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his eyes, he laid the beautiful green engravings all over his sheet and
counted them one by one with his forefinger. Twenty! He noticed a small
piece of paper in the envelope and examined it. It read briefly:


"i looked all over Lawton for sumething nise for you to take to
school. So please spend this on something you like. I will tell
your mother what I done so she wont kick. Anyhow I aint afraid of
her kicking ever since the day i broke her big glass dish that you
said was cut. It cut me all right, but she never said a word, and I
bet she wont now when i explane. So remember when this you see,
remember Lee. That is some poetry partly mine and partly out of a
book. If I had kept at school the way I should of, I could have
made the whole piece up myself. Rite soon to yours as ever,


Bill gasped. Then he gathered the precious money tight in his hand and
standing on the edge of his berth, hoisted himself up to Frank's level.

"Glue your eye to this!" he whispered loudly over the racket of the
train. "Gee, have you got the same?"

At the sound of Bill's voice, Frank, who was staring at a handful of
bills, started violently, then forced a rather shaky smile.

"Found this in my pajama coat," he said; then as Bill waved his fist,
"What! Have you the same thing?"

"Surest thing you know!" said Bill. "Never had so much money in my life.
The darned old peach!"

"I haven't counted it," said Frank. "It sort of scared me. Who do you
think gave it to us?"

"Didn't you read your letter?" asked Bill, wiggling the rest of the way
up and taking a paper like his own from Frank's envelope. He handed it
over and Frank unfolded and read it. Reluctantly, but seeing no way out
of it, he handed it over to Bill.

"Frank," said the letter, "Lawton is a dead one. Nuthing in it for
boys except rattles and guns and pink silk shirts and stick pins.
But your dad wouldnt let you have the pins and your mothers
wouldn't see you found dead in them shirts, and the pins was sort
of advansed, so I want you to spend this money on something you
like when you get to whatever it is.

"Just a present from your friend

"P. S. Say, Frank, lets take a fresh start me and you. I wouldnt
believe you would lie or steal even if some do do such. So you must
take it from me that a good indian is a good indian just as a good
white man is good.

"So that all we want to bother about that.

"Your true friend

"Well, this beats all!" said Bill, handing back the letter. "Isn't Lee
the _peach_ though? I wish I was sure Mom would let me keep this. Isn't
it great - all new fives! I suppose he thought it would be handy that way
for us to spend."

"What does he mean about not believing that I lie or steal?" said Frank,

"Why, just what he says, you nut!" exclaimed Bill. "Can't you read? He
means he knows _you_ wouldn't do anything wrong, and so you must believe
in _him_. I bet he has overheard some of the things you have said about
him. Anyhow, it is just as he says. You must keep his present, and make
a new start. He wants to be good friends with you and wants you to like
him. And I should say he deserves it."

Frank said very little about the present but Bill didn't notice. He was
too busy voicing his own surprise and gratitude. Before he finally slid
down into his own berth he had spent the crisp new fives twenty times
over. He thought he was too excited to sleep, but after he had pinned
the present back in his coat pocket, and had carefully laid himself down
on that side, and tied all the curtains shut, and balanced his suitcase
on end at the front of the berth so a possible robber would tip it over
on him, he was asleep in two seconds. It would have worked all right at
that, only by-and-by in the middle of a dream where Bill was batter in a
baseball nine that used ice-cream cones instead of balls, the train went
around a curve and over came the suitcase. Bill was awake in a second,
and for a moment had a hand-to-hand fight with the curtains before he
realized what had happened. With a laugh he felt for his precious
pocket, and slept again.

But in the upper berth Frank Anderson had tossed Lee's friendly letter
and the packet of bills down to the end of the berth as though they were
worthless. He was only a boy and should have slept but all night long he
lay and stared at the little electric bulb burning dimly over his head.
He lay and thought; and his thoughts burned like fire.

