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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

SONS OF THE AIR

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First published by F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1929

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-01-09
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Illustration

"Sons of the Air," F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1929, Book Cover


Illustration

"Sons of the Air," Title Page


TABLE OF CONTENTS


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


Frontispiece.

Illustration

Jack found himself swinging like a great pendulum at the end of his rope.


I. — A CLOSE CALL

"YES, my little lads, you're doing very nicely," said Curtis Clinton, with a smile on his pleasant sun-burned face, as he gazed down into the clear pool where hundreds of tiny trout darted about. He scattered a little food for the baby fish, then went up to the head of the pool where a tiny spring of ice- cold, crystal-clear water bubbled up from a small crevice in the limestone.

This spring was Curt's most cherished possession, for without it the trout farm which gave him his living could not have existed. There was never a day when he did not inspect it, and it was a fad of his to keep a thermometer in it to see that the temperature did not change. He had never known a change of more than four degrees—from thirty-eight degrees to forty-two. As he lifted the thermometer he noticed a flicker of white in the dark mouth of the spring. Something rose spinning in the rush of the water, and as it came to the surface he picked it out. He could hardly believe his eyes when he found it to be a small fragment of newspaper.

"Of all the rum things!" he gasped, as he turned and, carrying the paper very carefully, took it back to his little bungalow, which stood further down the slope close above his biggest pond. There he laid it flat on a sheet of blotting paper which drew the water from it, and taking this outside pinned it on a board in the strong spring sunlight.

In a very few minutes it had dried sufficiently for the print to become visible, and, getting a magnifying glass from the house, he scanned it eagerly. The first word he made out was Tiedende in large letters, and this he saw was part of the title.

"Dutch!" he exclaimed. "Well, if this doesn't beat cock- fighting. Will some one kindly tell me what a piece of a Dutch newspaper is doing in my spring? And here's the date too, May 3rd. Why, it's only about three weeks old." He frowned thoughtfully. "Well," he said at last, "the whole country is full of underground streams. This paper must have fallen into one of them through a cleft and come through goodness knows how many miles of dark rock pipes until it came out through my spring. But Dutch—why Dutch?"

His musings were sharply interrupted by a hoarse shout.

"Mr. Clinton, them there boys o' yours is up to some new devilment. Flying like kites. You better come an' see."

Curt, bolting round the corner of the house, almost ran into a man hurrying in the opposite direction.

"Flying, Agar!" he exclaimed. "What do you mean?"

Agar, a grizzled old fellow who had a small farm a little way down the valley, grinned till his parchment-like face was a mass of wrinkles.

"It's true, sir. I seed 'em from my place. They got something like a big kite, and one on 'em was right up in the air in it. I'll lay it's that there Jack Milner—him and Kip Carter."

But Curt was gone. Rushing round to the shed, he got out his motor bicycle, sprang into the saddle, kicked off, and the next moment was roaring down the rough road at a perilous pace. Agar watched him.

"Looks to me as if he's as like to break his neck as any on 'em," he observed. "Gosh, but I wouldn't be master o' them there Scouts for something! Young demons, specially that there Jack!"

Old Agar was a little prejudiced, for in point of fact the boys of the Pipit Patrol, of which Curt was Scoutmaster, were as nice a set of lads as any in all that wild countryside. As Curt often said, there was not an ounce of real harm in any of them. The only reason why they sometimes got into trouble was that they were healthy, open-air lads with a craving for adventure and a wild desire to be always trying something new.

"Of course, it's Jack," said Curt to himself, as he sent his machine crackling up the steep slope which ran at right angles from the valley road.

As he reached the top he came into view of the village of Garth lying in a hollow below, and of a great bare fell stretching steeply up to the right. On a ledge high up the hillside three boys were standing holding a fourth who lay spread on a kind of framework beneath a kind of tiny biplane.

"A glider!" gasped Curt. "How in sense did they get hold of a thing like that?"

He pulled up, left his bicycle leaning against the bank, scrambled through the hedge and began to run up the steep with long springy strides. He was still too far away for even his loudest shout to reach the boys, and his only chance of stopping them was to get near enough before Jack took off.

It was no good, for long before he was within hailing distance there came the gust of wind for which the youthful pilot had been waiting. Curt saw him signal with one hand to the others, saw them run forward down the slope holding the glider which tugged like a kite. Then they let go, and Curt's heart was in his mouth as he saw the glider swoop upwards and outwards exactly like a rising kite.

"He'll be killed," he gasped in horror. "He can't possibly know how to control the thing."

Yet somehow the boy pilot did manage to control the machine. He worked his ailerons with surprising skill and kept on a level keel as the glider, with the fresh spring wind under her planes, soared onwards.


Illustration

Somehow the boy pilot did manage to control the machine.


A freckled-faced boy with bright blue eyes was the first to hear Curt coming, and turned to meet him.

"Isn't it fine, sir?" he cried, with glowing face. "And Jack's promised that I shall have next turn."

"Next turn, you lunatic! There won't be any next turn. We shall be lucky if we ever see Jack alive again."

Kip Carter's face dropped.

"W-why, what's the matter?" he gasped.

"Matter, Kip! Mean that you don't understand how confoundedly dangerous it is? There are only about a dozen men in England who have ever handled gliders successfully. Jack knows nothing, and if the wind tilts him he's done. He'll come down like a stone."

"I—I never thought of that," said Kip in dismay, but he spoke to empty air, for his Scoutmaster was already plunging down the hill in pursuit of Jack.

"He's in an awful paddy," said Kip to Butter Briggs, a solid- looking youth who was gazing round-eyed at the glider. "We'd better go on after him."

A fresh gust caught the glider and tilted it so sharply that Curt's heart was in his mouth again. But Jack, who seemed to have no sense of fear, got her back on even keel. He was about fifty feet up, hovering in the wind stream like a hawk, and Curt, looking up from below, saw his face shining with delight.

"What an airman he'll make!" was the thought that flashed through his mind. "My word, what an airman!" Then he stopped. "Jack!" he shouted. "Can you hear me?"

"Fine, sir," replied Jack.

"I wish you'd come down, Jack. We've got to go to Fandle this afternoon. Can you manage it?"

"I think so, sir."

"You'll have to be careful," said Curt, speaking in quiet, distinct tones. "The wind is gusty, and it won't do for you to side-slip. Keep her head a little down and head for the leasowe."

"Prickly sort of place to come down, sir," grinned Jack, but he did as he was bid.

The leasowe was a rough field further down the slope, covered with clumps of brier and blackberry bushes. It was exactly because these were there to break a possible fall that Curt had ordered Jack to make for the spot. He knew that otherwise there was nothing for the boy to do but fly right across the valley. Then when he got to the dead area where the wind was cut off by the opposite hill he would drop like a stone. It was impossible to come back to the starting point, for a glider depends entirely for its flying power on the wind striking upwards on the cambered surfaces of its planes, and the moment it turns with the wind it is bound to fall.

Curt was in an agony as he followed just below the tossing, quivering glider. He was not the sort ever to make favourites among his boys, but now he had to acknowledge to himself that red-haired, cheeky, cheery Jack Milner was the one of them all whom he could least easily spare. It seemed to him too that he was the one whom his country could least spare, for a boy like Jack would make a splendid man.

A sharp puff caught the glider and lifted her several yards, and for a moment it seemed as if she were clean out of control. Beads of cold sweat started on Curt's forehead as he waited for what seemed the inevitable crash. But again Jack cleverly got control, and again he forced her nose down.

"Got a bit of a bump that time, sir," he called cheerily. "But the wind's all right now, and I'm doing fine."

"Keep down," begged Curt. "If you go too far you'll get into calm air and stall."

"All right," Jack answered. "Coming down now, sir."

Down he came as easily and smoothly as any old hand.

"The boy's a marvel," said Curt to himself, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before the crash came.

The breeze at this lower level seemed to fail completely, the glider stalled, her nose came up, then she turned right over and dropped—dropped straight into the centre of one of those clumps of bramble on the near edge of the leasowe.

Curt felt sick as he heard the crash of the crumpling framework, and he ran madly towards the spot.

As he reached it Jack came crawling out from among the ruins. A large bleeding scratch ran all down one cheek, but that was not what was making his lips quiver.

"Oh, sir, I've broken it badly!" he cried in despair.

"Broken it, you lunatic!" answered Curt. "What does that matter if you haven't broken yourself? Don't you understand that you've had about as narrow an escape from death as any chap ever had?"

Jack's eyes grew round as billiard balls as he looked at Curt.

"I—I didn't know that, sir," he stammered. "I hadn't thought—"

"I don't suppose it would have mattered if you had known it," returned the Scoutmaster; "but don't do it again, Jack. You've taken ten years off my life in these last ten minutes."

"I'm awfully sorry, sir," said Jack, and Curt saw that he meant it.

At this moment the hoarse hoot of a klaxon came echoing across the hillside from the distant road. All Jack's gloom vanished.

"It's Mr. Trask, sir. He's come to take us to Fandle. Isn't it jolly good of him?"


II. — SLEUTHS OF THE AIR

DICKY TRASK lay back in the deep driving seat of his great car.

"Hullo, you chaps!" he said in his odd squeaky voice. "Thought I'd drop round and run you up. It's the dooce and all of a walk over the fell."

"It's uncommon good of you, Dicky," said Curt. "Jack, you come in front with me; the rest of you pile in behind. And mind the paint, or Mr. Trask will never give you a lift again."

They all piled in, and Dicky sent the big car rolling noiselessly up the long slope.

"What the dickens were you chaps doing?" enquired Dicky, glancing round lazily. "Looked to me as if you'd got some sort of a big kite up, but I was too far off to see what happened except that it came down."

Curt told him of Jack's exploit, and Dicky whistled softly.

"Great snakes, Curt, but you do keep a menagerie! Jack, ain't you ashamed of scaring the hair off your kind teacher?"

"I didn't think of it that way, sir," replied Jack seriously.

Dicky glanced at the boy.

"Make a proper old bus driver, wouldn't he, Curt?" he observed thoughtfully, and after that devoted his attention to driving the car at a very high rate of speed along the rough and narrow hill road.

It was not the Pipit's first visit to Fandle Fell Aerodrome, for owing to the kindness of Dicky Trask, who was by far the richest and therefore in a sense the most important member of the Flying Club, they had a sort of general invitation to be present at Meets, where they made themselves useful, and in return got a good deal of useful teaching from the mechanics and an occasional flip from a member. All of them, but more particularly Jack Milner and Kip Carter, were mad on flying, and not one, except, perhaps, Butter Briggs, but would make a good pilot. Butter was just as keen as the rest, but he was a bit slow in the uptake. That was the only thing against him.

"Topping afternoon, eh?" remarked Dicky, as he pulled up by the big shed. "Ought to be quite good topside. Want a flip, Jack?"

Jack Milner's eyes glowed with delight. "Oh, thank you, sir!" he cried.

"All right. I'll be ready in two shakes," replied Dicky.

He stepped leisurely out of his car and walked slowly over to the little Club House.

"You lucky brute!" growled Kip Carter, digging Jack in the ribs with his elbow. "You've had one go already to-day."

"You shall have the flip, if you like, Kip," said Jack, who was the most generous soul alive. "I mean it, Kip."

Kip's freckled face flushed a little.

"Rot! You go of course. Perhaps some one else will take me up."

Dicky's idea of "two shakes" ran to something more like ten minutes before he came out in pilot's cap and goggles thrust up over his eyes, and walked slowly across to his plane which his mechanic, Joe Worthy, was warming up for him. She was a lean and shapely Moth with a bright yellow body and silver wings. She had two seats set tandem fashion in two separate cockpits, and was fitted with dual control. Dicky found this convenient because on a long flight he could hand over to Joe whenever he felt like it.

He panted a little as he hoisted himself up on to the lower wing and flung his leg over into the after cockpit.

"You're getting much too fat, Dicky," said Curt reproachfully. "You ought to take up golf or something energetic."

"Don't you call flying energetic?" retorted Dicky. "Come on, Jack."

Jack slipped into his place like an eel and snuggled down comfortably. At once the engine accelerated to a roar, the little plane rolled off over the hard ground, and within fifty yards was in the air.

"Like it, Jack?" asked Dicky through the 'phone.

"It—it's almost too jolly, sir," stammered Jack. "It—it makes you feel like an eagle must feel."

"Swooping," chuckled Dicky, as he cut out and let the machine sweep into a deep volplane. Then up again to corkscrew in circles to a height of a thousand feet. He gave the boy a good twenty minutes, came down, then, seeing the longing look in Kip's blue eyes, took him for a short spin. "And now we'll have tea," he said.

The big car never travelled without an elaborate tea basket, and Joe already had the kettle boiling. All six, the two men and four boys, stretched themselves on the turf and drank tea from white enamel cups and ate most delicious sandwiches and large pieces of rich cake. Meanwhile they watched two other planes stunting over the ground.

"I say, Dicky," said Curt presently, "a rum thing happened to- day."

"You have all the luck," returned Dicky. "Nothing rum ever happens to me. But get on with it."

Curt told him about the piece of newspaper which had bubbled up out of the spring.

"And it was a bit of a Dutch paper," he ended.

"Gosh! You're not suggesting that your spring started in Holland and came all the way under the North Sea?" said Dicky.

"No, you duffer. The paper must have been dropped into some pot hole up on the Fells."

Dicky grinned. "If the War was still on we'd have to start the Patrol hunting for German spies," he chuckled. "As it is—..."

"I found a Dutch paper at home, sir," put in Jack Milner suddenly.

Every one looked at Jack, and there was an awkward silence. Jack seemed to sense something wrong, and a puzzled look crossed his face. Curt spoke quickly.

"You did not notice the date, I suppose, Jack?"

"No, sir, but I'll find out if you want to know."

"It doesn't really matter," said Curt quickly, and changed the subject.

The sun was getting low, the other planes were down and back in the hangar, the wide field lay quiet in the evening sunlight, and the tall firs opposite flung long black shadows across it. Dicky sat up.

"Time to be shifting," he said. "Curt, come and spend the night at my place."

"Nothing doing," said Curt. "Got my fishlings to feed."

"Can't that old blighter, Agar, do it?"

"He could, but he won't know."

"He'll know all right. See here! Joe shall take these kids home and go round and tell Agar to give worms to your trout. You and I will fly back to Scarth."

Curt hesitated. He was fond of Dicky, and it was a pleasant change to eat a meal he had not cooked himself.

"Don't think up any more objections," said Dicky, with a grin. "You're coming, and that's flat."

Curt smiled. "All right. If you're going to make up my mind for me, I've nothing more to say."

Dicky called up Joe and gave him his instructions, which Joe received with a perfectly wooden face. All he said was:

"You better go on at once, sir. Looks to me like there might be wind up above afore long."

"Your name ought to be Jonah, not Joe," retorted Dicky. "Come on, Curt. Is there plenty of petrol, Joe?"

"She were filled this afternoon, sir. I put in fourteen gallon. You ought to have enough to take her to London, let alone to Scarth."

Dicky waddled over to the plane, and Curt following thought, not for the first time, that his friend was getting far too fat. Dicky Trask was now little more than thirty, but he weighed nearly fourteen stone, and he was only five foot seven. As every one knew, he had done excellent work in the War, where he had gained fame and an M.C. as a member of "Cottrell's Circus," but after that he had come in for his big place and a pot of money, and now the only things he seemed to care for were flying and motoring.

"Too much money," said Curt to himself with a sigh, as he climbed into the front seat of the Moth and adjusted the tube of his telephone. "And such a good chap, too. If I could only get him interested in something. He'd make a splendid Scoutmaster. Why, the boys all adore him. And if he goes on like this he'll simply go to seed and die of fatty degeneration of the heart or something horrid like that. He gets all blue in the face as it is."

"Are you all right, Curt?" came Dicky's voice.

"Snug and comfy, thanks," Curt answered, and then the engine's note deepened, and the long, light machine sped away and soared into the air.

A Moth climbs quickly, and within a very few moments they had reached a height of five hundred feet above the aerodrome; then Dicky headed for Scarth, which lay twenty miles away by road but only fifteen as a plane flies across the hills.

"Topping evening, ain't it?" said Dicky, and "Topping," Curt agreed, with his lips against the mouthpiece of the 'phone.

"I'm going to quirk her up a bit," said Dicky. "Get a mouthful of real cool air, eh, Curt?"

"Right you are, but what about that wind current Joe talked of?"

"Joe ought to have been born a raven," chuckled Dicky. "Time enough to come down when we meet it."

Watching the altimeter (the height meter) in front of him, Curt saw that Dicky was indeed driving upwards. Seven hundred, eight hundred, nine, and then they were past the twelve hundred mark and still rising. Even so, they were not yet above the big hills to the west, but Dicky kept on creeping up, and every moment the air grew cooler.

"Enough, Dicky," said Curt. "Kindly remember I've got no overcoat."

"Right you are, old son! I say, look down. Ain't it topping?"

Curt looked down. The tiny machine was so high above earth that, although her propeller was turning over at seventeen hundred revolutions and she was doing just on seventy miles an hour, she seemed to be floating in the blue immensity. Beneath, the fields were dwarfed to chessboard squares and the houses to the size of toys. A long way off a small black beetle crept down a brown riband. It was Dicky's big car taking her passengers home at forty miles an hour. Away to the east the North Sea lay like a purple bar along the horizon with here and there a trail of smutty smoke showing the progress of some coastwise steamer. The air was wonderfully still, and the Moth travelled on level keel with never a bump or swerve.

Then as he still gazed Curt became aware that the Moth was not the only machine in the air. Another plane was coming in from the direction of the sea, but at such a height that she was almost hidden by the clouds that swam above the three thousand foot level. Curt took a pair of glasses from a pocket and focused them on the stranger.

"What is she?" came Dicky's voice from behind.

"Biggish bus. Too far off to make much of her, but she's coming lower."

"Rum game flying in that direction," observed Dicky in a slightly puzzled tone. "Looks as if she must have come across from the Continent, doesn't it?"

"That's about the size of it," agreed Curt. "See here, Dicky. Keep on your present course, but rise a bit higher as if you were going to cross Tall Fell. That ought to bring us right under her when she turns."

"All right, old son, but what makes you so keen about her?"

Curt hesitated. "I am keen," he admitted. "I've a notion that I've seen her before, and a still bigger notion that there's something funny about her."

Dicky chuckled. "Then this is where we start investigating. What ho! Sleuths of the Air! Sounds all right, doesn't it?"


III. — THE GHOST PLANE

THE strange plane was dropping. Curt saw her fade to a shadow as she dipped through the film of soft cirrus, then reappeared beneath the clouds. The rays of the low sun struck full upon her, and Curt was able to see that she was a powerful machine many sizes larger than the Moth, but of a make quite unfamiliar to him. Her paint work was dirty, her planes were patched, and her whole appearance was shabby, but by her speed there was evidently nothing wrong with her engine.

"Make anything of her?" asked Dicky.

"Yes," replied Curt. "I've seen her before. She came over my place one morning a month ago at dawn. I remember how puzzled I was, for I could see she had nothing to do with Fandle Fell, and there isn't another aerodrome for miles. She was very high up, and I only spotted her through a gap in the clouds. But I noticed that patched wing, and another thing that struck me was the queer high-pitched note of her engine. Since then I have twice heard that engine, but both times at night."

"The plot thickens," chuckled Dicky. "I wouldn't wonder if it was some gent doing a bit of smuggling, Curt. A pal of mine in the Customs tells me they're doing down the Revenue to the tune of something like two millions a year."

"I've heard that, too. And, come to think of it, this is mighty good country for that game. There's not a coastguard station from Blix Bay to Horn Point."

"All right from that point of view," replied Dicky, "but awkward for landing. There ain't a hundred square yards of level ground anywhere between this and my place."

"That's true," said Curt in a puzzled tone, and again he focused his glasses on the strange plane. "They've spotted us, I fancy," he said presently. "They're moving like smoke."

"Think they can get away from us, eh?" laughed Dicky. "I'll show 'em something."

The roar of the Moth's engine rose a note, and the slim little machine shot forward more swiftly. The pointer on the air-speed dial advanced to ninety and quivered between that and a hundred.

"No use doing that, Dicky," remonstrated Curt. "She's got at least double our power, and she's dropping while we're still climbing. Besides, what's the use? We're not Revenue officers."

"But it's such a joke, putting the wind up them," declared Dicky.

"You're putting the wind up me, Dicky. I'm most poisonously cold."

"All right! I'm a bit chilly myself. I only want to spot where they're going, and then, hey for home and dinner!"

"You'd better turn at once," said Curt earnestly. "I mean it, Dicky."

"Why? What's the trouble? You were keen enough just now."

"I know, and now I'm not. I've got it in my head that the people in that bus wouldn't think twice of scuppering you and me if they thought we were spying on them. No, I'm not scared, but does it strike you that in this little Moth we're about as helpless as a lark under a sparrow hawk?"

As Curt spoke the bigger plane was almost exactly above them and swooping towards the huge dark ridge of Tall Fell which lay about three miles to the north-west. As Curt peered up he suddenly saw something drop from her.

"Bank, Dicky! Bank!" he yelled, and Dicky flung the little plane over to the left so suddenly that for a moment she lay almost at right angles to the ground, and Curt felt her side-slip in sickening fashion. At the same instant a dark object whizzed past with the speed of a bullet, missing the Moth by barely her own length, and shot out of sight into the tangle of wild hills far below.

"Gosh!" exclaimed Dicky in a tone half of dismay, half of glee. "The beggars tried to bomb us."

"It looked a bit like it," agreed Curt grimly, "but I think it was only meant as a warning."

"Warning or not, I'm jolly well going to follow 'em," said Dicky in such a very different tone that Curt knew it was no use arguing. His only comfort was he was quite certain that the strange plane was travelling far too fast for the Moth to catch her.

In this he was right, for the other plane was moving at something like one hundred and fifty miles an hour, and in less than sixty seconds had streaked across the top of Tall Fell and was lost to sight behind that great mountain mass. Dicky was not more than two minutes behind, yet when the Moth had crossed the bare rock ridge there was no sign of the chase. The air was empty except for a few homeward-bound rooks. The plane had simply vanished.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" gasped Dicky. "I say, Curt, did we dream the whole blooming business?"

"Not much dream about it," retorted Curt.

"Then she must have crashed," said Dicky, with decision. "It's a certainty no plane could have landed in that muddle of rocks and ravines." He paused. "I'll just cruise round a bit and see if I can spot her remains."

He brought the Moth back to her normal speed and quartered to and fro above the valley. "A muddle of rocks," Dicky had called it, and Curt, looking down, thought the description even less than the truth, for a wilder spot did not exist in all the north country. The desolate hillsides were cut and scarred with deep ravines, and huge boulders fallen from the heights above lay everywhere. The only inhabitants of the desolation were a few sheep looking like white dots as they grazed on the hillsides. There was not a house, not even a shepherd's hut, within many miles.

"See anything?" said Dicky at last.

"Not a sign," replied Curt.

"It's rum, Curt," said Dicky in an unusually solemn tone; "beastly rum. I don't like it. I don't mind telling you, old man, that it's shaken me up a whole lot."

"There's some explanation, of course," said Curt. "And sooner or later we'll find it. But it's getting late, and clouds are gathering over the sunset. Let's push on for your place."

There was no answer, and Curt wondered a little, for Dicky was always ready to talk. The plane flew on steadily, but she was heading north-west and Scarth lay a good many miles to the south- west.

"You're off your course, Dicky," said Curt. "Pull her round."

Still no answer, and Curt, raising himself from his deep seat, turned round to see what was the matter. He saw Dicky lying back in his seat with his eyes closed. His face had a nasty leaden look.

"Dicky!" cried Curt. "Dicky! Wake up!"

Dicky did not stir, and Curt saw that he was in some sort of fit and quite unconscious. Curt Clinton was a young man, strong and healthy, and he had at least his full share of natural pluck, yet as he realised the state of things drops of chill sweat stood out on his forehead, and there was a cold sinking sensation at the pit of his stomach.

It was impossible for him to reach Dicky or do anything for him, for the two cockpits of a Moth are completely separated, and there is only just room for one person in each. Dicky might be dying for all he knew, and in any case he was in urgent need of a doctor. But the awful part of it was that Curt himself had never before piloted a plane single-handed, and now the whole responsibility of getting the Moth to Scarth and of landing there in safety was on his shoulders.

The plane flew on steadily, and Curt saw that Dicky had set the tail trim. He might have done that some time before so that he could take his hands off the joy stick, or he might have done it at the moment he felt himself taken ill. So long as it remained set the plane would go on flying. She would fly until the last of her petrol was gone; then—well, then she would slide down into whatever was below—probably the sea—and— Curt shook himself.

"Steady, you ass!" he said to himself. "You know what to do. Now it's up to you to do it."

He got back into his seat, took hold of the joy stick, and very quietly and cautiously moved it over to the right.


IV. — WHEN THE STORM BROKE

THE little plane came round sweetly and flew on even keel in a south-westerly direction. She was fitted with a full set of instruments in both cockpits, and glancing at the altimeter Curt saw that it registered 2,400. Up at this height it was very chilly, and Curt decided that the sooner he came down a little the better, but thought it would be well to wait until he was clear of the rocky heights of Tall Fell. The Moth was still travelling all out, and he ventured to push back the throttle a very little. He got her back to seventy, which was about her normal cruising speed, and carried on.

In a very few minutes he found himself over the western slope of the hills and saw before him a great range of rolling country with the Irish Sea faintly visible on the horizon. So far so good, but he saw something else which was not so pleasant. The line of dark cloud which he had noticed earlier was rising fast and had already hidden the low sun. The bad weather which Joe Worthy had prophesied was working up fast, and again Curt felt that nasty chill of fear as he wondered what would happen if the gale caught him before he could land.

He drew a long breath and steadied himself. After all, he could not be many miles from Farndon, and at the pace the Moth was travelling he ought to be over it in ten or twelve minutes. The next thing was to make out exactly where it lay, and he leaned over the edge of the cockpit to get a sight of it.

Like all Scoutmasters, Curt had taken a course of map reading, but he had not realised how entirely different everything looks from the air, and he got another nasty shock when he found that he could not tell where he was. He looked about for landmarks and spotted the branch line of the L.M.S. railway running to Witherleigh. Farndon was only four miles from the station of Witherleigh, so that gave him a guide of sorts, and he decided to make for the railway, then turn and fly along it.

Now that he was over the western rim of the hills he could safely come down a bit, so he pushed the control stick over. He pushed it a trifle too far, with the result that the Moth put her head down and the wind whistled in her wires while her speed leaped to over ninety. In panic he pulled it back, and the Moth, responding like a thoroughbred, leaped steeply skywards again.

"Hang it all!" growled Curt. "Any one would think she was alive. But it's my own fault."

He tried again and this time with better success, and the little plane lost height more steadily. At a thousand feet Curt levelled her out and found himself almost above the railway. A train looking no bigger than a toy crawled beneath, headed for Witherleigh. Curt turned in the same direction, but although his speed indicator hovered between sixty and seventy he found that he was moving very little faster than the train.

For a while this puzzled him, for he knew that the train was not doing much more than thirty, but presently he got wise to the reason. The wind had reached him already, and was blowing between thirty and forty miles an hour, so that, although his airspeed indicator was nearly seventy, his speed over the ground was only about half that.

"Nice sort of gale to land in!" he muttered uneasily.

He glanced back over his shoulder at poor Dicky and saw that he was still lying back with his eyes closed and quite unconscious. His lips tightened.

"I've jolly well got to get him home whatever happens," he said, and pushed the throttle almost wide open.

At once he found himself driving ahead of the train, and in less than five minutes saw the little town of Witherleigh below him. He had not much difficulty in spotting the road leading to Farndon, and he turned the plane so as to keep above it. This brought the plane broadside on to the wind, and at once he found himself being blown away to the east. He had to keep his rudder right over so as to counteract the drive of the wind.

The gale was getting stronger every minute. He could tell that by the drift of the smoke from the chimneys beneath, and the way in which the trees were bending. Every now and then the plane bumped like a car taking the arch of a bridge. He was feeling more confident about handling the plane in the air, but the idea of landing terrified him. He tried to remember all he had been told, all that Dicky had done at other times when they had been up together. And then he caught sight of the grey slate roof of Dicky's house and headed straight towards it.

The landing field was at the back of the house with a belt of trees between it and the gardens. He was almost on it before he realized how close it was, and he shut off his engine in a hurry and started planing down into the wind. All of a sudden he found he was much too high and was driving right into the trees on the far side of the field. In panic he switched on again and circled back.

The wind was stronger than ever, and the moment the plane came broadside to it she was driven away from the field. Curt's jaw hardened. He was not going to be beaten, and this time he brought her round in a wide curve, at the same time coming lower. Clouds now covered the sky, and already big drops of rain were hitting the plane with the force of bullets, but Curt carried on steadily and found himself over the north-east corner of the field and about two hundred feet up.

"Now or never!" he said aloud and shut off.

The little plane quivered as she drove down into the teeth of the blast, but she kept wonderfully steady. The ground seemed to shoot up to meet her, and as he watched it Curt's heart was in his mouth. He pulled over the stick just the least trifle, and the angle became less steep. Then almost before he knew it there was a bump, a jump, a second bump, and the Moth's wheels were running over the hard turf.

"My word, Mr. Richard, but you did that fine!" It was Joe Worthy running up to the plane. Then Joe stopped short, and his eyes grew round as marbles. "Why, whatever's the matter with Mr. Richard?"

"He was taken bad when we were up over Tall Fell," said Curt hoarsely. "The sooner we get him to bed the better."

"T-then who brought the plane in?" demanded Joe.


V. — TEA AND TOAST

GRIZZLE-HAIRED Dr. Burton came into the dining room where Curt was just finishing the nice little dinner which had been made ready for him, and Curt jumped up.

"How is he, Doctor?" he asked anxiously.

"Better than he deserves," replied the Doctor dryly. "But don't tell him so, Clinton. We've got our chance now, and I've been putting the wind up him pretty thoroughly."

Curt nodded. "I see what you mean, Doctor."

"I thought you would, my boy," answered the other. "You know as well as I that Trask has been neglecting his health most shockingly for years past. I've talked to him again and again, but he only grins in that don't-care-a-curse fashion of his, and tells me not to croak. Now he's had just the sort of seizure I expected, but luckily not as severe as it might have been. I'm going to keep him in bed on strict diet for a week, and after that he's got to get at least two stone off in the next couple of months. I've told him that if he doesn't he'll finish up in less than a year." He chuckled. "Of course, this is utterly unprofessional, and I've no business to talk like this, but, you see, I'm depending on you, Clinton, to help me out—sort of taking you into partnership. You're fond of Trask, I know."

"I should rather think I was," declared Curt. "Dicky's got a heart of gold, Doctor. I've tried just as hard as you to pull him round. I'll go the limit to help you."

"Good man!" said the other, smiling. "And you are a good man, Clinton. If you were not, you would never have got that plane down as you did. You needn't blush, for I know what I'm talking about. I've been up in bad weather myself during the War." He got up. "I must be pushing home. Trask's asleep, so leave him alone to-night. But to-morrow you can talk to him. And mind you talk straight," he added, with a chuckle, as he shook hands and went off.

Dicky seemed almost himself the next morning when Curt went into his room, but he was making wry faces over the tea, dry toast and fruit which was on the tray at his bedside.

"No bacon and eggs, no butter, no marmalade!" he growled. "Hang it all, Curt, you and old Burton are going to starve me to death!"

"Starve you to life, you mean," retorted Curt.

