User Tools

Site Tools


the_banner_boy_scouts_in_the_air

[1]

BANNER BOY SCOUTS
IN THE AIR


[2]

 

[3]

 

[4]

 

[5]

THE BANNER
BOY SCOUTS
IN THE AIR

By

GEORGE A. WARREN

THE WORLD SYNDICATE
PUBLISHING–.COMPANY
CLEVELAND.————NEW YORK

[6]

Copyright, 1937
by
The World Syndicate Publishing Co.

Printed in the United States of America


[7]

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE
I At the Airport 9
II The Meeting 17
III Bobolink is a Hero 23
IV Flying 28
V The Reward 39
VI What To Do with the Money 46
VII Mystery 56
VIII The Mystery Becomes Complicated 65
IX Clues 75
X Flying Instructions 86
XI Baseball Game 102
XII What Happened to Wallace 123
XIII The Cave 134
XIV Flying Solo 146
XV A Complicated Surprise 155
XVI Swimming Contest 163
XVII Man Chained 177
XVIII The Trap 193
XIX At the Cave Again 204
XX Battle in the Sky 216
XXI Night Encounter 226
XXII “The Cave” 242

[8]

 

[9]

BANNER BOY SCOUTS
IN THE AIR


CHAPTER I

At the Airport

Paul and Jack were dashing along on their bicycles through Main Street. It was a clear, beautiful summer day. School was over and they grasped the first opportunity to run over to the airport about a mile outside of Stanhope and which had only recently been completed.

The two boys wore their Scout uniforms and they pedalled along swiftly. Several townspeople paused to watch them pass by and wondered what might be the cause of their haste. Paul stuck his left hand out and they turned right into Oliver Street, thus taking a short cut to the highway and then to the aerodrome. When they arrived at their objective, they dismounted and stood around, taking everything in with their eyes.

The flying field was about a mile long and half a mile wide and entirely cleared of trees, bushes or[10] anything that might be an obstruction. To one side were a group of sheds and a building, evidently the office. At about the middle of the field there was a solitary monoplane.

Jack gasped. Finally he remarked, “Gee, isn’t this grand?”

Paul nodded. He was as much overcome with the wonder of it as his chum. “Boy!” he exclaimed, “it sure is.”

Jack said, “Let’s walk over to the buildings.”

His chum nodded. “Sure, let’s go.”

Pushing their bicycles along side of them, they walked across the field. They could barely contain themselves with wonder, joy and astonishment, which was the cause of their lack of speech. For the past weeks they had been so excited by the news of the flying field being completed that they found it difficult to control themselves enough to go on with their school work. And it wasn’t only Jack and Paul, but all their chums had suddenly become interested in aeronautics. They began to boast of their ambition to become pilots, fly all over the world and enjoy all sorts of adventurous experiences. At times, instead of studying their biology lessons or French, they would be reading thrilling air stories or books on flying.

As the two boys approached the office building, a man emerged and waved to them. They waved[11] back. Paul whispered, “I’ll bet it’s Major McCarthy, the manager.”

Paul was right. The Major was a tall, stocky man of about forty and almost bald. He smiled to them and said, “Hello fellows. I’m Major McCarthy. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Jack said, “We came over to look around, if you have no objections, Major.”

The Major smiled warmly. “Oh, none whatsoever. You’re welcome.”

Paul said, “My name is Paul—Paul Morrison.”

“And your dad is Dr. Morrison?”

“That’s right. How did you know?”

“Well, there’s only one Dr. Morrison in Stanhope. Glad to meet you, Paul.”

The two shook hands. Jack said, “I’m Jack Stormways.”

“Glad to know you,” the major said and they shook hands.

For a few seconds there ensued an embarrassed silence. Neither Jack nor Paul could think of anything to say and Major McCarthy was waiting for them to ask questions. Finally the major said, “Suppose you boys lean your bicycles against the wall and I’ll show you around. There isn’t much doing now and I have some time on my hands.”

Paul cried, “I think that’s swell of you.”

And Jack added, “Thanks a lot.”

[12]

The boys quickly leaned their wheels against the wall and then joined the major, one on either side of him. The major said, “I might as well begin by telling you something about the field. You’ll notice that the field is cleared of all obstructions. That’s absolutely necessary to make sure there is nothing to cause an accident in taking off or landing. The field is about a mile long. That’s to provide plenty of room for taking off or landing.”

Jack interrupted. “How much of a run does it take to land or take off?”

Paul nodded, implying that he too was interested in the question. Major McCarthy answered, “It all depends. A light ship can take off in about a hundred yards or less. A big ship heavily loaded may take a quarter or half a mile or even more to take off. In landing, the ground speed depends a lot upon the velocity of the wind. The stronger the wind, the less space required in which to land.”

They were walking towards the sheds. Pointing, Paul asked, “What’s that?”

The major looked in the direction the boy was pointing. “That’s a wind indicator,” he said. “That shows which way the wind is blowing.”

“And what’s the purpose of that?” Paul asked.

[13]

“To tell which way to land. You always land directly into the wind.”

They were heading toward the monoplane. The boys were thrilled. They had seen planes in the movies and in the daily newspapers, but they had never seen a real plane. As soon as they neared the ship, the first reaction of the boys was to pat it, caress it as if it were a live thing. The major smiled casually and understood how they felt. He said, “Suppose the two of you get into the observer’s seat while I get into the pilot’s place and I’ll explain a few things to you about a plane.”

The boys gasped for breath, they were so shocked by the invitation. “Do you think it’s all right?” Paul asked bewildered.

“Of course,” the major answered, “otherwise I wouldn’t ask you.”

Quickly, lest he reconsider his invitation, the boys scrambled into the observer’s seat. Major McCarthy climbed into the pilot’s seat. They leaned over the major’s shoulders and stared at a bewildering and numerous collection of gadgets on the dashboard. The major said, “First I had better explain to you the meaning of these gadgets.” Pointing to a dial, he explained, “This is the revolution counter. The engine in this plane is designed to give about two thousand revolutions[14] per minute. For all practical purposes, about 1700 or 1800 revolutions are sufficient. Here, on the right, is the throttle lever. And here are the gasoline and oil gauges. This is the ‘doper’ which pumps a spray of gasoline into the engine to help in starting it up. These are the gasoline taps connecting the two tanks and each of the tanks with the feed pipes leading to the carburetors. And this is the ignition control. You keep it advanced when running but retarded when starting up. This is the water temperature indicator. You always keep the water pretty hot.” He paused, then he asked, “Do you have any questions?”

The boys shook their heads, bewildered by it all. “If there are no questions,” Major McCarthy said, “then I’ll continue.”

“This is the control lever, or the ‘joystick’ as it is commonly called.” And he grasped the handle of a short straight stick that protruded upwards between his legs from the floor of the cockpit. “The stick is attached to a universal joint, and it controls both the longitudinal movements as well as the lateral movements by means of wires attached to the elevator and the ailerons. If you want to go up, all you do is pull the stick back; if you want to go down, you push the stick forward. Now notice where my feet are—on the rudder bar. If I want to turn to the left, I push[15] my left foot forward; if I want to turn to the right, I push the right foot forward. Simple, isn’t it?” And he looked up to see the astonishment on the boys’ faces. He continued with his interesting lecture. “Now when I want to turn, I must push the joystick over simultaneously and in the same direction as the rudder. This is called ‘banking’ on one side. The object of banking on a turn is to offer the under-surface of the wings as a plane of resistance to the air. Not banking the plane over retards the forward speed. If you don’t bank enough you may get into a ‘flat turn’. Now a ‘flat turn’ is bad because you may thus stall the motor and take a nose dive and unless you keep your head clear and straighten out again, you’ll most likely crash. Do you understand what I’m talking about?”

Both boys nodded; actually it was all a puzzle to them. Paul remarked, “Gosh, Major, it must be wonderful to be a pilot.”

“It isn’t such a bad job.”

“Do you think we could learn to fly?” inquired Jack.

“Of course. Anybody could.”

“Could you teach us?” Jack was anxious.

“Certainly. But I imagine you’d first have to get permission from your parents. I don’t suppose either one of you is eighteen or over.”

[16]

The boys shook their heads dejectedly. “I’m only seventeen and a half,” Jack said.

“I’m going to be eighteen the fifteenth of next month”—that from Paul.

Major McCarthy looked up. Somebody over at the hangar was calling to him and motioning for him to come over. “Well, I have to go now. Let’s get out of the plane.” Walking back toward the hangers, the major said, “Come around again one of these days and if I have time I’ll take you up.”

“Gee, wouldn’t that be swell,” Paul cried. “You really mean it?”

“Of course.”

Jack was eager. “How about tomorrow?” he asked.

Major McCarthy nodded. “Okey” he said, “but I must ask you boys to obtain permission of your parents. Otherwise I won’t do it.”

“That’s a bargain,” said Paul. “If my dad or mother object I’ll tell you the truth.”

“Same here,” chimed in his chum.

“All right then, I’ll see you boys tomorrow.”

Waving their hands to the Major, they took their bicycles and walked off the field.


[17]

CHAPTER II

The Meeting

Peddling back to town, their minds were in the clouds. Each one was thinking how wonderful it would be to learn to fly, to be a pilot and fly all over the country, perhaps all over the world. And when they thought of the adventure that was in store for them, their hearts swelled with joy and their pulses missed a couple of beats. Paul, who was riding behind, pulled up alongside of his chum, and asked, “Do you think we ought to tell the boys about it?”

“You mean about our coming over here?” Jack queried.

“Yes.”

“Why not? They would certainly be very much interested and there’s no reason why we can’t tell them.”

Paul mused for a moment. Then he said, “But if we tell them that the Major promised to take us up tomorrow, then the whole gang will come out here and want to be taken up. Then perhaps he won’t take any one of us up.”

“I never thought of that,” Jack said. “But then[18] I suppose—” He didn’t finish his sentence because he didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to hold anything back from the boys, yet he thought it was rather selfish on his part not to let them in on it. The same thoughts were going through Paul’s head. They were both fine chaps and ready to share with their friends not only their thoughts, adventures but even their most personal things. But the idea of going up in the air, of actually flying in a real airplane, stunned them. And they naturally hated to be deprived of their forthcoming joyous adventure. Finally, Jack said, “I don’t know, but I think we ought to tell them.”

Paul’s face lit up. “That’s just what I was thinking,” he told his chum.

That off their chests, they wheeled into town briskly. On Main Street, they caught sight of Arline Blair. They jumped off their bikes as they pulled up alongside of her. “Hello, Arline,” both boys cried out.

She was about a year younger than the boys and one of the prettiest girls in town. “Hello,” she said. “Where are you boys coming from? You’re so flushed and look so happy, I wonder what you fellows were up to.”

“We were over to the airport,” Paul told her.

“Really?” She opened her eyes wide with astonishment.

[19]

Jack blurted out, “Sure. And we’re going to learn how to fly and be pilots.”

“Both of us,” added Paul.

Arline pursed her lips. “Isn’t it glorious just to think of it!” she remarked.

The boys stuck their chests out. “It certainly is,” both agreed.

Paul asked, “Which way are you going, Arline?”

“Home.”

“Take you there on my handle bars.”

Jack interrupted, “Perhaps Miss Blair would prefer to ride on my handle bars.”

Arline shook her head. “No. It isn’t very nice for a young lady to ride on handle bars,” she remarked coolly.

“But you used to do it and like it too,” insisted Paul.

“Yes, that’s right,” echoed Jack, “you used to ask me to give you rides.”

Miss Blair raised her chin several inches. “My childhood days are over, gentlemen. Good day Mr. Morrison, and you, Mr. Stormways.” And with that continued her walk down the street, every inch of her a queen.

Jack and Paul looked at each other puzzled, speechless. Paul shrugged his shoulders and put his hand out. Seriously and affectionately they[20] shook hands, jumped on their bikes and were off again.

When the two boys arrived at the meeting place, they found their chums, members of their Patrol, waiting for them. All were dressed in Scout uniforms. The Carberry twins—Wallace and William—were there; so were Bluff Shipley, Bobolink (Robert Oliver Link), Nuthin’ (Albert Cypher), and Ken Armstrong. Just as soon as Paul and Jack came in sight, the boys set up a howl. “Hey, where have you guys been?”

“We’ve been waiting an hour for you fellows.”

“What’s the idea of keeping us waiting like this?”

“You fellows must be up to some mischief.”

Paul and Jack looked at each other and smiled. Paul held up his hand and the boys quieted down considerably. “Would you care to know where we’ve been?”

“Of course.”

“Certainly.”

“Come on, Paul, tell us.”

“Hey, Jack, don’t hold back on us.”

Jack, to tantalize his friends, turned to Paul and asked, “Do you think we ought to tell them?”

“Hey, how do you get that way?”

Wallace began jumping up and down. “You better tell us,” he cried, “or we’ll roast you.”

[21]

“Roast them, that’s it,” echoed Bobolink.

Paul held up his hand and the boys quieted down. “We’ve been over to the airport,” he announced.

Bedlam broke loose, the boys were so thrilled and excited. So many questions were hurled at the two boys that they stuck their fingers into their ears and turned away. When the boys finally quieted down again, Paul said, “If you promise to keep order, we’ll tell you about it.”

Bluff stuttered, “Sure, we p-p-promise. Don’t we, b-boys?”

They all nodded and agreed. Between Paul and Jack it was decided that Paul should be the one to narrate the events of their adventurous afternoon. As he told the story, the boys gasped with amazement. And when he told them about the major’s promise to take them up into the air on the morrow, the boys were dumbfounded. Finally, the first one to regain his speech, William, exclaimed, “Gee, what luck!”

Bluff muttered mournfully, “Luck! There is no word for it. These two have all the luck in the world.”

Wallace, the sober and serious one of the twins arose. “Scouts,” he began in a dignified tone, “in view of the fact that we are all interested in aeronautics, I propose—” he hesitated and looked[22] around to see all eyes on him. “I propose,” he continued, “that we consider ways and means to learn everything there is about flying and about airplanes.”

Nuthin’ cried, “That’s a mighty fine suggestion, but how are we going to do it?”

Paul suggested, “We might talk it over with Major McCarthy, he’s the manager of the airport and he ought to know.”

Bobolink cried, “Sure he knows and he’ll tell us too. I want to be a pilot.”

“S-s-same here,” stuttered Bluff.

“In that case,” spoke up Jack, “I guess we better postpone any further discussion until Paul and I will see Major McCarthy tomorrow. We’ll speak to him and then report back.”

“That’s swell.”

“Okey.”

“That’s the right idea.”

Paul asked, “Is everybody agreed?” All the boys nodded. “Then the meeting is adjourned until tomorrow,” he concluded.


[23]

CHAPTER III

Bobolink is a Hero

Jack and Paul mounted their bicycles and peddled along very leisurely. The other six, in formation, marched on the side walk. Suddenly a shriek pierced the air. Bobolink was the first to notice. Dropping out of line, he began to run at full speed. The others, although they were not sure what it was all about, nevertheless also joined in the run. A blue sedan was speeding down the street and bearing down on a little boy of about three who, unconcerned of traffic or any danger, was crossing the street. Half way across he paused and stared for several seconds at the cobblestones, then he continued walking to the other side, thus getting into the path of the oncoming, speeding automobile. Several women screamed. The mother, about ten yards away, fainted.

Bobolink ran until his breath was gone. It was the fastest hundred yard run a human could do. The speeding car was barely a yard away when Bobolink reached the spot. With his outstretched arms he gave the child a shove that sent him sprawling. The next moment he saw a galaxy of[24] stars, a piercing pain made him cry out and then darkness, unconsciousness. The automobile had side-swiped him and scraped his right side.

A great number of people immediately collected and surrounded the two victims. The child, except for being shocked and very slightly bruised, was unhurt. Bobolink, however, lay stretched out, appearing more dead than alive.

Paul and Jack, on their bicycles, saw the incident. Immediately they wheeled around and peddled vigorously after the speeding car. Ordinarily, the chase would have been a futile and useless gesture. But the boys knew that about 500 yards away was a very sharp left turn, and at the speed the driver was going, he was sure either to crash or turn over. And sure enough, the driver, ignorant of the sharp turn ahead, did not slow up until it was too late. Frantically he swung the wheel, so he would not crash into the wall that loomed up in front of him. The side of the car bounced against the concrete wall and turned over into the ditch. Just as the boys came up and jumped off their wheels, the driver had extricated himself. He was a tall, husky, evil looking young man. Dazed, he stood wavering on his legs and shaking himself trying to shake off his dizziness. Without hesitation, the boys jumped on him. He offered no[25] resistance. He lay stunned. Paul said, “Guess he’s out all right.”

They looked down at the unconscious form sprawling on the ground. The man’s face was a mass of blood and his hand was twisted as though broken at the wrist. Paul said, “I’ll stay here and watch him. You ride back and get the police and have an ambulance come.”

Jack nodded. “But suppose he comes to, do you think you could hold him?”

Paul looked down at the victim. “Even if he comes to,” he said, “he’d be too weak to run or put up any fight.”

“All right, then,” Jack said, “I’m going.”

But just as he was about to mount his bike, he saw an ambulance come speeding toward them. Evidently someone in the house a short distance away had seen the accident and immediately reported it by telephone.

The ambulance stopped. An interne jumped out and with him a policeman. The doctor examined the man, then had him put on a stretcher and into the ambulance. The policeman examined the wrecked car, took the license number, removed a valise, and then questioned Paul and Jack who told him all they knew. They asked him about Bobolink but he knew nothing of what happened to the boy.

[26]

The ambulance turned around and went back to town. With heavy hearts and wondering whether their friend was alive or dead, the two boys mounted their bikes and wheeled back to town. Jack sidled up to his chum. “What are we going to do now, Paul?” he asked.

“I guess we better try to find out how Bobolink is,” he answered.

“He was a swell guy,” muttered Jack.

“He certainly was,” echoed Paul.

“Do you think he was killed or just hurt?”

Paul shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know,” he answered. “We better wait and see.”

They peddled along slowly and mournfully. At last they came to Bobolink’s home and found all the other boys idling dolefully on the porch.

Paul approached the twins and asked, “How is he?”

Wallace shook his head and turned away. William whispered hoarsely, “Don’t know yet.”

About ten minutes later Dr. Morrison emerged from the house. Noticing the boys congregated on the porch, with their faces drawn and appearing quite sombre, he looked puzzled, then suddenly smiled. They rushed up and surrounded him. Paul asked, “How is he, Dad?”

“He’s fine,” Dr. Morrison replied. “Nothing to worry about. He’ll be back with you and running[27] around as though nothing had happened, in three days.”

Bluff for once didn’t stutter and cried, “Hooray! Hooray for Bobolink!”

The other boys joined and they cheered the hero. When they quieted down, Paul asked his father, “May we go in to see him?”

The doctor nodded. “Yes, of course. That is, if it’s all right with Mrs. Link.”

So Jack was delegated to go in and ask Mrs. Link for permission to see Bobolink, which was granted. So they entered in a body to cheer up the invalid and hero.


[28]

CHAPTER IV

Flying

That evening Paul and Jack approached their parents for permission to be taken up in an airplane. Paul encountered little difficulty, much to his surprise. Of course, he was cautioned several times to be careful and he reiterated all the arguments he could muster about how safe flying had become and that there was no danger involved at all. Jack, on the other hand, found his mother set against any such thing. His father was reasonable and consented, but only on condition that his mother did not object. But she did, very strenuously! Jack argued his case as well as the best lawyers until his mother would no longer answer him but merely shake her head. Finally he told her that if Paul’s mother didn’t object he didn’t see why she should. So she called up Mrs. Morrison and then reluctantly gave her consent. Jack jumped high in the air and whooped for joy.

That night both boys found it difficult to fall asleep thinking of the adventure that was in store for them. And when they finally did fall asleep they dreamed of all sorts of things. Jack dreamed[29] that he was a pilot flying across the country. Paul dreamed that he and his chum were flying across the jungles of South America and that they crashed and became lost in the jungles. And just as a wild animal which he couldn’t recognize was about to jump at him, he woke up and tumbled out of bed.

At about noon, Jack met Paul at the latter’s home and, mounting their bicycles, they were off to the airport. They were so thrilled that they couldn’t talk. So they peddled along briskly and when they arrived at their destination they found the Carberry twins and Nuthin’ already there and waiting for them. As Paul and Jack came in sight, the three boys set up a yell. Major McCarthy came out of the office building and waved to them. “Hello, there,” he said. “Are you ready to go up?”

Paul cried, “Sure. And we can hardly wait.”

Jack said, “And our parents gave us permission, too.”

The major smiled cheerfully. “I don’t see any reason for them to object,” he said, “but then some parents object thinking that it’s dangerous when it isn’t at all.”

The boys agreed with him. Nuthin’ cried, “You fellows don’t know how lucky you are. I’d give a right arm to be in your place.”

[30]

William offered higher stakes. He said, “I’d give a right arm and a right leg to change places with either of you two.”

Major McCarthy grinned. “Maybe I’ll take you boys up on that,” he said. “I can always use a couple of right arms.”

William jumped high in the air and whooped. “Say, do you mean that?” he demanded.

“I’m not saying a thing,” the major replied. “We’ll just wait and see.”

He went into the office and returned a few minutes later. “Already to go up?” he asked. They answered eagerly that they were and he said, “Then let’s go.”

The two boys fell in alongside of him with the three others trailing behind. At the hangar, one of the mechanics helped the major wheel out the plane. Then the mechanic hunted up a couple of jackets and goggles for the boys. When everything was ready, the major said, “All right, boys, climb into the observer’s seat. If you make yourselves small enough, there will be plenty of room for both of you.”

They climbed in. The other three boys were told to retreat about a hundred yards away. Finally the major got into the cockpit. Turning to the boys, he asked them, “Everything all right? Not frightened?”

[31]

They shook their heads and assured him that they felt perfectly at ease. The mechanic grasped hold of the propeller. “Ready! Switch off! Suck in!” he shouted.

“Switch off! Suck in!” answered the pilot.

The boys leaned over to watch what the pilot was doing. As the mechanic turned the propeller over about half a dozen times, the pilot, with a few strokes of the doping pump, sprayed gasoline vapor into the cylinders. “Contact!” cried the mechanic.

“Contact!” replied the major. He pressed down the switches and quickly turned the handle of the starting magneto. Brrr ... brrrr ... went the engine. The mechanic sprang away. The mechanic made as though to bound forward but was checked by the wooden chocks, placed in front of the under-carriage wheels.

Just as he was ready, he turned back and asked, “Are you ready boys?”

“Yes, sir,” they replied.

“Very well, then, we’re off.”

The three boys at the sheds cheered lustily as the machine began to move and Paul and Jack waved to them. And before they realized it the machine was about six feet off the ground which seemed to be falling away beneath them. The plane kept climbing steadily upwards. The boys[32] leaned forward. They saw that the air-speed indicator registered a little over a hundred miles an hour, and they wondered because they couldn’t feel the machine traveling at such a rate of speed. As they continued to climb, the boys looked over the side at the scene below them. The earth now appeared like a great colored map, with fields showing up in different shades of green and brown. The airport which they had only shortly left, was a little to the left of them. Sheds and houses and barns appeared as very small rectangular blocks. As they climbed still higher, things took on yet smaller proportions. Major McCarthy spoke to them through the telephone. “Well, how do you like it?” he asked.

Paul answered for both of them. “Marvelous!” he cried.

The pilot banked the machine and it steeped over on one side so sharply that the boys instinctively clutched for support. McCarthy’s voice came over the telephone “Don’t be alarmed,” he said, “there’s no danger and you can’t fall out.” He straightened out the machine. Again they heard his voice. “Feel a little giddy?” he asked. “If you do,” he cried, “look down upon some fixed object on the ground and you’ll feel all right.”

Both boys complied with his instructions and they soon got over their giddiness. The pilot kept[33] the machine sailing at an even keel. Soon they were flying over a small town and they saw what appeared to them as ants scurrying along. They knew that the ants were really men and women and they marveled how small they appeared. As a matter of fact, everything looked like toys from that distance and flying above a railroad, the track seemed to be two thin lines drawn with a pencil. Major McCarthy’s voice came over the telephone. “How would you boys like some stunts?” he asked.

The boys grinned at each other. Paul answered for both of them. “Very much,” he said.

“All right,” he said, “we’ll have to be satisfied with only one today. Just to see how you fellows take it. First we’ll bank and turn around. Ready!”

But before they could answer the pilot already had the machine keeled over on one side. On an even keel again, the major asked them, “How about your safety belts.” They adjusted their safety belts and told him so. “Very well,” he said, “here goes.” And so saying, he opened the throttle and the plane bounded forward. In a few seconds the nose sprang upward. As it rose the forward speed decreased, yet the engine continued to run at the maximum revolutions. The machine was not pointing vertically upwards. For a moment the plane appeared to hang on the revolving[34] propeller and it felt as though the machine must inevitably drop tail foremost. But right away the nose fell over to one side and dropped and the tail shot up and the machine was shooting sharply downward. For some distance they continued to dive, then the pilot shut off the throttle and pulled back the elevator lever and brought the plane again on an even keel. However, they were now flying in the opposite direction. McCarthy asked, “How was it?”

The boys were thrilled. “Fine!” cried Paul.

“Were you afraid?”

“No, not in the least.”

“Well, that was an easy one, but the next time we’ll try a harder one.”

Jack couldn’t contain himself, so he cried, “How about now?”

Major McCarthy shook his head. “Enough for today,” he told them.

They were now flying over the airport and a minute later they landed. The three waiting boys sent up a couple of greeting cheers and ran over to meet the grinning two who were tumbling out of the plane. “How was it?” demanded Nuthin’.

William was impatient. “Tell us about it, quick,” he cried.

Paul nudged his chum in the ribs and asked, “Do you think we ought to tell them?”

[35]

Jack smiled and wiggled his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think we ought to consider it.”

William was impatient. “Hey, come on,” he cried. “No stalling now.”

The major joined the group and the two boys thanked him. He said, “It’s quite all right, boys, I’m only too glad to do it. And by the way, I heard all about what happened yesterday. You tell that fellow, what’s his name—”

“Bobolink,” cried Nuthin’.

“Bobolink,” repeated the major. “He’s a friend of yours, isn’t he?”

Wallace interjected, “He certainly is. He is a grand fellow, too.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said the major. “So you tell him that just as soon as he’s recovered, to come over here and I’ll take him up for a ride.”

“Yea!” cried Nuthin’, “hooray for Major McCarthy!”

They gave the major three cheers. But William wanted to know something else. “How about us?”

“Well,” he said, “I’ll think it over.” They were now at the door of the office building. Entering, he turned around and said, “Don’t go away, now. I’ll be out right away.”

The boys squatted on the ground, with Paul and Jack in the center and the two boys were[36] obliged to tell every detail of their experience. It took about fifteen to twenty minutes to narrate the story and when finally it was told, the boys sat back, speechless and lost in thought. William said, “Gee, I hope the major gives me a ride. I’d do anything.”

Wallace said, “Getting a ride is all very well, but what I really am interested in is to learn how to fly. I wonder if it’s hard to learn.”

“No, I don’t think so,” replied Paul. “Major McCarthy told us yesterday that it was easy to learn.”

Jack said, “I was watching him all the time and it looks very simple. But we could ask him.”

“Yes, we could do that,” remarked Wallace, “but what we want to know is whether he would teach us.”

William spoke up, saying, “All of us.”

“Of course, all of us,” agreed Paul.

Just then the major came out and they called him over. He seated himself on the ground beside them. Paul asked, “Do you think you could teach us how to fly?”

“Of course,” he said. “I’ve taught a lot of people how to fly.”

“Is it difficult to learn?” demanded Wallace.

“Why, no. On the contrary, it’s very simple.”

Again Wallace asked a question. “If you could[37] teach us to fly, would we—would we—” he hesitated. Finally he said, “Would it cost a lot of money?”

McCarthy thought for a moment. “Well,” he said, “I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I’d love to teach you young fellows and I’m sure we could come to some arrangement.”

“That’s mighty nice of you,” Paul said, voicing the sentiment of the other boys.

“I think what you ought to do,” said McCarthy, “is to consider yourself a single group and I’ll teach you as a group. Of course I couldn’t take you up all together, but whatever ground-work there is to be done, I could instruct you as a group.”

“That’s just what we were thinking, sir,” said Jack.

“In that case, everything is settled, except that I must insist that you bring written permission from your parents. Is that agreeable?”

The boys were so surprised and shocked by the willingness of McCarthy to instruct them that they were left almost speechless. William was the first one to recover. “You mean to say that you’re actually willing to teach us to fly?” he asked skeptically.

