AEROPLANE BOYS SERIES VOLUME 1
BATTLING THE CLOUDS
FOR A COMRADE'S HONOR
CAPTAIN FRANK COBB
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY CHICAGO AKRON, OHIO NEW YORK
Copyright, 1921, by THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
AEROPLANE BOYS SERIES
1 BATTLING THE CLOUDS, OR, FOR A COMRADE'S HONOR
2 AN AVIATOR'S LUCK, OR, THE CAMP KNOX PLOT
3 DANGEROUS DEEDS, OR, THE FLIGHT IN THE DIRIGIBLE
BATTLING THE CLOUDS
The vast aviation field at Fort Sill quivered in the grilling heat of mid-July. The beautiful road stretching through the Post looked smooth as a white silk ribbon in the blazing sun. The row of tall hangars glistened with fresh white paint. On the screened porches of the officers' quarters, at the mess, and at the huts men in uniform talked and laughed as though their profession was the simplest and safest in the world.
Around the Post as far as the eye could reach the sun-baked prairies stretched, their sparse grasses burned to a cindery brown. From the distant ranges came the faint report of guns. The daily practice was going on. Once in a while against the sky a row of caissons showed up, small and clear cut.
Overhead sounded the continual droning of airplanes manoeuvering, now rising, now circling, now reaching the field safely, where they turned and came gaily hopping along the ground toward the hangars, like huge dragonflies. And when they finally teetered to a standstill, what splendid young figures leaped over the sides and stretched their cramped legs, pushing off the goggles and leather headgear that disguised them! Laughing, talking, swapping experiences, listening in good-natured silence to the "balling out" that so often came from the harried and sweating instructors, splendid young gods were these airmen, super-heroes in an heroic age and time.
In the shade of one of the hangars sat two boys. They were blind and deaf to the sights and sounds around and over them. The planes were as commonplace as mealtime to them, and not nearly so thrilling. All their attention was centered on a small box on the ground before them. It was made of screen-wire roughly fastened to a wooden frame. One side was intended for a door, but it was securely wired shut. The box had an occupant. Furious, raging with anger, now crouching in the corner, now springing toward the boys, only to strike the wires, an immense tarantula faced his jailers with deadly menace in his whole bearing. One of the boys gently rested a stick against the cage. The great spider instantly hurled himself upon it.
Involuntarily both boys drew back.
"What you going to do with him now you have got him?" asked the taller of the two boys.
"Dunno," said the other, shrugging his shoulders. "No use expecting mother to let me keep him in quarters, and the C. O. won't have 'em around the hangars. I guess I will have to give him back to Lee and let him get rid of him."
"What does C. O. mean, and who is Lee?" asked the first boy.
"Gee, you are green!" scoffed the smaller of the two. "Tell you what I'll do, Bill; I will take a day off and teach you the ropes."
"I will learn them fast enough if I can get a question answered once in awhile," answered Bill, laughing pleasantly. "You can't expect to learn everything there is about the Army in a week."
"It is too bad you are in Artillery," said the other boy, whose name was Frank and whose father was Major Anderson, in the Air service. "There is a lot more doing over here, but of course as long as I am sort of your cousin, why, you can get in on things here whenever you want to."
"Much obliged," returned Bill. "And of course whenever you want, I will take you any place you want to go in my car."
"That car is the dandiest little affair I ever did see," said Frank half enviously. "Just big enough for two of us." He glanced over to the boy-size automobile standing in the shade. It was a long, racy looking toy, closer to the ground than a motorcycle, but evidently equipped with a good-sized engine. "Where did you get it, anyhow?"
"I have an uncle in the automobile business, and he had it made for me."
"Some uncle!" commented Frank. "How fast will she go?"
"A pretty good clip, I imagine," said Bill. "I have never tried her out."
"What's the matter with you? Scared?" asked Frank. "I say we speed her up some of these days."
"Can't do it," said Bill, shaking his head. "There is a speedometer on it, and I promised my mother I would never go over fifteen miles an hour until she gives me leave."
"Fifteen miles; why, that's crawling!" said Frank scornfully. "I tell you what. I can drive a little, and you can let me take the wheel, and see what she will do. That won't be breaking your word."
Bill shook his head. "It isn't my way of keeping a promise," he said. Then to change the conversation before it took a disagreeable turn, he asked, "You didn't tell me what C. O. means and who Lee is."
"C. O. means Commanding Officer; you had better keep that in your head. And Lee is the fellow who gave me this tarantula. He takes care of the quarters across from yours at the School of Fire. I go over there to play with the Perkins kids a lot. Lee fools with us all he can. He is a dandy. He is half Indian. His father was a Cherokee."
"I know whom you mean," said Bill. "He is awfully dark, and has squinty black eyes and coal black hair. He has been transferred to our quarters now. He is splendid—does everything for mother: brings her flowers and all that, and a young mocking bird in a cage he made himself."
"I didn't know he had been transferred," said Frank. "I bet he won't be let to stay long. The Perkins family like him themselves."
"Can they get him sent back?" asked Bill anxiously.
"Sure," said Frank. "Colonel Perkins can get anybody sent where he wants them. If he was your orderly he would stay with you, of course, but he isn't; he is working as janitor."
"What's an orderly?" asked Bill.
"You sure have a lot to learn!" sighed the learned Frank. "It is like this. That new dad of yours is a Major, isn't he? All right. He has the right to have a special man that he picks out work for him, and take care of his horse and fuss around the quarters and fix his things. But the man has to belong to his command, and Lee is attached to the School of Fire."
"I see," said Bill, thoughtfully. As a matter of fact he did not see so very clearly, but he knew that it would be clearer after awhile, and he had the good sense not to press the matter further. Bill had the great and valuable gift of silence. To say nothing at all, but to let the other fellow do the talking, Bill had discovered to be a short cut to knowledge of all sorts.
"Yes," said Frank, "you see now that you can't get Lee for orderly."
Frank was glad of it. He did not know it, but down in his heart, he was jealous of this Bill boy, who had appeared at the School of Fire with his quiet good manners and his polite way of speaking, his good clothes and, above all, his wonderful little automobile scarcely larger than a toy, yet capable of real work and speed.
He rejoiced that Bill at least was not going to have Lee for an orderly. He knew what it was to have a fine orderly, and Lee was almost too good to be true at all. Why, only the week before, Lee had offered to get Frank a wildcat cub for a pet. Frank's mother, Mrs. Anderson, and his father, the Major, had refused to have the savage little creature about and Frank had had to tell Lee so. He had kept teasing Lee for some sort of pet, however, and as a joke Lee had just presented him with the biggest tarantula he could capture.
The tarantula, taken as a pet, was not a great success. Frank poked the stick at the cage and watched the ferocious creature dart for it, and decided that the wisest thing was to get rid of it at once.
"I will give you this tarantula, Bill," he said with an air of bestowing a great benefit. "I bet your mother has never seen one, and you can take it home with you in your car and show it to her. If she has never seen one, she will be some surprised."
"I suppose she would," said Bill, "but for all I know it might frighten her, and I couldn't afford to risk that. Mother isn't so very strong, and dad says it is our best job to keep her well and happy. I don't believe it will help any to show her something that looks like a bad nightmare and acts like a demon, so I'm much obliged but I guess I won't take your little pet away from you, not to-day at any rate." He laughed, and jumped to his feet.
"Where you going?" demanded Frank.
"Home," said Bill. "It is nearly time for mess. Get that? I said mess and not dinner."
"Don't go yet," pleaded Frank. "What if you are a little late?"
"Mother likes me to be punctual, so I'll have to move along," said Bill.
Frank looked at him. "Say," he said, "aren't you just a little tied to your mother's apron strings?"
"I don't know," replied Bill good-naturedly. "I think it is a pretty good place to be tied to if anyone should ask me, and if I am, I hope I am tied so tight she will never lose me off."
He shook himself down and started toward his little car. "So long! Come see us!" he called over his shoulder.
Frank scrambled to his feet and followed. He stood watching while Bill settled himself in his seat and started the engine. He stood looking after him until the speedy little automobile swept out of sight across the prairie and down the rough road that led to the New Post and from there on to the School of Fire.
Frank gave a grin. "It's a dandy car, all right," he said, "and he may be able to swim and ride the way he says he does, but I can beat him out on one point. I can pilot a plane, and I have been up in an observation balloon. I wonder what he would look like up in the air. I bet he would be good and sick!"
Bill, guiding the car with a practiced hand, swept smoothly along, avoiding the ruts made by the great trucks belonging to the ammunition trains and the rough wheels of the caissons.
Bill was thinking hard. The years of his life came back to his thoughts one by one.
When his father died, he was only four years old, and his pretty young mother had been obliged to go out into the world and support herself and her little son. They had lived alone together, in the dainty bungalow that had been saved from the wreck of their fortunes, and had come to be more than mother and son; they were companions and pals.
So when Major Sherman appeared, and surprised Bill greatly by wanting to marry his mother, he was not surprised to hear her say that the Major would have to get the permission of her son before she could say yes.
Bill and his mother had many a long and confidential talk in those days and Bill learned, through her confidences, a great deal about the strange thing that grown people call love. Bill's mother talked to her son as she would have talked to a brother or a father, and the result was that one day young Bill had a long talk with Major Sherman, a talk that the Major at least never forgot. After it was over, Bill led the way to his mother, and taking her hand said gravely:
"Mother, we have been talking things over, and I think you ought to marry the Major. You are a good deal of a care sometimes, and I have his promise that he will help me."
Bil's mother laughed, and then she cried a little, while she asked Bill if he was trying to get rid of his troublesome parent. But Bill knew that she was trying to joke away the remembrance of her tears, so he kissed her and went out, wondering if he had lost his darling mother or had won a new and dandy father.
