A TRAIL AND A FLIGHT

Twisting his handlebars sharply, Bob sent his bicycle into brush at the
end of the aircraft plant grounds where the fence turned; he wanted to
get out of sight.

The pair at the gate were having some sort of argument and probably had
been too excited and absorbed to notice him, Bob decided.

He dropped his wheel and crept back to the corner of the fenced
enclosure to watch.

From that position he could see the man, but only part of Griff’s coat
and an arm. The man, as he saw, was vigorously arguing. Griff must have
been either pleading or arguing, Bob guessed, from the man’s violent
gestures and appearance of “laying down the law.”

Presently a small, flat package came into view.

Bob recalled that he had seen Griff wrapping exactly that sort of parcel
earlier.

The man took it, put it rapidly into his coat pocket, inside. With a
quick look up and down the deserted highway he swung and crossed to a
car parked on the opposite side of the road. Climbing in he speeded up
his engine and drove away at constantly increasing speed.

“So they are dividing the ‘spoils’—or Griff was giving him money.” Bob,
unable to see Griff, not daring to emerge from his concealment, made the
deduction under his breath. “Well, now shall I follow that man? No,
because his car is too fast. I can’t catch him on my wheel.”

He decided to wait where he was, to see what would happen. To go in at
once might alarm Griff. He might realize that Bob had been near enough
to see what had occurred; he might suspect. Bob wanted to keep his
presence unknown; Griff had already been warned by Lang; he would jump
to the conclusion that Bob was watching.

Almost at once Bob thanked his good sense for holding him concealed.

Griff, as he watched, ran wildly out into the road and began to wave and
shout after the receding car.

Its driver did not turn around.

Griff, while Bob stared, dashed back into the gateway. For a moment Bob
wondered where the watchman was, then he saw the man, in a small
ice-cream and soda water shack, a little distance down the road opposite
the fenced property. Griff, Bob guessed, had offered to watch the gate
while the man refreshed himself.

Bob hesitated. Where had Griff gone? What was he doing?

The last question was answered by the pop-pop of a motor. Bob knew that
Griff rode a motorcycle. He was getting it started. He meant to pursue
that car for some reason. Something had caused him to want to talk again
with the car driver, Bob mused.

While he watched, keeping all but his head concealed, the motorcycle,
with Griff mounted on it, came sputtering into view.

Never glancing around, opening his throttle, he pelted down the road
after the car.

Bob, without hesitation, rushed his bicycle into the highway and pedaled
after the motorcycle for all he was worth. Griff was too intent on his
purpose to notice, he felt sure.

It would be a losing race, Bob feared, unless Griff overtook that
rapidly receding car very soon. Muscles could not endure against a
machine! Nevertheless Bob rode as fast as his pedals would turn.

As he sent the wheels spinning along it crossed his mind that Lang would
be arriving at the plant almost any moment but he kept on all the same.

“It will take Lang awhile to warm up the engine, and, anyway, if I don’t
go with him I know another way to communicate with father,” he decided.

The car was almost out of Bob’s sight, the motorcycle was rapidly
overtaking it.

At that instant Bob’s heart almost stopped beating!

Far ahead, on a cross road, he saw a huge truck come into view. It was
not only between the car and its pursuer; it was also well onto the road
and almost directly in front of the motorcycle.

“Griff!” Bob shouted, without thinking that his voice would never be
heard. He instinctively cried a warning. If the rider had his head low
over his handlebars!——

His coaster brake jammed on, Bob slowed, alighted, his muscles refusing
to function for the instant.

But during that instant Griff evidently saw the huge obstacle and
swerved. In making the wild curve to go around the rear of the truck Bob
saw the youth and cycle go off the road into the ditch.

Evidently unaware that anything had happened the truck driver kept on
down the cross road. Bob, remounting, pedaled for all he was worth
toward the scene of the accident. As he rode swiftly he saw other
figures approaching.

At the point where the motorcycle lay on its side, he was met by Al and
Curt, who had been approaching from the opposite way, up the side road.
“We decided to come and see Lang hop off,” Al explained as the trio ran
toward Griff.

