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´╗┐Title: The Airplane Boys among the Clouds - or, Young Aviators in a Wreck
Author: Langworthy, John Luther
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Airplane Boys among the Clouds - or, Young Aviators in a Wreck" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

CLOUDS***


THE AIRPLANE BOYS AMONG THE CLOUDS

or,

Young Aviators in a Wreck

by

JOHN LUTHER LANGWORTHY



M. A. Donohue & Company
Chicago ------ New York
1912



CONTENTS


Chapter

     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


CHAPTER I

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."



CHAPTER II

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.



CHAPTER III

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."



CHAPTER IV

SUSPICION

"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!"



CHAPTER V

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!"



CHAPTER VI

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:

"B-b-b-bully!"

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."

"Oh!"

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!



CHAPTER VII

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?"

"Oh!  Frank!"

"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!"



CHAPTER VIII

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.



CHAPTER IX

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."

"He said all that, did he?" Frank continued.

"Sho! ten times as much.  That man has the gift of gab.  He can wrap
you right around his finger, I reckon," Larry went on.

"Told you so!" exclaimed Andy, nodding his head in affirmation.

"But seems he didn't wrap you around, very much," Frank laughingly
said; "because you didn't take him back in again, did you?"

"He never asked me.  P'raps I wouldn't a-done it if he had; but I don't
know.  He's sure got a way about him that's terribly convincing," Larry
muttered.

"And he went off pleasantly, didn't he?  I saw you shake hands with
him," continued Frank.

"As smooth as oil.  Why, I can feel his grip yet, it was that strong.
Thought my bones'd crack that time.  Wonder who Mr. Marsh is, anyway,
Frank, do you know?"

"I do not," was the prompt reply Larry received; for if Frank happened
to have any suspicion, he did not consider it his duty to confide the
same to everybody who expressed the least curiosity.

When the biplane had been safely housed Frank dodged into the shop as
though to convince himself that nothing had been taken.  When the
others followed they found him moving around.  Finally he came to a
stand near the door, and called out once more to Larry:

"Was he in this far when you discovered him?"

"What say, boys; it must have been about there, eh?" the one addressed
remarked, appealing to his comrades for their opinions.

"Just about," Elephant answered; while Nat nodded his head as the
easiest way to cut a Gordian knot.

"Oh! well, he couldn't see anything worth while from here," Frank went
on.  "Now, did any of you notice whether he used his eyes to look
around; or was he only bent on saying howdyedo to you?"

"When Larry grabbed him by the arm and started to lead him out, I saw
the gentleman take a good look all around; and that's the truth,
Frank," Elephant remarked.

Frank hardly knew what to think.  This might be a very significant
thing; and then again, if one looked at it another way, was it not
simply what any curious stranger, interested in the doings of the
venturesome Bird boys, might have done?

It was about ten o'clock, and growing quite hot, since the time was
July.  Just as Andy had hinted, that bank of dark clouds hanging low
along the horizon in the southwest might take a notion to climb up in
the heavens at any time, and bring about a summer thunderstorm.

Apparently Frank did not bother his head in connection with such a
possibility; for a little later he wheeled his bicycle out of the shed
as though intending to leave the others temporarily.

"Be back in half an hour or so, Andy," he called over his shoulder, as
his cousin came to the door to see what he was about to do.

"Going over home for something, Frank?" called Andy; but if the other
heard he chose or some reason to decline to commit himself.

Had Andy been able to follow his course after he left the field he
would soon have known that Frank was rather heading for town than
intending to pedal in the direction of his own house, which was
situated on the outskirts of Bloomsbury.

And doubtless the curiosity of Andy would have mounted to near the
fever pitch did he but know that when Frank jumped from his wheel he
stood directly in front of the low building known as police
headquarters.

Without any hesitation the boy walked in through the open door.  He had
often been here before; and knew the head of the force very well, also
the officers who constituted the Chief's staff.

Chief Waller was bending over his flat-top desk, and evidently reading
some communication or other.  He looked up, and on seeing who his
caller was, smiled amiably; for Frank Bird was a favorite of his, and
possibly the best liked boy in Bloomsbury.

"Why, glad to see you, Frank; won't you sit down?" he said, offering
his hand to the boy.

"I didn't just drop in to chat, Chief," marked Frank, after he had
accepted the proffered hand, and been favored with a hearty grip.

"No, I suppose not, because you're a boy of business generally.  Well,
what can I do for you, Frank?" asked the other, pleasantly.

"Your phone here is one of the long distance ones, isn't it, Chief?"

"To be sure, since most of the use we have of it is to talk with other
places.  Do you want to use it, Frank?" replied the officer.

"No, but I'd like you to do something for me, and I'll explain
afterwards what my reason is," Frank went on.

"Sure I will, my boy.  Do almost anything to oblige you.  Now, who do
you want me to get at the other end of the wire?" and as he said this
the Chief took down the receiver of the desk phone.

"The penitentiary isn't more than thirty miles away from here, is it?"
asked Frank.

"Whew! what ever would you be wanting to know from there?" the officer
remarked.

"Please call them up and ask whether that man you captured a year ago,
up in the Powell woods, is still doing time there."

"You mean Jules Garrone, do you?" asked Chief Waller.

"That's the man."

Still looking at Frank as though wondering what he could mean by such a
strange request, the other started operations, and after some
skirmishing managed to get in touch with some one who might possibly be
the warder of the State penitentiary.

"Yes, this is Chief Waller of Bloomsbury," Frank heard him say.  "How
are you, sir?  I would like you to give me a little information
connected with a man I had the pleasure of railroading over your way a
year ago.  His name was Jules Garrone, and he was convicted of having
broken into the jewelry establishment of Leffingwell--what's that,
sir?"  And Frank, watching closely, could see the lips of the Chief
pursing up, as though he might be tempted to whistle while listening to
something the party at the other end of the wire was telling him.

Then, perhaps a minute or so later, the Chief turned around to Frank,
as he once more hung up the receiver.

"Look here, Frank," he said, exhibiting signs of excitement now, "how
did you ever come to know or suspect that?" he demanded.

"You have told me nothing yet, Chief," Frank remarked, calmly.  "But I
judge from the way you acted that you heard some surprising news from
the warden at the penitentiary.  What about Jules, sir?"

"He no longer lodges with my friend, the warden," went on Waller.  "In
fact, to tell the whole truth, there was a jail delivery week ago,
which has been kept secret up to now.  The warden says he was just
sending out the news when I called him.  Jules and two other convicts
managed to break away; and while the others have been recaptured, Jules
is still at large!"



CHAPTER X

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE CHIEF

Frank breathed a little faster than ordinary but there was little else
to indicate that he had heard startling news.

"And now, Frank, don't forget that you promised to take me in on this,"
the head of the local force went on, persuasively.  "You remember that
we stood by you at that other time, and rounded Jules up in great
shape.  Seems like we might have to do it again, sort of history
repeating itself.  How did you know about it?"

"I didn't, sir, and that's the queer part it," replied the boy.

"Then you suspected something of the sort--did you run across Jules on
the road; or has he been trying to steal your aeroplane again?"
continued Chief Waller.

"Neither one nor the other, sir.  But some unknown person fired a rifle
at our biplane today, when we were passing over those woods near the
old shack.  The bullet came within a few feet of us, as I can show you,
for it passed through both planes.  That looks as if the scamp meant to
do us real harm.  And it set me to thinking and guessing, with the
result that I made up my mind to come to you, and find out if Jules was
still safe behind the bars."

"Well, this is something I'll have to look into," bustled the stout
Chief, as he pushed back his chair.  "Up in the Powell woods, you said;
that makes it look as if it must be him; because he hid there before,
you know."

"If it had happened anywhere else, I guess I'd never have thought about
Jules, sir," Frank candidly admitted.  "But you see, we were just
talking about our other adventure when the shot came; and somehow, it
was natural to connect the two.  But it seems foolish for him to come
back to the old place again."

"When you know slick rascals as well as I do, Frank, you'll understand
that they often do just what everybody never dreams they'd be silly
enough to try.  That's the tricky part of the game, you see.
Ordinarily that woods is the last place we'd think of looking for
Jules.  It ought to have an evil name for him, and make him shun it.
You see, that's the way we'd just naturally dope it out."

"I see now, sir.  And then again, all of the plunder taken from
Leffingwell's establishment was never recovered, I heard.  Perhaps
Jules has got a plant somewhere up in those woods, and came back to get
the stuff?" Frank suggested.

"A bright thought for you, my boy!" cried the Chief.  "Of course that
sort of thing would strike me the first thing; but for you too speak of
it proves that you have a clever mind.  Yes, undoubtedly Jules has come
back for the loot."

"And then," Frank went on, steadily; "just by accident he happened to
hear our propellers buzzing, and looking up recognized the two boys who
had so much to do with his being nabbed last summer.  He couldn't
resist the temptation to have a pot shot at us, hoping to pay the Bird
boys back for their share in his capture."

"Yes, sometimes even the sharpest of them fall down," the head of the
local police continued; "and before we're done with him Jules will
realize that when he allowed himself to give way to temptation he did
the most foolish thing possible, for it puts us on his track, and we'll
get him again.  I want to thank you too, Frank, because you see, there
will be quite a little reward paid for the recapture of so notorious a
convict as Garrone."

"Oh! you're quite welcome, sir," replied Frank.  "I was just thinking
whether, if that was Jules, and he saw that his shot did no damage, he
mightn't decide to pay us a visit in the night, and try some more funny
business."

"Well, now, I wouldn't put it past him a particle, Frank," remarked the
Chief, promptly; "and if I were in your place I'd be on my guard.  He
might try to steal your new biplane I've heard them talking about; or
even burn down your whole outfit.  Better get a gun, and keep watch.
He's fair game, you know, if so be you catch him prowling around after
dark.  An escaped convict hasn't any rights in the eye of the law."

"I wouldn't like to be the one to shoot him," Frank observed; "but if
he came around as you say, I'd want to be in a position to defend my
property, and give him a good scare."

The Chief asked a lot more questions, which Frank answered as well as
he was able.  He could see that he had stirred the police head greatly,
and that before long all the available men on the force would be making
for the direction of the Powell woods, bent on rounding up the lurking
Jules, if so be it had been him, as seemed so probable now.

Frank had left his chair and started for the door, when something
chanced to strike him, so that he turned back.

"I don't suppose now, Chief, you happen to know the two gentlemen who
blew into Bloomsbury yesterday in a touring car, and are perhaps
quartered at the hotel here.  They go by the names of Mr. Marsh and Mr.
Longley?"

"I understood that two gents did put up there; but I saw them go off
this morning in their car, and supposed they were leaving," replied the
other.

"If you glance out of the door right now, Chief, you will see the
parties dropping out of their machine right in front of the hotel,"
Frank remarked, quietly.

Accordingly the other moved over so that he could look out, immediately
remarking:

"Sho! that's a fact, just as you say, Frank.  Come back to dinner, I
reckon; for old Barnwell does set a good table in the Quality Inn.
I've seen twenty cars parked in his dooryard of a Sunday.  And these
parties like his style, it seems."

"But why should they say that their car needed overhauling, and that
they might as well have it done in Bloomsbury?  You can see it's a
right new one, and runs as smooth as silk," Frank remarked.

"They said that, did they?  Who to, Frank?" asked the other.

So Frank had to go back and relate what had occurred at the time Andy
dropped from the hydroplane into Lake Sunrise, and saved little Tommy
Cragan from becoming food for the fishes.

Of course the policeman was not able to look at the matter from the
same standpoint that Frank and Andy had.  All the same, he admitted
that the actions of the two touring gentlemen did look a bit queer.

"I'll take the first chance I get to look 'em over, Frank, and learn
who they really are," he said, in conclusion.  "Of course that'll have
to wait, since I've got this other business on my hands, which is of
greater importance, you know."

"You don't think, do you, sir, that either of them could be this Jules
Garrone in disguise?" suggested Frank.

Chief Waller caught his breath.

"Whew; that is a notion, now, ain't it?" he exclaimed.  "From what I've
learned about that rascal I wouldn't put it past him to be up to some
clever dodge equal to that?  The bolder the game the less danger of
discovery.  See here, Frank, you say you was close to these parties;
and sure you ought to remember Jules--now, think a bit, and then tell
me if you can imagine him playing such a part?"

"Oh!  I have been hammering my brain for a long time over that, Chief,"
Frank answered, with a slight smile.

"And what conclusion did you reach, Frank?"

"That neither of them could hardly be Jules," came the ready reply.  "I
only mentioned the thing to see how it struck you.  In the first place,
Jules was smaller than either of those men; and he couldn't hardly have
grown under prison fare, you know.  Then he had black hair, and neither
of these have.  Besides, Longley wears a mustache, and no convict could
grow one in a week.  While such eyes as Marsh has I could never, never
forget, once I felt them fastened on me."

"Well, I'll have one of my men keep an eye on the gents as long as they
stay at the Quality Inn.  Going now, Frank?  Shake hands again, will
you; and remember, anything we can do for you, just ask.  This is great
news you've brought here today, and it may mean a heap for me."

When Frank went outside and mounted his wheel he never once glanced
across the square to where the car of Mr. Marsh stood.  True, neither
of the parties happened to be visible just then; but how was he to know
but what they might be looking out from behind the filmy lace curtains
with which Mine Host Barnwell decorated his front parlor windows?

He rode straight home, and reaching his den where he kept all his
belongings in the line of sport, took down from the wall a
double-barrel shotgun, with which he had had many a day's pleasure in
the past.

From a drawer he also gathered up half a dozen shells, carrying Number
Ten shot; which Frank calculated would tickle rather than severely
injure, if used with discretion, at a certain distance.

After spending a short time at home, and not seeing his father, the
good doctor, who was off in his car paying his morning calls, Frank
again mounted his wheel, and headed toward the home of his cousin.

He had much to ponder over as he proceeded, making no pretense at
speed; for he was carrying the gun in one hand.  It was not a very
pleasant thought, that at any minute almost he might run across that
revengeful Jules, bent on paying back the debt he chose to believe he
owed the young aviator.  Frank was almost tempted to stop, alight, and
place a couple of shells in the gun, so as to be ready for any
emergency that might arise.

"Shucks! what's getting you, Frank Bird?" he exclaimed, as he laughed
at the idea of being held up in that fashion on the public highway.
"Just make up your mind nothing's going to happen to you; and that if
Jules did come back to the Powell woods he's started away by now, full
tilt.  I'm ashamed of you, that's what.  If it was Andy now, he's so
full of imagination he sees lots of things that never exist; but you
know better.  Why, whatever can that smoke mean?  And as sure as
anything, it seems to be rising straight over the field where our shop
lies!"

He immediately increased his speed, and went flying along the crooked
road, bent on reaching a point where he could see the open, and
ascertain if his worst fears were going to be realized.



CHAPTER XI

A NEW ALARM

The next two minutes seemed an eternity to Frank, spinning rapidly
along on his trusty wheel as he was.  He wanted to know the worst, and
yet dreaded to pass beyond the trees where the field would be in full
sight; because it would be distressing if he discovered the shop and
hangars blazing, and everything gone.

Still, Frank was not the one to shirk bad tidings.  And consequently he
increased his speed all that was possible.

"Bully!"

Such was the exclamation that involuntarily burst from his dry lips
when, having burst from behind the barrier, he had a clear view of the
field.  For the shed was there as intact as ever, and also the two
hangars sheltering the aeroplanes.  Some distance back, far enough
removed to avoid any danger to the gasoline in the storage houses, Andy
was tending a bonfire; while the other boys seemed to be carrying
shavings and trash thither in bags and baskets.

Old Colonel Josiah Whympers was bobbing and bustling around on his
crutch, and seemingly bossing the "whole shooting-match," as Frank
laughingly said to himself.

Of course he saw now what Andy had been doing.  For some time the other
had threatened to clear the shop of all the accumulated rubbish of the
winter; and the notion must have seized him just after Frank left for
town.

"Hello! back again, are you, Frank?" laughed his cousin, as the rider
dropped off his wheel close to the bonfire.  "Cleaning house, you see.
Threatened to do this a long time back; and as we have to sleep in the
shop now, thought I might as well get at it.  But what's that you've
brought along, Frank?  My goodness, your gun!  Now, what sort of game
do you expect to get with that thing?"

"Don't know," returned Frank, grimly.  "Might be Jules Garrone for all
I can say!"

At that Andy dropped the long stick with which he had been pushing the
trash into the heart of the blaze, and stared at the other as though
stunned.

"Didn't I know you had something on your mind though?" he muttered.
"See here, Frank, ain't I in on this thing too?  What d'ye know about
Jules Garrone?  Ain't he fixed tight in the stone jug?  I'm not from
Missouri, but all the same I want to know!"

"So say we all of us," remarked Larry, who had come up while they were
indulging in these few remarks, and was able to give a good guess as to
the nature of what had been said.

"Please confide in us, Frank; we'll keep mum, sure we will!" pleaded
Elephant.

Stuttering Nat only wagged his head, and moved his jaws; but this
pantomime stood for volumes with those who knew his infirmity.

