E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE AIRPLANE BOYS AMONG THE CLOUDS
Young Aviators in a Wreck
JOHN LUTHER LANGWORTHY
M. A. Donohue & Company Chicago ——— New York 1912
I. TRYING OUT THE NEW BIPLANE II. A RESCUER FROM THE SKIES III. THE MEN IN THE TOURING CAR IV. SUSPICION V. FIGURING IT ALL OUT VI. AN UNKNOWN ENEMY VII. SEEN FROM THE EAGLES' EYRIE VIII. MYSTERIOUS MR. MARSH AT IT AGAIN IX. STARTLING NEWS OVER THE WIRE X. IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE CHIEF XI. A NEW ALARM XII. SANDY DROPS SOMETHING XIII. THE CHALLENGE XIV. SOMETHING DOING XV. THE AWAKENING XVI. THE CHIEF MEETS AN OLD FRIEND XVII. GALLANT ANDY XVIII. AT THE FOOT OF THE LIBERTY POLE XIX. THE MYSTERY STILL UNSOLVED XX. THE RIVAL AVIATORS XXI. THE RACE WITH THE STORM XXII. A TERRIBLE MOMENT ON OLD THUNDER TOP XXIII. THE BIRD BOYS' TRIUMPH—CONCLUSION
THE AIRPLANE BOYS AMONG THE CLOUDS
or, Young Aviators in a Wreck
TRYING OUT THE NEW BIPLANE
"I tell you, Elephant, it's the Bird boys, and nobody else!"
"But they had a monoplane last summer, Larry; and you can see for yourself it's a biplane out yonder over the lake. So that's why I thought it must be Percy Carberry and his crony, Sandy Hollingshead."
"Shucks! stir up your think-box, Elephant. Get a move on your mind, and look back. Don't you remember Percy lost his old biplane when he took that trip down to South America, and had some trouble with the revolutionists in Colombia?"
"Say, now, that's right. You mean the time Andy Bird found his long-lost father, whose balloon left him a prisoner in such a queer way? Yes, but tell me, where would Frank and Andy Bird get a biplane now?"
"Oh! rats, what ails you, Elephant? Didn't they make the other; and don't you know they've been busy all winter, in that shop Old Colonel Whympers fitted up for them out in the field? And not even such bully good friends as you and me were allowed to take a peep inside. That's what they were working on—building this new biplane, after sending for the parts."
"Don't it just shine like fun in the sunlight, though?" declared the little "runt," who had been nicknamed "Elephant" by his chums, possibly in a spirit of boyish humor, and which name had clung to him ever since.
"It sure does look like a spider-like craft," Larry Geohegan went on. "Just see that white-headed eagle up in the blue sky. I bet you he's looking down, and wondering what sort of thing it is."
"Huh! don't you fool yourself there, Larry," chuckled the other. "That wise old chap knows all about aeroplanes. He's had experience, he has. You forget that last summer, when the race was on between the Bird boys and Percy, to see who could land on the summit of Old Thunder-Top first, from an aeroplane, those same eagles had a nest up there, and tackled the boys for a warm session."
The two lads had come to a halt on the road about half a mile from the borders of Bloomsbury where they lived. From where they stood, holding their fishing rods, and quite a decent catch of finny prizes, they could look out over the beautiful surface of Lake Sunrise, which was over fifteen miles long, and in places as much as three or four wide.
"Mebbe you can tell me, Larry," the smaller boy presently said, "just why Frank keeps sailing around over the lake that way? Suppose he's taking pictures from his biplane?"
"That might be, Elephant," Larry answered, slowly and thoughtfully. "Seems to me I did hear somebody talking about the State wanting to get a map of the lake, with all its many coves and points. But ain't it more dangerous for aviators hanging over water than the shore?"
"That depends," remarked the other boy, whose real name was Fennimore Cooper Small, and who was rather apt to have an exalted idea of his own importance, as do so many undersized people. "If a fellow dropped out of his machine when he was even fifty feet high, he'd be apt to break his neck, or anyhow a leg, if he struck on the land; but in the water he might have a show."
"Look at 'em circling round and round, would you?" Larry went on, his curiosity climbing toward the fever stage. "I'd give a fit now to know what Frank's got in that wise old noddle of his. He ain't the one to do things for nothing, take it from me, Elephant."
"Hi! step out of the way, Larry, if you don't want to get run over!" exclaimed the other, suddenly gripping his companion's sleeve. "Here comes a car, and the driver's tooting his old bazoo to beat the band."
"They're slowing up, don't you see," observed Larry, who had been startled by the other's abrupt warning. "No need to scare a feller like that, Elephant."
"Well, that machine don't belong around here, anyway; and I guess they're tourists doing the lake road course. Lots of 'em come this way just for the view, which they say can't be beat," the other went on, in a low tone; for the touring car had drawn very close by now.
Two men sat in it, one apparently the chauffeur, and the other occupying the commodious seat in the tonneau. The latter was a keen-faced man, with a peculiar eye, that seemed to sparkle and glow; and Larry immediately became aware that he was experiencing a queer sensation akin to a chill, when he returned the gaze of this individual.
Still, the other could look very pleasant when he chose to smile, as was the case immediately after the car came to a halt within five feet of where the two Bloomsbury high school boys stood.
"Looks like you had had pretty good luck, boys," he remarked, smoothly.
"Pretty middlin'," Elephant said, indifferently, as though this were an everyday occurrence with him; when to tell the truth, he and Larry had not done so well all season as on this particular day.
"Guess you know where the old fishing hole lies," laughed the stranger, pleasantly. "Quite a collection too—black bass, perch, 'slickers,' as we used to call the pickerel, and even some big fat sunfish. Many a happy hour have I spent just as you've been doing. And I'll never forget how fine those same fish tasted after I'd cleaned them myself for the frying-pan."
"That's what we do, sir," replied Larry, now beginning to think the stranger rather a nice spoken man.
"My friend and myself were just wondering what aviator you've got up here," continued the gentleman, as he cast a quick glance out over the lake. "You see, our attention was attracted toward that circling biplane as we came along. I happen to know some of the most famous fliers myself; but I never heard that any one of them was hiding up here this summer, trying fancy stunts. Look at that dip, Longley. That was a corker, now, I'm telling you. Do you know who that fellow is, my boy; the one handling the levers of that sparkling biplane out yonder?"
Larry and Elephant glanced at each other and grinned. Then the little fellow threw out his chest, after a pompous way he had, and observed:
"Sure we do, mister. That's a chum of ours. His name is Frank Bird, and he knows more about aeroplanes in a minute than the rest of us do in a year. His cousin, Andy, is along with him. They stick together through thick and thin."
"Bird!" remarked the other, watching the agile movements of the biplane eagerly, as Larry could not but note. "A very suggestive name for a flier, too."
"That's right," burst out Larry. "Frank always said he was just forced to take to being an aeronaut. He says it's just as natural for birds to take to the air, as it is for ducks to swim in the water."
"Bird?" the other went on, turning to his companion. "Seems to me, Longley, there used to be a professor by that name in one of our colleges, who went daft on the subject of flying."
"You're right, Marsh; and he lost his life down at Panama; tried to cross the isthmus in a dirigible, and was never heard from again."
"Oh! but you're wrong, sir!" exclaimed Elephant, eagerly. "He was saved through those two boys in their monoplane, and is alive and well in Bloomsbury right now. It's a great story, and all to the good for the Bird boys."
"I'd like to hear it some time or other," replied the gentleman called Mr. Marsh by his companion who was serving as chauffeur. "But it seems to me these young fellows must be unusually bright boys to do what they're doing right now."
"That's easy for Frank and Andy Bird, sir," declared Larry. "Why, they've got a shop that they keep under lock and key, where they spend most of their time when they ain't flying. That biplane is what they made last winter—got some of the parts, and did the rest themselves. And it would be just like Frank to have invented some clever stunt that's going to just revolutionize flying."
Again a quick look passed between the two tourists, but the boys simply considered that it implied wonder at such youthful ingenuity.
"They must be smart boys, surely," remarked Mr. Marsh, again turning his head to look out over the lake. "And you say they even have a shop, where they work out these wonderful new ideas? Perhaps if we stayed over in Bloomsbury, Longley, they might be willing to let us have a little peep in that place?"
Elephant promptly shook his head in the negative.
"I wouldn't build too much on that, if I was you, sir," he said, "because, you see, we're chums of the Bird boys; and if they wouldn't let us once inside that shop all winter they ain't going to invite strangers there."
"Well, hardly," laughed the other. "How's that, Longley? Quite interesting to run across a couple of boy inventors up this way. Must tell Wright about it the next time we see him, and Curtiss too. They'll want to look them up perhaps, and coax them to join the new aeroplane trust that's forming. But what makes that biplane shine so? It glitters in the sunlight like silver."
"That's just what me and Elephant were talking about when you came along, mister," remarked Larry.
"And we just came to the conclusion that it must be something Frank's been experimenting on. Mebbe he's made his machine out of aluminum; or else he's got a new Kinkaid engine that has a lot of brass about it. Gee! look at 'em now, Larry! My heart jumped up in my throat because they just skimmed the water, and I was dead sure it meant a ducking for the boys."
"They certainly seem to know how to handle an aeroplane as well as any one I have ever seen," declared Mr. Marsh; who apparently could not tear his eyes away from the thrilling spectacle of the swooping air craft, that soared aloft, only to again dart daringly down toward the surface of the almost quiet lake.
"I bet you it's a game of conquer they're playing," suggested Elephant. "Each one seeing how close to touching the water he can come. Say, Larry, d'ye suppose Percy Carberry has got his new biplane yet? He's been boasting about it for weeks, and what he meant to do when she arrived."
"I saw him this morning, and he said he was still waiting; but that the thing had been shipped," replied the other. "Never saw such an unlucky dog as Percy is; and to tell the honest truth, Elephant, 'twouldn't surprise me one little bit if the old train got smashed up on the way, and the new flying machine along with it."
"Wonder if he's watching the stunts them fellers are doing out there, and saying all sorts of mean things about 'em?" suggested the smaller boy, grinning.
