The Boy Scouts of the Air at Cape Peril/Chapter 2
JUMPING OFF AT CAPE HENRY
"Well, fellows, here I am!"
It was a hearty, ringing voice that struck the boys' ears as its owner, whose every movement proclaimed the perfect coordination of the muscles beneath his aviator costume, strode along the station platform to greet his young visitors. A firm-set chin, brown eyes with wrinkles of perpetual good humor about them, a high forehead, a wholesome, tanned skin, a boyish shock of brown hair with a pronounced cowlick this—was Tom Hardy's outer man. At first sight, Legs and Jimmy lost all awe of him.
As Cat rushed up, the airman seized the boy's hand in such a viselike grasp that the victim squirmed, "ouched," and yelled for mercy.
"Why not introduce me to your chums, Mutt and Jeff?" demanded the host.
"Doggone it, how can I when you're mashing every bone in my flipper?" cried Cat, still writhing. "Lemme go, will you?"
"Just showing you how glad I am to see you. There now."
Tom Hardy beamed on the three boys.
Cat, released but still nursing his crumpled hand, proclaimed in the tone of a circus barker, as he nodded at his lanky companion, "This sawed-off fellow here is William Madison Moseley Hatton, known for short as Legs."
"With that name, no wonder he's stunted," laughed Hardy, at the same time giving Legs a hearty clap on the shoulder, instead of the dreaded handshake.
"And this," proceeded Cat, indicating Jimmy, "the tallest specimen of scout out of captivity, is named Jimmy Todd. If he ever sported a middle name he's lost it, and he's shed every nickname we fellows ever gave him. First, we called him 'Tadpole'; then, when he shot up 'bout two inches, we dubbed him 'Dusty,' 'cause the seat of his pants is so near the ground that they're always covered with dust; then, when he tumbled for one of the calicks in High, we nicked him 'Spooney'; and when he got to handing out that limerick stuff, we gave him 'Kicks,' but somehow, we always get back to Jimmy. I reckon it just naturally fits in better with Todd."
Hardy was already shaking Jimmy's right hand while the lad used his left to ball a fist at the barking Cat.
"That'll do for today, Miller," said Hardy, as he released Jimmy's hand. "Don't use up all your words. May need a few when you grow up and get in the lawyer game. Jimmy and Legs, then, are these fellows' names to me and I'm plain Hardy. See! Don't want anyone to be mistering anybody. Not even the cook does it at Seagulls' Nest. Now, let's beat it."
He directed his guests toward the resting place of his famous flyer Windjammer, on a level, firm plot of ground well back from the lighthouses and the sand hills.
"Gee, boys, you don't know how glad I am to have you," he said as they trotted along. "Nothin' like fifteeners for pep, and we'll all pep together. I've got a sort of holiday at present. Turner's busy on some maps and photos, so our operations are held up for a spell. I've just got a job as lighthouse inspector on the coast, but don't count on their calling on me just yet, or my calling on them, rather. By the way, which of you kids is a shark on mathematics?"
"I pass," Cat hastened to proclaim—an announcement that he had occasion to regret later. "I flunked on that Pons Asinorum, and I've never understood a thing about Geometry since. You flunked, too, Jimmy. Old Whiskers got red in the face trying to rub it into our heads, didn't he?"
Whiskers, so called because of his sideburns, was the lads' teacher in High School, and the pupils had facetiously dubbed the rawboned nag on which he solemnly took his exercise after school hours, "Hypotenuse."
"I swear I b'lieve Hypo knows a lot more math, than I do," conceded Jimmy, "just from old Whiskers bouncing up and down on him."
This drew a laugh from all the boys, in which Hardy joined after being informed of the nature and constitution of Hypotenuse.
"Here's your shark," continued Jimmy, pulling Legs forward. "He's wading into Trig, and eating it up. All his sense is not in his feet, though you might think so."
"Just wanted to know," declared Hardy, when Legs protested against Jimmy's estimate of his knowledge. "Now I want to know, too, who goes up with me and who's going to make the coast guard happy. You're the unselfish kid, Cat. You want to take the motor?"
"Sure I do," agreed Cat grinning, and at the same time kicking Jimmy's shins when that young man seemed on the point of opening his mouth to contradict him. "I don't need any air-rides to-day. I'm fresh from one."
And he proceeded to repeat what he had told his friends on the electric train.
"Well, I'll be hanged if you ain't your father's own son," was Hardy's comment when the boy had finished his story. "We'll have to give you a brass medal to chime in with your actions. Have to get up early in the morning to beat you to it, boy."