It proved that he had found a real father after so many years, a father who understood boys and who was soon as good and true a pal as his mother was. Bill commenced to whistle when he remembered up to this part, and then he laughed to himself when he recollected a couple of old lady aunts who had offered to take him to bring up, because they were sure that Major Sherman, being a soldier and no doubt unused to boys, might abuse him!
It was enough to make Bill chuckle. His mother said that the Major spoiled Bill. And in his secret heart Bill knew that there were times, off and on, say a few times every week, when the Major gave him treats that he would never have been able to coax from his mother. The little car for instance. His mother had declared that it was a crazy thing to give a boy twelve years old, no matter how tall and well grown he was, but the Major had prevailed, and she had at last given a reluctant consent. There had been an endless time of waiting, indeed a matter of several months while the small but perfect car was assembled, and Bill could never forget the day it arrived and the Major squeezed his big frame into the driver's seat and gave it a thorough trying out.
Pets, too. Mother was brought to see that pigeons and white rats and a tame coon and indeed everything that came his way, was a boy's right to have. The Major was educating Bill in the knowledge of how to care for dumb animals: he was learning the secret of self-discipline and self-control, without which no man or woman or boy or girl is fit to be the owner of any pet.
The Great War was ended when Bill's mother married the Major, just returned from foreign service, and immediately they packed their belongings, putting most of them in a storehouse for the happy day when the Major should retire and be able to have a home. This is the dream of every officer who gives his days and strength and brains to the service of his country. Then they packed the few articles that they felt most necessary to their comfort, gave away ten guinea pigs, eight white rats, four pigeons and a kitten, crated Bill's collie and the Major's Airdale, and started off for their first post, Fort Sill, where the Major was stationed at the School of Fire as instructor.
Fort Sill rambles all over the prairie. Not the least of its various branches is the Aviation School. And when the Major arrived with his wife and son, he found that his cousin, Major Anderson, who was in the Air service, was stationed at the Aviation School. Major Anderson had two children: a little girl, and a boy just the age of Bill. Frank Anderson liked his new cousin, but scorned him for his very natural ignorance on subjects referring to the Army. He did not stop to discover that in the way of general information Bill was vastly his superior. Major and Mrs. Anderson were quick to see a certain clear truthfulness and good sense in Bill that they knew Frank lacked and they were anxious to have the boys chum together for that reason.
Bill, driving the little car which he had named the Swallow, reached the quarters at the School of Fire in a rising cloud of dust. The wind had risen suddenly and the fine sand whipped around the long board buildings, driving in through every crack and crevice. All the rest of the afternoon it blew, and at six o'clock, when the Major came in, he was coated with the fine yellow dust. By nine o'clock, when Bill went to bed, a small gale was singing around, and about one o'clock he was awakened by the scream of the wind. It shrieked and howled, and the quarters rattled and quivered.
Bill remembered the Swallow and his dad's car, both standing at the back door. He rose and went to his mother's room. He found her curled up in a little ball on her quartermaster's cot, looking out of the window.
"Come in, Billy," she said as she saw him at the door. "You are missing a great sight."
They cuddled close, their arms around each other, and pressed their faces close to the pane. The yellow sand was driven across the prairie like a sheet of rain. The Major's big car shuddered with each fresh blast, and the little Swallow seemed to cower close to the ground. Continuous sheets of lightning made the night as bright as day. Over the whine and whistle of the wind they could hear the distant rumble of the thunder. The room was full of dust, driven through the cracks of the window. Their throats were choked with it. The wind blew harder and harder; the lightning grew brighter, slashing the black sky with great gashes of blinding light.
Bill looked sober. "Gee, it is fierce!" he said in an awed tone. "Where is dad all this time?"
"In his room sound asleep," said Mrs. Sherman. "I suppose he is used to sights like this. Wasn't it nice of Oklahoma to stage such a wonderful sight for us? I wouldnt have missed it for anything."
"It is going to rain," said Bill, again looking out. "The thunder is growing louder and louder. Did you ever see anything like the glare the lightning makes?"
All at once Mrs. Sherman clutched Bill and pointed out.
"Oh, look, look!" she cried.
Bill followed the direction of her finger, and saw a small rabbit running before the blast. He was going at a rate that caused his pop eyes to pop worse than ever. As he skimmed along, he made the mistake of trying to turn. In a second he was being rushed along sidewise, hopping frantically up and down in order to keep on his feet, but unable to turn back again or to stop. Bill and his mother laughed until they cried as the little rabbit was hustled out of sight around the end of the students' quarters.
The lightning grew worse and occasionally balls of flame shot earthward. The thunder rolled in a deafening roar. Then suddenly the wind stopped—stopped so suddenly and completely that Bill jumped and his mother said, "Goodness me!" in a small, scared voice.
There was a long pause as though Nature was calling attention to her freaks, and then down came the rain. It came in rivers, sheets, floods. The roads ran yellow mud; the creek over the bluff commenced to boil. The sparse dwarfed trees that clung to the sides of the gullies bent under the weight of falling water.
It poured and poured and poured.
Bill had seen rain before, if not in such quantities. He found himself growing sleepy, and kissing his mother twice, once for luck and once for love, as he told her, he went to bed and to sleep, while the downpour continued until almost morning.
The roads were impassable, although a hot, steamy, sunshiny day did its best to dry things up. Bill spent most of the day putting the poor half-drowned Swallow in shape.
Frank telephoned, but could not get over. He was excited about the damage that had been done at the Aviation Field. One of the great hangars had collapsed, ruining the machines inside. No planes were allowed to fly.
Frank wanted Bill to walk over and Bill suggested the same pastime for Frank; consequently neither one would go. The roads continued to be a gummy, sticky mass of clay, and after four or five days Frank started to walk across the prairie to the School of Fire.
Just before he reached the bridge crossing the glen between the New Post and the School, he heard a joyful whoop and there was Bill running to meet him.
"Hey there!" called Bill, as soon as he could possibly make himself heard. "I was just starting over to see you."
"Come on back!" grinned Frank. "I am at home this morning."
"Not as much as I am," answered his friend. "Gee, it has been a long week! Did you ever see such a storm?"
"Oklahoma can beat that any time she wants to," boasted Frank. "That was just a little one. You ought to see a real blizzard or 'sly coon' as we call the cyclones. They are bad medicine, as the Indians say."
"This was big enough to start with," said Bill. "I thought the Swallow was going to fly away. And dad's big car reeled around. And you should have seen our bath tub! It was full of sand."
"Clear up to the top?" asked Frank teasingly.
"There was a good inch in it," retorted Bill, "and it looks to me as though that was a good deal of sand to trickle through the windows when they all have screens and were closed besides."
"It surely does get in," granted Frank. "Hello, there comes Lee! Where is he going, I wonder, without his fatigue suit on?"
"I suppose you mean those overall things he works in, don't you?" said Bill. "I know that much now. Lee doesn't wear them any more. He was so crazy over mother and so good to her and to me that dad got him transferred to his Battery, and now he is our orderly."
"How did he manage to do that?" said Frank.
"Why, there was some fellow who wanted to leave the guns and work around the quarters as janitor. They have an idea that it is an easy job. So dad let him make the exchange, and I can tell you we were all about as pleased as we could be."
"Good work!" commended Frank, but without enthusiasm. He did not want Bill to have the fun of having Lee for orderly. He had been trying to think up some scheme whereby the soldier would be sent over to fill that position with his own father.
"Lee is a peach," said Bill warmly. "Look what he made me."
He fished in his pocket and drew forth a length of chain. The small, delicate links were carved from a single piece of wood, and at the end, like an ornamentation, hung a carved cage in which rolled a little wooden ball. It was all very curious and delicate.
"My, but that's a peach," said Frank.
"You ought to see the one he did for mother," said Bill. "Small enough for a bracelet almost, and the little ball smaller than a pea. The links are all carved on the outside, and there is a sort of rose on the end of this cage thing, and Lee painted it all up pink and green where it ought to be like that.
"He knows all about a car too. This week he has been going over dad's car and the Swallow, and they run like grease."
Frank fiddled with the chain. He had nothing to say. On account of his Indian blood, his silent ways and mischievous nature, Lee had always filled him with interest. He could tell wonderful stories too of his own times and the times that lay long behind him, as he heard of them from his father and grandfather.
Lee's grandfather knew a great many things that he never did tell, but once in awhile he was willing to open his close-set old mouth and talk. He wore black broadcloth clothes, a long coat, and a white shirt, but never a collar. A wide black, soft-brimmed hat was set squarely on his coal black hair. Under the hat, smooth as a piece of satin, his hair hung in two tight braids close to each ear. They were always wound with bright colored worsted. Grandfather Lee, the old chieftain, liked bright colors, so he usually had red and yellow on his braids. They hung nearly to his waist, down in front, over each coat lapel. Small gold rings hung in his ears, and under his eyes and across each cheek bone was a faint streak of yellow paint.
His Indian name was Bird that Flies by Night, and he lived about a hundred miles away, on a farm given him by the Government. He had lived there quite contentedly for many years, tilling the ground when he had to. But now everything was changed. Oklahoma had given up her treasure, the hidden millions that lay under her sandy stretches. Oil derricks rose thickly everywhere, and Bird that Flies by Night found that all he had to do was to sit on his back porch and look at the derrick that had been raised over the well dug where his three pigs used to root. Two hundred dollars a day that well was bringing to the old Bird and, as Lee said, was "still going strong."
"And here I am," said Lee grimly, "enlisted for three years!"
Lee's father was an Indian of a later day. He had gone through an eastern college and had been in business in a small town when the oil excitement broke out. He went into oil at once, and was far down in the oil fields, Lee did not know where.
