Frank Webster.

Airship Andy: or, The Luck of a Brave Boy





He kicked Andys shoes and cap under a bench in the outer room and threw his coat up among a lot of old rubbish on a platform under the roof.

Get the strongest padlock and hasp in the place, he ordered his son, and secure that door. As to you, young man, he continued to Andy, Ill give you till night to make up your mind to get back that money.

I never will, declared Andy positively.

Boy, said Seth Talbot, fixing his eye on Andy in a way that made his blood chill, youll do it, as I say, or Ill thrash you within an inch of your life.

CHAPTER III RUNAWAY AND ROVER

The door of the lumber room was slammed shut on Andy and strongly locked, and the lad resigned himself to the situation. The Talbots, father and son, aided by brutal Dale Billings, had handled him pretty roughly, and he was content to lie on the cot and prepare for what was coming next.

Theyve pretty nearly stripped me, and theyve got all my money, reflected Andy. I wish now I had dropped a postal card to Mr. Robert Webb at Springfield. Ill do it, though, the first thing, when I get out of this fix.

Andy was bound to get out of it in some way. It would be rashness complete to try it right on the spur of the moment. However, he had till night to think things over, and the youth felt pretty positive that long before then he would hit upon some plan of escape.

In a little while Andy got up and took stock of his surroundings. The partition that shut in the lumber room was made of common boards. With a good-sized sledge, Andy could batter it to pieces, but he had no tools, and glancing through a crack he saw Talbot and his son in the little front office ready to pounce on him at a minutes notice.

There was a long narrow box lying up against the inside surface of the partition boards. Andy had used this to hold his little kit of kitchen utensils. He removed these now, and lifted the box on end under the only outside aperture the lumber room presented. This was a little window, way up near the ceiling. When Andy reached this small, square hole, cut through a board, he discerned that he could never hope to creep through it.

Glancing down into the rear yard he made out Dale Billings, seated on a saw-horse, aimlessly whittling at a stick, and he decided that the ally of the Talbots was on guard there to watch out for any attempted escape in that direction.

However, when Andy had done a little more looking around in his prison-room, he made quite an encouraging discovery. Where the box had stood originally there was a broad, loose board. Dampness had weakened one end, and a touch pulled it away from the nails that held it. With one or two vigorous pulls, Andy saw he might rip the board out of place its entire length. This, however, would make a great noise, would arouse his captors, and he would have to run the gantlet the whole reach of the garage space.

Its my only show, though, decided Andy, and Ill keep it in mind for later on.

Towards noon Andy made a meal of some scraps of food he found in his little larder.

It was not a very satisfying meal, for his stock of provisions had run low that morning and he had intended replenishing it during the day.

About two oclock in the afternoon Andy fancied he saw his chance for making a break for liberty. Talbot was in the office. There was only one automobile in the garage. This was a car that the proprietors son had just backed in. Andy could figure it out that Gus had just returned from a trip. He leaped out of the machine, simply throwing out the power clutch, with the engine still in motion, as if intending to at once start off again.

Gus ran to the office, and through the crack in the partition Andy saw him scan the open page of the daily order book. Our hero determined on a bold move. He leaned down in the corner of the lumber room and seized the end of the loose plank at the bottom of the partition with both hands, and gave it a pull with all his strength.

R r rip bang!

Andy went backwards with a slam. The board had broken off at the nail-heads of the first rafter with a deafening crack. He dropped the fragment and dove through the aperture disclosed to him. He could hear startled conversation in the office, but it was no time to stop for obstacles now. Andy came to his feet in the garage room, made a superb spring, cleared the hood of the automobile, and, after a scramble, landed in the drivers seat.

With a swoop of his right hand, Andy grasped the lever, his left clutching the wheel. The car shot for the door in a flash. Gus Talbot had run out of the office. He saw the machine coming, and who manned it. Andy noticed him poising for a spring, snatched up the dust robe in the seat by his side, gave it a whirl, and forged ahead.

The robe wound around the face and shoulders of Gus, sending him staggering back, discomfited. Andy circled into the street away from town, turned down the south turnpike, and breathed the air of freedom with rapture.

All I want is a safe start. I cant afford to leave the record behind me that I stole a machine, he reflected. Its bad enough as it is now, with all the lies Talbot will tell. Shes gone stale!

