"You must have pretty good eyes to make out those letters on that badge at a distance," said Dave.
"I've seen them before," readily explained the tramp.
"Oh, you have?"
"Yes, and I've got a badge for sale just like the one you're wearing."
"You have got a badge like mine for sale, you say?" exclaimed Dave.
"That's so," bobbed the tramp with a grin.
"Where did you get it?"
"That don't go with the sale, but I didn't steal it."
"You found it, I suppose?" suggested Dave.
"Well, you might call it so." The man drew from his pocket a badge which was the exact counterpart of that worn by the young aviator.
"Let me have a look at it," said Dave.
"You can see what it is, can't you? I don't want to get into trouble, boss."
"I'm not going to get you into any trouble," declared Dave.
"Then why do you want to look at the badge? It's no different from yours, is it?"
"Are there no marks on it?"
"Why, I didn't notice. Say, yes, there are," announced the tramp, scrutinizing the little piece of metal on the back of the badge. "Looks like T. O."
Dave put his hand in his pocket.
"What do you want for it?" he asked.
Evidently the tramp was about to say "fifteen cents." He shrewdly, however, observed an interested if not an eager expression on Dave's face, arid added:
"It's yours," replied Dave, promptly producing the coin. "Wh-e-w!"
Dave stared, started and gave utterance to a prolonged whistle. He came to his feet with a shock. Upon the rear plate of the badge were scratched two letters, indeed—but the tramp had read them wrong. As read by Dave they were a mine of information.
Dave's mind ran rapidly. He sat down again on the bench. The tramp grinned broadly as Dave turned an eager and excited face upon him.
"Why," he chuckled, "you're real friendly, aren't you?"
"No trifling," said Dave seriously. "I'll give you a good deal more than fifty cents if you tell me truthfully and right away how you came by that badge."
"How much now?"
"The information is yours, Cap," answered the tramp, with an assumed air of grandness. "I found it."
"At one o'clock yesterday morning."
"By the fence of the big Fly factory down yonder."
"You mean the Interstate works?"
"That's the place, I guess."
Dave became more interested than ever. He handed a two dollar bill to the tramp without further question.
"Now, my man," he said, "I've been square with you."
"That's right," assented the tramp.
"I want you to tell me all about how you came by that badge."
"Well, boss, I'm troubled with asthma, and have to sleep out of doors nights."
"The police in the city know me moderately well, and I prefer the suburbs."
"Don't fool—give me the facts."
"Night before last I camped down in a grassy spot near the fence of the big Fly factory. It must have been about midnight when I was waked up. I heard somebody say: 'Oh, at take it!'"
"Who was it?"
"A boy about your size."
"What was he doing?" asked Dave.
"He was up on top of the fence. He had climbed up one of the slanting outside supports, I guess. You know there's two rows of barbed wire a-top of the boards. Well, there he was, making a great fuss."
"What about?" inquired Dave.
"The back of his coat was all tangled up in the barbs. He couldn't pull it loose. Then I heard some voices speak on the inside of the fence. There were two men there."
"You think they had got over first?"
"It looked that way. They told the boy to pull out of his coat. He got his arms out, started to untwist the coat, stuck his fingers with the barbs, and tumbled over into the factory yard."
"And then?" pressed Dave eagerly.
"H'm! I went to sleep."
"What! not knowing but what they were burglars?"
"Boss, I never mix up with other people's business, good or bad."
"How did you come to get the badge?"
"Why, when I woke up at sunrise I saw the coat sticking on the fence where the boy had left it. I climbed up and got it. The badge was pinned to it."
"You haven't got the coat on."
"Well, my own coat is pretty ragged but it ain't a marker to the way that boy's coat was riddled and torn by them barb wires."
"Didn't you search the coat?"
"Every time that, matey."
"Nothing at all?"
"Oh, yes, there was some cigarettes, a stub of a pencil and a card with some marks and writing, on it."
"What did you do with the card?" asked Dave.
"Tossed it into the ditch with the coat."
"Do you remember where?"
"Sure, I do."
"I'll give you another dollar to take me to the spot."
"Say, you're a gold mine to me, Cap. Come ahead."
Dave was doing a good deal of active thinking. More than once, as his companion led way around the high board fence enclosing the Interstate plant, Dave took out the badge he had bought and scrutinized the scratches on its back closely.
'The tramp guided the way across a bleak prairie stretch. Then he followed the dry ditch, until they came to a spot where thick clumps of weeds directly lining the fence suggested a cozy resting and hiding place for any stray wayfarer.
"There's where I was asleep, as I told you," spoke Dave's companion, pointing to a spot where the weeds were somewhat trodden down. "And there's the place where the coat caught. See, there's one or two pieces of the cloth of the coat hanging in the barbs yet."
"Yes, I see," assented Dave. "Now, where did you throw the coat and the things you found In it?"
The tramp moved about from place to place, got in line with the fence support, and looked down into the ditch. He moved along slowly, his eyes on the ground. Finally he stooped down.
"Here's the coat—what there's left of it," he reported. "Here's that card, too. I can't find the pencil."
"Never mind that," replied Dave, extending his hand for the proffered objects.
"I smoked up the cigarettes."
Dave glanced eagerly at the card. He shoved it in a safe pocket. Then he rolled up the coat and placed it under his arm.
"Very good, very good, indeed," he said.
"Here's that dollar I promised you."
The tramp received the money, beaming all over his face.
"Say," he observed, as he moved on, "if it wasn't that you've made me rich enough to retiree from business for a time, I'd offer to find the owner of that coat and the fellows who were with him."
"I'll do just that," said Dave to himself in a satisfied way.
Then, his hand resting on the card in his pocket, he added:
HIRAM DOBBS AND THE BIPLANE
Dave walked straight along the fence. By the shortest route possible he reached the gateway entrance to the factory yard.
The tramp had put nimbly in the opposite direction. He was headed for the nearest business street, where he could spend some of the money that he had earned so easily.
The young aviator was very much excited. He had made certain discoveries that had amazed him. He could not help but mentally rejoice over the strange fortune that had come from his stray meeting with the tramp.
"It's a clew—a sure clew," said Dave to himself. "Now to move just right in this affair and make no mistake."
The youth crossed the grounds of the plant and again entered the office building. He did not wait to announce himself, but, as he reached the door of the manager's room and found it closed, he tapped briskly.
"Come in," spoke Mr. Randolph. "Hello, you, Dashaway?"
"Yes, Sir," bowed Dave, removing his cap.
"You are back soon."
"Sooner than I planned," replied Dave, "But I—"
"You've thought the affair over, I hope?"
"Something more than that, Sir," responded Dave. "I have come to tell you that I think I can be of some service to you about that stolen aero-hydroplane."
"Good for you!"
"I've thought out a plan, Sir," went on Dave. "I feel certain that the people who raided the aerodrome and made off with the Drifter are bound for a distant and unsettled section."
"But why? What benefit can they hope to secure way off from civilization?"
"That we have to guess at and work out," replied Dave. "I will say, Mr. Randolph, that I think I have a faint clew to the disappearance of the airship."
"You don't say so!"
"I shall know more inside of twenty-four hours. In fact, Mr. Randolph, I feel pretty certain that I can soon submit a plan that will satisfy you that I know what I am about."
"We already think that of you, Dashaway."
"And that I can bring results."
"Capital! I knew we were not mistaken in you. Now, see here, I see you have something working in your mind. I don't want to even hamper you by asking what it is."
"I would like to go back to Columbus on the first train, Mr. Randolph."
"I want to look up some affairs there, consult with Mr. King, and come back here the next day."
"I shall perhaps want to use the very best aircraft you have in your factory."
"To hunt for the Drifter?"
"Dashaway, the whole plant and everything in it is at your service."
"Thank you, Sir."
"I consider this theft of the Drifter even more important than I at first thought."
"How is that, Mr. Randolph?"
"I have been thinking that if some competitor was concerned in the affair, he might steal and utilize many points in our new model which are not yet protected by patents."
"I feel pretty sure that no business rival had anything to do with the theft," observed the young aviator confidently.
"Well, you work this affair out in your own way. Remember, as I told you, expense is no point whatever. When shall we see you again?"
"To-morrow evening, or the next morning at the latest."
Something in Dave's manner seemed to convince the shrewd manager of the Interstate Aeroplane Company that their young employee was started on the right track. He shook hands cordially with Dave when the latter left the office.
Dave went at once to the railroad depot. He learned that a train left in two hours.
"That will bring me to Columbus before dark," he reflected. "I wonder what Mr. King will say?"
The young aviator had a good deal on his mind, enough to make the average lad impatient. He had, however, learned a hard lesson of discipline with his tyrannical guardian, old Silas Warner. Then, too, since coming under the helpful influence of Mr. King, he had acquired a certain self reliance that now stood him in good stead.
Running an airship took nerve, steadiness of purpose, a definite, concrete way of looking at things. Dave knew in his own mind that the Drifter was each hour speeding farther and farther away from the haunts of men. He recalled the old adage, however, which says "the more haste the less speed," and he determined to stick to the plan he had mentally outlined at the start.
"I'm going to work on this affair slow but sure," he told himself. "I think I can guess where the Drifter is headed for. If I am right, I know that I shall find it."
Dave reached Columbus about dark. He went straight from the depot to the aero grounds. The plan he had formed in his mind took in a talk with Mr. King right away. The Baby Racer hangar, however, was on his way to the Aegis quarters. As he neared it he saw a light in the shed where the little biplane was housed. Dave went to the half open door of the place to find Hiram Dobbs with a lantern puttering about the machine.