It was very late the following night when they reached their
destination. Bill had come to the conclusion that Frank was not a very
jolly traveling companion. He was moody and inclined to be really
grouchy. And touchy.... _Whew!_ It was all Bill could do to say the
right thing. Finally he remembered that some people are always car-sick
when they travel, and on being asked, Frank admitted that he didn't feel
so very good. So Bill let him alone and things went better. Bill made a
good many friends that day and came within an ace of being kissed by a
pale little lady who found a chance to take a much needed nap because
Bill took charge of her two-year-old terror of a baby boy while she
slept. There was an old gentleman too, who asked him a million or more
questions, and enjoyed himself very much. He asked the boys to take
luncheon with him, and proved that he had not forgotten his boyhood by
ordering the _dandiest_ dinner - even a lot of things that were not on
the bill. He was a director of the road, or vice-president, or
something, the porter told Bill in a whisper, but Bill didn't pay much
attention. What the old gentleman _didn't_ tell was that he was a
trustee of the very school the boys were going to attend. Some day they
were going to meet him again, but that is another story.

Anyhow, it was very late when they arrived and they were piloted to
their room by a pale young instructor who met them at the station in an
ancient and wheezy Ford belonging to the school. They were the last
boys to arrive, he told them, and school was to begin at eight o'clock
in the morning. He warned them to be perfectly quiet as the boys were
all asleep and it was against rules to speak or have the lights on after
nine. But they were to be allowed a light to undress by, and he would
come in in fifteen minutes and put it out.

They undressed in about a tenth of the time it usually took for that
ceremony, and even Bill, who forgot to brush his teeth and had to get up
again to do it, was deep under the covers when Mr. Nealum, the
instructor, came silently in, said goodnight without a smile, turned
off the light, found the door by the aid of a big flashlight he carried
and silently disappeared.

"Undertaker!" whispered Frank.

"Shut up!" said Bill. He listened intently, then said under his breath,
"Be careful! I thought I heard him breathe!"

"He is gone," answered Frank. "I heard him walk away."

"Not much you did!" said Bill. "He pussyfooted it. Must have had rubber
soles on his shoes."

"I heard him anyhow," insisted Frank. The boys lay still, thinking over
their new situation. It was very exciting. They were not lonely. Their
narrow beds, but little wider than the quartermaster cots at Sill, were
side by side, nearly touching. Presently Bill spoke.

"What's the matter with you, Frank?"

"Nothing! What ails _you_?" retorted Frank.

"Nothing, but you _breathe_ so hard - sort of choky and gaspy."

"That's you doing _that_," said Frank. "I can't sleep with you snorting

"I tell you it's you!" said Bill. "I listened to myself breathe, and you
couldn't hear me. I was breathing just like this." He gave a sample, and
you could not hear him. Then as both boys listened, things began to

Frank made a light leap from his bed and landed on top of the stunned,
scared and astonished Bill.

"Sssssh!" hissed Frank. "The money!... Robbers!... Under the bed!"

Frozen with horror, the boys listened intently. The breathing _was_
under Bill's bed. It seemed as though they lay listening for a week
before Bill made a violent motion to free himself from Frank's grasp.

"Where you going?" hissed that youth.

"To light the light and give the alarm. If he tries to get out, we will
hold him."

"Stay here!" commanded Frank.

For answer Bill wrenched himself free and bounded out on the floor. With
another bound he reached the light and turned the button. No light
responded. He stood beside the wall, uncertain what move to make next.
The sensible thing seemed to be to shout an alarm or else go out and
find Mr. Nealum. In either case what would the robber do to Frank, who
was roosting right above him? The breathing under the bed continued, now
fast, now slow, up and down. Bill had heard something like that

As his fright subsided, he recognized the sounds as very familiar. Bill
had not lived in the apartments at Sill for nothing. Too, too often had
he listened to the sounds that trickled clearly through the
plaster-board partitions. Those partitions were like sounding boards.
From one apartment to the next, they transferred the arguments,
discussions and all goings-on on the other side. Bill laughed
soundlessly in the dark. The lights had been turned off at some central
switch, and the darkness was intense. He was lost in the strange room.
He took a step sidewise along the wall and stubbed his toe against a
suitcase. Bending, he found that it was his own. The problem was solved.
Rummaging hastily, he found his flashlight.

"Frank!" he called in a low whisper.

"W-w-what?" quavered from the dark.

