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[Illustration: Battling the Clouds

Aeroplane Boys Series]

[Illustration: "Stop!" cried Ernest. "Stop, Bill! What does this









Copyright, 1921, by








The vast aviation field at Fort Sill quivered in the grilling heat of
mid-July. The beautiful road stretching through the Post looked smooth
as a white silk ribbon in the blazing sun. The row of tall hangars
glistened with fresh white paint. On the screened porches of the
officers' quarters, at the mess, and at the huts men in uniform talked
and laughed as though their profession was the simplest and safest in
the world.

Around the Post as far as the eye could reach the sun-baked prairies
stretched, their sparse grasses burned to a cindery brown. From the
distant ranges came the faint report of guns. The daily practice was
going on. Once in a while against the sky a row of caissons showed up,
small and clear cut.

Overhead sounded the continual droning of airplanes manoeuvering, now
rising, now circling, now reaching the field safely, where they turned
and came gaily hopping along the ground toward the hangars, like huge
dragonflies. And when they finally teetered to a standstill, what
splendid young figures leaped over the sides and stretched their cramped
legs, pushing off the goggles and leather headgear that disguised them!
Laughing, talking, swapping experiences, listening in good-natured
silence to the "balling out" that so often came from the harried and
sweating instructors, splendid young gods were these airmen,
super-heroes in an heroic age and time.

In the shade of one of the hangars sat two boys. They were blind and
deaf to the sights and sounds around and over them. The planes were as
commonplace as mealtime to them, and not nearly so thrilling. All their
attention was centered on a small box on the ground before them. It was
made of screen-wire roughly fastened to a wooden frame. One side was
intended for a door, but it was securely wired shut. The box had an
occupant. Furious, raging with anger, now crouching in the corner, now
springing toward the boys, only to strike the wires, an immense
tarantula faced his jailers with deadly menace in his whole bearing. One
of the boys gently rested a stick against the cage. The great spider
instantly hurled himself upon it.

Involuntarily both boys drew back.

"What you going to do with him now you have got him?" asked the taller
of the two boys.

"Dunno," said the other, shrugging his shoulders. "No use expecting
mother to let me keep him in quarters, and the C. O. won't have 'em
around the hangars. I guess I will have to give him back to Lee and let
him get rid of him."

"What does C. O. mean, and who is Lee?" asked the first boy.

"Gee, you are green!" scoffed the smaller of the two. "Tell you what
I'll do, Bill; I will take a day off and teach you the ropes."

"I will learn them fast enough if I can get a question answered once in
awhile," answered Bill, laughing pleasantly. "You can't expect to learn
_every_thing there is about the Army in a week."

"It is too bad you are in Artillery," said the other boy, whose name was
Frank and whose father was Major Anderson, in the Air service. "There is
a lot more doing over here, but of course as long as I am sort of your
cousin, why, you can get in on things here whenever you want to."

"Much obliged," returned Bill. "And of course whenever you want, I will
take you any place you want to go in my car."

"That car is the dandiest little affair I ever did see," said Frank half
enviously. "Just big enough for two of us." He glanced over to the
boy-size automobile standing in the shade. It was a long, racy looking
toy, closer to the ground than a motorcycle, but evidently equipped with
a good-sized engine. "Where did you get it, anyhow?"

"I have an uncle in the automobile business, and he had it made for

"Some uncle!" commented Frank. "How fast will she go?"

"A pretty good clip, I imagine," said Bill. "I have never tried her

"What's the matter with you? Scared?" asked Frank. "I say we speed her
up some of these days."

"Can't do it," said Bill, shaking his head. "There is a speedometer on
it, and I promised my mother I would never go over fifteen miles an hour
until she gives me leave."

"Fifteen miles; why, that's crawling!" said Frank scornfully. "I tell
you what. I can drive a little, and you can let me take the wheel, and
see what she will do. That won't be breaking your word."

Bill shook his head. "It isn't my way of keeping a promise," he said.
Then to change the conversation before it took a disagreeable turn, he
asked, "You didn't tell me what C. O. means and who Lee is."

