Part 2 out of 3
"No danger of that, dad. Come on, I'll go first and you and Tam follow."
"Is the window open?"
"No, but it slides back. It's an easy drop to the floor from it."
"All right, go ahead. I'll be glad when the job's over. I'm almost
inclined to drop out of it."
"And let those kids get away with what they did? Not much, dad. We'll
give them a lesson they won't forget in a hurry. Come on."
He began climbing the ladder. Behind him came his worthy parent, and
Tam formed the last member of the now silent procession. The Norwegian
carried a bulky package of some kind, the contents of which it would
have been impossible to guess save that it gave out a metallic sound
as Tam moved with it.
Dan Cassell reached the window, slid it noiselessly back in its grooves
and then, crawling through, dropped lightly to the floor within. He was
followed by his father and Tam.
But Jimsy slept on. Slept heavily and dreamlessly, while deadly peril
crept upon him.
The movements of the invaders of the stable, which now housed the
"winged steeds" of the young aviators, were mysterious in the extreme.
The Norwegian carried a tin can containing some sort of liquid which
he was ordered to pour about the floor in the neighborhood of the
aeroplanes. This done, Dan Cassell collected several scraps of litter
and made quite a pile of it.
"All ready now, I guess," he said, with what was meant as an attempt
at a grin. But his lips were pale, and his forced jollity was a dismal
failure. As for his father, he made no attempt to conceal his agitation.
"Dan, they may be burned alive," he faltered; "better call it all off."
"Not when we've gone as far as this with it," was the rejoinder; "give
me a match."
"It's all right, dad. They'll wake in time."
"But if not?"
"Then they'll have to take their medicine."
With fingers that trembled as if their owner was palsied, Jim Cassell
handed his son some matches. The latter took one, bent low over the pile
he had collected and struck the lucifer.
A yellow sputter of flame followed, and the next instant he was holding
it to the pile of litter which had been previously soaked by the
contents of the Norwegian's can.
But before he could accomplish his purpose and set fire to the pile of
odds and ends saturated to double inflammability by the kerosene the
Norwegian had carried, there came a startling interruption.
There was a knock at the door and a girlish voice cried:
"Roy! Roy, let me in!"
"Furies!" exclaimed Dan Cassell under his breath. "It's one of those
"Come on. Let's get away quick!" exclaimed his father, trembling from
"Not before I set a match to this," exclaimed Dan Cassell viciously.
He touched the match to the pile and the flames leaped up.
"Now for our getaway," he cried, and the three fire-bugs ran for the
window by which they had made their entrance.
In the meantime a perfect fusillade of blows had been showered on the
door outside. Jimsy awoke just as the last of the three midnight
intruders vanished through the window. His first instinct was a hot
flush of shame over the feeling that he had betrayed his trust.
Then to his ears came the voice that had alarmed the Cassells and
"Roy! Jimsy! Are you there?"
"It's Peggy!" gasped Jimsy.
"And Jess," he added the next instant, and simultaneously there came the
pounding of a stick on the door.
"This is an officer of the law. Open up at once."
Jimsy, dazed by his sleep, had not till then noticed the blazing pile of
litter. Now he did so with a quick cry of horror. The stuff was blazing
up fiercely. Already there was an acrid reek in the air.
"The place is on fire!" he shouted.
The next moment there came a violent assault on the door and the crazy
lock parted from its rotten fastenings as a man attired in a police
officer's uniform burst into the place. Behind him came two wide-eyed
frightened girls. The leaping flames lit up their faces vividly.
"It's fire sure enough!" cried the police officer.
"Great Scot, what's happening?"
It was Roy who shouted the question. He was peering down from the loft
where he had been sleeping. The uproar had awakened him and in a jiffy
he was among them.
"Quick! the fire extinguishers!" he cried, and Jimsy, readily
understanding, secured the flame-killing apparatus from the biplane and
from the _Red Dragon_.
He and Roy, aided by the officer, fought the flames vigorously, and,
luckily, were able to subdue them, though if it had not been for the as
yet unexplained arrival of Peggy and Jess it is doubtful if they could
have coped with the blaze. When it was all out Peggy rushed into
"Something warned me that you were in danger," she exclaimed, "and
I woke up Jess and we found this officer and came down here."
"What gift of second sight have you?" demanded Roy, gazing at the
smoking, blackened pile that had threatened the destruction of the
"I don't know. Womanly intuition, perhaps. Oh, Roy!"
The girl burst into a half-hysterical sob and threw her arms about her
"You arrived in the nick of time, sis," he said, gently disengaging
himself from her clasp, "a little more and--"
He did not finish the sentence. There was no need for him to.
"Begorry, the ould place 'ud hev bin a pile of cinders in an hour's
time," declared the policeman.
It was Jess's turn to give an hysterical little sob.
Roy turned to Jimsy.
"Did you see anything? The place is reeking with kerosene. It was a plot
to destroy the aeroplanes and perhaps ourselves."
Jimsy stammered. The words seemed to choke up in his throat. How was
he to confess that he had failed in his trust--had slept while danger
Roy waited, plainly surprised. It was not like Jimsy to hesitate and
stammer in this way.
At last it came out with a rush.
"I--I--you'll never forgive me, any of you--I was asleep."
"Asleep! Oh, Jimsy!"
There was a world of reproach in Jess's voice. But Peggy interrupted
"How was it, Jimsy?" she asked softly.
"I don't know. I give you my word I don't know."
Jimsy's voice held a world of self-reproach.
"I was reading," he went on, hurrying over the words as if anxious
to get his confession over with, "that book of Grotz's on monoplane
navigation. I felt sleepy and--and the next thing I knew I woke up
to hear you pounding on the door and shouting."
"A good thing the young ladies found me," put in the policeman; "shure
I was after laughing at them at first, but then, begorry, I decided to
come along with them. It's glad I am that I did."
"Who can have done this?" asked Roy, who had not a word of reproach for
his chum, although Jimsy had failed dismally in a position of trust.
"Begorry, they might have burned you alive!" cried the policeman
"No question about that," rejoined Roy; "it was a diabolical plot. Who
could have attempted such a thing?"
"Wait till I call up and have detectives sent down here," said Officer
McCarthy. "I'm after thinking this is too deep for us to solve."
Nevertheless, each of that little group but the policeman had his or her
own idea on the matter.
A MEAN REVENGE!
The result of the telephone call was a request to call at the Police
Headquarters of the little town and give a detailed account of the
"Gracious! I should think that the only way to get a clue would be
to send a detective down here," exclaimed Peggy, on receipt of this
"We have our own ways of doing them things, miss," rejoined the
policeman with dignity.
Then there being nothing for it but to obey instructions of the
authorities, they all set out for the police station. They were half
way there when Jimsy recollected that they had left the aeroplanes
"'Twill make no difference at all at all," declared the policeman;
"shure it's too late for anyone to be about."
"It wasn't too late for them to set that fire though," rejoined Roy
in a low voice.
At police headquarters they were received by two sleepy-looking
officials who questioned them at length and said they would be at
the stable in the morning to hunt for clews.
"Why not go after them now, while the trail is hot?" inquired Jimsy.
"We have our own ways of doing these things, young man," was the reply,
delivered with ponderous dignity.
"Well, we might as well go to bed and get a few hours' sleep anyhow,"
suggested Roy; "I can hardly keep my eyes open. How about you, Jimsy?"
"I--I--I've had some sleep already you know," rejoined Jimsy, reddening.
Thoroughly tired out from their long day and excitement, the party slept
till late the next day. The first thing after breakfast plans for the
continuance of the trip were discussed, and the day's program mapped
out. This done, the girls and boys set out for the stable to look over
They found a pompous-looking policeman on guard in front of the place,
ostentatiously pacing up and down. On identifying themselves they were
at once admitted however. The man explained that he had only been on
guard for an hour or two, and that during that time nothing worthy of
mention had occurred.
