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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBoy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XVII. THE WATCHER IN THE THICKET
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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XVII. THE WATCHER IN THE THICKET Post by :csmart Category :Long Stories Author :G. Harvey Ralphson Date :April 2012 Read :948

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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XVII. THE WATCHER IN THE THICKET


Between Tabernilla and Gamboa, a distance of about fifteen miles, the restless Chagres river, in its old days of freedom, crossed the canal line no less than fifteen times. At Gamboa the river finds a break in the rough hills and winds off to the northeast, past Las Cruces and off into more hills and jungles.

Where the river turns the canal enters the nine-mile cut through the Cordilleras, which form the backbone of the continent. Here at the Culebra cut, the greatest amount of excavation for the waterway is being done. This cut ends at Pedro Miguel locks, which will ease the ships down into the Pacific ocean.

Where the river turns to the northeast, at Gamboa, a wild and hilly country forms both banks. The hillsides as well as the plateaux are overgrown with dense vegetation. As in all tropical lands, the fight for survival is fierce and merciless. Trees are destroyed by great creepers, great creepers are destroyed by smaller growths, and every form of life, vegetable as well as animal, has its enemy. Every living thing springs up from the dead body of another.

Sheltered and half concealed from view in this wild country between Gamboa and Las Cruces, on the day the Boy Scouts set out in their search for Jimmie and Peter, there stood a house of stone which seemed as old as the volcanic formation upon which it stood. It was said that the structure had been there, even then looking old and dismantled, when the French began their operations on the Isthmus.

This house faced the valley of the Chagres river, having its back against a hill, which was one of the steps leading up to the top of the Cordilleras. There was a great front entrance way, and many windows, but the latter seemed closed. Few signs of life were seen about the place at five o'clock that afternoon.

From a front room in the second story the sounds of voices came, and now and then a door opened and closed and a footstep was heard on the stairway. However, those who walked about the place seemed either going or coming, for the house gained no added population because of the men who climbed the slope at the front and, ignoring the main entrance, passed on to the second floor by a secret staircase in the wall, entrance to which seemed easy for them to find.

At the hour named three acquaintances of the reader occupied the front room on the second floor of the stone house. They were Col. Van Ellis, the military man Frank Shaw had talked with in the old house near the Culebra cut, Harvey Chester, the father of the boy Jimmie and Peter had encountered in the jungle, and Gostel, the man who had approached the two boys the night before on the lip of the great excavation.

In a rear apartment, a sort of lumber-room, devoted now to wornout and broken furniture and odds and ends of house furnishing goods, was still another acquaintance--Ned Nestor. The patrol leader had met the two lost boys at Culebra, in the company of Harvey Chester and his son, Tony, and had spent enough time with the party to learn that Pedro, the ex-servant of the Shaw home, had been seen at the Chester camp, and that he had fled at the approach of Jimmie and his chum.

The story of Gostel's watching the cut at night, probably assisted by Pedro, and Harvey Chester standing guard, or seeming to do so, by day, had interested Ned greatly. The presence on the Isthmus of Pedro gave an extra kink to the problem. The attempt to capture the two boys, as previously told by Gastong, on the previous night, and the unmistakable anxiety of Chester to remain in their company, had led Ned to believe that at last he was getting to some of the people "high up" in the conspiracy against the canal. Surely a man of the education and evident wealth of Harvey Chester was not loitering along the Culebra cut just for the excitement there was in it. It was plain that he was there for a purpose, and the arrival of a man Jimmie declared to be Gostel had convinced Ned that the heads of the plot were not far away.

Gostel had greeted the boys heartily, expressing relief at the knowledge that they had escaped in safety from the jungle, and Chester had urged them all to accept of his continued hospitality. Nothing had been said of Gostel's pursuit of the two boys, and Ned had reached the conclusion that Gostel did not know that his movements had been observed.

