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Title: The Rambler Club's aeroplane

Author: W. Crispin Sheppard

Illustrator: W. Crispin Sheppard

Release Date: September 10, 2023 [eBook #71604]

Language: English

Credits: David Edwards, David E. Brown, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)




title page

The Rambler Club’s




Illustrated by the Author


1912 BY



The five boys belonging to the “Rambler Club,” together with Cranny Beaumont and his father’s ward, Willie Sloan, have made a trip to Wyoming.

They find that since their last visit to Border City the town has undergone a great change, and is still in the midst of a true Western boom. To add to the interest, a New York financier is carrying on experiments with a dirigible balloon.

At Circle T Ranch the lads meet some of their old friends among the cowboys.

This story tells how the Ramblers came into possession of an aeroplane. Willie Sloan is an odd little chap, rather difficult to understand, and is not altogether pleased with life on the plains. His presence among the crowd is largely responsible for their unexpected and startling adventures, in several of which the Border City aeronaut and his dirigible balloon figure prominently. As an aviator, Bob[4] Somers finds that all his coolness and skill are needed.

The stay in Wyoming brings about quite an unexpected result for Willie Sloan.

Other experiences of the same boys are told in “The Rambler Club Afloat,” “The Rambler Club’s Winter Camp,” “The Rambler Club in the Mountains,” “The Rambler Club on Circle T Ranch,” “The Rambler Club Among the Lumberjacks,” “The Rambler Club’s Gold Mine,” “The Rambler Club’s House-boat.”



I. A Letter from Bob 9
II. Willie Cannot Help It 19
III. Cranny’s Plan 32
IV. The Ramblers Arrive 40
V. Preparations 54
VI. Border City Once More 64
VII. At the Ranch 79
VIII. At Lone Pine 91
IX. In the Air 104
X. Bob Takes a Flight 124
XI. The Dirigible 136
XII.He’s a Puzzle 147
XIII. Willie Shows His Nerve 159
XIV. Milling the Herd 172
XV. The Underground Passage     180
XVI. The Astonishing William 192
XVII. The Two in the Sky 209
XVIII. The Rescue Party 219
XIX. The Eagle 232
XX. Over the Mountains 241
XXI. Adrift 250
XXII. Prisoners 270
XXIII. By Moonlight 281
XXIV. To the Rescue 291
XXV. The Visitors 308




Four Curiously Spotted Bronchos Frontispiece
What Can a Chap Do Out Here? 80
Go Back to the Ranch 169
What In the World Has Become of Them? 223
An Answer Almost Immediately Floated Back 299



The Rambler Club’s Aeroplane


I tell you, Cranny, it’s simply impossible to do anything with that boy; he hasn’t a bit of energy. Whenever my back is turned, he’s idling away his time. I do wish to goodness I could wash my hands of him.”

Mr. Bolton Beaumont, real estate agent of Tacoma, Washington, paced the floor of the office, his round, good-natured face wearing a most gloomy and disturbed expression. Mr. Beaumont was a large man—large in all dimensions—height, breadth and rotundity. The light, too, which, in spite of his present displeasure, shone from a pair of keen gray eyes, indicated a kindly, sympathetic disposition.

[10]Cranston Beaumont, generally known as Cranny, bore but little resemblance to his father. Cranny was long of limb, wide of shoulder, his loose frame suggesting great strength and agility. The lurking smile at the corners of a generous mouth appeared to be somewhat offset by the aggressive appearance of a prominent chin; but, altogether, Cranny was a wholesome, clean-cut chap, full of life, and brimming over with courage.

Cranny’s expression gave no indication that his father’s words struck a responsive chord; instead, he seemed to be in the happiest frame of mind, his eyes occasionally turning toward a letter which lay open on a desk before him.

“I believe that Willie is positively hopeless,” went on Mr. Beaumont, in a louder tone. “But it doesn’t appear to bother you in the least. Whom is that letter from? It seems to interest you hugely.”

Cranny sank against the back of his chair and began to whistle softly, while the joyful look on his face deepened. Mr. Beaumont’s thoughts, however, were too full of another subject to pursue his inquiries further.

“I often wonder if that boy has a spark[11] of ambition in his whole make-up,” he continued. “He’s careless to an exasperating degree. Cranny, have you noticed my desk?”

His son rose to his feet and walked across to the opposite side of the office, where he stopped to gaze at several long irregular black smears on the otherwise clean top of Mr. Beaumont’s desk.

“Great Scott! now isn’t that a peach of a decoration,” he gurgled. “Ha, ha! How in the world——”

“Cranny, I must again ask you not to use those slang expressions,” broke in his father, reproachfully; “do try to cultivate more elegance of speech.”

“Say, dad, when did the ink foundry get this boost?”

Mr. Beaumont sighed.

“Early this morning I asked Willie to copy some papers, and the result was disastrous. He upset the ink bottle, nearly ruining an important legal paper, smeared his face and hands, and—and—well, Cranny, I’m totally disgusted—that’s all.”

Cranny burst out laughing.

“Honest to goodness, I can’t help it, dad,”[12] he chuckled. “What did Willie say about this inky affair?”

“The same old thing—‘I couldn’t help it’—his usual explanation for whatever happens through his own carelessness.”

“Sorry now you promised his father to look out for him, eh?”

Mr. Beaumont eyed his son for a moment without speaking, then seated himself before his desk, to begin fidgeting with some papers in a pigeonhole.

“I never had a better friend than Bob Sloan, Cranny,” he said, slowly; “he was one of those unfortunate men, who, though intelligent, seem to have, for some reason, a hard time to make their way in the world, so he left this poor lad practically without a penny. Could I have done otherwise than agree to act as his guardian?—Of course not! But, Cranny”—Mr. Beaumont’s voice relapsed into its former querulous tone—“it’s the lad’s future that worries me. What is to become of him? He doesn’t seem interested in anything or anybody, has no thought of the value of time—he’s almost sixteen now, and should begin to realize that those who[13] fritter away their youth generally live to regret such folly.”

“I’ve eaten fritters an’ lived to regret my folly,” murmured Cranny, sotto voce.

“And no amount of good advice seems to have any effect on him whatever,” went on Mr. Beaumont, despondently.

“Willie has a bad case o’lazyitis, dad—that’s what’s the matter,” remarked Cranny. “I’ve watched the little duffer——”

“Cranny—Cranny,” protested his father, “you know that is just the sort of language I object to.”

“Oh, then I’ll cut it all out, sir, though it comes hard,” grinned Cranny. “But, honest, dad, when you weren’t here, I’ve seen him holding down that chair for an hour without doing a lick of work. Oh, he’s a pippin, all right! But say, dad, let’s give wee Willie the go-by for half a minute—you asked me about this letter. Whom do you think it’s from?”

“I don’t feel in any mood for guessing, Cranny.”

“Well, to relieve your great anxiety, I’ll tell you in two words—Bob Somers.”

“Bob Somers?”

[14]“Sure thing! Bob Somers and the Ramblers are heading this way. Oh, never mind about the slang, dad; I forgot. My, but I’ll never forget the bully time we had at Circle T Ranch.”

“And I’ll never forget how you kept on talking about it, either,” said Mr. Beaumont, dryly. “But Bob Somers is a lad that any father ought to be proud of—manly and self-reliant; not a bit of laziness in his composition, Cranny.”

“I should say not; he’s a hummer, all right; an’ there’s good old Dave Brandon, and little Tommy Clifton, and—and——”

“I think we lived in Kingswood long enough to know Sam Randall and Dick Travers,” interrupted his father, his round face relapsing into a broad smile. “Both good, lively chaps, too.”

“And Dave! Isn’t he a winner, dad?”

“A winner!” echoed Mr. Beaumont, in a puzzled tone.

“Sure! one of those chaps who is wise to all the good things going on. Why——”

“Cranny—Cranny—what extraordinary language you do use.”

[15]“Oh, never mind, dad. Talk about me! Why, you ought to have heard some of the cow-punchers warble at Circle T Ranch.”

“I’m very glad I didn’t.”

“Well, I was talking about Dave Brandon. That chap can write and paint to beat the Dutch; and he knows all those queer little marks you dab into writing—commas and demi-commas.”

“Why, Cranny!”

The tall lad chuckled softly.

“Yes, I know that isn’t just the right name,” he laughed. “I’ve seen him paint some dandy pictures; one of ’em had more’n fifteen colors in it—honest, I counted.”

“Dave is certainly a bright lad,” said Mr. Beaumont. “But you haven’t yet told me what Bob Somers has written you.”

Cranny plumped himself down into the nearest chair and waved the letter aloft, while his eyes began to sparkle with excitement.

“Well, you heard about that great mine they found, eh, dad?”

“The Rambler Club’s Gold Mine?”

“Yes; exactly! Well, after doing that[16] stunt, they all brake-beamed-it back to Kingswood, and——”

“Brake-beamed-it! Why, what do you mean?”

“Oh, it’s just a little of the language you object to, dad,” laughed Cranny. “Brake-beamers are chaps who stow themselves away under freight-cars when the trainmen aren’t looking. But the Ramblers were able to dig down in their jeans for the coin.”

“The purity of the English language will eventually be destroyed if the coming generation keeps up this dreadful slang,” murmured Mr. Beaumont. Then, aloud, he added: “And where is Bob Somers now?”

“That’s just what I was coming to, dad. He and the other boys spent the winter at school in Kingswood, while a couple of mining engineers hiked out to Washington to see the mine.”

“Yes, I know all about that, Cranny,” interrupted Mr. Beaumont. “When the news was received it started a gold rush to that section. Many men staked out claims, and the mining recorder and gold commissioner were kept pretty busy for a while. The parents[17] of the Ramblers formed a company to operate the mine.”

“And Bob Somers writes that a regular little town has sprung up out there,” added Cranny, “and that some one has even opened a general store.”

“Do you mean to say Bob has traveled all that distance again?” queried Mr. Beaumont.

“Well, I should smile. The whole crowd, too. Just as soon as school was over they chucked their books to the scrap heap and beat it out to the mine.”

“Cranny, how many times must I entreat you not to use such language?”

“Honest, dad, I keep on forgetting. But my, hasn’t that Rambler Club been going some? They’re in Portland now, and headin’ right this way. Hooray—listen!” Cranny held Bob’s letter up to the light. “‘We expect to reach Tacoma in a few days,’” he read, “‘and, of course, we’ll hunt you up. And I can promise that there’ll be lots to talk about. And, Cranny, our crowd has decided to visit Circle T Ranch again. What do you think of that?’

“What do I think of that?” repeated[18] Cranny, in a loud tone, as he brought the palm of his right hand down on his knee with a resounding slap. “Why, I think it’s the bulliest scheme out. Dad, you’ll have to give me a couple o’ weeks’ vacation—honest to goodness you must. I couldn’t stand not going along. Why, say, did I ever tell you about——”

“If you have missed the smallest detail of your momentous visit to the cattle country it would surprise me greatly,” said Mr. Beaumont. “I expected something like this just as soon as you mentioned Bob Somers’ name. Still”—the frown departed from his face—“I don’t know that I can blame you; but, Cranny, your services can’t be spared just now. If——”

His sentence was interrupted by the sudden opening of the door, which admitted to the room, first, a shaft of light from the corridor, and, second, a slight boyish form.

“Ah, Willie; here you are,” said Mr. Beaumont.



Willie Sloan, age fifteen and a half, quite small for his years, wasn’t a bad-looking chap; or, rather, wouldn’t have been if his expression had indicated a greater degree of satisfaction with the world. Discontent seemed written all over his youthful face, and even his slouchy gait and untidy appearance told of an unhappy spirit. A mass of tousled hair, of a chestnut color, fell over a moderately high forehead; deep brown eyes, which had a habit of staring straight at one in a rather disconcerting fashion—some called it impudent—a thin nose, and a mouth never quite still completed his facial make-up.

But the light of boyish enthusiasm was woefully lacking in Willie Sloan’s face; and his voice, too, when he presently spoke, did not ring with the spirit of youth.

“Say, Mr. Beaumont, I lost that letter you told me to leave for Mr. Sharswood,” he[20] began, in a dogged manner, staring hard into Cranny’s grinning face.

“Lost it, Willie! Why, how in the world did that happen?”

“I couldn’t help it, sir. I must have dropped the envelope when I pulled some papers out o’ my pocket, just before getting there.”

Mr. Beaumont shot a swift, expressive glance at his son, and shrugged his shoulders.

“Willie, that may put me to no end of trouble.” His tone was as stern as his good-natured disposition would permit him to assume. “I’m more and more astonished at your carelessness.”

“Awfully sorry, sir; I couldn’t help it,” persisted Willie, as he threw his cap sullenly on a chair.

“Couldn’t help it!” sneered Cranny. “My land, but you do make me tired.”

“Then go take a rest,” said Willie, staring at him still harder. “Never lost anything yourself, I suppose?”

“Come, come!” interrupted Mr. Beaumont. “Don’t have any words about it, boys. Cranny, call up Mr. Sharswood; I’ll[21] have to explain this matter to him at once; and, Willie, you may keep on writing those letters I dictated this morning.”

The small lad, with a defiant look toward Cranny, seated himself before a typewriter which stood near Mr. Beaumont’s desk, and, in a half-hearted manner, began to pound the keys.

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Sharswood,” Mr. Beaumont was presently saying over the ’phone. “How did it happen? Well, Willie lost it—that’s all. Too bad you feel that way about it. Yes, I’ll be in the office all afternoon. Good-bye.”

“Is he comin’ over, dad?” asked Cranny, with a grin.

“Yes. Mr. Sharswood seems to be very much annoyed indeed,” answered his father. “The paper contained an opinion from my lawyer concerning an important transfer of property over which he has had some litigation. I shouldn’t have entrusted Willie with it,” he added, in a tone so low that it did not reach the lad’s ears. “He is becoming worse and worse.”

“Old Sharswood’ll call him down good[22] an’ hard; he’s a slam-back chap,” chirped Cranny.

“Please do not use such disrespectful terms, my son,” remonstrated the other. “What’s that—am I going to give you a vacation?—I’m afraid not.”

“Why?” grumbled Cranny. “I don’t want to be cooped up in this office all summer like a chicken in a wicker-work basket. Come, dad!”

“I can’t talk about it now, Cranny.”

Mr. Beaumont turned away, while his son, with a look of extreme disgust, tossed Bob Somers’ letter into an open drawer of his desk.

Cranny ran a close second to Willie Sloan in his lack of attention to business that afternoon. He found it almost impossible to keep his mind on the dry details of office work, for entrancing pictures of Circle T Ranch and the cow-punchers would persist in passing before his mental vision.

“Think of the great sport that bunch is going to have,” he murmured. “Gee! It’s enough to make a chap——”

A quick step in the corridor, the rattle of the knob as the door flew open, and the appearance[23] of a stout, florid-faced man brought his wandering thoughts back with startling abruptness.

“Mr. Sharswood!” said Mr. Beaumont, rising from his desk.

“Yes; here I am!” exclaimed the other, gruffly. “See here, Beaumont, how about that paper?”

Willie Sloan’s brown eyes were staring straight at Mr. Sharswood, while a scowl on his forehead slowly deepened.

“And do you mean to say, Beaumont, that you actually gave an important paper like that into the care of an irresponsible lad?” demanded Mr. Horatio Sharswood, as he vigorously mopped his face. “Why, it’s simply ridiculous—almost reprehensible. See here, boy, what do you mean by such a piece of stupid carelessness?”

“Wasn’t careless. I couldn’t help it,” mumbled Willie.

“Couldn’t help it! Fiddlesticks! And don’t you stare at me like that, either. It’s a mighty good thing you’re not in my office; I’d bundle you out in short order.”

“I’d be glad to leave it,” snapped Willie.

[24]Mr. Horatio Sharswood’s florid face turned a shade redder.

“Did you ever hear of such impudence?” he stormed. “Beaumont, do you allow your clients to be spoken to in that manner by a little whiffet of an office boy? Does he express any regret for his action?—oh, no—just brazens it out. Why—why——”

“I’m not a whiffet!”

Mr. Sharswood stared in amazement.

“Never lost anything yourself, I s’pose?” piped Willie.

“Be quiet!” commanded Mr. Beaumont, sternly. “Mr. Sharswood,” he added, “this is my ward, Willie Sloan. I regret exceedingly the loss of the paper, and will do all in my power to——”

“Oh, gee—oh, my! If that ain’t the queerest yet!”

This exclamation, in Willie Sloan’s squeaky voice, interrupted him. The boy was clutching an envelope which he had just drawn from some deep recess of a capacious pocket, and stood staring at it with a comical look of bewilderment.

“Oh—ginger—I—I didn’t lose it, after all.[25] Well, wouldn’t that stagger a mule? I—I——”

Cranny clapped his hands together and burst into a roar of laughter, while the two gentlemen gazed at the diminutive form of Mr. Beaumont’s ward in astonishment.

“And do you actually mean to say that you’ve put me to all this trouble for nothing?” roared Mr. Sharswood.

“Why—why, you ought to be mighty glad to get it back, sir,” said Willie, reproachfully. “I couldn’t help thinking I lost it—felt sure I’d looked through that pocket carefully; honest, I did.”

“Well, well, Beaumont, this is about the limit!” cried the visitor, as he seized the envelope from Willie’s outstretched hand. “All the afternoon wasted—for it put me into such a state of mind that I couldn’t do a stroke of work. What do you think of yourself, young man?”

Willie’s eyes were still staring hard into the stout man’s face. He gulped once or twice, then mumbled:

“I’m not wasting any time thinking about myself.”

[26]“Don’t feel a bit sorry, eh?”

“Why, I didn’t mean to do it. You see——”

Mr. Sharswood waved his hand.

“I don’t want to speak harshly of your ward, Beaumont,” he said, “but, really, I fear you are too easy with him. Keep a tight rein on the lad. And, as a special favor, my dear sir, send some one else to my office whenever important papers have to be delivered.”

“Well, I’m not asking to come, am I?” growled Willie, in a sepulchral whisper.

Mr. Horatio Sharswood glared sternly at the office boy, while Willie glared back.

“What a cheeky little lad!” exclaimed Mr. Sharswood, breaking an awkward silence. “He sits there just as calm as you please, staring a man out of countenance. It’s extraordinary. No, I can’t stay another instant—not even the tenth of a second. Good-bye.”

The door opened with a jerk, Mr. Horatio Sharswood’s stout form remained silhouetted against the clear light outside for scarcely a moment—then he was gone.

Mr. Beaumont was too considerate a man to say very much to his ward before Cranny;[27] he didn’t care to hurt the feelings of any one. Willie would, perhaps, respond to kindness; but any attempt to drive him might only result in his becoming more unruly and stubborn.

But a little later, when Cranny had left the office, Mr. Beaumont talked earnestly to his ward. Willie listened respectfully, and promised to do better, even brightening up as Mr. Beaumont pictured the reward which almost invariably follows hard and conscientious work. Then, when the gentleman went into another room, he worked hard for at least five minutes.

Cranny and his father’s ward were allowed to leave the office at an early hour that afternoon, much to the former’s relief. Cranny couldn’t get Bob Somers’ letter or the Rambler Club out of his mind; he pictured to himself all the good times they were going to have at Circle T Ranch, and the fate which he feared was going to keep him tied down to office work seemed hard indeed.

As the two walked along, he took Bob’s letter from his pocket and waved it before Willie’s face.

[28]“See that, kid?” he demanded.

“I won’t, if you jab my eyes out with the corner,” growled his companion.

“Oh, get over that grouch. What’s the matter with you, anyway?”


“Forget it.”

“I can’t. Wouldn’t the way old Sharswood talked make anybody hopping?”

“It’s a wonder he didn’t make you go hopping, son. Awful nervy—that chirp you got off, too. He’s a big man in town. I’ll bet dad was mad.”

“Why? What did I say?” asked Willie, with an innocent stare.

“Lots! But never mind—it’s all right. Look here, lad: in a few days, Bob Somers an’ his crowd’ll strike this town.”

His companion made no reply.

“Did you hear what I said about Bob Somers an’ his Rambler Club?” Cranny’s demand was loud and emphatic.

“Sure I did! Do they ramble in their talk?”

“Oh, get out! The whole bunch is on their way to Circle T Ranch.”

[29]“Well, there isn’t anything to hinder them that I know of.”

Cranny glanced at him curiously. He had frankly confessed to his father that he couldn’t understand the lad. Willie didn’t resemble any of the boys he had known. Jollity and life were certainly missing from his composition, and without any compensating qualities of earnestness or ambition.

The big lad thought of these things as Willie, taking two steps to his one, trudged by his side up a hilly street. An idea which seemed to please him immensely entered his head. The good-natured curve of his lips became more pronounced.

“Just the thing,” he reflected. “Bully idea—great! It ought to cinch it. Whoop!”

“Are you talking in your sleep?” demanded Willie.

“If I did, don’t mind it,” grinned the other, indulgently.

“As long as you don’t call me a cheeky little lad, I’ll forgive you. Say, I couldn’t help thinking I lost that——”

Cranny clapped his hand over Willie’s mouth.

[30]“Don’t overwork that ‘couldn’t help it’ idea, boy,” he laughed. “I’ve thought of something good.”

“A joke on me?” asked Willie, suspiciously.

“No; I’ll let you grow some before I play any more. I won’t tell you what it is.”

“And much I care,” sniffed Willie.

The street rose higher and higher. It was a neighborhood of attractive residences, many of which stood on elevations, with roads winding their way toward them through greenswards dotted with rich evergreens or flowering shrubs. Here and there, the two caught glimpses of a stretch of water, its broad surface faintly reflecting the varied hues of purple and golden clouds which lazily floated above. Commencement Bay is one of the arms of Puget Sound, the city of Tacoma being situated at its head. They could see, too, Mount Tacoma, sixty miles distant, looming majestically against the sky.

The boys soon turned into a broad path leading toward a handsome dwelling. The white columns of its broad portico were entwined with clinging vines, while potted[31] plants stood about, their flowers adding pleasant touches of color to the surroundings.

“Dad didn’t make any mistake when he bought this place, eh, Willie?” asked Cranny.

And Willie’s face relaxed sufficiently to grin a faint acknowledgment.



Well, what are you going to do about it, dad?” remarked Cranny, two days later.

Father and son were seated in wicker chairs on the portico, enjoying a pleasant breeze which gently rustled the leaves, as it sighed its way out toward the bay. The distorted shadow of the house cut across a freshly-mown lawn; cool, silvery moonlight lay beyond, its pale rays detaching from obscurity houses and clumps of trees. Patches of mysterious gloom stretched here and there, while the placid bay, far beneath, blended insensibly outward into the soft, grayish blue of a cloudless sky.

Mr. Beaumont pondered a moment before replying.

“I don’t know, Cranny,” he answered. “Willie is a curious lad. He certainly does not realize the importance of being in earnest.[33] I can’t arouse him; nothing I do or say has the slightest effect.”

“Loafing just as much as ever?” asked Cranny.

“Whenever I come into the office unexpectedly I find him either idly drumming his heels against the chair, or lying back, gazing listlessly into space.”

“Maybe he’s a genius,” said Cranny, with a smile.

“If he is, I haven’t discovered any signs of it yet.”

“Come, dad, tell me what you are going to do about it?” repeated Cranny, a curious, eager expression flitting over his face.

“Frankly, I don’t know. Willie is more of a hindrance than a help in the business. Sharswood is offended—he’s a touchy, excitable chap. What the boy will do next——”

“Perhaps I can tell you what he ought to do,” interrupted Cranny.

“What do you mean?”

“Just this.”

Cranny leaned over, and, with a degree of earnestness unusual to him, spoke in a low tone, while his father listened in silence.

[34]“Well,” queried the lad, as he presently resumed his former position, “doesn’t that strike you as a scheme?”

Mr. Beaumont still made no answer, but continued to gaze in an abstracted sort of way at the moonlit distance, while Cranny, eager and impatient, eyed him sharply.

“Well, sir?” his son once more pleaded.

“There is a great deal in what you say,” admitted Mr. Beaumont. “Association with a lot of lively, energetic young chaps, such as Bob Somers and his friends, ought to do a world of good. But——” He paused.

“But what?” demanded Cranny.

“Circle T Ranch is a long way from here. I should feel uneasy about him. Life among the cowboys, and out on the range is full of danger at times; you know that, son.”

“Oh, I’d look after him, all right.”


“Why, of course. It wouldn’t do to let him go unless I went, too,” said Cranny, glibly. “No siree. But think what it might do for him, dad. Willie needs to be waked up; he isn’t any use to you now—never will be if he doesn’t take a mighty big[35] brace. And those boys ought to do him more good in a couple of weeks than everybody else put together could do in a couple of years.”

Mr. Beaumont’s face was wreathed in a broad smile.

“Your argument is very ingenious, Cranny; I see your point—you are entirely willing to assume all the worries and restrictions of guardianship for the time being, eh?”

Cranny grinned at the gentle sarcasm.

“Take my advice, sir. I’m not saying that I don’t want to go to Circle T Ranch the worst way myself; but you’ve got to do something about Willie. I’ll bet the little chap won’t talk the way he does after he’s been out with those Rambler chaps a few weeks. Now don’t say no. He’s just about the same size as Tommy Clifton, and they ought to get chummy together.”

“Clifton is a good little chap,” said Mr. Beaumont, reflectively.

“You bet he is. Gets mighty hot, though, if you say anything about his size,” chuckled Cranny.

“Say, it’s nice and warm back there in the moonlight,” came in a piping voice.

[36]Willie Sloan suddenly appeared from behind the portico.

“Ha, ha!” roared Cranny. “Why, you silly little duffer, the moon doesn’t give out any heat.”

“Listen to the professor,” jeered Willie, ambling slowly up the steps. “Like the mischief it doesn’t. Go back there and feel it.” He seated himself on the rail. “Isn’t it a white-hot ball, Mr. Beaumont?”

“Oh, Willie, you’ll be the death of me!” laughed Cranston.

“The moon is illuminated by the sun’s rays,” explained Mr. Beaumont, “and astronomers tell us that it has no atmosphere, and is so cold that not a vestige of life could exist upon its surface.”

“Oh, goodness! Now isn’t that odd?” murmured Willie, with a peculiar little gasp. “Isn’t hot, after all, eh? But how do those old codgers know?—They weren’t ever up there.”

“Willie,” spoke up his guardian, suddenly, “how would you like to take a vacation?”

“Eh?” demanded Willie, apparently somewhat startled.

“Cranny expects some of his young friends[37] here in a few days—they are on their way to Circle T Ranch, in Wyoming. Do you care to go along?”


“Yes, you!” cried Cranny, impatiently.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe.”

Cranny snorted with disgust.

“Why, you’d have the grandest time you ever had in your life,” he said, “and——”

“I mightn’t like the crowd,” declared Willie, calmly. “And say: don’t those chaps sleep out on the grass; and cook by moonlight?—I mean by the light of the moon. And ride bronchos? And shoot grizzlies? and all that sort of thing? You told me they did, Cran. Well, that’s not my style. A nice little room and three square meals a day is good enough for me.”

“Then you don’t care to go?” asked Mr. Beaumont.

“Oh, I’m not sure,” answered Willie, indifferently. “Say, Cranny, did you ever see a shooting star?”

“No! Nor you, either,” returned Cranny, highly disgusted.

“Like fun I haven’t. Wouldn’t it be great[38] if the moon should shoot? Why do stars shoot, Mr. Beaumont?”

His guardian smiled.

“What you saw were simply meteors,” he replied, “and——”

Willie gave another of his peculiar little gasps.

“Not stars, after all?” he said. “That’s queer. What are you so mad about, Cranny?”

But Cranny made no answer. He began to see his bright dream slowly fade away; and all on account of Willie’s utter foolishness and stupidity. He resolved that the little office boy should be enlightened regarding the error of his ways, and that immediately.

With his forehead knit into a tremendous frown, the boy presently rose to his feet.

“Want to take a walk, Willie?” he inquired.

“Say, did you ever hear of a chap gettin’ moonstruck?” asked Willie. “It’s shining something awful to-night.”

“That’s more’n you are,” retorted Cranny. “Coming? Good-bye, dad! We won’t be long.”

[39]Once safely outside of hearing distance the big lad began to talk earnestly. He painted the most alluring pictures of life at Circle T Ranch; and poured into Willie’s ears a most glowing account of the Ramblers and their exploits.

“And now don’t tell me you’d miss a dandy chance like this!” he concluded. “Just think of the time we’ll have! Talk it up strong, and the pater’ll stand for our going.”

“Say, Cran, you’re awfully good to me!” said Willie, with suspicious sweetness. “Thanks! But I don’t know that I’m so keen on it. That sounds to me like a pretty rough bunch, anyway.”

Whereupon Cranny, so highly disgusted that he forgot diplomacy and the gentle art of persuasion, promptly upset Willie, and, seated on his wriggling form, tickled his neck with a blade of grass, at the same time expressing some very forcible views of his conduct, past and present.

“And I’ll see that you make a change, all right,” he announced, as he got up and walked away.



No use coming to the station to meet us, Cranny,” Bob Somers had written, “for I don’t really know the exact time we’ll land in Tacoma. Only this much is certain: it will be on Thursday.”

And Thursday had arrived.

Cranny worked all day in a fever of impatience. Every footstep in the corridor set his heart to thumping; every hand laid upon the door-knob made him start with eager expectation.

But the day wore on, and still the Ramblers did not appear.

“I never knew Bob Somers to fail in his word yet,” grumbled Cranny, at the dinner table.

“One of those word-as-good-as-his-bond chaps, I suppose,” grinned Willie, surreptitiously wiping up with a corner of his napkin some soup he had spilled. “He must be a crackerjack.”

[41]“I do declare, Willie is falling more and more into the way of using those outlandish expressions,” sighed Mr. Beaumont to his wife, a pleasant-looking lady whose hair was just beginning to show faint traces of gray.

“Willie is young”—she smiled—“and perhaps Cranston does not always set him a good example.”

“I can’t talk as if the words came out of a grammar,” mumbled the big lad, whose eyes had been continually drifting toward a partly-open window which commanded a view of the lawn and roadway.

“I certainly have never heard you do so yet,” said his father, dryly. “You must remember that men are judged not only by——”

“Whoop! By Jupiter, I really believe the crowd has come at last!” yelled Cranny, jumping excitedly to his feet. “Whoop! Hooray! See ’em, dad? One—two—three—four—five—yes; they are actually coming in. I’ll bet that’s Bob Somers opening the gate—yes, I’m sure it is.”

Then Cranny, with another wild “Hooray!” slammed his chair aside, and would have[42] dashed toward the door had not a word from his mother stopped him.

“Wait, Cranny,” she pleaded; “don’t act so like a wild Indian. The boys will be here in a moment.” She gazed with interest toward the figures rapidly moving across the field of view. “My, what a strong, sturdy-looking lot,” she murmured. “Perhaps, if they would be willing to let Willie join them——”

The crisp ringing of the electric bell interrupted her, and Cranny, unable to restrain himself longer, rushed out of the room. He nearly knocked down the domestic, who was hurrying to answer the summons; then threw open the screen door with a violence that seriously threatened its hinges.

“Bob Somers and Dave; and—and——”

The hubbub of voices at the door increased to such proportions that the interested Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont could only catch an occasional word. And it lasted for a wonderfully long time, too.

“Dad—mother—here they are! Come right in, fellows—no ceremony—mind now.” Cranny, happy and excited, burst into the room. “Whoop! Say, Bob, remember that[43] time at Circle T Ranch when Spud Ward told us about the mystery o’ Lone Pine? This is Willie Sloan, the pater’s ward. Here, Dave, if you can’t get in the door we’ll have it widened.”

At last the newcomers crowded in one by one, shaking hands, hearing pleasant words of greeting, and responding in kind, until the babel of voices was only slightly less than before.

The members of the Rambler Club were certainly a healthy-looking crowd of lads. Their sun-tanned faces told of outdoor life; and contact with the world had imparted to each a sturdy, self-reliant air. Bob Somers, square-shouldered, with frank blue eyes and brown hair, seemed to be a fitting leader. And there was Dave Brandon, the club’s historian and artist, stouter and more round-faced than ever. Dick Travers and Sam Randall seemed never to have been in a happier mood.

Standing in the doorway, as if rather hesitating to come forward, was the fifth member—Tommy Clifton; and it was upon him that Cranny’s eyes were fixed with strange intensity.[44] Cranny’s face began to wear an expression of the greatest wonderment. He nudged Bob sharply in the ribs, exclaiming in a loud whisper:

“I thought you had brought Tommy Clifton along?”

“That’s Tom, all right,” laughed Bob.

“Tom-my—Tom-my?—T-h-a-t isn’t the little Tommy Clifton I knew,” he gurgled. “Why—why——”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” came a petulant voice. “There it goes again!”

An extremely tall, attenuated lad, just lacking a half inch of being six feet, with a painfully apparent air of self-consciousness, came slowly up to shake hands with Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont.

“Say, the ceiling’s just been painted,” observed Willie Sloan. “Don’t get your hair in it.”

