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´╗┐Title: Flying the Coast Skyways - Jack Ralston's Swift Patrol
Author: Newcomb, Ambrose
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Flying the Coast Skyways - Jack Ralston's Swift Patrol" ***

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                                 Flying
                           THE COAST SKYWAYS

                              Swift Patrol

                           BY AMBROSE NEWCOMB

                               Author of
                        TRACKERS OF THE FOG PACK
                        WINGS OVER THE ROCKIES
                        SKY PILOTS GREAT CHASE
                        THE SKY DETECTIVES
                        EAGLES OF THE SKY

                      THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING CO.
                                CHICAGO

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                            Copyright, 1931
                      THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING CO.

                            Made in U. S. A.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

                       I BY AIR-LINE TO ATLANTA
                      II THE CIPHER LETTER
                     III THE LEECH HANGS ON
                      IV PERK HAS AN ADVENTURE
                       V THEIR RUNNING SCHEDULE
                      VI BY THE SKIN OF THEIR TEETH
                     VII ON THE AIR-LINE TO CHARLESTON
                    VIII SHIPS PASSING IN THE NIGHT
                      IX WHEN THE DAWN CAME
                       X READY TO STRIKE
                      XI WHERE WAR ONCE BROKE OUT
                     XII WHEN COUSINS GET IN TOUCH
                    XIII PICKING UP FACTS
                     XIV PERK GETS AN EARFUL
                      XV THE TRIAL SPIN
                     XVI ALL IN A DAY'S WORK
                    XVII SPINNING THE NET
                   XVIII BLACK WATER BAYOU
                     XIX THE LONELY CAMP
                      XX THE MOTHER SHIP
                     XXI THE MOTOR-TRUCK CARAVAN
                    XXII DOWN TO BUSINESS AT LAST
                   XXIII AT THE RENDEZVOUS
                    XXIV PERK RIDES IN THE GHOST BOAT
                     XXV A WELL OILED MACHINE
                    XXVI STRIKING OUT
                   XXVII THE LUCKLESS SPEEDBOAT
                  XXVIII READY FOR ANOTHER BLOW
                    XXIX JETHRO TAKES A HAND
                     XXX THE WIND-UP--CONCLUSION

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                        FLYING THE COAST SKYWAYS


                               CHAPTER 1

                          BY AIRLINE TO ATLANTA


"Big smoke dead ahead, partner!"

"I've been expecting to hear you announce that fact, Per--I mean Wally!"

"Kinder guess naow it mout be Birmingham, eh, what, Boss?"

"No other--you hit the nail on the head that time, Mr. Observer."

"Huh! my _native_ town, which I'm naow agwine to see fur the fust time."

"Better get out of the habit of making such crazy cracks, brother--what
if any one overheard you, and took a notion in his head you might be
somebody other than just a Down-in-Dixie product from Alabama,--raised
in the North, where you acquired a whiff of the dialect of a Canuck--and
by name Wallace J. Corkendell, though generally answering to plain
_Wally_."

"Hot-diggetty-dig! that ere smoke cloud sure looks jest like an ole
peasoup fog-pack we done got lost in not so far back. By gravy! I doant
b'lieve we'll even git one squint at the pesky city as we fly over the
same!"

"I can easily see where I'm bound to have a lot of fun listening to you
trying to talk in three different lingoes, all mixed up in one great
mess--Yankee, your native brogue; Canadian patios, contracted while with
the Northwest Mounted Police; and now a pidgin English, such as a
Southern colored boy might use. I only hope such a mixture doesn't queer
the big game we've got laid out ahead for us, whatever its nature proves
to be."

"I er-_reckons_--_yeou_ says I gotter use that word right along naow,
'cause no Alabama white or black boy never does _guess_ anything--I
reckons, suh, I'll git a strangle-holt on the way a gen-u-ine cracker
keeps up his end o' a talkie--given a little time fo' practice."

"That begins to sound like the real stuff, comrade," observed Jack; and
despite the clamor of engine exhaust, and whirling propellers both of
them were able to hear every word uttered, simply because they were
wearing their usual earphone attachments, without which they never made
a flight. "I'm beginning to feel encouraged to believe you'll come
through with flying colors. There, we're directly over Birmingham, and
going strong to eastward."

"Huh! I'm right glad yeou done tole me so, suh," Perk hastened to reply,
doubtless with one of his usual chuckles; "'case all I kin make aout's a
black smudge o' smoke ahuggin' the ground, with a few church steeples
apokin' a finger through the same. So, there she lies, my own, my native
city! Ain't it affectin', though, ole pal, acomin' back like this, after
many years, an' discoverin' that same thick smoke fog asettled daown on
the dear old place? Gee whiz! I'm jest awonderin' whether us Southern
kids ever _did_ have a gen-u-ine ole swimmin'-hole in them _won_-derful
days, eh, what?"

When they were positively alone, and no danger of crafty eavesdroppers
picking up their words, the two cronies were pleased to extract a
certain amount of fun out of their assumed characters--for Jack Ralston
of course was also sailing under a _nom-de-guerre_, as well as his best
pal--with him the new name was "Rodman Warrington," and he was supposed
to be a rich and eccentric New York City sportsman, weary of the routine
of the Carrituck Sound shooting club to which he belonged, and ardently
desirous of exploring the various bays, sounds and twisting rivers along
the wild coast of North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia.

"To be sure they did, brother," Jack was saying, reassuringly, in reply
to the skeptical question propounded by his running mate; "if you stop
and think you'll remember how every American boy who grew up and
amounted to shucks was always getting a great thrill out of memories of
such a meeting-place, where all the boys took occasion to show off in
doing stunts with a diving board."

"Say, naow 'at we've left dear ole Birmingham in the rear, haow long
'fore we drop daown on Candler Field outside Atlanta?"

"Depends on what time we keep making," Jack informed him; "we're
speeding along at a hundred-and-twenty clip just now, with only two
motors working; and if there was any necessity for fetching it up to an
even hundred-and-fifty we could easily enough do the same--and then
some. I reckon we'll come in sight of Candler Field in about an
hour-and-a-half--the chart tells me it's something like one-fifty miles,
as the bee flies, between this Southern Pittsburgh and the Capital of
Georgia."

"Meanin' to stop over in Atlanta long, partner?" demanded Perk; who
apparently was not wholly advised of his leader's plans, as far as they
were matured, and as usual "wanted to know."

"Around twenty-four hours, possibly less, buddy," Jack explained. "We've
an appointment, made for us from Headquarters in Washington, to meet up
with a certain official connected with the Secret Service, who holds
forth in Atlanta--from him we'll receive a certain amount of
information, and be referred to another party, high in the secrets of
the Service in Charleston. When we jump off from that South Carolina
city we'll know all we're expected to carry out--what we've been called
east to accomplish. There, that's everything in a nutshell; I'm as much
in the dark as you, even though I reckon I've figured things out, if a
bit hazily, to tell the truth."

"We're goin' after some sort o' big game, I er-reckon, partner?" Perk
speculated, his manner making the remark seem like a question.

"No doubt about that, boy--they wouldn't have called for us to fly all
the way from San Diego, (with two necessary stops to prevent spies from
learning as to who we are, and why we're heading east) if it hadn't been
that some others in the Secret Service had played their innings--and
fallen asleep at the switch."

"Hot-diggetty-dig! I'd say that'd be a neat compliment they're givin'
us, ole hoss," Perk exulted; as enthusiastic as a boy over a Christmas
present of a brand new shiny pair of club skates. "Another thing I'd
like to hear tell 'baout, Ja--er, Mr. Warrin'ton, suh."

"As what, partner--you'll notice that I'm trying to call you all sorts
of chummy names--that's for the purpose of trying to forget I ever knew
you as Perk, or Gabe Perkiser. If you do the same there'll be less
chance of giving our game away; for if any kind of quick-witted spies
should hear us exchanging words they'd remember the real names of the
two sky detectives who were playing particular hob with gents who gave
Uncle Sammy the laugh. Now, I reckon you're referring to that letter I
had just before we lifted out ship at San Diego last night."

"Yeou said it, er-ole pal," replied Perk, catching his treacherous
tongue just in the nick of time. "I kinder--reckoned it mout acome from
the gent over in San Diego, who's been aour boss since we started
operations 'long the Coast."

"A fair enough guess, brother," Jack told him; "because that's the
official who gave us the order to break away, and what to do on the
skyway east. There was also some interesting information concerning the
job we finished up some weeks back; and I meant to hand that over to
you; but somehow failed to connect."

"I'm right tickled to hear that, suh--fack is I'd begun to feel they
wasn't zactly treatin' us white, not sayin' as haow we'd done the
Service proud, the way we fetched Slim Garrabrant back after he'd broke
loose from the pen, an' started his ole tricks again."[1]

"Oh! they were quite enthusiastic about the success of our work, after
others had fallen down on the job--that is, as warm as those cold people
at Headquarters ever do get, it being against their principles to over
praise those working under them, for fear of giving the poor guys the
big-head. You can read the letter before I destroy it, brother. The Big
Boss in L. A. also wrote that Slippery Slim had been safely returned to
his former cell in Leavenworth, and with an added sentence; so, as
they'll watch him closer from now on, there's small chance of our ever
running up against him after this."

"Well, he was a good guy when it came to tacklin' big games, I'll tell
the whole world," observed the satisfied Perk; who again busied himself
with his reliable binoculars, eagerly surveying the checkered landscape
a mile or more under the bottom of their fuselage; and which continued
to prove of considerable interest to Perk, this being actually the first
time he had ever passed over that section of the Southland, despite his
absurd claim to having spent his boyhood days in Birmingham, Ala.

The time drifted along, with their speed undiminished. Pine woods,
tracts of corn, cotton, tobacco; acres of fruit trees, pecan groves,
even sugarcane patches--all these signs of the Southland he kept seeing
as the miles flew past.

"I kinder--er-reckons as haow we've done shot past the dividin' line
'tween Alabam 'nd Georgia, boss," he presently announced, with a grand
air of superior knowledge; "case I jest seen a town squatted on a river,
an' painted on the roof o' a house was a name, fo' the benefit o' fliers
like weuns--Tallapoosa she read, which tells me that must a been the
river Tallapoosa--all bein' 'cross the line in Harlson County, Georgia,
('cordin' to my map here.) If that's correct we right naow ain't more'n
fifty miles from aour goal--less'n half an hour yet to fly."

"You are hot on the trail, comrade," Jack assured him. "Keep your eyes
skinned to pick up another smoke cloud dead ahead, which will be the
first sign of our nearing Atlanta, the New York City of the South."

Perk continued to watch and wait, until finally he gave a half
suppressed whoop, to add exultantly:

"It's a _big_ smoke smudge, all right, buddy; so we're rushing daown on
aour goal like a river afire; which pleases a feller called Wally okay,
yeou bet!"

-----

Footnote 1:

  See "Trackers of the Fog Pack."



                               CHAPTER II

                           THE CIPHER LETTER


Jack did not seem to be at all surprised when his best pal made this
abrupt announcement; but then he always kept himself prepared for coming
events.

"I was expecting to hear you say that, buddy;" he told his mate; "for
the past fifty miles on, our string up to date had about run through. I
reckon we'll be on foot before many more minutes. Get the airport
yet--Wally?"

"Sure do, and right naow I kin glimpse a big--looks like our Fokker,
agoin' to drop daown."

"Yes, possibly belongs to either of the latest lines using Candler Field
for a base--Eastern Air Transport, for passengers and mail; and Southern
Air Fast Express--covering the route between Los Angeles and
Atlanta--both now-a-days carrying capacity loads, the papers have been
saying."

"Shucks! takes yeou to git things daown pat, Big Boss," Perk went on to
comment. "Where do we go from here, Mister?"

"After we've made arrangements for housing our crate," explained Jack,
good-naturedly--although he had told his chum the same thing at least
twice before the present occasion--Perk could be so forgetful, he
remembered--"we'll make straight for the Henry Grady Hotel, where we'll
find a letter in code awaiting us, unless there's been a nasty hitch in
the arrangements."

"But--yeou said we had to meet up with some gent here, partner?"

"That's right, too, Wally; but only after I've decoded the letter from
Headquarters, which is going to put us wise about the nature of our
present big adventure. No great hurry to get moving on, as far as I know
at present; so it might be we can hang around Atlanta a day or more. But
both of us will have to play our parts, and fend off any too inquisitive
newspaper men. I've learned that the Atlanta reporters are keen on
picking up every scrap of aviation news possible, so's to make up a
story that will go well. We shun that sort of notoriety, don't forget,
brother, as the devil does holy water."

They were by this time circling Candler Field, which seemed to be
bustling with feverish activity--planes of various types were either
landing, or else starting up; while several could now be seen cruising
at sublime heights, either being put through their paces by pilots, or
what was more likely carrying excursionists in the shape of "sandbags,"
greenhorn air holiday makers, out to get an experience that would give
them a superior advantage over friends who had never as yet gone aloft.

Jack made an exceptionally clever landing, and then turned over the
stick to his mate, as if eager to make it appear that Perk was the
_real_ article when it came to being the head pilot of the multi-motored
cabin Fokker, that had not the least sign of a name, nor yet a number to
identify it.

A number of men came running toward the rather retired spot where Jack
had purposely come down. Leading them was a little whipper-snapper
specimen, in a rather loud checkered suit, who gave all the recognized
signs of being a hustling, live-wire newspaper man, always on the scent
for some unusual happening such as could be turned into a thrilling
story,--such keen investigators are to be found at nearly every airport
worth while, eager to satisfy the curiosity of the multitude of readers
who are developing air mindedness at a rapid rate.

"Greetings gents;" he started in to say, with a cheerful grin on his
sharp features, and holding a pencil in one hand while he had a pad of
blank paper all ready in the other. "If you would kindly give me a few
facts connected with your identity, where you jumped off, whither bound,
and so forth the many readers of my paper would be glad to extend to you
a warm welcome to the Gate City of the South."

Jack gravely shook hands with the diligent worker, and obligingly fed
him a little cock-and-bull story, giving the names he and Perk had
recently taken upon themselves, and merely stating they were from Texas,
bound to Atlanta on private business connected with aviation circles. He
did this to quiet the news gatherer, until they could dispose of their
ship, and get started for the hotel in a taxi to be hired near by.

Jack knew the breed to a dot, and felt confident the lively chap would
fill in enough imaginary details to make an interesting account; so that
was that, and he was at liberty to turn to the one in authority with
whom arrangements could be made for parking the big Fokker in a
convenient hangar at so much per diem.

Of course wise Jack had seen to it that never the slightest clue could
be discovered by the shrewdest spy, to indicate what these air travelers
really had in view--he was quite willing that such a sneaky investigator
examine the ship from one end to the other, and welcome--the gravest
danger of discovery would lie in some indiscreet remark on the part of
Perk; but even this did not give Jack any considerable worry.

They were soon on their way into the heart of wide-awake, bustling
Atlanta, and presently brought up at the noted hostelry, to which they
had been directed to proceed.

Jack, after dismissing the taxi, followed the hotel attendant who had
seized upon the two bags they had with them. He registered without
ostentation; and no sooner had the clerk taken a look at their names,
when about to assign them a double room on the third floor, than he
remarked casually:

"A letter waiting for you, Mr. Warrington," and after shuffling a pack
of envelopes swiftly, he handed Jack a registered letter, bearing the
Washington postmark across the stamps.

Jack carefully deposited the same in an inner pocket; then a minute
later they both followed a bellboy into the elevator and ascended.

When finally they found themselves behind a closed door Perk turned an
eager face upon his comrade, as he remarked in a low tone, with a
nervous look all around, as though half expecting to discover some
eavesdropper peeping out from a closet, or from behind an easy-chair:

"She kim okay, seems like, Ja--er Mr. Warrington--then things they're
keepin' on the move, an' we're a step closer to aour field o' operations
than when we started aout, eh, what, suh?"

"Lock the door, brother--I'm going to get busy decoding this letter,
after which you'll know _everything_. Now settle down in that chair, and
give me ten minutes of time for the job--possibly a bit more, since I
see it's rather a long communication."

Perk followed these directions out, and continued to watch the other as
a terrier might hover over a hole in the kitchen wall, from which he
expected a rat to thrust out his nose at any second.

Jack took a little more time than he had reckoned on; but, being expert
at reading the secret cipher code adopted by the Government, in the end
he had mastered the entire contents of the letter of instructions.

"Pull over this way a little, partner," he told the feverishly waiting
Perk. "I want to lower my voice while explaining what it's all about;
and we just can't be too careful, since walls sometimes have ears
especially in this day of the hidden dictograph. To begin with," he went
on to add, "we seem to have guessed fairly well that it was bound to
have some connection with the smuggling business along the Atlantic
seaboard, between Norfolk and Savannah."

Perk's grin was enormous at hearing this.

"Didn't I jest _know_ that'd be aour job?" he chuckled, evidently vastly
pleased at having "hit the target in the bull's eye." "Ever since we
carried on so well daown in Floridy along back, I been 'spectin' Unc.
Sam'd root out same kinder game fur us to get busy on onct more."

"But this promises to be the biggest adventure we've ever tackled, bar
none, brother," Jack proceeded to explain. "This letter goes on to tell
what an enormous amount of unlawful stuff is being flooded on the
country through a powerful syndicate that's said to be backed by some
heavy unknown parties with unlimited capital at their control. Ours is
going to be the task of finding out who they are; and likewise throwing
a monkey-wrench into the smoothly running machinery by which they have
been cheating the Government revenue right along, getting bolder and
bolder, so that they virtually snap their fingers under Uncle Sam's
nose."

"Gee! that sounds fine to me, ole hoss," gurgled Perk, rubbing his hands
vigorously together as he spoke. "I jest kinder allers did yearn to
tackle things sech as had a tough reputation behind 'em. Course there's
been a wheen o' customs men atryin' to squash this combine--it's allers
thataways, seems like!"

"Yes, looks as if the whole business is running true to form, brother,"
Jack further admitted. "The Chief candidly tells me they have been
laying all sorts of clever traps for many moons, only to have these
skip-by-night lads give them the laugh. He hopes we'll meet up with
better luck."

"If so be it's a fair question, partner, haow do they reckon this
traffic she's bein' kerried on, to slip by the fast customs patrol boats
an' land the cargoes safe an' sound?"

"That's where the crux of the whole affair seems to come in," Jack
thrilled the other by saying. "A few craft from Bimini have been
overhauled, and seized, though as a rule the crew always managed to slip
away, jumping overboard close in among the reeds, and disappearing in
the brush along the river bank. But these occasional seizures never made
even a dent in the immense operations, the Chief admits."

"How come then, buddy--bet yeou a cookey 'gainst thirty cents they got a
line o' flyin' boats doin' the business."

"My stars! how wonderfully keen you are about guessing things; for
that's just what this letter admits; and now we know why they called on
us to get in the game--we seem to have made a big hit with the Chief, on
account of how we managed to use our wings, and beat the Old Nick at his
own game of high-spy."

"Ain't it great, though, to know they do 'preciate _somethin'_ we've
kerried aout? But what's the idee o' aour headin' fur Charleston after
we kick aout o' this burgh, eh, partner?"

"There are a lot of things to be said and done before we can break into
the game; and we'll get fully posted by the Government agent in
Charleston. Besides, we've got to handle another kind of ship,--in fact
an amphibian, capable of dropping down on water as well as on land, and
taking off the same way."

"Glory be! naow ain't that fine?" Perk exclaimed, ecstatically. "I never
yet had anythin' to do with them crocodile type o' boats, an' never
'spected to; so this same is a big s'prise, as well as a pleasure--thank
the Chief fur me whenever yeou're writin', baby."

"Okay, brother," came the ready answer. "Fortunately it happens that I'm
somewhat familiar with the handling of that type of boat. Besides, we're
under orders not to hurry things along at all--to take our own time, and
get fully in touch with our new craft before starting on the job for
keeps."

"Air we meanin' to handle this layout all by aour lonesome?" Perk
questioned.

"As a rule, yes; but we are also expected to call upon certain skippers
of fleet patrol boats to lend a hand. He's given a list of four rum
chasers whose commanders will recognize the signal we give, and place
their craft at our disposal as long as we wish; so you see we're to
really be in command of a squadron, if the necessity arises. I'm meaning
to take down the names of the four customs boats before I destroy this
illuminating letter, according to instructions."

Then Jack went on to speak of other things the letter had contained,
with the intention of posting Perk regarding the immensity of the task
being given over to their handling.

"He described this wide-stretching conspiracy to smash the Coast Guard
service as a species of octopus, reaching out its myriad of arms, so as
to cover the entire coast line--deliveries have been accomplished with
almost clock-like regularity, and the custom service is being made a
laughing stock among those in the secret. No wonder the Chief is feeling
hot under the collar; for I reckon there never as yet has been a time
like the present, when all the best laid plans of his most skillful and
bravest men have gone on the rocks. I've a feeling that if we manage to
give this big conspiracy its death blow, there isn't a favor too great
for the Boss to grant us."

"What's bein' kerried in mostly, partner--does he tell us that?"

"He mentions expensive liquor, of course, as the principal contraband,"
Jack informed him "but narcotics as well have been coming, in unknown
quantities, straight from China, also some country in the Balkans,
Turkey being suspected. Then there are diamonds, and other precious
stones that carry a heavy duty; laces; expensive Havana cigars from
Cuban factories; and even Chinese immigrants, so eager to land in the
country of Opportunity and dollars they are willing to pay enormous sums
for transportation, with a safe landing guaranteed."

"The more the merrier, sez I," snapped Perk. "Yeou was asayin' a bit ago
it's b'lieved they done got rafts o' spies pickin' up secrets o' the
customs service, so's to trick the boats into startin' aout on false
leads, that leaves the landin' places unguarded--mebbe, naow, ole scout,
yeou even goes so far as to reckon that slick newspaper gink might be
jest sech a peek-a-boo boy, aout to put the kibosh on aour fine game."

"You never can tell, buddy; if you meet him again play the deaf and dumb
racket, which is the only safe plan."



                              CHAPTER III

                           THE LEECH HANGS ON


"Hot-diggetty-dig! seems like the more we poke into this here business,
the warmer it gets!" Perk exploded, banking on the safety of their hotel
room to keep his language from being heard.

"Oh! like as not all this is only the opening gun of our new campaign,"
was his companion's cool comment. "Later on, when we find ourselves neck
deep in the mixup, you'll be looking back, and smiling at what you're
saying now. From present indications I'd say this affair is giving
promise of being the biggest case we ever had the nerve to tackle."

"The bigger they get the further they falls, partner, doan't make any
mistake 'bout that ere fack," said Perk, grimly. "Huh! sometimes I get
to thinkin' what happened up in that Hole-in-the-Wall outlaw retreat,
and I'm awonderin' what ever did come o' that gang after we kicked off
with aour prisoner."[2]

"Which reminds me I didn't think to tell you _all_ the news that was
contained in that letter from Los Angeles--want to hear it now,
brother?"

"Sure do, Mister," snapped Perk, greedily; "it'll amuse me while I'm
awashin' up here in aour neat little bathroom."

Jack followed him into the next compartment, evidently so that he could
keep his voice down to a low pitch.

"Something like a week later," he told the listening Perk, "they took
off in the biggest crate they could commandeer into the service--half a
dozen fighting men, heavily armed, and prepared for anything that might
come along. Good weather favored them, and they came in sight of the
valley among the high cliffs in the daytime.

"After circling, and lowering their altitude, they could not see the
least thing to indicate the presence of a solitary human being; so
finally the pilot set them down exactly on the smooth landing field the
gang used when working their old wreck of a ship, carrying the packages
of counterfeit notes out to distribute the same to different stations;
and fetching back assorted supplies, including the best of grub.

"The place was abandoned, and looked like an earthquake had struck that
particular quarter--the mouth of the pass leading into the wonderful
valley was filled thirty feet high with a mass of rocks, thrown down by
the tremendous force of the bomb you exploded when we cleared out; and
some of the cabins and huts had been knocked to flinders by the men in
their rage at being kicked out of their hidden retreat. Their old plane
too, was scattered all around the field.

"The Government agents found the plates from which the spurious notes
had been printed, and destroyed all but a portion, which they wished to
forward to Washington for inspection by the Chief and his staff. Then
they amused themselves by climbing to a five hundred foot ceiling, and
making a target of the hut where the work had been carried on. Our
friend in L.A. went on to assure me a clever hit by a bomb had scattered
that squatty building we used to watch by the hour, to the four winds;
and the printing press too was smashed to useless atoms by the force of
the explosion."

"Bully! bully!" Perk was saying, joyously, proudly, through the soap
lather he had accumulated on his face; "then we sure did a natty piece
o' work up there in that God-forsaken neck o' the woods. Seems like life
has got _some_ bright spots in the framework arter all, an' ain't jest a
dinky fogbelt like I sometimes find myself b'lievin'."

"It has its ups and downs we've got to remember, partner," advised
sensible Jack; "especially along the risky line of business we're
engaged in. So we've got to take things as they come, wet weather mixed
with sunny days, and just keep on doing our duty as we find it."

"Huh gue--reckon we gotter jest grin an' bear it," added Perk, rubbing
his face and neck with the course huck towel, as he loved to do on
occasion. "But haow long do we stick here in Atlanta tell me, Boss?"

"For one night only, if things work as I hope they will," said Jack,
promptly enough, showing that his plan of campaign was beginning to
shape up.

"Mind if I step aout for a little while, partner; I done forgot to lay
in some tooth-paste, an' I'm kinder used to havin' a tube o' the same
along with me, yeou know, suh?"

Perk was the possessor of an unusually fine set of teeth, of which he
was inordinately proud, as Jack had occasion to know full well; so that
this request on his part seemed perfectly natural.

"Certainly not, _Wally_," Jack told him, purposely emphasizing the name,
as if to keep the other from forgetting how necessary it was to be
forever on his guard, so as not to be caught napping. "Like as not
you'll find a drugstore handy to the hotel, and can get what you want
easily enough. I'd rather you didn't go far away--a walk might seem like
a fine thing; but when it's taken I want to be along, as two pair of
eyes and ears might be better than one, to ward off danger."

"That's okay, Mister," came the cheery reply, as Perk stepped over to
pick up his hat; "an' it gives me a warm feelin' 'raound my heart to
hear yeou say that same--I'm never so happy as when goin' into action,
yeou know right well. When I was over in France, helpin' run that
sausage balloon we used for observation purposes, it allers gimme a
wonderful thrill jest to see six Heinie ships takin' off, intendin' to
ketch us guys 'fore we could drop to solid earth, an' knock the stuffin'
aout o' us with some o' their consarned bombs, which they sure knowed
haow to manufacture to beat the Frenchies all holler. So-long Ja--Mr.
Warrington I'll be back agin in a jiffy."

Just the same it was fully fifteen minutes before Perk again showed up;
and Jack found himself beginning to worry when the door opened, with
Perk's grinning face exposed. Jack noticed that after the other entered
the room his first act was to most carefully _lock the door_; and there
was something significant about this action, so foreign to Perk's usual
carelessness, that the other was forced to believe something or other
must have happened while he was out of the hotel, to render Perk so
solicitous.

"Got your tooth paste, did you, boy?" he asked.

"Easy enough," quoth Perk, still with that quizzical expression on his
sun-tanned, homely face. "Found there was a drugstore right handy; an'
seein' I was thirsty I jest stopped over to pick up a drink o' soda an'
cream. That's where, things begins to happen, yeou see."

"Oh! they did," echoed Jack, raising his eyebrows as he watched the face
of the other, and noting how a grave look had succeeded the humorous
one. "Suppose you tell me what it was came along while you were enjoying
your soda?"

"Well, yeou see, partner," commenced Perk; "there happens to be a gink
astandin' close by, which I aint paid any 'tention to, bein' wrapped up
in my own affairs jest then. I'd raised the glass to take a fust sup
when I done heard somebody say, right by my ear seemed like: 'Goin' to
stay with us in Atlanta enny length o' time, Mister Corkendall, suh?'"

Perk evidently had a little streak of the dramatic in his composition,
for he stopped just then, and eyed his companion eagerly, as if tickled
to know his communication had given the usually cool Jack a bit of a
start.

"Oh! you don't say, brother?" the other was remarking; "then after all
the party at the soda counter wasn't quite a stranger to you seeing he
evidently had learned your name?"

"Darned if I kin make aout partner, haow he ever got wise to the fack,
so's to call me Mister Corkendall."

"Go on, brother--what did you do then?" demanded Jack.

"Huh! I was a bit flustered, yeou see," explained Perk, "'cause I'd got
a side squint at his mug; I reckoned I needed 'bout half a minute to git
a grip on my senses; so I tilted up my glass, an' swallered a few times;
and say it 'peared to me like a thousand things flashed through my poor
ole brain like a stroke o' lightnin'."

"Did you answer him?" demanded Jack, frowning.

"I sure did," came unhesitating the reply; "'case I jest had to. Yeou
see, partner, he'd been astandin' thar right along, an' in course he
done heard me order my drink; so if I tried to play that dumb trick, as
haow yeou tole me, he'd aknown things must a been a bit mixed, an' the
fat'd be in the fire. Did I do the right thing Boss, tell me?"

Jack smiled amiably again.

"That was certainly one time your mother wit _didn't_ fail you,
comrade," he told the other. "Now, go ahead and let me know what
followed; because I've already guessed the man at your elbow must have
been that Smart Aleck newspaper reporter we last saw looking over our
ship so suspiciously."

-----

Footnote 2:

  See "Trackers of the Fog Pack."



                               CHAPTER IV

                         PERK HAS AN ADVENTURE


Perk might have been observed swelling out his chest somewhat, as though
this praise on the part of his ally went straight to his head like rich
wine.

"I done tole him it was all up to yeou, Mister Warrington--seein' as
haow I was jest a humble air pilot aworkin' fur yeou---we might be in
Atlanta a hull week, mebbe so, fur all I knowed."