The major smiled and nodded. “That’s just what I said, didn’t I?”

[38]

“Yes, but you said it so casually and carelessly that we didn’t grasp it at once,” said Nuthin’. “Say it again, please, sir,” he pleaded.

Major McCarthy reiterated his offer and the boys let out wild yells of joy.


[39]

CHAPTER V

The Reward

The major got up and the boys also jumped to their feet. “Well, who wants to go up now?” he asked.

“I do!” cried William lustily.

“Me too,” insisted Wallace.

“What about me?”—that from Nuthin’.

The three boys milled around the major. Paul and Jack, smiling, retreated to the background. They had had their ride and it was somebody else’s turn now. “I’ll tell you what,” the major said, “the three of you choose and I’ll take the two winners up now. And when I come down I’ll take up the loser.”

It was a good suggestion and fair enough. And as luck would have it, William who was the most persistent and eager, lost and his twin brother Wallace and Nuthin’ went up. From the ground, they watched the plane in the air. McCarthy kept them in the air for a much shorter time than Paul and Jack and performed no stunts. When they landed, the two boys, thrilled and excited,[40] climbed out of the machine. The pilot smiled cheerfully and cried, “Well, who’s next?”

William shouted, “I am!” And quickly and eagerly tumbled into the observer’s seat. This time the other boys thought that William was the lucky chap, since he was going to fly all by himself. Jack immediately spoke up. “Major McCarthy,” he said, “would it be all right with you if the four of us chose to see which one of us could go up with you a second time?”

He nodded. “Sure,” he said. “That’s fair enough, I guess.”

Paul was the lucky one and he went up in the air for a second time. When McCarthy landed, the boys thanked him heartily. When they returned to Stanhope they all went to Bobolink’s house because he was still unable to leave his bed and they had decided to hold the meeting that afternoon in his room. When they got there, they found Bluff and Ken already present and they could hardly contain their excitement. William, impatient as well as impulsive, broke into the room, shouting, “Hey, fellows, we flew in a real airplane.”

The boys in the room were also highly excited and Bluff, who was eager to explain, stuttered so because of the exciting news, that he couldn’t[41] talk. He cried, “A-a-a-and y-y-you n-n-n-know what—”

He was interrupted, however, by Ken, who called out, “Wait, Bluff, don’t tell them until we hear what they have to say.”

Paul demanded, “What is it you’ve got to tell us?”

Bobolink, propped up in bed, declared, “Oh, nothing, nothing much.”

But their eyes glittered so with excitement and their faces were so flushed that the new-comers could tell at a glance that there was something up.

“Say, you fellows are holding something from us; come on, tell us,” William demanded.

Ken, who was always able to keep a straight face, no matter what happened, remarked very coolly and casually, “Nothing, really. You tell us first what happened at the airport. Did you all get a ride?”

The boys grinned. “We most certainly did,” announced William.

“Each and everyone of us,” added Jack.

Paul said modestly, blushing to admit the truth, “I went up twice.”

Bluff made believe he was fainting. “Is that b-boy l-l-lucky!” he exclaimed, “H-h-how come y-y-you w-were thus h-h-honored?” he wanted to know.

[42]

Paul explained. Wallace interrupted to say, “And what’s more, Major McCarthy told us to tell you, Bobolink, that just as soon as you’re recuperated, he’s going to take you up, too.”

The boys swarmed about Bobolink’s bed and the boy had to turn his head from one side to the other to listen to what each fellow said. He replied, “I’m glad and I appreciate the major’s offer but I wish you boys would stop jumping around like frogs and get chairs and sit down.” He was interrupted by William and Jack who began to speak at once but he stopped them and added, “Don’t all talk at the same time.”

Wallace got ahead of all the others this time and announced, “Major McCarthy also told us that he is going to teach us all how to fly.”

Bluff and Ken who heard the news for the first time, jumped high in the air and shouted, “Wow!!”

Paul called the boys to order and admonished them not to make so much noise because that would be a very poor manner in which to reciprocate Mrs. Link’s kindness in permitting them to meet in Bobolink’s room. All the boys nodded and agreed to refrain from making any further noise. They brought in chairs, placed them around the bed and sat down very orderly to discuss the business at hand, which was, Major McCarthy’s offer[43] to teach them how to fly. For the moment they forgot everything else and thought only of their ambition to learn how to fly and be pilots. Bluff, however, soon remembered that there was some exciting news to tell which had been temporarily forgotten. At the first opportunity, therefore, he interrupted and said, “W-w-wait a minute, f-f-fellows, we h-h-have f-f-forg-g-gotten s-s-something.”

Given the cue, they all suddenly remembered. William jumped out of his seat and cried, “That’s right, you were supposed to tell us something. So come across, don’t hold back, tell us,” he demanded.

Bluff waved his arms and wanted to tell but Ken restrained him and said, “No, it’s Bobolink’s news; let him tell it.”

All eyes turned on Bobolink. A modest and unassuming person, he hesitated. Ken urged him on, saying, “Don’t be bashful, tell them.”

Blushing, he said, “It’s really Paul and Jack who deserve all the credit for catching that crook and they should really get all of the reward.”

“Reward! What reward?”

“What crook?”

They all spoke simultaneously, without listening to each other. Paul held up his hand and motioned for everybody to be quiet. He said,[44] “Let’s first hear what it’s all about. All right, Bobolink, tell us what you’re talking about.”

Bobolink said, “Well, the story is all very simple. You remember yesterday how that speeder nearly ran over the Smither’s kid?”

They all nodded. Wallace said, “Of course we do, and if it weren’t for you, the kid would be dead.”

“It wasn’t much, really,” said Bobolink. “But what happened afterwards is what’s really important. Jack and Paul went after the fellow and caught him and then the police arrested him.”

William was impatient. “So what about it?” he demanded.

“Well,” continued Bobolink, “a short while ago Chief of Police Bates called up and said that there was a two thousand dollar reward for the arrest of that fellow and that very likely the money will be awarded to be shared by Paul, Jack and me. But it’s Jack and Paul who should really get all of it.”

The last sentence was not heard because of the commotion that followed. The boys jumped high in the air, shouted, screamed, cheered Paul, Jack and Bobolink. They were beside themselves with joy. When at last they quieted down, Jack asked, “But who’s the culprit, Bobolink? What crime did he commit and who’s giving the reward?”

[45]

Bobolink answered, “Chief Bates explained to mother that the culprit is a well known counterfeiter and the government is giving the reward. He said that in a day or two a government agent will come to town to determine who really deserves the reward. But my mother told me that he assured her that the three of us are going to get the reward.”


[46]

CHAPTER VI

What To Do With The Money?

The boys were in such a turmoil of excitement that they barely noticed Jack and Paul draw aside and whisper together. It took them only a few seconds to agree to a mutual proposal. Paul walked over to Bobolink and whispered something in his ear. Paul then called the boys to order, told them to sit down, then said, “Fellows, we have some serious thinking to do. We must determine the best manner in which to dispose of the $2,000 reward.”

Ken objected. “What do you mean ‘we’?” he demanded. “The money belongs to you, Jack and Bobolink and it’s up to you to do as you please with it.”

Jack and Bobolink shook their heads in disagreement with the statement. William, however, remarked, “I think Ken is right.”

Bluff nodded in agreement while Wallace was noncommital. Paul said, “The money belongs to all of us, the members of this Patrol. Furthermore, if there is any argument about it, Jack, Bobolink and I are agreed that we want the[47] money to be shared by the eight of us. Now let’s discuss, orderly and intelligently, what we should do with the money.”

All the boys were silent, not knowing what to say or how to deal with the situation. Wallace, however, the sober and serious fellow of the group, remarked, “I’m sure all the boys agree with me when I say that we appreciate very much the gesture of Paul, Jack and Bobolink. Furthermore, it is my opinion that none of us should hesitate to accept their offer. Ever since I can remember, since the time we were kids, we have always lived together, played together, gone to school together and shared each other’s property. If a fellow had a dime, he bought candy and shared it with all of us. I cannot remember a single instance when a fellow refused to share anything he possessed with the rest of us. You’ll remember that when we first became Scouts, we pooled our money to buy uniforms for all of us. We’ve been doing that ever since and therefore I—”

That was quite a long speech and the boys would not permit him to continue. They applauded him to show their whole-hearted agreement. Even Ken now agreed and said, “I think we owe a vote of thanks to Wallace for explaining it to us and making it so clear that we cannot help but agree with him.”

[48]

Some of the boys nodded. William jumped up to offer a suggestion. He said, “All right, we all agree by now that the money is the property of all of us. Now what are we going to do with it? I propose that we use it to learn how to fly and—”

“R-r-righto!” exclaimed Bluff.

“I think that is a good idea and it suits me perfectly,” said Jack.

“Same here.” cried Nuthin’.

The others nodded their approval.

William held up his hand and called for order. “I’m not finished yet,” he cried.

“What else?” someone asked.

“Hear, hear!” somebody else shouted.

William continued. “What I want to add is this,” he declared, “That we have enough money not only for all of us to learn how to fly but maybe to buy a plane, too.”

“Wow! Wouldn’t that be swell!”

“Perfect is the word!”

“Gee, a plane of our own!”

Paul made himself heard. He said, “We’ll have to wait and discuss it with Major McCarthy.”

“That’s right, we’ll do that.”

“He’s just the man.”

“I’m sure he’ll be glad to advise us.”

Wallace rose to address the boys. He said,[49] “We’ve been so excited that we’ve completely forgotten how to think straight.” The boys were seized by a feeling of discomfort. “I know that I too got lost in the excitement,” he added, “and only a moment ago it occurred to me that we weren’t quite fair to our parents. We should by all means consult them and find out whether they object to what we propose to do with the money.”

The boys became sombre and thoughtful. Someone said, “But after all, the money is ours and we ought to be able to do with it as we please.”

William added, “And suppose they won’t let us use the money to learn how to fly, what’ll we do?”

Paul said, “I don’t think we should feel disheartened by the thought that perhaps our parents will object to the manner in which we propose to use the money. I’m sure that our fathers and mothers are considerate of our welfare and will most likely permit us to dispose of the money according to our desires. Whatever we do, however, we should by all means take our parents into our confidence and ask for their advice.”

Jack supported his chum. He announced, “I agree whole-heartedly with Paul and I hope you all do likewise.”

Bobolink raised his hand. “I do,” he declared.

“S-s-same here,” Bluff cried.

[50]

“And me too,” said Wallace.

The others also agreed. It was then decided that Wallace, Paul and Jack approach Dr. Morrison and speak to him about it. The meeting was then adjourned.

On the street, the boys were acclaimed everywhere. It seemed that the news had spread all over town very quickly. Walking through the streets, many townspeople stopped the boys to congratulate them, shake hands and slap them on the back. By the time they arrived at Dr. Morrison’s office, they were worn out. Dr. Morrison greeted them, then asked, “Well boys, what can I do for you?”

Jack distorted his facial features and muttered, “Something for a backache, Doctor, I’m all sore.”

The doctor laughed good naturedly. Paul held up his right hand. “Dad,” he said, “my fingers are swollen, can you do something?”

Wallace interjected, saying, “And I, the innocent party, have to suffer also.”

The doctor smiled, then remarked, “I guess it’s because you fellows deserve it.”

They settled down to a serious talk and told Dr. Morrison everything that had transpired. He listened respectfully and carefully noted all their remarks. When they were finished, he agreed with them and then suggested that each boy explain the[51] entire matter to his father and mother and then invite them to a meeting at Dr. Morrison’s home the following evening. He offered to speak over the telephone with all the parents and personally urge them to come to the meeting. The boys thought it was a very good plan and agreed to go and tell it to the other boys.

The following evening all the parents assembled at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Morrison. The boys were somewhat nervous and fidgety. They met again in Bobolink’s room and worried together. What if their parents vetoed their plan or decided that the money should be disposed of in some other manner? What if their fathers and mothers decided this, that, or something else? They were truly worried.

In the meanwhile the parents assembled. Paul had been told to stay with Jack for the night. Dr. Morrison called the meeting to order and suggested that they elect a chairman. He himself was nominated and elected unanimously. It didn’t take long after that for the meeting to warm up and for everyone present to enter the discussion and passionately plead his or her arguments. Soon the parents became separated into two factions, one led by Dr. Morrison and the other by Mr. Armstrong. It was Dr. Morrison’s idea that although the parents should by all means keep a guiding[52] hand over the boys and advise them accordingly, yet the plan of the boys to use the money for flying instructions, should be respected. Mr. Armstrong argued that he was not anxious to disappoint the boys and that learning to be a pilot was all right as far as he was concerned, but he thought that the money should be used for more worthy purposes. For instance, the money might be used to send some poor but deserving boy through college, or it might be used to build a club house for the boys.

Mr. Carberry, who supported Dr. Morrison, argued that the suggestion of a club house was a poor one, because the boys always had a place at their disposal to meet; that such a state of affairs was preferable to a club house where they would withdraw and do things the parents would be ignorant of. And as for using the money to send some poor but able boy to college, it was a most commendable suggestion but the money after all belonged to the boys and they should be permitted to use it for their own ends.

Mr. Link, who supported Mr. Armstrong, argued that it was all right to let the boys have their way but that when they were on the verge of doing something wrong, such as mis-using a large sum of money, it was up to the parents to advise them and see that they acted differently;

[53]

And thus arguments flew back and forth. Finally Mr. Shipley suggested that a vote be taken to see how matters stood. A show of hands revealed that one faction won by a vote of ten to six. There was some applause and then Dr. Morrison told them all to relax, that although they had argued one against another, it was all on good faith and friendliness. Several minutes later Mrs. Morrison served tea.

Although the boys were in bed and supposedly asleep when their parents returned home at about eleven, yet they were all very much awake. They couldn’t question their parents that night, however, as to the results of the meeting. They were obliged to spend a wakeful night and wait until morning to learn the results.

At precisely eight o’clock the next morning, Wallace and William came downstairs for breakfast. Wallace affected a reserved, calm attitude while William was openly impatient and eager to know the results. In the dining room, Mr. Carberry was already at the table. He greeted the boys with a cheerful good morning. Just then, Mrs. Carberry came in from the kitchen. The twins kissed their mother. Wallace sat down at the table. William glanced from one parent to another. “Well?” he queried.

The parents smiled and the boys knew that[54] everything was all right. William shouted, “Wow!” He threw his arms around his mother and hugged her. Both boys then pressed their father’s hand affectionately and insisted for the details of the conference.

Similar scenes were enacted at the homes of all the boys. Jack and Paul had decided, before they came down for breakfast, that they would attempt a carefree, noncommittal attitude and would not inquire but wait until they were told the news. Both boys sat down glumly at the table and played with their food, insisting that they were not hungry. But their appetites were quickly revived when Mr. Stormways told them the story of the meeting.

Bobolink, just as soon as his mother entered his room bringing him his breakfast, inquired anxiously, “What was decided last night, mother?”

She smiled carelessly and answered, “Well, I really don’t approve of the decision and I argued against it, but—”

Bobolink’s face fell and he expected the worst. But when she told him the truth, that the majority of parents had voted to permit the boys to use the money as they planned, he became so excited that he almost overturned his breakfast tray.

[55]

At the Shipley home, the moment he woke up, Bluff donned a bathrobe and raced downstairs to ask his mother for the news. Nuthin’ was told the news at the breakfast table and Ken’s father also told his son the good news at breakfast.

About nine o’clock all the boys left together for the airport to confer with Major McCarthy.


[56]

CHAPTER VII

Mystery

At the airport the boys had to wait a while until Major McCarthy showed up. When they told him their plans, he approved heartily and assured them that he would try his best to get them a good second hand airplane for the money available. Then he also informed them that he was leaving that same afternoon for New York and expected to be away about a week. The boys would therefore have to wait, until he returned, for their flying instructions.

On their way back to town the boys decided that in the meanwhile they could go camping for a week. Someone mentioned that Bobolink would be unable to come along and that therefore they should postpone their camping trip. Paul then called their attention to the fact that for the next month or so they would be occupied at the airport; in three weeks they had an agreement to play a baseball game against the Ted Slavin team and then a swimming match against the same group. “Sure,” he said, “we won’t have another opportunity to go camping until just before school opens and we plan to do that anyhow.”

[57]

Jack suggested, “Let’s put it up to Bobolink and then do whatever he decides.”

They all agreed to the proposal. Bobolink, when he heard of it, urged them to go. And they decided to leave early the following morning.

The air was fresh and clear. The dew was still on the ground. The sun shone brightly. Stanhope was only now awakening out of its slumber and an occasional car or truck that passed seemed to be committing sacrilege against the peace and quiet that hung like a mantle over the town.

Main and Chestnut Streets was the meeting point upon which they had agreed. Paul, Jack and Ken arrived almost simultaneously. They greeted each other with a smile. They inhaled deeply the fresh, invigorating air that set their blood dashing through their veins. William and Wallace arrived next and a minute later followed Nuthin’. They conversed in whispers lest they disturb the hushed, still air that hung everywhere about them. They were aglow with the joy of life. They huddled together, bubbling over with excitement and anticipation.

Bluff, gasping for breath, came running up. All there, Paul, the leader, gave the order to fall in line. Then he called out, “Forward, march!”

They were on their way. They walked in double file; each boy was dressed in his Scout uniform,[58] with a knapsack on his back. As far as the end of the town they marched in formation. Turning into the road leading to Black Mountain, Paul gave the order to break formation. They divided into groups of twos and threes and walked along briskly. Soon they broke into song and during the next hour they sang every song they ever knew.

At about eight-thirty they decided to stop for breakfast. They picked a small clearing about a mile and a half up the slope of the mountain. Under the direction of Paul, enough wood was soon collected to build a fire and Ken, the official chef, set to work. It didn’t take long to prepare the meal and soon they all sat around in a circle and ate heartily, with gusto. After putting out the fire and cleaning up their dishes, they decided to rest there for about half an hour. The boys stretched out on the ground and stared up at the sky. Paul remarked casually, “This is the life, eh fellows?”

Bluff agreed, saying, “N-n-nothing l-l-like it.”

William interrupted, calling out, “Is that so! Just wait until we learn how to fly and have our own ship, then we’ll be able to camp anywhere within a radius of a thousand miles.”

Jack wanted to know, “What’s the matter with camping on Black Mountain?”

[59]

“Nothing at all,” answered William. “But just think of it: being able to fly, being able to pilot your own airplane and going anywhere your heart desires; and think of it, you pick out your camping ground as you fly along and looking down from a height of 5000 feet, that tree over there would look like a tiny household plant.”

Paul said, “Yes, there is something staggering about it, a feeling of tremendous power when you’re up in the air.” He sat up and yawned. “However,” he added, “what we have to decide right now is where are we going to camp?”

Ken spoke up, “Let’s return to where we camped last year; it’s as good a spot as you can find anywhere on the mountain.”

Bluff agreed, saying, “That s-suits me.”

Wallace suggested, “Why not go somewhere else this year? I know a swell spot about three miles south east.”

Jack asked, “How about it, Paul, you want to try this new camping site Wallace suggests?”

Paul nodded. “It’s all right with me,” he said.

The boys resumed their hike. It took them about four hours of steady walking with a few short rest periods to reach their goal The clearing was off the beaten track. A hundred feet away was a precipice overhanging the tops of many trees about a hundred feet below. There was a[60] stream of fresh, cool water just behind the clearing.

Tired, footsore, ravenously hungry, they immediately set to and prepared a sumptuous meal of chops and potatoes prepared over an open fire. Later they pitched their tents and settled themselves for a week’s stay. That night, at the camp fire, the boys huddled close around the flaming logs of wood. Jack and Wallace were sitting together, about a yard or so away from the rest of the group. Jack asked his companion, “How did you happen to know of this place?”

Wallace hesitated. Finally he said, “Well, there’s a story behind it, some sort of mystery I never could make head or tail of.”

Jack perked up his ears. “What do you mean?” he inquired in a low tone of voice. “You never told us anything about it.”

The other boys were singing, and the echoes resounded far out across the mountain. The two whispered to each other. Wallace answered, “No, I didn’t, but that’s only because the story doesn’t seem to have any meaning and I didn’t want the fellows to think I was trying to put over a tall one on them.”

Jack became interested. Eagerly he asked, “Do you mind telling me the story?”

[61]

Wallace shook his head. “No, I don’t, but I warn you—there’s no sense to it all.”

“Well, let’s hear it anyhow,” said Jack urging his companion on.

Wallace twisted and turned and finally found a comfortable sitting position. He began his story by saying, “This camping ground is about three miles south east of the camping ground we usually go to. If you were particularly attentive, you would have noticed as we came here that this place is off the usual course followed by campers, is a little difficult to find and yet it appears to have been used frequently.”

Jack nodded, glanced at the fire and his companions, permitted his eyes to wander about the general extremities of the camp, then turned to his story teller and said, “Yes, but how did you come upon this camp site? Tell me that.”

Wallace betrayed a bit of uneasiness. He said, “I’m coming to that. Last year, camping up there”—he motioned with his hand—“I decided one morning to take a walk through the woods. There was no path, so I had to fight my way through bushes, shrubbery and all sorts of entanglements, until I came to a spot where the bushes were beaten down, a couple of low branches were broken off—there was every indication that on that spot a struggle had taken place[62] between two or more people. I examined the ground very carefully for torn pieces of clothing and such things, and walking straight ahead I came upon the stream. Following the stream, I came upon this camp site.”

Jack mumbled, “Hm! Nothing mysterious about that.”

Wallace demanded, “What do you mean?”

Jack answered, “What I mean is, that there is no evidence of any mystery or anything. The whole thing seems to fall flat.”

“I told you that before,” said Wallace. “But you haven’t heard all of it. I have told you only the beginning.”

Jack felt foolish for having spoken out of turn instead of listening to the rest of the story. He squirmed in his seat and said, “I’m terribly sorry for interrupting. Go on.”

Wallace had by now become enthusiastic and he leaned closer to his companion. But just then, William called out, “Hey, you two, no secrets. Come on over and join us.”

A few of the other fellows cried, “Yes, come on, join us!”

“If it’s a story you’re telling him, Wallace, tell it to all of us.”

“Don’t be snobs. Join us.”

[63]

Jack waved to them and replied, “He’s telling me a ghost story without a ghost and no story to it.”

The boys laughed. The two drew closer together and Wallace continued. “Listen closely,” he said, “can you hear the gurgling sound of the stream?”

Jack listened closely and to his astonishment he couldn’t hear the sound of running water. Yet he was sure that the stream was less than ten feet away from where he sat. He looked in the direction of the stream but he didn’t see it. He turned quickly to his companion and whispered, “I don’t see it. Isn’t it supposed to be right there?”

Wallace grinned. “Correct,” he remarked. “But that’s another thing, one yard away from the stream and you don’t see it any more. Notice how cleverly, yet how naturally it is hidden.”

Jack nodded and looked around in amazement. He crept up on his knees, then stood up and still he couldn’t see the stream. He wanted to walk over there and assure himself that the stream was there but he was afraid of arousing suspicion. He sat down again and Wallace continued. “One more link in the chain,” he said. “About half a mile down this side of the mountain, there is a cave—a natural cave. I came upon it accidentally.”

[64]

“Did you go inside?” queried Jack eagerly.

“I only took a peek inside. Then I heard a noise or at least I thought I heard a noise and I jumped away, thinking that I would hide behind some shrubbery or something. But I never saw it again because I couldn’t find it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just what I said. I looked for it, I retraced my steps as carefully as I knew how, but no cave.”

Both boys remained silent for a while. Jack seemed to be lost in thought. Finally he asked, “Is that the whole story?”

Wallace nodded. “Yes.”

Jack shook his head. “Doesn’t seem to make sense.”

“That’s what I told you before,” insisted his companion.


[65]

CHAPTER VIII

The Mystery Becomes Complicated

Jack and Wallace joined the other boys in their singing. Later there circulated around the camp fire a series of humorous anecdotes followed by tall stories, each boy trying to improve upon the previous tale. Nuthin’ was doing his best to hold the attention of his listeners (and he was succeeding fairly well) with a ghost story which he had read in a magazine, but was relating as a personal incident. Suddenly Paul, possessing the sharpest ear among the group, wheeled around and listened carefully. The noise that he thought he heard stopped. Dropping on his stomach, he put his ear to the ground. A couple of minutes later, they could all hear various small noises, that sounded like the breaking of twigs or rolling stones set loose. Somebody was coming. Silent, awaiting the arrival of whoever it was, they sat hushed around the fire and stared expectantly at the probable spot where he would emerge. Tense, eager, every moment was an hour and the five or six minutes they waited seemed like an age. Finally[66] a short, husky man, with a brutal face, emerged out of the woods and stepped into the light. He glanced from one boy to another. His facial features were distorted by his smile. At last he spoke. “Hello, fellows,” he said, his voice a bit raucous and loud. “Did I scare you?”

Paul stood up. “Why, no,” he answered calmly, “not at all. Won’t you join us?”

The man laughed with a gurgle in his throat. “Sure,” he answered, “but only for a couple of minutes. I have a shack a couple of miles yonder,” and he pointed in the general westerly direction. He joined the circle of boys around the fire. “What are you fellows doing here?” he asked.

Paul answered for all of them. “We’re seven Boy Scouts,” he said, “and we’re camping here for a week.”

“A week!” he exclaimed. He mused and stroked his chin. “Where are you boys from?” he inquired further.

“Stanhope,” he was told.

“Stanhope! I go down there about once every two weeks for supplies. But why do you boys camp here? I can tell you of a far better place to camp.”

“Where?” one of the boys asked him.

“About three miles northwest of here,” he answered.

[67]

They all guessed at once that he was referring to their old camping site. A couple of the boys were on the verge of telling him that they knew all about the place. But Jack spoke up first and asked, “What sort of a place is it?”

“Oh, it’s a very good camp site,” he answered. “There is a large clearing where you can play ball or any other game, and a large stream where you can go fishing and swimming.” he paused, glanced from one boy to another, then added, “Oh, it’s a far better camping site than this.”

“Where did you say this place was, sir?” asked Paul, affecting ignorance.

“Almost directly northwest of here,” the man replied with what seemed undue eagerness. “You can’t miss it.”

All the boys nodded in unison, as though they understood perfectly the directions he was giving them. In silence they wondered why the man was so anxious to have them move from their present camping ground. He tried hard not to betray his eagerness and anxiety, but he was a very poor actor. Jack inquired, “Is there anything wrong with this camping ground?”

The man scratched his head. “Well,” he answered, “not very much but it isn’t anywhere near as good as the one I’m telling you about. You really ought to go over there and see it.”

[68]

Wallace spoke up, saying, “I’m sure the gentleman has the best of intentions and if he says that the camping ground he’s telling us about is superior to this one, it must be so. In that case, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the information. The first thing tomorrow morning I’m going over there and take a look. If it is all the gentleman says it is, we’re going to move.”

The man grinned, the curl of his lips betraying, his deep self-satisfaction. “That boy is a smart one,” he cried. “He’s got the right idea.” He jumped to his feet. “Well, I’ll be going,” he announced. “So long, fellows.”

“So long.”

He went in the direction he came from. The boys held their breath and silently waited for fully five minutes, until the man’s footsteps could no longer be heard. Ken exploded. “Can you imagine that?” he cried. “He said he was going the other way and he walked back in the direction he came from.”

Paul held up his hand and motioned for order. “Hush, fellows,” he said. “We can discuss this quietly. Trees and bushes have ears, you know.”

They huddled closely together and whispered among themselves. Nuthin’ voiced the thought that disturbed them all. “I wonder why he objects to our camping here?” he asked.

[69]

William answered, “That’s something we all would like to know.”

Bluff stuttered, “S-s-something m-must be up.”

With a wave of his hand, William dismissed Bluff’s remark. “Anybody can guess that,” he said. “But what is it about, that’s what we want to know.” He turned to the other boys. “I’m stumped, I admit it,” he told them. “Can anybody guess?”

By the blank look on their faces he could tell that all his companions were just as much in the dark as he was. Jack whispered to Wallace, “You think this has something to do with the story you told me?”

Wallace shrugged his shoulders. “I’m at a loss. I can’t imagine.”

Paul addressed them. “Fellows,” he said. “There is something up, that we can all tell. There must be a reason why he wants us to move camp. But what the reason is and what it’s all about, we can’t find out tonight. There’s nothing we can do tonight anymore except go to sleep. In the morning we will consider the whole thing and see what we can do.”

The boys were nonplussed, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Paul. They were loathe, however, to turn in just then. The incident had the effect of keeping them wide awake and of arousing[70] in them the curiosity to know what it was all about. But it was evident that there was nothing they could do that evening. So in spite of their inclinations they all decided to go to sleep. But just then Bluff spoke up and inspired a new argument. “D-d-don’t you think that w-w-we ought t-t-take turns k-k-keeping guard?” he asked.