“Ha, ha—ho, ho!” Cranny went off into another paroxysm of mirth. “That, Tommy Clifton? Why, honest, I can’t believe it. Remember what I said the other night, dad, about his being just the same size as Willie? Oh, my, oh, my, but isn’t it rich? Tommy, is[45] that really you?” He walked toward the tall lad, poked him playfully in the ribs, and began to laugh again, while Tom, reddening furiously at being the center of attraction, tried to draw away.

Dave, who had taken possession of the most comfortable chair in the room, and was making himself perfectly at home, kindly came to his relief.

“Little Cliff started off all at once, like a sky-rocket,” he explained. “Never saw anything like the way he sprouted up, eh, Bob? Could almost see him growing. What! I’m fatter than ever, you say, Cranny? Oh, how can you be so cruel?—No. I don’t weigh three hundred pounds, either.”

“Not yet, you mean,” chuckled Cranny, taking his eyes reluctantly from Tom’s blushing face to survey the ample proportions of the historian and writer. “My goodness, I shouldn’t want you to fall on me.”

“It’s true that I’m not a featherweight any more,” sighed Dave. “What’s that, Cranny?—is my history of the Rambler Club finished yet? Oh, my, no—only about twelve hundred pages of it. But, Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont,[46] I fear our arrival is most inopportune; we are delaying your dinner.”

“Oh, just listen to him!” cried Cranny, gleefully. “If you chaps don’t grub with us there’ll be the biggest scrap this part of Tacoma has ever seen.”

The Beaumonts would not listen to any excuses. There was a vast amount of flurry and excitement—of everybody getting in everybody else’s way. The distracted serving maid saved herself from mental collapse only by calling in the chauffeur as assistant. And then the cook, by some extraordinary process known only to cooks, managed to provide bountifully for everybody.

The table was pretty well crowded; but no one cared for that. There was too much to talk about. As Willie Sloan, with an impish grin, stared from one Rambler to another, Cranny judged that he was favorably impressed.

“And so your next stop is at Border City, in Wyoming?” asked Mr. Beaumont of Bob.

“Yes, sir. And they say it’s a very different Border City from the one we knew. Remember[47] those aviators, Cranny,—father and two sons?”

“At Lone Pine Ranch?”


“Well, ra-ther. Dad, did I ever tell you about——”

“I’m quite sure you never missed a single detail,” answered Mr. Beaumont, smilingly. “Go on, Bob.”

“Well, a short time ago I got a letter from our old friend Tim Lovell, whose father owns a sheep ranch not so many miles from Circle T. Tim says Border City has experienced a big boom—lots of building operations are under way, and a gas works is already completed.”

Mr. Beaumont’s business instincts were immediately aroused.

“What has brought this change about, Bob?” he asked, alertly.

“Well, for one thing, the railroad was recently extended to the town, so that many of the cattle-ranchers who formerly drove their stock to Creelton now ship from Border City. The aviators had something to do with it, too.”

“How, I’d like to know?” asked Cranny.

“Oh, in a lot of ways,” answered Bob.[48] “You see, a wealthy New York man interested in dirigible balloons and aeroplanes financed their experiments at Lone Pine Ranch. Then, when the Aero Club of Wyoming decided to hold a meet and give big prizes for the speediest machine built in the state, he came West.”

“So as to find some soft place for them to fall on, I s’pose,” mumbled Willie.

“Where will this meet be held?” asked Mr. Beaumont.

“At Border City.”

“At Border City?” echoed Cranny.

“Yes; this New York man, Major Warfield Carroll, I think Tim called him, got busy with the committee in charge. He offered to stand a part of the expense if they’d hold it at Border City.”

“Why?” asked Cranny.

“Well, Major Carroll’s aviator friends had interested him in the place, first of all. Then he discovered that Border City had possibilities—and got the town’s people all worked up over it; and some of the ranchers, too. Anyway, the scheme has had the biggest kind of a boost.”

[49]“Well, that’s going some!” cried Cranny.

“And Tim Lovell says we’d never know the place,” broke in Sam Randall. “There’s a big flour mill and grain elevator there now; and——”

“A couple more hotels,” interrupted Dick Travers, in his turn.

“So the ‘Black Bear’ and ‘Cattlemen’s Retreat’ have rivals, eh?” grinned Cranny. “Remember how each one tried to get ahead of the other? I’ll bet, dad, I never told you about——”

“Oh, at least half a dozen times,” laughed Mr. Beaumont, spreading his hands in pretended dismay. “What other news of Border City have you, Bob?”

“Well, land values have, of course, taken a big boom; for employees of the various business enterprises had to have homes. Why, sir,—we didn’t really intend going to Circle T Ranch. But when Tim told us about all these things and the aviators at Lone Pine——”

“And the meet which is just about to take place,” supplemented Sam.

“We decided to take it in. And then, of[50] course, it’ll be jolly fun to be out on the plains again.”

“And among the sheep raisers and cattlemen,” put in Dick, his face beaming with glee. “If you could only go along, Cranny!”

“Oh,” sighed Cranny, “if——”

He glanced at his father wistfully. Then his eyes fell upon Willie Sloan’s grinning face, and he felt that but for his woeful lack of enthusiasm such a delightful experience might have been possible. The mixture of feelings so disturbed him that he scarcely heard these words:

“Wonder if we’ll ever have an aeroplane, Bob?”

Tommy Clifton had ventured to speak at last. Tommy’s voice, like his stature, was changing and his tone was of an astonishing gruffness.

“I say, did you hear that, Cran?” exclaimed Willie, in a loud whisper. “You’d think it was a man.”

“Oh, get out!” snapped Cranny.

“Have an aeroplane?” Dick was saying, with an eager note in his tone. “That’s so, Bob—flying is one o’ the few things the[51] Ramblers haven’t done yet. Say, if we only could——”

“A nice idea,” drawled Dave Brandon, smiling. “Theoretically, I’ve been up a number of times, and come down to earth with a bang.”

“Been the real thing, I’ll bet you would have bored a hole clean through to China,” remarked Willie, calmly. “Guess the grass never grows again on any spot where you happen to fall.”

The stout boy good-naturedly joined in the storm of merriment.

After dinner the party adjourned to the drawing-room, where the conversation continued to flow with uninterrupted vigor.

Cranny, his face aglow with pleasure, presently wandered over to Willie.

“That kid’ll surely want to go the worst kind o’ way, after hearing all this talk,” he reflected. “Maybe it isn’t too late yet.”

“Say, Willie,” he said, in an aside, “changed your mind, haven’t you? Don’t you think it would be the greatest sport ever, at Circle T? Come now, tell dad you’re right in for it.”

[52]“Oh, I don’t know,” responded Willie, indifferently. “I never go in much for those exciting stunts. Say, Cran, is China really right beneath us?”

Cranny gazed fixedly at the diminutive figure. “All right for you!” he snapped. Then, fearful that Willie might say something which would set the crowd to laughing at him, he stalked away in disgust.

All too soon came the time for the Rambler boys to go.

As Bob turned toward the door, Willie’s voice rose above the others.

“I say, Ramblers,” he remarked, “don’t you want to stay in the hay-loft? Nice place up there.” He jerked his finger in the direction of the stable and garage. “Ought to seem natural. I guess your bunch sleeps on the grass most of the time, doesn’t it?”

“Many a night, with only the canopy of heaven and the twinkling stars as a roof,” answered Dave, with a smile.

“Well, that would never keep off the rain,” piped Willie. “Say, Mr. Clifton!”

“What?” demanded Tom, whose feelings[53] had been considerably ruffled by Willie’s impish glances.

“When a parade comes along, you’re right in it, aren’t you? How does it feel——”

He stopped as a hand suddenly grasped his collar, and he found himself being dragged unceremoniously away.

“Get out of here, you pocket edition,” sniffed Cranny. “What time to-morrow, Bob? Sure the pater’ll let me off—eh, dad?—I told you so! Yes, we’ll have a grand day. Say, Bob”—Cranny leaned over, and, putting his head close to the other’s ear, whispered in earnest tones—“now, don’t forget to talk it up for me.”

Bob nodded emphatically.

“How a chap can be as thin and long as that Thomas Cliffy and yet live beats me all hollow,” remarked Willie, as the four members of the household stood on the porch looking after the retreating figures. “Say, Cran, what’s a pocket edition, anyway?”

“Look in the mirror, and one will be staring you in the face,” snapped Cranny. “That’s all the satisfaction you’ll get.”



It seemed just like being in Kingswood again—to see those boys,” said Mrs. Beaumont, as she and her husband and the two lads gathered in the drawing-room. “What a fine, lively lot they are; and isn’t it positively extraordinary the way Tommy has popped up? Did you like them, Willie?”

“Oh, kinder; seemed a bit fresh to me.”

“Oh, Willie!”

“Well, I didn’t see anything remarkable about them. That fat one thinks a heap of himself, doesn’t he? Looks lazy, too. Better overhaul all the chairs he sat on; if they aren’t weakened, I’m surprised.”

But Cranny paid no attention. He had withdrawn to a far corner of the room, with his father, and was engaged in a low, earnest conversation.

“Willie doesn’t care to go—that is easily seen,” Mr. Beaumont was saying. His round,[55] good-natured face lighted up with a quizzical expression, as he regarded Cranny’s doleful countenance. “Still, what Bob Somers said this evening has made me reconsider my determination not to let you go.”

“Eh—eh?” exclaimed Cranny, almost stammering in his eagerness. “What! Do you really mean it, dad?”

“That depends, son.”

“Upon what?”


Cranny sank into a chair with a great sigh of relief. “Then it’s all settled,” he murmured. “Great Scott! don’t you know I’m capable of doing heroic stunts?”


“Oh, I forgot, dad. But, for goodness’ sake, do tell me.”

“I’ve heard about Mr. Warfield Carroll; he is a New York financier and promoter of recognized ability. If Mr. Carroll has considered Border City of sufficient importance to warrant his taking a prominent part in its development, I, as a business man, am inclined to look into the conditions there.”

“Ah, ha; a light breaks in upon me,” gurgled[56] Cranny, hilariously. “You want me—me—to do the investigating; and put you wise to——”


“Excuse me, sir. My, but that certainly is fine of you.”

He reached over and shook his father’s hand with a vigor born of great enthusiasm.

“Trust me for doing it right. If I don’t make a thorough job of it you may—may”—Cranny stopped, in perplexity—“douse my glim,” he added, with a happy thought. “And then Willie won’t have to go along, either, eh, dad? Just as you say, he doesn’t seem to take any interest in Circle T Ranch or——”

“Of course Willie will go,” said Mr. Beaumont, quietly.

“Why—why—what’s the use?” demurred Cranny. “After acting the way he has about it, seems to me it would be better for him to stay home and help at the office.”

Mr. Beaumont smiled.

“And, when you come to think of it,” went on Cranny, “for a tame little chap like Willie, it’s kind of dangerous out among the cow-punchers[57] and big herds of longhorns. Why, I’ve seen——”

“How long have you thought so?” asked his father, with a quizzical look.

“Why—that is—I—I——” stammered Cranny. Then, as he suddenly realized his inconsistency, he stopped short, with a rather sickly grin. “It’s one on me, dad,” he admitted.

Mr. Beaumont’s eyebrows knit, in mild reproof.

“It is human nature, Cranny, to argue from whatever standpoint most closely affects our own interests,” he said. “Now that you can go irrespective of Willie, you are perhaps not quite so willing to undertake the responsible duties of looking after him. Do you still think the boys may be able to liven him up—to prod his slow nature into activity?”

“If they can’t, he’s a hopeless case,” answered Cranny, anxious to redeem himself in his father’s eyes. “A few weeks at Circle T certainly ought to put some ginger into him.”

“I’m glad you think so, though your manner of expressing it is not altogether elegant. Now, of course, you may combine business[58] with pleasure; but the main object is to post me as well as you can. And if you consider it advisable I shall come on. I know you are young for such a mission, but——”

“Young? Why, goodness gracious, I’m almost seventeen!” cried Cranny, in mild astonishment.

His father smiled indulgently.

“When you reach my age, seventeen will not seem like a very long span of life.” He raised his voice: “Willie!”

“Hey?” said Willie.

“I wish to speak to you a moment.”

“What have I done now, I wonder?” murmured the boy.

He plumped himself down in a chair close by, and, with his hands stuffed into his trousers pockets, waited for his guardian to speak.

“Willie, I have decided to give you a vacation,” said Mr. Beaumont. “You and Cranny are to spend a few weeks in Wyoming, with Bob Somers and his friends.”

“Oh!” said Willie.

“Aren’t you pleased?”

Willie pondered a moment.

“Oh, kinder,” he answered, “if they don’t[59] get too fresh. Ha, ha! Cran worked it, after all, didn’t he? So we’re going to that old farmhouse, eh? Foxy lad! How’d you do it, Cran?”

Willie’s impish grin increased. Then, suddenly, he burst into a laugh which ended with one of his peculiar little gasps. His guardian certainly did not look pleased.

“Rather a surprise, this. Thanks,” added the boy. “Maybe they won’t be glad to have me along, Mr. Beaumont. Say, Cran, did you ever notice what funny names some animals have? Duck-billed platypus! What’s a platypus, anyway, Cran?”

He grinned cheerfully, as an ominous gleam shone in Cranny’s eyes.

Cranny didn’t sleep very much that night, and when he did doze away it was to imagine himself among the cowboys and out on the plains, whirling amid all sorts of strange and exciting adventures.

Next morning Willie went to the office with Mr. Beaumont, as usual, but Cranny lingered at the breakfast table until half-past eight. Then he hastily jumped to his feet, dashed out into the hall, clapped on his hat, and in[60] another moment was striding over the graveled path toward the gate.

“Won’t Bob Somers be surprised?” he chuckled. “My land, but isn’t it the greatest piece of luck! And perhaps, with all those aeroplane stunts going on at Border City, we may get a ride in the air.”

At length coming in sight of the National Realty Building, the meeting place agreed upon, he saw a small group gathered in front of it, and, regardless of the passing crowd, sent a loud whoop of greeting over the air, receiving an immediate response.

Neither Bob nor his chums showed any great surprise at the welcome news; any other outcome would have astonished them greatly, as Cranny was one of those lads who nearly always manage to have their own way.

“Say, Bob, you chaps will have a big job on your hands,” chuckled Cranny—“the job o’ makin’ a man out of Willie Sloan.”

Thereupon he gave them a full account of Willie’s early history, touching not lightly upon his faults, and ending with the observation that the lad was certainly—“some queer.”

[61]“I noticed that he didn’t join much in the conversation last night,” grunted tall Tommy Clifton, “and when he did make some remark it was rude. Looked kind of grouchy to me.”

“In a way, he’s the cheekiest little rooster in all Tacoma,” declared Cranny. “Your work’s cut out for you, Bob.”

“All right,” laughed Bob. “I’m sure the crowd will do their best. Now, Cranny, to-morrow morning——”

“Whoop! Makes me feel so great I can hardly help dancing a jig right here,” cried the big lad. “Come on! I’ll show you the sights of Tacoma.”

And that was the beginning of a strenuous day for the Ramblers. Tireless Cranny led them from one point to another, until stout Dave Brandon declared it to be the hardest eight hours of tramping he had ever put in.

The boys again dined with Mr. Beaumont, and during the evening assisted Cranny and Willie to pack their belongings. When the former announced that nothing further remained to be done, they gave a cheer which caused Willie to stare at them in astonishment.

[62]“Ginger! You chaps have a nerve to startle me like that,” he remarked.

“Wait till you see us at the ranch,” laughed Cranny, as he slipped on a well-worn cartridge belt. “Gee, fellows, this feels natural. Look, Bob!”—he held up a large revolver—“the identical chap I had at Circle T! And there’s my gun in the corner; it’s always been kept in good condition.”

“Good boy,” said Bob, approvingly. “Our arsenal is at the hotel. Glad you are going along with us, Willie?” he asked, slapping the lad on the shoulder.

“Oh, kinder. Only I wish we could ride there in an aeroplane. Bet none of you chaps would have the nerve to take a flyer.”

“That’s because you don’t know us,” said tall Tom Clifton, stiffly.

“Oh, Mr. Clifton,” jeered Willie, “aren’t——”

“Fellows”—Bob Somers’ clear voice interrupted him—“I have an idea that before this trip is over we may have some experience with aeroplanes. Those aviators at Lone Pine will——”

“Let us go up, sure as shootin’,” supplied[63] Cranny, his eyes beginning to sparkle with interest.

“Which means that I’ll have to write a few hundred pages more,” drawled Dave, who was sprawling with careless ease on a chair by the window. “For, of course,” he added, with a chuckle, “we’ll get hold of a machine somehow, and have it all to ourselves.”

“That’s so!” cried Sam. “Hooray for the——”

“Rambler Club’s aeroplane!” chorused the others, in lusty tones.



The observation car of the Pullman train speeding swiftly across the state of Wyoming had perhaps never held a livelier crowd than the Ramblers and their friends. All but Tom Clifton and Willie Sloan seemed bubbling over with good spirits, and were perfectly willing that every one in the car should know it.

Tommy, however, feeling that exhibitions of mirth and glee were hardly dignified in one who had so nearly reached the stupendous height of six feet, only occasionally forgot himself sufficiently to join in their merry laughter. During the trip the look of discontent had often vanished from Willie’s face. He opened his eyes in wonderment as the train lumbered up steep grades and across magnificent mountain ranges.

The ever-changing views of rugged, gigantic heights, of masses of bald rocks and forest-clad[65] slopes, of cascades and rushing torrents fiercely foaming and lashing their way between barriers which sometimes approached the tracks, even awakened within Willie a feeling of enthusiasm. But he said very little, and sat back in his seat sedately when there was nothing particularly awe-inspiring to be seen.

The wonderful mountain views were finally left behind, and the heavy, labored puffing of the locomotive resolved itself into swift pulsating notes as more level stretches of track were reached. Between low-lying hills, their long undulating summits dropping nearer and nearer to the plain, the Ramblers were carried, until the train shot through an opening in the final range and out upon a great stretch of loam-covered prairie.

There were but few passengers on the car, and the boys changed from side to side, or walked about to suit their pleasure. Eagerness showed in their bright expression and voices as the miles were dropped behind, each instant bringing them nearer to Border City.

“I can hardly believe it’s true,” said Cranny,[66] hilariously. “Isn’t it great, Willie? Just think—say, what you are staring at so hard, eh?”

“I was just wondering if Mr. Clifton uses hair varnish,” piped Willie. “Hasn’t he got the glossiest mop ever! Did you shave this morning, Mr. Clifton?”

“Oh, get out!” mumbled Tommy.

“Not while we’re cuttin’ along at this rate,” grinned Willie. “Say, Cran, is it really true that the earth turns on its axle? I——”

“There’s the town, sure as I live!” called out Sam Randall, excitedly, waving a field-glass. “Yes siree, Bob Somers, it is.”

“Where away?” cried Cranny.

“To the right; see it?—Border City, fellows, looking twice as natural as it ever did. My! the place must have grown just as fast as Tommy. Hooray! Won’t be long, now, before we’re there.”

“And I’ll bet Jed Warren’ll be waiting for us with the buckboard and some lively bronchos,” roared Cranny. “You wrote Mr. Follett when we’d arrive, eh, Bob? I thought so. Yes; I can make out some buildings now.”

[67]“And, just think, to-night—old Circle T Ranch again,” remarked Bob. “Won’t that be jolly?”

With eager impatience the boys watched the town of Border City coming into view. There was no need of the field-glass now. Outlined against a line of hills beyond, the pale-colored buildings in the full glare of the noonday sun were assuming definite form.

“Border City terminal!”

The conductor’s voice came to their ears above the rumble of wheels. A sharp, crisp blast from the locomotive whistle shrieked its way across the plains; and the happy and expectant crowd promptly flung to the breeze a ringing chorus of shouts to keep it company.

“I see something I never saw here before,” cried Sam, a few moments later. “Look, Bob.”

“That’s right, Sam—the gas works; and—and—by Jove”—he seized the field-glass from the other’s hand—“the hangar of a dirigible balloon—must be Major Warfield Carroll’s, eh? See it—just beyond that clump of trees?”

“Sure thing!” cried Dick; “and there’s a[68] long line of sheds; most likely to house the aeroplanes.”

“And I notice mills of some kind, too”—the voice came from Dave. “No mistake about Border City taking a big boom, fellows.”

“Just wait till Cran gets in his licks,” grinned Willie. “I’m here to keep him right on the job. He was getting stale in Tacoma. Did you speak, Mr. Clifton?”

“Not to you, William,” returned Tommy, freezingly. “Bob, I can see the Black Bear Hotel now.”

“And the Cattlemen’s Retreat, too,” shouted Cranny. “Whoop! Don’t let the cow-punchers scare you, Willie. There’s always some loafing around.”

Another rasping whistle came over the air as the train began to slacken its speed. Straight ahead, the boys could see the shining steel rails disappear beneath a train shed, while above the roof rose a slender tower. The platform was crowded.

“My goodness, how different from the Border City we knew!” cried Bob. “Looks like a real live town, now, eh, Dave?”

[69]“Remarkable change,” murmured the stout lad. “Wonder if the crowd will have as lively a time out here as they did before.”

“Not the slightest doubt about it. The Ramblers always manage to get mixed up in some stirring events.”

Guns, suit cases and bundles were seized by their respective owners; and when the cars had given their final lurch, and the last grind of the wheels had echoed sharply through the train shed, the seven stood ready to swing themselves off the platform.

They had scarcely alighted when a young man dressed in regulation cowboy fashion, wearing a blue shirt, leather chaps, a flowing yellow handkerchief about his neck, and a huge, broad-brimmed sombrero, made a dash toward them, at the same time uttering a glad shout of welcome.

“Jed Warren!” cried Bob, his face aglow with pleasure.

“Wal—wal, I reckon you’re sure right, pard,” exclaimed the cowboy, gleefully. And in the attempt of the enthusiastic lads to shake his hand at the same time bundles were dropped and suit cases knocked over.

[70]Several of the loungers who made it a point to meet nearly every train were vastly entertained by this spectacle.

There were so many words and exclamations crowded into the next few seconds that no one knew exactly what any one else had said, and the first distinct sentence came in a shrill voice:

“My! What magazine cover did you escape from, anyway?”

Jed Warren’s grinning face was immediately turned toward the speaker.

“My father’s ward, Willie Sloan, Jed,” said Cranny. “He’s out here to get some ginger into his composition.”

“Say, do you wear those clothes because they look nice, or because they feel good?” asked Willie, when the operation of shaking hands was over.

“Both,” answered Jed, with a good-natured laugh.

“Well, you make me think of a moving picture show. Are you going to stay here all day? I never saw chins wag so fast in all my life before.”

“Most as fast as that chap has grow’d up,”[71] grinned Jed, jerking his finger in the direction of Tommy. “Wal, there’s somethin’ I ain’t never seen the eq’al of—I sure ain’t.”

“And no one else has either, I guess,” mumbled Willie, as he started off.

Outside the station, which was situated close to the Black Bear Hotel, the general store and post-office, the boys found Border City presenting a busy scene. Several “rigs” stood close by, and among them they saw the familiar buckboard belonging to Circle T Ranch. Back of it, tied to hitching-posts, were four curiously-spotted bronchos, their stamping hoofs and lashing tails giving sufficient indication of their fiery, untamed spirit.

“Whoop! If that isn’t the greatest ever!” cried Cranny. “I know that bunch. No buckboard for little Cranny.”

“Or for me,” added Bob.

“I feel in a generous mood,” laughed Dave; “I’ll let Willie take my nag.”

“You’d get pinched for cruelty to animals, if you ever tried to ride one of those poor little beasts,” grunted Willie. “What makes ’em so full of ginger, Warren?”

[72]“Them critters is the pick o’ Circle T Ranch, young un,” responded Jed, impressively. “Thar ain’t one but what’s a reg’lar tornado an’ cyclone mixed together when he gits hisself a-goin’ good. Don’t walk too clos’t; their heels is liable to fly. I declare I can’t git over seein’ this bunch ag’in.”

“When the Ramblers have been around it generally takes an awful long time for some one to recover,” said Willie. “I’ve been through it myself. Oh, sugar! Is this town rented out to a moving picture concern?”

“I ain’t never seen one o’ them picters,” admitted Jed; “but if yer refer to cow-punchers an’ sheep-men, thar’s a few still left; an’ most of ’em are good, squar’ fellers.”

The boys were quick to notice that the appearance of the people of Border City had also been considerably affected by the changed conditions. The typical plainsman could still be seen lounging around the Black Bear Hotel and general store; but men in less picturesque garb, and with an unmistakable air of the East, or middle West predominated.

Substantial buildings of brick and frame had sprung up on all sides, making the original[73] ramshackle houses of Border City appear, by contrast, smaller and more forlorn-looking than ever.

The sun, just overhead, blazed down on the winding street; a yellow glare, full of simmering heat waves, enveloped the surroundings; and every foot or horse’s hoof that struck the ground raised its little cloud of choking dust.

“Say, fellows, I see they call this Carroll Avenue now,” sang out Bob, pointing to a sign-post opposite.

“Major Carroll’s a fine chap,” pronounced Jed. “Thar’s a-goin’ ter be some great doin’s hyar purty soon, lads; an’ him an’ them aeroplane fellers are the ones we kin thank fur it. An’ say, Bob, mebbe them Lone Piners weren’t glad to know your bunch was coming!”

“I remember the time when they weren’t so glad to see us,” chirped Cranny, with a reminiscent grin.

“An’ that’s whar ye’re just right,” laughed Jed. “But things is different now. What’s that, young un?”

“I were a-sayin’, pard, as how I’m hotter’n[74] a fried egg,” grunted Willie, with fine mimicry. “Let’s go somewhere.”

“Sure—over to that hangar; we might get a peep at Mr. Carroll’s dirigible,” cried Dick.

“Oh, goodness; not now,” demurred Dave. “I’m ’most famished; and uncommonly sleepy, besides. Aren’t you hungry, Willie?”


“Would ye like ter hit the trail fur Circle T Ranch, youngster?” asked Jed, with a quizzical smile.

“Don’t mind.”

“Say something else once or twice a day,” snapped Cranny. “Sure, Jed, we’d better hike over there as fast as we can.”

“Hip, hip, hurrah for the ranch!” cried Sam, making a break toward the bronchos.

The crowd, with their guns, suit cases and bundles, attracted considerable attention, but only Tommy Clifton seemed to be disturbed by the sounds of laughter which came from several cattlemen lounging in front of the Black Bear Hotel.

The discontented look had returned with full force to Willie Sloan’s face. He was tired; and the yellow glare and yellow dust[75] made him devoutly wish that he and Border City were miles apart.

Tommy had intended to take a seat in the buckboard, but upon hearing a remark from Willie which seemed to indicate no great opinion of his prowess as a broncho rider, he reconsidered.

“What, Mr. Clifton, air ye a-goin’ ter ride?” asked Willie, mockingly. “Why, say, pard, ye’ll hev ter hold yer feet up, or ye’ll furrow the prairie.”

“I’ll make you an astronomer some day, William—astronomers see stars, you know,” quoth Tom, highly exasperated.

“I guess I’ll never see a star in you,” retorted Willie, impudently.

Dave had already seated himself in the buckboard, and Willie climbed indolently up beside him, while Sam, yielding to Dick Travers’ earnest request to ride one of the bronchos, also took his place in the rig.

It wasn’t an easy matter to dispose of their belongings, especially as some of them had to be strapped to the mustangs’ backs, and these little beasts were absolutely averse to such a proceeding. But, in spite of wildly gyrating[76] bodies, wicked snorts and glaring eyes, the work was finally accomplished.

Even Willie’s tired air vanished, as he watched the boys spring into the saddle and stick there, although their mounts seemed to jump about as though endowed by nature with springs of steel.

“Oh, just look at Mr. Clifton!” roared Willie. “My, oh, my! Hold your feet up, Thomas. Gee! There’ll be seventeen hundred holes in the earth by the time we reach the farmhouse. Look——”

The sharp cracking of Jed Warren’s quirt, followed by a sudden jolt of the buckboard, ended Willie’s sentence. There was a clatter of horses’ hoofs and the swift whirr of rapidly-revolving wheels, and thick clouds of dust began to trail behind them.

The extent of Border City’s development surprised the Ramblers. They were quickly whirled past the new Carroll Inn, a grain elevator, the Wyoming Flour Company’s big mill adjoining, and, upon turning a bend in the crooked street, saw rows of neat little houses.

“The wheels of industry have surely begun to turn in earnest here,” laughed Dave.[77] “Doesn’t it show what a real live-wire man can do?”

“Cran will short-circuit that chap all right,” grunted Willie, “an’ then they’ll have another street—Cranberry Bog Avenue. Gee! I don’t believe that careless driver’ll ever let us reach the farmhouse alive.”

Presently the prairie opened out before them, hemmed in by a line of hills. Over its broad, flat surface the buckboard traveled at a rattling pace. The boys on the bronchos rode far in advance, their shouts of glee often flung to the air. By the time the vehicle had crossed a rocky pass in the hills the riders were no longer in sight.

Within a short time Jed was driving close to great herds of cattle, some browsing amidst the buffalo grass, while others ambled slowly through fields of tumbleweed.

Even the jolting of the buckboard could not prevent Dave from falling into a doze, and Willie, taking little interest in his surroundings, sat huddled up, his eyes half closed.

“Hip, hip, hooray!” yelled Sam Randall, with startling abruptness. “Hooray! There it is! Whoop!”

[78]“What—what?” cried Willie, in affright.

“Circle T Ranch, you little goose!” snapped Sam. “Look—just beyond that rise.”

And Willie, with his eyes now wide open, saw straight ahead a long, low building shining brightly in the sunlight.



The ranch-house was a solid, time-stained structure, its thick stone walls pierced at intervals by loopholes, for Circle T had been built at a period when bands of Indians on the war-path endangered the lives and property of the settlers.

Mr. Follett, a pleasant-looking gentleman whose brown beard and hair were streaked with gray, stood on the wide porch talking to the boys, his face wreathed in smiles, as the buckboard rolled up.

Almost before the wheels had ceased revolving, he hurried over to shake hands with the latest arrivals.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am, boys,” he said, heartily. “And all your roughing-it experiences, Dave, haven’t thinned you a bit. Ah—and this is Willie Sloan! Bob has been talking to me about you, son. And Sam[80] Randall, too! My goodness, how natural it seems to have all you lads here again.”

A slender youth suddenly darted from behind a pillar of the porch.

“Tim Lovell!” exclaimed Dave.

“Tim!” echoed Sam, heartily.

And then there was more hand-shaking and exclamations; and by the time calmness had been restored Jed Warren and the buckboard had disappeared behind the sheds in the rear of the ranch-house.

Willie Sloan looked about him with interest, but did not seem enthusiastic at the prospect of remaining several weeks at the ranch.



“Ginger! What can a chap do out here?” he grumbled, speaking to Bob. “Don’t like it?—Why, say, what in the dickens is there to like about it? Ride bronchos, eh? Not much! I’d like to punch Cran for getting me out here; yes, I should. Only wish I was back in Tacoma.”

“Cheer up,” sniffed Tommy. “Don’t begin to blubber.”

“I’ll whale somebody of your length in a [81]few minutes,” returned Willie, his grin suddenly returning. “Speaking to me, sir?” he added, raising his voice.

“Yes; won’t you boys come inside? After such a long ride, you must be tired,” remarked Mr. Follett. “We’ll have an early supper.”

“And uncommonly glad I am, too,” murmured Dave Brandon. “Say, fellows, don’t the mountains look fine?”

“How can a streak o’ blue look fine?” grunted Willie, as his eyes turned toward the jagged peaks of the distant range. “Stop dreaming, David B.”

The first floor of the ranch-house contained two apartments, the larger used as a dining-room. There was a great deal in it, too, which should have aroused the interest of any wide-awake lad—objects of the chase, mounted in lifelike attitudes, besides Indian relics and firearms, arranged artistically about the walls; but Willie merely yawned.

“My, but don’t I wish I hadn’t come,” he mumbled in a scarcely audible voice. “Ride bronchos? Oh, ginger!”

Up-stairs, the boys found three cool, inviting rooms already prepared for their reception. They soon washed, and changed their traveling[82] clothes for the more comfortable khaki suits which they had brought with them.

“Christopher! If I’d known I was going to look like a Boy Scout, I’d have raised kick,” grinned Willie, when they had assembled down-stairs again. “Say, what’s-your-name!”

Tim turned, as a sharp elbow dug against his ribs.

“Well?” he asked.

“It’s about Mr. Clifton,” said Willie, in a loud whisper. “Look out for yourself. I caught him at it!”

“Caught him at what?”

“Readin’ a book on first aid to the injured. An’ he’s got a whole lot o’ others ’bout anatomy. If you ever get tossed from your mustang, maybe he’ll want to do some stunts with you.”

“Tommy’s going to be a doctor,” grinned Tim.

“Help!” murmured Willie.

“And Bob’s all for the law.”

