AN EXPERIMENTAL FLIGHT

For some minutes, Mr. Atkinson sat in thought. At last he was
interrupted by a man who hurried in from the factory portion of the
building. The new arrival was in his shirt sleeves, a mechanic’s cap
was far back on his half-bald head, and his hands and face were marked
with the smear of machinery.

“Good morning, George,” exclaimed the manager.

“Morning,” responded the man tersely. “Thought you might like to come
out. We got that new model ready–the double propeller. Goin’ to try
the wheels on a new pitch.”

“Certainly,” responded Mr. Atkinson, placing Mr. Cook’s card in a
pigeonhole. “Sold four machines this morning, Osborne,” he added. “Got
three orders by mail–two from Paris, one from Chicago. Sold another
machine to a man from Utah.”

Mr. Atkinson was full of enthusiasm, but, apparently, the man in his
shirt sleeves cared little for this.

“I’m sure we’ve got a better pitch,” the mechanic interrupted. “Anyway,
we’ll know in a few minutes.”

Mr. Atkinson only smiled. He made no further attempt to impart his
gratification to his companion, and the two men passed out through the
business office into the big workroom.

The man wearing the cap was George M. Osborne, skilled mechanic and
inventor. In the advertisements of the company, he was known as
the “engineer and mechanical director.” Mr. Osborne, the highest
paid mechanic in Newark–one of the leading manufacturing cities
in America–had only recently been secured by the newly organized
aeroplane company. It was his ingenuity and practical methods that had
already combined a dozen patents in an ideal flying-machine.

“A one-propeller car will always be popular,” Osborne insisted, “but
two propellers are as essential for long distance work as two screws to
a steamer. If one gives out, you have the other.”

As the two men made their way through the orderly but humming workroom,
Mr. Osborne fell back by Mr. Atkinson’s side, and said:

“I’m trying a new operator, too, this morning.”

“We ought to start a school for them,” answered the manager, thinking
of his talk with the western prospector.

“And I’d like to have you give him a job,” added the engineer.

“Certainly,” answered his companion. “Hire all of them you can find
that’ll do. Your new man ever had any experience?”

“A little. But he isn’t a man. It’s my own boy, Royce.”

“Roy, your son,” exclaimed Mr. Atkinson, as if surprised. “How old is
he?”

“Just over seventeen. But I think he’ll do. He’s spent all his
Saturdays here since we started up, and now his school’s out, and he’s
determined to go to work.”

“And you aren’t afraid to let him take a chance in the new machine?”
asked the manager.

“I guess he understands it about as well as any of us.”

“I’ve seen him around here a good deal.”

“It has been his playground,” explained the boy’s father. “He’d rather
be alongside my bench than idling away his time. He knows the car and
engine all right.”

Passing out of the shop, the men came into the experimenting ground–an
enclosed space of perhaps twenty acres. Beneath a shed at the far end
of the factory building a half dozen men were standing idly about the
delicate and graceful frame of an aeroplane–the “American Aeroplane
Model No. 2.” In their midst, stood a light-haired, gray-eyed boy of
compact, muscular build and a countenance a little too old, perhaps,
for his years.

“Good morning, Roy,” exclaimed Mr. Atkinson. “Your father says you want
to turn aviator.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy, doffing an absurd little school hat, “I’m
looking for the job.”

“Aren’t you afraid?” asked the manager, smiling, however, as he asked
it.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” answered the boy. “I’m only wondering if
the new pitch is right.”

Mr. Atkinson seemed about to say something, but paused. Finally he
remarked:

“All right. But don’t take chances. Make a low flight.”

The attendants at once shouldered the car and carried it out into the
open. Roy pulled his little school cap well down on his head, and
climbed aboard. Mr. Osborne, who had disappeared for a moment, now
returned with a ball of twine. Quickly unrolling about fifty feet of
it, he tied an end of the cord to the aeroplane frame. At the other end
of the string, he tied his handkerchief.

“Now, young man,” he said with parental sternness to Roy, “no more
excuses about not knowing how far above the ground you are. This is
a mechanical test, not a circus exhibition. Keep that handkerchief
dragging on the ground. D’ye hear?”

“Yes, father,” laughed the boy, “only I don’t want that handkerchief
and the knot. It’s all right if I don’t happen to pass over a fence. A
little catch in a crack wouldn’t do a thing but upset me.” He untied
the handkerchief and handed it back. “I’ll watch the string–this time.
But never again.” And he laughed.

“Don’t know but you’re right,” remarked Mr. Osborne.

