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´╗┐Title: A Viking of the Sky - A Story of a Boy Who Gained Success in Aeronautics
Author: McAlister, Hugh
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Viking of the Sky - A Story of a Boy Who Gained Success in Aeronautics" ***

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[Illustration: At last the heavily-loaded Wind Bird began to lift
gallantly, then zoomed up into the sky.]

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

                          A VIKING OF THE SKY

                      A Story of a Boy Who Gained
                         Success in Aeronautics

                                  _by_

                             HUGH MCALISTER

                              _Author of_

              "STAND BY", "THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVER SHIP",
                 "STEVE HOLWORTH OF THE OLDHAM WORKS",
                      "CONQUEROR OF THE HIGHROAD",
                            "FLAMING RIVER".

                    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

                       AKRON, OHIO      NEW YORK

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

                          A VIKING OF THE SKY

                           Copyright, MCMXXX
                 _by_ The Saalfield Publishing Company

                Printed in the United States of America

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

                                CONTENTS

                         I NIGHT HAWK
                        II WINGS
                       III FLYING HOPE
                        IV WINDS OF CHANCE
                         V CHALLENGING THE AIR
                        VI ON THE WING
                       VII A ONE-SHIP CARNIVAL
                      VIII RIVER OF THE WIND
                        IX GROUND WORK
                         X SAFETY AND DANGER
                        XI AN AERIAL MESSAGE
                       XII QUICK ACTION
                      XIII VISION
                       XIV DOWN THROUGH THE AIR
                        XV TWO ROADS TO FAME
                       XVI ABOVE THE CLOUDS
                      XVII FIGHTING THE TORRENT
                     XVIII TO THE RESCUE
                       XIX WHEN LAND CRUMBLED
                        XX PRISONED WINGS
                       XXI CALL OF THE WINDS
                      XXII WINGING WESTWARD
                     XXIII FIGHTING DEATH
                      XXIV NIGHT
                       XXV HIS NAME ACROSS THE SKY

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

                          A Viking of the Sky


                               CHAPTER I

                               NIGHT HAWK


"Oh, how I wish I was up there!" muttered Hal Dane to himself as he
cocked an eye upward into the far heights of the moonlit sky.

In mind, Hal Dane was already just below the stars, riding the clouds in
a winged ship; before him, on imaginary instrument board, ticked the
latest thing in indicator, controller, tachometer. And all the while,
like the other half of a dual personality, his hands and feet
mechanically guided his rattletrap old truck along the ruts of the
lonesome country road. On the downgrades Hal's left hand with skill of
long practice chocked a brakeless wheel with a wooden block, and on the
upgrades his right foot judiciously kicked a wire that let on extra
"juice" for the pull.

In Hillton, Hal's home village, folks laughed considerably over the
Western Flyer, which a green daub of paint on the sideboards flaunted to
the world as the ancient truck's title. But folks didn't laugh at the
boy who persistently patched up the rattletrap and drove it. Anyone knew
that it took genius of sorts even to hold the contraption to the
straight road.

For all its decrepitude, Hal had to hang on to the old truck. It
furnished his living--and a living for his mother and his great-uncle
Telemachus, who was "stove-up with rheumatism." The weeks when hauling
was brisk, the truck even earned a few strange luxuries such as queer
Hal Dane would want--bottles of odd-smelling glue, old wire springs and
bits of metal from Kerrigan's junk pile, and now and then a precious
book full of diagrams of aeronautical engines.

Usually Hal got a chance to make at least one trip a day, hauling garden
truck over the thirty-mile route from Hillton to Interborough, the
nearest city. On the return trip he'd bring supplies for the little
stores in his home village and other villages beyond Hillton.

Sometimes he had the luck to land a second sixty-mile round of hauling
in one day--like the present occasion that was bringing him rattling
homeward in the night.

Night hauling was wearisome work, and if it hadn't been for Hal's lively
imagination he would have been tempted to doze on his job. But Hal
Dane's air-minded brain was seething with spirals and Immelmanns and
three-point landings. One of the great events of his life, the State Air
Meet at Interborough, had been over for a week, but every flight and
entry was still fresh in the boy's mind. He lived them over again. By
twist of the imagination old man Herman's two milk cans rhythmically
banging against Grocer Kane's crate of lard buckets seemed almost the
roar of a stunt plane warming up for action. Hal could almost think
himself into seeing in that empty stretch of sky above the host of
planes that had formed the "flying circus" of last week. There had been
Rex Raynor, famous pilot who stunted upside-down; there had been aerial
rope-swingers and ladder-climbers. There had been--

"Bang--bong--scre-e-eak!"

With a snort of dismay at the clattering outspilling of his load and the
scrape of his truck as it careened sideways, Hal chocked his wheel and
leaped for the ground.

"Jumping catfish!" moaned the lanky, long-legged blond young trucker as
he raced madly down the road he had just rattled up. "Ought to have
looked back once in a while 'stead of always up at the sky--wouldn't
have happened then!" And onward he sped, chasing a runaway wheel.

This, though, was no unheard-of performance. The Western Flyer flung
some piece of its anatomy to the winds on at least every other trip.

With a grunt of satisfaction young Dane fell upon his miscreant wheel as
it thumped to a standstill in a ditch. Methodically he trundled it back
along the road, jacked up the ancient truck on the side where its
protruding axle had ploughed the ground for some forty yards, and set to
work repairing damages.

An hour later the boy had his wheel cotter-pinned and hub-capped back
into place. As he slid under the steering gear, he determined to keep
his eyes and his mind out of the sky, and to concentrate all energies on
navigating the Western Flyer safe into her garage by dawning.

But farther along the road his imagination began playing him false
again. Rhythmic thump of his load of cans seemed to simulate whir and
zoom of an air engine.

Imagination! Was it imagination?

All in a quiver of excitement, Hal Dane silenced his own engine and
cocked a listening ear towards the skies.

There it was again--faint hum of a motor high in the air. An airplane
was winging its way across the forest-covered hills that lay between
Interborough and the railroad gap at Morris Crossing. No air mail route
lay that way. This must be something out of ordinary; an important
message to be dropped at the railroad crossing, perhaps.

"Gosh!" ejaculated Hal to himself. "Speaking of dreaming things till you
really see 'em! Listen at her coming in!"

The plane was swooping nearer; was now practically above him. Staring
upward, Hal caught a glimpse of the spotlight focused on the hills
below. It was turning from side to side. The boy looked on with anguish
beginning to clutch at his heart. The motor of the plane was missing in
an alarming manner. It sputtered and coughed--ran smoothly for a few
seconds, then sputtered again.

"Trouble!" muttered Hal. "In trouble and looking for a place to land.
There's no place--unless--"

Above him the plane slid crazily on its way. Now it seemed to hang in
the air at a mere crawl, now it shot onward. At a spot which Hal judged
was a couple of miles distant, the light became stationary for an
instant, then tipped sharply downward and was swallowed up by the pine
forests on the hills.

"A crash!" whispered Hal Dane. He shut his eyes, then opened them
quickly, staring hard at the moonlit landscape to impress location on
his memory. That jagged pine, that spur of the hill--it was somewhere
between these that the plane had crashed.

Next moment the boy was on the ground and cranking up his old truck like
one possessed. As it roared into life, he swung aboard and let her out
for all she was worth. In the case of a human pinned under wreckage in
horrible certainty of fire or suffocation, speed of rescue must mean the
saving of life. So down the woods road shot Hal, his ancient truck
gallantly riding roots and ruts and snorting to the charge with a
backfire like gattling guns. A tire blew out and nearly careened Hal,
truck and all into a bank. But the boy held to the wheel, wrenched her
nose straight to the road and bumped onward. A second tire burst, and
the bumping went on more evenly.

Then the headlights showed an opening through the trees where great
white wings lay flattened to the earth.

"He made it down--in the only landing place for miles!" jubilated Hal as
he leaped from the truck and raced toward the grounded plane.

As he reached the scene of the crash he saw that the plane really had
made a marvelous landing, merely slightly down-tipped as to nose, and
frame intact save where a sapling stub had torn a jagged hole through
one wing.

Minor injuries to the plane--but the man! The aviator hung limp against
the supporting belt. As the boy loosed buckles and lifted the pilot out,
he felt blood dampen his hands.

Hal raced to a stream he remembered crossing. With his hat full of
water, he was back and kneeling beside the aviator, splashing water in
his face.

It was like a ghost rising from the dead when the prostrate man flicked
open his eyes, then suddenly--as though some valiant pull of power
within urged him--staggered to his feet, made a few steps and leaned
heavily against his plane.

"Why--" Hal Dane's mouth dropped open in amazement as he stared at the
figure picked out whitely in the moonlight, "it's--it's Rex Raynor,
famous--"

"Yes--yes! Don't waste time gawking at me. Need help--got to get
this--this packet on the train--at crossing!" He touched the bulge of
the packet beneath his coat. His eyes were wild with pain, but somehow
he forced his voice to be steady, even as he forced his body to stay
upright. "Can you help--patch things--get me off--"

"Yes," Hal Dane answered, "yes!" At first he had thought to offer the
truck, but two tires were down and the back axle had steered in a
strangely crooked fashion towards the end of that wild dash over stumps
and boulders. It might take hours, days, to get the truck back into
running order. The plane--maybe there was a chance there!

First, though, Hal slit open the bloody sleeve of Raynor's coat and
shirt. From torn strips of clothing he made bandages over a bullet wound
in the lower left arm, and tightened a tourniquet above to stop further
bleeding.

With iron grit Raynor held on to himself--sheer will power must have
kept him from fainting a dozen times. In his harsh, steady voice he
barked out his orders.

The impaling sapling was cut away below the plane wing. Then the upper
length of wood was worked gently out of the jagged hole it had torn in
the fabric. With quick, deft fingers Hal Dane whittled repair sticks out
of pieces of pine. Wire from his tool chest slid in tight coils over
wood, under wood, binding breaks together. Except for his overalls, Hal
had very little clothing left. What hadn't gone for tourniquet was now
masquerading as wing fabric. Tire glue had to do duty as "dope" to
lacquer smooth the patched wing.

Rex Raynor, flyer, was too pain-dazed for his mind to give even passing
thought to the strangeness of his finding, out here in the pine woods, a
long-legged youth whose nimble fingers seemed expert at splicing
framework and patching wing fabric. The trouble he was in tensed his
nerves to breaking point. His one idea was, "The packet must go on--the
packet must reach the safety of railroad officials at Morris Crossing."

In between directions for repair work and frantic urgings for haste,
Raynor muttered broken details of the disaster that had befallen him.

Blue prints--aerial engine designs for the Nevo-Avilly contest--finished
too late to submit even by air mail--rushing to get packet aboard mail
car at crossing. Nobody supposed to know of his engine designs. As
Raynor crossed level by forest ranger's hut, a red rocket, distress
signal, had shot into the sky, signaling him to a landing. Knowing that
the ranger, a former flying pal, had been disabled by illness, Raynor
had answered the silent call by gliding to earth to render aid in some
emergency. Instead of the ranger, a masked bandit had leaped upon the
aviator, demanding the packet, even before switch could be cut or motor
throttled. In the ensuing fight Raynor had got winged in the arm by a
close range bullet, but had managed to shake off his assailant, and had
risen to the safety of the airways in his plane.

Knowing that one such daredevil attack would likely mean further
pursuit, Raynor fought off bodily pain and strove to keep his mind fixed
to one purpose--getting the packet aboard the U. S. mail train.

The flyer completed examination by electric torch of landing-gear,
engine, wings, Hal's last improvised piece of patchwork that was
hardening miraculously under its spread of tire glue.

"You have done well--it is good!" exulted Raynor, as with the boy's help
he trundled the plane backwards to get room for the take-off. "We have
twenty minutes--we will make it." He motioned Hal to climb into the
front cockpit.

For a breath Hal Dane stood rigid. At last it had come--his chance to
ride in a real plane! But he stood motionless. This man Raynor--fever
burned like delirium in his eyes, he fairly staggered from weakness. A
risky pilot to ride with! And yet the courage in that iron set of jaw,
the determination that drove a pain-weakened body to serve the will!
Raynor had come this far--Raynor would carry on to the end. And Hal Dane
would be in at that ending.

A thrill shot through the boy as he made his lightning-quick decision
and climbed breathlessly aboard.

Raynor cranked the motor with his one good hand, kicked aside a wood
chunk that had blocked the wheels, and scrambled heavily into the rear
cockpit. With a roar the plane moved across the clearing, gathered
speed, lifted within two hundred yards of the tree line. They were up
and off, a thousand feet above earth!

Hal Dane's blood pounded, he gasped for breath. Then he relaxed into a
feeling of keen delight.

Hal Dane actually flying! The boy knew instinctively that from now on
flying was to be his real life. He had managed this one time to skim the
clouds. Somehow he would manage it again and again.

Raynor had ascended rapidly. Two thousand feet below them the pine
forests lay like flat dark carpets. Little rivers and streams were like
silver threads reflecting the moonlight. In the distance a row of small,
swift-moving lights must be the east-bound mail train they were racing.

Looking earthward from the heights stirred no qualm, no dizziness in the
boy. He felt at ease, in his own peculiar element. Turning his mind
backward, it seemed that every event in his life had culminated in this
engine-powered flight with wings.

Even as Hal's serene gaze sought the pinpoints of trees and the silver
dots of water on the earth below, the great plane shot higher, looped
downward, aimed her nose at the stars again. After that came a sensation
of falling, then a careening, tipping of wings from side to side.

Rise, fall, dip--all consumed mere space of a breath.

Hal Dane whirled around from his earth gazing, to steal a glance at the
pilot behind him.

There was reason for those wing-dips. Rex Raynor hung in a fainting
huddle across his strap. Almost at the glorious end of his race for
time, the flyer's iron will had lost its fight against pain.

Raynor's ship was a teaching boat, outfitted with dual controls. Between
Hal's knees rose a stick, mate to the control from which the pilot's
hand had fallen.

Instinctively Hal Dane's hand shot out to grasp this lever. His one
desire was to shove with all his power on the
gear,--forward--back--anywhere, to steady this awful tipping, skidding
roll that was hurling the boat downward. But even as Hal's hand touched
the knob of the stick, reason surged through his brain like a shout of
"Wait, wait! Death lies that way!"

Reason was right. Hal's fingers clenched into palm to keep from seizing
the gear. He must think it out, know what he must do before he ever
shoved that lever a hair's breadth. With cold sweat bursting out to
drench him, and his brain prickling to the terror of falling,
falling,--yet Hal Dane held himself rigid, eyes closed, while in his
mind's eye he made himself see again the paper diagram of a Wright
motor's control board. In his own cluttered old workshop at home he had
memorized every movement of manipulating ailerons, elevators, rudder.
Memory must save his and another's life now.

When Hal opened his eyes again, his stiff lips were muttering, "Stick
pushed forward, manipulates elevators--plane descends; pulled back,
plane rises; pushed to right, operates ailerons for right wing bank;
left, for left bank--"

To the boy mere moments had seemed hours of hurling earthward. He felt
that the very tree tops must soon be dragging at the landing gear,
crippling the plane for its crash. He longed desperately to look, to see
just what space lay between him and death.

Instead, for two dreadful seconds, he forced calm eyes to study the
control board, forced his hand to hold the fat knob of the stick in a
firm grip, to pull back--gently, gently.

And gently the ship lifted. Descent changed to ascent.

A sob of relief tore through the boy's throat. They were going up, up!
The waving octopus arms of the tree tops could not snare them to death
now.

It seemed he could never get enough of going up. He was above the clouds
now. The ship answered beautifully to every touch on the controls. A
slight pressure on the stick to the right operated ailerons and the
right wing dropped to form a right bank that drifted the ship in a wide,
lazy circle.

The response of the mechanism was wonderful. It was like a living thing
that moved at a touch. Hal Dane felt lifted on wings of his own.

Then he passed beyond the bank of clouds. Two thousand feet below him on
the earth crawled a tiny earthworm thing strung with lights--the mail
train, the crossing!

Elation ebbed from young Dane's mind.

In the sky heights was safety. On the ground below lurked death,
awaiting the slightest mischance in landing.

And yet Hal Dane must come down to a forced landing--now--immediately.
He was not here to skim the clouds for exhilarating joy. He must rush a
wounded man and an important packet to the train crossing.

Slowly young Dane circled earthward. And each downdrift laid a chill of
terror on his heart. Now that he was coming to earth, earth looked most
unnatural. Morris Crossing should be familiar ground; yet viewed in the
white moonlight from over a plane edge, all things took on monstrously
strange proportions. In his terror Hal began to feel that he could not
distinguish a field from a forest, a road from a river. He might smash
across housetops, might hurl himself, plane and all, into the moving
train before he could stop. No, he could not do this thing, could not!
If gasoline held out, he could drift in mid-air till morning.

In answer to his sudden tense pressure, the elevator was pulled so hard
that the machine all but stalled, then fortunately cleared off and
zoomed upward at intense speed.

High air--safety again!

But Hal Dane was no coward. Up in the heights, his brain seemed to cool.
The train was coming in. It was a matter of seconds. And he must meet
that train with the packet.

Coolly he began to map in his mind the lay of the ground close to Morris
Crossing. There was the group of small houses, the improvised box-car
waiting-room, a storehouse, behind that an empty, rolling stretch of
field. That was his chance. He must somehow land in that field.

A week ago, at the Air Meet in Interborough, Hal had watched innumerable
airplanes cut motors and circle down. He had studied and read everything
on aviation he could lay hands on--he knew exactly what he ought to do.
But actually to do it! A terror chill quivered up the boy's spine.

Then he set teeth, coolly stopped the motor, pressed into a bank that
began to drop the plane in great circles. Dane tried to remember
everything at once--best to volplane down in spirals of a certain
size--must flatten off to save a nose dive--must--

Then the black earth came up to meet Hal Dane.



                               CHAPTER II

                                 WINGS


When Hal Dane came to himself, lanterns and electric torches on all
sides bobbed crisscross lights above him. A dozen hands seemed pulling
and tugging to extricate him from the one-sided crash of plane wreckage.

He was laid out on the ground. A wet handkerchief mopped blood out of
his eyes. He felt broken all over. Through a mist of pain he heard
voices frantically calling, "Send for Doc! Get Doctor Joe!"

But something more than the pain and the voices beat in his brain--a
throbbing "chug-chug-chug" that stirred him out of his apathy. The
train, the eastbound that he'd raced!

"G-get me up," he croaked hoarsely. "Hold that train--mail
packet--im-m-mportant--no, no, no!" He fought away hands that strove to
hold him quiet. His struggles seemed to clear his brain, give him
strength to rise. "Don't doctor me, doctor him," pointing to Raynor,
"he's injured, bad off! Me--I--I'm not dead yet, not by a l-long shot!"
and Hal even managed a white-lipped grin.

It was pain to walk. But the urge to complete what he had undertaken
drove him on. From Raynor's coat, thrown aside by Doc Joe who was
probing the bullet wound, Hal extracted the thick envelope. After an
eternity of putting one foot before the other foot, he got it delivered
at the mail car of the long train that Mr. Tilton, the rotund little
station agent, was importantly holding.

After the train pulled out, there was still one more job to attend to.
"That airplane, Mr. Tilton," he begged of the fat little agent. "Don't
let cows get at it--or people poke around too much. And maybe you'd
better rope what's left of it to the fence. Big wind--might--come up."

The urge had spent its force. Hal Dane felt a thousand years old all at
once. He sank wearily into the spidery, yellow-painted little car of
Fuzzy McGinnis, his chum, whom all this excitement had summoned to the
scene. Fuz understood. Fuz had been in smash-ups himself. In silent
sympathy, and keeping the Yellow Spider throttled to a gentle gait, he
carted Hal the half mile from Morris Gap to Hillton.

Doc Joe, in his own car, was bringing Rex Raynor also to the Danes'
hospitable, ramshackle old house.

After his mother, Mary Dane, wild-eyed with fear, but holding to her
calm, had gone over him for broken bones, that she didn't find, and had
bound up his head better and had poured hot milk down him,--and after
Uncle Telemachus had excitedly heard the story of the air crash three
times--Hal crawled into bed and slept a round of the clock.

Next day Hal Dane's sturdy constitution asserted itself and yanked him
out from any lazy coddling between the sheets. His scalp might still
show some split skin from bucking a wire strut, and bruises the size of
plates and saucers decorate him here and there, but he'd better be
thanking his stars he wasn't disabled. And Hal did thank 'em! His work
was needing him too. The truck that earned the family living was idling
up there in the pine woods.

Need to get back to work rested heavily on Hal's shoulders, but worse
than that was a worry burden that weighted down his heart.

As Hal, cap in hand and a bag of tools thrust under one arm, tiptoed
down the long hall whose once beautifully plastered walls now gaped in
ugly cracks, he paused before the room Rex Raynor was in. The door swung
half open in the summer breeze. Hal stepped in, stood uncertain,
twisting his cap into a knot. He opened his mouth once or twice as if he
were trying to speak and couldn't. Then finally he blurted out:

"Mr. Raynor, I--it's awful that I smashed your plane--I, oh--some
day--I'll try--pay--"

"Huh!" snorted the recumbent Raynor, slightly raising his head and
glaring with fiery eyes beneath beetling brows. "Huh, come here!" His
injured left arm, grotesquely enlarged by bandages, lay on a supporting
pillow. But with his right hand, he beckoned imperiously.

Hal came to the bed.

"Did you ever fly a sky bus before?" questioned Raynor.

"Not--not a real plane," answered Hal. "I've got books and--"

"Boy," said Raynor, reaching out his good hand and pulling him close,
"boy, you're a wonder. You brought us down alive--in the night. More'n
some trained pilots can do. Wing sense must have been born in you. And
say," Raynor's brows drew up fiercely again, "get that pay idea off your
chest. I owe you more than you owe me. If you hadn't been a plucky
youngster to go up with me and bring down my wind bus by book learning,
I'd--I'd have crashed to a dead one. That's sure!" Raynor shut his eyes.

Hal eased out of the room. His head and his heart felt suddenly,
gloriously light and tingling. He hadn't known what a burden he'd
carried--until now that it had lifted. His spirit was free again.

After the crash where, in that last downward swoop, he had evidently
pulled the wrong mechanism and tipped the plane to a dangerous turn, an
obsession of distrust had oppressed him. He had begun to fear that he
lacked air sense, was not fitted for the fulfilment of his dreams of
wings and the airways.

And now with one lift of his brows, a wave of the hand, Rex Raynor had
dispelled the gloom. What was it Raynor had said--"Wing sense--born in
him!"

Hal flung himself through the front door and down the steps so excitedly
that he near toppled over his red-headed friend Fuz McGinnis, who was
rushing up the steps.

"What do you think you are--a Wright Whirlwind Motor?" Fuz fiercely
rubbed a barked shin. "Here I was thinking you an invalid, and hopped by
to say I'd take the Yellow Spider and tow in the truck from the pine
woods for you."

"Don't believe my famous vehicle needs any towing-in," answered Hal,
"but I'll be thankful to have you haul my carcass and these tools out
there, and apply some of your manly strength to helping me jack the old
bus up." And linking arms with Fuz, Hal strode off toward the yellow
roadster.

For Rex Raynor, his week's stay in the shabby old Dane home was a period
of mixed pain and pleasure. At first his arm wound throbbed
irritatingly, and added to it was the anxiety for the condition of his
crashed plane. But these pleasant, kindly people among whom Fate had
dropped him were an interesting compensation.

There was Mother Mary Dane. She was a little woman with blue eyes and
lots of soft brown hair that was usually wound into a firm, tight knot,
because there was never any time to primp it up and do it fluffily. When
the fever pains let the aviator up from his bed and allowed him the run
of the place, he marveled at the amount of work a slip of a woman like
Mary Dane could "turn off." He seemed to find her always churning, or
stooped over everlasting "taken-in" sewing, or on her knees with garden
trowel in her hand. Her mouth would be a stubborn line combating the
weariness of her eyes, offsetting the whiteness of her face--only folks
didn't often catch her like that. When she saw Raynor or Hal or Uncle
Tel coming, she could usually produce a smile.

When the sun shone warm and bright, from a big room at the end of the
hall would arise snatches of quavery whistling, thump of hammering. That
would be Uncle Telemachus Harrison enjoying a "good day." Uncle Tel was
Hal's great-uncle. When the sunshine eased his rheumatism, he pounded
away at chair repairing and odd jobs to help along with the very limited
family exchequer. Uncle Tel Harrison was a curiosity--a fiery little man
with bright blue eyes and a bristling, bushy mustache.

As great a curiosity as Uncle Tel was the old house. Hal's mother was a
Harrison and had inherited the ancient dwelling from her people.

The Harrison house had been two-storied. Then the roof fell in. Hal and
Uncle Tel, with very little outside help, had cobbled up some sort of
roof over the remaining lower story. In the bleakness of winter, the
makeshift, curling shingles and the warped walls must have looked their
pitifulness. But now in the summer, when the cudzu vine was in its
swathing glory, the old cobbled-up house looked rather quaint and cool
under its dress of vines.

Back of the tumbledown dwelling was a tumbledown barn that had once
housed the high-stepping Harrison horses. Now it housed some strange
contraptions beneath its sagging roof.

When Rex Raynor went out to that old stable under the voluble and
excited escort of Uncle Telemachus, he was amazed at the variety and
perfection of things aeronautical that he found there.

"Just look at 'em," chortled Uncle Tel, waving a gnarled hand about the
barn workshop to include little models of gliders, models of planes in
paper and wood, some tattered books on aviation mechanics, and a crude
man-sized glider made of wood strips and cloth.

"Looks like this one's seen real usage." Raynor's eyes lighted up with
interest as he laid a hand on various splicings of the wood and huge
patches on the fabric.

"My sakes alive," sputtered Uncle Tel, "I'll say it's been used! That
crazy boy's always rigging himself up in something like this, and having
the kids from the village pull him off down that bare slope of old
Hogback Hill. Sometimes he'd achieve a pretty good float before he'd
drift to the plain at the hill bottom. He achieved his head bumped, too,
a score of times, a shoulder wrenched, arms and legs knocked up--but
dang it, he keeps on trying the thing!" Uncle Tel's voluble complaining
was belied by the prideful glint in his old blue eyes.

"And what does Mother Mary Dane think of all this gliding and head
bumping?" laughed the flyer, turning to Mrs. Dane who had just come in.

She stood there, a hand resting on the glider wing. The eyes she lifted
held a glow of pride, but around those eyes anxiety had etched its own
lines too.

"Umph, Mary, she's got sense--if I do say it," grunted Uncle Telemachus.
"She knows it ain't any more use to try to keep an air-minded boy out of
the air than it is to try to keep a water-minded duck out of the water.
Mary, she's shed tears over his busted head and banged-up shoulders
considerable times. But shedding tears didn't keep Mary from giving her
wing-sprouting offspring all ten of the linen sheets she heired off her
Grandma Harrison. Real linen sheets and a silver spoon or two was all
there was left to descend to Mary. Grandma Harrison would turn over in
her grave if she knew just what an end her good hand-woven cloth had
come to. A whole sheet ragged up on a hawthorn bush where Glider Number
One went gefluey in a gulley and spilled Hal for a row of head wallops.
Another burned to a crisp when some invention of wing lacquer
combustulated and liked to have fired us all out of house and home.
There's four on that glider contraption, and the rest of 'em--the rest
of 'em--" With a guilty look, Uncle Tel clapped a hand to mouth and went
off into a hasty fit of coughing. He turned away and stamped down the
length of the shop where he began to putter with some spruce sticks and
a lathe.

When he rejoined the others, Raynor was saying:

"Didn't Hal drop a few hints that he was going to do some gliding for my
benefit to-morrow?"

"I fear so." Mary Dane's lips quirked up in a smile, but her hand was
flung out nervously. "And just look at that innocent little wind cloud
lazying out there on the horizon! It could roll up into anything. I tell
Hal that every time he even plans a glide, his subconscious mind stirs
up a wind somewhere."

"What's he going to take off in--this?" Raynor touched the battered
glider.

"Gosh, no--er-r--" Uncle Tel joined the conversation, then sputtered off
distractedly, "er-r--well, you just wait and see!"



                              CHAPTER III

                              FLYING HOPE


Interborough got wind of the near-robbery, the wild sky-ride, the
subsequent crash of a great plane on the outskirts of Hillton. A horde
of reporters swarmed over to interview the crashees, to get pictures of
them and the wreck. For the first time in his life, Hal Dane saw himself
staring, with the usual garbled, wood-cut expression of newspaper
pictures, from the front page of a metropolitan paper. But if the
picture was poor, Harry Nevin, the young reporter for the Interborough
Star, had at least wielded a kindly pencil. In spite of the crash, he
gave Hal Dane credit for "unusual wing sense."

In reality as well as in the smeary newspaper picture the wrecked plane
showed up as a dismal mess. To the uninitiated eye, this grotesque thing
with its tail in the air and its nose in the mud had all the appearances
of having flown its last flight. But when mechanics from Interborough,
with Raynor to direct them, began to dig out the ship, it was found that
the actual damage was done only to the propeller, although the fuselage
and wings were covered with mud and some of the wing fabric would have
to be patched and "doped."

