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- The Boy Aviators in Africa - 2/35 -
Any acceptance of the young reporter's generous offer was interrupted by a sudden noise in the usually quiet street.
"I tell you the fare's a dollar!" the boys heard an angry voice declaim.
"'Tain't nothing of the kind or I'm a lubber--fifty cents is all I'll pay. I'll be horn-swoggled if you get a cent more, yer deep-sea pirate," was the indignant phrased reply.
Something in the voice was strangely familiar but the "horn-swoggled" settled it.
"Ben Stubbs," gasped all the, boys simultaneously and rushed out of the garage to the street.
Here they found a stoutly-built, crisp-bearded man with a face tanned to what Billy called a "weathered oak finish," arguing loudly with a taxicab chauffeur. The man was obdurate over his fare and just at, the boys came on the scene was suggesting that his equally determined passenger get back in the cab and take a ride to the police station.
"The sergeant will settle our dispute," he said angrily.
"What's the trouble, Ben?" exclaimed Frank, giving the angry man on the pavement a hearty slap on the back.
"Why, this here piratical craft," the other was beginning when suddenly he dropped the battered bag he carried and burst into a mighty roar--a regular Cape Horn hail.
"Back my topsails if it ain't you, Frank," he cried, wringing the other's hands till the boy's arms were almost dislocated. "And you too, Harry, and keel haul me ef here ain't Billy too. Well, if it ain't good to see, you Chester boys again."
"Say, are you the Chester Boys--the Boy Aviators?" suddenly cut in the chauffeur in a respectful tone.
"We are," replied Frank, "why?"
"Oh, well," said the chauffeur, "then I'll let your friend off with fifty cents. I thought he was a 'greeny'."
With that, he calmly twisted the dial of the cab which registered $1.00 back to the fifty cent mark and coolly pocketed the coin the indignant Ben handed.
"Does that thing work backwards?" demanded the amazed old adventurer, as the taxi whizzed off before he could frame words to express his indignation.
"Not often," replied Billy with a laugh. "I guess that chap reads the papers and thought it wouldn't do him any good to try to fool a particular friend of the Boy Aviators."
"Well, boys, what are your plans?" demanded Ben, as--after the rugged fellow had been introduced to Mrs. Chester, a sweet-faced old lady, and Mr. Chester, a fine-looking, gray-haired man of about fifty--he and the boys sat in the garage discussing the African outfit.
"We hardly know now," replied Frank, and then in a few words he described Lathrop's letter and its contents.
"Wherever that boy is there's bound to be doings," remarked Ben, sententiously, when the young leader had finished. "Down in Florida when he wasn't tumbling into alligators' mouths or getting bit by serpents he was allers up to some mischief--you mark my words there's something in the wind now."
The boys talked late and long that night over the letter and what possible plan Mr. Barr, the ivory importer, could have to discuss that would be of interest to them, but they were able to arrive at no definite conclusion except that there was nothing to be done about it till morning.
As for Ben with his usual philosophic attitude toward mysteries, he filled his pipe and silently smoked. To those of our readers who have not met Ben this phase of his character may seem inexplicable, but to the boys Ben's passive acceptance of any situation had become quite familiar. Ever since they had rescued the rugged old adventurer from a marooned treasure-mine in Nicaragua and he had shared their strange adventures in Florida on the Chapin Rescue Expedition, the old man had become as much a part of their necessary equipment as the Golden Eagle itself. He had arrived that night in response to a telegraphed request to his cottage at Amityville on Long Island, where he cultivated an extensive farm--also part of the Quesal ruby profits--and devoted himself to fishing and hunting.
'The Boys' mere word, however, that they were off to Africa had been sufficient to arouse the old man's roving instinct and here he was on deck once more as active as a boy and almost as impatient for the start for the Dark Continent. Ben slept at the Chester's home that night and if his dreams were not as populated with visions of elephants, leopards, deer, huge snakes and pigmy savages as theirs it was not any lack of interest in the coming expedition that was responsible for it.
