INTO THE AIR

The lights of a car swung round the hemlocks, then levelled directly on
the field as the automobile sped down the stretch of lawn between the
stables and the cornfield.

“Better get off, Bill! They’ll get us sure!” Charlie’s treble shrieked
into the receivers clamped to Bill’s ears.

“No, they won’t! And for the love of Mike, Charlie, don’t shout like
that!”

“Well, what’s to stop them?”

“That!” said Bill briefly.

The speeding motor car bucked like a live thing—described a half
circling dive in the air and crashed down sideways to its former course.
The headlights snapped out and both lads felt the tremor of a dull
explosion.

“Jiminy! Somebody got hurt!” cried young Evans.

“Hope so. That, as the story-books say, was my intention.”

“But what—what made it happen?”

“Remember when I left you by the bushes and you went through the
gunman’s pockets?”

“Sure.”

“Well, just about then I was stringing a wire between the old hitching
post and the horse trough. Looks to me as if the wire held. Oh, blazes!”
he broke off—“here comes another car! Hadn’t counted on a fleet of them!
Reckon you were right, Charles. We should have got going sooner.”

While he talked, Bill swung the plane into the wind.

“I thought they might stop at the wreck,” sighed Charlie. “Coldblooded,
I call it. Shall I shoot?”

“Their job’s to stop us. Gosh, no, you’d be wasting ammunition—never hit
within forty feet of them with all this jouncing.”

The amphibian was gathering speed, rolling lightly over the turf, but,
leaping and bouncing, the motor car drew closer. It came alongside the
moving plane, not more than five yards off its starboard wing. Two men
hung to the running board, their guns spurting fire.

“Duck!” yelled Bill.

He deliberately leaned over the cockpit’s side and fired his automatic
at the automobile. He saw the big machine swerve wildly, fall behind and
topple over.

“Tit for tat.” Bill lifted his plane prettily off the ground. “That’s
one for you, Charlie. I caught ’em in the near tire.”

“Two to one, you mean. And their cars are in a lot worse shape than
mine.”

The engine was beating a steady tatoo. Bill opened her up wide and
pulled back on the stick. Almost immediately they were in fog. But he
was no novice at the gentle art of piloting an airplane. He had his air
sense, flying sense, and two instruments on the lighted dial-board to
guide him. The level glasses helped a lot. His eyes went to the
angle-of-climb indicator, the bank indicator. He held the amphibian in a
steady climb for altitude.

The air was rough. White clouds of fog obscured the wing lights at
times. At other times it was thinner. The engine was roaring steadily,
but Bill knew the danger of taking off and climbing directly into a
change of temperature. He sat tight.

For about four minutes they climbed, in a wide circle. And then there
came a break in the fog. A slice of the moon showed to the southward. It
was smothered by another layer of fog almost instantly. The altimeter
showed eighteen hundred feet. Charlie’s voice sounded through the
receivers of the phone-set.

“Are you lost, Bill?” His voice sounded scared.

“Not yet,” reassured his friend. “I’m looking for something—had to gain
altitude to put those guys off our track, if they happened to have an
airbus handy.”

Bill dropped the plane into the heavier fog below. Still flying in wide
spirals, he came out of it with the altimeter needle pointing to four
hundred feet.

“There she is!”

Almost directly below them the bright beam of a flashing light circled
round and round, cutting the night in a broad swath.

“What is it?” asked Charlie.

“The New Canaan airbeacon on Ponus Ridge. We take our bearings from that
light.”

“Where do we go from here?”

“Hartford, Worcester, Lowell, Portland and on up the Maine coast.”

“Any idea of the distance?”

“We’re a couple of hundred miles from Lowell, and Portland is a good
hundred and twenty-five from that place. From there up to Washington
County and Twin Heads Harbor is between a hundred and fifty to a hundred
and seventy-five farther. Say about five hundred miles altogether.
That’s guess-work. It’s probably farther.”

He banked the plane, swung it around in a semi-circle and levelled off,
headed into the northeast.

“How long will it take us?” Bill heard a half-stifled yawn at the end of
Charlie’s question.

“Well, it’s going on for three now. If this breeze on our tail stiffens,
we ought to make your Dad’s house in less than five hours—say somewhere
between seven-thirty and eight o’clock, if we’re lucky.”

“Too bad we have to get there in broad daylight. Dad won’t like that.”

“Maybe not. But he’s lucky we’re getting there at all.”

