Part 2 out of 3
the steamer. For one instant the thought flashed across him that they were
disabled. An unholy glee filled him at the thought. If only the _Golden
Butterfly_ were to come to grief right under Lieut. Bradbury's eyes, it
would be a great feather in the cap of the Mortlake-Harding machine.
But, to his chagrin, he saw them rise the next instant, as cleverly as
ever. Lieut. Bradbury, who had been watching the maneuver of the _Golden
Butterfly_, gave an admiring gasp, as he witnessed the daring feat.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, and the evident note of astonishment and
appreciation in his tones did not tend to increase Mortlake's
"The pesky brats," he muttered to himself; "we've got to do something to
put them out of the race. There isn't another American-built aeroplane
that I fear except that bothersome kids' machine."
And there and then Mortlake began to hatch up a scheme that in the near
future was to come very nearly proving disastrous to Peggy and Roy and
their high hopes.
"Magnificently handled, don't you think so, Mortlake?" inquired the naval
officer, the next instant.
"Yes, very clever," agreed Mortlake, far too smart to show his inward
feelings, or to wear his heart upon his sleeve; "very neat. But I can do
the same thing if you'd care to see it?"
The naval officer glanced at the puffy features of his companion and his
thick, bull-like neck.
"No, thanks," he said. "I've got to be getting back. There's another type
of machine I've got to look over out at Mineola. It is really necessary
that I reach there as quickly as possible."
"Very well," said Mortlake, inwardly relieved, as he didn't much fancy
duplicating Roy's feat, "we'll head straight on for the shore."
"If you please."
But what was the _Golden Butterfly_ doing? As the steamer raced onward,
that aerial wonder had swung in a spiral, and was now seemingly hovering
about, awaiting the arrival of the _Silver Cobweb_.
As the two aeroplanes drew abreast, Mortlake muttered something, and bent
over his engines. The _Cobweb_ leaped forward like an unleashed greyhound.
But the _Golden Butterfly_ was close on her heels, and making almost as
good time. Mortlake plunged his hands in among the machinery and
readjusted the air valve of the carburetor. Another increase of speed
resulted. The indicator crawled up to sixty-six, sixty-eight and then to
seventy miles an hour.
"Pressing her a bit, aren't you?" asked the officer, as they seemed to
hurtle through the air, so fast did they rush onward.
"Oh, no. She's built for speed," responded Mortlake, with a gratified
grin; "she'll leave any such old lumber wagon as that Prescott machine
miles behind her any day in the week."
This seemed to be true. The _Golden Butterfly_, making about sixty miles,
was being rapidly left behind.
"I should think you'd be afraid of overheating your cylinders,"
volunteered the lieutenant.
Now, this was just what Mortlake was afraid of. But, as has been said, he
was the sort of man who, in sporting parlance, was willing always "to take
a chance" to beat any one he considered his rival. He was taking a
desperate chance now. Under the artificial means he had used to increase
the speed of his engines, the motor was "turning up" several hundred more
revolutions a minute than she had been built for.
Now they shot above the strip of white beach, and, below them the pleasant
meadow-lands and patches of verdant woods began to show once more.
All at once, the sign for which Mortlake had been watching so anxiously
manifested itself. A tiny curl of smoke ascended from one of the
cylinder-heads. A smell of blistering, burning paint was wafted back to
the nostrils of Lieut. Bradbury.
"I thought so," he said; "overheating already. Better slow down,
Mortlake glanced back. The _Golden Butterfly_, much diminished in size now
by the distance, still hung doggedly on his heels.
"I'll give her more air," he vouchsafed stubbornly, "that ought to cool
her off a bit--that and advanced spark."
He manipulated the necessary levers, but before many minutes it became
apparent that, if urged at that rate, the _Silver Cobweb_ would never
reach Sandy Beach without a break-down.
"Hadn't you better shut down a bit? That paint's blistering, as if the
cylinders were red-hot."
Much as he disliked to interfere with the operation of the aeroplane, the
young officer felt that it was necessary that some means should be taken
to compel Mortlake to reduce speed. If the engine became so overheated
that it stopped in mid-air, they might be caught in a nasty position,
where it might be impossible to volplane--or glide--downward, without the
aid of the engine.
"It's all right, I tell you," said Mortlake stubbornly. "We'll beat those
cubs into Sandy Beach, or----"
Or what, was destined never to be known, for at that instant, with a
splutter and a sigh, the overheated engines, almost at a red-heat, stopped
short. The propeller ceased to revolve, and the aeroplane began to plunge
downward with fearful velocity.
But Mortlake, no matter what his other faults, possessed a cool head. The
instant he lost control of the motor, he seized the warping levers, and
began manipulating them. At the same time he set the rudder so as to bring
the _Silver Cobweb_ to earth in a series of long spirals. The maneuver was
that of volplaning, and has been performed successfully by several
aviators whose engines have suddenly ceased to work while in mid-air. The
young officer watched approvingly. Whatever else Mortlake might be--and
Lieut. Bradbury had not taken a violent fancy to him--he was a master of
the aerial craft.
Despite the mishap to the engine--caused by his own carelessness--Mortlake
managed to bring the _Silver Cobweb_ to a gentle landing in a broad, flat
meadow, inhabited by some spotted cows, which fled in undignified panic as
the monster, silent now, swooped down like a bolt from the blue.
The instant the _Silver Cobweb_ came to rest Mortlake's restless eyes
glanced upward. He was hoping against all common sense that the young
Prescotts had not seen his mishap, or at least that they would pass on
above him unnoticing. His first glance showed him the _Golden Butterfly_
still steadily plugging along, and a moment later it became apparent that
they had seen the sudden descent of the _Cobweb_, for the aeroplane was
seen to dip and glide lower, much as a mousing hawk can be seen to do.
"Hard luck," murmured the young naval officer, as Mortlake, who had
clambered out of the machine, stamped and fumed by its side. Inwardly
Lieut. Bradbury was thinking how stubborn men invariably meet with some
mishap or accident.
"Yes, beastly hard luck," agreed Mortlake readily. "I see a farm-house
over there, though, the other side of those trees. I guess I can get a
bucket and some water over there. Once I've cooled those cylinders off,
we'll be all right."
"How long will that take, do you think?" inquired the officer, pulling out
his watch and a time-table.
"Not more than half an hour. It shouldn't take that."
"That means I miss my train. If we don't get into Sandy Beach by eleven
o'clock, I can't possibly make it. And there's not another from there for
two hours. That would make me late for my appointment at Mineola."
Mortlake's face fell. Here was a bit of hard luck with a vengeance. It
might cost him a place in the contests.
"We can make up time, once we get under way," he said tentatively.
"That isn't it. I daren't risk it. I wonder if I can get an automobile or
some sort of a conveyance about here."
"Not a chance. I know this neighborhood. It is very sparsely settled."
A sudden whir above them caused them both to look up. It was the _Golden
Butterfly_, swooping and hovering above the disabled _Cobweb_.
"Had an accident?" shouted down Roy.
"What do you think? You can see we're not flying, can't you?" bellowed
Mortlake, his face crimson with anger and mortification.
"Can we do anything to help you?" came from Peggy, ignoring the fellow's
The first monosyllable came from Mortlake. The second from Lieut.
"If you don't mind accepting a passenger, I should be glad of a lift to
Sandy Beach. I've got to make a train," explained the young officer.
In five minutes the _Golden Butterfly_ was on the sward beside the
crippled _Cobweb_. Mortlake's face was black as night. He fulminated
maledictions on the young aviators who had appeared at--for him--such an
"Can I help you fix the machine?" asked Roy pleasantly. "There's nothing
serious the matter, is there?"
"Not a thing," asserted Mortlake. "It's all the fault of the men who made
the carburetor. They did a bungling bit of work, and the cylinders have
"Can we leave a message for you at your shops, or would you like a lift
home with us?" asked Roy, who felt a kind of pity for the angry and
"You can't do anything for me except leave me alone," snapped out
Mortlake; "you cubs are altogether too inquisitive. You're too nosy."
"But not to the extent of making sketches and notes, Mr. Mortlake?"
inquired Peggy sweetly--"cattily," she said it was, afterward.
Mortlake started and paled. Then, without vouchsafing a reply, he strode
off in the direction of the farm house to get the water he needed.
"Now, Mr. Bradbury," said Roy, extending a hand.
The young officer leaped nimbly into the chassis, and presently a buzzing
whir told that the faithful _Golden Butterfly_ was taking the air once
"Score two for us!" thought Peggy to herself.
From a far corner of the pasture, Mortlake watched his young rivals
climbing the sky. He shook his fist at them and his heavy face darkened.
THE MARKED BILL.
Some two days after the events narrated in our last chapter, Lieut.
Bradbury, sitting in the library of the New York Aero Club, on West
Fifty-fourth Street, received a telegram from Eugene Mortlake. He was
considerably astonished, when on tearing it open, he read as follows:
"Must see you at once. Have positive proof that young Prescott is about to
sell out his secrets to foreign government."
"Phew!" whistled the young officer. "This is a serious charge. If it is
proved, it will bar Prescott from bidding for the United States government
contract. But I can hardly believe it. There must be some mistake.
However, it is my duty to investigate. Let's see--three o'clock. I can
get a train to Sandy Beach at four. Too bad! Too bad!"
