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Wilbur Lawton.

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transparent water about them which, as the sun got
higher, began to swarm with black fins and queer ill-
shaped monsters of the deep, — jew-fish, rays, and
huge sun-fish,— which seen through the water looked
like so many ill-shaped dragons. On shore the boys
hastened at once to their camp-fire of the night be-
fore. Its ashes were strewn abroad but in the gray
dust, Frank, with an exclamation of surprise, made
out the numerous indentations of a queer-shaped flat
foot — it was the same mark that had made Ben set
off through the jungle. But the boys, less expert
than he, could not track their way by looking out for
bent ferns or broken bits of undergrowth.

A council of war was held. There were some of
the leavings of the feast of the night before in the
cooking-pots, and on these and some coffee brought
ashore in the small emergency box fitted into each
canoe, they made a satisfactory breakfast, after which,
as the result of their confab, it was decided to attempt
to circumnavigate the island in the canoes. By this



94 BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE.

means they thought they were pretty sure of finding
Ben as the fact that the spot of land being unchartered
argued against its being of any considerable size.

In fifteen minutes the canoes were underway and
rapidly skirting the island. On the smooth water they
made swift progress and in little more than an hour
had rounded the southerly point and were working
their way up the other coast. The island had turned
out to be even smaller than they thought. They were
opposite a pretty little bay in which, instead of the
everlasting mangroves, an inviting little strip of pure
white sand, fringed by a green palm grove, sloped
down to the water, when suddenly their ears were
saluted by a shot from the woods.

" Ben Stubbs ! " was their simultaneous thought
and the canoes were at once headed for the shore.

Having landed, the boys with loud shouts of " Ahoy,
Ben ! " dashed up through the woods which, to their
astonishment, were threaded at thi^ point by a path —
a crude track certainly, but still a path. They did not
give much time to the consideration of their surround-
ings however, their minds being bent on finding Ben.
Suddenly out of the brush right ahead there sounded
the "hoo-hoo" of an owl. Now even Lathrop was



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 95

enough of a naturalist to know that owls do not hoot
in the broad daylight, so they all stopped and ex-
changed wondering glances,

" Well, that's a new one," remarked Billy senten-
tiously.

" Who ever heard of an owl that knocked about in
the sunlight before ? " added Lathrop.

" Even in this enchanted land," concluded Harry.

Frank put all further speculation to rout by ex-
claiming, as the hoot was repeated from a further re-
cess of the forest, and yet again in the still further
distance :

" That is not an owl's hoot, boys. It's a signal given
by some human being."

No wonder the boys looked startled. After the ad-
venture of the previous night they had good reason to
distrust any human being they might encounter on the
island. Whoever the inhabitants were they certainly
had no good will toward the young adventurers, so
much at least was patently evident.

" Well, come on, boys," cried Frank at last,
''' There's no use stopping here," he added, as the
" hoo-hoo " sounded uncannily from right behind
them, " our escape to the boats is cut off."



96 BOY AVIATOKS ON SECEET SERVICE.

With grave looks they followed their young leader
down the blind trail that led to they knew not what.
Suddenly, and without an instant's warning, a num-
ber of wild-looking, unkempt men and youths sprang
out of the dense growth as if they had sprouted from
the earth. They all carried ancient Winchesters and
one or two even had an old-fashioned flint-lock.'
Their clothes were ragged to a degree. As ragged in
fact as their hair and beards. With their thin, peaked
noses, sunken cheeks, and wild, hawk-like eyes they
were sinister looking specimens.

*' What d'ye want y'ar, strangers ? " demanded one
in a high nasal voice.

" We came ashore on a hunting trip," rejoined
Frank.

At this all the crackers set up a loud roar of laugh-
ter.

" You 'uns are hunting big game, we reckon," re-
marked a gangling youth in tattered blue homespun.

There was an angry murmur. Things looked just
about as bad as they could when suddenly an unex-
pected diversion occurred. A wild-looking young
woman, whose movements, despite her miserable rags,
were as graceful as those of a wild fawn, dashed



BOY AVIATOKS ON SECRET SERVICE. 97

through the jungle and appeared in the middle of the
group which hemmed the boys in.

" Josh, you're a fool. Jed, you're another, and you
too, Amelech, and Will. Why for don't you alls bring
they 'uns into camp ? "

The men all looked sheepish.

