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"Oh, Dick, how lovely!"

"Weren't you afraid, Sam?"

"What a big flying machine, Tom!"

Such were the exclamations from Dora, Grace and Nellie, as all rushed forward to where the boys were alighting from the Dartaway. Soon they were shaking hands all around, and soon other girl students were coming up, to learn what the arrival of the flying machine meant.

"Well, we certainly had a great trip," said Dick.

"The wind was pretty strong," put in Sam.

"Strongest wind you ever saw!" declared Tom, stoutly. "Turned us over about 'steen times and rolled us into a regular ball."

"Oh, Tom, what an idea!" exclaimed Nellie, and began to laugh. "But weren't you afraid?" she went on anxiously.

"What, me? Never! But Sam was so afraid he shook off his shoes, and one of 'em dropped right on a cow, and——"

"Tom Rover!" burst out Grace. "What a story-teller you are!"

"Well, Grace, if you don't believe it, go and ask that cow," went on the fun-loving Rover, soberly. "It's lucky Sam has elastics on the shoes—to pull 'em back by. If he hadn't had——" Tom did not finish but shook his head mournfully.

"I am so glad you got here safely, Dick," said Dora, in a low voice. "But oh, do you think it is quite safe?" she went on, anxiously. "I—I don't want you to get hurt!"

"I guess it is safe enough, Dora," he replied, not wishing to alarm her. "It's like an auto—you've got to get used to it.

"I don't think I'd ever get used to a flying machine."

"Maybe you would. Some day I'll take you up and you can see how you like it." But Dora shook her head at this.

The boys had hoped to have a quiet time with the three girls, but this was not to be just then. The students of the seminary gathered around, and the lads were kept busy explaining about the biplane, and how the engine and the steering gear worked. Then, to show that they could run the Dartaway as well as Dick, Tom took the machine up and Sam followed him, each making several circles around the campus.

"Any girls want to go up?" questioned Tom. "Now don't please all speak at once." There was a general giggle, but nobody accepted the invitation. Then the Rovers turned to those they had come to visit, and, taking the hint, the other girl students sauntered away.

"Wouldn't you like some refreshments?" asked Dora. "We might get some hot coffee and some cake."

"No, we'll have to get back before dark," answered Dick. "So we'll just stay and talk awhile. Any special news from home?"

"No. Mamma is going away for her health, and Mrs. Laning is going with her."

"I hope they go where old Crabtree and Sobber can't find them."

"That is what they are going to try to do, Dick. Oh, dear, I wish those people would never come near us again!"

"They are up near our home now," answered the eldest Rover boy, and told about the old mill.

"Whatever are they up to now, do you think, Dick?"

"I can't imagine. We are all awaiting developments."

"Your folks ought to be on guard."

"They are on guard—and dad has hired a detective to keep his eye on Crabtree and Sobber."

"What about your father, Dick? You wrote that he was worried over some business matter."

"He is, and Uncle Randolph is worried, too, Dora. It's some business you wouldn't understand—something about some western investment. You see dad and uncle are getting old and they can't watch things as they used to and Uncle Randolph is all wrapped up in scientific farming, just as he always was. I sometimes think it's time I took hold of business matters and helped them."

"Then you'd have to leave Brill, wouldn't you?"

Yes; but I'd not mind that—I have a pretty good education even now, and I could study in my spare moments. I could take a short course, instead of one of the long ones. And then, Dora, that would help out another way," went on Dick in a lower voice, and looking over his shoulder to make sure that the others were not listening. But the others had walked off to to rear of the big biplane.

"Another way? How?" And Dora looked at him wonderingly.

"Oh, you know well enough."

"No, I don't," she replied; but two bright spots began to show in her pretty cheeks, making her prettier than ever.

"Well, I made up my mind that as soon as I left college I was going to get married," Dick went on, looking her full in the eyes.

"Oh, Dick!" And now she cast her eyes on the ground.

"Sure. Don't you think it's a good idea?" he went on, and he caught her hand and held it.

"Oh, I—I——" She blushed more than ever and could not go on.

"I know we are not so very old, Dora, but, on the other hand, we are not so very young either, and I think your mother would approve, and I am sure my father wouldn't object. I know he thinks you are just the finest girl in the whole world,—he said so."

"Well, mamma likes you, too, Dick,—she's told me that many times."

"Then I'm sure she won't object. And, besides, when I'm her son-in-law I'll be able to do a good deal more than I can now about helping her with her financial affairs, and all that, you know."

"Yes, I know that, too."

"And so I think we ought to get married. But, of course, if you object, Dora——"

"Did I object?" And she smiled just a little—a smile that set his heart bounding.

"Then you'll consent?" he asked eagerly. "Will you? Say yes, won't you?" And now he had hold of both of her hands and was looking her full in the eyes. "I want you so much, Dora,—I've wanted you ever since I first met you on that little steamboat, on the way to Putnam Hall."

"Oh, Dick, what an idea! Why, you hardly knew me then!"