"It's that ditch that did it," consoled Raynor, going over the various
aspects of the "cracked-up" landing with Hal. "In the night that
grass-covered ditch couldn't have looked much different from the rest of
the field. But a ditch for a landing place can turn most any sky bus
into a bronco-bucking affair. Nearly every pilot mixes in with something
of the kind sooner or later. Settling in a little gully out in Texas
about seven years ago gave me a wallop in the bean that I won't be
forgetting any time soon," and Raynor ducked his head to show Hal a
jagged white scar that persistently parted his black hair unevenly at
the crown.

As soon as a new propeller could be shipped out and adjusted, one of the
flyer's friends from the air mail route was coming down to pilot off
both Raynor and his ship.

So the next day, in spite of a few rolling, murky wind clouds in the
east, Hal determined to do some gliding on his homemade apparatus. He
wanted this chance to get a real aviator's criticism and advice on the
board and cloth mechanisms with which he had to satisfy his longings for
air flight.

Hal Dane might have wing sense, but he had no money with which to buy
engine-powered wings. All he could do was patch up contrivances out of
the crude materials that lay to hand.

Long ago Hillton had ceased to throw up its hands and fall in a faint
over that "crazy Dane boy" scudding along gully edges propelled by a
pair of sheets stretched on some sticks. In fact, Hillton had grown so
used to Hal's experimenting that by now the village just accepted him
and his stunts as a matter of course.

But with the famous Rex Raynor present and evincing interest in such
things, the whole of Hillton turned out to watch this new gliding
attempt of Hal's.

Instead of rolling out the battered little glider that reposed in the
main workshop, Hal, with considerable help from all the small boys of
Hillton, pushed back a section of the opposite wall, revealing that the
barn had a second long room--the harness or storage room of the old
days. From out of this, scraping and screaking along the ground on its
keel skid, was hauled a white monstrosity--a huge thing of wood and
cloth, of wires and bars and levers.

Hilltonians who hadn't seen the latest of Hal's handicraft couldn't
resist a laugh at the ungainly monster with long, warped-looking stretch
of wing.

"Gangway, gangway!" shouted a youngster. "Here comes the
Willopus-Wallopus!"

"Willopus, your foot!" snorted Uncle Telemachus. He himself might laugh
a bit at Hal, but he wasn't going to stand for anybody else doing it. He
silenced the mouthy boy with a glare from his fiery old eyes. "Hi, don't
you know a wind bird when you see one?"

Wind bird, indeed! To the uninitiated, this cloth contraption stretched
on hay-bale wire and sprucewood sticks, hauled out of its lair on its
screakily protesting keel skid, looked more like some waddling
antediluvian from the prehistoric past.

But Rex Raynor seemed to find nothing comical in the wind bird. Her slow
progress while being dragged to the brow of Hogback Hill gave him a
chance to study her every line. To an aviator used to the exquisite
finish and polish of a modern factory-built sky boat, Hal's contraption
offered a contrast of a rather sketchy aircraft fuselage. A little
board, an upright post, some slim sprucewood longerons,--that was the
fuselage, if one could call it a fuselage! But for all its homemade
roughness, there was an interesting compactness in the way the boy had
braced his few wires and uprights down to a "V," converging at the board
seat. The one wing was a long cloth-covered affair of wood strips and
wires--streamlined after a fashion, for it was narrower at the tips than
in the center, and thinner at the back edge than at the front edge. The
longerons ended in rudimentary elevators and rudder, connected by wires
to a pair of pedals set before the board seat that was fastened at the
nose of the fuselage. A broomstick control stuck up before the seat too,
and wires hitched it to the wings.

"The boy's worked out something, eh?" grunted Uncle Tel, shuffling
rheumatically alongside of Raynor, who seemed bent on studying every
inch of the curious, lumbering craft. "Got some technique all his own,
eh?"

"Cat's back!" snorted the flyer, "but I'll say the kid's got technique!"
He laid a hand on one of the hinged sections that formed the back of
each wing tip. "Look at those ailerons he worked out on the wings! He's
combined the idea of the German Taube and the French Nomet in that wing
lift. Where did he get it?"

"Got it out of his head--and from watching birds fly, too, I reckon,"
said Uncle Tel. "That boy, he's always snatching time to sit out here on
the top of old Hogback Hill, watching buzzards sail, crows flap, and how
the lark gives a little spring when she sails up into the sky. Looky
here, see that sort of spring, set there where the glider rests on its
skid? That's what Buddy calls his 'lark spring up.' It helps him get
gliding in a shorter run than he could before he put it there."

The glider and its escort had about reached the crest of the hill now.
Raynor stepped a little apart and stood looking down over the lay of the
land below him.

"Um--valleys and bare rolling hills," he muttered to himself. "The sort
of terrain below to make air currents that rise and flow. The kid's a
good picker of gliding country. Reckon though he's been experimenting
and studying out this air current business for himself. He's not exactly
the kind to leave everything to mere blind chance."

Hal Dane jammed his old cap down on his head nearly to the ears, stood a
moment beside his glider. He was a tall, fair boy--fair at least if he
hadn't been so outrageously tanned. His eyes had the Norse hint of "blue
fire" to them, like the blue fire of the ice glint of the far north. For
a fact, the boy had more than a hint of the old Norse Viking look to him
as he stood there beside his wind ship.

His mother, in the fore-edge of the crowd, hands nervously twisting but
chin up and eyes steady, might have been the mother of a Viking. Only,
instead of watching a son take boat for unknown sea currents, this
mother was watching a son mount the even more unknown air currents.

Ducking down to get in under the overhanging wing, Hal seated himself on
the board, rammed his back against the upright post that formed the main
member of his skeleton fuselage, then doubled up his long legs to set
feet on the pair of pedals.

It was rather good sport, this starting Hal off on a flight. The Hillton
youngsters had plenty of experience in their end of the matter--which
was the pushing and pulling off. On this occasion, when there were so
many onlookers, it was a matter to be fought over. Fuz McGinnis, acting
as master of ground ceremonies, straightened affairs out and selected
those that had already had some experience in pulling off.

At a signal from Hal, half a dozen fellows, three to the left and three
to the right, walked away with the ends of a rope that led back in a "V"
to the front of the wind bird. At the tip of one wing a tall boy trotted
along to hold the wings level. Behind the wind bird, Fuz and another
fellow came ambling along, pulling back slightly on a tail rope.

At twenty steps down the hill, Hal shouted, "Run!"

The contraption, which had been slipping along the ground on its keel
skid, rose a few feet as the runners picked up speed.

Ten paces more, and the pilot crouching up there under the wing yelled,
"Turn loose! Let her go!"

Already the fellow at the wing had stood away. At the yell "Let her go!"
the others dropped ropes, which fell free from the down-pointed hooks
they had been merely held against by pressure. Now with the back pull
relaxed, the glider shot upward and forward like a stone hurled from a
catapult.

Wedged between some spruce sticks under a stretch of cloth, Hal was off
on his motorless flight.

When on the ground this contraption of wood and wires had seemed an
ungainly, waddling freak. But now as it soared upward on air currents in
its sky-element, it swooped with a marvel of grace.

Instead of a short flight and a mere slide down a wind hill, the boy
began to twist and turn to take advantage of every rising current of air
so as to ascend to a greater height than that from which he had started.

Though he couldn't hear it, the crowd below him let out a gasp of
admiration. Rex Raynor stood, head bent back so as not to miss a
movement of the rider of the wind.

Already the wind bird had climbed a hundred feet above the take-off; it
banked again for another climb. Now it circled, swept in a series of
loops, and began to drift easily down a landing at the foot of the
starting hill.

Then through the valley swept a gust from the wind clouds that had been
rolling up all day. Like a leaf the lazily dropping wind machine was
caught up in the blast, swept high again, hurled this way and that,
dipping crazily.

"Gosh!" shrieked Fuz McGinnis in a bleat of terror. "Oh, my gosh! He's
going to head on his stand!" Fuz always said his words hind part before
when he got excited.



                               CHAPTER IV

                            WINDS OF CHANCE


Caught in a swirl of air currents, Hal Dane and his craft were hurled
this way and that like some toy shot from a giant's hand. Watchers below
held their breath.

Although a hundred feet and more intervened between them, those on the
ground could see that the boy in the air was exerting every ounce of
craftsmanship in his battle with the wind. He banked to the right, now
dipped and rose, as though striving to ride the twist of air currents
flowing about him, instead of drifting helplessly in their battering
clutch. At times the wind ship seemed to whirl completely around, yet
mostly it was held to an even keel.

Then the heavens opened and the rain came down in torrents; preluded by
lightning and thunder, a cold blast swept down the valley with something
of the fury of a small cyclone. Caught in this tempest, the crude plane
bucked and went rearing upward like an affrighted horse.

"There goes the last of Grandma Harrison's sheets," roared Uncle Tel,
hardly conscious of what he was saying and charging through the crowd as
though he, on his rheumatic old limbs, would keep up with that flying
white in the sky above.

"There goes my boy!" thought Mary Dane. It was a silent prayer.

Higher than it had ever gone before surged the wind bird. Storm,
darkness, and rain seemed to cut it off from men's sight.

The crowd began to run down the valley, letting the push of the wind
guide them in the direction the aircraft must surely be following also.
Clinging wet garments and the rain torrent made progress heartbreakingly
slow.

Fuz McGinnis turned and began a stumbling progress against the wind back
towards the starting point at Hogback. After a while he reappeared,
charging along over the roadless, stony valley in his grotesquely
inadequate looking Yellow Spider. Into it he somehow crowded Mrs. Dane
and Uncle Tel. Others turned back and went for their cars. Raynor caught
a ride with someone. Quite a procession went skidding and lumbering
through the rain-washed valley.

Then, as quickly as it had come, the summer storm cleared. The sun even
came out.

Something white showed up, flapping dismally in a distant tree top. It
must be the remains of the wind bird. It--it couldn't be anything else.

Fuz let out the yellow cut-down, speeding by stumps, dodging boulders.
From the car behind him he could hear Raynor's voice urging on the
driver.

These two cars were by far and away the lead of practically the entire
population of Hillton that surged running, walking, riding down the
valley.

Mary Dane, and Raynor not far behind her were the first to reach that
tree with its flaunting ragged streamers of the wrecked windcraft. Hal
was not lying at its foot, battered and crashed. Instead, with blood on
his face, and his clothes half torn off, he was gingerly lowering
himself from branch to branch. He shinned on down the trunk, dropped
beside his mother, and fair picked her up in a great boyish bear hug.

Above him, half of the wind bird hung in streaming tatters from a couple
of tree branches. The other half had already descended and lay like a
vast white splotch on the ground.

"Reckon I'd better go get the truck and haul this in," said Hal, using
his fist to mop blood out of his eye from a cut on the forehead. "I'm
sort of used to hauling in the remains and patching up things after
every flight. I--"

As man to man, Raynor clapped him on the shoulder and thrust out a hand.
"Put her there!" he said.

"I--er--had the luck to land in the soft part of a tree. I--I got down
anyway," said Hal gruffly to hide the emotion that was stirring him.

"You got down--but you did more! Man, man! Without any engine, on some
sheets strung on sticks, you flew to the clouds, banked, dipped, soared
with the best of them, till that whirlwind caught you. Prettiest thing
I've seen in years."

"If only that wrong wind hadn't got me," moaned Hal.

"If!" said Raynor, narrowing his eyes. "Aviation's full of ifs,
boy--don't let 'em--"

"I won't," said Hal, grinning in spite of the fact that half of his best
wind bird was dangling from a branch in a tree top.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The next day Rex Raynor was leaving. Pilot Osburn had come down to fly
him off in the now fully repaired airplane. After a warm handclasp for
all the friends into whose kindness he had dropped, Raynor started to
climb up into the cockpit of the R.H.3. Then he stepped back to ground,
drew out a notebook and wrote a few lines. He turned to Hal.

"I expected to write you a letter about this. But," with a grin,
"aviation's too full of ifs, so--thought I might as well attend to it
now while we're together. You saved my life. And you're not the kind of
a chap I can get a reward off on. But there's something I want to do for
you, and this note will tell you what." He slid the piece of paper into
Hal's pocket, then climbed up into his plane.

The pilot removed the blocks, the motor roared, and the R.H.3 taxied
forward and zoomed into the air. The boy stared upward until the great
plane grew small, became a mere speck, disappeared beyond the horizon.
Then he silently turned away from the crowd and headed towards home,
walking fast. He rather wanted to get into the privacy of his own old
workshop before he opened Raynor's note.



                               CHAPTER V

                          CHALLENGING THE AIR


Once within the quiet silence of the old workshop Hal plumped down on a
sawhorse and pulled the note out of his pocket.

Quickly he unfolded the paper, and gave a gasp at the contents. It was a
note scribbled to the head of the Rand-Elwin Flying School, saying:
"Here's a real air-minded boy who risked his life for a flyer. He wants
to become one of us, and all he'll need is work to pay for lessons. I
think you could use such a boy."

Hal Dane's head was in a whirl as he read and re-read the few scribbled
lines. Hal had every right to feel dizzy. Raynor's words were suddenly
opening up and making real to him certain vague, misty dreams he had
desperately believed would somehow materialize in a far, far distant
future.

Instead, they were materializing now--right now--immediately. The boy
sitting rigid on the old sawhorse suddenly shut his eyes, as if the
realized dreams were too dazzlingly bright. Flying school--actual
training! He'd live with planes--eat, sleep, dream with planes--till he
knew every inch of the real machinery of aeromotors. Then a pilot's
license! That would open the world for him.

Hal Dane would fly a real plane--make real money. His vision traveled
fast. Mother should have everything. No more bending over "taken-in"
sewing with weariness pains lacing her bent back and lines deepening in
her face. Uncle Tel should have all the pipes, all the books he wanted.
They'd do over the old house, renovate it back to its former two-storied
elegance, paint, flowers--he'd--the dream circled back on itself and
began all over again at airships, Hal Dane aviator!

Hal slid down off the saw bench. He'd write the letter to
Rand-Elwin--now.

That same day's mail carried Hal's letter to the Flying School, a fervid
boyish epistle stating how enthusiastically hard he'd work if they would
only give him the chance. Pinned to it was Raynor's all-important
scribble.

A week's space brought the answer. It was a business-like typed sheet
signed by the Mr. Rand of the Rand-Elwin.

Crowded as they were with pay students, it was out of the ordinary, he
wrote, for them to take one to work out his tuition expenses. But the
written recommendation from Mr. Raynor (one of their former men), also a
personal visit from him pertaining to this matter in hand, had inclined
the school to change its policy in this case. Work would be found for
him in the hangars or in the corps of mechanicians. He could expect no
money pay for this, of course, but instead would receive the much
greater pay of free tuition, board and lodging at the barracks. From
Raynor's recommendation, they were expecting great work from him, an
interesting flying future--

Hal's eyes traveled back from the pleasant prophecy that closed the
communication,--traveled back and riveted upon "no money pay."

It had been foolish of him, of course, but somehow he had never figured
at all that there would be "no money pay." He had rosily visioned
himself as pulling down some neat sum for his probable labors at
sweeping hangars, trundling grease cans, blocking and unblocking plane
wheels. Half of this money would have gone to pay flying-tuition, most
of the other half would have gone to the folks back home. In his
visioning he had slept in some corner of a hangar, had eaten any old
fare.

But now, no money coming in at all, that was different! The vision
seemed closing up, drifting away. Mother and Uncle Tel had to eat. He
hadn't earned much, but he had earned something, enough to keep their
little household going, anyway.

He'd have to stick at this truck job that paid even a pittance of real
money--give up this flying vision, this Rand-Elwin offer.

Oh, but how could he? This, his first real chance! In reality it was a
full generous thing the Rand-Elwin people were willing to do. They were
offering lodging, board and something like a thousand dollars in tuition
in exchange for the part-time work of an unknown boy. Only the
recommendation of a valuable man like Raynor could have secured him
this.

His mother, eyes flashing, head held high, insisted stoutly that of
course he must go--his chance--he must take it. Why, she'd manage!

Hal knew exactly how Mary Dane would manage. Sewing, and more sewing,
and a pain in the side most of the time. She had put him through high
school that way. Mothers were like that, always insisting that they
could do the impossible--and doing it.

Well, his mother had sacrificed herself enough for him. Hal shut his
lips fiercely.

The next day his answer went back to the Rand-Elwin Flying School, a
letter very different from that first boyishly exuberant communication.
This ran: "Sorry--circumstances make it impossible for me to accept your
splendid, kindly offer--hope at some future date--"

The clumsy old sliding doors to his barn-hangar were rammed shut, and
left shut. Within were the remains of his greatest wind bird. The torn
cloth and tangled wires were left undisturbed in their huddled dump. Hal
didn't even bother to see what parts were good enough to be rejuvenated
into some other variety of gliding apparatus. He just ceased to
experiment.

He repaired the old truck instead. He went after hauling business.
Several times a week he made double trips to Interborough. Once he made
three trips--a haul that worked him twenty-three hours out of the
twenty-four. He wanted to work, so that he would be too tired even to
think.

Summer passed into autumn.

One day when Hal rattled into the paved streets of Interborough with a
towering combination load of cowhides, lightwood bundles and great
blackened sacks of country-burned charcoal, he found himself in the
midst of carnival.

Autumn was a period of street fairs. One had strung its booths of
shooting galleries, side shows and outdoor aerial trapezes along a
roped-off concession on one of the city's side streets. Even this early
in the morning, flags and banners flaunted themselves in a chipper
gayness. Small dark-skinned people, with a gypsyish, foreign look,
busied themselves with settling tent-pins, tautening ropes, setting out
their tinsel wares,--calling out now and then in soft, slurring accent.

They might be a travel-grimed lot, these gaudy-costumed traders in
tinseled junk and these bandy-legged acrobats. But they had been
somewhere, were going somewhere. They caught Hal's imagination, stirred
it out of its long, dull dormancy. After he had halted some minutes,
while his eyes caught the glint of sunlight on tent tops and fluttering
little banners, he shot the juice to the old truck and, stiffening his
backbone behind the wheel, rattled off down the street actually
whistling. Out across town in an old field behind the warehouse, where
he went to deliver the roll of cowhides, Hal's eye glimpsed something
roped down to fence posts and a couple of stakes. A something that sent
his heart blood pounding suffocatingly up to his very ears,--an
airplane! A battered affair, with the look of having ridden the winds
full many a time! But an airplane, for all that.

All the air hunger that Hal had been crushing out of his soul for months
surged up, took possession of him overwhelmingly. Leaving his truck
standing in the sandy street, he slid down, was over the fence, stood
near this air thing roped down against any chance windstorm. For all its
lack of paint, the old bus had good points. It was shaped for speed, its
wings gave a sense of balance, proportion too.

Hal walked round and round it, hands thrust down into his pockets. He
made no attempt to touch it. He knew from his own experience how one
hated having outsiders mauling and prodding at one's contrivances. But
just standing close, merely looking gave him more pleasure than he had
known for most of the past summer. He was so absorbed in contemplation
of wires and struts and curve-twist of propeller that he was hardly
aware of a knot of men coming down the field towards him. They came in a
close-packed group, talking loudly, gesticulating--evidently in heated
argument over something. Words shot up like explosives. Snatches of
sentences beat into Hal's consciousness.

"But man, you got to--in the contract,
flying--stunting--parachuting--everything--" A fat man waved his arms in
windmill accompaniment to his argument.

"I know--I know all that," a slender dark fellow with black eyes and a
boldly aquiline nose above a square chin interrupted quietly. "I'm
willing to fly, I'm willing to stunt. But I gotter have help. I can't
sail a bus and parachute drop from it all at the same time--not without
crashing my bus, and I ain't going to do that for any fifty dollars a
day. Ain't my fault. How'd I know old Boff was going to get sick and
quit on me for keeps?" The speaker rammed a hand into his pocket. "Say,
wait, I'll do the right thing. You can cancel the whole thing. I'll hand
you back the dough you paid for yesterday's work--that'll even up--"

"No, keep the money," a heavy-set fellow said. "It's not the money
that's worrying us. It's the advertisement business. The city's paying
for the stunts--Trade-in-Interborough Campaign and all that, you
know--got posters plastered over the county, newspapers been tooting it
up--if we don't give 'em the thrills we been promising, our country
customers pouring in here have got a right to be sore at us. Say, don't
you know anybody round about you can pick up to stunt?"

"No-o," the dark fellow shook his head and walked restlessly around the
plane, laying a hand affectionately on it here and there. "Boff and I've
been out west mostly, don't know any outfits down this way. Sa-a-ay, you
get me a man! In a pinch like this, I'll do well by him, give him half
the dough."

Half the dough, half of fifty dollars--that would be twenty-five
dollars! A madness, evoked perhaps by his sudden contact once more with
airmen and airplanes, stirred Hal Dane clear out of himself. Hardly
conscious that it was he, Hal Dane, who was doing this fantastic thing,
he walked straight into the group.

"I'll take him up on that," he said firmly. "I'll stunt with him!"

"Umph--eh! You've got the nerve, you sound sporting," the flyer whirled
and looked him straight up and down. "But no, you're just a youngster.
What would folks say if I let you go up and something happened to
us--no, no!"

"I'm six feet of man, and make my own living--and I can't help being
young," said Hal whimsically. Then his grin faded and his face set. Now
that this fantastic chance was slipping away, he wanted it desperately.
"Give me the chance," he pleaded. "There's not a dizzy bone in me, and
I've got some idea of balance--"

"Look who it is! That's right what he's telling you, he's got--what you
call it--wing sense." Like a small chipper tornado, Harry Nevin,
newspaperman, ploughed up from the rear of the group. "Hey, don't you
folks remember? This is the kid that got his picture in the Star! Went
up with Raynor and brought down Raynor's machine for him, and all that!"

"Oh, so you know about flying, and running sky busses," stated the
aviator with relief.

"I know about flying--but, well, not so much about real planes,"
admitted Hal, honestly.

"He's sailed all over the country on a glider he made himself," broke in
the reporter. "He knows more about balance in a minute than most--"

"Have it your own way," burst out the aviator irritably. "Since you're
all so set on letting this kid do your stunting, I'll take him up. But
the responsibility's on your heads, not mine. And say, you all better
clear out and let us get to work. He ain't got but an hour to be taught
all there is to this here stunting business."

While the crowd was departing, some over, some crawling under the
three-strand wire fence, the aviator busied himself with peering into
the vitals of his ship. Soon though, he raised up, and stalked over to
the boy.

"I'm Maben, Max Maben," he said.

"I'm Hal Dane." The boy stuck out his hand and the older man grasped it
in a quick strong motion.

"Say, what makes you willing to go up in a strange plane, with a strange
flyer, and tackle a lot of stuff you don't know anything about?"

"Got it in the blood, I reckon, this being crazy about wanting to get
mixed up in anything that'll keep me near an airship," mumbled Hal.
"Anyway, I'd been studying your plane. It looked right to me; I liked
its jib," Hal grinned. "Then you came along, and I--well, I reckon I
liked your jib, too."

"Guess we're going to get on." And Maben grinned back.



                               CHAPTER VI

                              ON THE WING


Hal Dane's blond head was in a whirl. In sixty brief minutes Maben had
tried to cram into his cranium all the vast maze of desperately
important facts that one needs must master prior to stunting and
parachuting.

They were up in the air now, zooming over the city. Young Dane had on
his first real flying suit. He leaned back awkwardly against the pack of
his parachute. He had never had on one of the things before. There was
something else new, the speaking tube with earpieces that fitted up
under the helmet. Maben was talking through it now.

"City looks pretty down there--trees and houses all flattened out like
pictures on a rug. I'll circle you over the Fairgrounds next, so you can
see the clear space you're to come down in. Got a mob to watch us, ain't
we?"

Hal felt grateful to Maben. He knew all this kindly rambling talk was
indulged in to keep a raw new amateur stunter's mind off the coming
crisis.

Above them the sky was bright and beautiful; scarcely a cloud flecked
it. Below them little black dots milled around in every direction. That
would be the crowd swarming out to enjoy the vicarious thrill of seeing
someone else in the air. There were tiny waving threads that must be
flags, and a decorated stand where a band was probably blaring.

"Feel your strap--good and tight--for sure?" Maben's voice rumbled to
him. "Got to do my part of the stunting now."

There came a sudden change in the behavior of the plane. Instead of
straight flying, Maben began to put it through an intricate series of
stunts. He went into nose spins, tail spins, falling leaves, and loop
the loops. It was a breath-taking exhibit, at times seemingly reckless
beyond all warrant. Yet there was never a slip nor careen to the ship.
For perhaps half an hour this continued, then the plane straightened out
in a long graceful glide.

"Your time next, kid," muttered Maben, "and for Scott's sake, hold on
and be careful. Don't try to give 'em too much for their money."

Hal pulled the earpieces of the speaking tube from under his helmet and
climbed out of the cockpit.

He stood on the lower wing surface, holding on by a strut, waiting. Over
his left shoulder he had a glimpse of the pilot's strained face.

Maben was circling the plane lower and lower, flying just above the
trees and the grandstand to catch the eye of the crowd.

Ready, go! It was the time. Hal, clinging to the strut, poised to walk
out on that wing piece of fragile wood strips and cloth, had the ghastly
feeling that his heart had stopped beating. Then its pounding sent the
blood roaring to his ears.

No treat, this wing walking business! Suppose the pilot shoved the stick
or jazzed the engine!

But Max Maben held his speed to a level; no dropping, no high-riding.
Nice work! The ship steady on all axes, calm as a rocking chair in a
parlor!

Hal's terror wave passed. He stood free of the strut, walked, bowed, cut
a step or two. With a man like Maben at the stick to hold her steady,
this was nothing. No more than walking the boards of some earth-bound
floor. All you had to do was to keep your mind on your feet, and not
look over the edge. Through Hal shot a sudden daring desire to climb a
strut to the top wing of the biplane, to stand there erect, outlined
against the sky. He gripped a support preparatory to a climb.

Maben's signal stopped him. It came sharply, the signal they had
arranged upon, two quick taps on the fuselage. Hal turned. The pilot was
glaring at him from under fiercely drawn brows, and his mouth was in a
set line. Swiftly Maben gave the next signal, three taps. That meant the
ship was going to climb for altitude for the parachute jump.

The altimeter began to mark up--fifteen hundred, eighteen hundred, two
thousand. Maben made a level movement with one hand. That meant all was
ready. In slow reversements, Maben held the ship over the center of the
field below.

"Go!" tapped the four beats of the signal.

Hal was out on the wing tip. He made a movement towards space, froze
back into a crouch and felt frenziedly back at his parachute. Suppose it
were not there! Suppose he had never put it on! His fingers touched the
compact bulk of the 'chute that dangled gawkily from shoulder straps and
belt straps. Hal braced himself, shamed at his childishness. No more
fooling. He must go this time.

Steady, go!

Hal Dane stepped off the wing edge and dropped into space.

The pull-off swung him like a toy. Everything went black. He shut his
eyes, opened them again. The earth seemed to gyrate below him. Above
him, the zoom of the ship.

He must pull the rip cord of the 'chute. No, no--not yet! Must wait,
must be no danger of tearing silken fabric against a whirl of the plane.

Down, down. Top speed. Heart in throat. Ghastly shriek of air in his
face. His head was going down. He must kick, keep the slant. Maben had
said, "Keep your head up--head down gives you one bustin' yank in the
middle when she opens up!"

One, two, four, six,--twenty--no use to count heartbeats--heart must
have thumped a thousand times by now. No time to waste. Earth looked
like it was coming up. Now! Now! He must pull the rip cord!

Down, down. The thing hadn't opened! Suppose--

The great silk lobe opened out with a "pow-a" like a cannon shot.

The lightning speed drop was checked suddenly, and the parachute harness
tightened about him at the pull. He seemed to drop no more. He felt that
he was only floating, a mere dot against the immensity of the skies. He
seemed an unreality, a swaying atom drifting in the gulfs of space. The
earth that a moment ago had seemed coming up to meet him now seemed a
thousand miles away. Would he ever come down, touch foot on that earth
again?

As the great inverted chalice of the silken parachute ceased its
oscillations, the earth also ceased its tremendous rise and fall. It
seemed to stand steady below Hal Dane, and he was approaching it faster
than he had thought.

The boy suddenly remembered to cross his legs (Max Maben's orders), lest
he straddle a telephone wire, a church steeple or something equally
disastrous.

A feeling of terrible helplessness was upon him. Nothing that he could
do could change his direction. The wind could do that though. A sudden
gust could blow him out over water, ram him against a stone building,
hurl him before a rushing train.

But no wind arose. He was coming straight down. The crowd below seemed
scattering to give him room. He looked up, saw Maben climbing down from
the skies to meet him.

On the field, men were running forward to catch his heels as he touched
earth. Many hands helped him hold down against the tug of the parachute,
while he worked at the clips of the harness. As the straps fell away and
he stepped free, Maben landed and taxied towards him.

