“Pretty as a picture!” said Bill and laughed.
“A picture no artist could paint,” declared Charlie rather ruefully,
studying his reflection in the mirror.
Arrayed in a jumper and sweater of Bill’s and a pair of linen trousers,
converted into shorts by hacking off the legs above the knees, he made a
comical picture indeed.
“I reckon,” said Bill, surveying him, “that you’ll have to go barefoot.”
“Okay,” returned Charlie. “Let’s eat.”
They went downstairs together and after raiding pantry and icebox, sat
down at the kitchen table to a plentiful meal of bread and butter, cold
ham, milk and cookies.
“There’s no sense waking the maids,” Bill was talking with his mouth
full, “the chauffeur took Dad and Osceola to the city, and those girls
are better off asleep. If there’s a row outside with that bunch when we
go for the plane, they’d probably raise the roof and start phoning for
the cops. And if Mr. Evans had wanted the police to horn in on this
business, he’d have got hold of them long ago.”
Charlie finished his milk and attacked the ham again.
“That’s the way I figure it.”
“I wonder he took the chance of sending you, though,” Bill went on. “Why
couldn’t he have telegraphed me or phoned me? It would have been
“Dunno. There’s too much hush and rush about this whole biznai to suit
me,” grunted young Evans.
“Well, shake a leg,” advised the older lad. “I’m going into the study to
write a note to Osceola, and leave one for Dad and the maids as well.
When I come back, we’ve got to vamoose. It’ll be light soon.”
“Why not wait for sunup? Those lads can’t very well stick around after
“No, but if they’ve got a plane handy, they can trail us and make it
darned disagreeable at the other end.”
“P’raps they will, anyway.”
“Well, we haven’t taken off yet—much less arrived. Come on, eat. You get
no more food until we reach Clayton, you know.”
Bill faded away toward the front of the house and Charlie started on the
Ten minutes later, Bill was back again. On his head was a soft leather
helmet, while strapped to his waist, the butt of an automatic protruded
from its leather holster. He laid another flying helmet, goggles and a
small Winchester repeating rifle on the kitchen table.
“For you! How’s the tummy, full enough?”
“Just about,” grunted Charlie, stuffing the remainder of the cookies
into his trousers pockets. “Lead on, MacDuffer!”
He slapped the helmet and goggles onto his thatch of red hair and picked
up the gun.
“I left lights burning upstairs and in the study,” said Bill. “We’ll
fool those guys yet. It’s the cellar for ours, come along.”
He waited at the foot of the stairs and beckoned to Charlie. “Give me
your paw. We daren’t show a glim down here.”
Young Evans caught his hand in the inky darkness, and presently Bill
stopped again, released his hand and could be heard fumbling with
something above their heads.
“There—she’s open at last.”
Charlie thought he could make out a lightish blur on a level with Bill’s
“Hand over the Winchester,” his friend commanded, “and when you get
through the window, lie flat on the ground behind the rhododendrons, and
I’ll pass it up. Don’t go scouting round by yourself, either. Wait for
Charlie scrambled through the narrow aperture, caught the rifle as it
was handed up to him, and crawling a foot or two along the side of the
house, lay still. Although it had stopped raining, the ground was
soaking wet. Above him, the thick foliage of the rhododendrons dripped
moisture with every breath of wind.
“I might just as well have kept my own clothes,” he thought, trying to
accustom his eyes to the darkness, but without success. “Hang it all—a
little more crawling, and I’ll be sopping again!”
A whisper in his ear startled him. Bill had reached him without a sound.
“Follow me. Keep on your hands and knees—and don’t breathe so hard. I
could hear you down in the cellar, and I don’t propose to have the show
given away just because you ate too much! Come on, and stay right behind
Charlie gulped down a retort and followed Bill’s lead along the house
behind the wet shrubbery. They had gone perhaps a hundred yards in this
manner, when Bill turned to the left and crawled away through the
bushes, on an oblique from the house. Without stopping, they crossed the
drive, where the hard gravel left its painful imprints on hands and
knees, and kept on through another belt of shrubbery beyond.
“You can stand up now,” Bill whispered and got to his feet. “We’re in
the back of the house. Those guys are posted in front and along the
sides—No, they aren’t!—not all of them—Down, Charlie! Keep where you are
Footsteps crunched along the gravel on the drive. Both lads crouched
low. They saw a dark figure move out of the shadows and come directly
toward them. The man walked slowly, humming a tune. In the hollow of his
arm he carried a rifle.