“Keep guard!” exclaimed Nuthin’, “What are you talking about?”

William jumped to Bluff’s defense. “Sure,” he cried, “he’s got the right idea. We ought to keep guard all night and watch out against any one creeping up on us while we’re asleep.”

At other times the boys would have laughed at the suggestion. But their thoughts were such that the idea appealed to them and seemed reasonable.

Paul objected. “Don’t be foolish,” he said. “Who’ll creep up on us? Who’ll want to harm us?”

William retorted hotly. “How should I know? But you were a witness to what happened tonight. You’ll admit that the stranger was eager to have us move camp. There must be a reason for it. And—”

“Yes,” interjected Wallace, “but does that imply that he wants to harm us or attack us? I think[71] you’re permitting your imagination to run away with you—like that time with the ghost.”

That remark broke the ice and the boys laughed heartily, recalling the ghost incident. The boys then dismissed all thoughts of danger and decided to retire. It had been a big day for them and they were very tired. They slept soundly all through the night without awakening or being disturbed.

In the morning before breakfast, Jack took Paul aside and the two carried on a hurried, whispered conversation. They then called over Wallace and the three withdrew for a serious conference. After Wallace had told his story, Paul asked, “Well, what’s your opinion of the whole thing?”

Wallace said, “It’s my impression that there is some connection between the incidents, but what it is I don’t know.”

Jack nodded. “I’m somewhat of the same opinion,” he commented.

“Let’s not try to solve the puzzle now,” remarked Paul. “Are you two agreed that we ought to move camp?”

A decisive yes was Jack’s answer and Wallace approved, saying, “Same here.”

“In that case we’ll have to convince the other fellows that we should move,” said Paul.

[72]

“Do you think we ought to tell them the rest of the story?” inquired Wallace of his two friends.

Jack shook his head. “I don’t think it will help any or serve any good purpose,” he asserted. “It will only excite them.”

“Yes,” added Paul. “It’s a shame we have to keep it a secret from them, but I think we’re justified. My opinion is that we should convince them somehow that we ought to move. In the meanwhile, just as soon as you two can get away, you’ll slip out quietly and explore the woods for a couple of miles around and return in time for lunch. We’ll break camp and move after lunch.”

As the boys were having breakfast and making wild guesses to solve the mystery, a large airplane appeared in the sky, circled at a very low altitude directly over their camp and then flew away again. The boys stopped eating and kept their eyes glued to the machine. One of the boys remarked, “Wonder who that is and what he wants?”

Someone suggested, “Maybe it’s Major McCarthy looking for us.”

“Don’t be silly,” was the snappy answer of someone else.

Wallace noticed Jack writing something down in his notebook. “What is it you’re writing?” he asked.

[73]

Jack shrugged his shoulders. “The numbers on the plane. It might come in handy sometime.”

The plane disappeared into the horizon and the boys resumed their breakfast. For a while they discussed whether the airplane appearing overhead had any connection with the stranger of the previous night. The arguments for and against were about evenly divided. Then Paul opened the discussion by remarking casually, “Well, fellows, do you think we ought to break camp and move?”

William was the first to object. “What for?” he wanted to know.

Wallace explained. “We all know,” he said, “that the stranger who was here last night must have good reason for wanting us to move away from here. Whatever it may be, it is most advisable for us to go away.”

“But this is a good camp site,” argued William, “so why should we go away. Nobody is going to harm us.”

“Last night you thought differently,” Jack reminded him.

“All right, what I want to do is stick around and see what happens,” he confessed.

“If you do that, you might regret it,” warned Paul. A few of the boys gasped, and he hurried to explain his statement. “What I mean,” he added, “is that you don’t wait until your car is[74] stolen before you lock the garage. I’m sure no harm would come to us if we stayed here, but why stay here and wait for someone to come and kick us when we can avoid it?”

He spoke with a certain anxiety and he transmitted it to the other boys, for they kept silent for a while. Ken, however, sided with William and he remarked, “Paul is perfectly logical and reasonable, but I still don’t see why we should run away. Nothing has happened to us and I imagine that the stranger last night was some crank who has a shack somewhere around here.”

William supported his friend’s argument. “That’s right,” he said, “There’s no reason for us to turn tail and run away.”

His twin brother explained, “It isn’t a matter of turning tail or running away. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we can prevent any trouble, why shouldn’t we do it?”

Nuthin’ said, “Let’s stop arguing and take a vote on it. Then we’ll see how the land lies.”

A vote was taken and the majority favored the proposal that they break camp and move. On Paul’s suggestion it was decided to break camp after lunch.


[75]

CHAPTER IX

Clues

At a nod from Paul, Jack and Wallace soon slipped away into the woods. When they were a safe distance away, Jack called a halt to consider carefully their first move. They had taken the direction in which the stranger had gone. Wallace proposed, “I think that the first thing we can do is follow the stranger’s trail.”

Jack mused for some seconds. Finally he replied, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to do that, but I don’t think it will be possible.”

“Why?”

“Because if the stranger had a good reason to want us to move, and knowing that we’re Boy Scouts and capable of following a trail, he wouldn’t be so stupid as to leave a trail for us to follow.”

“Yes,” agreed Wallace, “that’s very logical. But what else can we do?”

“Nothing yet. For the present let’s see if we can follow the trail.”

For about a quarter of a mile they had no difficulty in following the trail. Soon they came to[76] a rocky ledge and the trail disappeared. The boys therefore decided to separate and examine the ground within a radius of a hundred yards. Jack was busily engaged looking for signs of a trail when he heard a sharp whistle and he knew that Wallace was calling him. Again the whistle broke the silence of the mountain and he determined the approximate spot where it was coming from. He found Wallace sitting on a rock and waiting for him. A short distance away were some footprints that Wallace had come upon. They followed the trail for about a hundred yards when Jack called a halt. He got on his knees and examined the footprint very carefully. Nodding his head satisfactorily, he said, “I’m pretty sure it’s the same footprint all right. Notice, however, the direction the trail seems to follow.”

Both boys took out their compasses. “The trail seems to be leading to our old camp site,” averred Wallace.

“Correct,” pronounced Jack. “Therefore we’re going to disregard it.”

“What should be our next move then?” inquired Wallace.

“The cave,” replied Jack. “We ought to try and locate the cave.”

They returned to the ledge and sat down to determine their position. For that purpose they[77] drew a map. A small circle indicated their camp site; a wavering line, running northwest, and another circle indicated their old camp site. Then they put in the path they had followed and approximately their position. “Now,” said Jack, “according to your best knowledge, about where do you think the cave should be situated?”

Wallace bent over the map and drew a double line. “This,” he said, “is the stream, west of our camp site. The cave, therefore, should be directly south. In that case we have to return to camp and—”

Jack interrupted. “No,” he said, “we won’t do that. We’ll cut across.”

Wallace approved the plan. Rising, the boys determined by compass the exact direction they had to follow. The first thing they had to do was to drop from the ledge about eight feet below. After that, they were obliged to take a descending route and at the same time cut across in the general direction of the camp. Pretty soon they reached a level plateau heavily wooded. Indian file, one behind the other, they walked along slowly and carefully. Suddenly they came upon a large clearance, circular and with possibly a little less than half a mile radius. Jack lay down on his stomach and Wallace did likewise. Jack said, “Quick, seeing this field, what’s the first thing[78] that comes to your mind?” Wallace shook his head. Jack added, “Remember the airplane circling overhead this morning? Now put two and two together.”

Wallace whistled. “An airport!” he exclaimed.

“Correct!”

For a while they continued lying on their stomachs and carefully examined the field and the outlying woods. Absolute silence reigned. Not a sound, not a moving shadow, as far as they could see or hear. Finally Wallace whispered, “What now?”

The two boys rose and, single file, Jack leading, they walked through the woods, keeping within sight of the clearing but trying hard to keep themselves hidden. Jack stepped on a twig and it snapped, the sound echoing loud through the dead silence of the woods. He stopped and the two boys remained rooted to the spot for at least five minutes. They continued. Every once in a while they strained their ears to listen. Not a sound. Wallace suggested they again approach the edge of the clearing. Getting down on their hands and knees they crept up to the very edge of the woods. Lying on their stomachs, they let their eyes roam all around the field. Suddenly Jack grasped Wallace by the wrist. “Ouch!” he cried.

Jack cautioned him to be silent. “Sh!” he hissed[79] and put a finger over his lips. Then he pointed. Wallace shook his head; he saw nothing. Again Jack pointed, but his friend still saw nothing. “You remain here and keep your eyes wide open. I’m going to creep out and get it.” He crept forward on his stomach for about ten feet, then crept back, dragging something along. Crouching alongside his friend, he showed him the object and whispered, “Rifle!”

Wallace nodded. “What’s your opinion?” he asked.

His companion shook his head. “Don’t know,” he whispered.

“Arms smugglers!” Wallace seriously suggested.

They examined the weapon. It was an old style army rifle. Jack whispered, “You may be right about ‘them’ being arms smugglers, but I have my doubts. If you consider, you find that smuggled arms can have only one destination—South America. And we’re too far away from the Mexican border.”

Wallace clutched his friend by the sleeve. “That’s just it,” he answered eagerly. “Just because we’re so far away from the Mexican border, they have less chance of being caught or suspected.”

[80]

Jack mused. “Hm! you may be right. But what do you think we ought to do now? Return to camp or what?”

Simultaneously, both boys flattened out. Two men emerged from the woods, no more than about seven or eight feet in front of them. The boys nudged each other. One of the men was the stranger. The other man was saying, loud enough so the boys could hear, “Okey, then, we’ll be here tomorrow at the usual time. And make sure those Boy Scouts are gone.”

The stranger answered, “Okey, Chief. But suppose they don’t go, how am I to get rid of them?”

“Frighten them away, scare them, but don’t use any violence,” the Chief answered.

The stranger saluted. “Okey, Chief, I’ll do just as you say.”

They parted and the Chief walked across the clearing while the stranger turned on his heel and entered the woods again. The two boys lay there flattened to the ground, not daring to breathe, lest they give themselves away. They watched the Chief cross the clearing and enter the woods at the other end. Ten minutes elapsed before they dared to utter a whisper. Jack said, “The cave! Let’s try to locate it.”

“What about the rifle?”

“We’ll leave it here. We have no use for it.”

[81]

They crept along noiselessly to the approximate spot where the stranger entered the woods. Using that as their starting point, they searched everywhere but didn’t find a sign of the cave. Not even the slightest clue. Finally Wallace suggested that they return to camp and Jack agreed.

At camp, Jack and Wallace had not been missed for a while. Paul kept a sharp eye on the boys to see that they didn’t walk off. Soon Ken suggested that they do something. William cried, “Sure, let’s have a knot-tying contest. Get the fellows together.”

When the boys assembled, it was evident that two of the group were missing. Someone said, “Hey, Jack and Wallace aren’t here.”

They all looked at each other in astonishment. Paul remarked casually, “I saw them only about a minute ago. They must have walked somewhere and will surely come right back.”

Bluff offered a solution. “L-l-let’s have the c-c-contest without t-them,” he proposed.

“That’s right,” seconded Paul. “If they’re not here, it’s their hard luck.”

They proceeded with the contest. As time wore on all the boys became strangely conscious of the absence of the two boys. To dispel their fears, Paul remarked, “They must have gone out reconnoitering. They’ll surely be back soon.”

[82]

As Jack and Wallace did not come back, the boys began to harbor all sorts of fears. Each boy made believe that he wasn’t at all worried. Time hung heavy on their hands and the morning seemed to stretch out into an eternity. Soon the boys lost all interest in what they were doing and just sat around doing nothing, keeping intensely silent. When someone did dare to whisper, the sound seemed to shatter the air and grate on their nerves. Finally, as lunch time approached, William jumped to his feet and cried, “Why are we sitting here like dummies? A couple of us ought to go out looking for them.”

Paul spoke calmly and with reserve. He said, “It wouldn’t do to search for them now. To begin with, we don’t know which way they went. Secondly, they haven’t been missing such a terribly long time. In all likelihood they’ll return to camp soon.”

“Yes,” echoed Ken. “Let’s prepare lunch and that will give us something to do and keep us busy for a while.”

The only one who objected was William. Words or arguments he felt were futile, so he just gritted his teeth and helped prepare lunch. When it was done, they waited a while and then silently agreed to eat and leave some over for the boys. Even Paul was becoming worried. He[83] distinctly told them not to be absent long. And it was almost six hours now that they were gone. He didn’t himself know what to do, whether to send a searching party out for them or merely sit tight and wait. Rising, he walked over to the stream for a drink of water. And just then the three met face to face. Paul was angry. “What kept you away so long?” he demanded.

He felt relieved that at last they were back. Jack quickly summarized their experiences. Then he asked, “Did they miss us?”

“And how! There is only one thing to do now and that’s to tell them everything.”

“We might as well,” agreed Wallace, and Jack had no objection either.

The boys walked into the clearing. Nuthin’ was the first to notice them and he screamed, “Hey, fellows, here they are!”

Instantaneously, Jack and Wallace were surrounded and plied with questions. “Where have you two been?” someone demanded.

“What’s the idea of disappearing without telling us?” they were reproached.

William shook a threatening finger under his brother’s nose. “You ever do that again,” he warned, “and I’ll—I’ll spank you.”

The boys laughed. Paul said, “They’re hungry,[84] fellows. Let them eat first and then we’ll make them tell us all about it.”

Jack and Wallace had their lunch. The other boys gathered around the two and Wallace told the first part of the story. When he was through talking, some of the boys shook their heads in amazement. William exclaimed dolefully, “And you never even mentioned it to us.”

Wallace was embarrassed. He replied modestly, “There was nothing to tell. It might have sounded fishy.”

Jack then appropriated the floor and narrated their adventures of that morning. In conclusion, he said, “You fellows now know all the facts. I must impress upon you, however, the necessity of absolute secrecy. To begin with, the wrong ears may hear the story and then it will be too bad. Secondly, there is not enough evidence to call in the police. There is nothing we can prove. They would say that we invented it all just to get a lot of publicity. And that isn’t true, is it fellows?”

Ken contributed the remark, “If this thing is ever solved, we’ll have to do it ourselves.”

They all agreed that that was right.

William inquired, “But isn’t there something we can do now?”

Paul replied, “Yes, there is.” The boys were all attention. “What we can do now,” he said, “is[85] to break camp and move. We’ll postpone further discussion until after we have pitched camp again at the old site.”

The boys enjoyed heartily the dramatic manner in which Paul had aroused their curiosity only to tell them something which was routine. They jumped to their feet and immediately got busy. By sunset they had moved.


[86]

CHAPTER X

Flying Instructions

With the first ray of sunrise, Wallace was up. He dressed himself hurriedly, donned a sweater to keep warm, and then sat down on a rock to watch the sky. He had a suspicion that something would happen and that the incident would occur in the air. He didn’t dare walk up and down to keep himself warm because he feared that the noise of his footsteps would awaken some of the boys. So he quietly built a fire to keep himself warm. After he had watched the sky for an hour a plane appeared on the horizon. It flew nearer and nearer, circled about where he thought the mysterious airport was, then nosed down as if to land, which it evidently did. Wallace became terribly excited. His suspicions bore truth. And now he didn’t know what to do. He paced up and down several times, musing, thinking hard. His first impulse was to go down there himself, but he immediately discounted it.

He awakened Paul, who listened eagerly to his story. Wallace reminded him of his suspicion that a plane would land there in the early morning, and that was what had happened. Paul[87] dressed hurriedly. Leaving behind a note, the two set off at a rapid pace. Just as they were about to reach the wooded plateau, the drone of an airplane motor was heard. They looked up, but the sky was hidden by the branches of the trees. When they at last reached the clearing, it was empty and still. They spent about half an hour searching the woods, but it was in vain. They returned to camp and told their comrades. A lot of discussion ensued and it was finally decided that every day a detail of two boys should go down there, to see what they could discover. But it was all in vain. When the time came for them to return to Stanhope, a week later, they had discovered nothing new.

As the boys reached the outskirts of the town, about six in the evening, they lined up and marched down Main Street. On the very same spot from which they departed, Paul sang out, “Patrol, halt!” For several seconds they remained at attention, with the eyes of many people upon them. Then Paul snapped the command, “Dismissed!” The boys broke formation and went home.

The boys did not propose to lose any time in beginning their flying instructions. They set a definite time, therefore, for all of them to meet, to go out to the airfield in a group. Paul was a few minutes[88] late, having been detained by his mother who took a long time impressing upon him the importance of being careful. When he joined the group, they were all very much excited and discussed their future adventures in the air. Ken and Nuthin’ tried hard to appear just as excited as the others, but it was an empty gesture. Paul, addressing Ken, asked, “Anything wrong? You look kind of green around the gills.”

Ken made a gesture of dismissal. He answered, “Nothing. It really doesn’t matter.”

“But what is it?”

The boy confessed sadly, “My parents absolutely refused to allow me to fly.”

Nuthin’ heard the statement and he felt glad. Not that he was glad that Ken was unable to learn to fly, but misery loves company. He said, “You’re not alone, Ken. The same tragedy here.” And he made a comical gesture of weeping.

Paul was disappointed. “Gee, that’s a shame. I wonder if there is anything we can do about it?”

Both boys shook their heads listlessly. Ken remarked, “You know my dad. When he puts his foot down it’s like the Rock of Gibraltar.”

“With me,” informed Nuthin’, “it’s my mother. She actually wept, so my father wouldn’t give me permission.”

[89]

“It’s a shame,” repeated Paul. “At any rate, you two can come along and watch us. You can at least get all the ground work.”

The boys mounted their bicycles and were off. At the airport, they were greeted by Major McCarthy. “Hello, fellows,” he called.

“Hello, Major,” answered several.

“Did you have a good time while I was away?”

“Very good,” said Paul.

“And interesting,” informed William.

Jack spoke. “We went camping.”

“That should have been enjoyable and interesting,” commented the major. Then he asked the most pertinent question. “Are you ready for flying instructions?”

The boys shouted lustily and eagerly, “Yes, yes.”

“All of you have the permission of your parents?”

Paul answered for the group. “All except two—Ken Armstrong and Albert Cypher.”

“Hmm,” mused the major. “That’s too bad.” He looked at the two unfortunate boys and they appeared very ill at ease. To cheer them the major said, “Well, not everyone can be a pilot. Some of us have to do other work, quite naturally. So we’ll make mechanics out of you. How about it?”

[90]

The boys smiled gratefully. “Thank you, sir,” answered Ken. “I’d love nothing better.”

“That’s settled, then,” said McCarthy. “Now, fellows, I have some good news for you. I’ve made inquiries about obtaining a plane for you boys and I have one definitely in mind. It’s a good machine, in perfect order and perhaps in a week or so it may be yours.”

“Yea!” shouted William and all the boys joined in. The major held up his hand and motioned for silence. “Cheering is all to the good, fellows, but if you want flying instructions, we have no time to lose.”

“Those are just our sentiments,” commented Jack joyously.

“Now,” began the major, “I’m to spend about an hour or so explaining in detail the major parts of an airplane. I want to teach you to be not only pilots but your own mechanics. If something should happen to a plane you’re flying, I want you to know how to go about repairing the motor or anything else that may be wrong. For that reason I want you to spend a lot of your spare time fussing with an old plane, which is used just for that purpose. It is situated in the corner hangar.” He paused for several seconds, then continued. “Now about flying instructions. I can’t instruct more than one of you at a time and no[91] more than two each day. So you’ll have to pair off and you’ll all get a lesson every other three days—that is, two lessons a week. Is that understood?”

“Yes!” shouted the boys in unison.

“Very well, then, I’m going into the office for a couple of minutes. In the meanwhile you can pair off and also decide which pair will get their instructions today, which tomorrow and the day after.”

To pair off, the boys drew lots. Three sets of small pieces of paper were prepared, the two pieces of each set numbered one, two and three. The two boys who drew number one were partners, numbers two and three likewise. The number one pair was to receive its flying instructions that day, number two on the following day, and number three the day after. As it turned out, Paul and William were the number one pair, Jack and Bobolink number two and Wallace and Bluff number three. The drawing of lots was fair enough and there were no murmurs of disapproval or dissatisfaction.

When the major came out again, he showed that he approved of what was done. In a group he marched them over to the hangar which housed the old plane and for about an hour he lectured to them on the mechanics of an engine.[92] When he was through, he sent them home for lunch. Then he told the first pair, Paul and William, to be back at the airport at three o’clock for flying instructions.

As the boys were mounting their bikes, Jack whispered to his chum, “Fall behind with me, Paul, I have something to tell you.”

Paul nodded. Wheeling along about ten feet behind the others, he asked, “What is it, Jack?”

“It’s this, Paul. This morning I happened to glance through the Dispatch and I came across a small article stating that last Wednesday it was discovered that several hundred army rifles were stolen from an armory in New York and that the crime had most likely been committed within the past twenty-four hours.”

“What about it?”

Jack pursed his lips, mused for a moment, then said, “Remember, Paul, last Wednesday morning was when Wallace saw that airplane land at that mysterious airport.”

Paul cried, “By golly, that’s correct. Do you really think that they are arms smugglers and that this theft of army rifles has any connection with that airplane landing at the mysterious airport?”

“I don’t know,” answered Jack. “I’m wondering.[93] But if you stop to consider, the parts seem to fit the puzzle mighty well.”

“You’re right Jack. What do you think we ought to do? Do you think we ought to take Major McCarthy into our confidence?”

Shaking his head, he replied, “No, I don’t think so. He might either tell it to the police and we don’t have enough evidence for that; or he might fly over there, land, and possibly complicate everything.”

Again Paul agreed with his chum, adding, “Yes, we have to follow it up slowly. Another thing, we must learn how to fly darn quick because if we want to get anything on them we have to do it in their way—by air.”

“Correct,” said Paul. “For the present, we’ll just let matters take their own course.”

All the boys saw fit that afternoon to be at the airport. Only Paul and William were to go up for flying instructions but the others wanted to be there to see what it was like. At a little past three, the major came out of the office and approached the group of boys. The two boys stepped forward and William informed him, “We’re ready, major, if you are.”

Smiling, he said, “That’s fine. But now that you’re all here, I’m going to tell you something about flying.” All the boys gathered in front of[94] him, forming a semi-circle. Very quietly and seriously they listened to every word he said. “The first thing I want to impress upon you, fellows,” he began, “is that flying is not in the least dangerous, providing, of course, you adhere strictly to the rules and regulations of flying. Everything has its rules which you must observe, flying is not an exception. The most important rule in flying is that you must never risk stalling your machine near the ground. At no time must you lose flying speed until you are at a safe altitude—approximately five hundred feet above ground.

“Now suppose your engine cuts out as you are taking off, then what you must do is to push the nose down and go straight ahead, regardless of what is in front of you. If you cannot avoid running into a shed, or a tree, or any other obstacle, while landing, it just can’t be helped. You will smash the machine but you yourself will not be hurt. Another rule to remember is, never turn back in order to return to the airport or some other good landing ground. When you do that you risk stalling your machine. And when you stall near the ground, you usually lose control of your machine, go into a spin and crash nose first into the ground. And that may be the last time you will ever fly.”

“Those are a few elementary rules of flying.[95] You’ll learn more as you go along. What you must understand is that you must always obey these rules, or take the consequences. I don’t want to frighten you, but there are rules in every game and you have to observe them.”

He stopped and scanned the faces of the boys. From every indication, they had taken his words seriously and were convinced by his authoritative tone of voice. Nothing more to say, the major now called upon his first two pupils and inquired, “Are you ready?”

“Ready!” the two boys answered in unison and precision.

“Which one is going up first?”

“We’ll have to choose,” answered Paul.

Major McCarthy took a coin out of his pocket and tossed it into the air. “Heads,” cried William.

“Tails,” cried Paul.

Heads it was and William was the first to go up for instructions. “Very well,” announced the major, “let’s go.”

The whole group followed the major and William to one of the hangars. Two mechanics pushed the training plane into the open. Again the major turned to the group and said, “This is an Avro, one of the finest training machines in the world. She is light on the controls, very easy to handle[96] and has an 80 h.p. Le Rhone engine. What kind of an engine is it, anybody know?”

William answered at once, with confidence, “A rotary engine.”

“Fine,” said the major. “And what kind of engine is a rotary engine?”

All the boys seemed to know that and the major was pleased by their knowledge. However, he called upon William to answer the question. “A rotary engine is one which has the cylinders rotate round the crankshaft which remains stationary,” answered William correctly.

“And what is another type of engine?”

“A stationary engine.”

“The crankshaft rotates round the cylinders.”

“Correct,” announced the major with a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. “I can see,” he added, “that I’m going to enjoy teaching you boys. All right William, put this hat on and get the ear pieces in the right position; I’ll be talking to you all the time. And before we start, remember this, if I hit you on the back take your hands and feet off the controls immediately and put your hands above your head which will show me that you have obeyed my signal. Okey?”

Wallace remarked, humorously, “Don’t hit him too hard, major. I’d hate to take home a corpse.”

[97]

Major McCarthy withdrew to the shed telling William to get into the front seat. When he had climbed into the rear seat, he said, “Now William, don’t touch the controls until I tell you to. In the meanwhile you can watch them working because both sets of controls are connected and work simultaneously. Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

The boys at the shed cheered lustily and William waved his hand as Major McCarthy took off. The machine rose lightly into the air and was mounting fast into a clear sky, smoothly and easily as a bird. William, was at first nervous and tense, but soon he relaxed, his whole body seeming to vibrate to the rhythm of the machine. Suddenly he felt a light bump on the back and he quickly threw his hands up into the air. The major was rather surprised. Usually pupils during their first lesson are too excited to remember the instructions they have received. The major felt a glow of satisfaction, and hoped that William would respond to all instructions so quickly.

They were about two thousand feet in the air. William felt a thrill when he heard his instructor’s voice through the telephone. The major was saying to him, “Okey, William, in a couple of minutes I’m going to let you fly the machine and you must obey precisely all my instructions. Put your[98] hand on the joystick and your feet on the rudder bar.”

He complied. The next instant he felt a bump on his back and quickly he put his hands above his he had. McCarthy was delighted with the boy’s quick response. “This boy,” he said to himself, “is a natural born flyer.”

The major’s voice was coming over the telephone. “Okey, William,” it said, “you’re going to fly the machine now. Only obey instructions precisely.”

McCarthy spoke gently and authoritatively. William obeyed. The machine responded to his slightest touch. William felt a certain power in handling the machine and it thrilled him. The major said, “Now when I give the command, ‘Right turn,’ you kick on the right rudder and push the joystick over to the right. Ready? Now, ‘Right turn.’ Keep the same altitude.”

The major kept talking most of the time, explaining every movement and demonstrating his instructions. They practiced banking, climbing, diving. This was no ordinary pupil, the major thought. He was aware that the other boys would not respond as well as William, with whom he progressed much more than with the average pupil. To satisfy himself for the last time, he permitted William to fly alone for several minutes,[99] then tapped the boy on the back. Instantly the latter’s hands flew above his head. The major, deeply satisfied, said, “That was very good, William. I think you’ve had more than enough for the first lesson, so we’ll go back now.” Thus saying, he took control of the machine.

The boys cheered as the plane taxied to a landing. As the instructor and his pupil climbed out of the machine, the boys came running up. “How did he do, major?” asked Wallace.

McCarthy smiled, very much pleased with his first pupil. “He did very well,” he announced.

“Yea!” shouted Bobolink.

“Hooray for William!” shouted Ken and Nuthin’.

When the boys quieted down again, the major put his arm affectionately on William’s shoulder, and said, “I don’t like to praise a pupil, because he is apt to become cock-sure of himself. But this time I can’t help praising him. William is a natural born flyer. I don’t want any one of you to feel badly if you’re not as good as he is because there are very few who take to flying spontaneously. I don’t want you to blame yourselves or feel badly about it. It’s something that none of us can help. We’re either born that way or not.”

Jack asked, “Did he fly by himself already?”

“He certainly did,” replied the major. “For[100] about fifteen minutes he flew the machine all by himself.”

The boys cheered, proud of their friend. William was thrilled, but tried not to show it.