As a boy, Lee himself had refused to accept the schooling urged by his mother and college-bred father, and had led a restless, roaming life, filled with hairbreadth escapes, until the beginning of the war, when he had enlisted in the hope of being sent across where the danger lay. But like many another man as brave and as willing, he had been caught in one of the war's backwaters, and had been stationed at Fort Sill.
Sauntering up to the quarters, the boys found Lee staring moodily at the small and racy Swallow, now standing clean and glistening in the bright sunlight.
"She knocks," he said, knitting his fierce black brows. "All morning I have been working over that car, and I can't find that knock."
The boys came close and listened.
"I don't hear any knock," said Frank.
They all listened.
"Don't you hear it now?" said Lee, speeding the engine.
"Seems as though I hear something," said Bill, partly to please Lee.
They all listened closely.
Lee commenced to pry about in the engine. "I have it, I think," he exclaimed triumphantly as he took out a small piece of the machinery. Frank motioned Bill one side, and they wandered around the end of the building.
"Don't you feel sort of afraid to let Lee tinker with your car?" he asked with a show of carelessness.
"Not a bit! Dad says he is a born mechanic and he trusts him with all the care of his car. If dad thinks he can fix that, why, I guess it is safe to let him do anything he wants to do with the Swallow."
"Do you ever let anybody else drive the Swallow?" asked Frank. "I wouldn't mind taking it some day if you don't care."
Bill looked embarrassed.
"I would let you take her in a minute," He said, "but dad made me promise that I would never loan the Swallow to anyone. It is not that he wants me to be selfish, but he says if anything should happen, if the car should be broken, or if there should be an accident and some other boy hurt, I would sort of feel that it was my fault."
"I don't see it that way at all," said Frank, who was crazy to get hold of the pretty car and show it off to some boys and girls he knew in Lawton. He didn't want to drive with Bill. He was the sort of a boy who always wants all the glory for himself. That car was quite the most perfect thing; the sort a fellow sees in his dreams. Frank knew that he could never hope to own such a car, and the fact that Bill was always willing to take him wherever he wanted to go was not enough. Bill had never driven to Lawton, the town nearest the Post. He had told Frank that he would take him with him the first time. Frank had thought it would be pretty fine to go humming up the main street past all the people from the Post and the ranches, and the old Indians and the crowds of Indian boys his own age who always came in on Saturday from the Indian school near by. He had been anticipating that trip ever since Bill had appeared with the Swallow; but now he felt that it would be far nicer if Bill would or could be made to loan him the car. Of course he couldn't run it, but he could run an airplane engine, and he was perfectly willing to try running the little Swallow.
Frank had a great trick of getting his own way about things, and he reflected with satisfaction that as long as the roads to Lawton were almost impossible for traffic after the rainfall, there would be a few days in which to scheme for his plan. Nothing of this, however, appeared in his face. He turned and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, if you and your dad think Lee can handle a car all right, it's all the same to me," he laughed. "My father says you never can trust an Indian anyhow."
"Well, we would trust Lee with anything in the world," reiterated Bill.
"That's all right, too, if you think so," said Frank, trying slyly to breed distrust in Bill's heart. "I guess you never heard my father tell some of his Indian stories. You would feel different if you had."
"But anybody would just have to trust Lee," said Bill. "Why, he is as good as gold! And he hates a lie, and he has such nice people—two of the prettiest little sisters. One of them plays the harp. It's one of those big gold ones, and she is so little that Lee says she has to trot clear round the harp to play some of the notes, because her arms are too short to reach."
"He's half Indian just the same," insisted Frank. He warmed to the subject as he went on. He couldn't forgive Lee, quite the most thrilling and amusing soldier he knew, for letting himself be made Major Sherman's orderly.
"Well, I am for Lee every time," said Bill, "and I would wager anything I have that he is just as true blue as—as—well, as my dad!" Bill could pay no greater compliment, and the words rang out clear and honest. The boys stood beside the quarters, staring idly across the bluff as they talked. They were so interested in their conversation that they were not aware of a listener. Lee, with a part of the Swallow in his hand to show Bill, had followed them in time to overhear the conversation concerning himself, but he quickly drew back and returned to the automobile.
"Good boy, Billy!" he said softly to himself. Then with a dark look coming into his face, "So you can't trust an Indian, can you? Ha ha! I wonder what we had better do about that?"
Frank Anderson found no time to invent a scheme that would put the Swallow into his hands because two days later on a bright Saturday morning, Frank heard a silvery little siren tooting under his window, and looked out to see the Swallow below and Bill in businesslike goggles.
"Hey!" called Bill joyfully. "Want to come along and show me Lawton? Dad and mother are coming in for dinner to-night, and we can stay in all day and see the sights, then meet them and have dinner with them. Dad sets up a dandy dinner, I will say. Hurry up!" He tooted the siren again gaily, and Frank bolted in search of his mother.
He found her getting ready for a bridge luncheon, and she scarcely listened when he told her the plan for the day. She managed to say yes, however, when she understood the part Major Sherman was going to play, and drifted out of the room leaving Frank to yell down from the window that he was coming and to embark on a more or less thorough toilet. He looked very smooth and clean, however, ten minutes later, when he hopped into the Swallow and settled himself beside Bill.
Frank pointed out the various places of interest as they went along, and before they knew that the miles had been passed, they were entering the outskirts of the village. It was a typical Western village: low, squat, unpainted sheds of houses, with sandy front yards, and heaps of refuse lying about.
As the boys picked their way along, they turned a corner into a better part of the town. Here the houses were better; but on the whole very shabby. The influence of the oil boom was being felt, however, and here and there immense and showy residences were being built.
They then turned into the main street, a very wide, splendidly paved thoroughfare crowded with automobiles, carriages, mule teams, saddle horses, and indeed every possible kind of conveyance.
Frank noted with pride that wherever they went the little Swallow created a great commotion. People stopped to stare and exclaim. Bill, who was busy guiding his little beauty among the larger vehicles, did not seem to notice but it was meat and drink to Frank.
Down by Southerland's drug store they parked the Swallow, locking it carefully, and walked off, leaving the Swallow literally swallowed up by a crowd of admiring people. Frank hated to go and when they had wandered half a block away made an excuse for going back. Bill said he would look at some sweaters in a sporting goods window until he returned.
Frank found the crowd larger than ever. A policeman had attached himself to the circle and a couple of old Indians stood looking solemnly down. Someone was talking and when Frank pressed through the crowd he found a boy about his own age leaning on the fender and addressing everybody in general. Frank listened and studied the boy as he did so. He was a slim, pale chap with a shock of light, wavy hair which was shaved close to his head everywhere except on top where a thick brush waved. He was continually smoothing it back or shaking his head to get it out of his eyes. He seemed to consider it a very fascinating motion. Frank liked his man-of-the-world air and did not see the grins on the faces of many of the listeners.
"Rather nice little machine," said the boy. "I wonder who owns it. I would like to tell him a few things he ought to have changed about it. Some of the lines are all wrong, and anyone can see the engine couldn't hold up under any strain. I bet he has trouble with the hills. All the cars of this make have trouble. His tires are wrong too. He ought to use a heavier tire if he expects to get any speed out of it. It ought to go at a pretty good clip if the chap knows how to drive. There is everything in the driving. I have taken my eight-cylinder at one hundred and ten miles easily a good many times, but my dad and the chauffeurs never get over eighty-five out of it."
Frank felt his head swim. Here was talk that was talk! He completely forgot Bill, looking at sweaters. He edged up to the car and fumbled under the seat.
"Hello!" said the boy. "This your car?"
"It belongs to another fellow and me," said Frank, unable to keep himself from establishing some sort of a claim on the Swallow. "Why?"
"Quite a nice little toy," said the boy, nodding condescendingly. "I never cared much for toys myself but some chaps like 'em. I have an eight-cylinder machine and a six-cylinder runabout, and that's enough to keep me going for the present. I want a racing car built for me pretty soon."
"You don't live here, do you?" asked Frank, sure he would have heard somehow of this remarkable youth who talked so glibly of owning a string of cars.
"I should hope not!" said the boy scornfully. "Not in this dead little hole! I guess you don't know me. I am Jardin, Horace Jardin. My father is the automobile man."
"I have heard of him," said Frank.
"I guess you have!" chuckled young Jardin. "You couldn't go anywhere on the globe without seeing the Jardin cars. Dad puts out more cars than any other two concerns on earth." He assumed a very bored look. "Gee, sometimes I wish I could change my name! Makes a fellow so conspicuous, you know."
"Well, I didn't know who you were until you told me," said Frank, grinning.
Jardin flushed. Evidently he could not take a joke that was levelled at himself.
"No, I suppose there are a few rube places like this where the people have never heard of the Jardin car."
Frank hastened to smooth things over. He had no desire to quarrel with this young prince who talked so easily. Frank had to admit that a good deal of it sounded like ordinary boasting, but he assured himself that it must all be true, and proceeded to make things square again.
"You are wrong there," he said. "It would be a good deal smaller place than Lawton before the people had to be told about the Jardin car. Of course I didn't know that you were Jardin, but I couldn't be blamed for that."
"Sure not!" granted the boy. He took a gold cigarette case from his pocket and lighted one, then as an after-thought offered it to Frank who refused, but with a feeling of disgust that he was unable to take one and smoke it coolly as young Jardin was doing.
"The little fool!" a man in the group was saying, but Jardin either did not hear or care.
"Where is the other boy who owns the car?" he asked.
"Down the street," said Frank. "I forgot all about him. We are in town for the day. His father is an instructor at the School of Fire at Sill, and mine is stationed at the Aviation School."