"Shouldn't wonder," Larry chirped. "He keeps tab on all Frank does these days. You know they've had to keep a man on duty every night around that workshop, because of Percy. He ain't to be trusted, and would just as soon put a match to the place as eat his dinner—if he thought he could do it on the sly."
Mr. Marsh caught the eye of his companion, and instantly a quick signal seemed to pass between them, unnoticed by either of the two boys, who were keeping their attention glued on the fluttering aeroplane a quarter of a mile away, and which had again mounted to quite a little height by means of boring upward in circles.
"There they go again!" exclaimed Elephant, excitedly, as the flying machine once more tilted its planes, and started down toward the water like a huge bird intending to alight.
"Oh! look at it, would you?" cried Larry, almost as much worked up as his smaller companion. "This time there's going to be something doing! I bet you Frank wants to just snatch a floating piece of wood off the water as he skims along, just like them Wild West riders do on horseback, when they throw their hats down. Why! Something must a-busted—they dropped splash on the lake; and look at the old biplane sitting right there like a great big gull! Ain't that too bad, though; I'm sorry for Frank and Andy!"
But Mr. Marsh, bending his head close to the ear of the man who sat in the front of the touring car, laughed softly, and remarked with an air of triumph:
"What did I tell you, Longley? Now say it was a false scent, will you? It isn't often I make a mistake, and already I believe we've struck great luck in coming up here."
A RESCUER FROM THE SKIES
"What if the bally thing takes a notion to duck under, Larry?" asked Elephant, staggered himself at the possibility of such a catastrophe happening.
"Wow! they'd stand a chance of being drowned, then, I take it!" answered the taller lad, shaking his head as if worried.
"Say, p'raps we ought to be chasing after a boat, and putting out there right now," the small boy exclaimed.
"O K say I. Let's make a dash for Cragan's dock, and borrow his skiff!" suggested Larry, ready to toss fishing poles, and even the fine catch in the dusty weeds bordering the road, so that they might be unimpeded in their flight.
"Hold on, boys!" observed the gentleman in the tonneau of the touring car, as he reached out and caught Larry by the sleeve of his shirt. "No need of bothering yourselves in the least, I assure you."
"But perhaps the biplane might sink, sir," declared Elephant, still showing extreme nervousness. "And what if Frank or Andy happened to be caught in the wires that stay the planes? They might be drowned, you see. Accidents can happen, even to the two smart Bird boys."
"No danger of any such catastrophe, I give you my word," went on the gentleman. "And when you learn the truth, you'll thank me for restraining you from acting in a foolish manner. Here, take a look through this glass I chance to have along in the car. What do you see now?"
Larry accepted the binoculars, and immediately adjusted them to his eyes.
"Well, of all the things I ever heard of!" he slowly ejaculated.
"Let me look, Larry," exploded Elephant, as he deftly "hooked" the glasses away from his companion's hands, and immediately clapped them to his own eyes, to let out a shout of amazement. "I declare if the old thing ain't floatin' like a big duck. Talk about her sinking, you couldn't push that wonder box down under the surface. Some more of Frank's magic; he's got 'em all queered a mile, Larry."
"Listen," remarked Mr. Marsh, quietly. "There's nothing so very wonderful about this new stunt of your friend, Frank. Those shining things you noticed about the biplane happened to be a couple of new aluminum pontoons under the craft, meant to float the whole affair whenever it drops in the water. They will be in common use shortly. And that machine is what we call a hydroplane—that is, it will prove to be as much at home on the water as in the air."
"What d'ye think of that, Elephant?" cried Larry, ready to swing his hat, and give a loud whoop to let the young aviators know that friendly eyes had been watching their startling maneuvers. "Ain't they all the candy, though? Why, Perc Carberry never could get up early enough in the morning to best the Bird boys."
"They float all right," remarked the other boy, still gazing through the fine pair of marine glasses that seemed to bring the biplane within touching distance. "But how under the sun can they start up again? Don't they have to take a run on them bicycle wheels first?"
"Watch and see," laughed Mr. Marsh. "A hydroplane can rise from the surface of the water just like a wild duck might. The propeller starts to working, the machine is sent swiftly along, and soon leaves the water, to soar upward as the planes are moved accordingly. There they go; now, keep tab on what they do, Longley."
He took the glasses from Elephant and placed them to his own eye, as though it might be of the greatest importance that he see distinctly every little movement of the daring young aviators.
"Whoop! hurrah! there they quit snaking along on the water! They're going to climb, I tell you, Larry! Look at that, would you? Up they go, as easy as you please! Now, ain't that just a hummer; and did you ever hear tell of as smart a pair of boys as Frank and Andy Bird? What won't they try next, I wonder?"
"They certainly seem to be made of the right stuff for airmen," admitted Mr. Marsh, with animation. "Some time I hope to make their acquaintance, and hear the story of their stirring adventure down in South America. What say Longley, can we afford to lay over at this Bloomsbury for a couple of days, while we have the car overhauled, and put in apple-pie condition?"
"It might be a good thing, Marsh," the other promptly answered, as he detected the signal wink his companion gave. "You know they say an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. And unless something is done we stand a chance of being thrown over a precipice, when that weak place in the machinery gives way suddenly."
"All right, then; we'll stop," remarked the gentleman with the glittering eyes, as if the new idea quite appealed to him. "I'd like to see something of these Bird boys. They have a future before them, I believe. And if I'm any judge of up-to-date things I even suspect they've gone and applied that latest device the Wrights patented, where a little pendulum under the machine warps the planes automatically, at the slightest motion of the body, keeping the aeroplane in an exactly horizontal position."
"Oh! they're up to snuff, all right, take it from me," declared Elephant, with an air of pride, since it was his friends whose praises were being sung, and he could bask in the reflected light.
"I bet you there ain't anything going on in aviation circles that them two boys don't know," put in Larry, enthusiastically. "They take all sorts of papers and magazines, and spend every living day in that old shop. I knew something was on, and there she is, all hatched out. Poor old Percy, won't he just want to crawl back into his hole, though, when he learns this?"
"Rats! you don't know him if you think that!" exclaimed Elephant. "Ten to one he plays Frank and Andy a close second. Right now that sharper has got cards hidden up his sleeve, and ready to surprise everybody. Didn't he slip away early in the spring, and go down to New York? You watch his smoke, I tell you, Larry. No, Perc ain't giving up till he has to, and that won't be till the race is run. Just wait!"
"I declare, that's a queer thing to allow!" exclaimed Longley, who had picked up the glasses and with them swept the surface of the lake, as well as surveyed the hovering biplane that had walked on the water like an aquatic bird.
"What now?" asked Mr. Marsh, looking a little nervous.
"Why, see that boat floating out yonder, the plaything of the breeze that seems to be rising?" asked the other, still using the binoculars.
"I see what you mean," remarked Mr. Marsh, "and it seems to have drifted away from the shore. Is that some man lying down in it? There, I saw the object move then. What is it, Longley?"
"A little baby, hardly more," came the startling reply. "Oh! he was nearly over the side, that time. However in the wide world do you suppose the child ever came to be in that boat? Here, take a look. Marsh. Another tilt like that, and the child will be drowned for certain!"
"Why, it must be Tommy Cragan, the fisherman's baby," said Larry, his face turning a bit gray with alarm. "I've seen the little shaver playing around his daddy's boat many a time. It must have floated off; and now it's away out on the lake, where the water is twenty feet deep!"
"Cracky! that's tough on poor old Cragan, with his wife sick abed!" groaned the sympathetic Elephant, as he strained his eyes to watch.
"If the child would only remain quiet there would be little danger," remarked Mr. Marsh, who was still looking through the glasses, as though something about the picture fascinated him.
"That's the trouble," remarked his companion, quickly, "the little chap is getting frightened, or else bolder, for he keeps leaning far over all the time. Can nothing be done to save the child? If I could swim I'd take a chance at it myself."
"We could run as fast as anything to Cragan's, sir," declared Elephant, "or perhaps you could take us in, and we'd show you the way there. He might have another boat, and would put out to save Tommy."
"I'm afraid that would be too late, good though the intention might seem," the man said regretfully.
"I can swim like a duck, sir. What's to hinder me jumping in and trying to get out there to him in time?" demanded Larry, hastening to start removing his shoes as he spoke.
"It's a long way out there, my boy, and you might take a cramp," said Longley.
"But I'm willing to try it, sir. Besides, the rest of you could be heading for Cragan's fish house, and seeing if he's around. I know that little chap, and he's the idol of his daddy's heart. It'll nigh about kill Amiel if the kid was drowned."
Even while he was speaking Larry had kicked one shoe off, and was working to undo the stubborn lace of the other, which of course had to get in a snarl as usual, exciting his nervous disposition to the utmost, as he tugged away.
"Hold on! I'm afraid it's going to be too late!" exclaimed the other occupant of the touring car, still keeping his eyes glued to the smaller end of the marine glasses.
"Oh! is he going to fall in, sir?" gasped Elephant, in a quiver of fear, as he shaded his eyes with both hands, and stared out across that glowing stretch of water.
"There! he has done it!" cried the other; and all of them saw what seemed to be a faint splash alongside of the drifting skiff. "No, strange to say the little fellow has caught hold of the gunnel of the boat; and while his body is in the lake, he continues to hold on desperately, just keeping his head above the surface! But it can't last, it can't last! He could not keep up that grip more than a minute at the most! This is terrible; and all of us so helpless to save the child!"
He took the glasses down as though really unable to watch any longer. But his companion did not seem to feel the same way, for he immediately snatched them out of Mr. Marsh's hand, and clapped them to his eyes.
"No use, boy, thinking of swimming out yonder," said Mr. Marsh, seeing that Larry had finally broken the obstinate lace, and kicked the shoe into the bushes. "Long before you could get near the boat it would all be over. If anything is to be done, some one else will have to engineer the rescue."
"And it's coming," shouted the other, just then. "Watch the biplane, Marsh! The boys have seen the danger of the child! They are headed for the drifting boat, and darting down again. Perhaps they mean to alight in the water alongside, and pick the little chap up! Good! Another ten seconds, and they will have arrived on the spot!"