It was Paul’s turn now. Instructor and pupil took their respective places in the machine. Paul was excited, tense. McCarthy was curious to know how this boy would compare with William. He repeated the directions for a second time. The machine was climbing and they were gaining altitude. Paul was thrilled as he examined the various gadgets on the dashboard. Suddenly he felt a bump on his back. He was bewildered. What had happened. He turned around to see McCarthy chuckling and enjoying the baffled look on his face. The instructor said, “I told you to raise your hands above your head as soon as I tap you on the back. Keep alive.” Paul settled back in his seat, feeling ashamed of himself. Suddenly he again felt a tap on the back. Immediately he raised his hands above his head. “Very good,” said McCarthy encouragingly. Paul, too, would be a flyer, but not like William.

Soon Paul was at the controls and flying the machine in response to the instructor’s guidance. After the necessary instructions, McCarthy called out, “Ready? Left turn.”

Paul pushed out his left foot. The machine[101] whipped to the left at a terrific speed. Suddenly he felt the stick being pushed over to the left. Then the right rudder bar moved forward, the stick came back to the right, now they were flying level once again. McCarthy had to intervene to help him out. He explained the mistake and Paul nodded, intimating that he understood. He was eager to do it over again, to show that he could do it. But this time the command was, “Right turn.” Paul got it all right.

After about thirty-five minutes of instructions, they returned to the airport. They climbed out of the machine and McCarthy inquired, “Well, how did you like it?”

“It was fine,” answered Paul grinning, “except that I think I was a trifle dumb in responding.”

“Oh, no, you weren’t,” McCarthy answered him. “You were all right. For about ten minutes you were flying all by yourself and I’m very pleased with you.”

Walking toward the office building, the major commented, “I see now that I’m going to enjoy teaching you boys. From the way it looks, I should say that all of you are someday going to be mighty fine flyers.”

“How long before we can go solo?”

“It all depends. About eight or ten lessons is the average.”


[102]

CHAPTER XI

Baseball Game

During the following weeks, the boys spent the major part of their time at the airport. Most of the boys were usually on hand when one of them took off for a lesson. And if there was no lesson, they spent their time dismantling the old plane and putting it together again. Ken and Nuthin’ became assistants to Fred, the chief mechanic. These two boys imparted their technical knowledge to their comrades.

As for McCarthy, he was happy and really enjoyed instructing the boys, because all of them responded so quickly to training. He taught them everything he knew about flying and found that William learned more easily than the others. McCarthy taught them to land, to take off, to do a few simple stunts. After four lessons, William was ready to solo. But his instructor wouldn’t permit him because McCarthy wanted them all to go up solo the same day, making it in the form of a graduation exercise.

In spite of their preoccupation in aviation, they spent many half hours discussing the mysterious[103] airport and its consequences. Whatever evidence they had, however, was circumstantial and insufficient. And they couldn’t think of taking time out to do anything about it. The boys had other obligations, temporarily forgotten, which also had to be considered.

One day Paul called the boys together. Most of them were in overalls, their hands dirty with grease and their faces smeared. Looking at each other, they could not repress their smiles. Each in his own way was rather a funny sight. Ken laughed. “Hey, fellows, look at Bluff, will you?”

Bluff was wearing a pair of overalls that were much too large for him and his face was smeared with grease. “You’re n-no Ap-p-pollo yourself,” he countered.

Wallace asked, “What is it you want to talk to us about, Paul?”

“It’s this, fellows. We have been so busy the last few weeks, what with getting flying instructions and spending most of our time at the airport, that we have completely forgotten our baseball game with the Slavin team. We haven’t practiced at all and the game is only three days away.”

“Perhaps we can call the game off,” remarked William.

Several of the boys nodded in agreement, as their interest in aviation was much stronger than[104] any thought of baseball just then. They were so engrossed in their work that any excuse was sufficient to try to break an agreement. Paul, however, objected. He said, “I fully know that all of us are more interested in our flying and all that, but we can’t go back on our word. We promised Ted Slavin and his team that we would play them and we’ve got to keep our word.”

Ken reminded the boys, “We also promised them a swimming match. That’s something we ought to practice up for, too.”

Nuthin’ asked, “Well what do you think we ought to do, Paul?”

“We have to keep our word and go through with it,” was the answer. “Beginning tomorrow, we have to keep away from the airport and spend the next two days practicing.”

“What about those who have flying lessons?” Bobolink wanted to know.

“Those who have lessons should not miss them,” answered Paul. “But the rest of us will have to keep away from the airport.”

The boys agreed. William said, “All right, then. Tomorrow morning we’ll meet at the baseball field for practice.”

Major McCarthy was glad to hear of their plans for reasons of his own. He was a bit skeptical of their sudden and overwhelming interest in[105] aviation, because he feared that they might drop it just as suddenly and completely. Spending only limited periods of time at the airport, therefore, would test them. Besides, the major was also of the opinion that they were too young to have only one dominating interest, it was healthier for them to have a series of interests.

During the following two days, they spent most of their time on the baseball field. And when the day of the game arrived, they were in pretty good shape. They had one worry, however. Wallace, star pitcher for their team, had not come around all morning. They sent William to find out what had become of him.

As the time for the game approached, a fair crowd of townspeople had filled the stands. The Ted Slavin team with Ted as pitcher, was warming up, and some of his followers were encouraging him to demonstrate his famous slow ball. The opposing team, however, was in great agitation. William, out of breath, came running up. Paul guessed that William had accomplished nothing. Nevertheless he asked, “Well, any news?”

William gasped, “No. My mother said he left for the airport in the morning and that he hasn’t returned yet.”

“Did you call the airport?”

[106]

“I did and Fred told me that he left hours ago.”

Paul shook his head dejectedly. “Wonder what could have happened to him?” he muttered.

The boys formed a circle around Paul. Someone asked, “You think there is any chance of calling the game off?”

“No. What for? Suppose we lose the game, what difference would it make? We’ll play just the same.” Most of the boys nodded in agreement. Paul added, “All right, fellows, break it up. Let’s not show that we’re handicapped and need anyone’s pity. We’ll hold our own. Ken, are you warming up? You’re going into the box to start the game.”

Ken nodded. “Okey. I’m ready.”

Just then Major McCarthy came walking across the field. The boys waved to him. Paul greeted him. “Hello, major.”

“Hello, Paul. Came over to see the game.” Paul took the major by the arm and led him to one side.

“Wallace is missing,” he said. “He’s our star pitcher; without him, we have no chance of winning. But that’s beside the point. I’m worried about him. You have no idea what happened to him, do you?”

The major shook his head. “Why, no,” he answered.[107] “I gave him a lesson and he left the airport at about ten. He even asked me to come and watch him pitch the game.”

“I can’t imagine what could have happened to him. He’s nowhere to be found and nobody seems to have seen him or heard from him.”

“I’m sorry to hear it. Is there anything I can do?”

Paul shook his head. “Guess not. You can sit on our bench though, and watch the game.”

“That’s swell. Thanks a lot.”

Just then the umpire came up, followed by Ted Slavin. “Ready?” asked the umpire.

Paul nodded. “Yes.”

“For up,” announced the umpire as he tossed a coin. The Slavin team was to go to bat first. “Who’s your pitcher?” the umpire asked.

“Ken Armstrong.”

Ted raised his eyebrows in astonishment. “Where’s Wallace?” he asked.

“He’ll be here in a short while. We’re saving him.”

Ted shrugged his shoulders. “Good luck,” he called as he walked away.

“Same to you,” countered Paul.

Paul signalled to the boys to take the field. The umpire took his place in the pitcher’s box and called, “Batter up!”

[108]

Paul was catching. He motioned to Ken to meet him halfway. He said, “Don’t let them discourage you. Let them hit; the boys out in the field will back you up.”

They separated and returned to their respective positions. As Ken poised, measuring up the first batter, a wave of applause and loud cheering went up from the stands. His team-mates encouraged him. “Alright, Ken, give it to him.”

“Don’t be too hard on him, boy. Let him smell it.”

“Sure. That guy’ll never see it.”

Paul signalled and Ken wound up. He took his time pitching the first ball. The batter patted the home plate with the bat as the umpire called, “Strike one!”

“That’s the boy, show him your dust.”

“Pity the poor guy! He’ll die without moving a leg.”

Ken wound up. He threw the ball. The batter gripped his bat, swung it and ran toward first base. Ken stuck his gloved hand out and pulled it in again. Everybody looked for the ball but nobody saw where it went. The umpire called, “Out!” Then Ken took the ball between his fingers and held it up for public inspection. A wave of laughter rolled slowly across the field. The hit had been[109] a fast level one and Ken had snapped it out of the air so quickly that no one saw it.

The second batter was at the plate. Ken poised; without winding up, he pitched. The batter swung. It was a pop fly. Ken ran forward several feet, caught the ball and threw it to Bluff at first base. The ball then travelled to Bobolink at third, to William at second and back to Ken.

The third batter was up. Ken took his time measuring up the fellow. The batter stood at ease as the ball bounced with a plop into the catcher’s mitt. The umpire called, “Strike one.” Paul signalled and Ken threw the ball. The batter gripped his stick, but at the last moment he shook his head and let it pass. “Ball one!” called the umpire. The third ball came sailing down the line, fast, an inside curve. The batter stepped back and swung. The ball sailed away far out in left field. Nuthin’ saw the ball coming; he walked back several steps, waited for the ball to drop into his glove, then threw it to William at second.

The boys threw their gloves into the air as they ran in from the field. “That’s the boy, Ken!” they called, “that’s showing them.”

Ted Slavin was pitching for his team. He was a good man. Several semi-pro teams were out to sign him up but he held out. He was now in good form and he struck out the first batter in three[110] pitched balls. The second batter made an attempt to hit the ball but he merely scraped it and the ball went up into the air and was caught by the catcher. The third man also struck out.

In the second inning, the Slavin team sent a man to first and third but they died on base. Paul started off for his team with a double but he died on third. During the next inning, the boys were kept on their toes backing up Ken. A grounder to the shortstop precipitated a double play to second and first. Ted, on the other hand struck out his three batters in quick succession.

The fourth inning began with the Slavin team set to send in a couple of runs. The first man up bunted and landed safely at first. The second batter placed a swift grounder between the pitcher and first base. Bluff went after it and threw the ball to second. William tried hard to get it but it was far over his head. The spectators were on their feet, yelling themselves hoarse. William dashed after the ball and threw it, but the runner was already safe on third. Ken got the ball. He looked at the men on second and third. Bobolink called, “Don’t worry, Ken, they’ll die on base.”

Someone else called encouragingly, “Come on, fellow, show them your speed.”

“Strike him out!”

[111]

Ken poised then pitched the ball. The batter swung and missed. The next ball was a strike. The batter gripped his bat and swung as the ball came hurtling through the air. Bobolink took several steps forward and very easily gathered in the ball.

Two men out and men on second and third. Paul signalled to Ken and the two met midway between home plate and the pitcher’s box. Ken inquired anxiously, “Well?”

Paul answered, “Nothing in particular. Just thought I’d give you a minute to relax. Don’t worry if they hit you; it can’t be helped. You’ve been doing swell so far.”

The pitcher nodded. “Okey. Thanks.”

Each walked back to his respective position. Ken poised, ready to pitch. Paul signalled and the pitcher hurled the ball. The batter looked unconcerned, but suddenly he tightened his grip on the bat and swung. Crack! The sound was like a pistol shot. The ball sailed high and far out into left field. Nuthin’ ran far back and as the ball began to drop out of the air, he jumped. The crowd was on its feet, hushed, its eyes glued to the ball. The men on base were running toward home plate; the batter was already at second. Suddenly the crowd gasped sounding like a wave breaking. Nuthin’ had missed the ball by inches. He scampered[112] after it and threw it wildly to second. William ran for it but it was too wide. The spectators were shouting madly; the Slavin team were dancing wildly as the man crossed home plate safely.

The din and noise still sounded in his ears as Ken poised to pitch again. He turned around to see if every player was in his place. But it was totally unnecessary. He struck the batter out and that ended the spectacle. Coming in from the field, the players managed to smile, joke and even laugh. They slapped Ken on the back and told him not to worry. It was their chance now and they would more than get even.

The boys went to bat gripped with determination to send in some runs but their enthusiasm was destroyed by Ted’s mastery in the box. He teased the first batter with two balls and then struck him out. When the second walked up to the plate, Ted repeated his performance. The spectators cheered and his team-mates encouraged him. Bobolink held his bat lightly and walked slowly to the plate. The boys encouraged him. “Come on, Bobolink,” someone shouted, “sock the old pill.”

“Hit it a mile, boy!”

“Sock it, kid!”

Bobolink gripped the bat compressed his lips and waited for the ball. Ted thought he again would repeat his former performance of teasing[113] the batter. He put over a fast ball, cutting the inside edges of the plate. Bobolink stepped back and swung. The spectators jumped to their feet, watching the ball sail through the air, while they held their breaths. Bobolink was notably a hard hitter. Suddenly a shout rumbled across the field. People cheered; others muttered their disgust. The player in left field knew the batter’s ability to hit and had moved far back. As the ball came sailing out, he was obliged to run further back, suddenly he realized that the ball would come down further on his right; the next second he lunged forward with extended arm, caught the ball barehanded and held on to it as he nearly tripped over himself. The inning was over and the players came in from the field.

Ken walked to the pitcher’s box and Paul took his place behind the home plate. An agitation rolled slowly through the stands. Play for play, Ken and his players far outshone the other team. True enough, Ted was doing some mighty fine pitching, but except for the single catch, his team wandered about idle at their posts. The other team, however, was of unequalled showmanship. Dramatically they pulled the ball out of the air, off the ground, staged a double-play that took people’s wind away. If only Wallace was in the box! Some murmurs began to circulate. “Wallace![114] Where’s Wallace!” But he was nowhere to be seen. The umpire called, “Batter up!”

Ken was piqued by all the muttering and mumbling around him. The effect upon him was surprising; it steeled him. He relaxed. Absolutely confident, he pitched superbly. Three men up, three men out. Not one of them even so much as swung a bat. They were so bewildered by the pitcher’s fury that they barely saw the ball whizz by them and before they realized it, they heard the plop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt.

Again the young aviators were at bat. The team determined to break the spell and send in a couple of runs. The first batter bunted and landed safely at first. Ted evidently sensed the determination of his opponents, for he became ill at ease. To relax, he summoned the catcher and they met midway; for several seconds they whispered to each other, then returned to their respective positions. The batter waited patiently for the pitcher to get going. Somebody in the stand shouted, “Hit it, boy, sock it!”

“Sock it a mile!” someone else screamed.

Ted poised. He put all his strength into the ball as he hurled it. The batter didn’t move a muscle. “Ball one!” called the umpire.

“Put it over!” someone shouted.

“Play ball!” shouted another.

[115]

Again Ted put all his strength into the ball. The batter gritted his teeth. Crack! The hit was a straight and low one, directly between the shortstop and third basemen. Both players went for it, collided as they tried to pick it off the ground. The batter went to first and the man on first went safely to second.

Ted was unnerved. “You have his mark!” someone in the stands shouted.

“Hit it, hit it!” was the cry of someone else.

Ted spit on the ball. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the man on first draw away from the base. Like a flash he wheeled and threw the ball. The first baseman lunged wildly for the ball but he missed by at least a foot. Shouts, cheers, groans rolled through the stands. Jack, coaching, at first, danced wildly and screamed, “Run, run!” Each man advanced a base.

Ken was up. He felt that now was the time to even the score. He had to do something. With a man on second and third, no outs, now was their chance. But Ted rallied sufficiently to strike the batter out. Once more Ted became confident and self-assured. There was no danger, he thought; he will strike the next two men out and show his mettle. But his confidence deceived him. The batter picked the first ball and hit a long fly which was caught, but which helped the man on third to[116] come home and the man on second to advance to third base. Ted was now sufficiently unnerved to realize it himself. He signalled to a player on the sidelines; he waited until the relief pitcher began to come across the field, then started to walk off himself.

“Yea!” shouted a spectator.

“Knock this guy out of the box, too,” another spectator screamed.

“Swell showman,” said Paul.

“You said it,” agreed Jack. “He knows when to quit and that’s to his credit.”

The relief pitcher warmed up with a couple of throws. Finally the umpire called, “Batter up!”

Nuthin’ touched the home plate with his bat, held up the stick vertically for a fraction of a second, as a signal to the man on base, and then waited for the pitcher. The man in the box was perfectly confident and took his time. It was a trick to vex the batter and force him to strike, but Nuthin’ was a patient fellow and he waited. The first ball came over, at least a foot outside the plate. “Ball one!” called the umpire. The catcher threw back the ball and Nuthin’ let fall the bat off his shoulder. The pitcher eyed the man on third base; then turned to the batter. Nuthin’ gripped the bat. Shifting his position slightly, he struck at[117] the ball. It was a foul, a couple of yards off third base. “That’s the boy!” someone shouted.

“You got his number!” was another encouraging phrase hurled by someone in the stands.

His team-mates encouraged him. “Hit it, Nuthin’. Just sock it once,” Bobolink urged.

The pitcher was not to be dissuaded from his easy going manner. And similarly Nuthin’ was not to be vexed; he was willing to wait, though he realized how much depended upon him. If he managed at least to send home the man on base, his team would be sufficiently encouraged to possibly even the score; if he was struck out, on the other hand, they might not get a similar chance again for the rest of the game. But all that didn’t confuse him. The next ball was wide and he didn’t move a muscle. The umpire called “Ball two!” The next ball he lunged at, and again fouled. “Strike two!” called the umpire.

The spectators in the stands sat hushed, waiting and watching. His team-mates hoped for the best, but they, too, remained silent. The pitcher hurled the ball. Nuthin’ watched it coming and thought it would be too wide; the next instant he realized his mistake; the ball curved and cut the edge of the plate. “Strike three and out!” called the umpire.

The score was 3-1, in favor of the Slavin team.[118] And so it remained for awhile. The game now became quieter and more steady; no dramatics. Ted returned to the box and resumed his old form; he didn’t give out a single hit. Similarly with Ken who was the sort of person who, the more he was pushed to the wall and the greater the odds against him, the surer he was of himself. He held his opponents down to two bits and both men died on base.

The beginning of the seventh inning revealed that both teams still had plenty of fight in them and were out to make this a most exciting and dramatic game. The first batter of the Slavin team poised at the plate, swung at the first ball that came along and hit a fast, low-flying ball that shot past like a bullet about three feet above Ken’s head. William, at second, lifted himself off the ground and pulled the ball out of the air. It all happened so quickly and suddenly that the spectators were left with their mouths open, so bewildered were they. They revived soon enough, however, to cheer William for his perfect, most beautiful catch.

Ken struck out the second batter in short order but the next man sent the ball whistling across the ground toward third, base. Bobolink scooped it off the ground and hurled it across the diamond to Bluff. The latter, however, had to step back a[119] couple of feet to catch the ball and the runner safely crossed first base.

With a man on base, the Slavin team thought they had Ken where they wanted him. Although his team had a safe lead of two points, Ted wanted to increase his score still more. The next man at bat succeeded in getting hit by the ball and the umpire sent him to first, thus pushing the other man over to second. Paul signalled his friend to forget the men on base and to pitch ball. Ken nodded. He sent over a fast one that burned the plate in half. The umpire called, “Strike one!” And his team-mates cheered him. The next one was a ball, followed by a slow one which the batter lifted far out into right field. The spectators were lifted out of their seats, their eyes glued to the ball. The fielder ran back a few yards and dug his shoes into the ground directly under the ball which flopped right into his glove. A shout went up from the stands and his team-mates threw their gloves into the air as they ran off the field.

Bluff was at bat. He was anxious to hit and he waited for his favorite ball—one that was low and cut the edge of the plate. But Ted knew his weakness and Bluff waited in vain; he was struck out. William, raging mad, came up to the plate. He vowed to hit a homer or die in the attempt.[120] His mates cheered him and several voices in the stands urged him on. Ted put all he had into the ball and sent it whistling through the air; William set himself as though he were going to take, then shook his head sadly and let the ball cut the plate. Ted imagined he had the batter fooled and he again sent a fast one over. But it was just what William wanted and he smashed a swift grounder between the pitcher and the shortstop. Ted saw it was useless for him to go for it, so he watched the shortstop lunge for it, but in vain. The ball skimmed past several inches beyond his fingers. The man at second ran out to stop the ball, picked it off the ground and poised to throw it but no one covered second. He ran for the plate. William dived and grasped the base with his fingers. The umpire called loud and clear, “Safe!”

Bobolink was the next man up. Paul patted him on the back and said, “It’s up to you now, fellow. Don’t disappoint the crowd.”

Bobolink gritted his teeth and said nothing. Some spectators screamed madly, “Come on, Bob, kill it, sock it.”

Ted looked around and waited until all his men were in position. Ready to pitch, he seemed unconcerned with the man on second. He shot over a fast one, the catcher grabbed it and got into position to throw; he hesitated, waiting for William[121] to make a move for third base; but he was disappointed and reluctantly returned the ball to Ted. Again the pitcher made a mistake, throwing a ball he thought the batter would let pass. Bobolink, however, gripped his bat and hit far out into left field. William had his foot on the bag and waited. The fielder ran in for the ball; confident that the catch was his, he waited for the fly to drop into his glove. It did. Suddenly a deep, cry went up from the stands. The man had muffed and the ball fell to the ground. He lunged for it and threw it to second. William was already on his way to try home plate. The man at second wheeled swiftly around and shot the ball home. William measured his size on the ground; he touched the base a fraction of a second before the catcher tagged him. And Bobolink was safe on second.

The score now stood 3-2, in favor of the Slavin team. Paul shouted joyfully, “Now is our chance; we’ll even the score yet.”

His enthusiasm, however, got the better of him, for his prophecy did not come true. Ted made short work of the next batter and the seventh inning was ended with the score still in favor of the Slavin team.

Nothing happened during the eighth inning. Beginning the ninth, Ted and his players determined to widen the margin. But all their efforts[122] were futile because Ken held them to one hit, a single, and the man went no further than second. Their last chance to even the score or win the game, the young aviators were cheered and encouraged by many spectators. Ted and his players were dead set against a single run. The game was theirs, they felt, and they wouldn’t let it slip away from them.

The first batter up struck at the ball twice and fouled both times. Ted pitched again and the batter was struck out. Jack was up next and he hit a beautiful grounder to the shortstop. The umpire declared him out. Two out. The game now depended on the last man at bat. Some people in the stands rose and left. Paul stepped up to the plate. Ted poised, then sent the ball whistling through the air. Paul let it pass and the umpire called out, “Strike one!” Again Ted sent a scorching one across the plate and again the umpire called it a strike. Hit or miss, Paul had to do something. He held the bat lightly but gripped it as the ball came sailing through the air. He struck at it—and missed. The game was over. The score was 3-2 in favor of the Slavin team.

The losers gathered in a circle and cheered the victors. The winning team gathered around Ted and cheered the losers. The spectators cheered both teams. It was a dramatic and exciting game, well worth winning—and losing.


[123]

CHAPTER XII

What Happened to Wallace

Ted Slavin came over and shook hands with Paul. Smiling, he said, “Too bad we had to beat you, but someone had to win, Paul.”

“You deserve it; you played a fine game.”

“I can say the same for you. Ken pitched a marvelously good game. But what puzzles me is what happened to Wallace?”

Paul cast his eyes down. “That’s something that is puzzling us too, Ted.”

“What do you mean?” Ted looked concerned. “Did anything happen to him?”

“I hope not but we don’t know.”

“Gee, that’s too bad. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Paul shook his head. “I don’t think so. But if there is, I’ll call on you.”

“Be sure you do. If there is anything the boys and I can do, Paul, and you don’t let us know, I’ll be terribly angry.”

“Thanks. It’s mighty nice of you.”

“That’s perfectly okey. And don’t forget we have a swimming match scheduled for a week from today.”

[124]

“Sure, I know.”

The boys shook hands and parted. Paul walked over to the bench where his team-mates were. The boys surrounded him, looking for guidance. William posed the question that bothered them all. “What are we going to do about Wallace, Paul?”

“I really don’t know. There’s nothing we can do right now, I guess.”

Jack spoke up. “I suggest that we all go home, wash up and have supper. In the meanwhile we’ll relax and be able to think clearly. Let’s all try and imagine what may have happened to him. At seven o’clock we’ll all meet again and try to formulate some plan of action.”

“Yes, but what am I going to tell my mother if she asks me about Wallace?”

Everyone was silent, not knowing what to say. They were all pretty well downcast. Jack again spoke up, saying, “Tell her he’s staying for supper at my home.” A pause. Silence. Every mind with the same thought. He added. “It’s not the truth but you’re justified. I’m sure he’ll turn up very soon.”

The boys stirred in their tracks. There was nothing more to say and they all walked off the field.

But what had happened to Wallace? Let us go over the day’s events and find out.

[125]

Wallace completed his flying lesson at about nine-thirty. He mounted his bicycle and quickly left the airport, eager to return to town to be with the boys who depended upon him to pitch in the game. He peddled along steadily. Just as he was about to enter the outskirts of the town, he heard a hissing sound. Jumping off his wheel, he discovered that his rear tire was fast going flat. There was nothing to do but walk and push his bike along. Less than a quarter of a mile further on, he came to Jim’s filling station and he decided that he might as well patch his tire right then and there. He found Jim busy greasing a car. “Hello, there,” he called out, “how’re the young aviators getting along?”

“Fine, Jim. Do you mind if I use your shop to patch a hole in my tire?”

“Not at all. Help yourself.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

Wallace walked into the shop. He knew where to find the materials and tools he needed. Losing no time, he set himself to his job. It didn’t take him long. Then in about ten minutes, as he was coming out of the shop, he stopped dead in his tracks. He was just inside the doorway and he saw Jim gassing a Ford roadster. But it was the man at the wheel that caused him to freeze in his tracks. It was the stranger—the man who had[126] tried to convince them to move camp up in the mountains. Wallace for the moment forgot all about the baseball game and thought only of how he could follow the man. He quickly stored the bicycle away in a corner where it wouldn’t be noticed, then he entered the office through the shop and emerged by the opposite door which placed him in a strategic position behind the wall. Wallace heard the grind of the gears as the driver started off. As the car passed him, he sprang forth and jumped onto the bumper in back of the car, holding tightly to the spare tire.

Wallace wondered where the driver was heading, when suddenly the car made a right turn and Wallace realized that this was the road to the mountain. For some seconds he was worried as well as mystified. If the driver was going up to the mountain, there was no telling when he would return and Wallace became afraid that he might miss the game. On the other hand, his curiosity was aroused, for he knew that the road ran for about five miles to the foot of the mountain and then it became a foot path. How then could he go all the way up in the car? The only alternative was to wait and see.

Wallace hung on for dear life. At approximately a quarter of a mile before the end of the road, there was a farm house. As far as he knew,[127] no one lived there. Yet a driveway, which appeared to be in constant use, led off the road and was kept closed by a double-door gate. The car turned off the road into this driveway without stopping and the automobile pushed the doors apart. The doors of the gate were on swinging hinges, and swung back again into place as soon as the automobile passed. In the meanwhile the car proceeded to the back of the house. Wallace feared that he might be discovered, yet there was nothing he could think of doing, should he be noticed. To his relief, however, the car kept moving beyond the house, passed between two large elm trees and then came out on a one lane dirt road. Looking back, Wallace saw that the dirt road was entirely hidden by trees and could not be seen from the main road. He marveled at the deception and cleverness of the gang of arms smugglers—for by now he was convinced that they were arms smugglers—and wondered whether it was worth it for them to go such lengths of deception. But the fact that they did, showed that they must have considered it worth the trouble and expense.

In the meanwhile, the car rode along, the wheels sinking into holes and bouncing over rocks. More than one time Wallace was nearly thrown, but he managed to hold on. On either side of the[128] dirt road were the woods. The road turned and twisted in many directions but always headed toward where he was sure the cave was situated. Judging by the speed and the time, the car had gone about ten miles beyond the main road. The driver stopped suddenly, leaving the car in the middle of the road. In the next instant the stranger was out of the car and at once entered the woods. His heart palpitating, Wallace hid behind the car and waited. He was anxious not to lose his man but he was still more anxious not to be caught. Who knows what they might do to him if they ever laid hands on him! Arms smugglers were obliged by necessity to be tough, hard men and would have no mercy on anyone who might give them away. Wallace shuddered as these thoughts flew through his mind. Yet he was undaunted and would not turn back.

When several minutes had elapsed, and he thought it was time, Wallace crept out from behind the car and darted into the woods, following the trail of the stranger. He had no difficulty following him. Several times he even caught a glimpse of the man’s form. Finally the trail led him to the edge of the woods—to the mysterious airport. Hesitating for several seconds and trying to think fast what to do next, he watched the man walk diagonally across the clearing, heading directly[129] for the spot where he and Jack had overheard the stranger and the chief. Wallace decided that he had only one alternative: to make his way along the edge of the woods and get there in time enough not to lose his prey. Wallace sprinted, running lightly and noiselessly. At the same time he tried to keep the stranger in sight. It wasn’t easy because his vision was usually obstructed by the trees and low hanging branches. Also, he had to watch carefully where he was running. Suddenly the sound as of a pistol shot echoed through the stillness of the woods. Wallace dived and hid behind a clump of bushes. Finally he realized that it was only the sound of a twig which broke as he stepped on it.

