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Title: The Boy Aviators in Record Flight - The Rival Aeroplane
Author: Goldfrap, John Henry, 1879-1917
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.

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[Illustration: Several early airplanes in flight. Courtesy of Scientific
American]

------------------------------------------------------------------------


                            THE BOY AVIATORS
                            IN RECORD FLIGHT


                          THE RIVAL AEROPLANE


                                   BY
                         CAPTAIN WILBUR LAWTON

          AUTHOR OF “THE BOY AVIATORS IN NICARAGUA,” “THE BOY
       AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE,” “THE BOY AVIATORS IN AFRICA,”
                “THE BOY AVIATORS’ TREASURE QUEST,” ETC.

                                NEW YORK
                           HURST AND COMPANY
                               PUBLISHERS


------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          BOY AVIATORS’ SERIES
                        BY CAPTAIN WILBUR LAWTON

                   Six Titles. Cloth Bound. Price 50c

                        UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME

                 1 THE BOY AVIATORS IN NICARAGUA;

                 2 THE BOY AVIATORS ON SECRET SERVICE;

                 3 THE BOY AVIATORS IN AFRICA;

                 4 THE BOY AVIATORS’ TREASURE QUEST;

                 5 THE BOY AVIATORS IN RECORD FLIGHT;

                 6 THE BOY AVIATORS’ POLAR DASH;

                        _Your orders solicited._

                            HURST & COMPANY
                          PUBLISHERS—NEW YORK

                    Copyright, 1910, by HURST & CO.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

                        I The Big Prize
                       II Billy as a Diplomat
                      III Under a Cloud
                       IV Thieves in the Night
                        V The Boys Decide
                       VI Off for San Francisco
                      VII Above the Earth
                     VIII Boy Aviators to the Rescue
                       IX Luther Barr Forms an Alliance
                        X A Night Voyage
                       XI The First Leg
                      XII Attacked by Cowboys
                     XIII Indians
                      XIV The Auto in Difficulties
                       XV Thirst—and a Plot
                      XVI The Auto Gone
                     XVII The Wrong Man
                    XVIII Wireless
                      XIX Arrested by Aeroplane
                       XX Caught in a Stampede
                      XXI Bart and the B’ar
                     XXII An Auto Leap for Life
                    XXIII A Mystery
                     XXIV The Golden Hermit
                      XXV A Fight for Fortune
                     XXVI The Sand Storm
                    XXVII Winning the Prize—Conclusion

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                   THE BOY AVIATORS IN RECORD FLIGHT

                                  Or,

                          THE RIVAL AEROPLANE.


                               CHAPTER I.

                             THE BIG PRIZE.


“Phew!” exclaimed Billy Barnes as he reported for work on the New York
_Planet_ one broiling afternoon in late August, “this is a scorcher and
no mistake.”

“I should think after all your marvelous adventures with the Boy
Aviators that you would be so used to heat and cold and hardship that
you wouldn’t kick at a little thing like a warm day.”

The remark came from a young fellow about twenty-one years old who
occupied a desk beside that of the stout spectacled youth of eighteen
whom our readers have already met as Billy Barnes.

“Why, hullo, Fred Reade!” said Billy, looking up with a good-natured
grin from the operation of opening his typewriter desk, “I thought you
were off covering aviation.”

“I was,” rejoined the other, with a near approach to a sneer, “but since
we printed your story about the recovery of the treasure on the Spanish
galleon I guess they think I’m not good enough to cover the subject.”

If the good-natured Billy Barnes noticed the close approach to outspoken
enmity with which these words were spoken he gave no sign of it. Any
reply he might have made was in fact cut short at that minute by an
office boy who approached him.

“Mr. Stowe wants to see you, Mr. Barnes, at once, please,” said the lad.

“There you go, the managing editor sending for you as soon as you get
back. I wish I was a pet,” sneered Reade as Billy hastened after the boy
and the next minute entered a room screened off from the editorial
department by a glass door bearing the words “Managing Editor.”

At a desk above which hung “This is my busy day,” and other signs not
calculated to urge visitors to become conversational, sat a heavy-set,
clean-shaven man with a big pair of spectacles astride his nose. He had
a fat cigar in his mouth which he regarded as he spoke with far more
intensity than he did Billy.

“Afternoon, Barnes,” was his greeting.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Stowe,” returned the young reporter, “you sent for
me——”

“Sit down,” said the other brusquely, indicating a chair.

Billy sat down and waited for the next words of his managing editor.

“The _Planet_, as you know, has made a specialty of featuring aviation,”
continued Mr. Stowe, gazing fixedly at his cigar.

Billy nodded, the remark did not seem to call for a more definite reply.

“We have offered prizes for flights from time to time, and in this way
have obtained a reputation as an authority on aviation and a patron of
what is bound to be the vehicle of the coming ages.”

Again Billy nodded at the managing editor’s rather florid way of putting
it.

“For instance, the $10,000 Albany-New York flight and the $30,000 New
York-St. Louis flight. The $100,000 offer for a transatlantic flight as
yet remains unchallenged for, but I have no doubt that in time some
daring aviator will make the attempt.”

“It should be possible,” once more agreed Billy, wondering what was
coming next.

“In the meantime,” Mr. Stowe continued, “the _Despatch_ has declared
itself our rival in this field by also devoting great attention to the
subject, and offering prizes for flights in opposition to our original
idea. The owner of the _Planet_ has therefore decided to eclipse all
previous offers and be the first in the field with a prize of $50,000
for a flight from New York to San Francisco, or as far in that direction
as possible. The air craft that travels furthest will get the prize.”

“Across the continent?” gasped Billy.

“Exactly. We are going to publish the conditions and date of starting in
our to-morrow morning’s issue. And the offer incidentally means a great
chance for you.”

Billy gave a questioning glance.

“I intend to have you follow the racers in an automobile and send
dispatches from the various points along the route concerning the
progress of the cross-country aerial racers.”

The young reporter’s face beamed.

“That’s mighty good of you, sir,” he said earnestly.

“Not at all. It’s simply the selection of the best man for the job;
that’s all. You have far more knowledge of aviation than Reade—or at
least you ought to have after your long association with the Boy
Aviators—and therefore we have selected you.”

“As to the conditions of the race, Mr. Stowe—how about stops, gasolene
and water stations, and so on?”

“Each contestant will be expected to arrange those details for himself,”
was the answer. “This newspaper simply offers the prize to the first
aeroplane to arrive in San Francisco, or go furthest in that direction.
Also, of course, we claim the privilege of getting exclusive accounts of
the doings of the _Planet_ aeroplanes. That’s all. Simple, isn’t it?”

“Very,” agreed Billy as he took his leave. “By the way, sir, does any
one else know of your offer?”

“Nobody; not even Reade. I guess he’s pretty sore that we took him off
aviation on the eve of making the prize offer, but it can’t be helped.”

“Why, I—you see, sir, I’d rather not take it, if it is blocking Reade
in any way. I don’t want to take the assignment at all if it’s going to
hurt Reade with the paper.”

The managing editor gave an impatient wave of his hand.

“Let me attend to Reade,” he remarked impatiently, “you go and get out a
story for to-morrow about possible contestants. Of course your friends,
the Chester boys, will enter?”

Billy looked dubious.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I rather think they were planning for a
rest and to continue their studies, and this cross-country flight won’t
be any picnic. However, I hope they do enter,” replied Billy.

“I had no idea that there would be any doubt about it,” said Mr. Stowe
impatiently, “well, do the best you can. Anyhow, get interviews with
Blewitt, Sharkness and Auldwin. They will be sure to enter their
machines, and let’s have a good, live story for to-morrow. By the way,
not a word of this to anybody but the aviators you may see till we
publish the offer. The _Despatch_ would be quite capable of offering a
similar prize to-morrow morning if they learned what was in the wind.”

Billy nodded as Mr. Stowe once more gave a sign of dismissal, and
hastened from the room. So hurried was his exit, in fact, that he almost
bumped into Reade as he made his way out. The editorial room was
deserted, except for the dark-haired, slender young fellow with whom
Billy had almost collided. The other reporters were all out on their
assignments.

“Well?” were Fred Reade’s first words.

“Well,” rejoined Billy, adjusting his spectacles, which had narrowly
escaped being jarred off his nose in the bump, “isn’t there room enough
in the place without your getting so near that door that you almost
upset my slender form?”

“Never mind that,” replied Frank Reade; “what I want to know is, how do
I stand in there?”

He motioned with his head toward the managing editor’s room from which
the boys were by this time several paces removed.

“I don’t understand you exactly,” was Billy’s reply. He noticed that
Reade’s face bore an angry flush and he seemed excited.

“What I mean is this: Am I going to continue to do aviation for the
_Planet_?”

“Say, Fred, old man, I’m awfully sorry——”

“Oh, cut that out. You don’t mean it, and you know you don’t. You wanted
to grab off the job for yourself, and I can see by your face that you
have.”

“If you mean that I am to do aviation for the _Planet_ in future, you
are right,” replied Billy. “I am; but it was only on Mr. Stowe’s orders.
You’re wrong, Fred, and you know you are, when you accuse me of trying
to take your job away from you.”

“Oh, rot,” exclaimed the other angrily. “If that had been the case you’d
have kept away. You don’t have to work. You made plenty of money out of
your share of the Golden Galleon treasure. You have just deliberately
tried to oust me from my job.”

“You talk as if you’d been fired,” said Billy. “You know that you are
one of the most valued reporters on the _Planet_.”

“Don’t try to jolly me,” rejoined the other angrily. “And as for being
fired, I don’t have to be, for I’ve got my resignation ready written
out. Here copy boy!” he cried, “take this note in to Mr. Stowe.”

As the boy hurried up Reade drew from his pocket an envelope and handed
it to the lad.

“Hold on there!” cried Billy, genuinely moved at Reade’s evident
chagrin, “have you gone crazy, Fred? What’s the matter?”

“Take that note in,” thundered Reade to the hesitating boy, who
thereupon hurried off, “it’s your fault I’ve had to quit, Billy Barnes,
and I’ll not forget it, I can promise you. I’ll get even with you for
this in a way you don’t suspect. No; I won’t shake hands with you. I
don’t want to speak to you.”

Reade flung angrily off and put on his coat and hat. Without taking any
more notice of Billy he strode out of the _Planet_ offices and into the
street.

On the sidewalk he paused for a minute. His hat shoved back off his brow
and his forehead puckered in perplexity.

“I’ll do it,” he exclaimed suddenly under his breath as if he had made
up his mind to something. “I’ll do it. The _Despatch_ will jump at it,
and I’ll get even on Billy Barnes and the _Planet_ at the same time.”



                              CHAPTER II.

                          BILLY AS A DIPLOMAT.


A few minutes after Fred Reade had left the _Planet_ offices he was
followed by Billy Barnes. The young reporter boarded an open Madison
Avenue car, preferring it to the stuffy heat of the subway, and in due
time found himself at the home of Mr. Chester, the wealthy banker, and
father of Frank and Harry Chester, the Boy Aviators. The lads need no
further introduction to our readers, who have doubtless formed the
acquaintance of both the young air pilots in previous volumes of this
series. To those who have not it may be as well—while Billy Barnes is
ringing the doorbell—to say that Frank and Harry Chester were graduates
of the Agassiz High School and the pioneers among schoolboy aviators.
Beginning with models of air craft they had finally evolved a fine
biplane which they named the _Golden Eagle_. The first _Golden Eagle_
was destroyed in a tropical storm off the coast of Nicaragua, as related
in The Boy Aviators in Nicaragua; or, In League with the Insurgents. To
carry out an important commission affecting a stolen formula the lads
then constructed a second _Golden Eagle_, in which they met many
adventures and perils in the Everglades of Florida. These were set forth
in The Boy Aviators on Secret Service; or, Working with Wireless, the
second volume of the series. In the third and fourth volumes the boys
had aerial adventures in Africa, and in the Sargasso Sea. What these
were will be found in The Boy Aviators in Africa; or, An Aerial Ivory
Trail; and The Boy Aviators’ Treasure Quest; or, The Golden Galleon.

Before the servant who answered Billy’s ring had time to announce him
there was a rush of feet down the hallway and two tall lads, with crisp
wavy hair and blue eyes, were wringing Billy’s hand till he laughingly
shouted:

“Hey, let up! I’m not the India-rubber man with the circus.”

At this moment a door opened and a gray-haired man stepped out. It was
Mr. Chester.

“Why, how do you do, Billy Barnes,” he exclaimed heartily, “glad to see
you; but I hope you haven’t come to take my boys off again on some
wonderful trip or other. You know their mother and I like to see them at
home sometimes.”

“Well, sir,” began Billy somewhat abashed, “the fact is I—you see—I
mean—well, the long and short of it is, sir, that I _have_ an
adventurous proposal to make to them.”

“Hurray!” shouted Harry. “Good for you, Billy!”

Mr. Chester, however, assumed his—what Frank called—“official face.”

“Really, I——” he began.

“Now, father,” interjected Frank, “don’t you think it would be a good
idea if we heard what Billy’s proposal, or whatever you like to call it,
is before we say anything more?”

“Perhaps you are right, my boy,” said his father, “but I am busy now,
and——”

“We’ll take Billy out to the workshop and make him tell us all about it,
and then we’ll submit it to you,” suggested Harry.

“That’s a good idea,” assented his father.

Five minutes later the three boys were closeted in the big room above
the garage of the Chester home, which served them as a workshop, study
and designing plant all rolled into one. The blue prints, aeroplane
parts, chemicals, and tools scattered about or ranged in neat racks
against the walls in conjunction with a shelf of books on aviation and
kindred subjects, the table illumined by movable drop lights shaded by
green shades, gave the room a very business-like appearance. It was
clearly a place for work and not for play—as a sort of framework newly
erected in one corner showed.

“What’s that?” asked Billy, indicating it.

“Oh, just an idea we were working on for a wireless adapted for auto
use,” rejoined Frank, “but never mind that now. What’s this wonderful
plan of yours?”

“Simply this,” replied Billy briskly, “how’d you fellows like to get
$50,000?”

“Would we?” exclaimed Harry. “Lead us to it.”

“You’ll have to lead yourselves,” laughed Billy.

“Oh, come on, Billy, put us out of our suspense. What do you mean?” said
Frank.

“Well, my paper, _The Planet_, you know,” began Billy, “has decided to
offer the amount I named for a successful flight from here to San
Francisco, or as near to that city as can be attained. There are no
conditions—except get there first, or travel furthest.”

“Well?” said Frank.

“Well,” repeated Billy, “I’ve come here to interview you. Are you ready
to announce yourselves as competitors for the _Planet’s_ contest?”

Not so much to Billy’s surprise Frank shook his head.

“I don’t know what to say,” he rejoined. “It isn’t a thing you can make
your mind up to in a minute. I’d like to do it, but it would require a
lot of preparation. Then, too, there would be maps to get up and a
thousand and one details to arrange. It’s a big task—bigger than you
imagine, Billy.”

“Oh, I know it’s a big proposition,” said the young reporter, “that’s
one reason I thought it would appeal to you,” he added subtly. “As for
gasolene, why not carry a supply of it in the automobile?”

“What automobile?” asked Harry.

“Why, didn’t I tell you,” exclaimed Billy, “the auto I’m to follow you
fellows in and send out accounts of your progress. Oh, Frank, please say
you’ll do it—it would be bully.”

“It would be bully, no doubt of that,” rejoined Frank; “but I have a lot
of experimental work on hand that I want to finish. I should have to
leave that, and Harry is preparing for college. No, Billy, I’m afraid we
shall have to call it off. There are lots of other aviators you can get
to take part. The prize is big enough to call out the biggest of them.”

Bitter disappointment showed on Billy’s face.

“Then it’s all off?” he murmured dejectedly.

“I’m afraid so—yes,” replied Frank. “What do you say, Harry?”

“I’d like to go,” decided Harry promptly; “but, as you said, Frank, it
would delay us both in our studies, and then we would have a lot of work
to do on the framework of the _Golden Eagle_, wrecked as she was.”

“Hold on there!” cried Billy. “I was coming to that. I was going to say
that maybe the reason you refused was that you couldn’t build a new
’plane in time, but did I understand you to say you had recovered the
frame?”

“Of the old _Golden Eagle II_,” put in Frank. “You recollect that
following the fight with Luther Barr’s dirigible in the Sargasso we had
to abandon her.”

“After that rascal Sanborn tried to blow a hole in the pontoons that
made her float and sink her.”

“I shall never forget the look on his face as that devil fish seized him
and bore him to the depths of the sea,” shuddered Harry.

“Nor I,” said Frank; “but here’s your story, Billy. Having, as you know,
left the _Golden Eagle_ drifting on her pontoons we never thought we
should see her again, but a few days ago a message reached us from
Florida saying that the government derelict destroyer _Grampus_, while
on the lookout for dangerous wrecks in the Caribbean Sea, encountered a
strange-looking object scudding over—or rather through—the waves. They
set out in chase and soon made it out as the framework of an aeroplane.
You remember that I advertised the loss of our air craft pretty
extensively in marine and naval journals, and offered a reward, so that
when the drifting aeroplane was sighted every man on board the
government vessel was eager to capture it. As the wind dropped soon
after they sighted it they were enabled to get alongside the derelict
and found that it was indeed the _Golden Eagle_. Her planes were riddled
with bullets and her pontoons covered with green seaweed, but the
framework was as solid and the braces as taut as the day we put her
together. Moreover, the engine, beyond being badly coated with rust, was
as good as the day we set it on the bed plate.”

“Say, why didn’t you tell me about this before?” demanded Billy.

“Too much of a hurry to get her back, I guess,” rejoined Frank. “But,
say,” he broke off, “the frame was shipped from Florida and arrived here
this morning. Want to look at it?”

“Want to look at it? You bet I do!” gasped Billy. “That’s the finest old
air ship in the world.”

“So we think,” laughed Harry, as Frank led the way down a flight of
steps into the garage below the room in which they had been discussing
the _Planet’s_ offer.

Frank switched on the lights and there stood revealed in the rear of the
place a shadowy framework that glistened in places where the light
caught it. It towered huge, and yet light and airy-looking, like the
skeleton of a strange bird.

“It wasn’t shipped that way?” asked Billy.

“Not much,” was Frank’s reply. “They took it down in Florida and boxed
it.”

“And a nice mess they made of it,” said Harry; “but, thank goodness,
they didn’t harm the engine.”

He pointed to the motor which was out of the machine and lay in a
corner.

“Doesn’t look very big for the work it’s done, does it?” laughed Frank,
gazing lovingly at the eight-cylindered, hundred horse-power engine that
had performed such good service since the boys installed it.

“There’s certainly a lot of cleaning to be done about the ’plane,”
remarked Billy, as he handled the rusted frames and tarnished bronze
parts.

“Oh, that won’t take long,” replied Frank lightly; “anyhow, we’ve got
lots of time to do it.”

“Unless,” put in Billy.

“Well, unless what?” demanded Frank, though he guessed the young
reporter’s meaning.

“Unless you go in for that $50,000 prize,” cried Billy skillfully
evading the playful blow Frank aimed at him. “In all seriousness, Frank,
won’t you?” he pleaded.

“In all seriousness, no,” was Frank’s rejoinder. “I’d like to do it.
Billy,” he went on. “I’d like to do it for your sake, if it would do you
any good—we both would, wouldn’t we, Harry?”

“You bet,” replied the younger brother with effective brevity.

“Well, of course, I know you fellows too well to try to urge you,” said
Billy; “but I would like to be able to announce in the _Planet_
to-morrow that the Boy Aviators announce they will compete for the
paper’s big prize.”

“To tell you the truth, Billy,” laughed Frank, “we’ve had about enough
newspaper notoriety lately. It’s mighty good of you to write accounts of
our adventures, but I guess the papers can get along for a while without
anything about us.”

“Not at all, you make good copy,” declared Billy, with such comic
emphasis that the boys went off into shouts of laughter.

And so it came about that Billy said good-night without having shaken
the Boy Aviators in their determination not to engage in any public
flights, but all the time, though they little knew it, events were so
shaping themselves that little as they dreamed it they were to take part
in the record flight.



                              CHAPTER III.

                             UNDER A CLOUD.


It was early the next morning. The paper had been put to bed. Billy,
with the satisfied feeling that came to him with the knowledge that he
had written a good introduction and account of the _Planet’s_ great
offer, was slipping into his coat preparatory to going home, when Mr.
Stowe, his face purple with anger, called to him in a sharp voice from
the door of the editorial sanctum.

“Come here, Barnes, I want to see you,” he said brusquely.

“Hullo, something’s up with the chief,” thought Billy to himself; but he
answered cheerily: “All right, sir,” with an inward feeling that
something was all wrong.

“Look here, Barnes,” exclaimed Mr. Stowe, angrily flourishing a first
edition of the _Planet’s_ rival, the _Despatch_, “there has been
treachery somewhere. How about this?”

Billy, with an unaccountable sinking of the heart, took the paper the
other flourished so furiously. It was still moist and warm as it had
been run off the press. The sickly, sweet odor of printer’s ink hung
about it. But these details did not attract Billy’s attention. And for
an excellent reason. Staring him in the face in big black letters he
read:

                  THE “DESPATCH” OFFERS FIFTY THOUSAND
                     DOLLARS FOR A TRANSCONTINENTAL
                                FLIGHT.

Below—and every letter of the article burned itself into Billy’s brain,
was a long story eulogizing the enterprise of the _Despatch_ in making
the offer and giving a list of the noted aviators who would be sure—so
the _Despatch_ thought—to enter the contest.

It was a cold steal of the _Planet’s_ idea.

Almost word for word the conditions were the same as those Mr. Stowe had
detailed to Billy that afternoon.

“Well,” remarked the managing editor in a harsh tone, in which Billy
recognized the steely ring that always presaged a storm from that august
quarter.

“Well,” floundered Billy helplessly, “I cannot account for it.”

“You cannot,” echoed the other in a flinty tone.

“Why no,” rejoined the lad, lifting his eyes to Stowe’s, “can you?”

“Yes I can.”

“You can, sir?”

“We have been sold out.”

“Sold out?”

“Precisely. And there are only three people in the office who could have
had any knowledge of the secret. One is the owner of the paper, the
other myself and the third is you.”

Mr. Stowe joined his hands magisterially and looked straight at Billy,
in whose mind a horrid suspicion had begun to dawn.

The managing editor was practically accusing him of selling the story.

Preposterous as the idea was, Billy realized that to a prejudiced mind,
such as the managing editor’s, there would be no way of explaining
matters. His thoughts were suddenly broken in on by Mr. Stowe’s harsh
voice.

“Is there any one else, Barnes?”

Like a flash the recollection of his encounter with Reade at the very
door of the managing editor’s room, the latter’s strange and defiant
manner, and the unaccountable publishing by the _Despatch_ of a rival
offer, came into Billy’s mind. He was about to mention Reade’s name when
he checked himself.

What proof had he?

Then, too, he saw that Stowe’s mind was made up. He did not wish to
appear in the position of trying to throw the blame on a man whom he
realized the managing editor would not believe could by any possibility
have any knowledge of the _Planet’s_ plans.

“I am waiting for your answer,” came the cold, incisive voice again.

“I can think of none, sir,” rejoined the young reporter with a feeling
that he had put the rope about his neck with a vengeance now.

“Hum! In that case, by a process of elimination, we have only one person
who could have done it, and that——” He paused. “I hate to have to say
it, Barnes, but it looks bad for you.”

“Great Heavens, Mr. Stowe!” gasped Billy, who, while he had seen what
the managing editor was leading up to, was struck by a rude shock of
surprise at the actual placing into words of the accusation, “do you
mean to say you think that I would do such a thing?”

“I don’t know what to think, Barnes,” was the discouraging answer. “I am
more sorry than I can say to have had to speak as I have. However, until
you can clear yourself of the cloud of a suspicion that must rest on you
because of this affair we shall have to part company.”

Billy went white.

His superior then really believed him guilty of the worst crime a
newspaper man can commit—a breach of faith to his paper.

“Do you really believe what you are saying, sir?” he demanded.

“As I said before, I don’t know what to think, Barnes. However, what I
might say will make little difference. In a short time the proprietor
will hear of this, and I should have to discharge you whether I wished
to or no. If you wish to act now, you may resign.”

“Very well, then, Mr. Stowe, I will make out my formal resignation,”
exclaimed Billy, his cheeks burning crimson with anger and shame.

“I’m sorry, Barnes,” said Mr. Stowe, as the lad, scarcely knowing where
he was going, left the room. “I have no other course, you know.”

Fifteen minutes later Billy Barnes was no longer a member of the
_Planet_ staff, and his resignation, neatly typewritten, lay on the
managing editor’s desk. To do Mr. Stowe justice, he had acted against
his own beliefs, but he was only an inferior officer in the direction of
the paper. Its owner, he well knew, was a man of violent temper and
fixed convictions. When he saw the _Despatch_ Mr. Stowe knew that the
vials of his wrath would be emptied and that Billy would have had to
leave in any event. And so subsequent events proved, for the next day,
when Billy’s immediate discharge was angrily demanded by the _Planet’s_
owner, he was informed by his managing editor that the boy had left of
his own free will.

“He resigned last night rather than have any suspicion directed toward
him,” said Mr. Stowe; “but, you mark my words, the boy will right
himself.”

“Nonsense, Stowe, he sold us out,” said the owner bitterly; “sold us out
cold and nothing will ever make me alter my conviction.”

“Except Billy Barnes himself,” said Stowe softly, and lit a cigar, which
he puffed at with great energy.

When he had learned that Reade was doing aviation for the _Despatch_ the
managing editor’s mind was crossed for a brief minute with suspicion
that here might be the traitor. But he dismissed it—was compelled to,
in fact. To his mind it would have been an impossibility for Reade to
have heard the conversation in which the offer was discussed.

In the meantime both papers continued to work up their $50,000 offers,
until there was actually developed a keen and bitter rivalry between
them. One morning the _Despatch_ would announce the entry of some
prominent aviator in its cross-country contest, and the next the
_Planet_ would be out with its announcement of a new contestant added to
its ranks. The public appetite was whetted to a keen pitch by the
various moves.

Crawford, the man who had taken Billy Barnes’ place on the _Planet_, was
a skilled writer, and an excellent man to work up such a story as the
cross-continental challenge. It was he who first broached to Stowe the
idea of flinging down the gauntlet to the _Despatch_ and inviting that
paper to start its contestants on the same day as those of the _Planet_,
the winner to take the prizes of both papers. This would give the
struggle tremendous added interest, and attract worldwide attention, he
argued.

While events were thus shaping themselves with the _Planet_ and the
_Despatch_, Billy Barnes had visited his friends, the Boy Aviators, and
told them, with a rueful face, of his misfortune.

His manner of so doing was characteristic. A few days after he had left
the newspaper he called on them at their work shop. To his surprise he
found there old Eben Joyce, the inventor whom Luther Barr had treated so
shabbily in the matter of the _Buzzard_ aeroplane of which Joyce was the
creator—as told in The Boy Aviators’ Treasure Quest; or, The Golden
Galleon.

Joyce and the two boys were busied over the _Golden Eagle_ when Billy
arrived, adjusting a strange-looking mechanism to it, consisting of a
boxed flywheel of glittering brass encased in a framework of the same
metal. It seemed quite a heavy bit of apparatus, withal so delicately
balanced, that it adjusted itself to every movement of its frame. A
second glance showed Billy that it was a gyroscope.

The boys and the aged inventor were so deeply interested in examining
the bit of machinery that they did not hear Billy come in, and it was
not till he hailed them with a cheery:

“Come down from the clouds, you fellows!” that they turned with a shout
of recognition.

“Why, hullo, Billy Barnes!” they cried, “what are you after now? If you
want an aeroplane story here’s a good one—a new adjustable gyroscopic
appliance for attachment to aeroplanes which renders them stable in any
shifting wind currents.”

“It’s a jim-dandy,” enthusiastically cried Harry.

“But it’s a story you can’t use,” added Frank, “because the appliance,
which is the invention of Mr. Joyce—has not yet been fully patented. He
has been good enough to let us try it out.”

“It looks fine,” said Billy, who knew about as much about gyroscopes as
a cat knows of the solar system; “but you needn’t worry about my
printing anything about it, Frank. You see, I’m fired,” he added simply.

“Fired?” cried Frank.

“Well, about the same thing—I resigned, as a matter of fact,” explained
Billy ruefully; “but it all amounts to the same in the long run.”

