The workmen assisting Lafe and Bud did not wait for the coffee. The
last of the appetizing sandwiches had disappeared when the male member
of Madame Zecatacas’ outfit came shambling along with the pot of
neither very fragrant nor very strong coffee.
“Help yourselves, boys,” suggested Bud, offering the workmen their
only drinking vessel–a tin water cup. “We’ll try to have a better
Lafe, who had worked steadily and energetically all night, was sitting
on a box taking a breathing spell. Bud, as a further reward to the
coffee bearer, was attempting to show the sour-looking stranger some
details of the aeroplane and hastening in his explanation, for there
was plenty of work to be done. About the time he had finished, there
was a sharp exclamation just outside the shed.
“Move on. What are you doing hanging around here?”
It was Pennington speaking in a brusque voice.
“Twelve o’clock, the good-luck hour,” a woman’s voice responded. “I see
good fortune in store for the young gentleman. Let the Gypsy Queen read
your fate. Cross Zecatacas’ palm with silver. I see good fortune for
the young gentleman.”
“Get out, you faker,” exclaimed Lafe.
“She’s all right,” interrupted Bud. “She’s the Gypsy Queen. She’s Queen
Zecatacas, and she made the coffee for us.”
“Well, it’s no good anyway,” retorted Lafe. “And I reckon we’ve had
enough visitors for one day.”
The old woman seemed not to hear the words. She was looking beyond
Pennington and into the brilliantly lighted airship house, where, in
the glare of the torches and lanterns, the fragile and graceful frame
of the aeroplane had at last assumed shape.
“Beat it,” added Lafe authoritatively, “and don’t bother us any more.
The aged gypsy did not take her eyes from the skeleton of the airship.
To Bud, the shadowed fortune teller seemed like a person in a trance.
Without replying to Lafe or moving, she spoke, suddenly, in a strange
tongue, to the man with her. He answered angrily in the same language.
She stretched forth a bare, lean arm and pointing toward the aeroplane
spoke again. The man replied, more at length this time, and as if in
“She wants to know what it’s all about,” volunteered one of the
carpenters who was nearest the apparently transfixed woman.
The man laughed with a sort of sneer.
“Don’t you fool yourself. She reads. She knows. But she never seen one.”
“Well, we ain’t on exhibition now,” spoke up Lafe. “You and the old
lady have your pay. We’ll excuse you.”
“What you so sore about, Lafe?” interrupted Bud. “I don’t see that
they’re doin’ any harm. I think we ought to thank ’em for makin’ us a
pot of coffee at midnight.”
Before Pennington could make reply to this, Zecatacas, the Queen of
the Gypsies, took a step forward. Something seemed to make her look
bigger–perhaps it was the light, which now fell full on her face. Bud
stepped back. It was a face full of creepy power. Chanting, the woman
spread her long fingers before her and mumbled:
“The old Gypsy Queen has read the Book of Fate many years. Across the
seas, she foretold how man would soar like a bird. What she foretold
has come to pass. Not for gold nor silver did the Book of the Future
open to her. She dreamed the dream of what would come to pass.
To-morrow Zecatacas will look upon what she foretold across the seas.”
“Sure,” interrupted Bud, anxious to change the subject, “come to me,
and I’ll get you a front seat–free. When did you predict that there’d
“Rubbish,” exclaimed Lafe, glaring at the old fortune teller. “If you
feel better now, you’d better duck and get to bed.”
To neither of these speeches did the gypsy seem to give the slightest
“What is written in the Book of the Future will be. I see men flying
over forest and mountain. Faster than birds they mount into the clouds.
The clouds are dark, the sky is black. I see–the Gypsy Queen sees
“Get out, you old hag,” roared Lafe, angered at last beyond control,
“or I’ll fire you out.”
With a cat-like spring, the gypsy leaped forward, caught Lafe’s
extended arm in a vice-like grip, and before the young man knew what
she was doing, or could prevent it, she had opened his clenched fist
and shot a lightning-like glance at his exposed palm. As the half
frightened and trembling Lafe jerked his hand from her grasp, the
fortune teller hissed at him:
“You spit upon the Gypsy Queen. She puts upon you no curse. But the
Line of Fate tells much. Beware! Zecatacas tells nothing. For him who
spits upon her, she sees all evil and woe. There is more, the sky is
black, but old Zecatacas tells nothing. Beware!”