Even Larry, barefooted now, and with both hands tightly clenched, such was his wrought-up condition, stood and watched with burning eyes as the aeroplane sank lower and lower in its forward swoop. Undoubtedly the Bird boys had suddenly become aware of the dreadful peril threatening the little chap belonging to the well known Bloomsbury fisherman, who was every boy's friend; and meant to do their level best to save Tommy from the watery grave that yawned to receive him.
"Oh! it's too late!" suddenly cried Longley, staggering back as if he had himself received a blow.
"What happened?" exclaimed his companion, hoarsely.
"The child let go! See, he is struggling in the water, but must disappear before the aeroplane can alight, for it is still twenty feet above the lake. Too bad! Too bad! They might have got him in another minute!"
"Look there! One of them has leaped into the lake! See that splash, would you?" shrilled Larry, jumping up and down in his excitement.
"That was Andy, I reckon!" cried Elephant, climbing up on the side of the car, the better to see, at this tremendously exciting stage of the game. "He ain't afraid of anything; neither is Frank, for that matter. And he just dove right down like a hawk after a breakfast of fish. Do you see him, mister? Ain't he come up yet? Oh! my! I wouldn't have missed this for a cookey. What's he doing, mister, please? He's our chum, Andy is, and we're proud of him."
"Yes, there he is alongside the boat now," said Longley, using the binoculars again, "I can see him swimming with one hand. He seems to have injured the other—no, no, it must be he's got the child gripped in his right arm, for I seem to see a yellow head close to his. There, the hydroplane drops in the water near by. The boy lifts up his burden and places it in the boat. Now he's climbing in himself, as if he means to revive the child. Marsh, he's done it! And if that was Andy Bird I take off my hat to him."
Whereupon both Elephant and Larry started in to shout and cheer at the top of their voices; as though they might have a personal interest in the gallant rescue which had just come under their observation.
THE MEN IN THE TOURING CAR
When Andy Bird, wet through to the skin, arrived at the fisherman's dock a little later, he found quite a crowd awaiting his coming.
The small urchin, Tommy, had apparently not suffered seriously from his immersion in the waters of Sunrise Lake. Perhaps he was to some extent accustomed to tumbling overboard; though this time the consequences might have been most serious only for the lucky presence of the Bird boys near by, intent on trying out their new hydroplane.
Tommy's mother managed to thank the rescuer, after a fashion; but Andy was a modest lad, and made light of his recent adventure.
"Don't mention it, fellows," he laughed when Larry and Elephant started to lavish praise on his head. "I'm thinking of sending in an application to become a member of the Life Saving Corps on the Great Lakes, you know. And this was just the finest chance ever to try how things worked. Besides, some day Frank and myself may have to take a header from an aeroplane, and it's just as well to know how to drop."
"Well, all I can say is, that you did it as well as any expert," observed the occupant of the tonneau, who had given the name of Mr. Marsh.
Andy looked at him, noticing for the first time that strangers were present.
"Thank you, sir," he said, blushing a trifle, for he was as yet hardly accustomed to praise, and quite unspoiled. "But there comes Frank with the machine. Did you see us rise from the lake, fellows?"
"Did we?" exclaimed Elephant, with his face beaming; "well, I should smile we did now. It was the greatest stunt ever. I thought at first, Andy, something had happened to your new biplane; but these gentlemen knew all about such things, and they explained to us what you meant to do."
Andy at this stole another side glance at the occupants of the big touring car. Noticing this, Mr. Marsh hastened to remark:
"Well, that is putting it rather strong, my boy. We've been interested in several aviation meets during the last year, and keep posted as to what is new along those lines. Plenty of people know about hydroplanes, and such things. And so this represents the last thing in your work, does it? I must say you are a credit to your teacher, whoever he may be."
Frank, who had landed close by, heard these words, as possibly the gentleman intended he should. But he was too much interested in other matters to pay any particular attention to the flattery of passing tourists.
"How did Tommy come out of the accident?" he asked.
"All right, I guess," laughed Andy Bird, his cousin. "His ma has carried him off into the house, to fill him up with cake, or bread and molasses. He didn't swallow more than a pint of water."
"Lucky Tommy!" observed Mr. Marsh.
"You made the drop in fine shape, Andy," Frank went on, still keeping his face turned toward his chum, as though not really caring to enter into conversation with these unknown gentlemen, who seemed to be so well posted on things aeronautic.
"It was a peach of a dive!" exclaimed Elephant, enthusiastically.
"And since you're wringing wet I don't think you'd better go up with me again right now," Frank continued. "Hike for home, and get into some dry duds. I'll knock around for a spell, to try out a few more stunts I have in mind."
Truth to tell Frank was eager to get his new hydroplane away from those searching eyes of Mr. Marsh. They gave him a queer feeling, which of course he was quite unable to understand.
During the preceding summer, when the Bird boys were using the monoplane they had put together so successfully, it chanced that they had quite a serious adventure with a couple of thieves who had robbed a jewelry establishment, and were trying to get out of the country, where the roads were being closely watched by the police.
On this occasion one of the rascals chanced to be a man named Jules Garrone, who, over across the water had been something of an aeronaut and aviator. Conceiving the brilliant scheme that if the monoplane of the Bird boys could only be stolen he and his companion could easily elude their hunters, he had given Frank and Andy lots of trouble before finally falling into the net.
That was one reason why Frank felt rather cool toward strangers who manifested undue interest in his work. He was of an inventive turn of mind, and believed he had several new features connected with this hydroplane that as yet were, so far as he knew, novel to the science of aviation.
And those keen eyes of Mr. Marsh gave him an uneasy feeling.
"Your biplane seems to be built especially for two?" remarked that gentleman, as he watched Frank swing the machine around, with the help of the willing Larry and Elephant.
"Yes, sir," replied the boy, promptly. "Andy and myself always hunt together. We are called the Siamese Twins, because we won't be separated. Where one Bird boy is found you can make up your mind the other isn't very far away. Once on a time they got to calling me Smoke, and Andy, Fire; but we just wouldn't stand for that."
"But possibly your machine may not fly quite so well with only one to balance!"
Was that a broad hint that he would be only too glad of an invitation to occupy the seat left vacant by the departure of Andy? Frank suspected such a thing; and made a quick reply.
"Oh! we've got all that arranged to a dot, sir," he laughed. "I can change my seat, and still reach every lever easily. And as to balancing, the time has come when the aviator is going to be freed from all that anxiety. Give me a start, will you, fellows? It's easier rising from the water than on land, because no stumps or roots get in the way there. That's it. Good day, sir!"
There was a whirr of the powerful little Kinkaid engine, the lightest ever installed in an aeroplane, and immediately the new biplane started to take on speed. When, in the estimation of the one who handled the flier, it has attained sufficient momentum, the planes were elevated, and like a great bird it gracefully began to mount upward into space.
Larry was watching the two gentlemen in the car, who had been paying the closest attention to every little detail. He saw Mr. Marsh turn his head, and nod several times quickly to his companion.
"As neatly done as I ever saw it accomplished," the gentleman muttered, though the sharp ears of Larry Geohegan caught the suggestive words.
Then, after a few pleasant words to the two boys who had been fishing, the men in the touring car started off, heading toward town, and were speedily lost to sight in a cloud of dust.
"Let's take the short-cut, and bring up at the field where Frank and Andy do pretty much all of their practice, turning, and cutting figure-eights," suggested Larry, as though he had a purpose in saying this.
"Oh! I guess I'm still able to toddle that far," remarked Elephant who was compelled to work his short legs very fast when trying to keep alongside the taller Larry; and yet these two, so unlike in almost every way, had long been known as inseparables, ready to have an occasional little spat, yet just as quick to pour oil on the troubled waters again.
"There's Andy turning out," remarked Larry, after a while. "Perhaps, if you could only get going a little bit faster we might overtake him before he reaches home. I reckon he means to head for the shop in the field, because I know he always keeps a lot of old duds there."
"Sure thing," assented the dwarf, cheerfully, as he started on what was for him very like a run. "And it would be just like Andy to want to help when Frank comes along with the new biplane. Say, ain't she a dandy, though? Did you ever see such a neat contraption? Guess them gents thought we had some pretty smart fellows in Bloomsbury."
"That's just what I was thinking, Elephant," remarked Larry, "but here we are at the edge of the old field, and Andy just ahead. See that, he's aiming for the shop in the middle of the patch, where the hangar lies that holds their old monoplane. Perhaps you could buy that cheap now, Elephant. You know you always declared you meant to take up flying some day."
"Haven't given it up yet, either," returned the other, doggedly.
"Well, I advise you to think it over good and hard. Remember the fate of Darius Green. It needs a mighty active fellow to manage one of those tipsy, cranky machines. And if you ever should fall out I bet you there'd be an awful squash!" chuckled the tall boy.
"Let up on that, can't you?" expostulated Elephant. "I'm small, but I can get around as well as the next one. And when I get to sailing through the air, I expect to have wings. Then, if any accident comes along, it's me to flap my feathers, and drop like a thistle-down. In other words, Larry, I've got a parachute all arranged that will let me down easy; just like the fellow at the county fair, who drops from a hot air balloon."
"Hello! now what d'ye think of that?" claimed Larry, suddenly.
"What do you mean?" demanded the small boy. "You're the most mysterious fellow ever. Oh! I see now, by the way you stare over yonder. Yes, it's the same two gentlemen who admired the daring of the Bird boys a little while back. They must have found out where Andy lives, and have run out here from town to see what sort of a hangar they have."
"Yes, that's right, but I don't like it, I tell you," Larry went on, as he led the way over the fence that surrounded the field.
"What's that?" cried Elephant. "Sure you don't suspect these two fine looking gents might be another pair of crooks like the ones that tried to steal Frank's monoplane last summer, do you?"
"Oh! rats! You wouldn't understand if I did try to explain. There they go now, in a cloud of dust. Guess they saw us pointing at the car. Come along, slowpoke, and get up with Andy," and Larry linked his arm in that of his comrade, though he had to stoop considerably in order to make the connection.
"Why, hello, fellows!" exclaimed Andy, who now for the first time became aware of the fact that they had been trailing after him.