“Sit down and tell us about it,” commanded Frank, genuinely concerned at
his friend’s evident dejection.

Seated on an upturned box, which had contained batteries, Billy related
his story, omitting nothing. On his suspicions of Reade, however, he
touched lightly.

“You see, I’ve got nothing on the fellow,” he explained, “and although
I’m convinced that he gave our plan away to the _Despatch_, yet I’ve got
nothing to base it on.”

“That’s so,” Frank and Harry were compelled to admit.

The three friends spent an hour or so chatting, and then Mr. Joyce, who
had been tinkering with his aeroplane attachment quite oblivious to
their talk, announced that he would have to be going home. He had some
work to do on another invention that evening, he explained.

“Well, say, as we’ve been stuffing in here almost all day and it’s warm
enough to be mighty uncomfortable, what do you say if we take a little
spin out in the auto. We can give Mr. Joyce a ride home,” exclaimed
Frank.

“The very thing,” agreed Harry.

Old Mr. Joyce was nothing loath to be spared the long ride in a train to
his home in the outskirts of Jersey City. As for Billy Barnes, he was
delighted at the idea.

Accordingly, half an hour later the Chester boys’ auto rolled on board
one of the ferryboats which ply across the North River to Jersey City.
The boat had hardly reached midstream before they were aware of another
car almost opposite to them in the space set apart for autos in the
centre of the boat. Before five minutes had passed they also noticed
that they were the object of close scrutiny on the part of one of the
occupants of the machine. He was a tall youth with dark hair and eyes,
and as soon as he observed that he was attracting their attention he at
once withdrew his gaze.

Billy Barnes, who had been “stretching his legs” by a stroll on the
stern deck of the ferryboat as she made her way across the river,
rejoined the others just as the boat was pulling into her slip.

“Hullo!” he exclaimed as the autos rolled over the apron and onto the
wharf, “there’s Fred Reade.”

He indicated the occupant of the other car, who seemed to have taken so
much interest in the Chester boys and Eben Joyce, their aged companion.



                              CHAPTER IV.

                         THIEVES IN THE NIGHT.


The other occupants of the auto were a man with a heavy red beard and a
nervous, alert little man whom Billy said was an aviator named Slade.

“That’s queer to see Reade over here. I wonder what he can be doing,”
said Billy, as the two autos left the shed and emerged into the street.

Neither of the boys could, of course, hazard a guess, but had they known
it the mission of the reporter who had betrayed the _Planet_ was more
nearly concerned with them than they imagined. The car in which Reade
was seated seemed a more powerful machine than the one the boys occupied
and it soon left them behind. They thought no more of the chance
encounter and soon arrived at the home of Eben Joyce, a comfortable
cottage on the heights overlooking the “meadows” on one side and the
North river on the other.

They were greeted by the inventor’s daughter, who seemed much disturbed.

“Oh, I am so glad you have come!” she exclaimed, after she had invited
the little party in.

“Why, what has happened?” asked Frank.

“I will tell you,” she said, while they all leaned forward deeply
interested. “This afternoon I was called to the door by a man in ragged
clothes who begged me for something to eat. My father has told me never
to let anyone go away hungry, so I told the servant to give the man some
food. I thought no more of the matter till, on looking out of the
window, I saw the man who had asked for charity going toward the old
barn out there that my father used as a workshop.”

Old Mr. Joyce became greatly excited. It was evident he feared some harm
had come to his collection of scientific instruments and plans for
inventions which he housed there for lack of room in the house.

“Yes, yes, go on,” he exclaimed, quivering with agitation.

“He was fumbling with the lock when I looked up and saw him. I shouted
to him to know what he was doing. His reply was to instantly stop what
he was at and run toward the front of the house. I opened the door just
in time to see him leap into an automobile in which were two other men,
and they drove off.”

“A tramp in an automobile; that’s funny,” commented Frank.

“Indeed it is. In fact, I recollect thinking at the time that he asked
me for food that his manner was too refined to be that of a genuine
tramp.”

“What did he look like?” asked Harry.

“He was tall and had a big red beard. That is all I am able to recollect
of him.”

“Sounds like the man we saw in Reade’s auto,” exclaimed Harry.

“Can Fred Reade have anything to do with this mysterious happening?”
asked Billy.

“Eh, say that name again, young man,” demanded the inventor, who was,
besides being often preoccupied, somewhat deaf and so had not heard
Billy mention the other’s name when they were in the auto.

“I said Fred Reade,” rejoined Billy. “Why, do you know him?”

“I do, and I know no good of him,” was the reply. “It was he that first
approached me in connection with the sale of the _Buzzard_ to Luther
Barr and——”

“Luther Barr again. We seem to cross his trail all the time,” exclaimed
Frank.

“Eh?” questioned the old man, his hand at his ear, trumpet-wise.

“I said we have heard of Luther Barr before, as you know,” said Frank,
“but you never mentioned the fact that Reade had acted for him.”

“It must have slipped my mind in the excitement,” explained the old man.
“Yes, Fred Reade has acted for Barr in many matters that I know of.”

“A sort of agent of his,” said Billy.

“More than that,” rejoined old Eben Joyce; “there is some mysterious tie
between them. I think Reade knows something about Luther Barr that the
other is afraid will come out.”

“How is that?” asked Frank.

“I don’t know, but such is my impression. At the time of the negotiation
for the _Buzzard_ Reade treated Barr as an equal more than if he were
employed by him.”

It had grown dusk by this time and Eben Joyce’s daughter lit the lamp
and set it down on the cottage table. As she did so there came a loud
roar of an approaching motor car down the quiet street and the next
moment through the gathering gloom a big auto approached the cottage. As
it neared it it slowed down. They all went out on the porch to see who
could be driving a car down that little frequented street. It was not
very light, but as the car drew nearer Frank recognized it.

“That’s Fred Reade’s auto,” he cried.

But if the boys imagined that they were to get any solution of the car’s
mysterious appearance they were mistaken. As it neared the house, and
the group on the porch must have been plainly visible to its occupants,
the big car suddenly leaped forward and shot away into the darkness.

“What did they do that for?” asked Billy.

“I guess they saw so many if us here that they thought it would be more
prudent to stay away,” suggested Frank.

“What can they be after?” wondered Harry.

“The blue prints of my gyroscopic attachment and possibly my
experimental machine itself,” declared the inventor, “though if they had
the blue prints they could easily manufacture them themselves. Reade has
been after me to sell them.”

“That is so,” mused Frank; “undoubtedly such prints would be of great
value to them.”

“Will you do something for me?” inquired old Eben Joyce, suddenly.

“Of course,” rejoined Frank; “what is it?”

“Will you take charge of my blue prints for me. It is lonely here and I
am old and my daughter unprotected. In case they attacked us in the
night we should have little opportunity to keep the prints from them. I
would feel quite secure if you had them in your possession, however.”

Frank readily agreed to this, adding that he would place them in a safe
deposit vault.

“I shall rest much easier if you would,” said the old inventor. “Bad as
they are, I don’t think the men would hurt us; all they are after is the
plans and I really dare not have them about here another night.”

It was an hour later when, with the plans safely tucked away in an
inside pocket of Frank’s coat, the boys started back for town.

“If you feel at all nervous we will telephone home and stay here with
you,” Frank offered before they left.

“Oh, not at all,” exclaimed old Joyce, who was already busy figuring a
new problem. “I have a revolver and I will communicate with the police
about my fears. I shall be all right.”

With hearty good nights the boys’ car swung off, its headlights glowing
brightly. They sped along through the outskirts of Jersey City and were
about to leave the lonely, badly-lighted section through which they had
been passing when suddenly a figure stepped full into the path of light
cast ahead of them.

The sudden apparition of the night was waving a red lantern.

“Stop! there’s danger ahead!” it shouted.

“Danger, what sort of danger?” asked Frank, nevertheless bringing the
car to a stop.

“Why, there’s an excavation ahead. Ah! that’s right, you’ve stopped. Now
then, young gentlemen, just step out of the petroleum phaeton and fork
over the contents of your pockets.”

“What, you rascal, are you holding us up?” cried Billy indignantly, as
the man pointed a revolver at them.

“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” grinned the other. “Come on now, shell out
and hurry up.”

As he spoke three other figures glided from the shadows of an untenanted
house near by and silently took up their positions a short distance
beyond him. They were out of the path of the auto’s lights and their
faces could not be seen. The light glinted on something that each held
in his hand, however, and which were clearly enough revolvers. Things
looked pretty blue for the Boy Aviators.

The sudden turn events had taken almost bereft Frank of his wits for a
minute, but suddenly it flashed across him that the man who had waved
the lantern did not talk like an ordinary robber and that it was
remarkable that the others took so much trouble to keep out of the
light. The next instant his suspicions were confirmed by hearing the
voice of the first comer snap out:

“Which one of you has got them gyroscope plans?”

Frank’s reply was startling. Without uttering a word he suddenly drove
the machine full speed ahead.

It leaped forward like a frightened wild thing.

As it dashed ahead it bowled over the would-be robber, but that he was
not seriously hurt the boys judged by the volley of bad language he sent
after them. As for the others, as the car made its leap they had stepped
nimbly aside.

“Look out for the excavation. Frank; we’ll be in it!” shouted Billy in
an alarmed voice as the car rushed forward.

“Why, there’s no excavation, Billy,” rejoined Frank, bending over the
steering wheel. “That was just a bluff on the part of those men, of
whom, if I am not much mistaken, Fred Reade was one.”



                               CHAPTER V.

                            THE BOYS DECIDE.


Their strange experience of the preceding night was naturally the topic
of the day with the boys the next morning. That Fred Reade was concerned
in it there seemed no reason to doubt, though just what part he had
played was more shadowy. A perusal of the two newspapers, the _Planet_
and the _Despatch_, the next day, however, gave the boys an inkling of
one of his motives for his desperate attempt—if, indeed, it had been
engineered by him—to gain possession of the Joyce gyroscope. This was
the announcement that the two papers had agreed to start their
contestants off in a spirit of rivalry by naming the same day for the
start and imposing exactly the same conditions, the prizes to be lumped.
Among other things in the _Despatch’s_ article the boys read that Slade,
the noted aviator, was an entrant.

“Mr. Reade,” the paper stated, “will accompany Mr. Slade as the
correspondent of this newspaper. He will ride in an automobile which
will carry supplies and emergency tools and equipment. Every step of the
trip will be chronicled by him.”

There was more to the same effect, but the boys had no eyes for it after
their sight lighted on the following paragraph:

“Those remarkable and precocious youths, the Boy Aviators, are, of
course, not equipped for such a contest as this, requiring, as it does,
an excess of skill and knowledge of aviation. A noted aviator of this
city, in speaking of the fact that they have not entered their names,
remarked that boys are not calculated to have either the energy or the
pluck to carry them through an enterprise like the present.”

“That’s Fred Reade, for a bet,” exclaimed Billy, as he read the
insulting paragraph. “He’s crazy sore at you and everyone else beside
his sweet self. I suppose he wrote that just to make himself
disagreeable.”

“Moreover, he knows in some mysterious way that we have the first option
on the Joyce gyroscope,” put in Harry, “and maybe he wouldn’t give his
eyes to get it for the principal _Planet_ contestant.”

“He’s certainly shown that,” said Frank. “I’ve heard of the Slade
machine, and it is reputed to be a wonder. In whatever way Reade heard
that we had the gyroscope, there is little doubt that he realizes that
fitted with it the Slade plane might win the race.”

“And there’s another reason,” burst out Billy Barnes. “You see now that
the two papers have agreed to run the race off together it eliminates
the two prizes, and according to the conditions both will be massed and
awarded to the winner.”

“Well?” questioned Frank.

“Well,” repeated Billy, continuing, “this means that if Reade has been
backing Slade to win the _Despatch_ contest, and there is little doubt
he has—now that the two contests are massed if Slade has a better man
on the _Planet’s_ list pitted against him the _Planet_ man may win, and
then Reade gets nothing.”

“You mean that Slade was almost certain to win the _Despatch’s_
race—that the $50,000 was as good as won with the class of contestants
he had against him before the two offers were massed?” asked Frank.

Billy nodded. “And that now, for all they know, the _Planet_ may have
some dark horse who will beat Slade and get the combined prize?”

“Precisely, as Ben Stubbs would say,” laughed Billy.

“It would serve them right for the mean trick they tried to play on us
by attempting to steal the gyroscope plans if we were to enter in the
race at the last moment and be the _Planet’s_ dark horses.” mused Frank.

“Oh, Frank, do you mean that?” shouted Billy.

“I haven’t said I mean anything, you wild man,” laughed Frank, “but
inasmuch as my father was talking of going to Los Angeles—you know he
has some orange groves out there—I’ve been thinking that we might
combine business with pleasure and take a trip to California by
aeroplane.”

“Then you’ll do it,” eagerly demanded Billy. As for Harry, he was so
entranced at the idea that he was capering about the room like an
Indian.

“I think that it is almost certain that we will not,” teased Frank.

“Not what?” groaned Billy.

“Not be able to resist the temptation of going.”

At this point a maid entered the room with a telegram.

“This is for you,” she said, holding it out to Frank.

Frank tore it open and his face flushed angrily as he read its contents.
He handed it to the others. The message was not signed, but even so the
boys all guessed who it was from.

“You got away from us by a neat trick last night,” it read, “but puppies
like you cannot balk us. Men are in this race, not boys, so keep your
hands off it.”

“I suppose he means by that, as we are not contestants, we have no right
to interfere with their attempts to steal the gyroscope attachment for
themselves,” exclaimed Frank. “That’s a fine line of reasoning.”

“That telegram ought to decide us,” burst out Harry.

“It certainly ought to,” chimed in Billy.

At that minute the Chester boys’ father entered the room.

“What are you boys all so excited about?” he asked.

“What would you say if we joined you in Los Angeles?” asked Frank.

“What do you mean? I don’t quite understand,” said Mr. Chester, puzzled
in spite of himself, though he knew the boys’ sudden determination to
have adventures and suspected that something of the kind was in the wind
now.

“If we flew to California, for instance,” said Frank.

“Flew there,” repeated Mr. Chester. “My dear boy, how could you do
that?”

“In the _Golden Eagle_, of course,” exclaimed Harry.

“But—but what for?” questioned the amazed Mr. Chester.

“For a hundred thousand dollars,” put in Billy.

“You mean for that newspaper prize?”

The boys nodded.

“I don’t like the idea of your entering a contest of that character,”
said Mr. Chester; “there is a great deal of danger, too.”

“No more than we have been through,” remonstrated Frank; “besides, think
of the experience. Why, we would fly over a dozen states.”

“A dozen—fifty, at least,” cried Billy, with a fine disregard for
geography.

“But how would you go? How long would it take you?” demanded their
father.

“I haven’t figured out just the time we would consume,” said Frank, “but
I have a rough idea of our route. The object, of course, would be to
avoid any big mountain chains, although if we have our Joyce automatic
adjuster I think we could manage even those cross currents with ease.
But this is to be a race and we want to get there first. The newspaper
route is from here to Pittsburg, from there to Nashville, crossing the
Ohio and Cumberland rivers, thence, due west almost, across the northern
part of Arkansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona and
then across California to San Francisco.”

“Hurrah,” cried Billy, his eyes shining. “Indians, cowboys, gold mines
and oranges.”

When the laugh at the jumbled series of images the mention of the
different states Frank had enumerated aroused in Billy’s mind had died
down Mr. Chester wanted to know how the boys were going to carry their
supplies.

“Well,” said Frank, “as you are going to California and leaving the car
behind we thought that perhaps you wouldn’t mind letting us use it. We
will be very careful——”

“Oh, very,” repeated Harry.

“Most,” supplemented Billy.

Mr. Chester laughed.

“I never saw such boys,” he said, “but even supposing you had the
automobile—I say supposing you had it, could you carry enough supplies
in it for the aeroplane?”

“I am sure we could,” Frank asserted. “You see, automobiles are in such
general use nowadays that it would only be in the desolate parts of the
western states that we should have to carry a large supply of gasolene.
Almost every village nowadays has it in stock.”

“You seem to have the whole thing thought out,” laughed Mr. Chester.

“It will be the trip of a lifetime,” shouted Harry.

“Well, I shall have to consult with your mother,” was Mr. Chester’s
dictum.

Mrs. Chester objected very much at first to her sons’ plan.

“You are always going off on dangerous trips. I do wish you’d spend a
little time at home,” she said.

But the boys assured her they would be very careful and would keep
constantly in touch with their parents by telegraph and not take any
unwarranted risks.

“Well, I suppose I shall have to yield,” said Mrs. Chester at length.

“Hurrah!” cried the boys.

And thus it came about that one week before the big race across the
continent was due to start the names of the Chester Boys were enrolled
on the _Planet’s_ lists as contestants.



                              CHAPTER VI.

                         OFF FOR SAN FRANCISCO.


The final touches had been put on the _Golden Eagle_ and she had been
transported to Governor’s Island off the Battery four days later. The
start for the great transcontinental race was to be made from the flats
at the southern end of the reservation. The boys discovered that as the
day of the race drew nearer that the list of entrants had narrowed down
to three. There was their own aeroplane, the Slade entry of the
_Despatch_, and a big dirigible which had also been entered by the
_Despatch_. This left them the sole representative of the _Planet_. Of
the large number of original entrants, some of them had become
discouraged. Others’ machines had been broken in practice and still
others were convinced, as the starting day drew near, that it would be
impracticable to make the long flight.

“Well, the contest is certainly narrowed down,” commented Frank one day
while they were all seated in front of their shed watching the
_Despatch’s_ plane alight from a flight it had taken above the Jersey
meadows.

“I’m glad of it,” said Harry; “the fewer there are in the race the
easier it will be to avoid collisions and accidents.”

After his attempt to steal the plans of Mr. Joyce’s gyroscopic balancer
the boys heard no more of Fred Reade in a hostile way. Of course, they
did not speak, and Reade cast black looks at them as he came and went on
his frequent visits to the aerodrome of Arthur Slade. However, his
active antagonism seemed to have ceased. Probably he was too busy
arranging the final details of the start to be able to spare the time to
make himself unpleasant.

The big dirigible, a red painted affair with a crimson gas bag, was also
housed on the island. So great was public interest that the little
Government steamer that brought visitors over from the mainland was
crowded down to her guards with the curious who had obtained passes to
see the racing machines.

For her dash overland the _Golden Eagle_ had been equipped with her
wireless. An outfit of Frank’s invention had also been installed in the
automobile which was to carry old Mr. Joyce, Lathrop Beasley and Billy
Barnes. Lathrop was an expert operator and the boys hoped to be able to
keep in constant touch with each other by means of the apparatus. Mr.
Joyce, it had been agreed, was to accompany the expedition as mechanic.
His skilled knowledge of aeroplane engines and construction was expected
to prove invaluable in case of the breakdowns which the boys knew they
must expect on such a voyage.

At last the night came when the red flag with a white ball in the
center, which meant the racing ships would start the next day, was run
up on the tall flagstaff at the army post. The boys could hardly sleep
for excitement and lay awake till late talking over final details. It
was agreed that the auto was to “pick up” the aeroplane as it flew over
Jersey City. From that time on they would keep in touch by wireless or
telegraph all the way across the country, the auto carrying extra
supplies, machinery parts and gasolene.

The _Despatch’s_ aeroplane was also to be followed by an auto in which
Fred Reade was to be a passenger, as was also the red-bearded man whose
identity was a mystery to the boys. The red dirigible drivers, not being
able to afford an auto, had had to depend on luck for gasoline and other
supplies en route, although they could carry a good load.

The day of the start dawned fair and still. The bay lay an unruffled
sheet of gray water. The flag drooped on its flagstaff. It was ideal
flying weather. All the aviators on the island were up early and working
over their machines. There were joints to be tightened, stay wires to be
carefully inspected, oiling devices to adjust and engines to be turned.
This work was impeded a lot by the inquisitive crowds who began to
arrive on the first boat.

A detachment of soldiers was finally set to work roping off a space in
which, as the time for the start drew near, the air ships were “parked.”
This relieved the situation and the boys could work unhampered. Billy
Barnes, Lathrop and Mr. Joyce started for Jersey early.

“Good luck!” shouted the boys, as they rolled on to the boat in their
big auto.

“So long, see you after dinner,” cried Billy with a merry wave of the
hand.

The boys’ parents, relatives and groups of their school friends had come
over to see them off, and when the hard and dirty work was finished the
boys had their hands full explaining to their young friends all about
the _Golden Eagle_.

At last the bugle that announced that it was half an hour before
starting time sounded. An electric wave of enthusiasm ran through the
crowd. Over in the city windows of skyscrapers began to fill with men
and women anxious to watch the contestants shoot into the air. On ferry
boats and roofs all along the water front thousands of eyes were
watching.

“Are you all ready?”

It was General Stanton, commander of the Department of the East, who had
consented to start the race, who spoke.

“Yes,” came in a shout from the aviators.

The dirigible men began to cast off ropes and the aeroplanes were
dropped into position. A squad of men drove back the pressing crowds,
and the boys, after kissing their parents and bidding farewell to their
relatives and friends, took their seats in the _Golden Eagle’s_ chassis.

There was a mighty roar and blue flames and smoke spouted from the
engine exhausts as the motors were started. Men, with their heels dug
into the sandy ground to avoid slipping, held back the struggling
planes. The dirigible swayed and tugged at her resting ropes like an
impatient horse.

“Bang!”

It was the starting gun at last.

“Hurrah!” roared the crowd.

“They’re off!” shouted everybody, as if there could be any doubt of it.

[Illustration: “They’re off!” shouted everybody.]

Like mighty birds the two aeroplanes swept swiftly forward a few yards
over the level ground and then headed out far above the river toward the
Jersey shore. The big dirigible, its engine droning like an enormous
scarab beetle, followed, keeping well up with the speedy winged craft.

From thousands of windows, banked with white faces, handkerchiefs and
flags waved and from the roofs of the office buildings housing the
_Planet_ and _Despatch_ plants bombs were exploded at regular intervals
to spread the news broadcast that the race had begun. In the offices of
the evening papers the great presses were already rushing out “Extras”
telling of the start. Soon newsboys in the canyon-like streets of lower
New York would be crying their wares.

Every pilot of every boat on the river pulled his whistle cord and tied
it down as the air craft swept far above. The uproar was literally
ear-splitting. Owing to the roar of their engines, however, the aviators
heard little of the turmoil which they caused.

In a few minutes Jersey City, which had gone just as airship mad as New
York, was reached. On swept the high-flying craft above its crowded
roofs and bellowing factory whistles. Far beneath them they could see
the flat green expanse of the meadows beyond with the silver paths
marked on them by the Hackensack and Passaic rivers. As they flew onward
and left the city far behind the boys could spy on the road beneath them
the two convoying autos.

All at once the wireless began to crackle.

“They are sending up a message,” exclaimed Harry.

“Great start—good work—we’ll beat them all to a frazzle,” was the
message the spark spelled out.

“Thank you, let’s hope so,” replied Harry.

The course had been marked on maps that both the Boy Aviators and their
companions had handy for reference. From the autos, too, flew red and
blue flags, which made identification easy. At night the Boy Aviators’
auto was to burn red lights. The signal that a good landing place was at
hand would be flashed upward at night by a blue flare. Of course, if it
was necessary to alight in the daytime the occupants of the _Golden
Eagle_ would be able to spy such spots far below them more readily than
anyone driving on the surface.

The engine was working perfectly as the _Golden Eagle_ rushed onward.
Its steady song delighted the young voyagers. Harry, with watchful eyes,
looked after the lubrication, while Frank kept the craft steady on her
course. On and on they flew, the autos beneath seeming specks in clouds
of dust. The dirigible was about two miles behind and the _Despatch’s_
aeroplane was a short distance in front of it. The boys, therefore, had
a good lead.

“That’s a good start. We’re beating them already,” exclaimed Harry.

Frank smiled.

“Two miles isn’t much in a race of this length,” he remarked. “We’ve
only started, Harry. We’ll have lots of ups and downs before we’ve
finished.”

How prophetic his words were neither of the boys realized at that time.



                              CHAPTER VII.

                            ABOVE THE EARTH.


As it grew dusk the boys found themselves flying high above a pleasant
wooded country, dotted here and there with small villages and prosperous
looking farms. From their lofty station they could see men and women
rush out below them waving their arms in excited amazement as the
contestants in the big race swept along. Cattle and horses, too, tore
about their pastures mad with terror at what they doubtless thought were
terrible destroying birds of enormous size.

Occasionally, too, they would fly above rivers and railroads and by
noting these carefully they managed to keep their bearings clear. The
_Despatch_ aeroplane was now far behind and the dirigible had taken up
second place. The auto had been lost sight of also.

“Send out a wireless. We must locate Billy and the others,” said Frank.

The instrument clicked off the message, its blue spark leaping and
crackling across the gap like a tongue of living fire.

In a few minutes a reply came back.

“We are now passing Cresston, Pennsylvania. Land and wait for us at
Remson. You can tell it by its red brick church tower.”

“There it is off there to the north about five miles,” cried Harry,
pointing to where a tall red tower stood out against the sky.

“I hope we can find a good landing place there,” said Frank, setting his
rudder over a bit. The airship answered like an obedient steed. Round to
the north she swung, her gyroscopic balancing device keeping her from
heeling over, even at the sharp angle at which Frank guided her round.

As they drew near Remson the greatest excitement prevailed. People could
be seen scurrying out in all directions and pointing upward. Suddenly a
deep-toned “ding-dong” was borne upward to the young sky navigators.

“They are ringing the church bell to announce our arrival,” cried Frank.

“Well, I hope they’ve got supper ready for us,” laughed Harry;
“air-riding gives me an appetite like a horse.”

A few hundred yards from the center of the town was a flat green field
which made an ideal landing place. Frank swept downward toward it and as
the townsfolk saw that the aeroplane was going to drop there was a
mighty rush of townsfolk. The road leading to the field was black with
them. The younger ones climbed fences and cut across lots to get there
in time.

Frank saw that unless they got out of the way there was going to be
trouble. He shouted to them to clear a path, but either from stupidity
or from ignorance of aeroplanes they stood stolidly gazing upward, open
mouthed, as the aeroplane rushed down.

“Out of the way!” yelled Frank.

“Hurray!” cried the people, not budging an inch.

There was only one thing to do to avoid injuring someone and that was to
attempt to land at the further end of the field where there were some
trees. This meant a risk of smashing the _Golden Eagle_ or at least
damaging her, but if loss of life was to be avoided it was the only
course to pursue.

With a ripping, rending sound, as the twigs and branches grazed her, the
big plane dropped to earth.

There was a sharp, snapping sound, as her landing wheels struck the
ground. A branch had caught one of the rudder-guide wires and torn it
out, breaking a pulley wire. Worse still, one of the wheels was badly
damaged. But the crowd minded none of this. They rushed in and began
handling the aeroplane, pulling wires and twisting wheels and levers,
till the boys began to despair of ever getting their craft away from
Remson intact.

All at once, however, a big red-faced man appeared and began angrily
driving the people back. He was the owner of the field, it seemed, and
was dressed like a farmer. When by dint of threatening them with the
constable he had succeeded in getting the crowd to fall back to a
respectful distance, he began to ply the boys with questions.

They were too busy examining the damage done to their craft to answer
many of them, and the man doubtless thought them a very surly pair of
youths.

In a few minutes the auto drove up and there was more excitement.

“What’s happened?” asked Billy, as soon as the three occupants of the
car reached the boys’ side.

“A bit of bad luck,” said Frank, straightening up from his scrutiny of
the damage.

“Let me look at it, boys,” said old Mr. Joyce, who had spent the whole
trip over his beloved calculations.

He crawled in under the plane, and soon emerged again, shaking his head.

“We’ll have to get a new wheel,” he said. “If I had wire, a tire and
tools, I could invent one, but I haven’t.”

“But where can we get one?” gasped Harry, for spare wheels were one of
the necessities the boys had forgotten to put in the auto.

“A bicycle wheel would do,” said Mr. Joyce, who was seated on the grass
designing an improved mousetrap.

Inquiry developed the fact that nobody in Remson was willing to sell a
bicycle wheel, and the boys were almost in despair until one of the
villagers volunteered the information that there was a bicycle factory
at Tottenville, twenty miles away.

“We’ll have to go over there in the auto. That’s the only thing to do,”
announced Frank.

“Looks like it,” agreed the others.

