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CHAPTER XXX


A DISASTROUS FLIGHT


"There it goes!" cried a score of voices, Dick's among them. And, sure enough, the airship moved. Slowly, but gathering speed, like some ungainly creature, it rose into the air in a slanting direction. Up and up it went, until it was about two hundred feet above the earth. Then Herr Doodlebrod shifted a rudder and the machine flew along on a level keel.

"Look at her go!" cried Frank Bender, for he and all of Dick's boy chums had been invited to the test. "Gee, but I wish I was in her!"

"You'd stand on your head on one of the propeller blades, I suppose," commented Walter Mead.

"Look, he's turning around!" exclaimed Frank, to change the subject from his acrobatic abilities, concerning which he was a bit sensitive.

Sure enough, Herr Doodlebrod was flying around in a circle. He seemed to be able to manage the ship perfectly, and Dick was delighted. He already saw the prize won with the improved craft, and himself holder of half the money.

"Look out, he's falling!" yelled Bricktop, suddenly, and the crowd of men, women, boys and girls strained their eyes to see what was happening. The airship was certainly coming down.

"Oh, he'll be killed! Isn't it terrible!" exclaimed Birdy Lee, who, with some of her girl friends, had come to watch the test.

"I'm going to faint!" declared Nettie Henderson, covering her eyes with her hands.

"No, he isn't falling; he's steering it down!" declared Dick. "He's all right!"

This announcement relived the feelings of all. Herr Doodlebrod was indeed coming down. But he had his ship under perfect control, as shown by the manner in which he steered it in a half circle so as to return to the place from which he had started. In a few minutes he allowed it to come to a stop on the ground, in the midst of the throng, where it alighted as gently as a bird.

"Vot I tell you?" he asked of Dick, triumphantly. "I could haf stayed longer, but my engine he vill not stand it. Ven ve gets der new motor—den ve two vill sail in der clouds."

"I guess you'll have to excuse me from the first trip," objected Dick, with a smile. "I want to see it tried first."

"It iss as safe as on der ground. Vait, I vill show you. But now, are you satisfied?"

"Yes," replied Dick. "I'm willing to invest five hundred dollars in a new motor. Then we'll see how she works."

"Und den ve vin der grand prize," announced the German. "But I haf much to do. Ven can you spare der money?"

"As soon as you want it. Perhaps you had better come back to town with me and we can talk it over with my father."

The airship was taken to a big barn near the scene of the test and some workmen left in charge to guard it from the curious crowd that gathered. Herr Doodlebrod was as calm and collected as though flying was an every-day accomplishment of his, but Dick was quite excited over what had taken place. Not only did he see the conditions of his mother's will fulfilled, but he was glad of the opportunity of taking part in helping to solve the problem of aerial navigation.

Mr. Hamilton was informed of the test and its success. A form of agreement was drawn up to protect the interests of all parties, and Dick gave Herr Doodlebrod a check for five hundred dollars, taking a mortgage on the machine as security, a proposition the inventor himself suggested.

"Now I go to New York for der engine," he announced.

Three days later a letter arrived from the German. He said he was having some difficulties in getting the engine made, but expected to be back at Hamilton Corners in a week.

"You'll have to hustle, Dick, to win that prize before the year expires," said his father, with a smile. "Aren't you getting anxious?"

"A little, but I guess it will all come out right. It won't take long to install the engine once we get it."

At the end of the week the German arrived with the engine. He was enthusiastic over it, and declared the government prize was already his. He had communicated with a representative of the War Department, who promised to be on hand when the test was made, to see if Herr Doodlebrod's machine answered the requirements.

"But haf no fear boasted the inventor to Dick. "It vill, und ve vill reap der reward."

"I hope so," answered Dick. "I haven't much time left."

There were several delays in getting the ship in shape for the decisive test. Herr Doodlebrod was not satisfied with one of the rudders and ordered a new one made. Dick urged haste, as he had in mind the year limit fixed in his mother's will.

"Easy, easy," counseled the German. "I haf spent fifteen years on der machine; vot iss a few days?"

"Much, to me," said Dick.