With the last word, the old woman disappeared into the darkness. Before
Lafe could make reply to her, the man, picking up his coffee pot,
“I was just goin’ to hand you a swipe for your freshness, young fellow,
but I guess the old woman has given you enough to think about.”
“What do you mean?” blurted out Lafe, making a show of resentment and
swaggering up to the man. The latter reached out a brawny hand and
pushed Pennington aside.
“I mean what I said. I ain’t no Romney. But, I don’t cross the old
lady. She ain’t handin’ out no hoodoo curses; but–well, the long and
short of it is, she’s got her fingers crossed on you. Them gypsies has
sure got somethin’ up their sleeves we ain’t an’, whatever it is, I
wouldn’t give you a nickel for your luck while she’s sore on you.”
Then he too was gone. The same talkative carpenter, for all had
suspended work while the incident was taking place, felt called upon to
make a remark.
“I knowed a Gypsy ’at put a charm on a feller I worked with onct an’ he
fell off’n a roof an’ purt nigh kilt hisself.”
“And I heard of a colored voodoo doctor,” broke in Bud, “who put a
curse on a coon, and the doctor himself was arrested for chicken
stealin’. So you see there ain’t much to be scared about.” He attempted
to liven things with a peal of laughter. But no one joined him. “And as
for this old Zecatacas, or Gypsy Queen as she calls herself,” he went
on, “she makes me tired. Give ’em a quarter and you’re goin’ to have
good luck and money; turn ’em down, as Lafe kind o’ had to do, an’ they
make an awful bluff about doin’ you dirt some way.”
“She don’t scare me a bit,” remarked Pennington, who was yet white and
“You’d be a fool if she did,” added Bud consolingly. “Any way, it’s all
over now. Let’s fall to and get busy.”
Pennington had already worked nine hours, and it was not strange that
he was tired and nervous. He was restless and irritable, and every now
and then took occasion to say how little he cared for old Zecatacas’
words. Bud did what he could to belittle the gypsy’s disturbing speech.
At three o’clock, Lafe lay down and slept until six, when he, Bud
and the three men closed the shed and, on another advance from Lafe,
managed to secure an early breakfast at a boarding tent erected for the
stock attendants. Newly fortified with food and a wash up, they were
back to work at seven o’clock.
Pennington had grown a little more affable, and as the end of their
labors now came in sight, he was even at times in a good humor. But
Bud saw that either old Zecatacas’ speech or something else disturbed
Lafe. At eight o’clock, when President Elder arrived, it was seen that,
whether expert Dare arrived or not, the aeroplane would be ready by
about eleven o’clock.
“How did you young fellows settle it?” were Mr. Elder’s first words,
after a gratified look into the airship shed.
“Mr. Pennington has it,” answered Bud promptly.
“No hard feelings?” added the official with a smile.
“Smooth as pie,” explained Bud. “Only, if the chance ever comes, I’d
like a try at it–when I ain’t in any one’s way.”
“Still think you can sail her?” said Mr. Elder, turning to Pennington.
“Yes,” replied the latter, “it looks easy enough. Of course, there is
a certain risk, but I’ll chance that. Only,” and he spoke as if the
thought had just come to him, “I wish I’d had more rest last night. I’m
pretty tired, and you know a fellow ought to be at his best.”
“Yes,” explained Bud, “he worked a good deal longer than the rest of
us.” He didn’t say anything, however, about Pennington’s three hours’
sleep. “Of course, he feels it more.”
“Perhaps you’d better wait until to-morrow, Lafe, when you’ve had a
good night’s sleep. How would it do for Bud to make the first trial? He
seems fresh enough.”
“Oh, I’m all right–I guess,” answered Pennington. “You can count on
me. By the way, you didn’t hear from Mr. Dare, did you?”
“Not a peep.”
“I’ll be ready.”
Before nine o’clock, two more directors appeared, almost together. They
were Lafe’s father, Judge E. Pennington (in reality only a Justice of
the Peace), and Bud’s foster father, Attorney Cyrus Stockwell.
“Bud,” began Attorney Stockwell angrily, “why didn’t you send us word
you were going to stay out all night?”
