Airship Andy: or, The Luck of a Brave Boy
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“An escaped convict?” Andy asked himself. “Maybe. That’s bad. I don’t want to be caught in such company, the fix I’m in.”
The thought made the passenger suddenly repellant to Andy. He had an idea of running close to the shore and making off.
“No, I won’t do it,” he decided, after a moment’s reflection, “I’m only guessing about all this. He’s not got a bad face. It’s rather a wild and worried one. I’m a runaway myself, and I’ve got a good reason for being so. Maybe this man has, too.”
Andy applied himself to his work with renewed vigor. It must have been about five o’clock in the morning when the stranger directed him to navigate up a feeder to the stream, which, a few rods beyond, ran into a swamp pond, which Andy knew to be Swan Cove.
A few pushes of the pole drove the craft up on a muddy slant. It was getting light in the east now. Andy came up to the man with the question:
“Is this where you land, mister?”
“Yes,” nodded his passenger. “Come here.”
Andy drew closer to the speaker.
“I told you I’d make it worth your while to pole me down the river,” he said.
“Oh, that’s all right.”
“I haven’t got any money, but I want to pay you as I promised you. Take that.”
“What, mister?” and then Andy learned what the man meant. The latter hunched one shoulder towards the timber on which he sat, and there lay a small open-faced silver watch.
Andy wondered how he had managed to get it out of his pocket, but he had, and there it lay.
“It’s worth about eight dollars,” explained the man. “You can probably get four for it. Anyhow, you can trade it off for some shoes and clothes, which you seem to need pretty badly.”
“Yes, I do, for a fact,” admitted Andy, with a slight laugh. “But see here, mister, I don’t want your watch. I couldn’t ask any pay, for I wanted to come down the creek myself, and I was just waiting to find the chance to work my way when you came along.”
“You’ll take the watch,” insisted the stranger in a decided tone, “so say no more about it, and put it in your pocket. There’s only one thing, youngster – I want to ask a favor of you.”
“Forget you ever saw me.”
“That will be hard to do, but I will try.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’ll remember that,” said the man, repeating it over twice to himself. “You’ll see me again some time, Andy Nelson, even if I have to hunt you up. You’ve done me a big favor. You said you were headed for the city?”
“Well, if you’ll follow back to the river, and cut south a mile, you’ll come to a road running in that direction.”
“Aren’t you going to use the barge any farther, mister?” inquired Andy.
“No, and perhaps you had better not, either,” answered the man, with a short nervous laugh.
“Well, this is a queer go!” ruminated Andy, as the man started inland and was soon lost to view. “I wonder who he is? Probably on his way to some friends where he can get rid of those handcuffs.Now, what for myself?”
Andy thought things out in a rational way, and was soon started on the tramp. His prospective destination was the city. It was a large place, with many opportunities for work, he concluded. He would be lost from his pursuers in a big city like that, he theorized.
Andy soon located the road his late passenger had indicated. He looked at the watch a good many times. It was a plain but substantial timepiece. It was the first watch Andy had ever owned, and he took great pleasure in its possession.
“I don’t think I’ll part with it,” he said, as he tramped along. “I feel certain I can pick up enough odd jobs on my way to the city to earn what clothing I need and enough to eat.”
It was about seven o’clock when Andy, after a steep hill climb, neared a fence and lay down to rest in the shade and shelter of a big straw stack. He was asleep before he knew it.
“What in the world is that!” he shouted, springing up, wide awake, as a hissing, flapping, cackling hubbub filled the air, mingled with shouts of impatience, excitement and despair.
“Head ’em off – drive ’em in! Shoo – shoo!” bellowed out somebody in the direction of the road.
“Geese!” ejaculated Andy – “geese, till you can’t rest or count them! Where did they ever come from? Hi, get away!”
As Andy stepped out of range of the straw stack, he faced a remarkable situation. The field he was in covered about two acres. It was enclosed with a woven-wire fence, and had a gate. Through this, from the road, a perspiring man was driving geese, aided by a boy armed with a long switch.
Andy had never seen such a flock of geese before. He estimated them by the hundreds. Nor had he ever viewed such a battered up, dust-covered, crippled flock. Many, after getting beyond the gate, squatted down as if exhausted. Others fell over on their sides, as if they were dying. Many of them had torn and bleeding feet, and limped and hobbled in evident distress.
The man and the boy had to head off stupid and wayward groups of the fowls to get them within the enclosure. Then when they had closed the gate, they went back down the road. Andy gazed wonderingly after them. For half a mile down the hill there were specks of fluttering and lifeless white. He made them out to be fowls fallen by the wayside.
The man and boy began to collect these, two at a time, bringing them to the enclosure, and dropping them over the fence. It was a tiresome, and seemed an endless task. Andy climbed the fence and joined them.
