DUMPED INTO THE MARSH

Plunging through the dark in an aeroplane, two hundred feet or more
above the earth and in a moonless night, was Bud’s predicament. Up
to that time, at least, neither the Wright Brothers, Mr. Farman, Mr.
Latham, nor Mr. Curtiss had had such an experience. When the chill
night breeze struck the boy’s face and he found himself sailing into
what was like a black cave, for a moment he was panic stricken.

Of course, he had not taken such a hazardous chance without a plan. In
a vague way, he had outlined what he hoped to do. But it was easier to
lay that plan out in his mind while on the firm ground than it was to
put it into execution high up in the impenetrable and chill air.

The thing that almost rattled Bud was the fact that he could not see
the ground. He could not even make out the lines of the fences beneath
him. It was like smoking a cigar in the dark when you can only tell
that it is going by the fire on the end. The lack of vibration in an
aeroplane is most pronounced in the dark. Like a soaring bird, the
ship glides forward with hardly a whirr or rattle to mark its flight.
But the breeze on Bud’s face and the spinning propellers told him he
was advancing, and with the speed of a train.

“I got to strike the Little Town pike first thing,” said Bud to himself
at last, as he began to get his wits together. “If I can’t do that, I’m
up a stump. That’s my only guide to where I got to go.”

The scattered lights of the edge of Scottsville were just rushing
beneath the aeroplane.

“I’ll follow the edge of town to the north,” went on Bud, talking
almost aloud to himself. “When I come to the river and the bridge,
I’ll head north and get down low enough to see the road. That’ll be my
guide.”

Five miles to the north of Scottsville, lay Little Town–three saloons,
a postoffice, a store and an elevator. Northwest from Little Town, a
road reached into the “hills.” In any other part of the country these
hills would have been hardly noticeable. But in Scott County, Indiana,
they were comparatively mountains. Bud knew them as the scenes of many
picnics and excursions.

At Camp’s Mill, about three miles from Little Town on the “hill road,”
where a creek, a mill race and a head-gate afforded small water-power
for a flour and saw mill, a dirt road turned sharply off to the north.
Within a mile and in a thickly wooded region, the “hills” suddenly
opened to enclose a pond. Little Town people called it Camp’s Lake.
Visitors from larger places usually described it as a “frog pond.”

In the spring and summer, the shores of this little body of water–scarce
a quarter of a mile long–were swamps full of cattails and spearmint. As
Bud figured it, the damp, flat vegetation would now be dead and dry. To
this secluded and seldom visited point, the youngster had decided to
attempt to carry the stolen aeroplane. This was not wholly because the
place was far from Scottsville. Bud had figured on all the problems he
would have to face. That of making an ascent the next day bothered him a
good deal more than the concealment of the airship. Here, he thought, he
might be able to put into execution the only device he could figure out
for starting the car on its flight again.

A sudden rumble beneath the car struck on Bud’s ears.

“That’s the bridge,” he said to himself. “It’s a team crossing the
bridge.”

He could not mistake that sound; nor would any other Scottsville boy.
Bridges may look a good deal alike, but no two of them sound alike. The
hollow noise of a wagon on a bridge always strikes the same note. That
note Bud had known for ten years. And, though the structure was out of
sight, the boy brought the aeroplane as sharply about as if it had been
day. It was now a straightaway course of five miles to Little Town due
north.

When the town lights were a half mile or so behind him, the determined
lad inclined his horizontal rudders until the ship sank close enough to
the ground to reveal forms. A little lower, the dusty, white turnpike
unwound beneath him, and then he steadied the craft. Not until then did
he begin to feel somewhat composed.

So far, the only thing that had bothered him was the fear that he might
not be able to get away with the aeroplane successfully. Now he had
time to think of something just as important.

“I wonder what they’ll think?” Bud finally asked himself. Then he
recalled how President Elder had reprimanded him for taking chances
with the car.