THE STOLEN IVORY
"Will you please send this card up to Mr. Beasley's rooms and tell him that the visitors he was expecting are here?"
It was Frank Chester who spoke early the next day, as the boys, in response to Lathrop's letter, stood at the Waldorf desk. The clerk looked at them a little disdainfully. Frank and Harry Chester were not the sort of boys who devoted much time to thinking about clothes and while they both wore dark neat-fitting suits they certainly did look a little out of place among the pasty-faced, cigarette-smoking youths in loud-looking garments who constituted most of the young men with whom the clerk was in the habit of coming in contact.
"I don't think that Mr. Beasley can see you now, call later," he began, superciliously turning round to the letter-rack and sorting out the mail and putting each guest's letters in the proper box.
For a second an angry flush rose to Frank's face. The man's manner was enough to irritate any high spirited boy. But Frank Chester was not given to what Bill Barnes called "flying off the handle." He calmly took another card from his pocket and in a rather sharp voice, though his tones were even enough said:
"Are you going to send that card up at once or shall I call the room on the telephone?"
The clerk faced quickly about. The two youths he had looked upon as rather awkward country bumpkins, judging as he did from their tanned faces and broad shoulders, were evidently not to be trifled with. He glanced at the card as he rolled it up and handed it to a boy to be placed in a pneumatic tube and shot up to the fourth floor, on which Mr. Beasley and his party had taken rooms.
"Oh, you are the Chester boys?" he exclaimed with a strong accent on the "the" and in markedly more respectful tones.
"We are," said Frank with a smile which was reflected on his brother's face.
"I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting, I'm sure," said the clerk with an apologetic leer, meant to be an engaging smile.
"That's all right," said Frank shortly, turning away from the desk.
"Well, having your name in the paper does do you some good after all," remarked Harry with a laugh. "That fellow certainly turned a flip-flop, when he found out who we were."
Five minutes later the boys were ushered into the Beasley rooms and were busily engaged shaking hands and exchanging all sorts of boyish exclamations of welcome with Lathrop Beasley, a tall, rather slender youth who had been their companion in Florida. Like the boys, Lathrop was an accomplished aviator and wireless operator, although he had not the initiative or the sturdy pluck to perform the feats that they had. He was, however, a boy of considerable brain and skill and among the boy-aviators of the country held an enviable position.
"About your letter," began Frank when the first greetings were over.
"In a minute," replied Lathrop, "here's father now."
As he spoke, the portieres parted and a stout, fresh complexioned gentleman, ruddy from his bath and shaving, appeared. He had the pompous manner of the successful man of business and seemed to the Chester boys to be the least bit patronizing in his manner.
"Mr. Barr will be here in a minute," he said, after introductions had been made by Lathrop, "he will explain to you his idea. I am merely a partner in the enterprise. You will, of course, be glad to accept any restrictions he may impose?"
"We hardly care to discuss that yet," said Frank, rather nettled by Mr. Beasley's pompous manner, "until we know what he requires." He exchanged glances with Harry.
"In fact," he went on, "we were planning to take a complete rest and follow in Mr. Roosevelt's foot-steps, by taking a hunting trip in Africa, only," he added with a smile, "we meant to hunt by aeroplane."
"Wonderful," said Mr. Beasley, evidently much impressed by Frank's ready manner, "when I was a boy, if a lad had a "bone-shaker" bicycle he thought he was doing something fine, and as for flying--why, we never thought of it."
"Perhaps the boys of to-day are further sighted," said Frank with quiet note of sarcasm in his tone that was quite lost on the well-meaning old merchant. Indeed at that moment Mr. Beasley rose heavily from his chair and stepped forward to greet a new arrival who appeared from another room of the suite.
"This is Mr. Luther Barr, the famous ivory importer," he said, with far more respect in his tones than he had used to the boys; whom
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