“Hello!” hailed the man, looking a little flustered; “do you belong around here?”
“No; I don’t,” replied Andy.
“I don’t suppose any one will object to my penning in those fowls until I find some way of getting them in trim to go on.”
“They can’t do much harm,” suggested Andy. “I say, I’ll help you gather up the stray ones.”
“I wish you would,” responded the man, with a sound half-way between a sigh and a groan. “I am nigh distracted with the antics of those fowls. We had eight hundred and fifty when we started. We’ve lost nigh on to a hundred in two days.”
“What’s the trouble? Do they stray off?” inquired Andy, getting quite interested.
“No; not many of them. The trouble is traveling. I was foolish to ever dream I could drive up to nearly one thousand geese across country sixty miles. The worst thing has been where we have hit the hill roads and the highways they’re ballasting with crushed stone. The geese get their feet so cut they can’t walk. If we try the side of the roads, then we run into ditches, or the fowls get under farm fences, and then it’s trouble and a chase. I say, lad,” continued the man, with a glance at Andy’s bandaged foot, “you don’t look any too able to get about yourself.”
“Oh, that isn’t worth thinking of,” declared Andy. “I’ll be glad to help.”
He quite cheered up the owner of the geese by his willingness and activity. In half an hour’s time they had all the disabled stray fowls in the enclosure. Some dead ones were left where they had fallen by the wayside.
“I reckon the old nag is rested enough to climb up the rest of the hill now,” spoke the man to his companion, who was his son. “Fetch Dobbin along, Silas, and we’ll feed the fowls and get a snack ourselves.”
Andy curiously regarded the poor crowbait of a horse soon driven into view attached to a ramshackly wagon. The horse was put to the grass near the enclosure, and two bags of grain unearthed from a box under the seat of the wagon and fed to the penned-in geese.
Next Silas produced a small oil-stove, a coffee-pot and some packages, and, seated on the grass, Andy partook of a coarse but substantial breakfast with his new friends.
“There’s a town a little ahead, I understand,” spoke the man.
“Yes,” nodded Andy; “Afton.”
“Then we’ve got twenty miles to go yet,” sighed the man. “I don’t know how we’ll ever make it.”
Andy gathered from what the man said that he and his family had gone into the speculation of raising geese that season. The nearest railroad to his farm was twenty miles distant. His market was Wade, sixty miles away. He had decided to drive the geese to destination. Two-thirds of the journey accomplished, a long list of disasters spread out behind, and a dubious prospect ahead.
“It would cost me fifty dollars to wagon what’s left to the nearest railroad station, and as much more for freight,” said the man gloomily.
Andy looked speculative. In his mechanical work his inventive turn of mind always caused him to put on his thinking-cap when he faced an obstacle.
“I’ve got an idea,” declared Andy brightly. “Say, mister, suppose I figure out a way to get your geese the rest of the way to market quite safely and comfortably, and help drive them the balance of the distance, what will you do for me?”
“Eh?” ejaculated the man eagerly. “Why, I’d – I’d do almost anything you ask, youngster.”
“Is it worth a pair of shoes, and a new cap and coat?” asked Andy.
“Yes; a whole suit,” said the man emphatically, “and two good dollars a day on top of it.”
“It’s a bargain!” declared Andy spiritedly. “I think I have guessed a way to get you out of your difficulties.”
“I’ll show you when you are ready to start.”
Andy set to work with vigor. He went to the back of the wagon and fitted two boards into a kind of a runway. Then he poured corn into the trough, and hitched up the old horse.
“Now, drive the horse, and I’ll attend to the corn,” he said. “I won’t give them as much as you think,” he added, fearing the farmer would object to the use of so much of his feed.
It was not long before they were on the way. As the corn dropped along the road, the geese ran to pick the kernels up. Andy scattered some by hand. Soon he had the whole line of geese following the wagon.
“Now drive in the best spots,” he said.
“I’ll take to the fields,” answered Mr. Pierce.
He was as good as his word, and traveling became easy for the geese, so that they made rapid progress. They kept on until nightfall, passing through Afton, where Andy bought a postal card and mailed it to Mr. Webb, stating his money had been left with Mr. Dawson. By eight o’clock the next morning they reached Wade, and there, at a place called the Collins’ farm, Andy was paid off and given the clothing and shoes promised. He changed his suit in a shed on the farm, and then the youth bid his new friends good-by and went on his way.
CHAPTER VI – THE SKY RIDER
“Hold on, there!”
“Don’t stop me – out of the way!”
“Why, whatever is the matter with you?”
“The comet has fallen – ”
“On our barn.”
“See here – ”
“Run for your life. Let me go, let me go, let me – go!”
The speaker, giving the astonished Andy Nelson a shove, had darted past him down the hill with a wild shriek, eyes bulging and hair flying in the breeze.
