A DANGEROUS FALL

For a few moments a deep silence ensued between the three, for they were
sizing each other up keenly.

The Mexican observed that Frank was a fine-looking young man, with an
athletic figure, clad in a traveling costume. His handsome face showed a
good disposition and a high order of courage.

Ramey was the person with him, and he held a violin, upon which he had
been playing a lively tune.

Finally the Mexican spoke.

“You are Frank Reade, Jr., I believe?”

“I am,” admitted the inventor, “and you——”

“Juan Zamora, the alcalde, or head man of the town of Santa Cruz,
Mexico, on the Gulf coast.”

“I am pleased to know you, sir. What do you want of me?”

“A week ago I read an account of this extraordinary air-ship, and I came
at once to Readestown to try to hire the machine.”

“I regret to say I will not let it.”

“Ah, but I will pay you a princely sum for one month’s use of the
machine. I am a rich man and can afford to. Besides the sum of fifty
thousand dollars, I will put a pirate’s treasure into your hands which
is worth millions of dollars.”

“Your offer is extraordinary, Mr. Zamora.”

“But it is actuated by a most potent cause.”

“So I imagined. But explain your reason.”

“I shall. On the coast of Mexico there is a pirates’ retreat. It is
ruled by an American outlaw called Captain Diavolo. His gang numbers
several hundred men—the scum of all nations. He owns a fleet of swift
ships that prey upon passing vessels. In these attacks he is always
successful—all hands are killed, and the captured vessels are plundered
and scuttled. Many a ship that never came back, but mysteriously
disappeared, merely fell a victim to the Terror of the Coast, as we call
this fiend.”

“I have never heard of him,” said Frank.

“No; for never has one of his victims escaped to tell of his crimes.”

“What has all this to do with you?”

“I am coming to that part presently. The Mexican Government did
everything possible to get rid of him, but all its efforts proved to be
of no avail. He successfully eluded them all. Perhaps his most
relentless enemy was myself. I did all I could to break up his infernal
crew, and aroused his wrath. He swore to avenge himself upon me; to
carry out his vengeance, he one night invaded Santa Cruz with every man
he could muster, and shot every one on sight. Having driven out the
inhabitants, he plundered and set fire to many of the dwellings. My
little five-year-old son, Leon, was carried away into captivity by the
wretches, with myself, and Captain Diavolo told me that he was going to
torture me to death. As for my child, they swore to educate him to
become one of the foulest ruffians on earth, so that if he were finally
captured, he would meet a violent doom.”

“Horrible!” muttered Frank, with a shudder.

“Imagine my feelings,” said Zamora. “However, let it suffice that after
a week of captivity among the pirates, I saw the great treasure they had
amassed and learned all the secrets of their retreat. Before the day of
my execution I escaped. After many hardships I returned to my native
town. It was while I was there that I learned of this flying machine,
and gained the idea that I might hire it to attack my enemies and rescue
my little child from their clutches.”

“So that’s what you want the Jove for, eh?”

“Exactly. I am in momentary fear that Captain Diavolo may take it into
his head to kill poor little Leon, and therefore am impatient to go to
his rescue as soon as possible.”

“Can’t your Government aid you?”

“Not in the least. I have already attempted to get relief from that
source, but failed. Only by utilizing some such contrivance as this can
I hope to succeed.”

Frank was intensely interested in the man’s story, and when Zamora had
told him how he had gone to Readestown and then chased the machine, he
began to ponder deeply.

An idea flashed into his mind, and he said to Barney:

“I have faith in this unfortunate man’s story.”

“Faix! I have that same,” replied the Irishman.

“And I am going to help him.”

“More power ter yer for doin’ so.”

“We have no particular purpose in view. One has arisen. Suppose we go to
the Gulf Coast and wipe out this Terror? Would you like to undertake it,
Barney?”

“Wud a dook swim?” grinned the Celt, for the prospect of lots of
fighting and excitement just suited his taste.

Frank then shouted to Pomp, who stood steering in the conning tower:

“Did you hear what was said, Pomp?”

“’Deed I did, Marse Frank,” the coon replied.

“What do you think of my plan?”

“Sabe de pickaninny an’ wallop dem yere pirates, sah?”

“That’s my idea.”