*' Yer see — ," began one.

The girl stamped her foot impatiently.

" You alls ain't none of yer got no more sense than
so many loons," she cried angrily. ** Don't you 'uns
see that they 'uns is Black Bart's friends? "

The men looked incredulous, but nevertheless their
attitude changed.

" Wall, bein' that's the case, come ahead, strangers, "*
said the tall man who had first spoken and, with their
wild escort clustering about them, the wondering boys
followed him down the dim trail.

Of who Black Bart might be or where they were
going they had not the slightest idea, but that Black
Bart's influence was so far favorable to them there
seemed no reason to doubt.



dS BOY AVIATOKS ON SECRET SERVICE.



CHAPTER IX.

'A MESSAGE FROM THE UNKNOWN.

After a few minutes' travel they emerged without
warning into a spherical clearing, perhaps sixty feet
in circumference. All about it stood palmetta thatched
huts in which crouched timid-looking women and
children. The place was enclosed by a solid wall of
trees and closely growing vines. Great gray beards
of Spanish moss waved from the trees above them.
It was a spot that would have been impossible to find
unless one had the key to the forest labyrinth. It was
evidently the men's home.

In one portion of the clearing was a singular ap-
paratus that attracted the attention of the boys at once,
pwzzled though they were over their position, and
whether they were in the hands of friends or enemies.
This object was a huge iron kettle that was placed
over a blazing fire of fat pine-knots. This fire was
being fed by a youth who might have been the brother



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 99

of one of the men who stopped them in the forest. A
cover, evidently fashioned from some kind of wood,
covered the iron pot and from this lid a pipe of
metal led to a Tude trough. From the end of the
pipe was constantly dripping a colorless liquid which
was carefully gathered into a small tin by the man
stationed at the trough, and from time to time, he and
others in the clearing took a sip from the tin. Over-
come by curiosity Harry asked a lanky youth,
who slouched by just then, what the affair might
be.

" Don't ask no questions, stranger, and you won't
git told no lies," was the impudent reply that made
Harry hanker — as he whispered to Billy — to " land
the perambulating clothes-horse one on the jaw."

But the mystery was soon to be cleared up and in
a surprising way. While the boys were still wonder-
ing what sort of a place and into what sort of com-
pany they could have fallen, a figure came striding
toward them that they at once recognized with a thrill
of delight at seeing a familiar face.

The newcomer was Ben Stubbs.

He looked rather sheepish as the boys hailed him
»rith loud shouts of delight and seemed embarrassed



100 BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE.

when Frank asked him what he was doing in this
queer settlement.

" Wall, boys," he said at length, " I declar' to good-
ness I don* know but what you'll think I'm a piratical
sort of craft, but — but the fact is that these folks
around this yere camp are old shipmates of mine in a
manner of speaking, an' so you needn't be a bit
afeard. Yer as safe as if you were in yotir own
bunks."

As may be imagined this did not at all clear up the
clouds of mystery that Ben Stubbs' sudden appearance
had aroused in the boys' minds.

" Yes, but who are these people ? " demanded
Frank.

" How did you get here ? " chimed in Harry.

" And who may Black Bart be ? " was Billy's con-
tribution.

"And what is that funny pot with a pipe on the
top of it over there ? " concluded Lathrop.

" One at a time, mates, — one at a time or you'll
swamp mq," cried Ben, getting back a little of his
easy-going manner; "wall, now, first of all, I am
Black Bart."

"What?*' was the amazed chorus.



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 101

" Sure," was the reply, " but I've reformed now,
jhipmates, so don't be afeard; but the boys here still
call me by the old name."

" Well, go on, Black Bart," said Frank, smiling
at the idea of good-natured Ben's ever having owned
such a ferocious name.

" Wall," drawled Ben, " I got here in the Squeegee
after I had seen from the Carrier Dove a man snoop-
ing around our fire and heard the old * Hoo-hoo ' cry
— the owl hail, you know."

The boys nodded.

" We heard it in the jungle before we were sur-
rounded," said Frank.

" That gave me a queer idea — the hearing of the
old cry did " — went on Ben — " that there might be
some of my friends hereabout. I had reason to
know they were in this part of the country, for after
they were driven out of Tennessee by the govern-
Snent a lot of them came down here into the
*glades."

" Driven out by the government ? " echoed Frank.