"Just dropped around to see if we could be of any use putting the new machine away," remarked Elephant, as if an apology were needed to account for their presence; but both boys had always been accounted special friends of Frank and Andy, and warmly greeted, though not taken into the secrets of the shop, where mystery reigned much of the time of late.
"And there's Frank coming right now!" declared Andy. "I guess he made up his mind he didn't care to put her through all her paces, with me away. We're sure proud of this new one, fellows. Why, she works like a clock, and minds her helm better than anything that ever answered to the call of the plane."
"Say, did you happen to notice that car on the road over there?" asked Larry.
"I saw one moving along in a cloud of dust; but didn't notice who was in it. Why do you ask that?" answered the young aviator, looking at his friend curiously.
"Oh well, it happened to be those same two men you saw, when you brought little Tommy ashore," remarked the other, mysteriously.
"But I thought they were headed for Bloomsbury?" exclaimed Andy.
"That's what they said; but you see they thought it worth while to run past and come away out here, just to take a peek over the fence and see what you Bird boys had in this section."
"That's funny now," muttered Andy, who, being less keen than his cousin, could not let suspicion find lodgment in his brain as quickly either. "But perhaps Frank may know who they are. He keeps pretty well posted on everybody connected with aviation meets and inventions. Marsh, he said his name was; what was the other, do you know, fellows?"
"I heard him call the man at the wheel Longley several times, so I reckon that must be his handle," said Elephant, who never liked being left out in the cold whenever there was an argument on the carpet, or in fact any talking being done.
Frank came sailing directly toward them with considerable speed. When it began to look as though he might mean to collide with the low workshop close by, he suddenly swooped upward, and passed over their heads, uttering a laugh as he saw how the alarmed Elephant dropped flat on his face and hugged the earth.
Circling around, Frank cut several fancy figures with the new biplane, the hum of the twin propellers making merry music in the ears of the delighted boys.
Finally, as though tiring of this sport he dropped on the grass as lightly as he had a little while before nestled on the smooth surface of Sunrise Lake.
The three boys joined him, and willing hands soon stored the aeroplane in the snug hangar prepared for it alongside the workshop. Then Andy dodged inside to change his clothes before he got a chill; for though summer had come, the air was far from hot right then by any means, a storm having cleared the atmosphere during the preceding night, and leaving it delightfully crisp.
"I saw a car buzzing along the road while I was up, but couldn't use my glass to see who was in it. Did you notice, Larry?" Frank asked as they stood there near the open door of the shop.
"I was just going to mention the fact that those two men act like they had taken a great fancy to you and Andy," returned the other, readily.
Frank Bird frowned.
"H'm! I just don't like to hear that," he said. "Andy and myself have been working on something lately that we want to keep a dead secret from everybody. If we don't tell even our friends, then there can be little chance of a leak. But I'm not inviting strangers to take a ride with me, or visit us in our shop. Though you can come in now, any time you want, Larry and Elephant."
"Sho! we wouldn't know the wing feather of a plane from one that belonged in the tail or steering rudder," chuckled Larry.
"But I'm meaning to learn, Frank," put in the small chap, strenuously. "It looks so easy for you fellows, knocking around up there, with nobody ever getting in your way, like on our roads, that I want to fly."
"Well," pursued Frank, shaking his head. "I don't encourage anybody to take up the business. It's certainly the most dangerous calling going at present; but after the Wrights have put their latest balancing idea into general use, the number of dead aviators will drop fast. In time it may be a fellow can hardly fall out of a well-made flying machine if he is the most reckless aviator going."
"Hear that, Elephant," laughed Larry. "Hope yet that some of us common truck may be flapping through the upper currents, and getting out of the wet when it rains, by sailing above the clouds. But I see some fellow coming along the road on his wheel like he had a hurry call. Looks like Nat Holmes too, and he's coming in here."
"Funny how badly balanced that fellow is," remarked Frank. "Always in a hurry in everything he tackles; and then falling all over himself when he tries to talk. He's waving his hat too like he had something interesting to say. Let's hope, boys, it happens to be one of his good hours; or we're in for a lot of gibberish Hottentot patter, I'm afraid."
"F-f-frank!" stammered the new arrival, as he actually fell off his wheel, allowing the same to drop in a heap on the turf.
"That's me; what d'ye want, Nat?" asked the one addressed; as he assumed a reassuring air, knowing what a terrible mess the wretched stutterer often made of his attempt at speech, especially when he happened to be excited.
Nat was breathing hard. He always did things with a whirlwind method; and of course the exertion added to his difficulty in forming such words as he wanted.
"D-d-did y-y-you k-k-k-," he started, with a rush; and then seemed to lose his grip entirely; for all he could do was to make a sharp, hissing sound, get red in the face under the strain and tremble all over.
"I s-s-say, d-d-do y-y-y-," he went on, when there came another full stop, and as Larry said, a further escape of gas to account for that hissing noise from between his partly closed lips.
The contortions of his face when poor Nat worked himself into this sort of a fever were simply agonizing. Some boys made it a habit of laughing coarsely at the afflicted boy. But Frank always felt sorry, and tried the best he knew how to break the spell that seemed to bind up Nat's vocal faculties. For strange to say, there were other times when Nat could really speak calmly and evenly, as if he had never stammered in his life.
As though utterly despairing of ever being able to get out what he so eagerly wished to say, the boy suddenly snatched a pencil from one pocket, and a pad of paper from another. These necessities he always carried along with him, though hating to have to make use of such a silly trick at all.
Rapidly dashing a line or so upon the little pad, Nat tore the sheet off, and thrust it into Frank's hand.
Andy had come out of the shop by that time, dressed in dry garments; and bending over his cousin's shoulder he read these words:
"Percy's new aeroplane has arrived at the station. He's down there right now, seeing about having it put on a cart and pulled to his shack."
"Just about what we expected; eh, Frank?" asked Andy, handing the scrap of paper to Larry, so that he and the runt could read what news Nat had brought in such a tremendous hurry.
It was as if the stammering boy had judged, that of all the people in Bloomsbury who would be interested in knowing that Percy had received a new aeroplane, the Bird boys took front rank. For was not Percy Carberry the old-time rival of Frank; and on numerous occasions had he not striven furiously to keep the cousins from winning the laurels that came their way, despite all opposition?
"Yes, I understand that he was going in for aviation again," replied the other. "And I don't know whether I'm glad or sorry. If Percy and that crony of his, Sandy Hollingshead, only believed in the square deal, we might have great times in racing and exploring; but the trouble is, they hate to see anybody getting ahead of them, and lots of times as everybody understands, have tried to injure our machine."
"Oh! I don't know," said the optimistic Andy; "we always manage somehow, to come out of every affair right-side up, and they get the rough end of the deal, as they should because they won't leave us alone to manage our own business. I can see some warm times coming soon, when they get to cruising around once more."
"Well," said Frank, thoughtfully, "I never believed that Percy had really reformed when he said he was through playing mean tricks. He's always kept quiet about that trip down to South America. Why, he even accused me of giving him away just because I told of our adventures there, even glossing over the part he played in our little rumpus with the revolutionists in Columbia, at the time I found my dear father, and rescued him."
"That's just like Percy," declared Larry. "Don't I size him up, though? He never knew what gratitude meant. I've been told that you and Andy really saved his life down in that upset country."
"Oh! perhaps it wasn't quite all of that, Larry," protested Frank.
"All right," spoke up Andy immediately; "at least we got those fellows out of a mighty tough hole. But it was just like Percy to declare that he was going to use some chloroform he had with him, to put the whole bunch of revolutionists to sleep, take their guns away, bind them hand and foot, and send some of the government troops out to capture 'em. So you see, we spoiled all that fine game by insisting on rescuing him and Sandy."
Larry laughed uproariously.
"Too bad about that chap," he remarked, when he could catch his breath again. "He's that slippery you never know when you've got your finger on him. And the excuses he gets up to cover his knockouts, they just sizzle. I reckon Percy is bound to be a promoter when he grows up."
"Say, let's all go down to the railroad yards, and watch Percy get his machine on the cart?" suggested Elephant, wickedly.
"Count me out, fellows," remarked Frank, immediately, "I don't want him to think I'm curious about what he bought that time he went to New York. Perhaps it's a better aeroplane than we've got here; but I don't believe it yet, after what she did for us in the tryout this day."
"Besides," observed Larry, "the chances are ten to one such a sly fellow as our Percy ain't going to knock the crates around the many parts of his machine into flinders right there in the open. He likes a little bit of mystery too, even if he hasn't got any reason to hide things."
"That settles my neat little scheme," sighed the runt, disconsolately. "Don't understand why it is that everything I happen to propose, Larry or somebody else always sits down on it, kerchunk! It's discouraging to genius, I say, and might keep a budding inventor from ever attaining his manifest destiny."
"Hear! hear!" chuckled Andy.
As for the tall boy, he came near having a fit, so doubled up with laughter did this important remark on the part of his small chum leave him.
"No danger of you ever being discouraged, or left at the stake, Elephant," he managed to say, presently. "You come up smiling after every backset. You've sure got grit, and to spare, if they did forget you when handing out bone and muscle."
"And I bet you if I'd only had the chance, fellows, I'd have dropped into the bally old lake, just like Andy did, and saved that sweet cherub, Tommy Cragan!" declared the "Bug," as Larry often called his diminutive chum, when he tired of using his other misplaced nickname.
"Sure you would," said Andy. "I was only lucky in having the chance, that's all. Why, I don't see anything in that to make a fuss over. It was just like a picnic to me. Frank wanted to go the worst kind, but he couldn't let go the levers of our new and dandy machine, which might sail away up in the clouds."
"Oh! how I envy both of you fellows!" sighed Elephant, placing a hand on his breast, though Larry told him that his heart was probably located on his right side, which would account for the flutter he fell into whenever he thought he detected an opportunity for distinguishing himself approaching.
But everybody took these sharp sayings of Larry Geohegan in the same happy-go-lucky spirit in which they were uttered. No one had more friends and fewer enemies than the tall boy; because he was generous to a fault, humorous in his remarks, and the life of the camp when out with any of his companions.
Andy had stalked back into the shop again, though Frank had looked after him as though inclined to wonder what ailed his cousin to be so mysterious in his actions.
