"There," he said enthusiastically, "is something worth while. I only wish that I had you in my snake-room. I could show you live, uncaged specimens which would interest you deeply."
"They sure would," returned Mr. Donegan, shivering slightly. "Well," he went on, "every man to his own taste. What's your idea about this emerald secret? Can we do business together?"
The professor's face assumed an air of what he fondly believed to be great astuteness.
"I would suggest," he said, "that you fit out an expedition to the Amazon basin under my direction, to remain there until I collect one or more perfect specimens of the bushmaster. Then I will guide the party to Eldorado and assist them, as far as I can, to recover the sunken treasure."
He came to a full stop.
"Well," queried the lumber-king, "what else?"
The professor looked at him in surprise. "I have nothing else to suggest," he said.
"Suppose we get emeralds which may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – what percentage will you claim?" persisted Mr. Donegan.
"I thought that I had made it plain," returned the professor, impatiently, "that I have no interest whatever in emeralds. If you will pay the expenses of the expedition and allow me to keep as my own property any specimens of bushmasters obtained, it will be entirely satisfactory to me. Of course," finished the scientist, generously, "if we catch several bushmasters, I should have no objections to your having one."
"Heaven forbid!" returned the lumber-king. "Professor," he went on with great emphasis, "I am perfectly willing that you shall have absolutely for your own use and benefit any and all bushmasters, crocodiles, snakes, toads, tarantulas, and any other similar bric-à-brac which you may find in South America. Moreover," he continued, "I'll fit out an expedition right here from Cornwall that will do the business for both of us. There's a good-for-nothin' old chap in this town named Jud Adams who has been all over the North huntin' an' trappin' an' prospectin'. In his younger days he was a pearl-diver. Then there're two young fellows here that went off last year with him for me and brought back the finest blue pearl in the world. I ain't got no manner of doubt but what all three of 'em will jump at the chance to go after emeralds and bushmasters."
"Bushmasters and emeralds, please," corrected the professor.
"Just as you say," responded the lumber-king. "Now you come right in and I'll put you up for the night and we'll send over at once for the crowd that I have in mind and get this expedition started right away."
"The sooner the better," responded the professor, heartily. "Any day, some collector may bring back a bushmaster and beat me out with the Smithsonian."
"I feel the same way," agreed the lumber-king. "I want Jim Donegan to have the first crack at those Inca emeralds."
While all this talk about gold and emeralds and bushmasters was going on in Big Jim's big house, over in a little house on the tiptop of Yelpin Hill, Jud Adams, the old trapper, was just sitting down to supper with two of his best friends. One of these was Will Bright, a magnificently built boy of eighteen with copper-colored hair and dark blue eyes, and the other his chum, Joe Couteau, silent, lithe, and swart as his Indian ancestors. Jud himself was not much over five feet tall, with bushy gray hair and beard and steel-sharp eyes. These three, with Fred Perkins, the runner, had won their way to Goreloi, the Island of the Bear, and brought back Jim Donegan's most prized gem, as already chronicled in "The Blue Pearl." They had learned to care for one another as only those can who have fought together against monsters of the sea, savage beasts, and more savage men. Joe and Will, moreover, had shared other life-and-death adventures together, as told in "Boy Scouts in the Wilderness," and, starting without clothes, food, or fire, had lived a month in the heart of the woods, discovered the secret of Wizard Pond, and broken up Scar Dawson's gang of outlaws. Will never forgot that Joe had saved him from the carcajou, nor Joe that it was Will who gave him the first chance of safety when the bloodhounds were hot on their heels through the hidden passage from Wizard Pond. Each one of the four, as his share of the blue pearl, and the sea-otter pelt brought back from Akotan, had received fifteen thousand dollars. Fred had invested his money in his brother's business in Boston, left Cornwall, and bade fair to settle down into a successful business man. Will and Joe had both set aside from their share enough to take them through Yale. As for Jud, the day after he received his winnings in the game which the four had played against danger and death, he had a short interview with his old friend Mr. Donegan.
