Jim, taken off his balance. "How did you get here?"
"I don't mind telling you," replied Gadsden. "I came from Pernambuco by train. A slow journey with a lot of changes. I kept in touch with you all the way over. In point of fact, one of the wireless operators in the Chester Castle was in my pay."
"That fellow Aplin?"
"Quite so. I also heard that you had been communicating again with Upton. At any rate, I have arrived in time, which is, after all, the only thing that matters."
"In time, you mean, to make this precious plot to trap me?" said Jim curtly.
Gadsden merely smiled again. "All is fair in war and treasure- hunting," he answered easily. "And you have only yourself to thank, Selwyn. If you and Lusty had stayed where you were at my house at Polcapple until I had left, you would have seen no more of me. Sínce you chose to break out, I, of course, was obliged to take steps to protect myself."
"Sneed told you," put in Jim sharply.
"Sneed, of course, informed me—by wireless," said Gadsden, quite unruffled. "That was his duty."
"And was it his duty to try to destroy my aerial?" demanded Jim.
"Yes, I think so, under the circumstances. But, since he seems to have made a mess of that part of the business, I was forced to take a hand again. Hence the telephone message to you this morning and your presence here. Rather a clever idea, Selwyn. Don't you agree with me?"
"Crooked I'd call it, not clever," retorted Jim.
"We won't argue the point," replied Gadsden. "All that matters is that you are here, and that this time I am making quite sure that you do not leave until you give me the information I require."
"Then you'll have to keep me for a long time," said Jim defiantly.
"I'm afraid I can't guarantee to do that," answered Gadsden. "I cannot afford to let your employer get too long a start. I dislike harsh measures, but I am bound to tell you that you will remain in this room without food or drink until you answer my questions." He paused, then went on. "The weather is hot," he added with meaning. "You get thirsty quickly in heat like this."
Jim's heart sank. He saw that Gadsden meant what he said, and the mere thought of being left without water made his mouth dry. But he did not speak.
Gadsden waited a little, then continued as smoothly as ever. "Don't be foolish, Selwyn. For a boy of your age you have pluck, which is a quality I admire. But there is a difference between pluck and obstinacy. Now that I am in Brazil I mean to get into touch with Alan Upton. You, of course, have altered the code- letters. All I want from you is those letters and proof that they are correct. I wish you to stay here until night, call up Upton, and put me in communication with him. As soon as you have done that you will be allowed to go and what is more, to take your whole outfit and aerial with you."
"Is that all?" asked Jim quietly.
"That is all. After that you and Thorold can start as soon as you like, and it shall be a fair race and no favour to this City of Gold. What do you say?"
Jim's lips tightened. "I say no," he answered quietly.
Gadsden shrugged his great shoulders. "I was afraid you would be obstinate," he said. "Now listen to me, Selwyn. Rio is a big place, and your friends have not the faintest notion where you are, nor have they any means of finding out. Even the driver who brought you here was in my pay. You have already examined this room, and you must have assured yourself that there is no way out. I shall not, of course, leave you any tools with which to open the door. You have absolutely no chance of escape. Won't you think again?"
"There's no thinking about it," Jim shot back. "Even if I wasn't very fond of Professor Thorold, I'm in his pay, and to my mind it's the dirtiest sort of treachery to give away one's employer's secrets."
"Very pretty ideas, my young friend," replied Gadsden; "only in this wicked world they won't work. I don't like making threats, but I stand by what I have said. You will get nothing to eat or drink until you agree to my terms." He stood looking at Jim for a moment or two, but Jim stood up stiffly and did not say a word. Gadsden shrugged again. "I'm sorry you are so silly, Selwyn," he said, and, stretching out a long arm, picked up Jim's kit of tools from the table, then turned and left the room.
It is odd how much one's thoughts have to do with the way one feels. Before Gadsden's arrival Jim had felt merely rather hungry. Now he was thirsty, very thirsty. The room was hot and close, and he had done a good spell of work up on the roof in the full blaze of the tropical sun. His throat felt dry, even his mouth had gone like dust, and the thought of hours of this sort of thing, getting worse all the time, scared him very badly. Gadsden was not bluffing. By this time he knew the man well enough to be able to know with certainty when he meant what he said. And this time Jim had not a shadow of a doubt that he actually did mean to leave his prisoner without food or water until he gave in.
The more Jim thought about the prospect the less he liked it, but, as he was never the sort to sit still and wait for some one else to help him, he at once began to consider means of escape. The window was hopeless, for the bars were too close for him to squeeze through, and there were no means of loosening them; the door was heavy and solid, and without tools there was no way of opening it. That left the trap-door, but the difficulty was to reach it without a ladder. There was, however, the table, and there were two chairs. Jim managed to balance them one on top of the other, then very cautiously climbed up. To his delight he found that he could reach the trap-door, but a bitter disappointment was in store. It was bolted outside and would not move. He pushed hard, and suddenly there was a crack and one of the chairs broke. He had to make a wild jump in order to save himself from a bad fall, and, as it was, he reached the floor with a force that jarred him all over. The chairs came tumbling down with a tremendous clatter, and Jim waited, feeling certain that some one would come up; but minutes passed and the house remained quite quiet. "They know I'm safe," said Jim, biting his lip. "It's no use. They've got me properly, and I can't do a thing." If he had been thirsty before he was parched now, and as time passed the sun came round on to the west side of the house and the room grew hotter until it was like a glass-house. Jim dripped with perspiration, and every minute made his suffering harder to bear. The horrible part of it was that only a few feet from the window was an orange-tree, every bough hanging with ripe, golden fruit. Yet even the nearest was at least a yard beyond Jim's outstretched fingers.
Jim stretched himself on the floor and kept as quiet as he could, and after a while he dozed off. He was roused by some one coming in. "Well, Selwyn?" he said quietly.
Jim sat up and looked at him, but made no answer.
"Have you learned sense yet?" asked Gadsden.
"If sense means telling my employer's secrets, why, no," Jim answered hoarsely.
Gadsden returned Jim's gaze. "See here, Selwyn," he said gravely. "I don't enjoy this sort of thing much better than you, but I have told you plainly that I must have that code-word. Give me that, and I will bring you an iced drink or a cup of tea, just as you wish. What is more, I will take your word that it is the right word."
"If I told you at all I should tell you the right word," Jim answered, "but I shan't give you any word at all."
For the first time Gadsden showed anger. "You're a young fool, Selwyn," he said sharply. "If I keep you here a week I have got to have it." With that he went out again, banging the door behind him.
In the latitude of Rio the sun sets even in summer before seven o'clock, but this was May, and, therefore, autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, and by six it was getting dark. But to Jim the air felt as hot as ever, and he was suffering agonies. It was more than eight hours since he had had a drop to drink, and, although that would be nothing much of a hardship in England, it is very different when the temperature stands at eighty degrees or over. His tongue felt like a dry stick, his head was burning, and he was beginning to feel really ill. He lay down again and tried hard to sleep, but it was no use. Now and then he dozed off, but only to dream horrid dreams and wake with a start. "I've read about people going mad with thirst," he said to himself, "but I never knew how true it was till now."
As he lay there on the hard floor, panting for breath, he heard a sound, and started up in a sitting position. At first he thought it was some one coming up the passage, but presently he made sure that it was on the roof above him. He listened eagerly and after a while made out that some one was walking very cautiously overhead. He went to the window, but, of course, could see nothing. In any case, it was quite dark. Again he listened with straining ears, but the sound had died away. "I must have dreamed it," he said to himself. "I'm getting into the sort of state when I might imagine anything." Just then he heard the sound again, and this time it was surely no fancy, for some one was trying to lift the trap-door. It did lift, and a voice came from above. "Are you there, Jim?" it whispered. Jim nearly dropped: the voice was Sam's.
"It's just fancy," said Jim in a cracked voice. "Of course it's fancy."
"You'll find it's fancy if I drop on top of you," came a gruff whisper from above. "What's that swab been doing to you, Jim?"
"It's Sam. It is Sam!" croaked Jim.
"Shut up, you ass. Don't talk out loud or those beggars will hear. What's the matter with you?"
"Thirsty," replied Jim in a hoarse whisper.
"You poor beggar! I had a notion that they might be trying some dirty game of that sort. Here—catch!"
Something fell with a slight thud on the floor, and Jim, groping, grasped an orange. He tore it open with his teeth, and as the precious juice poured down his parched throat he knew he had never before tasted anything half so good.
"That better?" asked Sam softly.
"Better! I'm my own man again," replied Jim. "Then catch hold of this rope. Can you hang on if I pull you up?" he added anxiously.
"Don't bother to pull. I'd climb a mile to get out of this. How on earth did you get here, Sam?"
"Tell you later. No time now. Here's the rope. I've made the upper end fast to the bolt of the trap." The rope came dropping softly from above, and Jim, blazing with excitement, got hold, pulled it taut, and, getting on to the table, climbed hand over hand. The moment he was within reach Sam bent down and helped him, and next minute Jim was standing beside his chum on the flat roof. Sam rapidly pulled up the rope, and then closed the trap.
Jim stood a moment taking deep breaths of the night air. He was not yet quite sure whether he was awake or dreaming. Then Sam spoke quickly. "I climbed up by the big tree at the side of the house, and I reckon we can get down the same way. Better hurry."
"But what about my aerial?" Jim asked anxiously.
"Can't take that now. Have to come back for it. Anyhow, it's no use to Gadsden unless he has the pass-word."
"He hasn't got that," said Jim grimly; "but all the same I hate leaving the aerial."
"You've got to do it," urged Sam. "Gadsden's got two chaps with him in the house, and we shan't have an earthly if it comes to a scrap."
"All right," said Jim. "This is your show, Sam. Lead on."
"This way," said Sam. "And go as soft as you can."
While fixing the aerial Jim had noticed the big tree, the branches of which overhung one side of the house. It was a cottonwood-tree with great spreading branches. Sam swung into it, and Jim followed closely. It was very dark, especially in the centre of the thick foliage, and it was out of the question to hurry. Sam climbed slowly and deliberately, and Jim swung after him from bough to bough. Both were listening hard for any sound from the house, but there was none and they reached the ground in safety.
Sam put his mouth close to Jim's ear. "There's a wall all round the garden," he whispered. "I came in by the gate, and we'd best go out the same way. It's not locked."
"Right," replied Jim, and as silently as two shadows the boys stole across the ill-kept garden. A bright light shone from one of the lower windows, and they had to be very careful not to risk getting into its ray. At last they reached the gate, a big iron affair, and Sam cautiously turned the handle. But when he tried to open it the gate did not move. He pushed hard, but with no result. "No good!" he said in a quick whisper. "Some one has locked it while I was on the roof."
"Can't we climb it?" suggested Jim.
"No. It's all spikes on the top. We must try the wall."
"But it's too high to reach the top," Jim answered.
Sam pointed. "There's a big bush growing against it back there. I spotted it as I came in. We can use the bush as a ladder." He turned as he spoke and, keeping close under the wall, the two went back again. Jim could just see the bush, a dark mass almost opposite the south end of the house. It seemed to rise well above the wall, and he felt sure it would give them a way over.
Jim was counting his chickens too soon, for they were still a good twenty yards from the bush when there was a loud shout from inside the house. "He's gone! He's got out," wailed a voice. "Be quick! He can't have gone far." Next instant the front door burst open, and two men came running out. One went toward the gate, the other turned straight in the direction of the two boys.
SAM grasped Jim and pulled him down among the long grass and tall weeds. He was only just in time for the man ran by so close he almost trod on them. "Watch that bush!" came a shout from the house.
"That's Gadsden," Jim said in Sam's ear.
"Yes, worse luck! Jim, they'll bring a light just now, and they're bound to find us."
"Then we've got to get out first."
"We can't. That bush is the only way."
"Then we'll go by the bush," replied Jim curtly. "See here, Sam. You and I between us can tackle that chap."
"Aye, we might, but Gadsden'll hear the row and be on us before we can finish the job."
"There won't be any row," whispered back Jim, and as he spoke he was wriggling out of his coat. "I'm going to get up behind him and chuck the coat over his head. You kick his legs from under him, and he'll never have a chance to make a sound. What about it?"
"Good enough," replied Sam, "but for any sake don't let him hear you."
Jim was already on his feet. There was just light enough to see the man who was standing by the bush, peering up into it. Jim, bent double, stole toward him on tiptoe, and Sam followed closely. Just as Jim was almost within reach Gadsden's big voice came through the night. "Can you see him, Harth?"
"No, sir," answered the man by the bush. "He ain't come this way." As he spoke Harth half turned, and at the same moment Jim jumped. But Harth must have caught the movement out of the tail of his eye, for he flung up one arm and the coat failed to cover his head. But Jim's whole weight striking him full took him off his balance and knocked him flat. Jim came on top of him and, more by luck than management, Jim's knees took him in the small of the back, knocking the breath out of him so that, instead of the yell he meant to give, the only sound he could make was a sort of croak. Quick as a flash Sam landed on him, and, catching him by the back of the neck, pressed his face hard against the ground. "The coat!" hissed Sam, and Jim swiftly wrapped it round Harth's head, then tied the sleeves tightly round his neck while Sam, whipping a piece of cord from his pocket, pulled the man's wrists together behind his back and tied them. "He'll do," he said breathlessly. "Up with you, Jim."
Jim simply dived into the bush. It was horribly thorny, but this was no time to worry about scratches or rents, and he scrambled frantically upward, followed closely by Sam. Jim saw the top of the wall opposite, and flung himself on to it. Just as he did so Harth got his head out of the coat and started yelling for help. "They'll never call him Sílent Harth after that," was the queer thought that flitted through Jim's mind as he balanced on top of the wall and turned to give Sam a hand. "Never mind me!" panted Sam. "Get down quick. They're opening the gate."
It was a long drop, but Jim landed safe. Sam was not so lucky. He slipped as he reached the ground, and Jim heard him give a sharp little gasp. "Hurt?" he questioned quickly.
"Nothing to talk about," said Sam, struggling up. But when he tried to walk he limped badly. At this moment they heard the iron gate clang open.
"Come on!" said Sam. "They're after us."
"It's no good," said Jim. "You can't run. We've got to hide." As he spoke he saw a gate to the right. It was that of the next house. He tried the latch, and to his great relief the gate opened. "In here, Sam," he hissed, and they bundled in and closed the gate behind them. "That's fooled them," he whispered in triumph as he heard some one come running hard past the gate.
"Don't be too sure," replied Sam. "When they don't find us they'll make a proper search. We'd better hide quick as we can."
"Here's a tree," said Jim. "A good thick one. If we get well up into it they'll never see us. Let me give you a hand."
"I can climb all right," said Sam. "It's only a rick. Hurts like sin, but it won't last long."
Just as Jim swung up to the first branch he heard a sound which made him shiver. It was a low, deep growl. Next instant two great eyes shining with lambent green fire showed through the gloom. Sam saw them, too, and he and Jim went up that tree like lamp-lighters. The tree was a shaddock, a sort of large orange- tree, and the boughs were thick and matted. The boys twisted in and out among them until they were twelve or fifteen feet from the ground. They heard the growl again, a terrible sound. "What is it?" muttered Sam. "A dog?"
"It's too big for a dog," Jim answered. "I—I believe it's a panther."
"A panther!" cried Sam, "—a panther right in the town?"
The brute, whatever it was, heard Sam's voice, and all of a sudden made a great spring upward and landed on one of the lower branches. Its weight was so great that it made the whole tree quiver. "It is a panther!" gasped Jim.
Neither of the boys had any weapon—not even a stick—and it looked as if, in trying to escape from Gadsden, they had fallen from the frying-pan into the fire. All they could do was to try to climb higher, but the branches were so matted that it was simply impossible to squeeze their way for more than a few feet. But the beast below was in similar trouble. They heard its great claws scrabbling on the bark as it tried to get at them, then with a snarl it fell backward, reaching the ground with a slight thud.
"It's too thick for it," gasped Jim gratefully "We're all right, Sam."
"Shut up!" hissed Sam. "There's some one at the gate." As he spoke there came the clink of the lifted latch. This was followed instantly by a sound something between a snarl and a roar.
"The panther!" cried Jim. "Heavens, Sam, he'll kill the chap." A dreadful scream echoed his words, and the sound of a heavy fall. "I told you so," said Jim in a shaking voice, and started scrambling down.
Sam grabbed him. "You're crazy, Jim. Stay where you are. You can't do anything."
Jim struggled. "Let go, Sam. I can't let the brute kill him."
"Pinto, Pinto!" came a voice out of the gloom—a tremendous voice, deep as that of a bull, yet soft and rich and full of music. "Pinto!" Then followed some words in Spanish which Jim could not quite understand, but he thought they meant "Where are you? What are you doing?"
From the great beast by the gate came a curious cry in answer. It was not a snarl or a growl, indeed it was not like any sound that Jim had ever heard from an animal's throat. A light flashed, and a man carrying an electric torch came hurrying through the trees toward the gate. Next moment the light fell upon the gate itself and on the gravel drive below. Jim drew a quick breath. "It is a panther, Sam. And—and that's Gadsden himself beneath it."
"Then we're quit of him for good," said Sam gruffly.
"Pinto!" cried the new-comer again, and added some words in a deep, angry voice. At once the panther left its victim and, turning, went straight toward the new-comer. The latter was a man of about thirty, not tall, but with a tremendous chest and huge shoulders. He was wearing a light velvet jacket, and his shirtfront, in which was a great pearl stud, shone white in the light of the torch. The panther, an enormous creature at least twelve feet in length from its head to the tip of its tail, nuzzled the man's hand. Its dappled, tawny coat was glossy as silk. "It's tame," muttered Jim.
"Aye, with its owner," answered Sam, "but not with strangers. It's finished Gadsden all right."
"I'm going down," said Jim. "It's all right. The man is putting a chain on the beast." Before Sam could object Jim had dropped to the ground. Pinto greeted him with a terrifying snarl, and the panther's owner wheeled sharply with a frown on his face. But when he saw that the intruder was only a slim and very ragged boy his frown changed to a look of surprise.
"Do you speak English, seņor?" Jim began.
"But yes. I speak English. You, then, are English?"
"Yes, sir. My name is James Selwyn. This man"— pointing to Gadsden—"shut me up in the next house, but my friend, Sam Lusty, got me out. We were chased and took refuge in your garden."
The broad-shouldered man stared in surprise for a moment, then suddenly gave a great laugh—a deep, rich laugh which rang all through the dark garden.
"A play at my gate!" he exclaimed. "But this is most amusing!"
Jim pointed to Gadsden. "That's no play, sir, Your panther has killed him."
The other laughed again. "Killed! Indeed, no. Pinto has never killed anybody. He is like your British bulldog. He guards my garden, and will knock down any intruder, but he does not kill. He is my watch-cat."
"He's right," came Sam's voice, and Sam himself dropped out of the tree. "Gadsden's moving."
"Then we will let Pinto watch him, while we send for the police," said their new friend in his deep, rich voice.
Gadsden scrambled shakily to his feet. He pulled a pistol. "I shall shoot that panther if it comes near me again," he said quietly, and much as Jim disliked the man he could not help admiring his cool pluck. "Let me go," added Gadsden, "and you will hear no more of me—for the present."
The broad-shouldered man stepped forward. "Unless you are a dead shot, seņor, I should not advise you to fire at my pet, for if you did not kill him instantly he would most certainly kill you. And if he failed to do so I would hunt you to the ends of the earth."
Gadsden stared back at the man. "Ah, I recognize you now. You are Seņor Valda. I think you will be wise to let me go."
Jim started when he heard the name. "The great singer!" he exclaimed. "I have heard you on my wireless. I thought I knew your wonderful voice."
"Thank you, my boy," replied Valda. "That is charming of you. Well, it is for you to say whether your gaoler shall be allowed to depart?"
Jim thought rapidly. If Gadsden was stopped, even if he did not shoot, it meant trouble with the police, a case in the courts, perhaps a long delay in Rio. And there was no time to waste if Upton was to be rescued. "Yes," he said quickly, "if he will give up my wireless, which is in his house, then he can go."
Gadsden shrugged his shoulders. "You'd better come and take it," he said coolly.
Valda himself went with the boys to recover the wireless set, and Gadsden watched them calmly as they took it away.
"What you in England call a cool card," said the singer as they left the place.
"That's a mild way of putting it," replied Jim. "And he's hard as nails."
"I am interested," said Valda. "Will you two come to supper with me and tell me the story."
"We'd like to most awfully," said Jim longingly, "but my employer, Professor Thorold, will be searching the town for me."
"Where is he staying?"
"At the Alcazar," Jim told him.
"Then we will telephone him, and I myself will drive you back later in my car."
When Valda had brought the boys into the hall of his beautiful house Jim spotted his own reflection in a big silver-framed mirror and started back. "I can't come like this, sir," he said in a horrified voice.
Valda looked at him and laughed, for truly Jim was in a most terrible mess. His clothes were in rags, his hair stood on end, and his face and hands were stained with green and black smudges. "I think we can fix you, as our American friends say," he smiled. "Come to my dressing-room, and we will see."
Sam spoke. "You might give him a drink first, sir," he told Valda. "Gadsden kept him all day without food or water, trying to make him give away our secrets, and all he's had since is one orange which I brought him."
Valda looked simply horrified, and at once rang a bell. A man came instantly, and in a minute Jim was putting away a great glass full of a delicious iced fruit drink. "The best thing I ever drank in my life," he declared as he finished the last drop and put the tumbler down. "Now I'm ready for anything, sir."
A quarter of an hour later Valda and the two boys sat down to supper in a big, cool room where a humming electric fan kept the air in motion. It was a meal, so rich, so beautifully served, such as neither of the boys had ever before seen, let alone tasted, and their kind host would not allow either of them to talk until they had eaten. When they had finished Valda leaned back in his chair. "Now, Selwyn, let us hear all about it," he said.
Jim looked at Sam. "He ought to start, sir. I left him in England, and I'm dying to know how he got here."
"That's simple enough," said Sam. "The minute I'd seen you off, Jim, I told Aunt Sarah I was going, then I fetched your bike, rode off to Bude, and took the night train for Plymouth. I went to old Coaker's brother, who lives in Sílver Street and through him got a job as cook's boy on the La Plata. I thought it would be a good notion to keep an eye on Gadsden, and as it turned out I was just about right. I followed him ashore at Pernambuco, took the same train south as he did, and shadowed him and that beauty Harth until I found out what they were about. I'd have had Jim out sooner only I had to wait till it was dark."
"You're a nailer, Sam," exclaimed Jim warmly "You certainly pulled me out of a very bad hole."
"But what was the hole, Selwyn, and how did you get into it?" asked Valda. "So far it is all—how do you say?—Dutch to me."
So Jim began to talk, and very soon had made the situation clear to Valda. The great singer was vastly interested. "The Hulas—yes, I have heard of them. I myself am Brazilian by birth, and I have read the Spanish and Portuguese records. Part of the story is in our archives here at Rio, and was translated by Lady Burton, wife of your great explorer Sír Richard Burton. So you are going to try to reach Hulak. Ah, but I wish that I could go with you."
"I wish you could, sir," said Jim warmly. "Anyhow, I am most awfully obliged for what you have done for us."
Valda waved his hand. "It is nothing." He paused, then suddenly his face lighted up. "I have an idea," he said. "You wish to call up this Upton. I have here in my house a powerful set. Why should you not use it?"
"What—here and now?" asked Jim.
"Why not? The hour is right, the conditions are good, and, since I cannot myself go with you, it would be to me the greatest pleasure to speak myself to this lost city of the wilderness."
Jim jumped up. "It's a topping idea, sir. Where is the set?"
HERE is the set," said Valda, opening the door of an upstairs room. Jim stopped short and stood staring.
"What is the matter?" asked his host in surprise.
"Matter! Why I never saw such a set in my life," exclaimed Jim. "It—it's wonderful!"
The great singer smiled. "I am glad you like it. Wireless is a—what you call it?—a hobby of mine."