"What have you been up to, Hiram?" challenged Dave.
"Why, hello! Got back? Good!" cried Hiram, rushing forward to warmly welcome his best friend.
"Yes, just arrived," answered Dave.
"I've been cleaning up the machine," explained Hiram. "It's old Grimshaw's fault."
"Taking the Baby Racer out."
"Oh, the machine has been out, then, has it?" remarked Dave.
"Yes, and up. Say, Dave, I made the five hundred feet level. I hope you're not put out. It was a chance to make fifty dollars."
"Uh-huh," bobbed Hiram in a broad grin.
"How was that?"
"Why, Grimshaw was piloting a party over the grounds. Rich man and his family-wife, son and two daughters. The youngest one was a daring little miss. She wanted to fly, and would fly. Grimshaw got to bragging about what you had done with the Baby Racer. Well, nothing would do but I must roll the little beauty out."
"That was all right, Hiram," the young aviator hastened to say. "I should always feel that the biplane is safe in your hands."
"Well, finally the father consented to let his daughter try a fly along the ground. I settled her in a comfortable seat, and away we went. I made it a good stiff run, and there was some jolting, but the girl was wild over it. She begged for a second run. We got such a fine start that I lifted about twenty feet in the air."
"And then, of course, she screamed out in fear?" said Dave, with a smile.
"Screamed nothing," dissented Hiram. "She just spoke one delighted 'O-oh!' and then: 'Higher, oh, please keep on going!' Say, Dave, she looked so bright and brave I couldn't help it—Z—I—P!"
"What does 'Z—I—P!' mean, Hiram?" asked Dave.
"A slide, a swoop, then a circle, another, a shoot upwards, and the girl laughing out, 'Oh, this is just grand!' Her sister shrieked, her mother fainted away, and her father was shaking his cane at us and yelling for us to come back. The Racer did her prettiest in two grand circles of the grounds, and came down light as a feather. The girl jumped out, one big smile. 'Just think of it!' I heard her cry to her sister, 'when I've told my seminary chums that I've been up in a real airship!' Then, seeing that she was safe, I think her folks were just as proud of her exploit as she was. Anyhow, she ran up to her father in a coaxing way, and came back to place a bank note in my hand. When they were gone, and I found that it was a fifty dollar bill, old Grimshaw chuckled and said he had hinted to the party that the regular fee for a ride in an airship was one hundred dollars. I'm mighty glad you're back, Dave."
"Why, you seem to have got along finely without me," said Dave.
"We've missed you, all the same. Where you going, Dave?" asked Hiram, as his friend moved out of the shed.
"Why, I'm anxious to see Mr. King as soon as I can. I have something very important to talk about with him."
"It's about that rush telegram?"
"What did it mean?"
"When we meet with Mr. King you shall, hear all about it, Hiram."
"Well, Mr. King isn't home yet," explained Hiram.
Dave looked disappointed.
"That is," continued Hiram, "he hadn't got back when I was last up at the Aegis hangar."
"When was that?"
"About four o'clock this afternoon. Mr. Grimshaw, though, said he expected him on the six o'clock train."
"We'll go and see if he has returned," said Dave.
They started for the aviator's headquarters. Half the distance covered, they met him coming in search of them. Mr. King looked pale and worried. Dave knew that something had happened to upset him.
"I'm glad you're back, Dashaway," said Mr. King. "Grimshaw told me you had been called to headquarters by the Interstate people. I should have wired you to return right away if you had not returned. Something very important has transpired."
"About Mr. Dale—about my father's old friend, Mr. King?" asked Dave.
"That's it exactly. Bad news, Dashaway, I'm sorry to say," announced the aviator in a very serious tone.
THE MISSING AIRCRAFT
The aviator led the way back to the Aegis hangar. Dave saw that Mr. King was not inclined to explain any further until they were off the public course, so he asked no more questions, for the present. Dave had a good deal to tell himself. His mind had been full of it all day. Something in the grave, thoughtful manner of Mr. King, however, caused him to defer his own anxiety and impatience.
When they were inside the comfortable room where the aviator made his office, Mr. King turned to Dave with a very sober face.
"I said I had bad news, Dashaway," he spoke, "and that's no mistake."
"Then you failed to find Mr. Dale at Warrenton?" inquired Dave.
"He has not been there for over a week."
"Why, I thought he lived there?"
"He did. He went away, or was kidnapped, nearly ten days ago."
"Kidnapped?" exclaimed Dave in surprise.
"That's what I think. Mr. Dale lived alone, except for a very old man servant. As near as I can figure it out, that young thief, Gregg, appeared at Warrenton two days after I had him arrested. I did a very foolish thing in dealing with the young scamp."
"You mean letting him go free?" inquired Dave.
"Yes, I feared at the time that I was unwise in not punishing him, to serve as a lesson against more mischief. He acted so scared, though, he helped me get back the property he had stolen from you, he signed a confession telling that he was not the real Dave Dashaway and had imposed on Mr. Dale, so I thought he would proceed to at once make himself very scarce. I felt sure that he would not be able to play any more tricks on Mr. Dale, for I expected that you and I would go the very next day and see this old friend of your father. You know we were rushed from Dayton to the next meet, and had no chance to get to Warrenton and explain matters to Mr. Dale. I blame myself for not sending you at, once to him at the time. As I told you, I wrote to a friend, a lawyer at Warrenton, to learn what I could about Mr. Dale. He reported Mr. Dale was absent on a trip. When I got to Warrenton yesterday and met the old Dale servant, I saw at once that something was wrong."
"How do you mean, Mr. King?" asked Dave quite anxiously.
"Well, I learned that this young scamp, Gregg, had appeared at Warrenton two days after I let him go."
"Still pretending to be Dave Dashaway?"
"So the old servant says. Gregg and Mr. Dale went away together. There is no doubt in my mind that Gregg put up a plot to get Mr. Dale away from Warrenton before we could expose him."
"But he could not keep Mr. Dale away from home forever?"
"No, but he and his accomplices might get the old man to some remote place and make him a prisoner."
"And force him to give up a lot of money before they let him go."
"Yes, that has been done before," admitted Dave.
"Anyhow, two days alter Mr. Dale left Warrenton, a check passed through the bank signed by him for one thousand dollars."
Dave was both interested and alarmed.
"Four days ago a check for two thousand dollars arrived. The bank refused to cash it."
"Why, Mr. King?"
"Because it was a forgery."
"Not Mr. Dale's signature?"
"But where did the checks come from?" inquired Dave.
"From two cities, widely apart. I know the places. It looks to me as if the first check was given willingly by Mr. Dale. Then he must have become suspicious, and refused to pay out any more money. The second check was numbered correctly, and Gregg must have got possession of the old man's regular check book."
"This is a pretty serious affair, Mr. King," commented Dave.
"It is, and I came straight back here to tell you about it, and then cancel all my engagements at the meet. I shall start out at once to run down this Gregg and locate Mr. Dale."
"And I must join you-I see that it is my duty," declared Dave.
"Not at all," responded the aviator definitely. "I have mapped out the best plan of procedure, and I believe I can run down this business alone in a very short time."
Dave was really anxious concerning Mr. Dale. He truly believed it his first duty towards the old friend of his father to do all he could to assist him. For all that, Dave was relieved to know that he could go on without interruption in service of his employers.
"Yes," proceeded the aviator, "I feel that I have an interest in finding Mr. Dale. In the first place, he is your friend. Next, I feel responsible for letting that young scamp, Gregg, go free. At a selfish motive, I believe that if I succeed in rescuing the old man he will gladly finance my giant airship scheme."
"He surely will, Mr. King," said Dave confidently. "I believe he would help you, anyway. I do hope he can be found."
"I shall not rest until he is," declared the aviator. "Now, Dashaway, I don't want you to take this affair on your mind. If I fail in what I have planned, I will certainly call you into the case. I fancy, from what Hiram here has told me, that you have some important business of your own on hand."
"Yes, that is quite true," replied Dave seriously.
"Are you having some trouble with the Interstate people?" inquired the aviator pointedly.
"Not on my account, I, am glad to say, Mr. King," replied Dave. "There is some trouble, though, for all hands around. It's about the stolen aero-hydroplane, or hydro-aeroplane, they haven't just settled on the exact name."
"I read about that strange case. I suppose it puts you back in your arrangements at the meet here?"
"Not only that, Mr. King," explained Dave, "but it has placed me in a position where I shall have to give up all my engagements for a time."
"Why, you don't say so, Dashaway?" exclaimed the aviator, much disturbed.
"Those are the orders," replied Dave. "I have hurried back to Columbus purposely, to consult on your helping in a search for the Drifter."
"Of course that is not possible, now that this Dale affair has come up," said Mr. King. "As to a search for the stolen aircraft, that is going to be no easy task, I'm thinking. Have the Interstate people no theory as to the way the Drifter was stolen, and the motive for the theft?"
"I had better tell you all I know about it, Mr. King."
"Do so, Dashaway."
Dave proceeded to relate his interview with Mr. Randolph, the manager of the Interstate factory. He did not refer just then to his experience with the tramp.
"It's a good deal of a puzzle," commented the aviator. "What is your plan?"
"Why, I expected that I could induce you to take charge of the search. As you cannot, I am thinking of Hiram going back with me to Bolton."
"What's your idea?"
"The Interstate people have offered me their best monoplane to start the chase for the missing Drifter."