Following the direction of the low sound, Bill crossed the room until
his outstretched hand collided with Frank's eye. This mostly happens,
you know. Frank stifled a howl as Bill hissed, "Listen! We have him now!
He's asleep - snoring. Let's take a look at him and then beat it for Mr.
Nealum. He must be somewhere about."

"Don't you do it!" whispered Frank, clutching Bill. "Find Mr. Nealum
first. You go to flashing that light in his eyes and you will wake him
up. He's apt to kill us before you could get to the door."

"Think what a lark it will be if we take him prisoner all by ourselves!
We can tie him up with these sheets in no time. Now I tell you how we
will work it. As soon as we see just how he is lying, I will shove the
bed off him, and you lam him good and plenty with that dictionary. Soon
as you do that I will throw all the blankets and bedclothes and the
mattress on him and then we will sit on him and yell. Somebody ought to

Frank still objected, sure from the size of the sounds that were now
easily recognizable as snores, that the robber was really in a deep

"If he is anything like Lee," he said, "he will throw us off in a

"But you are going to lam him one!" whispered Bill patiently. "You must
hit hard enough to knock him out - stun him."

"Well, have it your own way!" conceded Frank. He commenced to realize
what a wonderful introduction this would be to the boys of the school if
it went through as smoothly as Bill seemed to think it would.

"Here, take the flashlight, but don't turn it on," whispered Bill. "I
want to get the bedclothes ready."

Silently and quickly he loosened the tucked-in sheets and blankets. He
rolled up the sleeves of his pajama coat

"Now," he said, "let's take a look before we roll the bed away."

Clutching the dictionary in both hands, Frank slid to the floor where he
crouched, shivering from excitement. Bill, on his knees, folded a
handkerchief over the flashlight to dim it, then pressed the button.
Slowly he turned it under the bed. The dim light rested on a tumbled
shock of hair and a flushed face, pillowed uncomfortably on a cramped
and doubled arm.

Snores rattled furiously from the open mouth. Sleeping the sleep of the
weary, the thief lay completely at their mercy.

"Gosh!" said Bill as he looked.

"Gee-roosalem!" murmured Frank.

With a bang the big dictionary slipped from his hands and landed on the

The intruder with a violent start opened his eyes and looked at them.


Setting the flash so it would not go out, Bill laid it down on the
floor, cried "Oh, you robber!" and beginning to laugh continued until he
had to lie on the floor and roll around. Frank, laughing, too, carefully
shoved back the bed. The intruder sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"I guess the joke is on me," he said.

It was Horace Jardin!

"This beats everything in my young life," said Bill as soon as he could
speak. "What are you doing here anyhow, scaring the life out of two poor
little boys on their very first night in boarding-school? Don't you know
you are making us break rules the first shot?"

Horace laughed sheepishly.

"I was going to give you a good old scare," he said, "but I was so tired
and it took you so long to get here that I went to sleep. But I bet you
are surprised to see me here."

"Here at this school, or under our beds?" quizzed Bill.

"Both," said Horace.

"How did it happen?" asked Frank.

"It was the airplane," explained Horace. "This is the only school in the
country where they let you fool with this air stuff, and so I told dad
that it was no use bribing me with an airplane to stay in school all
the year if I couldn't go where I could use it. I have learned to fly,
by the way. Dad paid a dollar a minute to have me taught. I tell you I
am a whiz! It cost him five hundred dollars for my tuition, and two
thousand more to mend a plane I broke, but he was so pleased at the way
I learned that he didn't mind the bills at all. So here I am, and when I
heard you were coming - well, I was certainly tickled! So I sneaked in
here as soon as the bell rang for lights out, and first I knew I was

"From the way you were snoring, I should say first thing you knew you
were awake," laughed Frank.

"Guess I will beat it now," said Horace. "There is no school
to-morrow - just the organization of classes, and we can go down to the
hangars and see my plane. You ought to see those dinky little hangars!
Not much like the big government ones. There are only three planes. Mine
and one belonging to the school, and one that belongs to a fellow from
Toronto. It is a peach, and he thinks he can beat me in a race. We are
going to try it out some day if we can ever get up without an
instructor. They are awful strict here. I will have a deuce of a time if
they catch me in here."

"I should think you had better fade away then," said Frank uneasily. "We
don't any of us want to get in wrong."