Breathless, Wallace waited for the echo to subside and for the stillness of the woods again. At last when he thought it was safe to creep out of his hiding, he crawled over to the edge of the clearing. He looked, but the stranger had already disappeared. Terribly disappointed, Wallace lay there watching, waiting. Finally he decided to approach the spot where the stranger had most likely entered the woods. Trying to move along noiselessly, Wallace came to the very spot where he and Jack had lain hiding. He found the rifle just where they dropped it. Moving on a little further, he came upon a footprint that pointed[130] directly at a clump of foliage. He examined it very carefully. Putting his arm out, he tried to move a small bush but found that it was attached to what seemed a board. His heart beat wildly and he became numb with excitement. Looking further he found several boards attached together into a sort of door, to which were attached many pieces of foliage that entirely hid it. Moving his fingers to its very edge, he could tell that the door swung away from the entrance of the cave against which it rested. He felt like jumping into the air and screaming, “Eureka, I’ve found it!”

Controlling himself, he hastily moved away and picked a position about five feet away from the entrance of the cave. From where he lay on his stomach, hidden by a clump of bushes, he could see anyone who might enter or leave the cave; he could also overhear anything that might be said, even if the speakers conversed in whispers. Taking further stock of himself, he concluded that there was no way of his getting back to town in time for the game. He had a fifteen mile walk which would take him about five hours. Besides, since he was already here and had come upon the cave, he wanted to wait around a while to see what might happen. Surely the stranger was inside, as he most certainly did not make the trip for nothing. Something was bound to happen.[131] Wallace therefore made himself as comfortable as he could and waited.

After what seemed to be hours of dead quiet, he suddenly became conscious of an airplane overhead. He dropped to the ground again and hid behind the bushes. Looking up, he saw a small monoplane circling overhead. Some moments later it glided to a landing at the mysterious airport. A man climbed out of the cockpit and walked across the clearing toward the cave. Wallace now turned to watch the entrance of the cave. As he looked the foliage swung back and revealed an entrance about four feet high and three feet wide. The stranger, bent over, emerged from the cave, waiting for the pilot to appear. Coming into view, the stranger greeted, “Hello, Chief!”

“Hello, Bud!” The other returned.

The pilot was the same “Chief” that Wallace and Jack had seen before. He made a motion to enter the cave but Bud stopped him, saying. “Let’s stay out here, Chief. It’s awful hot there.”

The chief nodded, “Okey,” he answered. “I ain’t gonna stay but a couple of minutes.” And they squatted at the entrance.

“What’s the dope?”

“Not much. Just wanted to tell you to clear everything out of here and lay low for a while.”

[132]

“What’s the matter? The law catching up with us?”

“Naw, they’ll never get us. It’s at the other end. They still didn’t dispose of the last shipment. So there ain’t nothing for us to do for a while.”

“Hm. Well, it’ll be like a vacation.”

“Yeah. Make the most of it.”

For a short while there was silence. Finally Bud asked, “When do you figure we’ll make another shipment?”

“In about ten days or two weeks.”

“Guess I’ll run over to the city for about a week and kill some time enjoying myself.”

“Suit yourself,” answered the chief languidly.

Wallace trembled with excitement. He could barely control himself. The chief rose and muttered, “Guess I’ll be going now.”

Bud also rose and said, “Guess I’ll go too.”

“Got everything cleaned out of there?”

“Clean as a whistle.”

“Okey.”

Bud pushed the door, with its attached foliage against the mouth of the cave and walked off. Wallace became frantic. He had to get to the car before he left or else he would have to walk. He had to run by way of the woods while Bud crossed the clearing. Just as soon as he thought it was safe, he sprinted away. He hoped that Bud would stop[133] to talk with the chief for a while, which would give him the necessary time to make it. He ran swiftly and noiselessly because if he made any sound and was detected, it would be too bad. Wallace came upon the car just about half a minute before Bud. He hid behind the tree and hitched onto the car. They returned via the same route. Just as they hit the main road, Wallace jumped off. He figured it was much safer if he hiked the five miles into town.


[134]

CHAPTER XIII

The Cave

William, wearing a long face, hesitated as he mounted the steps to the porch of his home. A thousand questions filled his mind which he was afraid his mother might ask, and he searched for possible answers. Slumping into a chair, he tried to think how to meet any situation that might arise. At the same time he was worried about his brother and wondered what might have happened to him. He didn’t hear his mother come out on the porch. Her voice startled him as she asked, “What are you sitting out here for, William?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Just like that, mother. Resting up.”

“Did you win the game?”

“No. No, mother, we lost.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” She looked at him and saw how miserable he felt imagining that it was because of the lost game. She tried to cheer him up by saying, “Don’t feel so badly, son. It’s not so terrible to lose a game.”

“Yes, mother.”

“Where is Wallace?”

[135]

The question came suddenly and hit him like a bombshell. He expected it, yet he was caught off guard. Hesitating, trying to think of the exact words he was going to utter he finally said, “He went with Jack; said he’d stay there for supper.”

“Very well.” She smiled down at him. “You’d better go and wash up.”

He rose and entered the house. He took a shower and changed his clothes and fussed, trying very hard to delay his coming down to the dining room. When he heard his mother call him for the second time, he left his room and descended the stairs. Entering the dining room his eyes almost popped out of his head to see his twin brother and Jack at the table. His father noticed the look of consternation on his face and asked, “Anything wrong, son? You look pale.”

“No, Dad. I feel fine and dandy.” Trying to keep his voice level as possible, he asked, “I thought you were staying at Jack’s for supper?”

Wallace had a mouthful. “Changed our minds,” he mumbled.

William was overjoyed. Passing behind his brother’s chair, Wallace got poked in the head. It was a signal of affection rather than of anger. Sitting down at the table, William was all smiles and suddenly he remembered that he was terribly hungry.

[136]

When the boys met, Wallace was attacked with a million questions, but at first he wouldn’t answer a single one. When the time came, he told his story. A lot of discussion ensued. One thing was agreed upon by all, however. They had to go and investigate the cave while they had the chance. Tomorrow was Sunday. So they would leave in the afternoon, camp out for the night and return the following day. After deciding upon the plan, Nuthin’ raised another question. “Don’t you think it’s about time we informed the police or government agents?” he asked.

Paul answered quickly and precisely. “No. Absolutely no.”

“W-w-why not?” queried Bluff.

“For a thousand reasons,” replied Paul. “But one is sufficient. If we tell the police, they’ll most likely put some guards there and the secret will leak out, then that gang will get wise and beat it.”

That seemed to satisfy most of them but Nuthin’ was insistent. “But what can we do by ourselves?” he demanded.

“We’ll just have to wait and see.”

They met at the outskirts of the town, coming there in twos and threes; they didn’t want anyone to see them and ask them embarrassing questions. They carried with them only enough provisions to last them until the following day. Hiking briskly,[137] with a minimum of rest stops, the group arrived at their destination at about five o’clock. Holding a conference, it was decided that only Wallace and Jack would enter the cave, while the other boys hid themselves at various distances, and kept a sharp lookout. Before the group parted, Paul warned the two, “Now don’t stay there too long. We’ll give you forty minutes. If you’re not out by then, we will come after you.”

The two nodded in agreement. Waiting for the others to take their places of hiding, they finally heard Paul’s whistle, the signal for them to proceed. Wallace and Jack crept forward. At the entrance, Wallace paused to point out to his friend the remarkable work of deception. Then, shaking with excitement, he pulled the door ajar and peeked in. It was dark inside and he saw nothing. Pulling the door a bit wider, the two boys crept in, and used their flashlights.

Paul and the other boys watched Jack and Wallace enter the cave and saw the door close behind them. Time dragged on their hands. They lay in hiding places and watched the sun move steadily in its westward course. In a couple of hours it would be dark and they had yet to set up camp. But the boys didn’t think of it. Their minds were in the cave and they wondered what Jack and Wallace were seeing and finding. Every minute[138] seemed to them an age. They trembled with excitement. Paul saw William signal that he wanted to come over, which he did. “Wish they would come out all ready so we can go in and see what’s inside,” William whispered.

“Give them their allotted time,” Paul answered.

Side by side, they lay there and itched with impatience. Tired of watching the entrance to the cave, they let their eyes wander elsewhere. William took out his watch and counted off each minute. As the forty minutes were drawing to a close, they again glued their eyes to the entrance of the cave. William whispered, “They’re not out yet. You think they’re all right?”

“Of course they’re all right. Give them time to come out. They still have five minutes.”

But when the five minutes were up, the two boys still had not emerged yet. Paul waited. Five minutes later he called the boys together to discuss the situation. It was decided that they would wait fifteen minutes more and if Jack and Wallace were not out by then, Paul and Bluff were to go in after them, the others were to remain outside.

In the meanwhile, let us see what happened to Jack and Wallace. Having crept into the cave on their hands and knees, Jack used his flashlight, throwing the beam of light straight ahead. The cave was about forty feet deep and beginning at[139] the entrance it gradually widened until it attained a maximum width of about ten feet. The two boys crept forward until they came to about the middle of the cave. Playing their flashlight all around them, they found the place truly empty—absolutely bare of anything. The two boys looked at each other dumbfounded. Jack laughed good naturedly. “Can you imagine anything like it? If we knew nothing about that gang, we couldn’t suspect a thing by coming into the cave.”

“You’re right,” answered Wallace. “But I have a suspicion that this is not the whole of the cave.”

Jack snapped his finger enthusiastically. “Those are just my sentiments,” he cried. “It’s evident that they use this place for a store room and a hideout. Now if this was all there was to the cave and they stored their stuff right here, then they would be discovered by the first person who happened to come upon them. On the other hand, the fact that they have operated successfully and were not caught shows that there must be another place leading out from here where they can quickly hide.”

“I agree with you. And I have been thinking how we can start trying to find it.”

“And what’s your plan?”

Wallace rested on his haunches. “Notice how simple and smooth the walls seem to be?”

[140]

“That’s right.”

“Well, another part of this cave would have to lead off somewhere through that wall. And my hunch is that it’s near where we are now, on both sides and to the end of the cave.”

“Very good. Then you start on that wall, I’ll start on this one, and we’ll examine carefully every spot. We’ll work so that we meet at the far end of the cave.”

Wallace agreed and they set to work. With their hands, they went over every inch of the wall. They had been working like that for perhaps ten minutes when Jack suddenly screamed, “Wallace! I’ve got it! Here it is!”

Wallace jumped across to his friend’s side. A thick door, about two feet wide and four feet high, had swung out and remained open. Both were so excited with their discovery that neither one thought of determining exactly how it worked. Jack didn’t know what it was that swung the door open. It just happened. Wallace walked through the door first, followed by Jack. So enthused were they that neither one paused long enough to make sure of their exit. As they stepped into this newly discovered additional cave, Wallace used his flashlight. The beam flew back and forth, all around the place. The ceiling here was about three feet higher than in the outside cave. And all around[141] the walls were stored large cases, boxes, utensils of many sorts and such things. Wallace gasped, “Look at all that stuff!”

Jack grasped his friend by the elbow. “Yeh,” he muttered. “Let’s take a look.”

They approached the large cases first. Jack carried his small hatchet with him. Wallace whispered, “Open up one of these cases first, and do it so we can nail it up again and make it look as if no one touched it.”

“Right.”

Jack set to work. In the meanwhile, Wallace roamed about, describing things to Jack as he came across them—cooking utensils, bedding, several iron cots, some clothing, two leather jackets, two holsters and automatics. Jack had pried open one board. He called, “Wallace, come here!”

They looked into the box. It was full of rifles. Their eyes met in astonishment; even though this was what they had been expecting. Jack gasped, “Well, that’s that.”

Wallace said, “Now close it again. Do it so there won’t be any suspicion that it was opened.”

When the job was completed, Wallace looked at his watch. “Hey!” he cried. “We have been away forty-five minutes already. Let’s get out.”

They looked around for the door but they couldn’t see it. It had swung to without their[142] being aware of it. Both boys rushed over to where they thought the door would be; they pounded and pushed against the wall, but in vain. Wallace exclaimed, “Can you imagine a thing like that! We were so excited we forgot we had to come out again and took no precaution.”

Jack agreed. “Yes, it’s our fault. But let’s not get excited. We’ll get out.”

“I suppose so. But the boys out there will become worried if we don’t show up.”

“Then they’ll come after us.”

“But suppose they don’t find the door?”

“We found it, so why shouldn’t they?”

“It was an accident the way we found it. And it is possible that they may not.”

“Well, let’s not cross our bridges before we get there. Let’s do the best we can and look carefully.”

The boys spent fully a half hour pounding their fists against the wall, clawing with their fingers. But all in vain. They sat down on the hard ground to rest a bit and take counsel together. But just then Jack felt a slight puff of cool air and he turned his face to see the door swinging out. He jumped up and grasped it. Simultaneously Paul and Jack cried out. Wallace exclaimed, “Hold it! Let’s see how it works.”

[143]

Only a few minutes was necessary to discover that the door worked on an axis and the slightest push anywhere along the rim of the door, set it swinging. But to make sure, two of the boys remained on the other end, the door was swung to, then Jack swung it open again from the inside.

Jack remained at the door and held it open. Wallace showed Paul and Bluff around. They guessed that all the large cases—there were six of them—contained rifles, while the smaller boxes contained cartridges. In about five minutes, they were all prepared to leave again. Jack said, “Wait a minute, fellows. Take a deep breath, then I’ll ask you something.”

The boys breathed in. “All right. Now what?” asked Paul.

“How does the air appear to be, fresh or stale?”

Wallace sniffed the air again and answered, “Fresh,” to which the others agreed.

“Now,” said Jack, “when we first entered here, do you recall whether the air was stale?”

Wallace scratched his head. “I really don’t remember,” he answered.

“That proves that the air was not stale but fresh.”

“How do you figure it out.”

“Because if the air had been stale, it would[144] have hit you right away and you would remember it.”

“What are you trying to prove?” demanded Paul.

Jack exclaimed. “Standing here I felt a very slight draft. That’s clue number one. Secondly, if the air was fresh when we first entered here, then it proves that air is coming in from somewhere.”

“Gee,” exclaimed Paul, “that’s very good reasoning.”

“Yes. But there’s more to it. I’m convinced that there is an exit leading to the outside from this inner room. The reason for it is obvious. The gang had to have an avenue of escape if they were ever cornered.”

“That’s very logical,” added Wallace. “Let’s look for it.”

“Before we do that,” interposed Paul, “I suggest that one of us go out and tell the boys not to worry and be patient. Two of us should conduct the search while one stands guard at this door.”

They agreed and it was decided that Bluff was to return to their companions, Wallace was to stand guard at the door and Jack and Paul were to conduct the search. Bluff left for the outside. “Now,” said Paul, “let’s find the exit.”

[145]

Using their flashlights, they scanned the walls and found no clues. So the two boys got busy looking behind the piled cases and boxes. In a few minutes, Paul shouted that he had discovered it. Hidden by a sort of net, the mouth of the tunnel was just large enough for one individual to creep along on his belly. Paul crept in, followed by Jack. Five minutes later, Jack re-appeared and called to Wallace to follow. The tunnel was about thirty feet long, the other end hidden by a lot of shrubbery. Looking around, the three boys discovered that, the camping site which Bud (the stranger) urged them to leave, was right there in front of them, on the other side of the stream.


[146]

CHAPTER XIV

Flying Solo

Major McCarthy was quite sure of his pupils. He was certain of their ability to land, to take off, to fly, to know what to do in case of an emergency. He had taught them to be not merely flyers, but all around pilots. For that reason he had insisted that they spend many hours learning the intricate parts and mechanics of a motor. His plans went further. He wanted them to learn more of the technical affair that an airplane is. When the time came, he would teach them as much as he knew about navigation, how to fly blind, and many other things that had to do with flying. But all that was a sort of post-graduate course. For the present, they had earned their wings—and how!

He had absolute confidence in his young aviators. And William was his star pupil. Technically, not one of his pupils had as yet gone up solo. However, each one of them had gone up at least once, taken off, flew, performed a couple of simple stunts, and landed again with McCarthy in the rear seat, who didn’t say a word or move[147] a muscle; on that one flight he was merely a passenger. Therefore his confidence in the boys was based not merely upon his affection for them or his opinion of their ability, but upon the fact that they had proven their ability. For that reason he made elaborate arrangements for their solo flight. It was to be on Wednesday, at about five in the evening, when the weather is usually not very bumpy and quite mild. Secretly he had invited the parents of the boys, the Mayor, a few other notables, and let it be known that the public was welcome. As for the boys, they were not merely going to fly solo, but to do other things. He had arranged everything. This was to be their graduation exercises.

When the time came, more people turned out than were expected. A special section of ground was roped off for the several hundred spectators. All the boys’ parents were there; even Dr. Morrison had managed to get away from his office. Some few of the spectators were jittery and anxious. McCarthy was as calm and serene as ever, smiling and joking. A few of the boys were at first a bit nervous but they soon got over it. They realized that they were merely going up in the same way as when their instructor went with them. This time, however, they were going alone—solo. And since they were confident of their[148] flying ability and of McCarthy’s teaching, they felt that they had nothing to worry about.

Major McCarthy summoned the boys together and they lined up in front of him. They were wearing their Scout uniforms and flying helmets and goggles. They were all very happy. The Major addressed them. “Boys,” he began, “this is your graduation day. Today you are going to make your first solo flight—that is, you’re going to take up a plane and land her again all by yourselves. Having completed your solo flight successfully, you’ll be presented with your wings; the Mayor will make the presentation. You’re also going to get a letter from me stating your successful completion of the course.” Pause. He looked from one to the other of the boys. “Are you ready?” he asked.

“Yes,” they answered in unison.

“Very well then. Each one of you will go up in the Avro, perform any one simple stunt you choose, bank her several times, then land again. After each one of you has done that, I’ll have you go up in the air again, but about that, later. William, you make the solo flight first.”

Major McCarthy had a definite purpose for designating William to go up first. William was the best of all his pupils, and the others, seeing[149] him perform well, would be heartened and do as well.

The spectators cheered heartily when they saw William walking toward the Avro which had been wheeled out of its hangar and was being warmed up by a mechanic. William climbed in and the chocks were jerked away. He opened the throttle and the mechanic leaped forward along the ground. Shutting off the power by means of the thumb switch, the plane slowed down. He turned the nose into the wind. The next moment he was off, skimming over the field, then the plane rose lightly into the air like a bird. Easily and smoothly, the machine climbed fast. Down below, the spectators craned their necks to see. William climbed until he was about two thousand feet above ground. He banked and flew directly over the airport. After circling it twice, he straightened out, then opened wide the throttle. The machine bounded forward and the nose sprang upwards. As it rose, the forward speed decreased in spite of the fact that the engine continued to run at the maximum revolutions. The machine pointed vertically upwards and for about a moment it appeared to hang onto the rapidly revolving blades of the propeller. The spectators below watched the airplane with their mouths open. Some of them, who had never witnessed such a stunt, were[150] positive that the machine would come crashing down tail first. But suddenly the nose fell over to one side, the tail shot up and the next moment the plane was shooting sharply downward. Two minutes later William was on the ground, and climbing out of the cockpit. The spectators cheered him. His friends shook him by the hand, slapped him on the back and told him it was a fine job. Major McCarthy smiled and called out, “All right, Paul, you’re next.”

Paul went through the same performance, and then the rest of the boys. Not one of them faltered. The spectators were delighted, and the parents were proud. As for Major McCarthy, he said nothing and revealed no emotion. To him, it seemed as though the whole affair was merely the successful completion of his teaching job. Inside, however, he felt very much pleased and proud. It was a pleasure to have such an able group of boys as pupils.

The Major had some other things in store for the boys. He was going to have them do some more flying. He had them lined up in front of him and addressed them. “That was well done, fellows,” he said, “but I expect even more from you. I’m going to have you do more flying. You’re all going up into the air again—and all together.” The boys opened their eyes wide and looked[151] surprised. They wondered what the Major was up to. He smiled and continued, “You’re going up in pairs—Paul and William, Jack and Bobolink, Wallace and Bluff. While I’m talking to you, the mechanics are wheeling out two more machines, another Avro and a Bristol. William and Paul will fly the Bristol because William has already flown the machine. The others will fly the Avros. One of you is going to take the machine up and his partner will land it. You’ll change controls after every stunt. As to what you’re going to do in the air, follow William. Are you ready?”

“Yes!” They answered in unison.

“Alright, then. William and Paul will take off first, Jack and Bobolink next, and Wallace and Bluff last. Go to it.”

The Major had discussed his plans with William and had instructed the boy as to every move. The entire flight had been planned in advance and William knew it by heart.

The Bristol was somewhat larger and heavier than the Avro. William got into the front cockpit, Paul in the rear one. William was to take off, and he warmed up the engine. A minute later the chocks were jerked away. Turning into the wind, he skimmed the ground for a distance, then the machine rose gracefully and continued to climb. A minute later, Jack and Bobolink took off,[152] and finally Wallace and Bluff. They were about two thousand feet in the air. William gave the signal and the three machines lined up in formation—the two Avros on either side and a little to the rear of the Bristol. They circled the airport twice. Again William signalled and the three planes lined in a row; they made believe it was a race. The earth seemed to shake with the drone of the motors. After that, they fell into line one behind the other. William signalled and each pilot was ready. The first machine did an Immelmann turn, followed by the second and third planes. Soon they were in the same formation as they had started but flying in the opposite direction. The Bristol now went into a “half-roll.” By pulling the stick back and kicking down the rudder, the machine turned over completely on her back with her nose pointing down. The pilot shoved the nose further down, flying at a steeper angle towards the ground; the pressure of the air against the wings forced the nose up again, and as the pilot kept pulling the nose of the machine up, it leveled out and continued to fly in the opposite direction. Both Avros followed the Bristol.

William next signalled for a “barrel roll.” To those on the ground, it seemed as though the machine, with a kind of cork-screw movement,[153] had wriggled on her back and then wriggled back again. What actually happened was that the machine went through the same tactics as before in the “half-roll,” with the exception that instead of ending up in a dive, the plane continued to turn after being upside down and ended up on a level keel, flying in the same direction as before.

The next stunt the boys did was a “loop the loop.” The nose of the Bristol went up and the next moment was flying upside down, followed by a swift dive earthwards.

When all three planes completed the stunt they fell into formation. William signalled for number three—Wallace and Bluff—to land. Jack and Bobolink landed next. The Bristol with William and Paul became the only machine in the air. They were directly over the airport. William communicated with his friend to take over the controls. A minute later William slipped over the side of the plane and went hurling toward the ground. The spectators let out a scream of dismay. Ten seconds later, William pulled the rip cord of his parachute and went sailing majestically downward to the ground.

Again the boys were lined up, with all the spectators at their backs. The Mayor made a little speech and then presented each boy with his wings. He turned to the major and asked him to[154] say a few words. “Very few,” replied McCarthy. “All I will say, boys, is—I’m proud of you.”

The young aviators were cheered. Then the boys cheered McCarthy. The Mayor held up his hand for quiet and then said, “And I want to add, major, that we, the people of Stanhope, are also proud of these boys and we are also proud of you.”


[155]

CHAPTER XV

A Complicated Surprise

After all the ceremonies were completed at the airport, the boys and their parents returned to town and were entertained at dinner by Dr. and Mrs. Morrison. All the trimmings were included, ending up with ice cream and cookies. Nuthin’ leaned back in his chair and patted his belly. “If I’d go up in a plane now,” he remarked jocularly, “The ship would sink like a rock, I feel so heavy.”

The boys laughed heartily. Bobolink said, “That’s nothing. If I got into a plane now, it wouldn’t lift off the ground.”

Some more laughter and a few more clever remarks. Then Ken asked, “Well, what’s on our program now?”

William replied, “Now that we are real pilots, we are going to do some real flying.”

“Not for a few days,” interposed Paul. “We have a swimming match for this coming Saturday and we have to practice up a bit.”

“Yes,” spoke up Jack, “and this time we are going to give that Slavin bunch a good beating.”

[156]

“You say that as though you intended to do them physical battle,” remarked Wallace, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Oh, no,” Jack hurried to make himself perfectly understood. “We are going to do it fairly and squarely. The Slavin group is a nice bunch and I don’t hold anything against them.”

“Except that they won the ball game,” said Wallace.

“They deserved it,” added William. “They played a mighty fine game, and Ted has never pitched as well as last Saturday.”

“W-w-what a-about Ken?” demanded Bluff. “He p-p-pitched m-m-marv-v-velously.”

“You said it,” agreed Paul. “I’ve never seen Ken pitch better ball than last Saturday.”

Ken said, “If it wasn’t for the boys backing me up as well as they did, it would have been just too bad.”

“Well, why do you think we were out in the field?” asked Bobolink. “Just for ornamentation?”

“Let’s cut the discussion,” announced Paul. “I for one feel tired, and I imagine that all of us are just a bit winded. So let’s break it up, go home and meet tomorrow morning for swimming practice.”

“Agreed!” cried William.

[157]

Everybody else seemed to feel that way. As a matter of fact, for the past half hour or so, the boys had begun to squirm in their seats and showed signs of nervousness and anxiety. So it was quite a relief for all of them to rise from the table and go their way. Ostensibly, each one was going home.

About half an hour later, Paul was walking down Main Street. He was all spruced up—wearing his new suit, a bright tie, his shoes shined to a gloss and his hair combed neatly. At Rogers Street he turned to the right. He walked along snappily and whistled a cheerful tune.

At the middle of the block, he met Paul face to face. Surprise showed on both their faces and their eyes almost popped at seeing each other. Quickly, each boy put his right hand behind his back. Finally, after a very embarrassing silence, one of the boys asked, “What are you doing here, Jack? I thought you had gone home.”

“What about you, Paul? I thought you were tired and were going to bed early?”

Silence. The boys squirmed and wriggled. One of them turned and looked at the house they were in front of. The other boy did likewise. Finally Jack asked, “What are you hiding there behind your back?”

Paul fidgeted. “Nothing. What about you?”

[158]

“Nothing.”

Again silence and the boys looked around with embarrassment. “You still didn’t tell me what you’re doing here,” remarked Jack.

“Just taking a walk,” replied Paul. “And you?”

“Also taking a walk.” He looked up at the sky and at the horizon. “Beautiful evening, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” replied Paul. “Where did you say you were walking to?”

“Right here. And you?”

“The same.”

The two boys looked at each other, their eyes met and slowly a grin spread over their faces. Finally they laughed and slapped each other on the back. Then Jack said, “Well, let’s go in.”

Paul shook his head. “No, wait a minute.” He noticed someone approaching. “Let’s hide behind the corner of the house.”

Jack and Paul retreated. Half a minute later, a boy came along and without any hesitation, started to cross the lawn to the house. The two boys jumped out of their hiding place. “Where do you think you’re going?” demanded Paul.

William jumped and went pale. Seeing, however, who his assailants were, he gritted his teeth and barked, “Say, what do you think you’re doing, scaring people?”

[159]

The two boys smiled. Jack said, “Now don’t get too fresh or we’ll pummel you. Where are you going?”

William made believe he was still angry. “Follow me and you’ll find out.”

“And what’s that little package you have there?” asked Paul.

“Wouldn’t you like to know, though?” was the retort.

“A nickel to a penny it’s a box of candy,” said Jack.

But William was not to be bluffed. “Seems to me,” he remarked dryly, “that you fellows are not carrying flowers in your packages.”

He had guessed right, and the three of them joined in laughing heartily. But just then another boy came up to them. He had approached quietly and had been a witness to the previous scene. “Well, well,” exclaimed Wallace, “are you fellows holding a meeting here tonight or are you just congregating here to be a nuisance? Answer yes or no and don’t be flippant about it either.”

The three boys stared at the new arrival. Jack cried in irritation, “This has gone about far enough. Arline told me that she was inviting only me tonight. What are you guys doing here?”

Wallace held up his package majestically. “Now, Jack, don’t get excited.” He poked a finger[160] at his friend. “She told me the same thing,” he assured the doubter.

“Same here,” echoed Paul.

“And me, too,” added William.

“And who else?” demanded Jack.