While Jimsy was talking to him Roy and the others entered the stable. An
instant later Roy, too excited to talk, came rushing out of the dis-used
"What's up now, Roy?" demanded Jimsy, gazing at his chum, who for his
part appeared to be too excited to get his words out.
"There's only three!" gasped Roy.
"Three what?" cried Jimsy.
"Three aeroplanes," returned Roy.
"Rubbish, you haven't got your eyes open yet."
"I'm right, I tell you; come in and count them if you don't believe me."
"Roy is right," cried Peggy, running up to the group; "the _Golden
Butterfly_ has been stolen!"
"Stolen!" interjected Jimsy.
"That's right!" cried Jess; "those stupid police people left the barn
unguarded. Whoever tried to set it on fire must have returned and stolen
They regarded each other blankly. Was this Sky Cruise that they had
looked forward to with such eager anticipation to be nothing but a
series of mishaps?
"It's awful!" gasped Peggy; "nothing but trouble since we started out."
"D'ye think it was stolen?" asked the policeman with startling
"Well, it didn't fly of its own accord," was Peggy's rejoinder,
delivered with blighting sarcasm.
The patrolman subsided.
"Maybe we can find it yet," suggested Jess.
"I'd like to know how," put in Jimsy disgustedly.
"Perhaps we can trace it. It must have been wheeled away."
"Ginger! That's so," cried Roy, snapping his fingers; "it would leave an
odd track too, wouldn't it?"
"Well there's no harm in trying to trace it," admitted Jimsy, who
appeared rather skeptical.
"Come on, then; get busy," urged Roy eagerly.
The next instant there came a cry from Peggy.
"I've struck the trail!" she cried.
The word came in chorus.
"Here! Look; you know the _Butterfly_ had peculiar kind of tires. See,
it was wheeled up the street in that direction."
She pointed to where the village main thoroughfare ended in a country
"I'm not after takin' much stock in that," remarked the policeman.
"We won't bother you," rejoined Roy rather heatedly; "I guess we won't
wait till your local Sherlock Holmes gets on the trail, we'll follow
"But who'll go?"
The question came from Jimsy.
"We can't all go, that's certain," exclaimed Bess.
"Tell you what we'll do, we'll count out," declared Jess, her eyes
"A good idea," hailed the others.
"Roy, you start it; but remember, not more than three can go."
"Why?" inquired Peggy point blank.
"Because we'll have to take the car, and someone must be left to look
after Aunt Sally and the aeroplanes," spoke Roy, falling in with Jimsy's
"Well, come on and count out," urged Jess.
"Yes, that's it. Let's see who will be it," cried the others.
"Very well, if I can remember the rhyme," responded Roy. "How does it go
"Inte, minte," suggested Jimsy.
"Oh, yes! That's it," responded Roy. "I've got it now. Inte, minte, cute
corn, apple seeds and briar thorn, briar thorn and limber lock, three
geese in a flock, one flew east and one flew west, one flew into a
cuckoo's nest, O-U-T out, with a ragged dish clout, out!" ending with
"Sorry for you, Bess!" cried the lad, "but you're the first victim to be
"Oh, well, it's too hot to go chasing all over dusty country roads,"
declared Bess bravely, although she would dearly have loved to go on
the adventurous search for the missing aeroplane.
One after another they were counted out till only Roy, Peggy and Jimsy
"Hurry up and let's get off," urged Jimsy as the "elimination trials,"
as they might be termed, were concluded.
"Very well. We'll get the car--it's in the garage at the hotel--and
incidentally, we might get a lunch put up also. It may be a long chase."
The officer regarded them with frank amazement.
"My! but you city folks rush things," he exclaimed.
"I suppose they'll get busy on this case day after to-morrow," exclaimed
Roy disgustedly, as they hastened away.
It was half an hour later that the big touring car, with Roy at the
wheel, rolled out of the hotel yard. Jake had been told off to guard
the livery stable and the aeroplanes while the rest remained with Miss
Prescott, who was seriously agitated at the accumulation of troubles her
party had met with since setting out.
"I declare," she said, "I wish I was back at home where I could get
a decent cup of tea and be free of worries."
The trail of the aeroplane was not difficult to follow. It led down the
village main street and thence along a country road till it came to a
sort of cross roads. Here it branched off and followed a by-road for a
mile or so. At a gate in a hedge all signs failed however, although it
was plain that the machine had been wheeled through the gap and taken
across a field.
Beyond this field lay what appeared to be a wilderness of woods and
"Stumped!" exclaimed Roy, as he brought the auto to a stop.
THE FINDING OF THE "BUTTERFLY."
"Well, what next?" asked Jimsy.
"Make a search of those woods, I suppose," replied Roy; "there's nothing
else to do."
"No, the trail has brought us here," replied Peggy energetically;
"we must make a determined effort to find the _Butterfly_."
"Maybe they've damaged it so that we won't be able to do anything with
it when we do get it," spoke Jimsy presently.
"Whom do you mean by they?" asked Roy.
"As if you didn't know. Is there any doubt in your mind that that fellow
Cassell is at the bottom of all this?"
"Not very much, I'll admit," replied Roy; "I wonder if that accounts for
the inactivity of the police."
"In just what way?"
"Well, the fellow's a local politician and has a lot of 'pull'."
"He _must_ have, to get away with anything like this," was Jimsy's
"Well, don't let us waste time speculating," put in Peggy, in her brisk
manner; "the thing to do now is to get back the _Golden Butterfly_."
"You're right, Peg," came from both boys.
By this time they were out of the car, which they left standing at the
roadside while they examined the vicinity for tracks. But the grass in
the field was fairly long and no traces remained. Yet, inasmuch as the
tracks of the _Butterfly_ ended at the gap in the hedge, it was manifest
that that was the point at which it had been wheeled off the road.
"What next?" asked Jimsy, as it became certain that there was little use
in searching for a trail in the meadow.
"It's like looking for a needle in that proverbial haystack," struck
"In my opinion we need the patience of Job and the years of old
Methuselah," opined Jimsy.
Roy alone was not discouraged.
"It can't be so very far off," he urged; "it stands to reason that they
can't have come much further than this since midnight, supposing the
machine to have been stolen about that hour."
The others agreed with him.
"We'll search all around here, including those woods," declared Peggy.
"Well, they can't have taken it very far into the woods," declared
Jimsy; "the spread of its wings would prevent that."
"That's so," agreed Roy; "I think we are getting pretty 'warm' right
"All I am afraid of is that they may have damaged it," breathed Peggy
"It would be in line with their other tactics," agreed Roy; "men who
would try to burn down a stable with two boys in it, just to obtain
revenge for a fancied insult or injury, are capable of anything."
Without further waste of time they crossed the meadow and came to the
edge of the wood. At the outskirts of the woods the trees grew thinly
and it was plain that it would have been possible to wheel an aeroplane
into their shadow, despite the breadth of its wing-spread.
They passed under the outlying trees and presently emerged into a small,
open space, in the midst of which was a hut. Just beyond this hut was a
sight that caused them to shout aloud with joy. There, apparently
unharmed, stood the missing aeroplane.
"Hurray!" shouted Roy, dashing forward.
The others were close on his heels. In their excitement they paid little
or no attention to the surroundings. It might have been better for them
had they done so. As they dashed across the clearing two male figures
slipped off among the thicker trees that lay beyond the open space and
A brief examination showed them that the aeroplane was undamaged. There
were a few scratches on it, but beyond that it appeared in perfect
"We'll fly back," declared Jimsy to Peggy; "Roy can run the auto home."
"That's agreeable to me," responded Roy; "but suppose we examine the
vicinity first. We might get a clew as to the rascals who are
responsible for this."
"That's true," agreed Jimsy.