" Sure," was the easy reply, " and now to answer
your last question — that thing my young shipmate
Lathrop calls a ' funny pot ' is a whisky still and



102 BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE.

these folks you see around us are moonshiners.
There's a price on the head of most every one of
them/' concluded Ben.

The boys looked their questions. Their amaze-
ment prevented them speaking.

" Yes," continued Ben in a low voice, " most of the
older ones has dropped a * revenue ' at one time or an-
other. Poor devils, if you'd ever seen the way they
were hounded you maybe wouldn't blame 'em SG
much."

" Were you ever a moonshiner, Ben ? " asked
Lathrop in an awed tone.

Ben winked with a wink that spoke volumes.

" Say a friend of the moonshiners, younker, and
you'll be near it," he replied. " I used to keep a kind
of traveling store to help the boys out."

From which the boys gathered that at one period
of his adventurous career the versatile Ben had been a
" runner " of moonshine whisky — as the man is called
who, at great risks, carries the poisonous stuff into the
outer world from the secret mountain stills where it is
made. The coincidence of Ben meeting his old friends
on the island was after all not so remarkable as it
seemed. Since the government has run most of the



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 103

moonshiners out of the Tennessee and North CaroHna
mountains hundreds of them have taken refuge in the
keys and among the 'glades where their product finds
B ready market among the Seminoles — who gladly
destroy themselves with " whyome " as they call the
product of the illicit stills.

The boys soon found out that it was one of the
moonshiners who had tried to get Frank's revolver
from under his pillow while he slept — not with intent
to do him any harm but because the sight of the
weapon earlier in the evening while they had been
singing round the camp-fire — watched as it now apF
peared by a hundred keen eyes — had excited his desire
to own it. The mystery of the motor-boat that kid-
napped poor Pork Chops, however, was in no wise
cleared up, and as the boys and Ben sat down to a
meal of yellow corn pone, broiled wild hog, pom-
pano, fried plantain and a sort of orange preserve,
to which they did ample justice, the subject occupied
most of their thoughts and conversation. As they ate
the moonshiners shyly watched them with their wild,
hunted eyes. They refused to sit down to eat with the
party of adventurers, but flitted about evidencing
much interest at the boys' table manners and their



104 BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE.

plain embarrassment at having no other table utensils
but their fingers.

The meal concluded, Ben lit his pipe and gave him-
self up to after-dinner contemplation. The boys
v^andered about the camp unchecked. The moon-
shiners seemed even disposed to be friendly, in an
offish sort of way, after Ben's endorsement of the
boys. One of them approached them with a pannikin
full of the colorless stuff from the still. He explained
that they distilled it from fields of cane they had in an-
other part of the island.

The very smell of the stuff sickened the boys, who
waved it away as politely as they could. Their refusal
did not ruffle the moonshiner, who drained the pan-
nikin off himself with evident relish although the por-
tion he had poured out had been intended to suffice
the entire quartette of boys. " Black Bart/' too, had
a little fallen off in the estimation of the moonshiners
because he also refused to touch their product. They
shook their heads over his negative reply to an in-
vitation to drink as men who regret the downfall of
a once upright man.

While the boys were wandering about the camp
their attention was attracted to a bottle suspended to



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 105

a pole outside the hut of one of the moonshiners. It
was swathed in ribbons and bits of bright tin and
seemed to be regarded as some sort of a costly or-
nament. This was partly explained by the fact that
the wife of the owner of the hut was an Indian woman
and was the person who had ornamented the bottle
for " big medicine." But a closer scrutiny revealed
to the boys a rolled piece of paper inside it on which
there was some faint writing. As it seemed to be In
English their curiosity was therefore considerably
aroused.

They questioned the woman closely about it. At
first they could get no satisfactory replies. At length,
however, after Frank had given her a bright silver
dollar — she refused a paper one — the squaw became
more talkative.

" Um-him come from o-tee (islands) long time go J'
She pointed to the westward.

"The islands round Cape Sable?" asked Frank.

She seemed to understand, for she nodded.

" My man find him — he float," she grunted.

" Boys, this bottle was found afloat. This may be
a message from some poor fellow who :s cast away
on the Ten Thousand Islands," exclaimed Frank.



