AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE

Ned in the lead, the boys were hurrying to their ponies in order to set off on a gallop for the railroad station, about thirty miles away, to arrange about getting the airship which had been shipped in parts. But half-way to the corral Jerry called a halt.
“Look here,” he said in that drawling tone he often used when he had not quite prepared his thoughts. “Have any of you fellows told the cowboys about the airship?”
“I haven’t,” answered Bob. “I was afraid, after what had happened, and the way they sort of looked down on us, that they’d laugh and make more fun of us than ever, if we told them we could navigate an airship.”
“Same with me,” admitted Ned.
“I haven’t mentioned it to a soul,” went on Jerry, “and I think the professor has been so busy catching bugs that he hasn’t spoken of it.”
“Well, what’s the idea?” asked Bob.
“Just this. What we want to do is to spring[112] a surprise on Hinkee Dee and his friends—make them think we amount to something after all, even if we can’t spot the cattle thieves right off the bat. Now my notion is that if we could put the airship together in some out-of-the-way place and then, some day, come sailing over the ranch in it, and flop down out of the clouds, so to speak, it would make them sit up and take notice.”
“Say, Jerry, you’re right!” cried Ned.
“Good idea!” exclaimed Bob. “But how are you going to do it?” he added. “The airship is at the freight station, and Ned has a card saying it’s arrived. Somebody is sure to talk about it.”
“Not necessarily,” put in Ned. “This card I just got doesn’t say anything about an airship. It just says some crates and boxes have been received for us. And you know the way we packed up the wings and the engine in parts no one by looking at the outside of the boxes could tell what was in them.”
“That’s so,” admitted Bob.
“Then we’re all right,” came from Jerry. “Instead of riding in on our ponies we’ll take our car. By leaving out some of the fittings we’ll have plenty of room to carry the airship in about two trips I think, and no one will ever know what we have. Then if we can find some secluded place where we can put it together we’ll be all to the merry and we can spring our big surprise.”
“That’s the idea,” Ned declared.
So instead of galloping off post haste to the freight station, the boys proceeded to get their car in shape to bring back the parts of the airship. They left in the automobile only a few needful things, took along plenty of ropes and some food, for they expected to be away all day, since it might require some little searching to find a sufficiently secluded spot.
“We want to pick out some place in the woods where the cowboys don’t come,” suggested Jerry. “If one of them happened to spy the craft before we had her together it would spoil the surprise and we’d lose all the effect we want to produce.”
His chums agreed with him, and after a little judicious inquiry made of the foreman they got on the track of a place that they thought would just suit their purposes. It was in a clump of rather wild wood on the edge of a sandy plain. As the sand prevented the grass from growing, it was avoided by the cattle. In consequence of this there was no need for the presence of the cowboys in that vicinity.
“And it will be just the place for us,” Jerry said. “The sandy plain will be an ideal starting ground for the beginning of our flight. There’s no water near there and we’ll have to cart enough in the auto for the airship radiator, but we can easily do that. And now we’ll start.”
“Got ’em in there?” asked Hinkee Dee in his sneering voice as he saw the boys start for the railroad station in their big car.
“Got who in where?” Bob questioned before he thought.
“The cattle thieves!” chuckled the assistant foreman. “I s’pose you’ve got ’em hog-tied and all ready for the sheriff.” Norfloxacin Nicotinate
“Not yet,” admitted Jerry, trying to be good-natured about it. “But we’re on their trail.”
“Oh, yes!” went on Hinkee Dee. “All you’re waiting for is a post card from ’em, givin’ their address so’s you can call for ’em. I’ve heard of such detective work before!” and with a jingle of his spurs he rode away at a fast pace, he and his pony being soon lost to sight in a cloud of dust.
“I don’t like that man,” said Bob, who was usually the most forgiving and good-natured of the three.
“He isn’t very pleasant,” admitted Jerry.
Two days later, had anyone chanced to pass the vicinity of a certain clump of trees, one would have heard some such talk as this:
“Pass that hammer this way, will you?”
“Yes, and heave over that monkey wrench. I never can find it when I want it.”
“I say, which way does the steering wheel chuck face? I’ve tried it every way I know and it doesn’t seem right.”
“No wonder, you’ve got it adjusted upside down. Fat chance we’d have of sailing that way—more like loop-the-loop.”
Then would come a period of silence broken by hammering, sawing or filing sounds and there would come another call for tools placed or misplaced.
The assembling of the airship was under way. The boys had successfully transported it from the freight station in its boxes and crates, and, so far as they could learn, no one of the cowboys was aware of what was afoot, or, it might be said, in the air.
The airship was much simpler than the big combined dirigible in which the motor boys had had many adventures, and they had often before taken it apart and put it together. When it had been shipped West the necessary tools had come with it, so now the boys had no difficulties in doing the reconstruction work.
Their workshop was under the trees, and as the weather was now settled, with little prospect of rain, they needed no shelter. Their absence each day from the ranch was easily enough accounted for—they gave out that they were looking about the country for traces of the cattle thieves, and, in a way, this was true enough. They were laying plans for the search.
Since the cattle raid the night of their arrival no[116] more of Bob and Ned’s fathers’ stock had been run off, but there was no telling when the rustlers might again descend on Square Z ranch.
“Though as for them tenderfeet stoppin’ ’em, I wouldn’t give that!” declared Hinkee Dee, snapping his fingers in scorn.
“Well, I don’t set such a great store by the boys myself,” admitted the foreman. “But it won’t do for me to say so. Mr. Baker and Mr. Slade likely thinks their sons is all right, and maybe can do detective work of this sort, and it isn’t for me to undeceive ’em. I’ll help ’em all I can. But when some of the best cattlemen in the country can’t get trace of the rascals I don’t see how a crowd of college chaps is goin’ to. But, as I said, far be it from me to open their eyes. They’re havin’ fun out of it, and that’s what they come out for—one of the reasons, anyhow.”
“Well, maybe they’ll surprise us, some day,” ventured Gimp, and his words came true sooner than he expected, though not just as he anticipated.
“Huh!” scoffed the Parson. “Them boys’ll never catch the thieves. That bald-headed professor stands a better chance, for he roams all over the ground and he goes slow and careful. I’ve watched him and seen him look over a space not more than a yard square for more than an hour.”
“That was because he wanted to find a pink[117] grasshopper or a blue-toed snake,” laughed the foreman.
“Well, maybe. But he’s careful like, and that’s the way you got to be when you’re trailing cattle thieves.”
“Oh, well, give the boys a chance, I say!” exclaimed Gimp.
Meanwhile, Ned, Bob and Jerry were working on the airship. They had spent each day for about a week in the woods now, and the craft was nearly ready for flight. That it would sail the boys had no doubt for they had made many a trip in it.
“Yes, it’s beginning to look like an old friend,” commented Jerry, as he stepped back to observe the general effect. “I think——”
“Speaking of old friends, here comes one now!” interrupted Bob.
“Where?” exclaimed Ned and Jerry in a breath, for, so far, they had not been molested by man or beast in their little retreat.
“There!” said the stout lad, and he pointed to the approaching figure of Sid Munson, the bediamonded individual the boys had last seen in Des Moines.