"It will be a blind start, Dashaway, without a clew."
"But I have a clew," announced Dave.
"You didn't say so."
"I hadn't come to that yet, Mr. King. I haven't even told the Interstate people. I am pretty certain that the Drifter left Bolton on a due northwest course," and Dave drew from his pocket the card he had got from the tramp.
"Capital!" cried the aviator, becoming very much interested. "If you know that, you have half solved the problem."
"Besides that," went on Dave, producing the duplicate N. A. L. badge, and glancing at the scratched initials on its back, "I know who stole the Drifter."
"What's that?" almost shouted the aviator, springing to his feet, in a great state of excitement.
"Say, Dave, are you sure?" pressed the eager Hiram Dobbs, worked up to fever heat with curiosity and suspense.
"Who was it?" asked Mr. King.
"Jerry Dawson," was Dave Dashaway's reply.
AT THE AERODROME
"That is the machine I want, Mr. Randolph," said Dave Dashaway.
It was two days after the young aviator had told his friends at Columbus the name of the person he suspected of stealing the aero-hydroplane, the Drifter from the Interstate Aeroplane Company.
Now, he and Hiram and the manager of the Interstate plant stood amid the half hundred or more aero machines that comprised the stock of one of the largest factories in that line in the country.
They had left the aero meet at Columbus the evening previous, not, however, until Dave had explained how he came to suspect Jerry Dawson.
"It's simple and plain, Mr. King," the young aviator had said. "The badge I bought from the tramp at Bolton was the property of young Dawson."
"Sure of that, Dashaway?" Mr. King had inquired.
"Oh, yes. The initials are crude, but they certainly stand for 'J. D.' and not 'T. O.' as the tramp thought."
An inspection of the duplicate badge by both Mr. King and Hiram satisfied them that Dave's theory was correct.
"Another thing," Dave had added— "the coat found on the barb wire top of the factory fence I have seen Jerry wear many a time."
"And the card?" pressed Hiram.
"The card has some scrawls on it, made by Jerry, I think. It shows a sort of rough outline of the upper lake district here. Some arrows show a straight course due northwest. I believe the Drifter was started on its way over the Canadian border."
"And the two men with Jerry?" asked Mr. King.
"I can't figure out that they could be anybody but Jerry's father and the man who left Columbus with them—Ridgely."
"The man the revenue officer was looking for!" exclaimed Hiram.
"The smuggler, as he was called, yes," replied Dave.
Mr. King and Hiram indulged in all kinds of conjectures as to the possible motive of the party of three in stealing the aircraft.
"The way I figure it out," said Mr. King, "is that this Ridgely wanted to get out of the country knowing that the revenue people were dose on his trail."
"Perhaps," agreed Dave thoughtfully. "There's another thing, though."
"What's that?" inquired the interested Hiram.
"His coming all the way around the lakes to find his friends, the Dawsons, looks as though he had some future scheme in view, with an airship a part of it."
"That's so," assented Mr. King. "Well, Dashaway, you have done famously so far in finding out what you have. The Interstate people think the only way to chase the fugitives is with one of their own machines. I don't know anybody better adapted to do just that than yourself."
"Thank you, Mr. King," said Dave modestly
The two boys left Columbus with pretty clear minds. They had a definite purpose in view, and Mr. King, Dave felt sanguine, would do all that the interests of Mr. Dale required while they were gone.
"Say, Dave," spoke Hiram, as they boarded the train bound for Bolton, "this is just like acting out some story, isn't it?"
"In a way," acquiesced the young aviator, "only there won't be much acting—it will be real, earnest hard work."
"I see that, and I am anxious to do my share," declared Hiram.
"You always are, Hiram," said Dave.
Now, the morning following, the two aviator friends found themselves at the Interstate factory, where both received a warm welcome from Mr. Randolph.
Dave now related to the manager all that he had held back during his first visit to the great plant.
"I say, Dashaway, that's simply wonderful," was Mr. Randolph's enthusiastic comment. "Anybody with the genius to gather up all those clews cannot fail to work out this entire case. We shall soon receive some great reports from you."
"I hope so," said Dave.
"Now then, you and your friend go over to the aerodrome and see which one of our machines there suits you best."
It was after Dave and Hiram had spent the most fascinating half hour of their lives viewing the wonders of mechanism on display, that the manager rejoined them. It was then, too, that Dave reported to him with the words:
"That is the machine I want, Mr. Randolph."
As Dave spoke he pointed to a monoplane of which he had made a close inspection for over ten minutes. The manager burst out into a hearty laugh.
"Well, well!" he cried, clapping Dave on the shoulder in an approving way, "I must say you are certainly a grand judge of monoplanes."
"How is that?" asked Dave.
"You have picked out the best machine in the place."
"Why, I was looking for the best one, wasn't I, Mr. Randolph?" asked the young aviator with a smile.
"It is our new model of the composite hydro-aeroplane," explained the manager. "It's the best standard built in this country—the Monarch II."
"It's easy to see that," responded Dave. "It is the equal of the Drifter in a great many ways."
"That is true," replied Mr. Randolph. "While it may not be as swift in the water as an all-steel hydro, it is built on the best float system and will sustain a weight of one thousand three hundred pounds."
"And the front elevation and tail are also of the newest type," said Dave.
"You studied that out, eh? It's a model of lightness as such machines go. The engine is only three hundred pounds, it carries twenty gallons of gasoline, and has a lifting capacity of twelve hundred pounds, giving leeway for a three hundred pound pilot."
"Dave and I wouldn't weigh that together, Mr. Randolph," said Hiram.
"Its simplicity strikes me," remarked Dave.
"Yes," said Mr. Randolph, "and it can be knocked down and reassembled in a hurry. You see, the ailerons never leave their sections and in the planes not a wire is changed. The outriggers fold, keeping them in pairs together, each piece is bent, not buckled, and can be straightened good as new in case of a disarrangement."
The manager went over the entire machine in a speedy but expert way. He saw that all locks on the turnbuckles were fastened, and that the locks had lock washers beneath them. All the movable wires were reinforced with a piece of loose hay wire, and provisions against rust perfected.
Hiram stood mute, but fascinated, as the manager explained in detail the fine points of the Monarch II, as the composite hydro-aeroplane was named.
What interested Dave immensely was a self starting apparatus. This was operated by a handle inserted in a socket, fastened on a special ball ratchet on the large sprocket. Pulling this handle turned the motor over two, sometimes three compressions, and started up the machine without difficulty, Mr. Randolph explained. During the operation the throttle shut down so that the operator might resume his seat and take the levers.
The planes had double covered fabric on top and bottom, tightened at the rear of the planes by lacing. A single lever controlled the elevator and side flaps and there were radical bearings to take both side and end thrusts.
"Tell you, Dashaway," said Mr. Randolph in conclusion, "I'll trust you with the Monarch II because you are something more than a grass-cutting pilot by mail trying to coast a flying machine off the ground."
"I hope to deserve your compliment," laughed the young aviator.
"You've got a horse power engine and planes hard to beat. There are self-priming oil pumps, an auxiliary exhaust, and the machine follows the lines of the lowest gasoline consumption. Remember the triple axis conditions, Dashaway. One controls the fore and aft axis, producing tipping. The second is the vertical axis, producing turning. The third is the lateral axis, producing rising and falling."
"Some one at the office wishes to see Mr. Dashaway," just here interrupted a lad from the plant.
"To see me?" spoke Dave in some surprise.
"Yes, sir. He asked me to give you his card, and said he had come quite a distance to see you."
Dave took the card the lad handed him. He was a little startled, and then curious, as he read the name—
"JAMES PRICE, Revenue Officer."
THE "MONARCH II"
The manager of the Interstate factory and Dave and Hiram followed the messenger from the plant back to the office.
"The gentleman who wishes to see me," the young aviator explained to Mr. Randolph, "is the revenue officer I told you about."
"Ah, I think I understand the purpose of his visit, then," said the manager.
Mr. Price was the same keen-faced, ferret-like person he always appeared, as Dave introduced him to the manager.
"I have heard of you from our young friend, Dashaway," said Mr. Randolph.
"Lucky I ran across him," responded the officer, in his usual short, jerky way. "Lucky to catch you here, too, before you got off, Dashaway."
"Then you came specially to see me?" asked Dave.
"And your friends," replied Mr. Price with a comprehensive wave of his hand. "Mutual interests all around, it seems. You see, I met Mr. King at Columbus after you left," explained the official. "He told me of your remarkable discoveries, Dashaway. You are keener than I, young man. I have been chasing all over the district, and here you get a clew to Ridgely, while I and my men were blundering around."
"If it is really a dew to him, Mr. Price," submitted the young aviator. "You know, it is all a theory so far."
"As the facts stand, I have no doubt from your story that Ridgely is one of the men who ran away with the Drifter," declared the officer.
"Have you fathomed his purpose in taking the air route, Mr. Price?" asked the factory manager.
"I am puzzled to guess what it may be."
"Why, it's plain as the nose on your face," said the officer bluntly.
"How is that?"
"You know that this man, Ridgely, is a professional smuggler?"
"So Dashaway has told me."
"We drove him from one point on the border. He has selected another, that's all. He has worn out the old methods of evading the revenue service, so he is adopting new ones. In fact, I rather admire his brilliant originality. Why, I can conceive no situation so ideal as that capture of an airship, and professional operators in his employ."
"I am positive that the Dawsons and Ridgely have made for some obscure point, probably near Lake Superior, and will open up business in the old way, do their work only at night, and I have come on here to ask Dashaway to work in harmony with me."