"C. O. means Commanding Officer; you had better keep that in your head.
And Lee is the fellow who gave me this tarantula. He takes care of the
quarters across from yours at the School of Fire. I go over there to
play with the Perkins kids a lot. Lee fools with us all he can. He is a
dandy. He is half Indian. His father was a Cherokee."

"I know whom you mean," said Bill. "He is awfully dark, and has squinty
black eyes and coal black hair. He has been transferred to our quarters
now. He is splendid - does everything for mother: brings her flowers and
all that, and a young mocking bird in a cage he made himself."

"I didn't know he had been transferred," said Frank. "I bet he won't be
let to stay long. The Perkins family like him themselves."

"Can they get him sent back?" asked Bill anxiously.

"Sure," said Frank. "Colonel Perkins can get anybody sent where he wants
them. If he was your orderly he would stay with you, of course, but he
isn't; he is working as janitor."

"What's an orderly?" asked Bill.

"You sure have a lot to learn!" sighed the learned Frank. "It is like
this. That new dad of yours is a Major, isn't he? All right. He has the
right to have a special man that he picks out work for him, and take
care of his horse and fuss around the quarters and fix his things. But
the man has to belong to his command, and Lee is attached to the School
of Fire."

"I see," said Bill, thoughtfully. As a matter of fact he did not see so
very clearly, but he knew that it would be clearer after awhile, and he
had the good sense not to press the matter further. Bill had the great
and valuable gift of silence. To say nothing at all, but to let the
other fellow do the talking, Bill had discovered to be a short cut to
knowledge of all sorts.

"Yes," said Frank, "you see now that you can't get Lee for orderly."

Frank was glad of it. He did not know it, but down in his heart, he was
jealous of this Bill boy, who had appeared at the School of Fire with
his quiet good manners and his polite way of speaking, his good clothes
and, above all, his wonderful little automobile scarcely larger than a
toy, yet capable of real work and speed.

He rejoiced that Bill at least was not going to have Lee for an orderly.
He knew what it was to have a fine orderly, and Lee was almost too good
to be true at all. Why, only the week before, Lee had offered to get
Frank a wildcat cub for a pet. Frank's mother, Mrs. Anderson, and his
father, the Major, had refused to have the savage little creature about
and Frank had had to tell Lee so. He had kept teasing Lee for some sort
of pet, however, and as a joke Lee had just presented him with the
biggest tarantula he could capture.

The tarantula, taken as a pet, was not a great success. Frank poked the
stick at the cage and watched the ferocious creature dart for it, and
decided that the wisest thing was to get rid of it at once.

"I will give you this tarantula, Bill," he said with an air of bestowing
a great benefit. "I bet your mother has never seen one, and you can take
it home with you in your car and show it to her. If she has never seen
one, she will be some surprised."

"I suppose she would," said Bill, "but for all I know it might frighten
her, and I couldn't afford to risk that. Mother isn't so very strong,
and dad says it is our best job to keep her well and happy. I don't
believe it will help any to show her something that looks like a bad
nightmare and acts like a demon, so I'm much obliged but I guess I won't
take your little pet away from you, not to-day at any rate." He laughed,
and jumped to his feet.

"Where you going?" demanded Frank.

"Home," said Bill. "It is nearly time for mess. Get that? I said _mess_
and not _dinner_."

"Don't go yet," pleaded Frank. "What if you are a little late?"

"Mother likes me to be punctual, so I'll have to move along," said Bill.

Frank looked at him. "Say," he said, "aren't you just a little tied to
your mother's apron strings?"

"I don't know," replied Bill good-naturedly. "I think it is a pretty
good place to be tied to if anyone should ask me, and if I am, I hope I
am tied so tight she will never lose me off."

He shook himself down and started toward his little car. "So long! Come
see us!" he called over his shoulder.

Frank scrambled to his feet and followed. He stood watching while Bill
settled himself in his seat and started the engine. He stood looking
after him until the speedy little automobile swept out of sight across
the prairie and down the rough road that led to the New Post and from
there on to the School of Fire.

Frank gave a grin. "It's a dandy car, all right," he said, "and he may
be able to swim and ride the way he says he does, but I can beat him out
on one point. I can pilot a plane, and I have been up in an observation
balloon. I wonder what he would look like up in the air. I bet he would
be good and sick!"