"Never mind, I knew you well enough."

"What a long time ago that was," murmured the girl. She was still gazing fully into his eyes.

"Yes, it was a long time ago, and yet, somehow, it seems an awfully short time, too. But, Dora, you haven't said yes yet. Won't you please say yes?" he pleaded, in a lower voice, as Tom and the others started to rejoin them.

"Yes," she murmured, her face becoming a rosy red. "Yes. Any time you say, Dick, if mamma is willing."

"You dear, dear girl!" he cried softly. "Oh, I just wish I had you all to myself for a moment!" And he gave her a look that spoke volumes.

"Well, we've got to get back, that is all there is to it," came from Sam loudly. He could not help but notice how confidential Dick and Dora were becoming.

"I'd like to stay, but we've got to make the trip before it gets too dark," added Tom.

"Just as you say," answered Dick, although he did not, just then, see how he was going to tear himself away.

But the boys did not leave for a good quarter of an hour, and during that time, Dick and Dora somehow managed to walk to the end of the campus, where there were big clumps of rose bushes and lilac shrubbery. Once in the shadow of these Dick pulled something from a pocket and held it out to Dora.

"If we are going to be regularly engaged, you must have this," he said.

"Oh, Dick, a diamond ring!" she cried, as the glint of the jewel caught her eyes.

"Hold out your hand, dear," he said, and when she held it out he placed the ring on her finger. Then he took her in his arms.

"Mine, Dora, mine, always and forever mine!"

"Always and forever, Dick!" she answered. And then they kissed each other.

When they rejoined the others each felt as if walking on air.

"But the ring—they'll be sure to see it, Dick!" whispered Dora.

"If they don't I shall be disappointed," he answered.

It was Grace who espied the glittering circlet first and she uttered a slight shriek. Then she pointed it out to her sister.

"A diamond ring—an engagement ring!" she cried.

"Oh, how lovely!" exclaimed Nellie.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the future Mrs. Dick Rover!" said Dick, just a bit awkwardly, while Dora blushed the color of a peony.

"Oh, Dora!" cried Grace and Nellie, in chorus, and then each kissed her.

"I thought I smelt a mouse," murmured Sam.

"Hail to the bride!" cried Tom. "Say, Dick, isn't it proper to salute your future sister-in-law?" he went on, with a broad grin.

"I don't know—better ask her," replied Dick, good-naturedly, and then Tom kissed Dora, and Sam did the same thing. After that Tom declared he ought to kiss the "bride-to-be's cousins," and started in, and Sam followed.

"Here, you kids break away!" cried Dick finally. "I thought you said we had to get back before dark."

"'Kids' indeed!" snorted Tom. "My, how old we've gotten since we're engaged!" And then he grinned more than ever. "But never mind," he went on to Nellie, in a whisper. "Just you wait and see the diamond ring I get you one of these
Rover Boys in the Air p177.jpg


The Rover Boys in the Air.

days." And this remark made Nellie blush as deeply as had Dora. Sam said something, too, to Grace about a ring, at which she laughed merrily and slapped his face. But when the boys were in the biplane and ready to sail away, and he held up a finger with a ring on it and looked at her questioningly—and longingly—she gave a quick little nod of her curly head.

"All ready?" asked Dick, at last.

"All ready!" replied his brothers.

"Then start her up!" cried the oldest Rover boy, and the others gave a turn to the propellers. Bang! bang! bang! went the engine, and Sam and Tom rushed to their seats.

"Come again soon!" cried the girls.

"Just as soon as we can!" was the answer.

"Be careful!" pleaded Dora. "Please, please be careful!"

"We'll look out—don't worry," answered Dick. He had to shout, to make himself heard above the noise of the motor. Then came the usual whizz and rush, and a few seconds later the Rover boys were once more in the air and bound for Brill.

Dick would have been pleased could he have allowed his mind to linger on the conversation he had had with Dora, but he soon found this out of the question. The wind had come up again, and was now blowing as strongly as ever, and he had all he could do to manage the Dartaway. Soon the big biplane commenced to pitch and toss like a small boat on the bosom of an angry ocean.

"Say, this is getting something fierce!" was Sam's comment, after a particularly thrilling dip. "I thought we were going right down that time."

"You hold tight!" yelled Dick. "Don't let go for an instant."

"I'm as tight as glue," was the reply.

"Hadn't you better go up a bit, Dick?" came from Tom.

"Just what I thought of doing," was the answer.

The rudders were shifted, and swiftly the biplan mounted through space. It was now growing dark, and presently the panorama that had been below them, vanished from view.

"Huh! this won't do!" cried Dick. "1 can't see how to steer."

"Steer by the wind for awhile," suggested Sam. A minute later came a fierce gust of wind, followed by a second and then a third. Around spun the biplane and then tilted up as if about to go over. Then came an unexpected ripping and tearing sound.

"It's the left plane—it's torn loose!" yelled Sam. "Let her down, Dick, before it is too late! If you don't, we'll drop to our death!"