"That was another clever thing for you to say, brother," Jack assured
him, only too ready to praise when praise was due; "it might serve to
throw him off the scent; but no matter how long or how short our stay
chances to be, I've a hunch we're bound to see more than we want of that
nosey chap. Like most of his breed he means to find out all he can,
either to make a story that will give his readers a fine kick; or on the
other hand, if he does happen to be one of that syndicate's paid spies,
to learn who and what we really are, and why we're in Atlanta, coming
out of the west--for I reckon he saw our first approach this same day,
and jotted that fact down in his mind."

"He done tried hard to start me talkin' 'baout yeour business, so I jest
had to tell him as haow yeow was on'y sportin' fo' sport, an' undecided
whether to go on daown to hunt black bears in the canebrakes o' Ole
Louisiana; or else strike aout fo' Currituck Sound on the coast, to git
a whack at the wild geese an' swans as kin be shot on the club
preserves."

"You couldn't have done better any way you tried, brother," warmly
commended Jack, whacking the other on his back, and causing him to
fairly glow with satisfaction. "Only I hope he didn't catch on about
that three distinct language business I was speaking about not so long
ago."

Perk shook his head briskly in the negative.

"I was mighty keerful not to say _too_ much, partner," he continued;
"with him afirin' questions at me like the rat-tat-tat o' a machine-gun.
So I pays fo' my soda, an' tells the youngster I gotter hurry back to
where yeou was awaitin' fo' me to unpack the bags; an' with that I
leaves him right whar he was standin', lookin' at me outen them sharp
eyes o' hisn like he'd bore into me with a gimlet, so's to know
ever'thing I had in my head. That sap is certain sure the mos'
uncomfortable bird to run across when yeou got a secret up yeour sleeve,
I ever did tackle."

"I can well believe you, brother," observed the relieved Jack. "Chances
are you've left him in something of an uncertain frame of mind; but as
he's built on the pattern of a bloodhound, he isn't meaning to give up
the scent as long as we're within his reach. That forces me to decide on
skipping from Atlanta as soon as possible, for he's marked
'dangerous--keep out.'"

"What's next on the programme, Mister?" asked Perk, satisfied to have
come out of his little adventure with credit, and nothing like reproof
from the pal whose good opinion he coveted so much.

"I must leave you here for an hour or so, and keep my appointment with
Mr. Justice, although I hardly expect him to give me anything like the
full details of the work ahead of us--that must wait until we get to
Charleston, when everything will be laid before us; together with coast
charts issued by the Government from surveys carried out by experienced
geographers, and which we can rely upon to the fullest extent."

"I done reckons then, partner, yeou got yeour plans fixed up in case he
is alayin' fo' yeou somewhars, eh, what?"

Jack chuckled as if amused.

"I understand how you're referring to our enterprising young scribe on
one of Atlanta's lively papers; and especially vigilant in connection
with air travel matters at Candler Field--nothing would please me more
than to take him on, and give him a whirl or so. I think I can play my
part as a millionaire sportsman to the dot, and give him a mouthful
that's apt to set him wondering more than ever. I might even invite him
to dine with us, say tomorrow evening at the Grady here, when he will be
at liberty to ask all the questions he wants about my love for outdoor
sports, and so on--that would be a good joke on the slick lad, since
we'll be on our way east many hours before that time."

"Gosh all hemlock! but say, wouldn't that be rich, though; an' what
wouldn't I give to be close by, an' hear haow yeou stuffed the duffer,"
Perk went on to gush, surveying his companion with eyes that fairly
glowed with sincere admiration.

"Lock the door, and under no consideration allow any one to enter while
I'm away. Just say you're tremendously engaged, and can't be disturbed,
if that everlasting busybody shows up."

"Huh! jest trust me to lay the same aout if he gets too fresh," grunted
Perk with a menacing ring to his voice. "Course I wouldn't knock him any
what yeoud call physically, only shut him up, an' send him off to mind
his own business."

"When I come back we can have another little chin, for I promise to keep
you fully posted from now on, concerning everything connected with the
big game. After that we'll have a full dinner, and decide about pulling
out of Atlanta while the going is good."

"Tonight, does yeou mean, partner?" queried Perk, craftily.

"Possibly, yes," came the ready reply. "We'll take a look over the
afternoon _Journal_, and see what sort of flying weather is offered for
the next twelve hours; and if at all favorable we can make our plans
accordingly, so as to jump off before midnight. Candler Field is kept
fully lighted nights, with so many ships of all types coming and going,
on schedule and otherwise, that there'll be no difficulty about that
part of the deal."

"Huh! which makes me remember I done got a copy o' that same paper when
I was in the drugstore," explained Perk, pulling it out of his pocket as
he spoke; "so I kin be amusin' myself while yeou're gone. I'll suck
every bit o' weather information outen the paper, bet yeour boots, so's
to be all primed when yeou come back; it'll be suppertime 'baout then,
an' right naow I'm feelin' them grippin' pains daown below, sech as
allers warns me the fires they need stokin', so's to keep the engine
workin' full speed."

This arrangement pleased Jack perfectly; he realized how Perk was apt to
be more or less "fidgetty," and it was just as well he had something to
read while standing guard over their luggage, so as to keep his mind
from other subjects.

Jack waited outside for a brief space of time, and thus heard the key
being duly turned in the lock, which relieved him of any further anxiety
concerning the one left behind.

Perk, left to his own devices, settled down in an easy-chair to make
himself comfortable. Beginning with the first page he read everything
that had any promise of interest, applying himself particularly to such
items as covered aviation matters. As is the case in these enlightened
days of intense activity in air circles, he came upon a number of brief
articles along those lines, all of which he absorbed with deepest
interest.

Then for five or ten minutes he allowed himself to sit there, his mind
filled with the magnitude of aerial inventions that had been sprung on
the market within the last ten years; and marveled at the vast gap
separating the bustling present with those lean years when he was
serving his country over in France, attached to the observation corps,
with their clumsy sausage balloons that could be let soar at a limited
height, and then drawn down by rope and windlass when some enemy
threatened their safety.

Arousing himself presently Perk next busied himself in searching the
columns of his paper for the latest weather report, especially as
concerned the promises for flying craft.

Eventually he found what he was after, and read the report most eagerly.
To his delight it seemed to be favorable throughout the coming night, a
fact of considerable importance to all air mail pilots, as well as
others who were contemplating going aloft while the night lasted.

People passed the door of the room from time to time; and twice Perk had
an idea some one was fumbling at the lock; but concluded it might have
been some tenant of a neighboring room, either going out, or coming in,
for at least nothing suspicious followed, and he breathed easy again.

The hour had just about slipped by when he caught footsteps he knew
right well; as he listened he heard them stop before the locked door;
then came a light tap, and he caught Jack's voice:

"Wally, it's me--Warrington, you know!"

"Okay, suh!" sang out the one within, as he stepped over and turned the
key.

"How about it, partner--anything happened since I left?" Jack asked
softly, after he had again turned the key in the lock.

"Not any; suh--an' I ketched the weather report in the dinged paper,
which gives us the pleasin' information as haow it's bound to be halfway
decent this same night, with wind from the southwest up at three
thousand feet ceilin', which makes things look kinder promisin', I'd
say, suh."

"That settles it then, buddy; we'll get a move on, and climb out before
twelve. Might as well strike Charleston with as little delay as
possible, for we'll possibly have to hang around that place some time,
tuning up our new crate to know its possibilities. Besides, I've a
feeling this town wont be big enough to hold both us, and that cub of a
reporter, and keep him from whiffing some of our secrets with that
inquisitive nose of his."

Perk grinned.

"Strikes me, partner, yeou done run up against that nosey critter, same
like I done, aint that a fack, suh?"

Jack drew a card out of his vest pocket and tossed it on the table near
which the pair of them were just then seated.

"That's the card he pressed into my hand, with the name of his sheet on
the same. We've an appointment to dine with him here at the Grady
tomorrow night, when he will be at liberty to ask as many questions as
he pleases, connected with a rich sportsman's love for the game fields."

"Hot-diggetty-dig!" spluttered Perk, fairly aghast; but without waiting
for him to say another word Jack continued, with a chuckle:

"Always providing we are still in Atlanta at that time. Yes, I gave him
a nice little run for his money--led him on interesting journeyings, and
along pleasant ways. He fell for it all, as far as I could judge; and
probably I managed to get the fish well hooked; but they're a slippery
bunch, these newspaper chaps, and can give the best detective points, to
beat him in the end in solving the great mystery. I'm leery of the whole
tribe, partner--you never can tell whether you're stringing them, or
they are playing you, giving you line so as to bring you up with a round
turn eventually. We shake off Atlanta's dust by midnight, brother--and
that goes!"



                               CHAPTER V

                         THEIR RUNNING SCHEDULE


"Hot-diggetty-dig! What a big snap I shore missed by not bein' jest
'raound the corner, alistenin' while yeou was afeedin' that tall yarn to
'im, what's the name o' that trail hound what builds up thrillin' yarns
fo' the readers o' his paper to swaller?" and after taking a look at the
card still lying on the table Perk continued: "'James Douglas Keating,'
huh! well, Jimmy, mebbe so yeou didn't run up 'gainst a buzz saw when
yeou tackled aour--er, Mr. Rodman Warrington."

"Wait and see," cautioned Jack; "for all I can tell that lad may have
been feeding me some slick medicine when he seemed to fall for my talk
so readily. I'm not going to feel dead certain I scotched the busybody
until we've left Atlanta and Candler Field well in our wake, with
nothing happening to prove a give-away."

"Yeou would, partner--it'd be jest like yeou to say 'mebbe' till things
they got ab-so-lutely certain--never yet knew yeou to jump at
conclusions, so I done reckon yeou was really born to be a scientist.
When do we eat, I'd like to know; things are agettin' near the danger
line with me, right naow, an' there's a 'cry from Macedonia, come on an'
dine.'"

"Let's go," Jack told him, reaching out for his head covering; for they
had both doffed their flying clothes before quitting the ship, and were
in ordinary garments that would not cause comment or unusual notice on
the streets of any city.

Over a very bountiful dinner they continued to "talk shop" in low tones.
Since their table was a bit removed from any other, thanks to Jack
tipping the head waiter bountifully, with the orchestra playing softly,
it seemed almost an impossibility for any hostile ear to catch a single
word they uttered.

Thus Perk was put in possession of further valuable information with
regard to the probable field of their forthcoming adventure, Jack having
managed in his customary clever fashion to get hold of reading matter
covering the entire romantic coast country between Norfolk and Savannah.

"It seems to be a wonderful section, just teeming with queer people and
equally strange sights; and for one I'm a bit eager to look things over.
Just the same, buddy, neither of us must forget even a minute the main
object that's calling us into the coast skyways. We've got a man's size
job on our hands, and some mighty smart people, as well as
devil-may-care ones, to pack up against, so that a slip is apt to set us
back, and for all we know even cost us our lives. I'm saying that not to
scare any one, but because I've posted myself on the game, and know to
what vile ends some of these dicks would go if they thought men of our
trade were holding them under surveillance."

"Well, so be it, partner doant forgit I've heard the whine o' lead pills
close to my ears many a time, so it's an ole story with me!"

"When we manage to get in touch with one or more of the swift Coast
Guard patrol boats things will begin to look brighter---as though there
might be something doing; but that wont come along for quite some time.
We've got to get things down pat, know all about the regular routine
movements of those swift airships, and then begin to cut into their
number--first one must mysteriously disappear, and then a second,
possibly even a third. By that time we'll have certainly thrown a pretty
hefty scare into the bunch, and things are bound to slacken, more or
less."

"Speed the day, sez I, partner caint come any too quick to suit me, an'
that's no lie either," saying which valorous, fire-eating Perk again
attacked his supper; for by this time they had reached the dessert
stage, and were discussing prime apple pie, with the richest of thick
cream to top it off, always one of Perk's favorites, when given his
choice.

It will be noticed that when off duty these minions of the Secret
Service were apt to live like kings, and with reason; for often they had
to put up with scanty rations, and poor at that, when far removed from
restaurant fare, and forced to live off the country. "First a feast, and
then a famine," Perk was accustomed to saying when Jack mildly
reproached him for giving so much thought to what he usually designated
as "the eats."

Perk would have liked very well to have spent an hour or so at some
theatre or other, and had even given a few hints about a screen play at
the Paramount but met with no encouragement from his side partner.

"Best for us not to make any sort of an exhibit of ourselves while we're
in close quarters with that write-up newspaper chap," he told Perk, who,
realizing that Jack meant just what he said, allowed the subject to
drop.

"Kinder gu--er-reckon as haow yeou're 'baout right there, ole hoss," he
admitted, with a slight vein of regret in his voice; "course we kin see
all the picters we want when we've struck the wind-up o' aour
trail--that is, providin' we're still alive, an' kickin' as usual."

"That lad has got me guessing, and no mistake," Jack added; "in one way
I admire such persistence, especially in one of his breed, where there's
a big scramble for fresh news stories; but they can make it a whole lot
disagreeable for other people in the bargain. Makes me think of the
leeches that used to pester us by hanging on in the old swimmin' hole of
my boyhood days--you just couldn't shake the blood-thirsty varments off,
try as you might, they were such stickers."

Finishing their supper they strolled forth in a leisurely fashion, as
if, as Perk himself observed in his quaint way: they had "the whole
evening at their disposal, with nothing to do but kill time."

Picking up a late evening paper on the way to their room at the Henry
Grady Hotel they settled down to be as comfortable as possible, until
the time arrived to make a start.

"We'll get a taxi to take us out to Candler Field," quoth Jack, always
arranging his plans with meticulous certainty; "then change to our
flying togs, and get going as quietly as possible. It's to be hoped that
sticking plaster wont be nosing around out there, to see some mail ship
start off, or come into the airport--you never can tell about such
fly-by-nights, who bob up in the most unexpected places just when you
don't want to see them."

"Huh! yeou said it, partner," Perk added, whimsically; "jest like I used
to see that queer jack-o'-lantern in the country graveyard foggy nights
now here, an' agin over yonder, fur all the world like a ghost huntin'
fur its 'ticular stone to climb under agin."

Jack, having made himself comfortable, commenced glancing over the paper
he had picked up, briefly scanning each page as though skimming the
news.

"Haow 'bout the weather reports, buddy?" asked Perk, later on,
suppressing a big yawn, as though time was hanging somewhat heavily on
his hands, being, as he always proudly declared, "a man of action."

"Just about the same as a while ago--no change in the predictions having
come about," he told the other.

"Like to be no storm agoin' to slap us in the teeth, then, eh, what?"

"I don't see where it could come from, it being clear in almost every
direction, saving possible rain in South Florida; so don't let that
bother you in the least, old scout."

"An' fog--haow 'bout that same, suh? I opines as haow I sorter detest
fog more'n anything I know--'cept mebbe stones in my cherry pie."

"No record of any fog over the air-route east," Jack informed him; "and
you know we mean to follow the flash beacons all the way to Greenville,
South Carolina, where they turn off in the direction of Richmond, while
we shift more to the southeast by south, and head for Charleston. It
looks as though we'd have a nice, even flight all the way, and land in
our port early tomorrow morning--without trying to make any great speed
in the bargain."

Time passed, and it drew near the hour they had selected for their
leaving the hotel. Perk was a bit eager to be going, and began to pack
his bag as a gentle hint to his running mate.

"Finish mine while about it, partner," he was told by his comrade;
"while I'm down below settling our joint account, and securing a taxi.
I'll be back in a short while; and then for business."

"Yeah! that strikes me where I live, buddy. Take yeour time, an' doant
come back atellin' me that pesky Jimmy's squatted in the hotel lobby,
alookin' over everybody as goes aout, er comes in."

Jack was gone as much as ten minutes, and then opened the door quietly,
to have the other snatch a quick inquiring look at his face and say:

"Ev'rything lovely, an' the goose flyin' high, ole hoss?"

"We're going to kick off right away; and so far the coast seems clear."



                               CHAPTER VI

                       BY THE SKIN OF THEIR TEETH


Once settled down in the taxi Perk felt much better. He had been casting
suspicious glances this way and that, eying a number of parties, as
though he more than half anticipated the slick newspaper man might be
hanging around the Grady in some clever disguise, bent on tracking them
to the aviation field.

"Huh! kinder guess--ev'rything's okay with us naow--glad Jack didn't
hear me asayin' that forbidden word, er he'd be kickin' agin. Tarnel
shame haow a life-long habit do stick to a guy like glue--didn't realize
haow things keep acomin' an' agoin' year after year, when yeou git
'customed to doin' the same."

Perk was muttering this to himself half under his breath as the taxi
took off, and immediately headed almost straight toward the quarter
where the fast growing Candler Field lay outside the thickly populated
part of Atlanta.

He was just about to thrust his head out of the open upper part of the
door on the left side when Jack jerked him violently back.

"Hey! what in thunder--"

"Shut up! and lie back!" hissed the other, almost savagely.

"Gosh-a-mighty! was _he_ hangin' 'raound after all?" gasped the startled
Perk, who could think of but one reason for the other treating him so
unceremoniously.

Jack had turned, and was trying to see through the dimmed glass--he even
rubbed it hastily with his hand as if to better the chances of an
observation; but as they whirled around a corner gave it up as next to
useless.

"It was _that boy_ all right, and making straight for the hotel in the
bargain; which proves he'd located our layout okay," he explained to the
excited Perk.

"Doant tell me he done spotted us, partner?"

"I don't just know," came back the answer, hesitatingly. "I thought I'd
yanked you back before he looked our way; but as sure as anything he
came to a full stop, and stared after our taxi. For all we know he may
be jumping for some kind of conveyance to follow at our heels."

"Hot-diggetty-dig! but things shore _air_ gettin' some int'restin' like,
I'd say, if yeou asked me, boy! An' even if he keeps on agoin' to the
Grady the night clerk'll tell him as haow we done kicked aout. Kinder
wish we was a zoomin' long on aour course, an' givin' Jimmy the horse
laugh. Caint yeou git the shover to speed her along a little, ole hoss?"

"We're already hitting up the pace as far as safety would advise," Jack
told him, as they both swayed over to one side, with another corner
being taken on the jump. "It'd spill the beans if we had any sort of
accident on the way to the ship; better let well enough alone, partner."

"Huh! the best speed a rackabones o' a taxi kin make seems like crawlin'
to any airman used to a hundred miles an hour, an' heaps more'n that,"
grumbled the never satisfied Perk; but just the same it might be noticed
that Jack did not attempt to urge the chauffeur to increase their speed
at the risk of some disaster, such as skidding, when turning a sharp
corner.

On the way Perk amused himself by taking various peeps from the rear,
gluing his eye to the dingy glass. Since he raised no alarm it might be
taken for granted he had made no discovery worth mentioning; and in this
manner they presently arrived at the flying field, which they found
fully illuminated, as though some ship was about to land, or another
take off.

This suited them exactly, as it would be of considerable help in
bringing about their own departure.

Jumping out Jack paid the driver, and after picking up their bags they
hastened in the direction of the hangar in which they had been assured
their ship was to be placed.

A new field service motor truck was moving past them, evidently bent on
servicing some plane about to depart east, west, north or south; which
Perk eyed with admiration; for he knew what a comfort it was to have one
of these up-to-date contraptions swing alongside, and carry out all the
necessary operations of fitting a ship out, which in the old days had to
be done by hand, with the assistance of field hostlers.

"Anyhaow, we doant need a single thing to set us on aour way, which is
some comfort," he remarked to his mate as they arrived at their
destination.

While Jack was making all arrangements for their big Fokker to be taken
out of the hangar, and brought in position for taking off, Perk
continued to look eagerly around him, as usual deeply interested in all
that went on in connection with a popular and always growing airport, of
which Candler Field was a shining example.

"By gum! if there aint one o' them new-fangled air mail flags, painted
on the fuselege o' that Southern Air Fast Express ship gettin' ready to
pick off; an' say, aint she a beaut though--regulation wings in yellow,
with the words 'U. S. Air Mail', an' the upper an' lower borders marked
with red an' blue painted lines. Gosh! I'd be some proud naow to be
handlin' sech a nifty ship in the service I onct worked by; but no use
kickin', what I'm adoin' these days is heaps more important fo' Ole
Uncle Sam than jest acarry'n' his letter sacks. An' mebbe that ship
means to head back jest where we come from, Los Angeles, an' San Diego,
by way o' Dallas, Texas. Haow they keep askippin' all araoun' this wide
kentry, day an' night, like grasshoppers on a sunny perairie--the times
o' magic have shore come to us folks in the year nineteen thirty-one."

Other sights greeted his roving eyes as he held himself impatiently in
check waiting for Jack to give him the word to start. Both of them had
hurriedly changed their clothes, and were now garbed in their customary
working dungarees, stained with innumerable marks of hard service, yet
indispensable to those who followed their calling.

It certainly did not take long for their ship to be trundled out on to
the level field, and brought into position for taking off. There was
considerable of a gathering, considering that it was now so late in the
night; and Perk, giving a stab at the fact, came to the conclusion there
was something out of the common being, as he termed it, "pulled
off"--possibly the presence of that beautiful emblem of the air mail
service on the fuselage of the western bound mail and express matter
carrier had to do with the occasion--a sort of honorary christening, so
to speak--he was content to let it go at that.

Jack was still talking with some one he seemed to know, some one who
must surely be a fellow pilot, for he was dressed in regulation dingy
overalls, and kept hovering near that fine multi-motored Curtiss
Kingbird plane that he, Perk, understood belonged to the new fleet of
the line to be operated in a short time between Atlanta and Miami,
Florida, carrying passengers, the mail, and express between the two
airports.

Thus far there had been no sign of the ubiquitous newspaper man, and
Perk continued to bolster up his hope this might continue to be the case
to the very moment of their departure. It would be a bit exasperating
should the fellow suddenly burst upon them, jumping out of a taxi, and
tackling Jack with a beastly shower of questions that were suited to the
ends he had in view of building up a fanciful story that must tickle the
palates of the numerous readers of his department on aviation in the
paper he served.

There, thank their lucky stars, was his companion giving the wished for
call for him to stand by, as everything was fixed for immediate
departure. In less than three minutes they would be taking the air, and
leaving lighted Candler Field behind them--once that happy event had
taken place and they could snap their fingers derisively at any attempt
on the part of their determined annoyer to give them trouble.

"Huh! it's to be hoped the pesky guy doant take a notion to hire a ship,
an' try to stick to aour tail, ashoutin' aout his crazy questions like
he spected us to done hole up, an' hand him his story on a plate! Kinder
gu--reckon as haow there aint much danger 'long them lines--it'd be a
whole lot too hard fur him to manage. Okay, suh, right away!"

As Perk was supposed to be a pilot in the employ of Mr. Rodman
Warrington, of course it was only right for him to be at the throttle of
the ship when they took off. Accordingly he hastened to settle down in
his seat where he could grip the controls, and manipulate things in the
dash along the field that would wind up in a swing upwards toward the
starry heavens.

Having given a last hasty inspection of his gadgets, and the numerous
dials as arranged on the black dashboard before him, Perk called out,
the propeller started to roar and spin like lightning; and in that very
last second of time, as the ship commenced to leap forward, Perk caught
a glimpse of the man whom they had believed left in the lurch--no other
than Jimmy himself!



                              CHAPTER VII

                     ON THE AIR-LINE TO CHARLESTON


Jimmy was leaping from a taxi that had come whirling almost up to the
spot where their ship was in the act of taking off. Perk in that hasty
look--when truth to tell he had no business to be taking his eyes away
from his course ahead, lest he make a slip that would upset all their
calculations--had seen the printer's ink man heading in leaps toward
their plane--yes, and sure enough he was holding a pad of paper in one
hand, and doubtless a sharpened pencil in the other, a typical
up-to-the-minute knight of the press bent on snatching up his facts on
the run.

Then Perk--still paying strict attention to his special task--gave a
grunt of satisfaction, coupled with derision. To himself he must have
been thinking, if not saying, "that's the time we jest made a slick
get-away by the skin o' aour teeth--yeou're five seconds too late,
Jimmy, boy--try some o' yeour tricks on slower game, not we-uns.
Whoopla! here she goes!"

As they were just then about to leave the ground and start their upward
climb of course it was absolutely out of the question for the one
holding the stick to twist his head around so as to see what their
tormentor was doing; but then he felt certain Jack must be taking in
everything that occurred, and in good time he would be told of each
little incident.

Perk had his instructions, and knew just what he was doing. Accordingly,
when the ship had reached a comfortable ceiling of say half a thousand
feet, he banked, and swung around so as to head toward the southwest.

"Shore thing," Perk was telling himself, in a spirit of pride and
astuteness. "Sense the gent's is aimin' to git a black bear in them
canebrakes o' ole Louisiana, we gotter be headin' thataways at the
start. Hoopla! aint it jest the limit, apullin' the wool over the eyes
o' one o' the darnedest sharpest newspaper boys as ever was?"

It had been arranged that they were to keep on that course for a brief
time, and when sufficient distance had been covered--so that the hum of
their exhaust could no longer be heard at Candler Field--they would
change to another quarter, swing around the distant city, pick up the
light at Stone Mountain, and from that point industriously follow the
beacons that flashed every ten miles or so all the way to Richmond,
Virginia.

Jack soon displaced his assistant pilot at the controls, and Perk was
able to take hold of other special duties, such as were usually left to
his direction.

One of the very first things he carried out was to attach the harness of
the invaluable telephone, that, when connected with their ears allowed
of such exchange of views as they saw fit to indulge in; and Perk was
burning up with eagerness to find out what Jack must have seen after
they made their start.

The big ship was speeding at a merry clip, and before long Stone
Mountain would be reached with the first beacon flashing its welcome
light to beckon them on their well marked course.

"Was that _him_ as I guess--reckoned I done seed, jest as we started to
move, hey, partner?" Perk demanded; and as Jack knew only too well he
would have no peace until he handed over such information as he
possessed, he lost no time in making answer.

"No other, brother--he came in a taxi, and was in such a hurry it's
plain to be seen he'd picked up a clew at the hotel that sent him
whooping things up, and burning the minutes until he got there at
Candler Field. Unfortunately--for Jimmy--he dallied a half minute too
long, trying to get some lead from that night clerk, and so we slipped
one off on him."

"Yeou doant reckon as haow he'd be so brash as to hire a ship, to try
an' sit on aour tail, do yeou, ole hoss?" demanded Perk, who had even
looked back once or twice, as though such a possibility had begun to
bother him.

"Not a Chinaman's chance of such a happening, Wally--we've got a clear
field ahead of us, and I feel pretty certain that's the last we'll see
of our friend Jimmy. Just the same, leave it to him to concoct a
thrilling yarn to feed to his readers to-morrow morning--imagination
will supply the missing facts; and I'd like to set eyes on what he
hatches up."

"Me too, partner," echoed Perk, greedily; "an' if it's possible while we
hang aout araound Charleston I'm meanin' to look up all the Atlanta
papers, and read all the air news they carry."

"Go to it, partner; but that must be Stone Mountain over there on our
larboard quarter; look sharp, and you'll glimpse a flashing light, for
we're about to pick up our first beacon."

"Bully for that, 'cause afterwards it'll be the softest sailin' ever,
with aour course charted aout fur us most all the way."

"I'm holding her down a bit," explained Jack, "because we'd better stick
to the beacons until dawn; after that we can depend on our compass and
chart to carry us the rest of the way to Charleston."

"I get yeou, ole hoss, an' agree with yeou to a hair. No hurry whatever,
yeou done tole me the Chief sez in his cipher letter o'
instructions--slow an' sure, that's agoin' to be aour motto this
campaign," and Jack must have chuckled to hear the impetuous Perk say
that, it was so foreign to his customary way of rushing things.

The line of beacons was now picked up, and Perk could see sometimes as
many as three at the same time--the one they were passing over; that
left behind shortly before; and still a third faint flash at some
distance beyond.

They had climbed to a ceiling of some two thousand feet, which might
still be increased when passing over such outspurs of the Allegheny or
Smoky Range Mountains as would be met on the regular air mail course to
Richmond.

As the air seemed unusually free from any vestige of fog, being very
clear, of course visibility was prime, which fact added to Perk's
happiness, he being unduly fond of such favorable weather conditions.

Such a voluble chap could not keep silent long, when it was so easy to
chat with an accommodating companion; and hence presently Perk found
something else to mention to the working pilot.

"I say, partner," he sang out, "tell me who yeour friend was, the pilot
I seen yeou talkin' with, an' who sure seemed to be 'quainted with
yeou."

"Knew you had that question up your sleeve, buddy," Jack replied, always
ready to satisfy any reasonable amount of curiosity on the part of his
chum, "Yes, he was an old friend of mine, and I expect you've heard me
speak of him more than a few times--one of the most adept pilots
connected with the Curtiss people,--no other than Doug Davis, who back
in twenty-nine won the country's speed race at Cleveland, with a record
of a hundred-and-ninety miles an hour."

"Gee whiz! haow I'd liked to amet up with him!" exclaimed Perk, showing
a trace of keen disappointment in his tone.

"I'd have introduced you, partner, only the conditions wouldn't admit
it." Jack threw out as a bit of apology.

"But, say--what if that speed hound, Jimmy, happened to learn he was
atalkin' with yeou, wouldn't your friend Doug be apt to give us away,
withaout knowin' the reasons why we wanted to keep shady right naow?"

Jack gave him the laugh.

"Not on your life, buddy," he announced, without hesitation; "I managed
to let Doug know what line I was in, and how just at present I'm a New
York millionaire sportsman and aviator, Rodman Warrington by name,
headed toward some shooting-grounds for a whack at big game. He's a lad
you could never catch asleep at the switch; and make up your mind our
secret's as safe with him as anything could be. Jimmy'd have all his
trouble for his pains, if he ever tried to pump Doug Davis, who's as
keen as they make them in our line."

