Chapter VI. Andy's Airship Flies
 

"Hello, Tom, have you heard the news?" asked Ned Newton, of the young inventor, a few days later.

"What news, Ned? I declare I've been so busy thinking out the best plan to ship the Red Cloud to Seattle that I haven't been over to town. What's going on? Have they decided to build a new church in Shopton, or something like that?"

"Oh, this about Andy Foger's airship."

"Andy's airship, eh? Is he still working on it?"

"It's all done, so Sam Snedecker was telling me last night, and to- day Andy is going to try to fly it."

"You don't mean it!"

"Sure thing. Let's go over and watch him."

"He might make a fuss, same as he did when we looked in the window of his shed."

"He can't make any fuss now. He's got to take his machine out to fly it, and anybody that wants to can look on. Didn't he watch you make flights often enough?"

"That's so. Where is the trial flight going to take place?"

"In the big meadow. Come on over."

"Guess I will. I can't do much more now. I've been getting some boxes and crates made in which to pack the Red Cloud. I'll have to take her all apart."

"Then you're really going to hunt for the valley of gold?"

"Sure thing. How about you going, Ned? I spoke to dad about it, and he said he'd see that you could have a leave of absence."

"Yes, that part's all right. The bank president told me today I could take a vacation any time I wanted it. In fact that's what I came over to see you about. I want to thank your father."

"Then you're going?"

"I sure am, Tom! Won't it be great! I hope I can get a little gold for myself! My folks didn't take very much to the notion of me going off in an airship, but I told them how often you'd gone on trips, and come safely back, so they finally gave their consent. When are you going to start?"

"Oh, in about two weeks. Did I tell you about Andy and the map?"

"No. What trick has he been up to now?"

Thereupon Tom related his suspicions concerning the bully, and also hinted to Ned of a certain ruse he intended to work on Andy when he got the chance.

"Well, if you're ready, suppose we go over and see if Andy's airship will really fly," suggested Ned, after a while. "I'm doubtful myself, and I'd just like to see him come to grief, after the many mean things he's done to you."

"Well," spoke Tom slowly, "I don't know as I wish him any bad luck, but I certainly hope he doesn't use his airship to try to beat us out in the hunt for the valley of gold."

"Do you think he might?"

"It's possible. But never mind about that now. Come on, we'll go over to the big meadow."

The two chums walked along together, talking of many things. Tom told of some communication he had had with Mr. Damon, in which letters the eccentric man had inquired as to when the trip for Alaska would be undertaken.

"Then he's going?" asked Ned.

"Oh, yes, it wouldn't seem natural to go without some of Mr. Damon's blessings. But I think he's going to bring a friend with him."

"Who?"

"Mr. Ralph Parker."

"That gloomy scientist, who is always predicting such terrible things going to happen?"

"That's the gentleman. You met him once, I believe Mr. Damon says Mr. Parker wants to do some scientific studying in the far north, so I've already counted on him as one of our party. Well, perhaps he won't do so much predicting this trip."

A little later Tom and Ned came to a big open field. They saw quite a crowd gathered in it, but no sign of an airship.

"Guess Andy hasn't arrived," spoke Tom.

"No; very likely he's found out that something is wrong with his machine, and he isn't going to risk it."

But almost as Ned spoke, there sounded cries of excitement from the crowd, and, a little later, something big and white, with many wing- shaped stretches of canvas sticking out from all sides, was seen turning into the big meadow from the broad highway that led to Andy's house.

"There she is!" cried Ned.

"There's something, at any rate," conceded Tom, as he hastened his steps. "It's a queer-looking aeroplane, though. My! he's got enough wings to it!"

"Yes, it's Andy's sure enough," went on Ned "There he is in front, giving orders like a major-general, and Sam and Pete are helping him. Let's get closer."

They followed the crowd, which was thronging about the airship that Andy Foger had made, Tom had a glimpse of the machine. It was a form of triplane, with three tiers of main wings, and several other sets of planes, some stationary and some capable of being moved. There was no gas-bag feature, but amidships was a small, enclosed cabin, which evidently held the machinery, and was designed to afford living quarters. In some respects the airship was not unlike Tom's, and the young inventor could see that Andy had copied some of his ideas. But Tom cared little about this.

"Do you think it will go up?" asked Ned.

"It looks to me to be too heavy, and his propellers seem too small," answered Tom. "He's got to have a very powerful motor to make all that bulk fly."

The people were crowding in closer around the airship, for the news that Andy was to attempt a flight had spread about town.

"Now keep back--all of you!" ordered the bully, with a show of anger. "If any one damages my airship I'll have him arrested! Keep back, now, or I won't fly!"

"Reminds me of a little kid saying he won't play if he can't have his own way," whispered Ned to Tom.