The young officer shook his head. He had come to have a sincere regard for
Roy and his pretty sister, as well as admiration for their resourcefulness
When it is explained that during the time elapsing between his lucky lift
in the Prescott machine and the reception of the note, that Lieut.
Bradbury had notified Roy that he would be expected to report at the
Brooklyn Navy Yard, his feelings on learning that there was suspicion
directed against his young protege, may be imagined. Mortlake, too, had
received a notice that his machines were eligible for a test, so that
there would have seemed to be no object for his acting treacherously.
Otherwise, the young officer might have been suspicious. What he had seen
of Mortlake had not particularly elevated that gentleman in his opinion.
But if he had desired to wrong the Prescotts, reasoned the officer, such a
resourceful man as he had adjudged Mortlake to be, would have sought a
deeper and more subtle way of going about it.
"And I'd have staked my word on that boy's loyalty; aye, and on his
sister's too," muttered the officer, as he made ready for his hasty trip
to Long Island.
By this it will be seen that Lieut. Bradbury was by no means proof against
the rather common failing of inclining to believe the first evil report we
hear. It is a phase of human nature that is not combatted as it should be.
In the meantime, Roy and Peggy had sustained a surprise, likewise. The day
before that on which Lieut. Bradbury received the disturbing dispatch, an
automobile had whizzed up to their gate and stopped. Roy, Peggy and Jess
and Jimsy were at a game of tennis, when a rather imperious voice summoned
them, from the tonneau of the machine.
They looked up, to see a remarkably pretty young girl, who could scarcely
have been more than eighteen years old. Her eyes were black as sloes, and
flashed like smoldering fires. A great mass of hair of the same color was
piled on the top of her head in grown-up fashion, and her gown, of a
magenta hue, which set off her dark beauty to perfection, was cut in the
most recent--too recent, in fact--style.
"Can you direct me to Mr. Mortlake's aeroplane factory?" she demanded in
an imperious tone. Evidently the flushed, healthy-looking young people,
who had been playing tennis so hard, were very despicable in her eyes.
"There it is, down the road there," volunteered Roy. "It's that barn-like
The appellation was unfortunate. The girl's eyes flashed angrily.
"My name is Regina Mortlake," she said angrily. "I am Mr. Mortlake's
daughter. He is not in the habit of putting up barns, I can assure you."
"I beg your pardon----" began Roy, quite taken aback by the extraordinary
energy with which the reproof to his harmless remark had been given. But
the dark-eyed beauty in the automobile had given a quick order to the
chauffeur, and the car skimmed on down the road.
Later that day the _Silver Cobweb_ ascended for a flight. It had nothing
more the matter with it on the day of the break-down than the heated
cylinders, which, as Mortlake had prophesied, soon cooled. But Mortlake
himself did not take up the silvery aeroplane on this occasion. A new
figure was at the wheel, clad in dainty dark aviation togs and bonnet,
with a fluttering, flowing veil of the same color, which streamed out like
a flag of defiance.
The new driver was Miss Regina Mortlake.
They learned later that the girl had taken frequent flights in the South,
where her father had, for a time, entered into the business of giving
aeroplane flights for money at county fairs and the like. His daughter had
taken naturally to the sport, and was an accomplished air woman. She knew
no fear, and her imperious, ambitious spirit made her a formidable rival
even to the foreign flying women who competed at various international
While his daughter spun through the air, Eugene Mortlake sat in his little
glass-enclosed office in one corner of the noisy aeroplane plant. Four
finished machines were now ready, and he would have felt capable of facing
any tests with them had it not been for his uneasy fear of the Prescott
aeroplane. But he had evolved a scheme by which he thought he would
succeed in putting Peggy and Roy out of the race altogether. It was in the
making that afternoon in the little office.
Opposite to Mortlake sat two men whom we have seen before. But in the
cheap, but neat suits they now wore, and with their faces clean-shaven of
the growth of stubby beard that had formerly covered them, it would have
been somewhat difficult to recognize the two ill-favored tramps who had
been routed by Peggy in such a plucky manner. But, nevertheless, they were
"You thoroughly understand your instructions now?" questioned Mortlake, as
he concluded speaking.
The fellow who had been addressed by his companion as Joey, at the time
they encountered Mortlake and Harding on the road to the Galloway farm,
"We understand, guv'ner," he rasped out in a hoarse voice; "Slim, here,
and me don't take long ter catch on, eh, Slim?"
"No dubious manner of doubt about that," responded Slim. "An' although I'm
a tramp now, guv'ner, I wasn't allers one. I've held my head as high as
the rest of the good folks of the world. I can play the gentleman to
perfection. Don't you worry."
This Slim--or to give him his correct name--Frederick Palmer, was, as he
declared with such emphasis, a man who had indeed "seen better days," as
the phrase is. Now that he was invested in fair-looking clothes, and was
graced with a clean collar and a smooth-shaven face, he actually might
have passed for a person in fairly well-to-do circumstances. For the part
Mortlake wished him to play, he could not have picked out a better man.
Utterly unscrupulous, and with the best of his life behind him, "Slim"--as
the tramp fraternity knew him--was prepared to do anything that there was
money in. His companion possessed no such saving graces of appearance.
Short, coarse, and utterly lacking in every element of refinement, Joey
Eccles was a typical hobo. But Mortlake's shrewd mind had seen where he
could make use of him, too, in the diabolical plan he was concocting, and
the details of which he had just finished confiding to his unsavory
"But say, guv'ner," struck in Joey Eccles, his little pig-like eyes agleam
with cupidity, "we've got to have a bit more of the brass, you know--a
little more money--eh?"
He ended in an insinuating whine, the cringing plea of the professional
Mortlake made a gesture of impatience.
"I gave you fellows a twenty-dollar-bill a few days ago," he said, "in
addition to that, you've been provided with clothes and lodging. What more
do you want?"
"We've got to have some more coin, that's flat," announced Slim decidedly;
"come on, fork over, guv'ner. You've gone too far into this now to pull
Mortlake's florid face went white. As if he heard it for the first time,
the words struck home. He had indeed "gone too far," as the tramp sitting
opposite to him had said. He was, in fact, completely in the power of
these two unscrupulous mendicants. Making a resolve to get rid of them as
speedily as possible, he dived into his breast pocket and drew from it a
roll of bills that made Slim's and Joey's eyes stick out of their heads.
He peeled off a twenty-dollar-bill, and flung it with no good grace down
upon the table.
"There," he said, "that's the last you'll get till the trick is done."
"Thankee, guv'ner; I knowed you'd see sense. A man of your intelligous
"That will do," snapped Mortlake. "Do you think I've got nothing to do but
talk to you fellows all day? You thoroughly understand, now, to-morrow
night on the road to Galloway's farm?"
"Yus, and we've got a nice little deserted farm house all picked out,
where we can keep the young rooster on ice," grinned Joey.
"Well, well," shot out Mortlake, "that will be your task. I've nothing to
do with that. Do you understand," he rapped the table nervously, "I know
nothing about it."
"All right, all right; we're wise," Slim assured him confidently. "Don't
you worry. Come on, Joey. Got the money?"
"Have I? Oh, no; I'm goin' ter leave it right here," grinned Joey,
enjoying his own irony hugely.
Still chuckling, he arose and shuffled out, followed by the unsavory
Outside, and on the road to the village, Slim began to be obsessed by
"Some way, I don't jes' trust that Mortlake," he said. "You're sure that
bill is all right, Joey?"
"Sure? Well, you jes' bet I am. Here, look at it yourself. All right,
He drew out the bill and handed it to Slim for his inspection.
"And the best of it is," he chuckled, while Slim inspected the bill
carefully, "the best of it is, that I wasn't conformin' to the exact truth
when I told Mortlake that we'd spent all the other coin. I've got the best
part of it left."
"Good," grunted Slim, turning the twenty-dollar-bill over and examining
the reverse side, "that being the case--hullo!"
"What's up?" asked Joey.
For reply Slim handed the bill to Joey, pointing with a grimy first finger
at something on the reverse side.
It was an "O," scrawled in dull red ink.
"That would be an easy bill to identify," commented Palmer, uneasily,
"wonder if this can be a trap?"
"Well, keep your suspicions to yourself for a while," counseled Joey; "we
don't need to break it till we make sure."
WHAT HAPPENED TO ROY.
It was the next evening. Mortlake, sitting at his desk, looked up as a
quick step sounded outside. The factory was in darkness as the men had
gone home. Only a twilight dimness illuminated the little glass sanctum of
the inventor and constructor of the Mortlake Aeroplane.
"Come in," said Mortlake, as the next instant a sharp, decisive knock
Lieut. Bradbury, in a mufti suit of gray, stepped into the office.
"Ah, good evening, lieutenant," said Mortlake, rising clumsily to his feet
and offering a chair, "I was beginning to despair of you."
Bradbury, genuinely worried, lost no time in plunging into the object of
"That message you sent me--what does it mean?" he asked. "I can scarcely
"Nor could I, at first," said Mortlake, with assumed sorrow. "It cut me
pretty deep, I tell you, to think that a boy who was in negotiations with
his own government for a valuable implement of warfare, should deal with a
foreign government at the same time. In brief, this young traitor is
balancing the profits and will sell out to the highest bidder."