"Then suppose we start with the hut first."
They accepted this proposition eagerly. The hut was a substantial
looking building with a padlock on the door. But the portal stood wide
open, the padlock hanging in a hasp.
"What if anyone pounces on us?" asked Peggy in rather a scared tone.
"No fear of that," replied Roy, "the place is plainly unoccupied."
They entered the hut and found it to be as primitive inside as its
exterior would indicate. A table and two rude chairs stood within.
These, with the exception of a rusty cook stove in one corner, formed
the sole furnishings. There was not even a window in the place.
"Nothing much to be found here," declared Roy after a cursory
examination; "I guess this shack was put up by lumbermen or hunters.
It doesn't seem to have been occupied for a long time."
"I guess the men who took the aeroplane must have been pretty familiar
with the place though," opined Jimsy.
"No doubt of that," replied Roy, "but that doesn't give us any clew to
their identity beyond bare suspicions."
"Yes, and suspicions aren't much good in law," chimed in Peggy,
The door closed suddenly with a bang. Before Jimsy could spring across
the room to open it there came a sharp click.
"Somebody's padlocked it on the outside!" he cried.
"And we're prisoners!" gasped Peggy.
"Yes, and without any chance of getting out, either," declared Jimsy;
"there's not even a window in the place."
"Well this is worse and more of it," cried Roy. "Who can have done
"The same people that stole the _Golden Butterfly,"_ declared Peggy.
Outside they heard rapidly retreating footsteps, followed by a harsh
"Let us out!" shouted Roy.
"You can stay there till judgment day, for all I care," came back a
hoarse, rasping voice; "you kids were too fresh, and now you're getting
what's coming to you."
PRISONERS IN THE HUT.
It was almost pitch dark within the hut. Only from a crack under the
door could any light enter. For an instant after the taunting of the
voices of the men who had locked them in reached their ears, the trio
of youthful prisoners remained silent.
Peggy it was who spoke first.
"Well, what's to be done now?" she demanded.
"We've got to get out of here," responded Jimsy, with embarrassing
"That's plain enough," struck in Roy; "but how do you propose to do it?"
"I don't know; let's look about. Maybe there's a chimney or something."
"There's no opening larger than that one where the stove pipe goes
through. I've noticed that already," responded Roy.
"Phew! This _is_ a fix for fair."
"I should say so; but kicking about it won't help us at all. Let's make
a thorough investigation."
In the darkness they groped about, but could discover nothing that
appeared to hold out a promise of escape. The two boys shook the door
violently; but it was firm on its hinges.
Next Roy proposed to cut a way through it with his pocket knife.
"We'd be starved to death by the time you cut through that stuff,"
In proof of this he kicked the door, and the resulting sound showed that
it was built of solid wood without any thin panels which might be cut
Peggy asked the question as the two perspiring lads stood perplexed
without speaking or moving.
"Jiggered if I know," spoke Jimsy; "can't you or Roy think of anything?"
"We might try to batter the door down with that table," suggested Roy.
"It's worth trying. We've got to get out of here somehow."
The two boys picked up the heavy, roughly made table and commenced a
violent assault on the door. But although they dented it heavily, and
sent some splinters flying, the portal held its own. At length they
desisted from pure weariness. The situation looked hopeless.
"It looks pretty bad," spoke Jimsy.
"It does indeed," agreed Roy. "Peggy, I wish we hadn't brought you
"And why, pray, Roy Prescott?"
"Oh, because--because, well, this isn't the sort of thing for a girl."
"Well, I guess if my brother can stand it I can," rejoined the girl,
pluckily and in a firm voice.
"Well, there's no use minimizing the fix we're in," declared Roy. "This
is a lonesome bit of country. It may be a week before anyone will come
around. We've just got to get out, that's all there is to it."
"I wish you'd solve the problem then," sighed Jimsy; "it's too much
"I'll make another search of the premises, maybe we can stumble across
something that may aid us. At any rate, it will give us something to do
and keep our minds off the predicament we are in."
Roy struck a match, of which he had a plentiful supply in his pockets.
As the yellow flame sputtered up in the semi-gloom it showed every
corner of the small hut. But it did not reveal anything that promised
a chance to gain their liberty.
All at once, just as the light was sputtering out, Peggy gave a cry.
Her eye had been caught by a glistening metal object in one corner of
"What is it?" asked Roy.
"A gun--a shot-gun standing in that corner over there."
"Huh!" sniffed Jimsy, "a lot of good that does us."
"On the contrary," declared Peggy stoutly, "if it's loaded it may serve
to get us free."
"I'm from Missouri," declared Jimsy enigmatically.
"What's your idea, sis?" asked Roy, who knew that Peggy's ideas were
usually worth following up.
"I remember reading only a short time ago of a man trapped much as we
are who escaped by blowing off the lock of his prison with a gun he
carried," replied Peggy; "maybe it would work in our case."
"Maybe it would if--" rejoined Roy.
"If the gun was loaded, which is most unlikely."
"Well, try it and see," urged Peggy.
"Yes, do," echoed Jimsy; "Peggy's plan sounds like a good idea. Maybe
some hunter left it here and the shells are still in it."
"No harm in finding out anyway," declared Roy.
He struck another match and picked up the gun. It was an antique looking
weapon badly-rusted. But on opening the breech he uttered a cry of joy.
"Good luck!" he exclaimed, "two shells,--one in each barrel."
"Well, put it to the test," urged Jimsy.
"All right. If this fails, though, I don't know what we'll do."
"Don't worry about that now. Try it."
"I'm going to. Don't get peevish."
Roy crossed the room to the door. Raising the gun to his shoulder he
placed the muzzle about opposite to where he thought the padlock must
"Look out for a big noise, sis," he warned.
Peggy gave a little scream and raised her hands to her ears. She
"Ready?" sang out Jimsy.
"All ready," came the reply.
Simultaneously with Jimsy's order came a deafening report. In that
confined space it sounded as if a huge cannon had been fired. Roy
staggered back under the "kick" of the heavy charge.
"Once more," he announced.
Again a sonorous report sounded, but this time a section of the door was
blown right out of the framework. The daylight streamed in through it.
"Now then for the test," cried Roy. "Come on, Jimsy."
The two boys placed their shoulders to the door. With a suddenness that
was startling, it burst open, and they faced freedom. The lock had been
fairly driven from its hold by the twice repeated charge of shot.
The young aviators were free once more. But it remained to be seen if
the men who wished them harm had wrought their vengeance on the _Golden
WHAT'S TO BE DONE WITH THE WREN?
The _Golden Butterfly_, as an examination proved, had not been damaged
during their imprisonment in the hut. Evidently, the men who had slammed
the door and padlocked it had made off at top speed as soon as they had
completed what they hoped would be a source of sore trouble to the young
"And now we'll fly back as agreed," declared Peggy merrily.
Her spirits, almost down to zero in the hut, had recovered themselves
marvellously in the fresh open air. She was radiant.
"I declare that the stay in the hut has done you good," declared Jimsy,
looking at her admiringly.
"Maybe it has--by contrast," returned Peggy.
"Like a sea trip," put in Roy. "I've heard that people who suffer from
sea sickness are so much relieved when they get ashore that they imagine
their good spirits are due to a change in their condition."
"Well, that applies to me," returned Peggy; "I didn't think we'd get out
of that hut so easily. How do you suppose that gun came to be there?"
"The hunters who use the hut must have left it there," rejoined Roy;
"I wonder if they'll ever know how useful it was to us."
"More likely they'll be mad when they find that the lock is blown off
the door," laughed Jimsy.
"Well, so-long, folks, I'm going to start back in the auto," declared
"We'll beat you into town," challenged Jimsy.
