Frank Cobb.

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Frank and concluded with what he had seen in the hangar.

"What's the game?" he demanded at last.

"I can't guess unless he wants Jardin to get so disgusted that he will
give him the plane. Has Frank any money?" asked Ernest.

"He had a present from a friend of ours when we came," said Bill, "but
most of that has been frittered away. Besides that, he hasn't a cent
although he goes strutting around as though he had a little private wad
to draw on. But I know he hasn't any. Where would _he_ get money? His
folks have only their army pay."

"It surely is funny about that plane," said Ernest. "I never saw a chap
so crazy about flying, but he can't expect to get a plane like that for
nothing, and yet what you saw looks suspiciously as though he was up to
some scheme. What sort of a chap was he at home?"

"Not bad," replied Bill generously. "There was a lot of things I didn't
like about him, but I never suspected he would do anything underhanded.
Why, he might kill Jardin, monkeying that way with the plane!"

"He is determined not to harm him," said Ernest. "Everything that has
happened to the plane has been of a nature that has made it impossible
to get it off the ground. So Jardin is safe for the present at least. I
think I will manage to secrete myself in that hangar to-morrow morning.
I don't believe we had better tell anyone about this, Bill; it would
stir up such a fuss. The plane is in perfect order now. I saw Tom a
little while ago and he has it tuned up to perfection. In the meantime I
think I will seek our friend Jardin and sound him a little. Later I will
drop in." He strolled off in the direction of the billiard room where
Jardin was usually to be found, and Bill went to his own room and tried
to read. The thought that in a short time Lee, good, honest, loyal Lee,
would be on his way to prison, a convicted thief, was more than he could
bear. The print danced before his eyes. He heaved a sigh of relief when
a tap on the door was followed by the entrance of Ernest.

"The plot thickens," he said, closing the door carefully and glancing
about to assure himself they were alone. "I have had a long talk with
young Jardin and it was very mystifying. You are mistaken about Frank, I
think. He must have a bank account or something of the sort, because he
has actually offered to buy that plane. I suspect he has offered very
little for it, because Jardin would not tell me the price. But the deal
is good as closed. Jardin is going to get a new machine, and Frank is to
pay him for this one to-morrow."

Bill was silent for a long time. "I don't know what it all means," he
said finally. "Something queer has happened to me that worries me. I
wonder - do you think - no, it couldn't be."

"Probably it couldn't," agreed Ernest, "but I can't think before you
explain what to think about."

"It was a letter from my dad," explained Bill, and went on to tell him
about the watch that was in the pawnshop in his name. And then, because
he had a good start, he told Ernest about Lee.

"That pawnshop affair may have something to do with Frank," said Ernest,
"but you can't connect him with that robbery. That is too big and too
serious. Six hundred dollars, you say?"

"I think that was what they told me," said Bill. "No, of course Frank
has nothing to do with that, and I know Lee is perfectly innocent of it
too. I just about go crazy when I think about it."

"It is terrible," said Ernest, deeply troubled.

For a long while they sat talking things over, but were finally
interrupted by the entrance of Frank, who came bursting noisily into the
room, throwing his cap across the bed and tearing off his coat.

"Taps going to sound!" he said.

"I don't have to go to bed until I want to," said Ernest. "Will it
disturb you boys if I stay awhile?"

"Don't mind me!" said Frank. He took off his stock, and sat down on his
bed with his back to them.

"I never did show you the pictures of my folks, did I?" asked Bill of
Ernest. He went over to the lockers.

"Darn these lockers," he laughed. "They are exactly alike. I never know
which is mine."

"Yours is next the window," said Frank, "and mine is always locked."

"They are both locked now, as it happens," said Bill. He went over to
the dresser and picked up a key. "That doesn't look like mine," he said,
squinting at it.

"Mine is in my pocket," said Frank.

Bill took the key and opened the locker. He tipped up a corner of the
tray and felt under it, drawing out a square photograph case.

"Our folks fitted us out just alike as to kit bags and toilet sets and
photograph cases," said Bill, coming over toward the light with the
case. It slipped out of his hand as he spoke and he made a grab for it,
catching it by one corner. A photograph and a long envelope fluttered to
the floor.