"Most certainly he will," pledged the factory manager.
"I am after Ridgely, you are after your aircraft. We can work together," pronounced the officer. "I intend to start at once for the Lake Superior district. I shall set my men at work clear along the line and over the border, to try and find a trace of my man. I haven't an airship, though, you must remember, and wouldn't know how to run one if I had. That's where you come in, Dashaway. You search the air, I'll watch the land. What I want to do is to give you a list of points where I or my men can be reached at a moment's notice any time. If we keep in touch with each other, I believe we can land those rascals."
For over an hour after that the officer and Dave had an earnest, confidential chat together. Mr. Price brought out maps, and gave Dave great deal of information as to the smuggling system on the border. In the meantime, Randolph and Hiram again visited the aerodrome. After the revenue officer had departed, Dave came across Hiram looking for him.
"Say, Dave," exclaimed the excited youth, "it's like a new world to me, all this. I declare, I never had such a time in my life. This Mr. Randolph is a prince."
"Fixed things up for us, has he, Hiram?"
"Right royally. He's stocked up that monoplane like a banquet hall. Why, say, if we can keep the Monarch II aloft, we can live like millionaires in an up-to-date hotel for a week to come."
Hiram in his enthusiasm was exaggerating things considerably. However, when Dave revisited the aerodrome, he found that the clever Interstate manager had stocked up the aircraft, with every necessity for safety and comfort he could think of.
The Monarch II was certainly a marvel in its construction and scope. It had been made to accommodate an operator and one, or even two, passengers. The seating space was quite roomy, and there was a handy basket-like compartment, arranged to hold wraps, provisions and duplicate machine parts.
It was late in the afternoon when the Monarch II was rolled out into the broad roomy yard of the factory. Everything was in order for the finest start in the world. Dave had thought out and mapped out every detail of the proposed air voyage. Mr. Randolph personally superintended all the initial arrangements. The starter worked liked a charm. There was no wavering. A turn of the handle, and the magnificent machine spread its wings like some great bird poised for a steady flight.
Hiram gave a great shout of delight. Dave smiled down at the manager proudly.
"Good luck!" cried Mr. Randolph.
Just then the factory whistle sounded out shrilly for quitting time. Workmen appeared at the open windows of the factor. Some came running out into the yard.
The word had gone around that the young aviators were bound on an extraordinary cruise—a search for the stolen airship. A great chorus of ringing hurrahs went up from the crowd.
"It's great, isn't it, Dave?" chuckled the delighted Hiram.
"The Monarch II acts prettily, that's sure," replied the young aviator.
Dave delighted his companion by giving him charge of the barograph readings and attention to some of the minor duties of aviation. The rapid progress of the machine in mid air was exhilarating. The weather conditions were ideal, and Dave had a definite goal in view.
There was not a break in the pleasant twilight journey. The Monarch II fulfilled all expectations and promises. About nine o'clock in the evening the record showed over two hundred miles accomplished, when they descended on a level stretch of prairie near a small bustling city. Here the gasoline supply in the tanks was replenished. The basket had been stored with over a hundred gallons of this in separate packages, without embarrassing the buoyancy of the machine, as the young aviators were far below average operating weight.
"This high living of ours makes and hungry," intimated Hiram, as they finished getting the machine in shape to renew the flight.
"Time for lunch, you think?" proposed Dave with a jolly laugh. "Here we are."
They selected from the packages in the accommodation basket enough things for a feed. Mr. Randolph had certainly provided for them in a liberal way. The packages produced two kinds of sandwiches, some doughnuts, a cream cakes, cheese, celery and a prime apple pie.
Dave was pleased and proud with their progress thus far on their strange journey. There was a steady but mild head wind, and if he held till daylight the young aviator counted on reaching the first important destination on the route he had mapped out.
His idea was to reach a certain point in the dark. They would then seek a hiding place, or at least seclusion, until evening again, resting through the day. Dave's plan was to travel so that their progress might not be noted and get to the Dawson group through the public prints or by some other avenue, and thus warn them that they were being traced.
There was not a landmark on the route, such as a city, lake or river, that Dave had not memorized, from standard "fly" directories during the past two days. The Drifter, being in the hands of the Dawsons, who knew considerable about aviation, would probably follow the same course. At night it was more difficult to tally off progress than in daylight, but so far Dave felt that he had not deviated from the due northwest course that was to bring him to a certain destination.
For over five hours after lunch and rest the Monarch II kept steadily on its way. Dawn was just breaking when Dave passed a few miles to the west of a town he knew to be Millville. He glanced at Hiram, about to address him. Hiram was fast asleep.
"We will have to get down somewhere near here," decided Dave.
As he changed the course of the aircraft there was a slight jar, and Hiram woke up.
"Hello!" he cried, "have I been—"
"Asleep at the switch?" smiled Dave. "Yes, but it hasn't needed any attention. We are going to land, Hiram."
Dave knew his bearings, as has been said. His anxiety, however, was to get to cover, so to speak, before the airship was seen by anyone in the vicinity. He soon knew that he had failed in this. Circling about and drifting in trying to select a suitable landing spot, Dave made out rising farmer staring up at the machine from his chicken yard.
A little farther on the driver of a truck wagon, bound town-wards evidently, espied the Monarch II, even in the dim morning light, for he stopped his horses, his face turned in the direction of the machine.
Finally Dave located a spot that suited him. It was where there had been mining going on some period in the past. Some hills shut in the deserted diggings. Several great heaps of ore surrounded a sort of pit, broad and roomy.
"I don't think we can find a better resting place," said Dave, as they reached the ground and he shut off the power.
"Going to stay here all day?" inquired Hiram.
"That is the programme, yes."
"Well, I suppose breakfast is the first move?" asked the young aviator's assistant.
"I'm hungry as a bear," announced Dave.
"So am I," agreed Hiram, and he set at work to explore the accommodation, basket.
Hiram soon had a tempting spread. There was cold ham, a roasted chicken, an abundance of bread and butter, and a two gallon jug of cold coffee.
The boys did full justice to the layout. Then Dave went over the machine, seeing to it that every part was in order.
"I'll have to take a little nap, Hiram," he advised his companion.
"No, a good long one," corrected Hiram.
"If we're going to lay off until night, there isn't much to do. I'll stay awake and keep a look out for anything happening. You see, I had quite a snooze up there in the air."
Dave made a comfortable couch by spreading out some of the wraps found in the accommodation basket. It was after ten o'clock when he woke up. He insisted on Hiram taking a turn on the couch.
"Can't do it. Not a bit sleepy," declared Hiram.
"Well, you can try it while I'm gone," suggested Dave.
"Oh, going somewhere?"
"Yes, to the town. I want to make a few inquiries as to the country around here and ahead of us, and I may wire Mr. Randolph."
"All right, go ahead," replied Hiram. "I'll see that everything is kept trim and safe about the machine."
Dave visited Millville, and posted himself as to certain geographical points in which he was interested. He also sent a brief dispatch to the Interstate people. Provided with some railroad maps, and some fresh rolls from a bakery, he started out to rejoin his chum.
He found Hiram busy burnishing up every bit of metal about the Monarch II. They had their noon lunch. On his way back from town Dave' had noticed a little brook. He was telling Hiram about it, and they were discussing a plan of a plunge and a swim, when Hiram, facing the point where the pit began, sprang suddenly to his feet."
"Hello!" he cried excitedly. "Someone is coming."
"Sure enough," echoed Dave, also arising. "Why, I noticed that man in Millville. Can it be possible that he has followed me? I didn't know it, if he has."
The boys stood motionless, awaiting the coming up of the intruder. He was a brisk, smart looking man. There was something in his sharp way of glancing at things that made Dave think of a lawyer. The stranger came up within a dozen feet of them. Then he halted, took in the flying machine with a grim smile, and then looked the young aviators over from head to foot.
"Reckon I've landed on both feet," he observed, a confident, satisfied drawl in his voice.
"What do you mean by that?" inquired Dave.
"Why, I've been looking out for an airship said to be cruising around this neighborhood. Truck farmer said he saw one early this morning. Then I noticed you in town. I think you'll understand me, young man," continued the stranger, "when I say that I'm on the hunt for a chap about your size running a stolen airship, and whose name is Jerry Dawson."
"Why," exclaimed Dave with a quick start, "so are we!"
ON THE WING
Hiram stared his hardest at the stranger, Dave's eyes quickened with sudden intelligence. Almost in a flash he took in the situation.
"You just mentioned a name," he said. "I would like to mention another one."
"All right, what?"
The stranger looked flabbergasted, as the saying goes. He furrowed his brow as if puzzled.
"You have made a mistake," continued Dave. "You think one of us two is Jerry Dawson."
"I did think it, yes," admitted the man, a trifle less self assured than at first.
"Is that so, now?"
"Yes. You know Mr. Price, don't you?"
"Perhaps I do."
"And you are on the lookout for an airship, but not this machine. Let me explain briefly, and see if we cannot come to an understanding."
Dave surmised that the stranger must be one of the assistants of Mr. Price, the revenue officer. In a very few minutes he knew that this was true. Assured from Dave's talk that he was not the Dawson boy, and that the hydro-aeroplane before him was not the Drifter, the man became very friendly.
It seemed that he was one of the agents of the revenue service. He made his headquarters at Millville, and had received a telegram from Mr. Price the day previous to look out for the stolen airship. This was before Mr. Price had met Dave at Bolton, but immediately after Mr. King at Columbus had told him of the discovery that the Dawsons had made away with the Drifter.
