THE AEROPLANE BOYS FLIGHT
Or A Hydroplane Roundup
By JOHN LUTHER LANGWORTHY
MADE IN U.S.A.
M.A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
CHICAGO NEW YORK
I—THE BOY FLIERS
III—NOT CAUGHT NAPPING
IV—THE STARTLING NEWS
V—THE EXCITEMENT GROWS
VI—FIGURING IT ALL OUT
VII—THE AIR SCOUTS
VIII—JUST BELOW THE CLOUDS
IX—THE PILOT OF THE MERMAID
X—HEARD OVER THE WIRE
XII—AT THE HOSKINS FARM
XIII—THE BUTTERFLY COLLECTOR
XV—WHEN CASPER CAME BACK
XVI—THROWING OFF THE MASK
XVII—SALLIE RIDES BAREBACK
XVIII—AN AEROPLANE CHASE
XIX—DROPPING A "BOMB!"
XX—OVER LAND AND SEA
XXI—OVER THE BOUNDARY LINE
XXII—THE HYDROPLANE RESCUE
XXIII—BROUGHT TO BOOK—CONCLUSION
THE AEROPLANE BOYS FLIGHT
Or A Hydroplane Roundup
THE BOY FLIERS
"It was my mistake, Frank!"
"How do you make that out, Andy?"
"Simply because I was using the little patent Bird monkey-wrench last in our shop, and should have put it back in the toolbox belonging to the aeroplane. The fact that it isn't here shows that I mislaid it. Give me a bad mark, Frank."
"Well, I must say it's a queer stunt for you to forget anything, Andy Bird. But with dark coming along, and home some miles away, it's plain that we'll have to let the mending of that wing go till morning."
"But do you think, Frank, it's just safe to leave our pet hydroplane over night in this field on the Quackenboss farm?"
"Why not, Andy? Sky as clear as a bell; little or no wind promised; and then we can hire the farm hand, Felix Boggs, to keep an eye on it. Looks as easy as falling off a log."
"And all because I didn't put that little wrench where it belonged! Kick me, won't you, please, cousin; I deserve it."
"Well, I guess not. Didn't I make just as bad a break last week? I guess now, no boy's perfect. And I don't mind the walk home a bit. Fact is, it ought to do us both good, because we don't stretch our legs enough, as it is."
"You're the boss chum, Frank!"
"Then you're another. See what you get for calling me names. But when you've fastened down that plane so it can't get into trouble, if the wind should rise in the night, perhaps we'd better be hunting up this Felix Boggs, and then start for home.
"Well, I'm glad we'll get there in the night-time, Frank, even if the moon does happen to be nearly full."
"What makes you say that, Andy?"
"Because, when an aviator leaves his wounded machine in a field, and walks home, it makes him feel like a dog with his tail between his legs, sneaking along back of the fences."
Frank Bird laughed merrily at the picture drawn by his cousin and then stooping again, with a few deft turns of a heavy cord, helped Andy secure the broken plane so it would not get into trouble during the coming night.
After which the two boys headed toward the barns belonging to the farm, which just showed their tops above the adjacent rise.
While they are walking there it may be a good time for us to introduce the pair of young aviators to such readers as have not had the good fortune to meet them in previous volumes of this series of stories.
The cousins lived in the town of Bloomsbury, a thriving place situated on the southern shore of Sunrise Lake, which was a magnificent body of water, said to be nearly seventeen miles long by three wide, in places.
This lake having hilly shores that were heavily wooded in spots, and with numerous fine coves, afforded grand sport to the young people of Bloomsbury, both winter and summer.
The railroad skirted one shore and then passed through the town. Some miles off arose a lofty peak known as Old Thundertop, which had a road running part way up its side. The summit was believed to be utterly inaccessible to mortal man until one day the Bird boys managed to accomplish the wonderful feat by the aid of their aeroplane.
They had been spending all their spare time, when not in school, working upon the line that seemed to have a strange fascination for them. Frank's father was one of the best known doctors in town, a man of considerable means, and with a firm faith in his boys, so that he was easily convinced whenever Frank wished to do anything.
Andy had been living with his guardian for some time, until the return of his own father, Professor Bird, who had been lost while attempting a difficult balloon trip in Central America, and found in a most miraculous way by the two boys as told in a previous story.
Andy had inherited the passion which his father, a noted professor, had always had for navigating the air. It was a favorite expression of his "A bird by any other name would fly as high," and his cousin would retort: "A Bird takes to the air just as naturally as a duck does to water."
They had been doing some fine "stunts" during the last year or two; and it may be supposed that the people of Bloomsbury were more than a little proud of seeing the name of their town mentioned so favorably in the papers in connection with the doings of the Bird boys.
Of course, as is always the case, there was a rival in the field, who had been the cause of much trouble in the past, and still watched their work with an envious eye. This was a boy by the name of Percy Shelley Carberry, rather a bold fellow too, and as smart as they make them, only unscrupulous as to the means he employed by which to gain his ends.
Percy was the only son of a rich widow, who could never refuse him anything he demanded; and with unlimited cash at his disposal he had been able to do quite a few feats himself that might have gained him more or less fame, only that they were eclipsed by the accomplishments of Frank and Andy; and that was where the shoe pinched with Percy.
His temper was one of his weak spots, also a liking for fast life, which, of course included tippling; and the aviator who indulges to the slightest degree in strong drink is next door to a fool; for as he takes his life in his hands every time he leaves the ground, the necessity for a clear brain is apparent.
In most of his tricky work young Carberry had for a boon companion one "Sandy" Hollingshead, a sinewy chap, whose most prominent trait was his faculty for disappearing suddenly in a pinch. He was considerable of a boaster, but could always invent a most remarkable excuse for going before the storm broke. But Percy, no coward himself, knew how to make use of his sly crony; and despite their numerous quarrels, that often ended in actual fights, the pair of precious tricksters still kept company together.
Sandy was freckled had pale eyes and very blonde hair, that gave him a queer look. Those eyes never could look any one straight in the face, but shifted uneasily; and other boys said that Sandy, the cigarette smoker, was always on the watch for a quick "getaway."
The Bird boys, of course, had many friends among the lads of Bloomsbury; but only two who were close enough to be admitted freely to the workshop on the grounds of Frank's father's place, where the young inventors worked out many of their lofty ideas.
These were Larry Geohegan, and a small runt who had been called "Elephant" by his companions in a spirit of sport, and could not shake the name. His full name was Fenimore Cooper Small, and as a rule he had always been rather timid. But Elephant was always having queer ideas in which he believed fully himself; but which were nearly always jeered at by more practical Larry.
The two Bird boys had been out on this afternoon, trying some new arrangement in connection with their hydroplane, when they met with an accident when attempting to land on the Quackenboss farm, to make some changes they saw were needed, to improve the working of the machine.
Neither of them had been even scratched, but a certain amount of damage had befallen one of the planes, which might have been remedied on the spot in time to allow them to get back home easily, only for the unfortunate fact that just when they needed a monkey wrench the worst kind, it was discovered to be missing; perhaps the only occasion when such a thing had happened with the boys.
"I just saw somebody go into the barn there," remarked Frank, as they approached the large outbuildings connected with the successful farm of Josiah Quackenboss.
"Yes, and it was the farmer himself," added Andy. "I know him pretty well; and I guess you do too, because your father brought his little boy around when everybody thought he didn't have a single chance to get well. I don't believe we'll have any trouble getting Felix Boggs to look after our machine tonight, Frank."
They quickly reached the door of the barn and could hear the steady fall of the streams of milk passing into the buckets as the farmer and his hired hand pursued the regular business of the evening.
As the two boys entered, the half grown boy started up with an exclamation of alarm, for of course both Andy and Frank looked rather queer. Each of them had on a white woolen hood that fitted close to head and shoulders, for the air in the upper currents was very cold these days, and secured to this were goggles to protect the eyes, so that they would not water and dim the vision of the aviator at just a critical instant when they needed clear sight. Then they also wore warm colored mackinaw jackets, so that altogether Felix had reason to be startled when two such "sights" suddenly entered the barn. Why, even the gentle cows showed evidence of nervousness, and came near upsetting the milk buckets.
"Hello, Mr. Quackenboss!" called out Andy, cheerfully; "we're the Bird boys, and we've dropped in on you without an invitation. The fact is, we had a little trouble with our aeroplane, and landed in your field. How much rent will you charge us, Mr. Quackenboss; to let our machine lie there over night? It needs a little fixing which we can't do until morning."
Of course Andy was joking when he said this, and the farmer knew it as well as anything. He laughed as he came around out of the stall and offered his rough hand to each of the boys.
