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- The Boy Aviators in Africa - 3/35 -


indeed, he looked upon as talented chaps, but still boys--which to men of his caliber is an infallible sign that anything such youthful persons may attempt is extremely likely to go wrong. How erroneous such an opinion is, those of our readers who have followed the adventures of the Chester boys know.

Mr. Luther Barr deserves a new paragraph. Long, lean and hollow cheeked, the term "gangling" fits him better than any other. Mr. Luther Barr's black suit hung on him as baggily as the garments of a cornfield scarecrow and Mr. Luther Barr's sharp features were not improved by a small growth of gray hair; of the kind known as a "goatee" that sprouted from his lower rip. For the rest of the boys noticed that Mr. Barr was gifted with a singularly gimlet-like pair of steely blue eyes that seemed to bore through you.

"As sharp a man as ever drove up the price of ivory," added Mr. Beasley as he introduced the boys to this singular figure, "he can scent an ivory bargain--"

"From here to Africa," struck in Mr. Barr in a sharp nasal tone that grated unpleasantly, "and you and I are going to be Kings of Wall Street if these boys put this deal through for us," he added with what was meant to be an amiable smile, but which, as a matter of fact, distorted his face till it looked uncommonly like an old Japanese war mask. Indeed the boys, who had seen the collection in the Metropolitan Museum, could not help smiling to themselves, as the same thought struck each of them.

"Well, Beasley," exclaimed Barr suddenly, "I'm as sharp set as a Long Island fox. Let's have a bite of breakfast and then we can get down to business."

From Mr. Barr's manner of dispatching his breakfast and the remarkable skill with which he wielded his knife, in conveying various morsels to his mouth, it was evident that he had spent so much time piling up money that his social education had been sadly neglected. Once or twice the boys caught Lathrop's eye and they saw that the lad was blushing with shame at the uncouth manners of his father's friend. For this reason the boys refrained from paying any apparent attention to Mr. Barr's actions, although--as, they remarked afterwards--he was as well worth watching as the "sword swallower in a circus side show."

"Yes, boys," said Mr. Barr with his mouth full of buttered toast and ham and eggs, "I guess I know more about Africa than any man alive."

"You have crossed that continent?" asked Frank..

"No, sir," replied the old ivory merchant with some contempt. "I wouldn't waste my time where there ain't no ain't no money. What I mean is, I know more about the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast and the Slave Coast than any man in this or any other country and have got more good solid coin out of them."

Mr. Beasley looked up admiringly from his plate. Here was evidently a man after his own heart.

"The Slave Coast?" echoed Harry inquiringly, "I thought--"

"Thought there wasn't no more slaves, eh?" inquired Mr. Barr amiably, swallowing his coffee with a noise like water running out of a bath tub, "wall, that's because yer young. When yer git older you'll larn that there's money in everything here's a demand for, and there's just as big a demand for slaves on some rubber plantations I could tell yer of as there ever was in the old days of the South--and more money in 'em on account of its being more dangerouser."

"Do you mean to say that there is slave-running now?" asked Mr. Beasley, while both Frank and Harry wondered and Lathrop looked uncomfortable.

"Sure I do," chirped Mr. Barr, "but no more for me. There's too many British gunboats and 'Merican gunboats and Dutch gunboats and what not about now to make it comfortable or healthy. No, I've retired from that business--but there's money in it," he concluded with a regretful sigh.

Immediately Mr. Barr had concluded his breakfast--and with his apparently slim accommodations it was a wonder to the boys where he put it all--he snapped, with a flinty glint of his small pig-like eyes:

"Now, let's git down to business. You boys want ter make a bit of money?"

"'To be sure we do," replied Frank, "but we don't want to make any that isn't honest money."

"We'll, there's no accounting for boys nowadays," sighed Mr. Barr, "however, you needn't worry about this money--there'll be plenty of it and it'll all be good honest coin."

"What do you wish us to do?" demanded Frank.