So far as the man knew, none of the many assistants of Mr. Price had found any traces of the missing aero-hydroplane. Dave did not enlighten him as to his plans and destination, for the man's present duties were simply those of a lookout at Millville.
The stranger stayed and chatted with the boys for over two hours, and then went away. Dave had told him that they would not start out again with the Monarch II until after dark. About six o'clock the man drove up with a wagon.
"Thought you might be getting tired of cold dry fare," he said, "so I've brought you a real supper for a change."
"Why, say, you're a prince!" cried the impetuous Hiram, as the man lifted a gas oven from the wagon, and then a shallow box, and the contents of both receptacles were revealed.
The oven contained two heaping dishes of lamb chops, and potatoes, still quite warm. From the box the stranger produced all the trimmings for a first class meal.
"This is pretty kind and thoughtful of you," said Dave.
"Nothing too good for friends of Mr. Price," insisted the man. "Besides, I remember how good the present of a meal has been when I've got stranded on duty myself."
The speaker, it seemed, had been a member of the Canadian mounted police. The boys whiled the time away interestingly during the next two hours, listening to some of, his exciting experiences with Indians and outlaws in the Winnipeg wilds.
It was just after dark when the Monarch started on the second stage of the journey. Three stops were made during the ensuing six, hours. Dave was very tired and Hiram pretty sleepy, when, at three o'clock in the morning, the machine came to rest on a little reed-covered island in the center of a swampy stretch.
"We may stay here for several days, I don't know exactly how long," the young aviator told his assistant.
"You don't suppose that the Dawsons and the Drifter are anywhere near here, do you?" inquired Hiram.
"Perhaps not, but we are near Ironton, on the American side of Lake Superior. If Mr. Price's theories are all right, that fellow, Ridgely, will begin his new operations somewhere in this district."
"I see," nodded Hiram. "What are we to do now—sleep?"
"As much as we like for the next eight or ten hours."
"I'm ready," announced Hiram. "It's been fine and dandy up aloft there, but I notice that when it doesn't make a fellow hungry it does make him good and sleepy."
"All right, we'll bunk down, Hiram. I don't think any one is likely to run across us in this out-of-the-way place."
"I don't think so, either," responded Hiram, and was soon asleep and snoring.
The breakfast programme of the previous morning was repeated later. Hiram called the whole thing a picnic, and was jolly and happy.
"One thing, though," he said; "isn't something exciting going to happen soon, Dave?"
"We ought to be pretty well satisfied with the splendid cruise of the Monarch II," suggested Dave.
"Yes, but I'm getting anxious to run across some of the smugglers. I've read a lot about them in the papers and books. They must be great fellows to tackle, with their cutlasses, and walking the plank, and treasure hoards."
"Why, Hiram," laughed Dave, "you're not thinking of smugglers."
"What am I then?"
"Oh, yes, that's so," agreed Hiram. "Well, the Dawsons are worse than pirates. They won't give up that airship without a tussle, I can tell you."
"All I want to do is to locate them," said Dave. "The government will do the rest."
Dave left the camp, as they called it, about noon. He had some difficulty in getting from the island to the mainland, as the soil was soggy and at places two feet deep with water. He accomplished the task, however, with only a slight wetting.
The young aviator had been given the address, of one of Mr. Price's men at Ironton. He visited his office, but found him absent for the day. Then he wired his progress to the Interstate people and told them if necessary to reach, him at the Northern Hotel.
Dave went to the hotel and made arrangement with the clerk as to mail and telegrams. He decided to remain in the vicinity of Ironton till he got in touch with the revenue officer's agent there. He was just leaving the hotel when one placed a hand on his shoulder, with the friendly words:
"Why, hello, Dashaway."
Dave turned quickly, startled for a moment. Then his face broke into smiles of warm welcome.
"Mr. Alden," he said, and returned the friendly hand clasp of his companion.
The chance meeting took Dave's mind back instantly to a most pleasant period of his experience since leaving his guardian's home at Brookville.
It was Mr. Alden, the moving picture man, who had given Dave what might be called his first start in business life. Dave had posed for the "movies," and later he and Mr. King had taken a prominent part in some motion pictures bringing in the monoplane, the Aegis.
"I didn't expect to see you way up here, Dashaway," spoke Mr. Alden. "How are you getting along?"
"First class, thanks to the friendly help you gave me in the first place," responded the young aviator.
"I'm glad of that. Come up to my room and tell me all about it, Dashaway. Now then, for a talk over old times," resumed the moving picture man, as they were comfortably seated in his room at the hotel.
Dave parried a good many questions. He did not exactly wish to tell Mr. Alden about his business, which in the present case was also that of his employers. He managed to lead Mr. Alden to talk of his own affairs.
"Oh, I've had the actors up here on a lot of marine scenarios," explained the moving picture man. "They went away only this morning. We've been picturing 'The Island Hermit of Lake Superior,' 'Iron Miners' Revenge,' 'Flight Across the Border,' and 'The Mystery of the Pineries.' Great scenery around here for fittings, you see. There are some of my key negatives on the table there, look them over."
Dave examined some of the films with interest. The former kindness of Mr. Alden and his party had left a warm spot in the heart of the young aviator for anything concerning the movies."
"There's some plain slides we made to catch the costumes and figures," added Mr. Alden, pointing to a rack containing about a dozen glass negatives.
Dave began holding them up to the light in turn. He had inspected perhaps one half of them, when he somewhat startled the moving picture man with a sharp sudden exclamation.
"Mr. Alden," he asked quite excitedly, "where did you take that slide?"
ON DESERT ISLAND
The young aviator might well ask the question he put to the moving picture man, for the negative in Dave's hand showed plainly the face and figure of Jerry Dawson.
There could be no mistake. The boy who had run away with the Drifter had features strongly marked and not readily forgotten. The picture had been taken in the open street. Jerry was standing there talking to a Chinaman.
"Some scene you know, Dashaway?" asked Mr. Alden.
"No, somebody I know—and am very anxious to find," replied Dave.
"So? Let me have a look at it."
Dave handed the plate to the moving picture man, who slanted it against the light and nodded intelligently.
"Oh, that?" he said. "Yes, I remember all about it."
"Where did you take it, Mr. Alden?" pressed Dave.
"At Anseton. There's a sort of foreign quarter there, and I was catching up some street scenes. It was the Chinaman I shot. Wanted the costume, you know."
"When was that?" asked Dave.
Dave asked a score of questions. The moving picture man saw that Dave had some important motive in his inquiries. He did not ask what it was, and was patient and careful in his replies.
Dave left Mr. Alden feeling that he had learned a good deal. The presence of Jerry Dawson in Anseton, and that, too, with a Chinaman, verified many of the theories of the young aviator. Dave lost no time in getting to a telegraph office, to send a dispatch that would reach Mr. Price. It told briefly of the progress of the Monarch II and of the definite clew Dave had just discovered.
That afternoon our hero hired a hand cart he saw in a blacksmith's yard labeled "For Sale." He drove it as near to the swamp island as he could, without getting stuck in the mud. Then, he called to Hiram, who put himself in wading trim. The empty gasoline cans were over to the cart by Hiram. Dave trundled them to the town, got them filled and to the island, and, returning the cart, was ready to prepare for a new night journey.
"It's less than sixty miles that we have to go, Hiram," he advised his assistant.
"Then you've found out something definite?" guessed Hiram.
"Yes, I have got a trace of Jerry Dawson."
"You don't say so!"
"I do, and I'll tell you how," and Dave recited the story of his meeting with the moving picture man.
"Why, that's just grand," commented Hiram in his exuberant way. "You've good as run down the Drifter."
"Not quite, Hiram."
"Oh, you'll find the stolen airship. I feel it in my bones. I've felt it ever since I saw the way you took hold of this affair."
"Well, I've had good help and a splendid machine, you must remember."
"I don't go much on the help," declared Hiram modestly. "As to the Monarch II, though, I never saw such a well-behaved machine. If she does in the water what she's done in the air, she's a record breaker, sure."
The machine was put in the best possible trim. It lacked two hours of nightfall but Dave had plenty to occupy his mind. For over an hour he sat looking over maps and memoranda, and blocking out his course. He had been very explicit and painstaking in questioning the moving picture man. He had made inquiries concerning Anseton and its vicinity down to the smallest detail. From all this Dave had decided on a permanent landing place, a sort of headquarters from which he could branch out in his personal investigations in the day time and sally forth on an air hunt in the dark.
The aviators could distinctly hear a bell in some tower tolling the hour of nine as they circled a busy city that lay beyond and below, them, a blur of light. Dave at the levers kept the Monarch II at a fair height, constantly scanning an expanse to the north dotted only here and there with lights. Once past the outskirts of the city he turned due north.
"Why, hello!" exclaimed his companion, "we're over water!"
"Yes," replied Dave, "it's the lake."
"Lake Superior! Dave, are we going to cross it?"
"A good many times in the future probably, but not tonight. I am looking for a revolving light west of the city, right along the coast."
"I'll keep a lookout, too."
The lake was here and there dotted with the signal lights of steamers. Along the shore, which Dave skirted closely, various lights their met view. Both boys strained their gaze. Finally Hiram called out sharply: "I see it, Dave."
"A revolving light."
"See, just beyond that little cluster of town lights—quite high up."
"Yes," answered Dave in a tone of satisfaction. "That is Rocky Point lighthouse. I know my bearings, now."