An arrangement was made with the red-faced man whereby the boys leased a
bit of his field for a camping-place for the night, and the waterproof
tent was soon erected, the portable cots set up, and the blue-flame
stove started going under a liberal supply of ham and eggs and coffee.
Lathrop went into the village and soon returned with pie and cakes. The
boys’ meal was rather a public one, for the villagers seemed hypnotized
by the sight of the sky boys, and gazed stolidly at them as they ate, as
if there was something as wonderful in that as in their flights.

While they were eating, a farmer, who had driven into town from a small
village some miles away, announced that the dirigible and the _Despatch_
aeroplane had landed there.

“Well, we are holding our lead, anyway,” remarked Harry cheerfully.

“I hope we can maintain it as far as Pittsburg,” said Frank, for, of
course, all the contestants had to race over the prescribed course.

As soon as supper had been despatched the boys got into the auto,
leaving old Mr. Joyce to guard the aeroplane, and, after making
inquiries about the road, started off for Tottenville. The road was a
straight one, and there was a bright, full moon, so they did not
anticipate any difficulty in arriving at their destination. Before they
started Frank ’phoned to the factory, and an assortment of wheels was
left for them in charge of the watchman, as the factory would be closed
for the night long before they could reach there.

Frank sent the auto bounding over the road at a fast clip. Their lights
shone brightly in front of them, showing them the track for some
distance ahead.

“Look there!” suddenly shouted Lathrop, as they swept down a steep hill.

Directly in the road in front of them the headlights revealed a big,
lumbering hay-wagon, loaded high with its sweet-smelling burden.

“Hey, get out of the road!” shouted Frank at the top of his voice.

But the man on the wagon seemed to be asleep. Anyway he paid no
attention to the boys’ loud hail, but kept serenely on in the middle of
the road. His big lumbering wagon quite prohibited all chance of passing
him.

“Stop the machine,” cried Harry.

Frank shoved on the emergency brake. But instead of the auto coming to a
stop there was a sharp snap as if something had broken.

“It’s busted,” cried Frank. “I can’t stop the car.”

“Now we are in for it,” exclaimed Harry.

On rushed the auto, gathering speed as it tore down the hill.

Suddenly the man on the hay-wagon awoke, and, looking back to ascertain
the cause of all the noise behind him, saw the car bearing down on him.

“Stop it!” he shouted.

“I can’t!” yelled back Frank.

“Oh, we’ll all be killed,” cried Lathrop.

But the man was shouting something and pointing ahead.

“What’s he saying?” asked Billy through his chattering teeth.

“He says if we don’t stop we’ll all be killed. There’s a bridge ahead
and only room for one vehicle on it.”

As Frank spoke, the boys saw the bridge, a narrow, wooden affair. The
road widened a particle just before it reached the bridge. The arch
spanned a quite wide creek, the water in which sparkled brightly in the
moonlight. Dumb with alarm the boys sat helplessly in the onrushing
auto. Frank gripped the wheel and desperately cast about for some way to
get out of the difficulty.

Suddenly he almost gave a shout. To one side of the bridge he saw that
the banks of the stream were low and sloped gently. It might be possible
to run the auto across the stream that way.

At any rate he decided to try.

As the auto reached the point at which the road widened, the boy swung
the speeding machine over and whizzed by the wagon so closely that wisps
of hay clung to the auto’s side.

But the lead horses—there were four of them—blocked access to the
bridge.

The next minute there was a shout of alarm from the boys, as they saw
that Frank meant to dash across the stream. The auto struck the bank,
seemed to bound into the air, and then crashed down into the water with
a force that threw a cloud of spray high above it and thoroughly
drenched its occupants.

But to Frank’s great joy the machine did not overturn, nor did it seem
damaged, as it kept right on through the water, which, luckily, was not
deep, and dashed up the other bank. Here Frank managed to get it under
control—as the opposite side of the creek was a steep grade—and the
car came to a stop with a grunt and a groan.

“Gee whilikens, I thought you was all killed for sure,” exclaimed the
badly frightened countryman, as he drove up to the group of boys, who
were out of their car by this time and busily examining the extent of
the accident to the emergency brake.

“It wasn’t your fault we weren’t,” blurted out the indignant Billy. “You
are a fine driver to go to sleep like that.”

“Don’t you sass me, young feller,” roared the countryman; “what business
have you got to be flying around the roads in that choo-choo cart and
scaring folks out of their wits?”

“Just as much as you have to be occupying the whole road and going to
sleep like that,” retorted Billy.

“I’ve a good mind to give you a licking, young feller,” said the man,
starting to climb down from his wagon. But he thought better of it, as
he saw the four determined looking boys standing there in the moonlight.

“I’ll fix you later,” he muttered. “Git up, Sal; git up, Ned,” and he
cracked his whip and the wagon rumbled on up the hill.

A short survey showed the boys that the damage done to the brake could
be repaired with a few turns with the monkey-wrench, one of the bolts
having worked loose. The adjustment made, they climbed back into the
car, and were soon speeding once more toward Tottenville.

At the factory they found the watchman waiting for them, with several
new wheels of the stoutest make.

“You’re in luck,” he said, as the boys paid for the one they selected
and gave him something for his trouble besides. “This wheel was made for
one of them air-ship bugs that lived in this town. He bruk his neck
before it could be delivered, and it’s lain here ever since.”

The boys agreed that however unfortunate it had been for the luckless
Tottenville aviator, it was good luck for them, and after thanking the
man they started back for Remson at a fast clip.

As they bowled along they passed a ruinous looking hut, in which, late
as was the hour, a light was burning.

“That’s funny,” said Frank.

“What’s funny?” inquired Billy.

“Why, to see a light burning in a tumble-down hut like that at such an
hour. Folk in the country go to bed early as a rule; and see there,
there’s an automobile in front of the house.”

Sure enough, a big touring car, with its lights burning brightly, was
drawn up in front of the hut, which lay back at some distance from the
road.

“It is queer,” agreed Harry.

As the boy spoke they all started at an unexpected happening.

From the hut there came a piercing cry of:

“Help!”



                             CHAPTER VIII.

                      BOY AVIATORS TO THE RESCUE.


“They are murdering some one in there!” cried Frank, bringing the car to
a stop.

Indeed, the piercing cries indicated that some one was being maltreated,
if not actually murdered.

“Come on, we’ll save him,” cried Harry, drawing his revolver, for all
the boys had thought it best to carry arms on such a trip as they were
undertaking.

“Be careful. We had better peek through that window first, and see with
whom we have to deal before we announce our presence,” breathed Frank,
as the boys tiptoed up the path.

“That’s a good idea,” agreed Billy. “There might be a lot of them and
then we should have to get help.”

Cautiously they crept up the path and peered in at the window of the
deserted hut. A strange scene met their eyes.

In one corner of the bare room a rugged man with a grizzled beard was
tied hand and foot, while another man with a red-hot poker seemed about
to burn his eyes out. His cries for help were pitiful.

His captors, however—for beside the man with the poker there were two
other men in the room—seemed to have no pity for him. The man with the
poker was exclaiming in a fierce voice:

“Sign the title to the mine or we will kill you,” as the boys peeked
cautiously into the room, which was lighted by a lamp detached from the
auto. On the tumble-down hearth the fire in which the poker had been
heated smouldered.

The man with the poker had his back to the boys, but even about that
there seemed something strangely familiar. The appealing words next
uttered by the bound man soon apprised them with whom they had to deal.

“I will never do so, Luther Barr,” declared the victim in a trembling
voice.

The boys all started with amazement at encountering their old enemy in
such a surprising manner in this out-of-the-way hut at midnight.

“Your attempts to get the papers from me are of no use. Kill me if you
must, but don’t torture me.”

“So you won’t tell where they are,” cried Barr angrily.

“I will not,” said his victim firmly.

“Then take that,” cried Barr, in a cruel tone.

The horrified boys saw him lunge forward with the red-hot iron. His
victim gave a loud cry of pain as he felt the red-hot metal approach his
eyes to burn them out; but even as Barr raised his arm Frank had decided
what to do.

“Stop that!” he cried in a loud, clear voice.

As Frank had expected, this sudden interruption so startled the
miscreants that they at once left their victim and started for the door.
As they rushed toward the portal, Frank, with a cry of “Come on,” leaped
through the window frame, from which the glass sash had long ago been
broken, and followed by the others, was in the room the next instant.

“Quick, Harry; cut him loose,” he ordered, handing the other boy a big
hunting knife.

It was only the work of a few seconds to free the man. But before the
ropes had fallen from him Luther Barr and the two other men had rushed
back from the door and made a dash at the boys.

“Stay where you are, Mr. Barr,” said Frank, leveling his revolver; “I
don’t want to hurt you.”

“What, you interfering whelps, have you crossed my path again?” shouted
Barr, who had recognized the boys instantly. “This time I’ll fix you for
interfering with my plans.”

He suddenly whipped out a revolver and fired point-blank at Frank. The
bullet whistled past the boy’s ears and buried itself behind him.

The next instant the room was plunged into sudden darkness. One of
Luther Barr’s companions, in stepping backward to get a rifle that
leaned against the wall, had knocked the light over.

“Quick, boys, run for the auto,” shouted Frank, taking advantage of this
sudden diversion.

Before the others could recover their wits, the boys, half dragging the
man they had rescued with them, reached the door, and the next minute
were in their auto.

“Shoot at their tires,” they heard old Barr shout, as they whizzed off
down the road.

A shower of bullets followed, some of which struck the tonneau. But none
of the missiles, fortunately, either wounded them or hit the tires, in
which latter case they would have had to come to a standstill.

Frank put on full speed, and with the start they already had they soon
outdistanced the auto which held Barr and his two companions. It
followed them for a short distance, however, old Barr shouting
maledictions after them.

“Oh, how can I ever thank you boys?” exclaimed the rescued man, as he
gratefully clasped Frank’s arm. “That terrible man, Luther Barr, would
certainly have blinded, and perhaps killed me, if you had not arrived in
time.”

“How did you come to get in his power?” asked Frank.

“It is a long story, young man, and begins in Arizona,” said the
stranger; “but first, I must tell you my name is Bart Witherbee, and I
am well known in the West as a prospector. I located a valuable mine,
which seems abandoned, some time ago in the northern part of the state,
and I have managed to keep the location a secret till I can file a
formal claim to it. In some way the two men whom you saw with Barr
to-night, and who are Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes, two bad men, and
gamblers, heard of this. They formerly worked for Barr, who has mining
property in Arizona. When they learned I was coming to New York to see
my daughter, they came along, too, and informed Barr of what they knew
about the valuable mine I had found. At that time I did not know Barr,
and by these two men was tricked into meeting him on the pretense that
he had some real estate he was willing to trade for mines in Arizona. I
have other claims beside the one I located recently, and I thought I
might trade one of them for some of Barr’s property in the East.

“You can imagine my consternation when we arrived out here to find
myself in the hands of Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes. I tried to run,
but they caught and tied me, and, as you saw, would have either killed
me or maimed me for life if you hadn’t saved me.”

“What part of Arizona is your mine in?” asked Harry, deeply interested,
as they all were, in the man’s narrative.

“It is near to a place called Calabazos, in the northern part of the
state near the Black Cañon,” replied the man. “I want to let you boys
have a share of it for what you have done for me to-night. It would be
only a slight return.”

“Why, we are going near to Calabazos,” exclaimed Billy. “I noticed it on
the map. It’s near the Black Cañon.”

“That’s right, young feller,” said the miner; “but what are you
tenderfoots going to do out there?”

Frank explained about the transcontinental flight.

“Wow,” cried the westerner, “that’s going some, for fair. Well, boys,
I’m going to get on the fastest train I can and get back to Calabazos,
and file my claim, for you can call me a Chinese chop-stick if that thar
Luther Barr isn’t going to camp on my trail till he finds where the mine
is located.”

“I guess you are right,” remarked Frank. “Luther Barr won’t stop at
anything when he starts out to accomplish a purpose.”

“Why, you talk as if you knew him,” exclaimed the astonished miner.

“Know him?” echoed Billy with a laugh. “I should say we do, eh, boys?”

The boys’ previous acquaintance with the unscrupulous old man was soon
explained to Bart Witherbee, who interrupted the narrative at frequent
intervals with whistles of astonishment and loud exclamations of, “Wall,
I swan”; “Call me a jack-rabbit, now,” “If that don’t beat hunting
coyotes with a sling-shot,” and other exclamations that seemed peculiar
to himself.

“Wall, now, boys, you’ve got to have some part of that mine, if only for
the sake of getting even with that old man.”

The boys tried to insist that they had no right to any of Witherbee’s
property, but he was so insistent that finally they consented to visit
the mine with him when they reached Calabazos, that is, if they were far
enough ahead in the race to be able to spare a few hours.

Witherbee told them some of his history. He was the son of a stage-coach
driver, who had been killed by robbers. The miner, after the murder, had
been adopted by somebody whose name he could not recollect. It seemed
that some years after his adoption he had been kidnapped by a traveling
circus, and had sustained a severe blow on the head by falling from a
high trapeze. This made him forget everything but his very early youth.
After a while he escaped from the circus and joined a camp of miners. He
had been a miner ever since.

“I’ve often thought I’d like to meet the man who cared for me when my
father was killed,” he said, “fer he was good ter me, I remember.
Sometimes I have a flash of memory and can almost recollect his name,
but it always slips me at last. If he ever met me, though, he’d know me
all right. See this?” He rolled up his sleeve and showed them a livid
scar. “I was on the coach when it was attacked, and that’s a souvenir I
got. They didn’t mean to hit me, it was just a stray bullet.”

“And your mother,” asked Frank, “is not she alive?”

“She was killed, too, the night the robbers attacked the stage,” said
the miner softly. “She was sitting by my father when the attack came.”

They reached their camp without further incident, and found that Mr.
Joyce had sat up for them and had a hot supper ready. That they did
justice to the meal after their exciting adventures of the night, you
may be sure. The meal disposed of, the adventurers turned in for a few
hours of badly needed sleep.

“Our adventures seem to have begun with a vengeance,” sleepily remarked
Billy Barnes, as he was dozing off.

“Do you think we shall see any more of Luther Barr?” asked Harry.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” rejoined Frank. “He is not the kind of man
not to seek vengeance for the rebuff we gave him to-night.”



                              CHAPTER IX.

                     LUTHER BARR FORMS AN ALLIANCE.


At daybreak Frank was out of his cot and after dashing cold water over
himself—the liquid being carried from a clear stream in a neighboring
field in a bucket he aroused his companions and breakfast was soon
sending an appetizing odor into the air. The boys fell to with hearty
appetites, and after leaving several telegrams and post cards to be
forwarded to their friends and parents in New York, they started
actively in on preparations for the resumption of their long journey.
The new wheel was soon fitted, and found to answer perfectly. The broken
wire was also soon adjusted.

The work had just been completed and the auto and aeroplane fed with
fresh gasolene, lubricants and water when Witherbee, the miner, who had
slept at a hotel in the village, came hurrying up.

“Call me a horn-toad of the sagebrush desert if here ain’t a go, boys!”
he exclaimed.

The boys looked up at their new friend and saw that his face was pale
and he looked dismayed.

“Whatever is the matter?” they demanded.

“Matter?” echoed the miner; “call me a gila monster if that there
dod-gasted Barr and his companions ain’t stolen my pocketbook.”

“Did it have much money in it?” asked Frank in a sympathetic tone, for
the poor miner’s distress was very real.

“Why, it had two hundred dollars. All I have till I can get back to
Arizonee. Call me a doodelbug, if that ain’t tough luck.”

“It certainly is,” sympathized Harry; “perhaps we could lend you——”

“Not a cent,” broke in the miner. “Bart Witherbee ain’t borrowing money
from kids. But if you’d give me a seat in that benzine buggy of yours
I’ll be grateful to you for the rest of my life. Maybe I can help you,
too, in the far west. You see, I know that country, and if we run into
any bad Indians or cowboys, I can maybe be of some use to you.”

“That’s so,” agreed Frank; “do you think there would be room in the
auto, Billy?”

“Sure,” replied the young reporter. “If there isn’t, we’ll make it. We
can’t leave Bart Witherbee here penniless.”

“Say, boys, it was the luckiest day of my life when I struck you—call
me a comical coyote, if it warn’t!” exclaimed the miner gratefully. “But
I’ll make it all up to you when I locate my mine.”

The red-faced man from whom they had leased their camping-place readily
agreed to take charge of their letters and telegrams. Indeed, any one in
the crowd that gathered to see the start of the boy aviators on the
second day of their long trip would have been willing to do anything for
them in their enthusiasm over the daring young adventurers.

With a cheer from the crowd the auto bowled off first, vanishing down
the road to the west in a cloud of dust. Hardly had it started when
there was a loud whirring noise, and down the road came two other motor
cars. In the first sat Fred Reade and the red-bearded man, who acted as
his assistant, it seemed. In the other, to the boys’ amazement, rode
Luther Barr and his two companions of the night before—the western
gamblers. Apparently Barr and Reade were on friendly terms, for, as the
two machines shot by, Reade turned back in the tonneau and shouted
something to Barr, who answered with a wave of the hand.

“Hullo! That looks bad,” exclaimed Harry, as the cars shot by.

“What does?” asked Frank, who had been busy adjusting the engine, and
had not seen the motor cars.

“Why, Reade and Barr seem to have joined forces. Depend upon it they are
up to some mischief.”

Had the boys known that the night before Luther Barr and the two others
had been guests at Reade’s camp, they would have had even more reason to
feel apprehensive. In his chase after the Boy Aviators and Bart
Witherbee, old Barr had mistaken the road and branched off down a
side-track that soon brought him to Reade’s camp, where he and his
companions were working over their aeroplane by kerosene flares. The old
millionaire recognized Reade at once, stopped and hailed him.

Reade soon explained to him that he was in the aeroplane race as the
representative of the _Despatch_. On Barr inquiring how he came to leave
the _Planet_, Reade explained that his leaving was due to Billy Barnes.

“That interfering cub lost me my job,” he said angrily.

Old Barr was interested at once. Here was another enemy of the Boy
Aviators. Perhaps it would be possible to join forces to harass them.

“I see you like the boys as little as I do,” he ventured cautiously.

“Like them,” exclaimed Reade angrily, “I hate them. I hope they lose
this race. I mean to prevent them winning by fair means or foul, if I
can.”

“Good,” was Barr’s reply; “that’s just the way I feel about it. Now I
have a proposition to make to you.”

There followed a long conversation in low tones, the result of which was
that old Barr agreed to accompany the _Despatch’s_ party as far as
Arizona and the mine, the location of which Witherbee was hiding. He had
instantly made up his mind that Reade was a valuable ally.

“I am sure that Witherbee means to let those boys know where the mine
is, and give them part of it,” he declared; “and if we can find it
first, we can divide it among ourselves.”

Luther Barr had no intention of giving away any part of the mine if he
found it. He wanted it all for himself. But he thought that to hold out
such a tempting bait would make Reade an even more faithful ally. As for
the reporter, he was delighted to have found an enemy of the Boy
Aviators. He was a coward, and had been afraid that his party was too
small to openly cause them much trouble. Now, however, he was highly
pleased at the idea of traveling in such powerful company, and promised
himself a “lot of fun with those young cubs.”

And so it came about that Luther Barr and the _Despatch_ auto traveled
in company when they broke camp the next morning.

The two autos had hardly passed down the road and out of sight when a
shout from the crowd announced that the aeroplane of Arthur Slade was in
sight.

“Come on, we’ve got no time to lose,” cried Frank, as he saw the rival
aeroplane coming rapidly into view.

Both boys scrambled into their craft, and a moment later, amid a roar
from the crowd, they shot upward. As they did so, Slade shot by. He was
a powerfully built man, with a mean expression of countenance, and
seemed to harbor a spite against the boys, doubtless because he did not
like to be pitted against such youthful antagonists.

“I’ll win this race hands down,” he shouted, as he swept by.

As the boys’ aeroplane gathered velocity, however, they overhauled him,
and all day the two air-craft fought it out desperately. There seemed to
be little difference between them, and the boys resolved that they were
in for the tussle of their lives if they meant to win the race. The
dirigible hung doggedly on, about three miles in the rear. Her crew did
not seem to be urging her. Doubtless they reasoned that in a race of
such length it was a good plan to husband their resources and not urge
their ship forward too fast.

“The gasolene is running low,” announced Harry, shortly after noon, “and
we need some more oil.”

“All right; send out a wireless, and we’ll drop in a convenient place,”
replied Frank.

The auto was some distance behind, but a reply to Harry’s message soon
flashed back to the occupants of the aeroplane, and a few minutes after
they had landed in a smooth, green meadow the auto came chugging up. The
tank was replenished, and a hasty luncheon eaten. By this time both the
rival aeroplane and the dirigible were out of sight. As the boys had
seen nothing further of the autos occupied by Reade and Luther Barr,
they concluded they must be traveling on another road—which was, in
fact, the case.

“Aren’t you scared to let the other aeroplane get such a long lead?”
asked Billy, as the boys made ready to resume their flight.

“They won’t get very far,” said Frank lightly. “You see, they will have
to come down for fresh gasolene, just as we did. They have got an
air-cooled engine, too, and if they run it too long it will get heated
and stop, so that they will have to quit for a while, too.”

“How about the dirigible?”

“The only chance it has to win this race is for both the aeroplanes to
break down,” said Harry. “We can pass it even if it got a twenty-mile
lead.”

The _Golden Eagle_ flew on during the afternoon without incident. It was
getting toward sundown, and Frank was thinking of descending and camping
for the night, when, as they were passing high above a spot where four
cross-roads intersected, they spied below them the two autos of Barr and
Reade drawn up near to the rival aeroplane, which, as Frank had said,
had been compelled to come down to replenish her tanks.

Through his glasses Harry scrutinized the group. They were gathered
about Slade’s aeroplane, and seemed to be discussing excitedly.

“I thought so,” said Harry, as he put the glasses back in their pocket
at the side of the pilot house.

“Thought what?” asked Frank.

“Why, I guess there’s something the matter with their cylinders.
Over-heated, I guess. They were pouring water on them when I looked
through the glass.”

Hardly had he spoken when there was a singing sound in the air close by
his ear. It was like the droning of a big June bug.

“Pretty high for a bug to be flying,” commented Harry.

“That wasn’t any bug, Harry,” contradicted Frank, “it was a bullet.”

“What! they are firing at us again?”

“Evidently.”

There came another whistling in the air, as a second projectile whizzed
by.

“We ought to have them arrested,” exclaimed Harry indignantly.

“How are we to prove who fired the shots?” rejoined Frank.

He was right. At the time they whizzed by the aeroplane was over a clump
of woods which effectually concealed from her occupants the identity of
the wielder of the rifle. Barr’s party had evidently speeded their autos
in under the trees and were firing from them. No more bullets came,
however. Probably the shooters saw the futility of trying to get good
aim through the thick foliage.

Camp that night was made beside a small river, in which Witherbee soon
caught a fine mess of yellow perch. These, cooked with the old
plainsman’s skill, made an agreeable variation from the usual camp fare,
and were despatched by the hungry boys in an incredibly short time.

Of the other aeroplane they had seen nothing since they passed her in
the afternoon.

“This means we get a good long lead,” rejoiced Frank.

But the boys were doomed to disappointment, for shortly before midnight
the whirring noise of an engine was heard overhead, and, looking upward,
the adventurers, awakened by Billy, who was on watch, saw a dark body
pass overhead.

“It’s Slade’s machine!” cried Frank.

Shortly afterward the dirigible also went by, with several lights
displayed about her decks. The boys shot up a ray of light from the
searchlight on the auto, and were greeted by a cheer from the men on the
dirigible.

“Well, if those fellows think they can steal a night march on us, we’ll
fool ’em,” exclaimed Frank. “Here, Harry, let’s have a look at that map.
I must lay out a course, and then we’ll get after them. You fellows
break camp and be ready to follow us in the auto.”

There was a lot of bustle and excitement while Frank, by the light of an
auto-lamp, with compasses, dividers and measured rule, worked out a
course. A route was soon devised.

“All ready?” he cried at last, when final directions had been given.

“All ready,” said Billy, tightening the ropes that held the tarpaulin
covering the supplies in the auto.

“Then we’re off,” cried Frank, as he and Harry jumped into the _Golden
Eagle_, and with a rattling roar of explosions glided into the air.



                               CHAPTER X.

                            A NIGHT VOYAGE.


Sailing through the air at night is a vastly different thing to the
delightful exhilaration of a day voyage. In the latter case, all is
plain going—provided, of course, the weather conditions are
right—below the aviator is spread out, like a many-colored carpet, a
glowing landscape dotted with peaceful hamlets, busy smoky cities, and
quiet farms and patches of woodland. But at night all is changed. The
darkness hangs about the driving air-craft like a pall. The aviator
anxiously scans the earth below him for an occasional light or the glare
that a distant city casts on the sky. It is by those means alone that he
can get his bearings, unless he is a skilled navigator and steers by the
compass. Even then he may get lost. All is uncertainty.

So intent on overtaking their rivals, however, were the boys, that they
reckoned little of the risks they ran, and kept the _Golden Eagle_
headed on an almost due westerly course. The tiny shaded light above the
binnacle was the only speck of illumination about the air-ship. Luckily
the moon cast a bright, white illumination, but the luminary was waning,
and was already low in the western sky. Soon all would be as black as a
well.

“Heard anything from the auto?” asked Frank, with a backward glance,
after they had been running about an hour thus.

“Not a thing,” rejoined Harry; “that means they must have a light in
sight.”

“Still, I should like to know just where they are. Send them a flash.”

Harry bent over the wireless key and sent a message crackling into the
night:

“Send up a flare.”

The answer soon came. From far below them a blue illumination lit up the
trees and along a stretch of road in a lurid glare. The amused young
aviators could see horses and cattle out at pasture in the quiet fields
galloping for dear life at the alarming apparition.

“Can you see any sign of the others?” asked Frank, some minutes later.

Both boys had in the interval been peering anxiously ahead into the
night.

“Not a sign, can you?”

“Not yet.”

“We ought to catch sight of them soon.”

“That’s so. We should have no difficulty in making out the dirigible,
illuminated as she is.”

The boys lapsed into silence, straining their eyes ahead in vain.

Suddenly Harry gave a shout.

“There she is, about four points off our course to the north.”

“That’s right. That’s the dirigible, sure enough. Now, comparing her
speed with that of Slade’s machine, he cannot be far off.”

“Say, we’ve been making time, all right.”

“I should say we have. But look! Something’s the matter with the
dirigible.”

As Harry spoke they saw the row of lights by which they had picked the
gas-supported craft out of the night suddenly waver and then begin to
drop.

“They are going to descend,” cried Harry amazedly.

“Evidently. Look there!” he broke off with a sharp exclamation.

A red glare suddenly enveloped the dirigible, showing her every outline.

“It’s a distress signal!” was the elder lad’s excited shout. “Something
has happened.”

“I’ll tell the boys in the auto to answer it,” suggested Harry.

He sent out a sputtering wireless, which was soon answered by a blue
glare from the auto. An answering illumination from the dirigible went
up.

“They’ve seen our signal,” cried Frank. “Now, Harry, switch on the
searchlight.”

“What for?”

“To pick out a landing-place by. I don’t want to risk our necks by
dropping in the dark.”

“You are going to land and help them?”

“Of course; they may be in serious trouble. It is our duty to aid them.”

“But Slade’s machine?”

“Well, he’ll make a big gain on us to-night, I’m afraid, but it can’t be
helped. They have signaled for assistance, and we’ve got to go to their
help.”

The white finger of light of the searchlight began to sweep the ground
below them. So far as they could see, they were traveling over a cleared
country only interspersed here and there by clumps of trees.

“This looks as good a place to drop as any,” said Frank as he
scrutinized the nature of the country over which they were soaring in
slow circles.

Harry assented.

“Tell me when to cut out the engine,” he said.

“I’ll do that myself,” replied Frank. “I’ll do it with the emergency
cut-outs. We might have to shift up again in a hurry, and the engine
acts more quickly on the driving wheel controls.”

The aeroplane began to drop. About a quarter of a mile from her the
dirigible was settling, too. Her crew kept burning flares so as to see
that they didn’t blunder into any growth that might have ripped their
gas bag.

The boys reached the earth without a mishap, and found themselves in a
rocky meadow, about a hundred yards from the road. In a few minutes the
auto came chugging along with an excited party on board.

“What is it?”

“What has happened?”

“What’s the matter?”

“Call me a tenderfoot if I didn’t think it was Pain’s fireworks.”

The exclamations and questions came in a perfect volley.

“One at a time, one at a time,” laughed Frank; “we’re not phonographs.”