"This isn't - " said Bill, then stopped and glanced at Frank who was
lying on his back on the bed with both legs in the air, unfastening his
puttees. With trembling fingers Bill seized the paper and scanned it. He
took one look at its contents and for a moment stood as though turned to

He passed a shaking hand across his forehead, then in a terrible voice
he cried:

"Anderson, you - you - you thief, I've got you! Oh, you dog, I've got

He choked and took a step toward Frank who had bounded to his feet.

"Stop!" cried Ernest. "Stop, Bill! What does this mean?"

"The envelope!" cried Bill, violently striking the paper in his hand.
"The envelope! And the money! The money Lee is going to prison for!"

"No such thing!" cried Frank, finding his tongue. "That money is mine!"

"Here is the paymaster's endorsement on the envelope," cried Bill
furiously. "You stole it - stole it and somehow put the blame on Lee. And
then you took his present!"

He struck away Ernest's restraining hand.

"Give me that money!" cried Frank. "I found that envelope; that's all
there is to that! The money is _mine_. Give it to me!"

"Yours?" said Bill. "Well, you won't get it!" and he thrust the long
envelope full of bills into Ernest's grasp.

With a muttered word, Frank made a leap for it and Bill met him half
way. Bill parried the blow that Frank launched as he realized that the
money was out of his grasp, and in another instant they were fighting
silently and desperately. Both were furiously angry, but Frank was
desperate. Ruin stared him in the face. He was too stunned to realize
that the game was up, his hand played out, and he fought with a
primitive impulse to down the person who had trapped him.

That Bill had changed the trunks around when the storm was raging and
that the keys were identically alike never occurred to either of them.
Bill's mind was a blank save for the one overwhelming thought that he
had found the envelope that would free Lee.

Frank's mind was chaos. A wild and whirling fury at Bill, at himself for
carelessly keeping the money in the envelope although its hiding place
back of the photograph seemed absolutely safe, at fate for playing him
such a trick, the thought of exposure - everything was mixed into a
poisonous potion which filled his brain and of which his soul drank. He
leaped upon Bill and tried to throttle him. He fought with the strength
of ten. Somehow both boys seemed to feel the need for silence. Except
for the quick intake of their labored breathing, there was no sound save
the scuffle of Bill's shoes and the impact of their blows.

When Frank clinched and tried to gouge, Bill in self-defence dropped his
sparring and resorted to the Indian tricks taught him by Lee. He took
joy in the thought that the person who had taught him such clever modes
of self-defence was now to be benefitted by them.

Frank went down like a rock, and Bill, still holding him helpless, said
panting, "Will you give up?"


"Let me up!" cried Frank, the veins standing out on his purple forehead
as he struggled vainly under Bill's grasp. "You Injun fighter you, give
me a white man's chance and I'll fight you square!"

"I don't intend to fight you at all," said Bill. "I don't fight with
fellows like you. And I don't intend to let you beat me up. If you
promise to sit there in that chair and make a clean breast of it, I will
let you up."

"There is nothing to tell," said Frank. "Lee must have put that money
and that envelope in my trunk. I don't see what you are going to do
about it."

"Thank goodness there was a witness of the way you acted when I found
it!" exclaimed Bill. He stood up, and Frank scrambled to his feet. He
watched Bill furtively until he glanced aside, then he made a mad lunge
toward him. Bill was too quick for him and once more Frank, sobbing with
rage, went crashing to the floor.

As Bill stood over him, he glanced at Ernest, who had been an interested

"What are we going to do with him?" he asked.

"This," said Ernest. He pulled a quantity of very strong waxed cord from
his pocket. It was some he sometimes had need of in fixing his plane.

With a quick twist he had a loop around Frank's ankles, and then,
dragging the resisting boy to his feet, he jammed him down on a chair
and proceeded to fasten him neatly to it.

"Now," he said, "what next?"

"Next is to save Lee from Leavenworth," said Bill. "Mother says he will
kill himself if ever he gets there. He can't stand the disgrace. If you
will stick around and watch this fellow, I will go down and see about
sending the telegram."

"You had better stay here, and I will go," offered Ernest. "It is too
late for you underclass fellows to be out in the corridor, and I can go
down and rush the message. I have a pull with the telephone boy. Write
your message."

"Don't do it; you will ruin me!" cried Frank.

Bill stared. "Ruin you; ruin you? What do you mean?"