"Just this: Mr. Beasley here and me is in on a deal in ivory. That is, we were, but the big cache we had hoarded up in the Kuroworo Mountains in the Bambara country has been stolen by a rival trader, an Arab named Muley-Hassan. We know where he's hidden it and we know, too, that he won't dare to bring it out till he thinks that we aren't watching him. Now the time is ripe for a big deal in Ivory. There is a shortage in the market. Prices will go up sky high. If we get it out in time we'll make a barrel of coin, but if we don't we stand to lose heavily."

Mr. Beasley gave a groan; to the boys' amazement he seemed to be about to collapse. Lathrop too looked ill and anxious. Old Barr paid no attention, however, but went on.

"Now, I heard about you boys and your air-ship, and I heard, too, that you was planning a little trip to Africa and thought you might like to combine business and pleasure."

He drew from his pocket a much-thumbed, crudely drawn map and spread it out on the table. How he obtained it, the boys never learned exactly, but they heard later that a treacherous attendant of the ivory dealer had sold it to him for a good round sum.

"This country down here," he said, indicating it with a black rimmed finger nail, "is the Southern Soudan. Here's the Bambara country to the north of Uasule. Now right at this point, in the Moon Mountain range,"--he pointed to a red-marked trail zigzagging across the map to the range and terminating in a red star--"right at that thar point, old Muley-Hassan, the Arab, has hidden our ivory cache. You see the latitude and longitude is marked and furthermore--and here's the most remarkable part of it--you will know the spot when you see it by the fact that the mountains above the cache present an exact facsimile of an upturned human face. In a direct line drawn from the nose of this face, where you see the red star, lies the ivory."

The boys were deeply interested. Unpleasant as was the impression old Barr had made on them, yet what he was disclosing was impressive; but as yet they did not show that they were anything more than casually struck by it.

"Well, Mr. Barr?" said Frank, as the old matt paused impressively.

"Well--" said Mr. Barr, "the scoundrel stole it and it's up to you to get it out of there, if you will undertake it."

"How does it depend on us?" asked Frank.

"In just this way. Muley-Hassan has his eye on us---we can do nothing toward locating the ivory. You can pitch a camp there and scout about for it in your aeroplane or dirigible or whatever you call it."

"But even if we do find the Arab's hiding-place, what good does that do?" objected Frank.

"We can arrange with the French government to send soldiers up into the country and get the stuff out, if necessary," readily replied the wrinkled old ivory dealer, "but we can make no move till the cave is located. If they suspected we were after it, they would soon move it to another hiding-place or even pack it cross-country to the Nile and ship it out by the Mediterranean."

Frank and Harry asked leave to hold a brief consultation at the conclusion of which, they announced that they would think the matter over, and see Mr. Barr at his office the next day. The old man was far too shrewd to insist on a decision then and there, and so he left the hotel with the boys' promise to consider the matter carefully. As for Frank and Harry, they had pretty well made up their minds not to have anything to do with Mr. Barr, but an unforeseen circumstance altered their determination. As Barr left the room with Mr. Beasley, Lathrop turned on them with troubled eyes.

"Will you do it, Frank?" he asked anxiously. "Please say yes."

"Why, Lathrop, whatever is the matter," asked Harry, noticing the almost painful anxiety, with which the boy looked at Frank and hung on his decision.

"It's just this," said the boy in a voice that shook, as he tried to steady it, "if that ivory isn't found, we shall be ruined. My father will be beggared."

"Beggared," exclaimed both the Boy Aviators who had regarded Mr. Beasley--as indeed did his friends in general--as one of the "best fixed" business men in New York.

"It's true,"' said Lathrop, despairingly. "He has been speculating foolishly and entered into an agreement with this man Barr to borrow money for still further stock deals. The only hope he has of paying his debts is the realization of the profits he could have made on the ivory. Its theft was a bitter blow to him, not so much for his own sake, as for my mother and sisters. Myself I don't care, I can get out and work, but it would break my heart to see them reduced to poverty."

The situation was a difficult one for the Chester Boys. They had taken a hearty dislike to the crafty old ivory merchant and had made up their minds not to enter into any enterprise in which he was interested. Here, however, was a new complication.

"Give us half-an-hour, Lathrop," said Frank at length, and the two boys withdrew to another room to talk the matter over. It was ten minutes past the agreed time when they came back.


The Boy Aviators in Africa - 3/35

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