"You'd better remember, Dicky, that you had a pretty close call yesterday evening."

Dicky looked at his friend, and there was an expression in his eyes which Curt had never seen.

"I know that, old chap," he answered gravely. "A close call in more ways than one. What I want to know is how you managed to bring the plane down as you did in the teeth of that gale."

Curt laughed. "I don't know, Dicky," he confessed. "I was scared stiff."

"I should think you were. I know how scared I was the first time I had to land alone. And that was in fine weather and after a good many hours of flying with a pilot." He stopped, then went on again. "Curt, old man, I want to do something for you. No, don't interrupt. I'm not going to insult you by offering you a present. But you'd take one for your Patrol, wouldn't you?"

"I'm a hog as far as my Patrol is concerned, Dicky. I'd take a present for them all right."

"Will you take the Moth, then?"

Curt's eyes widened, and he stared silently at Dicky.

"I mean it, Curt. I know how keen you are about teaching those kids to fly, and there are one or two of 'em who will make top- hole pilots."

"Jack Milner, you mean."

"That's one, and young Carter's another. All right, Curt; then they shall have the little bus, or rather I'll make it over to you for them. And I'll pay the exes, and Joe shall act as instructor until you can take on the job. That suit you?"

"Dicky, it's awfully good of you," replied Curt earnestly. "But it's too much."

"Rats! I'm a rich man, Curt, and have no one to spend my money on except myself. It'll make me feel a little less of a selfish pig if I do something for those lads. Now that's all fixed, and I've got something else to talk about. What became of that plane with the patched wing?"

Curt shook his head. "Haven't a notion, Dicky. She seemed to vanish into thin air. And after you fainted I never gave her another thought. I was too busy."

"I should think you were," replied Dicky gravely. "It was a rum business though, and gave me a bit of a shock. She must have crashed."

"Surely we'd have seen something of her remains if she had," said Curt. "Dropping on those rocks, she'd surely have taken fire."

"Seems likely," agreed Dicky. "One thing's certain. She couldn't have landed down in that cleft, and I'm pretty sure she couldn't have got over the opposite ridge before we sighted her. Tell you what. As soon as I'm fit we must go and make a search."

"Right you are! Only we'll have to go afoot, Dicky."

"I know you and Burton are planning to finish me," groaned Dicky.

But Curt only laughed. "It'll do you piles of good," he answered. "I'll lay you won't know yourself before we've finished with you. And now I must go, Dicky. I've got my troutlets to see to."

"All right. Joe shall drive you home. And see here, you'd better try to find a field somewhere round your place for an aerodrome, and then we'll see about a hangar. So long, old man!"

The big car whirled Curt home in half an hour, and he set to his day's work in the highest spirits. It seemed almost too good to be true that the Patrol was to have a plane of its own. At dinnertime the sandy-haired Kip Carter came to look at the trout. Kip was mad on fish and fishing, and would give up his whole dinner-time to run over to Curt's place and have a look round. Curt gave him orders to collect the whole Patrol that evening.

"We meet in the Hut at seven," he said. "Tell them it's very special."

"What's it about, sir?" asked Kip eagerly.

Curt smiled. "You'll hear when the rest do," he said.

But Kip saw at once that there was something up and hurried off in a great state of excitement.

That evening, when Curt reached the Hut, every single member of the Patrol was already there. The place was crowded, and Curt felt a little thrill as he saw a dozen pairs of eager eyes fixed upon him. What Kip had told them he did not know, but any one could see that the whole lot were almost breathless.

"I've a bit of news for you, boys," Curt said quietly. "I know you are all keen about flying, and I am sure you will be pleased to hear that an aeroplane has been presented to the Patrol."

If Curt had expected a wild cheer he was disappointed. No one said a word, but the whole lot stood still as mice gazing at him, and Curt realized that the thing was too big for them, and that they simply could not believe it. Jack Milner was the first to get his breath.

"An aeroplane, sir?" he said in a sort of hoarse whisper. "It—it couldn't be, sir."

Curt smiled. "But it could, and it is. Mr. Trask has given us his Moth. He has done more than that, for he is going to pay the rent of a field for an aerodrome and to lend us Joe Worthy as instructor."

A sort of gasp came from a dozen young throats at once; then Jack found his voice.

"Three cheers for Mr. Trask! With a will, chaps!"

No one would ever have believed that twelve boys could have made such a row. It was heard in the village nearly half a mile away. And when they had shouted themselves hoarse for Dicky, Jack spoke up again.

"And three for Mr. Clinton! I don't know how he got it, but I'm jolly sure he did get it for us."

Curt could not help feeling pleased at the way they took this up. Then they all crowded round, full of questions, and for a good hour they talked of nothing else but the best field for the aerodrome. Most of them were for Martin's Meadow which lay a little way down the dale from the village, but Jack very wisely pointed out that there they would be between two high hills so that the wind would probably be very tricky.

"You are right, Jack," said Curt. "We shall do better if we can get land higher up the dale on the slope where it is more open. I think it will be cheaper, too."

"Yes, but will Farmer Crosby let us have it, sir?" put in Nibby Gale. "He doesn't like aeroplanes. He says they scare his sheep."

"He's silly!" said Kip Carter. "The sheep won't think twice of it after a week."

"That's true enough, Kip," agreed Curt. "I'll go and see him to-morrow. We must get the land and build our hangar before we have the plane. That's one thing sure. And now I'm going home. You walking my way, Jack?"


VI. — A MIDNIGHT MYSTERY

JACK MILNER lived with his brother Bill at an old farmhouse called Tarnside, which stood above a small tarn further up the glen where Curt had his trout farm. Bill was eight years older than Jack. Both their parents had been dead for some years, and an elderly widow, Mrs. Dent, kept house for them.

The farm was small and the land poor, and good for little except grazing a flock of sheep. People in Garth wondered how Bill Milner carried on, how he kept himself and his brother and paid Mrs. Dent's wages, let alone keeping up the house which was a fine old building. But Bill was not the man that they could ask questions of that sort, so their curiosity was not satisfied.

Jack was in tremendous spirits as he walked with Curt across the fell through the dusk of the May evening.

"Seems too good to be true, sir," he said. "I can't believe that we're really going to have the plane for our own. What made Mr. Trask give it to us?"

"He fainted in the plane when we were over Tall Fell last night, Jack, so he is not going to fly any more at present."

"Fainted in the plane!" repeated Jack. "Then how in the world did you get down, sir?"

"I brought her home, Jack."

Jack stopped short and gazed at his Scoutmaster.

"But you've never flown, sir!" he exclaimed.

"I've handled the controls once or twice," Curt told him.

"But not coming down. And—and in all that wind. Why, it was perfectly wonderful! Ah, now I see why Mr. Trask gave us the plane!"

Curt laughed. "Well, you needn't blab, Jack. And I don't mind telling you that, when I found Mr. Trask was unconscious, I was so frightened I could hardly move."

Jack nodded. "I should jolly well think you were, sir. I'd have been paralysed. But whatever made you go all that way round over Tall Fell?"

"We followed a strange plane that came down from a great height. A fairly big plane and pretty fast. She had a patched wing. The odd thing was that she flew over the top of Tall Fell only just ahead of us, and when we crossed the ridge there simply wasn't a sign of her. Mr. Trask thought she'd crashed, and I believe that is what upset him."

Jack frowned. "I've seen that plane, sir," he said slowly. "At least I've seen one like what you describe. She had a patched wing and looked awfully weather-beaten, but she certainly could move. I spotted her one evening about a month ago just before dark. She was flying due east and very high. Her engine had a queer note, different from any other machine I ever heard."

"That's the one without a doubt. I saw her myself some weeks ago—at least I just caught a glimpse of her between two clouds. But I, too, noticed the odd sound of her engine. It's a funny business, Jack."

"Very funny, sir," said Jack gravely. "But do you think the plane did crash?"

"I don't. I feel sure we should have seen the bits. Besides, as I told Mr. Trask, she'd almost certainly have caught fire. We did not see a thing."

"Rummiest thing I ever heard," said Jack slowly, and then they came to Curt's gate. "Will you come in for a bit, Jack?" Curt asked.

"No, thank you, sir. I've a job of work to do in the garden to-morrow, and that means I must be up early. Good-night, sir."

"A real good lad," said Curt to himself as he went in. He sighed. "Well, if there is anything wrong, it's quite certain he doesn't know anything about it. But I don't trust that long Dutchman."

Jack walked quickly on to Tarnside. Mrs. Dent had already gone to bed, and Bill was not at home. But Bill was so often out late that Jack thought nothing of this. He ate the bread and butter that Mrs. Dent had left out for him, drank a glass of milk and turned in.

Usually the interval between Jack's getting into bed and getting to sleep was about two minutes, but this night he found to his surprise that he could not sleep. His mind was so full of the new plane and of the idea that at last he was really going to learn to fly that he simply could not get off. He lay quite still for a long time with his eyes shut. He tried all the old dodges of counting imaginary sheep and of making his mind quite blank, but it was not a bit of use, so at last he gave it up as a bad job and got out of bed and went across, barefooted, to the dressing table. He meant to find a matchbox, light a candle and read for a while. He had found the box, was just going to strike a match when he stopped short, for a gruff voice said in a very low tone:

"Dat brat, is he asleep, Meelner?"

At once Bill Milner replied:

"Of course he's asleep ages ago. But don't talk of my brother as a brat, Browle, or you and I will fall out."

"I don't mean no harm," returned the other sulkily.

Then Jack heard the house door open softly, and it seemed to him that two people came in. He frowned.

"What's Browle doing here at this time of night?" he muttered angrily. "I'll bet he's up to no good. Wanted to know if I was asleep, eh? Well, I'm not, and I'm precious well going to find out why he wanted me to be asleep."

Jack's bedroom was on the first floor and had two windows, one opening over the front of the house, and the other facing the tarn. They were both wide open, but thin white muslin curtains hung over them. The night was fine and very still, and that was why Jack had heard Browle so plainly.

Jack went to his door, opened it cautiously, and listened, but all he could hear was a faint murmur of voices. Browle and Bill seemed to be discussing something in the sitting-room, but with the door shut. Jack waited so long that he was almost giving up and going back to bed when at last the door below opened and he heard the two men go out into the passage which led right through the house from the front to the back.

They walked very quietly out at the back of the house, and Jack, wondering what was afoot, pulled the curtain a wee bit aside and waited. It was not mere idle curiosity on Jack's part, or any desire to spy on Bill. He was very fond of his big brother, but he had no use for the fellow who called himself Browle, and he had more than a notion that Browle had some hold over Bill. At any rate Browle had been at the house off and on for some months past, and ever since his first arrival Bill had seemed worried and silent.

Though there was no moon the spring night was beautifully clear, and the stars gave Jack light enough to see the two figures move softly down the grassy slope towards the little tarn. They vanished under the bank and were gone for some little time. When they appeared again each was carrying a heavy load. It was much too dark for Jack to see what these loads were, but he could tell they were heavy by the slow pace of the men and the way they stooped under them.

They came in again by the back, and Jack flitted across to his bedroom door which he had left open, and listened. Presently he heard a faint thud, after which there was silence for a long time. Then came the thud again, and once more a sound of low voices.

All of a sudden Jack heard footsteps on the stairs. Some one was coming up, and closing the door Jack scuttled back to bed. In his hurry he ran right into a chair, and he and it together fell with a fearful clatter on the bare boards of the floor.


VII. — BROWLE'S BAD MORNING

JACK scrambled up in a desperate hurry, but almost before he was on his feet the door opened and his brother Bill came in, carrying a lighted candle.

"What are you up to, Jack?" he demanded sharply.

Jack hesitated. He hated the idea that Bill should think he had been spying, and it was on the tip of his tongue to make an excuse and say he had heard something and got out of bed and bumped into a chair. But Jack hated telling lies, and, besides, he was very fond of Bill. He decided to make a clean breast of it.

"I wasn't asleep, Bill," he confessed. "I was wondering what you and Browle were up to."

Bill's face grew stern. "You mean you were watching us, Jack?"

"Yes," replied Jack, plump and plain.

Bill looked at his brother, and Jack felt horribly uncomfortable.

"How much did you see?" Bill demanded.

"I saw you and Browle bringing some packages up from the tarn."

Bill bit his lip. "It's some stuff Browle wants me to keep for him. Nothing to do with you. And see here, Jack, you'll keep your mouth shut about it."

Jack flushed. "That's a rotten thing to say, Bill," he answered sharply.

"Sorry," said Bill quickly. "Of course I know you'd never blab. B-but I wanted you to understand that this is awfully important. If even a word leaked out I might get into a peck of trouble."

Jack looked straight at his brother.

"Then why do you do it, Bill?"

"I—I—the fact is I've got to," replied Bill. "See here, Jack, I can't explain, even to you. You've just got to trust me, and carry on. And now—now you'd better get to bed. It's frightfully late."

"All right," said Jack quietly. "Good-night, Bill."

"Good-night, old chap." And without waiting even to see Jack into bed Bill pushed off.

Jack slipped back into bed, but it was a long time before he got to sleep. The fact was, he was a good deal worried. It was not like Bill to keep things from him, and he felt sure that something was seriously wrong. It looked as if this fellow Browle had some kind of hold over Bill. Jack remembered how he had disliked Browle from the very first minute he had met him some months before. Boys are like dogs. They take instinctive likes and dislikes, and though they cannot explain them there is generally very good grounds for them. The very sight of the long shambling fellow always put Jack's back up, and he felt certain that Browle had a bad influence on Bill. And then quite suddenly Jack fell sound asleep, and for the time Browle and his mysterious doings passed out of his mind.

Jack had meant to be up at six to do his job in the garden, but it was past seven when he awoke, and he had barely time to tub and dress and feed the chickens before it was breakfast time. Bill was not down, and Mrs. Dent said that he was still asleep. Jack was secretly rather glad, for he did not want to have to talk to Bill just then, and he hurried through his breakfast, snatched up his bag and started off to eight o'clock school. Some of the Patrol went to the school at Garth, but he and Kip Carter and one or two other boys were day boys at a small Grammar School kept by a master named Hoyle.

Jack hurried along at a brisk pace and was near the bend in the road above Curt Clinton's little trout farm when a tall figure swung round the bend, coming in the opposite direction, and Jack's lips tightened as he recognized Browle's ungainly figure. Browle was a very big man, but very badly built. He had a large body, long, thin legs, and a great head with a crop of coarse, tow-coloured hair. He was all out of proportion. Another point that did not improve his looks was a permanent scowl. Jack had often wondered if the man could ever look pleased or happy.

Jack walked on briskly, keeping well to his side of the road. He did not even glance again at Browle. Jack was a downright sort of chap, and had no idea of pretending to be friendly with this unpleasant person. Though he refused to look at Browle, he had a feeling the man had his eyes fixed on him, and as he came opposite to him Browle suddenly strode across the road and caught Jack by the arm.

"So I was not good enough for you to speak to?" he snarled.

He spoke fair English but with a queer thick pronunciation. Jack looked him straight in the face.

"Why should I speak to you?" he asked calmly.

"Why shouldn't you?" retorted Browle with a very ugly look in his small greenish-grey eyes. "Was not I your brother's friend?"

"I hope not," said Jack, with a touch of scorn.

Browle's thin lips tightened. "You so impudent brat!" he growled.

"My brother told you not to call me that," said Jack, and then as he felt Browle stiffen he realized what a blunder he had made. "So you was awake!" cried Browle. "You heard. What did you hear?"

He looked so savage that Jack began to be a bit scared.

"Tell me what you heard, or I will make you."

As he spoke he shook Jack savagely. Jack was a bit scared. This was a lonely spot, and he did not know what this long brute would do to him. It seemed to him that the sooner he was out of it and away the better. He let himself go quite limp; then, the moment Browle was off his guard, turned and butted him with all his force in the middle of the stomach.

"Ow!" gasped Browle, as he sat down hard in the road.

But Jack did not wait to give first aid. He ran. Browle was up again in a flash, and now he was really angry.

"Stop!" he bellowed. "Stop, or I will cut the heart out of you!"

He said other things which would not look well in cold print—things which made Jack shiver, but rather with disgust than fright. Jack did not stop. He ran for all he was worth. But the thudding sound of Browle's heavy boots on the road grew nearer and nearer. Browle's legs were considerably longer than Jack's, and he gained fast.

Jack began to be really frightened, for he was sure that if Browle did catch him he would damage him badly. Curt Clinton's gate was still a long way off, but that was the nearest turn, and the road ran between high banks.

Browle stopped shouting. He needed all his breath for running. Those long legs of his, thin as they were, carried him over the ground at a great pace, and Jack realized that he could not reach the gate before being caught. In sheer desperation he swung sharply to the right, jumped with all his might at the steep, grassy bank, flung himself flat on it and went scrambling up like a cat.

Browle grabbed at him, and his long arm just missed the boy. It was so close that his grasping fingers actually touched the heel of Jack's boot. Then Browle went back a step or two and made a rush at the bank.

Jack heard his hissing breath just behind him, but did not dare look back. The bank was nearly twenty feet high, and Jack knew that his only chance was to reach the hedge at the top and squeeze through before Browle reached him. He did not think there was much chance of doing so.

He heard a scratching, sliding noise, a thud, and then a fresh outburst of oaths. He grabbed a branch hanging from the hedge, hauled himself up and looked round to see Browle sitting in the road. The man's face was purple with fury, and his language matched his face. Jack pulled himself up, wriggled through a hole in the hedge, stood up and drew a long breath. He was starting away across the field when a fresh voice cut in above Browle's.

"If you want to use language like that, I'll thank you to do it somewhere else."

Jack turned and looking back through the hedge saw Curt Clinton standing over Browle. His lip was curled, and there was a look of utter disgust on his clean-cut face. Browle got to his feet in a hurry.

"What business was it of yours?" he demanded insolently. "This was a high road, and I say what I like."

"Say any more and see what happens," returned Curt crisply.

Browle was some inches taller than Curt, and this gave him a sense of superiority. He did say something more—nasty words said in his nastiest tone. They were hardly out of his mouth before Curt went into action. A man who has for some years been training Scouts and Rovers is not apt to be a weakling, and Curt, though not big, was tough as shoe leather and in perfect training. One punch did it, and for a third time within a few minutes Browle found himself flat in the dust, but this time his nose was bleeding, and he was not in a hurry to get up.

"I prosecute you for this," he threatened.

Curt took a card from his pocket and dropped it in front of the other.

"Do!" he begged. "There is my name and address. Good morning."

He must have known that Jack was there, but he never even glanced up the bank. Swinging round, he walked back to his own place, and Jack, chuckling under his breath, trotted quickly off to school.


VIII. — "OLD CROSSCUT"

JACK was not feeling happy about Bill, but his spirits were raised by hearing, when he reached school, that they were to have a half-holiday that afternoon. Mr. Hoyle was rather given to making half-holidays at odd times when the weather was fine. During the five minutes' break at eleven o'clock Jack caught Kip Carter.

"I say, Kip, let's go and see old Crosscut this afternoon."

"About the field, you mean?"

"Of course."

"All right, but it's not a bit of good," replied Kip despondently. "The old chap will never let us have an inch of his land for anything—let alone flying."

"Oh, I don't know! He's jolly fond of money, and Mr. Clinton says that we can offer a good rent."

Kip shook his head.

"I feel it in my bones that he will turn us down. But of course we've got to try. And we ought to stand as good a chance as any. He's rather fond of you, Jack."

Jack looked doubtful. "Bessie was," he said, "but not the old man."

"Yes, but the old man was frightfully fond of Bessie."

Jack frowned. "Funny way he had of showing it. Turned her down cold when she married that chap Martin."

"I know, but that's just the sort of thing he would do. He's the old-fashioned sort that think they own their children. But I'm pretty sure that he's just as fond of her as ever."

The bell rang, and they had to break off and hurry back into their class-room. But as soon as school was over and they had eaten their luncheon, the two boys set out for Cold Fell, Hiram Crosby's farm. It was a well-built but bleak-looking house standing some way up the dale above the village. Since his daughter's marriage to an artist named Martin, the old man had lived here all alone except for an elderly housekeeper. The boys found her at home, but Mr. Crosby, she told them, was out. She thought he had gone up Langdale after some strayed sheep.

"We'd better go and find him," said Jack, and he and Kip went on.

Langdale was one of the many small valleys rising out of the big dale. It was narrow and steep-sided and ended in a tremendous rock face more than two hundred feet high.

"There he is," said Kip, pointing to a figure which, dwarfed by its immense surroundings, looked no bigger than a pigmy. It stood at the bottom of a crag looking up. "What's he after?"

"A sheep," replied Jack. "Look! The silly creature has got stuck right up on the face of the crag."

"Gummy, but you've got eyes, Jack," said Kip. "I couldn't see it till you pointed it out. I say, some one's going to have a job getting that down."

Jack grinned. "Our job, Kip. Our good turn. I say, we're in luck."

Kip looked doubtful. "You mean that if we can get that ewe down we can ask the old lad about the field. Well, by Jove, if we get her down we certainly deserve something. But I tell you straight, I don't believe we can."

"Oh, bosh!" said Jack lightly. "Come on."

Old Crosby—"Crosscut" they called him in the dale—turned to meet the boys. He was a big man and a powerful one, though now so old that his hair was almost white. He wore the queer old-fashioned chin whiskers, while his long stubborn upper lip was clean shaven. His frosty blue eyes were still clear as a boy's.

"What be you lads doing up here?" he asked in a voice harsh as the grating of a saw.

"We saw you, and we saw the sheep," said Jack diplomatically. "Can we help you?"

"I don't reckon as any one can help the dratted brute," returned the old chap. "She've got herself into the worst place on the whole crag. Now she's scared to turn round, and she'll stay there till she starves."

"We can't let her do that," said Jack quickly. He had forgotten all about the bargain he had suggested to Kip, and now all his thoughts were for the luckless sheep. "You've got rope at the house, haven't you, Mr. Crosby?"

"Aye, I've rope in plenty, but how'll that help?"

"We can get to the top of the crag by going round," said Jack. "Then you and Kip hold the rope, and I'll go down."

Old Crosscut stared at Jack. "You're crazy, boy. I ain't going to have you break your neck."

"I shan't break my neck," laughed Jack. "Come on, and let's try."

The farmer still looked doubtful, but the ewe was a good one, and he hated to lose her, so he allowed himself to be persuaded. They went back to the farm, got the rope, and after a stiff climb up a very steep slope, reached the breezy head of Langdale Crag. Jack crept to the giddy edge, lay flat on his face and peered over.

"I can't see her, Mr. Crosby. There's a rock in the way. But I know where she is, for I marked the place by a mountain ash growing half-way down the face. Here's where we start."

"I don't seem to like it," said the farmer, frowning. "What be that there brother of yours going to say if you breaks your neck?"

"Kip will be witness you warned me," replied Jack. "Ram the bar in and let's get to it."

Crosby had brought an iron bar and a mallet. He pounded the bar firmly into the ground a little way back from the edge, then made a sling at the end of the rope. Jack sat in the sling and carried a stout stick to keep himself from bumping against the face of the cliff. Luckily there was not much wind, and what there was blew from the west. It is a dangerous business, crag- climbing in a wind.

Jack was no green hand at cliff-climbing, and his head was steady as the crag itself. All the same he had never before been over such a height as this, and it took him a moment or two to get accustomed to it.

"Are you all right?" sang out Kip as the rope began to pay out, and Jack replied:

"All right."

Down he went, swinging a little and spinning rather badly. He could stop this so long as he could reach the crag face with his stick, but sometimes he could not do this, and then the spinning made him dizzy. Foot by foot and yard by yard he descended until he saw the rowan bush just below and a little to his left, growing on a ledge, but plainly as he saw the bush he could see nothing of the ewe.

He gave the signal cord two jerks to show that he was nearly far enough, and they lowered more slowly. He almost bumped the ledge, fended off, swung over, and there was the ewe right under the ledge and—hopelessly out of reach. The ledge projected quite six feet, and the ewe had worked herself up right underneath it. He could see the track which she had followed, and he wondered how on earth she had followed it without falling.

But there she was, standing on a little jut of rock not much bigger than a chair seat.

"Hopeless!" he said aloud, and then she turned and looked full at him, and the expression in her poor frightened eyes made him feel sick with pity.

He signalled to stop, and there he hung, dangling like a spider at the end of its web, wondering how in the world he was going to help the poor creature. He studied every yard of the crag face and at last made up his mind that there was just one way of doing it. It was so risky it made his flesh crawl, but his mind was made up, and he vowed he would take any chance rather than fail.


IX. — ON THE CRAG FACE

JACK signalled to be pulled up a little, then by swinging to and fro caught the rowan bush and drew himself on to the broad ledge where it grew. He got out of his sling, and the first thing he did was to fasten the rope to the rowan so as to make sure it would not swing out of reach. He had brought a coil of loose rope with him, and one end of this he fastened firmly round a projecting spur of rock on the northern edge of the ledge—that is, his right as he faced the cliff.

He flung the loose end over and, holding it, started to climb down. For quite six feet the rock was sheer and smooth as the side of a house, and he had to depend entirely on the rope. What was worse, he knew that he would have to swarm up that thin swinging cord when it was time to return. Exactly below a rock jutted out like a shelf, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he felt its firm surface beneath his boot soles. From this a jump would bring him to a second shelf, only just behind the ewe.

A very little jump, not more than five feet, but it is not nice to jump even five feet when there is more than a hundred feet of empty space yawning below and when the landing-place is no bigger than the top of a small writing table. But there was no help for it, and Jack hardened his heart and jumped—jumped so vigorously that he very nearly pitched over the far side of his little landing-place. He steadied himself, drew a long breath, and saw that at last he was within reach of the ewe. She was facing away from him, and the next job was to get a rope round her so that she could be hauled up.

Jack had brought a length of spare rope for this purpose, wrapped round him under his coat, and he got it out. The next thing was to fasten it round the ewe's body. If she got scared and jumped, the odds were that she would take him with her to the foot of the crag. Luckily she was so starved that she had not a kick left in her, but all the same Jack was precious glad when at last he had the rope knotted safely round her poor thin body.

He turned, flung the loose end back across the jut of rock off which he had jumped, then without giving himself time to think, jumped after it. His foot slipped on the smooth surface of the shelf, and if he had not managed to seize the hanging rope, that would have been his finish. His heart beat so hard that for a few moments he felt half suffocated, but he comforted himself by the thought that the worst was over, and set to his next job, which was to fasten the rope attached to the ewe to the end of his own short rope.

Then came the climb back up the sheer face to the big shelf above. Swarming up a rope is never an easy job, but it is worse still when the rope is hanging against a wall, and when Jack at last found himself safe on the wide shelf he was so done that he lay flat on his face for a couple of minutes.

But he knew that Kip would be getting anxious, and he still had a good deal to do. The short rope had to be fastened to the long one, for the ewe must go up first. Very carefully he made it fast, then signalled to Kip to haul slowly. As the rope tightened the poor ewe was hauled, kicking and struggling, from her lonely perch, and Jack had his work cut out to ease the strain. At last he got her safely on the big ledge, and then the two above set to hauling in earnest, and up she went.

Jack watched her to the top and sat and waited until they got her untied. Then came a bumping sound, and down came the rope again with a big stone tied to the end so as to keep it straight. Jack got hold of it, released the stone, fitted himself into the sling and was drawn safely up. The strain had been heavier than he knew, and even old Crosscut noticed how white Jack's face was beneath his tan.

"You sit and rest a piece," he said gruffly. "Then you and Kip can come back to the house and have some tea."

Jack caught a wink from Kip and grinned back. An invitation from old Crosscut was a compliment indeed. He was not the sort to do any entertaining; in fact, most folk vowed he was a regular old miser. Jack was soon all right again, and they tramped back along the ridge through the pleasant spring afternoon. Jack took a chance of whispering to Kip:

"Don't say anything about the field now. Wait till after tea."

"What do you think!" retorted Kip, with another wink. Kip was rather given to winking.

Tea was a good solid meal: excellent home-made crusty bread and home-made butter, a big cake made with dripping but with plenty of currants in it, and a big black pot of strong tea. Nothing stingy about the food, and the boys were sharp set and tucked in.

Old Crosscut did not talk a lot. Yet for him he was almost genial, and he actually smiled when Jack had the good sense to praise the bread and butter. They had tea in the big farmhouse kitchen, and after it was over Jack began to look for his chance of saying something about the flying field. He talked of the Patrol and mentioned that it was Mr. Clinton who had taught him how to climb cliffs.

"Aye," agreed Crosscut, "he's a good man, that. Pity as he's took up with them dratted flying machines."

"But we've got to have them, Mr. Crosby," said Jack gravely. "If it hadn't been for our aeroplanes the Germans would have won the War."

"That's as maybe. I hates the things," retorted the old chap.

Jack's spirits sank, but he would not give up.

"What I want more than anything is to become a pilot," he said.

The farmer laughed. "Well, you got a good head. I reckon you won't get giddy when you flies up."

"But I can't fly unless I am taught, Mr. Crosby."

Old Crosby fixed his sharp eyes on the boy.

"What be you driving at, Jack Milner? I can see as you got something to say to me. For a fact, I've knowed it all the afternoon."

Jack returned the other's gaze.

"That's true, Mr. Crosby," he answered frankly. "The fact is that a small aeroplane has been given to our Patrol, and Kip and I came to ask if you would rent us your lower field to fly from."

The old man frowned. "And have you a-frightening my sheep into fits? No, indeed."

Jack stuck to it. "I give you my word we won't frighten your sheep. We won't fly low over the fells. All our practice will be done over the field itself and down the dale. And indeed, Mr. Crosby, the sheep won't even notice an aeroplane after they've seen it once or twice."

Crosby still frowned, but he seemed to hesitate, and Jack began to hope that he was going to yield. Just then a familiar droning sound came through the open window.

"Why, there's one on 'em now!" exclaimed the farmer, as he jumped up and went to the door.

"Who the mischief is it?" asked Kip quickly, as he and Jack followed. "Can't be the Moth."

"It's not the Moth. The engine's different," replied Jack, as he stepped outside.

He looked up, and there was a plane coming across the fells from the north-west.

"She's not a Moth. She's twice the size," said Kip. "And old, too. Look at that patched wing. Where does she come from, Jack?"

"I don't know. I've never seen her, but I've heard her. I can swear to the note of her engine. She's been over our place more than once by night."

Kip was staring at the plane outlined against the blue of the evening sky.

"He's coming lower," he muttered. "Silly ass! He'll scare the sheep."

Sure enough, the plane was dipping. Next moment she was roaring only a couple of hundred feet across the top of the fell, and at once more than a hundred sheep were racing madly in all directions. Crosby shook his great fist at the plane. Then he turned to the boys, and there was an angry glint in his frosty eyes.

"What did I tell you? The fool has scared pounds off them sheep, and like as not I'll find some with broken legs. Me let you start them things on my ground? No, indeed!"


X. — JACK'S SECOND CHANCE

"HE did it on purpose," said Kip, with savage intensity.

Jack Milner turned and looked at his chum. The two were half- way down the hill on their way back to the hut, and up to this minute neither had said a word.

"Who did?" asked Jack.

"The chap in the plane, of course."

"But who was he?" demanded Jack.

"How do I know? I couldn't see him any more than you could, but I'll vow he came down low on purpose to scare old Crosscut's sheep and put paid to our plan."

"He couldn't," said Jack. "How could he possibly have known what we were doing? Why, it was only yesterday we heard we were going to get the plane."