"Kid, you did it!" Maben's brown hands gripped his shoulder and turned
him about to face the applause of the crowd that had gone crazy with
clapping and shouting. Swept away by relaxation of the tense excitement,
those near him pounded him, tried to hoist him on shoulders for a
parade.

It was Hal's first taste of glory. It thrilled him, but he soon longed
to get away from it all. As soon as he could he ducked and escaped and
followed in the direction of Maben, whom he had seen trundling the plane
into seclusion behind the grandstand.

"Say!" Maben turned on him in mock fierceness, "I'm of a mind to kick
you for overstunting on that plane wing. No use being too risky--just
plain foolishness, that. But, kid," the aviator's habitually tense face
relaxed into a boyish grin. "I'll say you made that come down
O. K.,--all jake! An old-timer couldn't have done it prettier. Listen, I
got a proposition I want to make you!"



                              CHAPTER VII

                          A ONE-SHIP CARNIVAL


"Hi, sleepy-head, don't you ever get up of a morning? Going to snooze
all day?" A couple of resounding smacks against the hammock he swung in
startled Hal into semi-wakefulness.

"Um-m, yes," hammock shaking to violent stretchings of its human burden.
"Gosh, seems like just a minute since I crawled in. Didn't night pass in
a hurry?" Hal stuck a tousled blond head out of his sleeping bag and
gazed reproachfully down at Maben, who was already up and, in spite of
the crisp autumn chill, was taking a shower bath by the simple expedient
of standing in the shallow creek and flinging water all over himself.

It was a strange camping outfit that Maben and Hal had evolved. Instead
of a tent, they utilized the upper wing of Maben's old biplane as a roof
over their heads. They had constructed hammocks of heavy canvas which
could be suspended, one on each side of the fuselage, up under the top
wing. The corners of a hammock were tied to the upper strut fittings,
and when a fellow crawled into the three blankets inside, which were
sewn up to form a bag, he was prepared for a comfortable night.

Sliding out carefully, so as not to wreck the wing fabric above and
below him in any way, Hal stood up, stretched again, then made a speedy
dash for a dip in the creek and a leap into clothes.

"My time to cook! I'll get breakfast to pay for oversleeping," shouted
Hal, back at the plane and grabbling into the little provision sack
tucked under canvas in the cockpit.

The sack contained little enough in the way of foodstuff--some potatoes,
a little bacon, nubbin of bread.

As Hal flopped over the sizzle of meat and spuds in the frying-pan and
set out the meal in two tin plates, he attended to the job by mere
mechanical touch,--his mind was running round in circles. What in the
dickens were they going to do? If they spent what little they had buying
food, there'd be no money to buy gas. If they bought gas,--no food! Um,
better draw their belts tighter and put the cash in gas. No gas meant no
stunt flying--no stunt flying, no crowd to take for rides. And carrying
passengers was how they earned their living.

Three states lay between Hal and home.

Maben's proposition had been a wild one--that he and Hal join forces and
stunt together over the backwoods country towns. It would be a
precarious livelihood. Some days they might cop nothing. Some days they
might make a pile. Maben needed a "pile" for his folks back home, his
wife, a baby boy, a little daughter just old enough to start school.
Maben carried their pictures in a rubbed old case stuck away in an
inside pocket. Hal had his home folks on his heart too. He needed to
earn money somehow. Even though the mere touch of a plane and the call
of the air were a delightful lure, he knew aero-stunting was a risky
business. In the end he had decided to tackle it, for a while anyway. So
he had rattled the old truck home from Interborough, turned over to his
mother the first twenty-five dollars he had ever earned all in a lump,
and had joined Maben.

For a while they had made good money. In sections where airplanes had
never come or at most had been merely glimpsed--a swift moving speck in
the sky that came out of nowhere and disappeared into nowhere--a plane
that really came down to earth was a novelty. As they flew over
villages, folks rushed out into the open, heads thrown back, eyes on the
sky, arms waving and beckoning excitedly.

After circling to find a good pasture or stubble field from which to
operate (a piece of open ground close up to the village being of course
most desirable from a showman's point of view), Maben would fly low, and
Hal would begin to do wing-walking. If the sight of a young fellow
walking and cavorting and skinning-the-cat between wire struts on the
wing of a flying plane didn't catch the eye of the crowd, the parachute
drop could always be counted on to "get 'em going." After the stunts,
Maben would fly low and ease to a perfect landing to show folks how safe
it was to come down in an airplane.

After landing, there would always be a heavy barrage of questions--were
the wings made of tin or catgut; what was that paddle thing in front;
which was worse, to break the nose or the tail; how did it feel to fly,
anyway? The answer was that the only way to know how it felt to fly was
to try it.

Because a plane was an expensive machine and because it took
considerable funds to buy gasoline, the charge for a short sky-ride had
to be five dollars.

After one brave native son took his courage in his hands and went up for
a flight, others usually crowded in, anxious for their share of the
thrills. Once a whole village, out on the gala event of an annual
picnic, "took to the air." That night Maben and Hal found they had taken
in a hundred and seventy-five dollars. The nickels and dimes and small
bills, emptied out of a bulging canvas sack into the dip of a hammock,
looked like a young mountain of money. Hal and Maben both had fat checks
to send home that week.

Hal had enjoyed visualizing how his mother and Uncle Tel looked when
they received his check, liked to picture the comforts in which they
could now indulge.

But out here on the edge of Texas business had flopped. They seemed to
have struck a belt where planes had become common as dirt, no rarity at
all. Other barnstormers must have combed this section well ahead of
them. When Hal and Maben zoomed over villages, nobody even bothered to
look up.

"We've got to make 'em look," said Maben fiercely, as he mopped the last
crumb out of his tin plate, "got to make 'em look--or we don't eat. I've
got sort of a plan."

When he and Hal walked into town to see about having a tank of gasoline
sent out to the plane, Maben dropped hints everywhere about a thriller
of a high dive they were going to stage, a high dive into the whirlpool
below the falls of Faben River, just out of town. Folks that wanted
their hair to stand on end better not miss that! Plenty of excitement!

Back at their camp, Maben, chuckling like the big boy he was at heart,
worked all the rest of the morning on a contraption made of empty cloth
sacks on which he sewed valiantly with a huge needle threaded with stout
string. He made four bolster-shaped rolls, a square pillow, a rounded
knob, all of them stuffed with dead grass and some mixed sand and clay
thrown in for good weight. Then he assembled his six parts, sewed them
strongly together into the form of a stiff, stubby dummy man.

That afternoon when Hal and Maben went up in the plane, the dummy man
went with them, scrouged down out of sight in the cockpit. Low over the
houses and trees flew Maben, with Hal out on a wing tip doing all the
stunts he knew. With that air balance that seemed born in him, Hal bowed
and whirled on the lower wing, did acrobatics between struts, climbed to
the top wing, stood outlined against the sky in daring silhouette. From
his swift-moving aerial stage, the boy shouted down for the crowd to
gather at the river bank--last stunt to be pulled there--a thriller!

Higher and higher over the foaming, rocky rapids of the river and its
whirlpool below the falls rode the airplane. Flat on his stomach on the
lower plane wing, Hal lay stretched out, holding to a wing strut with
one hand and reaching into the cockpit with the other. It took every
ounce of muscle in him to draw the weighted dummy up, to flatten it on
top of him.

Maben was too high to allow a good aim at the tiny blotch of water
below. Good aim and quick sinking of the dummy into the whirling waters
was the main part of the huge, thrilling joke they were attempting to
pull off. Down from eighteen hundred feet to a thousand, to eight
hundred--five hundred. The roar of the motor diminished. Max Maben
hovered over the pool center in slow reversements and wing slips.

"Quick, shoot him overboard!"

Over the plane edge, down and down went the dummy, waving its arms and
legs wildly. Hal felt a ridiculous sympathy for it, it looked so human.
Still flattened out and peering warily over the wing, Hal saw it take
water in one splendid plunge into oblivion. He saw people running up and
down the bank, pointing,--he was sure they were shouting, only no voices
came up to him.

But instead of circling down, straightening out for one of his beautiful
easy landings in even the small field that the river valley allowed,
Maben began to circle upward, always in the same tight spirals.

Going up now was poor business. Maben ought to be easing down to take
advantage of the excited interest his little advertising stunt had
aroused.

Hal wriggled forward, stuck a head over to see why Maben didn't go down.

Still circling, the pilot made motions, pointing to the throttle. In a
jiffy Hal whirled his long legs around and slid into the cockpit. As he
bent close, Maben shouted in his ear:

"Gotter keep going! Throttle's stuck! Can't shut the motor off!"



                              CHAPTER VIII

                           RIVER OF THE WIND


Maben kept circling. Beside him, Hal worked desperately, trying every
known and unknown device for loosing a stuck throttle. But stuck she
stayed.

And the interminable circling kept on. It seemed hours that they rode
thus, using up their precious gas in this ridiculous, passengerless
flight. Finally Hal crawled out of the cockpit and crept to the front of
the wing. He risked thrusting a hand gingerly down in the back of the
engine. Finally his searching fingers closed over the obstruction, a
slick, bottle-shaped thing with a greasy pointed neck. It was their can
of motor oil, carried for emergencies, and it had jarred under the
throttle-arm and wedged. Hal tugged and pulled but the grease-covered
can seemed to offer no grip for his fingers. He reached in for a closer
grasp, set his teeth, and yanked. The obstruction gave, zipped out with
such momentum that the force of Hal's pull nearly shot him backwards off
the plane edge. The can spun a thousand feet down through space. Rather
white around the mouth, Hal slid back into the safety of the pit.

With a freed throttle, Maben made a landing with all of his usual ease
and grace. But there was no one to watch him. The little crowd that
their ruse of the diving dummy had assembled for them had long since
departed.

So far as barnstorming aviation was concerned, East Texas seemed to be a
total loss. Hal and Maben swooped down to their camp, gathered up their
very limited assortment of housekeeping necessities, and set wing for
further westward.

Within the week they hit a line of carnivals and country fairs.

With so much competition in the way of stunt flyers and aerial circuses,
any newcomer on the scene must think up something out of the ordinary if
he expected to make a living with his sky bus. And with necessity
fostering invention, Hal's brain conjured up the something.

Even on these little half-mile country tracks, the auto racer was
replacing the old-time horse racer. Hal's agile imagination leaped a
step further. Why not race car against airplane? The one on the ground,
the one in the air, but both racing in the same limited circle in full
view of the grandstand?

It was so revolutionary an idea that at first no one would listen to
him. A laugh in the face was all he got for his explanations of how to
manage this new thrill-offering.

Then the manager of the lively carnival in swing at Repton caught Hal's
vision. On his track was staged their first auto-aero race. There was a
spice of danger to the thing--at least for the aerial part of it. To
speed a plane in a little half-mile circuit takes a master hand at the
stick. But Maben had that master hand. He could make a sky bus do almost
anything in reason.

Above the tiny circuit of the dirt track he had to bank his old plane
pretty nearly straight up and down and zoom around like a bee in a
bottle. To keep from winning too soon and ruining the show, he had to
throttle down her motor until the last lap. Then he'd let the sky bus
out and show the boys what she could do. Below him the begoggled auto
speed-fiend would let his ground ship out too and smoke his wheels on
turns, but the sky bus always won.

The auto-aero race was a success, a wow! It caught the fancy of the
crowds and gave them more thrills than they knew were left in this
thrill-worn universe. The air-earth races kept the Repton Fair open a
week longer than had been counted upon. After its closing, Hal and Maben
drifted on to other fairs and found good money waiting for them almost
everywhere they touched. Sometimes they took in twenty-five dollars a
day, but more often it was seventy-five, and now and again they reached
the hundred mark.

At Zenner, Hal had the thrill of buying himself a plane. It was an old
J-1 Standard, the type of ship the army used to train pilots before the
war. Its owner had made one flight in it and had come down to a perfect
one-point landing--straight on the nose--and smashed up everything.

Max Maben knew points though when it came to planes, and advised Hal to
buy. They made Zenner their headquarters for a while and radiated out
from it to do carnival flying. Between times they worked on the plane.
In the end they evolved a patched-up creation built with homemade spars,
a second-hand engine and rusty fittings that had to be painted over. But
she flew like a bird. The carnival season was closing in. Hal used the
old J-l Standard to double their earnings by flying races at one fair
while Max filled his schedule at other fairs.

But for all her sweet flying, the Standard wasn't altogether a lucky
plane. Some nemesis of mischance seemed to dog her flights more often
than not. Once when the two flyers had her out for a pleasure spin that
took them hedgehopping over mountain tops and skimming the warm air
softness of the desert edge, the false darkness of a windstorm swooped
around them and sent them earthward for a forced landing. In the dimness
they took to ground between the cactus and Spanish dagger covering old
fields. And here they stayed the better part of a week. As they landed,
a villain of a Spanish dagger plant had slashed through the front spar
of a wing. It took half a day to patch the ten-inch gap in the spar and
to sew up a dozen rips in the wing fabric. It took half a week of
cutting sagebrush and cactus to clear enough space for a take-off
runway.

But whether the old J-l Standard was a lucky bird or not, possession of
it began to stir in Hal Dane a slow, subtle change. Ownership of a plane
of his own awoke in him vast longings and hopes. In spare moments he was
always tinkering lovingly around the old bus, seeing if a wire tightened
here didn't make her wing edge better, or if a heavier wire coil above
the landing gear didn't make her taxi along sweet. Now and again when he
had a spell off from carnival work, he took the "J" up on long, high
solo flights.

On one of these lonely air journeys he pushed higher than ever before.
The vast altitudes were always luring the boy, held a fascination for
him. Zooming up into the ether till from land he might seem some mere
speck in the sky had long since ceased to awake in him any nervous
terrors. Instead, he reveled in the sense of space and freedom the
heights gave him. Aerial intuition showed him that, within limits, the
higher he was, the safer he was. An engine break a hundred feet above
ground, where room for soaring tactics was limited and the parachute of
no account, was a much more terrible danger than a similar accident two
miles high. The heights meant safety from rough ground air; ten or
fifteen thousand feet often meant safety from storms.

Up and up Hal pushed his rough-built, patched-winged old army relic,
reveling wildly in the freedom of the skies, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen
thousand feet up. Intense cold froze him to the marrow, chattered his
teeth. Air pressure weighted his brain, reeled his head dizzily. If only
he had some protecting, oxygen-piped helmet to protect him from air
heights, as a diver had helmet to save him from water pressure! If--if!
Then he could explore the great unknown of the air! But even at a puny
sixteen-thousand-foot height, the sky had revelations for one that
soared its spaces knowingly.

Once in his high flying, Hal was swept into the vast power of a great
westward flowing current of air. A veritable river of the wind. It swept
him on fast and faster. Exhilaration shot through the boy's being.
Speed! Power! Here was power waiting to be harnessed by man. Westward on
a river of the wind!

A thousand years ago his Norse ancestors had swept westward on ocean
currents, the rivers of the sea, to find a new land. Some day, he, Hal
Dane must sweep westward on a river of the wind to discover--what?

He longed to fly onward forever as he was now, with a speed wind under
his wings. But the cold was devouring him, the awesome pressure was
roaring into his brain. Anger at his puny man's impotence in the face of
such power shook him. He could bear no more, the air weights were
smothering him. Downward he began to drop in long swoops.

As altitude had plunged him into a baptism of ice, so earth, as he
swooped downward, seemed to have prepared for him a baptism of fire.

Below him, in great gusts, yellow-edged billows of black smoke clouds
poured up. Funnels of sparks blasted up on the winds and scattered to
shower back into an inferno of flames.

Hal swerved aside, but sent his plane in a huge circuit nearer earth, so
that without danger he could inform himself concerning this disaster.

It was a barn in flames--the great red barn of some lonely ranch place.
Crammed as it must be with hay and wheat shocks, it had become a roaring
furnace, spouting flames up into the very skies.

Disastrously near to the doomed barn was the house. The little white
farmhouse seemed to crouch pitiably, seemed almost a human thing,
earth-bound and with fire-death sweeping against it.

As Hal circled nearer, he could see little frantic specks that were
human beings running back and forth with futile buckets of water. From
experience out here, Hal had come to know something of the water dearth
of the plains. What avail were the few hundred gallons of water in a
little cistern against this raging fire monster?

But the human specks fought on madly. The barn was doomed. They were
fighting for the house. Up went the buckets of precious water to wet
down the roof. Now they were spreading sopping blankets. And to what
use? The wind was veering more, the sparks were showering continuously.
For one flaming shingle stamped out, two more leaped into blaze.

Like one fascinated by danger, Hal circled nearer. It was madness. A
spark on his wing, curl of flame bursting out of the inflammable lacquer
pigment--then the death crash.

But this little white house was somebody's home--his all!

The boy flung caution from him. He dropped low, aimed his plane straight
out. With a zoom of the mighty wind-makers of his wings, he drove
forward down the air lane between the flaming hell of the barn and the
little crouching house in its imminent doom.

In his wake swept vast air currents swirled upward by the speed of his
passage, a wind wall that turned back spark and flames from showering on
the house roof.

His own wings had dodged sparks somehow, run the fire gauntlet unscathed
this one time. It was risking fate, but Hal Dane wheeled his aircraft
and shot again down the dangers of that fire-fenced air lane.

Hal Dane was using his plane like a gigantic fan to combat the fire's
spread. His very speed must have shed the falling dangers of sparks from
his own wings.

Full forty times he drove his ship back and forth between the little
house and the flaming barn, making mighty air currents that turned back
the peril like a shield of the wind.

The fire-riddled structure collapsed, shooting flames enormously high,
then settled into a smouldering mass. This might burn on for days, but
its real menace to the farmhouse was ended.

With danger conquered, Hal Dane, like some crusader of the air, whirled
skyward, incognito. Those he had saved would never know who had saved
them.

But flame and danger had strangely stirred the boy's heart, had fired
his ambition into a steady glow that henceforth was to flinch at
nothing.

Emotion--inspiration--a medley of feelings surged up in him as he
swirled high into the sky. Higher, higher, back again into the mighty
rushing currents of the rivers of the winds! To what did that current
flow westward? Some day he must explore it--must know.

High, and higher, till the air pressure sang heavily against his brain.
Here in the heights the lure of still another adventure was calling
him--the adventure of invention. The world was waiting for that--waiting
for man to pit his brain against the dangers of the great ethereal upper
strata. Man must conquer air heights as he had conquered earth heights.

It was a new Hal Dane that came down from this sky flight. He was no
longer a boy, satisfied with clowning above a carnival in an air
machine. In his mind burned a definite desire to master aeronautics
instead of merely drifting aimlessly, satisfied to dabble in air flying.

Along with ambition he had the hard common sense to know that he must go
back and begin at the bottom, lay his foundations right if he meant to
climb high.

That night he mailed a letter to the Rand-Elwin Flying School. Days
later the answer came, stating that he could still have the work and the
tuition in that organization that he had applied for once before. Hal
was both surprised and pleased to read that Rex Raynor was now one of
the flying instructors in the school.

With the chill of winter beginning to creep over the great southern
stretches of Texas, the season of country fairs and carnivals came to a
close. Maben was anxious now to get home for a short visit with his
family. After that he meant to try for some practical, year-around
work--the air mail, or forest ranger air service. And Hal had his own
ambitious plans burning within him.

At the Louisiana-Texas border town of Aldon, he and Maben parted
company. It was a wrench for both of them. But then they could cheer
their hearts with the knowledge that the science of flying was making
the world smaller every day. All through life, he and Maben would likely
enough be meeting at various landing fields--to "ground fly" and joke
about their lurid carnival past.

Barnstorming might have been the slap-stick life, but both Hal and Maben
could be thankful for their period of buzzing a plane above country
fairs--their work had brought them in enough money to keep their
families comfortable for some months to come.

Hal was also ahead an additional five hundred from the sale of his old
plane. He could embark with an easy mind on what promised to be the
greatest adventure, so far, in his life.



                               CHAPTER IX

                              GROUND WORK


Before Hal Dane lay the great unknown--the three thousand parts of a
dissected D. C. engine.

"And I've got to get 'em together," he moaned. "Gosh, was it to assort
engine-hash that I went through all I've stood lately?"

Hal Dane had been on a strain, of a sort.

As soon as he landed at the far-stretching, smooth acres of the
Rand-Elwin Field, bounded by hangars, barracks, instruction halls, he
had passed the inspection of Mr. Rand at the office, inspection of
short, dark, imperturbable Major Weston, primary instructor, passed
test-inspection for every ailment in the world--or so it had seemed.

Hal had to undergo examination for heart action, and short-sightedness,
and color blindness, and sense of balance and equilibrium. He was
thumped and spun and eye-tested till he began to imagine that he really
must have some outlandish physical defects. It came as an exhilarating
shock to him when the doctor thumped him in the back and grunted,
"Umph,--prime condition,--fellow with a constitution like that could fly
to the moon!"

So Hal was turned over to Major Weston for training in the elementary
principles of flying.

In relief at his acceptance, Hal's hopes flew high.

But hopes were all that flew high. Hal Dane in person was kept pretty
low, smudging at a lot of engine junk that didn't look like it was ever
meant to fit together.

To Instructor Weston aviation was neither a sport nor an experiment. It
was a business. Under him a student was taught an aerial groundwork as
solid as a railroad rock bed.

Since the internal-combustion gasoline engine was the accepted,
standardized motor power for aircraft flight, Major Weston saw to it
that his pupils knew internal-combustion gasoline engines--else they
didn't graduate into the next class.

For Hal, the lessons seemed to go on interminably about the valve, the
piston, ignition, spark, carburetor. He endured all the miseries of a
brilliant pianist given to performing by "ear" who is set down in a
primer class to learn note reading and scales. He began to feel that the
outside of the ship, wing beauty, pull of propeller, soaring power, were
what had fascinated him--not greasy, grimy intricacies of engines. In
fact, heretofore engines had not entered very much into his aerial
plans. He had known how to crank them, and fly them, and that had seemed
enough.

But at Rand-Elwin, engines loomed large.

He had been here for weeks, and so far had not been allowed even the
feel of a ship--except the Puddle Duck, and one couldn't call that a
ship.

The Puddle Duck was an atrocity. It was a stubby, short-winged boat with
no more grace of movement than the land-waddle of that barnyard fowl for
which it had been named. The chunky plane, for all its ridiculous wing
effect, was merely a land ship. In it, pupils studying balance taxied
madly across the turf, striving to keep its misshapen body at proper
angle--an impossibility. How could one keep such an unbalanced blob
balanced?

Hal could have shed buckets full of tears over his efforts at the joy
stick of the Puddle Duck. He who had flown real ships tied to this
thing!

A huge surprise to young Dane was the finding of Fuz McGinnis as an
upper-classman here. There had been no chance for writing or receiving
letters in the past months of Hal's track-hopping at various country
fairs. Circumstances had forced him out of touch with Old Fuz and the
rest of the home gang. And now here was McGinnis grades ahead of him,
doing flights in a late model sky ship while he wrestled with the Puddle
Duck.

He and Fuz eagerly fell back into the old jolly comradeship in the
little time school duties allowed.

For Hal, time seemed forever filled with motors,--motors in sections,
motors in mixed masses waiting for him to learn their functions and to
reassemble their anatomies.

Only gritted teeth and the sputtering flicker of his river of the wind
ambition held him to his bewildering task day after day. He thought he
hated motors.

Then in a blinding flash of understanding, he began to "see" engines, to
grasp their mechanical beauty.

It was the marvel of the piston that first got him. He began to sense
something of the power of that driving force that man has learned to
harness. It had taken man thousands of years to learn to explode a
mixture of gasoline vapor and air in an engine's cylinder where a piston
caught the force to hurl forward power in a four-stroke cycle. That
four-stroke cycle could speed an automobile over the highway or a wind
ship over the airways.

And he, Hal Dane, had fretted at giving a few weeks to study this master
power! Realization came to him of how primitive were all his notions of
aircraft as compared with the perfection man had already reached. Into
the building of one airship had to go the knowledge of more than half a
hundred crafts and trades.

Instead of mere rods and tubes of metal, Hal now saw pistons and
cylinders as power-containers. To help his understanding, he visualized
how a pinch of gunpowder can easily be put into a gun cartridge. But
when the powder is exploded it expands into gases that would fill a
house. It is the expansion that shoots the bullet. So it was that the
air-gas mixture exploded in a cylinder rushed out to force the piston
into unbelievable speed. This speed harnessed to gear and camshaft was
the power that was hurling the motor world forward--first on wheels, now
on wings.

Hal forgot grease and grime in the sheer wonder of mechanism. Those
black engines of iron, steel, aluminum and alloy became beautiful--more
beautiful than the spread wings that had once fascinated him entirely.
For motors gave power to those wings.

Instead of hastening from ground work into flying, as he could have
done, Hal went back into classes for a second course in engine work.

Because Hal showed promise, Major Weston laid the work on him,
uncompromisingly made him dig for what he got. But after class hours, a
friendship sprang up between the blond boy and the short, heavy-set
pilot trainer. Engines were their meat!

Hal was beginning to master the intricacies of motors, from the old
seven thousand part Spano Motor down through its more modern descendant,
the three thousand part D. C. Motor.

Engine mechanism was marvelous, was complicated--too complicated. Even
after he understood the wondrous power and pull in unison of the D. C.,
Hal's brain rebelled somewhat at the involvement of even this latest
build of motors. Man was smart to have made so complicated a thing--but
man would have been more of a marvel to have made a simple thing that
would perform the same work.

"But," questioned Hal of his instructor-friend, "for the air motor,
every ounce of weight removed means power saved; now what--what could be
taken from such an engine, and still leave efficiency?"

"But what? But why?"

In their after-school confabs, Weston's experience and Hal's theory and
hopes fought many an acrimonious friendly battle. Raynor, who as
advanced-flying pilot was for the present out of Hal's school sector,
sometimes of a night joined in these air battles fought out on the
ground. All manner of past and modern experiments came under the fire of
their discussions. Aeronautical engine builders seemed to have tried out
many varieties of motors. There were the long ago experiments with steam
engines for airplanes. The engine itself could be made much lighter than
the gasoline engine, but the fuel and water added so much weight that
the whole combination was far too heavy for air purposes. Mercury and
other liquids were tried out without much success. Then came gasoline
and mercury-vapor turbines, fine in principle but somehow unsuccessful.
There was a flaw that needed some genius to find it.

"The turbine principle is the coming change," argued Weston. "If the
turbine principle could be applied to an aeronautical engine, it would
eradicate many of the present troubles."

"But engine makers can't seem to apply it," contended Hal. "Seems to
me," he hazarded his next thought gingerly, "that the engine without
batteries is going to be the thing. Batteries weigh an awful lot. How
about this high-degree compressed fuel and the way it explodes under
pressure in the cylinder--without the ordinary explosion by electric
spark? That would cut out batteries and save weight--"

"Save battery weight, yes!" countered Weston out of his deeper
knowledge, "but how about the five hundred pound pressure to the square
inch needed to explode such engine fuel?"

And so the arguments ran on. But for all the seeming impracticability,
Hal's mind was focused on the experiments with the new type engine with
which certain inventors were struggling. It appeared to the boy so much
simpler and safer an engine, with its few parts, its more flying hours
per given weight of fuel. Not now, but some day--perhaps.

Fuz McGinnis was specializing in wings, not engines. Engines as they
were suited him well enough. Quite often though he came in to take
silent part in these nightly symposiums held over the ills and blessings
of motors. He sat in the discussion for love of the companionship of
this oddly assorted trio of thinkers.

As spring came on, Hal went from ground work back again into air flight.
He found the routine of flying tests easy, because the inner workings of
engine mechanics seemed etched on his very brain. The feel of wings
stirred him, roused all the old wild exhilaration of flight. And yet he
was more critical of air machinery than in the past. Where before he had
been vastly satisfied with the mechanisms of man-flight, he now caught
himself wondering continually why man had not made his machines the
better to withstand certain shocks that were bound to come in any flying
routine. Flying gear had made progress, but landing gear was still
crude, still based on land-moving machinery, instead of machinery of the
air.

Pondering these things, Hal found his mind working back to the
piston-and-cylinder that gave engines their power, their thrust. Why
couldn't this same piston-and-cylinder principle be used to lessen power
for a landing gear? His thoughts hung to this strange idea, revolved the
thing continually in his mind.

Then one night he set before Weston and Raynor his ponderings and plans.

"It's the crack and crash of quick landings that break up so many
planes." The boy spread his ideas gingerly before these two experienced
old heads, fearing the laugh over some ridiculous flaw that his
reasoning might have passed up. "Seems to me man hasn't got so far in
what he lands on! Oh, of course he's gone a little way, passed from a
sled base to wheels, then made the wheels larger and put pneumatic tires
on 'em! But at that, any kind of speed landing bangs a fellow with a
recoil like a rammed cannon. Now suppose between the ship and the
landing gear we had a new kind of shock absorbers--sort of buffers made
up of long cylinders with pistons in them, containing oil or glycerine,
or some fluid like that, wouldn't they--"

"Hum--say--yes--"

Raynor and Weston were leaning forward, all absorbed in following this
young fellow's reasoning, this radical plunge into something far out of
the ordinary rounds of mechanisms. One piston-and-cylinder principle had
been harnessed to a gasoline vapor explosion to hurl a motor forward.
Now here was this fellow's futuristic brain seeing another
piston-and-cylinder principle harnessed in oil or glycerin to gentle
power and ease a speed plane to the ground in a shockless landing!