"That's strong language, Mortlake," said the young officer, drumming the
table with his fingers impatiently. Honorable and upright in all his
dealings, the young officer had no liking for the business in hand. Yet it
was his duty to see the thing through now, unpleasant as it promised to
"Strong language?" echoed Mortlake. "Yes, it is strong language, but not a
bit more emphatic than the case warrants. Did you know that for some days
past a German spy has been in Sandy Beach?"
"No. Certainly not."
"Well, there has been. He visited this plant with proposals to turn over
our aeronautic secrets to his government, but we refused to have anything
to do with his scheming."
"Yes, very good. Go on, please." The young officer felt that Mortlake was
approaching the climax of his story.
"One of our men," resumed Mortlake, in even tones, in which he cunningly
managed to mingle a note of regret, "one of our men took upon
himself--loyal fellow--to watch this spy. He reported to me some days ago
that the man was in negotiation with young Prescott."
"I know it sounds incredible, but we are dealing with facts. Well, more
than this, my zealous workman ascertained that young Prescott is to meet
this foreign agent at nine o'clock to-night on a lonely road, and is there
to hand over to him the complete plans and specifications of the Prescott
"It's unbelievable, horrible. And in the face of this, do you mean to say
that the boy would dare to keep up his apparent negotiations with the
"That's just the worst part of it, as I understand it," rejoined Mortlake.
"The negotiations with this foreigner would, of course, be presumed by
young Prescott to be secret. This being so, he would, if successful in the
tests, sell his ideas to the United States also, without mentioning the
fact that they had already been bought and paid for."
"Just what I said when I heard of it. I could not believe it, in fact. The
boy has always seemed to be all that was upright and honest. It just shows
how we can be mistaken in a person."
"I cannot credit it yet, Mortlake."
"It was to give you proof positive that I summoned you here. We will take
an automobile out to the spot where young Prescott is to meet the foreign
agent. Of course, our arrival will be so calculated as to give us time to
secrete ourselves before Prescott and the other meet. Are you willing to
let your estimate of young Prescott stand or fall by this meeting?"
"I am, yes," replied Lieut. Bradbury, breathing heavily. "The young
scoundrel, if he is caught red-handed, I will see if there is not some law
that will operate to take care of his case."
Mortlake could hardly conceal a smile. His plan to ruin Roy was working to
perfection. In his imagination he saw the Prescott aeroplane eliminated as
a naval possibility, and the field clear for the selection of the Mortlake
machine. Mentally he was already adding up the millions of profit that
would accrue to him.
Lieut. Bradbury left that meeting heavy of heart. Mortlake's story had
been so circumstantial, so full of detail, that it hardly left room for
doubt. And then, too, he had offered to produce positive proof, to allow
the officer to witness the actual transaction.
"Good heavens, isn't there any good in the world?" thought the officer, as
the hack in which he had driven out to the Mortlake plant drove him back
to the village. Mortlake had agreed to call for him at the little hotel at
eight o'clock. The hours till then seemed to have leaden feet to the
anxious young officer.
It was shortly before this that Roy, returning from an errand in town in
the Prescott automobile, was halted at the roadside by a figure which
stepped from the hedge-row, and, holding up a cautioning finger, uttered a
Roy, turning, saw a man, seemingly a workingman, from his overalls, at the
side of the machine.
"What is it? What do you want?" demanded Roy.
"I have a message for you," said the man, speaking in a slightly foreign
accent; "you are in great danger. Your enemies plot it."
"My enemies!" exclaimed Roy.
"Yes, your enemies at the Mortlake factory."
"Let's see," said Roy thoughtfully, "you're one of the workmen at the
Mortlake plant, aren't you?"
"I _was_ once," said the man, with a vindictive inflection, "but I am so
no longer. Mortlake discharged me."
"Discharged you, eh? Well, what's that got to do with me?"
Roy looked curiously at the man.
"Just this much. I know the meanness that Mortlake plans to do to you. You
have bad and wicked enemies at our place."
"Humph! I guess there may be some truth in that," said Roy with a rather
grim inflection. "Well, what do you want me to do about it?"
"Just this: I am an honest man. I do not want to see harm come to you or
to your sister." This was touching Roy in a tender spot.
"To my sister!" he exclaimed. "Do you mean to say that Mortlake is
scoundrel enough to plot against her, too?"
"In this way," explained the man, "he means to destroy your aeroplane,
leaving the field clear for his own type to be selected by the navy."
"The--the--the ruffian!" panted Roy, now thoroughly aroused. "Tell me more
"I cannot," rejoined the workman, "but my partner--he was discharged
too--he can tell you much, much more. Will you meet him? I can take you to
Roy thought a moment. The man seemed to be wholly honest and in earnest.
"How far from here is the place where your partner is?" he asked.
"Oh, not so very far. We soon get there in your fine machine. Will you
"Well, I--yes, I'll go. Come on, get in."
The man obeyed the invitation with alacrity. Under his directions, Roy
swung the car off upon a by-road after they had gone some few hundred
"Not long now," he said, as the vehicle bounced and jounced over the ruts
and stones of the little-used thoroughfare.
"This is a funny direction for your partner to live in," said Roy at
length. "There are not many dwellings out this way, nothing but a big
swamp, as I recollect it."
"My partner, he poor man," was the rejoinder. "He live with cousins out
The answer lulled Roy's rousing suspicions.
"It must be all right," he thought. "There can't be any trick in all this.
It's quite likely that Mortlake does want to play us a mean trick. I can't
forget the look he flashed at me the day we took Lieut. Bradbury away from
him in that meadow after we had made our first sea trip. Wow!"
Roy could not forbear smiling at the recollection.
They chugged along in silence for some little distance farther, and then
the man beside him laid a detaining hand on Roy's arm.
"Almost there now," he said. "Better slow up."
Roy did so. The brakes ground down with a jarring rasp.
At the same moment a dark figure stepped from behind a tree trunk. The man
beside Roy held up a hand.
"This is the young gentleman," he said.
Through the gloom the other figure now approached the automobile.
"Do you mind getting out?" it said. "We can talk better in the house."
"Where is the house? I don't see one," said Roy, his suspicions rousing a
"It's just behind that knoll. The path is just ahead," said the newcomer.
Roy got out. He was determined to see the adventure through now. If
Mortlake was plotting against him, he wanted to know it.
As he reached the ground, the newcomer extended his hand, as if offering
to shake Roy's palm.
Roy put out his hand, which was instantly grasped by the other.
"Your friend tells me that you have something interesting to tell me----"
began Roy. "I--here, what are you trying to do? Stop it!"
The other had seized his hand in a clutch of steel, and, before the
astonished boy could offer any resistance, had wrenched it over in such a
manner that, without exactly knowing what had occurred, Roy found himself
sprawling on his back.
The lad was helpless in this lonely place with two men who had now shown
themselves in their true and sinister character.
PLOT AND COUNTERPLOT.
The spot was fearfully lonely. Roy realized this to the full. Brave as the
lad was, he felt suddenly chilled and creepy. Besides, the utter mystery
that enveloped the affair was gruelling to the mind.
"Now be still," pleaded the late guide, as Roy, full of fight, jumped to
his feet and flung off the detaining hold which had been laid on him.
"Yep. We don't want to hurt you," chimed in another voice, the voice of
the powerful, stockily-built man who had thrown him, "be reasonable and
quiet now, and you'll come to no harm. If not----" he drew a pistol and
presented it at the boy's head.
The hint was rough but effectual. Roy saw that it would be mere folly to
"What's the meaning of this rough behavior?" he asked in a steady voice,
mentally resigning himself to the inevitable.
"You just come with us for a little while," said the gruff-voiced one.
"Don't worry; we ain't goin' ter harm you. You'll git loose agin after a
while. Don't worry about that."
This assurance, though mysterious, was more or less comforting. But Roy
resented the utter mystery of the affair.
"But what's it all for?" he protested. "Is Mortlake at the back of it;
"Now, you come along, young feller," said a gruff voice, "don't axe no
questions and you won't git told no lies, see?"
"Well, go ahead, since I'm in your power," he said. "But I warn you it
will go hard with you if ever I am able to set justice on your track."
"Hard words break no bones, guv'ner," came from the gruff-voiced man, who
was none other than Joey Eccles, disguised with a big beard. The man who
had escorted Roy into the trap was, in truth, a former workman at the
Mortlake factory, who had been discharged for incompetency. He had applied
at the plant to be taken on again, being well-nigh desperate with hunger,
and Mortlake had assigned him to the present task, for which, if the truth
be told, he had no great liking.
"Where do you want me to go?" was Roy's next question, as neither of his
captors had yet made a move.
"We'll show you fast enough, young guv'ner," said Joey through his beard.
"Come on, this way."
He caught hold of Roy's arm and began piloting him along a path, or rather
cow track, that ran across the meadow. It was now almost dark, and Roy,
after they had gone a few steps, was only able to make out the dark
outlines of what seemed to be a small hut on the edge of a dense woods
lying directly ahead of them.
"I suppose that's our destination," thought the boy. "Well, they have not
attempted any violence, and I guess if they had meant me any physical
harm they would have attacked me when they first trapped me. But what does
all this mean? That's the question."