"Are you going to land, Dave?"
"But you're driving out further over the lake."
"Just for a short distance, Hiram," advised Dave. "There's an island down shore where they run a smelter—ah, I think I locate it."
Dave was not mistaken. He came within range of some tall, stacks sending out sparks and flames. Now he changed his course. He kept his glance fixed below him and to the right as steadily as his duties at the lever would permit.
The Monarch II passed over two small islands. Half a mile beyond them arose a third larger one. It was quite prominent, for the reason, that it presented a range of great cliffs. Dave navigated the air in narrowing circles. Then, timing and calculating a volplane glide, he let the machine down easily to the ground.
"Well!" ejaculated Hiram, "you've hit on a pretty dark spot for a camp, Dave."
"And a safe one," replied the young aviator. "Mr. Alden described this place to me. It is called Desert Island, and has no inhabitants on it. It seems dark because we are so shut in, but your eyes will soon become used to that."
It was a singular place into which the Monarch II had descended. High declivitous, masses of rock formed a sort of immense cairn. They seemed shut in on every side, fully one hundred feet below the level of the cliffs.
The farther north they had run the cooler air currents had become. Both boys felt somewhat chilly.
"See here," spoke Hiram, after they had seen that the machine was all right and a rubber sheet thrown over the machinery to protect it from the heavy night dews, "a warm cup coffee wouldn't hurt us."
"That's right, Hiram," agreed Dave. "We are all shut in here, and even a big fire wouldn't show from the land or the deck of a passenger steamer. You can try your hand at coffee making, if you like."
"The coffee is all made, but cold, in these bottles," explained Hiram, fishing out two from the accommodation basket.
There were both trees and bushes near by. Hiram gathered some dry branches and roots and soon had a comfortable little campfire going. He poured out the coffee from the bottles into a tin water pail, and soon had it steaming hot. Sandwiches and some bakery stuff Dave had bought at Ironton made a very satisfactory meal. Then they spread some wraps over a heap of dried grass, which they gathered up without much trouble. They rested in luxurious ease, watching the bright, snapping fire glow and feeling its genial warmth.
"Well, this is just like Robinson Crusoe, isn't it, Dave?" asked Hiram, with an air of great comfort.
"If you are a man Friday, then," rejoined the young aviator with a smile, "you scout around in the morning and see if there are any breaks in these great walls of rock shutting us in."
"Oh, then you're not counting an leaving here again by the air route?" inquired Hiram in some surprise.
"Not in daylight. I want to find some other way out for that. You see," explained Dave, "this is just an ideal spot as a rendezvous. I want to get over to the city tomorrow, though, to attend to some important business."
"How are you going to get there?"
"Why, I'll have to trust to my swimming skill, I guess," replied Dave.
"Um-m," observed Hiram thoughtfully, and, if the young aviator had been more watchful, he would have noticed that for the rest of the evening his willing assistant seemed to have something on his mind.
Dave made the echoes ring with the loud call as he moved up and down and across the queer basin, or cairn, where they had landed in the Monarch II the night previous.
He had awakened just at daylight to find Hiram Dobbs mysteriously missing. Dave was not worried at the first, but as he looked around and then explored the immediate neighborhood, he began to get mystified, if not alarmed.
Neither did his vigorous shouting bring any response. Dave came back to the camp spot to make a new discovery that puzzled him. On the ground near where they had slept were Hiram's coat, vest, shoes and cap.
"Why, I can't understand this at all," mused the young aviator. "Hiram couldn't have done much in the way of climbing up, he appears to be nowhere within hail, and he is not given to play tricks."
Dave did not wait to eat anything. He was really concerned about his comrade. He got a long tree branch, stripped it, and went along the side of the cairn, poking in and out among the dense dumps of shrubbery.
"Hello," he exclaimed suddenly, as disturbing some vines he saw an opening, and not twenty feet away a natural rocky tunnel, "daylight, and the waves of the lake. I think I understand now."
Dave penetrated the passage. As he came out at the other end, he found he faced a rock-strewn stretch of sand. The waves of the lake lapped this. In the distance he could make out Anseton, and nearer still, about a mile distant, the main shore.
The shore he was on terminated in a ridge of rocks that ran far out into the water. Dave wondered if the exploring spirit had moved Hiram to attempt an entire circle about the island.
"He went away in swimming trim," thought Dave, "so that may be so. I'll go out on that ledge of rocks and explore a little myself."
"Hello, Dave Dashaway!" sang out an exultant voice, just as Dave was about to remove his shoes.
Around the ledge of rock came a light skiff. The oarsman was Dave's missing comrade. He drove the boat upon the sandy beach and leaped out with a gay laugh.
"Why, Hiram," exclaimed the young aviator in marked surprise.
"It's me," chuckled Hiram. "Stole a march on you. Nearly dry," he added, shaking his clinging garments. "And oh! what a swim."
"You have been to the mainland?" questioned Dave.
"Where else? When you said 'swim' last night, it gave me an idea. I'm some swimmer, Dave Dashaway. Always was. Took the prize in a contest in Plum Creek back at home one Fourth of July. I found a way out of that shut in place and made a jolly dive for shore."
"But the skiff?"
"You'll need one, won't you?" challenged Hiram.
"Why, yes. I intended hiring one when I got across from the island."
"So you said, and I acted. I did better than hiring a boat, Dave."
"How is that?"
"Bought one outright. I took my money with me. Found an old fellow who lets out a lot of boats for fishing, and made a bargain. The skiff isn't the staunchest craft on the lake. Leaks a little, and one oar has been split and mended, but it's all right for our little use. Four dollars and a half—and we can sell it for something when we get through using it."
"You're a great fellow, Hiram, I must confess," said Dave admiringly.
"I'd like to do something to help on this trip of ours, you know."
"You've done a good deal this time, I can tell you that," declared Dave. "I can manage all my plans finely, now."
They pulled the boat into the shelter of some rocks. Then they returned to the rocky hollow. A good breakfast was in order. Dave announced the importance of his getting to Anseton at once.
An hour later the little skiff was launched once more. Dave rowed over to the mainland and lined the shore till well into city waters. He secured the skiff near a public pier, and started on foot for his destination.
Left to himself on the island, Hiram proceeded to dry his clothing. Then he puttered about the machine. He read for an hour or two in a book on aeronautics he found in the basket, well on towards the afternoon.
Hiram got tired of waiting for Dave. He went through the tunnel finally and roamed about on the rocky shore. There was more of scenery and variety here. The youth watched the boats in the distance. Then he made out the little skiff he had bought that morning making its way in and out among other craft between the island, and the mainland.
"What's the news, Dave?" inquired Hiram, as they gained the camp after securing the skiff where it could not be easily seen or found.
"The best ever," reported Dave cheerily.
"Tell me about it, won't you?"
"Well, I saw Mr. Price."
"Is he here at Anseton?"
"Yes, with his men. I had a long talk with him. He feels pretty good to know that we got here safely with the Monarch II. I told him all about the place where the moving picture man saw Jerry Dawson and the Chinaman. He thinks that is an excellent clew."
"I should think it was," said Hiram.
"He wants us to try and discover the Drifter. He says it's only a question of time, he and his men running down the smugglers. You see, Hiram, we are interested mainly in finding the aero-hydroplane, and getting it back to the Interstate people."
"And we must think of that first."
"We will make a long trip tonight—clear across the lake."
"Suppose you get a sight of the Drifter?"
"Then we'll know that it is really here, won't we?"
"Yes, but are you going to jog right into them and capture them?"
"Hardly," laughed Dave. "I hope if we do come across the Drifter, that we can follow it or keep it company, or find out where it is hidden away in the daytime. We will have to run across it before we can decide what circumstances will lead us to do."
"They're an ugly crowd—the Dawsons, and probably the fellows with them, too."
"I realize that. Mr. Price insisted on my taking these," and Dave began opening a boxlike package he had brought with him in the skiff.
"Hello," cried Hiram, as two good sized weapons and some boxes of cartridges were disclosed. "Do we have to use them?"
"I hope not," replied Dave, "but Mr. Price said we might come to a pinch where we could use them to show we were not unprotected, and to scare any crowd that tried to interfere with us."
"Well, it begins to look like real business," commented Hiram.
"That's what we're here for."
They had no difficulty in getting the Monarch II aloft, the hollow extending for several hundred feet. The night was ideal for a secret sky voyage. A slight mist hung over the ground, but at a height of five hundred feet the air was perfectly clear. There was bright starlight, and against the radiance they could make out flying birds quite a distance away.
Dave took a route across the lake diagonally from Anseton. They skirted the other shore for about ten miles. Then they recrossed the lake. The machine made a sweep along the coast line.
"Well, Dave," remarked his trusty assistant, "we've run across no air bird so far."
"I didn't expect to, all at once," was Dave's reply. "We can only keep at it."
"And trust to luck—I say!"
Hiram interrupted himself with a shout. Just beneath them an excursion steamer was ploughing its way through the waves, bound citywards on its return trip. They could hear the music of the band aboard, until now drowned out by hoarse blare of the fog whistle.
At the same moment a broad vivid flare of electric radiance shot across the sky from the deck of the steamer. It waved horizontally in some signal to the landing dock two miles further away. Then the operator of this glowing searchlight sent its gleams upwards in a slow way, as if for scenic effect for the passengers on board.
"The mischief!" exclaimed Dave bending to levers and starting the Monarch II forward at best speed.