"That's what I am crazy over," said Jardin. "If I consent to go to school and stay all through the winter, I am to have a little plane this fall. I have been taking lessons down at Garden City, and my plane is to be a real long distance one. Dad will give me anything if I will go to school. Gee, I hate it!"
Frank swallowed hard. Two automobiles and an airplane! He commenced to feel sorry for Bill. "Bill and I are going east to school this fall," he said. "Where are you going?"
"I don't know yet," said Jardin. "I have got to talk it over with dad."
"Let's go find Bill," said Frank. "That is, if you haven't anything better to do."
They detached themselves from the crowd and walked down to the sporting house, where they found Bill just tucking a bulky bundle under his arm. He had bought his sweater and stopped to count his change before he turned to greet the boys.
"Gee, what an old woman's trick," said Frank, who wanted to let Jardin know that he was not afraid to spend.
"You mean to count the change?" Bill inquired.
"Yes," said Frank.
"You are right," Jardin cut in. "I never have time. My time is more valuable than a few cents the fellow may swipe from me."
"Suppose it is the other way around," said Bill. "Suppose the fellow has made the mistake. When the checks are made up, his shows the loss and he has to make it up. Not much fun for him. Perhaps he has a family and he can't afford it. I never used to bother either, but once I was taking dinner in New York with a friend of mother's who has oodles of money, and when he came to pay the check he looked every item over and counted the change and it was thirty cents overcharged. I suppose I looked funny, because he said to me when the waiter went off to get it straightened out, 'Bill, it is no special credit to let these fellows do you. If you want to give money away, there are plenty of beggars on the streets, or you can buy millions of shoe laces and pencils. But never let anybody think they can put it over you.'
"And then to show the other side, that is, when the other fellow makes an honest mistake, he told me a story that made me remember. Then the waiter brought the right change, got a tip, and we left. But I always count change now."
"I'd like to see anybody do that in the Biltway Hotel!" laughed Jardin.
"This was in the Biltway Cascades," said Bill.
"Come down here," said Frank. "Here is where the Indians come most." Young Jardin and his father had only reached town late the night before so he was as ready as Bill to see the sights.
On a corner by a drug store two very old Indians stood gesturing at each other. The boys stopped a little way off and watched them. Their wrinkled old mouths were tight closed but their hands flew in short, quick motions that were perfectly impossible for the boys to understand. It was evident, however, that the two old men understood each other with perfect ease because at intervals they would laugh as though at an excellent joke.
"That beats all!" exclaimed Jardin, actually interested for once. "Both those old fellows are deaf and dumb."
"Wait," said Frank.
The gestures went on, and presently another old Indian approached. He was even older than the other two. His face was a network of wrinkles and his braided hair hung in two thin, scant little tails scarcely reaching his shoulders. It was gayly wound, however, and his cheeks were carefully painted. The two other old men seized him by the arms and to the amazement of Bill and Horace both commenced to talk at once.
"Now what on earth did they do that for?" demanded Bill of no one in particular. "If they can talk, why did they go through all that crazy motion business?"
"I don't know," said Frank. "They do it all the time. Only the old ones, though."
"I bet Lee will know," said Bill. "We will ask him."
"Who is Lee?" asked Horace
"My dad's orderly," said Bill. "He will drive father and mother in to-night when they come. Who are all these boys in blue suits? Look like bell boys."
"They are from the Indian school we passed on the way out," explained Frank.
"Lee knows a lot of the boys in that school," said Bill. "He is going to go over with me some day."
"How does he happen to know them?" asked Jardin.
"He is part Indian himself," explained Frank.
"A half-breed?" said Jardin. "They are awfully treacherous. Don't you feel afraid to have him around?"
Bill laughed. "I should say not! Why, Lee is the finest and best fellow I ever knew! He wouldn't lie to save his life. Dad says he can trust him with anything anywhere. Afraid? Well, you just don't know what you are talking about! Frank has got that afraid bee in his bonnet. It makes me sort of tired because I know what Lee is, and I am going to be for him every time and all the time."
"You always act as though it was a personal slam if anyone says the least thing about Lee," complained Frank.
"That's the surest thing you know!" said Bill fervently. "I do take it as a personal slam always if anyone says things against a friend. And a friend Lee certainly is. I think he is as true and clean as any man I know, and he is—well, he is a dandy! Anybody who says he is different will have to prove it!"
A spirit of malicious meanness rose in Frank. He assumed an air of good nature.
"All right," he said. "It is really not worth talking about, but some day I may be able to make you see things differently."
"I will believe you when you can prove it," retorted Bill.
"Aw, let's drop it," said Jardin, taking each boy by an arm and turning into a doorway. "Let's look in this pawnshop. Did you ever see anything like that white buckskin Indian suit?"
"The Sioux Indians work those, little gentlemen," said the owner of the pawnshop, seeing them pause before the soft, snowy leather garment. "They are the only Indians who can cure the hides and tan them like that, and the squaws do the bead work."
"I have a notion to buy that for my sister," said Jardin, feeling of the delicate fringes. "She could wear it to a fancy dress ball. I suppose this feather headdress goes with it."
"It is worn with it," said the man. "I will let you have them cheap. Dress and headdress for fifty dollars."
"All right," said Jardin as coolly as though the man had said fifty cents. "Send them over to the hotel C. O. D. May will have a fit over those."
"I reckon you are sort of all right to get a present like that for your sister," said Frank, as they strolled out. "You must like her a whole lot."
"I don't," said Jardin. "I just have to keep squaring her all the time. She is an awful tattler, and if I don't keep her squared, she peaches on me. Sisters are an awful nuisance!"
"You are right," said Frank. He had never thought so before but if this wonderful young man thought so, why, it must be true.
Bill said nothing.
Jardin glanced at his wrist watch.
"Lunch time," he announced. "Come on back to the hotel and have something to eat with me."
"That suits me," said Frank.
"Sorry, but I can't accept," from Bill. "I have a couple of errands to attend to for mother and I have been fooling around so long that I will have to be pretty spry. You all go on, and I will get a bite later."
"Well, of course I will stay with you if you think you can't put your errands off for an hour or so," said Frank sulkily.
"I have put it off too long anyhow," said Bill, "but I certainly won't mind if you go."
"No, I will go with you," decided Frank.
"All right then," said Jardin, shrugging his shoulders. "Suit yourself, of course! Perhaps we will meet later." He turned and started back toward the hotel, leaving the boys looking after him.
"Well, I will say he's a peach!" said Frank.
Bill made no reply.
"Don't you say so?" pressed Frank. "Don't you think he is a peach?"
Bill, forced to answer the question, made a frank but reluctant reply.
"No," he said. "I think he is a pill." He shook his head.
"You are a queer one!" said Frank. "It don't look as though you had any sporting blood in you. I suppose because he smokes naughty cigarettes—"
"It isn't that," said Bill, frowning. "He is just plain foolish to smoke. Why, he is undersized and underweight now for his age, and every time he smokes he checks his growth. It is up to him. I bet he has had it explained to him a million times by each teacher and tutor he has ever had just how smoking will harm him and dope up his brain, so if he wants to miss out on athletics and all that, and look like a boiled mosquito in the bargain, let him go to it. I don't care. It's not that I don't like about him. It is the way he thinks and talks. Where does he live when he is at home?"
"Detroit," said Frank.
"You would think he owned the whole world!" grumbled Bill. "And squaring his sister!"
"Oh, well," said Frank, "you have a queer way of looking at things. I don't think you are giving the fellow a fair deal. Perhaps he does talk pretty big, but on the other hand he has a lot to talk about. Think of it: a fellow only the age of us and he has a couple of automobiles of his own and is going to have an airplane. Gee, I am glad I can manage a plane! I have got him there."
"It's all right, I suppose, for him to gab all he wants to about his cars and things. By the time we go back to the Post to-night, if we see him again, I'll bet you he tells us what his father is worth and just how many gold chairs they have at his house."
"You are sore," said Frank loftily.
"What at, for goodness' sake?" demanded Bill. "I wouldn't swap the little Swallow for all the cars he ever had or will have. We have more fun in our little cooped-up quarters over at the School than he ever thought of with his scraps with his sister. I guess I am sore a little, Frank. I am sore because he came butting in and spoiled our whole morning. Let's forget him for awhile. I want to take mother's watch to a jeweller and then we will hunt up a good restaurant and have lunch. It is on me."
Frank followed in silence. He knew Bill was right, but the stranger had dazzled him. He wished bitterly that his father was a rich manufacturer instead of a poor army officer. The traveling they had had, the wonderful sights they had seen all over the world seemed poor in comparison with all the glories Jardin had told and hinted at.
Poor Frank, did not know it, but slowly, ever so slowly, he was making the wrong turn; the turn that led away from the right.
"The trouble with you, Bill," he said, as they loitered over their ice-cream at luncheon, "the trouble is that you are narrow."
Bill groaned. "There you go on Jardin again, I do believe," he said. "All right; I will tell you what I will do. I will really try to like him, and if he comes around where we are I will be as decent to him as I can be. Perhaps he has a lot of good in him, as you say. I don't want to be unjust."
Frank looked pleased. "I think that is the square thing for you to do," he said. "Jardin may turn out to be a good scout in every way. Perhaps he saw the Swallow and was so impressed with it that he wanted to make a big impression to get even. You can't tell the first time you see anybody what they will be like when you get to know them well."
"Well, I gathered that Jardin was here with his father on some oil business, and probably we won't see him anyhow after this afternoon. He won't be apt to come to the Post. Anyway, let's not spoil our whole afternoon. I want to see some more of those Indians, and I would like to go to that pawnshop without someone tagging along who can buy the place out. I want to buy a little bead bag I saw in the window if it does not cost too much. I think mother would like it to carry with a blue dress of hers.