“He’ll be all in when it comes to the exams,” snickered Willie. “Bet he fails worse——”

“And Dave is——”

[83]But whatever information Tim seemed about to impart regarding the stout boy’s future was abruptly interrupted by the noisy entrance of three cow-punchers. Big, brawny men they were, too. And the moment their eyes rested on the boys they voiced a loud, hearty welcome.

“Sam Skillet, Wyoming Tom and Straight-backed Pete Sanderson!” cried Bob, as the crowd rushed forward to shake their hands.

The first thing which forcibly struck Willie Sloan was that Sam Skillet possessed a voice of the most extraordinary power; and the second, that Wyoming Tom, the half-breed, was the perfect picture of an outlaw. Willie stared hard at them with unabashed curiosity, and hesitatingly placed his small white hand into the huge brown paws which the cow-punchers, each in turn, held toward him.

“Yes, them fellers over to Lone Pine hev been a-goin’ up in their air-ship most every day, Bob.” Skillet’s great voice rang through the room. “An’ if it ain’t the wonderfulest thing ye may call me a maverick to onct.”

“Maverick! What’s a maverick?” asked Willie.

[84]“I’ll tell you,” answered Cranny. “A good many years ago, a man named Maverick went out to Texas to run a ranch. He was such a soft-hearted chap that he’d never brand a steer or slice its ears, an’ the way dishonest stockmen swiped them was simply awful. Out here, they sometimes call an easy mark a maverick.”

“Wal, as I were about to say, them air-ships flies jist like birds,” went on Sam Skillet; “but ye’d never ketch me a-goin’ up in one, pard; no—not fur a thousand head o’ the finest bullocks in Wyoming.”

“Nor me, nuther,” grunted the half-breed, decidedly.

“Only hope I get a chance at it,” laughed Bob.

Pete Sanderson regarded him with a peculiar expression.

“Ye’ve got a heap o’ pluck, young un,” he said. “But ye’d best take my advice, an’ leave them thar things alone. It ain’t nateral fur a man ter fly—weren’t never intended.”

“Only when the sheriff gets hot on his trail,” grinned Cranny.

[85]“Why don’t they punch cows with aeroplanes, Mr. Clifton?” inquired Willie.

Tommy frowned fiercely, but made no reply, whereupon Willie, delighted, flopped himself down on the nearest chair.

That evening every one had something to say about the astonishing increase in Tommy’s height and the lad’s diffidence increased in ratio to the number of times such remarks were made.

Willie, too, added to his discomfort by addressing him as Doctor Clifton, necessitating upon Tommy’s part a recital of his newly-awakened ambition to some day become a member of the medical profession.

A Mexican, José Miguel Valdez, waited upon the table, while the boys had occasional glimpses of the cook, Jake Montgomery Talbot Hart, generally known as Sambo.

It seemed very pleasant to have every comfort and convenience in the big room of the ranch-house, and yet be situated right in the midst of a vast stretch of rolling prairie. The men told interesting stories of life on the range, and of former warfares between cattlemen and sheep raisers.

[86]Willie began to liven up a bit, his half-impertinent remarks sometimes causing a ripple of mirth.

Naturally, much of the conversation turned upon the great boom at Border City, and its creators, Major Warfield Carroll and the aviators.

“I declare to goodness, I’m going over to Lone Pine mighty soon,” announced Cranny, enthusiastically.

“Wal, look out for yerself,” warned Pete Sanderson. “I tell ye ’tweren’t never intended fur no man ter fly.”

“Oh, shucks!” laughed Cranny.

“Yes, Bob; we drive our stock now to Border City,” Mr. Follett was saying, “and so do many of the other ranchmen. Great improvements have been made since your last visit. Miles and miles of telephone wires are now strung out over the prairie, and many small sub-stations built. There are places where my foreman”—his hand indicated Sam Skillet—“or any of the cow-punchers can call me up whenever occasion demands it.”

“That’s great,” said Bob.

[87]“Then, of course, we have a wire to Border City.”

“Ever talk to Major Carroll over the ’phone?” asked Cranny.

“Many times.”

“Would you mind if I called him up? I’d like to tell him there’s a bunch o’ live-wire chaps out here, and all o’ them hopin’ to get a chance to examine that dirigible balloon o’ his.”

“Certainly you may,” said the ranchman, good-naturedly. “You’ll find the ’phone over there in that corner.”

“I’ll do the best I can for you, fellows,” chirped Cranny.

“Let Mr. Clifton ’phone,” suggested Willie. “Carroll’ll think it’s a man.”

Cranny’s vigorous “Hello!” presently sounded. But, to his disappointment, he found that the voice at the other end of the wire belonged to one of Major Carroll’s mechanicians.

“The boss isn’t here,” he heard. “A crowd of boys want to see the balloon? Yes, I’ll tell him. At Circle T Ranch, are you? Call us up some time to-morrow. Good-bye!”

[88]“Why not have a word or two with your friends at Lone Pine?” suggested Mr. Follett.

“A jolly good idea,” cried Cranny, enthusiastically.

Mr. Follett showed Cranny how to get the proper wire, and the big lad was presently roaring:

“Hello; this is Cranny Beaumont!—C-r-a-n-n-y! Do you get me? Ha, ha! That you, Mr. Ogden? Yes; Bob Somers and the whole crowd are here. Been expecting us, hey? Thanks awfully. Oh, fine and dandy. When?—Just wait a second.”

Cranny swung quickly around.

“Fellows,” he sang out, “Mr. Ogden wants us to run over to Lone Pine day after to-morrow; how about it? He says they are going to try out a new air-ship that day. Whoop!”

“Why, of course we will,” said Bob.

“Yes, Mr. Ogden; the bunch is comin’,” shouted Cranny, over the wire. “How long? A few weeks, perhaps. What—I? Oh, I’m out here on business.”

“Listen to that!” chirruped Willie. “On[89] business! What an awful one. Much business he’ll attend to.”

“Here, Bob, Mr. Ogden wants to speak to you.”

Bob took Cranny’s place at the ’phone, and held quite an extended conversation with Mr. Benjamin Ogden, the inventor, father of Robert and Ferdinand. And the younger men, too, sent their voices over the slender wire which stretched across the great prairie.

“Wal, arter all, pards, ye’re a-goin’ ter do it, hey?” growled Pete Sanderson, shaking his head disapprovingly. “’Tain’t nateral ter fly: ’tweren’t intended nohow.”

Sam Skillet, whose huge frame blocked the doorway, agreed.

“No; I ’low as it ain’t,” he added. “But when them thar youngsters set their minds on doin’ anythin’, Pete, outlaw bronc’s couldn’t stop ’em.”

And Cranny, with a loud laugh, “opined” that he was right.

“I shall expect you boys to exercise the greatest care,” said Mr. Follett.

“Oh, don’t worry about us,” spoke up Bob. “We’ll be careful.”

[90]“An’, besides, they’ll have Doc Clifton along,” squeaked Willie. “Do I want to go to Lone Pine? Oh, I may as well.”

“You can’t ride a broncho, William,” snorted Tommy.

“And I don’t want to,” snapped Willie.

“Anyway, I’ll bet we have some dandy fun,” declared Cranny, in enthusiastic tones.



Lone Pine Ranch was situated not so many miles from Circle T, on the other side of a river whose waters cut an erratic course through the prairie. A straight line drawn between the houses would have passed across a wide stretch of yellow alkali plain, dotted with great sandstone buttes and patched with clumps of huge spiked cacti.

In another direction, however, the prairie was covered with a growth of buffalo grass and occasional clumps of trees. Over this rich feeding ground Mr. Follett’s immense herds of longhorns roamed for miles and miles, even beyond Lone Pine Ranch. Standing isolated on the broad plain, the appearance of the solid ranch-house was strongly suggestive of the early pioneer days and Indian warfare. Close by stood a long, low building formerly used as a stable, and encircling both was a high stockade.

[92]About the middle of the morning a cavalcade of youthful horsemen cantered briskly up before the entrance.

“I declare, that little chap is a nuisance,” grumbled Tom Clifton. “The buckboard is at least a mile behind. Why, he hasn’t a bit of pluck. Jed offered him the tamest nag in the stable. Crickets! Even then he was afraid.”

“But you must remember that a city lad can’t be expected to ride bronchos,” laughed Bob. “He isn’t a seasoned veteran like you, Tom.”

Tom drew himself up with conscious pride.

“I know, Bob; but I had to make a start. Say, Cranny, isn’t he the freshest little dub? If he weren’t your father’s ward, I’d have taught him a lesson before this.”

“Ha, ha!” roared Cranny. “How wee Willie in the buckboard would tremble if he only heard that. Whoa, boy—whoa! Bet the sight of those longhorns has given him the shivers. See any one in the ranch-house, Bob?”


“Then let’s give a rousing yell. Whoa,[93] you pesky little beast. Ho, ho! Remember that big pine, fellows? Wonder if any of the charred hills are left.”

“It was a dandy old tree,” said Tim Lovell, his words somewhat disconnected by the erratic movements of his lively little broncho.

“Didn’t take our old friend Hap Hazard long to do the business for it, though,” roared Dick. “Dave, let’s hear you try to make a noise like an Indian.”

“Give a good old cowboy yell,” said Cranny. “Gee Whitaker, but isn’t this just like old times! Bother the buckboard! Come on.”

A touch of his spurs, and the broncho shot straight as an arrow through the stockade entrance. The others swiftly followed.

The unsightly piles of rubbish which once lay about the enclosure had been cleared away, while weeds and straggling bushes no longer grew about in luxuriant profusion. Even the charred stump of the ancient pine was gone.

The pounding of horses’ hoofs, together with the whoops of six lusty-voiced boys, quickly roused the ranch-house. The heavy oaken[94] door began to creak on its hinges, and before the bronchos had cantered up three men appeared on the steps.

“Hooray for the Lone Piners!” yelled Cranny, taking off his sombrero and waving it vigorously. “Good-morning! Whoop! Here we are again!”

“So I see, and just as lively as ever,” responded the youngest of the trio, smiling with pleasure. “Boys, we extend a most hearty welcome. The plains have seemed mighty dull since you left.”

“Very true, Ferd,” put in his father. “Just picket your horses, boys, and come right in.”

Most of the lads had vaulted from their saddles by the time these words were spoken, and, in a marvelously short time, pins were driven deep into the ground and the bronchos tethered. Then followed an enthusiastic shaking of hands, while questions and answers flew thick and fast.

There was so much to talk about and so many explanations to give that no one had made a move to enter the house when a buckboard driven by Jed Warren passed through[95] the entrance in the stockade wall and rattled toward them.

“Hello! Who is that?” exclaimed Rob Ogden, in surprise.

Cranny Beaumont explained.

“If I ever cross that blooming prairie again, I’ll know it; and so will every one else,” grumbled Willie Sloan, hopping out of the buckboard before it had stopped. “Goodness gracious, Warren, you don’t know how to drive. Say, Cran, I don’t wonder, now, that they punch the cattle, if the beasts are all as ugly as those we passed. Mr. Ogden? Glad to meet you, sir; and you too, sirs. Haven’t they got the longest horns? Oh, my, I mean the cattle, of course. Anyone injured yet, Mr. Clifton? Going in the old farmhouse, eh? Some day I’ll pound Cran for getting me out here.”

The lower floor of the house was divided into large, heavily-raftered rooms. Even a shaft of sunlight, stealing through one of the half-open windows and striking upon the opposite wall, failed to remove a pervading air of gloom.

“Oh, say, Cran, I don’t like this a little[96] bit,” exclaimed Willie, frankly. “I’m going out on the steps.”

“Afraid of spooks, I suppose!” sniffed Tommy.

“You an’ I’ll meet in the dueling arena some day, Mr. Clifton,” returned Willie, as he retraced his steps.

Cranny laughed.

“And to think that I told dad they ought to get chummy,” he murmured.

“Yes, boys, you may examine our machines,” said Mr. Ogden, Senior, in response to a question from Bob Somers. “We have built three; and the ‘Ogden III’ is the one which is entered for the coming meet.”

“If it isn’t the very latest word in aeroplanes I’m much mistaken,” remarked Ferd. “Know anything about ’em, boys?”

“We hope to acquire a good deal of knowledge before leaving Lone Pine,” answered Dave, with a laugh.

“And I’ve no doubt you will. Let’s go now, father.”

“Impatient youth must be served, I suppose,” acquiesced the other, smilingly.

“Where’s wee Willie, I wonder?” exclaimed[97] Cranny, when they had filed out on the steps.

“Oh, he’d be afraid to go very far away,” said Tommy. “Don’t bother about him.”

“It isn’t causin’ my brow to become furrowed with wrinkles,” grinned Cranny.

The crowd, closely following the inventor and his sons, cut diagonally across to the opposite building, and, upon turning its corner, discovered Willie pulling aside a flap of the most curious-looking tent they had ever seen.

“Look out, son—for goodness’ sake don’t touch anything!” cried Mr. Ogden, hastily.

“Who’s touching anything, I’d like to know?” mumbled Willie, disconcertedly. “What’s in there?”

“That is the ‘Ogden II,’” answered the inventor, good-naturedly. “Not nearly so fine as our latest model,” he added. “The aeroplane tent, boys, is quite a new departure, designed in order that experiments may be carried on wherever we choose, without the necessity of building hangars.”

“Dandy!” cried Beaumont. “But isn’t it a whopping big machine, Mr. Ogden?”

“The spread of the planes is about forty-five[98] feet; you shall see it presently. Interested in aeroplanes, too?” he asked, turning toward Willie.

“Oh, a little. Say, does it really fly?”

“Like a bird,” laughed Robert.

“It’ll sure never go up with my hundred and seventy-five pound in it,” said Jed Warren, decidedly. “Goin’ to git it out? I’ll give ye a hand, boys.”

By degrees the great aeroplane was drawn from its shelter, while the boys crowded around, examining every part of its mechanism exposed to view with the greatest interest.

They saw two horizontal fabric-covered frames forty-five feet in length by seven wide, set apart a vertical distance of six feet, joined together by strong uprights. These constituted the two planes. From the center, at the rear, a long framework extended backward and was provided at its extremity with two vertical rudders and a horizontal tail-piece. Behind the two seats for the aviators stood a seven-cylinder engine, with a pair of propellers operated by chain gearing ranged on either side. Two small horizontal planes,[99] designed to aid in balancing the machine, as well as to assist in its elevating, were situated in front of the main planes.

The aeroplane rested on rubber-tired swivel wheels, two under the forward plane, the others placed near the end of the tail. The lads noticed springs, too, as a precaution against damage when alighting.

“Well, what do you think of it, boys?” asked Mr. Ogden.

“It’s a bird,” said Willie. “Say, what are those little shutters for?” He pointed toward several flaps fastened to the main plane.

“Those we call aillerons, or balancing wings,” explained Rob, “and they are worked by an automatic arrangement in such a manner that when one falls another rises, tending to steady the plane laterally.”

“What is the machine made of?” asked Sam.

“The frame is of hard wood; the covering of varnished fabric, while the various parts are connected by wire stays. You will observe that the planes are slightly curved; that is to prevent the air from escaping too[100] freely from beneath, and gives more lifting power.”

“How is the aeroplane operated?” asked Bob.

“Its movements are controlled by levers; this one, for instance, operates the elevating planes in front; and this moves the main planes, for the frame is jointed, you see, allowing the surfaces to be warped to a certain extent. These pedals control the rudder and tail.”

“But what in the world makes it go up?” asked Willie.

“Well, William actually seems to be waking up a bit at last,” grunted Tommy.

“When the engine is started, the aeroplane is propelled swiftly over the ground. Naturally, the air is at once forced beneath the planes, exerting a powerful pressure upon their surfaces. Now, it follows that unless the aeroplane has sufficient weight to push this air downward or aside the machine is bound to overcome the force of gravity and rise.”

“Like a kite, I s’pose,” said Willie.

“Yes; and the faster the pair of powerful[101] propellers revolve the stronger, of course, becomes this air pressure,” added Rob. “By reducing the speed of the engine, the aeroplane can be made to descend; and, I tell you, boys, volplaning, with the power shut off, is great sport.”

“Volplaning! What’s that?” cried Tom.

“It is simply gliding downward through space,” said Dave Brandon. “I’ve seen some aviators who almost rivaled the ease and grace of birds in soaring to earth from great heights.”

“I’ll bet Dave knows all about aeroplanes,” said Dick.

“Only a little, and that in theory,” laughed the stout boy.

“To be a bird-man requires a cool head and a steady hand,” said Mr. Ogden. “One needs to be continually on his guard against treacherous air currents; although over a broad plain, like the one we have out here, aeroplaning is comparatively safe.”

“But near the hills and mountains it’s mighty different,” remarked Ferd. “A stiff breeze meeting these obstructions is deflected off into all sorts of swirls and waves, making[102] the machine difficult to manage. One minute we may be traveling against a wind of a certain velocity, only to find ourselves suddenly plunged into another entirely different, or one cutting across at an angle.”

“And that is where the quickness of brain and hand come into play,” put in Mr. Ogden. “The aviator, no matter how careful he may be, is always liable to be taken by surprise.”

“Well, it must be dandy sport, anyway,” cried Cranny, “an’ I know you’re just achin’ to take one o’ us up, right now.”

“Don’t let it be Mr. Clifton,” said Willie, with one of his impish grins. “We may need him and his first-aid-to-the-injured book yet.”

“You’ll be needing somebody’s aid pretty soon, I’m thinking,” murmured Tom, hotly.

“Well, I suppose we may as well get ready for our flight, Ferd,” remarked Mr. Ogden. “Want to go up, Jed?”

“Wal, I reckon not. I sure ain’t hankerin’ ter land kerflunk among a herd o’ longhorns.”

“Then, as you are out of the running, who shall it be? Whoever wishes to experience[103] the novel sensation of aeroplaning will be given a chance. But——”

“Hooray—hooray!” yelled Cranny, excitedly, amidst a burst of cheers. “Shall I climb aboard now, Mr. Ogden?”

“But, as I was about to say, it seems fitting that the first candidate for the honor should be——”

“Bob Somers!” cried Tommy, with all his force.

And every one but Cranny immediately raised his voice in a loud roar of assent.



Much obliged, fellows,” laughed Bob, “but I’m willing to step aside if Cranny is so anxious to get the first crack at it.”

“That’s all right, Bob—I’ll go the second trip,” grinned Cranny, good-naturedly. “Only don’t hang the machine up in the clouds. It will be hard to wait for you.”

“You’ve been waiting seventeen long years for this; and ten minutes more won’t do you a bit o’ harm,” chirped Willie.

“Oh, run along,” snapped Cranny. “Get out of the way, now! Can’t you see the machine is headed right toward you?”

Mr. Ogden had already clambered to his place in the aviator’s seat. Bob followed, and eased himself down on a cushion close beside him, with his feet resting against a wooden bar.

“Mr. Aviator, what’s that big thing by the side of your head—a torpedo?” asked Willie.

“That is the gasoline tank,” explained Mr.[105] Ogden, “and there is enough fuel in it to carry the machine for over one hundred miles. Remember, Bob, the roar of the engine will prevent much conversation in mid-air; so, in case you should begin to feel nervous, just give me a nudge—I’ll understand.”

“Don’t bother about me,” laughed Bob, as he looked down and ran his hand along the leather belt which stretched across his seat. “This will hold me in.”

“Well, dizziness or light-headedness is very apt to come without warning during the first ascent. I shall rely upon you to keep perfectly still.”

“I will, sir,” said Bob. “Oh! Nearly all of the stockade on the far side has been removed, hasn’t it? I was so interested I didn’t notice it before.”

Mr. Ogden smiled.

“We did that ourselves, Bob,” he said, “and for obvious reasons. You needn’t think it was the work of your friend, Hap Hazard.”

“Everything all ready!” called out Don. “Keep a safe distance away, boys.”

“Now we’re off!” said Mr. Ogden to his passenger.

[106]Bob Somers felt a thrill run through him. Grasping the supports, he awaited the momentous instant and found himself studying the face of the aviator, and vaguely wondering at his apparent unconcern.

“Ready, Bob?”

“Ready, sir!”

Mr. Ogden waved his hand, and his assistants gave the propellers a quick twirl.

A pulsating roar immediately sounded. The great plane, responding almost instantly to the rapid revolutions, began to glide over the smooth ground, slowly at first, then gathering speed, until, light as a bird, it rose into the air.

Bob Somers held his breath as the ground fell behind them. The wide break in the stockade appeared to open out to the right and left. Just a few seconds more, and the biplane, almost as gently as a sheet of paper taken up and wafted away on the breeze, lifted itself gently upward.

Swifter and swifter it moved; higher, still higher it rose, until broad reaches of prairie were disclosed to view.

Bob Somers began to experience a series of[107] strange sensations. He seemed almost suspended without support in space. Below him he saw the ranch-house and outbuildings of Lone Pine, seemingly flattened against the prairie floor, while the boys and bronchos had already been left far to the rear. Everywhere great herds or scattered groups of cattle were coming into sight.

Bob’s greatest surprise was the strength of the wind that blew against his face, forcing him at times to shield his eyes.

Mr. Ogden frequently glanced at his passenger, and judged from his expression that he felt no fear or nervousness.

The biplane gradually turned in a wide circle—the planes tipped slightly, just enough, it seemed, to add a spice of danger—and they were headed back in the direction of Lone Pine.

To the aviator the flight was one of the lowest he had ever taken, yet to Bob the altitude appeared unpleasantly high, causing him more than once to clutch the stout leather strap which held him securely to his seat.

Speed such as an aeroplane makes seems to simply annihilate distance. It seemed only[108] a moment before the flying machine had reached Lone Pine again and was shooting by with a steady sweep. Bob could see that the boys had mounted their bronchos and were galloping about, waving their hands in greeting.

“Guess I’ll be quite satisfied if Mr. Ogden doesn’t ascend any higher,” thought Bob, with a grim smile. He tried to accustom himself to studying the swift-moving objects below. Then, as the roar from the engine at his back lessened, a feeling of relief shot through him. His head had begun to feel a trifle queer.

Again Mr. Ogden skilfully piloted the machine, sending it still lower. As it took the curves, the planes, assailed by the breeze which struck full against them, wobbled and shivered.

The boys were almost straight ahead, widely separated over the plain and keeping a safe distance from the ranch-house, in order to give the navigator of the air a chance to land.

“He’s going to volplane now,” mused Bob, presently.

Mr. Ogden had stopped his engine.

[109]A delightful, easy gliding motion downward through space immediately followed. Bob Somers, lying back in his seat, saw, with a thrill of pleasure, the buildings and stockade apparently swinging swiftly toward them.

Another series of rapid throbs came from the motor; the “Ogden II” slackened its pace until it seemed to be almost hovering over the ground. A few moments later, the machine settled down, the springs and rubber-tired wheels so absorbing the shock of impact that Bob Somers felt only a gentle bump.

When he stepped to the ground the odd sensation of light-headedness seemed only to increase; there was a vague impression as of objects being still in motion. His footing seemed insecure. Bob, however, with a shrug of his shoulders, quickly pulled himself together.

“Glorious—simply immense, fellows!” he cried, enthusiastically, as, with loud whoops, the broncho riders came cantering toward them. “Greatest thing out.”

“It’s surely the greatest thing to be in,” laughed Cranny. “My turn next.”

“Come off!” protested Dick.

[110]“Not off the aeroplane.” Cranny grinned. “Here comes wee Willie.”

“Don’t mention it,” growled Tom.

“You’re lookin’ kinder pale, Somers,” commented Mr. Beaumont’s ward, ambling up. “Feel weak in the legs, I’ll bet. No, I’m not going to take a fly, Cran Beaumont.”

“Really enjoyed it, Bob?” asked Mr. Ogden.

“I should say so,” answered Bob. “The way the machine responds to every movement of the driver is simply wonderful.”

“Taffy! Pile it on,” said Willie.

“May I go up now, Mr. Ogden?” asked Cranny, his eyes flashing with anticipation.

“Oh, yes. I have time to take you all on short spins.”

“Rah, rah!” yelled Cranny. “Watch now—see if you ever met a fellow before who could tether his bronc’ so fast.”

That morning, all but Willie Sloan took their first ride in an aeroplane. Tom’s turn came last; it was also the lowest and shortest flight which Mr. Ogden had made. The boys suspected the reason for this when the tall lad was brought to earth once more.

[111]“I fear something is the matter with our Clifton,” remarked Willie, staring hard toward him. “He seems to wobble.”

“I’ll make you wobble!” returned Tom, threateningly.

“Gracious! Let me prescribe the rest cure for an hour. Don’t go up again, if you come down like that.”

“You’re afraid to try it yourself,” snapped Tom, highly exasperated.

“Oh, dear me, our Mr. Clifton’s nerves are so unstrung,” retorted Willie.

“Here, boys, lend me a hand,” interrupted Mr. Ogden, with a smile. “We must put the biplane under cover again.”

About two o’clock they all gathered in the great square dining-room of the ranch-house. Dinner was cooked and served by a young Mexican who wore the picturesque costume of his country.

The boys found the highly-spiced and tasty dishes which he had prepared much to their liking, and lingered a long time at the table.

“I suppose you intend to stay in this part of the country for several weeks, boys?” remarked Mr. Ogden, at length.

[112]“Yes, sir,” answered Bob.

“Have you any especial work that you intend to do?”

“That one has,” said Willie, pointing his finger at Cranny. “You wouldn’t think it, to look at him, but he is going to be a rival of Major Warfield Carroll.”

“Ah, indeed!”

“Yes; an’ I’m here to see that he gets to work. Mr. Beaumont thought he needed to be roused up a bit, and sent him along with the Ramblers and me. My, weren’t you gettin’ awful stale, though, Cran?”

“Oh, don’t make me yawn,” snapped Cranny. “What were you going to say, Mr. Ogden?”

“We—that is my sons and I—were wondering if some of you lads could do us a great favor?”

“In what way?”

“Well, the work out here is about completed, and our presence is really required at Border City. You see, there are still some details to be arranged in connection with the coming meet. Then, again, Major Carroll, who is at work on a new engine, needs help.”

[113]Ferd spoke up. “It would take us about two weeks,” he said, “and, of course, during that time our machines and stuff out here would have to be guarded.”

“Well, we’re just the boys to do it,” began Cranny.

“The rest may be; but not you,” interrupted Willie. “The idea, Cran! I’ll write your father this very night.”

“Little busybody,” sniffed Tom.

“Mr. Clifton will think so when I get real busy with him,” said Willie, with one of his famous grins.

“You may count upon me, Mr. Ogden,” said Bob.

And all but little Willie Sloan echoed his sentiments.

“Why, it will be just dandy to bunk in this old place for a week or two,” cried Dick. “When shall you want us, Mr. Ogden?”

“In a very few days. We certainly are heartily obliged to you.”

“Greatly in your debt, I’m sure,” said Rob.

“And we’ll try to repay it,” added Ferd.

[114]As they waited outside for Jed Warren to appear, Willie Sloan began to express his views on the subject.

“The idea of you fellows taking up a thing like that!” he roared, in great disgust. “Isn’t Circle T bad enough? And stay in this old farmhouse for a week?—No, sir; not for me.”

“He calls it a farmhouse!” scoffed Tom.

“And, besides, Cran Beaumont, you’ve got to get to work—have to. Do you hear me warble?”

“See here, Willie”—Cranny spoke in soothing tones—“it’ll be no end o’ fun. I’ll teach you how to ride a bronc’.”

“Ride a bronc’?” exclaimed Willie.

“Sure! You’ll find it the greatest sport in the world.”

“But I don’t want to—I won’t, either. Goodness, is that fat boy asleep?”

It looked suspiciously like it.

Dave was seated on the top step, with his back resting comfortably against the door.

From the ancient stable came the steady and monotonous buzzing of a gasoline motor, while the stamping of bronchos tethered in[115] the rear of the ranch-house could now and then be heard.

“Wake up, Dave!” called out Bob.

“I feel like giving him a good shake.” Willie looked almost as though he intended to carry out such a proceeding. “He’s as bad as Cran—needs enough ginger to stock a grocery. You’re a bunch of softies—every one o’ you. I won’t stay out here.”

“You’ll have to,” said Cranny.

“I will, hey? Then I’ll become a kid-puncher, beginning with Mr. Clifton.”

“Here comes Jed, to take the little chap back,” interrupted Tom. “Hello, Jed, old boy!”

The cowboy galloped up.

“Hello, youngsters! Me an’ Pete saw that there machine a-scootin’ around in the air. Any o’ you lads have the nerve to try it?”

“Did we?—Well, I should rather say so—all but this little chap here,” exclaimed Tom, proudly, pointing to Willie.

“An’ I kin say they were sartingly a bunch o’ pale ones when they kim down,” said Willie.

“I don’t blame ’em,” grinned Jed. “A[116] little old pony for me, every time. Ready, Bob?”

“Yes, Jed, old boy.”

While the horses were being hitched to the buckboard the crowd raced to the shop to say good-bye. They found the inventor and his two sons busily engaged in testing a motor for the “Ogden III.”

This biplane, Mr. Ogden explained, was a great advance on the others. Conveniently placed by the aviator’s seat was a stand to hold charts, compass and other instruments. An acetylene lamp also attracted Bob Somers’ attention.

“We have been thinking of making some flights at night,” explained the inventor, in answer to his inquiring look.

“I suppose you lads suffered great annoyance in not being able to talk during the flights,” remarked Rob, with a smile. “This little arrangement allows the flyers to converse to some extent with one another.”

“A speakin’ tube?” exclaimed Cranny.

“Or telephone—if you choose to call it so. The science of aviation is constantly advancing.[117] Later on, a means of communication between aeroplanes in flight will probably be devised. What’s that, Bob—you want to take lessons in flying?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Bob.

“Just what I expected, Robert,” laughed Mr. Ogden, Senior, with a quizzical look at his son.

“I’m in on that scheme, too,” said Cranny, eagerly.

“You didn’t come out here to do the eagle act, Cran Beaumont. Your dad won’t stand for it,” put in Willie.

“Listen to the little tot!” laughed Cranny. “How about it, Mr. Ogden?”

“We’ll have to consider the question,” laughed the inventor, evasively. “Of course when you lads come back there will be plenty of opportunities to fly. If any show signs of aptitude as bird-men, why——”

“We will be glad to give a course of lessons to pay for your services in helping us out,” broke in Ferd, with a smile.

“Oh, my, what a lot o’ birdies I shall see,” grinned Willie. “Say, this is a machine shop, eh?”

[118]“Did you think it was a dining-room?” asked Tom, with great sarcasm.

“Looks as if every kind o’ tool that was ever invented is here. What’s that thing at the other end, mister?”

“All that remains of the ‘Ogden I,’ son,” answered the aviator. “It has been dismantled and some of the parts used for other machines.”

The boys found the big workshop a very interesting place. A soft mellow light from the afternoon sun streamed in through several open windows, lighting in its course a long table upon which were placed various pieces of machinery and a great collection of tools. A large and a small glider rested against one wall.

For once, Willie Sloan began to exhibit some signs of interest. He wandered about, poking his head into every corner of the shop, until Jed Warren suddenly appeared in the doorway.

“Time to git back, fellers!” he called. “Comin’?”

“I reckon as how we be, pard,” answered Willie.

[119]As Bob shook the inventor’s hand, he said: “The crowd will be back in a few days; and then I hope to begin those lessons.”

Willie Sloan soon climbed into the buckboard, the boys mounted their bronchos, and, with a final shout and waving of hands to the three aeroplanists, the crowd was off.

The buckboard, driven at a rattling pace by Jed Warren, sent little eddies of dust rolling behind it. In a short time the ranch-house had disappeared behind a patch of timber.

They were now in the midst of the herds of cattle.

Willie Sloan firmly clutched the rail at his side. Many misgivings once more rose within him, as he studied their powerful bodies and tremendous horns. Occasionally a bellowing came over the air. Several times he saw great steers pawing the ground and eying the approaching vehicle with an air of defiance.

“Ginger! Wouldn’t it be awful if some o’ those ugly brutes should happen to bump into us,” he thought. “Humph! Cran and the others are getting away ahead.”

The sunlight was now enveloping the prairie[120] in a golden glow, while the cattle sent long purplish shadows over the ground.

“Have they lost you, Jed?” spoke up Willie, suddenly.

Crack! The whip snapped and the buckboard increased its speed, until Willie fairly held his breath.

“Hold on, Warren—stop!” he commanded, fiercely.

A few minutes later the driver’s grinning face was turned toward him.

Willie doubled his little fist, and shook it within an inch of the cow-puncher’s nose.

“Don’t do that again,” he cried, furiously. “You wouldn’t know how to drive a cow to market.”

“All right, sonny,” answered Jed, with apparent meekness.

When the river was reached Jed followed its willow-covered banks for some distance, and, at length, forded the stream. Cranny, Tim Lovell and the Ramblers were now but tiny specks in the distance. Cattle still surrounded them on all sides, and it was a great relief to William Sloan when Circle T Ranch finally came into view.