“You scared the life out of us,” interjected Billy Barnes.

“Well, you needn’t worry about the _Golden Eagle_; with the exception of
the time we are losing, she is as sound as a bell, but the dirigible
over yonder is in some distress. We had better hop in the auto and drive
in that direction.”

Luckily the road went in the direction in which the dirigible had last
been seen, and a short distance down the main track the boys found a
field path leading off into an enclosure in which they could see men
scurrying round the big dirigible with lanterns in their hands. They
seemed much perturbed, and the boys could hear their loud expressions of
disgust at their sudden stoppage.

“Dirigible ahoy!” hailed Frank, as the auto rolled up; “what’s the
trouble?”

“Oh, hello—are you the Boy Aviators?” said a pleasant-faced man, whom
the boys recognized as James McArthur, the driver and owner of the
craft. “It’s mighty good of you to come to our aid. Yes, we’ve cracked a
propeller blade, and are in a bad fix. You see, we lost a lot of gas in
dropping, and that means we’ll have to lighten the ship.”

“I hope it doesn’t put you out of the race,” sympathized Frank; “it’s
too bad such an accident should have occurred.”

“It is, indeed,” said Mr. McArthur. “We were doing so well, too.”

“If you will let us I think we can help you out,” volunteered Frank.

“If you only could,” exclaimed the other eagerly.

“We’ve got a spare propeller in the auto. If you like, I can let you
have it till you reach Pittsburg or some town where you can get a new
one fitted.”

“Oh, I couldn’t think of depriving you.”

“Not at all. I don’t think there is a chance of our having any accident
to our propellers. You are welcome to it.”

Mr. McArthur, with profuse expressions of thanks, thereupon gratefully
accepted the propeller which the boys unpacked from its place in the big
tonneau of their car. It was not long before it was bolted in place, and
the dirigible ready to start. The new propeller was a trifle smaller
than the old one, but the driver of the dirigible was confident he could
get good results with it. Before he started, however, he had to drop
three of his men, with instructions to them to walk to the nearest town
and then take the train for Pittsburg, at which city he could get fresh
supplies of hydrogen gas. In the meantime McArthur and one man were to
handle the dirigible, and almost every bit of ballast she carried was
sacrificed.

Amid a perfect tornado of thanks, which they would have been glad to
dodge, the boys hurried back to the _Golden Eagle_, and were soon once
more in the air. Daybreak found them flying about nine hundred feet
above a hilly, sparsely settled country.

As the light grew brighter, which it did slowly, with a promise of rain,
they gazed eagerly about them in every direction. Far behind them they
could see the tiny speck of the dirigible, laboring along with her small
propeller, but of the Slade machine there was not a sign.

“Well, he has got a start of us this time, for fair,” exclaimed Harry,
as the boys looked blankly at each other, following the result of their
scrutiny.

“There’s nothing to do but keep doggedly on,” rejoined Frank, “but we
ought to reach Pittsburg to-night. It looks as if we are in for a
rain-storm, too.”

“It certainly does,” rejoined Harry. “Well, there’s one consolation,
Slade can’t do any better in the rain than we can.”

“No, that’s so,” rejoined Frank, but there was little elation in his
tone.

For a time the boys sat in silence. It was broken by a sharp shout from
Harry.

“Frank! Frank! look there!”

They were flying above a farm-house, from the chimney of which a
cheerful column of smoke was ascending. Hungry and tired as the boys
were, they could in imagination smell the breakfast coffee, the aroma of
the frizzling bacon and the hiss of the frying eggs. But what had caused
Harry’s shout was clear enough. Outside the farm-house stood two
automobiles, which they recognized as those of Barr and Fred Reade, and
a short distance from the two cars stood the _Despatch’s_ aeroplane.

“They’ve stopped for breakfast,” exultingly cried Frank; “here’s where
we get ahead of them.”



                              CHAPTER XI.

                             THE FIRST LEG.


The country now began to be more thickly settled. In fact, the boys
passed a constant series of surprised villages and frightened farms.
While they were passing above one hillside farm, in fact, they were
received with a demonstration of more than surprise. A man in blue jeans
came running out into his barnyard with a shot-gun, and fired the
contents of both barrels upward at the young navigators. At the height
they were flying, however, a shot-gun could not harm them.

A short time later Harry lay down for a nap, after both boys had eaten
some of the cold lunch they had packed at Remson. He slept under
protest, but Frank insisted that after their harrying night trip they
both needed sleep. He agreed to take his turn later. In the meantime, in
the auto, Billy Barnes and Witherbee dozed off and shared watches with
Lathrop and old Mr. Joyce. Neither the miner nor the inventor could
drive an auto, so it was necessary to divide up the hours of sleep in
this way.

While the lads are taking a rest, it may be as well to turn back to the
lone farm at which the _Despatch_ party had decided to stop for
breakfast. So engrossed had they been over the meal, and so busy had the
farm folks been serving them, that none of the party had noticed the
boys’ aeroplane fly over, and they made very merry at the thought that
they were miles ahead of them. Fred Reade was sure they had broken down,
and his confidence that they had met with an accident was shared by
Luther Barr, Slade and the red-bearded man, whose name was Ethan Aram,
and who was Slade’s substitute driver.

“I feel like lying down for a nap,” said Luther Barr, after breakfast,
but his desire was overruled by the others. It was pointed out that he
could take a nap in his auto just as well.

“We want to beat those cubs good while we are at it,” said Reade, and
this stroke of diplomacy won over old Barr. Taking turns at snoozing,
therefore, the party pressed on at a leisurely rate, little dreaming
that the Boy Aviators were far ahead and nearing Pittsburg. There was
another reason for their decreased speed, also. They wished to take
advantage of what they considered a great stroke of good luck to let
their engine cool off thoroughly.

As the aeroplane flashed above Lockhaven, Pa., the wires began to get
red-hot with news of their close approach to Pittsburg. In the Smoky
City huge crowds gathered and awaited patiently for hours the coming of
the air racers. Every park and open space held its quota of excited
people, and flags were run up on every building.

Frank and Harry had both had a sleep before. Pointing to the southwest
of their course Harry indicated a heavy dark pall that hung against the
sky.

“That must be the Smoky City,” he exclaimed, and, sure enough it was.
Soon the junction of the Alleghany, Monongahela and Ohio rivers in their
Y-shaped formation became visible. Then the dark factory buildings,
belching out their clouds of black smoke to make perpetual the city’s
inky pall. Then the occasional gushes of flame from foundry chimneys,
and the long processions of funereal ore and coal barges on the gloomy
rivers.

The boys landed in Schenley Park, a fine expanse of wooded and lawned
landscape, one of the few beauty spots in the city of gloom. Here it
seemed as if at least a quarter of Pittsburg’s population was out to
greet them. The police had formed hasty lines as soon as it became
evident that the boys meant to land on an open stretch of grass, but
they had a hard struggle to keep back the crowds. They were speedily
re-enforced by reserves from all parts of the city, however, and soon
had the crowd in order.

It had been arranged by telegraph that in case of the contestants
landing in a public park that the city would allow them to keep the
machine there as long as they wanted, so that after the boys had
arranged for a guard to be kept over the _Golden Eagle_ and the shelter
tent carried in the auto—which came chug-chugging up half an hour after
the boys had landed—had been rigged, there was nothing to do but to go
to the hotel for a wash-up and what Billy Barnes called “a real feed.”

Of course the first question the boys had asked when they landed was:

“Anything been seen of the other racers?”

They were delighted to learn that there had not, although they were
pretty sure, anyhow, that they were the first to arrive. At the hotel,
as the party entered it, having distanced the crowd by speeding through
side streets, the manager bustled up and asked for Mr. William Barnes.
Billy replied that he was the person sought.

“Then, there’s been a wire here for you more than a day,” said the
manager. “It has been chasing you around every hotel in the city, I
guess.”

He produced a yellow envelope. Billy opened it eagerly, and then gave a
wide grin.

“Whoop-ee, look here,” he cried, extending the message to the boys to
read.

    “Will you accept position special correspondent with aeroplanes
    for _Planet_? Owe you an apology for unfortunate mistake.
    Reade’s treachery discovered.

                                                             “Stowe,
                                         “Managing Editor _Planet_.”

Of course Billy Barnes accepted the commission, although for a time he
had a struggle with his pride to do so. However, as Frank demonstrated
to him, Mr. Stowe had acknowledged his mistake, and he would only have
presented himself in the light of a stubborn, obstinate youth if he had
refused to accept his offer.

The young reporter was in the Western Union office that night filing a
long account of the incidents of the trip, not forgetting the accident
to the dirigible and its subsequent safe arrival at Pittsburg—though
several hours late—when Fred Reade entered. The Slade aeroplane had
descended in Highland Park about three hours after the arrival of the
boys, and the chagrin of the _Despatch_ people and of Luther Barr and
his crowd may be imagined when they learned that they had been badly
beaten on the first leg of the trip.

There was a scowl on Reade’s face as he sat down and began to write. His
anger deepened as he saw that Billy Barnes paid not the slightest
attention to him. Finally he said sneeringly:

“What are you writing for now, anyhow? I thought you were out of a job.”

“So I was till a short time ago,” flashed back Billy, “when the _Planet_
seems to have found out something about a young man named Reade.”

“What do you mean?” asked Reade in a voice he tried to render
blustering, but which shook in spite of himself.

“I’m not going into details; you know well enough,” said Billy in a
quiet, meaning tone, looking Reade straight in the eye.

The other pretended to get very busy with his writing, but as Billy was
leaving the office, he looked up and exclaimed:

“You and your friends think you are mighty smart, but we’ll trim you
yet, you see if we don’t.”

“Well, you’ll have to wake up, then,” laughed Billy, “you didn’t do much
trimming to-day.”

Franke Reade cast a furious glance after the young reporter as he left
the telegraph office.

“I’ll make you pay for that when we get out in the wild country,” he
said furiously.

At the hotel Billy found the boys in conversation with McArthur. He had
made arrangements to have his ship reinflated that night, he told them,
and in future meant to carry with him several cylinders of hydrogen gas.
He had telegraphed ahead to Nashville and several other towns on the
route to San Francisco to have supplies ready for him, and anticipated
no further trouble on that score. He had also been lucky enough to get a
propeller from a man who had been making dirigible ascensions at a
Pittsburg park, but who had been injured a few days before in an
accident.

The boys and their party turned in early and slept like tops. They were
up betimes, and after a hasty breakfast motored out to the park. They
found the aeroplane in perfect trim, and after replenishing the gasolene
and water tanks and thoroughly oiling every part of the engine, they
were once more ready to start. A big crowd had gathered, early as was
the hour, and gave them a mighty cheer as they swept into the air. The
next minute the auto was off, and it was a light-hearted party that
occupied its tonneau.



                              CHAPTER XII.

                          ATTACKED BY COWBOYS.


The Smoky City, with its inky smoke canopy, bluff-bordered rivers and
distant heights crowned with beautiful residences, was soon left far
behind. But for a long time the boys flew high above veritable gridirons
of railroad yards crowded with busy freight trains and puffing yard
locomotives. Every one of the engines gave them a screeching greeting as
they soared steadily along far above them.

But they were not alone in the air. The Slade machine was close behind
them, with his assistant at the wheel. McArthur’s dirigible, too, was
off a few minutes after the boys took the air. The three racers flew
onward with no perceptible difference in the distances between them.
Each seemed to be grimly holding its own. At Steubenville, Ohio, the
boys struck the Ohio river and flew above its course as far as Ashland,
where they crossed the border line of the state into Kentucky.

In forty-eight hours more, having allowed ample time for rests and
engine adjustments, they arrived at Nashville, Tenn., having passed the
border line of the state a few hours before. For several hours they had
not seen the other racers, but at Nashville they learned that Slade’s
aeroplane had arrived four hours ahead of them, having therefore gained
one hour in actual time.

The gain had probably occurred while the boys were delayed at a small
town near the Kentucky border fitting new spark plugs, those they used
having become badly carbonized by their hard service. They spent little
time in the beautiful capital of Tennessee on the banks of the historic
Cumberland river. The crowds pestered them to such an extent that they
were anxious to hurry on as soon as possible. An examination of the
engine, however, showed that it was in need of considerable adjustment,
and old Mr. Joyce was compelled to spend several hours over it. The
gyroscopic balancer likewise was in need of having its bearings attended
to. Slade seemed to have better luck, for his party left Nashville two
hours ahead of the Boy Aviators. The start of the _Despatch_ craft was
closely followed by that of McArthur’s dirigible, carrying a large gas
supply. The extra weight had been compensated for by ripping out a large
part of the cabin and cutting down every ounce carried, so far as it was
possible to do so without imperiling the ship.

However, when they finally did take the air from the meadow on the banks
of the Cumberland in which they had camped, the boys had the
satisfaction of knowing that their craft had had a thorough overhauling.
The auto, also, had had new tires fitted and its engine overhauled.

The journey across the rolling plains of Arkansas, skirting the Ozarks
to the south, on across the vast levels of Oklahoma, fertile with crops
and dotted with thrifty homesteads and small frontier towns, was made
without incident. One night the boys found themselves camped on the
banks of the Canadian river, not very far from the town of Bravo, in the
northwest of the great Panhandle of Texas. For two days, now, they had
not seen either of their competitors, and had no idea of where either of
them were, though at infrequent opportunities he had in the wild country
through which they were now traveling, Billy had tried several times to
ascertain by telegraph some word of their whereabouts.

The heat was, as Billy said, enough to fry the horn-toads that crawled
about on the vast level that stretched, quivering in the torrid sun
rays, as far as the eye could reach on every side of the boys’
camping-place. Fortunately they had selected a site beneath an old
sycamore tree, which gave them some scanty shade. High against the
blazing sky a few turkey-buzzards wheeled, doubtless watching the camps
with speculative eyes to ascertain if they were all alive.

But on this latter point there could have existed no doubt in the minds
of any human onlookers. The clink-clink of hammers and drills, as the
boys worked over their engine with old Mr. Joyce superintending, while
Billy Barnes and Lathrop were actively employed loading the auto with a
camping kit, gave the camp an appearance of great life and bustle. As
for Bart Witherbee, he was at his favorite occupation of cooking. He had
shot some young jack-rabbits a few hours before, and was now composing a
stew.

“I didn’t know jack-rabbits were good to eat,” exclaimed Billy, when the
miner had brought them into camp.

“Young ones is,” explained the plainsman, “but keep away from the
elderly jack-rabbits.”

Suddenly Billy, who had looked from his task for the fiftieth time to
remark that it was hot, noticed quite a cloud of dust swirling toward
the adventurers across the prairie.

“Gee, here comes a whirlwind!” he exclaimed, pointing. The others
looked, too.

“Maybe it’s a cyclone,” suggested Harry.

Old Witherbee placed his hand over his eyebrows and peered long and
earnestly at the rapidly approaching cloud of yellow dust.

“Whatever is it?” asked Frank.

“Somethin’ that I’m afeard is goin’ ter make it mighty uncomfortable for
us,” exclaimed Witherbee, with a tone of anxiety in his voice.

“Mighty uncomfortable, how? Will it blow the auto away?” asked Billy.

“No, youngster, but it may blow us up; that cloud yonder is a bunch of
skylarking cowboys, and they’re coming right for us.”

“Will they kill us?” asked Billy anxiously.

“No, I don’t think it’ll be as bad as that; though they git mighty onery
sometimes. Don’t you boys give ’em no back talk, and maybe we’ll get out
all right.”

The rapid advance of the approaching cowboys could now be heard. Their
ponies’ hoofs could also be seen as they flashed in and out under the
cloud of dust.

Suddenly there was a terrific volley of yells, and, as the cavalcade
drew rein, the cloud rolled away and the boys found they were surrounded
by forty or fifty wild-looking fellows, all yelling and shouting. Some
of them had revolvers and were firing them in the air. The din was
terrific.

“Throw up yer hands, yer Scanderhovian bunch of tenderfeet,” shouted the
leader, a big man on a buckskin pony, whose legs were incased, despite
the intense heat, in a huge, hairy pair of bearskin “chaps.”

The boys all elevated their hands, and old man Joyce and Bart Witherbee
hastened to follow their example.

“Where’s this yar sky schooner yer goin’ a-sailin’ around in, scaring
our cattle and driving the critters plumb crazy?” he demanded angrily.

“If you mean our aeroplane, there it is,” said Frank, indicating the
machine.

“Wall, there was two of them went over here yisterday, and all the beef
critters on the Bar X range is plum stampeded all over the per-arie.
We’re goin’ ter stop this, an’ we might as well begin right now. Come
on, boys, shoot the blame thing full o’ holes and put a few in ther
choo-choo wagin while yer at it.”

The situation was critical indeed.

The boys saw no way of saving their aeroplane, and to add to their
troubles they had been informed that their two rivals were in front of
them.

Frank alone retained his presence of mind. He saw that only by a trick
could they regain their safety from the desperate men into whose power
they had fallen.

“Did you ever see an aeroplane before?” he asked of the leader.

“No, I never did,” replied the other; “why?”

“Well, you seem to have a pretty dry part of the country out here, and I
guess a little rain would do it no harm.”

“That’s right, stranger, you never spoke a truer word; but what in
thunder has that got to do with yer blamed scaryplane, or whatever you
call it, scaring all our beef critters away?”

“I am very sorry for your misfortune, Mr.—Mr.——”

“Rattlesnake Ike is my name, with no blame ‘Mister’ on it, young
tenderfoot,” growled the other.

“Well, Rattlesnake Ike, we can make rain.”

“What?” roared the whole assemblage.

“We can make rain,” calmly repeated the boy, “with that aeroplane.”

“Wall, now, stranger, how kin yer do that—tell us,” demanded the leader
of the cowboys, leaning forward on the bow of his saddle, deeply
interested.

“Well, you’ve heard that explosions near the sky will concentrate the
moisture, thus causing it to condense in a copious rainfall,” declaimed
Frank pompously, putting in all the long words he could think of.

“Hump—wall,” dubiously remarked the cowboy, scratching his head, “I
dunno as I hev, but you seem ter have it all down pat.”

“That’s what we’ve been doing with our aeroplane,” went on Frank,
“making rain. Haven’t we?” he turned to Witherbee questioningly. The
miner at once saw what he was driving at.

“Sure,” said the old miner. “Why, pardners, down in Arkansaw they had
forgotten what rain looked like till we came along. We made it pour for
three days.”

“And that scaryplane does it?”

“Well, we go up in it and then fire bombs from this rain-gun.”

Frank indicated the searchlight as he spoke.

“Wall, I’d sure like ter see that,” said the leader. “How about it,
boys?”

“Let’s see what they kin do; but if yer don’t make it rain, strangers,
we’ll string you all up ter that sycamore tree,” decided one of the
group.

They all chorused assent, and Frank and Harry at once got into the
machine.

“Hand me some rain bombs, Billy,” said Frank.

Billy Barnes reached into the tonneau and produced some blue flares.
These he handed to Frank.

“Take care they don’t go off, Frank,” he said solemnly.

“Yes; you recollect them twenty fellers as was killed in St. Looey,”
warned old Witherbee solemnly.

“Say, strangers, are them there things dangerous?” asked the cowboy
leader.

“Well, there’s enough dynamite in them to blow that river there clean
into the next county,” rejoined Frank, “but don’t be scared, we won’t
drop them.”

“Get into the auto when we are well up,” Frank whispered rapidly to
Billy, while the cowboys exchanged awed glances.

“Now, gentlemen,” he went on aloud, “get your umbrellas ready, for
pretty soon there’s going to be some big rain.”

The aeroplane started up while the cowboys yelled and whooped. It had
reached a height of about two hundred feet, and was circling above their
heads, when Harry suddenly lighted one of the fizzing blue flares; at
the same instant Billy, followed by the others, leaped into the auto.

“Hey, stop that!” yelled the cowboy leader, but at the same moment he
broke off with a yell of terror.

“Look out for the dynamite bomb!” yelled Harry, as he dropped the
flaming blue flare over the side of the aeroplane, fairly on top of the
gang of cowboys.

“Ride for your lives, boys!” shouted the leader of the cowboys, as the
flaming light dropped, “she’s goin’ ter bust.”

They didn’t need any urging, but fled with wild cries.

By the time the cattlemen realized they had been tricked, the auto was
away on the prairie, speeding on toward the west in a cloud of dust,
while the aeroplane was far out of range.



                             CHAPTER XIII.

                                INDIANS!


“Ah, now we are beginning to get into my own country again; this begins
ter look like home,” exclaimed Bart Witherbee, one day as the
adventurers made camp in a canyon in one of the southernmost spurs of
the Rockies in the state of New Mexico. The boys had made the detour to
the south to avoid crossing the range itself, which would have been a
difficult, if not an impossible, task in an aeroplane.

Still they had not sighted the rival racing air-craft, but they knew
that the others could not be far ahead now, as at a small settlement
they stopped at the day before they learned that the Slade party had
called at the blacksmith shop there to repair a truss brace that had
snapped. As the facilities of the smithy were rather clumsy for the fine
work that has to be done on the aeroplane, the Slade machine was delayed
several hours. So far as their judgment went, the boys decided that the
other party could not be much more than fifty miles ahead of them.

As for the dirigible, they had heard that the expansion of its gas bag,
caused by the sun, had compelled it to remain all one day in a small
town in the Texas Panhandle, and that while it was journeying across the
arid country it could travel only short distances. The boys, therefore,
felt much cheered as at sundown they alighted by the side of a brawling
mountain stream and made camp. Bart Witherbee at once got out his
improvised fishing tackle and started up the stream in search of trout,
which he declared would abound in such waters.

“We’ll have a change from canned beef, canned soup and canned vegetables
to-night, boys,” he declared, “if I haven’t lost the knack of it.”

They listened to his heavy footsteps plunging up the steep hillside till
they died out, and then took up the ordinary occupations of the camp.
The rocky defile up which the old miner had disappeared on his quest was
well covered with pine timber almost down to where it reached the arid
ground on the edge of which the lads were camped. Except for the
occasional scream of a hawk making for its night roost, or the crash of
some animal making its way through the dense growth that grew higher up
on the hillside, the place was as quiet as a cemetery.

Billy Barnes was examining his camera, which had been severely shaken up
on the trip, Frank and Harry were going over the _Golden Eagle_
admiringly, remarking on the way she had stood her hard ordeal, and old
Mr. Joyce was taking a lesson in wireless telegraphy from Lathrop. It
was beginning to grow dusk. Somewhere far up on the hillside there came
the hoot of an owl. The hush of the evening in the foothills lay over
everything, when suddenly the silence was broken by a sound that brought
them all to their feet.

The report of a rifle had rung out on the hillside above them.

“Must be Bart shooting at something,” remarked Billy, gazing at the
scared faces about him.

“That was a rifle shot,” said Frank slowly, “and Bart Witherbee carried
no rifle.”

“Then somebody else fired it?”

“That’s about it. Don’t make a sound now. Listen!”

They all held their breaths and waited anxiously in the stillness that
followed. For perhaps ten minutes they stood so, and then there came a
sharp crackle of snapping twigs, that told them some one was descending
the hillside.

Who was it?

Several minutes of agonizing suspense followed before they knew whether
it was friend or enemy advancing toward them. Then Bart Witherbee
glided, like a snake, out of the woods.

“What’s the mat——” began Frank. But he checked himself instantly.

Bart Witherbee’s hand was held up.

Every one of the group read that mute signal aright.

Silence!

The old plainsman waited till he got right up to the group before he
spoke, and then it was in a hushed tense whisper.

“Injuns,” he said, “they’re up on the hillside.”

“How many?” whispered back Frank.

“I dunno exactly, after that there bullet I didn’t wait ter see, and
say, boys, I had ter leave as nice a string of trout as you ever see up
there fer them pesky redskins ter git at.”

“Never mind the fish, Bart,” urged Frank, “tell us, is there danger?”

“There’s allus danger when Injuns is aroun’, and think they kin git
somethin’ that’s vallerble without gitting in trouble over it,” was the
westerner’s reply.

“We’d better get away from here right away,” exclaimed Harry.

“Not on your life, son,” was Bart’s reply; “not if I know anything about
Injuns an’ their ways. No, sons, my advice is ter git riddy fer ’em.
They was startled when they see me, therefore they didn’t know we wus
here till they stumbled on me. That bein’ the case, I reckin they don’t
know about that thar flying thing of you boys.”

“And you think we can scare them with it?” began Frank eagerly.

“Not so fast, son, not so fast,” reprimanded the old man. “Now, them
Injuns won’t attack afore dark, if they do at all. An’ when they do,
they’ll come frum up the mountain-side. Now, my idee is to git that thar
searchlight o’ yours rigged up, and hev it handy, so as when we hear a
twig crack we kin switch it on and pick ’em out at our leisure.”

“That’s a fine idea, Bart, but what if they attack us from behind?”
suggested Frank.

“They won’t do that. Yer see, behind us it’s all open country. Wall,
Injuns like plenty of cover when they fight.”

“Perhaps we could connect up some blue flares, and plant them on rocks
up the hillside, and scare them that way,” suggested Billy.

“That’s a good idee, son, but who’s goin’ ter go up there an’ light ’em?
It would be certain death.”

“Nobody would have to go up and light them,” eagerly put in Harry. “We
can wire them up and then just touch them off when we are ready. We can
get plenty of spark by connecting up all our batteries.”

“Wall, now, that’s fine and dandy,” exclaimed the miner admiringly, “see
what it is ter hev an eddercation. Wall, boys, if we’re goin’ ter do
that, now’s the time. Them Injuns won’t attack afore dark, and if we
want ter git ready we’d better do it now.”

While Frank and Harry planted the blue flares on rocks on the hillside
within easy range of the camp, and old Mr. Joyce utilized his electrical
skill in wiring them up and connecting them to a common switch, Billy
and Lathrop and Bart Witherbee struck camp and packed the paraphernalia
in the tonneau of the auto.

“Better be ready ter make a quick gitaway,” was the miner’s
recommendation.

These tasks completed, there was nothing to do but to wait for a sign of
the attack. This was nervous work. Bart had informed the boys that in
his opinion the Indians were a band from a reservation not many miles
from there who had somehow got hold of a lot of “firewater” and had “got
bad.”

“I’ll bet yer there’s troops after ’em now, if we did but know it,” he
opined.

“Well, I wish the troops would get here quick,” bemoaned Harry.

“They won’t git here in time ter be of much use ter us,” remarked old
Bart, grimly biting off a big chew of tobacco, “and now, boys, keep
quiet, and mind, don’t fire till I tell yer, and don’t switch on them
lights till I give you the word.”

How long they waited neither Frank nor Harry nor any of the others could
ever tell, but it seemed to be years before there came a sudden owl hoot
far up on the hillside.

“Here they come, that’s their signal,” whispered old Bart in Frank’s
ear; “steady now.”

“I’m all right,” replied Frank, as calmly as he could, though his heart
beat wildly.

The hoot was answered by another one, and then all was silence.

Suddenly there came the crack of a twig somewhere above. It was only a
mite of a noise, but in the stillness it sounded as startling as a
pistol shot.

“We won’t have to wait long now,” commented Bart in a tense undertone;
“all ready, now.”

Each of the boys gripped his rifle determinedly. Old Mr. Joyce had been
armed with a pistol. At their elbows lay their magazine revolvers fully
loaded.

Following the first snapping of the twig there was a long interval of
silence. Then the staccato rattle of a small dislodged rock bounding
down the hillside set all hearts to beating once more.

The attack was evidently not to be delayed many moments now.

It came with the suddenness of the bursting of a tropical storm.

Hardly had the boys drawn their breath following the breathless suspense
that ensued on the falling of the rock before there was a wild yell, and
half a dozen dark forms burst out of the trees. They were received with
a fusillade, but none of them were hurt, as they all vanished almost as
quickly as they had appeared.

“That was just to see if we was on the lookout,” said old Bart in a
whisper. “I reckon they found we was. Look out for the next attack.”

They hadn’t long to wait. There was a rattle of falling stones as the
main body rushed down the hillside.

“_Now!_”

Old Bart fairly screamed the command in his excitement.

At the same instant Billy shoved over the switch that connected the
sparking wires of the blue-flare battery with the electric supply for
the wireless, and the whole woodland was instantly illumined as if by
the most brilliant moonlight.

With cries and yells of amazement, a score of the attacking redskins
wheeled and vanished into the dark shadows of the hillside. The lights
glared up, brilliantly illuminating everything in the vicinity, but the
Indians were far too scared to come out of their hiding-place and renew
the attack.

