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´╗┐Title: Wings Over the Rockies - Jack Ralston's New Cloud Chaser
Author: Newcomb, Ambrose
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 "Wings Over the Rockies - Jack Ralston's New Cloud Chaser" ***

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WINGS OVER THE ROCKIES

Or

Jack Ralston's New Cloud Chaser

by

AMBROSE NEWCOMB

Author of "The Sky Detectives," "Eagles
of the Sky," etc., etc.



Published by
The Goldsmith Publishing Co.
Chicago

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

Copyright 1930
The Goldsmith Publishing Co.

Made in U. S. A.

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

                                CONTENTS

                       I WAITING FOR ORDERS
                      II PERK GROWS SUSPICIOUS
                     III THE HOLD-UP
                      IV A CHANCE CLUE
                       V WHEN A COG SLIPPED
                      VI CYCLONE PROVES GAME
                     VII THEY ARE OFF
                    VIII BIRDS OF A FEATHER
                      IX THE THREATENING CRASH
                       X FLYING BLIND
                      XI AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY
                     XII IN THE COLORADO CANYON COUNTRY
                    XIII A STRANDED PLANE
                     XIV JACK MAKES A DISCOVERY
                      XV THE HAND OF FATE
                     XVI SUZANNE INSISTS
                    XVII THE CAMP IN THE CANYON
                   XVIII THE VIGILANT GUARD
                     XIX OVER-ZEALOUS PERK
                      XX AN UNSUBDUED SPIRIT
                     XXI COMBING THE MOUNTAIN-TOPS
                    XXII AN AIR-MAIL WAY STATION
                   XXIII PERK LOSES HIS VOICE
                    XXIV ONE CHANCE IN A THOUSAND
                     XXV THE NEVER-SAY-DIE SPIRIT
                    XXVI CRATER LAKE
                   XXVII THE END OF THE TRAIL
                  XXVIII AROUND THE CAMPFIRE
                    XXIX NO PROWLERS ALLOWED
                     XXX BRINGING IN THEIR MAN

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

                         Wings Over The Rockies


                               CHAPTER I

                           WAITING FOR ORDERS


"Hot ziggetty dog! I kinder guess now Jack, we've been an' put the new
cloud-chaser through every trick we've got up our sleeves--flopped her
over on her back, righted her, to turn turtle again, done nose-dives an'
Immelmann turns, made a shivery sixteen thousand foot ceilin' for
altitude--an' now, after all this circus stunt business, we figger she's
a real ship, queen o' the air-ways."

"Perk, you never said truer words and I'm sure proud of the fact that
our Big Boss up at Washington appreciated that little Florida job we put
through last winter, so's to put us in charge of such a swell air
craft."

"Ginger pop! we used to reckon our old crate some punkins at speedin',
when _real_ flyin' was needed but shucks! with this cracker-jack boat we
could make all kinds o' rings 'round the old bus or else my name ain't
Gabe Perkiser."

The young leather clad pilot at the controls, as if to still further
emphasize his good opinion of the spanking, up-to-date plane they had
for some days been joyfully testing out, volplaned down on a long coast
just as though a merciless enemy craft were on their tail with a
babbling machine-gun keeping up an intermittent fire and a hail of
bullets filling the air around them.

Then he leveled off, attained a dizzy speed, turned, banked, and came
roaring back to execute a dazzling monster figure-eight sweep.

"Great stuff, old hoss!" cried the exultant Perk for they had their
earphones adjusted so as to be able to exchange comments at will,
despite any racket caused by the madly racing motor and spinning
propeller combined.

"I reckon that will be enough juice used up for today," Jack Ralston was
saying in a thoroughly satisfied tone, "and now we'd better make a
bee-line for our landing field. It'll be the same old story,--a gang
gathering around to admire our new boat--and all trying to find out just
who we are and what big air company we're connected with."

Thereupon Perk chuckled in a queer way he had, evidently vastly amused.

"We got 'em right goofy with guessin', partner, for a fact. How the
curious minded boobs do try to squeeze a few grains o' information out
of us with their foxy questions. I've heard some wise-cracks along them
lines silly enough to make a hoss laugh an' all o' the remarks ain't
jest as complimentary as I'd like, not by a long shot."

"Little we care," remarked Jack, adjusting his goggles to a more
satisfactory angle and releasing the ear flaps of his helmet. They had
left the frigid altitude where they had climbed almost as though shot
upward by some monster cannon, thanks to the novel wings with which the
new ship was equipped.

"Huh! let 'em try to outsmart us," Perk went on to say, a bit
scornfully. "We c'n jest keep our lips buttoned tight an' mind our own
business. Won't be long, anyway, I guess, till we hear from Headquarters
an' have to jump off on some fresh stunt, roundin' up the slick crooks
who keep puttin' their thumbs on their noses an' wigglin' their fingers
at Uncle Sam's Secret Service boys--counterfeiters, smugglers, aliens
crossing the borders, booze from out on the high seas, makers o'
moonshine in the mountings and on the burnin' deserts like Death Valley
an' such riffraff that scoffs at the law!"

Perk, as he was generally called by his friends, was really a World War
veteran, having served aboard a "sausage" observation balloon and later
on as a fighting pilot of more than average bravery and ability. He did
his "daily dozen" through the whole desperate series of conflicts in the
Argonne with a fair number of "flaming coffins" placed to his
credit--enemy ships shot down on fire.

Since quitting the army after the Armistice put a stop to all
hostilities, Perk had passed through quite a number of vocations that
appealed to the unrest in his blood, demanding so strenuously a calling
built upon more or less continual excitement.

He had been a barn-storming pilot, giving exhibitions of reckless
parachute jumping from high altitudes and similar stunts at county fairs
and other public gatherings and had also spent several years as a valued
member of the Mounted Police up in the Canadian Northwest country. He
finally was drafted into Uncle Sam's Secret Service by reason of an
official having met up with him when moose hunting in the trackless
wilds of northern British Columbia.

When Jack Ralston, who himself had gained a little fame in the Secret
Service on account of generally bringing in his man, was selected to
pilot a speedy ship he picked Gabe Perkiser whom he had known for some
time and whose companionable disposition as well as unquestioned courage
made him an ideal pal--in Jack's eyes at least.

Their first assignment called for service carrying the flyers over the
Mexican border to apprehend a notorious character who had long been a
thorn in the flesh of the Washington authorities, since he came and
went, mostly via the air route, crashing Uncle Sam's frontier gate with
cargoes of undesirable aliens, usually Chinese, willing to pay as much
as a thousand dollars per head for an opportunity to enter the States,
forbidden ground to those of their race.[1]

Having, despite all difficulties, carried out their instructions to the
letter and handed over their man to the nearest U. S. District Attorney
for prosecution, Jack and Perk were later on dispatched with their
efficient plane to the Gulf Coast of Florida, there to break up a
powerful combination of smugglers through whose bold and lawless
ventures, by air and sea, the whole Southern country was being submerged
in a flood of foreign brands of liquor.

Again the two pals proved their calibre and brought home the bacon,
having dealt the rum-runners a severe jolt and actually kidnaped the
chief offender.[2]

Now they were daily anticipating still another assignment which, for
aught they knew might carry them to the Maine border or even to
Alaska--all sectors of our wide country look alike to energetic Secret
Service agents especially when they have magical wings with which to
annihilate space and carry them through cloudland at a hundred miles and
more an hour.

It looked very much as though their excellent record was being fully
appreciated at Headquarters for there had come to them a wonderfully
equipped new ship, carrying many lately discovered and new inventions
calculated to lighten the labors of the man at the controls as well as
to secure a degree of safety never before attained in any craft.

Jack was heading for the home port, quite satisfied with the finishing
check-up of the amazing attributes of their new acquisition, and as for
Perk, he could hardly contain himself, such was his enthusiasm in
connection with their trying-out process.

"Beats anything that carries wings," he vowed in his characteristic
fashion, "and it's bound to be a poor day for any guy who thinks he c'n
get away from this race hoss o' the skies. See how she snorts on her
course will you, partner, and us agoin' at mor'n a hundred an' thirty
right now! This is the life for me, an' I wouldn't care much if my legs
got so cramped I couldn't walk a mile--some birds are like that, I
understand, buzzards f'r instance fairly wobble on the ground but able
to put the kibosh on most other feathered folks when they take off in
their clumsy way."

Jack did not show much desire to keep up the conversation--the fact of
the matter was he felt more or less tired after a long day in the clouds
and much preferred to pay strict attention to the many dials on the
black dashboard just in front, with which he was by degrees becoming
familiar.

The afternoon was drawing near its close, with the sun drawing closer to
the mountainous horizon off to the west. So after swinging on their way
for half an hour they were able to glimpse their destination which was
the Cheyenne, Wyoming, airport.

"Keep up your bluffing when we land Perk, remember," warned Jack as he
started to circle at a height of a thousand feet and could see a number
of people running this way and that, undoubtedly in their endeavor to be
close by when their landing gear struck the ground.

This wonderful new plane, and the mysterious pair of pals handling it
had continued to excite the curiosity not only of pilots using the
field, but aviation bugs who haunted the place as well. These folks were
enthusiasts over the exploits of noted flyers, but not venturesome
enough themselves to wish to become pilots, even though they were of the
right calibre. However, they knew considerable about ships and their
furniture so as to be able to appreciate anything exceedingly novel
along those lines.

"Watch my smoke, partner," said Perk complacently enough. "I'm not
agoin' to let any o' that mob crab my game. Men in our class don't go
around doin' their stuff in the open, like they was magicians throwin' a
fit. We got to know how to mix things a heap an' pull the wool over the
eyes o' the crowd. So far as they need to know, we're jest a couple o'
guys out for a lark an' with shekels to burn."

"That's the ticket Perk, keep the racket going up to the time we pull
out of Cheyenne no matter which way we climb. Well, here goes to knock
our tail on the ground again then for a bite of supper at the Emporium
and a look in at some show. I'm getting a bit tired of this inaction, to
tell you the honest truth. I reckon both of us will be glad to get our
next orders and cut loose with our nobby ship."

"You said a mouthful buddy that time," observed Perk as he raised his
hands with the intention of removing the earphones since they were at
the end of their afternoon check-up, delightfully happy because their
plane had shown its exceedingly strong points.

Now they were circling for the last time and those below, discovering
just about where they meant to land, had started on the run, apparently
eager to be on hand in order to obtain a fresh close-up of the
mysterious chums who had been hanging around the airport for such a
length of time.

Never had a boat dropped down more lightly than did their craft--Jack
could not help giving his mate a look of overpowering joy at the slight
impact, which was returned in full measure by the proud Perk who
anticipated wonderful things to come when they got going for fair up
among the clouds or dodging through the canyons of the mighty Rockies,
wherever the hand of Fate, and orders from Headquarters, took them.

So the landing was made and the wonder ship safely housed in the hangar
they had hired which could be securely locked to keep curious minded or
unscrupulous people from trying to get a line on its several novel
features.

A short but serious-looking chap came up to have a few words with
Jack--this was the party who had been hired especially to keep watch and
ward over their highly prized aerial steed. Cal Stevens had been
recommended as a man to be trusted and although he had no positive
knowledge of their identity, he did know they were clean sportsmen and
men of their word. Consequently Jack felt the precious ship given into
their charge by the Government would be carefully guarded throughout
each night.

They left the field with several figures trailing after them for the
mystery hovering over their movements had piqued the curiosity of a
number of men. All manner of queer stories, resting on insecure
foundations, had been rumored so that people pointed them out in the
street and some wise-acres even gained considerable notoriety by
pretending to know it all, though under a pledge to keep their secret
inviolate.

It became even necessary to resort to expedients in order to shake these
snoopers as the indignant Perk called them and usually a vehicle of some
sort offered them an easy way to beat out the clan. On this particular
evening, however, a big car occupied by several men whom they did not
remember having noticed before, kept after their own vehicle up to the
very door of the modest house in which they had a room.

"I say it's a danged shame," stormed the angry Perk as the two of them
started to strip and get into ordinary citizen's clothing so they would
not attract unpleasant attention while eating their supper and attending
the movies later on--"that pesky car kept on our tail right up to the
door an' chances are it's parked somewhere out there right now, awaitin'
for us to hike over to the Emporium restaurant. Riles me for fair,
partner, an' for two cents I'd like to stand them hoboes on their heads,
on'y I guess that'd be fool's play for me."

"It certainly would, Perk," his chum assured him as they dressed. "Men
in the detective line never want to draw attention to themselves for
once it's known what calling they're engaged in and a lot of their value
to their employers is lost. That's just why the detectives in big cities
like New York wear masks when suspects are lined up each morning for
inspection. You know that, of course, Perk, but I'm just reminding you
because if you get all 'het up' you might say or do something that would
spill the beans for us."

"I'll cool down right away, Jack old hoss," the other assured him
contritely. "That's my greatest weakness you know, an' I'm countin' on
my best pal to keep a finger on my pulse so's to check me up when I
threaten to run loose with my too ready tongue. Wait a minute, Jack,
till I get a paper so I c'n read up on the dope as I munch my feed. I'm
wanting to learn whether anything's been heard from our mutual friend,
Buddy Warner, the best air mail pilot on the job today."

"I certainly hope he's turned up since we jumped off this morning," said
Jack with more than his customary earnestness. "There must be a dozen or
two ships scouring the country in search of Buddy." This pilot had never
reached his port of call two days back and is believed to be down
somewhere in that wild country among the big hills and canyons, either
dead or badly hurt and needing a helping hand right away.

Perk gave a hurried glance at the scare-heads on the front page of the
newspaper he had purchased and then grunted dismally.

"Nothin' doin' so far, partner," he announced with a sigh that welled up
from the very depths of his warm, friendly heart. "More ships a'startin'
out from every-which-way. A happenin' like this, when the lost guy
chances to be a friendly dick that everybody likes, seems to arouse that
sportsman spirit that you find in all air pilot circles. It gets to be a
reg'lar _fever_, with even famous flyers givin' up vacations they'd been
lookin' forward to for weeks, just to start out an' try to locate the
lost man. Huh! nothin'd tickle me more than a chance to lend a hand
myself, on'y we're in the Government's employ and can no more quit our
job than air mail lads could throw the letter sacks in the discard and
sail around peekin' into every gulch an' hidin' place in the mountains
in hopes o' bein' the lucky guy to fetch Buddy back."

"I'm mighty sorry nothing's been found out," said Jack, "but the boys
are sure to comb every rod of ground again and again until it's certain
he can't be located. But here's our restaurant Perk, so let's drop in
and dine."

-----

Footnote 1:

  See the first volume of this Series, "_The Sky Detectives_."

Footnote 2:

  See the preceding story entitled, "_Eagles of the Sky_."



                                   II

                         PERK GROWS SUSPICIOUS


"I swan if it don't beat all creation what stuff these newspaper boys do
turn out when they're put on the job o' pickin' up sensational news,"
Perk was saying some time later as both he and his companion were
satisfying their hunger with such viands as appealed to their taste upon
the bill of fare.

"What ails you now, comrade?" asked Jack, smilingly for he always found
the strongly expressed likes and dislikes of his chum a never failing
well of interest that frequently brought out one of his seldom used
chuckles.

"Why, seems like they never let a chance get past to fetch Lindbergh
into the picture, no matter if he's three thousand miles off as the crow
flies. Here one account tells that it's '_reported_ our distinguished
air pilot's set out to lend a hand at findin' poor Buddy Warner,' who,
the story goes, 'used to be a blanket pal o' Lindbergh's away back in
them balmy days when Charles jumped with his little chute at county
fairs an' did the barn-stormin' racket. Not that he wouldn't be on the
job if on'y he didn't happen to be away off around New York right now,
up to his eyes in business connected with the new air line he's at the
head of. Course lots o' good folks'll swallow this story without a
question but it's jest a sample o' wild newspaper stuff--no man c'n be
on the Atlantic coast an' out here in the Rockies at the same time.
Gosh! but they do pull the wool over some people's eyes these
days--anything for a sensation an' to get the jump over the other cub
reporters."

"But Perk, we do happen to know that there are quite a number of noted
pilots out scouring the entire region and sticking to their job like
leeches, under their sporting slogan 'do as you'd be done by'."

"Sure thing, partner--that's legitimate news and not faked," agreed the
other with a grunt as he speared a small boiled onion of which he was
very fond, and thrust it into his mouth. "Lindbergh is a wonder, as we
all know, but there's a limit to his activities and it ain't fair to
want him to take hold o' everything that comes along. Now he's doubled
up and took him a wife. They reckon nothin' c'n be carried through
without his name bein' tacked on somehow or other. 'Taint fair to that
boy, an' them's my sentiments."

Jack shook his head and looked serious.

"Then the mystery is as deep as ever and they haven't yet found out what
happened to poor Buddy?" he asked, to which Perk shook his head in the
negative, saying:

"Never a thing--all wrapped up in a black fog--he started off in high
spirits and with a joke on his lips an' then disappeared like he never
was. Hang it all, why couldn't I have been doin' some other sorter job
where they might 'a' let me off for a spell? Nothin' I'd like better
than to comb the hull countryside in hopes o' findin' that bully boy--he
told me once 'bout that mother o' his'n. I kinder guess she must be a
peach, he thought so much o' her. Lands sake! but it might even kill her
if her boy ain't never heard from again. I'd give every dollar I got in
the wide world--which ain't boastin' none I know--if only I was a free
agent an' goin' on my own hook."

"Hard luck, partner," soothed Jack, laying a hand on the arm of his pal
as if to sympathize with the impulsive one; "but of course that's out of
the question, you and me--we're under a contract that can't be broken
recklessly, no matter what happens and we've just _got_ to keep
everlastingly on the job till our time is up when we can either renew or
get out."

"I guess you got it down pat, Jack," agreed the other with a heavy sigh
that told of his regret being genuine. Perk was one of those queer chaps
who are born with a stubborn itch to find _anything_ that is said to be
lost which would account in part for his having thrown in his fortunes
with both the Northwest Mounted Police and now the United States Secret
Service.

"Besides, there was a sort of intimation in that late letter from the
Big Boss," Jack went on to say, "that seemed to hint at something big
coming our way before very long so all we can do is to keep hoping for
some luck and doing our daily stunt flying so as to learn all the
wrinkles connected with our new cloud-chaser as you like to call the
ship we're attached to right now."

"Why do you keep on turning your head a little while you're eating I'd
like to know, Perk--got to seeing things again, like you did once
before, I remember?" continued Jack.

"Huh! I'm jest takin' a peep in that mirror over there partner," replied
Perk in a low tone that had a slight air of mystery about it, Jack
imagined.

"Pretty girl this time struck you where your heart is soft, eh, buddy?"
Jack inquired with a chuckle.

"Not this time old hoss--take a squint yourself--see them two fellers
sittin' at the corner table, where they c'n watch us?--well, seems like
they take a heap o' pleasure keepin' tabs on us while we sit here and
gobble. I'm wonderin' who and what they are also why they bother to keep
an eye on our actions right along."

"Yes, I can see them out of the tail of my eye," Jack told him. "Don't
you remember the pair in the big touring car that kept ducking after
us?--I reckon these boys are that same couple. Did you notice them
sitting there when we came in?"

"Nothin' doin' that way, Boss," Perk told him with a positive ring to
his voice. "I chanced to turn my head a few minutes after we got settled
down, an' they were walkin' over to that corner like they'd sized up the
table as if it suited their plans. Ever since, they've kept talkin' in
low tones, an' watchin' us like I've seen a fox do, hidin' in the brush
an' waitin' for a fat young partridge to come close enough for him to
make a spring and grab his dinner."

Jack refused to become flustered, even if Perk showed signs of being
annoyed.

"Oh!" he went on to remark casually, "chances are they may be some of
those pests of newspaper boys, scenting a scoop of a story for their
sensation loving sheets--competition is so keen these days they lie
awake nights I'm told, and accept all sorts of chances of being kicked
out if only they can get the right sort of stuff to build up into a
thriller."

"Mebbe so, mebbe so," grumbled the indignant Perk, "but anyhow I don't
like it a bit. That dark-faced guy strikes me as a pretty tough sort o'
scrapper, one I'd hate to smack up against in a dark alley an' the other
ain't much shakes as a good-looker either. Jack, do you think they know
who we are and got some sort o' grudge against us on 'count o' the trade
we foller, eh, what?"

"Oh! it might be so," replied the other, "anything is possible and while
we've been lucky enough to hide our light under a bushel all the time
we've hung around the Cheyenne airport, we couldn't expect to keep that
game up indefinitely, you understand. After all, we hope to be pulling
our freight and slipping out of this burg before long. So we'll just
keep our eyes open for stormy weather and be on our guard."

"Hot ziggetty dog! I sure do hope now they ain't meanin' to bust in on
our fine ship an' play hob with her--wouldn't that jar you though,
partner?" and Perk could be seen to grind those big white teeth of his
as if gripped by a spasm of rage almost beyond his control. Like the
Arab whose love for his horse is said to exceed any affection for his
wife, most sky pilots feel an overpowering regard for their ship in
which they risk their lives every time they jump off and Perk was
peculiarly built that way.

"That would be a calamity for a fact," admitted Jack, giving the two men
under suspicion another little survey, "but we've got a good guard
keeping tabs over the boat and he's empowered to shoot if some one tries
any funny business out at the hangar, so I reckon there's nothing to
worry over in that direction."

Perk continued to grumble, half beneath his breath, showing how he felt
under the skin about the matter. Jack on his part skillfully directed
the low conversation into other and more cheerful channels so that
presently, after the two strangers had passed out of the restaurant,
Perk seemed to put them aside as "false alarms" and entered into the
discussion of the merits of their beloved cloud-chaser with a modicum of
his usual good nature which was just what his chum wished to have
happen, so as to clear the atmosphere, which, in Perk's case was getting
considerably muddy.



                                  III

                              THE HOLD-UP


Jack had certainly shown considerable cunning in starting to talk about
some of the clever and novel devices with which their new ship was
equipped in order to turn the attention of his chum into more pleasant
channels for Perk soon became most eloquent in speaking of those
wonderful discoveries.

"It sure is a great stunt, us bein' able to quit the ground in ten
shakes o' a lamb's tail," he was speedily remarking, "'stead of havin'
to take such a long an' often bumpy run. The way that boat acts under
your pilotin' makes me think o' how a clumsy buzzard when scared, gives
a hop up into the air for a few feet, starts them big wings o' his'n
workin' and goes hoppetty-skip-petty off on an upward slant. Seems like
the next thing we know we'll have some sorter contraption that'll jest
give us a toss, like you'd fling a pigeon up, for a gunner to smack
after it'd started to fly out o' bounds."

"I understand," Jack told him, smoothly enough, "they've got something
mighty near as wonderful as that, only it lacks just a little finishing
touch to make it sure pop. Five years from now the boys who've come
through with their lives will be looking back to _our_ day as being
still in the woods, and us pilots rough neck amateurs--such staggering
things will be the regular line by then."

"Jest see how the've changed a heap o' the instruments we used to swear
by in them days o' the big war over in France, eh Jack? You don't see so
much difference, but us boys who were in that scrap sometimes c'n hardly
believe it's the same aviation world we're livin' in. From compass to
pontoons, a dozen or two things have been vastly improved. Look at the
new ship; we got aluminum pontoons to let us light on the water of a
river, lake or the sea itself and with the wheels set in the shoes so as
to make a landin' on dry land whenever we feel like it."

"Pretty slick trick that, I own up, buddy," admitted Jack, "and best of
all they seem to work like magic in the bargain. And of course we still
go under the same old name of _amphibian_, for we can drop down anywhere
with only a fair-sized opening."

"Too bad they didn't give the fine boat a name--havin' only a number
gives it a sorter orphan look, strikes me," continued Perk, thus voicing
an old grievance that thus far he had kept to himself.

"I knew that bone was bothering you some, partner," Jack told him, "and
now you've mentioned it we might as well have it out. Names are all very
fine for ordinary airships because there's every reason for giving them
publicity, which helps business along; but in our case that's exactly
what we want to avoid like a sick tooth. Get that now, brother, do you?"

"Huh! I flop, partner--queer how I didn't think o' that before you
mentioned it jest now. Some day mebbe I'll be workin' in a line that
don't have to keep things shady all the time--gettin' my fill o'
sneakin' an' snoopin' so's to pull in results."

"Here's wishing you luck, boy," Jack was saying with a vein of
seriousness in his voice, "but see here what's bearing down on us like a
ship under full sail?--he must have been out of sight behind that
partition all the time we've sat here--got a wide grin on his sunburned
face, which looks kind of familiar to me. Know him, Perk?"

"Zowie! I'd jest say I do partner, don't you see, it's my old friend
Cyclone Davis, the cowboy we've seen more'n once doin' his stunts on the
screen. Hey there, Cyclone, where'd you pop up from, old pard?"

Perk in evident excitement had jumped up from his chair and with
outstretched hand met the oncoming grinning range rider with tumultuous
joy, slapping him on the back, wringing his hand furiously and giving a
most energetic display of delight at the unexpected meeting.

"Sit down here an' have a little chin, Cyclone--meet my side partner,
Jack Ralston. Got to walk back to our room with us so's to tell how you
happened to break into the movies an' make such a big hit. Glory! didn't
it bring back old times when I saw you prancin' around, knocking some
big guy on his back like you used to do when in the prize ring as a
comin' welterweight champion. Now, start doin' your stuff, old pard."

Innumerable questions from the excited Perk brought out more or less
interesting information for Cyclone proved to be quite a good talker.
They managed to keep their voices lowered, although it could be plainly
seen Jud Davis was as a rule built along the jolly and noisy type of
optimistic chap, such as make hosts of friends wherever they roam; but
he seemed to sense the fact that the two in whose company he now found
himself wished to keep strangers from overhearing the subject of their
confab and thus toned down his effusiveness accordingly.

That was a subject Jack kept constantly in mind--the avoidance of
anything calculated to put the spot-light of public attention on his
doings--he would have been broken hearted if some morning, after having
played a big game to a successful conclusion, with his man safely lodged
behind the bars, to see on the front page of the daily papers a picture
of himself, no matter how poorly executed and thus holding a member of
the Government Secret Service up for every lawbreaker in the wide land
to stamp on his mind as something to be never forgotten and thus greatly
lessen his capacity for efficient work.

"We're jest about through here, old hoss," Perk finally told the other
"an' you jest got to fall in so's to sit with us a while in our room so
we c'n tell you what we're a'doin' as boon pals. I know right well it'll
never go any further, 'cause you happen to be one o' them fellers what
c'n button their lips tight as a clam, with never a single leak."

"That's all right, Perk," came the other's reassuring answer, "I've got
a few hours more to spend in Cheyenne and then I'm heading direct for
the old motion picture studios at Hollywood to do a few easy stunts in a
new picture they're going to build up--I'm a cow puncher again, you
understand, Perk, though I own up now and then my old fighting
profession comes in pretty well when there's some scrapping taking place
between the cowboy mob and the cattle rustlers or Mex outlaws of the
border."

Perk listened to everything the other said with an enraptured expression
upon his face, he doubtless was able to mentally picture some of those
exciting episodes described by Cyclone and felt an itch to be in similar
hand-to-hand battles where real blows were exchanged in order to make
the scene realistic when depicted on the silver screen.

Jack could hear him giving many a full-sized sigh when Cyclone was
running off some of his many adventures with a vein of real humor back
of his provocative words and from this could readily believe his chum
was having the time of his life.

After a while they all arose, and paying their reckoning at the desk,
the proprietor eyed the trio as though he rather suspected they must be
Tom Mix and some of his movie friends off on a holiday jaunt--possibly
there must have been a certain jaunty air about Cyclone's manner that
stamped him as belonging to those who moved out on location and cut all
manner of amazing capers before the camera.

It proved to be pretty dark on the street with few persons abroad,
although the hour was not late. The neighborhood happened to be a bit
lonely, Jack noticed as they walked along three abreast, Cyclone
continuing a recital of some comical as well as near tragic happening
through which he had lately passed.

They would not have very far to go to reach their destination which had
been one of the reasons for Jack selecting the Emporium as their dining
place its convenience appealing to him more than anything else.

At a certain point where the gloom was somewhat more dense than in other
localities, Jack noticed a motor standing close to the curb and with one
of its rear doors standing open. The engine was running, for its steady
throb could be plainly heard. But then such a thing is no uncommon
occurrence when some busy folks have trouble in starting the engine and
prefer to leave it running while they dash into the house for a minute
or so.