"More than likely, if the _Golden Butterfly_ is doing her best," was
Ten minutes later the two machines were racing back to Meadville at
almost top speed. Of course the speedy _Golden Butterfly_ won, but then
a vehicle of the air does not have to contend with the obstacles that a
land conveyance does.
They found Miss Prescott almost on the verge of hysterics. A garbled
version of the events of the night had been brought to her and this,
coupled with the long absence of the three young folks, had made her
"I declare, it seems as if you just can't keep out of trouble," she
"Well, it actually does seem so, I admit," confessed Peggy; "but we
promise to be very good for the rest of the trip."
"And never trouble trouble till trouble troubles us," chanted Jimsy
"That's all very well, but you keep me continually in suspense as to
what you'll do next," almost wailed Miss Prescott. "We set out for a
quiet trip and encounter nothing but troubles--"
"Adventures, Aunt Sally," laughingly corrected Roy; "what is life
"Well, I'm sure I don't know what young people are coming to," sighed
Miss Prescott with resignation. "There's another thing, what are we to
do with this little Wren?"
"We can't leave her here, that's certain," declared Peggy with
"No, indeed," echoed Jess and Bess, who were of the council.
"Then what are we to do with her?"
"Just tote her along, I suppose," rejoined Peggy; "poor little thing,
she doesn't take up much room; besides, Jess thinks she's an heiress."
They all laughed.
"You must have had an overdose of Laura Jean Libby," declared Roy.
"Roy Prescott, you behave yourself," cried Jess, flushing up; "besides,
she has a strawberry mark on her left arm."
"My gracious, then she surely is a missing heiress," exclaimed Jimsy
teasingly; "all well-regulated missing heiresses have strawberry marks
and almost always on their left arm."
It was at this juncture that a knock came at the door. A bell boy stood
"A gentleman to see you, sir," he said, handing Roy a card.
On it was printed: "Mr. James Kennedy, Detective, Meadville Police
"Goodness, a real detective!" exclaimed Jess excitedly; "let's see him."
"You won't be much impressed I'm afraid," rejoined Roy with a smile
at his recollection of the Meadville sleuths.
"Why, doesn't he wear glasses, have a hawk-like nose and smoke a pipe?"
"And hunt up missing heiresses?" teasingly struck in Jimsy.
"No, he's a very different sort of person. But hush! he's coming now."
A heavy tread sounded in the hall and Mr. James Kennedy, Detective of
the Meadville Police Force, stood before them. As Jimsy had said, he was
not impressive as to outward appearance, although his fat, heavy face,
and rather vacant eyes, might have concealed a giant intellect.
"I've investigated the case of the attempted burning of the stable last
night," he began.
"Yes," exclaimed Roy eagerly. "Have you any suspicions as to who did
The man shook his head.
"As yet we have no clews," he declared, "and I don't think we'll get
"That's too bad," replied Roy, "but let me tell you something that may
The lad launched into a description of their adventures of the morning.
"That hut belongs to Luke Higgins, a respectable man who is out West at
present," said the detective when Roy had finished. "He uses it as a
sort of hunting box in the rabbit shooting season. He couldn't have had
anything to do with it."
"I'd like to know his address so that I could write and thank him for
leaving that gun there," declared Peggy warmly.
The detective shook his head solemnly.
"I reckon you young folks had better stop skee-daddling round the
country this way," he said with heavy conviction; "you'll only get into
more trouble. Flying ain't natural no more than crowing hens is."
With this he picked up his hat, and, after assuring them that he would
find a clew within a short time, he departed, leaving behind him a
company in which amusement mingled with indignation. In fact, so angry
was Roy over the stupidity or ignorance of the Meadville police, that he
himself set out on a hunt to detect the authors of the outrages upon the
The sole result of his inquiry however was to establish the fact that
both Cassells had left town, closing their house and announcing that
they would be gone for some time.
As there was nothing further to be gained by remaining in Meadville, the
entire party, after lunch, set out once more, a big crowd witnessing the
departure of the aerial tourists.
They flew fast, and as the roads were excellent the auto had no
difficulty in keeping up with them. On through the afternoon they soared
along, sometimes swooping low above an alluring bit of scenery and again
heading their machines skyward in pure exuberance of spirits. Their
troubles at Meadville forgotten, they flew their machines like sportive
birds; never had any of them experienced more fully the joy of flight,
the sense of freedom that comes from traveling untrammeled into the
They had passed above a small village and were flying low, those in
the auto waving to them, when Peggy, in the _Golden Butterfly_, gave
a sudden exclamation.
"Oh, look," she shouted, "a flock of sheep, and right in the path of
At that moment all of them saw the sheep, a large flock, headed by a
belligerent looking ram with immense horns. Jake, who was driving the
car, slowed up as he approached the flock. The woolly herd, huddled
together helplessly, made no effort to get out of the road. Behind them
a man and a boy shouted and yelled vigorously, but with no more effect
than to bunch the animals more squarely in the path of the advancing
All at once, just as the car was slowed down to almost a walking pace,
a big ram separated himself from the flock and actually rushed for the
front seat of the car.
Jake uttered a yell as the woolly creature gave him a hard butt,
knocking him out of his seat. But this wasn't all.
By some strange freak the animal had landed in the car in a sitting
posture. Now the young aviators roared with laughter to behold the
creature seated in Jake's forcibly vacated place. Its hoofs rested on
the driving wheel.
Forward plunged the car, its queer driver with his feet wedged in the
spokes of the steering wheel. Aloft the flock of young aviators roared
with laughter at the sight. It was the oddest experience they had yet
had--this spectacle of a grave-looking, long-horned ram driving an auto,
while Jake prudently kept out of reach of those horns. As for Miss
Prescott and The Wren, they cowered back in the tonneau in keen alarm.
"Oh!" cried Peggy suddenly, "there comes a runabout; that ram will
surely collide with it!"
A runabout coming in the opposite direction dashed round a corner of the
country road at this juncture. The driver was a young girl, but she was
veiled and her features could not be seen under the thick face covering.
Apparently the ram saw the other car coming, for the animal actually
appeared to make a halfway intelligent effort to steer the car out of
For her part the girl in the runabout swerved her car from side to side
in a struggle to avoid a collision, which appeared inevitable.
"Stop it!" shrieked Bess; "she'll be killed."
A RAMBUNCTIOUS RAM.
The ram evidently saw the other car coming; it tried to leap out but its
hoofs were jammed in the spokes of the steering wheel. Before Jake could
pick himself up from the floor of the front part of the car there came
a loud shriek from the runabout. It was echoed by Miss Prescott and
The two cars came together with a fearful jolt.
The eyes of the young aviators aloft were fixed on the scene. They saw
the large car strike the runabout and crumple its engine hood. Peggy
gave a scream.
The ram, jolted out of its seat by the force of the collision, fell out
to one side, allowing Jake to resume control of the wheel. But the
runabout! It was ditched, its unfortunate occupant being pitched
headlong into a ditch at the side of the road.
Down swept the aeroplanes, and there was a wild rush to the rescue.
Peggy, Jess and Bess ran to the side of the injured occupant of the
strange runabout. The boys divided themselves, attending to everything.
"Roy! Roy! hurry, she's unconscious!"
The cry came from Peggy as she rushed to the side of the young motorist.
Roy was not far off, and, at his sister's cry, he hastened to her side.
Peggy had the girl's head in her lap.
"Get water!" she cried.
But Jimsy was already on hand with a collapsible aluminum cup full of
water from a near by spring.
"Oh, the poor dear," sighed Peggy, "to think that our fun should have--"
The strange girl opened her eyes.
"Who are you?" she exclaimed. "Where is my machine?"
"Never mind for a minute," spoke Peggy, seeing that Jimsy and Jake were
trying to drag the machine out of the ditch, "we'll fix it, never fear."
"Oh, my head!" groaned the girl.
"That pesky ram," exploded Roy angrily; "let me help you up into the
road, you'll be more comfortable."
