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CHAPTER XV


A PERILOUS FLIGHT


Without waiting to get a hat or an extra coat, Dick dashed through the long corridor and down the broad stairs of the dormitory and Tom came at his heels.

"What's the matter?" cried Spud, grabbing Sam, just as the youngest Rover boy was about to follow his brothers.

"I'll tell you when we get back," answered Sam. "Don't stop me now, please, I may be wanted."

"Want any help?" put in Songbird, who for the moment had forgotten what he was about to recite.

"I don't know—but I guess not."

"We'll go along anyhow," came from Max, and took after Sam, while several others did the same.

In the meantime Dick and Tom had gained the lower hallway of the dormitory. The door was fastened, but the key was in the lock and they soon had the portal open and they leaped outside. Then both started in the direction of the gymnasium shed.

"See anybody?" cried Tom.

"No, it's too dark," answered Dick. "But that must have been Abner Filbury's gun."

The two reports from the shotgun had aroused many in various buildings around the campus, and windows were being raised and heads thrust out.

"What's the trouble?"

"Who fired those shots?"

"Is it a joke?"

"There go two of the Rovers!"

"Are they up to some trick?"

"More than likely. You can't keep Tom Rover quiet."

So the comments ran on, while Dick and Tom sped in the direction of the shed. As they came closer they received a sudden challenge from the big doorway.

"Hi! don't you dare to come back here, or I'll shoot you!" The words were uttered by Abner Filbury, who stood there, shotgun in hand and lantern by his side.

"Don't shoot!" ordered Dick. "It is I, Dick Rover! What's the trouble?"

"Oh, so it's you, Mr. Rover!" returned the janitor's son, with a sigh of relief. "I was afraid them pesky rascals was a-coming back."

"What rascals?"

"The fellers as got at the airship while I was asleep. But I guess they didn't get no chance to hurt anything," went on Abner, hastily.

"Who were they?" asked Tom.

"I don't know. They had rags tied over their faces, so I couldn't see 'em."

"How many of them were there?" questioned Dick.

"Two."

"Are you sure they didn't harm anything?" went on the eldest Rover boy, as he entered the shed.

"No, I ain't sure, for when I woke up they was in the shed, right under my hammock. I got scared and I blazed away at the roof, and then they got scared, I can tell you! They jumped and let out a yell, and ran for the door, and I got down and went to the door and fired the other barrel into the air, as a warning. Then they disappeared in the darkness."

"I guess it was——" began Tom, when Dick caught hold of his arm and silenced him.

"We'll take a look at the machine," said the big brother, and they went into the shed. Here they were soon joined by Sam and the others; and soon a close inspection of the biplane was in progress.

"I don't see any damage," said Dick, presently.

"Most likely they didn't have time to do any," replied Tom.

"I'm glad of it," added Sam, with a sigh of relief.

"Who would be so mean?" questioned Stanley.

"I've got my suspicions, but I won't say anything yet," answered Dick.

A proctor and several instructors had come down to the shed, and the situation had to be explained to them. All thought it mean that anybody should try to damage the flying machine.

"Perhaps it was merely a boyish trick," said Professor Blackie. "Let us hope so."

"Maybe," answered Dick. "Just the same, I am glad that I placed Filbury on guard." And then he told the young man to keep a closer watch than before, and this Abner promised to do. Then the boys went back to the dormitory, finished the feast, and went to bed.

A few days later came word that Dora and the Laning girls had arrived at Hope Seminary, and the Rovers, of course, made immediate preparations to visit them.

"We'll give 'em a surprise," said Tom, with a grin. "We'll visit 'em in the Dartaway." And this the other brothers readily agreed to do.

A message was sent to the three girls, requesting them to meet the boys at a certain hour on the campus of the seminary. Then the Rovers got the Dartaway in readiness for the trip, polishing up the engine and working parts until they shone like silver.

"If only it doesn't rain, or blow too hard," said Sam, when all was in readiness.

"Oh, we'll go anyway," cried Tom.

The boys had purchased regular aviation suits, which looked very neat and professional-like. The new engine was in place, and they had given it a good try-out and had found that it worked as well as the other and gave much more power.

"I think we could carry half a dozen folks now," said Sam, after a trial with some bags of sand. "She takes up the extra weight without an effort."

"Perhaps, but there is no use of straining the biplane, or the engine either," returned Dick.

The morning of the all-important day came and the boys found the wind blowing steadily from the west.

"Rather breezy for a flight," was Dick's comment.

"Do you think it will rain?" queried Sam, anxiously.