[121]By the time they arrived, the boys were lolling about the porch in careless ease. Valdez, the dark-skinned Mexican, came quickly forward and took charge of the buckboard and horses, while Willie climbed wearily to the ground.

“Where’s your hat, sonny?” asked Jed, who noticed that his hair was blowing about in the breeze.

“About five miles back on the prairie, I guess.”

The boys on the porch began to roar.

“What became of it?” demanded Cranny.

“That’s a nice question to ask, when I just told you. S’pose you mean how did it happen?”

“Oh, we know you couldn’t help it,” returned the other.

“That old thing on the driver’s seat made those two poor nags nearly break their necks; and the breeze was fierce. I had my hat on the seat. It must have blown off when I wasn’t looking.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed Cranny. “That clears you, all right.” He winked at Bob. “Honestly, now, didn’t we have a bully time?”

[122]“Not enough to let you bully me into ever going back,” growled Willie, shaking a cloud of dust from his shoulders.

“Listen to the Insurrecto!” snickered Tom.

“There’ll be a revolution around here soon, Mr. Clifton, that’s sure.”

Willie stepped up on the porch and flung himself down on a stool.

“Say, Cran, that workshop wasn’t half bad, though,” he added, brightening up.

“Best I ever saw,” answered the big lad, enthusiastically.

“I guess it is the only one you ever saw.”

At the table, Bob Somers explained to Mr. Follett their intention of making a stay at Lone Pine.

“Well, Bob, I should be sorry to lose you,” said the ranchman. “Still, if it will be of benefit to the Ogdens, I approve of your plan.”

“Cran can’t go,” said Willie.

“Perhaps you might allow him a few days of grace,” suggested Mr. Follett, with a smile.

For several days the boys enjoyed themselves in various ways; that is, all but Willie[123] Sloan. He generally moped about on the porch, gazing listlessly into space. Tim Lovell had made a special effort to be friendly, only to find himself rebuffed.

“I won’t go back to that old farmhouse,” declared Willie, one evening, to Cranny.

The big lad pleaded and coaxed.

“Think of the fun you’ll have in that machine shop,” he remarked.

“So I might—if those air-ship duffers weren’t there,” said Willie, calmly. “Didn’t I see ’em with a don’t-touch look in their eyes all the time? Say, Cran, why couldn’t a fellow fly to the moon in an air-ship—a balloon, I mean?”

“Ask Major Carroll, when you make his acquaintance.”

“My! Your ignorance is something awful.”

“We’re goin’ to Lone Pine to-morrow,” snapped Cranny, out of patience.

“Not I; I haven’t any hat.”

“If you never have another hat in your life,—it’s Lone Pine for you to-morrow!” declared Cranny.



And Willie Sloan, in spite of his most vigorous protests, did arrive early the next morning, by means of the buckboard, at Lone Pine Ranch.

A hat had been found for him, and, as its original owner was a man of good size, the fit was not all that could be desired. A piece of newspaper stuffed into the lining, however, prevented it from slipping over Willie’s ears.

“Here comes the Insurrecto,” grinned Tom, as the conveyance rattled up.

Highly disgusted with everything and everybody, Willie made no reply. He promptly kicked a suit case off the buckboard, then another.

“Here—one of those is mine!” roared Tom.

“Come up and I’ll treat you the same way,” snorted Willie. “How-de-do, Mr. Ogden? Yes, quite well, sir, thank you.”

[125]“Quit throwing that stuff around,” ordered Cranny, as suit case number three was about to follow the others.

“I can’t find my knife anywhere,” growled Willie—“must have dropped it among this stuff.”

Several pairs of hands helped to unload the vehicle, but the missing property was not discovered.

“That’s your fault, Cran Beaumont; if we hadn’t come to this old farmhouse I’d have——”

“Let’s go in and see the rooms, Willie,” interrupted Dave Brandon, pleasantly.

“Sure; no use lookin’ for that old ten-center; it’s most likely lyin’ on the prairie five miles from here,” said Cranny. “You’re a careless kid.”

“I couldn’t help it,” grumbled Willie, scrambling to the ground.

The crowd followed the inventor and his sons into the house.

“Go right up-stairs, boys,” said Mr. Ogden, Senior. “Any rooms but the two on the eastern side are at your disposal.”

Presently the lads were on the second floor[126] walking through the various apartments. Some had queer-shaped recesses; others closets, but without a vestige of their doors remaining. The light which came in through the dusty panes was not enough to dispel a heavy air of gloom. A few pieces of furniture, of a ponderous design, lifted themselves from obscurity by sharp touches of light and dense shadows.

“Oh, ginger! If this isn’t the worst ever!” growled Willie, disgustedly. “Bet nobody’s swung a broom in here since the year minus one. An’ I see cobwebs, too!”

“Mercy!” snickered Tom.

“You’ll be howling for it soon. Say, does that first-aid-to-the-injured book tell you what to do for a good hard bump on the nose?”

The crimson mounted as far as Tommy’s eyes.

“Eh?” he stammered.

“When I catch you alone, Mr. Clifton, volume two may come in handy. See here, Cran Beaumont, I’ll tell you right now, I won’t stay long in this old farmhouse.”

Within a few minutes the boys had discovered that there wasn’t a bed in any of the[127] rooms, the only thing suggestive of comfortable repose being a mattress placed on the floor of the largest. What Willie said during the next few minutes resulted in such a roar of voices that Bob hastily stepped to the door and closed it. Cranny did most of the laughing; Tom was the angriest.

But eventually it all came to an end. Willie had possession of the mattress, and Bob agreed to make a desperate effort to secure a pillow for him. Tim Lovell and Cranny decided to share the room, and had the privilege of taking any part of the floor they chose.

“Now, fellows, let’s get to work,” cried Bob Somers, briskly; “we’ll soon have these rooms looking several years younger.”

With the exception of Dave and Willie, the crowd set vigorously to work. They broomed, scrubbed and dusted, until the long unoccupied rooms began to assume a positively cheerful appearance. Windows were thrown open, admitting the pure, fresh air that swept for miles over the prairie. By noon they surveyed their work with much satisfaction. Prints had been tacked on the walls; even[128] some of Dave Brandon’s oil sketches were hung up for critical eyes to examine.

“Humph!” exclaimed Willie, intently gazing at a sunset. “Ever sell any?”

“Never did,” laughed the stout lad.

“I shouldn’t think you could. What’s the use o’ painting?”

“To inculcate a love and understanding of nature in myself, and to help others in the same way.”

“If a fellow ever saw a real sundown like that he might think it was the end of the world, and yell for help.”

“Why, it’s simply immense!” cried Tom, in amazement.

“Art critics often disagree,” laughed Dave.

“The painting’s disagreed with me already,” said Willie.

The boys all had a fine appetite for dinner; and after it was over helped the inventor and his sons to get out the “Ogden II.” Rob took several of the lads on short flights, while Willie spent his time in the workshop.

Bob again broached to Mr. Ogden, Senior, the subject of taking lessons in the art of aviation.

[129]The bird-man, disposed to be cautious, again spoke of the risks, but finally agreed to comply with his earnest request.

“And I wouldn’t consent, Bob,” he explained, “but for the fact that you seem to be one who is not disposed to take foolish chances.”

“You can depend upon me, Mr. Ogden,” cried Bob, enthusiastically.

The days seemed to follow one another swiftly at Lone Pine; and except during the very hottest part of the afternoon the boys always managed to find something to occupy their attention. Ferd made many ascents, taking Bob with him, rising higher on each occasion, in order to accustom his pupil to dizzy altitudes. Bob’s nerves, however, proved equal to the task imposed upon them; and it was agreed that soon he should be allowed to occupy the aviator’s seat.

“Bob,” exclaimed Mr. Ogden, one morning after breakfast, “would you like to take a spin over to Border City?”

“Well, I should say so!” cried Bob.

“That ought to be a great trip,” said Tom.

“Perfectly grand!” came from Dick, in enthusiastic tones.

[130]With so many willing hands to draw the aeroplane from beneath its canvas covering the work was done in record time.

At length Bob clambered into his seat, his eyes sparkling in pleasurable anticipation. It was a fine day, with a lively breeze blowing over the broad prairie. There was a fragrance in the air—a scent of grass and other growing things pleasant to the senses.

“So-long, fellows!” yelled Bob.

Cheery shouts came in response. The motor began to vibrate; the “Ogden II” shot swiftly ahead, and, in another moment, yielding to the effect of its powerful propellers, left the ground.

Bob watched the objects skimming beneath with ever-increasing speed. A backward glance showed him Lone Pine and the boys swiftly dropping behind. The horizon was rising, each instant revealing greater stretches of prairie. Chains of distant hills came into view, and, far to the west, seen through a whitish haze, the range of mountains extended off in a series of jagged peaks.

The slight sensation of dizziness and feeling of insecurity which Bob Somers had experienced[131] during his early flights was now almost entirely absent. He felt a strange exhilaration as the cool air rushing by fanned his cheeks.

Higher, still higher climbed the biplane toward the white clouds above, through openings in which streamed bursts of sunlight that sent its shadow flying across prairie and cattle. The yellow alkali plain, with its curiously-shaped sandstone buttes, was soon plainly in view, while he could see a line of scrubby willows and a slender thread of bluish white showing between, to mark the meandering course of the river.

Mr. Ogden, having confidence in the nerves of his passenger, soared still higher, the biplane headed against a gently resisting breeze. Occasionally as stronger or slanting gusts struck the planes, it rocked; then, with almost the buoyancy of a feather, recovered its equilibrium.

Bob judged by the rapidity with which the clouds were scudding past that the machine was going at tremendous speed, but the earth, so far below, seemed to be slipping by at only a leisurely rate. He saw patches of timber[132] enveloped in the deep blue of distance, acres of tumbleweed, and vast areas of bright green buffalo grass dotted here and there with cattle.

Far off, as little patches of white, Circle T Ranch and its outbuildings presently shot into view. Eagerly, Bob Somers watched it growing larger.

“I wonder if Mr. Follett or any of the cow-punchers see us,” he mused, drawing his field-glass from its case.

A glance through it brought within the range of his vision several tiny figures gathered before the ranch, all apparently staring hard at the flying machine.

Mr. Ogden put on additional power. Then, responding to a turn of its rudder, the aeroplane cut a lane straight toward Circle T.

A few moments later they shot above it, catching glimpses of figures moving about with apparently sloth-like speed. Again Mr. Ogden manipulated the rudder, and his biplane swept around in a curve, while the breeze, striking against it at an angle, sent the planes tipping slightly.

Some distance ahead a series of partly-wooded hills hemmed in the plain. Beyond[133] these, in the midst of a dark, loam-covered prairie, lay Border City.

Bob eagerly watched for its appearance. He raised his field-glass again, bringing within the circle of light rugged, barren slopes or rich growths of spruce, aspen and pine.

“Ah ha!”

Beyond their crests the glass had picked out a collection of buildings extended for some distance in a crooked line. When the hills were beneath, Bob gazed upon the tops of high trees, into ridges, bluish in shadow, or at bald reddish rocks shining brightly as the shafts of sunlight passed across.

Border City was looming up more clearly; the cluster of light-colored houses seemed rushing toward them. The changing perspective brought first one building into prominence, then another; but the hangar of Major Carroll’s dirigible balloon and the big gas tank easily dominated the scene.

Bob Somers, gazing earnestly through the field-glass, saw the outlying buildings beginning to detach themselves from the general mass. Finally the crooked street of[134] Border City, far below, flashed suddenly past, giving the two a momentary glimpse of excited people rushing to and fro.

Then the town began to fall rapidly behind. Mr. Ogden was piloting his machine directly over the railroad tracks.

“Wonder where in the dickens he’s going?” mused Bob.

The aviator changed his course, showing perfect control, although the biplane tipped to an apparently dangerous angle. When it had righted itself, Bob found that they were speeding swiftly back toward the city.

The roar of the engine suddenly ceased. A pleasant calm, broken only by the soft flutter of the breeze as it rushed by, followed.

They were volplaning straight toward the hangar of Mr. Warfield Carroll’s dirigible balloon.

The long glide through space brought with it a truly delightful sense of comfort. Bob Somers viewed the brown, loam-covered prairie rushing toward them with almost a feeling of regret. He could see groups of people gathered about the hangar. Their loud shouts of welcome, too, reached his ears.

[135]The wind was singing past now at a faster rate. Another pulsating roar began. Their speed gradually slackened under the power of the reversed propellers.

Calmness again; and a long, steady, breath-taking swoop! There was a sudden change in the slant of the balancing planes. A final glide, then the biplane alighted on its wheels with scarcely a jar, and stopped within a hundred feet of the hangar.



The navigators of the air were almost immediately surrounded; but the man who reached them first and extended his hand in greeting toward that of Mr. Ogden was Major Warfield Carroll, the New York financier. He glanced with an expression of wonder at the aviator’s passenger.

There was nothing very impressive about Major Carroll’s appearance—not enough to cause any one to take a second look. He stood but little over five and a half feet high, and was slight, with a closely-cropped sandy mustache and gray-blue eyes. And it was not until he spoke that a truer estimate of the man could be had. His eyes then seemed to fairly flash; his quick, nervous movements, and short, jerky sentences, uttered in a voice that vibrated with decision and energy, entirely changed his appearance. Even the most casual of observers could recognize in[137] him a forceful character which nature had somehow concealed from view in his physical make-up.

“Glad to see you, Ogden,” he said, in hearty tones. “Been expecting you all morning. Your young friend, Bob Somers, eh? Glad to see you, too. Never were up in an aeroplane before, I suppose? What! Many times? Well, well; an old hand at it, then!”

“Oh, just a few days old,” laughed Bob.

“Walters told me a short time ago that a boy had telephoned from Circle T Ranch—wanted to see our air-ship, I believe. Walters is one of my mechanics. Were you the one? No; but belong to a crowd that is over at the ranch, eh? Everything working all right with your new plane, Ogden?”

“Never better, Major Carroll. I think we shall be able to capture several prizes.”

“Undoubtedly. Now, Bob, if you would like to examine the dirigible, come along. Walters!” His voice rose in a loud call. Then he added, quietly, “Ogden, I want to consult with you on several matters, and the aeroplane, or, rather, this crowd of inquisitive visitors, may need a bit of watching.”

[138]A man in blue overalls hove into view.

Leaving the mechanician in charge, the three walked briskly toward the curious-looking hangar. It was a wooden structure completely covering the dirigible and closed at the ends by canvas coverings. These, however, were now drawn aside.

Two mechanicians were hard at work, as the party entered.

“Great Scott; isn’t it a whopper!” cried Bob, surveying the huge cigar-shaped hull which loomed high above them.

“Air-ships very much larger have been built,” said Major Carroll, “but this—the ‘Border City’ it is called—answers my purpose sufficiently well.”

“Have you made any flights yet?” asked Bob.

“A dozen, at least; and most of them satisfactory.”

“I can testify to that,” said Mr. Ogden.

“Perhaps a short description of the air-ship may interest you,” added Major Carroll, “so, while Mr. Ogden and myself are conferring together, I’ll have Kindale—he’s my chief mechanician—supply it.”

[139]Bob thanked him.

“Yes siree; the ‘Border City’ flies like an eagle,” said Kindale, a moment later. “How long is the balloon? About a hundred an’ fifty feet. The diameter’s a bit less’n forty. You see, like some rowboats, one end is sharply pointed, an’ t’other’s round, so as to give less resistance to the air.”

As the two walked slowly along by the side of the huge air-ship Bob Somers marveled at the knowledge and skill which had been able to produce such a wonderful piece of work. The long car, attached to the keel by wire cables, was completely enclosed with rubber cloth, having mica-covered windows at the front and rear ends and an entrance in the middle.

“The bag is made o’ several thicknesses o’ rubber-coated fabric,” explained Kindale. “Of course you know the whole thing ain’t filled with gas?”

“I believe the bag is divided into compartments,” said Bob.

“Sure; an’ the reason is this: cold, or air pressure, contracts the gas, while heat, or lessening of the air pressure, causes it to expand.[140] Therefore, if we ascend to a very high altitude the gas expands considerably; an’ supposin’ it’s on a blazin’ hot day—why, then the envelope stands a good chance o’ bustin’, doesn’t it?”

“Certainly!” responded Bob.

“Well, one o’ the compartments is really a little balloon inside the big one; an’ it’s kept filled with air by a motor—just pressure enough to balance the pressure of the gas around it.”

“I understand,” said Bob.

“An’ when the gas in the big envelope expands it simply presses on the little balloon, forces out some of the air through a valve, and, in that way, gets room enough without doin’ any damage.”

“A mighty slick scheme.”

“And when the gas contracts the motor drives more air into the balloonette, which fills out and keeps the big envelope inflated.”

“Sure thing,” remarked Bob. “It regulates the pressure, so that they don’t have to let the gas escape.”

“That’s it, exactly! Of course, though, we’re bound to lose some through leakage.[141] The framework o’ the car is made of light steel tubing. In the middle is our gasoline motor. These big screw propellers, just abreast on either side, are worked by shafts. The boss, if he happens to be in a good humor, may let you go aboard.”

“I only hope he will,” said Bob. “Those planes at the front and rear ends are to maintain the vertical equilibrium, I suppose?”

“Them big words don’t faze you, I see. Yes; you’ve struck it. And the rudder, of course, is at the rear. Wait a second; I’ll speak to the boss.”

Kindale walked rapidly away, soon returning, his face wearing a good-natured grin.

“It’s all right, Bob; he says you may climb aboard. Be a little careful, for it ain’t like gettin’ in an’ out of a Pullman.”

Bob followed the mechanician up a small gangplank, and, stooping over, managed to get inside the car. It was so dark that for a few moments he was compelled to grope his way, guided only by the movements of Kindale’s shadowy form in advance.

“You’ll soon be able to see,” remarked the latter, cheerfully. “Don’t be skeered; there[142] ain’t no holes to drop through. Kind o’ cozy, ain’t it?”

“I should say so,” said Bob. “Must be great to fly, and have all the comforts of home.”

His conductor laughed, and proceeded to raise several sections of the water-proof fabric which enclosed the car. Bob saw that they wound upon a series of rollers.

“The engine,” said Kindale, pointing it out.

“A fine one; and mighty powerful—I can see that,” returned Bob.

“It is; beats the engine of your aeroplane all hollow. In the rear we have a place to store provisions an’ water. Come up front.”

Bob noted that everything about the car was handsomely finished, even to several seats ranged along the sides. A small table stood near the steering gear at the forward end.

The perfection of the “Border City’s” navigation apparatus was also very apparent. The highly polished surfaces of wheel, compass, chronometer and levers caught and held the rays of light which entered from the open end of the hangar. Charts and a barometer[143] were arranged in convenient places. A high-power telescope was fastened to a stand close by.

“It’s simply stunning!” cried Bob. “Not a thing lacking, I’ll bet.”

“There certainly ain’t.”

“Go up or down easily?”

“Those levers you see operate a balancing device patented by the Major. As the weight shifts the air-ship is tilted, and the propellers do the rest. Say, Bob, them air-skimmers ain’t in it with this.”

“It certainly is more comfortable, and you have protection from the weather,” returned Bob, diplomatically.

“Sure! Why, it’s jim-dandy to stand here steerin’, an’ look over the landscape. Only—the Major don’t give us no rest. Sometimes he gits ’bout seven ideas a minute; an’ jist when we’re flyin’ good he’s apt to say, ‘Take her right down, Kindale. The whole crowd will have to hustle to-night.’”

“Then he is still working on it?” inquired Bob.

“Still working on it! Why, man alive, he’ll never git done tinkerin’ on it, the Major[144] won’t—no siree. An’ if he ain’t the first man to cross the Atlantic in a balloon I miss my guess.”

“Well, I wish him luck. Mighty nice man, isn’t he?”

“He can be,” grinned Kindale, shrugging his shoulders. “No; the ‘Border City’ ain’t goin’ up to-day—pretty soon, though. Say, you had plenty o’ grit to go up in that skimmer.”

“Oh, not so much—after the first time.”

“Talk about the nerve o’ them cowboys! Why, they haven’t any. We’ve jollied them a bit, but couldn’t even get one to say he’d go up. They make me tired.”

“Their courage is of a different kind,” laughed Bob. “Did some one call?”

“It’s the boss. All right, Major!” yelled Kindale. “Oh, you’re welcome, Bob. It’s easier talkin’ than workin’; I’d like to keep it up. Comin’, Major. Wish to thunder he wasn’t always in such an awful rush.”

At the bottom of the gangplank stood Major Carroll and Mr. Ogden.

“How do you like it, young man?” asked the former.

[145]“It’s simply great,” answered Bob, enthusiastically. “Never expected to see anything half so fine.”

“Well, come over some day when we’re going up, and I’ll take you along as a passenger.” And, without waiting to hear Bob’s thanks, he added, turning to his assistant, “Kindale, I’ve got a new idea—a good one, Mr. Ogden thinks. Come right along.”

Kindale, with something that sounded like a deep sigh, thereupon walked abruptly away.

A couple of cow-punchers and numerous residents of Border City were on hand to watch Mr. Ogden and his passenger take their places in the aeroplane.

“I wouldn’t go in that thing for a million dollars,” said one of the former.

“Get out,” grinned Walters. “Before long you’ll be steerin’ cows over the prairie by aeroplane. Stand back, everybody!”

“I’m ready, Mr. Ogden. Good-bye, Walters!” said Bob.

The sound of the motor blended in with a volley of cheers from the crowd. The biplane again soared aloft, and soon Border City was left far behind.

[146]A noisy and enthusiastic welcome greeted the navigators, as the machine gracefully volplaned to earth and landed without accident near the machine shop.



That afternoon, Bob Somers took his first lesson in aerial navigation, his instructor being Ferd Ogden. The aviator explained the importance of learning how to volplane.

“You see, Bob,” he said, “in case of any accident befalling the engine your safety may depend upon landing at some particular point on the ground, so the pupil must often make attempts to alight within certain prescribed limits.”

The two had just made a short flight, and were standing near the ranch-house in company with the other Ramblers and Cranny.

“That’s a point I have often thought about,” remarked the latter loftily.

“Very good,” laughed Ferd. “I suppose, Bob, you have been trying to study the effects of various air currents on the machine?”

[148]“Yes, sir.”

“And I guess Dave has already written a treatise on the subject,” grinned Dick.

Bob Somers had found that with the aeroplane under his own guidance, and every movement, therefore, dependent upon the way in which he manipulated the controlling levers, the sensation was entirely different from that of being merely a passenger. But he quickly gained confidence, and on the succeeding days gradually accustomed himself to making short flights, always at low altitudes, and with Ferd seated beside him.

“Nothing is apt to disturb one’s nerve so much as a serious mishap at an early stage of the proceedings,” Ferd remarked. “Go slow is a good motto for the beginner.”

Whatever misgivings the inventor and his sons may have had regarding Bob’s venture into their chosen field soon vanished, for they quickly realized that he was cool-headed and not disposed to be venturesome.

Cranny Beaumont’s great ambition to become an air-man, however, did not meet with encouragement. Doctors and surgeons were not plentiful around Border City, so the Ogdens[149] firmly intimated that his talents might be better turned into other channels.

“Cran” was disposed to sulk tremendously at first, and Willie said a few things which caused the Ogdens to keep close around, for they were kind-hearted men and greatly preferred that nothing should happen to him. Ferd, then, good-naturedly humored the big lad by taking him on several cross-country flights, and every one was able to breathe a little easier.

Meanwhile the time for the aviators to leave was approaching. Each day had found them hard at work in the machine shop, putting the finishing touches on the “Ogden III.” Bob and the others were often able to assist, and in this way the lad gained a practical knowledge of the biplane’s construction and of the gasoline motor.

As Willie Sloan spent almost his entire time in the shop, Bob Somers found many opportunities to study him closely. Both he and Dave Brandon became convinced that Mr. Beaumont’s ward was a great deal sharper than Cranny supposed. The latter never failed to laugh at Willie’s odd questions, but[150] the other two had a growing suspicion that even those not intended to be humorous or irritating were, as Bob expressed it, “Easy offerings to an apparently easy crowd.”

“Hoodwinkers,” added Dave.

“Nonsense!” roared Tom, upon hearing these observations. “He’s so stupid that he even doesn’t know how to act sensibly. His thoughts wander, and every once in a while a little puff escapes from the safety-valve. If it wasn’t for that there would be an explosion big enough to wreck the shop.”

Cranny roared again, and complimented Tom on his wisdom.

“No use to try and draw him out,” complained Dick. “He’s a puzzle to me.”

“I know,” laughed Bob. “But Willie needs different treatment from most boys.” Then, as Beaumont had walked away, he said, in a lower tone: “Cranny couldn’t manage him in a hundred years.”

“Have you noticed how Willie acts in the shop?” asked Dave.

“Yes; and if it wasn’t for Mr. Ogden and his sons he’d be pokin’ his face into everything,” said Dick. “They keep after him all[151] the time to keep him from meddling with things.”

“And that disturbs Willie, too; it isn’t necessary a bit.”

“No, it isn’t,” agreed Dave; “and I rather think——” The stout boy paused.

“Think what?” asked Bob.

“That from the way Cranny and his father talked Willie knew well enough they considered him stupid.”

“And upon certain natures——”

“Such a course has a bad effect,” interrupted Dave. “Encouragement does wonders; tell a chap he’s doing well, and it often spurs him on to greater efforts.”

“A little boost puts him on top of the fence,” grinned Dick.

“Now, as Mr. Beaumont was good enough to think we could liven up Willie Sloan, it’s about time that something was done.”

“There’s a lot in a boy finding out what occupation he likes best,” said Bob, thoughtfully.

Dave nodded.

“Willie certainly doesn’t seem to take any interest in business, art or literature,” he remarked,[152] “but when he gets around machinery I’ve often noticed a change in him—a great change.”

“So have I,” said Bob.

“Let us try to find out if the lad has a mechanical turn of mind.”

“Goodness! You talk like two real old school-teachers,” grinned Dick.

“Wisdom and dignity go together.” Dave laughed, as he added: “Here he comes now, with Cranny.”

The big lad was pushing the little one in through the doorway, apparently because the latter didn’t move quite fast enough to suit him.

“Say, Somers, what do you think?” began Cranny; “Ferd says we may use the ‘Ogden II’ while they’re away at Border City.”

“Oh, Cran Beaumont,” squeaked Willie; “you mean he said Bob Somers could.”

“Well, that’s exactly the same thing. Won’t it be bully?”

“Jolly!” laughed Bob.

“And he says you’ve made good as an aviator to a surprising degree,” added Willie.[153] “Don’t look pale under forty-three feet, I suppose. Cranny couldn’t——”

“Oh, it’s easy enough,” grumbled Cranny. “They must have some grudge against me. In two lessons I’d have been soarin’ a mile high.”

“That’s an awful long distance to fall, isn’t it, Doctor Clifton?” grinned Willie.

Tom stared hard, but made no reply.

“In a few days they are going to leave,” said Tim Lovell.

“And we’ll have to stay in this mean old farmhouse all by ourselves,” grumbled Willie. “See here, Cran, when will you get started on your job?”

“In just a few days, Willie.”

“Gee! A nice business man Mr. Beaumont sent out here. Mr. Ogden the First is going to Border City to-morrow—says he’ll take me along.”

“What! In the aeroplane?” cried Cranny, in astonishment.

“Aeroplane nothing!”

“Afraid, eh?” grunted Tom.

“I saw the awful effect it had on Doctor Clifton. My, what paleness! What wobbly legs!”

[154]“Haven’t I gone up a lot of times?” snapped Tom. “You needn’t talk.”

“He takes you only about twenty-eight feet high. Yes, it’s true, Cran. I’m going off in the wagon to-morrow morning.”

Mr. Ogden, soon appearing, verified this statement.

“Yes, boys,” he said; “some of our stuff has to be hauled over to Border City.”

So, on the following morning, a vehicle which had belonged to the former occupants of Lone Pine was loaded with tools and various parts of motors. Willie clambered aboard; then Mr. Ogden took his place behind a spirited pair of piebald ponies.

It was a blazing hot day, with only a few clouds floating in the blue above. Scarcely a breath of air seemed stirring to relieve the oppressive atmosphere.

The crowd found the cool interior of the ranch-house inviting, and soon gathered in the big room down-stairs.

“I’ll bet when that little duffer gets back he’ll have an awful grouch,” said Cranny.

“The worst ever, I s’pose,” came from Tom.

“He strings you a lot, eh, lad?”

[155]Tom’s face darkened.

“But for you, Cranny, I’d have taught him a lesson before this,” he exclaimed, grimly.

“Oh, goodness!” snickered Cranny; “that’s the second time. Fellows, form an arbitration board, quick.”

“Some fireworks’ll start when Willie gets back,” predicted Sam Randall.

Toward evening Mr. Beaumont’s ward, hot, dusty and tired, returned. But the expected “grouch” was lacking. Indeed, the boys had never seen him in a better humor.

“Don’t you feel well?” asked Cranny, with apparent solicitude.

“Sure! Why, Cran?”

“Oh, nothing! What’s the news?”

“Say, Cran, I saw the balloon that goes up in the air.”

“You did? Why, that must be a new kind o’ a balloon!” laughed Cranny.

“Major What’s-his-name took me all through it.”

“An’ the gas didn’t even try to push you out?”

“Oh, quit joking, Cran Beaumont. It’s a[156] perfect whopper. An air-skimmer wouldn’t look much bigger’n a mosquito, alongside of it. And say, what do you think?”


“Major What’s-his-name asked me if I’d like to go up some time; and I said, ‘You bet! This thing is most large enough to take a chap to the moon, isn’t it?’ You told me to ask—remember, Cran? Then he made this remark: ‘On my next visit to the satellite I’ll take you along.’”

“Huh!” said Tom.

“Say, Cran, isn’t it awful odd we didn’t see in the papers that he’d been up to the moon?”

“Humph!” came from Tom.

“What’s a satellite, Cran?”

“Get a book, and find out.”

“Ginger, but your ignorance is becoming monotonous.”

“I declare, I’ve got to get a look at that balloon, myself,” exclaimed Cranny, with a great deal of emphasis. “To-morrow I’ll take a business trip to Border City and look over the field.”

“A business trip!” scoffed Willie. “Take[157] Doctor Clifton along. He’s tall enough to look over several fields.”

“Who wants to go?” went on the big lad, paying no attention to this flippancy.

“Count me in,” said Dick.

“And me, too,” chimed in Tim Lovell.

Accordingly, early on the following morning, the three rode over to Border City. The business part of Cranny’s trip consisted mainly in making a close inspection of Major Carroll’s dirigible balloon. Afterward, Cranny and his friends rode straight to the Carroll Inn, where the big lad wrote a letter to his father. It was chiefly remarkable for the lack of information it contained, and ended with the surprising statement: “A lot more facts in my next.”

“A few days at the ranch, an’ then I’ll begin work in real earnest,” he announced to his companions.

“If you don’t, Willie may get ahead of you,” grinned Tim.

And this remark made Cranny laugh.

When the three reached Lone Pine again, they found that Bob Somers had made his first unaccompanied ascent in the “Ogden II.”

[158]“He’s almost a full-fledged aviator now,” commented Ferd. “I’m very glad, boys, for day after to-morrow we leave Lone Pine in your care.”



The “day after to-morrow” seemed to come around very quickly, and, as is usually the case when one is leaving for any length of time, an immense number of things had to be attended to at the last moment. It was a busy morning for all, except, of course, Willie Sloan and Dave. These two had a natural aptitude for relieving themselves of work.

When the wagon had finally been loaded, the young Mexican hitched the horses to it, and the inventor and his sons were at last ready to bid a temporary good-bye to the scene of their successful labors.

“Now, Bob, don’t forget, the workshop is to be kept closed.”

Mr. Ogden, Senior, spoke in a tone which, while low, reached the ears of Willie Sloan.

“All right, sir.”

“Of course, in case any occasion to use[160] tools arises, you have my permission to take them. Now, may I rest assured that you will exercise the same care in making flights as before?”

“Indeed you may, sir!”

“That relieves my mind.”

“Oh, ginger; the workshop is to be kept closed,” murmured Willie. “Isn’t that awful luck?”

The smile which had rested on his face immediately vanished.

“Good-bye, lads!” Mr. Ogden was calling. “Yes, Bob; one of us will ride over soon. Take care of yourselves.”

“We shall!” laughed Cranny.

A chorus of “Good-byes” arose. The Mexican flapped his reins and the wagon wheels began to revolve.

The crowd raced by the side of the vehicle as far as the stockade, and stood gazing out over the prairie as it rumbled slowly away. Not until a patch of timber had hidden the conveyance did they turn toward the ranch-house.

“All alone!” said Sam.

“Dreadful situation—with no one but Willie to protect us,” wailed Dick.

[161]“See here, Cran Beaumont, when are you going to get to work at Border City?” demanded Willie.

“Mighty soon,” answered Cranny, with a cheerful grin. “I’m thinking ’bout it.”