Just as they came opposite, he noted that it was a large touring car but
the significance of this was borne in upon Jack's mind with a rush when
two dark figures suddenly sprang out from behind the waiting motor, and
with outstretched hands confronted himself and companions while a deep
bass voice snapped out the words:

"Put 'em up, and be snappy about it too, boys!"



                                   IV

                             A CHANCE CLUE


It was a holdup pure and simple, appearances would indicate. Jack could
see in the uncertain light that each of the men gripped a gat in his
fingers, covering the astonished trio; he also made out that they had
handkerchiefs covering the lower portions of their faces, which made it
all the more interesting, since nothing was lacking to fix the picture
in the mind as worthy of the latest movie thriller.

Jack apparently started to raise both hands in obedience to the order so
brusquely given but with an incredibly speedy move he suddenly threw out
his fight hand and caught the wrist of the nearest holdup man, giving it
a twist that compelled the bandit to let his gun fall to the ground.

Then there was Cyclone, true to form as his nick-name would indicate,
making a lightning play and leaping on the second bandit with the
agility of a Canada lynx pouncing on a bounding rabbit.

This fellow, taken off his guard it seemed, managed to shoot but the
bullet went wild and before he could recover enough to do any damage he
was being whirled this way and that in the dazzling fashion shown by the
cowboy actor in all his pictures and which had gained him his well
earned fame.

Poor Perk, who was left in the lurch, there being no third party in
sight whom he could tackle, hardly knew what to do--he kept jumping from
one whirlagig to the other, endeavoring to get in a swing with his fist
but with rather meager success for he feared to exert himself to the
utmost since there was danger of the blow coming in contact with a
friendly head instead of the one he meant to strike.

Jack had knocked his man down twice by well directed blows but each time
the rascal climbed to his feet again, being no mean hand it seemed at a
scrimmage. He must have been built along the bulldog line more or less,
for even while taking a lot of punishment he still stuck to his guns.

The third time he managed to close in and again they went spinning round
and round, held fast in each others' arms, breathing hard, and
endeavoring to effect a windup of the struggle.

Perhaps the would-be holdup man may have begun to suspect that the
pistol-shot would likely enough bring some one running to the spot--even
a cop who may have been on duty not far away, at any rate he began to
fight most desperately to break loose, thinking that discretion would be
the better part of valor and that "he who fights and runs away, may live
to fight another day," as the old saying has it.

At first, somewhat to Jack's astonishment, he realized the man was
trying with might and main to force him toward the open door of the
touring car as though it may have been his intention to take him "for a
ride." That significant phrase had become so notorious of late, in
accounts of rival gang fights in the big cities of the East, that Jack
really began to believe these men aimed to carry him off in their
touring car to do something terrible when outside the city limits and
then toss him out on the side of the road as a victim to some unknown
species of hatred and revenge.

Of course there was no time just then to try and analyze this strange
supposition for all his energies must be engaged in endeavoring to down
the unknown who was just then locked in his arms.

Cyclone was having a beautiful time, giving his man a full measure of
the stuff that lay in those steel muscles of his and which had doped out
many a case of k.o. when he was in the prize ring. Indeed the fellow was
so confused and befuddled by the cracks he received on his head and
chest that he put up only a puny defense.

It proved to be such a one-sided affair that Cyclone felt ashamed to
keep doing all the hitting and presently lifting the almost senseless
wretch he actually tossed him into the car with a crash.

This seemed to give Jack's opponent a flash of commonsense for he burst
out of the encircling arms and dove after his pal, Jack having no desire
to follow after and try to drag him out again, since as a rule he was
far from being a hog for punishment.

The man lost not a second in starting his machine which went off down
the dimly lighted street like a crazy thing, zigzagging from curb to
curb, just as Jack remembered seeing shown in comics on the screen.

There was disconsolate Perk, looking as provoked as any one could be,
shaking his head, and punching one fist into the other palm.

"Such rotten luck!" he was moaning as he strode around the late
battlefield. "Every feller had his hand in but poor me; what've I done
to be cheated out o' my share like I was a baby? Why, oh! why wasn't
there three bums in the bunch, just enough to go around; dang 'em, why
did they want to crab my game like that?"

Jack who could keep from bursting into a loud laugh only through severe
measures along the line of repression, managed to soothe the unhappy
Perk by judicious words of sympathy.

"If only I'd known you wanted a little exercise so much partner," he
observed without the flicker of a smile, "why, I'd have tossed him over
to you with pleasure. Then Cyclone here should have slipped you his bird
while he was jumping him around at such a great rate. However, it's past
now, and the damage can't be mended. Next opening that comes along,
brother, I solemnly promise to let you try your hand so it won't get out
of practice."

"That's a bargain, Jack old hoss," Perk hastened to say as if anxious to
make it a compact between them, "an' I won't say what'll be on the cards
when I try an' make up for all the times I've been cheated o' my share
o' the gate receipts. Now, what next I wonder?"

"We'll just trot along home and see if there are any hurts needing
attention," replied Jack. "That one I tackled could squeeze like a bear
but my being able with a hand free to swat him several times in the
jowl, made him ease up more or less until in the end he weakened and
went skidoo. Come along fellows, let's be hiking into the next street
where we put up and get our sleep."

Everybody seemed quite willing to call it the close of a perfect day and
let things go at that--the holdup men had long since vanished from view;
there was more or less danger of a prowling cop having heard that sound
of firing and after summoning help, might be on the way to learn the
cause. Not wishing to be mixed up in anything that might hold them in
Cheyenne for days awaiting a police court trial, Jack had plenty of good
reasons for wanting to depart while the going was good. So they trotted
along, arm in arm.

In good order they reached the private house where the two flyers slept
and soon were sitting in the most comfortable fashion possible in the
apartment. Perk had carefully closed and locked the door, something Jack
could not remember him doing all the time they had been housed under
that hospitable roof which showed how wrought up Perk must have become.

"An' I'm still a'wonderin' what their silly game could a been," he was
saying in a whining tone accompanied with another shake of his head.
"None o' us look a bit like bloated plutocrats, 'less it might be
Cyclone here but seems like that tall lad was a'tryin' to shove you into
his blamed old car, Jack like they wanted to kidnap you--noticed that
didn't you?"

"Well it struck me that way too, Perk," he was told unhesitatingly,
"which has me guessing good and hard; what reason could they have for
wanting to knock me out of the running--taking me for a ride that way?"

"Shucks! partner," commented Perk immediately, "they be a'plenty o' guys
who'd laugh to know you an' me'd kicked the bucket, pe'ticularly you,
Jack. Some o' them lads you've sent up to the pen might have pals at
large who'd be ready to make you cash in for playin' them a trick that
cost 'em their liberty. Revenge I kinder guess is a poisonous weed that
takes a quick rooting in the average prison bird's heart--sorter helps
to make him better able to bear the years he's got to serve. If on'y he
could know the man as sent him into quod had been rapped on the head and
kicked out o' a speedin' car."

"That makes me think of something," Jack remarked just then as he rammed
a hand down into one of his coat pockets and drew a yellow piece of
paper out. "I chanced to see this lying on the pavement after our birds
had taken French leave; it may help us to understand what now looks like
a dark mystery beyond our solving."

He glanced at what turned out to be a much handled telegraph sheet with
typewriting on one side. Perk showed sudden interest when he saw how his
partner seemed startled and uttered as exclamation indicative of
pleasure.



                                   V

                           WHEN A COG SLIPPED


"What's up, partner?" demanded Perk who always admitted to being more or
less curious-minded.

"Something I happened to pick up," replied Jack, grinning happily,
"after that chap dived into his car and tore off down the street like a
house afire."

"Huh! strikes me it looks kinder like a telegraph message buddy," Perk
replied eagerly as if he began to smell something like a fire burning.

"Go up head boy, you said it," his mate told him. "Here, read what it
says for yourself--you too, Cyclone, though it'll be Greek to you since
you don't happen to know the gent who sent it to Cheyenne."

Perk glued his eager eyes to the yellow slip of paper and as he took in
the printed words he held his breath--as if unable to fully grasp the
whole meaning of the message with only one reading, he started again,
this time going over it aloud.

    "Adolph Barkus, 173 Evergreen Street,
    "Cheyenne, Wyoming.

    "Have received positive information they are in your city. Pay
    particular attention to the young flyer. Treat him with
    brotherly kindness and to please me take him for a nice, long
    ride. Keep me posted. Things down here in something of a snarl.
    Better drop in and report. I may need you the worst way.

                                                           "Kearns."

"Hot ziggetty dog! what d'ye think o' that measly rum-runner bobbin' up
like a floatin' cork to annoy us again?"

Perk gave all the signs of annoyance--he clenched his fist, frowned most
horribly and drew a long breath as though his feelings threatened to
overwhelm him entirely.

"Oh! we landed that gent behind the bars all right," Jack remarked,
taking things much more coolly than the excitable one, "but it's hard to
keep a man with a big wad of long-green shut up--he hires a celebrated
lawyer, gets out on heavy bail, has his case postponed on one account or
another until witnesses disappear and the public forgets what it's all
about. Like as not he's as free as either of us, only it may be he's
forbidden to leave the State of Florida pending his trial--you notice
the message was dispatched from Jacksonville."

"From his getting on our track I kinder guess the gent must feel a bit
peeved at the firm o' Ralston an' Perkiser. Brotherly kindness,
eh?--take him for a nice long ride--how swell that'd be--an' all jest to
please Mr. Oswald Kearns, the high light o' most o' the schemes hatched
up to run in case goods from Bimimi along the Florida shore."

Then Perk forgot his indignation long enough to grin as though the
humorous side of the case struck him.

"Such great luck I never did see," he burst out, "to think o' you
pickin' up his telegram so pat after we'd kicked him an' his slinkin'
pal off the lot. That's what I'd call incriminatin' evidence, partner
and if ever the case is called an' we're sent down to Florida to tell
'bout our part o' the mess, this message ought to make the jury sit up
an' take notice, sure as I'm born it ought"

"I'll keep it safe, you can well believe, Perk and I'm not bothering my
head about those two sneaks for they're not apt to give us any further
trouble after what happened to them tonight. When this Mr. Barkus
discovers how he must have dropped his fine telegram, he'll suspect it
fell into our hands and the chances are he'll give us a wide berth the
rest of our stay in this burg."

"Jest so Jack, an' let's hope we're goin' to climb out o' here right
soon now. The dirty scoundrels--wantin' to give you a _ride_, was they?
Which means in these days take a feller off into the country, knock him
on the head an' dump him out on the road like he was a log. Zowie! times
is out o' joint strikes me, when these pesky gangs think nothin' o'
murderin' a man 'cause they don't like the color o' his necktie."

Cyclone had listened to this exchange of conversation between his two
companions and the look on his face plainly told that he could not grasp
what it was all about.

"I'd like to get a grip on what all this clatter's about, boys, if
neither of you object. I ought to be starting back to Hollywood in the
morning for they're shouting and sending hot wires telling me I'm
holding up the show; but since I'm crazy to see that boat of yours, and
you promised me a little gallop up among the clouds, I'm bound to wait
over till afternoon, no matter what happens to the bunch on the
Coast--they c'n use my understudy till I choose to lope along and be
hanged to 'em. Now, what about putting me wise to the game that was
sprung on you tonight?"

"Nothing to hinder our telling you what we ran up against down in
Florida last winter," remarked Jack and as they settled back in their
chairs in comfort he explained all about the mixup as recorded in the
previous volume of this series.

Cyclone proved an attentive listener, eagerly drinking in the
particulars--nodding his head approvingly at certain points that
appealed especially to his discriminating mind until the finishing
stroke had been laid bare when he jumped up to shake hands boisterously
with both Jack and Perk and to give vent to his feelings in words.

"By the great horn spoon! so that's the bully sort of life you fellers
in the Secret Service lead, is it?" he exclaimed with flashing eyes and
an expression of eagerness on his enraptured face. "Some fine day, after
I've had a few words with my director and told him where he gets off,
I'll be hanged if I don't strike out for Washington and try to bore my
way into the game you're following--suits my spirit to the dot--lots of
adventure, fair pay and the thrill of turning back these smart alecs who
think they own the world because they've got a speed boat and the jack
to buy a load of hard stuff in the Bahamas that they figure on landing
along our coast."

"That mightn't be such a bad idea, Cyclone, for a man built like you and
who yearns for excitement," observed Jack sympathetically, for he could
understand just how the other must feel. "When you get to that point of
kicking over the traces in the picture game let me know and perhaps I
can speak a good word for you at Headquarters. They're always in need of
the right sort of men. Remember that, will you, Cyclone?"

"You bet I will Jack, and I mean every word I say, too. I've never gone
up in an airship yet, but the desire's been gripping me a heap lately
and perhaps, after I make the try tomorrow morning, that you've so
kindly promised me, the fever'll get so high I just won't be able to
hold back any longer."

"That depends on how you come through your examination," Jack plainly
explained. "A lot of boys have an itch to make the riffle, but are
turned down because they lack some one of a dozen requirements that are
positively essential these modern days to get a pilot's license. But as
far as I can see, you ought to pass with flying colors--no joke intended
either."

They sat there chatting for several hours. Cyclone's enthusiasm fairly
bubbled over at times as he listened to some of the accounts of
adventures that had befallen both Jack and Perk in days gone by.

"The more I hear from you boys the sicker I get over the way I'm wasting
my young life with foolish cowboy stunts and make believe fights in the
pictures. It's pretty much a fake business and gets on my nerves--even
many of the most thrilling scenes are fakes of the worst kind--pulling
the wool over the eyes of the simple public. I got a notion I'm built
for something that's genuine and not a fraud--when you lads get into a
mess it's the real thing and you can put your heart in the action
without a director yelling at you and ordering it all done
over--sometimes as many as five times, till his royal highness is
satisfied and you're all worn to a shred with the hard work. Bah! me for
the open and a life of genuine adventure, every time."

"Je-ru-salem crickets! but you have got it bad, partner!" croaked Perk
grinning happily as he spoke. "Goin' are you, Cyclone?--well, we'll pick
you up about nine on the way to the flyin' field. So-long--mighty glad
we run across you tonight and had a chance to see how you work, them
fists o' yourn. The Service could make good use o' a few real scrappers
and I'd say the chance o' you buttin' in is gilt-edged."

So closed a day that was not without its redeeming features, even Perk
being satisfied that things were moving along the line of adventure and
excitement.



                                   VI

                          CYCLONE PROVES GAME


In the morning after they had partaken of a late breakfast, Jack and his
pal stepped around the corner to get a taxi, pick up Cyclone as per
arrangement and proceed out to the flying field.

"For one thing," Perk was remarking as they stepped gaily along, "we
ain't noticed any sign o' them gringoes we licked so neat last night.
Guess they had their little tummies filled up with excitement and right
now may be rubbin' arnica on their hurts. Wow! but I'd hate to've got
them socks Cyclone passed on to his party--must have near broke his nose
for I saw his face was gettin' fair bloody when he was snatched up and
tossed into the car."

They found the ex-fighter and cow puncher waiting anxiously for them, he
having been abroad early and had his customary morning meal. Later on
they arrived at the landing field and found everything "okay" as Perk
put it. He had confessed to a little anxiety concerning the safety of
their ship but the man they had hired to stand guard had not seen or
heard anything suspicious during the entire night.

"Huh! guess they feel too blamed sore this mornin' to be up an' around,"
was the sensible conclusion arrived at by Perk after his fears had been
dissipated and in this summing up of the conditions he was seconded by
Jack, likewise their mutual friend, Cyclone Davis.

It was Jack's custom to always have his ship in condition for an
immediate flight--there could be no telling how soon an order might
reach them giving directions for a hasty takeoff with their goal any old
place as Perk was accustomed to remarking off-hand.

Consequently there was always a full tank of gas on board together with
plenty of lubricating oil and all manner of essential things so
necessary to a successful flight. Of course, as a rule they could drop
down at some wayside landing field for the purpose of replenishing their
stores since the whole country was becoming dotted with such necessary
places, some of them gorgeously fitted up with everything in the way of
landing lights, extra hangars for visiting ships and even service plants
for supplying gasoline with little effort.

Cyclone displayed no actual concern as he was secured in his seat by a
stout leather strap, having also had the parachute harness fastened to
his back. He watched every move of his two experienced companions with
eagerness and asked not a few pertinent questions, thus showing his
desire to know all there was connected with the flying game.

Then the pilot gave her the gun and they started to move along with
constantly accelerated speed until presently Jack lifted his charge and
they no longer found themselves in contact with the earth but mounting
toward the blue sky overhead.

Up, up they climbed with great spirals marking their course--the earth
below began to lose its individual proportions and looked like an
immense checkerboard to the thrilled cowpuncher.

Cyclone could be seen twisting his head this way and that, eager to see
everything. Perk, noting this, nodded his head as though feeling
positive the other was going to fall in love with flying. Dashing across
the plains on a cow pony, pursued by made-up Indians and all that
regular sort of stuff must seem mighty tame to him after moving through
the air at the rate of possibly a hundred and fifty miles an hour with
the motor and propeller keeping up a constant roaring sound and all with
the consciousness that he was several miles above the earth, amidst
floating fleecy clouds, with even the high-flying eagle far, far
beneath.

Jack took special pains to give the ambitious comrade such a ride as he
could never have imagined, even in his wildest dreams--he put the new
boat through all manner of ordinary stunts, even turning over so that
they kept going ahead at a fair pace while flying upside-down--he went
through dizzy revolutions, banked sharply and carried on generally as
skillful pilots seem to take great delight in doing.

All this never seemed to bother Cyclone a particle--perhaps his
experience as a cowboy may have assisted him to meet the numerous
thrills without quailing.

Of course he could not talk with either of his friends for hearing was
next to impossible since Jack was not making use of the silencer that
had been made a part of the "furniture" of the new ship--but he nodded
his head joyfully whenever he found Perk watching him with a question in
his eye.

The two pilots had their head-phones in position, for they would no
doubt like to hold communication from time to time. Thus it happened
that Jack, chancing to think of something, addressed his chum.

"Forgot to ask you whether they'd learned anything about our lost
friend, Buddy Warner--how about it, Perk?"

The other mechanically shook his head in the negative.

"Nothing doin' along them lines, sorry to say partner," he explained.
"To be sure there was a'plenty o' rumors, but the paper said nobody had
learned a blamed thing that'd stand the wash. Afraid Buddy's gone under
an' that the on'y thing left to do is to come across his crashed boat in
some canyon off there in the Rockies. Tough, all right, but then us
flyers jest got to look at sech mishaps as all in the line o' duty--it's
like bein' a soldier all over again, ready to start out mornin's without
a ghost o' an idee we'll be back to eat another meal or write a last
letter home."

"I'm mighty sorry to hear that, Perk. Buddy was a fine boy and everybody
liked him. That old mother of his, too, it may be the death of her.
Hurts to feel that no matter how many pilots may be scouring the land
they just can't seem to dig up even a little clue to tell where he
dropped out of sight and never was heard from again--not even a flower
could be dropped on his grave if they wanted to."

Jack had taken a wild ride through cloudland, going something like two
hundred miles and then swinging around to make the return trip after
that he had climbed to a ceiling of something like twenty thousand feet
until they were all shivering with the frigid air. Still Cyclone never
flinched--indeed, he did not even display the slightest inclination to
beg Jack to drop down where it was warmer--in fact he showed all the
signs of one who would eventually make an exceptionally good flyer,
could he but pass his examination successfully.

It was close to high noon when they landed after the most thrilling
morning in all Cyclone's checkered life. Before he said goodbye to his
two pals he squeezed their hands, and with a face illumined said in his
determined way:

"Me for a pilot's license, boys and when I've done my fifty hours of
solo flying and get my papers, behold me making a bee-line for
Washington and breaking into Uncle Sam's Secret Service corps. I'm a
fade-out as a movie actor, and I feel that my star of destiny calls on
me to be a cloud chaser, getting after law breakers in the air across
the land from the Atlantic seaboard to the Gold Coast; ditto on the sea
to the ends of the earth. Wish me luck, fellows and here's hoping that
some day we'll all be pals in a great game. If ever you get to Los
Angeles drop in and see me at Hollywood--if I'm still on deck and doing
my little stunts rescuing fair maidens and beating the villains black
and blue--all in your eye, boys."

They were sorry to see him go, for Cyclone had turned out to be a most
enjoyable companion as Jack told Perk more than a few times.

Since the morning flight had covered so much in the way of stunt flying,
speed testing and altitude climbing, Jack decided there was hardly any
necessity for their going out again in the afternoon. So they figured on
taking things comfortably in their room, catching up with their sadly
neglected correspondence, and even getting in a nap or two while waiting
for their usual supper hour to come along.

The sun was well down in the western heavens when a knock on their door
caused Jack to answer it. Perk could hear him speaking to the lady from
whom they hired the room, then Jack came back examining a yellow bit of
paper, meanwhile giving Perk a peculiar look that somehow caused the
other to jump up excitedly and exclaim:

"Hot ziggetty dog! that strikes me like a wire, partner, tell me, has
our order to strike out and get busy come along--gee whiz! I'm trembling
all over with eagerness to know what our next line's goin' to be!"



                                  VII

                             THEY ARE OFF!


Jack lost no time in answering the pleading look in Perk's eyes.

"Order's come at last, brother and we're due to skip out of this burg
just as soon as we can get a bite to eat."

"Where to, Jack--north, east, south or west?" babbled the pleased Perk.

"Looks like it might be the last you named," he was told.

"And if it ain't a dead secret would you mind tellin' me what sort of a
jaunt we're pushed on to this time--is it to be a hunt, partner?"

"I'd say it was, and with a vengeance too," admitted Jack, still holding
his chum over imaginary hot coals in that he declined to hasten with the
information so urgently desired.

"So that's all settled, hey? And what are we supposed to be huntin', if
it's just the same to you to cough up that necessary information--more
rum-chasers--bogus money-makers--check raisers, mebbe--runaway cashier
with all the bank funds--which is it buddy?"

"Never came within a mile of the right answer," Jack assured him with
one of his puzzling smiles. "Fact is, it's a pilot we're ordered to
fetch in."

"Pilot--say, do we have to shoot out to sea after a steamship that's
carried off its harbor pilot--such rotten luck, when we expected
something real big to take up our time and labor--shucks!"

"Wait, you jump at conclusions all too soon, Perk my boy. There happen
to be several other kinds of pilots besides those who fetch ocean
steamships in and out of New York harbor or the Golden Gate at San
Francisco--for instance those on river steamboats, it might be, or those
of airplanes!"

"Airships did you say, Jack?" roared Perk, his eyes widening while he
clutched the hand that held the telegram as though tempted to try and
read the printed words he could just manage to see upon the sheet.

"Yes, air-mail pilot in the bargain," Jack fired at him.

"Hot ziggetty dog! do you mean a _missing_ mail pilot and his name
is----"

"Buddy Warner--that's right Perk, no other."

The most ecstatic expression imaginable crossed the face of the amiable
Perk to proclaim better than any words could ever tell just what he
thought of the great news he had just heard.

"I'm _so_ glad, partner--nobody could've fetched me better news than
what you're telling me right now. If I was asked what I'd like best to
do--jest what line o' work I'd be crazy to handle, I'd say it was to
take a look in at every pesky canyon and sinkhole along the mountain
ranges in hopes o' findin' that fine lad an' fetch him back home to his
old mammy. And now you're givin' me my best wish right off the bat. Go
on an' tell me what it says, that wire they sent you."

"That we are to drop anything and everything else and start out to help
find Buddy Warner; they must think a heap of that mail pilot for our
Boss to issue such a broad order as that. It means we've got to jump off
before night sets in and head for the western town where he was last
seen. It also means we'll be on the job for days, or anyway until we get
orders it's no use combing the gullies and ravines and canyons any
longer for the missing pilot must be dead."

"Can't strike off any too soon to please me, Jack. I'd even go without
any grub if by saving an hour we could have a better chance o' strikin'
pay dirt an' turnin' him up alive."

"No such desperate hurry as all that," the other assured him to put a
quietus on his nervous desire to be winging their way toward the scene
of all the excitement and thus add one more ship to the flotilla already
seeking information concerning the whereabouts of the missing mail
pilot. "Also, Perk, as nobody knows when we may get another chance to
eat, it would be wise for us to take advantage of the present
opportunity as well as lay in a little grub for emergencies. For all any
one can say to the contrary it may be our hard luck to get caught in an
air pocket and take a tumble just as Buddy probably did when such things
would come in mighty handy. I'm leaving that little task for you to
handle, Perk, because you're right clever when it's grub that's needed."

"Yeah, I always aim to be that way an' I take it as a compliment you're
payin' me when you talk that way. Nobody c'n amount to thirty cents when
he hasn't stoked his engine properly with fuel."

"I don't know whether you're on to it or not, brother," pursued Jack as
they began to hastily assemble their few possessions preparatory to
stepping out; "but I've been clipping every account I could find in the
papers you fetched home, covering Buddy's dropping out of sight."

"Huh! I sure did take notice of the fact, but never dreamin' we'd have a
peep-in at this wide search. I jest guessed you was enough int'rested to
want to compare these here wise-cracks about the cause o' his trouble
with what it really must a'been, in case they found the remains o' his
crate in some canyon or gully."

"That was one reason," admitted Jack candidly, "but somehow, though I
never let on to you, I seemed to have a sort of feeling we might be
working on that mystery sooner or later--you might call it an
_inspiration_ and let it go at that."

"Glory be Jack, an' what have you got in that wise coco o' yourn, if
it's all right for you to up an' spill the game?"

"Some time while we're on our way," the other explained just as if he
had the thing all laid out, even to the smallest particulars, "while
you're running the ship, I mean to go carefully over those newspaper
reporters' accounts and try to figure out just what could have happened
to bring about Buddy's disappearance--also, find what sort of weather he
must have struck right after jumping off from his last port of call to
drop mail sacks and pick up others."

Perk thereupon wagged his head as though he began to understand what a
skillful way his chum had of getting at the "meat in the cocoanut."

"No wildcat skirmishin', an' heatin' about the bush for _you_, eh
partner?" he blurted out in sincere admiration. "An' I'd wager all I got
in my jeans you're bound to hit on the real facts when everything's
figgered up."

"Don't be too sure about that brother," advised Jack, shaking his head
as he spoke, "I'll certainly do my level best, but you never can tell
how the cat's going to jump. It's one thing to theorize and quite
another to hit on what's the truth. I'll try and separate the wheat from
the chaff and by degrees build up a little story of my own that may, and
again may not, cover the ground. Now let's clear out of this after we've
paid our landlady what we owe for our room, and thank her for being so
kind to a couple of forlorn bachelor flyers."

This was soon done and shortly afterwards they sat down to have a last
meal in their favorite restaurant, Perk meanwhile having laid in a
certain amount of supplies in the way of such food as they could take
care of while on the wing.

Then they hastened to the flying field to have their ship hauled out of
the hangar, tuned up for the last time and give them an opportunity to
"kick-off," as Perk was pleased to call it, before darkness fell.

Perk secretly had been entertaining a little fear lest at the last
minute something not down on the bills might spring a leak and bring
about an unfortunate delay in their departure--so much time had already
passed since the disappearance of the air-mail pilot that another six or
ten hours must seem deplorable--but fortunately nothing untoward came
along. The ship was trundled to a nearby point where Jack figured they
should take off, basing his decision on the way the wind happened to be
blowing and after a brief examination they pronounced their air steed to
be in perfect trim.

Jack shook hands with the late guardian of their plane as he slipped an
extra bill into his possession so too, did Perk thank him warmly
concerning the way he had performed his duty for since those enemies had
failed in their attempt to "take them for a ride," it had always been
possible for them to cripple the new cloud chaser so that something
dreadful was likely to happen when they were a mile from the ground.

Nothing now remained for them to do save settle down in their
seats--they had donned their dungarees, fixed their helmets and chute
packs and in other ways prepared for a long flight into the west.
Already it had grown dusk, although the sun could not be far down below
the horizon and very likely they would glimpse his smiling face again
when they had climbed toward cloud-land so Jack gave her the gun and
with a roar they sped down the field.



                                  VIII

                           BIRDS OF A FEATHER


Just as they had expected they soon glimpsed the descending sun when
they had attained a certain altitude and at the same time the earth far
below was almost lost to sight, since the night haze was settling down.