“To tell you the truth,” answered Bud without any great alarm, “I
didn’t know it when I left home, and after I got out here, I didn’t
have a chance.”
“They tell me you offered to go up in this thing,” continued the
attorney, jerking his thumb toward the now practically completed air
“Offered!” exclaimed Bud. “I begged to. But I got left. Lafe beat me to
“Lafe?” exclaimed Judge Pennington. “Lafe going up in the airship?”
“I agreed to,” exclaimed young Pennington. “If the operator don’t come,
they’ve got to have some one. And I know more about it than any one
else around here.”
“And you’ve promised to commit suicide in that death trap?” added Judge
“I–I didn’t see what else I could do,” faltered Lafe.
“Well, I can,” broke in his father, “and mighty quick. You can stay out
“Judge,” interrupted Attorney Stockwell, “I don’t see any cause to
worry. Bud tells me he is anxious to take Lafe’s place.”
“Bud Wilson?” sneered the Judge. “What call has he to try such a thing?”
“Oh, none, except he’s been up in one once. I never heard that Lafe
had,” retorted the piqued lawyer. Attorney Stockwell had no particular
concern for Bud and certainly no affection for him. Later, Judge
Pennington said he reckoned the lawyer rather wanted Bud to turn
aviator and break his neck in the bargain. But, this morning, the
lawyer resented Lafe’s superiority.
“I guess if Lafe had tried to fly, he wouldn’t have tumbled out on his
head,” snorted the Judge. “I don’t approve of sending boys up just
because we made this fool arrangement. But, when it comes down to who’s
entitled to do the thing and who’s got the real grit, I guess it’ll be
my own boy.”
Bud was watching Lafe. He expected to see his rival swell up with pride
and elation. On the contrary, he was sure that he detected signs of
disappointment in young Pennington.
“He don’t seem to be hankerin’ after the job,” was the attorney’s next
“Lafe,” exclaimed his father belligerently, “did Mr. Elder select you
for this work?”
“Then you do the job, or I’ll know why.”
“I thought it was all settled,” interposed Bud in a calm voice. “I
ain’t makin’ any fuss about it. I ain’t claimin’ the right.”
“Then you won’t be disappointed,” snapped the judge, and he bustled
“Bud?” asked the Attorney in a low voice, as Lafe walked away, “how
much are you to get for workin’ all night?”
“Not a cent. It’s like goin’ to school to me.”
“You’re crazy. Workin’ all night for nothin’? Why that’s expert
service, an’ it ought to be double pay, too.”
“I did it for fun,” explained Bud, with a laugh.
“Fun?” snapped the lawyer. “You wouldn’t think it so funny if you had
to pay for your board and clothes.”
“I never asked you to do either,” replied Bud. “I don’t know why you
do. You just took me in. If you’re tired of me, I’ll stay away. But I
haven’t any money to pay you.”
“Stay away,” sneered the lawyer. “Where’d you stay? You haven’t a home.”
“Wherever there’s aeroplanes,” answered Bud calmly, “that’s my job now.”
“Still,” said the Attorney in a milder tone, “I don’t want to be hard
on you. You had better come back to us until you are able to care for
“Thank you,” answered Bud. “I hope that won’t be long.”
When his foster father had followed after Judge Pennington, Bud turned
to Lafe. The latter was lying on a long packing case.
“Sleepy?” asked Bud.
“Pretty tired,” replied Lafe. “Do you think you can finish up now?
I believe I ought to go home and go to bed for an hour or so before
afternoon. I’ve got to be on edge, you know.”
“Sure,” said Bud sympathetically. “You do that. I’ll put the last
touches on everything. If you get back here by two o’clock, that’s time
Just before twelve o’clock, President Elder drove up to the airship
“Well,” he announced, “he didn’t come. Our expert failed to arrive.
It’s up to Lafe. Where is he?”
“He’ll be here,” answered Bud. “We’re all ready, and he’s gone home for
a little rest.”
About one-thirty o’clock, President Elder visited the aeroplane
headquarters again. Bud was greasing the starting grooves.
“Bud,” began the fair official with a faint smile, “I knew it all the
time. It’s you or no exhibition. Lafe Pennington is in bed, sick. He’s
got a nervous chill.”