“Whew,” whistled the lad, as the thought came back to him, “like as
not, he’ll be sore all over now. And what if I do land her all right
and get her going again to-morrow? I can’t come down at the fair-ground
or the sheriff’ll nab me. I might as well have stayed. If I go back and
give the show and sail away again without landin’–and that’s the only
thing to do–where’ll I go? They can watch me and follow me. I can get
more gasoline somewhere, but I can’t hide out another night with the
sheriff and Mr. Stockwell and Mr. Dare on my track.”

With this new trouble bothering him, he held his course toward Little
Town. Once, like a great, black, groaning bird, he shot over a buggy.
The horse shied, and there were several alarmed imprecations from the
occupants.

“Lucky they didn’t shoot,” thought Bud. “But I can’t fly higher and
know where I am.”

Bud’s selection of Camp’s Lake as a desirable spot for his purpose
showed how familiar he was with the country in all directions about
Scottsville. His familiarity with this particular place was due to the
fact that his father’s farm had been just south of Little Town. Camp’s
Mill and its old-fashioned water wheel had always been Bud’s joy. And
Josh Camp was still one of his boy chums. Or he would have been had
Bud remained near Little Town.

He and Josh had, in earlier years, a firm belief that fish existed in
Camp’s Lake. They had never been able to absolutely prove this, but
many a night’s work with a lantern had proven that, if the pond were
devoid of fish, it was infested with bull frogs of giant girth. The
final argument in bringing the flying boy to his old stamping grounds
was this.

Camp’s Lake, whether lake or pond, was never devoid of water. Even
beyond its margins, the swampy cattail beds oozed moisture. At the head
of the body of water was a spring which flowed ceaselessly. At the foot
of the lake, at one time, the surplus water drained away through the
lower marsh ground to the creek feeding the mill-pond, a mile away at
Camp’s Mill.

As the country cleared up and the supply of water in the creek
became less certain, Josh’s father–who owned the land about Camp
Lake–determined to utilize the supply going to waste there. Accounts
of water storage in western irrigation districts had inspired this.
The last time Bud saw the place, he found that Mr. Camp had dammed up
the spillway at the end of the lake. In the center of the dam, he had
built a head-gate; and, from this, leading over the marsh, he had
constructed a flume about four feet wide leading to the creek below.




“The place behind the hills is a good place to hide,” thought Bud,
reviewing the situation, “the flat shores of the pond are the best
place to land without breaking anything, and the old flume is the best
starting apparatus I can think of.”

He knew there was an old flat-bottom boat and a skiff on Camp’s
Lake. On these, with Josh’s help, if he could get it, and any other
assistance that he could procure, he meant to carry the aeroplane
to the dam. It was a part of his plan to place the flat boat in the
flume. Balancing the aeroplane on this, he was counting on Mr. Camp’s
permission to throw open the head-gate, suddenly flood the flume with
the pent up water, and, as the boat rushed forward, to gain an impetus
that would start him on a new flight.

Bud’s first sight of Little Town was the green railroad switch light
at the settlement limits. He headed toward it, and, cutting out the
village, passed diagonally over the adjacent fields in search of the
road leading to the mill. At first, he missed it. The strain had made
him nervous. Although he had not been in the air over fifteen minutes,
he felt as if he had been up an hour. He had thoughtlessly started in
his shirt sleeves, and was chilled.

Everything seemed so desolate and quiet that there was an almost
compelling temptation to make a descent and trust to luck. But the boy
dismissed the idea, gritted his teeth, and, clutching the levers with
his benumbed fingers, made another attempt to find the dark, winding
country road.

“What am I goin’ to do when I got to strike off over the woods from the
mill?” thought Bud. “This ought to be pie compared to that.”

Dropping lower and lower, the nervous young aviator finally brushed
something light that rattled. He was over a field of corn in the shock.
As he gasped and threw the car upward, again he heard the unmistakable
“thud,” “thud” of a horse’s hoofs. Judging that they were on the unseen
road, he continued his upward flight until he was out of possible
sight, and then altered his course to bring him over the newly located
road.

In a few moments, the sound of the horse and vehicle were far behind.
Then he dropped down again until two dark lines marked the shrubbery
lined lane.

“Now for the old mill,” murmured Bud, greatly relieved.