But Jim was already seated in front of the set and busy with it. Valda watched him. "He knows about it," he said in a low voice to Sam.
"He's a blessed miracle, sir," replied Sam. "And he learnt it all himself."
"But that is wonderful. Tell me, Lusty," said Valda. And while Jim's fingers were busy adjusting coils, Sam, speaking in a voice that was little more than a whisper, told Valda of their old house on the Cornish coast, of the death of Jim's people, and of how Jim had taught himself wireless and invented his new frame aerial.
Valda was hugely interested, and asked many questions. The two were still deep in talk when suddenly Jim spoke. "I've got him," he said in triumph. "Do you understand Morse, seņor?"
"But yes," replied Valda and, sitting down quickly, put on a pair of phones. After that the silence in the quiet room was broken only by the rapid scratch of Jim's fountain-pen as he made notes on a pad. This went on for perhaps twenty minutes, then Sam saw Jim and their host both at the same time give a sort of start. "He's gone!" said Jim sharply.
Valda took off his phones. "Let us hope that he will come back," he said gravely.
"What's the matter?" demanded Sam. "What's happened?"
Jim turned. "The Bakaīri are attacking the valley, and Upton has gone to help drive them back."
"But I thought they couldn't attack," objected Sam. "Upton said there was only one way in, and that some sort of tunnel."
Jim shook his head. "He did tell us that, but whether the savages have found that or some other way in I don't know. Upton had no chance to explain. All he had time to say was that the Bakaīri were attacking and that if he got through safely he would call us up to-morrow. We are to be ready at ten in the morning."
Sam looked very solemn. "I hope to goodness they lick the niggers. It'll just about break the Professor's heart if these chaps get into the valley and bust up all the old things there."
"It would indeed be terrible," agreed Valda. For a few moments no one spoke, for all three were very troubled. Then Sam asked a question. "These Hula folk—they've got lots of gold. Why don't they buy off the Bakaīri?"
"That's exactly what I asked Upton," replied Jim, "and he told me that the Bakaīri don't care tuppence about gold. What they're after is slaves. If they get in they'll take all the younger people of the Hulas as slaves and kill the older ones, and Upton says they'll smash all the statues simply because they're afraid of them."
"They are superstitious," explained Valda. "They believe that these old images can work harm to them."
"It's a pretty kettle of fish," said Sam ruefully, "especially as Upton has told us that these Hulas are absolutely no use at fighting. It looks as if Upton and his pal would have to tackle the whole job by themselves."
"Even cowards will follow a good leader," said Valda comfortingly. "I feel that your brave friend will live to tell us how he defeated the savages."
Jim got up. "There's nothing more to be heard to-night, seņor," he said, "and I think Sam and I ought to go back."
Their host rang and told his servant to bring the car round, and in a very few minutes the two boys were being driven back by a chauffeur in a magnificent car which must have cost its owner a small fortune.
"We'll have to tell the Professor about the attack," said Sam as they pulled up at the Alcazar. Jim frowned. "I know, but it'll upset him badly."
Jim was right. Professor Thorold was very much upset, but Sam calmly told him that he needn't worry, for he felt sure that Alan Upton would be all right. Then, after Jim had described his adventures with Gadsden, and Sam had explained how he came to be in Rio, they all went to bed.
When they met at breakfast next morning Professor Thorold told them that he had meant to leave Rio that morning, but that, since it was necessary to wait until they had got news from Alan, he would take the afternoon train to Goyaz.
"It gives that beggar Gadsden the start," said Greg Thorold frowning.
"Never mind," said Sam confidently, "we'll beat him to it when we once get off."
The Professor looked at Sam and smiled. "So you have decided to come with us, Lusty?"
"Yes, sir. If you'll pay my fare as far as this place up the line I'll walk the rest of the way. I reckon I can earn my keep."
"You have earned more than that already by getting Jim out of that mess," said Mr Thorold. "I shall be glad and grateful to have you, my boy."
Sam reddened a little. "Thank you, sir. And might I ask you a favour?"
"Then maybe you'd call me Sam, sir, instead o' Lusty, like Jim does."
The Professor laughed outright. "I think you are doing me the favour, not I you. But, hullo, who is this?"
Jim sprang up. "It's Seņor Valda, sir," he said as he hurried to meet the great singer, who, dressed in a suit of spotless white drill, looked even bigger and broader than on the previous night. Jim introduced him, and Professor Thorold at once began to thank him for what he had done the previous evening.
Valda laughed, and every one in the big dining-room turned at the deep, melodious sound. "There is nothing to thank me for, Professor. Your young friends gave me the most interesting evening I have had for years. But my car is outside, and it is already past nine o'clock. I am as anxious as you to hear what has become of this brave young Upton. Will you not all come to my house with me?"
Professor Thorold accepted the offer gratefully, and the party was whirled swiftly up the steep streets to the singer's house at Tres Montes. Pinto, lying at all his great length on the veranda, got up and came forward in friendly fashion, and when Sam scratched his head purred exactly like an enormous cat.
Presently they were all in the wireless room, and Jim was sitting with the phones over his head. Ten struck, but no reply came to his signals, and as the minutes dragged by he and the others began to feel desperately anxious. "He's done for, I'm afraid," said the Professor at last. "Those brutes must have got him." Sam grunted. "I don't believe it," he muttered.
Suddenly Jim flung up one hand. "Quiet, please. Something's coming through." The others watched him breathlessly, and as they saw his expression change to doubt and then to horror their faces fell. At last he looked round. "It's all up," he said heavily. "Upton says that it's no use our trying to come to Hulak, that the Bakaīri have broken in and that he is clearing out."
A dismayed silence followed his words. It was broken by Sam. "I don't believe it," he said sharply.
They all turned to him. "What on earth do you mean, Sam?" asked Jim. "Have you gone crazy?"
"Not me. If the niggers have really got into the place Upton wouldn't be answering you at all. The very first thing they'd have done would be to scupper him."
"Dios, but the boy is right!" murmured Valda.
Jim spoke. "But—but Upton has been answering," he insisted.
"Are you sure?" asked Sam. "Did he give the code-word?"
Jim fairly leaped from his seat. "No, I never thought of that. He never gave it at all."
"Then ask him for it," returned Sam.
Jim flopped down again in his seat and started sending. There was a fresh wait of some minutes, then Jim spoke again. "I can't get anything," he said helplessly.
"Of course you can't. And you won't until Upton gets ready to talk."
Jim turned to Sam. "But who's been sending?" he demanded.
"I'd hardly have thought you'd need to ask that," Sam said with a touch of scorn. "Gadsden's the only one who knows the right wave-length."
"But he's got no set."
"I suppose there are plenty in Rio, and he's had about twelve hours to get one."
"I jolly well believe that Sam is right," said Greg eagerly.
"So do I," agreed Jim more quietly. "Come to think of it, the touch was not like Upton's, but I put that down to his being in such a state." He paused. "But, anyhow, if Upton hasn't been sending it looks bad. He said he'd start at ten."
"No," corrected Sam. "He said we were to be ready from ten on. That's different."
"You're right again, Sam," agreed Jim. "I remember now. Then we'd better hang on and see if anything comes through."
"That's the ticket," agreed Sam. "You'll let us, Mr Valda?"
"Let you! My boy, I would not miss this for a year's income. My house is yours for as long as you wish. And I, like you, firmly believe that your friend is safe. But the wait may be long. We will relieve one another." He put on a pair of phones as he spoke.
The wait was long, so long that Jim had almost given up hope when at last Morse began to tick through. It came so faintly that he could barely hear it at all. But he knew the reason. It was now getting on for midday, and the sun was killing the signals.
"Is it Upton?" asked the Professor swiftly.
"Yes, I know his sending," Jim answered. "Don't talk please."
For the next five minutes the silence in the big room was breathless, then at last Jim turned and his face was glowing. "Hurrah!" he cried. "They've beaten them off. Upton's safe. He says that they can hold out for eight or ten weeks and that he is looking forward to seeing us."
"Splendid!" said Valda delightedly. "Now I will give you some luncheon and then drive you back to your hotel, for you will be in a hurry to start." As they followed him downstairs Sam whispered to Jim. "We'd better hurry, Jim. You've got to remember that Gadsden heard all Upton said."
But Jim shook his head. "Not unless he had a pretty wonderful set, Sam. Even with Valda's I only just got Upton's signals."
They left Rio that evening, and, as the train was not crowded, spent a comfortable night. There was a restaurant-car, and the food was good. As Greg said with a grin, "Brazil's not such a bad old country after all."
Late the following afternoon the coffee-faced conductor came through the long, open American coach and called out something, and the Professor, who spoke Spanish, translated. "Next stop, Goyaz," he explained, and began to collect his hand baggage.
They had been travelling for nearly twenty-four hours, and the boys had been up since daylight gazing out at the country, which was very different from anything they had expected to see. Like most English people, they had thought that Brazil was a country of forests and swamps, and were amazed to find the train climbing mountain-passes, some of them fully three thousand feet above sea-level. There were forests in the valleys, but the higher country was mostly very bare of trees. They passed many large plantations of coffee, the rich green leaves shining in the sun, and now they were crossing grassy plains with cattle grazing in large herds. To the north they could see high mountains, and the air was quite fresh and cool.
"It doesn't look to me as if there'd be a lot of trouble in getting across this kind of country," said Jim.
Greg laughed. "It's not all like this, Jim, not by a long chalk. And so you'll find before you're a week older."
"I'll believe it when I see it," replied Jim, laughing, and then the train began to slow and presently pulled up at a long platform. The party was very busy getting their baggage off the train when a tall, lean man, hardly darker than an Englishman and dressed in English riding-breeches and a light drill jacket, came up and touched the Professor on the shoulder. "You are the Professor Thorold, is it not?" he said in quite good English.
"I am," answered the Professor, looking rather surprised.
"I make you welcome," said the tall man. "I am Antonio Seca, cousin of Arturo Valda. I have from him a telegram that you arrive, and he bids me see to your comfort."
The Professor gave him a sharp glance, but Seca's dark eyes returned his gaze so frankly that he felt satisfied. "This is a pleasant surprise," he said. "I hope you are not putting yourself out."
"It is to me a pleasure," replied the other with a smile. "Even were you not friends of my good cousin it would give me joy to receive Englishmen. I beg you not to trouble about your baggage. My peons will attend to it."
"We are in luck," whispered Jim to Greg as they drove away from the station in a carriage drawn by two fine mules, bound, for Seca's house on the hill above the town. "It's all through that good chap Valda. He really is a topper."
"He certainly is," agreed Greg. "I say, did you hear Seca tell Dad that he was going to let us have mules for the trip? They're sure to be good ones, and that ought to give us a start of Gadsden."
"Gadsden will get mules all right," put in Sam. "He knows this country and talks Spanish like a native. I found that out on the ship."
"I wonder where he is," said Jim. "I half thought he'd be on this train."
"He's not far behind us, I'll be bound," replied Sam. "I tell you we'll have to hump ourselves if we want to get ahead of that chap."
"Don't be gloomy, Sam," said Greg. "Anyhow, we know we're ahead of Gadsden at present, for if it was he trying to humbug us on the wireless yesterday morning he can't have caught an earlier train."
Sam grinned. "Nothing gloomy about me, Greg. I'm too pleased to have got thus far. But maybe I know Gadsden a bit better than you do, and I'm telling you he's a bad one to beat. He's dead set on this treasure, and I reckon he's gambling his last penny to get it."
"Why I thought he was a rich man," exclaimed Jim.
"So did I, when we were at Polcapple," said Sam quietly, "but now I know better. He's got into trouble over some big company—I don't rightly understand what—and unless he gets a big lot of money pretty soon I reckon he'll be bust."
"What—bankrupt?" asked Jim sharply.
"That's about the size of it," Sam answered.
Jim whistled softly. "Now I'm beginning to understand," he said. "You're right, Sam, for a man like Gadsden wouldn't stick at much to save himself from going broke."
SECA'S house stood on a breezy hillside, and after an excellent supper he and his guests sat out on the broad veranda, which was protected from mosquitoes by fine wire gauze. Outside fireflies danced like blue sparks in the darkness, and a night bird made a sound like the tolling of a distant bell.
A man carrying a lantern came up the steps and opened the screen door. He was a short, square fellow whose broad face was the colour of old saddle leather. He and Seca spoke in Spanish, then Seca turned to Professor Thorold. "This is Zambo, seņor. He has been down to meet the night train, but he says that there was no Englishman upon it."
"That is very odd," replied the Professor, frowning a little. "I felt sure that Gadsden would have arrived by now."
"I do think he has come," said Seca.
"You mean by aeroplane?" asked Mr Thorold anxiously.
"Perhaps yes, but it is more likely that he have come by the train and descended at San Miguel."
"That's it, Dad," put in Greg. "It's just what he would do, for it's only about ten miles down the line. He'd save himself from running into us and I expect he could get mules there."
"But yes, Seņor Gregory," said Seca. "He would get the mules at San Miguel."
"Then he's likely on the road already," growled Sam. "I wish we could have started to-night."
"You will not lose by the delay," Seca promised. "I shall lend to you Zambo, who will show you the way. He will be a good guide to you."
"Splendid!" exclaimed Greg. "You're a nailer, Mr Seca."
A puzzled look crossed Seca's face. "A nailer," he said doubtfully. "What is that?"
Greg's father laughed. "A good sort, seņor," he explained.
Seca smiled. "It is a funny word. I will remember it," he said. "And now I will show to you the map and tell you how you will start on this, your great journey." For the next hour they were busy with maps and in listening to a lot of useful advice from their host, and after that they all went to bed.
"Make a good sleep," Seca advised them. "I theenk you will not see the beds again for many days."
It was nine when they turned in, and at four they were roused to have breakfast. At earliest grey dawn the mules were brought round, and with Zambo leading the way they all rode off. Seca stood on the veranda waving to them till they had rounded the hill and were out of sight.
"A good chap," said Jim.
"One of the best," agreed Greg. "It's a jolly good thing for us that you and Sam met up with Valda. We'd never have got fitted out like this but for him and Seca. I'll bet Gadsden hasn't got mules like these."
"I wish we knew where the beggar was," remarked Sam rather gloomily. "I'd be a lot easier in my mind if I felt we were ahead of him."
Jim looked at his pal. "What's the matter with you, Sam? When we all thought that Alan Upton had got knocked on the head you were the one who stuck to it that he was all right, but now when things are panning out jolly well you're croaking like a frog."
"I don't mean to croak," replied Sam soberly, "but I've a notion that we're in for trouble. I'm Cornish, and I can't help my feelings."
"Sort of second sight," whispered Greg as he pulled his mule alongside Jim's. "I hope he's not right."
"I hope so, too," replied Jim. And after that they rode for a long time in silence.
Nothing happened that day to make them think again of Sam's gloomy prophecy. The going was good, there was a good trail all the way, and they travelled fast. They passed two big plantations, and camped for the night on a hillside by a swiftly running brook. The next day too went well. The mules were really good beasts, and they did nearly forty miles. The country was wilder, but still fairly open. On the third day they came to the top of a great slope which ran down for miles to an enormous grassy plain. There was hardly a tree on it, and it went on and on till lost in the blue haze of distance.
Sam pulled up and gazed out across it. "Like the sea," he said under his breath.
"This is where we ought to have a 'plane," remarked Greg.
"I'm wondering all the time if Gadsden has one," said Jim.
"I reckon not," replied Sam curtly.
"Why do you think that?" asked Jim.
"He's got too much sense," said Sam. "He knows well enough that no 'plane could carry petrol enough to go to Hulak and back. Besides, if he had gone by 'plane Zambo would have known. 'Planes are pretty rare in this country, and some of these gaucho chaps would have heard or seen it and told him."
"I hope you're right," said Jim as they rode on down the slope. At the bottom was a river, a good width, but so shallow that it looked as if a mule could ford it anywhere. It was clear as green glass, but Zambo, instead of riding across, signed to them to follow him up the bank.
"What's the trouble?" asked Greg, but Zambo, although he understood English and could talk it a little, did not answer.
They rode a good mile upstream before Zambo pulled up and pointed to a rough post fixed in the far bank. "Does that post mark the ford?" asked the Professor, and Zambo, who was a silent sort of person, nodded and turned his mule into the water. Jim, who happened to be next in line, followed. His mule was thirsty and insisted on stopping to drink, but Zambo's went on. The creature was only about a dozen yards ahead when it stopped short. Its forequarters dropped till its head was almost under the water, and it began struggling desperately. Zambo slipped out of the saddle, but the moment his feet touched the bottom he too seemed to stick fast.
It all happened so quickly that Jim stared amazed. Sam was the first to realize what was up. "Quicksand!" he shouted. "Where's that rope?"
The rope was coiled on Greg's saddle. He had it off in a moment and flung one end of the coil to Zambo. "Catch hold," he shouted. "We'll pull you out." But Zambo's first thought was for his mule, and, quickly hitching the rope round the animal's body, he told the others to pull. Luckily the mule's hind legs were still on firm ground, and with the three boys and the Professor on the rope the weight told, and the mule was slowly hauled out until it was able to turn and come floundering ashore.
The poor beast was scared stiff, and Greg was having a job to get the rope off it when there came a sudden terrified shout from Zambo. "Queek! Piranha!"
None of the three boys knew what he meant; it was the Professor who explained. "Cannibal fish! The mule was bleeding a little. That has attracted them. Quickly, boys, or Zambo will be eaten alive."
Jim turned, and saw through the glass-clear water a great shoal of smallish fish that came darting upstream. Small as they were, they had heads like bulldogs, and he could plainly see rows of sharp teeth in their wide mouths as they snapped at one another and everything they came across. There was something horribly sinister about them. Zambo was struggling desperately, but he was in the sand to his knees and the water was to his arm- pits. He flung up his arms, and as he did so Jim saw one of the horrid fish clinging to the flesh of his forearm like a bulldog.
In a flash Jim realized that they would never get the man out in time, then equally quickly he saw a possible way of saving him. One of the pack-mules was standing close by, and on its back, wrapped in leaves, was a huge chunk of beef which they had purchased that morning at an estancia which they had passed. It was the work of seconds only for Jim to draw his sheath-knife, slash the lashings, and, taking the whole great lump of meat, fling it into the water a yard or two below the spot where Zambo was struggling.
"Good man!" gasped Greg as he at last got the rope loose and, running knee-deep into the water, flung one end to Zambo. "Phew! Took at the brutes!" he gasped as the whole shoal flung themselves on the feast. There were scores of them, and the surface of the river for a wide space was lashed into foam as the savage little monsters tore at the meat, chasing it as the current drifted it downstream. Zambo meantime quickly put a loop of the rope around his body; then Greg and Sam took hold, and, pulling with all their might, dragged the man out of the clinging sand and got him safe to shore.
He came straight to Jim. "You good boy," he said. "If you no think of that I die. You very good boy."
"It was quick thought just when it was most needed," said the Professor. "I congratulate you, Jim."
Jim got quite red. "I—I'm jolly glad I did think of it," he stammered. "But, I say, what awful brutes! How are we ever going to cross?"
"It will be all right," said the Professor. "It was the blood from the place where the rope cut the mule that started it. Is that not so, Zambo?"
The guide did not answer. He was not listening, but was staring with a puzzled expression at the post fixed in the far bank of the stream. He raised his hand and pointed to it. "That no right," he said at last. "That been moved."
Greg whistled softly. "I thought something was wrong," he remarked. "They'd hardly have put a post opposite a quicksand. But who on earth has played such a dirty trick on us?"
"Do you have to ask?" said Sam, with a touch of scorn. "You might know it was Gadsden."
"Nonsense!" retorted Greg. "He can't possibly be ahead of us. Look at the pace we've come."
"All the same it's Gadsden," replied Sam doggedly. "And I'll bet that, when we get across there, we'll find his tracks."
"That right," said Zambo. "You wait, I find way across." He got on his mule and rode off upstream. In less than five minutes he stopped and beckoned, and the rest hurried after him. He was pointing to a shallow ford with a distinct trail showing where cattle and horses had crossed, and here the party rode through the water without trouble.
"Now I'll show you," said Sam and rode back down the bank toward the spot where Zambo had so nearly come to grief. Sure enough, the ground around the post was raw earth freshly turned. "What did I tell you?" asked Sam.
"Yes," said Greg. "I see the post has been shifted, but how do you know Gadsden did it?"
Sam pointed to a foot-mark on the newly turned soil. "That's an English boot," he said, "and size nine."
Greg was staggered, but not convinced. "I don't see how he could have got ahead of us," he declared; "that is, unless he had a 'plane."
"He didn't have a 'plane," said Sam. "He had a car. At least I am almost sure he did." He walked away across the prairie, and the others, wondering, followed. Suddenly Sam pulled up. "There you are," he said briefly, pointing to unmistakable tyre tracks in a bare space among the coarse grass.
For a few moments there was silence as all stood gazing at the tracks. Greg was the first to speak. "You're right, Sam, but all the same it beats me. How did he get a car over those hills?"
"He did not come that way, Greg," said his father. "He must have travelled round the northern end of the hills. The distance is much greater, but with a car of this sort—it's a cheap, high-wheeled, American type— he travelled four or five times as fast as our mules."
Greg nodded. "I see, Dad. Then Sam's been right all the time. But surely to goodness he can't go all the way by car!"
His father smiled. "Of course not, but he can drive all the way across this plain. That gives him a big start over us, besides giving him the chance to play ugly tricks like this upon us."
"He bad man," put in Zambo, and the remark was too true for anyone to contradict it.
Sam's lips tightened. "We'll beat him to it," he said curtly. "Let's be moving."
They rode all day across the plain, and all day the tyre tracks were ahead of them. None of them felt happy at the thought that Gadsden had got such a start, and they were all rather silent and depressed. Toward evening they sighted a belt of trees, the first they had seen since reaching the plain, and Zambo told them that they would camp there for the night. They stopped by a pool of clear water, and, after carefully hobbling the mules so that they would not stray, lighted a fire and cooked supper.
"I wonder how far Gadsden has got?" said Jim as he toasted a strip of bacon over the glowing embers.
"Probably fifty miles or more," said Greg. "Zambo says it's all good going until you get to the Braco River."
"How far's that?" asked Jim.
"More than a hundred miles," Greg answered. "A good three days' ride."
"That's where we have to build a boat," said Jim.
"Yes, if we can't get a canoe. With luck we may get an Indian piragua."
Jim laid his bacon on a biscuit and ate it slowly. It was very pleasant here among the trees, for, curiously enough, there were few mosquitoes and no piums or sandflies, while the air felt cool and pleasant after the heat of the day. They sat and chatted a while; then, as they were all tired with their long day in the saddle, they slung their hammocks and turned in. Each of them carried a light but very strong hammock, for, owing to a certain insect called the cauderu, it is dangerous to sleep on the ground in the Brazilian forests.
Jim and Sam had been accustomed to getting up early at Polcapple, and found no difficulty in turning out at dawn, but it was different with Greg, and, as usual, they had quite a job to rouse him in the morning. Jim had just dragged him from his hammock, and Sam was fighting the fire for breakfast, when Zambo, who was always the first to rise, came up to the Professor and said something in a low voice.
The Professor started. "You can't find the mules!" he exclaimed; "but they were hobbled, as usual."
"They tied, seņor," replied Zambo in his odd, clipped English, "but man untie them. They gone!"
In a moment all the rest were round their guide. "You mean some one has stole them?" asked Sam bluntly.
"Sí, seņor. Some one stole them. Think him big-foot man who moved post."
"It's Gadsden, of course," said Sam bitterly. "We might have known it."
"But he can't have got far with them," cried Greg.
"Let's chase them."
"He no take them," said Zambo. "He let them loose. They go home." He spoke with such certainty that the hearts of his listeners sank. Besides, they knew that what he said was true, for Seca had told them that when they reached the river they were merely to turn the mules loose, and that in course of time they would find their own way back.