"Well, it was yesterday," retorted Kip, "and the news was all over the shop this morning. Butter Briggs's mother stopped me on the way to school to ask if it was true. She was in a rare way—said she wouldn't have Butter flying any aeroplanes." He grinned faintly at the idea, but the grin faded, and his weather-tanned face became grim again.

"If you're right, it means that the fellow flying that plane lives somewhere near," said Jack, frowning. "And you know jolly well there isn't any pilot nearer than Mr. Trask's place."

"Yes, there is. There's the aerodrome."

"Great Scott, Kip, you're not saying it was one of the Flying Club! Besides," Jack added, "that plane is not like anything they've got up at Fandle."

"I know that," said Kip, "but all the same I'm certain that chap came low just to scare the sheep. You saw it yourself?"

Jack looked very bothered. "It did seem as if he did it on purpose," he admitted; "but I think it was just mischief, for I don't believe he could possibly have known what we were after."

"And I stick to it he did," said Kip doggedly. "But whether he did or not he's bust up our show all right."

"He's damaged it, not busted it. We can get the lower field all right."

Kip shook his head. "Yes, and we shan't be able to fly more than half the time. The wind's rotten down in that part of the dale."

Jack grew impatient. "We can't help it, Kip. We've done our best, so you may as well stop croaking."

Kip stopped, and no more was said until they were quite close to the Hut, when all of a sudden they heard again a familiar hum.

"He's coming back," cried Kip.

"Bosh, Kip! Don't you know the sound of different planes yet? That's the Moth."

"So it is. What luck! Must be Joe in her, I suppose."

The two watched the Moth come to ground in the field close to the Hut and saw the rest of the Patrol run out. As the two came up Joe Worthy was getting out.

"Master Dick, he said to bring her over," Joe told them. "He wanted to know if you'd got that there field as Mr. Clinton were talking of."

"We haven't," Jack answered. "We've tried, and we'd nearly got old Crosby round when some idiot came flying over low and scared all his sheep and made him as mad as a hornet. It's finished our chances for good."

"Too bad," said Joe. "Who were it?"

"Don't know. A biggish plane with a patched wing. Engine has a queer sort of ringing sound."

"Patched wing, you says?" said Joe eagerly. "Why, that's the one as Master Dick was a-chasing when he got that there fit. Then she didn't crash after all."

"Didn't look as if she had," said Jack glumly. "Kip here vows the pilot did it on purpose, just to score off us."

"How could he?" asked Nibby Gale.

"That's what I said," replied Jack. "The fellow can't belong anywhere about here, or we should have heard of him before now."

"He might," said Kip.

"Well, even if he lived in these parts he couldn't have had a whacking great plane like that lying around without our knowing of it," argued Jack.

Joe Worthy grunted. "Funny business any ways you look at it. I reckon we got to find out what that there plane is, and who the chap is as flies her."

Before any one else could speak again an alarum bell rang loudly in the Hut.

"What's that?" demanded Joe Worthy.

"News coming through," Jack explained. "Half-past six bulletin. We always set the alarum clock two minutes before, so we shan't miss it. Come and listen, Joe."

Joe nodded and followed them in, and they were hardly inside before there came the familiar words, "London calling." A little pause, then:

"First an S.O.S. Will Geoffrey Gage Martin, supposed to be somewhere in North Wales, go at once to the Victoria Hospital, Manchester, where his wife is lying dangerously ill? The name is Geoffrey Gage Martin—M-a-r-t-i-n."

"Martin!" cried Kip Carter. "Why—why, it's Bessie!"

"Bessie who?" asked Joe Worthy.

"Bessie Martin, old Crosby's daughter. She ran away and married an artist. I say—how rotten for her to be so ill and her husband away!"

There was a moment's silence while the voice of the announcer said something about "an anticyclone covering the whole of the British Isles." Then Jack sprang up.

"We've got to tell Crosby," he said sharply.

"But he's turned her down," said Nibby Gale. "He won't even speak of her."

"That's just his rotten obstinacy," said Jack. "He's just as fond of her as ever he was, and I'll bet he'll go to her quick as ever he can the moment he hears she's ill."

"You're right, Jack," said Joe. "You go right along and tell him."

"I'll come, too," cried Kip, and the two started away at a sharp run.

Just as they reached the house they saw the farmer coming round the corner from the out-buildings at the back where he had been giving his horses their evening feed. He frowned as he saw the boys.

"It's no use you coming back here," he said harshly. "I've made up my mind, and I won't have one of those dratted things around my place—not for any money."

"It's nothing about that," said Jack quickly. "We have news for you. Your daughter is very ill."

The old man staggered as if some one had struck him, his hard old face went white, and Kip saw in a moment that Jack was right, and that Crosby was just as fond of his daughter as ever he had been.

"Bessie ill!" muttered the old chap hoarsely. "How do ye know that?"

Jack explained quickly, and Crosby's face hardened.

"And that good-for-naught husband o' hers gallivanting in Wales!" he growled. He paused. "By gum, I've got to go to her! Quick, too! Jack, d'ye know when the next train goes from Dimdale?"

"The last is at seven. You can't catch that, Mr. Crosby. And I'm afraid there's not another till morning."

Crosby bit his lip. "Then I'll have Jock Trethewy's car."

Jack shook his head. "Jock's away. He went to Witherleigh this afternoon to see his father. He won't be back till to- morrow."

Crosby seemed to shrink up. "What'll I do?" he asked in a pitiful voice. "I've got to get to my girl."

A wild idea flashed through Jack's mind, and he turned to Kip.

"Kip," he whispered, "scoot back and tell Joe not to go yet. You understand?"

"I understand all right, but it's no good," said Kip, but he was gone before Jack could answer, and Jack spoke to the farmer. "Then you're still fond of Bess, Mr. Crosby?"

"Fond o' her! Why, boy, I'd give my life for her."

"You haven't given her much since she was married," Jack couldn't help saying.

"I was angry with her for marrying that painting chap. I said hard things to her. And now she'll die before I ever get the chance of telling her."

The old man's face worked pitifully, and Jack was so sorry for him that all he thought of was how to help him.

"See here, Mr. Crosby," he said eagerly, "there's a chance yet for you to get to Manchester if you dare to take it."

Crosby woke up. "What do you mean?" he asked harshly. "Quick, boy, tell me!"

"Joe Worthy would take you if I asked him."

"Joe—you mean Mr. Trask's man? He'd take me in that big car?"

"No, the car is at Farndon, but he's got the little plane here, the Moth."

"Me go up in a plane!" gasped Crosby.

"Why not? It's the quickest way of travelling there is, twice as fast as car or train, and it goes straight, too. Joe would have you in Manchester in less than two hours."

Crosby stared at Jack. "In two hours. You mean I'd be there afore dark?"

"Certainly you would."

Crosby looked up into the sky, and Jack saw him shudder. He was terrified, yet there was good stiff stuff in the old dalesman.

"What 'ud he charge for taking me?" he asked suddenly, and the question was so unexpected that Jack nearly laughed. But he managed not to, and answered gravely:

"Not a penny, Mr. Crosby."

"Then—then I'll go," said the old chap firmly.

Almost as he spoke Jack heard the deep note of the Moth's engine, and the next minute it came swooping down into the field opposite to the house. Crosby started across to it, but Jack stopped him.

"You'll need a warm coat, Mr. Crosby, and you'll want some money and things for the night. You may have to stay a day or two."

The old man pulled up short. "You're right, Jack. I were forgetting." Then he hurried into the house.

Joe came up. "Kip said as you was going to get the old lad to fly, but you'll never get him to trust hisself aloft."

"But he's going all right, Joe," Jack assured him. "He's gone to put his coat on. I say, can you really take him to Manchester?"

"Easy as winking. I been there afore more'n once. There ain't no wind to speak of, and it won't take more'n two hours. I'll be home again by ten o'clock."

"You're a brick, Joe," said Jack warmly.

Joe winked. "Once he've been up he won't be able to say 'No' next time you ask about that field. I tell you, Jack, you're in luck."

Jack shook his head. "I'm thinking more of Bessie than of our luck, Joe. See here! When you get home to-night will you 'phone us at the post office and tell us how she is? Some of us'll wait up."

"No need to wait as late as that. I'll 'phone you from Manchester. Be waiting round about eight." He looked round. "Here he comes—bag and all. Help me to put him snug and say a kind word to the old lad. He'll likely be a bit nervous just at starting."

Joe was right, for poor old Crosby's face was white and set with terror as he scrambled clumsily into the forward cockpit. Jack showed him how to sit, and fixed the 'phones over his head, and explained how to use them.

"You'll be just as safe and comfy as in any motor car," he assured him. "And Joe's the finest pilot ever, so don't worry. And I do hope you'll find Bessie a lot better."

Crosby nodded. He did not seem able to speak. Jack jumped down off the wing and gave the tractor a swing. The engine roared, quickened, the plane ran forward and almost at once was in the air. She rose steadily to about five hundred feet, then flattened out and darted away in a south-westerly direction. As Jack stood watching her dwindle in the distance he heard Kip beside him.

"Well, I'm blessed!" remarked that youth. "If I hadn't seen it I'd never have believed it."


XI. — "THE JOLOGIST"

THE Hut had seldom been fuller than it was that evening when about a quarter to nine Butter Briggs burst in. Butter had been given the privilege of waiting at the Post Office to take Joe's message. He must have run all the way back, for his plump face was streaming with perspiration and his thick fair hair was plastered to his forehead. He was also panting like a fat sheep on a hot day.

"It—it's all right, chaps," he said hoarsely. "Joe's got him there."

"Was he scared?" "How's Bessie?" "Is her husband back?" Questions were fired at Butter from every side, and poor Butter mopped his wet face and looked round helplessly.

"Give him a chance, you fellows," said Jack. "Here, Butter, drink this."

He gave him a glass of water, and Butter dropped on a bench and drank.

"Thanks awfully, Jack," he said. "I've got it all down on a piece of paper just as Joe said it. You read it out."

"Good man," said Jack as he took the paper. "Listen now. 'Had a mighty good trip. Just 105 minutes from start to landing on Midland Flying Ground. Got taxi and ran the old chap to the hospital. The girl's had an accident—was run down by a car, but she's better, and they reckon she may pull through. Crosby scared? You bet, and at first he sat like he was froze, but after about half an hour he came to life and began to get quite human, and ask questions. The things he asked! Fit to make a cat laugh. One thing he wanted to know was how high we'd have to go afore we reached Heaven. Afore I left him—'What's this, Butter? Your writing's rotten. Oh, I see!' Before I left I asked him about the field for you boys, and he said, 'You tell 'em from me as they can have it for five pound'."

The rest of the message was lost in a burst of cheering. For the next half-hour there was eager talk of plans for the new hangar; then they broke up and went home.

Jack walked home alone; he walked pretty quietly and was careful not to hurry round any corners. He had no wish to run into Master Browle for a second time that day. But he did not meet a soul and arrived safely at Tarnside about a quarter to ten. There was a light in the sitting-room, and as he passed the window, of which the blind was not drawn quite down, he saw Bill seated at his desk counting money. Before him was a bundle of notes so thick and fat that Jack fairly gasped with astonishment. Bill had never had any money to speak of. Where on earth had all this come from?

Jack stood still a moment, thinking. It came to him that, just lately, Bill had seemed better off. He had bought a new suit for himself and one for Jack, he had got a lot of new kitchen things which Mrs. Dent had been wanting for a long time, and they had all been living better than formerly. It was not till now, when he saw Bill handling all this money, that Jack had thought of these things. Then suddenly Jack remembered that he was spying. His face went red, and he hurried to the door and went in noisily. When he got into the sitting-room the money was no longer in sight and Bill was busy writing. He looked up.

"Hullo, old chap! Had a good day?"

"Jolly good day!" said Jack. "We've got our field."

"Nonsense! You never got round Crosscut?"

Jack told him how he and Kip had visited Cold Fell, rescued the sheep, had tea with old Crosby, and how their plans had been upset by the coming of the strange aeroplane with the patched wing. At mention of this plane Jack thought that his brother changed colour a little, but he did not make any remark, and Jack went on to tell about the S.O.S. call and how Crosby had gone with Joe to Manchester in the Moth. Bill chuckled.

"I'd never have believed old Crosscut would have trusted himself in a plane. It was jolly smart of you, Jack, and I'm pleased to hear you've got the field you wanted. Now perhaps you'll learn to fly properly, and not go playing the fool with these beastly gliders." He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a note. "Here's a pound for you, Jack, to help with your expenses. You haven't had much pocket money lately." Then, seeing that Jack hesitated, he laughed. "Take it, old man. I can afford it. I've had a bit of luck lately."

Jack longed to ask what the particular bit of luck was, but did not like to do so. So he thanked his brother, pocketed the note and went off to bed.

Dicky Trask wasted no time. The very next day he ordered the hangar for the new flying ground, and for the next fortnight the Pipits spent every spare minute working on the ground. Dicky sent men to erect the hangar and a small workshop, but the boys did most of the work outside. They levelled some bumps on the ground, blasted out some projecting rocks, altered a fence that was in the way, and laid down a landing line. They also worked the name of the new aerodrome, GARTH, in big letters formed by white stones sunk in the ground.

As soon as the hangar was ready Dicky sent over the Moth and Joe started to teach them to handle it. Curt, of course, was the first to have lessons, and he got on so quickly that, after only ten hours' flying, he was able to gain his Aero Club certificate. This is pretty good, for the new pilot has first to fly to a height of 6,500 feet, then at 4,500 cut out his engine and glide down, making a landing within 150 yards of the starting-point. After this he has to make a second flight around two marks five hundred yards apart, during which he must make five figure-of- eight turns. The height during this flight must not exceed six hundred feet. There is also an examination as to rules for lights and signals and air traffic generally, about sixty questions in all, and eighty per cent. of the replies must be correct.

Curt passed this with flying colours, getting ninety-five per cent. correct, and after his medical examination went up to London and obtained his Air Ministry licence, and so became a certificated pilot.

On the day he went to London Joe Worthy took Jack up in the Moth. Jack had been up at least half a dozen times already and had actually flown the machine for long distances in the air, although Joe had not yet permitted him to make a landing. Jack was too young to obtain a licence, for a flying licence, like one for a motor car, is not granted to any one under seventeen, but there is nothing to prevent a boy learning to fly so long as he does not take the controls at any distance greater than three miles from the aerodrome.

On this particular day the weather was perfect, and Joe took the Moth up to well over four thousand feet, so that Jack had a wonderful view over hundreds of square miles of fields and fells. The air was so clear that he could see the North Sea and the Irish Sea, both at the same time. A wilderness of hills lay almost immediately below them, and Jack specially noticed the long knife-edged ridge of Tall Fell.

"Joe," he said through the telephone, "if you're not in a hurry to get back, what about running a little way to the west? I'd like awfully to have a look at that valley the other side of Tall Fell, where the patched plane disappeared."

"Plenty o' time," came back Joe's voice from behind him. "I've been wanting to have a look at that myself."

Distances are almost nothing in a plane, and the Moth, dropping slightly as she flew, shot towards Tall Fell at about ninety miles an hour. Joe was leaning out over the edge of the cockpit, gazing down at the bleak, desolate country over which they were passing. This was the wildest part of the North of England—not a town, hardly a village between them and the Roman wall. The eastern side of Tall Fell came below them, a two thousand foot slope covered with coarse grass and heather and seamed here and there by deep water scours. Then, almost before they knew it, they were past the crest and looking down into the gorge below.

Joe cut out the engine and turned the plane's nose in a southerly direction so that she moved at a comparatively slow speed over the centre of the gorge, and this gave Jack a chance to examine it. It was a peculiar place, for the cliffs on both sides were almost sheer, and so far as Jack could see there was no way of getting up or down them except by the help of ropes. The gorge was wider than he had thought, and flat bottomed. At the bottom ran a stream, a small beck which poured down creamy with foam from the head of the gorge.

Like so many of the streams in this limestone country it appeared to burst, full-fledged, from the cliff at the head of the gorge, and Jack saw that the hole out of which it came was not a mere tunnel but the mouth of a large cave. From the height at which they flew he could not see into the cave, but he was able to notice that the opening was unusually large.

"A rum place," remarked Joe from behind him. "I'd hate to get down there, Jack, for I don't reckon as any one could ever get out again. Most like no one's ever been down there since the beginning of the world."

"No, you wouldn't get down there without ropes," Jack answered, and then he broke off with a sharp cry. "There is some one. See, Joe—in the mouth of the cave. Ah, he's gone again! You saw him, didn't you, Joe?"

"I didn't see nothing," returned Joe.

"But I did. Really I did. It was a man. Turn back, Joe. We must get another look."

Joe turned and circling lower brought the Moth winging up again, up the whole length of the gorge. As he drove her he was peering out over the edge of his cockpit, and Jack had his eyes fixed on the cave mouth.

"I didn't see nothing," said Joe again, as they once more passed across the tall cliffs bounding the northern end of the gorge. "I reckon 'twas a rabbit, Jack."

"It was a man," retorted Jack. "He just peered out, then dodged back. I only got a glimpse of him, but I'm perfectly sure it was a man."

"But how could a man get down there? Why, you just said yourself as no one could get down without ropes, and we didn't see no ropes. That's one thing sure."

"I can't help that," replied Jack doggedly. "A man is in that cave. And he didn't want us to see him, or he wouldn't have ducked back in such a hurry."

Jack heard Joe's grunt through the 'phone.

"Must have been one of them cave-hunting fellers—jologists, they calls 'em, or something. They're always a-climbing down pot-holes, though what they does it for when they might be a-sailing up here in the sunshine fair beats me."

Jack did not answer; in fact he did not speak again as Joe flew back to the aerodrome. But he was thinking hard, and the first thing he did after landing was to find Kip Carter and tell him what he had seen. Kip was enormously interested.

"And there's no way down?" he asked.

"None that I could see. The cliffs on both sides are like walls."

"Couldn't we get in at the lower end—follow up the stream, I mean?"

"No, for the lower end is boxed in like the top, and the beck goes underground again."

"Gosh, it must be a queer place! Jack, I vote we go and have a look at it."

"Just what I was going to suggest, Kip. What about next Saturday?"

"Right. We'll want rope."

"I've got plenty and a hammer and bar. But it's a long way, and we shall have to start very early."

"And be all fagged out before we get there. Let's borrow Butter Briggs's pony. It will carry the tools and rope, and we can take turns to ride."

Butter agreed to lend his pony, and the two were off by eight o'clock on Saturday morning. They had a fat parcel of sandwiches and a chunk of cake a-piece as well as their rope and rock- climbing kit. It was a good nine miles to the top of Tall Fell, and with the climbing over rough ground the journey took nearly three hours. They were both feeling a bit weary by the time they reached the ravine. Jack went to the edge and peered over, then came back to Kip.

"No use trying here, Kip. It's all of three hundred feet and a sheer drop, but at the end the cliffs aren't quite so high. We must try there."

"Right, but what about a bit of a rest, and a sandwich first?"

"Good egg," agreed Jack, and dropped full length on the short turf, while Kip untied a parcel and fished out a couple of substantial beef sandwiches.

"Topping place up here," he said, as he munched. "But, my word, it's lonely! Can't see a house or even a tree. I don't suppose there's another living soul within miles."

"I wouldn't be too sure," said Jack, pointing. "Look!"

Kip looked and drew a quick breath.

"Smoke!" he said softly. "Smoke coming up out of the gorge. Well, unless a volcano is just about going to bust, there must be some one down there."

"I told you," said Jack in a low voice. "I told you I saw a man from the plane. Wait here a jiffy, Kip. I'll go to the edge again and have another look."

Kip sat watching eagerly. "Must be Joe's 'jologist,'" he muttered. Then a puzzled look crossed his face. "But if it is, he's been there three days. It's rum!"


XII. — A SPOT OF OIL

KIP saw Jack lying flat on the rim of the great cliff, a place to make most heads swim, but Jack was not troubled with nerves. At last he drew back, crawled away until out of sight from below, and rose to his feet.

"Smoke all right, Kip," he said. "It's coming from a hole in the cliff side near the top of the ravine. It looks to me as if there must be a cave there and some one living in it."

"Rum sort of residence," replied Kip, frowning. "How in the name of anything did the chap get down there?"

"Same way we're going to get down—with a rope," said Jack.

"Then the rope must be hanging somewhere," replied Kip shrewdly. "Else how's he going to get up again?"

"That's a fact," agreed Jack. "We'd best scout round and see if we can spot it. I couldn't see any rope from where I was looking, but the ravine curves a bit, and only about half of it is in sight from the place where I was looking."

Kip nodded. "Then we will work down towards the lower end," he suggested.

Jack agreed, and, leaving the pony to graze, they took their own rope and went downhill to the right. The ravine ran from south to north and was simply a gigantic gash in the mountain side. It started just below the highest point of Tall Fell and was perhaps three-quarters of a mile long and curved like a bow. At its upper end it was about three hundred feet deep, but the cliffs were not so high at its southern extremity.

The boys walked for about half a mile along the inner side of the curve, then stopped, and Jack went again to the edge and looked cautiously over. He lay there a long time, and when he came back to Kip there was a very puzzled look on his face.

"Not a sign of a rope, Kip," he declared. "Not a sign of anything or of any way that the chaps might have got down. Anyhow I'm jolly sure they couldn't have got into that place without ropes."

"Let me have a look," said Kip and went forward. But he saw no more than Jack. "You're right, old chap," he said. "We couldn't help seeing a rope if there was one. I can't imagine how any one got down there."

"They did get down, though, for I saw a man when we flew over, and then there was the smoke."

"It's a queer sort of business," said Kip. "What are we going to do?"

"Go down, of course."

"But our rope isn't long enough," objected Kip. "Even here the cliff is a long way more than a hundred feet, and we have only a hundred feet of rope."

"Didn't you spot that ledge?" asked Jack quickly.

"About half-way down. Yes, I saw that, but what's the use of getting that far if you can't get any further?"

"We can get to the ledge without the rope," said Jack. "I saw that there was quite a good way down to it. The steep part is from the ledge to the bottom, so we take the rope down with us, fix it on the ledge, and there'll be plenty of it to take us the rest of the way."

"I'll have another look," said Kip.

When he came back he still seemed doubtful. "We can get to the ledge all right," he told Jack, "and I expect we can get the rest of the way with our rope. But it's going to be the dickens of a job to swarm up fifty or sixty feet of rope back to the ledge. It isn't as if we had any one to haul us up, as you had the day you went after old Crosscut's sheep."

"I don't believe it's as bad as that," said Jack confidently. "The cliff isn't sheer, and we shall be able to climb with the rope to help us. Are you game?"

"Oh, I'm game," agreed Kip, "but we've got to be a bit careful! A nice mess we should be in if we were marooned at the bottom of this thundering great gap!"

"We'll be careful," agreed Jack. "If it looks too bad when we reach the ledge we won't go down to the bottom. But the people down there must have some way out, so we ought to be all right. Are you ready?"

Kip professed himself ready, and Jack wound the rope around his body while Kip carried the bar. Then Jack pointed out the way down, and they started.

"Quite a good way," Jack had called it, but most people looking at it would have shaken their heads and said that, having no desire to break their necks, they would leave it for another day. Yet these two tough young cragsmen made light of it and scrambled down at a brisk pace. The rock face was very broken, giving plenty of handholds, but often they had to swing themselves from crag to crag with their bodies dangling over space.

They were hot and breathless, but otherwise none the worse, when they reached the ledge, which was broader even than they had thought, and ran for a good way along the cliff face. Jack looked over.

"What do you think of it?" he asked of Kip.

Kip did not think much of it, but did not like to say so, and he, like Jack, was intensely eager to reach the bottom of this mysterious place.

"Good enough," he said quietly. "Here's a crack we can jam the bar into."

They fixed the bar and fastened the rope securely to it.

"I'll go first," said Jack, as he swung boldly over the edge.

There was no wind down here, so the rope hung steady, and Jack made short work of reaching the bottom. Kip speedily followed.

"Now for the jologist," said Jack, with a grin, as he started up the ravine.

"The place is bigger than I thought," said Kip, looking round. "And—and how beastly quiet it is!"

Jack nodded. It was quiet. In spite of the low roar of the torrent pouring down its rocky bed in the centre, the gorge was most curiously quiet. There was not a bird in it or any sign of life—just a wide and fairly level floor mostly covered with boulders great and small, and on either side the walls of rock towering upwards. Uncannily quiet, thought Jack.

The two walked along the rocky bottom until they were within sight of the upper end of this huge gash in the mountain, and the first thing they saw was the large dark patch in the cliff face which was the mouth of the cave where Jack had seen the man peer out. But now there was no sign of any human inhabitant.

"What about that smoke?" demanded Kip suddenly.

Jack stopped and stared. "That's rum," he said. "I can't see a sign of it."

"Do you know where it came from?"

"From over there to the right, but things look so different now we're down here.

"I know. But I expect we shall find the mouth of the cave all right. We'd better cross the brook."

They crossed, jumping from rock to rock. The boulders on the other side lay thick enough to hide a regiment, and some were as big as cottages, They searched a long time, but could find no cave or any place from which the smoke might have come. Kip pulled up. He looked at Jack rather oddly.

"I say, Jack, I wonder if this chap wants to be rescued?"

"Wants to be rescued?" repeated Jack, puzzled.

"Yes. If he had he'd surely have shown up by now. He must have spotted us long ago. And there's another thing. When you saw him in the mouth of the big cave he didn't wave or make any signal. You said he just bolted back."

Jack gazed at his friend. "By gum, you're right, Kip! I never thought of it that way." He paused. "But what's the giddy notion? I mean what could a chap be doing down here all on his own and on the Q.T.?"

"Moonshining," suggested Kip.

Jack whistled softly. "You mean making whisky without a licence. That's rather a bright idea. I can't imagine a better place, for no Revenue man would dream of trying to explore it. But one thing strikes me. How would they ever get the stuff out?"

"I haven't a notion," confessed Kip.

"We'd best keep our eyes pretty well skinned," said Jack. "Moonshiners might turn ugly if they thought we were spying on them."

"I expect they would," agreed Kip. "Let's get away from these stones and go straight to the big cave at the top."

Jack agreed, and the pair walked up beside the stream to where it came pouring out from under a lofty arch of dark-looking rock. The cave, like the gorge, was bigger than they had supposed. The arch was forty feet high, and the breadth from wall to wall was quite a hundred feet. But what struck them as most peculiar was the flatness of the floor. It was so smooth one might almost have danced on it, especially on the left, that is, the east side of the stream bed. And not a single loose stone destroyed the symmetry of the smooth surface.

"Rummier and rummier," said Jack, as he stood on this flat floor and looked down at it. Suddenly he gave a start, and Kip saw him drop down on his knees and examine the rock face carefully. He pointed to a mark. "What do you make of that, Kip?" he asked eagerly.

Kip stooped and looked hard at it. He felt it with his finger, then put his nose close to the ground and smelt it.

"Oil!" he said, with decision. "Lubricating oil."

Jack's eyes shone. "I know it. Kip, what price this cave as an aeroplane hangar?"


XIII. — THE TREASURE-SEEKER

KIP got slowly to his feet and turning stared out down the gorge; then he looked at the flat floor and at last turned to Jack. He shook his head.

"Too risky, Jack. A fellow might fly into this place, but how would he get up again?"

"Easy as pie. Look at the way the floor slopes. Look how smooth it is. And it goes in ever so far. There's plenty of room for a run."

"But think of the air!" objected Kip. "If there's any wind at all the gorge must be full of eddies. Frightfully risky!"

"Yes, but in calm weather like this it would be all right. Remember how that plane disappeared the day Dicky and Mr. Clinton were after it. It just swooped in here and hid in the cave. And anyhow this is oil. Kip, it all fits. You can't say it doesn't."

"Then it's the plane with the patched wing—the one that belongs to the nasty-minded fellow who scared old Crosscut's sheep."

"That's it," said Jack triumphantly.

Kip turned and began walking towards the mouth of the cave.

"Then the sooner we get out of here the better," he said, with decision. "If that chap comes back and catches us here I wouldn't give a fig for our chances of getting out."

He spoke so seriously that Jack was impressed.

"All right," he said, "but hadn't we better have a look round the cave first and try to make sure?"

Kip shrugged his shoulders. "If you want to, but I don't mind telling you I've got the wind up. For all we know they may be cutting our rope away this minute."

"I don't believe there's any one here at all," retorted Jack. "The plane isn't here, anyhow."

"What about that smoke, then?" demanded Kip. "Where there's smoke there's fire, and where there's fire there must be a chap to have lighted it."

Jack grunted. He looked all round the cave, but though the daylight penetrated a long way in there was no sign of a plane or anything to do with a plane except that oil on the floor.

"We'll go," he said, with sudden decision.

All the way down the gorge the two kept their eyes very wide open and carefully watched both sides of the gorge. All they saw was a pair of ravens which flapped heavily overhead, croaking harshly as they went.

"You're walking an awful bat, Kip," said Jack presently.

"Was I?" asked Kip, slackening his pace. "I—I suppose I'm a bit nervous. It would be a nice go if they'd got our rope."

"It would—rather," agreed Jack, and he, too, began to go ahead like steam.

Neither spoke again until they had rounded the curve; then both slacked at once.

"It's all right," said Kip in a tone of great relief, and Jack grinned.

"We're rather chumps, aren't we, Kip?"

The rope was still hanging where they had left it, and they both began to think that they had been rather silly to get the wind up as they had. But when they came nearer Jack gave a gasp.

"What's that on the rope?" he exclaimed.

"A piece of paper, I believe," said Kip, and began to run.

It was a piece of paper, and it was tied with string to the lower end of the rope. Jack took if off and unfolded it.

"What's it say? Who put it there?" demanded Kip, as he saw the surprise on Jack's face.

"I don't know who put it here," replied Jack, "for there's no name to it. But listen to what the chap says: 'You are meddling with and spying upon matters that do not concern you. We could have cut your rope and left you to starve, but we have no grudge against you. You are free to go. We ask you not to repeat your visit and not to speak to any one of what you may have seen in the gorge, and warn you that, if you do so, you will be making trouble for the very persons whom you most wish to help.—(Signed) The Treasure Seeker.'"

Kip's eyes widened as he listened.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" he said at last. "What d'ye make of that, Jack?"

"Beats me, Kip. 'The Treasure Seeker.' I say, do you think he really is after treasure? But how could there be treasure in a place like this?"

Kip's eyes brightened. "Tell you what it might be, Jack—mining."

"Mining! What sort?"

"Lead, perhaps. There's lead in these hills, and silver, too, I believe."

"That's what it may be," agreed Jack. "But what's this about making trouble for the people you want to help?"

"Ask me another," said Kip. Unless Mr. Clinton has taken shares in the mine, I don't see what he means."

"What are we going to do about it?" demanded Jack.

"We'll talk it over as we go back," replied Kip.

"Just now my ambition is to get out of this place as quickly as ever I can."

"Mine, too," agreed Jack. "Come on."

It was a very stiff climb to the ledge, and they rested a while before tackling the rest of the ascent. That was worse still, and when they did at last reach the top they were so done that they flung themselves flat on the turf, and lay for ten minutes or more without speaking. At last Jack sat up and looked at his watch.

"Nearly three!" he said in surprise. "We've been down there about four hours."

"I thought I was pretty hungry," grinned Kip. "Let's go and get our grub."

The pony was still grazing where they had left him, and their parcel of food lay under the rock where they had put it for safety. They sat down and did not move until the last of the sandwiches and cake had vanished.

