AN EXHIBITION UNDER DIFFICULTIES

It would require considerable space to describe what took place when
President Josiah Elder reached the fair-ground, after receiving Bud’s
message, and found the airship shed empty. A good share of his anger he
took out on poor Jim Hoarr, the watchman. And yet, Jim could give no
better explanation than that Bud Wilson had suddenly appeared, out of
breath, a short time before, handed him the message, and sent him on
the run to the telephone in the ticket office.

Mr. Elder then read the message at first hand. After that, while he
still berated the watchman, he began to think. What did it all mean?
Who were “they?” And why were “they” attempting to take the aeroplane.
After all, it could mean only one thing. It must mean Mr. Dare. The
angered expert was probably up to some trick. And if he was, the thing
had probably not yet been attempted. Sending his horse and buggy away,
the fair official withdrew to the airship shed, dropped the front
curtain, lit a cigar and sat down to await developments. Under a box,
he hid a lighted lantern.

About ten o’clock he was rewarded. Under instructions, the watchman
remained quiet, when stealthy footsteps approached and the front
curtain was raised. Waiting until three figures had crawled into the
shed, Mr. Elder suddenly drew his lantern from its shelter. Before him
stood the discomfited Attorney Stockwell, Mr. T. Glenn Dare and the
deputy sheriff.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” exclaimed the waiting president. “Anything I
can do for you?”

Attorney Stockwell put on a bold front. At the same time, he looked
about in open surprise. The aeroplane was gone.

“We’re here on an order of the Court, Josiah,” began the lawyer. “I’ve
been retained by Mr. Dare to protect his rights.”

“What rights?”

“That’s not for me to pass on. It’s in the hands of the Court. Mr. Dare
has made affidavit that the aeroplane we bought hasn’t been paid for,
and that he’s entitled to its possession. The Court, so far, agrees
with him. The officer of the Court is here with a writ to take charge
of the apparatus.”

“All right,” replied Mr. Elder. “Help yourself.”

“It isn’t necessary for me to say this is no laughing matter, Josiah.
It ain’t what you and me think. The Court has ordered the sheriff to
take charge of the machine.”

“I recognize the power of the Court,” responded the president. “I
shan’t interfere.”

“If you knew of this writ and have concealed Mr. Dare’s property, of
course, you know you can be cited for contempt.”

“I didn’t know of it, and I haven’t concealed the aeroplane,” answered
Mr. Elder, with a smile.

“Where is it?” demanded the lawyer.

Mr. Elder shook his head.

“Some one stole it,” he added, with an increasing smile.

“Stole it?” exclaimed the lawyer and Mr. Dare together.

“This is all I know about it,” added Mr. Elder. “And you are entitled
to know it, too, as a director of the fair.”

He handed the perplexed and angry lawyer Bud’s note. Attorney Stockwell
read it, Mr. Dare looking over his shoulder. When he had finished, the
lawyer, white with sudden anger, folded the bit of paper and put it
into his vest pocket.

“You’ll notice, Stockwell, that that note is addressed to me.”

“I’ll just keep it as evidence. It may come in handy.”

Mr. Elder slowly put his lantern on the ground and then stepped close
to the lawyer’s side. Holding out his hand he said, in a tone that made
Jim, the watchman, also step forward:

“Hand me that note.”

The lawyer stepped back. Then he weakened. Drawing the scrap of paper
from his pocket, he handed it to his fellow director.

“Are you backin’ him up in this?”

“Stockwell,” answered Mr. Elder, “in the last two or three days, I’ve
seen a good deal of your adopted son, and to-night, I’ve seen a good
deal of you. I don’t know any more about what Bud has done or is going
to do than this note tells. But I do know this. From this time on, when
it comes to ‘backin’ him up, I think I’ll back him in any fight he
makes against you.”

“Thank you,” sneered the lawyer. “All I can say is, you’re goin’ to
have your hands full. An’ you can begin your meddlin’ just the minute
this young thief lands on these grounds to-morrow. He’ll be arrested
and charged with larceny. If you interfere, I’ll give you all the fight
you want.”

Mr. Elder turned to the silent expert.

“I ought to tell you, Mr. Dare,” he said, ignoring the lawyer’s threat,
“that I telegraphed to your company to-day all the facts concerning
your conduct. I also sent them a draft for the cost of the aeroplane,
minus your fee. If they won’t settle on that basis, you are welcome to
the property.” Then he laughed, “The next time you have a job like this
and think you can come a confidence game on the country jakes, you’d
better select some town that hasn’t a Bud Wilson in it.”