106 BOY AYIATOES ON SECEET SEEYICE.

The others looked skeptical

" Most of these bottle messages are fakes anyhow/'
said Billy, with an air of finality. But Frank was not
satisfied. He questioned the woman at greater
length. After a long, patient interrogation he found
that her husband, who was absent from the camp, had
been delivering a consignment of moonshine to a camp
of Seminoles in the wildest part of the 'glades and had
found the bottle off the mouth of the Shark River.
It had a tiny bit of red flannel tied round its neck as
if to attract attention to it. This decided Frank. No
joker would have gone to that trouble.

He secured the bottle from the squaw for what
seemed to him in his eagerness a ridiculously small
amount, while she in her turn thought the young Hot-
ka-tee (white man) must be crazy to give so much
for it, although to be sure, she esteemed it a valuable
possession.

With a heavy stone Frank cracked the neck off his
purchase and eagerly shook out the note it contained.
What he expected to find even he scarcely knew, but
the bottle and its hidden message had appealed
strongly to the boy's nature, — in which there was a
strong dash of imaginative mingled with the practical



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 107

sense that had enabled him to carry so many adven-
tures to a successful issue.

The paper was crumpled up and it took a good
deal of smoothing out before Frank could read the
few faintly pencilled lines that were on its surface.
After much puzzling, however, he made out :

" Th-y a tak - - g m -/' then there was a

long blank that exposure had obliterated. The next

legible words were : *' to the 'glades. stole -

ret of ite. Send help.

C p - - n, U. S. N.

For a few seconds the full significance of the words
did not penetrate Frank's brain. The gaps puzzled
him and he did not pay much attention to the general
significance of the screed. Suddenly, however, the
full meaning of his find fairly leaped at him from the
page.

The letter had been written by the missing Lieu-
tenant Chapin.

There could be no doubt of it. Reconstructed the
letter read :

" They are taking me into the 'glades. They stole
the secret of Chapinite. Send help. Chapin, U. S. N.

Wildly excited over his discovery Frank's shout



108 BOY AVIATOES ON SECRET SERVICE.

brought his companions round him in a minute.
Hastily he explained his find. The sensation it
created may be imagined. Here was the first definite
news of the missing man discovered by an extraordi-
nary chance in the camp of a band of outcast moon-
shiners.

"Where was this yere communication found?"
demanded Ben.

Frank explained where and when the squaw had
told him the moonshiner discovered the bottle. Ben
knitted his brows for a minute and then spoke with
decision.

" They took him into the 'glades up one of the
west-shore rivers," he exclaimed at length. " The
tides on this coast would never have drifted the bottle
round there. It must have come down the river,
maybe from the interior of the 'glades themselves, or
maybe he threw it overboard from the Mist when she
was wrecked."

At this moment there came a startling interruption.
About a dozen of the wild-looking moonshiners ap-
peared, dragging into the clearing a rumpled heap of
humanity whom the boys at once recognized as the
man they had caught eavesdropping in Washington,



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 109

and who had, as they believed, followed them to
Miami after failing to destroy the Golden Eagle at
White Plains.

The captive — who is known to our readers from his
signing of the message from Washington to Florida
as Nego — recognized in a flash that he was face to
face with the Boy Aviators.

For a fragment of time the group stood as though
carved from stone.



110 BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE.



CHAPTER X.



THE CAPTIVE S WARNING.



The captive was the first to break the picture.
With a violent wrench he freed himself of the arms
of his captors, while the boys gazed in dumb amaze-
ment at the unexpected encounter.

" What's this here buccaneer bein' a' doing of
now?" demanded Ben, after a few seconds.

" We 'uns caught him trying to scuttle you 'uns
canoes," explained one of the crackers, '' and we cal-
culate to have him decorating a tree-bough by sun-
down on our own account. We don't like live
strangers round here."

The face of the man we know as Nego grew as
yellow as parchment. There was little doubt from the
expressions of the moonshiners' faces that they were
quite capable of carrying out their threat. In fact a
murmur of approval greeted the cold-blooded pro-
posal. One man — a little short fellow with a tangle



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. Ill

of black whiskers that reached to his waist — even
pointed to a custard apple-tree that grew at the edge
of the clearing and remarked casually:

" He'd look uncommon well decorating that thar
tree I'm thinking/'

After the boys had made insistent demands to be
given the details of Nego's capture they were finally
informed that a group of the moonshiners, who had
been off wild-hog hunting, had been much surprised
to see the motor-boat manoeuvring off the point on
the far side of which the boys had beached the canoes.
They stealthily watched the two men who were in the
craft from the screen provided by the mangroves.
One of them — the man they had captured, — con-
tinually scanned the shore with a pair of field-glasses.