"Say, you are just like a girl, aren't you?" exclaimed Frank. "I would never know what sort of a dress my mother had on, and she would never get a bag if she depended on my getting it for her."
"I suppose there is a difference in folks," said Bill. "There was a man visiting my uncle back home one time. He broke his leg while he was with us, and mother helped take care of him and amuse him, and say, he could embroider and crochet! He taught mother a lot of stitches."
"A regular sissy!" sneered Frank.
"I thought so," said Bill; laughing at the recollection. "One night when he felt sort of bad I rubbed his back, and his shoulders were all covered with scars. Well, what do you think? A tiger did it. A Royal Bengal tiger like you read about! And I found out that he had hunted every kind of big game there is, and the fiercer, the better. He simply didn't care what he did in the way of hunting. Oh, my; that was a snap for me! When he found out that I was simply crazy to hear his yarns, he used to tell me thrills, I can tell you.
"I didn't think he was such a sissy then. That crochet work looked all right. But it was sort of funny to see him lying there showing my mother how to make a new kind of muffler or table mat and remember how he came by a great white scar that showed on his wrist when he stuck his arm out."
"How did he get it?" asked Frank, all attention.
"He got that one in Africa," said Bill, taking a taste of his ice-cream. "He and another chap had penetrated away into the jungle. They were after a splendid specimen of—"
Bill stopped, looked at the door and attacked his ice-cream.
"Here is little Percy again," he groaned. "Frank, if I don't treat him according to agreement, you are to kick me."
Frank turned. The African jungle faded away. There was Jardin!
He came smiling across the room and joined them.
"Hello, everybody!" he said gaily. "Getting some grub? It didn't take me very long to get through, so I thought I would wander down the street and see if I could run across you. Thought you might like to go to see a movie."
"That is mighty nice of you," said Bill heartily, "but I sort of wanted to see a little of the town this afternoon."
"I think that is a good idea," said Jardin. "We can go to see the movies any old time. I saw my dad at the hotel and have some good news to tell you. We are going to stay here for a couple of weeks. Dad thought that I would make an awful kick about it, and I would if I hadn't met you fellows, but between us we ought to be able to start something going. If I had one of my cars here I could give you a good time, but we will have to take a fall out of your little steamer."
"Say, that's fine!" said Frank with enthusiasm enough for two. "I will have a chance to show you the Aviation Field, and Bill can show you the School of Fire, and there are some dandy fellows over at New Post and up at Old Post too."
"I would like to see them, especially the Aviation part," said Jardin. "I might get some pointers about flying my plane. It will be done before long,—in a couple of months anyway. I worked hard enough for that car," he chuckled. "I thought up every kind of mischief you ever heard of and then some, and tried 'em all out, and all the time I kept hollering for an airplane. I just wore dad out. He offered me everything you ever heard of if I would stop cutting up, and at last he hit on this airplane which was what I had been after from the start. So we made an agreement, regular business affair you know, and we both signed it. I am to stop smoking the day school opens and also agree to go to whatever school he picks out and to keep the rules and remain for the three terms of the school year. He has got to give me plenty of money, though. You can't have a decent time in school without your pocket full of money."
"I don't see why you need much," said Bill thoughtfully.
"Take it from me, you do," replied Jardin. "I have been in about every high-class school around our part of the country and I know."
"I am going to boarding-school this fall, and I don't believe I will have much of an allowance. My folks won't think it is wise, I know."
"A lot of people are like that," said Jardin. "Are you going away to school too, Frank?"
"I expect I am," said Frank. "I don't know where yet; the folks have not decided for either of us, but we hope we will go together; don't we, Bill?"
"Sure!" agreed Bill.
"Wish you knew where you were going," said Jardin. "I would make dad send me where you were. That would be a lark. The Big Three: how would that go for a name, eh?"
"Great!" said Bill absently. He finished the last spoonful of his ice-cream. "Let's go out and see the town," he suggested. "There is a shooting gallery around the corner that has the cutest moving targets I ever saw."
"That's the ticket!" said Jardin. "I can shoot almost better than I can do anything else."
They wandered out, and turned down to the shooting gallery. A soldier was leaning idly against the door frame. Bill looked twice, grabbed the young man in a bear hug.
"Lee, you old scamp!" he cried. "How did you happen to get here?"
The dark face of the handsome young half-breed lighted up. "I drove the car in," he answered. "Your mother is shopping and your father will come in with Colonel Spratt in time for dinner. I have been watching these people shoot. Are you boys going to try it?" He glanced at Jardin with a keen eye, then looked away instantly.
"I can't shoot for sour apples and you know it. I suppose you want to have a good laugh at me," said Bill. "All right, here goes!" He laid down his money and received the little rifle.
"No moving targets for me," he said to the man in charge. "And I want the biggest target you have, at that."
"Here is one we let the ladies shoot at," the gallery man laughed. He put up a brilliant affair of different colored rings encircling a large black spot.
"That is the thing for me," said Bill.
"Us ladies!" jeered Frank, laughing.
"Shoot!" commanded Lee.
Bill aimed, breathed hard, blinked and pulled the trigger violently.
There was a black hole in the outside ring.
"Good boy!" said Bill, patting himself. "Good boy! 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.' I have just three tries, I believe."
The next shot was a trifle closer. Bill held a little steadier. The last shot he took his time about and pulled carefully, using his finger instead of his whole side. A bell clanged. He had actually hit the bull's eye! Bill fell against Lee in a make-believe faint.
Frank tried next, Jardin refusing to make an attempt. At last however, after Frank had repeated Bill's performance, Jardin selected a rifle and asked for the moving targets to be set in motion.
He aimed quickly at the head of the smallest duck, and it disappeared behind the painted waves. Again and again he repeated this while the boys stood spellbound.
"That's easy!" said Jardin, laying the rifle down on the counter. "I can beat that easily."
"Do it," said Lee, handing him a rifle.
"Put up your hardest target," instructed Jardin. "I want something worth while."
The target popped into place. It was a pretty little figure of a dancing girl with a tiny tambourine in her uplifted hand. She whirled and turned and the little tambourine gleamed and sparkled. Jardin took careful aim at the tambourine and missed. Three times he missed, the boys exclaiming that no one could hit anything so delicate. Finally he gave it up, giving a number of explanations why he did not hit it.
Then, quite idly, Lee picked up a rifle and with a half smile at the gallery man he shot without raising the rifle to his shoulder. A shower of tiny flashes burst from the uplifted tambourine. Then three times, as fast as he could lift a rifle, Lee hit the little tambourine and the bright flashes leaped up. It was evident that Lee had been there before because without a word the man removed the little dancer and placed a row of small and lively dolphins in view. They curved in and out of sight and looked very funny indeed. But Lee shook his head. The man removed the target, and feeling under his lapel drew out a pin, a common white pin which he stuck carefully in the middle of the black cloth at the end of the gallery. Lee's bullet drove the pin into the cloth as neatly as though it had been done with a mallet.
"Want to try?" he asked Jardin.
Jardin smiled sourly. "I am no professional," he said.
He and Frank sauntered out, followed by Bill and Lee.
"Who is that soldier?" asked Jardin. "Isn't he just an enlisted man?"
"That's all," said Frank. "He is the Major's orderly."
"I don't like his looks," said Jardin.
"Neither do I," agreed Frank. "But you had better not tell Bill that. He is crazy over Lee."
"Every man to his taste!" Jardin said with a sneer.
About a week later, Bill, accompanied by Lee, drove the Swallow over to the Aviation Field. They found Horace Jardin staying there at Frank's quarters, as the houses are called on all army posts. Mr. Jardin had gone down into the Burkburnett Oil Fields and Frank had invited the boy to come and stay with him. Mrs. Anderson, a weak and idle person, was flattered to have the young millionaire as her guest and revelled as Frank did in his glowing yarns of everything concerning the Jardins. Horace treated Mrs. Anderson and the Major with all the politeness he could muster.
It was always his policy to be agreeable to other fellows' parents. It made things easier all around to have what he privately and rudely called "the old folks" think he was a fine boy, and he found that they always "fell for it" when he paid them a little attention.
So he cleverly kept silence whenever the Major was around, only asking questions that he knew would please him to answer and enlarge upon.
With Mrs. Anderson he worked a different scheme. He launched into glowing accounts of parties and bridge luncheons his mother had given, recounting with more or less truth details about the food and the decorations, and the jewels worn by the guests.
"Seems to be a very quiet, studious boy," was Major Anderson's decision, and Mrs. Anderson proclaimed him "The sweetest child, with such lovely manners, and perfectly unspoiled by his enormous wealth."
Jardin laughed in his sleeve, and Frank, also a willing listener, but to a greatly differing line of talk, was rapidly absorbing all the mental and moral poison that Jardin could think up.
As Bill looked at his friend, he was conscious of a change in him. He had a worldly, bored air that to Bill was extremely funny. Frank and Horace did not trouble to speak to Lee, who grinned cheerfully and said nothing, while he cared even less. Lee saw through the two boys and was determined to keep them from doing any harm to Bill, for whom he felt the truest affection. They were growing into a friendship that was destined to last for many years.
Lee was the soul of honor and had a sense of humor seldom found in one of Indian blood, and was as ready to romp and roughhouse as a boy of twelve. His straightforwardness and his tender care of Mrs. Sherman caused the Major to rejoice every day that he had transferred him to his service as orderly.
Lee had the Indian gift of silence, so he made no comment at all when he was alone with Bill and Bill commenced to sputter and fuss about the change in Frank. He just stared ahead, gazing off across the prairie or carving delicately on another length of chain which Mrs. Sherman had asked him to make for her sister back in the east.
