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CHAPTER V


LOOKING FOR THE LOST FLYING MACHINE


It was the foot brake that had given away. The hand brake was still fit for use, but each of the Rover boys remembered with dismay that this brake had been loose for some time. They had thought to tighten it up, but other matters had claimed their attention, and they had not deemed it absolutely necessary before taking the short trip to Rayville, since on starting the other brake had seemed to be in good order.

"Can you do it, Tom?" asked Dick, quickly, as the big car gathered headway on the steep hill.

"I'll try!" was Tom's reply. "But it's some hill."

"If only we don't meet anything," put in Sam. "Blow the horn, Dick!"

The oldest Rover boy did as requested, leaning over from the back seat to do so, and thus leaving Tom free to manipulate the steering wheel. Dick also set the hand brake a notch tighter, but this did little good, since it was the bands that were worn.

On and on bounded the touring car, down the long hill. On both sides the road was bound by rocks and trees, with nasty gullies in several spots. Here and there were "resting spots" for teams, and over these indentations flew the automobile with jolts that threatened to break all the springs at once.

"The turn! Beware of the turn!" cried Sam and Dick together, when about three-quarters of the hill had been passed.

Tom nodded but said not a word. He had thrown the motive power to the low gear, and thus the engine was doing something towards holding the car back.

Suddenly Dick uttered a cry, and the next minute Sam saw him dive down to the bottom of the tonneau and bring up several long ropes to which were attached a number of hooks. He had placed these in the automobile for possible use in getting the Dartaway out of the woods or from among the rocks.

With care Dick took the hooks and threw them out of the machine. At the same time he leaned over and allowed the ends of the ropes to catch on the swiftly-revolving wheels of the machine.

"Maybe they'll hold something—anyway I hope so," he said.

They had now reached the turn. Tom was running as closely as possible to the inner side and Dick had commenced to toot the horn again. With a slipping and sliding, the touring car went over the dirt and stones, rushing nearer and nearer to the gully on the outer edge of the highway .

"Look! Look!" screamed Sam, a second later. "A carriage, and three ladies in it!"

He was right, and the carriage was less than a hundred yards ahead. But just now Tom could think of nothing but the turn, for the machine was running closer than ever to the gully. If they went down in that the touring car would most likely turn turtle, and they might all be killed.

But they did not go down into the gully. By sheer good luck Tom managed to throw the automobile back into the roadway, two wheels for a second spinning in midair. Then he had to reckon with the other danger—that of hitting the carriage with the three ladies.

The ladies had heard the tooting of the auto horn and had tried to draw up to the side of the road. But the incline was still steep and the two horses evidently did not like the looks of that gully.

"You can't pass them!" groaned Sam, and just then came a grinding from underneath the touring car. This was followed by a series of jerks, and then came one final jerk that brought the automobile to a standstill and all but sent the Rover boys flying over the engine hood.

"Well, we've stopped!" panted Tom, when he could catch his breath. "I guess the brake held somehow."

"No, it didn't," answered Sam. "It's another brake, one that Dick heaved overboard." And he pointed to the ropes and hooks. One hook, the biggest, had caught in a rock lining the gully, and the ropes were in a mess around the wheels and the rear axle.

"Good for you!" murmured Tom. "It saved us from running into that carriage."

"Are you men going on?" cried one of the ladies, noticing that the automobile had come to a stop.

"Not just yet!" sang out Dick. "You can go ahead if you wish. We'll wait until you get down to the bottom of the hill—and maybe we'll wait longer," he added in an undertone.

"You scared us nearly to death," said another of the ladies, tartly; and then the carriage went on and was soon lost to sight on a side road.

The three youths alighted, and after blocking the wheels with stones, so that it might not get away unexpectedly, commenced an inspection of the car.

"The ropes wouldn't do much damage but the hooks might," said Dick. "But I couldn't think of anything else to do."

"It was grand of you to do that," answered jTom, warmly. "I was a fool to let her out as I did," he added bluntly. "I'll know better next time."

That was Tom, often headstrong but quick to acknowledge a fault.

Not without much difficulty did the three youths manage to get the ropes disentangled from the rear wheels and the back axle. It was found that one of the hooks had gone into a tire, causing a blowout that, in the general excitement, nobody had noticed. But otherwise everything seemed to be all right, apart, of course, from the broken brake rod, and the boys were thankful.

"I guess we can manage to run to the nearest blacksmith shop," said Dick, "and there we can get the rod mended."

"What a lucky thing that big hook caught in the rock!" cried Sam.

"It's the one thing that saved us from going into the carriage," returned Tom, and his face was very sober as he spoke. For a time being he did not feel like running the car further and readily agreed to let Sam take hold, after another tire had been adjusted. To keep the automobile from going down the remainder of the hill too rapidly, they allowed one of the ropes to remain on the rear axle, and to this tied a small fallen tree, that made an excellent drag.