“And I guess that’s almost enough to give you brain fag. Say, I do wish those cattle would keep away from our yard. There’s an awful lot loafing around outside. Ever notice their eyes, Brandon? They roll frightfully.”

“What’s to be done, fellows?” asked Tim Lovell.

“Done?” cried Willie. “Why, there isn’t a thing we can do, now, in this old farmhouse.”

“Well, it’s certain that you can’t stay in the machine shop poking into other people’s business all day,” said Cranny.

“When I want advice I’ll go to some one whom I can address as ‘Mister,’” returned Willie, scornfully. “Going sky-planing to-day, Somers?”

“It’s my turn to go up with Bob,” urged Tim Lovell.

“Well, I hope he won’t drop the subject, then,” said Willie. “Go on—an’ up. Do I[162] ever intend to try it? No! Haven’t got the nerve, eh? Say, Cran, what’s a mailed fist?”

“A letter, sometimes,” chuckled Cranny.

“Huh; not so dense, after all,” said Willie. “If I were your dad, the mailed fist I’d send would knock you flat on the prairie.”

The first thing the boys did was to take stock of the provisions. Then they reached an agreement regarding the cooking, as usual, leaving Dave and Willie out of their calculations.

Later, Bob Somers, with Tim as his passenger, made a short cross-country flight.

Willie, now unable to visit the machine shop, fell quickly back into his old listless ways.

After lunch, the boys, with the exception of Dave, explored a subterranean passageway which led from the house to the stable, and found a great deal of fun and interest in the proceeding.

The days began to pass with a somewhat monotonous regularity. Early one morning, when the “Ogden II” was ready for a flight, Willie Sloan sauntered slowly into view. For some time, the boys had observed him carrying[163] around a small, red-covered book; but even Cranny’s efforts to discover what it was had met with failure.

Tommy, walking over toward the biplane to take his seat beside Bob, saw the small volume drop from Willie’s pocket, and instantly made a grab toward it.

“Here—let that alone, Dr. Thomas Clifton!” snapped Willie, in high dudgeon.

The crimson flush, which, ever since Tom had grown so tall, came to his face on the slightest pretext, was once more in evidence.

“Well, what are you getting so wild about?” he demanded.

“Wild? I’ll get more’n wild. Don’t you dare touch that book, smarty!”

“Ha, ha! Where’s that arbitration board?” roared Cranny.

But Tom already had the book.

“You open it—just you open it!” came from Willie.

Tom Clifton’s forbearance was not equal to the task of accepting this command with equanimity, particularly as it was accompanied by a threatening movement of Willie’s fist.

Deliberately, he turned the pages.

[164]“Why, it’s called ‘Practical Mechanics,’ fellows,” he announced.

Willie instantly tore the book from his grasp.

“You’ll catch it for that, you bean-stalk!” he piped, furiously.

“Little grouch! Scary kid—afraid of everything!” cried Tommy, highly incensed and excited. “Afraid of bronchos! Afraid of tame old cows! Afraid to go up in an aeroplane!”

“I am, eh? I’ll show you how much afraid I am, Doctor Clifton!”

To the astonishment of all, Willie deliberately elbowed the tall lad aside and laboriously climbed up by the side of Bob Somers.

“There’ll be the biggest muss anybody ever heard of, if you try to put me off, Somers,” he snapped.

“He’s only bluffing,” jeered Tommy. “That’s my place, William; step down!”

“Come an’ take it, Mr. First-aid-to-the-injured,” challenged Willie, doubling his fists.

“Stop jawing!” commanded Bob, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “Do you really wish to go, Willie?”

[165]“If I don’t, nobody else shall,” said Mr. Beaumont’s ward, with emphasis, as he stared angrily at the grinning faces around. “Afraid, am I? We’ll see, bean-stalk—bean——”

“Cut it out!” commanded Bob.

“I can wallop anybody who says that I’m afraid,” screeched Willie.

“Ha, ha!” It was Cranny’s roar again. “Who’d ever have believed it? The little chap is actually beginning to show some signs of spunk at last!”

“Now, Willie, do you still wish to go?” asked Bob.


“Then let me fasten this strap about you.”

“Hold on tight,” said Cranny.

“Ready?” asked the aviator, a moment later.

“Go on,” answered Willie.

“Give him a good ride, Bob. We’re goin’ to saddle up an’ follow you,” called out Cranny.

“Ho for a canter over the rolling plain!” cried Dick.

As several preliminary gasps came from the motor, the boys dashed pell-mell toward a[166] frame building in the rear, where their bronchos were stabled.

The “Ogden II” was off.

Willie Sloan, clutching hold of the supports for dear life, instantly began to regret his hasty decision. The powerful engine was sending them along at a rate which, to his inexperienced eyes, seemed extremely dangerous. And the earth was falling away from them in a most curious and awe-inspiring manner.

The boy shut his eyes to keep from view this dreadful sight.

After many minutes had passed, he again dared to peer through half-opened lids. Although they were flying quite low, that one swift glance was enough to make his head swim. But the thought of Tom Clifton prevented the lad from reaching over to give Bob Somers a warning touch on the arm.

“I just won’t let old Doc Cliffy have a chance to grin at me,” he reflected.

He looked at the white fabric close around him; then turned his eyes upward, to see a translucent yellowish light shining through the plane. He experienced an unpleasant sensation of being suspended in space. A[167] bird flew by, so close that his eyes took in the measured beating of a pair of wings. His startled exclamation was drowned by the steadily throbbing motor.

Bob, frequently glancing toward Willie, finally read upon his face evident signs of distress, and, considerately, decided that it was time to bring his flight to a close.

He turned his gaze earthward, and saw a shadow of the biplane skimming lightly across green fields and herds of cattle. He would have been glad to speak a reassuring word to his passenger, but the din of engine and whirr of propeller blades made this quite impossible.

“I can’t land anywhere about here,” he thought, with another look at the herds of longhorns just below.

Bob observed that the animals, frightened by the monster of the air soaring not so high above their heads, were already showing signs of uneasiness. Some pawed the ground, or ran about, while others, with uplifted heads, stared defiantly toward them, as though ready to engage in battle.

“Guess I’ll have to go higher; this might start a stampede,” he reflected.

[168]Accordingly, Bob manipulated the control levers, and the “Ogden II” began to climb steadily upward.

Willie Sloan could not stand the sight of the earth receding. He again closed his eyes, and held on with a still tighter grip, as Bob finally sent the biplane around in a great curve.

The planes, naturally, began to tip.

Willie Sloan’s eyes shot open to their widest extent. Bob had risen just a little higher than his shaky nerves could stand. He stared hard for an instant, and then:

“Go down, Somers; go down!” he yelled.

The aviator gathered the sense of his words, and in his desire to ease the mind of his excited passenger, sent the “Ogden II” again rushing toward a lower level.

“The little chap ought not to have tried it,” he reflected. “I’ll have to take my chances on the cattle stampeding.”




And now a new fear had entered Willie Sloan’s mind. He looked at the earth, apparently coming toward them with appalling speed; he thought that Bob Somers had misunderstood him and intended to make an effort to alight somewhere on the plain below. He looked at the dreaded steers, now in a state of great commotion.

“No—no! Go back to the ranch, Somers!” he yelled, hoping that his words might be heard.

In his anxiety, he reached over and gave the aviator’s arm a violent jerk.

It was an unfortunate move, at a critical moment. Instead of soaring off in a horizontal direction, in response to a clever handling of the control levers at the proper instant, as Bob had counted upon, the interference so affected his manipulation that the biplane continued on its downward course.

Hastily, he attempted to undo the result of Willie’s imprudent action. It was a moment such as may happen in any aviator’s career, when a false move may send the machine crashing like a broken-winged bird to the ground.

With the engine in reverse, and their momentum only slightly checked, the biplane shot straight toward a rise in the prairie. Another instant, and they would be upon it. All Bob Somers hoped for was to prevent the[170] machine from smashing against the ground with dangerous violence.

But Willie Sloan was even more frightened than ever. A glance at Bob Somers’ knit forehead and firm-set lips gave him no encouragement. A dreadful vision of being held fast with plunging longhorns on every side caused him to reach down and unfasten the leather strap which stretched across the seat. Then he partly rose to his feet.

It was his second blunder, and, like the first, had a most disastrous effect. Several straggling steers were wildly attempting to race out of the biplane’s path, and, in spite of Bob’s quick effort to prevent it, one swinging directly beneath was struck a glancing blow by the descending ’plane. Willie Sloan, partly off his balance, became, the next instant, completely so. He began to topple—a sharp cry came from his lips—he was falling.

The little red book, the innocent cause of this startling incident, slipped from his pocket, to strike an unappreciative steer in the eye, while Willie himself dropped squarely upon the back of another.

Wildly he threw out his hands, and grasped[171] with all his might an immense pair of horns.

Five seconds later, Mr. Beaumont’s ward, still clinging desperately to his novel steed, was being carried away from the scene of the accident.



When Willie Sloan made his unfortunate move, it took the six boys riding on the prairie but a moment to realize that something was wrong with the flying machine.

“Hello, Dick Travers, look at that!” called Cranny Beaumont to the nearest rider.

Dick’s eyes were already staring hard toward the “Ogden II.”

“Great Scott; there’s something up!” he cried, putting spurs to his broncho.

“And there’ll be somethin’ down mighty soon, I’m thinkin’!” answered Cranny. “If those boys ever get caught among a herd of stampedin’ steers——”

“They’ll be in the worst fix of their young lives,” Dick flung excitedly over his shoulder.

Riding at a rattling clip among the cattle wasn’t easy work. The animals, frightened by the huge object flying above their heads, were beginning to bellow and paw the ground. The sight of their wild eyes and excited[173] movements, so suggestive of a headlong dash across the prairie, might have given even veteran cowboys a feeling of uneasiness.

But all the lads, from different points on the prairie, unhesitatingly urged their horses into a gallop; and, as they swung along, various currents of longhorns were sent eddying out of their paths.

“We’ll have to get to the biplane, and swing the cows around it!” yelled Cranny Beaumont.

The “Ogden II” was rushing swiftly toward the earth, and he could hear the steady hum of its motor rising above the clatter of his horse’s hoofs. The big lad was now in his element; his eyes flashed with excitement and determination. Skilfully he guided his horse between the longhorns, sometimes finding a great hulking body lumbering along at his side. Cranny realized that any instant the living barriers which shut him off from the open plain might begin an irresistible rush. Dick Travers was riding just ahead.

Cranny, anxious to be the first on the scene, threw his whole energy into the task, and within a few minutes, he had overtaken[174] and was slowly forging ahead of his nearest rival.

As the “Ogden II” approached the ground the commotion among the animals rapidly increased; they were scattering wildly in all directions, threatening at every instant to collide with the bronchos.

But, to Cranny’s relief, he could see over the tops of moving bodies that the biplane was dropping upon a point comparatively free from cattle.

“We can swerve ’em off easily,” he thought. “Great Cæsar!”

Cranny stood up in his stirrups, and gave a shrill whistle of astonishment. He had just been a witness to Willie Sloan’s extraordinary mishap. Another whistle—this time of real alarm—escaped his lips, as he saw his father’s ward land on the back of the steer.

“Jupiter!” he yelled, excitedly.

He gave a glance toward the biplane settling down upon the ground, but even that one swift look was enough to show him the aviator jumping unharmed from his seat.

“Stand by Bob Somers, fellows!” he yelled. “I’ll go after Willie Sloan.”

[175]The alighting of the “Ogden II” in the midst of the cattle immediately brought about the result which every one had feared. The gaps in the herd began closing up. Cranny Beaumont found the forward progress of his broncho almost checked—a tide of panic-stricken steers was forcing him off toward one side.

The lad fought hard; his tough rawhide continued to slash right and left. Stinging blows upon huge, unwieldy bodies drove them out of his path, and, presently, made an opening through which his snorting broncho plunged.

The clouds of dust were becoming thicker; Willie Sloan, desperately holding on to the horns of the steer, was already half obscured.

As Cranny thought of the great danger which threatened the lad, a sudden pallor came over his face. With so many cattle to bar his progress, the task of overtaking Willie seemed almost impossible.

“And I’m away ahead of the others!” said Cranny, aloud.

He again stood up in his stirrups, to look over a scene of wild confusion. A great herd[176] of steers, now in almost a compact mass, was sweeping over the plain, forcing his broncho along as irresistibly as a chip is carried on the surface of a running stream. A din of pounding hoofs was in the air, while, at times, deep-throated bellowings rose above it.

Through a haze of whirling particles, Cranny managed to catch another glimpse of Willie; and the sight nerved him to make one more desperate effort to force a passage through the living mass around him.

Some distance off, a lone cow-puncher had turned, and was galloping swiftly toward the oncoming cattle. This grizzled veteran of the range, whose keen vision had enabled him to instantly grasp the situation, knew that quick action was necessary.

As his brown-patched pony approached the foremost steers, he uttered a series of lusty yells. He was too old a hand to get caught in the resistless torrent of moving bodies. Single-handed, he was attempting to “mill” the herd, or swing the foremost cattle around, so as to slow up and finally stop those following in the rear.

Sam Randall and Dick Travers, who had[177] managed to reach the outer edge of the herd, came galloping up to reinforce him.

“Pete Sanderson!” cried Sam.

“He’s the boy who can do it!” yelled Dick. “Come on!”

“I’m a-swingin’ ’em, boys!” called out Pete. He ended his sentence with another wild yell.

The boys saw the tide beginning to turn.

“As I live, here comes Cranny!” shouted Dick.

Looming up through the yellow dust, Cranny Beaumont, hot, hoarse and perspiring, could be seen riding straight toward them.

“Rah, rah! Don’t let up a second, fellows,” he cried. An instant later he yelled:

“Whoop—look at this!”

Above the noise they became conscious of a loud hum. Almost as swift as an eagle’s flight, the “Ogden II,” after having made a wide circuit, was rushing toward them. A purplish shadow flitted across the backs of the herd.

“Bob Somers!” shouted Cranny, hoarsely.

There was no need for Pete Sanderson or[178] the boys to put forth any further efforts. The biplane, skimming low, was completing the work which the cow-puncher had begun.

The tired cattle were sent swinging off at a sharp angle, with Sanderson and his allies close behind them.

Pete’s eyes roved anxiously over the mass of moving backs. It was the first possible chance they had had of reaching Mr. Beaumont’s ward.

Never before in Cranny’s life had he experienced such mingled feelings of fear and dread. Every moment visions of Willie Sloan losing his hold and being trampled underfoot were passing through his mind.

“I see him; I see him!” he yelled, at length, in joyous tones. “Look, Dick!”

Dick Travers’ quick glance took in the small form of Willie Sloan. He saw him still clinging to the back of the animal, which was jammed in the mass some distance away.

Most of the steers were now moving over the plain at a slow walk.

“We’ll soon git him out o’ thar!” declared Pete, vigorously.

Tim Lovell, who had finally succeeded in[179] fighting his way through the cattle, came galloping up.

“Hooray for the brave little chap!” he cried. “Rah, rah! Yes, Dick; Tom’s all right. I saw him a few moments ago. Want any help, Pete?”

“Ye’d best leave it all to me, boys,” commanded the cow-puncher.

He was going about his task in a thorough and systematic manner. One by one, steers were separated from the general mass, then driven aside in small bunches, until, at last, one particular longhorn was able to move freely about.

Pete was alongside of him in an instant; his brawny arm encircled the form of Willie Sloan, and, while Cranny and the others yelled long and heartily, he lifted the lad from his position and set him gently on the ground.



Didn’t I tell ye it weren’t nateral ter fly? Didn’t I say ’tweren’t never intended?”

Straight-backed Pete Sanderson, standing with his hand on the bridle of his broncho, glared severely at the group of boys. Little Willie Sloan sat on the turf, while Cranny had taken a place close beside him.

“’Tweren’t never intended,” repeated Sanderson, in decided tones; “an’ I reckon ye’ll believe me now. It’s a positive wonder none o’ you younkers didn’t git killed in that stampede. Sure ye ain’t hurt none?”

“I was pretty near jolted into a jelly,” grumbled Willie, who, after a half hour’s rest, was beginning to recover his composure. “An’ say—perhaps I didn’t have a hard time holding on to that old codger’s tusks!”

“You did wonders,” said Cranny, heartily. “Bet you were scared stiff, eh?”

“Who wouldn’t have been? Whew! It[181] was simply awful. Seemed as if there was about a million of the brutes behind me. Guess Somers has gone back to the farmhouse in his old bird-plane. I thought the thing was going to get smashed to bits.”

“Bob hovered overhead until he saw we were all safe,” said Dick. “Wasn’t it bully, the way he helped mill the longhorns? What made him come down in such an all-fired rush, Willie?”

“Somers couldn’t fly a kite,” growled Mr. Beaumont’s ward, non-committally. “It was all Mr. Clifton’s fault. Goodness gracious—it’s gone!”

“Gone?—What’s gone?” demanded Cranny.

“Oh, if that isn’t the awfulest—meanest luck!” Willie clapped his hand frantically to each of his pockets in turn, then jumped to his feet and looked hastily on the ground. “Sure as you look like a simpering idiot, Cran Beaumont, it’s gone!”

“What is?”

“Why, that little red-covered book.” Willie seemed almost on the point of blubbering. “I had it in this left-hand pocket. Look around, you chaps.”

[182]The chaps did as requested, but, naturally, without result. The little red-covered book was lying, a shapeless mass, fully a half mile away.

“Oh, if I couldn’t paste old Doctor Clifton for this!” roared Willie, highly exasperated. “It’s all his fault.”

“You’re a nice one, to talk like that, after the way we dived right in among the longhorns to help you,” cried Tom.

“But I want my book,” wailed Willie. “It was such a dandy. Ginger—if I don’t get square with you for this, Mr. First-aid-to-the-injured!”

“Oh, you make me worse and worse tired!” scoffed Tom.

“Come on right now—if you aren’t afraid.” Willie, with a flourish of his fists, began to dance around. “I’ll make you more tired,” he howled. “I’ll punch you for every page in that book.”

“Quick, fellows—get the arbitration board to working,” laughed Cranny. “Let’s have the treaty signed.”

And at that instant Willie Sloan aimed a right hand uppercut at Tom’s chin, which, as the tall lad straightened up, fell short.

[183]“He’s scared to scrap,” howled Willie. “Get out of the way, Brandon, or I’ll hurt you, too.”

A roar of merriment followed these words.

“Oh, you can laugh,” jeered the small boy, “but I’m not going to put up with any more funny business from Bean-stalk. That book cost somebody twenty-five cents.”

“Well, boys, I’ve got to git around the range,” broke in Pete. “Now don’t forgit what I told ye—leave them thar arioplanes alone; d’ye hear? ’Tain’t nateral ter fly; an’, what’s more, ’tweren’t never intended. An’ ye’d best tote yerselves over to the ranch-house afore the young un cleans up the bunch. It wouldn’t take much, nuther, ter git these hyar longhorns goin’ ag’in.”

“Only hope you’ll punch some of ’em good an’ plenty for me,” piped Willie. “Take a squint at Mr. Clifton, Sanderson—see him before and after.”

The cow-puncher guffawed loudly, sprang into the saddle, and, with a wave of his hand, galloped away.

Willie positively refused to mount behind any of the boys.

[184]“Never—nix!” he said. “To-night, Doc Clifton, you’ll be jolly well surprised.”

“Shall I?” sniffed Tom.

“You will!”

While they were still some distance from Lone Pine, Bob Somers rode out to meet them. He was more than delighted at the fortunate outcome of the exciting adventure, and, in answer to Dick Travers’ eager question about the biplane, told the crowd that beyond a slight injury to one of its propellers the machine had escaped injury. He laughingly parried the questions which were fired toward him as to the reason for the strange behavior of the “Ogden II.” So the boys, having a strong suspicion of the truth, finally desisted.

Once again in the ranch-house, they set to work, and were soon busily engaged in the disposal of a cold lunch.

Willie, during the course of the meal, sat hunched up in his chair, and occasionally answered questions in monosyllables, but took no active part in the conversation. Finally he slipped out of the room.

“Don’t wonder he feels a little grouchy,” remarked Beaumont, when he presently[185] noticed his absence. “Say, I never supposed the little chap had so much spunk—showed a lot o’ courage to-day, didn’t he?”

“There’s something in that boy,” said Dave, decidedly.

“Lot’s of impudence, for one thing,” murmured Tommy.

“Come, come, Tom!” laughed Dave; “be generous—broad-minded. Why, he may surprise us some day.”

“I’ll be surprised if he surprises us,” grinned Tom.

“Well, I shouldn’t. If you have ever studied the lives of famous men——”

“Goodness gracious, David Brandon, can you imagine for a second that William Sloan will ever become a great man?” cried Dick, his eyes twinkling.

“Dave’s cold meal has given him a nightmare while he’s still awake,” roared Tom.

“I suppose I must admit having been squelched again,” sighed the fat boy. “Made a mistake in not yielding to that sleepy feeling the instant I took the last bite. And I am more than uncommonly drowsy, so——”

[186]“We all know what that means,” laughed Bob.

The boys soon went up to their rooms, some to add a few lines to letters already partly written, others to read.

To their surprise, Willie Sloan was nowhere to be found.

As the afternoon wore on, and he did not appear, Cranny began to look annoyed, then anxious. He walked to the window and threw it open.

“Hello, Willie!” he shouted.

“Where in the world can the little chap be?” he remarked, after several of the others had called.

“Search me,” quoth Tim Lovell.

“A search all around might be better,” said Dick, dryly. “Perhaps he’s taking a Marathon out on the prairie.”

“Not on your life,” scoffed Tom. “He’s too scary for that.”

All but Dave soon left the building in quest of Mr. Beaumont’s ward. At the stockade they stopped to shout long and earnestly, but, as before, no answering hail was borne on the gentle breeze.

[187]“Depend upon it, he’s up to some funny business,” hinted Tom.

“I declare, I’m beginnin’ to get worried about him.” Cranny leaned against the wall, and looked searchingly over the vast expanse of plain. “What do you think, Bob?”

“That he may be in the house—somewhere down-stairs.”

“But after all this screeching he would have come out.”

“Well, we might as well look.”

It was rather dark in the big room, so Bob lighted one of the swinging lamps which hung over a center table.

“Of course he isn’t anywhere in here,” said Cranny.

A few minutes’ search proved the truth of this assertion.

“Hello, what’s that?” cried Sam, suddenly. He stooped to pick up a piece of brown wrapping paper which lay near the open fireplace. “Why, it has some writing on it.” Sam’s eyebrows were arched in surprise.

“Goodness! bring it over to the light,” cried Tom, eagerly.

[188]Sam obeyed; all, including Dave, who had just entered the room, crowded closely around him.

They read, written in a large, scrawling hand:

“Extra! Look for the white trail. Search the underground passageway for the truth.”

“Search the underground passageway!” cried Dick, wonderingly. “What in the mischief does that mean?”

“Sounds like a mystery, all right,” murmured Cranny.

“And, to clear it, we’d better light a lantern and search,” suggested Dave.

His advice was acted upon. Crowding at Bob Somers’ heels, the now highly interested and mystified boys followed him toward a room at the western end of the house, where a stairway led down to the cellar.

“Hello—look!” cried Tommy. “That must be the trail.”

They could see bits of white paper scattered about, forming an irregular line that led to the doorway.

“What silly kind of joke is this, I wonder?” growled Tim.

[189]“Follow the trail and find out,” said Sam, in a sepulchral whisper.

The stairs were old and rickety; the walls streaked with cobwebs. Every footstep echoed in a most uncanny fashion, and sent up eddies of dust, as the boards sprung beneath their heavy tread, while a smell of damp, mouldy earth assailed their nostrils.

“Ugh! Isn’t this dismal?” remarked Tim Lovell.

“Twice over the limit—you can imagine what that means,” grunted Cranny. “Just wait till I see that funny kid.”

At the bottom of the steps, Bob Somers paused. His swinging lantern sent weird streaks of light through the blackness. Beams traveled rapidly over rough, scarred walls, or brought into view piles of rubbish.

A trail of paper led across the hard earthen floor.

“Forward, march! Fall into that awful black spot across the cellar—it’s the underground passageway,” cried Dick.

“Watch yourselves, fellows,” cautioned Tom. “William may be up to some mischief. Great Scott! What was that?”

[190]“Only a badly scared rat,” laughed Bob.

“I’ll dent him some if he comes this way,” declared Sam.

Their voices and footfalls echoed weirdly through the dungeon-like cellar.

“What a nerve he had, to come down here alone,” said Tom, awesomely.

“I told you there was something in that lad,” laughed Dave.

“But most of it ought to be beaten out with a flat piece of board,” returned Dick.

They came to an abrupt stop at the entrance to the passageway. Bob, holding his lantern aloft, sent its rays flashing upon musty walls, thickly festooned in places with cobwebs.

“Whew! It’s kind o’ unearthly in there,” said Cranny, peering over his shoulder.

“I should say rather too earthly, Cranny,” grinned Bob.

“This is enough to smother a fellow, too,” added Tom, with a sniff of disgust.

“Follow the trail anyway,” cried Dick Travers, who was rapidly becoming impatient.

They fell in behind Bob Somers.

“Maybe Willie is going to shut us in, as a joke,” remarked Tom, in sudden alarm.

[191]“How—you tall goose?” sniffed Sam.

“Hello—there it is!”

“Where—where?” cried Tom.

Bob Somers’ hand fell upon a large piece of cardboard covered with writing. It rested upon a projecting stone.

“Right here, fellows,” he announced, calmly.



The echoes of many voices soon grew into such a roar that individual words became indistinguishable. This babel of sound Bob Somers managed, with some difficulty, to still.

“Well, what’s he written on the thing?” demanded Cranny, impatiently.

Much pushing and crowding followed, as Bob Somers turned the light of his lantern full on the scrawling letters.

“Gee whiz, fellows, just absorb this!” he cried.

The crowd listened eagerly.

“What I think of—

“Bob Somers: not a bad sort. But if he can’t shoot any better than he flies an aeroplane, birds and animalculæ are safe.

“Dick Travers: average kid.

“Sam Randall: almost ditto—a little less.

“Cran Beaumont: not enough paper to write my opinion on.

[193]“Mr. Clifton——

“Dave Brandon: uncommonly lazy; pampered; needs ginger. A course in live-wire action suggested. Can he write? Paint? No!

“Ha, ha! Isn’t it hot out in the moonlight?

“Mush is soft; and so are—but what’s the use?

“P. S. The mailed fist! It’s coming. If Cran isn’t recalled when Mr. Beaumont gets my letter it will be a wonder. The combination of Mr. Clifton, Lone Pine and longhorns has been too much—I have flown. Do not look for me. Your detective abilities are not equal to unraveling this mystery. Brain fag is bad.

“Yours, before the get-away,
William Brinton Sloan, P. G. S.”

“Great Scott!” howled Cranny. “My, but wouldn’t I like to punch that little duffer!”

“And just wait till I meet him,” added Tom, his eyes fixed on the dash which came after his name.

“And to think,” mused Cranny, “that we dropped down to the center of the earth to get such a knock as this!”

[194]“An average kid!” groaned Dick, looking around.

“Suspected it yourself, I guess,” observed Cranny. And, while the echoes of boisterous laughter were reverberating, both Dick and Sam could be seen standing silently and solemnly a little apart from the group.

“Average!” repeated Sam, with a sudden thought. “I suppose he means an average of ninety-five or over, same as we generally get at school.”

“And my artistic status has at last been established,” laughed Dave.

The boys stared hard into each other’s faces for a moment, then the last angry expression vanished, and roars of merriment again thundered through the passageway.

“My name isn’t on the list,” murmured Tim. “Can’t make out whether he let me down easy, or handed over a dreadful slur—ignored me entirely, you know.”

They followed Bob Somers back into the cellar, and then up-stairs, breathing the sweet-scented air which came in through an open window with sighs of relief.

[195]“I’m bothered!” howled Cranny. “Where could the boy have gone?”

“Not out on the prairie alone,” declared Tom.

“He’ll be back at grub time,” predicted Dick.

“Nervy little scamp, after all,” mused Cranny, his face now wearing a terrible frown. “I wonder if he really did write to dad. He could have given the letter to one of the cowboys.”

“I’ll bet he has,” said Tom, cheerfully.

“You chaps get something to eat while Sam and I take a look around,” suggested Dick, with an innocent expression.

“Well, did you ever!” roared Tom, indignantly. “Why, it’s your turn to cook.”

This sad fact was duly impressed upon Dick Travers’ mind by Cranny, who seized him by the collar and forcibly directed his steps toward the kitchen.

During the preparation of the meal, the others scouted in various directions, going far beyond the stockade walls. A faint glimmer of daylight still lingered on a high bank of clouds in the east; the silent plains would[196] soon be bathed in the pale rays of the moon, now a trifle less than half full. Shadowy groups of cattle were browsing amidst the buffalo grass, or contentedly resting.

Not a sign of Willie Sloan anywhere! That was the report of each scouting party.

The swinging lamps above the table threw a glare of light over highly disturbed countenances. It did not seem possible that Mr. Beaumont’s ward could actually have had the courage to run away; but as time rolled on, the boys were obliged to reluctantly reach this conclusion.

“What shall we do?” asked Tim.

“Telephone to Circle T; perhaps he went back there,” answered Bob.

Cranny Beaumont, acting upon this suggestion, soon learned that neither Mr. Follett nor any of his men had seen Willie Sloan.

“My, but this does make me tired,” sniffed Cranny. “Now Mr. Follett is all worked up about it.”

“By this time to-morrow we’ll probably have Willie with us again.” Dave spoke in consoling tones.

“We certainly can’t do another thing to find[197] that chap to-night,” said Sam. “Let’s make the best of it. Bet he’s just hiding somewhere.”

“It’s a fine night for taking observations of the stars,” remarked Dave. “Suppose we carry the telescope up on the roof?”

“Good scheme,” approved Bob.

Thereupon they ascended to the second floor, in a few moments reaching a storeroom, where a ladder rested against a trap-door. The stout boy was active enough when it came to doing anything he particularly cared about, so it took him but a short time to get the telescope and stand in position on the roof.

In pointing the tube from one star to another, or over the almost limitless expanse of nature, and picking out from the obscurity groups of longhorns or clumps of trees, the boys were able to partly ease their minds.

For about an hour they kept it up, then, one by one, descended to their rooms, where before long all were sound asleep.

Tom Clifton finally awoke with a start.

The sound of a bell, ringing crisp and sharp, came to his ears. Tom hastily threw aside his blankets and rose to a sitting position.

[198]“Goodness gracious!” he breathed excitedly. “It’s the ’phone down-stairs, sure enough!”

The summons, singularly clear, in the dense silence of the night, was ringing continuously.

“Bob!” cried Tom, scrambling to his feet—“I say, Bob!”

Bob Somers opened his eyes.

“Eh, Tom?” he queried.

“Don’t you hear that bell?”

“Well, I should rather say so.”

The big room looked weird and dismal, with the greenish moonlight streaking across the rough board flooring and showing in queer-shaped patches on the opposite wall.

Bob listened intently, as he jumped up, struck a match, and proceeded to light the lantern.

“Mighty odd, Tom—unless it’s about Willie,” he said. “No; don’t awaken Dave.”

The two tiptoed down-stairs, Tom feeling decidedly creepy sensations coursing along his spine.

The bell, which had stopped for an instant, started up afresh as they entered the room.[199] Bob Somers made a dash toward the instrument, and took the receiver from the hook.

“Hello, hello!” he called, in anxious tones.

“Hello, hello!” came an answer. “Ha, ha!”

It was a familiar voice.

“Willie—Willie Sloan!” cried Bob. “Where in the dickens are you, Willie?”

“Ha, ha! Did you fellows get my note, Somers?”


“Which one was the maddest?”

“Oh, quit that, Willie. Tell me where you are.”

“In a corkin’ nice room. But you wouldn’t like it—hasn’t got a single cobweb; can’t write your name on the dust, either. Say——”

“Are you actually at Border City?” broke in Bob.

A squeaky laugh came distinctly over the wire.

“Got the best in the Carroll Inn. Oh, but don’t I feel sorry for you poor chaps? How is[200] Lone Pine, an’ longhorns? Do you believe in the recall of Cran Beaumont? What’s the Referendum, anyway?”

“Did you walk all the way across the plain, Willie?”

“Sure! Every time I thought of Mr. Clifton it made me jump ten feet. Ha, ha! Has he grown any since I left?”

“We’re coming over after you to-morrow, Willie.”

“But you won’t get William Brinton Sloan, P. G. S. I declare war.”

“We’ll try our arbitration board, then,” laughed Bob.

“Won’t do a bit of good.”

Just as Bob began to speak again, a peculiar buzzing sound came over the wire. It was broken by a jumble of words and occasional little crackles, and his energetic calls brought forth no response.

“Bill has evidently hung up the receiver,” remarked Bob; “he has said enough and cut us off sharp; we are probably being laughed at.”

“Well, isn’t that chap the queerest ever!” cried Tom. “Why, he must have a bit of courage, after all.”

