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yourself or tying a string to your word of honor."

"No, she won't think that," said Bill positively. "Mother and I
understand each other. I can trust her and she knows she can trust me.
It makes things nice all around. She will be _crazy_ about this machine
of yours. Perhaps she will take a little glide with you, if she doesn't
feel like actually going up. She has promised to come on and spend the
Thanksgiving vacation with me."

"Good work! That makes me feel glad that I can't go home. I am going to
stay right through the whole year and put in some extra work during the

"Mom will like you too," said Bill. "She will want to know all about the
plane, and when she gets through listening she will know 'most as much
as you do. There is one thing I am afraid of, if I should fly, and that
is spinning. Now if you begin to side-slip, either outward or inward,
you are apt to commence to spin, and - well, there is usually a speedy
and more or less painless end to you and your hopes."

"I think, Bill, that you will have no trouble in learning to control a
machine when your mother feels like releasing you from your promise. I
knew of a fellow once who made a long and successful flight with no
preparation at all other than what he had learned from books and

"I don't believe I would want to try anything like that," laughed Bill,
"but I am stowing away all I can gather here and there."

"The thing for you to do," said Ernest, "is to roll around the fields
every chance you get. I will be glad to take you with me any day or
every day that you feel like going. Of course you won't have very much
time after to-day except on Saturdays. To-morrow classes will be in full
swing. Get in now and take my seat."

Ernest tucked his screwdriver deep in his pocket, pulled his goggles
over his eyes and, seating himself behind Bill, directed his actions. A
thrilling two hours followed for Bill.

When at last they returned to the vicinity of the hangar from which they
had started, they found an excited and angry group around Horace
Jardin's aeroplane. Something was wrong with it and the two mechanics
working over it were unable to find out why the machine refused to fly.
It refused, indeed, to rise from the ground and the engine worked with a
peculiar jolt. The sound of the bugle from the high ground in front of
the mess hall called them to lunch and they went off, leaving the men
still at work. Horace was in a very bad humor, and as usual indulged
himself in a number of foolish threats, the least of which was to scrap
the whole machine.

"I will do it sure as shooting!" he blustered. "If that machine isn't
going to come up to the maker's guarantee, I will make my dad get me one
that will. I won't tinker round with any one-horse bunch of junk like
this looks to be."

"Give it a chance," suggested Bill soothingly.

"Not a darned chance!" declared Jardin. "I tell you my father promised
me an aeroplane, and he has got to come across with a good machine! He
will do it, too. He's too stuck on me to risk my being hurt. And he
knows it is not my fault. I can fly all right."

"Don't junk it, anyhow," said Frank anxiously.

"Want to buy it?" asked Bill.

"I might," said Frank, "provided Horace doesn't charge too much."

"If she won't fly, I will sell her to you for five hundred dollars,"
declared Horace. "You can tie a string to her, and Bill here can have
her to lead around the lot."

"That's a go," said Frank. Everyone laughed, but a look of cunning
suddenly flamed in Frank's eyes. He commenced to lay a train for
Jardin's anger to burn upon, a sort of fuse leading up to the explosion
Frank wished. He cast a quick glance at the others. It was evident that
they took the whole conversation as a joke. But Frank, with an arm over
Jardin's hunched shoulders, commenced pouring into his willing ears a
stream of abuse directed at the makers of Horace's beautiful plane, and
an account, invented on the spot, of divers people who had thrown over
their planes for just the reason which had so angered Horace. Frank,
with his real working knowledge of flying learned at the greatest of
schools, was able to talk in a most convincing manner. Horace, sunk in a
sullen silence, listened closely.


The first week of school, full of adjustments and experiments, passed
with the greatest swiftness. The boys were soon accustomed to their
surroundings and threw themselves with enthusiasm into their studies and
drill. Every possible moment was spent on the aviation field. Bill was
learning every quirk and crank of such work as he could do in Ernest's
plane without leaving the ground.

The mechanicians still worked on Horace Jardin's plane, but seemed to
make no headway. Horace threatened one thing and then another, ready to
take the advice of whoever stood nearest. Frank made it a point to be
that person as often as possible. He fretted no longer about money, a
fact that pleased Bill.

Then Saturday came, and things commenced to happen.

