The airplane boys among.., p.13
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       The Airplane Boys among the Clouds, p.13
 

           John Luther Langworthy
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  CHAPTER XIII

  THE CHALLENGE

  Frank laughed heartily, so that Andy turned toward him in surprise. Ofcourse it was silly to think of such a thing as a bomb, in connectionwith the object Sandy had dropped. Then again, Frank had seen that itwas bound to fall at some little distance away from the shed. He alsocaught the unmistakable flutter of paper, and could give a prettyaccurate guess as to what it all meant.

  "It's dropped, Frank, and didn't go off!" exclaimed Larry, havinghimself been more or less influenced by the panic into which timidElephant had fallen.

  Frank started forward as if bent upon approaching the object that layupon the ground; while the biplane was now heading straight away, as ifit might be the intention of the pilot to seek new pastures.

  "Be careful, Frank!" called out Larry.

  "Yes, go mighty slow, please!" added Elephant, thrusting his head outfrom cover, much as a cautious old tortoise might do, to see if thecoast were clear.

  They saw Frank reach the object, and immediately pick it up. He seemedto be examining it with more or less interest.

  "Why, I declare if I don't believe it's only a block of wood afterall," remarked Larry, in disgust.

  "Sure it is; anybody could see that!" declared Elephant, who hadmanaged to slide out from under the woodpile most adroitly, and wasrubbing his cheeks to induce a return of his customary color.

  "Frank's reading something, fellows!" cried Andy. "I know what it mustbe; and just like that sassy Perc Carberry to send it in that way. Hewants to do everything just like he was on the stage, you know."

  "A challenge!" burst out Larry.

  "Sure thing!" piped up Elephant, grinning now, and ready to make itappear that he had guessed this from the very first, and that hisactions had been in the light of a huge joke.

  Frank had turned around now, and was approaching them, still engrossedwith what he had found on the paper Sandy had dropped, with a heavyblock of wood to carry it direct to the earth.

  "What is it, Frank?" asked his cousin.

  "Yes, tell us before we burst, please!" Elephant pleaded.

  "Me too!" said Larry, feeling that he ought to be heard.

  "D-d-do it, F-f-frank!"

  "All right, fellows," replied the other, nodding and smiling, as ifsomething had pleased him. "Suppose we sit down on that long bench infront of the shed."

  He had no sooner dropped upon the wooden settee than there were acouple of eager boys hanging over either shoulder.

  "It's a challenge, all right?" said Andy, his eyes sparkling.

  "Yes, that's where you hit the nail on the head," replied the other."And like everything that Percy manages, it is gotten up in a way tosting. We might decline an ordinary, everyday challenge; but hemanages to fix it so that you've just got to accept, or be set down asafraid."

  "Huh! no danger of our not taking him up on anything that's half wayfair," said Andy, promptly. "And now suppose you read it out to us,Frank."

  "Here goes then. He's got it headed 'A Challenge!' And then rightbelow he gets down to business in this way: 'Frank Bird and Andy Bird,Aviators!'"

  "Wow!" cried Larry, "that sounds all the good; but he's giving you thattaffy only because he wants to claim the same title himself; ain't itso, Frank?"

  "You'll see presently. Here's the way he goes on, fellows: 'Greeting:I hereby challenge you to a trial of skill and speed with ourrespective biplanes, same to take place within three days from date, atan hour to be selected mutually. Said test to include first, a thirtymile straightaway race, and circle the liberty pole on the Commons atHazenhurst; next altitude, to be decided by the barograph carried oneach biplane; then three times around the peak of Old Thunder Top; andfinally the feat of volplaning from the greatest height, to land onBloomsbury high school campus. Other rules for this race to bearranged between us at a meeting to be held later on. If you declineto accept this challenge I propose to go over the aforesaid schedulealone, and claim a victory.' And then underneath it all he signshimself: 'Percy Carberry, Aviator.'"

  The boys looked at each other.

  "Sounds like a real good test, Frank!" suggested Larry, cautiously.

  "Just what I was going to say," Elephant put in, watching Frank's face,and seeing what he considered favorable signs there.

  "And I move for one that the challenge be immediately accepted, so thatfurther arrangements may be made!" Andy observed, grimly.

  "Well," remarked Frank, slowly; "we'll consider it. As a rule, youknow, fellows, I'm not much in favor of racing, when there's so muchdanger involved, but just as I said a bit ago, Percy knows how to fixthings so as to stick pins in you. He's written his challenge in a waythat makes us accept, or be branded for cowards."