"That's better," remarked Kip cheerfully. "What about a start back?"

"What about the whole business?" returned Jack. "What are we going to say?"

"Anything you like, Jack. I leave it to you."

"Then I vote we keep mum. After all, we were spying, and the fellow was right when he said it was no business of ours."

"Always supposing he is after a treasure," replied Kip shrewdly. "But if it's moonshining?"

"Even if it is, it isn't our picnic," said Jack firmly.

"Right you are!" said Kip. "Then we keep quiet about to-day's expedition."

"Yes—for the time anyhow. In any case neither of us tells unless he first consults the other. And now we'll be getting back."

Since they had told nobody where they were going, no questions were asked. But Jack was puzzled, and that night when he went to bed he lay awake longer than usual wondering what the writer of that note had meant when he said that telling would make trouble for the very persons they most wished to help. Did he mean the Patrol, or Mr. Clinton, or Dicky Trask, or—Jack felt suddenly uncomfortable—could it possibly be Bill? Bill had been away from home so much lately and had been neglecting the farm. Yet he certainly was better off than before.

Jack remembered that big pad of notes, and wondered once more where Bill could possibly have got them. And while he was puzzling over this he fell asleep.


XIV. — FOGGED

JACK took to the air like a duck to water. After his first lesson he was perfectly capable of handling the Moth in the air, and within a fortnight he had done everything necessary to obtain the Aero Club Certificate except reaching the age of seventeen. Then one Friday evening Curt met Jack on his way home.

"Jack, I want to go to Whitby to-morrow to see my sister. We might combine business with pleasure and go by air."

Jack's face lit up. "Splendid, sir! It will be great to have a long fly like that. And I've never seen Whitby. But what time will you be starting? There's school in the morning."

"You get out at twelve. That will be time enough. Meet me at the hangar." He paused. "Of course, it's off if the weather is bad."

"Oh, I do hope it will be fine!" said Jack earnestly. "It ought to be. The report at six-thirty was quite good. It said, 'light, variable winds and no rain expected except in the extreme south-west.' And the glass is steady," he added hopefully.

"Sounds all right," smiled Curt, and sure enough it was all right, for Saturday dawned fine, clear and calm.

Jack was so excited that he found it uncommon hard to concentrate on his work, but he managed to get through the morning without trouble, and the minute school was over ran like a rabbit uphill towards the aerodrome.

Curt Clinton was already there, and had been going over the Moth. Probably no plane ever had more loving care expended on her than this particular little bus. She was cleaned almost to death every time she was put back in her hangar, and her engine polished until every bright part shone like silver. Her paint was speckless, and she looked like new as they wheeled her out into the hot sunshine of the June afternoon. Curt looked at the sky which was of the very deepest blue.

"Almost too fine," he remarked, as he climbed into the rear cockpit.

A moment later and she was off, rising sweetly, and steadily flew down the valley until she had height to cross the fell. Then Curt turned her to the east. Jack leaned over the edge of the forward cockpit, looking down. By this time he knew the country for a dozen miles all around the aerodrome like a book, but this was the first time he had been for a long cross-country flight, and he did not mean to lose any of it. Curt took her up to two thousand, but even at this height the air was warm and amazingly still. There was not a cloud in the sky, and Jack could gather the speed by the shadow of the little plane as it flitted across fields and woods.

They followed the railway from Stanhope towards Bishop Auckland, then struck south-east across Yorkshire towards the coast. The engine ran like a dream as they passed above Stockton and saw the huge town of Middlesbrough to their left. Twenty minutes later the Cleveland Hills with their iron mines lay bare and desolate on the right, while the North Sea stretched like a blue map to the eastward. It was only half-past one when they came down in a field behind Whitby, and, leaving the Moth in charge of a man whom Curt seemed to know well, walked to a large house at a little distance.

"My sister, Mrs. Rider, lives here," Curt explained. "She will give us lunch."

Jack was a little shy at entering this fine place, but Mrs. Rider soon put him at his ease. She was older than her brother, but just as nice, and she had a couple of jolly little lads of her own. They had a very good cold lunch; then a car came round, and they all went down to the sea about two miles away and bathed. After that they looked in at a Picture Palace and came back to Mrs. Rider's for a late tea—such a tea as Jack had never eaten: delicious little hot scones soaking in butter, crisp rolls with some strange foreign jam, and cakes of half a dozen different sorts.

Mrs. Rider talked to Jack and made him tell her all about the Patrol and his home up in the fells. But what interested her most was the flying.

"You mean to say that you are a pilot, Jack?"

"No, ma'am. I can't be a pilot until I am seventeen, but Mr. Clinton has taught me to handle the plane."

Just then Curt looked round and jumped up quickly.

"Nearly eight, Jack. Come along, and you shall show my sister that I really have taught you to fly. No one can object because of the double control."

They all went out together to the field. Curt looked over the Moth to see that all was right and that there was plenty of petrol and oil. They had filled up with petrol before starting, so there was nearly ten gallons left in the tank. This time Jack got into the rear cockpit while Curt gave her a swing. The engine roared, Jack accelerated, and the Moth rolled off. The ground was hard, and the little machine took the air almost at once. Jack circled round the field and saw Mrs. Rider and the boys waving below, then turned north-west and went off straight across country. Presently he heard Curt's voice through the 'phones.

"I don't quite like the weather, Jack."

"What's the matter with the weather, sir?" asked Jack in surprise. "I don't think there's thunder about."

"Not thunder, Jack—fog. Look at the haze over the sea."

"But that's not likely to come inland, sir."

"You can't tell. Fog's funny."

Jack flew on. The rays of the low sun bathed the little plane and he hardly gave a thought to what Mr. Clinton had said. Presently he looked down again to be sure of his direction. He had been steering a compass course for practice. He was surprised and rather dismayed to notice that everything below was wrapped in a faint haze. A grey blanket was blotting out the rivers, trees and hills, coming in with a cool cross-wind from the east. Instinctively he rose higher, but Curt stopped him.

"That's no use, Jack. We're above it, anyhow."

Jack was flying at about fifteen hundred feet, and he kept the plane at that. He felt a little uncomfortable, but was not really worried, for he was sure they would reach the Fells before the fog. But the fog thickened fast, and by the time they had reached Guisborough the low ground beyond was completely blotted out. There was nothing to do but trust to the compass and carry on. It was an odd sensation, flying above fog. It made Jack, and Clinton, too, feel that they were absolutely alone. The sea was gone as well as the land. Blue sky above, grey cotton wool below—nothing else but the tiny plane winging solitary through the air.

"It's rising, sir," said Jack presently.

"Forming, you should say. This cold wind off the sea is striking into warm air full of moisture and making fog. You will have to go higher, Jack."

Jack rose till the altimeter showed 2,200, and they were in clear air again. He could now see the high hills of inland Durham, but even they were becoming misty. He opened his throttle a trifle and hoped against hope that he would be able to reach home before this horrible mist hid their own aerodrome. The Patrol would light a flare, but the question was how far that could be seen. He knew that the only light which will pierce fog is the red Neon ray.

Another ten minutes passed and a yellowish glare below showed that they were over some big town, probably Middlesbrough. By this time the inland hills were quite gone and not a landmark of any sort remained. Jack kept his eyes glued on his compass and carried on.

"Think you can find Garth?" asked Curt through the 'phone.

"I don't think I can," replied Jack honestly. "Could you, sir?"

"I am fairly sure I couldn't. And if we miss it we shall be badly done. I would try for Fandle, but I doubt if they will have any landing lights. And if we should miss it we should be over very bad country."

"What are we going to do, then?" asked Jack bluntly.

"There are two things we can do. Turn and fly south-west in the hope of running out of the fog, or go back to the coast, try to pick up one of the lighthouses and chance landing on the beach near."

"That would be an awful chance, sir," said Jack. "Suppose we went into the water and lost the plane!" The very idea of such a catastrophe made Jack's voice quiver. "I vote for going south, sir."

"But suppose we run out of petrol. We have only enough for a hundred and fifty miles at most."

Jack was silent. To do him justice, he was not afraid for himself or his Scoutmaster. It was the thought of crashing his beloved Moth that terrified him. He looked round once more and suddenly gave a shout of joy.

"A plane—another plane, sir." He pointed as he spoke to a tiny dot far to the north. "If we follow her we shall be all right."

As he spoke he turned the Moth in her direction. But Curt was not so sure. This strange plane might have petrol for a thousand miles. It was impossible to say.


XV. — WHEN THE TANK WAS EMPTY

"WHICH way is she heading now?" came Curt's voice in Jack's ears.

"East, sir, so far as I can tell by the compass," Jack answered, as he pushed forward the throttle.

The roar deepened, and the Moth tore forward at increased speed. The index of the speedometer hovered on the ninety mark, but it was only by this and the sound of the engine that Jack could tell the pace, for there were no landmarks. Everything beneath was entirely hidden by the grey veil of fog. The strange plane was travelling at least as fast as the Moth, perhaps faster, but the lines of flight of the two machines converged, so that within a few minutes Jack saw that he was getting nearer. Curt spoke again.

"Jack, if she's going east, she's going out to sea."

"To sea!" repeated Jack. "How can she?"

"Why not? She may be bound for Holland for all we know."

"Right across the North Sea! She couldn't," cried Jack.

"But indeed she could. It's only about three hours' flight at the pace she is travelling."

Jack gasped. "Then it's no use following her."

Curt did not answer at once, and Jack, glancing round, saw that he had out the field-glasses and was focusing them. He waited. After a little he heard the Scoutmaster's voice again.

"It's our old friend, Jack, the plane with the patched wing."

"Are you sure, sir?"

"Quite sure."

"What's he doing going out to sea? Can't it be that we've got turned round and that he is going to Tall Fell?"

"No, he is headed east, Jack. And—" Curt broke off with a sharp exclamation. "Look down, Jack."

Jack looked over, and he, too, gave a cry of dismay. A puff of wind had broken the fog, and far below he caught a glimpse of the flat grey water of the North Sea. He turned the plane as quickly as possible and headed west, but as he did so the fog closed again and hid everything beneath.

"What are we to do, sir?" he asked anxiously.

"You had better let me take over," Curt answered.

He spoke very quietly and calmly, but actually he was every bit as scared as Jack—more, perhaps, for he knew the deadly danger of fog better than the boy. The fog was getting worse rather than better, night was coming on, and he did not know within twenty or thirty miles where they were. Worst of all, there was only petrol left for another half-hour of flying. If they could not find a landing-place a crash was certain.

He took over and brought the plane down to about five hundred. As he flew he was straining his eyes for some sign of a light—anything to give a chance of landing. But the minutes ticked by, and there was nothing but the smothering mist. The sun was down and the light beginning to fail.

"Look out, sir!" yelled Jack, with a shout that nearly deafened Curt.

A huge dark mass loomed in front, and Curt had just time to fling the plane up steeply and avoid crashing, nose on, into a tremendous cliff face.

"Close call!" breathed Jack.

"But now I know where I am," replied Curtis, with a sigh of relief. "At least I think I do. I believe these must be the cliffs near Horn Point. There's a lighthouse on the Point, and if I can only get a sight of the light I shall at any rate know where I am."

"But how will that help, sir? You can't go down in the sea."

"We may have to, Jack," replied Curt gravely.

"What, and lose the plane?"

"Better than losing our lives, Jack," said Curt.

Jack's answer was a groan of despair.

Curt flew on. He was moving as slowly as he dared, giving the plane only just speed enough to keep her from stalling, and staring till his eyes ached in a vain effort to see the light. He was pretty sure that the cliff he had so nearly charged was not far from Horn Point, but what he was not sure of was whether he was south or north of the Point itself. If they were still to the north of it they could hardly fail to find the light, but if they had passed it there was no chance left except to drop right into the sea.

He glanced again at the petrol gauge, and got a fresh shock to see how low the index stood. There was a gallon at most left in the tank, which meant that another ten or fifteen minutes would see the end, and then there would be nothing left but to come down. In desperation he lifted the plane and rose to a thousand again. But even at this height the wet, white mist drifted in smothering clouds. Another five minutes passed, and Curt's heart was in his boots when Jack gave a sharp cry.

"A light, sir. I see a light. No, not in front—over to the left there."

Curtis looked and was just in time to catch a gleam before a fresh surge of mist blotted it out. He turned sharply and circled lower.

"Can you see it, Jack?" he asked in a strained whisper.

Jack was leaning right out of his cockpit.

"I can't, sir," he answered desperately; "but I did see it plainly for a moment, and I'm sure you're going in the right direction."

Curtis circled twice. The motor gave a cough, and Curt started as if he had been stung. The petrol gauge needle lay at zero, so the tank was practically empty. Another cough—a succession of them. Jack heard them, too, and knew what it meant.

"Oh, sir!" was all he said, but Curt knew that his fear was for the good little Moth rather than for himself.

The motor faltered; Curtis was forced to put the plane's nose down so as to avoid stalling; then all of a sudden a white light glowed up just below them.

"The lighthouse!" cried Jack in wild excitement.

"All right! Sit tight!" said Curtis sharply, as he pressed on the rudder bar. The wings tilted sharply and the plane swung inwards. She passed so close to the lighthouse that they could see the tall column of the tower like a dark shadow to their left. Then its place was taken by a wall of blackness, the great one hundred and fifty foot cliff on which it stood.

Curt hardly breathed as he kept the plane's nose tilting downwards. He knew that there was a strip of beach at the foot of the cliff, and that this beach was bare for a good width at low tide. But whether he could land there in safety or not he could not tell.

The motor had gone dead, and the only sounds were the hum of the air in the straining wires and the low sough of the small waves breaking on the beach. The next instant Curtis caught sight of the beach itself, a strip which seemed terribly narrow between the black cliff foot and the dull grey sea.

His nerve did not fail and he brought the plane down on the very edge of the breaking waves. Shingle crunched under one wheel, the other splashed in water. But now he had the sea edge to guide him, and the skid cutting into the shingle braked the plane, so that a few seconds later she came safely to rest.

"Oh, well done, sir; well done indeed!" cried Jack in frantic delight. "Oh, how perfectly splendid!"

He sprang out and switching on a pocket lamp began examining the plane all over, but Curt, exhausted by the strain of the past few minutes, lay back in his seat for a moment, drawing deep breaths.

"Are you feeling bad, sir?" asked Jack in sudden anxiety.

Curt laughed. "Nothing wrong with me. Just a bit done, Jack." He scrambled out. "Tide's coming in," he said. "We must push her up out of reach of salt water."

Between them they wheeled the light machine up the beach to the bottom of the cliff. Jack saw Curt gazing at the rock and wondered at the sudden look of anxiety on his face.

"What's the matter, sir?" he asked.

Curt took the torch and turned it on the cliff face.

"See that," he said, and Jack whistled in dismay, for the light showed a rim of seaweed growing on the rock, and realized, just as Curt had already done, that the tide came fully four feet up above the level of the beach.

"Then we've got to get her out of this, sir," said Jack.

"How?" asked Curtis. "We can't push her up that cliff face."

"Then we must push her along the beach until we find some place above tide mark," said Jack firmly.

Curt shook his head. "For all we know we might be pushing the wrong way. We have at least two hours before the tide reaches the cliff foot. The best thing we can do is to split up, one going one way, one the other, and try to find a way up the cliff and get help. I don't think we shall have to go far, for the lighthouse people have probably got a path."

"Right, sir," agreed Jack, and just then a voice came through the fog.

"Here they are, Mark. Quick, afore they gets away!"


XVI. — UNDER ARREST

OUT of the smothering mist two men came running along the beach. One was a tall, lanky fellow in a seaman's blue guernsey; the other a stocky, powerfully built man in coastguard's blue. Both carried heavy sticks. The tall man arrived first.

"Don't you try to run," he threatened, flourishing his stick. "We got you to rights this time."

"I'm glad of that," replied Curt quietly. "We were just coming to look for you."

The reply was so unexpected that the lanky man's arm dropped and he stood gaping at Curt. Then he recovered himself.

"Ain't no use your trying to bluff us," he snapped. "We got you, and we got your plane."

The other man came up panting.

"You leave this to me, Joe," he said curtly. "I reckon it's my job, not yours." He turned to Curt. "Are you going to come quiet, or do I have to tie you?"

"I really don't care much about being tied," replied Curt. "Why should you want to tie me?"

The coastguard turned a flash-lamp full on Curt and inspected him slowly. His eyes widened a little. Curt smiled.

"Do I pass muster?" he asked.

"You're younger than I reckoned," said the other deliberately. "But then maybe you ain't Tautz hisself."

"I assure you I am not," replied Curt. "My name is Clinton."

The coastguard looked still more puzzled. His eyes wandered to Jack, and he seemed to hesitate.

"Don't you let 'im bluff you, Mark," cried Joe.

But Mark turned on him sharply.

"Keep your mouth shut, Joe. This here is my business, not yours." He turned briskly to Curt. "I am going to search your machine."

"By all means," replied Clinton.

"What's the matter?" asked Jack, puzzled. "Why are they wanting to arrest us?"

"I fancy they take us for smugglers," Curt answered. "I have a notion that they may be mixing us up with the gentleman who flies the plane with the patched wing."

Mark set to searching the Moth while Joe hovered round, his big stick clutched in his large hand.

"It's all right," Curt said to him, with a smile. "We shan't run away."

"You hadn't better," growled Joe.

"Nothing here," said Mark presently, in a disappointed voice.

Curt spoke. "I could have told you so if you had asked me. I fancy you take us for smugglers. Is that so?"

"Of course I do. Who else would come down here on the beach in a fog after nightfall? I tell you I've been looking for you this long time past."

"You are barking up the wrong tree," replied Curt pleasantly. "The smuggler has passed over nearly an hour ago and crossed to Holland."

"Then who are you?"

"I am Curtis Clinton, Scoutmaster of the Pipit Patrol of Garth, and this is our own Patrol plane. This boy is Jack Milton, one of my Patrol. We flew to Whitby this afternoon to visit my sister, Mrs. Rider, and returning got lost in the fog. Just as our petrol gave out we sighted the Horn Point Lighthouse, and by the mercy of Providence managed to make a safe landing. I have my papers. Perhaps you will look at them."

"They're a-trying to bluff you, Mark," cried Joe. " Don't you let 'em do it."

"Oh, shut up!" snapped Mark, as he took Curt's papers and examined them with the aid of his flash. "They're all right, sir," he said presently as he handed them back, and now he spoke in quite a different tone. "All the same, I've got to have something to substantiate your story."

"Quite," agreed Curt. "I suggest that after we have got the plane into some place of safety we go together to the nearest telephone and that you call up either my sister at Whitby or the Postmaster at Garth."

"Fairly spoken, sir," said the other. "Joe, you give us a hand to shove this here machine up into the cove."

Joe grumbled under his breath, but obeyed, and the four of them trundled the Moth for about a quarter of a mile along the beach till they came to a deep cove, the floor of which sloped upwards steeply to a height that was well above high water mark.

"She'll be safe enough here," said Mark. "No one won't interfere with her, and there won't be no wind to hurt."

"We'll fold her wings back just to be on the safe side," said Curt, as he set to unshipping the struts.

"My word, but she's a right handy little craft," declared Mark. "Now then, sir, here are the steps. I'll go first and show you the way. I got the telephone up at the station."

At the top of the cliff stood a low whitewashed building, and Mark took the two into a beautifully clean sitting-room and lifted the receiver off the telephone which stood opposite to the door.

"I'll ring up Garth, sir," he said, and Curt gave him the number.

He had only a couple of minutes to wait before he got it, and a short conversation convinced him that Curt's story was true.

"He seems mighty glad to hear you're safe, sir. Says as all your Scouts is out burning flares, but he's going to let 'em know you're all right. He tells me the fog's bad, even up in them hills." He shook his head. "You had a mighty close call, sir. If you'd have come down only a quarter-mile north of where you did you'd have dropped in deep water. There ain't no beach. But all's well as ends well, and now I reckon you could do with a bite of supper. I haven't got a lot to offer you, but you're welcome."

"We can't trouble you," said Curt. "Isn't there an inn within reach where we could go for the night?"

"Nearest is at Kettleby, four miles away, and you'd surely break your necks if you tried the cliff path in this here smother. I reckon you'll have to put up with what I can offer you to-night."

"Then we'll stay, and thank you," said Curt frankly.

"I'll be glad of your company," declared the other. "My name's Mark Kilby."

As he spoke he started laying the table, and Jack helped. A nice piece of cold boiled beef, a crusty loaf, fresh butter, and a cold apple tart came out of the kitchen cupboard, and in spite of their big tea Curt and Jack made an excellent meal. While they ate they talked.

"Aye, there's a deal of smuggling," said Kilby. "And since they cut down the coastguards from three thousand to about eight hundred you can see as we've got our work cut out. Most of us is going almost night and day, but of course we can't cope with it, specially as the smugglers has fast launches and airyplanes. There's a plane passes over here at nights and sometimes in the day, coming and going to the Continent. O' course she's in the job, and it was her as I took you for."

"A big plane with a patched wing?" asked Curt.

"Aye, that's the one," said Kilby eagerly. "You've seed her?"

"More than once. She comes right over Garth, and we think that she has a lair up in the fells, but we can't be sure."

"Do you know who owns her?"

"We don't," said Curt. "That's what has puzzled us. Once a friend and I chased her in the Moth, but she disappeared over Tall Fell, and where she went is a complete puzzle."

Jack opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it and remained silent. He remembered his agreement with Kip not to speak of their visit to the ravine and what they found there unless they both agreed to tell.

"Can't them there Scouts of yours get on to it, sir?" asked Kilby shrewdly. "I might say as there's a pretty good reward to be earned by any one as can show up these here smugglers and get 'em caught."

Curt glanced at Jack. "I'm not sure they have not been trying already," he said, with a smile. "Tell me, Mr. Kilby, what do they smuggle in their planes?"

"Mostly silk and aniline dyes and scent. Them are things as don't take much room and fetch big prices. Of course, there's liquor and tobacco and other things, but they wouldn't carry heavy stuff by air."

"We shall be glad to help you in any way we can," Curt told him. "There isn't much escapes the eyes of our lads."

"I wish I had one of them patrols on the cliff here. I could use 'em, I'll warrant you," said Kilby. "And now I reckon I'll tidy up and fix you up some blankets. You can take the sofa, Mr. Clinton, and Jack here, I'll put him a mattress on the floor."

He made them very comfortable, and they slept well and woke to find the fog gone and a clear sky and cooler air. Kilby had already sent Joe off for some petrol, and though Joe was very sulky when he returned with two cans, the tip that Curt gave him cheered him up a lot. Kilby went down to the beach with them and helped to push the Moth into position for a good run. He really seemed sorry to lose them and both promised to pay him another visit. Then they climbed aboard.


XVII. — A DUD NOTE

CURT flew straight to Whitby, for it was doubtful if they had enough fuel to get home. There they filled up and told their adventures to Mrs. Rider, and getting off again flew straight home, arriving just before midday. Every member of the Patrol was waiting to greet them, and Jack had to answer a hundred questions. It was not until just before afternoon school that he got a chance of a quiet word with Kip, and he told him quickly what Kilby had said about the smuggling.

"It all fits," he said. "There's no treasure, as that chap said, but he and the fellow who flies the plane are running a smuggling business. I think we ought to let Kilby know what we saw that day we went down into the gorge."

Kip looked doubtful. "There's one thing about it, Jack. That chap who tied the note on our rope more or less put us on our honour to keep our mouths shut."

Jack frowned. "I hadn't thought of it quite like that. Perhaps you're right, Kip." He was silent a few moments, thinking hard, before he spoke again. "Don't forget that Mr. Clinton saw the plane over Tall Fell, and I expect he'll be on the warpath pretty soon. Dicky's due home in a few days, and he's as keen as any one to explore the gorge."

Kip nodded. "Yes, he'll be keen enough, and I expect Mr. Clinton will go with him. All the same I vote we don't say anything for the present—at any rate, not until we hear that they really are going to the gorge."

"Right you are," agreed Jack, and then they had to go into school.

Jack wanted to do something for Kilby in return for all his kindness, and had made up his mind to send him a present of some sort. He thought a book would be the best thing, and as soon as school was over went to Barton's. There were only three or four shops in Garth besides the Post Office, and old Barton ran a stationer's and a little lending library, and always had a few books for sale. Jack poked about and found a rather nicely bound second-hand copy of a well-known book on sea fishing. It was just the thing, and when he asked the price Barton said he could have it for four shillings.

Jack fished out a pound note and handed it over. Barton was going to put it in his till when something about it seemed to attract his attention. Then he held it up to the light.

"What's the matter, Mr Barton?" asked Jack.

"I'm not sure, Jack, but I rather think this note is a wrong 'un," replied Barton, and getting out a magnifying glass he examined the note more carefully. He nodded. "Yes, it's a dud. The paper's too thick, and look at the watermark—here, under the dragon. Compare it with this note from the till. Do you see what I mean?"

"I see," agreed Jack.

"Where did you get it?" asked Barton.

Jack knew only too well, for this was the note his brother had given him some days earlier. He hated lying, but for once he felt that he must at any rate prevaricate.

"I had it in Whitby," he said.

"Bad luck!" said Barton. "You'll have to go to the shop and tell them. What about the book?"

Luckily Jack had a few shillings in silver, so he took his book and his bad note and hurried off. As he walked home he was thinking hard. All sorts of questions came up in his mind. Where had Bill got all those notes? Were they all bad? Bill, of course, could not know anything about it, but probably Browle did. Who was Browle anyhow, and what had Bill to do with him?

Jack walked very fast. He was eager to see Bill and have it out with him. He had never asked questions of this sort of his elder brother, but now he felt he had to do it, for he knew enough of the laws about counterfeiting to know how dangerous it was to own or try to pass bad money. Good heavens, Bill might have done it already and been arrested! Jack got into a sweat of worry and began to run. He was going so fast that he almost bumped into a man who was just coming out of the gate of Tarnside.

"In a hurry, aren't you?" said the latter, with a laugh, and Jack pulled up short, facing a man whom he had never seen before, a slim man, well dressed in a well-cut suit of brown tweed and wearing a brown felt hat.

Jack noticed that his shirt and collar, like his tie, were of silk and that everything he wore was of the best. His skin and eyes were so dark as to give him a foreign appearance, yet his voice was English. Jack did not know what to make of him. The stranger laughed again.

"Are you Mr. Milner's brother?" he asked.

"I'm Jack Milner, sir."

"My name is Askew. I called to see your brother on a matter of business, but your house-keeper tells me he is out. Do you know when he will be back?"

"I don't, sir. I didn't know he was away."

"Bad luck," said the other. "When he does come in, will you tell him I called?"

"I will," Jack promised, and with a nod the other went on.

Jack watched him out of sight and went into the house. He was desperately disappointed to hear that Bill was away. Mrs. Dent told him that Bill had been in the previous night and had been so worried about his—Jack's—absence that he had walked to Garth to get news. He had come back about nine, slept at home, and gone off early in the morning. Jack had his supper, did his homework, sat up till nine hoping for Bill's return, and was just going to bed when Bill walked in and, to Jack's great disgust, Browle with him.

"Hullo, Jack!" said Bill cordially. "Jolly glad to see you back, old chap! But you'll have to push off. I've business to talk with Mr. Browle."

Jack stood his ground. "I must have a word with you first, Bill, if you don't mind."

Bill looked surprised. He hesitated and glanced at Browle.

"Don't you mind me," said the latter, with a half sneer, and Bill followed Jack into the kitchen.

"What is it, Jack?" he asked rather sharply.

Jack told him. "I had to tell you, Bill," he ended, "because I thought that whoever gave you that bad note might have given you others."

Bill went rather white, and there was a glitter in his eyes which Jack did not like.

"Yes," he said in a voice that was dangerously quiet. "I know very well who gave me that note, and I will settle the matter with him. Thank you for telling me, Jack. And now, good night."

Jack hesitated. "Bill, you won't—" he began.

But Bill cut him short. "Go to bed, Jack. I'll handle the job."

Jack went upstairs feeling very uncomfortable. He heard Bill go back into the sitting-room, and then there was a low hum of voices. He deliberately kept his door open and listened, but could not hear a single word. Then all of a sudden Bill's voice came loud and clear:

"I'm fed up, Browle. I'm finished with you. Clear out!"

Browle said something in reply. His voice seemed to Jack to be choked with rage. Suddenly there was a fearful crash. The house shook as though an earthquake had struck it, and, half-dressed as he was, Jack raced downstairs.


XVIII. — JACK MAKES A PROMISE

THE door of the sitting-room was closed. As Jack flung it open he saw two figures struggling on the floor. The heavy table in the middle of the room lay on its side with one leg broken. That was the crash that Jack had heard. Luckily the lamp stood on a chest at the side of the room, or the whole place would have been in flames.

As Jack ran in he saw that his brother had Browle round the body. Browle was beating at him with his fists, but Bill had his face right down against Browle's chest, so that the long man's flailing blows did very little harm. Bill paid no attention at all to them, but hugged the other tighter and tighter until Browle began to pant and groan. Then suddenly Bill rolled him over on his back and shifted his grip to Browle's throat. Browle's face went purple and the breath whistled from his lungs. Jack ran up and caught his brother's arm.

"Stop it, Bill," he shouted. "You'll kill him."

Bill glanced up, and the look on his face sent a shiver through Jack. He had never seen Bill really angry, and the sight terrified him. He felt for the moment that he wanted to turn and run. Instead, he tugged with all his force at Bill's arm.

"Let him go!" he cried again. "Let him go, Bill!"

Some sort of sense came back into Bill's furious face; his grip slackened, but Browle lay gasping like a stranded fish. Jack sprang across the room, snatched up a jug of water, filled a glass and splashed some water in Browle's livid face. Presently Browle sat up and drank some of the water and glared sullenly at Bill.

"I will fix you for thees," he said hoarsely.

Bill leaned forward. "You dare threaten me! I'll smash your face if you say another word."

Browle shrank back. His eyes went dull, and Jack saw he was badly scared.

"What's the matter?" demanded Jack.

"He insulted me," said Bill briefly. Then suddenly he stooped and seizing Browle by the collar jerked him to his feet. "Clear out!" he ordered. "I'm through with you—finished. You understand."

Browle made a great effort and pulled himself together.

"I was sorry, Meester Milner. I was apologize."

"I don't want your apologies," Bill answered. "Clear out! Get out of my house and never dare come near it again."

A very dangerous look came into Browle's heavy face, and suddenly Jack remembered that night when he had seen Browle and Bill together carrying packages up from the tarn. He did not know what they were or how they had come there, but he knew they had been hidden in the cellar, and he had always known that there was something queer—probably illegal—about the business. It flashed through his mind that Browle had a hold over Bill, could perhaps get him into trouble, and he made up his mind to stop that if it was possible. He turned to his brother.

"Bill, hadn't you better have a talk with Mr. Browle?" he suggested.

Bill stared. "Why, I thought you hated the blighter as much as I do!"

"That's got nothing to do with it," replied Jack. "If you and he are partners you can't split up like this."

"Partners! Who was tell you we was partners?" demanded Browle.

"No one told me," retorted Jack sharply. "But I'm not quite a fool. I know you're not a friend of Bill's, so you wouldn't come to the house unless you were in business with him."

Bill gave a short laugh. "By gum, you're right, Jack! Right in more ways than one. And Browle here ought to be jolly grateful to you for making me see sense. You push off to bed, kid, and I promise you I will have a talk with Browle before we part."

Jack hesitated, but Bill laughed again.

"Don't worry. You shan't be roused again from your beauty sleep. I'll promise you that. Good-night, Jack."