Hiram sat staring. He blinked, half-blinded. The machine was irradiated in clear, sharp outlines as the great searchlight glare was focused, a speck of action in the sky.
A chorus of cheers went up from the deck of the steamer as its passengers caught sight of the airship. Only for a moment, however, was the brilliant sky picture in view. Dave turned the head of the machine on a volplane sweep, and the searchlight operator could not locate it again.
"Well, we've been seen," observed Hiram,
"I'm sorry for it," replied Dave simply.
"Look there!" cried Hiram abruptly.
Dave had selected a course leading over the land, away from the water. As Hiram spoke, his own eye caught sight of some brilliant sparkles of light.
It was a rocket, exploding in mid air directly in their course, and it was to this that Hiram Dobbs had directed the attention of the young aviator.
ACROSS THE BORDER
"Did you see it?" asked Hiram, in a great state of excitement.
"Yes," responded Dave. "A rocket."
"See! See!" continued Hiram-"there's it second one!"
"Dave, this means something."
"For us, you think?"
"Yes, I do. Keep near the place where these rockets were fired, Dave. Now then, what do you think?"
Dave slowed down. There was certainly something to his companion's surmises or suspicions, whatever they were. Directly at the spot whence the rockets had been fired there now suddenly flared up a great reach of flames.
Watching these, the interested aviators saw them change to a reddish hue. Three times, at brief intervals, they did this.
"Don't you see?" persisted Hiram.
"See what?" asked Dave.
"You think so?"
"I surely do. Now, then, look sharp. There are figures about the fire. The fire is pitch or oil, or something that could be made to flame up quickly. One of the men threw something into it from a box. It was red fire."
"Why, yes," observed Dave slowly. "I'll admit that was some kind of a signal."
"For the airship," interrupted Hiram quickly. "Look, look again, Dave! One of the men is shading his eyes from the glare of the fire, and is looking straight up into the sky. Why, it's plain as day. They saw our airship when that searchlight caught us. They were waiting for an airship to come along."
"Another airship than ours, you mean?"
"That's it, and I'll bet the Drifter! They took ours for the Drifter. They want us to land. Why, see there, one of the fellows is looking through a field glass—as if he could make us out in the dark away up here!"
It did not take Dave long to drift to Hiram's way of thinking. The spot where the fire showed seemed to be a large yard of some kind, attached to a factory.
"Of course this is all guess work, Hiram," said Dave, after a moment's thought. "Just the same, it fits in to your theory."
"Say," spoke Hiram suddenly, "I've an idea."
"What is it, Hiram?"
"Make a stop just as soon as you can."
"What's that for?"
"Let me out, and give me a chance to find out who that signal was intended for."
"I declare, it's not a bad plan," said Dave at once.
"Can't you find some safe place where we can land?"
"There won't be much trouble about that."
"Do it, Dave," urged Hiram, "and right away, so I won't lose track of the place yonder."
Dave inspected the country below as closely as he could at a distance. He circled to a lower level, and selected a patch of high grass between two corn fields.
"Now then," announced Hiram. "I'm off."
"I shall wait anxiously for your return, Hiram."
"Don't worry, I shan't get into any trouble."
Dave did not leave the flying machine. He kept himself in readiness for a flight, should anyone approach the spot. There was not much fear of that, though, he reasoned, as the place was away from the traversed roads and paths.
The young aviator had quite a spell of waiting. He began to fear that Hiram had lost his way or that something had happened to him, as an hour passed by. Suddenly, however, his active young assistant bounded into view, chipper and lively as usual.
"What news, Hiram?" inquired Dave.
"The best in the world."
"You have found out something?"
"You'll think so when I tell you," declared Hiram. "I found the place where they sent up the rockets without much trouble."
"What was it, Hiram?"
"An old factory yard. Part of the buildings have been burned down, and three or four loaferish looking fellows seem to live in an old shake down there. They belong to the crowd of that fellow, Ridgely, the smuggler, right enough."
"How did you know that, Hiram?" asked Dave.
"Because I overheard them. They had let their signal fire burn down low, and were sitting around it talking. I crept up behind an old shed and listened. It was as near as I dared to get, and I could catch only a word now and then. They spoke the name Drifter," asserted Hiram positively.
"You didn't see anything of Jerry Dawson?" asked Dave.
"No, but—say, yes, they mentioned his name, too. They were all excited about seeing our airship. It seems they were trying to warn the Drifter."
"To warn the Drifter?" repeated Dave somewhat puzzled.
"Why, what for?"
"To keep away from the American shore. Somehow, they had found out that the revenue officers were at Anseton. They knew, too, that the Interstate people had an airship out after them. It seems that when we didn't reply to their signal, they guessed that they had hailed the wrong airship. They have sent a man to the city to telegraph to the men on the Canadian side to look out for an airship on their track."
"You don't know where they are going to telegraph to, Hiram?"
"But I do," cried Hiram triumphantly. "That's my big discovery. They talked over the whole thing. The message is to be sent to a friend at Brantford. He is to ride post haste horseback ten miles west of that place to where the Drifter people have a camp in what they call Big Moose Woods."
"Hiram," applauded the young aviator, "you're a jewel. Why, you have simplified the whole business."
"And you're going right after the Drifter?" propounded Hiram eagerly.
"'We're going to try to," replied Dave, "but first we must get word of all this to Mr. Price."
The Monarch II had mounted aloft while they were conversing. Dave started the machine in a direction opposite to that in which they had been going. Hiram noted this.
"Are you going back to Desert Island?" he asked.
"First, yes. Then I shall skiff over to Anseton and report to Mr. Price direct or through any of his agents I may find."
The machine was brought safely to her old moorings within an hour. Dave, after landing on Desert Island, at once rowed over to the mainland. Hiram was full of curiosity when he returned.
"It's all right," Dave explained. "I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Price himself. He and his men had already acted on the clew that picture of Jerry and the Chinaman gave us. The old factory yard where the rockets were sent up will be under watch before the night is over, and Mr. Price is going to Brantford on a special boat."
"Then the crowd who stole the Drifter are as good as caught!" exclaimed Hiram hopefully.
"Hardly," replied Dave. "Mr. Price has advised me to get the Monarch II over to the Canadian side of the lake to night!"
"Which you are going to do, Dave?"
Dave, while in Anseton, had made some necessary inquiries as to the location of Brantford. He had also got a very good idea of Big Moose Woods. His arrangements with the revenue officer had been precise. He was aware that their only chance of getting near to the missing airship was to make new headquarters somewhere in the vicinity of Brantford, just as they had on Desert Island.
The darkness was fading in the east when Dave selected a plateau on the top of a high hill as a landing place. Once landed, trees and bushes at its crest hid them from view except from overhead. Dave had used diligence and haste in getting out of possible sight, for day was breaking.
They had reach Brantford, sailed over it, and Dave calculated had skirted the vicinity of Big Moose Woods. Nowhere, however, had lights, a campfire or any other token indicated the camp or rendezvous of the Drifter party.
"We are within twenty miles of Brantford," Dave announced.
"And what's the programme?" inquired Hiram.
"Sleep, for we need it. We seem to be safely shut in here. Later we'll plan just what we will do."
"If the Dawson crowd are warned all around about us and the revenue officers, they may run for some other territory," suggested Hiram.
"We want to be on the lookout for that," replied the young aviator.
They made themselves a comfortable bed, and both were soon asleep. Hiram woke up first; and found the sun shining in his eyes, and was about to shift his position, intent on a longer nap, when he checked himself not moving a muscle.
Through his half closed eyelids, still feigning sleep, Hiram kept his glance fixed on one spot. He almost held his breath. Thus for nearly five minutes he lay inert, but every nerve on the keenest edge.
His glance widened and seemed to be following some disappearing object. Then he sat straight upright, stared fixedly down the hill, and leaning over pulled his companion by the sleeve.
"Dave! Dave!" whispered the excited boy-"wake up! We've been discovered!"
A CHASE IN MID AIR
Dave roused up, wide awake in an instant. He was about to spring to his feet, when Hiram pulled him back with the words:
"Don't get up."
"Why not?" inquired the somewhat puzzled young aviator.
"You'll be seen."
"A man who was just here."
"Do you mean that, Hiram?" exclaimed Dave in a startled tone.
"I certainly do. Look," said Hiram, pointing, and then he added: "No, the trees shut him out now. As I just said, though, we have been discovered."
Now Hiram arose to his feet, the danger of being seen appearing to have passed. Dave followed his example.
"Some one was here, you say?" began Dave.
"Who was it?"
"A fellow who looked like some of the half breed Indians we saw fishing over near Anseton. I woke up, and he came in range clear as a picture. It was over by that thicket of pine trees. There he stood, staring at our machine, then at us. He seemed to take it in with a good deal of surprise. Finally he threw up his hands as if he was making up his mind to something, and started on a run down the hill."
"In that direction?" asked Dave, pointing due east.
"Yes, in the direction of Brantford. I tell you, Dave, he's a spy. If he ran across us accidentally then he's gone to tell his friends about discovering the airship."
"That doesn't follow," remarked Dave thoughtfully, "but I'm glad you saw him."
"Yes, I think we need to keep a pretty close lookout. Say, Dave," questioned Hiram, "if he is some friend of the Dawson crowd, and has gone to tell them about us, what do you suppose they'll do?"
"I have no idea," replied the young aviator. "But they won't catch us napping."
