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- Boy Scouts in an Airship - 10/32 -
"Then you don't know whether the aviator is out there or not?" continued Collins.
"Why, yes, I do know about that," Sherman replied. "I heard this driver of mine talking Spanish with a shoofer we met, and learned from the mix-up in tongues that the aviator has gone to the city, leaving a couple of natives in charge of the machine."
Ned's heart bounded so fiercely that he feared that Collins would hear its quick beats! The aviator was not there. Only two Peruvians, timid chaps at best! Mr. Thomas Q. Collins might receive his reward for his treachery sooner than he imagined, the boy thought!
"Well, so long!" Collins cried. "We'll see you in the city tonight."
The cars parted, each going its separate way, and Ned and Collins were soon within sight of the white aeroplane, which lay in a valley a short distance from the road. The spot where it lay was well irrigated, and fruits and vegetables were growing all around the rope which had been strung about the machine. The aviator had evidently paid a good price for the privilege of landing there.
A short distance away from the site of the machine was a small house, a tiny affair, with plenty of porches and a flat roof. As the two men left the car and advanced toward the machine a man left the porch and walked in their direction.
"Probably the farmer," Collins said. "We may have to pay for the privilege of looking over the machine."
Much to the amazement of the boy, the man who approached from the porch spoke to the two in English.
"What do you want?" he asked.
Ned waited for Collins to make a reply. If Collins really was in the conspiracy against Lyman, he would probably show his hand within the next few minutes. Just as Ned anticipated Collins gave the other a sly signal before he opened his mouth. Ned was not supposed to see this evidence of a common understanding, but his watchful eyes caught not only that but the answering sign of the other.
"We came up to look over the machine," Collins said.
"Well, you keep away from it," the other replied, fixing his eyes keenly on the face of the boy.
"This lad," Collins said, then, motioning toward Ned, "knows something about an aeroplane, and wants to inspect this one."
A sly wink followed the remark. It was getting rather cheap to Ned. The collusion between the two was so evident that their attempts to conceal it appeared very slazy.
"Yes," Ned put in, "I'd like to look the machine over."
"You came in that other aeroplane?" was asked.
Ned nodded, and Collins broke in:
"He's an expert, but he has no machine just at present. A member of his party took his machine away this morning," he added, with a chuckle.
"So Rowan said," the alleged farmer replied.
"Rowan?" repeated Ned. "Is that the name of the aviator who runs this machine?"
"Yes; he is a New York man. Do you know him?"
Ned replied that he had heard of him, knew him to be a splendid operator, but had never met him.
After some further talk Ned and Collins were given permission to look at the machine, which was called the Vixen. Collins expressed his thanks in elaborate language, but Ned went straight to the Vixen, which was then guarded by a Peruvian Indian. He was weary of the cheap pretense of the other.
"This is a peach of a machine," the alleged farmer explained, following Ned as he walked about the great planes. "See here! No cranking at all! You just get into the seat, which will carry two nicely, and push this button. That releases a spring which whirls the propellers until the spark is made, then off you go."
Ned admired the arrangement fully, as he was expected to do. The Nelson was fitted out in the same way, but he did not say so. Presently the Indian left the circle created by the rope and, going into the shelter of the porch, left Collins and Ned with the alleged farmer, who announced that his name was Yerkes.
Ned thought this action on the part of the Indian was in obedience to a signal from Collins, but could not be too sure of it. Then Collins and Yerkes trailed about after Ned as he wandered around the airship. The boy saw the former remove certain bits of wood which blocked the wheels of the Vixen, also he saw Yerkes, testing the gasoline gauge and looking the carburetor over carefully.
"It is all right," the boy thought. "Two hearts with but a single thought, two souls that beat as one--or the reverse anyway, they are thinking of giving me a ride in this old ice wagon! Pretty soon they'll be asking me to get up on the seat and see how easy it is. Then one of them will slip this harness about me--the harness provided for timid riders--and I'll be off in the air--a prisoner!"
Collins and Yerkes tinkered about the aeroplane for some moments, while Ned seemed to be studying the machine. The boy was anxious for the decisive moment to come.
Finally Yerkes, went back to the porch and stood there in conversation with the Indian for a number of minutes.
When he returned Collins stepped forward toward the seat.
Knowing that the time for action had come, Ned sprang into the driver's seat. Collins looked vexed at the movement, but Ned laughed down at him.
"I won't hurt your old machine," the boy said. "Get up here, so we can see how it rides."
Collins obeyed, first giving Yerkes a significant look which was not lost on the watchful boy.
The harness for the visitor's seat was a peculiar one, as Ned had noted with considerable satisfaction. There were leather cuffs for the wrists and a broad leg band which prevented the guest leaving his seat. The cuffs held the hands close together in the lap, the idea being to prevent a timid person from grasping the arm of the driver in a moment of terror.
"Move on over!" Collins called, as he stepped up, "and I'll see if I can take you out of the valley without breaking your neck. Don't say a word to Yerkes about his race with the Nelson," he added, in a whisper. "He got beaten, and doesn't like to talk about it."
Ned noticed but remained where he was, so Collins reluctantly took the other seat. As he did so Yerkes stepped forward, and the Indian stationed himself at the back of the machine, where he could give it a push down the incline which lay before it, and against which the wheels had been blocked.
As soon as Collins was fairly in the seat, Ned gave the harness a quick snap, and the click of metal told him that the cuffs had closed about Collins' wrists, that the broad strap which held him down was in position. Then he pushed the button and the spark caught. The Vixen moved down the incline.
Collins tried to lift his hands, but was unable to do so, so he lifted his voice instead! Yerkes, in the whirr of the machine, doubtless mistook the voice for that of the boy, for he paid no attention to it.
"Help! Help!" roared Collins. "Stop the machine! He's got me tied down! Stop it, you fool! Stop it!"
Yerkes and the Indian looked stolidly on with grins on their faces, and Ned stuck an elbow into Collins' ribs.
"Keep still," he said, "or I'll have to put you out of the speech habit. I've got you just where you expected to get me, and you ought not to kick about the accommodations."
"Yerkes!" yelled Collins. "Why don't you stop the machine? Catch hold of the propellers and yank them off! Put a bullet through this young fiend! Anything to stop the crazy thing. I tell you he's got me tied in!"
Then Yerkes, recognizing the voice, sprang toward the propellers. He made a brisk spring, but was too late. The blades were just about an inch out of his reach. Foiled in this attempt, he drew a revolver and began firing foolish shots at the machine, none of which came near the mark.
In a moment the Vixen was under full speed, the ground dropped away, and the last Ned saw of Yerkes and the Indian they were performing a dance of rage on the growing vegetables below. Straight to the south the machine flew, the motors popping like mad.
The boy saw little crowds in the lighted streets below, looking and pointing up at the aeroplane, and then the city streets faded away into a dull mat, and there were only the silent peaks, the sea, and the deep, dim valleys.
Then Ned turned to his prisoner, who had by this time given over the useless struggle against the harness. Collins' eyes were fixed on the moonlit Pacific, away off to the west, and the boy's eyes followed those of his captive.
A steamer was creeping into the shallow harbor at Calleo, and the dark spot on the sand showed that a crowd was there to greet her. The Vixen was too far away for Ned to see the surf boats getting ready to take off the passengers and freight, but he knew that they were there.
It was now eleven o'clock, and the moon was well up in the sky. The
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