When Bill said a thing he meant it, so Jack took himself off. All the same he lay awake for a long time listening to a faint buzz of voices which came from the room below. At last he heard steps. The front door opened and closed; then came Bill's footsteps on the stairs. Bill stopped a moment outside Jack's room, and seemed to listen, but Jack did not speak, and a moment later heard his brother go into his own room.

Jack lay thinking. He was no fool, and he could not hide from himself that Bill was mixed up in some queer business with Browle. But Bill was not the sort to do anything really shady, and the more Jack considered the matter, the more certain he felt that the business was smuggling. Smuggling is shady enough, but it is a crime with a smack of adventure about it which makes it seem more like a game to some people, and Bill was just the sort to be attracted by a game of this kind.

Jack's thoughts drifted to the patched plane and the rift on Tall Fell. After what Kilby, the coastguard, had told him, it seemed fairly clear that this plane was engaged in bringing in smuggled stuff from the Continent, and that the goods were landed in that secret cave. But there the story broke off, for Jack could not see any connection between Bill and Browle on the one hand and the plane and the cave on the other. If there was one thing that seemed more certain than another it was that Browle was no flying man. He had not the cut of a pilot. True, he might have an interest in the plane, but some one else must fly it.

The biggest difficulty of all was to see how the smuggled stuff, if dumped in the cave, was got out again. Since he and Kip had examined the place Jack felt certain that there was no way out. Then where did Bill come in, and where did that stuff come from that he had seen his brother and Browle carrying up from the tarn that night? The more Jack thought the more puzzled he got, and at last he fell asleep without having come any nearer to solving the problem.

The next day dawned dull and misty, and Bill's face matched the weather when he came to breakfast. Jack longed to ask questions, but did not like to. Bill watched him, and a slow smile crossed his face.

"You're wondering what happened, kid," he said at last.

"Of course I am," said Jack stoutly.

"Well, it's all right," replied Bill.

"That doesn't tell me anything," said Jack.

Bill looked surprised. The fact was that he had looked on Jack as a small boy for so long that he had not realized how he was growing up.

"I mean just that," he went on rather shortly. "I've squared matters with Browle, and if it's any news to you he and I are parting company."

"I'm glad of that, Bill," said Jack quickly. "The fellow's a rotter."

Bill's eyes widened. "What do you know about him?"

"I know he's a coward and a bully, and I suspect he's crooked as well."

Bill whistled softly. "How much more do you know, Jack?"

"Not a lot, but I believe he's a smuggler."

Bill stared at his brother. "The deuce you do!" He paused, and a slight smile crossed his face. "I'm not going to tell you what he is, my lad. All you need to know is that he and I are no longer partners. Oh, and there's one other thing! I want you to promise that you won't fly that plane of yours over Tall Fell."

"Did Browle ask you that?" questioned Jack.

Bill hesitated. "Yes," he said at last. "And I told him I'd tell you."

Jack nodded. "All right. I'll promise I won't take the plane that way." He glanced at the clock. "I'll have to hook it, or I'll be late for school."

So Browle was a smuggler, said Jack to himself, as he turned down the fell road towards Garth. And clearly Bill had been in with him. Well, it was a good thing that Bill was out of it. Browle could smuggle all he liked so long as Bill kept clear, and he himself and Kip need not worry about it any more. He felt more cheerful than for a long time past, and did his work so well that morning that he actually got a word of praise from Mr. Hoyle.


XIX. — FIRE

FOR the next few days everything went on swimmingly. Bill hardly left home, and worked like a beaver on the farm. Jack helped all he could and did very little flying. It was not good weather for flying in any case, for they had a whole week of north-westerly winds with occasional squalls. One evening, when Jack came back from school, he found Mrs. Dent alone in the kitchen.

"Where's Bill?" he asked.

"Gone away for the night, Jack," answered the housekeeper. "A man called for him in a car and took him away. He told me to tell you he'd be back early to-morrow."

"Who was it?" asked Jack quickly. "Was it Browle?"

"No, indeed." Mrs. Dent was indignant. "I'm sure that nasty fellow won't never come here again. It was quite a nice-looking man and very well dressed, and he had a nice car, too."

"No one you know?" asked Jack.

"No, I never saw him before."

Jack was puzzled. "Didn't Bill leave any message for me, Mrs. Dent?"

"Only what I said, and that he'd like you to feed the horse in the morning and turn the cows into the lower pasture. Now you'd better go and wash your hands, for supper will be ready in a few minutes."

Jack went slowly to the sink in the back kitchen. He was a good deal puzzled, for he knew that Bill had had no idea of going away that night. On the contrary, Bill had told him he meant to set the stakes for the French beans that evening and had asked Jack to help him. He wondered greatly who this man could be who had fetched Bill with a car and where he had taken him. He had a suspicion it might be one of the smugglers, yet how could it be? Since the row with Browle, Bill had cut himself off from the gang.

But it was no use worrying, and no doubt Bill would tell him all about it the next morning. He had his supper and afterwards spent an hour in the garden carrying the stakes and pointing them ready to be stuck in the ground. Then he went in and did his school work for the next day and soon after nine turned in. It was a fine night but still breezy, and the curtains flapped in the draught so that presently Jack got up and pulled them right back. He did not mind the sun in his face in the early morning. After that he went comfortably to sleep.

Once asleep it was unusual for Jack to stir until he woke in the morning, so it was with a feeling of surprise that he found himself suddenly broad awake in pitch darkness, and not only awake but sitting up in bed. A faint snapping sound came to his ears, and then he became conscious of a smell of smoke. In one act he threw off the bed clothes and reached the floor, and in two jumps was at the open window. He could not see anything, but could still hear the crackling sound, and the smoke was thick in his nostrils. His first thought was that the house was on fire; then all of a sudden a red flash showed through the blackness in the direction of the rick yard. Waiting only to thrust his feet into a pair of shoes, he ran out and hammered on Mrs. Dent's door.

"Rick's afire," he shouted and raced downstairs.

As he ran towards the yard a bright glow was visible, and sure enough when he reached the spot the whole windward end of the larger of the two hayricks was ablaze. Jack's heart sank to his boots, for he saw that nothing short of an engine could put out the blaze, but not only was the engine two miles away at Garth, there was no help on the place at all. He and Mrs. Dent were alone at the farm. To make matters worse the breeze was still blowing strongly and carrying the fire in the direction of the other ricks and of the farm itself. Mrs. Dent came running, terribly flustered.

"Oh, Jack, what shall we do?" she cried in terror.

"Go for help," Jack told her. "Go to Mr. Clinton. Ask him to get out his motor bike and fetch the brigade from Garth. Be as quick as you can, or we'll lose the whole place."

Mrs. Dent had good Yorkshire blood in her and quickly pulled herself together.

"I'll go at once," she said and hurried off.

Jack, left alone, ran to the barn, got two buckets, filled them at the tank in the cow yard and flung the contents into the heart of the flames. Two black patches appeared but vanished almost instantly, and Jack realized that any effort of this kind was useless. The rick was doomed, and the only thing was to try to save the others. He set to fetching water and pouring it on the next rick. Bucketful after bucketful he fetched until he was panting with exertion, but meanwhile all the first rick was ablaze, the flames leaping high and the sparks crowding the air like fireflies and settling everywhere.

All of a sudden he found that the third rick made of last year's hay was alight. He dashed at this and tried to put it out, but it was alight on top, and it meant carrying the filled buckets up a ladder every time. He got the first outbreak under only to find that it had started in a second place. By this time Jack was almost done, yet he would not give up. Staggering across the yard with his buckets, he kept on dashing water on the second rick. But now it was alight in half a dozen places, and the flames from the first were lighting up the whole countryside. There came the sharp honk of a horn, and up dashed Curt Clinton on his motor cycle. Jack was so dazed that he did not see him till he was quite close. Curt leaped off and rushed up.

"The Patrol are coming. It's all right. Jack. We'll soon have plenty of help."

Jack looked at him vaguely. "It's too late," he said hoarsely. "The ricks are gone."

Curt took the buckets from the boy's hands.

"Never mind. You've done all any chap could do. And we'll save the rest."

As he spoke a car roared up to the gate and six boys leapt out and came running. Curt organized them as a bucket chain and set them to pouring water on the third rick. But sparks were flying in clouds from the two burning ricks and very soon the third was well alight. The burning stuff was being carried by the wind on to the cattle sheds, and Curt gave orders to leave the ricks to burn and get the cows out. Then he made the boys dash water over the wooden sides of the barn while he himself got on the roof and standing in a storm of sparks flung bucketful after bucketful on to the roofs.

A little later the village fire engine came up drawn by two horses. It was only a manual, but the men got a hose into the tarn and soon had a good jet of water directed on to the sheds. The wind dropped, and within another half-hour the danger was over.

Curt got down from his perch and started to look for Jack, but could not find him. He saw Kip close by and asked him where Jack was, but Kip had not seen Jack for some time. Curt, feeling very anxious, ordered the Scouts to spread out and search, and presently Butter Briggs shouted that he had found him.

"Come quick," he cried in a terrified voice. "I—I believe he's dead."

Jack was lying on the ground at one side of the yard, and beside him was a rake with which he had been trying to pull down the hay from one of the burning ricks. His eyes were closed, and he was limp and motionless. Curt picked him up quickly, carried him into the house and laid him on the sofa in the sitting-room. Kip was in a state of terror.

"Is he dead, sir? Oh, he isn't dead!" he begged.

"No," said Curt. "He has fainted. Get some spirits of ammonia from Mrs. Dent."

Kip flew to obey, and Curt began to do what he could for Jack. The boy's pyjamas were nothing but scorched rags, and his hands and arms were badly scorched. But it was not that which had done the harm. He had simply worked until he had dropped. After a bit Curt got him round, dressed his burns, sponged him clean, put on some fresh pyjamas and got him to bed. He told the others they could go home, but that he would stay the rest of the night.

After a while Jack went to sleep, but he kept stirring and moaning, and Curt grew so anxious that at dawn he got on his bike and went for Dr. Anson who came out at once. But after examining the boy Dr. Anson told Curt that he need not be frightened. It was simply worry and utter exhaustion.

"Enough to have killed some lads," said Anson, "but Jack is tough as leather, and all that is needed is a couple of days in bed. You can safely leave him to Mrs. Dent, and I'll look in again later in the day."

Mrs. Dent insisted that Curt should stay to breakfast, and just as Curt was finishing Bill Milner came in. He was afoot and looked very tired, but his jaw was set so grimly that Curt sensed something very wrong.

"It was a plant," were his first words. "That fellow who came for me last night was in it. He got me away so that his pals might come and fire the place."

Curt looked at him. "Lured you away, Bill? Who was he?"

"I never saw him before. He called himself Armitage and pretended to come from a man I've had dealings with. Said he'd had an accident and wanted to see me. He took me right away across the moors towards Tedworth; then the car stopped, and he said the radiator was leaking and asked me to get some water from a brook by the roadside. As I was filling the can he drove away and left me to walk back, a matter of more than twenty miles."

Curt whistled softly. "This is a job for the police, Bill. I'd best go and tell the Sergeant."

A look of alarm crossed Bill's face. "No, Mr. Clinton. I can't have the police in it," he said sharply.

Curt looked grave. "You know best, Bill," he answered, "but this is a pretty serious business. If it had not been for Jack you would have lost not only your ricks but all your out- buildings and perhaps the farm too. And the boy nearly killed himself in saving it."

Bill groaned. "It's all my fault, Mr. Clinton," he said heavily, "but I can't go to the police. That's flat. I must just take my medicine. Can I see Jack?"

"Not now. The doctor has given him an opiate, and he will probably sleep most of the day."

"Is he bad?" asked Bill in sudden alarm.

"He will be all right in a day or two. He was fighting the fire all alone for a full half-hour before the rest of us came out. Overdid it badly. He's a good lad, Bill."

"A sight too good to have a brother like me," said Bill bitterly.

"Cheer up!" said Curt kindly. "I think you will pull out all right, Bill."

"With him and you to help me I ought to," said Bill. "Anyway, I'll promise there'll be no more get-rich-quick business for me."

Curt got up to go, and Bill went with him to the door.

"I can't thank you enough for what you've done," said Bill, as the two shook hands. "And—and you may trust me to look after Jack."

Curt laughed. "And Jack to look after you, Bill," he said, as he left.

Tired as he was, Bill went out to see to his beasts, then came in and got a few hours' sleep. At three Dr. Anson came again and pronounced Jack to be getting on all right, and told Bill to go and see him.

Bill made no bones about it. He told Jack everything.

"This fellow Armitage told me that Browle had had a motor accident and was done for and wanted to see me before he pegged out. He said there was some money due to me, and that's true enough, Jack. Well, you know what happened, and now I know that of course it was all a plant."

Jack, who was sitting up in bed, nodded.

"And you can't do anything, Bill. I mean you can't go to the police?"

"Not without telling 'em a lot I'd rather keep to myself."

"I see," said Jack. "Then the only thing is to sit tight, Bill—to grin and bear it."

"More bearing than grinning," said Bill ruefully. "Those ricks weren't insured, and they were worth pretty near a hundred pounds."

"It's hard luck," said Jack.

Bill straightened himself. "Never mind, Jack. Thanks to you the out-buildings are safe, and the house. I'll take my medicine and pull through."


XX. — A DAY'S FISHING

ON the very day after the fire the wind changed, going round with the clock to a little south of east, the glass rose, the sky cleared and the weather turned to set fair. As the doctor had foretold, it took Jack barely forty-eight hours to shake off the effects of his fire fighting, and on the Friday he was back at school. Mr. Hoyle said a word or two to him which made him blush, and the rest of the boys greeted him with a delight which pleased him vastly.

That evening Mr. Clinton met Jack on his way home and asked him in to see the trout. The little fish were growing fast, and the lower pond held some thousands that would soon be fit for sale. While they fed them they heard steps, and, looking round, saw Dicky Trask looking very fit and cheerful as usual.

"Hullo, my bold fire fighter!" he chaffed. "You're just the man I want to see. Feel like a day's fishing to-morrow?"

"Topping," said Jack. "Are you coming to our place, sir?"

"Your place! No, indeed, you're coming to mine, and we're going to catch whales, not sprats. What do you say to a Highland loch where the record trout is twenty-three pounds?"

Jack stared. "Sounds splendid, sir, but I've only got a day, not a week."

"Who said anything about a week? If you'll lend me the Moth I'll get you there in less than two hours."

Jack turned to Curt. "Oh, may we, sir?"

"Certainly, so far as I'm concerned," said the Scoutmaster readily. "Dicky, you'd better spend the night with me. Then you can get off in decent time."

"Just what I was going to do," grinned Dicky. "I've got my kit with me, rods and all. Jack, you be at the hangar at eight, and if Curt gets me up in time I'll be there, too."

"I'll have you out," Curt promised. "As for Jack, he'll probably spend the night by the Moth."

Jack chuckled and presently went home full of delight at the prospect of a wonderful day's sport. He was at the hangar soon after six and had just finished polishing the last square foot of her paint when Dicky arrived. Within five minutes they were in the air and winging their way due north. Jack, lying back in the passenger seat of the Moth, looked downwards through thousands of feet of crystal-clear air.

"Talk of seeing England!" he said in a tone of ecstasy. "No one can say they've seen it until they've been in a plane."

Back came the answer through the 'phone from stout Dicky Trask in the pilot's seat.

"Good for you, Jack, only it happens to be Scotland you're looking at, not England."

"It's all lovely," declared Jack, and so it was. Just a perfect autumn day with only a few flecks of soft cloud in the huge dome of blue, and the countryside stretched like a vast map below, villages that looked like toys, roads tiny brown ribands, woods little dark patches, and lakes ponds of heavenly blue.

"You're right, Jack," said Dicky in his high-pitched drawl. "It's the only way to see one's country—from a plane. And the only way to travel. Even with my big car we couldn't have done much more than get to Laskie and back in the day. As it is we're going to get a good six hours' fishing and then be home before dark."

"Only question is where you're going to land, sir," said Jack. "Loch Laskie is right in the hills, isn't it?"

"That's all right," said Dicky easily. "The keeper wrote there was level ground near the western end. 'A glen runs up. Land a mile from the lake,' he said."

Jack got out his map and studied it.

"Yes, I see the glen, sir. I think it's all right."

Then he put the map away and leaned over the edge of the cockpit again, watching the hills that seemed to flit away below them. The country grew wild and stern. Houses were fewer, and great stretches of moorland lay purple with the heather bloom. A wide-winged golden eagle soared above them, a speck in the shining sky.

"That's Ben Laskie, sir," said Jack presently, as he pointed to a huge bare summit towering above the lower hills.

"That's it," agreed Dicky, as he headed the plane straight for it, at the same time bringing her down a little from the great height at which she had been travelling. In a very short time the Moth was exactly above the peak of the mountain, and Dicky, cutting out the engine, turned her towards the level plain that lay to the left of the long, narrow sheet of water which was said to hold some of the biggest trout in Scotland.

Jack looked down with intense interest. The lake was not large, only about two miles long and half a mile wide. On the far side the land sloped gradually to the lake, but on the near side a cliff rose sheer from the dark, deep water.

"Why, there's some one fishing there already!" exclaimed Jack, pointing to a boat with two people in it drifting close under the great cliff.

"They won't catch all the fish," jeered Dicky gently.

"There's some one on the cliff top just above them," went on Jack, and his voice was suddenly sharp and eager. "And, I say, Mr. Trask, look at the blighter! He's going to throw something at them."

Dicky looked over, at the same time turning the plane so as to bring her exactly above the boat.

"Dirty work, Jack! You're right. He's on the job."

As he spoke the figure on the cliff top raised his arm and flung a large stone—flung it with such good aim that it dropped plumb into the boat. Having thrown the stone, the thrower ducked back out of sight. As the engine was cut off the sound of the crash came up clearly through the calm air to the ears of Jack and Dicky.

"Right through the bottom!" cried Jack sharply. "My goodness, she's sinking!"

"That's a fact," replied Dicky gravely. "It seems to me, Jack, that we've turned up just about the proper moment."

"But have we?" said Jack sharply. "If we have to land a mile from the boat-house we shall never get out there in time to save them. Besides, that beggar on the cliff will probably start stoning them again."

"You're right, Jack, but what are we going to do about it?"

"I'd better go down by 'chute, sir. If I could drop close to the boat-house I'd save a good quarter of an hour."

"It's a risk, Jack. Suppose you drop in the lake?"

"Not with this easterly draught. The risk is I shall drop too far inland. Please let me try. I've been doing a lot of 'chute work lately."

Dicky hesitated. He was thinking of what Curt Clinton would say if anything happened to Jack. Then, glancing down, he saw that the boat was rapidly filling, and that her two occupants had no chance of landing because there was nothing but cliff for several hundred yards on either side. It was only too plain that something must be done in a hurry if their lives were to be saved.

"All right," he said briefly, "but don't jump till I give the word."

Jack did not waste a moment. There was no need for delay, because his parachute was already in position, strapped to his shoulders. He swung himself actively out of the cockpit and clambered on to the upper wing. It was a hair-raising business, but it did not worry Jack at all. He was one of those lucky people who do not know what giddiness means. Dicky meanwhile had his hands full, balancing the little plane against Jack's weight and at the same time keeping her precisely on the right course. She swung in a big slow curve to the left, and presently Dicky cried sharply:

"Now!"

Jack stood upright on the wing, balanced himself an instant, then deliberately jumped. The moment he was clear his fingers were busy releasing the cord which held his parachute. Those first few seconds after a jump are always terrifying, for the airman can never free himself from that nasty little doubt lurking at the back of his mind that the 'chute may not open. But Dicky, with his long experience of flying, had provided the Patrol with everything of the best that money could buy, and there was nothing wrong with the parachute.

After falling like a plummet for the first few hundred feet Jack felt the jerk he knew so well, a jerk which made him gasp, and looking up saw the silken envelope open like a great umbrella. At once the speed of his fall was checked, but at the same time he found himself swinging like a great pendulum at the end of his rope. He closed his eyes for a moment or two to prevent the dizziness caused by the swinging; then as it grew less opened them again and looked round.

The first thing he saw was the Moth more than half a mile away and planing down towards the level landing ground; the second was the boat. This was nearly full of water, and its crew of two, who looked to be mere boys, were hanging to the gunwales, one on each side. Jack could see their white faces looking up at him, and he waved his hand and pointed to the boat-house. One of them waved back and shouted too, but Jack could not hear what he said. Then Jack looked towards the cliff, but there was no one in sight. It seemed as if the stone thrower had seen what was happening and thought best to make himself scarce. But Jack could not be quite sure, for there were boulders all over the cliff top and heaps of places where a man might hide.

The 'chute was working perfectly—too perfectly, Jack felt, for he was dropping slowly. At least he seemed to be doing so, though he knew it would not seem so slow when he hit the ground. He was still over the water, but the light easterly draught was carrying him towards the boat-house. Dicky had gauged the dropping point with his accustomed skill, and Jack would escape a ducking. A few moments later he was actually above the boat-house, then a tiny puff carried him beyond it, and he bent his knees as he saw the ground apparently rising to meet him.

Down he came, luckily alighting on a patch of soft grass. The moment his feet touched the ground, Jack ran with the wind, caught the expanded silk as it fell, bundled it up roughly, then swiftly unstrapped his harness and raced back to the boathouse.

When he reached it he found to his dismay that the door was locked. There was no time to wait, so, picking up a heavy stone, Jack slammed at the staple of the padlock, and in three blows knocked it clean out. A stout coble with sculls complete lay inside; he sprang in, and set to pulling furiously for the wrecked boat. In the meantime she had drifted in close under the cliff, and he was thankful to see that both members of her crew were still clinging to her.

How he made the coble hum! He was blown and sweating by the time he reached the wreck and then had his work cut out to get the two aboard, for they were cramped with cold and almost helpless. The water of these hill lochs is never very much above freezing point. At last they were both in, and as Jack picked up the sculls again the elder, a big, red-haired, freckled boy of about seventeen, with very bright blue eyes, began to thank him.

"That's all right," said Jack. "You two rub one another for all you're worth. We'll hear all about it when we get ashore."

With his back to the shore Jack could not see what had happened to Dicky, but presently he heard his cheery shout, and as the boat's keel grounded on the pebbles there was Dicky busy piling gorse sticks, driftwood, anything he could find on to a fire which he had lighted.

"Now, you chaps, strip off," he said. "You can wear our overcoats while your kit is drying. And here's a flask with hot coffee. Drink it down."

He poured it out as he spoke, and each had a good drink which brought some colour to their cheeks and stopped them shivering. Then the elder spoke.

"We can't stop to change, sir," he said. "Mark Nyland—that's the chap who tried to finish, us—we must catch him before he can reach the Lodge."

"What lodge?" demanded Dicky.

"Loudoun—our place. It's about thirty miles from here, over beyond Kirk-dhu."

"How will he get there?"

"He has a car."

"Does he have to go over Long Laskie Pass?" asked Dicky.

"Yes, sir."

"What car has he?"

"An old one."

Dicky grinned. "Then it will take him pretty nearly two hours. Don't worry; we'll beat him without your catching your death of cold. Off with your kit, both of you."

"You're awfully good to us," said the younger boy, speaking for the first time. "And you don't know our names or anything about us."

"We're quite good listeners," remarked Dicky. "Go ahead."

"You tell, Stan," said the younger boy, who was very much like his brother but slimmer and less freckled.

"You're the talker, Doug," grinned the other. "Go ahead."


XXI. — DICKY SETS A TRAP

SO Doug went ahead, and a pretty queer yarn it was that he spun. These two lads were brothers, Stanley and Douglas Mackworth; their father had been killed in the War, and their mother was dead, too, and they had lived with their great- uncle, Alec Mackworth, at Loudoun. Uncle Alec, it seemed, was a queer old fish, but had been very good to his nephews. Then one day he went fishing in the wet, got pneumonia and died in three days. At once came trouble, for his will could not be found. His solicitor at Perth remembered drawing up a will which left everything to Stan and Douglas. But the lawyer had not got the will, for the old man had kept all his papers at the Lodge. The will was not in his strong box or his desk, and the house had been searched for it in vain. The trouble was that, if it could not be found, the whole property went to his grandson, Mark Nyland.

"But Mark, you see," continued Douglas, "is a bad hat. He used to live with Uncle Alec, but he did all sorts of rotten things, and at last Uncle Alec caught him stealing money from his desk. So he shipped him out to South America and made him an allowance of two hundred pounds a year so long as he stayed there. As soon as Mark heard that Uncle Alec was dead he came back to the Lodge and tackled us. Told us to get out. But we were not taking any. We hoofed him out and wired for Mr. Benson, the solicitor. Benson was very upset about it, but told us to stick where we were until the Courts turned us out. That's about a month ago. Since then we've had the place burgled; at least a chap broke in about two in the morning, but luckily we heard him and chivvied him. We found he had been pulling down the panelling in the gun room, and at first we thought he must have found the will, but nothing happened, so we came to the conclusion that he hadn't found it after all. And then—well, then you saw what happened just now."

Dicky nodded. "We saw all right. This chap, Nyland, was he trying to do you in, do you think?"

"Looked rather like it, sir," said Stanley. "But he may have thought we could swim out at a pinch."

"Fat lot of swimming you'd have done if that rock had caught you on the head," put in Douglas.

"That's a fact," agreed Stan.

Jack was beginning to like these fellows. They had taken the whole thing so well.

"But all the same," Douglas went on, "Mark's chief idea was to hang us up so as to give him time for a good search at the Lodge, and I'll lay anything you like that he's going there as fast as his bus can take him."

"That's about the size of it," agreed Dicky. "But haven't you a car?"

"Yes, but it's at the keeper's place two miles up the glen."

"And here's the keeper coming this minute," put in Jack Milner, pointing to a tall sandy-haired man who was striding down the glen at a great pace.

"That's Macdonald," said Douglas. "A very good sort."

Macdonald came up, and Dicky, who knew him, put him wise to the situation in a few words. Macdonald whistled softly.

"It was the smoke of yon fire brought me," he said. "And noo, what will ye do? Ye canna tak baith the lads in the plane, Mr. Trask?"

"True," said Dicky; "but I can pack in one. Douglas, you're the lighter. You'd better come, and we'll leave Stanley to bring the car back."

Douglas sprang up.

"I've never been up, sir," he said eagerly; then he turned to his brother. "Hard luck on you, old man!"

"I'll give you a flip another time, Stanley," said

Dicky. "Now get into your clothes, Douglas, and put on this overcoat. You'll find it pretty cold up above, but you won't have time to freeze in fifteen minutes."

"Is that all it will take?" exclaimed Douglas. "We'll be there years ahead of Mark."

"We must be," said Dicky quietly. "Now come on."

It is no joke packing two into a seat made for one only, but the Moth had a specially built cockpit, which gave more room than that of the standard size, and Jack had more than once been up with another of the Patrol in the front seat. Douglas luckily was slim, and they packed in all right. Dicky turned the plane's nose up wind, and as the ground was dry a run of little more than fifty yards was enough. A moment later they were whirring up above the lake, sending echoes roaring from the crags of the great cliffs on either side.

Douglas Mackworth sat very still for the first few moments, but Jack saw that he was not really nervous, or that if he was he would very soon get over it. Jack had made Douglas put on his pilot's cap with the 'phones because it was he who would have to guide Dicky to the Lodge. He had explained to him how to talk into the mouth-piece. Presently Dicky spoke.

"Is that the road?"

"Yes," Douglas answered. "It makes a big loop to the east, and comes down into the glen over there." He pointed as he spoke.

"All right. That's what I wanted to know," Dicky answered. "I'm going to keep well to the east and fly low, for I don't want your precious cousin to see us. And how about landing?"

"Can you land on a slope, sir?"

"If it is open and not too steep."

"Then I think we shall be all right. There are two good-sized fields behind the house."

"Any trees?"

"A belt of firs between the fields and the house."

"Good. They'll hide the plane."

What wind there was was on the beam, and the Moth, pushed to top speed, seemed hardly to have started before Douglas was pointing at a white dot against a distant hillside, facing a wide glen with a stream at the bottom.

"There's the house, Mr. Trask," he said eagerly.

"Right," Dicky answered, but he kept his height and flew straight across the glen. They passed the house, and there were the fields. "Pretty steep," said Dicky rather doubtfully, as he circled lower. "Still, I think I can manage," he added.

Manage he did, in his usual masterly style, and the plane came to grass with hardly a bump. Dicky taxied her along until she lay well behind the belt of trees and there brought her to a standstill. Then they all three got out.

"What next, sir?" asked Douglas.

"Who is in the house?" asked Dicky.

"Our old housekeeper, Mrs. Macleod, and her son, Micky. That's all."

Dicky glanced at his watch. "Plenty of time. Nyland can't be here for another twenty minutes at best. Douglas, go to the house and tell Mrs. Macleod to stay in her kitchen and Micky to come back here with you."

Douglas nodded and ran off. He was back in a couple of minutes.

"Micky's gone, sir. His mother says he had a message that our car had broken down and he was to come and fetch us with the pony and cart."

Dicky nodded and grinned. "Pretty much what I expected. Master Mark has a head on him."

"But we shall catch him, sir," said Douglas anxiously.

"We shall let him catch himself," said Dicky, with a smile.

"How do you mean, sir?" asked Douglas, puzzled.

"You tell him, Jack," laughed Dicky.

"I think we hide," said Jack quietly—"hide and watch him. If he finds the will then we jump him."

"Topping!" said Douglas, with a broad grin. "I'll show you where to hide. Come along."

They went down through a wood path to the Lodge which was a tall stone building of three storeys.

"Back door, please," said Dicky. "We don't want to run any risks of being seen."

So Douglas took them in at the back and showed them quickly round the ground floor.

"Here's the smoking-room," he said. "You see where the panelling has been torn out?"

Dicky nodded, then frowned. "Funny!" he said. "It seems as if the chap who did it hadn't been quite sure where to look."

"That's what Stan and I thought," said Douglas quickly. "We've had most of the rest of the boards off and found no place where anything could be hidden. It's pretty queer, isn't it?"

Dicky nodded. "It's queer, but I have hopes. Douglas, is there any window from which you can see the road?"

"Rather. You can see it for two miles from the upper front bedrooms."

"Then go up and watch, and the moment you see a car coming cut down again and let us know."

"Right," replied Douglas and hurried off.

Dicky prowled about the ground floor, looking everywhere, but saying nothing, and Jack followed, equally silent. In about five minutes there came a rattle of feet on the stairs, and here was Douglas racing down.

"He's coming," he exclaimed.

Dicky was quite calm. "All right. Where's your hidey hole—in the lobby?"

"Yes, this little passage leading to the coat cupboard just off the hall."

"No good," said Dicky. "We're going to hide in the gun room."

"There's no place to hide, sir," replied Douglas sharply.

"Oh, yes, there is! I'll show you," was Dicky's answer.

"We shall have to be quick," said Douglas uneasily. "Mark's coming like smoke. He's driving that old bus of his for all it's worth."

Dicky led the way back to the gun room. A huge old-fashioned leather-covered settee stood against the wall, and Dicky made the others help him to pull it out a little.

"We can all three get behind that," he said.

"But it's about the first place he'll look," said Douglas uneasily.

"I don't think so," replied Dicky mildly. "I may be wrong, but I think the hiding-place is in this room, but not behind the sofa, and you must remember that we have to catch Mark as he finds it, for if he does find the will the very first thing he will do is to destroy it."