Bill, guiding the car with a practiced hand, swept smoothly along,
avoiding the ruts made by the great trucks belonging to the ammunition
trains and the rough wheels of the caissons.

Bill was thinking hard. The years of his life came back to his thoughts
one by one.

When his father died, he was only four years old, and his pretty young
mother had been obliged to go out into the world and support herself and
her little son. They had lived alone together, in the dainty bungalow
that had been saved from the wreck of their fortunes, and had come to be
more than mother and son; they were companions and pals.

So when Major Sherman appeared, and surprised Bill greatly by wanting to
marry his mother, he was not surprised to hear her say that the Major
would have to get the permission of her son before she could say yes.

Bill and his mother had many a long and confidential talk in those days
and Bill learned, through her confidences, a great deal about the
strange thing that grown people call love. Bill's mother talked to her
son as she would have talked to a brother or a father, and the result
was that one day young Bill had a long talk with Major Sherman, a talk
that the Major at least never forgot. After it was over, Bill led the
way to his mother, and taking her hand said gravely:

"Mother, we have been talking things over, and I think you ought to
marry the Major. You are a good deal of a care sometimes, and I have his
promise that he will help me."

Bil's mother laughed, and then she cried a little, while she asked Bill
if he was trying to get rid of his troublesome parent. But Bill knew
that she was trying to joke away the remembrance of her tears, so he
kissed her and went out, wondering if he had lost his darling mother or
had won a new and dandy father.

It proved that he had found a real father after so many years, a father
who understood boys and who was soon as good and true a pal as his
mother was. Bill commenced to whistle when he remembered up to this
part, and then he laughed to himself when he recollected a couple of old
lady aunts who had offered to take him to bring up, because they were
sure that Major Sherman, being a soldier and no doubt unused to boys,
might abuse him!

It was enough to make Bill chuckle. His mother said that the Major
spoiled Bill. And in his secret heart Bill knew that there were times,
off and on, say a few times every week, when the Major gave him treats
that he would never have been able to coax from his mother. The little
car for instance. His mother had declared that it was a crazy thing to
give a boy twelve years old, no matter how tall and well grown he was,
but the Major had prevailed, and she had at last given a reluctant
consent. There had been an endless time of waiting, indeed a matter of
several months while the small but perfect car was assembled, and Bill
could never forget the day it arrived and the Major squeezed his big
frame into the driver's seat and gave it a thorough trying out.

Pets, too. Mother was brought to see that pigeons and white rats and a
tame coon and indeed everything that came his way, was a boy's right to
have. The Major was educating Bill in the knowledge of how to care for
dumb animals: he was learning the secret of self-discipline and
self-control, without which no man or woman or boy or girl is fit to be
the owner of any pet.

The Great War was ended when Bill's mother married the Major, just
returned from foreign service, and immediately they packed their
belongings, putting most of them in a storehouse for the happy day when
the Major should retire and be able to have a home. This is the dream of
every officer who gives his days and strength and brains to the service
of his country. Then they packed the few articles that they felt most
necessary to their comfort, gave away ten guinea pigs, eight white rats,
four pigeons and a kitten, crated Bill's collie and the Major's Airdale,
and started off for their first post, Fort Sill, where the Major was
stationed at the School of Fire as instructor.

Fort Sill rambles all over the prairie. Not the least of its various
branches is the Aviation School. And when the Major arrived with his
wife and son, he found that his cousin, Major Anderson, who was in the
Air service, was stationed at the Aviation School. Major Anderson had
two children: a little girl, and a boy just the age of Bill. Frank
Anderson liked his new cousin, but scorned him for his very natural
ignorance on subjects referring to the Army. He did not stop to discover
that in the way of general information Bill was vastly his superior.
Major and Mrs. Anderson were quick to see a certain clear truthfulness
and good sense in Bill that they knew Frank lacked and they were anxious
to have the boys chum together for that reason.