"Oh, thank you, I can stand," came faintly from the injured girl.
"I--am--much better now. What happened?"
"Why a sort of volunteer driver was experimenting with our car, and
I guess he made a mistake in driving," smilingly explained Roy.
"Oh, that ram!" cried the girl half hysterically. "I thought I had
a nightmare at first."
"I don't blame you," smiled Peggy, "seeing a ram driving a motor car
is apt to give one such ideas."
"Are you really better?" asked Jess sympathetically as she came up.
"Peggy, get my smelling salts out of the traveling bag!" cried Miss
The accident had disturbed her sadly. The only unperturbed one in the
party was Jake. He took things with philosophical calm.
"Knew more trouble was comin'," said he, and contented himself by
dismissing the situation with that.
"I've got good news for you," said Jimsy, coming up; "your car isn't
hurt a bit."
"Oh, good!" cried the girl, clasping her hands and flushing. Her veil
was raised now and they saw that she was very blonde, very pretty and
just now very pale.
"My, what a rambunctious ram!" punned Roy; "he ramified all over,
"Gracious, for a time I thought I was seeing things!" gasped the girl,
who was seated on a tufted hummock of grass at the side of the road.
"And then you felt them," laughed Jimsy. "That's the way such things
They all laughed. Soon after, Roy, Jimsy and Jake dragged the small
runabout out of the ditch. In the meantime Peggy had introduced herself
and Jess to the young girl. The latter's name was Lavinia Nesbitt.
She lived not far from the scene of the accident, and had been taking
a jaunt in her machine.
The runabout had been rescued, and the whole party introduced and
talking merrily when Jess set up a cry.
"Goodness! here comes that ram again!"
Down the road, with the two sheep drivers at its heels, the beast was
indeed coming. It advanced at a hard gallop, with head lowered and
formidable horns ready for a charge, into the midst of the group.
"Look out for him!" yelled the sheep herders.
They needed no second injunction. All skipped adroitly out of the path
of the oncoming beast, which was rushing on like a whirlwind. Jimsy
proved equal to the emergency. From his aeroplane he took the rope which
had already done good service in rescuing the _Golden Butterfly_ from
the pond. He formed it into a loop--the lariat of the Western plains.
"Now we've got him!" he exclaimed; "that is, if we are careful. But
"No danger of that," responded Peggy, from the vantage of the tonneau of
the car; "but how are you going to rope him?"
Jimsy began swinging his loop in ever widening circles. The ram was now
within a few feet of him.
"Oh, the _Dart_!" shrieked Bess; "he'll go right through it!"
Indeed it did appear as if the maddened animal would. But just as there
are many slips between cup and lip so there are many slips between the
ram and the aeroplane.
Just as it appeared that he would plow his way right through the
delicate fabric, Jimsy hurled his loop. It settled round the animal's
horns. Planting his heels in the ground Jimsy held tight to the rope.
The next minute he "snubbed" it tight and the ram lost its feet and
rolled over and over in the dust.
Jake and Roy rushed in and completed the job of tying the creature.
"Goodness, Jimsy, you're a regular broncho buster!" cried Peggy
"Oh, I learned to do some tricks with a rope with the horse hunters out
in Nevada," was the response.
But careless as his manner was, Jimsy's eyes glowed with triumph. It was
plainly to be seen that he was delighted with his success. Just then the
two sheep drivers came running up.
The girls looked rather alarmed. Suppose they should blame them for
trying to kidnap the ram.
"I'll do the talking," declared Roy; "if you said anything, Jimsy, there
might be a row."
"All right," laughed Jimsy, regarding his "roped and tied captive."
"I suppose you are an expert on dealing with ram owners."
"Well, I'm on to their mental ramifications," laughed Roy.
The sheep driver, an elderly man, accompanied by a youth, came up to
them now. He touched his hat civilly as he approached.
"Good afternoon. No one hurt, I hope," he said.
The girls looked greatly relieved. After all, the man was not rude or
angry as they had feared.
"Oh, no, thank you," cried Jess, before Roy or Jimsy could open their
mouths. "I hope he isn't though."
"Hurt!" exclaimed the ram's owner, "why you couldn't hurt him with a
steam hammer. Why, day 'afore yesterday the blame thing went for my
wife. Hoofs and horns--yes, sir! Most knocked her down, he did. I'll
"What's his name?" asked Bess.
"Hannibal," said the man, without the flicker of a facial muscle.
"I should think Cannonball would be a better name for him," struck in
Jimsy, with that funny, serious face he always assumed when 'joshing'.
"Yes, sir, I guess it _would_ be more appropriate at that," assented
He looked at the disabled machine.
"Busted?" he asked with apparent concern.
"To some extent," rejoined Roy, "only, except for that engine hood being
dented there doesn't appear to be much the matter with it."
"Glad to pay if there be," said the sheep driver. "I'm going ter git rid
of ther pesky critter. He's cost me a lot in damage suits already."
"Why don't you put him on the stage as the boxing ram, or something like
that?" inquired Jimsy.
"Might be a good scheme," said the man, as if considering the proposal
"Mary had a little ram--" laughed Jimsy; who was thereupon told not
to be "horrid."
"Why don't you box the nasty thing's ears for riding in our car?" asked
Roy of Peggy.
"I'd like to do something, the saucy thing," declared Peggy with
"Tell you what! Let's buy him."
The suggestion came from Jimsy.
"Yes, and have his skin made up into an auto robe," suggested Roy.
"If you boys aren't ridiculous," cried Peggy; "I want to forget the
incident, and so I'm sure does Lavinia," the name of the girl who had
been spilled out of her machine.
"You may be sure I do," she declared with emphasis. "I was never so
scared in my life."
"Want to buy him?" asked the man, grasping at a chance of selling an
animal that had already placed him in some embarrassing positions.
"How much do you want?" asked Roy, more as a joke than anything else.
"Three dollars," said the man.
"There you are, girls! Who'll bid? Who'll bid? This fine young ram going
at a sacrifice."
Jimsy imitated an auctioneer, raising his voice to a sharp pitch.
AN INVITATION TO RACE.
It is almost needless to say that the purchase was not consummated. The
girls raised a chorus of protest. The "nasty thing" was the mildest of
the epithets they applied to the beast.
"Well, I don't know. I thought we might have his skin done into a robe.
We could give it as a prize to the girl that makes the best record on
this motor flight," suggested Jimsy.
"I wish you'd take him up a thousand feet and drop him," declared the
unfortunate ram's owner.
"Poor thing! he only acted according to his nature," defended Peggy;
"let him loose and he'll go back to the flock."
"Not him," declared his owner; "he'd only raise more Cain. Better let
But the girls raised a chorus of protest. It was a shame to leave the
poor thing tied up, and they insisted that he be let loose.
"All right, if you kin stand it I kin," grinned the man.
He and the boy bent over the captive ram and cast him loose. The beast
struggled to his feet, and for an instant stood glaring about him out
of his yellowish eyes that gleamed like agates. But it was only for an
instant that he remained thus.
Suddenly he lowered his head and without more preliminaries dashed right
at the _Golden Butterfly_.
"Gracious, he's a game old sport!" yelled Jimsy; "Hasn't had enough of
it yet, eh?"
Right at the _Butterfly_ the ram rushed. Reaching it, with one bound he
was in the chassis.
"Now we'll get him," whispered the owner of the ram. "I told you if he
was let go he'd start cutting up rough."
"Well, you surely proved a good prophet," laughed Jimsy.
"Now we've got to catch him," said the man.
"How?" whispered Jimsy.
"Someone must lasso him as you did before. Easy now. Don't scare him or
he might do damage."
The ram was seated in the aeroplane for all the world as if he was a
scientific investigator of some sort. He paid no attention whatever to
those who were creeping up on him, Jimsy with his rope in his hand, the
loop trailing behind him all ready for action.