“Gwine fo’ ter git a fo’tune fo’ doin’ dat?”

“Senor Zamora says he will show us where the pirates’ treasure is if we
break up the gang, so we can take it away.”

“Close de bargain, honey; close de bargain!”

“Very well. Mr. Zamora, we will go with you to the pirates’ lair and
break up the gang and rescue your child. For this we do not want any of
your money. We will take our pay by levying on the pirates’ treasure.”

“God bless you for your kindness, Mr. Reade.”

“Say no more. We have the most dangerous kind of weapons aboard, and
need make no preparations. As you can see, this machine is a perfect
success. All we need do is to proceed to the Mexican Gulf and begin
operations as soon as possible.”

“You have no guarantee that my story is true.”

“Oh, we trust you readily enough, for should your account not be true,
we have nothing to lose.”

“I thank you and bless you from the bottom of my heart!” said the
delighted man.

“You can do that when I have accomplished something,” said Frank, with a
smile. “I shall, of course, expect you to do your share of the work in
managing this machine.”

“Most decidedly,” assented the Mexican.

“Then come inside, and I’ll show you how she works, in order to make you
familiar with the machine.”




Leaving Barney on watch in the cage on deck, the young inventor went
through the door, descended several steps, and the Mexican followed and
found himself in the cabin.

It was prettily furnished, and served as a dining-room.

Forward of this room were two small apartments, one containing some
bunks, and the other served as a kitchen, the range being heated by
electricity.

Still further forward was a large pilot-house, in which stood the darky
managing the Jove’s steering wheel.

This wheel controlled the small plane forward.

A compass binnacle was beside him, and on the other side there was a
table, on which were fastened several electric controllers, levers and
switches, cut-outs and plugs.

By means of the latter the mechanism of the air-ship was controlled by
the pilot.

At the stem of the Jove was a storeroom and a dynamo-room.

The former compartment contained food, water, arms, ammunition, armor,
ropes, clothing, tools, and various other things.

In the engine-room was a huge generator, which was worked by powerful
springs, its current running to the deck motor, to which the driving
screws were geared.

The current also illuminated numerous incandescent lamps, and worked
several fan motors in each of the rooms.

Frank explained everything to the Mexican.

He then told Zamora to turn in, as he would have to go on watch at two
in the morning.

While he was speaking, Frank heard a distant yell in Pomp’s voice, and
hastened up forward.

“Stop dat, chile! Stop dat!” he heard Pomp howl wildly.

“Be heavens!” chuckled Barney’s voice; “I’d be afther takin’ a batin’
first. Biff, ye divil, take that now!”

“Ouch! my eye!” yelled the coon. “Fo’ de Lor’ sakes, yo’ want to kill me
wif dat bean-shooter?”

“Ha, ha, ha!” shouted the Irishman, gleefully. “It’s dook-shot I’m
peggin’ at ye now, but it’s nothin’ less nor a cannon ball wud make a
dent in that bullet-proof head you are wearin’.”

Following this remark came a violent rattle of shot which flew from his
bean-shooter, some of which hit Pomp and made him swear like a trooper.

The Irishman was on deck, and was shooting the pellets at the coon’s
head through the open windows of the tower.

Poor Pomp had to grin and take it, too, for he dared not leave the
wheel, for fear of some accident happening to the Jove.

It was hard to tell how much more he would have stood of this
bombardment had Frank not shouted:

“Why don’t you shut the windows, you donkey?”

“Lan’ sakes!” gasped Pomp, complying, “why didn’ I fink ob dat befo’?
Golly! what a fool niggah I is!”

The Irishman and the coon were all the time playing practical jokes on
one another, and the moment Barney heard Frank’s voice, he looked
startled and bolted for the cage.

But he did not reach it.

Tripping over a chest, he fell to the deck.

At the same moment a slant of wind caused the air-ship to suddenly keel
over, and Barney rolled over to the edge of the deck.

He gave a wild yell of horror as he felt his body going over the oval
side, and nothing in reach to check his fall.

It seemed as if the Irishman was doomed, and a sickening sensation
passed over him as he fell from the airship.

The ground was at least one thousand feet below, and as he went plunging
down toward it, he realized that the moment he should strike there he
would instantly be killed.

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