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THE ROVER BOYS IN THE AIR




CHAPTER I


THE BOYS AND THE BIPLANE


"Fo' de land sakes, Massa Dick, wot am dat contraption yo' boys dun put togedder back ob de bahn yesterday?"

"Why, Aleck, don't you know what that is?" returned Dick Rover, with a smile at the colored man. "That's a biplane."

"A biplane, eh?" repeated Alexander Pop, the colored helper around the Rover homestead. He scratched his woolly head thoughtfully. "Yo' don't mean to say it am lak a plane a carpenter man uses, does yo', Massa Dick? 'Pears lak to me it was moah lak some ship sails layin' down,—somethin' lak dem ships we see over in Africy, when we went into dem jungles to find yo' fadder."

"No, it has nothing to do with a carpenter's plane, Aleck," answered Dick, with a laugh. "A biplane is a certain kind of a flying machine."

"Wat's dat? A flyin' machine? Shorely, Massa Dick, yo' ain't gwine to try to fly?" exclaimed Aleck, in horror.

"That is just what I am going to do, Aleck, after I have had a few lessons. I hope to fly right over the house, just like a bird."

"No! no! Don't you try dat, Massa Dick! You'll break yo' neck suah! Don't yo' try it! I—I can't allow it nohow—an' yo' aunt won't allow it neither!" And the colored man shook his head most emphatically.

"Now, don't get excited, Aleck," said Dick, calmly. "I won't go up until I am sure of what I am doing. Why, don't you know that flying in the air is getting to be a common thing these days? Tom and Sam and I bought that biplane in New York last week, and a man who knows all about flying is coming out to the farm to teach us how to run it. After we know how to sail through the air we'll take you up with us."

"Me!" ejaculated the colored man, and rolled his eyes wildly. "Not in a thousand years, Massa Dick, an' not fo' all dat treasure yo' dun brung home from Treasure Isle! No, sah, de ground am good enough fo' Aleck Pop!" And he backed away, as if afraid Dick Rover might carry him off then and there.

"Hello, Aleck!" cried a merry voice at this moment, and Tom Rover came into view. "Want to take a sail through the clouds for a change?"

"Massa Tom, am yo' really thinking ob goin' up in dat contraption?" demanded the colored man, earnestly.

"Sure thing, Aleck. And you'll want to go, too, before long. Think of flying along like a bird!" And Tom Rover spread out his arms and moved them slowly up and down. "Oh, it's grand!"

"Yo' won't be no bird when yo' come down ker-flop!" murmured Aleck, soberly. "Yo' will be all busted up, dat's wot yo'll be!"

"We won't fall, don't you worry," continued Tom. "This biplane is a first-class machine, warranted in all kinds of weather."

"If it am a flyin' machine wot fo' you call it a biplane?" asked the colored man curiously.

"Bi stands for two," explained Dick. "A bicycle means two cycles, or two wheels. A biplane means two planes, or two surfaces of canvas. This biplane of ours, as you can see, has two surfaces, or decks, an upper and a lower. A monoplane has only one plane, and a triplane has three. Now you understand, don't you, Aleck?"

"I dun reckon I do, Massa Dick. But look yeah, boys, yo' take my advice an' don't yo' try to sail frough de air in dat bicycleplane, or wot yo' call it. 'Tain't safe nohow! Yo' stick to de bosses, an' dat autermobile, an' de boat on de ribber. A boy wasn't meant to be a bird nohow!"

"How about being an angel, Aleck?" asked Tom, slyly.

"Huh! An angel, eh? Well, if yo' go up in dat bicycleplane maybe yo' will be an angel after yo' fall out, even if yo' ain't one when yo' starts."

And with this remark Aleck Pop hurried away to his work in the house.

"That's one on you, Tom," cried Dick, with a broad smile. "Poor Aleck! he evidently has no use for flying machines."

"Well, Dick, now the machine is together, it does look rather scary," answered Tom Rover, slowly. "I want to see that aviator try it out pretty well before I risk my neck going up."

"Oh, so do I. And we'll have to have a good many lessons in running the engine, and in steering, and all that. I begin to think running a flying machine is a good deal harder than running an auto, or a motor boat."

"Yes, I guess it is. Come on down and let us see how the engine works. We can do that easily enough, for it's a good deal like the engine of an auto, or a motor boat," went on Tom.

"Where is Sam?"

"He took the auto and went down to the Corners on an errand for Aunt Martha. He said he'd be back as soon as possible. He's as crazy to get at the biplane as either of us."

The two boys walked to where the biplane had been put together, in a large open wagon shed attached to the rear of the big barn. The biplane has a stretch from side to side of over thirty feet, and the shed had been cleaned out from end to end to make room for it. There was a rudder in front and another behind, and in the centre was a broad cane seat, with a steering wheel, and several levers for controling the craft. Back of the seat was the engine, lightly built but powerful, and above was a good-sized tank of gasoline. The framework of the biplane was of bamboo, held together by stays of piano wire, and the planes themselves were of canvas, especially prepared so as to be almost if not quite air proof. All told, the machine was a fine one, thoroughly up-to-date, and had cost considerable money.