It was the afternoon of the day Andy had said good-by to Mr. Pierce and his friends. He was making across country on foot to strike a little railroad town, having now money enough to afford a ride to Springfield.
Ascending a hilly rise, topped with a great grove of nut trees, Andy got a glimpse of a farmhouse. He was anticipating a fine cool draught of well water, when a terrific din sounded out beyond the grove. There were the violent snortings of cattle, the sound of smashing boards, a mixed cackle of all kinds of fowls, and thrilling human yells.
Suddenly rounding the road there dashed straight into Andy’s arms a terror-faced, tow-headed youth, the one who had now put down the hill as if horned demons were after him.
Andy divined that the center of commotion and its cause must focus at the farmhouse. He ran ahead to come in view of the structure.
“I declare!” gasped Andy.
Wherever there was a cow, a horse, or a chicken, the creature was in action. They seemed putting for shelter in a mad flight. Rushing along the path leading to the farmhouse, a gaunt, rawboned farmer was sprinting as for a prize. He cast fearsome glances over his shoulder, and bawled out something to his wife, standing spellbound in the open doorway, bounded past her, sweeping her off her feet, and slammed the door shut with a yell.
And then Andy’s wondering eyes became fixed on an object that quite awed and startled him for the moment. Resting over the roof of the great barn at the rear of the house was a fantastic creation of sea-gull aspect, flapping great wings of snowy whiteness. Spick and span, with graceful outlines, it suggested some great mechanical bird.
“Why,” breathed Andy, lost in wondering yet enchanting amazement, “it’s an airship!”
Andy had never seen a perfect aeroplane before. Small models had been exhibited at the county fair near Princeville, however, and he had studied all kinds of pictures of these remarkable sky-riders. The one on the barn fascinated him. It balanced and fluttered – a dainty creation – so frail and delicately adjusted that his mechanical admiration was aroused to a degree that was almost thrilling.
Blind to jeopardy, it seemed, a man was seated about the middle of the tilting air craft. The barn roof was about twenty-five feet high, but Andy could plainly make out the venturesome pilot, and his mechanical eye ran over the strange machine with interest and delight.
A hand lever seemed to propel the flyer, and this the man aloft grasped while his eyes roved over the scene below.
How the airship had got on the roof of the barn, Andy could only surmise. Either it had made a whimsical dive, or the motive power had failed. The trouble now was, Andy plainly saw, that one set of wings had caught across a tin ornament at the front gable of the barn. This represented a rooster, and had been bent in two by the tugging airship.
“Hey, you!” sang out the man in charge of the airship. “Can you get up here any way?”
“There’s a cleat ladder at the side.”
“All right, come up and bring a rope with you.”
Andy was only too glad to be of service in a new field that fascinated him. The doors of the barn were open. He ran in and looked about busily. At last he discovered a long rope hanging over a harness hook. He took possession of it, hurried again to the outside, and nimbly ascended the cleats.
“Look sharp, now, and follow closely,” spoke the aeronaut. “Creep along the edge, there, and loop the rope under the end of those side wings.”
“I can do that,” declared Andy. He saw what the man wanted, and it was not much of a task to balance on the spout running along the edge of the shingles and then climb to the ridge-pole. Andy looped the end of the rope over an extending bar running out from the remote end of the last paddle.
“Now, then,” called out the aeronaut in a highly-satisfied tone, “if you can get to the seat just behind me, fetching the rope with you, we’ll soon be out of this tangle.”
“All right,” said Andy.
“And I’ll give you the ride of your life.”
“Will you, mister?” cried Andy, with bated breath and sparkling eyes.
The boy began creeping along the slant of the barn roof. It was slow progress, for he saw that he must keep the rope from getting tangled. Another hindrance to rapid progress was the fact that he had to be careful not to graze or disturb the delicate wings of the machine.
About half the directed progress covered, Andy paused and looked down. The door of the farmhouse was in his range of vision, and the farmer had just opened it cautiously.
He stuck out his head, and bobbed it in again. The next minute he ventured out a little farther. Now he came out on the stoop of the house.
“Hey, you!” he yelled, waving his hands up at the aeronaut.
“Well, neighbor?” interrogated the latter.
“What kind of a new-fangled thing is that you’ve stuck on my barn?”
“It’s an airship.”
“Like we read about in the papers?”
“Sho! and I thought – Who’s afraid?” and he darted back again into the house. Immediately he reappeared. He carried an old-fashioned fowling-piece, and he ran out directly in front of the barn.
Andy read his purpose. He readily guessed that the farmer was one of those miserly individuals who make the most out of a mishap – the kind who think it smart to put a dead calf in the road and make an automobilist think he had killed it. At all events, the farmer looked bold enough now, as he posed in the middle of the road, with the ominous announcement:
“I’ve got a word for you up there.”