Bill, driving the little car which he had named the Swallow, reached the
quarters at the School of Fire in a rising cloud of dust. The wind had
risen suddenly and the fine sand whipped around the long board
buildings, driving in through every crack and crevice. All the rest of
the afternoon it blew, and at six o'clock, when the Major came in, he
was coated with the fine yellow dust. By nine o'clock, when Bill went to
bed, a small gale was singing around, and about one o'clock he was
awakened by the scream of the wind. It shrieked and howled, and the
quarters rattled and quivered.

Bill remembered the Swallow and his dad's car, both standing at the back
door. He rose and went to his mother's room. He found her curled up in a
little ball on her quartermaster's cot, looking out of the window.

"Come in, Billy," she said as she saw him at the door. "You are missing
a great sight."

They cuddled close, their arms around each other, and pressed their
faces close to the pane. The yellow sand was driven across the prairie
like a sheet of rain. The Major's big car shuddered with each fresh
blast, and the little Swallow seemed to cower close to the ground.
Continuous sheets of lightning made the night as bright as day. Over
the whine and whistle of the wind they could hear the distant rumble of
the thunder. The room was full of dust, driven through the cracks of the
window. Their throats were choked with it. The wind blew harder and
harder; the lightning grew brighter, slashing the black sky with great
gashes of blinding light.

Bill looked sober. "Gee, it is fierce!" he said in an awed tone. "Where
is dad all this time?"

"In his room sound asleep," said Mrs. Sherman. "I suppose he is used to
sights like this. Wasn't it _nice_ of Oklahoma to stage such a wonderful
sight for us? I wouldnt have missed it for anything."

"It is going to rain," said Bill, again looking out. "The thunder is
growing louder and louder. Did you ever see anything like the glare the
lightning makes?"

All at once Mrs. Sherman clutched Bill and pointed out.

"Oh, look, look!" she cried.

Bill followed the direction of her finger, and saw a small rabbit
running before the blast. He was going at a rate that caused his pop
eyes to pop worse than ever. As he skimmed along, he made the mistake of
trying to turn. In a second he was being rushed along sidewise, hopping
frantically up and down in order to keep on his feet, but unable to turn
back again or to stop. Bill and his mother laughed until they cried as
the little rabbit was hustled out of sight around the end of the
students' quarters.

The lightning grew worse and occasionally balls of flame shot earthward.
The thunder rolled in a deafening roar. Then suddenly the wind
stopped - stopped so suddenly and completely that Bill jumped and his
mother said, "Goodness me!" in a small, scared voice.

There was a long pause as though Nature was calling attention to her
freaks, and then down came the rain. It came in rivers, sheets, floods.
The roads ran yellow mud; the creek over the bluff commenced to boil.
The sparse dwarfed trees that clung to the sides of the gullies bent
under the weight of falling water.

It poured and poured and poured.

Bill had seen rain before, if not in such quantities. He found himself
growing sleepy, and kissing his mother twice, once for luck and once for
love, as he told her, he went to bed and to sleep, while the downpour
continued until almost morning.

The roads were impassable, although a hot, steamy, sunshiny day did its
best to dry things up. Bill spent most of the day putting the poor
half-drowned Swallow in shape.

Frank telephoned, but could not get over. He was excited about the
damage that had been done at the Aviation Field. One of the great
hangars had collapsed, ruining the machines inside. No planes were
allowed to fly.

Frank wanted Bill to walk over and Bill suggested the same pastime for
Frank; consequently neither one would go. The roads continued to be a
gummy, sticky mass of clay, and after four or five days Frank started to
walk across the prairie to the School of Fire.

Just before he reached the bridge crossing the glen between the New Post
and the School, he heard a joyful whoop and there was Bill running to
meet him.

"Hey there!" called Bill, as soon as he could possibly make himself
heard. "I was just starting over to see you."

"Come on back!" grinned Frank. "I am at home this morning."

"Not as much as I am," answered his friend. "Gee, it has been a long
week! Did you ever see such a storm?"

"Oklahoma can beat that any time she wants to," boasted Frank. "That was
just a _little_ one. You ought to see a real blizzard or 'sly coon' as
we call the cyclones. They are bad medicine, as the Indians say."