"This is more fun than a deer hunt!" declared Roy.
"Than a bull fight, you mean," retorted Jimsy; "this creature gives the
best imitation of a wild bull I ever saw."
They all laughed. The ram certainly had given a realistic interpretation
of a savage Andalusian fighter.
"Now then," whispered the sheep driver as they drew near. Jimsy's rope
swirled and settled about the ram's horns. But the startled beast was
due to give them another surprise. Hardly had Jimsy's rope fallen about
it when with a snort it leaped clean in the air and out of the
aeroplane. It tore like an express train straight at Jimsy.
Before the boy could get out of its path "Biff!" the impact had come.
Jimsy arose into the atmosphere and described a distinct parabola. He
landed with a bump in a clump of bushes, while Mr. Ram rushed off down
the road to join his flock.
"Haw! haw! haw!" roared the sheep man; "ain't hurt, be you?"
"No; but I've a good mind to sue you for damages," rejoined Jimsy,
picking himself out of the clump of brush; "you've no right to drive an
animal like that around the country without labeling him 'Dynamite.
"Guess I will, too," said the man, who appeared to think well of the
suggestion; "he sure will get me in a pile of trouble one of these
He raised his hat and strode off, followed by the boy. In the distance
the ram was capering about among the other sheep. Jimsy brushed the dust
off himself and then looked about him.
"Anybody laughing?" he demanded suspiciously.
They all shook their heads, the girls biting their lips to avoid
"All right then, I suggest that we get out of here right away; a tiger's
liable to come striding out of those woods next."
"Yes; we'd better be getting along; Millbrook, our next stop, is several
miles off," said Peggy, consulting the map.
No further time was lost in resuming their rapid flight. In the
distance, as the flock of aeroplanes arose, the sheep man waved his
hat and shouted his adieus.
Millbrook was reached that evening just at dusk. It proved to be a
fair-sized town, and the aeroplanes excited as much curiosity there as
they had in Meadville--more so, in fact, for, from some flaring posters,
it appeared that an aeroplane exhibition and race had been arranged for
the next day by a traveling company of aviators. That evening, at the
hotel, a deputation of citizens waited on the boys and asked them if
they would not prolong their stay and take part in the air sports. The
mayor, whose name was Jasper Hanks, mentioned a prize of five hundred
dollars for an endurance flight as a special inducement.
The lads said they would think things over and report in the morning.
Their real object in delaying their decision was, of course, to consult
the girls about appearing. Peggy, Jess and Bess went into raptures over
the idea, and Miss Prescott's consent was readily obtained.
"I'll be glad to rest for a day after all our exciting times," she
declared, "and I mean to add to Wren's outfit too."
"Oh, how good you are to me," sighed the odd little figure, nestling
close to her benefactress.
"Tush! tush, my dear! I'm going to make a wonderful girl out of you,"
beamed the kindly lady.
Descending to the office to buy some postcards, the boys found, lounging
about the desk, a stoutish man with a rather dissipated face, puffy
under the eyes and heavy about the jaws. A bright red necktie and
patent-leather boots with cloth tops accentuated the decidedly "noisy"
impression he conveyed.
As the boys came down he eyed them sharply. Then he addressed them.
"My name's Lish Kelly," he said. "I'm manager of the United Aviators'
Exhibition Company. We're showing out at the City Park tomorrow.
I understand that you kids have been asked to butt in."
"We've been asked to participate, if that's what you mean," rejoined Roy
rather sharply. The fellow's manner was offensive and overbearing.
"Well, see here, you stay out," rejoined the man, shaking a fat
forefinger on which glistened a diamond ring of such proportions as
to make it dubious if it boasted a genuine stone.
"You stay out of it," he repeated.
Roy and Jimsy were almost dumfounded. The man's tone was one of actual
"Why? Why should we stay out of it?" demanded Roy.
"The mayor of the town has asked us to take part," came from Jimsy;
"what have you got to do with it?"
"It's this way," said the man in rather a less overbearing way than he
had hitherto adopted; "we're going about the country giving flights. The
city gives us the park in this town and we get so much of the receipts.
But we rely on winning the prizes, see. Now if you kids butt in, why
you might win some of them and that knocks my profit out. Get me?"
"I understand you, if that's what you mean," rejoined Roy; "but I still
fail to see why we should not compete if we want to."
The man placed his hand on the boy's shoulder impressively.
"'Cos if you do it'll make trouble for you, sonny."
"Who'll make it?" flashed back Roy indignantly.
"I will, son, and I'm some trouble maker when I start anything along
them lines, take it from me."
He turned on his heel, stuck his cigar at a more acute angle in the side
of his mouth, and strode off, leaving the two boys dumfounded.
"Well, what do you make of that?" demanded Roy, as soon as his
astonishment had subsided a trifle.
"Just this, that Mr. Lish Kelly thinks he can run this thing to suit
"What will we do about it?"
"For my part I wanted to compete before. I desire to more than ever
"Maybe he was only bluffing after all."
"Maybe; but just the same I wouldn't trust him not to try to do us some
harm. As he says, his main profits come from winning the prizes offered
by the different communities."
"Humph! well, so far as that goes, I don't see why that need keep us out
"Nor I; but we've had troubles enough, and I don't want willingly to run
into any more."
"Nor I. Well, let's sleep on it. We'll decide in the morning."
"That's a good idea."
The two lads went up to bed and slept as only healthy lads can. The next
morning dawned bright and clear. There was hardly any wind. It was real
"flying" weather. The aeroplanes had been sheltered in a big shed
belonging to the hotel. Before breakfast the boys went out and looked
them over. All were in good shape.
As they were coming out of the shed they were hailed by no less a
personage than Mayor Hanks.
"Well," said he, "are you going to fly?"
"We think of doing so," said Roy, hesitating a little. He wanted to
speak of the conduct of Lish Kelly, but on second thought he decided not
to; the man might merely have had a fit of bad temper on him. His
threats might have been only empty ones.
"If you're going to fly I have got some entry blanks with me," said the
mayor. "I wish you'd sign 'em."
He drew out a bunch of blue papers with blanks for describing the name
of the machine, its power, driver and other details.
This decided the boys.
"All right, we'll enter all our machines," said Roy; "let us go into the
writing room and we'll sign the entry blanks."
"Good for you," cried the mayor delightedly; "you'll be a big drawing
card, especially the young ladies. I never heard of gals flyin',
although, come to think of it, why shouldn't they?"
In the writing room they concluded the business. When it was done all
the machines had been entered in every contest, including an altitude
"We start at ten sharp, so be there," admonished the mayor as he
departed, highly pleased at having secured quite a flock of young
aviators at no cost at all.
It was as his figure vanished, that Lish Kelly crossed the writing room.
He had been sitting in a telephone booth, and leaving the door a crack
open had heard every word that had passed.
He greeted the boys with an angry scowl.
"So you ain't going to stay out?" he said gruffly, as he passed. "All
right; look out for squalls!"
THE TWISTED SPARK PLUG.
"Gracious, are we in for more trouble?"
Jimsy looked blankly at Roy; but the latter only laughed at his chum's
Somehow, viewed in the bright light of early day, Lish Kelly's threats
did not appear nearly as formidable as they had over night.
"Nonsense; what harm can he do us anyhow? We're going to go into this
race, and we're going to win too. Just watch us."
"Going to tell the girls anything about Kelly and his remarks?"
"No; what good would that do? It would only scare them."
"That's so, too; but just the same I didn't like the look of Kelly's
face when he came through."
"He looked to me like a bulldog that had swallowed a baby's boot and
didn't like the taste of the blacking on it," laughed Roy.
At this juncture the girls came into the room. All were radiant and
smiling in anticipation of the day's sport.
"Well, we've been and gone and done it," announced Roy.