"Forgot to take his change out of the pockets of those wet clothes?" suggested Larry, noticing the upraised eyebrows of Frank.
"I don't know about that," returned the other, stepping back a pace to where he could glance through the open door. "He's gone straight to the drawer where we keep some of our stuff. There, he's taken out the marine glasses that I just put away. What under the sun do you suppose Andy wants with them? He doesn't look up at the summit of Old Thunder Top, where we landed from our monoplane last summer, being the first human being ever to step there above the big cliffs. No, Andy has gone to a window with the glass. He seems to want to keep out of sight. Now, I wonder why?"
"Three to one he just saw your sister Janet going along the further road; and couldn't keep from wanting to admire her at close range," chuckled Larry.
"But now he's elevating the glasses," Frank went on. "He seems to be interested in that old mill you can see yonder above the trees. I declare, I did see something moving then in one of the upper windows. That beats everything. To think of Andy having such sharp eyes."
"Oh! the boys used to play there last summer," ventured Elephant; "though since then nobody goes near the old place. I was told it had become the haunt of hoboes this summer. Anyway, the boys fight shy of it right along now."
"Here comes Andy; now we'll know," said Nat, just as smartly as any of them could have spoken, for his hurry spell was over, and he had command of his vocal chords once more.
"Wondering what took you inside to get the glasses," remarked Frank, as the other joined them, a frown marked on his usually placid face. "And then, what made you go to a window instead of standing outside openly, and looking?"
"I'll tell you," returned Andy, solemnly. "I didn't want 'em to see me peeking."
"You mean the fellows in the old deserted mill?" asked Larry.
"No other," came the quick reply, "I don't know how it came to strike me, because you know as a rule I ain't suspicious; but something about the way those two men in the touring car looked so greedily at our new aeroplane gave me an idea it might be them."
"Goodness gracious!" gasped Elephant, his eyes round with wonder and excitement.
"And was it?" demanded Frank, hastily, frowning at the same time.
"Nobody else," replied Andy, impressively. "They must have swung around, passed up to the old mill on that side road, and from the upper windows have been watching us all the time through the fieldglasses they carry!"
FIGURING IT ALL OUT
"It begins to look as though you were right, Andy, and that these strangers certainly feel an uncommon interest in what we've been doing up here," said Frank, seriously.
"Oh! I don't take much of the credit for hitting on that idea, Frank," declared the other Bird boy, quickly. "You kept watching that Marsh right from the start. I could see a question in your eye every time you looked at him. And it spurred me on to keeping closer tab over his ways."
"Are they still up there, d'ye think?" queried Frank; while Larry, Elephant, and Stuttering Nat hung around, saying nothing, but listening for all they were worth.
"No," replied Andy; "I've got an idea they began to suspect some of you were looking that way. Anyhow, I saw Marsh duck his head, and think they came down. No use going in to take a shy at 'em now."
"I'd give a fit to know what they are up to?" mused Frank, a thoughtful look on his face.
"Well, perhaps we can hit somewhere near the facts if we start guessing," remarked Andy, with a knowing nod.
"Look here, you've been turning it over your mind, then?" asked his cousin.
"Sure I have," grinned Andy, promptly. "Never could bear to let anything puzzle me long. Used to lie awake half the night trying to clinch a name that had just slipped a cog in my memory."
"All right. Suppose you give us the benefit of what you decided might be the answer to this problem. Who are these two men, Andy?"
"You know they admit being well up in aviation?" the other remarked as a preliminary.
"So Larry and Elephant said," Frank replied.
"And that not only had they attended many meets but admitted being well acquainted with a lot of people whose names we see in the papers every day—men who have done things along the line of aviation. Get that, Frank?"
"I have. Now go on with your answer," nodded the other, encouragingly.
"These gentlemen have been sent up here for a purpose! Perhaps they are in the pay of some unscrupulous manufacturer of aeroplanes, who would not be above stealing the ideas of two boys, and applying them to his up-to-date machines, placed on the market, and for sale to the public!"
"Gosh!" exclaimed Elephant.
"That sounds all to the good to me!" remarked Larry; while Nat tried to express himself intelligently along similar lines; but being suddenly seized with one of his spasms, was obliged to take it out in numerous mouthings, and a working of his facial muscles, all the while making unintelligible sounds.
Frank seemed to consider this startling proposition of his cousin, for there were lines about his forehead, and his eyes took on a reflective look.
"Now, I can see already that you don't agree with me wholly," Andy said, quickly for he was accustomed to studying that countenance of his cousin, and could read between the lines.
"Well, I'd hate to think that any maker of aeroplanes could descend that low as to want to steal ideas from any one," Frank answered. "They are few in number, and so far as we know, honorable men. If they wanted to get something that you and I, or any other fellow, had happened to hit on, and which would be of value to aviators, the chances are they'd send somebody to open up negotiations, and offer to buy the improvement outright, or take it on a royalty basis."
"Perhaps you're right, Frank," admitted the other; "but all the same there was something I didn't like about that Mr. Marsh. I warrant you he's a sharp one in a dicker. He looked it. But see here, what've you got to offer in place of my poor little kicked-out suggestion? There's some sort of answer to the puzzle; and five to one you've guessed it."
Frank laughed as he replied:
"Hold on, now, I may be just as far off as you are. As usual we look at things on opposite sides, you know, Andy. But we never disagree, and that's one good thing about our partnership. Either you convince me, or I show you."
"Sure we do, Frank; and nine times out of ten it's your game. When I make a hit it's a great day for Andy Bird. But please hurry up, and tell us what you think!"
"Yes," said Larry, who had been moving restlessly about, being consumed with the fever of curiosity, "who do you say Mr. Marsh and his friend are, Frank?"
"To begin with, just as you did, the fact that they admit knowing many people connected with the game, strengthens my suspicion. I too believe they may be connected with some maker of aeroplanes like the Wrights; but instead of being sent up here to steal our ideas, they have come as detectives, to find out if the Bird boys have been lifting any patented inventions belonging to their employers!"
"Whew! that takes my breath away!" gasped Andy.
"It's sure a screamer, that's what!" cried Larry.
"Frank, go up head!" said Elephant, solemnly.
Stammering Nat wanted to say something the worst kind; but being still under the domination of his nervous excitement, he could only work his jaws and violently nod his head; but then that stood for acclamation on his part, and so they all understood it.
"Frank, I begin to cave already," declared Andy. "Because that would account for the way they stared so hard at our hydroplane, and the aluminum pontoons under the body. But we bought those from the patentee, and have the bill of sale to show for it."
"And there isn't a single stolen idea about the machine," Frank went on. "I've been mighty careful about that. I believe in an inventor having full credit for his work. If ever I do happen on a valuable device, I would want to feel that it couldn't be stolen away from me."
"Listen, boys," Larry spoke up. "That would account for something that Mr. Marsh said when we were talking to them, before little Tommy took our attention. As near as I can remember I'd been telling them about your shop, and how you fellows just haunted it all winter, working on lots of ideas. He turned to his friend, and he says, says he: 'Longley, they might be willing to let us have a little peep into that wonderful shop of theirs, eh?'"
"Yes, that sounds interesting," remarked Frank. "Go on, Larry. What did you say to that?"
"Oh! Elephant here took the words right out of my mouth, Frank. He up and says: 'I wouldn't bank too much on that, mister. Both of us are chums of the Bird boys; and if they wouldn't let us come inside their shop all winter, I guess they ain't inviting strangers there!'"
"How did they take that?" continued Frank.
"Mr. Marsh just laughed, and asked the other man what he thought of that. Said it was mighty interesting to run across a couple of bright young inventors so unexpectedly; and that Wright and Curtiss ought to know the Bird boys. Also remarked, as he winked at Longley, that you might be induced to join the big aeroplane makers' trust that was being talked of; but I believed he was just joshing when he said that, Frank."
"It's all in the wash, though, and mighty interesting," Frank continued, still thoughtful.
"And you can take it from me, them gentlemen never just happened on Bloomsbury, like they said," Elephant declared, emphatically.
"I agree with you there, Elephant," Frank echoed. "They came here to do something. It may be as Andy said, to steal our thunder, if so be we had anything worth lifting; and then again my idea may be the right one, and that they represent owners of patents who are determined to protect their rights in things they've spent time and money in perfecting. Perhaps we may never know the truth. And then again before many days, or even hours, we might run across the answer."
"Well," remarked Andy, complacently, "one thing sure, we've got to take extra measures to protect our shop, and keep prying fingers from meddling. I'll speak to my father and Colonel Josiah about it. They may hire old Shea again to watch of nights."
Colonel Josiah Whympers had been Andy's guardian during the time he believed his father to be dead. The old man was lame, and used a crutch; but he was a great admirer of the Bird boys, and ready to back anything they advocated. Once a great traveler he had been to every corner of the world, and was full of the most thrilling stories of what had happened to him during his forty years of roving in queer places.
"Excuse me from Shea," laughed Frank. "Don't you remember how he failed us last year, and was caught napping. He's as honest as the day is long, but a mighty poor guard. No, we'll have to do just what we did before, take up our lodgings right here in the shop, where we can defend our property."
"That suits me OK," returned the jovial Andy. "And so we'll consider it settled, Frank, that so long as these mysterious strangers are around Bloomsbury we'll just camp out here."
"And then some," continued the other; "because, you see, they might guess what we had up our sleeve, and just pretend to move along."
"It's a measly shame, that's what!" grumbled Larry.
Elephant immediately fell upon him and shook his hand vigorously.
"Me too!" he exclaimed, looking unusually sad.
"What's all this row about, fellows?" demanded Frank, pretending not to understand.
"It's ghastly to have all the good things pass us by, that's what!" Larry declared.
"Meaning what?" Andy inquired.
"Think of the bully good times you two can have here, playing at camping out. You've even got a stove handy, and a whole outfit of aluminum cooking ware to be carried along with your aeroplane when you go off a long ways. There never was a luckier pair than you two Bird boys, that's what," and Larry groaned again to express the envy that was burning in his boyish soul.
"If you'd only let us bring over our blankets, and sleep here with you, it would lighten things up a heap, I tell you, Frank," said Elephant.