“Sure he is,” added Mr. Atkinson with a broad smile. “All ready, boys?”
he added, turning to the workmen.

“All ready here,” came from the boy.

“Go ahead,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne.

Roy’s eager hands turned on his gasoline. As the two propellers darted
into action and the horizontal, spidery planes began to tremble as if
semi-buoyant already, the attendants sprang forward.

“Keep away,” exclaimed the boy in the car. “Keep away. Give her a
chance.”

The men stepped back again.

“That’s right,” added Mr. Atkinson. “Give it a chance.”

“She don’t need any help,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne, with professional
pride. “No startin’ track with this car.”

Even while he spoke, the aeroplane gave a little preliminary bound and
then suddenly shot forward, the twine snapping behind it. Mr. Osborne,
in developing the flying-machine idea, had used two plane surfaces, but
instead of being superimposed, one was behind the other. And, instead
of being practically flat surfaces, his two planes were curved, the aft
one so markedly so as to resemble a bird’s wing.

[Illustration: “THE BOY HAS A STEADY HAND”]

The anxious spectators saw the big, horizontal nine-foot rudder or
guiding surface behind the rear plane straighten itself out and the
aeroplane settle on its course. Mr. Osborne made an attempt to run
forward as if to better observe the working of the propellers on their
new pitch. But the car was too fast for him. It was already curving on
its first turn and working perfectly. Three times the flying-machine
cut around the experiment yard, skimming the ground so closely at times
that the observers kept a sharp lookout to save their heads.

“Looks all right, eh?” remarked the engineer, with no little pride.

“The boy has a steady hand,” answered the manager, as if he had
forgotten that the flight was a test of the engine and not of the
amateur aviator.

“Oh, the boy’s all right,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne. “I don’t know as I
like to have him do it, but, as far as ability is concerned, he knows
as much as a good many who have been at it longer.”

He had already called out to Roy to come down, and the car, with power
shut off, was fluttering to the ground, some yards away.

The two men advanced to the landed machine.

Roy, his sober face showing just a little flush of pride in his first
real flight, was attempting to look unconcerned as Mr. Atkinson came up
to him and patted him on the back.

“Very well done, my boy,” exclaimed the manager. “Didn’t frighten you,
did it?”

“I was only worried about that string,” answered Roy. “It kept snappin’
like the tail of a kite.”

The workmen were already moving the car to the shed, and Mr. Osborne
was following them, when the manager called him back.

“Osborne,” he said, laying a hand on Roy’s shoulder, “are you really
willing for your boy to turn professional aviator?”

“Seems to have made a pretty good start already,” was the non-committal
answer.

“That’ll be all right,” broke in Roy, with a smile. “He’ll be willing.
At least, he says it isn’t any more dangerous than runnin’ an
automobile. May I have a job, Mr. Atkinson?”

The manager’s answer was to invite the boy and his father into his
private office. There, after a little more discussion of the matter
of Roy’s engagement, Mr. Atkinson drew out the Utah prospector’s
memorandum, and, with a good deal of formality, told the details of his
interview with Mr. Cook, and of the latter’s provisional purchase of an
aeroplane.

“And now,” he concluded, “of course, the making of that sale or the
loss of it don’t mean a great deal. But I’d like to make it. You can
guess why?” he added, turning to Mr. Osborne.

“Be a good ad, of course,” answered the engineer.

“Yes, all of that,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne. “But I’ve got just enough
interest in Roy to want to have him take the job.”

“I could see that comin’,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne, with a somewhat
rueful smile. “We’re much obliged–both of us–but–” and he shook his
head slowly in the negative.

“He don’t mean it,” spoke up Roy with alacrity, as he arose and
hastened to Mr. Atkinson’s side.

“We’ve only got to persuade mother; then he’ll consent. He’ll be proud
to have me go,” he added with a sudden smile.

But Mr. Osborne was still shaking his head.

“I’ll go,” went on the boy, with enthusiasm, “and father’ll tell
you so to-morrow. We’ll arrange it with mother this evening, won’t
we, Father?” he continued as he good naturedly laid his arm on Mr.
Osborne’s shoulders.

“We will not,” spoke up the engineer with apparent determination. “If
you’ve got to break your neck, do it here, near home.”

Roy only laughed.

“Father’ll let you know how much obliged he is in the morning,” said
the boy. “I accept the offer now. Father can have the bonus, and I’ll
take the wages. Be sure and count on me, Mr. Atkinson. I’m jumpin’ at
the chance. You can telegraph right now–‘Machine and operator leave
tomorrow.’”