"All my life long," began Jud, "I've been makin' money; but so far, I haven't got a cent saved up. I know how to tame 'most any other kind of wild animal, but money allers gets away from me. They do say, Jim," went on the old man, "that you've got the knack of keepin' it. Probably you wouldn't be worth your salt out in the woods, but every man's got somethin' that he can do better 'n most. So you just take my share of the blue-pearl money an' put it into somethin' safe an' sound that'll bring me an income. You see, Jim," he went on confidentially, "I ain't so young as I used to be."
"I should say you ain't!" exclaimed Big Jim, knowing how Jud hated to be called old. "You're 'most a hundred now."
"I ain't! I ain't!" howled Jud, indignantly. "I ain't a day over fifty – or thereabouts."
"Well, well," said his friend, soothingly, "we won't quarrel over it. I'll take care of your money and see that you get all that's comin' to you for the two or three years which you've got left"; and with mutual abuse and affection the two parted as good friends as ever.
To-night the old trapper and his guests had just finished supper when the telephone rang.
"Jud," came Mr. Donegan's voice over the wire, "what would you and Bill and Joe think of another expedition – after emeralds this time?"
"We'd think well of it," returned Jud, promptly. "The kids are here at my house now."
"Good work!" exclaimed the lumber-king. "All three of you come right over. I've got a scientist here who's going to guide you to where the emeralds grow."
"You got a what?" queried Jud.
"A scientist!" shouted Big Jim, "a perfesser. One of those fellows who know all about everything except what's useful."
"We'll be right over," said Jud, hanging up the receiver and breaking the news to his friends.
"Listens good," said Will, while Joe grunted approvingly.
"It's a pity old Jim ain't young and supple enough to go on these trips with us himself," remarked Jud, complacently.
"He ten years younger than you," suggested Joe, slyly, who always delighted in teasing the old trapper about his age.
"Where do you get such stuff?" returned Jud, indignantly. "Jim Donegan's old enough to be my father – or my brother, anyway," he finished, staring sternly at his grinning guests.
"You're quite right, Jud," said Will, soothingly. "Let's go, though, before that scientist chap gets away."
"He no get away," remarked Joe, sorrowfully, who had listened to the telephone conversation. "He go with us."
"I don't think much of that," said Jud, wagging his head solemnly. "The last perfesser I traveled with was while I was prospectin' down in Arizona. He sold a cure for snakebites an' small-pox, an' one night he lit out with all our cash an' we never did catch him."
Half an hour later found the whole party in Mr. Donegan's study, where they were introduced to Professor Ditson.
"What might you be a perfesser of?" inquired Jud, staring at him with unconcealed hostility.
The other stared back at him for a moment before he replied.
"I have specialized," he said at last, "in reptiles, mammals, and birds, besides some research work in botany."
"Didn't leave out much, did you?" sneered Jud.
"Also," went on the professor, more quietly, "I learned early in life something about politeness. You would find it an interesting study," he went on, turning away.
"Now, now," broke in Mr. Donegan, as Jud swallowed hard, "if you fellows are going treasure-hunting together, you mustn't begin by scrappin'."
"I, sir," returned Professor Ditson, austerely, "have no intention of engaging in an altercation with any one. In the course of collecting-trips in the unsettled portions of all four continents, I have learned to live on good terms with vagabonds of all kinds, and I can do it again if necessary."
"Exactly!" broke in Mr. Donegan, hurriedly, before Jud could speak; "that certainly shows a friendly spirit, and I am sure Jud feels the same way."
"I do," returned the latter, puffingly, "just the same way. I got along once with a perfesser who was no darn good, and I guess I can again."
"Then," said Mr. Donegan, briskly, "let's get down to business. Professor Ditson, show us, please, the map and manuscript with which you located Lake Eldorado."
For reply, the gaunt scientist produced from a pocket a small copper cylinder, from which he drew a roll of yellowed parchment. Half of it was covered with crabbed writing in the imperishable sepia ink which the old scriveners used. The other half was apparently blank. The lumber-king screwed his face up wisely over the writing.
"H'm-m," he remarked at last. "It's some foreign language. Let one of these young fellers who're going to college try."
Will took one look at the paper.
"I pass," he said simply; while Joe shook his head without even looking.
"You're a fine lot of scholars!" scoffed Jud, as he received the scroll. "Listen now to Perfesser Adams of the University of Out-of-Doors."
Then, to the astonishment of everybody, in his high-pitched voice he began to translate the labored lines, reading haltingly, like a school-boy: