The Rover Boys in the Air/Chapter 21
FOLLOWING DORA AND NELLIE
The nerves of the Rover boys were on edge. Dick and Tom were particularly anxious, for those who had been thus rudely carried off were very dear to them.
"I wonder who that so-called doctor was?" mused Sam, as the Dartaway sailed along, keeping over the road as well as the windings through the dense woods permitted.
"Most likely some tool of Crabtree or Sobber or both," answered Tom.
"Do you think Koswell and Larkspur are in this game?"
"Perhaps they are!" cried Dick. "It would be just like them to join forces with Crabtree and Sobber. They are down and out, and need money, and all of them would expect to get a big stake out of this."
"Then you think they carried the girls off for money?" questioned Tom.
"I do, Tom. You hit the truth when you said they found out they couldn't do anything at the farm, and couldn't reach Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning. The only things left were to try to reach us or the girls."
"And they didn't dare tackle us," put in Sam.
"Do you suppose that Mrs. Sobber is in this?" continued Tom, referring to a relative of Tad Sobber, who had assisted once in the carrying off of Mrs. Stanhope.
"She may be, although she was pretty well scared that other time," replied his older brother.
The boys relapsed into silence, each busy with his own thoughts. All were anxious to catch a glimpse of the enclosed touring car. But they came within sight of the village of Beechwood without encountering a turnout of any sort.
"I'll land here and make some inquiries," said Dick.
"Yes, if the auto went through here somebody must have seen it," said Tom.
A landing was made directly on the village green, in front of the post-office, and a small crowd quickly collected.
"It's them young fellers from Brill!" cried one of the villagers. "I heard tell they had an airship."
"That ain't no airship, it's an aryplane," said another. "They don't lift up like no balloon—they sail like a bird, on them canvas wings."
"Wot makes the thing go, Job?"
"Them wooden things. They go 'round like windmills."
"Say, we want some information and we want it quick!" cried Dick. "Have any of you seen a big auto go through here, an enclosed auto—one with a coach-like body?"
"Sure we did!" cried one of the villagers. "By heck! the thing nearly killed Si Levering, it did! Si was crossin' the road, when whizz! bang! shoo! that auto went past him like a streak o' greased lightnin'! Si jumped back an' sit hisself down in the waterin' trough an' got hisself all wet."
"Which way did the auto go?" went on Dick.
"Right straight ahead."
"No, it didn't nuther," put in a farmer, who had just arrived in the village. "It took the road to Shepleytown—I see it."
"Which is that?" questioned Tom.
"You go up this road about a mile an' then take the cross road to the left. You can't miss it, 'cause there's a big tree on the corner that was struck by lightnin'."
"All right, we'll go to the corner that was struck by lightning," said Tom, who could not help joking, even in that moment of anxiety.
"I didn't say the corner was struck—it was the tree," explained the farmer soberly.
"All right, much obliged," answered Tom; and then the three boys started up the engine once more. The villagers had crowded around, but as those explosions rent the air several leaped back, and then the whole crowd ran for their lives.
"She's goin' up!" one yelled.
"Is the engine goin' to bust?" asked another.
"Look out, Jim, or she'll mow ye down like a mowin' machine!"
"Clear the track!" cried Sam, and then, with the usual rush and roar, the Dartaway leaped over the village green and arose in the air, leaving the gaping and wondering crowd behind.
It was an easy run up to the blasted tree, and sighting this, Dick headed the biplane along the road that led to Shepleytown.
"How far is that place?" asked Sam.
"I think it is about six or seven miles," answered Tom. "I was there once, on a bicycle—went after nuts with Stanley and Songbird."
"What, to the town?" questioned Sam, with a grin.
"No, the woods back of the town, Sam. Say, that's one on me,—as bad as that countryman's struck-by-lightning corner," and Tom grinned, too.
On and on swept the flying machine, the boys watching every rod of the winding road below. Once Tom gave a cry, as they saw a turnout at a distance. But it proved to be nothing but a tinware peddler's wagon. On the ground lay various pieces of tinware, scattering over a distance of fifty feet.
"Look at that!" cried Sam. "He must have had an accident."
"Say, maybe that auto struck his wagon," exclaimed Tom.
"It looks that way," was Dick's comment.
"Shall we land and question him?"
"What's the use? We know the machine came this way. That's enough for the present. We don't want to lose a minute more than is necessary."
"Say, we were chumps that we didn't telephone ahead from Beech wood!" cried Sam. "We might have had that auto stopped when it went through Shepleytown."
"It couldn't be done, for there is no line from Beechwood to Shepleytown," answered Dick. "The line only runs the other way."
The route was now over a dense woods and the boys had to sail slowly, for fear of passing the automobile while the latter was running under the overhanging trees. Once they saw something that looked like an automobile and Dick had to sal) in a circle and come back, to make sure. But it proved to be only a two-seated carriage; and they passed on.
Shepleytown proved to be quite a place, with a main street containing a dozen stores. It connected by stage with Chaplet, which was a railroad center, five miles away.
The coming of the boys created as much of a sensation as had their arrival at Beechwood, and once more the biplane was surrounded.
"Sure, I saw that 'mobile you are after," said one man, in answer to their questions. "It was running putty lively an' no mistake. It went past the mill an' took the old Snagtown road. Queer, too, 'cause that road ain't half as good as the Chaplet turnpike."
"Did you see who was in the auto?" queried Dick.
"I think a couple o' men an' some girls. I couldn't see very well, the machine run so fast. I had to hold my hoss, for I was afraid they'd run into me."
Several others had also seen the big enclosed touring car and all were sure it had taken to the old Snagtown road.
"Where does that road run to?" asked Dick.
"Goes over the hills to what used to be Snagtown," answered one of the men. "But there ain't no town now, since the mills closed down—only empty houses."
"Just the place they'd be likely to head for!" cried Tom, in a low voice to his brothers. "Come, on, hurry up!"
Sam and Dick needed no urging, and having thanked the men for their information they started up the engine once more.
"How far is it to that deserted village." called out Tom, as the Dartaway was about to move off."
"Six miles!" shouted one of the crowd. "That is, by the road. The way you're going it ain't more'n four!" And this answer made the crowd laugh.
"Four miles," murmured Dick. "We ought to be able to head them off."
"I wish we were armed," came from Tom. "We may have some desperate characters to deal with."
"We might go back and get pistols," suggested Sam.
Dick thought for a moment. He knew well how desperate their enemies might become. He hated to lose the time but he realized it would be worse than useless to face a gang of four or more empty-handed. There was no telling what Sobber, Crabtree and the others might do if cornered.
"I guess we'd better go back and arm ourselves," he said. "It will create talk, but that can't be helped."
"It will create talk anyway, as soon as it is known that Dora and Nellie have been carried off," answered Tom.
"What do you care for the talk!" cried Sam. "What we want to do is to save the girls—and put those rascals where they belong, in jail!"
Then the biplane was turned back in a circle and soon the boys were back in Shepleytown, much to the astonishment of those who had but a few moments before seen them leave.