"My airplane is finished," said Horace as soon as he could make Bill hear the glad news. For once he looked genuinely pleased and excited.
"Good enough!" cried Bill. "Is it here?"
"Of course not," scoffed Jardin. "I will not get it until I go back east. But Major Anderson has arranged for me to learn to fly here. My father called him on long distance and arranged it."
"I guess I will hang around and pick up some pointers myself," said Bill. "When do these lessons come off? 'Most any time?"
"Almost any time we want to go over to the Field and get hold of an instructor," answered Frank. "Now the war is over, the rush is over too and we are taking our time over here. Stick around all you want to, Bill; I can fly myself."
Walking over to the hangars, the boys found the field bright with the giant dragonflies hopping here and there or rising slowly from the ground, and taking wing with ever increasing noise and speed. Lee followed the boys and was glad when he found that Bill could not make a flight without written permission from his parents. This was a rule of the Field, no minor being allowed to go up without the presentation of such a paper, which acted as a sort of release in ease of any accident. Jardin buttoned himself into an elaborate and most expensive leather coat, carefully, adjusted his goggles, stepped into a plane beside the usual pilot who winked slyly at Lee, and proceeded, to send his big bug skimming here and there across the field under the wobbly and uncertain guidance of Horace. They did not leave the ground, but Frank soon soared upward on a short flight that filled Bill with joy and envy all at the same time. He felt that he must fly.
Frank was really mastering the control of a plane in a remarkable manner. The instructors said that he was a born birdman. He seemed to know by instinct what to do and when to do it.
Bill and Lee, on the sidelines by the hangars, did not find all this very exciting. Bill grew more and more crazy to go up, and Lee, who was an artilleryman and had no use for flying, was sorry to see the craze for the dangerous sport grow in his favorite.
Finally the lesson was over, and Frank and Horace, both much inclined to crow, rejoined Bill and Lee to talk it over. They wandered over to the Andersons' quarters, where Lee left them to go to the men's mess for his luncheon. Mrs. Anderson was out attending a bridge luncheon, and the Major did not come home at noon, so the boys had the table to themselves.
"Well, I have decided to be an aviator," declared Jardin. "There will be another war sometime perhaps, and there is nothing like being ready. I suppose I will have to go to school this winter because I agreed to. Gee, I hate the thought of it! Perhaps there will be some way of getting out of it, I can almost always work dad one way or another. He is crazy for me to go through college."
"So is my father," said Frank. "But I am going to be an aviator too, and I don't see any need of college."
"My father is set on college, too," said Bill, "or at least a good training school."
"Well, he is only your stepfather, so I suppose you will do just as you like about it," said Jardin.
"I don't see it that way," replied Bill, flushing, "Of course he is my stepfather, but he is the kindest and best man I ever knew or heard of and I will say right now I am perfectly crazy over him. If I hadn't been, I would never have let mother marry him."
"Much she would have cared what you wanted!" chuckled Jardin.
"She would have done exactly as I said," Bill insisted. "We always talk things over together and never decide any really big things without a good old consultation."
"Nobody ever consults me," grumbled Frank.
"None of the women consult me," said Jardin. "They know I won't be bothered with them. Dad and I usually go over things together."
How Horace Jardin's father would have laughed if he could have heard his son and heir make that remark! Horace was Mr. Jardin's greatest care and problem. He often said that his son caused him more trouble than it gave him to run all his factories. Mr. Jardin was a very unwise man who loved his only son so much that he did not seem able to make him obey. Horace had not been a bad boy to start with, but twelve years of having his own way and feeling that, as he said, he could work his father and mother for anything that trouble could procure or money buy had made him selfish, grasping and unreliable. Other and graver faults were developing in him fast, to his mother's amazement and his father's sorrow.
When Mr. Jardin found that he must go down into the oil fields to look after his wells there, he was greatly relieved and pleased to find that he could leave his son with such pleasant people as the Andersons. He knew that for awhile at least the novelty of being right at an Aviation Post would keep Horace out of any serious mischief. In a measure he was right. The discipline and routine, the sharp commands, the rage of the instructors if anything went even a shade wrong, impressed Horace as he had never been impressed before. All the good in him came to the surface; the bad hid itself away.
Unfortunately, however, while Horace was spending his time in what seemed to all a highly creditable manner, his influence over Frank was bad, and grew worse as time went on. He absorbed like a sponge every word of Jardin's boastful tales; he learned a thousand new ways in which to gain his own ends; he learned to cheat; he learned to lie without the feeling of guilt and distress that used to bother him when he slipped from the truth. And most of all, he was made to feel that there was nothing so necessary as money, money and still more money. Every letter from Mr. Jardin brought Horace a check for anything from twenty-five to a hundred dollars, and this money was spent like water.
Frank, who had thought his allowance of a dollar a week a fine and generous amount, watched Jardin buy his way and squander money in every direction. Frank commenced to worry about school. It must be as Horace said: useless to try to be happy or comfortable unless one had a pocket full of change all the time. He commenced to wish for some money, then the wish changed, and he wished for a certain sum, the amount he thought would be sufficient to carry him through the three terms of school. He made up his mind that he wanted six hundred dollars. Where this vast sum was to come from he did not know. He knew very well that his father and mother would not give it to him. He could not earn it. Only a few weeks later the boys would be sent east to school. Six hundred dollars he wanted, and his whole mind seemed to focus on that amount like a burning glass, and the thought of it scorched him.
All through luncheon Frank thought of the money. He went off into day-dreams in which he rescued the daughter of the Colonel from all sorts of dangers and invariably after each rescue, the Colonel would say, "My boy, thanks are too tame. I insist, in fact I order you to accept this little token of my regard." And then he would press into Frank's hand six hundred dollars. It was thrilling; and in a day-dream so easy.
The fact that the Colonel's only daughter was a strapping damsel who stood five feet eight and weighed one hundred and sixty pounds and always took the best of care of herself in all kinds of tight places without asking odds of anyone, did not affect Frank's day-dreams at all. Neither did the fact that the Colonel was well known to be so close with his money that he had learned to read the headlines upside down so that he seldom had to buy a paper of a newsy! Six hundred dollars ... it would have killed him!
Frank was called back to the present by hearing Horace say,
"Six hundred dollars! Where does a common soldier get all that?"
Frank looked up from his dessert quite wild-eyed. It was so pat!
"His grandfather sent it to him. He has a lot more than that."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Frank, coming wholly out of his trance and looking from one to the other. "Who has six hundred dollars, and whose grandfather sent it to him?"
"Lee's," said Bill.
"I don't believe it!"
"It is true," Bill affirmed. "I was just telling Horace that I went to Lawton this morning before I came here, so that Lee could bank the money. He has a nice bank account. He is saving up so he can go into business when he is discharged."
"Well, I don't believe it," said Frank bitterly. Six hundred dollars—and someone else had it!
"It is true anyhow," repeated Bill, "and this is the way it happened. Years and years ago, as the storytellers say, the Government decided to grant to every Indian a certain amount of ground. I forget how much Lee told me. Anyhow, it was a nice large farm, and they gave one to each Indian. Some of the Indians were glad to get the grant and went right off and settled down and did their best to be farmers. And some of them didn't want land, and said they wouldn't have land. It looked too much like work.
"Lee's grandfather was one of those. He just said no, he wouldn't take it. But the Government knew that what one Indian had, the rest ought to have or there would be scrapping over it sooner or later, sure as shooting.
"So old Foxy Grandpa found a farm wished off on him whether he liked it or not. He was quite mad about it—so mad that for a long while he wouldn't speak more than once a week instead of once in a day or two, the way he usually did. Bimeby he built a house and his boys, who were all getting an education, commenced to work the ground and collect cattle and horses. This commenced to interest grandpa a little, although he wouldn't help, and he used to sit on the back porch and look over the farm and watch his children, and just rattle right along, saying nothing at all.
"Then all at once oil was discovered in Oklahoma, and the Government took control of the Indian grants. That; is, they dig the wells and give the Indians a big royalty. If the well is a dry hole, it does not cost the Indian anything.
"The fellows who knew about such things came moseying around grandfather's farm and thought they smelled oil. So they put up a derrick, and commenced to drill right where the pig yard was, not far from the house.
"Grandfather just sat right on the back porch and watched them do it. Didn't keep them from work by his talking; just sat and looked on. It took several weeks to drill the well, but grandfather kept right on watching.
"Finally bing, bang! They struck, and it was a gusher. Just poured right out and most drowned grandfather on the back porch before they could plug it and fix the tanks.
"The first dividend was five thousand dollars, and grandfather took it and looked at it and then shoved it over to his oldest son and commenced to talk. That is, Lee said he spoke one word in the Indian language. It meant the-car-that-runs-by-itself. He wanted an automobile! Well, his son went off and got him the biggest he could for the money, and now the old gentleman is quite satisfied.
"When he isn't riding around the country he still sits and watches that old gusher keep gushing. He gets about two hundred dollars a day out of it."
"That's nothing!" said Horace Jardin.
"Nothing?" repeated Bill. "Well, it would mean something to me, I can tell you!"
"Nothing?" cried Frank in a tone filled with real pain. "Nothing? My soul! It would be six hundred dollars every three days."
"Why pick on six hundred dollars?" asked Bill. "Why not fourteen hundred a week? Those old wells go right on working on Sunday, you know."
Frank slammed down his fork and shoved his chair back from the table.
"Oh, it is a shame!" he cried bitterly.
Both boys looked at him in surprise.
"What ails you, anyhow?" asked Bill.
"Nothing," said Frank.