Nothing more was said as the three, the captors and the prisoner, tramped
across the dewy grass. As they drew closer to the building Roy had
descried, he saw that it was a dilapidated looking affair. Shutters hung
crazily from a single hinge, broken window-panes looked disconsolately
out. In the roof was a yawning gap, from which a great owl flapped as they
drew closer. Evidently the place had not been occupied as a dwelling for
The door, however, was open, and, with the pistol still menacing him, Roy
was marched by his captors into the moldy, smelling place.
Handing his pistol to the other man, gruff-voice--otherwise Joey
Eccles--struck a match. Carefully screening it from the draughts which
swept through the rickety building, he led the way into a bare room in
which was a tumble-down table and two boxes to serve as seats. A pack of
greasy cards lay on the table-top, showing that Joey had been passing his
time at solitaire.
This fact showed Roy that the plot had been carefully concocted, and that
the trap was all ready to be sprung much earlier in the day. Only a brain
like Mortlake's, he reasoned, could have thought out such an intricate
plan. And yet, what could be Mortlake's object?
"Now, then," announced Joey, when he had lighted the tin kerosene lamp,
"I'll show you to your quarters, Master Prescott."
A chill ran through Roy at the words. What could be coming now? With his
pistol in his hand, Joey gently urged Roy into a rear room, his companion
following with the lamp. Once in the room, Joey stepped forward, and,
stooping down, raised a trap door in the centre of the floor. A rank,
musty smell rushed up as he opened it.
"Thar's your abode for the next three or four hours," he said with a grin
to Roy and pointing downward.
The boy shuddered.
"Not in there?" he said.
"Them's our orders," said Joey shortly. "There's a ladder there now. You
can climb down on that. Don't be scared. It's only a cellar, and
guaranteed snake-proof. When the time comes, we'll lower the ladder to you
again, an' git you out."
Roy looked desperately about him. Unarmed, he knew that he did not stand a
chance against his burly captives, but had it not been for the fact that
one of them had a pistol, he would have, even then, attempted to make a
break for liberty. But as it was--hopeless!
He nodded as Joey pointed downward into the dark, rank hole, and, with an
inward prayer, he slowly descended the ladder. The instant his feet
touched the ground, Joey, who had been holding the lamp above the
trapdoor, ordered his companion to pull up the ladder.
The next moment it was gone, and the trapdoor was slammed to with an
Roy was enveloped in pitchy darkness. Suddenly, through the gloom, he
heard a sound. It was the rasp of a padlock being inserted in the door
above him. Then came a sharp click, and the boy knew that hope of escape
from above had been cut off. If the men kept their promise, they would
release him in their own good time, and that was all he had to buoy him up
in that black pit.
But Roy, as those who have followed his and Peggy's adventures know, was
not the boy to weakly give way to despair before he had exhausted every
possible hope, and not even then.
But in the darkness he did bitterly reproach himself for falling into the
rascals' trap so blindly.
"Well, of all the prize idiots in the world," he broke forth under his
breath in the blackness, "commend me to you, Roy Prescott. If you'd
thought it over before you started--looked before you leaped--this would
never have happened. Anybody but a chump could have seen that, on the face
of it, the whole thing was a scheme to entice you away. Oh, you bonehead!
The boy felt better after this outbreak. He even smiled as he thought how
neatly he had walked into the spider's web. Then he shifted his position
and prepared to think. But, as he moved his foot struck something. A
wallet, it felt like; he reached down, and, by dint of feeling about,
managed to get his fingers on it.
The leather was still warm, and Roy realized that it must have been
dropped into the cellar from the bearded man's pocket when he leaned over
to see if Roy had reached the bottom of the ladder.
"Queer find," thought the boy. "I'll keep it. Maybe there's something in
it that may result in bringing those rascals to justice."
He thrust it into his pocket and thought no more of it. His mind was busy
on other things just then. If only he had a match! He felt in all his
pockets without result, and was about giving up in despair, when, in the
lining of his coat, he felt several lucifers. They had slipped through a
hole in his pocket.
"Gee whiz! How lucky that Aunt Sally forgot to mend that pocket," thought
the boy, eagerly thrusting his fingers through the aperture and drawing
out a dozen or more matches.
"These may stand me in good stead, now. But I don't want to waste them.
Guess I'll just light one to see what kind of a place I'm in, and then
trust to the sense of touch if I see any means of escape."
There was a scratch and a splutter, and the match flared bravely. Its
yellow rays illumined a cellar very much like any other cellar. It was
walled with stonework, well cemented, and there were two or three small
windows at the sides. But these, which at first filled Roy with a flush of
hope, proved, on examination, to have been bricked up, and solidly, too.
"Nothing doing there," he muttered, and turned his attention to the rear
of the underground place where there was a flight of steps leading up to a
horizontal door, which, evidently, opened on the outerworld. But this door
was secured on the under side by a rusty padlock of formidable dimensions.
Roy tried it. It was solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, as the advertisements
"Stuck!" he muttered disappointedly; and yet: "Hold on! What about that
pocket tool kit I had when I started out on the auto? Hooray! Those chaps
forgot to search me. Thought it was too much trouble, I guess. Now for a
sharp file! Good! here's one! Now, then, if the luck holds, I'll be free
in not much more than a long jiffy!"
These thoughts shot through Roy's brain, as he selected a file from his
fortunate find, and began working away at the hasp of the padlock. Above
him he could hear the low grumbling growl of the voices of his guardians.
But they came very faintly.
"Lucky thing they are in the front room," thought Roy, as he worked on,
"otherwise, they might hear this."
At last the file had cut far enough into the hasp for Roy's strong fingers
to be able to bend the metal apart. With a beating heart, he replaced the
little tool in its case and pulled the ring of the padlock out of the
hasp. Then he gave an upward shove, but very gently. For all he knew, the
door he was pushing upward might open in another room. But when it gaped,
an inch only, Roy saw the faint radiance of a clouded moon. A gust of
fresh, clean air blew in his face, as if welcoming him from his noisome
depths. An instant later, with throbbing pulses and flushed cheeks, Roy
stood out in the open. Above him light clouds raced across the moon,
alternately obscuring and revealing the luminary of the night.
But Roy didn't linger. He crept across the field, keeping close to a
tall, dark hedge-row till he reached the automobile. As he had guessed,
neither of his captors knew how to run it, and it stood just where he had
"Glory be!" thought the boy, climbing in, "I'm all right, now. I don't
know where this road goes to, and it's too narrow to turn round, but I'll
keep straight on and I'm bound to land somewhere."
He turned on the gasoline and set the spark. But the engine didn't move.
"Queer," thought Roy.
He got out and walked round to the front and then the rear of the car.
There was a strong smell of gasoline there. Stooping down, he found the
ground was saturated with the fuel. What had happened was plain enough.
The cunning rascals who had captured him had drained the tank of gasoline.
The auto was as helpless as if it had not had an engine in it at all.
"Well, this is a fine fix," thought Roy. "However, there's nothing for it
now, but to keep on. Those ruffians are cleverer than I gave them credit
Stealing softly toward the woods, the boy sped into their dark shadows.
Aided by the flickering light of the moon, he made good progress through
the gloomy depths. He did not dare to slacken his pace till he had
traveled at least half a mile. Then he let his footsteps lag.
"Not much chance of their discovering me now, even if they have awakened
to the fact that I have escaped," he said to himself, as he strode on.
Suddenly he emerged on a strip of road that somehow had a familiar look.
He was still looking about when a strange thing happened.
There came the sound of rapid footsteps approaching him, and the quick
breathing of an almost spent runner. Then came a sound as if somebody was
scuffling not far from him and suddenly a voice he knew well rang out:
"Prescott, you young scoundrel, I'll get you yet!"
The voice was that of Lieut. Bradbury.
"Well, how under the sun does Lieut. Bradbury know that I'm here?"
marvelled the amazed boy, stopping short.
At the same instant, from the direction in which the naval officer's shout
had come, a slender dark figure came racing toward him.
HOW THEY WORKED OUT.
Roy made a desperate clutch at the figure as it raced past, evidently
fleeing from an unseen peril. That that peril was Lieut. Bradbury, Roy did
not for an instant doubt, as he could hear the officer's shouts in his
undoubted voice close at hand.
The boy's hands grasped the unknown's collar, but at the same instant,
with an eel-like squirm, the figure dived and twisted. Suddenly it bent
down and scooped up a handful of sandy gravel and flung the stuff full in
Roy's face. Blinded, the boy staggered back and the other darted off like
The next instant two heavy hands fell on Roy's shoulders and he felt
himself twisted violently about. And then a voice--Lieut. Bradbury's
"Now then, you young rascal, I've got you. What does all this mean?"
"That's just what I'd like to know," exclaimed Roy indignantly, brushing
the gravel out of his smarting eyes, "I've been made prisoner and--."
The officer's astonished voice interrupted him.
"What! Do you mean to try to lie out of it? Didn't you just hand the plans
of the aeroplane over to that representative of a foreign government whom
Mr. Mortlake is now chasing?"
Roy looked at the other as if he thought he had gone suddenly mad, as well
"I don't understand you," he gasped. "What is all this--a joke? It's a
very poor one if it is."
"I'll give you a chance to explain," said the officer grimly, tightening
his hold on Roy's collar, "as things stand at present, I believe you to be
as black a young traitor as ever wore shoe leather."
The world swam before Roy's eyes. He sensed, for the first time, an
inkling of the diabolical web that had been spun about him.