Long into the night the three of them discussed the idea from all
angles. It was his friends' advice that he keep his plans to
himself--for a while anyway. Then if the right backing ever came along,
something worth while might be developed out of the thing. Any dabblings
in invention needed money to back them.

Out on the field, Hal went from week to week through the different
grades of flying. Although he had done a deal of actual flying before he
ever entered the school, the precise, thorough routine training of the
Rand-Elwin took no account of this. With flight, as with engine study,
he was made to start at the bottom and was then given the "whole works."
He had to begin with learning the controls, pass from that to their
application, then to straight and even flying, climbs, banks.

One day out on the flying field, Hal stood, neck cracked back, eyes
glued to the sky, watching a plane that seemed to have gone mad in the
heights. He was sure it was Raynor. He had seen Raynor take off just
before. Must be his ship. Yet he had never seen Raynor double-daring
death like that before.



                               CHAPTER X

                           SAFETY AND DANGER


Far above Hal Dane, Raynor's airplane shot into a fantastic rolling and
twisting and turning, falling like a withered leaf, springing to life
and hurling upward, stalling at wrong angles, behaving like some crazed
thing of the skies.

Then Raynor volplaned to a beautiful landing, taxied across the turf,
got out and strolled over to Hal.

"Now you go up and take a try at that," he ordered.

"Umph--I mean, sir--oh, sure!" muttered Hal, backing off a little and
looking amazed. Had the careful, conservative Raynor gone out of his
head?

"I mean it," said Raynor. Then his eyes began to twinkle. "It's all in
the course. Only you're not to do it all by yourself the first few dozen
times. You'll go up with me till you get the hang of it from watching."

Signaling for mechanics to take charge of his ship to give it the
regular cleaning and overhauling after flights, he led the way towards
the hangars for another machine.

As they walked, Raynor launched into his explanation.

"If a man wants to fly conservatively, he's first got to learn to stunt.
May sound crazy, but it's a tested truth. It's a known fact now that a
fourth of all the real crashes happen because a fellow got into a tail
spin and didn't know how to get out of it. And the pilots in these
crashes are mostly the youngsters, not the veterans. When a flyer has
lived long enough with aviation to be considered a veteran, he usually
knows by instinct what to do in a spin, doesn't have to stop and think
'What button shall I push?'

"Aviation school has caught the idea now that it's a pretty good thing
to send a pupil up with an old-timer who can put a bus into spins and
take it out of spins. If the pupil watches close enough, he
automatically learns the movements. It's the latest aviation insurance
against a crash!"

A plane had been rolled out and warmed up. They climbed in. Raynor ran
quick fingers along the straps that bound them both to their seats,
making certain that all was secure, then he gave the word for the blocks
to be knocked away from in front of the machine.

With a roar of the motor they were off, speeding up at an angle that
soon had them a thousand feet above earth.

Hal Dane felt a catch of pure excitement in his breath. This was going
to be different from any flying he had ever known. Heretofore it had
been "keep up speed, avoid stalls, and thus avoid the fatal spin." Now
Raynor was deliberately taking him into the danger of stall and spin!
Raynor was deliberately taking him into the dangers he might incur if
fog, sleet or rain caught him, if unknown mountains loomed suddenly
ahead, if storm winds hurled him out of balance.

They rode higher still; then the pilot suddenly shot sickeningly into
the Chandelle, that zooming, sharply-banked turnabout.

He went into nose spins, and came out. Went into tail spins, and came
out.

He took Hal through side-drifts and grapevines and the fluttering leaf,
then righted the ship while one held the breath.

Raynor took the ship high again, then dived.

The next instant Hal was hanging by his middle from the safety belt,
while the ship careened across the landscape absolutely upside down.
Earth and sky swung round. To one hanging thus in dizzy space, the green
earth suddenly looked crushingly hard.

The earth was coming up to meet them. It could not be three hundred--no,
not two hundred feet distant. It was the end. Raynor had gone too
far--lost control--he must have--

Hal steeled his nerves to try to meet the crash without a shriek.

But even while he held his breath to a sobbing gasp, the ship rolled
over slowly and easily into normal flying position, and came to earth
with all the grace of a perfect three-point landing.

The rolling earth ceased rolling. Hal Dane sat in a limp daze, like one
come back from beyond a veiled, blank interim. Then his senses swept
back to him.

So Raynor had known what he was about all the time. It was no accident.
Knowingly he had gone into the back-dive and come out with the famous
slow roll.

Two weeks after that Hal Dane was doing his own slow rolls, doing his
spins and his Immelmanns. He practiced continually, with Raynor coaching
him. High over a safe landing field, the pilot showed him all sorts of
tricks and dodges, showed him how to extricate his ship from every
conceivable position.

Here was carefulness in a new form. The Rand-Elwin School tried to look
ahead, to foresee dangers, then to train its flyers to meet that danger
capably.

Storm, fog, ice-weighted wings--these were natural adversities that
aviators must circumvent as best they might.

But there was still one worse danger--the danger of carelessness.

The instructors strove to teach air-minded youngsters the arts of
mechanical safety. In the air courses it was a cause for demerit, for
expulsion from school even, for a pupil to fall into some mechanical
danger that forethought could have avoided.

A horrible event impressed forever into Hal Dane's mind the penalty one
paid for mechanical carelessness.

At mid-day, one of the students in advanced flying had gone up to give
an exhibition in reverse controls, turns and spirals.

He was a marvelous flyer in spite of a certain bland recklessness that
seemed to edge his every act. Now in the air he seemed to short-turn in
his spirals, to be given to shooting into perilous climbs. He was that
way in all his work, sliding through with a swagger carelessness. As he
watched the pupil aviator now in the air, Hal's mind went back to events
of that very morning, how the fellow had gone slipshod through the
tiresome routine of overhauling the engine of the machine he was to use
in the noon flight.

Some god of luck must ride that fellow's shoulder. For here he was up,
flying a dirty motor that would have clogged on anybody else, yet
gliding through dives and figure eights with the easy grace of a
whirlwind.

A score of pupils and an instructor or two stood on the field below,
heads bent back, watching the beautiful stalls and spins. Again he shot
high into the air in a circling swoop. Then while everyone stared aloft,
a little puff of flame darted out from the engine.

"It has back-fired--hot carbon showering from that dirty engine!" moaned
Hal between white lips.

For a dazed second everyone stood paralyzed with horror while above them
another flame shot out, darting towards the carburetor.

The next second the aviation field came alive. Rex Raynor leaped to a
machine, a rope was hurled in after him, frenzied hands whirled the
motor, shot the blocks from under the wheels.

Up into the sky with meteoric swiftness rose Raynor.

Below him, men stared upward, faces tensed with anguish as they watched
his maneuvers. What could he do? What help could he be now?

With every moment it seemed that the burning plane must whirl downward
and dash its lone occupant to death. Tongues of flame licked about it,
reaching greedily for its vitals--the controls. The wings of the plane
had been dipped in a fireproofing process, but now even these were
smouldering.

Evidently the cockpit had become unbearable, for the watchers on the
ground descried a figure creeping piteously out on a smoking wing
stretch.

Charred bits began to float down. Raynor was circling in, shortening his
wide spirals, dodging to the windward of flaming, floating particles.

Why didn't he hurry? Why didn't he swoop in--now? Ah-h-h, the agony of
it! The doomed machine would be falling apart. It shot flaring through
the skies like a bird of fire.

Crouched on its furthest wing tip rode the hapless young aviator, head
bent away from the searing heat that was creeping out and out to him.



                               CHAPTER XI

                           AN AERIAL MESSAGE


Raynor seemed to have drawn as near as he could to the burning plane; he
hovered a little above it.

The next instant a coil of rope shot down, fell across the wing below.
In a flash the victim of the fire-trap had it in a noose under his arms
and swung himself clear of the already crackling wing.

As Raynor gently eased upward to take up any slack in the rope, the
flying death below him burst into flame and began to collapse. Some of
the struts burned through and pieces flew into the radius of the
propeller, which instantly smashed to pieces. Three seconds later the
machine began to fall. It staggered, wheeled sideways and dived. Like a
stone it hurled groundward on the edge of the aviation field.

The crowd scattered in all directions, fleeing from sparks, charred wing
pieces, explosion of fuel tank. A hangar roof caught fire and the
chemical guns had to be turned on to put out the blaze.

Raynor was coming down now, with his dangling burden swinging beneath
the plane.

The crowd massed again, followed his progress with anxious eyes. How was
he going to make it? Would his helpless, half-fainting burden swing
against building or tree tops, would he be ground-dragged? There was the
lake. Would he risk a water landing?

Fuz and Hal, eyes strained upward, shoulder to shoulder in the crowd,
seemed to feel their hearts beat as one.

"If only he could drop us word what he wants us to do," moaned Fuz.
"Needs his radio, or something in the sky--"

"He could telegraph us," said Hal, "if--"

"If he had that old dot-and-dash system we used to hammer to each other
on water pipes--only he's got nothing to hammer--Jumping Jerusalem!"
shrieked Fuz. "He's downing come--I mean, come downing--oh-h-h!" and
excitement mixed Fuz's words for him in the old childish manner.

And down Raynor came. With no system of ground communication on his
boat, he had to come as best he could and trust to luck.

Nearer down swung the roped burden. Folks could see now why the boy had
never jumped from the death-trap of the burning plane--his parachute
pack hung in scorched shreds. Sparks must have done for him there first
of all.

Sensing a ground-drag, Raynor rose a bit, then lowered, and with
masterly hand held the ship to steady placement in air, while men
reached upward to receive the boy. Someone had had presence of mind to
stand by with opened knife--a slash at the rope and the boy was free.
They laid him out, insensible, but with life still in him--a marvel,
after the danger he had incurred.

Raynor landed farther out, taxied in. He crawled from his ship with
knees trembling beneath him. The strain on him had been terrific.

Now that it was all over, Hal found his own limbs quivering. This thing
had unnerved him--and others too. All about him he saw men with lips
still white from the strain, bodies relaxed, huddling against some
support.

He had thought that in the face of such near-tragedy, school schedule
would be broken, the remaining flights for the day be put off. But
no--already an instructor had swung round in quick reproof on a boy who
had developed nerves and was begging off.

"Planes out for the next flight up!" barked the pilot. "Danger is the
aviator's schoolmaster--we must learn from everything."

On his way to the hangar, Hal passed Fuz, already climbing in a cockpit,
and whispered, "I've thought of something--am going to send you a
message in the sky--listen for it."

For the flyers in the sky, the rest of the afternoon was a busy time.
With each student in his plane went a data board and on it he was to do
map-work, but not the usual maps that land folks know.

This was the class in meteorology, or the study of the air itself. Hal
Dane was finding that flying was a complex vocation. Acquiring aircraft
knowledge required study in such varied directions--study of iron and
steel and linen and silk, the compass and oils and combustion, and now
today, the study of what effect the sun has on the earth.

The sun, Hal decided, was the cause of a great deal of trouble. As he
studied, he found that the sun by shining brightly in the morning heated
up the earth and the air above it. Then the warm air expanded and took
up moisture. In the afternoon, when the sun began to go down, the air
cooled and descended towards earth. And that was where troubles
generated. In the cooling, particles of air moisture condensed, then
electricity accumulated--then next, like as not, a thunderstorm burst.

An aviator had to know these and a million other things, so as to gauge
oncoming air disturbances, and dodge twisters and storm winds by
dropping to a calmer level, or rising above storm.

In the days of his old glider experiments, Hal had found for himself
that winds are generally prevalent over waters, and that hills make
rising currents one can soar upon.

Now this deeper study of winds and fogs, of up and down currents, of the
startlingly strange effects that water, forests and deserts have upon
air currents--all this fascinated him.

As he read the air-speed indication and the altitude on his instruments,
his busy hand drew waves and spiral lines on his data board--his map,
showing currents and lay-out of the air stratum he had been assigned to.

He loved the work, could have kept at it hours longer, but dusk was
coming on, the other planes were already dropping down.

Old Fuz was still up. Hal suddenly remembered the ridiculous whispered
promise he had made to Fuz. He began to circle the other plane, sending
his own engine into a sharp staccato sputtering: "T-t-t-tat t-tat tat!"

Hal swept closer. "T-tat t-tat!" roared his engine.

Fuz must be working his brain overtime on wavy line maps, must be asleep
at the stick or something. It was exasperating. And he had told Fuz to
be on the lookout.

Hal zoomed high, then circled low again, sending his engine into such a
sputter that it began to miss and he had to shoot the juice to it and
fly straight for a stretch.

Fuz was a dumb-head, he was a--

Of a sudden Hal broke out into a laugh and whirled his plane back into
his circling above the landing field.

A staccato t-t-t-tat from the other plane had answered him. Good old
Fuz, he hadn't forgotten after all!

For half an hour longer the two boys circled high and low in the air,
making their engines "talk" in a sputter of aerial telegraphy based on
the old dot-and-dash code they had worked out long ago in their tappings
on land things, on stones, on water pipe.

With practice, they found they could speed and cut the engine to series
of staccato barks that simulated fair enough the tap of a telegraph
instrument. They felt foolishly exuberant and tapped each other all
kinds of messages.

They landed in the dusk with planes gassy with engine fumes, but with
happy-go-lucky laughter in their own hearts.

It was laughter that soon ceased, for each walked straight into the
grasp of an enraged official, posted to wait for them.

"Your flying days are over," each was informed, and was ordered to
report to the office after the evening meal.

Neither Hal nor Fuz had any hankering for supper that night. As soon as
the seemingly endless meal was over, they hurried, rather white-lipped,
to the office.

There they found awaiting them, assembled like a judge and jury, Mr.
Rand, Colonel Elwin himself, Raynor, Weston and a couple of other
instructors. Raynor and Weston had the drawn, haggard look of men
sitting in at their own execution. There was a hard firmness on the
faces of the other men.

Hal Dane sought with agony in his heart for the clue to this summons to
appear before a judgment seat--this summons and the verdict already
rendered, "Your flying days are over," that had dropped like a ton of
rock on all his hopes, crushed out his whole future. And it was
happening so close to what would have been the first glorious upward
step in his career,--his graduation from an accredited aviation school.
With the Rand-Elwin O. K. on him he could have secured a flying job
anywhere--the flying world would have been open to him.

What would his mother and Uncle Tel do--how would he ever go back to
them, broken under some sort of disgrace--

Hal's misery of trapped thoughts whirling madly in his brain was
interrupted by the firm harshness of Colonel Elwin's voice.

"I have here," his hands turning over several cards and slips of paper,
"reports from various ground officials that you two students stayed in
the air an hour overtime this afternoon, tampering with engines, and
riding with motors missing--when every principle of air flight warns a
flyer to seek a landing when his motor misses. No matter how well a man
flies, we can never make an aviator out of him if he hasn't sense enough
to know that he is in deadly peril if he continues to fly a missing
engine. A knock in a motor presages engine trouble, and engine trouble
presages a forced landing. At the first hint of mechanical defection,
it's a flyer's duty to head down and make as speedy and safe a landing
as possible--"

"I--" Hal Dane opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. No words
seemed to come.

Colonel Elwin went on without pause, as though he had heard no
interruption.

"It is, of course, a disappointment to us to have this serious flaw in
your flying ability revealed. Especially since one of you boys had been
brought to our notice as having rather a genius for mechanics, a talent
for engines and an outlook for the future of motors from an aerial
viewpoint. That's what makes it so heinous, so foolish for one who knows
engines to be willing to tamper with them dangerously in mid-air, to
risk valuable life and valuable machinery.

"What, may I ask, was your idea in generating peril for yourselves up in
the air?"

"We--I mean--I was testing out a sort of aerial telegraphy," Hal finally
got the words out, "and--"

"Aerial telegraphy--what?" both Mr. Rand and Colonel Elwin seemed to
ejaculate simultaneously.

"It was my fault, not McGinnis's," said Hal, stiffening his back a
little, and trying to keep his voice firm. "I thought it up and got him
to try it out with me--"

"I was in it as much as Hal Dane," Fuz seemed to have found his voice.
"I'm plumb due to get washed out if he is."

"Aerial telegraphy--what was your idea--how were you managing it?" Mr.
Rand leaned forward.

"You see Fuz McGinnis and I have known each other always. We used to
have a secret dot-and-dash code when we lived back home, used to tap
each other messages." Hal seemed to forget for the moment that he was up
before the "Benzine Board," was being washed out of flying forever
perhaps. He warmed to his subject. "It just occurred to me that while we
were up in the air, it might come in pretty handy sometime to send the
other fellow a message. You might need to tell him something, or ask for
help quick! The motor running is about all you can hear in the airplane.
So it just came to me to take a try at making the motor do the talking,
to cut it and race it in a sort of code."

"Did it work?" questioned Mr. Rand.

"It sure did!" Fuz answered. "Dane asked me if I was hungry, and I
tapped back to him I could eat a--"

"So it did work," put in Mr. Rand. "Interesting--"

"Quite interesting, and quite dangerous!" Colonel Elwin's dry, hard
voice took up the case again. "You boys risked clogging your motors, and
weakening down the exhaust valves, incandescence from carbon!"

"But don't you think--" Mr. Rand had the floor again--"don't you think
that since it was not mere useless daredeviltry but a real experiment
that these boys were trying out, that we might--"

"Well--er, yes, I might be made to see it that way." A ghost of a smile
tugged at Colonel Elwin's iron mouth. "Shall we let this case drop into
what we call suspended judgment?"

"Ah-h!" A vast sigh of relief burst from both boys.

"But remember," Elwin's jaw settled back into its iron firmness, "the
judgment still hangs over you--it's merely suspended. No more tampering
with engines in the air."



                              CHAPTER XII

                              QUICK ACTION


Against fluffy white clouds below a bright blue sky, an airplane spread
its graceful shape.

Down on the Rand-Elwin field a host of students and visitors watched
that ship of the air. Its pilot was Hal Dane. For a space he cradled
along, a mere speck gently floating up there in the immensity of the
ether. Then like a mad thing his ship began to fall, rolling and
twisting and turning. At impossible angles it came to life, righted
itself to spring upward--only to fall into worse dilemmas. Now he was
diving, only two hundred feet above earth, and flying upside down. On
the verge of crash, and in an agonizing slow roll, the ship slid back
into normal flying position. High again--then a dangerous glide over the
dragging tops of trees, and only the climbing reversal of the Chandelle
saving him from wreck. Young Dane began to fall into the most deadly
spin of them all, the whirling stall. He verged on that spin, yet never
quite permitted it to become a spin. Instead, he slipped and stalled and
trod the air until he fought his plane back into safety.

It might seem that young Dane was a daredevil fool risking both his neck
and his plane in a useless show-off. But the group watching from the
Rand-Elwin field knew there was a purpose and a real reason behind every
one of these stunts. Hal Dane had been sent up to demonstrate that the
Rand-Elwin School prepared its flyers to face practically every known
emergency. Deliberately Hal Dane had forced his ship into spins and
stalls that many a pilot would have come out of--in a casket and with a
lily in his hand. Instead, with the stored-up skill bought of splendid
teaching and relentless practice, the boy rolled or whipped or glided
out of every danger.

Dropping out of freak flying into a series of long, swooping curves, Hal
descended toward the field and made a landing so gently that he would
hardly have jarred a glass of water on a dinner table.

Other flyers went up. There were planes all over the sky, outdoing
themselves in loops and spins and whirls.

This was a big day at the Rand-Elwin field. Colonel Bob Wiljohn, a man
of immense wealth and interested in the future of aviation, was a guest
of the school. As part owner in the Wiljohn Airplane factories, at
Axion, he was acting as representative of his firm in a search for young
pilots of sufficient training and capability to handle their makes of
planes as demonstrators. It was a compliment to an air school to have a
man like Colonel Wiljohn inspect its student ranks in search of men for
his aviation program.

After lunch and an inspection of equipment, rooms and hangars, the
Colonel and his constant companion, his grandson Jacky Wiljohn, were out
on the field again.

Colonel Wiljohn was a tall, muscular man, with a look of youth in his
keen gray eyes despite the lines on his tanned face and his white hair.
The type of man that kept young by his intense interest in big things
and the future trend of affairs. Jacky, his grandson, was getting
aviation in the blood at an early age. The little fellow with his
close-clipped hair and wide-open black eyes, must have been only five or
thereabouts, yet he could speak familiarly of water-cooled engine, and
struts, and spar, and other lingo of aircraft.

The Colonel was not only a builder of planes, but also a flyer of some
note. It was natural that he should want to view the Rand-Elwin field
from the air as well as from the ground.

Hal could see one of the big, new trimotors being trundled out for his
use. A pilot in helmet and flying clothes warmed her up and slid under
the controls. Hal's eyes widened. It was Fuz--Fuz McGinnis that was to
take her up. Some honor for the old boy! He'd liked to have been in
Fuz's boots himself. But Fuz deserved it; he was a crack airman, that
boy.

Colonel Wiljohn and Jacky, the youngster grinning happily over his
miniature aviation togs, were already aboard.

Down the runway came the plane, maneuvered some slight obstruction, then
gathered speed and soared into the air like a great bird of the skies.

McGinnis must be on his mettle; he had achieved the rise full two
hundred yards within the end of the runway. A brisk shout of admiration
followed his take-off--then the shout died into a composite gasp of
dismay.

"The wheel--look!"

Just at the rise of the plane, the wheel on the left side had crumpled
and now swung a useless, dangerous mass beneath the ship.

"Mercy on him," moaned Hal, "half his landing gear ruined! He's in for a
smash!"

"Ninety-nine chances out of a hundred are against him," half-whispered
Rex Raynor who was standing near, eyes glued on the beautiful plane
circling so gracefully in the sky above.

Both he and Hal knew well enough what was likely to happen when the
aviator came down to a landing with only one wheel to make the ground
contact. A crash, an overturn, a complete capsizing that would spell the
end for the occupants. And that boy Jacky in there too, a young life to
be so horribly snuffed out.

None of the occupants of the ship were aware of what had happened. They
circled serenely, while all unknown to them a death trap swung beneath
their speeding plane. That slight obstruction on the runway must have
cracked the gear, but the actual buckling of the wheel must not have
occurred till the very moment of the take-off, and so had passed
unnoticed.

For the throng of sightseers crowding the field, the dangle of broken
gear had slight significance as to the terrible danger it presaged. But
every student, pilot and mechanic knew what must eventually
happen--unless the aviator in the damaged ship could be warned!

On the ground, men rushed about, shouting, pointing to gear of other
machines, hoping to attract the attention of those in the air.

But for the flyers in the roaring ship, the shouts from far-away human
pin-points on the earth below must have been as mere whispers, as
nothing at all. There was no sign that any of this ground commotion ever
reached the ship.

Other pilots began to rush out machines and warm them up, preparatory to
rising in the air to carry their warning shouts and pantomime within
closer range of the damaged sky ship.

Raynor was one of the first of these. Even as he raced his engine for
the take-off, Hal Dane shouted after him, "Wait--I'll be with you--give
me one second!"

With strength that he had hardly known was in him, the boy wrenched off
the whole metal-spoked wheel of a bicycle that leaned against a hangar
wall. The next instant he had leaped to the cockpit, carrying the
wrenched, wracked piece of machinery with him. With that broken wheel he
hoped to pantomime, to talk in dumb show, and reach the doomed flyers
where shouting failed.

To overtake them was the problem of the next moment.

The great trimotor had risen high in the air, and instead of circling
over the various sections of the Rand-Elwin field had zoomed off into a
sudden flight at a speed that would soon make it a diminishing speck on
the horizon.

Other planes darted after it, striving desperately to hang on to its
tail, to keep some glimpse of it in eye. Once lost from view, the plane
would be doomed--none to warn it--a crash in some landing field!

But the trimotor had speed, and the start. The diminishing speck became
an atom, became nothing--the vast universe of the sky swallowed it up.

Pursuit ships began to turn back. It looked too hopeless. None knew
where the big ship was headed. With no track or clew to follow, even a
slight deviation now at the beginning of the flight would lead them into
a diverging angle miles and miles away from the true course of the
damaged plane.

Raynor was among the few that held doggedly on. Because his boat was a
fast one, he was leaving the others. He plunged straight ahead in a
course he seemed to have set for himself from the beginning.

Once he called through the tube, "Clanton--commercial field--Wiljohn
left packet of papers there--must be going back for them--"

It was a desperate chance. Wiljohn might be going to any of a hundred
places. Even if they sighted a ship and tailed it into Clanton, it might
prove to be any of the thousands of sky craft that filled the air these
days.

Still it was the only clew they had. They could follow it blindly--that
was all.

Twenty-three miles from the Rand-Elwin Field to Clanton! With its newer
speed and power, the big ship could make it in say nine-tenths of their
own flying time. A mere fraction of time, a few moments out of all
eternity! Yet those few moments could spell death to three unwarned
passengers.

On the fringes of Clanton, Raynor overhauled a few leisurely flying
ships from the commercial field. On ahead, and drifting back through
their hum, was another and more powerful sound of motors. That could be
the trimotor. If it were not, then their whole desperate race had been
in vain.

They were now pressing up towards that larger ship, whatever it was,
that was leading them into Clanton. Its motors seemed to reduce ever so
slightly--cutting in for the landing field, it must be.

Raynor was making it in with every ounce of speed, pushing forward,
overhauling the big boat by faint degrees. He must make it now, catch
her before the ground swoop, circle her to give the warning signals.

Hal, with a hurried call to the pilot, slipped the hearing tube from
under his helmet, and began a swift clambering out on the plane wing.
The thrill of the old circus stunt days was upon him. He felt the old
surges of power and balance shoot through him as he wing-walked, went to
the very tip, carrying with him his signal of the broken bicycle wheel.

He must catch Fuz's attention. Colonel Wiljohn's, little Jacky's
even--make one of the three see him, sense the danger message he would
pantomime. If necessary, he would climb aloft to upper wing space,
circus-stunt there silhouetted against the sky,--anything to catch the
eye!

Fuz his friend, this gray-haired grandfather, this child--any risk to
save them!

But as Hal prepared to climb struts to the plane top, he saw it was too
late. Time had passed for catching any eye by acrobatics now.

Like a meteor, the boy shot down the length of the plane wing, dropped
back into the pit. In a frenzy, he shouted through the tube, "Risk it
with me--one chance--give me the control!"

It was a risk, in more ways than one. With an instructor from his flying
school beside him, Hal Dane began to disobey orders, began a stunt that
must mean the end of his flying certificate.

Already the trimotor was circling for the glide to landing--and to
death!

There was no time left to ride abreast, to wave, to make any signal for
the eye. But there was the ear, the hearing, still a last chance left to
try. Even though Raynor's ship rode behind, it could send sound
traveling forward through the air. Would Fuz McGinnis catch that sound?

In an agony, Hal Dane cut the motor, speeded it. Cut, speed! Cut, speed!
"T-t-t-tat t-tat t-tat!" The old code, the call!

Through the air, Hal sent wave after wave of sputtering sound, a
staccato call, "S. O. S.--danger--keep flying!"

But McGinnis in the plane ahead seemed deaf to any sound save the roar
of his own motor.

He was swooping low--and lower!



                              CHAPTER XIII

                                 VISION


Hal Dane was above the trimotor now, and was still sending out his
desperate aerial telegraph call, "T-t-t-tat tat-t-tat
t-tat--danger--keep flying--danger!"

He had raced and choked and pounded his engine till smoke fumes
discharged gassily from it. The next sputter might stall a filthy motor
to a "conk" in mid-air, might back-fire flame into the carburetor. Yet
the message must still go on. Three lives depended on that one
hairbreadth chance.

"Danger--keep flying!"

But the trimotor was going down. It swooped to five hundred--three
hundred--began to flatten at two hundred feet for the last lap of the
down glide.

"Danger! Danger! Danger!" shrieked the tortured staccato of the higher
plane. "Danger! Danger! Keep flying!"

Even as the great plane below swooped to strike earth, its pilot lifted
wings in a mighty upward dart. Higher and higher he rose. Behind him
trailed his own call in aerial telegraphy. "Danger--where--what?" roared
the staccato bellow of the trimotor.

In their brief code, Hal Dane tapped back the answer on his engine, and
urged return flight to the school aviation field before attempting the
landing.

As Raynor and Hal circled near, they could see McGinnis turn the control
over to Colonel Wiljohn. Then the boy climbed out over the side of the
plane and swung head downward to see if he could reach the broken gear
and perhaps lash it back into place.

A hopeless task, it appeared, for Fuz McGinnis slowly dragged himself
back into the cockpit. Soon the plane circled and headed back for the
Rand-Elwin grounds.