"It turns out that our old friend Jules gave them leg bail a week ago,
along with a couple of other convicts.  But though they recaptured the
two fellows, crafty Jules is still at large!" Frank said, quietly.

At that Andy came near having a fit.

"My goodness gracious! hear that, would you, fellows?" he exclaimed.
"Now we know who fired that nasty shot at us this morning.  And he
meant to hit us, too.  Oh! the coward, to stand down there, and just
let us have it, when we couldn't give him back as good as he sent!
Frank, is that going to end our flying?"

Andy looked pained at the very idea, and Frank could hardly keep from
laughing at the miserable face his chum exhibited.

"Oh!  I don't know," he replied.  "There's no reason it should, that I
can see.  We can avoid that section, or else keep high up when passing,
so he never would have the least chance at hitting us, going a mile a
minute.  Besides, perhaps he'll find himself in hot water presently,
when Chief Waller gets a line on him."

"Does the Chief know he's loose?" asked Larry.

"He does now, but he never suspected it until I dropped in on him,"
replied the other, calmly.

"But see here, how did you know?" demanded Elephant.

"The Chief told me," laughed Frank.

"Oh! say, is this fair, Frank?" complained Andy.  "You're just getting
the whole lot of us balled up.  You told the Chief; and the Chief told
you!  Please lift the curtain, won't you, and let us see the game."

So Frank, taking pity on them, condescended to explain.  Colonel Josiah
had also joined the group, and was an eager listener to the recital.

The old traveler had himself been through a vast number of adventures
in his time, for he had delighted in exploring odd corners of the world
seldom heard of by ordinary people.  Hence, he delighted in listening
to "his boys" when they were narrating some stirring event that had
come to their experience.

All sorts of exclamations arose when they heard what the warden of the
State penitentiary had to say about Jules.  Andy even looked about him
suspiciously, as if he might entertain a feeling approaching timidity,
lest the desperate escaped convict suddenly appear, and threaten them
in some way.

"Now I know why you went after your gun, Frank!" he remarked.  "Not
that I blame you a particle, remember.  Don't I remember the dark face
of that Jules, and how he stared at me, and ground his white teeth,
when they took him away.  All this time I've allowed myself to sleep
sweetly, under the belief that, since he was bound to stay behind stone
walls at least eight years, I needn't be afraid.  But sometimes even
walls can be scaled.  Is it loaded, Frank--your gun, I mean?"

To oblige him Frank laughingly opened the breech, and inserted a couple
of shells.

"Shucks! only Number Tens?" ejaculated Andy.  "If it had been me now,
I'd have brought a handful of buckshot ones.  Much good these would do
now if Jules was running away, and had covered a hundred yards."

"Then I'd be willing to let him run," said Frank.  "What I want them
for most of all is to meet Jules, if he persists in advancing too
close."

They were still discussing the matter an hour later; or at least some
of them kept it up, while Larry started the fire inside the shop, and
began the necessary operation looking to a dinner to which the old
Colonel had been invited on condition that he relate a few more of his
strange experiences in China, Thibet and Northern India.

"Look who's coming!" called out Elephant and of course this made them
all turn their heads; even Larry running to the door, gun in hand, as
though he had heard the remark, and thought it might refer to the
dreaded Jules himself.

A car was coming from the direction of the town, and in a cloud of
dust.  Naturally the first thought that came to Frank was that it might
be Mr. Marsh and his companion, Longley.  But as the breeze lifted the
curtain of dust, he immediately discovered that this was not so.

Half a dozen men were crowded in the car and one of these half arose in
passing, to wave a hand vigorously toward the group of boys in the
field.

"That's Chief Waller!" remarked Andy, with more or less eagerness in
his voice.

"And those others are some of his men," Frank went on.  "They don't
mean to lose any time about looking Jules up, do they?"

"Hey! are you sure about that?" asked Elephant; "because none of 'em
had a uniform on; and what good are the police in plain clothes?"

"Oh! there are times when they can do more without their uniforms than
in them," Frank remarked.  "And this ought to be one of them.  Suppose
now that keen-eyed Jules happened to be on the lookout, and saw a car
loaded down with bluecoats come along, wouldn't he hide, all right?
Well, that goes without saying, fellows.  As it is he might never
suspect a thing.  I've often seen as many fellows jammed in a car, and
so have every one of you."

"One good thing is, Waller ought to know that section pretty well,"
remarked the old traveler.  "He's been brought up here, and scoured the
country as if he had a fine tooth comb, many a time.  He will know how
to close in on Jules, if the fellow is hiding there, which I doubt."

"Why do you say that, sir?" asked Frank, who had a genuine respect for
the opinions of the veteran, based as they were on long experience and
observation in all parts of the world.

"It is only a surmise on my part, Frank," replied the Colonel.  "We all
admit that Jules is a very clever and long-headed rascal.  Very well.
Don't you suppose that he may regret having given way to sudden
temptation, and fired at you boys this morning?  He will, on
reflection, fear that you may guess who did it; for of course Jules
does not know that his escape has been kept a secret all this week, in
the hope that he might be recaptured, and nothing need be told.  Follow
me, boys?"

"Oh! yes, sir," Frank declared.  "And in that case the Chief will have
all his trouble for his pains, since Jules will have made tracks long
before this.  He may be out of the county by night."

"That is true; providing that he does not allow a fierce desire for
revenge to stay his feet," replied the old man, soberly.

Usually the veteran was not the one to imagine trouble where there was
none in sight; and knowing this Frank looked at him somewhat uneasily.

But before anything more could be said they were surprised to see
Stammering Nat coming toward them on a run, for he had been watching
the last of the bonfire to make sure it did no harm; and of course, as
he was brimful of excitement, he had lost all power of control over his
voice.

He tried the best he knew how, to regain the mastery of his vocal
chords; even resorting to an old expedient of whistling, that perhaps
had served him on some previous occasion.  Finding everything of no
avail, he clutched Andy by the sleeve, and started dragging him around
the corner of the shed.

"Hey! what ails you, Nat?" shrilled the struggling Andy, wondering
whether the other could have lost his mind because of his great
affliction.

Another moment and the rest heard Andy give tongue in a way that
announced his complete surrender to the same mysterious source of
excitement that had mastered Nat.  Of course this needed an
explanation; and accordingly Frank and Elephant dashed off, with
Colonel Josiah stumping along close behind; and even Larry, leaving his
cooking dinner, to come after them, still clinging to Frank's gun.



CHAPTER XII

SANDY DROPS SOMETHING

"Whoop! now, what d'ye think of that?" shouted Elephant, as soon as he
turned the corner of the shed.

"Percy shies his hat in the ring!  Another man-bird come to keep the
pot boiling!  Now, will you be good, Frank?  Look at it eat up
distance, will you?  Say, that's going some, I tell you!" Larry
exclaimed.

"Percy deserves credit for staying up about all night to assemble the
parts of his new biplane, and that's a fact!" Frank candidly admitted;
as with kindling eyes he watched the progress of the new wonder that
marked the latest achievement in the line of aviation, as advanced by a
well-known brand of builders.

His whole heart and soul were wrapped up in the strange calling that
seemed to be his birthright; so that he could even admire the clever
work of a bitter rival, and applaud his successful evolutions.

Over the treetops the biplane had arisen.  Frank instantly remembered
how they had seen Percy starting aloft on his initial flight with his
old machine, the one later on seized by the natives of Colombia, and
which might still be doing duty down in that South American republic,
for aught they knew.

Apparently the young pilot of the new aircraft was filled with
exultation over his successful start.  He sent the biplane swiftly
around in eccentric circles, as though testing its ability in various
lines.  Now he shot upward as if intending to mount like an eagle in
gigantic circles until among the fleecy clouds that floated overhead.
Then he would volplane downward at dazzling speed, to resume a
horizontal flight when close to the earth.

The boys watched as though fascinated.  When a particularly daring act
turned out to be a success Frank was the first to clap his hands
vigorously.

Possibly those in the aeroplane might not hear the applause; but
whether or no, it proved what the boys of Bloomsbury had always known,
and this was that Frank Bird did not have a mean or jealous fibre in
his whole body.  He could thoroughly enjoy seeing a rival perform
brilliant "stunts;" and the only effect was to spur him on to excelling.

"Percy is just as daring as ever!  That is his one weakness, I'm
afraid!" he remarked, as they saw the other make a sudden swoop that
must have been particularly trying in the planes of his machine.

"I bet you he's going to break his neck some day," grumbled Andy, who
could not bring himself to feel just the same way toward Percy as his
cousin did; according to the way boys look at these things, Andy was
the more "human" of the two; having faults that were lacking in Frank.

"That's certain a better biplane than the one they had last year,"
Larry remarked, after he had been thrilled with the daring exhibition
Percy was putting up in his exultation at being once more afloat in the
air, after a long absence.

"A great deal better," Frank admitted.  "I knew what the faults were
with that old plane, and so far I fail to discover the same failings
with this one.  If Percy would only use a little more sense, and not be
so willing to take unnecessary risks, he could have a grand time this
summer."

"Gee! look at him going it now, would you?" gasped Elephant.  "He must
have a bully good motor aboard to eat up space like that.  Talk to me
about your mile a minute, he's beating that all hollow!"

"No doubt of it," laughed Frank; "for everything happens to be
favorable just now;" but Andy frowned and remarked:

"Oh!  I just guess that ain't anything so remarkable.  Percy hasn't got
the push on our biplane.  I'd take my affidavy that we went faster than
that at one time when Frank let her out.  You wait and see; some fine
day we'll show you a sight that'll make your eyes stick out."

Andy was not a boaster as a rule; but whenever Percy Carberry started
to show what a mighty conqueror of the air he had become, something
seemed to rise up within the second Bird boy that made him give vent to
such expressions.

"He knows we're watching him, that's why he does it!" said wise
Elephant.

"Sure," Larry admitted; "but that don't take away anything from his
circus stunts, does it?  Now he's going to swing around and circle your
field, Frank.  Wish he'd take a notion to drop down here, and let's
look his new article over."

Andy laughed scornfully.

"I see him doing that same, Larry, when water runs up hill!" he
observed sarcastically.  "Did you ever know Percy to be open and frank?
Ain't he always hiding what he knows, and trying to spring surprises on
people?  You don't catch him letting Frank look over his biplane, not
if he knows it.  Why, he's afraid Frank might get on to some little
device that he expects will play a big part in the game, if ever he
races us again.  Huh! come off your perch, Larry, and take another
guess."

"Well, there he goes around the field," the other went on.  "Listen to
the hum of the propellers, would you?  Don't they make sweet music,
though?  I'm afraid I'll be like poor little Elephant here, and get the
aeroplane fever myself, if this thing keeps on.  Then there'll be a
whole flock of us bobbing around."

He laughed heartily at the idea, as though he could imagine himself
whizzing through the air "like a comet," as he remarked.

"Look at Sandy swinging his hat!" called out Elephant.  "He's yelling
something too, but I can't make it out, because of the racket the
machine makes."

"Well, it wouldn't be hard to guess," declared Andy; "because you know
how Sandy Hollingshead likes to boast.  The joke of it is, he never
does anything but hang on to his crony, and keep up the shouting.  He's
such a coward naturally that I don't understand how he finds the nerve
to go up in that cranky craft with Percy."

"There! he's making faces at us; or doing something with his hands,"
Elephant continued, as he watched the biplane swinging past, some
hundreds of feet in the air.

"I suppose that's meant for a defi," laughed Frank.  "You know Sandy's
ways, fellows?  He always was something of a monkey on the team when he
played ball.  Don't answer back, any of you.  A cat may look at a king;
and we have a perfect right to stand here in our own dooryard, and gape
at the show.  But, Andy, pay attention to the way his machine works.
I've caught on to a little idea already that I believe we could use
with benefit ourselves."

That was practical Frank every time, always keeping an eye out for the
usefulness of things, and ready to improve his opportunities as
occasion arose.

Three times did Percy circle the big practice field, as though
determined to impress upon the lookers-on the marvelous advantages his
new biplane had over the old.

Doubtless time had not effaced the bitterness of his former defeats at
the hands of his rival; and he was now fairly burning for a chance to
wipe the memory out.

"Now, what d'ye suppose he's hanging around here all this while for?"
grumbled Andy, who was nervous just so long as the other aeroplane kept
winging its flight over the encircling fence that marked the confines
of the aviation field.

"Oh!  Percy wants you to know he ain't stingy," sang out Larry.  "Look
your fill, from a distance, but you can't come any nearer."

"Don't bother your head about him, Andy," remarked Frank.  "It's giving
him heaps of pleasure, and doesn't hurt us a whit.  In fact, I don't
care how long he keeps it up; for by degrees I'll be able to understand
some things I'd like to know about that make of biplane.  You can see
it differs from ours in lots of ways.  Some things may be a bit better,
and others not so good."

"But, Frank, you don't think it could beat us out, do you?" Andy
quickly demanded.

Frank shook his head.

"I hope not," he said, quietly; "but you can't always tell.  That's a
great machine Percy has there now, and it would be silly to deny it.  A
good deal depends on how it's going to be run."

"That's the ticket, Frank!" exclaimed Larry.  "And I'm dead sure that
no matter which biplane you handled in a race you'd come out ahead."

"Sure he would," added Elephant, emphatically.  "Because he keeps his
head about him, and knows just what to do in a tight pinch; while Perc
gets rattled, and loses his judgment."

"That's good of you to say such things, boys; but I don't think I
deserve them," Frank laughed.

"You sure do!" declared Andy, who ought to know better than any one
else the good qualities of his chum, since he had seen him under fire
many a time.

"L-l-look at 'em!" burst out Nat just then, surprising himself by his
ability to actually speak clearly.

The biplane had again headed across the field at a height of about
three hundred feet; only this time, instead of cutting corners it was
coming on directly, and gave promise of passing over the shed.

"Hey! what's that Sandy's got in his fist?" cried Larry.

"He's going to drop something, as sure as you live!" echoed Elephant.

"Mem-mebbe it's a b-b-bomb!" burst out Nat, his mind filled with
accounts he had been reading of what was being done over in Africa by
the Italians in their war against the Turks and Arabs.

At that Elephant seemed seized with a panic.  He was not a valiant boy,
generally speaking, and something about the ridiculous suggestion
concerning a bomb seemed to fill him with sudden terror.

Uttering a howl he started to run one way, and then changing his mind
darted in another direction; only to come back and finally crawl under
a pile of boards that chanced to be lying near.

"Hey! what you thinkin' of doing, Sandy?" shouted Larry, shaking his
fist up at the approaching aeroplane.  "Don't you dare drop that on us,
or I'll take it out of your measly hide, I sure will!  Look out, Frank,
he's let and here it comes a-sailin' down at us.  Whoop!"

From under the woodpile issued an echoing squawk, as Elephant hugged
the ground, and waited for the expected explosion.



CHAPTER XIII

THE CHALLENGE

Frank laughed heartily, so that Andy turned toward him in surprise.  Of
course it was silly to think of such a thing as a bomb, in connection
with the object Sandy had dropped.  Then again, Frank had seen that it
was bound to fall at some little distance away from the shed.  He also
caught the unmistakable flutter of paper, and could give a pretty
accurate guess as to what it all meant.

"It's dropped, Frank, and didn't go off!" exclaimed Larry, having
himself been more or less influenced by the panic into which timid
Elephant had fallen.

Frank started forward as if bent upon approaching the object that lay
upon the ground; while the biplane was now heading straight away, as if
it might be the intention of the pilot to seek new pastures.

"Be careful, Frank!" called out Larry.

"Yes, go mighty slow, please!" added Elephant, thrusting his head out
from cover, much as a cautious old tortoise might do, to see if the
coast were clear.

They saw Frank reach the object, and immediately pick it up.  He seemed
to be examining it with more or less interest.

"Why, I declare if I don't believe it's only a block of wood after
all," remarked Larry, in disgust.

"Sure it is; anybody could see that!" declared Elephant, who had
managed to slide out from under the woodpile most adroitly, and was
rubbing his cheeks to induce a return of his customary color.

"Frank's reading something, fellows!" cried Andy.  "I know what it must
be; and just like that sassy Perc Carberry to send it in that way.  He
wants to do everything just like he was on the stage, you know."

"A challenge!" burst out Larry.

"Sure thing!" piped up Elephant, grinning now, and ready to make it
appear that he had guessed this from the very first, and that his
actions had been in the light of a huge joke.

Frank had turned around now, and was approaching them, still engrossed
with what he had found on the paper Sandy had dropped, with a heavy
block of wood to carry it direct to the earth.

"What is it, Frank?" asked his cousin.

"Yes, tell us before we burst, please!" Elephant pleaded.

"Me too!" said Larry, feeling that he ought to be heard.

"D-d-do it, F-f-frank!"

"All right, fellows," replied the other, nodding and smiling, as if
something had pleased him.  "Suppose we sit down on that long bench in
front of the shed."

He had no sooner dropped upon the wooden settee than there were a
couple of eager boys hanging over either shoulder.

"It's a challenge, all right?" said Andy, his eyes sparkling.

