The airplane boys among.., p.22
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       The Airplane Boys among the Clouds, p.22
 

           John Luther Langworthy
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  CHAPTER XXII

  A TERRIBLE MOMENT ON OLD THUNDER TOP.

  That settled it!

  Andy had been holding in his breath while this short conversation wasbeing held between the rival pilots of the aircraft, with voices raisedto shouts.

  "Are you going to give it up, Frank?" he questioned anxiously, as theother once more let his new Kinkaid engine out to its utmost, so thatthey began to forge to the front again.

  Frank hardly knew what to do. Prudence dictated that he decline torisk his life and that of his cousin in such a foolhardy attempt tofulfill the conditions of the race. And yet he did hate mostunmercifully to show the white feather. What lad with red blood in hisveins does not? And then there was Andy, who, seeing his state ofwavering uncertainty, began to plead with him to try the thing.

  "Frank, don't let 'em crow over us!" he went on, the fever still in hisblood. "We can do it, all right, you know. It'd only take a fewminutes to wheel around that bald old peak three times; and then a longdip will carry us clear to the campus. Frank, head for Old ThunderTop! Show him he ain't the only Bloomsbury aviator that's got nerve!"

  And so Frank decided. Possibly he might regret his choice when it wastoo late; but having taken the jump, he began to gradually rise, so asto get on a level with the high peak.

  "He's right after us, Frank!" commented Andy, seeking by that means tokeep the determination of his cousin from growing slack.

  "So is the storm!" thought Frank, as he realized that already some ofthe advance couriers of the cloud bank had raced up, and were even thenaround them.

  Sitting there, with his teeth pressed firmly together, Frank realizedthat by deciding on accepting the challenge Percy had so scornfullythrown to him, he had indeed taken big chances.

  Would they ever live to finish that race; or must the wind, when itfinally bore down upon them, send both aeroplanes, together with theiroccupants, to a terrible fate far below?

  It was now too late to change his course. And besides, Frank was noteven at this moment fully ready to throw up the sponge. Perhaps thestorm would kindly hold off a little longer, as sometimes happened, andgive them a fair chance to go around the peak of the bald mountainthrice before heading for home.

  "Hang the old clouds!" cried Andy. "The folks won't be able to followus around each time. And if Percy chooses to turn tail, and cut forhome, declaring that he did the bend three times who's going to proveit a lie, tell me?"

  "Oh, some of them have fine glasses, and you may be sure they're on usabout every second. They'd get his number, all right; just let him trysome of that funny business, that's all," Frank replied.

  Andy said no more. Truth to tell, the conditions surrounding them wereby now beginning to look fearfully desperate, with those billowingclouds at times shutting out all view of the earth so far below.

  Frank had only eyes for the rocky top of the mountain, though he knewthat he must presently also keep constant watch for the rivalaeroplane; for Percy might elect to pass around the other way, therebeing no stipulated course about it; and in that event there was alwaysthe chance of a collision.

  When racing such a reckless fellow, one had to make his eyes do doubleduty, as Frank Bird had learned long ago.

  He could see the pair of white-headed eagles soaring around the top ofthe mountain, as though glorying in the battle of Nature's forces thatwas so soon to be opened. Frank inwardly wished they were as capableof finding shelter as those sagacious birds.

  "Watch out for the other biplane, Andy!" he called, in the ear of hischum, as he started on his first circuit around Old Thunder Top.

  His last words were fairly drowned in a peal of thunder, that seemed toannounce the near approach of the gale. Even then there was possiblytime for them to have made Bloomsbury, had they been content with justone spin around the bald knob of the great rocky height. But theconditions of the race said three; and Percy meant to hold them to theletter of the contract.

  Frank well knew that far away in the home town anxious hearts werebeating, as loving eyes kept glued to the fieldglasses--he could easilyunderstand that not a few among the applauding spectators would tenthousand times rather the race were lost than that these terriblechances were taken. Yet he had started, and there could be no help forit now, however much he would have liked to give the thing up.

  Doubtless others were admiring the pluck shown; but then these had nopersonal interest in the lives of the young adventurers.

  They had now finished the first circuit and were starting on thesecond. Under normal conditions it would have been next to nothing toFrank to guide his biplane around the head of Old Thunder Top twicemore. But with such dreadful surroundings it required all the nerve ofwhich he could boast not to turn and shoot downward after making thatinitial circuit.

  The clouds were beginning to scurry around them now, showing that thewind was arriving. Frank knew this when he once more started aroundthe peak, for he met it head on.

  This meant another peril. He had to keep his wits fully about him,lest a sudden flaw tilt the biplane over. And it was at that moment ofuncertainty that the young aviator had reason to rejoice because ofthat new device under the aeroplane whereby an automatic balance wasmaintained between the planes.

  Birdmen who have attempted to show their ability to manage an aeroplaneclose to a big city like New York claim that their greatest dangerarises from the numerous gusts of wind that come out of the deepcanyons formed by the skyscraper buildings.

  "There they go!" screeched Andy, suddenly.