"How are you, Andy and Frank Bird?" he said, hearty. "Say, you did give us a little start when we first saw you. D'ye know what I thought boys? Why, I was just reading in the county paper about how the bank up at Jasper was robbed by two men last week. It told how they had their faces hid back of red handkerchiefs, just like they always do out West, you know. And first thing I sighted you two, my heart nigh about jumped up in my mought, because I thought them yeggs had dropped around to see if I'd collected my monthly milk accounts in town. And about leavin' your aeroplane in my field, why, there's little that I wouldn't do for the son of the man who saved my Billie, when everybody said he'd never get well again."
"We thought you might let us show Felix here where the aeroplane lies, and that we could arrange with him to kind of keep an eye on it tonight. Of course, there isn't one chance in a thousand that anything'd happen to injure it; but then that machine represents a heap of hard work, and considerable money besides, so we don't care to take chances with it.
"Sure he can, just as well as not, eh, Felix? Suppose you go out right now, and I'll finish the milking. In the morning I want to take a look at that contraption myself. I've seen you boys sailing around more'n a little, but never got close up to examine the aeroplane. Well, I guess all the money going couldn't tempt me to go with one of you. Skip along, Felix, now."
And the farm hand, a heavy-set boy, eagerly fell in behind Frank and Andy, as, after thanking Mr. Quackenboss heartily for his kindness they passed out of the barn. Felix considered this an event in the tame routine of farm life; and would be only too glad to stay up all night, if necessary, in order to guard the precious aeroplane.
Once in the field, the boys explained to Felix what they wanted him to do, and he promised not to meddle with anything connected with the engine or the aeroplane itself.
They were passing back again toward the barns, having left their prized possession in good shape, when Andy uttered a sudden exclamation that told of both surprise and disgust.
"What's the matter now?" asked Frank, who had been talking with Felix, and was hence not so wide awake as his chum.
"Just take a look over there, and see what's stopped on the road," remarked Andy.
"Seems to be a car, and I can see two heads raised above the top rail of the fence, as if the people in it had sighted our aeroplane sprawled out there in the field, and were wondering what sort of giant insect it could be," Frank went on.
"Look closer, Frank," the other boy went on to say, while his disgust deepened; "and you'll discover that the two fellows in that car happen to be Percy Carberry and his shadow, Sandy Hollingshead. Did you ever hear of such tough luck? Of all the boys in Bloomsbury they are the last we'd want to know that we'd left our new hydroplane out, unguarded, all night, in an open field. Guess I won't go home tonight, Frank. I'd rather camp out here with Felix. You let my folks know, and turn up in the morning with a new piece for that plane. That's settled and you can't change it."
"Perhaps I'd better stay with you, Andy," the other Bird boy remarked.
"No need of it," replied Andy, resolutely. "Besides, you know one of us ought to get busy in the shop, making that new piece we really need so that our job won't have to be done over again. You go, Frank. Perhaps Mr. Quackenboss would let you have a horse; or if you cared to, you give Percy a hail, and he'd take you back to town, I reckon. Goodness knows he owes you a heap, after the way you saved his life the time he was wrecked up on Old Thundertop."
What Andy referred to was a very exciting event which had occurred not so very long before, and which was fully treated in the volume preceding this.
Frank shook his head in the negative.
"I never want to ask any favor of Percy Carberry," he said, resolutely. "And if Mr. Quackenboss can't let me have a horse to ride, why, the walking is good, and I can make it in less than an hour. So don't mention that again please, Andy."
"It's too late now, anyhow," remarked the other, drily, "because there they go, spinning down the road like wildfire. Percy never does anything except in a whirl. He's as bold as they make them, and the only wonder to me is that he hasn't met with a terrible accident before now. But somehow he seems to escape, even when he smashes his flier to kindling wood. His luck beats the Dutch; he believes in it himself, you know."
"But some day it's going to fail, and then he'll never what happened to him," declared Frank. "Of all the professions in the world, that of a flying machine man is the one where a cool head and quick judgment are the things most needed. And the fellow who takes great chances, depending on his good luck, is bound to meet up with trouble. But if you are bound to stay, Andy, I'd better be off."
Upon entering the barn they found that the farmer had finished his task, and was pitching some new sweet hay to the cows.
Frank suggested hiring a horse from him, but Mr. Quackenboss scoffed at the idea.
"You're as welcome to the use of my saddle hoss as the sunlight is after a spell of rain," he said, heartily. "Here, Felix, get Bob out; and you'll find my new saddle hanging on that peg back of the harness room door. And as for Andy, who's going to stay over with us, we'll find a chair for him at the supper table, and only hope hell tell us some of the many things you two have gone through with, both around this region, and away down in South America, that time you found the lost Professor."
Inside of five minutes Frank was in the saddle, and waving his hand to his chum and cousin, of whom he was more fond than if Andy had been his own brother.
"He'd be back tonight with the part we need, and we could make home in the moonlight," said Andy, as, with the farmer he headed for the house; "only both of us have promised our folks not to travel at night-time when it can be helped. Even if the moon is bright there's always a risk about landing, because it's a tricky light at the best, and even a little mistake may wreck things. And so Frank will work in the shop tonight, and be along in the morning."
Once in the farmhouse Andy was given a chance to wash up, and then met the housewife, as well as little Billie, the small chap whose life good Doctor Bird had saved. Mrs. Quackenboss proved to be a very warm-hearted woman, and any one who answered to the name of Bird could have the very best that the place afforded. There was never a night that she did not call down the blessings of heaven upon the physician who had been instrumental in preventing her darling Billie from being taken away.
The table was fairly groaning under the weight of good things to eat, for when company comes the average farmer's wife never knows when to stop bringing out the most appetizing things to eat ever seen.
"Perhaps I'm the luckiest fellow going to be able to stay over-night with you, Mrs. Quackenboss," laughed Andy, as he sat down to the generous spread.
"Well, you know, we never like anybody to get up from our table hungry," she explained.
"The chances are that I won't be able to get up at all, for if I try to taste half I see here, I'll be foundered, as sure as anything," Andy went on to say.
The farmer was not going to allow much time to pass talking about common every-day topics. Those might do all very well when he had ordinary guests; but when fortune sent him one of the now famous Bird boys for company, he wanted to listen to some thrilling accounts of adventures that had come the way of the young and daring aviators, from the time they built their first aeroplane, after purchasing most of the parts, and found that they had an immediate rival in Percy Carberry.
Andy was willing to oblige, and kept those at the table, including the farm hand, Felix Boggs, thrilled with his stories. But the farmer could not help but notice how modest the boy was, giving most of the credit to his cousin Frank, when everybody about Bloomsbury knew that Andy deserved just as much credit, if not more, than the other Bird Boy.
After supper Andy and Felix prepared to go out to where the hydroplane lay. They meant to take blankets along, and make themselves as comfortable as possible for a night's vigil.
Andy would not have dreamed of doing this only for the fact that he knew Percy and his shadow, Sandy, were aware of the plight of the precious flier. And while Frank was inclined to partly believe that the Carberry boy might let up in his mischief-making ways for awhile at least, after all they had done for him up on Old Thundertop, Andy could not bring himself to trust the other further than he could see him. He believed that the nature of Percy was so "rotten" as he called it, that, given a chance to injure his successful rivals, he would shut his eyes to all sense of gratitude, and just lie awake nights trying to get the better of them, by fair means or foul.
Andy also knew that the other was particularly chagrined, because he did not know what manner of a new flier the Bird boys had in hand now. He had resorted to various expedients in order to find out, but all without success.
On this account, if no other, then, Andy believed that the others would be apt to come out here during the night to examine the hydroplane with the aluminum pontoons under its body for floating on the water; and perhaps to slily injure it in such a fashion that it would break down when next Frank and Andy mounted into the air.
It happened that they had alighted close to one corner of the big field, though in plain view from the pike. Andy had noted a clump of trees conveniently near, and already his mind was made up that he and Felix would camp there, to pass the night in alternately keeping watch and ward over the precious aeroplane that lay there like a wounded bird.
Felix was quivering with eagerness. This was like a picnic in the humdrum life of the farm hand. Except when the circus came to town, or there was a Harvest Home day, poor Felix knew little beyond the eternal grind of getting up before dawn, and working until long after sunset.
First of all, Andy walked around the stranded aeroplane, and took occasion to explain how it worked, using as simple language as he could find, because Felix was not at all up in professional terms, and would not have understood, had the other spoken as he might have done when talking with a fellow aviator.
Then they sought the trees, and spreading their heavy blankets so as to make as comfortable a seat as possible, started to talk in low tones.