The automobile wheezed down to an abrupt halt. It was just as it came to a curve near the Jones farm, and almost at the identical spot where Andy had been captured that morning. He cast a quick glance behind. No one was as yet visible in pursuit, and there was no other machine in the garage. One was handy not a square away from it, however. Andy had noticed a physicians car there as he sped along. The Talbots would not hesitate to impress it into service. At any rate, they would start some pursuit at once.

Andy guessed that some of Gus Talbots careless tactics had put the magneto or carburetor out of commission. It would take fully five minutes to adjust things in running order. No one was in view ahead. There were all kinds of opportunities to hide before an enemy came upon the scene.

Right at the side of the road was the hayfield of the Jones farm. Andy leaped a ditch and started to get to the thin line of scrub oak beyond which lay the creek. He passed three haystacks and they now pretty well shut him out from the road. As he was passing the fourth one, he stumbled, hopped about on one foot with a sharp cry of pain, and dropped down in the stubble.

Andy had tripped over a scythe blade which the stubble had hidden from his view. His ankle had struck the back of the blade, then his foot had turned and met the edge of the scythe. A long, jagged gash, which began to bleed profusely, was the result. Andy struggled to his feet and leaned up against the side of the haystack in some dismay. He measured the distance to the brush with his eye.

Ive got to make it if I want to be safe, the boy decided, wincing with the pain of his injured foot, but resolute to grin and bear it till he had the leisure to attend to it.

A shout halted Andy. It came from the direction of the barn, and he fancied it was Farmer Jones giving orders to some of his men. Half decided to make a run of it anyway, he made a sudden plunge into the haystack and nestled there.

A clatter had come from the direction of the roadway he had just left. Glancing in that direction, through a break in the trees, Andy had caught a flashing view of Gus Talbot, bareheaded and excited, in a light wagon, and lashing the horse attached to it furiously.

Andy drew farther back in among the hay, nesting himself out a comfortable burrow. He ventured to part the hay as he heard a great commotion in the direction of the road. He could trace the arrival of Gus, his discovery of the stalled automobile, and the flocking of Farmer Jones and his men to the spot.

Then in a little while the garage-keeper and Dale Billings arrived in another machine. Some arrangement was made to take the various vehicles back to the village. Then Seth Talbot, his son, and two of the farm hands scattered over the field, making for the brush. They went in every direction. A vigorous hunt was on, and Andy realized that it would be wise for him to keep close to his present cover for some time to come.

His foot was bleeding badly, and he paid what attention to it he could. He removed his stockings, bound up the wound with a handkerchief, and drew both stockings over the injured member.

It was pretty irksome passing the time in his enforced prison, and finally Andy went to sleep. It was late dusk when he woke up. He parted the hay, and took as good a look around as he could. No one was in sight, apparently, but he had no idea of venturing forth for some hours to come.

Im going to leave Princeville, he ruminated, but I cant go around the world hatless, coatless and barefooted. I dont dare venture back to the garage for any of my belongings. That place will probably be watched all the time for my return. Talbot, too, has probably telephoned his stop thief description of me everywhere. Its the river route or nothing, if I expect to get safely away from this district. Before I go, though, Im going to see Mr. Dawson.

This was the gentleman to whom Andy had entrusted the two hundred dollars. Andy had a very favorable opinion of him. The village banker was a great friend of the boys of the town. He had started them in a club, had donated a library, and Andy had attended two of his moving-picture lectures. After the last one, Mr. Dawson had taken occasion to pass a pleasant word with Andy, commending his attention to the lecture. When Andy had taken the two hundred dollars to him that morning, the banker had placed his hand on his shoulder, with the remark: You are a good, honest boy, Nelson, and I want to see you later.

Ill wait until about nine oclock, planned Andy, when most of the town is asleep, and go to Mr. Dawsons house. Theres a lecture at the club to-night, I know, and he wont get home till after ten. Ill hide in the garden and catch him before he goes into the house. Ill tell him my story, and ask him to lend me enough to get some shoes and the other things I need. I know hell do it, for hes an honest, good-hearted man.

This prospect made Andy light of heart as time wore on. It must have been fully half-past eight when he began to stir about, preparatory to leaving his hiding-place. He moved his injured foot carefully. It was quite sore and stiff, but he planned how he would line the timber townwards and stop at a spring and bathe and dress it again. He mapped out a long and obscure circuit of the village to reach the home of the banker unobserved.