"Well, I am glad you have come, fellows," whispered Jardin, tiptoeing to
the door. "Put out that flash, Bill! You don't want to tell everybody
what we are doing. See you in the morning. Goodnight!".

He slipped out, and the boys silently crept back into their beds.

"That beats all!" exclaimed Bill after a long pause when he decided by
Frank's breathing that he was still awake. "I surely thought we were
quit of that chap."

"You always have it in for him, haven't you?" said Frank. "You are a
funny one. Always cracking up that Indian orderly of yours as such a
peach and a straight fellow, and forever knocking a first-class good
sport like Jardin."

"I didn't mean to knock Horace," said Bill, "but he does seem - well, I
don't know just what!"

"I guess that's about it," sneered Frank. "Just about it! You don't know
_why_ you knock him or what about, because you have just made up your
mind to do it. Well, suit yourself! I like Jardin and he is good enough
for me, and that's all I have to say about it. You can do as you please;
don't mind me."

"Don't get so sore," said Bill. "I told you back home that I was going
to treat him decently, and I am."

He turned on his pillow and was silent, and both boys were asleep in
about a minute. They were very tired.

Early in the morning Jardin introduced the Toronto boy, and they found
him a very quiet, pleasant chap who made no pretensions of any sort.
Together they walked down to the hangars.

"How do you learn to fly in the civilian schools?" asked Bill of the
Toronto boy, whose name was Ernest Breeze.

"It is about the same as the government schools," said the boy. "You
know something about flying, don't you?"

"A little," replied Bill modestly. "I can control the machine on the
field, but I have never been up. There are reasons that keep me from
flying but I hope to some day."

"Well, we learned on an old style Bright," said Ernest. "With a dual
control, you know. You take the same seat you will always occupy, you
follow every movement of the instructor beside you, and you sort of feel
that you are managing the levers all alone, until you sense the tricks
of the machine and learn a few things like rising from the field,
manoeuvering and landing. It is a good deal easier than it is to drive
an automobile."

"That's the way you start at the aviation schools in the Army," said
Frank. "But there you don't have to pay any of this dollar-a-minute

"No," said Ernest, "but in exchange for your tuition you have to join
the Aviation Corps. And now that the war is over, I would rather do
postal work, or ferry or excursion lines instead of hanging around an
Army aviation camp. My aim is to be as perfect a flier as I possibly
can, and then if there is ever any need of another Army Aviation Corps,
why, I will enlist right off. You see your final test qualifies you for
government service if you make good."

"What do you think is the quality a birdman should have most of?" asked

"Our instructor used to say a pilot should have courage, skill,
knowledge, aptitude and confidence; but he always went on to say that
all these together amounted to very little unless you have a bushel of
common sense. I think he was right. I had to earn part of my tuition in
the Aviation school because I didn't want to ask my father to pay all
that out for me and get me an airplane beside. That is why I am just
entering school. As long as the war lasted, I thought I ought to be
learning something that would help a bit if they needed me, but it ended
before I got a chance to offer myself, and now I have got to work mighty
hard to make up for the time I spent in the air. That's why I am here. I
want to keep in practice and fly whenever I am not busy with school

He looked critically at the sky.

"It is going to be a wonderful day up there," he said. "Don't you want
to come up, one of you?"

"Frank is going with me," said Jardin.

"Come on then," invited Ernest, smiling at Bill.

"I am sorry, but I can't go up," said Bill, flushing.

"Bill likes to stay on the ground pretty well," sneered Jardin, pushing
open the door of the hangar. He disappeared within, followed by Frank.

"Well, that's all right," said Ernest, smiling pleasantly. "I don't see
as it is anyone's business what you like to do. I think if you feel a
bit uneasy you are very wise to stay right on the ground."

"It is not that at all," said Bill, acting on a sudden impulse to tell
this pleasant young stranger the reason for his refusal. "It is not
that, and the reason probably won't interest you. Frank and Horace are
always kidding me about it, but I can't help it. You see, I promised my
mother that I wouldn't go up. She has a bad heart, and a shock like my
getting hurt would certainly kill her. I can't risk that, can I? And
when you come down to it, it is just as you say. I don't see as it is
anybody's business what I do."