"Yes, that's where you hit the nail on the head," replied the other.
"And like everything that Percy manages, it is gotten up in a way to
sting.  We might decline an ordinary, everyday challenge; but he
manages to fix it so that you've just got to accept, or be set down as
afraid."

"Huh! no danger of our not taking him up on anything that's half way
fair," said Andy, promptly.  "And now suppose you read it out to us,
Frank."

"Here goes then.  He's got it headed 'A Challenge!'  And then right
below he gets down to business in this way: 'Frank Bird and Andy Bird,
Aviators!'"

"Wow!" cried Larry, "that sounds all the good; but he's giving you that
taffy only because he wants to claim the same title himself; ain't it
so, Frank?"

"You'll see presently.  Here's the way he goes on, fellows: 'Greeting:
I hereby challenge you to a trial of skill and speed with our
respective biplanes, same to take place within three days from date, at
an hour to be selected mutually.  Said test to include first, a thirty
mile straightaway race, and circle the liberty pole on the Commons at
Hazenhurst; next altitude, to be decided by the barograph carried on
each biplane; then three times around the peak of Old Thunder Top; and
finally the feat of volplaning from the greatest height, to land on
Bloomsbury high school campus.  Other rules for this race to be
arranged between us at a meeting to be held later on.  If you decline
to accept this challenge I propose to go over the aforesaid schedule
alone, and claim a victory.'  And then underneath it all he signs
himself: 'Percy Carberry, Aviator.'"

The boys looked at each other.

"Sounds like a real good test, Frank!" suggested Larry, cautiously.

"Just what I was going to say," Elephant put in, watching Frank's face,
and seeing what he considered favorable signs there.

"And I move for one that the challenge be immediately accepted, so that
further arrangements may be made!" Andy observed, grimly.

"Well," remarked Frank, slowly; "we'll consider it.  As a rule, you
know, fellows, I'm not much in favor of racing, when there's so much
danger involved, but just as I said a bit ago, Percy knows how to fix
things so as to stick pins in you.  He's written his challenge in a way
that makes us accept, or be branded for cowards."

"Oh, he needn't have worried about that!" cried Andy, angrily.  "If he
knows anything about the Bird boys he ought to make sure they never
take water.  Didn't we see whatever he did before, and go him one
better?  And down in the land of revolution he knows who carried off
the honors, as well as saved him from those men who had him in their
power.  Frank, we've just got to do it!"

"I suppose so, Andy," returned his cousin; "but if you think that
another win on our part is going to close Percy up like a clam you're
away off.  He makes me think of a medicine ball--every time you hit it
and send it flying, it comes back again as chipper as ever.  He just
won't stay down, that's all."

"I don't agree with you there," said Andy.  "If we can only rub it into
him hard enough, Percy will never have the nerve to hold up his head
again in Bloomsbury."

"But we can't expect to do that, you know," Frank went on.  "He seems
to have a splendid machine there, that will make us hustle all we know
how to pass ahead.  And even you give the fellow credit for knowing his
business.  He's a bird boy all right, even if his name happens to be
Carberry.  No overconfidence, Andy.  That's lost any number of races
that ought to have been won, hands down."

"Oh!  I understand that, Frank," the other said; "but I believe in you,
and that Perc ain't in the same class.  Count on him to make a mistake
when the crisis comes.  And if he thinks he's going to be passed there
ain't any low down trick he wouldn't be guilty of.  I leave it to
Larry, Nat and Elephant if that isn't right."

"I've known him to do lots of mean things," spoke up Elephant,
promptly; "and if I had to enter a race with him I tell you right now
I'd keep out of his reach, all right."

"The best way is to get the lead in the start, and never let him come
within striking distance.  Then you could snap your fingers at his
games," declared Larry.

"Say, there is something in that, Frank," Andy admitted.

"I believe it," returned the other young aviator.  "The only trouble I
can see is that Percy usually starts off with a furious rush, and takes
the lead.  He believes it gives him an advantage, and perhaps it does.
Every fellow has his pet theories in a race, and no two of them may be
alike."

"I guess the main idea with him is that he can get in some of his dirty
work if he sees the other is passing him," Andy sneered.

Frank shook his head at him; but on the whole did not know that he
could blame Andy for feeling so bitterly toward the other.  Their
experiences with Percy in the past had been far from pleasant; and many
times had he attempted some unscrupulous game that had stirred Andy's
fighting blood to the boiling point.

As for Sandy Hollingshead, Andy's opinion of him as a sneak was known
to every boy in Bloomsbury; nor did the party most interested seem to
care to knock off the chip aggressive Andy had long carried on his
shoulder.

The aeroplane had vanished beyond the high fringe of trees.  Possibly
Percy had headed for town to show off his new purchase to the gaping
Bloomsbury crowds, certain to come rushing from houses and stores as
soon as the word was passed around that a flying machine was hovering
overhead.

As the afternoon passed, the boys debated pro and con concerning the
challenge.  Frank had agreed to accept, much to the delight of the
others, and his answer was carefully prepared, so as to cover every
point in question.

He and Andy realized that after all, their prediction as to a storm had
failed, for the clouds seemed to have passed away, leaving the day
hotter than ever.

"Whew! ain't I glad though I can camp on a night like this," said
Elephant, as started in to assist Larry get dinner ready.

"Just what I was thinking," added the chief cook, looking up from his
task with a grin of pleasure.  "I've got the peskiest hot room ever, on
a still summer night like this is goin' to be; right under the roof,
cold as a barn in winter; roasting in July and August.  Say, I've often
said they'd find me fried like a doughnut some fine morning; or froze
stiff.  This thing just suits me to a whiz."

"Heard Frank ask the Colonel to eat with us tonight; so I s'pose we're
going to have an extra good spread," Elephant went on, scraping the
potatoes industriously.

"That's what," chuckled the other.  "You just leave it with your uncle,
and the chances are you won't be disappointed much.  I like good things
myself.  Used to say I was going to study to be a great chef when I
grew up.  May yet, who knows?  What's Frank and Andy doing with that
wire right now?"

"Why, you see the Colonel made 'em promise to connect him with the
shed; so in case any row happened to be pulled off here he'd know it.
Hard for him to understand he's out of the game with that crippled leg.
He's been doing things all his life.  I think he's the most wonderful
old codger I ever knew."

"And that's where you're just about right, Larry.  We must make him
tell us some of his travel yarns tonight while we sit around," Elephant
declared.



CHAPTER XIV

SOMETHING DOING

"I don't suppose any of you fellows have seen signs of the Chief and
his men returning with any prisoners?" Frank asked, a little later, as
he entered the shed to see how the arrangements for the evening spread
were progressing.

"Nary a sign," replied Larry, who was bending over the stove, very red
in the face, and yet grinning with pleasure; for he dearly loved to
handle the pots and pans on an occasion like this, and was really a
clever cook.

"Same here!" spoke up Elephant, who was fanning himself near by, and
sniffing at the odors that arose from the fire, as though he wished the
time would come when he might partake of the feast Larry had prepared.

"Then it looks as if the raid hasn't panned out a success so far,"
remarked Frank.  "I'm sorry, too, because I believe I'd sleep sounder
if I only knew our friend Jules was caged once more."

"Then you really think he'd be mean enough to try and burn the shed
down, and destroy your aeroplanes?" asked Larry.

"Oh! from all I've heard about Jules, he'd never balk at a little thing
like that," Frank continued.  "The scoundrel who could shoot at two
boys sailing hundreds of feet in the air, and take chances of sending
them down to a terrible death, wouldn't hold back at anything, in my
opinion."

"The Colonel says he'd just like to get in touch with him," remarked
Elephant, with a chuckle.  "I can just see the old chap dancing around
with his war paint on, swinging that crutch of his to beat the band.
Wow! wouldn't he just make mincemeat out of Jules though, if ever they
met up?"

"Don't you forget it, Colonel Josiah still burns with the same spirit
that carried him through a bunch of tight places.  He's promised to
tell us all about his ride with Gomez in Cuba during the war with
Spain.  And mark me, it'll be worth listening to.  He never yarns, and
has the proofs to show for every story he tells.  That's the best part
of it, because you know all the time you're listening to real hard
facts, and not fiction."

"There he comes now, stumping along.  Bet you he's sniffed some of
these delicious smells away up at the house.  Larry, if you don't get a
move on, and announce dinner pretty soon, I declare if I don't start a
raid on the grub.  Can't stand for much more of this," and Elephant
hugged himself as though it were only by a determined effort that he
refrained from beginning work then and there.

"Hold on five minutes more, old chap," soothed the cook.  "Everything's
ready, and as soon as Frank gives the word we'll sit down."

To enjoy the meal all the more they had taken the table outdoors, and
places for half a dozen had been made ready.  The sun had set, but
there would be light for an hour at least, plenty to last them during
the meal.

The old traveler they seated at the head of the table, and Frank was
made to take the other end.  Then Larry and his assistants set to work
dishing up.  As the lovely aluminum set only carried enough for four,
Andy had been compelled to call upon his reserves for additional
plates, cups and such things.

And that dinner was surely worth remembering.  Larry had certainly
"done himself proud," as the delighted Colonel declared, after he had
eaten until he could no longer do justice to the spread.

After the things had been cleared away they started the veteran to
dipping into certain of his recollections; and once he was set going,
he might be likened to a clock, for being wound up, adventure after
adventure fell from his lips in a way to keep the listeners charmed.

Not that the Colonel was a boaster at all; he never assumed that he had
done anything at all wonderful; but just related facts in his simple
though dramatic way, and those who heard could draw their own
inferences.

The boys would never forget that evening, or the feast that Larry put
before them.  It would ever be marked by a white stone in their
memories; and doubtless in after years, when fully launched upon the
more serious avenues of life, more than one of them would look back
with a smile as the picture arose in their minds' eye, with that
white-haired old man sitting near by, and thrilling them with his
recollections of the past.

It was long after ten when he bade them good-night, and betook himself
off to the house, his last words being:

"Don't forget that your Uncle Josiah is coming like a runaway engine if
so be that bell sounds the alarm!  And to tell you the truth, boys, I'm
half wishing it might be so!"

After he had gone they began to make their preparations looking to the
passing of another night.  Each one believed he could make some
improvement on the former experience.  This was especially the case
with Elephant, who had been very uncomfortable in that swinging canoe;
though it looked cozy enough.

Frank seemed to be busying himself after a strange fashion.

Elephant had cast a curious look that way several times as he labored
to improve his own conditions.  Finally his natural desire to know
compelled him to turn to Larry, and put the question:

"What's Frank doing over at the end of the shed?  Sure he don't mean to
change his bunk for a place like that?"

"Oh, rats! don't you understand?  Frank's making a trap!" Larry replied.

"Rats--a trap!" repeated the runt, mystified by the coming together of
these two significant words.  "But what does he have to go to all that
trouble for?  I'd think one of them ordinary regular wire traps would
fill the bill as well."

Larry looked at him queerly, as if making up his mind whether the other
meant it, or was simply joshing him.

"This is a man-trap!" he said, severely.

"Oh! my!" Elephant gasped; and then fell to watching Frank more
intently than ever, as he continued to work on.

"And," continued Larry, "if you wake up in the night, and hear the most
awful racket in the wide world, make sure we've caught something, do
you understand, Elephant?"

"Meaning Jules?" queried the other, in an awed tone.

"Meaning Jules," repeated Larry, mocking the other by even assuming his
manner.

"But do you really think he'll drop in on us, Larry?" the small boy
asked.

"Wouldn't surprise me one little bit," returned his tormentor, calmly.
"You heard what the Colonel was saying about those Spanish brigands who
captured him--well, this Jules is just the same sort of customer,
revengeful, desperate and ready to take almost any sort of chances, if
he sees an opening.  And Frank is that accommodating, he means to have
a most inviting opening ready, so Jules can't resist the temptation to
stick his nose in.  Then slam! bang! and it's all over with Jules but
the shouting, believe me."

Naturally all this sort of talk had its effect upon the timid Elephant.
He could not keep his thoughts away from the trap Frank was making in
the rear of the shed, and the possibility of that dark-faced escaped
convict being caught in the act of entering the place, on mischief bent.

"I'll just dream about him coming, see if I don't!" he warned Larry, as
he prepared to crawl into the swinging canoe, where his blankets had
been placed.

"All right," answered the other; "only don't you go to whooping things
up here too lively.  Remember there are others, and that they want to
snooze right along till morning.  I'm glad Frank didn't draft you for a
sentry, though."

"Oh! it was nice of him," answered the small boy, readily.  "But then
you see, Frank knows I just can't keep awake to save me.  And what good
is a sleepy guard, I'd like to know.  Hope I've got it fixed now so I
won't feel the ribs of this blessed Oldtown canoe poking me in my slats
tonight.  They kept me uneasy last night to beat the band.  Aw!  I'm
awful sleepy, Larry; and I guess I'll turn in."

"Good.  Only go careful, or you'll roll out the other side.  That boat
swings with a hair trigger.  The least touch starts her to going.
There you are.  It's rockabye baby for you, Elephant.  Mother's little
darling boy, go to sleep now like a good kid!"

Elephant mumbled some sort of answer but in another minute he was off,
fast locked in the arms of the dream god.  Larry lost little time in
following his example, for he expected to be called at a certain hour
by Frank, who would have the first watch himself.

Darkness fell upon the interior of the workshop.  If there was any
sound to be heard, such as the heavy breathing of some sleeper, the
sigh and moan of the night breeze without deadened this.

Frank had assumed a comfortable position.  He could sit there and allow
his mind to grapple with numerous things that interested him; at the
same time feel that he was keeping a strict watch.  Time passed on.
The air happened to be coming from the direction of the town, so that
when the clock in the church tower struck the hour he could easily hear
the sounds.

In this way he knew how his watch went on, and when it would be time to
change places with Larry.  To the average lad there is something
approaching a fascination in this near approach to life in the open.
The mere fact that peril threatened, so as to compel a night watch, was
enough to keep Frank from feeling drowsy.  But then he always had a
peculiar faculty for controlling his weaknesses.  Most other boys would
have had to fight desperately to remain awake.

He had just counted the strokes as the town clock droned off the
midnight hour, and was wondering whether he had not better let Larry
sleep until one had arrived, when without the slightest warning there
arose the most dreadful racket any one could well imagine.

It sounded as though the whole roof might be falling in, what with the
clatter of tinpans, the upsetting of chairs and the half muffled shouts
that punctuated the entire clamor.  And Frank leaped to his feet,
believing on the spur of the moment that his trap had been sprung!



CHAPTER XV

THE AWAKENING

"What is it, Frank?" shouted Larry, as he scrambled to his feet, and
began clawing around in the dark for the one he called upon.

"We've got him!" sang out Andy, gleefully.  "Frank, it worked fine and
dandy.  My! what a noise he kicks up!"

"Where's Elephant?" asked Frank, suspiciously.

"Sleeping through it all.  An earthquake wouldn't wake him up, once he
gets to going," snorted Larry.

"Keep quiet; I'm going to light a lamp!" Frank went on, as he reached
out to a spot where he knew he had left a box of matches handy for just
such an emergency.

"Ouch! somebody kicked me then!" Larry shouted.  "Frank, there's more'n
one of 'em, and they're inside here, feeling around for us.  Go slow,
Frank!  Have your gun ready when you light up.  Pepper 'em good, now!
Who's afraid?"

"Wait! don't shoot, Frank!  It's only me!" shrilled a voice as the
speaker managed to get his head out from the muffling folds of the
blanket.

Then came the scratch of the match in Frank's hand.  He held it up
first in order to see what was going on; and then with a burst of
laughter began to apply the flickering flame to the wick of the ready
lamp.

And as the light filled the interior of the shed the boys saw a sight
that sent them off into spasms of uproarious merriment.  Yes, it was
Elephant all right, just as he had so wildly declared when he heard all
that threatening talk about guns and "peppering" and such dire things.

He had evidently fallen out of the canoe as he tossed about during some
dream that excited his mind.  In tumbling to the floor his heels had
upset the entire outfit of tin kettles and pans that Andy had fetched
from the house.  Such a clattering as they had made upon being dashed
to the floor.  And as if that were not enough Elephant had managed to
turn a chair over with the lot, adding to the confusion liberally.

Larry helped him up, for as he was swathed from head to foot in his
flaming red horse blanket the other was quite unable to manage alone.
Poor Elephant rubbed his eyes and stared around him as if looking for
the blue dragons that had filled his dreams.

"What d'ye mean by scaring us all half to death, Elephant?" demanded
Andy, when he could in some measure command his voice.

"My goodness gracious! you don't think I did that a-purpose, do you?"
exclaimed the small boy, rubbing his elbows as though they tingled
after coming in such rough contact with the floor.  "What d'ye take me
for?  And Larry, didn't I tell you that rarebit would make me dream?
You just made me eat it; and now see what happened!  Oh! but I thought
the whole house had blown up, and I was heading for the stars.  It was
a fierce experience.  Talk about your rarebits, never more for me!"

"Listen! somebody's coming, sure!" exclaimed Larry.

"Oh! what if it's Jules, after all?  Where's the gun, Frank?  Get it
ready, won't you?  There, he's pounding at the door.  Where's my club?
Somebody took my club!" and Elephant scrambled around, looking for the
lost weapon which he had placed within reach before retiring.