Jim was the first to recover a little. "We must see, anyhow," he said, and he and Sam ran out of the belt of wood in which they had camped, and took the back trail. It did not take long to make suspicion certainty. Sam stopped on a bit of soft ground and pointed to the trail. "Here are the marks," he said briefly, and, sure enough, there were the prints of the hoofs of five mules making straight back by the way they had come.
Jim said nothing. He gazed helplessly at Sam. The disaster was so complete that it did not seem any good to talk about it.
IT was the Professor who said that the best thing was to have breakfast, and it was Zambo who cooked it. Greg and Jim vowed they could not eat, but Sam told them not to be silly. "Whatever happens, we've got a jolly hard day before us," he said. "And you can't work without eating. We'll all feel better when we've had some grub."
He was quite right, and, though the meal was a very quiet and rather dismal one, they did feel better after it.
The Professor spoke. "It is quite evident that we cannot go on," he said. "I think our best plan will be to make our way back as quickly as possible to Seņor Seca's, get our mules, and start again. We can leave our petrol and the heavier things hidden here in the wood, and march light."
Greg gave a sort of groan. "It'll take us at least a week to walk to Goyaz, then three days to ride back here. That's ten. Gadsden will have got such a start we can never hope to catch him."
"I quite see that, Greg," his father answered quietly; "but have you any other plan to suggest?"
Greg shook his head helplessly. "No, Dad, I haven't," he answered.
"Has anyone any other plan?" asked the Professor, looking round.
Jim spoke up. "Yes, sir. I have my wireless set, as you know. Suppose that I try to get Seņor Valda and ask him to wire to his cousin to send and meet the mules and bring them straight back to us."
Greg fairly leaped up. "Topping idea!" he exclaimed. "Isn't it, Dad?"
"Yes," agreed the Professor. "I quite agree that it is an excellent notion. But wireless has its limits, and I very much doubt if the small set we have with us will reach Rio, even on a short wave-length."
"But Alan got through all right to England," urged Greg.
"That is true, but you forget that he had a fair amount of power, while we have nothing but our storage batteries. Also we are down here on the plain with mountains three thousand feet high between us and Rio. We might get Goyaz, but unfortunately Seca has not an installation."
"I am afraid you are right, sir," said Jim. "Still it might be worth trying."
Sam, who had been listening in silence, put in a remark. "You'll have to wait till night before you can try it, won't you, Jim?"
"Yes, of course," agreed Jim.
"That means wasting a whole day doing nothing," said Sam. He turned to the Professor. "How far is it to this river, sir?"
"The Braco, you mean? I should say that it is about one hundred and twenty miles."
Sam considered a little. "Síx days' tramp. Bet's go right ahead, sir. We can surely do twenty miles a day."
"Yes," said the Professor, "we could if we were marching light, but just look what we have to carry. Hammocks, mosquito- nets, rifles, food, and the six tins of petrol, to say nothing of the wireless set."
"I'd say leave everything except just enough grub for a week and the rifles and get right along," Sam said firmly.
The Professor hesitated. "I do not like taking such chances. Still less do I like leaving behind the petrol which Alan is so keen about. Let us hear what Zambo has to say." He turned to the guide, and explained to him in fluent Spanish the various plans that had been put forward, and Zambo listened in his stolid way. The man had Indian blood in him, which made for silence. When the Professor had finished Zambo began to talk. He spoke slowly so that Jim, who had learned a little Spanish, understood something of what he said. But the Professor explained fully. "Zambo has another suggestion to make. He says that there is an old ranch in the next belt of wood about two leagues— that is six miles—from here. He does not know much about it, but thinks it possible that we might be able to buy horses or mules there."
"That's capital," cried Greg. "Then see here, Dad. Two or three of us had better go to this ranch at once, and Jim can stay here and fix up an aerial so as to try his wireless. Of course, if we get the horses we needn't worry, but if we don't we can still try to call Valda."
"Yes, Greg," said the Professor. "And, since the animals may be troublesome, you and Sam had better both go with Zambo, and I will stay and help Jim."
Zambo's suggestion had cheered up Greg wonderfully, and he and Sam went off with the guide in quite good spirits. It was still cool, and it was not more than an hour and a half before they came to the second belt of trees and sighted a roof among them. "There's the house," exclaimed Greg excitedly.
"There's no smoke," said Sam.
"Why should there be?" demanded Greg quite sharply. "They've finished cooking their breakfast long ago."
Sam made no answer, and all three went on at a sharp pace. The house stood in a clearing among the trees, and there was a good- sized pool of water in front. But there was not a sign of life about the place, and Sam's spirits sank as he noticed that the old garden was all grown over with coarse grass and weeds. He glanced at Zambo, but the man's face showed no sign of what he was thinking. "Here are wheel-marks!" said Greg sharply.
"Car tyres—Gadsden's," replied Sam rather grimly. "Likely he was here last night, and came or sent back to round up our mules."
"Then there must be some one here," said Greg, but Sam knew that he was just trying to persuade himself that the place was not as deserted as it looked. When they reached the house it did not take long to make sure. "No one here," pronounced Zambo, "no one here for many moons."
"Then there are no horses," said Greg with a sort of groan. "What shall we do, Sam?"
"Best make sure, first," replied Sam. "I reckon there's a chance they might have left some stock around, and I'd rather have a wild horse than none at all."
Zambo shook his head solemnly. "No caballes. No horse here," he said. "Big-foot man, he make that sure."
"Of course Gadsden would. I hadn't thought of that," said Greg mournfully. "Let's go back, Sam."
"Not till we've had a look round," said Sam. "There's no hurry, anyhow, for Jim won't be able to use his wireless till night."
"I hate the place," grumbled Greg. "It looks as if it was haunted."
"All right," said Sam. "I'll go and see the ghost. You can stay here if you've a mind to."
"No, I'll come with you," said Greg in a tone that was almost sulky.
The house was in a dreadful state. Part of the roof had fallen in. A house left to itself does not last long in a climate like that of Brazil. The door hung on one hinge and a huge spider had spun its web across the opening.
"Him poison," said Zambo.
"I hope you're satisfied," said Greg to Sam.
"Not yet," replied Sam quietly. "I'm going to have a squint at the outbuildings."
There was a big barn behind, and this was in better repair than the house. The roof, at any rate, was sound. Inside were some broken tools, an old plough, and a spidery-looking four- wheeled vehicle which seemed in pretty good repair. Sam looked at this. He looked so long that Greg became impatient. "What's the use of it?" he asked sharply.
"It's quite good," replied Sam. "With a little grease on the wheels it would go as well as ever. It's one of those Yankee things—buckboards I believe they call them."
"Perhaps you think of pulling it yourself," remarked Greg sarcastically.
Sam was still staring at the thing. "Three or four of us could pull it all right on level ground."
"You're crazy," growled Greg.
"Him no crazy," said Zambo. "Two men pull him easy."
Greg whistled softly. "You mean we could load our stuff on it, and haul it to the river, Sam?"
"Something of the sort," replied Sam; "only I'm not sure we should have to haul it. I've a notion we might ride in it."
Greg shook his head. "I always thought you were the sensible one of the party, Sam. What's driven you loony?"
"I wish you wouldn't interrupt," retorted Sam. "I'm thinking."
"Trying to think yourself a horse, I suppose," said Greg.
Sam turned on him. "There are other ways of pulling a cart besides horses and mules," he said, so sharply that Greg stared. "Were you thinking of a motor, Sam?" he asked.
"Something a bit simpler than that. I was thinking of the wind."
Greg's mouth opened, but he did not speak. This time he really did think that poor old Sam had taken leave of his senses.
"Oh, I'm not so crazy as you imagine," said Sam, guessing the other's thought. "Last year Jim showed me a picture in a paper of a land-boat which some chap sailed on a beach in the south of England. It had two wheels in front and one behind for steering, and one big sail. The paper said it went twenty miles an hour."
Greg fairly gasped. "You mean you could rig a sail to this buckboard?"
"Yes, if I could get stuff to make a sail it would be easy as pie. And in the day there's always a good breeze across this big plain. I've more than a notion it would work all right."
Greg's eyes flashed. "Sam, you're a genius!" he exclaimed. "Let's do it."
"We'll try it," said Sam calmly. "It'll be easy enough to get a mast, and this old harness will cut up for rigging. The trouble is the sail. It'll have to be a big one."
"There'll be some stuff in the house," said Greg confidently. "I'll go and see."
"You'd better put Zambo wise first," Sam told him. "Then take him to help you. And look out for spiders and scorpions. The house is probably full of them."
"I'll watch out," said Greg. "I only hope I can make Zambo understand."
Like Jim, Greg had been learning Spanish, and somehow he made Sam's idea clear to Zambo. He was rather surprised to find that Zambo was not against it and ready to help him search the deserted house.
When they had left the barn Sam set to examining the buckboard, and was relieved to find it quite sound. He found some grease in an old barrel, got the wheels off, greased the spindles, and had just put the wheels back again when Greg came rushing back. "We've done the trick, Sam," he cried, "Look at this!" He flung down a great bundle of coarse canvas which Sam at once proceeded to unroll and inspect.
"It was stretched as a partition between two rooms," Greg explained. "That's how it comes to be fairly sound."
"It's got a few holes," said Sam quietly, "but it'll make do."
Greg was quite indignant. "'Make do!' I should think it would. It's tremendous luck finding it. And see here, I've found a ball of cord and a couple of old knives and some brass wire."
"Good business!" said Sam; "but it's no use getting too keen, Greg. We don't know whether it will work yet. However, let's set to work and see what we can do. Get Zambo to cut a mast. He's got his hatchet. I want a good stiff stick about fifteen feet long and a lighter piece for a gaff. Then you put an edge on these old knives while I measure out the canvas for the sail. It'll have to be cut into strips and sewed together. We'll need to pitch in, for this is an all-day job."
Jim meantime found it a simple job to rig up an aerial and get his wireless in order. After that he and the Professor went out to try for game. About a mile from the camp they spotted a small herd of seven deer and set to stalking them. This was a long and difficult job, for they had to work round and approach upwind, crawling all the way under a hot blazing sun. At last they got within range, and the Professor, taking careful aim, shot a buck. The steel-jacketed bullet broke its spine, so that it fell stone- dead, while the rest, amazed at the fall of their companion, stood quite still for a moment, before racing away. But the Professor did not fire again. "One is enough," he said. "The meat will be all we can eat while it is fresh."
It took them an hour to skin and quarter the creature and carry the meat back to camp. Then they grilled some steaks and made a good dinner.
By this time it was past two, and the Professor was getting a little anxious. "They ought to be back by now," he said rather uneasily. Jim suggested that they were probably having a bother with untrained ponies, and the Professor agreed that this was possible. But as the afternoon drew on he became really worried, and at last declared that he would go and see what had happened.
"I'll come too, sir," said Jim. "The stuff will be all right here. There's no one within miles."
The Professor shook his head decidedly. "No," he said. "The camp must be guarded. You stay, Jim, and get supper under way. Those others will be hungry when they turn up."
Jim knew too well to protest against a direct order, and the Professor went off alone. He carried his rifle, some ammunition, and a canteen of water. Jim went with him to the edge of the wood, and watched him tramp away across the open. He could see the trees for which he was making, like a faint blue line on the horizon, and noticed that the wood seemed a good deal larger than the one in which they were camped. Then at last he went back and started cooking. The sun dropped toward the high ground far to the west, the shadows lengthened, yet there was no sign of the rest of the party. At last Jim left his fire and walked again to the edge of the trees to see if they were within sight.
The sunlight slanted golden across the vast stretches of the level plain, and the strong evening breeze flattened the withered grass. As Jim stood screening his eyes with his hands from the strong light he became suddenly aware of a tall, yellowish patch which was moving across the prairie at a rapid rate. He stared and stared, then rubbed his eyes. "I'm dotty," he said at last. "I must be, or I couldn't be seeing a boat." Then another idea occurred to him. "It's a mirage, of course. It'll vanish in a minute."
Instead of vanishing, it came on at great speed, and as it came nearer Jim plainly saw the shape of the big sail, then made out the wheels spinning rapidly below. Nearer still, and he saw three figures clinging to the body, while the whole thing swayed and lurched under the rush of the strong breeze. Next moment it tacked round and came tearing straight toward him. As it approached the edge of the trees the sail dropped like magic, and the strange vehicle came to a standstill. Greg pulled out his watch. "Twenty-four minutes," he said. "And the way we've come was all of eight miles."
There was a grin on Sam's freckled face as he went up to Jim. "What d'ye think of it, Jim?" he asked. "What price my land- boat?"
Jim drew a long breath. "Sam, you're a bit of a miracle," he said. "I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw the thing coming. How did you do it?"
Sam told him briefly of finding the old buckboard and rigging her. "But where's the Professor?" he asked. "I wanted him to see her under way."
Jim started. "Didn't you see him? He went to look for you more than two hours ago."
It was Sam's turn to look startled. "We never saw him," he said sharply.
"He must have reached the wood just as we left," put in Greg. "We'd best go and pick him up."
"I'll go with Sam," said Jim. "You people had better get some supper."
"Right," said Sam. "Luckily the wind's still strong. Come on." He began to haul up the sail, and in another minute he and Jim were racing away across the prairie, the light vehicle swaying as her wheels bumped over tussocks of grass. The pace amazed Jim. It averaged nearly twenty miles an hour. He was amazed, too, at the way in which Sam handled this queer craft, for without his skilled hand on the tiller it would have capsized about once in every hundred yards.
In a wonderfully short time they were nearing the wood where lay the deserted ranch, and as they came up behind it the trees caught the wind and the pace slackened. Suddenly a sharp crack came echoing out from the dark trees.
"That's the Professor's rifle," said Jim sharply. "I can swear to it."
"But what's he shooting at?" demanded Sam. As if in answer to his words two more reports whipped out from the dark shadow of the trees.
LEAVING the land-boat, Jim and Sam ran in the direction from which the shots had come. Jim had his rifle, for one of the things that Seca had told them was never to move from camp without arms. Sam slackened pace as he came near the trees. "Go steady, Jim," he said. "We don't want to run bull-headed into the trouble, whatever it is."
"But what is it?" asked Jim. "Can't be Indians. Zambo said there weren't any nearer than the river. And I don't believe there are any wild beasts on this plain—dangerous ones, I mean. You didn't see any, did you?"
"Only scorpions and a snake or two," Sam answered. "Hullo, there's another shot."
"Close, too," said Jim. "I saw the flash. It looked as if it came from that tree." It was growing dusk in the wood, and when the rifle spoke again Sam, as well as Jim, saw plainly that the shot came from the branches of a big tree which stood by itself in an open glade. "He's shooting at something on the ground," declared Sam. "Why, they're pigs!"
"Pigs," repeated Jim, then grabbed Sam's arm and dragged him back. "They're not pigs. They're peccaries."
"They're as like pigs as makes no odds," said Sam stolidly. "Only they've got the biggest heads for their size of any pigs I ever saw. And, by the look of 'em, the ugliest tempers."
"They're the most awful brutes," said Jim in a quick whisper. "They've got tusks three inches long, and they'd rip you to ribands if they caught you. What's more, it's no good shooting them unless you kill them all, for they'll stick to you as long as there's one of 'em left alive."
"A job to shoot that lot," said Sam. "There must be fifty of 'em."
"And I've only about twenty cartridges," said Jim. "What are we going to do?"
"Give the Professor a shout to tell him we're going back for more cartridges," began Sam, but Jim cut him short. "You let them hear you, and the whole lot will be down on us like a thousand of bricks."
Sam stood and looked out into the glade where the herd of peccaries surrounded the tree in which the Professor had taken refuge. Four lay dead, but the rest were not at all dismayed. On the contrary, they were bristling with rage and glaring up into the tree as if they expected their victim to fall into their jaws. "Awful brutes," Jim had called them, but Sam felt this was too mild a way of putting it. These creatures, with their white clashing tusks and fiery eyes, were like demons in animal form. "It's a bit of a puzzle," said Sam at length.
"How would it be if you went back for the rest and the rifles?" suggested Jim. "Meantime I could get up in this tree and plug a few of them."
Sam shook his head. "The breeze'll probably drop at sunset, and it'll mean tramping back afoot. It'll be pitch dark long before we can get here, then we shall have to wait till daylight to start shooting."
"You're right," said Jim, "but I can't see anything else for it, can you?"
"I've got a notion," said Sam. "Are these things scared of fire?"
"I expect so. I don't know any animal that will face fire."
"The grass is pretty dry," said Sam, "and the wind's right. What about touching off the grass and chancing scaring them off?"
"We might try it, anyhow," said Jim. "But we must make some torches first. Twist up some grass, and we'll start the fire in a good wide swathe."
While the grass was thick in the open, there was little under the trees, and they had to go back to make their torches. There is not much twilight in Southern Brazil, and it was almost dark when they got back. They could barely see the peccaries, but they could hear their tusks clashing while their fierce eyes glowed like red sparks through the gloom. "Be quick. The breeze is dying down," whispered Sam, and Jim quickly struck a match and lighted a bundle of hay. The moment he did so there was a sound out in the open, which Jim recognized as the trampling of scores of small hoofs. "Look out, Sam!" he shouted. "Get up the tree." Sam leaped for a branch, Jim did the same, and both swung up just in time to escape the rush of the savage herd. But Jim's torch, which he had dropped, was already flaring, and just then a puff of wind caught it and blew it out into the long grass in the glade. The dead stuff caught with a crackle and a flare, flinging a red glow over the open and fighting up the dark foliage of the trees with a ruddy glow.
"You've done the trick," panted Sam, for the peccaries, scared by the tremendous blaze, rushed squealing away among the trees and vanished like evil spirits into the gloom.
"We've scared the peccaries all right, but we've started an awful fire," replied Jim. "I say, suppose the tree the Professor is in catches?"
"I don't think it will," said Sam. "What I'm worried about is my land-boat. This fire will work back against the wind as well as run with it."
"Then we'd best go and shift it," said Jim. "We can put it in the pool by the house. But there's no hurry."
"What about the peccaries?" asked Sam.
"Don't worry about them. They're still running," Jim told him, and as he spoke he dropped to the ground.
The fire swept across the glade in no time, but happily the Professor's lone tree did not catch. As soon as it was past Jim shouted, and the Professor answered at once, and, dropping down, came quickly across the expanse of smouldering ashes. Jim hastily explained, saying that he had thought the only way of getting rid of the peccaries was to fire the grass, and added that they mustn't wait, because they had to put the boat in the pool so as to be out of the fire.
The Professor stared at Jim, and a queer expression crossed his face. "Don't worry, Jim," he said soothingly. "You must lie down for a little." He turned to Sam. "It's been a little too much for him," he whispered. "Do you think that between us we can get him back to camp."
"Yes, sir," replied Sam, "but first we must see about the boat. The fire may catch it, and that would be the finish."
The Professor gave a kind of gasp. "You too?" he said hoarsely.
Jim burst out laughing, and that almost finished the poor Professor, who plainly thought that both the boys had gone stark, staring mad.
"It's all right, sir," said Jim. "I don't wonder you think we're crazy, but you see we forgot you hadn't seen Sam's latest invention or heard anything about it. Come with us, then you'll understand all right." He led the way through the trees, and they reached the land-boat without seeing anything of the peccaries.
The fire had worked down-wind through the wood and was rioting through the dead grass beyond, but upwind it came very slowly, and so far there was no danger to Sam's wheeled craft. The Professor stared in amazement at the queer-looking contraption. "Do you mean to tell me that you can make the wind move this?" he demanded.
"Get in, sir," said Sam grinning. "There's still a fairish breeze blowing. Then you can see whether she'll move."
Usually the wind dropped at sunset, but on this particular evening there were clouds in the sky and the breeze was still fairly brisk. Sam hauled up the sail, the wind caught it, and the land-boat began to move, slowly at first, but as she got away from the trees faster. A puff came up, she heeled, and the Professor gasped as Sam just saved her from going over.
"Sorry, sir," said Sam. "It's getting too dark to handle her properly. I'll have to reef down and go slow."
He stopped her, he and Jim took in the reef, and they went on again at a moderate speed. Even so, and in spite of the wind not being favourable, so that they had to tack, they were back at their camp in less than an hour.
The Professor was simply delighted. "I congratulate you, Sam," he said heartily. "If this queer vehicle will carry all five of us, as well as the stores, it will be better than the mules."
"It'll go a jolly sight faster, anyhow," Greg told him. "I don't believe a car would beat it over this country. We shan't be a lot behind Gadsden after all. What do you think, Dad? Is there any need for Jim to use his wireless? Hadn't we better make up our minds to go straight to the river in the land-boat?"
"Yes, I think so," said the Professor. "Now let us have some supper and turn in. This has been an exciting day, but to-morrow promises to be still more interesting."
"It'll be all right if there's a good wind," Sam said to Jim as they slung their hammocks. "She will go all the better with a good load. I only hope it's flat ground all the way."
He slung himself into his hammock with sailor-like ease, and was asleep almost at once, but Jim, instead of turning in, slipped off to his wireless. He tried Rio first but got nothing, then he swung his aerial towards Hulak. But an hour passed, and when no signal came in return to his sending he gave it up and went to his hammock.
When Sam turned out at dawn he was dismayed to find a dead calm. But soon after sunrise a faint puff of wind rolled up the morning mist, and, by the time they had finished their breakfast and got everything packed up, a fair breeze was blowing. Sam was very particular about getting the baggage lashed on firmly, then all five climbed in, and he and Jim raised the sail. It filled, the wheels began to turn, and they were off. The breeze was light at first, but soon grew stronger and, by the time they reached the deserted ranch, was blowing stiffly. Here they found that the fire had spread during the night, so that the whole plain as far as they could see was nothing but black ash. It looked ugly, but it made the going better, and the pace increased to a round twenty miles an hour. The Professor was as pleased as the boys, and fairly chuckled as the miles were flung behind them. "If this wind holds we might actually cover the whole distance in a day," he said.
"That's what I'm hoping for," Sam answered. "But I reckon we'll all be pretty stiff and sore before evening."
Sam was right about that, for the bumping was very bad at times. The tyres, of course, were of solid iron, and the springs were none too good. Long before midday they were all longing for a little rest from the everlasting thumping and jarring. Just before twelve Sam sighted a dip ahead of them, and quickly turned his land-boat up into the wind. "Get the sail down, Jim," he said. "We daren't tackle that without first having a look at it."
The dip was narrow, but pretty deep, and a little stream, bordered by bushes, ran through the bottom. They decided it would be a good place to stop and have dinner, but first they got ropes on the buckboard and hauled it down the slope, across the brook, and up the opposite side. They ate a good meal, had an hour's rest, and then started again.
The brook had stopped the fire, and on the far side they found grass again. It made travel slower, but the bumping was not so bad. Now and then they saw deer which bolted wildly at sight of the queer vehicle, but there were no trees or any sign of settlement, and the ground was amazingly level. By three o'clock Sam reckoned they had covered nearly ninety miles.
At four they came to another brook, and stopped to have a drink of cool water and a short rest. Soon after starting again Jim spotted a clump of tall trees standing on a knoll a little to the left of their line of travel, and the Professor suggested that it might be worth while to climb the knoll so as to see what was ahead.
The knoll was not high enough to give much of a view, so Greg, taking field-glasses with him, climbed one of the trees. He came down in a tremendous hurry. "I saw the big river quite plainly," he exclaimed. "And what's more, I saw Gadsden's car."
"Gadsden's car?" repeated his father.
"Yes, and not going straight to the river. It was running almost due north parallel with the valley."
"Perhaps the valley is too steep for a car to get down to the water," suggested the Professor.
"I can't tell for certain," said Greg, "but it didn't look like that. As far as I could see, the river valley is broad and shallow."
"Were there any trees?" asked Sam.
"Yes, but they look small—not much more than bush."
"Then I reckon it's timber he's after," said Sam. "He wants big stuff to build a boat."
"That's it," declared the Professor. "Sam is right, but it took a sailor to think of it."