The boys shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. But they were not to be mystified much longer. Just then, Bobolink marched up. He saw the boys but it didn’t ruffle him in the least. He nodded to them and said, “Hello, fellows. Sorry I can’t stop to chew the rag awhile, but I have an important engagement.”

“Is that so?” exclaimed William. Grabbing Bobolink by the arm, he held on to him and informed the last arrival, “So have we all. Just stick around.”

Bobolink shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he said, “if I must, I must.”

In due time, Bluff and Nuthin’ arrived and joined the crowd. Only Ken was missing. They decided to wait for him because they had no doubt he would also turn up. However, a few of the boys became a little impatient and they decided to ring the bell. Several seconds elapsed and then the door opened and beautiful Arline Blair came marching out to the boys on Ken’s arm. The boys were startled, then they began to hurl all sorts of flippant and good-natured epithets at him. Two of[161] the boys even started to pummel him in fun. Suddenly a command rang out “Fall in!”

The boys fell into formation. Paul approached Arline, saluted her and said, “Miss Blair, Fox Patrol bids you good evening.”

The young lady made a bow. “Good evening, boys,” she replied sweetly.

“And the boys furthermore ask leave to present you with tokens of their affection.”

Paul gave her his box of chocolates. Then each, on down the line, presented her with his gift. When all that was done, Paul sang out his commands. “Attention! Forward, march!”

As the boys marched forward to go into the house, Paul took Arline by the arm and led her away in the opposite direction. When the boys realized it, they broke formation and ran after him. “Hey, you, come here,” cried William.

Arline tilted back her head and laughed merrily. “I’ve never had so much fun in all my life,” she said.

“Yes,” complained Jack, “but where’s our fun?”

“We are coming to that,” she told him. “I wanted to surprise you all.”

“You certainly did,” William ventured to say.

“And,” continued the young lady, “if you’ll[162] come in, you’ll find everything prepared for a most enjoyable party.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” asked Nuthin’.

“For no reason that I know of,” replied Arline. “Let’s go in. The girls—”

“The girls!” exclaimed each boy separately.

“You didn’t think that I was going to entertain all you boys by myself, did you?”

“No, but—”

“So I invited my friends to help me. Let’s go in, now.”

They all entered and in spite of the complications of the half hour before, they had a most enjoyable evening.


[163]

CHAPTER XVI

Swimming Contest

For the following two days, the boys practiced swimming assiduously. They spent most of their hours at the lake and perfected their strokes, their form, diving, turning, etc. They were in tip top shape and were confident of the results. Saturday morning all the boys turned out to help fix up a float, repair the diving board, lay out lanes and make everything ready for the contest at one-thirty.

Three people consented to act as judges. Swimming coach Thompson and Assistant swimming coach Grey of Stanhope High School and a man named White, who was at one time a national swimming champion.

The events that had been agreed upon were the hundred yard dash in which Paul and Nuthin’ were to participate; the two-twenty yard dash in which Ken and Bluff had been entered; the hundred and sixty yard relay, with William, Wallace, Bobolink and Jack as the team; and finally a fancy diving match, with Bobolink as his group’s representative.

[164]

A large crowd turned out to watch the spectacle. The members of the competing teams mixed together and poked fun at each other, quibbled over many nothings and thus forgot all their anxiety about the forthcoming contest. The judges were ready and everything was set when suddenly an airplane dropped out of the sky. People pointed, waved and shouted. Attached to the rear end of the plane was a floating banner. Jack nudged Wallace and asked, “Who do you think is in the plane? Can you guess?”

“A turkey to a doughnut it’s Major McCarthy.”

Several of the boys standing nearby overheard and agreed. Jack said, “That’s most likely who it is. Can you read what’s on the banner?”

“Not yet. Wait till he comes down a little lower.”

The plane descended to an altitude of about five hundred feet. Everybody began to shout the words on the banner—“GOOD LUCK.” Ted, standing with Paul, asked, “Wonder whom he is wishing good luck?”

“Both teams, of course,” answered Paul.

“He’s a very fine chap—the major is.”

“You said it,” agreed Paul. “There are not many like him.”

[165]

After circling around overhead for a short while, the pilot waved and zoomed up into the sky. Several moments later the plane was performing a “barrel roll,” followed by a “loop the loop.” The spectators waved, cheered and screamed for more stunts. So the plane stunted some more; it dived down heading straight for the water, skimmed the surface of the lake and zoomed away up into the sky again and disappeared.

At last everything was ready for the contest to begin. The judges called for the first event, the hundred yard dash. Paul and Nuthin’ stepped forward. Ted Slavin’s group was to be represented by Ted and two other boys, Joe and Mac. Nuthin’ was placed in lane one, Mac in lane two, Ted in lane three, Paul, lane four and Joe, lane five. Coach Thompson looked the boys over, then called out, “You’re all ready?”

The boys nodded and said they were. Thompson raised his gun. “Ready!” he called.

The boys crouched, each in his lane. “Get set!”

There was silence everywhere. The boys brought back their arms ready to dive. But half a second before the pistol went off, Mac, anticipating the signal, dived. The boys relaxed and waited for Mac to come out of the water and take the start over.

[166]

“Ready!” called Thompson. Pause. “Get set!” Half a second later the gun went off and five young men, their arms stretched out in front of them, flung themselves through space, cut into the water and—they were off. Ted, tall and lanky, was out front, an inch or two in the lead. Their legs kicked rhythmically, their arms moved gracefully and with precision. They skimmed the water like fish.

The length of the pool was twenty yards and each man had to swim the pool five times. At the first turn, Ted and Nuthin’ were neck and neck. Both boys were encouraged and urged on by their comrades and friends. Paul was only an inch or two behind, followed very closely by Mac and Joe. That position was maintained throughout the second lap. In the third lap Paul and Mac started creeping up steadily on the leaders while Nuthin,’ shot out into the lead, with Ted only an inch behind. At the turn, a deep sigh went up from the spectators—Nuthin’ missed his hold and lost enough time in the turn to place him behind with Joe. It seemed that the race was now to be decided between Ted and Paul. Ted, however, seemed to manage quite well in keeping his lead and Paul didn’t seem as though he were gaining any. Nuthin’, though, was in the meanwhile, gaining with[167] every stroke. At the turn he was neck and neck with Paul.

On shore, some people had set up a chant—“Nuthin’! Nuthin’! come on Nuthin’!” They kept up the chant until the very end of the race. And Nuthin’ seemed to be responding very well to their call. He was edging up closer and closer. He was straining every muscle in his body. His arms and feet were like a well oiled, well regulated machine. Within five yards to the goal Nuthin’ was neck and neck with Ted. The latter strained very hard to reach out further. Two yards from the edge of the pool and Nuthin’ had already crept into the lead. The judges were bending over, watching very closely for the first touch. The spectators held their breaths and watched. In an instant the race was over and the judges were rising to their feet. Somebody shouted, “Ted! Ted, the winner!”

Both judges shook their heads and pointed to Nuthin’. William, at the other end of the pool, screamed, “Nuthin’! Hooray for Nuthin’!”

Somebody nudged him and remarked, “Stop shouting for nothing; shout for something.”

William laughed and roared. “Nuthin’ is something and how!”

Nuthin’ lay stretched out, with Ted at his side. Breathing hard, Ted said, “That was a swell race. Never thought you were as good as that, boy.”

[168]

Paul, squatting nearby, remarked, “Creeping up on us the way he did and winning the dash—he’s certainly good.”

“You said it,” agreed Ted.

The two hundred and twenty yard dash was an all-around disappointment. Not that it didn’t have its thrills. On the contrary, it had too many thrills, surprises and shocks, so that the contestants participated in something that was more than a swimming contest and the spectators lost interest in the event itself. When the judges called for the participants to step forth, Ken and Bluff came out as representatives for their group. For the Ted Slavin team, two boys stepped forth, one by the name of Walt and the other Cy. The edge of the wooden dock was wet and therefore slippery. As the boys lined in their respective lanes, Walt somehow lost his balance and slipped; when he had picked himself up, he began to hop around painfully. He had twisted his ankle, and that forced him out of the race. His team had no other man to take his place and that left only three contestants in the race.

Coach Thompson finally called, “Get ready!” Pause, “Get set!” The shot went off and the boys dived. For three laps everything went along well. The boys glided through the water gracefully. Cy was setting the pace, with Ken following several[169] inches behind and Bluff bringing up the rear. On their fourth lap, at about the center of the lane, Bluff suddenly went down like a rock. People began to scream and shout. Ken, becoming aware of the commotion on shore, stopped to hear what people were screaming to him. In the meanwhile, Nuthin’ and Ted who were sitting at the edge of the float and watching the race, both jumped into the lake. Nuthin’ dived first and half a minute later came up with Bluff. Assisted by Ted, the two boys pulled Bluff in. He had suddenly gotten cramps.

The race continued with only two contestants now; Cy was in the lead with Ken fully five yards behind. Ken tried to creep up on his competitor, but as he increased his pace, so did Cy. The boys kept up the grind back and forth, back and forth across the pool. At the end of the seventh lap, Ken had managed to regain about half the distance he had lost. And he continued to creep up by inches. As the boys were ending their tenth lap and were approaching for a turn, a little boy of about six or seven, who had somehow managed to get to the edge of the pool, leaned over a little too far and tumbled in. The child fell directly in front of Ken and before many people had realized what happened the swimmer had fished the boy out, handed him over to outstretched arms and[170] continued with the race. But by now, Ken had fallen so far behind that even by his last sprint, he could do no better than end up a full seven yards behind Cy. The race was ended and few people were aware of it.

The next event was the diving, with Bobolink and Ted as the contestants. Both were fine divers and their form was almost perfect. Each one was obliged to perform the swan dive, the jackknife and a third dive of the contestant’s own choosing. After both boys had performed and had delighted the spectators, the judges conferred but were unable to come to a decision. The two boys were told to perform any one fancy dive they chose. Again both contestants performed so equally that the judges called the contest a draw.

It was the relay, however, that again raised the spectators’ enthusiasm to high pitch and set them jumping and howling madly; it had everyone on his toes following the contest closely.

William was the lead off man for his team. Coach Thompson called, “On your mark!” The two boys crouched. “Get set!” They brought their arms back. The gun went off and William and his competitor flung themselves through space, their arms stretched out. They cut into the water and set off in a fast sprint. Each contestant had two laps to go. They glided through the water, their[171] arms and feet moving rhythmically. Both boys turned simultaneously and were neck and neck. People shouted and screamed themselves hoarse; their comrades shouted advice and encouragement. Gradually, William moved into the lead. As he touched, he gave Wallace, who followed him, a lead of about three inches.

The next pair were off. Wallace kept his small margin of a lead with his competitor sturdily refusing to concede another inch. Wallace, however, made a poor turn, and placed both boys nose to nose. It even looked as though the other fellow would gain the lead any second but Wallace fought it out and both boys touched simultaneously. The third pair dived and each contestant fought hard for the lead but neither Bobolink nor his competitor would yield. Stroke for stroke, they glided through the water gracefully and neither one would yield an inch. At the turn, it appeared for a second that Bobolink gained an inch or two on his competitor, but the next moment they were seen gliding along side by side, nose to nose. The spectators were frantic with excitement and they encouraged, urged and cajoued, each his favorite, to hurry up and get into the lead. The two contestants, however, touched simultaneously.

Jack was the last man. By the way he dived, flinging his body through space with a certain impatient[172] fury, it seemed that he was going to fly across the pool. His competitor, however, was right there at his side and obstinate in his refusal to be shaken. Jack plowed through the water at breakneck speed. People wondered how the other hung on and didn’t yield an inch. The spectators were going wild with enthusiasm; some of them became hysterical. A babble of voices urged both boys to get ahead, take the lead. But neither one seemed able to shake the other fellow. At the turn, however, Jack who was very flexible and fast, manoeuvered the touch and push off so quickly that he got away with a lead of several inches. The other fellow saw himself losing out and sprinted after Jack fast and furious. But the latter would not yield and steadily he kept his lead, making the final touch a full five seconds ahead of his competitor.

People jumped into the air, fell on each other’s necks and screamed with delight. Ready arms stretched out to help the two boys out of the water. Smiling, happy, Jack turned to his rival and the two shook hands. The Slavin group formed a circle and cheered Jack and then everybody else they could think of. Paul, Jack and the other boys also formed a circle and returned cheer for cheer.

The contest was over and a number of people went away. The spectacle, however, was by no[173] means over. It had been arranged to include several items on the schedule as pure fun-provoking spectacles. The first such event was performed on the diving board. Bobolink dressed up in a pair of balloon pants, and a bonnet on his head; Ted, on the other hand, put on a bathing suit that was twice his size, his fingers hiding in his sleeves and the bottoms flopping around his legs, with a life preserver around his midsection.

Bobolink appeared first on the board. Shaky and nervous, he walked out to the edge of the board. Suddenly slipping, he bounced on his back, went up into the air and came down on his stomach; he tried to grasp the board, but in vain; up he went again and came down on his head and then catapulted into the water, swimming through the air. As he went under water, his bonnet went floating on the surface of the lake. Coming up again, he retrieved his bonnet and waited for Ted to perform.

Ted took a running slide across the board and as he came to the edge, he heeled over, trying not to slide off; clawing the air, he balanced back and forth, back and forth, appearing as though this moment he was going into the water head first and the next moment—no. Finally he did slip off and as he fell through space he managed to grasp a hold on the board. Like a see-saw, the board[174] went up and down, with Ted trying to clamber onto the board again. He managed to put his legs around the board and his fingers slipped and there he was hanging head down. After performing all sorts of gymnastics with his hands, he fell into the water head first. And to the great enjoyment of the spectators, Ted didn’t go fully underwater but got stuck in the water, head, shoulders and as far as his midsection immersed, while his feet stuck up, kicking vigorously. Everybody laughed at the sight until tears ran down their faces. Bobolink swam over and after spinning Ted around several times, helped him to turn over. Righted again, only half of him was under water. Bobolink pushed him below the surface several times and the fellow bobbed up like a spring. It was all the result of the life preserver around his midsection.

Two canoes were placed in the water and each contained a tilting pole. The two contestants, Paul and Cy, were told to swim out and each occupy a canoe, which the boys did easily enough. However, they were not supplied with paddles and in order to approach within striking distance of each other, they were obliged to paddle with their hands. Separated by a distance of about three or four feet, the boys stood up in their canoes and poised their poles. But in the meanwhile, Paul’s[175] canoe had drifted away and Cy called out, “I say, don’t run away. Come back and defend your honor.”

“Just you wait a minute,” replied Paul. And he immediately squatted and with his hands paddled up nearer to his foe.

The spectators cheered and laughed with glee. They were having as much fun as the contestants themselves who now crossed poles as a sign that the battle was on. They thrust at each other but only jabbed the air. Their canoes drifting apart, both had to sit down and do some paddling again. Someone on shore shouted, “Get together there, will you? Do something!”

Others echoed the cry and urged the contestants on to do something. Just as soon as they were close enough, both boys jumped up and grabbed their poles. Cy thrust out and Paul dodged it and poked back; but Cy caught it on his pole and pushed it away. Again the poles crossed. Cy’s canoe was drifting away, and he leaned forward a trifle, reaching out to strike his opponent; instead, Paul pushed his pole into Cy’s shoulder and the latter plunged into the water. Paul stood up his pole and thrust out his chest as a sign of victory. The spectators ashore applauded and cheered him. But just then Cy bobbed out of the water and tipped Paul’s canoe, throwing him into the water, which[176] caused the spectators a great deal of amusement.

The boys were getting dressed in the boat-house. They were jabbering away a mile a minute. Ted stood up on a bench and called out, “Everybody attention, please!”

“Pull him off!” someone shouted.

“Don’t let him talk!” another added.

“Hear! Hear!” someone else shouted.

When all had finally quieted down, Ted began, “A friend of mine—”

He was interrupted by several voices. One cried, “Who’s she?”

“What’s her name?”

“How do you know she’s a friend of yours?”

“Quiet! Quiet!”

Ted continued. “As I was saying, a friend of mine has arranged a dance as a successful completion of today’s events.”

“Yea!” one of the boys cried.

“Hooray for your friend!” another shouted.

“And for Ted!” was added by another boy.

“Hooray for all of us!” cried Cy.

Quiet was restored and Ted finished his statement, declaring, “The dance will be held at eight o’clock, the place—the High School gym, and you are all not only invited but urged to come.”

He was applauded, cheered, and thanked for the information. All the boys promised to come.


[177]

CHAPTER XVII

Man Chained

The boys were in conference. Nuthin’ said, “I still maintain, fellows, that we ought to call in the police. After all, what can we do? Suppose that gang uses guns against us, then we’re lost.”

Paul answered, “As far as their using guns against us, we will have to risk that. But then, whatever plan we adopt to capture that gang, we’ll use our brains and make it so they won’t have a chance to use their guns. As for calling the police, if we do that, it is very likely that the whole gang will get away. Imagine what the police method would be. They would remove all the stuff from the cave and then wait around for the thieves to come and be caught. But they won’t come because it’s bound to leak out and be given a lot of publicity.”

“And another thing,” chimed in William, “look at all the fun we’ll be missing.”

“But very dangerous fun,” retorted Nuthin’.

“Your imagination is carrying you away,” interposed Ken.

[178]

Nuthin’ shrugged his shoulders and withdrew his objections.

Wallace spoke up. “Let’s get down to business,” he said, “and develop some plan.”

“Suppose someone suggests something and then we will all chip in,” remarked Ken.

The boys nodded and Wallace was the first to offer his opinion. “According to our information, which is scanty, they are supposed to return within ten days or two weeks from a week ago Saturday. Now as far as we are concerned, we have to be there on the spot. That means that we must prepare to camp there for about a week, and we have to leave tomorrow.”

“Is that agreeable to everyone or does anyone have any objections or want to add something?” asked Paul.

“Only this,” spoke up Bobolink, “and that’s to keep a constant watch at the cave.”

“We’ll come to that when we work out the details,” interrupted Jack. “For the present, I’m sure that we’re all agreed to the proposal advanced by Wallace.”

For the next three hours the boys sat in a group and designed a plan. Every detail was taken care of and everyone was sure that it would work out well.

Very early the following morning, all the eight[179] boys, with full packs on their backs and wearing their Boy Scout uniforms, marched out of Stanhope and took the road to the mountain. Wallace pointed out to them the abandoned farm house, behind which was the road leading to the mysterious airport. Jack’s immediate suggestion was that they enter and search it. All the boys eagerly assented and lots were drawn for the two who would enter the house, two who would search the yard and barn while the others were to deploy and be on the watch. Paul and Wallace won the chance to enter the house, while Ken and Jack were to explore the yard and barn.

The boys withdrew from the road and put all their packs together, with Bluff to watch over them. William was stationed at one point to carefully watch the main road; he himself was to keep in hiding and not to be seen. Bobolink was directed to watch the back of the house and Nuthin’ was told to walk back on the road about a quarter of a mile and to watch for any suspicious characters and keep a general lookout.

Paul and Wallace approached the house silently, carefully, examining the exterior of the house with each step. Circling the house, they found that several of the windows were broken and nailed with boards. As a whole, the house was not in bad condition and was habitable. Several[180] signs led them to believe that the house had been used on and off recently. Paul pointed to a number of footprints that did not appear to be very old; Wallace spied a banana peel which could not have been more than about ten days or two weeks old. At the back of the house the boys came across pieces that appeared to have been chopped in the recent past. Turning to his friend, Wallace remarked, “Looks like they used this place all right.”

“Yes,” agreed Paul. “And I think that we’ll most likely find a lot of interesting things inside.”

The boys approached the front door and Paul tried the knob. It wouldn’t open. The boys tugged and pushed but the door held fast. “What are we going to do,” asked Paul, “break in the door?”

“No. Let’s pry away the boards from one of the windows and gain entrance that way.”

Paul agreed. At one of the side windows Wallace used his hatchet and pried away three boards giving them enough room to climb through. Wallace was the first to tumble in and Paul quickly followed. With the help of their searchlights, they examined the room. It was very dusty, with cobwebs and several broken chairs strewn about the floor; otherwise the room was completely empty. Paul whispered, “Well, there’s nothing much here, so let’s move on.”

[181]

The floor squeaked as they tiptoed to the door. There was no knob and the door stuck tightly. Wallace used his hatchet and pried it open. The boys stepped into a large foyer. To one side were the stairs leading to the flight above, and across the hall were two doors. They approached the nearest door and endeavored to push it open; it stuck fast. Pulling and tugging, the knob broke loose. Rather than break in, Paul suggested that they try the second door first. The boys entered into a kitchen. On one side was a coal stove and an oil burner; against the window was a table with several dirty dishes; a couple of chairs stood by. While Paul examined the closets, Wallace struck a match and tried the oil burner. It burned and that revealed that it had been in recent use. In the closet, Paul found odds and ends of crockery, rags and several pieces of old clothing.

From the kitchen, a swinging door led into the next room—the room the boys could not enter from without. There they saw two open cots with blankets and pillows. A third cot, folded, stood near by. In the middle of the room were a large, round table and four chairs. On the table lay several used candles, a couple of small liquor glasses stood nearby and an empty whiskey bottle. There were some rags and pieces of clothing strewn about. The boys wheeled around on their heels[182] slowly, examining the room closely. Paul spied an overcoat lying in a heap in a corner. He tiptoed slowly across the room and picked it up; very dusty, still it looked like a good coat. He put his hand into the pocket and his fingers touched a cold and hard object. It was an automatic. He whispered across the room to his friend. Paul snapped open the magazine and found it loaded. Pushing back the safety cap, he put the gun into his pocket. Again he picked up the coat and in the second pocket found a box of cartridges. Whispering across the room, the boys decided to appropriate the automatic and cartridges. Walking silently over to join his friend in front of the fireplace, Paul passed a hand over his brow and whispered anxiously, “We’re in the gang’s hangout all right. And I hate to think what would happen to us if we were caught.”

“It would be just too bad,” answered Wallace. “But it’s too late to withdraw now.”

“Yes. But I’m beginning to think that Nuthin’ was right. We should have called in the police.”

“Too late,” repeated Wallace. “We’ll have to make the best of it.”

Coming out into the hall, the boys mounted the stairs, Paul leading and Wallace following. At the head of the stairs they stopped to look around. There were two doors to their left. No attic. Paul[183] tried the first door. It held fast. Pushing and tugging didn’t seem to help. Wallace whispered, “Let’s try the next door.”

The next door swung open at the mere touch of Paul’s hand. Entering, they found the room very dusty but entirely empty. There was a single closet; opening it, that too was found to be empty. They returned to the hall. Wallace whispered, “You think we ought to break in there?”—meaning the first door they tried but found locked or nailed.

Paul shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. What do you think? Is it worth the trouble?”

“You really can’t tell. From the looks of things, it seems as though they don’t use this floor.”

“Then why should the door be locked?”

“I can’t say. Let’s break in, so we won’t have any regrets.”

Wallace set to with his hatchet. Paul cautioned him to make less noise. But it was necessary to do a lot of chopping before the door would open. Wallace swung the door open and remained at the threshhold. Wallace gasped and Paul quickly reached into his pocket for the gun. They stepped into the room. Sprawled over on the floor was a man chained to a chair. Quickly glancing about to see if anyone else was in the room, they then hurried to pick up man and chair. Upright, the[184] man’s head hung down and had every appearance of being dead. Paul put his ear to the man’s heart, listened closely for several seconds and then whispered, “Still alive.”

“Wonder who he is?” asked Wallace.

“Let’s first set him free.”

The man was chained hands and feet and then the chain ran several times around his body and the chair and both ends of the chain were held fast by a lock. Trying to break the lock was found to be futile. So Paul attacked one of the links with the hatchet. After removing the chains, they stretched the man out on the floor. Paul made a quick search through his coat pockets. From the right one the boy brought out a badge. Wallace craned his neck to see. It was a government agent badge.

“Do you think he is a real government agent?” whispered Wallace.

“Must be.”

“What’ll we do?”

“Take him out of here. Quickly. He needs air and medical treatment.”

Wallace grabbed the man’s legs and Paul took him under the arms. Thus they carried him downstairs. At the window, Paul said, “We’ll lay him down here for a while. You go and call a couple of the boys.”

[185]

He jumped through the window. Hesitating for a moment undecided which way to turn and whom to call, he put his fingers between his lips and sent out a low, shrill whistle. Dropping behind a clump of bushes, he lay there waiting, watching. In about a minute he noticed Ken and Jack appear from somewhere in the rear of the farm yard. They stayed close together and sneaked along from tree to tree. From the expression on their faces Wallace could tell that they were in a quandary as to where the whistle came from. He exposed himself and waved to them. They came on the run. “What’s the matter?” demanded Jack.

“Anything wrong?”—that from Ken.

Wallace waved away their questions and instructed them to wait under the window. He clambered in. The man now had his eyes open and made an effort to move his lips. Paul and Wallace picked him up and handed him out through the window. Jack and Ken gasped. Paul cautioned them. “Be careful. Hold on.”

Outside, Paul instructed Wallace to nail up the window again, while the three of them would take the man to the other side of the road, to where Bluff and their knapsacks were. That accomplished, Bluff was sent out to call in the other boys.

[186]

They stretched out a blanket on the grass and with another blanket for a pillow, they made the man comfortable. Paul moistened his lips with water and let him swallow a couple of mouthsful. After which the man fell into a doze.

Nuthin’ added, “He certainly needs medical attention.”

Jack shook his head. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with him organically,” he said. “He must have gone without food for a long time and that weakened him. Also the fact that he was tied to that chair.”

“Perhaps he wouldn’t want us to get a doctor because a doctor would have to notify the police. And he may not want that.”

Paul spoke up. He said, “One of us should run back to the nearest grocery to buy a bottle of fresh milk, several cans of fruit juice and some fresh fruit and vegetables.”

“I w-will g-go,” offered Bluff.

Paul cautioned him. “Make believe that you’re hiking by yourself and don’t answer any questions.”

Bluff nodded and was off. The boys sat down in a circle and Paul said, “Now we’ll hear what the result of your exploration has been, Jack and Ken. Which one of you is going to do the talking?”

[187]

“There’s really nothing to tell,” spoke up Jack. “We found nothing suspicious nor unusual.”

“Was the barn just plain empty?” questioned William.

“Yes,” replied Ken, “except for a few sticks and stones.”

“How about the yard?” asked Bobolink.

“We searched thoroughly but we didn’t come across a thing.”

Pause. Silence. Finally Jack said, “Suppose you now tell us all the other things you found in the house.”

Between them, Paul and Wallace related their entire experiences, not omitting any detail. He took out and showed the automatic and the box of cartridges. By the time the narrative was completed, Bluff had returned. Warming up a glass of milk, Paul fed it to the stricken man, a little at a time. Revived, he smiled and opened his lips to speak but Paul cautioned him not to exert any effort and just to rest. He lay down again and fell asleep. About two hours later he awoke and Paul fed him a cup of pineapple juice and a soft boiled egg. The man seemed to regain his strength rapidly. He was now fully able to speak but he uttered only a few words. “Thank you,” he said. “I will now rest a little longer.”

[188]

Toward afternoon, the agent recovered sufficiently to sit up and declaim his hunger. But on the recommendation of Paul, to which he agreed, he was given only warm milk and again a soft boiled egg on toast. As he ate, the boys gathered around and watched him. When he had finished his meal, he sat quietly for a short while, passing his hand over his several days growth of beard and laughing in his throat. Finally he spoke, his voice throaty and rusty. He asked, “Do you fellows mind telling me how you came to be in that house?”

The boys shut their mouths and kept quiet. The embarrassing silence lasted for about a minute. At last Paul replied, “Don’t you think, sir, that it is really your task to explain to us how you came to be in the condition in which we found you? We are Boy Scouts and by our treatment of you, it is evident that we are friends and mean you no harm.”

The man stroked his chin and hesitated. He let his sharp eyes roam from one silent boy to another, judging them, evaluating their characters. Wallace held out the badge they had found on him and asked, “Is this yours, sir?”

He glanced at it, nodded, took it and dropped it in his pocket. “Thank you,” he muttered. He still seemed to hesitate. Finally he spoke, low and[189] throaty. “My name is Tom Woods and I want to thank you boys for saving my life. Another day and I would have passed out.”

“How long have you been a prisoner there?” questioned Jack.

“What day is this?”

“Monday.”

He thought for a moment. “Since Saturday morning,” he replied.

“Do you know if the gang is coming back for you?” Ken asked.

The agent shrugged his shoulders. “I really don’t know. But I imagine that they were going to let me rot there until doomsday.” He again let his eyes roam from one face to another. “I was in luck to have you boys find me. Once more, I thank you. You saved my life and I hope that someday I shall be able to repay the debt.”