He squeezed in behind the couch, the others followed, and they all crouched down out of sight. Jack found the waiting very trying, and though actually it was only a few minutes, it seemed a terribly long time before the car was heard panting up the steep drive. Then came steps and some one trying the front door which, however, was locked. The man then went round to the back. Dicky had already given full instructions to Mrs. Macleod. She was to remonstrate with Mark and make a fuss, but not to try to prevent him from coming in. Sure enough, the watchers heard her remonstrating loudly, and Nyland's voice in hot reply. Later he forced his way past and was heard coming into the hall through the back passage leading from the kitchen. Then followed a moment or two of acute suspense, for the question was whether he would come into the gun room or whether the hiding-place was actually somewhere else?

But Dicky was right. The steps came right up to the gun room door, the handle was turned, and Mark Nyland entered.


XXII. — THE LAST OF MARK NYLAND

JACK could not see him, but heard him walk across the room, and from the way the boards creaked gathered that he was a biggish man. The gun room was long and narrow and had only one window, so was rather dark. All the same the three in hiding lay like mice, for if they were seen or heard their whole plan fell to the ground. Just opposite to the settee was a tall glass-fronted gun cupboard, in which several guns and rifles stood in a rack. It was to this rack that Nyland went straight off, and they heard him trying keys in the lock. Jack was puzzled, for Douglas had told him that he and his brother had already thoroughly searched the cupboard.

Nyland soon got the door open, and they heard him taking the guns out. Jack, who was between Douglas and Dicky, felt the latter move and saw that he was slowly and carefully raising his head. He longed to do the same, but Dicky had given the strictest orders against his doing anything of the sort. There was a long pause, and Jack could not imagine what was happening. Suddenly Dicky straightened himself.

"That will do, Nyland," he said quietly. "You can give me the will."

Jack, flat on the floor, looked out under the sofa, and this is what he saw: Nyland, a tall, heavily built young man with a face that might have once been good-looking, but was now coarsened by dissipation, had whirled round and was staring or rather glaring at Dicky. In one hand he held an old-fashioned muzzle-loading gun and in the other a rolled up paper which Jack saw he must have just drawn from the barrel of the weapon. His expression was a mixture of amazement, fear and rage.

"Hand it over," said Dicky, and Jack had never heard him speak like this, for now his voice rang sharp as a pistol shot.

Instead of doing so Nyland suddenly dropped the gun, which fell with a crash to the floor, and pulled from his coat pocket a small but deadly-looking automatic pistol which he levelled straight at Dicky. At the same time he took a couple of steps forward.

"Hand it over!" he repeated, with a bitter sneer. "I don't know who you are, but if you think I've taken all this trouble for nothing you're a bigger fool even than you look."

Dicky laughed. "Thanks for the compliment! I may be a fool, yet I know very well that you dare not murder me, for then you'd have to clear out of Scotland—or more probably be hanged. And you know it too. If you've any sense at all you will hand that will to its rightful owners, and trust them to do the generous thing by you."

"Two hundred pounds a year and a dog's life in South America," retorted the other harshly. "Not much, my fat friend! I'm the heir to Loudoun, and I mean to have it."

Dicky remained calm as ever.

"That will says your cousins are the heirs. You might destroy it if you could put a match to it, but the minute you drop your pistol to do so I'll jump you, and, fat as I am, I think I'm a better man than you. Like to try it?"

The other's heavy face went purple.

"No, I'm not going to try it," he retorted. "I know a trick worth two of yours." And still holding the pistol pointed at Dicky he raised the parchment to his mouth and deliberately began to tear it to pieces with his strong yellow teeth. "Don't move," he said to Dicky. "I shan't kill you, but I'll put a bullet through your shoulder. And I can always swear it was in self- defence." He took another bite out of the parchment, spat the fragments on to the floor and grinned evilly.

"You're a dirty dog," said Dicky loudly. "A low-down sort of thief and swindler, and I promise myself the pleasure of hammering you black and blue before I'm finished with you."

"You'd better not talk like that," roared the other in sudden rage, and brandishing his pistol, came closer—too close, for now his feet were within Jack's reach, and stretching out his right arm he caught Mark by the ankle and tugged with all his might.

The surprise was complete. Taken unawares, Mark lost his balance, and the room shook with the force of his fall. Before he could recover his senses Dicky vaulted over the sofa and was on top of him and wrested away first the pistol, then the will. Jack and Douglas came leaping after, and while Dicky held the struggling, swearing fury the two lads tied him tightly with handkerchiefs and curtain cords. Dicky picked up the will and unrolled it.

"The last will and testament of Alexander Mackworth, Esquire," he read aloud. "And the date is last August."

"That's it," said Douglas eagerly. "I say, Mr. Trask, is it all there? I mean, Mark hasn't spoilt it, has he?"

"He doesn't seem to have done it much harm," replied Dicky. "He's only got a few words out of the title and a large chunk out of the margin. I always wondered why these lawyer gents, left such a wide margin, but now I begin to understand. No, it's quite all right, Douglas. So far as I can see, it leaves the property and everything to you and your brother with the exception of two hundred pounds a year to be paid quarterly to Mark Nyland, and even that is dependent upon his good behaviour. Ha! I see he forfeits it if he returns to any part of the United Kingdom."

He glanced at Nyland lying helpless on the floor, and Nyland's answer was a flow of blasphemy which made the two boys look thoroughly uncomfortable. Dicky stepped across and took an inkpot from the table.

"Shut your foul mouth, you brute," he said, "for if you don't, by thunder, I'll pour every drop of this down your dirty throat!"

Nyland shut up in a hurry, and Dicky took one more look at the will.

"Yes, Douglas, it is all right, duly signed and sealed. There can no longer be any doubt that you and your brother are the proper owners of Loudoun, and a very nice income into the bargain."

"How perfectly splendid!" cried Douglas in delight. "And we owe it all to you and Jack, sir."

Dicky held up his hand with a smile.

"Steady, old chap! You can say your piece later on. Just at present there's a good deal to do. Is there a Post Office anywhere near?"

Douglas looked rather surprised. "The nearest is at Kirk-dhu, sir. It's about three miles."

"Very good. Then the first thing to be done is to send this will by registered post to your lawyer, Mr. Benson. It is not safe to keep it here."

"I never thought of that," gasped Douglas. "But of course you're right. If you will put it up, sir, I'll take it at once."

Dicky nodded. "Jack," he said, "you stay and watch our friend here while I pack up the will."

He went out with Douglas, and Jack stayed to watch Nyland, who lay glaring sullenly at him. If looks could have killed, Jack Milner would have died several times in the next few minutes, but Jack was so interested in what was happening he paid little attention to the prisoner. In less than five minutes Jack heard a car drive off, and going to the window grinned as he saw Douglas departing in Mark Nyland's car. Then Dicky came in again, bringing a coil of rope with which he re-tied Nyland so securely that there was no chance of that gentleman getting away.

"What are you going to do with me?" growled Nyland between set teeth.

Dicky's lip curled as he looked at him.

"It has nothing to do with me, but if your cousins take my advice they will hand you over to the police as a common burglar. Five years is about what you will get, I think."

Nyland went white as a sheet. "Not that," he gasped.

Before Dicky could reply there came the sound of a car on the gravel outside.

"Great ghost!" exclaimed Dicky. "That boy's not back already!"

Jack ran to the window.

"No, it's Stanley," he replied, and as they went out into the hall Stanley Mackworth came leaping up the steps, his brown face ablaze with excitement. "I saw Douglas," he cried. "He has told me all about it. I say, this is fine. I simply can't begin to tell you what it means to us."

Dicky put a hand on the shoulder of the excited boy.

"I'm just as pleased as you, Stanley. The only thing I regret is the loss of our day's fishing."

"Fishing!" cried Stanley. "We've got a loch of our own, sir, and two miles of good salmon water. Come and stay here, you and Jack both, for as long as ever you like, and you can fish every day. And—and the shooting's pretty good, too, if you care for grouse."

Dicky laughed. "Don't be rash, Stanley. You don't know what you might have landed on you. But never mind the fishing now. There is business to settle. What are you going to do with this precious cousin of yours? If you want to be shut of him the quickest way is to hand him over to the police."

Stan was serious at once. "No, sir, we couldn't do that," he answered. "It would not be the game at all. After all, he's one of the family."

Dicky nodded. "I thought you'd say that. Then you must get him out of the country. You're not safe with him hanging about."

"Anything you say, sir," said Stan. "Where is he now?"

"In the gun room tied neck and crop. We needn't worry about him until we get ready to shift him."

Stan looked relieved. "We'll settle it after lunch. You're staying, sir?"

Dicky laughed. "I really am hungry after all this excitement. Right you are, Stan. But let's wait for your brother."

Douglas turned up a few minutes later and announced that the will was safe in the post.

"And I wired to Mr. Benson to expect it."

"Good man!" declared Dicky, and a few minutes later Mrs. Macleod came in to say luncheon was ready.

Grilled trout, a cold pie, and most delicious pancakes made a capital meal, and every one talked hard. Stan and Douglas decided that Mark should still have his two hundred pounds on condition that he left the country at once and never came back, and as soon as lunch was over they took him to Kirk-dhu in his own car and put him on the train, paying his fare to London. Dicky wired to a private detective of his acquaintance to meet him and see him safe on a ship, and by this time Mark was so thoroughly scared that he was only too glad to get away.

After that, since the afternoon was fine and warm, they went out on the Loudoun loch, and finding the trout rising nicely, got a couple of dozen between them. They came back to the house for a real Scotch tea with hot scones and heaps of cream, and about six o'clock Dicky and Jack got back into the Moth and made off southwards.

"Quite an interesting day," drawled Dicky, as he lifted the plane over the ridge. "And even if we didn't get any big fish we had some fun."

"Hunting's better than fishing, sir," said Jack. "And I never had a better day in my life."

Dicky laughed. "It may be even better than you think," he said.

But when Jack asked what he meant he only laughed and refused to explain.


XXIII. — JACK'S BAD JOB

THERE was still plenty of light in the sky when Dicky brought the plane down, lightly as a feather, in front of her hangar, and there was Joe waiting with the car.

"Get in, Jack," he said. "I'll drop you on my way."

So Jack came back to the farm before it was dark and experienced the first sad minute of the day as he walked past the burnt ricks on his way to the house. He found Bill, pen in hand, elbows on the table, deep in accounts. Bill looked up as Jack came in.

"Had a good time, Jack?" he asked.

"Fine," said Jack. "And you, Bill?"

Bill shrugged his shoulders. "Not so good, Jack. I've been going through the accounts, and I can't make them square any way. I've got to find a matter of fifty pound in the next week, and I just haven't got it."

"Won't the bank help you, Bill?"

Bill shook his head. "I've got nothing to put up as security now all my hay and grain are gone. There's a mortgage on the farm already." He paused. "It looks bad, Jack. Old Riseley, the corn chandler, is making trouble about my bill for cake and pig feed, and threatens to sell me up."

Jack's face whitened. "Sell the farm! Oh, Bill, we couldn't lose the old place!"

"It would be pretty bad," admitted Bill heavily. Then he braced up. "But don't worry, kid. Maybe we'll find a way out. Supper's ready. Come on, and we'll eat."

They went in together, but Jack had lost his appetite. Bill did his best to cheer him, but it was no use, and that night it was a long time before Jack slept. The thought of losing the farm that had belonged to the Milners for at least three centuries lay like lead on his mind. He thought of every way out, but could not find one.

"If I was only a bit older," he groaned. "Then I could turn pilot and get good pay, but as it is I can't make any money at all."

The next morning he told Bill that he was going to give up school and stay at home and help to work the farm. Bill laughed, but it was a very kindly laugh.

"You won't do anything of the sort, Jack. You'll carry on with your education. I've paid your fees for this term, so it won't cost me anything more." Then as Jack began to remonstrate he cut in sharply: "You do as I tell you, Jack. I'll go and see Riseley to-day and the bank manager. Somehow I'll pull out of this trouble."

There was nothing for it but to obey orders, so Jack went to school as usual. But Kip noticed how silent his pal was, and knew there was something wrong. Jack went straight home after school, but Bill was not yet in, and when he did come Jack saw by his face that he had got no good out of his interviews. At supper Bill was in very low spirits.

"Riseley won't wait, Jack," he said. "He told me he'd put the bailiffs in if he didn't get his money by the end of the week. It's fifty-seven pounds, and where I'm to get it I can't think. The bank won't help me. Ackroyd, the manager, told me straight out that I'd reached the end of my tether." He paused. "I haven't, really. If they'd give me six months I could get square. Those two litters of pigs will fetch forty pounds if I can fatten them, and the turkeys will be worth twenty shillings each, come Christmas."

Jack looked at Bill, and his face was set.

"I'll get the money for you, Bill," he said.

Bill stared at him. "You! How?"

"Never mind how. Wait till to-morrow." And that was all he would say.

The next morning he was up early and before going to school went to the Post Office telephone and called up Dicky. Joe answered and told him that the master was not up yet.

"Please ask him if I can speak to him some time to-day, Joe," said Jack.

"All right. Hold the line," Joe answered. In a minute or so he was back. "Are you there? All right. He's going over to Garth to- day to see Mr. Clinton. You run round there at dinner time and you'll find him."

Jack thanked him and hung up the receiver. He felt half choked, for the thought of appealing to Dicky for a loan—which was what he meant to do—was horrible. He knew that Dicky would grant it, but to a boy like Jack Milner the very idea of doing such a thing made him feel sick. It was only for Bill's sake that he was able to force himself to such a request.

All through morning school the coming interview weighed on him like lead. Twice he was hauled up by the master for not attending, but Mr. Hoyle gave him no punishment, for he saw plainly that there was something wrong with the boy. At twelve Kip, who also saw that Jack was not happy, came alongside and asked him down to his parents' house for dinner, but Jack thanked him and refused. He did not explain, and Kip was wise enough not to ask for any explanation.

Jack went straight off to Curt's place, and there was Dicky's car outside, and there were the Scoutmaster and Dicky standing by the trout pond. Jack stopped short. He had a sudden feeling that he could not do it—not even for Bill's sake. And just then Dicky looked up and saw him and shouted cheerfully.

Jack set his teeth and went forward, but in spite of his resolution to carry through he felt himself getting red. Dicky was coming straight towards him.

"Hullo, young Jack! Joe told me you rang me up this morning. Rum you should do so, for in point of fact I wanted to see you."

He paused and looked at Jack, but Jack stood silent. Now that the moment had come he did not know how to voice his request. In spite of his careless, casual ways, Dicky was shrewd, and he saw that Jack was horribly embarrassed. He had no notion what the trouble was, but he hated to see it, and so as to give him a chance to recover went on talking.

"I heard from our Scotch friends to-day," he said. "They're keen as mustard for us to go and stay. Stanley Mackworth reminds me I promised him a flip and says that the salmon are beginning to run. Are you game for another trip up North, Jack? We might do a week-end, only of course, we can't fish on Sunday. Perhaps we'd best wait for your summer holidays."

"It would be very nice, sir," said Jack, but he spoke slowly, and there was none of the usual brightness in his face or voice.

"What the dickens is the matter with the lad?" Dicky wondered, and went rattling on: "I heard from Benson as well. The old lad is no end bucked about that will, Jack. It's the funniest letter you ever read, so stiff and stilted, but there's no mistake about his being grateful to us. Oh, and he's sent something for you!"

He began to fish in his inside jacket pocket and brought out a whole packet of letters from which he extracted an envelope addressed in a very precise hand to "J. Milner, Esq." Jack took it mechanically and would have put it in his pocket, but Dicky stopped him.

"Hang it all, Jack! You might see what the old beggar says. Haven't you got any curiosity?"

As Jack started obediently to tear open the envelope Dicky's puzzlement increased.

"There's something funny up," he said to himself. "I believe that beggar, Bill, has gone off the rails."

Jack opened the envelope. There was a letter inside, and as he unfolded the letter a pink slip fell out and fluttered to the ground. Jack stooped and picked it up. As he looked at it an expression of blank amazement crossed his face.

"W—what does this mean?" he stammered.

"Means money, I'd say," grinned Dicky. "That's what a cheque generally means."

Jack was still staring at the cheque as if he could not believe his eyes.

"B—but it's made out to me," he said thickly. "And—and it's for a hundred pounds."

"And little enough, too, I'd say," chuckled Dicky. "Suppose you read the letter, Jack. That may throw light on what you think a mystery."

Still in a sort of trance, Jack unfolded the letter, and Dicky saw light dawn on his face as he read. At last he looked up.

"It—it's a reward for finding the will," he gasped. "A hundred pounds!" Then he suddenly thrust the cheque into Dicky's hands. "But it's yours, sir. It has nothing to do with me," he said sharply.

Dicky held it out in front of him.

"Is my name Jack Milner?" he demanded. "Don't be an ass, Jack. Take what's coming to you and be grateful."

"B—but I didn't do anything," insisted Jack. "It was all your idea from beginning to end, Mr. Trask."

"Didn't do anything!" jeered Dicky. "Didn't do a hair-raising 'chute stunt to save those lads' lives. Didn't save the will by grabbing that bad hat by the leg and pulling him down just when he was going to pot the lot of us. If _you_ ask me I'd say you'd earned it all and a bit more, my son."

A lump rose in Jack's throat, and everything around him seemed to go misty. Dicky saw and, knowing Jack as he did, realized how heavy a strain the boy had been under.

"Gosh!" he said to himself. "I believe he was going to ask me to lend him money. And I'll lay it was for Bill."—"If you don't believe me I'll ask Curt," he said and turned back to Mr. Clinton who was still beside the pond. By the time he got back Jack was himself again. "Don't worry, Jack. Mr. Clinton says it is all right, and that you should get your brother to bank it for you. Is he at home?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, hop into the bus, and I'll run you round. Plenty of time to do that and get back to school before one." By the way Jack's eyes shone Dicky knew that his guess was right. "Tumble in!" he said.

Less than five minutes later Jack marched into the kitchen at the farm where Bill was eating a solitary meal, and without a word thrust the cheque into his hands. Bill looked at it. He turned it over and looked at it again; then at last he looked at Jack.

"Where did you get it?" he asked in an odd hoarse voice. "Jack, I'm not taking favours from any man."

"Not even from your brother, Bill?" said Jack, and Bill saw the twinkle in his eyes.

"Jack," he said quite humbly, "how did you get it?"

"Earned it," grinned Jack. "Honest, I did, Bill, and if you don't believe me ask Mr. Trask."

Bill stretched out his hand and took Jack's in a grip that he felt for a day after.

"Jack," he said in a voice that was not too steady, "I'll never forget this, and some day you shall have it back with interest."

"Don't talk rot, Bill," said Jack. "I—I'm just so jolly happy to have it to give you I feel like bursting." Then he turned and fairly bolted back to the car.

"Is it all right, Jack?" asked Dicky casually.

"It—it couldn't be much more right, sir," said Jack, and Dicky let it go at that.


XXIV. — UP TO THE CEILING

JACK'S hundred pounds put his brother square with his creditors and life at the farm ran smoothly enough, but Bill was still very sore about the way this man who called himself Armitage had tricked him. Armitage, he told Jack, was not one of the men with whom he had had dealings, but he was convinced that he was an accomplice of Browle, and he often said to Jack how much he would like to meet him again.

"I'd teach him a thing or two," he said grimly. "It isn't me that would be left to walk home this time."

Jack did not like it. "I wish you'd leave it alone, Bill," he said one night when Bill had been talking rather wildly. "We're clear of that crowd, and we want to stay so."

"Oh, I'm clear of them," said Bill, "but I'm not so sure they're clear of me! I've still got a rod in pickle for them."

He laughed again, but it was not a pleasant laugh, and Jack felt still more uneasy. But he did not like to ask questions, and Bill, it was clear, was in no mood to answer them. Jack was inclined to appeal to Curt, but he had a feeling it would be disloyal, and he made up his mind that the best thing was to keep an eye on Bill. That was all very well, but since he was at school all day he could not do much in that direction, and one evening about a week later he came home to find that Bill was away and that Mrs. Dent had no notion where he had gone.

"He's been off ever since dinner time," she told him, "and when I asked him where he was going he was pretty short with me. All he'd say was that he'd be back for supper."

But supper time came, and there was no sign of Bill, and Jack grew really worried. Towards nine he was on the point of starting off to find the Scoutmaster and get him to start a search party when he heard the gate click and in came Bill—Bill very hot and tired, and looking as if he had come a long way, but with an odd expression on his face which Jack could not understand.

"Where on earth have you been, Bill?" demanded Jack quite sharply.

Bill chuckled queerly. "Ask no questions and you won't hear any lies, Jack," he answered. "Ask Mrs. Dent to get me some supper. I'm going up for a wash and change."

When he came down again Bill was very cheerful, but Jack noticed that the knuckles of his right hand were cut and bruised. Bill saw that Jack noticed it, and laughed again.

"Don't worry, Jack," he advised. "There's nothing to worry about. I'm quite happy, and you can be happy, too. I've really finished the job this time."

That was all he would say, and Jack wondered very much what had happened. The next day he talked it over with Kip, and Kip nodded sagaciously.

"It's plain as pie," he said. "Bill has found Armitage and wiped the floor with him."

"That's what I thought," said Jack. "But I say, Kip, that crowd won't take it lying down. They'll lay for Bill and shoot him in the back, or something beastly."

Kip shook his head. "I don't think they'll try anything like that," he said. Then he changed the subject. "Are you coming up to the Hut this evening? We're going to have a flying yarn."

Jack agreed to go, and Curt gave them a talk on flying. Afterwards he and Jack walked back together through the clear twilight.

"Looks like being a decent day to-morrow, Jack. And it's Saturday. What about a little flip?"

"Topping, sir!" exclaimed Jack in delight, and in his excitement he forgot all about Bill's mysterious behaviour.

The next day dawned beautifully fine, but it was intensely hot by the time morning school was over. Jack went to the Hut to eat his lunch, then walked uphill to the hangar, wheeled out the Moth, and was going over her engine when Curt arrived.

"She's all ready, sir," Jack told him. "Tank full, and I've put fresh oil in her."

But Curt was not the sort to take any one else's word—not even Jack's—and like the good pilot he was, himself inspected the engine. It was not until he was sure everything was as it should be that he climbed into the cockpit. Jack gave the propeller a pull, then got in, and Curt started the little machine.

As usual she rose like a bird, and Curt took her down the valley for some distance before turning to the west. He was very careful of his promise not to frighten Crosscut's sheep. Up and up they went, but even at two thousand feet the air was still curiously still and warm.

"Funny sort of day," said Curt through the 'phone. "Not a breath of wind anywhere. I think I should be rather shy of a long flight to-day, Jack. We might get fog again."

"More likely thunder, sir," replied Jack. "There's a sort of sullen feel in the air."

"I should not wonder if you are right. Just for fun I think we will go up a bit higher to see if the air is as hot as this. Anyhow we shall get a fine view."

He set to driving the Moth upwards in giant spirals. Houses dwindled to toys, fields to the size of pocket handkerchiefs. The altimeter showed four thousand, five, six, and still Curt kept her climbing. It was cool enough up here, and although Jack was wearing his heavy leather flying jacket the chill nipped through it. But the view was so wonderful that he hardly noticed the cold. By the time the plane had reached eight thousand all Northern England and Southern Scotland lay spread like a map beneath. Both seas were plainly visible. To the south the rugged Peak district of Derbyshire looked like toy hills on a relief map, while to the north the Lowland heights of Selkirk were plainly visible. The great Solway Firth looked quite close, and Jack could even see the dots that were steamers trailing their faint clouds of smoke behind them. Far away to the north-west a dim layer of smoke showed Scotland's Black Country, the great coal district which surrounds Glasgow.

As Jack watched this layer it seemed to him that it was thicker than it should have been if it was merely smoke. It seemed to be rising, too, and after a while he called Curt's attention to it.

"No, it's not smoke," said the latter. "It's cloud. You were right in your forecast, Jack, for if I'm not mistaken that is a thunderstorm forming. They often form over a big coalfield. I suppose it has something to do with smoke rising into calm air."

"Hadn't we better get down, then?" Jack suggested.

"No hurry," Curt answered. "Whatever it is, it's a long way off, and this is a day of days. I have never seen the air so clear."

He kept the Moth's nose up and did not stop until they had reached nine thousand feet. Here they struck real cold, and Jack began to shiver in earnest. The temperature was so far below freezing point that his breath actually froze upon the muffler which he had wrapped round his throat, and his gloved fingers began to go numb. They were now two miles up, and Jack could actually see many miles of the northern and eastern coast of Ireland.

"That's enough, I think," observed Curt, with a laugh. "We're getting pretty near the ceiling," and so saying he cut out the engine and pulling over the control stick began circling downwards.

All this had taken a long time, and Jack noticed that the thundercloud which had seemed so distant was now a great blue- black wall against the north-western sky. But that did not worry him because he knew that it was only a matter of a few minutes—a quarter of an hour at most—before they would arrive at Farndon. And Dicky Trask had a hangar in which the Moth would be safe in any storm.

The altimeter marked two thousand five hundred feet, and all of a sudden Curt's voice came to his ears.

"Right over the top of Tall Fell. I wonder if we shall see anything of our mysterious plane with the patched wing?"

Jack looked down and saw that the Moth was planing downwards on a line which would bring her right over the rift. His promise to Bill shot up into his memory, and he was dreadfully dismayed. His first idea was to beg Curt to turn off, but then it came to him that, if he did so, he would have to explain the whole business, which meant giving Bill away. And that, of course, was out of the question.

While he was wondering what to do or say the Moth flew over the rift, and to Jack's horror Curt was dipping almost into the ravine—actually flying up it on a level with the summits of its trim cliffs.

"Hullo!" cried Curt. "There's a cave at the end. A big one, too. My word, Jack, I wish we could dip down and have a look at it!"

"Don't, sir!" said Jack sharply. "It—it wouldn't be safe."

Curt made no reply. He was too astonished to say anything. The very idea of Jack Milner being afraid of anything, saying it was not safe, startled him beyond words. The next moment something happened which startled him a deal more. A shadow crossed above, and glancing up he saw the big plane with the patched wing swooping straight down upon the Moth.


XXV. — IN THE HEART OF THE STORM

CURT had seen planes attack in the Great War. He had even been in one as observer when attacked, and it did not take him a second to realize that this fellow meant business. Instinctively he flung the Moth over to the right, at the same time pushing the throttle to its widest. The little plane leaped forward like a thoroughbred horse. She cleared the cliff by barely a dozen feet and shot away at amazing speed.

"W-what's up?" gasped Jack, who had been startled by the sudden turn. Then he, too, saw the patched plane and realized exactly what was happening.

Curt's turn had been so sharp that the other machine had missed the Moth by several hundred yards, and Jack, watching breathless, thought and hoped that she was going down into the rift. Not a bit of it! Her pilot banked and came viciously after the Moth. He started to rise above her, but that was just where he made a mistake. The Moth is one of the best little climbers in existence, and though the big plane was far faster on the level, it was clear that in the matter of climbing the Moth could at least hold her own. This surprised Jack, but presently he guessed that the reason was that the big plane was pretty heavily loaded.


Illustration

The other machine had missed the Moth by several hundred yards.


"We're all right, sir," he said through the 'phone. "If you keep climbing she can't hurt us."

"But why the dickens does she want to hurt us?" Curt asked irritably. "Hang it all, that chap doesn't own the air!"

"He owns the rift," Jack was going to say, but checked himself just in time.

The Moth drove on upwards. Curt had no choice in the matter, for Patched Wing pursued him doggedly. He couldn't get above the Moth, but on the other hand the Moth could not shake off her pursuer. Curt did not dare to turn. He remembered the bomb, or whatever it was, that this pirate had flung at him on the previous occasion. He kept on, hoping all the time that the others would get tired of this unprofitable pursuit and turn back. The strange pilot did nothing of the sort, but drove his machine at top speed in pursuit. The needle of the altimeter fell and fell. They were back at the four thousand level, and were already miles west of Tall Fell. And now a new danger threatened, for the storm which they had watched forming far away over Scotland was driving towards them at a speed probably equal to their own. The whole sky to the north and west was black as a boot, and the great cloud was edged with a rim of snow-white vapour which curled and twisted in a strange and alarming fashion. Already Jack could see shafts of blue and white electric fire darting through the heart of the mass of blackness. Curt saw it too.

"We seem to be between the devil and the deep sea, Jack," he remarked.

"Could we get above that storm, sir?" asked Jack.

"I doubt it, but the way we're going it looks as if we should have to try. Why can't this idiot keep off our tail?"

Jack was again tempted to say that he knew the reason, yet on second thoughts felt it would be wiser not to do so. He was not particularly scared, but he was angry and worried. He was bitterly annoyed with this smuggling gentleman behind and troubled at the risk of plunging straight into the storm. That nasty, writhing white fringe meant that the air currents were spinning terribly inside the cloud, and the pace at which the cloud itself was bearing down upon them showed the weight of wind behind it. He looked down and saw flat country ahead.

"What about trying to land, sir?" he asked.

"I dare not," Curt answered. "Quite apart from this beggar dropping bombs on us, the Moth wouldn't last a minute in the open with this storm on her. She'd be swept away like a dead leaf."

"It's blowing already," said Jack.

In the air it is next to impossible to judge the weight of the wind, but the Moth had just bumped sharply, and by that Jack knew that the fringe of the storm wind had reached them.

"I must try to get above it," said Curt.

At this height the Moth was almost level with the ugly wreaths of cotton-wool-like clouds, and she was still rising well. Beneath them England was being blotted out by a thick mist of driving rain. A blue glare leaped out. Its source seemed to be almost exactly opposite to the plane, and the explosion that followed made the stout little machine quiver in every wire.

The scene was so terrible and splendid that for the moment Jack almost forgot the enemy on their heels. For the Moth was still in bright sunlight which made the vast mountain of cumulus in front of her look the blacker by contrast. It seemed indeed as solid as a real mountain, and Jack felt almost as if they were charging, nose on, into something that would smash the plane to fragments when they struck it.

The Moth was now again nearing the six thousand feet level, and Jack saw with relief that she was above the worst of the storm. The air up here was colder than before, but he hardly heeded that in the excitement of the moment. Again came a frightful thunder-clap seeming just below them, and again the concussion made the Moth tremble. She was bumping badly, but her engine still ran well, and Curt steered her with perfect coolness and judgment.

Jack looked back. The patched plane was still in chase and to his dismay much nearer than before.

"She's gaining, Mr. Clinton," he cried through the 'phone.

"I know," said Curt grimly. "It's the height makes the difference."

The patched plane came on. She was so near that Jack could see the face of her pilot. But as the man was wearing flying cap and goggles it was impossible to recognize him. Now he began to climb at a steeper angle, and, although Clinton tried hard to force the Moth upwards, it was plain that the other had the legs of the smaller craft.

Jack felt almost desperate. He did not know what was going to happen, but was certain that this fellow behind them meant real mischief, for otherwise he would never have risked flying into this awful weather. He meant to smash the Moth and her crew, and the storm gave him the chance to work his wicked will without the slightest fear of detection. Up here the two planes were as much alone as though they were on another planet. No human eye could see what was happening, and if the Moth was disabled there would not be enough of her left for any one to say how she had come to her end.

The patched plane was now level with the Moth and not more than a couple of hundred yards behind her. Both were above the storm, which lay like a tossing sea beneath them. The chill sunlight glittered on the wide wings of their pursuer and flung out every detail of her shape with intense sharpness.