"Then we shall have to do the same," said Greg.
"Yes, I expect so," replied his father, "but we won't hurry. We do not want Gadsden to know we are anywhere near."
Jim chuckled. "He'd get the shock of his life if he thought we were within a hundred miles."
"Quite so," agreed the Professor, "and, believing he has such a good start, he will not hurry in building his boat." He turned to his son. "How far on was the car, Greg?"
"Eight or nine miles, I should think, Dad."
"Very well. Then we will rest here for half an hour, for even then we can easily reach the river before dark."
All agreed that this was the best plan, and at the end of twenty minutes Greg went up the tree again and came down with the news that Gadsden was out of sight. Then they started afresh, laying a straight course for the river. In less than an hour they reached the top of a low bluff and stopped there, for Zambo told them that they would be much more comfortable there than in the valley where mosquitoes would be thick after dark.
They pitched camp at once, then while it was still light Sam and Jim went down to the river to try for some fish for supper. Zambo had warned them to be very careful about approaching the water for, he told them, though the crocodiles are small in the upper waters of the Braco, yet they are dangerous in the evening. "They no bite in morning," he said. "Bite bad in evening." They saw no crocodiles, only a biggish snake about eight feet long, which slipped quietly into the water and disappeared. Then they put their tackle together, baited their hooks with bits of raw meat, and cast in.
Sam got a bite at once and hauled out a flat fish about the size of a dinner-plate, with a patch of crimson on its throat. "Sort of a bream, I reckon," he said. "You've got one, Jim." Jim's float went down, he struck, but, instead of a fish coming out, the line rushed away with a jerk that nearly pulled the rod out of his hands. "What you got?" asked Sam.
"A whale, by the feel of it," gasped Jim. "Look out! It's going upstream."
The fish, or whatever it was that had Jim's hook in its mouth, turned upstream and Jim ran hard along the bank, trying to keep up with it and save his line from breaking. The fish swam at a tremendous pace, and presently a great tail appeared above the surface and, striking the water with a splash that sent the spray flying, vanished again.
The river was low so that there was a good beach all the way, and this gave Jim a chance to keep up with the great fish. Sam followed just behind, and so they went for nearly half a mile. Perspiration streamed down Jim's face, and he was nearly breathless when at last the fish stopped and came to the surface plunging and splashing furiously. Jim reeled in, and the great creature began to yield and come closer to the shore. But it still made heavy rushes, and Jim had all he could do to hold it. "Hang on, Jim," said Sam. "If you can get it into the shallow water I'll wade out and collar hold of it." Jim reeled and reeled, and slowly the huge fish came in. "Now!" he panted, and Sam, wading in, made a grab, got the fish by the tail, and dragged it ashore.
"Phew, what a whopper!" cried Jim. "It must weigh twenty pounds."
"Nearer thirty I'd say," answered Sam. "I wonder—"
He stopped short, and Jim saw him stiffen. Jim himself was still facing the river, but Sam's face was turned to the bank.
"What's up?" asked Jim.
"Indians," replied Sam in a low voice. "A lot of 'em, and a rum-looking crowd. Turn round slowly. We mustn't seem to funk them, whatever happens."
Jim turned slowly to find himself facing about a score of Indians, short, stocky men, very dark in colour. They wore very little in the way of clothes, but all had large knives stuck in their girdles, and each carried a spear with a sharp leaf-shaped point. They stood staring stonily at the two white boys, and Jim and Sam, not knowing in the least what to do, stood very stiff and straight and stared solemnly back.
HOW long they would have stood there like so many statues it is hard to say. It was the fish that saved the situation, for it suddenly began to flop violently and roll back down the slope toward the water. This was too much for Jim, who dropped his rod and flung himself on the creature. Grasping it in both hands, he walked straight up to the middle Indian, who was wearing a headdress of scarlet feathers, and offered it to him. "For you," he said with a friendly smile.
To his great relief the man took the gift, looked at it a moment, and then handed it to another man who had no red feathers on his head.
"Seems like you'd done the right thing, Jim," said Sam. "What about giving old Feathers a hook or two?" As he spoke he took a couple of hooks from the tin box in which he carried them and presented them to the chief. This time the chief was really interested. He tried the point of a hook on his thumb, and grunted approval at its sharpness. Then he pointed to Jim's rod, and Jim, quickly taking off the hook, reeled up the line, then took the rod to pieces. "He likes that," said Sam with a grin.
"But he wants the rod, and I can't spare it," said Jim. "What am I to do, Sam?"
"Blest if I know," Sam answered. "We can't talk their lingo. If we could, I'd say swap the rod for a canoe."
"That's a scheme," exclaimed Jim. "Wait a jiffy. I'll try to show him." He pulled out his pocket-book and pencil, and began to draw. Jim was quite a dab with his pencil, and as a canoe appeared on the sheet the chief Indian grunted vigorously. "He knows what it's meant for, anyhow," said Sam. "Now draw the rod, Jim."
Jim drew the rod on another sheet, then tore out both sheets, and made a sign of exchanging them. "He's got it," said Sam as Feathers grunted again and said something quickly in his own language. Then he pointed upstream, and made signs that the boys should go with him.
"Wants us to go to his camp, I expect," said Sam. "What about it, Jim? Bit risky, isn't it?"
"I don't think we've got any choice," Jim answered quietly. "Luckily we've got our pistols if it comes to a scrap." Sam shrugged his shoulders, and Feathers and his men led the way up the valley. They went in single file, keeping to a narrow trail which ran in and out among the bush. Feathers walked first, the boys next, then the rest of the Indians.
"What's he looking for?" Sam asked of Jim. "He keeps his eyes on the ground all the time."
"Snakes," replied Jim. "I've seen two already. They're thick in this sort of stuff. Nasty little greenish beasts and horribly poisonous. I think they're called jararacas."
Sam shivered slightly. "I hate the brutes, they give me creeps." He paused and sniffed. "Jim, I smell smoke," he said.
"That's the village, then," Jim told him. "Yes, I can see a fire through the trees." Next minute they came out into an open space where some goats were feeding, and saw about a score of beehive-shaped huts. The ground was open right down to the river, and pulled up on the bank were half a dozen canoes of different sizes. They were nothing like the light birch-bark canoes used by the North American Indians, but solid-looking craft, each hollowed out of a single large log.
"One of those would do us fine," said Sam, looking longingly at the boats.
"Don't seem too eager," Jim advised. "It's not good form with these people."
Feathers led the way to the biggest hut, outside which the fire was burning. Some women who were cooking bolted into the huts at sight of the white folk, and Jim began to feel rather uneasy, for he knew this was a bad sign. But, instead of showing any alarm, he strolled quietly up to the fire and sat down on a log close by it where the smoke kept off the mosquitoes.
The chief followed and put out his hand for the rod, but Jim shook his head and pointed to the canoes. The chief scowled and said something angrily.
"Don't seem as if he means to keep his bargain," said Sam. "What's the next move, Jim?"
"I wish I knew," replied Jim. "We won't start any trouble unless we have to, but I'll allow that things look ugly."
The boys were so cool that the chief hesitated. There was no doubt he meant to have the rod, but he was not quite prepared to take it by force. He stood glowering at Jim and Sam as if he was trying to make up his mind what was best to do.
Jim began to whistle. He whistled very well, and the first notes brought the women's heads peeping out of the huts, while the men were equally interested.
But the chief looked angrier than ever, and spoke sharply to his men, who began to surround the boys.
Jim, holding the rod in his left hand, slipped his right into his jacket pocket. "I shan't shoot unless I have to," he said to Sam, "but be ready if they start anything."
"I'm ready," replied Sam quietly.
The chief went to the door of one of the huts, and motioned the boys to enter.
"Do we go, Jim?" asked Sam.
"I think so," Jim answered.
"But they mean to shut us up there," said Sam.
"It looks like it," agreed Jim, "but it's that or shooting. And once we start shooting we haven't a dog's chance. There are too many of them." As he spoke he got up quietly and walked slowly into the hut. Sam followed, and he and Jim sat down and made themselves as comfortable as they could.
A long time passed, it grew quite dark, and at last Sam spoke.
"The others will be wondering what on earth has come to us," he said.
"Just what I was thinking, Sam," replied Jim, "and it bothers me. If they trail us they may run right into this outfit, and get nabbed before they know what's up."
"I wouldn't worry," said Sam. "Zambo knows the ropes, and I don't suppose he'll let Greg and the Professor run into trouble."
"I only hope you're right," Jim answered earnestly. "I say, that screen of branches they've stuck across the opening isn't much. We could easily get through it."
"Yes, but there are two chaps on guard outside," Sam answered. "They came on just after dark."
"Then it's no use trying to get out," said Jim ruefully.
"Not while they're there. I vote we get a bit of sleep, Jim. I'm tired as a dog, and we want to be fit for whatever trouble we run against in the morning."
"Good notion," agreed Jim. "I don't suppose old Feathers will try any jokes before daylight, so good night, old chap."
Once he let himself go Jim went right off to sleep, but it seemed to him that his eyes had hardly closed before he found himself sitting bolt upright, listening to the most appalling noise he had ever heard in his life. It was a sort of long-drawn, wailing scream, so horrible that he felt his skin prickle and the hair rise on his scalp. "What's that?" he heard Sam gasp. "Are they killing somebody?"
"I—I don't know," stammered Jim.
The sound stopped, then came again—closer, worse than before. Sam pulled himself together. "It's not the Indians," he said. "Listen, they're coming out. Jim, it's a beast of some sort. Is it a panther?"
"I believe you're right. Yes, it's after those goats, I expect." He jumped up, and peered through a little opening in the wall of the hut. "The men are going to tackle it. There's just light enough to see them," he said rapidly. "Sam, this is our chance. The guards have gone. Let's break out."
"And get a boat?" said Sam eagerly.
"Yes. Come on!"
The door was nothing but twisted branches, and they ripped it down in no time. There was no moon, but the red embers of the dying fire gave out a dull glow. "Steady a moment," whispered Jim.
"It's all right," Sam answered impatiently. "There's no one in sight. Let's go."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a fearful racket broke out behind the hut. First a deep thunderous snarl, then a terrified bleat followed by a thud and a tremendous scuffling. On top of this came loud shouts, a flash of torches, then roar after roar. The boys waited no longer, but ran like hares for the river.
"This one will do," said Sam, pointing to one of the largest boats. "Push her in."
"There are no paddles," Jim answered.
"I'll find some," said Sam, but when he came back to Jim he was in despair. "There's not a paddle left. They must have taken them all up to the huts. We're done for, Jim. We can't go without paddles."
"Yes, we can. The current will take us down. Shove the boat in the water, and let's get off."
Between them they pushed the dugout across the shingle. Just as they got her into the water Jim stumbled over something. "A pole," he said, grabbing it up joyfully. "Now we're all right. We can punt her along."
A minute more and the boat was afloat. They jumped in. Sam took the pole, gave a big shove, and they were off. Luckily the water was shallow, and the pole, which was about six feet long, reached the bottom. The stars reflected on the water gave light enough to see the bank. Sam drove her with all his might, and presently they were round a curve and out of sight of the fire.
Jim drew a long breath. "We've done it, Sam. We're all right now." And as he spoke the dugout bumped into something with such force as knocked Sam right overboard. There was a splash which dowsed Jim with spray, and to his horror he saw the scaly tail of a great alligator disappearing beneath the surface.
Jim's first thought was for Sam, but, even as he turned to help him, he saw the head of the alligator rising and realized that the brute was attacking. Glancing quickly round, he saw that Sam had got hold of the stern and was hanging on. There was only one thing to do, and, pulling out his pistol, Jim waited until the great brute's open jaws were within a yard of the boat, then pulled the trigger. The pistol was an automatic, the sort that goes on firing as long as the finger presses the trigger. Though the bullets were small, the range was so short that every bullet drove deep into the hideous creature's throat. The great jaws clanged together with a sound like the clash of a steel trap, and their owner rolled over, lashing the surface into foam. The moment Jim saw that the alligator was stopped, he sprang to help Sam, and though the boat was rocking violently, managed to haul him in.
"I've lost the pole," were Sam's first words.
"Never mind the pole so long as you're safe," said Jim.
"We're done without it," said Sam sharply. "That firing's told the Indians we're away, and they'll be after us in two twos."
"Let's find the pole then. It must be floating."
"I don't believe it will float. It was heavy as iron."
"Then I'd better load up again," said Jim dryly, and began thrusting cartridges into the magazine of his pistol. "Is yours all right, Sam?"
"Yes. Mine's full. I say, Jim, you scuppered that alligator proper."
"Couldn't miss at that range," said Jim, "but never mind the alligator. What had we best do?"
"Can't do much except drift," said Sam. "The stream's taking us down a fair rate."
"We could paddle with our hands," said Jim, "and get ashore."
"And lose the boat. Not after all the trouble we've had to get her. We'll take our chances, Jim. Maybe that panther will keep 'em busy for a bit."
"Right you are," said Jim quietly. "Then the less row we make the better." Sam nodded, and they drifted on silently through the hot darkness. It was very still except for the bleating of tree- frogs on the banks and an occasional heavy splash as some monstrous fish broke the surface. Mosquitoes hummed around the boys and bit like red-hot needles, but they hardly noticed them, so keenly were they listening for the sound of their pursuers' paddles. Jim, too, was watching the right-hand bank, looking for the open space where he had caught his big fish, for it was only by recognizing that that he would be able to find his way back to the camp.
The minutes dragged by, and still Jim could not see the shingle beach, and began to wonder if they had passed it. Suddenly Sam stirred. "They're coming, Jim," he said in a low voice. "Do you hear the paddles?"
Jim listened hard, and presently caught a faint splashing in the distance. "Yes, I hear," he answered. "They're after us all right, Sam; our only chance is to hide."
"Paddle with our hands. Get in under that big tree there. If we can reach it before they round the bend they'll never see us."
"May as well try it," grunted Sam. "But I'm a bit shy of sticking my hands in the water after seeing those scissor-jawed fish the other day."
"They won't touch us unless there's blood about," Jim told him, and, leaning over the bow, began paddling with both hands.
Sam did the same, and the boat turned and moved toward the tree. But it moved dreadfully slowly, and every moment the sound of the Indians' paddles grew louder. Then just as the boys were almost within a boat's-length of the big spreading tree, the bow of the dugout ran into a thick tangle of water-weeds and stuck fast. They worked frantically, but it was no use. She was fast and would not move.
"I RECKON we've got to swim for it," remarked Sam.
"Swim!" echoed Jim. "We'd be tangled in those weeds and taken by an alligator before we'd gone two strokes."
"We've to do something," said Sam. "Those chaps are just above the next bend and coming like smoke, and by the sound there are two or three canoes."
"We shall have to shoot," Jim answered doggedly.
"A fat lot of good that'll be. They've eyes like cats, and will be all over us before we can see them."
"Well, what else can we do?" demanded Jim.
"Catch this!" came a hissing whisper from the tree, and next instant a coil of rope fell across the boat. Jim grabbed it desperately, it tightened, and drew the dugout through the tangle of weeds and right in under the great spreading branches.
"Sít tight," came the whisper again, and now Jim recognized it as Greg's voice. He and Sam sat like statues as three dark shadows came shooting downstream, paddles moving like clockwork. They hardly dared to breathe until the Indians were a couple of hundred yards past.
"You chaps have given us a nice scare," came Greg's voice from above.
"We've got a canoe, anyhow," returned Sam.
"I see you have, but we shall have to leave it, for if those Indians get to our camp before we do there'll be all kinds of trouble."
"We're not going to lose this boat," said Sam; "not after the job we've had to get it. See here. Let's pull her up and hide her in the grass. I don't reckon they'll find her there."
"We'll try it," said Greg; "but for any sake be quick."
Jim and Sam scrambled out on to the bank, then all three got hold of the canoe and hauled her by main force in among the great twisted roots of the tree. It was a horribly snaky place, but there was no time to think of that, and they packed her away. "I'm a Dutchman if they'll ever find her there," growled Sam. "Now for the camp. Do you know the way, Greg?"
"I'm not sure," Greg confessed. "Zambo knew Indians had got you and made us put out the fire. But once we're up the bluff we're bound to hit it."
Cold chills raced up Jim's spine as they walked single file through the lush grass, but it was not of Indians he was thinking, it was snakes. He sighed with relief when at last they blundered up on top of the bank and found themselves on the prairie. Even then it was a job to find the camp, and in the end it was Zambo who found them.
A few minutes later they were all five gathered round the black ashes of their fire, talking in eager whispers. Jim told quickly what had happened, and the Professor at once asked Zambo for his opinion. Zambo said they were safe enough where they were for the night, for the Indians would not land in the darkness. They were afraid of panthers. But in the morning he thought they would be on the war-path.
"Nice game for us," remarked Greg. "Even if they don't wipe us out, we shall waste all out cartridges."
"Why should we wait for 'em," demanded Sam. "Let's stay here till they've gone back to bed, then get our kit into the canoe and shove off. We'll be miles away before they start after us."
"But we can never load up in the dark," said Greg in dismay.
"We don't have to," returned Sam. "The moon rises about two."
"Sam is right," said the Professor quickly. "I had forgotten. I think his plan a good one, and if Zambo approves we will adopt it."
Zambo did approve, and what was more, offered to watch while the rest got a little sleep. "I wake you when moon rise," he said stolidly, and five minutes later was the only one of the five who remained awake.
True to his promise, Zambo roused the others a little before two, and they at once began preparations to get away.
The pale light of a moon in her last quarter is better than none at all, yet is hardly enough to pack up a lot of kit and carry it half a mile down a steep slope, through heavy snake- infested grass. What made their task the harder was that they had first to put Sam's land-boat in as safe a place as they could find, for if they came back this way they knew they might need it.
The business took them the best part of two hours, but somehow they managed it—did it too without any worse bites than those of mosquitoes. Then, using two rough paddles which Sam had shaped from the bottom planks of the land-boat, they started downstream. It was still more than an hour before dawn, and the faint moonlight was not enough to show sandbanks or rapids. But the feeling that they had a good boat under them, and some hundreds of miles of navigable water ahead put new heart into them, and they drove along in fine style.
They had gone about three miles when Sam nudged Jim and pointed to a dull glow at some distance from the right-hand bank. "Gadsden's camp-fire," he muttered.
Jim chuckled. "What a sell for him! He'll never dream we've passed him."
"I don't reckon he'll ever know it," said Sam. "I wonder how long he'll be building his boat."
"Zambo says he can do it in a day," said Jim. "It won't be a boat, just a sort of raft. But even a day will give us a big start," he added thoughtfully.
They were miles down the river when the sun rose in a glory of pink and gold, and, just as the first rays struck across the calm river, the Professor noticed a deer drinking and with one quick, clever shot brought it down. Zambo grunted contentedly as they beached the boat on a bank of shingle. "We grub here," he announced, and, taking a big knife, started in to skin and prepare the animal. They were all desperately hungry, and there are few things so good as freshly broiled venison steaks. Jim always remembered that breakfast as one of the best meals he had ever eaten. When they had finished and had a good wash they started again, two paddling, the other three resting. They took two-hour spells, and so kept moving all the morning. Toward midday the river narrowed between high banks, the current grew stronger, and they heard a dull roaring ahead. "Think big fall," said Zambo briefly. "We stop and look."
It wasn't a fall but a rapid where the swift water roared and thundered in white foam among black rocks, and, though Sam would have been willing to try to run it, Zambo said it was too risky and that they must make a portage. Everything had to be landed, and they had to make a trail through the thick bush and carry the stuff to the lower end of the rapid. Then they had to get the dugout down the rapid at the end of a rope. In spite of every care she got a nasty bump on a rock, and when she reached the bottom was found to be leaking badly.
Sam looked blue when he had examined her. "She's badly holed," he announced.
"But we can mend her," said Greg.
"Yes, but it's going to be a job," Sam told him. "We shall have to cut down a tree and saw out a plank. We'll be lucky if we get off again in twenty-four hours."
"That means losing all our start," said Jim ruefully.
"At any rate we have the rapid between us and Gadsden," said the Professor cheerfully. "Let us be thankful it is no worse. Where is the axe? I see a tree that will do."
Sam was right. It took the rest of that day and most of the next to repair the damage, and there were only two hours of daylight left when they were able to load up again. While they did so Zambo went back through the woods to the head of the rapid to scout. There was a queer look on his brown face when he returned. "Big Foot, him up top," he told them. "Think him going run boat down rapid. Him balsa very strong."
"What's a balsa?" demanded Greg.
"A sort of raft," the Professor told him, and turned to Zambo. "How many men has he got?" he asked.
Zambo held up five fingers and a thumb.
"Síx," said Jim. "I say, we'd best shove on, hadn't we?"
"The quicker the better," answered the Professor as he picked up a paddle. They had made two more paddles, and with four going at once the dugout went away at a great rate. By nightfall they were seven or eight miles from the foot of the rapid and, finding a good place for a camp, stopped, cooked supper, and turned in. A watch was kept all night, but there was no sign of Gadsden.
They were up at dawn, and, while Zambo cooked breakfast, Greg, taking a pair of field-glasses, climbed a great ceiba- tree, from the top of which he could get a good view of the surrounding country.
"Did you see him?" Jim asked eagerly as Greg dropped from the lowest branch.
"I saw smoke," Greg answered. "So far as I could tell, the fire was at the foot of the rapids."
"Then the fellow got down safely," said Jim in a very disappointed tone.
"Looks like it," agreed Greg.
"It's poor luck losing all our start," said Jim. "And by this time the beggar probably knows we're ahead of him."
"How can he know?" asked Greg.
"Why, by the path we made and the ashes of our camp-fire."
"He can't tell it's us," said Greg.
"He's cute enough to guess it. Besides, who else would be driving out into the wilds like this? I wish we could find some way of stopping him."
"We'll do that all right," said Greg. "And, anyhow, we can travel faster than he. Let's get to it."
They got to it, and went away at a good rate down the river. But before they had gone more than a mile the river changed completely. From being swift and clear the current turned sluggish and muddy, the trees on the banks were taller and thicker, and a heavy ill-smelling mist hung over the oily-looking surface of the river. "Him big swamp," explained Zambo briefly.
Jim looked about. He saw huge tree-roots twisted like snakes, stretching far out into the quiet water, and here and there an alligator's head with its evil, greenish eyes floating on the surface. There was a heavy, sour smell in the thick, hot air.
"A nasty sort of place," whispered Sam to Jim, but Jim did not reply, only nodded. After that the silence was broken only by the dip and fall of the paddles and an occasional harsh croak from some sort of water-bird that swam jerkily among the great rafts of rotting weed. The river grew still narrower and deeper, and the malarial mist seemed heavier; the dugout swung round a bend and suddenly Zambo, who had been sitting like a statue in the bow, flung up his hand. "Stop!" he said hoarsely.
The others stopped paddling. "What is the matter?" demanded the Professor.
Zambo merely pointed, but Jim saw that his brown face had gone yellow and that his eyes seemed to be starting from his head. "Why, he's scared!" he muttered.
"I don't blame him," said Sam in a low voice. "Look at that!"
Jim looked. At first all he saw was a huge dead tree which had fallen from the left-hand bank, but the crown of which had caught in the top of an equally large tree on the opposite bank, so that it lay across the water at an angle of forty-five degrees. As he looked more carefully it seemed to him that the trunk of this dead tree was strangely shaped. Or was it some tremendous liana or creeper that was wrapped round it? Then suddenly he gave a sharp gasp as the truth burst upon him. This was no creeper, but a monstrous snake, a snake so huge that, while its head was thirty feet above the water, its tail hung in the river.
"So you've spotted it at last?" said Sam.
"It—it's a python," gasped Jim.
"An anaconda," said the Professor. "Heavens, what a monster! Give me my rifle, Greg."
Zambo swung round and spoke in vehement Spanish. It was the first time that anyone had seen the guide show signs of fright, and it was rather terrible to see him in such panic.
