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- The Boy Aviators' Treasure Quest - 4/34 -
"Why not?" demanded Billy.
"Why, you chump, if ships get in there and can't get out, how are we going to sail in there--get the treasure--always supposing there is any--and then return to civilization?"
"Do you mean to say that your gigantic brain can't grasp that?" demanded the reporter.
"No, my brilliant literary friend, it cannot--can yours?"
"Well, let us have it."
"Well, in the first place," began Billy, "if--I only say if--the galleon is there and--if--please remark I say 'if' once more--if we should decide to go after the treasure--if (useful word that) we did do so, we wouldn't have to sail INTO the Sargasso Sea at all."
"No. We could sail OVER it."
"By George! that's so, isn't it?"
"Of course it is," concluded the young reporter; and he artfully added, "it would be a great chance to demonstrate Frank's pet theory that an aeroplane that can float on the water on pontoons would be as easy to construct as one that will fly in the air."
"What if a storm came up?"
"It is always calm in the Sargasso Sea, so Bluewater Bill told me. The great mass of tangled weed prevents the waves breaking while the severest storm may be raging all about. Nothing more alarming than a gentle swell ever disturbs its repose."
Frank, the mechanical-minded, already had fished out an envelope, and on its back was scribbling the rough outlines of the aluminum pontoons, he had frequently made a mental resolve to attach to the aeroplane, so as to render it safe on the water as well as over the land. He had no intention then of embarking on the enterprise that Billy had outlined--at least he didn't think he had--but any suggestion of aeroplane improvement always interested the boy keenly and set his inventive mind at work.
While the three boys had been discussing Bluewater Bill's strange tale there had been a fourth auditor whose presence, had they known it, would have caused them to talk in lowered voices. Sanborn, the mechanic, from behind the canvas screen where he was supposed to have been eating his breakfast, had been listening greedily to every word the young reporter said. His eyes fairly burned in his head as he listened and a half-formed resolve entered his mind.
There might be other persons who would be interested in learning of the treasure ship which Sanborn's greedy mind already had regarded as a reality.
"Guess I'll take a run down to Bluewater Bill's myself to-night," he said to himself as he prepared to go to work on the aeroplane, at which Le Blanc had been busy tinkering during the boys' talk.
"Well, Frank," said Billy at length, "what do you think of it?"
"I'll reserve decision till we see Bluewater Bill to-night," quietly rejoined the other, rising from the box on which he had been sitting and slipping into his leather coat.
A TRIAL FLIGHT.
When the boys wheeled the Golden Eagle II out of its shed, the green plains which stretched in an apparently limitless level on all sides were flooded with bright sunshine. They had delayed longer than they had intended to in making their start and already most of the other prospective contestants had concluded testing their engines or giving a final look over to brace wires and turn-buckles. A sparse sprinkling of spectators from the village was already on the grounds, early as was the hour.
The Golden Eagle's fuel and lubricating tanks were quickly filled, and every bit of metal about her shone and glistened in the sunlight, making a score of bright points of light. Her great planes, with their covering of yellow vulcanized silk, were in marked contrast to the inky hue of the Buzzard's surfaces, whose driver, Malvoise, was just settling into his seat, his inevitable cigarette still in his mouth. The Buzzard was even larger than the Golden Eagle, but her lifting capacity was a good deal less, as she was not so well designed. Malvoise, however, was a reckless driver, and had already had several narrow escapes from upsets.
The other air men bustled about and from their engines came an occasional gatling-gun-like rattle and roar, as they tried their motors out. In the air was the raw smell of gasolene and the odor of trampled grass. Clouds of blue smoke arose from where the proprietor of a small biplane had drenched his cylinders with too much oil. Occasionally an auto or a motor cycle chugged up, and the early comers watched with intense interest the flying men preparing for their trial flights.
Frank and Harry paid little attention to the others as they drew on their gloves, and carefully inspected their propellers. A man had been almost killed on the grounds a few days before, when a propeller blade had torn loose under the terrific strain of its 1200 revolutions a minute, and the boys were not anxious for anything like that to happen to their machine.
At last, everything seemed to be in order and the Chester boys scrambled into their chassis. The Golden Eagle had been stripped of all the appliances she usually carried as a passenger craft. Her searchlight and wireless were missing. Her transom seats were gone. Several braces had been taken out also, as the removal of her passenger accommodations had rendered the strain on her framework much less.
"I'd hardly know her," remarked Billy, watching the boys, as they took their places on two small seats with slender steel arm rests. Harry's seat was by the engine and Frank sat at the steering wheel, which manipulated the dipping and diving rudders as well as the rearward steering surface. One of his feet was on the brake--an automatic contrivance that cut off the spark. The other reposed on the foot pump which was used in case anything went wrong with the force-feed lubrication.
"All right," said Frank, twisting the valve that sent the gasolene flowing to the carburetor and adjusting the switch.
Billy could stand it no longer. He had been watching with anxious eyes the preparations and apparently the boys were going to fly without him.
"Say, Frank," he began hesitatingly, "I don't suppose you could--"
Frank turned and saw the wistful look in the young reporter's eyes.
"Take you up?" he said, with a laugh at Billy's downcast appearance.
"Well, there's not much room for passengers the way she is fixed at present," laughed Harry catching Frank's mirth, "but if you want to squeeze in by me here, you can. Here, Le Blanc, bring out that spare seat."
A few seconds later the delighted reporter was sitting on a small aluminum seat fitted with clamps to screw to the framework, and handles to grasp hold of tightly when the craft was in mid-air.
"Let her go," cried Frank, as soon as the delighted Billy had taken his place.
Sanford and Le Blanc, one at each of the propellers, gave them a few twists, and after about the third silent revolution there came the startling roar of the exhaust that told the boys that all the cylinders were getting down to work. Blue flames and smoke belched out of the vents and the mechanics sprang back, as the propellers whirled round at a pace that made them seem blurred shadows.
"Hang on till I get up speed," shouted Frank to the two mechanics, who, with several volunteer helpers, seized hold of the rear framework and held the struggling aeroplane back with all their might. Her frame shook as if it was being swept by some mighty convulsion. The racket was terrific, ear-splitting. The wind from the propellers blew hats in every direction and streamed out the hair of the men holding the aeroplane back, as if they had been poking their faces into an electric fan.
Faster and faster the propellers revolved, as Frank increased the power of his mixture and advanced the spark. At last, when the men holding the craft were shouting that they couldn't hang on much longer, Frank dropped his hand, the signal that the craft was to be released.
Like a scared jack-rabbit, the big-winged craft shot forward over the uneven ground at race-horse speed. Several boys on bicycles, who started after the air-ship, were speedily distanced.
After a short run, Frank jerked forward his control wheel, and the Golden Eagle, amid a cheer that was of course inaudible to the boys above the uproar of the engine, shot upward into the blue.
A few seconds later there was another roar of applause as the black Buzzard darted forward, and was soon soaring upward in pursuit of the speedy Golden Eagle. Old Schmidt in his monoplane was the next off--the crowd howling with mirth as the queer green contrivance scuttled over the ground in a series of spasmodic hops, just like its grasshopper namesake. Then came Gladwin, the novice, and a half dozen others. Presently the air above the plains was full of ambitious air craft, but with the exception of old Schmidt, who rose to a height of about a hundred feet and contented himself with circling about the grounds, none of them made any but the shortest of flights.
The attention of the crowd, therefore, naturally centered on the two
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