"We wouldn't occupy much room," went on Larry, eagerly, thinking he saw signs of giving in on the other's face. "Why, you could chuck Elephant under the workbench and never find him again. And I'd sling a hammock in a corner. Looky here, if you say no I'll feel like jumping in the lake right away."
Frank and Andy exchanged glances. They were genuinely fond of the strangely mated pair; and besides, there was no longer any reason why these old chums should be longer refused the liberty they had once enjoyed, of entering the workshop as they pleased.
"It's a go, Larry; eh, Andy?" said the taller of the Bird boys.
With that the two favored ones indulged in sundry whoops and leaps to express the joy that Frank's announcement had given; even Stammering Nat grinned, and no doubt wished he had been included in the invitation; though he knew there would be no room for a further increase in the guardians of the shop.
"I'm going right home and get my blankets," said Elephant, eagerly.
"And me ditto," echoed Larry. "Hey, fellows, you know what dandy doughnuts my mother makes; shall I fetch a bunch along, with a loaf of bread?"
"Fine," laughed Andy, "and be off with you."
"Hold on, boys," Frank broke in just then. "Let's see what this procession coming along the road means. Two hay wagons, and each loaded with some crates of merchandise. Beside each driver I notice a second figure, and unless I'm mistaken the first one is Percy Shelley Carberry."
"That's right," remarked Larry. "And it's his crony, Sandy Hollingshead, on the second wagon. Say, you're gazing right now on the wonderful new aeroplane which your rival Percy has sent for, and in which he means to make you fellows look like two cents. Hey! what's this I see?"
"They've stopped short, that's all," observed Andy. "An automobile has blocked the road, and Percy seems to be having a confab with one of the parties in the car. Frank, do you see who whose men are? The very gents we were talking about. And now they've struck another scent, for they seem to be bent on learning all about who these boys carrying a crated aeroplane in parts can be. The mystery grows! My word! but there's going to be lots doing around here soon!"
AN UNKNOWN ENEMY
"Huh! see there, that Mr. Marsh has got down from his machine, and gone ahead to talk some more with Percy," remarked Andy, as they continued to keep their eyes directed toward the road, not so very far distant, where this little drama was taking place.
"They certainly seem to be interested in everything touching on aviation," mused Frank. "Going to hang around Bloomsbury several days, are they, while their car is being over-hauled? Did it look broken down to you, Larry?"
"Almost new," replied the other, readily "I'd just like to say that that was only an excuse for hanging around a while. They came here on purpose, with something in their noddles; and you mark me, Frank, they don't mean to skip without having a try at that same."
"Well, there they go off, and the procession starts again. Percy is turning around to look after the two men, as if they interested him a heap," Andy observed.
"He's calling something to Sandy, but I can't make out what it is," Larry declared; for he was noted on account of his unusually keen hearing.
"Anyhow they seem to be laughing, and looking over this way, Frank," Andy remarked. "Just as if they thought they had a good joke on us. Say, d'ye suppose now, that Mr. Marsh gave Percy a little hint he had it in for us? If he did, it would tickle that bunch to beat the band. Don't I know 'em though? Never did take any stock in that conversation of Percy's. He had to say something, after we got him out of the hands of the revolutionists down in old Columbia."
"Well," Frank went on, "there's no need of our worrying about things that may never happen. We won't cross this bridge till we get to it."
"But, Frank, while that sounds fine, you know right well that it's always been your way to prepare for possibilities?" Andy continued, positively.
"That's correct, and we mean to now by camping out here," Frank laughed, as if quite at his ease. "Besides, we've got things fixed pretty safe by now, so that if what you thought turned out to be true, the thieves couldn't profit by anything in the line of an idea they hooked out of our shop. Those ideas are being patented, and safe from the hands of a robber."
"Just as you say then," Andy went on, "we'll try and forget about Mysterious Mr. Marsh—how's that strike you as a stunning title for our new adventure? Be off with you, Larry and Elephant. Nat, would ask you to join us, but I'm afraid there wouldn't be room for so big a crowd, unless you slept in my boat, which I've not had in the water this summer so far."
Stammering Nat tried to answer, but knowing the uselessness of such a thing, instead he darted into the shop, took one look at the open canoe occupying slings at the further end, and then came hurrying out. He pounced on Andy, wrung his hand violently, and managed to gasp the one word:
Then he waved his hand toward Frank, and shot after the two boys who were heading for the road, anxious to return with their belongings.
Within half an hour they made their reappearance, each laden down with a bulky bundle, under which poor little Elephant seemed almost buried, though he trudged manfully along, and asked no favors from his taller companions.
Evening was now near. Andy had made several trips to his home beyond the border of the big field, each time returning with a load; though he and Frank had for a long time kept their cooking kit and their blankets in the shop, so that they would be handy when wanted.
He had also told his father and Colonel Josiah about their intention to sleep in the workshop. Neither of the gentlemen thought anything strange of the proposition, for the Bird boys were well able to look out after themselves. They had proved this so often in the past, that by now Frank's father, as well as the parent of Andy, offered no objection to their projects, however bold they might appear at times.
"I had your dad on the 'phone, Frank," Andy remarked, the last time he came back. "He'd just gotten in from his round of afternoon visits; for there's a heap of sickness about Bloomsbury just now, I hear. And of course he said that he wouldn't worry because you stayed away for a few nights. I tell you, old chum, we've just got the finest governors ever. It's a lucky thing to have an obliging dad!"
"And be able to wind him around your finger, as I hear you do yours, ever since he came back from South America," laughed Frank.
By the time darkness began to gather the boys were deep in the delightful task of cooking a genuine camp supper. The stove was of generous size, so that several could work around it at the same time. Andy took charge, nor would he let Frank have any hand in the proceedings, calling upon Elephant, Larry and Nat when he needed assistance.
Of course the ham was tender, the coffee nectar fit for the gods, the Boston baked beans just as appetizing as they could possibly be, and all other things on the menu equal to any they had ever tasted. But then, hungry boys are not apt to be discriminating, save sometimes at home. Anything eaten under such romantic conditions as this was sure to be classed as prime.
Larry had been as good as his word, and brought back a generous donation on the part of his mother, whose doughnuts were reckoned the very finest in all that section; so that they topped off a hearty supper with several of these apiece.
After the aluminum cooking outfit had been thoroughly cleaned, and every piece put away in its exact place, as was the custom of the Bird boys, who could never tell just when they might want to go off in a hurry, and take the camp kit along, they gathered around a table and indulged in some friendly games, Andy having been thoughtful enough to fetch these out from the house.
About ten Elephant was discovered to be fast asleep, while the others were holding a talk fest by themselves.
"Time we all turned in, fellows," Frank declared, after Larry had aroused his mate by tickling his ear with a straw.
So for a short time there was much fussing and blanket turning. Finally one by one they announced themselves settled comfortably, Frank staying up until the last in order to put out the lamp.
All of them had arranged it that in case there came a sudden alarm they would not be more than a dozen seconds getting into some clothes and their shoes, so as to rush outside.
There were several patent fire-extinguishers handy, for the Bird boys had had one experience with a conflagration that threatened to destroy their workshop, and with it their precious aeroplane, and they did not mean to be caught unprepared for such an emergency again.
Many times during that night Frank awoke, and on each occasion he would sit up to listen. It was a quiet night, and the windows of the shop, over which heavy wire netting had been secured, were of course open, so that the air could pass on through.
Thus, what sounds there might happen to arise without could be plainly heard. But the hours passed on and there was no cause for alarm. Frank had arranged certain devices whereby he expected to be warned should any one attempt to enter the workshop. The fine wire had been secretly carried to Andy's room in the house, where a bell would sound an alarm, and arouse the sleeper.
Of course this was not wholly in use while the boys were camping there in the enclosed shed; but in its way it would prove another guardian.
Once Frank thought he heard murmuring voices; he was so impressed that he even crept out of his bed and advanced to the nearest opening, thinking to locate the speakers, whether they proved to be Percy Carberry and his crony, bent on mischief, or the mysterious Mr. Marsh and Longley, spying around for some secret purpose of their own.
It turned out to be only little Elephant, who was lying on his back, and breathing heavily. Frank turned him over, and then crept back under his blankets.
So morning found them, ravenous as wolves, and each one ready with some suggestion as to what they could have for breakfast.
But after all, Andy had assumed the office of high cook, and his word was law to the rank and file. He declared that codfish cakes would be a good starter, and that he had the stuff already mixed, as given him by the colored aunty in the Bird kitchen.
Besides that, he announced that he would treat his guests to pancakes, or as they are always known in camp, flapjacks, which he prided himself on knowing how to make. Some honey had been smuggled over to make these more acceptable. Indeed, it would appear that Andy did know how to make light cakes, since it seemed impossible for the others to get enough of them, and he was kept over the fire until as red as a turkey cock in the face.
"How about taking a turn this morning Frank?" asked Andy, as he found himself forced in turn to cry quits, with half of a flapjack still on his platter.
"Don't wait to clean up, fellows," said Larry, promptly. "Give the rest of us something to do while you're sailing around up among the clouds. I know just where you keep every article, and my word for it you'll find them in place when you get back again."
"That's nice of you, Larry," laughed Frank; "and I'm going to take you up on it. It does seem a shame not to take advantage of so fine a morning as this. Hardly a breath of wind as yet, you notice. And yet by noon it may be blowing great guns. You never can tell. Andy, shall we get the new machine out of the hangar?"
"Oh! I'm game for anything you offer," asserted the other, getting up slowly, as became one who had just been crammed.
"We tried the pontoons yesterday, and they worked as fine as silk," Frank went on to say. "Suppose we leave them off this time, as we will not be over the lake?"
"Just as you say," returned the willing Andy. "I tell you what, Frank, let's go up to the top of the mountain again. Haven't been there this season, you know."
"Just what I had in mind myself, and I think you knew it," Frank said, as he led the way outside. "Then we might sail around over the woods up in that region where we discovered those two hiding jewelry thieves, who were making headquarters of that old shack in the forest. If this biplane can climb any better than our little Bug used to do, she'll be a wonder, all right. Come on, and help us get things moving, fellows."
Many hands made light work, and presently the biplane was ready for the start.