Bang! bang! bang!

"Here, open up, and let me get at the rascals!  Frank, Andy, have they
murdered you all?  Why don't somebody answer?  Why don't you open this
door before I smash it in with my crutch?" came a roar from without.

"It's Colonel Josiah!" cried Andy.  "Hold on, Colonel; we're all right
here.  Nobody hurt!  All a mistake!  Frank, open the door, will you?
Nothing doing, Colonel, you see!"

The aged veteran stalked inside, using his crutch once more to assist
his locomotion.  In his other hand he gripped a tremendous horse
pistol, the very size of which must have sent a shiver through any
nocturnal prowler.

"It was Elephant who raised the rumpus, Colonel!" explained Andy.  "He
had a dream and fell out of his hammock, knocking over all the tin pans
and a chair.  We were all scared, thinking it might be Jules come to
town."

The grim old traveler turned upon Elephant, trying to hide the twinkle
in his eyes by pretending to assume a heavy frown.

"I won't do it again, I assure you, sir!" faltered Elephant, trying to
hide behind Frank.  "It was an accident, indeed it was.  And I bruised
both my elbows just fierce.  After this I'm going to tie that swinging
canoe down, so it won't kick me out again."

"H'm! you'd better," was all the old man said as he turned away; but
Frank was of the opinion he wished to hurry off, so that he could
chuckle over the ridiculous picture presented by the interior of that
shop, without being seen by the boys, and his dignity impaired.

"Now, get busy, Elephant, and tidy up the mess you made," said Larry,
as he once more crawled under his blankets.

"And remember," said Andy, severely, despite the grin on his face, "we
don't stand for any more of this foolishness."

"Let me help you tie the canoe, so that it can't swing," Frank
observed, taking pity on the victim of the mishap; for Elephant was
still rubbing his elbows, and making faces as though they hurt him.

So after a little, peace once more fell upon the camp.  The swinging
canoe had been so firmly secured that it could not "kick" as Elephant
declared it had done before.  Then the light was put out again, and
darkness reigned.

Frank again sat there, engrossed in thought.  And naturally his mind
went out in the direction of the recent event.  If a false alarm could
cause such confusion and excitement it was probable that in case there
came a genuine one things would take on a still more brilliant color.

He could hear Elephant turning from side to side.  Perhaps his arms
pained him; and thinking thus Frank was sorry he had not insisted on
swabbing them with some witch hazel which they kept handy in the shop,
in case of bruises while working.  But he did not think it good policy
to disturb the entire bunch again in order to relieve the slight pain
of Elephant who must sooner or later grow used to hard knocks, if he
ever expected to face the world.

Finally the boy in the canoe became quiet.  Sleep had evidently
mastered him, for ere long Frank caught his heavy breathing at such
times as the wind stopped sighing around the eaves of the shed.

It must be growing near one when he expected to hand over his duty as
sentry to Larry.  All he waited for was to catch the stroke of the
hour.  He had the lay of things well in his mind, and could even have
moved about the shop in utter darkness without tumbling over anything;
for he and Andy had spent uncounted hours under that roof during the
last year.

Ah! there was the anticipated stroke, sounding quite clearly.

"Frank!" came in a low tone, almost a whisper.

"Hello!" answered the sentry, "that Larry?"

"On deck.  Must have been my call the wasn't it?  Thought I heard one
strike," as Larry began to raise up alongside Frank, shedding his
blankets as he did so.

"Have you been awake all the while?" whispered Frank, surprised.

"Guess pretty much," chuckled Larry.  "That thing just broke me all up.
I've been laughing to myself under the blanket ever since."

"Oh! is that so?" Frank replied.  "Well, do you know I wondered what
those queer noises were.  Thought possibly you had an ache from eating
too much."

"How's everything on deck, Frank?"

"Fine and dandy.  Nothing to cause alarm yet," came the answer.

"All right, then.  You just crawl in, and get a snooze started.  I'll
take care of the camp up to three, when Andy comes on duty.  How d'ye
keep awake, Frank?" asked the new guard.

"Keep thinking of the late unpleasantness, as you have been doing.  It
did the trick before, and may again.  Good night!  I'm off."

Frank found no little difficulty himself in getting asleep.
Unaccustomed to his strange bed, and with all the recent excitement
added, it was not strange that even Frank had to take himself severely
to task before he could lose his senses in slumber.

He too dreamed, for had he not also partaken of the same tasty cheese
and toast, of which poor Elephant complained as the main cause for his
troubles?  Several times Frank woke up and was puzzled to understand
just where he could be.  Then things would come back to again; and with
a chuckle he would turn over, to once more lose himself in sleep.

The third time this happened he lay there listening.  It seemed to him
that he had heard a slight rustling noise; and moreover, it had come
from the far end of the shed!

Could it be Larry; and if so what business had the sentry to be
wandering about that section of the forbidden ground?  Another fancy
struck Frank, to the effect that it might be either Andy or Stuttering
Nat, walking in their sleep.  If that proved to be the case, then the
awakening was likely to surprise somebody, unless he was very much
mistaken.

He put out his hand and felt Andy in his accustomed  place.  Then
rising quietly he crawled over far enough to come in contact with Nat's
arm, thrust out from his blanket.  This left only Elephant, whom he
found slumbering soundly in his canoe, and the sentry, who was also
fast asleep!

Frank felt a thrill pass over him at this.  Then the sound could not
have been made by any one of his comrades.  Who then was prowling
around that danger zone?  Even as he asked himself this important
question he heard a sudden sharp "click!" that could only be made by
the trigger of his dead-fall trap; then came a heavy, sodden, crunching
sound, that told better than words what had happened.  Frank jumped to
his feet, shouting:

"Wake up! wake up! we've caught something, fellows.  Wake up everybody!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE CHIEF MEETS AN OLD FRIEND

There was a tremendous amount of excitement in the workshop when Frank
aroused his four chums by this cry.  All around him he could hear them
calling out.

"Another fake alarm, I bet!" grumbled Larry.

"It's that miserable Elephant again," said Andy in disgust.  "He ought
to be taken down to the lake and ducked, that's what!"

"Me ducked?  I'd like to see you do it!" shrilled a voice close beside
Andy, and which he recognized as belonging to the runt.

"Hey!  Frank, what is it?" demanded Larry.

"Light up! we want to see something!" called Andy, now beginning to
experience a strange sensation in the region of his heart, as the
possibility of its being the genuine article of alarm struck home.

Frank was already doing this very same thing; he struck his match even
while Andy was calling so loudly for a light.  When the lamp was
brought into use the boys stared around at each other.

"Where's Stuttering Nat?" questioned Larry, suspiciously.

"H-h-here!" came a quavering voice, as the other pushed himself
forward, so that none of them would believe he might be at fault, as he
was not particularly desirous of a bath just then.

"Then we're all on deck; ain't that so, Frank?" asked Andy.

"Count noses, and you'll find it that way," returned the other Bird
boy, as he calmly picked up his gun.

"Take the lamp, Andy, and fall in just behind me," he said.

"O-oh!  Frank believes he's caught him!" gasped Elephant, in a
quivering voice.

"Stop talking, and come on, everybody," Frank insisted.

Each boy had armed himself as best the occasion allowed.  One carried a
hammer, another a baseball bat, while Elephant had found his club, and
Larry picked up a seven foot piece of piping, which he thrust ahead of
him after the nature of a spear.

So they advanced in the direction of the end of the shed where Frank
had arranged his trap.  Every one of them felt his heart beating like a
triphammer as the sound of writhing, accompanied by groans, came to
their ears.

There seemed no reason to longer doubt but what the trap would be found
sprung, and game of some species within.

"Hold up that lamp, Andy!" said Frank, sternly.  "Here, don't let your
hand tremble so.  We must have light, you know.  Steady now!"

"Oh!  I see him!" gasped Elephant, whose eyes were almost sticking out
of his head with the excitement.

"I guess it's Jules, all right," Andy managed to say; as he too took in
a long breath, while he thrust the lamp out further so that all could
see better.

Something lay in the hole, something that took on the outlines of a man
flat on his face, and with a heavy log almost squeezing the last bit of
breath from his body.  A broken old gun, that looked like one of the
muskets used in the Civil War, lay close beside him, and had evidently
been dropped when the trap was sprung without warning, after the victim
had started to crawl into the shed by way of this inviting opening.

"Yes, it's our old friend, Jules, come to pay us another night visit,"
observed Frank, coolly as he handed the shotgun to Larry, and bending
down proceeded to draw both arms of the senseless man behind him,
fastening them securely with a stout cord which he drew from his
pocket, having prepared for this same event in advance.

"Is he killed?" asked Elephant, in an awe-struck voice.

"Sure he isn't," replied Larry, who had seen the man moving, as though
his senses might be coming back.

Five minutes later he opened his eyes, and stared hard at the array of
boyish faces before him.  Evidently Jules may have suspected that the
Bird boys would be sleeping in their precious shop; but he had hardly
imagined that he would run up against a whole school there.

Frank had meanwhile tied his ankles as well, and helped drag him
further into the shop.  When the man started to using language that was
offensive, he warned him plainly that if he kept that up any longer
they would find some means of gagging him.  The threat served to keep
him quiet, though from the black looks on his face it was evident that
the fellow was extremely bitter against them all.

It was now three o'clock.  Since all of them were too much excited to
even try to sleep any more, they concluded to remain on guard in a
bunch.  Larry received no end of joshing on account of having slept on
his post; Frank even told him that it was considered so serious a
matter that men had been stood up against a wall, and shot for allowing
the enemy to creep into camp.

"All right," said Larry, who hung onto the gun all the while.  "Let's
see you do it right now.  I'm the only one that's got a shooting iron,
and I refuse to give it up, or use it on myself.  Call it off, Frank,
and we'll begin all over," and so, as Larry was a pretty decent sort of
a fellow, as they go, and besides, just as he said, held possession of
the only weapon, for that musket had been broken by the fall of the
log, they concluded not to shoot him on the spot, but give him another
chance to make good.

It was a long wait till morning; but finally the stars vanished before
the gray light of early dawn.  Larry, as soon as he could see decently,
started to get breakfast; for he declared that if he was a mighty poor
sentry he did have a few good points, one of which was his ability to
sling tasty messes together.

Jules was as "mum as a church mouse," as Elephant called it.  But by
degrees he took more or less interest in what the boys were doing.

"Look out for him," said Larry aside to Frank.  "I think he means to
try and escape if he gets half a chance.  That's why he smiles now and
then."

"You're away off, Larry," replied Frank.  "For I notice that every time
that pleasant look creeps over his face it is when a smell of coffee
drifts this way.  Jules hasn't tasted anything like that for more than
a year.  And while he's got to go back to where the law has sent him,
we're going to give him a decent breakfast first."

When a little later they heard the stamp of the Colonel's crutch the
boys looked up expectantly, knowing they would have the laugh on the
old veteran traveler, who had flown to the rescue when the alarm was
all a farce, and slept through the real thing.

"What's all this?  Bless me, if they haven't caught the rascal after
all!  Why didn't you ring me up?  That alarm bell must have played me
false, Andy, and I believe you juggled with it!  The old cry of 'wolf'
again; and I'm the victim."

Expressing his disgust in this way the Colonel stumped in, and
proceeded to let the prisoner know what he thought of a man who would
try to revenge himself upon a couple of bright lads; especially after
bringing all his troubles down upon his own shoulders.

It afterwards developed that Jules had stolen the musket, and also the
suit of clothes he was wearing, from a farmhouse that he raided shortly
after his escape from the prison.  Although he never confessed to the
fact, Frank never had any reason to doubt but that it had been Jules
who fired that shot at them while they were speeding over the Powell
woods in their biplane.

Jules was given his fill of good breakfast, and this possibly put him
in a better humor.  He was not wholly an unscrupulous villain, and the
fact of these boys treating him so decently seemed to make an
impression on the fellow, for he watched Frank closely.

The boys were talking the matter over, as to how they might best get
their prisoner transported to the lockup in town, when sharp-eyed Nat
began to make a great noise, and pointed down the road.

"It must be the Chief and his officers heading back home!" cried Andy,
jumping up from his seat.

"Here, make a dash toward the fence, and get their attention!  Don't
tell them why we want them to come in here, but just let down the
bars," said Frank; and at his words Andy went flying away across the
pasture.

By swinging his arms and shouting, he managed to attract the attention
of those in the passing car, which was halted.  Then Frank saw Andy
speaking hastily, at the same time letting down the bars; after which
the car swung in, with the Bird boy perched on the step.

Chief Waller did not look particularly happy as he sat there alongside
the man who served as chauffeur.  He had lost a night's sleep, and
covered many miles in a useless search of the great Powell woods; and
for so stout a man this was exhausting business.

"Hello!  Frank!  How are you, Colonel?  Sorry to say we haven't picked
up our man yet; and the chances are we won't do it, either.  He must
have taken the alarm, and slipped off before we got there."

Then the police head must have detected Elephant grinning broadly; and
this no doubt excited his suspicions; for he whirled on Frank, having
laboriously descended from his car, and burst out with:

"Looky here, Frank, what you got up your sleeve, anyhow?  There's
something doing that I ought to know about, I reckon."

"Oh! we thought it might pay us to set a trap, Chief," returned Frank,
keeping as straight a face as possible.  "Sometimes you have to go to
the mountain; and then again it comes to you.  We made up our minds to
try it, anyhow."

"And it worked?" demanded Chief Waller, his face lighting up with
eagerness.

"Did it, fellows?" asked Frank, turning to the rest of his mates.

"If the Chief had been anywhere around at three this morning he'd have
thought something was working all right," gurgled Andy, his face all
aglow.

"Larry, help our guest out here, won't you?" said Frank; and only too
willing the one addressed stepped inside the shop, to reappear a moment
later and not alone.  Chief Waller took but one look and then threw up
his hands, exclaiming:

"Jules Garrone, and nabbed by a parcel of boys.  Men, the joke is on
us!"



CHAPTER XVII

GALLANT ANDY

"Good morning, Chief!" said the prisoner, with a cool grin.

The Head of the Bloomsbury police force looked so utterly amazed that
Larry and some of his mates could not help laughing.

"Didn't expect to find Jules waiting up for you on the way back, did
you, Chief?" asked Andy, with perhaps a touch of sarcasm in his voice;
for to tell the truth the boy did not have a very high opinion of the
stout man's abilities in the way of thief catching, though liking him
well enough as a genial townsman.

"Well, I confess that I never expected such great good luck," admitted
the other.  "And now, boys, tell me just how it happened."

"Oh! he dropped in on us, Chief," Andy went on.

"And liked the accommodation afforded by the Birdsnest so well that he
concluded to stop over," Larry remarked.  "Frank here, expected
something of the kind, and got ready to receive visitors."

"You mean he set a trap?" asked the official, looking admiringly at the
party in question.

"Well," Larry drawled, "I guess you could call it that, and not get far
off the road.  It had a trigger all right, and when Jules touched this
off a nice heavy plank that was like a log dropped, and pinned him down
on his chest.  We found him gasping for breath, and his gun with a
broken lock."

"Gun!  Then he was armed, and creeping into your shop!" exclaimed the
other, with a frown toward the grinning and apparently indifferent
prisoner.  "That looks bad, now.  What would he want to carry a gun
for, if not to injure you boys?  And where d'ye suppose he got it at?"

"Oh!" Frank remarked, "he says he entered a farmhouse, and hooked a
suit of old clothes, so he could throw away the striped ones.  And at
the same time he helped himself to that old musket, thinking he might
have to hunt game while he hid in the woods."

"Look here, Frank, wasn't you telling me about some villain who fired a
shot up at you boys when you were flying over the Powell woods?" asked
the Chief.

"That's so, and we believe it was Jules, all right," Andy took the
liberty of saying; for when excited he could not be kept still.

"But he wisely declines to commit himself, so there is no proof," Frank
went on.  "And at any rate, what's the use bothering about that little
thing?  There was no real harm done, except a little scare.  And I
think Jules will have about all the trouble he wants to handle without
adding any to it."

He looked at the prisoner, perhaps with a touch of feeling.  At any
rate, to the surprise of them all, Jules actually smiled, and made a
declaration that proved he had been using his eyes and ears since
coming among the campers.

"I just want to say right here, Chief, that I was a fool to bother
about these boys.  I got what I deserved.  I should have left them
alone.  And mark me, that if ever I have the luck to escape again never
will I turn one hand to injure them.  Now take me to your old lockup.
I want to sleep."

So they took him to the car, and that was the very last the Bird boys
ever saw of Jules Garrone, once a well-known French aviator, until he
fell into evil ways.  No doubt he was returned to the penitentiary,
where he would have to serve an additional length of time because of
his flight.

Of course the talk for an hour or more was all about the recent
adventure.  But in due course of time Andy began to get uneasy.

"We're losing a fine chance for a spin, Frank!" he grumbled, glancing
up at the sky, across which here and there clouds were slowly moving,
but with no indication of coming trouble.