"Why, you know what this will mean to me if it gets back on the Post.
What's Lee, anyhow? Just a half-breed private! Let him take his

Bill paled and Ernest made an involuntary motion as though he was going
to strike the coward down. Bill controlled himself with an effort.

"He is worth more - his little _finger_ is worth more than your whole
body. He is the finest chap I know. And the next time you call him
half-breed I will lick you. He is justly proud of the American Indian
blood in him. Oh, you aren't worth talking to!"

He scribbled something on a pad and gave it to Ernest, who disappeared
with it. Instead of returning in a few minutes, it was almost an hour
before he stuck his head in the door and beckoned Bill into the

The boys had not spoken during his absence.

"Wires all down," he said briefly. "The storm has destroyed all lines of
communication. And they say there are wash-outs all along the lines of
railroads. Also we are under quarantine. Hope you don't mind what I did.
I went to the principal and told him the whole thing, and offered to
take you and Frank out to Sill in my plane. I am perfectly capable of
making a flight ten times that long, and as you know I am a licensed
pilot. Unless a new storm comes up, the air is perfect for flying, and
we can start at daybreak. What do you say?"

"Do you mean to tell me old Prexy will let us go?" demanded Bill.

"Surely! He is a good old chappie when he has to rise to an occasion and
I should say this was one. Besides, he wants to get rid of Frank. He
says he doesn't want him in the school another day, and if he is here he
will put him in close confinement. And this affair really does not come
within the school discipline, so the old dear is willing to let you take
Frank and that precious envelope back to Sill. And the only way we can
make it is by air."

"Oh, it is the greatest luck in the world!" cried Bill. "This is the
reason mother let me off my promise. That plane of yours holds three,
doesn't it?"

"Easily!" said Ernest.

"Don't say a word to Frank until we are ready to go," Bill suggested.

"Well, you can't leave him trussed up there in that chair all night,"
said Ernest. "We all need to sleep. I never fly unless I have had a good
supper and a good sleep afterwards. It is the only way to keep a clear
head and steady nerve."

Between them they lifted Frank, who in sullen silence refused to stand
or use his legs, over on one of the beds, and again tied him securely.
When they were sure that he could not escape, and yet was able to move
sufficiently to keep from being cramped, Bill tumbled into his own bed
and Ernest went off in the direction of his own room, stopping on his
way to thank the principal for his permission. Then, with a last look at
the sky he set his alarm clock, and in a second was fast asleep.

Before Bill realized that he had really shut his eyes, he felt Ernest
shaking him, and rolled over to see Frank, still bound, glaring at him
in sullen fury.

"Almost daylight," said Ernest. "I have some breakfast ready over at
the Grill. No one is up, so we can bring Frank right along."

"What are you up to?" demanded Frank as Bill commenced to dress, hastily
donning his heaviest underclothes. "I am sick of this fooling. You try
to take me out of this room and I will yell so I will bring every
teacher in the building!"

"Good for you!" said Ernest. "Forewarned is forearmed." He arranged a
gag which effectually prevented Frank from making a sound and, loosening
his feet, they started toward the door. But scenting punishment, Frank
let himself go suddenly limp, and Bill had to put the screws on, as he
expressed it, by applying one of the hand holds that Lee had taught him.
After that the prisoner walked.

As they silently passed the office the stern face of the principal of
the school suddenly appeared. He made a gesture and the three boys
stopped. Then for a long minute he looked at Frank.

"Good-bye," he said solemnly. "I pray that you will wake to a
realization of what you have done. You have been a thief; you have
willingly allowed a good young man to bear punishment for your crime,
and you are now about to endanger the lives of two of your mates, who
are willing to take the risk in order to save the innocent. If you are
mercifully permitted to make good this wicked crime, arouse yourself,
Anderson, and resolve to be a different boy." He turned as though he
could say no more, and with a warm handclasp for each of the others,
closed the door.

"I bet he has been up all night," whispered Ernest.

They found a hot breakfast at the Grill, and just as the pitch darkness
gave way to a pale streak of dawn, they cut across the campus and
reached the hangar.

As they switched on the lights, Ernest's beautiful plane seemed to
sparkle with preparedness. He went over it bolt by bolt, nuts, screws,
wires, and wings passing under his careful and critical eye. He looked
at and tested the tension of the wires, the swing of the rudder, the
looseness of the ailerons. Satisfied at last that everything was
perfectly in tune, he turned and gave a critical glance at Frank.

