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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBoy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter V. AT THE GREAT GATUN DAM
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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter V. AT THE GREAT GATUN DAM Post by :kenetrix Category :Long Stories Author :G. Harvey Ralphson Date :April 2012 Read :1287

Click below to download : Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter V. AT THE GREAT GATUN DAM (Format : PDF)

Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter V. AT THE GREAT GATUN DAM

CHAPTER V. AT THE GREAT GATUN DAM

"Over there is the oldest country on this side of the world," said Peter Fenton, pointing over the rail of the vessel and across the smooth waters of the Caribbean sea. "We are now on the famous Spanish Main," he continued, "where adventurers from the Windward Islands laid in wait for the galleons of Spain. Just ahead, rising out of the sea, is the Isthmus of Panama. Down there to the left is the continent of South America, where there were cathedrals and palaces when Manhattan Island was still populated by native Indians."

The minds of the Boy Scouts were filled with splendid dreams as they followed with their eyes the directions indicated by the pointing hand. It was all a fairyland to them. Peter talked for some time on the causes which had brought the scum of the seven seas to the Isthmus, and then Ned Nestor interrupted the talk by inviting them all to the stateroom he occupied in common with Frank Shaw.

When all were seated on chairs and bunks Ned opened the door and looked out on the passage which ran along in front of the apartment. When he turned back into the room there was a humorous twinkle in his eyes.

"His Nobbs is in sight," he said.

"The same party?" asked Frank.

"The same dusky gentleman who has followed us since the night of the theft of the emerald necklace," Ned replied.

"He ought to receive a Carnegie medal for always being on the spot," Frank said.

"We ought to turn the hose on him," Jimmie corrected.

"We should feel lost without him," laughed George Tolford. "When I first saw him in the newspaper building, while you were investigating the chaos of papers in Mr. Shaw's rooms," he went on, "I had a hunch that we shouldn't be able to lose him."

"Well, we haven't been able to lose him," Peter Fenton said. "He reminds me, the way he floats about, of the ghost of some pirate who sailed about the Spanish Main four hundred years ago in a long, low, rakish craft adorned with a black flag."

"I saw him in the newspaper building that night," Jimmie said, "an' he looked glad because we got no clues there."

"Why didn't Ned have him arrested in New York?" asked Jack Bosworth.

"What for?" demanded Jimmie.

"For making a nuisance of himself. Then he couldn't have followed us on board the ship. Also, he might have been able to get a little sleep nights."

"I reckon we have kept him going," Frank observed, with a laugh.

Ever since the night of the robbery the man called "His Nobbs" for want of a better name had kept Ned Nestor in sight most of the time. He had followed him home after the profitless visit to the newspaper office on the night of the theft, had chased about after him while the details of the trip to Panama were arranged the next day, and had turned up on the ship after she was under way.

The fellow did not seem to be overly anxious to keep his watchfulness a secret. He acted like any first cabin passenger on the ship. But, somehow, he managed to keep Ned in view most of the time. Now and then he was caught watching the door of Ned's stateroom. He never spoke to the boy, and never even looked at him when the two passed one another.

Taking advantage of this preference for Ned's company, the boys had put up all sorts of jobs on the fellow, and some of their pranks had kept him watching Ned's odd moves all night. It was a new and strange experience to Ned, this being spied upon so openly, and he was at a loss to account for the mental processes which inspired the strange surveillance.

"Well," said Ned presently, "let him watch outside if he wants to. We came in here to talk about something else. I have just been talking with Lieutenant Gordon, and he says we are to go into camp in the jungle not far from the Gatun dam. He will stop at the Tivoli, at Ancon, adjoining Panama. When we have anything to communicate to him, one of us can go down to Panama after supplies and leave word at an office where one of the lieutenant's associates in the case will always be in waiting. We are not to know the lieutenant if we meet him in our soup."

"We'll be eaten alive out there in the jungle," protested Jimmie.

"Besides, it would be more natural for us to go to Gatun for our supplies," Peter Fenton said.

"There are reasons why he wants us to remain in the jungle near Gatun for a time," Ned replied, and the boys separated, Jimmie strolling off in the wake of "His Nobbs," "just to see if he couldn't make him cough up something," as he expressed it.

The mystery of the theft of the emerald necklace was still unsolved, the man whose picture Ned carried in his brain had not been found, Pedro had been among the missing ever since he had walked out of the Shaw residence on the morning after the robbery. When the boys landed at Colon the next morning the case upon which they were engaged was still new ground before them.

Frank Shaw continued to take the loss of his emeralds very seriously, and at no time during the trip to Colon had he failed to keep an eye out for Pedro, whom he suspected of having admitted the thief to the house.

"His name isn't Pedro at all," he said, as the train sped out of the network of tracks behind Colon, "but Pedrarias. That was the name of the robber who succeeded Balboa as governor of New Granada, the pirate who stood Balboa up against a wall and shot him. Pedro, as I call him for short, declares that he is a direct descendant of that old stiff. He says the Spanish blood in his veins is pure. Great Scott! if I had such a pirate for an ancestor, I'd keep mighty still about it."

Peter Fenton was in his element now. As the train moved away from Colon he pointed out various points of interest, and supplied such information about them as he had gleaned from the maps and books he had consulted. The ruins of the old French workings were soon in sight, the locality where millions had been squandered in graft. And there was Mount Hope Cemetery, where thousands who had perished from fever had been buried.

"The doctors have cleaned out the fever now," he said, "by cleaning out the mosquitoes--the poison kind with the long name," he added. "The Canal Zone is about as healthy now as the city of New York."

