The airplane boys among.., p.19
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       The Airplane Boys among the Clouds, p.19
 

           John Luther Langworthy
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  CHAPTER XIX

  THE MYSTERY STILL UNSOLVED

  "You fellows have been gone a long time!" observed Elephant,reproachfully, as the Bird boys came down in the open just before theworkshop.

  "And I've had dinner ready nearly half an hour," complained Larry, asthough in his mind their delay consisted of an unpardonable sin.

  "Sorry," smiled Frank, "but we found we had to land at the liberty polein Hazenhurst, to do some little altering; and it was mighty hard workgetting away again."

  Larry's sharp eyes caught the quick, quizzing look which the speakershot toward his cousin.

  "Hey! be honest now, fellows," he said. "There was a reason back ofthat holdup, I just know. Look at Andy turning red, would you?Elephant, don't he look guilty now? Tell us all about it, Frank. Whois she; what's the name of the little witch? We're from Missouri, andwe want to know."

  "Oh! let up on that sort of soft stuff, won't you?" complained Andy."Things have come to a pretty pass when a fellow can't just biff ameasly old bulldog on the jaw, without having a romance made out of thething."

  "A bulldog?" echoed Larry, grinning immediately. "Listen to that,Elephant and Nat! He's been having a fight with a terror of a dog.And believe me, Andy didn't hunt for trouble. Tell us all about it,Frank. Whose bulldog was it, and why did Andy tackle him? Was hegoing to bite the pretty one?"

  Of course Frank had to tell the story, as soon as he could recover fromthe fit of laughing into which Larry's persistence had thrown him.Andy wandered away, as though his modesty forbade his remaining wherehe could hear his praises sung. Perhaps he also disliked the idea ofhaving those humorous eyes of Larry keep tabs on his telltalecountenance while Frank was speaking of Alice, and of course remarkinghow very pretty the daughter of Hazenhurst's mayor happened to be.

  "But you say you left there at eleven," remarked Elephant, when thestory had been completed. "Then it took you all this time to get backhere, did it?"

  "Shucks, no," replied Andy, who had now rejoined them, since the dangerof quizzing seemed past. "We tried for height, and managed to get upto a point that we only beat once with our old monoplane. And thiscraft can do much better, Frank says."

  "We made as high a point as we dared," Frank said. "It really got toocold, and we were shivering as if we'd been dropped into winter. Nexttime we go after an altitude record for amateurs we'll make sure tohave warmer clothes along, eh, Andy?"

  "We sure will," remarked that worthy, shivering at the recollection;and yet it was a hot July day; almost sweltering, in fact, where theynow stood.

  Larry stepped over to the biplane, and bending down, glanced at thelittle instrument intended for recording the extreme height reachedduring a flight. It could be set over again simply enough when the keywas used to unlock the frame; this particular arrangement having beenadopted in order that during a contest there could be no possibletampering with the barographs, the several keys to which would remainin the possession of the judges.

  "Hey! that's going some," Larry immediately called out. "Ten thousandseven hundred feet is sure high, according to my notions. I don'twonder you found it slightly chilly. I've never been half that far upin all my life; and I've seen some big mountains, too. What's therecord, Frank?"

  "To tell the truth," the other replied, "I don't exactly know. Thelast I saw recorded it was about fifteen thousand feet; but hardly aweek passes without some new man forging to the front, and putting upanother win."

  "Anything doing here while we were gone?" asked Andy, carelessly.

  "Lots," replied Larry, with a knowing grin.

  "Suppose you open up then, and tell us about it. Been having visitors?"

  "How smart some people can be, eh, Elephant? Hits it the very firstguess," and Larry winked at his chum as he said this, purposely keepingAndy on the anxious seat.

  "Perhaps you've been butting up against some sort of bulldog, too?"suggested the other, quickly.

  "No such good luck, because the girls have kept away from here,"replied Larry.

  "Then it was Percy?" Andy persisted.

  Larry only shook his head in the negative; while Elephant took occasionto remark:

  "We saw him cutting all sorts of figures in the air with his newbiplane. And say, don't you forget it, Percy is some pilot. He suredid skim around to beat the band. You ain't going to have anywalkover, Frank."

  "I understand that, Elephant," replied the other, soberly. "And I'mthe last one underrate a rival. Percy is just as good as I am in thisbusiness. His weakness lies in his spirit of recklessness; and givingway to temper when things seem to be going against him. He may beatme; but he'll have to do his level best."

  "But looky here," Andy broke in. "That ain't telling us who was here,Larry."

  "Guess again," answered the other, who liked to tease.

  "I just can't think of anybody; unless it might happen to be thatmeddling, mysterious Mr. Marsh again," and then, seeing the raisedeyebrows of Larry admit that he had hit the nail on the head, Andy wenton: "What d'ye think of that, Frank; the bump of curiosity is prettybig with that gentleman. Now, what excuse did he have this time forinvading our camp; and did he try to push into the shop like the lasttime he dropped around?"

  "I saw him looking all about a lot, and he seemed right interested in aheap of little things," Larry remarked.

  "Yes," put in Elephant, who did not like to hear his chum do all thetalking. "Lots of times he'd turn to the other chap, and nod his heador wink his eye, just like he wanted to say: 'There! what did I tellyou, Longley; wasn't I right?'"