But it is time that we retraced our footsteps a little and return to
events which occurred after the lieutenant had been picked up by
appointment in Sandy Beach. In the automobile which called for him were
seated Mr. Harding, whom he already knew slightly from meeting him at the
aeroplane plant, and Mortlake himself.
"This is a very unfortunate business, hey?" croaked old Harding, as they
spun along the road to the place where Mortlake, who was driving, declared
Roy had made an appointment to meet the foreign spy.
"It is worse than that, sir. It is deplorable," the officer had said. And
he meant it, too. He had hardly been able to eat his dinner for thinking
over the extraordinary situation.
But the auto sped rapidly on. Now it had passed the last scattering houses
outside the village, and was racing along a lonely country road. Finally,
it turned off, and entered a branch thoroughfare which led from the main
All this time but little had been said. Each occupant of the machine was
busied with his own thoughts, and in the lieutenant's case, at any rate,
they were not of the pleasantest.
The road into which they turned was little more than a track, with a high,
grass-grown ridge in the centre. It was a lonesome spot, and certainly
seemed retired enough to suit any plotters who might wish to transact
their business unobserved.
"Bother such sneaky bits of work," thought the young officer to himself,
as they rushed onward through the darkness. "I feel like a cheap
detective, or somebody equally low and degraded. It's unmanly, and--oh,
well! it's in the line of duty, I suppose, or hanged if I would have
anything to do with it. Mortlake showed up as more of a gentleman in the
matter than I'd have given him credit for. He seems to be genuinely cut
up over the whole nasty mess. Well he may be, too."
As described in another chapter, the sky was overcast with hurrying
clouds, which, from time to time, allowed a flood of moonlight to filter
through. By one of these temporary periods of light, Lieut. Bradbury was
able to perceive that they were in a sort of lane with high hedges on each
Suddenly Mortlake ran the auto through a gap in the hedge at one side of
the road, and drove it in among a clump of alders, where there was no
danger of it being seen.
"This is the place," said he, as they came to a standstill.
"And a nice, lonely sort of place, too, hey?" chirped old Harding; "just
the place for a traitor to his country to----"
"Hush!" said the young officer seriously. "Let us wait and see if young
Prescott completes the case against himself before we condemn him, Mr.
"Humph!" grunted the old money-bags. "In my opinion, he is condemned
already. Never did like that boy, something sneaky about him. Hey, hey,
The officer's heart was too sick within him to answer. He drew out his
watch and looked at it in a fleeting glimpse of moonshine. It was almost
the time that Mortlake had declared had been agreed upon for the
consummation of the plot.
"At all events, I shall know within a few minutes if this story is to be
credited or condemned," thought Lieut. Bradbury.
Old Harding and Mortlake, the latter leading and beckoning to Lieut.
Bradbury, slipped cautiously through the alders, and took up a position in
the clump at the edge of the road behind a big bowlder, where they could
command a good view of the thoroughfare without being seen themselves. The
officer, with a keener sense than ever of doing something dishonorable,
"Hark!" exclaimed Mortlake presently.
But, although they all strained their ears, they could hear no sound
except the cracking of a tree limb, as it rubbed against another branch in
the night wind.
"You are sure this was the place?" asked the officer.
"So my man told me," rejoined Mortlake. "You know, I relied absolutely on
his word for this thing, all the way through. I, myself, know nothing of
He emphasized these last words, as if he wished them to stick in his
Suddenly, however, a new sound struck into the silence.
It was a heavy footstep, gradually drawing closer. Round the dark corner
of the road came a tall form in a long coat and with a slouch hat pulled
down well over its eyes.
Lieutenant Bradbury could have groaned. Mortlake nudged him triumphantly.
"Well," he said, "I guess part of it's true, anyhow."
"I'm afraid so," breathed the officer.
"I thought so. Hey, hey, I thought so," chuckled old Harding rustily.
The tall figure came on until it was almost opposite the bushes where the
three hidden onlookers were concealed. It looked about in some impatience,
tapping one of its feet querulously. Then it fell to pacing up and down.
"Evidently the boy is late," thought the lieutenant. And then a glad guess
shot through his mind. "Perhaps the boy has thought better of it."
But even as he felt a great sense of relief at this supposition, there
came a low whistle from farther down the road. It was answered by the
figure opposite the hidden party, which instantly stopped its pacing to
"By the great north star, it's true!" gasped the officer, as, from round
the bend in the road below where they were stationed, a slight, boyish
figure, walking rapidly, came into view. It hesitated an instant, and
then, perceiving the tall man, it came on again.
"Have you got der plans?"
The question came in a thick, guttural, foreign tone, from the tall
The boy, who had just appeared, showed every trace of agitation.
"He's struggling with his better nature," thought Lieut. Bradbury. "I'll
He was starting forward with this intention, when Mortlake, prepared for
some such move, dragged him back.
"Don't interfere," he whispered, "if the lad is a traitor, as well know it
now as at some future time."
Lieut. Bradbury could not but feel that this was true. He sank back once
more, watching intently, breathlessly, every move of the drama going on
under his eyes.
With a quick gesture, the boy seemed to cast aside his doubts. He muttered
something in a low voice, and, as a ray of moonlight filtered through a
cloud, Lieut. Bradbury distinctly saw him pass something to the tall man.
"Goot. You haf done vell. Here is der money," said the man, in a low, but
distinct tone, that carried plainly to the listeners' ears.
He held out an envelope, which the boy took, with a muttered words of
Lieut. Bradbury could control himself no longer. Flinging Mortlake aside,
as if he had been a child, he flashed out of his place of concealment, mad
rage boiling over in his veins.
What he had just seen had swept every doubt aside. His whole being was
bent on getting hold of the young traitor and trouncing him within an inch
of his life. He felt he would be fulfilling a sacred duty in doing so.
But, as he sprang forward, as if impelled by an uncoiled steel spring, the
two conspirators caught the alarm. While the officer was still rushing
through the bushes, they dashed off, one in one direction, one in the
"He's ruined everything," groaned Mortlake.
"No, no; you can save the day yet if you act quickly," cried old man
Harding in the same low, intense voice, "shout out that you are after the
"Right!" cried Mortlake, clutching at a straw.
He, too, dashed out of concealment, and took off after the tall man,
"You chase the boy, Bradbury. I'll get the spy. Stop you villain! Stop!"
It was at that moment that Roy, just emerging from the woods, heard Lieut.
Bradbury's angry challenge:
"Prescott, you young scoundrel, I'll get you yet!"
WHAT MORTLAKE DID.
"Look here," cried Roy, indignantly wiggling in the officer's strong
grasp, "can't you see that this is all a mistake? If you hadn't grabbed
me, I could have caught that impostor."
A great light seemed to break on Lieut. Bradbury.
"Why, bless my soul," he exclaimed, "that's so. I can see it all, now.
That chap who got away wore a gray suit, while yours is a blue serge,
"It was, before I was thrown into that cellar," said Roy ruefully.
The moon was shining brightly now, and he saw that, in the semi-darkness,
it would have been easy to mistake his blue serge, dust-covered as it was,
for one of gray material.
"Tell me exactly what has happened," urged the officer. "I must confess I
am in a mental whirl over to-night's happenings."
Roy rapidly sketched the events leading up to his capture and
imprisonment, not forgetting to lay the blame on himself for being so
gullible as to be led into such a pitfall.
"Not a word more of self-blame, my boy," cried the young officer warmly.
"Older persons than you would have stumbled into such an artfully prepared
snare, baited as it was with the hope of catching Mortlake in a plot to
destroy your aeroplane. But now I'm going to tell you my experiences, and
we can see if they dovetail at any point."
But when Lieut. Bradbury concluded his narrative, they were still at sea
as to the main instigator of the plot. Of course, the finger of suspicion
pointed pretty plainly to Mortlake, but the rascal had covered his tracks
so cleverly that neither Roy nor the young officer felt prepared to
actually accuse him.
"But I can't see how an ordinary workman would have had either the brains
or the motive to direct such an ingenious scheme to discredit me in your
eyes," concluded Roy, as they finished discussing this phase of the
"Nor I. But hark! Somebody's shouting. It must be Mortlake. Yes, it is.
"Hullo--a!" came back out of the night.
"Come, we will retrace our steps to the auto and meet him there," said the
"I wonder if he'll have the face to brazen it out?" thought Roy, by which
it will be seen that his mind was pretty well made up as to the "power
behind" the night's work.
"Couldn't come near the fellow," puffed Mortlake, as they came up. "He ran
like a deer. But--great Christmas--you've had better luck, I see!"
For an instant, even in the semi-darkness, Roy saw the other's face grow
white as ashes.
"He thinks that Lieut. Bradbury has caught my impersonator," was the
thought that flashed through the boy's mind.
But the same sudden radiance that had betrayed Mortlake's agitation also
showed him that it was the real Roy Prescott he was facing. Instantly he
assumed a mask of the greatest apparent astonishment.
"Roy Prescott, I am really amazed that you should be implicated in such
"Save your breath, Mr. Mortlake," snapped out the lieutenant, and his
words came sharp as the crack of a whip; "this is the real Roy Prescott,
and he has been the victim of as foul a plot to blacken an honest lad's
name as ever came to my knowledge. The young ruffian who impersonated him
to-night has escaped."
"Escaped!" exclaimed Mortlake, but to Roy's quick ears, despite the
other's attempt to disguise his relief, it stood out boldly.