"Well, do you know," smiled the other, immediately, "I was just
thinking that same thing myself.  Suppose we do hitch up, and take a
drive in our aerial go-cart, Andy.  There are a heap of little things
I'd like to experiment on before that race comes off with Percy."

"All right.  And the sooner we start the better," Andy flashed back.
"What d'ye say to going all over the course this morning?  It would
only be the right thing; and when rowing clubs train for a race they
always study the course foot by foot, so as to learn the currents, the
hidden rocks, and the chances for head winds.  Will you take me up on
that, Frank?"

"If you mean that we head across to Hazenhurst, and interview that
liberty pole Percy lays so much stress on, I'm willing.  Then again, I
want to try for height while we're about it.  We don't know just what
this biplane can do, or how it'll act when a mile or so up."

"Huh!  I didn't see anything the matter when we landed on top of the
peak," remarked Andy.  "Sure she was all to the good then.  Frank,
honest Injun now, I'm more in love with this outfit than I ever was
with our first one.  I can see possibilities about a biplane that a
monoplane never can own."

"Wait," said Frank, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  After
we've had this a week we can begin to talk.  Just now it's up to us to
study her every little whim, and try to improve on things."

The other boys were taking turns in going home and "making the
acquaintance of their folks," as Larry quaintly put it.  But there
would be a couple of them at the shop all the time.  Of course there
was now no danger from Jules, since he had fallen upon evil ways; but
as Larry said mysteriously, "you never could tell," and everybody knew
whom he had in mind, although no name was mentioned.

The Bird boys had that running start down to a fine point.  Frank had
made an especial study of it, so as to rise in the air with as little
ground work as possible.  And this was what served him well on many
occasions--for instance when on the plateau of Old Thunder Top, where
the level space was limited.

So they rose quickly and successfully.  Andy gave a yell of
satisfaction, to indicate that his confidence in the new aeroplane was
being strengthened every minute that he saw her strong points being
developed.

They rose to a considerable height before starting away in the
direction of Hazenhurst.  It looked just like a homing pigeon seeking
an altitude, from which it could find its bearings, before starting in
a bee line for its loft far away.

Andy was using the glasses, while Frank drove the machine, and studied
every little part, touching a straining wire guy here, and tightening a
valve there, as he noted minute chances to improve conditions.

It was this complete mastery of the subject that gave him such control
over his aeroplane; so that when he chose he could develop unexpected
resources of speed, or ability to successfully carry out difficult
feats.

"I can see the town easy enough from here," announced Andy, presently.

"Am I headed right?" asked the pilot.

"Just send her a trifle more to the northwest.  There, now we aim
straight for Hazenhurst," Andy called out; for the motor was crackling,
and besides, there was more or less noise arising from the stiffened
planes, so that it became necessary to raise the voice in order to be
easily heard.

So, for some little time they went humming merrily along, just "eating
up the miles," as Andy remarked delightedly.

It was a great sensation for these two lads; but having been at this
now for so long a time they fairly overcome the thrill that is apt to
seize upon a novice.

Frank had dropped down to a lower level.  Since they were now passing
over territory that they had never before looked down upon from such a
height, it was just as well that they keep to that distance from the
earth which would probably be their course during the race that Percy
had forced upon them.

And all the time they drew nearer the town that was to be their goal.
Both boys had been there once or twice.  But this was years back when
they used to wheel all around the surrounding country during vacations.
They had now gone a long ways ahead of pedaling a bicycle.  After once
soaring through the air in a biplane no one could ever be content to go
back to the old ways.

"I can see the commons," announced Andy, who was using the glass.
"Yes, and there's the liberty pole too, right in the middle.  See that
big green stretch, Frank?  Will you drop lower, and circle it while
we're over here?"

"Why not?  Might as well go the whole thing when about it," returned
the other, as he continued to test first one thing and then another.

"On the way back let's put her to her level best speed, and see just
how long it takes us to cover the thirty miles," Andy suggested.

"All right," was the ready reply; "but before we do that I'd like to
drop down to the ground for a bit.  I can see several slack guys that
will be all the better for being tightened a little.  Like every other
new machine, this needs constant attention to bring things up to their
best."

"Oh! well, what's to hinder our lighting on the green, and giving the
good people of Hazenhurst a chance to see a genuine aeroplane.  I don't
believe one ever came up here before," Andy remarked.

In a short time they were skimming along over the tops of the trees,
and even dipping lower when openings appeared.

"Going all right, Frank?" asked Andy, anxiously, as they drew within a
mile of the town; for if they expected to be watched by hundreds of
curious eyes he wanted everything to work smoothly.

"Just running like clock-work," the other announced.

"I haven't heard you say a single word against this biplane," remarked
Andy.

"Why should I?" laughed Frank.  "I may not be so outspoken as you about
my likes and dislikes, but I feel as deeply.  And, Andy, I want to say
right here that this machine is a whole lot ahead of anything I've ever
seen, or handled.  She moves like a witch, and answers her rudder like
a thing of life.  Why, I almost feel that I'm a part of the whole
business, and that I have only to think a thing when it is executed."

That was high praise from so conservative a fellow as Frank, as his
cousin well knew; and it filled Andy with rare delight.

"Oh! look down there, Frank!" he suddenly cried, pointing beneath them,
to where there was an open field.

Looking quickly Frank saw a sight that filled him with dismay.  A young
girl was crossing the open stretch, and as her back was toward them, of
course she had not as yet discovered the presence of the biplane.

Racing back of the girl, and evidently meaning to overtake her, was a
savage-looking dog; and it required no effort on Frank's part to
understand that the intention of the brute was decidedly hostile.

Frank was a lad of prompt action.  He instantly sent the aeroplane
downward, aiming for the running dog; and at the same time starting to
shout at the top of his voice, in which last Andy joined with him.

The animal, attracted by the clamor, looked up, and seeing that monster
bird as he believed swooping down at him, turned tail with frightened
yelps and ran away.

There was nothing for it now but to alight, since they had already
darted close to the earth; and accordingly Frank proceeded to
accomplish this feat as gently as possible.

It happened that the biplane came to a stop close to the girl, who was
standing there staring, as though hardly understanding what it all
meant.  Andy hopped out the first thing even though he happened to be
holding the monkey wrench in his hand at the time, having snatched it
up in his excitement when he first discovered the threatening peril of
the girl.

He had just reached her side, and was starting to speak when a warning
shout from Frank, still in his seat aboard the aeroplane, caused Andy
to look around.

"The dog!  Take care, he's going to attack you!" was what Frank shouted.

Apparently the ugly beast had already recovered from his fright, when
it discovered that human beings were aboard the strange airship.  He
had halted a little distance away, and then, as Andy actually headed
toward him, started to meet the newcomer.

There could be no mistaking the evil intentions of the beast, he was of
the savage bulldog strain, and from the cut of his mouth it could be
seen that just now he meant business.  And as Andy could not retreat,
with that pretty girl standing there unprotected, he just had to raise
his monkey wrench and wait for hostilities to begin.



CHAPTER XVIII

AT THE FOOT OF THE LIBERTY POLE

"Look out!" shouted Frank, who was trying to find some sort of weapon
himself, armed with which he could hasten to the aid of his chum.

But Andy kept his senses well about him.  Perhaps had he been alone,
and there opened a favorable chance whereby he could put a convenient
fence between himself and those grim square jaws of the ugly dog, he
would have been only too glad to do so.  But that was utterly out of
the question now.  The girl must be defended, come what might.

He fortunately remained fairly cool, which was a good point in his
favor.  Just then, singular to say, Andy seemed to remember what he had
read about what Old Putnam said to his Colonials at the battle of
Bunker Hill: "Wait till you can see the whites in their eyes, boys!"
He held himself back until he was positive that he could land a blow on
that massive head of the prize bulldog.

Whack!

The wonder was that Andy did not crush the beast's skull in with the
monkey wrench.  He surely would, had he struck with all his strength;
but being afraid that if he missed connections he might lose his
balance, and be seized by the brute, he only "tapped for a single," as
he afterwards remarked.

It staggered the beast at any rate, and drove him back a foot, stopping
his onward rush.

"Good! give him another like that, Andy!  I'm coming right along!"
whooped Frank who had managed to lay hold on some sort of tool which he
carried for emergencies, and was jumping forward as fast as he could
move.

The dog tried a second time to seize the daring boy in those cruel
white fangs.  He presented a terrible sight just then; for there was
blood showing on his white hair, where the edge of the monkey wrench
had struck.

"You will, will you?" gasped the boy, who had thrown himself into a
position of readiness once more, with his novel weapon upraised.

This time the dog tried to duck the descending blow.  Had his ruse been
successful undoubtedly Andy would have found his ankle fast in the grip
of those terrible teeth before he could recover.  But again he had
figured on such a move; and as he swung the tool downward he jumped
forward a pace himself.  It was "meeting the ball before the break
came," as they would have it in baseball language.

Crunch!

That was surely a good sound crack.  The force had been visibly
increased too, so that the brute was knocked completely over into a
kicking heap.

"Try it again, if you want to!" shouted the now aroused Andy.  "Plenty
more like that left!  Hi! hold on there; what're you sneaking away for?
Not had your fill yet, have you, pup?  I guess you've got a streak of
yellow in you!  No prize dog about you.  Well, good-bye then.  Next
time I call I'll try and do better by you!"

The dog seemed half dazed by that last blow.  Struggling to its feet it
began to run away, though hardly able to keep a direct course.

Frank arrived on the scene just too late to be of any assistance; but
then as it turned out, his cousin had not really needed help.

"Well done, Andy, old fellow!" he exclaimed, proudly, as he seized the
hand of his cousin, and shook it heartily.  "I'm glad to own you as a
member of the Bird family.  And you're dead game on dogs, that's sure."

"Oh! it was splendid!" exclaimed the girl and both boys now saw that
she was a very pretty little miss, with sparkling blue eyes, and golden
locks.  "I shall never, never forget how brave you were.  That terrible
dog would have bitten me, I just know.  I was so silly to cross this
field to save time."

She insisted on shaking hands with each of the lads, though naturally
it was Andy who took the greater share of her attention.

Just then a loud hoarse voice broke in upon them.  Looking up they were
surprised to see a big, rough looking man, evidently the farmer
himself, coming toward them.  He carried a gun in his hands, and had
all the appearance of anger in his manner.

"Jest stand whar ye be, ye scamps!" he bellowed as he made threatening
gestures with the gun.  "Don't ye try to run away, er I'll gie ye
somethin' ye'll never furgit.  Maul my prize dawg, will ye, and on my
own private groun's?  I got the law back o' me, and ye'll pay damages
er go to jail.  Hear that, consarn ye?"

Of course neither of the boys thought of running.  Why should they when
their precious aeroplane lay there close at hand?  Evidently the
excited farmer had not yet noticed this; or if so may have taken it for
some new species of motorcycle.  His entire attention seemed to be
wrapped up in keeping the boys from fleeing.  He was figuring on taking
advantage of his rights, and exacting heavy toll for the assault on his
"dawg."

He came on until within ten feet of the boys.  Andy still held that
useful monkey wrench in his left hand, having transferred it at the
time the girl insisted on his taking her little white hand in his.

The enraged and suspicious farmer must have just noticed this, for he
suddenly started to bellowing again.

"Put up your hands, both o' ye!" he exclaimed, waving the gun
threateningly.  "Ye be desprite scoundrels, I take it, an' I don't mean
to gi'e ye any chance to treat me like ye done my dawg.  Fifty dollars
wouldn't buy that critter; an' like's not he won't never be any use
arter this.  I'm goin' to march ye both to the town lockup, right away.
Don't ye move a hand, consarn ye!"

"Mr. Sweesey, how dare you?  These boys are my friends!" and as she
uttered these words; in an indignant voice, the girl stamped her little
foot on the ground.

"Hey! what! oh! is thet you, Miss Alice?  Sho! now, I never knowed ye,
Miss," the old man stammered, looking toward the girl for the first
time.

"I was coming to your house with an important paper my father asked me
to hand you, when he heard me say I meant to take a long walk.  I
crossed this field to make a shortcut, as I've often done before.  That
terrible dog of yours was loose, although you have been warned against
allowing it.  And he would have attacked me, only that these brave boys
came to my assistance.  I shall tell my father about it, you can
depend, sir."

All the bravado had vanished from the farmer by now.  He seemed to
fairly cringe before the girl.  Afterwards the boys learned that there
was good reason for this, since her father was Mayor Stephens, the
richest man in Hazenhurst, and the farmer a tenant who was forever
behind in his rents, and heavily in the debt of the owner of the place.

"I didn't mean to run 'em in, Miss Alice," he hastened to explain.  "I
was just a-tryin' to skeer 'em, ye know.  I've had heaps o' trouble
with boys from town, and in course I thought they was up to more o'
their tricks.  Tige broke loose this mornin'.  But p'raps he got just
what he orter hed from this brave boy.  I'm orful glad he didn't bite
ye, Miss.  And I hopes ye won't complain to yer governor."

"I'll think it over, Mr. Sweesey," replied the girl, somewhat softened
by his abject demeanor.  "Here is the paper father wanted me to take to
you.  I think I'd better be going back to town after this.  And I
promise you I'll never again cross this field."

She turned her back on him, and looked toward the biplane.

"How wonderful that you should have come to my help in that way," she
said.

"Well, the fact is, Miss Alice," remarked Andy, quick to catch the name
used by the old farmer, "we were on our way to Hazenhurst, meaning to
drop down on the commons and give your people over here a chance to see
what a biplane looked like, while my cousin Frank Bird was making a few
little changes in this new machine; when we happened to see the dog
chasing after you.  Then we dropped down in a big hurry; but
fortunately no damage was done."

"Oh! are you the famous Bird boys I've heard so much about?" she
exclaimed; at which Andy turned red in the face, and laughing
awkwardly, replied:

"I'm Andy Bird, all right, and this is my cousin Frank, the head and
brains of the combine; but as to our being famous, that's all a
mistake.  We have taken up aviation as a business, and mean to follow
it.  My father was a well-known aviator; so you see it runs in the
blood.  You live in Hazenhurst, I suppose, Miss Alice?"

And it was at this point the pretty girl informed them who she was.

"Oh!  I hope you will stay long enough by the liberty pole for me to
get back!" she observed, eagerly.

Andy nodded his head.

"Oh!  I can promise you that we're not going to be in any very great
hurry to start back home.  Why, we might even have to wait a whole
hour.  There are lots of little things to be done, you see;" and as he
said this Andy gave his cousin a sly kick on the shin with his toe,
which was apparently understood by Frank, since he did not venture to
say a word in opposition to what had been spoken; though truth to tell,
he believed ten minutes would have sufficed him to make what little
changes he had in mind.

"Then I'll start right away," Alice declared.  "And as I chance to be a
good walker I will show up inside of fifteen minutes at the most."

She shook hands with them again, and started toward the road.  The old
farmer, with bulging eyes, watched the two lads get their biplane
ready; and obeying Frank's request even gave a shove at the proper
instant.  Then he stood there, craning his scrawny neck as he watched
the great bird-like object soar upwards, hardly able to believe that he
had actually assisted in the launching of one of the modern miracles
that had conquered the forces of the upper air currents.

Andy was watching, and as they sailed over the road where Miss Alice
was trudging back to town he shouted a greeting, and waved his
handkerchief, to be delighted by a return salute.

"If I'd just dared, Frank," said Andy, regretfully, "I'd have offered
to take her to town along with us; but I was afraid you'd say no."

"Which I certainly would," replied his cousin, immediately.  "It may be
all right for us to risk our lives in the way we do, but I don't
believe we have any business to take chances with that of another,
except under certain conditions.  If we had to take up some one to gave
them from peril that would be all right.  Now, here we are at the
commons, Andy."

"Wow! look at the people rushing out of the houses," cried Andy, "would
you?  I guess this is the biggest thing that's happened at Hazenhurst
for a whole year of Sundays.  Hope they give us plenty of elbow-room to
land.  If they push in too far, somebody is going to get hurt."

Frank called out in time, and the crowd swayed back, so that presently
the wonderful biplane dropped as lightly as a feather on the beautiful
green commons, and close to the foot of the liberty pole.

"Please keep back before you do any damage!" Frank exclaimed.

Fortunately there were some sensible fellows present, who realized the
need of care; and when these athletic young chaps had formed a ring
around the aeroplane Frank breathed more freely again.

He went about making his little changes leisurely, while Andy did most
of the talking, and answering the multitude of questions that were
fired at them.

When the good people of Hazenhurst learned that these two modest young
chaps were the Bird boys, of whom they had heard and read so much, they
were loud in expressions of pleasure at welcoming them to the town.
And when later on Andy told them of the contemplated race, they
declared that everybody in Hazenhurst would surely be on hand to see
the two contestants turn around the liberty pole.

Of course Miss Alice arrived, even ahead of schedule time; which would
indicate that she had indeed hurried.  And presently the boys were
introduced to her father, and had to receive his hearty thanks after he
learned how greatly the Stephens family were indebted to them.

But Frank noticed with secret pleasure that the girl entered no
complaint against the old farmer.  From which he understood she had
come to the wise conclusion that a lot of good had sprung out of the
chance meeting, that might never have happened only for Tige's breaking
loose that morning.