Perk, having nothing else of importance to do, was arranging their
headphone apparatus so that in case they wished to make any sort of talk
it could be readily carried out in spite of the continuous clamor
surrounding them. This new ship was also supplied with that recent
invention known as a silencer--long used in connection with firearms by
the way, and now applied to the motor of a plane with successful
results--Jack had not thought it necessary to bring it into play since
it retarded the speed of the ship to some extent and there was no
necessity for demanding a cessation of the dreadful clatter and droning.

Jack had headed directly into the west as soon as their craft attained a
sufficient altitude. He had his chart on the airways well studied, and
knew just where and when they could strike a line of beacons, such as
have been arranged for air mail pilots in their night journeys to and
fro with their complement of letter sacks and possibly express matter.

After a short interval the sun disappeared even for these high flyers
and the stars gradually began to dot the blue heavens overhead.

"If you don't mind Perk," the head pilot was saying, as he turned on his
cabin light, "I'd like you to take her over for a spell. Somehow I'm
anxious to go over those clippings and make a start at laying out our
plan of campaign. We've got nothing as yet to go by except what those
newspaper boys gathered up so as to spin their fairy yarns--later we're
bound to strike pay dirt on our own account, and can do a little
building with a foundation of real stuff, not speculation and romance
behind it."

That suited Perk to a fraction, for truth to tell he was floundering in
a bog himself, not knowing how they were to get down to "hard pan" and
be able to lay out their course with some show of reason. He had become
quite adept at the old dodge of "leave it to George" and filled with
confidence in his chum's ability to handle any sort of situation, he
believed he displayed more or less wisdom in not attempting to wrestle
with mysteries beyond his limited capacity.

For a long time Jack read on, tore up a number of the slips of newspaper
stuff, laid others aside as if for a second application, made a number
of notes on a little pad he kept handy and seemed so much in earnest
that Perk kept tabs of his actions with glistening eyes. In his mind
Jack already must have "struck oil" and doubtless arrived at some
specious solution of the riddle that had the entire country
guessing--what had happened to Buddy Warner, the best liked air-mail
pilot in the whole region west of the Mississippi--where had he
crashed--was he still alive or had he followed the long line of famous
flyers who had "gone west" after attempting to put through some dazzling
exploit that would have brought immortal fame if only it had succeeded?

All this while the plane roared on, slipping through space at the rate
of something close to a hundred and twenty miles an hour for this was an
occasion when speed meant everything. Perk too rejoiced in handling the
throttle of an up-to-date ship that put it all over the ancient type of
plane which he had been wont to employ when going forth so flippantly to
offer battle to those pestering Hun pilots when the war was on in
France.

"Hot ziggetty dog partner! You sure have had a big session with them
news articles an' I notice how you threw a heap o' them overboard like
they didn't 'mount to a row o' beans."

Perk said this when he saw Jack shake his head as though he might be
somewhat puzzled and needed more or less reflection so as to straighten
things out.

"After all, I didn't get even half as much genuine information from the
bunch as I hoped I would," the other told him, though there was no hint
of bitter disappointment in his manner of speaking, only disgust that so
much could be written, founded on such minute real facts. "These
newspaper boys can spin the most gorgeous yarns on a speck of
truth--it's their business to stretch things to the breaking point you
know, partner, and they sure do that. All that I discarded and threw
over the side was just chaff, without a single sound kernel of wheat in
it. When later on, after I've had time to digest things a bit when I go
over what's left, chances are there'll be another sheaf of clippings go
bad and be tossed out. Some of those stories were the bunk, made up in
the reporter's skillful brain out of nothing at all, even if interesting
to the general reader. In these days the story's the main thing editors
demand."

"Yeah! I kinder guessed that way myself," remarked Perk, trying hard to
seem disgusted, "though I own up they did make what you might call
interestin' readin' that might pull the wool over the eyes o' most
folks. An' what did you think was the worst story in the bunch, Jack old
hoss?"

"I don't know if you read it, Perk, for it was in a paper I bought
myself and which you hadn't seen," Jack told him.

"Seems to me I do 'member you fetched one home and I lost track o' it in
all the rush an bustle, Jack. Tear in an' tell a feller what it all was
about, won't you?"

"This was a letter received from a pilot who had formerly worked on the
same shift as Buddy Warner--it went on to broadly hint the boy had some
kind of secret enemy and was deeply concerned--the writer of the letter
couldn't say positively what sort of trouble the missing pilot was up
against, but declared it his belief that Buddy had met with some kind of
foul play--that this other person might be interested in Buddy's
disappearance!"

"Rats! I don't like the way he put that stuff over!" scoffed Perk with
considerable indignation and concern. "Clean as a hound's tooth that was
Buddy Warner and every one who knew him would say the same. I don't
believe the cub had an enemy in the world--I'd call that a nasty makeup
o' a crooked yarn."

"I'm with you there brother," said Jack firmly. "But you can understand
how eager some people are to get into print--they see an opening to
break into some matter that's gripped the public attention and just
yearn to share in the spotlight. We'll have a chance to dig out the
truth for ourselves before a great while, if any sort of luck helps us
to grab the right cards."

Jack thereupon put away the few clippings he had kept and was soon in
charge of the stick while his partner occupied himself with some of the
ordinary duties pertaining to the observer and navigator of a
double-seat air craft when on the wing.

The motor continued to function to a point close to perfection, showing
how marvelous the skill of those mechanics to whom the task of building
an engine fitted for the work of driving a heavier than air ship at an
amazing pace through space must be.

The more Jack and Perk saw of their new boat, the higher their sincere
admiration soared. If ever perfection was reached in such things it
surely must have been when they put this engine together with an
accuracy that compared favorably with the works of the finest and most
expensive watch that ever came out of Switzerland.

"No necessity for both of us to stick it out when the going is as smooth
as it is right now," suggested Jack, "later on we may strike rough
sledding when both of us will have to keep on deck for many hours.
Suppose Perk, you curl up and take a snooze. I'll promise to wake you up
inside of three hours when you can take charge while I hit the hay--how
about that arrangement, boy?"

"Oh! it's okay any old way with me, partner," replied the other readily
enough for truth to tell Perk was commencing to yawn and show other
signs of being sleepy, though he would willingly have stayed on the job
until morning had there been any necessity for doing so.

"Just ten p. m. right now brother--about half-past twelve, then, I'll
give you a nudge which will mean your watch has arrived while I get a
couple of hours off duty to freshen up. Everything looks up to snuff so
far buddy, and let's hope it will keep on that way right along."

So Perk settled down as comfortably as the limited accommodations
allowed while Jack continued to watch his indicators on the black
dashboard and by the exercise of continual care avoid such traps as
tricky air pockets, such as might fall in their way.



                                   IX

                         THE THREATENING CRASH


As time passed Jack continued to sit there in charge, frequently
glancing over the side to see if there were any signs of the swirling
beacons especially designed to assist air mail pilots on their way to
some distant goal.

He had figured out that they must, sooner or later, come upon the line
of such beacons and once found it would not be very difficult to
continue following them during the balance of the night.

In the end he was greatly pleased to discover a faint light ahead--in
about ten seconds he glimpsed it again and when this happened for the
third time his last doubt was removed.

As he passed far above the revolving light he changed his course a
little knowing the points of the compass the line of beacons followed,
he must set out to follow them for unless he managed to do the right
thing he could not possibly come across the next whirling glow.

Three, four of the friendly lights designated as "guide-posts of the
air" he passed and all seemed going just as he would wish, when there
came a sudden and unwelcome change.

Perk, sleeping just behind the pilot, felt something come in contact
with his arm and he instinctively understood it was Jack giving him the
prearranged nudge to let him know his rest period had expired and that
it was up to him to take his turn at the controls.

"Huh! I get you, partner," he mumbled, not yet thoroughly aroused,
"watchman, how goes the night, eh Jack, old hoss?"

"Not so good," the other told him.

"I swan now, if this ain't a punk deal!" ventured Perk, in a tone of
injured innocence, "when did this beat in on us, buddy?"

"It's just plain unadulterated fog," Jack told him in a matter-of-fact
tone as though such a thing was to be expected in a night's run where
every possible type of country, from prairie to mountains, could be met
up with and the contrary streams of air were favorable to heavy fogs.

Perk first of all took a single look over the side.

"Ginger pop! a reg'lar pea-soup that's been dished up for us, it sure
is, partner!" he exclaimed, the head phones still being in use so that
talking was no trouble at all even though the racket all around was
deafening.

"Some fog, that's right Perk," admitted the unmoved pilot "the one
you're mixed up with always does seem to be the worst ever."

"How long we been kickin' through this mess?" demanded Perk.

"Oh, something like half an hour more or less I figure," said Jack.

"An' it's now jest three in the mornin'--meanin' some two and a half
more hours before the first peep o' day."

He leaned forward, the better to survey the altitude dial in order to
learn how high Jack had been flying.

"Four thousand feet an' more, eh?" Perk remarked, "I guess that might be
fairly safe, unless there happened to be a stiff mountain range standin'
across our course. Want me to keep that right along, Boss?"

"For another half hour and then we've got to climb as far again--can't
take any chance in a mess like this--I've always got that
Transcontinental Air Transport liner, the _San Francisco_ in my mind
when I strike into a heavy fog."[3]

Perk made a queer sound with his lips as if to indicate that his
feelings ran along the same groove. Indeed, many an air pilot has had
that same terrible tragedy flash before him when plunging onward through
an opaque wall of fog, unable to even see his own wingtips.

"I'm on partner," said Perk as he took over the stick. "Meanin' to get
seven winks o' sleep, ain't you?"

"Not just now," responded Jack, "truth is I'm not a bit sleepy so I'll
just take things easy and do some thinking while you run the ship."

"Expected to meet up with some muck like this I guess, eh, partner?"

"Sure did Perk, only not quite so soon," came the undisturbed reply. "It
seems there's been an unusual amount of dirty weather out this way
lately and we've just slammed into this fog as a feeler. About four,
start to head toward that higher ceiling--no particular hurry I'd say,
according to the chart."

"Okay Boss, I got you," with which Perk relapsed in silence while the
plane continued to speed along with its monotonous roar and hum.

If anything the fog was growing thicker, Perk made up his mind, although
he really had nothing to afford any comparison since they were
completely shut in as by a circular wall, not even a solitary star being
in evidence and certainly not the faintest glimmer of a moving beacon
down below where the unseen earth lay.

At such a time as this the air pilot finds himself depending wholly on
the accuracy of his instruments, backed by his ability to read them
without the slightest error. Perk was well up in all this and had no
doubt of his judgment in carrying on. Flying blind is what these gallant
sailors of the airways call such a condition, though the only
recognition of the encompassing danger is a cutting down of their swift
pace.

The consequent thrill that accompanies such a voyage through a sea of
fog comes to every pilot; although in time they become so accustomed to
the conditions that it fails to affect them as in the beginning. Should
the bravest of men, though a beginner in aviation, ever experience such
a wild night ride through space and heavy fog it would give him a sense
of anticipation that could come through no other source, whether on sea
or land.

Once, when there chanced to be a little change in the scant night
breeze, Perk lifted his head as if to listen but before he could decide
whether he had actually heard something or had been deceived by a strut
snapping back, the feeble air again fell away and left him groping in
ignorance, not wholly satisfied, yet unable to find anything on which to
hang a conjecture.

"Rats! you must be away off your base Perk," he told himself chidingly,
"huh! not a ghost o' a chance in ten thousand--yet it sure did sound
like a ship in action. Must be hearin' things again in the night."

He had slackened the pace somewhat, thinking of that dreadful crash down
amidst the lava beds of the wildest country in the whole Southwest, mind
pictures that made him willing to consider safety first before speed.
Perhaps it was fate that made Perk for once conquer that reckless spirit
of his for there could be no telling what the consequences might have
been otherwise.

Again he lifted his head and assumed the strained attitude that went
with listening intently--the roar of their engine's exhaust seemed to
eclipse any other sound and as if seized with a sudden inspiration, Perk
reached out and brought the silencer into play. This had an immediate
effect--and then too it caused Jack to take notice, for he called out:

"What's the big idea partner--trying things out are you?"

"Listen, Jack--don't you hear it ahead there?" almost shrieked the one
at the stick.

A few seconds passed during which Jack must have been straining his ears
to the utmost. Then he gave a cry that bubbled forth in a mixture of
incredulity and alarm--the only time on record that Perk could remember
Jack showing such an unusual emotion.

"It's a ship, Perk!" he shrilled.

"You bet it is!" echoed the other, dismay in his thick voice.

"Dead ahead of us too and bearing this way," continued Jack as the
portentous sounds grew louder with each passing second. Their own motor
had been throttled down to a mere whisper and thus any other sound was
due to be heard.

A few more dreadful seconds passed with that throbbing sound growing
more and more threatening.

"Must be the east bound air mail!" Jack hastily exclaimed, "make a nose
dive partner, and in a hurry too, for she's right on us!"

-----

Footnote 3:

  September, 1929, this wonderful up-to-date giant air liner with eight
  persons aboard, became lost in a storm and fog and crashed headlong
  into a rocky cliff in the Black Rock Valley, some twenty-six miles
  from Gallup, New Mexico, exploded and burned with a total loss of
  ship, crew and five passengers. The tragedy of this once volcanic
  district sent a wave of horror throughout the entire country and
  proved a setback to the cause of aviation. Jack only voiced the
  feelings of nearly every pilot in saying what he did.



                                   X

                              FLYING BLIND


Instantly the head of the ship was pointed downward and they started to
coast--even as this maneuver was in progress and the roar became
deafening, both of them caught a fragmentary glimpse of bright lights
passing just overhead.

It had indeed been a close shave, for only that Perk proved so clever at
the stick they must have met the mail ship head on with the inevitable
result that yet another tragedy of the air would be chronicled in the
morning newspapers with scare headlines fully an inch high.

Perk had lost his voice due to the sudden nerve strain and even
ordinarily cool Jack Ralston waited a brief spell, in order to insure
proper breathing before trying to speak.

"Reckon you got all the thrill you could stand that time, Perk!" he
finally remarked with a little quiver in his voice.

"Beat anything I ever stacked up against--that's right partner," Perk
frankly admitted, doubtless taking in a deep breath of relief.

"Never might happen again in twenty years," said Jack, as if that
feature of the near tragedy affected him most of all. "With all this
wide space all around us, just to think of two airships heading straight
at each other in a fog--who says now we're not watched over by a special
Providence?"

"You said it buddy," Perk agreed. "That sure was a time when that
muffler paid a big interest on its cost an' I kinder guess saved our
lives in the bargain. It pays to advertise an' also to pick up the
newest fixin's along the line o' aviation discoveries an' inventions."

"Just so Perk. If our engine had kept thundering away right along we
might not have been warned in time to get out of the road and let that
stunt-flying air mail pilot squeeze past. He ought to be reported for
hustling along like that in such a thick soup; but since we're still
alive and kicking, I reckon we'll just have to let it drop at that."

"Mebbe you're right there, Jack old bean--strikes me we were hittin' it
up like hot cakes in the bargain an' not so innocent after all. I'm
a'wonderin' if he got wind o' the close call he had--must have lamped
our lights as we ducked and went down like a bullet or the stick o' a
rocket that'd exploded up near the stars. Shucks! I'd jest like to meet
up with that guy sometime an' ask him what his feelin' was--bet you he
was as scart as we felt when he whizzed right over our heads."

"It might be the part of wisdom to climb to a higher level now,
partner," hinted Jack. "Unless I miss my guess that chap was dropping,
as if he'd come down from the upper regions, which gives me an idea he
knew where he was and had been keeping a big ceiling so as to avoid
butting into some mountain peak."

"Here goes then," and with the words Perk commenced to climb, the new
ship being so constructed as to be a great improvement over the old type
of plane, able to ascend at a steep angle without any of those formerly
necessary laborious spirals.

At the height of four thousand feet he again leveled off and kept to the
course Jack had marked out. Perhaps they were over some air mail line
with its friendly flashing beacons winking far below; but that deadly
wall of fog lying under their keel effectually prevented them from
taking advantage of any such guide posts along the way; nor would it
have availed them greatly could they have dropped down to within a few
hundred feet of the earth, for even at such a distance it must have been
utterly out of the question for the keenest vision to have picked up a
beacon or even detect its flash because of the curtain that fairly
smothered them on all sides, above and below.

They no longer conversed, even Perk understanding how serious their
condition must be and holding his usually ready tongue in check, while
Jack took it out in tense thinking, watching the various dials and
figuring just which way they would be going in case of drift.

So half an hour crept by, with no change whatever in the conditions by
which they were surrounded. It was now growing most unbearable, so
monotonous, so very tiresome. A heavy fog is hard enough to bear at any
time but when it stretches along hour after hour, without the slightest
sign of any diminuation, it is bound to get on the stoutest nerves and
produce symptoms bordering on a panic.

"Perhaps we might find some relief if we kept going up," suggested Jack
after some time had passed. "It sort of stifles me to keep in such a
thick mess as this, growing worse all the while."

"Huh, if I wasn't jest thinkin' that way myself partner," Perk declared,
thus showing that it was a case of "me too."

They kept on climbing, although neither could discover much difference
in that miserable opaque blanket. It began to grow much colder too,
although they managed to don some heavier coats which would keep them
from feeling the change in weather conditions to any extent.

"Don't seem to be much use I guess Perk, in all my experience I can't
say I ever ran across a fog that expended such a distance above the
earth. Most times you can get out of the ditch by climbing, but here we
are at a thirteen thousand foot ceiling and it's as black as ever. No
use trying to get above the line--it just can't be done."

"Right you are partner," admitted Perk, leveling off, "though I must say
the breathin' seems a shade easier than down below."

"We'll stick it out here for a while," Jack went on to say, "and it may
be that the coming dawn may bring some sort of a breeze along to scatter
this beastly stuff and let us see what's what."

"Anyway," Perk was saying, as if in relief, "at such a height we ain't
likely to rub noses with any rock pinnacle and to our everlastin' grief
in the bargain. The air's like enough free of mountain peaks around this
section o' country, which is some comfort to a fog-bound pair o' ginks,
I admit."

It was by this time about five o'clock and Perk was banking heavily on
the fact that inside of another half hour, at that extreme height, they
were likely to discover the advance couriers of approaching dawn
commencing to paint the eastern heavens with fingers of delicate shaded
colors.

"Got any sort o' idee where we might be right now, Jack?"

"Why, sitting tight in a nice fog blanket I'd say, brother," replied the
one who was now at the controls, having some time back made the
exchange, easily enough accomplished without the necessity of changing
seats.

"Jokin' aside, Jack, I mean what section o' country might be away down
below-stairs where there's land and green things--how I'd like to rest
my tired peepers on somethin' _green_ for a change."

"I'm not as sure of my figures as I'd like to be Perk, for it's been
hours since we saw anything at all except this fog; but we've covered a
lot of space and must be well on our way to the hunting ground we
started for. Wait until we get out of this mess and then it can be
settled as soon as we strike any town, village or even hamlet, that'll
give us a hint concerning our bearings."

"I'm bothered a little bit just the same," complained Perk.

"What about, old pal?" demanded Jack quickly.

"What if somethin' should happen to our ship--we're a long way from any
place an' well, 'fore you took over the stick Jack, seemed to me there
was a bit o' a holdup to the slick way the boat had been whooping things
up--I might a'been mistaken, but she seemed to be wallowin' some, like
she didn't just feel pleased over the cargo she had to carry."

"Perk, now that you mention it I do believe you're right--I'm not
pushing her much, but she does act sort of sulky, as if tired of this
thing--not that we could blame her for feeling that way. Tell you what,
partner--suppose you climb out and take a look around to see if
everything seems okay."

Accordingly Perk, as if sensing some hidden motive in what the other had
just remarked, left his seat and made his way out to the port wing--the
ship was swaying more or less, dipping and nosing upward as Jack held
her to it, but Perk being quite accustomed to such things had no trouble
whatever. A minute later and he came hurrying back to attach his
earphones again and cry out in a tone filled with more or less
excitement:

"Jack, there is something the matter for sure--fact is there's ice
formin' on both wings, and right heavy at that!"



                                   XI

                          AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY


"Take over the stick again Perk," said Jack, apparently not very much
astounded by the serious information his mate had just given him, "I
think I'd like to have a look myself; I've never had any great trouble
with ice since I've not been much of a hand to soar up twenty or thirty
thousand feet for an altitude record. Nothing much to worry about
partner. At the worst we will have to drop lower down so the warmer air
will melt the stuff. A ship like this can stand considerable in the way
of a cargo, though it isn't just the proper caper to stow the load on
the wings--far better to have it somewhere inside the fuselage. Here
goes!"

Whereupon Jack crawled out of the cabin and started to make a close
investigation while Perk did the honors along the steering line, more or
less eager to hear his mate's report when he came back from his little
tour.

"It's all right brother," he heard Jack saying, even before the other
regained his customary front seat--"nothing to bother about and we'll
soon knock spots out of what ice has already gathered. Pretty snappy out
here, I notice. We'll drop down to a more comfy level and take chances
with being suffocated by that gruelly stuff. Go to it sonny, I'm inside
the safety line."

Down they went in long slides one after another until the thirteen
thousand became ten, then seven and there Jack told his comrade to "hold
everything" and cut down the speed a bit.

"Daylight's about due I figure," he observed, "and once we cut loose
from this blank curtain and pick up some visibility, we'll not have to
feel nervous about some of those rocky snags that lie in ambush to
impale venturesome aviators when off their course and lost in a maze."

Perk soon afterward realized that what his mate had remarked must be
true, for sure enough over in the east he could manage to detect some
faint signs of a break in the hitherto impenetrable gloom surrounding
them, positive evidence of the fact that morning was "just around the
corner."

"What's more," Perk told himself, in jubilation, "I guess now I c'n feel
a little waft o' a breeze startin' up. Soon as that gets goin' it's
goodbye to Mister Fog. Whew! mebbe I won't be tickled pink when that's
come to pass cause I'm crazy to set eyes on dear old Mother Earth again.
Yes sir, the pesky old fog is commencin' to move out--jest keep it up,
for you never will be missed."

"All over but the shouting Perk," remarked Jack just then as if he could
have understood the tenor of the other's thoughts. "Inside of another
half hour we'll be free from the stuff--wow! I never want to run through
such a siege as this again, particularly in this wild Western country
where peaks are in the majority and every one looking to stab some poor
wandering airship."

"I kinder guess you're itchin' to get our bearings again Jack?" asked
the walking question mark who was never really happy except when in a
position to toss queries at some one.

"Naturally so," Jack told him point blank. "We had to get twisted up
more or less during that drive through fogland, and the sooner I can
pick up my bearings the better I'll be pleased. If you ask me offhand
where we might be, I'd say within a few hundred miles of the spot where
Buddy Warner took off on his last trip."

"Good enough!" crowed Perk, "nothin' like making things fly when you're
about it--no beatin' around the bush for us, partner. Then if we pick
our course as per the information that leaked from that airport where he
left his mail sack an' took on another batch, why we might begin to keep
a watchful eye on the ground in hopes o' makin' some sorter
discovery--is that right?"

"You can begin using the glasses just as soon as we get our first
glimpse of green spots below. Later on we'll drop down until we're not
more than three hundred feet, more or less, above the treetops--if there
are any tall trees in this section of country, which might be a
question--possibly nothing in that line but scrub oaks, mesquite and the
like, stunted stuff that grows on many western mountains and in rocky
canyons."

Perk was in a little heaven of his own later on when calling out that he
could distinctly see the ground, thanks to his binoculars.

Morning had come, with the sun well above the horizon and everything
indicating they had a fair day ahead as frequently happens after a heavy
fog. It was a wild stretch of country now spread beneath the sky
voyagers, with all manner of lofty peaks in every direction, mountain
ranges running criss-cross without the faintest sign of regularity.

"I swan if I'd care to be lost down in that sort o' country," Perk was
saying as he continued to stare with great eagerness. "Jest about like
huntin' for a needle in a haystack as to 'spect to find a cracked bus in
all that awful scramble."

"Oh! we haven't got to where the trail is warm yet, partner," Jack
informed him, "though of course it isn't going to do any harm for you to
scour the ground as we cut along. When a thing's lost, the chances are
it happens to be lying just where nobody suspects--I've found that out
myself more than a few times."

"Yeah! jest so Boss," grunted the one who handled the binoculars, "an'
if we fall down on the job it ain't goin' to be from not usin' our eyes
to the limit. But say, things keep on pilin' up worse than I ever ran
across in all my whole life--look at what's ahead there--can you beat
it, Jack?"

"Pretty tough stretch of mountain land any way you take it," said Jack
as he swept his eyes around from right to left, "but fortunately we have
nothing to worry about as long as we keep a fairly decent ceiling. Fact
is, I'd call it free-going up here, with a nice cool breeze knocking on
our port quarter and not hindering us any, even if it doesn't push us
along."

"That's right, Jack--after that boring through a fog belt hundreds o'
miles wide, this does seem like a little bit o' Heaven on earth. Mebbe
you've noticed me takin' a look all around once in a while--up in the
air, I mean? Somehow I've been wonderin' why we haven't glimpsed a
single ship since sun-up."

"Do you mean air-mail crates or some of those pilots who're searching
for signs of Buddy Warner?" the other demanded of Perk.

"Either kind, if it's all the same to you, Jack. If we're not so far
away from where the poor chap said his last goodbye as he took off with
his sack of Uncle Sam's mail, strikes me we had ought to've run across
one bus anyway, of all the flock that must be on the wing lookin' for
the boy."

"Just so Perk, but consider the immensity of space out in these regions,
with all these mountains to get lost in. A score of pilots might spend
every single day for a whole year in winging around the neighborhood of
the Colorado Canyon and never once glimpse the smashed crate, even if it
was in some open stretch of ground."

"Which I take it covers the case okay," agreed Perk. "On 'count o' them
big holes in the ground together with the tricky cross currents o' wind,
air pockets an' all such sneaky things every airman hates with all his
heart, we have to keep up some high an' even through the glass, small
objects like the wings o' a smashed crate are bound to look like pin
points."

"When your eyes tire of searching," remarked the considerate pilot,
"give me the word and I'll change places with you, partner."

"Sure thing old hoss--I don't aim to hog _all_ the fun," Perk quickly
observed and kept staring this way and that in an honest endeavor to
cover the entire ground as thoroughly as possible.

From time to time he would break loose to tell of some abnormal freak of
nature that he had discovered. To all these sallies Jack made no reply
for he himself was thinking deeply and trying to map out a consistent
method of conducting the search on which they were now fully launched.

The Government, conscious of the duty devolving on the post office
department to show natural concern for the lives of its faithful
employees, had seen fit to detach Jack and Perk from all other duties
and order them to exert themselves to the utmost in an effort to find
the missing pilot. Aside from the glory that would fall to those who won
out, Jack felt very keenly for the old mother of Buddy Warner, doubtless
passing sleepless nights while the mystery of her boy remained an
unsolved problem.



                                  XII

                     IN THE COLORADO CANYON COUNTRY


Ever since hopping off at Cheyenne their course had been more or less
directly southwest, for Jack, on consulting his chart, had figured that
this would take them close to their intended goal.

Only in a general way was he able to decide as to where they must be on
this morning after their long flight through that enormous fog belt.
Strange as it might seem, thus far they had glimpsed nothing positive
that would give them their exact location, but just the same Jack was so
certain about his figuring, knowing what distance they had covered since
the start, that he did not concern himself greatly over this question.

In good time something would come along to clear things up nicely, and
once they got their bearings if would be possible to pick up the game
with heart and soul enlisted in its carrying out.

"Now would you b'lieve it partner," Perk was saying at one time much
later in the morning, with the same wilderness covering the face of the
earth far below as wide as eye could reach, "if there ain't one o' them
pirates o' the air spreadin' himself to try an' cut across our path,
like he wanted to take a close-up o' sech a queer contraption that keeps
on makin' all them roarin' noises. I call him a feathered hijacker,
'cause he lies in wait tryin' to hold up industrious fish-hawks when
they been an' grabbed a dinner outen the river, an' robbin' 'em o' it."

"Oh! I reckon now you're meaning an eagle, eh Perk?"