"Done what?" demanded Peggy.
"Signed the paperrr-r-r-s," was the rejoinder, rendered with great
He waved the duplicate entry blanks above his head.
"Let's see them," begged Jess.
"All right. Look what I've let us in for!"
"Why--why--good gracious, Roy, you've got us down for everything,"
"That's right, all the way across from soup to nuts," struck in the
They all laughed. The color rose in the girls' faces.
"If only we can win some of them," cried Jess.
"Well, the machines are all in fine shape. If we don't win it will be
because the other fellows have better machines."
"Where are the aviation grounds?" inquired Bess.
"At the City Park, about a mile out of town to the south. We can get to
it by looking down at the trolley tracks," said Roy, who had consulted
the mayor on this point.
"Then you are going to fly out there?" asked Miss Prescott, who was also
by this time a party to the conference.
"Of course; and, by the way, we ought to be getting out there pretty
soon; I want to be looking over the grounds and selecting the best
places for landing and so on," said Roy.
"Well, please don't get into any more scrapes," sighed Miss Prescott;
"what with gipsies, firebugs and rams, our trip has been quite exciting
enough for me."
The boys exchanged glances. If the man Kelly tried to carry out his
threats things might be more exciting yet, they thought. But both kept
their knowledge to themselves.
It was arranged that Miss Prescott should motor out to the City Park.
Soon thereafter the young aviators placed finishing touches on their
machines, and while a curious crowd gathered they took to the air.
"Looks just like a flock of pigeons," said a man in the crowd, as they
climbed skyward quite closely bunched.
"It sure does," agreed his companion, "but them things is prettier than
any flock of pigeons I ever see."
And this opinion was echoed by many of the throng. At any rate everyone
who saw the aeroplanes start made up his or her mind to pay a visit to
the park and see some more extended flights, so that Mayor Hanks'
prediction was verified.
As the young aviators hovered above City Park for a short space of time,
and then dropped earthward, a veritable sensation was created. From a
row of "hangars" mechanicians and aviators came running. One or two
aviators who were aloft practicing "stunts," dropped swiftly to earth.
Lish Kelly's troupe was a large one, consisting of five men and one
woman flyer, the wife of Carlos Le Roy, a Cuban aviator.
Outside the grounds several of the frugal individuals who desired to see
the flights without paying admission also watched as the quintette of
strange aeroplanes dropped to earth.
One by one the graceful craft of the air settled to the ground, and the
young aviators alighted. Members of the Arrangement Committee hastened
to their sides, shaking hands warmly and thanking them for their
interest in the coming contests.
The Kelly aviators gazed curiously, some of them resentfully, at the
newcomers. They had all the professional's antipathy and jealousy of
amateur performers. As the Arrangement Committee bustled off after
telling our friends to make themselves perfectly at home, Pepita Le Roy
came up to them. She was a handsome woman, in a foreign way, with large,
dark eyes and an abundance of raven black hair. She was rather flashily
dressed and walked with a sort of swagger that in a vague way reminded
Peggy of "Carmen."
"So you are zee girl aviators," she remarked, as she came up.
"Yes; I guess that's what they call us," rejoined Peggy; "we enjoy
flying and have done a lot of it."
"So! I have read your names in zee papers."
"Oh, those awful papers!" cried Jess, who hated publicity; "they are
always printing things about us."
"What! You do not like it?"
"Oh, no! You see, we only fly for fun. Not as a business and--"
Peggy stopped short. She felt she had committed a grave breach of
tactfulness. It was not the thing, she felt, to boast to a professional
woman flyer of their standing as amateurs.
Nor was the Cuban woman slow to take umbrage at what she considered an
insult. Her eyes flashed indignantly as she regarded the fair-haired,
slender girl before her.
"So you fly only for fun," she said vehemently; "very well, you have all
zee fun you want before to-day is ovaire."
Without another word she walked off, with the swinging walk of her race.
The girls looked at each other with a sort of amused dismay.
"Goodness, Peggy; you should be more careful," cried Bess; "you've hurt
her feelings dreadfully."
"I'm sure I didn't mean to," declared Peggy remorsefully. "I--I had no
idea that she would flare up like that."
"Well, after all, it doesn't matter much," soothed Jess, pouring oil on
the troubled waters, so to speak. "I'm glad the boys didn't hear it
"So am I. See, they're busy on Roy's machine," exclaimed Bess.
"Yes; the lower left wing is rather warped," explained Peggy; "they are
"Wonder who that man is who is monkeying with the _Red Dragon_?" said
Peggy, the next instant. "I mean that horrid looking man in the check
"I don't know. See, he has a monkey wrench in his hand, too," exclaimed
Almost simultaneously the boys looked round from their work on the
biplane and saw the man. It was Lish Kelly. He was bending over the
engine and doing something to it with his wrench.
"Hey! What are you doing there?" yelled Roy.
"Just looking at your machine. No harm in that, is there?" demanded
Kelly, with a red face.
"None at all, except that we don't want our machines touched. How comes
it you have that monkey wrench in your hands if you weren't tampering
with the machinery?"
Jimsy spoke in a voice that fairly bubbled over with indignation.
"Don't get sore, kid; I wouldn't harm your old mowing machine. There
isn't one of mine but could beat it the fastest day it ever flew."
As he spoke Kelly slouched off. They saw him go up to a group of his
aviators and begin talking earnestly to them. Once or twice he motioned
with his head in their direction.
"So he _does_ mean mischief, after all," said Roy; "let's take a good
look at the _Dragon's_ engine. He may have injured it, although I don't
think he'd have had time to hurt it seriously."
They strolled over to the _Dragon_, with the girls trailing behind.
"Oh!" cried Peggy, as they came up, "look at that spark plug."
"What's the matter with it?" demanded Jimsy,
"Look, it's all bent and twisted out of shape."
"Jove, sis, so it is. Your eyes are as sharp as they are pretty!"
"No compliments, please. Oh, that horrid man!"
"Who is he?" asked Jess. "You appeared to know him."
"Yes, we had some conversation with him this morning," laughed Roy; "but
to return to the spark plug; it's a good thing we carry extra ones."
"But we don't!" cried Jimsy, in a dismayed tone.
"What! you had a supply in a locker on your machine."
Jimsy looked confused.
"I've got to make a confession," he said.
"You didn't bring them!" cried Peggy.
"No, the fact is I--I forgot."
Jimsy looked miserably from one to the other. Here was a quandary
indeed. It might prove hard to get such a commodity as a spark plug in
IN SEARCH OF A NEW PLUG.
It was while they were still discussing the situation that the
automobile with Jake at the wheel and Miss Prescott and The Wren in
the tonneau, drove into the grounds. What a difference there was in
the child since her benefactors had fitted her out! She looked like
a dainty, ethereal little princess instead of the ragged little waif
that had been rescued from the gipsy camp.
But the minds of our young friends were now intent on different matters.
Time pressed. The altitude flight, in which Jimsy had planned to take
part, was to be the first thing on the program. If anything was to be
done about reequipping the _Dragon_ it must be done quickly.
"Tell you what," said Roy suddenly, "we'll get into the car and drive
back to town. It won't take long and maybe we can dig up an extra one
"If we don't I'm out of it for keeps," groaned Jimsy; "oh, that Kelly.
I'd like to punch his head."
He doubled up his fists aggressively; but, after all, what chance had he
to prove that Kelly had actually damaged the plug. If confronted the man
would have probably denied all knowledge of it. Nobody had actually seen
him do it, so that positive proof was out of the question. No, they must
repair the damage as best they could.
But Roy determined to have the machines closely guarded. The situation
was explained to Miss Prescott, and while she and her small protege took
seats in the grand stand Jake was detailed to guard the aeroplanes. This
done, the boys got into the machine and prepared to start for town. But
the girls interfered.