  Frank received something of a start, for the other aeroplane shot pastnot more than thirty feet away from the tip of his port plane. It hadbeen a narrow escape from a calamity that might have cost all theirlives; for Percy, for some unaccountable reason, had chosen to passaround the summit of Old Thunder Top in just the opposite way from thatthey had taken.

  How foolhardy to keep this up! It was next door to madness, Frankconcluded. He was determined to have nothing more to do with it, butgive over the idea of fulfilling the conditions of the race.

  Was it too late to think of making the home town? Would the hoveringgale swoop down on them when half way, and in the twinkling of an eyewind up their mortal careers?

  Frank had learned his lesson. He was grimly determined that if goodfortune allowed him to get out of this scrape alive he would neveragain allow himself to be tempted into a thing that he positively knewto be rash beyond all description.

  But it might be too late now. The storm would soon come riding alongwith a rush and a roar. Sorry, indeed, the frail aeroplane caught inits merciless grip. A handful of straw would not be scattered morequickly by the onrushing blast than the pitiful frame that went to makeup the imitation bird.

  Even the eagles had mounted higher out of reach of the storm; or elsesought some snug retreat among the rocks, where they could bid itdefiance; at any rate had utterly lost all sight of the king birds.

  But where was Bloomsbury? How would he know which way to turn, whendesirous of fleeing before the threatening storm? The clouds hadgathered in such force that it was now utterly impossible to see theearth far below. And how pitiful to think of those two littleaeroplanes isolated so far away from any shelter.

  At such a time it behooved one to do his thinking quickly. Andy wasreally of no use just then, for he had become really frightened by thedarkness gathering around them; realizing at last what folly it hadbeen in accepting that dare on the part of reckless Percy. So Frankknew that he must depend entirely upon himself, if he yet hoped toescape the consequence of their rashness.

  Another thought flashed across the active mind of Frank Bird just then.Would it be possible for them to alight on the summit of Old ThunderTop? And even granted that such a difficult feat might be safelyengineered, could they find any way of staying there while the stormraged?

  He made up his mind on the spur of the moment. It was simply madnessto think of shooting downward now. The storm hung low, and most
of itsviolence would be apt to pass by beneath the height marking that loftycrown. Yes, the safest thing for them in the long run would be to landon the rock, as they had done several times before, and then seek tosave their lives, no matter what became of the biplane.

  Money would purchase another aeroplane; but money could never restore alost life. So Frank reduced the speed at which he was rushing aroundthe top of the rocky mountain.

  If the wind would only hold back another minute he believed he would beable to make it. But Andy must know, for he would have to hold himselfready to jump at the proper second, so as to stop the fluttering aircraft before it went beyond the further edge.

  At least one thing was in his favor as he turned back to make thesecond circuit, as Andy believed; the air currents were from the west,and they faced them now; hence the biplane was in the proper shape toeffect a landing; birds almost invariably drop to earth facing thebreeze, and not with it.

  "I'm going to land on top, Andy!" he shouted, knowing that the otherwould be panic-stricken by the fact that he had shut off nearly all thepower.

  "Oh! why?" cried his cousin.

  "It's our only chance; we could never get to the ground! Be ready tojump like you did before! Watch out, now, Andy!"

  "I'm ready, Frank!"

  Andy tried to control his voice when he shouted this; but it wasquavering sadly, what with his fright, and belief that the very end ofall things had probably come for them. The lightning was flashingsavagely, and the boom of the thunder down below sounded like thedischarge of tons of dynamite.

  It was just in between these sounds, when a silence of a few secondshappened to brood over the wild scene, that Frank heard loud cries.They came from the top of the rock close by, just where they wereheading for at that very moment.

  "They've struck the rock, and been smashed!" shrieked Andy, whose facewas undoubtedly the color of a piece of yellow parchment, if thehorrible state of his feelings was any index.

  Frank had already guessed as much himself; but just then it becamenecessary that he give his whole and undivided attention to their ownchances for making a landing; or else, if a flaw of wind came just atthe wrong time their aeroplane might also meet with the same fate thathad overtaken that of Percy.

  "Now! jump, Andy!" he called, as the bicycle wheels struck the surfaceof the rocky plateau.

  Even the rising wind assisted in halting their progress, and both boyswere able to drop out of their seats. Most fellows would haveimmediately thrown themselves down on the rock, thinking only of savingtheir lives; for there was real danger of their being swept off theexposed plateau, should the wind become very violent, as was to beexpected at such an altitude.

  Even at such a frightful time Frank's ready wits did not desert him.He instantly seized a stout rope, and commenced fastening the engine ofthe biplane to an upturned point of rock, which seemed just made for ananchorage. Andy caught the spirit that animated his cousin, and didwhat he could to secure the biplane; not that either of them had muchhope of its being spared to them.

  They had hardly managed to do all that lay in their power when with aroar the storm broke. The next few minutes would decide whether theywere to retain their grip on life, or be hurled down to the cruel rocksbelow.

  Frank clutched his cousin by the arm, and began dragging him across thetop of the plateau, both of them bending low so as to escape the worstof the wind's fury. And from the confident manner in which he drewAndy, the latter began to pluck up fresh hope; for it seemed possiblethat Frank knew of some sort of refuge.

 
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