At the compliment, Cat's chest swelled pompously and his eyes danced gleefully.
"Now, you two," observed Hardy a little later, addressing Legs and Jimmy. "You two who are going up will have to sit in one another's laps. I mean," he laughed, "one will have to sit in the other's lap—that's the only way to stow you in. I think, judging by appearances, Jimmy better be the top layer."
"I never thought of that beanpole having a lap," declared Jimmy. "Get me a microscope, Cat"
Hardy put an end to the disturbance that threatened, and continued, "Now, see here, you two fellows who haven't been initiated, like your friend Cat, may feel a little wriggly for a minute or two, but you'll soon get over it. Keep this in mind: Flying is regular life insurance compared to dodging autos in any big city, and remember it's how a fellow shows up in a new experience that proves what sort of stuff he's got in him. Listen to what Service says. You know Service, the war poet?
'When your legs seem made o' jelly
And you're squeamish in your belly,
And you want to turn about and do a bunk,
For Tom's sake, kid, don't show it,
Don't let your mateys know it,
You're just sufferin' from funk, funk, funk.'
Get that! I put the Tom in to suit this present occasion and audience. Grab hold o' that sentiment and swallow it. Hear? "
"Didn't need that to give me backbone," affirmed Jimmy.
"Reckon I can go anywhere Jimmy can," was Legs's conclusion in a feebler tone.
When the group reached the famous Windjammer the lads raised a wild whoop and set to examining her in every detail while her owner held forth on her various excellencies.
"Now," said he as he finished his lecture, "time to be off. Here, put those on," he directed his passengers, fishing out goggles and headgear. "You, Cat, will meet the coast guard in front of the lighthouse about fifteen minutes from now. Don't let the motorcycle jar all the pep out of you. Want some left for the jamboree to-night, hear? "
"Oh, gee!" exclaimed Cat. "What's doing? "
"Oh, just a little roughhouse, with extra choice eats stored in my bird's gizzard there. Smell a rat, do you, Cat?" added Hardy, giving the boy a swift kick as he attempted to peep into the cockpit. "Take your nose out of there. Off with you. And now, Legs, old boy, your time's come. Get in the electric chair and be strapped. Don't look so green about the gills. You'll live to tell the tale. Remember Service. Crawl in!"
Legs cast his eyes into the well, and, apparently satisfied that it had a solid bottom, straddled in and took his seat.
"Keep your fingers crossed," laughed Hardy. "Knock on wood, and keep your eyes open for black cats, and nothing will happen to you. Come along, Jimmy."
He grabbed him by the seat of his breeches and speeded him in, while Cat was directed to help with the straps, a duty undertaken with such enthusiasm as to draw various gasps and punches from his victims.
Hardy meanwhile gave Windjammer's motor a final inspection, singing softly to himself,
"I'll make you rumble,
Across the sky,
And if I don't tumble,
I'll live till I die."
Then, assured that his passengers were safely stowed and leathered, he fixed himself in the pilot's seat and directed Cat and another bystander to start his propeller and give his bird a shove. In a few moments, the crew had left the cheering Cat below and were soaring up the heavens.
Every drop of blood in their bodies seemed to be tingling to the tips of their ears when the taxying came to an end and the new flyers felt the machine rising. Legs wrapped his arms around Jimmy 's chest in the convulsive hug of a drowning man, while the latter clutched the edge of the well, an interminable "Gee-e-e-e!" flowing from his lips.
"Say, Legs, the ground's sinking!" he faltered out after some moments.
There was a tense silence on the part of the boy beneath him.
"I b'lieve you're scared," persisted Jimmy with a quiver in his tone. "Great Caesar's ghost! Stop squeezing the life out of me."
Continued silence on the part of the under lad.
"Dizzy?" persisted the tormentor.
"Naw!" finally returned Legs, with affected composure.
"Me neither. Duck your head, Legs. Going to butt into the moon in a minute. Want me to cut off a piece of green cheese for you?"
"Quit talking and let me look," countered the unhappy Legs.
"Doesn't that motor jar! Just like one of those vibrators you put to the back of your neck." Jimmy babbled on, principally to keep up his own nerve. "Ain't this a grand and glorious feeling! Say, Legs, don't the ocean look funny through these goggles!"
"I'm looking!" quavered Legs.
Another silence as the bird rose to the desired altitude and the pilot, by a swift shift of his levers, sent her shooting on a bee line.