Then came thickets where the trees were tied together with vines and creepers, all in gorgeous bloom. The great trees lifting their heads out of the jungle reminded the boys of the electric towers of New York, the twists of vines resembling the mighty cables which convey light, heat and power to the inhabitants of Manhattan.

As if in rivalry of the wealth of blossoms, bright-plumaged birds darted about like butterflies of unnatural growth. Now and then they saw evil looking lizards, some of them a yard in length, scuttling off through the marshes or looking down from high limbs. There was a swampy atmosphere over all the landscape.

Then, as the Boy Scouts looked, thinking of the glory of a camp in the thicket--of a retired nook on some dry knoll--the jungle disappeared as if by magic, and the train was winding up grassy hills. Beyond, higher up, the scattered houses of a city of fair size came into view.

"That's Gatun," cried Fenton. "I've read half a dozen descriptions of it lately. Great town, that."

"The houses look like boxes from here," Jimmie observed.

"Of course," Peter replied, "they are all two-story houses, square, with double balconies all screened in. Might be Philadelphia, eh?"

There were smooth roads in front of the houses, and there were yards where flowers were growing, and where neatly dressed children were playing. Jimmie turned from the homelike scene to Frank.

"I thought there would be something new down here," he complained. "This is just like a town up the Hudson."

"Jimmie expected to find people living in tents made out of animal skins," laughed George. "He thinks the natives eat folks alive."

"You wait until you get out of the country," Frank said, "before you talk of cottages up the Hudson. There will be something stirring before we get off the Isthmus."

"I hope so," Jimmie replied. "There surely will be if we camp back there in the jungle, among the snakes and lizards."

"Why not camp on the hills back there?" asked Jack.

"We may soon camp anywhere we like," said Ned. "The Zone government understands that we are a lot of kids out after specimens."

"Specimens of what?" asked Jimmie.

"Tall, slender men with black hair turning gray," replied Frank.

"Quit your kiddin'," grinned Jimmie.

The boys left the train at a modern depot, passed through the train-shed, crossed a level sward, and looked down into a mighty chasm.

"Great Scott!" cried Frank. "Is that the bottom of the world?"

He pointed below as he spoke.

"There seems to be a thin crust of rock between the bottom and the other side of the world," laughed George. "See! There are tunnels and pits down there. The men are still digging. Look like ants, don't they?"

It was a wonderful sight, and the Boy Scouts gazed long at the scene of activity before turning away toward the Gatun dam itself. This, Peter Fenton explained, was one of the big cuts of the canal, and ran from the marshy valley above down through the rocky ridge which held the rains in check and made a swamp of the upland.

Along the margins of the excavation ran shining steel rails upon which were mounted tapering structures of steel, from which cables crossed the gorge, carrying great buckets of concrete for the work below. Heavy walls were growing out of the depths.

"The ships will come up out of the sea through this cut," Peter explained.

"Then they'll climb the hill," scorned Jimmie.

"They will stop down there," said Peter, "and the lock gates will be closed, and the water will lift them to the level of the lake."

"I don't see no lake," observed the skeptical Jimmie.

"The lake will lie where the low land is, over there," replied Peter, pointing. "The Gatun dam will block the water and make a lake 85 feet above sea level, covering one hundred and sixty-four square miles of earth."

"So the most of the canal will be lake?" asked the boy.

"Quite a lot of it," was the reply.

"And if any one should blow up the dam, after it gets on its job, the ships would have to climb a ladder if they got over to Panama," he exclaimed.

"Something like that," Peter said.

"Where is the Gatun dam?" asked Jack.

"It is going up over there," Peter replied, pointing out a low, broad ridge which appeared to link two hills together. "That is what will make the inland sea, and that is the lump of earth we came here to look after."

"It is a busy place night and day," Ned said. "See the electric towers and wires? Work never stops."

"Something like His Nobbs," grinned Jimmie. "I wonder if he has had any sleep since he struck our trail?"

"I haven't seen him since we left the train," Jack said. "Perhaps he has delivered us over to the Panama division of the Anti-Canal Benevolent Society. In that case, we shall see no more of him."

After a time the boys strolled over to a neat little hotel on the principal street of the town, and there saw Lieutenant Gordon, who strolled up to Ned, just as any two Americans meeting there might have affiliated.

"Your camp in the jungle is ready for you," the officer said, as the two walked about the lobby of the hotel. "You will find a movable cottage there, all furnished, and a good cook. Until further orders you are all to remain there."

"Pretty quick work," said Ned.

"The orders for the cottage camp were sent over by wire before we left New York," the lieutenant replied. "You are at liberty to roam about the works at will, only you ought to leave some one at the cottage always."

"As I understand it, we are boys looking for adventure?" asked Ned.

"Exactly."

"And an emerald necklace," added the boy with a laugh.

"I have a notion that if you find Pedro you will find the necklace, unless you find him too late--after he has disposed of it."

"That may be," Ned replied, doubtingly, "but we are not likely to run across Pedro over here. Neither shall we see His Nobbs. They have played their roles, and we shall have new ones to contend with now."

That night the boys took possession of the cottage in the jungle, dancing and prancing about it like wild Indians. It all seemed to them to be too good to be true. Here they were, at last, on the Canal Zone, and, in a way, in the secret service of the government. It was late when they retired, and no guard was set.

This Ned regretted, after the others were asleep, and so lay awake a long time, watching. Then, about midnight, he saw some one looking in at the porch door.

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