"I rather think not," said Ernest, clapping Bill on the shoulder. "I
guess if you were in _my_ boat, with no mother to do things for, you
would be glad enough to give up a thing like that. What do you care
_what_ they say?"

"I don't," declared Bill, "only they always give people the impression
that I am afraid. And I am not."

"Of course you are not!" exclaimed Ernest. "That bores me awf'ly! Let's
get my little boat out. You don't mind skating around the field, do

"Tickled to death!" said Bill eagerly, and hastened into a place in the
trim, beautiful little plane.

The moment they were set in motion he saw that the plane was a wonder.
It answered to the slightest touch of the wheel or levers and rode the
humps on the field with a motion that told Bill, experienced as he was
in that part of the sport, that it was made of the finest possible

His admiration finally burst into speech.

"What a beauty this is!" he roared over the blast of the throbbing

The young pilot turned a lever, and the racket subsided into a soft,
steady humming.

Bill repeated his remark. Ernest stopped the plane and, getting out,
commenced to adjust the engine.

"I see she needs a little tuning up this morning," he said, pulling off
his gauntlets and fishing a screwdriver out of one of the many pockets
in his aviator's coat. Bill joined him.

"It _is_ a good machine," admitted Ernest. "I am certainly proud to own
it. It is too good a machine for me but I am as careful of it as I know
how to be. I think so much of it that I never try any fool stunts with
it. Dad says it was worth all he put into it just on that account. He
says that perhaps I would forget to take care of my own safety, but he
is sure I will never fail to look after this little pet. For instance,
when I was learning to fly three years ago (and I don't consider that I
really know how to do it yet) they tried to din it into me that I must
always keep the tail of my machine a little higher than the nose, in
case the engine should go dead when I wasn't expecting it."

"What would happen then?" asked Bill, deeply interested.

"Well, if the aeroplane is correctly balanced with the tail a little
higher than the nose it will be ready for a glide if the engine goes
dead, and on the other hand it is apt to lose headway, and go down tail
first. And that, you know," added Ernest, laughing, "is often very
uncomfortable for the occupants of the car."

"I should say so!" agreed Bill.

"Chaps make such a mistake trying to build their own cars," said Ernest.
"More accidents come from that than people realize. While the war was
going on, no one had time to tinker at building, but now half the chaps
I know are studying up and attempting to make aeroplanes for themselves.

"It just can't be done. For instance, every piece of wood used in a
machine must be tested with the greatest care. A chap can't do that
himself. Every piece of wire used has got to be stretched in a machine
specially invented for the purpose. For instance, to find the breaking
strain of a piece of wire, a piece fifteen inches long is placed between
the jaws of a standard testing machine, so that a length of ten inches
of the wire is clear between the two ends. What they call the 'load' is
then put on by means of a handle at the rate of speed of about one inch
a minute. You can't do this yourself, and by the time you have sent your
wire, or have taken it where the test can be applied, and have also had
the test made on the twist of your wire, and all the woodwork, you will
have a machine that will cost more than one made by skilled workmen.
There is another test too that is very necessary. That is for your wing
fabric. It ought all to be soaked in salt water. If the fabric has been
varnished, the salt will soften it. Then dry the sample in the sun and
if it neither stretches nor shrinks, you will know that it is all right,
and you will feel safe about using it."

"I took in all I could learn, without actually going up, at the Aviation
field at Sill," said Bill. "I will get my chance some day. I wrote
mother this morning, telling her about our trip and all, and I asked her
if she thought she would sometime feel like letting me fly. I didn't
_ask_ her to let me, you know, but I have a hunch that something might
happen sometime and I might almost have to fly. So I told her just how
I felt about it. Whatever she says goes."

"That's a good sport!" said Ernest, smiling. "It seems to me that I
would be willing to give up anything in the world if I could have my
mother alive to make sacrifices for. Of course I have dad, and he is a
corking pal and just an all-round dear, but a chap's mother is
different, somehow. I think you were wise to write that letter, for you
never know what might come up. If your mother is what I should think she
is, she will understand that you are not trying to fix a loophole for

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Online LibraryFrank CobbBattling the Clouds → online text (page 5 of 9)