"All O. K.?" he shouted. "Not scared, are you? Sit tight, boys, and don't rock the boat."
"We're all right," called back Jimmy as spokesman for both, and then to Legs, as he became composed enough to remark some physical discomfort. "Golly, Legs, I swear I b'lieve you sharpened up your knees before we got in; they're jabbing right into my meat like a couple of knife blades. And stop blowing a gale on the back of my neck. You're scared. I can feel the way you're panting."
"I'm not, either. I'm having a swell time. Let me look, will you!"
The fact is, as the flyer sped on her way without accident, the lads began to forget any sense of uneasiness and to give their minds wholly to the marvelous panorama of sea and sand below and boundless sky above.
"Say, Legs," jested Jimmy, "I can see the rock of Gibraltar plain as day."
"Your eyes are rum," countered Legs. "I can spy the Pyramids of Egypt."
"High spy!" shot back Jimmy.
"Say, Legs, wouldn't our mothers be all up in the air if they knew we were up here now. Gee whillikins! Look at that toy steamship way down yonder. Looks to me like a terrapin crawling along smoking a cigarette. What does it look like to you."
"Like a steamer."
"Ah, come off, you haven't got any more imagination than a sand-fiddler."
"I'm mighty thankful I haven't. You need to put a mustard plaster on yours. When I see a rattlesnake, I don't want to take it for a humming bird. Now dry up and let me look and enjoy myself. You are worse than the simp that talks all through the movies and won't let you get your mind on 'em. I'm not going to answer another blamed thing."
In awed silence, the two lads, now forgetting themselves in the wonder of the experience, stared over at the great expanse of blue sea on their left—a sea of glass it appeared, with tiny spots that were vessels. On the horizon, the cloudless sky merged almost imperceptibly into the waters below.
To the right, the sand hills were fringed by splotches of dwarfed forests, and beyond these lay a variegated pattern of level inland, with its marshy inlets and gleaming ponds.
For a half hour the bird sped onward, and then suddenly the pilot cried, "Nearly there! See, there's Cape Peril and the lighthouse ahead!"
The lads, thrilled to the soul, strained their eyes through the goggles. They saw a great bulge of seashore rather than a cape and near the middle of this arc, a toylike lighthouse. It seemed but a moment more before the machine began circling and the shore apparently flew up to meet them.
The bird made an egg-shell landing on the firm level ground covered with a layer of windblown sand well back from the seashore and the dunes.
Hardy vaulted out and inspected his passengers.
"Well, boys, still alive and kicking! 'Fraid I'd find two corpses lashed to the mast like the skipper in the Wreck of the Hesperus."
The lads were more like two spirited colts straining on their leashes. Any pallor that might have blanched their faces at the beginning of the ascent had given place to a vivid flush from the stinging wind and the excitement. Their eyes sparkled with the zest of a new and thrilling experience. Every exclamation and superlative in their vocabulary tumbled out in their effort to express their feelings.
"Say, how about letting us loose?" finally asked Jimmy. "I'm tired of being hitched up to this flamingo."
"Don't want to stay like the Siamese twins they used to exhibit in the side show, eh?"
laughed Hardy as he helped them unbuckle the leathers.
"Not with this thing. I'd look like a wart on a fishing pole."
"Sure don't want any warts like you on me," growled Legs, climbing out after his short-legged companion.
"Haven't got any flesh wounds from Jimmy's elbows, have you?" jested Hardy.
"Flesh wounds!" sneered Jimmy. "He hasn't meat enough to make a flesh wound!"
Hardy nipped off any disturbance that might have followed by directing the pair to help him shove his plane into a roughly constructed hangar some fifty yards away. This duty performed, the newcomers had a chance to take a closer look at the scene around them.
The horizon, in the background, was fringed with stunted pine woods rising beyond a broad sterile, sandy plain. In the foreground, the gleaming blue of the ocean showed here and there between sand hills sparsely grown with long, waving yellow sand grass. Back of the hangar and extending for about a mile parallel with the beach, was a sort of lagoon, perhaps a quarter of a mile in width at its broadest point. From the surface of the lake at its nearer end rose a strange looking wooden structure that Hardy explained to be the hangar of the sea-plane. A short distance from the farther end of this unruffled body of water stood, on what seemed a vast mound in comparison with the sandy stretches about it, the gaunt and grim lighthouse of Cape Peril.
"And here's Seagulls' Nest," announced the host, as he led his guests seaward and pointed to a spacious cottage, half weatherboarded and half shingled, rising from an elevated plot some two hundred yards in front of them.