"But, partner, didn't he introduce yeou to another pilot--I reckon I
seen him adoin' that same, an' heow yeou shook hands with the other
guy."

"Yes, but I'd already tipped Doug off, and he strung his friend with the
story we've hatched up about our meaning to try the shooting in those
wonderful canebrakes in Louisiana. And that's all he'll ever tell
connected with my identity, till the cows come home, or water runs
uphill."

"An' who did the other chap happen to be, if it's a fair question, suh?"
continued Perk, who, once he started on an investigating tour, never
would let go until he had extracted every particle of information
available.

"Sorry that I didn't catch his name clearly; but Doug told me he was
connected with the U. S. Air Reserve Corps operations functioning there
at Candler Field," Jack explained.

He certainly stirred up something when he said that.

"Well, well, what dye know 'baout that naow," gushed Perk, apparently
thrilled more or less by what he had just heard. "I've been gettin' wind
o' that ere movement, and meanin' to look it up whenever the chanct
drifted along."

"A most interesting subject, buddy, and one I'd think you'd want to look
into, seeing you're a veteran of flying in the Great War over in France,
and could join without any trouble. From what Doug told me, and what
I've read concerning the game, the organization is growing stronger
every day--made up of men especially fitted to step in and man fighting
planes, should any occasion arise, such as another foreign war. Right in
the southeast district there are something over two-hundred-and-thirty
pilot members, who could be mustered by Uncle Sam in an emergency, just
twenty-two of whom belong in Atlanta, Doug told me."

"Wheel haow fine that'd be fo' a feller o' my makeup," Perk chortled, in
glee. "I done gue--reckons, suh, as haow they may have meetin's, an' all
that sorter thing--how 'baout it, partner?"

"That's one of the necessary things about the Air Reserve Officers
Corps," continued Jack who evidently considered the organization an
especially fine thing for the airminded public to support. "All through
the winter they meet twice a week in classes, to keep up with modern
military and aviation activities; and they get their new up-to-date
flying experience by taking off in one of five army training ships kept
ready in the new reserve hangar at Candler Field--these are an Oil
Curtiss Falcon regular attack plane; a 2-B Douglass dual control basic
training ship, with 450 horsepower engines; and three other primary
training ships. All the equipment connected with the Fourth Corps hangar
is at Atlanta headquarters,--so Doug told me, and he ought to know if
any one does."

"Gee whiz! an' to think o' what I been missin' all this time," moaned
poor Perk, disconsolately. "Mebbe though it wouldn't ever do to apply
fo' admission to such a organization, 'jest 'cause we-uns gotter to hid
aour light under a bushel, while serving aour Uncle Sam in his ole
Secret Service. Dye know I got half a mind to throw it all up, an' go
back to carryin' the air mail, when a guy could show his own face, an'
not live under a dark cloud;--but not so long as _yeou_ sticks on the
job, partner, I doant break away ever."



                              CHAPTER VIII

                       SHIPS PASSING IN THE NIGHT


They were by this time fully embarked on their night flight, Perk
continued to watch the flash beacons as though they fascinated him, more
or less.

"What I'd call a big snap, if anybody asked me," he kept telling himself
from time to time. "Huh! when I was an air-mail pilot fur a short time,
things wasn't so dead easy--not a blamed light on earth or in the sky,
nawthin' but black stuff every-which-way yeou looked. Naow the guy at
the stick jest keeps afollerin' a string o' blinkin' 'lectric lights
that point aout his course fur him. Purty soft, I'd call it, an' no
mistake either."

When they were passing directly over one beacon that kept blinking at
them apparently, with about ten seconds between each flash, he could by
turning his head, see a far-away swirling gleam marking the light in
their rear; while dead ahead another, equally distant, kept up an
enticing flash as though bent on assuring them everything was "all
right."

"Jest one thing still wantin' to make these here air-mail boys right
happy," he told himself; "which is a ray to beat the danged fog that
mixes things up like fun. When some wise guy finds a way to send a ray
o' light through the dirty stuff, so's yeou kin see a mile away as if
the air was clear as a bell, then flyin' blind is agoin' to lose all its
terrors to the poor pilot. I shorely hopes to see the day that's done."

Later on Perk suddenly made a discovery that gave him a little fresh
thrill--there was some sort of queer light almost dead ahead, that he
fancied moved more or less; at any rate it was steadily growing
brighter, beyond any question.

"Hot-diggetty-dig!" he muttered, still watching critically, as if hardly
able to make up his mind concerning its meaning. "Looks mighty like a
shootin' star; but then I never did see one that didn't dart daown, like
it meant to bury itself in the earth. Must be a ship aheadin' this
way--mebbe a mail carrier goin' to Atlanta to land on the same Candler
Field we jest quitted--yep, that's what it is, with a light in the cabin
to keep the passengers from worryin'--sandbags ain't any too joyful when
they got to sit in the dark, with the ship hittin' up eighty miles an
hour."

Having thus settled the identity of the strange moving light, Perk
hastened to inform his mate of the discovery he had made.

"Ship's agoin' to pass us in the night, buddy," he called through the
aid of the indispensable earphones. "Yeou kin lamp the light straight
ahead naow."

"Yes, I'd already noticed the same, partner," came steady Jack's answer,
as if he were not in the least disturbed, or excited by the occurrence.

"Gee whiz! but I shore hopes we doant meet head on, an' crash," ventured
Perk, really to coax his chum to express an opinion, and thus reassure
him.

"No danger of that happening, old scout!" snapped Jack; "but I'll veer
off to starboard a bit, to make doubly sure against a possible
collision. Strike up our cabin light, boy, so's to put them on their
guard."

Of course they could not catch the slightest sound to corroborate their
opinion, since their own ship was making so much racket. The light came
closer and closer; at the same time Jack felt positive the other aerial
craft must be following his own tactics looking to safety, and steering
somewhat to the right, as discretion demanded.

Perk had snatched up a kerosene lantern and hastily lighted the wick.
This he now moved up and down; then swung the same completely around his
head, as though he thus meant to give the other pilot a signal in the
line of fellowship and aerial courtesy.

Thus the two ships passed not three hundred feet apart, yet only vaguely
seen by watchful eyes. Then they were swallowed up in the gloom of the
night, the moon being under a passing cloud at the time.

"Fancy aour meetin' in space," Perk was saying, as though rather awed by
such a circumstance; "it couldn't happen again in a month o' blue moons,
aour comin' to grips thisaway, with millions o' miles all 'raound us,
an' nawthin' but chance to guide both pilots."

"You're on the wrong track again, partner," Jack hastened to tell him.
"Chance had little to do with this meeting; but that chain of brilliant
flash beacons was wholly responsible. Just like two trains passing on a
double-track railroad line--both airships were following the same marked
course, and couldn't hardly miss meeting each other. In these latter
days flying has become so systematized that the element of chance has
been almost wholly eliminated from the game."

That remark kept Perk silent for some little time, the subject thus
brought up was so vast, so filled with tremendous possibilities, he
found himself wrestling with it as the minutes crept on.

So, too the night was passing by degrees, with their reliable Fokker
keeping steadily on its way, putting miles after miles in their wake.
Perk found himself growing more and more anxious for the first streak of
coming dawn to show itself far off in the east, where the sun must be
climbing toward the unseen horizon, and daylight making ready to
disperse the cohorts of night.

Still it was always possible for him to make out the next beacon, with
the aid of his binoculars, if he happened to be using them, as was often
the case.

An hour and more after their "rubbing elbows" (as Perk termed it,) with
the south-bound air-mail plane, once more Perk caught a suggestive beam
of light ahead that told of yet another aircraft afloat, and advancing
swiftly toward them, only at a much lower altitude.

"Naow I wonder who _that_ guy kin be," he mused, while watching the
light grow steadily larger. "Some kinder big ship in the bargain; but
hardly one o' the mail line, 'cause they doant run 'em in doubles the
same way. Hi! there, partner, we got a second neighbor, agoin' to pass
under us in a minit er so. Jest a bit to the left--no danger o' bangin'
noses this time, seems like. Gettin' to be thickly populated, as the ole
pioneer settler said when a new fambly moved in 'baout ten mile off.
Mebbe we'll live to see the day when the air o' night'll be studded with
movin' lights thick as the stars be--looks thataways to me, anyhaow."

Again he signaled his good wishes with his lantern, showing as much glee
as a schoolboy whirling around his first fire spitting Roman candle, on
the night of the Glorious Fourth.

"Gee whiz! looky, partner--they're answerin' me, as shore's yeou're
born! This is gettin' somewhere, I'd say; an' I'd give thirty cents to
know who that guy might be."

"Just as well there's no way to exchange cards," sensible Jack told the
excited one. "Never forget for a minute, partner, who and what we are;
and how it's a prime part of this business to keep our light hidden
under a bushel right along. Others flying for sport, or carrying on in
commerce, may get a thrill from exchanging names, and hobnobbing with
each other; but all that stuff is strictly taboo with men of the Secret
Service."

"Squelched again!" Perk told himself, with one of his chuckles; "an'
jest as always happens, Jack, he's in the right--I'm forgettin' most too
often what goes to make up a successful officer of the Government,
'specially in aour line o' trade. Guess--I mean I reckons as haow I'll
have to subside, and take it aout in thinkin'."

Perk was certain they must have long since passed over the eastern
extremity of Georgia, and were even then swinging along with South
Carolina soil beneath them. Yes, and he began to figure that he could
detect the faintest possible rim of light commencing to show up far off
to the east, as though dawn could not be far away.

"Huh! aint agoin' to be many more o' them bully flash beacons lightin'
us on aour course," he was telling himself. "Chances air we'll be
bustlin' over aour objective right soon; when it's goodbye to the
air-mail route, an' us a turnin' aour noses near due south, headin' fo'
Charleston on the seaboard, when the real fun is slated to begin. Caint
come any too quick fo' a boob that answers to the name o' Gabe Perkiser.
Yeah! that line is gettin' some broader, right along, which tells the
story as plain as print."

Shortly afterwards he picked up a myriad of gleaming lights, that
proclaimed the presence of a city of some magnitude; evidently the first
sector of their flight had been reached, with a change in their course
indicated.



                               CHAPTER IX

                           WHEN THE DAWN CAME


"Kinder looks like we'd hit civilization again, eh, ole hoss?"

With the dawn coming along thus high up above the surface of the earth,
it was still night down below, save where numerous electric lights, on
the streets, and along the railroad lines, especially within the limits
of the yards, dispelled the shadows. Some of these were continually
shifting; and since Jack had dropped down latterly until they were not
more than five hundred feet above the level ground, only for their
hearing being overwhelmed by the noise of their own speeding ship, they
might have easily heard the puffing of switching engines, together with
the rumble of many freight cars, possibly the loud whistles of some
factory warning its employees it was time for them to be thinking of
getting their breakfast, preparatory to another long spell in the cotton
mills, or other places of labor.

"Here's Greenville, where we strike off on our own," Jack announced, as
he made a right turn, and depending entirely upon the needle of the
compass, took up a new line of flight--no signalling for switches,
puffing of a steam engine for a start, nothing save a turn of the wrist;
and without the least friction the airship was heading in the direction
of Charleston, still far distant as the crow flies.

The lights began to grow dim in their rear, and before long the last
vestige of the bustling South Carolina city faded out of sight.

But undoubtedly the dawn was steadily advancing, so that already Perk
had been able to get fugitive glimpses of the ground they were so
steadily passing over. He knew he would be feeling better when able to
watch the panorama spread out like a vast chart under the swiftly
speeding air craft, with towns, villages, and hamlets following in each
other's train; the country itself dotted with innumerable cabins
occupied by negro workers of the wide stretching plantations, where
cotton, corn, and perhaps tobacco, would appear to be the staple crops
harvested.

It was indeed worth while watching when daylight came upon the surface
of the earth, and the sun could be seen in all his glory by those who
had the privilege of an elevated observatory.

Perk settled himself down for a period of "loafing," having no
particular duties needing attention. His main thought was concerned with
the fact that they were swiftly passing over South Carolina, and getting
closer to their main objective, where the remainder of their orders
would be handed over to them as per prearranged agreement.

He indulged in numerous speculations as to just when and how Jack would
make his attack upon the entrenched forces of the defiant clique,
latterly giving Uncle Sam so much bother; and persisting in their thus
far successful smashing of the patrol boat blockade along the coast,
through the agency of numerous swift air smuggling craft--how many there
might be Perk had no knowledge.

Well, just wait until he and his best pal got fairly started in the good
work, and possibly some of those defiant pilots would be numbered among
the "has beens," having mysteriously vanished from the ken of their
fellow law-breakers.

"I shore doant want to brag," Perk told himself, as modestly as he could
find the heart to be; "but jest the same I been along with Jack more'n a
few times, when we run up agin sech gay birds; an' it was allers the
same ole story over an' over agin. Right naow a good many cells in
Atlanta, Leavenworth, an' a few more penitentiaries air filled by lads
what reckoned nawthin' could beat 'em at their pet game; yet there they
be, behind stone walls, an' nary one chanct in a thousand to break away.
Huh! hope hist'ry repeats in this new adventure we're right naow
embarkin' on, that's all."

Such confidence in a comrade bordered on the sublime, yet according to
his light Perk felt he was justified in believing Jack to be at the head
of his class--without a peer, yet modest withal, shrinking from praise,
and content to let the heroes of unsurpassed air flights, as well as all
manner of broken records for speed, endurance, and like exploits, bask
in the spotlight, while he was satisfied to do his full duty, and
afterwards remain unknown to fame.

Jack apparently still had a little fear lest something his best pal
managed to do, when off his guard, might throw all their labors into the
discard. On this account, and because they were now bearing down close
to an important point in their schedule, he took occasion to once more
delicately hint along such lines.

"For perhaps the last time, partner," he went on to say, soberly; "we've
both got to get a firm grip on ourselves, and try to actually _live_ the
parts we're about to play. Let's consider we're actors, with a critical
audience in front, watching closely to see if we leave any break back of
which our real character may be seen."

"Huh! I like thataway o' puttin' it, Big Boss," snorted Perk, without
the slightest hesitation; although he must have suspected that Jack was
trying to impress this point particularly on his, Perk's mind--"I'll try
my darnedest to keep athinkin' a thousand eyes and ears they be on to
me, searchin' fo' some knothole in the fence to peep through, an' gimme
the laugh straight. Go on an' say some more 'long them lines, buddy--I
kin stand it okay."

"An actor to be a success must have the power, the ability to throw off
his own ways and character, to assume whatever queer quirks marking the
role of the person he is pretending to be. Try and forget you were
Yankee born, and swap places with a son of Dixie, filled with veneration
for those heroes in gray, soldiers of Lee, Jackson, Forrest, and all the
other leaders of the sacred Lost Cause. You can do it, I'm dead certain,
if you keep your mind steadfastly on that business alone, and forget a
lot of other less essential matters."

"Shore I kin, an' I mean to, partner--yeou wait up an' see haow I'll
pull the wool over their eyes--I'm Wally Corkendall, an' I was borned
an' brought up in Birmin'ham, where them bully stories o' the colored
folks that make yeou laugh like fun keep acomin' from right along.
Yessuh! I done tole yeou I may be a man o' the world; but Dixie is my
dwellin'-place, Birmin'ham my ole hometown."

So Jack let it go at that, and indulged in the hope his pal would not
fall down in a pinch--it meant a matter of life and death with them, in
view of the desperate type of men with whom they would soon be at close
grips.



                               CHAPTER X

                            READY TO STRIKE


Up to then everything had been comparatively simple; but the worst was
yet to come. They could not do more than guess as to the nature of the
dangers and difficulties lying in ambush to trip them up. For aught they
knew long weeks, crowded with perils and narrow escapes, would be their
portion; with the crowning possibility of final disaster hanging over
their heads day and night.

It was this uncertainty that made their job all the more attractive and
thrilling to the comrades--in particular to Perk, whose restless soul
seemed never to be content to loll in idleness and safety; but yearned
to meet up with all manner of weird scrapes, that for the time being
satisfied the burning desire of his feverish blood.

Perhaps that was his heritage, coming down from those ancestors who
settled in New England, at the time America was a British colony; and
when dread of Indian massacres kept every one's blood keyed up to the
extreme; then again it might be Perk got it from his contact with the
front line trenches in the Great War, where he may have been gassed,
wounded, and lived the horrible existence that so many of our gallant
boys did in the fierce battles of the Argonne--himself, he never
bothered his head to figure out whence the feeling came--he only knew he
had it, and fairly reveled in what he was pleased to term _action_; but
which really stood for deadly peril.

It can thus be seen how Perk was making his life work along the right
line for one of his disposition; since it would be difficult indeed to
mention any other vocation where a man would do his daily stunt face to
face with some calamity.

He continued to look down at the checkerboard below, admiring this,
grunting his disgust at another spectacle, and many times glancing
impatiently at his wrist-watch, as though he could thus hasten the hour
and minute when they would be landing at their present destination.

Jack, on his part, while carrying out his ordinary duties as pilot, was
running over in his active mind the various duties that must await their
reaching the landing field in Charleston.

First, after seeing their ship safely stowed away in a convenient
hangar--where it would stay until needed again, if ever--he must call at
the post office for any letters that might have been sent on--under his
assumed name, of course; after which it would be his business to drop in
upon the Government agent, from whom he would receive further secret
instructions, as well as every scrap of information possible, such as
would be of assistance in laying out and following up their plan of
action.

It pleased Jack to know how every detail was being carried out with the
prime motive of abject secrecy--for instance, he had been instructed
_never_ to call at the office of the revenue official, since spies might
have it under surveillance, and hold such a swell caller under
suspicion--on the contrary the gentleman's private residence had been
mentioned as the place of meeting; and the secret cipher of the
Department must be invariably used should an exchange of letters become
necessary.

He was to call at the house in the capacity of a distant relative of Mr.
Casper Herriott in the city while _en route_ to other places along the
Atlantic seaboard, especially in the way of shooting grounds; he being a
famous sportsman--Perk was not only his dependable pilot, but a skillful
guide as well, fully acquainted with most of the sporting grounds of the
great sounds and bays along North and South Carolina shores.

Jack found himself smiling to remember how his companion had at one time
delicately hinted that since the Government had been so kind as to
supply them with all manner of lovely guns, ammunition, and even
shooting clothes and tempting high leather boots, all costing rafts of
money, it might be possible for them to better carry out their assumed
characters by indulging in a little foray among the canvasback ducks,
mallards, and even wild geese--also remarking how it would be much too
bad if, having been given the name, they might not also grab a handful
of the game!

Already had Jack commenced to take copious notes, mental, as well as
written down in his new notebook--in the secret code of course--and he
expected to add copiously to this record after he had interviewed Mr.
Herriott, and drank in all that gentleman would have to tell him.

Besides that he would try to paint a complete chart on his mind,
covering the lay of the land along the coast, its innumerable
indentations covering the shores of the great Sounds, Albemarle, Pamlico
and others--also that section of swamps and morasses lying further
south, where he already strongly suspected the main part of their work
awaited them.

Already he had pored for hours over the Government Geographical Coast
Survey charts, which, with others were contained in the waterproof case
aboard the ship, and had proven their worth on a number of previous
occasions; but as he could not hope to always have these at hand for
reference, Jack meant to carry along a mental picture of the entire
region, a feat impossible, save to him whom the gods had favored with a
wonderfully retentive memory, made next to perfect from long practice.

Up to then the most that Jack knew in connection with his work was that
it must mean the shattering of a gigantic conspiracy, backed by a number
of wealthy but unscrupulous citizens; who probably depended upon some
real or fancied "pull" to get them through in safety if they were ever
indicted, which they had every reason was next to impossible.

The scope of this league, Jack also understood, was almost
boundless--all manner of efforts were being put into practice daily, in
order to cheat Uncle Sam out of his "rake-off" upon various dutiable
foreign goods--diamonds, other precious stones on which the Treasury
Department levied high sums when imported openly; rich laces; high
priced Cuban cigars, and a multitude of similar goods mostly small in
bulk, that could be easily transported undetected aboard swift
airplanes, making secret landings amidst the almost untrodden wilds of
that eastern shore!

Then there must be a continuation of the old smuggling game--that of
fetching cargoes of the finest wet goods obtainable at some station of
the West Indies; only the landing places had been transferred from the
vicinity of Tampa and Miami, when those ports were too heavily policed
to admit of taking the desperate chances involved; and were now
transplanted to South Carolina territory, where they seemed to be
working without the slightest molestation, with a daily flood of stuff
being safely landed.

It was hinted that this powerful rival of the Government was going even
a step farther--carrying undesirable aliens from Cuba across to the land
they were so eager to reach, that they paid enormous sums for the
privilege of being flown across the stretch of salt water--these were
not only Chinamen, but Italians as well, criminals who had been chased
from their own country by the alert Fascist authorities as enemies of
the realm, and saw in rich America the Mecca where they could soon
acquire great wealth at easy pickings by eventually becoming beer
barons, racketeers, and the like; after passing through a brief school
course as ordinary bootleggers, and hi-jackers.

"Some job, believe me!" Jack summed up his reflections by saying,
drawing in a long breath at the same time; and then following it all up
with a laugh, as though even such a monumental task failed to dismay
him.

"Cap, I kinder reckon we're right smart near Charleston, to jedge from
thet bank o' smoke lying on ahead. I been keepin' tabs o' the miles we
left behind us, an' it shore do tally with the distance marked on yeour
map."

"I feel certain you're okay when you mention that same, matey," Jack
assured the other; which commendatory remark caused Perk to look as
pleased as a child when handed an all-day lollypop to suck on.

"Hot-diggetty-dig! it makes me happy to know as haow the waitin' game's
'baout all in naow, an' we're agwine--haow's that, buddy--to jump into
action, and then more action. Me, I'm some hungry, partner; but mebbe it
aint wise to take a snack when we're so clost to aour airport, with a
landin' comin' along soon, an' real restaurant eats aloomin' up in the
bargain."

"Try to hold your horses for half an hour or more, and I promise that
you'll be filled up to the limit, regardless of expense. And now begin
to live, breathe, and act as a Dixie bred man would do, ready to knock
anybody flat who'd be so brash as to say one insulting word about your
native Southland."

"The finest country God ever did make, barrin' none, suh; and don't yeou
forgit it; but I kin see the airport a'ready, partner, off to the left a
bit."



                               CHAPTER XI

                        WHERE WAR ONCE BROKE OUT


Shortly afterwards the two adventurers found themselves looking down at
as entrancing an air picture as it would be possible to conceive; with
Charleston Harbor stretching out to its furtherest extent before them.

"See that island over yonder, partner," said the admiring Perk, pointing
as he spoke; "I kinder--reckons naow as haow that might be where ole
Fort Sumter stood, durin' the war 'tween the States--yeou knows weuns
daown hyah allers speaks o' that little flareup that way, 'stead o'
callin' it the Civil War."

"So I understood, Wally, and I'm glad to find out you're so well posted
on such facts, as it strengthens your position considerably. When you're
in Dixie it's just as well to follow the crowd, and do as all true
Southerners do."

It was a charming morning, the air "salubrious," as Perk said more than
once, and everything seemed favorable to the success of their great
undertaking--as far as they had gone, which was not anything to boast
of.

Perk had already pointed out the landing field they were aiming to
patronize, and of course the pilot circled the stretch several times, as
he began to lose his altitude.

There was but little wind, and that favorable for making a successful
landing. Then, too, a number of men had started to run toward the spot
where indications pointed to their touching the ground, so they would
not lack for any assistance required.

But Jack swung a trifle, and made contact shortly ahead of the foremost
runner; the gliding, bumping ship gradually came to a complete stop, and
both of them had hopped out of their cabin by the time several runners,
breathing heavily from their exertions, reached the spot.

Jack was as suave and smiling as ever, a faculty that always made him
"hail fellow well met" with most people. He picked out a party bearing
the appearance of one in authority, and who, seeing his friendly nod,
hastened up, holding out his hand with real Southern warmth.

"Welcome to Charleston, suh," he observed as they clasped hands,
evidently understanding that the new arrival was not familiar with the
ground, being apparently a stranger to the airport; which in itself was
nothing remarkable in these days of fast increasing aviation strides,
with new people coming and going on the up-to-date airways almost every
day.

"My name is Warrington, and I am from New York City, down here for the
shore shooting. This is my pilot and guide, Wally Corkendall, from
Birmingham, Alabama. I wish to set my Fokker in a safe hangar for an
indefinite space of time, for we shall have to make use of an amphibian
during our month of sport, as it will be necessary to make many a
night's camp on the waters of your wonderful bays and rivers. Would you
kindly put me in touch with the party who has charge of such
arrangements; I should expect to pay a week in advance and continue the
same during the time of my stay."

That could be easily arranged, since it happened he himself was in
charge of all such matters, the gentleman courteously informed his new
guest; apparently sizing Jack up as a young man of wealth, willing to
pay the price, no matter how much it cost, in order to enjoy himself to
the utmost.

So the ship was properly housed, and Jack took pains to observe a lock
on the doors, for which one of two keys was handed to him later on,
after he had stepped over to the office, and finished arrangements by
paying the sum agreed upon.

"Anything we can do to help make your stay in our city pleasant, suh,
you can depend on it we shall be only too delighted to do," said the
gentleman, as the taxi which he had ordered came along, to take them to
the hotel he had recommended as a quiet restful place, with a genuine
old-fashioned Southern table known far and wide by travelers, and now
being patronized by many air-minded tourists.

Perk had carried himself most commendably; this was easily done since he
never once opened his mouth to say a single word, only grinned amiably
whenever the courteous master of ceremonies said anything complimentary.

They were speedily booming along toward the adjacent city, with curious
Perk bobbing his head this way and that, eager to see anything and
everything that came in sight.

"Say, haow fine it seems to know yeou're onct again back in yeour native
clime," Perk observed, talking rather loud, possibly for the chauffeur
to catch, and then again because he was still a bit deaf, after so many
hours with the clamor of a running airship ding-donging in his ears much
of the time. "Talk 'bout yeour beautiful North, in my 'pinion it doant
hold a candle to aour Sunny South, with its balmy air, the songs o' the
mockin'-birds, the merry laughter o' the niggers, an' a thousand other
things yeou never do forgit."

"Oh! you Dixie boys are all alike--nothing can ever wean you from your
love for cotton fields, tobacco plantations, sugarcane brakes, and all
such typical things of the South; but I like to hear you talk that way,
Wally; it's in the blood, and can't be eradicated."

"Yes suh, that's what I reckon it shore is," and Perk relapsed into
silence, possibly to ponder over that last word of Jack's, and try to
get its true meaning.

He was soon deeply interested in what he saw, for Charleston is full of
wonderful sights, to Northern eyes at least--fully on a par with quaint
New Orleans, and Mobile--the iron lattices fronting many old-fashioned
houses with double galleries--the churches that date back two hundred
years at least, with their burial grounds filled with dingy looking
stones and monuments, on which could be found chiseled numerous famous
names of families connected with the history of this typical
sub-tropical city--and occasional glimpses could be caught of that
wonderful bay which is Charleston's pride and boast.

At the hotel they were speedily ensconced in a double room that boasted
two beds--Jack usually looked to having things arranged that way when
feasible, as Perk was a nervous sleeper, and apt to fling his arm across
the face of any one alongside. It also afforded them a splendid view
from the windows.

"I shore do hope, partner, you're reckonin' on aour havin' some fodder
'fore we tackle any business; 'case my tummy it's agrowlin' somethin'
fierce; so I jest caint hold aout much longer an' feel peaceable--have a
heart, buddy, fo' a guy what was born hungry, and gets thataway five
times every day."

"That's all right, Perk," he was told, with a smile; "here are our bags,
and we can fix up a bit, for I feel that a bath would do me a heap of
good. Suppose we get busy, and by the time we look civilized again it
will be twelve, which you remember the clerk told us was when the doors
of the diningroom were thrown open."

"Gee! I only hope I kin hold aout till then," lamented poor Perk; "when
I lamped the window display o' a boss restaurant while we come along I
had a yen to jump aout, an' duck into the same, things looked so
tantalizin' like."

"I can understand that yearning of yours, brother; but the sooner we get
busy the quicker we'll be sitting down with our knees under a table, and
ordering a full dinner for two. Go to it then, while I take a warm dip."

The agony ended eventually, and as it was then a quarter after twelve
they decided to go down to the lobby, and partake of the fare which had
been cracked up to them as especially fine, as well as indicative of
typical Southern cooking--Perk kept harping on that same string until
Jack whispered to him he must not overdo the matter.

Apparently they found everything to their liking, for they remained in
the diningroom almost a full hour; and when they came out Perk was
breathing unusually hard, like a person who has done heroic duty in an
effort to show the hotel _chef_ he appreciated his culinary arts.

"We'll take things easy in our room for a short while," Jack informed
his chum, as they ascended by means of the "lift" or elevator. "Along
about halfpast two I'll call up my friend, and distant relative,
Mr.--er, oh! yes, Mr. Casper Herriott, and make some arrangement for
joining him tonight at his home--I've always been a bit eager to see.
just what sort of family my--er second cousin Casper might have, and
this will be an excellent opportunity to satisfy that--er _yen_, as you
would say."

"Huh! jest so, suh, an' it shore pleases me to see how loyal yeou are to
yeour illustrious fambly tree--second cousin is real good, I'd say, suh,
mighty good connection."

"Take it all seriously, partner, even when we're snug in our own
room--such things need constant _practice_, and shouldn't be thrown off
and on just as the occasion arises; such a habit breeds carelessness,
you must know."

"Jest so, suh, jest so; I takes the hint, okay," gurgled Perk.



                              CHAPTER XII

                       WHEN COUSINS GET IN TOUCH


Jack was as good as his word.

At exactly half after two he was in touch with the office where the
Government at Washington was ably represented by the gentleman he had
been instructed to get in close intercourse with, unbeknown to
outsiders.