"Old Baldhead, the great American fraud that Uncle Sam keeps stampin' on
his coins. A loafer an' a shark, too lazy to do his own huntin' an'
stealin' his grub from the hard workin' osprey. See him cuttin' it for
all he's worth, tryin' to butt in on us! Hey, mebbe the ornery fool's
got a big notion we're tryin' to put the laugh on him, an' means to give
us the defy--a fool notion, I'd call it. Let him try hittin' up against
the side o' our fuselage an' see what happens to _him_, that's all."

Jack evinced sudden interest, as was proven by his saying sharply:

"But see here that may not be all, as you think! What if the fool bird
plunges madly at our ship? Instead of butting his head against the
fuselage he might strike our propeller, which would knock him
galley-west, but also disable our craft. Perk, better get out that
sub-machine gun of yours and be ready to settle his hash if it seems
likely he can head us off."

"Hot ziggetty dog! I never though o' _that_, partner!" cried the now
thoroughly alarmed Perk hastening to scramble out of his seat, dive back
and drag out the firearm with which he had done such gallant service not
so long ago.

"Watch the rascal," Jack was telling him in steadying tones, "and if it
looks as though he'll reach us, start gunning for him, otherwise hold
your fire out of respect for the motto on our gold coins. Sit pretty,
partner--I'm depending on you to do a good job."

Jack changed his course a trifle, as if intending to give the charging
bird a chance to live to another day. In this way the chase was made
more stern and the possibility of a fatal contact between bird and the
man-made king of the upper air rendered less likely.

Perk, crouching there with ready gun, held himself prepared to pour out
a hot fusilade if it became absolutely necessary. He had to judge the
velocity of the eagle's advance and also note how Jack was so skillfully
edging away to the left in order to avoid slaughtering the brave but
misguided bird.

After all it was a false alarm, for the eagle shot past at least twenty
feet back of their rudder, going "for all he was worth" as Perk
afterwards explained it and by the time he could swerve, the plane was
so far away that the baffled bird felt compelled to give up the pursuit,
though doing so grudgingly, Perk decided.

He hardly knew whether to be inclined to jeer at the foolish actions of
the king of the air, or give him a cheer on account of so brashly
charging the great bulk that he must have considered a rival in his
special field. At least there was no need of making use of the gun which
he hastened to put back in its former nook where it could easily be
snatched up in case of any sudden emergency.

"Mebbe it's jest as well I didn't have to riddle the old jay," Perk told
himself as he resumed his seat and his glasses. "May be a buccaneer,
like some folks say, but he's got good grit and won't take a dare from
even a Zeppelin, should one come sailin' along in his happy huntin'
grounds."

The morning was wearing away with the amphibian keeping up its merry
pace and the country showing no signs of betterment. Civilization was a
million miles distant, one would imagine, when looking down on those
amazing masses of rocky peaks over which they were winging their way.
Judging from what they saw hour after hour, Jack could well believe that
changes there had been only to a small degree since Columbus first
sighted these shores hundreds of years back. Indeed, for thousands upon
thousands of years those giant fingers of rock had been pointing to the
blue sky above, just as they saw them now.

They ate some food about noon, washing it down with a few gulps of water
they carried in a jug. Strange that even Perk had not remarked upon
being hungry, which was such a remarkable thing for him that Jack
concluded his mind for once had been taken off the subject of eating and
was fully occupied with the strange mission upon which they were
engaged.

Several times Jack asked the observer whether he could make out any
signs of a river bed ahead and seemed surprised and a bit disappointed
when Perk replied in the negative.

"Unless I'm away off my base," Jack finally told his companion, "we
ought to be somewhere in the vicinity of the Colorado and the enormous
canyon through which it makes its way down to the Gulf of California."

Perk displayed a sudden fresh interest in matters.

"I swan, partner," he remarked in considerable agitation, "does that
'ere mean we might set eyes on that monster hole in the ground I've read
so much about? Are we close to the Colorado River where she runs 'long
through the Rainbow gorge and the towerin' cliffs rear their red, blue,
green and yeller walls hundreds o' feet high on both sides?"

"You said it Perk. Chances are we'll set eyes on that big hole in the
ground they call the Colorado Canyon before we strike another night."

"Je-ru-salem crickets buddy! That sounds good to me!" exulted Perk,
visibly stirred by the thrilling information. "Allers did sorter hanker
'bout lampin' that pictur', an' it'll please me plenty if dreams do come
true."

This kept him quiet for some time, though he worked his glasses with a
fresher zeal as though bent on missing nothing that seemed worth looking
at. But thus far not the slightest object had been sighted that might
turn out to be of special interest to any one looking for a smashed
plane.

The sun was now well down the western heavens and Perk was beginning to
fear the prophecy of his companion would fail to come true, when
something caught his vigilant eye far in the distance and on which he
focussed his binoculars. He looked long and steadily before announcing
his discovery to Jack.

"I kinder guess partner, we're there all right," he finally burst out.

"And what makes you feel that way, Perk?"

"From the signs ahead I figger we're gettin' close to a big sink and I
c'n see the sun glintin' from somethin' shiny yonder--might be that
hotel they got on the top o' the west wall, if I remember straight.
Yes-siree, it's jest like I'm tellin' you matey, the old river must lie
down in that deep canyon. Gee whiz! it makes me near goofy jest to think
how I'm goin' to see the biggest canyon in the whole world, with painted
walls an' all sorts o' queer relics o' ancient Injuns scattered around.
Hot ziggetty dog! ain't I glad they sent us out this way though! If on'y
we c'n find that boy, I'll be the happiest chap on earth, an' that's no
lie either."

That was Perk's usual way of arriving at a decision without making
certain. Jack on the other hand, was accustomed to holding himself in
check until he had actually proven it a certainty and even then he
rarely gave way to any outburst of joy, leaving that to his more
excitable comrade.

In due time they found themselves looking down on one of the most
wonderful sights that can be found anywhere in the wide world. A
spectacle unmatched in any other land which people come thousands of
miles to feast their enraptured eyes upon.



                                  XIII

                            A STRANDED PLANE


Jack continued to stay at the controls, possibly because he wished Perk
to do the observing as his keen eyesight was such a valuable asset.

It proved that the object Perk had seen, and on which the sun was
shining in such a dazzling way, was the hotel that catered to the many
visitors and tourists who at certain seasons of the year flocked
thither, enjoying the thrill of gazing on those natural wonders so
profuse in that locality.

Perk could readily make out a number of moving figures on the edge of
the canyon, evidently intent on watching the coming of the airship and
doubtless speculating as to its mission.

Undoubtedly other boats had been seen flying overhead, since that
particular section of country was being combed by a host of swift craft
gathered from various quarters, all engaged in the humane task of
striving to find the missing air mail pilot.

But Jack gave no evidence of a desire to drop down in the vicinity of
the great hotel with its throng of guests--they could give him no
information and the time could be more profitably used in commencing a
systematic search. It would be time to descend when their stock of
supplies in the line of food fell short or the gas tank gave promise of
becoming empty. Nothing less must distract them from the task they had
been commissioned to carry out with all their ability.

"I c'n see people comin' up out o' the canyon now," Perk asserted with
emphasis, "an' seems like they must be mounted on mules or donkeys,
'cause no hosses c'n climb up an' down sech steep slopes. Say, ain't
that worth comin' out here to see? I'll tell the world it sure is!
Mebbe, 'fore we starts back to old Cheyenne, we'll get a chance to go
down into the bowels o' the earth like them folks have been doin', an'
seein' the hull panorama from the bottom."

"Who knows, Perk?" quoth the unmoved Jack, "but in the meantime we've
got to stick on our job and do our level best to find Buddy--because of
his mourning mother if for no other reason--and that goes!"

"I like to hear you say that, partner," cried sympathetic Perk, "an' me
to back it up to the limit. My eyes! what a peach o' a pictur' that sure
is! Somethin' never to be rubbed out while you live. Beats anything I
ever set eyes on by big odds. Niagara was fine enough, but say, it ain't
in the same class as this paintin' o' Old Dame Nature's."

"I'd call it sublime, and let it go at that," Jack admitted, "for words
never were coined that could do justice to such a tremendous thing in
the way of natural scenery."

The hotel was now in their rear and rapidly growing fainter in the
distance, while below lay the wide reaches of the enormous canyon, dug
through uncounted ages by the swift current of the famous river that
miles further on would disappear from sight between walls that reared
their heads hundreds of feet aloft.

As if to give them both a comprehensive view of the entire opening, Jack
had reduced their speed to a minimum and was following the canyon gap
with Perk keeping his eyes glued to his glasses, unable to tear them
away for a single second lest he lose something of absorbing interest,
possibly the most entrancing object in all that long category.

So it was that Jack felt a shock when he suddenly heard Perk giving
tongue as though gripped with some fresh cause for excitement.

"Hey! what's this I'm seein' partner?" he yelled.

"Whereabouts?" demanded the other in a flash, for there was something he
could detect in Perk's squeal that would indicate a discovery of more
than usual importance.

"Right down in the ditch--look ahead, an' you'll see it! Boy, if that
ain't a airship lyin' on the sandy shore o' the river, I'll eat my hat!
An' yes, by gum! there's a man standin' alongside wavin' somethin' white
like a flag o' distress! Oh my stars, c'n it be possible we've run on to
poor Buddy Warner so clost to help an' him stuck there like a pig in a
poke all this while? Jack, whatever c'n it mean, do you reckon?"

Jack was rather startled by what his comrade was saying, but as always
proved himself quick to act.

"Take over the stick Perk, and give me the glasses. I must see for
myself what it means. A plane down in that big hole, close to the edge
of the rushing river and only a mile or so from help--it seems
incredible--why, as I understand from what I've heard and read, parties
with their guides often spend a night in the canyon looking through
those queer Indian stone houses and even wander along the river for some
distance. Why, he never could be that close by all this time and his
condition continue unknown."

He was riveting his gaze upon the spot Perk had pointed to, and just as
the other had declared, some one was making frantic gestures, waving a
piece of white cloth and plainly asking them to drop down and rescue him
or at least convey a knowledge of his desperate situation to those at
the hotel.

The more Jack stared the greater did the mystery become in his mind. It
simply could not be--there must be some other explanation to account for
so unreasonable a condition. What should they do about it? The man kept
waving his distress signal, and possibly was at the same time shouting
something, to judge from his actions although of course his voice failed
utterly to reach their ears.

"What's goin' to be done about it, eh partner?" Perk was saying as he
swung in a great curve and again started to pass over the object of
Jack's scrutiny and bewilderment. "Do we leave him there, after comin'
so far to help the poor lad? Ain't there a way for us to slant down an'
drop on that sandy shore his boat's restin' on? Bet every red cent I got
it c'n be done, brother an' you're the boy to tackle the ticklish job."

"Make still another circuit, Perk," said Jack earnestly from which his
companion judged he must be even then considering in his mind whether
the proposed scheme were feasible or not.

"He keeps right along signalin' to us not to desert him, Jack. Mebbe now
ours ain't the first ship to come sailin' along an' the others gave up
any idea o' landin' in the ditch, so he's getting a bit desperate--an'
hungry as all get out in the bargain. Must a'been three days since he
was reported missin' you remember, partner."

Jack apparently was not wholly convinced. It might not be so difficult a
task to drop down successfully, but being able to come up again would be
a horse of another color, he figured. Then all at once he made his
decision.

"We'll go, Perk--the stick if you please and stand by to lend a hand if
it's needed when we make contact. I can see what looks like an inviting
place in the water where we can use those dandy pontoons to advantage.
Ready for it?"

They swung around once more and this time Jack turned the nose of his
craft directly at a slant so as to head for the spot where the pilot of
the wrecked ship was running up and down in great excitement, still
flinging his signal of distress back and forth.

But when he saw that they were actually starting to drop below the
majestic walls of the wonderful canyon as though bent on endeavoring to
assist him, he stopped short and stood there wringing his hands in what
to Jack was a rather peculiar way for a brave man to do. Still, if he
had been through a series of hard knocks, had perhaps even been
seriously wounded in the crash of his boat, he might be close to
distraction. Anyway theirs must be the job of ascertaining the truth and
afterwards doing all they could to afford him relief, though his plane
might be beyond remedy and would have to be abandoned.

Now they were approaching the bottom of that rocky canyon--the walls
towered above like grim cliffs or battlements, forged by nature to
protect the stream that swept through the enormous gorge. It seemed to
Perk, as he shot one thrilling look upward, as though they were a mile
high and that everything around them was mightily magnified--all save
the river itself, together with the stranded ship and the figure
standing there watching their coming so eagerly, so filled with freshly
risen hope.

Then contact was made between their wonderful pontoons and the surface
of the Colorado River and there they floated on the turbulent bosom of
the stream.



                                  XIV

                         JACK MAKES A DISCOVERY


While thus dropping down into the great wide canyon by easy stages, Jack
had taken note of several things, although not for a single second
failing to keep tabs on his dials and the action of the ship when
meeting certain baffling currents of air welling up from the depths and
which might have played havoc with things only for this watchful,
never-ceasing care on his part.

First he became aware of the fact that the abyss was no longer subject
to clear visibility--in fact, it would have been next to impossible for
him to have made a decent contact with the river surface only that a
sudden glow had started up as if by magic.

It was a fire that helped to dissipate the gathering gloom in that
particular spot and the one responsible for this welcome illumination
must be the unknown aviator whose crate had been wrecked when falling
into the vast sink with the gorgeously painted walls.

Evidently he must have gathered a few piles of dry driftwood so
plentifully scattered along the banks of the river, and prepared a pyre
to which a lighted match could be applied, a cheery blaze following.
Jack sensed all this even without distracting his attention from his
work.

At least this seemed to be proof that the unfortunate pilot had kept his
wits about him, no matter what dire happenings might have come his way.

The sun could not have set--of that Jack felt certain--so the sudden
lack of daylight in the vicinity of that deeply imbedded river must have
been caused by the passing of some heavy cloud over the face of the sun.
Jack even remembered noticing a bank of clouds hanging close to the
southwestern horizon for the last half hour and a favoring breeze coming
up must have pushed them across, so as to form a lofty but effectual
screen.

No matter--nothing counted as long as the ship rested happily on the
water with Perk hastening to drop overboard a small but efficient
anchor, such as would be apt to take up scant room aboard an amphibian,
but prove invaluable on occasions like the present.

This was only a part of Perk's duties, however--when thus anchored the
ship swung to and fro on its reliable pontoons but they were fully
twenty feet distant from the sandy stretch beyond the river's edge.

The current was anything but friendly and there was a strong possibility
that the depth between the beach and the anchored boat would prove to be
several feet, with perhaps pockets twice that, to judge from the way the
water swirled in eddies.

But all that had been considered when equipping the amphibian for
service on land or water. Of what avail would it be to have the pontoons
so handy if, after coming down on some body of water, they must wade or
swim in order to make a landing?

Perk was engaged in taking vast breaths into his capacious lungs and
then blowing into some sort of queer rubber contraption which, expanding
rapidly, presently assumed the proportions of a squatty little
boat--nothing to boast of so far as appearances went, but capable, when
fully blown up, of ferrying himself and his companion over the few yards
of open water lying between themselves and their coveted landing place.

Without just such an auxiliary, the usefulness of a land and water
aircraft must be considerably cut down, as pilots have long since
ascertained from actual experience. Just as had been the case of the
folding anchor that, with the rubber boat took very little room until
needed, it paid big dividends in comparison with the small amount of
trouble it gave.

The castaway air pilot was standing near by watching everything they did
with the utmost eagerness. Thus far he had not seen fit to call out, but
his manner proved the intense interest he felt.

Jack waved his hand encouragingly to the other, even while Perk was
launching the clumsy rubber boat which proved to be so buoyant that it
kept bobbing up and down with each movement of the speeding, gurgling
current.

The fire was now burning brightly so that the whole immediate vicinity
seemed lighted up. Jack involuntarily cast an inquisitive eye in the
direction where the stranded ship lay with one wing dipping in the
river. So familiar had long acquaintance with the various models of
flying boats made Jack, that as a rule it required only a single glance
to tell him the make of any ship he was seeing for the first time.

"A single-seat open-cockpit Stinson-Detroiter, if I know my onions," he
was telling himself, "and I'll be hanged if I ever did know of the mail
being carried in these days aboard one of those older types of craft.
Looks like it had been used more or less in the bargain. I understood,
somehow or other, that Buddy Warner was using a cabin ship--but he might
have changed over to this for some reason."

Still this fact was perhaps the entering wedge that started a dim
suspicion in Jack's mind so that after entering the small boat and
having Perk wield the dumpy paddle, he eyed the waiting figure of the
wrecked pilot as if making some sort of decision.

Just then Perk gave one of his queer grunts and in a husky whisper that
barely reached the ears of his chum went on to say:

"Jack, would you b'lieve me, that there ain't our Buddy a'tall--never
did set eyes on this here youngster, for a fact. Hot ziggetty dog! now
ain't that the rottenest luck ever?"

Jack made no reply, but Perk's discovery only justified the suspicion
that had been forming in his own mind. Then they had had their drop into
the canyon all for naught--at least so far as the discovery of the
missing air-mail pilot was concerned.

True, the other was in something of a predicament, but he did not seem
to be seriously injured and when another day dawned his need of
assistance would surely be discovered by those connected with the big
hotel, so that after all his troubles were only for a brief while.

Still, they had made the swoop and being on hand it would hardly seem
decent and courteous for them to hold back, when possibly they could be
of more or less help.

This being the case, Jack held his own counsel and made no answer to
Perk's show of disappointment that almost bordered on resentment He
stepped out of the boat on to the sand when the bobbing craft grounded
and waited for Perk to toss the rope to him so their clumsy craft might
not yield to the wooing of that treacherous current and pass
down-stream, leaving the pair of them marooned.

Now that he found himself close to the stranger, Jack could see that he
appeared to be a mere wisp of a lad. His helmet was on his head, with
the goggles pushed up, he wore what seemed to be almost new dungarees
for they had a fresh appearance in startling contrast with those he and
Perk wore over their other clothes to take up all the grease and oil
that of necessity must be met with aboard any ship that required a motor
for propelling purposes.

Jack's first inclination was to decide the other must be one of those
dudish young chaps who sometimes drift into the ranks of flying men. Not
at all weak or yellow when occasion arose to prove their stamina, but so
constituted by nature that they can "carry on" and yet show little signs
of the ordinary pilot's addiction to dirt.

He stepped toward the other, leaving to Perk the job of finding some
means for securing the end of the rope, possibly to a stake driven into
the sand or perhaps to the nearby wreck of the Stinson-Detroiter ship.

"Seems that you've had a little mishap, stranger," Jack remarked with
one of his pleasant smiles that always won him friends wherever he went.
"If we can be of any assistance just call on us. It's a part of our
creed, you know, for air pilots to stand by one another in difficulty.
Perhaps your boat may not be so badly smashed but what we can knock it
into shape and get it up out of this queer old hole."

He saw the boy drop the look of anxiety that had marked his face and
even allow his features to relax in a smile.

"I don't know how I can thank you for saying that--I am so eager to get
out of this scrape, the worst that ever happened to me, but then I am
something of a greenhorn pilot as yet, though even that fact couldn't
keep me from trying my wings. I _must_ get out of this and be on my way
again."

And even as he listened to those pleading words, Jack realized that the
pilot of the crashed Stinson-Detroiter plane was a girl!



                                   XV

                            THE HAND OF FATE


It was a surprising discovery that Jack had just made, but after all not
so very wonderful. In these modern days a multitude of daring girls and
young women were becoming air minded and filled with the ambition to
become pilots. The fascination of such a life appealed to them with
irresistible force so that already some of them had made a most
creditable showing in the annals of aviation.

For one thing the fact that the one he had offered to help had turned
out to be a girl gave Jack a twinge--he realized that more than ever he
and Perk would be obliged to "stick around," and endeavor to overcome
her difficulties, if the disabilities of the wrecked plane could in any
way be remedied.

That was apt to mean a further delay in their work, a serious handicap,
since already too much time had passed if there remained any further
hope of finding poor Buddy Warner.

"Tell me, did you come through this crash without being seriously hurt
yourself?" he asked her.

Perk must have made the same sudden discovery as Jack for he was
standing near by, staring hard at the novice pilot and with his mouth
open. Possibly Perk also deplored the fact that their meeting with a
woman flyer was bound to interfere more or less with those plans of his
pal's which above all things concerned the need of speedy action,
unhampered liberty of going where they willed and staying on the job
steadily, come storm, fog, riotous wind or fair weather.

"A few little bruises seems to be the extent of my injuries--next to
nothing, I assure you, but if they were ten times as serious it would
not keep me from going up again, if my ship were workable--indeed, it is
absolutely necessary for me to do so!"

Jack looked at her again. Most assuredly she did have the necessary
stamina required of a successful air pilot. He did not believe any
ordinary peril could deter such a girl from attempting what she had
planned.

"I am glad to know that you were not badly hurt, he told her, but it's
plain to be seen you must have handled your stick cleverly or your ship
would have crashed ten times as hard as it did. The first thing to be
done is for us to check the craft over and learn the extent of the
damage. If, luckily, it happens to be but a broken wing, possibly we can
fix it up well enough to get the boat out of this fearful hole. However
did it happen you picked out this place to come down in, or was it just
by a rare chance? You could not have found as good a landing-field
inside of a hundred miles I reckon, miss."

She smiled at hearing him address her by that title, since it was the
first real evidence that he understood the situation.

"I suppose it was partly luck," she told him simply, "although I did
have an idea it would be a hundred per cent better to fall on what
looked like a sandy shore down here, than take chances with those
terrible rocks up above. Just what I did and how I landed so easily, I'm
not at all certain about, but Heaven was kind and yet I hope never to
find myself in the same bad fix again. Did you say you would take a look
at my ship and find out what's wrong? It's kind of you to go to all that
trouble, but I must get out of this as soon as possible--oh! I surely
must!"

Jack could not help being struck with the way she said this, with her
pretty sun and wind-tanned face taking on a determined, resolute
expression. He would not have been human to thus hear and see without
beginning to wonder what is could be that influenced her to speak so.
Why should she show such a yearning for a chance to continue her flight?
What genuine reason could a girl have for such an overwhelming desire
for action? Was there any sort of endurance race on the books for women
pilots who had recently obtained their necessary flying licenses--or was
it some sort of a private wager that caused her to betray so much
solicitude?

Would he and Perk be justified in holding over so as to get her started,
granting that her ship could be put in condition again by means of their
combined knowledge and ability along those lines?

Somehow, when he looked keenly into her face, he failed to discover the
faintest trace of guile thereon. Once convinced of this fact, Jack threw
every suspicion to the four winds and came to the conclusion that both
duty and the natural chivalry in his nature compelled him to do all that
was possible to aid a fellow pilot in distress.

"Perk, suppose you tote that painter up to the ship here and fasten it.
We've got a little job on our hands for I've promised this young lady to
check up and learn how badly her boat has been wrecked. By the way miss,
you haven't so far told us your name--mine happens to be Jack Ralston
and this is my partner, Perk--Gabe Perkiser in full."

"And mine is Suzanne Cramer--one of the newcomers in the ranks of women
air pilots. It hasn't been so long since they gave me my license, after
I'd done my full allowance of solo flying. This is my own ship--I bought
it secondhand, but in perfect condition. Until today I have never had
any trouble but the engine started to miss and I knew I must land or
crash dreadfully. Please see if there's any hope for my getting out of
this place soon, for it means everything in the world to me."

Jack saw that suspicious old bachelor, Perk give him a solemn look and
wink his left eye, just as though he distrusted the wisdom of their
wasting precious minutes trying to help a flighty little girl pilot,
evidently on some sort of a silly lark and making out that it was a most
important matter indeed--as most girls always do, according to his
limited knowledge.

Thereupon Jack shook his head at scoffing Perk, knowing as he did how
the other was inclined to be a woman-hater.

"Come on Perk, now that you've made our ferry secure let's get busy and
see what's what here. You take the off wing and I'll look over the near
one, then we can double-up on the engine and reach a conclusion. It
won't take us long, Perk and it's a duty every decent pilot owes to his
class, remember."

"Okay Boss, jest as you say, I'm willin'; but all the same it looks to
me like it'd turn out to be a bum job. That old bus has been given some
hard knocks an' won't tune up worth a red cent."

The girl thereupon uttered a little pitiable moan that influenced Jack
to turn a bit sternly upon his pal and say quickly:

"No snap judgment Perk! You never can tell how badly things are until
you give them the first over. Come on now, partner I know you well
enough to be sure you'll give an honest verdict, no matter what comes."

"Sure thing, Jack--my dad taught me to 'hew straight to the line, let
the chips fall where they will'--that's been the Perkiser motto right
along, an' see where it carried us as a family. Got one uncle sheriff o'
a county in Kansas an' another at the head o' a hot dog emporium, which
is goin' some, I want you to know."

The girl looked as though amused at Perk's quaint way of saying things
but that anxious, eager expression quickly came upon her face again.

For some little time the pair rummaged around and seemed to act as
though they both knew their business, as well as the makeup of any plane
ever conceived by the human mind. Perk knocked on this and that, made
all manner of little tests where he believed were necessary, and in
other ways carried himself as befitted by education and calling to be a
judge of an airship's anatomy.

She followed them about, always intently watching and squeezing her
hands in a way to show how wrought up she must be with the suspense.
Then, when they were through with the inspection and checking up, Jack
and Perk "went into a huddle," as the latter would have termed it,
nodding their heads and talking in low tones. Finally Jack was shoved
forward by the other as the one who ought to bring the sad tidings to
the distressed girl pilot.

"Oh! you have something dreadful to tell me," she cried out, wringing
her hands. "Is it too badly wrecked for you to fix up so I can pull out
of this awful hole and take off again?"

"I'm sorry to say, Miss Cramer," Jack told her, "your boat is so badly
knocked out that it can never be taken out of this place by its own
power. It will, I fear, have to be dismantled and carried up piece-meal,
to be shipped to the company's works for rebuilding."

She put up her quivering hands to her face and started crying.

"Oh! it is terrible--just _terrible_, when he needs me so! Three days
have passed already, and I felt that if any one could find him surely
love would show me the way. What will poor Mother Warner say when she
fails to hear from me as I promised? Poor Mother, and poor Buddy. What
will happen to us all?"



                                  XVI

                            SUZANNE INSISTS


What seemed to be the whole truth flashed into Jack's mind when he heard
the grieving girl pilot express the sentiments that influenced her into
making this far-flung flight so soon after winning her new pilot's
license.

It staggered him, too--not so much that Suzanne should thus turn out to
be Buddy Warner's sweetheart, though in itself that was decidedly
interesting; but to think how a strange and perverse Fate had so decreed
that she should meet up with the pair who had been deputized by the
Department at Washington to start forth, and do everything in their
power to solve the mystery of Buddy's strange disappearance, also, _if
possible_, accomplish his finding.

As for Perk, who apparently had seen a great light all of a sudden, just
as Jack had done, almost "threw a fit." He declared later on, when he
could ponder, how many thousand chances there were against anything like
this lucky meeting coming to pass.

Jack, chancing to let his gaze wander that way, could see Perk staring
with round eyes at the inspired face of the brave girl. He also feebly
scratched his head with slow movements, just as if his wits had gone
astray under the shock.

"Can it be possible, Suzanne," stammered Jack, grinning amiably the
while, "that you happen to be----er, Buddy's _sweetheart_--what you
might call his 'best girl'?"

She regarded him with an encouraging smile, and nodded her head,
forgetting to cry, as though something in his way of saying this bade
her hug fresh hope to her heart.

"Why, yes, most certainly I am--we expected to be married in another
three months--Buddy's got the dear little cottage on the way, and
everything was planned--and then came that dreadful news telling how he
was lost somewhere among these awful mountains. My ship was being
repaired, for I had had a slight accident in making too fast a landing
on rough ground, and it took nearly two days for those slow poke
mechanics to get it checked up again--two frightful days that I never
want to live again. Then I hopped off, and came here, for the boys at
the flying field told me just where he must have gone down, you know.
Perhaps it was a crazy thing to do--they tried to persuade me to give it
up, but I had promised Mother Warner to find him--and what was the use
of my being a full-fledged air pilot if I had to stay a _kiwi_--stick to
the ground, when my Buddy needed me so?"