Andy was just about to emerge from the haystack when the disjointed murmur of conversation was borne to his ears. He drew back, but peered through the hay as best he could. It was bright moonlight. Just dodging from one haystack to another at a little distance, Andy made out Gus Talbot and Dale Billings.

Come on, he heard the latter say nows our chance.

They must be still looking for me, he told himself.

There was no further view nor indication of the proximity of the twain during the next hour, but caution caused Andy to defer his intended visit to the banker.

The coast seems all clear now, he told himself at last, and Andy crept out of the haystack, but promptly crept back again.

Of a sudden a great echoing shout disturbed the silence of the night. Some one in the vicinity of the farmhouse yelled out wildly:

Fire!

CHAPTER IV DOWN THE RIVER

Fire fire!

The cry that had rung out so startlingly was repeated many times. Andy could trace a growing commotion. His burrow in the haystack faced away from the buildings of the Jones farm, but in a minute or two a great glare was visible even through his hay shield.

Andy did not dare to venture out from his hiding-place. From increasing shouts and an uproar, he could understand that the Jones household, and then the families of neighbors were thronging to the fire. Some of these latter, making a short cut from the road, passed directly by the haystack in which he was hiding.

Its the barn, spoke a voice.

Thats what it is, and blazing for good, was responded excitedly, and the breathless runners hurried on.

Andy made up his mind that he would have to stay where he was for some time to come, if he expected to avoid capture. Very soon people from the village came trooping to the scene. He could trace the shouts of the bucket brigade. He heard one or two automobiles come down the road. The glare grew brighter and the crowd bigger. Soon, however, the stubble-field began to get shadowed again, he noticed.

It must have taken the barn an hour to burn up. People began to repass the haystacks on their return trips. Andy caught many fragments of conversation. He heard a man remark:

They managed to save the livestock.

Yes, was responded; but Jones says a couple of thousand dollars wont cover his loss.

What caused it, anyhow?

It was a mystery to Jones, he says, until Talbot came along. They seemed to fix up a theory betwixt them.

What was that?

Why, Jones was sort of hot and bitter about some boys who have bothered him a lot of late. He walloped one or two of them. Young Gus Talbot was among them. Jones was hinting around about the fire being set for revenge, when Talbot spoke up and reminded him that he had headed off that runaway apprentice of Talbots this morning.

Oh, the boy theyre looking for Andy?

Yes, Andy Nelson. Hes the one that set the fire, Talbot declares, and Jones believes it, and theyre going to start a big hunt for him. Talbot says hes beat him out of some money, and Jones says hes just hung around before leaving for good to get even with him for stopping him from getting away from Talbot. And, so speaking, the men passed on.

Well, this is a pretty kettle of fish! ruminated Andy. What next, I wonder?

The refugee felt pretty serious as he realized the awkward and even perilous situation he was in. As he recalled the fact that Gus and Dale Billings had crossed over the field an hour before the fire broke out, he was pretty clear in his own mind as to the identity of the firebugs.

Its no use of thinking about seeing Mr. Dawson now, decided Andy. Its too late in the evening, and too many people will be looking for me. Theres so much piling up against me, that maybe Mr. Dawson wouldnt believe a word I say. No, its a plain case. They havent any use for me in Princeville, and the sooner I get out of the town and stay out of it, the better for me.

Andys foot was in no condition for a long tramp. He realized this as he stretched it out and tested his weight upon it. He was not seriously crippled, but he was in no shape to run a race or kick a football.

Its going to be no easy trick getting safely away from Princeville and out of the district, the boy told himself. Ill wait until about midnight, then Ill make for the river. Theres boats going and coming as far as the lake, and I may get a lift as far as the city. I can lose myself there, or branch out for new territory.

Everything was still, and not a sign of life visible anywhere on the landscape, when Andy at length ventured to leave his hiding-place. There was a smell of burned wood in the air, and some smoke showed at the spot where the barn had stood, but the town and the farmers household seemed to have gone to bed.

No one appeared to see or follow him while crossing the stubble field, but Andy felt a good deal easier in mind as he gained the cover of the brush.

The boy was entirely at home here along the river as well. He had found little time for recreation while working for Talbot, but whenever a spare hour had come along he had made for the woods and the creek as a natural playground. Now he went from thicket to thicket with a sense of freedom. He knew a score of good hiding-places, if he should be suddenly surprised.

