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CHAPTER IV


AT THE TELEPHONE


Tom and Sam spent the balance of the day in looking for the missing biplane, walking down to the river, and even visiting Humpback Falls, where the youngest Rover had once had such a thrilling adventure.

"Don't seem to be in sight," remarked Tom, after they had tramped through the woods and over the rocks until they were tired.

"Looks to me as if the Dartaway had gone further than we supposed possible," replied Sam. "Maybe she's a hundred miles from here."

"Oh, she may have gone clean over to the ocean and dropped in," said Tom. "But I don't see how she could—with nobody to steer. How long would an auto keep to the road without somebody steering?"

"Do you know what I think we ought to do? Go back home and telephone to the villages and towns in the direction the biplane took. Somebody must have seen the craft,—if she kept in the air."

"By Jove, Sam, that's the idea! Why didn't you think of that before? It would have saved us quite a tramp."

The two boys turned back, and reached home a little after the supper hour. The meal had been held back for them.

"Any luck?" asked Dick, who sat in an easy chair on the front piazza. His cuts had been plastered up and he felt quite like himself again.

"No luck; but Sam has an idea," answered Tom, and mentioned what it was.

"You must have supper first," said Mrs. Rover. "Then you can do all the telephoning you please." And so it was agreed.

During the past few months the telephone service in the neighborhood of Dexter's Corners had been greatly improved and the lines could be connected with nearly all of the villages and towns roundabout.

"I'll try Carwood first," said Sam. "I'll call up Tom Bender. He's a wideawake fellow and would know if an airship had been seen."

Carwood was soon had on the wire and Sam presently was talking to the boy he had mentioned—a lad who worked in the general store with his father.

"See an airship?" cried Tom Bender. "We sure did scooting over this burgh like a streak, too! Was it your machine? Who was running it? I tried to make out but couldn't."

"Nobody was running it," answered Sam. "It ran away on its own account, from back of our barn. Where did it go to?"

"Ran away! Suffering toadstools, Sam, you don't mean it! I don't know where it went, it went so fast."

"Which way was it headed? Try to tell me as nearly as you can."

"It was headed over Bear Hill, near the Spring. That would about take it over Rayville."

"Thank you, Tom; then I'll call up somebody in Rayville. Good-bye."

"Oh, say, Sam, hold on a minute. You say the machine broke away. How was that?" Tom Bender was all curiosity.

"We were trying the engine and propellers, that's all. I'll tell you the rest when I see you," answered the youngest Rover, and rang off.

"Tom would keep me answering questions for a year if I let him," he added, to his brothers.

He next tried the Rayville general store, but could get no information concerning the missing biplane. Then he tried several farmers who were utter strangers to him but whose names were in the telephone directory.

"Airship, eh?" queried one farmer, a man named Peter Marley. "Well, we sure did see an airship, fer it came nigh onto rippin' off the roof o' the barn. Ef I had the feller here as was runin' it I'd give him a dose o' buckshot! He nigh scart my wife into a fit, he did!"

"Which way did the airship go, Mr. Marley?"

"Went right over into Rocker's Woods, over where the old saw mill used to be."

"Did the airship come down, do you think?"

"I guess so—leas'wise she looks like she was goin' to come down. But who was the crazy loon as was runnin' her?"

"Nobody was running the craft—she ran away on her own hook."

"By gum! Ye don't tell me! No wonder she acted so blamed crazy like! Any reward fer her?" And the farmer's voice betrayed a sudden interest.

"I don't know—I'll find out," answered Sam, and then consulted hastily with his brothers.

"Tell him the biplane is ours and if he will help locate it and get it to a safe place we will pay him well for his services," said Dick.

"When can we go to Rayville?"

"First thing in the morning. There's a good road, and we can make the sixteen miles in the auto in no time."

"All right," said Sam, and told Peter Marley of what had been said. The farmer agreed to remain around his house until they arrived and then do all in his power to help locate the Dartaway.

"Dick, do you think you'll be able to take that trip?" questioned Randolph Rover. "Hadn't you better remain behind? I can go with Tom and Sam if necessary."

"Oh, I'll be all right in the morning," was the reply.

"But you've got to let me and Sam run the machine," put in Tom. "No use of your doing that."

"All right," answered the eldest Rover boy.

That night, when the others had gone to bed, the three Rover boys gathered in Dick's room to discuss further the news regarding Josiah Crabtree and Tad Sobber.

"Do you suppose it is possible that Sobber thinks to come here and blow the house up?" queried Tom.

"He might be equal to it," answered Dick, soberly. "We'll have to keep our eyes peeled, and, when we go back to Brill, we'll have to warn dad and Uncle Randolph."

"Do you know, dad looked worried when he went away," put in Sam.

"I noticed it, Sam. Did he say anything to you about business?"

"Not a word. Why, do you think it's that?"

"There is some trouble out west—has been ever since there was a strike at that Golden Horseshoe mine in which dad invested so heavily last summer. They had a strike, and now one crowd is trying to get the control from another crowd. I don't know the particulars, but I guess dad is worried."