It does not take long to cover three miles in an aeroplane. Almost
before he could believe it, the sharp turn in the road, the wide
clearing, the dark pile that he knew was the mill, and then the almost
phosphorescent sheen of the dark mill-pond marked the end of the second
stage of Bud’s wild flight.

“If there’s anything in the old gypsy’s ring, I can use it now,”
muttered Bud. “It’s all blind from this on, but I reckon I know the
way. Here goes, any way.”

With a bound upward, Bud headed the aeroplane over the trees beyond the
mill-pond. Three hundred feet over the forest, he steadied the airship.
But only for a moment. All was dark beneath, and yet Bud knew that the
open marsh and lake were just ahead. From that point, he might as well
have closed his eyes. It was all luck and instinct now.

Catching his breath, the boy lowered his horizontal rudders. With
his eyes glued on the seemingly endless black beneath him, he leaned
further and further forward. Twice he started upright, twice he
hesitated, and then, with feverish speed, his hand shot out and shut
off the engine. The propellers died away, but the car plunged ahead
with its speed apparently unchecked.

Lower and lower sank the drifting aeroplane. Again Bud leaned nervously
forward to catch some sign of the margin of the water. What had
happened? He had surely gone a mile! In the still night air came a
sudden splash. With it, rose the guttural honk of a bull frog. The
sound was dead ahead and almost beneath him.

With renewed energy, he swung his vertical rudder lever and the car
drifted quickly to the right. Under the impulse of the turn, it darted
downward. There was a rasping brush against the tall, dry swamp
vegetation and the aeroplane, touching first with its starboard end
on the soft marsh bed, settled with a dragging jolt on the weeds and
grasses.

There was a breaking creak, as the end of the framework struck, but
when Bud knew the flight was at an end he sank back into his seat with
a gulp of relief.

“I’m here,” he sighed, “right among the snakes and frogs. Maybe the
machine’s busted, and maybe not. Anyway, I’ve got a fine long job of
waitin’ for day.”

He was breathing as if he had just finished a race. When he had got
around to normal again, he made an attempt to get his bearings. With
his hands on the framework, he crawled from the car. His feet sank into
the soft ground and water oozed into his deep foot prints. Then he
listened. He fancied he heard the soft lap of water just ahead. That
meant the lake. But it was useless to try to reach it. The margin led
nowhere and it would be softer than where he was.

A good deal of the romance of his adventure disappeared at once. It was
exciting enough to navigate an aeroplane through the pathless black
sky; but it was far from interesting or comfortable to sit up all night
with the chill air benumbing his coatless body and keep sleepless
company with bugs, frogs and snakes in a damp marsh.

“And I ain’t goin’ to,” exclaimed Bud. “The marsh gets softer toward
the lake, but it gets firmer toward the hill.”

He debated and hesitated for an hour, growing colder and more miserable
all the time, and then, in desperation, he got stiffly out of the chair
on which he had been cramped and plunged through the bog toward the
high ground.

The mucky swamp was bad enough and, more than once, Bud thought
himself hopelessly mired. But in the end, exhausted, his face and hands
scratched with the weeds he had fallen against and his trousers and
shoes a coat of clayey black mud, he fell over a boulder and tumbled
out onto dry land.

What turned out to be as great a strain was the effort to make his
way through the woods to Camp’s Mill. Bud was no coward, but there is
something about a journey at midnight through an owly, twig-snapping
wood that is apt to give any one the creeps. When the double darkness
of the thick trees finally gave way to a more open gloom, and Bud knew
the Camp home was somewhere just ahead, he broke into a dead run, a
cold perspiration thick all over his body.

And, as he at last found the gate of Josh’s home and a deep-barking
dog lunged at him, he was about ready to pronounce Madame Zecatacas’
ring a failure. But his troubles for the night were over. Josh’s
father, responding to the watchdog’s bark, demanded to know what was
wanted. In a few moments, Bud was taken in. It was hard to explain the
situation, but Bud’s condition was almost explanation enough. In an
hour, refreshed with milk, bread and butter and cold ham, the airship
thief was put to sleep in the spare room.