"Do not vorry, my young friend," comforted the inventor. "You shall haf made der finest investment vot effer vos. I, Herr Doodlebrod, say so. Dot uncle of yours shall nefer get you." For Dick had told the German about the conditions of the will.

But, in spite of all their haste, it was some time longer ere the machine was ready for the test. The new motor had been put in, and, though it was not tried in the air, worked perfectly. The propeller revolved twice as fast, and this, the inventor said, meant twice as much speed.

"To-morrow ve haf der test," announced the German one evening, as he completed the last change on the airship.

"Will the government official be here?" asked Dick.

"He has promised. I go to bed early dot my nerves may be in good shape. Haf no fears, I vill fly, und fly far. Der requirements vill all be met; I, Herr Doodlebrod, say so."

True to his promise, the government expert on aerial matters arrived at Hamilton Corners the next day. He sought out Herr Doodlebrod and Dick, and said he was ready to see their machine tested. The preparations had all been made and there was no delay.

In Dick's runabout he, his father, the inventor and the representative from the War Department, Colonel Claflin, went out to the big field where the airship awaited them. A large crowd was waiting. It seemed that everyone in Hamilton Corners, who could, by any possibility get away from work, was there.

The airship was hauled from the barn where it had been during the night, closely guarded against possible accidents. It looked larger than ever as, almost at the last minute, the inventor had increased the size of some of the bat-like wings that extended on either side.

Herr Doodlebrod was the calmest person in the big crowd. He went about looking at the wheels, levers, rods, rudders and the propeller as if he was merely a spectator. But his sharp eyes did not miss anything. He detected a loose screw in the motor and called for a tool to adjust it. Then, having seen that the gasolene tank was filled, and that the various handles for controlling the machine worked smoothly, he took his place in the basket-car, which had been enlarged.

"Vould you not like to come?" he asked of Dick. But Dick shook his head in dissent.

"You come," the inventor invited Colonel Claflin, but the government representative begged to be excused.

"I may try it with you after your first flight," he said.

As the specifications called for the carrying of two passengers the absence of one was made up by some bags of sand to give the necessary weight.

"Iss all clear?" asked Herr Doodlebrod.

"Clear she is," replied his chief helper.

"Den here I goes!" exclaimed the inventor as he started the motor and threw in the clutch operating the propeller.

The big arms beat the air and hummed shrilly as they whizzed around. The new motor made the frail airship tremble. There was a moment's hesitation, as if the craft hated to leave the earth, and then, with a little jerk, it soared aloft.

"Hurrah!" yelled the crowd.

"She works! She works!" cried Dick, capering about in delight. He thought the prize already won. Even Colonel Claflin looked pleased.

Herr Doodlebrod deflected one of the rudders and the airship went up at a sharp angle. In a few seconds it was several hundred feet high. Then it started to move about in a circle.

"Wonderful!" murmured several.

"He seems to know his business," remarked Mr. Hamilton. "I didn't believe it would work. I haven't much faith in airships."

"Well, it has gone, so far," replied Colonel Claflin. "But the test is not completed. Let's watch him."

In a great circle Herr Doodlebrod sent his ship around. He turned and twisted this way and that. Then he set off in a straight line, as called for by the government requirements.

But suddenly something happened. There was a sharp sound, like an explosion, up on the airship. The big propeller was seen to fly to pieces and come fluttering down, a mass of twisted wire and cloth.

Then came another ominous sound. It was a louder explosion, and a sheet of fire was seen to envelop the ship.

"His gasolene tank has gone up!" exclaimed Colonel Claflin. "He'll be killed!"

The airship seemed rent apart. The two big, bat-like wings soared off to one side. Rudders, wheels, levers and parts of machinery came raining down. The bat wings settled to the earth more slowly.

"Where is the inventor?" asked Mr. Hamilton. "Has he been blown to pieces?"

"It looks so," replied the colonel. "Poor chap! I'm afraid he didn't know so much about airships as he thought."

There came a cry from the crowd, not a cry of horror, but of wonder. The colonel, Dick and Mr. Hamilton looked toward where they pointed.

There, falling through space from his wrecked airship, was Herr Doodlebrod.