The bright moon hung there in the sky, and it seemed as though every foot of the big meadow could be scrutinized just as well as in the daytime; but Andy knew from experience how deceptive moonlight can be, and how cautious one has to be when trying any difficult feat at such a time.
"I've heard people talk about reading by moonlight, and how they could tell a friend half a mile away," he remarked to Felix; "but let me say that it's all a humbug. There never was a brighter night than this, I reckon you'll agree with me, Felix; and yet look at that stump not a stone's throw away; you couldn't say now whether it was a cow lying down, a horse, a rock, or a stump, which last I take the thing to be. Am I right about that."
"Why, sure's I live, that ere is a fact, Andy," replied the other; "but I never'd a thought it. Moonlight fools a feller the worst kind. I throwed a stone at a whippoor-will as was perched on the roof a-keepin' us all awake nights, and would yuh believe me, she went right through the winder of the attic, kersmash. Never was more surprised in my life. And you don't ketch me heavin' stones by moonlight agin."
From one subject they drifted to another. Andy even told more or less about how Percy Carberry had hated and envied them in the past, and how often he had tried to do them a serious injury.
"Frank seems to think he will give up that mean sort of play, because we really saved his life that time we had our race to the rock on the summit of Old Thundertop, and his aeroplane was smashed there; so one of us had to carry Percy and Sandy home, bruised as they were. But I don't, because I know it'd take more than that to change the spots of a fellow of his kind. And chances are, Felix, we'll find those two boys sneaking up here before the middle of the night."
"Wish't they would," chuckled the farm hand. "You're ready to give 'em a warm time of it, I guess, Andy. Be as good as any old circus to me, just to see how they jump when you open up. Let 'em come, says I. The sooner the better, too."
Long they lay there, and talked in low tones. Felix wanted to make the best of this glorious chance. A new world seemed to open up to the farm hand, as he heard of the wonderful things the Bird boys had seen, and taken part in. Perhaps ambition was beginning to awaken in the boy's soul, and he might not after this be so satisfied to plod along in the same old rut every day of the year. Perhaps the seed thus sown might take root, and bring him either great good or harm, as the tide of fortune chose.
"We heard as how a feller was up there to watch you boys fly not a great while ago, Andy," he went on to say; "an' he was so took by the way you managed things that he wanted to get you to go in with a big concern run by a boss airman; but you just up and told him you couldn't do that same. Was that so?"
"Why, yes, you must mean Mr. Marsh," returned the other, modestly. "I believe he did read some account of us that got into the papers, and was sent up here to look us up. He was kind enough to compliment Frank on the way he made that corkscrew climb; and also on his volplane drop; said we had both of them down pretty fine; and he did hint at our having a chance to go in with his company; but of course we couldn't think of that. We're too young to dream of being professional fliers yet; and besides, we've got to go to school again pretty soon. So we turned the offer down. But Mr. Marsh was mighty kind, and we liked him a heap."
"Heard how he was watching you fly, when that little chap belonging to Cragan, the fisherman, got overboard, out in the lake; and this same gent, he saw Frank dive right off his aeroplane like a bullfrog, and save little Tommy. That jest took him by storm, he told Mr. Quackenboss, and he meant to get you boys for his company if money could do it, but it all ended in smoke, didn't it."
It was almost half past nine before Andy decided that the time had come for them to shut up shop, and do no more talking.
"I'm going to take the first watch myself, Felix, and I promise to wake you up when I get to gaping, whether it's midnight or two in the morning," he said, as he settled himself more comfortably on his blanket, and pulled it up over his shoulders, because the night air was already quite chilly, and would undoubtedly be much more so ere long.
"But chances air, Andy, they're a-goin' to come inside an hour or so; and you must promise to give me a kick, if so be I'm sleepin', then. You will, won't you?"
"Sure," replied the Bird boy. "After you being so kind as to keep me company, I'd never think of making a move, and you asleep. So just settle down, and don't get excited if you feel me pushing my toe into your ribs later on."
Felix was tired from his day's work. He had probably been constantly busy since four the morning before. It was therefore a fight between weary muscles and brain, and the desire to stay awake, in order to see all that went on.
This lasted for perhaps ten minutes.
Then Andy knew that Nature had won out, for he could catch the regular breathing of the stout farmhand, and from this judged that Felix must be sound asleep.
From where Andy sat he had a fine view of the field on all sides of the broken hydroplane, and especially in that quarter toward the fence, beyond which the road leading to Bloomsbury lay.
He kept up a constant watch, never relaxing his vigilance for a single second, for Andy knew that while one might be on guard for fifty-nine minutes, if he relaxed just for a breath, that was almost sure to be the time when something would happen. How often he had proved that when fishing, and taking his eye from his float just to glance up at some passing bird, when down it would bob, and he had missed a chance to hook a finny prize.
The time passed on.
Three separate times did Andy look at his little dollar nickel watch, and in the bright moonlight he could see that it was now after eleven. He was beginning to believe that if there was anything doing that night, it must come about very soon, when he thought he heard a sound down the road that made him think a car that had been coming along had stopped short.
Thrilled with the expectation that a change was about to occur, he sat up a little more eagerly, and continued to scan the line of fence, as well as the field lying between the road and the helpless hydroplane.
NOT CAUGHT NAPPING
Five, ten minutes passed.
Andy was beginning to fear that after all he had been mistaken, and that it had been some other sound he had heard when he thought a car had stopped down the road toward Bloomsbury.
Then all at once he detected a movement over at the fence, and the figure of a man or boy was seen to quickly clamber over, dropping in the field. Even as he looked a second followed suit, then a third and even a fourth.
"Whew! what's all this mean?" Andy whispered to himself, as he took notice of the fact that there was quite a procession of fellows changing base from the road to the field: "Percy and Sandy thought they might need help in their little game of smashing our machine, or carrying it off somewhere, so as to give us a bad scare; and I reckon they've picked up a couple more of the same kind as themselves. Well we ought to be able to take care of four just as easy as two 5 and the howl will be all the louder, I guess."
He moved over a little, and with the toe of his shoe nudged Felix under the ribs.
"Quit shovin' there!" muttered the farm hand, possibly thinking he was in bed with some other boy.
Luckily the night breeze was making the windmill turn, not very far away; and as it needed oiling, there was a constant succession of squeaks and groans; so that the chances of Felix being heard when he spoke in this way were very small. Andy would not take any further risk but creeping over shook the boy roughly.
"Wake up, Felix; they're coming across the pasture!" he whispered in his ear.
That was quite enough for Felix. He seemed to grasp the situation at once, and only muttering the one significant word, "Gosh!" he immediately sat up.
Andy, moving as little as possible, pointed to where moving figures could just be detected advancing in a bent-over attitude.
"How many?" whispered the farm hand.
"I counted four," replied the other.
"Whee! bully for that!" chuckled Felix, no doubt tickled because the promised circus would be a double-ring affair, instead of the ordinary kind, and therefore quite up to date.
Both of them lay there watching intently.
They could see how the intruders were crawling along, anxious apparently only to avoid being seen from the direction of the farmhouse, the roof of which showed dimly in the moonlight over on the other side of the little ridge.
As the creepers drew closer, the watchers saw that they had adopted the method spoken of by the farmer in connection with the bank thieves, keeping their identity secret—they all seemed to have handkerchiefs tied across their faces, and kept their hats pulled well down, so that they could easily have passed close to an acquaintance without much risk of discovery.
Of course Andy could tell that they were boys, and not men; and it was an easy task for him to guess who two of the party at least must be.
The preparations he and Felix had made were about as simple as anything could be. The farm hand possessed an old musket that had been used in the Civil war, and which, muzzleloader that it was, had probably brought down many a plump rabbit when held in the hands of the owner, as well as black ducks in the marshes along the shore of Lake Sunrise.
Besides this, the farmer had loaned Andy his double-barrel Marlin shotgun, an old model when compared with the up-to-date hammerless and the repeaters, but no doubt a good, serviceable weapon.
Of course they had no idea of trying to pepper the marauders, though it would seem as though they richly deserved to be punctured with a few small bird shot, because of the meanness of their contemplated action.
To give them a good fright would satisfy Andy, and he had made the eager farm hand promise to fire up in the air also because he was afraid lest Felix allow his indignation to have full swing, when he saw what the four boys meant to do.
They were skulking very close to where the aeroplane lay now, and the critical moment had undoubtedly arrived when the surprise must be launched.
"Ready, Felix!" he whispered, in the softest of tones.
"Yep!" grunted the farm hand, at his elbow.
"One, two, three! Blaze away!"