“What is it?” inquired the aeronaut.
“Who’s going to settle for this damage?”
“What damage!” howled the farmer, feigning great rage and indignation; “hosses jumped the fence and smashed down the gate; chickens so scared they won’t lay for a month; wife in a spasm, and that there ornament up there – why, I brought that clear from the city.”
“All right, neighbor; what’s your bill?”
“Two hundred dollars.”
The aeronaut laughed.
“You’re not modest or anything!” he observed. “See here; I’ll toss you a five-dollar bill, and that covers ten times the entire trouble I’ve made you.”
The farmer lifted his gun. He squinted across the long, awkward barrel, and he pointed it straight up at the sky-rider and his craft.
“Mister,” he said fiercely, “my bill is two hundred dollars, just as I said. You pay it, right here, right now, or I’ll blow that giddy-fangled contraption of yours into a thousand pieces!”
CHAPTER VII – JOHN PARKS, AIRSHIP KING
“Keep right on,” ordered the aeronaut to Andy in a low tone.
Andy squeezed under a bulge of muslin and wood and reached what looked like a low, flat-topped stool.
“Do you hear me?” yelled the farmer, brandishing his weapon and trying to look very fierce and dangerous.
The aeronaut, Andy noticed, was reaching in his pocket. He drew out two small bills and some silver. He made a wad of this. Poising it, he gave it a fling.
“There’s five dollars,” he spoke to the farmer.
The wad hit the farmer on the shoulder, opened, and the silver scattered at his feet. He hopped aside.
“I won’t take it; I’ll have my price, or I’ll have the law on you, and I’ll take the law in my own hands!” he shouted.
Snap! – the fowling-piece made a sound, and quick-witted Andy noticed that it was not a click.
“See here,” he whispered quickly to the aeronaut; “that man just snapped the trigger to scare us, and I don’t believe the old blunderbuss is loaded.”
“All ready,” spoke the aeronaut to Andy, as the latter reached the seat.
“Yes, sir,” reported Andy.
“When I back, give the rope a pull and hold taut till we clear the barn.”
“I’ll do it,” said Andy.
There was a whir, a delicious tremulous lifting movement that now made Andy thrill all over, and the biplane backed as the aeronaut pulled a lever.
Andy gave the rope a pull and lifted the entangled wing entirely clear of the weather-vane.
“Now, hold tight and enjoy yourself,” spoke the aeronaut, reversing the machine.
“Oh, my!” breathed Andy rapturously the next moment, and he forgot all about the farmer and nearly everything else mundane in the delight and novelty of a brand-new experience.
Andy had once shot the chutes, and had dreamed about it for a month afterwards. He recalled his first spin in an automobile with a thrill even now. That was nothing to the present sensation. He could not analyze it. He simply sat spellbound. One moment his breath seemed taken away; the next he seemed drawing in an atmosphere that set his nerves tingling and seemed to intoxicate mind and body.
The aeronaut sat grim and watchful in the pilot seat of the glider, never speaking a word. He had skimmed the landscape for quite a reach. Then, where the ground began to slant, he said quickly:
“Notice my left foot?”
“I do,” said Andy.
“Put yours on the stabilizing shaft when I take mine off.”
“Stabilizing shaft,” repeated Andy, memorizing, “and the name of the airship painted on that big paddle is the Eagle. Oh, hurrah for the Eagle!”
“When I whistle once, press down with your foot. Twice, you take your foot off. When I whistle twice, pull over the handle right at your side on the center-drop.”
“‘Center-drop’?” said Andy. “I’m getting it fast.”
Z – zip! Andy fancied that something was wrong, for the machine contorted like a horse raising on his rear feet. Toot! Andy did not lose his nerve. Toot – toot! he grasped the handle at his side and pulled it back.
“Good for you!” commended the aeronaut heartily. “Now, then, for a spin.”
Andy simply looked and felt for the next ten minutes. The pretty, dainty machine made him think of a skylark, an arrow, a rocket. He had a bouyant sensation like a person taking laughing gas.
The lifting planes moved readily under the manipulation of an expert hand. There was one level flight where the airship exceeded any railroad speed Andy had ever noted. Farms, villages, streams, hills, faded behind them in an endless panorama.
Toot! – Andy followed instructions. They slowed up over a town that seemed to be some railroad center. Beyond it the machine skimmed a broad prairie and then gracefully settled down in the center of a fenced-in space.
Its wheels struck the ground. They rolled along for about fifty yards, and halted by the side of a big tent with an open flap at one side.
“This is the stable,” said the aeronaut, showing Andy how to get from his seat on the delicate and complicated apparatus of the flyer. “Dizzy-headed?”
“Why, no,” replied Andy.
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