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CHAPTER XX


GRACE'S REVELATION


One clear afternoon the three Rover boys decided to take a run up to Hope Seminary in the Dartaway. There was very little wind and, although it was growing colder, they knew they could easily bundle up in their aviation coats and boots. Sam and Tom had been trying out the biplane, and they pronounced everything in perfect order for a flight.

"Dick, let me run the machine over," said Sam, and the big brother agreed, for Tom had been at the wheel on a previous occasion.

The boys had no classes to attend after lunch and so got away by two o'clock.

"I trust we can see the girls," said Dick, as they started up the engine of the flying machine.

"Oh, they'll be at liberty after hours," answered Tom. "They always are."

Previous to leaving, the boys had filled the oil feed and the gasoline tank, so they were prepared for quite a trip.

"Maybe we can get the girls to go up, for just a little sail, you know," said Sam. "I am sure the Dartaway could carry them, on a pinch."

"Where would they sit, in our laps?" asked Tom, with a grin.

"No, they could sit in the seats and we could sit back of them, like on a bob-sled," answered the youngest Rover.

"I don't think they'll care to go up," answered Dick. "They'd be too scared. As yet, flying machines are hardly built for ladies. But I think the time will come when they will use them."

As they were in no hurry, the boys took their time in sailing over the farms and country roads. They did not go up very high, and often saw farmers and others staring at them, shouting things they could not catch.

"By and by flying machines will be as common as autos," remarked Dick. "But now the sight of one is a great curiosity to these folks."

Sam handled the machine like a veteran and even showed what he could do by making a small figure eight and a spiral dip.

"I wish we had a little monoplane, just for one," he said. "My! couldn't a fellow scoot around then!"

"Sam's got the flying bee all right!" cried Tom.

"Well, wouldn't you like it yourself?" demanded the youngest Rover.

"I'd rather have a big airship. Then I could I give all my friends a ride—have a regular airship party."

"Well, I'd like that too," was Sam's reply.

Presently they came in sight of the seminary buildings. They circled around for some time and then landed at the far end of the campus. A few girls were in sight, but not those they had come to visit.

"Good afternoon," said Dick, to a girl he had met, named Ida Strong. "Can you tell me where I can find Miss Stanhope, or the Misses Laning?"

"The three of them went for a walk, about half an hour ago," replied Ida Strong.

"Do you know where they went?"

"I do not, excepting that they took the road to Beechwood," and the girl student pointed out the highway mentioned, one that ran through the big woods back of the seminary. It led to the village of Beechwood, which was several miles beyond.

"Thank you," returned Dick. "If we shouldn't meet them, will you tell them we called, in our biplane?"

"I will," said the girl.

Dick was about to rejoin his brothers, and suggest that they go up and fly along over the woods road, when another girl, named Bess Haven, came running up.

"Oh, Mr. Rover, isn't this queer!" she cried. "I thought you were hurt!"

"Hurt?" repeated Dick, puzzled. "How so?"

"Why Dora Stanhope said you were—that you had had a fall out of the flying machine."

"That I fell out of the machine?" cried Dick. "There is some mistake here. I have had no fall. When did she tell you that?"

"About half an hour ago. She got some sort of a message, and she was terribly upset. She went off to visit you."

"Where to?"

"I don't know. But wait—yes, she did say you had had a fall in the woods."

"Did she go alone?" And now Dick's heart began to thump strangely. He was thinking of their many enemies. Was this some new trick?

"No, Nellie and Grace Laning, her cousins, went with her."

Dick turned to Ida Strong.

"You saw them go?"

"Yes, just as I told you. Oh, Mr. Rover, is anything wrong?"

"I don't know—I hope not. But I think we had better go after them at once. Good day." And Dick fairly ran back to where Tom and Sam rested near the biplane.

"Start her up, quick!" he said to his brothers, in a low voice. "Something is wrong! We've got to get after the girls right away!"

"What is it?" demanded Tom, leaping to his feet, while Sam did the same.

"I'll tell you when we are on the way. Quick, start the propellers! I'll take the wheel," and Dick sprang into the seat.

In another moment the engine had been started, and with a rush and a whizz the Dartaway left the campus. Dick made a turn, then headed in the direction of the road through the woods. He flew low and rather slowly.

"Keep your eyes open," he cautioned, "for any sight of the girls—or any sight of our enemies." And then he related as much as he knew of what had occurred.

"Do you think somebody sent that message to decoy Dora away from the seminary, Dick?" asked Sam.

"Doesn't it look that way? Why should anybody send word that I was hurt, when I wasn't?"

"I think you are right!" declared Tom. "I think I can see through it," he went on quickly. "They found out they couldn't dynamite dad or Uncle Randolph into giving up that money, and they couldn't get at Mrs. Stanhope or Mrs. Laning to get it, so now they are going to see what they can do through Dora—and maybe Nellie and Grace."

