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In the middle of the river the ford was so deep that the water almost touched the feet of the riders. But fortunately the current was sluggish, so the horses managed to keep their footing. They were allowed to take their own time, so it took several minutes to gain the opposite shore.

"Well, I'm glad we are out of that," was Tom's comment, as they reached a trail on the other bank.

"We'll have to endure it again, to get back," said Sam. "And what about the biplane?"

"Just wait till we find the machine first," answered Dick, with a faint smile. "You know the old saying, 'Don't count your chickens——'"

"Before they are fried," finished Tom, with a grin. "You see, somebody might lift them from the henroost before you had a chance to cook them," he went on soberly.

"By gum! thet ain't no joke nuther!" burst in Peter Marley. "Many a chicken I've lost through tramps an' wuthless niggers."

They had to go around several walls of rocks and through a tangle of brushwood, and then came to a small clearing where was located the, remains of a wood-cutter's hut. Not far beyond was the locality where they had seen the object that looked like one of the biplane's wings.

It must be confessed that the hearts of the three boys beat a bit faster as they drew closer. Would they find the flying machine, and if so, would it be in serviceable condition or so smashed up as to be worthless?

"There she is!" burst from Tom's lips, and he pointed out into the water.

"Right down between half a dozen big rocks," added Sam. "Is she smashed much? How about the engine, Dick?"

"The engine is there, but I can't tell if it's broken or not. We'll soon find out."

The big biplane lay among some rocks and bushes, the latter overhanging the water, which at this spot was less than two feet deep. By taking off their shoes and socks, and rolling up their trousers, the boys were able to wade out to the flying machine and make an inspection.

"One of the planes is broken," said Dick. "But as the bamboo poles are merely split I think they can be repaired with some fine wire,—just as we repair a split baseball bat."

"But the engine?" asked Sam, impatiently.

"I think the engine is all right—at least it looks all right to me. Of course we can't be sure until we clean it up and try it."

"Then she must have struck the water on the slant and that must have broken the shock," said Tom; and this surmise was undoubtedly correct, for had the Dartaway come down squarely on the rocks the planes and the engine must have been broken to bits.

"Do you think we can get her ashore?" asked Sam.

"Sure we can, by the aid of the hooks and ropes, and the horses. But we want to be careful how it's done. There is no sense in breaking the machine still more."

"We might get some planks from that old hut and roll the wheels up on them," suggested Tom. "I don't believe anybody uses the hut."

"No, that ain't been used for years," said Peter Marley. "Ye can tear down the hull thing if ye want to."

The boys and the farmer set to work, and presently they had several rough planks taken from the sides of the hut. They had the horses drag these down to the water, and by hard work managed to get the planks under the flying machine. As the planks were of wood they aided in floating the affair.

"By jinks! I've got an idea!" suddenly cried Dick. "We'll want the machine on the other side of the river. Why not build a raft and float her over instead of bringing her ashore here? There is plenty of stuff in that old hut."

"That's the ticket!" answered Tom. "Hurrah for a life on the rolling deep!"

"It's a good idee," was the farmer's comment. "I was wonderin' how we'd git over with the contraption. You kin keep on shovin' planks an' logs under till she floats, an' tie them together with the ropes ye brung along. A good idee."

It was not until noon that they had the so-called raft built and the biplane fastened to it. The work had made them all hungry and they were glad that they had brought along a substantial lunch. They sat down in the shade of the woods to eat, washing the meal down with some water from a spring back of the old hut, or rather of what was now left of the structure. While the boys ate they talked about Josiah Crabtree and Tad Sobber and the others who were their enemies.

"They'll surely try to do something," said Dick. "But what it will be I can't guess. We'll have to keep on guard."

"Who is going to go on the raft?" asked Sam.

"It won't carry all of us."

"I'll pole it over," answered Dick. "The rest of you will have to go around by the ford."

"Don't you want any help?" asked Tom.

"No, I think I can do it alone. If two of us got on the raft it might sink too deep and get stuck on the rocks."

So it was arranged, and a few minutes later Dick set off. Peter Marley had cut for him a slender but tough pole, which he was to use in shoving the novel craft across the stream.

"Don't go overboard!" cried Sam.

"I'm going to take off the most of my clothing," answered the older brother. "You can carry the things for me and don't drop them at the ford."

Soon Dick was on the way, standing behind the biplane and using the long pole as best he could. He was in water up to his ankles and as the planks were slippery he had to watch his footing. Once he came close to going overboard but saved himself by clutching one of the wire stays of the machine.

In the middle of the stream the current caught the raft and forced it down the river for quite a
Rover Boys in the Air p079.jpg


The Rover Boys in the Air.

distance. But Dick had expected this, and kept his eyes on a sandy stretch still further below. He poled along with vigor, and did what he could to avoid the rocks and shallows. Once the raft caught fast, but soon he had it loose again, and a few minutes later the sandy stretch was gained and he sent the raft shoreward with all his force. It came up on the sand and there it stuck; and the voyage was at an end. Somewhat out of breath, Dick sat down to await the coming of the others.