Anxious to see what Gostel really was up to, Ned had instructed the boys to remain at a hotel at Culebra or visit the Chester camp, just as they saw fit, and had followed Gostel back to Gamboa and out to the stone house, where he had managed to hide himself in the room above described without his presence on the premises being suspected. One thing, however, Ned did not know, and that was that Jimmie McGraw, full of life and curious to know what was going on, had trained on after him and was now watching the house from a thicket on the hillside.

Ned had heard a good deal of talk since hiding himself in the rear room, much of which was of no account. Men who had delivered notes and messages had come and gone. Col. Van Ellis seemed to be doing a general business there. Some of the men who came appeared to be canal workmen, and these left what seemed to be reports of some kind.

From a break in the wall Ned could hear all that was said and see a great deal of what went on in the front room. At five o'clock a tall, dark, slender man whose black hair was turning gray in places entered the front room by way of the secret stairway in the side wall. He handed some papers to Col. Van Ellis and seated himself without being asked to do so.

"What, as a whole, are the indications?" Van Ellis asked.

"Excellent," was the short reply.

"And the latest prospect?" asked Chester.

"In the valley, near Bohio."

"What have you found there?"

"Clay-slate, hornblende, emeralds."

"In large quantities?" asked Chester, anxiously.

"There is a fortune underground there," was the reply. "Green argillaceous rock means something."

There was silence for some moments, during which Van Ellis pored over some drawings on his desk, Chester walked the floor excitedly, Gostel regarded the others with a sinister smile on his face, and Itto, the recent arrival, sat watching all the others as a cat watches a mouse.

"And this territory will be under the Lake of Gatun?" Chester asked, presently.

"Yes, very deep under the Lake of Gatun," was Itto's reply.

Again Van Ellis bent over the drawings, tracing on one with the point of a pencil.

"There are millions here," he said. "We have only to stretch forth our hands and take them."

"The wealth of a world," Itto observed.

The men talked together in Spanish for a long time, and Ned tried hard to make something of the discussion, but failed. He was convinced, however, that Chester was being urged and argued with by the others and was not consenting to what they were proposing to him.

In half an hour a man who looked fully as Oriental in size, manner and dress as Itto stepped inside the door and beckoned to that gentleman. Asking permission to retire for a few moments, Itto passed out of the door with the newcomer. Instead of going on down the secret staircase, however, the two opened a door at the end of the little hall upon which the front room gave, and appeared in the apartment where Ned was hiding.

The boy, however, was not in view from the place where they stood, and they had no reason to suspect his presence there, so he remained quiet and listened with all his ears to the low-voiced conversation carried on between the two.

"And these are the latest?" Itto asked, referring to papers in his hand.

"Yes, they are the last."

"And the showing--"

The newcomer shrugged his shoulders.

"You see for yourself," he said.

"Well," Itto said, directly, "it does not matter, does it?"

"Not in the least."

"If the information does not leak out," Itto went on, "there will be no change in our plans. We cannot afford to wait."

"For our country's sake there must be no delay."

Ned was slowly piecing this talk with the one which he had heard from the front room, and the significance of it all was sending little shivers down his back. He thought he understood at last.

As the two men left the room Ned heard a paper rustle on the floor, and at once made search for it. It was a drawing, similar to the one discovered in the bomb-room at the old temple, and was a complete sketch of the Gatun dam, the spillway, the locks--everything was shown, with character of fills and suggestions regarding the foundations. Here and there on the drawing were little red spots.

The significance of the red marks brought a date to Ned's mind. The drawings found in the bomb-room had borne a date, Saturday, April 15. If what he surmised was correct, he had only a little more than twenty-four hours in which to work. In the period of time thus given him he might, without doubt, succeed in averting the destruction of the big dam. But that was not the point.

His business there was not only to protect the Gatun dam but also to get to the core of the conspiracy and bring the plotters to punishment. The men who were plotting on the Isthmus were also plotting in New York. An inkling of the true state of affairs came to him, and he saw that in order to accomplish what he had set out to do his reach must be long enough to stretch across the Atlantic and there grapple with the subordinates in the treacherous plot.

Itto returned to the front room when the newcomer left and again the talk and the arguments went on, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English. Mr. Chester seemed to be asking for more time. Presently the date Ned had found on the two drawings was mentioned.