[201]“Plenty of it,” smiled Bob. “It’s a big relief to know the lad’s all right. Who would ever have thought he’d do a trick like that?”

“Not I, for one. Won’t Cranny and the others be surprised?”

“Well, rather. No, Tom; we won’t wake ’em up—the news will keep. Queer they didn’t hear that bell.”

The two, talking in low tones, climbed softly up-stairs and into their room. Then, wrapping themselves in their blankets, they were soon unconscious of either time or place.

In the morning, the news created a great sensation.

“Amazing!” was the word which followed a long-drawn-out whistle from Cranny.

Dick looked puzzled.

“I can hardly believe it,” he murmured. “Willie seemed so all-fired afraid of those longhorns.”

“Well, he did it, anyway—actually walked across the plains.”

“I’m the I-told-you-so fellow,” laughed Dave. “Knew there was a lot in him.”

Cranny reflected.

[202]“Fellows,” he presently observed, “we ought to teach him a jolly good lesson.”

“How?” asked Sam.

“Why, he has only a few dollars; let him alone for several days, an’ he’ll wake up an’ be beggin’ us to trot over an’ get him.”

“I don’t know about that.” Dave shook his head. “He’s really a brave little chap.”

Cranny began pacing up and down the room.

“Fellows,” he said, “I’ll have to get busy soon, or else the ‘mailed fist’ may be something more than a joke.” He laughed dryly. “But I want to have a bit o’ fun first. Let me manage this affair.”

And the others agreed.

An hour later, Bob took his place on the “Ogden II,” and, with Cranny Beaumont as his passenger, started off. By this time, all but Dave had saddled their bronchos and were ready for a canter across the plains.

The stout boy waved his hand to the horsemen, then waited until the biplane had soared far off.

“I’ll do a bit of reading first,” he reflected, “and afterward take a squint through the telescope.”

[203]So Dave ambled back into the house, selected a book, settled himself in the most comfortable chair, and prepared for unalloyed pleasure.

A few minutes later, the telephone bell rang sharply.

“Goodness! I can’t rest even a second,” grumbled Dave.

He lumbered slowly over, and answered the summons.

“Is that Lone Pine Ranch?” came in a crisp, businesslike voice.

“Yes, sir.”

“This is Major Warfield Carroll.”

“Oh, yes! What can I do for you, Major Carroll?”

“I want to relieve your mind of any anxiety regarding Willie Sloan.”

“I’m very glad indeed to hear that.”

“He has been with me at the hangar all morning. I can tell you he’s a bright lad—something quite remarkable. I only hope, however, that it may not be a week or more before I can find some of my tools—he’s quite interested, you know.”

“Eh?” exclaimed Dave, in surprise. Then,[204] feeling quite sure that the Major was delivering himself of a gentle sarcasm, he began to smile broadly.

“Mr. Follett knows that he is here, so you boys needn’t bother about him for a while. Now, is Doctor Clifton there? You’re in his charge, I suppose?”

Dave nearly fell backward from the telephone.

“The little scamp!” he muttered.

“Hello, hello!” came from the receiver; “I don’t seem able to catch your answers very clearly. Please tell the Doctor not to worry about the lad’s absence.”

“All right, sir,” answered Dave, whose smile was rapidly becoming broader.

“He intends to send you a letter by one of the cow-punchers. Good-bye!”

“Odd—odd—odd!” reflected Dave. “Now, is there another grand old rumpus coming—or what? Guess the Major hasn’t learned to wear a ‘don’t-touch’ look, like the Ogdens. Quite a surprise, this.”

Dave picked up his book, reseated himself, and, with his feet comfortably disposed on a stool, began to read.

[205]A pleasant breeze came in through a window close by; sometimes the lowing of a distant longhorn was borne to his ears; but otherwise the silence seemed oppressive. Conditions were ideal for lulling the stout lad into a blissful slumber.

Dave promptly capitulated, and the book dropped from his hand.

When he once more sat up, it was only because two boys, talking in a lively fashion, had entered the room.

“Caught you at it again,” laughed Bob.

“Well, I certainly had an uncommonly fine nap,” admitted Dave, with a yawn. “Have a nice trip, fellows?”

“Didn’t we!” cried Cranny. “It was certainly a corker. The ‘Ogden II’ sailed just like a bird. Hey! Something to tell us, Dave? What is it?”

Dave explained.

“Ha, ha—ho, ho! That Major’s a smart chap, all right,” laughed Cranny. “Sized up the kid already! Willie a bright lad! Ho, ho! Anyway, it’s bully news. I’ll stay here for about three days longer.”

“And didn’t you really make a landing at[206] Border City? I had an idea you would come back and tell me all about things.”

“We sailed right over top o’ the big Noah’s ark, but I wasn’t going to do anything that might spoil those great three days,” said Cranny. “Besides, we saw a lot of little specks on the ground, and made up our minds that the smallest was Willie.”

“You’re a grand guardian,” laughed Dave.

Within a short time, the steady, rhythmic sound of hoof-beats floated into the room—the others were returning. It didn’t take them long to stable their bronchos and race inside.

“Great Scott! Major Carroll ’phoned you—says William is with him?” cried Tom, in astonishment. “The nerve of him!—I mean William, of course.”

“I’m tired of Willie as a subject of steady conversation,” growled Cranny.

“Forget him for a few days—do, please,” suggested Tim.

“I’ll make it three,” said Cran.

The only other event of interest that day was a short visit from big Sam Skillet, foreman of Circle T Ranch.

[207]“This here b’ilin’ weather ain’t a-goin’ ter last much longer, youngsters,” he announced, in his tremendous voice, as he was about to leave.

“You’ve got a weather eye, I s’pose,” grinned Cranny.

“I sartinly have; an’ it’s always open. So-long!”

Sam’s prediction proved to be correct. Toward evening the sky was entirely covered with grayish clouds, while a strong breeze blew over the great stretch of rolling prairie.

On the following day, as the threatening weather continued, Bob Somers decided to test his skill as an aviator under more difficult and trying conditions by making one short flight, with Tim Lovell as a passenger.

“It’s the kind of work that needs a steady hand, Dave,” he said, on landing, “but I have the hang of the thing pretty well, now.”

“I believe you could manage the ‘Ogden II’ in a hurricane,” laughed Tom.

Several days later, while all were seated around the breakfast table, the ring of the telephone broke in upon their conversation. Bob Somers sprang to answer it.

[208]The boys immediately noted by the sound of his voice that he seemed considerably surprised.

“What is it?” demanded Cranny.

Bob turned his head away from the mouthpiece.

“There’s a pretty stiff breeze blowing, eh, fellows?” was his unexpected question.

“Yes—yes! Why?” cried Dick.

Bob, without replying, hastily turned to the instrument again.

“All right, sir; we’ll keep a sharp lookout, and ’phone you if we see it,” he said. “Good-bye.”

“Well?” queried Tim Lovell, animatedly.

“Mr. Ogden ’phoned from the hangar at Border City that Major Carroll has made an ascent in his dirigible.”

“He’s done that before,” exclaimed Dave, wondering at Bob’s expression. “Is anything the matter?”

“Mr. Ogden fears there is something wrong with the air-ship,” answered Bob.



Something wrong with the air-ship!” echoed Cranny Beaumont, in the greatest astonishment.

“How—in what way?” asked Dick, excitedly.

“Give me a chance, fellows. Mr. Ogden says Major Carroll intended to stay up for only a short time. He was testing a new steering gear. The balloon, after making several turns, began to sail away, apparently unmanageable.”

“Gee whiz!” Tim Lovell stared at the others. “The wind’s just from the direction of Border City. It must be coming this way.”

“Let’s get busy, fellows,” cried Bob, briskly. “We’ll run out the ‘Ogden II.’”

“Why—what’s the use?” asked Tom.

“Because they may need us to stand by ’em.”

[210]“But you wouldn’t dare to try it in a breeze like this!”

“Of course I should—if necessary. It isn’t much worse than yesterday.”

“I’m going to skip up on the roof,” said Dave. “May be able to sight the ‘Border City.’ I’ll take the telescope with me.”

While Bob, followed by several of the others, dashed out of the room, Dave Brandon, with Cranny at his heels, started up-stairs.

Cranny, presently, banged open the trap-door, then, reaching down, took from the stout boy’s hands the telescope and stand.

“I see it—I see it!” he yelled, before Dave Brandon had even time to put his head and shoulders through the opening, “and it’s sure coming this way.”

Dave clambered out upon the gently-sloping roof.

Coming from the direction of Border City was a cigar-shaped object, clearly defined against a gloomy expanse of clouds. The air-ship seemed sailing straight before the wind, and this, Dave Brandon calculated, would allow it to pass within half a mile of the ranch-house.

[211]“It looks to me as though Mr. Ogden were right,” commented Dave, as he got the instrument into position, while Cranny braced the stand.

“Hurry up; let me get a squint,” pleaded the other.

Dave put his eye to the telescope.

Space instantly seemed to be annihilated; the great air-ship loomed up grim and majestic, sailing apparently close at hand, its planes and rudder shining brightly against a threatening sky. At the forward end two figures were dimly visible behind one of the mica-covered windows.

The impressive sight held Dave Brandon in its grip. Here and there, steel tubing or wire rope caught a gleam of light, while upon the top of the great yellowish gas-bag was reflected a grayish hue from the heavy clouds above.

Nearer and nearer, moving with measured precision, came the “Border City.”

Dave drew a long breath.

“It’s headed straight for the mountains, Cranny,” he said.

“Do they want to get bumped against some[212] high peak? Why in the world doesn’t Major Carroll come down?”

“Perhaps he isn’t willing to let any of the gas escape.”

“And the propellers aren’t working. Guess that explains it—something wrong with the engine.”

“Say, shall I have to drag you away?”

Dave yielded his place.

“My, but isn’t it sailing along, though!” burst out Cranny. “There goes some ballast overboard.”

“Trying to find a favorable current of air, I suppose,” said Dave.

From below came the sound of voices. The “Ogden II” was being hauled from under its tent and made ready for a flight in record time.

Suddenly Tim’s head appeared above the trap-door.

“Great Scott! Didn’t think I’d see it so close as all that,” he said, climbing up. “Isn’t it a great sight, eh? Give me a chance at that, Cranny.”

The observer was exhibiting unmistakable signs of excitement.

[213]“Yes, sir; as I live, it’s true!” he cried.

“What do you mean?” asked Tim, excitedly.

“Well, well! If it isn’t a fact, just let me know.”

Cranny, with a look expressive of the greatest astonishment, stepped aside, while Dick took his place.

By this time the “Border City,” flying high, was almost abreast of Lone Pine.

As Dick Travers looked through the telescope, every detail of the great air-ship flashed into view with wonderful distinctness.

But it was upon two figures standing by the now open window that Dick concentrated his entire attention. An exclamation escaped him. There was no mistaking the smaller one of the two, whose face, framed in by a square of dark, seemed to be staring hard toward them.

“It’s Willie Sloan!” he cried.

“Willie Sloan!” echoed Dave, in startled tones.

“Sure! I guess the other must be Major Warfield Carroll himself. And both of them seem to be trying to signal us.”

[214]“I spotted Willie in a moment,” explained Cranny. “Gee! I don’t like this a little bit. If the balloon is ever carried over to the mountains——”

The big lad’s sentence ended in a whistle.

“And you can just bet that’s where she’s bound,” declared Tim. “This wind is rising steadily. Hurry up, Bob,” he yelled, “or you’ll be too late!”

His voice carried to the busy worker below, but it was some moments before Bob Somers scrambled hastily upon the roof, with the other eager and excited lads following him closely.

Each received the news with some characteristic expression of astonishment.

“William aboard that air-ship!” cried Tom, almost incredulously.

“That’s where he is, son.” Cranny’s voice and manner betrayed a disturbed spirit.

Bob Somers had his eye to the instrument.

“Yes, fellows; I can see Major Carroll plainly,” he exclaimed. “He’s looking this way through a field-glass. There isn’t a bit of doubt in my mind that he has lost control of the air-ship.”

[215]“Think he will try to clear the mountains?” queried Dave.

“Wouldn’t that be better than attempting to land in such a wind as this?” Bob suggested. “The Major doesn’t look scared—bet he knows what he’s doing.”

“But suppose that when they do have to come down, it’s in some mountain gorge?” cried Dick. “They may end up by getting lost; and, perhaps, with scarcely a bite to eat.”

“Or—or—somethin’ worse’n that—if the balloon doesn’t rise high enough to clear the mountain tops!” came from Tim Lovell.

For a few moments, each, in turn, studied the now retreating air-ship through the glass. The magic of the telescope seemed to draw the cigar-shaped craft toward them, until it appeared as if but a tantalizingly short distance away.

“It looks as if they only had to yell, an’ we could hear ’em,” said Tim Lovell.

Soon, however, the details began to lose their crispness and become merged in the general mass.

As the balloon drew steadily away, the boys[216] all realized that in another hour the airmen might be facing an unpleasant, if not dangerous situation.

“My, how I do hope that they can make a safe landing,” said Cranny.

“I’m going to chase them, anyway,” added Bob. “Who wants to go along?”

A chorus of “Ayes!” was the immediate response.

“What’s the use, though, Bob?” queried Tom. “You can’t lasso the ‘Border City,’ like a longhorn, and tow her back.”

“No! But there’s no telling what may happen. We can, at least, see where they land, and be ready to lend assistance, if possible.”

“It may be a case of plucking wee Willie and Major Carroll from a perch in the trees,” murmured Cranny.

“Come on!” cried Bob.

They had soon gathered around the “Ogden II,” while the aviator made a final examination so as to be sure that everything was in working order.

“All right, fellows,” he announced. “Now, whoever is going to make the trip with me[217] must understand that it will be a mighty risky job.”

Dave Brandon’s round face had quite lost its accustomed cheery expression.

“I should say so, Bob. Perhaps——”

Bob, anticipating the rest of the sentence, shook his head.

“Can’t back out now, Dave,” he said, firmly. Then, springing aboard the biplane, he fastened the strap which held him to his seat.

A wordy warfare as to whom should be his passenger arose. Cranny speedily settled it by pushing the others away, and taking his place beside Bob Somers.

“I dare anybody to put me off!” he challenged.

“All right for you!” growled Dick Travers.

“I didn’t want little Dick, ‘average kid’ number one, to run into any danger,” grinned Cranny. “Yes, Bob, I’m ready. All right, Dave, we’ll be careful. Let her rip!”

“Don’t forget to ’phone Mr. Ogden, and tell him we’ve started after the ‘Border City,’” called the aviator.

His hands rested on the levers. There was[218] a moment of suppressed excitement. Then the engine began its steady roar, accompanied by a loud whirr from the propeller.

As the biplane began to respond, a salvo of cheers and good wishes arose. The “Ogden II” had started on its dangerous voyage.



Low, scudding clouds were sailing fast across the sky; but the current of air, blowing in an uninterrupted course for miles upon miles across the open prairie, was comparatively steady. This gave the boys who remained behind some encouragement.

Dave Brandon and Tim Lovell went back upon the roof of the ranch-house, where they studied the movements of the balloon and aeroplane until the telescope no longer possessed the power to separate either from the gray background of sky and mountains.

The crowd had no intention of remaining inactive. Only a dash across the prairie in search of their friends could relieve their impatience and pent-up anxiety. The boys below, having saddled the bronchos, finally yelled for the stout historian and Tim to come down.

[220]But before the summons was obeyed the sound of the telephone bell sent Dick Travers in leaps and bounds toward the house.

“Hello!” he was presently calling.

“Is that Lone Pine Ranch?”


“It’s only me, pard.” Dick recognized Jed Warren’s voice. “Who’s that a-talkin’?”

“Travers! Where are you, Jed?”

“Out on the range—two mile away, at Mr. Follett’s sub-station. ’Tain’t much more’n a pile o’ boards throw’d together an’ a-standin’ on posts; but it’s got a door an’ a winder, an’ a roof ter keep out ther rain.”

“I know!” exclaimed Dick, impatiently. “But what do you want, Jed?”

“I seen them thar air-skimmers a-kitin’ off ter beat all creation; an’ I know everythin’ weren’t all right. How ’bout it, Dick?”

The lad explained.

“I thought so! An’ a-goin’ ter chase ’em, eh? Wal, I don’t blame ye for feelin’ kind o’ worked up. But ye’d best not wenture in them mountains alone. Say, pard, I’ll meet ye at Roarin’ Horse Junction. ’Member the place?”

[221]“Sure thing, Jed. When the crowd was here before, we passed it.”

“Good! I’ve got a letter from that thar little maverick over to Border City.”

“Willie Sloan?”

“The identical chap, pard. An’ I only hope he don’t come to no harm in that skimmer. Now, don’t forgit, Travers; wait for me at Roarin’ Horse.”

Dick promised, and dashed away to tell his friends.

“That’s great!” cried Tom. “Let’s get right off.” He vaulted into the saddle, while Dick raised his voice in another command to Dave and Tim.

The two boys came hurrying forward, and they all started immediately.

It was a long ride to Roaring Horse Junction, so the boys allowed their bronchos to set their own pace.

At the rendezvous, they found not only Jed, but Pete Sanderson, as well. The young cow-puncher had encountered the veteran on the range, and Straight-backed Pete needed no urging to accompany him.

Guided by the cowboys, who were thoroughly[222] familiar with the trails, the party crossed the foot-hills, and at length reached the bolder elevations.

Here they traveled from one point of vantage to another, spending several hours in this way; but no trace of either aeroplane or balloon could be discovered.

In the midst of a forest on the sloping side of a mountain their bronchos were picketed, for night was coming on. A strong wind moaned and whistled through the trees, and toyed with the pine cones, and sent little eddies of dry leaves scurrying over the ground.

“The balloon seemed to come about in this direction,” declared Dave, who had taken his seat on a partly decayed log.

“I only hope them thar fellers an’ the ones in the arioplane ain’t been busted inter a thousand bits,” said Pete. “But didn’t I tell ye it weren’t never intended for men ter fly?” The big cow-puncher glared sternly from one to the other; and, as only gloomy silence followed his words, began again: “’Tain’t nateral; an’ only a bloomin’ maverick ’ud think as how it were.”




“I do wonder what in the world has become of them,” wailed Tom.

“Ye sartinly couldn’t expect ter round them thar chaps up to onct,” said Jed. “They might be a-sittin’ snug an’ comfortable on t’ other side o’ a ridge, for all we know—eh, Pete?”

The big cow-puncher, not disposed to take so cheerful a view of the situation, evaded this question.

“We’d best git a fire goin’, boys,” he said, “an’ cook some grub.”

Pete looked up at the sky showing between the dark, waving branches of the pines and saw a procession of low clouds scudding across.

“I suppose you’ve got a weather eye as good as Skillet’s, eh, Pete?” said Cranny.

“I ’low there’s sure goin’ ter be a change soon, younker,” answered the cowboy, indirectly. “I kin see signs o’ its breakin’ a’ready.”

“If the moon would only be obliging enough to come out, we could keep right on searching,” remarked Tim Lovell.

“Maybe it will, arter while. Git to[224] hustlin’, lads. A bite o’ grub won’t do nobody a bit o’ harm.”

Even Dave Brandon skirmished around, and soon the sound of hatchets hacking and chopping away echoed through the darkening forest. A pleasant scent of pine and other vegetation was borne on the wind, which rushed along with scarcely a lull in its monotonous chanting. A great part of Dave’s much prized and comfortable seat was reduced to kindling wood while the stout boy was away gathering brush.

Behind the shelter of a moss-covered boulder, Pete Sanderson started a fire, while several of the others opened saddle-bags, and from their capacious depths took bacon, crackers and cheese, and great quantities of corn-pones.

Jed Warren assumed the duties of chef, with none wishing to dispute his authority.

It was pleasant to loll about and sniff an appetizing odor of things cooking, and to see the big coffee-pot fiercely fuming and sputtering on a bed of hot coals. But the lads did not feel in any humor to enjoy it.

The fire threw out a ruddy glow, one[225] minute picking from obscurity the stamping bronchos, and the next dropping them back into gloom.

“Well, I didn’t have a chance to read the letter from Willie that Jed brought,” remarked Cranny, suddenly. “Guess I’ll do it now.”

“I only hope he’s safe somewhere,” murmured Tom. “That little chap has some mighty good points in him.”

“I reckon as how he’s found out by this time that it ain’t nateral ter fly,” said Pete, straightening his tall, gaunt form. “How many times hev I told ye it weren’t never intended?”

“Something less’n a thousand, I guess,” mumbled Cranny, holding Willie’s missive up to the light.

“Read it,” said Tim Lovell, eagerly.

Dear Cran:—” began the big lad:

“I have been thinking an awful lot about you and the old farmhouse. With all your broncho riding, and sky-planing, and mixing in the society of longhorns, it does seem to me, sometimes, that old Doctor Clifton will get a chance at you yet.

[226]“Walters said that you and a couple of chaps came over to the hangar one day, and that you looked and talked just the nerviest ever—honest fact, Cran.

“I explained that nerve cultivation is your specialty; and Walters said: ‘His success is something wonderful.’ It’s true, Cran.

“I’m having lots of fun here. Major Carroll isn’t like the Ogdens; he’s one of the finest men in the world, and has the greatest collection of tools you ever saw.”

“Lots of fun!” broke in Dick, with a puzzled look. “Perhaps, by this time, the Major thinks we have escaped from somewhere.”

“Willie Sloan is evidently beginning to find himself,” remarked Dave, quietly.

“And I wish to thunder we could find Willie Sloan,” said Cranny. He began to read again.

“He doesn’t put up an awful holler just because I touch a bit of scrap iron, and, once in a while, bust something. Say, Cran, did you know that they put gas in balloons?—It’s a fact.

“Major Carroll is going to take me up soon. Those old Ogden air-skimmers are not in it with a ship like Major Carroll’s. I guess one doesn’t feel as if he was sitting in a sieve, with the bottom likely to drop out any minute.

[227]“I told you I was going to write to my guardian, Cran; and it’s done—fact. Say, that letter is enough to blister the air, or burn the postman’s hands. It ought to make a sensation.”

The firelight flickering over Cranny’s face showed a sadly disturbed expression.

“Odd kid!” he commented, “eh, fellows?”

“Awfully odd,” agreed Tom.

“An original,” drawled Dave.

“Major Carroll says he’ll be glad to meet our doctor, Thomas Cliffy; but I told him his joy wouldn’t last very long. Here’s a bill for his M. D.-ship:

“For the loss of one red-covered book
(I allow two cents off)
 To one ride on longhorn—
damage to nerves
      “      “  muscles .50
      “      “  bones .10
 Deduction on account of the crowd
diving in among the longhorns
Balance 1.28

“Remit by cowboy post.

“My regards to the bunch,
William Brinton Sloan, P. G. S.”

[228]“Crickets, that’s a funny letter, all right,” declared Tim Lovell, as Cranny finished reading.

“I should say more than funny,” added Tom. “Wonder what P. G. S. stands for?”

“G—goose; S!—what does S mean?” came from Sam Randall.

“What does P mean?” said Dick.

“Maybe it ought to be P. S. G.—Pretty Slow Goose,” suggested Tom, suddenly recalling the shafts of sarcasm with which Willie had bombarded him on numerous occasions. Then, relenting, he added, “But, after all, he’s a rather nice little kid.”

“Sure!” admitted Cranny.

A little later, they sat down to supper, and, in spite of their troubled state of mind, managed to dispose of every scrap.

“Oh, but don’t I wish the weather was better,” said Dick, when the meal was over.

“I reckon we’ll be able to scout around a bit, after all,” Pete assured them. “The moon is beginning to light up the clouds.”

The cow-puncher’s observation was true; a faint silvery sheen soon became sufficiently strong for the waving tree tops to be outlined[229] against it. Above the steady roar of the wind were heard weird snapping sounds, as branches occasionally fell, or grated against their neighbors; and the soft patter of leaves was broken by rustling noises strangely suggestive of footsteps coming and going amidst the brush.

But the boys had long since become accustomed to the mysteries of the night, and paid no heed. Perhaps eyes belonging to wild inhabitants of the forest may have been, at times, intently fixed upon them, as they sat about. The flames rose higher, sending a flickering glare far into the depths.

“Clearing, at last!” cried Dick, whose patience had been sorely tried by the long wait.

“There’s a big hole in the clouds, sure as I live,” said Sam, exultingly.

“Then the scouting can begin mighty soon,” added Tom.

Half an hour later, Pete Sanderson gave the order to start, and, after beating out every vestige of the fire, the boys sprang into the saddle.

A shadowy group of horsemen, led by the[230] cow-punchers, picked their way slowly between the trees. It was still very obscure, but occasionally a silvery beam penetrated the darkness and streaked over the ground.

For several hours, the determined riders kept up a steady march. At times, they were turned aside by impenetrable thickets, at others, obliged to pass through dark and forbidding ravines, with beetling cliffs hanging overhead. Their progress, too, was challenged by huge boulders and rocks, and, here and there, a fallen tree.

Finally, at a lofty elevation, they reached the far side of the mountain. There were plenty of gaps, now, in the flying clouds, through which the moonlight streamed with weird effect. A scene of wild and impressive grandeur was before them.

“Old Eagles’ Peak, boys!” exclaimed Pete, waving his hand toward a snow-capped summit which rose high above the timbered slopes.

“Magnificent!” murmured Dave.

“Perfectly corkin’!” exclaimed Cranny.

“I reckon as how we might give a couple o’ good old cowboy yells, fellers,” said Jed.[231] “Sounds carry an awful long way in the mountains.”

The crowd halloed again and again, but there was not even an echo to answer their calls. They looked eagerly about in every direction.

But in all that vast landscape of valley and mountain, timbered slopes and areas of barren rock, there was nothing to reward their search.

“Now what’s to be done?” asked Tom, in anxious tones.

“Keep a-goin’, youngster,” answered Pete, gruffly. “I ain’t s’prised. Many a time I told ye it weren’t nateral ter fly; an’ now I s’picion ye’re beginnin’ to think so yerselves.”



With a strong wind at its back, the “Ogden II” rose gracefully in the air. Bob Somers realized that the utmost skill and care would be required, and was satisfied to keep at a comparatively low altitude. Gradually, however, he increased the power, until they were racing along at dizzy speed.

Far ahead the “Border City” appeared as a mere speck, but the aviator felt that if they were not obliged to descend the biplane would overtake the dirigible long before the mountains were reached.

“And by that time Major Carroll may have regained control,” he reflected.

The wind droned and sighed against the planes, while occasionally a stronger gust, striking the machine obliquely, rocked it gently. Then the aillerons, or balancing devices, attached to the main plane began to work automatically, some bending up, others[233] down, in this way creating a difference in the air pressure which quickly restored the biplane to an even keel.

Bob Somers at length threw on full power. The pulsating roar of the engine and whirr of propeller blades were sent far off on the wind, carrying fear to the cattle browsing on the prairie below.

As mile after mile slipped behind them, the two boys saw with great satisfaction the cigar-shaped hull no longer appearing as a patch of gray but beginning to show distinctly the effects of light and shade. The chain of mountains, too, which hemmed in the plain was looming up faintly through a dark, murky atmosphere. One lone snow-capped peak shone delicately white.

As Bob sent the biplane nosing its way slightly higher, Cranny Beaumont’s thoughts were busy. So far, the “Border City” had not shown the slightest indication of descending; indeed, the big lad was quite certain that the runaway balloon was rising.

“Suppose we have to follow ’em right over the mountains,” he reflected.

Almost every theory he had ever heard[234] explained regarding the vagaries or dangers of air currents rushed into his mind with disconcerting clearness. Each gust of wind which struck the planes gave him an unpleasant shock.

“How in the world will Bob Somers ever make a turn in a wind like this?” Cranny looked hard into the aviator’s face, as if to read his thoughts; but all he saw was a determined, set expression.

The jagged mountain crests were now cutting more crisply against the sky. A long line of undulating foot-hills, some forest-covered, others bald ridges, rolled back in ever-increasing height to the mountains beyond. And Cranny knew of many deep gorges, rushing torrents and high precipices which existed amid the wilderness.

Now they were traveling over the sheep country. Flocks of thousands covered the plains. The boys could see them, terrified by the flying machine, scampering wildly about, and forming masses of a grayish white that continually changed their outlines. Some distance off, a watercourse fringed with willows wound its snake-like way over the grass-covered[235] floor. Swiftly the biplane approached this gleaming line, passed across and left it far behind.

The “Border City” was steadily growing larger. In a short time the two craft would be racing side by side. And what then?

Bob Somers’ brow was furrowed with anxiety. He heartily wished that there was some means by which he could communicate with Major Carroll.

While these perplexing thoughts were passing through his mind the aviator’s attention was attracted by the sight of a bird flying some distance below.

“An eagle!” murmured Bob.

Although the biplane was shooting ahead at a terrific rate, the great bird easily kept pace with it, occasionally soaring upward, as though its curiosity was aroused by this giant rival of the air.

“I only hope the old chap doesn’t get too inquisitive,” thought Bob. He exchanged glances with Cranny Beaumont. “I’d hate to hurt him.” He smiled grimly, and looked toward his revolver. “But maybe it’s a good thing that Cranny and I brought these along.”

[236]As the eagle began to fly straight toward them, Bob operated the control levers again, and the biplane, responding, rose slightly higher. He kept his eyes fixed intently on the bird, and, in spite of their situation, could not help admiring the ease and grace of its movements. The great wings were beating the air with rhythmical precision.

Higher, still higher, soared the eagle. A harsh, challenging scream rose faintly above the roar of engine and propeller.

“It surely won’t be foolish enough to attack us,” mused Bob.

He again turned his eyes toward the “Border City.” The air-ship, silhouetted against the dark, lowering sky, presented an impressive spectacle. It was now not far distant, and the details were coming into view.

Meanwhile the king of the air was keeping up the race. But Bob had too much to think about, for the moment, to even glance toward it.

A strong cross-current of wind suddenly wobbled the planes, causing the aillerons to flop anew. The broad prairie had been left behind; they were flying over a chain of rugged[237] foot-hills. The aviator could see, far below, deep gorges, masses of reddish rock, and green forests passing by in kaleidoscopic fashion.

The mountain ahead, forming a stern and forbidding-looking barrier, rose high above them; and it was now apparent that the snow-capped peak, which glistened strangely white in the darkening atmosphere, reared itself immediately beyond.

“Ah ha!” muttered Bob. “Major Carroll is throwing out ballast.”

Quantities of sand, as bags were emptied, could be seen falling—curious misty patches of a lightish color that streaked downward in showers, to speedily spread out and fade from view.

As patch after patch appeared, and melted away, the “Border City” rose perceptibly. The aeronauts had evidently decided to cross the mountains.

“If Major Carroll can’t rise high enough to clear those summits, they’ll be in awful danger.” Bob Somers spoke his thoughts aloud. “Crickets!” His face paled slightly under its coat of tan. “I guess this is adventure enough for even Cranny Beaumont.”

[238]The latter’s eyes were sparkling with excitement; his gaze constantly shifted from the “Border City” to the eagle below, then toward the mountain peaks, which every instant seemed to present a more threatening aspect.

The proportions of the runaway dirigible were looming up in all their hugeness; but a few minutes more, at the present rate of speed, and the “Ogden II” would be shooting past.

The brief interval of time passed, the roar of the engine lessened, and the biplane drew abreast of its monster rival.

The boys were too eager, now, to pay any further attention to the feathered form flying below. Strange thrills coursed through them, as they looked at the air-ship and its occupants scarcely a hundred feet away. Willie Sloan was waving his hands vigorously.

The coverings of the car had been rolled up in places, exposing to view a part of the interior. A network of wire ropes and steel tubing glimmered dully, while the planes fore and aft and the great rudder at the rear showed ghostly white.

Bob Somers steered the “Ogden II” still closer to the runaway, shutting off as much[239] power as he dared. Strong cross-currents of wind began to make themselves felt, blustering between the planes, sometimes tipping them slightly, or causing peculiar, ominous vibrations to send chills down their backs.

“Hello the ‘Ogden II’!” came a hail, which the boys were scarcely able to hear above the roar of the engine.

Major Warfield Carroll was calling through a megaphone.

“Hello, hello!” yelled the boys, in unison.

“Our engine can’t be made to work. Many thanks for your kindness and bravery, boys; but I insist upon your making a landing at once.”

His words were barely distinguishable.

Bob shook his head.

“But I insist again that you do nothing of the sort!” shouted the Major, with all his force. “We’ll be able to rise high enough to clear the mountains, and are in no danger. Don’t you know that in a short time you will find yourselves in the midst of most dangerous air currents?”

“Couldn’t think of giving up the chase!” cried Cranny.

[240]The “Ogden II” was beginning to glide downward. The engine, put under additional power, drowned the next words which Major Carroll flung toward them. But there was a strange tone to his voice which made the boys look at each other in surprise.

The explanation came an instant later.

The eagle, momentarily forgotten, shot into view so close beneath that its glittering eyes and cruel-looking beak could be clearly seen. Its magnificent, spreading wings were flapping furiously.