And later on, when the biplane arose gracefully from Hazenhurst green,
a mighty roar of cheers attested to the fact that the Bird boys had
succeeded in making a very favorable impression, not only on Miss Alice
and her father, but the rank and file of the townspeople as well.



CHAPTER XIX

THE MYSTERY STILL UNSOLVED

"You fellows have been gone a long time!" observed Elephant,
reproachfully, as the Bird boys came down in the open just before the
workshop.

"And I've had dinner ready nearly half an hour," complained Larry, as
though in his mind their delay consisted of an unpardonable sin.

"Sorry," smiled Frank, "but we found we had to land at the liberty pole
in Hazenhurst, to do some little altering; and it was mighty hard work
getting away again."

Larry's sharp eyes caught the quick, quizzing look which the speaker
shot toward his cousin.

"Hey! be honest now, fellows," he said.  "There was a reason back of
that holdup, I just know.  Look at Andy turning red, would you?
Elephant, don't he look guilty now?  Tell us all about it, Frank.  Who
is she; what's the name of the little witch?  We're from Missouri, and
we want to know."

"Oh! let up on that sort of soft stuff, won't you?" complained Andy.
"Things have come to a pretty pass when a fellow can't just biff a
measly old bulldog on the jaw, without having a romance made out of the
thing."

"A bulldog?" echoed Larry, grinning immediately.  "Listen to that,
Elephant and Nat!  He's been having a fight with a terror of a dog.
And believe me, Andy didn't hunt for trouble.  Tell us all about it,
Frank.  Whose bulldog was it, and why did Andy tackle him?  Was he
going to bite the pretty one?"

Of course Frank had to tell the story, as soon as he could recover from
the fit of laughing into which Larry's persistence had thrown him.
Andy wandered away, as though his modesty forbade his remaining where
he could hear his praises sung.  Perhaps he also disliked the idea of
having those humorous eyes of Larry keep tabs on his telltale
countenance while Frank was speaking of Alice, and of course remarking
how very pretty the daughter of Hazenhurst's mayor happened to be.

"But you say you left there at eleven," remarked Elephant, when the
story had been completed.  "Then it took you all this time to get back
here, did it?"

"Shucks, no," replied Andy, who had now rejoined them, since the danger
of quizzing seemed past.  "We tried for height, and managed to get up
to a point that we only beat once with our old monoplane.  And this
craft can do much better, Frank says."

"We made as high a point as we dared," Frank said.  "It really got too
cold, and we were shivering as if we'd been dropped into winter.  Next
time we go after an altitude record for amateurs we'll make sure to
have warmer clothes along, eh, Andy?"

"We sure will," remarked that worthy, shivering at the recollection;
and yet it was a hot July day; almost sweltering, in fact, where they
now stood.

Larry stepped over to the biplane, and bending down, glanced at the
little instrument intended for recording the extreme height reached
during a flight.  It could be set over again simply enough when the key
was used to unlock the frame; this particular arrangement having been
adopted in order that during a contest there could be no possible
tampering with the barographs, the several keys to which would remain
in the possession of the judges.

"Hey! that's going some," Larry immediately called out.  "Ten thousand
seven hundred feet is sure high, according to my notions.  I don't
wonder you found it slightly chilly.  I've never been half that far up
in all my life; and I've seen some big mountains, too.  What's the
record, Frank?"

"To tell the truth," the other replied, "I don't exactly know.  The
last I saw recorded it was about fifteen thousand feet; but hardly a
week passes without some new man forging to the front, and putting up
another win."

"Anything doing here while we were gone?" asked Andy, carelessly.

"Lots," replied Larry, with a knowing grin.

"Suppose you open up then, and tell us about it.  Been having visitors?"

"How smart some people can be, eh, Elephant?  Hits it the very first
guess," and Larry winked at his chum as he said this, purposely keeping
Andy on the anxious seat.

"Perhaps you've been butting up against some sort of bulldog, too?"
suggested the other, quickly.

"No such good luck, because the girls have kept away from here,"
replied Larry.

"Then it was Percy?" Andy persisted.

Larry only shook his head in the negative; while Elephant took occasion
to remark:

"We saw him cutting all sorts of figures in the air with his new
biplane.  And say, don't you forget it, Percy is some pilot.  He sure
did skim around to beat the band.  You ain't going to have any
walkover, Frank."

"I understand that, Elephant," replied the other, soberly.  "And I'm
the last one underrate a rival.  Percy is just as good as I am in this
business.  His weakness lies in his spirit of recklessness; and giving
way to temper when things seem to be going against him.  He may beat
me; but he'll have to do his level best."

"But looky here," Andy broke in.  "That ain't telling us who was here,
Larry."

"Guess again," answered the other, who liked to tease.

"I just can't think of anybody; unless it might happen to be that
meddling, mysterious Mr. Marsh again," and then, seeing the raised
eyebrows of Larry admit that he had hit the nail on the head, Andy went
on: "What d'ye think of that, Frank; the bump of curiosity is pretty
big with that gentleman.  Now, what excuse did he have this time for
invading our camp; and did he try to push into the shop like the last
time he dropped around?"

"I saw him looking all about a lot, and he seemed right interested in a
heap of little things," Larry remarked.

"Yes," put in Elephant, who did not like to hear his chum do all the
talking.  "Lots of times he'd turn to the other chap, and nod his head
or wink his eye, just like he wanted to say: 'There! what did I tell
you, Longley; wasn't I right?'"

"Oh! he did, eh?" grumbled Andy, shaking his own head in an angry
fashion; "well, all I can say is, that Mr. Marsh'd better keep his nose
away from places where it ain't wanted.  He's just after something
slick, Frank.  He means to steal some of your clever ideas, that's
what."

But Frank was not so easily convinced.  He believed in hearing all he
could before making up his mind.

"Look here, Larry," he said, earnestly, "he must have given some sort
of an excuse for coming out here again, didn't he?"

"More than a few, Frank," was the other's prompt reply.

"As what?" continued the young aviator.

"Oh! he kept on saying he was so much interested in you fellers that he
just couldn't continue his vacation tour without seeing more of you.
In town they're talking already about the race that's going to take
place between you and the other biplane; make up your mind Percy was
the one to scatter the news, and spread his boasts about how he's going
to make you look like thirty cents.  And Mr. Marsh, he just wanted to
know if it was so, and all about the same; because he says he means to
hang around Bloomsbury till that event is pulled off."

"Hear that, Frank, will you?" burst out Andy.  "Told you he was a spy
of some kind.  Perhaps Mr. Marsh expects to spring a neat little
surprise just before we start in that bully old race.  Mebbe he's got a
few cards up his sleeve.  Mebbe he wants to stop us from starting, and
claim we're using a device that is patented by the firm that employs
him.  Anyhow, he's bound to give us trouble."

Apparently Frank was not in the same anxious and worried frame of mind
as his cousin.  He paid no attention to what Andy was saying, but went
on questioning the one who had been in camp, and talked with the
gentleman in question.

"What other reason did he give for coming out here?" he asked.

"Oh! let's see," Larry, replied, slowly, as though thinking.
"Elephant, he mentioned the fact that he had heard something of our
little circus last night, didn't he; and wanted to hear the truth about
the arrest of Jules?"

"Yes, and even told us that Mr. Longley was connected with a big New
York newspaper, an editor or something, and wanted to wire the truth
down to his office," Elephant added.

"I wonder if that was a yarn, now?" remarked doubting Andy.

"Oh! well, he did take a lot of notes down in shorthand, while the lot
of us kept on telling all about the coming of Jules," Larry went on.

"I hope you didn't stretch things too much," Frank remarked, knowing
that this was really a failing of Larry's, especially when relating the
exploits of any of his chums, rather than his own adventures.

"Now, that's mean of you, Frank, to suspect me of yarning," protested
the other.  "I just hewed as straight to the line as I could.  Elephant
here, and Nat, tried to widen things every little while; but I wouldn't
have it.  When you read the story you'll see how Truthful Larry talked."

Frank smiled at the idea of poor Stuttering Nat being drawn into the
mess; when the chances were he could not have said even one word with
two such ready and willing talkers close by.

"How am I ever going to read about it?" he inquired.

"Why, you see, Mr. Longley promised to have some papers with the
interview in, mailed to me as soon as it appeared, which would be
tomorrow morning.  Said it was a dandy piece of news, didn't he,
fellows?  And thanked me ever so many times for my extremely modest way
of telling it."

Elephant had a wide grin on his face about this time, and Frank could
draw his own conclusions as to just what the gentleman really did say.

"Well, I must say that Mr. Marsh puzzles me right along," he remarked.
"And all I hope is, that when we come to learn the truth about him it
isn't some unpleasant surprise he means to fling us."

"He acted mighty nice, anyhow," remarked Elephant.

"And that's a fact, ain't it, Nat?" remarked Larry, turning to the
stutterer.

Possibly Nat had been preparing for his little speech, and shaped his
lips so as to give utterance to the few words promptly; for he
astonished them all by calmly remarking, with not a trace of hesitation:

"It sure is; there, how's that?"

"Bully!  Keep it up, and you'll be all hunky!" ejaculated Larry.

"But see here, how about that grub?" demanded Andy, suddenly
remembering that it was now one o'clock, and that they had eaten an
early breakfast.

"Wow! the chances are it's all burned up!" cried Elephant, making a
bee-line for the door of the shop; in which rush he was followed by all
the others.

But Larry was too good a cook to leave his dinner exposed to any such
danger.  Before he went outdoors he had moved everything back on the
stove; so that when the five hungry lads finally sat down they found
every article just right.

While they ate, many questions flew back and forth.  Larry wanted to
know more particulars about that little affair with the dog, and just
how Andy knocked the savage beast headlong with that handy monkey
wrench; also what Miss Alice looked like; whether she had black eyes,
or blue; and so many other things in connection with the dainty little
miss that Andy begged Frank to seal his lips, because their comrade was
only doing this for a lark.

Frank on his part was not wholly satisfied with what he had heard
concerning the new attempt of the mysterious tourist to pry into his
affairs.  He every little while would spring some new question, which
Larry answered to the best of his ability.  Evidently Frank was trying
to discover the real motives actuating Mr. Marsh when he so suddenly
decided to remain around Bloomsbury a few days, and made such a lame
excuse for so doing.

The balance of the afternoon was passed as usual.  Frank and Andy went
up again along about four o'clock, everything being favorable for an
ascent.  It was the desire of the young pilot to ascertain just what
effect the several little changes he had made would have upon his
mastery of the biplane.

Evidently they gave him more or less solid satisfaction; since, when
the time came for a final landing, with the westering sun throwing
almost horizontal beams upon the aviation field before dropping beyond
the trees, Frank had a smile on his face, and Andy looked more pleased
than ever.

So another night came around, on which at least they need not fear a
repetition of the escaped convict's visit.



CHAPTER XX

THE RIVAL AVIATORS

"It's what I call a blooming shame, that's what!" declared Andy.
"Here's the day of the big race come along, and it's within an hour of
the time set for the start from Bloomsbury high school campus; and the
measly old weatherman has to dole us out a 'probable rain' sign.  Going
to upset all our calculations sure; and disappoint all those fine
people over in Hazenhurst."

"That's where the shoe pinches, Frank," spoke up Larry.  "He's just
thinking about one pretty little girl who will be waiting to wave her
handkerchief when the hero of the bulldog scrap comes whizzing around
that old liberty pole."

"Am I?" demanded Andy, indignantly.  "Just you take a look yonder at
the western horizon, and tell me what you see there?"

"A low down bank of clouds, that's a fact, Andy," replied the other,
candidly.  "But only for this race business you wouldn't take any
particular notice of that same.  You remember it looked just as bad the
other day, and petered out without ever giving us a drop of rain."

"Yes, that's so, Larry," observed Frank.  "I've been watching those
clouds for some little while now.  They don't seem to be climbing up,
as far as I could see."

"But I sure saw a little something right then, that may have been
lightning," put in Elephant.

"I reckon you did," Frank admitted, "for I saw it, too.  One thing
sure, there's going to be no trial for elevation today.  Nothing could
tempt me to bore up thousands of feet, with a dark storm threatening
below.  Even if we escaped the wind, we might be kept up there until
night came on."

"Excuse me, if you please," remarked Andy, with a shudder.  "It's bad
enough up there on a bright, sunshiny day, let alone night, with a
storm howling below.  The judges won't allow of such a thing.  We'll
put off altitude until a better day."

"Percy will be mad, though," said Elephant.  "He just hates to give in;
and if they let him have his way he'd defy you to make the trial, no
matter what the weather."

"Well, that's why I made sure there were sensible men on the jury
that's going to decide this race," Frank remarked, confidently.  "I
happened to remember what a hot-head Percy is.  While I'm ready to meet
him in any reasonable test, to prove which of our aeroplanes is the
better, I don't want to act like a crazy aviator.  There's danger
enough, goodness knows, at the best, without taking chances that no
sensible person would consider."

"Is everything all ready, Frank?" asked the other Bird boy.

"I believe so.  Wait till I lock the shop, and then we'll take a little
spin before heading for the campus, just to warm the engine up."

"There's nothing lying around, is there?" asked Andy, anxiously; "in
case a fellow took a notion to break in here while the circus is on in
town, and everybody interested in our biplanes?"

"I've made sure of that," smiled his cousin; adding significantly: "I
suppose you're thinking of Mr. Marsh right now?"

"That's who I am," came the prompt reply.  "Don't you see how he would
have loads of time to get in and rummage around, while all of us were
off--even Colonel Josiah is bound to be at the high school building
this p. m.  Perhaps Mr. Marsh had that game in mind when he asked so
many questions about the race."

"Oh! you suspicious chap," laughed Frank.  "But rest easy, Andy, Mr.
Marsh could look a long while through here without discovering any sign
of my experiments; or at any rate, what success I had met with in the
same.  If he goes to all the trouble to get into the shop he'll have
his work for nothing."

"And I'm going to make it a point to keep an eye out for that same
gent," declared Larry, positively; "and if he vanishes from the campus
just you make up your mind your Uncle Larry will be camping on his
trail.  I'd just like to see him breaking into a private building, no
matter if it is only the workshop of two boys.  Let him try it, if he
wants to see what nice quarters Chief Waller has in the Bloomsbury
lockup.  You hear me?"

"After you give us the shove-off, boys, get on your wheels and hike for
the campus.  We expect you to be there to start us in the race.
Something depends on a clever get-away, you know," Frank observed, as
he locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.

A short time later the biplane rose swiftly, like a hawk that had been
startled, and began to mount upward in gigantic circles, the faithful
little Kinkaid engine throbbing with the regularity of heart beats.

As directed, no sooner had Larry, Elephant and Nat seen the Bird boys
well off, than they mounted their waiting wheels, brought over for this
especial purpose, and started for town.

Anybody could see without trouble that Bloomsbury was in the throes of
a tremendous excitement that afternoon.  People abandoned their houses
in crowds, and flocked toward the campus of the high school, which
seemed to be the hub of a vast wheel, the squads of citizens taking the
part of spokes, all headed toward the common center.

And nearly everybody seemed to be turning around, to observe the
biplane which was plainly visible, as Frank and Andy warmed the engine
up for speedy use.  All sorts of remarks reached the three boys, as
they slackened their pace, once inside the limits of the town.  The
vast majority of the crowds seemed to be in favor of the Bird boys;
though of course there were some who sympathized with the opposition;
not because they cared so very much for Percy and Sandy, as of a desire
to be on the other side of the fence.  Some boys are built that way.
They call it "taking the weaker part" but in reality it is a spirit of
contrariness that pushes them on.

And when they reached the vicinity of the campus Larry and his comrades
were astonished to see the multitude that had gathered to witness the
novel event.  All sorts of vehicles were parked in the nearby side
streets, from big touring cars, and little electrics, to farm wagons;
and even a hayrick, on which a dozen country people had ridden some ten
miles, with a desire to witness the miracle of the twentieth century,
the flying boys of Bloomsbury.

"Oh! my! where do they all come from?" gasped Elephant, as he looked
around at the sea of faces.

"Thank goodness," remarked Larry, "Chief Waller is on deck with all his
force, to keep the crowds back.  Only for that how would the aeroplanes
ever get started?"

"L-l-look y-y-yonder!" said Stuttering Nat, pointing, as he stood
beside his wheel.  "T-t-there he is, f-f-fellows!"

"You mean the mysterious Mr. Marsh?" echoed Larry.  "So I see, and his
friend the great editor is with him too.  If I get a chance to have a
few words with that Mr. Longley I'm going to ask him just why it is we
haven't received a copy of his paper containing the account of Jules'
capture.  He didn't keep his promise to me, and I don't like that way
of doing things."

"There's Percy with his biplane over yonder, holding a levee," remarked
Elephant.

"He looks as happy as a clam," said Larry.  "You know his way, fellows?
Ten to one he's dead sure he's got this race clinched already.  See him
shake hands with Bessie Clinton!  I can just guess how he's saying what
he means to do to Frank and Andy.  Huh!" finishing his sentence with a
snort of disgust.