  "Oh! he did, eh?" grumbled Andy, shaking his own head in an angryfashion; "well, all I can say is, that Mr. Marsh'd better keep his noseaway from places where it ain't wanted. He's just after somethingslick, Frank. He means to steal some of your clever ideas, that'swhat."

  But Frank was not so easily convinced. He believed in hearing all hecould before making up his mind.

  "Look here, Larry," he said, earnestly, "he must have given some sortof an excuse for coming out here again, didn't he?"

  "More than a few, Frank," was the other's prompt reply.

  "As what?" continued the young aviator.

  "Oh! he kept on saying he was so much interested in you fellers that hejust couldn't continue his vacation tour without seeing more of you.In town they're talking already about the race that's going to takeplace between you and the other biplane; make up your mind Percy wasthe one to scatter the news, and spread his boasts about how he's goingto make you look like thirty cents. And Mr. Marsh, he just wanted toknow if it was so, and all about the same; because he says he means tohang around Bloomsbury till that event is pulled off."

  "Hear that, Frank, will you?" burst out Andy. "Told you he was a spyof some kind. Perhaps Mr. Marsh expects to spring a neat littlesurprise just before we start in that bully old race. Mebbe he's got afew cards up his sleeve. Mebbe he wants to stop us from starting, andclaim we're using a device that is patented by the firm that employshim. Anyhow, he's bound to give us trouble."

  Apparently Frank was not in the same anxious and worried frame of mindas his cousin. He paid no attention to what Andy was saying, but wenton questioning the one who had been in camp, and talked with thegentleman in question.

  "What other reason did he give for coming out here?" he asked.

  "Oh! let's see," Larry, replied, slowly, as though thinking."Elephant, he mentioned the fact that he had heard something of ourlittle circus last night, didn't he; and wanted to hear the truth aboutthe arrest of Jules?"

  "Yes, and even told us that Mr. Longley was connected with a big NewYork newspaper, an editor or something, and wanted to wire the truthdown to his office," Elephant added.

  "I wonder if that was a yarn, now?" remarked doubting Andy.

  "Oh! well, he did take a lot of notes down in shorthand, while the lotof us kept on telling all about the coming of Jules," Larry went on.

  "I hope you didn't stretch things too much," Frank remark
ed, knowingthat this was really a failing of Larry's, especially when relating theexploits of any of his chums, rather than his own adventures.

  "Now, that's mean of you, Frank, to suspect me of yarning," protestedthe other. "I just hewed as straight to the line as I could. Elephanthere, and Nat, tried to widen things every little while; but I wouldn'thave it. When you read the story you'll see how Truthful Larry talked."

  Frank smiled at the idea of poor Stuttering Nat being drawn into themess; when the chances were he could not have said even one word withtwo such ready and willing talkers close by.

  "How am I ever going to read about it?" he inquired.

  "Why, you see, Mr. Longley promised to have some papers with theinterview in, mailed to me as soon as it appeared, which would betomorrow morning. Said it was a dandy piece of news, didn't he,fellows? And thanked me ever so many times for my extremely modest wayof telling it."

  Elephant had a wide grin on his face about this time, and Frank coulddraw his own conclusions as to just what the gentleman really did say.

  "Well, I must say that Mr. Marsh puzzles me right along," he remarked."And all I hope is, that when we come to learn the truth about him itisn't some unpleasant surprise he means to fling us."

  "He acted mighty nice, anyhow," remarked Elephant.

  "And that's a fact, ain't it, Nat?" remarked Larry, turning to thestutterer.

  Possibly Nat had been preparing for his little speech, and shaped hislips so as to give utterance to the few words promptly; for heastonished them all by calmly remarking, with not a trace of hesitation:

  "It sure is; there, how's that?"

  "Bully! Keep it up, and you'll be all hunky!" ejaculated Larry.

  "But see here, how about that grub?" demanded Andy, suddenlyremembering that it was now one o'clock, and that they had eaten anearly breakfast.

  "Wow! the chances are it's all burned up!" cried Elephant, making abee-line for the door of the shop; in which rush he was followed by allthe others.

  But Larry was too good a cook to leave his dinner exposed to any suchdanger. Before he went outdoors he had moved everything back on thestove; so that when the five hungry lads finally sat down they foundevery article just right.

  While they ate, many questions flew back and forth. Larry wanted toknow more particulars about that little affair with the dog, and justhow Andy knocked the savage beast headlong with that handy monkeywrench; also what Miss Alice looked like; whether she had black eyes,or blue; and so many other things in connection with the dainty littlemiss that Andy begged Frank to seal his lips, because their comrade wasonly doing this for a lark.

  Frank on his part was not wholly satisfied with what he had heardconcerning the new attempt of the mysterious tourist to pry into hisaffairs. He every little while would spring some new question, whichLarry answered to the best of his ability. Evidently Frank was tryingto discover the real motives actuating Mr. Marsh when he so suddenlydecided to remain around Bloomsbury a few days, and made such a lameexcuse for so doing.

  The balance of the afternoon was passed as usual. Frank and Andy wentup again along about four o'clock, everything being favorable for anascent. It was the desire of the young pilot to ascertain just whateffect the several little changes he had made would have upon hismastery of the biplane.

  Evidently they gave him more or less solid satisfaction; since, whenthe time came for a final landing, with the westering sun throwingalmost horizontal beams upon the aviation field before dropping beyondthe trees, Frank had a smile on his face, and Andy looked more pleasedthan ever.

  So another night came around, on which at least they need not fear arepetition of the escaped convict's visit.

 
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