All that wild race to Clanton had taken a bare fifteen minutes. Another
quarter of an hour saw them back above the home field.

Raynor and Hal made their descent in record time, leaped from the plane
and raced for the edge of the field. Men jostled together to give these
two room. Like the rest of the waiting throng they stood, heads back,
eyes glued to the crippled sky craft.

"She's coming--now!" It was a whisper, a prayer that came from every
heart and lip in the crowd.

The plane was coming down in wide, slow circles.

"Atta boy, you're bringing her in beautifully--yet every odd's against
you!" gritted Raynor through set teeth.

"But he's got a chance, one chance," muttered Hal, gripping Rex Raynor's
arm and pointing excitedly. "If he keeps to the balance he's got--runs
on that one wheel to lose momentum, it can--"

It could.

Fuz McGinnis held his plane to angle of balance, even as he sped half a
hundred feet on the one wheel after he struck ground. Then came a
tearing, splintering crash as the plane shot sideways, dragging the down
wing into mangled wreckage. Even so, the greatest danger mark had been
passed. That one-wheel run had spent the worst of the dread momentum.

Guards held the frantic crowd back while experienced hands tore at the
wreckage, lifted out the occupants. The three of them were dazed,
bruised, cut about hands and face from flying pieces of wood and fabric.
But the miracle of it--they were alive, practically unhurt.

Fuz McGinnis stood for a long minute leaning weakly against the tilted
mass of wing debris. His face held the look of one who has been on a far
journey and is not quite sure he is really on home land once again. As
he came out of his daze, he leaned over and gripped Hal Dane in a shaky
grasp.

"B-boy," he said, "if you hadn't that message us to got--no, no, got
that message to us, I mean, we'd have been--"

"We'd have been dead," broke in Colonel Wiljohn. "But you brought the
word, in a blasted clever way. You turned some sort of tomfoolery into
lifesaving. We owe our lives to you both. I--I--we thank you." Reaching
down, Colonel Wiljohn swept his grandson into his arms, pressed the
child against his face. Then he set the little fellow down and gravely
instructed him to give a handshake of thanks to each of the young
fellows.

The crowd would be denied no longer. It broke through the guards, surged
over to the little group beside the wreck. Women laughed and sobbed in
relief as they saw the child standing unhurt, clinging to his
grandfather's hand. Men laughed huskily and tried to hide emotion in
heavy handclasps. They wanted the whole story,--how had McGinnis brought
her down without a worse wreck, where had Raynor and young Dane found
them, got the warning across to them?

It was full thirty minutes before the crowd could be dispersed so
wreckers could haul off the disabled plane, and so the aviators in this
thrilling episode could slip away to some place of quiet and rest.

That night Hal Dane and Fuz McGinnis attended their first banquet. It
was not altogether an unmixed pleasure--this the first formal festival
in the whole of their work-filled young lives. The fact that they were
seated rather high was not altogether comforting to their timidity,
either. This was the celebration that had been planned weeks ahead of
time and was staged to do honor to the school's guest, Colonel Wiljohn.
Then here at the eleventh hour, so to speak, and at the Colonel's
especial request, this couple of young aviators had been dragged in to
sit next to him.

It was comforting to feel the Colonel's kindly presence but even that
did not compensate entirely for the unmitigated terror of a startling
array of forks with varying uses staring balefully up at one from the
heavy linen of a banquet cloth. One felt conspicuous in such a dazzle of
lights, in such a gathering of notables.

"I'm not much up on banquets," hoarsely whispered Hal under cover of a
speech by one of the notables. "Y-you don't reckon anybody'll expect us
to say anything?"

"Gosh, no!" from Fuz. "Anybody could look at us and know we couldn't
talk. But something else is bothering me--"

"Bothering me, too," mumbled Hal, and subsided glumly beside a plate of
broiled chicken, green peas and mushrooms in ramekins, potatoes in some
newfangled way, a spiced jelly.

Colonel Bob Wiljohn responded to a speech of welcome. Other speeches
followed.

Then Hal Dane and Fuz McGinnis became redly aware that Mr. Rand,
standing very erect beside the table, was talking in a serious voice and
mentioning their names considerably.

"The blow's going to fall now," Hal's lips silently sent a message to
his chum.

"We have here an extraordinary case." Mr. Rand's voice was stern. "It
concerns two of our most brilliant pupils in aviation--and on the eve of
their graduation. Although under a sentence of suspended judgment
already, they have now risked locking the doors of graduation on
themselves forever by flagrant disobedience of strict orders--"

"I protest--" Colonel Wiljohn was on his feet, gray eyes flashing. "Your
words give the wrong impression. You mean two boys entered a risk to
save a valuable plane if possible, to save human lives--"

"Wait, wait! And I accept your protest, Colonel." Mr. Rand's eyes also
held a flash, a high enthusiasm, his stern mouth relaxed into a smile.
"I want to state further that we, the board of officers of this
institution, had already decided--against all past precedent and
rules--to ignore said flagrant act of disobedience, and to graduate
these two young men--with honors!"

Waves of hand-clapping and cheers broke over a couple of dazed young
aviators.

"So the--" Fuz muttered.

"The 'Benzine Board' didn't get us after all," finished Hal.

That very night Colonel Wiljohn had a long talk with the boys and
offered them work. He could use them well. They had both displayed an
uncanny aptitude for flying, and he needed plane demonstrators. Hal's
instructors, Raynor and Major Weston, had told him enough about the
boy's unusual grasp of engine mechanics to arouse his interest. This
keen, successful business man got up and walked the floor in his
excitement as he and Hal delved further into the boy's future-looking
ideas for invention in harnessing piston power for landing planes gently
and with a lessening of landing dangers. His factories, he said, were
willing to pay well for brains, needed young fellows with vision, both
in the flying and in the invention departments. Would they consider
coming with him?

Would they?

Young McGinnis quite emphatically mixed his words hind-part-before in
the fervor of assuring Colonel Wiljohn of his willingness to go.

For the space of a minute Hal Dane sat perfectly still, eyes wide open,
but in them the look of a man in a dream. He was in a dream; this was
the beginning of visions about to come true. It couldn't be real. He'd
wake up--

"I'm counting on you." Colonel Wiljohn's strong, friendly hand grasped
his shoulder.

"I--yes, sir--I'll be on hand," Hal finally got out.

Leaving the Rand-Elwin Flying School seemed to Hal like turning over one
of the busiest, happiest pages of his life. He parted from his splendid,
true friends here with real regret. Yet, like all youth, he was eager to
turn the next page of life.

Before he entered upon his new work, there was time for a brief visit
with his home folks. He found the old house still uprearing its
makeshift patchwork roof among the tree tops. Within, though, the money
that he'd managed to save and send home in carnival days had wrought
some comfortable changes. There were rugs, dainty curtains, a piece or
two of new furniture. He found his mother and Uncle Tel not so ground
down with toil these days. In his mind, Hal was already looking forward.
to other changes--a roof, and a coat of creamy white paint for the
house, a little car so the folks could get around--just wait till he
began making some real money!

                  *       *       *       *       *

For Hal Dane, life at the Wiljohn Works promised to be the greatest
thrill he had ever known. Up till now he had not realized the vast
extent, both in space and operations, of a modern aviation factory. It
was not one factory, but many. There was a bewildering variety to the
output.

Hal had thought the Works concentrated on some special type of plane.
Instead, he found them manufacturing about everything from a small, neat
sky boat for private use up to giant craft for freight and passenger
airliners. There were air boats with wings that folded up so one could
trundle them into the family garage instead of into a hangar.

Over in the invention department tests of all kinds were being
continually conducted. With his keen gray eyes looking well to the
future, Colonel Wiljohn was willing to try out in his laboratories
things which to more conservative men seemed mere schemes and
addle-pated ideas. If a scheme failed in the testing, it was just
another visionary mechanism to be set aside. If one idea out of ten, out
of a hundred even, proved to have worth, aviation had made a forward
step!

In the parachute department strange weaves of silk were being tested for
qualities and purposes that silk makers of fifty years ago never dreamed
would ever be demanded of their products. According to laboratory
decision, the habutai silk in present use for parachutes would soon be
displaced by a new weave, the basket-mesh type. And why? Because the
basket-weave oscillated less than the old habutai type, it absorbed
shock better, it lowered more slowly and allowed for better landings.
Silk that once fulfilled its purpose if it had a sheen and gloss to
catch milady's eye! And now it was demanded that it have a strength to
lower man ten thousand feet through the air without a jostle and land
him on earth without a bruise!

In the engine room, motors were being tried out for streamlines and
cooling systems, for weight reduction and elimination of fire hazards,
for burning new high-powered fuel oils.

Where the prevailing wing material had formerly been wood and fabric,
tests were now being made to prove the worth of all-metal construction.
For new purposes the old-time metallic standbys were found unusable.
Light metals crystallized and snapped into brittle pieces. The old
strong metals possessed of endurance were too heavy for aircraft. A new
metal, light as aluminum and strong as steel, must be produced.

And so the experimenting and testing went on.

As Hal Dane became familiar with some of the scientific revolution and
evolution going on at the huge Wiljohn Works, he caught again something
of the high splendid vision of following the river of the wind on a
great exploration. If ever he were to go as sky viking, here in this
vast plant were being riveted and welded aircraft suitable to bear him
on that journey.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                          DOWN THROUGH THE AIR


With wire braces screaming, a plane shot downward a thousand feet and
the pilot struggled to bring his ship out of the left spin.

The pilot was Hal Dane. He had been with the Wiljohn Works nearly a year
now. In that time he had participated in some marvelous experiments,
tried out in the hope of furthering the safety of aviation.

A room painted black, strung with wires, some bats turned loose in it,
and doors and windows closed to darken it totally--this might seem
childish dabbling when thought of in connection with the modern science
of aviation. Yet it was a test tried out with a very real purpose.
Outside of that room men waited at ear-phones connected electrically
with those wires so that the least flutter of a bat's wing against a
wire would be indicated. The bats flew madly round and round the room,
but never so much as touched one of the many wires. From this experiment
scientists contended that bats flying in the air put out some sound and
get an echo from that sound when it vibrates near an object. Not so far
and foolish a leap from bats to aviation after all! For if a human flyer
of the air could devise a ship that put out a sound and got an echo when
it approached an object, it would help solve the problem of landing in
the dark and of flying in fogs.

Fog, the heavy, silent, dreaded enemy of every aviator! At the Wiljohn
Works continuous experimentation went on to help solve the dangers of
fog flying. An electrical instrument to measure distance from the ground
in tens of feet would help an aviator trying to land in the dark. A
mechanical eye to see through the fog was a crying need. Work was being
pushed along both of these lines.

Another and very different type of experimentation was the testing of
the wings and shapes of aircraft in connection with their air
resistance.

The tests for great altitude, however, thrilled Hal Dane more than
anything else. Through all this present labor and study, the call of the
river of the winds still lured him. And to ride the currents of the air
rivers at their swiftest, one must be able to withstand the velocities
and the pressure of the air heights. The fearful cold of high altitudes
unbalanced ships with heavy coatings of ice, clogged instruments and air
indicator tubes with snow. Wiljohn men were pushing experiments for such
flying. Already a spread of emulsions on the wings had been found to
reduce the ice danger. But for real success, aviators must learn to
wholly master the air heights.

Still another type of work was the testing of completed planes. No
Wiljohn ship was permitted to leave the factory until it had been
thoroughly tried out.

Hal Dane was up in one of these new planes now--and was coming down in a
wrong spin.

It was a new type training ship that the navy had ordered. In the work
it was built for, the plane might never be put to any particular stress
and strain. Yet no flyer can predict what risk may suddenly be thrust
upon any ship up in the air. So, like all planes constructed at the
Wiljohn Works, it had to be subjected to the worst conditions that might
ever overtake any aviator.

All in the course of his usual everyday work, Hal Dane had been ordered
to take her up and put her through her paces. First he was to shoot for
altitude, next dive vertically, full engine, for eight thousand feet,
then straighten out to volplane safely to ground in circling glides.

At twelve thousand feet he had gone into the dive, but instead of
falling straight, some faulty mechanism of the ship had hurled it into
the dread left spin. Many an aviator would have crawled out then and
sought safety in a parachute jump. Young Dane had gone up to test this
ship, and test it he would, fighting it down to a last margin for a
safety leap.

Three times he exerted every ounce of strength that was in him towards a
right pull so that the torque or twisting force of the motor would bring
him out of the spin. But the machine would not respond. Another thousand
feet--a wrench! And, ah, he had done it, she was coming straight!
Mentally, Hal began cataloging the spiraling, the drop, the wrench he
had just been through, trying to visualize the engine faults that had
brought these on. Too much weight here, not enough strength there. Bad
faults, but there were remedies.

She was diving pretty now, straight on, like something shot out of a
cannon mouth.

Then at seven thousand feet down things began to happen. Before Hal Dane
could realize it, the ship literally shattered to pieces under him. A
crash, a rending, a tearing!

He jack-knifed forward across the safety belt and force hurled him
head-on against the board, knocking him unconscious. A fuselage gone
crazy, wings torn off, tail torn off, shot in sickening whirls towards
the ground. Strapped to it, rode Hal Dane, stunned into the
unconsciousness of "little death," while real death rose up with the
ground to meet him.

As he fell, rushing air partly cleared his brain. But a flying-man's
instinct, not conscious thought, set his hands to fumbling the safety
belt, to feeling for the ring of his parachute cord. Instinct freed him,
sent him climbing to the edge to step off into space.

Things happen swiftly in the air. The ship had already fallen a thousand
feet while her pilot rode her down in his dazed condition. But even now
it was still some three thousand feet up--more than half a mile above
earth. As Hal leaped out, he looked back over his shoulder to see in
what direction the stripped fuselage was heading.

A moment more and he was hurtling down through space! Now the wreckage
of the ship was even with him, now it had passed him, its greater weight
carrying it fast and faster.

Hal's fumbling fingers tugged at his rip cord. He was falling head
on--ages swept past--would she never open? Then the parachute blossomed
into a great blessed silken flower above him. The silk went taut, yanked
him back into an upright position. Beneath the inverted chalice he
floated. The earth had ceased to rush up to meet him. It stayed where it
belonged--no, it was floating gently up to meet him now. He was going
out of his head again, losing his grip on himself. Quick, before
blackness went over him again, he must choose a place to land!

He looked down, heard a crash as the ship hit the ground. An airpath
seemed sucking him down, hurtling him on to land in the very midst of
the wreckage. Bad landing--flames might burst out in that twisted mass
below him!

Before his brain went blank again, he must side slip, veer his parachute
in a different direction. With instinctive, mechanical motion, his
fingers reached up, caught a cluster of shrouds in his hand and drew
them down little by little, spilling air from the 'chute. His speed
increased as the drop veered off at a sharp gliding angle.

All over. That must be ground below.

But instead of solid contact, there came a splash.

One moment Hal Dane's feet struck water, the next moment he went down,
engulfed!



                               CHAPTER XV

                           TWO ROADS TO FAME


Next thing Hal knew, he felt land grating against him. A strong hand had
him by the collar dragging him out of the water, many voices beat into
his ears.

"Oh-h-h, by Jehoshaphat Jumping!" yelled Fuz McGinnis as he threw his
arms about Hal's dripping form. "We'd given up hope, never believed we'd
find you all in one piece!"

"It's a miracle." Colonel Wiljohn slid an arm around Hal's waist to help
him over to the waiting automobile. "That dashed faulty plane came down
in shreds, spars gone here, wings drifted yonder. I couldn't tell in
heaven's name where you were going to smash. I shot cars and stretchers
out in every direction. And now I find you floating on our lake, calm as
somebody on a bed of roses--"

"T-too bad I disappointed everybody by coming down all in one
p-p-piece!" chattered the dripping Hal.

"Hush, boy! No joking! Never have I suffered such agony. I'm a thousand
years older." Colonel Wiljohn yanked off his coat and wrapped it around
Hal. "Never, my young friend, never shall I let you or any of my
aviators test out such a machine as this again."

But Hal Dane did take up this same type of ship again. He did it at his
own risk, and at his urgent insistence. From his perilous performance in
mid-air he thought that he knew what were the faults of construction
that had caused the ship to shatter under strain. Previous work in his
department, the risk department, had taught him to learn something of
real value to flying from every accident. In this case, he asked for the
chance to prove what he had learned. So weeks later, he took up the very
same type of ship, greatly strengthened, and put her through the same
test. This time he and the ship went up and came down together, none the
worse for wear, and he could write O. K. on her examination sheet.

Testing other people's inventions did not fill all of Hal's time. At
nights, or whenever he could snatch a few hours to himself, he was
forever pottering with pieces of fabric and metal and wood. Table top,
dresser top, every available surface in his sleeping quarters seemed
cluttered with aviation trash. Only not all of it was trash. Mixed in
with wood shavings and screws and wire coils was a strange metal helmet,
something like a diver's helmet, yet different,--light, graceful, not
cumbersome in shape. A tube could be attached to the mouth-piece.
Elsewhere in the litter sat a miniature oxygen tank. In these was
expressed a forward thought for achievement in high flying. Little
models of engines rubbed noses with wing models in various stages of
incompleteness. Above a chifferobe was poised something that Hal Dane's
eyes sought every time he entered his room--a completed model of a
plane. It was a slim silver creation, all metal, and streamlined from
engine, through monoplane wing, back to tail. Slender, yet with strength
in every line! Smoke blown against this model did not eddy and swirl but
slipped straight across her nonresistant lines. With her length of wing,
she was built to ride the winds.

For a wonder, Hal Dane was not studying the beloved lines of his tiny,
silvered wind bird tonight. Instead, his fingers were fiddling with a
little flying toy manipulated by a couple of twisted rubber bands to
furnish motive power. If he twisted the rubber tight enough, the little
windmill fans of the toy shot it up to the ceiling. In the midst of one
of these flights, there came a sharp knock on the door, and while Hal
leaped to open it, the little wind toy drifted down from the ceiling
about as straight as it had gone up.

In the open doorway stood Colonel Wiljohn, his fingers gripping a folded
paper, his eyes shining with an eager light as he watched the wind toy
whirl down.

"You've got it--made a start on it anyway!" the Colonel slapped the
paper across his palm excitedly.

"Sir--I've got it--what?" Hal stammered in amazement.

"This thing," Colonel Wiljohn stooped to rescue the little wind toy from
where it had fluttered to the floor. "It seems like Fate that you should
be experimenting with such an idea just when I come to bring you a
certain piece of news."

The Colonel cleared a space on the cluttered table, and spread open the
paper he had brought. Its black headlines announced:

"The great Onheim prize offer--twenty-five thousand dollars for the best
safety device for airships."

"See," Colonel Wiljohn's finger emphasized the points, "twenty-five
thousand dollars--safety device. And already, without knowledge of the
money behind it, you were working on a safety device--helicopter
principle, is it not?"

"Not exactly helicopter--more of a gyroscope," Hal caught something of
the Colonel's fire. "It's been on my mind a long time that one of the
greatest dangers of aviation is the huge space 'most any ship needs to
come to earth on. I've looked death mighty straight in the eye some
several times when forced landings smacked me down in a tree top or on a
gully edge--when if I could have come down zup! straight like the drop
of a plummet, I could have landed with a safety margin in some small
clear spot--"

"A small space to rise from is sometimes as great a danger for a plane
as a forced landing, too," interrupted the Colonel. "Say you're forced
down on a mountain ledge, or a tiny island--the average plane is done
for then. Has to be deserted to its fate for the lack of a long, smooth
runway needed for the forward glide before the rise. Were you figuring
on the straight-up rise, as well as the straight-down drop, with this
heli--, I mean gyroscope business?"

"In a way," Hal answered as he began to fit together certain scattered
bits of miniature machinery, picking up the pieces out of the mixture on
the table. Under his hands grew a little short-wing airplane with a
motor and a propeller on the nose. Above it were set fans like a
windmill, only they lay horizontally a-top the wings.

"It's the position of balance that I've been working for," went on Hal,
setting the little plane on his open palm and spinning the miniature
gyroscope with a motion of his other hand.

So far as a stationary plane was concerned, the principle of the
gyroscope seemed to work out well. For no matter how Hal tilted his palm
to throw the plane off its balance, the whirl of the wings above it was
able to apply power to the controls to steady it back into upright
position.

Colonel Wiljohn took the model into his own hands, studied it eagerly,
turning it about to examine minutely its tiny mechanism. "This row of
slot-like holes--in the air tube here," the Colonel held the thing
closer to the light, "what's the idea in that?"

"You'll laugh when you know what put that idea in my head." Hal grinned
a little sheepishly as he thought about it. "I got it from watching
something that never was in any way intended to fly, something that no
one ever thought of in connection with flying at all--a player piano!"

"A player piano--huh!" The Colonel turned about so sharply that he
nearly spilled the plane model out of his grasp. "How in the deuce did
you ever extract an idea on aviation out of one of those contraptions?"

"The thing just came to me all of a sudden one day when I was watching
one of those mechanical pianos pounding out that ghostly sort of music
where the piano keys press up and down, and the music blares out, but no
human hand touches the keys. Through the glass front, I was watching the
paper roll in the piano, how it passed in front of a place where air was
applied. The air was blown through the little holes in the paper, thus
striking the keys and playing the piano. Right then the idea got me that
when the airplane gets off the horizontal or longitudinal axis, a stream
of air blowing through small holes in a gyroscopic instrument could
strike the controls with the strength of a powerful hand, thus bringing
the plane back to its normal position--"

"Right O, that's just what it does, too!" The Colonel thoughtfully spun
the wind wheels of the toy and watched how the thing righted itself, no
matter how he tilted it. "You've got the biggest thing of the age here,
boy, if it just works out right in real flying mechanisms! Bring your
plans out to the laboratories this week and let's work the thing out in
a real powered model."

For weeks to come, Hal Dane was up to the ears in work on his gyroscope.
And Colonel Wiljohn hung over him like a hen with one chick, as eager as
any boy over the outcome of this revolutionary scheme of applying
player-piano principles to airships.

At last a model was done, an all-metal miniature, perfect as any real
service-flight plane, even to the engine on its nose. But in many phases
it ignored the known rules for making the regulation type plane. It had
small, fixed wing surfaces, without even an attempt at ailerons. The
rear spread into an unknown fantasy of a biplaned tail. On a metal
framework above the body of the plane were affixed four limber metal
rotor blades that hung with a flimsy droop when the plane was still.

Colonel Wiljohn's countenance drooped somewhat when he saw the finished
product. This model, so much larger than the tiny creation he had
balanced on his palm that night in Hal's room, had an awkward, fearfully
flimsy look. Was this the thing he had pinned such faith to a few weeks
ago?

Then the motor of the big toy was warmed up. Flimsy blades, that a
moment ago had hung limp, now stiffened with the whirl of rotor force to
a firmness that would withstand a hundred horse power. Centrifugal force
did it! When the whir of its blades gathered power, the thing rose--not
with a glide, or a slanting run to take the air, not at all--it rose
straight up.

"Beautiful, beautiful!" shouted Colonel Wiljohn, his face tensing with
excitement. "I did not believe she could do it!"

Now the little plane was coming down. A mechanism cut the motor dead.
The thing stopped in its "tracks," so to speak, began to drift down in a
perfect vertical, the gentle whir of the rotor blades holding the body
balanced to every air-bump or current of wind that tended to shift the
axis.

"You've got it all there, boy--goes straight up, comes straight down,
it's a wonder--" Colonel Wiljohn's excited voice croaked to a dismayed
gasp.

She was coming down--but in pieces. So great was the power of the
gyroscopic whirl that the wings of the plane beneath them broke asunder
under the force of the air streams hurled down. The whole little model
crashed downward in a wrecked mass.

Week after week, Hal Dane pursued his patient experimenting. He tried
two rotors, one above the other and traveling in opposite directions,
with the idea of equalizing balance to the nth degree. It did not work;
it only complicated matters more. He made shorter, the already short,
fixed under-wings, and tipped up their ends. Still the strain was
unrelieved, still the mechanism tore to pieces under that whirling
force. At last Hal got at the root of the matter--it was too much power
hurled down by the gyroscope. By degrees, he learned to decrease the
size of the air slots in the gyroscopic instruments, learned to shoot
the air stream in a more gradual manner until he achieved just the
amount to power the controls, and yet not break them.

When Colonel Wiljohn watched Hal's final model make its beautiful
straight ascent, and settle down with an equally beautiful vertical
descent, this veteran of aviation manufacturing stood long, gazing out
with dreamy eyes. Finally he turned. "Hal Dane," he said, "I've been
seeing a dream picture in the sky; it's the dream city all our artists
have been painting ever since the Wrights flew their first plane off
Kill Devil Hill. In this pictured city-to-be, airplane terminals are
built right upon the roofs of high down-town buildings; every little
home has its private landing field upon its own rooftop; big planes,
little planes swoop straight up without ever a wasted acre of runway.
Until this minute, we have never been an inch nearer that marvelous goal
than we were twenty-seven years ago. Suddenly you open up a new world in
aviation. Come over to the office and let's talk business."

Behind his familiar desk with its papers strewn comfortably to hand,
Colonel Wiljohn took up the conversation again.

"This gyroscope idea is all your own, you have worked it out well in
model. To put it into a practical, working-sized plane will take money.
In fact you will need a great deal of money--which you haven't got. To a
degree, I am a man of wealth. But at present, my factories need a
stirring advertising campaign, something to turn the eyes of the world
towards us. The Bojer Works, and others that turn out planes inferior to
ours, are by their daring advertisements deflecting part of our natural
business to themselves." The Colonel's hands crumpled some papers in a
tense grasp. He paused a moment, as though to get a grip on himself,
then went on. "For our plant to build the plane that wins the great
Onheim Prize--ah, that would be unexcelled advertising for us! We will
put up the money and the factory experience to build your model into its
completed practical form. You will fly it and win the prize. Your model
must win--it's the biggest idea born in the last twenty years! The
Onheim twenty-five thousand dollars will be yours! The right to build
planes after your model will be ours, but with a per cent of the profits
coming to you. Do you agree?"

"I--yes--no--" Hal Dane was struggling with eagerness and hesitation.
"You are more than generous in your offer. Build the gyroscope plane and
I will fly it for you in the Onheim Contest--fly it to win for you. But
the Onheim Prize is not what I want--I, oh,--this is what I want--" Hal
pulled from his inner pocket a ragged clipping. The newspaper date that
headed it was three years old. "This is what I want to win, the Vallant
Prize for the first non-stop flight across the Pacific--"

"That," Colonel Wiljohn rose to his feet, his face hardening, "that
offer ought to be forced into a recall by the government of this
country. It is a feat, not only impractical, but impossible of
accomplishment. Already the Vallant twenty-five thousand has lured a
number of our best flyers to their deaths. There was young Orr, and Jim
Hancock, and--"

"It was lack of preparation that killed those flyers." Hal was on his
feet, too, defending his most cherished plan, his dream of a great
Western flight. "They tried to do it in a mere average land plane,
over-weighted with nonessentials, not enough space for extra fuel and
the like. They hadn't planned and dreamed an ocean-flight plane for
years and years. Wait, just a moment--" and Hal Dane slipped out of the
office.

When he came back, breathless from running, he bore in his hands the
little model of the long-winged silver ship that had hung in his room
where he could lay eyes on it the minute he opened his door.

"This is something like what I'd need." He laid the model in Colonel
Wiljohn's hands. "Body cut down to its slenderest, a greater stretch of
wing for speed, but part of the wing interior could be used for storage
purposes to carry emergency rations, a still to condense water, extra
fuel. I've got a lighter engine in mind too, and higher-powered fuel
than any of the rest used."

For the better part of the night, Hal Dane and Colonel Wiljohn clashed
verbal swords over the boy's proposed ocean flight.

No matter how well prepared for, it was a wild undertaking. The Colonel
pleaded for this young flyer whom he had come to love as his own kin to
stay on in America, to put his talents to work for aviation safety, not
for aviation madness of ocean flights.

But the call of the winds was in Hal Dane's blood. Even as his ancestors
in frail boats rode the currents of the sea to seek a far continent, so
was the Norse blood in his veins urging him on to ride the rivers of the
wind on some far exploration.

In the end, Colonel Wiljohn gave down before Hal Dane's adamant
decision.

"Boy," he said, "you win! Fly the safety model for me at the Onheim
Contest, and I'll build you the finest plane ever sent out on an ocean
flight--but I fear that ocean flight like death."



                              CHAPTER XVI

                            ABOVE THE CLOUDS


"Boy, you can say 'Excuse my clouds!' when you ride that thing, eh?"
John Weldon, master mechanic at the Wiljohn Works, stepped back to gaze
at the strange-looking, long-winged monoplane that was under
construction.

"And I hope I can say 'Excuse my fog!' too." Hal Dane lovingly touched
the aeronautical board of the plane whereon were featured the newest
devices to safeguard fog flying.

In the place of trusting to any natural horizon that snow and thick
weather all too easily obliterate, there was set in Hal Dane's ship an
"artificial horizon." This was not so immense as it might sound, but was
merely a small instrument that indicated longitudinal and lateral
position with relation to the ground at all times. Another innovation
was the sensitive barometric altimeter so delicate as to measure the
altitude of the airplane within a few feet of the ground.