  "Oh, he needn't have worried about that!" cried Andy, angrily. "If heknows anything about the Bird boys he ought to make sure they nevertake water. Didn't we see whatever he did before, and go him onebetter? And down in the land of revolution he knows who carried offthe honors, as well as saved him from those men who had him in theirpower. Frank, we've just got to do it!"

  "I suppose so, Andy," returned his cousin; "but if you think thatanother win on our part is going to close Percy up like a clam you'reaway off. He makes me think of a medicine ball--every time you hit itand send it flying, it comes back again as chipper as ever. He justwon't stay down, that's all."

  "I don't agree with you there," said Andy. "If we can only rub it intohim hard enough, Percy will never have the nerve to hold up his headagain in Bloomsbury."

  "But we can't expect to do that, you know," Frank went on. "He seemsto have a splendid machine there, that will make us hustle all we knowhow to pass ahead. And even you give the fellow credit for knowing hisbusiness. He's a bird boy all right, even if his name happens to beCarberry. No overconfidence, Andy. That's lost any number of racesthat ought to have been won, hands down."

  "Oh! I understand that, Frank," the other said; "but I believe in you,and that Perc ain't in the same class. Count on him to make a mistakewhen the crisis comes. And if he thinks he's going to be passed thereain't any low down trick he wouldn't be guilty of. I leave it toLarry, Nat and Elephant if that isn't right."

  "I've known him to do lots of mean things," spoke up Elephant,promptly; "and if I had to enter a race with him I tell you right nowI'd keep out of his reach, all right."

  "The best way is to get the lead in the start, and never let him comewithin striking distance. Then you could snap your fingers at hisgames," declared Larry.

  "Say, there is something in that, Frank," Andy admitted.

  "I believe it," returned the other young aviator. "The only trouble Ican see is that Percy usually starts off with a furious rush, and takesthe lead. He believes it gives him an advantage, and perhaps it does.Every fellow has his pet theories in a race, and no two of them may bealike."

  "I guess the main idea with him is that he can get in some of his dirtywork if he sees the other is passing him," Andy sneered.

  Frank shook his head at him; but on the whole did not know that hecould blame Andy for feeling so bitterly toward the other. Theirexperiences with Percy in the past had been far from pleasant; and manytimes had he attempted some unscrupulous game that had stirred Andy'sfighting blood to the boiling point.

  As for Sandy Hollingshead, Andy's opinion of him as a sneak was knownto every boy in Bloomsbury; nor did the party most interested seem tocare to knock off the chip aggressive Andy had long carried on hisshoulder.

  The aeroplane had vanished beyond the high fringe of trees. PossiblyPercy had headed for town to show off his new purchase to the gapingBloomsbury crowds, certain to come rushing from houses and stores assoon as the word was passed around that a flying machine was hoveringoverhead.

  As the afternoon passed, the boys debated pro and con concerning thechallenge. Frank had agreed to accept, much to the delight of theothers, and his answer was carefully prepared, so as to cover everypoint in question.

  He and Andy r
ealized that after all, their prediction as to a storm hadfailed, for the clouds seemed to have passed away, leaving the dayhotter than ever.

  "Whew! ain't I glad though I can camp on a night like this," saidElephant, as started in to assist Larry get dinner ready.

  "Just what I was thinking," added the chief cook, looking up from histask with a grin of pleasure. "I've got the peskiest hot room ever, ona still summer night like this is goin' to be; right under the roof,cold as a barn in winter; roasting in July and August. Say, I've oftensaid they'd find me fried like a doughnut some fine morning; or frozestiff. This thing just suits me to a whiz."

  "Heard Frank ask the Colonel to eat with us tonight; so I s'pose we'regoing to have an extra good spread," Elephant went on, scraping thepotatoes industriously.

  "That's what," chuckled the other. "You just leave it with your uncle,and the chances are you won't be disappointed much. I like good thingsmyself. Used to say I was going to study to be a great chef when Igrew up. May yet, who knows? What's Frank and Andy doing with thatwire right now?"

  "Why, you see the Colonel made 'em promise to connect him with theshed; so in case any row happened to be pulled off here he'd know it.Hard for him to understand he's out of the game with that crippled leg.He's been doing things all his life. I think he's the most wonderfulold codger I ever knew."

  "And that's where you're just about right, Larry. We must make himtell us some of his travel yarns tonight while we sit around," Elephantdeclared.

 
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