Jardin left the following week and the two boys tried to settle down into the old groove. Bill spent a great deal of time with Frank, watching the manoeuvers on the Field. Frank kept up the study of aviation with surprising earnestness. He had a special gift for it and was really a source of great pride to his instructors. Of course his father forbade long or very high flights, but Frank soon was able to execute any of the simpler stunts that make the air so thrilling.
Bill, who refrained from any flying even as a passenger on account of his mother, tried to absorb as much as he could from the talk and from a couple of the airmen who took a great fancy to the quiet, handsome boy who asked such intelligent questions and who so soon mastered all the technicalities of the monster dragonflies.
With a small maliciousness that surprised even himself, Frank had dropped a hint here and there that Bill was afraid to fly, and the two airmen, Lem Saunders and Chauncey Harringford, who were his special friends at the Field discussed it between themselves. One day they stopped Lee and asked him if it was true. Lee flushed under his dark, swarthy skin, and his small, black eyes flashed angrily.
"Who says it?" he demanded.
"I don't know how it started," answered Lem. "I don't know as it matters whether the kid is afraid or not, but it doesn't seem just like him; and I sort of hate to think there is a grain of yellow anywhere in that good body of his."
"I will bet all my month's pay that there isn't," affirmed Chauncey. "I know there isn't, but I wish I knew how the report started. It makes it sort of hard for him. The fellows guy him."
"I wish I could be there when they do. I know one soldier who would have a ticket for the guardhouse for fighting in about ten minutes."
"It is not as bad as that," said Chauncey. "The fellows don't mean any harm, only young Frank is such a whiz and even that green little sprout of a Jardin flew like a swallow. And here is Bill, by far the best of the three, won't go off the ground but just shakes his head and grins if you ask him why not."
"I know the reason," said Lee firmly. "It is a good one, too. Do you know his mother? No? Well, she is more like an angel than a human being." Lee took off his campaign hat as he spoke, as though he could not talk of Mrs. Sherman while he remained covered.
"She is perfect," he continued. "So gentle, so sweet; and such a true friend! But she has a very weak heart. There is something wrong, very wrong about it, and Major Sherman has told me that a shock might kill her. And what greater shock could there be than something happening to her only son? Major Sherman told me that he had explained it to Bill, and that Bill never did one thing to worry his mother. If he says he will come home at a certain time, he gets there. When he is away, at Lawton or Medicine Park or any place like that, he telephones her a couple of times to let her know he is all right. That boy is a peach, I can tell you! There are dozens of things he doesn't do on her account. And he never complains. He doesn't wait for her to ask him not to, either. It is awfully hard on him, I can tell you, because he is the most fearless and daring boy of his age I have ever seen. He wants to try everything going." Lee looked wistful. "I wish I could hear someone say Bill is a coward!"
"They don't go as far as that," said Chauncey soothingly. "They just guy him a little."
"They will stop guying if I hear them," said Lee doggedly. "The boy has every kind of courage that there is and some day will prove it. But never, never if it will distress his mother. He will bear all the slurs and insults in the world rather than hurt her."
"Jimminy, old fellow, you take it too hard!" said Lem, laughing. "All the fellows do is guy him, and we will see to it that they stop that, you can bank on it. Chance here and me will never see the kid abused. I am some scrapper myself, if it comes to that!"
He pounded Lee cheerfully on the back and that young man smiled in spite of himself. Turning, he caught Lem, a six footer and heavy, and with what seemed a playful little clasp raised him from the ground and tossed him over his shoulder where he hung balanced for a minute before Lee gently eased him to the ground. Chauncey was round-eyed with amazement and Lem sputtered, "Lee, you wizard, you! How in the world did you do that? Why, I am twice your size!"
"Just a little Indian trick that I learned a good while ago when I used to visit some cousins of mine. There were two young bucks who used to wrestle with me, and I learned a lot from them. I have been teaching Bill, and he can almost beat me at my own game. You don't have to be big like you, Lem. Do you want to see me throw you twenty feet over my head?"
"Why, you loon, I should say not!" said Lem, backing off.
"Oh, be a sport, Lem, and let me see the fun!" cried Chauncey.
But Lem refused to be obliging. For a man who did not care how high or how far he flew, he was strangely unwilling to let himself be tossed out on the prairie to amuse Chance or anyone else.
Lee walked off laughing. The others stood looking after him.
"The only Indian thing about him is his color and his walk. Do you notice how he puts one foot down right in front of the other as though he was walking along a narrow trail?"
"He is one of the straightest fellows I have ever known," said Lem, feeling of his neck and waggling his head to see if it was all right after its late experience with Lee. "I am glad to know about Bill. He understands every last thing there is about a plane, and it did seem so funny that he would never leave the ground. It is a wonderful chance for those kids to stand in over here, you know. They are getting the best training in the world in the flying game. I had commenced to think Bill was a perfect sissy. That little automobile of his is a wonder—a regular racing car on a small scale—and yet he goes crawling along at fifteen miles an hour. Well, I am glad to know how it is."
Lem fished in his pocket and found some chewing gum which he offered to Chauncey. They strolled away in the direction of the hangars and Lee hurried over to Major Anderson's quarters, where he found the two boys sitting on the wide, screened veranda.
"Just waiting for you, Lee," said Bill, looking at his watch. "We must be getting along. Do you know what I am doing these days?" he asked Frank, who was moodily staring at Lee. "I am packing up for school."
"Why didn't you begin last Christmas?" asked Frank, coming out of his dream.
"There is always such a lot of things to attend to at the last second and I am getting all my traps in shape."
"Mother is packing for me," said Frank. "I wish we didn't have to go. I will be all out of practice with the planes by the time we have a chance to fly again. I wonder where Jardin is going to school?"
"Have you heard from him lately?" asked Bill.
"Not a word since he went away. Mother thought it was funny he didn't write her a note to thank her for entertaining him. His father wrote her instead."
"Did Jardin know where we are going?" asked Bill.
"We didn't know ourselves when he left, and I can't write and tell him, because for all I know he may be in Europe by this time."
"I am just as well pleased," said Bill. "You know I never did have any use for him, and I think we will get along a good deal better with the other fellows and with the teachers if he is not there as a friend of ours."
"You were always down on him and for nothing," said Frank. "I think he is all right. And he has the money, too."
"Well, you don't want to sponge, do you?" asked Bill.
"Of course not!" said Frank, flushing. "You are such a nut about things! Of course I don't mean sponge, but money is the only thing that will put you in right at school or anywhere else."
"That sounds just like Jardin," replied Bill. "Well, if that is so, what do you suppose I am going to do on about nine cents a week? What are you going to do yourself?"
"I don't know, but if there is any money to be had, I am going to get it."
"How are you going to go about it?" asked Bill as he stepped into the Swallow and prepared to start.
"I don't know," answered Frank, still sitting with his chin in his hands. "Beg it, or borrow it, or steal it."
Bill threw in the clutch and the Swallow sped away.
Frank was left to his own bitter thoughts. Money! He had brooded over his lack of it and had remembered Jardin's assurance that to have a good time in school he must have a pocketful of money at all times. Frank had changed his mind about school. He was going for the good time he expected to have. He only wished that he was going with Jardin instead of with Bill Sherman. What Bill had said about sponging had stung him. Now he knew that he must obtain what he wanted somehow and somewhere. His mother could not give it to him; his father would not. He had nothing to sell that was of any value. Yes, there was one thing. He could pawn his watch, that beautiful watch that had been his grandfather's and which he was to use when he was twenty-one. In the meantime it was his, left him by his grandfather's will. On the spur of the moment he rose and hurried into the house. Why had he not thought of it before? It was a repeater, that watch, and his grandfather had paid nearly a thousand dollars for it. He would sell it. He hurried into the house and to his mother's room: he knew where she always kept her jewel case hidden. The watch was there and putting it in his pocket, Frank hurried out of the house.
Bill and Lee took it slowly as usual going back to school, stopping to watch the big observation balloon come down to anchor.
"I am sorry about Frank," Bill remarked as they turned and skirted the parade ground in New Post. "I never saw a fellow change so in such a short time. He is brooding all the time and is as grouchy as he can be. I wish there was something I could do for him."
"Just what I was thinking," said Lee. "Do you suppose his folks would mind if I gave him the money he wants? I am getting an awful wad down there in the bank. I am always in right with my grandfather because I can talk his sign language and because I look more like an Indian than some of the real ones. I would be awfully glad to give him five or six hundred dollars."
"That is perfectly fine of you, Lee, but I know they would not want you to do such a thing, because they would think it was simply wild to have Frank have a large sum. At the school we are going to, there is a rule that the boys are not to have money. There is a small sum deposited with the principal and he gives us what he thinks we ought to have. More for the big fellows and less for the little ones, and none at all if we don't behave."
Lee looked disappointed.
"That's too bad," he said, patting Bill on the shoulder with a rare caress. "I was going to get Major Sherman to let me divvy up with you."
"You are all right, Lee, old man," said Bill, "but honest, I won't need money. What I will want is a letter from you once in awhile. That will be the best thing you can do for me. Gee, I know I am just about going to die with homesickness. Why, I was never away from my mother before in my life! I can tell you, I will never be away from home any more than I can help. Home folks are good enough for me," he laughed.
Lee stuck to the subject. "What if I should lend Frank the money he wants?" he persisted.
"I tell you, old dear, he won't be allowed to have money at all."
"What is to prevent it if they don't know it?" asked Lee.
"Why, he wouldn't want to break the rules," said Bill. "There is no fun in breaking rules. You can get enough fun without that."
"All right," said Lee, "but the Indian part of me is having a bad hunch about Frank. You watch and see. He is going to get into trouble, and I think it will have something to do with this money he wants so much."