“Fire a volley up the hillside,” ordered Bart. “We can’t hit any of ’em,
but it will add to their scare and keep ’em off till I can work out a
plan.”

There was a rattling discharge of shots, which met with no return, and
then, as the lights began to burn dimly Bart ordered Frank and Harry to
get into the aeroplane and sail into the air.

“Turn your searchlight on the wood from up above, and they’ll run from
here to San Franciskey,” he declared.

Though rather dubious of the success of the experiment, the boys obeyed,
and in a few seconds the roaring drone of the engine was heard far above
the wood, while the great eye of the searchlight seemed to penetrate
into its darkest depths.

If the boys had had any doubt as to the feasibility of Bart’s recipe for
scaring Indians they regained their faith then and there. With yells
that echoed into the night, the redskins ran for their lives, tumbling
over each other in their hurry to escape the “Air Devil.”

What the blue lights had begun the aeroplane had completed.

“It’s goin’ ter take a year ter round them fellers up ag’in,” commented
Bart.



                              CHAPTER XIV.

                       THE AUTO IN DIFFICULTIES.


As Bart had expected, the boys were troubled no more that night,
although there was naturally little enough sleep for any one. It was
soon after daybreak and they were at breakfast when, across the plain,
at the foot of the spur on which they were encamped, the boys saw a
detachment of horsemen riding rapidly toward them. Through the glasses
the boys speedily made them out as United States cavalrymen. They were
advancing at a smart trot, and soon reached the boys’ camp.

“Good-morning,” said the officer at their head, “you seem to be
breakfasting quietly enough, but you might not be taking it so easy if I
were to tell you that several Indians have gone off the reservation and
have managed to secure enough bad whiskey to make them very dangerous.”

“I guess, captain, that we had a bit of a run-in with your Indians last
night,” said Frank, with a quiet smile.

“What? Why, God bless my soul, they are very bad men; it’s a wonder any
of you are alive. How did it happen?”

Frank detailed the happenings of the night, being frequently interrupted
by the officer’s exclamations of amazement. He regretted, though, that
they had been so badly scared, as he anticipated a long journey before
he crossed their trail again.

The attention of the captain and his troopers was then attracted by the
aeroplane. They had read in the papers that found their way to the lone
desert post of the great flight, and were much interested in the boys’
story of their adventure. The officer told them that he, himself, was
much interested in aerial navigation and had constructed several
experimental craft. He expected, he said, to be detailed by the
government before very long to undertake an important expedition. His
ambition was to reach the South Pole, just as his fellow officer,
Commander Peary, attained the northernmost pinnacle of the earth.

After a little more conversation, the officer, who said his name was
Captain Robert Hazzard, and the boys parted with many warm expressions
of friendship. The whole company of troopers, however, waited till the
aeroplane had soared into the air, and the auto chugged off beneath it,
before they wheeled their wiry little horses and started off on the long
weary chase after the Indians.

As the boys in the auto spun along over the level expanse of prairie,
which, except where the rough road traversed it, was overgrown with
sage-brush and cactus plants, the car came to a sudden stop. Then,
without any warning, it plunged forward and seemed to drop quite a few
feet.

Billy, who was driving, instantly shut off power, and gazed back in
amazement. The auto was sunk to its hubs in mud. There was no doubt
about it. The substance in which it was stuck was unmistakable mud.

“It’s a mud hole,” exclaimed Bart Witherbee; “now we are stuck with a
vengeance.”

“But what on earth is mud doing out in the middle of a dry desert?”
demanded Lathrop.

“I dunno how it gits thar; no one does,” responded Bart; “maybe its
hidden springs or something, but every year cattle git lost that way.
They are walking over what seemed solid ground when the crust breaks,
and bang! down they go, just like us.”

“But this is a trail,” objected Billy, “wagons must go over it.”

“No wagons as heavy as this yer chuck cart, I guess,” was Bart’s reply.

“We must signal the _Golden Eagle_ of our plight,” was Lathrop’s
exclamation.

“But the wireless mast is down,” objected Billy; “we can’t.”

“Consarn it, that’s so,” agreed Bart. “Well, we’ve got to signal ’em
somehow. Let’s fire our pistols.”

The _Golden Eagle_ seemed quite a distance off, but the lads got out
their revolvers and fired a fusillade. However, if they had but known
it, there was no need for them to have wasted ammunition, for Harry,
through his glasses, had already seen that something was wrong with
their convoy.

The aeroplane at once turned back, and was soon on the plain alongside
the boys. By this time they had all got out and were busy dragging all
the heavy articles from the tonneau so as to lighten it as much as
possible. A long rope was then attached to the front axle and they all
heaved with all their might. The auto did not budge an inch, however.

In fact, it seemed to be sinking more deeply in the mud.

“We’ve got to do something and do it quick,” declared Bart, “if we
don’t, the mud hole may swallow our gasolene gig, and then we’d die of
thirst afore we could reach a settlement.”

They desperately tugged and heaved once more, but their efforts were of
no avail.

“I’ve got an idea,” suddenly exclaimed Frank; “maybe if we hitch the
_Golden Eagle_ to the rope it will help.”

“It’s worth trying, and we’ve got to do something,” agreed Bart. “Come
on, then. Couple up.”

The rope was attached to the lower frame of the _Golden Eagle_, and
while they all hauled Frank started up the engine of the aeroplane. For
a second or so the propellers of the _Golden Eagle_ beat the air without
result, then suddenly the boys’ throats were rent with a loud “Hurrah,”
as the auto budged a tiny bit. Not far from the trail were the ruins of
an old hut. Several stout beams were still standing upright amid the
debris.

“Hold on a bit,” shouted Bart suddenly.

He seized up an axe from the heap of camp kit that had been hastily
thrown on the ground and started for the ruins. In a few minutes he was
back with four stout levers.

By using these, they managed to raise the auto still more, and wedge the
wheels under with other bits of timber obtained from the demolished hut.
Then the aeroplane was started up once more, and this time the auto,
with a loud cheer, was dragged clear of the treacherous hole.

“We’ll just stick up a bit of timber here to warn any one else that
comes along,” declared Bart, as he fixed a tall timber in the ground
where it would attract the attention of any traveler coming along the
road.

Soon after this, a start was made, and the aeroplane and the auto made
good time across the blazing hot plain. All the afternoon they traveled
until Billy Barnes fairly cried out for a stop.

“I’m so thirsty I could die,” he declared.

“Then get a drink,” recommended Bart Witherbee, indicating the zinc
water tank under the tonneau seat.

“It’s empty,” said Lathrop. “I tried it a little while ago.”

“Empty,” echoed Witherbee, his face growing grave. “Here, let’s have a
look at that map, youngster, and see where’s our next watering place.”

Billy Barnes, with a look of comical despair, handed it over. “I’ll have
to wait for a drink of water till we get to a town, I suppose. What do
you want the map for, Bart?”

“Fer that very reason—ter see how soon we do get to a town. I’d like a
drink myself just about now.”

He perused the map for a minute in silence. Then he looked up, his face
graver even than before.

“Well, she can go sixty miles or better, but I’m afraid of heating the
engine too much if we travel at that pace,” responded Billy, who was at
the steering wheel.

“Well, we’ve got to hustle; it’s most a hundred miles to Gitalong, and
that’s the nearest town to us.”

“Nonsense, Bart,” exclaimed Lathrop, pointing to another name on the
wide waste, which on the map represents sparsely settled New Mexico,
“here’s a place called Cow Wells.”

“No, thar ain’t,” was Bart’s reply.

“There isn’t?”

“No.”

“But here it is on the map.”

“That’s all right; maps ain’t always ter be relied on any more than
preachers. Cow Wells has gone dry. I reckon that’s why they called it
Cow Wells. Everybody has moved away. It used ter be a mining camp.”

“Are you sure it’s abandoned?” asked Billy in a trembling voice.

“Sartain sure,” responded Bart. “I heard about it when I come through on
my way east.”

“Then we can’t get a thing to drink till we reach Gitalong?”

“That’s about the size of it,” was the dispiriting reply of the old
plainsman.



                              CHAPTER XV.

                           THIRST—AND A PLOT.


While the lads in the auto were thus discussing the doleful prospect
ahead of them, Frank and Harry were making good time through the upper
air on the run toward Cow Wells, which they had noted on their maps as
the spot by which they would stop for refreshment. As they neared it in
due time, from a distance of a mile away they noted its desolate
appearance.

“There doesn’t seem to be much of anything there,” remarked Frank, as he
looked ahead of him at the collection of ramshackle buildings that they
knew from their observations must be Cow Wells.

“I don’t see a soul moving,” declared Harry.

“Neither do I,” was the other lad’s response. “Maybe they are all away
at a festival or something.”

“Well, we’ll get water there, anyhow,” remarked Frank. “I’m so thirsty I
could drink a river dry.”

“Same here.”

As the boys neared it, the lifeless appearance of Cow Wells became even
more marked. The timbers of the houses had baked a dirty gray color in
the hot sun, and what few buildings had been painted had all faded to
the same neutral hue. The pigment had peeled off them under the heat in
huge patches.

Of all the towns the boys had so far encountered on their
transcontinental trip, this was the first one, however small, in which
there had not been a rush of eager inhabitants to see the wonderful
aeroplane.

“They must be all asleep,” laughed Harry; “here, we’ll wake them up.”

He drew his revolver and fired a volley of shots.

For reply, instead of a rush of startled townsfolk, a gray coyote
silently slipped from a ruined barn and slunk across the prairie.

The truth burst on both the boys at once.

“The place is deserted,” exclaimed Harry.

“We can get some water there though, I guess, just the same,” replied
the other. “There must be some wells left.”

They swooped down onto the silent, deserted town, in which the sand had
drifted high in front of many of the houses. Eagerly they climbed out of
the chassis of the aeroplane and investigated the place.

“Hurray,” suddenly shouted Harry, rushing up to a large building with a
long porch, that had evidently once been the hotel, “here’s a pump.”

He pointed to an aged iron pump that stood in front of the tumbled down
building. But the boys were doomed once more to disappointment. A few
strokes of its clanking handle showed them that it was a long time since
water had passed its spout. They investigated other wells with the same
result.

The boys exchanged blank looks as they realized that they were to get no
water there, but suddenly the realization that the auto was back there
in the desert somewhere with a tank full of water cheered them.

“They’ve lots of water in the tank,” suggested Harry.

“I guess that’s right; we’d better wait till they come and get a drink
of it. I’d almost give my chances in the race for a big glass of
lemonade right now.”

“Don’t talk of such things, you only make it worse,” groaned Harry.
“Just plain ice water would do me fine. I could drink a whole cooler
full of it.”

“Same here—but listen—here comes the auto.”

Sure enough the chug-chug of their escort was drawing near down the
rough desert road.

“Say, fellows,” shouted both boys, as the auto rolled up, “how about a
drink of water from the tank?”

“Gee whiz,” groaned Billy, “that’s just the trouble. There’s not a drop
in it.”

“What, no water?” exclaimed Frank blankly.

“Not a drop, and Bart says we can’t get any here.”

“That’s right; we’ve investigated.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Keep on to Gitalong, that’s the thing to do. If you don’t get there
within half an hour of our arrival we’ll start out after you with
water.”

“I suppose that’s all we can do,” groaned poor Billy.

“And the quicker we do it, the better,” briskly announced Frank. “Come
on, Harry; ho for Gitalong, and to the dickens with Cow Wells, where
there are no cows and no wells.”

“That’s why they gave it the name, I guess,” commented Lathrop, with a
sorrowful grin.

It grew hotter and hotter as the afternoon wore on. Billy finally,
although he stuck to the wheel pluckily as long as he was able, was
compelled to give it up to Lathrop. After that he lay on the floor of
the tonneau, suffering terrible torments from his raging thirst.

Old Bart sat grimly by Lathrop’s side, encouraging him as well as he
knew how, and the boy bravely smiled at the old miner’s jokes and
stories, although each smile made his parched lips crack.

“Why, what’s the matter?” remarked Lathrop suddenly, as the auto seemed
to slow down and come to a stop of itself.

“I dunno; you’re an auto driver, you ought to know,” said Bart.

“The engine’s overheated,” pronounced old man Joyce. “Look at the steam
coming from the cap of the radiator.”

He pointed to a slender wisp of white vapor. It indicated to Lathrop at
once that Mr. Joyce was right. The accident they had dreaded had
happened. It might be hours before they could proceed.

“What can we do?” demanded Bart Witherbee.

“Nothing,” responded Lathrop, “except to let her cool off. The cylinders
have jammed, and the metal won’t cool sufficiently till the evening to
allow us to proceed.”

“We’re stuck here, then?”

“That’s it, Bart. We had better crawl under the machine. We shall get
some shade there, anyhow.”

“A good idee, youngster; come on, Mr. Joyce. Here, Lathrop, bear a hand
here, and help me get poor Billy out.”

The fleshy young reporter was indeed in a sad state. His stoutness made
the heat harder for him to bear than the others. They rolled him into
the shade under the auto and there they all lay till sundown, panting
painfully. As the sun dropped it grew cooler, and gradually a slight
breeze crept over the burning waste. As it did so the adventurers
crawled from their retreat, even Billy partially reviving in the
grateful drop in the temperature. But there was still no sign of the
aeroplane.

After a brief examination of the engine Lathrop announced that the party
could proceed, and he started up the engine cautiously. It seemed to
work all right, and once more the auto moved forward. They had not
proceeded more than two miles when they heard a shout in the air over
their heads, and there was the _Golden Eagle_ circling not far above
them.

Lathrop instantly stopped the machine, and the aeroplane swept down.
Frank and Harry had brought with them a plentiful supply of water in
canteens.

The boys drank as if they would never stop.

“I never tasted an ice-cream soda as good,” declared Billy.

Refreshed and invigorated, the adventurers resumed their journey toward
Gitalong as soon as they had fully quenched their thirst, and poured
some of the water over their sun-parched faces and hands. They reached
the town late in the evening and were warmly welcomed by the citizens,
mostly cowboys and Indians, who had sat up to await their arrival.
Several of them, in fact, rode far out onto the prairie and, with
popping revolvers and loud yells, escorted the auto party into town.

The aeroplane was stored in a livery stable that night, while the boys
registered at the Lucky Strike hotel. The Lucky Strike’s menu was mostly
beans, but they made a good meal. They had hardly got into their beds,
which were all placed in a long room, right under the rafters, when they
heard to their amazement the sound of an auto approaching the place. It
drew up in front of the hotel and the listeners heard heavy steps as its
occupants climbed out of it and entered the bar.

They called for drinks in loud tones, and then demanded to see a man
they called Wild Bill Jenkins.

“Why, Wild Bill Jenkins is just sitting in a friendly game o’ monte,”
the boys could hear the bartender reply, “but if it’s anything very
partic’lar I’ll call him, though he’ll rile up rough at bein’
disturbed.”

“Yes, it is very particular,” piped up another voice, evidently that of
one of the automobile arrivals; “we must see him at once.”

The boys, with a start, recognized the voice of the speaker as that of
Luther Barr.

“Must hev come quite a way in that buzz wagon of yours, stranger,”
volunteered the bartender.

“Yes, we’ve driven over from Pintoville—it’s a good twenty miles, I
should say.”

“Wall, we don’t call that more than a step out here,” rejoined the man
who presided over the Lucky Strike’s bar.

In the meantime a messenger had been despatched to summon Wild Bill
Jenkins. Pretty soon he came. He was in a bad temper over being
interrupted at his game apparently.

“Who is the gasolene gig-riders as disturbed Wild Bill Jenkins at his
game?” he roared. “Show ’em to me, an’ I’ll fill ’em so full of lead
they’ll be worth a nickel a pound.”

“That will do, Bill,” put in another voice, seemingly Hank Higgins.

Wild Bill Jenkins’ manner instantly changed.

“Why, hello. Hank Higgins!” he exclaimed, “hullo, Noggy Wilkes. Air you
in company with this old coyote?”

“Hush, Bill; that is Mr. Luther Barr, a very wealthy gentleman, and he
wants to put you in the way of making a bit of money.”

“Oh, he does, does he? Wall, here’s my paw, stranger. Money always looks
good to Bill Jenkins, and he’ll do most anything to get it.”

“This will be an easy task,” rejoined Luther Barr. “All you have to do
is to tell us the location of that mine you know about. I will buy it
from you. But we must be quick, for others are in search of it—Bart
Witherbee and some boys that call themselves the Boy Aviators.”

“Why, that’s the bunch that came in here to-night,” exclaimed Wild Bill
Jenkins.

“It is?”

“They are here now.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Sure.”

“Where?”

“Right here in this hotel. I guess they’re asleep in their little cots
now, right over your heads.”

“You don’t think it possible that they can have heard any of our
conversation?”

“Not on your natural, stranger. We’re as safe talking here as in the
Alloff Gastorium in New York. Is that all you want me to do?”

“That’s all. I will pay you well for the information when you deliver
the map to me.”

“I’ll deliver it, never fear. It was a lucky day for me I stumbled on
that old mine. I’ve never been able to claim it, though, for they’d
lynch me for a little shooting if I showed my face there.”

“Those cubs have made good time. We are only twenty miles ahead of
them,” struck in another voice—that of Fred Reade; “if we could only
disable their machine it would come near putting them out of the race.”

“What, bust their fool sky wagon. That’s easy enough,” said Wild Bill
Jenkins confidently. “Listen here.”

But some other customers entered the bar at this point, and the plotters
sank their tones so low that the boys could hear no more.



                              CHAPTER XVI.

                             THE AUTO GONE.


“Harry!”

“What is it, Frank?”

“Get on your clothes. You, too, Bart Witherbee, and be sure to conceal
the map of your mine carefully.”

“What be yer goin’ ter do, Frank?”

“Fool those rascals. There is no doubt they are going to the stable and
try to disable our aeroplane.”

“I reckon we’ll fool ’em, Frank.”

“I hope so. We must make haste. Come on out through this window here. It
leads onto a back porch. We can slip down a support without anyone
seeing us and get round to the stable before they get up from their
table. They’ll be in no hurry, for they think we’re asleep.”

“What are we to do, Frank?” asked Billy Barnes and Lathrop, who, with
old Mr. Joyce, were evidently to be left behind.

“Just snore as loud as ever you can. There is no doubt that they will
creep up here after a while to see if we are asleep. If they hear you
snoring they will think everything is all right.”

Frank, Harry and their hard companion were soon out of the window and on
the ground. They found themselves on a back street, or rather, a mere
trail on the prairie, for the town consisted of but a single street.
They rapidly made their way to the livery stable. The man who owned it
was there, and at first was inclined to be angry at being awakened.

He appeared at his door with a gun.

“Git out of here, you no good drunken cattle rustlers,” he bellowed, “or
I’ll fill you full of lead. Don’t come skylarking around me.”

“We are not cattle rustlers. We’re the boys who own that aeroplane,”
explained Frank. “We heard to-night, or rather we overheard, a plot to
damage it so that it could not win the race.”

“What’s that?” demanded the other, “some no good, ornery cusses
undertook ter come roun’t here and do up that thar contraption of
yourn?”

“That’s it.”

“Wall, I don’t know as I’d blame anyone fer wantin’ ter bust up such
things. Hosses air good enough fer us out here in the west, but nobody
ain’t goin’ to hurt nothin’ of nobody’s while it’s under my care. Come
on in an’ tell me about it.”

The boys’ story was soon told. When it was concluded the stable man was
mad clear through.

“What, that hobo of a Wild Bill Jenkins, as he calls his self, come
aroun’ here and try monkey tricks in my barn? Not much,” he kept
repeating. “Hev you boys got shootin’-irons?”

“We shore have,” replied old Bart Witherbee.

“Well, you at least look like a party as could use one,” remarked the
stable man, gazing at Bart’s rugged face. “Now the only thing to do is
to wait for them to come.”

“That’s it, I guess,” agreed Frank. “They can’t be so very long if they
want to get away before daylight.”

But the boys little knew the ingenious plan that the rogues had decided
on to compass their ends and destroy the _Golden Eagle_. Even while they
sat there waiting Luther Barr and the others were working out their
scheme.

Before long there was the distant chug-chug of an auto heard and as the
machine drove away, the sound diminished till it died out.

“Well, I guess your friends decided that they’d put their little
expedition off,” grinned the stable keeper. “There they go and good
riddance to ’em, I say.”

They waited a while longer, but there was no demonstration of their
enemies’ presence. Suddenly Frank sniffed curiously.

“Do you smell anything?” he asked presently. “It seems to me there’s
something burning somewhere.”

“I noticed it, too,” said Harry.

At the same instant there was a glare of red flame from the rear of the
stable.

“Fire!” shouted the stableman.

His cry rang through the night, and in a few seconds the small prairie
town was ringing with it. The flames gained rapid headway. They ate
through the sun-dried timbers of the stable as if it had been made of
paper.

The stableman and his friends rushed madly about getting out horses and
rigs to places of safety. As for the boys and Bart they seized hold of
the aeroplane and dragged it beyond reach of the flames. They then ran
out the auto. This done they returned and helped the stableman. Soon all
the stock and valuable buggies were out of the place and it was a
roaring mass of savage flames. There was no fire department in Gitalong,
so the inhabitants, instead of wasting their efforts on trying to
extinguish the blaze with buckets of water, devoted their attention to
wetting down adjoining roofs in order to prevent the flames spreading.
The boys were so busy attending to this work that they didn’t stop to
notice what had become of their companions. They had had, however, a
moment to exchange a hasty word with Billy, Lathrop and old man Joyce,
who had hastened from the hotel at the first cry of alarm.

The flames were about out and the barn was reduced to a smouldering heap
of ashes before they had time to look about them.

“Why, where’s Mr. Joyce?” suddenly exclaimed Bart.

“He was here a minute ago,” rejoined Frank. “Have you seen him, Billy?”

“Not for the last ten minutes,” replied the other. “What can have become
of him?”

“I guess he got tired and went back to the hotel,” suggested Harry.

“That must be it. Come on, let’s go and see if he is all right.”

They started off, but on the way were halted by the stableman.

“Thank you, boys, for helping me!” he exclaimed warmly, extending his
hand. “It was mighty white of you.”

“I hope your loss was not very heavy,” said Frank.

“Oh, no; I had that covered by insurance. A good thing I had, too. If
ever I get my hands on that rascal, Wild Bill Jenkins, I’ll make it hot
for him.”

“Why; do you suspect him of setting it?”

“Not only him but your friends—or whatever you like to call ’em. The
scalliwags suspected we might be on the lookout for ’em, and so we were,
but at the wrong door. While we were expecting ’em to come sneaking up
in front they walks up behind and sets a fire. They’d fix your aeroplane
forever and a day, they thought, and as for my barn they didn’t bother
about that.”

“That must be it,” exclaimed Frank. “I’d like to get my hands on the
rascals.”

“Let’s drive after them and have them arrested at Pintoville. We can
easily do it,” suggested Billy.

“All right, you and Bart take the auto. I’ve got to find Mr. Joyce.”

“_Where is the auto?_” suddenly exclaimed Harry, looking about him. “It
was here while we were working at the fire and now it’s gone.”

“Gone!” gasped the others.

“Yes, gone. Look, there’s not a sign of it.”

“That’s right,” said the stableman; “looks like that chu-chu cart had
flown away. Wall, if it’s in this town it won’t take long to find it.”

The stableman, who the boys now found out was also mayor, at once
ordered out several men with instructions to search for the missing car,
but they all reported half an hour later, when the town had been
thoroughly searched, that not a trace of it could be found.

In the meantime a search had been conducted for old Mr. Joyce, but he
also had vanished as mysteriously as the auto.

“What can have become of them?” exclaimed Frank, despairingly. “Without
the auto and our supplies we cannot go any further.”

At this juncture a man came rushing up with a report that searchers had
found the tracks of two autos, both going out of the town over the
Pintoville road.

“Pintoville is where Luther Barr is staying,” cried Frank.

“Then you can depend upon it,” rejoined their friend, the mayor, “that
that is where your auto and the old man have gone.”

“But why should they want to kidnap old Mr. Joyce?” demanded Frank.

“You’ll have to ask me an easy one,” answered the mayor, picking up a
straw and sucking it with deep meditation.



                             CHAPTER XVII.

                             THE WRONG MAN.


In the meantime, while the glare of the flames still shone behind them,
two autos were speeding over the plains. The first, in which was seated
Luther Barr, Frank Reade and Hank Higgins, had been waiting just outside
the town ever since the boys had heard it chug away before the fire
started.

Barr and his companions had spent the interim in ill-disguised
impatience. Reade in particular seemed gloomy and apprehensive.

“This is dangerous business, Barr,” he said. “If anything falls through,
we might as well make up our minds to be lynched.”

“What is the use of talking like that,” snapped the old man. “Wild Bill
Jenkins is a reliable man, Hank.”

“He sure is that, Barr,” rejoined the gambler. “If he says he’ll do a
thing that thing is as good as did, and you may take your gospel on
that.”

“And your partner, Noggy Wilkes?”

“Why, Barr,” declared the other earnestly, “that feller would rather
stick up a stage or rob a bank than sit down to a chicken dinner.”

“Hum,” said old Barr, evidently highly pleased by the very dubious
recommendations, “he must be an enterprising young man.”

“I don’t know what that ther word may mean, Barr,” declared Higgins,
gravely, “but if et means he’s a good man for this job you can take your
Davy he is.”

“I wish they would hurry up and start in,” the old man began again,
after an interval of silence; “they take a long time getting to work.”

“Well, you know this isn’t a job to be hurried,” declared Hank.

“No, indeed,” stammered Frank Reade nervously, “it’s better to do it
safely and have no blunders. If it was found out that we had attempted
such a thing it would be our ruin. What will we do with Witherbee when
we get him?”

“Drop him down a shaft some place; we want to be sure he doesn’t follow
us to the mine,” said Hank.

The occupants of the touring car were silent for a time, and then
suddenly old Barr held up a finger.

“Hark!” he exclaimed.

Very faintly the uproar that accompanied the outbreak of the fire was
borne to their ears.

Suddenly a brisk little puff of the night wind of the prairie blew
toward them. On its wings were borne the cry for which they had been
waiting:

“Fire! Fire! Fire!”

“They’ve done it,” grinned old Luther Barr.

“That’s what,” assented Hank Higgins, as a tongue of flame shot upward
above the black huddle of shadows that marked the town.

“I only hope it destroys their aeroplane,” viciously remarked Fred
Reade, “we’ve got to win this race.”

“I suppose you’ve been betting on it,” sneered old Barr.

“And if I have it’s none of your business, is it?” demanded Reade
fiercely.

“Oh, no; not at all. Don’t be so savage, my dear young man, or I shall
have to ask Hank here to subdue you,” smirked old Barr.

“He’d better not, or I’d soon fix him with this.”

Reade drew out a huge revolver and brandished it, at which the desperado
grinned despisingly.

“Why, you’d be scared to handle it, even if you knew how. You let
shooting irons alone till you git through with your nursing bottle,” he
sneered.

“I’ve a good mind to show you,” shouted Reade angrily.

Old Barr quieted him with a reassuring tap on the shoulder.

“My dear young man, you are of undoubted courage. I believe you would
fight a regiment if you thought it necessary.”

Like all cowards, Fred Reade was very susceptible to flattery.

“You have the right estimation of my character, Mr. Barr,” he blustered;
“this wild and woolly westerner here cannot appreciate a man of grit and
brawn unless he wears a pair of moustaches like a billygoat and swaggers
around drinking at frontier bars.”

“Is that so, Mister Reade?” sneered Hank Higgins, despite Barr’s urging
him to keep quiet. “You’re a writing gent, ain’t yer?”

“I am a journalist—yes, sir.”

“Wall, while we are waitin’ here and watching that ther pretty bonfire
that Noggy Wilkes and our Wild friend have lit up, I’ll just tell you a
little story of one of your trade who come out west looking for
sensations.”

“All right, go ahead and amuse yourself,” said Reade sullenly.

“Don’t get mad.”

“Oh, I’m not mad. But cut out all your talk and tell your story.”

“Very well, Mr. Reade, it goes this way. One night there was seated in
the bar at El Paso a young writing gent just like you are. He was a very
bored young writing gent, and he says to a fren’ who was with him:

“‘I thought the west was full of sensations. It’s deadly dull as I find
it. Why don’t suthen happen?’

“Wall, partner, jus’ then two gents as had bin ridin’ cattle for a
considerable period, an’ hed quite a hatful of coin ter celebrate with,
blew in.