"Is this Mr. Herriott--Mr. Casper Herriott?" he asked, when he heard
some one handling the receiver after the house operator had heard his
polite request.

"It is," came back in firm tones.

"_Cousin_ Casper Herriott?" continued Jack, a bit mischievously.

There came a slight exclamation, then--

"Who is it speaking, please?"

"Rodman Warrington, of New York, sir."

"Ah! just so, Mr. Warrington; I've been rather expecting to hear from
you at any time. Glad you arrived safely; was that your ship I chanced
to notice hovering over the airport about eleven?"

"That was the time we arrived, sir; to meet a warm welcome from your
gentlemanly superintendent of the port. He saw to it that our craft was
speedily placed in a hangar, where it can remain as long as we happen to
be hunting along the coast. I presume, sir, the new amphibian is here,
and waiting for me?"

"I'm delighted to assure you on that matter--it was brought here six
days ago, and you will find it all safe and sound at the same airport
where you landed."

"What arrangements have you made for my meeting you, er--Cousin Casper?"
continued Jack.

Again he heard what he took to be a chuckle come over the wire, which
assured him this Mr. Herriott at least was a man who appreciated humor,
and seemed to be getting considerable enjoyment out of the happening,
even though it was meant to all be along the line of strict business.

"You have my house address, I presume, cousin?" he thereupon asked.

"Certainly I have; it was you yourself sent it to me, sir, you
remember." Jack went on to say.

"To be sure--that had quite escaped my memory, owing to a press of
business for the Department. Suppose you come around, say at eight this
evening, when I shall be delighted to see you."

"You can depend on me to be there; I have often wished I could drop in
on you informally, and renew our old ties of friendship."

"Just so, and on my part I shall be most charmed to have you meet my
good wife, and the children also, who have heard me speak of you more
than a few times."

Both of them seemed to be enjoying this little chatter, meant to deceive
any possible spy who might be looking for someone to make a business
call upon the Government agent,--perhaps there might even be such a
snake in his office force, some one who had been bought body and soul by
the syndicate, which would account for a leakage more than once in the
past, calculated to upset certain deeply laid schemes for breaking up
the wide-flung conspiracy against Uncle Sam.

"I shall be particularly pleased to meet them, I assure you, cousin,"
continued Jack. "At eight you said, sir?"

"Yes, and while you are in the city, later on possibly, I'd like you to
fetch around that splendid pilot chap you mentioned, I believe, in one
of your letters,--let me see, I think you wrote he was a native of
Birmingham, down in our own Alabama close by, a sort of an odd genius,
in the bargain, to whom you had become greatly attached."

"I see you have been well posted, Cousin Casper," Jack told him,
understanding of course how the gentleman must have had a duplicate of
the code letter sent on to him, Jack; since they were to work in
collusion as a team. "Yes, I shall try to coax him to come with me later
on--you know he's not at all gunshy when in the field, or at the traps,
a most excellent shot, and guide; but he doesn't take much stock in
society functions, in which he differs somewhat from myself. I'll see
you then tonight, cousin."

"We'll consider that settled; goodbye, Cousin Rodman until eight."

Jack was laughing as he switched off, as though this part of his mission
might be looked upon in the light of a good joke rather than anything
really serious. But no one knew better than Jack what lay behind this
pretense--how it was to be taken as only a bluff in order to deceive any
argus eyes, or hostile listening ears, that might be employed by the
powerful syndicate to further the ends of the smugglers of the Carolina
coastways.

When Perk heard what had passed he, too, had his little fit of
merriment; but looked serious when Jack told him of the warm invitation
received concerning his being brought to the home of Mr. Herriott some
time later on.

"Shore, I'll be glad to go with yeou, partner," he affirmed, taking a
big breath at the same time, as though he had succeeded in conquering
his prejudice; "'cause I wanter to meet up with this gent, an' hear what
he's got to say. His lady, I done reckons, aint agoin'--agwyin' I
means--to think much o' a ignorant guy like me; but if he's got _kids_
why I'm allers at home 'long with them. Now tell me some more yeou two
done talked 'bout."

"The real talking will come off tonight when we get in touch, Wally; all
we did was to make arrangements; and whoever conceived this idea about
our pretending to be distant cousins hit on a clever idea, and one that
ought to throw any prowling spy off the track--whether in his office
force, if they were listening to our little friendly chat, or even among
the servants in his home."

Perk wanted to start out and see something of the city; and while Jack
on his part would have preferred staying there, and going over his
schedule of arrangements once more, he concluded it might be wiser for
him to give in and accompany the other on his roving about the city; for
truth to tell he still felt a little dubious about Perk's ability to
play his part naturally at any and all times.

Accordingly they sallied forth, and securing a taxi had the driver take
them to such points of interest as were within his ken. Perk was eager
to see the noted navy yard, at some distance north of the city, but Jack
convinced him that could very well keep for another time.

"At any rate, brother," he concluded, by stating, "you're going to look
down on that same navy yard every time we take off on a flight of
exploration, to learn whether the ducks are down from the Far North in
sufficient numbers to tempt us sportsmen to locate, and build a duck
blind."

"Gee! I kin see where I'm agoin' to enjoy a little shootin' fo' a
change, suh," Perk went on to say, accompanying his words with one of
his wide grins. "Aint done much practicin' on wild fowl fo' a heap o'
moons, so I done reckon I'll show up kinder poor at fust; but it'll all
come back soon's I gits my hand adoin' its cunnin', an' my eye on the
job."

They were back in the hotel by sundown, with Perk trying to guess what
he'd like best for his dinner.

"Wonder if so be they got any sorter dish I used to be fondest of when I
was atrapsin' raoun' ole Birmin'ham as a gawky kid--somepin naow like
stuffed possum with baked sweet yams--haow even the mention o' that
lovely dish makes my mouth fair water, an' my eyes glisten like
raindrops on the grass. Then there's co'nbread, hoe-cake we uster call
hit in them days when----"

"Oh! you'll be sure to pick all your beloved dishes out of the menu,
Brother Wally;" Jack interrupted to tell him; "only I hope you keep that
appetite of yours in check; what would become of all my well-laid plans
for a great kill of ducks and geese if I had to leave you on your back
in a Charleston hospital here, down with gastro-enteritis, on account of
an over indulgence in rich food?"

"Gosh amighty! doant mention that sort o' thing again, partner; I'll try
an' bridle this ferocious appetite o' mine, an' hold her in check, shore
I will. Gaster--trig--er whatever it was aint agwine to get a grip on
_me_, no suh."

After dinner had been disposed of they again repaired to their room,
Perk having an armful of papers with which he meant to pass the time
while his chum was chatting with the Government agent, and picking up
quantities of fresh information to add to what he had already
accumulated.

Jack had him promise faithfully not to think of stepping out of the
room, and to also refrain from opening the door to any caller.

"We're stacking up against a desperate bunch of dare-devils, don't
forget, comrade, who'd hold life cheap--at least any other life but
their own--if it had to be snuffed out in order to further their evil
ends. In a case like this it's a whole lot better to overrate your
enemy, than to think too cheaply of him. Have a pleasant time, and I'll
be back inside of a few hours. So-long!"



                              CHAPTER XIII

                            PICKING UP FACTS


When Jack found himself shaking hands with his newly acquired "second
cousin" one keen glance seemed quite enough to tell him Mr. Casper
Herriott was a man after his own heart--genial, with a warm handclasp,
yet possessing a firm jaw, a keen eye, and all the marks to signify that
the Government had picked out the right type of business executive when
he was placed in his present position of authority at the port of
Charleston.

So, too, did he appreciate the delightful lady who gave him her hand and
a wise smile, as though she considered it rather amusing to thus meet a
relative of her husband who had bobbed up out of a clear sky, and seemed
to be such a worth-while young fellow, just the kind any lady delights
to have enter her home, and meet her children.

These latter were a boy of about ten and a delightful little miss of
perhaps six or seven, so pretty that Jack could hardly take his eyes off
her bewitching face. He decided that of course they could not have been
taken into the secret, and actually believed him to belong to their
father's family.

For some little time they sat and talked on general topics; the children
presently going to bed as though their time had arrived; also expressing
the wish that they would see the new relation again very soon--evidently
Jack had made as favorable an impression on the youngsters as upon their
parents.

Mrs. Herriott soon turned the conversation into aviation channels, as
though realizing that certain information she had been desirous of
obtaining along the line of the new fad might be furnished by this
wide-awake young chap, who moreover, she had undoubtedly been told by
her husband, was one of the brightest and most successful of the men of
the Government Secret Service active roll.

Jack, being filled with knowledge pertaining to his life calling, the
mastery of the air, took extreme pleasure in giving her explanations to
her queries that apparently afforded the lady much satisfaction.

Then along about half-past eight Mr. Herriott made some plausible excuse
for asking his guest to accompany him to his "den," where he wished to
ask his professional opinion in connection with a fine new hammerless
Marlin repeating shotgun, which he had lately purchased, with the
intention of later on spending a few days among the mallards and black
ducks at a club he had joined.

It was indeed a fact that he had such a brand-new gun, which he handed
to Jack, with a whimsical smile; the other carefully looked it over;
tested the hammerless feature; saw that it was a six-shot twelve-bore
Marlin shotgun, and then gravely handed it back with words of the
highest praise, just as though he had been examining a new production of
an old friend.

"I can well understand how you'll have considerable enjoyment out of
that hard-shooting gun, sir," was his warm comment; "I've been out in a
sneakbox with one of the same pattern, and found it trustworthy beyond
description."

"I'll just lock the door so we may not be disturbed by some servant, and
then we can have a heart-to-heart confab--Cousin Rodman!"

Both of them smiled in unison at the conceit; and then, having fixed the
door to his satisfaction, Mr. Herriott drew his chair alongside the one
into the depths of which Jack had sunk, following a wave of his host's
hand in that direction.

"In the start let me acknowledge that I've been a bit keen about meeting
you, Mr. Ralston," he went on to say, warmly; "I've heard certain
matters discussed, as far as such are spoken of in our circles, and had
conceived a very high opinion of your abilities along the line of the
hazardous profession you are following. I chance to know at the same
time how well they think of you up above; and that they have shown this
by the fact of entrusting such a difficult task to your working out. I
am in full sympathy with what you plan to attain, and shall do anything
and everything in my power to assist you to a complete success."

"I am sure that is most kind of you, sir," Jack hastened to say; "and I
hope to pick up many valuable points through my association with you,
which is so fortunate; because there are still many things I should know
better than I do, and which must be mastered before I can venture to
make a real start in the game."

"It pleases me to hear you say that, since it shows how you appreciate
the terrible difficulties, the overshadowing perils, and the enormity of
the syndicate you will find yourself up against. It certainly requires a
nervy chap to undertake to pit his wit and energies against so powerful
a group as these men, of high and low degree, banded together for spoils
only, have organized. And now, I presume you have a list of important
questions which you wish to fire at me; so we had better be making a
start."

All of this had been spoken in low tones, that could never have been
caught beyond a closed door; besides, Mr. Herriott had cautioned his
good wife to see that such servants as they employed in the house, all
colored, and who were supposed to be absolutely reliable, were where
they should be at that time of night, and not "snooping" about the
halls, or outside near the windows, over which the shades had been drawn
so carefully beforehand.

Accordingly, the way being now open for acquiring more or less
information, Jack drew out a folded paper, and began to put the first
question.

These things do not necessitate their being noted here, although to Jack
they meant a great deal, serving to fasten in concrete form fragments of
his view of the situation; and by degrees make a complete whole, thus
giving him the grasp he required to accomplish his end.

Mr. Herriott answered slowly, as though anxious to make no mistake that
might cost the bold workers unnecessary trouble or risk. He might have
been a lawyer on the stand, so studiously did he tell whatever he
happened to know of the point Jack was trying to have made clear.

Jack was wonderfully heartened--with such a clean spoken and well
informed witness in the chair he could already see things were bound to
speed along, and bring him much grist for the mill.

When in the end his list of queries was finished, Mr. Herriott hastened
to assure him he stood ready to answer any others that might occur to
his new-found friend later on; for Jack had already mentioned how he and
Perk would "stay around," possibly for as long as ten days, or two
weeks, there was so much to learn, such great need for him to
investigate many regions in that wilderness of swamp and watercourses
marking the northward shore line.

So far as he had gone in the matter, Jack felt much encouraged; although
knowing full well by far the worst was yet to come. These preliminaries
seemed only in the nature of skirmishes, with the fierce battle in
prospect.

Mr. Herriott had told him many things having a distinct bearing on the
great adventure; mention of which will be made later on, when Jack
starts posting his chum.

This was only the first of several interviews he expected to hold with
the accommodating Government representative, as step by step he climbed
the heights, and reached the climax just before plunging into the fray,
on the principle that it was his duty to "hew close to the line, let the
chips fall where they willed."

It was after ten when Jack arrived at the hotel. Feeling particularly
dry before ascending to their room, he satisfied his thirst by stepping
into the convenient drugstore, and supping a cold cream soda. This was
on the principle that if he knew Perk--and he had reason to believe he
surely did--the other might be expected to shower him with questions of
every variety, in his eagerness to learn how their plans were
progressing; so that his throat would soon become too dry to keep up the
chatter necessary to appease the voracious one.

He found Perk drowsing in his chair, the evening paper scattered all
over the floor, as it had been tossed aside after being perused in
search of such items along the line of aviation and Government work in
suppressing lawless breaks in the customs service and coast patrol,
always matters of supreme importance in the eyes of a loyal and
industrious Secret Service man.

Perk jumped up when the door opened, as if suddenly realizing that after
all he had neglected to fasten it as Jack had advised.

"By gum! if I didn't jest furget 'bout lockin' that door, partner!" Perk
went on to exclaim, winking very hard as the electric light hit his eyes
after his "bit of a nap;" but Jack said nothing in reproof, only settled
down in a chair, beckoned the other to draw alongside, and calmly
remarked:

"Got an earful for you, brother--lots of interesting things to tell; and
you want to make a mental note of each and every one, so's not to forget
if the occasion arises. Now listen, and be prepared to speak up if
you're puzzled."



                              CHAPTER XIV

                          PERK GETS AN EARFUL


"Go to it, ole hoss; I'm all set!" was the way Perk announced the fact
that every atom of drowsiness had fled from his eyes, and he was as
wide-awake as any hawk that ever darted down on a farmer's chicken pen.

Accordingly Jack started in to tell of the pleasant time he had
experienced while spending a couple of hours with Mr. Casper Herriott
and his charming family.

Perk was mildly interested at first, which was saying a good deal,
considering how anxious he felt to have the narrator "get down to brass
tacks," as he himself would have expressed it; meaning facts intimately
connected with the perils and anticipated progress of their present big
adventure.

When, however, Jack reached the point where his host had made him
promise to fetch his best pal along at some later date, as he was
particularly anxious to meet and know him, Perk manifested fresh
interest, and even asked several questions, thus learning what Mr.
Herriott had said about having heard more or less concerning his,
Perk's, good qualities--and eccentricities.

"Shore," he told Jack, soberly. "I'll be glad to meet up with the gent
any time yeou see fit to invite me along--mebbe when yeou've sorter got
matters hitched to the post, an' we're figgerin' on jumpin' off fo'
keeps. I doant know 'baout the lady, since I aint much on talkin' to
sech; but I'd jest _love_ to see them kids--got a soft spot in my ole
heart fo' awl boys an' gals, 'specially them that aint much--er
soperfisticated--hanged if I know haow to git that ere word; but anyway
yeou ketch my meanin', partner."

Then Jack began to branch off to other things, with Perk sitting there,
his eyes never once leaving the face of his chum, drinking in every
low-spoken word as though he meant to print the same indelibly on the
tablets of his memory--a bit fickle, it must be confessed, when he was
caught unawares.

One thing followed another, and the interest seemed to increase rather
than diminish; until Perk was breathing hard, and making a whistling
sound between his set teeth, a little habit he had when intensely
excited.

"I asked about the amphibian that was to be placed at our disposal,"
Jack informed the other later on; "and Mr. Herriott apologized because,
as he said, he understood it had been decided best and safest for all
concerned if instead of the wonderful new navy speed boat, one of the
latest patterns along that line, as first designed for us, they had sent
a much used Curtiss Falcon; although certain new fangled devices had
been attached, such as combination wheels and pontoons, that had been
successfully tried out in active service, and were much the worse for
wear, but staunch for all that."

"Gee whiz! that's goin' to tickle a feller named er-Wally a heap, let me
tell yeou, buddy!" exclaimed Perk, with glistening eyes. "Allers did
hanker to see haow that ere contraption panned aout. What else is there
'baout the boat we'll 'preciate, boss?"

"A number of up-to-date things that are apt to come in handy," Jack told
him; "but remember, pains have been taken to make it appear they've been
attached to the flying ship for quite some time--it might look
suspicious if they were all _new_, as though placed there for some
particular purpose--get the full meaning of that, do you, Wally?"

"Yeah, jest so," the other made answer, a bit hesitatingly, but with
growing assurance in his manner; "them bally guys got sharp eyes, an' if
so be they happens to have a spy right hyah in Charleston town, he'd
lamp sech extravagance, an' keep an eye on weuns."

"That's the right answer, boy--you said it. Well, another fine thing Mr.
Herriott told me, was connected with a suppression of the row made by
our exhausts. You know that's been a source of great annoyance to us in
times past, when it meant a whole lot if we could get close to our
intended quarry without kicking up such a tremendous racket that every
living thing inside ten miles must know an airship was somewhere
around."

"Hot-diggetty-dig! air yeou tellin' me they done got that squall muzzled
at last--that yeou kin make a grand sneak up on yeour meat withaout them
suspectin' a single thing?"

"Well, they do say it's pretty close to having the noise kept under
perfect control," Jack went on to state. "Whenever you want to stop the
staccato sounds from publishing your coming to the entire country, ten
miles in every direction, all you have, to do is to press a button, and
the muffler gets down to business automatically. Even the whirling sound
of the propeller has been fairly quieted in the same way."

"Say, that shore is great news!" Perk exclaimed, enthusiastically; "an'
I'll be near crazy to see haow she works, aput in practice."

"Just hold your horses until tomorrow, when we'll go out to the field
and take our first flight in the old cabin Curtiss Falcon ship, to find
how she handles. I never had the pleasure of piloting one of that type
of ships, and so there'll be a heap for both of us to learn."

"Shucks! I done handled a amphib many a time, but that was years back,
when they didn't near come up to the new kind; an' with all them
contraptions attached in the bargain. It's agoin' to be high sport
dodgin' 'raound over them swamps an' wild sections o' territory, duckin'
daown to settle on some bayou, or mebbe a meanderin' river with a fierce
current, sech as I read they got close to the Atlantic seaboard--bet
yeour boots it is, partner."

"I reckon you're right there, buddy; but for the present we mustn't have
much thought for amusing ourselves--everything we do should have a
decided bearing on the carrying out of our game."

"Shore thing, boss," agreed Perk, not at all dismayed at having cold
water thrown on his high hopes; "but if so yeou happens to git a good
chance to knock over a brace o' fat mallards, in carryin' aout the
duckin' part o' aour program, why, there aint any crime 'baout makin' a
nice cookin' fire ashore, be they, and havin' real wild game fo' supper?
We gotter eat to live, yeou knows, an' I'm right fond o' duck, when in
camp."

Jack grinned, and shook his head, even though smiling, as if he found
his chum's specious argument unanswerable.

"We'll leave all that to the future, brother," he told Perk; "it isn't
always advisable to cross a stream until you come to it."

Then he went on to reel off still more of the information passed along
to him by his late host; and while many things he told may not have
seemed as important in Perk's eyes as the two just mentioned,
nevertheless he tried to pay strict attention, and asked numerous
questions, to convince Jack he understood all he said.

"And before we take off for a spin," Jack added, as an after thought;
"we must get all the raft of things aboard the amphibian we fetched here
to use in our work. There will be other necessary stuff to pick up from
time to time, as we advance along our road; for we've got to remember
that once we make the grand getaway we'll not see the floodlights or
boundary zones of Charleston aviation field again until we've won our
game; or come back defeated, as others have done before us, men supposed
to be as clever as they make them in our particular line."

"Then we got a big day afore us tomorrow, eh, what, partner?"

"Looks that way, buddy," Jack lost no time in saying; "and on that
account I reckon now we'd better call a halt on this talkie, and hit the
hay. For one I'm about as sleepy as they make 'em, and ready to crawl
between the sheets, leaving tomorrow to look after itself."

"Meanin' to run up an' see the gov'nor tomorrow, any?" queried Perk, as
he started to take off his shoes, and suppressing a big yawn while so
doing.

"I made an arrangement to get over to his house tomorrow night, should I
have further questions to put up to him," Jack admitted. "Then again
there's always a chance of some later important news coming in from
Headquarters, such as we ought to hear about without delay, since it
could bring about some sort of change in our plan of campaign."

Perk grunted, as though he grasped the idea; but was really too tired
himself to think of asking more solutions of the possible puzzles as yet
bothering his brain.

With the coming of dawn they were both astir, for when on duty Perk
could cut his sleeping portion in two, if it was deemed necessary; while
Jack had ever been able to get along with a few hours recuperation each
night.

They went down and enjoyed a fine breakfast, although Perk had to be
warned again not to founder; since they had a strenuous day ahead, when
he needed to be in the best possible condition. Consequently he had to
deny himself a third helping of sausages and fried eggs; as well as a
fourth plate of griddle cakes; dripping with fresh butter and Southern
syrup. However, he "opined" he would be able to hold out until lunch
time; for which he meant to be provided by securing some stuff at a
bakery, together with hard-boiled eggs aplenty--trust an old campaigner
with vast experience for looking after the "eats" when backed by an
abundance of the "long green."

When they had laid out a program that covered everything for the day,
they took a taxi, and ran out in style to the aviation field. Jack
assumed the post of running things, as was his right, acting as a
wealthy young sportsman, used to doing just about what he pleased, and
"letting the world go hang!"

He had a little chat with his good friend of the previous day, and they
learned that their other ship, the Curtiss-Falcon, was housed in the
same Blevins Aircraft Corporation hangar that now sheltered their big
Fokker tri-motored craft; which made things doubly comfortable, when
they would start changing their possessions from one to the other.

Jack only waited until some call took the superintendent off, leaving
them by themselves, when with Perk's help he commenced the job of making
the transfer. This had been taken into consideration before they left
San Diego, and later on in the Curtiss-Wright hangar at Candler Field,
Atlanta; so that everything had been placed in a series of cartons, such
as might be tossed overboard when their contents were disposed
of--particularly in the case of edibles, and such perishable supplies.

These handy cartons would have prevented any one from knowing what they
were stocking up with, and in such wise warded off possible suspicions
that might have started a string of happenings none too pleasant to
contemplate.

After this job was completed came the running of the antique Curtiss
cabin amphibian out of its hangar, and settled in position for the
coming takeoff; with Perk all agrin, as if he anticipated a glorious
cruise.



                               CHAPTER XV

                             THE TRIAL SPIN


Perk had closely examined a number of things about the amphibian in
which they anticipated carrying out the gigantic task committed to their
hands by the Chief at Headquarters; and whom they looked up to as worthy
of their utmost respect as an organizer able to consider the utmost
details. Most of his scrutiny, however, did not have any connection with
new gadgets affixed to the black dashboard fronting the pilot's seat;
but lay in the direction of the combination of wheels for landing on
solid ground, also pontoons for use when seeking to drop down on the
water of river, lagoon, or even the sea itself.

He spent considerable time in examining the working of this contrivance,
which he had reason to fully appreciate--if only it proved all that was
claimed for it, which was soon to be settled.

Then the new-fangled muffler for the engine exhaust was a source of vast
attention on Perk's part; Jack could see him shaking his head
incredulously; and from this suspected Perk of doubting its efficiency;
but then Perk happened to be something of a skeptic, and even though he
did not come from Missouri he usually had to be shown before yielding
his doubts.

"Let's get out of here, and aloft," suggested Jack, when he found it was
about an hour before noon time.

The field just then presented a rather animated appearance, as ships
were coming in, and going out; with several taking up parties who were
eager to try a first air swing. This just suited Jack, for it would keep
many curious eyes off their movements; and just then the less notice
they drew the better he would be pleased.

They picked up a couple of field workers to lend a hand, and hence their
rather seedy looking water and air craft was wheeled into position,
after it had been serviced while yet in the hangar, a very nice
undertaking for one who disliked publicity.

"Here, Wally," Jack went on to say, when everything seemed in readiness
for their initial jump, "suppose you take hold, seeing you're more
accustomed to this type of boat than I am. However I'll soon get
acquainted, and then it'll be okay. Step in, and grab the stick,
partner; nothing to keep us on ground that I know of; and I'm anxious to
have a look-in at the waterways where we're hoping for a run of luck
with the ducks and geese."

Much of this of course was for the benefit of the two men in dungarees,
for how were Jack and his pard to know but that one of them might turn
out to be a clever spy in the pay of the never sleeping Combine, jealous
of their hitherto unsurpassed success in beating the customs, and in a
way daring the Secret Service branch of the Federal Government to "do
its level best to down them"?

Perk was not in the least averse to taking the place of honor when the
amphibian would start its initial flight in their hands. He proved the
absolute truth of what he had said about being fairly at home with the
ship that belonged to both the land and water contingent; for they made
only a short run when contact with the ground was cut off, and like a
bird broken away from its brass cage and soaring upward, they started to
spiral in the effort to gain altitude.

When he had a ceiling of say about five hundred feet or more, Perk
commenced a wide swing, wishing to circle the city on the seashore, to
view it from a different angle than their former experience had given
them.

"Now point her blunt nose into the north, buddy--we're off!" Jack bawled
in the ear of the pilot, the ear-phones not having as yet been
adjusted--all those things came under the line of Perk's duty, and would
be attended to in due time.

They speedily left the good city of Charleston behind them, and were
passing over the Navy-yard; which place Perk meant to examine more
closely with his glasses on another occasion, when matters would be
easier for him.

"How does she go?" shouted Jack, later on, when they could no longer
catch even a fugitive glimpse of the city, saving the cloud of smoke
that almost always hung over the high buildings and steeples.

"Bang up, boss; works like a charm!" yelled Perk, happily, as though he
was not "caring a Continental" just how long Jack allowed him to hold
the post of honor. "Whoever looked after the job o' gettin' this classic
old-timer in great shape for this work, he shore knew his onions, I'll
say. It's a snap to run this boat, if yeou want to know my 'pinion."

"I think I'll take a whirl at the controls, partner!" cried Jack; "stay
just where you are for a while at least; I can play the game as a
back-seat driver. Here goes, then."

He was pleased to find it no trouble whatever to handle the amphibian as
though he knew everything about such craft; after all airships are run
pretty much alike; and it depends on the adaptability of the pilot as to
whether he can work the same as with his own familiar type of
craft--there are some people who are able to master any and all models
of automobiles, even though handling them for the first time, especially
men mechanically inclined by Nature,--and Jack happened to belong to
that class.

"You can go about your duties, Wally; I'll work over into the front seat
okay, for its an easy job, I reckon. When we make up our minds to dip
down and wet the pontoons in some body of water, fresh or salt, I'll let
you handle the boat again; though I imagine I could do the thing without
much splash if I was put to it. I'll soon get the hang of the trick, you
can well believe."

"Huh! yeou would, Mister--it aint much that'd faize yeou, take it from
me as knows."

After that conversation was such a tremendous effort that it languished
until a better opportunity opened up--this would come when Jack found it
expedient to make a test of the muffler system, with which their boat
had been supplied, and which Perk was eager to see tried out.

To the delight of both fliers the device worked to a charm, most of the
deafening racket being abated, even when they going at the fastest speed
of which the "has-been" Curtiss-Falcon was capable of exhibiting--much
more than a hundred miles an hour, Perk figured.

"Huh! mebbe naow they call this ship a relic o' the past," he grunted,
when the success of the experiment was assured; "but I wanter say right
naow there aint amany up-to-the-minute ships as kin run circles 'raound
this _tub_, as some wise guy pilot'd call her. See, yeou kin hear ev'ry
word I'm asayin' an' yet I aint ahollerin' any to notice. It's a bully
invention, an' shows where we're agettin' in this science o' aviation.
From what I hears, them ships as is acarryin' smuggled stuff 'long the
seaboard aint great at speed, 'cause they don't need to be, their job
bein' to carry hefty loads each trip, an' be steady goers. If the chanct
ever comes to try this Falcon aout agin one o' that dirty bunch, I'm
wagerin' we'll overhaul the same hands down, an' no takers."

"I hope your prediction proves a true one, brother," Jack told him;
"for, come to think of it, there's a pretty good chance we may yet be up
against a hot chase, either the pursued, or better still, the pursuer;
in either case having the speediest craft would be an advantage worth
while. Yes, that seems to be okay, and a big improvement over all that
row we're accustomed to carrying along with us wherever we go."

They had been heading up the coast, keeping within sight of the Atlantic
most of the time; but paying constant attention to inland pictures.

Of course Perk had before then brought his faithful and much beloved
glasses out of their nook, and was making frequent use of the same,
staring this way and that, sometimes making a noise with his mouth as
though grunting his surprise to discover what a clear atmosphere
attended their trial flight, and how close up the powerful binocular
lens brought far distant objects.

"It shore is a big treat jest to be squattin' hyah, suh, an' observin'
so much all 'raound us. Looks like a mighty tough region daown there, I
got to admit; an' if them slick guys air ahidin' their landin' place
where them awful swampy tracts lie, we're agoin' to have aour hands
right full alocatin' the same, an' gettin' what we come after in the
bargain."

"Don't worry, partner," Jack told him, in as smooth a voice as though he
could see nothing whatever to cause undue anxiety. "Rome, you may
remember, wasn't built in a day; there'll be heaps of time to get our
little work in; and we were told to take as long as we thought
wise--that there was no need of trying to wind things up in a hurry."