Almost breathless, the two watched the bird soaring still nearer. At intervals, it emitted a scream that sounded above the incessant din of the engine.

“Great Scott!” Bob gave a long breath; his nerves tingled with excitement. “It looks as though we’re in for a scrap.”



With this new and startling situation confronting them, the boys’ attention was diverted from the “Border City,” now falling rapidly behind.

Many minutes passed—tense, anxious minutes. The eagle flew still closer; its menacing attitude increased. Cranny Beaumont drew his revolver from its holster; he was ready for instant action; but neither he nor Bob Somers had any desire to end the life of the magnificent bird unless its own misguided actions should render such a course absolutely necessary.

Momentarily expecting an attack, the boys could do nothing but patiently await the next move of their feathered foe. As the minutes passed without any change in the situation, Cranny twisted his head around, to see, over his shoulder, the “Border City.”

The air-ship was drifting high above them;[242] and he noted that bags of sand were still being emptied one after another over its side.

“I’d give something to know what’s going to happen in the next half hour,” he murmured, grimly.

A magnificent panorama of mountains lay straight before them—a succession of forest-crowned slopes, of great precipices and gloomy-looking gorges.

Bob Somers turned toward his passenger; his interrogating look was immediately understood.

Cranny Beaumont nodded emphatically. His lips framed the words:

“Let her rip, Bob; go as high as you like.”

The big plane instantly began to rise, while its unrelenting pursuer, as if accepting this as an evidence of fear, uttered a wild screech. The startled lads had a quick view of a dusky form shooting ahead and above them. They involuntarily shrank back in their seats, as it circled around and swooped fiercely to the attack.

Bob Somers knew, and so did Cranny Beaumont, that a false movement of the[243] controlling levers might place them in the greatest peril. The latter was prepared; he braced himself hard against the supports.

In another instant, the bird swept violently against the upper plane only a few feet from him, while beak, wings and powerful talons seemed to resolve themselves into a confused mass of pecking, beating and striking objects.

Crack, crack!

Two sharp reports came so close together as to be almost blended into one. A thin wisp of pungent smoke rolled backward. But Cranny Beaumont, even in those moments of danger, admired the great eagle too much to sacrifice its life. The bullets sped harmlessly into space.

His firing, however, produced exactly the effect for which the lad had hoped. The cracking of the revolver and flashes of flame proved too much for the courage and fighting spirit of the bird. With a cry of alarm, it turned and flapped away. Then the boys, to their great relief, saw it begin a wild swoop downward.

They watched the eagle as it shot off into space, one moment silhouetted against the[244] green pine forests, and the next passing across rocky crags, until, finally, the heavy atmosphere blotted it from view.

“A mighty lucky escape for us both, old king of the air,” breathed Bob Somers, with a great sigh of relief.

He steadied the rocking biplane, and glanced behind at the “Border City.” The balloon, considerably to the rear, had now risen to a very high altitude.

“I’ll have to make a turn and come about,” mused the aviator. “We’re leaving them too far behind. Here’s a chance to test my skill.”

Bob Somers’ forehead became knotted again. In the stiff breeze, with the currents of air no longer steady, he was facing a difficult task. All his senses were on the alert to detect the slightest indication of danger. Cautiously, he operated the levers.

The flying machine, obeying these movements, gradually changed its course, swinging further and further around. The planes began to tip, and, as the wind struck hard against them, the boys passed through several anxious moments.

[245]Cranny, compelled to sit idle and trust his safety entirely to the skill of another, managed with difficulty to repress various shivery sensations that would persist in running through him.

The “Ogden II,” tipping at a thrilling angle, soared around, soon righting itself under the skilful guidance of the aviator. In a few minutes they were flying off in the opposite direction against a wind which blustered and sang, or chanted musically, as it raced past the planes. The two, at times, were forced to bow their heads to the gusts.

The “Border City” seemed to be still ascending.

“I believe they’re high enough now to cross the mountains in safety.” Bob Somers spoke his thoughts aloud.

Within a few minutes the biplane had left the dirigible far astern. The aviator then worked the pedals controlling the rudder and tail, sending the machine around in a graceful curve.

Another series of thrills, as the planes tipped; another breath-taking glide, and the “Ogden II” was once more soaring in hot pursuit of the air-ship. Cranny gave a whistle[246] of astonishment; the biplane had climbed high above the mountain summits, and was still ascending. A haze seemed to be coming between them and the earth.

When the lad raised his eyes, he saw peak after peak looming up, while shining against a waste of flying clouds towered the snow-capped peak—a pinnacle of forbidding aspect. Almost beneath them great walls of rock rose precipitously, cleft by deep gorges, or crowned with verdure-covered slopes. Every minute a new surprise seemed to loom up in that wild and enchanting scene.

And then it was that the reason for Major Carroll’s course dawned upon Cranny’s mind. Beyond the furthermost crags, a broad gray expanse of plain, looking like the sea, stretched off, to finally merge imperceptibly into the gloomy sky.

“Ah ha; that’s it!” muttered Cranny. “Foxy chap, that; won’t give up—expects to get his engine going. Knows he’ll clear the mountains, and be able to descend on the other side.”

He looked toward the “Border City,” now sweeping majestically above the first summit.

[247]Bob Somers shut off as much power as he dared. Already the biplane had begun to rock, tremble, or wobble in the grip of deflected currents of wind. Bob felt that it would be foolhardy in the extreme to risk another turn; from now on their only safety lay in keeping to a straight course.

For some time the aviator had had an ominous fact strongly impressed upon his mind—the wind was veering.

“Yes, there’s not the least doubt about it,” breathed Bob. “And exactly in the wrong way, too. The ‘Border City’ is surely heading more and more in the direction of that snow-capped peak.”

He managed to convey his thoughts to Cranny Beaumont.

The big lad nodded vigorously; his face clouded over with the gravest apprehension. It was certain that the balloon could not clear such a towering summit.

It was hard for the lads to feel that, although so near to their companions of the air, they were absolutely helpless to render them the slightest assistance. Their gaze was fixed on the great yellowish hull drifting some distance[248] below them, a plaything of the capricious wind which urged it every moment toward the great white barrier.

The biplane was shooting past again, rocking in the gusts of wind, or shaken by convulsive tremors. The aviator and his passenger could see, gathered at the foremost end of the dirigible’s car, not two figures, but three.

The passage of the “Ogden II” so close above, however, seemed to pass unnoticed, as though the three could think of nothing but the great danger which confronted them.

“There’s still time, if the wind would only change!” cried Bob.

Consideration for their own safety denied them a chance to look again. The cross-currents tore and whirled against the planes; it was a time when navigation of the air required a cool head and steady hand.

Bob Somers’ face wore a look of resolute courage. He had confidence in his ability to weather the elements and pilot the craft over the mountains to the plains beyond. But what would be the fate of the “Border City”? The wind showed no signs of veering back to its original quarter.

[249]A prey to doubts and fears, he held the biplane on a steady course, watching the incline of the mountain, as it seemingly slipped up toward them, and the frowning, snow-clad crags, close by, which they were about to pass. It was an awe-inspiring picture of the wilderness, solemn and grim, with its darkened atmosphere and canopy of somber clouds.



Every one well acquainted with Major Warfield Carroll recognized in him a man of rather eccentric ways and ideas—one of those who is apt to take likes and dislikes without apparent cause. And yet his friends generally found in the end that the stubborn, combative, even hot-headed Major, in nearly all cases, had very good reasons for his actions. He possessed an intuitive knowledge of human nature, and, as a matter of course, was an excellent judge of character. Those fortunate enough to gain his favor found in him a real friend, one who, so long as they proved themselves worthy, was glad to advance their interests.

Early one evening, while he and the three Ogdens were studying over some blue-prints in a little office at one corner of the hangar, a small lad, hot, dusty and tired, walked boldly[251] in, despite the commands of Walters to “make himself scarce.”

“Oh, goodness, Mr. Ogden,” he said, wearily, “but maybe I’m not tired.”

“Willie Sloan!” cried the inventor, in great surprise, while his sons looked at the boy as if not quite sure that they saw aright.

“Yes; it’s William Brinton Sloan, P. G. S.,” said Willie, with a faint grin.

“What in the world are you doing here? Where are the others? Major Carroll, this is one of the lads I spoke about.”

The financier’s sharp eyes were fixed full upon him. Willie stared earnestly back. His half-shy and half-impudent manner, somehow, seemed to catch the Major’s fancy; but the latter’s tone was stern, as he said:

“What have you to say, in answer to Mr. Ogden’s question?”

“A whole lot—near enough to fill a book,” gulped Willie. “I couldn’t stand that old farmhouse any longer, so I—I—just lit out, and——”

“Do you mean to say that you actually walked here?” demanded Rob Ogden.

“Yes; and it was something awful. I never[252] knew there were so many cows in the world. And say, it was hot enough out there to bake a pie.”

A twinkle of amusement shone in the eyes of several.

“How did you find your way?” asked Major Carroll.

“I struck out on a bee-line for the railroad, and followed the tracks right into town.”

“But you might soon have become used to Lone Pine, and enjoyed the experience.”

“Not in a thousand years,” protested Willie, earnestly. “I don’t want to ride a broncho; I don’t want to go up in that air-skimmer. When the machine shop was closed, that settled it.”

“Otherwise, I fear, the machine shop would have been settled,” laughed Rob.

“Are you, then, interested in tools and machinery, my lad?” asked the Major.

“Am I—am I!—Well, you just bet I am!” exclaimed Willie, sinking down on a stool. “I could live all my life in a workshop.”

The financier became interested.

“Tell me something about yourself,” he[253] said. His usually brusque manner softened. “No—on reflection, I think we had better postpone that for a while. Ferd, if you are going over to the Carroll, take him along. Let him have everything he wants.” He turned away. “Now, Ogden, as I was saying, the idiot who drew this plan ought to be drummed out of town; he——”

Willie, quite startled by the sudden change in the Major’s voice, was glad to follow Ferd outside.

At the Carroll Inn, he was assigned to a pleasant room. After a good wash and a bountiful meal he felt decidedly unlike the lad who had walked across the prairie.

A little later on, Major Carroll listened to Willie Sloan’s history of his life from the time he was five years old up to the present. He also learned that, above all things, Mr. Beaumont’s ward disliked typewriting and office work.

At intervals the financier smiled and nodded.

Then Willie, encouraged by his manner, spoke earnestly about Cranny’s mission to Border City; he said it would be a most[254] dreadful shame if Mr. Beaumont wasn’t supplied with all possible information. He also said several things which would have made Cranny highly indignant had he heard them.

Major Carroll toyed with his watch fob, smiled, and reflected. Being at the very head of the progressive movement, he was, naturally, inclined to offer Mr. Beaumont every encouragement.

“I’ll see that you get all the particulars,” he remarked, briskly. “We are going to have a great town here in a few years. There are splendid opportunities for safe investment. To-morrow, I shall find time to put you on the right track.”

The Major, in his enthusiasm, seemed to disregard the fact that his hearer was merely a boy.

A strange expression began to creep over Willie Sloan’s face. He had generally found himself treated as a person of small importance, and the Major’s tone and manner touched a chord in his nature which had seldom, if ever, been played upon. He brightened up perceptibly.

“And I’ll write to my guardian,” he declared[255] energetically. “I’ll make Cran and old Doctor Clifton sit up and take notice.”

“Doctor Clifton?” queried Major Carroll.

“He’s a huge six-footer,” said Willie.

“Keeping a friendly eye on you youngsters, I suppose?”

“Perhaps he thinks he is,” chuckled the boy.

“Won’t he object to your staying at Border City?”

“No indeed!” answered Mr. Beaumont’s ward, ending his words with a peculiar little gasp.

If some of Major Carroll’s intimate friends had been at Border City for the next few days they might have noted another evidence of his eccentricity—he allowed Willie to amuse himself as much as he pleased in the hangar.

“Any lad who takes so great an interest in mechanics as he does should be encouraged,” he declared to Mr. Ogden, Senior.

Willie began to lose his habitual air of discontent; he became active, going errands for the Major with eagerness and a desire to please which would have made Mr. Beaumont open his eyes with astonishment.

[256]The days which followed were pleasant ones to the lad. Even Kindale admitted that he had a decided aptitude for machinery. The Ogdens, however, believing that it was only a passing fancy, smiled indulgently.

One afternoon the mechanics, and several assistants requisitioned from a crowd which usually lounged about the hangar, began to haul forth the great balloon.

A cheer came from the crowd when the cigar-shaped air-ship, weighted with bags of sand, and held captive by means of ropes, rested outside the building.

Willie pleaded earnestly to be allowed to ascend.

“But won’t you be afraid?” asked the Major.

“No indeed! It isn’t like an air-skimmer; there’s a solid floor to stand on.”

“There is only a moderate breeze blowing,” explained the Major. “I have been waiting for just such a day as this—neither absolutely calm nor too windy; and, incidentally, I wish to experiment with a new steering gear. I suppose there is no harm in your going. Come along.”

[257]He stepped quickly up the gangplank, with Willie at his heels. Kindale had already taken a stand by the engine.

“We won’t be long, Ogden!” called the Major, presently. “Let go, men!”

Slowly and majestically the “Border City” began to rise.

This time Willie experienced no feeling of nervousness or fear as he saw the ground being rapidly left behind. Viewed from the cozy interior of the car, it seemed to be a perfectly safe proceeding, although, at first, the decided tilt of the balloon made his footing rather insecure.

When the “Border City” came to an even keel again the hangar was far below.

“We have reached an altitude of about a thousand feet,” explained Major Carroll, who was at the wheel.

“If the balloon goes much higher it’ll be cloud-scrapin’,” murmured Willie. Then he added, to himself: “After this, those dubs at Lone Pine won’t think I’m afraid of everything.”

Entranced by the view, he gazed earnestly out of the mica-covered window. The town[258] lay off to one side, a scattered group of houses on the dark, loam-covered prairie.

The balloon answered to the slightest movement of the helm, forcing its way against the wind, or rising and descending when the levers which controlled the balancing device were operated.

“It’s simply stunning!” cried Willie. “Please don’t sail back just yet, Major Carroll.”

“We’ll take a short trip across the prairie,” replied the aeronaut, with a smile.

As they rose still higher a stronger current of air was encountered. The engine pounding away at full speed, and the steady wind, now at its back, sent the “Border City” through the air with a rapid but easy gliding motion.

Before the hills which cut across the prairie were reached Major Carroll sought a lower level, piloted his air-ship about, and she was presently beating a passage slowly back to Border City.

He hovered over the town long enough to perform several evolutions which highly amazed the entire population.

[259]Suddenly the throbbing of the engine ceased.

Major Carroll turned and gazed sharply along the length of the car; then, as the sound did not begin anew, he roared:

“What’s the matter, Kindale?”

“I’m trying to find out, sir!”

With an exclamation of impatience, Major Carroll immediately began to lash the wheel fast.

“Hang the thing!” exclaimed the engineer, as he walked up. “This is certainly exasperating, eh, Major?”

“You ought to have the engine working in a few minutes, Kindale.”

“I hope so, sir.”

Together, they proceeded to examine the engine, battery and wires, while Willie, deeply interested, looked on. It soon became apparent that the trouble lay with the electrical apparatus, which failed to ignite the explosive mixture within the cylinders of the motor. Occasionally the spark gave an encouraging indication of resuming work; but that was all.

Half an hour passed. Border City, left further and further behind, became a curious-shaped[260] mass of grayish white against the gloomy waste of plain.

The engineer tinkered; the Major tinkered; and, doubtless, Willie would have tinkered had there been a chance. But their efforts continued to be unavailing.

“Oh, goodness! Is there any danger of us staying up here forever?” piped Willie.

“Depends upon three things, son—the engine, the wind, and Major Carroll,” answered Kindale, gruffly.

The financier squared his jaw.

“I don’t want to lose any of the gas, except as a last resort, Kindale,” he said, emphatically. “We had trouble enough getting the bag in its present fine condition.”

“The wind ain’t goin’ down none, sir.”

“All the more reason for making every effort to avoid descending. A landing would be difficult, and might have disastrous consequences to the balloon.”

“You’re right, sir.”

“And even at the worst we can float in safety until the wind simmers down.”

“How about the mountains?”

“We can easily rise high enough to cross[261] them. Beyond, according to my maps, is a great stretch of plain. By George, it will be time enough to crawl when we reach it.”

“It’s certain there ain’t no danger, Major,” said Kindale. Then, as the financier walked impatiently away, he added, in an aside to Willie: “That’s him—don’t never know when he’s beat, an’ never will. Likely as not we’ll sail around the whole earth.”

Although the aeronauts continued to make every effort to get the “Border City” under control, it drifted on and on, while the wind gradually increased in force.

The pursuit of the biplane highly exasperated the financier.

“I admire the courage of those lads,” he stormed, “but it’s absolutely foolhardy, as well as useless. But for the rugged foot-hills below us, I’d descend right now, rather than have them run any further risks.”

“It’s the plains, or nothing, now, for the ‘Border City,’” said Kindale, dryly.

Occasionally Willie lent his small stock of strength in aiding the men to empty heavy bags of sand. As they rose higher, the immense[262] panorama outstretched before his eyes gave him a peculiar feeling of awe.

The biplane finally approached, but Kindale, still struggling hard with the refractory batteries, made no effort to see it.

Major Carroll’s hailing of Bob Somers and the sight of the “Ogden II,” flying like an enormous bird so close at hand, seemed more like a strange dream than reality to Willie Sloan. So did the remarkable actions of the eagle.

The change in the wind upset all of the Major’s calculations. The two men talked together in low tones, for neither wished to alarm the lad; but each realized that unless it veered back to its original direction, they might find themselves, before very long, placed in a position of great danger.

“Those daring youngsters on the aeroplane worry me, too,” confessed the Major.

“I wouldn’t bother about ’em,” advised Kindale. “They’ve got nerve enough to get the best o’ a hurricane o’ flyin’ cats. What I don’t like is that white-bearded peak which seems to be stickin’ up there jist a-purpose to git us. Never could see no good in mountains, anyhow.”

[263]Willie Sloan began to feel badly frightened. The stormy waste of clouds seemed to be close overhead. He watched them flying along, expecting every minute to see their ragged edges flung off into pelting drops of rain—the prelude to a steady downpour.

“My, those mountains look simply terrible,” he muttered. “And whew, but it’s awful cold.”

He pulled his coat collar closely about his neck, and, shivering with the chill air and anxiety, walked toward the engine.

“I don’t know what’s to be done, Major,” he heard the engineer confess.

“Then we’re bound to cut off the top o’ that mountain, eh, mister?” piped Willie, still more excited and alarmed.

Without waiting for a reply, the lad walked quickly to the forward end of the car. He was only dimly conscious of the fact that the “Ogden II” continued to stand by them.

The “Border City,” at a high altitude, was now over the mountain crests and approaching the grim-looking peak which dominated them all. Its summit pierced the lowest strata of clouds and disappeared from view.

[264]The dark, ominous aspect of nature increased; the forests and crags were almost swallowed up in the dense, gloomy atmosphere.

He hurried back, and found Major Carroll and his engineer paying out a rope through an opening in the bottom of the car.

“It’s the anchor,” explained the Major. “Don’t be alarmed, my boy; it ought to stop us.”

Willie Sloan walked to the rail and deliberately looked downward. At any other time, he might not have been able to view the immense void beneath without being overpowered by a feeling of dizziness, but now his gaze was almost steady. It rested upon the anchor dangling nearer and nearer the earth. The iron seemed almost touching, yet it was still being lowered.

“Goodness! If it only catches in something and holds, won’t I be glad?” murmured Willie.

He suddenly became aware of a damp, sticky feeling sweeping across his face. He lifted his eyes, with a start of surprise, to see masses of vapor swirling through the car.

[265]“The clouds!” he cried, in an awe-struck voice.

The “Border City” was speedily enveloped from stem to stern; and the mist rolled thicker and thicker, until everything beyond a few yards became blotted out. The men, still engaged in lowering the anchor, appeared as shadowy, gigantic figures.

“My; this is the worst yet!” Willie groaned.

He vainly tried to make out their position; but the veil seemed to have become even more dense and impenetrable.

In another moment, he was almost jerked off his feet by the sudden slowing up of the car.

“The anchor’s caught; eh, Major Carroll?” he cried, joyfully.

“So it would appear, son,” came a voice through the fog.

The “Border City,” swinging and wobbling, tugged hard on the cable. Willie groped his way along, occasionally glancing over the rail, without seeing anything, however, but the blanket of rolling mist. Everything was enveloped in its chill and sticky[266] grip; the ropes and tubes dripped with moisture; it crept around his neck, and whirled against his eyes and ears. The big hull assumed a spectral look, and the gloom was like that of approaching night.

The shadowy figures were presently standing by his side, peering over the rail.

“It’s gettin’ thicker, Major,” said Kindale.

“I think this cloud will soon pass by.” Major Carroll laid his hand upon Willie’s shoulder. “Don’t be frightened, my lad,” he said.

“I am, though. Are we going to stay up here all day?”

“I hope not. Let’s get busy, Kindale.”

The men walked to the windlass around which the cable was wound.

Willie watched them, as they turned it slowly and laboriously. The captive balloon strained hard on the rope, while the cold wind moaned and whistled monotonously past.

“I see a hole in the clouds, sir!” yelled Willie, at length.

“Good!” grunted Kindale.

“How far down are you going?” asked Willie, anxiously.

[267]“To within a short distance of the ground,” explained Major Carroll. “The rest of the way we shall have to descend by means of a rope ladder.”

“And what then?”

“We must get word to Border City. Perhaps, after all, our young friends in the aeroplane may be able to render us a service.”

“The Ogdens will have to see that we get some batteries in the biggest kind of a hurry,” supplemented Kindale.

“Sounds mighty easy,” muttered Willie, “but we may have the dickens of a time climbing down the mountain. Besides, it’s an awful way back to the prairie.”

The mist was beginning to open out. Willie’s eyes eagerly followed the line of the cable through a rugged rift, to see it disappear in the midst of a thick clump of trees. The openings became more numerous, until, at last, the moisture-laden and dripping “Border City” was no longer immersed in its vapor bath.

As Willie Sloan, much relieved, began walking toward the forward end, a sudden[268] jolt swung him against the rail. He uttered a startled exclamation, and looked below.

“Oh, goodness—goodness!” he wailed, thoroughly alarmed. “The anchor has torn loose.”

The balloon had, indeed, resumed its drift toward the mountain.

“It’s ketched onct; it’s likely to ketch ag’in,” cried Kindale, encouragingly.

Willie breathlessly watched the anchor, seemingly but a tiny speck, slipping and sliding over a bald ridge of rock. He braced himself and held tight to the slanting rail. The feelings of a shipwrecked mariner, who sees his vessel being borne through the surging waves toward a line of foam-crested breakers, and destined to be pounded to pieces on a rocky shore, took possession of him. His eyes were fixed, by turns, upon a broad white surface towering high above them. At about their own level, he saw bold reddish crags and steep slopes partly covered with fir and pine.

“Can’t anything be done, Major Carroll?” he asked, despairingly.

“The anchor is our sole dependence,” answered[269] the millionaire. Then, as he noted the blank look which came over the boy’s face, he hastened to add: “We are not in any danger. Keep cool, and trust to us.”

Several times the trailing anchor seemed on the point of arresting their progress again; but just as Willie began to feel his hopes revive, the tremendous strain on the cable tore it free, and each minute the “Border City” was drifting nearer and nearer to the barrier. The men stood by the lad, awaiting developments in silence.

“It’ll strike head-on, sir,” said Kindale, in a voice which reached only the Major’s ears.

The rocks and trees stood out dark and grim amidst the somber, sullen-looking landscape, but with a clearness which showed how near they were. Willie watched in breathless suspense, while the air-ship slowly swung about in the cross-currents of wind.

The expected moment soon arrived. He felt the car shiver and jar—the “Border City” had struck.



The great hull collided head-on, as Kindale had predicted; then, swinging sideways, scraped and bumped along the rough, scarred side of the mountain, which sloped precipitously downward.

Willie Sloan, pale and trembling, sought courage from the men at his side. A look in Major Carroll’s eyes reassured him.

“We’re all right, my lad,” exclaimed the aeronaut, almost forgetting, in his solicitude for the lad, his own misgivings.

The car still swayed violently. At intervals, as the guide rope drew taut, there came an alarming lurch, which was immediately followed by another sweep forward. Then the huge, unwieldy hull was borne against an almost perpendicular wall of rock with such force that it seemed almost on the point of bursting.

As the air-ship, caught in a vortex of conflicting[271] currents, rebounded, it turned sideways, and presently drifted clear, the guide rope hanging in front of a high precipice. Some distance ahead a pine-covered spur extended out from the mountain.

The eyes and thoughts of all three were centered upon it. The “Border City” was again floating above the rocks. To Willie Sloan, the minutes seemed to drag with intolerable slowness. His heart was beating fast.

“Don’t be afraid, my lad,” again admonished the Major. A grim look settled about the corners of his mouth. “If necessary we can abandon the air-ship as soon as it reaches the spur.”

The “Border City” slowly approached the crags. The tops of the pines, through which the wind soughed with a musical murmur, seemed to bristle upward, as though angry at the intrusion of the monster and bent upon its destruction.

Presently the anxious passengers heard the branches of the taller trees beginning to strike and grind against the bottom and sides of the car. Not a word was spoken as they stood by supporting themselves by the rail, while[272] shock after shock jarred the car from stem to stern.

“Yards of money gone for the sake of a few feet of gas and a little trouble, Kindale,” murmured Major Carroll, regretfully.

“The anchor has ketched in something, sir.”

The financier instantly realized that Kindale’s observation was true. The tightening rope had gradually stopped the air-ship, which was now tipping more and more downward.

At last, beaten down by the force of the wind, and struggling hard to break away, it brought up against a tree top. A rending and crashing of branches followed the impact of the car.

Next instant, as if giving up the struggle, the “Border City” began to settle on its side amid the trees. The car, held by the solid pine branches, tilted at a dangerous angle.

“Oh—oh!—we’re going to be spilled out!” gasped Willie Sloan, with a thrill of terror.

“No—keep cool!” called out Major Carroll, in a reassuring voice. “This is the end of our trip: we shall easily be able to reach the ground in safety.”

[273]“We’re sure stuck tight enough this time, sir,” said the engineer.

Again Kindale’s observation proved to be correct. The air-ship was firmly held by the drag rope. Its great hull, straining and tugging, was as far in advance of the car as the connecting framework would permit. With every heavy gust of wind it dipped downward at a sharper angle; then rose again.

The car had come to rest upon a bed of waving pine boughs, while numerous branches rested caressingly over its rail. The floor, showered with needles, in places resembled a carpet of green.

“A slight lad like you should have no difficulty in reaching the ground.” The Major’s cool, collected voice broke the spell of fright which had held Willie Sloan in its grip.

“I think I can manage it, sir,” he said, in a low tone, as he kept himself in an upright position by holding on to the steel tubing.

“Of course you can.”

“I should call this one o’ the awkwardest positions a man were ever placed in,” grunted the engineer. “But still it could be a dozen times worse. The propellers ain’t even broke,[274] Major, though they’re certainly caught tight enough in those branches.”

Immediately following this remark, Kindale proceeded to attach a heavy sand-bag to a rope ladder, and, with Major Carroll’s assistance, it was thrown over the side. Shifting it about, in order to find favorable openings, the men lowered away.

Boughs and masses of foliage were pushed aside by the weight of the sand-bag; twigs or small branches occasionally snapped. At length some obstruction caught the bag and held it fast.

“Can’t move it either up or down,” remarked Kindale, after several long and vigorous efforts. “Anyway, we’ll be able to climb a few yards nearer the earth. I’ll go first, Major.”

The engineer assured himself that the ladder was secure, then clambered over the side of the car.

It was an anxious moment to Willie Sloan. He watched Kindale swaying back and forth on his apparently frail support and descending cautiously toward the denser foliage below. Almost immediately his form was hidden, and[275] only the sound of rustling leaves told of his steady progress toward the ground.

“Kindale is surely not finding it a difficult undertaking,” said the Major. “Your turn next, lad.”

“Yes, sir; I’m ready,” answered Willie, with a little gulp.

A stentorian hail from the engineer reached his ears:

“It’s all right, Major. I’m not all the way down, but I’ll wait here for the boy.”

Major Carroll assisted Willie over the side, and kept a firm grip on him until he had secured a footing on the ladder.

Away from the solid support of the car, and for the first time entirely dependent upon his own efforts, Mr. Beaumont’s ward found that the surroundings had assumed an even more wild and forbidding aspect. One glance at the snow-covered heights above, and another through an opening in the trees, which showed a hazy patch far below, made his knees almost tremble. Had he suddenly found himself on the weather-vane of a cathedral spire his sensations might have been much the same as he experienced now.

[276]Then thoughts of Tom Clifton, and what Tom Clifton might say, if he could see him perched so ridiculously high in the air, flashed into his mind. They did him more good than almost anything else could have done.

“I’ll just make old Dr. Thomas Cliffy open his eyes,” he decided. “He’ll think I’m a bird, all right. I’d like to be a bird for about five minutes.”

As he started to lower himself from rung to rung, the ladder began to sway, while gusts of wind blew against him with a force that made his heart flutter.

Down—down he went, pushing obstructing branches out of his way. They became thicker and thicker, forming an arching screen overhead through which the big gas-bag appeared as a mere, formless patch of dark.

The lad gave a violent start when a bird unexpectedly darted out from amidst the shadowed depths of the fragrant pines, and, with a shrill cry, flew swiftly past.

“Take it easy, lad,” cautioned Kindale, from below. “’Tain’t very far to the ground.”

Pine-needles were sweeping against Willie at every step, scratching his hands and face;[277] but he struggled on, even smiling grimly as he discovered the engineer sitting astride a limb just below.

“The sand-bag stuck right here,” explained Kindale, “but there’s plenty o’ stout branches—nothing to be skeered at, lad.”

“Who’s skeered?” grunted Willie.

“Not you, that’s sure,” laughed the other. “You’re a brick. Easy, now! I’ll give you a hand.”

With the assistance of the engineer, Willie managed to climb upon a sturdy limb, uttering a sigh of satisfaction as he eased himself into a safe position.

“Take a rest, now, while I keep on,” advised Kindale. “Yes; we’re still all right, Major!” he yelled, in answer to a call which came through the trees. “’Most down, now.”

Five minutes later, after struggling from branch to branch and crotch to crotch, Willie Sloan dropped, safe and sound, to the earth.

“Bully for you!” cried Kindale. “You’re a dandy!”

Mr. Beaumont’s ward grinned cheerfully.

“Guess this beats all of old Doc Cliffy’s adventures pounded into one,” he said.[278] “Hello—hello, Major Carroll; we’re down-stairs at last.”

It didn’t take the slight, active financier very long to join them.

“We have been most fortunate,” he remarked. His eyes lighted up with satisfaction, as he glanced from one to the other. A vigorous shake sent a shower of pine-needles flying from his shoulders. “But a hard task still confronts us. We must——”

“Get out of the woods,” chirped Willie, whose mind was now relieved from all anxiety.

“Quite right,” laughed the Major. “I suppose Doctor Clifton may have something to say about this. But come on; we must find a way to descend.”

Feelings somewhat like those of an explorer who has landed upon some strange, untrodden soil, coursed through Willie Sloan, as they made their way around the trees. A delightful fragrance of the pines filled the air.

Finally the forest thinned out, and the explorers, following the edge of the spur, at length emerged upon a stretch of barren rocks.

“I wonder where in the world Bob Somers[279] and Cran have gone in that old air-skimmer,” remarked Willie, after a long stare in all directions.

“I’d give a lot to know whether the boys are safe.”

A troubled expression came over Major Carroll’s face.

“Of course they are, sir,” said Kindale, confidently. “Thunder! I do wish we could find a way down this slope,” he added.

An hour’s thorough search convinced the party that they were in a decidedly unpleasant situation. On every side almost vertical cliffs made descent impossible, while over-hanging crags and slopes too steep to climb prevented them from ascending.

The three finally came to a halt before a smooth slab of rock which rose about twenty-five feet above their heads.

“If we could get over that, Major, there’d be a chance,” said Kindale, glancing critically at the slope higher up. “It’s the only promising place we’ve seen.”

“I don’t think there is any possible way for us to manage it,” returned the aeronaut. His forehead knitted into a tremendous[280] frown. “There is nothing to catch a rope or ladder.”

“Then it looks as though we’re up against it hard,” murmured the engineer, in a low tone. “Not a bite to eat; not a drop o’ water to drink, an’ not a firearm among the three.”

“Prisoners—apparently!” said the Major, with a gesture of impatience. “Yes, prisoners!” he repeated grimly, casting a glance toward Willie, who had wandered off.



Well, Bob Somers, you’re a crackerjack, sure enough!” Cranny Beaumont uttered these words with a heartiness that indicated a decided conviction on the subject.

The “Ogden II” had crossed the mountains and landed in safety on a gently rising swell some distance beyond.