“‘Ho! see that little feller!’ says one, indercating the tenderfoot
writing chap. ‘I’ll bet he’s a good dancer.’

“‘I’ll bet he is, too,’ says the other. ‘Kin you dance, stranger?’

“‘No,’ says the tenderfoot, ‘I can’t.’

“‘Oh, you cawnt, cawnt you,’ says one of the range-ridin’ gents. ‘Then
this is a blame good time to larn.’

“With that Mister Reade he whips out a big gun—jes like this one I’ve
got here it was—and says:

“‘Dance!’

“‘I cawnt, I told yer,’ says the tenderfoot.

“Bang! goes the old shooting iron, and the bullet plows up splinters
right under his left foot. Wall, sir, he lifted that foot mighty lively,
I kin tell yer. Livelier than a ground-owl kin dodge inter its hole.

“‘Now, dance!’ says the cattleman.

“‘I cawnt,’ says the tenderfoot, still unconvinced of the powers that
lay in him.

“Bang!

“This time it come under his right foot, and he lifts that.

“‘Now, do it quick,’ says the range rider, and they do say that the way
that feller shuffled his feet while them bullets spoiled a perfectly
good floor under ’em was as purty to watch as a stage show. Wall, later
in the evening them two cattle rustlers gits tired of that an’ they gits
in a game of poker. Now, there’s where that tenderfoot should have quit,
but he didn’t. He goes and sits inter it with ’em. Wall, purty soon a
dispute arises. One of them cow-punchers calls on the other to lay down
his hand, and there, stranger, they each have three aces.”

“Wall, you couldn’t see the room for smoke, they shot so fast, and one
of ’em died there and other on the doorsill. Wall, there had ter be an
inquest, yer know, and among ther witnesses they rounded up was this yar
tenderfoot.”

“‘Whar was yer when ther first shot was fired?’ the coroner asks him.”

“‘At the poker table,’ says the tenderfoot.”

“‘And when the last was fired?’ goed on the coroner.”

“‘At the Southern Pacific depot,’ says the tenderfoot, and I reckon
that’s the kind of a gun fighter you are, young Mister Reade,” he
concluded.

By the time Hank Higgins concluded his narrative the glare of the fire
had spread over the whole sky, and the sounds of excitement in the town
could be clearly heard. Perhaps this was what prevented the men in the
waiting auto hearing the approach of another car till it was close upon
them. At any rate, the other auto, which did not have any lights, was
close up to them before Luther Barr exclaimed triumphantly:

“Good; they got it.”

“Is the aeroplane destroyed?” was the first question Reade asked.

“Did you get the man?” was Luther Barr’s eager query.

“One at a time, one at a time,” growled Wild Bill Jenkins, “we’ve had
enough trouble to-night without answering a dozen questions at once,
ain’t we, Noggy?”

“That’s right,” grumbled Noggy Wilkes, who was driving the auto, “and
I’m none too skillful now at driving a buzz wagon, although once I owned
one.”

“Well, I reckon you see that we set the fire all right,” remarked Wild
Bill Jenkins, “and the joke of it was we could hear the kids warning
that old fool of a mayor about the attempt we were going ter make ter
attack ’em all the time we was settin’ the fire and putting kerosene on
it.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed Noggy Wilkes, as if an immense joke had been
related.

“Now, tell us, what about the aeroplane?” demanded Reade.

Now Wild Bill Jenkins and Noggy Wilkes had agreed to make all they could
out of the deal they had undertaken, so when Fred asked this in an eager
voice they responded:

“Oh, she’s all burned up. Nothing left of her.”

“Good,” exclaimed Reade, passing over a fat roll of bills, “now, we can
go ahead just as slowly as we like when we get to the mine at Calabazos.
If we can file the claim to it it will be worth a lot more to us than
winning the race.”

“Speaking of the mine,” put in Luther Barr, “where have you got
Witherbee?”

“Right in the tonneau, guv’ner,” responded Wild Bill; “he made a lot of
trouble and I had to give him a tap on the head to quiet him, but he’ll
come to all right.”

“It’s just as well,” approved Luther Barr, “it will keep him quiet. Have
you searched him yet?”

“No, not yet; we wanted to get out of town before those kids found out
we’d swiped the auto. They can’t get after us in anything faster than an
old buggy, and we’ll be far away by the time they pick up the trail.”

“Well, as you haven’t searched him, you might just as well leave him
where he is till we get to the place. You know that we are not going to
Pintoville.”

“Not going there, guv’ner!” echoed Wild Bill amazedly.

“No, I said we were at Pintoville for a blind. You never know who may be
listening. Instead of going there we will make for White Willow. We’ve
got the aeroplane there.”

“Say, guv’ner, you’re a smart one.”

“That’s how I made my money,” grinned old Luther Barr.

“Then, you’ve not been in Pintoville at all?”

“No, not for a minute. We had to land at White Willow; there’s something
gone wrong with the engine of Slade’s ship. They are working on it now.”

“That’s why we were so anxious to have the boys’ aeroplane disabled, so
that we could take our own time,” put in Reade. “You are quite sure it
is burned up?”

“Sure; why, I saw it with these here eyes,” declared Noggy Wilkes. “Do
you think we’d have taken your money if it hadn’t bin all destroyed, Mr.
Reade?”

“What do you think we are—thieves?” demanded Wild Bill Jenkins, with
what sounded like real indignation.

“Come, come, let’s be getting on,” urged old Barr. “They may pick up our
trail, you know.”

As he spoke and the autos started, there was a low growl of thunder. One
of the rare thunderstorms that occasionally sweep over the desert where
it adjoins the mountains was coming up.

“Not after the storm they won’t,” laughed Hank Higgins confidently, “the
rain that that will bring will mighty soon wash out our trail.”

As they speeded along a few minutes later the rain began to fall in
torrents.

“Good-bye, boys, you’ll never catch us now,” exultingly cried Luther
Barr.

A short time later they rolled into White Willow, where, on account of
the size of the party, a whole house—of which there were many vacant in
the half-abandoned settlement—had been engaged. As the autos drew up
the downpour ceased and the growls of thunder went rolling away in the
distance.

“Say, that feller’s bin mighty quiet; we’d better have a look at him,”
suggested Frank Higgins; “maybe you tapped him too hard, Wild Bill.”

“Not me,” laughed the other. “I’ve stunned too many of ’em for that, but
he fit so hard I had to wrap him up in a blanket.”

“He throwed it over him so sudden I didn’t even see his face,” said
Noggy admiringly; “he’s a quick worker.”

“Well, that makes no difference; I knowed him the minute I seed him,”
confidently declared Wild Bill; “you gave me a good description—gray
whiskers, tanned skin and a gray hat. Here he is as large as life.”

He drew back the blanket that had covered a figure lying in the tonneau
of the big car. As he did so, Luther Barr and the others who were
crowding round with a lantern gazed on the still features with a howl of
rage.

“You fool,” fairly shrieked Barr, springing at Wild Bill in his anger,
“_that’s the wrong man_!”



                             CHAPTER XVIII.

                               WIRELESS.


“What is to be done?” It was Frank who spoke, and there was a note of
despair in his voice.

The boys had finished breakfast with what appetite they could and were
seated on the porch of the hotel discussing plans. It seemed impossible
that they could get away from Gitalong, as, without the escort of the
auto to carry the necessary supplies for an emergency, it would have
been futile to think of navigating above the desert in an aeroplane. The
dirigible, of course, could carry her own supplies.

“Wall, now, thar ain’t no use givin’ up hope,” consoled Bart. “Why, once
when I was up a tree with a b’ar at ther foot of it, I thought I’d never
git away, an’ what do you think happened—why, ther b’ar jes’ turned up
his toes and died.”

Even this anecdote of Bart’s pard did not cheer the boys up, however,
and in a disconsolate group they walked down the street to look over the
_Golden Eagle_, which still stood where she had been left. Quite a crowd
was clustered about the machine, and as the boys came up a hail of
questions was poured in on them.

One of the questioners, a wild-looking fellow, with long, drooping black
mustache and a wide-brimmed hat, round the band of which were nailed
silver dollars in a row, was particularly curious. After asking
questions about every part of the machine, he started in on the
wireless. Indicating the aerials he remarked:

“Say, that’s a right pert little conniption, ain’t it? Kin you really
send messages out sky doodling through ther blessed atmosphere with it?”

“We can if we’ve got any one to send them to,” rejoined Harry; “but I
don’t suppose there’s any one around here who has a wireless outfit.”

“Wall, now, that’s jes’ whar yer wrong,” was the astonishing reply.
“There’s an old feller, I reckon he’s crazy or suthin’, anyhow he used
ter be some sort of electrical engineer. Wall, sir, on top of his shack
at White Willow I’m blamed if he ain’t got things like them wires that’s
strung on top of your air ship. Yes, sir, an’ claims he can sind out
messages, too, if thar was any one but coyotes and rattlers to git ’em.”

“Whereabouts is White Willow?” asked Frank interestedly.

“Why, it’s right near to Pintoville,” was the answer; “a piece this side
of it, I rickin.”

“Pintoville,” exclaimed Frank; “that’s where Luther Barr said he was
stopping. Say, boys, let’s send out a wireless to White Willow and see
if we can raise the inventor there and ascertain if our auto passed
through.”

“But it was late at night. They would all have been in bed,” objected
Billy.

“Well, it’s worth trying, anyhow, so here goes.” Frank sat down at the
key of the _Golden Eagle’s_ wireless, and began tapping out “White
Willow—White Willow—Willow—White Willow,” till his hand ached.

“No good, I guess,” he said, discouraged, as, after quite a time, no
response to his call came.

“I always thought that old feller at White Willow was loco,” remarked
one of the crowd.

Suddenly, however, Frank held up his hand.

“He’s answering,” he cried.

Sure enough, over the wires came the question:

“Here’s White Willow. Who wants White Willow? For five years I’ve been
trying to get a call here, and no one ever came. Who are you?”

“We are the Boy Aviators,” tapped back Frank, while the miners and
cowboys gazed in awe at the blue flame ripping and crackling across its
gap. “Have you seen two autos pass through White Willow?”

“They have not passed through. They are here now,” was the astonishing
response.

The boys saw Frank jump to his feet with an excited yell of “Hurray!
We’ll get them yet.”

“He’s gone daffy, too,” exclaimed the men in the group about the
aeroplane.

“Are you crazy, Frank?” seriously demanded Billy.

“The auto’s in White Willow!” shouted Frank, slapping the boy on the
back.

“What?”

“That’s right. The old wireless man—I mean the wireless old man—no, I
don’t—oh, what I do mean is that we’ve got to get over there in jig
time. Come on, Harry, climb aboard. Bart, we’ll need you, too.”

“What, me git in that thar thing?” dubiously responded the miner. “No,
sir, I’ve walked like a Christian all my days on the earth, and I ain’t
goin’ to tempt Providence by flying at this time of life.”

“Hullo! hullo! what’s all this?” came a deep voice, as a big man elbowed
his way through the crowd. “What’s all this about flying?”

“It’s the sheriff,” called some one.

In the meantime the big man had made his way to Frank’s side as he
leaned over testing the gasolene tanks and the amount of water there was
in the radiator receptacle.

“Here, young feller,” he exclaimed, “I don’t know if it’s legal to go
flyin’ aroun’ in this county. Hav yer got a permit or suthin’?”

“No,” replied Frank; “but if you are the sheriff there are some of the
worst men in your jurisdiction right in White Willow now.”

“The blue heavens, you say. Who air they, young feller?”

“Wild Bill Jenkins, Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes.”

“Why, thar’s a reward for Wild Bill Jenkins!” exclaimed the sheriff.

“Well, you can get it if you hurry over thar.”

“Hold on a minute, young feller. How do I know you ain’t fooling me?”

“Because I was talking to a man in White Willow a few minutes ago.”

“What’s that? Say, be careful how yer string me.”

“I certainly was, and he told me that the men we are in search of came
there in two autos last night.”

“Say, stranger, the heat’s gone to yer head, ain’t it?”

“Not at all. You’ve heard of wireless?”

“Yes; but that’s all a fake, ain’t it?”

“If you’ll jump in and ride with us to White Willow I’ll soon show you
how much of a fake it is,” rejoined the boy.

“What! jump in that thar wind wagon? Why, boy, I’ve got a wife and
family to look arter. If I went skyhopping aroun’ in that thar
loose-jointed benzine broncho I might break my precious neck.”

“I’ll guarantee your neck,” spoke up Harry.

“Say, boys, ef thar sheriff don’t want ter go, I’ll go along with yer.
Thar’s $25,000 reward fer Wild Bill Jenkins, an’ I’d jes’ as soon take a
chance ter git thar money. Giv me yer warrant, sheriff, an’ I’ll serve
it fer yer and split ther reward.”

The speaker was a wiry little cowboy, apparently just in off the range,
for he held by the reins a small buckskin broncho.

“What’s that, Squainty Bill?” bellowed the sheriff. “I allow Tom Meade
ain’t going ter allow the perogatives of sheriff tuk away frum him by no
sawed-off bit of a sagebrush chawing, jackrabbit of a cattle rustler.
Come on, boys, show me how you git aboard this yer atmospheric ambler of
yourn, and we’ll git after Wild Bill Jenkins.”

The boys soon helped the redoubtable Tom Meade into the chassis, and
while the other lads held the machine back Frank shouted for a clear
road. He didn’t get it till he opened up the exhaust on the engine, and
they were roaring like a battery of gatling guns going into action. Then
he got it in a minute. There were four runaways and five cases of heat
prostration right there.

“Let go,” shouted Frank.

“Hey! hold on, young feller,” cried the sheriff, starting to scramble
out. Harry seized him just in time, for the _Golden Eagle_ shot upward
like an arrow under the full power of her hundred-horse engine.

“Say, young tenderfeet, Tom Meade ain’t no coward; but no more of this
fer me if I ever git out of this alive,” gasped the sheriff.

“Oh, you’ll get used to it in a minute and enjoy it,” laughed Harry.
“Say, Frank, muffle those exhausts, will you? They make so much racket
you can’t hear yourself think.”

Frank cut in on the muffler, and instantly the noise sank to the soft
droning purr of the perfectly working engine.

“Wall, if this don’t beat lynching horse thieves,” remarked the sheriff
admiringly as the aeroplane rushed through the air. He was much
reassured by the absence of noise that had ensued when the muffler came
into action.

“You’ll have to be our guide, sheriff,” said Frank suddenly. “Where do I
steer for White Willow?”

“Wait a minute, young feller! I’m all flabbergasted. Ah, now I’ve got
it—aim right for that thar dip in the Saw-buck foothills. That’s it,
and when you open up old Baldy between it and Bar Mountain, then you’re
right on a line for it.”

In a few minutes Frank sighted the peaks named, and following
directions, they soon saw a huddle of huts dumped down on the prairie a
short distance from them.

“That’s White Willow,” said the sheriff.

“But there isn’t a tree round it, white or any other color,” objected
Harry.

“I reckon that’s why they called it White Willow,” was the rejoinder,
“so as folks lookin’ fer shade could take the mental treatment.”

As they neared the little settlement, beyond which lay some rugged
foothills honeycombed with old mine shafts, the boys saw an automobile
full of men dash out of the place and speed off westward across the
plain.

“There they go!” shouted the sheriff. “Consarn ’em, they’ve given us the
slip.”

“Not this time!” exclaimed Frank, as the auto came to a sudden stop.

Something had evidently gone wrong with it.



                              CHAPTER XIX.

                         ARRESTED BY AEROPLANE.


What had happened soon transpired as the men in the auto hastily jumped
out and started to rip off the shoe of a rear tire.

“I guess a cactus thorn punctured them,” commented Harry.

“That’s just about what happened,” rejoined Frank.

“I see Wild Bill Jenkins,” suddenly shouted the sheriff. He bent over
and picked up one of the rifles with which the side of the chassis was
furnished.

A hasty exclamation from Frank checked him.

“Don’t shoot!” cried the boy

“Wall, stranger, if you don’t beat all. The reward holds good for him
alive or dead.”

“Well, we can just as easily capture him alive,” said Frank coolly, “and
I don’t want to see human life taken in that wanton manner.”

The sheriff regarded him amazedly, but nevertheless put down the weapon.

“Wall, if we lose him it will be your fault,” he remarked grimly.

But they were not to lose the desperado. As the aeroplane swooped to
earth the sheriff hailed the auto party which comprised Luther Barr, the
red-bearded man, Wild Bill Jenkins, and Fred Reade. They looked up from
their frenzied efforts at adjusting the tire and, surmising from the
authoritative tones of the sheriff who he must be, old Barr hailed him
in a piping voice:

“We have done nothing against the law, sheriff. What do you want?”

By this time the aeroplane had come to a standstill, and the boys and
their companion were on the ground.

“I ain’t so sure about that frum what these boys told me of yer doings
last night,” said the sheriff dryly; “but as they ain’t got no proof on
you, I suppose we can’t arrest yer. But we want one of your party—Wild
Bill Jenkins yonder.”

As he spoke there was the vicious crack of a pistol, and the sheriff’s
hat flew off. The man they were in search of had hidden himself behind
the tonneau of the machine, and it was he who fired the shot. There
would have been further shooting but for the fact that at that moment
old man Barr, much alarmed lest he should be implicated in the
proceedings, called out:

“You had better give yourself up, Bill Jenkins. I won’t protect you.”

“That’s because I didn’t kidnap the right man for you, you old
scalliwag, I suppose, and you got my plan of the mine, too,” angrily
muttered Wild Bill. “Well, I’ll get even with you yet. All right,
sheriff, I’ll go along with you.”

“Just stick up those hands of yours first, Bill, and throw that gun on
the ground,” ordered the sheriff.

The bad man, realizing that there would be no use in putting up a fight,
meekly surrendered, and a few seconds later he was handcuffed.

“Now, then,” demanded Frank, stepping up to Luther Barr, “where is our
auto that you stole last night and where is Mr. Joyce?”

“Your auto that _we_ stole, my dear young man?” meekly inquired Barr.

“Ha! ha! ha! that’s a good one,” laughed Reade.

“Yes, that you stole—you or the ruffians you have chosen to make your
associates.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” resumed old Barr; “but I will tell
you this: two bad men, named Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes, _did_ bring
an auto in White Willow this morning. I suspected they’d stolen it
somewhere.”

“Ha!” cried the sheriff, “I want those fellows, too. Where are they?”

“How do I know, my good man?” asked Luther Barr.

“Well, if you won’t tell, I’ve got no means of making you,” rejoined the
sheriff, “although I’m pretty sure you do know. By the way the boys told
me your party had two autos. Where’s the other?”

“Why—why, it’s gone on ahead,” said old Barr, who seemed somewhat taken
aback.

“Gone on ahead? Then, that’s where Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes are,
for sure,” exclaimed the sheriff. “Well, it’s no good chasing after them
now, besides, there’s no reward for them, anyhow.”

“At least, you will not be so hard-hearted as not to tell us what has
become of Mr. Joyce?” said Frank, seeing that it was no use to threaten
old Barr, who seemed to have the upper hand just then.

“Joyce—Joyce,” repeated Barr, professing to be very much puzzled. “Oh,
yes, I do remember an old man of that name—one of your friends, wasn’t
he? Why, my dear boys, if you don’t know where he is how should I?”

“Base as you have shown yourself to be, I didn’t think you would carry
your wickedness to this pitch,” exclaimed Frank, his fingers itching to
strike Reade, who sat by with a sneering smile on his face while his
aged companion mocked the boys.

“Come, Harry, there is no good waiting here,” he went on. “We must get
back to White Willow. Mr. Joyce must be there. But, mind,” he exclaimed,
“if any harm has come to Mr. Joyce I shall hold you responsible before
the law for it.”

Still sneering, Barr and his companions drove off.

The sheriff accepted the boys’ offer to carry them through the air back
to White Willow, and in a few minutes’ time they were there, Wild Bill
Jenkins, it is safe to say, being thus the first prisoner to be carried
to jail in an aeroplane. The first man they sought out in the town was
the old inventor to whom they had sent the wireless message. They found
him a dreamy, white-haired man, more interested in his inventions and
their aeroplane than in the questions with which they plied him. He
insisted, in fact, on taking them up the hillside, in which scores of
abandoned mine shafts still remained, to show them an invention he had
for washing gold. He was in the middle of exhibiting the workings of his
device when the boys were startled to hear a low groan which seemed to
come from near at hand.

At first they had some difficulty in tracing it, but they finally
located the sound as proceeding from the mouth of one of the empty
shafts.

“Who is there?” they shouted, while the old inventor stood in amazement.

“It must be the ghost of Bud Stone who fell down that shaft and was
killed,” he exclaimed and started to run away.

“Who is there?” cried Frank again, leaning over the deep pit which
seemed to be of considerable depth.

“I am Eben Joyce—help me!” came a feeble cry from the regions below.

“Hold on!” shouted Frank. “Be brave, and we’ll soon have you out. Are
you hurt?”

“No; but I am most dead from thirst,” came the answer.

“Have you strength enough to attach a rope beneath your shoulders if we
lower one to you?”

“Yes—oh, yes. Oh, boys, please get me out of this terrible place.”

It did not take long to get a rope and followed by half the population
of the little town, the boys made their way back to the mouth of the
shaft. But here a fresh difficulty presented itself. It seemed that old
Mr. Joyce had swooned. At all events he did not answer their shouts to
him.

Frank began making a noose in the rope which he slipped under his own
armpits.

“What are you going to do?” asked Harry.

“Going down there to get the old man out,” was the cool reply.

Despite Harry’s protestations Frank was finally lowered over the lip of
the black pit. It had been agreed that after he reached the bottom that
two tugs was to be the signal that he wished to be hauled up. Pretty
soon the men lowering him felt the rope slacken and knew that he had
reached the bottom of the pit. It seemed a long time before the
reassuring two tugs gave them word that all was well.

But when they started to haul the boy and his unconscious burden up a
fresh difficulty presented itself. The rope which was already badly
chafed would certainly break under the uneven hauling of the men, and
also the rough edge of the pit mouth would undoubtedly wear it through
before the boy and the old man had been hauled to the surface.

“Get another rope,” cried Harry.

“There ain’t another long enough in the camp, stranger,” replied one of
the army of rescuers.

“Here, I hev it,” suddenly exclaimed the sheriff, who, by this time, had
placed his prisoner in the town lockup and had joined the onlookers,
“let’s git a log of wood and use it as a roller.”

“That’s a good idee,” was the consensus of opinion, and soon two men
were lying one at each end of a round log, over which the rope had been
run. Then the crowd began to heave again, but although their intentions
were good their manner of hauling was so jerky that every tug strained
the rope almost to breaking point.

“Ef only we had a windlass,” groaned the sheriff, “we could git a good,
even pull and soon hev ’em on terrible firma.”

“I know what we can do!” suddenly exclaimed Harry, “we can hitch the
rope to the automobile and get them out.”

In his excitement he had forgotten that they had not yet located the
auto.

“But where is yer buzz wagon?” objected the sheriff.

“That’s so,” said Harry in a chagrined tone. “Where can they have hidden
it? It must be here somewhere.”

“What’s that, young feller?” asked a tall man in blue overalls.

“Why, our auto. Some men stole it last night and drove it here. They
stole the poor old man who is down in the pit, and brought him here in
it,” exclaimed the excited lad. “So far as we know, it’s here yet, but
we don’t know whereabouts.”

“Maybe I kin help yer, thin. There’s a buzz wagon down back of my house
behind a haystack. Looks like some one tried to hide it there.”

“That’s it,” cried Harry, racing off and in a few minutes he was back
with the auto which, to his great joy, was found to be unharmed.

To attach the rope to it was the work of a second, and then as Harry
started up the engine the half-suffocated man and boy were hauled out of
the pit. It took quite a little time for old man Joyce to recover, but
Frank was soon himself again. As soon as he could talk Mr. Joyce told
the boys that in their rage and fury at finding that he was the wrong
man and not Bart Witherbee whom they had intended to kidnap, Barr and
his associates had lowered him into the mine shaft, and then on the
threat of shooting down it and killing him, had made him undo the rope,
which they then hauled up.

“I wonder what became of Barr’s other auto?” queried Frank as the boys
and their friend, the sheriff, surrounded by an admiring crowd, walked
back toward the town.

“Why, Barr said it had gone on ahead,” replied Frank. “Maybe he wasn’t
telling the truth, though, and it’s still here.”

But the other auto had gone on ahead, as the boys found out later, and
in it had also gone the Slade aeroplane, repairs on which had not been
finished. But White Willow, having suddenly come to be regarded by
Luther Barr, for obvious reasons, as unhealthy, it had been decided to
hustle the machine out of town on the motor car.

“But,” exclaimed Harry, when the boys heard of this from some men in the
town who had seen the aeroplane loaded onto the automobile, “that is an
infraction of the rules of the race. The contestants must proceed under
their own power.”

“Well, we’d have a hard time proving they did such a thing,” rejoined
Frank, “so the best thing for us to do is to buckle down and make up for
lost time. We’d better get right over to Gitalong in the auto, pick up
the others, and start on our way. You can drive over with Mr. Joyce, and
I’ll fly the _Golden Eagle_ over.”

The rejoicings in Gitalong on the part of the young adventurers may be
imagined when they saw the auto coming, speeding over the level rolling
plain with the aeroplane flying high above it. The sheriff and his
prisoner followed on horseback. With warm handshakings and amid a
tornado of cheers and revolver shots, the boys started off once more on
their way half an hour later, more determined than ever to win the great
prize.



                              CHAPTER XX.

                         CAUGHT IN A STAMPEDE.


That night, as may be imagined, the adventurers spent in hearty sleep.
Although they had no means of knowing how far behind they were in the
race, at the same time they were too exhausted by the exciting events
through which they had passed to consider anything except refreshing
their wornout frames. But boy nature is a wonderful thing, and both Mr.
Joyce and Bart Witherbee were hard as nails, so when the entire party
awoke the next day—well over the border line into Arizona—they were as
refreshed as if they had rested a week.

Breakfast was over, the auto packed and everything ready for a start
when suddenly in the distance a low growling was heard, something like
the voice of an approaching thunderstorm.

“Thunder!” exclaimed Billy; “if that isn’t tough luck.”

“Thunder!” echoed Bart incredulously; “not much. Why, the sky’s as clear
as a mirror.”

“Well, it’s queer, certainly,” agreed the others, looking about, but as
they saw no cause for the queer noise the auto party got aboard and
Frank and Harry mounted in the aeroplane.

The desert in this part of Arizona is full of little dips and rises, and
from the dip on a river bank where grew a sparse collection of trees, by
which the boys had camped, they had not been able to see far across the
plain. As soon as Frank and Harry rose in the air, however, they
perceived at once what had been the cause of the rumbling sound they had
heard.

Not more than a mile away, and coming toward them like the wind, was one
of the deadliest perils of the plains.

They shouted warnings to the boys in the auto below.

“What’s the matter?” yelled back Lathrop, who was at the wheel.

“Matter?” shouted back Frank. “There’s a herd of stampeded cattle coming
straight for you.”

The effect of these words on Bart Witherbee was electrical.

“Great guns, boys!” he exclaimed; “that’s the worst news we could have.
If we can’t escape them we are as good as dead. Put on all the speed you
can.”

Only half realizing the terrible nature of the peril so rapidly
approaching, Lathrop put on all the speed the auto possessed, and the
machine seemed to fairly leap forward. Bart Witherbee stood up in the
tonneau the better to see what was approaching behind them. Even he
blanched under his tanned, weather-beaten skin as he saw that the
cattle, an immense herd, were advancing in a crescent-shaped formation
that seemed to make escape impossible.

Billy Barnes, who stood at his elbow, also sighted the maddened steers
at the same moment as they rushed over a rise not more than half a mile
away now.

“Whatever started them?” he gasped.

“Who can tell, lad, a coyote jumping up suddenly, the hoot of a ground
owl, anything will start cattle stampeding when they are in the mood for
it.”

The herd came swooping on, but so far the auto, which seemed to be
fairly flying over the ground, maintained its lead. The steers were
bellowing and throwing their heads high in the air as they advanced, and
the noise of their hoofs seemed a perfect Niagara of sound.

“Get your gun out and load. We may have to use ’em before long,”
exclaimed Bart Witherbee. “Sometimes the noise of shooting will turn a
lot of stampeders.”

“Do you think it will stop them?” asked Billy.

“I dunno,” was the grim reply. “Maybe yes, maybe no. We’ve got to try to
save our lives as best we can.”

