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CHAPTER XXII


OVER THE BIG WOODS


"Is there a hardware store handy?" asked Dick, of the first man who came up. He had told his brothers to let him do the talking.

"Sure—Bill Simmons's place, just down the street," answered the man, pointing with his finger.

"Thank you. Tom, bring that five-gallon gasoline can with you. Sam, you mind the machine," went on Dick, loudly.

"All right," answered the brothers, and Tom got the can in question, and he and Dick started for the store.

"Humph! got to have gasoline to run 'em, eh?" said one of the men, to Sam.

"Yes, indeed," answered the youngest Rover.

"Well, Bill Simmons can give ye all ye want, pervidin' ye pay for it," chuckled the man. "He keeps gasoline fer auto fellers an' fer farmers as has gasoline engines."

Dick and Tom hurried to the hardware store and asked the proprietor about gasoline. While he was filling the can they looked at an assortment of pistols that were exhibited in a showcase.

"They look pretty good," said Dick, when the hardware man came towards them.

"Are good, too. Wouldn't you like to buy a good shooter?" he added, anxious to do business.

"Show me a really good five-shooter," said Dick, and several were quickly handed over. He selected one and Tom selected another.

"Have to get one for Sam, too," whispered Tom.

"Sure," replied his brother, and this was done, and they also purchased the necessary cartridges.

"Now you are well armed—if anybody tries to steal your airship," said Bill Simmons.

"We don't want the machine stolen, or tampered with," answered Dick. "We can't afford to take chances. If a fellow tampered with our machine it might go wrong when it was in the air and we'd get our necks broken." And then Dick and Tom hurried back to the Dartaway carrying the can of gasoline between them. The can was fastened where it belonged, for the regular tank had still plenty of gasoline in it, and then the boys sailed away once more, over the winding road leading to Snagtown.

"That's a dandy revolver!" exclaimed Sam, on receiving one of the weapons, with some cartridges. "And loaded, too! Now I guess we are ready for those rascals!" he added, with satisfaction.

"Remember, we are not to use any firearms unless it becomes absolutely necessary," said Dick, firmly.

"Yes, but I am not going to give them a chance to down me and get away with Nellie!" cried Tom, stoutly.

"Oh, no, Tom! We'll not allow that!" returned his big brother, with equal firmness.

"It seems to be getting a bit cloudy," said Sam, a minute later. "Wonder if it will rain?"

"I don't think that is rain, Sam," answered Dick. "It's worse than that, for us."

"You mean wind?"

"Yes."

Dick was right, and presently the first puff of the coming breeze hit the Dartaway and sent the aircraft up on a slant. Dick promptly moved the tips and one of the rudders, and the flying machine came along on a level. But from then on the oldest Rover boy had all he could do to keep to the course, for the breeze became stronger and stronger.

"It's too bad!" murmured Tom, as he clung to his seat. "Hang the luck! Why couldn't that wind have kept off for an hour longer!"

"You fellows keep your eyes on the road!" sang out Dick. "I've got to give all my attention to the biplane!"

"All right," was the answer of the others.

After that but little was said, for Dick had to watch every movement of the Dartaway with care, and his hands and feet were constantly on the alert, to make whatever shift seemed necessary. Sam and Tom strained their eyes to catch sight of the enclosed touring car, which, they had learned, was painted a dark blue.

The wind kept growing stronger and stronger, coming in fitful gusts that were particularly bad for such a flying machine as the boys possessed. Once came a gust that sent them spinning far out of their course.

"Phew! this is getting pretty wild!" gasped Sam. "Dick, can you manage her?"

"Not if it gets any worse," was the grim answer.

"Don't take too much of a chance," put in Tom. "We don't want to get wrecked in this wilderness."

His reference to a wilderness was not without reason, for below them stretched a series of hills and valleys covered with stunted trees and clumps of brushwood. Not a house was in sight.

"This is what you'd call Lonesomehurst," murmured Sam.

"Do you see any place where we can land?" was Dick's question, a little later, after he had battled with another angry gust and then run through a particularly trying "soft spot."

"Nothing around here," answered Tom.

"I see something of a clearing over to the left," came from Sam. "I don't know what it amounts to though, it's too far off."

"We'll look at it," said Dick, in a low voice.

He had to fairly battle his way along, so fierce were the gusts of wind. He made something of an oval, and presently found himself over a spot covered with grass and low bushes. Then came another gust of wind and without waiting longer he shut off the engine, and the Dartaway came down with a bump that threatened to break the wheels on which it rested. They swept through the bushes, and then tilted up beside several small trees.

"Hold her down!" shouted Dick. "Tie her fast before the wind turns her over!"

All set to work, and, not without great difficulty, they managed to run the biplane directly between several trees and some clumps of bushes.

"Fasten every rope well," sang out Dick. "Unless I miss my guess, this is going to be a corker of a blow!"

"I don't think it will be as bad as it was during that hailstorm," answered Tom. "But it is bad enough."

The ropes were all well secured, and then the boys breathed easier. Down on the ground the wind did not appear to be so powerful, and they felt that, unless it increased greatly, the Dartaway would be safe in her berth among the trees and bushes.

"Well, what's the next move?" questioned Sam, after they had rested for a moment from their labors.

"I hardly know what to say," answered his eldest brother. "We can hardly follow that auto on foot."

"The worst of it is, it will be growing dark before long," put in Tom. "What are we going to do then? I thought we'd catch up to that auto long before this."

They talked the matter over, but could arrive at no satisfactory conclusion.

"I'm almost sorry we came down," said Dick.

"We might have gotten through—although the wind is worse than it was."

"No, we couldn't do anything in this wind,—we'd simply wreck the Dartaway," said Sam. "But come on, let's go as far as we can. We can come back for the biplane any time."

While under such a strain of mind, the boys could not remain quiet, and so they set off through the woods in the direction of the road. It was hard walking, and several times they had to literally force their way through the brushwood. Then they came to a swamp and had to make a detour, for fear of getting stuck in the mud. When they at last reached the road they were well-nigh exhausted.

"I'll have to rest just a minute!" panted Sam.

"Say, that was something fierce, wasn't it?" And he sank on a rock.

"Listen! I think I hear somebody coming!" cried Dick.

All strained their ears, and presently made out the sounds of a farm wagon moving slowly over the rocky roadway that was hidden by the trees. Then the turnout came into view, loaded with freshly-cut cord wood, and drawn by a pair of bony, white horses. On the seat of the wagon sat an aged colored man, talking volubly to his team.

"Hello there, uncle!" cried Dick, as the wagon came closer. "Stop a minute, I want to talk to you."

"What you-all wants?" demanded the colored man nervously, for the spot was a particularly lonely one.

"Did you come from the direction of Snagtown?" went on Dick.

"Dat's wot I did, sah."

"Did you see anything of a big automobile going that way, one with a coach top?"

At this question the aged colored man blinked his eyes and shifted uneasily. He glanced back, over his load of wood.

"I—I ain't got nuffin to say, boss, I ain't got nuffin to say!" he answered finally, and prepared to drive on.

"Oh, yes, you have got something to say—and you are going to say it!" cried Dick, and he ran forward, in front of the horses, and caught hold of one by the bit.