"Yes, escaped. Partly owing, I confess, to my overzealousness. There has
been foul play here somewhere, Mr. Mortlake."
The officer's voice was stern. His eye flashed ominously. Just then old
Mr. Harding came puffing up.
"Oh, so you got the boy, hey?" he cackled, but Mortlake shut him off with
a quick word.
"No. This is the real Roy Prescott. It seems that a trick has been put up
on us all. The lad we mistook for Roy Prescott was some one impersonating
him. This lad has been the victim of a vile plot. While we were watching
here for his supposed appearance and the revelation of his treachery, some
rascals had locked him in a cellar."
The lieutenant's words were hot and angry. He felt that he was facing two
clever rascals, whose cunning was too much for his straightforward
"You--you amaze me!" exclaimed old Mr. Harding, looking in the moonlight
like some hideous old ghoul. "What game of cross-purposes and crooked
answers is this?"
"That remains to be seen. I shall see to it that an investigation is made
and the guilty parties punished."
Was it fancy, or did Roy, for a second, see Mortlake quail and whiten?
But if the boy had seen such a thing, the next instant Mortlake was master
"It seems to me to have been a plot put up by my workmen," he said. "If I
find it to be so, I shall discharge every one of them. Poor fellows, in
their mistaken loyalty to me, perhaps they thought that they were doing me
a good turn by trying to discredit my young friend--I am proud to call him
so--my young friend, Prescott."
For the first time, Roy was moved to speak.
"I hardly think that your workmen were responsible, Mr. Mortlake," he said
slowly and distinctly.
"You do not? Who, then?"
"I don't know, yet, but I shall, you can depend upon that."
"Really? How very clever we are. Smart as a steel trap, hey?" grated
out old Harding, rubbing his hands. "Smart as a steel trap, with teeth
that bite and hold, hey, hey, hey?"
"Instead of wasting time here, I propose that we at once go to the house
in which Roy was confined, and see if we can catch the rascals implicated
in this," said Lieut. Bradbury. "Can you guide us, my boy?"
"I think so, sir. It's not more than half an hour's tramp from here," said
Roy. "Let's be off at once, otherwise they may escape us."
"Ridiculous, in my opinion," said Mortlake decisively. "Depend upon it,
those ruffians have found out by now how cleverly the boy escaped them,
and have decamped. We had much better get back to town and notify the
"I beg your pardon, but I differ from your opinion," said the naval
officer, looking at the other sharply. "Of course, if you don't want to
"Oh, it isn't that," Mortlake hastened to say. "I'm willing, but Mr.
Harding. He is old, and the night air----"
"Mr. Harding can remain with the automobile. There are plenty of wraps in
it. Come, Roy. Are you coming, Mr. Mortlake?"
"Yes, oh, yes. Mr. Harding, you will make yourself comfortable till we
Having said this, Mortlake came lumbering after the other two, as eagerly
as if his whole soul was bent on capturing the two men who had been
carrying out his orders.
"I've got a revolver ready for them," he volunteered, as the party plunged
through the woods along the little track Roy had followed.
"Take care it doesn't go off prematurely and alarm them," said the
officer. "We don't want to let them slip through our fingers."
"Of course not; I'll be very careful," promised Mortlake.
They trudged on in silence. Suddenly Roy halted.
"We're near to the place now," he said.
"Advance cautiously in single file," ordered the lieutenant. "I'll go
In Indian file, they crept up on the house. Its outlines could now be
seen, and in one window a ruddy glow from the lamp the two abductors of
Roy had kindled. Evidently they had not yet discovered his escape.
All at once Mortlake, who was last, stumbled on a root and fell forward;
as he did so, his revolver was discharged twice. The shots rang out loudly
in the still night.
Instantly the light was extinguished. The next instant two dark figures
could be seen racing from the house. Before Lieut. Bradbury could call on
them to halt, they vanished in the darkness and a patch of woods to the
"What a misfortune!" exclaimed Mortlake contritely, picking himself up.
Lieutenant Bradbury could hardly restrain his anger.
"How on earth did you happen to do that, Mortlake?" he snapped. "Those two
shots alarmed those rascals, and now they're gone for good. It's most
"I appreciate your chagrin, my dear Bradbury," rejoined Mortlake suavely,
"but accidents will happen, you know."
"Yes, and sometimes they happen most opportunely," was the sharp reply.
Mortlake said nothing. In silence they approached the house, but nothing
save the pack of greasy cards, was found there to indicate the identity of
its late occupants.
There was nothing to do but to return to the automobile. They found old
Mr. Harding awaiting them eagerly. He showed no emotion on learning that
Roy's captors had escaped just as their capture seemed certain.
On the drive back to Sandy Beach, the old banker and Mortlake occupied the
front seat, while Roy and Lieut. Bradbury sat in the tonneau. As they
skimmed along, Roy drew something from his pocket and showed it to the
officer. It was an object that glistened in the wavering moonlight.
"It's a woman's hair comb!" cried the officer in amazement, as he regarded
"Hush, not so loud," warned Roy. "I picked it up where I had the struggle
with the other Roy Prescott. It may prove a valuable clue."
Some days after the strange and exciting events just recorded, Peggy burst
like a whirlwind into the little room,--half work-shop, half study,--in
which Roy was hard at work developing a problem in equilibrium. It was but
a short time now to the day on which they were to report to the navy Board
of Aviation at Hampton Roads, and submit their aerial craft to exhaustive
tests. Both brother and sister had occupied their time in working like
literal Trojans over the _Golden Butterfly_. But although every nut, bolt
and tiniest fairy-like turn-buckle on the craft was in perfect order, Roy
was still devoting the last moments to developing the balancing device to
which he mainly pinned his hopes of besting the other craft.
From the newspapers they had been made aware that several types,
bi-planes, monoplanes and freak designs were to compete, and Roy was not
the boy to let lack of preparation stand in the way of success. Detectives
and the local police had been set to work on the mysterious plot whose
object had been to entrap the boy. But no result had come of their work.
Incidentally, it had been found, when the auto which Roy had driven to the
deserted house was towed back for repairs, that the tank had been
punctured by some sharp instrument.
As for the clue of the brilliant-studded comb, Peggy on examining it,
declared it to be one of a pair of side-combs, which only complicated the
mystery. Roy had thought of surrendering this clue to the police, but on
thinking it over he decided not to. He had an idea in regard to that comb
himself, and so had Peggy, but it seemed too wild and preposterous a
theory to submit to the intensely practical police of Sandy Beach.
Roy looked up from the paper-littered desk as Peggy flung breathlessly
into his sanctum. He knew that only unusual news would have led her to
interrupt his work in which she was as keenly interested as he was.
"What is it, Sis?" he asked, "you look as excited as if the Statue of
Liberty had paid us a visit and was now doing a song and dance on the
"Oh, Roy, do be serious. Listen--who do you suppose has come back to Sandy
"Not the least idea. Who?"
"Fan Harding! The dickens!"
"Isn't it, and more than that, he is down at the Mortlake plant now. He is
going to take up the _Cobweb_. And who do you think is to be his
"Give it up."
"Phew!" whistled the boy, "a new conquest for the irresistible Fanning,
"Don't be stupid," reproved Peggy, severely, "I've been thinking it over
and I've just hit on the solution. Fanning, or so I heard, took up
aviation when he was in the west. You know he always had a hankering for
"Yes, I recollect his fake aeroplane that scared the life out of you,"
"Well," pursued Peggy, not deigning to notice this remark, "I guess they
decided that Mr. Mortlake would be a bit er--er--overweight isn't it
called? so they sent for old Mr. Harding's son to manage the _Cobweb_ at
"Jove, that must be it. Makes it rather awkward, though. Somehow I don't
much fancy Master Fanning."
"As if we hadn't good reason to despise him. Hark! there goes the _Cobweb_
A droning buzz was borne to their ears. Running to the window they saw the
Mortlake aeroplane whiz by at a fair height. It was going fast and a male
figure, tall and slight, was at the wheel. In the stern seat Regina
Mortlake's rubicund aviation costume could be made out.
[Illustration: Running to the window they saw the Mortlake aeroplane whiz
by at a fair height.]
"Fanning has certainly turned out to be a good driver of aeroplanes,"
commented Roy, as he watched; "see that flaw strike them! There! he
brought the _Cobweb_ through it like an old general of the upper regions."
Peggy had to admit that Fanning Harding did seem to be an expert at his
work; but she did it regretfully.
"He gives me the creeps," she volunteered.
"There's nothing creepy about his aeroplane work, though," laughed Roy, "I
shouldn't have believed he could have picked up so much in such a short
But a bigger surprise lay in store for the young Prescotts. That afternoon
they had, as visitors, no one less than Fanning Harding and Regina
Mortlake. While Peggy and the daughter of the designer of the Mortlake
aeroplane chatted in one corner, Fanning placed his arm on Roy's shoulder
and drew him out upon the veranda where Miss Prescott sat with her
"I know you don't like me, Roy, and you never did," he said
insinuatingly, "but I've changed a lot since I was in Sandy Beach before.
Let's let bygones be bygones and be friends again. More especially as in a
few days we'll be pitted against each other at the naval tests."
"Of course, if you are genuinely sorry for all the harm you tried to do
us, I've nothing more to say," said Roy, "I'm willing to be friends, but
although I may forgive, it's going to be hard to forget."