"Aren't you going to take us along, you impolite youths!" cried Bess.
"Oh, certainly, your company is always charming," returned Jimsy, with
a low bow.
"Of course it is, but you wouldn't have asked us to come if we had not
invited ourselves," declared Peggy vehemently.
"How can you say so? Our lives would be a dry desert without the girl
aviators to liven things up," declared Jimsy.
"Jimsy Bancroft, if you are going to get poetical you'll leave this
car," cried Jess.
"That's just it," declared Jimsy, "girls can cry their eyes out over
romantic heroes, but when a regular fellow starts to get 'mushy' they
go up in the air."
Amidst the chorus of protestations aroused by this ungallant speech Roy
started the car. Swiftly it sped out of the grounds; but not so swiftly
that the keen eyes of Lish Kelly did not see it.
He called Herman Le Roy, the Cuban aviator, to him.
"Le Roy, you are not in the altitude contest," he said, "hop in my car
with me and we'll follow those kids. They're up to something."
The Cuban looked at him and smiled, showing two rows of white teeth
under his small, dapperly curled mustache.
"I think, Senor Kelly, you have been up to something yourself."
"Well, you know what I told you. We want that five-hundred-dollar prize,
Carlos, and by the looks of things if we don't do something those kids
are likely to get it."
"They have fine machines," agreed the other.
"Yes; and they are equipped with a balancing device that makes them much
more reliable than ours."
"A balancing device!" exclaimed the Cuban, as the two men got into the
car, a small yellow runabout of racy appearance.
"That's what I said, and it's a good one, too. I read an account of it
in an aviation paper; but the description was too sketchy for me to see
how the thing was worked."
"Those boys must be wonders."
"I'm afraid they are. That's why we've got to be careful of them. But
I've got a plan to fix them, the whole lot of them."
"What is it?"
"I'll tell you as we go along."
As the car rolled past the group of aeroplanes with Jake faithfully
standing guard over them, Kelly hailed him in a suave voice.
"Any idea where the young folks have gone?"
Jake, who had no idea that Kelly had a sinister motive in asking the
question, replied readily enough.
"Yes, they've gone into Millbrook to get another spark plug. Something
happened to one of the plugs of that red machine yonder."
"All right. Thanks."
Kelly drove on.
"Do you know what happened to that plug, Carlos?" he asked, as they
reached the open road and bowled forward at a good speed.
"I've got a pretty good guess. It was not altogether an accident, eh?"
"An accident, well, it was, in a sense. I happened to be near that
machine with a monkey wrench and in some way was careless enough to
let it put that plug out of business."
Both men laughed heartily, as if Kelly's rascally act had been the most
amusing thing in the world.
"You are a genius," declared Le Roy.
"Well, I reckon I know a thing or two," was the modest response;
"besides, I need that money."
"But what is your plan?"
"I'll tell you as we go along. Drive fast, but don't keep so close to
that other car that they can get sight of us."
"Not much fear of that. They had a long start of us and are out of
"So much the better. It doesn't interfere with my plans a bit, provided
they take the same road back."
"What do you mean to do?"
"Are you good with a shovel?" was the cryptic reply.
"I don't understand you, I must say."
"You will later on. We'll drive up to that farmhouse yonder."
"Yes, and what then?"
"We'll borrow two shovels."
"That's what I said."
"But what on earth have two shovels to do with stopping a bunch of kids
from entering in an aeroplane race?"
"Carlos, your brain is dull to-day."
"It would take a wizard to understand what you intend to do."
"Well, you will see later on. Drive in this gate. That's it, and now
for the shovels."
For more than half an hour eager inquiries were made in Millbrook for a
spark plug such as they wanted. But all their search was to no avail.
But suddenly, just as they were about to give up in despair, a man, of
whom they had made inquiries, recalled that not far out of town there
was a small garage.
"We'll try there," determined Jimsy.
Finding out the road, they speeded to the place. It did not look very
promising, a small, badly fitted up auto station, run by an elderly
man with red-rimmed, watery eyes, looking out from behind a pair of
horn spectacles that somehow gave him the odd look of a frog.
"Got any spark plugs?" asked Jimsy, as the machine came to a halt.
"Yes, all kinds," said the man, in a wheezy, asthmatic voice that
sounded like the exhaust of a dying-down engine.
"Good!" cried Jimsy, hopping out of the car.
"That is, we will have all kinds next week," went on the man; "I've
"Goodness, then you haven't any right now?"
"I've got a few. Possibly you might find what you want among them."
"I'll try, anyway," declared Jimsy.
The man led the way into a dingy sort of shed. On a shelf in a dusty
corner was a box.
"You can hunt through that," said the man wearily; "if you find what you
want wake me up."
"Wake you up?"
"Yes, I always take a sleep at this time of day. You woke me up when you
came in. Now I'm going to doze off again."
So saying he sank into a chair, closed his eyes and presently was
"Dead to the world!" gasped Jimsy; "well, that's the quickest thing
in the sleep line I ever saw!"
As it was no use to waste further time the boy began rummaging in the
box. It contained all sorts of odds and ends, among them several plugs.
"I'll bet there isn't one here that will fit my engine!" grumbled Jimsy;
"I don't--what! Yes! By Jiminy! Eureka! Hurray, I've found one!"
The man woke up with a start.
"What's the matter?" he demanded drowsily.
"Nothing! That is, everything!" cried Jimsy. "I've found just what I
"All right. Leave the money on that shelf there. It's a dollar."
So saying, off he went to sleep again, while Jimsy, overjoyed, hastily
peeled a dollar from his "roll" and departed. The last sound he heard
was the steady snoring of the garage man.
"Well, there's one fellow that money can't keep awake, even if it does
talk," said Jimsy laughingly to himself as, with a cry of triumph, he
rejoined the party, waving the plug like a banner or an emblem of
No time was lost in starting the auto up again and they whirled back
through Millbrook in a cloud of dust. Passing through the village they
retraced their way along the road by which they had come.
"Just half an hour before that altitude flight," remarked Jimsy to Roy,
who was driving, as they sped through the town.
"Fine; we'll make it all right," was the rejoinder. Roy turned on more
power and the auto shot ahead like some scared wild thing.
"We'll only hit the high spots this trip," declared Roy, as the machine
plunged and rolled along at top speed.
All at once, as they turned a corner, they received a sudden check.
Right ahead of them a man was driving some cows. Roy jammed down the
emergency brake, causing them all to hold on for dear life to avoid
being pitched out by the sudden change of speed.
"Wow! what a jolt!" exclaimed Jimsy; "it sure did----"
The sentence was never completed. The auto gave a pitch sideways and
then plunged into a pit that had been dug across the road and covered
with leaves and dust placed on a framework of branches. Down into this
pit crashed the machine with a sickening jolt. The girls screamed aloud
in fear. It appeared as if the machine would be a total wreck.
But that was not the worst of it. In the sudden fall into the pit Roy
had been pitched out and now lay quite still at the roadside. Jimsy had
saved himself from being thrown by clutching tight hold of the seat.
He stopped the engine and then clambering out of the car hastened to
Roy's side. To his delight, just as he reached him, Roy sat up, and
although his face was drawn with pain he declared that his injuries
consisted of nothing more serious than a sprained ankle.
"But look at the machine!" cried Jimsy; "it's smashed, I'm sure of it."
The pit which had been dug across the road was about three feet deep and
the front wheels of the auto rested in it. The hind wheels had not
entered, as the excavation was not a wide one.
Both boys hastened to examine the car. To their satisfaction they found
that not much damage had been done beyond a slight wrenching of the
steering gear. This was due to the fact that they had been going at
"Gracious! Suppose we had been coming along at the same pace we'd been
hitting up right along," exclaimed Jimsy.
"We wouldn't be here now," declared Roy; "we'd be in the next county