"He is going to freeze," he said. "You go up to the gym and in my locker
you will find another coat and safety helmet."

Bill started on a run. It was growing light fast, and it was time they
were on their way. Frank suddenly found his tongue.

"You have got to tell me what you are trying to do with me," he said.
All the bluster had gone from his voice, and he watched Ernest with
worried eyes. "It is not fair the way you are acting. What are you going
to do?"

"You may as well know now," said Ernest. "I think myself it is fair to
tell you. We are going to fly to Fort Sill and save Lee from the trip to
Leavenworth. If we have good luck, we have just about time to make it.
That storm last night blew half the telephones down, and we are under
such strict quarantine that we couldn't get away from here any other

"And if we could there is no time. Of course if we could telegraph, it
would fix things all right. But we have got to hurry. Mrs. Sherman
writes that your victim will never allow himself to go to Leavenworth.
The Indians are proud, you know, and we are making this flight perhaps
to save a life. I don't envy you when you get there, young chap!"

"I won't go!" said Frank in a low voice. "If you take me up, I will
spill us all out of the plane."

"You can't do it, you know," said Ernest, laughing. "This plane doesn't
spill as easily as all that, and if you go to talking like that we will
tie you up. I think we will anyway."

Frank came close to his side. "Have a heart, will you?" he said. "I did
take that money, and I did pawn my watch in Bill's name, but I will
write it all down, if you won't try to take me back."

"More news," said Ernest. "We didn't know about the watch. I think you
are badly needed back there at Fort Sill."

He turned to adjust something, dismissing Frank as though he was not
there. They could hear Bill trotting rapidly down the campus. A short
heavy length of iron pipe lay close to Frank's foot. He stooped, picked
it up and made a lunge for Ernest. Ernest turned in time to see the bar
descending and threw up his arm. The bar struck it with sickening force
and the boy reeled back, both bones in the forearm broken. His right arm
dangling loosely at his side, Ernest leaped on his assailant and threw
him to the ground as Bill came up.

"Help me!" he panted, his face pale with pain. Once more they bound
Anderson, and then put Ernest's arm in rough splints.

"Well, this ends it!" said Bill gloomily. He dropped down on a bench and
pressed his face in his hands.

Frank grinned. He was desperate and almost crazy with worry and despair
and remorse. He had not meant to hurt Ernest badly; he thought a good
crack would disturb him and he would have a chance to coax or wriggle
out of the terrible trip before him. He was called to the present and
his surroundings by hearing Ernest's voice.

"Ends it? Not at all! We will go right ahead."

"You can't drive with one hand," said Bill sadly.

"_No, but you can and will_," replied Ernest grimly.

"What?" cried Bill.

"He can't drive!" cried Frank. "It will be suicide and murder to let
him try. He has never been up in a plane in his life. Don't do it; don't
do it, I tell you! Don't you know anything, Bill? You will be killed
sure as shooting!"

"I am not afraid," said Bill calmly.

"Well, I am!" cried Frank.

"I would be if I were you," scorned Bill. "If I had stolen one man's
reputation and broken another man's arm, I would be a little afraid

"To say nothing of stealing another boy's name!" cut in Ernest.

"What's that?" asked Bill.

"That's another story," said Ernest. "You can hear that some other time.
Hustle into your togs now; I want to get to Sill. My arm hurts."

Flying is getting to be such a widespread sport as well as profession
that every device possible is being developed for the safety and welfare
of airmen and women. So Bill helped Ernest into a leather hood which
extended down over the shoulders, and which was softly and warmly lined
with wool fleece. Over this went a helmet with a specially heavy padded
top and sides built on a heavy leather form with ear cones, adjustable
visors, and flaps. Ernest's leather coat could only be worn on one arm
on account of the right one which was tightly bandaged against his
breast, but Bill buttoned and tied it together as closely as he could.

He then ordered Frank into a similar outfit, which they found in
Jardin's car, and rapidly dressed himself in the same manner. He
unlatched the great doors and swung them wide, and together they pushed
the plane out onto the field, Frank lying tied in the observer's seat.
It seemed cruel to tie him in the face of his fear, but they were afraid
he would do something desperate.