"That's correct, boss," admitted the easily convinced Perk; and then
deftly turning the talk in another quarter he went on to add, pointing
as he made the remark: "Looky yondah, suh, see that neat lit' bayou jest
anestlin' there like a private pond. Wouldn't it be fine if we could
on'y drop daown, an' try aour pontoons on that sheet o' water. Doant
seem to be a livin' thing araoun' neither, less it might be a 'gator,
stickin' his nose up to see if the coast it be clear."

Jack turned the craft to a severe dip, at which the pleased Perk grinned
horribly, as if he considered he had made a real "wise-crack."

"Goin' daown, folks--main floor next--ev'rybody aout then what aint
agwine to the basement!" he went on to remark, quaintly; and Jack could
see how his best pal was earnestly trying to acquire the genuine
Southern manner of speech, tinctured with a touch of negro dialect.

"I'm going to try to make contact myself, brother," announced the
confident pilot, as, after several circling movements he headed up
against the sea breeze that was blowing from the southeast just then.

Perk did not appear to feel any concern, such confidence did he have in
the other's ability to make landings so soft that an egg would hardly
have been crushed by any jumpy motion.

Jack watched his contact with the water--the big boat dipped, sprang up,
came in touch again, and then settled down to making headway, the little
wavelets curling away from the bows of the pontoons with a murmurous
sound very similar to the gurgling of a running mountain brook.

"Splendid work, buddy, better'n I could a done it myself, with all the
sperience I done had long ago. An' she does work to a charm, sure as
yeou're born. We're in bully great luck, all right, to have 'em pick
aout sech a dandy ole boat like this, that does her makers credit. I'll
tell the world."

Jack was not planning to stay in that lonely bayou for any length of
time; what they were out to pay particular attention to on this their
initial trip was the lay of the land; also to familiarize themselves
with the working of the amphibian; so presently he again left the water,
and arose like a lark.



                              CHAPTER XVI

                          ALL IN A DAY'S WORK


"And I gotter to admit," Perk was saying, shortly after they had gained
the altitude that gave him a chance to sweep the horizon with his
glasses, "even the ole weather sharp stands in aour favor. Look at that
sky, buddy; did yeou ever in all yeour life set eyes on a clearer
stretch--nary a single cloud pokin' its nose in sight; an' to think o'
the measly days an' nights I uster spend in the mail-carrier business,
asloggin' 'long with a capacity load, and mebbe ice formin' on my wings
to beat the band. Yeah! this lay o' aourn aint so bad--some o' the
time."

They swung over much of the territory for fifty miles north of
Charleston, with Jack noting the lay of the land as cleverly as any
topography expert charting a region, could display. In that wonderful
brain of his he undoubtedly must have been engaged in making a mental
chart of the ground; the sinuosities of the streams that ran with such
eccentricity toward the nearby ocean; the numerous more or less possible
landing-places where both boats from salt water, and those dropping down
from the clouds, might find a resting place; where their contraband
cargoes could be taken aboard waiting trucks, and be transported to safe
havens, despite the utmost vigilance of the customs officers and coast
patrol forces to apprehend them.

This initial survey of the vast territory open to the expert smugglers,
most of it absolutely familiar to those engaged in the illegal traffic,
undoubtedly must have impressed the Secret Service man with the
immensity of the task so recently placed upon his shoulders.

Just the same, the only visible result of this realization lay in a
tightening of Jack's firm lips, and a fresh gleam in his steady eyes, as
though he might be once again dedicating all his energies, his life
itself, to the undertaking as yet so young, so untried.

"So much for the territory close to Charleston," he told his mate, as he
turned the nose of his airship once more toward the city; "I've got that
down pretty pat for a beginning. The next time we come out it will be to
take up the survey about where we left off today, and head further
north."

"Judgin' from what yeou say, partner, I kinder gu--reckons as haow yeou
kim to the conclusion they gets their business in further away from dear
ole Charleston--haow 'bout that, suh?"

"Possibly so, Wally, but from what I've picked up from many sources, I'm
already half convinced we'll be apt to rim across the whole works within
fifty miles or so of the city, it may be where that swift and crooked
Yamasaw River skirts the coastways, dodging this way and that, even
running backwards sometimes, so when you've been going with the current
two hours you find yourself within a biscuit toss of a tree you passed
long ago."

So in due time they dropped down again on the landing-field close to
Charleston.

One thing Perk felt absolutely certain about, which was that his chief
was not going to start real operations until he had accomplished the
most exacting examination of the entire ground; and felt able to picture
in his mind just how the Government baiters carried out their extensive
smuggling game by sea and air; but when he _did_ strike it would be in a
way to start strangling the hitherto successful campaign of the giant
Combine.

They both carried on in a perfectly natural fashion, much of their talk
when in the company of any third party being along the line of their
intended sport--how they had been able to discover a number of promising
secluded ponds and bayous where already thus early in the ducking season
a considerable gathering of the feathered game had been noted.

Perk fell into the humor of the trick, and even boasted of what a
vacancy he meant to create in the flocks of ducks and geese before the
termination of Mr. Warrington's vacation caused him to start north once
more to his regular "business" of attending Board meetings in a bunch of
companies where he chanced to be a heavy stockholder, and a director as
well.

Really to Perk, who liked a joke as well as the next one, this thing
promised no end of fun; every hour of the day found him more deeply
interested than before, and eager to push ahead.

That night in the sanctity of their room, (speaking even there in low
voices as if they more than half believed the very walls might have
ears) Perk took occasion to mention the remarkable gift his companion
had with regard to a retentive memory.

"I jest doant see haow yeou kin 'member things like yeou do, ole hoss,"
he was saying, evidently fishing for light on a subject that had often
confounded his intellect. "Onct yeou hears a long-winded talk, an' I'll
be hanged if yeou can't spin her off word fur word, an' never a single
slip-up. Haow kin yeou do it, suh, I'd shore like to know?"

"It just can't be explained, brother, and that's a fact," Jack told him
in his smiling way. "All you know is that Nature's been kind in giving
you such a faculty, and let it go at that. I may seem remarkable to you,
in that I've got such a good memory; but there have been others beside
whom I'm a regular piker. Did you ever hear of Blind Tom, brother?"

"Huh! 'pears to me I did--he was some sorter black man, wa'nt he, suh,
what could play extra good on the pianner?"

"Extra good--why, that doesn't mean a tenth of what he could do--one of
the greatest natural phenomena ever known in America, or anywhere--he
was black as the ace of spades, and unusually homely, so they hated to
watch him when he was playing; yet he had the most astounding memory
ever heard of--didn't know one note of music from another--just depended
on his ears, and that amazing talent that Nature had implanted in his,
strange uncouth soul."

"What could he do, partner, as was so wonderful?" demanded Perk,
seemingly more or less interested.

"Of course I never saw or listened to him play, for he was dead long
before my time," Jack continued; "but I've heard people who had, and
I've also read accounts of it in magazine articles, so I'm pretty well
posted myself. If you turned your head away, they say you'd have sworn
some famous composer was hitting the ivories of the piano, and bringing
out the most divine strains ever heard. He could listen just _once_ to
some classical and difficult sonata played by an eminent performer,
(something Blind Tom had never heard before in all his life) and then
sitting down he would reproduce the whole selection exactly as the
famous artist had played it, with never a chord missing. People used to
be awed, as though realizing they were in the presence of a miracle!"

"Gee whiz! it must a been somethin' fierce, Boss," was Perk's only
comment.

"You know they say the Chinese and Japanese are wonderful imitators, and
can reproduce any pattern to the minutest detail that is placed before
them; but the best of them would be ten classes below that negro genius.
So don't think I'm anything but a tyro, brother, with my poor memory.

"Hot-diggetty-dig! but yeou're good enough to make a poor bucko like me
take a seat way back; that's the honest truth, er Mr. Warrington, suh."

As the following day broke with a promise of more clear weather Jack
decided to waste no time. Accordingly they were off again, and speeding
toward the north at a pace well over a hundred miles an hour.

"Gosh-a-mighty! I never'd have reckoned this here ole boat could hit it
up so pretty," Perk at one time called out, when they had muffled the
engine exhaust so effectually that they were well able to converse
without raising their voices to a shout. "She muster been built outen A
Number One stuff to hold together like she's done. If we got through
this here job alive, partner, it's gwine to be up to us-uns to write a
sweet letter to the company what constructed this here amphibian, an'
tell 'em jest haow much we thinks o' aour boat."

"Possibly we may, partner," the other told him; "but even that might
break the Secret Service rule of keeping identities well covered up,
lest you lose some of your effectiveness by getting too familiar.
Besides, I've got an idea this boat's been reconstructed--that as
originally built she wasn't in the amphibian class at all--some gent who
owned her must have been fond of the model, and feeling the necessity
for having a ship that could land on water, had her altered to suit his
wants."

"That may well be, suh," Perk went on to assert, with one of his nods;
"but jest the same they made a mighty good job o' it, I'm asayin', suh.
Huh! to tell the truth right naow I wouldn't cry much if I never did see
aour ole bus, the big Fokker, agin; I've fell so turrible hard fo' this
hyah ship, built to imitate a duck, what kin swim on the water, rise
from the same when yeou wants to git agoin', an' cut ahead at more'n a
hundred clean an hour. Huh!"

When they had reason to believe, (from landmarks taken notice of on the
preceding day by Perk, as they turned for home) they were covering a
fresh stretch of land and water, their vigilance was once more centered
upon the task of closely observing every detail, and making more mental
notes.

During this cruise they discovered next to nothing incriminating--as a
rule they found themselves gazing down on a tangled mass of forest
growth, with silver threads of water running crisscross here and there;
or it might be muddy looking rivers and creeks meandering along in their
long march to the sea, covering at least ten miles where a crow would
fly the same distance in one mile or possibly less.

Jack had noted a number of places where the conditions seemed more or
less favorable for such secret work as the successful landing of illicit
cargoes necessitated; but while the spot seemed everything that could be
wished, there was never a sign of its being used for such purposes--no
sheds, or even a well-used road leading into the pine woods, such as
must be required if heavy truck loads of goods were to be carried off.

"It looks as if we'll have to go over that first fifty or sixty miles
again, with a fine tooth comb," Jack told his comrade, as the afternoon
caught them still speeding gaily along, not over three thousand feet
above the checkered landscape below.

"What we agoin' to do 'baout hit, then, suh?" demanded the puzzled Perk.
"We shore caint keep startin' aout from Charleston every mawnin' like
we're adoin' right naow, covering hundreds o' miles, an' hope to git
back by daylight."

"Oh! that needn't trouble us anything to speak of, matey," the other
hastened to assure him. "If necessary we'll drop down, and make camp for
the night, pick things up in the morning, and take chances of getting
back to Charleston any old time later on."

"Say, less do that same tonight, suh," suggested the artful Perk, with
his most engaging smile; but Jack shook his head in the negative.

"Possibly we may tomorrow; but I've agreed to see Mr. Herriott tonight,
partner."



                              CHAPTER XVII

                            SPINNING THE NET


Again, after Jack had paid a visit to the home of Mr. Herriott he
repeated much of what fresh information he had picked up during the
evening, some of which he deemed more or less important, as the facts
dove-tailed with other details, to make something of a complete
structure.

"Tomorrow we'll hang around the city, as there are a few things I've got
down on my list of wanted articles," he observed in conclusion.
"Besides, I promised him I'd fetch you around so as to make his
acquaintance, for he always asks about you."

"Huh! Spose I jest _has_ to get over there some time'r other," Perk
remarked, as though not particularly eager to go. "But I shore hopes as
heow on the follerin' mawnin' we kin start off, an' go so far we'll jest
_have_ to make camp in them there dark gloomy lookin' pine woods."

"It must depend a whole lot on the kind of weather they dish up for that
day," Jack informed him. "If it's foggy, and the visibility poor, we
might as well hang out here in the city, since we couldn't do any paying
business looking into a blank wall of fog, you know, Wally boy."

"Okay--suits me jest as well as things go," the other announced
carelessly enough; "I aint acarin' a scrap whether school keeps or not,
so long as we gits aour three square meals a day, an' dandy ones at
that, real Southern style, like I used to have when I was a Birmin'ham
kid, runnin' raound barefoot with my mates, jest like Tom Sawyer an'
Huck Finn uster do in them ole Mississippi days we done reads 'baout in
the books."

It was just as well that Jack had decided to drop a day in their search
for hidden haunts of the smugglers; for when morning came the sky was
overcast, and poor visibility seemed to be "on tap" for the entire day.

Jack went about doing his errands, while Perk seemed content to stick to
the isolation of their comfortable room, doing some reading of the
bundle of well known daily papers he had managed to secure at a shop
they passed during the short walk taken in company after
breakfast--that, and the waiting to get up an appetite for dinner seemed
to be the full extent of Perk's ambition, it was plain to be seen--when
he had a day off, and the "eats" were so unusually tempting, it pleased
Perk to act as if a lazy streak had gripped him.

"I think I forgot to tell you," Jack chanced to tell his comrade as the
afternoon began to wane, "that we are invited to dine with Mr. Herriott
and his fine little family tonight. Oh! you needn't be so alarmed,
partner; we'll simply clean up, and look a bit dressy; you'll soon be on
good terms with both him and his charming wife; as to the kids I warrant
you fall dead for them at first sight."

Perk, whose face had at first taken on an expression of sheer dejection,
seemed to brighten up at mention of the youngsters; for he even grinned,
and started to the bathroom, as if to begin washing up.

They arrived in good time, and Perk was soon made acquainted with the
entire little family--of course under the name and character beneath
which he was hiding his own identity at that particular time.

Just as sagacious Jack had surmised would happen, Perk was soon feeling
quite at home, making "wise-cracks" with the two wideawake youngsters,
and even engaging in more or less conversation with his host and Mrs.
Herriott.

It chanced that there seemed to be a dearth of news that evening, so
they could spend the time after dinner in other ways than "going into a
huddle," as Perk put it, and having a siege of explanations and
surmises.

Mr. Herriott coaxed Perk to speak of his early experiences, partly when
over in France, during war times, then later on with the Mounted Police
up in Northwest Canada, and also as one of the early pilots carrying the
mails, as far as was done in those bygone days and nights.

When Perk was once fairly aroused he apparently lost his customary
bashfulness, and could tell a story that brought out more than a few
laughs because of what queer things he narrated, and his comical way of
relating the same, his expressive freckled face all working with
imitations of how other men did their talking.

"I never sits so comfy in the cabin o' a up-to-date tri-motored airship
these here days," he went on to remark, when well started, "with all
sorts o' instruments to navigate by, that I doant think 'baout heow we
don't fly any more by jest instinct, like we uster do when the Wright
boys was a perfectin' their fust crude heavier'n air flyin' ship. Today,
suh, we sits at the controls, an' keeps aour eyes on aour instruments
all the time, an' doan't care a red cent what aour wonderful _instincts_
say 'baout it."

"I never thought about that fact, Wally," Mr. Herriott hastened to
exclaim; "please go on, and tell us something more along that same line.
You certainly must have passed through some strange experiences, I'd
say."

"Shucks! but it shore does make me laugh aout loud when I looks back to
them early days, an' 'members the funny way we used to find aout whether
the silly bus was a movin' up, er daown, to the left, or to the right.
The very fust instrument, if yeou could call it that, to ease up on the
instinct way o' doin' was invented by one o' them smart Wright brothers.
Say, it was on'y a light piece o' string, tied jest in front o' the
pilot's face. When we was a goin' near ten miles an hour, mebbe fifteen
at a stretch, we kept an eye on that string right along, an' could tell
what the ole ship was adoin', 'cause like it might a been if she floated
in the wind straight at aour face we knowed we was keepin' on a level
keel--if it went daown a bit why we was climbin' some; if the string
struck us in the forehead in course the plane must be droppin'; and same
way if it flowed to the right, or the left. An' say, I never did know
that early Wright invention to kick over the traces, an' fool me any."

Even Jack apparently had never heard about that clever device, however
primitive it might seem when placed alongside the wonderful means at
present used to ascertain the same things--such as slipping, skidding,
turning, climbing, or diving--today the experienced pilot watches the
air-speed instrument, his compass, the bank and turn indicator. Only by
placing entire dependence on the instruments in the cockpit can a pilot
fly with any certainty in foggy weather, when it is utterly impossible
to see any fixed point, either on the earth below or in the heavens
above.

And this is only one great change made in both the construction of the
airship in these modern days, as well as the helping hand given the
pilot through the clever devices by which he is confronted when sitting
at the controls.

Taken in all Perk spent a very pleasant evening with the Herriotts, and
on their part they had a most uproarious time, the children particularly
in romping with the jolly chap from the North.

It was with considerable eagerness that Perk bounded out of bed on the
ensuing morning, and rushed to a window to ascertain what the chances
were for a promising day in the coast skyways.

"Okay, partner!" he sang out blithely, after one brief look at the
heavens, a portion of which was visible from the hotel window; "agwine
to be jest fine, an' never a whiff o' fog aout there on Charleston
harbor an' bay."

"Then we'll get busy, and make as early a start as possible," Jack
announced, also quitting his cot.

"An' we doant kim back thisaway tonight, either, I shore reckons, Boss,"
Perk went on to add, with a happy ring in his voice; for he did yearn to
eat one camp meal, when the chance came along, and no harm might follow
their change of a set programme.

"That depends on a good many things," Jack warned him; "so I wouldn't
count too heavily on our stick-it-out idea, if I were you, Wally, boy.
If all goes well, no accidents happen to our boat, and we get so far
away from home along about the middle of the afternoon, why we'll decide
then on our doings for the night. You might as well, I suppose, carry a
few necessary things along, such as you'd like to eat at a campfire
supper--if we think it wise to have any fire, I mean."

"Oh! please doant throw any gloom on aour trip today, partner; we kin
make shore to drop daown in a region where there aint a Chinaman's
chanct o' a solitary Tarheel bein' inside o' ten miles; an' the swamps
araoun' makin' it ab-solutely impossible fo' sech to git to aour camp
short o' six days anyway, havin' to cut his path through dense thickets;
wade sloughs where the pizen water moccasins air thicker'n molasses on a
cold mawnin'; with twelve-foot 'gators alayin' in wait to bite off a
gink's leg quicker'n yeou could wink an eye. Shucks! we jest gotter have
that same campfire--withaout the same it'd be like the play o' Hanblett
with him left aout."

Jack only grinned, but Perk seeing the look on his face, took courage.

"There's one thing I haven't touched on as yet, brother, which might
just as well be taken up now." Jack was telling his comrade, as they sat
eating an early breakfast, there being hardly any one besides themselves
in the diningroom; so they could talk in low tones, and keeping an eye
on the waiters, so as to change the subject should one of them draw
near.

"Huh! somethin' mebbe naow Mr. H been atellin' you-all, eh, suh?"

"Just that, Wally; but a matter of the utmost importance, it happens, as
you'll soon understand, buddy. It concerns a certain party who's going
to have a hand with us in closing the net, and making a big dent in this
same syndicate we're up against. His name--bend a bit closer to me--is
Jethro Hicks."

"Sho! never heard it afore, give yeou my affidavy, partner!" returned
Perk.

"Of course not," snapped Jack; "neither did I until Mr. Herriott
mentioned the fact last night that he would be waiting whenever we sent
out the word--waiting in a certain little bayou which we'd have picked
for our hideout--waiting in an old battered powerboat he owns, to take
us about in the nest of swamps which we could never navigate otherwise.
You get the point, don't you, Wally, boy?"

"Hot-diggetty-dig! jest what I do, suh; queer I never reckoned on haow
we'd be able to dodge 'raound in sech crazy places, if left to
aourselves. Gwine to have a reg'lar pilot--woods guide fo' swamp
flittin', I'd call the same! Good enough, I say--caint be too many
quirks set up fo' knockin' them dead game sports silly, to please me. As
it is we gotter to be workin' with four hands each, if we hopes to climb
'em fo' keeps."

"I'll tell you more about this same Jethro Hicks when I get further word
through our good friend, who's as interested in the success of our deal
as we are ourselves--says he has it on his mind sleeping and waking,
which pleases me a whole lot. Come, let's be on the move, partner; the
chariot awaits us."

"Then we'll git aboard an' start right away, after I've laid in a few
provisions that may keep the hungry wolf from aour door this very night.
Let's go!"

Half an hour afterward and they were on their way out to the aviation
field in a convenient taxi; where in short order their big amphibian,
properly serviced by the field force, was ready for the take-off.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                           BLACK WATER BAYOU


Fortune favored them again, it seemed, not only with regard to the
skies, but, probably owing in part to the early hour, there were few
persons scattered about the aviation grounds when they took off; and the
regular attendants already understood the pair constituted a
duck-hunting party, viewing the coast shooting stands with a view to
getting in some good sport when finally satisfied as to location.

From the beginning they hit up a high pace, fully equal to the best the
amphibian had thus far accomplished. Being what might be called
"ambidextrous"--doubly able to leave by means of water, or solid land,
it had not been necessary for them to locate on any river or bay, where
they would not have the benefit of field mechanicians, and a movable
filling station, as well as shelter in a comfortable hangar.

Jack had doubtless taken all such matters into consideration when
forming his plans, and decided that the good points about staying at the
regulation aviation headquarters outweighed the poor ones.

They covered the first fifty miles in short order, keeping at some
distance further from the sea than on their previous trips, Jack having
a new hunch, to the effect that possibly the rendezvous of the smugglers
after all might be situated deeper inland than he had first suspected.

When later on Perk announced that he could just make out some city far
off on the right, Jack pronounced it to undoubtedly be Georgetown, which
lay at the junction of the Pedee and the Little Pedee.

They had flown directly over the same city on their previous trip,
showing how far west of their original course they were now working.

"We're going to patrol this region most carefully, partner," Jack told
his best pal, who as usual was handling the binoculars to the best
advantage, and calling out any discovery worth while, so as to keep his
mate posted. "It has all the earmarks to make it a dandy hidingplace,
where these sinister operations could be pulled off, day or night, and
no one the wiser. What easier than for a sea-going plane to swoop over
or around Georgetown, coming from some unknown point east, and then
vanishing in the distance, still going west? Get that, don't you,
Wally?"

"Sounds all to the good with me, suh," the other told him, nodding as he
spoke. "I'm atryin' to make aout some queer things daown there; but it's
all sech a scramble I jest caint do much. Mebbe if we dropped a bit
things'd seem different like."

"I'm going further west, so as to cover the ground," Jack informed him,
as though his immediate plans were made up, and he did not care to
change; "but later on in the day I reckon we'll be back this way, and
possibly make camp for the night. I'd like to find out what sort of
doings are taking place nights in this section; chances are we'll pick
up some interesting points before striking Charleston again."

"Which same'd please me a heap, Mister," quoth Perk; who was by now
beginning to grow a little weary of what he termed "inaction;" and
sighing for more strenuous times to come along, when there would be some
real thrills experienced.

At noon they partook of a "snack," devouring a few sandwiches, so as to
take off the sharp edge of their appetites; Perk apologizing to himself
for eating so scantily.

"If so be we're agwine to dine ashore alongside a gen-u-ine campfire,"
he went on in his whimsical fashion, "I wanter be in prime condition to
do justice to the grub I'm meanin' to sling up fo' jest two gents, known
to weuns as Mr. Rodman Warrington, an' er--Wally Corkendall, of
Birmin'ham, suh. So take things easy, an' jest forget haow yeou're still
hungry, ole man; it's on'y what that lecturer says is a figment o' the
imagination, an' so you're not a bit half starved."

When about the middle of the afternoon they again arrived in the
neighborhood of the sector which had appealed to them both as well worth
paying particular attention to, Jack signified that he was meaning to do
something in the line of lowering their ceiling, and finding out whether
there was a chance of their making a successful drop upon the waters of
that queer bayou, alongside of which ran a swift and mysterious looking
river he figured might be the Waccamaw.

Closer scrutiny convinced both of them that so far as their settling
down on the surface of the lonely bayou was concerned, nothing could be
seen that would interfere with such an arrangement.

Jack circled the spot several times, with his exhaust muffled, and even
the propeller keeping unusually quiet, as though in full sympathy with
their desire for secrecy.

"Cover every rod of both land and water with your glass, partner," he
told Perk; "because it means a whole lot to us to make sure that there
isn't any chance for hostile eyes to take note of our stopping here.
Unless I'm away off in my reckoning this same bayou must be the
identical place where we are to later on make a rendezvous with that
cracker guide, Jethro Hicks, who knows every foot of these water
trails--I understood he hid out in this terrible region for several
years when at loggerheads with the authorities, though innocent of any
crime. How does the ground look to you, buddy?"

"Like the ole Sam Patch, an' that aint no lie either, Boss," Perk lost
no time in telling his mate; "I never did see sech a awful stretch o'
mixed land an' water nohaow, nowhere; but jest the same that's zactly
what we want, so's to make dead sartin they beant nobody araound hyah
calc'lated to bother weuns, that's the way I looks at hit, suh."

"Quite right too, Wally, boy!" snapped Jack; "and such being the case
here goes to settle down on that Black Water Bayou--I think that was the
name Mr. Herriott gave the slough."

"Gosh all hemlock! an' it couldn't have a better name, I'm asayin'
suh--tough enough lookin' to give anybody a shiver; but as we're itchin'
fo' to keep aour comin' secret, it suits aour case to the dot."

There was plenty of room in the middle of the mysterious little lagoon
for their landing, if such it could be called; and so cleverly did the
pilot bring the pontoons of his craft in contact with the surface that
hardly the slightest splash followed.

Jack lost no time in taxiing over to a certain spot that seemed to hold
possibilities for the maneuver he intended putting into effect--thick
trees hung low over the water, and if only they could manage to push far
enough in, the boat would be beautifully camouflaged--hidden under a
fringe of branches, and so well disguised as to be discovered only after
a close search.

"Wonderfully fine," was Jack's announcement after this had been
successfully brought about. "Why, it's almost like late evening under
this thick canopy; and the bayou itself, surrounded as it is with tall
cypress trees, with those long trailing beards of gray Spanish moss give
it a gruesome look."

"Urr! jest makes me think o' the ole graveyard I used to run past a
goin' home late nights, when I was a country kid up in New England,"
Perk was saying, toning his voice down to almost a whisper.

It certainly did have a most funereal appearance, with the breeze making
all manner of weird sounds through the tops of the trees, and the
festoons of dangling moss waving to and fro like mourning banners; some
unseen swamp creatures added to the shivering feeling that had attacked
Perk by emitting the most gruesome grunts and groans his ears had ever
heard.

"But it happens to be just what we were hoping to find," Jack continued,
looking quite pleased at the loneliness of the spot; "small chance of
any of those crackers coming in this direction, when they have no
business here. I reckon Wally, you'll be able to have that jolly
campfire your heart's so set on, without its getting us into any
trouble."

"Huh! that all tickles me right smart, Boss," chuckled the other,
rapidly conquering that sensation bordering on awe, and beginning to
look at things in a more sensible light. "Kinder gu--reckons as haow
there might be mebbe a 'gator or so in sech a slimy place as this
same--that is, if sech critters do live as fur north as this South
Carolina swampy region; anyhaow I ain't agwine to take chances awadin'
in them nasty waters, where I kin see snakes aswimmin', and pokin' their
heads aout to larn what in Sam Hill done drapped daown in their private
park. Gee whiz! this is 'baout as cheerful a hole as the gateway to the
Lower Regions, if yeou asked me what I thought, suh."

They soon discovered that they were not to be allowed to take things as
easy as Perk may have anticipated; for presently both were employed
shooing swarms of voracious mosquitoes from their exposed faces and
hands.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                            THE LONELY CAMP


"Perhaps," suggested Jack, tiring of this exercise after a while, "it
might be just as well for us to step ashore, so you can get that fire
going. A little smoke would be worth while as a smudge to drive these
skeets away; they're bent on eating us alive, it seems to me."

"Jest as yeou sez. Mister," Perk acquiesced, with alacrity; and in less
than three minutes he had managed to jump ashore from the end of the
wing that rested on a log close to the bank of the bayou.

Gathering some loose wood he quickly had a blaze going, and was joined
by his comrade, who took particular pains to stand to leeward of the
fire, so that clouds of thick smoke would cause the fierce insects to
abandon the vicinity.

"I suppose that, generally speaking," Jack went on to say, "we would be
hunting dry wood so as to send up as little smoke as possible, for fear
of attracting notice, and bringing unwelcome visitors to our camp; but
in this case the chance of detection plays a very small part in the
game. We certainly need lots of pungent smoke in order to drive these
hordes of nippers away. So go to it, partner, the more the merrier."

Later on they sat down where the wind would waft some of the smoke in
their direction, and being at peace with the world just then found that
they could compare notes, and reach certain conclusions.

Although the sun was still quite some little distance above the horizon,
as they figured, (being unable to see anything through that mass of
cypress, and hanging moss) it was already commencing to grow dusk back
of the camouflaged airship.

"I knows as haow it aint time yet," Perk finally spoke up, getting to
his feet with determination written large upon his face; "but jest the
same I caint hold aout any longer--I got to listen to the growlin' daown
below-stairs, as sez its past time to stoke the furnace; so sech bein'
the case I'm ameanin' to start aour supper, if so be yeou aint no
'jections, suh."

"Not in the slightest, Wally, so get busy as soon as you like," he was
told.

The other did not wait for a second invitation, but making his way back
to the cabin of the amphibian presently returned with both arms full of
mysterious packages. After depositing the same upon the ground near the
blazing fire, Perk made a second trip aboard, and from that time on
busied himself in the one occupation of which he seemed never to
tire--making preparations to supply a rousing meal, cooked over such a
bed of red embers as he delighted to supply.