Dave kept a close watch out in all directions while Hiram hurried up a quick breakfast. They got through with the meal rapidly. Then Dave went over the machine, seeing that the gasoline tanks were full and the gearing and oiling apparatus in good order.
Two hours went by, and there were no developments that indicated that the visitor to their camp had been other than a straggler, with no purpose in view in his rapid disappearance. Hiram became more matter-of-fact, and guessed he had "got scared for nothing." All the same he kept a close lookout all of the time, particularly in the direction of Brantford.
Dave was planning a visit on foot to that town. He decided, however, that he would wait till afternoon so as to be sure that there was no occasion for worry. Both lads discovered the fallacy of their theories at the same moment.
"Look!" suddenly shouted Hiram, pointing.
"I see," said Dave calmly, but under the surface greatly stirred up.
"It's the Drifter!"
"What are you going to do?"
"Come," spoke Dave simply, and sprang into his seat in the Machine.
Hiram hastily collected their few belongings scattered about the spot. He bundled them into the accommodation basket, and was in his place almost as soon as Dave.
The eyes of both of the young aviators were fixed on a rapidly approaching object—an airship. Dave did not have to glance at its construction more than once to know definitely that it was the stolen Drifter.
Whoever was at the levers, Jerry or his father, thoroughly understood his business, Dave saw that. The aero-hydroplane came rather abruptly into view over a wooded hill top, and was rapidly approaching them.
"You see, I was right," said Hiram hastily. "That half breed was a spy, at least to that crowd. He has directed them here."
"All ready," ordered Dave, in a set, sturdy tone, and the self starter began to work.
"What is it—a chase?" fluttered Hiram.
"We'll have to wait and see. You know what kind of fellows the Dawsons are. I'm not going to sit like a bird in a nest and have them swoop down upon us, though."
"There are three—you can count them in their airship," said Hiram, shading his eyes and craning his neck.
"Four," corrected Dave. "The Drifter has a capacity of five ordinary people, Mr. Randolph told me."
The Monarch II made a magnificent slanting rise up into the air. Dave knew the splendid qualities of the machine under his control. They included an ability for a quick light ascent. He had no idea of the purpose of the Drifter crowd, but of course their main object was to capture their rival. The question was, failing in this, how, far would they go in the way of crippling or even destroying the Monarch II.
The Drifter was headed on a course directly towards the eminence which the boys had just left behind them. There had come up an eight hour wind about noon, and Dave knew that would be child's play maneuvering to avoid the enemy intent on annoying or injuring them. He drove ahead at a six hundred feet level and waited for the Drifter crowd to indicate what their purpose was.
"They are changing their course!" said Hiram quickly, as the Drifter wheeled suddenly.
"They are going to try a new ascent," explained Dave.
"o get to a higher level than ourselves."
"Then they mean mischief?"
"I am afraid that they do," replied the young aviator.
"Maybe they are trying to scare us," suggested Hiram.
Dave was now certain that the purpose of the Dawsons was to pursue, capture or intimidate them, or drive them away. They had a superb machine, and as they made a far lateral shoot it brought them considerably higher up than the Monarch II.
In fact, after one or two circles, like a huge bird swooping after prey, the Drifter came almost directly over them.
Dave's tactics were now purely defensive and evasive. There were five people aboard the aero-hydroplane, and they were desperate persons. He was not surprised when an object same shooting downwards from the Drifter. It struck one of the plane wires and then dropped earthwards.
"Something's whipped loose," spoke Hiram quickly.
"It's one of the elevator wires," said Dave, darting a quick glance at the spot. "This won't do."
Now it was an over-water flight with no measured course to pursue. The Drifter tried to repeat its recent tactics. Dave noticed that the Monarch II had become somewhat faulty in its running. He was anxious to get away from the enemy. His main efforts were directed towards preserving a sure balance, for once or twice there was a wobble, as if the machine was hurt in some vital part.
The young aviator made out a buoy a few miles to the west. Beyond it was a little settlement. He set his course for reaching it, and directed his full attention to the levers and the angle indicated.
The indicator was directly in front of the pilot seat. It showed positively how the machine was flying, on the top or down bank. It comprised a cup with lines set about ten degrees, and gave a sure safety limit. Only the pendulum was movable. This was mounted on an arm always perpendicular, a small mirror reflecting the variations of the pendulum.
Climbing and banking, Dave got quite a lead on the Drifter, but the aero-hydroplane kept up a steady pursuit.
"There's something the matter besides the broken wire," spoke Dave to his anxious companion. "The oil intake is dogged or one of the planes loose. We can't take any risks."
Dave sent the Monarch II on a downward shoot. There was a single pontoon in the center of the craft, with small tanks beneath the planes to prevent tipping over in the water. Dave aimed to hit the bay near to the shore.
Suddenly the aircraft acted queer. It had evidently struck a hole in the air. The machine seemed fairly to drop from under its occupants, and thirty feet from the water, Dave was lifted from his seat and took a sudden plunge over-board.
He went under the surface and came up dazed and nearly stunned. As he floated, dashing the water from his eyes, he saw the Drifter, now a flying boat, cut around a point of rocks, bearing straight down upon him.
Dave looked quickly about him for the Monarch II. To his surprise, as it scudded across the waves for perhaps a hundred feet on its momentum, it lifted again free of the surface of the bay.
He made out Hiram clambering from his seat like a sailor among the riggings of a ship. He saw the machine go up on a sharp slant, clear the shore of the bay, and disappear beyond the high cliffs lining it.
Then something struck him. It was some light part of the rotary engined aero-hydroplane, the Drifter, cutting the water like a knife. His head dizzied, and the young aviator went under the surface of the lake with a shock.
DAVE A CAPTIVE
It took Dave an hour to find out just what had happened to him. He roused up to find two men carrying him, one at his feet, one at his shoulders. All that he could guess was that they were on land. How he had been fished out of the water, and what had become of the Drifter, the young aviator had no means of knowing.
The two men were rough looking fellows and reminded Dave of dock laborers or loiterers. They were big and sturdy, and as Dave stretched out and showed signs of life, one of them remarked gruffly.
"None of that—no squirming, now."
Dave's clothes were soggy and dripping. He felt somewhat sore on one side of his head, but so far as he could figure it out he was not crippled; or seriously hurt.
The young aviator cast his eyes about him to, learn that they were going through a patch of timber. Then came a meadow-like stretch, and then a thicket. They had not gone far into that before the men dropped him on the ground and stood over him.
"Can you walk?" asked one of the two.
"I think I can," replied Dave, arising quite nimbly to his feet.
The instant he did this both of the men reached, out and seized an arm. Dave was thus pinioned tightly as the men forced him along.
"Most there," growled one of them gruffly.
"Good thing," retorted the other.
Finally they came to a dense thicket that covered a rise. About half way up this, almost hidden by saplings and vines, Dave made out a grim looking patched-up building.
It was an old hut to which various additions had been made. One of Dave's companions uttered a peculiar whistle. The door of the place was opened, and a disreputable looking fellow like themselves admitted them.
"Hello, who's this?" he spoke in a tone of curiosity.
"Oh, some one to take care of," was the short reply.
"He don't look like a revenue."
"Worse than that. Ridgely will tell you when he comes," was the indifferent retort. "Have you a place to keep him tight and safe?"
"I guess so," laughed the other, "a dozen of them."
"One will do."
Dave was led through several rooms. Then they came to a partition formed of heavy timbers. In its center was a stout door with an immense padlock.
"Get in there," spoke the most ferocious of his captors, giving Dave a push.
Then the door was closed with a crash that showed how heavy it was. Dave could hear those outside securing the padlock.
"A prisoner, eh?" mused Dave, looking about him. "Yes, it is, indeed, tight and safe."
Dave's prison place was gruesome in the extreme. On three sides was solid rock, forming a semicircular back to the room. The partition, closed the entire front. Near its top in several places were cut out apertures, admitting air and a little light.
There were some broken boxes in the place and a heap of burlap. Dave decided that it had been used at some time or other as a place of storage. He did not yet feel normal, so he sat down on one of the boxes and felt about his head.
"Just a bruise," he reported. "I suppose they, dragged me aboard of the Drifter from the water, but what about Hiram and the Monarch II?"
Dave started up, all weakness and dizziness disappearing as if by magic, as he thrilled over the possible peril of his comrade. With a recollection only of his last sight of Hiram grid the Monarch II, he feared what might have happened to either or both.
It worried Dave a good deal and made him restless and unhappy, but finally he figured out a theory. In some unaccountable way the Monarch II had no sooner glided along on its pontoon, than it had run straightway up into the air, as though the self starter was in perfect action. Dave recalled Hiram struggling to reach the pilot's seat. Then he had witnessed the disappearance of the Monarch II.
"I doubt if Hiram could manage the machine—I even doubt with something wrong with it, as there surely was, if he could keep it adrift," decided Dave. "What then?"
The young aviator pictured Hiram and the machine in a tangle among the trees, or dropping upset among the rocks. He had not seen anything of the Dawsons or the Drifter since he had fallen into the water of the bay. Perhaps, he reasoned, they had resumed an air chase of the fugitive.
Dave had several hours to himself. He detected no sound or movement outside of the strange room he was in. It was dreadfully dull and lonesome, and he wondered what the outcome of his present adventure would be.
It was well along in the day, when Dave from sheer weariness and worry had lain down among the heaps of burlap, that a diversion came to monotony. He started up as he heard voice outside of the door. Then the padlock rattled, the door opened, and some one stepped across the threshold. The visitor stared about to locate Dave, and spoke the words: