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- The Girl Aviators on Golden Wings - 1/32 -
Scanned by Sean Pobuda (email@example.com) No. 2 of a series.
THE GIRL AVIATORS ON GOLDEN WINGS
By Margaret Burnham
THE GREAT ALKALI
"And so this is the great Nevada desert!"
Peggy Prescott wrinkled her nose rather disdainfully as she gazed from the open window of the car out over the white, glittering expanse--dotted here and there with gloomy-looking clumps of sage brush--through which they had been traveling for some little time past.
"This is it," nodded her brother Roy; "what do you think of it, sis?"
"Um--er, I shall have to wait a while before I answer that," rejoined Peggy judicially.
"Well, here's Jimsy; let's ask him," cried Roy, as a lad of his own age, accompanied by a slender, graceful girl, came down the aisle of the car and approached the section in which the two young Prescotts were sitting.
"Jimsy Bancroft," demanded Roy, "we are now on the great Nevada desert, or on the edge of it. Does it meet with your approval?"
"There's plenty of it anyhow," laughed Jimsy, "and really it's very much like what I expected it would be."
"I feel like a regular cowgirl or--a--er--well, what the newspapers call a typical Westerner already," said Jess Bancroft, Jimsy's sister.
"Only typical Westerners don't protect their delicate complexions from dust with cold cream," laughed Peggy, holding up a finger reprovingly. "As if any beauty magazine won't tell you it's a woman's duty to take the greatest care of her complexion," parried Jess. "Roy and I have been sitting out on the observation platform on the last coach--that is, we sat there till the dust drove us in."
She shook the folds of a long, light pongee automobile coat she wore and a little cloud of dust arose. They all coughed as the pungent stuff circulated.
"Ugh," cried Roy, "it makes your eyes smart."
"That's the alkali in it," quoth Jimsy sagely, "alkali is--"
"Very unpleasant," coughed Peggy.
"But as we are likely to have to endure it for the next few weeks," struck in Roy, "we might as well lose no time in getting accustomed to it."
"Well girls and boys," came a deep, pleasant voice behind them, "we shall be in Blue Creek in a short time now, so gather up your belongings. I'll take care of the aeroplane outfits and the other stuff in the baggage car," he went on, "and here comes Miss Prescott now."
The lady referred to was a sweet-faced woman of some fifty years of age, though it was easy to see that the years had dealt kindly with her during her placid life in the village of Sandy Beach, on Long Island, New York, where she had made, her home. Miss Prescott was the aunt of the two Prescott children, and since their father's death some time before had been both mother and father to them--their own mother having passed away when they were but small children.
As readers of the first volume of this series know, Mr. Prescott had been an inventor of some distinction. Dying, he had confided to his son and daughter his plans for a non-capsizable aeroplane of great power. His son had promised to carry on the work, and had devoted his legacy to this purpose.
In that volume, which was called "The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship," it will be recalled, it was told how Peggy had been of material aid to her brother in his plans and hopes, and had, in reality, "saved the day" for him when he fell into the hands of some enemies. This occurred on the eve of a great aeroplane contest in which Roy had entered in the hopes of winning the first prize. With the money thus obtained he planned to pay off a mortgage held on Miss Prescott's home by an unscrupulous old banker, whose son was the prime mover in the plots against Roy.
One of the means adopted to force him to sell his secrets was the manipulation of a phantom aeroplane which, for a time, sadly puzzled the lad and his sister. The mystery was solved in a strange way, however, and almost at the same time, the baffling problem of what had become of Mrs. Bancroft's jewels was also unraveled. All this did not take place without many adventures being encountered by the four chums. Among these was the encounter with the old hermit, Peter Bell, who, through Peggy's agency, was restored to his brother, James Bell, the millionaire western mining man.
James Bell became much interested in the Prescotts and their aeroplanes. Finally he made an advantageous proposal to Roy to travel West and operate for him a line of aeroplanes from some desert mines he had discovered on a trip which almost cost him his life. As autos could not cross the alkali, and transportation of the product by wagons would have been prohibitive in cost, as well as almost impossible to achieve, Mr. Bell had hit on the happy idea of conveying the precious product of his property by aeroplane.
At the same time, it so happened that Mr. Bancroft, the father of Jess and Jimsy, was summoned West by an important railroad deal. This being the case, Jess and Jimsy at once set to work plotting how they could gain their father's consent to their accompanying Peggy and Roy. It was finally gained, although Mrs. Bancroft shook her head over the matter, and, at first, would by no means hear of such a thing. But Mr. Bancroft urged that it would be a good thing for the children to see the great West, and that as Miss Prescott was to accompany the party, there would be no risk of their running wild.
But while the youngsters had all been so eager for the time to come for starting on their long journey that they could hardly eat, much less sleep, Miss Prescott had viewed with alarm the prospects ahead of her. In her mind the West was a vague jumble of rough cowboys, Indians, highwaymen and desperate characters in general. But there was no help for it. In addition to feeling it was her duty to accompany her young charges, her physician had also recommended her to seek the dry, rarefied air of the great Nevada plateau.
"It will be the very thing for your lungs, my dear madame," he had said; "they are by no means as strong as I could wish."
"Oh, but doctor, the Indians, the--the--" Miss Prescott had begun, when the physician cut her short.
"The only Indians left in the West now are all busy working for Wild West shows," he said, with a laugh; "and as for any other fancied cause of alarm, I dare say you will find the Western men quite as chivalrous and courteous as their Eastern brethren."
And so it happened that the dust-covered train was rolling across the arid solitudes at the edge of the great alkali desert with our party of friends on board. All were looking forward to adventures, but how strange and unexpected some of the happenings that befell them were to be not one of the party even dreamed.
The only member of the adventurous little band not now accounted for is Peter Bell, the former recluse. Peter was forward in the smoking car enjoying his old black pipe, which was his delight and solace and Miss Prescott's particular abomination. Among Peter's other peculiarities, acquired in a long and solitary life, was a habit he had of sometimes making, his remarks in verse. He entered the car just as the conversation we have recorded was in progress.
"Soon, my good friends, o'er the desert, so bold, we all shall be flying with excellent gold."
A general laugh from the young folks greeted him, and Roy struck in with:
"That's if we don't fall to the earth from the sky, and land up in a smash on the white alkali."
The merriment that greeted this was cut short by the raucous voices of the trainmen.
"Blue Creek! Blue Creek!"
Instantly the liveliest bustle prevailed. Belongings of all sorts were hastily bundled together. So intent, in fact, was our party on its preparations for its plunge into the unknown that not one of them noticed two men who stood watching them intently from the opposite end of the car.
"So we've run the old fox into the ground," remarked one of them, a tall, heavily built fellow with a crop of short, reddish hair that bristled like the remnants of an old tooth brush. He was clean-shaven and had a weak, cruel mouth and a pair of narrow little eyes, through which he could, however, shoot a penetrating glance when anything interested him. Both he and his companion, a sallow, black-haired personage with a drooping pair of moustaches, were just then, seemingly, much engrossed.
"Yes, some place off thar'," rejoined the black-haired man with a wave of his hand toward the west--in which the sun, a ball of red fire, was now dropping, "some whar off thar, across that alkali, Jim Bell has his golden-egged goose."
"Hush, not so loud, Sam; one of those kids is looking at us."
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