With the last word Felix let go with his old musket, into which he must have rammed a tremendous charge, for it made a report like unto the crash of thunder, and came very near sending the owner flat on his back.
Immediately on the heels of this boom Andy pulled one of the triggers of his double-barrel, so that the report seemed almost merged in with that of the other weapon.
The four boys had jumped to their feet at the flash and report which startled them when Felix fired. And as they turned to dash wildly away and that second shot came, they became madly excited, evidently under the full belief that they were being made targets for a whole battalion of sharpshooters.
Two of them collided, and rolled over on the grass, kicking wildly and scrambling to their feet again, to resume their flight toward the fence, which doubtless seemed three times as distant as when they were creeping toward the stranded aeroplane.
The whole thing was so ridiculous that Andy burst out laughing, and could hardly hold his gun; seeing which the farm hand made bold to snatch it out of his hands, and aiming directly at the place where the fugitives were just then in the act of mounting the fence in their panicky flight, he pulled the trigger.
There was a series of loud yells, which would seem to indicate that a few of the small shot contained in the shells with which the Marlin had been loaded must have reached their mark, and pricked the boys like so many needles would have done.
That was the last seen of them, though for a short time they could be heard running along the hard road, and exchanging excited comments, possibly comparing their injuries.
Then a car was heard to start off with a great deal of bluster, and came dashing along past the farmhouse, though those in it bent low enough to keep any one from discovering who they might be.
Andy did not know whether to be a little angry or not because of what the impetuous Felix had done, but apparently nobody had been seriously hurt; and on the whole, the four "sneaks," as Felix called them, deserved some punishment; so he let it go at that.
There was no further alarm that night. Neither of the guardians of the hydroplane expected any, after the prompt measures that had been taken to inform meddlers of the warm reception they might expect.
All the same, Andy kept up his vigil until sleep almost overpowered him, when he aroused Felix to finish out the night.
With the coming of early dawn he knew that the safety of the imperiled aeroplane was assured, and that when the horn blew, he and Felix could both go in to breakfast. Indeed, he released the farm hand long before that time, so that he might go about his usual early morning chores; and Andy himself found plenty to do around the machine until summoned to the morning meal.
The farmer was a hard sleeper, and had not heard a single thing that had taken place; so that he was surprised when told how the enemy had come after all, and what measures the boys had taken in order to frighten them away.
He even told Felix he could have a day off as soon as the last load of hay was in the barn, just to show how he appreciated the bold way in which his hired help had tickled the rascals when they were getting over the fence. Indeed, the farmer said Andy had been too lenient, and that if it had been his aeroplane that was threatened in that mean way, he would have felt wholly justified in emptying both barrels of the gun after the marauders, first giving them time to get a certain distance off, so that no serious results might follow the discharge.
But Andy was never a vindictive lad, and he believed the fellows had received sufficient punishment, especially as no one knew exactly what they had meant to do in connection with the new hydroplane. Possibly Percy only wanted to look it over at close quarters, and knowing he would not be allowed to do so if he asked permission outright, sought to take this opportunity. But from the way in which they had rigged themselves out, so as to avoid being recognized, if seen, it looked as though the four boys had something more than that in view.
However, all's well that ends well, and Andy was quite satisfied with the way things had turned out.
"Here's hopin' a few of 'em may be limpin' 'round this same mornin', and feelin' rayther stiff in the legs," Felix took occasion to remark, as they sat at table, and Andy was again in danger of being foundered by the multitude of good things which the farmer's wife spread thereon, bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, scrapple, puffy biscuits, apple sauce, doughnuts, cold pie, jelly, and finally heaping dishes of light pancakes, which were to be smothered in butter and real maple syrup made on the farm each early spring when the sap was running.
"I expect Frank will be along any minute now," Andy remarked, about the time he had to firmly refuse a fourth helping of cakes, because he could hardly breathe comfortably. "It wouldn't take him long to do what little work was necessary, in our shop, which you know my old guardian, Colonel Whympers, built for us before we found my father, when he was marooned in that valley in South America, a prisoner for many months, because the cliffs around prevented him from escaping. And of course he'll gallop out here on your saddle horse, Mr. Quackenboss."
"Well, work ain't got any call on either Felix or me until we see all that goes on, that's flat," remarked the farmer, with a smile, "and it's lucky he done the milkin' already, or else the cows'd have to wait long after their usual hour, which is a bad way to treat 'em, you know."
They all went out to the field, even the housewife and little Billie wanting to see what a real aeroplane looked like at close quarters. Many times had all of them seen the Bird boys, and perhaps Percy Carberry as well, soaring aloft as if the upper air currents might be their natural heritage; but up to now they had never had the chance to examine one of the wonderful machines, and touch the various parts gingerly as though afraid of injuring them.
"Beats all what people are a-doing nowadays," ventured the farmer, shaking his head with astonishment, almost awe, as he looked the thing over. "They ain't even contented to just fly like a red-tailed hawk, or an eagle that kin look the sun direct in the eye; but now they got to have a contraption that's at home in the air or on the water; a hydroplane you called, it didn't you, Andy? And them ere twin pontoons underneath, that look kinder like gondolas, as you say, are made of aluminum, and kin hold up the whole affair when you light on water. But tell me, how in all creation kin you ever mount up agin, once you settle there?"
"Why that's the easiest thing of all," replied the young aviator; "you've watched a wild duck get up many a time, haven't you, Mr. Quackenboss; well, we do just the same, only instead of flapping our wings, we start the engine, and skim along the surface for a little distance, then elevate the planes, and immediately begin to soar upward. And it does the stunt as gracefully as anything you ever saw. Some time I hope to give you a chance to see how it works. When we leave here, of course we'll use the bicycle wheels you see underneath, and run along the ground until going fast enough to soar. But I think I see Frank coming, away down the road there."
"That's right," declared the farmer; "I know my Bob as far as I can see him, and his gallop in the bargain."
Frank was evidently coming at full speed, and Andy presently got the idea in his head that his cousin seemed to be strangely in a hurry for him. He wondered whether anything could have happened at home, and if Frank would prove to be the bearer of bad news.
The other dashed into the narrow road leading from the pike to the barns of the Quackenboss farm. Hitching the horse to a post, he started toward the spot in the big field where the two boys and the farmer awaited his coming, close beside the stranded aeroplane.
Frank was carrying the little part he had expected to knock together at the workshop; but as he drew nearer, his chum could readily see that he was considerably excited.
"Is everything all right here, Andy?" he called out, even before reaching them.
"Yes," replied the other Bird boy, promptly, "though we did have a call from four fellows who had their faces hidden behind handkerchiefs, but we fired our guns in the air and nearly frightened them to death. Felix grabbed the double-barrel I had, and gave them a last shot when they were climbing the fence over there; and we heard some howls too, so I guess a few of the Number Eight shot pinked them. But what makes you look so bothered, Frank? Has anything happened at home?"
"There sure has," came from Frank, as he joined them, and cast a pleased glance over the flying machine that lay upon the grass like a huge bat, with wings extended.
"Tell me what it was?" demanded Andy, breathlessly.
"Somebody broke into our hangar and workshop, and knocked things around at a great rate," Frank went on to say. "Acted like they might be just mad because they didn't find our new machine there, and wanted to show their spite. And nobody in your house knew a thing about it till I came along, after an early breakfast, meaning to get the piece I'd been working on up to eleven last night, when I went home to sleep, and locked up the place as usual."
"That's a queer piece of news you're telling me, Frank," said the other, looking puzzled, as well he might.
THE STARTLING NEWS
"Well," said Frank, with a frown on his face. "It's puzzled me a whole lot, let me tell you, Andy. Because, of course, my first thought was that it must have been Percy Carberry's work; but now that you tell me he was here, and knew we hadn't fetched our hydroplane home, I hardly know what to think."
"Did you say you worked till about eleven at the shop?" asked Andy, quickly.
"Three minutes after when I quit, locked up, and went home," Frank replied.
"That was just about the time they showed up here," the other went on to say. "Unless one of us is wrong about the time, they couldn't well be in two places at the same minute, now, could they? Seems like it might have been some other crowd that broke into our hangar, Frank!"
"But why? Did they want to play fast and loose with our machine, and force an entrance just for that purpose? Listen to something I'm going to tell you, Andy. I found several things on our work bench where somebody had left them, without meaning to do it, I guess. Here's one."
Frank while saying this held something up which he had taken from the package he carried under his arm.
"Why, that's a splendid electric torch, looks like to me?" exclaimed Andy.
"Just what it is, now," the other agreed.
"And it was forgotten in our shop, was it?" demanded Andy.