"Oh, that will come in time," said Fanning, airily, "I'm a changed fellow
since I went west."
But in spite of Fanning's protestations Roy could not help feeling a
sensation of mistrust and suspicion toward the youth. There was something
unnatural even in this sudden move toward friendship.
"It's ungenerous, ungentlemanly," Roy protested to himself; but somehow
the feeling persisted that Fanning was not to be trusted.
"How prettily you do your hair," Peggy was remarking to Regina Mortlake in
She looked with genuine admiration at the glossy black waves which the
other had drawn back over her ears in the French style.
"Oh, do you like it?" asked Regina eagerly, "I think its hideous. But you
know I lost one of my combs and--but let's go and see what the boys are
doing," she broke off suddenly, turning crimson and hastening to the
porch. Once outside she plunged at once into conversation with the two
boys, and Peggy had no opportunity of picking up the dropped stitches of
conversation. She caught herself puzzling over it. Why had Regina been so
mortified, and apparently alarmed, when she had announced the loss of one
of her side-combs? Right there a strange thought came into Peggy's mind.
The brilliant-studded comb that Roy had picked up! Could it be that--but
no, the idea was too fantastic. In the pages of a book, perhaps, but not
in real life. And yet--and yet--Peggy, as she watched the graceful,
dark-eyed girl talking with splendid animation, found herself
The next day, just as Peggy and Roy were starting out for a run to the
Bancroft place, Fanning Harding and Regina Mortlake came whizzing up to
the gate in the latter's big touring car--the one in which she had arrived
in Sandy Beach. The machine was the gift of her father. It was a
commodious, maroon-colored car, with a roomy tonneau and fore-doors and
torpedo body of the latest type.
Beside it the Blue Bird looked somewhat small and insignificant. But Roy
and Peggy felt no embarrassment. On the contrary, they were quite certain
the Blue Bird was the better car.
"Where are you off to?" asked Fanning in friendly tones, while Regina
bowed and smiled very sweetly to Peggy.
"Going to take a spin in the direction of the Bancroft's," said Roy,
starting his car.
"What fun," cried Regina Mortlake, "so are we. Let's race."
"I don't believe in racing," rejoined Peggy.
"No, of course it is dangerous," said Fanning, "I guess Roy is a bit timid
with that old car, too. Besides it's all in the way you handle a machine;"
Roy flushed angrily.
"I guess this 'old car,' as you call it, could give yours a tussle if it
comes down to it," he said sharply.
Peggy tugged his sleeve. She saw where this would lead too. She saw, too,
that Fanning was anxious to provoke Roy into a race. Presumably he was
anxious to humiliate the boy in Regina Mortlake's eyes.
"Well, do you want to race then?" asked Regina, provokingly, her fine eyes
flashing, "there's a bit of road beyond here that's quite broad and one
hardly ever meets anything."
Now Roy was averse, as are most boys, to being thought a "'fraid cat," and
the almost openly taunting air with which the girl looked at him angered
him almost to desperation.
"Very well," he said, "we'll race you when we get to that bit of road."
"Oh, Roy, what are you saying," pleaded Peggy, "it's all a trick to
humiliate us. The Blue Bird can't possibly keep up with their car,
and----." But Roy checked her impatiently.
"You don't think I'm going to allow Fanning Harding to scare me out of
anything, do you?" he demanded in as near to a rough tone of voice as he
had ever used to his sister.
Poor Peggy felt the stinging tears rise. But she said nothing. The next
moment the cars began to glide off, running side by side on the broad
country road. Faster and faster they went. The speed got into Roy's head.
He began to let the Blue Bird out, and then Fanning Harding, for the first
time seemingly, realized what a formidable opponent he was placed in
As they reached the bit of road previously agreed upon as a race course,
the banker's son stopped his machine and hailed Roy to do the same.
"Tell you what we'll do to make this interesting," he said, "we'll change
machines. Or are you afraid to drive mine?"
"I'll drive it," said Roy recklessly, in spite of Peggy's quavered: "Say
"Good. That will give us a fine opportunity to compare the two machines,"
cried Fanning Harding.
He jumped from the bigger car and handed out his companion. Then, for the
fraction of a minute, he bent, monkey wrench in hand, above one of the
"A bolt had worked loose," he explained.
"Come on Peggy," urged Roy, and against her better judgment Peggy, as many
another girl has done before her, obeyed the summons, although an
intuition warned her that something was not just right.
"Ready?" cried Fanning from the Blue Bird.
"All ready"; hailed back Roy, who found the spark and throttle adjustments
of the maroon car perfectly simple.
"Then--go!" almost screamed Regina Mortlake. Peggy was looking at her at
the moment, and she was almost certain she saw a look of hatred flash
across the girl's countenance. But before she could give the matter any
more thought the maroon car shot forward. Close alongside came the Blue
Motor hood to motor hood they thundered along at a terrific pace. The road
shot by on either side like a brown and green blur.
"Faster!" Peggy heard Fanning shout somewhere out of the dust cloud.
Whi-z-z-z-z-z-z! It was wild, exciting--dangerous!
"Roy," gasped Peggy, "if----"
But she got no further. There was a sudden soul-shaking shock. The front
of the car seemed to plough into the ground. A rending, splitting noise
filled the air.
The car stopped short, and its boy and girl occupants were hurtled, like
projectiles, into the storm center of disaster.
JIMSY'S SUSPICIONS ARE ROUSED.
Peggy, after a moment in which the entire world seemed spinning about her
crazily, sat up. She had landed in a ditch, and partially against a clump
of springy bushes, which had broken the force of her fall. In fact, she
presently realized, that by one of those miraculous happenings that no one
can explain, she was unhurt.
The automobile, its hood crushed in like so much paper, had skidded into
the same ditch in which Peggy lay, and bumped into a small tree which it
had snapped clean off. But the obstacle had stopped it.
One wheel lay in the roadway. Evidently it had come off while the machine
was at top speed, and caused the crash. But Peggy noted all these things
automatically. She was looking about her for Roy.
From a clump of bushes close by there came a low groan of pain. The girl
sprang erect instantly, forgetting her own bruises and shaken nerves in
this sign that her brother was in pain. In the meantime, Fanning and
Regina Mortlake had stopped and turned the Blue Bird. They came back to
the scene of the wreck with every expression of concern on their faces.
Roy lay white and still in the midst of the brush into which he had been
hurled. There was a great cut across his forehead, and in reply to Peggy's
anxious inquiries, the lad, who was conscious, said that he thought that
his ankle had been broken. Peggy touched the ankle he indicated, and light
as her fingers fell upon it, the boy uttered an anguished moan.
"Oh, gee, Peg!" he cried bravely, screwing up his face in his endeavor not
to make an outcry, "that hurts like blazes."
"Poor boy," breathed Peggy tenderly, "I'm so sorry."
"I'm so glad you're not hurt, Sis," said the boy, "I don't matter much. I
wish you could stop this bleeding above my eye, though."
Peggy ripped off a flounce of her petticoat and formed it into a bandage.
"Can I help. I'm so sorry."
The voice was Fanning Harding's. He stood behind her with Regina at his
"Oh, how dreadful." exclaimed the dark-eyed girl, with a shudder, "my--my
"And my poor brother," snapped out Peggy, indignantly, "if it hadn't been
for your stupid idea of racing this wouldn't have happened. I just knew
we'd have an accident."
"It's too bad," repeated Fanning, "but can't I do something?"
"Yes, get me some water. There's a brook a little way down this road.
You'll find a tin cup under the rear seat in our machine."
Fanning, perhaps glad to escape Peggy's righteous anger, hastened off on
the errand. Regina flounced down on a stone by the roadside and moaned.
"Oh, this is fearful. Why can't we get a doctor? Oh, my poor car. It will
never be the same again."
"Nonsense," said Peggy, sharply, "it can easily be repaired. But you don't
think I'm worrying about your car now, do you?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," quavered Regina, "I know it's all terrible. Is
your brother badly hurt?"
"No. Fortunately he only has this cut in his head and a broken ankle. It
might have been far worse."
Regina wandered away. Somehow she felt that Peggy had taken a sudden
dislike to her. She sauntered toward the car. Suddenly she stopped and her
large eyes grew larger. In the middle of the road, just as they had been
hurled from Roy's pocket, lay a side-comb studded with brilliants and an
old battered wallet.
"Oh!" cried the girl, with an exclamation that was half a sob, "oh, what
good fortune. So he was keeping that as evidence against me, eh? Well,
perhaps this accident was providential, after all."
She picked up the comb and then turned her attention to the wallet. Giving
a quick glance around to see that she was unobserved the girl plunged her
white fingers into the pocket case. They encountered something crisp and
crackly. She drew the object out.
"A twenty-dollar bill!" she exclaimed wonderingly, "and nothing else. I
wonder if this can have anything to do with----."
She was turning it over curiously as she spoke. Suddenly a red spot flamed
up in her either cheek.
"It's marked with a red round O," she exclaimed, "what a bit of evidence.
So Master Roy Prescott, you were planning to unmask me by that side-comb,
were you? Well, I shall play the same trick on you with this bill."
Fanning Harding was coming back at that moment with the cup full of water.
The girl checked him with an excited gesture.
"Fortune has played into our hands," she cried, "look here!"