"He wants us to go back," said the Professor. "I tell him I can shoot it, but he says a bullet will not kill it, and that, even if it does, its mate will attack us."
"But we can't go back, Dad," said Greg sharply. "Tell him it's impossible."
The Professor spoke again to Zambo, but the man answered more vehemently than before. The Professor had always seemed to Jim to be the kindest, most easy-going of men, but now his face hardened, and took a determined look. "Greg," he said curtly, "you and Sam be ready, if necessary, to hold Zambo. Jim, take a paddle and work the boat slowly forward. When I give the word, stop and steady her."
All obeyed orders instantly, and Zambo, realizing that the Professor meant exactly what he said, made no attempt to resist. But a look of despair came into his eyes. "We all die," he said hoarsely.
The monstrous snake made no movement as the boat crept softly and silently toward it. Jim's heart was thumping, but his paddle- strokes were perfectly steady. The mist seemed to magnify the mighty coils wrapped round and round the dead tree, but Jim realized that the creature was at least fifty feet in length and that its body was thick as that of a man. He reckoned that it weighed well over a ton.
Nearer they came and nearer until they were close enough to see the head, which in itself was nearly two feet in length, and the narrow, green, unwinking eyes. The Professor raised his hand, and Jim stopped paddling and backed water until the boat lay almost motionless on the sluggish tide. Raising his rifle to his shoulder, the Professor took careful and deliberate aim.
The others held their breath as they watched, for they knew that if any mistake was made, if the Professor's aim was not perfect, and if he failed to smash the giant snake's spine with his first bullet, Zambo's prediction was certain to come true. All these yards of living death would be launched at them with a fury that nothing short of a cannon could stop.
PROFESSOR THORORD'S finger tightened on the trigger, and the crash of the heavy report echoed like a peal of thunder down the long aisle of forest-walled water. "Got him!" yelled Jim, but his voice was drowned by the fearful commotion which broke loose. The bullet, truly aimed, struck the great serpent in the head, and all in the boat saw that the huge skull was smashed.
But a snake, even when mortally wounded, does not die easily, and the glistening coils, releasing their hold upon the tree, flogged furiously while the great tail lashed the yellow water into foam. The huge creature spun and whirled with such force and fury that the dead tree, which was already rotten, broke away from its hold and fell with a fearful crash into the river, flinging up a wave that nearly swamped the dugout. The anaconda fell with it, and lay writhing terribly, beating the water into sheets of spray.
"You did for him, Dad," said Greg. "Smashed his head to bits. See, he's quieting down."
The Professor had reloaded his rifle, and sat watching keenly and eagerly. "Yes," he said, "that creature will give us no more trouble. But the mate—it's the mate I am afraid of."
"I don't see any sign of another, Dad," said Greg, and turned to Zambo. "Where's the mate you talked so much about?"
"Her come," Zambo answered. "She kill all."
"Good old Job's comforter, isn't he?" grinned Greg. "I don't believe there is any mate. Or if there is, she's taking a vacation."
"What's the use of waiting for her anyway?" asked Sam in his practical fashion.
"Sam is right," said the Professor. "Let us go ahead."
The paddles dipped, and the boat moved on. But the great dead tree lay all across the river, and part of the huge snake's body hung across it. The monster was now quite dead, and bubbles floating on the surface were the only sign of its terrible death- struggle.
"We can't get past," said Jim. "We shall have to chop the log through first."
"No waste time," said Zambo forcibly. "Him lift boat over."
"He's right," said Sam. "We can haul her over all right. Greg, you and I will get out and stand on the log and between us we can pull her over."
"Be careful not to fall off," begged the Professor. "Goodness knows what horrors there are in the depths below."
"All right, Dad," replied Greg as he pulled off his boots. "We'll be careful." The top of the log was in one place a few inches below the surface and here Sam and Greg got out and, standing barefooted on the log, pulled the boat slowly over. The Professor meantime kept watch, rifle in hand, but there was still no sign of the snake's mate. "Perhaps it will turn up in time to stop Gadsden," said Greg grimly as he slipped back into the boat.
Jim started up. "Wait a minute," he said. "I don't believe there is any mate, but why shouldn't we use the dead snake to stop Gadsden?"
"How do you mean?" demanded Greg.
"I mean," said Jim, "that if we could pull its head up so that it rested on the log Gadsden would probably think it was alive."
Greg chuckled. "Jolly good idea! Dad, do you mind if we try it?"
"It is not a bad suggestion," allowed the Professor; "but I doubt if we can move the thing, for its weight is colossal."
"The head is only just below the surface, sir," said Jim. "If we put a rope round it I think we can haul it up." As he spoke he got out the rope and, making a slip-knot at one end, pushed it down into the water. Greg helped and between them they got the noose over the anaconda's head, hauled it up and arranged it upon the log. "That ought to fetch him," said Greg. "Ugh!" he added with a shudder, "did you ever see such a dreadful-looking brute? I believe it could swallow an ox. Just think what any museum would give for such a specimen?"
"Exactly what I was thinking, Greg," said his father with real regret. "And yet we can take nothing of it—not even the head." Then suddenly he smiled. "It looks quite life-like," he added. "It seems to me quite probable that friend Gadsden will waste a certain amount of ammunition upon it. Now let us push on."
They pushed on willingly, and after some three miles of steady paddling began to get clear of the great swamp. And just then came a faint thud! thud! from the steaming distance. Sam grinned. "That's Gadsden!" he said. But the Professor looked grave. "He has gained upon us," he said. "He has, however, more paddles than we."
The swamp growth dropped away behind them, and they found themselves in wider water with open prairie on either side. The sun blazed down, but a breeze ruffled the surface. Sam stooped down and began to unroll a bundle lying in the bottom of the boat. "What is that, Sam?" asked the Professor.
"The sail, sir," Sam answered. "The sail from the land-boat. I was reckoning to set it. It'll save a lot of paddling."
The Professor laughed. "What a thing it is to have a sailor with us!" he exclaimed. "I should never have thought of that."
Sam was right, for his sail did save them many a weary hour of paddling, and what was better still it helped them to keep their start of Gadsden. During the next week the party came to know that Gadsden was aware they were ahead of him and was doing all he knew to catch up. With his bigger force he was able to keep more men at the paddles and work longer hours. On two nights Greg, climbing big trees, saw Gadsden's camp-fire only a few miles behind them, but each time there happened to be a favouring breeze next day, and this gave the party in the dugout a chance to gain.
At the end of the week they had lost sight of Gadsden altogether, and all through the following week they travelled well. Of course, they had adventures. Once a huge alligator attacked the canoe and nearly upset it; another time there was a small earthquake which caused part of the river bluff to fall, flinging up a wave which almost swamped them. But on the whole they did well, and by the fifteenth day of their river journey they reckoned that they were probably a full day's travel ahead of their rival, and perhaps two.
"We need a good start," the Professor told them, "for presently we shall have to turn westward up a tributary. That means paddling against the stream, and I don't suppose the wind will help us."
On the eighteenth day they reached the tributary, the Rio das Casca. "How far shall we be able to go up it, Dad?" Greg asked.
"I don't know, Greg. This river has never been explored—or, at any rate, it has never been surveyed. All I know is that it comes down from the great plateau, the Serrado Rancada, which divides this valley from the head-waters of the Xingu River. So I fear that before long we shall find rapids which will slow us up badly."
The Professor proved a true prophet, for after only two days' paddling against a strong stream they met the first of the rapids, and had to portage all their goods, including the tins of petrol, and haul the canoe up by ropes. Next day there were two rapids, both long ones, and above them the stream was so swift that they could hardly paddle against it. They made about a mile an hour, and were done to the world when they camped. "I say, Dad," said Greg as they sat at supper, "this is no good. Pet's leave the dugout and tramp it."
The Professor turned to Sam. "What do you say, Sam?"
"I say stick to the water so long as there is any," replied Sam in his blunt way. "I reckon them petrol tins will travel better in the boat than on our backs."
"And I thoroughly agree with you," replied the Professor. So they stuck to the stream for three more days, at the end of which time it was no more than a mountain torrent without depth to float the boat. So there was nothing for it but to cache her and start afoot.
It was a big job to climb up out of the ravine, and when they did gain the top they found themselves in a country of rolling hills with deep valleys filled with thick forest. The going was fairly good on the tops, but in the valleys it was awful. The trees were matted with bush-rope, a kind of creeper, and often they had to cut their way with axes. The heat in these valleys was very great, and over and over again it seemed as if they would drop under the heavy loads they had to carry. The tins of petrol were the worst. Each of the white men carried one, but Zambo who was as strong as a bull, managed two.
On the third night from the river they were forced to camp in heavy forest. Darkness caught them before they could gain high ground. Game was scarce, and all they had for supper was a couple of parrots which the Professor had shot. They ate in silence which Greg was the first to break. "How much more of this have we got, Dad?"
The Professor shrugged his shoulders. "I can't tell you exactly. Probably one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty miles."
Greg groaned. "And we are doing only ten to fifteen miles a day. Dad, we shall never last out if we have to carry those wretched petrol-cans. Isn't there any way of managing?"
"How do you mean, Greg?"
"Can't we get carriers of some sort—that's what I mean. Aren't there Indians or—"
"There's Injins all right," came a voice—a sharp, high- pitched voice which made all five, even Zambo, start sharply.
"Did—did somebody speak, or did I dream it?" asked Greg in a scared voice.
"If—if you weren't dreaming I wasn't either," said Jim. "I—I heard it."
"In course you heard it," came the voice again. "Why shouldn't you?" And out from behind a tree there stepped into the firelight the most amazing figure. It was a very tall, gaunt man with a face that might once have been white, but was now so burnt with weather and so covered with hair that very little of it was visible except a pair of keen grey eyes, and a beaky brown nose. His clothes consisted of the tattered remains of a pair of blue jean trousers and a cotton shirt—nothing else. He had no boots or socks and no hat, and his hair was about a foot long.
The Professor was the first to recover power of speech. "Who are you?" he asked hoarsely.
"Andrew Milliken's my name," replied the stranger. "I'm from Boston, Mass."
"You're a long way from home," said the Professor.
"I guess that's a fact," replied Milliken. "A darn sight farther than I want to be. You're British."
"We are," answered the Professor. "But how do you come here?"
"By the air route, mister. It's the only safe way of travelling in the Night-seers' country. And so you'll find afore you're much older."
"I don't understand," said the Professor.
"I'd hev gambled on that, mister, or you wouldn't have been here. Say, build up that fire of yours right away."
There was such a ring of command in his voice that Jim and Greg and Sam all jumped to obey. They had a good deal of wood cut, and as they piled it on, the flames leaped up, flinging a weird glare through the darksome recesses of the primeval forest.
"That's better," said Milliken. "They don't like light—them Night-seers. But they're after me right now, and afore I start talking you better get your guns handy."
"Sounds cheerful," growled Greg.
"No, sir," said Milliken, "there ain't nothing cheerful about this here job, or these here forests, or the folk as live in 'em."
"Tell us, Mr Milliken," said the Professor.
"There ain't a lot to tell. I'm a rubber prospector, and my partner, Bert Warden, and I worked up the Xingu farther, I reckon, than anyone had been before. Then we got word o' diamonds up in the hills, and I took two mestizos and came up prospecting. We got plumb lost in these here woods, and walked right into the country of the Night-seers without knowing nothing about it. They came on us one night, killed my two chaps with spears, and took me prisoner. I've been with them three months so far as I can reckon. I was always looking for a chance to slip away, and yesterday I got it. These folk have noses like dogs and can track by scent, so I knew it wasn't no good keeping on the ground. I went straight up into the trees, and, having been at sea for seven years as a lad, managed to work along from one tree to another till dark. Then I seed your fire, and you bet I came like a cat that smells meat. Talking of meat, if you've got a mouthful I'd be plumb grateful."
They gave him what they had, and while he ate the Professor asked questions. "Who are these people you call Night-seers?"
"The nastiest folk as lives—even in Brazil, I reckon. They got skins the colour of clay and blue eyes. They lives in the darkest part of the forest in huts without windows. They never comes out in the daytime, for their eyes can't stand the sun, but does all their work and hunting by night."
"Why, they must be nyctalops," declared the Professor.
"What's that mean, mister?"
"Well, ain't that what I called them?" asked Mr Milliken. "I guess there ain't no use in using foreign words when you can use good American."
The Professor smiled. "You are right, Mr Milliken. But tell me, will our fire keep them off?"
"I guess not," replied the American bluntly, "but your guns may. They ain't used to firearms. All the same you're going to have a right tough time if they comes round here."
"You think they will come?"
"Bound to, mister. I don't reckon we're more'n three miles from their village, though the way I came it seemed like thirty."
Greg spoke. "If they can see us, and we can't see them, it's going to be a bit awkward," he remarked. "What do they use, Mr Milliken, bows and arrows?"
"No," replied Milliken. "Working by night, as they do, bows and arrows ain't no use to them. Spears is what they uses."
"Watch out!" he cried suddenly, and as he spoke a long, thin spear hissed past his head and stuck quivering in the trunk of the tree behind him.
BEFORE the spear had ceased quivering the Professor's rifle spoke, and a shrill scream from the darkness beyond the fire glow told that the bullet had gone home.
"That's one the less," remarked Milliken grimly. "I sure hope it was the chief. He's a bad one. Pile up the fire, boys. It's light they don't like." The others piled wood on the fire, and as the flames crackled up they all got a glimpse of clay-coloured shadows slinking away into the farther gloom.
"Will they clear off now?" asked the Professor.
"No such luck, mister," said Milliken. "Like wolves they are, and they'll hang round so long as there's a chance of getting us. This here's an all-night job, and I reckon the first thing we got to do is to fix up something to stop them spears. Gimme an axe, and I'll start chopping logs. And watch out for them coming from behind. If you see so much as a shadow, shoot. This ain't no time for saving cartridges, let me tell you."
"I'll use the gun," said the Professor coolly. "We have a few buckshot cartridges, and they'll do more harm than bullets."
"A right good notion," agreed the American as he seized the axe and set to work. There was plenty of wood handy, for the ground was thick with fallen trees, and in a very few moments a rough palisade began to grow around the site of the camp. But they were not left to work in peace, for presently spears began to come whizzing in from the other side. Again the Professor fired, and as the heavy buckshot tore through the undergrowth fresh howls were proof that the cartridges had not been wasted. Tired as they were, all worked like furies, for by this time they knew that their only chance of living till morning was to pile up a defence against those wicked spears. The Professor was the only one who did not pile logs, but every few minutes his big double- barrel roared, flinging death into the night.
At last they had a three-foot wall all round them and their fire, and Milliken told them that would do. "No sense in playing ourselves out," he said. "Likely we'll need all our strength before morning."
The spears ceased to fly, and Greg suggested that the savages had had enough of it. "Don't kid yourself," said Milliken. "Put your hat up and see what happens." Greg did so, and instantly a spear came hurtling out of the darkness.
"We've just got to sit tight," said Jim. "And some of us had better sleep while we can."
"That's sense, son," said Milliken. "Say, any o' you gents got a pair of scissors, for if you have I could maybe make myself look something more like an American and less like a spider- monkey."
Greg fished out some scissors. "I'll do barber if you like," he said, so Milliken sat on the ground close under the palisade, and by the light of the fire Greg cut his hair and beard short. Then the Professor offered a safety razor and a pocket-mirror, and inside half an hour Milliken's appearance was so changed that no one could have recognized him for the wild man of the woods he had been when he arrived. "I'm sure obliged to you gents," he said. "Now if I got to die I'll die clean."
"Don't talk of dying," said the Professor. "Thanks to you, we are safe from those spears."
"But not from the crowd, if they makes up their mind to pile in all together," replied Milliken.
"Will they try it?" asked Greg.
"I'm gambling on it," replied Milliken. "They're sure a wicked crowd."
The night dragged on. The Professor talked to Milliken, telling him of their quest. Sam and Greg slept a while, then Jim and Zambo rested while the others watched the fire. Now and then a spear thudded against the palisade. Toward four in the morning Jim spoke to the Professor. "Firewood's running low," he said. "I shall have to go out and get some."
"You won't come back, son, if you do," said Milliken dryly.
"But we must keep the fire up," Jim insisted.
Milliken looked round, then all of a sudden he stiffened. "Watch out!" he snapped. "They're a-coming."
There was a patter of naked feet, and dim figures came running from two or three directions at once. "Gimme a rifle," said Milliken, and snatched one up. He and the Professor fired together, and at the same time Greg, Jim, and Sam all discharged their pistols. Quite half a dozen of the attackers dropped, but the others came on. "Gosh, the woods is full of 'em!" Milliken exclaimed as he thrust fresh cartridges into the breech.
The Night-seers were now for the first time in full view, and never had Jim dreamed of such creatures. With their clay-coloured faces and bodies, their great staring eyes and long matted hair, they looked like the horrible creations of a nightmare. He fired and fired, and yet they did not stop. Jim's eyes were on the attackers, yet half consciously he noticed that Milliken had dropped his rifle and disappeared. He did not know what he was doing and had no time to think, for all his energies were devoted to trying to keep the horde of savages from piling in over the stockade. All of them were fighting desperately. Zambo, who had no gun, was using a great club, with which he had already floored two of the hideous men who had tried to fling themselves across the barricade.
"There must be a hundred of them," panted Greg. "I say, Jim, I'm out of cartridges. Got any to spare?"
"Just using my last clip," Jim told him.
"And Sam's finished his," said Greg grimly. "Jim, I'm thinking we're booked."
Jim did not reply, for so far as he could see Greg was right. The only thing that was keeping back the Night-seers was the Professor's shot-gun, the heavy charges from which did fearful execution. Yet the savages were in such numbers that it was only a matter of minutes before they would swamp the defenders.
"Here they come!" cried Greg. "Here's the big charge."
Jim saw a score or more of the yellow men come rushing furiously forward. Dropping his empty pistol, he snatched up a length of firewood and made ready for a final struggle. He vowed to himself that he would die fighting and not be taken prisoner. The Professor's gun was empty. He was hastily pushing in fresh cartridges when a flung spear struck him and down he went.
"That's the finish," said Jim to himself, then even as he spoke suddenly a great jet of flame leaped from the branches of the big tree above them and fell in a torrent of liquid fire among the charging savages. With howls and screams they fled in every direction, but the flames seemed to chase them, while from the ground sheets of blue fire rose fiercely. In a matter of seconds every one of the foul crew had bolted away and vanished in the depths of the forest.
"W—what happened?" asked Greg vaguely, and in answer to his question Andrew Milliken dropped from the tree to the ground. "Guess I've used two gallons of perfectly good gas," he said, "but I didn't waste it."
"You saved us all," said Jim quickly; "but—but your father's hurt, Greg."
With a gasp of dismay Greg flung himself down beside his father. "Oh, Dad, they haven't killed you!" he cried.
"No," said the Professor hoarsely, "—only knocked the wind out of me. By good luck the spear hit my leather belt and that saved me." He smiled in his usual cheery fashion. "Let's get to sleep," he said. "I'm sure we need it, for we have a big march before us to-morrow."
He was right, and for some days to come the work was hard and heavy. But Milliken was a great help, and a good guide, and four days later the party came out from the edge of a patch of thin scrub on to open grassland, and in front of them saw an enormous slope covered with coarse grass and at the bottom, some three or four miles away, a winding strip of blue water beyond which hills rose endlessly to the far western horizon. "That there's the Xingu," remarked Milliken, "or if it ain't the Xingu it runs into it. And I reckon we ain't struck it so badly, for right there's the place where I left Bert and the boat." He pointed as he spoke to a clump of heavy timber not more than a couple of miles downstream.
For a full minute the others stood gazing out at the amazing stretch of country before them and breathing deeply of the fresh, cool breeze which blew across the heights. Greg was the first to speak. "You're a miracle, Andy," he said. "How did you do it?"
"More luck than skill, I guess," replied Andy with a slow grin.
"Nothing of the sort," said the Professor warmly. "We owe it all to you that we have got out of that horrible forest and escaped from the Night-seers. We are all very deeply in your debt, Milliken."
"Same here," Andy answered. "It was your guns and your petrol as turned the trick. Wal, I guess we better quit exchanging compliments and push down to the river. I ain't reckoning that Bert's waited for me, but we kin build a balsa and kind of drift. It'll be a sight easier than walking."
Less than two hours later the party reached the clump of big trees. Andy hurried ahead, and they saw him plunge down the bank. When he came back his thin face was shining. "I always thought Bert was a good scout, but now I know it. He's left the boat and cached grub and cartridges. Boys, we're in clover."
"But—but how has he travelled?" asked the Professor quickly.
"He and the chap with him, they got an Injun canoe. He's left a note to put me wise. Seems he waited a full month before be left. Bert's white I tell you. He's white."
"He must be one of the best," declared the Professor. "I hope I shall meet and thank him one day. Then you will take us with you, Milliken?"
"Sure thing," Andy answered. "Say, but I'll be glad to quit humping this here can o' gas. Seems to me like it weighs more'n I do." The boys felt the same, and all—Sam especially—were overjoyed to find themselves afloat once more. "She's a proper boat, too," said Sam with deep approval. "Built like a boat, not dug out of an old tree-trunk."
"A batelone they calls her," Andy told them. "She's a right spry mover, and I'm real glad to see her again."
"Gadsden would give his head for a craft like this," said Greg with a chuckle.
"If he's still got a head," remarked Sam dryly. "I been wondering whether he ran up against those nightmare folk."
"I sincerely hope he did not," said the Professor gravely. "One could not wish such a fate even for one's worst enemy."
"We won't let thoughts of him keep us awake," said Greg with a grin.
"You do look as if you needed a nap, Greg," smiled Jim. Greg, who looked thin and pinched, was quite indignant. "Don't talk nonsense!" he exclaimed. "I'll take first spell paddling with you, Jim."
But Zambo in his silent fashion took one paddle, and Andy, who was tough as shoe-leather, the other, and Jim and Greg, who were both in a very done condition, were ordered to lie down in the bottom of the boat. They both went to sleep at once and did not wake until some hours later, when they found the boat pulled up for the night on a sandbank, and Zambo busy making a huge omelette out of eggs of the freshwater turtle, of which he had found nearly fifty in the sand.
The next eleven days were the most peaceful and pleasant of the whole expedition. Barring a rapid or two, it was all plain sailing, or rather plain paddling, and all felt really sorry when at last they reached the mouth of a western tributary up which the Professor decided they must travel. "Rapids and falls, then hills and forest!" groaned Greg.
"And humping them doggone cans o' gas!" remarked Andy.
"You won't be doing that, anyhow, Andy," retorted Greg. "You've only got to go on back downstream."
"What makes you say that?" asked Andy quietly.
"Well, you aren't coming to Hulak."
"That's what I am, if your Dad will take me."
Greg stared a moment as if he could not believe his ears, then gave a great shout of joy. "Shake hands, Andy," he said. "I never was more pleased in my life." A slow grin spread over Andy's leathery face. "Then that's all right," was all he said.
Greg was wrong. There were no rapids or falls, and for some days they paddled up a river which ran very slowly through flat savanna country. On the fourth day the river widened, and they saw before them a great marsh covered with tall grey-green grass, through which the water ran sluggishly in narrow, twisting channels. Beyond, but at a great distance, purple hills rose against the sky. Andy pointed to these hills. "I reckon Hulak lies somewheres in among them," he said quietly.
For some moments they all sat gazing silently at the hills. Then Sam, in his practical way, dipped his paddle. "They're a jolly long way off," he remarked, "and I expect we'll have a job to get there."
Andy nodded. "I'll allow you're right, Sam," he said. "And mighty tough travelling, too."
Tough was a mild word, for once the boat was in the saw-grass they could see nothing except the tall walls of harsh, wiry stuff on each side, and they had to work entirely by compass. The water was so shallow that they were constantly running aground, and the insects were awful. The worst was the pium, a small sandfly which raised a blister wherever it bit. For three long, dreadful days of heat and toil and misery they struggled through this awful swamp without once finding a place where they could land; then, when they were almost ready to drop, they struck firm ground, and, tying up the boat, scrambled ashore. The ground was low, only two or three feet above the water, and was covered with coarse grass.