When Frank gave the word the others pushed her off; and as the two propellers hummed, the machine started along the ground on the three bicycle wheels until presently it arose in the air as gracefully as any bird could have done.
"Now, which way first?" asked Andy, when the shouts of their comrades had died away in the distance, and they were half a mile from the trying-out field.
"I guess we'll take a little twenty-mile spin first," Frank replied, moving a lever; "to see what she can do in a hurry pinch. That new engine seems to work all right; just as the smaller one did, seldom failing us. Tell me, what could be as fine as this, sailing over the earth? I don't wonder that when a fellow has once started in to be an aviator he can't ever break away. Peril and accidents he laughs at; not because he's reckless always, but just on account of the fascination of the sport."
"We're the luckiest fellows ever, just as Larry and Elephant say," Andy declared as they soared upward, and then descended in daring spirals as Frank tried out the new airship, to see what it was capable of doing.
In a dozen ways had it proven even more than they had expected, and both boys were wild with enthusiasm over the performance.
"Let Percy come along with his new one!" cried Andy, after they had volplaned successfully down toward the earth, until not more than a few hundred feet above the tree tops of the forest; "it would tickle me to have a turn with him again. He has forgotten his other beat, and is beginning to boast again about what great stunts he means to kick up."
"Well, who knows what may be in store for us yet," Frank remarked; "and now, let's head up again, and strike for the summit of Old Thunder Top, ten miles away."
Andy's sudden exclamation was caused by the report of a gun in among the scattered trees directly below them; and both young aviators distinctly heard the peculiar "whine" of the bullet, as it passed close by their ears, actually making a little hole through the cloth of both planes!
SEEN FROM THE EAGLES' EYRIE
They were already spinning along at a lively clip, and rising too, at the moment that shot sounded, and the leaden missile whizzed past so close to them. Almost through sheer instinct Frank instantly shifted his lever, and started the biplane upward on a slant that was the limit, and approaching the danger line.
The two Bird boys turned and stared at each other. Wonder and indignation seemed struggling for the mastery in their faces.
"Frank, he fired that shot at us!" exclaimed Andy.
"Seemed like it," returned the other. "At any rate, it came much too close to suit my ideas of comfort. Made me think of those warm times we had down in Columbia, when the revolutionists were after us."
"What a wicked shame!" went on the other fiercely. "And I guess the silly fool thought he was doing something smart! That's a new danger aviators will have to face—being shot at by every loon that carries a gun, just like they might be some strange bird."
"Well, we're Birds, all right, but hardly strange ones," Frank continued, with a frown on his face. "And we've been knocking around this section of the country in our jolly little monoplane so long, that I supposed every farmer's boy knew us and felt an interest in our work. That makes me believe it could hardly have been done in a spirit of what some people would call a joke."
"Good gracious! Frank, do you mean that the fellow really wanted to hit us? Oh! that seems too terrible to believe!" cried Andy, aghast.
"Stop and think," Frank continued, steadily. "In the first place, what would any one be doing, hunting in the middle of summer. Why, outside of a short spell given over to woodcock, there isn't a thing the law allows a sportsman to shoot up to Fall. And Andy, did you ever hear of anybody shooting woodcock with a rifle?"
"Well, am I right about that? It sounded like the report of a rifle to me; and it was sure a bullet that whistled past us!" Frank pursued, in his customary positive way.
"Yes, you're right about that. But who could be so horribly mean as to want to injure us?" said Andy. "Why, even if that bullet had struck our biplane in one of half a dozen places, it might have made us fall. And Frank, that would be just criminal, you know."
"I suppose you noticed that puff of smoke below us?" Frank went on.
"It just happened that I was looking down, and I saw it burst out of a thicket," came the answer.
"It was the same way with me," Frank continued. "I had just a glimpse of some fellow throwing himself under the bushes but if you asked me I couldn't say for certain whether it was a man or a boy."
"Just like he was afraid of being seen, and recognized; is that what you mean?" asked Andy.
"It looked that way," Frank replied.
"Don't you see, Frank, he gave himself away in doing that? First, he knew he was doing a dirty mean act; and second, he must have been somebody we knew, or he wouldn't have been so afraid of being seen."
"That's so, Andy. Another thing, perhaps it may not have struck you that once before you and I met with an adventure while almost over the same spot."
Andy gave vent to an exclamation that told of excitement revived.
"You mean the time we sighted those two skulking jewelry thieves, the fellows who had robbed Leffingwell's store, and were hiding until the row quieted down?"
"Yes, Jules Garrone, and his pal," Frank went on.
"Jules was the one who had been an aviator over in France, and who tried to steal our Bug, meaning to fly away, and leave no trail behind for the hunting police. But Frank, you can't possibly believe Jules was the fellow who fired that shot? It don't stand to reason; because you know, he was sent to the penitentiary for ten years. Oh! no, I guess we'll have to think up something else this time," and Andy shook his head vigorously in the negative.
"Well, time may tell," Frank said, simply.
"Looky here, Frank, now there's no use denying it, I know you've got some sort of idea about finding out who that rascal was," declared Andy.
"Well, perhaps there is some sort of hazy notion hovering around in my brain, that I ought to learn more about him," the other smiled back. "This thing of being made a target by any fool who happens to own a rifle is something that ought to be stopped with a jerk. Yes, I do expect to try and find out."
"And you won't tell me what's on your mind?" asked Andy.
"Not just now. It's too uncertain to speak of, yet. And perhaps, after all, it was only some boy, who thought it would be smart to give us a little shock; and who sent his bullet closer than he had meant to."
"You sure don't mean—Percy?" exclaimed Andy.
"Oh! no, I didn't have him in mind," laughed Frank.
"Not that he wouldn't be guilty of such meanness if the chance came—you know that fellow isn't above anything!" declared Andy, vigorously.
"Well, just at present I can imagine that Percy and his crony Sandy Hollingshead, are using up every minute of their precious time assembling the parts of their new aeroplane. Consequently, Andy, neither of them would be apt to wander away up here, miles from Bloomsbury, and carrying a rifle."
"Guess you're right," grumbled the other, as if loth to entirely give up the idea that had flashed into his mind. "But it strikes me, Frank, after this, when we're out for a spin, we ought to give that region of the old charcoal burner's shack a wide berth. It spells trouble for the Bird boys."
"Oh! I don't know; perhaps the trouble may later on be all in store for the fellow who held that gun. But look up, Andy; we're getting along toward the peak at a gay old pace. Say, what do you think of the biplane now?"
"She's a peach, that's what!" burst out Andy, impulsively. "I thought the little Bug was the whole thing, and then some; but honestly, Frank, she wasn't in the same class as this new machine."
"And yet," Frank laughed, "remember that with her we beat Percy and his biplane, manufactured by one of the best firms in the market. That ought to be glory enough for the Bird boys. Now, get ready for your part in the landing; because, you know the plateau isn't extra big on Old Thunder Top."
"I see our old friends, the white-headed eagles soaring around. D'ye think they'll tackle us again, like they did last year?" Andy asked.
"Oh! I hope that by now they've grown used to us, and consider that we've got just as much right up here as they ever had. Besides, we gave 'em an awful walloping you may remember. And this time we've been smart enough to fetch along a couple of fine sticks to repeat the dose if necessary. Careful now, Andy. Here goes for a snug drop on the rock!"
Almost as lightly as a thistle-down the biplane alighted on the small table rock that constituted the apex of grim Old Thunder Top. High cliffs completely surrounding this summit had kept it from ever being reached, up to the time Frank and his cousin landed there, in winning the race for a silver cup; and planted the Stars and Stripes there for the first time on record.
Since then the boys of Bloomsbury, not to be wholly outdone, had set to work, and actually carved a set of rough steps, that were hardly more than footholds, in the uneven rock; so that the most daring had been able to climb up; and with the aid of a friendly rope carried along for this purpose, get down again in safety. But in the annals of Bloomsbury the Bird boys would be set down as the pioneers who led the way to the peak.
Frank and his cousin were soon walking around the rocky plateau, using their fieldglasses to observe the many things that lay stretched out in every direction. It was well worth all the trouble it cost to enjoy that magnificent view; for they could see for many miles in every direction.
Andy more than once turned the glasses toward the quarter where they had had their peculiar little adventure that morning. But of course he saw no sign of the unknown party who had fired the shot. The dense forest would naturally prevent their sighting him when miles away.
Half an hour they spent in this manner; and then Andy suggested that they might just as well be starting for home.
"I notice that the wind is beginning to come up quite some," he remarked. "And at such a height I rather guess it can blow for all that's out, when it wants. Besides, we've got a number of little things we had expected to attend to at the shop."
"All right," replied Frank, who was using the glasses at the time. "I'll be ready to join you in a minute or so."
"You seem to be interested in taking in our practice field," remarked his cousin. "See the boys; and are they watching us right now?"
"I was wondering what was going to happen," said Frank, taking the glasses down.
"Happen—to us, do you mean?" Andy asked, instantly taking the alarm, because he saw from Frank's manner that the other meant something by his remark.
"Here, have a look, and then tell me if you recognize it."
Andy immediately accepted the glasses, and clapped them to his eyes. He had no sooner done so than he gave vent to an exclamation.
"I know now what you meant, Frank," he remarked.
"Well, what do you make of it?" asked the other.
"The same car, beyond a doubt; and it's stopped in the road right in front of the bars where we enter our field. Yes, and there's that mysterious Mr. Marsh going into the field right now. Frank, he knows we're away, for he must have seen us sailing around up here. And that's why he's heading for our shop. Perhaps he believes it's unguarded, and expects to get a chance to spy around. Now, what do you think it all means? Oh! I wish we had started back long ago. What if the boys fall to his dope, and let him see everything with those sharp eyes of his? Frank, let's be going home!"
MYSTERIOUS MR. MARSH AT IT AGAIN
"What's the hurry?" remarked Frank, who seemed much more composed than his chum.
"Why, think of the impudence of that man!" burst out Andy. "Taking advantage of our being away, to prowl around our shop."
"Now you're guessing, you know. He may be only intending to call on us. Anyhow, it's no use to think of trying to get there in time. We just couldn't do it. And besides, Larry and Elephant are there, and we don't think they're fools, do we?" Frank remarked, as he again used the glasses.