"Not with the wind from that quarter, Sam. But we may get more breeze than we want."

"Oh, we won't mind the wind a bit," declared Tom, who never wanted anything to interfere with his pleasure.

The boys had their regular classes to attend during the morning, and also one recitation after lunch. But by half-past two all were free, and after donning their aviation suits, they hurried to the shed and rolled out the Dartaway.

"Pretty breezy and no mistake," remarked Dick, as he gazed anxiously at the sky. "I don't know about this."

"Oh, don't say we can't go, Dick!" pleaded Sam.

"Maybe the breeze isn't so strong high up," came from Tom, hopefully.

"It may be stronger, Tom. We don't want to go up and get wrecked."

"Oh, the Dartaway won't get wrecked—not with that powerful engine."

Dick hesitated. He did not like that strong breeze in the least. Yet he was just as anxious as his brothers to visit the seminary and meet the girls, and let them see the biplane. And there was something even more important on his mind.

"Oh, come ahead, and take a chance!" cried Tom. "We'll get through somehow!"

"Just what I say," declared Sam.

"Who is to run the machine?" asked the big brother.

"I'll run her, if you want me to," answered Tom, promptly.

"Oh, I was only thinking of the honor, Tom. I'm not afraid to try it."

"Oh, you go ahead and do it," put in Sam, who knew that his big brother's heart was set on showing Dora what he could do with the flying machine.

"We'll go up and try it," answered Dick, at last. "If she works all right, I'll head her for the seminary; otherwise I'll bring her down again;" and so it was arranged.

A number of the students had come out to see the flight and they gave a cheer as the big biplane rushed over the campus and then arose like a bird in the air. As the machine went up, Tom looked to one side and saw Dudd Flockley standing on the campus, in company with a student named Andy Yates. Both were sneering at the Rovers and their friends.

"The pair that tried to damage the machine," muttered Tom to himself. He knew that since Larkspur and Koswell had left Brill, Flockley and Yates had become quite friendly, and he also knew that Yates was a spendthrift and had a reputation far from good.

Up and up went the biplane, guided by the steady hand and keen eye of Dick. The wind' rushed over the canvas planes and sang merrily through the wire stays. The engine banged away steadily, and the propellers left only a blur in the air as they kept whizzing around and around.

"How is it, Dick?" asked Sam, after a full minute had passed, and they were turning in a big circle.

"Can't tell yet—pretty gusty and full of holes," was the answer, and Dick gritted his teeth tightly and took a firmer hold of the steering wheel. Then the Dartaway came around with a rush.

"Wow!" cried Tom, clutching at his seat. "Say, this is some slant!"

"Hold tight!" yelled Dick. The warning came none too soon, for a gust of wind hit the biplane and all but made it "turn turtle," as the saying goes. But Dick was on the watch, and he sent the tips down, and soon the machine righted itself. Then they rushed away, over the woods beyond the college buildings.

"Going?" queried Sam.

"Are you game?" asked Dick, grimly.

"Sure!"

"What about it, Tom? Don't go if you don't think it is best."

"We'll try it, Dick. But if you spill us out—well, please choose a soft spot, that's all!" went on Tom, who had to have his joke, even in such a time of peril.

To take that trip, with such a wind blowing, was not a wise move, and all three of the Rovers knew it. But they wanted so much to see the girls, and show them the biplane, that they were willing to take the risk.

On and on sailed the Dartaway, now in the teeth of the breeze and then with the wind on the quarter. All of the youths clung fast constantly, for their was great danger of being pitched into space. They had straps for fastening themselves, but hated to use these, fearing that they might get in some position where a quick jump might mean safety. If they were strapped in, and the biplane fell, they might be crushed to death under the heavy engine.

Most of the trip was made in the face of the wind, which, every instant, seemed to grow stronger. The Dartaway acted like a thing of life, swooping and careening from one side to the other. Dick had to manipulate the wheel and the levers constantly, to keep anything like an even "keel."

"Can you keep to the course?" questioned Tom, after about half the distance to the seminary had been covered.

"I don't know—it depends on the wind," Dick replied. "I may go around to the westward—it seems to be better sailing that way."

In the end they had to make a wide detour, and Dick was wondering how he was going to turn in the direction of Hope Seminary, when the wind suddenly died down. This was his chance, and on the instant he headed directly for the seminary.

"There it is!" cried Sam, presently. "I see the buildings!"

"There is the campus!" added Tom, a minute later. "And there are the girls, waving banners at us!"

"I see them!" answered Dick, and then he shut off the engine, and silently and with the grace of a big, white swan, the Dartaway volplaned to the earth.