Something buzzed past Jack's ears like an angry wasp, and suddenly a small hole appeared in the wing fabric just above him. Another whizz and a splinter leaped from the wooden framework of the cockpit within two feet of Jack's shoulder.

"He's firing at us!" Jack cried through the 'phone. "A pistol, I think, sir."

"I know," was the answer, and as he spoke Curt swung sideways, at the same time zooming desperately upwards.

"It's no use, sir," Jack told him. "He's gaining. And he's reloading his pistol."

"The murderer!" said Curt hotly. "And we have no weapon. We can do nothing."

Jack looked at the pursuing plane. Her pilot was evidently letting her fly herself while he thrust fresh cartridges into his revolver. Jack caught a gleam of sunlight reflected from the blued barrel of the weapon. They had escaped the first shots, but it was hardly likely that they would escape a second time. And apart from the risk of either of them being wounded or killed, a single bullet in the overhead petrol tank would finish them as completely as a shot in Curt's heart. In a flash Jack made up his mind.

"There's only one chance, sir. The cloud. We can hide in that."

"The cloud!" repeated Curt, stupefied. "The storm. We shall be lost in a moment. It's worse than the fog."

"Better than being killed," said Jack fiercely. "Better than getting a bullet through the tank and being brought down in flames."

Through the 'phone Jack distinctly heard Curt grit his teeth.

"You're right!" he snapped, and down went the nose of the little Moth.

"Quick, sir. Be quick!" cried Jack in an agony. "He's finished loading. He's firing again."

The patched plane's pilot had spotted the Moth's manoeuvre, and he, too, had turned his machine's bow downwards. Jack could see the little flashes as the man fired, but the roar of the motor drowned the reports. There was an ugly clang as a bullet ricocheted off the engine casing. Luckily there is nothing more difficult to hit than a diving plane, and the Moth now had her head down in earnest and was shooting earthwards at terrific speed. The next instant the sunlight vanished and a surge of heavy mist hid the pursuing plane.


XXVI. — DICKY TAKES A HAND

FOG! That fog through which they had flown on their way home from Whitby was nothing to this. They could see neither sky nor ground, and in an instant were utterly lost. But that was not the worst of it, for the wind that raged inside the great thundercloud pitched the little plane about like a shuttlecock. It seemed to come all ways at once, and though Curt did his best to hold her to it, the controls were almost useless, and at one moment the speed indicator would show barely fifty miles an hour and at another over a hundred. It was only by the instruments that it was possible to tell whether the plane was climbing skyward or hurtling down towards the earth.

Curt had to keep the engine at full throttle in order to battle with the storm. He did not speak, and Jack knew better than to interrupt him, for it was clear that he needed all the energy he possessed to keep any sort of control. For Jack it was almost worse than for Curt, for Jack had nothing to do but to sit tight and try to fight down the feeling of terror with which the amazing antics of the plane filled him, as terrible eddies and whirlwinds twisted the Moth madly in every direction.

Something darker even than the cloud loomed up ahead amid the smother of smoking cloud-wreaths, and Jack cried a sharp warning through the 'phone. Then a blue glare of lightning leaped around them, and they caught a vague glimpse of a towering mountain side. Curt managed to drag the plane's nose round just in time to save driving straight into it; then the cloud shut down again thick as ever.

"What was it?" he asked of Jack.

"Looked like Tall Fell," replied Jack, "but I didn't see enough to make sure."

"Surely we can't be back there! We ought to be fifty miles north."

"We might be anywhere," said Jack grimly. "I say, sir, I wish we could get out of this."

"I'll try to get above it again," Curt told him. "Those beauties must be far enough away by now."

He started to climb again, and for a while the Moth responded. But the wind was more furious than ever, and the constant blaze of lightning mingled with the never-ending roar of thunder was terribly confusing. They got to three thousand feet, and the cloud was still thick as ever, when the Moth began to wallow in a terrifying manner, and the next moment got into a spin. Downwards she plunged while Curt vainly wrestled with the controls.

"Our number's up this time," said Jack beneath his breath, as he tried to nerve himself for the inevitable crash.

His eyes were on the barograph, the needle of which was spinning backwards. Then when the instrument showed that they were not more than three hundred feet from the ground there came a slight lull, and somehow Curt regained control and began to fight his way up again.

"Close call, that, Jack," he said through the 'phone, and Jack knew by the sound of his voice how heavy the strain had been.

Another flash seemed to wrap the whole plane in white fire and was followed by a crack like the explosion of a twelve-inch gun; then, while the plane was still quivering with the shock, down came the rain in torrents. It beat upon them like hail, blinding and half drowning them.

"That's the last of it, I do believe," said Curt in a tone of great relief, and presently Jack began to realize that he was right, for with the coming of the rain the wind had become less violent and the poor little battered plane rode more easily.

Curt kept her climbing, and in less than five minutes it began to grow lighter. Then, without the slightest warning, they were back in brilliant sunshine with the great storm again beneath them. Jack looked all round, but there was no sign of the smuggler's plane, and he drew a long breath of relief.

"Clearing to the north," said Curt cheerfully. "We're out of it at last, Jack."

"A good thing, too," sighed Jack. "I was scared stiff."

"So was I, especially when we got into that spin. But the Moth did fine, Jack."

"And so did you, sir," declared Jack. "I say, isn't that Langdon Fell just showing up below? I seem to know that cairn on top."

"You're right," replied Curt after a moment's pause. "Then we are quite close to Tall Fell. We must have gone round in a circle."

"Several circles," said Jack, with a laugh. He shivered. "It's awful cold up here, sir."

"That's because we're so wet," replied Curt, "but I can take her down a bit now, and in another ten minutes at most the storm will have passed and we can make Farndon."

He was right, for the storm swept southwards at great speed, and the huge blue-black cloud, still viciously spitting lightning, rolled away down the fells towards Derbyshire. Curt followed it, and within a very few minutes the Moth landed her two soaked and chilled passengers on the flying field at Farndon. Joe Worthy had seen them coming and was waiting for them.

"Nice sort o' weather you picks for flying, I don't think," was his greeting. Then he saw how wet they were. "You don't mean as you've been in that there storm?"

"In it, Joe?" Jack answered. "Yes, right inside it for more than half an hour."

Joe shook his head. "You was mighty lucky to get out alive then. That's all I got to say. It were blowing nigh a mile a minute when it struck us here. A proper tornado, I calls it. But come right in, both of you. Master Dick, he'll be proper glad to see you."

Dicky Trask was at the door, and Curt cried out at the sight of him.

"Dicky, I haven't seen you look so fit in years. Why, you've lost at least two stone."

"Oh, I'm all right!" replied Dicky, with a grin. "Which is more than I can say for you two. You look as if you'd been dragged through a wet hedge backwards. Come in and tell me all about it. But first you must have a change."

He got them dry clothes, and Mrs. Milson produced a most wonderful tea. She was a Yorkshire woman and famous for her scones and pastry. Over tea Curtis told Dicky of their experiences, and Jack was amazed to see the way in which Dicky's usually good-natured face changed and hardened.

"You mean to say these swine shot at you?" he exclaimed.

"They certainly did," replied Curt. "You can see the holes in the Moth's wings if you will go out and look at her."

Dicky's eyes glittered oddly, and for the first time Jack realized how he had got his great reputation in the War.

"You haven't told any one else, Curt?" he said.

"Not even Joe," was the answer.

"Then you'll kindly keep quiet. I'm going to handle this job."

"But the police. We ought to tell the police," said Curt.

"Not a word to the police or the Customs people or any one else," said Dicky forcibly. "This is my job. You quite understand."

Curt shrugged his shoulders. "All right, Dicky, only for goodness' sake be careful. These people are dangerous."

Jack helped himself to another scone but said nothing. He was not going to make any promises if he could help it, for he felt that Bill must know about this business as soon as possible.

While the others were having tea Joe had gone over the Moth, and when they came out he pronounced her not a penny the worse for all her knocking about; so as the weather had cleared and the sun was out, Curt flew her straight back to her hangar below Crosby's farm. Then he and Jack walked home together.

Bill was not at home when Jack got in, and Mrs. Dent said he had gone to Garth for some shopping. He came in for supper, and Jack told him exactly what had happened. Bill was as angry as Dicky had been.

"They actually shot at you?" he exclaimed fiercely.

"I should jolly well think they did, Bill. If you look at the Moth you'll see two holes through her canvas and a mark on the body just above the engine where a bullet glanced off. If we hadn't ducked right into the cloud they'd have had us for a certainty."

Bill sat silent for some moments. He was frowning heavily, and on his face was something of the same hard look that Jack had seen on Dicky's.

"The dirty dogs!" he said at last. "And if they'd finished you I'd never have known. But I know now, and, by thunder, they're going to be sorry before they've finished! Keep your mouth shut about this, Jack, my boy. I'm going to settle it."

Jack hesitated. It was in his mind to tell Bill that Dicky Trask was already on the job. But he had always acted on the old precept, "Least said, soonest mended," and he decided to keep his mouth shut. It was not long before he had good reason to wish that he had not been so silent.


XXVII. — THE ATTACK ON THE HANGAR

THE next day Jack went up to the hangar immediately after school. He wanted to repair the bullet holes in the canvas of the plane before any other members of the Patrol saw them. But Kip saw and followed him, so Jack felt obliged to tell him what had happened the previous day. Kip bit his lip.

"Jack," he said, "this is beyond a joke. We've got to stop it."

"Don't worry," said Jack. "Dicky's on the warpath, and he and Mr. Clinton will handle these blighters. You and I have just got to sit tight and say nothing."

Kip was not convinced. "Seems to me this is our job, Jack. After all, the plane belongs to the Patrol."

"Dicky gave it to us," replied Jack, "and you've got to remember that he was an ace in the War."

"But he's not now," returned Kip.

"He is, Kip. If you'd seen him yesterday you wouldn't have any sort of doubt about that. I tell you when he gets on these fellows' tails they'll be sorry."

"But what's he going to do?" asked Kip bluntly.

"I don't know. He didn't tell me. What he said was that we were to keep our mouths shut, and he'd handle it."

Kip grunted. He did not seem convinced, but said no more, and helped Jack with the work. The two were busy as beavers when they were startled by a woman's voice.

"Jack—Jack Milner, are you there?"

Jack laid down his tools, went out, and walked right into the arms of a tall, slim girl with very fair bobbed hair and blue eyes, who promptly hugged and kissed him. Very red and embarrassed, Jack drew back. The girl pointed a finger at him.

"Jack, I do believe you've forgotten me," she accused.

Jack gasped. "Why—why, it's Bessie!" he exclaimed.

"Of course it's Bessie. Did you think it was some strange young woman kissing you?" she laughed.

"But—but I thought you were in hospital. I—I never knew you had come home," stammered Jack.

"I was in hospital until yesterday, and came home to-day."

"You look quite jolly," declared Jack, gazing at her.

"I am nearly well, Jack dear, and I have been longing to get home so that I could thank you for all you have done for me."

"Me? I never did anything," exclaimed Jack.

"But of course you did. Wasn't it you who sent dad to me in your aeroplane?"

"That wasn't anything, Bessie. There wasn't any other way to send him."

"It was just everything, Jack," Bessie told him. "It made dad and me friends again—and my husband, too."

"I'm jolly glad of that," said Jack, "but all the same it was none of my doing."

"We won't argue," laughed Bessie, "but I'm longing for a good talk. Will you and Kip come over and have supper with us? I want you to meet my husband."

Jack hesitated, and Bessie understood.

"Dad's asked you," she added.

"Thanks awfully," said Jack. "Then we'll come like a shot."

"I will expect you in half an hour, and don't go back to the Hut to wash. You can tidy up in Jeff's room."

She went back, and Jack and Kip finished their job, locked up, and walked over to the farm where old Crosscut received them cordially. The old chap had changed a lot in the past few weeks—softened and become more human. Bessie introduced them to her husband, a good-looking young artist.

Then they sat down to supper, cold rabbit pie with mashed potatoes, bread and butter, jam, cake and tea—a good solid meal which they were all hungry enough to enjoy. Crosscut talked away suprisingly, and Geoffrey Martin told them of various adventures he had had on painting tours. It turned out that he was also a keen angler, so he and the boys got on well together, and Jack asked him to come and try for trout in their water at Tarnside. It was all so jolly that they forgot the time, and Jack got a shock when he looked at the clock and saw that it was just on ten. He jumped up, said he was sorry for staying so late, and after good-nights all round had been said he and Kip started down the dale.

It was a fine night but cloudy, and, as there was no moon, pretty dark. The path took them within fifty yards of the hangar, but before they reached this spot Kip caught Jack by the arm.

"Did you hear that?" he whispered.

"I didn't hear anything," replied Jack in an equally low voice.

"Listen," said Kip, and Jack, standing quite still, heard a low crunching sound.

"I get it. Some one using an auger," he whispered.

"Or a brace and bit. Jack, there's some one at the hangar."

"You're right, Kip; it'll be some of that smuggler crowd trying to get at the Moth. Come on."

Kip held on to Jack's arm.

"Don't be an ass. There may be two or three men there, and we shouldn't have an earthly. We must get help."

Jack hesitated. He knew Kip was right, yet feared that the damage might be done while they were fetching help.

"Tell you what, Kip. You cut back and get old Crosscut and Geoffrey Martin. Tell them to bring sticks. I'll go on quietly and watch."

"Don't let the men see you," Kip warned him sharply.

"All right," Jack promised. "I'll be careful. You jolly well hurry."

Kip flitted away like a shadow, and Jack began to move softly towards the hangar. The hangar had been built on the edge of the field which the Patrol rented from Farmer Crosby, and there was a wall behind it—what is called a dry stone wall built of big stones piled without mortar. This wall, about four feet high, gave Jack pretty good cover. As he moved up to it, the sound became louder and he knew for certain that some one was cutting a hole in the door or wall of the hangar—probably in the door, for the easiest way to get in would be to cut out the lock. Just as he got to the wall the noise ceased.

"All clear?" came a gruff whisper.

"It was done," answered another voice which Jack recognized at once as that of his old enemy, Browle. "Give to me der box."

"I'll handle the box," said the other curtly. "All you've got to do is to open the door."

"She was open," replied Browle sulkily.

Jack's heart beat hard as he peered over the wall, but he could see nothing, for the dark bulk of the shed was between him and the plotters. The box—what was the box? At all costs he must find out, for the damage might be done before Kip and the others arrived. If he couldn't see the men, they could not see him, and he quickly climbed the wall.

The wall, as we have said, was of dry stone, and as Jack put his weight on the top stone he felt it sway. He made a desperate effort to recover his balance, but it was no good. The stone rolled over, and he was forced to make a wild jump forward to save himself from being crushed by it. He landed in a heap on the grass, but the big stone came down with a crash which in the quiet of the night sounded as loud as a thunder-clap.

"What was that?" Jack heard Browle ask in a frightened whisper.

The other man did not wait to ask questions; he came rushing round the end of the hangar. Jack knew it was no good trying to bolt, for the wall behind him cut off his escape, and long before he could get over it the other would have him. In the second or two that was his in which to take a decision he made up his mind to play the bold game, and springing to his feet charged straight for the dim figure that came at him. Bending low, he collared him round the knees and brought him down with a smash. But as he fell the man's knee struck Jack on the side of the head and bowled him over, too.

Half stunned by the force of the blow, Jack made a desperate effort to pick himself up and did succeed in doing so. But his head was ringing so that he could hardly stand, and before he could do anything a heavy hand caught him by the collar with a grip of iron. Without a word the man dragged him round to the front of the shed.

"I've got him, Browle," he said in a low quick voice. "It's one of those Scouts. Hold him."

"Was you sure he was alone?" asked Browle in a scared whisper.

"There's no one else there. Take him, you fool! Hold him while I finish the job."

Finish the job! To Jack these words sounded like a death- knell, for they could have only one meaning, which was that these fellows intended to finish the Moth. His head was clearing rapidly, and he vowed to himself that they should not do this thing if he could stop them. As Browle caught hold of him he kicked out with all his force, and the toe of his heavy boot met Browle's shin with a force that brought a shriek of pain from that worthy and made him release his hold.

"Idiot!" snarled the other man, and as he spoke he made a grab at Jack.


XXVIII. — KIP WANTS WAR

HE was too late, for Jack ducked free and went scudding away across the open field as hard as his legs would carry him. The fellow came after him in a silence that was worse than threats. Jack knew he was dangerous and ran like the wind. In the dark behind him he heard the soft thudding of his pursuer's feet, and knew that the man was not falling behind. Jack's only advantage was that he knew the ground, and he made desperately for the gate at the bottom of the field.

Lights flashed near the hangar, he heard some one shout his name, but had not the breath to reply. With his heart thumping as if it would burst he gained the gate a bare dozen paces ahead of his pursuer and gasped with relief to find it open. Dodging to the left, he flung himself flat under the wall and lay still as a mouse. His one hope was that the other would not notice his manoeuvre. A moment of dreadful suspense, then the steps went pounding past, and as the dimly seen form melted into the darkness Jack sprang up, ducked back through the gate, and hurried towards the hangar.

"Jack! Jack!" came Kip's voice, and a moment later Jack staggered into the light of a flash-lamp.

"Have you got him?" he asked hoarsely.

"Got whom?" asked Kip.

"Browle."

"Was it Browle ? No, there was no one here. Are you hurt, Jack?"

"N-no—only winded. That box, Kip. What is it?"

"What box?"

"We've got it," sang out Geoffrey Martin. "Careful, you chaps! Steady! There's a fuse here. Great Scot, I believe it's an infernal machine."

"Wait a jiffy!" said Kip. "I'll get some nippers."

He plunged into the hangar, came back with a pair of nippers and carefully cut the fuse away from the box. Martin picked up the box.

"It's a bomb all right. Full of explosive. Boys, there wouldn't have been much of your plane left if this thing had gone off."

"And Jack here chased 'em off," said old Crosby. "By gum, lad, but I'm proud of you!"

"But they've got away," said Jack sadly. "Now they'll try it again."

"I'll lay they don't," returned the farmer harshly. "Not if I has to sleep here in this shed myself. Any one as tries any monkey business from now on is going to get two charges o' buckshot out o' this." He tapped the heavy old twelve bore that he was carrying.

"No need for you to stay out, Mr. Crosby," said Kip. "Jack and I will take charge to-night, and if we keep a candle burning I'll lay those fellows won't come back again."

Crosby objected, but the boys persuaded him at last, and he went off, promising to send them blankets and candles. He also insisted on leaving his gun with them.

That night the two boys took it by turns to watch and sleep, but they were not disturbed in any way. Farmer Crosby gave them a good breakfast and promised to keep an eye on the hangar during the day, and they went off to school together.

"This settles it, Jack," said Kip. "We can't lie low any longer. My notion is to go straight to the police station and tell Carter the whole thing. Then he'll be able to arrest Browle."

"The odds are he won't," replied Jack. "Though Browle has been about here for weeks, no one knows where he lives."

"Carter can find out. He'll get on the telephone to the police stations all round."

Jack did not answer at once, and Kip grew annoyed.

"Do you want those blighters to bust up the plane?" he demanded.

"Don't be an ass, Kip. But there's more in this than I can tell even to you. See here, let's wait till we can see Mr. Clinton."

"He'll be the first to say we ought to go to the police."

"Anything he says goes," replied Jack.

"All right," said Kip. "But what are we to say to the other chaps? They'll be asking a few questions about this busted lock and everything. Besides, we'll have to keep a guard on at night until Browle and Co. are rounded up."

"We must tell them, of course," agreed Jack. "Only don't mention Browle, Kip."

"Why not?" demanded Kip sharply.

Jack looked worried. "That's the one thing I can't tell you, Kip, but you know I wouldn't ask you unless I had a jolly good reason."

Kip thawed at once. "All right, old man! I'm mum about Browle until you give me leave to speak." He paused and shook his head. "But it's a rum business," he added thoughtfully.

The Patrol were furious when they heard about the attack on the Moth, and it was quickly arranged that two boys should mount guard every night at the hangar. Kip gave Jack full credit for the way in which he had defeated the two men, and the Patrol was tremendously grateful. After school Jack was offered more chocolates than he could possibly eat.

Jack generally ate his midday meal at the Hut, and he had hoped to see the Scoutmaster there, for Mr. Clinton dropped in at midday. But to-day he was not there, and Jack found he had to wait all through the long hours of afternoon school. When at last he got out he ran nearly all the way to the trout farm. The door of Curt's little bungalow was shut and locked, and Jack, turning away, saw old Agar busy feeding the young trout.

"Where's Mr. Clinton?" he asked.

"He've gone to Lunnon. Didn't ye know?" was the answer.

"Gone to London!" exclaimed Jack in dismay. "When's he coming back?"

"He didn't know for sure. Maybe not till next week."

Jack was really worried as he hurried homewards.

"I shall have to tell Bill," he said. "And Bill must jolly well do something about it. I'm going to tell him so."

Mrs. Dent, their housekeeper, met him at the door.

"So it's you, Jack, at last," she said sharply. "And where's your brother?"

Jack stopped short. "Isn't he at home?"

"Would I be asking where he was if he was here?" retorted Mrs. Dent, who seemed decidedly upset.

"When did he leave home?"

"Last evening about five. Promised he'd be home for supper, and never a sign of him since. And I cooked that nice roast of pork and no one to eat it."

Jack hardly heard her last words. Bill had promised to be home for supper and had not come. What did it mean? Where was Bill? A feeling of panic came over Jack.


XXIX. — NIGHT IN THE RIFT

THOUGH the cold pork was fat and tender, Jack had precious little appetite for his supper, and when at last he went to bed he slept badly. He was up at break of day, but still there was no sign of Bill. After feeding the pigs and chickens he had nearly an hour before breakfast, and he wandered restlessly about the place. He kept on telling himself that there was no need to be in such a fright about Bill. Bill often went off for a day or two without telling any one where he was going, and came home as suddenly as he had left, yet for all that Jack could not get rid of his haunting fears. At last he went towards the gate and leaned over it, looking up and down the road. No one was in sight, but as he turned to go back to the house he suddenly caught sight of something lying in the long grass close to the road.

It was Bill's old brown felt hat. He picked it up quickly and saw that it was flattened out as if some one had put a foot on it. Yes, and there were nail-marks in the felt. Now Jack was properly scared. With the hat in his hand he ran back to the house.

"Was Bill wearing this when he went out?" he asked Mrs. Dent.

A frightened look crossed Mrs. Dent's thin face. "Yes, I reckon so. Where did you find it?"

Jack told her, and Mrs. Dent went paler still.

"It's that there Browle," she said. "I never did trust that nasty, shambling furriner."

Jack grabbed his own hat.

"I must go. I must find out where Bill is."

Mrs. Dent caught him by the arm.

"Not till you've had some breakfast. You didn't eat any supper to speak of. You just sit down and eat something, Jack."

Of course she was right, and Jack obeyed. He swallowed a slice of bread and butter and drank a cup of tea. Then he was off, full pelt. It was still half an hour before school time when he reached Garth, and he went straight to Mr. Hoyle and asked for a day off for himself and Kip Carter.

"I can't tell you what it is, sir, but it's very important."

Mr. Hoyle had not been a schoolmaster for twenty years without knowing when a boy was telling the truth, and he made no bones about letting Jack off. Jack fled towards the Carters' house and met Kip coming out with his books under his arm. Kip listened keenly to Jack's story.

"It does look bad," he agreed soberly. "And the worst of it is Mr. Clinton being away. But we must have help. Let's get on the telephone to Dicky."

"That's a good notion," Jack agreed, and they went off to the Post Office.

There was some delay in getting through; then Mrs. Milson's voice answered.

"Mr. Trask is away, Jack. He and Mr. Clinton went to London together, and they didn't say just when they'd be back. They may come to-day or not till the end of the week."

"Then Joe, Mrs. Milson. I'd like to speak to Joe Worthy."

"Joe went with them, Jack. There's no one here but me and the maids."

Jack groaned as he hung up. "What are we to do now, Kip?" he asked.

"There's Crosby," suggested Kip.

"No use to us," replied Jack, with decision.

"Then we'll have to go to the police."

"No," said Jack sharply. "I might get Bill into all sorts of trouble. He's in this smuggling business up to the neck, or has been."

Kip shrugged his shoulders. "Then you and I have got to tackle the job ourselves."

Jack looked hard at his friend. "Are you game, Kip?"

Kip flushed a little. "That's a rotten question, Jack."

"It isn't, Kip. It's a filthy risk, and Bill's my brother, not yours."

"Well, you're my pal, aren't you, and we're both Scouts? Dry up talking tommy rot and let's get down to brass tacks. What do you think they've done with Bill?"

"Taken him to Tall Fell, I think."

"That's what I think," agreed Kip. "They've probably got him in the cave. The only question is whether they'll keep him there. You see, Browle knows that we know of his secret hangar."

"Then you mean they might take him away in the plane?"

"That's about the size of it."

"But why?"

"It's one of two things," said Kip in his shrewd way. "It may be that Bill knows too much and they're afraid of his giving them away, or it may be just revenge because he's turned them down."

Jack nodded. "I suspect it's revenge. Browle's an awful beast. Our job is to go to Tall Fell and scout around. Come on."

Kip shook his head. "We've got to think things out a bit first, Jack. No use running into it bull-headed. If we go there now they're certain to spot us, for they'll be expecting a visit. Then they'll bottle us as well as Bill."

"But what else can we do?" asked Jack in despair.

"Oh, we'll go all right! Only we must wait till dark. And before we go we must leave a message for Mr. Clinton or some one so that he'll know where we are in case anything goes wrong."

"You mean we've got to wait all day?" asked Jack in dismay.

"Yes, but we have to get our ropes and things, and we can start about five."

Jack had to agree that Kip was right. A note was written and left in the Hut, and Kip went with Jack to Tarnside to get the rope and climbing tackle. To Jack it seemed the longest day he had ever spent, but the time passed at last, and after an early tea the two left for Tall Fell. It was a dull, cool day, no rain but a gusty wind which was certainly not good for flying.

It was not nearly dark when the two reached the bottom of the Fell, and they had to wait for some time before going up. When they did venture to the edge of the rift there was no light, no sign of life, no sound except the murmur of the water below. The wind had dropped at sunset.

"I'm afraid they've left," whispered Kip.

"I'm going to find out," said Jack firmly.

"Of course," replied Kip. "We'd better go down the same way we went before."

There was light enough to find the place and fix the bar, but it was a daunting business going down over the rim into the black depths of the gorge. This time, however, they had brought a double length of rope, so the descent was easier, and in about half an hour the two were safe on the floor of the gorge.

"I'm not going to leave the rope dangling, Jack," whispered Kip, and taking the end he tied a stone to it, then climbed up a little way and tucked the coil into a crevice eight or ten feet up.

"Jolly good notion," agreed Jack, as they started towards the upper end of the rift.

They had to go slowly and cautiously, for it was very dark down here, and there were lots of loose stones. It took a long time before they reached the slope at the foot of the cave, and there they stopped and listened. At last Jack nudged Kip.

"I heard something," he whispered.

"So did I. I think it was some one snoring."

"Then Bill's still here," said Jack eagerly.

"He may be, but don't count on it. Jack, will you stay here while I scout?"

"No," replied Jack emphatically. "We'll go together."

"All right, but don't stand up. Crawl and keep close to the wall."

Silent as two lizards, the pair went up the slope on hands and knees until they reached the level floor of the cave. Jack put his lips close to Kip's ear.

"Some one is snoring," he said.

"You're right. Let's see if the plane's here."

It was dark as pitch, and they had to grope in the blackness. Jack's outstretched hand touched something hard and smooth. It was the tyre of one of the wheels of the plane. He thrilled as he called Kip's attention to it.

"They haven't gone. Bill must be here somewhere."

"Yes, but how are you going to find him?" replied Kip in an equally low tone.

Both stood quietly beside the plane. The snoring was plain to hear now, and some one else was breathing deeply. The sleepers were evidently behind the plane, so the boys moved onwards. Jack had one hand on the plane and stole forward on tip-toe till he reached the tail. Then there was nothing to guide him; yet by the sounds the sleepers were still some little way off. He pulled Kip forward gently, and the two went on step by step, treading like two cats.

Jack, a little in advance, felt his foot touch something. He drew back, but it was too late. A bell jangled loudly, a blaze of light leaped out. Both boys turned to run, but it was too late. A man sprang up behind them, and two rushed on them in front. In a moment they were both caught. It was Browle who had hold of Jack, but this time the lanky fellow was taking no chances, and, kicking the boy's legs from under him, flung him to the floor and knelt on him.


Illustration

Both boys turned to run, but it was too late.


XXX. — NO ESCAPE!

"DAT was what come to dirty little spies," said Browle, grinning as he tied Jack's hands with a piece of thin cord. "But you was not spy any more." He chuckled in a very ugly fashion.

Jack was hardly listening. His eyes were on his brother Bill, who lay tied and gagged on the rocky floor of the cave under the far wall. The headlight of the plane had been switched on, and everything was plain in its white glare: Kip tied like himself, the other two men, one a stranger, short, square, with a brick- red face, a scrubby moustache and hard, pale blue eyes, the other the same dark, foreign-looking man whom Jack had met before at the gate of Tarnside and who had called himself Askew. Browle finished the tying and stood over Jack.

"You think we was fools, was it?" he jeered. "But we was not so foolish as you think." He chuckled again. "Spreckels!" He spoke to the red-faced man. "You was take that one, and we carry dem out."

Jack saw Bill straining desperately but uselessly to free himself, and called to him:

"All right, Bill. Don't worry about us. Mr. Clinton will soon be here."

Browle gave Jack a kick in the ribs.

"You was tell lie," he said harshly. "Dat Clinton was in London. He was not come here in a week."

"I suppose you're sure of that?" cut in Askew.

"I was quite sure," returned Browle. "We was safe here for a week."

As he spoke he stooped, picked up Jack, and started to carry him out of the cave. Spreckels followed, carrying Kip.

"What are you going to do with them?" Askew called out.

"We was look after them nicely," chuckled Browle, and switching on a light led the way down the slope into the open.

"Vat vas you doing with dem?" asked Spreckels, who spoke even worse English than Browle. "Vat for you was not leaving dem in der cave?"

"It was nice and cool for dem outside," Browle told him. "And it was put the wind up dat big Milner. He was think we kill dem."

Jack boiled with rage at this brutal remark, but with his hands tied he was helpless.

"We was put dem in der hole under der big rock," Browle went on, and turned to the left. The light of his torch shone upon a huge rock which had overbalanced and lay propped against the cliff. There was a space underneath into which the men roughly dumped their two prisoners. "You was get cold feet before morning," Browle jeered; then he and the other went off.

Jack drew a deep breath. "Kip, I'm sorry," he said hoarsely.

"What for?"

"Getting you into this mess."

"Don't talk rot. You couldn't help it. Besides, in his dirty spite Browle has jolly well overreached himself."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, dumping us here instead of keeping us in the cave. It's a pity if we can't get loose."

"Get loose?"

"Yes, we're only tied with string. I'll bet I can bite it through. Wriggle round and get your wrists close to my mouth."

Jack wriggled and after a little managed to get his tied wrists opposite to Kip's face. Kip was famous in the Patrol for the fact that he could crack a hazel nut with his front teeth, but biting a string through is another job, and doing it in the dark worse still. However, it took a lot to discourage Kip, and he stuck to his job manfully.

"Ugh!" he said at last. "I never knew string tasted so nasty. I'll have to take a rest."

While he lay back, Jack tried jerking his wrists, and suddenly he gave a low cry of delight.