Andy looked up and down the creek when he reached it. He hoped to locate some barge ready to go down the river with some piles of tan bark, or a freight boat returning from the summer camps along the lake. Nothing was moving on the stream, however, and no water craft in view.

Ill get below the bridge. Then Ill be safe to wait until daylight. Something is bound to come along by that time, he reflected.

Andy reached and passed the bridge about a mile below Princeville. There was no other bridge for ten miles, and if he had to foot it on his journey to the city, he would be out of the way of traversed roads. He walked on for about half a mile and was selecting a sheltered spot to rest in, directly on the stream, when, a few yards distant, he noticed a light scow near shore.

Andy proceeded towards this. It resembled many craft of its class used by farmers to carry grain and livestock to market. Andy noticed that it was unloaded and poles stowed amidships. He stepped aboard. No one was in charge of it.

I might find some of the abandoned old skiffs or rafts the boys play with, if I search pretty hard, soliloquized Andy, stepping ashore again.

Hey!

Andy was startled. Tracing the source of the short, quick hail, he discovered a man seated on a boulder near a big hazel bush. Andy was startled a little, and slowly approached his challenger.

The man who had spoken to him sat like a statue. He was a pale-faced individual, with very large bright eyes, and his face was covered with a heavy black beard. A cape that almost covered him hung from his shoulders, completely hiding his hands. He looked Andy over keenly.

Did you call me, mister? inquired Andy.

Yes, I did, responded the man. I was wondering what you were doing, lurking around here at this unearthly hour of the night.

Andy mentally decided that it was quite as much a puzzle to him what the stranger was doing, sitting muffled up at two oclock in the morning in this lonely place.

I was looking for a boat to take me down stream, explained Andy.

Are you willing to work for a lift? inquired the man.

I should say so, replied Andy emphatically.

Do you know how to manage a craft like this one here?

Oh, thats no trick at all, said Andy. The river is clear, and theres nothing to run into, and all you have to do is to pole along in midstream.

Where do you want to get to?

The city.

Im not going that far. Ill tell you what Ill do, though, said the stranger you pole me down to Swan Cove

Thats about fifteen miles.

Yes. You take me that far, and Ill make it worth your while.

Its a bargain, and Im delighted! exclaimed Andy with spirit.

All right, said the man; get to work.

He never got up from his seat while Andy cast free the shore hawser. When everything was ready he stepped aboard rather clumsily. Andy thought it very strange that the man never offered to help him the least bit. His passenger seated himself in the stern of the barge, the cloak still closely enveloping his form, his hands never coming into sight.

It was welcome work for Andy, propelling the boat. It took his mind off his troubles, and every push of the pole and the current took him away from the people who had injured his good reputation and were bent on robbing him of his liberty.

The grim, silent man at the stern of the craft was a puzzle to Andy. He never spoke nor stirred. Our hero wondered why he kept so closely covered up and in what line of transportation he used the barge.

They had proceeded about two miles with smooth sailing when there was a sudden bump. The boat had struck a snag.

Gracious! ejaculated Andy, sent sprawling flat on the deck.

The contact had lifted the stranger from his seat. He was knocked to one side. Andy, scrambling to his feet, was tremendously startled as his glance swept his passenger.

The man struggled to his feet with clumsiness. He was hasty, almost suspicious in his movements. The cloak had flown wide open, and now he was swaying his arms around in a strange way, trying to cover them up.

Why! said the youth to himself, with a sharp gasp, the man is handcuffed!

CHAPTER V TRAMPING IT

Gracious! said Andy, and made a jump clear into the water.

The pole had swung out of his hands when the barge struck the snag. He got wet through recovering it, but that did not matter much, for he had little clothing on.

By the time he had got back on deck his mysterious passenger had resumed his old position. The cloak again completely enveloped the upper portion of his body and his hands were out of sight. Andy acted as though his momentary glance had not taken in the sight of the handcuffs.

Sorry, mister, we struck that snag, but the moons going down and a fog coming up, and I couldnt help it.

Dont mind that, was all that the man at the stern vouchsafed in reply.

The moon had gone down as Andy had said, but enough of its radiance had fallen on the squirming figure of the stranger a few minutes previous to show the cold, bright glint of the pair of manacles. Andy was sure that the mans wrists were tightly handcuffed. A sort of a chill shudder ran over him as he thought of it.





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