“Come on, Mr. Dare,” said Attorney Stockwell pompously, “this fight’s
just began. We’ll have our innings to-morrow. There’ll be no exhibition
of our property on Saturday, at least. And that’s the big day.”

“If there isn’t,” replied Mr. Elder, good naturedly, “it’ll be the
first day your foster son has fallen down. He seems a little swift for
you, Cyrus.”

Before Mr. Elder could say more, the lawyer and his two companions
stalked out of the shed.

It was always a question in Scottsville, whether Friday or Saturday
would be the banner day at the fair. From the looks of the grounds
at ten o’clock the next morning, it was apparent that either the
fine weather, good crops, or the aeroplane was working wonders.
The enclosure was packed. Men, women and children swayed back and
forth; ice cream, candy, “hoky poky,” peanuts, toy balloons, whips,
“tin-types,” photographs, dusty shoes all told that the fair was
in full swing. The “Wheel of Fortune” operators; the barkers at
the “side shows;” the cries of the hatted Wild West young men who
besought onlookers to “hit a baby and get a seegar,” or informed
others vociferously that “the cane you ring is the cane you get,” made
a hubbub the endless keynote of which was the shrill organ at the
“merry-go-round.”

“She’ll run twelve thousand people to-day,” suggested Superintendent
Perry to President Josiah Elder as the two came out of the ticket
office.

“And half of ’em are here to see our flyin’-machine,” answered Mr.
Elder. “What do you ’spose that kid’s expectin’ to do?”

“What are _you_ expectin’ to do?” answered the superintendent, with
a half smile. “Ye don’t need to fear but he’ll be here. But after
his show–what then? Ye kin be sure Stockwell’ll be ready to grab the
outfit. An’ then–how about to-morrow?”

Mr. Elder shook his head. Then he explained to Mr. Perry what the
directors had done in the matter of offering to settle with the
manufacturers.

“We’ve telegraphed them that our eighteen hundred dollars is on the
way, and told ’em how this expert o’ theirs fell down. We’re expectin’
an answer any time to-day callin’ him off. If it don’t come, we’ll
fight ’em as best we can. But we’re all agreed we ain’t a goin’ to be
held up. We won’t pay Mr. T. Glenn Dare one cent. He can break up the
show to-morrow, but we won’t weaken.”




At two o’clock it looked as if another person could hardly be crowded
into the fair-grounds–at least, not near the exhibition buildings and
concession tents. With the first tap of the bell in the judge’s stand,
like a field of snow slipping in a body down a mountain side, the
heaving mass of humanity moved toward the race track. The five hundred
dollar purse for the two-twenty pace marked the big feature of the
speed contests and a new record was set for “grandstand” receipts.

But three men were not concerning themselves with this event. Sitting
complacently together, on a knoll under the only trees within the race
track, were Attorney Cyrus Stockwell, T. Glenn Dare, the aviator, and
Deputy Sheriff Pusey. They were waiting to see how Bud Wilson was going
to keep his word. One heat of the big race, delayed as usual, had been
run, and the first heat of the next event “green trotters without a
record” had been disposed of when two other men left the judges’ stand
and made their way toward the empty airship shed or “aerodrome.” These
were President Elder and Superintendent Perry. They were the reverse of
complacent.

It was only a few minutes of three o’clock and the space about the
aeroplane house was black with people. Jim Hoarr, the watchman, keeping
the canvas front of the shed closed to conceal the fact that there was
no aeroplane within the house, wondered what would happen when the
curious crowd learned that the house about which they were crowded was
empty.

As the packed spectators gave way before Superintendent Perry’s badge,
Attorney Stockwell and his friends fell in the wake of the president
and superintendent. The little party reached the shed together.

“Good afternoon, Josiah,” exclaimed the lawyer, touching his fellow
director on the arm. “You see we’re right on time. I hope Bud makes
good his promise.”

Mr. Elder scowled.

“If he don’t,” continued Attorney Stockwell, “what explanation are you
going to make? I see you have quite an audience.”

He waved his hand about him, to include perhaps ten thousand persons
who had paid their money to see the airship.