First was the usual rush for the morning mail at eight o'clock. There
was a letter from Mrs. Sherman, which Bill carried into the deserted
library to read. He always wanted to be alone when he read his mother's
letters. They were so dear and so precious, and seemed so nearly as
though she herself was speaking to him, that he hated to be in a crowd
of careless, chaffing boys.

When he had read half the long, closely written pages, however, he gave
a shout and hustling down the corridor to the chemistry room, burst in
upon Ernest who was doing some extra work there.

"Hey, Ern!" cried Bill, waving the letter. "Hear this! My mother is a
peach if there ever _was_ one!"

The elder boy laughed. "I bet she says you can fly," he guessed.

"Just that. Listen!"

Bill hastily hunted for the right place.

"'You know, darling' ... no, that's not it," he hastily corrected
himself. "Here it is. 'Perhaps I have been selfish in asking you not to
try your wings until you are older. Your dad assures me that you are an
expert with your automobile and says that there are no age limit flyers.
You see, the trouble is, sonny, that it is hard for your mother to
realize that you are going to grow up soon. You notice that I say you
are _going_ to, not you _are_ growing up. This is a gentle way of
leading up to what I want to say about flying.

"'Dear boy of mine, please, _please_ let your promise stand, with this
much of a release. If ever, _ever_ there comes an occasion of the
_greatest importance_, an occasion where you know I would approve - and
you always do know when I approve - then you may fly. I hope and pray
that it will not come, but if it does, you will know how to act. And
whatever you do you will know that your mother stands back of you
because she trusts in your judgment.

"'I sound like a _nobul parent_, don't I, Bill dear? Well, I _do_ feel
that I am on the safe side, because I cannot foresee any possible
occasion for you to go flying off from school. However, if ever you feel
that you _must_, why, you _may_!

"'Get that nice boy Ernest to teach you everything he can, and if you
have to fly, ask him to fly with you.'

"That's all she says about _that_," said Bill with a happy grin, "but
now I feel safe. I don't know why, but I had a sort of hunch that I
ought to ask her to let me fly if I had to."

"It is certainly nice of your mother," remarked Ernest, "but I agree
with her that there will be very little chance of your finding it
absolutely necessary to go aloft in the near future. Of course if you
go, I will go along."

"I have not read the rest of the letter," said Bill, "but I had to show
you this. I will read the rest now."

He hurried back to the library and resumed his reading. And the very
next sentence made him sit up straight, a dark scowl on his face.

"And now I must tell you something so dreadful and so sad that I can
scarcely write it," said the letter. "You will remember the money that
was stolen from a certain officer next door to us here? It happened just
before you left for school. Oh, Bill, you will find it almost
impossible to believe it when I tell you that our Lee, Lee whom we have
always found so honest and so faithful, is _under arrest_ for taking it.

"It seems that two ladies were sewing or visiting on the porch across
from our quarters, and a colonel was reading at the end of our own
porch. Lee came out and went to the telephone and kept saying hello so
many times that they all noticed him. The telephone is right beside the
window, and inside, on a desk, the money was lying in an open envelope
under a paperweight. The weight was so heavy the money could _not_ blow
away. Lee was the only one out there while the owner of the desk was
away from it. He was only gone for a moment, while he spoke to an
orderly at the back door.

"You know Lee always has lots of money of his own, but now they don't
believe that his grandfather sends him the money at all. He is up for
trial and if he is convicted, (and the circumstantial evidence is very
strong) he will be sent to Leavenworth for years and years. It is a
_dreadful_ offence.

"The money was in an official envelope, and if _that_ could only be
found Lee would be cleared, unless it was found in his possession. They
even ripped up his uniforms to see if it was hidden there, but now they
think he has burned it. Of course I believe in Lee. It is all a horrible
mistake, and some day perhaps it will be cleared up, but not soon
enough to save Lee because if he even gets inside Leavenworth he will
feel disgraced for life and I don't know _what_ will become of him.

"Oh, Bill, it is simply _too awful_! Of course they found three or four
hundred dollars on him, but he always has a great deal too much money
for an enlisted man to be traveling around with. Dad is simply sick over
it. Our Lee! We don't know _what to do_. Who could have taken that
money? And where is the envelope? If we could only find that! They say a
criminal always leaves some clue behind him, but the person who stole
that money must be a clever thief. There is nothing, absolutely
_nothing_ to guide us.