"Still, it was an unwise thing for you to have done, though nobody could
blame you, because Buddy was well worth taking chances for. But, you
must have realized there would be scores of skillful pilots on the job,
every one bent on finding your boy, if it lay in human power. My pal and
I are in the employ of Uncle Sam--taken off all other business, and set
to making a wide search--we have come all the way from Cheyenne, through
the worst fog bank that ever was known, just for that purpose, which
makes it seem doubly strange how we should have been brought in contact
with you, Miss Cramer."

She smiled through her tears, and then went on hastily to say:

"I can only think it was Providence answering the prayers I have been
sending up ever since the dreadful word came to us there in our little
town, that Buddy has put on the map. Oh! I am sure the way was opened up
to me--that now you know who and what I am, you could not have the heart
to leave me here while you took up the search I had dedicated myself to
carry out!"

Jack evidently could give a pretty shrewd guess as to what lay back of
her words--she undoubtedly meant to implore them to let her accompany
them in their hunt.

So he scratched his chin in a way he had when placed in a dilemma--Perk,
saw him do that and understood how matters stood; for he grinned
shamelessly, as though it actually tickled him to see his best pal
placed in such a hole, with no way out save in yielding.

"Er--much as I--we, that is--would like to oblige you, Miss Cramer--I'm
afraid it would be impossible. We belong to a Department of the
Government that frowns on our mixing up what they call business with
pleasure. They set us on this job, and that means we've got to take off
without any more delay than we can possibly help--I'm sure you'll
understand what I mean."

Perk grinned some more, just as if he had an idea his usually dependable
pal hardly knew himself what he was aiming at. The girl novice pilot
looked grieved, and then brightened up.

"But--what's to become of _me_ then--you surely wouldn't be so mean as
to leave me here in this dreadful hole all night--I'd go out of my mind
with thinking every little sound meant that some ferocious wild beast
was creeping up on my fire, ready to make a meal of me; which of course
would be rough, after all those fierce lessons in the air, and actually
getting my pilot's license after all. And besides, I did really and
truly promise Ma Warner I'd find Buddy, and fetch him back home with
me."

Jack looked at her entreating face, gave a glance at the grinning Perk,
drew a long breath, shrugged his shoulders with the air of saying in
desperation: "That's that then; and what are you going to do about it,
when a young woman sets you on a red-hot gridiron like that."

There seemed nothing to do but capitulate, and make the best of a bad
bargain. After all it was not as if they could find no room for
Suzanne--she was such a little thing, and besides their new cloud-chaser
was capable of carrying a weight almost twice the amount of the present
cargo, gas and all.

"All right, then, Miss Cramer, we'll take you with us when we start out
of here," he told her, allowing himself to shut off his feeling of near
dismay, and actually smiled again in his accustomed way.

"Oh! thank you so much--Jack," she told him, with sincerity in both
voice and manner. "I promise not to give you the least trouble, and
perhaps I could make myself useful sooner or later, especially if we
_do_ find my Buddy, and he--should be badly injured, so as to need a
nurse's care--for you see I was on my way to be a trained nurse when I
got air-minded, and set out to be a flyer, so sometimes I might go with
Buddy."

"But this will mean we must all of us remain here in the great canyon
for the night," he reminded her.

"But that would be wasting many hours, and he needing me so much," she
complained, with a pitiful look that made Jack regret his inability to
start right off and be doing.

"Listen, please," he said, gently but firmly, "you can see by looking up
that the sun has set, and night is creeping out--already down in this
deep hole it's next to impossible for any one to see what might lie in
the way; so that makes it too risky to try and pull out. I'd like as not
wreck my ship by running up against a snag in the water, or a stray
boulder on the shore. Whether we took you with us or not I'd made up my
mind to stick it out here for the night."

"Yes," here broke in Perk, who evidently thought he was due to "butt in"
and have his little say, "and besides, even if we did manage to make the
riffle without bustin', what could we do knockin' around in the
dark--just a sheer waste o' good gas, an' gettin' nowhere a'tall."

Since it was now two against one, and they both seemed so kind, Suzanne
wisely gave in.

"You've convinced me, Jack, and I'll say no more," she told him sweetly;
"but do you know I haven't had a bite to eat for ever so long; though Ma
did make me take aboard enough rations to feed a regiment, including tea
and coffee, as well as an assortment of pots and pans."

Perk immediately betrayed fresh interest in life, for it was wonderful
how the fellow brightened up, as though just then realizing that he
himself must be perilously close to starvation.

"We'll help you get them out o' the bus, lady," he hastened to say; "if
so be you'll kindly show us where they be--ain't that so, partner?"

Jack did not seem at all averse to such a proceeding--why not make
things as pleasant as possible since a capricious Fate had thrown their
fortunes together in this mad way?

"Suppose you attend to all that, Perk," he told the other, knowing how
efficient his partner was along such lines; "while you're doing it under
Miss Cramer's directions I'll take another look at her crate, and see
just how we can drag it further back from the river, so it will be safe
when we're gone."



                                  XVII

                         THE CAMP IN THE CANYON


Things immediately began to happen, and for the time being amidst the
excitement of showing Perk just where the stores and things were located
aboard the stranded Stinson-Detroiter, Miss Cramer seemed to temporarily
forget the load of trouble she was carrying on her little shoulders.

Indeed, as Jack had already sized her up, she was rather a remarkable
sort of a girl--so sensible, so level-headed, and truly brave in the
bargain. Under such a heavy strain he felt certain ninety-nine girls out
of a hundred would have given way to their helplessness, and collapsed;
but here this one had taken her courage in both hands, to set out in the
expectation of accomplishing a task that thus far had baffled a score or
more of the greatest aviation aces the country had ever known.

Soon the energetic Perk had landed everything in the line of eatables
and such truck as Ma Warner--bless her dear old heart, Perk was saying
to himself as he noted what a volume of good stuff lay in the mound he
had erected--had denuded her pantry in order that her beloved boy should
have enough to keep starvation at bay, when Suzanne had eventually found
him.

It was almost ludicrous to Jack to learn with what abiding faith those
two who loved Buddy so well had lost no time in starting the lone
expedition on its way; just as though they fully expected Suzanne, now a
full-fledged pilot, and feeling able to conquer the world, could be
attracted to the very spot where Buddy lay helpless, by the spark of
true love--to them it must be like the magnetic needle, always pointing
so faithfully straight at the North Pole, and the star that hung over
it.

"Bless her heart"--Jack was telling himself later on, as he listened to
her talking so cheerfully, while busying herself in cooking the supper,
with Perk attending to the fire, and offering to help in "any old way."
"She wouldn't have had a tinker's chance to do anything in this wild
rocky country--only have her own crate crash, and double the tragedy. So
it's lucky for them both we made this same queer contact tonight."

Jack was certainly vastly amused to watch how his cranky chum seemed to
be acting. Usually Perk would have little or nothing to do with the
other sex--Jack strongly suspected that at some time in his misty past
Perk might have been "turned down" by some girl in whom he was becoming
interested, and so allowed his whole life to be soured by the
experience.

But then this was different, and perhaps the affection he had once felt
for Buddy Warner made him feel warmly toward a girl who adored the same
chubby young flyer and who had forgotten her weakness as a newly fledged
pilot, and struck out so boldly in hopes of finding the one who was
lost.

The supper was voted a great success, especially by Perk, who drank
innumerable cups of hot coffee, which he pronounced "nectar for the
gods," growing a bit poetical in his exalted state of happiness.
Suzanne, too, proved herself to be a wonderful cook, and Perk found
himself quite envying Buddy--that is, if he was ever really found, and
alive in the bargain--in having such a good helpmate and life partner to
prepare wonderful meals for him every day in the year.

Afterwards he and Jack set about the job of dragging the single-seater
Stinson-Detroiter something like forty feet back from the edge of the
river, where it could stay until later on, when Suzanne might find a
chance to visit the scene again, or send mechanics to dismantle her
ship, and pack the parts back to the factory for reassembling.

She even wrote something on a sheet of paper, which latter was attached
to the wreck, and would doubtless serve to keep any curious tourists
from damaging her property. So, too, she made up a small package of
certain articles which she wished particularly to save, or would be apt
to need for her personal comfort which, she assumed, might be taken with
them on the coming voyage.

"In the morning," said Jack, after all these things had been attended
to, "I'm meaning to ask you to let us transfer what gas you have aboard
your bus to our own tank--it will be wasted here, while in our hands it
may save us from spending many valuable hours running off to replenish
our wasted supply. Of course I shall see that you are eventually
reimbursed, Miss Cramer. Even as little as fifty gallons would mean we
could stick to our job so much longer, and then too it might be the
means of bringing us success."

"And if I had a million gallons every drop would be gladly devoted to
the sacred task you have so loyally undertaken," she told him, with a
suspicious glow in her eyes, which Jack imagined might be caused by
bravely repressed tears. "I think it is just wonderfully fine the way
you two--and all those other brave men--have been so willing to spend
their time, hour after hour, scouring the whole country in hopes of
finding--my Buddy."

So Jack had to tell her how the entire world of flyers were like a
company of blood brothers; an injury to one being resented by the entire
calling--that their universal braving of the elements, and meeting
similar perils in their daily work, made a bond like no other on earth,
a kinship of like interests.

She was as yet only a novice, but already she had begun to have
something of a similar exalted feeling toward other air pilots, so that
it was not difficult for Suzanne to understand his meaning.

She told them not to worry about her--that she could easily make herself
comfortable in the limited confine of her cockpit. True, it had no roof
for shelter; but that bothered her not at all she told them, since she
had camped many times in the open without even a canvas tent, or brush
shanty; and besides, the stars were shining brightly overhead, showing
they need fear nothing in the way of bad weather during the night.

Perk again assured himself that she was a mighty sensible and
clear-headed little girl, and that if there were only more like her,
perhaps--well, there couldn't be, and besides he'd never have the chance
to run across any of that class--it just wouldn't be his good luck.

It was something to make Jack look back to that same evening for years
to come. He as well as Perk had spent many a night in camp, when on
fishing trips, or it might be hunting hikes up in the big woods; but no
other camp could have such a royal setting as this one did.

The lofty walls running up as if to touch the star-decked sky, and as
they knew full well that with those vivid colors making a nature
painting beyond all imagination, that the loud song of the happy river
flowing through the greatest gorge in all the wide world, that the
blazing campfire, throwing up soaring sparks seemed like bright
messengers of hope to Suzanne as she sat there drinking it all in. It
filled to the brim the longings connected with the missing air mail
pilot. Then, too, there was present that air of eternal mystery such as
would be apt to brood over the spot where ages back the Zuni, and other
Indian tribes, had lived in those quaint stone houses still to be found
all through the hundred miles of the Colorado Canyon.

Perk knew very well that as a rule there was no danger from wild
animals--that frequently parties made it a point to spend at least one
night camping in the canyon, just to say they had gone through such a
weird experience; and he had never heard of them being disturbed by man
or beast.

Just the same, with this glorious chance opening up to him, Perk was
persuaded to imagine himself constituted as the sole guardian of the
fine girl aviatrix, into whose company they had so strangely fallen.
Then, too he welcomed the opportunity to again handle that
sub-machine-gun, which had been placed in his possession by the
Government at the time he and Jack were running down the smuggling ring
leaders on the Florida Coast, and a return of which had never thus far
been demanded by the authorities.

Jack realized what was in the mind of his chum when he saw Perk looking
over that powerful weapon with infinite joy; and while he did not
imagine for a minute that there would arise any chance for requiring its
services, still, since it afforded romantic Perk a good excuse for
posing as a vigilant sentry, Jack held his peace, taking it out by
giving his pal a few significant sly winks, to which the other deigned
to take no notice whatsoever.

Neither of them knew what arrangements Suzanne had made for sleeping in
the limited confines of her cockpit; but she bade them goodnight, and
climbed aboard with the greatest nonchalance imaginable, as though this
thing of camping out under all manner of inconveniences might be an old
story with her, as indeed Jack thought was more than probable.



                                 XVIII

                           THE VIGILANT GUARD


It had been arranged between Jack and his mate that it would be just as
well for them to fetch their blankets ashore and settle down on the sand
for the remainder of the night.

In the first place, Jack thought it would not look very nice if they
went aboard their anchored amphibian and left poor Suzanne there alone.
Although she had not mentioned the matter at all, he felt sure it had
given her a few qualms and that in her mind she really hoped they might
decide to camp there by the fire.

Then again it would add to the girl's peace of mind, should she chance
to be lying awake, unable to lose herself because of the haunting fears
connected with the mystery of Buddy's fate, to raise her head and look
around to always find that cheery fire blazing, dispersing the gloom in
the immediate vicinity.

Last of all neither of them was so fond of doubling up and trying to
forget their bodily discomforts aboard their crate, that they could
afford to pass up a golden opportunity to sleep on solid ground, though
to be sure they were able to make the best of anything when duty bound.

So Perk went aboard by means of their ferry and returned with both dingy
gray blankets as well as something to serve as pillows, since they had
never made it a point to travel with such "soft stuff" as Perk always
scornfully termed them.

"You turn in whenever you feel like it, Boss," Perk had said with a
grin. "I'm not a bit sleepy, it happens an' 'sides I jest feel like
havin' another whiff or two--somehow this 'baccy seems sweeter to me
than I ever knowed it to be."

"It should," Jack told him, and evidently there must have been a
significant emphasis attached to those two words to make Perk look so
queer and finally grin in a most ridiculous way like a boy caught
robbing the jam jar or the cookey pot, and at a loss to explain the
situation.

Accordingly Jack rolled himself up in his covers, fixed his head rest to
suit his own notion, turned his back on the blazing fire and lost all
interest in everything saving getting his fair quota of slumber.

Perk sat there and smoked three pipes one after the other. Then feeling
a little draught of cool air on his back he dragged his blanket to him,
wrapped it around his form, and gun across his knees, continued to sit
with his back against a big boulder he had rolled down the sandy stretch
for some purpose or other.

He continued to sit there like one of the sentries they say were found
at their posts when the ruins of Herculaneum were cleared of the
accumulated ashes of centuries, close to the grim old volcano. Proving
how in those military days a soldier stuck to his post though the
heavens might fall upon him.

Twice Perk got up, threw an armful of fuel on the dying fire, smoked a
round of that "sweet" tobacco, cast a look of concern over toward where
the stranded plane lay, shook his head doggedly and resumed his former
position alongside the big boulder.

Apparently he had resolved to stay on duty throughout the entire night,
and since Perk had a vein of doggedness in his disposition the chances
were he would stick to his guns.

Perk may not have noticed it, but more than few times his chum's
covering would move just a trifle, allowing him to peep out and on each
occasion Jack would chuckle as if vastly entertained, after which it was
sleep again for him.

Midnight came and went.

Stars shone down upon the lonesome camp, gradually wheeling westward
until each in turn passed beyond the lofty rim of the canyon walls while
others climbed the eastern heavens to take their turn at peeping and
eventually follow the track of those who were by that time doubtless
setting beyond the genuine western horizon.

It must have been something like two in the morning when Perk waking up
from a disturbed nap, in which he was beset by a pack of savage timber
wolves with only a stout cudgel as a means of defense, caught a sound
that sent a delightful quiver chasing up and down his spine.

"By gum! what was _that_ now?" he asked himself, at the same time moving
the gun from his knee to a more elevated position.

His tingling nerves announced the delight that filled his heart in
contemplation of a possible chance to show how he could play guardian to
a camp where innocence slept. Suddenly awakened from such a wild dream,
Perk was in fine condition to see a pack of ferocious, gray, hungry,
four-footed pirates of the waste places creeping up here, there,
everywhere, with the intention of taking the camp by strategy and
devouring every solitary inmate.

His fire happened to be low so that the light even close by could hardly
be called worth while. Again Perk caught some sort of sound--to his
excited mind it seemed similar to an animal's nails scratching the dry
sand just at that point where the high river tide was wont to reach its
peak during the flood season.

Perk redoubled his efforts to see something moving while he nervously
fingered his modern shooting iron, so radically different from those old
guns used by the pioneer settlers of the virgin West in the early days
of the far-flung frontier.

Now his quivering changed its character to certainty and rapture. Most
surely he had caught a fleeting glimpse of some object that was slowly
and cautiously creeping up toward the slumbering campfire.

A wolf--just one of the precious pack that had bothered him in his late
dream--but then he had only himself to consider, whereas now it meant
three separate human lives in peril. How his teeth gritted as he
mentally called the slinking beast every opprobrious name he could think
of, his finger meanwhile playing with the trigger that, once pulled,
would start the long line of cartridges contained in the endless belt to
discharging like a pack of firecrackers popping to commemorate the
birthday of the good old U. S. A.

Yes, there could be no longer any doubt--he had not deceived himself
after all, as he was beginning to suspect. Now the thing had ceased to
move and was starting to rise up on all four legs, as though to be in
readiness to answer the call of the pack leader when it came time to
charge.

"It's goodbye to you, sneaker and robber on four legs!" muttered Perk
grimly as he put the butt of the gun up to his shoulder, covered the
half seen figure, and pressed the trigger.

A burst of firing instantly followed as the mechanical gun commenced to
bombard the particular spot where Perk had discovered the first of the
oncoming pack. The reports came thick and fast, following on each
others' heels and so it would continue to the end of the string unless
Perk himself stopped the mechanism.

By the time he had thrown half a dozen leaden messengers at that one
point, he felt he had effectually rid the world of one thief and
marauder for which he should have the thanks of every decent person.
Then Perk started to swing his arm from left to right, fully
anticipating seeing a host of monster companions of his initial victim
bounding forward and coming within range of the line of fire from his
still spitting machine gun.

Nothing of the sort greeted his astonished eyes--in fact there was not
the first sign of a single monster raider--only Jack indignantly bawling
him out and demanding to know what in the devil he meant arousing the
entire camp with such a racket, and spoiling the rest of the night for
sleep.

So Perk instantly shut off the deadly stream of fire that was expected
to slay the whole pack of fiendish wolves as he swung his gun around
with a circular movement.

"Whatever ailed you Perk, to set that thing going like mad?" Jack
demanded, as he scrambled out of his enfolding blanket and advanced
toward his chum, keeping a nervous eye on the gun meanwhile as if afraid
Perk, whom he believed had been dreaming, would start it going again.

"Wolves--heaps an' heaps o' 'em--dreamed they had me cornered, with on'y
a club to hold the pack off--then I woke up, and sure as you live, they
was acomin' right in on us--saw one whoppin' big feller right over
yonder an' let him have the whole works. Looky yourself Jack--honest to
goodness he's lyin' right there where I knocked him cold."

Jack gave him a laugh and hastened over to see for himself just how much
truth there could be in what the other had said with so much
earnestness.



                                  XIX

                           OVER-ZEALOUS PERK


"Perk!"

Strangely enough, while the late sharpshooter had seemed so positive
concerning the identity and present status of his victim, he had not
displayed the eagerness one might reasonably expect in such a sturdy
guardian of the camp, to follow at Jack's heels.

"Yeah! what is it, old hoss?" he now asked, keeping one eye on the
cockpit of the nearby Stinson-Detroiter, under the belief he saw a
slight movement there, as though the girl pilot had been suddenly
awakened from her sound slumber and was peeping out to ascertain the
cause of the late terrific bombardment.

"Come over here and see your monster timber wolf," Jack was saying.

Perk shrugged his shoulders, as though some dim suspicion of the truth
might be already knocking at the door of his valiant heart, but since
there was nothing else to be done he stiffened up and walked with
soldierly tread to where Jack ominously awaited his coming.

"There he lies, fairly riddled," the other was saying, pointing as he
thus greeted the arrival of the vigilant one. "He never had a chance to
even give a single peep after you opened up on him--must have imagined
yourself away back again on that Argonne front and sending another Hun
ship down wrapped in flames, eh Perk?"

"Huh! he don't look _quite_ as big as I guessed he was," admitted the
now contrite marksman, beginning to weaken. "Mebbe I wasted too many
slugs on the onery critter--sorter shot him to pieces you might say."

Jack laughed and Perk started, under the belief that evidences of
feminine amusement drifted out of their cockpit close by as though
Suzanne understood, and was not only interested but highly entertained
in the bargain.

"That's a good one partner, for you sure _did_ knock spots out of the
poor little yellow sap--chances are he followed some party down here
yesterday, got to hunting around on his own hook, and missed them when
they started up Angel Trail. Then he discovered the light of your fire
here and hoping he'd run upon real friends who'd toss him a scrap of
meat, was crawling up to investigate when you blasted him with that
fierce volley. Poor confiding little beast, a victim of mistaken
identity."

"Migosh, a prairie dog!" muttered the astonished and mortified Perk,
gazing ruefully down at the huddled mess before him, not too plainly
seen on account of the fire flashing up only fitfully, being in need of
more fuel.

"It's all right, Perk old man," soothed Jack, knowing just how mean his
chum must be feeling, with that unseen girl a witness to his upset and
her low gurgles of laughter coming distinctly to their ears in the
bargain, "your intentions were okay, and you certainly did pot him
neatly. No danger of any poacher stealing from a camp where you've taken
up your post as sentry. That vivid dream you mentioned must have got on
your nerves and when you discovered a moving figure, naturally enough
your first thought was of sneaking four-footed mountain wolves about to
make a raid."

"Hot ziggetty dog! I sure must 'a' had the jimjams all right," chuckled
Perk, beginning to throw off that stupid feeling of being only half
awake and even able to laugh at the joke on himself.

"Jack," said a merry, girlish voice just then, "tell your friend not to
be worried about me. I've shot more than a few wolves and coyotes for I
was born and brought up in the cow country you see. It's all right,
Perk, don't feel badly about it. I know it was just to stand up in my
defense that made you so speedy on the trigger. Only gave me a little
scare until I guessed what it all meant. I'm going to sleep some more,
though it's a hard job to get Buddy's frightful predicament out of my
mind."

"And Perk," said Jack, throwing an arm affectionately across the
shoulders of his mate, "you turn this job over to me now and get a few
winks before morning comes creeping along out of the east over there to
start us on our way again. I'll sit right here, holding your old cannon
and woe to the wolf, coyote or even another yellow cur that dares to
sneak in on us."

So after all Perk was not feeling so very badly on account of his
fiasco, though it did make him grimace to remember that those bright
eyes of Buddy's best girl had been an amused witness to his humiliation.

He did not say another word, but humbly handed over the sub-machine-gun
to his companion and dropped down near the fire upon which he had tossed
a fresh supply of fuel. Secretly he was meaning to be up at peep of day
before Suzanne would be stirring, in order to drag the victim of his
fusilade some distance away from their camp so that her curious eyes
might not be offended by sight of the wreck of a little harmless prairie
dog.

The balance of that wonderful night, spent alongside the Colorado in the
famous canyon of the painted walls, passed without a single thing
happening to further disturb them.

In the east, where the mountain peaks made a ragged horizon, the first
faint fingers of pink were commencing to streak the low heavens when
Jack saw his chum moving off toward the spot where lay the victim of his
deadly aim. He instinctively understood what Perk was aiming to do and
on that account refrained from calling out or otherwise taking any
notice of his being abroad.

When Perk came back ten minutes later and washed his hands down at the
river brink, Jack only chuckled, as though it tickled him to notice how
the flinty-hearted Perk--only with regard to his indifference toward all
female persons--had discovered that there might still be a few--not
many, perhaps--girls who were sincere and loyal to the one to whom they
had pledged their hearts--lucky Buddy Warner, with all this uncertainty
regarding his fate--at the worst there would be _some one_ to always
mourn his passing.

On came the day, and Perk busied himself in getting a good cooking fire
going, remembering what a delicious supper the girl had prepared on the
preceding evening; and his mouth now fairly watering with hopes of
another turn at that royal ambrosia which some people without sentiment
will call plain "coffee."

Suzanne presently joined them, after washing her pretty face down at the
running water, which was icy cold, and most refreshing indeed. Then she
busied herself at the fire, ordered the meek and obedient Perk around
after the manner of most petty and pretty kitchen tyrants; but the fine
odors that were soon filling the rarified air buoyed up Perk's spirits
wonderfully and he raised no rebellion.

And the breakfast to which they soon sat down was just as delicious as
fancy had pictured; indeed, the only thing amiss so far as the ravenous
Perk could discover was the fact that it might give out before all of
them had had a sufficiency.

"Now, let's get busy transferring that gas to our tank, Perk," Jack
observed, as they finally arose. "We'll have to get our boat up on the
shore, you observe--a case of Mahomet going to the mountain--let's go,
partner."

This was not so difficult as it might seem; for the sandy shore was
shelving, and once Jack gave her the gun the amphibian literally "walked
up" to where they wanted her to be, alongside the Stinson-Detroiter
plane.

Perk produced a length of small rubber tubing, and made use of it as a
siphon. Once the gasoline was started, by suction--Perk attended to that
part by sucking the air all out, and getting a mouthful of liquid to pay
him for his trouble, which he ejected with a grimace--it continued to
flow until the tank aboard the amphibian was plumb full.

"I can scare up several five-gallon empty tins," suggested the wise
Perk, "that might be filled, and stowed away somewhere--that would give
us a reserve stock, plenty I guess to carry us to the nearest supply
base in case our tank went dry."

"A mighty good idea, boy," was Jack's comment, he being glad to see how
the other was recovering from his late depression.

They finally had everything settled--Suzanne had put up her little
"sign," to let curious-minded folks wandering that way know who owned
the abandoned crate, and that it was to be let absolutely alone until
she came to salvage it. Then, too, she had made up her little package of
"essentials," which she meant to take along when they zoomed off to
start the real search for lost Buddy Warner.

As they settled down in their places, room having been found for the
girl pilot, Suzanne waved her hand a bit sadly toward her impotent
crate, as though certain high hopes she had been entertaining were now
fallen in ruins; then she smiled again, watching closely to see Jack
gripping the stick and letting in the gas to the attendant spark, when
they were off.



                                   XX

                          AN UNSUBDUED SPIRIT


Backed by plenty of daylight there was no difficulty at all experienced
in mounting. The sand was packed quite hard as sometimes happens at the
seashore, particularly in highly favored localities like down at Daytona
Beach on the eastern coast of Florida, where the speed races are run
every season. After the wheels contained in the aluminum pontoons left
the ground not a single obstacle stood in the way of their climbing
steadily upward, until presently they could look out over the sweep of
rough country surrounding that strangest of all Dame Nature's trick
pictures--the Colorado Canyon.

Jack had his plans all laid out, built upon his charts, and the general
fund of knowledge gleaned from some of the newspaper accounts that he
had kept by him; after shuffling the pack, and discarding all
unsupported versions as unreliable guides for stranger air pilots to go
by.

Having set the course Jack had Perk handle the stick, for it was his
intention to have a good talk with Suzanne, something he had not managed
to accomplish thus far.

She understood just what he had in mind when he took up one end of the
earphone harness, and made motions; for the racket was too fierce to
think of trying to make his ordinary speaking voice heard--indeed, she
had already shown a certain amount of curiosity concerning the
apparatus, possibly knowing what it was intended for, although never
herself having as yet had occasion to make use of such a means of
communication when in flight.

He soon had the straps adjusted to suit her small head, and then
proceeded to arrange his own end. His main purpose was far from being
connected with anything like curiosity, for somehow he had a faint hope
something she could tell him might open up a line of reasoning, and
produce a live clue, which was just what was lacking in his plans.

"I'm meaning to ask you some questions, Miss Cramer," he went on to say;
"in hopes that you may be able to give me some little valuable hint; for
up to now everybody must be working more or less in the dark. You see,
all that's known to be positive is that Buddy took off from a certain
station where he delivered some important mail, picked up a local sack,
and then took off at a specified hour and minute. After that he was not
heard from again--failed to show up at either of the succeeding
stations, and was awaited in vain at the end of his run.

"For a time nothing much was thought of his delay in turning up; because
of any one of several things that might have held him back--fog, head
winds, or some trifling trouble compelling him to make a forced landing,
which in this dreadful country of rocks and gullies among mountain peaks
usually is attended by serious difficulties, especially the getting off
again when the trouble has been attended to."

Then he went on to tell her what he had deducted, after carefully
getting the gist of what all the newspaper men had discovered up to
within twenty-four hours of the present time; the deeply interested girl
listening eagerly, and occasionally nodding her head, as though quite
agreeing with his reasoning.

"Now," Jack went on to say--after bringing his story down to where he
and Perk had received their orders from Washington, took off, butted
against a most tenacious fog belt, and finally brought up at the Canyon,
where they made her acquaintance--"Tell me please, when and how you
first heard that Buddy was missing, if it would not be too painful a
recital."