He was sitting up, a little shaken, a little dazed, when they
approached. Bob, seeing that he did not appear to be seriously hurt,
caught Curt’s arm. “Look here,” he said quickly, “I want to go with
Lang. Don’t say I was following—you know—keep it quiet. I must get to
see father and tell him——”

“All right. Don’t waste any time. Get out of sight. I’ll tell Al.”

Bob hurried off, as though he was in search of aid, and he felt, as he
pedaled back toward the field, that Griff probably had been too much
shaken to notice that Bob had come from the direction he had been
riding, or deduce that Bob had followed him.

The watchman, and several others from the soda stand came running down
the road. They called out as he approached and with a brief explanation
that there had been a “spill” but that he thought it was not serious,
Bob rode on.

He found Lang riding toward the plant, and swung his bicycle in at the
gate and set it against the fence.

“What’s the trouble, up there?”

“Griff took a spill going around the back of a truck that came out of
the side road. I think he’s all right.” Bob called out his answer to
Lang’s shouted inquiry and saw his cousin ride on to investigate.

Bob, with some idea in his mind that he might crawl into the fuselage of
the small speed ’plane, and, thus stowed away, be carried to the city
from which his father had telegraphed, changed his mind. The close,
smothery fuselage, subjected to the most violent rolling and heaving of
the airplane’s progress, would probably make him ill. He preferred to
stay outside, to see what happened, and to compel Langley to take him as
a passenger.

Watching from the gateway he saw that Griff had been lifted to his feet
and had apparently found himself only rather badly shaken. This was
Bob’s decision because he saw a passing car driver help the shaken youth
into his car, tumble the motorcycle out of the grass and turn it over to
the plant watchman to be trundled back, and drive off to take Griff
home, it seemed.

Bob met Lang beside the propeller of the little speed craft.

“Get the ignition key from Griff?” he asked.

“I did.”

“Climb in. I’ll give the prop a twist for you.”

Langley got himself set.

“Gas on?” called Bob.

“Gas on.”

“Switch off?”

“Switch off!”

Bob gave the propeller a couple of revolutions.

“Contact!” he cried, leaping aside to avoid the flailing, knife-like
edges of the blades. The engine caught on the touch of spark to
compressed gas mixture.

While Langley opened the throttle and warmed up his engine, Bob
unconcernedly began to clamber into the after cockpit seat.

“You’re not going!”

“Oh, yes, I am.”

“Get out of there!”

“Listen, Lang,” Bob leaned close to Lang’s ear to carry his message
above the noise of the radial engine, “which suits you best? To have me
with you, to tell dad what I know before your face—or to have me
telegraph him while you’re on your way, and let you explain to him what
I have to tell?”

Lang, at first furious, presently saw the logic of Bob’s position.

“Oh—all right!” he grunted and “gave her the gun” in somewhat vicious
spurts.

Bob, fitting on the “crash helmet” kept in the ’plane by Griff for him
that afternoon, and the leather jacket and gloves, smiled.

He was progressing as a Master Sleuth, doing his share creditably for
the Sky Squad.

As soon as the engine was sufficiently warm and methodical Lang had
checked all his instrument readings, the trim little ship taxied down
the smooth field to head into the wind which Bob saw, from the
“windsock” blowing out from its mast on the office building, was from
the south, a nice, light, Summer evening breeze.

The watchman, coming in, put aside the slightly damaged motorcycle and
strolled across to the hangars, into one of which he stepped to throw a
switch, lighting the flood light by which they could see to take off. He
did not question Lang’s right to use the craft because Lang must have
gotten its ignition key from Griff, its owner.

As they took the runway, and increased speed to the throaty roar of the
engine, Bob felt that sense of the ship getting “light” which indicates
to the pilot that she is ready to take the air. He saw the elevators
tip, glancing around swiftly to check the safety of the way ahead, and
then saw the lighted earth dropping, contracting into a spot of vivid
light against a field otherwise dark; then the watchman shut out the
floods to avoid confusing them in the air, and the ship climbed into
dark night.