"Look out for snakes, boys," Andy warned them. "You better cut away that there grass a piece before you lands the kit."
Zambo at once began to chop away the grass with his machete, and almost at once the blade rang upon something hard. The Professor was amazed. "Rock!" he exclaimed. "No! It is stone." He scraped away the grass roots, and an amazed expression came upon his face. "It is masonry," he declared. "This is no ordinary island. It is a great platform built of blocks of cut stone."
"Who built it?" demanded Greg.
The Professor shook his head. "How can I tell? But if I made a guess I should say that this was a landing-stage, built perhaps by the Hulaks themselves in the days when they were a great nation and when this river was their road to the sea."
"THEN we're on the right track, Dad," said Greg eagerly.
"I hope so, Greg," the Professor answered. "If I am right, there will be some path or causeway to the hills."
"Let's look," begged Greg. "There's plenty of time before dark."
"I will come with you," said the Professor. "You can come, too, Jim. Milliken, perhaps you will see to the supper. Luckily we have plenty of fish."
Jim jumped forward eagerly, but the Professor checked him. "We must go quietly and beat the grass as we go. There are certain to be snakes. Jararaca haunt this sort of ground, and there may be urutu as well."
Sínce there were no sticks, they took paddles and went slowly through the thick, dry grass, but if there were snakes they saw none. "It is all stone beneath us," said the Professor. "I feel sure that I am right. This must be a regular quay built in days before this water silted up and turned into swamp. Keep near the edge, and see if you can make out anything resembling a causeway."
"Seems to be deep mud all the way," said Greg presently. "I say, Dad, if we can't find a path what are we to do?"
"We shall have to take to the boat again," replied his father; "but I hope most sincerely that we shall not be forced to do that."
"So do I," said Jim. "These last days have been simply awful. I'm blisters from head to foot from those pium bites."
The platform ran back fully a hundred feet, then they came to a corner and turned to the left. They worked along this edge for a hundred yards or more, but though they sounded all along there was nothing but tall saw-grass and deep, evil-smelling mud. "I can't see your causeway, Dad," said Greg, "and here's the end of the back of the platform."
"It may be at the south end," said his father. "Indeed it must be. No people that ever lived could have brought this stone here from the hills unless along a solid road. Go slowly and try every foot."
They did so but without result, and presently found that they had made the round of the whole platform and were back at the camp.
"What luck?" asked Sam.
"None at all," replied Jim gloomily. "It looks to me as if we shall have to take to the boat again."
"That's bad," said Sam. "I say, Zambo's in a great stew. I don't get all he says, but he vows there's something pretty bad in the grass here, and certainly, whatever it is, it's making a funny noise. It sounds like a kettle boiling."
"I thought I heard something," said Jim quickly; "but to me it sounded more like a pig grunting. But here's Zambo, and the Professor will understand."
Zambo was talking in rapid Spanish to the Professor, and on his mahogany face was the same scared expression which they had seen when he first saw the giant anaconda.
"What's up, Dad?" asked Greg.
"A dormidera, so Zamba tells me," said his father gravely.
"Sounds like a sort of sleeping sickness," grinned Greg.
"Not a bad description," said the Professor dryly. "The dormidera is the great black python, known as the sleeping or snoring snake, and that sound you hear is its snores."
"If it's asleep then let's make sure it doesn't wake up," said Greg. "I'll get your rifle, Dad."
The Professor shook his head. "We can't tell where it is, Greg, and if we go to look for it we shall most certainly wake it up. Then it will attack, and it is, so Zambo tells me, even more dangerous than the spotted python."
"Then the best thing is to let it go on sleeping," remarked Greg.
"The only objection is that it will wake at sunset and that, as Zambo says, it will probably be hungry."
"Which means that we've got to sit up all night and watch for it," said Greg unhappily.
"We can keep it off with a fire," suggested Jim.
"No wood," said Sam briefly. "We shall have a job even to boil a kettle."
Jim looked round. "I tell you what," he said. "Let's fire the grass."
Greg chuckled. "That's not a bad notion. What do you say, Dad?"
"It might solve our problem," agreed the Professor; "but first we should have to get back into the boat, for we should be roasted alive if we remained on the platform. Let us see what Zambo thinks."
Zambo agreed, so they put everything back into the boat. While they did so the sound was very plain indeed. It was exactly like a giant snoring, but they could none of them tell just where it came from. Then they all got into the boat and paddled round to the windward side, and there Andy put a match to the grass.
They had known it was dry, but none of them were prepared for the way it burned. "Phew, it's like gunpowder!" exclaimed Greg as he hastily pushed off. They were only just in time, for with a crackle and a roar the tindery stuff caught, and great sheets of flame roared into the dusk while huge showers of sparks rose scores of feet above the blaze.
"Say, I'm sorry for the snorer," said Andy, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before a monstrous form, its head full twenty feet above the grass, came racing through the blaze straight toward them.
"Paddle!" shouted the Professor, and Greg and Andy between them were just in time to whirl the boat to one side when the great serpent literally leaped into the water, flinging up a mass of mud and spray which covered every one in the boat.
"Paddle!" cried the Professor again, but the two who held the paddles were already working them for dear life, and during the next minute or two the long, low craft travelled at a rate it had probably never approached before. Behind them the sight was a terrible one as the giant snake lashed and twisted in monstrous coils, flattening down great spaces of the long marsh grass, and flinging up great waves which broke over the gunwale of the canoe. They did not stop until they were some hundreds of yards away, and they were a silent, shaky crowd when they at last paused and looked round. The whole island was flaring like a torch, and the crimson flames made all as light as midday. They could still see the python like a giant eel, but its struggles were not so violent as at first.
Sam was the first to speak. "What did it want to come this way for?" he asked. "Why didn't it go off in front of the fire?"
"Lost its head, I expect," said Greg.
"It's a mighty good thing we didn't lose ours," remarked Andy soberly. "I've been in Brazil a mighty long time, but, gosh, I never saw anything like that before."
"It's something I don't want to see again," said the Professor. "But the creature seems to have gone. I can see it no longer."
"I guess we'll have to go, too," said Andy. "The grass is burning over the water as well as on the island."
Greg whistled. "So it is. We've got to get into open water till the fire has passed. There's a sort of lagoon just ahead. Let's shove in there and wait."
They did so, but the wait was a long one. There had been no rain for days and the tall marsh grass was dry as tinder, so that the sparks carried by the wind lighted patch after patch. When at last they dared to return to the platform the whole marsh to windward was aflame, and in the darkness the sight was a splendid and terrible one.
"One thing, it will burn up a lot of those blamed mosquitoes," remarked Sam, as he scrambled on to the blackened plateau. The fire had cleared the thick deposit of peaty stuff which had covered the stones, burning it to black ash, leaving the big, squared stones plainly visible. They scraped away the ashes over a space large enough to pitch camp, ate some cold food, and then, tired out, went to sleep.
It was broad daylight when Jim woke. Greg was standing by him. "Great news, old man!" he exclaimed. "We've found the causeway."
"The causeway? Why didn't we find it last night?"
"Because it's broken away from the platform. There's a gap of a couple of yards. Probably done by earthquake, Dad thinks. But it's there all right, and we can see it running for miles. Jim, old man, I believe we're pretty near the end of our troubles."
Jim jumped up and hurried across the platform, and, sure enough, there was the causeway lying straight as a die right across the swamp. The grass was gone, burnt down to the water or the mud, and in the clear morning air the hills stood out so plainly that Jim could almost count the trees. And somewhere among those hills lay the mysterious city they had come so far to find.
Sam proved to be right about the mosquitoes. Not one had survived. What was more, the destruction of the grass allowed a breeze to blow, and, though the heat was great and their packs heavy, the party tramped along in good spirits. The causeway, built of enormous blocks of stone, was fairly good walking, the only difficulty being big cracks and gaps here and there, no doubt caused by earthquake.
They had started early, hoping to do the whole distance in a day, but it was after dark before they reached the edge of the swamp. "Gosh," exclaimed Andy as he took off his pack and dropped in a heap on the ground, "I never walked so far before, and I hope I'll never have to again."
"Same here," groaned Greg. "I'm done to the world."
"You sit. I cook supper," remarked Zambo, but, tired as they were, the boys would not allow this. It was jolly to see a good fire once more and to eat broiled fish and roasted toucans. It was jolly too to be able once more to swing hammocks, and all felt the better when next morning they started climbing the hills.
The causeway had turned into a road, which, though much overgrown, had been so splendidly made that travelling was comparatively easy. That evening they reached the top of the first ridge, only to see another range of steep mountains in front of them.
The Professor stood gazing at the great hills. "I wonder where the city lies," he said thoughtfully. "We are getting near, I think."
"The road seems plain, sir," said Jim. "If we stick to it we ought to find the city."
"Quite so, Jim, but it is of the Bakaīri I am thinking. However, it is no use worrying. We must keep a sharp look-out. Now let us find a camping-place."
Watch was kept all night, but nothing disturbed them, and in the morning they went on, following the great road down into the valley. It rose again beyond, climbing the steep slope in vast curves. Greg glanced up the great slopes. "The last lap, I hope, Jim," he said. But Jim did not answer, and Greg saw that he had stopped and was listening intently.
"What's up, Jim?" he asked.
"Don't you hear it?" asked Jim sharply.
"Do you mean that queer, howling sound in the distance?" said Greg. "Yes, but one hears so many rum things in these wilds."
"We never heard that before," said Jim. "That's a pack of wolves."
"Can't be. There aren't any," Greg told him.
But now the others had stopped and were listening, and Zambo, who was looking very uneasy, spoke to the Professor. "Dogs!" said the Professor, looking very astonished. "Wild dogs. I never heard of them in Brazil." He turned to the others. "Zambo says that a pack of wild dogs is on our trail. He declares that they are the wild descendants of hounds brought by the Spaniards long ago, and that they are dangerous. We must find some place where we can stand them off."
Sam pointed to a steep, rocky slope up to the right. "They'd have a job to climb that, sir," he said.
"And so should we," said Greg ruefully.
"I guess we'd better try it, and be right smart about it," put in Andy quickly. "For there's the pack." He pointed as he spoke, and all saw coming through the valley a pack of about forty queer-looking animals.
"Extraordinary!" exclaimed the Professor. "They are like the prehistoric peat dog. I believe they are a true wild dog. See their long noses, pricked ears, and close coats."
Andy broke in. "Say, Professor, you can give us the lecture when we get to the top. If we wait here there won't be none of us left to listen." What he said was so evidently true that all turned and began scrambling up the slope. With their heavy loads it was terrible work, but fear lent them strength and somehow they gained the top, and faced round just in time to see the pack reach the bottom and start grimly up. The Professor quickly loaded his double-barrel and fired, and two of the ugly brutes went rolling back, but the others, quite undismayed, came leaping upward.
"What's the use of wasting cartridges?" said Andy. "What's the matter with rolling rocks?" As he spoke he flung a big stone down upon the pack.
"Good egg!" cried Greg. "Here, help me with this boulder, Jim." Next minute a shower of stones rained down upon the hunting dogs, killing at least a dozen, yet even so the rest still pressed upward. Then Jim and Greg, with Sam's help, got their boulder to the edge. It was a huge stone weighing many hundreds of pounds, and went thundering down carrying all sorts of stuff with it. All of a sudden there was a deep roaring sound as the whole face of the slope peeled off and went down in a thundering avalanche. "Hurrah!" cried Greg. "That's done the trick. Finished the whole lot at one clip."
"Finished us, too, I guess," said Andy briefly.
"What do you mean?" demanded Greg.
"You ain't as bright as usual this morning, son," replied Andy. "How do you reckon we're going to get down to the road again?"
Greg looked rather blank. "You're right, Andy, we can't get back down there, but I expect we can find some other way."
"It's up to us to try, anyway," agreed Andy. "Come right on."
They came on, but the bluff, instead of getting lower, grew to a regular cliff.
"We had better climb straight to the top of the ridge, I think," said the Professor, "then we shall see the road on the other side." But when, late in the afternoon and all very exhausted, they gained the ridge, there was no sign whatever of the road, and nothing visible except a deep, wild-looking valley with a cliff-like range beyond. Feeling very discouraged, they stood and stared downward. "I guess we're plumb lost," said Andy slowly, and, as no one disagreed, it seemed clear that he had voiced the feelings of the rest.
JIM was the first to offer a suggestion. "We must be near the city," he said. "How would it be if I rigged up my wireless and tried to get Upton."
"An excellent idea," the Professor answered warmly.
"A great idea," said Greg. "I only hope you can get him, Jim. It will be the one way out of a very ugly hole. Sam can help you, and the rest of us will fix up camp, and see if we can scrape up anything to eat."
They had long ago finished all their civilized food, and had been living on the country, eating parrots, monkeys, wild fruits, and eggs. With the help of Zambo and Andy they had rarely gone hungry. But up on this ridge there were no birds or monkeys, no fruit of any kind, and it looked as if they would go empty to bed. Just at dusk Zambo came back with a gruesome-looking animal slung over his shoulder. "Say, what have you got?" demanded Greg. "An alligator?"
"Him iguana," said Zambo, flinging it down. "Him good."
"It don't look it," declared Greg. "Still I'm too hungry to be particular."
The iguana, which was nearly five feet long, proved to be much better than it looked. The flesh was not unlike chicken, and there was plenty for all. When they had finished they all felt better. Then Jim, who had got his wifeless outfit fixed up, went back to it and began calling. But there was no answer, and at last he gave up and was sitting almost asleep, but with the phones still over his ears, when the well-remembered code- letters, T.R.S., began to tick out.
"Got him," he almost shouted, then, as the others crowded round, put up his hand for silence. The Professor handed him a pad of paper and pencil, and Jim began to take down.
"Can he hear you?" asked Sam presently. Jim nodded, and went on alternately sending and receiving. As he filled each sheet of paper he handed it to the Professor. It was nearly half an hour before he took the phones off and shut down. "Tell them, please," he said to the Professor.
"I will indeed, Jim," answered the Professor. "But first I think we ought to give you a vote of thanks for hauling your apparatus all these weary miles and helping us just when we most needed it."
"Guess I second that," said Andy, and the others all cheered. Jim got quite red, but held up his hand. "Better not make too much noise, you chaps," he said. "Alan Upton says the Bakaīri are between us and the city."
"Never mind about the Bakaīri!" said Greg. "I want to hear about the city. Tell us, Dad."
"We have not far to go," said his father, smiling "The entrance is in the hills opposite. It is too dark to see now, but Alan has given us instructions which will enable us to find it without much trouble. I do not think that we have more than six or seven miles to go."
"Hurrah!" cried Greg, but his father cut him short. "Be quiet, Greg. For all we know these savages may be within hearing, and if they are, our chances of seeing Hulak are of the slimmest. Alan has warned us that they are most dangerous people, and that if we fall into their hands there is no hope for us." He spoke so seriously that the others were impressed, but Greg was still full of curiosity. "How do we get in, Dad?" he demanded.
"The great road ends in a cave, where a guide will be waiting to show us the secret entrance. What Alan is afraid of is that the cave mouth may be watched by the Bakaīri, but he hopes that, if that is the case, it will only be a small patrol, which we may fight off. He has told us how to approach the place without being seen, but the last half-mile is open and steep climbing, so it is there, if anywhere, that we may look for trouble." He paused. "Now you will all turn in, please, for we must start before dawn. We are quite close to the road, and I am hoping that if we make a quick dash we may reach the place by sunrise and get in before the Bakaīri are aware of our presence."
"How much did you sleep, Jim?" asked Greg in a low voice as they shouldered their loads in the cool darkness at four next morning.
"All there was time for," replied Jim.
"Then your nerves are better than mine. I was thinking of these beastly Bakaīri, and how rotten it would be to be scuppered just on the threshold, so to speak."
"Then don't think of 'em," advised Jim. "Probably we won't see 'em at all, and if we do, we've got our guns and—thanks to Andy—plenty of cartridges."
"Say, step out and don't talk," came Andy's voice just behind them.
There was not much stepping out just at first, for the going was shocking, and it was some time before they found the road. Once they were on it they made better speed, though, owing to the darkness, they had to go carefully. There were ugly breaks in the great stones, and once, where a landslide had come down from above, they had a long and difficult job to find a way round.
The first glimmer of dawn found them still in the valley. The Professor stopped, and took counsel with Zambo and Andy. Then he pointed to a queer, sharp peak which stood up like a great monument against the paling stars. "The cave is under that," he said in a low voice. "We must try and make it before daylight."
They started again briskly, but the loads were heavy and the light grew fast. The first rays of the rising sun caught the great peak, turning it to an exquisite pink. Jim's eyes were on the rocks above. "Can you see the cave, Sam?" he asked.
"No," said Sam briefly. "Wish I could."
"Nothing yet, but I've a notion there will be."
"Indians, you mean?"
"Don't know. I just feel there's something queer."
Jim looked round, but could not see anything. All the same he felt nervous, for he knew that Sam, like so many Cornishmen, had at times that odd gift of second sight. There was thick bush in the centre of the valley, but the road itself cut in the rock was fairly clear. At last they gained the spot where the road began to run uphill. Jim drew a long breath of relief. "We'll be all right now," he said.
"You spoke too soon," Sam answered grimly. "Here they come!" He jerked his thumb in the direction of the trees, and Jim saw naked men running hard toward them. Andy pulled up short.
"Come on!" cried Greg.
"No use," said Andy. "If we drop everything we can make it, but if we got to carry these loads up the hill them niggers'll have us sure."
"Then we must leave the loads," said Greg.
"Upton wants that petrol bad," Andy reminded him.
"What do you propose, Andrew?" asked the Professor. "Have you a plan?"
"I got a plan. See where the road narrows between them two rocks. You and I takes the shot-gun and the rifle and holds the pass while the rest carry the stuff up. It ain't a long way to the cave mouth, for I reckon I can see that plain." Jim looked, and, sure enough, there was a dark patch in the mountainside, but it was all of half a mile by road from where they stood.
The Professor glanced at the spot which Andy pointed out, then at the Indians. "Good enough, Andrew," he said crisply. "You others carry the loads up to the cave. The petrol first. That is the most important. Be quick. We have not much time."
He was right, for the Indians were coming at a great pace. They were fierce-looking men with chocolate-coloured skins, of middle height, strongly built, and armed with spears and bows and arrows. Seeing the white men, as they thought, running away, they gave a loud yell and quickened their pace. They were within a hundred yards when the party reached the rocks which Andy had pointed out. There the Professor and Andy jumped into cover, one on each side of the path, and the other four, heavily laden, went panting up the steep slope. A moment later Jim heard the crash of the Professor's double-barrel followed by the whip-like report of Andy's rifle. Hideous shrieks followed, but Jim dared not look back. He needed every ounce of energy to climb the terribly steep slope. His throat went dry, perspiration streamed down his forehead, nearly blinding him, and his heart thumped till it felt as if it would burst.
Crash! crash! came up from below. It was plain that the savages had not yet been checked, and it terrified Jim to think of the tremendous odds. He looked up and saw the cave mouth yawning dark in the hill-face no more than a hundred paces ahead. He caught a glimpse of Greg's face, white and strained, and realized what his feelings must be. The firing below ceased, and Jim saw Greg stop and turn round. He too looked back. "They've stopped the brutes," said Greg fiercely. "Look at 'em, Jim. They've had their gruel."
Jim looked just long enough to see that the main body of the Indians appeared to be drawing back out of range, and that at least a dozen lay dead on the ground. He nodded. "Come on. It's the last lap, Greg," he said hoarsely.
A minute later and all four reached the spot where the road plunged into a darksome tunnel in the mountainside. Jim, so exhausted that he could hardly see, was conscious of two little white-skinned, fair-haired men, dressed in blue tunics and wearing sandals, who came forward timidly out of the gloom, and spoke in rather high-pitched but oddly musical voices. He did not wait to hear what they had to say, but flung down his load. "We must get back, Greg. We've got to lend a hand." But Greg had already turned and started down the slope, and Jim, Sam, and Zambo followed.
Greg, who was leading, reached a bend of the road a little ahead of the rest, and Jim saw him stop and heard him gasp. "They've got them, Jim," he cried hoarsely. "Oh, Jim, the Indians have got them."
It took but an instant for Jim to see what had happened. The Bakaīri, pretending to retreat, had sent two small bodies of men, one to the left, one to the light, and these, climbing like cats among the bushes and boulders, had got behind and above the Professor and Andy, swooping down upon them. Even as he watched he saw them close in. The Professor, who was still watching the pass, was caught unawares, but Andy turned just as the savages swooped upon him, shot one, and floored another with the butt of his rifle.
But the odds were too great, and next moment he was borne down by three or four men and flung to the ground with a force that stunned him.
Greg began to run hard, and the other three followed. True, they had their pistols, but if they had stopped to think they would have known they could do little to help. They did not stop to think, but raced down the steep at amazing speed. The Indians, of course, saw them coming, and the parties who had captured the Professor and Andy picked them up bodily and hurried off to join the main body below. The boys did not dare to fire for fear of hitting their friends. The main body, instead of retreating, fitted arrows to their bows and began to shoot. Though the range was long the feathered darts came whizzing down almost on top of the boys. Zambo jumped in front of them. "You stop," he ordered curtly. "You no stop, you be killed."
Though it was perfectly clear that he was right and that going on was simply suicide, Greg refused to stop.
"Go to blazes!" he said angrily. "If I can't get Dad from those brutes I'll go with him."
Zambo seized and held him, but Greg fought like a fury. "Steady, Greg," cried Jim. "Steady, old chap. Getting killed won't help your father. We've got to plan this thing out!"
Between running and excitement Greg was completely done. He dropped in a heap on the ground and sat panting for breath, unable even to speak.
Sam kept his wits about him. "Jim," he said quickly, "we've got to get off the road or they'll finish us with those arrows. If we get in among the rocks we can lay for them and let 'em have it with our pistols as they come along."
"We'll try it," Jim answered, and, helping Greg to his feet, they slipped away among the rocks, but as soon as they did so the Indians stopped shooting. Sam peered out from behind a boulder. "They've smelt a rat," he said bitterly. "They're going back." It was true. Carrying their prisoners, the Indians were retreating.
Greg went nearly frantic. "Bet me go," he begged. "I must help Dad."
"It's no use," Jim told him. "Greg, we'd do anything chaps can do, but we'd only get wiped out. Let's get Upton and his aeroplane. That's our only chance."
"What's the good of that?" cried Greg bitterly. "Dad will be dead long before Alan can do anything." He struggled to get free, but was too weak to break Zambo's hold.
It was at this moment that a sudden crackle of heavy firing came from below. Sam sprang on to a rock. "Some one shooting at the Indians!" he yelled, more excited than Jim had ever seen him.
"Who—who is it?" demanded Jim.
"I can't see. It must be Upton and his pal. They're simply mowing 'em down." Jim scrambled up alongside Sam. The firing was coming from the same patch of heavy bush from which the Indians had just emerged. It sounded as if half a dozen rifles were at work. And the shooting was excellent, for almost every bullet told and the Bakaīri were being bowled over like ninepins. Nearly half of them were down already.
"Good for you!" shrieked Jim, as excited as Sam. "Give it 'em. I say, Sam, they've got the wind up. They're running."
"Dad—is Dad safe?" panted Greg from behind them.
"He's all right," Jim told him. "The Indians have left them. The beggars are running like rabbits."
Greg struggled to his feet, and began running shakily down the slope. The others followed. The survivors of the Bakaīri were, as Jim had said, running like rabbits. This attack from behind had panicked the lot. Shots still followed them from the clump of bush.
The boys reached the bottom in record time, and Greg made straight for his father, who was lying on the ground just where he had been dropped. His wrists and ankles were tied, and he was helpless. Greg, paying no attention to anything else, reached him, dropped on his knees and began to cut the cords, while Jim did the same for Andy.