Cranny slapped the aviator on the shoulder with a force corresponding to the enthusiasm exhibited by his speech, whereupon Bob winced and hastily drew away.

“Thanks, Cranny,” he said, “but I’d understand without having the sentiments pounded in.”

“Bob, I couldn’t help it. The way you handled that biplane was simply great. I’d call it a corkin’ fine experience but for——”

The big lad paused, while an anxious expression replaced his habitual grin.

“I wonder what has happened to them,”[282] said Bob, musingly. “The ‘Border City’ has certainly been blown against the mountain.”

“Sure as we’re standin’ here,” agreed Cranny. “By Jupiter, wasn’t it mean luck that the wind had to change?”

The two stared about them for a moment in silence. Foot-hills and mountains rose at their back, while in front a vast expanse of prairie stretched off to the limits of view. Here and there, masses of mesquite and scrubby trees dotted its rolling surface.

“What’s to be done, Somers?” asked Cranny, at length.

“Have a bite to eat, and wait for the wind to quiet down,” answered Bob, with a glance at the sky.

“Goin’ up again, eh?”

“If there’s a possible chance. But if you don’t want to risk it——”

“See here, Bob”—the lad spoke in a highly injured tone—“did you ever know me to back out——”

“Never did, Cran,” laughed Bob.

“And you never will, either. I’ll go where anybody else will, and maybe a bit further. No Willie Sloan ’bout me, Bob.”

[283]“Poor little chap,” sighed Bob.

“I’m afraid he’s had such a scare that it’ll take a year for him to get over it. I’ll be mighty glad when to-morrow morning comes.”

“By that time we ought to know more than we do now, Cranny.”

Bob had taken the precaution to pack in a small bag a supply of bacon, crackers and cheese, so the two hurried toward a patch of timber in search of fuel.

After fifteen minutes of brisk chopping, Bob kindled a fire on the edge of the woods, while Cranny filled the coffee-pot from the canteens and got the cooking utensils ready.

The gloom slowly deepened; mountains and plain began to grow dim and mysterious. The “Ogden II,” some distance away, revealed itself by ghostly patches of grayish white and formless shadows; and, finally, night closed around them.

The two found it difficult to keep their restless feelings in check, often pacing to and fro, while the flames sent their shadows fantastically over the ground.

Hour after hour dragged out its tedious[284] course; but, to the joy and relief of both, the wind began to lessen and the gaps in the clouds to constantly increase in size. Shafts of silvery light fell across the plain; the snow on Eagles’ Peak shone with a spectral luster, while mountain crags and timbered slopes appeared in places where before were only gloomy masses of dark.

“Isn’t this great luck, Cranny!” cried Bob.

“Corking! What jolly sport it would be but for——”

“That’s so,” said Bob.

Half an hour later, the impatient boys decided that it was safe to make a start.

The moon was shining brilliantly as they stamped out the fire. Then Bob, followed by Cranny, walked briskly toward the “Ogden II.”

The hum of the engine and whirr of the propeller blades soon rose on the air. Under the skilful guidance of Bob Somers, the biplane began to soar toward the silvery-edged clouds which still drifted in the grayish expanse of blue.

Higher, still higher, with the moon sending a faint, queer-shaped shadow over the prairie,[285] rose the “Ogden II.” A vast, seemingly unreal world opened out before them, as they swiftly winged their way toward the mountains. Unheard exclamations of astonishment and delight came continually from Cranny’s lips.

Densely wooded foot-hills were soon directly beneath them. Now, having risen far above the crests of the nearer mountains, they were able to look upon a scene of unparalleled grandeur. Innumerable crags and peaks, enveloped in the soft sheen of the moon, stretched far off toward the horizon, glittering in light, or steely gray in shadow.

The boys gazed into the dizzy depths below with a feeling of awe. Here, they saw a cascade, tumbling from ledge to ledge; there, an inaccessible canyon, through whose gloomy depths dashed a foaming torrent. In the mysterious light, nature appeared but a ghostly echo of herself.

The towering pinnacle of old Eagles’ Peak loomed up nearer; the snowy surface began to reveal its bald, rugged forms, its precipitous slopes and glittering rocks.

But even the wonderful panorama and the[286] thrills of flying at a tremendous speed could not relieve the intense feeling of anxiety which the aviator and his companion experienced. Their eyes continually roved over the landscape for any signs of the “Border City.”

“We’re likely to learn something mighty soon,” murmured Bob. “Whew, but it’s getting cold.”

An icy feeling was in the air; the wind rushing steadily past carried with it an unpleasant sting.

Ten minutes later, as the “Ogden II” began to skirt around old Eagles’ Peak, the boys’ hearts fairly leaped with excitement and hope.

The bright sparkle of a fire on a jutting ledge had sprung into view; then disappeared, as objects passed between; then gleamed once more.

The boys saw something else, too. An exultant yell came from Cranny’s lips. There was no mistaking that huge, cigar-shaped form which seemed to be resting across the tops of a dense mass of pines. The rounded surface of the “Border City”[287] glimmered with light, or lost its outlines in the surrounding shadows.

“It looks like some huge slumbering monster,” thought Bob Somers, as, with a steady hand, he directed their course still nearer the spur, and toward the ruddy, dancing flames.

“Rah, rah!” He joined with Cranny Beaumont in a shout.

The “Ogden II” shot far above the air-ship, and they were looking down upon a scene, on the edge of the forest, which made their nerves tingle with joy. Around the huge fire, three figures were seen, each wildly waving his hands toward them.

“Safe—safe! Sure as I live!”

Bob Somers and his passenger exchanged glances of the greatest satisfaction, and craned their necks to keep in view the little group.

As Bob raised his head again, he had a vague impression as of seeing a tiny star-like point of light out of the corner of his eye. It was, apparently, far distant, at the bottom of a rolling valley.

Upon looking a second time, it had vanished completely. Bob winked his eye hard.

“Yet I’m almost sure of it,” he murmured.[288] “Ah ha—there it is! Now what does that mean?”

The star-like point had come plainly into view between a gash in a deeply shadowed slope. Cranny, too, had seen it. He put his mouth close to the aviator’s ear.

“Look, Somers!” he yelled, with all his force.

Bob nodded.

“We’ll investigate!” he roared, in reply.

Happy in the thought that their midnight mission had been so successful, he changed the course of the “Ogden II,” heading toward the tiny beacon which flared and fluttered, and constantly brightened, against the greenish-gray background.

With a long, thrilling downward swoop, the biplane shot ahead, while the jagged mountain crests which hemmed them in rose higher and higher. Presently they were skimming across a patch of timber at a sufficiently low altitude to see a number of tethered bronchos wildly prancing about and several dusky figures evidently staring toward them.

Bob Somers shut off all power for an instant, allowing the machine to volplane. The earth[289] seemed to be racing toward them with terrible rapidity.

Above the rush and hum of the wind striking against the planes he heard a medley of ringing shouts.

Both boys knew those voices, and, highly delighted, both answered with telling effect before the roar of the motor once more drowned all other sounds.

Bob Somers eagerly scanned the valley, determining to make a landing if possible. After circling about in all directions, he at length discovered a comparatively level stretch overgrown with waving bunch-grass.

“Just the place; it ought not to be difficult,” he reflected.

Cranny Beaumont understood his significant look.

“Sure thing, Bob!” he yelled in his ear.

The “Ogden II” began to volplane again. It was the most difficult undertaking of Bob Somers’ short career as an aviator. But with all his wits about him, he steered the machine toward the most level stretch he could see.

“We’re goin’ to make a corkin’ landing,” muttered Cranny.

[290]The last stretch was before them; the bluish shadow trailing over the ground and the flying machine were rushing swiftly toward one another. As Bob once again manipulated the levers, shadow and substance joined—the biplane had landed with a startling series of jolts and bumps. But the two were safe.



Well, well; if this isn’t the biggest surprise ever! My, but it was perfectly great of you chaps to follow the racers.”

There wasn’t much chance for any one else to talk while Cranny kept rattling on.

The two lads, after a great deal of shouting, had been able to locate the searching party, which was riding in the direction taken by the “Ogden II.”

“Yes, I can hardly believe it, even yet,” went on Cranny. “An’ good old Dave here, too! Yes; it’s an honest fact, Tom; we have really seen Major Carroll and the others.”

“The good news you bring, and this reunion in the poetic moonlight is one of the most pleasant events in our whole experience,” murmured Dave.

“Ye sure done it ag’in, Bob!” Jed Warren spoke enthusiastically. “We’re proud o’ you, eh, Pete?”

[292]The grizzled features of the old cow-puncher relaxed.

“Ye’re positive wonders, lads,” he said. “Thar ain’t nobody on the hull range with more grit’n you’ve got; an’ that’s sayin’ somethin’. Shake!”

They shook.

“But that don’t mean ter say, ye understand, that I believe in them thar arioplanes; ’cause——”

“It isn’t natural to fly, and it wasn’t ever intended,” grinned Cranny. “Now, fellows, let’s get over to your camp and talk about our plans. We can leave the plane till morning, eh, Bob? What’s that, Jed?”

“I were sayin’ as how them balloon fellers is sure ketched up thar on the old Eagle,” answered Jed. “That ledge ain’t j’ined as it had orter be; I reckon as how the job weren’t ever finished.”

“Ye’re sure right, pard,” assented Pete. “I know’d a hunter onct—he was after some mountain goats—he loses his footin’ an’ slips down onto that spur. An’, d’ye know, the old Eagle keeps him up thar three hull days afore his pards comes acrost him.”

[293]“Have any trouble in getting out of his fix?” asked Tom, eagerly.

“None as I ever hears ’bout. That bald-headed old feller is a joker; he says: ‘If yer friends is good ’nuff to come arter ye an’ shy ye a rope, ye gits off easy; but ye can’t do nothin’ much by yer lonesome.’ Understan’? Inter the saddle, boys; an’ right after daybreak we starts off, an’ the old Eagle will git fooled ag’in.”

“Oh ho; isn’t it great the way things have turned out, Bob?” murmured Dave.

“Well, ra-ther,” answered Bob, springing up beside Jed Warren.

Tom Clifton’s sturdy little broncho was soon struggling along under the combined weight of the “Doctor” and Cranny. Progress was necessarily slow; but, at length, they were all gathered around the crackling flames.

Although the summit of old Eagles’ Peak reared itself, solemn and grand, against a star-studded sky, a high ridge shut from view the signal fire built on its spur.

The boys were tired that night and soon turned in, sleeping soundly until the first[294] gray streaks in the eastern sky heralded the approach of another day. They were aroused by the gruff voice of Pete Sanderson, who was already up, and cooking breakfast over a pile of red-hot embers.

“Pitch in, younkers, an’ git yer grub,” he commanded. “Mebbe them thar fellers ain’t got none, an’ the old Eagle has a chanct ter laugh ag’in.”

“Bob”—Dave Brandon yawned and rubbed his eyes—“really, it isn’t safe to leave the ‘Ogden II’ unguarded; now, even though it is a great sacrifice, you may borrow my pony, while I——”

“Ha, ha!” snickered Cranny. “And who will be obligin’ enough to lend me his bronc’?”

“Maybe——” began Tom.

“It’s all settled,” announced Cranny, complacently. “Thanks, Tom, old boy.”

Five minutes later, the departing horsemen waved an adieu to the two volunteer guardians of the “Ogden II.”

“A jolly hard tug ahead of us,” remarked Sam Randall to Tim Lovell.

“You bet there is,” answered Tim. “It’s[295] mighty lucky Pete and Jed are along. They know all the trails and short cuts; so we won’t find ourselves pocketed in some ravine or gorge.”

“We don’t let nature make sport of us like that,” grinned Sam. “Guess ‘Old Eagle’ isn’t the only joker around these parts.”

The cow-punchers, like generals in command, led the advance, while the five boys, at times riding almost abreast, at others strung out in single file, followed them over ridges, and around impenetrable masses of vegetation, or through the aisles of whispering pine forests. The early morning light sent a rosy glow climbing up the tree trunks or trailing over the ground; insects chanted; the songs of birds sounded above the trampling and crashing hoof-beats—all nature seemed to be full of brightness and serenity.

“Cracky; isn’t this fine!” called out Dick.

“Corking!” said Cranny. “Maybe those chaps won’t be glad to see us, eh?”

“You bet! Guess they aren’t used to such high livin’,” chuckled Tim.

Old Eagles’ Peak was evidently a great deal further off than it appeared. After an hour’s[296] steady march, the rugged heights still looked discouragingly distant.

“Oh, for the ‘Ogden II’ again, Cranny!” sang out Bob.

“It certainly does spoil a chap for traveling like a snail,” grumbled the big lad, wiping his perspiring face.

The scenery was wild and impressive. Lofty peaks and gigantic crags loomed up on every hand. Fallen tree trunks and other obstructions seemed to challenge their efforts to advance. But the cowboys always found a way to master all difficulties, and by noon the bronchos clattered upon a slope which rose to a dizzy height above them.

Here they halted for lunch.

“It’s ’bout three hours more o’ tough work for the ponies, Bob,” remarked Jed Warren.

“They are certainly chuck full of courage,” said Bob.

He looked toward the little animals, whose nostrils and shaggy sides were sending up clouds of steam.

“Circle T Ranch has got the pick o’ the plains,” grunted Pete. “Fall to, younkers.”

The boys promptly obeyed his instructions,[297] and when the march was resumed, a short time later, both they and the horses were considerably refreshed.

It was, as Jed Warren had said, hard on the ponies; at times, it seemed as if the obstacles which confronted them would prove insurmountable; but men, boys or animals never wavered. Stones were sent rattling down steep descents; ledges, with only a few yards between them and a plunge of hundreds of feet, crossed.

Scarcely exchanging a word, they climbed higher and higher. The snow on old Eagles’ Peak, in the full glare of the afternoon sun, fairly dazzled their eyes with its brilliancy. Halts were made with increasing frequency, and in the shadows of the pine forests they managed to find some relief from the oppressive heat.

But gradually the torrid zone fell behind them, and when, an hour later, Pete reined up, the atmosphere was cool and refreshing.

“We’ll hev ter picket the bronchos here,” he exclaimed.

The boys had been expecting this announcement for some time. They were now[298] at the edge of the timber. Above, they saw a steep, almost barren area of glistening rocks.

Bronchos were tethered to the trees, and, after saddle-bags and lariats had been slung over their shoulders, the party were ready for the final stretch. It was arranged that Sam Randall should remain to guard the animals.

“Close to the old spur now, younkers,” remarked Pete, encouragingly.

“Mighty tough work ahead of us, though,” said Bob.

Almost every instant one or another was obliged to drop on his hands and knees, or climb laboriously to the top of some obstruction. It seemed a long time before they scrambled around a bend, to see just ahead, at about their own level, the end of the slope cutting sharply against the tops of a dark forest of pines. Beyond, stretching out like a huge arm, the spur reared itself from the blue, hazy depths of the valley.

“Hooray!” shouted Cranny.

Three minutes later, the party was gazing upon the spur from a bold elevation that rose to a considerable height above it.




“Hello—there’s the old ‘Border City’!” cried Dick. “Isn’t it the oddest-looking bundle you ever saw?”

“Yell, fellows, so as to let the Spurites know that the rescue expedition has arrived,” burst out Cranny. He put his hand to his lips. “Hello, Major Carroll! Whoop-e-e-e! Hello-o-o-o!”

The voices of the others joined in loudly.

An answer almost immediately floated back to their ears, and three dusky figures in the distance were seen coming toward them, the smallest and slightest keeping far in the lead.

“Wee Willie!” laughed Cranny, joyously.

Mr. Beaumont’s ward raced madly forward along the ledge.

“Goodness gracious, Cran, but maybe I’m not glad to see you!” he piped, in a shrill voice. “Was I scared?—Oh, kinder. But everybody said I had a whole lot of spunk—it’s an honest fact, Cran.”

“We thank you heartily,” the Major called up, his businesslike tones almost drowning Willie Sloan’s excited flow of words. “You have relieved us from a most embarrassing situation, and——”

[300]“Oh, say, Cran, haven’t you brought a bite of somethin’ to eat an’ a drop o’ water?”

There was something so unconsciously humorous in Willie Sloan’s outburst that even Pete Sanderson guffawed loudly.

“We sartinly hev, lad,” said the latter, kindly.

While Jed Warren was lowering provisions by means of his lariat, explanations were exchanged, until both parties had learned all the particulars.

“Wal, this hyar ain’t doin’ nothin’,” broke in Pete Sanderson, abruptly, at last. “Arter ye git some grub, Major, I s’picion as how ye’d like ter hit the back trail with us?”

Major Carroll’s glance rested upon Bob Somers.

“I feel confident that, with a new set of batteries, the ‘Border City’ will fly as well as ever,” he said. “Now, Somers, I almost hesitate to ask such a great favor, but the skill you have shown in handling the ‘Ogden II’ is my justification; could you——”

Bob understood, and nodded.

“Certainly, Major,” he answered. “I’ll skip over to Border City in the biplane, and[301] bring back whatever apparatus you may need.”

“You will place us under everlasting obligations,” said Major Carroll.

“I’m going, too, Bob Somers,” announced Cranny, decidedly. “Let’s start right away.” He crooked his finger, and this significant motion catching Willie Sloan’s eye, made the boy walk some distance away from Major Carroll and Kindale.

The big lad followed him along the edge of the rocks.

“Well, Cran?”

“See here, Willie, did you really write to dad?”

It was an eager question, spoken in a low tone.

“I certainly did, Cran.”

Cranny’s eyes snapped; the aggressive tilt of his jaw became more in evidence.

“And what did you say?”

“Oh,—an awful lot. But you’re a good chap, after all. I’m—I’m——”

“Sorry?” snapped Cranny, with a dreadful frown.

“No; going to see if there’s anything more to eat.”

[302]Willie thereupon ended the unsatisfactory conversation by hurrying away.

After Major Carroll had disposed of his cold lunch, a brief council was held. It was decided that the cow-punchers and boys should make a camp and await the return of Bob Somers and Cranny Beaumont from Border City.

“We ought to be able to reach here early to-morrow morning,” said Bob.

“And if everything goes as I hope it will, the ‘Border City’ will soon after set sail for the town,” remarked Major Carroll. “A thousand thanks, boys.”

Good-byes were said; and Bob and Cranny, with many expressions of appreciation and encouragement ringing in their ears, hurried away, leaving their friends to scramble back to the woods at a more leisurely pace.

The day passed; night came, with a brilliant moon shedding its luster over the magnificent scenery, and, finally, morning dawned.

But it was not until after one o’clock that a shout in Cranny’s familiar voice announced the near approach of the aviators.

[303]The Ramblers and Jed Warren, uttering loud whoops of delight, plunged through the timber to meet them. They saw the two boys urging their weary ponies toward the camp.

“Had a bully trip!” yelled Bob.

“Rah, rah!” cried Dick. “Did you get all the stuff?”


Their arrival created considerable excitement at “Eagle Camp.” Major Carroll and Kindale received the batteries with profuse thanks.

By means of lariats, which Pete had attached to heavy stakes driven into the ground, the boys lowered themselves one by one to the spur.

The Major strode toward the balloon, with the others almost at his heels.

Climbing up through the network of branches wasn’t an easy task, and the interested boys watched them with some trepidation, all uttering sighs of relief when a hail told them that the men had reached the “Border City” in safety.

During the next hour, there was a great deal of tinkering done by the two above the[304] tree tops, and every sound excited an immense amount of curiosity on the part of those below. Encouraging reports, however, kept coming at intervals. Kindale finally stated his belief that the engine would work as well as ever.

“Here comes bulletin number fifteen,” said Tim Lovell, as the Major’s voice was heard again.

“We’re ready to free the propeller now, boys,” he shouted; “so let Willie come along.”

The crowd grew enthusiastic.

Willie, boosted up on Cranny’s sturdy shoulders, seized a low branch and began his climb. The big lad followed him from limb to limb. Mr. Beaumont’s ward soon reached the rope ladder, and presently Cranny had the satisfaction of seeing him peer downward from over the rail of the “Border City.”

Cranny, obeying instructions from Major Carroll, emptied the bag of sand, and released the ladder, which was promptly drawn up. Then, sitting astride a convenient limb, he watched the men clearing away the branches with hatchets and saws.

Cranny restrained his desire to give a rousing[305] yell with difficulty, for he saw that the tugging captive was almost dragging itself free from the limbs, branches and masses of foliage that encompassed the car. Its great, long hull was considerably misshapen, but, apparently, had suffered no serious damage, and now swayed gently from a position almost vertically above the car.

Suddenly the tree tops were agitated, as if by a gale of wind; the dark object above Cranny’s head seemed magically lifted away; the guide rope reared itself from amidst the timber, and the “Border City” was free.

The boys dashed and leaped through the pine woods as if a pack of howling coyotes was after them. At the first clearing they stopped, and, although almost breathless, managed to give another shout when they saw the “Border City” high in the air, with the cable dipping down in a long curve.

“Well, they’re going some now,” remarked Cranny.

“And I’m real glad ter see it,” said Jed.

“Me, too—fur the first time,” added Pete Sanderson, with a sort of grunt, “though it don’t look no naturaler than it ever did.”

[306]Bronchos were quickly saddled, and the descent begun.

After several hours of, at times, difficult and dangerous traveling, they finally came within sight of the “Ogden II” and Dave and Tom’s camp close beside it.

Of course the latter were delighted to see them, and, as they found a great deal to talk about, it was not until late in the afternoon that a start was made for Lone Pine.

The “Ogden II” carried Bob and his passenger high over the mountains, and, cutting swiftly through the air, reached the grim old ranch-house almost before the riders, following the lead of Pete and Jed, had left the last difficult pass behind them.

That evening they had a jolly reunion, in which the cow-punchers took a prominent part. The telephone between Lone Pine, Circle T and Border City was used very often, and many voices were sent over the wire. It had the pleasing effect of seeming to bring them and their friends, so far separated by the lonely, darkened prairie, close together.

The dirigible got back to town safe and sound.

[307]“Isn’t it fine!” cried Bob. The receiver was against his ear. “Willie’s at the ’phone.”

“Say, Somers,” he heard, “the Major thinks a whole lot of you fellows. Wasn’t it awful odd how that little red book changed things for me? But for it I might be at Lone Pine now, scrapping with old Doc Cliffy. He’s a good chap, all right. But, look here, air-skimmers are certainly not in it with balloons.”



The inhabitants of Border City and the cow-punchers and sheep raisers who occasionally visited it had perhaps never dreamed that there was destined to spring up in town a building of such elegance and such arrangements for comfort as the Carroll Inn.

Hot, dusty and generally silent, Border City, apparently dropped on the prairie floor with no more regard for its general plan than if it had been a scattered heap of chips, had become mildly famous, and the Carroll Inn was worthy of its newly-acquired celebrity.

Since the advent of Major Warfield Carroll, a trifling inattention on the part of the people to the science of government had been corrected. Border City had elected a mayor—the principal street was named after him; there were also a number of councilmen, a magistrate, and a police force large enough to afford protection to the town. There were[309] even two full-fledged political parties, each with its “boss.”

Early on the morning following their return, Major Carroll sat in his private room, where Willie was poring over a book on mechanics.

A sharp knock sounded at the door. The lad immediately answered it, and a telegram was handed in.

“Goodness; it’s for Cran!” he exclaimed.

“You told me that he is coming here to-morrow morning, with the intention of starting work in earnest, I believe,” said the Major, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Yes, sir!”

“The telegram may be important. Better call him up at Lone Pine.”

The telephone stood in one corner of the room, and Willie was soon imparting the information to Cranny.

“All right, Cran; just a second,” he said, a moment later.

Hastily tearing open the envelope, Willie glanced over the telegram, then uttered an exclamation of surprise.

“Why—why—goodness!”—he stared[310] hard at the Major—“Mr. Beaumont is coming on!” he cried. His mouth was turned toward the telephone again. “Cran—I say, Cran—your father will be here this afternoon at five-forty. No; it’s not a joke! This afternoon, I say.”

“I can feel an awful row coming,” sounded over the wire, in Cranny’s voice. It was much weaker than usual, and had a sort of despairing ring. “If dad had only given me one week’s more time—just one week! I can’t blame him for feeling sore, though. Gee!”

“Cheer up, Cran.”

A confused buzzing sound, as of many voices speaking at once, assailed Willie’s ears. Then, presently, Cranny said:

“The whole crowd will be there in time to meet the train. Good-bye, Willie.”

Mr. Beaumont’s ward, his face wearing a rather odd expression, hung up the receiver.

“I shall be glad to meet your guardian, Willie,” remarked Major Carroll, rising from his chair. “Come—it’s time to leave for the workshop.”

The boy followed him briskly down-stairs.

[311]At the hangar, Kindale and the other mechanicians often found a use for his services. Willie Sloan was always active now, and eager to learn all he could.

About half-past four o’clock that afternoon the boys from the ranch rode up to a long shed which was built against one side of the hangar, and dismounted; then, after tying their bronchos, they made a concerted dash toward the entrance.

“They sure ain’t got no rheumatiz.” This from the art connoisseur.

“It’s only because they hain’t lived long enough,” growled old Si Peterson.

In about five minutes the boys reappeared, accompanied by a small, slight lad, and began to walk briskly toward the road.

“Dad is certainly going to jump on me,” remarked Cranny Beaumont, to the slight lad.

“He’ll have to jump pretty high, then,” said the other.

“So the Major is at the inn?” said Dave. “Well, he’ll soon have the pleasure of meeting your father, Cranny.”

The big lad made no response. He wasn’t in a very happy frame of mind, for he had[312] honestly intended to make a splendid showing of the Border City business.

In front of the terminal were congregated the usual crowd of people whose chief enjoyment in life seemed to be in watching the arrival and departure of trains. Guests of the Carroll Inn as well as those from the “Black Bear” and “Cattlemen’s Retreat” arrived. A little later, the leading art connoisseur and old Si Peterson wandered up, to lend their presence to the gathering.

Cranny was watching the train. It didn’t look like an ordinary train to him; it seemed to typify the approach of fate. The shrieking whistle, which again rolled over the prairie, smote harshly upon his ears, as though it mocked his failure and carried with it the extinguishment of all hope for a further stay in Wyoming.

“Well, I can’t help it now,” murmured Cranny, “but if I only had another week——”

“Gee, Cran; won’t it be great to see your father?” cried Willie, breaking in upon his thoughts.

In a moment more, the big locomotive rumbled beneath the train shed.

[313]The reception committee, including the art connoisseur and old Si Peterson, did not intend to miss a single thing which might furnish an entertaining topic upon which to wile away an hour or two. They saw upon the platform of the third car two gentlemen ready to alight, and also the crowd of boys making a rush toward them.

“Hello, Mr. Beaumont!” called out Willie, who led the advance.

Then he stopped short, gaping in astonishment at a stout, florid-faced man, who, suit case in hand, stood directly behind his guardian.

“Mr. Sharswood!” he gasped, faintly.

Yes, actually, it was Mr. Sharswood, of Tacoma.

Cranny, too, was amazed. But even more amazed to see his father’s face wearing a genial, happy smile.

“Hello, Cranny! How are you, boys?”

The idle citizens witnessed the meeting, and listened to scraps of conversation with the greatest interest.

“Cranny, I’m delighted. You have done wonderfully well—splendidly,” they heard[314] Mr. Beaumont say, as he grasped his son’s hand and shook it heartily. “And I told Mr. Sharswood your mission would be successful.”

Cranny Beaumont almost staggered; he stared in utter bewilderment into his father’s face, while, above the rapid flow of conversation which followed, was heard a peculiar little gasping chuckle.

“Eh—eh?” stammered the big lad.

Was Mr. Beaumont actually making sport of him before all that crowd? It seemed like it. And yet the expression on his face did not seem to be assumed.

“Yes, Cranny, I’m proud of you,” went on Mr. Beaumont, rapidly. “All the information I wanted—nothing unthought of; every detail clear and concise! But why did you not write the letter yourself, instead of getting Willie to do it for you?”

An idea suddenly flashed through Cranny’s mind which dispelled his bewilderment.

“I—I——” he began. Then all the cool composure of his nature came to his assistance. He gulped once or twice.

“Dad,” he said, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, “if you have the kind of information[315] you want, don’t give me a bit of credit for it. All that belongs to——” He laid his hand on the shoulder of his father’s ward.

“Willie Sloan! Why, what do you mean?” cried Mr. Beaumont, while the florid face of Mr. Sharswood exhibited all the symptoms of extreme astonishment.

“Just what I say,” answered Cranny, frankly. “This young chap got ahead of me.”

The big lad thereupon explained clearly and concisely just how matters stood.

“Well, well, Beaumont, I call that a manly act on your son’s part,” exclaimed Mr. Sharswood. “It comes hard to admit one’s faults as freely as he has. I admire him for it; I do, indeed, Beaumont. Cranny—your hand!”

The boys felt considerable curiosity to learn the reason for the appearance of Mr. Sharswood at Border City; but nothing was said on the subject while the party was on its way to the Carroll Inn.

They found the financier waiting to receive them in his private room.

Cranny, having fully recovered his spirits, made the introduction in his usual free and easy manner.

[316]“Sit down, gentlemen,” said Major Carroll, waving his visitors to seats. He looked sharply around, then added: “I thought Doctor Clifton might be among you.”

“Doctor Clifton?” exclaimed Tim Lovell.


Everybody stared hard at everybody else, while Tom, turning furiously red, stood twirling his cap.

A surprising little laugh came from Willie. Then, rushing over, he seized the tall lad by the hand and dragged him unwillingly forward. “This is our Dr. Thomas Cliffy.”

“Why—why—he’s only a boy!” exclaimed the Major, with surprise in his voice.

More confusion on the part of Tommy followed.

“I thought you said——”

“That he was a six-footer,” piped Willie, “and called him Doctor Clifton—that’s all.”

A faint twinkle came into the financier’s eye. He glanced at the two men and row of smiling lads.

“That’s so,” he said, slowly. The twinkle deepened; then he broke into a hearty laugh.

“Well,” exclaimed Cranny, an instant later,[317] “isn’t he a sly little duffer, Dave? That’s the time he put one over on you, Major.”

“Cranny—Cranny!” remonstrated his father.

The financier smiled.

“I have discovered that our young friend Willie has a guileless, innocent way about him,” he said, good-humoredly. “He did what no one ever succeeded in doing before—completely hoodwinked me.”

“I hope—I hope you’re not angry, sir,” began Willie. “It seemed too good a joke to spoil it. And, besides, isn’t he a six-footer?”

Tommy’s face had reached the limit of crimson.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, forget it!” he snapped.

The Major, with a smile, disclaimed any feeling of anger.

“Tom,” remarked Willie, in a low tone, “that’s my last joke on you—honest. I don’t feel grouchy, like I used to. Let’s be good friends, eh?”

Tom instantly brightened up.

“Why, sure thing, Willie,” he said, cordially, extending his hand.

[318]The Sloan-Clifton feud was at an end.

“Well, it certainly beats the dickens how things have turned out,” remarked Cranny. “Why, here is Willie, who was just sent out here to get livened up, an’——”

It wasn’t in the big lad’s nature to speak in a whisper. Major Carroll overheard.

“Yes,” he said, “Willie has livened up. I predict that some day he will surprise us.”

The boy glanced proudly toward Mr. Sharswood.

“I believe that if every young fellow could find out just what he is especially fitted for in life the percentage of failures would be much less,” said Major Carroll. “I hope you will pardon me, Mr. Beaumont, for making an observation; to my mind, this was the trouble with your ward—he did not find the work he was doing suited to his liking or talents.”

“But why didn’t you tell me, Willie?” queried Mr. Beaumont.

“Because I didn’t know myself,” answered Willie; “I’ve just found out.”

The three gentlemen then began to talk earnestly.

[319]Within a few minutes, Mr. Beaumont leaned back in his chair and remarked:

“I am delighted. Even though nothing more than this had been accomplished, I would have been more than satisfied with your trip. Willie shall go to a school of technology. Cranny”—he laughed dryly—“I was once a boy myself; I accept your explanation. You have, at least, acted in a manly fashion.”

“Undoubtedly, sir; undoubtedly!” came from Mr. Sharswood.

“And shall have the privilege of staying a few weeks longer.”

Cranny found it hard to refrain from shouting.

“Say, Willie, what does P. G. S. stand for?” asked Bob, suddenly.

“Why, Pretty Good Sort, of course,” laughed Willie.

“And that’s just what you are!” cried Cranny Beaumont, “eh, fellows?”

And the others immediately assented with much enthusiasm and vigor.

Mr. Sharswood, who had become deeply[320] interested in the development of Border City, decided to remain in town with his friend, and make a thorough investigation of the conditions.

Of course, with the boys, they attended the greatest aeroplane meet in the history of Wyoming. The Ogdens captured several prizes for speed and altitude flights, while Bob Somers, flying the machine with which he had become familiar, also made several records which attracted local attention, and, incidentally, added to the growing fame of the Rambler Club.

Other Stories in this Series are:



Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

Archaic or variant spelling has been retained.