"Isn't it too awful? I wish you would write to Lee. He is in the guard
house, but I could get a letter in to him without any trouble. Make him
understand, Bill, that you believe in him and are his friend. He is

There was but little more in the letter. Bill's mother had felt too sad
to fill the pages with all the little details of the Post. And Bill,
after he had read about Lee, felt as though he could never smile again.
He felt helpless and lonesome and very far away. He wished heartily that
he was back on the Post. It _did_ seem as though he could help if he
only knew what to do.

Advice: that was what he wanted. But who was there to advise him? The
principal of the school was absolutely out of the question. He thought
of the instructors one by one. No good on such a count.

Troubled beyond words, he made his way slowly to his room. Frank was not
there, and Bill sat down and wrote a letter to his mother, which he
later sent special delivery. It was rather a rambling and purposeless
affair, but the best he could do under the circumstances. The note which
he enclosed for Lee was quite different in tone, and was intended to
make the prisoner believe that it was only a question of a few days
before the real culprit would be led to justice.

The trouble with Bill was that he could remember nothing at all of the
events of the fateful morning of the robbery except that he was busy
packing and yelling good-byes to everyone who passed the back door of
the quarters, Bill's locker being on the back porch, past which long
lines of student officers on their way out to make road maps continually
marched two by two, followed by the usual company of little and big
mongrel dogs that are always found on army Posts. Bill could see the men
and the dogs and he remembered the greetings, but who passed by or what
occurred on the front porch he did not know. His mind remained a blank.

Frank came in whistling. He grinned in an unfriendly fashion when he saw
his roommate slumped in the camp chair by the window.

"Heard the news?" he demanded.

"No; what's up?" asked Bill without interest.

"Well, the school was just put under strict quarantine," said Frank.
"The town and all the country is so full of that new disease,
what-you-call-it, that we are going to be shut up here for goodness
knows how long. And they say there are seven fellows down with it in the
hospital now. What do you suppose they will do if it gets to be an
epidemic in the school? I saw old Nealum just now, and he was mum as an
oyster: looked bad, because he always loves to give out information, you
know. We are to go to chapel in half an hour for instructions and new
rules. Wish they would send us home! I don't like school."

"I would like to go home too," said Bill.

"Why, I thought _you_ were dippy over your 'dear school' and your 'sweet
teachers,'" sneered Frank.

"It's all right," said Bill, "but I got a letter from home just now. Lee
is under arrest for stealing that money."

Bill was looking out of the window. He did not see the look of triumph
that swept over Frank's face.

"Good work!" said Frank. "I knew he was a crook, and I knew that sooner
or later they would grab him. Did they find the money?"

"They didn't find the money, and Lee is as straight as I am!" declared
Bill. "And if you say anything different I will lick you out of your
skin! I have a mind to do it anyhow!"

Frank glanced at the door. "You make me tired!" he said. "You won't let
anybody have an opinion without jumping them for it. Wait and see what
comes of this before you get so brash! I am going out to the field. Ern
is waiting for you there, or perhaps he will meet you in chapel. Nealum
told me there was going to be a halt on most of the indoor classes. They
want to keep us out in the air. That will give us a lot more time with
the planes. Too bad your mother won't let you fly. You could fly home. I
would do it if _I_ owned a plane. Jardin is sick of his."

He went off whistling, and Bill walked wearily to the chapel.

Days went by. The country trembled for the children and young men and
women who were being stricken, the teachers redoubled their efforts to
keep the boys well and happy, and the boys themselves regarded the
affair as a happy interlude in the year's grind.

Our four boys spent all their leisure time on the aviation field. The
Jardin plane seemed possessed. Every night, after the mechanicians had
spent the day working over it, the machine would go sailing off the
field, purring and humming and flying smoothly and evenly. And as surely
as morning came something was wrong! Jardin was frantic. Frank, always
at his elbow, irritated him into admissions and statements that he
scarcely recognized as his own when he afterwards thought about them.
He was not wise enough to put two and two together.

