The Motor Rangers' Cloud Cruiser

       John Henry Goldfrap / Young Adult

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After breakfast the next morning, the professor appeared on the bridgewith Nat when the latter took his daily observation, a practice whichwas, of course, in addition to the regular “shooting the sun,” whichtook place at noon. The man of science had already made a deepimpression on the lad. He was eccentric to a degree; but in common withmany men of ability, this was a characteristic that in no way appearedto affect his scientific ability. The evening before he had entertainedall hands with fascinating tales of his experiences in various parts ofthe world. Already everybody felt the same respect for Professor Griggas was manifest in the manner of the irrepressible Tubbs.

Nat operated his instruments and then noted the result on a pad, to beentered later in the log book. The professor peered over his shoulderas he jotted down his figures.

“Pardon me,” he observed, “but you are a hundredth part of a degree outof the way on that last observation.”

For an instant Nat felt nettled. He colored up and faced round on thescientist. But Professor Grigg’s bland look disarmed him.

“Is that so, professor?” he asked. “How is that?”

“Let me test your instruments,” was the reply. “It is impossible totell without that.”

Nat handed the various instruments over to his learned companion. Theprofessor scrutinized them narrowly.

“I think,” he said finally, “that the magnetic influences ofyesterday’s storm have deflected all of them.”

“Of course,” agreed Nat. “How stupid of me not to have thought of that!Is it possible to adjust them?”

“I will try to do so,” said Professor Grigg, and, placing a sextant tohis eye, he began twisting and adjusting a small set screw.

Several times he lowered the instrument, and, taking out a fountain penand a loose-leaf notebook, wrote down his readings. Nat watched himwith some fascination. There is always a pleasure to a clever lad inwatching a man doing something which he is perfectly competent to do.The professor, the instant he laid his hands on the instruments,impressed Nat as possessing the latter quality to a degree.

“Just as I thought,” said the professor finally, “your instruments havebeen deflected. But we will set them right at noon. A few simpleadjustments, that is all. But I find that you have kept them inwonderful shape, considering your rough and trying experiences.”

“We have always tried to,” said Nat. “We knew how much depended onthem.”

“And yet,” mused the professor, with his eyes fixed intently on Nat, asthe lad stood at the wheel, “without the ability to understand them,those instruments would be worthless. Conradini, the Italian explorer,learned that.”

“At the expense of his life,” put in Nat. “The lesson was lost.”

“Ah, you have heard of Conradini?” asked the professor, in seemingsurprise.

“I have read of him in that pamphlet on aerial exploration issued bythe Italian Royal Society,” was the reply.

The professor readjusted his glasses. In his astonishment, he almostlost his latest piece of headgear—loaned him by Ding-dong. It was a nottoo reputable-looking Scotch tam o’shanter.

“You have a knowledge that surprises me in one so young,” he declaredat last. “You take an interest in exploration, then?”

“That was the object of the Motor Rangers, when first we founded them,”declared Nat. “I think,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “thatwe’ve had our fair share of adventure.”

“From what you have told me of your enterprises, I agree with you,”assented the professor warmly. “But you have not told me yet of thefuture.”

“How do you mean?” asked Nat.

“I mean, what plans have you ahead of you? What do you intend to donext?”

The question came bluntly. Nat answered it with equal frankness.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “As you are aware, though, our courseis now laid for Santa Barbara.”

“So you said last night, when you kindly offered us a passage home,”said the professor.

He paused for an instant, and Nat swung the _Nomad’s_ bow around atrifle more to the south.

“Have you no plans for further adventurous cruises or auto trips?”pursued the man of science.

Nat laughed.

“I guess we’ve had our fill of adventure for a time,” he said; “thatcleft between the volcanic islands nearly proved our Waterloo.”

“Nonsense; such lads as you could not live without adventure,”admonished the professor, making a frantic grab at his hat, as avagrant wind gave it a puff that set it rakishly sidewise above oneear. “Do you mean to say that you feel like settling down to humdrumlife now, after all you have seen and endured?”

“I guess we all feel like taking a rest,” said Nat. “We have had afairly strenuous time of it lately.”

“Granted. But it has put you into condition to weather further times ofstress and trial. Ever since we had that talk last night about theMotor Rangers, and what they have accomplished, it has been in my mindto broach a proposition to you.”

“To us?” temporized Nat. “I don’t see where we could be of any use toProfessor Thaddeus Grigg, the most noted scientist of investigation ofthis age.”

The professor raised a deprecatory hand.

“As if you had not been of the highest service to me and to mycompanion already,” he exclaimed. “Had it not been for you, we mighthave—oh, well, let us not talk about it. That coward of a captain——”

He broke off abruptly. Nat waited for him to resume speaking.

“What I wanted to approach you about was this,” resumed the professor,after a minute. “From the moment I met you, you appeared to me to beself-reliant, enterprising boys, who mixed coolness and common sensewith courage. Such being the case, you are just the combination I havebeen seeking for, to carry out a project which awaits me on my returnto America. It is a scheme involving danger, excitement and richrewards.”

He paused impressively. In spite of himself, Nat’s eyes began to dance,his pulse to beat a bit faster. Adventure was as the breath of life tothe young leader of the Motor Rangers, and, to tell the truth, he hadfaced the prospect of a life of inactivity with mixed feelings.

“Well, sir?” was all he said, however.

The scientist continued, with apparent irrelevance.

“You three lads, from what you have told me, have operated motor cars,motor boats, and endured much in both forms of transportation?” heasked.

Nat nodded.

“I guess we’ve had our share of the rough along with the smooth,” hesaid briefly, but he was listening closely.

“What would you say to trying a voyage in the air?” was the questionthat the man of science suddenly launched at him without the slightestwarning.

Nat glanced up from his steering amazed. The scientist met the lad’sgaze firmly.

“Well?” he demanded.

“I—I—upon my word, I don’t know,” stammered Nat.

For once in his life, the young leader of the Motor Rangers was fairlytaken aback.

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