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CHAPTER VIII


TRIAL FLIGHTS


It was a full hour before Tom and Peter Marley came back and even then they did not bring the runaway horses in the field where the biplane was located.

"Won't take no more chances," said the farmer. "I kin tie 'em down here on the edge o' the woods jest as well." And this was done.

"Well, we may as well store the machine here for the present," said Dick. "We'll have to get some piano wire for those broken poles."

"Aren't you going to try to take it home?" asked Tom, in surprise.

"What's the use? This is a good field to fly from. We can mend the Dartaway here and then, if Captain Colby is willing, he can sail her from here to our farm."

A big wagon shed was cleaned out, and John Snubble and his sons aided the others in rolling the biplane under the roof. Some old blankets were thrown over the engine.

"Do you think she'd be safe here?" whispered Dick, to Peter Marley.

"She will be so far as Snubble is concerned," said the farmer. "He'll leave her alone, an' so will his sons. But some outsider may come an' fool with her."

"Well, we've got to take that chance," returned the eldest Rover boy. "We won't leave the biplane here any longer than necessary."

It was not until nearly supper time that the boys got back to Rayville. Here Peter Marley was paid for what he had done, and then the youths lost no time in running out their automobile and going home.

The next day they telegraphed to the aviator who was to give them lessons in sailing the Dartaway, and he came as soon as he could. He listened with much interest to what the lads had to tell him.

"Well, it was certainly a great try-out!" he declared. "It proves that the Dartaway is a well-balanced machine, and that means much."

He had brought with him the necessary wire for repairs, and soon all were on the way to the Snubble farm, taking a road that would land them directly at the door.

"Glad you come!" cried John Snubble on seeing the boys. "Going to take the machine right away, ain't you?"

"We hope to," answered Dick. "Why?" For he saw that the farmer had something on his mind.

"Might have been burnt up last night, that's why."

"Burnt up!" cried Tom. "How?"

"Heard a noise outside about eleven o'clock my wife did, she ain't well an' don't sleep good. I came down with my shotgun, thinkin' chicken thieves might be around. I heard somebuddy at the flyin' machine and sneaked up to see who it was. Hang my skin if a young feller wasn't there with a lighted candle an' some loose hay, and wantin' to start a fire close to the gasoline tank! I gave a yell, an' he dropped the candle and legged it for dear life."

"Why didn't you stop him, or shoot him?" queried Sam.

"I was too excited, fer the candle dropped into the hay an' it begun to blaze up. I stamped the fire out, an' by that time the feller was out o' sight."

"He must have wanted to blow the biplane up!" exclaimed Captain Colby.

"He sure did, an' he might have burnt up the shed an' the barn, an' the house, too!" added John Snubble.

The three Rover boys looked at each other. The same thought was in the mind of each.

"Tad Sobber!" murmured Sam.

"Sure as you're a foot high," added Tom.

"Oh, what a mean thing to do!"

"He must have watched what we did, and then planned to wreck the Dartaway," said Dick. "It's just like his meanness."

"Let's go down to the old mill after him," burst out Tom. "I'd like nothing better than to wipe up the ground with him." And he clenched his fists tightly.

"Humph! Do you think he'd show himself?" asked Sam. "Not much! He'd hide where you couldn't find him. Now he and old Crabtree know we are around they'll take good care not to get caught."

"We might burn down the old mill!" murmured Tom. "It would serve 'em right, for all their meanness."

"Let it go," was Dick's advice. "Some day we'll catch both of them red-handed at something, and then we can give 'em what's coming to 'em."

The matter was talked over with John Snubble and the aviator, and the farmer said he would keep on guard against Sobber and Crabtree and report to Dick if he found out anything unusual. Then the biplane was brought forth, and Captain Colby made an examination.

"All these breaks can easily be mended," said the aviator. "We'll go to work at once. Then I'll give the Dartaway a little try-out, and if she runs as she should I'll take her back to your home."

"Don't you want a passenger?" asked Sam and Tom in a breath.

"Why, do you want to go?"

"Sure!"

"I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. I want to try the machine several times before I risk taking anybody up."

The Snubble boys were delighted to think they could see the Dartaway fly and they assisted the others in making the necessary repairs. For two hours all were very busy and then Captain Colby announced the biplane in as good a condition as before the wild flight.

"Now I'll give her a short try-out," he said, and this was done. Up into the air mounted the Dartaway as gracefully as a bird, and all of the boys clapped their hands in delight.

"By gum! beats the nation!" said one of the Snubble lads.

"It's grand! I'm going to save up for one!" added the other.

Around the field sailed Captain Colby and then made the figure eight three times. Then he came down near the spot from which he had started.