"I made out that whoever entered used this first, and then lighted our lamp to look around with, putting out the torch, and laying it down. When they skipped out, why, they just forgot all about it, also these."
Again did Frank make a dive into his pocket, and dangled something before the astonished eyes of his cousin.
"Great Caesar! what d'ye call those things?" gasped Andy, staring as though hardly able to believe his eyes.
"Well, as near as I can make out, they're a couple of half masks made out of black muslin, and just like a domino worn at a masquerade ball." Frank remarked, with positive conviction in his voice and manner.
"Masks?" echoed the other; "and the fellows who broke open our shop wore them, did they? Well, the crowd that came out here seemed to be satisfied to tie handkerchiefs across their faces, and pull their hats down."
"I don't know that they wore them," Frank went on, "but they had the things along and laid them down with the lantern, forgetting the whole lot when they cleared out. Perhaps your dog got to barking and frightened them off before they found a chance to do much damage."
"A regular bullseye electric torch, and black masks like cracksmen use—say, tell me, Frank, what's coming over our quiet country up here lately? There was the affair over in a neighboring town, when yeggmen broke into the bank, and robbed it; and now here you tell me we've had a little smash-up on our own account, with the burglars leaving cards behind them. But what d'ye think now anybody would want to go poking around in our shop for, Frank?"
His cousin was looking very grave.
"Well, you forget that we've been working overtime this winter on several little inventions that, if we ever complete them, will make a stir in the world of aviation."
"Jupiter, I had let that slip away from me, for a fact, Frank!" exclaimed the other, looking rather startled.
"Of course, it sounds pretty big for us to even imagine that any party could take enough interest in what the Bird boys are doing to come up here, intending to break into the shop, and learn our secrets; but what else can we think, tell me that, Andy?"
"But they wouldn't find out much, even if they had six hours to poke around our shop in, would they, Frank?"
"I guess you're right, because we've made it a rule to be cautious enough to hide our work and cover our tracks as we go along. But let's get busy now, and put the plane into shape, so we can slip along home. And as we work we can keep on talking as much as we want to," Frank went on to say.
The farmer and Felix still loitered around, determined to see the wonderful contrivance make a start, and expecting the greatest treat of their lives, when that event occurred.
Such experienced workers as the two Bird boys had now become would find little or no trouble about carrying out the work they had on hand. Every steel wire guy was kept as taut as a fiddle string; and by the time they were done handling the aeroplane it would be in apple-pie shape for work.
"Did they smash much in the shop, Frank?" Andy asked after they had been working some little time, and making fair progress.
"Why, no, it didn't seem to me that they took the time to do great damage; and that's why I fancy they were scared off, somehow or other. They went in a hurry, or else they would never have forgotten those things. And when I looked around I made up my mind that they were just mad because they didn't find our machine at home, and so tried to let us know that fact."
"Perhaps it was a second detachment of the same crowd that came out here?" suggested Andy, speculatively.
"Tell me, what would they be doing with electric torches, and black masks? Now, you can see that these have been pretty well used; they're not new ones just cut out by pattern at home with mother's scissors. These have been made by an experienced operator, and were bought either for a mask ball or some other purpose."
"Well, perhaps we'll never know the truth about it," grumbled Andy, who never liked anything to puzzle him and would lie awake half the night trying to find the answer to a conundrum that had been offered to him by a boy friend.
"Oh! yes, I've got a hunch that we will," chirped his cousin, with a sublime confidence that quite won Andy's heart; if he could not see any good reason for hope himself, the fact that his chum pinned his faith on it was enough to bolster up his own courage.
Meanwhile they were both as busy as bees, and the work was approaching completion.
"What are you looking up every little while that way for?" Frank asked, after noticing that Andy cocked his eye upward several times, and appeared to be scanning the heavens in an expectant manner; "the day is all right, so far as wind goes, and we ought to get along home without a bit of trouble."
"Oh! I wasn't bothering my head about that part of it," the other replied, with a scornful smile. "We've been out in all sorts of weather; and now that we have a chance to try this new invention of the Wrights', that makes it next to impossible to tilt an aeroplane over no matter how you move around when up in the air, we can feel safer than ever. Even a fool would be kept from meeting with an accident when protected by that wonderful balancing bar that responds to the slightest movement of the human body."
"Then it was something else you had on your mind, was it, Andy?"
"Well, I was wondering just what took Percy and Sandy out at daybreak this morning, that's all," replied the other.
"What's that? Did you see them pass over in their biplane this morning?" demanded the other.
"Felix woke me up at dawn to tell me there was a queer chugging overhead, that sort of scared him. I jumped up, because of course I knew what that must mean. And sure enough I was just in time to see a biplane pass over at a good height, and head up the lake. I lost it back of the barn, because a flock of crows came flying along, stretching out for a mile or two; and among the lot I couldn't make out just what was biplane and which was crow. It was pretty high up, too, I thought."
"But you made sure it was Percy's biplane?" asked Frank, interested somewhat, for somehow the other rival flier was always doing such bold stunts that he could not help feeling as though it might pay to keep track of what he was doing, lest their interests clash unexpectedly, in midair perhaps.
"I ought to know the way it glides, and the whole general look; and I'd be willing to take my affidavy that was the Canvas-back, as he calls his biplane."
"And he was in it, of course, with Sandy too?" Frank went on.
"I could just make out that there were two aboard," said Andy, "but somehow it seemed to me that Percy had altered his whole way of piloting his airship, or else he was drunk, and hardly knew what he was doing."
Frank whistled to indicate his surprise and consternation:
"When it gets as rough as that you can take it from me that Percy's mother will hear something simply awful about him before long. He's bound to go from bad to worse; and everybody knows what the end of such an aviator is going to be."
"But what under the sun could he be off at daylight this morning for?" Andy went on to remark, as though that thing had been bothering him ever since the moment he lost track of the biplane among the teetering, cawing crows.
Frank shrugged his shoulders as he replied:
"Did you ever know any reason for half the things Percy does? He just acts from a sudden impulse. Remember all that happened when he followed us down there to Columbia in South America, and tried to give us all the trouble he could make up. And there have been lots of other times too, we can look back at, all of which prove what I am saying that he is often like a ship without a rudder. Now, perhaps, he's got the crazy notion in his head that we might prosecute him either for what he tried to do up here to our hydroplane, or on account of breaking into our hangar, and doing a certain amount of damage, if the vandal was Percy Carberry."
"That sounds a little reasonable, anyhow, Frank. Queer that I never seem to get hold of these things, and they just float along as easy as anything to you. But it looks as if we had her all primed up now as steady as a church. How about it, Frank?"
For answer the other touched several taut wire guys with a peculiar little movement of finger and thumb, and each one responded with a musical note that was the sweetest possible sound in the responsive ear of the young aviators.
"All done, and let's be off," he said, presently, after the last test had been applied.
Accordingly they shook hands with Farmer Quackenboss, his good wife, and Felix, in the palm of which latter Andy made sure to leave a greenback that made the boy grin broadly.
Three minutes later Frank sang out the word, and both the farmer and Felix ran along with the machine for a dozen paces or so, when it left them behind, taking on speed, and finally rushing over the ground at a tremendous pace.
Uptilting the planes caused it to leave the ground and start to curve gracefully upward, as the whizzing propeller did its noisy duty.
They could hear the farmer and his hired hand shouting themselves hoarse with delight at having actually witnessed the start of a modern aeroplane; but naturally the sound grew fainter and fainter in their ears as they left the field and the squatty farmhouse far behind.
Having arisen to the height of several hundred feet, Frank headed toward Bloomsbury. Like a true and alert pilot he was watching and listening to ascertain how their recent work held; and presently a satisfied expression crossing his face announced that he found his faith well justified.
They had skimmed along for perhaps a mile or more when Andy made a certain discovery that caused him to call out.
"Look along the road below and ahead, Frank," he said, "and you'll see something that makes you think of old times, when we hunted, in company with Chief Waller, for those men who looted Leffingwell's jewelry establishment."
"Why, as sure as you're born, Andy, it does look like the Chief; and he's sitting in a vehicle, waving his hat. He seems to be looking up at us, and now that I've turned off the motor to glide a little I can hear him shouting."
"Frank, do you think he's just saluting us, or does he want us to come down?" demanded Andy, in some apprehension.
"Now he's making all sorts of gestures, and honestly I think he means that he wants to see us. Had we better drop in that open field just alongside the road? Looks good to me for a rise when we want to start again."
"Whatever you think best, Frank; I'm always willing to be guided by you. Mighty seldom you make a bad mess of it, while I often do. Yes, let's drop down, and if the field turns out to be pretty smooth, we'll land."