Wallace leaned over and whispered something to Paul who nodded. For several seconds the boys waited for the man to speak, but he kept his mouth tightly shut. Wallace whispered, “Mr. Woods, did you know that they are scheduled to make a shipment one of these days?”

Though the question had been in a low whisper, the agent had caught every syllable; at the word “shipment” he winced, but so imperceptibly that only three of the boys had noticed it. He smiled[190] wanly. He confessed. “I am a government agent. It appears that you boys have information—valuable information—which I desire.” He paused and stroked his chin. “It’s only fair then, I guess, that I tell you how I came to be chained to that chair in the farm house—a most inconvenient situation.” And he laughed in his throat. “I have been on this case for several months. I suppose you know that we are dealing with a gang of arms smugglers?” He put the statement in the form of a question and he noticed that several of the boys nodded, which was the clue he wanted.

“Well,” he continued, speaking low, almost in a whisper, “There really isn’t much to tell. I happened to come upon their hangout—an apartment in the city. Keeping a steady watch for several days, I learned their movements. One night, I watched them leave their apartment one by one and I decided to go up and investigate. I got in all right, but two of their comrades whom I had never seen leave or enter the building, were there to greet me. After that, things happened so fast I still find it difficult to recall all the details. At any rate, the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor of a car traveling at a good rate of speed. I made believe that I was still unconscious and listened to their talk, but they said nothing to give away their secrets. Eventually they[191] brought me to this farm house and chained me to the chair. The rest you know already.”

The boys stared at him in astonishment and silence prevailed for a short while. Finally he said, “Now it’s your turn to tell me all you know. I’m under the impression that you boys have a great deal of valuable information.”

The fellows looked at one another and kept quiet. They left it to Paul to do all the talking and tell as little or as much as he felt would be advisable. Paul, however, saw no reason for withholding any details of the information and he told all. As he progressed in his narrative, Tom Woods gasped with surprise several times. He listened attentively, wrinkling his brow and his jaw set as he did so. When the story was at last completely told, he confessed his amazement. For a short while he kept perfectly silent and concentrating on some plan he had in mind. He asked, “What time is it now?”

“Almost three o’clock,” answered William.

“How far away is this camping ground you were heading for?”

“Close to ten miles,” he was told.

The government agent shook his head. He suggested, “The first thing we ought to do right now is to find a camping spot. I don’t think I’m strong enough yet to walk ten miles. Tomorrow, maybe,[192] but not today. However, would you boys object if we found some spot about a mile or two from here and pitched camp?”

“I don’t think so,” replied Paul and turned to the boys for affirmation.

“Then we’ll do that,” Woods said, “and then we will devise a complete plan of action. You boys know so much and are so familiar with the surroundings that I shall have to include you in all my plans to capture the gang.”

The boys immediately set off. Tom Woods accompanied by Wallace followed at a slower pace. They found a good spot and pitched camp. After supper, the boys gathered around the camp fire and together with the agent devised a plan of action for the next few days.


[193]

CHAPTER XVIII

The Trap

The following morning the boys rose early. They had had a refreshing and restful sleep and they were now ready and eager to carry out their plan. William supervised the preparation of breakfast and each one of them had a hearty and satisfactory meal. Tom Woods, too, had by now sufficiently recovered to have a full meal. He even declaimed that he now felt as well as ever. But the shadows under his eyes and the paleness of his skin told a silent story of horrible torture.

The agent rose to his feet and stretched himself. He called Paul over and asked, “Do you mind lending that automatic of yours? And also the cartridges. I may have to use them.”

Paul surrendered the pistol and ammunition. Several minutes later, Wallace called out, “I’m ready, Mr. Woods, if you are.”

“I’m also ready, so let’s go.”

Wallace shouldered his knapsack and waving goodbye to the other boys who were busy breaking camp, he and the agent set off. As for the rest of the group, just as soon as everything was[194] ready, they set off for their destination—their old camp ground, which they reached at about noon. After a fifteen minute rest, lunch was prepared. Paul then declared a thirty minute rest period, adding, “We have a lot of hard work ahead of us which must be accomplished before nightfall. So relax, then we will get to work.”

Ken was left behind to keep guard at camp and put it into order. The other boys set off, with the cave their destination. When they got there, Bobolink and Nuthin’ were stationed at strategic points to keep a careful watch. Paul, Jack and William hid in the shrubbery. Paul picked up several light stones and threw them at the door of the cave. Some moments passed. The boys, anxious and determined, breathed hard. Jack crept forward on his hands and knees and moving so that the door would act as a shield, he slowly and quietly opened the door wide. There was no one in the front compartment of the cave and the door was closed. Jack crept back into hiding and now Paul and William rose to their feet and stole quietly away. The two boys crossed the stream and came upon the shrubbery-hidden opening that led to the back of the cave. Paul crept in; William kept guard. In a short while Paul came out. “How does it look inside?” William asked.

[195]

“The place is just full of wooden cases and boxes. They must have been here very recently and we missed them.”

“That’s nothing. Since they have their baggage here yet, they will come back. If not today, then tomorrow or the next day. In the meanwhile, I’m going back to give Jack the word. Is that all right?”

“Yes. If you two get through with your job first, come and give me a hand.”

“Very well.”

William disappeared and Paul set to work. Jack was waiting for William to return and just as soon as he did, the two boys got busy in front of and around the cave. They worked arduously and quickly. Finally the boys were done and without hesitating or wasting a minute, they set out to help Paul whom they met on the way. “You have everything finished?” the latter asked.

The boys nodded. “And you?” queried William.

“All done.”

“Good.”

The boys returned to their camp. It was already dark when William appeared. “Well, did anything happen?”

“Nothing,” he replied. “And here?”

“Nothing.”

[196]

Early the following morning, Jack left camp. He walked at a steady rapid pace and in about three hours he arrived at the farm house. Wallace had told him that Tom Woods would meet him there. He searched for some sign of the agent and finding none, he entered the yard and crept stealthily along, aiming for a position which would keep him in hiding while he had a good view of the road and most of the yard. He gained his goal and stretched himself out on the ground, prepared to wait until the agent showed up. Suddenly he felt the presence of someone close to him. He bounded up from the earth, but Tom Woods grabbed him and pulled him down again. The man laughed. “It’s all right, boy,” he whispered.

“Whew! You certainly scared me, Mr. Woods!” Jack exclaimed, heaving a sigh of relief.

“Just a little foolish playfulness on my part,” the agent stated. “What’s the news from camp?”

“Nothing happened. The boys did everything they were supposed to and everything is ready to greet the gang.”

“That’s good. I have a faint suspicion that we won’t have to wait for them long either.”

“You think they’ll come today?”

“Most likely. Though I wouldn’t swear to it. Nothing is certain, you know.”

[197]

They lay there side by side and conversed in very low whispers. Woods questioned the boy about his home, his activities, his friends and all sorts of little details about his life. In return he told many anecdotes of his experiences. He possessed a very fine sense of humor and he twisted every story he told into a humorous narrative. He had Jack giggling most of the time.

It turned out that Tom Woods was wrong and nothing happened that day. Towards nightfall, he instructed Jack to return to camp, tell the boys to be ever on the watch and have Wallace come down the following morning. It was quite dark when he reached camp and he was so tired that after a sandwich he turned in for the night.

Wallace rose with the dawn and wasted no time getting set for his hike down the mountain. When he arrived at the farm house, Tom Woods played the same trick on him as he did on Jack. Side by side, the two lay in hiding and waited. “What did the boys do yesterday?” asked the agent.

“They kept watch all day long but nothing happened.”

“It will today,” asserted Woods.

All day long they lay in hiding and waited. It appeared as though Tom Woods was wrong again. But that did not despair him. He continued telling his humorous anecdotes and kept himself[198] and his companion cheerful. The sun swung across the horizon. Noon came and passed. The hours dragged along. Towards five o’clock, the government agent suddenly broke off in the middle of a sentence; he became very alert. Wallace felt a cold chill run down his spine. Woods hurriedly whispered, “Don’t get excited. Stay under cover until I tell you otherwise.”

A car swung slowly in from the road into the yard. Behind the farm house, it stopped. Wallace whispered to his companion, “The one at the wheel—Bud, the stranger.”

Woods nodded. He held the automatic ready. As the car stopped, Bud jumped out and called back over his shoulder, “Just want to take a look around. It’ll take me only a minute.”

The agent crept away. Silently he tiptoed from behind the car. Coming close, he hissed. “One move or sound and you’re dead. Put up your hands.”

The gangster raised his hands above his head and moved to step out of the car. As he did so, he made a quick, wild move for his pocket. Woods swung, hitting the gangster an awful wallop on the chin with the butt end of his gun. The gangster let out a yell as he went down in a heap. The agent quickly crawled behind the car. Bud came running from around the corner of the[199] house and hid himself behind a tree. He waited. Woods also crouched and waited, but became impatient and fired across the top of the car. No answer.

Wallace was still lying in the same position and eagerly watched the proceedings. He was anxious and excited. He wondered what he could do to help but he realized that for the present the best he could do was to keep out of the way and let the two fight it out. One of them, he thought, would surely never leave that yard alive. He only hoped that everything would come out for the best.

Bud stretched himself out on the ground and began to shoot wildly, combing the ground. A pause came as the gangster took time out to reload his gun. Tom Woods took the opportunity to make a dash of several yards and throw himself behind a pile of logs which he had set up for the occasion. He shifted his position for two reasons: one was that the car did not offer a good enough barricade and secondly to draw the firing away from the direction where Wallace was hiding.

A fraction of a second after he threw himself behind the barricade, a bullet buried itself in one of the logs. The agent answered it by sending a bullet that just skimmed the bark of the tree. Tom Woods waited. He was in a better position[200] than his enemy. Safe behind his barricade, he also had an open view of the yard and gate and he could not be taken unawares by anyone coming from that direction. Of course, he might be surprised by someone coming from the mountain, but that was unlikely because he could, without endangering himself, frequently turn his head, and scan the outlying woods and farmland. On the other hand, Bud was in a precarious position. He had only one alternative and that was to flee. But to leave his safe position behind the tree was to invite a bullet from Tom Woods’ gun, which might be fatal. So he also settled down to watchful waiting. Now while the agent was in no hurry and had plenty of time, the gangster was anxious and in a hurry to get to the cave. Without doubt, the government agent had the advantage.

In the meanwhile, Wallace wondered what he could do to help end the situation quickly in favor of his friend. After Tom Woods took up his new position, he felt that Bud’s attention would be entirely taken up by the agent and that he was free to move away from his spot. Crawling on his belly, he moved slowly and gradually. Finally he came to a position that placed him to the rear and to left of the gangster. He picked out a good-sized stone and, rising on his knees, took careful[201] aim and hurled the missile. Then he fell quickly under cover.

The stone missed its objective and bounced off the tree. However, it attracted Bud’s attention. The gangster turned quickly and fired twice in the direction from which he thought the stone came. In doing that, however, he exposed his arm up to his elbow. The next instant he let out a most horrible scream. The agent had sent a bullet through the gangster’s wrist. The pain was real but the intensity of the yell was a foil. The gangster bounded forward to recover his weapon which had fallen out of his hand. The next moment he uttered a deep cry and toppled over. A bullet from Woods’ gun had pierced his throat.

Suddenly everything was silent again. There was a long pause. Tom Woods lay behind his barricade and waited, while Wallace, in his hiding place, also did not move. When he thought it was all right, the agent came out from behind his shelter and called for Wallace to come forward but to be careful. First they attended the gangster who was knocked out by Tom Woods. The stricken man, at the first touch, moaned. The agent put his hand to the man’s jaw and the gangster bounded up as if he had been struck by an electric shock. Wallace whispered, “You must have cracked his jaw when you hit him.”

[202]

“Guess so. Give me a hand and we’ll carry him to the barn.”

Bud, lifeless now, was also carried to the barn. Removing the clothes of the two gangsters, the agent and Wallace donned them. Wallace looked a little ridiculous in his outfit but his companion fixed him up so that he looked all right. Finally, they tied up the wounded man so that he couldn’t escape, and tied a handkerchief over his mouth so that he could not cry out. The two came out of the barn. The agent held one of the automatics used by the gangsters and said, “Here, you had better take it boy. It may come in handy later.”

Wallace hesitated but finally he took it and put it into his pocket. They walked over to the car. All the windows were shattered and one tire was flat. Wallace said, “A couple of holes in the gas tank.”

Woods looked and then remarked, “We can plug the holes up; they are not at the bottom of the tank which is something to be thankful for. And we will have enough gas in there to make the ten miles.”

The two of them set to work. Under the front seat they found tools with which to remove the flat tire and put on the spare. Getting into the car, the agent started it up and they were off. Wallace showed him the road and Woods hurried[203] to get to the cave. After a while, he laughed and asked, “Well, how did you enjoy the little shooting match?”

“I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed it. It’s too bad that Bud was killed.”

“I guess you’re right, boy. I don’t enjoy killing anyone either. But sometimes it just can’t be helped.”

“I guess that’s true, Mr. Woods. But it is too bad that it ever has to be done.”

“Well, when we get a better social system in which men and women will have no reason to be dishonest then there won’t be any shooting of anyone, I guess.”

Wallace had nothing to say, so he kept quiet. After a while, the government agent said, “When you come to think of it, you had more to do with the death of that gangster than I did.”

“How do you mean?” questioned Wallace anxiously.

“You threw the stone and forced him to expose himself.”

“Yes, but you did the shooting.”

“Of course, but—well, never mind. Let’s talk of something else.”

They rode along, the agent telling a cheerful anecdote while Wallace listened.


[204]

CHAPTER XIX

At The Cave Again

By the time all the boys had washed and dressed, William had breakfast ready. Most of them were tense and impatient, but on the whole, they felt good. Leaving Jack behind to keep guard at the camp and clean up the dishes in the meanwhile, the boys set out for the cave. At their destination, the boys separated, each going to his station where he lay in hiding and watched. As the hours passed slowly and wearily, most of the boys became a little cranky and impatient. Paul decided to go from boy to boy, talk to him for a while and try to calm him.

At noon, Bluff was sent back to camp and Jack returned with sandwiches he had prepared and canteens of ice cold water from the stream. Paul went to each boy in turn and passed out the sandwiches and a drink of water. And again it became a matter of watchful and patient waiting. Jack, lying close to Paul, asked, “You think they’ll come today?”

“It’s hard to tell. But they are about due.”

[205]

“Mr. Woods thinks that they will surely appear today.” Pause. Deadly silence except for the breeze fluttering through the branches and leaves. “You know,” Jack added, “this is getting on my nerves already. I’d like to see it come off and be through with it.”

“Patience, Jack,” his friend continued, “you can’t hurry a situation like this.”

Paul moved away and went to keep someone else company for a while.

At about six o’clock, Jack, who was watching the road, was suddenly brought out of his lethargic position. Sprawling on the ground, he thought he heard the sound of a motor. Putting his ear to the earth, he listened for some moments to the rumbling sounds that came to his ear. The car was several hundred yards away yet when he spied it. Quickly and noiselessly, he picked himself up and sprinted away. He came upon Paul and told him the news. Not hesitating in the least, Paul told him where to take up his position and what to do. Then Paul ran on and passed the word for all of them to be on the alert.

Paul returned and took his place beside Jack. As they waited, every second seemed to stretch out into an hour. Those who were in the car—whoever they were—were apparently in no hurry. Finally, after what seemed an endless wait, Paul[206] nudged Jack and pointed out two moving figures. Holding their breaths, they watched and waited. The boys were quite positive that the moving figures would head for the clearing and cross it. Then they were greeted by a surprise—a shocking surprise—that awaited them. But they were disappointed. Jack whispered, “They’re heading this way.”

“Yes. You think they have any suspicion of what’s awaiting them?”

“I don’t think it matters. Our plan takes care of anything that might be different than we expect.”

The boys kept quiet. Two figures passed within five feet of them. Jack began to fidget as the figures were passing. Paul had a hard time controlling him, keeping him from talking. As the two men passed, Jack whispered, “There’s something familiar about the fellow in the lead; something about his walk.”

“I was just going to say the same.”

The boys held their breaths. As the two men approached one of the traps, they stopped. Some whispering went on between them, as though one was explaining something to the other. A minute later, the one who had been doing all the explaining, put his fingers between his lips and gave a low, shrill whistle. Jack wanted to jump up and[207] run over. “The one who whistled is Wallace,” he whispered as Paul held him.

“Most likely is, but let’s wait and make sure.”

There was a pause of a minute or so. Again the man whistled, then they both waved handkerchiefs. Paul and Jack then came out of hiding as they finally recognized Tom Woods and Wallace. Jack was sent to notify the other boys and to instruct them to continue their watch. In the meanwhile, the three of them withdrew to take counsel together. The government agent said, “You boys have it all fixed up here. A man couldn’t get away to save his life. I think you have done marvelously well.”

Paul smiled. “We have laid our plans very carefully,” he answered, “and we hope everything will come off all right.”

“I hope so too.”

Just then an airplane fell out of the sky and dived straight for the ground. Straightening out at about five hundred feet up, the plane circled the field several times. Wallace whispered, “That’s the same plane we told you about. We saw it land here once before. I remember it well.”

Tom Woods barked, “Keep quiet now and don’t move; we may be seen from above.”

“No chance of that, sir,” answered Paul. “From up above they can’t see a thing except the[208] top of the trees. We had better hurry and take our positions before they land.”

With Paul in the lead, the three of them sprinted from cover to cover and took their positions. At the last moment the government agent told the boys to hurry and move away somewhere else—take some other position. If there was any shooting, he didn’t want them to be in line of fire.

The boys moved off. The plane in the meanwhile had glided down to a landing. It was quite a large, powerful ship with a double motor. Two men jumped to the ground. The one in the lead was recognized by the boys as the Chief. Very unconcernedly, the two walked across the clearing and headed directly for the cave. As they came to the edge of the woods, the chief, for no reason and without any provocation as far as it could be determined, whipped a gun out of his pocket and fired across the top of the cave. Tom Woods, who thought that he was firing at one of the boys, sent a bullet whistling past their heads. The trap which the boys had laboriously prepared and set was now a futile gesture. Whereas if they had walked into the trap as set, there would have been no bloodshed; now it seemed inevitable.

The two gangsters now dropped to the ground and sent bullets whistling in a semi-circle. To rise[209] and dash back to their plane was suicide. They would be in the open, a clear and perfect target for Tom Woods’ bullets. On the other hand, dropping to the ground and taking shelter where they did, they forestalled being surrounded by the boys. As for the government agent, there was nothing he could do to obtain a more advantageous position. Of course, he could have one of the boys keep up a withering fire while he crept to their side or their rear. But he was against risking the life of any one of the boys.

For a while only occasional shots were exchanged. Suddenly Tom became aware that the two gangsters had devised a means of escape, if not for both, at least for one of them. The two were separating, moving further apart slowly and gradually. The agent realized that their plan was to separate a certain distance, so that one of them would keep him occupied while the other crept back to the plane. It was a clever and subtle plan and from every indication it appeared that they would succeed. They were also most probably aware that only one man faced them. Under that condition, there was nothing Tom could do that would prevent the one who got back to the plane from returning with help. Or possibly he might bring out of the plane a machine gun, and that would be enough to wipe him out. He became[210] really worried. What could he do to prevent one of them from reaching the plane.

He determined that as long as it was possible for him to do so, he would fire alternately at both racketeers and occupy both of them. He also wondered what the boys were doing. “But,” he thought to himself, “I had better keep from thinking of anything else and concentrate my attention on those two gangsters. I’m positive the boys will be able to take care of themselves.”

Tom noticed that slowly and gradually the gangster on his right was moving backwards, and each time he fired at the moving form, he was answered by the second man, the one on his left. The spasmodic shooting kept up for almost half an hour. Suddenly there was heard the roar of the airplane motor; in an instant, the machine was turning into the wind and taxiing for a take-off. Both Tom Woods as well as the gangsters were so surprised that they almost forgot each other. As the plane was still taxiing across the field, one of the racketeers sent a couple of ineffective bullets after the machine; but the shots did no harm. The plane rose off the ground easily. Tom rationalized to himself, “Whoever it was that escaped with the plane, couldn’t be a friend of theirs, or he wouldn’t have fired at it.”

Tom’s ammunition was running low and he[211] could answer only one shot to his enemy’s three or four. Five or ten minutes after the plane had gotten away, he was again astounded to realize that someone was firing at the gangsters from their rear. “Must be Wallace,” he thought to himself.

And so it was. Paul and he had withdrawn at the behest of Tom Woods. Eagerly they watched the battle. Several times Wallace wanted to use the gun the government agent had given him but Paul held him back. They, too, soon became aware of the manoeuver of the two gangsters to permit one of them to return to the plane. Cautioning Wallace on how to behave himself and what to do, Paul crept away and was soon out of sight. A short while later Wallace heard the roar of the motor and he heaved a sigh of relief as he watched the plane take off. He was positive that one of his comrades was escaping with the plane, though he couldn’t imagine who. As for himself, now was the time to act, he thought; the two were trapped. Moving closer to the edge of the woods and picking out a sound shelter and one that placed him well to the rear of the gangsters, he aimed carefully and fired his first shot.

Now to return to Tom Woods, the government agent. Realizing that someone was attacking from the rear, perhaps it was Wallace or maybe Paul,[212] he tried to trick the gangsters into surrendering, “You better throw down your guns and surrender, you two,” he called out. “That was the signal that my men have arrived. You can’t get away now.”

“We’ll give you hell first,” cried the chief.

“Very well, then,” returned the agent. “I’ll count three. If you don’t surrender, I’ll give my men the signal to blast you to hell. One!”

The smugglers answered with a volley of shots. “Two!” cried Tom.

The gangsters withheld their fire. They waited. “Three!” The word echoed through the stillness of the woods.

“Go to hell!” answered the chief. “How the devil did you ever break your chains and escape, you flatfoot?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” countered Tom.

“Yes, tell me.”

“When I have you in jail. Then I’ll pay you a visit and tell you all about it.”

“I should have cut your throat instead of merely chaining you.”

“Why didn’t you? Soft-hearted or something?”

The chief answered with his gun. Tom raised his voice and cried, loud enough to be heard a mile away, “All right! Shoot to kill.”

[213]

He had two guns and he shot from both of them as quickly as he could pull the trigger. Wallace, who heard him, took the cue and also emptied his revolver. The effect was that the two smugglers seemed to be attacked on all sides.

Silence ensued, suddenly broken by a shot coming from a third direction. A piercing cry cut short the echo of the bullet. The chief bounded up from the ground and then fell back again, dead. Tom wondered who it was that had shot. He took advantage of it, however, and called out, “Hey, Smoky, do you want to give up or do you want to join your chief?”

There was a pause. Smoky answered, “I want to give up. Tell your men not to fire.”

Tom cried out, “Hold your fire!” To the gangster, he said, “Now, drop your gun and stand up.” The smuggler complied. “Raise your hands above your head. Now turn around. You make one move and you’ll go home in a box.”

Smoky complied willingly. The government agent dashed from one cover to another, his gun ready for action should the smuggler change his mind. Finally, stepping forward softly, he came up behind the gangster. Taking a short piece of rope that he carried in his pocket, the agent tied the smuggler’s hands behind his back. Just then Wallace stepped forth out of the woods, and[214] handed Tom several yards of sturdy rope which the agent used to tie the smuggler’s hands and feet. That done, he turned to the boy and said, “I think it’s all right now to get the boys together.”

Wallace nodded. He whistled three times and the boys crept like shadows through the woods. They met in front of the cave. The government agent looked at the boys, their expressions still set and determined and their eyes full of wonder and anxiety. He laughed. “Everything is all right now, boys. You may relax.” He turned to Paul and asked, “Where did you get that rifle?”

Paul scrutinized his weapon. “Inside the cave,” he answered. “Bullets too.”

“And you were the one that shot the chief?”

Paul looked away embarrassed. “I was terribly surprised to see him topple over. Because I didn’t even aim at him.”

The boys and the government agent joined in laughing heartily. “So!” Tom muttered, twisting the words into a humorous expression, “You don’t aim but you hit the bull’s eye just the same!”

Their laughter was interrupted by the roar of an airplane overhead. They watched the machine lose altitude gradually and continually circle around and around. When it was at about a thousand[215] feet, Wallace exclaimed, “It’s the same machine.”

“Who escaped with the plane, by the way?” asked Tom Woods.

The boys looked at each other. “Who is missing?” asked Paul.

“William.”

“Jack.”

“Anyone else?”

“Bluff, but he’s at camp.”

“Then it must have been William and Jack who are in the plane,” Paul stated.

“Then you had better wave to them. Signal them to land,” said the agent.

They all ran to the clearing and waved. As the huge machine showed that it was going to land, all of them retreated, so that the plane might have a perfectly clear space in order to land. Tom remarked, “I didn’t know you had aviators among your group.”

Wallace informed him, “Six of us are pilots.”

“And you never told me!” The agent said that he was angry that they had kept the information from him. “In the meanwhile,” he called out, “you boys take shelter. It doesn’t pay to take chances and we really don’t know who is in the plane.”

The boys took up hiding positions and watched the machine descend to a perfect landing.


[216]

CHAPTER XX

Battle In The Sky

While those on the ground were so occupied with the fight they did not notice a battle going on above their heads; a battle between two planes.

When the plane landed with the smugglers, Jack was with Paul and Wallace. As soon as the first shot was fired, his first thought was that the crooks might use the plane to escape in. So he whispered to his two companions that he would return to his former station and watch the road; possibly, others of the gang might drive up and it would be best to spy them before they had a chance of becoming acquainted with the situation. Paul thought it was an excellent idea and he permitted Jack to carry out his plan.

As Jack moved noiselessly away, Wallace wanted to enter the conflict and Paul restrained him. Then Paul went away and left Wallace by himself. The latter immediately moved into position and was going to fire when his attention was attracted by a creeping shadow at the farther end of the field. By the form and outline of the moving[217] figure, he guessed it was Jack. And for that reason, he withheld his fire—so that the attention of the smugglers might not be attracted to the figure moving toward the machine.

Jack was a short distance away from the plane when he became aware that someone else—almost at a right angle to him—was also creeping toward the machine. He flattened out in the grass to wait and see who the other creeping figure was. For a short while he lay there hugging the earth, not daring to move or lift his head even slightly to see who the creeping figure might be. After about five minutes, a pebble fell near him and Jack flattened out still more. In a minute another pebble fell near him, followed by a hissing sound. He lifted his head very slightly and out of the corner of his eye saw the other person wave a finger at him. He decided that it must be one of the boys and he continued dragging himself across the earth toward the plane.

Jack and William crept up to the under-carriage of the plane almost simultaneously. William whispered, “Inside.”

Without any further hesitation, William swung himself up and into the plane. Jack waited. A hissing sound came to his ears and he knew it was the signal for him to follow. Up he went and into the plane. Both boys heaved a sigh of relief.[218] William got into the pilot’s seat. “Now to take her up into the air,” he muttered.

“You think you can fly her? She’s a pretty large ship, you know.”

“I can try. In the meanwhile, you go in the back and look around.”

Jack nodded and proceeded to obey. William studied the dashboard as well as all the other gadgets everywhere around him. Though he had never flown this type of ship, he was sure he knew how. Major McCarthy had explained it to him in detail and he now knew exactly what to do. He only hoped that the motor wouldn’t falter or need warming up, because that would necessitate the loss of precious time. But he didn’t think so because the motor was still warm from its previous trip. He was right. Everything went off beautifully. Every single gadget responded to his slightest touch. The motor roared, the ship turned into the wind and giving the ship a sufficient run, it took off like a great bird winging into the sky.

William was thrilled and exhilarated. He felt the power flowing into him through his finger tips which rested lightly on the joystick. Jack came forward “How is she flying?” he asked.

“Beautifully. What did you find back there?”

“Nothing much. Some boxes, a couple of small[219] wooden cases, two revolvers in one of the lockers, and also two boxes of cartridges.”

“You had better bring the revolvers and cartridges here. Most likely we’ll have no opportunity of using them but we might as well be prepared.”

“I thought so too,” answered Jack. “I have them right here.”

“Good.”

They were climbing. When they reached an altitude of about four thousand feet, William guided the machine away so that his companions and all the others below would not see the plane and would think that he had flown away. He flew in an extended circle and kept circling around and around. Jack asked, “What are we going to do now?”

“I don’t know myself. What do you suggest?”

“How about flying to the airport and getting Major McCarthy and maybe the police?”

“I don’t know whether that would be of any help.” responded William. “By the time we come back, their help would be of no use. On the other hand, if we stick around here and watch how the situation below unfolds itself, we may be of some help. They may need our revolvers and ammunition and we might drop them. Or they might need us for something else.”