"There, didn't he go inside the shop?" demanded Andy, straining his eyes to see what went on far below.
"That's so; but Larry promptly walked him out again. They're talking right now in front of the door, and the other two fellows fill the doorway," Frank reported.
"I just bet he'll pull the wool over their eyes, and get in again. I know he's a soft talker, and can blarney to beat the band. Oh! if we could only shout loud enough to make them hear. Or if we had our wigwag flags along with us," and Andy actually groaned with the suspense.
"Come, let up, old fellow," observed Frank. "What's the use worrying like that? You know we fixed things, so even if he got in again he'd see precious little to give him any satisfaction. There, Larry is walking away from the door with him. Give him credit for being sharp enough to see through a grindstone that has a hole in it, will you?"
"Bully for Larry; he's all to the good!" exclaimed the other. "But tell me what's doing now, Frank."
"The gentleman is holding out his hand, and Larry takes it. So I reckon they didn't have any hard words," Frank answered, quickly.
"And is he going away?" demanded Andy.
"Seems like it. There, he stops and looks around, as if he might be interested in our field, and arrangements for tryouts."
"I hope he don't turn back again, and force his way in; you know he could easy enough do that, Frank; because they're only three boys, and two of 'em hardly worth counting," Andy observed, anxiously.
"Nothing doing," commented Frank. "He's started again for the road, where the car stands. Here, take another look at that car before it goes off."
"All right, Frank; but I'm all balled up about why you want me to do that," replied Andy, suiting the action to the word.
"You see which way the car heads, don't you?" asked his cousin.
"Sure; toward town. That's as plain as the nose on my face," Andy answered.
"And from that you'd judge they'd been out for a spin, wouldn't you?"
"Ask me something harder, won't you, Frank?" said Andy, scornfully.
"But you forget that they expected to hand their car over to the man at the garage to be entirely overhauled! That was to be their excuse for remaining over in Bloomsbury a couple of days!" Frank exploded.
"Wow! that's so!" exclaimed the startled Andy. "And seems now they didn't bother doing it. Something else gripped 'em to Bloomsbury. They concluded that they had right good need of their old car while they hung around here. Frank, it knocks me silly; but I honestly own up I just can't get the hang of this thing."
"Well, I'm almost in as bad a state as you are over it," replied the other, as he pressed his lips firmly together in thought. "But, Andy, that wasn't all I wanted you to notice, when I asked you to look at the way the car stood."
"It wasn't, eh? Well, please keep right along, now that you've got started, Frank. I'm shivering all over with excitement right now. Something seems to tell me we're in for a new set of adventures that will make all the others look tame."
"If they came along that road, Andy, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for Mr. Marsh and his friend to have been up in the neighborhood of the old deserted shack half an hour ago!"
Andy stared into his cousin's face, while an ashen hue spread over his own usually cheery countenance.
"Oh, my! then you believe—," he began when Frank interrupted him by saying:
"I don't believe anything; but the circumstance seemed a little suspicious to me, that's all. It's possible, and that's the extent of what flashed into my mind. But we have no proof; and I'd hate to think that Mr. Marsh could be guilty of such a nasty thing as trying to injure us."
"Shall we make a start now?" asked Andy, who seemed more or less in a daze.
"I suppose we might as well. Look at the eagles dipping lower and lower. They've got some young ones in the nest, and if we went closer there'd be a circus going on pretty quick. But we're not looking for trouble today," Frank remarked.
"No need to," replied the other, instantly; "because it's hunting us."
They were very careful to make sure that no loose stones barred the way; for as the plateau was very short they must sail off into the air almost immediately on starting the engine; and even a small turn at such a critical moment was apt to cause the biplane to swerve, and bring about a catastrophe.
But the start was successfully accomplished. Frank always paid so much attention to little things that he was not very apt to be caught napping.
"Straight home?" asked Andy, once they were afloat, and heading down from the dizzy height.
"Yes," replied his cousin. "I'm curious to hear what our friend Mr. Marsh could have had to say to Larry; and how the boy carried out his job of keeping strangers from nosing around inside the shop."
"Just as well that we left when we did," remarked Andy; "for over in the southwest I noticed some clouds that may bring a lot of wind along, and weather that no self-respecting aeroplane has any business to be out in."
"Why, yes, I've seen the peak of Old Thunder Top buried in low hanging clouds many a time," Frank declared. "And it wouldn't be the nicest thing in the world for us to be caught up there, with a wild storm raging."
"Ugh! deliver me from that experience," grunted Andy, turning his head to look back toward the peak they had just left, and which was already far astern, so rapidly did the little but powerful Kinkaid engine whirl the biplane onward, when let out to its limit.
Frank kept his eyes ahead; but he knew when his companion gazed toward the dense woods away off to the right, where they had been fired at by the unknown marksman.
"Still harping on that bang, eh?" he observed.
"Yes, and I won't have any peace till we find out who fired that shot," answered the other, doggedly. "Just think how nasty it is to never know when you're going to be potted, like an old crow! It takes most of the fun out of flying, that's what."
"Well, wait a little, and perhaps we may learn something," Frank went on; and before his companion could make any remark he suddenly switched the conversation by saying: "the boys are waving their hats to us, and I thought I got a faint yell; but the breeze is dead wrong for hearing. I'm tickled to death with the handsome way the machine carries herself; and that's a satisfaction worth while, eh?"
So Andy stopped twisting around to look back, and confined his attention to the scene in front. As they drew closer to the practice field the shouts of the trio of lads near the shop came plainly to their ears.
Then Frank began circling, and cutting figure eights, wishing to discover just what the biplane could do in that line. Perhaps he also was not averse to giving the admiring audience below something more to gape at. But all the same, Frank took no great chances; he was too cautious and level-headed a boy to do that, unless the emergency called for it; and then his nerve was equal to any demand.
When the biplane finally dropped down to the ground close by the hangar where it was to be housed, the three comrades were only too glad of a chance to clutch hold, and assist to the best of their ability.
"She's just a jim-dandy for going and turning, Frank!" exclaimed Larry.
"Yes," exclaimed Elephant; "I used to think that little Bug was the limit; but now I see I was away off. This biplane has got her number, all right. Why, there ain't anything you couldn't trust her to do, fellows."
"W-w-with F-f-frank at the h-h-helm, you m-m-mean!" spluttered Nat.
"Oh! that goes without saying, Nat," declared Elephant.
"We was wondering whether you had another scrap with the two pirates up there?" remarked Larry, pointing toward Old Thunder Top.
"No, the eagles have become used to seeing an aeroplane by now. They came close to watch us, because they've got eaglets in the nest; but never once swooped down to strike at us with talons, wings or beaks," Frank replied.
"We're going to tame 'em so's to shake hands with us," grinned Andy.
"I was watching you through the old telescope Andy has here," observed Larry; "and which he says one of his ancestors used when he was captain of a sailing vessel more'n eighty years ago. She worked fine too, though a bit clumsy. And Frank, what under the sun did you make that sudden upward slant for, when you was away off over the Powell woods? Whew! I thought you'd sure go clean over backwards!"
The Bird boys exchanged glances, which of course aroused the curiosity of the observing Larry more than ever.
"Here, none of that, now, fellows," he remarked. "There's something in the wind, and you've just got to tell us all about it. Did the lever break or get away from your grip, Frank? There was a reason for that jump, and I know it."
"Sure there was," said Andy. "If you heard a gun go bang a few hundred feet below, and then got the zip-zip of the bullet as it whipped past not five feet from your ears, perhaps you'd move the ascending lever some too, and take chances on getting out of that dangerous spot in a big hurry, eh?"
Larry and the other two could not reply at once. The explanation given by Andy fairly took their breath away, so that they could only stare, and gasp.
STARTLING NEWS OVER THE WIRE
"Frank, is he kidding us?" finally cried Larry, turning to the pilot of the new biplane; for Andy sometimes liked to joke his chums, as they well knew.
"Not this time," replied Frank.
"And somebody did really and truly shoot at you, then?" gasped Elephant, holding up his hands in horror.
"Huh! what d'ye think of these holes through the planes?" demanded Andy, drawing attention to the stout tanned cloth that constituted the air-resisting cover of the framework.
"Oh! my, it's so, as sure as you live!" cried Elephant, thrusting a finger through one of the little openings. "And not five feet away from where you sat. What a terrible shame! Whoever could have been so wicked?"
"We don't know," returned Andy, soberly. "But we're going to try and find out. And all I can say is, that if we do, we're going to make it mighty warm for him, no matter who he may be."
"He ought to be tarred and feathered," gritted Larry. "Of all the mean and contemptible things anybody can do, I think the worst is to shoot at a fellow up in a balloon or an aeroplane. Because they can't fire back; and the least accident means death to the aviator!"
"Bully for you, Larry!" exclaimed Andy.
"My sentiments exactly," remarked Elephant, with a vim.
Poor Stuttering Nat wanted to echo what Larry had said; but of course the excitement had seized him in its grip, so that words positively refused to pour from his parted lips. So after making a great effort, amid much twisting of his facial muscles, he contented himself with patting Larry on the back, and nodding, as if to stand for everything the other had said.
"Well, let's drop that subject for the present, fellows," Frank suggested. "We saw that you had visitors while we were away, Larry?"
"Why, yes. Your friend, Mr. Marsh, dropped in to say howdyedo. He breezed in some unexpectedly to us, for we happened to be all inside when he stepped across the sill, and said he was delighted to renew our acquaintance."
"Yes, go on, please!" urged impatient Andy.
But there was no hurrying Larry. When he had anything to tell he always insisted on narrating it after his own fashion.
"Of course I jumped for him right away," he went on, slowly; "and managed to escort him outdoors, all the while explaining how Frank here had plainly left word that nobody was to be allowed inside the shop besides us three."
"How did he seem to take it?" asked Frank.
"Oh! he wasn't at all flustered, as far as I could see," came the ready reply. "Elephant here says he saw him frown, and bite his lips, as I grabbed his arm and hustled him out; but I only saw him smile, pleasant like; and then he said it was all right, and that he didn't blame you one whit for being careful—that perhaps if you knew him better you might invite him in."