“I’ll say he is,” yawned Charlie.

“Say, kid, you’d better take a nap. Take down your seat and curl up on
the decking. You’ll find a couple of blankets stowed behind the bulkhead
aft.”

“I guess that’s the best thing to do,” the youngster said sleepily.

“I know it is,” said Bill. “Keep that phone gear on your head, though.
I’ve got to wake you before we get there. You’ll have to point out the
house.”

“Sure. Nighty-night.”

“Good night and sweet dreams.”

Bill nosed up to six hundred feet. Above him, the clouds of swirling fog
seemed less dense. His course led inland on a slant from the shore. New
Canaan lies up in the Ridge Country, five or six miles back from Long
Island Sound. With every mile he put between the plane and that body of
water, the air, both below and above him became clearer and less bumpy.
By the time the amphibian was flying over Hartford, three-quarters of an
hour later, all signs of fog and storm had disappeared. Moonlight
flooded the earth and the visibility was almost as good as on a clear
day.

It was past five o’clock by his wristwatch and broad daylight when the
amphibian, speeding at the same altitude, passed over the city of
Lowell, Massachusetts, and over Lawrence and Haverhill, a few miles
beyond. They were nearing the sea again, and Bill noticed that the
closer they came to the coast, the stronger was the wind from the
southwest behind them. A new thought came into his head. With the quick
decision of the trained heavier-than-air pilot, he acted at once.

Out came his map, which he flattened on his knees. Next, the cockpit
light snapped on. For a moment he studied his position. Then the light
went off and the map into the pocket of his short leather jacket.

The amphibian was a trifle tail-heavy, so dropping the nose to level he
gave her right aileron and simultaneously increased right rudder. Round
to the right swung the nose of the speeding plane. When the desired bank
was reached, he checked the wings with the ailerons and at the same time
eased the pressure on the rudder. Half a moment later he applied left
aileron, and left rudder, resuming straight flight, headed toward the
coast on a course that would take them fifty miles east of Portland.

With wings level once more, he neutralized the ailerons, gave the bus a
normal amount of right rudder and settled back comfortably in his seat.

The little port of Cushing, just beyond where the Merrimac River empties
into the sea, faded away behind them. Below now was the blue Atlantic,
dotted here and there with the patched sails of fishermen, returning
with the night’s catch. Far to the starboard, hugging the horizon, Bill
saw a large single-stacker, a freighter, heading so as to clear Cape Ann
on her way to Boston.

The day had dawned bright and clear. It was perfect flying weather. With
a twenty-mile breeze spanking their tailplane, Bill knew that they must
be doing at least one hundred and fifty-five M.P.H. He felt the
exhilaration of broad spaces and swift flight. The salt tang of the sea
smelled good. He was content.

Half an hour or so went by. A sleepy voice in Bill’s receivers roused
him from revery. “Where under the shining sun are we?”

“Just there—or thereabouts.”

“Gee—are we heading for Europe?”

“Nope. For breakfast, I hope.”

“But what are we doing over the ocean, Bill?”

“Taking a short cut, kid. This course will lop off a good hundred and
fifty miles from the route via Portland and up the coast.”

“I suppose it was the sea fog that made you figure on the other way when
we hopped off?”

Bill laughed, goodnaturedly. “You show almost human intelligence this
morning, Charles. You’ll be telling me next that the sun is shining and
the prop is turning round!”

Charlie snorted. “Aw, cut it out, Bill. Tell me, is there anything I can
eat on board this crate?”

“Not unless you start on a strut. The French have a saying that ‘Who
sleeps, dines.’ If that is so you ought to be filled to the brim.”

“Huh!” was Charlie’s sole comment. Then he asked: “What are those
islands ahead to port?”

“Matinicus Island and Matinicus Rock.”

“How much farther is it to the Heads?”

“About a hundred miles. Our airspeed is 135 M.P.H., and we’re running
before a twenty-knot wind. Figure it out for yourself.”

“D’you want the answer in acres?”

“The answer I want,” said Bill slowly, “is how I am going to land and
park this bus when we get there, if some more of your cut-throat pals
are hanging round the house.”

“I never thought of that,” admitted Charlie.

“I didn’t think you would. Turn your mighty brain on it. If you guess
the right answer I’ll ask Mr. Evans to give you a lollipop.”

Bill paid no attention to the forth-coming torrent of sarcasm from
Charlie. His headphone set lay on the floor of the cockpit.

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