" They must have known we had left the sloop and
come in pursuit of us," exclaimed Frank and Harry
in one breath as the narrator reached this point of his
story.

After rounding the point it appeared that the
watchers, who had been sneaking along through the
undergrowth, saw Nego order the boat's head pointed
for the shore and when she was fairly close in, get
into a small dinghy that towed astern and come



112 BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE.

ashore at the spot where the canoes were lying. He
carried a small axe and was about to raise it and
destroy the craft when the crackers, with a startling
yell, burst out of the woods and made him a captive.
The other man must have seen his comrade's plight,
for he instantly headed the motor-boat aboxit and
giving her full speed vanished round the projection
on the coast of the island.

The boys' faces paled as a common thought flashed
across their minds. " What if the two men had
visited the sloop and scuttled her or destroyed the
Golden Eagle II f "

Harry was the first to voice their fears. Frank's
answer, however, gave the adventurers a gleam of
hope.

" That occurred to me, Harry," he replied, " but,
on thinking it over, I think it is more likely that they
planned to destroy the canoes before attacking the
Carrier Dove, as with the small craft stove in they
would be able to work without fear of our paddling
back and surprising them."

They agreed that this was a reasonable theory and
turned their attention to the captive who stood de-
fiantly with folded arms and a sneering expression on



BOY AVIATOKS ON SECRET SERVICE. 113

his dark face. He looked very different from the
well-dressed man who had first attracted their atten-
tion in the dining-room at the Hotel Willard, but he
was unmistakably the same despite the fact that now
his chin was covered with a heavy stubble and he
vvore rough clothes and a dark blue flannel shirt.

" Who are you ? " demanded Frank finally.

The dark man raised his eyebrows and as he did so
the boys noticed at once the cause of his peculiar ex-
pression. The man's eyes were almost almond-shaped,
dark and malevolent looking — the eyes of an Oriental.
Combined with his dark yellow skin they stamped
him at once as an unmistakable subject of the ruler
of the far Eastern power the agents of which the
Secretary of the Navy was certain, had kidnapped
Lieutenant Chapin and stolen the formula of his ex-
plosive. When he spoke it was in a rasping voice
that matched well his general appearance of sinister
energy.

"What if I should refuse to tell you?" he
grated.

" In that case you would be very foolish," rejoined
Frank, " you are now in the power of these men,
over whom we have some influence. If you will give



114 BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE.

us some information we will in return try to inter-
vene for you, notwithstanding the fact that you have
tried to blow up our aerodrome and now we find you
here attempting to scuttle our canoes. What have
you done with the colored man you took from the
sloop last night?" he demanded suddenly.

" To that I shall simply reply that he is in good
hands/' was the rejoinder.

" Not if he's got anything to do with you, he ain't,
my fine fellow," put in Ben indignantly. The man
looked at him with cold contempt.

" You may do with me what you will/' he said
proudly, " I shall not sue Americans for my liberty or
even my life/'

The boys were amazed at the cool audacity of the
man. With death staring him in the face, surrounded
by the cruel faces of men who would have no hesitancy
in killing him, he showed no more trace of emotion
than if he were still sitting eavesdropping in the Wil-
lard dining-room.

" We 'uns will find a way to make him talk," broke
-n one of the moonshiners, a big, powerful fellow.
* Here, Shadduck, heat up the gun-barrels."

The boys looked puzzled, but Ben realized at once



BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE. 115

the horrible thing the man contemplated. They meant
to brand the prisoner with the red-hot gun-barrels.

" Avast there," he cried, " none of that in this yere
ship. Fair play and all above board. If you want to
string up this fellow to the yard-arm I don't know, if
it wasn't for my friends here, that I'd say * no,' but
we ain't going to have no branding."

" Who are you to be giving orders ? " demanded
the man who had made the suggestion angrily and
leaning forward on his rifle, " I reckon we 'uns ain't
asking for your advice or figgering on taking it
either."

Several of the younger men miuttered, " That's
right — ^who's he to come here 'a ordering us about."


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Online LibraryWilbur LawtonThe boy aviators on secret service : or, Working with wireless → online text (page 5 of 15)