[220]

“That’s true. But then again, if we should land, perhaps those smugglers will get the ship again and make their escape.”

“I can fix that very easily,” explained William. “I’ll cut the ignition.”

“That’s right. Never thought of it.”

The boys continued their circling flight. Some five minutes elapsed when William caught sight of another plane making its appearance on the eastern horizon. Coming nearer, they saw that the machine was heading directly towards them. “You think he’s coming at us?” asked Jack.

“Let’s wait and see.”

The plane was soon upon them. The boys recognized it as a Bristol, a small craft but possessing a powerful motor, modeled after army pursuit planes. The Bristol flanked the boys on their right side and flew along. The pilot was making signs to William which the latter could not understand; besides he was too intent on piloting his plane to pay any attention to him. He called to his companion, “Can you make out what he wants, Jack?”

Jack was already at the window and watching the other craft. “No,” he answered. “He holds his fist up and moves it in a circular motion and then points down. I can’t understand what that means. Can you?”

[221]

“Perhaps he wants to land and is asking us about a safe place to land.”

“I doubt it,” answered Jack. “He doesn’t seem to be in any trouble. And coming from the direction he did, he must have passed the Stanhope airport.” There was a pause while Jack continued to watch. “I think he’s using his wireless,” he called out. “See if you can pick him up.”

William inserted a plug and turned a disc on the dashboard. Half a minute later, William nosed his plane into a dive and was off. But the Bristol was right on its tail. “That guy is a confederate of those smugglers,” hissed William. “He was asking if the stuff was on board and we were ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“He didn’t say. Just asked if we were ready.”

The next moment they heard a sharp sound and knew that the pilot of the Bristol had fired at them, the bullet burying itself in some part of the fuselage or wings. William brought the nose up and began to climb. Simultaneously he cried, “Load the revolvers, Jack, and see if you can fire back.”

William wondered what he could do to get the pursuing plane off his trail. He banked and dived again and came up climbing. Jack broke a window, stuck his hand out and fired point blank at[222] the nose of the Bristol. He pulled the trigger fast and emptied his revolver. A bullet must have struck close to the pilot, for the next instant the Bristol dived.

The Bristol was a much faster plane, easier to manoeuver than the craft the boys were in. “What are you going to do now?” queried Jack anxiously.

“I’m going up into the clouds and try to shake him.”

But the next instant Jack cried out, “He’s coming right up and it looks as though he intends to hit you amidships.”

“Fire when he comes close enough, and when I hear you fire the first shot I’ll bank right and dive.”

Jack pulled the trigger and William performed a half arc and dived; the Bristol zoomed past so close that Jack held his breath. William levelled out and began to climb again, hoping this time to reach the clouds. But again the Bristol was upon them and sending bullets into the fuselage and wings. William, however, kept on climbing and Jack frustrated the other fellow’s getting on their tail by firing point blank at the nose of the Bristol. For a moment the enemy craft disappeared and then William discovered it overhead. They heard the muffled thud of bullets sinking into[223] their craft but doing no harm. The next instant William cried, “He’s flying away.”

“You think he has given up?”

“Maybe he—” William left off in the middle of the sentence and gasped as he watched the Bristol execute an Immelmann turn. He intended to fly straight into the craft, firing as he did so and hoping to hit the gas tank, and dive just in time to avoid a crash. William was aware of the manoeuver. “You better lay low, Jack,” he cried.

The two machines flew against each other. Just as soon as the enemy fired the first shot he banked and pulled the nose of the ship up. He still had to climb a thousand feet to get among the clouds. He decided to risk it even if the Bristol got on his tail. “The other pilot certainly must be a clever one,” he thought. Besides, the Bristol was a lighter and faster craft and with the other fellow’s obvious experience, he couldn’t help being out-manoeuvered. His safety depended upon getting into the clouds and shaking the enemy. “Jack,” cried William, “is he following?”

“Yes,” was the reply, “but he doesn’t seem to be decided what to do next. He has stopped firing.”

“Perhaps he has run out of ammunition.”

“Perhaps. But he also seems to be aware of[224] your effort to get among the clouds. He is following closely though.”

William glanced and saw that he was rapidly approaching an altitude of eight thousand feet. Seeing a cloud which appeared like a mountain of cotton wool in front of him, he headed for it. Billow upon billow of clouds rose for thousands of feet above them. In a minute the machine plunged into the cloud mass and they saw nothing but white all around them. They flew into the mouth of a deep cloud valley. Directly below them they saw the snowy floor rolling away. On either side were white walls that rose upwards to the blue ceiling of the sky. In a few moments, the machine plunged nose first into another mountainous cloud. William executed a left bank.

“What are you doing?” questioned Jack.

“Doubling back on my track.”

“What for? He may be out there waiting for you.”

“Let him. If he is I’ll dive for the clouds again. If he is not there and we have lost him, then all the better. We want to be as close to the cave as possible.”

William timed himself. After seven or eight minutes of flying he called out, “I’m getting out of the clouds.”

And the next instant they dived. Out in the[225] open again, both boys looked everywhere for the enemy plane but there wasn’t a speck in sight. Both boys heaved a sigh of relief and smiled at each other. “You did it this time,” asserted Jack.

“There’s the clearing,” announced William and pointed.

“That’s right. Are you going to land now?”

“I’ll first circle the field a couple of times.”

He proceeded to do so. Some moments later, William cried, “Look they are waving.”

“Yes, it’s the boys. I can recognize Paul, Wallace, Mr. Woods. They all seem to be there.”

“I’m going to land,” announced William.

“All right.”

William fixed his attention on the field and prepared. Jack remarked, “Wonder why they are hiding?”

“Perhaps because they are not sure we are the ones flying this ship.”

“Very probable.”

William made a perfect landing and Jack and he jumped out of the plane waving their handkerchiefs. The boys ran out of their hiding places and cheered the two young aviators. Tom Woods looked on benignly and laughed. Funny, but he had gotten to like these boys a great deal; it’ll be tough, he mused, to leave them when the whole mess was finally cleared up.


[226]

CHAPTER XXI

Night Encounter

The boys and Tom Woods squatted on the ground in a circle. They were pretty well satisfied with their day’s accomplishments. There were a few things yet left to be done. Paul, addressing the government agent, said, “I guess it’s up to you now to decide what’s to be done next.”

Tom fingered his bearded chin, smiled, and replied, “Well I don’t know about that. It seems to me that you fellows have done more to capture and annihilate this gang of smugglers than I have.” He paused and mused for a moment. “I want to tell you boys,” he added, “that I’m mighty pleased with you. I’ve never come across a more lively, energetic and smart bunch of boys than you are.”

There was an embarrassing silence. Wallace spoke up and remarked, “It’s very nice of you to say that, but I don’t think we are any different than other boys. We are about the average, and the average boy, if you give him a chance, is a pretty lively chap and a nice person to have around.”

[227]

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” said Mr. Woods. “Though, of course, I don’t know whether you’re right or not. I hope you are. However, this has nothing to do with the matter at hand. Paul, what do you think we ought to do now. It’s getting dark and we have to work fast.”

Paul hesitated. “I suppose all those wooden cases and boxes in the cave have to be removed?” he asked.

“Yes, of course. That’s very important.”

“In that case, we couldn’t do it tonight. In half an hour, it’ll be pitch dark, and it would take more time than that to load the stuff on the plane. Once it gets dark, you can’t take the plane off the ground.”

“Well, what’s your suggestion?”

“That we camp here overnight, keep careful watch and do everything in the morning.”

“How about that fellow in the Bristol? You think he may come back here for any reason?”

Most of the boys were undecided and Tom Woods did not express his opinion but waited for the others to say something first. William said, “I don’t think he will come back. He must realize that something happened to his companions and that he will be awaited with open arms, so to speak, if he returns.”

[228]

Tom asked, “Any more suggestions?” Pause. Silence. “I want you to express your opinions because it’s very important. Although I have already decided on what to do, you may bring to my attention something I had forgotten to consider.”

Paul said, “Suppose you tell us your plan and if any one of us thinks that it should be altered we will speak up.”

“That’s well said. My plan is to take my prisoner and the dead man in the car and go down to the farm house. There I will pick up the other prisoner, who is hurt and requires medical attention, and the other dead gangster, and have the town police care for them. All of that shouldn’t take me more than about an hour and a half to two hours. Then I’ll return, spend the night here with you and tomorrow morning we will finish our job.”

Ken said, “You can’t go alone. You will have two prisoners and—”

“I didn’t expect to,” interrupted Tom. “I was considering taking one of you boys along.”

“The plan sounds all right,” spoke up Paul.

“You think you could hold the fort until I return?” the government agent asked.

Several of the boys grinned and nodded. Tom laughed and muttered, “It’s foolish to ask, I guess, but—”

[229]

It was decided that they would pitch camp for the night a short distance above the cave. Ken went with Tom Woods, Bobolink was left behind to keep a watch at the cave while the others returned to camp to get their knapsacks and things. Just as soon as they returned, which was in a little over an hour, William got busy preparing supper for the boys, while the others went about attending to other things. Around the campfire, Nuthin’ said, “Now that this thing is over, what are we going to do next?”

“P-p-plenty of things,” answered Bluff.

“And this thing is not over yet,” added Wallace.

“You expect that guy to return?” queried Nuthin’.

“You can’t tell,” spoke up Paul. “He may or he may not. Most likely he won’t. But then we have quite a bit of work for tomorrow.”

“Do you think we will be able to load all those cases and boxes onto the plane?” asked Bobolink.

They all turned their heads in the direction of the plane but it was too dark for them to see it. Wallace assured them all with the assertion, “Of course it will.”

“It will be a mighty heavy load,” responded Bobolink. “Who will fly it?”

[230]

“Who do you think?” demanded Nuthin’. “There is only one fellow who is going to do it.”

They were all aware whom he meant, yet they were eager to hear the name mentioned. The question was on the lips of each one of them, but only Bobolink asked, “Who?”

“William, of course,” replied Nuthin’ with finality.

Soon Ken and Tom Woods returned. The boys hailed them and wanted to know how everything went. Ken burst out, “You should have seen Chief of Police Bates—I mean his face; it turned all colors as Mr. Woods told him who he was and what it was all about. And his eyes—they almost popped out of his head.”

“I can imagine,” interposed Jack.

“He wanted to send his whole police force to watch the cave over night,” added Ken.

The boys laughed quietly. The government agent sat down in front of the fire and stroked his beard as he laughed to himself. Ken continued, “Well, Mr Woods assured him that we didn’t need any police protection—”

“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed the boys. “Police protection! Ha, ha, ha,” laughed the youngsters and slapped each other on the back.

“—and,” continued Ken, “Tha we would take care of everything.”

[231]

“Absolutely!” exclaimed one of the boys.

“We most certainly will”—that from someone else.

Eventually the boys quieted down and they sprawled around the campfire and talked aimlessly. The conversation turned to the airplane and William was asked, “How does she fly?”

“Swell. Beautifully,” was the answer.

“If we only had a ship like that!” dreamed Bobolink.

Paul lay on his back and stared at the blue sky and the stars. “If!” he muttered. “If! It’s like asking for the moon. That plane is worth at least anywhere between twenty and twenty-five thousand dollars. More I think.”

“Twenty-five thousand dollars!” exclaimed Bobolink. “Paul, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Why. You think it’s worth much more?”

“More? There isn’t so much money in the world.”

The boys laughed heartily; even Tom Woods enjoyed the humor of it. The agent remarked casually, “Why, Bobolink, twenty-five thousand dollars isn’t such an awful lot of money.”

“It’s plenty. Too much,” was the retort.

Again the boys laughed. The government agent[232] said off-hand, “So you boys would like to have a plane like that, eh?”

The boys stopped laughing and all of them sat up and strained their ears. “What was that you said?” asked Jack.

Tom Woods smiled, “I merely asked whether you boys would like to own a plane like that?”

Some of the boys grinned at the very thought of possessing such a machine. William said, “We certainly would. It’s a beauty.”

“Well,” muttered the agent, “maybe I can fix that.”

Several of the boys cried out simultaneously, “How? How can you do it?”

“I don’t know myself,” replied the agent nonchalantly and rubbing his chin. “I didn’t say I could or that I would. I simply said maybe.”

“Oh!” sighed several of the boys.

They felt the wind taken out of their sails and their possessing such a machine remained a dream.

They lingered around the fire a while longer. Somebody remarked that it was time to turn in for the night. Addressing the agent, Paul asked, “Mr. Woods, do you think we ought to keep guard all through the night?”

“What do you think?”

“My opinion is that we should. We can designate[233] now who is to be on the first, second, third shift and so on and change guard every hour.”

“I don’t think it’s really necessary. I am pretty certain that that pilot won’t return or any other member of the gang. But—” he mused, “Of course,” he added, “we could do it just to be on the safe side.”

“I think we should,” spoke up Jack.

“How about it, fellows? Are you all agreed that we keep watch?”

“Yes, of course,” agreed Bobolink.

“S-s-sure,” stuttered Bluff.

“Certainly,”—that from Nuthin’.

“Who will take the first watch?” asked Paul.

“I will,” cried Nuthin’.

“The second?”

“I,”—that from Bluff.

And so on. As it finally turned out the boys were to go on guard as follows: Nuthin’, Bluff, William, Wallace, Paul, Ken, Bobolink and Jack.

“You left me out,” interrupted the government agent.

“You ought to rest, Mr. Woods,” explained Jack.

“Well,” drawled the agent, “I guess I should. But don’t any of you start shooting if I should come upon you to pay you a visit any time during the night.”

[234]

Nuthin’ went on guard and the boys turned in for the night. They were all rather tired and it didn’t take them long to fall asleep. Bluff muttered sleepily as he was awakened to go on watch next. As soon as he walked off, Tom Woods crept out from under his blankets, with the help of some rocks and such things he formed the outline of a person asleep and himself slinked out of camp so quietly that no one was any the wiser.

Everything went along nicely and quietly until it came to Paul’s watch. He sat on a stone and listened carefully to every sound, watching intently for any moving shadows. Suddenly the dull echo of a pistol shot shattered the stillness of the night. He jumped to his feet and grasped firmer hold of the automatic in his hand. For several seconds he debated what to do. He realized it would be foolhardy to do anything himself. The wisest course was to awaken the camp. He sprinted to camp but Ken and William were already up and pulling on their trousers. “What’s up?” demanded Ken.

“What was that shot?” William asked anxiously.

“Don’t know,” Paul replied hurriedly. “Awaken everybody.”

Ken cried, “Wake up Mr. Woods.”

[235]

Paul ran to do so but, naturally, he did not find the agent.

The discovery so shocked him that for a moment he couldn’t speak. Finally he regained his voice and shouted, “Mr. Woods isn’t here!”

By now all the boys were awakened and they came running up. They saw the stones and sticks that the agent had used to shape a form resembling a person. “Say,” cried Wallace, “what do you think this is about?”

“What do you think he is up to?” questioned Nuthin’.

“You don’t suspect him of doing anything wrong?” William wanted to know.

Paul interrupted the argument and called for silence. “Never mind quibbling, fellows,” he said. “Let’s see what we can do. We have to do something.”

“Let’s all spread out and make a thorough search,” asserted Bobolink.

“That’s no good,” countered Jack. “Whoever fired that shot might fire at any one of us in the dark.”

“Wait a minute, fellows,” called Paul. “Let’s first build a fire so that the camp will be illuminated. Everybody, however, keep in the background so that no one will be fired at. As for me, I have an automatic. I’ll take Jack with me and[236] we will go down to the cave and investigate. Wallace, you have the only other revolver, haven’t you?” The latter nodded. “In that case you remain here and shoot any stranger who steps into the circle of the campfire. Everybody else stay out of sight.”

He wheeled around on his heel and was on the point of proceeding when he stopped dead in his tracks and stared at Tom Woods and another man who was bound and gagged. The agent had the light of his flashlight shining upon himself and his companion. All of the boys were shocked into silence and rooted in their tracks. The government agent was quietly smiling. Breaking the silence, he said, “You need not bother, fellows.” Pause. “I am sorry I had to put one over on you.” Again a short pause. “I have a visitor here; I hope you don’t mind.”

“B-b-but,” someone stuttered, and it was not Bluff.

“Never mind. I’ll explain everything. I heard Paul suggest building a fire; I think it is a good idea.”

In a short while, the boys had built a roaring, blazing campfire. There was no sleep any more so all the boys formed a semi-circle before the spitting, burning logs. Tom Woods tied up his prisoner hand and foot and removed the handkerchief[237] from his mouth. “Hungry?” the agent asked his prisoner.

The man shook his head and growled. Tom sat there placidly, his revolver in his lap. The boys waited but the latter did not offer to speak. Finally Paul ventured to say, “Do you, er, mind explaining the mystery?”

The man grinned. “What do you want me to tell you?”

“You might start at the very beginning and save us asking you a lot of questions,” Jack said.

“Well,” he began, speaking low and lazily, “I really had no idea that he would show up. And by the way, this is the pilot.”

William and Jack nodded. They had suspected it, but were not quite sure.

“As I was saying,” continued the government agent, “I really had no suspicion that he would return. But I figured that if he did take it into his head to do so, what would be his object? He certainly would not take it upon himself to rescue his friends. That would be foolish and stupid. But if he still insisted on coming, he would have a good reason for doing so. For example, he might want to get something, something valuable. Then where would he go?”

He paused and waited for someone to answer. Jack did, saying, “To the cave.”

[238]

“Quite right,” responded the agent. “Therefore, not wanting to take any chances, I decided to guard the cave all night long. But I also didn’t want to scare you boys in case one of you should discover that I was gone. So I used the stones and sticks to give the impression that I was still here and fast asleep.”

“But why didn’t you tell us?” demanded Wallace.

“I didn’t want you boys to be uneasy.”

He waited for more questions but none were asked. Jack said, “Do you mind continuing?”

“There isn’t much left. He came and I nabbed him.”

Nuthin’ wagged his head. “But why should he come?” he asked. “Seems to me that only a fool would do that, under the circumstances.”

“Yes, that’s right,” added Bobolink.

The agent smiled. “He’s really no fool and he had a very good reason for coming.”

“What?” Several of the boys shot that question simultaneously.

“A big bunch of money. Maybe ten, fifteen or twenty thousand dollars. Perhaps more. I haven’t counted it yet.”

“Where is it?”

“In the cave. I guess it is perfectly safe until morning.”

[239]

There was silence, some of the boys, especially Bobolink, trying to imagine how much money twenty thousand dollars was. Jack asked, “But how do you know he came to get the money?”

“That’s simple. I watched him until he found what he was looking for and then I showed myself and told him who I was. And he very courteously and promptly surrendered.”

“What about the shot?” asked Paul.

“That was his fault,” and the agent nodded in the prisoner’s direction. “He accidentally discharged his gun.”

For some while the boys sat there humbly, silently thinking over Tom Woods’ story. Paul rose, stretched himself and yawned. “Some night!” he drawled. “I’m going back for some more sleep.”

All the other boys did likewise, except Bobolink whose watch it was. And after him, Jack.

In the morning, Tom Woods took his prisoner to town and returned in about an hour, carrying under his arm a small package. When asked what was in the package, he merely said that it contained several sticks of dynamite. But when pressed to tell what he was going to use it for, he laughed and replied, “Wait and see.”

Instead of loading all the cases of guns and boxes of ammunition onto the plane, the government[240] agent had a truck come from town to transport the load. It took the truck driver and the boys several hours to cart all the cases and boxes from the cave to the truck. When it was at last done, the agent called the boys together and said, “Now you’ll see the purpose of the dynamite.”

He strung together the several pieces of dynamite, attached a fuse to it and buried the bundle of explosives at the mouth of the cave; then he laid out the fuse for about twenty feet and lit it. As he did so he and the boys retreated some distance. “Why are you doing that?” asked Jack.

“To shut up the mouth of the cave.”

“Yes, but what for?”

“To prevent anyone from using it again as those smugglers did.”

“But the rear exit of the cave will be available,” asserted Wallace.

“You boys stuffed it up, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but somebody is liable to find it.”

“They’ll have a hard time finding it.”

Jack asked, “It would be all right if we used the cave occasionally—that is, using the rear exit, and closing it up when we left, would that be all right?”

Tom Woods smiled. “As a matter of fact,” he drawled, “I had that in mind when I decided to[241] close up the front entrance to the cave. Otherwise I would blow up the whole thing.”

Just then there was an explosion and the front part of the cave fell in. The boys sighed and walked to the plane. They all climbed in and William took the pilot’s seat. The agent relaxed in his seat and said casually, “Now show me what a good pilot you are, William.”

The motor roared. William taxied the plane across and then lifted it off the ground. Tom Woods leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes; a deep sigh escaped from between his lips and he relaxed utterly, all the tenseness and anxiety of these last days leaving him.


[242]

CHAPTER XXII

The Cave

William circled the airport. Paul looked out of the window and cried. “Say, look at that crowd of people below!”

The boys looked down and uttered exclamations of surprise. “I wonder what it’s all about?” exclaimed Wallace.

“Perhaps it’s a committee to welcome us,” asserted the government agent, opening his eyes as he spoke.

“To welcome us!” Bobolink cried. “What for?”

Ken shouted to the pilot, “Just keep on flying, William. Never mind landing. We don’t want any welcoming committee.”

William guided the plane down to a perfect landing. Just as soon as the machine came to a stop, the crowd came running toward it. The boys were swallowed up by the mass of people. There were reporters, newspaper photographers and other cranks who asked them a thousand questions and tore at their clothes and hair. But the boys[243] did not mind all that. They were afraid for the safety of the plane. Although it was not theirs yet, it was a valuable machine and it would be a shame if it were harmed in any way.

However, Major McCarthy and two of his mechanics pushed their way through the crowd. Without stopping to greet them, he called upon the boys to help clear a path to wheel the plane into one of the hangars. “It is much safer than leaving it out here,” he added.

The boys fell to and the machine was stored away. Then they had a hard time getting through to the office. Most of the boys were angry rather than pleased by the reception. “I wish I knew what this is all about,” demanded Ken.

The Major smiled. “Perhaps you are not aware of it,” he informed them, “but you are heroes.”

“Heroes!” exclaimed Bobolink. “What kind of heroes?”

McCarthy shrugged his shoulders, “I couldn’t tell you what kind. Just plain heroes, I guess.”

Nuthin’ waved the suggestion of heroism away. He had a word for it. “Phooey!” he muttered under his breath.

“But how did the news get out, that is something I should be interested to know.”—that from Paul.

[244]

“I guess the police couldn’t keep it from prying reporters,” mumbled the government agent.

“Let’s forget it and go home,” remarked Jack.

“That’s a swell idea,” added William. “And just as soon as I get home—”

Ken interrupted, “You are going to do what?”

“Practice the piano,” suggested Nuthin’.

“He will change his tie,” counter-suggested Paul.

“—I’m going to take a bath,” concluded William.

The boys laughed and Tom Woods joined in. “What are you going to do now, fellows?” he asked.

“Go home,” answered Jack.

“I mean, what are your plans?”

“We don’t have any,” Paul informed him.

Using two cars, the Major’s and one belonging to a mechanic, Tom Woods and the boys were taken to town. At police headquarters, Tom got out. “So long, boys,” he called. “I’ll be seeing you soon.”

The boys waved. The agent walked off and they continued their way home.

At the home of each of the boys, a similar scene was enacted that day. Coming home, Paul found his mother waiting for him. As soon as he stepped over the threshhold, she fell on his neck[245] and kissed and hugged him. Putting his arms around her, he found that she was trembling. Not knowing the reason for it, he was puzzled. He said, “Mother, is there anything wrong? You are trembling all over.”

“There is nothing wrong with me. It’s you. Are you all right? Not hurt or wounded or anything?” she questioned anxiously.

“Why, no! Of course not. I’m perfectly all right.” And to prove it he began to go through a series of stretching and bending exercises.

His mother looked sternly at him. “The idea of the thing!” she exclaimed. “You said you were going camping and all the time you knew that you and your friends were going there to catch a gang of smugglers. You might have gotten hurt. You might even have been killed.”

“But, mother,” protested Paul, “nobody was killed or hurt. All the boys are perfectly all right and in the best of health.”

“Well, it’s a good thing. But, big as you are, if you ever do that again, I’m going to have your father give you a good thrashing.”

Dr. Morrison, who had just entered, laughed. “My dear,” he said, “if it ever comes to that, I’m afraid I would get the worst of it. He is taller than I by a head and weighs about twenty-five pounds more.”

[246]

“I would never do that, dad,” protested Paul.

“I know you wouldn’t. But if you ever took it into your head to—Well, I hope you never do.” And again he laughed.

For the following several days, the boys were made miserable by the public acclaim that was showered upon them. They could not appear on the street; that was out of the question. To set foot outside the house meant to be immediately surrounded by an ever increasing crowd, with every individual wanting to shake the boy’s hand, slap him on the back, pinch him, and ask a thousand questions. But staying in the house was almost as bad. The capture of the smugglers had aroused national interest and many out of town reporters suddenly appeared and they went to the home of each boy to get a story; accompanying the reporter was a photographer to take pictures. The boys were tired of answering questions but they couldn’t very well refuse—it seemed that getting the story meant so much to the reporter. Then, also the homes of the boys had overnight become exceedingly popular and all day long there was a continual coming and going of visitors.

On the third day, a car appeared in front of Paul’s home and Major McCarthy jumped out. “Come on, Paul,” he said, “let’s go.”

[247]

“Where to?”

“The airport.”

“What for?” Paul was curious.

“You’ll find out when we get there,” the Major answered with a twinkle in his eye.

At Jack’s home Paul ran inside to call his chum. “Come on Jack, the Major is outside and we are going to—”

Jack was at the moment in the living room answering the questions of a neighbor. “Never mind,” he said, interrupting, “don’t tell me where we are going, just so long as we go somewhere.”

So they went from home to home, picking up the boys who piled into two cars, the Major’s car and Mr. Carberry’s car with Wallace at the wheel. The boys riding with the Major prodded him for some information as to why they were going to the airport, but he only smiled and shook his head “Wait until you get there,” he answered them.

At the airport, the boys were a buzzing group of children as they followed the Major to the office. As they stepped inside, they found Tom Woods leaning back in a chair and quietly smoking a cigarette. He laughed and greeted them, “Hello, fellows,” he called out.

“Hello, Mr. Woods.”

“How are you, Mr. Woods?”

“What are you doing here?”

[248]

Turning to the Major, the boys asked, “Well, now what? What’s the surprise?”

McCarthy smiled. Pointing a finger at the government agent, he said, “It’s his surprise, fellows. You tell them, Tom.”

Woods lifted himself out of his seat. “Very well, then,” he drawled. “Let’s go down to the hangars.”

The boys eagerly followed the Major and Tom Woods. At the hangars, Bobolink cried, “Look, fellows. The smuggler’s plane—she is still here.”

“Yes,” replied the agent, “She is still and what’s more, she is remaining here.”

“What do you mean?” asked Paul.

“Well, the ship now belongs to you boys.”

The statement knocked the breath out of them. Suddenly they all exploded simultaneously and shouted questions. “What do you mean she is ours?”

“How?”

“Why?”

“How come? Tell us.”

Tom Woods smiled. “Just what I said, fellows. She is yours and don’t ask questions.”

“Hooray! Hooray for Mr. Woods!” cried Nuthin’.

And the boys cheered him lustily and vigorously.

Caustically, the agent remarked, “I hope that[249] some day you will be kind enough to give me a ride in her.”

“We will,” they answered and laughed heartily.

Wallace, however, was a bit puzzled. “But, Major,” he asked, “What about the plane you were supposed to buy for us.”

“I almost did,” was the reply. “But when Tom told me, I cancelled the deal. Now you can use the money to run this plane.”

“Hooray!” they cheered.

The boys were happy. They walked around the machine and caressed it. “We ought to give it a name,” suggested Jack.

“How about calling it ‘Stanhope’?” asked Paul.

“No, that name is not a very good one,” objected Ken. “You have the Stanhope Drug Store, the Stanhope Vegetable Market, the—”

“How about calling it ‘The Cave’?” Jack had spoken and all the boys looked. “You get my meaning?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Certainly. That’s just the name for it.”

“It is settled,” said Nuthin’. “We will call it ‘The Cave’. Are there any objections?”

There were none. They were all eager to take off, and ten minutes later “The Cave” was taxiing across the field, rising from the ground like a beautiful bird.

the_banner_boy_scouts_in_the_air.txt · Last modified: 2019/05/09 14:15 by briancarnell