"Hello, Andy, give us a ride!"

"Going above the clouds?"

"When are you coming back?"

"Bring down a snowstorm!"

"Be careful that you don't fall!"

These were some of the things shouted at Andy, for he had few friends among the town lads, on account of his mean ways.

"Keep quiet--all of you!" he ordered. "Get back. You might get hurt when I start the motor. I'm going to make a flight soon," he added proudly. "Sam, you come over here and hold this end. Pete, you go back to the rear. Simpson, you get inside and help me with the motor. Henderson, you get ready to shove when I tell you."

These last orders were to the two machinists whom Andy had engaged to help him, and the bully gave himself no end of airs and importance as he bustled about

Tom could not help but admit that Andy's machine was a big affair. There was a great stretch of wings and planes, several rudders other appliances for which the young inventor could not exactly fathom a use. He did not think the machine would fly far, if at all. But Andy was hurrying here and there, getting the triplane in place on a level stretch of ground, as if he intended to capture some great prize.

"Are you going to tackle him about stealing a copy of that map?" asked Ned.

"I will if I get a chance," answered Tom, in a low voice.

He got his opportunity a few minutes later. Andy, hurrying here and there, came face to face with the young inventor.

"Hello, Andy," spoke Tom, good-naturedly. "So you're going to make a flight, eh?"

"Yes, I am, and I s'pose you came around to see if you could get any ideas; didn't you?" sneered Andy.

"Of course," admitted Tom, with an easy laugh. "My airship doesn't fly, you know, Andy, and I want to see what's wrong with it."

There was a laugh in the crowd, at this, for Tom's success was well known.

"Are you going to Alaska?" suddenly asked Tom, in a low voice, of the bully.

"To Alaska? I--I don't--I don't know what you mean?" stammered Andy, as he turned aside.

"Yes, you do know what I mean," insisted Tom. "And I want to tell you that the map you have won't be of much use to you. Why, do you think," he went on, "that Abe would carry the real map around with him that way? It's easy to make a copy look like an original, Andy, and also very easy to put false distances and directions on a map that may fall into the hands of an enemy."

The shot told. Andy's face turned first red and then pale.

"A--a false map!" he stammered. "Wrong directions?"

"Yes--on the copy you made of the map you took from Mr. Abercrombie," went on Tom.

"I--I didn't make any--Oh, I'm not going to talk to you!" blustered Andy. "Get out of my way! I'm going to fly my airship."

The bully pushed past Tom, and started toward the triplane. But Tom had found out what he wanted to know. Andy had made a copy of the map. From now on there would be every danger that the bully would make an effort to get to the valley of gold.

But other matters held Andy's attention now. He wanted to try his airship. With the help of his two cronies, and the machinists, the machine was gone over, oiled up, and finally, after several false starts, the motor was set going.

It made a terrific racket, and the whole machine vibrated as though it would shake apart

"He hasn't got if well enough braced," said Tom to Ned.

"Out of the way, now, everybody!" yelled Andy. "Keep away or you'll get hurt! I'm going up!"

He climbed into the cabin of the craft, and took his position at the steering-wheel. The speed of the motor, its racket and its stream of sparks increased.

"Let go!" cried Andy to those who were holding his craft.

They released their hold. The triplane moved slowly across the ground, gathered speed, and, then, under the impulse of the powerful propellers, ran rapidly over the meadow.

"Hurrah! There he goes!" cried Sam.

"Yes! Now he's going to fly," proudly added Pete Bailey, the other crony of the bully.

"He'd better fly soon, then, or he'll be in the ditch," said Tom grimly, for a little, sluggish stream crossed the meadow not far from where Andy had started.

The next instant, thinking he had momentum enough, Andy tilted his elevation plane. The clumsy triplane rose into the air and shot forward.

"There he goes!" cried Sam.

"Hurrah!" yelled the crowd.

Andy had gone up about ten feet, and was making slow progress.

"I guess Tom Swift isn't the only one in Shopton who can build an airship!" sneered Pete Bailey.

"Look! Look!" yelled Ned. "He's coming down!"

Sure enough, Andy's machine had reached the end of her flight. The motor stopped with something between a cough and a wheeze. Down fluttered the aeroplane, like some clumsy bird, down into the ditch, settling on one side, and then coming to rest, tilted over at a sharp angle. Andy was pitched out, but landed on the soft mud, for there had been a thaw. He wasn't hurt much, evidently, for he soon scrambled to his feet as the crowd surged toward him.

"Well, he flew a little way," observed Ned, grimly.

"But he came down mighty soon," added Tom. "I thought he would. His machine is too big and clumsy. I've seen enough. Come on, Ned. We'll get ready to go to Alaska. Andy Foger will never follow us in that machine."

But Tom was soon to find out how much mistaken he was.