On and on went the chase, the auto fleeing like a scared live thing
before the pursuing peril. Bart Witherbee’s face grew grim.

“Won’t they get tired soon?” asked Billy, who couldn’t see how the
steers could keep up the terrible pace much longer.

“Tired,” echoed the plainsman, “not much, lad. It’ll take a whole lot to
tire them. Why, I’ve seen ’em go clear over a cliff. They’re like mad
things when once they’re stampeded.”

Suddenly the auto came to a stop.

[Illustration: Suddenly the auto came to a stop.]

“What’s the matter?” shouted Witherbee, in a sharp tone that showed his
anxiety.

For reply Lathrop pointed ahead.

Right in front of them was a deep arroyo or water course with steep
banks fully thirty feet in height, effectually blocking progress. The
boys were trapped.

“What shall we do?” cried Lathrop with a white face.

“Not much of anything as I can see,” replied Bart with a shrug. “Looks
like this is our finish.”

On swept the steers. The boys could now see the angry little red eyes of
the leaders gleaming savagely. Their horns were as long and sharp
pointed as spears.

“Everybody get out your guns and fire, it may scare ’em,” commanded
Witherbee.

Quickly the four revolvers of the party were emptied in the face of the
advancing onrush, but not a steer wavered.

“It’s all over,” groaned Witherbee.

But suddenly a dark shadow swept down from the skies so close to the
boys in the auto that they could almost feel the rush of wind as the
great body swept by.

It was the _Golden Eagle_.

Frank, who, with Harry, had watched in terrible apprehension the advance
of the steers, had suddenly recollected what the cowboys had said about
aeroplanes scaring them. Instantly he had set his descending levers and
swept in a long, low circle full in the faces of the amazed bovines.

With bellows of terror they turned, wavered and a minute later were in
full retreat. They thundered past the auto in a long line, their warm
breath almost fanning the occupants’ faces, but none of them came any
closer. Wild terror of the mysterious thing of the sky had seized them,
and they were off in the opposite direction as swiftly as they had
thundered in pursuit of the auto.

“Phew! that was as narrow an escape as ever I want to have,” exclaimed
Billy, his face still white as the last of the herd scampered by.

“Same here,” echoed Lathrop.

As for Mr. Joyce and Bart Witherbee they did not say much, perhaps
because they realized even more than the boys the terrible death from
which Frank’s bold swoop had saved them.

Looking up to where the _Golden Eagle_ was soaring far above them the
party in the auto set up a cheer to which Frank answered with a wave of
the hand. The next instant he pointed to the westward, and—skirting the
banks of the steep arroyo till they found a place where a ford had been
made—the boys in the auto followed them.

Late that afternoon the character of the country over which they had
been traveling began to change. The road grew rugged and in places great
trees grew right up to the edge of the track and overshadowed it. The
aeroplane soared far above the treetops, however, and the boys had no
difficulty in keeping track of it. Suddenly, however, as they drove
along the rough track, Billy, who was driving, stopped the car with a
jerk.

“We can’t get any further,” he remarked.

“Why not?” demanded Bart Witherbee.

“Look there.”

The boy pointed ahead a few feet up the road.

A huge tree lay across it, effectually blocking all progress.



                              CHAPTER XXI.

                           BART AND THE B’AR.


“Well, boys, we sure do seem to be in for a run of hard luck,” remarked
Bart Witherbee as he climbed out of the auto with the others, and they
ruefully surveyed the obstruction. It was a big sugar pine and lay
entirely across the road. To go round it was out of the question, for
the ground on each side was timber grown and rocky.

“There’s only one thing to do—cut it away,” pronounced Bart Witherbee,
starting back for the tonneau to get the axes.

“No; I’ve got a better scheme than that,” said Billy suddenly, and then
broke out with a loud: “Look here, fellows!”

He pointed excitedly to the trunk of the tree where it had been severed
from the roots.

The fresh marks of an axe were upon it.

“It’s Luther Barr and his crowd,” cried the boy. “They figured on
blocking us, and they would have succeeded but for a scheme I’ve just
thought of.”

“What’s that?” demanded Bart Witherbee.

“Why, let’s get the rope out of the tonneau and haul the tree out of the
way with the auto.”

“Say, that’s a good plan,” assented Bart Witherbee, starting back for
the auto once more. In a few minutes he had the rope and it was quickly
looped round the tree and then tied to the rear axle of the auto, after
the machine had been turned round.

Billy took his place at the wheel and started the car up. There was a
great sound of cracking and straining, and for a second the auto’s
wheels spun uselessly around. Then suddenly as the boy applied more
power the great log started.

Amid a cheer from the boys it was pulled entirely away, and a few
seconds later the road was clear.

“Well, what do you think of men who would descend to a mean trick like
that,” demanded Bill angrily as the adventurers resumed the road.

“As it happened it didn’t do them much good,” remarked Bart.

“I should say not,” rejoined Billy. “I reckon they didn’t think that we
could hit upon a way of getting it off our track.”

The auto chugged on through the sweet-smelling pine woods till the
declining sun began to tint their dark branches with gold.

“Hadn’t we better send the boys a wireless?” asked Billy, and as the
others agreed that it was important to know where they were the mast was
set in position and a call sent out. A reply was soon obtained from the
others, who were camped at a small plateau further up the side of the
foothill.

Half an hour later the boys were all in camp together, and the events of
the day were discussed with much interest. It was a wild country in
which they found themselves. Great stretches of barrens mingled with
dense pine woods, and Frank and Harry had serious thoughts of once more
taking to the plains. Bart Witherbee, however, assured them that if they
kept on to Calabazos they would find a good landing and ascending place,
and from there could easily wing their way to level ground. He
represented to them that they would be taking a short cut also by
following this route. So the boys decided to keep on to Calabazos with
the old miner, a decision which was not wholly disinterested, for they
were anxious to see the mine of which he had told them so much.

Naturally, the position of the other contestants in the race was a topic
that came up for a lot of discussion, but the boys were still talking it
over when it was time to turn in without having arrived at any definite
conclusion. From what they had heard in White Willow they were pretty
certain that Slade’s aeroplane was disabled. Concerning the condition of
the dirigible or her whereabouts, however, there was by no means the
same amount of assurance.

They were chatting thus and speculating on their chance of winning the
big prize when Bart Witherbee suddenly held up a warning hand.

“Hark!” he exclaimed. They all listened.

“Did you hear anything?” he asked of Frank.

“Not a thing,” replied the boy.

“I thought I heard footsteps up the trail,” returned the old miner, “but
I guess I was mistaken.”

“Why, who could it be?” asked Billy.

“It might very easily be some of Luther Barr’s gang prowling about. We
are near the mine now, and they are no doubt determined to get the
papers showing its location before I have a chance to file my claim,”
put in Bart Witherbee.

The boys kept a sharp lookout after this, but they heard no more, if,
indeed, there had been any sound, which they began to doubt, and soon
after they were snug asleep in their blankets.

Suddenly Frank was awakened by shots and loud shouts. Springing up from
his blankets he was amazed to see Bart Witherbee rolling over and over
on the ground with somebody who seemed of immense size gripping him
tightly.

The boy could hear Bart gasping for breath. He seemed as if he were
being crushed.

Frank’s shouts awakened the others.

“Robbers!” cried Billy.

“Indians!” yelled Harry.

“Murderers!” cried old Mr. Joyce, as their sleepy eyes took in the
struggle.

Harry raised his rifle to fire at Bart’s antagonist, whoever he might
be, and was about to pull the trigger, even at the risk of hitting the
miner, when Frank interrupted him with a cry of:

“Don’t shoot, you might hit Bart.”

“But the robber will kill him.”

“It’s not a robber at all,” suddenly cried Frank, as the two contestants
rolled over nearer to the firelight. “It’s a big bear!”

“Give me a knife—quick!” gasped Bart, as he and the bear rolled about.
Hastily Frank threw toward him a big hunting weapon. One of the hunter’s
arms was free, and he reached out and grabbed the weapon. With a rapid
thrust he drove it into the bear’s eye. With a howl of pain the animal
raised its paws to caress its injury. At the same instant Frank’s rifle
cracked and the animal rolled over, seemingly dead.

“Are you hurt?” asked the boys, rushing forward to Bart.

“No, I don’t think so,” cautiously replied the miner, feeling his ribs.
“I feel as if that thar critter had caved me in, though.”

An examination soon showed that Bart was uninjured and the bear quite
dead.

“That was a close call,” remarked the miner, wiping his knife. “I guess
that must have been what I heard prowling around here early in the
evening, although that dead brute there was no more dangerous than that
old sharp, Luther Barr.”

“Did you think it was some of his gang attacking you?” asked Billy.

“I sure did,” replied the miner. “I was lying nice and quietly asleep
when all of a sudden I felt something nosing me, and could feel its warm
breath on the back of my neck. If I had not been so sleepy, I’d have
known it was a b’ar by the strong smell of its fur, but as it was, I
thought it was Hank Higgins or Noggy Wilkes. I soon found out my
mistake, though.”

After this interruption the boys turned in and slept quite soundly till
daybreak, when they were up and the journey to Calabazos resumed, after
the bear had been skinned and the steaks enjoyed. Before the start was
made Bart gave the boys full instructions for landing the _Golden Eagle_
in Calabazos, which lay across a small canyon not very many miles ahead.

The road now began to dip down hill, and the auto rattled along at a
lively clip. Here and there the boys noticed small huts, and tunnels
drilled in the hillside, which the miner told them were abandoned
claims.

“Some of them is worked yet by Chinamen,” he explained: “but when the
poor yellow men do unexpectedly make a strike there’s always some mean
cuss ready to come along and take it all away from them. I think the
gov’ment ought ter do something about it.

“Half a mile ahead now is the bridge across the canyon, and then we’ve
only got a short distance to go before we’re in Calabazos. My mine is
about ten miles from there,” he said a few minutes later. “I wonder who
is sheriff there now. You see, that makes a whole lot of difference when
yer are filing a claim against a rival. You’ve got to have the sheriff
on your side, for he can make a lot of trouble for you in getting to the
gov’ment office, where first come, first served is the rule.”

“But you have your claim staked, have you not?” asked Billy.

“Sure; but that don’t bind it till you’ve registered your claim,”
rejoined the miner. “You see, mine’s an abandoned claim, too. Old fellow
name of Fogg had it once. At least I found his name cut on a tree.”

And now they came to a sharp turn in the road.

“The bridge is right around the corner,” said the miner, “you had better
put on your brakes, Billy, or we may have a runaway, for there’s a
terrible steep bit of hill runs right down to it.”

The boy obeyed, and it was well he did so, for while they were speeding
toward the bridge, a rude affair of pine trunks laid across long
stringers suspended high in the air above a pine-clad canyon, there was
a sudden shout from Bart Witherbee, who was acting as lookout.

“Hold up, boy! Stop the car!” he shouted.

“What’s up?” asked Billy, shutting down his emergency brakes with a snap
in obedience to the miner’s urgent tone.

“Look there!” The miner pointed ahead.

At first the boys could see nothing the matter with the bridge, but a
second glance showed them that something very serious indeed had
occurred to it.

Somebody had removed two of the trunks that formed a roadway, and right
in the centre of the structure was a gaping hole. Had the auto come upon
it unexpectedly it must have gone through into the depths of the canyon
beneath.

They all got out of the auto, all, that is, but Mr. Joyce, who was busy
figuring on an invention, and hastened down to the bridge. The planks,
there was no doubt, had been deliberately removed by some one, and that
those persons were Luther Barr and his party none in the party could for
a moment doubt.

Suddenly the bell of the wireless on board the auto began to ring.

“The boys are sending us a message,” exclaimed Billy.

He and Lathrop raced back up the hill to the car, where the latter
placed the detector over his ears and tapped out his “ready” signal.

The others watched him eagerly. It was not a minute before they saw that
something serious was the matter. The boy’s face paled, and he seemed
much concerned.

“What is the matter?” anxiously asked Bart Witherbee. “Air the boys in
trouble?”

“The worst kind of trouble, I am afraid,” breathed Lathrop in a tone of
deep concern. “They are in the hands of Luther Barr.”

“Where?”

“On the other side of the canyon.”



                             CHAPTER XXII.

                         AN AUTO LEAP FOR LIFE.


What was to be done?

The bridge across the canyon was impassable for an auto—that seemed
certain. While the open space caused by the removal of the two planks or
rough trunks was not more than four feet, still it was a distance
sufficient to make anyone despair of ever getting a vehicle across it.

“We can cut some trees and split off planks?” suggested Mr. Joyce.

“That would take too long,” declared the boys. “Frank and Harry need us
in a hurry or they would not have sent such an imperative message. We
have got to cross the canyon.”

Suddenly Lathrop, who had been studying the situation, the steep-sided
canyon, the roaring river on its rocky bed below the structure of the
bridge itself, uttered an exclamation.

“I think I can see a way to get across that gap,” he cried.

“Climb across on the stringpiece, I suppose?” replied Bart
sarcastically. “I thought of that some time ago; we can easily do that,
but we’ve got to have the auto. It’s got all the supplies in it.”

“No, my plan is to go across, auto and all,” rejoined Lathrop.

“What! Take the auto across that gap?”

“Yes.”

“Say, this is no time for fooling, Lathrop,” remonstrated Billy Barnes.

“I’m not fooling. I mean it. Did you ever go to the circus?”

“Well, of all the fool questions. Yes, I’ve been to the circus, but what
has that got to do with this situation?”

“A whole lot.”

“For instance?”

“Well, you’ve seen an act there called ‘leaping the gap’ or some such
name?”

“Yes, where a woman in an auto comes down a steep incline and jumps a
big gap at the bottom?”

“That’s it.”

“But, in the circus the auto is given an upward impetus by the fact that
the incline down which it runs down is curved upward at the end,”
objected Billy.

“So it is in this case,” was the calm reply. “I’ve been looking it over,
and it seems to me that conditions are about the same.”

“As how?”

“Well, here we have a steep incline—the hill yonder,” Billy Barnes
nodded, “and there yonder is the gap where Luther Barr and his gang took
out the boards.”

“But you haven’t got the upward curve at the end of your incline to
throw the auto into the air and carry it safely across the gap,”
objected Billy.

“Oh, yes, that’s there, too,” was the calm reply; “do you notice that
the bridge sags in the centre?”

“Yes, it does, that’s true,” pronounced Billy, after a prolonged
scrutiny.

“Well, the boards have been taken out some feet toward the opposite side
of the sag, haven’t they?”

“Hum—yes, that’s so.”

“Well, then, there’s your upward curve before you come to the gap.”

“Jiminy cricket, Lathrop, you are right. Now, what’s your plan—to leap
the gap?”

“Yes, but we must lighten the auto. We all have cool heads, and we can
stand on the edge of the gap and throw most of the heavy things in the
car across the space. Then we can pick them up on the other side. That
is, if we get the auto over.”

Even Bart Witherbee had to agree that the plan looked feasible. All of
the party, with the exception of old Mr. Joyce, had seen the same feat
performed in a circus. True, in the show everything was arranged and
mathematically adjusted, but the conditions here, though in a rough way,
were yet the same practically. There was the descent, the steep drop,
the short up-curve and then the gap. The more they thought of it the
more they believed it could be done.

It did not take long to transfer most of the heavy baggage to the other
side of the gap, and then came Lathrop’s next order—which was that the
others should shin themselves across the stringpieces to the opposite
side of the gap, so that the auto might not be burdened with their
weights. It took a lot of persuasion to make them do it, but they
finally obeyed, and Lathrop alone walked back up the trail to where the
auto stood with its brakes hard set.

The boy himself would not have denied that his heart beat fast as he
approached the car. In a few minutes he was to make an experiment that
might result in certain and terrible death if the slightest hitch
occurred.

But he thought of his chums marooned and in the hands of their enemies
on the other side of the canyon and the reflection of their peril
steeled him to endure his own.

The boy took a quick glance all about him.

The spot where the auto stood was about a quarter of a mile above where
the bridge joined the canyon’s bank. He had then, as he judged, plenty
of room in which to get up a speed sufficient to carry him safely across
the gap.

For a second the thought of failure flashed across his mind, but he did
not dwell on it.

What he was about to do didn’t bear thinking of. It was a thing to be
done in hot blood or not at all.

Slowly Lathrop climbed into the auto. He felt the heavy body of the car
sway on its springs as he did so, and wondered at the same instant how
it would feel in case of failure to be hurtling down—down—down to the
depths of the canyon with the heavy car.

As he grasped the wheel and prepared to throw off his brake, he looked
ahead. From where he was starting he could see the gap in the bridge
yawning blackly.

It looked much further across than he had at first anticipated.

For a minute he felt like weakening and deciding not to take what seemed
a fatal chance.

The thought of Frank and Harry in the hands of Luther Barr and his gang,
however, steeled him. He gritted his teeth, jammed his hat back on his
head and prepared for the start.

On the opposite side of the gap he could see the white, strained faces
of his friends. For one brief second he looked at all this, wondering
vaguely if it was to be the last time he was to see them, and then, with
a deep intake of his breath, he released the brake and threw in the
engine clutch to top speed. At the same moment he advanced his spark and
felt the machine leap forward on the steep incline like a creature
suddenly let loose from a leash.

Down the steep grade dashed the machine, sometimes seeming to leap
several feet in the air and come down with a terrific crash as it struck
the ground.

“Good thing she’s not more weight in her,” Lathrop thought to himself as
these convulsive leaps occurred.

So terrific was the speed, it was like traveling on the back of a
whirlwind, if such a thing can be imagined.

“There’s no stopping now,” thought Lathrop, as with a brief prayer on
his lips the huge machine hustled onward like a shot from a cannon. On
and on it dashed.

Showers of rocks hurled upward from its wheels were blurred discs at the
pace they were making.

And now the bridge and the dark gap loomed right in front of him.

Clenching his teeth tightly, the boy gripped the steering wheel till the
varnish came off on his hands. He felt the machine bound forward onto
the narrow span—felt it sag beneath the unaccustomed weight.

Everything grew blurred. All he thought of now was clinging to that
steering wheel to the end.

His hat had flown off long ago—torn from his head by the wind generated
by the awful speed.

And now the gap itself was there. Seen momentarily, dark, forbidding—a
door to death.

Suddenly, just as it seemed he was about to be plunged into the depths,
the boy felt the huge machine rise under him as lightly as if it had
been a feather.

It shot upward like a stone impelled by a giant’s fist, hesitated for a
moment at the apex of its spring, and then crashed down onto the bridge.

But the gap had been crossed.

It was several hundred feet before Lathrop could control the auto, and
when he did, and the others rushed up, they found a white-faced boy at
the wheel, who was as nearly on the verge of a collapse as a healthy lad
can be.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.

                               A MYSTERY.


The supplies that had been left on the bridge were hastily loaded into
the auto, and the party once more took their seats. Lathrop had by this
time quite recovered, and, in reply to all the encomiums heaped on him
by the others, could only reply:

“That’s all right.”

With Billy Barnes at the wheel the auto chugged off once more on its
errand of rescue.

Suddenly, leading up a woodland track to their right, Billy Barnes spied
auto tracks.

“That must be Barr and his crowd,” shouted Billy, turning the auto up
the track that converged from the main road at this point.

Rapidly and almost silently the auto made its way over the beds of pine
needles that covered the rough roadway. With the reduced speed at which
they were proceeding the approach of the machine could have been hardly
audible to a strange group onto which the auto party a second later
emerged.

The persons composing it consisted of Luther Barr and the men to whom
Billy had referred as composing “his gang,” namely, Hank Higgins, Noggy
Wilkes, Fred Reade, the red-bearded aviator, and Slade. As the auto
rolled up behind them so silently that none of them apparently knew of
its approach, Barr was grinning triumphantly at Frank and Harry Chester,
whose aeroplane stood at one side of the clearing.

“I thought we’d lure you down here by displaying a flag,” he sneered. “I
suppose you thought it was your own party. Well, now, you have found out
your mistake.”

“Our friends will soon be here in reply to our message,” said Frank,
“and they will not allow you to harm us.”

“Oh, I suppose you think they could answer that wireless message of
yours,” sneered old Barr. “Well, they couldn’t, because we’d fixed it so
that they couldn’t. Do you think I’d have let you send out a message if
I thought they could have got here? I just fooled you for fun.”

“What have you done with them?” demanded Frank.

“Oh, only taken a few planks out of the bridge across the canyon so that
they couldn’t get across. We hold the cards now, so you might as well
tell us where Bart Witherbee intends to claim his mine. If you won’t, we
shall see that you are put somewhere where you will get over your
stubbornness.”

“Oh, you will, will you?” exclaimed Bart Witherbee, suddenly stepping
forward. “Not yet, Mr. Barr, and now I think as we have the drop on you,
you and your friends had better vamoose—git out—run along—fade away.”

“What are you doing here,” stammered Reade, turning round and seeing the
boys in their auto, “I thought——”

“Yes,” cried Billy, “you thought you’d fixed the bridge so as we
couldn’t get across—well, you hadn’t; so now get along and be on your
way before we summon law officers and have you placed under arrest.”

“Come on, let’s get out,” said Hank Higgins sullenly, “the kids
certainly seem to have it on us this time.”

Casting glances full of malevolence at the boys, but still not daring to
say anything, Barr and his companions climbed into their machines and
silently made off. To their satisfaction the boys saw in the tonneau of
the rear machine a lot of boxes which they knew must contain sections of
the dismantled Slade aeroplane. The _Despatch_ party therefore had not
yet been able to effect repairs, which accounted for their desperate
anxiety to detain the boys at any cost.

“However, did they come to lure you down here?” asked Billy as soon as
the two autos with their rascally owners had departed.

“Why, we saw a signal waving from this opening in the woods, and thought
it was you showing us where there was a good landing place. We soon
found out our mistake, however,” answered Frank.

“Say, boys,” observed Bart suddenly, after he had earnestly scanned the
sky for awhile, “we’d better be getting on. I believe we are going to
have one of those storms that we get up in these hills every once in a
while.”

“Are they very bad?” asked Billy.

“Bad!” echoed the miner, “why, boy, ef you’re wearing all your own hair
arter one of ’em you’re lucky.”

“Well, we can’t fly any further to-day,” announced Frank.

“Why not?” demanded the others.

“One of our rudder wires got snapped as we came down here. It was a
narrow place to land in at best.”

“How are we going to get the aeroplane up the trail?” demanded Bart.

“Tow it,” was the quiet response.

“Tow it. How in the name of sea-sick catamounts air we goin’ ter do
that?” demanded Bart.

“Easy,” laughed the boy; “just hitch a rope to it, attach it to the auto
and it will tow right along on its wheels.”

“Yes, but the wings are too wide to pass along this narrow trail,”
objected Bart.

“We can unbolt them and pack them in the auto. Some of us will have to
walk, but that will be no great hardship for a short distance.”

“Say, Frank, you’re a genius. Come on, boys, git busy with them monkey
wrenches and we’ll be in Calabazos to-night. Then ho—for the lost
mine.”

As Frank had anticipated, it was not a lengthy work to detach the wings
of the _Golden Eagle_, thanks to their simple construction, and soon the
cavalcade was moving forward up the mountain side with the framework of
the aeroplane in tow. Stripped of her planes, she looked not unlike a
butterfly from which the wings have been plucked, but the boys did not
mind appearances in the saving of time they effected.

“Say, Frank, though,” said Billy suddenly, as they tramped along in the
rear of the auto which Lathrop was driving, “isn’t this breaking the
rules of the flight? Are you allowed to tow your air craft?”

Frank drew a little book from his pocket.

“In cases of absolute necessity owners and fliers of contesting craft
may accept a tow, provided they do not actually load their machines on
railroad trains or other means of transportation,” he read. “This shall
be understood not to apply to circumstances other than where an aviator
finds it impossible to make an ascent from his landing place.”

“I guess we are within the rules all right,” said Harry.

“I think so. Of course we shall have to make out a written explanation
of the case,” rejoined Frank, “but it would have been impossible for us
to rise from that wood clump into which Luther Barr lured us.”

“Say, boy, I’m afraid we’re in for it,” suddenly exclaimed Bart
Witherbee.

“What?” asked Frank.

“Why, the storm I said was coming up. She’s going to be a rip-snorter,
or my name’s not Bart Witherbee.”

As he spoke there came a low moaning sound in the tree-tops, and the sky
began to be overcast with dark storm clouds. The dust on the road, too,
began to be puffed into little whirlwinds before the breath of the
oncoming storm.

Presently a few great drops of rain fell, coming with heavy splashes on
the dry road, and falling with resounding splashes on the planes packed
on top of the auto.

“Here she comes, boys; we’ve got to seek shelter some place,” warned the
miner.

They looked about them in vain, when all at once, up the hillside to the
right of the road, they became aware of a trail leading to a
ruinous-looking hut that had evidently at one time been occupied by a
miner.

“We’ll take shelter there, boys,” exclaimed Bart, pointing to it. “I’ll
bet the roof leaks like a sieve, but it’s better than the open at that.”

Hastily the boys pulled waterproof tarpaulins, provided for such a
purpose, over the framework of the aeroplane and over the auto.

“There, not a drop of water will touch them, anyhow,” announced Frank,
as these preparations to fight the storm were concluded. “Come on, now,
for the hut.”

They ran up the hillside as fast as they could, for by this time the
rain was coming down in a torrential downpour, and the lightning flashes
were ripping the sky in every direction. The artillery of the storm
rattled awe-inspiringly. Some of the thunder claps seemed to shake the
very ground upon which they stood.

As they ran Bart uttered an exclamation of surprise.

“Why, boys,” he cried, “this yere trail ain’t so far from my mine. It’s
only under that next ridge there. If a man dug a tunnel he could get
there dry shod.”

At the time they paid no attention to Bart’s words, in such haste were
they to get into the hut. They were to recollect them afterward, though,
and comment on their strange significance.

Billy was the first to reach the deserted hut. With a whoop he pushed in
the crazy door, but the next minute he staggered back with a cry of
surprise and a scared look on his face.

“There’s someone in there,” he cried.



                             CHAPTER XXIV.

                           THE GOLDEN HERMIT.


“Some’ne in there?” echoed the others in amazed tones.

“Yes—hark!” said the lad, holding up a finger.

Sure enough, above the moaning of the storm and the roar of the rain
came a sound like a faint groaning.

“Well, come on,” cried Bart; “no use stopping out here in the rain just
for that. Let’s go in.”

Reassured by his confident manner, the others crowded in. The interior
of the hut, not overlight at any time, was rendered doubly gloomy by the
mantle of blackness which the storm had flung over the heavens. It was
not till Frank had taken out a folding lantern from his pocket and lit
it with a lucifer from his folding match box that they were able to take
in the details of the strange interior in which they stood. Of course,
their first task was to look for the human being or animal that Billy
had heard groaning.

This did not take long. The hut was not divided into rooms, and was
unceiled, the rafters being right overhead. The lamp was flashed into
every corner.

To the boys’ amazement, the place was absolutely empty.

“I’m sure I heard somebody groaning or grumbling,” said Billy. “I’m
positive of it.”

“Well, maybe you are right, lad,” replied Bart Witherbee, “and I rather
think you are, for look here!”

He pointed to a rough sort of bunk formed of a framework of lumber in
one corner of the room.

“It’s warm,” he said, touching it with his hand, “somebody was lying
asleep here when we came up the trail—that’s as plain as print—and
look here, too,” he went on, pointing to other signs of human occupancy
the boys had not noticed when first they came in.

In rapid succession, he showed them some ashes glowing in a huge open
fireplace, in front of which was an ample hearthstone. There was also a
rude table in one corner, on which were the remains of what had been a
rude meal.

“But where has the man gone who was in here?” demanded Frank.

“Maybe out by the back door,” suggested Harry.

“There isn’t one,” rejoined Billy, “the door in front is the only way
out.”

“How about the windows?”

“The two in front are the only ones.”

“Well, that’s queer.”

“It certainly is.”

“See if there are any trap doors in the floor,” suggested Bart. “These
old miners are queer old chaps sometimes.”

But a close search of the floor did not reveal any trace of a trap door.
Much puzzled by the mystery, the boys retired to bed that night prepared
for any sudden alarm. A lamp was left burning, and their guns lay ready
to hand. But nothing occurred to mar the monotonous drumming of the rain
on the roof, and one by one they dropped off to sleep.

It was soon after midnight that Frank awakened with a strange feeling of
dread.

