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- Boy Scouts in an Airship - 30/32 -
"Is that so?" exclaimed the boy, putting on a bold front, but inwardly fearful that the situation was a tragic one.
Leaving the captives with this cheering (?) information, Collins went back to his companions, leaving the Indian still on guard. For a time the Indian stood stolidly in front of the cave, then, looking carefully about to see that he was not observed by his employers, he faced the opening and uttered one English word:
Jackson opened his eyes in amazement, but Jimmie saw an extended hand and sprang forward. The Indian's right hand was extended toward the boy, palm up, the thumb and little finger meeting across the palm and crossed, the remaining fingers straight out.
"You mean, 'Be prepared'?" Jimmie asked.
"'Be prepared,"' repeated the other, like one rehearsing a lesson.
"Gee!" laughed the boy. "Here's a Boy Scout lingerin' in little old Peru! Now wouldn't that stop a clock?"
"You just wait a minute," Jackson said, hopefully. "I think I can talk with this chap a little in Spanish."
Then followed a great picking of words to match gestures, and gestures to explain words, during which the full salute of the Boy Scouts of America was often repeated by the Indian. Then Jackson said:
"He says that there were Boy Scouts down here six months ago, and that he guided them through the mountain passes to the headwaters of the Beni river. From there they went through to the valley of the Amazon in a boat--a steam launch."
Jimmie reached under his waistcoat collar and produced his Wolf badge, pointing to it with his finger inquiringly. The Indian shook his head.
"Not Wolves," the boy said, in a moment. "Let's see if they were Black Bears."
When a Black Bear badge which belonged to Jack Bosworth was shown the Indian still shook his head. Then he pointed to the sky and whirled his hand around significantly, finishing with a waving, flying motion.
"I see!" cried Jimmie. "They were Eagles!"
"This ought to help some," Jackson observed, his face growing more cheerful.
"Of course it will," replied the boy. "Ask him if he wants to get out of this blasted country and go to New York. We'll take him if he'll get us out on the east slope before Ned gets back."
Jackson talked with the Indian again, but did not seem to be able to come to terms with him.
"He doesn't want to commit himself," the ex-cattleman said. "We'll have to wait until he thinks it over."
The Indian seemed moody and sullen for the next few hours. When dawn came and the little fire which had blazed in the cavern all night went out, he was called away and another native placed on guard.
"That settles it," Jimmie said. "We lose!"
"I'm the losenest feller you ever seen," said Jackson. "I never won a bet in my life. You're unlucky to get dumped in a mess with me."
About the time Ned and Lyman landed in Asuncion the boys in the cavern began looking for his return. They were not permitted to leave the cavern, but they watched the eastern sky intently every minute.
They watched the sky, too, during the long days when Ned was in prison at Asuncion. Late on the afternoon of the 21st, as the reader knows, Ned searched the eastern slope for them but they did not see him. On the morning of the 23d they were taken from the cave and placed in full sight on the eastern slope, where they would be sure to be seen from the sky. They did not know what to make of this at first, but directly, when they saw Indians, heavily armed, stationed in hiding places all about them, they understood.
Jimmie had expressed the situation exactly. The cowards were baiting their trap for Ned with his friends.
Unless some means of warning him could be found, Ned would drop down to his death if he landed to rescue the ones he had left behind.
THE END OF A LONG CHASE
On the 23d of August the Nelson, with Ned, Jack, and Frank on board, was sweeping over the mountains and valleys of Bolivia and Peru toward the twin valleys in which Jimmie and Jackson had been left. Plenty of provisions and gasoline had been taken on at the Hamlin storehouse, and the lads were well equipped for a week's cruise in the air.
They did not urge the aeroplane to its fullest speed, nor did they remain in the air longer than a couple of hours at a time. It had been decided to strike the eastern slope of the range just before dawn, so the Nelson was allowed to loiter on the way. Jack afterwards declared that Ned slept half the time!
Had the first decision, to run to the twin valleys as swiftly as possible, been held to, the two prisoners, guarded on that eastern slope, would have seen the Nelson coming toward their relief.
At the same time, on landing, Ned and his companions would have been confronted with armed Indians demanding immediate surrender. This would not have been according to the notions of the boys on the aeroplane, as they had figured that Jimmie and Jackson would be able to keep out of the hands of the Collins gang.
The 23d dawned slowly, with the Nelson loitering over the great brown and green map of South America and the boys tiring their eyes looking for the glistening planes of the aeroplane. The captives were provided with food, but it was decidedly cold on the mountainside when night came.
All that day and all that night the guards lay in wait in sequestered places, waiting for the Nelson. Although his only hope of immediate rescue lay in the arrival of the Nelson, Jimmie wished every minute of the time that Ned would in some manner be warned away from that dangerous locality.
Just before dawn of the 24th Jimmie, who had fallen into a light slumber, felt Jackson pulling at his arm.
"Wake up!" the man whispered. "There is a light in the sky!"
Jimmie was on his feet in an instant. Away off over a parallel ridge to the east, a ridge not so high as the one on which they stood, and which formed only a slight elevation in the general slope, a single light twinkled and swung up and down in the half light between night and morning. "That's the Nelson, all right!" Jimmie declared. "Ned is coming! Good old Ned! Now, what can we do to keep him from being murdered?" the boy added, tearfully.
"I give it up!" replied Jackson. "All we can do is to give them some signals and tell them to keep away."
Jimmie sprang out to one of the guards, who already stood erect, watching the light with his gun in his hand. The guard looked curiously at Jimmie as he advanced, his hands clasping his shoulders, his body shivering as from extreme cold. The Indian was cold, too, so it did not take him long to make out the boy's meaning.
Jimmie next pointed to sticks lying about, and to bunches of dry grass which stood in some of the crevices of the rocks. The guard nodded consent for a fire and Jimmie raced about like mad collecting principally dry grass.
Jackson ran to help him, piling his gatherings all on one heap.
"Make three piles!" Jimmie cried. "I want three fires! Three bright fires! Make three heaps!"
The three heaps grew fast. They were not arranged in a row on a level, but mounted one above another on the slope. Jimmies idea was to so place the fires one above the other, some thing like notches cut in a tree trunk.
The reason for this is apparent. Three fires in a line facing the point signaled to signal "Good News." Three notches cut in a tree trunk, one above another, mean "Important Warning!" Now the question was, would Ned understand that the fires represented warning notches, one above the other, and keep away until some safe plan for landing could be arranged?
If he accepted the signal as "Good News" signs, he would drop down to death. If he read them as Jimmie intended he should, he would sail away and wait for a more favorable opportunity.
When the three fires were going the Indian guards gathered about in order to warm themselves. Jimmie and Jackson hovered near them, too, but they never shifted their eyes from the light in the sky.
The Nelson hovered over the elevation to the east for a second, and then, much to the amazement of the lad, whirled about and shot downward, out of sight. The guards watched the light as long as it showed and then turned to the fires again.
Daylight came swiftly, and a finger of sunlight lay on the crest of the mountains when the' machine was in the air again. It was, perhaps, three miles away, across deep and dangerous canyons which it would require hours of the hardest kind of traveling to cross on foot.
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