"Now just a last word," said Ernest, laying a hand on Bill's shoulder.
"You won't lose your nerve, will you, old fellow?"

"Of course not!" said Bill. "Let's get off. I have a hunch that we ought
to get along. We don't want to have to follow all the way to

"All right-o, let's be off!" seconded Ernest. "Take the pilot's seat,
and I will help you if it is necessary. Good luck, old dear!"

"Here comes Tom and the other fellow," said Bill. "They can hold us."

He climbed into his seat and Ernest sat beside him, nursing his wounded
arm. Tom and his helper, boiling with amazement and curiosity, held the
machine and turned it to face the wind.

Bill gave his engine plenty of gas, the propellers whirled faster and
faster, and when they reached top speed under Bill's accustomed hand, he
gave the signal and the men let go. The plane bounded forward, skipping
merrily over the field. Bill balanced on one wheel for a moment, then
with a thrill of the heart such as he had never known tilted the
elevating plane and felt himself rise in the air.

They were off!


As the plane, responding perfectly to Bill's touch, soared upward, it
seemed as though they were rising on gossamer wings out of a well of
darkness and mists. They actually rose to greet the sun whose first rays
were gilding the tops of the hills. They went up in the very face of the
great orb whose light, first striking the upper wings, turned all the
delicate wires and cords to gold. How they shone in the clear early
sunlight! As the pace increased, Bill felt rather than heard the
delicate humming of the wires. Over the roar of the engine he did not
know whether he could distinguish a delicate sound or whether it was
only a trick of his imagination, but he was so exalted and so thrilled
by the wonderful experience through which he was passing that he seemed
to hear all sorts of celestial sounds.

Fear fell from him. A new power was born in heart and brain. He felt as
uplifted in soul as he was in body. Somehow he longed more than ever to
be a good boy; to harbor good thoughts; to do good deeds. When he tried
to think of Frank and his ugly black actions, he found that he regarded
them through a haze as though they were a long ways away and of little
consequence. All was going to be well. It was as though the darkness
from which they had risen was a symbol. They were going up, up into the
light! Bill knew as well as though some higher power had whispered it to
him that there would be a good ending: he did not doubt his ability to
do an almost unheard-of thing. His hand was as steady as though he had
flown all his life. He was "exalted in spirit," because his goal was a
worthy one. Without a question for their own safety, the boys had
started on an enterprise filled with dangers, in order to save Lee from
false imprisonment and possibly worse. Ernest knew the Indian nature
better even than Bill. He knew how impossible it is for them to bear
unmerited disgrace and how often they end that disgrace with a bullet or
the swift thrust of a knife. He hoped that the white blood that
dominated Bill's good friend was strong enough to overcome this trend,
but nevertheless he felt that there was not a moment to be lost. So
there he sat, only an observer in his well-beloved aeroplane, the broken
arm throbbing with a blinding pain, while Bill - young Bill who had never
been nearer to flying than the warping of a wing and the sailing on one
wheel over the field - sat in the pilot's seat, grave and intent, and
guided their swift flight.

But ah, who could tell the thoughts that all unbidden coursed through
the mind of the culprit lying bound and muffled in the rear seat? So
intently were the eyes of his spirit bent inward on the dark and
whirling horrors they found there that the eyes of his body were blind
to the wonders of the young day. He lay where they had placed him,
staring blindly through his goggles straight up into the great dome
above him.

The storm seemed to have washed the very air. It was clear as crystal. A
few clouds, thin as gossamer, hung here and there, growing less as a
steady breeze sprang up in the wake of the sun and gently dismissed them
from the great blue bowl in which they lingered.

When they passed through these fairy clouds, they found them a soft
golden mist shot through with rainbow colors. Then emerging, they passed
once more into blue space, a space greater than Bill had ever imagined.

How tiny, how frail they were: three boys darting in a man-made machine
high above their own realm! What daring! What risks!

Daring, risks? Bill was unable to grasp the meaning of those earth-born
words. He felt neither small nor frail. He, Bill Sherman, a boy, was
among the conquerors!

At a signal from Ernest he increased the speed and soared upward. It is
safer in the higher altitudes, although there is usually a great deal
more wind blowing there. In case of any engine trouble, you have more

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Online LibraryFrank CobbBattling the Clouds → online text (page 7 of 9)