Accordingly, the hydroplane which was of course now in a condition for making a landing with the wheels below the aluminum pontoons, circled around, dropping lower and lower, until presently it came to a stop in the field close to the fence.
When it landed it was done so beautifully that, as Andy enthusiastically said, an egg would hardly have broken had it come between. And there, not more than twenty feet away, the man, dressed in a blue uniform and wearing a silver shield with the words "Chief of Police" engraved upon it, was soothing his horse, which had apparently been badly frightened by the swooping down of what seemed to be a great roc, or some other species of now extinct gigantic kings of the air.
"What's up, Chief?" asked Frank, as soon as they had reached the road together.
"Then you haven't heard the terrible news; they told me you left home to come up here about daybreak; and we didn't find it out until an hour ago. The bank in Bloomsbury was broken open last night, the safe rifled, and the thieves have disappeared in the queerest way ever heard of, for they left no trace behind. And when I saw you boys aloft, I was in hopes you might have seen something of the bank looters."
THE EXCITEMENT GROWS
"Well, what d'ye think of that for news, eh, Frank?" burst out Andy, in his usual impetuous way, after the Bloomsbury Chief of Police had made this startling announcement.
Frank was as a rule much cooler than his cousin. He had undoubtedly been equally astounded to hear of the terrible calamity that had befallen the banking institution, in which most of the leading citizens of the town were financially interested; but he certainly did not show it the same way.
His eyebrows went up to indicate astonishment; and a slight frown settled on his grave face, as he replied to Andy's question.
"It's a stunner, just as you say, Andy; but I wish the Chief would tell us a few more details. I think it's a little queer nobody seemed to have any suspicion of this awful business at the time I left home on horseback, to ride up to the Quackenboss farm, where you had been watching our injured aeroplane all night."
"Well," continued the head of the Bloomsbury police force; "that's because the yeggs worked so neatly they never left a bit of mess around to arouse suspicion; and the first thing that was known of the looting of the bank was when Seth Jarvie, the day watchman, went into the place at seven this morning to relieve Cadger, the night man, and found him lying there, tied up like a bundle of goods, and nearly dead with fright and humiliation."
"Whew!" was the way Andy relieved his pent-up feelings at this point; while his cousin went on asking questions.
"Then Cadger must have seen the robbers, if they captured him; how about that, Chief?" he demanded, eagerly; for the excitement was beginning to take hold of him.
"That's right, he did, and was able to give us more or less information," the police officer continued. "Of course as soon as Jarvie saw what had happened he knew it was a case for me to handle, and so he ran across to Headquarters; and in a jiffy we had thrown a cordon of police around the building to keep out the curious citizens who would have no business inside, and spoil any trace of the rascals."
"And would you mind telling us what Cadger had to tell, Chief?" asked Frank.
"Not at all, because I'm depending on you boys to help run the thieves down, if you feel like giving the authorities any assistance," the other replied, craftily.
Frank's answer was immediate and to the point.
"Of course we'll do anything that's in our power, Chief. Both our fathers are interested in that bank; and besides, the good name of the town must suffer if it is wrecked by a wandering band of yeggmen. And we can understand why you should want to capture the thieves, Chief; because that's a part of your business. Please tell us what the bank watchman had to say."
"Then I will, and without any frills, if I can make it that way," returned the other earnestly. "Cadger says he was caught napping, not that he was asleep; but never dreaming of any danger, he stepped over to the door when he heard a knock and a voice said: 'It's me, Cadger, Mr. Hedden, the cashier; I forgot some important papers, and have gotten out of bed to come back for them. Let me in without attracting any attention, if you can.'"
"What do you think of the smartness of that?" exclaimed Andy. "And so of course poor old Cadger, who is as honest as the day is long, never suspected any trick, but went and opened the door a crack?"
"Just what he did," returned the Chief, "and as that side of the bank was in the shadow he could only see the figure of a man, who slipped in alongside him. Before he knew what was happening he was being chocked by a pair of strong hands. Cadger started to struggle but another man must have joined the first, for he was knocked unconscious by a cruel blow, that's left his face all bloody and after that he didn't know a thing for an hour or two."
"Whee! you've got me all worked up with your story, Chief," said Andy again. "I can just seem to see the whole thing happening. And chances are, that when Cadger did come to, he found himself tied up, and unable to even whisper?"
"He had hard work to get enough breath, they had fastened the bandage across his mouth so tight; but he could see out of one eye. And lying there, Cadger watched the two yeggs go through the whole operation of getting nitroglycerine planted, and using all sorts of clothes and even the rugs off the floor of the president's room to deaden the sound of the explosion."
"They were old hands at the business, that's sure," remarked Frank, when the officer paused to catch his breath; for he was talking unusually fast in his desire to give them all the particulars in as brief a space of time as possible.
"Yes, there can be no doubt of that," the Chief went on to say, wagging his head wisely; "and they had been able in some way to get on to a lot of things that make us wonder like the name of the cashier and the night-watchman. Looks mighty much like they must have had a friend around Bloomsbury, who put them wise to those facts. Then they seemed to have the running of the trains down pat also; for long after they had their arrangements made they just sat down and waited until the freight going north and passing Bloomsbury at two-eighteen was pounding up-grade from Deering's Crossing, and making all manner of noise."
"Oh! to think of the smartness of that, would you?" burst out Andy. "I was wondering how they could blow open the safe, and the sound of the explosion never even be heard over at Headquarters, only half a block away; but now I see how it could be done. Just like a fellow says he can pull a hair out of your head, and you not feel it; and he makes out to give you a thump on the head with his other hand at the same time, so of course you never notice him pulling the hair."
"Just about on the same principle," said the officer, nodding; "for when that heavy freight goes pounding past the station, it makes enough noise to drown almost any sort of sound. The windows rattle, and we always have to stop talking until the caboose gets past. And that was the time they chose to explode their juice, with an absolute certainty that no policeman's ear would hear a single thing."
"And Cadger saw it all, did he?" asked practical Frank.
"A good lot of it, by twisting his head from time to time," replied Chief Waller. "And after the thing had been successfully done, he could watch the two thieves gathering the swag together, and putting it in a satchel they found in the cashier's room. Then, just at a quarter to three they doused the glim, which was only an electric torch one of them carried, and skipped out, locking the door on poor Cadger. It was hours afterwards when the day watchman came on duty and the discovery followed."
Frank and Andy had somehow turned, and exchanged a significant look about this time; and the expression of astonishment on the face of the latter deepened.
"Did you say an electric torch, Chief?" demanded Frank, immediately.
"Yes, one of the handy kind that are used so commonly now," the other replied.
"Tell us, did Cadger say anything about the thieves wearing masks over their faces; or did they use handkerchiefs to hide them from him?"
"I didn't mention that matter, but it was just as you say, Frank; both men had on masks all the time," answered the police officer.
"Black ones too, I expect?" ventured Andy.
"That's what they were; but see here, are you two just guessing this, or do you happen to know something about those men?" asked the other, quickly; for he could not help seeing from the manner of the Bird boys that they were on some sort of a scent; and he knew from past experiences that their sagacity could always be trusted to do the right thing.
"Well," Frank went on to say, drily, "while Andy was watching our new hydroplane out in the Quackenboss pasture, I worked until eleven o'clock in our shop, and then went home. This morning, early, after a bite to eat, I hurried over there to do some finishing touches and carry the thing out to apply to our broken plane, when to my astonishment I found that the shop had been broken into later in the night, as well as our hangar, where the aeroplane is usually kept. And here's what I discovered lying on the work-bench, where the men had forgotten them."
With these words he held up the flashlight torch, and the twin black masks; and they produced an immediate shock upon the Chief of Police.
"And you found those things in your workshop this morning, you say?" he cried, reaching out to take hold of the torch, and the bits of black muslin.
"Yes, and whoever was there, they must have been mad because they didn't find the aeroplane, for they smashed a few things, just for spite, it looked like," was what Frank added.
"Then, if it was the same men who robbed the bank they must have known about you boys having a brand new machine. And say, that must mean one of the robbers was something of a birdman himself; because no greenhorn would ever think of making his getaway in an aeroplane. Don't you see that's a pretty good clue, Frank? I'll remember that when I'm getting in touch with other points, and find out if there's any aviator who's gone crooked of late. Yes, that's worth knowing, now; and I'm glad you mentioned it to me."
"What description did Cadger give of the men, Chief?" queried Frank.
