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     The Motor Rangers' Cloud Cruiser

       John Henry Goldfrap / Young Adult
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CHAPTER VIII.

TRAPPED BY TWO RASCALS.

“Why! why, that’s the _Tropic Bird_!” exclaimed the scientist inastonishment, as they drew nearer rapidly to the vessel Nat’s keen eyeshad espied.

“It is, indeed,” reiterated Mr. Tubbs, his red hair seeming to bristle.“Oh, the cowardly pack of rascals! I’d just like to run alongside andgive them a bit of my mind.”

“They deserve it, certainly,” admitted the professor; “but I think wehad better ignore them.”

But as they came close enough to the schooner to perceive her clearly,they saw that she carried her ensign reversed. This is a signal ofdistress which there is no ignoring at sea, and is the universal signof imperative need on the part of the craft displaying it.

“We must see what they want,” declared Nat, setting his wheel over andchanging the course of the Motor Rangers’ vessel.

“Got any fresh water?” hailed a voice, as they came alongside.

The man who uttered the appeal was a powerfully built fellow, with aplentiful crop of black whiskers, which gave him a ferocious expression.

“That’s Captain Ralph Lawless,” whispered the professor to Nat.

At the same instant, the skipper of the _Tropic Bird_ appeared torecognize the professor.

“Why, surely that’s Professor Grigg?” he cried out, apparently in greatastonishment.

“Yes, it is, you cowardly rascal,” burst out the professor, his angerovermastering his usually placid disposition. “What do you mean bydeserting us in the manner you did? We might have perished if it hadnot been for these brave lads and their vessel.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” muttered the man, as the Motor Rangers’ vessel drewin close alongside, “but I couldn’t help myself.”

“Couldn’t help yourself?” echoed the scientist, still angry. “How wasthat, pray?”

“Why, I felt my schooner being drawn in toward the islands. If I hadn’t‘cut stick’ when I did, we’d all have been lost, and I don’t see howthat would have helped you.”

This answer mollified the professor somewhat.

“So now you are in distress?” he said.

“Yes. We have run short of water. Can’t those kids let us have some?”

“You’ll have to ask ‘those kids,’ as you call them,” said theprofessor, with some disgust.

“How much do you want?” asked Nat, who felt less and less liking forthe captain of the _Tropic Bird_.

“Oh, a few gallons will do. I know an island not more than a day’s sailfrom here, where I can refill my tanks.”

At this point, another man—a short, stout fellow, like the captain—camebustling up.

“Hullo, there, professor!” he hailed in an impudent voice. “So you cameout all right, after all. Are you coming on board?”

“I am coming on board to get my things, Mr. Durkee,” was the response,“but I am not going to continue my voyage on the _Tropic Bird_.”

The captain looked rather dismayed at this.

“Oh, come now,” he said, “let bygones be bygones. I should be in a finefix if I sailed home without you.”

“You ought to have thought of that when you deserted us in thatcowardly fashion during the magnetic storm,” rejoined the professor.

The deck of the _Nomad_ was almost on a level with the top of theschooner’s bulwarks, so it was easy for the professor to step from onecraft to the other. He now did so, disdaining the proffered aid ofCaptain Lawless and his mate.

Mr. Tubbs joined him, and the two went immediately into the after-cabinof the schooner, where they had lived while on board.

While they were collecting their belongings, Nat and Joe filled atwenty-gallon keg with drinking water, and it was hoisted to theschooner’s deck. It was really more than they could spare, but Nat wasa generous lad, and figured that, if necessary, they could go on shortallowance till the South American coast was reached.

During the time that the boys were about this work, Captain Lawless andhis mate had been holding a consultation in the lee of the deckhouse,just aft of the foremast.

“It’s going to make lots of trouble for us if we arrive in Americawithout the professor or that chap Tubbs,” said the mate. “Besidesthat, too, we’ll have lost our chance of sharing in that hunt for alost city. There ought to be enough loot in that to make us both rich.”

“That’s so,” agreed the captain. “If what those papers of theprofessor’s say is right, that place must be paved with gold, and whenit rains it must drop diamonds.”

“Pretty near,” grinned the mate, in appreciation of his superiorofficer’s humor. “I wish I’d had time to go over the papers morethoroughly before that kid’s craft overhauled us. That was a good guessof yours that they’d pick up the old gent and that chap Tubbs, and thereversed ensign was a good way to get ’em to come alongside.”

“Well, now that we’ve gone this far, we may as well take the nextstep,” observed the captain.

“And what’s that?” asked the mate, with a peculiar glint coming intohis little rat-like eyes.

“Why, fix it so that it won’t be possible for old Grigg to make troublefor us in the States.”

“How?”

“Simple enough. We can easily overpower those kids, and as for theprofessor and Tubbs, we’ll lock ’em in the cabin.”

“Say, cap, you are a schemer!” observed the mate, in rather sarcasticadmiration, “and then I suppose we’ll sail for home and be arrested andimprisoned as pirates?”

“Not at all,” was the reply. “We don’t need to go home. South America’sgood enough for me. It’s Chile that the old cove is headed for, ain’tit?”

“So his papers said.”

“All right, then. We’ll make the whole bunch prisoners, land ’em on anisland some place, and then we’ll sail on to Chile ourselves, and havea try at finding this old lost city. By the way, did you make a tracingof that map you found in the professor’s desk?”

“Did I? Well, I should say so. I’ve got it in my pocketbook now. That’slikely to mean dollars and cents to us later on.”

“That’s so. Now then, you go and tell the crew what we are going to do.They won’t cut up rough about it, especially if they think there ismoney in it.”

“All right. I’m off. But see here, how are you going to do it? Thosekids look pretty husky.”

“Bah! What can they do against eight of us? If they get tooobstreperous, a tap on the head with a marlin-spike will soon quietthem.”

While the two worthies of the schooner were cold-bloodedly discussingtheir plans to save themselves from the consequences of their cowardlyact and at the same time enrich themselves, Nat and Joe, blissfullyignorant of any such proceedings, had hoisted the water keg on board.

This done, they started aft toward the cabin to join the professor andMr. Tubbs. They found the two companions below, busily packing up theirpossessions. But at the instant they entered, the professor looked upfrom his desk, where he was sorting papers, with a troubled expression.

“What is the matter, professor?” inquired Nat politely.

“Somebody has been tampering with my papers!” he exclaimed. “I had themarranged in a peculiar manner. And see, this lock has been forced. Oh,that rascal of a captain! If we were in a civilized port, I’d——”

The professor’s angry tirade was interrupted in a startling manner. Thedoor at the head of the companionway stairs was slammed abruptly to.

Warned by some intuition which he could not have analyzed, Nat boundedto the stairway and strove to reopen the door. But it resisted hisstoutest efforts.

“It’s locked!” he managed to gasp, as the truth burst upon him.

“And we have been trapped by those two rascals!” exclaimed theprofessor.


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