"I hate to have you say that," from Bill. "Your hunches come to time pretty sharply; but I will simply keep an eye on him and try to keep him out of trouble. It is lucky we are not going to the same school with Jardin."
"Do you know that you are not?" said Lee with a queer smile.
"Yes, I do know, and for two reasons. We did not know where we were going when he was here and, second place, the school we are going to is not swell enough for Jardin."
"Look for him when you get there," remarked Lee.
"Oh, wow!" cried Bill, sending the Swallow in a long sweep to the back step of the quarters in B2. "If you keep this hunch business up, Lee, you will be getting up as a fortune-teller. We are through with Jardin for a good while, I am thinking."
They were not through with Jardin's influence at least. If it had not been for his tales and suggestions, Frank would not at that moment have been walking the streets of Lawton, his grandfather's splendid watch in his pocket, hunting for a pawnshop that looked inviting. He came to one with a window filled with diamond rings and watches that were certainly not in the class with the timepiece he was carrying. That seemed a good place to go. With so many ordinary watches on hand, they would appreciate as fine a one as he carried.
He looked in the window, then walked boldly in with the air of a person who wishes to buy something. He did it so well that the proprietor came forward with a beaming smile.
The smile faded when Frank laid the watch on the counter and the man pierced him with a keen look. He took the watch and turned it over.
"What is your name?" he asked suddenly.
Frank looked up in surprise.
"I don't see as that has anything to do with it," he replied stiffly.
"It has a good deal to do with it," said the man. "That is not the sort of a watch a boy your age carries. Not on your life it isn't! Now where did you get that watch? Did you steal it? That is the question. Are you selling it for someone else? That's what I want to know. We are licensed dealers here, and we got to be pertected. Come across, young feller, come across! What's your name?"
"Bill Sherman," said Frank, and was sorry as soon as he had said it. But he did not dare retract his words.
"So far, so good!" said the man to whom the name meant nothing. "Now, Bill Sherman, where did you get this watch?"
"It is mine," said Frank, "and I am not selling it; I want to pawn it."
"If Bill Sherman can afford to own a watch like that, why then should he pawn it? Looks like he ought to have plenty of money."
"I do mostly," said Frank, red and fidgeting. "But I am short just at present, and that is my own watch that my grandfather willed to me so I thought I would pawn it for awhile."
"I don't know," said the man. "I got boys of my own. But if I don't take it you will go somewhere else. So what's the difference? What do you expect to get for it?"
"Grandfather paid nearly a thousand dollars for it!" said Frank. "Would you think six hundred dollars about right?"
Then for a moment Frank thought the pawnshop man was going to have a fit, a fit of large and dreadful proportions, right on the premises. His eyes bulged; he choked and gurgled. It was really awful, and Frank could not help wishing himself home again, watch and all. Even with the coveted sum so close within reach, he was sick of the whole thing.
Presently the pawnshop man came to himself a little.
He leaned across the counter and said softly, "Would you please say that again?"
"Six hundred dollars," repeated Frank.
"Say," said the man, leaning confidentially toward the boy, "what a joker you are! That's good enough for vaudeville, I'll say! Well, we've laughed enough at that, ain't we? And I feel so funny about it that I will give you a good price for the watch. What do you guess it is?" He leaned closer. "Twenty-five dollars."
"Twenty-five dollars!" gasped Frank. "Why, my grandfather paid 'most a thousand dollars for it!"
"Sure, I don't doubt it; and so did George Washington have a watch bigger than this that cost a lot of money but I would not give more than twenty-five dollars for either one of 'em."
"I can't take that," said Frank, looking so shocked and disappointed that the man knew that he would end by accepting.
"Twenty-five is as high as I can go," said the man. "We got to pertect ourselves."
With a bitter feeling of disappointment and shame, Frank took the proffered twenty-five dollars, after a long wrangle had convinced him that there was positively no more to be wrung from the pawnshop man. He left the shop with dragging feet, half inclined to go back and throw down the money with a demand for his watch. But the thought of Jardin deterred him. As he went out he could see the man leaning into the window where he rearranged the group of watches already displayed there, and placed the watch, Frank's beautiful watch, in the place of honor on a purple velvet cushion in the center.
Two weeks passed, and one day remained before the boys were to start to school. Frank finally heard from Horace Jardin. Horace urged him again to collect what he termed a "wad," assuring him that life would be really terrible without a lot of money. Also he hinted darkly of something very surprising that he would have to tell later. That it only concerned Jardin himself Frank did not question, as Jardin was never interested in anything concerning other people except as it had some bearing on himself in one way or another.
Money—money! Frank thought of nothing else. Then, as though it had been a terrible unseen monster waiting to spring on the boy, his temptation leaped upon him.
Temptation only attacks the weak. If we allow ourselves to harbor unworthy or wicked thoughts, if we pave the way with wicked and unworthy deeds, temptation has an easy time. Temptation is like a big bully. He does not like to be laughed off, or to be scorned. He prefers to be parleyed with. Then there is always a good chance for him. Better still, he prefers to dash up to the weak and sinning, and say hurriedly, "Here: quick, quick! Here's the easy way out! It's the only way out! Just you tell this lie, disobey your parents, or take this money. It isn't stealing, you know, because you mean to put it back as soon as you can and everything will be all right."
That is the way temptation talks, and on that last day before the boys started off to school Frank listened.
He was over at Bill's quarters, in B2, when the telephone rang. Now there are just two telephones to each building at the School of Fire, one upstairs and one down. They are wall phones, fastened on the outside of the buildings, midway of the porch that runs the whole length. When the bell rings, whoever is nearest answers and calls the person who is wanted. So Frank, standing in Bill's doorway and close to the phone, stepped out and took down the receiver. While he waited for an answer, he leaned his elbow on the sill of the window beside him and idly scanned the confusion of papers on the big desk shoved close to the sill inside. A strong wind fluttered the papers.
Frank, waiting on a dead line, stared at the desk and his eyes grew wild. Down at the end of the porch a grey-haired Colonel sat with his eyes glued to the Army and Navy Journal. He was reading about a proposed increase in pay, and he had no interest in small boys. Across the sandy space on the porch of the opposite quarters two ladies sat embroidering.
In the Sherman quarters, he could hear Mrs. Sherman and Bill and Lee talking as they finished packing Bill's trunk.
No one noticed Frank. No one saw what he did next, so stealthily and rapidly. But in a moment he put the receiver down on the shelf, hurried to the Shermans' door, and called for Lee.
"Someone wants you on the phone," Frank said, and as Lee hurried out, Frank sat down on the door sill and whistled shrilly to the Shermans' Airdale, who was trying to chum with the pretty ladies across the way. They looked up, saw Lee at the phone but did not see Frank who had dodged inside the door. The Colonel looked up from his paper, scowling. He laid the whistle to Lee and glared.
Lee called "Hello!" half a dozen times. He too leaned on the sill of the open window. No one answering the phone, he hung up and went back to the packing.
And the next morning, Bill and Frank, feeling fearfully overdressed in new suits, and bearing spotless shiny yellow suitcases, stood on the train waving to two rather damp looking mothers and two fathers who stood up almost too straight, and started away on their long journey.
Lee did not wave at them. The half of Lee that was Indian was afraid that the half that was white would look too sorry and lonesome if he stood on the platform watching the two small figures waving on the train while a friendly porter clutched a shoulder of each. So Lee stayed in the machine and listened as the train pulled out, and felt very blue and lonesome, and fell to planning how he would ask for a furlough and go shoot some wildcats to make rugs for Bill's room. And he wondered how soon the boys would look inside their suitcases. Lee had opened both those suitcases!
The boys, wildly excited over the charm and novelty of travelling alone, went to their seats and gravely studied the flat bleakness of Oklahoma. As yet they had no regrets at leaving the Post, although Bill felt rather low whenever he thought of his mother. Her picture, as radiant and lovely as any of the girls who came visiting on the Post, he had pasted on the dial of his wrist watch, the Major helping. They had had lots of fun doing it, the Major pretending to be awfully jealous. But when the picture was fastened safely on the dial, it was the Major, who was something of an artist, who got out his color-kit and delicately tinted the lovely features until the cut-out snapshot looked rare and lovely as a portrait painted right on the watch. Then he carefully fastened the crystal, and Frank slipped it on his wrist, more than pleased.
"In old times," said the Major, washing his brushes in the tumbler of water, "the knights always wore a ribbon or a glove belonging to the lady they loved the best. They did not hide their keepsakes in their inside pockets but bound them boldly on their helmets, to remind themselves that they must be loyal, faithful, fearless, brave and true for her sake, and to show all who cared to look that they were proud to do their best for one so fair. No doubt there were dark days and hard times when they needed every ounce of support and encouragement they could get.
"You will find it so, old man. I can't help you, but," he gently touched the watch, "she will, always. You know it, don't you?"
"Yes, sir, I do!" said Bill, looking down on the smiling face.
"Then you don't need another word from me, son," said the Major. They were alone. He bent and kissed the boy on the cheek. Then he smiled.
"That is allowable between men, you know, son, on the eve of battle. Put up a good fight." He left the room, and something that was part promise and part prayer went up from his soul.
"I will put up a good fight!" he whispered.
Frank had spent his last evening alone, a throng of distressful thoughts crowding in on him. His father was on some official business in town and his mother had not thought it necessary to break her weekly engagement with her bridge club. Frank wandered over to the hangars but he missed Lem and Chauncey and soon returned home. He was greatly excited over the coming trip, and had other and most serious reasons for wishing to go away. So many unpleasant thoughts crowded upon him that it was not until ten o'clock that he happened to think of his watch, still in Lawton at the pawnshop. He had not redeemed it, and the twenty-five dollars reposed in the bottom of his kit bag, in an envelope that had thread wound around it.