DRIVEN DOWN

Almost as soon as he lifted the airplane above the grove beyond that
cornfield, Bob recovered his wind and his confidence.

Al, of a more nervous type, was still trembling in his after-cockpit
seat, but his excitement was changing from that of the recent adventures
to the thrill of sky-riding at night with his brother. There was not
only the elation of the climb to keep his nerves quivering; also there
was the uncertainty of what might happen because of Bob’s lack of skill
and experience.

Climbing steadily until he was over five hundred feet above the earth,
Bob felt none of his brother’s uneasiness or excitement. He was
confident that he could control the airplane as far as straight flying
was concerned; his only difficulty would be the landing, not the easiest
thing for a skilful pilot unless a signal could be given that would make
the plant watchman illuminate the small field.

Bob, making a long swing, banked gently, to head back for the plant,
calmly considered the elements of the situation and tried to plan, as
well as he could, how to meet whatever came up.

Al, giving more attention to sky and earth, as they straightened their
course, correctly pointed for the field at the plant, saw a tiny set of
glinting lights far away in the sky.

Impulsively he caught the stick of the dual control to waggle it. That
was the only way to attract Bob’s attention; but Al, in his quick way,
shook the stick and then held it pretty far to one side, and Bob, not
expecting the move and unaware at first that Al did it, felt his heart
sink for an instant, fearing that something had gone wrong with the
controls.

Al, horrified at the effect of his move, sat, tensely still, waiting for
a crash. Bob, alert, decided in a flash that he would do all he could to
avert the smash before he gave up hope. He made the necessary moves to
correct the slip.

To his delight the craft obeyed promptly, coming back into its proper
position quickly. Turning to reassure Al, Bob saw his brother violently
gesturing toward the sky to one side. As he looked Bob saw tiny lights
and knew them for the flying lights of a craft.

The explanation came at once. Al had attracted his attention to the
airplane knowing it must be the brown ‘plane. Probably the two men who
had chased Bob had contrived to tell the pilot, before he took off,
that—as they supposed—the company books were in Bob’s possession. With a
wave of his hand toward Al, reassuring him, Bob set his course for the
flying place belonging to the Tredway plant. He was being pursued by the
ship he had, recently, followed; it suited him. He would lead the ship
back there, contrive some way to attract attention, get Al to drop
flares, and then, landing, telephone all the airports nearby to identify
and stop the pilot who must eventually alight for fuel.

The pursuer, however had no intention of being lured.

Bob realized it, at the same time that he recalled how swiftly the other
pilot had climbed to escape identification earlier at the plant.

Instead, the brown ship had some sinister intent toward himself, Bob
guessed, for it was climbing rapidly, and Bob, unaware of the safe
climbing angle or stalling angle of his own craft, dared not risk so
steep a tilt.

Higher, always higher above him, went the other man’s lights.

The wing over him obscured Bob’s view.

He turned to Al. The younger brother leaned out and stared.

“Going up yet!” he cried, and gestured.

Climbing! Climbing faster!

Bob opened his throttle steadily to the full capacity of the engine.

He proposed to gain all he could in speed, and that meant distance ahead
of the other, while that other airplane climbed. He knew he could fly
faster, on the level, than a climbing ship could, and he saw the other
lights slowly becoming somewhat fainter, smaller.

But that did not last long.

In a few seconds the other ship leveled off and began to approach. Bob,
craning his neck to get a sight of the other craft beyond his own wing
spread, saw that the other man, evidently angling down and pointing
directly for a position above him, meant to overtake him and was quite
capable of doing it. He had superior experience and skill.

Bob realized quickly that the better part of valor in an airplane at
night, under such conditions, was to give up.

“Or, at least to pretend to give up,” he reflected.

To carry out that pretence he reached into the signal light stores and
selected a light. This he tossed back to Al.

His signal and his act were understood.

Al knew that Bob wanted light. He ignited the flare, which proved to be
a green signal blaze, flung it overside and watched its tiny parachute
catch the air and suspend it.

In that light he swung his eyes to see what Bob meant to do.

The other pilot, arresting his dive, also flew along level, and watched,
it appeared.

Bob, lighted by the glowing green flare, pointed to himself and then
pointed to earth.

The other ship, coming steadily closer, was quite plain in the
illuminated space. Its pilot made a similar gesture, pointing first
toward the airplane Bob piloted, then downward.

Bob lowered the nose and began to spiral, as though looking for a spot
on which he might safely “set down.”

On a wider swing the other pilot flew, observing his act.

Swiftly Bob summed up the situation. Beneath him, easily reached, was
the wide ribbon of the asphalt highway. By heading almost directly into
the wind he could “shoot” the road, and by keeping his engine running at
partial speed he could make a “power stall,” letting the craft settle
very gradually instead of trying to glide down, guess at the correct
height and then stall and drop. To do the latter in the comparative
darkness of the highway might result in smashed landing gear or worse if
he stalled too high and dropped, or it might happen that he would “put
her on hot,” or at too great speed and without stalling, come against
the ground. In one case out of ten that might enable him to roll along,
but if he struck the slightest uneven bit of road, or a bulge of the tar
at the intersections of the asphalt road blocks, up would bound the
ship, perhaps to stall herself and crash.

By using power he could keep flying speed while gradually settling until
his wheels contacted the road. He could also rise more readily if he
discovered that he had gone too far to either side of the narrow
road—wide enough in fact but narrow from the standpoint of its use as a
landing place.

He gave up the half-formed notion of trying to outwit the pilot.

The man meant “business” and that might spell trouble for an amateur.
Better far would it be to set down and see what came of it.

As he saw the roadway ribboned out straight ahead, with no headlights
observable in either direction, Bob lifted the nose a trifle, adjusted
the throttle until, with the road streaming backward under him, he saw
it very gradually growing wider and clearer.

Almost perfectly he landed. Being a straight road he had lots of time to
taxi, with his gun cut and his only care being to hold the ship on its
wheels and not let a wing-tip scrape the asphalt.

To his surprise the other pilot did not land.

Instead he seemed to be circling at a very low altitude, not a hundred
feet up, and with only bare flying speed, diving ten feet to catch up
his speed and then climbing back to circle again.

“We can’t leave this crate standing on the highway,” Al called as soon
as Bob had the engine running at idling speed. “Suppose a Sunday driver
comes along at sixty miles an hour?”

“What else can we do?” Bob swung in his seat.

“That’s so. If we go up he’ll ride us down, and we might not make as
good a landing—you might not, I mean.”

“Yonder comes a car!”

As Bob pointed, Al leaned out and stared.

“The headlights blind me,” he declared, shading his eyes with his cap
brim and hand.

“It’s—it’s the ones who are after us,” called Bob. “See! One of them is
stopping the car and the other one is jumping out.” He turned to Al.

“They think we have the books. The man in the brown ship drove us down.
Mr. Parsons, in his car, with the other man, is coming to get us.”

“Well, they won’t!” exclaimed Al, scrambling out of the airplane.

“No! You run into the woods to the right of the road.”

Al, as soon as he was on the ground, used his heels to good purpose.
Bob, pausing only to bundle up some folds of his coat to make it look,
from a distance, as though he carried a package under it, slipped to the
road and ran the other way.

Driven down, they nevertheless left the pursuers outwitted.