THE DESERTED AIRPLANE

“See that! Look! There’s our mystery!”

Bob Wright pointed from the cabin window of the monoplane. Al, his
younger brother, peered toward the ground.

“What? Where? Show me any mystery!”

To make himself understood above the roar of the engine, Bob put his
lips close to Al’s ear while Curt, Bob’s closest friend, also a
passenger, bent close to catch his words.

“It’s a mystery all right—but you can’t see from here. It was in that
cornfield we passed over.”

“What’s the mystery?” Curtis Brown’s eyes snapped with eagerness.

“Why did you say ‘our’ mystery?” Al asked at the same instant. Bob
answered both at once.

“The mystery is: Why is an airplane hidden in the grove at the edge of a
cornfield? Our mystery because we discovered it and because, ever since
we helped father solve his detective cases and took an interest in
aviation we have wanted to solve something that connects up puzzles and
’planes!”

“A ‘crate’?” Al stared out. “I don’t see it.” Bob was not there to
reply. He moved up to the pilot, Langley Wright, his cousin, who was
test pilot for the Tredway Aircraft Corporation and who was giving this
beautiful “job” its final test and check flight.

“Lang,” he said, “I saw an airplane in the grove at the edge of that
last field we crossed. Circle back, won’t you?” As Lang turned from
jotting down some data, Bob added: “The ship hasn’t crashed. It’s in
among the trees—backed in. I caught a glimpse of it, and then the trees
hid it. I’d like to have another look.”

“Surest thing you know.”

Lang, twenty-one and an expert flyer, grinned at his sixteen-year-old
cousin, dipped ailerons, kicked rudder and with a good “bank” as the
craft swung its nose around, he deftly counteracted a tendency of the
ship to go into a sideslip, jotted down some information on his data
board and then looked out of his window.

“There’s the field,” he said. “I don’t see a crate there!”

“That’s why I told Al and Curt it’s a mystery,” Bob replied. “The ship
has been hidden! Its tail is in between trees, and the wings are under
trees with high branches. I don’t believe it could be seen from the
highway that runs by the field. I know it wouldn’t be noticed from the
air, except by chance.”

“Hm-m-m!” grunted Langley, “I’ve heard of hidden treasure, but this is
the first hidden ’plane——”

“There!” Bob pointed past Lang’s face.

“I see it!” Lang continued to circle, in order to get another sight of
the mysteriously hidden ship. As they came around again Al and Curt
located it also.

“It’s staked down!” Al, although he was the youngest, not much past
thirteen, had the quickest eyes of the group. “I saw the stakes, and
rope over the wing-tips.”

“The engine was covered over,” added Curt.

Lang spiraled down to pass as close as the trees would allow.

They saw nothing more, however, and after Lang had refused Al’s
impulsive request to “set down” in the small field, the party flew on to
the landing field of the Aircraft Corporation where Lang had some
alterations to report in the adjustment of the ship’s balance before it
could be delivered to its purchaser.

“Let’s get our bicycles and ride out to the field,” urged Al, as the
trio of comrades alighted beyond the aircraft plant.

They pedaled the three miles in record time.

“I was right,” commented Bob, as they left the wheels beside the highway
and climbed over the high rail fence enclosing the stubble where corn
had recently been cut down. “You can’t see the airplane from any place
along the highway——”

“Unless it’s gone,” interrupted Al.

“No!” Curt was a little ahead. He waved his arm. “There she is!”

They crossed the rough field, toward the mysterious, silent object of
interest.

“I can see from here it hasn’t cracked up,” Curt declared. “Not a
scratch on it and the landing gear is perfect.”

“Whoever flew it must be clever,” declared Bob. “Look at the narrow
strip of open, smooth ground he had to ‘set down’ on. If he hadn’t been
able to shoot the field so as to get in on that long, smooth side, with
only a few feet clearance, he’d have come down in rough stubble.”

“Yes, he must have been good,” agreed Al. “And it proves that he was
forced down. Any sane pilot would have gone on to a better spot.”

They reached the airplane, a two-winged model with a radial motor and
small wings; it was a speed ship, trim and mystifying with its dark,
brown body and airfoils freshly done.

Curtis, whose age was midway between Al’s thirteen and Bob’s sixteen,
clambered onto a landing wheel and observed the instruments on the dash.
“Plenty of gas, and oil,” he remarked. Then his companions saw his face
change.

“Look!” As he called he leaped from his perch so that Bob could occupy
it; Al was up on the other side, and it took no explaining to show what
had caused Curt’s exclamation. Both youths saw the small square of paper
pinned to the folded parachute on the seat.

“Dare we look?” questioned Bob.

“‘I can read it from here,” Al said, and reported. “It says, ‘Everything
O.K.’”

“Crickety Christmas!” Curt resorted to his favorite expression.
“‘Everything O.K.’ Then it wasn’t a forced landing.”

“No,” agreed Bob. “It didn’t seem like one, somehow. The ship is too
carefully tucked away. And, now—this note. Who is it to? Who put it
there? Does it mean the ship is all right—or something else? I was right
when I said—‘there’s our mystery.’”

“You were!” admitted Curt.

“But what can we do about it?” objected Al. “Take turns watching? Wait
to see who comes back, and what he does?”

“I think not,” counseled Curt. “It may be a mystery why the crate is
here, and all that! But it isn’t any of our business—is it?”

“No,” admitted Bob. “Let’s go home, and see what father thinks of it.
There is probably some easy explanation we haven’t thought of.”

“All right. We can ride out here first thing—early—tomorrow.”

They could not consult the private detective whose success had been so
pronounced that cases came to him from distant cities: he was out of
town that night.

When they rode out to the field the next day, at sunrise, looking for
the mysteriously deserted airplane it was gone!

“Where is your mystery now?” Curt was inclined to poke a little fun at
Bob. “As the sleight-of-hand performers say, ‘Now you see it, now you
don’t!’”

“Anyway,” Al who was poking about in the grass under the trees, bent and
then exhibited a damp, crumpled paper, “here is the note. Now, what do
you say if we have a session of the old Master Sleuths, and see what we
can deduce from this paper?”

A year before, asked to do a little investigating for Mr. Wright, when
he was handling a case where youths would be least likely to arouse
suspicion by shadowing, the trio had become intensely interested in
detective work and had termed themselves the Master Sleuths, more in fun
than in earnest. However, when they had become “air minded” the term had
been dropped. Al, reviving it, won a grin from Bob.

“All right,” Bob agreed. “The paper is damp. It has been out in the dew.
Under the trees it would take a good while for it to get as soggy as it
is. The writing has smudged—it’s sort of purple——”

“It was written with an indelible pencil,” remarked Curt.

“Then all we have to do is to find a man with an—” Al was not allowed to
finish. Bob broke in, as older brothers like to do.

“Yes—get ‘the man in the gray suit!’ How many indelible pencils do you
suppose there are in this country?”

“All right!” Al took the matter good-humoredly. “Anyhow, if a man wrote
it and a man read it and threw it away—two hands have handled it.” He
put it carefully in his pocket. “There may be fingerprints.”

“What good will they do?” asked Curt. “The mystery is all done with.”

“No it isn’t!” cried Bob, holding up his hand.

“Listen!”

From above came the drone of an airplane engine.