The above instruments were to stabilize the plane, to keep it to an even
keel in flight mostly. Now came an instrument to help at landing--the
visual radio receiver. This consisted of two little vibrating reeds
tuned to the radio beacons in use in landing fields. If, in aiming at a
landing, Hal turned to the right of his course, the right reed vibrated,
while at too much of a left turn, the left reed registered its little
movement. So by keeping the two reeds in a balancing quiver, he could
fly directly down the path of the beacon to a landing.

True to his promise, Colonel Wiljohn spared no expense in building Hal
Dane the finest sky boat that ever flew above land or water. Because the
splendid Wind Bird was built for speed, every surplus inch was pared
off--and yet because of the dangers she must face, every known safety
device was also built into her.

Compared to existing types, the Wind Bird had streamline qualities of an
arrow, of a needle! Instead of the old complicated gasoline engine with
its exposure of wide air-cooled flanges butt-heading against the wind,
the new Conqueror-Eisel engine was a marvel of compactness, and of
simplicity. This oil-consuming Eisel engine was fundamentally more
reliable than the old gasoline engines, for it was without batteries,
and was thus not dependent upon either an intricate electric ignition
system, or upon a carburetor system for fuel supply. Separate
fuel-injection into each cylinder assured a dependable and uniform
supply of fuel--thus constituting in a nine-cylinder, nine individually
operated motors in one. And of greatest importance for a vast
trans-ocean flight, this new engine could fly a ship one-fourth as far
again on the same weight of fuel as any other engine had ever been able
to achieve. With an Eisel engine, the great Lindbergh could have flown
to Paris, and then have flown eight hundred miles farther--all on the
same fuel supply!

Fuel supply can mean life or death in the perils of ocean flight. On his
ocean flight, Hal Dane was going to attempt to fly farther than man had
ever flown before.

By experimentation, Hal Dane and Colonel Wiljohn tried to figure out and
face every danger that the boy could be subjected to on his great
flight. They were planning for success, but no explorer can afford to
blind himself to possible danger--fog, storm, wreck on the limitless
waste of the ocean.

Against that dire chance of being forced down upon the water, the Wind
Bird was outfitted with a dump valve that could drop the bulk of the
fuel load in fifty seconds. Another protection in case of a wreck on the
ocean was a steel saw that would enable Hal to hack off the motors and
the steel fuselage, and thus turn the wing into a raft. Within the wing
was a compartment to store emergency rations, a still to condense water,
a water-tight radio transmitter. Four gas balloons were to be carried to
lift the aerial of this transmitter.

Time and again the model of the Wind Bird was sent up with loads greater
than ever the real Wind Bird would have to carry on the Pacific flight.
During these load tests, Hal found that he would have to redesign the
rudder, strengthen the fuselage, fit the plane with stronger axles and
wheels.

This was a time of proving and verifying all manner of mechanisms.
Continually, the principal features of both the Wind Bird monoplane and
the strange rotor-bladed gyroscope were given try-outs on dog planes, as
the test planes were dubbed. And continually, "bugs" developed on both
types of models. "Bugs" are what the aero-mechanics call those errors
that always show up when air-minded inventors begin putting theory into
practice. The air is still such an unknown quantity that when mankind
tries to enlarge an air machine from a tiny model into a great
forty-foot wing expanse, a hundred odds and ends of air troubles
immediately develop. This has always been the case. Back in those early
experimental days at Kitty Hawk and at Kill Devil Hill, the Wright
brothers had to fight the error "bugs" that crept into the enlargement
of their models. Those early Wright gliders that flew perfectly in
models scaled to inches, proved whole-hearted flops when enlarged to
man-sized models. By painful, slow degrees, the Wrights finally mastered
the fact that in enlarging a heavier-than-air flying machine, one part
can be enlarged to four times its size, while another part of the same
model may have to be enlarged sixteen times in order to preserve the air
balance.

Hal Dane had the hard-earned knowledge of the Wrights, and of a hundred
other inventors to help guide him to air truths. Yet, for all that, his
planes were both so radically new in type that "bugs" all their own had
developed and had to be patiently weeded out. But ambition drove young
Dane harder than any whips could have driven him. There were periods
when he bent over his drafting table thirty-six hours at a stretch. The
personnel of the Wiljohn Airlines caught the spirit of his vast
ambition, and during months of construction, the organization labored as
it never had before. Day and night, seven days a week, the work went
forward. Out of cloth, wood, and a few lengths of steel tubing grew two
structures that differed enormously. The gyroscope idea was developing
into a squat, square-looking, heavy-set plane; while the Wind Bird with
its streamlined body and vast wing stretch seemed to spell speed, speed!

In periods when he was not needed for drafting or supervision work, Hal
Dane slipped away aboard an old plane on some mysterious journeyings. If
the facts were known, however, one of those journeys was not so
mysterious after all, merely a boy dashing home to see his mother before
he undertook a dangerous ocean flight. His other secret missions were
flights up and down the Pacific coast where he was trying for the
altitude that would best speed him off into the great western river of
the winds. From the data that he gathered, the boy made for himself
strange, wavy-lined maps and charts of the airways. In addition to
these, and based on nautical tables and on gnomonic and Mercator's
charts, he plotted out a great oceanic circle course that was to lead
him northwest from San Francisco, up towards the Aleutian Islands, on
across the Pacific, and in a final southwest dip along the Asian coast
until he brought the Wind Bird down in Tokio, capital city of Japan.

Work so engrossed Hal Dane that the time seemed to slip away before he
knew it. Here it was April. A few more weeks would usher in May and the
great Onheim Safety Device Contest Hal was more than anxious to get the
Onheim Contest behind him. For after he had flown the gyroscope in that
test, he would feel that he had fulfilled his obligation to his staunch
friend, Colonel Wiljohn,--would feel free to undertake his heart's
dream, the Pacific flight.

Clutching at Hal Dane's heart was the black fear that some other aviator
would beat him to that conquest of the Pacific in the great non-stop
flight.

Mr. Vallant's recent offer of an additional ten thousand dollars was
stirring vast interest in the Pacific Ocean flight. Flyers everywhere
were awakening to the fact that they had let the huge Vallant Prize go
unclaimed long enough. From across the Pacific, word came that Sugeroto,
that small, lithe Japanese aeronaut of princely birth, was warming up a
plane for the flight. Two American aces in a great trimotor were testing
out their plane with the same prize in view. Some ten other aviators
were also reported as planning to get in the Cross-the-Pacific flight.

From his latest expedition into the airways above the western coast, Hal
returned with jubilation in his heart. Even in the old model test plane
he had taken out, he had ridden far and fast on a swift and mighty wind
river high above the California sea edge. Young Dane was wild to be off
in his own wide-winged speed plane, skimming this airpath on his viking
journey across the western ocean before so much multiple competition
achieved the goal ahead of him.

But back at Axion, at the Wiljohn factories, Hal Dane, instead of coming
to his Wind Bird completed for its try-out, found work everywhere
disorganized. The two near-finished planes that he had expected to test
in two such different flights, were left perched on their skids with no
hands patiently, carefully building them on to their perfection.

Over radio had been flashed the news that the whole Three-River district
of south Alabama was under water, that hundreds of square miles of
territory were swept by raging floods.

And Jacky Wiljohn, gone south with his mother for the winter and early
spring at a resort, was in that flood country.

The danger to his beloved idol swept away from Colonel Wiljohn's mind
every plan for air-conquest and glory of prize-winning air models.

To Colonel Bob Wiljohn, aviators now had but one reason for
existence--aviators could act as eyes for the vast rescue army that was
fighting the floods. Aviators could fly over the torrents to search out
the men, women and children clinging to such land heights not yet
reached by the floods! Aviators could rescue families huddled on their
home roofs that tumbled and tossed in the muddy currents!

The pick of planes and men from the Wiljohn Works went south for the
rescue work.

When Wiljohn's star pilot, Hal Dane, read the screaming black headlines
of the disaster and the call for help, he answered that call by pushing
glory dreams out of his mind and going down into that flood country too.
The ship Hal went south in was the dog plane test model of the
gyroscope. That rotor-bladed, squat-built contraption was going to get
its proving in a real emergency.



                              CHAPTER XVII

                          FIGHTING THE TORRENT


To make the trip from Axion down into the flood-tortured southland
without any further loss of time, Hal Dane set out to fly all night. He
had already signed up with the Red Cross department in his own city, and
had gotten his instructions. He was to report to Major Huntley, in
charge of the Alabama flooded district, who would assign him his work.

The squat gyroscope had been planned for safety, rather than making
mileage records. Yet when those limber, awkward-looking rotor blades
began to reach their maximum of two thousand whirls a minute, why, the
strange craft achieved a speed of near a hundred miles an hour!

Late afternoon had been hazy, with the sun going down an ominous ball of
red. Now as the night wore on, Hal swept into heavy weather. Mist
changed into a dense, clinging fog. The wind rolled up into a gale that
seemed to strike from all sides at once. For safety's sake, Hal rode
high, at something like ten thousand feet. He had the feeling of a lone
human survivor drifting above a fog-shrouded world. He must have passed
over hamlets and cities innumerable, yet no glow of home or street
lights penetrated upward through the fog blanket to point him a guiding
beacon.

Hal's training in blind-flying stood him in good stead here, for relying
on his marvelous earth inductor compass and his instrument of artificial
horizon, he managed to keep an even keel. He held a wary eye to the
altimeter, however, for come fog or come wind, safety demanded that he
ride at a vast height to avoid a death-dealing crash against some
jutting mountain crag. Three times, the multiple raging of the gale
engendered by the tempest swinging upward through the gorges, told Hal
that he was crossing mountain ranges.

On through the night the aviator drove his strange rotor, dodging,
twisting, tacking, riding down the wind gusts. Then towards morning
nature seemed to soften and grow milder. The wind sank to a breeze.
Stars came out just before the darkness lifted for the first pale
pearl-gray of dawn. A rose glow spread till the whole horizon seemed
aflame.

It was glorious here, high above the earth, but as Hal turned his eyes
downward a dreadful view met his eyes. Dismay shot through him.

Had his famous compass failed him? Had winds driven him far off his
track? Had he crossed the whole length of Alabama and the top of Florida
to go drifting like a derelict above the Gulf of Mexico?

There was a sea of water below, a limitless, shoreless stretch. But
instead of white-capped waves and the clear blueness of the tropical
waters of the gulf, here lay a muddy, ochre-colored ocean.

Then the horrible truth swept over Hal Dane. He was flying the flood!
These ugly waters covered no natural sea bed, but swirled sullenly above
the homes, the villages, the cities of the southern section of a whole
state.

All landmarks had been blotted out, but the aviator got his bearings by
compass, and studied the map he drew from his pocket. This must be it,
the country drained in normal times by the three rivers, the Conecuh,
the Pea and the Choctawhatchee. But now the waters followed no separate
river beds down to the sea. Instead they had burst all bounds and
covered the face of the land.

He drifted down until he hovered at only a hundred feet of altitude.
From this height he could clearly vision the astounding panorama of
watery waste.

Spires of churches and here and there taller buildings in a group
showing partly above water told that here lay some town. Straight lanes
of water between the tops of forest trees meant that beneath the flood a
highway ran. Borne on the yellow tide of the foul, swirling sea were the
dead and swollen bodies of mules, hogs, horses and cows. Mingling with
these were houses swept from their foundations and drifting with the
current.

At intervals, he would catch sight of some hill or some turtle-backed
Indian mound on whose crest was huddled a village of tents--frail
shelters for the refugees fleeing from the wild onrush of the flood.

Was Jacky Wiljohn found and safe within one of those tents, or was the
little fellow still out on some half-flooded land ridge or marooned in
some drifting building?

Now that he had come and seen for himself, Hal Dane realized for the
first time the awful magnitude of this peace-time tragedy. Here was a
disaster that equaled pestilence and battle in its devastation. He had
read of these things--but seeing them was different, more awful.

Fog and storm had drifted Hal somewhat off his course. He consulted his
compass, took his bearings again, and decided that he must be to the
west of Troja, the hill city on the edge of the flood where were
situated the Red Cross headquarters.

He whirled the nose of his plane into the east. A little later he caught
sight of what he knew must be his destination. Below him lay a little
city whose outskirts were lapped by the sullen yellow waters. Up in the
heights a whole new city section had been developed with its streets
lined by rows of little army tents. Some seaplanes lay at rest in a
sheltered bay of flood water. Out on a stretch of meadow army planes
were roped to stakes, tails to the wind.

Hal circled about the field a few times until he could pick a good
landing spot. Then he cut his motor dead and began to drop. With
outspread rotor blades acting like a parachute, the curious sky boat
with its short stiff side wings, drifted straightly, gently down towards
earth.

By the time Hal settled to his landing, he was surrounded by a ring of
civilians and soldiers with a sprinkling of keen-eyed, sun-tanned
fellows that he felt were likely aviators. Some of the crowd guffawed
loudly over the squat, awkward look of the old hen as they immediately
dubbed the odd, square-built machine. The majority of the men, though,
applauded the unusual feat of the straight-down drop.

A heavy-set, haggard-eyed man in uniform, who appeared to be the one in
authority here, stepped out and extended a hand in greeting.

Hal returned the warm grasp. "You, sir, I'm sure must be the Major
Huntley I was to report to."

"Yes, and you," the fatigue lines on the officer's face were momentarily
lifted by a whimsical smile, "you must be the Hal Dane our man up in
Axion wired us about last night. His message read, 'Fellow with the most
curious-looking plane in the world coming down to help you!'"

"That just about describes us," said Hal with a grin, as he cocked his
eye over toward the old hen.

"Well, Hal Dane, Camp Number One welcomes you and your help. That's a
strange contraption you've brought down though. We've had about
everything else sent in to help us--coast guard cutters, steamboats,
flatboats, army planes, navy planes--but never any such sky boat as
that--something new on me--"

"Something new on everybody," said Hal, "but if it works like we hope,
it may be a help in getting folks out of tight places."

"From all accounts, you flew the whole night through. Come on up to
officers' quarters for breakfast and some rest." Major Huntley led out
in the direction of a row of tents.

"I'll take the breakfast--the sleep can wait," Hal stretched his long
legs to the Major's brisk stride. "Reckon I'm a good bit fresher than
you folks that have been in this thing from the beginning."

"Oh, we've all gotten flood-toughened. There are fellows here that
haven't had their clothes off in six nights." Huntley had piloted Hal to
a bench before a long, rough trencherboard table. While the hot,
nourishing soup, bread and coffee were being ladled out, the Major went
on. "Since you're willing to keep on working for the day, we're too
shorthanded not to accept your help."

Hal found the men of the officers' mess a fine, capable lot of fellows,
even if they were haggard from overwork and their uniforms all yellow
stained and mud caked. Grim days, grimmer nights of toiling in flood and
muck left no time for dress parade formalities.

At his first chance, in a voice out of which he couldn't force the
tremble, Hal asked after Colonel Wiljohn. Was he here? The little Jacky
Wiljohn, had he been found yet?

Yes, the Colonel was here, a fine old fellow, doing great work with his
crew of aviators. Too bad about the boy, though! Not a sign of him and
the mother had ever been found. The big hotel at Malden, just below the
forks of Pea River and the Choctawhatchee was flooded now, but it had
been deserted for days, everybody had been gotten out in boats early in
the flood. That young Mrs. Wiljohn and the boy had gone off in a canoe,
picnicking, it seemed, up some little creek the day the floods had begun
to rise. They'd never been heard of since. Which was something of a
mystery, considering the number of boats and planes that had combed all
sections in a special hunt for these two.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                             TO THE RESCUE


"Since you are one of the Wiljohn men," said Huntley, "I'll turn you
over to the Colonel for further directions. He's handling our aviation
fleet with a master hand."

When Hal came face to face with his friend farther down the street of
the City of Tents, he was shocked to see how broken and feeble Colonel
Wiljohn had become. In six days he had aged a score of years.

"Hal, Hal--we've needed you."

"I came as soon as I heard, sir."

"Might have known you would." Hal could feel the tremble of the
Colonel's arm as it lay across his shoulder. Then the tremble steadied,
and the Colonel went on in a firm voice, "Well, we've work a-plenty for
you to do. I'll be showing you the ropes."

It was a marvelous organization that Hal Dane slipped into. He became a
cog in a huge, efficient machine.

Over night almost, this flood had come.

Over night, also, America organized to save the people in the flood
path.

When this appalling disaster broke, the American Red Cross moved
swiftly. At Troja, Alabama, was set up a special Flood Relief
Headquarters. Here quickly came the key men of the Red Cross staff from
all neighboring states. To work in liaison, there came also officers of
the Army, Navy, Public Health Service, Coast Guard, Department of
Agriculture, Veterans' Bureau and the railroads which served the flooded
area. It was an effective relief force, equal to any war-time
organization.

It was a war these men were fighting--a war against a treacherous,
rolling, yellow flood.

From all over the Union came shipments of food, clothing, tents,
medicine. There were garments to fit any size refugee, from an infant on
up. There were specially prepared tin cases of food, all ready to be
dropped down by airplane to hill-top refugees, or those marooned on
drifting houses, so as to keep life in their bodies till boats could
haul them off to safety.

Hal was surprised to see in the midst of a supply train standing out in
the railroad yard, a long box car bearing in big letters this striking
sign: "Extra Airplane Parts. Rush to Three-River Flood District."

"The airplane is showing the world what it can do in times of trouble,"
said Colonel Wiljohn, noticing Hal's excited gaze upon the portable
aircraft shop on the side track. "Aviators are the eyes of the Rescue
Program, boy; scout planes fly this blasted flood day and night,
reporting refugees, their exact location, and the best way to reach
them. See, here come some results now." He motioned out towards the
water.

A square-nosed old river steamer was pushing in before her a barge
loaded with the pitiful, shabby furnishings of many a humble plantation
tenant home. Over bundles of bedding, the dogs and children crawled;
amid piles of rickety furniture, tin tubs and hastily gathered utensils
and tools, the family mules and cows were tethered. On the decks of the
steamer, itself, huddled half a hundred cold, wet, hungry refugees. The
boat was a weather-beaten old side-wheeler, clumsy and creaking. But to
those refugees, just snatched from the jaws of death, she probably
seemed the finest ship afloat.

Planes came in, other planes took off--an endless chain of scouts.

Hal was aching to be out on the work.

"Aviators have to be the ears as well as the eyes in this flood
fighting," went on Colonel Wiljohn, "I'm expecting great things of even
this dog plane you've brought down, but we've got to get radio equipment
installed on it before you take it out on the job. Radio is our
time-saver. You can wireless a message in one-twentieth of the time it
would take you to zoom back and forth delivering reports by word of
mouth. There's an extra seaplane here, already radio-equipped. You can
take that out."

"Any kind will do," said Hal, "just let me get my hands on the stick and
be off."

"I'm changing one group of men to another section," went on Colonel
Wiljohn, "and the work I want you to do today is scout-flying in a
ten-mile radius over the flood country below the forks of the Pea River
and the Choctawhatchee. You'll have to locate the forks by chart, that
section's been under water a week. And Hal, search every creek that
leads in--I--I'm depending on you more than any of the others--to
find--" The Colonel turned away suddenly.

Hal felt a quick sting behind his eyelids. He choked till he could
hardly give his answer. Without having actually said so, the Colonel, he
knew, was giving him the patrol of the district Jacky was lost in. If
only he could find Jacky!

A few moments later, Hal had become one of the many aviators whose
planes circled over the heaving waste of flood waters. At low altitude
roared these scout planes. Keen-eyed as hawks, the flying men sought
continually for groups marooned on ridges or housetops. In answer to
their radio messages flung into the ether, the rescue steamers churned
far and wide across the yellow tide, hauling bargeloads of silent,
stupefied people snatched from their perilous retreats. As the work went
on, most of the hill-top islands were cleared of their refugees, but out
of creeks and bayous, shackly old buildings swept from their
foundations, and burdened with pitiable human freight, continued to
drift down with the flood current. Scout planes flew low over these
floating derelicts. It would be haggard faces at a window, or a scream;
or, sometimes it would be a quavery old voice singing a hymn that told
rescuers that here was human freight drifting down to death.

At the beginning of the flood, each drifting house was, mayhap, searched
a dozen times by various boat crews--no crew knowing that already others
had been there before them. Time was lost that could have been put to
other needs. To avoid this, it was finally agreed that when a house was
once searched a red flag, made of calico salvaged from a half-submerged
dry goods store, should be nailed to its gable.

Hal saw some pitiful sights during his day's work. Up Jardin Bayou he
found five negroes on the roof of a tottering barn, the building ready
to collapse and float off. When Hal dropped them bread from the
emergency box in his cockpit, they hardly had strength to hold it and
eat it. They had been without food for days, and were so weak that when
the rescue boat came they had to be lifted off into it.

Some of the refugees that Hal radioed word back about were the
four-footed kind. All through the flooded district, hundreds of mules
and cattle were marooned on ridges and mounds. These hungry ones soon
cleaned their tiny islands of every vestige of grass, moss and twigs.
After that, they looked starvation in the face. Hal saw one hungry old
horse, marooned on a bare little mound, who had the courage to plunge
into the roaring flood, swim a hundred yards to a leafy tree that lifted
its head above the yellow torrent, eat what waving green he could from
it, then go struggling back to his mound. Such a courageous one deserved
to be rescued. A radio message brought a barge to gather him up with a
herd of other animals stranded on a ridge farther up.

Midday came and passed. The hours wore on into the afternoon. The night
of flying across half a continent, combined with the strain of the work
he was at now, began to tell on Hal's strength. His head was whirling
and his aching muscles were in rebellion against the will that drove
them on.

Then in an instant, a glimpse of a something lodged in the branches of a
drifting tree spurred him on to fresh endeavors, cleared his brain of
fatigue clouds. Hal was miles from headquarters, skimming above a
section which had been cleared of refugees earlier in the day. And now
into his line of vision there came drifting a tree, now and again
submerging to the pull of the currents, and bearing caught in its
branches a tiny figure.

Mechanically, his fingers tapped out location and a call for help. Then
Hal began to maneuver his seaplane for a landing in these troubled
waters. Assistance he knew would come quickly, but perhaps not quick
enough in this case. If the plunging tree raft with its lone little
passenger was swept into the eddies just beyond it would be the end.

Hal brought his plane to water as close to the forest derelict as he
dared. He stood, braced himself strongly, and hurled a coil of rope. It
hissed through the air and fell over the leafy drift. At the first throw
he caught only some twigs that the rope knotted about and he had to jerk
it free. The next cast, however, fell over the body of the child, and by
expert jockeying was finally tightened about the shoulders. A moment
later Hal had drawn the slight burden to the edge of the seaplane and
gotten it aboard. Like a great bird the aircraft zoomed up and sped back
towards camp.

As Hal landed and came up from the improvised wharf bearing the child in
his arms, it was pitiful to watch hope blaze in Colonel Wiljohn's
eyes--then as quickly die, for the child was not Jacky Wiljohn.

But he was someone's darling. At the end of a long line of refugees
waiting before the open-air kitchen for their tin pannikins to be filled
with the steaming food, stood a haggard woman who seemed to have no
interest in food or anything else. With a sudden scream, this one darted
out of line, crying, "Renee! Renee! My lost child!" as she gathered the
little boy into her arms.

It was far into the afternoon when Hal paused at the kitchen grounds for
a hasty lunch, his first bite since the morning soup. He began to
realize how weary he was, for his hand was trembling as he picked up the
big mug of steaming coffee.

Radio kept even a rescue camp in touch with world news. As Hal revived
his drooping spirits with a good, thick hot beef sandwich, he heard men
discussing word that had just come in concerning the two flyers, Lang
and Munger, who had crossed the continent in their planes, preparatory
to undertaking the great Pacific non-stop flight. On all sides, argument
waxed hot over this coming event. Wasn't there enough land-flying to
keep men busy without all this running into needless danger trying to
fly over the frozen poles and the oceans? And yet, so ran the other side
of the argument, think of the future of aviation, the real service these
pioneer flights were doing, the huge money prizes, the glory!

After the meal, the flyers that had been out on flood patrol were
snatching a little rest.

A dreadful restlessness urged Hal Dane back into his scout plane. A new
savage energy drove him with the feeling that he must work till he
dropped. He must be too tired to think. Thoughts were dangerous. The
news that already at Oakland airport, across the bay from San Francisco,
planes were lining up to compete in the Pacific race, stirred him
terribly, shook the iron control that he had fought to preserve.

As soon as weather conditions permitted, a dozen planes would be off on
the great flight--and his plane would not be among them!

The time for the splendid Onheim Safety Device Contest was looming even
nearer. Just a few days to that date now.

Prizes could come and prizes could go, but under the strain of combing
the torrent-washed land for the lost Jacky Wiljohn, neither Hal nor the
Colonel could have time for thoughts of contests. At least, Hal would
not let his thoughts dwell on the great chance he'd have to miss. Right
now was a time of testing out a character, if not of testing out a ship
for a prize.

Grimly, Hal forced the tremble out of his hands on the controls, and
turned the nose of his plane out over the rolling ochre-colored waste of
flood waters.

He had come perhaps ten miles from Troja when, out of the wide, flooding
mouth of a tributary creek, he saw a roof top come drifting into the
main rush of the torrent. Hal flew low, noting it expectantly--any drift
from the creek bottoms might contain those he sought. His sharp eyes
soon showed him, though, that this derelict had already been searched.
The strip of weather-stained red calico nailed to the gable told him
that much. But while he still hovered near with engine muffled to its
softest, his ear seemed to catch a scream--a woman's scream from within
the drifting house.

The flapping bit of red calico signaled, "No occupant--searchers have
been here."

That one long-drawn wail still echoing in Hal's brain, though, must mean
that some victim of the flood was housed within. There was the chance
that a refugee from floating logs, or a tree top, had but lately managed
to crawl aboard the half-submerged dwelling.

Hal noted well the location and the type of house this drifter was, but
instead of radioing for help, he shot back to Troja in his plane. At the
camp, he sought out Colonel Wiljohn and told him of the case. All he had
to go on was the fact that this old dwelling had drifted in from the
creek bottoms, and that the sound of a woman's scream had seemed to come
from it. Frail grounds for hoping that here might be Jacky Wiljohn's
mother and the boy himself. But Colonel Wiljohn squared back his
shoulders; he became all fire and energy in his preparations. A launch
was got ready, blankets, hot soup in thermos bottles, axes to break any
barriers, ropes.

In short order the boat shot out across the waters, leaving a froth of
yellow foam in its wake.

When the drifting, two-story dwelling was sighted, the pilot cut in
close and maneuvered until he got his craft alongside one of the
windows.

Hal was the first man to scramble from the boat to the window ledge that
was now just a few inches above the roaring yellow torrent. As he flung
a leg over the sill and slid down into the room, a scream, like that
first he had heard, greeted him--only terrifically loud, a wild demoniac
scream, followed by a coughing, snarling roar.

As Hal focused the electric torch on the corner whence came the sound,
the beam blazed upon the wide-set eyes, the tense, crouched body of a
great panther.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                           WHEN LAND CRUMBLED


For a moment Hal Dane's heart seemed to cease beating.

The huge panther was the largest of its kind he had ever seen. In his
scouting above the flood country, he had now and again glimpsed a few of
these great tawny creatures of the cat tribe that the waters had driven
from their forest haunts. Out in the open these others had merely slunk
off, hiding from even the shadow of the airplane that passed over them.

But cornered, the panther was a different beast. He was ferocious, and
fought to kill.

This one, sides sunken with hunger, flat ugly head weaving back and
forth, jaws snarling open, crouched tense in its corner.

A sudden ague shook Hal's hand till the spotlight wavered up and down
the walls. The next instant he controlled himself, held the torch glow
again on the beast before him. In the space of that instant, the panther
had glided out from his corner. The light flung into his fiery eyes sent
him motionless again--but how long would the spell-binding of the
torchlight last?

Hal Dane moistened dry lips, shaped his mouth to whistle, and at last
forced out a shrill sound. He had seen steady whistling charm small
animals like rabbits and foxes into a momentary "freeze". He prayed,
that it would work now. Dry-mouthed or not, he must keep up this
shrilling ten seconds, twenty seconds--till his hand could lift his
revolver from its hip holster, till he could take aim.

It was a six-shooter, but he remembered, with a chilling to his very
marrow, that there was only one shot left. He had used the other five
picking off rattlesnakes that had seemed determined to move into the dry
haunts of the human refugees.

A sudden switching of tail tip, a lower crouching of the powerful tawny
body, told that the spring was imminent.

Steady! Because the head hung low, he must aim at the brain through the
eye.

But before Hal's gun could belch forth its one shot, the great beast had
leaped. Hal's hand flung up to new aim. In the ghastly white torchlight,
a roaring tornado of teeth and claws rose above him.

The pistol shot its load straight up. And that instant, the boy flung
himself backwards out of the window. Instead of landing in a waiting
boat, he plunged into the cold, yellow depths of flood water.