"Safe and sound, eh?" cried Tom, as he galloped up from the ford. "Good enough!"

"Now what's the next move?" asked Sam, who was at his brother's heels.

"We'll let the horses pull the whole concern up into the meadow," answered Dick. And as soon as Peter Marley arrived this was done, ( and then the biplane was unfastened from the raft and rolled still further inland, to a level, grassy field belonging to a farm of the vicinity.

The boys were anxious to learn if the engine of the flying machine was in running order, and tall set to work at once, drying and cleaning the parts. Fortunately the gasoline tank had remained airtight. While Tom looked over the spark plugs and Sam tried the oil feed, Dick adjusted the carburetor and magneto.

"Now I guess we can try it," said the eldest Rover boy, at last. "But we'll tie her down first," he added, with a grin.

"Yes, and good and hard this time," added Tom.

"Rope her to the raft," suggested Sam. "And drive a few stakes in the ground, too," and this was done.

It was a wonder that none of the propeller blades had been broken, yet such was a fact. They were scratched and nicked, but a coat of varnish would soon remedy all that.

Dick turned on the spark, adjusted the gasoline feed, and then he and Tom took hold of the propeller blades. Half a dozen turns proved unavailing and the boys looked glumly at each other. Had the engine been damaged after all?

"Give her another," said Dick, and this was done. Then the engine suddenly responded, and there followed those gatling-gun like explosions that set the horses to prancing wildly.

"Hi! hi! let up with thet racket!" yelled Peter Marley. "If ye don't them hosses will run away!"

"All right, I'll stop her and you can take the horses up into the field," answered Dick.

He sprang to the front of the biplane to stop the engine, but ere he could do so one of the horses broke away and galloped madly away in the direction of the woods. Then another followed.

"There they go!" bawled the farmer, lustily. "Stop 'em!"

Sam and Tom leaped to do as bidden. Bu they were too late, and so was Peter Marley Across the field dashed the horses, badly frightened by the noise, and in a few seconds they disappeared into the timber.

"Well, by gum! Now what's to be did?" asked the farmer helplessly.

"Let's go after 'em!" answered Tom, running for the horse he had ridden. "We ought to be able to catch them, Mr. Marley. Dick and Sam can stay here."

"All right, we'll try it," answered the farmer. "But them critters is powerful runners, I can tell ye thet! That black don't like no better fun than to run away."

"Take care of yourself, Tom," called Dick, who had now stopped the engine. And then he and Sam watched their brother and the farmer as they went riding away at top speed after the runaway steeds.

"Well, anyway, the engine seems to be O. K.," remarked Sam, after the others had disappeared. "And the propellers go around like circular saws. Now all we've got to do is to have those bamboo sticks bound up, or replaced by new ones. Wouldn't it be great if we could go home in this machine!" he added, enthusiastically.

The boys inspected the split poles and the canvas, which had been punctured in several places, and then tried the engine once more.

"Makes a lot of noise," was Sam's comment. "You'd think it was half a dozen Fourths of July rolled into one."

Presently they saw a farmer approaching, accompanied by two boys. The farmer had a shotgun in his hands, and each of the boys carried a club.

"Wot's this noise about, an' wot's that thing?" demanded the farmer, and he showed his nervousness by the way he handled his gun.

"This is an airship," answered Dick, pleasantly. "I was trying the engine, that's all."

"Gosh all hemlock! An airship, eh? I thought it was a company o' soldiers firin' their rifles! Wot be you a'doin' here in my pasture lot?"

"Is this your lot?"

"It sure is, an' has been for forty years."

"We came here with Mr. Marley, of Rayville, to get the machine. It got away from us and landed in the river. We dragged it over here," explained Dick. "We'll make it right with you for using the lot," he added, with a smile.

"Oh, so thet's it, eh? Well, you're welcome to use the lot," said John Snubble. "I'm glad o' the chanct to see an airship. Boys, this is one of them airships you read about in the papers," he went on to his two sons. "Ain't no danger o' an explosion, is there?" he asked anxiously, as he slowly drew closer.

"I don't think so," answered Dick. And then he explained to Mr. Snubble how the two horses had become frightened and run away, and how Mr. Marley and Tom had gone after the runaway steeds.

"It's too bad it's broke," said one of the farmer's sons. "I'd like to see her go up."

"So would I," added the other.

"Perhaps you'll see her go up when she's mended," said Sam.

"If this is your farm, could you rent me a shed in which to store this biplane until she is mended?" said Dick, to the farmer.

"Maybe I can," was the slow answer. "But we'd have to keep the thing out o' sight o' the hosses an' cattle, or they'd cut up wuss nor them hoses did wot run away," the man added soberly.