A CONDITIONAL BARGAIN

“Far as we go!”

As the conductor of the trolley made this announcement, the car came
to a stop in a suburb of Newark, New Jersey. About two blocks beyond
the end of the line, and almost on the edge of the salt marshes, rose a
new and wide two-story brick building. Even from that distance could be
heard the hum of men and machines.

“Much obliged,” answered the man. “That the place?”

The conductor nodded.

“Thanks,” said the passenger, who, although apparently a middle-aged
man, sprang lightly to the ground. “Have a cigar?”

“If you don’t mind,” answered the conductor, “I’ll save it until this
evening. I don’t often get a smoke like this.”

The man laughed, shoved his hand into the side pocket of his loose coat
and drew out two more high-priced cigars.

“Never put off a good thing too long,” he added, “you may lose it. Grab
things while they’re in reach. Give one to your friend Bill up there.”

As the man, still smiling, turned to go, the conductor called out:

“Thanks, Colonel, I guess you’re a westerner. Folks ’round here haven’t
got sense enough to wear a hat like that.”

“You’re a good guesser,” replied the man; “I’m from Utah. Good bye.”

A few minutes later, the man was standing before a door in the long
building, labeled “Office.” Above the entrance was a small, new
sign: AMERICAN AEROPLANE COMPANY. It was a hot morning, and, as
the man stopped to wipe his perspiring face with a big, white silk
handkerchief, he swung a picturesque gray plainsman’s hat before him
like a fan. He was without a vest, and wore a narrow, dark belt. But,
beyond these, a negligee shirt and a brown flowing neck tie, there was
no sign of the westerner about him. His trousers, coat and shoes were
all fashionable and apparently of eastern make.

As he stood before the door, he looked at his watch. Then he whistled
softly to himself.

“Ten fifteen!” he exclaimed, under his breath. “An hour and a half from
the Waldorf. The same goin’ back–that’s a quarter to twelve. An’ I’ve
got to catch the limited at two.”

He opened the door and stepped into a large room where two or three
girls and a couple of young men were busy at typewriters, file cases
and telephones.

“The boss in?” asked the visitor of a young man who greeted him.

“Do you mean the manager, Mr. Atkinson?”

“Like as not! The man who sells airships.”

“Have you a card?”

“Some’eres, I guess. But just tell him there’s man out here wants to
talk flyin’-machine if he’s got time.”

“Won’t you sit down?” persisted the clerk. “I’ll see if he’s busy.”

“Just tell him I’m kind o’ busy, too.”

While the clerk disappeared within a room opening out of the main
office, the active westerner made a hasty examination of the place. On
a table within the railed-off space in which he stood was a tray of
business cards. He picked one up and read it:

AMERICAN AEROPLANE COMPANY
Factory: Newark, New Jersey
Offices: New York, London, Paris, Chicago
Mr. Robert T. Atkinson, President
Capital Stock $1,000,000
Tested Aeroplanes Ready for Delivery

“This Mr. Atkinson?” began the westerner when he had been ushered into
that gentleman’s private office.

“I am,” responded the aeroplane company official. “Pretty hot?”

“Hot enough,” smiled back the visitor; “but I don’t mind the heat when
I can find a little shade occasionally and a drink of water. Out my way
we’re a little shy on shade and water. I’m from Utah. And that ain’t
the worst–I’m from southern Utah.”

President Atkinson motioned to a chair next the open window.

“Never been there,” he replied in much the same tone he might have said
he had never visited the north pole.

“Few people have,” added the westerner. “Don’t mind if I smoke, do you?”

Before he could find one of his own cigars, the aeroplane manager had
thrust at him a box of perfectos. Mr. Atkinson at once saw in the
stranger a man of affairs, who had not come all the way out to the
aeroplane factory to gossip. He judged correctly.

“I’ve got a card somewhere,” began the westerner briskly, as he closed
a pair of white, steel-trap-like teeth on the cigar, “but it don’t say
nothin’ but that my name’s Cook–R. C. Cook. I’m from Bluff, Utah.”

“Glad to meet you, Mr. Cook,” politely remarked the easterner,
wondering at the same time what possible business Mr. Cook, of Bluff,
Utah, could have with the American Aeroplane Company.

“I’m in New York on a quick trip, but I saw one of your circulars last
night. I cut this out. It’s yours, ain’t it?”

Mr. Atkinson glanced at the clipping, smiled and nodded.

The circular read:

“The aeroplane is no longer a novelty or a wonder. The American
Aeroplane Company, organized with a paid-up capital stock
of $1,000,000, is now ready to deliver reliable and tested
aeroplanes, standardized in make-up and ready to fly. We
offer F. O. B. Newark, New Jersey, a complete car for $5,000.
It comprehends every development up to date. The frame is
of Oregon spruce and bamboo–the planes of rubberized silk
balloon cloth. The power plant is a four-cylinder, gasoline,
water-cooled motorcycle engine, 25 H. P., cylinders 3¾ by 4.
The control is extremely simple. The elevation is regulated by
a steering lever, the balancing planes are specially designed
devices controlled by the movement of the feet. The machine
starts from the ground without track or outside help, and it
can be taken apart in two hours.”

“That’s the price, is it?” added Mr. Cook, taking a long puff at his
cigar.

“Just reduced,” explained Mr. Atkinson. “Our first machines sold for
seven thousand dollars. But we mean to lead in this business. We have
purchased every patent that we believe is needed in making a high-class
aeroplane; and with our facilities we mean to popularize aeroplanes
until they become as common as automobiles.”

“I want one of ’em,” said Mr. Cook.