Another letter came from Mrs. Sherman, and on the same mail one from
Major Sherman written, not from his cozy desk in quarters, but over at
his office.

Bill looked very grave after he read it. Strangely enough, he had left
his mother's letter for the last. Major Sherman wrote to know what watch
Bill had pawned. A pawnbroker in Lawton had written him to say that he
would be glad to sell the watch left with him as he had a good customer
for it. Major Sherman wanted an explanation from Bill. He had simply
written the man to hold the watch until he had heard from his son.

Bill was stunned. What it all meant he could not guess. Something
strange was in the air. He felt the influence of evil but could not
place it. Taking his mother's letter, still unopened, he walked slowly
to the library. It was full of boys, all laughing and talking. It had
become a lounging room during the quarantine. Bill could not read there.
Slamming on his cap, he wandered over to the hangar. Climbing into
Ernest's plane, he huddled down where he was effectually hidden. He knew
that Ernest would not be out of the chemistry laboratory for hours, and
he tore open his mother's letter and read it rapidly.

Lee had been convicted! Bill groaned in anguish as he read the words.
He was to be taken to Leavenworth as soon as a couple more trials were
held so that all the prisoners could go under the care of one officer
and a squad. _Lee going to prison!_ Bill could not believe it. And Lee
had told Mrs. Sherman that he would never be taken to Leavenworth alive.
Bill shuddered.

Stunned by his emotions, Bill lay motionless in the cramped quarters he
had chosen. Presently he heard a light footstep. It stopped close beside
him and Bill, raising himself on his arm, peered over the edge of his
small quarters at the back of Frank Anderson, who was bending over the
engine of Horace Jardin's plane. No one else was in the hangar. Bill
heard the scrape of steel on steel and saw Frank slip a small
screwdriver into his pocket. Then Bill dropped out of sight, and soon he
heard Frank retreating to the small door of the hangar where he stood
for a moment looking out before he went out.

Five minutes later he returned with Horace Jardin.

Horace as usual was sputtering.

"I tell you, Andy," he said with his usual bluster, "this is the _last_
day I will fool with that plane. Absolutely the last! If she doesn't go
before night, she needn't go at all. I will get rid of her. Dad wrote me
this morning that he had had a letter from the chief mechanician here,
and what the fellow says about the plane looks as though the company
had put one over on us. Dad won't stand for that. He is going to make
them replace the car. But they can't have this one back. I will sell it
sure as shooting! I need money."

"What's your price?" asked Frank.

Jardin registered deep thought. "I need five hundred," he said.

"I will buy it," replied Frank. "I can make a little on it if I sell it
for junk, and you can't afford to dicker around like that. It would be
out of place for a Jardin to be dealing in second-hand stuff. Everyone
knows I have nothing."

"How do you come to have the five hundred then?" asked Horace

Frank flushed but did not hesitate.

"A present from my grandmother," he said, trusting to luck that Jardin
would not know that the lady had been dead for many years.

"Well, if she doesn't go by to-night, she is yours for the five
hundred," promised Jardin. "I wonder where those mechanicians are. Let's
go look them up."

Together the boys went out, and Bill, feeling it was high time to
escape, leaped out of the plane and dodged out the door.

Across the field, Ernest, the two mechanicians, Frank and Horace were
talking excitedly.

Bill joined the group.


"No use talkin' Mr. Jardin," one of the men blurted out as Bill came up.
"There is some monkey work going on here. Somebody is foolin' with your
plane. We lock the hangar every night, and someone is always around all
day, but allee samee, as the Chinee says, allee samee, _somebody_ gets
that machine all out of tune as soon as I get it right. And it's no
fool, either. Whoever is tinkering with it understands that type of
flyer down to the ground. He knows just what to discombobolate in order
to make us the most trouble."

Ernest laid a hand on the man's shoulder.

"The thing is, Tom, we will have to look for a motive. Now what earthly
motive can anyone have?"

"Search me!" said Tom. "Whoever is doing it doesn't want to hurt Mr.
Jardin here, because the damage is always to something that will keep
the plane from rising. For instance, yesterday the spark plugs had mud
in 'em. Before that, the exhaust wouldn't work; one time the priming pin
was clean gone; once the dust cap was half off; then the drum control,
warping the wings got on the blink. I tell you, it is enough to drive
anybody crazy! Lately we have took to sleeping in the hangar, but things
happen just the same."