"This was big enough to start with," said Bill. "I thought the Swallow
was going to fly away. And dad's big car _reeled_ around. And you should
have seen our bath tub! It was full of sand."

"Clear up to the top?" asked Frank teasingly.

"There was a good inch in it," retorted Bill, "and it looks to me as
though that was a good deal of sand to trickle through the windows when
they all have screens and were closed besides."

"It surely does get in," granted Frank. "Hello, there comes Lee! Where
is he going, I wonder, without his fatigue suit on?"

"I suppose you mean those overall things he works in, don't you?" said
Bill. "I know that much now. Lee doesn't wear them any more. He was so
crazy over mother and so good to her and to me that dad got him
transferred to his Battery, and now he is our orderly."

"How did he manage to do that?" said Frank.

"Why, there was some fellow who wanted to leave the guns and work around
the quarters as janitor. They have an idea that it is an easy job. So
dad let him make the exchange, and I can tell you we were all about as
pleased as we could be."

"Good work!" commended Frank, but without enthusiasm. He did not want
Bill to have the fun of having Lee for orderly. He had been trying to
think up some scheme whereby the soldier would be sent over to fill that
position with his own father.

"Lee is a peach," said Bill warmly. "Look what he made me."

He fished in his pocket and drew forth a length of chain. The small,
delicate links were carved from a single piece of wood, and at the end,
like an ornamentation, hung a carved cage in which rolled a little
wooden ball. It was all very curious and delicate.

"My, but that's a peach," said Frank.

"You ought to see the one he did for mother," said Bill. "Small enough
for a bracelet almost, and the little ball smaller than a pea. The links
are all carved on the outside, and there is a sort of rose on the end of
this cage thing, and Lee painted it all up pink and green where it ought
to be like that.

"He knows all about a car too. This week he has been going over dad's
car and the Swallow, and they run like grease."

Frank fiddled with the chain. He had nothing to say. On account of his
Indian blood, his silent ways and mischievous nature, Lee had always
filled him with interest. He could tell wonderful stories too of his own
times and the times that lay long behind him, as he heard of them from
his father and grandfather.

Lee's grandfather knew a great many things that he never did tell, but
once in awhile he was willing to open his close-set old mouth and talk.
He wore black broadcloth clothes, a long coat, and a white shirt, but
never a collar. A wide black, soft-brimmed hat was set squarely on his
coal black hair. Under the hat, smooth as a piece of satin, his hair
hung in two tight braids close to each ear. They were always wound with
bright colored worsted. Grandfather Lee, the old chieftain, liked
bright colors, so he usually had red and yellow on his braids. They hung
nearly to his waist, down in front, over each coat lapel. Small gold
rings hung in his ears, and under his eyes and across each cheek bone
was a faint streak of yellow paint.

His Indian name was Bird that Flies by Night, and he lived about a
hundred miles away, on a farm given him by the Government. He had lived
there quite contentedly for many years, tilling the ground when he had
to. But now everything was changed. Oklahoma had given up her treasure,
the hidden millions that lay under her sandy stretches. Oil derricks
rose thickly everywhere, and Bird that Flies by Night found that all he
had to do was to sit on his back porch and look at the derrick that had
been raised over the well dug where his three pigs used to root. Two
hundred dollars a day that well was bringing to the old Bird and, as Lee
said, was "still going strong."

"And here _I_ am," said Lee grimly, "enlisted for three years!"

Lee's father was an Indian of a later day. He had gone through an
eastern college and had been in business in a small town when the oil
excitement broke out. He went into oil at once, and was far down in the
oil fields, Lee did not know where.

As a boy, Lee himself had refused to accept the schooling urged by his
mother and college-bred father, and had led a restless, roaming life,
filled with hairbreadth escapes, until the beginning of the war, when
he had enlisted in the hope of being sent across where the danger lay.
But like many another man as brave and as willing, he had been caught in
one of the war's backwaters, and had been stationed at Fort Sill.

Sauntering up to the quarters, the boys found Lee staring moodily at the
small and racy Swallow, now standing clean and glistening in the bright

"She knocks," he said, knitting his fierce black brows. "All morning I

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