Jack was pretty hungry himself, and enjoyed the spread greatly--its
memory was likely to long haunt them; and in speaking of the past the
time was apt to be set by such phrases as "something like a month after
we had that glorious camp supper on Black Water Bayou, remember,
partner?"

Jack sat there working at his maps for some time after they had finished
eating; so, too, he made numerous notes, to be conned over and over
again, until he could repeat the gist of them all as occasion arose.
That was his way of preparing for a campaign; and no masterly tactics of
a successful war general could have been an improvement on his
programme--to prepare in advance for all manner of possibilities was as
natural to Jack Ralston as it was to breathe; which plan certainly had
much to do with the customary success falling to his lot.

Suddenly both of them caught the distant report of a gunshot; and stared
at each other, as though mentally figuring what such a thing might
signify.

"Did you take notice which direction that gunshot seemed to come from,
eh, Wally?" demanded Jack, presently, as no other similar sound
followed.

"I'd say from over there," Perk swiftly replied, pointing toward the
south as he spoke. "What dye reckons, suh, it'd mean?" he asked in turn.

"Oh! nothing that concerns us, I imagine, Wally, boy--some chap might
have run across a hunting wildcat most likely, and couldn't resist
giving him the works. But it settles the direction where that secret
landing place may lie, I feel almost certain. That's one of the points I
wanted to pick up; and before the night is over we may be able to prove
my prediction sound."

"Yeou doant reckons, suh, they kin see this heah fire aburnin', do
yeou?"

Jack laughed as though the idea had no standing with him.

"Not in a thousand years, Wally; it must be a matter of a mile, perhaps
twice that between this spot and from where that gun was fired; you see,
the night air heads toward us, and would carry the sound quite a long
way."

He proved that he felt no uneasiness by continuing the conversation that
had been interrupted by the sudden far-off shot; and so Perk did not
hesitate to toss more fuel on his cheery campfire.

They were thinking of turning in aboard the nearby boat, and seeking
their necessary rest, when Perk, who had unusually keen hearing, sat up
and inclined his head to one side as though listening.

"Jest what she is, for a fack, partner," he went on to state; "an' shore
as yeou're born, suh, they aint no muffler aboard _that_ ship, I'll take
my affidavy on that same."

"It _is_ a ship, no doubt about that, and heading this way out of the
east, you want to notice, buddy," Jack indicated, as though that mere
fact had a deep significance in his eyes.

"Yeah! that's so," agreed Perk, readily falling in with the conceit, as
he usually did when Jack was the originator of any proposition. "They
air acomin' straight from aout on the ocean, where mebbe a steamer is
alyin' anchored, an' loadin' its cargo o' contraband on fast blockade
runners that come 'longside; also sky-carriers in the bargain, sech as
drop daown close by on the sea, an' take on all they kin carry."

The faint sounds rapidly increased in vigor until even a novice could
have decided it was an airplane making almost directly toward their
strange camp on Black Water Bayou.

"Keep on listening, brother," advised Jack; "and then we'll compare
notes as to where we heard the last clatter. Things couldn't be working
more smoothly to suit our plans; and we ought to be pretty well primed
by the time we come back here to join up with Friend Jethro."

Finally the now loud clatter ceased, which those airmen knew full well
meant it had succeeded in effecting an apparently safe landing, whether
on land or water they could only surmise.

So carefully had they both tried to get the exact locality fixed in
their minds that when they came to comparing ideas it was found they
agreed almost to a dot; so Jack was able by referring to his small
compass to make a note of the circumstance, as well as their united
conviction.

"I kin shut me eyes an' see what a busy bunch is workin' unloadin' that
same crate," Perk observed, a little later on. "Scent's agettin' a
little warmer, seems like, partner, when we ketch the racket o' a
smuggler plane comin' in from the mother vessel away off shore, beyond
the twenty mile danger line."

"I'd say it surely was," agreed Jack, grinning happily, as if in answer
to the joyous look he detected on his partner's sunbaked face.

All had by now become as silent as the grave, at least so far as
suspicious sounds undoubtedly caused by human agencies; but otherwise
things did not happen to be so quiet. From the nearby swamp came a
multitude of queer croakings and gurglings, accompanied by harsh cries
such as night herons seeking their food, or other birds of similar
activities, might make while fishing.

"Gee whiz!" Perk at one time burst forth, "did yeou ever in all yeour
life listen to sech queer sounds as them? Hark to that splash--sure
reckons some roostin' bird must a fallen off its perch, an' if all that
flutterin' and squawkin' stands fo' anythin' its got swallowed up in the
jaws o' some critter waitin' daown below fo' its supper. Glory! I wonder
if weuns kin get any sleep with all these heah carryin's on in full
blast. Jest hear 'em whoopin' it up, will yeou, suh?"

However, when the time did come for them to go aboard the boat and seek
their cots, by closing the cabin door much of the noise was deadened,
and after all Perk found little difficulty in getting to sleep.

Nothing occurred during the night to disturb them, or cause any undue
alarm. Doubtless that variegated noise kept up through the livelong
period of darkness, but it gave them no concern whatever.

When Perk happened to wake up he believed he could catch a feeble gleam
as of daylight outside the cabin; and upon investigating found it to be
a fact. He thereupon aroused his companion, and another fine meal was
soon in process of preparation over a resurrected fire; to which of
course the pair did ample justice, after which they made ready for
another flight, and a return to the city.



                               CHAPTER XX

                            THE MOTHER SHIP


When Jack went over to the home of the affable Mr. Herriott the
following night he had much to tell that gentleman, such as had a
bearing on his own campaign. The other heard what he had to say, and
then asked a number of pertinent questions that in their way were more
or less helpful.

"From all you saw and heard, my friend," the other observed later on; "I
am absolutely certain you have found a bonanza, and discovered the
landing place used mostly by the planes that are carrying such vast
quantities of contraband from mother ships to certain central depots,
where doubtless motor trucks are able to come over unknown country shell
roads, and convey the same to shore cities, possibly even as far north
as Baltimore and Washington. You are getting close to your objective, I
have no hesitation in saying; I only hope it all turns out as well and
profitably as your daring and skill would warrant."

Such words from one whom he had come to admire as a "clean shooter," as
Perk designated their official friend, gave Jack much satisfaction.

"Still, there's no reason for undue haste, you know, sir," he told the
other in his calm way. "While I do not want to loaf on the job, at the
same time I am against trying to push things to a decision, if by so
doing I must take unnecessary chances."

"Quite right, too, Mr. er, Warrington," he was told. "It would have been
much better for several of your fellows who worked on this affair if
they had possessed a share of your caution; two in particular showed
signs of getting somewhere but in seeking to make a swoop before the
time was fully ripe they queered the whole game, and fell down on the
job. I would be willing to prophesy that such will not be the result of
your planning."

"There was one subject about which I'd be glad to hear something
further, Mr. Herriott," Jack went on to mention.

"You have only to let me know what it is, and any knowledge I happen to
possess in regard to the matter is at your service. Now tell me how I
can give you any further assistance,--Jack."

"It's about that cracker guide who's agreed to take us to the secret
landing-place of the mob--Jethro Hicks. Do you feel the utmost
confidence in his honesty, sir? You can easily understand why I ask,
since if it turned out that he himself was in the hire of this gang of
law-breakers, things would turn out badly for myself and my friend."

"Let me reassure you on that score then," came the immediate answer; "I
am positively certain Jethro will be found as true as steel. I know this
from a number of reasons. First of all, I've been acquainted with the
man for some years now, and I think I'm safe in saying that he thinks
considerable of me as a staunch friend. I had an opportunity once upon a
time, to do him a favor, when it seemed as though the whole world had
turned against him, and kept him a fugitive from the law, hiding in the
swamps and backwoods for some years; and he will never forget the little
I was able to do for his family then. That is one reason why he has so
greedily taken me up when I asked him to work hand in glove with you."

"Yet you say he had broken the law--was hiding from arrest
apparently--hardly a fact to commend him as an honest man, sir, I'd
think."

"But Jethro was entirely innocent in that nasty affair, as was later on
proven without a doubt; he is now walking openly, and without a fear of
arrest. On that same fact hangs his chief desire to help you break up
this powerful gang of smugglers infesting the seaboard of our State."

"How come, Mr. Herriott?" questioned the surprised as well as deeply
interested Jack.

"Listen, and you will, I am sure, understand what I mean," continued the
other. "Some years ago there was a sort of mountain vendetta existing
between the Hicks family and two other households in the same
neighborhood. It had gone on for a good many years, with occasional
outbursts, and some shooting. Later on it came about that one particular
man named Haddock made considerable money since prohibition came in; and
still hating the name of Hicks found an opportunity to accuse Jethro of
certain things, building up false evidence on which the young head of a
family would undoubtedly have been sent to the pen if he had not hidden
out in the swamps. While there this rich man also persecuted his family,
and protected by his money could do this without hindrance.

"Jethro has never forgotten or forgiven those wrongs; and yet unlike
many of his class, he does not wish to shoot his hated enemy down in
cold blood. But it is more than suspected that John Haddock is one of
the rich men backing up this big syndicate, for it would come directly
in line with the way he managed to accumulate his own fortune in a less
extensive way, merely with mountain dew as his stock in trade.

"Jethro swore to me he knew this to be a _fact_, although he could
hardly hope to prove the same unless given an opportunity to raid their
headquarters and find positive evidence there.

"Now you will understand just why he can be depended on--Jethro is no
law-breaker, and his fierce hatred for John Haddock--all the Haddock
tribe in fact--will make him a faithful assistant for such as you. Are
you satisfied now, Jack?"

"Unquestionably so, sir; and I thank you very much for telling me this.
I'll have a better opinion of Jethro, and feel a sympathy for him in his
desire to get even with this rich schemer through whom he has suffered
so much."

More of this confidential talk was indulged in, with Jack fortifying
such conclusions as he had already reached.

And when he got back to the hotel room, to find Perk sitting up,
reading, but eager to know if anything worth while had happened, he
proceeded to further astonish his best pal by giving a verbatim
rendering of every item spoken by the United States representative.

"So you see, brother, how well we are progressing," he concluded by
saying; "and with such an eager helper as this same Jethro promises to
prove, it looks as if something unexpected was going to strike that
powerful illegal combine of smugglers at an early date--don't you feel
that way too?"

"Shore I do, partner, an' here's hopin' it aint agoin' to be so very
long naow 'fore we get in aour fust crack. I'm near wild to knock one o'
them smugglers' first aid ships to smithereens, with a nice baby bomb I
got hid away aboard aour dandy amphibian cruiser."

"Your hour will strike in due time, Wally, boy," said the amused Jack,
with a fond look at the excited face of his chum. "You've never
completely gotten over your boyish ways, brother--anything in the line
of excitement, and you fairly itch to be up and doing. I am free to
confess, however, that when you _do_ get into a ruction you know how to
give a good account of yourself."

"Thanks, ole hoss, comin' from sech as yeou that's the highest kind o'
praise I could ever expect. I sometimes reckon I must abeen in at least
one squabble 'fore I was hardly able to toddle 'raound, it comes so
nat'ral to me."

On the following morning their regular routine was again taken up. They
flew up the coast, and turned out to sea, Jack wishing to learn whether
there was a mother ship lying off the coast, from which all manner of
prohibited articles, from aliens, precious stones, narcotics and in
great quantity the finest of foreign strong drink, down to the smallest
things that had an intrinsic value, were secretly imported into the
States minus the heavy duty imposed on their coming.

Once again his hunch proved a true one, for they discovered a squat
steamer hovering about twenty-five miles from the coast, with several
fast smuggling power-boats alongside; and as Perk reported, a number of
men passing weighty sacks over the side of the larger craft.

"No need of our going any closer, partner," Jack announced, as he banked
sharply, and turned the nose of their boat toward the north. "We'll just
knock around for a spell, to experience the sensation of slipping along
above the great salty sea, something neither of us have had much
experience in doing; and in good time we can pass on down again, so as
to cover the ground where we expect to get in our heavy work."

Which same they did, to their own satisfaction; and much to Jack's
surprise to also discover a second large foreign ship apparently also
laden to the gunwales with piles of goods in suspicious looking gunny
sacks.

"It seems as though it might be high time something was being done to
cut this traffic into ribbons, don't you think, Wally, boy?" Jack asked,
as again he made a steep bank, this time heading into the west, toward
the distant streak of land which told of the coast of Virginia.

They struck out for shore, passed as far inland as Jack considered
tactful, and through his clever work in piloting the airship actually
passed directly over Black Water Bayou.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                         A MOTOR-TRUCK CARAVAN


"I say, buddy!"

They were bobbing in and out of the fleecy drift clouds, just as that
other ship had done, almost indistinguishable from the ground, being
about two miles up, when Jack thus called out.

Perk had been taking account as to the amount of fuel yet remaining in
their tanks, and was amusing himself doing some sort of calculation with
a stub of a pencil and a pad of paper.

"Yeah! what is it, boss?" he sang out, looking over to where his mate
sat at the stick, with the exhaust racket of both motors cut-off
effectually.

"We're just whiffing over that delightful little ghostly bayou you fell
in love with; and heading so as to pass above the region from which we
heard that unseen ship settle down."

"I reckoned that was so, partner; go ahead an' say what's on yeour
mind."

"There's one thing that so far has escaped our scrutiny," spoke up the
pilot, with Perk quickly adding:

"Meanin', I reckons, suh, we aint seen nary a sign o' any sorter vehicle
sech as mout be atakin' the stuff to market--is that so, suh?"

"Good guess, all right, for you, Wally, boy," replied Jack. "Pick up
your glasses again, and keep an eye on the ground down below. If by good
luck you light on anything suspicious, let me know; because I want to
see for myself, as it might help me figure out certain things worth
while."

"Ay! ay! Cap; here goes!" Perk told him, suiting the action to the words
with the greatest eagerness.

Jack loitered somewhat, not wishing to skip over that prospective
battlefield too speedily, lest it fail to reveal some of its most
valuable secrets; accordingly he circled while still sticking to the
cloud screen, now in and out like a fluttering butterfly amidst the
thistle blooms of an old quarry.

Their aerial steed could not be seen from the far distant surface of the
earth, unless one chanced to have a very powerful pair of binoculars
similar to the beautiful ones Perk was just then handling--the
Government at least was a generous employer, since the question of price
never entered into the purchase of such instruments as were necessary.

Suddenly Perk let out a loud crow.

"Gimme the stick, gov'nor!" he called out, shoving in behind his mate.
"Aplenty in sight right naow, I'd say, if yeou asked me. Jest peek yeour
eye on that ere stretch o' marsh, I take the same to be, clost alongside
yonder stretch o' pine woods--must be some sorter corduroy road built
through the muck, screened mostly by cypress trees covered with a heap
o' trapsin' moss."

"I've got it, partner--just as you're saying in the bargain, a corduroy
road made of logs laid parallel, and looking a bit new as if it had only
been constructed lately, for some special purpose."

"See anythin' amovin', boss?" continued the excited Perk, eagerly.

"Not yet," he was told; "but whatever you saw may be hidden behind some
patch of dense timber at the moment. Ha!"

"Ketched 'em jest then, did yeou?"

"One--two--three motor-trucks in a line, close to each other, and making
fair time over that bumpy log-road, considering that they seem to be
heavily laden with something covered by dirty tarpaulins."

"Somethin'--huh! weuns ought to know what kinder stuff, eh, partner?"
laughed Perk, jubilantly enough.

"Keep circling around, using these hazy clouds for a screen, whenever
possible, brother," urged Jack. "I want to get an eyeful of this same
picture, because it's going to give me the one thing that was lacking--a
knowledge of the way they get the stuff out of such a boggy country
without being detected by sharp-eyed revenue men."

"But say, boss, didn't we make up aour minds they might have a bunch o'
landin'-places, so's to switch aroun' when things begun to get too hot
at any one roost?"

"Yes, and I still believe that way," Jack told him, his eyes continuing
to be glued to his glasses, as though what he saw fairly fascinated him;
"but just the same, they could make use of one main road out of the
swamp country."

So he kept close tabs until eventually the line of heavily laden trucks
had passed from his sight.

"You can pick up the course to Charleston now, buddy," he told the
acting pilot. "I've seen that those trucks are heading north by
nor-west, and chances are they mean to make Baltimore before they halt
for good; though like as not they may have a half-way station for
stopping over during part of a day, so as to cover the last and most
risky section of their long run by darkness, or moonlight."

"An' partner," Perk blurted out, as he relinquished the stick to the
masterhand of his mate, "do yeou know they's somethin' that's been
abotherin' me right smart."

"As what, buddy?" asked the other, keeping up his run among the friendly
screen of fleecy clouds.

"Things they seem to come an' go with these here smuggler lads like
everything might be part o' a well greased machine--never a click, er a
squeak, but movin' 'long with hardly a missfire--jest haowever _do_ they
fix it--how kin they know near to the minute when a cargo's acomin' to
port, so's to have them trucks and men awaitin' fo' the same."

"Oh! that's dead easy, partner," Jack sang out, as though on his part he
felt little doubt.

"Yeah! seems to me them chaps 'way back in Columbus' time said them same
words arter the man as diskivered America stood a egg up on end, fust
knockin' the small end, and making a rest fo' the same--anything's soft
enough arter you been told haow--naow I wanter be shown."

"Listen then, Wally, boy--there isn't the least doubt in my mind but
what the gang has an excellent radio station rigged up somewhere along
the coast; they can keep in constant touch both with the mother ships we
saw anchored twenty miles out, and also with headquarters on shore--down
where those three motor-trucks loaded up, after some speed boat ran in
here last night. Get it now, do you, old pal?"

"Gosh! seems like us boys gotter be settin' up nights fixin' traps fo'
the sharp foxes, they's up to sech big stunts. Sometimes I find myself
wonderin' haow in Sam Hill weuns kin beat 'em atall at their pesky
games."

"Well, that's what we're here to put through," Jack stated, off-hand
like; "and it seems that usually we do come out on top. But even if we
succeed in putting their freight air ships, and fast launches out of
business, this game of ours can never be called complete until we've
managed to discover the location of that powerful sending radio
station--and blown it sky-high in the bargain."

"Bully boy!" cried Perk; "an' more power to aour elbow, is what I'm
asayin' right naow. Big Boy. We _kin_ do it, an'--watch aour smoke,
that's all."

"I begin to think the time for our departure is getting close at hand,
Pal Wally," Jack remarked some time later, as they glimpsed the familiar
smoke cloud hovering over the city ahead. "If my last talk with our good
friend tonight pans out as I feel pretty certain it must, we'll figure
on making our big jump some time day after tomorrow. That will give us
plenty of time to get everything aboard we expect to need; for once we
leave Charleston we'll not be likely to see the place again in a hurry."

"Sure pleases me a heap, suh," Perk told him, nodding his head
approvingly, as though he might be some species of war-horse scenting
the battle-smoke and acrid odor of burnt powder in the breeze, calling
him to action.

In due time the big amphibian dropped down on the field, and was
hurriedly conveyed to its hangar; the two airmen hovering around for a
brief time examining certain parts of their ship, to make doubly certain
there was nothing amiss. Jack did not intend going out on the following
day, if things worked as he was now planning; they would fix up a last
day program, by following which everything necessary would be carried
out in the customary way of such careful adventurers as they had always
proven to be.

"Huh! been a right full day, I'd call hit," was Perk's last word, as
they started back to the hotel, so as to clean up for supper; after
which Jack meant to keep an engagement with Mr. Herriott, who would be
apt to have some news of importance to communicate.

"Taking things as they go, it certainly has, brother," Jack told his
"side push," as Perk often called himself. "We've picked up some facts
that plug the vacant holes in my scheme; and I feel confident we're
getting close to the big finish."



                              CHAPTER XXII

                        DOWN TO BUSINESS AT LAST


When Jack came back to the hotel late that night, he found Perk lounging
in the lobby, and keeping a watchful eye on the main entrance.

"Got too darned lonesome up in the den, suh," the latter explained,
keeping up his character part as an employee of the rich New York
sportsman, who was so well liked that he had become a sort of companion,
and campmate in fact. "Jest couldn't stand it any longer, an' had to
come daown hyah, so's to watch the folks, an' pass the time away. Gwine
up right naow, suh?"

"Might just as well, for I'm a bit tired; and besides we have some plans
to settle on before striking out for the ducking grounds day after
tomorrow. Got those chilled-shot shells I want to tryout, did you,
Wally?"

"Sure did, suh," answered the other, with a wide grin, knowing that this
had been spoken because the hotel clerk was close by at the desk, and
watching them a bit curiously. "An' I done reckoned as haow I might jest
as well fotch 'long double the number o' boxes yeou-all asked me to.
They sure slips away right speedy like, suh, when the birds air atradin'
good."

Once behind the closed and locked door, Jack started to explain such
fresh facts as had come within the circle of his knowledge in the last
chat with Mr. Herriott.

"He will make all arrangements with Jethro in the morning, so we can
expect to find the man waiting at the rendezvous--Black Water Bayou, two
nights from now; for I calculate to drop down there just while the
twilight holds. That is the main thing we settled; and he assured me
there would absolutely be no hitch to that part of the program. When
such a man as our good friend gives a promise like that you can depend
on it being exactly so."

"Bet yeour boots that's a fack, partner," Perk took occasion to add most
fervently, having conceived a great liking for Mr. Herriott, his
charming betterhalf, and the two youngsters with whom he had had such a
riotous time on the occasion of his late visit.

Jack took some object out of his pocket, and holding it between his
fingers seemed to blow softly into the same with a certain quavering
inflection. The result was an odd quacking sound, several times
repeated.

"Gosh all hemlock!" Perk exclaimed, a little too loud for discretion as
he himself appeared to realize, since he immediately moderated his voice
as he went on to say: "If that ere aint a reg'lar duck-call I'm a rank
piker. What dye know 'baout that, if we didn't forgit to supply
aourselves with a quacker--two on 'em in fact, one to coax the ducks
within gunshot; an' tother fo' wild honkin' geese. Takes yeou to think
up the small but important things, ole hoss."

"Well, we may some day have a chance to use this call for the purpose it
was intended," stated Jack, handing the queer little article with the
split and brass tongue crown over to Hank for examination; "but I got it
for quite another reason. When I put this to my lips, and give a number
of loud quacks, it'll be after we're lying there on the surface of Black
Water Bayou--as a signal agreed on with Jethro. You must remember he has
never met us, unfortunately, and this game is too risky for any one to
take chances. He'll answer my signal by six quacks in quick succession,
and I'll give him another four in reply--then both will have made sure
covering the identity of the other."

"Jest fine as silk, I'd say, suh!" Perk assured him, with that look
approaching adoration such as came to him most naturally, whenever his
pal Jack sprang some unusually neat piece of work upon him.

Perk tested the duck-call several times, blowing softly, so as not to
cause any guest, or possibly even a spy, in an adjoining room to wonder
what such a series of queer sounds could mean.

"Huh! been a long time, suh, since I done used one o' these
contraptions," he finally advanced. "They do fotch the s'picious birds
aswimmin' closer in to the stools--yeou knows I gotter to buy a bunch o'
cedar decoys tomorry, 'case no shooter ever goes aout to bag ducks
withaout a flock o' the same."

"That's down on your list of last supplies to be picked up, I remember,
Wally. And when I've told you a few more things that come to me tonight
we'd better turn in for a good snatch of sleep. No telling how much time
we'll be spending keeping wide-awake night after night, once we embark
on that part of our big game. In fact, it's possible we'll have to
change things around, and do about all of our sleeping daytimes."

"Suits me right well, suh--so long's I gits fo' hours at a stretch, with
a few halfway decent eats thrown in, I doant never kick."

Less than half an hour later and they were getting ready for a spell of
forgetfulness. Perk, as he crawled into bed, was muttering something to
the effect that there would be only one more occasion when they could
treat themselves to the real luxury of a decent bed, with a fine
bathroom conveniently close at hand.

"But what do it matter with sech a ole campaigner as _me_--anything we
kin strike aint agoin' to be one-tenth as bad as when I was over in them
stinkin' trenches, up to my knees in water, an' listenin' to hell broke
loose all raound, with the Heinies throwing shiploads o' shells, an'
other devilish explosives--awful pizen gas in the bargain, every-which
way--I ain't complainin' o' anything after what happened to me there, no
siree, I aint."

In the morning they took a leisurely breakfast, and then separated, each
of them having a complete list of certain necessary things that had to
be attended to.

Jack had declared it his intention to take-off around midday, for they
could once more follow the course now becoming quite familiar--passing
out to sea, and from a great height learning whether a mother-ship lay
off the coast, with fast speedboats tied up alongside, taking on
cargoes--although no attempt would be made looking to coming in to the
mouth of some estuary, up which they meant to push under cover of
darkness.

Only one thing could keep them from making their start as planned, and
this would be a bad weather report covering the coastal region from
Brunswick, Georgia all the way past Hatteras, to the mouth of the
Delaware. Optimistic Jack, however, was hoping for the best, since as
far as he could see no bad weather appeared on the latest report from
Headquarters, as given in the Charleston papers.

Much was accomplished during the morning, and both of them brought back
various packages that were to be carried in their bags to the field, at
the time of taking off.

"You looked after those decoys, I expect, brother?" Jack queried, as
they sat at the lunch table, enjoying all manner of good things
appealing to their sound appetites.

"Better b'lieve I did that same, buddy," the other assured him; "an' a
mighty likely lookin' bunch o' stools I picked up. They're sendin' the
same to the aviation grounds this afternoon; an' I'm meanin' to run aout
so's to stow the wooden ducks away aboard aour ship. I'd give somethin'
for a chanct to shoot over them same decoys, yes suh, I sure would."

"Perhaps fortune will be kind to us, and you may yet have that pleasure,
Pal Wally. No telling but what we may be ordered to hang out around this
part of the coast for some time after we've done our job to the Queen's
taste; and to tell you the truth I'd enjoy a little shooting myself."

The afternoon passed, and when the sun sank low in the west, with their
coming together again at the hotel, never a single item on either list
had been neglected.

In the morning Jack walked around to the post-office where the latest
weather reports could be found, to see if they corresponded with the
rosy promises the morning papers contained. He assured Perk on returning
that they need have no fears about making the start as scheduled; so
that Perk found his cup of happiness full to the brim, and even running
over.

They took an early lunch and then went out to the aviation grounds in a
taxi as usual. Before their ship was trundled out to be set for a start
they saw that everything was aboard, and safely stowed away, from the
cumbersome decoy flock to the last thing in "chow," as selected by
capable Perk, about as good a judge with regard to food supplies as
could be run across in a day's search.

The manager of the aviation field himself was out to shake hands, and
give them a parting good-bye. Jack, seeing the smile accompanying the
words and hearty handclasp, had a faint suspicion that possibly the
affable gentleman had guessed something like the truth; but just the
same he felt it would never go any further, if he could read good
Southern faith in a human's eyes.



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                           AT THE RENDEZVOUS


The big amphibian, well loaded down, made a creditable take-off, and
they were soon mounting up toward cloudland. As on the previous occasion
there chanced to be a never ending flock of beautiful white fleecy
clouds passing along, with the sun shining most of the time, since the
banks of vapor were "light-weight," as Perk poetically described them.

Looking back Perk took his last view of Charleston, a bit regretfully,
since the quaint aspects of the city, connected with oldtime buildings,
and other agreeable sights, had somehow gripped his heart.

Jack again soon headed off the coast, it being his intention, if the
conditions were at all favorable, to drop down on the sea, and float
there, waiting until the afternoon was well advanced before heading in
to the shore.

After they had passed for many miles up the coast he picked out a
spot--after being warned by the lookout that there were two large
vessels standing off beyond the twenty-mile line, undoubtedly
mother-ships loaded down with fresh supplies of contraband--where they
could lie upon the surface of the water undetected by any one passing
far above, or at such a distance away as the foreign ships appeared to
lie.

Jack could not remember having ever known the restless Atlantic to
remain almost perfectly calm for such a long stretch of time--he felt
like taking it as a favorable sign concerning the carrying out of their
individual great plan--even the elements were apparently in league to
render them assistance, which he took it to be most kind and reassuring
on their part.

Along about three in the afternoon Perk, again searching everywhere for
some sort of discovery, announced that he had picked out a plane ducking
in and out of the white battalions of clouds still passing overhead.

"Seems like she might be acomin' from that quarter where we got aour
hunch the landin' field o' their airships must lie," he went on to say,
as though his mind was made up along those lines. "Reckon as haow they
caint pick weuns off daown hyah, suh, seein' aour wings air abaout the
same color as the sea all 'raound this same spot."

"Not the least chance of such a thing, partner," Jack assured him; "I
had them colored that way purposely, seeing that we'd be likely to squat
down this way when spying on the mother ship further out--not even if
they have binoculars aboard, which they undoubtedly must, could any one
make us out. Heading for that foreign steamship, isn't that cloud
chaser?"

"Straight away, suh, as sure as shootin'. Course they reckon on loadin'
up with somethin' that's aboard, an' wants to git ashore the wust
kind--mebbe a bunch o' Chinks it might be; or else some sorter stuff
like high-toned laces, Cape diamonds, or sech expensive big things as
allers come in small packages."

"At any rate," Jack went on to mention, "they are heading for one of
those two foreign boats further out. You say there were several speed
boats and launches fast to the sides of the big freighters, when you
glimpsed them? Strikes me things are breaking about right for our making
a start in the big racket tonight--of course depending on Jethro's
bobbing up all serene."

Perk followed the course of the airship dipping in and out of the cloud
belt, and after quite some time had elapsed made his announcement.

"They sure is acomin' daown ashootin', Big Boss. Reckons as haow there
must be a good hand at that ere stick, a lad as knows his business
okay--there, he's flattened aout, an' takes things some easier, seein'
as haow the ship's ready to make contact with the sea. Aint this a
reg'lar picnic o' a time, when weuns kin jest lay here like a gull
afloatin' on the water, an' see haow them smugglin' devils work things.
Little do they suspect that there's sumpin' hangin' heavy over ther
heads, an' liable to crash any ole minit from naow on."