The manager nodded his head as if the customer had ordered a bicycle or
a buggy.

“That is,” added Mr. Cook, “providin’–”

He took another puff on his cigar, and then added:

“I want one if I can find some one to run the thing.”

Mr. Atkinson shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s the only trouble that confronts us, Mr. Cook. We have as yet
developed no training-school for aviators, as we have schools for
chauffeurs.”

“Well,” exclaimed Mr. Cook, laughing and shaking his head, “I think one
of them flyin’-machines’ll fit in my business all right, but you’ll
have to find me a man to work it. I’ve crossed Death’s desert, I’ve
gone down the big Canyon, I’ve chased and been chased by the Utes, and
I may do all of them things again. But there’s one thing I wouldn’t
do–I wouldn’t risk my neck in the best aeroplane ever made.”

Mr. Atkinson smiled.

“I’d like to sell you one of our machines, my friend; but I can’t
promise to find you a capable operator. Tell me,” he added, unable to
longer restrain his curiosity, “what use do you figure on making of the
machine?”

“I ought to told you,” hastened the would-be purchaser in explanation.
“We got a company out in Utah–mostly New York people,” he added
parenthetically–“the Utah Mining and Development Company. I’m the
manager. Mr. F. E. Estebrook, of Hartford, is the president.”

Mr. Cook immediately rose in Mr. Atkinson’s estimation. Mr. Estebrook
was one of the wealthy insurance men of Connecticut. No one stood
higher in the New York financial world.

“I see,” observed Mr. Atkinson, now glad that he had extended to the
westerner his best box of cigars.

“Well,” went on Mr. Cook, “we’ve got a big lot of work cut out down
there in the desert–petroleum mainly,” he explained, “but metal, too.
And just now it’s all prospecting. Maybe you don’t know southern Utah?”

The aeroplane company manager smiled in the negative.

“When they git done tellin’ you about the plains of Arizona, and New
Mexico, just add one hundred per cent and call it Utah,” went on Mr.
Cook. “It ain’t sand and bunch grass down there,” he added, with a grim
smile. “It’s alkali deserts, borax holes, rotten volcano craters and
river beds that ain’t seen water in a thousand years.”

“Don’t the Colorado and Green rivers run through it?” asked Mr.
Atkinson, stepping to a large wall map.

Mr. Cook grunted.

“They do,” he explained, “right through it, and they might as well be
buried in steel tubes. What you goin’ to do with a river shootin’ along
at the bottom of a gash in the ground a half mile deep? Mr. Atkinson,”
continued the westerner. “I’ve known many a man to die o’ thirst on
the banks of them rivers with the sound o’ gurglin’ water in his ears.
As for gettin’ to that water, well you might reach it with a shot
gun–nothin’ else.”

Mr. Atkinson turned, ready to hear Mr. Cook’s explanation:

“I went to Utah five years ago–I’m a Pennsylvanian. My hair was black
then. It’s gray now. I got that in one week down in the San Juan river
canyon. Sailin’ an aeroplane down there ain’t a goin’ to be no county
fair job.”

“I don’t quite understand,” exclaimed Mr. Atkinson.

“It’s this,” explained Mr. Cook. “We’ve got from four to eight
prospectin’ parties out on them deserts all the time. For weeks and
months we don’t hear from them. Now and then, with the use of a few
hardened plainsmen, we get word to them and reports back. It would
be a big help to us if we could keep in touch with them. And, more
often, it would be a big help to them. They say an aeroplane can travel
forty-five miles an hour. Why can’t I use it to keep track of our
prospectors?”

Mr. Atkinson sat up, perplexed and surprised.

“It’s a novel idea,” he said, at last, “but I can’t see why it isn’t
just the thing. Looks to me as if it is–” then he stopped. Mr.
Atkinson’s business instinct had brought him a sudden idea. “Mr. Cook,”
he added, a moment later, “we talk a good deal about the practicability
of the aeroplane. This is the first real, business demand I have
yet had for an aeroplane. The idea is great. There is no doubt the
aeroplane can be utilized in just the way you outline. Within a radius
of two hundred and fifty miles it could make daily visits to the
remotest of your men, take orders to them, bring back reports, and–if
necessary–carry them food and water.”

“Looked that way to me,” interrupted the westerner.

“No question about it. I’m going to make you a proposition. Our
machines are selling at five thousand dollars. I’m so sure of the
advertising possibilities of your project, that I’m going to make you
a price of four thousand dollars. I can’t miss this chance to make a
real demonstration of the practicability of the aeroplane.”

“The price ain’t botherin’ me,” commented the westerner. “How about
some one to work it? Some one who can stand Utah and borax and
alkali–maybe Indians. You can fix his wages.”

Mr. Atkinson’s face lengthened.

“That’s another matter,” he said after a pause.

“Haven’t any one on tap?”

The aeroplane company manager shook his head. Mr. Cook looked at his
watch. Then he grunted his disappointment.

“Well,” he said, rising, “it was an idea. If you can’t help me, I guess
no one can. I’ve got to go–got to catch the two o’clock limited. Just
keep my card. My offer stands. I’ll make it five thousand dollars for a
machine if you send a man to do the trick. You can take four thousand
dollars if you like and give some one a bonus of the other thousand
to take the chance. I’ll pay him what you say and keep him long as he
wants to stay.”

Mr. Atkinson was thinking hard.

“I’m trying to think of some one with experience and grit,” he said.

“If you do,” said the westerner, shaking hands with Mr. Atkinson, “nail
him, and send him to me. If he wants excitement, I’ll guarantee him the
time of his life.”