"Couldn't be better," he declared. "I could take her a hundred miles if I wished."

"Wish I could go up," said Sam wistfully.

"Your time will come pretty soon," added the aviator. "The flight to your home will be a good test."

A little later the aviator arose again in the air, this time headed for Valley Brook farm. The boys were also ready and started off immediately in the automobile.

"Come again!" shouted the Snubble boys.

"We will," answered Dick. "Your field makes a dandy landing place."

Dick ran the automobile and put on good speed all the way home. As they went along they watched the flight of the biplane, but soon the machine passed from view.

"She certainly can sail!" cried Tom. "Oh, Dick, we'll have to take her to Brill with us!"

"That's it!" cried Sam. "What's the use of leaving her behind? We can sail after college hours."

"Yes, and think how quickly we could get over to Hope Seminary," went on Tom. The place he mentioned was a young ladies' boarding school located not many miles from Brill. Dora Stanhope went to Hope, and so did the two Laning girls.

"We'll see about it," replied Dick, briefly. But the idea of taking the flying machine to Brill pleased him as much as it did his brothers.

When they got home they found that Captain Colby had already arrived. He and the Dartaway were in the field back of the barn, and surrounding the aviator were all the members of the Rover household.

"Well, boys, got back, eh?" cried Anderson Rover, as they rolled up in the automobile.

"Hello, dad!" came from all three. And then they leaped to the ground to greet their parent. All could not help but notice that he looked a trifle pale and careworn.

"Was your trip a success?" asked Dick, in a low voice.

"I don't know yet—I hope so," answered the father. "Some business matters have gotten pretty well twisted up. But never mind now. I see your new machine can fly." And Anderson Rover smiled.

"Oh, she's a peach!" cried Tom slangily. "We expect to have the greatest times ever in her!"

"Yes, but you must learn all about the biplane first," added the fond father anxiously. "You mustn't think of going up until you are sure of what you are doing."

"Dat am suttenly de greatest bird wot I most eber see!" declared Aleck Pop solemnly. "If I hadn't dun see it wid my own eyes I wouldn't nebber believe it nohow!"

"That's a fact," added Jack Ness. "When the boys go up in it there won't be no holdin' 'em in."

"We're going to take you up, first thing, Jack," said Tom, with a wink at his brothers.

"Me? Not much!" cried the hired man. "I wasn't built to fly, not me!" And he began to back away in alarm.

After dinner Captain Colby made another trial flight, and than gave the three boys a lesson in the manipulation of the biplane, showing them just how to regulate the engine while running, how to balance the machine, how to steer, and how to make various turns.

"Do you ride bicycles?" he asked.

"We do, and have for years," answered Dick.

"And do you swim?"

"Of course," came from all of the lads.

"Then just remember how you felt when you first tried to ride a wheel and when you first tried to swim. You got excited, didn't you? And when you thought the wheel was going over you gave it a wild twist that did send you over, and when you thought you were going to drown you thrashed around in a way that only made matters worse. Well, that's a lesson to remember in running a flying machine. Don't get excited and lose your presence of mind, or it may cost you your life. Keep cool, act quickly, but don't overdo a thing. If the machine is tipping a little to one side, don't get excited and throw it clean over the other way. And don't try to make any sharp turns until you know your machine thoroughly."

Then he had them watch him while making several flights close to the ground, and told them exactly what he was going to do. This lasted for two days.

"Running an auto and a bicycle will help you," he said. "But sailing a biplane is, after all, a science in itself. But you'll learn—I see that by the way you take hold."

There had been a slight breeze blowing during the third afternoon, but towards sunset this went down, and then the aviator said that Dick might try a short flight, over a cornfield that was dose by.

"Don't go too high," he cautioned. "And if you feel the biplane turning over try to jump clear of the engine, so it can't crush you."

It must be confessed that Dick's heart beat loudly as he took his seat in the flying machine. It was one thing to talk about going up and quite another to really fly. He realized the danger far more than did merry-hearted Tom, or even Sam. But he was not going to show the white feather.

The engine was started, the others holding the machine back. Dick grasped the steering wheel and put his feet on the pedals.

"All ready?" asked Captain Colby.

"Yes. Let go."

"Now be careful. Take it easy, and keep over the cornfield," said the captain. "And if you turn, make a wide circle." He thought a tumble among the corn might not be as bad as one in an open field where the ground was hard.

Those on the ground let go, and with a rush and a whirr the Dartaway sped forward over the ground. Then Dick shifted the elevation rudder, and up into the air rushed the biplane, gathering speed at every revolution of the propellers.

The eldest Rover boy was in the air at last!