"We'll have to get a name for this machine," remarked Tom. "Have you any in mind?"

"Well, I—er—thought we might call her the—er——" And then his big brother stopped short and grew slightly red in the face.

"I'll bet an apple you were going to say Dora," cried Tom quickly.

"Humph," murmured Dick. "Maybe you were going to suggest Nellie."

"No, I wasn't," returned Tom, and now he got a little red also. "If I did that, Sam might come along and want to name it the Grace. We had better give the girls' names a rest. Let's call her the Dartaway, that is, if she really does dart away when she flies."

"All right, Tom; that's a first-class name," responded Dick. "And Dartaway she shall become, if Sam is willing. Now then, we'll fill that gasoline tank and let the engine warm up a bit. Probably it will need some adjusting."

"Can we use the same gasoline as we use in the auto?"

"Yes, on ordinary occasions. In a race you can use a higher grade, so that aviator said. But then you'll have to readjust the magneto and carburetor."

"Gracious, Dick! You're not thinking of an air race already, are you!"

"Oh, no! But we might get in a race some day,—and such things are good to know," answered Dick, as he walked off to the garage, where there was a barrel of gasoline sunk in the ground, with a pipe connection. He got out a five-gallon can and filled it, and then poured the gasoline in the tank of the biplane.

"She'll hold more than that," said Tom, watching him. "Here, give me the can and I'll fill the tank while we are at it. We'll want plenty of gas when that aviator gets here."

In a few minutes more the gasoline tank was full, and then the two lads busied themselves putting the engine in running order, and in filling up the lubricating oil box. They also oiled up the working parts, and oiled the propeller bearings and the steering gear.

"Now, I guess she is all ready to run," remarked Dick, at length. "My, but isn't she a beauty, Tom! Just think of sailing around in her!"

"I'd like to go up right now!" answered the brother. If only I knew more about airships, hang me if I wouldn't try it!"

"Don't you dream of it, yet!" answered Dick. "We've got to learn the art of it, just like a baby has got to learn to walk. If you went up now you'd come down with a smash sure."

"Maybe I would," mused Tom. "Well, let us try the engine anyhow. And maybe we can try the propellers," he added, with a longing glance at the smooth, wooden blades.

"One thing at a time," answered Dick, with a laugh. "We'll try the engine, but we'll have to tie the biplane fast, or else it may run into something and get smashed."

"Let us run her out into the field first. It's too gloomy in the shed. I'll hammer in some stakes and tie her."

The biplane rested on three small rubber-tired wheels, placed in the form of a triangle. Thus it was an easy matter to roll the big machine from the shed to the level field beyond. Then Tom ran back and procured some stakes, several ropes, and a hammer, and soon he had the biplane staked fast to the ground, after the manner of a small circus tent.

"Now she can't break loose, even if you do start the engine and the propellers," said he, as he surveyed his work. "Go ahead, Dick, and turn on the juice!" he cried impatiently.

Dick Rover was just as anxious to see the engine work, and after another critical inspection he turned on the battery and then walked to one of the propellers.

"We'll have to start the engine by turning these," he said.

"All right!" cried Tom, catching hold of the other wooden blades. "Now then, all ready? Heave ahoy, my hearty!" he added, in sailor fashion.

Four times were the wooden blades "turned over" and still the engine refused to respond. It was hard work, and both of the lads perspired freely, for it was a hot day in early September.

"Got that spark connected all right?" panted Tom, as he stopped to catch his breath.

"Yes," was the reply, after Dick had made an inspection. "The engine is cold, that's all."

"Humph, well I'm not! But come on, let us give her another twist."

The brothers took hold again, and, at a word from Dick, each gave the wooden paddles of the propellers a vigorous turn. There came a sudden hiss, followed by a crack and a bang, and then off the engine started with the loudness of a gattling gun.

"Hurrah! she's started!" yelled Tom, triumphantly. "Say, but she makes some noise, doesn't she?" he added.

"I should say yes. That's because airship engines don't have mufflers, like autos," yelled back Dick, to make himself heard above the explosions.

"And see those propellers go around!" went on Tom, in deep admiration. "All you can see is a whirr! We sure have a dandy engine in this craft, Dick!"

"Looks so, doesn't it?" returned Dick, also in admiration. "I reckon the Dartaway will give a good account of herself, when she is properly handled. Now, I had better stop the propellers, I guess," he added, moving toward the front of the biplane to do so.

"Yes! yes! stop em!" yelled Tom, suddenly.

"Hurry up, Dick! See how she is straining to break the ropes! Say, she wants to go up!"

Dick was startled and with good reason. Even while his brother was speaking there came a sudden snap, and one of the ropes flew apart. Then up out of the ground came the stake holding another rope. The big biplane, thus released on one side, slewed around, and Tom was knocked flat. Then came another snap and two more ropes flew apart.

"She's going! stop her!" screamed Tom, from where he lay, and the next moment he saw Dick struck full in the face by the machine. Down went the youth backwards, and as he fell, with a rush and a roar, the biplane sped over the level ground for a distance of two hundred feet and then went sailing into the air, headed almost point blank for the Rover homestead, less than fifty rods away!