He came up sputtering and choking. But after the first shock of his
submersion, he felt no alarm. He was a strong swimmer and could keep
afloat for hours if necessary. He bumped into what he thought was a
drifting log, but it turned out to be a derelict canoe upside down. He
clung to that and shouted. His electric torch and revolver had been lost
as he leaped from the window, almost under the impact of the panther's
downward slashing claws.

Hal's lusty shouting soon produced results. The rescue launch which had
drifted down stream, put about and with its headlight spraying the water
surface with its searching glare, nosed cautiously back up alongside of
him and his float. Strong hands hauled him aboard and a warm blanket was
flung around him.

Colonel Wiljohn was storming up and down the little craft in a rage at
his crew for deserting Hal in his time of peril.

The fellow at the steering wheel was rather shamefaced over letting a
gunshot and panther caterwauls shake his hand so that the boat shot from
his control and into midstream.

"D-don't blame you," chattered Hal, drawing the blanket tighter about
his dripping person, "if it s-s-sounded half as awful to you all outside
as it did to me inside--it was t-t-time to be leaving!"

To make sure that the great panther was not left merely wounded to
suffer lingeringly, or perhaps to injure someone else who might enter
the place, the boat was drawn again within sight-range of the drifting
old house. Lights were played over the upper story room, now so nearly
submerged.

The long tawny form lay stretched on the floor, without sign of
movement. Hal's one shot had done its work.

Hope died hard in Colonel Wiljohn's breast. His mind told him that the
shrill "woman screams" that had lured Hal to this place could only have
been the panther's call--so like a woman crying in distress. To satisfy
himself, however, the Colonel searched every possible part of the
floating, careening old house. With an axe he forced an entrance through
the warped, swollen doors to the three upper rooms, searched closets and
cupboards. He found no woman and child hiding away from that other
passenger,--the great, tawny panther cat. A pitiful litter of clothes,
books, a few small toys, deserted when the home-dwellers had to flee for
their lives, was the only reward for his search.

Back at the camp, Hal experienced all the comforts of being a "refugee".
Good dry clothes and a draught of hot milk took the shivers out of his
bones. After his report was made out, he flung himself down in his tent
to snatch a bit of sleep. With thirty-six hours of steady strain and
flying behind him, slumber claimed him the instant he hit his bunk. But
tired as he was, he had left word that he should be called early.

Next morning before the sun rose, he was out on the field warming up the
motor to his strange gyroscope plane. He found the radio installed.
Workmen from headquarters had done it while he used the seaplane the day
before. Everything was in working order. He tested the instruments and
found that they were of the best. A few taps and a message would go
speeding through the air.

Even this early in the day, a small crowd gathered to watch the squat
old hen, the newfangled plane, make its rise. As the rotors stiffened
with their power whirl and the thing took off, Hal heard a sound of
cheering drift up to him faintly. For all its awkward look, this thing
did rise like a lark on the wing. He turned her nose out over the flood.

For the time being, Hal Dane wanted to follow out a clew entirely on his
own. In the dusk of yesterday, as he clung to the drifting, upside-down
canoe, and the lights from the launch had played over it, the name
painted on the battered derelict had seemed to sear into his brain. The
letters had been inverted and he had read them but subconsciously at
first, then their meaning had suddenly seemed to burn into his brain in
letters of fire. "M-a-l-d-e-n, Malden"--the name of the hotel where Mrs.
Wiljohn and Jacky had stayed. This was a boat from that riverside
resort. Malden was miles below where he and the drifting boat had
collided yester evening. So that meant someone had gone up-river in the
canoe and let it get away to come drifting back down. That someone could
be the Wiljohns. What had happened to them? Were they alive after all
this time? More likely, dead!

It was all too frail a clew to build any hopes on. Hal could not bear to
mention it to Colonel Wiljohn. He had suffered too much already, to have
another castle of hope built up, only to have it crash into bitter
disappointment.

Young Dane flew his craft southward with the flood to a location he had
noted the day before, marked by a gnarled oak on a ridge lifting its
battered branches slightly above the torrent. It was near here that he
had first sighted the house of the panther screams. This big piece of
drift and the derelict canoe must have entered the main flood out of the
mouth of Tanabee Creek--or what had once been Tanabee Creek. That humble
stream was now a mile-wide torrent, filling a valley. The overflow from
the burst dam at Nelgat Lake had swamped this broad level.

Here the devastation had been terrible. As Hal pushed farther in this
direction than he had been before, he constantly came upon sights that
taxed his every sympathy. Many times he saw the bodies of men, women and
children floating with the current. With a sinking heart, he swept low
over those sightless faces turned toward the sky--searching, searching,
but he had not found them yet. Numberless dead animals drifted down with
the flood. Shattered homes rocked to and fro on the pull of currents,
followed often by a welter of broken furniture,--chairs, a baby
carriage, a cupboard that had once held dear family possessions.

Deeper into this desolation he pressed. About him everywhere, life
seemed to have been smothered out under the waters.

He had been flying slowly, searchingly, for more than an hour, when his
hawklike gaze focused upon a tiny rim of land, a crescent-shaped island
barely showing above the torrent. The force of currents was eating
steadily at the thin line of land. As Hal watched, a portion crumbled
and toppled into the flood.

And then as he swooped down nearer, he saw to his horror that there was
a human figure on that slender stretch of ground. He dropped closer,
closer, the spread wings of the rotor above his machine letting him down
as gently as though he hung in a great parachute. He dropped to a mere
forty feet above the flood, to thirty. He could see a white dress, a
woman's long hair flung out on the ground. She was apparently dead.

With every moment the rim of land was submerging. Soon the ravening
yellow torrent would sweep over the last vestige. It seemed utter folly
to risk a life and a plane for one already dead. Still there might be a
flickering spark of vitality in that still body.

No use to tap radio messages for help. No help beyond himself could
reach this doomed spot in time.

He must land on this narrow bit of earth already crumbling from the wash
of the waves.

Under its strange whirl of wings, the gyroscope plane dropped straight
as a plummet. A deviation to the right or to the left, and aircraft,
aviator and all would have been engulfed in a roaring torrent without
one chance in a thousand of escape.

But his trained eye had measured distances carefully. In that straight
drop he landed well in the middle of the tiny land crescent, and where
it was least narrow.

In the drawing of a breath, he was out of the cockpit and running toward
the prostrate figure. Even at the thump of the machine to earth, that
one had not stirred. But now, out from under a shelter of brush a child
came creeping, a little boy that even this much effort seemed to
exhaust, for he slumped down weakly.

It was Jacky Wiljohn!

"Jacky! Jacky!" shouted Hal Dane, "run for the plane, quick, while I
bring your mother!" As he spoke, he could feel the rim of land trembling
beneath him, crumbling to the awful power of the waters.

But the child lay where he had dropped. It was as though his last faint
store of energy had been used in his effort to creep into the open.

Hal had already lifted the woman across his shoulder where she hung
limp. He was staggering under this burden, yet he must add more. With a
quick swoop, he seized one of the child's hands and dragging him, took a
few swaying steps forward.

Ten paces, twelve paces! Would he ever make it?

He sagged against the cockpit, slid the woman in; with another motion he
swept the child in beside her.

Like mad, he spun the motor and leaped for the fuselage as the great
horizontal wings began their first slow whirl.

Before him a whole end of the narrow island broke off and the flood
foamed and roared across the place where land had been a moment ago.

Behind, there was a crash and sound of the torrent pouring over. Hal
could not turn to look, but he knew what was happening. Earth toppling
into the flood!

Would those four rotor blades above him ever stiffen with enough lifting
power for flight?

Within ten feet of the gyroscope's nose water poured over the crumbled
land edge. No room for even the slightest run now. Those rotors must
lift straight up with their extra burden--or it would mean the end.

Centrifugal force was whirling the limp flimsiness of the rotors into an
engine of mighty lifting power. Flexible steel stiffened as it spun a
thousand, two thousand whirls to the minute.

The gyroscope was rising, slowly, not straightly as it should. Wrong
balance of its burden shifted the take-off climb from perpendicular to
an angle.

But at that, it cleared land and rose up and up into the sky.

Hal Dane looked down. It had been a fearfully close thing. Below him was
no island at all, merely a surging waste of waters where he had just
been. The last of the land rim had crumbled.

Now that he was above it all, his heart beat to the zooming roar of his
rotors.

Speed! Speed! He must wing it back before life force ebbed entirely from
those limp bodies behind him. Already his tapping fingers had flung the
message of his find into the ether.



                               CHAPTER XX

                             PRISONED WINGS


In the days that followed, Hal Dane plugged steadily on with his share
of the rescue program, until at last the crest of the flood had passed
and the waters began to recede.

After a late supper each night, he paid his regular visit to the field
hospital to see how the Wiljohns, mother and child, were getting on.

Tonight, as he tapped on the board and canvas door, the nurse stepped
out.

"Yes, the change for the better has come," she said, "for a while we
thought it was a matter of hours before life would go. Both had
marvelous reserve strength though, and they've rallied surprisingly--are
out of danger now. But," and the nurse smiled, "it'll be a good while
before they'll be ready for another such speed trip as you gave them.
That was a wonderful rescue you made, Mr. Dane."

Hal squirmed uncomfortably. "Just came in the day's work. Anybody'd have
done it--"

"Nonsense!" A heavy voice boomed in. "Nonsense, Hal Dane! I'll tell you
for the tenth time you're the only man alive that could have handled
that gyroscope, and done such a feat. Finest thing I ever heard
of--finest, absolutely--" Colonel Wiljohn's boom choked suspiciously and
he blew his nose vigorously.

The nurse slipped back into the canvas-walled barracks that housed her
patients.

"And Hal," the Colonel had himself in control again, "Hal, boy, I want
you to know that even in my first selfish grief, I didn't entirely
forget your hopes and plans. Days ago I wired to my men at the Axion
factories to speed the finishing work on your two planes, and to rush
them to San Francisco. Our mechanics will have everything ready for the
demonstration at the Onheim Contest, if you get there in time. And
whether you tackle that Onheim Contest for me or not, isn't what really
matters--the main thing is, you'll find your Wind Bird ready for you and
your great flight."

Hal's head seemed to whirl in an ecstasy. He had suppressed his every
longing till he became a being that snatched a few hours' sleep, scouted
floods with tensed nerves as long as a shred of daylight lasted, and
plunked onto a cot for a minimum of rest. Now in the twinkling of an
eye, the suppression was off.

With the speed he knew how to get out of a plane, he could be in Denver
at mid-morning tomorrow, and on to San Francisco in the early hours of
that night. After that he could sleep a round of the clock and still be
in time for the Onheim trials.

Instead of going back in the gyroscope dog plane that he had brought
down and put to such good use, Colonel Wiljohn turned over to him one of
his speed monoplanes, the fastest thing that had come into the flood
country.

For all of Hal's feverish haste to be off, delays of various kinds held
him for several hours. The monoplane, which had seen considerable
service, had to be fueled and groomed for the long diagonal across more
than half the continent. Friends that he had made in these grueling
times of day-and-night labor hunted him up to congratulate him on the
work he had put over and to wish him God-speed for the future.

By the time Hal had stepped into the cockpit of the speed plane, it
seemed that the whole population of Tent-City-on-the-Flood-Edge had
turned out to do him honor.

Colonel Wiljohn wrung his hand fervently.

"Your coming down here has been of more worth to me than I can ever put
into mere words," he said. "And I only wish I could be there when you
start the great flight."

"I wish that, too," Hal reached a hand down to his friend.

The motor roared, the blocks were knocked away, and the plane whizzed
across the field and soared into the night sky. The great shout of the
crowd seemed to rise with it.

Hal's mood was as bright as the moonlit heavens he sailed across. A
hundred miles! And still another hundred! He was speeding like some
gigantic bird. His instruments marked a hundred and twenty miles an
hour. He was fairly eating up space.

Before midnight he had crossed the Mississippi waters unwinding like a
great ribbon below the lights of Vicksburg.

Then flying slowed down. A dense fog rolled up about him. The moon was
smothered out above. Below him, disappeared the scattered lights that
meant farm homes and the widespread glow of city illuminations. He was
alone, shrouded in a gray, dripping world with only his instruments to
guide him.

As for direction, he had little fear of going astray. He was well used
to setting a course by his compass. The chief need was to hold to
altitude so as to clear the loftiest peak that might be in his path. In
the heights he hoped to find a lessening of the mist, but the damp
grayness was here as everywhere else on this night.

As Hal Dane felt his way on into the night, eyes glued to the instrument
board, there burst into his senses a sudden roar zooming through the
fog.

The roar grew nearer. Another plane was riding high in the fog, and
coming toward him like a shot out of a shell.

Hal's first instinct was to rise higher to slip over and avoid
collision. His hand was on the pressure, when a quick thought sped like
lightning through his brain--to rise high, that was natural instinct,
that was what the other flyer would do, of course. There'd be two riding
high, straight to a head-on crash!

With a slip of wings, Hal began to drop. But his reasoning had played
him wrong here. A sound rushing upon him told that the other flyer,
disregarding instinct, had dived also.

Through a rent in the fog, Hal had a sudden awful glimpse of a dark,
spreading mass riding him down. Like lightning, he shot to the left. In
the other plane, another master hand veered the controls all that was
humanly possible. Instead of crashing into a death grip, these two
mechanical birds of the night slid by each other with a mere scraping of
wings.

For Hal Dane, though, that mere scrape was serious enough. At the shock
of the other's passing blow, the whole monoplane trembled, and went
limping on into the night with a bent wing that drooped dangerously.

After fifteen minutes of erratic flying, Hal had to take to ground. The
fog had mercifully lifted somewhat. He coaxed the crippled plane on to
the edge of a rosy glow that meant a town and landed on the outskirts of
this.

Hal spent the rest of the night in trips back and forth from the town,
in rousting out mechanics, hunting up tools and repair material, and in
repairing the wing by lantern light.

At last he was able to glide up along the airways again. Instead of
humming into Denver in mid-morning, as he had planned, it was deep into
another night when he finally zoomed into the airport of that Colorado
metropolis,--turned his plane over to competent mechanics, and stumbled
for sleeping quarters.

Before dawn, he was under way again. This time luck was with him and he
did the last thousand-mile lap of his journey in less than nine hours.

As it was, he arrived in San Francisco without even an hour's space
between him and the great Onheim Safety Device try-out. No time for any
rest for himself, no time for any preliminary testing of the splendid
new gyroscope plane fresh from the skids of the Wiljohn factory. All he
could do was give a thorough ground inspection of every part of this
strange mechanism of flight that he had conceived, and that the Wiljohn
factories had developed with the utmost care. There it stood--short,
fixed wings, sturdy, black-enameled body, a silvered whirl of gyroscope
wings above the fuselage. The strangest looking creation for flight man
had ever invented! Strange looking--yes! But if it worked, it would be
man's most forward step in safe flying!

It was perfect, just as he had planned it, from its geared motor to its
curiously flexible wind blades. Exultation filled Hal Dane as he looked
on this thing he had created.

It was an exultation that was short-lived though. When he went out to
the exhibition grounds and saw the veritable trap that had been built
for him to rise from, his heart went cold.

Through misunderstanding of the wording of Colonel Wiljohn's frantic
telegraphic efforts to get all things ready for Hal Dane's flight
demonstration, the Wiljohn workmen had built no platform for the plane
to rise from as had been expected. Instead, they had built a sort of
tower inclosure out of which the strange new gyroscope was to take its
flight.

A white-faced Fuz McGinnis waited for Hal just outside the door of this
tower that looked like a death trap. He hadn't seen Fuz for months now
since demonstration flying had taken McGinnis into half the states of
the Union on Wiljohn business.

The two young fellows gripped hands.

"News of this outlandish tower has spread like wildfire. I heard about
it three states away, and came to see for myself. And now that I've
seen--" McGinnis thumped a clenched fist against the wooden wall,
"I--well, it's impossible! You mustn't undertake a rise out of that
thing. It will kill you. Any kind of plane has got to have some
leeway--"

"The gyroscope," Hal protested, "it's different, only--"

"Only this, it would batter you to death in those four walls!" Fuz began
to lead Hal away.

A huge crowd jammed the exhibition grounds. Word of this new thing, this
impossible flight of an airplane up out of the mouth of a tower, had
spread far and wide. Men were in groups over the grounds, discussing,
waving arms, arguing loudly. The words "Hal Dane--Wiljohn--gyroscope!"
were on every lip.

Hal Dane's brain seethed. He hardly heard Fuz earnestly explaining how
the affair could be safely managed--mere change of announcement--rise
from ground instead of tower.

Better to make no rise at all, Hal's brain told him dully. After this
hurrah of advertised excitement, a ground rise would be a flat fall for
any interest whatever in the gyroscope. He was suddenly terribly tired.
He'd been all of a million years without sleep, it seemed. He'd made a
vast effort to get here--for nothing! Nobody'd be interested in the
gyroscope anymore. And the Wiljohn Works needed the uplift of that
gyroscope success, had banked on it. Mother and Uncle Tel--what was he
going to do about them? He'd counted on making them comfortable out of
this success. And now success had slipped from his grasp--his plans all
gummed up by the foolish mistake of some workmen.

Disappointment and weariness were like some subtle drug, doping him into
sleep as he stood here.

They were before the announcer's stand. Stupidly, Hal listened while
McGinnis made some sort of explanation to the man holding the
megaphone--all about changed plan, rise from ground--

"No! No!" Hal's voice was so loud that he startled himself. "Tell
them--just what you'd planned to say!"

He wrenched out of the grasp of the startled Fuz McGinnis, and sped back
toward the strange tower hangar. Men had already trundled the
limp-bladed rotor machine in through the wide door at the base. Hal
slipped in, closed and locked that door.

Fuz was a true friend, he meant well--but Fuz couldn't know what this
thing meant to him. To fail at this would mean he could have no heart
for that dream flight, his exploring of the ocean airpaths on the wings
of the winds. A failure couldn't conquer the ocean! He'd either succeed
at this--or die at it.

As Hal Dane leaned against the inner wall of that tower hangar in which
the gyroscope plane was prisoned, he could hear the excited voice of the
speaker of the day addressing the crowd through the great radio
amplifier that carried his message to all the throng gathered there.

"It has been said," the voice of the speaker rang out, "it has been said
that the climax of aviation had been reached when man learned to fly as
well as birds. For birds most surely had the lead on man, having flown
for something like twenty million years, while man has merely tried his
wings out during about twenty years.

"Man learned of the birds. He patterned his flying machine after the
principles of bird flight. He made the ailerons to shift at wing tip and
thus to bank his machine in soaring, just as a bird lifts its wing tip.
He patterned his light, very light framework after the bird's hollow
bones. So man learned to fly like a bird.

"But now we are going to show you that man has learned to fly better
than a bird.

"Think of the lark, she has to have space ten times her size to dart
forward in before the lift that soars her aloft.

"Take the great South American condor with wing spread of ten feet. Put
him in a twenty-foot pen and you have him a prisoner for life. The
condor needs many times more than the twenty-foot space for his forward
run before his great pinions will catch the air and lift him up into the
skies.

"But man has surpassed the birds. He has learned to fly, and he has
learned to rise without great space.

"Within this restricted tower is man's latest achievement, a gyroscope
on a Wiljohn-Dane plane. With no space to dart or glide, this plane will
rise straight up."

"Would it, oh, but would it?" Hal Dane's heart beat ice cold against his
leather shirt. This same type motor had done its duty down there in the
danger of the great Three-River Flood. It had risen from a tiny knoll,
risen from a crumbling, flood-washed island. Even though over-burdened
with human freight, it had risen almost straight into the air. But Hal
Dane had been superman, then. Guided by superpower, he had hurled
himself recklessly into the jaws of death to save life. In that time of
thrilling awfulness, the great plane had answered to his every touch.
Like some superhuman creation it had shot up from crumbling death, water
death, swamp death.

But now, circumscribed by four man-made walls, wooden, spiritless things
that made no real call to courage or feel of power--now would this great
plane rise, respond to his will?

Not to rise straight up would mean death--a crashing, roaring piece of
machinery battering against walls.

If only there had been a chance to try this tower out! But there had
been no chance for anything, no chance to think, even.

With doom upon him, the young flyer slid into the cockpit of the squat,
heavy plane.

Whir of motor, crazy tipping and swaying of the machine--then the thrill
of power rushing into Hal Dane's veins. She was rising. She was
answering his prayer. She was superbird, four walls could not prison
her.

With a rushing whirl of her now stiffening gyroscope wings, the great
machine lifted herself swiftly, steadily; rose in that amazing space of
four wooden tower walls scarce ten feet distance from her machinery on
any side.

Straight up--then away over the great, shouting concourse whirred the
plane. Hal Dane, superbirdman, rode high in the skies, he swooped, he
darted in an ecstasy of freedom of the air.

Then wheeling, circling till he hung above the tower with its four
walls. He held position for a long minute, then under control dropped
slowly, down, down, straight into the maw of the tower.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                           CALL OF THE WINDS


Like one come back to the present from a far journey into eternity, Hal
Dane sat for a space within the gyroscope's cockpit. He hardly heard the
tumult that was men battering down the locked door to the tower hangar.
Next thing he knew, many hands were lifting him out of the squat machine
that had made its triumphal straight-rise, and its equally triumphant
down-drop.

Fuz McGinnis, red hair on end, eyes blazing with excitement, was the
first to get to him.

"By Jehoshaphat J-J-Jumping--man, you did it!" Fuz howled incoherently,
"but I wouldn't live through another t-t-ten minutes like that--not to
be President, even!"

Then Mr. Rankin, representative of the great Onheim Prize Fund, was
pumping his hand up and down, "Congratulations, Hal Dane! The award is
bound to be yours. There's not the slightest doubt that your
extraordinary performance has beaten every other safety record set here
today. Things'll have to be confirmed at headquarters though--will be
letting you know."

Once Hal was outside the hangar, the surging crowd pressed close. He was
the center of a shouting, thrilling excitement. Newspaper men fought
their way to him. Questions were hurled at him thick and fast.

Could that thing be counted on always to rise straight-up, and to sit
back down just like that, behind a wall, or a steeple, or anything? Hal
rather thought it could, considering the flood test, and now this
shooting up out of a tower.

That being the case, did he realize that this invention was likely to
revolutionize the airplane business? Had he caught the vision of what
the gyroscope could do in the way of taking off and landing on a mere
roof top? Had he any plans for the now very possible city-to-be which
would have roof-top terminals on all its down-town buildings?

Heavens, how these reporter fellows could shoot off questions! Hal
answered, "Yes, and yes again, and, well no, he hadn't drawn any plans
of future cities--he'd been too busy drawing plans of airplanes--" And
then Hal ducked for cover.

"Here, Fuz, help me get out of this," he whispered, "there's somewhere
else I've got to be, now--right away!"

So Fuz had slid into the cockpit of his own Wiljohn biplane, warmed up
the motor, and held the machine in readiness behind the long mechanics'
hall near the center of the grounds. Ten minutes later, Hal Dane entered
one door of this building, went out by another door, flung a leg over
the cockpit, and was in beside Fuz. In the next moment, he was riding
high above the throng, fleeing from fame, on the way to the "somewhere
else"--and that was the Mazarin Hangars on the city outskirts. Here was
housed his own plane, his Wind Bird, that he'd not yet seen in all its
completeness.

He felt light of heart, almost giddy with his sense of freedom. Out
there on the exhibition grounds by his successful demonstration of the
Wiljohn-Dane gyroscope, he had paid his debt to the man that had most
befriended him, Colonel Wiljohn.

As they landed out in Mazarin, a man in the Wiljohn uniform, who had
been pacing back and forth before one of the low, single-plane hangars,
waved to them, then turned about and quickly unlocked the wide, sliding
doors.

Hal sped forward in quick, nervous strides, but paused on the threshold.
Now that he was here, he was almost afraid to look. They had completed
the ship in his absence. Suppose mistakes had been made, suppose--

His heart seemed thundering up into his very ears, his face was white
and strained as he plunged into the semi-darkness of the hangar. The
attendant slipped in behind him, switched on wall lights, overhead
lights.

"A-ah!" It was a long, exultant, in-drawn breath of ecstasy. Hal Dane
stared as though he could never get enough of looking.

The ship--his Wind Bird--she was a beauty! Slender crimson body, silver
wing, every inch of her streamlined to split the wind like an arrow!

Slenderly beautiful--but what strength there was here! There was a
compactness to this winged creation that only an exact knowledge of
certain sciences could give. In the peculiar curved shape of the wing
surface lay the solution to one of the deepest hidden secrets of flight.
The old flat shape of airplane wings had depended entirely upon air
pressure from below for the rise. The peculiar curve to the Wind Bird's
silvered wing would take full advantage of a thrice greater power--the
air's suction pull from above. The material in the wing was in itself a
marvel, laminated strata, light in the extreme, yet almost as tough as
iron.

Engine streamlined, as well as body! To the unpracticed eye, the
modernistic Conqueror-Eisel engine might have seemed absurd in its
smallness and its simplicity. But Hal Dane knew from long
experimentation that in its simplicity lay the fundamental reliability
of this new type engine. He spun the motor and sat back on his heels to
listen to the smooth gentle hum, music to his mechanic's ear.

Everything was as he had planned it--great fuel tank for the
high-powered oil he would burn instead of gasoline, another tank to hold
the liquid, life-giving oxygen he would need in the heights. The latest
life-saving devices were installed: radio sending and receiving
apparatus, flares, rockets, detachable compass, and a rubber lifeboat in
addition to those appliances that, in an emergency, could convert the
plane wing itself into a sea-going raft.

It was Hal's plan that nothing that could be humanly prepared for should
be left to mere chance.

The need for such care had already been driven home to him by the tragic
fate of two of his gallant rivals in this great flight. Just the day
before he arrived in San Francisco, young Randall and the veteran, Ed
West, in their great trimotor had made their start at winging the
Pacific for the Valiant Prize. Either overload, or some fault of
mechanism had caused the great plane to fail in a rise above the cliffs.
Both pilot and mechanic had crashed to death.

Jammed throttle had set another competitor adrift on the sea
edge--where, luckily for him, there were boats a-plenty for the rescue.

With these hazards in mind, Hal kept testing and retesting every part of
his equipment and mechanism. He bunked that night in the hangar, and
with the morning was again at his work. Terrific coastal rains set in.
But snug within the closed cockpit of the Wind Bird, Hal joyously
challenged the downpour.

At the first flight test, the silver and crimson ship rode the rain
clouds with a thrilling swiftness. For the second flight, loaded with
all the weight that an ocean flyer needs must bear, the Wind Bird
labored somewhat in the rise, found her speed more slowly. That initial
slowness was a thing that had to be borne with. Compensation would come
in the continuous quickening of speed as each hour of flight burned up
its quota of fuel, and, degree by degree, lifted the weight.

For two days of rain, Hal continued his tests. In between periods of
work he flung himself down to sleep like a log, letting nature repair
the nerve strain of that long nightmare of flood rescue work.

Sleep was about his only weapon, too, for dodging newspaper men.
Reporters were fine, friendly fellows, all right,--but, well, Hal didn't
want to talk. What he wanted was action, to be off.

All his life seemed to have been leading up to this one event--his
take-off for his viking flight on the winds of the ocean. And here was
the take-off held up by rainstorm, an endless one it appeared.

Along the Pacific coast, five other flyers were ready too, awaiting
weather conditions for the great journey.

Storm and fog kept Hal Dane on edge for another twelve hours. Then he
decided to wait no longer.

Why couldn't one take-off in a rainstorm? No worse than running into
rainstorms out over the waters! On such a journey a flyer had to face
all kinds of weather anyway.



                              CHAPTER XXII

                            WINGING WESTWARD


At midnight Hal Dane made his decision. He snatched a few hours' sleep.
Then in the early dawning he went out to inspect the Mazarin Field
runway. Not so good--ground wet and heavy with days of drenching rain!
But as the downpour seemed scheduled to continue indefinitely, things
could only get worse instead of better. So--well, it might as well be
now!

In spite of the foreboding, heavy weather, Hal Dane's heart was light.
The past days of indecision had sat like a burden upon his soul, and now
that his mind was finally and firmly made up, he suddenly went ecstatic,
happy beyond all measure.

He caught himself whistling as he gave his plane its last thorough
looking over. It seemed to be in perfect shape. Whew! What a beauty it
was! He slid an affectionate hand along its polished length as the men
trundled it out into the field. There he slung aboard his provisions and
water, climbed in and gave the signal for the blocks to be knocked away.

The motor roared and the plane started down the runway.

"Wish I were going too," yelled the red-headed McGinnis as he raced
alongside.

"Wish so--" Hal's words were lost in the thud of the motor. The machine
labored forward, gathering speed slowly. Wet, muddy ground and the last
load of fuel seemed to have rooted it to earth. Would it never rise? Was
this splendid attempt to meet disaster in the very beginning?

At last the heavily-loaded Wind Bird began to lift gallantly, rose to
barely clear the tree line, then zoomed up into the sky.