"I am afraid it is a case of poor construction," said Ernest. "There is
no one who would pick on Jardin like that. Why don't they do something
to _my_ plane? Jardin has no enemies. He has invited about every boy in
the whole school to ride with him."

"Certainly I have!" said Jardin. "I guess I more than pay my way around
this place! I have stood treat oftener than any one in the whole school.
It doesn't pay to be an enemy of mine."

Ernest frowned. "It is not a case of treating," he said sternly. "It is
merely that no special fellow here owes you a grudge. So, as they have
no reason to owe me a grudge either, I don't see why I do not come in
for some of the damage, or you, Tom. There are only three planes here.
Why do they pick on Jardin? It beats me! There is something back of this
that I do not understand."

Bill, cautiously studying Frank, said to himself, "There will be trouble
with the other planes to-morrow. The conversation has given Frank an

"Well," said Jardin mysteriously, "after today I don't care what
happens. Come along, Tom, and see if she is all to the bad today."

Together they walked over to the hangar and wheeled Jardin's plane out
into the field. It could not be made to start. Tom gave a short, hard

"I am beaten!" he declared. "The screws are all loose on the
interrupter and it will take me all day to adjust the engine again."

"Gee, that's a shame!" said Frank, shaking his head.

Bill looked at him with amazement. After what he had seen in the hangar,
the boy's sly cunning filled him with amazement. He had an overwhelming
desire to confide in someone, and Ernest flashed into his mind.

The sky was growing very dark, and a queer yellow light spread the
northwest like a blanket.

Tom turned the plane and headed it back toward the hangar. "No flyin'
today," he said. "Look at that sky!"

The boys helped him put the plane away, then they sauntered up to the
school. A flash of lightning split the sky.

"Funny time of year for lightning," said Bill.

"It is, at that!" answered Ernest. "But it looks to me as though we were
going to have a real electrical storm. Let's get under cover."

They raced up the hill and into the building just as the storm descended
in good earnest. As Bill hurried to his room to shut the window, the boy
in the telephone booth called him.

"Telegram for you," he said, shoving the message through the wicket.
Bill signed the slip with a hand that shook a little. His mother! She
was his first thought. But her name was at the foot of the message which
proved to be a night letter.

"Lee will be taken to Leavenworth on Tuesday," it ran. "Circumstantial
evidence too strong. He is in a dreadful state but promises me to take
it like a soldier. Wish that you were here, but am told the quarantine
is absolutely strict. Will see you Thanksgiving if possible. Love.

Bill turned abruptly and went after Ernest. No one had seen him.
Presently he gave up the search and went to his room where he found
everything in the greatest disorder and a gale sweeping clothing, papers
and bedding from their places. He closed the window and straightened up
the place, moving the two army lockers to a new and better position and
rearranging his desk. He was too worried and restless to work, so he
went to the window, and leaning against the sash, watched a spectacular
storm sweep across the valley. In the distance he could see the trolley
cars struggling against the blast, but presently they were seen no more.
Great branches broke from the trees and whirled through the air. The
steel flag-pole before the main building bent perilously and, as Bill
watched, a row of telephone poles went toppling over. Blacker and
blacker grew the air, and at last with a crash the rain fell. Bill drew
a chair and moodily stared out into the whirling wet landscape.

All day the storm raged and Bill, worried and irresolute, sought Ernest.
It was not until supper time that he found him.

He had shut himself in the clubroom over the grill and had been boning
for an examination. Mess over, they wandered out on the terrace. The
storm was over, completely and wholly. The air was clear, the sky
cloudless. A gentle breeze fanned them. Trolley wires, telephone poles
and trees lay in every direction, with here and there a rolled-up tin
roof. It had been bad enough while it lasted.

"Come over here by the tennis court," suggested Bill. "I want to talk to
you. A lot of things have happened in the last few weeks, and I don't
know what to make of them."

"Fire ahead if I can help," said Ernest.

Bill commenced his story with the influence Jardin seemed to have over

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Online LibraryFrank CobbBattling the Clouds → online text (page 6 of 9)