"The feller that crows last crows loudest," observed Elephant.

"Well, you ain't got that just correct, Elephant," remarked Larry,
letting his frown disappear in a grin; "but it means the same thing
anyhow.  Let's find a place to stack our wheels, and get around.  The
Chief will let us go inside the lines, for he knows we belong to
Frank's crowd, and are needed in the push-off."

Just as Larry had said the big police head met them with a warm smile
of welcome.  His sympathies were positively with the Bird boys, though
he would do his duty impartially as he saw it.  But Larry and his
friends had brought him a piece of rare good luck in the capture of the
escaped convict, and for this alone the Chief had a warm feeling in his
big heart for them all.

Presently a cry went up.

"They're coming!  The Bird boys are headed this way, fellows!  Get back
everybody, and give 'em plenty of room to land!  Move back!  Make way
there!"

The police assisted in driving the dense crowds still farther away from
the open campus, where the aeroplane would be likely to drop under
Frank's clever manipulation of the levers.

It happened that the big campus of the high school was entirely
destitute of trees, being in reality a wide field, on which many of the
town sports took place from time to time.  In this way it offered a
very good starting point for an affair of this sort.

Every sound was hushed as the biplane circled the field, like a bird
seeking a favorable spot on which to alight.  Then Frank headed
straight for the vacant place, left on purpose for the second aeroplane.

When he landed and, after running a short distance on the green, came
to a full stop, a storm of cheers broke out.  Evidently the Bird boys
had a host of warm adherents among the attendant crowds.

Frank did not allow himself to pay the least attention to the shouting
lookers-on.  They would never see him bowing and scraping before the
race had even been started, like Percy had done.  Time enough for all
that later on.

"Look at him, would you?" said Larry, indignantly, as he joined the
young aviators.  "Percy thinks all that shouting was for him.  See him
waving his hand and laughing!  Why, he's being crowned with the wreath
of victor already, in imagination!  Bah! he makes me tired, that's
what!"

"Don't pay any attention to him, Larry," smiled Frank.  "I think he
does that on purpose to make some of us mad.  Percy generally has a
reason in everything he does.  He's a sly one.  It seems to give him a
heap of pleasure, and I'm sure it doesn't hurt us one little bit.  Let
him have his fun."

"Well, perhaps he's smart enough to know this is the only chance he'll
get to listen to the cheers," remarked Andy, grimly; "for when the game
is over Percy is only going to be found among the 'also rans'!"

"That's it," crowed Larry, gleefully.

But Frank said nothing.  If he believed that he would have an easy
thing of it, and leave his rival far in the lurch, he gave no
expression to such views.

"Here come the judges," remarked Elephant; "and they're going to
explain just what the conditions of the race will be.  Yes, Percy has
quit laughing.  He looks sober enough right now.  Listen to what Judge
Perrine says, fellows."

The judge had gained a spot between the rival biplanes, where he could
be easily heard.  Then he started to explain just what the committee
having the race in charge had decided the rules should be.

In the first place, he remarked, it would be utterly suicidal for the
young aviators to think of trying for height on such a threatening day.
That would be left until the second afternoon, to be settled then, if
both parties were agreed.

After that he went on to state how points were to be given for expert
management of the aeroplane, as seen from the start and return; also
for speed.  The time of reaching the liberty pole at Hazenhurst was to
be taken there by a member of the committee sent over for that purpose.
After leaving that town the rival biplanes were to circle the peak of
Old Thunder Top three times, and last of all make a landing on the
campus.

"Any questions, either of you, before the word is given to start?"
asked the gentleman in charge of arrangements, after he had finished
reading his rules.

Neither of the contestants evidently had anything to ask.  They knew
what they had to do only too well; and both were like restive horses,
awaiting the tap of the bell, or the crack of the pistol, to be off on
the jump.

That vast crowd surged and swayed, everybody wishing to see the start,
which would prove a novel sight to many of the country people at least.
Once the aeroplanes had soared aloft, their flight could be watched
without trouble.

Frank and Andy had mounted to their places; and an air of expectancy
hung over the broad campus.  After they had left the earth it would be
a straightaway course for both contestants in the direction of
Hazenhurst.

"Are you ready?" asked the starter, in loud voice.

Both replied in the affirmative.

"Then go!" and with the words the judge fired a pistol into the air.

Instantly the whirr of the motors was heard, and with a rush along the
ground the contesting biplanes started upon the long race!



CHAPTER XXI

THE RACE WITH THE STORM

It seemed to most of the thousands of lookers-on as though both
biplanes left the green at the same instant.  And as they speedily
soared upward it was impossible for any one among those left behind to
positively decide whether either one of the rivals had the slightest
lead.

Of course a hurricane of shouts had broken loose the very second there
came a forward movement.  It was as though the repressed enthusiasm of
the vast throng had refused longer to remain bottled up, and just had
to find a vent.

Still that volume of sound would prove but a shadow to the wild
outburst by which the ultimate victor might expect to be greeted when
he came in later on.

Frank saw that his rival was right there alongside when they had sped
swiftly over what might be five miles; and it took very few minutes to
accomplish this part of the race, too.

"He's holding us, Frank!" shouted Andy, nervously.

"I know it; don't let that worry you!" was the composed reply he
received.

"But why don't you let go, and eat up ahead?" demanded the other again,
presently, when he had kept watching the progress of the second
biplane, and calculating the distance between them.

Truth to tell Andy was so suspicious of Percy that he felt a constant
dread lest the other might play some dastardly trick, meaning to thus
gain an advantage.  Of course no one could guess what the nature of
this game might be; but he had the reputation of being a "slick one,"
and among boys that signifies a fellow who never hesitates to apply
mean tactics rather than accept a square "beat."

In that case the sooner they put on a spurt, and left their rival
behind, the better Andy would like it.

"I'm waiting to study his way of doing things first," Frank answered,
as steadily as though they were seated in the shop, discussing
arrangements.  "Just hold your horses a bit, and we'll start something.
I'm nearly ready to begin showing what our new engine can do."

So the impatient Andy had to keep his eagerness in check, although his
very heart seemed to be eating itself with suspense.

Then he caught a quick breath.  Frank moved his hand clutching the
speed lever.  They had immediately commenced to increase their forward
motion to a perceptible extent.

Anxiously did Andy glue his eyes on the other aeroplane, and for a
brief time he seemed to almost hold his breath as he watched to see
whether they would leave it behind, with Percy desperately endeavoring
to copy their spurt.

Looking thus he had seen Percy instantly imitate the action of the
other, proving that he too had been keeping a little extra speed in
reserve.  And as the minutes passed Andy failed to discover the
slightest difference in the relative positions of the two airships.

"Frank, it didn't go!" he cried, with beads of perspiration on his
forehead; due, not to the heat of the afternoon, for they were making
lots of circulation in the stagnant air by their rapid progress; but
because of intense emotion.

"That's so, Andy," replied the pilot; "but perhaps a second time it may
be more successful!"

"Oh! have you any more held back, then?" asked Andy, in a trembling
voice, from which he could not however keep out the tone of joy.

"A little.  Wait till we are two-thirds of the way there, and then
watch out!"

They talked no more.  It was difficult, to say the least, when going at
such a frightful pace through the air.  Andy divided his time watching
first the near-by aeroplane, which Percy was so skillfully guiding
toward the haven ahead; and then turning his attention towards the
western sky.

That low bank of clouds had commenced to move upward now.  Yes, and
when Andy looked, he could see the sudden wicked gleam of the zigzag
lightning as it shot athwart the black masses.

No doubt he experienced a certain amount of anxiety concerning the
coming of that summer storm.  It would be only natural that he should;
for if the aeroplanes were ever caught in the sweep of the furious
tornado they would be as straws, to be toppled over and over to the
ground far below.

But the fever of the race had full possession of Andy by now; and even
given a chance to descend it is doubtful whether he would have availed
himself of it.

Perhaps the storm would hold off long enough to allow them to complete
the conditions of the event.  And, anyway, so long as Percy chose to
take the chances, it must not be for them to give up, and let him crow
over them by finishing alone.

Was Frank affected in the same way as his cousin?  Perhaps, to some
extent; but he would have welcomed a proposition from Percy looking to
the calling off of the contest to another and better day.  If no such
bail came Frank might deem it his duty to keep on.

Now they were approaching Hazenhurst; that is, they could easily see
the many houses of the town; and the commons near the center.

"Another big crowd waiting there to see us turn the liberty pole,"
ventured Andy, who had been using the glasses a brief time before,
perhaps in the vague hope of being able to discover a certain
fluttering handkerchief among the waving hundreds, that had a familiar
face behind it.

"I guess it's about time we took the lead, if we can," observed Frank.

He had no sooner spoken these words than Andy felt the sudden change of
pace; for it seemed to him that the biplane actually jumped forward.
When he heard loud shouts of rage and chagrin from the direction of the
other aeroplane he did not need to be told that Percy had no further
speed to let loose; and that he recognized the fact of sure defeat
staring him in the face, unless fortune proved kind, and brought about
some accident to Frank's machine.

If what Percy must be wishing in his heart just then could only be
realized, no doubt the leading biplane would crumple up, and drop to
the ground like a crippled bird.

But no such event came to pass.  Frank continued to slowly but steadily
gain on his competitor.  He knew that undoubtedly Percy was trying, by
every means possible, to increase the power of his engine, already
taxed to the utmost limit.

"How is it now?" asked Frank, as they began to gradually descend, so as
to get within the proper distance from the earth at the time they made
the sweep around the liberty pole.

"Still gaining a foot at a time!" shouted the exultant Andy; who
thought things could hardly have been better for him, if they were
allowed to pass around that stake with their rival trailing in the
rear--for surely _she_ would see him there in the limelight, and he was
eager to pick Miss Alice out of those many hundreds gathered to cheer
the plucky air navigators on their way.

Now they could hear the hoarse shouts that arose.  All Hazenhurst had
apparently gathered for this grand spectacle of man conquering the air.
It was an inspiring sight; and while the younger element cheered madly,
the older people gazed in sheer awe at seeing what, most of them had up
to now, doubted could ever come to pass.

Frank was keenly awake to everything.  He did not mean to make any
mistake at this critical moment.  It was the part of wisdom to circle
around the liberty pole at quite a little distance.  Likely enough
Percy would be more reckless, and cut in closer, hoping in that way to
make up a little of his lost ground.  Very well, let him, if so be he
chose to take chances.

The Bird boys had the better machine, there could now be no doubt of
that in Frank's mind.  And as they had been able to gain while on the
forward leg, the same conditions could be made to prevail when on the
homeward stretch.

One thing alone troubled Frank.  He realized that it was folly in them
to think of carrying out the part of the conditions that called for
three circles around the peak of Old Thunder Top before heading for the
high school campus on the last stage of the race.

And after they were well on the way toward home, he meant to hail Percy
to propose that they combine to cut that risky part of the performance
out.  A joint agreement would settle it; and doubtless the judges would
hail that decision as the part of prudence.  Human lives were worth
more than empty honors; and while the gathered thousands might be
cheated out of a thrilling sight as they stood and looked toward
far-off Thunder Top, still few would complain.

Would Percy agree?

That was where Frank felt doubtful.  He knew the nature of the other
only too well.  Perhaps Percy would flaunt it in his face that he was a
coward!  Possibly he would declare that as for him, he meant to circle
the mountain top those three times no matter if the storm did catch
him; and having done his duty, would snatch the victory from his
weak-hearted rival.

Now the liberty pole loomed up half a mile ahead.  But the next clap of
thunder was certainly louder than any preceding one had been.  Still,
the storm would be behind them in heading for home, and hence they
might keep ahead of it, if only they did not dally in the neighborhood
of Old Thunder Top.

Frank had settled down to the proper distance from the ground.  Having
been here before he knew whether any obstacle would present itself in
making that swoop around the tall mast.  Not for a single instant must
he allow his eyes to leave the object of his flight.  Andy could
observe what was transpiring below but to the young pilot of the
biplane his only recollection would be a hazy one of a multitude of
upturned faces, a wilderness of fluttering handkerchiefs and flags
together with hats thrown into the air; and the whole accompanied by
stentorian cheers from thousands of throats.

With scarcely any perceptible slackening of his fearful speed the
leading aviator swept in a graceful curve around the big liberty pole;
and having made the complete circuit, once more headed off toward
distant Bloomsbury, with the gathering storm grumbling and growling in
the rear.

Andy was happy for the moment; and he thought he had good reason to be.
In the first place, they had met Percy going in, while they were coming
out; though Frank had wisely given his reckless rival plenty of
swinging room, not wishing to have a head-on collision.  Then again,
Andy had positively caught sight of that pretty rosy countenance that
he had seen pale with fear the other day, at the time he stood between
Miss Alice and that savage bulldog.

Yes, she was there, just where she had promised to be, with the mayor
alongside; and how her dainty little handkerchief did wave to and fro,
when the daring Bird boys were making their circuit of the liberty pole!

Gradually the shouts of the enthusiastic Hazenhurst people grew fainter
in the distance; for when going at the rate of a mile a minute it does
not take long to lose even such a vast volume of sound.

Frank determined to put the little plan he had in mind into practice.
Better speak to Percy while the opportunity was still open.  So he
slowed down just a trifle.

"Frank, they're gaining!" shrilled Andy, in new alarm.

"I want them to," answered the other.  "I cut off some of our speed on
purpose to let him come up where I can shout out to him."

The second biplane was now close alongside.  Andy could see the faces
of those aboard, and noted the fact that they were flushed with the new
hope that Frank had shot his bolt, and that his engine was now going
back on him.

Waiting until the other was on about even terms Frank called out as
loudly as he could.

"Hello!  Percy!"

"Well, what d'ye want?" came back the surly answer.

"Don't you think it's next door to foolish for us to head up to the
peak with that storm coming swooping after us?  Suppose we make
straight for the campus, and call that a race?  Another day we can fix
it to make the try over again."

Frank was very doubtful even while shouting this proposition; and just
as he feared, Percy chose to look upon it as a sign of weakening.

"You can do what you please," he called back, with a shrill laugh, "I
know that I'm going around the top my three times.  If you're afraid,
back down, and make for the town.  We'll see who's got the most nerve
right now.  Get that?"



CHAPTER XXII

A TERRIBLE MOMENT ON OLD THUNDER TOP.

That settled it!

Andy had been holding in his breath while this short conversation was
being held between the rival pilots of the aircraft, with voices raised
to shouts.

"Are you going to give it up, Frank?" he questioned anxiously, as the
other once more let his new Kinkaid engine out to its utmost, so that
they began to forge to the front again.

Frank hardly knew what to do.  Prudence dictated that he decline to
risk his life and that of his cousin in such a foolhardy attempt to
fulfill the conditions of the race.  And yet he did hate most
unmercifully to show the white feather.  What lad with red blood in his
veins does not?  And then there was Andy, who, seeing his state of
wavering uncertainty, began to plead with him to try the thing.

"Frank, don't let 'em crow over us!" he went on, the fever still in his
blood.  "We can do it, all right, you know.  It'd only take a few
minutes to wheel around that bald old peak three times; and then a long
dip will carry us clear to the campus.  Frank, head for Old Thunder
Top!  Show him he ain't the only Bloomsbury aviator that's got nerve!"

And so Frank decided.  Possibly he might regret his choice when it was
too late; but having taken the jump, he began to gradually rise, so as
to get on a level with the high peak.

"He's right after us, Frank!" commented Andy, seeking by that means to
keep the determination of his cousin from growing slack.

"So is the storm!" thought Frank, as he realized that already some of
the advance couriers of the cloud bank had raced up, and were even then
around them.

Sitting there, with his teeth pressed firmly together, Frank realized
that by deciding on accepting the challenge Percy had so scornfully
thrown to him, he had indeed taken big chances.

Would they ever live to finish that race; or must the wind, when it
finally bore down upon them, send both aeroplanes, together with their
occupants, to a terrible fate far below?

It was now too late to change his course.  And besides, Frank was not
even at this moment fully ready to throw up the sponge.  Perhaps the
storm would kindly hold off a little longer, as sometimes happened, and
give them a fair chance to go around the peak of the bald mountain
thrice before heading for home.

"Hang the old clouds!" cried Andy.  "The folks won't be able to follow
us around each time.  And if Percy chooses to turn tail, and cut for
home, declaring that he did the bend three times who's going to prove
it a lie, tell me?"

"Oh, some of them have fine glasses, and you may be sure they're on us
about every second.  They'd get his number, all right; just let him try
some of that funny business, that's all," Frank replied.

Andy said no more.  Truth to tell, the conditions surrounding them were
by now beginning to look fearfully desperate, with those billowing
clouds at times shutting out all view of the earth so far below.

Frank had only eyes for the rocky top of the mountain, though he knew
that he must presently also keep constant watch for the rival
aeroplane; for Percy might elect to pass around the other way, there
being no stipulated course about it; and in that event there was always
the chance of a collision.

When racing such a reckless fellow, one had to make his eyes do double
duty, as Frank Bird had learned long ago.