"Oh! he said one was tall and thin; and the other short and wiry like, pretty much like a cat. I rather reckon he'd be the fellow who's been in the flying business. Seemed to have a stiff left arm too, like he'd met up with some sort of an accident. That might turn out to be a pointer; I'll just remember it. It surely was a lucky thing for me I saw you boys come sailing along and managed to attract your attention. I begin to feel better already. You gave me so much help on that other occasion, it just seems as if I had to fall back on you again."
"Better move your horse out of the way, Chief, because there comes a car at a licketty-split racing speed. Wonder what the fellows in it are thinking about, to take such chances. Why, hello! look there, Frank, perhaps you know the one who's at the wheel? Seems to me I've seen him before, and that his name is Percy Carberry."
"It is Percy," said Frank, "and alongside him who'd you expect to see but his shadow, Sandy Hollingshead? And they look some excited too, as though they'd heard about the robbery, and the Carberry family was threatened with bankruptcy if the missing funds were not recovered right away. There, he sees us, and is pulling up. I reckon he's looking for you, Chief."
The car that had been tearing along the pike came to a stop close to where the head of the Bloomsbury police force sat in his buggy.
Percy Carberry got out, and Andy could not but notice that he was not displaying his accustomed agility on this fine morning; indeed, he made a face as though it gave him a stab of pain every time he took a step.
"Hello! Chief Waller!" remarked Percy in his customary patronizing way, ignoring the presence of the Bird boys completely and purposely, of course; "I've come out after you, to get your assistance in trying to find the rascals who broke into my hangar some time last night, and ran away with my biplane!"
Upon hearing these astonishing words it was little wonder that Andy and Frank once more looked at each other, with the light of understanding dawning on their faces.
FIGURING IT ALL OUT
"That's a strange story you're telling us, Percy," said the Head of the local police force, at which the boy bridled up immediately.
"I don't see what there is so funny about it, Chief!" he exclaimed, frowning. "I tell you my hangar was broken open last night, and I'm out a biplane that cost me a good round sum. It's up to you to get on the track of the same, and recover it. I hereby offer a reward of three hundred dollars for the recovery of my machine uninjured, and make it five hundred if the thief is captured in the bargain."
When he said this Percy assumed all the airs of a millionaire; but then it was well known about Bloomsbury that the Widow Carberry was very wealthy; also that her only hopeful could wheedle her in to settling any sort of a bill he chose to contract, so that the mention of the sum of five hundred dollars was not anything extravagant for Percy.
"Oh! it wasn't that I doubted your word at all, Percy; don't think that," Chief Waller hastened to say; for like most men he was ready to bow down in front of the golden calf; and more than once Mrs. Carberry had been very generous to the force—when her house took fire and came near burning, but was saved, thanks to the energetic work of police and fire departments; and again, when a hired man tried to carry off some of her jewelry, but had been easily caught, and the plunder restored.
"Then what makes you act like that, I'd like to know?" demanded Percy, looking very much put out, as though he did not like to be treated with suspicion, especially when his old-time rivals, the Bird boys, were around.
"Why," the officer went on to say, "when you said that about your aeroplane being taken, it struck me all in a heap; because Frank here was just telling me that two men broke into his shop last night after eleven, and knocked things around, just because they failed to find his hydroplane in its bunk as usual. They wanted that machine, and wanted it so bad, that, as a last resort, they went over to your place, and confiscated your biplane."
It was Percy's turn now to look astonished. He even condescended to notice the presence of the two Bird boys, and surveyed them with interest.
"Is that a fact, Frank? Did somebody break into your place last night? I remember now that I did see you pottering about your craft up there somewhere about the Quackenboss place, but I'd forgotten it till the Chief mentioned that you didn't have it in the hangar. That's the time you were lucky. See what I got for having mine at home all snug and nice. It's been hooked clear as anything, and not a trace to tell who did the business."
"Hold on there, Percy," said the Chief, with a broad smile, "perhaps it isn't such a deep mystery after all."
"Tell me what you mean when you say that," demanded the boy, loftily, as though he resented the fact that anything should be kept from him a single second.
"Why, Frank and Andy found these things in their shop, left by the two men who tried to get their hydroplane; and the chances are ten to one the same parties went right straight over to your place and got yours as a second choice."
"I don't like the way you speak of my biplane, Chief, which cost ever so much more money than the contraption the Bird boys own," Percy remarked, sneeringly; "but never mind, tell me what these things stand for. An electric torch and—why those things look like black masks. Great Caesar! and the Bloomsbury bank was robbed last night, they told me when I was rushing around looking for you. See here, do you think the yeggs who did that neat job got away with my biplane?"
Percy was getting more excited than ever now. When he did, he seemed to just foam a little at the corners of his mouth, his eyes glittered, and his face turned red.
"There seems to be no doubt of it," replied the Chief, calmly, and yet with a stiffening of his figure, as though conscious of having already discovered a most promising clue, that could not but reflect credit on his astuteness as an officer of the law.
"They knew all about Frank's machine and mine too, then?" continued Percy, still grappling with the tremendous problem.
"Looks that way," the official went on to remark, "and makes me think more than ever that they must have a friend right here in Bloomsbury who put them wise to lots of things. Time'll tell that. But I don't suppose you found anything around your place like Frank did, to tell that some strangers had been there while you slept?"
"Not a blessed thing; though, to tell the honest truth, I didn't hang around long when I found my biplane was gone. It was the best machine I ever owned, and as you know I've had several, all told. And inside of three days I expected that the latest model of aluminum pontoons would be along, to turn it into a water as well as an air craft. Now chances are, I'll never see it again, because, like as not, nobody knows which way in creation they went."
"We happen to have a pointer about that same thing," Andy could not help saying, though he hardly liked the superior air of the other, not being able to overlook such things as easily as his cousin did.
"I hope, then, you'll give it to the Chief, Andy," the Carberry boy remarked, for the first time directly speaking to one of the cousins.
"Sure thing. We want to see the rascals copped just as much as anybody does. You see, Felix, he's the farm hand up at Mr. Quackenboss' place, and me, we thought it good policy to stay around, and keep an eye on our machine while it was lying overnight in that meadow. I had had a long watch of it, and was taking my turn at sleeping when just at daybreak Felix shook me, and said there was a queer noise up aloft that kind of scared him, and which he rather believed must come from some sort of air craft.
"Oh!" exclaimed Percy, looking intensely interested, of course; "go on, please."
"I jumped up, and sure enough I glimpsed a biplane passing over, and headed up the lake at a pretty good height, I thought it looked like your machine, but as I remarked to Frank later on, whoever steered it had a different way about him from your method. While I was wondering what took you out so early, and I could see there were two in the machine, a big flock of crows passed over, and I lost track of it.
"So, you see, Percy," broke in the eager Chief just at that point, "we've got a pretty good clue already about the direction the rascals took, who broke into the safe of the bank, and carried off a bagful of money, and valuable papers; and then followed that up by cribbing your biplane. It was north they went, up the lake, in fact; and that's the quarter we'll have to look for them. But let me tell you it's putting it pretty hard over on a police officer to make him try to track a stolen flying machine."
"But you can get in touch with every town to the north, and pick up pointers here and there!" Percy declared, excitedly. "Get back to town as fast as you can, Chief, and with a couple of your men I'll carry you wherever you want to go. In the meanwhile, you can leave orders for your men to do the wiring business; and whenever we strike a town we can ring up Headquarters over the 'phone, and learn what news they've managed to pick up."
Percy seemed to think that all he had to do was to tell the Chief what he wanted; but then his plan of campaign was really a good one, and the police officer was wise enough not to quarrel with his bread and butter; for the Widow Carberry was a large property owner in Bloomsbury.
"You just take the words out of my mouth seems like it," he remarked; "and that is the best plan we could carry out. I was just going to suggest to Frank and Andy here, that if they felt like taking a little spin off to the northward this fine morning, and discovered anything suspicious, they could get word to us, perhaps through the Bloomsbury Central, for we'll be apt to keep in touch with home."
Percy did not know whether to look pleased at this suggestion or not. It would be just like the everlasting luck of the Bird boys to make another remarkable success out of this thing, for they seemed to have a failing that way, while all the hard fortune came in his direction. That would give him a pain to be sure, for he was horribly envious of their local fame as successful aviators; but at the same time he hated to lose that beautiful biplane, which he had not owned very long, and which had taken his heart by storm.
So Percy finally compromised, as he frequently did. He even forced a grim smile to appear upon his face, though it did not deceive Frank in the least; and as for Andy, he never took the least stock in Percy Carberry's honesty. In his mind there was always a deep meaning underneath every action of the other.