"The time set was Saturday--to-morrow," Itto said, grimly.

"That was decided upon a long time ago," Van Ellis said.

"Before the New York complications arose," Chester argued. "We did not know at that time what complications might result from the defection of one of our number. It is injudicious to go on now."

"The date referred to was also set for action in New York," Itto said.

"Yes, but the thing is inadvisable now, for Shaw has been warned."

It was plain to Ned that he would have to get away from the old stone house and decide upon some effective means of meeting this emergency. He had work to do in New York as well as in Gatun. The drawing found in the bomb-chamber had told him that. Now this new information emphasized the demand for instant action.

There was no doubt in his mind that it was the purpose of the plotters to blow up the great dam on the next day, probably after nightfall. As has been said, he could thwart the plans of the traitors by communicating with the secret service men under Lieutenant Gordon, but that course would not be apt to bring about all the desired results. He wanted to arrest every man connected with the plot. Not only that; he wanted proof to convict every one of them.

There seemed to the boy only one way in which he could attain the results sought for. He must catch the plotters "with the goods on," as the police say. He must catch them with explosives in their hands under the shadow of the dam! Ned knew that Harvey, Van Ellis, Gostel, and Itto were deep in the treacherous game, but he did not know how many others were taking part in it. He suspected that men high up in finance were back of the plot, and wanted to get the whole group.

He thought he knew why Harvey, Van Ellis and some of the others were in the plot. He was quite certain that he did. But he was not so certain of the motives of Itto, the Japanese. They might never be revealed unless the game was checked at the right moment.

There was an air of insincerity about the Japanese which Ned did not like. It seemed to the boy that he was leading the others on--or trying to lead them on--in a sinister way. The impression was in the lad's mind from the moment of his meeting Gostel that the two men, Itto and Gostel, were in the plot for some purpose of their own, a purpose which was not the accumulation of money, and which did not match the motives of the others.

About six o'clock Chester arose to his feet.

"I must go back to camp," he said.

"But there is a meeting to-night," Van Ellis urged.

"An important one," Gostel put in.

"And a midnight visit to the dam," Itto said.

"I have a previous engagement at the camp," Harvey insisted. "We have guests from New York, my son and myself."

"The secret service lads," exclaimed Gostel, scornfully. "Leave them to me to-night, and you can then keep your engagement with us."

"I have my doubts about their being connected with the secret service," Chester replied.

"We are positive," Gostel said. "They were followed from New York. We know the plotting that has been going on between Gordon and Nestor."

Much more concerning the boys was said, but Ned was too anxious to get away to pay full attention to it. Another burden was now on his mind. He must see that the boys were warned and came to no harm.

He had left them with the understanding that they might remain at the Culebra hotel or return with Tony Chester to the cottage where they had been taken when brought out of the jungle. If they had returned to the camp, they might already be in great danger.

Chester insisted on taking his departure, and the others accompanied him to the foot of the stairs in the wall, arguing with him every foot of the way. Ned stood at the door of the rear room when they returned, and while they were getting settled in the front apartment he slipped out and moved cautiously down the steps.

When he gained the grounds outside he dodged into a thicket not ten feet away from the exit and waited to make sure that no one was moving about on the outside. He was anxious to get away from the place without his presence there being known. A struggle, even if he succeeded in getting away, would put the plotters on their guard.

In a few moments he realized that the grounds were not so devoid of human life as he had believed. He heard voices on the side toward the hill, and a rustling in the thicket told him that some one was stealthily moving there.

Knowing that it would be dark in a short tune, Ned remained crouched low in the bushes, hoping to escape detection in that way, but footsteps came closer and closer to his hiding place, and he sprang up just in time to see a lithe figure hurtling toward him, the figure of a tall, slender man with an Oriental cast of countenance.

Glad that there was only one, Ned braced himself for the attack, which, however, did not come. When within a yard of its object, the lithe figure turned, staggered forward, uttered a low cry of anger and surprise, and lay swathed in a cluster of vines which had tripped and now held him to the ground.

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