"Oh! that will not keep me from speaking," she hastened to say, trying
bravely to keep the tears from dimming her eyes: "nothing could be too
painful for me to endure if only it works to _his_ good in the end. We
read the dreadful news in the daily paper that comes to Ma Warner's home
every morning, it being mailed in the big city not a hundred miles away.
She always hunts up the aviation column the very first thing. Why not,
when she has an only son who is known as an experienced and reliable
air-mail pilot and also knows that she is going to have a second
ambitious flyer in the family soon, if all goes well, and I find Buddy.

"Of course we were very apprehensive, what with the neighbors running in
to sympathize, and cheer us up. Later on that same day a reporter from
the very paper in which we read the first news about Buddy, turned up,
having motored over across country, eager to pick up enough interesting
facts at the humble home of Buddy's anxious mother to make a thrilling
story for his editor.

"They have been saying some very kind things about our Buddy since he
disappeared so suddenly and mysteriously. He was one of the best liked
air-pilots in the whole corps, I read again and again; and oh! what a
thrill it gave us both to realize how he was even being compared to
Lindbergh himself. Could anything be said to make a mother's heart
thrill more with joy--or that of Buddy's best girl also?

"To be sure," she went on, with a winsome little smile, "he had never
done anything great, to make him famous, in the way of wonderful stunts,
or long perilous flights over wide oceans, and such, but every one
seemed to know how his heart has always been wrapped up in the cause of
aviation, and that he would be willing to lay down his very life if by
doing so he could advance the day when flying will be much safer than
going by train or boat."

Jack soon realized that there was no hope of learning anything from this
source capable of opening up a promising line of thought. Suzanne was
only too eager to tell everything she knew, but after all it amounted
only to an exhibition of her affection. How she conceived the madcap
idea of herself starting out, "only a half-baked pilot" she called
herself in humiliation, just hoping that something--she knew not what,
for it would have to be in the nature of a near miracle, as Jack very
well knew--would have to come along to draw her to where her Buddy must
be lying, waiting and praying for needful aid.

Jack knew very well, although not for worlds would he have hinted at
such a thing in her hearing, that since three full days had by this time
gone by, poor Buddy must long since have passed on. Unless of course
some Good Samaritan had found him where he lay injured and perhaps
starving, and taken him in charge. A happy accident like this was one
chance in a thousand because of the uninhabited wilderness.

She had pictured the old mother striving to believe God would surely
keep her boy safe in the hollow of His omnipotent hand, so that Jack had
to wink pretty fast in order not to let her see the tears in his own
eyes--such confidence and assurance was really beautiful; and for one
thing it caused Jack to resolve more than ever to let no ordinary
obstacle daunt him--for the sake of that fond mother and this courageous
if ill-advised young lady who just refused to yield to despondency even
when the skies looked most gloomy, and hope hung by just a slender
shred.

"Depend upon it, Miss Cramer," he told her, gently, after he realized
that nothing was to be gained by pressing her with further questioning;
"both Perk and myself are booked in this game, and we mean to leave no
stone unturned in trying to find Buddy. Others who are engaged in the
search will make all manner of sacrifices too. So great is the warmth of
feeling for that faithful mother who is forced to stay at home, and
leave the sacred task to strangers. If concerted effort is able to
accomplish anything we'll succeed; if all our efforts fail us, you must
try and believe it is for some wise purpose which we cannot see with the
weak human eyes."

She looked at him with an expression that made Jack realize how much of
her confident spirit was make believe--that deep down in her sensible
heart she knew very well what terrific chances there were against
success coming to reward their efforts--that much of this had been
assumed in the hope of buoying up the falling hopes of that poor mother,
left bereft of her only boy, the stay and pride of her aging years.

He saw her clamp her white teeth together as if forcing herself to brush
aside that sinking feeling, and show the old dauntless spirit that had
thus far carried her safely through a sea of doubts and fears.

When she spoke again it was with a ring in her voice that thrilled him
to the core--he only wished he could take on a measure of that
indomitable nature that would not give up.

"But we'll find him," she was saying, slowly but fiercely; "I just know
we will, that's all--his mother needs him, his only girl needs him, and
we've _got_ to bring him back to his old home--alive, or--dead!"



                                  XXI

                       COMBING THE MOUNTAIN-TOPS


Jack admitted to feeling a trifle disappointed when his talk with
Suzanne afforded no signs of a clue upon which to build a structure;
although truth to tell he realized how almost absurd that hope had been.

Surely Buddy's disappearance could hardly hinge upon anything that had
ever taken place in his old home town--such a cheery, companionable lad
could not have any enemies--Suzanne had not hinted at such a thing as a
jealous rival in the field, who might give way to wicked thoughts.

No, the whole occurrence must be what everybody believed--a sheer
accident, such as was liable to happen to any air pilot braving the
elements day and night in the pursuit of his regular vocation. He had
gone down, so now the only trouble was to locate the scene of his mishap
and, as Perk at another time had been heard to say "pick up the pieces,"
meaning no offense by such a remark.

"If you don't mind," the girl was saying shortly afterwards, "I'd like
very much to be allowed to use your glasses. I possess good vision, and
perhaps the great stake I have in this search might make me argus-eyed
indeed."

"Certainly you may make use of them," Jack told her, reaching out to
secure the binoculars, showing her how to work them to meet with the
best results. "If you do happen to see something that excites your
interest, just call our attention to it--sometimes two pair of eyes are
better than one, you know, Miss Cramer."

So she sat there, staring down as they moved swiftly through the realms
of space; but not too swiftly. She seemed to be trying to cover all the
ground possible, ever and anon lifting her gaze to sweep a look at more
distant objects.

Again and again she would stop in her movements as if to concentrate her
scrutiny upon one particular spot; Jack, watching with sympathy filling
his heart, could imagine how the poor girl must be suffering even though
failing to show it. He would feel a spasm of eagerness on each occasion
of special scrutiny only to lose it again as she continued her search of
the grim countryside that was so bleak and so unpromising.

Meantime Jack was keeping one eye on the lower heavens, with the
expectation of sooner or later discovering some far distant moving
object, that he would know must be some other air craft, doubtless
engaged in the same mission of humanity and mercy that employed all
their own efforts.

It turned out that he had not held these expectations in vain, for along
about the middle of the morning such a tiny blur was discovered far
away, which grew somewhat larger as the minutes passed.

Upon calling the girl's attention to the moving object that to the
unaided eye might just as well have been set down as a wheeling buzzard,
she quickly pronounced it to be a plane, sweeping at a low altitude
above the rocky mountain peaks, as though those aboard were scrutinizing
the depths and heights that lay underneath, just as she had been doing.

She cast frequent eager glances in that direction, while not allowing
her interest in the wild terrain over which they continued to pass, to
slacken. Jack could detect a certain wistfulness in the way she watched,
just as though she might be wishing them all the favors of Heaven in
meeting with success.

The ship swung around, and went off in another direction, as though the
pilot might be following out certain ideas of his own. While it was yet
in plain sight, though growing fainter in the lower haze, she uttered a
low cry, and said excitedly:

"Oh! look Jack, look over in the north--another ship, and a cabin
biplane at that. Do you think they are working on the same lines as the
rest of us?"

Jack reached out a hand for the binoculars, and took a good survey;
after which he announced that everything seemed to point that way.

"They're keeping low down, also moving quite slowly; and if on a regular
flight they would be doing neither of those things, you understand. Yes,
and I have no doubt that within a hundred-and-fifty miles of this spot
in every direction there are twenty--thirty such ships, large and small,
with each pilot doing everything in his power to be the lucky one to
find your Buddy."

She continued to observe the two planes as if lost in serious thought,
to finally say with a little catch in her voice, for she still had the
earphone harness attached to her head:

"I wish them every success possible; for it does not matter who the
lucky pilot is, every one of them will be remembered as long as I live.
The only thing that counts is to find _him_--alive!"

As if to emphasize the yearning that was in her heart the girl stretched
out both hands toward the two distant ships; and there was something so
pathetic in the mute action that neither of the other would ever forget.

Then, as though just as sanguine as ever she accepted the glasses from
Jack to continue scanning the ground they were passing over, hoping to
sooner or later meet with a glorious success.

Jack himself was far from feeling the same enthusiasm--doubtless it was
because of his superior knowledge of the vast difficulties staring them
rudely in the face; then again he did not have that true love for Buddy
buoying him up, as was the case with Suzanne.

Perk was thinking that since noon had rolled around it might be just as
well that they munched a trifle of food, so as to conserve their
strength, with a long task ahead of them, when once again the girl
uttered a cry. Perk not being equipped just then with ear-phones could
not catch what she was saying so excitedly; but at least he was able to
surmise its tenor--she had undoubtedly made some sort of discovery, for
her face was marked by animation, and she kept pointing down toward some
part of the rocky country, trying to direct Jack's attention to it.

Perk saw his chum take the binoculars and follow up the particular line
in which Suzanne was pointing. Long and earnestly did he stare, with her
eager eyes glued on his face. Then Jack sadly shook his head, as if
deciding in the negative.

Whatever it was she had seen to thus arouse false hopes his good sense
told him it was not worthy of their further investigation. This
naturally caused her to be bitterly disappointed, although she managed
to bear up bravely, and even smiled whimsically--pitifully Perk called
it, for he was deeply interested in the wild search, and hoping with all
his heart it might turn out successful, though his good sense and
training told him only a near miracle could accomplish this.

None of them seemed to have much appetite save Perk, and that always
hungry individual was never known to refuse an opportunity to treat his
clamoring "tummy" to an extra meal--Suzanne hardly touched a morsel and
when Jack tried to persuade her that she owed it to herself to eat, she
shook her head and told him it would choke her if she did.

Then once more was the everlasting vigil resumed--indeed, while the
others munched a snack the girl had kept the glasses almost constantly
employed, as though under the conviction that if any slackening of her
observation came about that might prove to be the undoing of the whole
scheme--a chain is only as strong as its weakest link; and ten minutes
relaxation in the way of covering the ground they were passing over
might be fatal to their success.

Again about the middle of the afternoon she once more believed she saw
something calling for a closer scrutiny. This time she was not so
excited as on the previous occasion, possibly taking warning; but she
pressed the binoculars on Jack--Perk still handling the controls--and
directed his attention to what she believed was a smudge of smoke
arising from amidst the side of a steep mountain where the rocks were
piled up as though giants had been playing ten pins.

Once more did Jack bend all his energies to figuring out what the smoke
could mean; he disliked telling her it did not offer any real hope, for
he could see that it was the end of a forest fire, such as may have been
tailing up the long ravine for many days, and feeding on all manner of
trash falling from the scraggy pinon trees that managed to cling to the
otherwise bare walls.

The poor forlorn girl broke down and cried bitterly when once more her
hopes were dashed to the ground. Perk shook his head, and gritted his
teeth, for it greatly disturbed him to hear her weeping; Jack tried to
comfort her as best he could, in a man's clumsy way. Soon the fit wore
away, and Suzanne was her own brave little self again, the look of
sublime confidence once more coming into her face. And so the weary hunt
went on as the sun slanted down the western heavens, with a cruel night
ahead of the searchers.



                                  XXII

                        AN AIR-MAIL WAY STATION


Once they sighted an isolated town in a valley, but this failed to
arouse any particular enthusiasm. If anything had been seen by those who
lived in such a remote place, the glad tidings would have long since
been sent out to the world, since it must be understood how the entire
country was alive with eagerness for a satisfactory solution to the
mysterious disappearance of the young air-mail pilot.

Jack rather imagined that this might be the place where Buddy Warner
turned up missing--where at a certain hour his schedule was to have
brought him down from his sky trail to leave and pick up the mail--but
alas! he had failed to come to time, and day after day an increasing
number of scurrying planes continued to scour the surrounding country in
the endeavor to pick up a clue.

Jack could make out the landing field with his naked eyes but when
Suzanne pressed the glasses on him without saying a word, he proceeded
to make good use of them.

A plane had just landed, possibly in the mail service, for there was
more or less bustle in its vicinity and he could see a small Ford car
starting off, as if with a bag or two of letters.

Apparently their passing over failed to excite the people, for while
they were staring up and displaying a certain amount of interest, they
made no signals, showing there was no good news, as possibly the girl
had been hoping.

"They have been seeing any number of ships passing over during the last
few days, I reckon," he told her, just to have something to say, and
perhaps also relieve her evident distress a little, "so understand that
nothing has been found, or the joyful news would be transmitted by radio
or wire."

Taking it for granted that he had figured correctly, Jack altered his
plans. If Buddy had never made his goal and delivered the mail at this
station, the chances seemed to be that he could hardly have gone
past--that whatever happened to him must have occurred before he came to
this place.

This being the case, they would show the part of wisdom to swing around
and start back the way they had come. It would be a good policy to
zigzag back and forth so as to cover all the ground possible. Jack had
taken particular care to find out what he could as to the sort of night
it was when the disappearance took place. Whether there was any kind of
bad weather and which way the prevailing wind chanced to be blowing, for
that must be taken into consideration in order to get as close to the
facts as possible.

So now when about to head back, he knew just which side of their late
course must call for their serious attention. Another thing he kept
before him was the important fact of eight or ten hours apparently
wasted. Night was approaching and they could not have even the slightest
hope of making any sort of discovery.

Since in following out his new plan of swinging back and forth each few
miles, covering only short distances ahead, by the time twilight fell
they would not be a great distance from the valley in which that town on
the air-mail route nestled. What was to hinder them seeking it out
again, and finding a safe harbor for the hours of darkness?

When he found a chance to talk with Perk, changing the ear phones from
the girl to his chum, now resting up after a continuous service of many
hours, the latter absolutely agreed with everything Jack advanced.

"Shucks! we couldn't 'spect to strike anything while the night lasted,
just keep moseyin' around to kill time an' in that way usin' up a whole
bunch o' gas, 'sides mebbe losin' track o' our job. Yep, I'd say it'd be
a good thing all 'round for us to drop down an' give the girl a chance
to rest."

That seemed to settle it, insofar as Jack was concerned for it was
always good in his mind to have his partner agree with him, Perk being
no fool but an experienced airman of many years standing.

The seesaw movement gave them an opportunity to cover considerable
ground, even while they made but scant forward progress. Jack was not at
all concerned about this lack, his one desire being to effectually scour
the country so as to feel they had not been lax in their duty.

He took mental notes as they went along, so as to always remember just
what course must be pursued in order to fetch them back to the cozy
little valley set like a gem in the heart of that inhospitable mountain
territory. This was only in keeping with Jack's customary system of
preparedness. A habit that had proven most valuable to him more than a
few times in the past.

They were once again over the high elevations so that it was necessary
to change their altitude frequently in order to keep within reasonable
distance of the ground which they were searching for a clue. Now they
had to climb in order to clear a lofty peak and immediately afterwards
drop down so as to comb the further side of the rocky height, as well as
the deep ravine lying between the several mountains in the mighty chain.

It was interesting work, but with such slight chances for success, much
of the glamour was lost for Jack. As the friendly sun was about to drop
behind the western horizon, so jagged, so fantastic in contour, they
must soon give up the flight for that day and hasten back to the valley
town where a safe landing could be effected and a decent meal secured,
something to tempt poor, disconsolate and yet brave Suzanne to break her
long fast.

Already it was growing difficult to distinguish objects in some of the
canyons and defiles over which they sailed, indicating that they might
be missing something of value. Accordingly Jack swung abruptly around
and rising like an eagle on the wing, started to go back.

He could see that Suzanne noticed this abrupt change in their course for
she displayed some uneasiness. He motioned to Perk to let her have the
earphones again and proceeded to explain just what must be done.

At first the girl was distressed, for to her mind it looked as though
her staunch friends might be growing weary of their hopeless quest and
meant to abandon it altogether, but as Jack carefully explained why it
was necessary they should land for the night while the opportunity
offered and that nothing would be sacrificed in so doing, Suzanne began
to comprehend and nod her head in approval.

"We can stop over and get rested up instead of keeping on this gruelling
task without the slightest chance for accomplishing anything," he told
her finally, though immediately adding: "that covers the night only, for
as soon as morning comes we shall start out, fixed to keep going all day
long."

"I understand just what you mean, Jack, and I don't know how to thank
you both for all you are doing for me--for Buddy--for Ma Warner, waiting
there at home and hardly sleeping a wink as she thinks and thinks and
prays her boy may be given back to her safe and sound."

Jack did not say any more, he could not because by now his own hopes
were diminishing at a rapid rate. Was it any wonder that such should be
the case when three full days had now crept along since the air-mail
pilot vanished into the realms of space, and never a single word coming
back to explain his fate?

For the sake of this brave girl, so ready to risk her own life in the
service of the one she loved, he must try to keep up a confident front.
If it was ordained that she too must see her hopes crushed, at least he
and Perk would have the satisfaction of knowing they had done everything
in their power to bring her great joy. So too, that anxious mother in
the far away home, what gratification it would give them if they could
dry her tears and be helpful in bringing her boy back to her arms.

They were now nearing the valley where the little way-station on the
air-mail route lay between its majestic sentinel snow-clad peaks. Jack
meant to circle twice at least, so as to get a good idea as to how the
ground lay for by now daylight would be giving place to dusk in that
valley, and visibility not all they could wish, so it would pay them to
be very careful.

Jack could see that Suzanne was greatly interested and he knew just why.
Here at this mountain station, Buddy was in the habit of landing every
time his flight took him back and forth. Doubtless he had made friends
with some of the town folks, especially those connected with the flying
field for his was a nature that always attracted people. It agitated her
to realize that she might even hear him spoken of in the highest terms,
and what pride such a thing must stir up in her young heart!

Jack was circling the field and constantly dropping lower with each
round so that he had already been able to pick out the exact spot where
he meant to land.



                                 XXIII

                          PERK LOSES HIS VOICE


Knowing that one of Perk's failings lay along the line of talking a bit
too much on occasion, Jack had taken pains to warn him against too much
loquacity when making a night halt in this mountain town.

He had had occasion to take his pal to task along similar lines more
than a few times in the past. Perk was too apt to forget that secrecy
was always a leading card with all reliable members of the service in
which he was enlisted.

That he emphasized this fact on the present occasion did not mean there
was a particular reason for keeping the lid on, lest some desperate
character hiding in the isolated place from the long arm of the
Government's deputies try to do them harm--but simply on general
principles.

Only too well did Jack know there were men who had reason to hate all
having any connection whatever with the Secret Service--men who had been
sent to Atlanta or Leavenworth, to pay the debt they owed organized
society. Through the entire period of their incarceration never a day
had passed without their renewing a vow to sometime or other to get even
with the members of that organization responsible for their
imprisonment.

When their wheels came in contact with the ground in a perfect three
point landing, they found themselves greeted by a number of men, ready
to proffer any assistance that might be required, especially when it
became known that the strangers intended to stay over night.

The presence of a girl pilot aboard the visiting craft also aroused
additional curiosity for likely enough this may have been the very first
time the town had ever played host to a genuine aviatrix.

Perk, to make doubly certain he did not babble, decided to play dumb as
much as lay within his power. He could talk hoarsely as though suffering
from a bad cold and loss of voice, a tricky game that gave him secret
amusement, Jack rather suspected.

Jack soon learned they would surely find good accommodations at one of
the hotels and a man who introduced himself as Caleb Cushman kindly
volunteered to carry them there in his five-passenger car, handily near
by.

This neighborly offer Jack immediately accepted, asking the other if he
could wait a few minutes until some arrangement was made for storing
their crate in a convenient hangar. Everybody seemed eager to oblige,
and Jack really had to choose between three separate generous offers
from as many parties.

He had already discovered that a man wearing a pilot's outfit and who
seemed to be in some authority, named Bart Hicks, was in addition to
being in charge of the field, an instruction pilot whenever some young
fellow aspired to learn the ropes, after fulfilling the examination
necessary to being licensed as a full-fledged air pilot.

So it was the part of diplomacy on Jack's part, when forced to make a
choice, to accept this man's offer under the belief that the amphibian
would be better cared for and secured against any possibility of harm.
Of course he had no reason whatever to fear any rough-house treatment,
but long years ago young Ralston had learned the wisdom of "locking the
door _before_ the horse was stolen" and thereby saved himself
considerable trouble.

An air pilot's ship is to him what the valuable race-horse represents to
the track plunger--a thing to be guarded at all times as the day of the
great turf events draws closer since some desperate gambler might
attempt to dope the animal in order to win his heavy wagers.

So too, it would be a simple thing to disable the motor of a plane or
else so damage a wing that it must be out of the question for the craft
to pursue its customary duties until it had been taken to a repair shop
and put in condition. With time so valuable to them, so vital to Buddy
Warner, they could not afford to take any chances.

Before he quitted the landing-field, he made up his mind to have a
little confidential talk with Bart Hicks whom he had already sized up to
be an honest, efficient airman to whom any one could tie with an
assurance of being given a square deal.

"Perk, stick close to Suzanne--I'll be back in a short time," was what
he said to his chum. The other wagged his head as though he understood,
even though there must be a certain amount of deafness on his part,
caused by the continual racket of the motor and propeller, lasting from
the time they took off in the gigantic Colorado Canyon.

A number of willing hands took hold, and the big amphibian was shoved
and hauled to a large hangar in which one ship had already been berthed.
Jack incidentally learned that the doors would be closed immediately and
locked, although no harm had ever been done a ship since the airport was
established.

Jack had already noted that they were getting to be up to the times, as
if the citizens might be of an enterprising sort. Landing lights had
been installed while a flashing beacon close by had already started into
action, showing that an airmail crate was expected any minute or else
one was due to take off.

It was evident that Bart Hicks felt a certain amount of natural
curiosity concerning these guests of the field. He had noted that their
ship was a brand new one and also the fact that the pilot who brought it
down so cleverly must be an experienced hand. Then too, the presence of
Suzanne interested him in the bargain, she looked so confident and had
all the little airs of a full-fledged pilot in the bargain--trust his
old eyes to discover these patent facts.

"Come far, sir?" he was saying casually after the ship had been safely
housed in the big hangar, doubtless the property of the aircraft company
contracting with the Government for carrying the mails and express
matter.

"We spent last night in the Colorado Canyon and have been covering all
the ground possible ever since, flying low so as to keep tabs on the
ground for as you might guess, we're one of the many parties out
searching high and low for Buddy Warner and his crate."

"I reckoned you might be sir," the superintendent of the field quickly
remarked, displaying more or less sympathy in his voice.

"My pal and I have been thrown into the hunt by our employers like the
rest of the bunch working the same racket," continued Jack,
diplomatically adding, "you see we happen to have run across a young
woman pilot who had to make a forced landing down on the river sand in
the canyon and it was absolutely necessary that we take her along with
us. You can understand just why that could be when I tell you her name
is Suzanne Cramer and that she is Buddy Warner's sweetheart!"

Bart immediately displayed the most intense interest it seemed, just as
wise Jack had figured out. He was a family man and in full sympathy with
everything that had to do with the fortunes of honest, clean minded
young people--for Jack knew there was a heap of truth in that old saying
to the effect that "all the world loves a lover" and he was now playing
the game for all it was worth.

"That's mighty fine I must say, Mr. Ralston," Bart said, for he had
learned the names of the two airmen, "and I must say that girl is some
daisy, to start off searching for her beau, and she an air pilot in the
bargain. I'm tickled pink to have you all stay over in our little burg
for even a night and if we can do anything to help you out just give me
the tip and it'll sure be done."

That was just what Jack most wanted to hear. Before they took off again
he was determined to do his best to get hold of some information that
would prove of more or less value to himself and Perk.

"I'm meaning to ask you a few questions in the morning Mr. Hicks," he
hastened to say, "especially connected with the country to the east and
northeast, for I figure the chances are three to one Buddy Warner must
have made a forced landing of some sort in that quarter. The wind, the
night he vanished, was blowing from the southwest and pretty gusty at
times. Visibility was poor also, so if he lost connection with the
beacons before reaching your station, he'd be blown off his course. Do
you agree with me, sir?"

"I call it right smart reasoning," Bart Hicks told him. "Three other
ships dropped in here nights so as to save their gas and get some rest;
and not one of the pilots seemed to know what course he ought to lay
out--just kept swinging this way and that at random, hoping for a streak
of good luck to strike them. I reckoned they were leaving a lot of
ground uncovered, working without any system as they did."

"That's what I thought would happen," continued Jack quietly, feeling
that he had already made a good impression on the other and could hope
for results when it came time to "squeeze the bag." "We mean to devote
ourselves to that particular locality so as to find out where he crashed
and whether he is still alive or not."

Bart Hicks gave a shrug with his broad shoulders.

"For the sake of that little girl, I sure do hope you find him alive,
partner," he said feelingly as became one airman toward another.

"She came straight out here from his old mother," continued Jack, "who
gave her blessing to the mad scheme; but now that she is in our charge,
my pal and I will see that she comes to no harm. I am greatly obliged to
you, Mr. Hicks, for your kindness in sheltering our ship. You can
understand what it means to us now, while on this sad errand of mercy,
to know that no harm will happen to the crate."

"Don't mention it partner!" hastily exclaimed the other. "Why, I've been
just itching right along to get busy and look over that territory you've
been speaking about, but my duties here kept me pinned down, though I
took it out in doing a heap of growling and swearing too. Tell the
little girl for me, will you, that we've all been wishing her Buddy
would turn up safe and sound. I have a daughter about her age, I reckon,
and I just know how she must feel. See you in the morning at daybreak,
Mr. Ralston."

"Thank you again many times, sir."

Jack felt that he had made a warm friend in honest Bart Hicks. He saw
the respectful way in which the field superintendent shook hands with
Suzanne, after all of them had entered the gentleman's car and were
ready to start for the hotel and how pleased the girl looked as he
murmured a few words of sincere sympathy. Things at least seemed to be
working along the line he had laid out. Of course, no one could say this
early in the game whether anything worth while would develop from the
circumstances springing out of their decision to spend the night in the
valley town.



                                  XXIV

                        ONE CHANCE IN A THOUSAND


The little hotel to which they were taken by the kind owner of the
five-passenger car proved to be all they could wish for. It looked
scrupulously clean and the rooms to which they were shown seemed to give
promise of a comfortable night's sleep, though Jack doubted whether the
excited girl would obtain the rest she needed so much.

He promised to knock on her door at daybreak so that they might secure
the early breakfast he had ordered and be off to the flying field to
make a start.

He and Perk had a double room with twin beds and were not long in
turning in, both of them being more or less tired after a gruelling day
aloft. Jack had no idea they would be disturbed during the night, for
they were utter strangers in the town and such things as robberies were
absolutely unknown, or so the hotel proprietor had assured him in answer
to an incidental question.

He was up at the first peep of dawn and had Perk on his feet without any
unusual racket. Later on Jack kept his promise about tapping on the door
of Suzanne's room and was a bit surprised when she opened it, disclosing
the fact that she was fully dressed as though she had been up for some
time, which indeed was a fact.

He would never forget the yearning look she gave him when, seated at the
table, they started their simple breakfast. It was as though her heart
were in her throat, choking her and Jack, realizing the girl must be
close to the breaking point, quickly started talking of outside matters
and even cracked a little joke to try and divert her mind from the
subject that had gripped her day and night for so long.

About the time they settled their account and were ready to start for
the field, a car stopped at the door and their accommodating friend of
the night before, Mr. Caleb Cushman, accompanied by his wife, appeared.
They came early to have the pleasure of taking them to where they meant
to start off again--perhaps his good wife also wished to meet the brave
girl who was the now famous Buddy Warner's sweetheart. Apparently they
both knew about this important fact, showing that Mr. Cushman must have
been in touch with Bart Hicks by telephone since last they saw the
latter, and learned this thrilling circumstance that might put their
little town on the map, with all the big newspapers of the country
blazing inch high scareheads on their front pages when covering the
latest sensation along aviation lines.

Although Jack would not admit that he felt the least uneasiness
concerning the safety of the amphibian, nevertheless he gave a sigh of
relief when after looking the ship over he found everything in shipshape
condition.

"Get that gas aboard as quick as you can, Perk," he told his comrade for
he had contracted to have the tank filled to full capacity while the
chance held good, and besides he wished to have a little further
conversation with affable Bart Hicks, with the hope of picking up a few
crumbs of information in regard to the terrain they meant to cover on
this most important day.

Accordingly he drew the ground superintendent aside and plied him with a
variety of questions, all of which the accommodating test pilot answered
to the best of his ability.