It was by now getting close to the time Jack figured on making a start.
He planned on taking a leaf from the routine methods brought into
service by the expert pilots manning the illegal air carriers, passing
in and out from mother ship to their secret landing place--by making a
high ceiling, and depend on a curtain of lofty clouds to effectually
screen their presence while hopping over the danger zone.

"Time we skipped out of this," he told Perk, who emitted a muffled roar
which was possibly meant to be an expression akin to applause.

The waves were picking up somewhat in the bargain, which may have been
one of the reasons why the ever cautious Jack wanted to get moving: he
did not have any particular yearning for a headlong dash amidst rolling
billows, such as might cause considerable trouble, even bring risk in
their train should they find themselves compelled to make the venture.

However, they made the ascent without great trouble, even if there was a
certain amount of splashing done. Perk looked pleased when the ship
arose from its salt water contact, and began climbing at a steady pace.

Jack held out for some little time as though meaning to pass inshore far
to the north of the point he was really aiming to attain; this he did to
hoodwink any one who might chance to see them through strong glasses,
and feel a little curious to know who they were, also, what their object
could be in carrying on after such a fashion.

Eventually he turned more into the west; then, after passing over the
shore line, faced due southwest, and sped on.

Finally when Perk warned them they were approaching their proposed
landing-place Jack brought his charge lower until presently, as evening
drew on apace, they could be seen sweeping along not five hundred feet
above the tops of the tall cypress trees with their queer festoons of
trailing Spanish moss.

Then came a glimpse of Black Water Bayou, bordered by the mysterious
gloomy looking swamp, from whence had come all those uncouth sounds on
the occasion of their stopover some time previously.

"Huh! mebbe we'll git right 'customed to them awful noises," Perk was
assuring himself, as their pontoons glided along the smooth surface of
the lonely lagoon, and the boat headed directly toward that artificial
curtain behind which they had previously pocketed their "windjammer," or
as Perk sometimes called their craft the "crocodile"--partly because, as
he affirmed, such a reptile was the only real amphibian, able to
negotiate both land and water in turn, and feeling at home in both.

"So far, okay," he observed, softly, after the boat had come to a stop,
close to that friendly ambush where they could readily hide their craft
should they choose to start forth with Jethro aboard his smaller ducking
powerboat; "an' naow let's on'y hope the gink shows up on time."

"I wouldn't speak of Jethro in that sort of way, buddy," remonstrated
Jack. "It's true he is a Southern cracker, without much education; but
that I'd call his misfortune and not his fault. Mr. Herriott says he's a
chap with considerable principle, and his one weakness is about the
wrongs this bunch of men have done him and his family. He is ready to
encounter every risk if only he can show them up, cripple their big
business, and possibly send some of the lot to Atlanta for a term of
years."

"I get yeou, partner," said Perk, contritely; "shore didn't mean
anything by sayin' what I did; an' I'll be glad to shake Jethro's
flipper whensoever we meet."

"I knew you'd feel that way, Wally; and it may not be a great many
minutes before the chance comes along."

"Meanin', I take it, Boss, he orter show up right soon?" demanded the
other.

"This is the rendezvous place you know, where we agreed to wait for
him," explained Jack; "he, may be a bit late getting up here, for his
boat is an old one; though Mr. Herriott did tell me he himself had had
it fixed up some, to work a lot smoother--Uncle Sam stood the racket,
too; and you know when _he_ foots a bill nothing is too good to be
utilized. We may be surprised when we see that same dinky powerboat."

"As haow, partner?" queried Perk, his curiosity aroused immediately.

"Wait and see, brother," Jack told him, tantalizingly. "Our first duty
right now is to poke the nose of our airship back of this dandy natural
curtain, where it just couldn't be seen, unless a close search was being
made, our plans possibly having been given away. That couldn't happen in
a coon's age, we've been so cautious, so secretive, and made no
confidents except Mr. Herriott--and through him necessarily Jethro. Take
hold, and help me swing her along back of the trailing moss and vines."

When this had been effected Jack again whispered:

"Listen while I give the signal, partner; if by any chance hostile ears
were to catch the quacking of a duck, it could hardly excite the
slightest notice; for such a sound often breaks out in the darkness of
night down here, since a duck on the water acts as sentry to the
sleeping flock. Here goes, then:"



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                      PERK RIDES IN THE GHOST BOAT


"Quack--quack--quack--quack!"

Perk chuckled at the clever way Jack imitated the outcry of a startled
feathered pilgrim from the Far North--old shooter as he was, Perk felt
confident he himself would have been deceived did he not know whence the
sounds proceeded.

He listened intently, hoping they might not be disappointed in their
expectations. There came an answering call from a point close by--it
gave Perk a positive thrill--then Jethro must have already arrived,
spurred on by his burning desire to pay his debt of hatred long since
over due.

Jack waited a dozen seconds, after which he again sent out his call,
repeating the first one exactly--four quacks.

"Gee whiz! somepin's amovin' over yonder, matey!" whispered the excited
Perk, as they peered through openings in the leafy curtain by which the
airship was so deftly concealed.

"I see it," answered Jack, also feeling a thrill of satisfaction, in
that their great scheme gave positive indications of being about to
start off with a bang. "It's some sort of boat okay--too dark yet to
tell just what shape the same may be. There, it's coming out of hiding
now."

"An' a powerboat in the bargain--Jethro's crate, I shore reckons; but
hot-diggetty-dig! see haow fast she's a headin' thisaway, yet yeou caint
ketch even a ripple, or hear the exhaust one teeny bit. A ghost boat,
I'd call her, partner, blamed if I wouldn't."

Jack chuckled as if amused.

"Mr. Herriott put me wise about that," he explained, softly. "It's one
of the big improvements Uncle Sam brought about in that old craft, in
order that it could do the work so much better--and safer. You see, the
overboard motor that's been installed in place of the old one is
up-to-date, and has its exhaust away down deep, so it can swing along
without any of the racket most power-boats kick up. It's used a great
deal by fishermen, who troll for game-fish, and would expect but scant
captures if their boat kept spluttering away as the old type used to do.
Get that now, Wally?"

"Jest what I do, ole pal; an' say, aint it won-der-ful what things
they're inventin' these days--talk 'bout there bein' nawthin' new under
the sun, why, hardly a day slips past that we doant hear or read 'baout
stunnin' discoveries. That certain is a happy thought. But here he is,
clost to us, pard."

"Hello! thar!" came in a low, discreet voice, as the oncoming boat
slowed up by degrees.

"It's okay, Jethro--we're on hand as promised!"

As Jack said this the other gave a low laugh, as though greatly pleased
to find his new employer so prompt, and evidently a man of his word.

He was soon leaning from his seat in the cockpit of his ancient
powerboat, (in which he had for some years been engaged taking parties
out from Charleston for their fishing, or shooting) and grasping first
the extended hand of eager Perk, then that of Jack Ralston.

He had been put wise as to their real identity, but warned to meet them
under their assumed names, so as to ward off any possible risk of
discovery. So it was he lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper as he
spoke after the handshake.

"Ah 'low as how yuh reckoned ah mout be some slow agittin' hyah, suh;
but since they fixed up my ole dickey boat, she shore do step along like
smoke."

"Glad to know that, Jethro," said Jack, to whom the other had turned as
if readily recognizing which of the pair must be the leader of the
desperate enterprize with which he had committed his fortunes so gladly.
"Looks like a fine night for us to make a beginning."

"Jest what hit is, suh; couldn't be no better, ah'd say. An' ah done
reckons as how they be some big doin's goin' on over tuh the station
ternight."

"That sounds good to me, Jethro," Jack assured him. "Fact is, I'm
beginning to believe the Fates are working in our favor right along,
from the way things keep happening. Now I'm going to put the work in
your hands as far as getting us in touch with these parties goes."

"I kinder figgered as how yuh'd do thet same, suh," said the confident
Jethro, "seein' as how I knows the ground like er book. I aint agoin'
tuh let yuh down, suh, bet yuh boots I aint."

Perk had not tried to break into this brief confab; truth to tell he was
engaged just then in keeping "tabs" on Jethro's manner of speech, so as
to determine how close to the real thing he himself had come when trying
to play the part of a genuine Birmingham son of Dixie.

"How are we going to start this racket?" questioned Jack. "All get in
your boat, and close in on the working station, so we can see with our
own eyes just what sort of a show they're putting up."

"Them's ther ticket, suh," he was promptly told, showing that the guide
had formed some sort of a general plan of campaign. "I be'n right up
agin the level groun' whar them airships land, an' watched what was
happenin' lots o' times. 'Taint no great shakes agittin' clost tuh thet
workin' bunch, 'case they don't reckon they's a single stranger inside
o' ten mile. They'd shore skun me alive if they'd run ontuh me; but I
knowed my beans, an' how tuh fool ther best o' 'em."

Jack liked the way the other talked--it showed that Jethro had
considerable self-confidence; also that the consuming passion running
like hot lava through his veins was not apt to warp his judgment in the
least. He could be depended on to keep fairly cool and discreet under
any trying condition; and should matters ever come to a showdown, such a
man would fight like a South Carolina wildcat, of that Jack also felt
assured.

"Then we'll leave the ship concealed here back of this screen, and climb
aboard with you, Jethro," Jack told him. "I put it up to you to say when
we ought to make a start."

"Right away'd be ther right thing ter do, suh," came the answer; after
both Jack and Perk had changed to the reconditioned powerboat. "Yuh see,
it's sum way tuh go, the river's so crooked in places; so I kalc'late
things they'll be fair hummin' by ther time we gits thar."

"Just as you say, Jethro; but perhaps we ought to take certain things
with us--no telling just how soon we might find a use for the same.
Wally, climb back, and pass them over to me--you know what I mentioned
I'd like to have along."

Evidently Perk had committed the list to memory, for he handed the
articles over in rapid succession--guns, along with other things that
must have been a rank mystery to the staring Jethro, though he made no
remark.

"That's all, Big Boss," observed Perk, once more changing to the
powerboat, and the seat he had just started to warm up.

Not the ghost of a sound of passing vapor came to Perk's strained ears
as the boat picked up a certain amount of speed, heading directly for
the near-by river, which Jack had called the Yamasaw. Perk could hardly
believe there could be such a thing as throttling the noisy clamor he
had always associated with the passage of a motorboat, usually heard
over the water from a distance of several miles. Truly the wizards must
be hard at work these days, performing near-miracles right and
left--first the aircraft's noisy discharge conquered; and now the humble
powerboat reduced to absolute submission.

Jack quickly noticed that Jethro was making no great attempt to force
his smoothly working new engine. He could conceive of several good
reasons for this caution--in the first place there was no need for
haste; then again they would be going with the rapid current while
descending the crooked stream; and last of all he could readily
understand how there might be a variety of obstacles here and there,
blocking their passage--logs, and huge boulders, which would surely
cause the boat to founder, should they crash against some snag head-on.

On the return journey, whenever they chose to come back, the case must
be different, since they would have the current to buck against, and
necessarily much more power would be called upon to make decent
progress.

However, Jack was not figuring as to just when that retrograde movement
would come about--Perk had handed over a variety of things they would
require if they chose to linger for a day and another night at least,
even to some "eats"--catch Perk neglecting _that_ part of the
supplies--not if he was in his sane mind, he had told himself with
unction.

Well, here they were gliding along down the river, just as Perk had so
many times vividly pictured in his mind, with darkness all around them,
and only Jethro's intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the stream,
and its various outjutting snags, standing between themselves and a cold
bath.

Perk thrilled with deepest satisfaction. From this time on he felt
assured all sorts of exciting happenings would be the order of the day
or night; and no longer would he feel bored by inaction. The war against
the desperate smuggler gang was on, and the outcome could not possibly
be delayed much longer than forty-eight hours, he felt confident.

Half an hour and more had now passed since their start on the inland
voyage, and several times they found the angry water foaming up around
them as if eager to drag the adventurous voyagers down into its unknown
depths. But always Jethro maintained a perfect grasp on the situation,
parrying this rock, and that snag, as though he possessed the eyes of a
cat.

It was simply amazing how he managed, and Perk found himself growing
deeper and deeper wrapped up in sincere admiration for one who could
display such wonderful skill, such fearless handling of a frail boat in
all that turgid, leaping water.

Finally Jethro began to slow up, and the others knew from this that
evidently they must be drawing close to the place for which they were
aiming. Yes, several times when it happened the water was more calm,
Perk felt positive he caught the faint sound of human voices, as though
reckless men might be making merry with some sort of liquid refreshment
that loosened their tongues, and made them feel unusually jolly.

So, too, did he glimpse signs of growing light, and figured that
doubtless fires might be burning, with supper cooking. Fed up with a
desire to set eyes on what lay so close by, Perk counted the minutes as
the boat continued to move smoothly along.

Finally he found that Jethro was propelling it by hand, the noiseless
engine having stopped its pulsations; and a minute later they lay back
of a screen formed of hanging Spanish moss and clinging vines, quite as
effectual so far as concealment went as the curtain hiding the airship.

"Git out hyah, suh;" whispered Jethro in Jack's ear; "rest o' ther way
we gotter tuh go afoot."



                              CHAPTER XXV

                          A WELL OILED MACHINE


One thing in particular Jack had noticed--this was the fact that shortly
before this stop had been made they had left the main stream, and pushed
up some smaller subsidiary, although the water seemed to be quite deep.

He had found it easy to understand just how speedboats, loaded down to
the gunnels with sacks of contraband, were able to come up from the
mouth of the Yamasaw, and make their passage safe by means of
searchlights on board for that particular purpose--since they must
invariably choose the night for making their depot, and eluding such
searching Coast Patrol revenue cutters as were on duty in those shore
waters.

It made Jack smile to think how in turn he was heading a swift patrol of
the air, inaugurated to sweep this audacious combine from the sea, and
break up the powerful syndicate so long defying the Government.

"It's now got down to brass tacks," he was telling himself, as with Perk
at his side he carefully followed at the heels of the crawling cracker
guide; "and a case of dog eat dog, as Perk would call it; so I only hope
our canine will act the part of a German police, or shepherd dog, and
eat up the other beast, that's all."

The closer they drew to the camp of the smugglers the more Jethro drew
upon his education as a skillful tracker and guide to avoid discovery.
Perk, taking occasional sly peeps, could make out a number of
rough-looking men moving here and there, as though restless; and from
this fact he felt confident they must be waiting for the arrival of
something that had to do with their presence here in this isolated camp.

Yes, and presently he also discovered several huge motor trucks parked
nearby, the presence of which settled the matter; for he knew positively
a laden speedboat must be on the way, probably bucking against the
current of the river at that identical minute. If they stood by their
guns the best part of the night they might witness a transfer of the
contraband from boat to truck; and, if very lucky, even pick up some
information regarding the destination of the double load.

When finally Jethro came to a halt they were really as close to the camp
as the lay of the ground on that side would permit, without taking too
risky chances for discovery.

Perk was soon pulling at Jack's sleeve as if desirous of attracting his
comrade's attention. Seeing that the other was so persistent Jack
inclined his ear as a sign for the other to only speak in the faintest
possible whisper, which of course Perk only too well knew was absolutely
necessary.

"Looky--over there jest back o' thet tree, an' away from the fires--aint
that some sorter crate yeou kin lamp?"

"Just what it is, a plane, and a whopping big one to boot," Jack assured
him, when he could find Perk's ear. "No seaplane after all, so it can't
be used for going out to the mother ship; but flies over the land,
taking some sort of stuff to a certain depot--may have fetched a bunch
of Chinks over from Cuba on its last trip. Keep still, now, Wally, and
just watch."

The time dragged on until several hours had passed since they arrived at
the landing field and camp of those busy bees engaged in hoodwinking
Uncle Sam, and all his efficient coast patrol both on sea and the land.

Then a throbbing sound reached their ears; at the same time they could
notice how the men no longer rough-housed among themselves. On the
contrary they began to gather at a small wharf built so that a boat
could draw alongside, and let the cargo be transferred to the waiting
trucks for further transportation.

Perk again touched his best pal's arm, to whisper:

"Boat's a kickin' up agin the current, an' gettin' nigh here," he said.

"Okay, but put a stopper on your tongue, matey--eyes are all we need
right now--maybe ears as well, to pick up anything that's said worth
while."

Thus crushed Perk fell back, and concentrated his observation upon the
stirring little night drama that would soon be moving along at full
speed--a common enough event it must be, judging by the long security
from interruption these reckless worthies had enjoyed.

The strong glare of a large searchlight down on the waterway grew
brighter continually, showing that the approaching boat must be close at
hand. Presently they were able to make her out, although almost dazzled
by the brilliant light up in her bow, rendered necessary by the snags
and rocks scattered at intervals all along the Yamasaw.

No sooner had the boat been warped to the dock than men flocked aboard,
and began to tote the heaped-up heavy sacks ashore. There could be not
the shadow of a doubt concerning the nature of their contents, for
occasionally the eagerly listening trio caught the sound of flint glass
striking against a similar clinking object; and when one sack seemed to
accidentally come open, Jack caught the sheen of the light on a serried
row of bottles, all bearing foreign labels. He even saw the man carrying
the same swiftly crib a bottle, and conceal it under a friendly strip of
wood, as though laying by a means for conviviality at a later hour.

Taken in all it was a rather tempting spectacle for a pair of Secret
Service bloodhounds to find spread out before their admiring eyes. Jack
was priming his ears so as to catch any careless words spoken by these
men landing the cargo fetched from one of those mother ships standing by
off the shore. Even a name spoken would be treasured in hopes of it
eventually turning the scrutiny of Uncle Sam's vigilant enforcers of the
revenue laws upon some party, who thus far had never once been suspected
as allied with this formidable conspiracy.

It did not take very long for the numerous workers to clear the decks
and hold of the numerous staunch burlap sacks, each of which must have
held possibly a full dozen quart bottles.

Some four stout men, apparently the crews of the two big motortrucks,
kept busy loading the stuff aboard their cars. Evidently they meant to
cover the entire load under some hay that was heaped up close by,
possibly fetched for this very purpose, the whole being well tucked down
under a dingy looking but stout tarpaulin that could be roped securely
by expert hands.

Yes, it was certainly all very interesting, and instructive as well, but
then the three watchers were no novices, all of them having witnessed
similar sights many times in the past.

At least Jack had reason to believe certain things that floated to his
ears,--mostly names being mentioned by some of the talkative
workers--might prove strong clues, that, being followed up to their
logical conclusion, would bring interesting developments later on.

This encouraged him very much, as he realized he was now in a position
to reap some sort of harvest to pay for the hard work he had been
putting in.

Now that the speed boat had been cleared of its heavy load there were
movements aboard looking to a departure. It being already past midnight
perhaps the master of the blockade runner--having been duly posted
through some obscure means--knew just about where the Government vessel
from which he had the most to fear would be cruising at that hour; and
figured it would be a wise move on his part to gain the high seas as
soon as convenient.

Perk saw these actions with falling spirits--he had been so sure Jack
meant to begin operations without any delay that to thus let that swift
contraband runner get away unscathed was really too bad.

So he had to crouch there behind the network of bushes, and see the
vessel back away from the rough-looking dock, swing around in the narrow
but deep creek, and then disappear down-stream, the light of its glowing
reflector gradually dying out as it drew farther away.

"Huh! nawthin' doin' seems like," Perk was telling himself in bitter
disappointment. "I'd a given a heap jest to slip one o' my bally
time-bombs aboard that ere craft, so she'd bust into flames when far
away down the river; but Jack, he doant seem ready to hit the fust
crack."

Next the two laden trucks pulled out, and could be heard bumping along
the road, to take their chances of getting through without being stopped
by either high-jackers or revenue men.

"Makin' straight fo' that same corduroy road as runs plumb through the
marsh; an' headin' due north, too," Perk further told himself, seeing
that evidently trying to talk with his chum was taboo for the time
being, "Goin' up to Baltimore, I reckon, whar they got a big taste fo'
strong stuff, 'specially sech as comes in from abroad--reg'lar goods,
with a big kick backin' same. Huh!"

Jack had for some little time been looking earnestly first at the
nearest campfire, and then diverting his gaze, seemed to stare over to
where the outlaw plane rested. It was as though it might be waiting for
some particular event, when possibly it would start off, after taking
aboard certain valuables that would come by another airship from some
point in the West Indies, evading the customs, and giving a rich bonanza
to whoever was interested in thus beating the Government revenue.

"I say, Perk," he whispered in the ear of his mate.

The other must have sensed something of unusual importance coming, for
he displayed considerable eagerness as he moderated his own voice to its
very lowest pitch, and made answer:

"On deck, suh!"

"That plane--I've been noticing how it's left high and dry there," Jack
was saying, significantly, Perk thought.

"Shore is, suh," the latter went on, invitingly.

"I figure that any clever lad might be able to creep close to the
same--coming along by that line of bushes you can notice on the side
away from the fires, and the big searchlights they use when a ship is
taking off at night."

"Easy--reg'lar snap, I'd say, suh."

"I've also figured out that it wouldn't be impossible for any clever lad
to creep around from here without being seen, and so get in close grips
with that same plane--how?"

Perk lifted his head a trifle, and appeared to study the conditions,
which was not at all surprising since up to that minute it had never
once occurred to him there would be any call upon him for such services.

"I'd be tickled pink to tackle the job, suh--jest try me!" he finally
declared, and at that without even asking why such a dangerous mission
should enter into the head of his superior.

"Can you first of all sneak back to the boat, and pick up that little
bottle you filled with gasoline before we left the Crocodile?"

"Easy as all get aout, that's right, suh."

"Well, make sure you've got plenty of matches that strike without making
any snap," warned Jack; "because we have a chance to get rid of the
first outlaw airship, and so make our initial dent in the ironclad
syndicate!"



                              CHAPTER XXVI

                              STRIKING OUT


Jack was able to say all he did simply because they were separated from
the nearest group of men by considerable distance; moreover, the pack
persisted in talking and laughing, as though absolutely free from care,
doubtless filled with the belief that their lot was a most enviable
one--which apparently was the case.

Perk kept as tight a rein on his enthusiasm as he possibly could. He
understood just what a perilous mission Jack was entrusting to his sole
care; and how success, or failure, would depend on his ability to
measure up to the confidence reposed in him.

"Jest where am I to meet up with yeou agin, after I finish my job, suh?"
he whispered; even trying to carry out his assumed character when there
was really no need for such a thing, showing how the habit was
apparently getting a pretty stiff grip on Perk, it would seem.

"When I think it's about time for you to start things going, we'll slip
away, so as to be on our road when the fun gets hot and furious; they
might begin to scour the whole neighborhood if they suspected some enemy
of starting the racket. So look for us where Jethro's boat's hidden.
Hold on, partner--come to think of it, give us a bit of a signal when
you're on the job--nothing to attract their attention, you
understand--just hold up your red handkerchief; but don't wave it,
remember. Then three minutes after you've done this--get busy!"

"Huh! leave that to me, boss--I gotter hunch a'ready jest haow that I
kin work the game. So-long!"

So matter-of-fact way his leave taking, so informal, that it was plain
to be seen Perk must be taking things coolly; a fact that pleased his
chum vastly, Jack told himself as the other crept away, heading along
the back trail, and making no more noise than a writhing cotton-mouth
moccasin snake might have done.

Jack and Jethro waited as the minutes crept past. The latter being
advised in low whispers just what was on the bill of fare, might have
been heard to chuckle to himself when he finally understood--possibly he
was feeling a bit disappointed because this particular mission had not
been turned over to his care; but then he must have realized that he was
having a share in everything that was attempted looking to the smashing
of the powerful smuggler league, which conviction would give him the
degree of satisfaction he craved.

Jack could not see how the minutes passed--the lack of good light
prevented him from calculating from what the dial of his little wrist
watch marked; so, having nothing else to do he commenced counting the
seconds, and mentally figuring just how far Perk might have progressed.

Now he would probably be creeping along into the density of the heavier
growth, following the sinuosities of the path Jethro had led them
along--later on Jack decided the other half of the Crocodile's crew
would have arrived at the spot where Jethro's powerboat was hidden back
of the friendly natural screen.

He gave Perk a certain stretch of time to gather what he had come after;
and then in his mind followed him all the way back to the vicinity of
the hostile camp.

For amusement Jack had many a time trained his fancy along such paths as
he was now following out; so that really he had become quite an expert
in painting similar mind pictures.

And now Perk must be diligently following up his maneuvers by sneaking
along on hands and knees, keeping well out of the sight of those
carousing near the blazing fires.

When in the nature of things Jack finally concluded the other should
have reached his objective, he craned his neck, and started to keep
close tabs on the motionless airplane.

Even as he thus looked he discovered a small object that he felt sure
could be nothing else than Perk's dingy old bandanna, which he so often
wore about his neck, cowboy fashion, when on duty aboard their crate.

One minute he saw this object, and then it vanished utterly from view.
Well, that fact rendered his belief more certain--Perk was on deck as
big as life; and in three minutes more he would have struck home--it was
time he and Jethro were fading out of the picture--making a silent exit
from the scene, and be on their way.

So Jack touched his companion on the arm, and began to creep off, with
the other close after him.

They succeeded in passing from the near vicinity of the illumination
inside the appointed three minutes, after which Jack listened intently
as he kept moving, ready to be duly thrilled by an outbreak and
commotion announcing the discovery of the blazing crate there on the
sloping runway.

Just as he figured it all turned out--without warning loud yells and
whoops rang out, telling that every man-jack in the camp must have
suddenly made the tremendous discovery that their waiting plane was
wrapped in fiercely devouring flames; for the gasoline which Perk had so
carefully scattered here and there, would make a wonderful blaze on
contact with fire.

Jack found himself speculating how Perk must have managed so as to be on
his way, possibly already secure back of the dense thicket, before the
fire broke out; but all that could be explained later on.

He remembered what the other had said about having a "hunch"; and Jack,
knowing how fertile his pal was in originating bright schemes, felt
certain he had been able to rise to the occasion.

He found himself laughing softly as the dreadful clamor rose higher and
higher. In imagination he could even see how the startled smuggler crowd
must be forced to keep their distance from the costly airship that was
being reduced to ashes right before their eyes, with nothing to be done
about it, such was the scorching heat accompanying the holocaust.

When it was all over, with nothing remaining save the useless engine of
the burned plane, doubtless there would follow a perfect hurricane of
surmises as to how so mysterious a fire could have started. The most
reasonable conclusion naturally would be that some spark from their camp
fires might have been wafted toward the airship, and, still retaining
its vigor, fallen upon a tiny pool of inflammable gasoline spilled when
the tank had been last replenished.

Let them think what they pleased, it mattered nothing to Jack--the one
prime object of his self congratulation lay in the fact that their
initial blow had been struck, and the contraband carriers of the air
reduced by one useful factor.

The volume of the shouts was gradually becoming less and less; which
fact must have resulted from their placing more distance between
themselves and the aroused camp; also through the men ceasing to give
voice to their excitement, under the conviction that there was no
possible remedy for the disaster--and then again the Combine, being
swollen with gross profits, could stand such a loss, so easily replaced.

In due time Jack and Jethro approached their goal. It was to be hoped
they would find Perk already there; or that he must show up soon after
they arrived. They lay among the bushes, and waited, Jack knowing Perk
would be apt to give a certain little sound, very like the cheep of a
night bird, such as they had frequently used under similar conditions.

A few minutes later sure enough he caught the expected signal, which,
upon being immediately answered brought a stooping figure reeling into
view. Jack hastened to reach for his chum's right hand which he wrung
with considerable unction.

"Good old Perk--you filled the bill okay, I'm telling you, my pal!
That's one ship less for them to use in their business--we've made a
small dent in their armor, and let's hope there's plenty more still
coming to them."

Perk, though breathing hard, was also emitting queer sounds that
announced his feeling of complete satisfaction. Jethro also insisted on
giving him a generous handshake, to let him know how tickled he felt
over seeing those he hated so fiercely meet with their first loss.

"Gosh all hemlock! but things did work smooth, let me tell you-all,"
Perk finally gasped, unable to repress his exultant feelings any longer,
despite his lack of wind. "Say, she whooped things up right stunnin',
when the slow match it got its work in--I'd say she did fellers!"

"Slow-match, did you say, brother?" asked Jack, having been given a hint
on catching that significant word.

"Shore thing, ole hoss," Perk told him, in high glee. "I amused myself
while we was in that Charleston hotel, amakin' up a lit twister I
calc'lated might pan aout okay; an' she certain did me proud--took most
two minutes fo' the spark to creep 'long an' touch things off. Whoopee!
didn't them bimbos kick up a reg'lar jamboree though, when the hull ship
started in one big nest o' fire--nawthin' like a nice sprinklin' o' gas
to make things hum."

"Shake hands again, Wally, boy--it takes a cracker-jack like you to
think up big things," and Jack acted as though he took more genuine
pleasure in having Perk make such a "bulls-eye" than if he had occupied
the spot-light himself.

They dropped into the cockpit of the old but rejuvenated powerboat and
were soon on their way back to the secreted airship. Fortunately they
ran across nothing hostile while carefully following the channel of the
tortuous river; had another speedboat laden with contraband come along
back of them they might have been hard put to hide, since the oncoming
craft would of necessity be using a searchlight, so as to buck the
villainous current, as well as avoid snags, and half hidden rocks.

Jack was ready to give full credit to Jethro for his wonderful success
in locating every such obstacle; once or twice they did happen to run
softly up against a submerged tree-trunk; but the pilot had acute
hearing, and sensed the fact that they were approaching such a dangerous
snag; for he always reduced their speed, and the collision did no harm
whatever.

It took them double the time to get back to their hiding-place as when
going forth, all because of that swift current; but in good order they
finally arrived, somewhat weary, but feeling the uplifting ardor
accompanying a perilous mission successfully carried out.