He looked about the room, but so far as he could see at first everything
was as it had been left when they went to sleep. All at once, however,
his attention was attracted to the fireplace by a slight scratching
sound. He gazed over toward the hearth, and to his unbounded
astonishment and no small alarm he saw the hearthstone suddenly begin to
swing slowly back, and, through the aperture thus created on the side
nearest the room, he saw human finger tips cautiously poking about.
Suddenly an entire hand was thrust through the crack.

[Illustration: Suddenly an entire hand was thrust through the crack.]

What was coming next Frank had no idea, but with a violently beating
heart he lay watching the aperture while a second hand joined the first
and gave the stone a feeble shove upward. It swung back on its invisible
hinges till a space of perhaps three feet yawned between it and the
floor, and then a face made its appearance.

It was the face of a very old man with venerable white beard and mild,
timid, blue eyes. Frank almost closed his eyes, and from under their
lashes watched the old man painfully lift himself out of the tunnel into
the room. Once in the room he tiptoed about among the sleepers, gazing
at them earnestly to make sure they were all asleep, and then, returning
to the hole beneath the hearthstone, reached down and drew out a bag
that seemed to weigh considerably.

But the exertion seemed to exhaust his feeble strength, for with a groan
he fell back into a rough chair, and the sack fell from his trembling
hands with a crash. The sudden sound woke all the adventurers, and they
sprang to their feet with their weapons in their hands.

The sight of the feeble old man, however, gasping in the chair, with his
hand on his heart as if he was in mortal pain, soon convinced them that
it was no dangerous enemy with whom they had to deal.

“Don’t, don’t hurt me,” cried the old man pitiably, as the boys and
their elders closed in about him. “I will tell you all, only don’t hurt
me. Spare a poor old man who has not long to live; let him spend his
last hours in peace.”

“We do not wish to hurt you,” Frank assured him, “we want to aid you.
Are you ill?”

“I am sick unto death. The exertion of carrying that load of ore from
the mine was too much for me. I do not think I have long to live.”

“Who are you?” asked Bart Witherbee gently.

“I am Jared Fogg,” replied the old man, closing his eyes as though too
weary to keep them open.

“Jared Fogg!” exclaimed the others in amazed tones.

“Yes; why do you seem so surprised?”

“Why, I am the man who found your lost mine,” exclaimed the miner.

“What! The man who staked out his claim there!” cried the old man.

“Yes; I thought you were dead. We all did, and I started out to find
your mysterious mine. As you never filed a claim to it, I thought I had
a right to stake it.”

“You are right; I never filed a claim to it. I did not want other miners
to come to the neighborhood as soon as they found how rich it was. So I
worked it all alone. As I got the good gold out I hid it all away.”

“Yes; go on,” said Bart Witherbee breathlessly.

“Well, I saw that some day sooner or later someone was bound to discover
it if I worked openly in it, so I started constructing a tunnel. The
mouth of it is under that hearthstone, and the other end emerges into
the shaft of the lost mine. For many years I have used it, and no one
has ever suspected that old Jared Fogg, the hermit who lived in this
hut, had thousands of dollars in gold. I am rich—ha—ha—I am rich.”

The old man’s face became convulsed.

“But,” he went on, “now that I am dying—ah, I know death when it is
coming on—I have a great wish to right a wrong I did years ago. My name
was not always Jared Fogg. It was once Jack Riggs. I was once a bandit
and a robber and did many, many wicked things. But one weighs on my
conscience more heavily than any of the others. One night we held up the
Rio Bravo stage. There was fighting, and I shot the stage driver and his
wife, who, when her husband fell from the box, seized the reins and
attempted to drive on. With them was their child, a lad of three or four
years. That disgusted me with crime. I reformed from that night. I took
the lad and raised him till he was six or seven, when he was stolen from
me by a wandering circus. I have never seen him since. If I could see
him, now that he has grown to man’s estate, and tell him that on my
death bed I beg his forgiveness for my wicked deed, I would die happy.
All these years I have thought of him. If I only knew where he was now.”

“Would you know him again if you saw him?” Bart Witherbee’s voice shook
strangely, and several times during the old man’s recital he had passed
his hand across his brow as if striving to recollect something. Now his
eye shone with a strange light, and he bent forward eagerly:

“Yes, among a thousand!”

“How?”

“By a peculiar mark on his arm, where he was shot accidentally by one of
my gang in the fight following the killing of his father.”

Bart rolled up his sleeve, and the old man gave a terrible cry as his
eyes fell on the dark-red scar the boys had often noticed.

“Forgive——,” he cried, stumbling to his feet and stretching out his
hands as if to keep from falling.

The next moment he had fallen forward with a crash.

He was dead.



                              CHAPTER XXV.

                          A FIGHT FOR FORTUNE.


The sheriff of Calabazos was sitting on the stoop outside the Government
Assay Office early the next day when he was startled by a loud clatter
of hoofs up the mountain side. He looked up from his absorbing
occupation of whittling a piece of wood, and saw coming rattling down
the trail at a breakneck speed four horsemen. They were Noggy Wilkes,
Hank Higgins, Fred Reade and Luther Barr.

“Hullo, Chunky,” hailed the sheriff to the government clerk, who was
inside the office—a rough, clap-boarded affair on which appeared a
sign, which announced in white letters that it was the “GOVERNMENT ASSAY
OFFICE.” “Come on out here, Barton, here come them fellers that got here
yesterday with that thar skyscraper thing of theirn and purty near
bothered the life out of Skol Scovgen, the blacksmith, trying to git him
to make a conniption of some kind for it.”

The young man who languidly consented to serve Uncle Sam in the capacity
of claim clerk joined him on the porch. He also gazed interestedly at
the group of horsemen, who were now compelled to slow up by the
steepness of the trail.

“Seem ter be in quite a hurry,” he commented, picking his teeth with a
quill pick that he had acquired on his last visit to what he was pleased
to term civilization.

“Yep,” assented the sheriff, “I reckon they’ve bin up stakin’ out a mine
or suthin’. I hear they was talking in ther hotel last night while it
was rainin’ so pesky hard about a lost mine and some chap named
Witherbee.”

“Oh, I remember that feller Witherbee,” struck in the clerk. “Went east
a while ago. I recollect that the gossip was that he’d made quite a
piece of money on a mine or had some sort of mine hidden back in the
hills thar. I heard it was the one that belonged to old Fogg, who
disappeared.”

“Wall, ther fellers seem to have something of ther same kind on their
minds,” exclaimed the sheriff, as the party, having now left the uneven
trail, came clattering down the road on their wiry horses.

It could now be seen that Luther Barr, who rode in advance of the rest,
carried some sort of a paper in his hand. The arrival of the cortege had
attracted quite a crowd, who gathered about the Assay Office as the
riders came clattering up.

“Is this the Government Assay Office?” queried Luther Barr as they drew
rein and dismounted.

“Reckon so,” replied the dandified clerk with a languid air.

“Oh, you reckon so, do you?” was the impatient reply. “Well, kindly
bestir yourself a little. I wish to file a claim to a mine.”

“Yep—Got ther papers all made out regilar?”

“Yes, here they are. We’ve gotten them all right and correct. I guess
there’ll be no trouble about that part of it, eh, Reade?”

“I guess not,” answered the individual addressed, tying his horse to the
hitching bar in front of the assay office.

“All right, gentlemen,” at length remarked the clerk, getting to his
feet, “I guess if you come inside we can fix you up.”

“Say, partner,” put in the sheriff, “yer don’t mind my askin’ you a
question, do yer?”

“Not at all,” beamed Luther Barr, who was in high good humor, “ask a
dozen.”

“Wall, is this yar mine yer goin’ ter locate the ‘Lost Mine’ that old
Jared Fogg, who disappeared, used ter own?”

“I believe it is. Why do you ask?”

“Wall, if you’ll excuse my jay-bird curiosity, I’d jes like to know how
in thunder you ever located it.”

“That is our secret, my man,” replied the eastern millionaire briskly.
“All you need to know, and this gentleman here, is that we have it
legally located, isn’t it?”

“Beg your pardon,” remarked the sheriff. “No harm done?”

“Oh, none at all,” smiled Barr. “And now, I think we’ll go in and make
the deal final.”

They entered the office with the clerk, Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes
remaining outside.

As Barr and Reade passed into the office the former whispered to Hank
Higgins.

“Now you and Wilkes do your duty. I don’t anticipate any interruption,
but if there is any——”

The two western ruffians tapped the butts of their Colts knowingly.

“We’ll attend to that, guv’ner,” they assured him.

Silence fell on the village street after Barr and Reade had entered the
office. The crowd outside stood gaping in curiosity as to what could be
the business that had brought the strangers galloping in such evident
haste to the assay office. The sheriff, with a side glance at Hank
Higgins and Noggy Wilkes, resumed his whittling.

Suddenly the quiet was broken by the sharp chug-chug of an approaching
automobile.

“Here comes a choo-choo cart,” remarked the sheriff, springing to his
feet and peering up the road.

“That’s what it is,” answered a man in the crowd, “and coming like blue
blazes, too.”

As he spoke, the boys’ auto swept round a wooded curve and came tearing
along toward the assay office. In the tonneau stood Bart Witherbee, his
face strained and eager, and holding a crumpled paper in his hand. Frank
was at the wheel and the other boys were beside their miner friend in
the tonneau.

“Seem ter be in a hurry,” drawled the sheriff, as the party swept up to
the low porch, the crowd falling back to make way for them with
wondering glances.

Luther Barr’s lean face appeared at the dusty window of the Government
Office.

“A hundred dollars if you file that claim in time,” he shouted to the
astonished clerk, who thought the old man had gone suddenly mad.

Bart Witherbee made a flying leap from the auto, and almost before it
stopped had raced up the steps. But before he could gain the door of the
assay office he found himself looking into the muzzles of two revolvers
held by Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes.

[Illustration: Bart Witherbee made a flying leap from the auto.]

“Don’t come no further, pardner,” grinned Hank. “It might be onhealthy
for you.”

“Here, here; what’s all this?” growled the sheriff. “I don’t allow no
shooting in my bailiwick. Put up them guns.”

“Let me get by, Hank Higgins,” exclaimed Bart Witherbee angrily.

“Hey, there; what’s that name you mentioned, partner?” asked the sheriff
eagerly.

“Hank Higgins, and there’s his partner, Noggy Wilkes,” exclaimed the
miner. “The third one, Bill Jenkins, is in jail.”

“Wall, if here ain’t a bit of Christmas luck,” shouted the sheriff
exultingly. “I want ’em both for a dozen crimes. Here, you; you’re under
arrest. Don’t move or I’ll fire.”

But Noggy Wilkes, with a desperate leap, had gained the side of his
horse that stood, western fashion, unhitched, with the reins lying on
the horn of his saddle. With one bound the desperado was mounted and
galloping off down the trail. The sheriff sent two bullets after him,
but both missed. Hank Higgins, however, was not so fortunate. With a
muttered:

“I guess you got me right, sheriff,” he submitted to arrest.

In the meantime, Bart Witherbee had burst like a whirlwind into the
Government office, upsetting a desk and spilling a bottle of ink over
Luther Barr, who had angrily intercepted him.

“Don’t file that claim to Fogg’s mine,” he shouted, waving his papers
above his head. “I’ve got a prior one.”

“You have—where?” gasped the astonished clerk.

“File that claim,” ordered Luther Barr. “I’ll report you to Washington
if you don’t.”

“Hold your horses,” replied the clerk easily, “there seems to be some
sort of dispute here. Do you lay claim to the mine?” he asked, turning
to Witherbee.

“I sure do,” replied the miner, “and here’s my claim—the last will and
testament of Jared Fogg, otherwise Jack Riggs. He leaves his mine and
the treasure he has secretly hoarded from it and buried under the floor
of his hut to me.”

“And who might you be?” asked the clerk eagerly.

“I am Bart Witherbee, and can easily prove it,” replied the miner,
drawing from his pocket a number of papers.

The clerk quickly perused them and also the will.

“What time did you stake the mine?” he asked, suddenly turning to Luther
Barr.

“At daylight to-day,” replied the millionaire. “I guess we win.”

“I guess not,” snapped back Witherbee. “Old man Fogg died shortly after
midnight, as I can easily prove, and therefore the will became operative
at that time.”

“I see you know some law,” remarked the clerk. “I guess, Mr. Barr, your
claim is not valid.”

But Barr, raging furiously, had gone.

Outside the door he saw the boys. Beside himself with rage, he shook his
fist at them. His rage was too intense to permit him to speak. The
sheriff and everybody in the crowd insisted on shaking hands with Bart
Witherbee and hearing again and again his strange story and the details
of how the will had been found hidden in the hut. At last, however,
accompanied by the sheriff, whose duty it was in that rough community to
look after old Fogg’s, or Jack Riggs’ body, the boys and their miner
friend managed to tear themselves away and sped back to the hermit’s hut
in their auto. They found everything as they had left it, and, on
tearing up the floor, according to the instructions left in the old
man’s will, they found that a huge pit had been dug there, which was
filled to the brim with ore which the old miser had painstakingly
carried through his tunnel from his mine. A rough estimate valued it at
$350,000.

“How do you suppose Luther Barr ever managed to locate the mine?” asked
Frank wonderingly.

“That puzzled me, too, at first,” said the sheriff, “but now, since I
have found that Hank Higgins and Noggy Wilkes knew Wild Bill Jenkins, it
is a mystery no longer. Wild Bill boasted some time ago that he knew
where the mine was, but he was forced to become a fugitive from justice
before he had time to file any claim to it.”

Suddenly the voice of Billy Barnes, who had wandered out onto the trail
with a rifle, was borne to their ears:

“Boys! Boys! Come quick!” he cried. There was urgent entreaty in his
tone.



                             CHAPTER XXVI.

                            THE SAND STORM.


Rushing out in the direction of the cries, the boys found Billy
struggling in the grasp of Fred Reade, Luther Barr, and Slade, while the
red-headed mechanic was striking at the aeroplane with a big wrench.

“There! If we can’t fly any more, no more can you,” he exclaimed
viciously, making a savage smash at the engine. There was a sound of
splintering metal.

“Consarn ’em, they’re trying to bust up our aeroplane,” yelled Bart
Witherbee, making a dash at the group.

As they saw the boys and their companions coming the men took to their
heels, Reade alone looking back to shout out:

“Now you can’t fly, either. You’re out of the race.”

This the boys construed to mean that the Slade aeroplane was too badly
crippled to fly. And so they afterwards learned. The engine had
developed a serious flaw, and one of the cylinders was cracked from top
to bottom. In the part of the country in which they were it would, of
course, have taken weeks to get a new engine.

“Shall we chase them?” asked Harry.

“No, it would be useless. Hark! they’re in their auto now, and would be
away ahead of us by the time we got after them,” rejoined Frank.

The sound of an auto’s exhaust rapidly growing fainter reached their
ears. It was the last they saw of Luther Barr and his gang, for that
night they left Calabazos and making their way to the railroad took a
train east. The skeleton of Slade’s unlucky aeroplane still remains in
the little settlement, and greatly puzzles visitors there, some of whom
think it is the framework of some extinct animal.

Billy Barnes soon told how, while shooting in the woods, he had heard an
auto coming up the trail, and suspecting some mischief had hastened to
the spot where the aeroplane had been left. He found his surmise correct
when Barr and his companions suddenly emerged from the woods and began
their attempt to wreck the craft. Before Billy, who indignantly sprang
forward, could seize the arm of the vandal with the wrench, he had been
seized. Luckily he had time to cry out before they thought of stopping
him, and so the aeroplane was saved from serious damage. It was found,
in fact, that the blow aimed at it had done no worse harm than to
splinter a spark plug, which was soon replaced.

That afternoon the boys, leaving Bart Witherbee and the sheriff to make
an inventory of the dead miner’s effects and to explore the tunnel,
which was found to be a wonderful piece of work, the boys motored down
to the settlement and sent out telegrams seeking information of the
whereabouts of the dirigible. It was not till late evening that they
received from Doolittle, a small town about forty miles from Calabazos,
information that the big gas-lifted craft had laid up there for repairs,
but was ready to start early the next day.

To the boys who had feared that the rival must have been almost in San
Francisco by that time this was cheering news, and the _Golden Eagle’s_
planes were hurriedly readjusted, as she was put in shape for a
continuation of her trip. Early the next day the start was made. Bart
Witherbee was left behind at his mine, in which he had insisted on the
boys, much against their will, each taking a share. Old Mr. Joyce also
received a large enough portion of the general good luck to secure him
from want and give him ample leisure to work out his queer inventions.
The Witherbee mine—he calls it the Aeroplane—is now one of the most
famous in the west.

The boys had determined to shape their course by Doolittle, as it was on
their direct path westward, and they wished also to get out of the
mountainous region of the foothills. As Doolittle came in sight they had
an opportunity to view their rival for the first time in many days. Her
big red gas bag showed like a bright crimson flower above the sober gray
of the prairie town. That their rivals had sighted them was soon made
evident by the fact that a flag was run up on the single staff the town
possessed and the citizens wheeled out a rusty old cannon and began
firing it like mad. When the boys were within a mile of the town they
made ready to drop messages which, as they sailed above, they cast down.
They could see the people scrambling furiously for them.

“I hope they leave enough of them to send back home,” laughed Harry as
they saw the wild struggle.

That day was to be a memorable one for the town of Doolittle. As the
aeroplane passed above it, the faithful escorting auto not far behind,
the big dirigible also was shot into the air.

Mr. McArthur from his deck waved a greeting to the boys and hailed them
through a megaphone.

“Glad to see you,” he hailed. “Hurray, for ’Frisco!”

All that afternoon the two ships sailed along in company, the boys’
aeroplane slightly in the lead. As the sun sank lower a big bank of
clouds arose toward the north and the sun glowed with a peculiar red
light.

A light breeze also sprang up, but instead of being cooling it was as
hot as if it had blown from an oven door.

“We’re in for a storm,” remarked Frank, “or I’m very much mistaken.”

“What, a regular rain and wind storm?” asked Harry. “I thought they only
had those in the hills in this part of the country.”

“They have a worse thing than that,” said Frank apprehensively, “a sand
storm, and that’s what may be coming.”

“McArthur doesn’t seem to be worrying,” remarked Harry, glancing up at
the dirigible, which was sailing slightly above them.

“No,” said Frank, “that’s a fact. Maybe I am mistaken, after all.
Anyhow, we’ll keep on as long as he does.”

But half an hour later the boys wished they had alighted. The wind came
in sharp, hot puffs from the north, and had it not been for the Joyce
gyroscopic balancer they carried, the ship would have been in hard
straits. As it was, when Frank wished to make a landing he dared not
risk it. The air, too, grew so thick that he could not see the earth
beneath them.

Stinging particles of sand drove into their eyes, blinding them and
gritting between their teeth. The wind grew stronger, and as it did so
the air grew black as night with the sand with which it was impregnated.

So dark was it, in fact, that when night came and found them still in
the air, unable to make a landing, there did not seem to be any
perceptible difference.

The aeroplane drove rigidly before the howling wind. Her speed was
terrific. Neither boy spoke after their first expressions of alarm, but
devoted their entire attentions to keeping the aeroplane from capsizing.

“Keep cool, Harry,” said Frank at length. “We may come out of it all
right.”

“Where are we being driven?” asked the other lad.

“To the south at a terrific pace, too. If the gasolene holds out we may
manage to live out the storm, but I don’t know where we will be driven
to.”

“What lies to the south of us?” asked Harry, after another long pause,
during which the storm-stressed aeroplane made several sickening
lurches, always recovering herself in time, however, thanks to the
gyroscope.

“Why, about as desolate a country as can be imagined. Nothing but arid
wastes and cactus.”

“It will be a bad lookout, then, if we have to land there.”

“It certainly will,” was the laconic response.

On and on through the darkness drove the storm-tossed aeroplane,
carrying her two young navigators into the unknown.



                             CHAPTER XXVII.

                    WINNING THE PRIZE.—_Conclusion._


It was at four o’clock in the morning by the auto clock affixed to the
chassis that Frank noticed the wind begin to drop. At the same time the
stinging of the sand decreased perceptibly. The storm was waning.

He awakened Harry, who had fallen into a troubled doze, and gave him the
cheering news. But even if the storm had blown itself out with the
coming of daylight there was not much else to cheer the boys’ hearts,
for as it grew lighter and the air cleared and they found themselves
able to make out what was beneath them, Harry uttered an exclamation of
dismay:

“Look there!” he shouted, pointing downward.

The aeroplane was traveling over a gray waste which Frank at once
realized was the sea. The question was: Was it the open ocean or the
Gulf of California? It did not seem possible it could be the Pacific as,
even at the terrific pace they had been carried along in the preceding
twelve hours, it seemed hardly possible that they could have been blown
across the long peninsula of Lower California.

On either hand, they could make out, as the light grew stronger, a thin,
faint line of coast, and therefore Frank’s surmise was proven correct.
The boys decided to make for the land on their left, as Frank had heard
that the natives of the peninsula itself were little better than
savages, and not overpleased to see strangers. The land to the left on
the contrary must be Mexico, where they could probably find a railroad
or at least the means of transportation to one.

It was afternoon when they drew near to the coast. Not far inland they
could see among the barren hills, dotted here and there with cattle, a
small village. It was a mere huddle of roofs, but at least it meant food
and shelter, and the boys relied on being able to find a telegraph
station from which they could send out a message to relieve the anxiety
of the friends they knew must be extremely concerned for their safety by
this time.

Suddenly as the outlines of the melancholy-looking hills grew plainer
and plainer the engine, which had been working badly, gave symptoms of
stopping altogether.

The boys exchanged worried looks. Beneath them was an expanse of water
without a boat on its surface, and though both of them were strong
swimmers, they could not dream of reaching the shore should their
aeroplane plunge downward.

It was a serious situation.

Harry tinkered with the engine, and it began to run a little better for
a short time, but soon began to gasp and cough, as if in mortal
distress.

“What can be the matter with it?” puzzled Harry. “Everything, ignition,
lubrication and all seems to be all right.”

“I have it,” suddenly cried Frank.

“What is it?”

“The gasolene is running out!”

Sure enough there was hardly more than a few spoonfuls of the fuel left.

“There’s some alcohol in the locker. We had it for the stove. Let’s try
that,” suggested Harry.

The alcohol was dumped into the tank and gave them a little more fuel,
but the shore still looked far away.

Lower and lower sagged the aeroplane under her decreased speed, till as
they reached the shore it seemed that she was hardly skimming the waves,
but she bravely struggled on, and as the engine gave a final gasp and
came to an abrupt stop, the _Golden Eagle_ settled down on a sandy
beach.

“Well, here we are,” said Frank, “and none too soon.”

“Now, let’s go and see what sort of folks they are in that village,”
said Harry. “I’m famished, and my mouth is as parched as a bit of dried
orange peel.”

“Same here,” said Frank, as the boys set out for the interior which was
hidden from them by sand dunes, topped with a sort of sharp bladed grass
that cut like a knife.

The village they found to be a mere collection of shacks, with pigs
roaming about its streets, and skinny cattle poking their noses into the
house doors. They were received hospitably enough, however, and although
they could not talk Spanish, managed to make their wants understood,
more especially when they showed some gold.

The wonder of the villagers knew no bounds when, after they had
refreshed themselves, the boys showed them the aeroplane and pointed to
the sky. The Mexicans were too polite to say so, but it was clear that
they thought the boys were fabricators, though how they imagined they
had landed in their village was a matter of speculation.

That night they managed to secure a cart and, having packed the _Golden
Eagle_, set out for the railroad, which the Mexicans assured them was
“far, far away,” as a matter of fact, it was not more than sixty miles,
and the next day, late in the evening, two very dusty, very ragged, very
tired boys got out of the plodding ox cart at Torres, a small town on
the Sonora Railroad, and almost frightened the native operator to death
by their vehement demands to file messages.

“To-morrow, to-morrow,” he kept saying, but the talisman of a good, big
tip kept him at work.

In the meantime the auto had gone as far adrift in the sand storm as the
boys, very nearly, and the state of mind of its occupants can be
imagined when they found after the storm had cleared that they had
traveled miles in the wrong direction and were near to Gila Bend on the
Southern Pacific Railway, with no more idea as to what had become of
their young companions than they had of the direction in which the
aeroplane had been blown.

Telegrams were sent out broadcast by Billy and Lathrop, but no news was
had of the _Golden Eagle_. Lathrop suggested sending word east of the
boys’ plight, but Billy overruled this.

“They may turn up all right,” he said, “and if they do, we shall have
alarmed their parents for nothing.”

The next day, however, while Frank and Harry were plodding across Mexico
in their ox cart, Billy became so anxious that he sent word to the
_Planet_, asking them to notify him at once if word was heard of the
boys, as he knew that they would wire the paper as soon as they landed
anywhere. No word had been received by the paper, however, and it was a
gloomy party that sat on the porch of the little hotel at Gila Bend that
afternoon and evening. After a troubled sleep Billy emerged onto the
street in the early morning and was met by a ragged station agent.

“Be your name Barnes?” he asked.

“That’s me,” said Billy, wondering what the man could want.

“Then I’ve got a message for yer. It come late last night, but I didn’t
want to wake yer.”

“And you’ve been holding it all this time?” indignantly demanded Billy,
guessing at once that it was news.

“Wall, yer wanted yer sleep, didn’t ye?” demanded the man.

Eagerly Billy tore the envelope open. It was from Mr. Stowe.

    “Great news. Boys safe. Win the prize for longest flight.
    Dirigible smashed in storm near Parkerville, Arizona. McArthur
    and crew safe. Congratulations.

                                                             Stowe.“

There is little more to tell. My readers can imagine for themselves the
scene when two days later the boys met at Tucson. Over a merry meal they
“fought their battles o’er again,” and discussed every strange adventure
of their record flight a dozen times. Their parents had been notified of
their safety, and were to meet them in Los Angeles.

“Well, this trip certainly has panned out,” said Frank, as the subject
of Bart Witherbee and his mine came up.

“And here we are, all together, safe and sound. At one time I thought we
were goners sure,” remarked Harry.

“_One_ time!” exclaimed Billy with a laugh. “A dozen at least.”

“I’d like to start out on another trip to-morrow,” exclaimed Lathrop
enthusiastically.

“I’d make some new inventions for it,” said Mr. Joyce.

“Here, too,” cried Billy. “Do you think we will have any more
adventures?”

“Sure to,” said Frank.

The boys did, and sooner than they expected to. As they were talking
there came a rap at the door.

“Telegram from Captain Robert Hazzard for Mr. Chester,” said a grinning
bell boy.

“Captain Hazzard?” said Harry, puzzled.

“Oh, I remember now!” exclaimed Frank as he glanced over the message.
“It’s that army officer who was chasing the Indians, and who spoke about
the South Pole. I suppose he got our address from the papers.”

“What does he say?” demanded Billy.

“Look here,” cried Frank enthusiastically. “What do you think of that?”

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                           Oliver Optic Books

Few boys are alive to-day who have not read some of the writings of this
famous author, whose books are scattered broadcast and eagerly sought
for. Oliver Optic has the faculty of writing books full of dash and
energy, such as healthy boys want and need.

        ALL ABOARD; or, Life on the Lake.
        BOAT CLUB; or, The Bunkers of Rippleton.
        BRAVE OLD SALT; or, Life on the Quarter Deck.
        DO SOMETHINGS; a Story for Little Folks.
        FIGHTING JOE; or, The Fortunes of a Staff Officer.
        IN SCHOOL AND OUT; or, The Conquest of Richard Grant.
        LITTLE BY LITTLE; or, The Cruise of the Flyaway.
        LITTLE MERCHANT; a Story for Little Folks.
        NOW OR NEVER; or, The Adventures of Bobby Bright.
        POOR AND PROUD; or, The Fortunes of Katie Redburn.
        PROUD AND LAZY; a Story for Little Folks.
        RICH AND HUMBLE; or, The Mission of Bertha Grant.
        SAILOR BOY; or, Jack Somers in the Navy.
        SOLDIER BOY; or, Tom Somers in the Army.
        TRY AGAIN; or, The Trials and Triumphs of Harry West.
        WATCH AND WAIT; or, The Young Fugitives.
        WORK AND WIN; or, Noddy Newman on a Cruise.
        THE YANKEE MIDDY; or, The Adventures of a Naval Officer.
        YOUNG LIEUTENANT; or, The Adventures of an Army Officer.

   Any of these books will be mailed, postpaid, upon receipt of 50c.
               Get our complete catalogue—sent anywhere.

                   HURST & CO., Publishers, NEW YORK





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