Jack had him describe the general character of the ground and just as he
anticipated, learned that it was actually the roughest section in all
the region.

"Rocks--deep gullies that seem to have no bottom--peaks with slithering
points that look like the savage steel tips of spearheads--the worst
territory for a poor devil of an air pilot to crash in or have to make a
forced landing that you could run across in a hundred square miles. I'd
say there wasn't over one chance in a thousand that the lad could get to
the ground alive and even granted that he did, wounded as he must be, he
never in the wide world would be able to find his way out of that hole.
I'm sorry to have to say that, Mr. Ralston, but it's the truth."

Jack may have winced, but just the same he showed not the slightest sign
of being yellow.

"Tell me about that thousandth chance, brother," he observed, at which
the other looked him keenly in the face, shrugged his shoulders and went
on to say:

"Guess you're clear grit all right, son. The best pilots are built that
way. Look at our Lindy now, and you'll find he never flinches, no matter
what happens but always does the one right thing as if by instinct. Fact
is, when I mentioned that there might be a tiny loophole for a poor
devil who had to go down in that god-forsaken stretch of wilderness, I
must have been thinking of that strange old hermit who has a secret
hideout somewhere in that country. There's a beautiful little clear
water lake surrounded by peaks and heavy woods that no white man's ever
fished in or set eyes on at close quarters, 'cept maybe that queer old
chap."

"Please tell me all you know about him," pursued Jack eagerly, just as
if he was trying to clutch some minute shred of hope that was difficult
to capture.

Bart Hicks laughed shortly.

"I can tell you all that in a jiffy Mr. Ralston," he hastened to reply,
"because none of us happen to know anything at all about who and what
the old party is. About twice a year, spring and fall, he bobs up here
with a sure footed mule and buys all sorts of grub and stores. He never
stays overnight and seems to hate the sight of a real house. Some
curious minded folks, thinking that perhaps he had struck a rich mine
there in that rockhouse district, have tried to follow him but had to
give it up and come back beaten. He doesn't fetch free gold out with him
but plain, everyday Government yellow-back bills. We don't know a thing
about the secret trail he takes to make his way through all that riotous
land.

"I've heard pilots tell how they'd seen spirals of wood smoke rising and
those who happened to be flying low say they could see his campfire was
close to the brim of that crater lake--for some say it lies in the
crater of an extinct volcano. That's about the whole story as far as any
of us know it, Mr. Ralston and I'm winding up by saying again it would
be just one lone chance in a thousand that a poor air pilot dropping
down there would be found and rescued by that mysterious old hermit."

"As you say, it's a desperately small opening and not very promising at
best," Jack told his new friend with the same resolute look on his face,
"but it may be we'll have to place our hopes on such a slender chance
after all. At any rate I'm meaning to look into that matter before
giving up the game as impossible. It wouldn't be the first time such a
mere thread turned into a stout cable that's saved the ship from
destruction."

"Never say die, eh? I'd think that'd be your motto, Mr. Ralston,"
observed the field superintendent who apparently had come to have more
or less admiration for the young air pilot who carried himself so
buoyantly, so confidently, as though he absolutely believed in himself.

By now Perk had finished his job of refueling the plane and was rubbing
his soiled hands with a bit of waste.

"All fixed, are we brother?" asked Jack and for almost the first time on
record, those close by learned that Perk was not at all dumb, but had a
fluent voice of his own.

"Wall," he drawled with a wicked wink toward Jack, "guess now she's
loaded to capacity an' then some 'cause I've got six gallon cans o'
juice stowed away where they ain't goin' to take up much room, an'll
keep us on the wing a bit extra. Then too, partner, here's a waiter
comin' from our hotel joint carryin' a package o' eats in the shape o'
sandwiches which I took the trouble to order an' which you'll have the
pleasure o' payin' a hull dollar for right on the spot."

"Good for you, Perk!" laughed Jack, who seldom had to worry about a
sufficiency of food when traveling in the company of such an excellent
provider as Gabe Perkiser who never had any difficulty in hearing the
"call of the eats" so many times per diem.

Apparently they were all ready to make the jump-off, the amphibian
having been taxied to the head of the runway where a simple slant would
help give her "gangway," as Perk often called it.

Just then Bart Hicks came up and shoved a bit of paper into the pocket
of Jack's leather flying coat.

"Just take a squint at that when you find time, brother," he remarked
and held out his hand for a parting grip. "Shake hands, Jack, and here's
wishing you all the luck going in your present job as well as in all
others they put on your shoulders--you too, Perk old hoss."

There was something a bit mysterious about the way Bart Hicks said that,
and Perk had it on the tip of his tongue to demand an explanation but
since the pilot just then drew back the stick and the motor commenced to
roar as the amphibian started down the slant, he had to take it out in a
goodbye wave of his hand and let it go at that.

They rose like a bird long before the termination of the runway had been
reached for those sloping wing-tips were fashioned so as to make it easy
to take off successfully in one-third the distance formerly deemed
necessary for a ship with a powerful enough set of motors to lift a
heavy weight and get away with it.

Looking back, Suzanne could see the little bunch that had seen their
takeoff, including some mechanics and field hands as well as Bart Hicks,
Mr. Cushman and his wife. They were all waving their hands wildly and
possibly giving tongue in the bargain, although the noise prevented her
from making sure of this. She answered their salutes with her little
pocket handkerchief and then wiped her eyes as though the long repressed
tears just would break through her guard, and run down her pretty
cheeks.

They were now fully launched on another day's weary though eager search,
with no one being qualified to prophesy what the outcome of the new
flight would be. Jack had mapped out in his mind the country over which
he meant to fly with little save his own conception to assist him.

One thing was sure, when they had covered a stretch of several miles in
a straight run, it could be set down as certain nothing had missed their
close attention and that there would be no necessity for returning over
the same ground again. This was a fight to a finish and a clean-up as
they went along, so Jack kept hugging that tiny hope to his heart and
wondered what the eventual outcome of the adventure would prove to be.
As yet it was a toss-up, as far as he could see.



                                  XXV

                        THE NEVER SAY DIE SPIRIT


"Hot ziggetty dog! all set now for another long spin, combin' the
country as we go along, eh partner?"

Perk had no sooner arranged his head-phones after seeing that Jack had
his fixed for service, than he commenced business at the old stand. Perk
was just burning to get certain things out of his system that had been
dammed up by his playing dumb on the previous evening.

"So far as I know nothing has been overlooked Perk--if only that left
wing aileron doesn't play us a dirty trick and fall off, we'll be
alright."

"I tell you I tested it an' it's okay, Jack, don't crab my game if you
have any respect for my feelin's. When I say a thing's all to the good
it's there, every time."

"Forget it brother, we've both been under a heavy strain lately and apt
to show undue anxiety. Today ought to prove which way the wind's going
to blow for us. See, already she's at the old job, covering every rod of
ground with the powerful glasses. All I can say is I wish her all the
luck going, poor kid."

"But just the same you ain't any too--er--sanguine--is that the word I
want, partner? A sort o' yearnin', hopin' but kinder afraid things
mightn't turn out so well in the end?"

"I get you, Perk, and according to my notion there are three of us in
the same boat right now. I'm holding the ship in right along, so we'll
make certain nothing gets away from us."

"Yeah, an' by the way Jack, didn't I see our good pal, Bart, stick
somethin' in your pocket jest before we skipped off--looked kinder like
a piece o' paper to me--did you ask him for his home address or
somethin' like that?"

Jack laughed.

"So you saw him do that, did you, old Hawk-eye--no, I didn't ask him for
anything in that line--he did more than enough for us as it was."

Perk seemed to be consumed with curiosity which he made no attempt
whatever to smother, for after a bit of grunting he went on to say
suggestively:

"Huh! that looks a whole lot queer to me, partner. Why should Bart Hicks
want to act like he might be an informer, tryin' to hand you a leadin'
clue to a smashin' big mystery an' on the sly in the bargain? Huh! seems
to me he must 'a' had some good reason for doin' sech a stunt as that!"

"Thunder! Perk, if you don't make me think of the picture we used to see
in the magazine ads, where a baby in a bathtub is reaching out to get
hold of a cake of soap with a well known brand on it with the words 'He
won't be happy till he gets it.' Right now you're just eaten up with
curiosity about that slip of paper Bart crammed down in my pocket and
there'll be no peace in the camp till you know its contents."

Perk unblushingly chuckled, as if ready to "acknowledge the corn."

"Lemme have the stick, partner," he hastened to suggest, "I'm jest as
fit as a fiddle to lay things out for a few hours, an' mebbe it'll tone
me down some."

"Oh! all right brother, here you go then."

The transfer was made "as slick as grease," according to Perk's mind and
so Jack felt in his coat pocket to immediately draw out a sheet of
paper, evidently torn hastily from an account book, and upon which there
was considerable writing, none too legible.

He fastened his eyes on this and Perk could see that whatever the tenor
of Bart's secret communication was, it appeared to afford Jack
considerable interest. Several times as he read on he nodded his head,
as if agreeing with certain statements in the missive, all of which
redoubled poor Perk's eagerness to have a share in the proceedings.

"Well, that certainly takes the cake," Jack was heard to say after he
had evidently reached the finish of the note.

"Ain't you goin' to let me in on the fun, partner?" begged the other
almost pathetically. "I'm sure all het up with a desire to know what's
goin' on."

Jack nodded his head again and then started to relieve his chum's mental
burden.

"Seems like the joke's on us, Perk, old boy," he began.

"Joke hey? Bart Hicks played one on his unsuspectin' guests then, did
he?" Perk grumbled as if terribly upset. "I didn't think he was that
sorter cad."

"Oh! you'll take that back after you find out what I meant by the word
'joke'," Jack hastened to assure him. "Listen, partner, I'm going to
read you the whole letter, because it's no easy job to get the hang of
Bart's handwriting. Reckon he wasn't great shakes at penmanship when he
went to school, for he does spell something fierce, but I'm going to
keep this, all right, for it's a cinch Bart outsmarted two fellows who
reckon themselves some clever at their business. But listen and grab
what he says here."

"Go to it, old hoss," begged the waiting Perk most eagerly.

"'Hats off, boys--I'm on to your curves okay. Happens I got a younger
brother a holding down a job in the same crowd you run with--mebbe you
remember young Doug Hicks, him that fetched in all by his lonesome the
four ginks makin' up that slick gang of international crooks doin'
business as the Keating Bunch'--what d'ye think of that, Perk, Doug
Hicks turning out to be the kid brother of our new friend, Bart, isn't
that the limit though? Well he goes on this way: 'He often mentioned
both you lads in his letters to me, and when you introduced yourselves I
just knocked wood, but didn't let on I got the drift of things. But say,
don't you worry any, boys, I'll never leak a drop, so your secret is as
safe as a new dollar bill. Go to it, and fetch in Buddy Warner, for if
anybody can do that, it's bound to be you two. So-long. Your friend,
Bart Hicks, all wool and a yard wide.'"

Perk was making all manner of queer faces as though this wonderful
disclosure had taken his breath away but through it all there struggled
that happy-go-lucky grin of his, to proclaim his full appreciation of
the contents of the flying field test pilot's unique communication.

"Jest what that gink is--all wool and a yard wide--honest goods, you bet
every time," he finally managed to say with numerous chuckles
accompanying the words. "Sure we know Doug Hicks, the boy who's goin' to
make a name for himself in the Secret Service one o' these days, if he
don't get bumped off by some hijacker's lead. Queer what a little ole
world this anyhow--kickin' up against Bart Hicks in this jumpin'-off
part o' the country. We sure do strike the strangest happening in our
line o' work, don't we?"

"We certainly do," came the quick reply as Jack folded up his letter and
put it carefully away. "While you're doing duty brother, I'll get busy
with some calculations I have in mind. Keep her headed just as she is,
and in half an hour we'll bank and come back along a parallel line, so
as to cover all the ground up and down, up and down, through the whole
day."

It was gruelling work, but the only possible thing they could do if they
meant to make certain that they had investigated every rod of that
terrible terrain that lay on every side, looking as though at some
remote time in the past, nature had been turning things topsy-turvy and
making a mad havoc with the entire land of gigantic rocks and sink
holes.

So two whole hours crept along with a number of abrupt turns, now north,
again south, steadily covering the ground. But sad to say there had as
yet been discovered nothing to breed sudden hopes and expectations. Haze
there had been in patches, owing to some humid condition of the
atmosphere in certain quarters, but never the first sign of friendly
smoke curling upward in spirals, nor yet a glimpse of any sort of half
concealed mountain lake such as had been described to them by Bart
Hicks.

It was now drawing on toward the middle of the day and Perk having
turned over the controls to his chum at the latter's request, was taking
things easy, having relieved Suzanne of the binoculars which he handled
with the skill born of long practice.

Several times during the morning the girl had begged Jack to take a look
and tell her if she had deceived herself in thinking there was some
favorable sign ahead or on either side. Much as he would have loved to
confirm her wildest hopes, Jack found himself doomed to give a
disappointing answer and so see the look of anguish that passed over her
erstwhile eager, smiling face.

The grim truth must be faced--there was no break so far to the
monotonous cruelty of the landscape with its unpromising features the
only result of all this search.

Then too, other discouraging happenings came along to add to Jack's
concern. For one thing, the wind was increasing and at times striking
them head on so as to cause more or less unsteadiness to the flying
boat, as well as upsetting certain of his calculations.

This was not at all to Jack's liking and he showed it by his repeated
upward glances, as though endeavoring to read the impending weather
conditions by the looks and movements of the clouds passing over.

It was also becoming more and more treacherous as their work took them
up and down, now soaring above some outlying crag mass and again dipping
into a valley that seemed only a fit abode for the grizzly bear in
search of lonesome districts where the feared human, with his magic
stick that spit fire and smoke and painful missiles, could never come.

Would their entire day be put in without a breath of cheering hope? Must
they turn back, and possibly spend yet another dreary night in the
little valley town, dispirited and with the poor girl in despair?

It began to look that way, even if worse might not be their portion. So
it can be easily understood that when Perk got out some of his
sandwiches nobody seemed to be hungry save himself, which deplorable
fact was not at all to the genial fellow's liking.

Even the usually even-tempered Jack was beginning to show signs of the
long strain, though he managed to conceal it as much as possible out of
consideration for the suffering Suzanne; but it was hard to assume a
hopeful face when up against a tough proposition as they undoubtedly now
were.

The wind was getting stronger, there could be no discounting that
positive fact which added to Jack's concern not a little, for he
realized that should a storm come along it would put an effectual end to
all their hopes of accomplishing anything. Perk too, had taken the alarm
and was also sending occasional glances aloft.



                                  XXVI

                              CRATER LAKE


Along about an hour after Perk had made his lonesome midday lunch and
marveled at the fact of his being able to only devour three of those
toothsome sandwiches the chef at the hotel had put up at his order,
things had arrived at such a point that Jack felt it was only the part
of wisdom for him to do whatever lay in his power to keep track of their
bearings.

If that rising wind kept on increasing in strength so that it even
threatened to wind up in a genuine smashing gale, the chances were they
must either make some sort of a forced landing, or else climb up above
the storm clouds so as to avoid new and more appalling perils.

In so doing they would lose track of their points of contact and be
compelled to go all over the same ground again or take chances of
picking up the broken thread of their search wherever they had to drop
it.

Thus hard set, Jack began to try and take note of various unusual
formations--using the binoculars in so doing--that, stamped on his
receptive mind might serve as landmarks just as "targets" do the harbor
pilots when fetching a deep sea vessel in through the shallows to port
and safety.

Sometimes small fishing smacks, driven from a promising field by wind
and huge billows, are able to mark the spot by an anchored empty water
keg and in this way are able to find the fruitful spot when the weather
moderates. Such a stratagem however is not available to the air voyager,
whose only resource lies in a retentive memory.

When another half hour had slipped by, Jack began to once again
entertain a hope that this emergency might not reach a culmination. If
anything, the wind had lost a modicum of its fierceness and twice he
discovered a little break in the cloud ceiling by which they were
covered, as though the sun were trying to peep through.

Thus things were going along as the middle of the afternoon was reached.
Perk at the controls was mentally comparing their condition to that of a
shipwrecked crew of a sunken vessel; out of water with their hearts
almost in their throats with anxiety, shading their eyes with their
hands and searching along the horizon for signs of a sail. Somehow the
comparison gave Perk much concern, and he tried to imagine the great joy
that must fill the souls of that forlorn little company when suddenly
one of their number shouts out the glorious news: "Ship ahoy--a
steamer's smoke smudge to larboard!"

But it was only Suzanne asking Jack to please take a look and tell her
what that lumbering, ungainly object might be which she had discovered
moving across the rocks under the keel of the flying boat.

"I never happened to run across one before," Jack presently explained,
"but I'm sure it must be a Mountain Charlie, as I understand people out
in California call the silvertip grizzly bear. Some monster in the
bargain, Miss Cramer and you'll agree with me when I say I'd rather be
here than there."

She nodded her head as if to let him know he was right but when Jack saw
a shadow pass over her face he understood what was in her mind--that her
poor wounded Buddy might be lying there helpless, with that savage
monster drawing nearer and nearer, sniffing the air and following the
scent that sooner or later would take him to the spot where the fallen
air mail pilot lay.

She shuddered and put a hand in front of her eyes nor could she be
induced to make use of the glasses again for quite some time. She
evidently feared lest she once more glimpse that horrid hairy animal,
shuffling along in his shambling fashion, ready to attack any creature
that came in his way, be it bird, beast or human being for was he not
the king of the mountain fastnesses, utterly unafraid?

Jack felt convinced fortune was proving kindly disposed toward their
mission of humanity. That troublesome wind was slowly but surely
diminishing in force and gave promise of finally dying out in another
hour or so. At least they were not going to be forced to call the search
off as long as daylight served. Jack had not as yet decided in his mind
what to do after twilight came and the face of the country became
blotted out in the gathering gloom of night.

It might be possible for them to keep going, in hopes of discovering the
tempting glow of a campfire among the tall trees of the timber belt; but
discretion would more than likely force them to give up operations until
yet another day.

The risk would be much too great, flying at that low altitude across
such a dangerous wilderness where at any minute some unseen rocky cliff
might suddenly rise up before their speeding aircraft bringing about an
unavoidable crash, an explosion and--oblivion!

And then it came to pass, after all those weary and distressing hours of
search--this time Suzanne uttered a shrill shriek and trembling all over
held out the binoculars toward Jack crying:

"Oh! tell me if I am going out of my mind Jack! Is that really and truly
smoke curling up from over there?"

She clung to his arm and continued to point, trying to keep her hand
from wobbling to and fro because of her emotion.

Jack quickly focussed upon the object that had caught her attention.
Perk understanding what it must all be about, even if unable to catch
the meaning of what was being said, watched Jack's face, well knowing
how it was sure to register his thoughts.

"Smoke it is, for all the world!" Jack declared, immediately adding
further words of good cheer; "and as true as you live, I can catch a
gleam of sunlight falling on clear water!"

"Crater Lake, Jack?" demanded the duly thrilled girl, now all aglow with
renewed hope and expectation.

"It must be," admitted the other, still looking through the glasses, "we
were told there is no other body of water in this entire section. You
know Bart said that old hermit was believed to have his hideout close by
the ice water lake, for smoke had been seen rising of mornings when the
air-mail carrier went through a bit off his course."

He made a gesture to Perk the other readily understood. It meant that he
should immediately bank and go back again on the same track so they
could have yet another opportunity to use their eyes and learn if things
were as hopeful as they had been led to believe.

Jack managed to glance in the direction of the girl close by. It was
plain to be seen that Suzanne was tremendously agitated by this sudden
discovery of both the secret hideout of the so-called hermit and the
nearby Crater Lake, concerning which they had heard accounts from Bart
Hicks.

Not a single word passed her tightly compressed lips but in her whole
demeanor there was an expression of wonder, eagerness and fear--the last
no doubt on account of certain possibilities that, after all their
efforts they might have arrived too late or else that the hermit had
seen nothing whatsoever of the long missing flyer.

Jack too, knew they were banking on what must be called a long chance
for thus far it was only a mere surmise that caused them to seek out the
hidden retreat of the man who shunned his fellows. Not a single thing
had come to their notice to affirm that Buddy Warner had ever flown over
Crater Lake in any of his passages to and fro, although his usual course
lay within a few miles of the extinct volcano.

"I'll take the stick now, Perk," he announced as they once more caught a
glimpse of that curling, eddying smoke column and then sighted the cliff
encircled lake of the mountains.

One thing Jack had already settled that the sheer rocky walls did not
entirely encompass the sheet of water. There was a section at the near
end where the ground sloped down to the very edge of the lake. Jack
could see this with his naked eye--no further necessity existed for
using the magnifying binoculars, he concluded.

Then of a sudden Jack felt a warm glow pass over his whole body. What
was this he saw projecting from the lake close to the shore? He had on
some other occasion looked upon a wrecked plane partly submerged in some
body of water, fresh or salt and here he found himself staring down at a
similar object.

This would tell the story, Jack thought, better than any words could do.
Some aviator must have attempted to drop down upon the lake, perhaps to
ease the shock of contact when forced to descend through an accident to
his outfit, that was a positive thing and what was more reasonable than
to conclude the unfortunate airman must be the missing pilot for whom so
many flyers were scouring the whole country up and down, east and west?

He half opened his mouth as though to call the attention of Suzanne to
his thrilling discovery and then stopped short. She would find it out
for herself quickly enough and if there was a bitter disappointment
awaiting the brave girl, far be it from him to hasten the coming of her
grief.

Now they had begun to circle the lake itself and once directly over the
body of water, Jack could see it was indeed a real gem. A small but
select sheet that, save for the presence of the hermit close by, had
probably never been fished by a single white man. A perfect trout
preserve, he told himself, in the ecstasy of a born fisherman.

It was what Perk would call a "reg'lar cinch." There was not the
slightest reason to hold back, for never an obstacle could Jack discover
calculated to give them trouble in making contact with the water. Once
safely floating on the surface of the mysterious lake, they could taxi
over to a position close to the sloping beach where a landing might be
effected in order to search for the hidden retreat of the lone settler.

Once, twice, three times did he make a complete turn around the circular
pond and then having his plan laid out, he dove down until close to the
shimmering surface when he suddenly leveled off and then gently
continued the drop, to fall upon the bosom of the beautiful harbor
almost as lightly as a wild duck would splash down from on high.

And then Suzanne discovered the half submerged ship, with its nose out
of sight and its tail pointing up at the northern sky. It was a
melancholy and ill-omened spectacle indeed, speaking as it surely did of
some unfortunate airman's swift plunge from lofty heights to strike the
tiny lakelet. Indeed, it might even have been his intended target when
the terrible drop was first begun. Suzanne gave a cry and held out her
quivering hands toward the wrecked plane as though all doubts were now
removed as to her Buddy having dipped down into this pool when his ship
became unmanageable.



                                 XXVII

                        THE END OF THE AIR TRAIL


The crisis for which they had been preparing during the entire aerial
trip was now a reality. Before many more minutes had passed they would
know that which they came to find out--whether Buddy had clung to life
during the long, agonizing interval, or had "gone west," as so many in
his perilous calling had done before him in a blaze of sacrifice and
glory.

They were now floating on the surface of the little mountain lake in the
midst of the most wonderful surroundings the human mind could imagine.
Here centuries ago had been the wide vent of an active volcano and at
intervals from this same opening, now so quiet and peaceful, there had
undoubtedly burst forth vast waves of molten lava accompanied by
sulphurous smoke and thunderous sounds, as though nature had broken her
chains and meant to reshape the whole western world.

Later on, when his mind was more at ease, Jack Ralston could in some
measure paint the terrible picture and in his mind imagine he saw the
bubbling lava, rolling down the side of the rocky mountain with
frightful havoc all along its tortuous course.

Just then, however, but one matter engaged his entire attention. Where
was the strange hermit of Crater Lake? Why did he not show himself when
he surely must have watched their coming and successful descent? Had he
been able to save the life of Buddy or would they be shown a mound of
earth amidst the heaped-up rocks where the valiant young air-mail pilot
lay in the sleep that knows no earthly awakening.

"Look yonder, Jack--somethin' movin' among them bushes!" Perk was saying
in his ear, for since the engine no longer kept up its roar and the
propeller had ceased functioning, it was possible for them to hear
ordinary sounds. "Mebbe now it might be that four-footed ole grizzly
b'ar an' I ort to get my rattler o' a machine gun in hand."

"Don't bother about that, Perk," Jack told him, "see, it's a man, and
chances are we're going to meet the queer old hermit of the mountains
right now."

Even as Jack was thus quieting the fears of his chum, the object of
their observation walked into full sight and was hastening to reach the
border of the clear-water lake close by where the only sign of a beach
occurred.

He was not a startling figure at all and seemed garbed in ordinary
clothes that had evidently been selected for long service when far away
from tailors and housewives. His face was bearded and his hair white but
he strode along with a swinging step that told of bodily vigor and good
health.

Reaching the border of the water he seemed to be giving them the "once
over," as Perk called it in his suggestive way.

"There, see, he's beckoning for us to come closer," said Jack with
something approaching relief in his manner. "I see what looks like a
clumsy boat made from the trunk of a tree drawn far up on the shore.
Reckon he uses the old tub when he feels like doing a little fishing.
We'll taxi in as close as the depth of the water allows and then if
necessary we can wade the balance of the way, carrying Suzanne between
us."

As he turned to start his motor he had one look at the white face of the
speechless girl and as long as he lived Jack would never forget the
tense agony he saw stamped there. It hardly seemed as though Suzanne was
breathing as she stared at the figure of the strange old man on the
shore in whose hands as she well knew, lay the power of life and death
insofar as her happiness was concerned. One word from him would tell the
whole tragic story.

Then the motor began to hum and with a dextrous hand Jack sent the
amphibian scurrying toward the beach. Perk meanwhile snatched up a pole
he always kept handy for such a purpose and thrusting it into the water,
sounded the depth as they went along.

When presently Perk called out just what he had been waiting to announce
so grandly "by the mark, twain," Jack shut off the engine and the plump
of the anchor immediately followed, Perk having that useful hook ready
at his hand.

"You are searching for him, I take it for granted?" said the hermit, at
the same time pointing to the wreck of the plane not many yards away
with its disconsolate looking tail in the air and its nose apparently
buried in the mud a few feet under the surface.

"Yes, we are one of a score and more of plane parties scouring the whole
side of the Rockies," replied Jack, trying his best to keep his voice
from breaking for the suspense had him in its grip as well as the poor
girl. "Did you manage to save him, sir--tell us--or--or was it too
late?"

He heard a low, bubbling cry, or was it a sob--at his elbow but his eyes
were riveted on the tall erect figure of the mysterious recluse. The
other was nodding his head--surely that could be reckoned a favorable
sign. Jack again summoned his courage to the fore and went on to ask the
crucial question:

"This girl, sir, is the sweetheart of Buddy Warner, whose strange
disappearance has thrilled the entire nation--have pity, and relieve her
dreadful suspense--is he alive?"

Another nod, and in the affirmative, accompanied by a ghost of a smile.
Then came the words that would ring in Jack's ears for many a moon:

"Alive, and with a good chance for recovery, I am glad----"

"Quick! catch her, Perk!" yelled Jack as he felt the girl falling in a
dead faint from the reaction. The relief proved too much for the
strained condition of her nerves.

A dash of ice-cold water from the lake soon revived her and she smiled
at the pair bending over her so solicitously.

"We must get her ashore without any delay," announced Jack, for he had
great fears lest the enraptured girl take it upon herself to jump
overboard and without any assistance from either of her guardians manage
to make land.

Perk instantly dropped into the water which came almost up to his waist.
It was pretty cold, but what did that matter to one so fond of calling
himself a "tough old guy" and able to negotiate where others would
shrink back.

Suzanne sprang into his arms as though not a second was to be lost in
reaching the side of her beloved Buddy. So too, did Jack follow the
example of his pal, determined not to be cheated out of the glorious
sight when Suzanne and Buddy were reunited.

Once they were all ashore, dripping wet, but heedless of so little a
thing under the circumstances. The master of this lonely region led them
along what seemed to be a narrow, well trodden path, circulating among
the piled-up rocks and trees, until presently they reached a rude shack
from the stone chimney of which arose the tell-tale smoke that had been
their guiding beacon in discovering the retreat of the recluse.