Mr. Elder looked at his watch, swept the horizon with his eyes and
scowled again. It was just three o’clock. “I reckon you’re in it
as deep as I am, as far as the crowd knows,” the president finally
replied, in a low voice. “I–”

A sudden murmur ran through the surging crowd. Mr. Elder paused and
looked quickly about. He saw nothing approaching, but before he could
continue, an arm shot out from the field of spectators and pointed
almost directly overhead. Then the mass of people began to melt away
with thousands of “Ahs,” and “Ohs” and “There she comes.”

At least fifteen hundred feet in the air, Bud’s stolen aeroplane
was rushing forward to make its advertised exhibition. Where it had
come from, no one seemed to know. Not one of the men most interested
had seen it until that moment, and it was swooping down upon the
fair-grounds as if it had come from above the clouds. So high was it
that, at the angle it was traveling, it had to pass over the grounds.
The sight set the crowd off in a frenzy of excitement. In a cloud of
dust, the eager spectators ran forward as if to follow the aeroplane.
In its wake were the lawyer, his client, and the deputy sheriff.

Mr. Elder stood as if transfixed.

“I guess I’ll wait developments right here,” he said, turning to Jim
Hoarr. “Get the shed ready.”

“I seen it,” said Jim, “but I thought it was a bird.”

“Where did he come from?” asked the fair official.

“Plumb out o’ the north, but about a mile high. An’ it sailed right
over the ground afore it turned. Not fur me,” added Jim, shaking his
head.

Having passed out over the grounds again, the aeroplane was seen
sweeping in a long curve on the turn. The scrambling crowd slackened,
and the airship, five hundred feet above the trees, headed back again.
For an instant, it darted upward, and then, settling once more, made a
curving swing toward the waiting thousands.

“Here she comes,” rose in a deafening roar.

Bud’s face could be made out for the first time. It wore neither
smile nor alarm. It was as placid as marble. With his feet close
together in his stirrups, his body erect and tense, his blue flannel
shirt fluttering in the breeze, he held his course with the ease of a
locomotive engineer.

“Now,” exclaimed Attorney Stockwell to Deputy Pusey, “get your writ
ready an’ keep your eyes peeled. Nab him the minute he lights.”

Once over the mob of upturned faces–gathered now mainly on the long
stretch of the race-track–Bud’s body swayed and his machine veered.
In another moment, the aeroplane had altered its course and was on its
way circling the grounds just above the track. Ten thousand people
rushed forward in spontaneous excitement. Just off the track, Attorney
Stockwell watched, breathed hard, and waited.

On the back stretch of the track, the aeroplane sank lower and lower
until by the time the upper turn was reached, it was just over the
heads of the spectators. Then, came the flight down the track, over
the crowd and in front of the grand-stand.

“I’ll show ’em I can travel where I please,” said Bud to himself. “Hold
on to your hats,” he yelled suddenly, as he smiled for the first time.

With a dart, the car skimmed toward the jam of humanity like a swallow
skims over a pond. Falling over each other, pushing, knocking and
yelling, the crowd attempted to clear the track. There was a crash,
and, as Bud swept onward, not over twenty feet above the ground, the
track fence gave way, and the panic stricken crowd sank in confused
heaps.

“Keep off the track,” yelled Bud warningly.

From the judges’ stand, the figure of Superintendent Perry suddenly
leaped forward. In his hand, he waved his big black hat warningly.

“Git back there, git back,” he called in a loud voice. “Git back, an’
keep back, or some one’ll get killed.”

At that instant, the aeroplane, like a yacht in a gale, swept by the
grand-stand. There was the low hum of propellers, and the whirr of the
engine, but not a creak from the car itself, and not a word or look
from the gritty young aviator. A buzz of relieved admiration seemed to
rise like a breeze from the grand-stand, the thousands on the dust
deep race-track caught their breath, and Bud had passed. His first
circuit of the course had been made.

From the airship house on the center of the track, three figures were
rushing forward. They had just made a discovery.

“Mr. Stockwell,” Deputy Pusey had suddenly exclaimed as he saw Bud
enter on his second lap, “do you know what he’s a goin’ to do?”

The attorney had just suspected, but he was watching the flying car as
if fascinated.

“He’s goin’ to beat us after all,” shouted the deputy, grabbing the
lawyer’s arm. “He ain’t a goin’ to land. He’s a goin’ to fly away agin.”

An awful word came from Mr. T. Glenn Dare’s lips, and Attorney
Stockwell, his face red with new anger, sprang forward as if to
intercept the flying boy.