"You've done it, Kip! I'm loose."

"Praise be for that!" said Kip "Now you'd better loose me."

Jack did not waste much time about that, and in a minute the two were standing up, peering out from their refuge.

"What do we do now—go back for Bill?" asked Kip.

"No," said Jack sharply. "We're going for help, and jolly quick, too. It's police or any one we can get. And we must be back before these fellows take Bill away."

"You're quite right," replied Kip quietly. "Let's get to it."

Together they stole away down the rift. They had to go slowly, for it was far too dark to see the rocks and stones which lay in their way. Later there would be a moon which would help them on their way to Garth. At last they found the place where they had come down, and Kip crawled up to get hold of the rope. He was so long over it that Jack lost patience.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Rope's gone," Kip answered grimly. "Browle's been too much for us this time, Jack."

"But you hid the end," returned Jack.

"I know I did, but they've climbed up and found it, or else they've been up to the top and shifted the bar and everything."

"How could they get up?"

"How can I tell?" retorted Kip sharply. "Anyhow it's gone, and how are we going to get out?"

"We must climb up," said Jack fiercely.

"Don't be an ass. It won't help Bill to break our necks."

"But we've got to get help," said Jack wildly.

Kip knew his chum was half mad with the danger threatening his brother.

"We'll try to climb if you like, Jack," he said, "but we can't until it's light. It's dawn about four. We've just got to wait."

Jack had enough sense left to know that Kip was right, and agreed, but those hours of waiting were the worst that he had ever known. The two found a hiding-place in a cleft and huddled close together, for it was very cold up at this height. Part of the time they dozed and part they talked, and both were intensely relieved when the sky at last began to turn grey.

The first thing the light showed was that the lower half of their rope was gone. It had been pulled away by sheer force. The upper length to the half-way ledge was still there, but it was out of the question to reach it. Chilled and miserable, the pair stole down the rift, searching for some place where a climb would be possible. There was none.


XXXI. — UNDER THE HILLS

THE despair in Jack's eyes hurt Kip and spurred him to use all his brains. And Kip had brains in plenty.

"There must be some way out," he said.

"By the plane—that's all," said Jack dully.

"No," said Kip. "They bring their stuff in by plane, but I don't believe they take it out that way." He stopped short. "Jack, I've got it," he cried, and with that started down the brook.

Jack stared a moment, then followed. He thought Kip had gone crazy. But Kip was very far from crazy, and when Jack caught him he was standing at the spot where the little river disappeared into its tunnel in the face of the limestone cliff.

"That's their way," he said, with absolute conviction.

"That!" repeated Jack. "Nonsense!"

For answer Kip made a dart, stooped, and picked up something which his quick eye had caught, hanging in a cleft close by the water.

"Look at that!" he said in triumph.

Jack saw a small piece of oilskin.

"I see what you mean," he said slowly. "They float the stuff out this way."

"Of course. And go out themselves the same way."

"That doesn't follow," argued Jack. "Bales of light stuff could float down where a man couldn't go."

"But how did they find out the stuff would go unless one of them went down first to see?"

"You may be right," said Jack slowly.

"I'm sure I'm right. Anyhow, it's our only chance. Come on, old man!"

"It's a big risk, Kip," Jack said gravely. "We may get swept down into a pot-hole or wedged in some narrow place."

"We've got to take chances," Kip urged. "And there's no time to waste, for those beggars may take Bill off in the plane any minute."

That decided Jack. "All right," he said, and waded into the stream. The water was cold as ice, but there was plenty of room to walk upright under the arch. Luckily, too, it had not occurred to Browle to search them, so they still had their torches and matches in their pockets.

In a dozen steps they were in darkness, and Jack switched on his torch. The stream ran fairly straight, and the water was not more than knee deep. But the bed of the stream was of loose stones and they had to go carefully. After a bit they came to a fall. It was only about a foot high, but the water looked black and deep below. Kip held Jack while he went cautiously over. The water rose to his waist and the cold made him gasp, but he got through safely and Kip followed. A little further the roof dropped so that they had to walk bent almost double. Then, just as it seemed that the roof was coming right down on the water, it rose again.

"Lucky the stream's low," said Kip. "That would be a nasty place in a flood."

"Let's hope it doesn't rain," said Jack fervently.

Came another steep slope. No pebbles and the bottom smooth and horribly slippery. They had to hold on to the wall in order to keep their feet. As they passed down this they heard a distant roar which grew gradually louder. Jack stopped.

"Kip, we'd better be careful. That sounds like a big fall."

Kip nodded, and they went on. The slope grew steeper, and the roar of the falling water rose to a dull thunder. The tunnel curved, and Jack pulled up, and, clinging to a spur of rock, held his torch up so as to see what was ahead. The light was caught in a shimmer of falling foam, but where this came from he could not see.

"I wish we had a rope," he said uneasily. "I don't like this."

"Take my hand," said Kip. "Then perhaps you can see round the corner."

Kip clung to the spur, and Jack strained forward.

"A big cave," he announced. "And a fall coming in from above. We'll have to go right under it."

"All right. Hang on to me. Two pairs of legs are safer than one," said Kip cheerily.

The slope steepened, and it was all they could do to keep their legs in the rush of water. The next moment they were half drowned by a cloud of spray and deafened by the roar of falling water.

"Keep to the left," shouted Kip. "There's a ledge."

Jack nodded, and, clinging to the side of the rough rock, managed to edge round the upper side of a deep pool. Kip followed, and they found themselves in a huge cave so high that their light did not reach the roof. Their stream ran through the centre, and from a hole in the rock higher up a second stream spurted, falling in a cataract and joining the smaller river. Kip looked serious.

"We're in the soup, Jack. That water will be too deep to wade."

"Come on," said Jack doggedly "We've got to see."

It was a long way across that cavern. The cold, still air throbbed with the never-ceasing boom of the fall, and the gleam of Jack's torch shone on strangely shaped stalagmites which glittered like diamonds. When at last the boys reached the other side there was no need for words, for the stream that glided quietly under a high arch of rock was a river far too deep for wading. Jack's face whitened as he stood staring at the steadily flowing water.

"Then—we've—got—to—go—back," he said very slowly.

Kip did not answer at once. He was also looking at the river.

"Those fellows got their stuff down," he said. "There must be some way."

He began searching about and all of a sudden gave a shout which set the echoes rattling.

"A boat, Jack! A boat!"

And Jack, hardly able to believe his eyes, saw a rough punt, a mere wooden box about nine feet long and three wide, lying behind a rock on the edge of the river. In it were two paddles and a coil of rope.

"I knew it," cried Kip, as he caught hold of one end. "Shove her in, Jack. Now we shan't be long."

Half dazed, Jack helped Kip to put the punt in the water; he got in, and Kip, picking up the paddle, sent the boat flying down the tunnel. Jack fixed his torch in the bow and took the other paddle, and the light craft raced down the dark stream. After that there was no trouble at all. There were no rapids or falls: just a river running steadily under an arch of rock.

"I wish I knew where we were going," said Jack at last.

"Mean to say you don't know?" Kip asked.

"How should I?"

Kip laughed. "You'll see pretty soon. Switch that light off, for there's daylight ahead."

Jack did so, and sure enough about fifty yards ahead was a grey patch. A few more strokes and the little boat shot out on to the surface of a sheet of water on the ripples of which the morning sun glinted gaily. Jack looked round, and Kip saw a look of intense surprise cross his face.

"It—it's our tarn," he gasped. "And—and there's our house!"

Kip laughed again. "I knew it from the minute we started. Those smuggled goods, Jack, the things you saw Bill and Browle carry up from the tarn and put in your cellar, of course they came from the rift, and as soon as I saw that bit of oilskin I was sure how they had come."

"I never thought of it," said Jack simply, as he drove the boat to the landing place. "Well, thanks to you, Kip, we're out. Now we have to get all the way back."

Kip nodded. "Yes, but not alone. We must have help. Tell you what, Jack! We'll borrow Mr. Clinton's motor-bike and go and get help from Garth."

Jack nodded. "Come on," was all he said.

But Kip noticed how white the other was looking and he himself was conscious of a nasty gnawing feeling.

"Grub first," he said firmly. "It's no good starting and then crocking up."

"You get some grub. I'll go for the bike," said Jack quickly.

But Kip flatly refused and dragged Jack into the house where they found Mrs. Dent cooking breakfast.

Mrs. Dent got the shock of her life, for the boys were covered with mud and in the most awful pickle, but she slapped tea and hot bacon on the table and fed them well. She also brought dry clothes for both and insisted on them changing. Jack was in a fever of heat to get off, but Kip begged him not to worry.

"I don't suppose they'll start before evening," he said. "They'll never dream that we have escaped."

"I'm not taking any chances," replied Jack, as he set off.

They got the bike, and, riding at full speed into Garth, warned Carter, the policeman, and all the Scouts they could find. They got Butter Briggs's pony and one from old Crosby, and, mounted on these, Jack and Kip set off at full speed across the hills, with the rest following as best they might. In little more than an hour from leaving Tarnside the two were back on the edge of the rift.

"We're all right, Jack," said Kip. "They haven't started yet."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a crackling roar broke out beneath them, sending echoes crashing up and down the sides of the deep chasm. Jack looked at Kip.

"But they're starting now," he said bitterly.


XXXII. — THE D.H.

KIP started running to the head of the rift.

"Quickly, Jack!" he shouted, and Jack, though he had no idea of what Kip was after, followed. Above the mouth of the cave Kip stopped. "Stones!" he panted, and now Jack understood quickly enough.

He seized a stone and carried it to the edge. Kip did the same. The roar of the aeroplane engine was deafening. She was warming up, and the boys knew it was only a matter of a few moments before she would come out of the cave, and then she would take the air at once.

"We've got to get her as she comes out, Jack," shouted Kip.

He had to shout in order to be heard at all. Jack did not answer, for he was too busy collecting stones. The worst of it was that the stones on this part of the slope were scarce and small, shaly stuff—not big boulders. If the two had had time they might have got weighty rocks from higher up, but there was no time.

"She's coming!" cried Kip, and even as he spoke the nose of the aeroplane appeared beneath him. Both boys flung stones. Kip's went too far, but Jack's struck the nose of the machine and bounded off. Like a flash both boys picked up fresh stones and flung them. It was too late. The big plane had come down the long, smooth slope inside the cave and was travelling at flying speed by the time she reached the mouth. She had already taken the air, and the boys' second missiles fell harmlessly behind her. All that the pair could do was to watch helplessly while the big machine rose swiftly and, lifting clear of the gorge, turned in an easterly direction and drove upwards in a long, steep slant. Kip watched her until she faded into the clouds, then turned to Jack.

"Bill was in her," he said briefly.

Jack did not speak, and the look on his face frightened Kip.

"Don't look like that, Jack," he said sharply. "They won't kill Bill. I—hallo! Why—great goodness, they're coming back!"

He pointed as he spoke to a plane descending out of the film of soft cloud which lay about a thousand feet above the hill- tops, and Jack stared dully. But in a moment the dulness went out of his face and he was all alert again.

"It's not the patched plane," he cried. "It's—it's an English plane. A 'D.H.', I do believe. And—and it's coming down!"

"Coming down?" cried Kip in alarm. "Not into the gorge!"

"No, of course not. On top of the ridge. Plenty of room there."

It looked a risky landing-place, but was not really, for the top of the ridge was nearly half a mile long, an almost flat expanse covered with thin grass and scrubby heather. A swaling fire had crossed it in the spring, so there was a belt, more than a hundred yards wide, that was quite bare. And here the strange plane came down as quietly as a great bird. The moment the boys had seen her dropping they started towards her, and she was hardly at rest before they reached her.

"Hallo, the Scouts!" came a cheery voice. "What the dickens are you people doing here? We spotted you from above and came down to find out."

"It's Dicky!" gasped Kip. "And Mr. Clinton!"

"Dicky, indeed, you cheeky beggar!" grinned the pilot; then as he saw the look on the faces of the two boys his own expression changed completely. "What's the matter?" he asked sharply.

Somehow the boys gasped out their story, but they hadn't finished half of it before Dicky took action.

"Get in!" he ordered curtly, and the two boys scrambled aboard to find themselves in a cabin such as they had never dreamed of, a place with seats for four people and resembling the interior of a great limousine car. The engine was still running, and the boys had hardly got inside before Dicky had pushed forward the throttle. The roar increased, the propeller sang.

Dicky swung the big machine in a quick curve, and she ran back down the slope, bumping a little over the rough surface. Then the wheels came off the ground, and she rose swiftly and gracefully into the air. Jack had already got the 'phones over his ears, and at once Dicky began to talk.

"They've got Bill, you say?"

"Yes, sir, and gone east. Didn't you see them?"

"No. We were in the cloud. We'd been flying above it but dipped into it probably just as they rose into it. Gone easterly, you say?"

"Yes, sir."

Dicky grunted. "That means Holland."

"Have you enough petrol for that, sir?" asked Jack anxiously.

"Plenty. I've only just come from home. We got in last night and spent the night there, and Joe filled her before starting. She takes eighty gallons, which will carry her four hundred and fifty miles."

Jack heaved a sigh of relief. "Four hundred and fifty miles! Why, that would take her to Holland and back. Do you think they've gone to Holland, sir?"

"I think they mean to go there," Dicky answered. "It remains to be seen whether they will get there."

Though Dicky spoke very quietly a little thrill ran through Jack. He noticed that Dicky was climbing all the time, and he had a feeling that something big was going to happen.

"Whose plane is this, sir?" he asked.

"Mine, Jack. Do you like her?"

"Like her!" repeated Jack, gazing around at the beautifully- fitted cabin, with its wall covered with blue leather, white enamelled roof and sliding windows of unbreakable glass. "She—she's simply gorgeous, sir. A D.H., isn't she?"

"Yes. D.H. 61 with a Bristol-Jupiter engine. Some bus, Jack. She'll carry a ton, and her cruising speed is a hundred and ten, but she'll do better than that with a bit of shoving. Folding wings, split under-carriage, and as sturdy as they make 'em. Best machine I've ever handled. But we are getting out of the clouds. You and Kip keep a sharp look-out for the smuggler."

The D.H. had just broken through the layer of cloud and was flying into brilliant sunshine. Below was a flat floor of silvery mist which hid the earth. Jack looked round, and so did Kip, but there was no sign of any other machine in the air.

"You can't see her either, sir, can you?" Jack asked of Curt.

There was no need to use the 'phone inside the cabin, for it was so nearly sound-proof that the three who were in it could talk in ordinary voices.

"No, and it's funny," responded the Scoutmaster. "They were not up more than five minutes ahead of us, were they?"

"No, sir," said Jack. "Not more than five or six minutes."

"Then they can't be more than—say—eight miles away, and we could see a plane of her size at ten or twelve in this clear air."

"Unless they're flying in the cloud, sir," said Jack.

"I'll ask Mr. Trask," said Curt, and he spoke through the 'phone to Dicky.

"Flying in the cloud!" repeated Dicky. "Nonsense! No one would dream of doing such a fool thing when it's all clear above."

"Then why can't we see her?" asked Curt.

"Beats me," said Dicky.

"Do you think her pilot saw us, and is flying low on purpose to dodge us?"

"I'm perfectly certain they didn't see us," replied Dicky. "We should have seen them. You and I were looking out pretty sharply. As I said before, we dipped through the cloud just as they rose into it."

"In that case they must have gone down again," said Curt.

"Or crashed," added Jack.

"Or crashed," repeated Curt to Dicky.

"They haven't crashed," said Dicky. "The man who flies that plane is a pretty useful pilot. As for going down, what on earth would they want to land for?"

"I know," cried Kip, putting his mouth to the receiver. "They might have stopped to destroy the Moth. You know they tried to do it the other night."

"Gosh!" exclaimed Dicky. "That is on the cards. If they have—" He did not finish his sentence, but his tone made his meaning clearer than words. As he spoke he turned the plane and put her nose down. With her speed—nearly two miles a minute—it was only a matter of seconds before she was over Garth. Dicky shot down through the clouds and flew at a height of only a few hundred feet above the village. Jack could see people running out and staring up at the big bright plane which roared so close overhead.

"No sign of them," said Kip in a tone of deep relief.

"No, the hangar is all right," added Curt. "But where have the fellows gone?"

Dicky spoke. "I'm going up again, you chaps. Wherever the smugglers are we're bound to spot them sooner or later if we only go high enough."

He pointed the nose of the D.H. upwards, and, in spite of his anxiety for his brother, Jack was amazed at the way in which she climbed. The angle was terrific. Indeed, as he found out afterwards, this particular type of machine can climb at the rate of nearly a thousand feet a minute! Then, as they shot rocket- like towards the grey canopy above, there came a yell from Kip.

"There they are! There's the patched plane. See—just coming over the top of Low Fell!"


XXXIII. — AIR MANOEUVRES

THE D.H. was headed in exactly the opposite direction to Low Fell, so that Dicky did not see the smuggler's plane, and by the time Curt had shouted the news to him and he had brought the D.H. round the patched plane was already disappearing into the cloud overhead. Dicky lost no time in following, but before he was within two miles of the quarry the latter was out of sight, hidden in the thick layer of grey stratus cloud that covered the whole sky at a height of about two thousand feet. Curt looked at Jack.

"What on earth were they doing down there?" he asked.

"I suspect they landed at our place, sir," replied Jack quietly.

"What—to leave your brother there?"

"No such luck, I'm afraid," said Jack ruefully. "More likely they stopped to pick up some of their stuff which had been left in our cellar."

Curt gave the boy a quick look. "Smuggled stuff sent down the river from the rift," he said. "Yes, I am beginning to piece things together, Jack, and to understand why you and Kip tried to run this business on your own. You were afraid of getting Bill into trouble?"

"That's it, sir," answered Jack. "And a nice mess I've made of it."

"I don't see that, Jack. It was not your fault that these fellows carried off Bill, and if you and Kip had not gone in chase Mr. Trask and I would not have known anything about it."

"Then you didn't get my note, sir."

"I got no note. Mr. Trask was just flying over the rift to have a look round. It was only because we saw you boys that we landed."

"It was jolly lucky for us, sir," said Jack gravely. "But I don't know whether it's going to do any good. We can't do anything to the smuggler's plane even if we do catch her."

"You can safely leave that to Mr. Trask," said Curt dryly. "If the worst comes to the worst we can follow them to Holland and get your brother back."

"I hope so," said Jack, but there was no confidence in his voice.

Meanwhile the D.H. had reached the clouds again and, still rising, was driving through what seemed like a wet fog. The fog thinned, the light grew.

"All of that, sir," said Jack. "Still, I don't see how it will help us except that we can keep up with them."

"That's all we want to do," said Kip. "We'll nab them all right when we get to Holland."

"How do you know?" retorted Jack. "The chances are they'll come down in some lonely place where their own gang is waiting for them. There may be a dozen big fellows ready to tackle us."

Kip looked serious. "I hadn't thought of that," he allowed. "What a pity we can't drive the beggars down!"

"No use thinking of that," said Jack sadly. "Even if we had a machine gun we dare not use it, for we should only finish poor old Bill."

The wind up here was due east and blowing fairly briskly, so that, in spite of the high air speed, they were not covering the ground at more than eighty. They were flying at about four thousand feet, but owing to the layer of cloud below could see nothing of either land or sea. The D.H. was overtaking the fugitive craft, and each minute brought the two planes closer. Kip nudged Jack.

"We're rising," he said.

Jack nodded. He, too, had seen that Dicky was using his extra speed to get above the other ship. The smuggler saw it, too, and made an attempt to climb. It was no use, for he simply hadn't the power. Besides, he was carrying a heavier load—four grown men and probably some cargo into the bargain.

Presently Dicky swung sideways and in a few minutes was actually above the smuggler, flying over her right wing. Jack and Kip, hanging out of the open window of the cabin, were able to look right down into the open cockpit of the other plane. They could see the faces of Browle and Spreckels staring upwards like two white blobs, and Bill Milner lying in the back of the cockpit, apparently tied.

All of a sudden the D.H. swooped downwards and Kip held his breath in horror, for so sudden was the drop that for a moment he believed Dicky had lost control. Nose downwards the D.H. seemed to be dropping right on top of the patched plane.

Askew, piloting the patched plane, saw the D.H. coming down and swerved to the left, at the same time putting his nose down. Still Dicky came hurtling downwards. Then, at the very last moment, just as it seemed that the two machines must crash together and go hurtling to their doom nearly a mile below, Dicky zoomed upwards, missing the smuggler by barely her own length.

"Wh—what's he doing?" asked Kip shakily. "He—he isn't going to ram her?"

Jack laughed, and it was the first time he had laughed for more than twenty-four hours.

"Don't get scared, Kip. He's only doing the shepherd act."

"Shepherd?" questioned Kip blankly.

"Yes. Don't you see what he's after? He means to drive the other plane down."

"O-oh!" gasped Kip.

"You are quite right, Jack," said Curt. "That is exactly what Dick is after. And, by Jove, I believe he'll do it, too! See, he's forced her round already."

That was just what Dicky had done. Askew, the smuggler's pilot, had been forced to turn north, and though he tried again and again to get back to his original course he could not do it. Dicky maintained his position just over the right wing and a little above it, and so the two flew together for some minutes, heading right up towards Scotland.

But Askew was not done yet. Without the slightest warning he flung his machine into a sharp descent and with all the added speed given him by his drop darted forward again on his old course towards the east. So quick was he that for the moment he almost caught Dicky napping. Almost, but not quite, for, darting after him like a pike dashing downwards on a trout, Dicky forced him round again. In these manoeuvres the two planes had lost five hundred feet altitude and were so much nearer to the carpet of cloud beneath.

"Watch that chap, Spreckels," said Kip sharply to Jack.

The planes were so close that the boys could see the faces of the men in the smuggler's machine. Browle was scowling sullenly, but Spreckels's hard, reddish face had a most vicious expression. As Kip spoke, Spreckels was fumbling in a pocket, and all of a sudden his hand came out and rose quickly.

"Look out, Dicky!" yelled Jack through the 'phone. "The beggar is going to shoot."


XXXI. — DRIVEN DOWN

THE words were scarcely out of Jack's mouth before the small automatic in Spreckels's hand began to fire. Two bullets clanged harshly on the metal front of the plane and a third drove a small hole through the Splintex glass of the window just above Kip's head. In a flash the D.H. zoomed upwards out of harm's way.

The moment she did so Askew swung his machine back on to her true course, and, giving her full throttle, raced forward at tremendous speed. Jack held his breath, waiting for what would follow. It was just what he had expected. The D.H. spiralled upwards, then swung again in a wide circle nose downwards towards the smuggler's right wing. At the same moment the low roar of the engine was punctuated by a sharp pop-pop-pop.

"Dicky—Dicky's shooting!" gasped Jack, as he saw little black holes leap into sight in the other plane's wing.

Almost at the second that it seemed the two planes must crash the smuggler swung sharply again to the left. Jack could see Askew's swarthy, handsome face livid with fear, and that of Spreckels dull red with fury. Both knew what was happening—that they were being marshalled inland, that they were never going to be allowed to escape across the sea. Spreckels raised his revolver to fire again, but two more bullets from Dicky planted in the metalwork close alongside his seat convinced him that he would be wiser to drop his gun.

"He's speaking to Askew," Kip said in Jack's ear. "They're making up some fresh plan."

"They'll go down, I expect," Jack said; and the next moment proved that he had guessed right, for Askew pulled back his stick, and the smuggler went diving forward at terrific speed.

Dicky was left a little behind—only a very little, but he was no longer level with the smuggler, and now the two planes shot downwards with the speed and force of swooping eagles. The air sang in the straining wires; the speed leapt to two and a half miles a minute. At this rate it was only a matter of moments before they were in the cloud.

"Look out, sir!" Jack called to Dicky through the 'phone. "He'll try to dodge you now."

"I know it," yelled back Dicky, and a moment later up came the smuggler's nose again.

It was no use, for the D.H. was the newer, faster machine, and Dicky's war experience had given him a sort of instinctive knowledge of the moves of an enemy. In a flash he, too, was up, and the two went twisting and writhing in and out, up and down in the fog of cloud, yet never fifty yards apart.

In sheer despair Spreckels started shooting again. Dicky knew the danger. The D.H. was no war plane, and if one of those little pellets of lead cut an oil pipe or struck the petrol tank it would be all up. He rose again, gained a position well above the other and remorselessly drove her down.

Askew was scared. Fine pilot as he certainly was, he had come to realize that he was not in the same class as this dashing fellow who drove the D.H. Browle, too, was badly frightened. Only Spreckels kept his head.

Spreckels was a Dutchman, but as dour as any Yorkshireman. He roared at Askew savagely. The two boys could see his lips move, see the fury on his face, though, of course, they could not hear what he was saying. Askew kept on twisting, turning, doing all he knew to escape, and suddenly Spreckels stooped and began flinging bundles out of the cockpit of the plane. Jack called to Dicky, but Dicky merely laughed.

"Getting rid of the evidence," he answered briefly. "Don't worry, Jack! We've got him now."

As he spoke he drove at the smuggler again, roaring downwards on the other in a way that looked like sheer suicide. Again Askew was forced to dive; then suddenly both planes drove clear of the cloud into an open, sunlit space, and Jack gave a cry as he saw the North Sea sparkling only a couple of miles ahead. He saw something else, too—a tall, white lighthouse tower standing on a great rocky point which jutted into the sea.

"Horn Point!" he cried, and Curt nodded.

"Yes, it's Horn Point, Jack," he answered.

A thousand feet beneath them was a wide expanse of common, golden with blooming gorse. Now what would happen? Would Askew make a last attempt to dash out to sea or—Kip gave a cry of horror.

"She's slipping! Oh, Jack—Bill!"

Jack clutched the edge of the cockpit with rigid fingers. His face went white. The patched plane was side-slipping. She was out of control. He saw a great hole in her right wing. A straining wire had torn loose and cut right through the cloth. With a desperate effort Askew righted her; then again her nose pointed forward, and she began to plunge. Jack stood like an image. He could hardly breathe. None of the others spoke as they watched Askew's frantic attempts to right her. Kip gave a yell.

"It's all right, Jack. He's got her. He'll land safely."

Barely two hundred feet from the ground Askew regained control. His plane came once more to a level keel, then started gradually downwards again. In that instant Dicky, too, started on a long swoop to earth. The smuggler was almost on the ground, her landing wheels touched, then she lurched sideways, and for a second it looked as if she would turn right over. But the tail skid dug in, and she came to a stop.

Dicky was but a little way behind and, picking an open stretch of turf, made a landing with his accustomed skill. But he did not stop his engine, and running forward, made a ground loop which brought the D.H. close behind the smuggler. The moment she stopped he was out of his seat and had flung open the cabin door.

"Steady, Dicky!" cried Curt. "Remember that beggar has a gun."

"But so have I," replied Dicky coolly, "and if I say it myself I'm a better shot than Spreckels!"

Curt looked very anxious, but Kip broke in.

"It's all right, sir. Here are two chaps coming."

"One's Kilby," cried Jack in delight.

Spreckels had jumped out of the smuggler plane and flung himself down, revolver in hand. It was quite clear that he meant to put up a fight. But Browle had seen the coastguards coming and yelled to him in terrified tones. And Spreckels, seeing it was no good, dropped his revolver, stood up and waited for Dicky.

"Vat you mean by chasing after us dis vay?" he demanded angrily, as Dicky came up.

Dicky laughed. "That bluff won't work, Spreckels. We've got the goods on you."

"Ve vas got no goods," retorted Spreckels.

"No, because you chucked them out. But you've got Bill Milner, and that's quite enough."

Spreckels still faced him. "And dat Bill, he vas go to prison if you vas say anything about dem goods. You vas let us go and ve say noding."

Dicky hesitated. He was thinking of Jack. And then Bill's voice came from the plane.

"No, Mr. Trask. Don't you bargain with him. I'll take my medicine, whatever's coming to me."

Spreckels growled like a beast. It looked as if he was going to spring at Dicky. But just then Kilby came running up, the grumpy Joe behind him.

"You, Mr. Clinton!" he exclaimed. "I'm mighty glad to see you, and Jack here, too, and maybe I'm more glad still to see that lot "—and he pointed to Browle and his companions.

"Don't let 'em get away, Mark," said Joe eagerly. "Ain't you going to tie 'em up?"

"I wouldn't wonder if it was a good idea," agreed Kilby. "They're a slippery lot."

"You vasn't got nothing against us?" cried Spreckels.

"But we have," said Dicky. "Kidnapping to begin with. Get to it, Joe. I'll help."

When the three had been secured, and Bill Milner untied, they all went over to Kilby's cottage, and by Dicky's advice Jack told the coastguard the whole story. Kilby listened with deep interest, and when Jack finished nodded gravely.

"I don't think you need worry, Jack. All there is against your brother is that he rented his cellar to these fellows to stow their goods in. As far as I can see, he didn't even know what their game was."

"I knew they were smuggling," said Bill quietly.

Mark Kilby laughed. "That ain't their offence, Mr. Milner. What they'll be charged for is bringing over dud notes printed on the Continent."

Bill looked horrified. "I knew nothing of that."

"I was sure you didn't, but that's what's against them." He paused. "You keep your mouth shut, Mr. Milner, and you be certain I shan't say anything. I don't reckon you'll get into trouble."

Anxious as the smugglers were to get their own back on Bill, they soon realized that such revenge would be dearly bought with another six months' imprisonment besides the heavy fines which would be inflicted on them by the Customs, so they all agreed to keep their mouths shut. The result was that Bill Milner's name was not even mentioned at the trial of the gang, and no one except his brother, Kip, Dicky and Curt knew anything of the under-ground river or the smuggler's cache at the farm.

Jack, however, got more publicity than he wanted, and so did Kip. Both had to go into the witness box, but they said just what was necessary and no more. Both were complimented by the Judge on the way in which they had given their evidence; then to their horror His Lordship went on to commend them for their share in bringing the prisoners to justice.

"This," said the Judge in his deep, resonant voice, "is one more example of the value of the Scout movement in encouraging a fine manly spirit among our youth of all classes. These two boys have acted all through in a way which makes me feel very proud of them, and have been well and truly backed by their companions in their Patrol. I offer my congratulations to their Scoutmaster, Mr. Curtis Clinton, on the fine material he has to work upon and the way in which he has used it. I understand," he added, "that Milner and Carter are both capable of flying an aeroplane, a remarkable fact considering their youth. I feel sure they will make fine pilots, and I wish them all good fortune and success in their chosen career."

Jack and Kip were red to the tips of their ears by the time the Judge had finished.

"Phew!" said Jack when he got outside. "That was awful."

"We got off jolly well," retorted Kip. "Anyhow, your brother is all right."

Jack nodded. "That's true, and it's one thing to be precious grateful for."

"It isn't the only thing you have to be grateful for, my son," came Dicky's voice behind them.

Jack turned. "Why, what do you mean, sir?"

"What would you say to another hundred quid?"

Jack stared. "I don't know what you are talking about, sir," he said blankly.

"Then you haven't heard of any rewards knocking about?"

"What for, sir?"

"Catching that gang, my lad. The Treasury has offered five hundred pounds for the arrest of this gang, and I have suggested that it should be divided in this way—a hundred pounds to Mr. Clinton, one hundred a-piece to you and Kip, fifty pounds to Kilby and the rest to the Patrol. Do you think that's fair?"

"No, sir," said Jack emphatically. "You and Mr. Clinton ought to have the lot."

Dicky chuckled. "I think you will see that my division stands," he said. And so it did.


THE END