When the level roadway was gained once more they made good time to Carwood, and there called on the blacksmith to repair the broken brake rod. While waiting they ran into Tom Bender, and the boy was very anxious to know all about the lost aeroplane.

"Say, but you fellows have a cinch!" he said, in admiration. "You get what you please. Wish I was in your shoes!"

"You'd not want to be in our shoes when that brake rod broke," answered Sam bluntly. "Eh, Tom?"

"Not much!" replied his brother.

At last they were on the way again. They had telephoned to Peter Marley, so that the farmer would know the cause of the delay. Sam did the driving and now the machine went along well, and almost before they knew it they were at Rayville and asking the way to the Marley farm. This was on a back road, but the way was good and they reached the farm without trouble, excepting that they had to slow down to let a herd of cows pass them.

"Got here at last, have ye!" cried Peter Marley, as he came out to greet them. "You kin put that 'mobile under the wagon shed if ye want to," he added.

"Can't we use it to go after the biplane?" questioned Dick.

"No, there hain't no fit road. If ye say so, we can go on hosses—if ye want to pay fer ridin'," added the farmer shrewdly. He was a good man, but close, and never allowed a chance to make an honest cent slip by.

"All right, we'll ride," said Dick. "The horses may come in handy for hauling the biplane,—and besides, we can't carry these ropes and hooks if we walk."

So it was arranged; and a little later the party of four set off on horseback, the farmer and Tom carrying the ropes and hooks, and Sam keeping beside Dick, who looked a trifle pale in spite of his efforts to appear all right. The knock-down blow from the flying machine had been harder than the eldest Rover boy was willing to admit.

Rocker's Woods proved to be a large patch of scrub timber, all the large trees having been cut,down to feed the old saw-mill, which still stood on 4:he bank of a good-sized stream. The saw-mill had not been used for nine years and the timber was gradually coming up once more.

"This is exactly the way thet airship tuk," said Peter Marley, as he led the way. "An' as she wasn't runnin' very fast I guess she must a-come down not very fur off."

"I hope so," answered Dick. "And I hope, too, she came down gently."

"Huh! How could she come down any other way? Ain't much to 'em, is there, 'ceptin' sticks an' cloth."

"The engine weighs several hundred pounds."

"Gee shoo! Several hundred pounds! Say, if thet's so, it's great how they kin stay up!" burst out the farmer in admiration. "Ain't no bird as weighs as much as thet!"

As they advanced through the woods, all of the party looked to the right and the left for some sign of the missing biplane.

"Here's a tree top down!" cried Tom, when they were close to the river on which the old saw mill was located. "This looks as if it might have been done by the machine."

"Gracious, I wonder if the airship went into the river!" burst out Sam.

"That might be a good thing, if it did," answered Dick. "It might save it from being wrecked, and we might be able to tow it ashore."

In a moment more they came to a halt at the edge of the river, which was broad and smooth at this point. In the middle the stream was ten to twelve feet deep, and the bottom was of sand and smooth rocks.

"I don't see anything that looks like a flying machine," said Sam after a long look around.

"Maybe after all it went over into the woods on the other side," returned Dick.

"That must be it," said Peter Marley. "I'm afraid we'll have to go up the stream a bit to get across. We can't ford here."

"How far to a good ford?" asked Dick.

"About quarter o' a mile tudder side o' the old mill."

"Say, look over there!" cried Tom at this moment. "What does that look like to you, Sam?"

He pointed with his hand, and all in the party gazed in the direction indicated, a point close to the opposite shore, where some brushwood overhung the river.

"Why that looks to me like one of the planes of the flying machine!" cried the youngest Rover.

"Just what I thought," exclaimed Tom. "What do you say, Dick?"

"It certainly does look like one of the planes," answered the older brother. "But don't be too sure, or we may be disappointed."

"Too bad we can't get over here," murmured Sam. "Supposing I swim it?" he continued.

"No, don't bother, Sam," replied Dick. "We'll all go around by way of the ford. You can't do anything alone anyway."

"But I might make sure if it was the machine," insisted Sam.

"Never mind; we want to get over there anyway to continue the search if that isn't the machine."

Again Peter Marley led the way, along a trail that ran past the old mill. The boys came close at his heels, and as they advanced Tom questioned the farmer concerning the place.

"It belongs to a lumber company, but it's been closed up fer years," said Peter Marley. "Once in a while tramps hang out there, but thet's all."

Presently they found themselves close to the mill, which was almost ready to fall down from disuse and neglect. As they rode up Tom chanced to glance towards a side window and was surprised to catch sight of a man looking curiously at them. As soon as he saw that he was discovered the man stepped out of sight.

"Well, I never!" gasped Tom. "Did you see him?"

"See who?" asked his brothers.

"That man at the window of the mill! Unless I am greatly mistaken it was Josiah Crabtree!"