Now they meant to seek rest, and sleep. In the morning they would try
and take things easy, having nothing to do while daylight lasted but
eat, and doze, looking hopefully forward to making another such sally
when darkness again covered the coast lands and waterways.

Perk must have been very contented with the fine showing he had made in
their first assault on the enemy's lines of communication. He followed
the example of his chum, lying down on one of the cots belonging to the
cabin of the big amphibian--they had arranged blankets on the floor for
Jethro, after he had positively refused to take one of the cots, saying
he was "used tuh knockin' around, an' takin' pot-luck when he felt
sleepy"--and just before passing into dreamland himself Jack heard his
best pal mutter:

"Huh! fust blood fo' Uncle Sam's boys, which same is a good sign, I'd
say!"



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                         THE LUCKLESS SPEEDBOAT


The night passed without anything in the nature of an alarm. Once when
Jack chanced to wake up, he could catch the familiar pulsations of a
cloud-chaser of an airship passing, at a considerable distance; and as
near as he could figure, heading directly toward the rendezvous on the
creek, where a descent would be made to the exact spot on which the
other craft had so lately been mysteriously incinerated.

"I wonder if that turns out to be our next victim," was what the
listener said under his breath, as he dropped back to continue his
sleep.

In the morning it was deemed quite safe for Perk to build a cooking fire
well back of the rise, so that even though a boat should pass up or down
the river curious eyes would not be apt to see anything suspicious. The
air, too, was favorable, since it came from a direction to leeward of
the water, which would carry such light smoke as arose from the small
fire safely away.

Perk gave himself and two companions a very acceptable breakfast, all
things considered. He was possessed of a fair amount of culinary skill;
dearly loved to get up a camp meal, and satisfy the yearnings of his
always empty stomach; and moreover had selected a number of such viands
as would appeal to the taste of three hungry men, reduced to their own
cookery.

Afterwards Perk kept himself busy doing a number of things that had some
connection with their comfort along the "grub line," as he termed it.

Jethro seemed content to just take things comfortably; while Jack found
an abundance of employment in making up his notes. This was carried out
in the code language, so that if he had the hard luck to fall into the
hands of the enemy they would not be able to discover what all the queer
marks really stood for--without a knowledge concerning the key it would
seem more or less like the silly scribbling of a child.

Then, too, Jack allowed himself to figure out what would be the nature
of their next undertaking, following out their plan for striking telling
blows at everything that helped to build up the strategic working of the
smuggler ring's illicit business.

"It should be tried out if another of those speedboats makes shore while
we're hanging around up there," he told himself, after one of these
spells of deep thinking; "anything that goes to create a feeling of
genuine consternation in that mob comes along our line of action. We've
prepared for all those kind of little surprises, and mustn't lose any
chance that drifts our way, that's absolutely certain. Well, we'll wait
and see what turns up to-night."

At noon Perk once again disappeared back of the screen of brush, vines
and dense foliage, to concoct another fragrant and much relished meal.
At night they would have to fare on cold stuff, as Jack hesitated to
risk the glow of a fire so near the river, where some sort of boat might
be passing, with a chance of discovery that would spell disaster to all
their pet schemes.

As the afternoon moved along Jack cast uneasy glances up at the sky,
where openings in the heavy belt of trees allowed of a fragmentary
survey.

"Seems a little like rain, fellows," he told his mates; whereupon both
of the others took a good look, and pronounced their several opinions.

Jethro, Jack found, proved to be one of those natural weather oracles
such as may occasionally be run across among the natives in southern
sections of the country; and his opinion struck both the others as sound
and reasonable.

He even in his quaint fashion, and in the lingo of cracker land,
explained on what he based his prophecy that, while the clouds might
persist there would be no rain fall inside of twelve to twenty hours;
although beyond that he was not prepared to say, and felt there was a
fair chance the clouds would wet things pretty well before giving way to
clear skies again.

"Mebbe then we kin put in one more good blast 'fore we git housed up
here in aour houseboat," Perk advanced, as both his opinion and his
secret wish.

"Let's hope so," Jack told him, to bolster up his already drooping
spirits. "Anyhow, if it hasn't started to rain when we're ready to pull
out to-night, it's agreed we'll not hold back on account of a little
ducking."

"Yeou sed it, buddy," Perk snapped with avidity, accompanying the words
with one of his old-time grins, that told of renewed expectation of
fresh achievement.

So after they had partaken of some cold refreshment to stay their
hunger, they completed their preparations for sallying forth to inflict
further damage on the enemy, and add to their consternation by all
possible measures.

Their course was identical with that pursued on the former occasion. It
was darker than on the previous night, owing no doubt to the curtain of
clouds that shut off even the friendly starlight. Jethro, however,
proved to be equal to his task, and as they made but comparatively slow
progress down the swift running stream managed to steer his boat without
colliding with the obstacles lying in wait. These bobbed up now to the
right, and again to the left--seething little whirlpools, and ugly
pointed rocks, but partially out of water--just as in days of old in
Grecian seas, mariners had to keep clear of Scylla and Charybdis, two
monsters who threatened their craft with destruction,--the whirlpool on
one hand, and a cruel-fanged monster rock on the other.

They eventually reached the spot for which they aimed, and again was the
powerboat screened behind that accommodating natural curtain. Then,
after a little delay while gathering certain things (the possession of
which would save a tedious trip back to the boat, such as had been
Perk's portion on that other occasion) the trio began their long crawl,
with the idea of locating that inviting spot from whence they could view
the camp, and yet be out of sight of the rough characters making up the
working force of the smugglers.

To the dismay of Perk there was no airship awaiting action at the spot
of the previous night's blaze. Evidently the one Jack had heard pass
over--and of which he had informed both his comrades--must have passed
out again to where the mother-ship lay at anchor; or else possibly sped
back to some island like the depot at Bimini, where another cargo could
be taken on.

"But they mebbe might slip in some time to-night," Perk told himself, in
deadly fear that they were to have all their work for nothing, which
would certainly have been too bad, and must grieve the honest fellow
terribly.

As for Jack, he chanced to be thinking in quite a different direction.

It began to grow somewhat monotonous, just lying there and listening to
what hilarious jokes and slangy conversation passed between the rough
hired workers, smoking and drinking alongside the comfortable fires.

It was now getting along toward midnight, and they had been lying in
that cramped condition for several hours. Some of the men had thrown
themselves down near the fires, as though to pick up some sleep; but
sagacious Jack noticed an air of expectation among them as a whole,
which assured him they anticipated some fresh arrival, whether from the
air or the river of course he could not say with certainty.

Presently he did notice that two of men who appeared to be leaders
walked down to the crude wharf, and seemed to be changing things around
as though preparing for coming shipments of contraband stuff.

"I figure it's going to be a boat," he told himself on seeing this
movement--"they've had word of its coming, I reckon through that
powerful radio station on the coast, which we're given orders to find,
and knock out of business."

And a boat it proved to be, for shortly afterwards Jack caught a distant
sound as of an engine working; and since it did not come from above it
must be moving up the stream, having some time before entered at the
mouth of the Yamasaw.

Before long they could detect the strong light that bore upstream, to
show the pilot where to keep the nose of his craft. Later, the speedboat
was tied to the dock by a capable hawser, and the labor of taking her
heavy cargo ashore began.

Of course there was nothing that could be done to interfere with the
landing of the contraband, and its being loaded on the waiting trucks.
Their orders had been along different lines--they were to try and hurt
the operations of the daring smuggler ring, kill it off if possible; but
under no consideration risk the betrayal of their plan of campaign by
trying to hinder some of the goods that were landed from reaching their
far-away destinations as scheduled.

Jack, watching closely, soon saw the parties who manned the speedboat
seemed in no particular hurry to start back down the river. Having
delivered their valuable load of wet goods in security, they ran no risk
of being seized by a revenue cutter, or contraband-chaser, if dawn
should find them close off shore.

The two officers were sitting at a rough table chatting with several of
the leading smugglers, and drinking something that looked like real
champagne; while the balance of the crew had mingled with the campers,
and seemed to be taking an hour or so off.

Jack having kept close tabs on all that went on felt confident there was
not a single man aboard the speedboat. His hoped for opportunity was at
hand, and no time must be lost.

So, having previously notified his mates what he meant to attempt, he
now left them, carrying some small bundle along, the nature of which
Perk understood very well since it was he himself who had hooked up the
fire bomb with the time-clockwork that could be set for any minute
necessary--and which was now arranged two hours ahead. Jack soon found
himself alongside the boat; and watching his chance he slipped aboard.
He was not over five minutes at work, when he again appeared in the
shadows alongside the rough wharf, from whence he readily made the
shore.

When he a little afterwards rejoined his companions the order must have
been given for the crew to get aboard, as the boat was scheduled to take
off, perhaps to head for Charleston, or Georgetown, to pick up needed
supplies that were regular, and not in the contraband class.

Those ashore gave their allies a round of cheers before the vessel
vanished down the stream--why not when they surely had not anything to
fear in the line of discovery? Those sneaking Secret Service agents had
never bothered them seriously ever since the headquarters rendezvous was
stationed at this hard to reach point on the twisting, turbulent
Yamasaw.

"We'll hang out here for another hour and more," Jack whispered to his
two backers. "I'm hoping to pick up some more valuable points from
hearing the men chaffing one another--I'd give a lot just to know where
that radio sending and receiving station is located, as it would save us
considerable trouble in combing the entire coast of South Carolina."

"Yeah," Perk was saying, oh! so softly--no one hearing his customary
manner of speech would ever imagine he could modulate his voice so
wonderfully--"an' I shore reckons we kin see the fine light that's laid
aout for Fo'th o' July celebration on this late Fall night, jest as good
up hyah as daown thar."

"A heap better, Wally," Jack assured him.

The time passed tediously to active Perk. He had listened eagerly as
long as the sound of the working engines of the elegant speedboat could
be heard down the river; but by degrees they grew fainter, until even
keen-eared Perk was unable to place them.

Long afterwards he drew the attention of his mates to what seemed a
queer illumination up in the clouded heavens toward the southeast.

"Huh! kinder seems like sumpin' might be agoin' on over yonder, suh,"
was what he said in Jack's ears; "which I has a most pow'ful notion has
to do with aour purty racin' boat what's more'n likely kicked her heels
at many a rev'nue cutter that couldn't close in on her nohaow."

"You said it that time, Wally," Jack assured him, feeling a little
thrill himself over the probable success of his attempt at wiping out
yet another of those swift air and water vehicles engaged in doing the
transportation for the wholesale smugglers' combination.

Some of those in the camp had by this time also taken note of the
tell-tale crimson stain on the low-hanging clouds, for they began to
watch it in considerable surprise, as well as uneasiness. What had
happened on the preceding night was only too fresh in their minds for
them to forget the unaccountable nature of the disaster.

"Gosh! we shore got 'em guessin', partner," Perk was saying, softly,
after they were once more aboard the old and faithful powerboat, with
cat-eyed Jethro at the steering wheel, guiding the boat's destinies by
sheer intuition and good hearing combined.

"Looks that way, brother," was the other's terse but eloquent reply.

They met with no accident while on their way back to their "location,"
as Perk sometimes referred to the hidden camp, he having been out with
companies of Hollywood people when making pictures demanding rural
surroundings, and consequently picking up a few of their customary
designations.

They had just managed to get safely aboard the amphibian when the first
rain-drop came down; and in less than ten minutes it was pouring;
evidently Nature herself was in league with Jack and his allies to favor
their undertakings in a friendly as well as most admirable fashion.



                             CHAPTER XXVIII

                         READY FOR ANOTHER BLOW


That rain put a damper on their plans, all right, for it kept up
intermittently for many hours. To be sure, they were comfortable enough,
housed in the cabin of the big amphibian, and with plenty of good "eats"
at hand, as well as soft drinks in abundance--what a grand forager that
same Perk would make if the occasion should ever arrive where it was
necessary to "live off the country," as many an invading army has found
itself compelled to do.

At least neither of his companions had any cause to "knock" the said
Perk for the least dereliction along the line of supplies--backed by
abundant resources in the way of funds, supplied by a generous Republic,
he always found it a pleasure to lay in stock--and help make way with
the same in addition, it must be confessed.

When night came there was no clear spot in all the heavens--only a vast
gray curtain shrouding everything in gloom. And through the night at
regular intervals fresh showers arrived to further moisten things.

Jack knew there would be nothing doing on the following night, since,
even if the persistent clouds did choose to disperse, the ground and
bushes would be much too well saturated for them to think of crawling on
hands or knees, or "snaking" it along on their stomachs, so close to the
hostile camp--they must exercise their patience, and await yet another
twenty-four hours.

This long stretch of idleness was especially hard on poor Perk. From the
day of his birth he had always been a "doer," and no shirk; so that when
compelled to just "loaf around sucking his thumbs," as he so eloquently
described the situation, he felt absolutely dejected.

Indeed, there were times when Jack had to almost use force in the effort
to compel his near pal to "hold his horses," and wait for the sky to
clear up. Perk grumbled, and incessantly poked his head out of the cabin
to ascertain if the expected break was yet in sight.

So another night gathered its shades about them; but they had seen the
sun go down amidst a generous flush, which welcome sign of fair weather
in the offing was accepted as most promising.

"Hot-diggetty-dig!" Perk was heard to say time and time again, as he
prepared the evening meal; from which service he seemed to extract a
meed of comfort; "mebbe naow I aint joyful over the chanct to be doin'
somethin' once more. Never could keep my head straight when things they
kept agoin' ev'ry which way fo' Sunday. An' I'm shore all a twist to
help knock yet another ship silly--the more the merrier sez I--we gotter
to pound it inter the nobs o' them ducks they caint meddle with a buzz
saw owned by Unc. Sam, an' git away with hit. Ev'rybody pull up to the
table--soup's on."

Which it was for a fact, since he had heated up a tin of excellent
vegetable concoction that helped warm them up--the continual rain having
chilled the air, and made things "shivery," as Perk kept saying
disconsolately enough.

It was a long night to every one in the little company.

They had dozed so often during the last two days, that nobody felt very
much like turning in; and at that slept fitfully; so that never was a
dawn welcomed more heartily than daylight on the next morning.

The sun soon brought a fresh cheer with it, and as there was not a
single cloud in the blue skies it looked as though by evening things
would have dried up in a way to please the entire trio, with an
opportunity for work at hand.

Again did Perk go over the list of things they would necessarily take
along, not intending there should arise any hitch in the plan through
want of forethought on his part.

The start was made in complete darkness.

Jack found himself hoping that their luck might stay by them for another
spell; and that Jethro, who up to that hour had done so exceptionally
well, might be able to keep up the good work.

It was bound to be a bit more difficult reaching their former hiding
place, for several good reasons, Jack figured. In the first place the
gloom that wrapped such a cloak about them would cause their guide
additional trouble, in order to avoid coming into rough collision with
one of those ambushing snags, or half concealed rocks.

Then again by this time they might expect the suspicions of their
enemies must have been more or less awakened, making them more watchful,
also restless.

Probably those at the camp rendezvous may have before then been informed
concerning the mysterious burning of the speedboat carrier of contraband
stuff, while on the way down the Yamasaw heading for the sea. That
significant fact, coupled with the destruction of the airship within
hand-throw of their campfires, would surely begin to awaken certain
fears to the extent that some strange series of disasters had overtaken
the long run of luck they had been enjoying in landing all their
precious cargoes without a single break.

Jack noticed how their cracker guide kept on his way at a slower speed,
and he found himself mentally commending this degree of caution.
Evidently Jethro too, was bent on making certain nothing in the line of
an upset to their game could be laid at his door.

Just after they started the sound of a motor was clearly heard, and
somehow every head was immediately lifted toward the heavens; for there
could not be any difficulty in realizing the racket came from that
quarter, making it clear an airship was passing by.

"There she blows, mates!" Perk breathed, exultantly. "Things air
aworkin' agin in aour favor, seems like. Go it, ole boy; we got yeour
number, and kin fix yeou aout right smart."

"Lower your voice if you must speak, Wally," cautioned Jack,
apprehensively, since there was no knowing what the darkness concealed
from their eyes.

"But she's amakin' fo' that same camp, I kinder gu-reckon--aint she,
Boss?" continued the irrepressible Perk.

"To be sure," Jack told him; "and now please dry up, brother."

The clatter died away, from which they fancied the incoming ship must
have made a successful landing. In imagination Perk could vision what
was taking place--the eager workers picking up whatever the pilots of
the air carrier tossed out of their spacious cabin, and possibly loading
the same on some waiting truck, or at least a speedy automobile,
functioned by a capable chauffeur, who had interest in the stake.

Onward they continued, and all kept going well, from which fact Jack
figured that thus far the smugglers had not deemed it essential to have
videttes posted along the river, in order to keep tabs on what might be
going on.

To himself Jack was deciding that, should they be fortunate enough to
make way with yet another cargo carrier on this present night, he would
feel it judicious to change his base of attack, and go after that
mysterious radio sending station, without which the plans of the lawless
crowd would be just about "knocked on the head."

"They must be depending absolutely on the information that passes
between the mother ship and the shore, to shape all these successful
landings," was the way he mentally put it; "and once we put the kibosh
on that secret radio shop their hands will be tied; so that the regular
force of Coast Guards, backed by the fast revenue cutters, and
speedboats taken over by the Government, will be able to keep things
down at a low ebb."

Much depended on whether they would be able to accomplish a third
stroke, so as to complete the perplexity, and awaken the concern of the
smugglers. Jack felt tolerably certain that once they had aroused a
lively feeling bordering on _fear_ among those rough men, they would be
apt to magnify things, and fancy that the long arm of the Law was
reaching out with irresistible power, to clutch them with remorseless
tenacity, and start them on the road to the penitentiary at Atlanta.

That was his present goal--if only he might institute a reign of
apprehension among them the end would be in sight--from the beginning
this had taken its place in his mind as the main object of his crusade;
and so it meant a great deal for them to hit again at the enemy without
any further delay.

Arriving at the place where the powerboat was to be secreted they soon
found themselves making for the vicinity of the camp, the fires of which
served them as a target, such as pilots on a crooked Florida river use
in order to avoid pitfalls in the shape of snags along their course.

When they were once more installed in their customary shelter Perk saw
with a feeling of vast relief that sure enough another plane was in
sight.



                              CHAPTER XXIX

                          JETHRO TAKES A HAND


"Lookey, Jack, it's a crate 'bout like ourn--an amphibian, an' a beaut
in the bargain. What great luck, oh boy!" was what Perk was whispering
into his chum's ear.

"I see it--let up on the talk,--we've got to plan quick, for fear the
ship takes off again!" Jack told him, vexed because his pal seemed
unable to bridle his tongue when silence was what they most needed.

He could see the two men who had come with the amphibian, since they
were still wearing their service togs, and helmets. They seemed to be
enjoying themselves hugely with some of the occupants of the main camp;
as though in a high humor because of their successful flight, and safe
arrival.

"What kinder ship be that, partner?" demanded the one who could not be
effectually squelched.

"I don't know--looks mighty like one of those new multi-motored
Kingbirds, with a big cabin that might hold a dozen passengers. Now
please hold your breath, Wally, and let me _think_--we've got to work
fast for they'll take off any time now."

Jack having already about decided on their line of action was not long
in reaching a conclusion. It was to be the turn of Jethro now--he had
promised the other he should have his inning, under the conviction that
the guide had earned a right to strike one good blow, so as to feel he
had thus avenged his family wrongs at the hands of John Haddock.

A hurried consultation in whispers followed. Then Jethro backed away,
with some object carefully tucked under an arm. When he was beyond the
range of their limited observation Jack touched Perk on the arm.

"We're moving our base, brother," he told him most cautiously. "Jethro
has only a regular bomb to set, and will have to scuttle out of that in
something of a hurry. They may start a search, and come this way; so we
ought to be on our way to the boat."

"Shucks! naow aint that jest too bad--yeou're abreakin' my heart,
Boss--I shore did want to see that ship smashed to flinders," whispered
the chagrined Perk.

"We may yet--I know of another place further back, where it'd be safe
for us to stop, and then hurry off after it happens."

In this fashion then did Jack smother the budding mutiny on Perk's part;
so they began their retrograde movement, with all their senses on the
alert to avoid any hovering danger.

From all the indications Jack had already guessed the smugglers were on
nettles and pins concerning the meaning of the late disasters that had
struck their hitherto smooth running machine--they had been turning
their heads this way and that, as if uneasy, casting frequent anxious
glances toward the big and costly airship (that undoubtedly had only
lately become a regular visitor at the rendezvous camp), as if tempted
to believe it too might suddenly burst into flames, as though some
mysterious and powerful electrical ray were at work, bringing
destruction in its wake.

Arriving at the back refuge mentioned by observing Jack, they crouched
down and waited for whatever was fated to come to pass. Jack himself
felt a bit anxious, wondering whether it had been a wise thing to allow
inexperienced Jethro to handle this last hazard--what if he managed to
make a mess of it in spite of his good intentions, and all the teaching
he, Jack, had given him? On the other hand there was always a
possibility that some restless member of the gang suddenly decide to
step over, and see if everything was well with the expensive addition to
their air force--should such an investigator run smack up against their
cracker guide in the act of setting his bomb, the result might be a
premature explosion that would prove disasterous to poor Jethro, even
though it also destroyed the expensive ship.

Perk was holding his breath with eagerness, only taking an occasional
gulph when it became absolutely necessary. Jack, too, admitted to
feeling his usually well trained nerves tingling with mingled sensations
as the minutes crept on and nothing came to pass.

Then suddenly without the slightest warning it happened--there was a
most dazzling illumination, very like a nearby flash of lightning, and
accompanied by a frightful explosion that actually almost caused the two
watchers to fall flat on their backs.

They had a glimpse however, of a vast upheaval, as the new amphibian was
cast up skyward in fragments, even the weighty motors being hurled
aloft, to speedily come back to earth with dreadful force. Every man in
the camp had been blown off his feet, and could be seen toppling in all
directions.

Jack clutched Perk by the arm, and gave him a tug which the other
understood meant they must cut for the boat with another instant's
delay. The last thing they glimpsed was the various prostrate figures
scrambling to their feet, and naturally hurrying forward, risking being
injured by the still falling fragments of what had so recently been a
beautiful sample of the very latest up-to-date cabin tri-motored
passenger airship, sponsored, if Jack had guessed rightly, by one of the
foremost building corporations known to the world of aviation.

They managed to arrive in safety at their goal, and to Jack's great
relief found faithful Jethro awaiting their coming, full to the brim
with joy over the consummation of his scheme for revenge long since
over-due.

The clamor from the camp was still at high ebb, men shouting all manner
of exciting things, as they endeavored to recover their wits enough to
try and figure out what it could all mean.

Once upon the river and the fugitives began to make some sort of speed.
No longer did they feel any necessity for using caution, save to avoid
the traps formed by those persistent snags, and other obstructions to a
safe passage. No one could overtake them, thanks to the speed of the old
reconstructed powerboat, as well as the skill of its pilot; and once
they reached the hidingplace of their amphibian how easy for them to
take to the air, leaving Jethro's boat where the plane had been hidden?

Then for the grand climax to their adventure--finding the secret radio
station, and sending it in the wake of the destroyed speedboat, also the
two smuggler airships that would no longer carry contraband loads across
land and water from nearby foreign islands, or mother ships anchored off
the east coast.



                              CHAPTER XXX

                         THE WIND-UP--CONCLUSION


They found it easy enough to get up speed with the assistance of the
current, and then take off, when a clear streak of water was reached.
Rising to a fair ceiling Jack headed south, and the night flight was on.

He let Perk take over the controls before a great while, while once
again he studied his charts, well marked from previous searchings. So
went the long hours, with numerous turnings as the humor urged; for they
were now only killing time, and waiting for the dawn to come.

No sooner was it light than Jack again settled down at the stick, with
the ship headed toward his intended goal. He had good reason to believe
his information to be correct, and that before many hours they would be
able to cash in on the prospect, kill the efficiency of the outlaw radio
station to do further injury, and bring the operations of the great
smuggler league to a wind-up, which was all the Government asked of him.

Nine o'clock in the morning found them on the coast, and approaching a
certain wild district where no man was supposed to have his
habitation--even the shanties of the Spring fishermen were conspicuous
by their absence--the place was so lonely, so isolated, so storm-swept,
that the bravest of coast dwellers did not have the nerve to carry on
their daily avocation along the line of fishing, or wild-fowl shooting,
amidst such desolate surroundings.

All of which had made it an ideal spot for an unregistered radio base;
and Jack believed his hunch was a true one when he decided he would find
the end of his trail where he was now heading.

A little distance back of the beach, beyond the scrub and dead grass,
there had for many years been known to exist a strange looking object,
almost falling in ruins now; but which at one time had been a well built
tower, more or less fashioned after the type of a coast lighthouse,
since it had winding stairs within, and a room at the top, from which a
wonderful view of the sea could be obtained.

Jack knew the brief history of that queer tower--how it had been built
long years back by a retired sea captain, whose heart was still faithful
to his beloved salt-water; and who, desirous of dying within the sound
of the breakers had spent almost his last dollar in having this peculiar
tower erected, strong enough with its rocky walls to defy the elements
that usually played such rough pranks along this particular stretch of
shore.

Some people of a romantic turn of mind even said the old captain had
lost his wife and daughter in a wreck close by that very part of the
coast, which fact had been mainly instrumental in his carrying out his
queer conceit. After all, he had really died there, being found lifeless
by a party of shipwrecked men who chanced to reach land at that place,
and anticipated being fed and warmed by some genial light keeper, only
to discover but a dead man there. A nephew had seen to his burial,
stripped the "observatory" of everything of value, and forsook all else.
Now the tower was a near-ruin, and in danger of toppling when some
unusually severe gale swept the water over the sand ridge, and against
the "castle" wall.

When Perk glimpsed the object of their solicitude far away Jack brought
his ship down on the beach, and taxied back to where he had reason to
believe it would be safe from the highest tide.

Then they set out to stalk their intended prey, keeping far enough back
so as to avoid being detected by any trained eyes from the room in the
top of the dead sea captain's lone tower.

By noon they had gained enough distance to be able to keep watch on the
tower through means of Perk's glasses. They soon discovered signs of
life about the place, which fact gratified them greatly; surely no
rational human being would ever take up his abode in that ramshackle
affair unless he had some unusually important reason for so doing, such
was its inaccessibility, and lonesome condition, there being not even
duck shooting available, while the fishing must be equally _non est_.

By one o'clock they were able to figure that there were just two men in
the tower, which reckoning allowed the formation of a concrete plan of
action.

It appeared that just one of these fellows was on duty at a time, the
other apparently being free to wander off, if the notion struck him.
Possibly, too, most of their work came along after night had set in,
since business picked up at that hour.

"The next time either one steps out to take a little saunter I'll follow
in a roundabout way, and nab him when he isn't dreaming of danger. After
I've stopped him from giving the alarm, and putting his mate on guard
I'll give a signal for you lads to swing around and approach the
junk-shop by keeping hidden behind that sand hill. Once I get my foot on
the steps leading up inside the tower it'll be all over but the
shouting. Soak that in, both of you boys?"

Which they said they would; and so Jack a little later on, crept off,
exercising great care as he picked up his duty to keep hidden from those
lookout windows at the summit of the said tower.

He managed to take up a position where it was most likely the walker
would pass close by, and there he stood, sheltered from view. The chap
was amazingly stunned to have something thrust him in the back, and to
hear a stern voice say:

"Not a single word or you're a dead man! We've got the tower surrounded,
even if you don't see my men; and the game is played out. You're under
arrest for sending out illegal radio calls that are in the interest of
coast smugglers and other criminal parties. Silence now, or I'll crack
you over the head."

It was almost what Perk would call a "picnic," things fell into their
hands so easily. Having bound and gagged his prisoner Jack made his way
back to a point close to the leaning tower, when he gave the promised
signal; and was speedily joined by his two mates.

After that they all three went cautiously up the winding stairs, and
suddenly took the remaining radio man by surprise, by covering him with
three guns, and cowing him in the bargain. Realizing that the game was
queered he did not dare take desperate chances by putting up any
resistance; simply grinning, and holding out his hands for Jack to slip
the bracelets over his wrists.

"Now," explained Jack, "the only thing we want to do is to take some of
this stuff along to prove we've demolished the offending radio-sending
station; after which it's up to Uncle Sam to see that this scotched
snake doesn't show its head again along the same lines--we will have
finished our job in first-class shape, and can take up something else,
for to be sure there's work aplenty for us Secret Service lads."

Before this was carried out Jack secured a fine picture of the old
leaning Coast Tower, as well as its interior, showing the radio sending
outfit just as they found it. This being accomplished as positive
evidence that could not be successfully disputed, they put aside such
material as could be readily transported in the cabin of their
amphibian, and then sent the racketty tower high up in the air, to fall
in fragments on the beach.

After that all of them boarded the ship, and they set out for
Charleston, to drop Jethro--who would sooner or later hear from the two
chums, as well as receive a fat reward for the part he had taken in
rounding up the smuggler gang, and putting that mischievous radio out of
the running--also turning over the two prisoners to the care of Mr.
Herriott, as representative of the legal branch of the Government. What
became of them Jack and Perk neither knew nor cared, as other equally
thrilling happenings soon came along to occupy their time and attention,
to the exclusion of matters that were now "has-beens," hull down in the
past.

They first of all turned over that admirable amphibian, the remodeled
Curtiss cabin twin-motored ship, to the authorities; and when they left
Charleston it was aboard their own familiar plane, the big Fokker. In
some succeeding volume it may be taken for granted we shall again meet
those two interesting aerial Soldiers of Fortune, Jack Ralston and Perk,
doing their perilous stunts in some other field of adventure, the
narration of whose exploits may form the basis of the next book in this
_Sky Detective Series_.

                                THE END.





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