"Dick, don't you think you ought to help him in these affairs?" came suddenly from Sam. "Uncle Randolph is too absorbed in his books and in scientific farming to pay any attention, and—well, dad isn't as young as he used to be—and we are growing older."

"I've been thinking of that, Sam. I wish I was through college, I'd jump right into the game and try to take the load from his shoulders."

"Are you going to take the full course?"

"No, I talked it over with dad last week and I'm going to take the shorter course. He said you two could take the long course if you wanted to."

"Not much! The short course for yours truly!" cried Tom.

"Ditto here!" came from Sam.

"I want to settle down and get into business," went on Tom.

"He thinks Nellie won't wait much longer," remarked Sam, with a wink at Dick.

"Huh! I guess you think Grace won't wait!" snorted Tom. "Didn't I see you looking over that furniture and picture catalogue the other day? Ha! I caught you, Sammy, my boy!"

"Rats!" cried Sam, growing suddenly red in the face. "I was thinking of buying a new chair and maybe a picture or two for our quarters at Brill. The old ones are pretty punk, if you'll remember. Besides, we've got to wait until Dick and Dora step off, you know," went on the youngest Rover.

"That's so—so we have," added Tom, with more of a grin than ever. "By the way, Dick, how much longer are you going to linger before you scrape up money enough to pay the minister's fee?"

"Just long enough to hammer some common-sense into the heads of two brothers of mine!" cried Dick, and threw a book at Tom and a pillow at Sam. "Now go to bed and don't forget to wake up early, for we want to be in Rayville by eight o'clock, so we can have all day, if necessary, to locate the biplane." And then he chased Tom and Sam out of the bedroom and locked the door on them.

Left to himself, Dick walked slowly across the room to where the bureau stood. On the top was a small, framed picture of Dora Stanhope, that had been taken only a few months before. Dick could not help but take up the portrait and gaze at it long and earnestly.

"Dear, dear Dora!" he murmured fondly. "The best girl in all this wide world! Some day you are going to be Mrs. Dick Rover, and that day can't come any too soon for me. Oh, I hope those rascals don't do anything more to harm you!"

Dick was still holding the picture when there came a soft knock on the door.

"Who is it? What do you want?" he asked, as he put the picture down.

"Dick, my child," came in a whisper from the fun-loving Tom. "Be careful and don't kiss all the glaze off that photo. She's a sweet girl, warranted all silk and a yard wide, but the glaze may be poisonous, and——"

"Tom, if you don't get to bed I'll—I'll throw a pitcher of water over you!" cried Dick, and started to unlock the door. With a merry laugh Tom ran off; and that was the last seen or heard of him that night.

Before retiring Dick gave his wounded head another application of liniment, and in the morning he was gratified to find that much of the soreness was gone. The cuts, of course, remained, and he bound these up with extra strips of adhesive plaster. The three lads had an early breakfast, and by half-past seven o'clock were in the touring car, bound for Rayville.

"How are you going to get the biplane back here, even if you do find it?" questioned their uncle, before they started off.

"I don't know," answered Dick. "It will depend on what condition the Dartaway is in. She may be so broken up as to be unfit for anything, and then it wouldn't pay to move her."

"Well, better not attempt to fly in the craft," cautioned Randolph Rover.

"Hardly," said Tom. "Maybe we'll telephone for Captain Colby to come and get her."

Tom was at the wheel of the touring car and, once the farm was left behind, and they were on a fairly good country road, he advanced the spark and the gasoline control until they were running at twenty-five and then thirty miles an hour.

"Now, don't get gay, Tom!" warned Dick. "This road wasn't built for racing."

"Pooh, what's thirty miles an hour!" declared the fun-loving Rover, who just then felt like "letting out." "You know this machine can make fifty and better, Dick."

"I know it, but you've got to have a safer road than this, Tom."

"Beware of the turn!" cried Sam, who sat on the front seat with Tom, while Dick was alone in the tonneau. "It's a bad one!"

"I know it, but I'll make it," answered Tom, and then the touring car reached a bend in the road, and went whizzing around it with a sudden lurch that made Sam cling desperately to the seat and sent Dick flying from one side of the tonneau to the other.

"Tom, be careful!" cried Sam. "Do you want to pitch me out on my head?"

"Do that again, and I'll make you let Sam drive," came from Dick.

"It was the brake—it didn't act just right," answered Tom, just a little frightened. "I think it's loose."

"Better stop and look at it," answered Dick, promptly.

"Oh, I guess it's all right," said Tom. The touring car continued to move along, up a winding hill. Then came a level stretch for half a mile, and then a sharp descent, leading into Carwood.

"Now be careful——" commenced Dick. And then stopped short, for a sudden snapping sound reached his ears.

"What's that?" cried Sam, in alarm.

"The brake—it's broken!" answered Tom. And then he set his teeth grimly, to try to guide the heavy touring car down the steep hill without disaster.