"Gee, but I'm glad to see you, Jim," said Andy. "I sure thought we were booked this trip. Who did the shooting?"
"Alan Upton," Jim answered, and just then a shadow fell across them and a harsh voice spoke. "That's not my name, and I don't believe for a minute that Upton could have done that shooting. It has taken me weeks to train those men of mine, and for half- breeds they're none so dusty."
Jim looked up into the face of Stephen Gadsden.
JIM simply stared. He was too surprised to speak.
Gadsden smiled his hard smile. "Wondering how I got here, no doubt," he remarked. "It was pretty lucky for you that I did."
"It was," agreed Jim, recovering himself. "We are no end obliged to you." The Professor got to his feet, He was shaken but not hurt. "We are indeed very grateful to you, Mr Gadsden," he said courteously. "We should have stood no chance at all without your timely help and wonderful shooting. It was all the more kind on your part because we are rivals in this expedition, and we all thank you."
Gadsden smiled again, but the smile went no further than his lips. "Then no doubt you will be ready to prove your gratitude," he said dryly.
The Professor looked rather surprised, but answered quickly, "Naturally I shall be glad to do so. If there is anything that we can offer you in the way of food or stores, all we have is at your service."
Gadsden shook his head. "We have plenty of ammunition," he answered, "and so long as we have cartridges we can get food. But you have something that we have not got—the secret of how to enter the valley where Hulak lies. Under the circumstances I feel sure that you will not refuse us that knowledge."
The Professor stood silent, and it was clear to Jim that he was staggered at this demand.
Gadsden laughed harshly. "I thought your gratitude was limited," he said with a sneer.
Professor Thorold coloured hotly. "You are wrong, sir. I owe you my life, and so far as I am concerned, there is no limit to what I would do in return. But in this case there are others concerned besides myself. You are not here in the cause of science as we are."
"You are right," broke in Gadsden. "I am here for what I can get."
"Then how can I be responsible for letting you and your men loose on these poor people?" asked the Professor indignantly.
"I'll give you my word I won't hurt or bully any of the precious people," said Gadsden. "I believe they have more gold than they can use. All I want is as much of the stuff as I can carry away. When I've got that I shall go, and you can stay as long as you like to handle the scientific side of it."
The Professor still hesitated, but Andy who had been listening spoke. "I guess we got to do it, Professor," he said. "So long as this here gent gives his word he won't start no trouble in the valley."
"I may be a thief," said Gadsden grimly, "but my worst enemy wouldn't call me a liar."
"Very good then, Mr Gadsden," said the Professor courteously. "We will enter the valley together."
As they all started back up the hill Sam came alongside Jim. "This is a queer start," he growled.
"Queer," repeated Jim. "Rotten, I call it."
"Same here," agreed Sam. "I wonder how on earth the beggar kept up with us."
"Look at those men of his," said Jim. "Big, hard-looking chaps, and all knowing the country a jolly sight better than we do. Besides, they hadn't half as much to carry. It was that petrol hung us up."
Sam grunted. "I wouldn't have let Gadsden in," he said.
"I don't see how we could help it," said Jim with a shrug, "—not after what he's done for us. And Andy thought so, too. Anyhow, we've got his word he won't go trying to bully the Hulas, and I believe we can trust him."
"I wouldn't," replied Sam flatly, but Jim did not answer, for they were just at the mouth of the cave.
Inside stood the two little fair men who were both looking decidedly scared. Now that Jim had time to look at them he saw that they were dressed in tunics of fine, blue, silky stuff and that, though small, they were well built and quite good-looking. They spoke to the Professor, but, although he was well up in the ancient languages of South America, he could not make out much of what they said except that the newcomers were to follow them. They all went straight back into the cave, and presently came to the end, where they were faced by a wall of solid rock. "How in thunder are we going to get through there?" asked Greg of Jim.
"I'm sure I don't know," said Jim, "but watch the Hulas."
The two little men clambered up to a ledge and went along it a little way, then both stopped and stood together on a certain spot. At once there came a harsh, grinding sound, and very slowly a great mass of rock rolled inward, leaving an opening large enough for two men to walk abreast.
"Gee, but that's mighty fine engineering," said Andy admiringly. "There wasn't a crack you could see with a microscope before the rock moved. And I'll lay that slab weighs nearer five ton than four."
"Wonderful indeed!" exclaimed the Professor as he saw beyond the door a lofty vaulted tunnel which seemed to run straight into the heart of the hill.
The little men clambered down from the ledge, and, passing into the tunnel, beckoned the others to come on. "All very well," said Greg, "but what about lights? Our electrics went up long ago."
"There ain't no need to worry about lights, Greg," said Andy. "They've got 'em. See, all blue and pretty."
He was right, for the whole long tunnel, as far as they could see, glowed with a pale blue light, a sort of phosphorescence which was yet strong enough to make the way quite clear.
The little men waited until the whole party had filed through, then put their combined weight upon a metal lever projecting from the wall. Again came the deep grinding sound, and the rock door swung slowly back into place. "Take dynamite to shift that," said Sam briefly, then walked on with the rest.
It was the blue light which interested Jim more than anything else, but it was not long before he found its source. They came to a basin cut in the hard rock and lined with metal, which was filled to the brim with a fluid that looked like blue fire. The Hulas passed it without notice, but the others stopped to examine it. The Professor put his hand over the fluid, then dared to touch it with his finger. "No heat!" he exclaimed in amazement. "It is cold fire."
"It's like firefly light," declared Jim.
"Exactly," agreed Professor Thorold. "It is the secret which Western science has been struggling after for a generation without success, yet these forgotten folk must have solved it long ago."
Gadsden spoke. "The bowl is solid gold," he said sharply.
"I noticed that," replied the Professor, "but the bowl, Mr Gadsden, is a small matter compared with what it holds."
"I'll take the gold every time," said Gadsden with a harsh laugh.
"I have no doubt that you will be able to have all you can carry," answered the Professor with a touch of sarcasm that was quite lost on Gadsden. His men were as excited as he was, and talked eagerly among themselves as all went forward again down the tunnel.
"I reckon we'll have trouble with that crowd before we're through," Andy said in a low voice to the Professor.
"I fear it greatly," agreed the other. "My only hope is that we may satisfy them with gold and get rid of them."
"I sure hope so," said Andy, but Jim noticed that he did not look happy.
The great tunnel sloped steadily downward. The floor was smooth as a pavement, the air sweet and cool, and the lighting perfect, for every fifty paces the golden howls brimmed with blue fire. How far they went Jim could not tell, but they had been walking steadily for a good ten minutes before they were brought up short by a second rock face.
"Another door?" said Greg. "Yes," he went on, "there's the lever." The little guides were busy with it, and, just as before, a huge slab of rock rolled back, and us it did so a flood of brilliant sunlight poured in. All hurried forward, and stood gazing down at a sight so beautiful that it almost took their breath.
Andy was the first to speak. "Say, boys, I guess this would drive a movie man plumb crazy."
The Professor smiled. "It would beat any artist to paint it," he said. "I never dreamed of such colouring. That lake is like a topaz, and, as for the trees around it, their flowers and foliage beggar description."
"And there is the city, Dad," said Greg eagerly. "Did you ever see such wonderful buildings?"
"But half of them are down," said Sam.
"Earthquake," explained the Professor. "The same, no doubt, that damaged the causeway."
From the tunnel-mouth a road, cut in the solid rock, dropped in great curves to the floor of the valley. Like the tunnel and the causeway, it was wonderfully engineered. Right in front lay the lake, which was about a mile across, with water as transparent as plate-glass and shining like a great jewel. Lovely flowers and gardens were all round it, except at the south end, where stood the mighty city of Hulak built of the same reddish stone which composed the cliffs. These cliffs walled in the valley, rising to a height of at least four hundred feet except on the south side, behind the city, where they were only about half that height. On the top of these lower cliffs Jim saw figures moving and pointed them out to Sam. Sam gazed at them a moment. "They're not Hulas," he said, "they're Indians."
Indians they were, but there were other things besides Indians to attract the attention of the travellers. Greg gave a great shout. "Here's Alan!" he cried, and, breaking away from the others, ran forward to meet a tall, lean young fellow who was wearing a blue Hula tunic, but whose thin, brown face and grey eyes marked him as English.
"Here we are, Alan," cried Greg, "and we've brought your beastly petrol."
Alan Upton's face lit up. "Good man!" he cried as he grasped his cousin's hand. "Now we'll get those brutes of Bakaīri on the hop. And here's Uncle, and this must be the Jim that I've talked to so much and never seen. Sam, too. You see I know who you all are," he said with a cheery grin. "And this here is Andy," remarked the American, offering his hand, which Alan shook heartily.
Gadsden and his party were behind the rest, but now Gadsden himself came up and Alan looked hard at him. The Professor whispered a few words to his nephew, and Alan's face hardened. He went straight up to Gadsden and spoke bluntly. "Mr Gadsden, I understand I have to thank you for saving my uncle from the Bakaīri, and I do thank you. But I am not going to say that I am glad to see you here."
"I didn't suppose you would be," returned Gadsden. "But as you see, I am here, and Mr Thorold knows what I have come for."
"So do I," replied Alan curtly, "and if you will be content with as much gold as you and your men can carry, you shall be satisfied. But I tell you quite plainly that I won't have you interfering with these people in the valley."
"You talk big, young man," said Gadsden harshly, "but I've given my word, and as soon as I get the gold you will see the last of me."
"Very good," Alan answered. "Then you will come with the rest of us to the town, and to-morrow I will find the gold for you."
"Gosh, but he's a man, that cousin of yours," whispered Andy to Greg. "I like his nerve—the way he talked to Gadsden."
Alan led the way toward the city; his uncle's party walked with him, and Gadsden and his men followed behind. "I was very sorry I could not come to meet you," Alan told his uncle. "The fact is Almeida and I dare not leave these Hula folk for any length of time. They are the kindest, most charming people, but hopeless in any sort of trouble, and I live in terror of the Bakaīri coming down upon us. You see the brutes have got into the upper part of the valley to the south of the town."
"Sam and I saw them up on those cliffs," put in Jim.
"Yes," said Alan, "and they are constantly trying to get down with ropes. Either Almeida or I have had to be on the watch every single night to stop them, and it's getting to be a pretty heavy strain."
"But is there no way down except by ropes?" asked the Professor.
"Oh yes," replied Alan. "There is a tunnel, but luckily it is guarded like the one you came through. The Bakaīri are mad to get down here and collar this lower valley. Then they'd make the Hulas their slaves and force them to farm the whole valley for their benefit."
"But can you stop them?" demanded his uncle. "Can you drive them off?"
"Yes," said Alan confidently, "now you've brought the petrol I'm pretty sure I can do it. But I'll tell you about my plan later. Now you've got to be introduced to Ilak, the chief priest. He's a fine old bird and a particular pal of mine."
They were coming to the gate of the city, and Greg nudged Jim. "Look at the pillars, Jim. Just like the entrance to the British Museum."
"I never saw the British Museum," Jim answered, "but they're like pictures of old Egypt."
"Here's the priest," said Greg. "Alan's right. He is a fine old boy."
The priest, if not tall, was a handsome old man with a splendid white beard and the clearest blue eyes. He made a speech of welcome, though the boys, of course, could not understand a word of it; then he led the way across a great square to a huge, squat-looking temple. A crowd of three or four hundred people followed.
"Some hall!" remarked Andy as he got inside. Then he pulled up short, and so did all the others, and all stood gazing at the most wonderful thing they had ever seen in all their days. It was a broad disc of gold, set upon the opposite wall and evidently meant to represent the sun. From it streamed out seven great rays, every ray of a different colour. They ranged from richest crimson down to palest yellow. A window above concentrated the sun's light upon this wonder, and the rays shone with a blinding, almost intolerable splendour.
Sam nudged Jim. "They're diamonds and jewels," he gasped. He was right. Each ray was set solid with precious stones of different sorts, and Jim realized that their value must be something colossal. Then suddenly he happened to glance at Gadsden's face. The big man's eyes were glued upon the blazing disc, and they glittered like the stones themselves. "He will never be content with gold now he has seen that," was the thought which flashed through Jim's mind.
ANDY, too, spotted the covetous glare in Gadsden's eyes, and presently he moved quietly over to Jim, "I guess you saw it, son," he whispered.
"I should think I did," replied Jim in an equally low voice. "Gadsden jolly well means to have some of those stones."
"I don't reckon he'll try anything before night," said Andy.
"Nor then either," Jim answered grimly, but, as Ilak had mounted the platform under the golden sun and begun to speak, he said no more.
Alan, who had managed to learn the Hula language during his stay in the valley, translated. Ilak, he told them, welcomed the strangers from the East, and hoped that they would help his people to drive out the invaders. He understood that they were interested in the history of his ancient nation, and promised that, once the Bakaīri were out of the valley, he would show them the records preserved in the temple. But the danger was great, he added, for the invaders had seized all the upper valley, so that the Hulas were cut off from their gardens and their cattle and were living on the stores laid up in the town. He ended by promising to do all he could for his visitors. When he had finished the people gave a sort of cheer, but it was rather a feeble effort. "They're scared stiff," said Andy in Jim's ear. "We'll have a job to ginger them up."
Alan came over to them. "I have to go and relieve Juan," he said. "Ilak will look after you folk."
"We'll come and help you," said Greg.
"No, you won't," said Alan with a smile. "You'll go and get a bathe and a feed and a jolly good rest. There's no danger during the day. It's at night we have to look out so sharply. You see there's nearly a mile of cliff to guard, and that's no joke when you've got only feeble folk like these Hulas to depend on."
Jim was on the point of telling Alan that he had some one else to look out for besides the Bakaīri, but checked himself. "Alan's got enough to worry about," was his thought. "We'll watch Gadsden."
Alan went off, and Ilak and his people took charge of their visitors. Jim, Sam, and Greg were given a room together, a great big room with a floor of smooth blocks of stone and walls so thick that it was delightfully cool. It was furnished with rugs, beautifully soft and dyed with lovely rich colours, and hammocks were swung to sleep in.
But what pleased the boys much more than anything else was their dressing-room, which they entered under a massive stone arch and which contained a huge bath about twelve feet square and six deep. Its sides were level with the floor, and it brimmed with clear, cool water, which was always running through a pipe in the wall.
It took them about half a minute to strip off and jump in. All through their long travels they had hardly ever dared to bathe because of snakes, alligators, and piranha, and the joy of soaking their hot, dusty bodies in perfect safety was simply delightful. When they came out they found that suits of Hula blue had been set out for them, with underwear made of some silky fabric which was delightfully soft, yet cool.
A little man came to tell them that dinner was ready, and led them into another room, where they found the Professor and Andy dressed like themselves and looking very cool and comfortable. Andy grinned a welcome. "Gee, but it was worth the walk to get the bath," he remarked. "And, say, when I get back to the States I'm going to take out a patent for these here clothes. They're the coolest ever."
"Here's the grub," said Greg, as two pretty Hula girls brought in some dishes and arranged them on a low table. "If the food is as good as the rest of the entertainment we are in luck." The food was very simple, a dish of some sort of meat stewed with vegetables, bread made of maize-flour, bananas, and oranges. To drink there was a jug of something which looked like cider, but tasted better. The food was nicely cooked and served in dishes of earthenware, which were so beautiful that the Professor was more delighted with them than with the food.
Presently Alan's partner, the young Brazilian, Juan Almeida, came in. He was a tall youngster, much fairer than most of his countrymen, and very good-looking. The boys took to him at once. "I am most glad to see you," he said in excellent English, "Alan and I have had more than we could do since we arrived here."
"He told us," said Jim. "You've had to be up and about every night."
"Indeed, yes," replied Juan. "The Hulas are nice people, but poor fighters, and no match for the Bakaīri, who are savage brutes. It has been one long struggle to keep them out of the valley."
"We will help you stand guard," said Greg.
"I hope that there will not be need for many more nights on guard," said Juan. "Alan, I think, means to attack as soon as possible."
"With his aeroplane?" asked Jim.
"Yes," Juan answered. "With his aeroplane."
"But has he bombs?" asked Greg.
Juan shook his head. "He has something better than bombs," he told them.
The rest all pricked up their ears. "Better than bombs," repeated Greg.
Juan smiled. "Better so far as the Bakaīri are concerned. Alan means to use that blue liquid which the Hulas use for lighting the tunnels."
"The cold fire," said the Professor quickly. "But but, Senor Almeida, it will not hurt them."
"It will do better than that, sir. It will frighten them. You understand," he added after a little pause, "that these savages have never seen it. But they are terribly superstitious, and their chief superstition is fear of the moon. Now do you comprehend?"
Greg chuckled. "Liquid moonlight!" he said. "Rather!"
The Professor nodded. "It may work. Indeed, I think that it will work, especially on a dark night."
"That is it," agreed Juan. "We wait only for a dark night."
"We brought only ten gallons of petrol into the valley," said the Professor. "One tin of our original six we had to use to drive off the Night-seers. Is it enough?"
"I think so," said Juan. "Indeed, I feel sure it will be enough, for if our plan works at all it will work quickly."
They sat together for some time, talking things over; then Juan got up. "I am going to have a siesta," he said. "And you too will be better for a rest."
"Gee, but I could do with a week in bed," said Andy with his pleasant grin.
"You will not get that, I fear," smiled Juan; "but you have four or five hours between this and supper."
"Oughtn't we to put a guard in the temple?" suggested Jim rather anxiously. "I'm afraid of what Gadsden may be after."
"No need, I think, at present," Juan told him. "Ilak will be there with his priests, and if anything happened he would send to us for help. Besides, Gadsden and his men are as tired as you. No, you can sleep in peace this afternoon."
"Sleeping in peace will be a bit of a new experience," said Greg as the three boys returned to their quarters. "No vampires or snakes or mosquitoes. I shan't know myself."
"It will be fine," declared Sam, and he was right, for when, at six o'clock, they were roused from their hammocks they all felt like new men. They had another bathe, then went to supper.
Alan came in before they had finished the meal. "Any of you folk feel up to patrol duty to-night?" he asked, and all with one breath volunteered. "I'll take Sam and Jim for first watch," said Alan. "At midnight Juan will relieve you with Mr Milliken and Gregory."
"I guess Andy's my name—to my pals," put in the American, and Alan laughed. "All right, Andy, I'm only too pleased to be counted as your pal," he answered.
It was not yet dark when Alan went out with Sam, Jim and Zambo. He led them through broad streets bordered with dome- shaped houses built of solid stone. Some were cracked by earthquake, but most were still sound. "Nearly all empty," said Alan sadly. "In the old days there were fifty thousand people here, now there are only five hundred."
"What's the matter with them?" asked Sam.
"Nothing particular. Of course, the big earthquakes killed a lot, but that was three hundred years ago. The whole race is just worn out, and even if the Bakaīri don't get them they will hardly last more than a hundred years or so."
"The Bakaīri shan't get 'em, anyhow," said Sam stoutly.
"Look out they don't get you," said Alan, and jerked Sam aside just in time to escape an arrow which struck with a sharp thud just where he had been standing and stuck quivering in the ground. "Remember, they are all along the top of the cliff," he added, "and it's not dark yet."
They waited a while under cover of a wall, then went on. The cliff at the back of the city was not merely sheer but actually overhung, so that once they were close under it they were safe from the missiles of the Bakaīri. Here they found Juan with a body of about twenty Hulas. "Anything new?" asked Alan.
"Nothing except that two of our chaps had a narrow escape from a big rock the Bakaīri rolled over," replied Juan.
"That's nothing new," said Alan rather grimly. "Well, cut along, Juan, and get a good sleep. My cousin Gregory and Andrew Milliken are coming to help you at midnight."
"You'll each take five men and patrol," said Alan to the boys when Juan had left. "Keep close in under the cliffs, and if you see anything coming down at the end of a rope shoot first and ask questions afterwards."
It was just before midnight that Jim, still on patrol, met Alan. "Time's almost up," said the latter. "Juan will be along very soon. It's been quiet so far."
"Perhaps because the Bakaīri know you've got reinforcements," suggested Jim.
"It may be, but to my mind they've been a bit too quiet. It's the first night for weeks they haven't tried anything. They're as cute as monkeys. The other night I heard something, and saw what I thought was a lot of chaps coming down. Blessed if they weren't letting down dummies at one end of the cliff, and I spotted it only just in time to bolt off to the other end where the real attack had started. It was pretty lively for a while."
"Here's Juan," said Jim. "Think he'd like us to stay a bit?"
"Not he," Alan answered. "You and Sam will turn in at once. I'm going back with you."
It was very dark as they walked back through the lonely streets of empty houses. "I shouldn't wonder if it rained," said Alan. "Good job if it does," he continued, "for the Bakaīri don't like rain. At any rate, they have never tried to get down the cliff on a wet night."
Alan was right in his weather forecast, for the boys had hardly reached their quarters before there was a flash of lightning followed by a rolling peal of thunder, then down came the rain.
"Rotten for poor old Juan," said Jim as he looked out. "He'll be simply drowned. There's thunder again, Sam."
"That last wasn't thunder," said Sam sharply. "It was firing."
Both stood silent for a moment, listening hard. The sound came again. "You're right, Sam," said Jim briefly. "In spite of what Alan said, the Bakaīri must be on the job. Come on. It's up to us to lend a hand." Flinging on their hats and taking their pistols, they charged out into the pouring rain. In their hurry they forgot to take their bearings, and when the next flash came Jim noticed that they were in a street he did not I now. "I've spotted that already," Sam said when he told him. "I've got the general direction in my head, but it's no use trying to work through these alleys which we don't know. The big square is over I here. Let's get back to it. Then I shall know which way to go."
"You lead," said Jim briefly, and Sam, who had the true sailor's head for direction, wheeled and went straight back into the square. "That's our way," he said, "past the temple." Another flash of lightning blazed across the sky, and Jim stopped short and caught Sam's arm. "Stop!" he whispered sharply, and pulled the other behind a buttress.
"What's up?" demanded Sam.
"Some one going into the temple. It wasn't one of the Hulas. He was too tall. I believe it was Gadsden."
Sam stopped short. "The thief!" he growled. "He's after those jewels."
"That's it," Jim answered. "Sam, we've got to stop him."
Sam did not often hesitate, but now he looked uncertain. "Can we risk it?" he asked. "I mean, oughtn't we to go and help Juan?"
"I don't believe they need any help," said Jim shrewdly. "My notion is that some of Gadsden's men fired those shots just to put us off the scent."
Sam started slightly. "I never thought of that, but I shouldn't wonder a bit if you're right, for we haven't heard any more shots since the first." As he spoke another glare of white fire flung up everything into strong relief. It showed the square streaming in water, the monstrous mass of the temple and a thick- set, brown-faced man standing in the entrance. "That's one of Gadsden's men," said Jim swiftly. "Gadsden must have put him on guard. What shall we do, Sam? Hadn't we better get hold of the Professor?"
"No time," Sam told him. "The damage will be done before we can fetch him. Jim, it's up to us. We can stalk that guard and hold him up. Come on."
In a job like this Sam was splendid, for, in spite of his weight and strength, he was as quick on his feet as a cat. Jim was quite content to let him lead. The chief danger was that the lightning would show them up, but Sam dodged from pillar to pillar of the temple porch, keeping well under cover, and the first thing Gadsden's man knew of his presence was the muzzle of Sam's pistol jammed against the back of his neck. "Keep quiet," ordered Sam fiercely. "Put your hands up."
Taken seemingly by surprise, the fellow obeyed. "Tie him and gag him, Jim," said Sam to Jim. Jim stepped forward, but as he did so two men sprang out from behind the angle of the great door, and, while one knocked the pistol from Sam's hand, the other caught Jim round the body with his big arms, and pinned him helplessly.
Next instant Gadsden's voice was heard. "Good for you, José," he said. "Tie the young beggars and bring them in. We will leave them here for the night, for we shall be gone long before they are found."