"Why, sure I hope Frank will discover the thieves, and recover the stuff they've grabbed from the bank; also that he'll have the good luck to get back my biplane without its being badly wrecked. That reward is worth trying for, and I don't go back on my word."
All the same he knew very well that neither of the Bird boys could be forced to ever accept one penny from his hand, no matter what good Dame Fortune allowed them to do for him.
Andy was watching keenly when the Carberry boy walked back to his machine, and climbed into the steering seat. Frank, happening to look that way, saw his cousin's face lighted up as if in glee: and he even heard him chuckle. Perhaps Percy may have caught the same sound, for he turned his head after dropping down into his seat, and scowled darkly at Andy. There is nothing like a guilty conscience to bring about a self-betrayal; and somehow Percy seemed to know what the Bird boy was thinking about just then.
At any rate, he was an adept at the pilot wheel of a car, though inclined to be a reckless driver; just as he was also a daring air voyager, taking desperate chances that promised to bring him to grief one of these days.
Backing the car swiftly around, he sped away. Sandy Hollingshead, who had not once moved from his seat, or uttered a single word all the time, turned his head to look back; and Andy thought he too scowled darkly, as though stirred by unpleasant thoughts; but in another minute they had vanished around the bend far along the pike, and the Chief alone was seen, whipping up his nag, in the endeavor to get back as speedily as possible to Headquarters.
"Well, of all things, don't this just take the cake?" remarked Andy, when he and his cousin once more found themselves alone beside the motionless aeroplane, that nestled like a great bird on the grass close to the road.
"It certainly looks as though we might be in for a little more excitement," replied Frank; "but what seemed to make you chuckle so much, Andy? You must have noticed something that escaped my attention, because I was busy thinking of other things. Suppose you open up, and tell me?"
"I was tickled half to death to see how Percy tried to walk, as if nothing was the matter with him, when all the time he couldn't keep from limping; because, don't you see, one or several of those bird-shot Felix scattered around last night, must have stung him about the legs. That's why he scowled so at me, Frank!"
THE AIR SCOUTS
Frank laughed a little, himself, when he heard his cousin say this.
"I give you credit for getting one on me there, Andy," he declared.
"Then you believe I hit the right nail on the head, do you, Frank?"
"Well," remarked the other, "come to think of it, Percy did have a little limp; and I guess he tried to hide it the best he could, for I remember seeing him wince several times. But how about Sandy, who never tried to get out of the car once, and didn't even open his lips to say a single word?"
"I bet you he got a double dose, and is pretty sore this morning." Andy went on. "You seemed to think it was kind of hard lines for Felix to give 'em a load when they were pretty far off, and just climbing over that fence; but it tickles me every time I think of it. Seemed like the whole bunch just fell over after he shot; and like as not each fellow got his share of the Number Eights somewhere in his legs. But how about this job the Chief asked us to engineer, Frank? Are we going to start off on that little spin up the lake; and d'ye guess we could get a pointer about where the two thieves have gone?"
"We might try, anyhow; no harm in that," was his cousin's reply, as he turned once more toward the hydroplane that lay near by.
"I remember we had great luck that other time, when we discovered that the men who broke into Leffingwell's place were hiding in that old cabin up in the woods. Perhaps the same story might be repeated, who knows? They call it the Bird boys' luck, Frank; but then, we work for all we get, and ought to have a little credit when we win out. If we made a bad job of things, the same people would be quick to say we didn't know our business. Shall we go back to the shop first?"
"That would be the only way," replied Frank. "If we're going to take on this dangerous job of looking up yeggmen who have broken into a bank, and looted it, why, it seems to me we ought to make a little preparation. Of course, about all we expect to do is to scout around, and see if we can pick up any information with the aid of our marine glasses. It's hardly to be expected that two boys would take the chance of trying to nab a couple of reckless thieves, who must be armed and desperate."
"But if the opening came, Frank, we wouldn't let it slip by, would we?" asked Andy, always willing to go to the limit, when temptation beckoned.
"Perhaps not," answered the other, smilingly; "but there's no use crossing a bridge till we come to it, so we won't bother any more about that. Get aboard, Andy, and we'll head for home again."
"Just think of all that's happened since we had that little accident yesterday afternoon, up near the Quackenboss place?" Andy went on to say, as he complied with his cousin's request, and settled himself in his seat, leaving the piloting of the machine to Frank.
"There has been quite a little run of excitement, that's a fact," mused the other; "first the accident, and our great good luck in making a landing without breaking a thing, including our precious necks."
"Then the discovery of Percy and Sandy looking at the hydroplane lying there, and hurrying away as if they had already laid a plan to come back and pay a night visit, if they failed to see us get home by daylight," Andy went on to add.
"Events followed thick and fast after that, Andy—the coming of the four fellows, with their faces hidden; their repulse at the hands of yourself and the friendly Felix; then the robbery of the bank; the breaking into our shop by men who left their cards behind in the shape of these burglar tools; the meeting of the Chief on the road, and the news he gave us; and last of all the coming of Percy with the startling news that his biplane had been stolen!"
"Yes, but don't forget my seeing it sailing over just at early dawn," remarked the other, as Frank stooped forward for a last look around, before starting up the powerful little Kinkaid engine. "Because that promises to play quite a figure in the pursuit of the smart thieves; though they may be fifty miles away from here by now, if they know how to handle that fine biplane right."
"Hold tight; we're off!" warned Frank, as he applied the power; for the new engine was of course a self-starter, and could be operated from his seat with almost as much ease as might be shown in using electricity, and pressing the button.
The hydroplane ran easily along the ground, for the bicycle wheels were always kept in first class condition; and as the speed kept on increasing Frank soon uptilted the plane, and like a great bird rising from the ground, with a graceful sweep the flying machine took to the air.
Long practice had made the Bird boys familiar with every movement connected with the actions of an aeroplane, but at the same time they tried to be always on their guard against being incautious. That is the trouble with most aviators; they grow so familiar with danger that they forget the terrible risk that always hangs over the head of every one who soars aloft in his frail airship; and then, when finally something happens after they have become too reckless, they never get another chance.
Sweeping along not more than three hundred feet above the ground, the boys were home in almost no time. They could see the car containing Percy Carberry, and his crony, Sandy, just vanishing among the houses of Bloomsbury; and the Chief, about half-way there, waved his hat at them as they sped past him.
Then the aeroplane dropped lightly down close to the hangar back of the Bird home, where Andy and his father, the professor, lived, together with old Colonel Whympers, the veteran who used crutches or a cane on account of his rheumatism, brought on, he always declared, not by age, oh! no, but the wounds he received many years ago, when he was fighting for his country in the great civil war.
He was sitting there on a pile of lumber waiting for them, a quaint old fellow, who was greatly beloved by both cousins; and who believed firmly that some fine day Andy Bird was bound to even eclipse the fame which his father had gained in the field of science and aviation.
It happened that the professor was away at the time delivering a series of lectures before some body of scientists in a distant city. And whenever the boys were in their shop the old veteran was in the habit of coming around, to see what new and wonderful things engaged their attention, as well as chatting with them. And he was as welcome as the sun in May.
Of course, just then he was bristling with questions as a hedgehog would be with sharp-pointed quills. And knowing the Colonel of old, Frank and Andy lost no time in telling him all that had happened to them, from the time of their little accident, down to when they heard the latest news from Percy Carberry.
"And I warrant now," remarked Colonel Whimpers, as soon as the tale was finished, "that you two boys get the first clew to where the robbers are hiding. Didn't you beat the wonderful Chief out before, and doesn't history have a habit of repeating itself? Oh; if only I was ten years younger, how I'd love to be along, when all these glorious things are happening. I hate to think I'm put by on the shelf and never can be any good again."
That was the old man's only fault; he was forever complaining because his day for indulging in exciting scenes had passed; but any one who knew the half that he had passed through, would think the colonel had no reason to say anything; and that it was only right that someone else had a show.
They soon soothed him, however, and long practice had made Andy particularly apt at this sort of thing.
"Here come Elephant and Larry, on the run," remarked Frank, a little while later; "I wonder if they saw us come home, and whether they can have picked up any additional news connected with the bank robbery, that we ought know."
"Well, it might pay us to hold up a little, and see," added Andy.
"Yes, since we're in no great hurry, and the day is long," Frank remarked.
The two boys came up panting for breath. Larry had evidently set the pace, and it was a matter of the smaller lad keeping with him, or else being left behind, something Elephant never liked to have happen; so that he was unable to say even a single word for a full minute after arriving alongside the hangar.
"Tell us, have they learned anything new since the Chief started off?" asked Frank, as usual right to the point; and in this way cutting off the myriad of questions which he knew both the newcomers were primed to ask.