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- Boy Scouts in an Airship - 20/32 -
weeks ago, and went out in it, too, and the other white man remained. The next time he came, he was in the Vixen."
"Who is that fellow who is filling you with prejudice against me?" demanded Collins, presently. "It looks like a man wanted for stealing cattle from the Lyman ranch."
"Why didn't you communicate with him, if you were so hungry?" asked Ned of Jackson, suspiciously. "You say he has been here at least twice."
Jackson frowned and looked away. Then his forehead flushed and he said:
"I guess there's no use lying about it. I was accused of running cattle off the Lyman range. That is the man who accused me. I never did. He knows that. Now you know why I didn't approach him and ask for food."
"Well," insisted the boy, "why didn't you browse around and find the white man he left here? That is what he came in here for, isn't it--to hide some one he wanted out of the way?"
"I thought he came to look for gold," was the reply. "Now, about the other question. I did try to find the man he left here. I wanted to eat with him! I knew there was some one in the hills, but I never found him. It beats the Old Scratch where he is!"
"Come, come!" Collins cried, impatiently, "you can do your visiting after we have our talk. Shall I come to you, or will you come to me?"
"Don't you go out there!" Jimmie warned. "He's got some one hidden. You'll be shot if you do. Tell him to come here."
"Keep your hands up and come here," Ned ordered, thinking this good advice.
He had already experienced the treachery of the fellow, and did not care to take any chances. Collins came along sullenly, stood stock still, while Jimmie searched him, and then sat down on the framework of the Nelson.
"That aeroplane would look handsomer," Ned said, grimly, "if your men had not set it on fire."
"That was war!" Collins replied. "It is war still, unless we can come to some kind of agreement."
"I haven't much faith in your word," Ned replied. "You played a dirty game on me at Lima, you know."
"The chances of war!" Collins replied. "Now," he went on, "we can come to terms without any reference to the International Peace Congress, if we want to. I'll admit that if things were a little different I wouldn't be asking for terms, but that is neither here nor there. I want your assistance."
"On the level?" demanded Jimmie.
Jackson grinned scornfully, and Collins glared at both.
"The man we brought out here--merely as a matter of business--has disappeared," Collins went on. "We left him in the little cavern where you found his coat and the food. He's got away."
"You refer to Lyman?"
"You were keeping him a prisoner until his concession should lapse?"
"That's only business."
"When does it lapse, in case he does not appear and make payment?"
"On the 31st of August."
"And this is the 18th?"
"I think so. I'm pretty well mixed as to time, as well as everything else."
"Then he has only fourteen days in which to get back to Asuncion and make a large payment?"
"That is just it."
"And he is lost?"
"When did you see him last?"
"You remember how I came to be here? You brought me, trussed up like a hen in that aeroplane harness. Well, when the Vixen went into that pit and you went away to look over the scenery, I knew that the motor car would be along soon, so I didn't try to get away. I knew what would happen if I did. You'd shoot! Just as soon as the car came and I was released--the car brought in food for Lyman-- I sent a man over to the cave to find Lyman. He wasn't there. Understand? He wasn't there."
"But there were live embers in the cave when I got there," Ned said.
"I know. That was built by one of my men, who wanted to make coffee, but didn't. The food you stole was brought in by the car as I said before. You found Lyman's coat, didn't you?"
"Yes, and a packet of letters."
"I knew what you were in Lima for from the first. I knew of your mission before you left San Francisco. So I did not lie to you when you asked if the man who was brought in, something over two weeks ago, in a motor car was Lyman. I knew that you knew. You see, we had to get him out of Paraguay when it was learned that the United States had placed the Lyman affair in the hands of the Secret Service."
"Go on," Ned said. "You are getting pretty close to the point now."
"I thought at first," Collins went on, "that you had blundered into this district just by blind luck. Now I know better. I gave myself away by my fool antics at Lima. Then the Vixen showing up and chasing the Nelson around increased your suspicions. Oh, I know how it happened. You fooled us all. We led you right to the spot where Lyman was hidden by our attempts to mislead you. More fools we!"
"You have stated the case correctly," Ned said. "If you had kept away from me at Lima, and the Vixen had kept out of sight, I should have gone straight on to Asuncion, and should have been wasting my time there this minute."
"Yes, that's the truth! Well, now I've been perfectly frank with you, and I want you to be equally honest with me. Do you know where Lyman is?"
"I do not."
"You haven't seen him?"
"Never saw him."
"If you find him, what do you propose doing?"
"I shall take him back to Asuncion and see that he gets justice."
"Acting as a Secret Service man of the United States?"
"No, as an individual."
"But you are in the employ of the government?"
"Yes, but I'm not authorized to mix the two countries up in a war."
"Yes, I know, but your government will back you in whatever you do. That is the point with me. If you report no cause for interference down in Paraguay, there will be no danger of our getting into trouble. Your government wouldn't make a demand for Lyman's release, although it was understood he was kept in duress by a high official of the republic. Still, it sends you out to act unofficially. Now, this being the case, you are the person I want to talk with."
"I want you to help find Lyman, and then I want you to help me come to terms with him--we can't fight the United States!"
"In other words, you want me to betray my trust and help you rob him?"
"No. There are two sides to everything--where there are not three, or more. So there are two sides to this cattle concession business. I think that Lyman will be glad to settle if we find him--if he does not know that the United States has Secret Service men on the ground!"
"So you really do want to buy my silence?"
"I want to make sure that you will not attempt to defeat our plans."
"Nothing doing," Ned replied.
"Wait!" Collins continued. "You haven't heard me out. We'll see that Lyman gets all his money out of the deal, with something besides, and also that you get a quarter of a million dollars for saying nothing."
"Nothing doing!" Ned repeated.
Collins actually gasped with amazement. He had offered bribes before, but had never started out with so large a sum. And he had never been denied!
"Understand the proposition," Collins said, presently, as soon as he could catch his breath, "it is not you we want. We don't care a continental cuss for you. What we want is for you to keep quiet after we find Lyman. It is the Secret Service of the United States we axe afraid of. I'll make it half a million."
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