"That's exactly the way I figure it!" exclaimed Dick. "And the sooner we reach the girls the better! For all we know, it may even now be too late!"

"Oh, let us hope not!" cried Sam.

"Did they go on foot?" asked Tom.

"Yes."

"Were they to meet anybody?"

"I don't know. Miss Haven said they went off in a great hurry—which was natural, if they thought I had tumbled out of the biplane and been hurt. I suppose poor Dora was scared half to death," and Dick heaved a long sigh.

As the flying machine swept along over the woods and the roadway the three youths kept their eyes on the alert for a sight of the girls. For a long time they saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then Sam uttered a cry:

"See! see! There is Grace! She is waving her handkerchief at us!"

All looked in the direction indicated, and at a spot along the road where there was quite a cleared space they saw Grace Laning standing on a flat rock, waving franctically at them. They had to make a circle, and then, with care, Dick brought the biplane down into the roadway.

"What is it, Grace?" yelled Sam, as he leaped from his seat. "Where are the others?"

"Oh, Sam!" moaned the girl, and then they saw that her hair was awry and her shoes were covered with dust. "Oh, save them! Go after them at once!" And then she staggered forward and fainted in Sam's arms.

The three Rovers were greatly alarmed and for the moment did net know what to do. Then Dick rushed to the side of the roadway, where some water trickled along in a hollow, and brought some, using a collapsible cup they carried when on a trip. With this they bathed Grace's face and they forced a little water into her mouth, and soon she opened her eyes and stared around her.

"Go away! Go away! Don't touch me!" she gasped.

"Hush, Grace, you are safe," answered Sam, gently.

"Oh, Sam! I forgot!" She struggled to her feet, he still supporting her. "Did—did you find them? Did you bring them back?" she asked wildly.

"You mean Dora and Nellie?" asked Dick and Tom, in a breath.

"Yes! yes!"

"We don't know where they are. Tell us about it," went on Dick.

"Oh, it's terrible!" cried Grace, and now the tears began to course down her cheeks. "We got a note—at least Dora did—stating you had had a fall from the biplane and were hurt. The note was signed 'Tom,' and we of course thought Tom had sent it. It said to keep the matter quiet but to come without delay—down this road to the old white cottage. So the three of us started off as soon as we could. Dora was so afraid it was serious she ran nearly all the way, and Nellie and I ran, too. We had thought you were at the cottage, but when we got there we didn't see anybody. While we hunted around a big touring car, one of the kind with a closed coach top, dashed up. There was a man running the car and another man inside, a fellow who looked like a doctor. The driver asked if we were the girls who had come to see Dick Rover, the aviator, and we said yes. Then he said the car had been sent for us and for the doctor, and for us to get in and he would take us to Dick Rover at once. We got in, and then, before we knew it, the touring car was rushing along the road at a great rate of speed. We asked the doctor about you, Dick, but he said he hadn't seen you yet. Then we asked the driver, but he acted so queer we began to get suspicious. Then, oh, wasn't it strange? Nellie saw a card on the floor of the car, and picked it up, and it was Josiah Crabtree's visiting card! She showed it to Dora and I, and Dora screamed, and wanted to leap out of the car. But the doctor—if he was a doctor—held her, and held Nellie, too. But I was too much for him. I don't know how I did it, but, just as we were rounding a curve rather slowly, I flung myself out of the door, and I landed in some bushes. I got scratched a little, as you can see, but I wasn't hurt, and I started to run back to the seminary and was doing that when I saw your flying machine. You know the rest." And now Grace stopped, too exhausted to say another word.

"And the touring car went on?" queried Dick.

"Yes! yes! I saw the man shut the door, too. Oh, Dick, they have carried poor Nellie and Dora off, just as they carried Dora's mother off!"

"They kept to this road?"

"I believe so. I don't know of any cross road this side of Beechwood."

"Then we'll get after them at once!" declared Dick. "Sam, do you want to take Grace back, or come with us?"

"Well—I—er——"

"Go with them, Sam—they may need you!" broke in the girl quickly. "I can go back alone, and I'll send word to the authorities, over the telephone. Hurry! hurry, or it will be too late!"

The boys needed no further urging. Dick and Tom ran for the flying machine, and soon the explosions of the motor filled the crisp autumn air. Then all the boys leaped on board. Dick was at the wheel, and he sent the Dartaway along at a good rate of speed. Sam looked back, to see Grace hurrying in the direction of Hope Seminary.

"I hope she gets back safely," he said anxiously.

"I think she will," answered Tom. "Those rascals are all further along the road—waiting for Nellie and Dora."

"Keep your eyes open," put in Dick. "Don't let anything escape you. We must spot that auto without fail!"