When he was within a couple of paces of them he turned on his heel and
started back the way he had come. Bill was up on the instant. He took
three crouching steps and even Charlie, who watched with all his eyes
and ears, never heard a sound. Then he sprang on his prey. Up went his
right arm and down. The man dropped like a poleaxed ox. Bill dragged his
body back to the bushes.
“Did you kill him?” Charlie’s voice came in a tense whisper.
Bill snorted. “Nothing like that, kid. I tapped him on the bean with my
automatic. He’s out for half an hour or so—but that’s long enough for
us. You stop here and go through his pockets. Take any letters or papers
he may have about him. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
“But Bill—I don’t like being left with a dead man! Can’t—”
“Cut it, Charlie! If you don’t obey orders, you can hike back to the
house. What’s the matter with you? This is no time for fussing. I told
you the man’s only stunned.”
“Oh, all right,” grumbled the boy. “I wasn’t afraid of him—honest I
“Good. Carry on, then,” said his friend, as he melted into the bushes.
Charlie bent over the man on the grass and consistently went through his
pockets. “I’ll bet Osceola taught Bill how to move that way,” he
thought, “and if the chief ever gets up to Maine, I’m going to have him
show me how to do it.”
“What are you mumbling about?”
Charlie jumped. “Oh, it’s you, Bill. Gosh, you gave me a scare! What
have you been doing?”
“Setting a trap. Got his papers?”
“Two letters, that’s all.”
“Come along, then. We’ll have to hurry. He’ll be missed soon. Here, I’ll
tote his gun.”
Their course now led them back from the house through a copse of
hemlock. As they came out of the little wood, Charlie saw a blur of
wooden buildings to the left. On their right was a field of tall corn,
and between the two, a broad stretch of greensward.
“Those are the barns and garage,” Bill explained in answer to the boy’s
whispered question. “There’s nobody out here—yet. I reconnoitered while
you were frisking that fellow. But we’d better go through the corn, just
“What do you mean, there’s nobody here _yet_?”
“The bus is parked in the hangar. Wait till that nice inverted engine
“Think there’ll be a fight?” Charlie was running now. It was hard going
in the cornfield between the tall stalks. He stumbled frequently. His
long-legged friend seemed to know by instinct just where to plant his
“Well, I don’t know—it all depends on how fast they can run, and which
way they come.”
Bill stopped on the edge of the field and waited for Charlie. Before
them now lay a broad meadow. Over to the left the dark shape of a
building was visible.
“Is that the hangar?” puffed the youngster.
“Yep. It used to be a hay barn, but when I got my pilot’s license, Dad
had it fixed up with a concrete floor and a tin roof. The _Loening_ and
the _Ryan_ are both in there. Well, I don’t see anybody around. Let’s
make a dash for it.”
“Gosh, that’s all I’ve been doing lately!”
“That and eating,” chuckled Bill. “On your toes, fat boy!”
He sprinted across the open space and had the hangar doors open when
Charlie arrived, puffing and half-winded by his efforts to make fast
“Slow but sure,” teased Bill. “You’re better at tucking away chow than
you are at track-work, Charles.”
“Aw, cut it out! How do you expect me to keep pace with the Navy’s star
“Never mind, you did fine. Lend me a hand and we’ll wheel out the
Charlie pointed to the monoplane. “Isn’t that a _Ryan_ M-1?”
“Sure is. Come and get busy.”
“But that type is faster that the _Loening_. Why not take her?”
“Because, my boy, she can’t land on water more than once, that’s why. It
may come in mighty handy to have an amphibian up there on the Maine
shore. And don’t think for a minute this biplane can’t travel. Wait till
you ride in her and see.”
When they had wheeled the plane out on the concrete apron, Bill went
back and swung the doors shut and locked them. Charlie was already
seated aft when Bill climbed into the fore cockpit and adjusted his
helmet, goggles and safety belt.
“Okay?” he asked the youngster.
“Safety belt fastened?”
“Fine. Keep that rifle handy. If those lads get too close—let ’er go.”
“I will, Bill, you can trust me.”
Bill snapped on the ignition. The propeller swung into motion as the
inertia starter did the trick. The engine sputtered, then roared. He
slipped into a heavy flying jacket as the engine warmed up. Charlie, he
knew, had already donned his in the rear cockpit.
The engine was roaring smoothly as Bill fitted the phones over his
helmet and adjusted the receivers over his earflaps. A mouthpiece hung
on his chest and a wire ran back to the headset that Charlie wore. This
would allow them to talk in the air, even with the coughing bark of the
engine through the exhausts.
Bill stared up at the white fleecy cloud rolling in over the field. Then
he twisted his head in the direction of the house, and cut down the
“Here they come, Charlie!” he said evenly. “Better get that rifle