Suzanne dashed ahead of their guide and they heard her joyous cries as
they reached the open door. She was down on her knees, her arms around a
figure stretched out on a rude cot.

And so it was that Jack and Perk came upon the lost air-mail pilot whose
hand they were soon squeezing with heartiest enthusiasm. Buddy was
bandaged pretty well and confessed to a broken arm and quite a lot of
bruises, all of which would keep him "on the shelf" for a month or so
but everything was "all right," he told them and expressed amazement as
well as pride when told that Suzanne had not only received her pilot's
license, unbeknown to him, but even made a long and successful solo
flight in the mad desire to join in the wide search for him.

The hermit was saying nothing, only listening with great interest and
Jack could easily see that somehow this strange happening must have
renewed his interest in the outside world from which he had for years
been a stranger.

Such chattering as followed.

The happy girl turned every little while to beam upon her two faithful
squires as if she could never forget how much they had done for her.
Perk stared at her as though entranced. Evidently he had never imagined
there could be so much loveliness in all the wide world as he saw
pictured there in her rosy face with eyes like twin stars. For such a
delightful little "dame" the honest fellow would have braved the perils
of Niagara or the Whirlpool Rapids, if need be, to see such rapture
steal over her face. The proud feeling, that he had been able to prove
of service to Suzanne in her hour of blackest despair, would reward him
ten times over for any bodily discomfort he may have endured. And Buddy
too, he was surely worth finding--so jovial, so chummy in his ways and,
lucky guy, with so dainty a "best girl" to hover over him and be his
devoted nurse.

No one would ever know the part he and Jack had taken in this happy
ending of the widely published mystery attending Buddy's vanishing in
the night. The rules of the service to which he and his pal had sworn
allegiance forbade such a thing as publicity. To have their pictures
sent throughout the land, with an account of their previous successful
labors in rounding up transgressors of the law, would put an effectual
damper on any future jobs coming their way. It was not to be permitted
under any circumstances whatever and not only the hermit, but both Buddy
and his girl must solemnly promise never to disclose the names and
vocation of the two airmen who were mainly responsible for the finding
of the lost aviator.

That, however, was a minor matter to both comrades. They were not in the
Secret Service of Uncle Sam for any glory or honors that might be
showered upon them. They did not risk their lives day after day with any
hope of being decorated with a Victory Cross or any ribbon telling of
foreign service. It must be sufficient reward for them to feel that they
had performed their duty to the best of their ability, no matter what
its character and, backed by the long arm of the Law, brought wicked
violators to the bar of justice, there to receive the penalty for their
crimes.

One thing Jack noticed almost immediately was how everything connected
with the bandaging of Buddy's broken arm had been carried out with
astonishing neatness. Had he been a patient in some hospital, attended
by the most famous of surgeons and with a clever nurse as his attendant,
he could not have been in better shape.

Jack looked again closely at the mysterious recluse, noted the keen eye,
the slender, agile fingers which moved with dexterity when he fixed up
some little slip in the bandage and made up his mind that the world had
undoubtedly lost one of its most gifted surgeons when this unknown man
took to the woods, so to speak, for some reason never known.

Buddy was a bit weak and his host bade him not to keep talking too long,
since excitement would not be good for him in his present
condition--indeed he had quite enough as it was. But Suzanne begged so
hard to be permitted to wait upon him and promised to keep him quiet,
that she was finally given permission to do so.

Perk too, had noticed the way in which the hermit had done such a
wonderfully fine job in attending to the one he had rescued from
drowning after the plane had crashed; for he too, seemed to steal a sly
glance in the other's direction whenever he felt he could do so without
being detected.

For one thing, the near miracle of Buddy's being able to drop down into
the shallows near the sandy shore had doubtless kept the plane from
being wrapped in flames and possibly eased the plunge more or less.

"When I dragged him out," the owner of the shack explained to Jack and
the latter noted how musical his voice seemed, so full and clear in the
bargain, "he would not allow me to even look at his wounds until I had
found and rescued four sacks of mail. You would have thought the
contents of those bags were of greater value than his own life. That is
what I'd call being faithful to a trust. But now I must ask both of you
gentlemen to follow me outside where, as a rule I do my cooking. While
we make ready to have supper, such as the limited stores will allow, we
can talk over things and you may be able to figure just how you expect
to take off again in the morning for it is too late now to consider
going."

A little later on, while Jack was aboard the ship getting certain things
that he wanted, Perk sidled up to the earnest old man with whom their
fortunes had been so strangely thrown, and with one of his capacious
grins remarked casually:

"If you'll excuse me for sayin' it, mister, I kinder guess now your name
might be Doctor Whitelaw Reeves!"

When the other heard him mention that name he started as though he had
been stung and looked Perk over with those keen eyes of his, and then a
faint smile broke out on his stern face.



                                 XXVIII

                          AROUND THE CAMPFIRE


"How does it come, my young friend," remarked the recluse of Crater Lake
moving closer to the grinning Perk and apparently greatly moved, "that
you are mentioning a name I have not heard spoken for the last seven
years?"

"Huh! it happens, Doc, that I got some memory. Specially o' faces,"
candidly replied the aviator. "Course you've changed a heap since I
knowed you, but back o' it all I could ketch the same look you had then
when you fixed me up so dickey."

"Ah! that is what it means! So you were once a patient of mine. I hope I
served you well, to cause you to remember me so long!" and the hermit
patted Perk on the shoulder in what seemed to be a very friendly way.

"Hot ziggetty dog! I'm sayin' you did, Doc--looky here and see how the
things healed up," and as he said this, Perk rolled up his sleeve,
exhibiting a stout arm marked by a series of red lines zigzagging here
and there and giving evidence of being a reminder of a most serious
wound.

The hermit looked and nodded his head.

"Rather a tough proposition it must have been," he remarked with a show
of interest.

"You jest bet it _was_!" vociferated Perk. "That bally English doctor
wanted to take the arm off--said it'd save my life, but what use would
life be to a birdman with only one arm? Then you came along and done the
trick, Doc. Never could forget what I owed you. Finest operation ever
done on that line, the American surgeon said afterwards."

"Ah! very kind of him, I am sure," said Perk's companion, obviously
appreciating the implied compliment, "and would you mind telling me just
where, and under what conditions all this happened? It may assist me to
remember the particular instance out of the hundreds I handled?"

"In the Argonne, Doc--I came down in flames after sendin' two out o'
four Heinies ahead o' me. 'Member you told me my mother had ought to
feel proud o' her boy--which she sure was, Doc. Course it couldn't
hardly be 'spected you'd 'member me, but I guessed I'd keep think-in'
'bout you as long as I lived. An' to think we'd run up agin each other
like this--it certainly is a small world, as I've said before."

"While I don't happen to remember the particular circumstance, my
friend," the other went on warmly, "it's a pleasure to know that you did
pull through with both arms and have apparently continued to ply your
dangerous, if glorious calling ever since. Shake hands with me, will
you? I'm proud to renew our acquaintance and it comes at a turning point
in my life also."

He glanced affectionately at Buddy lying there on his cot with the girl
hovering over him, smoothing the blanket as only a woman can and
lavishing looks of adoration on her hero pilot.

"For years I have been mourning the fact that after being shell-shocked
on the battle line during the closing month of the war, I had lost my
touch for my vocation; for a surgeon depends a great deal on his hands
for the success of his delicate operations. Then _he_ came into my life
as though dropping down from heaven itself. The necessity for
immediately handling his injuries started me back into the old rut again
and I was thrilled to discover that my finger-tips were as sensitive as
ever. Then I realized that since God was so good as to restore to me
that which I feared had been lost forever, it would be wicked for me to
remain shut up away from my fellows when so many suffering people were
holding out their hands to me for aid. My prayer had been heard and I
have resolved to go back once more to labor in the field that can never
have an over supply of workers."

What he said so seriously, so joyfully, thrilled Perk to the core. He
felt that both he and his chum Jack had had at least a little to do with
this loyal determination on the part of the once expert surgeon to again
offer his services to the uncounted multitude of sufferers in every
great city of the nation, and insofar as he could effect a cure, bring
happiness to many a home that was now shrouded in darkness.

Later on, when Perk had a chance to tell this remarkable happening to
the deeply interested Jack, and they had talked it all over, they came
to the conclusion that the supposed loss of his skill as a result of his
shock, was not the only reason causing Doctor Reeves to have that
mysterious yearning to seek the solitudes of Nature in an effort to shun
his fellow men. He may have met with some bitter disappointment, perhaps
from the hand of the woman he loved, who had proved faithless. But all
this was none of their business and Jack agreed with his pal when Perk
declared they were treading on forbidden ground in even speculating
about it.

"No matter what it was," Jack ended the talk by saying earnestly, "he's
apparently gotten over that upset. Time heals wounds of the heart we
know, and if he's the wonderful surgeon you say, he can do a heap of
missionary work among the hospitals during the rest of his life. I'm
mighty glad we've run across him and he seems to have fixed up Buddy
here just prime--says he'll be able to get back on his job in four weeks
and be just as good as ever."

"Bully for Doc. Reeves!" exclaimed the enthusiastic Perk, still a little
dazed over the amazing coincidence of meeting the professional man to
whom he owed so much.

They found that the hermit--who would be called by that name no longer
if he kept his new resolution--had a stone fireplace close by his
shelter where he was accustomed to carrying on such cooking as was
necessary.

Perk immediately took possession of the "cooking galley" as he was
pleased to call the small addition to the shack where a meagre
assortment of pots and pans were hanging, and proceeded to provide
supper.

He would not allow the proprietor to render the least assistance and
also declined the offered help of Suzanne, telling her she could do more
good as a nurse than trying to help him. He had long been waiting just
such an opportunity to "sling the grub" and was not going to be knocked
out of this fine chance.

Jack, knowing how the other was enjoying himself, offered no objections
so Perk found himself monarch of all he surveyed and boss of the
kitchen.

Perk dragged the clumsy dugout belonging to the late recluse to serve as
a ferry between the anchored amphibian and the shore. Later on Jack saw
him fetching a number of things up to the vicinity of the shack and
chuckled, highly amused, to note that among them was the submachine gun
with its belt of ammunition. He could readily surmise what that meant.
Perk must have remembered seeing that monster silvertip bear waddling
along among the piled-up masses of rock not so very far distant from the
shack of their present host and with some dimly defined notion in his
head that he might wish to again play sentinel and guard to the camp,
was determined to be in condition to meet any situation that might
arise.

Oh! well, if it pleased Perk to imagine dire things hovering over their
heads, and if it afforded him real happiness to assume the duties of a
posted sentry, why should any one wish to cheat him of such an innocent
recreation? It could do no harm but on the other hand would give the
vigilant one a feeling of satisfaction, thought Jack.

"Only I do hope," Jack was telling himself under his breath with a fond
glance toward the object of his soliloquy, "if he's bound to save us all
again, his victim turns out to be a little more ferocious than a
wretched half-starved prairie dog, creeping up to smell out a bone or
two thrown away after a camp supper."

Perk was a busy and willing worker for the next half hour, dodging in
and out, bending over his cooking fire that had been coaxed to a point
approaching perfection with several pots and pans resting on the large
gridiron that the ex-hermit evidently used principally for roasting his
potatoes in their skins, he being no great hand at achieving culinary
triumphs. Some men are born to one profession and others excel in quite
another line. Doc. Reeves' specialty was surgery, that of Jack might be
set down as general excellence along the duties of an air pilot and also
fairly well equipped to play his part as one of Uncle Sam's energetic
Secret Service men while Perk had a notion he shone in no one particular
line, but could get up about as savory a meal, under existing
conditions, as the best woods guide.

He certainly surpassed himself on this particular occasion. The odors
that soon began to permeate the atmosphere all around that lonesome spot
caused Jack to show uneasiness, as though he could hardly wait for Perk
to call them to partake of the glorious feast.

"Why, if this keeps on much longer," he told himself as he walked up and
down near by as a very hungry man is apt to do when waiting for supper
to be put upon the table, especially if it is in camp, where appetite
reigns above ordinary likes and dislikes, "he'll have the whole
neighborhood saturated with the smell of whatever he's cooking. If
there's a hungry mountain lion or a half-starved grizzly within a mile
of here, he'll make a trail to this nook right away. What's that Emerson
wrote, that if a man invents the best mouse trap ever built the world
will make the deepest kind of a trail flocking to his woods cabin to
patronize him? And Perk's sure _some cook_, I admit!"

The agony was finally brought to an end and they settled down on bits of
logs and a couple of ricketty chairs the self-exiled surgeon had
manufactured at some time or other. A small table, also home-made,
fairly groaned under the most bountiful supply of "camp grub" imaginable
and the grinning Perk eager to serve it out in generous portions.

Even the injured Buddy developed an astonishing appetite. Doc. Reeves,
now radiant and full of good nature at the way he had been brought back
to his one consuming passion, which he feared was gone forever, declared
he had not sat before such a gorgeous feast for many a long year.
Suzanne too, saw fit to add her praises while she ate and ate, as if
trying to make up for the several meals she had missed while laboring
under such a heavy load of suspense.

As for the cook himself, he showed no sign of his late labors having
diminished his capacity for stowing away tremendous quantities of food,
as those who prepare meals so often declare. But there was enough for
all and a bit to be thrown out for the squirrels, rabbits, or any larger
species of hungry mountain denizens that might care to investigate the
appetizing odors.

They sat around in the faint light of the only lamp available, used only
occasionally by the doctor on account of the difficulty of transporting
kerosene such a distance on muleback, and talked on a variety of
subjects. Buddy was of course eager to learn what was being said
concerning the mystery of his disappearance and must have been duly
thrilled when Jack and Perk recounted some of the many things they had
read under flaming head-lines in the daily papers coming under their
observation from time to time.

When questioned, he told in simple words just what had happened. It was
nothing original, just such an accident as might happen to the most
skillful of air pilots, though not all of them live through the
experience. Chancing to see the little lake which was not by any means
the first time he had glimpsed it, since on several occasions he had
flown above it while carrying his mail pouches to and from airports, he
had tried to make a halfway safe landing on the strip of sand at that
end of the round pond but failing by a dozen or more feet, plunged into
the water.

He lost all knowledge of what happened, coming to his senses a long time
afterwards to find himself on a cot with the recluse just completing his
wonderful job of attending to his broken arm and the many bruises about
the rest of his person.

Dr. Reeves said but little, seeming quite content to listen to the
voices of his little company of guests thrown so unexpectedly upon his
hands but it was easy to see he was far happier that night than he had
been for many years, with the future again beckoning and looming up as a
wide field where he could apply his services in behalf of his fellows.

It was decided that Buddy must keep his cot for the night. They made up
one for Suzanne with several fairly well cured animal pelts, mementoes
of certain beasts the recluse had shot or trapped, either for their
skins or to be used as a change of diet. Jack and Perk were old
campaigners, and could find an apology for a bed on the ground near the
fire while the surgeon said he meant to sit on a chair in the kitchen
and spend the night in general rejoicing over his good fortune in
"coming back."

Jack teased his chum a bit when he saw the other lugging that
sub-machine gun over to where he was going to sleep, but Perk only
grinned, and nodded, as though he really enjoyed the prospect of once
more remaining on guard.



                                  XXIX

                          NO PROWLERS ALLOWED


Perk was more than usually sleepy when he lay down with the gun close by
the fire. Perhaps he really did not expect to be called upon to defend
the camp since the doctor had assured him there had never been any
serious trouble from the inmates of the wilderness, though he admitted
he had now and again found some evidence in the morning that a large
beast had been prowling around while he slept behind a closed door.

But having made up his mind to do his full duty, Perk was not to be
turned aside either through arguments or ridicule. He lay there doing
his best to keep awake by reviving long since buried memories of his
activities across the sea when in France.

Then he "passed out," as he himself would have termed it, to awaken and
find the fire in need of replenishing. There was an abundance of wood
close at hand so, still half asleep, Perk got to his knees, picked up an
armful and rising to his full height stepped over to the smoldering
fire.

As he cast his burden on the red ashes some of the smaller stuff started
up instantly, causing the immediate vicinity to appear as though
illuminated by a flash of vivid sunlight.

Perk heard a sound that was not unlike a loud sniff. This startled him
and his returning animation was hastened when he caught a low growl,
thrilling him to the center of his being.

Instantly he stared in the quarter from which these strange sounds
proceeded. A movement concentrated his attention on a certain point.
Some object that resembled a bulky, dark, living thing commenced to rise
up until the startled Perk though it would never stop growing.

There it was standing before him--the same monster he had seen from his
seat aboard the air ship. A full-grown grizzly, the "Mountain Charlie"
of the California ranchers and hunters, a very giant of devilish
ferocity and unafraid of anything that walked on two or four feet,
monarch of the foothills and canyons of the mighty Rockies!

The grizzly growled again, this time with added vigor as if wanting the
wretched invader of his hunting grounds to thoroughly understand he
would put up with no trifling and that he must speedily "skip the ranch"
unless he wished to be scattered around the whole neighborhood in
pieces.

"Holy Smoke!"

That was as far as Perk got in starting to express his agitated feelings
for the standing bear had made a movement that started him toward the
campfire and the amazed aviator. Perhaps by this time Jack may have also
awakened but Perk gave no heed to such a possibility. As the
self-appointed guardian of the slumbering camp it was up to him to stand
like a rock in its defense.

No right or left tackle on the gridiron ever made a more furious plunge
in an effort to stop the hurtling progress of the enemy player carrying
the pigskin toward the goal posts than Perk set in motion just then,
urged on as with a goad by the necessity for clutching that firearm upon
which he was depending so much.

He landed in a huddle, snatched at the gun, dropped it in his wild
excitement, pawed around for what seemed a full agonized minute but
which evidently lasted less than five seconds and finally found himself
clutching the object of his mad groveling. Even then he got mixed a bit
and was presenting the butt of the weapon toward the oncoming growling
bear when, recognizing his mistake he managed to swing it around.

Another blunder just then might have cost him dear but Perk, now fully
alive to the emergency cooled down sufficiently to move the little lever
which would start the machine-gun to spitting out its discharges in
one--two--three style as long as the belt of cartridges held out and he,
Perk, refrained from shutting off the mechanism by which it was worked.

The bear was not twenty feet away when this hurricane of lead began to
rain upon him with oft repeated thuds. His growls had been followed by
the most dreadful roarings to which those near-by cliffs had ever
echoed. He dropped down on all fours, shuffled this way and that, like a
boy trying to evade the attacks of a swarm of maddened yellow jackets
whose nest he had the temerity to strike with a club. But all without
avail, since the now equally aroused Perk had only to switch the muzzle
of his little cannon a trifle to continue bombarding him right along.

The gigantic beast rolled over this way and that, stroke to get upon his
feet again, his bellows becoming less vociferous as his wounds increased
with frightful rapidity. There could be no telling when Perk would ever
have stopped firing only that a hand grasped his weapon and turned it
upward toward the starry heavens while the voice of Jack roared in his
ear:

"Hold hard, brother, you've got him shot full of holes as it is. What's
the use ruining his hide? Some day you'll be proud to rest your feet on
a rug made from a genuine old grizzly you potted all by yourself out
here in the Rockies."

So the fully aroused Perk managed to curb his warlike spirit a bit and
shut off the flow of deadly missiles.

"Gosh amighty Jack, did you see me knock the ole hippopotamus silly when
I opened on him right smart? Some ruction while she lasted, I'll tell
the cockeyed world! Gee whiz! he's kicked his last an' there he lies as
quiet as a lamb."

"He's your meat okay, buddy," Jack assured him after which he turned to
explain the meaning of the frantic outburst of firing for both Dr.
Reeves and Suzanne were in the doorway of the shack, demanding to know
what it was all about and if anybody were hurt.

"Huh! on'y one that's hurt real bad lies over yonder with his toes
pointin' up to the skies!" laughed the proud marksman. "Reg'lar
he-grizzly, with a bellow like a range bull. Tried to rush me, don't you
know, but it turned out he couldn't chaw lead an' so he quit cold. An'
me, I'm figgerin' on having the smartest rug you ever set eyes on made
from his hairy hide if I c'n trim it from his carcass come mornin'. Some
stunt for little Perk to put on the boards, if I do say it myself, as
oughtn't."

"Queer how I have managed to keep the peace with that scamp for so
long," observed the doctor with a whimsical laugh, "and then he chooses
to go on the warpath just when I happen to have company for the first
time in years. But that was the proper caper, Perk, and you deserve to
have a beautiful rug to show when telling this thrilling exploit to your
grandchildren."

"Wow! go easy on a feller, please, Doc," expostulated the embarrassed
Perk, "why, I ain't even got a girl yet. You see, they gimme the
razzberry, mebbe 'cause I'm so handsome. But I'm meanin' to get that rug
fixed up, if the pelt c'n be dragged off the big varmint in the mornin'
an' that's that."

Examination showed that although a number of the bullets sprayed forth
so promiscuously by the ardent sportsman had punctured the hide of the
bear, these small holes would not prevent its being repaired and made
useful, if one chose to spend a little time and cash for the desired
result. So while Perk absolutely refused to call his vigil off and get
some sleep, he had the comforting assurance that his work had not gone
for naught.

"Yeah! don't try to cramp my style, partner," he told Jack who was
trying to argue that lightning seldom struck twice in the same place,
"course I understand how that grizzly ain't goin' to gimme another
scare, but how do we know that he ain't got a mate an' if she comes
prowlin' around this roost an' runs across her big boy lyin' there all
bloody and cashed in, why she might go on a tear an' smash things into
kindlin' wood. Yep, I'll finish the night on my post. Time to pick up
any lost sleep when we're back in old Cheyenne jest loafin' an' waitin'
for orders to start out on a fresh job."

Knowing how stubborn Perk could be when he took a notion, Jack made no
further attempt to persuade him and the last he saw of the bear-killer,
Perk was sitting there, his back against a stump, with the formidable
machine gun across his knees, all set for business at the old stand. Let
all the silvertips in the entire Rocky Mountain section step up and give
him a dare, with that wonderful gun that reminded him of old days in
France when he was with the La Fayette Escadrille, flying for France and
her allies, he felt equal to a full dozen of the shaggy beasts.

So the balance of the night passed and finally came the dawn of a new
day that would thrill the nation with the startling news covering the
finding of the missing air-mail pilot.



                                  XXX

                         BRINGING IN THEIR MAN


With breakfast out of the way Jack called what Perk termed a "reg'lar
council o' war," for there were numerous matters that would have to be
settled before they could take off and head for civilization.

Dr. Reeves gave it as his opinion that if great care were exercised,
Buddy could be transported to the nearest town but the injured mail
pilot absolutely refused to go unless his prized letter bags accompany
him, such was his devotion to duty.

Then there was Perk also as set on having that valued bear skin, removed
with the help of the doctor, who had learned the art of skinning an
animal while cast upon his own resources. Besides, there would be two
others aboard the amphibian which was apt to make things a bit crowded.

However, Dr. Reeves soon settled the matter by declaring he did not mean
to accompany them. Another day, if Jack and Perk wished to have it so
arranged, they could come for him. He had some things to accomplish that
would take a few hours and there was no necessity for him to be on hand
when Buddy reached town to create the wildest kind of excitement.
Indeed, the eminent surgeon admitted he rather shunned anything that
would be apt to put him in the limelight.

"If there's anything I'd dislike," he told them modestly, "it would be
to find myself in the spotlight I hope to just slip back into the
harness again and the public need know nothing save that I have changed
my mind about retiring from the profession for good, having discovered
that there is still more or less usefulness in my brain and fingers that
ought to be put to the service of suffering humanity."

So it was arranged and without more delay than was absolutely necessary
they managed to get Buddy aboard the amphibian, Jack and Perk having
arranged an original floating dock that could be pushed alongside the
cloud-chaser, rather than try to work the plane ashore.

The transfer was duly carried out and with such care that Buddy felt
very little pain. Next the air mail, so long delayed in delivery, was
stacked in various cavities so as to not take up more room than was
necessary together with a rather messy bundle, Perk's prized future
bearskin rug which he seemed to value more highly every time he gave it
a look.

Everything was now ready for the hopoff and Jack figured on no trouble
whatever in effecting that since the lake was long enough to permit a
fair run and immediately after leaving the water he expected to start
banking so as to circle and climb upward.

Dr. Reeves shook each of his new found friends by the hand and was
unusually warm in saying his goodbye to the happy Suzanne. The bravery
shown by the newly fledged aviatrix in taking great chances of meeting
disaster when striking out to join those who were searching for signs to
tell where the young air mail pilot had crashed, aroused his full
admiration and he did not hesitate to tell Suzanne as much, greatly to
the delight of the listening Buddy.

Standing on the sandy shore of Crater Lake the man who had come back
watched the wonderful amphibian, of which the two pilots were so proud,
rush across the surface of the lake, the first modern flying boat to
ever splash through those ice-cold waters, and then jumping upward,
cleave the air like a monster bird, circling twice, three times, to
finally take off in a bee line for the town where Jack and the others
had passed the preceding night.

They arrived at their destination before an hour had passed and amidst
the most intense excitement and a growing, cheering mob of men, women
and children, the injured mail pilot was taken to the hospital, there to
be cared for until Dr. Reeves joined him later on.

Of course Suzanne refused to be parted from her Buddy. She claimed to be
a pretty fair nurse and indeed, her very presence acted like a tonic to
the patient who could not keep his sparkling eyes off her pretty face
for more than a minute at a time.

Jack had impressed every one with his desire for secrecy. If it could be
avoided, no mention of his name or that of Perk, or their pictures, was
to be given to the bustling newspaper men who would quickly be rushing
in from every quarter by motor, train and airship, eager as hounds in
the leash to grab up bits of news that could be woven into one of the
most thrilling stories of the day to set the whole country agog, east,
west, north and south.

Thanks to the care thus taken, the real facts connected with the finding
of Buddy Warner were fairly well kept from the public press. All sorts
of fantastic accounts were published and some even managed to bring out
the names of the pair most intimately connected with the great stunt but
they were so distorted that Perk had considerable fun in trying to make
them out. He declared a wizard would have his hands full with the job
and that most people must believe the modest heroes, who fled before
being interviewed were foreigners, to judge from their unpronouncable
names.

Wishing to finish his work as soon as possible so that he and Perk could
clear out before most of the keen-eyed reporters arrived, Jack concluded
to hurry back to the lake, pick up Dr. Reeves and what few things he
would like to carry away from the hideout where he had spent so many
solitary years and once he had been landed in the airport, say a hurried
goodbye to all and pull out eastward bound for Cheyenne.

That was the way Jack Ralston usually put things through. While most
others would be still making up their plan of campaign, Jack was apt to
be doing things with a rush and getting results. They had followed the
best rules of the great organization in which they were humble cogs, let
no grass grow under their feet, found what they sought and, with a
Garrison finish, brought in the man they were after and whose name was
on everybody's lips during those few hectic days.

Duty done, it was up to them to vanish from the picture in order to keep
the public from knowing how the Government's Secret Service had been
mainly responsible for the finding of the missing air-mail pilot.

And so that same afternoon, while fresh squads of eager newspaper men
were arriving hourly at the hitherto almost unknown town that had become
famous over night, Jack and his pal were bound east, with a
consciousness that another triumph could be laid at their door, even if,
as happened so many times, the full story must be kept under cover so
that the people of the underworld, in which so many of the activities of
the Service were conducted might not be made familiar with the names and
faces of its most energetic workers and thus be placed on their guard.

Of course it would not be long before further instructions might be
expected from the Washington Headquarters detailing Jack and Perk to
some fresh field of labor where once more they would find themselves
pitted against some of the most nimble-witted lawbreakers known to
modern days. That the adventurous pair would acquit themselves with
credit can be taken for granted for they were always earnest, hard
workers and as a rule able to accomplish the most difficult of jobs
submitted to their charge by those who managed all such matters in the
National Capital.

In the pages of the next volume of this series of thrilling stories
covering the exploits of the Sky Detectives, the title of which is "_The
Sky Pilot's Great Chase_; or, _Jack Ralston's Dead-Stick Landing_" will
be found further lively happenings when the daring pair are sent forth
to cross the international boundary and speed into the far North in the
effort to apprehend a fugitive from justice whose arrest and return to
Washington had become a matter of the greatest moment to the
authorities. How they outwit the lawbreakers and finally get their man,
makes this a story replete with thrills and exciting situations.





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