They had climbed several thousand feet and were headed into the north,
so that Lang could “pick up” the lights of the airway along which his
night flying would be easiest, when Bob saw him double unexpectedly.

For an instant the craft’s nose went almost straight down and Bob was
glad he had strapped himself in; then Lang evidently caught control, and
the stick, thrust forward as he doubled, with some unexpected convulsion
or “stitch,” was pulled back and brought the ship out of the dive
gradually.

“What happened?” Bob screamed above the engine noise, the song of wind
through wires caused by their dive.

“Cramp!” called Lang, cutting the gun as he held a glide for a moment,
turning a white face toward Bob. “Listen. Bob—oh!——”

He bent again. “The fish—too much fish—” Bob guessed, and had he known
that Lang’s delay in reaching the field had been due to further
refreshments, he would have said, “Fish—and ice-cream!”

At least that was a far more reassuring thought than Bob’s first idea,
that some one had tampered with some control of this craft.

“Oh—” Evidently Lang was very ill.

Suddenly, as he saw his companion in the forward seat double, Bob felt
the stick waggle against his leg.

In an interval between his spasms of violent pain, Lang held up his two
hands alongside his helmet.

It was a signal for Bob to take control.

“All right!” he called, and, with a steady hand, he clutched the stick
of the controls in his cockpit, set his feet against the rudder bars,
and eased his throttle open to regain speed.

He was not in the least nervous or flurried. He pitied Lang’s cramped
stomach and evident suffering, but did not permit it to influence his
steady nerve. He had been given enough lessons to know how to hold the
craft in level flight. While night flying was not as safe and easy as
daytime work, he knew that if he followed the ribbon of lighted highway
that ran toward the beacons of the nearest airway, he could always “set
down” on the asphalt, if worst came to worst, and if he did smash the
trucks, the landing gear, he did not think he would do any more serious
damage.

“Had I better set down?” he shouted, gliding for speed as he cut out the
engine roar. Lang shook his head and gestured forward. Evidently he was
not afraid of any immediate physical collapse and preferred to go on
flying to see if he would recover. Bob held on.

He picked up the beacon and, watching Lang’s gestures, swung in a long,
banked curve, to head across the wind down the unconfined airway, whose
second beacon he could see, far away.

By habit looking around to be sure no other ship was close as he turned,
Bob, startled, saw the flying lights of another craft pursuing.

It must be pursuit! It came from the direction they had come. It turned
as they turned, only in a more sharpened bank, so as to cut off part of
the distance, it seemed to Bob, to close the gap between them.

“Lang!” he shouted, and waggled the stick.

Lang looked around.

Bob’s arm pointed backward and upward.

Lang, leaning out of the cockpit, to see around the wing-tip, stared.

“The cabin ’plane!” he cried. “I know it. Golden Dart.”

“After us?”

“I don’t know!”

But as Bob opened the throttle to regain flying speed without having to
dip down too low, there came from the other ship a red flare.

It was, as Bob realized, a signal—not of danger but of command.

“Land!” it commanded.

Bob looked at Lang.

Lang considered. As he hesitated Bob guessed his thoughts. Some one from
the small field, some member of the plant staff, probably Mr. Parsons,
finding the ’plane belonging to Griff gone, and hearing from the
watchman who had taken it, had taken off in the cabin monoplane to stop
what he probably considered a prank of Lang and Bob—some night-flying
lark.

What would Lang say? Set down? Or—go on?

They could outfly that cabin ship in the speedy, easily maneuvered sport
craft—or, they could, with Lang at the controls. But Lang was badly
upset in his stomach. What would he decide? Bob mechanically looked
around for the best spot to set down.

When he looked up again his heart leaped with exultation.

Lang’s arm pointed straight ahead!

“Go on!” he gestured.

Bob opened the throttle joyously. Here was adventure, pursuit, thrill
enough to suit anyone!