He could see the pair of white-headed eagles soaring around the top of
the mountain, as though glorying in the battle of Nature's forces that
was so soon to be opened.  Frank inwardly wished they were as capable
of finding shelter as those sagacious birds.

"Watch out for the other biplane, Andy!" he called, in the ear of his
chum, as he started on his first circuit around Old Thunder Top.

His last words were fairly drowned in a peal of thunder, that seemed to
announce the near approach of the gale.  Even then there was possibly
time for them to have made Bloomsbury, had they been content with just
one spin around the bald knob of the great rocky height.  But the
conditions of the race said three; and Percy meant to hold them to the
letter of the contract.

Frank well knew that far away in the home town anxious hearts were
beating, as loving eyes kept glued to the fieldglasses--he could easily
understand that not a few among the applauding spectators would ten
thousand times rather the race were lost than that these terrible
chances were taken.  Yet he had started, and there could be no help for
it now, however much he would have liked to give the thing up.

Doubtless others were admiring the pluck shown; but then these had no
personal interest in the lives of the young adventurers.

They had now finished the first circuit and were starting on the
second.  Under normal conditions it would have been next to nothing to
Frank to guide his biplane around the head of Old Thunder Top twice
more.  But with such dreadful surroundings it required all the nerve of
which he could boast not to turn and shoot downward after making that
initial circuit.

The clouds were beginning to scurry around them now, showing that the
wind was arriving.  Frank knew this when he once more started around
the peak, for he met it head on.

This meant another peril.  He had to keep his wits fully about him,
lest a sudden flaw tilt the biplane over.  And it was at that moment of
uncertainty that the young aviator had reason to rejoice because of
that new device under the aeroplane whereby an automatic balance was
maintained between the planes.

Birdmen who have attempted to show their ability to manage an aeroplane
close to a big city like New York claim that their greatest danger
arises from the numerous gusts of wind that come out of the deep
canyons formed by the skyscraper buildings.

"There they go!" screeched Andy, suddenly.

Frank received something of a start, for the other aeroplane shot past
not more than thirty feet away from the tip of his port plane.  It had
been a narrow escape from a calamity that might have cost all their
lives; for Percy, for some unaccountable reason, had chosen to pass
around the summit of Old Thunder Top in just the opposite way from that
they had taken.

How foolhardy to keep this up!  It was next door to madness, Frank
concluded.  He was determined to have nothing more to do with it, but
give over the idea of fulfilling the conditions of the race.

Was it too late to think of making the home town?  Would the hovering
gale swoop down on them when half way, and in the twinkling of an eye
wind up their mortal careers?

Frank had learned his lesson.  He was grimly determined that if good
fortune allowed him to get out of this scrape alive he would never
again allow himself to be tempted into a thing that he positively knew
to be rash beyond all description.

But it might be too late now.  The storm would soon come riding along
with a rush and a roar.  Sorry, indeed, the frail aeroplane caught in
its merciless grip.  A handful of straw would not be scattered more
quickly by the onrushing blast than the pitiful frame that went to make
up the imitation bird.

Even the eagles had mounted higher out of reach of the storm; or else
sought some snug retreat among the rocks, where they could bid it
defiance; at any rate had utterly lost all sight of the king birds.

But where was Bloomsbury?  How would he know which way to turn, when
desirous of fleeing before the threatening storm?  The clouds had
gathered in such force that it was now utterly impossible to see the
earth far below.  And how pitiful to think of those two little
aeroplanes isolated so far away from any shelter.

At such a time it behooved one to do his thinking quickly.  Andy was
really of no use just then, for he had become really frightened by the
darkness gathering around them; realizing at last what folly it had
been in accepting that dare on the part of reckless Percy.  So Frank
knew that he must depend entirely upon himself, if he yet hoped to
escape the consequence of their rashness.

Another thought flashed across the active mind of Frank Bird just then.
Would it be possible for them to alight on the summit of Old Thunder
Top?  And even granted that such a difficult feat might be safely
engineered, could they find any way of staying there while the storm
raged?

He made up his mind on the spur of the moment.  It was simply madness
to think of shooting downward now.  The storm hung low, and most of its
violence would be apt to pass by beneath the height marking that lofty
crown.  Yes, the safest thing for them in the long run would be to land
on the rock, as they had done several times before, and then seek to
save their lives, no matter what became of the biplane.

Money would purchase another aeroplane; but money could never restore a
lost life.  So Frank reduced the speed at which he was rushing around
the top of the rocky mountain.

If the wind would only hold back another minute he believed he would be
able to make it.  But Andy must know, for he would have to hold himself
ready to jump at the proper second, so as to stop the fluttering air
craft before it went beyond the further edge.

At least one thing was in his favor as he turned back to make the
second circuit, as Andy believed; the air currents were from the west,
and they faced them now; hence the biplane was in the proper shape to
effect a landing; birds almost invariably drop to earth facing the
breeze, and not with it.

"I'm going to land on top, Andy!" he shouted, knowing that the other
would be panic-stricken by the fact that he had shut off nearly all the
power.

"Oh! why?" cried his cousin.

"It's our only chance; we could never get to the ground!  Be ready to
jump like you did before!  Watch out, now, Andy!"

"I'm ready, Frank!"

Andy tried to control his voice when he shouted this; but it was
quavering sadly, what with his fright, and belief that the very end of
all things had probably come for them.  The lightning was flashing
savagely, and the boom of the thunder down below sounded like the
discharge of tons of dynamite.

It was just in between these sounds, when a silence of a few seconds
happened to brood over the wild scene, that Frank heard loud cries.
They came from the top of the rock close by, just where they were
heading for at that very moment.

"They've struck the rock, and been smashed!" shrieked Andy, whose face
was undoubtedly the color of a piece of yellow parchment, if the
horrible state of his feelings was any index.

Frank had already guessed as much himself; but just then it became
necessary that he give his whole and undivided attention to their own
chances for making a landing; or else, if a flaw of wind came just at
the wrong time their aeroplane might also meet with the same fate that
had overtaken that of Percy.

"Now! jump, Andy!" he called, as the bicycle wheels struck the surface
of the rocky plateau.

Even the rising wind assisted in halting their progress, and both boys
were able to drop out of their seats.  Most fellows would have
immediately thrown themselves down on the rock, thinking only of saving
their lives; for there was real danger of their being swept off the
exposed plateau, should the wind become very violent, as was to be
expected at such an altitude.

Even at such a frightful time Frank's ready wits did not desert him.
He instantly seized a stout rope, and commenced fastening the engine of
the biplane to an upturned point of rock, which seemed just made for an
anchorage.  Andy caught the spirit that animated his cousin, and did
what he could to secure the biplane; not that either of them had much
hope of its being spared to them.

They had hardly managed to do all that lay in their power when with a
roar the storm broke.  The next few minutes would decide whether they
were to retain their grip on life, or be hurled down to the cruel rocks
below.

Frank clutched his cousin by the arm, and began dragging him across the
top of the plateau, both of them bending low so as to escape the worst
of the wind's fury.  And from the confident manner in which he drew
Andy, the latter began to pluck up fresh hope; for it seemed possible
that Frank knew of some sort of refuge.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE BIRD BOYS' TRIUMPH

"Crawl in here!"

As he said this Frank Bird pushed his nearly exhausted cousin into a
narrow crevice of the rock.  It was a retreat which he had noticed on
their first visit to the crown of Old Thunder Top.  At that time Frank
had made up his mind that if ever he were marooned on that lonely
mountain crest, he would seek temporary shelter there.

Little had he dreamed of what the future held for himself and Andy; and
that one day he would have good cause to remember with thanksgiving
that same split in the massive rock.

A surprise awaited them, and of an agreeable nature.  Andy had not
crawled five feet inside the shelter than he gave utterance to a loud
cry.

"Percy, is this you?" Frank heard him say, with positive relief in his
voice.

"Yes, all that's left of me," came a reply.  "We got banged awful hard
on the rock, when my machine played that nasty trick on me.  It was all
I could do to crawl here; and Sandy had to help pull me.  I reckon my
leg's broke."

"Is Sandy there, too?" demanded Frank.

"Yes, and banged up some too; but mighty glad he didn't go kerflummick
down to them rocks when Percy foozled," grumbled another voice.

"Aw! let up on that, won't you?" the other snarled.  "I tell you it was
all the fault of the blamed cranky engine; it went bad on me just at
that time the flaw struck us on the side.  Keep a still tongue between
your teeth, Sandy Hollingshead."

That was Percy all over.  Even in this grave crisis he would not admit
having made an error of judgment; but was determined to lay all the
blame upon the faulty construction of the aeroplane.

But Frank was mighty glad that both boys had escaped the terrible fate
to which they had seemed doomed at the time their machine smashed down
on the plateau.

"We're all lucky, fellows," he said cheerily; "and since we've got to
bunk together for some time, let's make the best of a bad bargain.
Here, Andy, take this bit of candle, after I've lighted it, and hold
over while I look to see if I can do anything to help Percy.  We ought
to be able to tell whether his leg is broken or not, and perhaps
relieve his suffering some."

This they did, and after a close examination both declared that beyond
a severe wrench and some bruises there was nothing the matter.  Any
ordinary lad would have felt grateful for this intelligence.  Percy
only growled the more, declaring that if his leg was not broken it felt
worse than such a condition would bring.

"What can we do, Frank?" asked Andy, apprehensively, as he listened to
the roar of the storm without.  "Must we stay up here all night?"

"I'm afraid that will be the result of our foolishness," remarked the
other, gravely.  "And we ought to be thankful that our punishment isn't
any worse."

The summer storm began to die out after an hour; but by then the
afternoon had drawn near an end; so that it was folly to even think of
making any effort looking toward their escape from the rocky crest of
Old Thunder Top.

Frank crawled out of the friendly crevice, and after a short time
returned, to bring good news.

"So far as I can see the biplane isn't badly damaged," he said to Andy.

"Hey! you ain't going to desert us up here, I hope?" cried Percy, in
sudden alarm; which remark proved how much he was depending on Frank
after all to get them out of the bad scrape.

"Not at all," came the reply.  "Nobody can go down till morning.  But
if the machine can be coaxed to work decently then, I can carry the
whole bunch, one at a time, to the ground."

This prospect of being brought home by a victorious rival was
apparently not very pleasant to Percy's proud soul.  He grumbled for a
bit, and then said:

"Huh! guess you'll have to drop me in our front yard then, 'cause I
won't be able to crawl home.  I don't want to be seen in this shape,
Frank Bird, remember that!"

"Sure, take you wherever you say, Percy.  But we'll cross that bridge
when we come to it.  Perhaps we may have to get down by means of a rope
after all," the good-natured young aviator replied.

As night came on the clouds rolled away from the summit of the
mountain, and Frank could see the light of the town far below.  He knew
only too well that many anxious hearts would be suffering because of
the dreadful uncertainty that hung over the fate of the quartette of
venturesome aeroplane boys.

"I'm going to find some way to let them know we're all safe," he said,
finally.

"But how?" demanded Andy.  "If it was daylight we could stand out in a
row, and they'd see us through the glasses.  Or we could use the wigwag
code, which some of the Boy Scouts would translate.  But in the dark--"

"That's just what occurred to me," said Frank, quickly.  "Listen, Andy.
Strange to say, our little searchlight on the biplane escaped being
broken when we landed so roughly.  I mean to use that to signal with."

At that his cousin gave vent to an exclamation of delight.

"Great!  It sure takes you to think up these things, Frank!" he cried.

Accordingly Frank secured the acetyline lamp and having lighted the
same, stood out where his actions could surely be seen by some of the
anxious watchers in Bloomsbury.  Then he started to wave the light
slowly but methodically, so as to induce some sort of reply.

After about ten minutes he called out to Andy and the others:

"One of the Scouts is starting to answer with a lantern.  And now to
try and make him understand that the whole four of us are up here safe,
and will stay until morning."

Even the groaning Percy managed to crawl to the mouth of the crevice to
watch operations.  Frank persisted until he knew that his message had
been understood, for the answer had come "O. K."

"Now we can take things more comfortably, because we know they won't be
worrying about us," he said.

But that was a night never to be forgotten.  Nobody obtained much
sleep, for what with the novelty of their situation, the hard rock
underneath, and the almost constant complaints of Percy, who was really
in great pain, they watched the stars in their wonderful procession
toward the west until finally dawn began to appear.

As soon as it was fairly light Frank got busy.  He examined his biplane
in the most thorough manner; for it would never do to have a slip, once
he quitted the safety of the plateau.  Rather than take chances he
would have waited until help had arrived at the bottom of the cliff,
with a rope which could be hauled up by means of a cord; or carried up
the chipped footholds by an agile lad like Larry.

But he found that his machine could be readily put in apple-pie
condition.  The sun was up before things were ready.  Percy declined to
be the first to accompany him, for some reason or other, so Andy went.

The trip to Bloomsbury was made without a single hitch; and great was
the rejoicing when they landed on the commons.  But remembering his
promise Frank did not linger.  He succeeded in transporting Sandy the
next trip; and that worthy made haste to lose himself in the crowd
without even thanking his rescuer.

Last of all Percy was carried to his home.  Frank could not land in the
Carberry yard on account of the trees; but he did close by; and as the
injured boy's mother, as well as a score of others, were eagerly
waiting, there would be little difficulty in getting Percy indoors.

"I suppose I ought to thank you, Frank, for this," said the injured boy
with a half surly look on his face, which, however, may have been
caused by his pain.

"Don't mention it, Percy," smiled Frank.  "I'm sure you would have done
the same for me.  Hope you get out soon again; and sorry you lost your
biplane.  Better luck next time," and with that he turned away.

Having broken away from the crowds on the commons, the two Bird boys,
accompanied by their friends, Larry, Elephant and Stuttering Nat, once
again sought the privacy of their dear old workshop.  Here they were
sprawled, taking it as easy as possible, and resting their aching
muscles, as they went over the stirring events of the accident again
and again, when into the shop strode Mr. Marsh and his friend, Mr.
Longley.

The former gentleman at once approached Frank, who, understanding that
the seal of mystery that had so long cloaked his actions was about to
be removed, stood up.

"Shake hands, Frank, won't you?" said the other, with a look of warm
admiration on his face that quite captured the young aviator.  "Longley
here has copies of the papers he promised your cousin, containing an
account of your little episode with the escaped convict.  But Frank,
I've got another mission here.  And I hope you'll be of a mind to
accept the offer I want to make you on behalf of the well known firm
making the very brand of aeroplane you pin your faith to.  Will you
listen?"

"Certainly, sir," Frank answered, accepting the hand that was
outstretched; "as to accepting any offer, that is another matter
entirely.  But please go on."

Andy, Larry and the other two listened eagerly; for they believed that
the Bird boys were about to be given as great a compliment as any
aviator could hope for.

"I represent the company that makes the best aeroplane in the country.
I am empowered to be constantly on the watch for just such daring yet
cautious aviators as you two have proven yourselves.  That was why I
came here to Bloomsbury, because we knew something of what you had been
doing.  And I want to say right here that personally I firmly believe
those glowing reports have been in no way exaggerated; for you both
have the making of admirable aviators in you, after you have been in
the company of the chief of them all for a few weeks.  And I hope you
won't decide too hastily, and turn an offer down without due
consideration.  Are you open to an engagement for a year to come with
my company, and prove to the public what they claim for their make of
machine?"

Frank shook his head, though with a pleased smile; for who would not
have felt a thrill of pride at such a remarkable evidence of confidence
in his abilities.  This gentleman knew every famous flier of the day;
and that he should rate the Bird boys as among those who were "called"
was a compliment worth having.

"I'm afraid we'll have to disappoint you, Mr. Marsh," he said.  "In the
first place our fathers would not want us to become public birdmen; and
in the second we expect to attend school for several years yet before
branching out.  No, please forget it.  I believe in the merits of the
aeroplane I've been using.  The new features are wonderful; and as long
as I continue to fly I expect to stick by that make.  But neither of us
are professionals.  And that will have to end it."

Which it of course did.  Mr. Marsh, much against his will, was
compelled to leave Bloomsbury without having signed the Bird boys for
his enterprising company; but at least he had the satisfaction of
knowing that no rival concern could succeed any better than he had.

Just as Frank had said, Percy's injuries were not serious enough to
keep him shut up more than a few days.  Many times did Frank and Andy
have to narrate the entire story of that hazardous feat connected with
the race.  They never made themselves out heroes; but most people,
knowing their modesty, could read between the lines, and understood
that Percy Carberry and Sandy owed much to the Bird boys.

Of course such a backset could not long deter Percy from flying.  His
rich and indulgent mother would supply the cash for another biplane in
due season.  But it was to be hoped that his experiences might teach
him more caution.

Frank himself was resolved never again to be tempted into risking his
life unnecessarily simply because a reckless rival threatened to dub
him a coward.

As the Bird boys were thoroughly imbued with the aviator spirit it
might easily be set down as positive that as time went on they would
continue to study the science of flying, and take advantage of every
opportunity that presented itself for indulging in their favorite sport.

And we shall certainly hope to meet them again in the near future, when
possibly other of their stirring adventures call for a new volume
concerning the Bird boys.





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