Even at this unearthly hour, a horde of spectators milled on the ground
below, their hearts' hopes rising with this brilliant attempt of young
Dane. For the young fellow, the shyest of heroes, who had run away from
his first taste of fame, had overnight fired the enthusiasm of the whole
nation.

As though lifted on the shouts of the onlookers, the lone flyer in his
Wind Bird took the air and went up, up into the heights.

He leveled out for a while to get speed, then rose another thousand
feet.

Hal Dane had taken off at a little after six o'clock in the morning, and
he had headed out with his back directly to the rising sun--or at least
with his back to the place where the sun would have been seen rising if
the cloud banks had not hidden it.

In a few moments, the skyscrapers of San Francisco, looking white and
spectral, were swallowed up in the gray-brown pall that enshrouded the
Golden Gate. Hal's last picture of them was of mere tower tops that
seemed to hang like a magic city in the clouds. A forerunner this, of
the mirages he was to encounter later on, when magic cities would seem
to rise before his tired eyes, then crumble away among the clouds.

Below him swept an immensity of ocean, the color of ashes in the misty
haze. Nowhere was there any mark to guide him. From now on he must rely
entirely upon his instruments, and Hal began to keep a wary eye upon his
inductor compass.

That compass was the most remarkable of all the splendid equipment
features of the Wind Bird. It was based upon the principle of the
relation between the earth's magnetic field and the magnetic field
generated in the airplane. When the plane's course had been set so that
the needle registered zero on this compass, any deviation would cause
the needle to swing away from zero in the direction of the error. Such
an error could be corrected by flying the plane with the needle at the
same distance on the other side of zero, and for the same time that the
error had been committed. This would set the aircraft's nose back on her
course again.

When well out over the ocean, he took calculations and set his course
due northwest. He was figuring on covering the ocean in a
crescent-shaped sweep that would have the advantage of sighting the
Aleutian chain of land points at better than midway, and it was a course
that he hoped would send him well within the range of certain air
currents.

As his course steadied, the roar of his ninefold engine assumed a
pleasing grandeur, like music flung out over these far spaces. The motor
was working to perfection, humming along under its mighty load. It was a
comfort to know too that every pound of fuel burned meant a lightening
of the weight and an added capacity for speed, more speed.

In a flare of fire, the sunlight burst through the gray world of clouds.
The rainstorm was lifting. Weather conditions that had frowned so on his
take-off were changing to a golden glory to speed him onward. But Hal
Dane knew all too well that this fickle glory of sunshine could change
back to black thunderheads in the twinkling of an eye.

To the right of his plane, he caught a glimpse of a faint dark blurred
line. That could be the west coast, the land of America that he was
speeding away from now in a northwestern diagonal.

Was this blurred glimpse all that he'd ever see of land again? Who could
tell? He might land safe on those other shores, and again, a hundred
different causes could crash his gallant sky ship into the gray waves,
to sink eventually to the ocean bottom.

Hal squared back his shoulders, lifted his head. He would force dark
thoughts out of his mind. There must only be room in his plans for hope.

He sent the throttle up a notch. More speed! His heart caught the lift
of power from the throbbing motor. Exultation, and the wild spirit of
the Vikings surged through his veins. His Norse ancestors had crossed an
ocean in a frail sea skiff. And now he, like some atom adrift in the
immense wastes of the sky, was daring the air currents on man-made
wings. Hal Dane felt a thrill of power and glory shoot through him. It
was speed on to whatever the end was, to death, or to victory!

For this longest of long distance flights where every extra pound
counted against success, Hal had stripped his plane to the barest
necessities of weight in food and equipment. Then at the last minute he
had carried things, light as air, yet weighty in a certain kind of
content. God-speed telegrams from his mother, from the faculty of his
old flying school, from Colonel Wiljohn! There was also a yellow slip of
telegraphic paper bearing him congratulations and word that his
gyroscope had won the Onheim Prize. The hopes and thoughts of his
friends were going with him on this wild venture.

All unknown to him, the thoughts of a nation were following the Wind
Bird. A ship that had glimpsed a flyer going up coast had radioed word
back. Other messages swept through the air from a far-out fishing fleet
where the lone flyer crossed human sea trails again. This word was
bulletined in theaters and picture show houses, was on a million lips.
Wind Bird had gone thus far. How was the weather? Could he make it?

At midday the lone flyer checked up position and headed out over the
Pacific in a more westerly direction. Far to the north of him would be
situated Sitka, behind him should lie Vancouver--it was in this air
range that he, on preliminary explorations, had located a great current
of the wind that flowed west in the heights.

If he and the Wind Bird could efficiently ride this current it would
mean speed such as he had heretofore only dreamed of, would mean time
and fuel-saving in the great Trans-Pacific crossing.

In preparation for his chill rise up into the earth's stratosphere, or
upper air, Hal Dane snugly closed the throat of his heavily padded,
leather-covered suit of down and feathers. Fur-lined moccasins over his
boots, and a leather head mask lined with fur, which with the oxygen
mask entirely covered the face, completed the costume. His goggles had
already been specially prepared with an inside coating of anti-freezing
gelatine, supposed to prevent the formation of ice to minus sixty
degrees Fahrenheit. Ice on the inside of the goggles would be a
temporary blind, as Hal well knew.

Worse than the terrible cold was the lack of oxygen he would have to
combat up in the heights of rarefied air. But a marvelous artificial aid
had been prepared for this also. In the Wind Bird was installed a
special oxygen apparatus that could furnish him a strong flow of
life-giving gas through a tube adjusted to the mouthpiece of his helmet.
With minute care, Hal examined every section of his two separate systems
of gaseous oxygen, the main system, and the emergency system. He wanted
to be very sure that nothing was left to mere luck. Other men before him
had ridden high. But today, he must ride the highest stratosphere if he
were to really explore the vast speeding wind river that his other
searchings had merely tapped.

Hal Dane began to climb. By degrees he forced the Wind Bird up, the
curved vacuum of her specially-built wing meeting the air-pull from
above to aid in a mighty lifting.

Up he went in great sweeping spirals, ever mounting higher and higher,
the engine of the Wind Bird working beautifully. The altimeter told him
he was at the height of seventeen thousand feet,--now he had reached
eighteen, nineteen, twenty thousand! His ship was still climbing, acting
beautifully. But he, Hal Dane, was not acting right. In the face of
triumph, his whole sky world went suddenly gray and dreary, he felt a
queer lassitude, and a slowing up of faculties.

The oxygen! In the excitement, he had forgotten to draw on it!

With a languid movement, he thrust the tube into his mask. A few deep
breaths and his gray world brightened. More oxygen, more,--and he had
changed back into his old self, ready to think and act quickly.

Now he was entering into a favorable wind that sped him in the rise. He
went to thirty thousand feet.

Thirty-four thousand! Thirty-five! Thirty-six!

The cold was now intense. For all his furred garments, there was no
shutting out the frigidity. It ate to the very marrow. But Hal Dane's
heart was hot within him, burning in its thrill of exultation. He was
riding thirty-eight thousand feet above the earth, and riding with the
whizzing speed of a bullet shot from a mighty gun. His plane, capable of
two hundred miles an hour, had slid into a two-hundred-mile wind here in
the upper air, and it was hurtling forward at the appalling speed of
four hundred miles per hour.

Speed--speed! Hal Dane's heart throbbed hot and wild. He was riding
faster than ever mortal rode before, swooping before the mad currents of
the river of the wind. The crossing of the great Pacific will now be a
matter of hours--not a matter of days. And his the Viking sky boat that
first dared the fierce gale of the wind path!

The gale he was riding gathered power. His speedometer mounted
erratically, jerking up records of additional fives and tens of miles.
Ten--twenty, thirty--four hundred and forty miles per hour.

A curious vibration of his engine startled him. But he drove away all
thoughts of danger. The mileage was a magnet that held his eyes. Speed,
speed! Riding high and fast! The sky was his height limit. He was
reeling off a record. He must hold to it, must speed on.

Riding higher and faster than any human since creation! Thrilling
thought--thrilling thought--thrilling thought--his head was knocking
queerly. He leaned forward, and the instruments in the cockpit became
dim and shaky. He was drifting into a semi-delirium from which he could
not seem to rouse himself. His mind refused to focus upon what it must
do.

His dulling senses caught a thud-thud-thud! Engine vibration so great
that it seemed the machine must tear apart!



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                             FIGHTING DEATH


Even the exertion of leaning forward, slight as it was, proved dangerous
in the abnormal condition the high air produced in the human system. In
that instant of stooping forward, Hal Dane lost consciousness and fell
with his plane, like a plummet, through the thin air.

The rarefied state of stratosphere was as dangerously violent against
the human-made air machine as it was to the human body. Despite oil
emulsions on the wings, up here in this terrible cold, ice formed with
deadly quickness on every part of the machine. In an instant, the plane
was covered all over in a frozen layer an inch thick. Ice formed
continually on the propeller, and was as quickly thrown off in terrible
vibrations that near tore the motor mechanisms asunder.

And young Dane, a modern Viking who had dared ride the uncharted
skyways, hung limp across his belt strap. The insidious treachery of the
upper air had taken him unawares and hurled him into unconsciousness in
the midst of his triumph of speed.

The life-giving oxygen was there in its tube, at his very lips, but here
in this dangerous light-air pressure, Hal had not been able to
assimilate all the oxygen that he needed. The human lungs, built to take
in the amount of air needed at ground levels, had balked at having to
take in five times the usual volume as was necessary in the heights of
the stratosphere. And all in an instant, the exhaustion of
air-starvation had claimed the flyer as its victim.

Down and down shot the plane, wallowing in the air troughs like some
dismasted ship in a sea wreck.

And now, choking, hanging limp and unconscious though he was, Hal Dane
began to faintly breathe in the blessed heavier air of the lower
altitudes he was hurtling into.

Back from the heights he slid, back into normal air pressures. He shot
ten thousand feet while the struggle for breath and for consciousness
held him. Longer and deeper breaths he drew at the tube, and the oxygen
gradually began to restore his strength.

As control of self came to him, he straightened back into position and
fought to bring his mad ship to an even keel.

Below him lashed the hungry, growling wastes of the Pacific. As he
plunged wildly downward it seemed that the ocean depths would swallow up
the twisting, turning plane before it could gain its equilibrium.

On he came, diving, stalling, slipping--flattening out at last in a long
lightning quick swoop above the waves.

With nerves in a forced steadiness and hands like steel gripped to their
task, Hal had checked the meteoric fall and had regained some measure of
control over his craft. Now when he dared relax, he found himself,
within his furred clothing, dripping wet in a horror sweat. In a brief
ten minutes of life he seemed to have tasted every extreme, heat, cold,
rising, speeding, falling.

In his fighting back to level out, he had dipped out of his course--his
earth inductor compass told him just how far a dip he had made, and he
traveled in a swing to the other side until the needle was again at
zero.

Riding the normal airpath above the ocean at an average clip of round
about a hundred and fifty miles the hour seemed safe and slow after that
life-and-death race high up in that stratosphere layer above the earth.

As the afternoon wore on, Hal twice again mounted high into thin air and
rode the winds for a brief space, each time coming down before
exhaustion could quite claim him. Risky as these performances were, they
were undertaken in no mere daredeviltry of spirit. Instead, it was for
experiment's sake that Hal Dane repeatedly dared the weird dangers of
the stratosphere's violence of wind and cold. He wanted to prove to
himself that his newfound, splendidly dangerous river of the wind flowed
always into the west. For already he was dreaming of a plane built to
more efficiently take advantage of this great aerial current.

For all its careful designing, his present Wind Bird could not steadily
ride this high, cold aerial river. There were certain necessary points
of construction that needs must be considered in flying craft for the
high, thin air strata. Hal Dane's heart leaped to the thrill of what he
was learning. Those great aerial currents had half battered the life out
of his body, but from his terrible contact with them, he had wrested
secrets to carry back to the builders of airplanes.

As Hal Dane skimmed the ocean surface at a steady, rhythmic gait, his
mind leaped ahead to future aircraft building that should utilize the
knowledge that he had gained by his stratosphere explorations. He had
found that the human body, fashioned to thrive in an air pressure of
something over fourteen pounds per square inch, could suffer intensely
when lifted to a rarefied air pressure of merely two and a half pounds
to the inch. But since man had been smart enough to lift himself on
wings above the clouds, why, now man must be smart enough to lift his
normal air pressure with him. This could be done, Hal believed, by
making the plane's cabin of metal, hermetically sealed, and equipped
with oxygen tanks to maintain the same air pressure as at ordinary
altitudes.

From long practice, Hal's hands mechanically shifted gear in the
speeding plane, to hold to an even flight, while his mind wrestled
continually with the many problems that even his brief taste of
stratosphere flying had opened up to him. On future "high flyers", the
sealed cabin would necessitate the working out of some method of
absorbing the gases given out by the breath. Then, too, the ordinary
systems of controls could not be used, as they would necessitate holes
in the "sealed cabin." Ah, he had it!--electric controls could be
devised to govern rudder, elevators, ailerons. This great power could be
used to fight the terrible high air cold, also, and electrical heating
would keep the deathly dangerous ice sheath from coating wings and--

With a startled gasp, Hal Dane swung from dream planning back into
reality, in bare time to hurl his ship upward out of a strange danger.
Beneath him, the ocean surface rolled into a monstrous heaving, and a
waterspout shot upward, barely missing his wing.



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                                 NIGHT


At his swift touch, the plane reared upward and away from the danger
that was rolling and heaving directly beneath. Peering out of the window
at his left, Hal saw in the waters a procession of monsters. In the
dusky haze of the twilight, a great school of whales were disporting
themselves in hugely fantastic leaps and lunges. When a sixty-foot whale
would leap high in the air, then drop its tons of weight back down
against the waters, it seemed that creation shook to the concussion. At
the thunder of huge bodies smashing back through the waves in their
enormous fantasies of playfulness, Hal sent his ship rising higher into
the air. If one of those monster bodies even brushed his wing or rudder,
it would mean his plane crushed into helplessness, himself adrift upon
the ocean.

With the approach of darkness, Hal Dane's spirit seemed to reach its
zero hour of loneliness and weariness. Since the dawn of day he had
matched his strength in battle after battle with the varying phases of
the elements. He and his frail wind craft, mere contraption of cloth and
wood and some lengths of steel tubing, had come out victorious so
far--but there was still the night ahead of him.

He realized with a start that he had not tasted food for more than
twelve hours. Even now, he felt no hunger; the long strain of matching
human wits and power against the winds had taken away his appetite.
However, he required himself to eat a sandwich and drink some hot coffee
from his bottle. This would help him keep up his strength. He needed
that help for strength. The darkness he was entering was a worse monster
than those vast thrashing whale bodies he had just escaped.

Loneliness entered the lists against him also. As far as he could see
over all the great ocean stretches, there showed no tiny pin point of
light that could be a great transoceanic steamer cruising onward with
its vast burden of human lives. If anything happened to him out here in
the night, he was all alone, no vessel near to come to his assistance,
no help outside of himself. If he died, he died alone--a mere atom
dropped down in the ocean depths.

With an effort, Hal forced his mind away from morbid thoughts. He
concentrated on his maps and instruments. Already, he had come over two
thousand miles. With every whir of his motor he was ticking off more
miles. A great longing rose in him to ride the high air currents once
again, that would mean real speed. But he dared not risk his plane
another time in the icy grip of the stratosphere. He had wracked the
engine enough already. Another such battle with the ice sheath and with
over-speed might tear the motor bodily from the machine.

To add to the loneliness of the night, he now swept into a stratum of
fog. It hung in an enveloping mass about the ship, creeping into the
cockpit, clouding the instruments. As Hal rode high to avoid the fog, he
swept into an area of black clouds, snow clouds. At this altitude, he
found the air filled with hail. In a moment these heavy, dangerous ice
pellets were rattling angrily against the plane. Like a hunted creature,
Hal shot this way and that striving to dodge the zone of ice and sleet.
It was no use; the ice pall pursued him, sheeted his ship. Wing surfaces
were flung out of balance with additional weight, controls began to
clog. There was nothing to do for it save drop back down into the warm,
foggy layers of air just above the waves. As soon as he hit the warm
zone, ice began to melt, its heavy, retarding weight slid off. The speed
of the ship, which had lagged below eighty miles the hour, now began to
zoom back up well over the hundred mark.

His instruments would hold him to his course, and the noctovistor
installed on his plane would catch the red glow of any ship's light,
even through the fog, and warn him of its presence. But unlighted
derelict ships adrift on the sea, and floating ice peaks were dangers
that the red eye of the noctovistor could not record. His luck, alone,
could carry him past such of these that happened in his path.

Later in the night, a glow on his noctovistor told him that a ship lay
ahead. Hal sped sufficiently out of his course to avoid any danger of
collision. Out through the air, though, he began flinging radio
messages, and soon picked up a reply. From this ocean liner he got
confirmation of his exact location, and the time. Brief enough messages
they were, but Hal Dane blessed the wonderful science whose marvels had
put him in touch with other humans out here in the lonely stretches of
the great ocean. He zoomed on into the night with his heart cheered by
this brief contact.

He now winged his way out of fog and cloud into the white light of the
late rising moon. Now and then in this silver glow, mirages swam into
his view. Peaks, foothills, ravines and rivers were etched so boldly in
the sky that they seemed almost real. Fantastic hills and valleys would
crumble away, and others equally fantastic would rise to take their
place.

Then dawn began to break. Streaks of light crept up behind him out of
the western sky. Below him, land appeared, islands dotting the ocean in
a long crescent dipping northwest. Land--was it real, or merely another
mirage? He flew lower. It was, yes, it must be real. There were houses,
men like tiny dots, and a fleet of fishing craft that seemed mere toys,
was setting out to sea.

It was the far-flung land chain of the Aleutian Islands that he was
crossing. With a queer thrill in his heart, Hal Dane looked down over
the side of his ship. Below him was real earth. He could land here if he
wanted to, be in the midst of people. Right here he could end the long
loneliness--if he wanted to.

Resolutely, Hal kept his plane headed forward. According to his charts
he must turn slightly to the south now for the last south-western curve
on his crescent-shaped route.

The longest stretch of ocean flight was over now; he felt that he had
conquered the worst. In less than twenty-four hours he had come over
three thousand miles--nearly three thousand, five hundred, in fact. At
this rate he ought to sight the island kingdom of Japan in the afternoon
of this day.

But in his reckoning, Hal had not taken into account the treacherous
weather of the northern reaches of the Pacific. Instead of making good
speed on this last lap of his journey, he began to lose time, to drop
behind on his carefully worked out schedule.

From now on, he swept along in a continuous storm area. Gales seemed to
roar up from nowhere and burst about the plane. From his student weather
studies, that now seemed part of a long-gone past, Hal Dane had learned
much about the thunderheads and twisters of the atmosphere. He knew a
deal about gauging the breadth and diameter of certain type storms,
their speed of movement, the velocity of the winds within these storms.
Every shred of such knowledge that he had was put to severe test now. In
his plane, he was like some hunted wild animal fleeing before the storm
hounds, turning, twisting, riding now high, now low. Time and again he
was only able to avoid a crash by feeling his way around the edges of
the storms and dodging between them, never letting his plane become
completely swallowed up in the maw of the storm monster. Sometimes two
or three storms came together. A low-powered airplane would have been
lost for lack of force to make headway in such a case, but the mighty
Wind Bird courageously battled forward on these constantly changing air
currents.

Then the clouds shredded away, and the glow of the evening sun lit the
sky.

Hal Dane relaxed in his seat. He had fought a long fight, had lost all
reckoning of time, space, of ocean distances. He had flown far enough to
be near land--of that he was sure.

Soon he had confirmation of his hopes. His plane swooped into the midst
of a flock of sea gulls. These winged fishers of the air often flew
hundreds of miles from shore--but the sight of them usually meant that
shore was somewhere in the distance.

Right enough Hal was in his deductions. Soon after he had passed through
the gull fleet, he glimpsed tiny dots dipping on the waves below him. He
flew lower. It was as he had hoped, these dots were men out in their
fishing boats. Soon a shore line came into view.

When the Viking of the Sky swooped low over this land, however, the
thrill in his heart changed to dire foreboding. He had come far enough
to land in Japan--but this was not Japan, land of the flowery kingdom.
Those squat fishermen below wore primitive, furred garments. Instead of
pagodas and quaint paper-walled dwellings of the Japanese, here crouched
a squalid village of round-roofed mud huts.

Storms had sent him far out of his course. Instead of Japan, this was
Kamchatka that he floated above. Away to the south of him lay the Tokio
of his destination.

In the face of a terrible weariness that was creeping over him, Hal Dane
turned the nose of his craft to the south. He had already spent one
night out over the ocean, and now another night was darkening his sky.



                              CHAPTER XXV

                        HIS NAME ACROSS THE SKY


Deep in the night, and in a dense fog, Hal Dane hovered over a faint
earthly glow that he felt must be Tokio, capital city of Japan. Hours
ago he had straightened the wide deflection of his course that had taken
him astray over the edge of the long peninsula of Kamchatka.

As he checked up again by chart and map, his wearying senses told him
this must be it--the Tokio that he had crossed thousands upon thousands
of miles of ocean to reach.

He drifted down to four thousand feet altitude. From here flood lights
and beacons were dimly visible, more assurance that he must be over the
imperial city of the Orient's most progressive civilization.

A thrill shot through Hal Dane, lifting the great weariness of the forty
hours' continuous flying. Aches and chill and battering of storms were
forgotten now that the fight was ending. He had done what he had set out
to do--crossed the greatest of the oceans in a single non-stop flight.

His fingers began to tap an incessant query on his sending-radio outfit,
"Landing field? Landing field? Landing field?"

And suddenly he was in touch with answers winging their way up to him
from the ground below--"Tokio Asahi! Tokio Asahi!" Over and over he got
those two words--"Tokio Asahi!"

He was in touch with humanity again! Men on this Japanese land knew he
was winging his way above them. Men were answering his call. "Tokio
Asahi"--there it came again. What did it mean?

His radio was bringing him words, but they meant nothing to him. His
only comfort lay in the fact that men knew he was here in the air, and
that probably they were making some preparation for his landing.

It seemed to him that now a glimmer of flares burned brighter in a
certain spot. He hoped these marked a landing field, hoped also that
radio landing beacons would be here to respond to the visual radio
receiver on his instrument board.

Down he came in long sweeping circles, seeking a place to land. A wrong
landing could mean death, not only to him, but to hapless ones he might
crash upon down there on the fog-blanketed earth. For dreadful sickening
seconds, apprehension rode him. His heart seemed clutched in iron
fingers, his face was white under the strain as his eyes watched the
instrument board.

Ah! they were quivering--those two strange little reeds that by their
vibration told the good news of radio beacons waiting down there to help
him make his landing. With a joyous surge of relief in his heart, Hal
Dane began his long, slanting, final downward plunge. An over-quivering
of the left reed told him that he was diverging too much on that side.
With a quick swerve of the airplane, he put both reeds back into a
balancing quiver, and thus followed their direction straight down the
path of the beacon to a landing.

He had landed! He was in Japan!

The young flyer had been so engrossed in blind flying to a perfect
landing by instruments alone, that it came as a shock to him to look out
of his machine's window and see the huge crowd that awaited him on this
Oriental landing field. The throng had scattered somewhat to make room
for the ship's downward plunge.

Hal Dane thrust a blond head out of the window. "I'm Hal Dane," he said
simply, "in the Wind Bird. We--we made it, I reckon."

At that, the crowd swept in. They had no more idea of what he was saying
than he had had of their "Tokio Asahi" that had been radioed up to him.
But the boy's smile and his quietness of manner had won them.

Radios had been busy for two days in Japan, as well as in other parts of
the world. From the time Hal Dane had left America, radio had winged its
messages back and forth to various parts of the civilized universe.

The phenomenal courage of a boy alone flying the greatest ocean, had
stirred the heart of Japan. And now that Hal Dane, Viking of the Sky,
had made his landing, Japan set him high on her throng's shoulders.

It was a shouting, laughing, good-natured crowd, gay with the colors of
Japanese girls' sashed kimonos mingling with the black of more sedate
native costumes, and with the trim modern uniforms of Japan's host of
young army flyers.

In the first wild rush, the plucky American aviator was fairly mobbed.
The shouting, howling throng, wild with joy and excitement, hauled him
clear of his plane. Everyone wanted to shake his hand, American fashion,
or even just touch the garments of this one that had flown the skies.
Trim, sturdy members of the imperial air force, got to him, lifted him
upon their khaki shoulders. Thus he was borne through the streets of
old, old Tokio where the automobile and the jinrikisha mingled as
unconcernedly as did the old-time temples and tea shops mingle with
eight-story skyscrapers and picture theaters.

Behind him, edging the landing field, rose a fine modern building. Hal
Dane waved an inquiring hand at it.

"Tokio Asahi!" came the surprising answer that was shouted from many
throats.

Hal nodded his head as if he understood, but puzzlement seethed in his
brain. What did this queer shout mean that greeted him everywhere, even
met him in the air before landing?

As the triumphal procession made its way down the street, newsboys,
carrying bundles of papers, tore through the swarming crowds, ringing
bells, flying small flags, and shouting loudly as they waved these
"extras" just off the press.

Their shout floated back to Hal with an irritatingly familiar refrain,
"Tokio Asahi! Tokio Asahi!"

And suddenly, from his perch on men's shoulders, that lifted him
hero-wise above the crowd--Hal Dane burst into boyish laughter. He had
it, that "Tokio Asahi,"--it was the name of Japan's greatest
newspaper--the newspaper with over a million circulation, and with a
most modern of modern air mail deliveries. That was evidently the
Asahi's own great landing field he had arrived above, so naturally it
was the name Asahi that had been radioed up to him.

Well, the Asahi was certainly an up and coming publication. As young
Dane peered down from his place at the second army of newsboys speeding
with flag and bell advertisement through the mob, he saw with
astonishment that his own picture already smudgily adorned these latest
extras. And men and women, gone wild over this young conqueror of the
skies, were scrambling for these pictures.

At last the efficient Tokio police rescued Hal Dane from the
rough-and-tumble admiration of the street crowds. Somehow they got him
free and rushed him into a building. And here Hal found himself shaking
hands with Charles MacVeagh, American Ambassador to Japan. Here he met
Baron Giichi Tanaka, Premier of Japan; Suzuki, the Home Minister;
Mitsuchi, head of Finance Department, and other notable figures of the
Japanese capital,--statesmen whose names were known all over the world.

Although he was now in a daze of weariness, young Dane forced himself to
answer quietly and simply their many questions. To hold the fascinated
interest of such great men was an overwhelming honor. But something
besides honor was overwhelming the gallant aviator. Sleep, sleep--how he
ached for it!

Then next thing, he was stretching out his weary bones in the deep
comfort of a bed and getting his first real rest in two days and the
better part of two nights.

When he at last awoke, he found that in all reality he had written his
name across the sky! Newspapers in all the cities of the world were
giving pages of space to his marvelous flight. Telegrams of
congratulation swamped him in ten thousand yellow flutters of good
wishes. Crowds surrounded the walls of the American Embassy begging the
"honorable one" but to show himself. Tokio outdid herself to pay him
honor.

"All Japan breathes a welcome to the great flyer of the skies" were the
headlines of a newspaper. And all Japan extended him uncounted
courtesies. There was an endless round of processions and receptions in
his honor. He was introduced to the romance of the symbolic "No" dance,
the dainty tea ceremony, the elaborate Kabuki Drama, fruit of thirty
centuries of culture and tradition. He must see the royal wrestlers, and
the strange sword-dance of old Japan.

On a fete day, he had the tremendous honor of riding the streets of
Tokio in a great, closed, red Rolls-Royce, seated beside His Highness
Hirohito, Emperor of Japan. And seeing the rider of the skypath seated
with their own beloved Son of the Sun, all that Japanese throng kneeled.
Long after the crimson limousine had passed, the crowd still held its
awed position.

For a week, Hal Dane "saw" Japan from sacred Fuiji's mountain crest to
the beautiful, sinister hot lakes of Kannawa.

Then America refused to wait longer for her idol to return. Again the
hordes of telegrams began pouring in.

There was one from Hal Dane's mother, that simply said, "We knew you
could do it--come back to us now."

Vallant, the millionaire giver of aviation prizes, cabled, "You have won
it. Your thirty-five thousand is waiting for you."

From the President of the United States came a radio message, "Your
victory is all victory--a peaceful victory. You have bound nations
together with a bond of friendship."

And still they flooded in--telegrams, cablegrams, radiograms. From the
first, America had gone wild with joy and pride over the matchless
flight. And now with the passing days, America grew frantic, would be no
longer denied. "Come back--You belong to us--America awaits you!" was
the thousandfold message from his homeland.

Under this urge, Hal Dane left sightseeing in Japan to be completed on
some other visit and saw to it that his beloved Wind Bird was carefully
crated for shipment. Then the young Viking of the Sky boarded a great
steamer for another crossing of the Pacific--this time for a journey
straight into the hearts of his own people.





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