"Well, what is it?" asked Fanning, rather testily.
"This bill. Don't you see it's one of the stolen ones. Look at the red
circle upon the back."
"Jove! So it is. But, what, how----"
"Hush! Don't talk so loud. This wallet, which contained it, was jolted out
of Roy Prescott's pocket when he was hurled from the machine. The wallet
and--and something else. But don't you see what power that gives us?"
"No. I confess I'm stupid, but----"
"Oh, how dense you boys are," exclaimed Regina, with an impatient stamp of
the foot, "don't you see that this bill will come pretty close to proving
Roy Prescott a thief, if we want to use it that way? You are a witness
that I found it in his wallet which had been jerked out of his pocket.
Isn't that enough?"
"Well, men have been sent to prison on less evidence," said Fanning, with
a shrug; "but I've got to hurry up with this water or they'll suspect
something. I'll talk more with you about this later on. Your father and
mine need every bit of fighting material they can get hold of, if we are
to win the big prize for the Mortlake aeroplane."
A shadow fell athwart the road as Fanning, an evil smile on his flabby,
pale face, hastened down into the depression in which Roy, with Peggy
bending above him, still lay. The girl looked swiftly up. A big, red
aeroplane was hovering on high. Presently one of its occupants, a girl
peered over the edge. The next minute she turned and said something in an
excited tone to her companion. The aeroplane began to drop rapidly. In a
few seconds it came to earth in the roadway, not a stone's throw from the
wrecked auto and its uninjured Blue Bird comrade.
The new arrivals were Jimsy and Jess. They had set out on a sky cruise to
the Prescott home, and Jess's bright eyes had espied the confusion in the
road beneath them as they flew over. The swift descent had been the
Hardly noticing Regina, who regarded them curiously, the young sky sailors
hastened toward the spot in which, from on high, they had seen the injured
boy lying. A warm wave of gratitude swept over Peggy as she looked up at
the sound of footsteps and saw who the newcomers were. In an emergency
like the present one she could not wish for two better helpers than the
Jess and Jimsy had been off on a visit and so had not been made aware of
the fact that Fanning had returned to Sandy Beach. Their astonishment on
seeing him may be imagined. Jess regarded him with a tinge of disdain, but
the frank and open Jimsy grasped the outstretched hand which the son of
the Sandy Beach banker extended to him. Evidently Fanning's policy was one
of conciliation and he meant to press it to the uttermost.
"Well, this is a nice fix, isn't it?" murmured Roy, smiling pluckily, as
the Bancrofts came toward him with pitying looks, "but where in the world
did you come from?"
"From yonder sky," grinned Jimsy, trying, not very successfully, to assume
an inanely cheerful tone, "not badly hurt, old man, are you?"
"No. Just this wallop over my eye and a twisted ankle. Thought it was
broken at first, but I guess it isn't."
"How did it all happen?"
Peggy explained. Jimsy whistled.
"What make of machine is your car, Fanning?" he asked.
"A Dashaway," was the rejoinder.
"The same type as ours," exclaimed young Bancroft. "They are the best and
stanchest cars on the market. I can't understand how such an accident
could have happened, unless----," he paused and then went on resolutely,
"unless the car had been tampered with."
"What an idea!" shrilled Regina, who had now joined the group, "you don't
surely mean to insinuate? Why the damage done to my poor machine will
cost a lot to repair, and----."
"Don't mind if I have a look at it, do you?" asked Jimsy in his most
careless manner, "I'm interested, you know. A motor bug is what dad calls
"Well I----," began Fanning.
But Regina interrupted him with strange eagerness.
"Oh, by no means. Look at it all you wish. I only hope you can find some
explanation for this regrettable accident."
"I hope so, too," said Jimsy gravely, "but in the meantime let's make Roy
comfortable in the Blue Bird. Then, if we can fix your car up, Miss----."
"Oh, I beg your pardon," struck in Peggy, "Jimsy, this is Miss Mortlake,
Fanning you know. Miss Mortlake these are our particular chums, Jess and
"Indeed. I have heard a great deal about you," vouchsafed Regina, as Jimsy
and Fanning lifted Roy and carried him to the Blue Bird and made him
comfortable on the cushions.
"I'll attend to the other car," volunteered Fanning, readily. But Jimsy
was not to be put off in this way.
"I'd like to have a look at it before we try to put the wheel back," he
said; "it may be a useful bit of experience."
"All right," assented Fanning, rather sullenly, "if you insist; but I
think we ought to hurry back at once."
"By all means," quoth the bland Jimsy, "but--hullo, what's this!" He was
stooping over the wheels now. "This wheel has been tampered with. The
holding cap must have been partially unscrewed. Look here!"
He held up the brass cap which was supposed to keep the wheel on its axle.
"Some of the threads have been filed out of this," he said positively.
"Let's have a look," said Fanning eagerly. He leaned over and scrutinized
the part which Jimsy was examining.
"Those threads haven't been filed," he said, "they've worn. Very careless
not to have noticed that. It's surprising that it held on so long."
"It might have held for a year if the car was run at average speed," said
Jimsy slowly, "but the minute it was raced beyond its normal rate the weak
part would have gone."
"What do you mean to imply?" blustered Fanning, though his face was pale
and his breath came quickly.
"I don't imply anything," said Jimsy slowly, "but I'd like to know who
filed this cap down."
"Pshaw! You are dreaming," scoffed Fanning.
A dull flush overspread Jimsy's ordinarily placid face.
"After a while I'll wake up, maybe," he said, "and then----." He stopped.
"Well, let's see about getting Roy home," he said, "Peggy, you can drive
the Blue Bird and Fanning and Miss Mortlake can sit in the other machine
as soon as we get the wheel back. Then Jess and I will go ahead in the
_Red Dragon Fly_ and break the news to Miss Prescott."
Shortly thereafter the two autos moved slowly off, while the aeroplane
raced above them, going at a far faster speed.
Regina turned to Fanning.
"Do you think that odious boy suspects anything?" she asked.
"I guess he does. But he can't prove a thing, so that's all the good it
will do him," scoffed Fanning, "and besides, if they get too gay we've got
a marked bill that will make it very unpleasant for a certain young
A BOLT PROM THE BLUE.
The broken ankle which both Peggy and Roy had dreaded, turned out to be
only a sprain--affecting the same unlucky ankle that had been injured on
the desert. This was a big relief, as a broken joint would have kept Roy
effectually out of the aeroplane tests, as part of the machinery of the
_Golden Butterfly_ was controlled by foot pressure.
A council of war was in progress on the porch of the Prescott home. The
participants were the inseparable four. Peggy and Roy, the latter with his
injured foot on a stool, and Jess and Jimsy. They had been discussing the
case against Mortlake and Fanning Harding. All agreed that things looked
as black against them as could be, but--where was the proof? There was not
an iota of evidence against them that would hold water an instant before
"It's positively depressing," sighed Jess, "to know that people have done
mean things and not be able to get an atom of proof against them."
"Never mind," said Peggy, "all's well that ends well. We start for Hampton
to-morrow and once there they won't have a chance to try any more tricks.
Luckily all their mean plans and schemes have ended in nothing. Roy will
be as good as ever by to-morrow, won't you boy?"
"I've got to be," he said, decisively; "those tests have got to bring the
_Golden Butterfly_ out on top."
"And they will, too," declared Jess, with a nod of her dark head, "that
poky old Harding and his crowd won't have a word to say when they are
"Let's hope not. It doesn't do to be too confident, you know," smiled
Peggy, throwing an arm round the waist of her enthusiastic friend.
"As the man said when he thought he'd lassoed a horse but found he'd roped
his own foot instead;" grinned Jimsy, "but, say, what's all this coming up
Sure enough, a small crowd of ten or a dozen persons could be seen
approaching the Prescott house. They were coming from the direction of the
Mortlake plant. In advance, as they drew nearer, could be seen Mortlake
himself, with a tall man by his side and Fanning Harding. The men behind
seemed to be workmen from the plant.
"Wonder where they can be going to?" queried Jess, idly. For a few moments
more they watched the advancing throng, and then Jimsy cried suddenly:
"Why, that's Sheriff Lawley with Mortlake, and there's Si Hardscrabble the
constable, right behind them, what can they be after?"
"Clues," laughed Peggy, but the laugh faded on her lips as she exclaimed:
"Why--why, they're coming here!"
"Here!" echoed the others.
"Yes, that's what they are;" confirmed Jimsy, as the procession passed
inside the wicket gate and came up the gravelled pathway toward the house.
Sheriff Lawley had on his stiffest professional air and Si Hardscrabble's
chest was puffed out like a pouter pidgeon. On it glistened, like a newly
scoured pie-plate, the emblem of his authority--an immense nickel star as
big as a sunflower.
"Roy Prescott here?" demanded the sheriff in a high, official tone. He had
known Roy since he was a boy, but seemed to think it a part of his
majestic duties to appear not to know him.
"Miss Prescott--I--that is--er--this is a very unpleasant business--I
It was Mortlake stammering. He mopped the sweat from his forehead as the
sheriff interrupted him.
"That will do Mr. Mortlake. Leave the discharge of my official duties to
"That's right, by heck," chorused the constable, approvingly.
"What's the matter, sheriff?" asked Roy, easily. As yet not a glint of the
truth of this visit had dawned upon him.