JIM was boiling, for he felt that it was entirely his own fault that he and Sam had walked into the trap which, no doubt, Gadsden had set for them.
"Tie their hands and bring them in," Gadsden ordered. He turned to Jim with a mirthless smile. "I shall not trouble to gag you," he said, "for, even if you shout, there is no one to hear. The two men that Ilak left on guard are tied up like yourselves, and the rest are out in the rain looking for the Bakaīri."
Jim stared him full in the face. "I thought you told us that you might be a thief but not a liar, Mr Gadsden," he said bitterly.
Gadsden took no offence. "Exactly. I told you I shouldn't hurt any of your precious Hulas, and I have kept my word. Now I mean to help myself to some of those pretty stones, which will be much easier to carry than half a ton or so of gold, and probably worth a lot more. After that I am clearing out, and you people can carry on as you please."
Jim bit his lip, but said no more. He knew it was no good. The man called José stood guard over him and Sam while Gadsden and one of the others went toward the image. A bowl of cold fire placed beneath the great golden disc threw out a pale blue radiance in which the jewels shone with exquisite colours. A flight of broad and massive stone steps led up to the shallow niche in which the sun-god stood, and Jim watched Gadsden mount these steps. As he watched he wondered how any man could possibly bring himself to destroy so exquisitely beautiful a thing, and he felt that there was no limit to what he would do to save it. But there was no doing anything, for his hands and Sam's were tied fast, and they were as helpless as the stones of the pavement on which they stood.
Outside, the storm was passing, though now and then the lightning still flashed and the rain came down straight and heavy. There was no sound but the solid roar of falling water and an occasional deep rumble of thunder. Jim's eyes were fixed upon Gadsden's tall, powerful figure. The man had reached the top of the flight of steps, and was taking from the pocket of his drill jacket small, shining steel tools. Sam too was staring at Gadsden, and the look on his face showed that his thoughts were as bitter as those of Jim himself.
Gadsden calmly examined the different rays. He seemed to hesitate between one that was a mass of glistening white fire and another which shone with a rich and lustrous green hue. The former Jim knew must be diamonds, those wonderful Brazilian diamonds which are the finest in the whole world, but so hard that they are almost impossible to cut; the latter, however, were emeralds, stones which to-day are becoming very rare, for the last big mine producing them was shut down some years ago. Their value is, therefore, very great. Finally Gadsden seemed to decide upon the emeralds, and, taking a pair of pliers in his strong right hand, set to drawing out one of the largest stones. As he did so he placed his left hand against the centre of the disc in order to balance himself.
Jim stared as if fascinated. Even now he could hardly believe that any man could bring himself to such destruction. But Gadsden, it was clear, had no such feelings, and all he thought of was to get his plunder as quickly as possible and make off with it. As he braced himself to draw out the stone there came a rumbling sound which Jim at first thought was thunder. Then Sam gave a yell. "Look, Jim, look! The wall's falling in!"
He was right. The whole section of the wall on which the gleaming disc was fixed was sliding inward, and with it went the platform on which Gadsden was standing. Jim saw Gadsden straighten himself and try to leap back, but he was too late. Instantly he shot forward into a dark recess and vanished, and next moment the wall had closed behind him. Only now the space where the disc had glittered was bare and blank.
Jim heard a clatter behind him, and saw that José had dropped his rifle and was staring fixedly at the spot where Gadsden had disappeared. He muttered some words between dry lips, and reeled back against the wall, shaking all over. "Thinks it's witchcraft," whispered Jim to Sam.
Sam was grinning delightedly. "We might have known that old Ilak had his head screwed on tight," he said. "He ain't taking any chances, the cute old fox!"
"Yes, but what's become of Gadsden?" asked Jim.
"What's it matter? He's safe, anyhow. I wish we could get loose."
Meantime José had pulled himself together, and, paying no attention at all to his prisoners, had hurried over to where the rest of Gadsden's men were already on the platform thumping and banging at the wall in a frantic effort to find some way of releasing their leader. Jim straggled hard to get free, but his wrists were lashed behind his back. "Come on!" he said swiftly to Sam. "If we can only manage to shut the door we may bag the lot." They scuttled out, but, not having the use of their hands, the enormously massive and heavy door defied their efforts to move it.
There came a shout from the other end of the building. ''They've missed us," said Jim, ''and they're mad as hornets. We've got to clear. It's our only chance." As he and Sam turned to go, Gadsden's men came jumping down the great stone stairs. Their feet thudded on the flags. With their hands tied, the boys were almost helpless. They could not even run fast. Jim's heart sank. ''Even if they don't get us, they'll all be loose in the city, and goodness knows what they'll be up to," was the thought that flashed through his mind.
"Stop!" cried Sam sharply. "Stop! Here come's Ilak." The old priest came running at a wonderful pace for a man of his age, and two of his Hulas with him. Sam pointed to the door. "Shut it," he shouted. Ilak, of course, did not understand the words, but it was quite clear that he realized what was happening. He and his men ran straight for the door. The foremost of Gadsden's men, a burly, brown-faced brute, pulled a pistol and fired at the old priest, but the bullet whizzed overhead, and the next instant the door was flung to with an echoing crash and a great bar dropped into place. The massive timbers shook under the combined rush of Gadsden's men, but they were too late. They could not get out.
"Listen to 'em yelling!" chuckled Sam. Ilak, seeing his plight, took out a knife which, though its blade was yellow bronze, was as sharp and heavy as steel, and quickly cut the cords that tied his wrists. Then he did the same for Jim. "Gadsden's caught," Jim told the priest.
"What's the good of talking to him in English?" said Sam. "He don't understand a word."
"I'll bet he knows just what's happened," retorted Jim. "When that trap worked it must have made some signal. There's nothing else could have brought him so quickly."
Clearly Jim was right, for Ilak now made signs that they should go back to their quarters. "He means that crowd are safe where they are till morning," Jim explained to Sam.
"I'd like to know what's happened to Gadsden himself," said Sam.
"I don't know what's happened to him," replied Jim; "but I'm jolly sure he's sorry he ever touched that golden sun. Come on, Sam. We'd better get some sleep, for to-morrow is our busy day."
It seemed to Jim that he had not been asleep five minutes before Greg was shaking him awake. "Jim, you drowsy beggar, wake up! What's this yarn about Gadsden?"
Jim blinked. "What's the good of asking me if you know already?" he grumbled.
"I don't know. Ilak's been spinning some yarn to Dad, but we can't make much of it. Do tell us, that's a good chap."
Jim sat up, and flung his legs over the edge of the hammock. "The beggar tried to loot the jewelled sun," he said. "He sprung a trap of some sort, and he and the sun vanished together into the wall. Then Sam and I bunked, and Ilak came and banged the temple door. They're safe as houses for the present."
"Topping!" cried Greg. "Then I vote we leave them there until we've finished our job."
"Cleared out the Bakaīri, you mean?"
"That's it. Alan is out now working on his 'plane. He means to try it to-night if the weather suits."
"Good enough. I say, Greg, was there any trouble with the Bakaīri last night?"
"Not a sign. Alan thought there would be, but the rain put a stopper on them. I don't fancy it's easy to come sliding down ropes when the water's sluicing over the rim of the cliff. Phew, but it did come down! Now let's go and get breakfast, and after that we'll settle with Gadsden."
Alan met them at breakfast. He was in high feather. "I congratulate you, Jim," he said. "You too Sam."
"We didn't do anything," growled Sam. "We simply walked into the trap that Gadsden had set for us."
"You were cute enough to spot the firing, anyhow, and you delayed Gadsden long enough to give Ilak and his men a chance to come up."
"It was Ilak did the trick," said Jim decidedly. "But what's become of Gadsden? Was he scuppered?"
"Not a bit. The Hulas are all against that sort of thing. Gadsden was shot down a slope into a dark but fairly airy dungeon. By this time he is probably hungry, thirsty, and very sorry for himself."
"What are you going to do with him?"
"Have a quiet talk with him. Tell him he's got to stay where he is till to-morrow. By that time I hope this job will be settled one way or another. My 'plane's all right, and to-night Juan and I mean to tackle the Bakaīri in earnest." He finished his food and got up. "Now I'm off to tackle Gadsden," he said. "Like to come?"
"You bet," said Jim, jumping up.
Ilak too went with them, and led them by a secret door into the back of the temple; then, lighted by one of his men carrying a lantern, they walked along a narrow passage to a door in which was a grating set with bronze bars.
Gadsden's face showed up white and set through the bars. "Good morning, Mr Gadsden," said Alan quietly. "You may remember I warned you against trying any tricks."
"Spare me your sermons," snapped Gadsden, "and get on with the job."
Alan took no offence. "How do you suggest we should get on with the job?" he asked.
"You've got us," growled Gadsden. "I suppose you mean to finish us. All I'd say is that my men were acting under my orders, and that the blame is mine, not theirs."
Jim drew a quick breath. He had never expected this from Gadsden. Alan spoke. "We are not murderers, Mr Gadsden, and in any case the punishment for theft is not death. At the same time you have broken the laws of the Hulas, and in their eyes committed sacrilege. Here are our terms. Your men must give up their rifles, and you and they will remain prisoners until the Court can sit and decide on your case. Do you agree?"
"I've no choice," snapped Gadsden. "I have no gun. You will have to collect the rifles from my men yourself."
"Very good. Then as soon as that is done, we will send you food and water."
"You might let me have a light," said Gadsden in a milder tone. "This infernal darkness gets on my nerves."
"You shall have a light," Alan promised, and turned back down the passage. "Now for the men," he said. "I wonder if they'll make trouble."
"Not without their leader," said Jim, and he was right, for the men, who were very subdued at finding themselves trapped, made no bones about giving up their rifles and went greedily to work on the food that was brought them.
That business being settled, they all went down to inspect the 'plane, which was housed in a big building close to the river which burst out of the cliffs above the city and ran into the lake. The Professor shook his head when he saw the size of her. "Ten gallons of spirit won't go far, Alan," he said.
"It will do all right, Uncle," replied Alan calmly. "It's good for an hour's flight, and I can do all I've got to do in less than an hour. I don't say it will work, but I think it will. These Bakaīri are savage brutes, and they'd fight an army; but they're riddled with superstition, and once they're scared they'll run till they're blind."
Jim broke in. "I want to see your wireless, Alan."
"I knew you would," laughed Alan. "Come on."
Jim was delighted to find that he had been right about Alan's methods, and that Alan had arranged his set exactly as he had supposed. But he was not left much time to examine it, for the Professor claimed Alan to show him the city.
The day passed quickly, and at supper Alan announced that the weather was perfect for his attempt, and that he meant to start up at ten. "You people will have to do guard till then," he said, "for Juan and I will be busy with the bus."
"I guess you can trust us," said Andy. "We'll go right now." The three boys and he started together. A light haze covered the stars, so it was very dark. All the same they went cautiously until they got well under the overhang of the cliff, for they knew the Bakaīri were on watch above, waiting only for the slightest sound to start rolling rocks over the rim. But on this occasion not a rock fell, and the silence was broken only by the low roar of the river where it rushed down from its tunnel into its deep bed. An hour passed in patrolling quietly up and down. "They're quiet tonight," whispered Jim as he and Sam walked together.
"Too quiet," replied Sam briefly.
"What do you mean, old chap?"
"They're planning something, Jim. Alan said it last night, and I feel it in my bones."
Jim did not laugh. He had learned by this time to respect Sam's hunches, as the Americans call premonitions. Before he could think of anything to say a shot rang out, followed by a regular volley. "That's Andy," he cried. "Come on, Sam."
Sam caught him by the arm. "Steady on, Jim. They can tend to that end. We got to watch our side."
"But there must be a lot of them," objected Jim.
"Maybe we'll get a lot our side, too," replied Sam. "By gum, there's one now," he added, as he pulled his pistol and fired at a dangling shadow overhead. Next instant came a shrill yell from the patrol of Hulas farther to the east. "Told you so," said Sam grimly. "There's any number of 'em started down at once." The words were hardly out of his mouth before a great hairy brute of a Bakaīri dropped with a thud to the ground, missing Jim by a bare yard.
IT was Sam's quickness that saved Jim. He shot down the Indian just as his spear was raised above Jim's head. Next moment another savage came thumping down almost on top of Sam, and this time it was Jim who got him. The firing became hot and heavy at the far end of the cliff; in every direction ropes dangled from above, and there was thud after thud as the heavy- bodied Bakaīri dropped to the ground. There were worse sounds too—screams from the Hulas as the poor little chaps fell, fighting bravely, under the stabbing spears of their savage enemies.
Sam kept his head. "Jim, the odds are too big," he said. "We shall all be scuppered if we don't get help."
"Help's coming," replied Jim. "There are fifty more Hulas ready to start when firing begins. Ilak told us. Here they are, coming from the South Gate."
"That's not enough," said Sam. "They may hold 'em for a bit, but we want the 'plane. You go back and tell Alan to start at once. The 'plane's in the temple square."
"And leave you?" asked Jim sharply.
"I'll carry on," said Sam swiftly. "I'd go only you can run quicker than me."
Jim hated leaving Sam, but he knew it was the only thing to do. He turned and ran like a hare. As he raced into the square the first thing he saw was the lights of the 'plane. In the glare three men were busy about her. "Alan, Alan!" he panted. "There's a big attack. The Bakaīri are coming down in scores. You must go up at once."
"Impossible!" snapped back Alan. "One tyre's punctured, and we're mending it, but even with Zambo's help it'll take another twenty minutes or half an hour."
"We'll be smashed by then," said Jim bitterly, and turned to run back, but Alan caught him. "There's only one thing to be done. Get Gadsden and his men."
"Gadsden!" repeated Jim in amazement.
"Yes. He'll fight all right, and his rifles may just turn the scale. This chap will get the key of the temple from Ilak."
He spoke swiftly to a little Hula who was helping, and the man darted off.
"You wait and see Gadsden, Jim. I can't spare a moment," said Alan, and turned again to his wheel, where Juan was working desperately.
The wait was only a matter of two or three minutes, but to Jim it seemed like an hour. All the time there was a crackle of firing along the base of the cliff, and Jim knew that Sam and Greg and Andy were fighting for their lives. For all he could tell they might all be killed by this time. Then a light shone, and Ilak came running. A few crisp words from Alan and the old man gave a quick nod and ran for the temple. Two of his men hurried off to fetch Gadsden's rifles. The door was unlocked, and Jim raced through the passage. Within a few seconds he was in Gadsden's cell. Gadsden had heard the firing, and there was no need to explain. "Up against it, aren't you? All right. I'll lend a hand. I'm not going to bargain," he added, "but if we come out of this alive I shall expect a straight deal."
"It's a big if," answered Jim, as he and Gadsden raced for the open. "Ropes are hanging like spiders' webs all down the cliff."
Gadsden's men arrived in the square at the same time as he did. They were a rough-looking lot, but there was no doubting their pluck as they grabbed their rifles and went off at a double behind their leader. Fighting was their trade, and Jim realized that they would do the job of stopping the Bakaīri if anyone could.
There was no delay in starting the battle, for as they reached the ruined gateway at the south side of the city a dozen squat, chocolate-coloured men came charging through. They were met by such a withering fire that not one of them survived. It was a little lighter now, for the haze was clearing and the big southern stars were shining overhead. Gadsden gave a low whistle. "Great snakes, but there are enough of them," he said grimly. It was as Jim had said. The cliff was thick with ropes down which the savages were sliding like monkeys. From two points along the cliff firing went on steadily, but the defending force was far too small to deal with such an invasion.
"Shoot straight, men!" roared Gadsden in Spanish. "Don't waste a cartridge!"
The Bakaīri were not working at random, but were evidently well led. A big body of them had formed up under the cliff, and more were joining them every minute. "That's your bunch," said Gadsden, pointing to the Bakaīri, and with a whoop his men charged. The Bakaīri yelled defiance, and flung their spears. But Gadsden's men stopped just out of spear-range, and again drove in volley after volley. Flesh and blood could not stand it, the Bakaīri turned and ran, pursued by fresh firing.
But Gadsden was much too wise to let his men chase the savages. "Pick off those chaps as they come down," he ordered. "Remember you're shooting for your lives." The men, perfectly trained, obeyed, and, in spite of his anxiety and excitement, Jim stood fascinated, watching them pick off man after man. It was marvellous shooting by starlight. Just then came a fresh burst of firing from the west, and shouts and yells told that the others were heavily engaged. "I'm going to help them," said Jim, and pistol in hand ran off as hard as he could go.
A burly savage came running straight at Jim, and drove at him with his spear. Jim dodged like a flash, fired, and saw the fellow reel away. Then in front he caught sight of dim figures swaying to and fro in furious fight. With a shout he dashed in. He caught a glimpse of Andy swinging a rifle like a club and of Sam's face, grim and set, as he stood with his back to the cliff trying to reload. The Professor too was there, standing over Greg, who was flat on the ground. His double-barrel roared twice, and the Indians fell back from the blasting charge of heavy shot. But others were closing in.
Jim shot down their leader, and, springing in alongside Sam, pistolled an Indian who was rushing straight at him. This gave Sam a chance to reload, and he and Jim made every bullet tell. But the odds were fearful, and Jim's heart sank as he realized that the end was only a matter of minutes. "Hang on!" panted Sam. "Alan's coming."
With a clattering roar and a blaze of head-lights, Alan's 'plane shot up out of the town and came rushing toward the cliff- top. The Indians, terrified at the great blazing bird, faltered.
"Load up!" snapped Sam as he thrust in fresh cartridges. Jim and the Professor did the same, and a dozen shots in rapid succession cleared a wide circle around them.
"Watch out! They're coming back!" cried Jim. The Indians had recovered and were sweeping in again when suddenly from above there streamed down long streaks of blue fire falling in a glittering rain and lying in shining pools on the ground. "That's done it!" roared Sam. "They're running like rabbits." Mad with fright, the Indians dropped their spears and bolted, and the little Hulas chased them in every direction.
"It works!" cried the Professor in his deep voice.
"But Greg?" asked Jim sharply.
"Stunned with a blow on the head—not seriously hurt," replied the Professor, and as he spoke Greg stirred and sat up.
Gadsden came up, his men behind him. "The blue fire has done the trick," he said. "Hear 'em yelling up above. Now we've got to get to the top and clear them out. Ilak has opened the door to the cliff stairs."
"You are right," said the Professor. "Come, all of you."
Ilak was waiting at the foot of the stairs with about a hundred of his men. "Gosh, but they've got their tails up!" said Andy, and anyone could see that he was right. The little Hulas had seen their horrid enemies run, and had lost half their fear of them. Led by the white men, they charged up the long flight of stairs cut in the living rock of the cliff.
At the top was a door which opened by the same contrivance as that in the other tunnel, and as the whole force poured out into the upper valley the sight before them was amazing. The 'plane, circling low, was chasing masses of Indians and showering upon them streams of blue fire which streaked the ground, lighting everything with an unearthly glare. The superstitious Indians were crazy with terror. Many were lying flat on the ground literally paralysed, others ran round in circles, and just as Gadsden's force reached the top a number of their enemies, running blindly, went clean over the cliff.
"Spread out!" Gadsden ordered. "We've got to round them up and drive them out through the pass at the head of the valley. No prisoners, mind you, except their chiefs. But stick to any men with head-dresses."
It was hard work, and every now and then, when the desperate Bakaīri turned, hard fighting. But, with Alan overhead and the riflemen and Hulas below, the job was finished in less than an hour. By that time t he only Bakaīri alive in the valley were four chiefs who were prisoners; the rest had been driven headlong through the pass, and a pair of great bronze gates closed and barred behind them.
It was just before midnight when the Professor's party walked to the temple, where every soul in the city had gathered.
"Nine Hulas and one of Gadsden's men killed, and seventeen wounded, including Gadsden himself," said Alan.
"It is cheap at the price," answered the Professor gravely. "Alan," he added, "we owe something to Gadsden."
"A lot," agreed Alan. "Don't worry, Uncle, he'll be paid."
The white men, with Ilak, gathered on the platform above which the jewelled sun gleamed again in all its glory, and this time the cheer that rose from the Hulas shook the air.
"Told you they'd got their tails up," said Andy.
"Hush!" said Greg, who had quite recovered. "The prizes are about to be presented."
Ilak stood out, a fine figure in his priestly robes. He spoke, and the Hulas cheered again. Alan turned to Gadsden, who had a bandage round his head. "He is asking for you, Mr Gadsden."
"Is this the trial?" asked Gadsden grimly.
"He didn't say anything about that," replied Alan.
"I didn't understand a word of what he did say," said Gadsden.
"All right, then I'll translate," said Alan. "He said that you and your men were the bonniest fighters he had ever seen, and he asks you to accept this little memento of the occasion."
He nodded to Ilak, who stepped forward and handed Gadsden a small but beautifully made box of gold.
"Thanks very much," said Gadsden, looking rather surprised. He opened the box and those standing near heard him catch his breath. Well he might, for the contents of the box matched in radiance the rays of the great golden sun above him. Sam nudged Jim. "Watch him, Jim. He's red in the face," he said in an amazed whisper.
"So would you be if some one shoved a hundred thousand or so into your fist," retorted Jim.
"A hundred thousand!" repeated Sam, in an awed tone.
Gadsden pulled himself together. "Is this for me?" he asked of Alan.
"That's what Ilak says," replied Alan.
Gadsden looked into the casket again where the glitter of cut diamonds mingled with the green glory of emeralds. His men crowded round, their eyes fairly bulging as they stared at the mass of gems. "It—it's pretty good pay for one night's work," said Gadsden.
"There wouldn't have been much pay for anyone if you hadn't chipped in when you did," said Alan. "We are all glad you should have these stones."
Gadsden snapped down the lid, and thrust the box into his pocket. Then he smiled, and Jim noticed that it was a real smile, not a mere twist of his lips. "You're a white man, Upton," he said. "So are you all. I rather think I'll try to be one myself in future. I'm not good at making speeches, so I'll just ask you to tell Ilak I am very much obliged to him, then I'll clear out." He wheeled, and, followed by his men, marched off the platform and straight out of the temple.
"He's not a bad sort after all," said Jim to Sam.
"Might be worse," agreed Sam. Then the meeting broke up and they all went back to their quarters where they found supper waiting. The Professor was beaming. "To-morrow I shall be able to start work," he said.
"Work," repeated Andy. "Say, don't you reckon you've done some to-day?"
"Fighting—that's not work," boomed the Professor with scorn.
"I'm going to help you, Dad," said Greg.
"And I suppose you'll want me to give you a hand too, Uncle," smiled Alan.
"If you will come with Ilak and myself and act as interpreter I shall be most grateful," replied his uncle.
"How long do you reckon to stay here, Professor?" asked Andy.
"Three months at least," was the prompt answer.
Andy grinned. "Well," he said, "I guess it's a real nice place, and I can do with a rest. Me, I'm going to loaf for the first time in my life."
"What about you, Sam?" asked Jim.
"I'm going fishing," declared Sam. "They tell me that lake is full of fish. Zambo and I are going to show 'em how to catch 'em. What about you, Jim?"
"I'm going to do a better job than any of you," Jim told him. "I'm fixing up Alan's wireless with my aerial, and I'm going to call up Valda in Rio, and tell him what's happened. Then I'm going to ask him to arrange to have a good-sized steam-launch sent up the Xingu to the old landing-stage, where it will wait for us."
"Cost a bit, won't it?" asked Sam doubtfully.
Jim grinned. "About half an emerald. Sam, there are whole chests of them in the cellars down below the temple, and Ilak has told Alan that we are each to have as many as we can carry."
Sam's eyes widened. "A hundred thousand pounds' worth?" he gasped.
"Say a million while you're about it. I'm sure I can carry that much. What'll you do with yours, Sam?"
"Buy a ship," said Sam promptly. "Buy a ship and skipper her myself. And you—I reckon you'll get the finest wireless set in the world."
"Finer," declared Jim.