Chapter V. Vol-Planing to Earth
 

For a moment after Mr. Damon's announcement Tom did not reply. Mr. Swift, too, seemed a little at a loss for something to say. They did not quite know how to take their eccentric friend at times.

"Of course I'll be glad of your company, Mr. Damon," said Tom: "but you must remember that my Butterfly is not like the Red Cloud. There is more danger riding in the monoplane than there is in the airship. In the latter, if the engine happens to stop, the sustaining gas will prevent us from falling. But it isn't so in an aeroplane. When your engine stops there--"

"Well, what happens?" asked Mr. Damon, impatiently, for Tom hesitated.

"You have to vol-plane back to earth."

"Vol-plane?" and there was a questioning note in Mr. Damon's voice.

"Yes, glide down from whatever height you are at when the engine stalls. Come down in a series of dips from the upper currents. Vol- planing, the French call it, and I guess it's as good a word as any."

"Have you ever done it?" asked the odd character.

"Oh, yes, several times."

"Then, bless my fur overcoat! I can do it, too, Tom. When will you be ready to start?"

"To-morrow morning. Now you are sure you won't get nervous and want to jump, if the engine happens to break down?"

"Not a bit of it. I'll vol-plane whenever you are ready," and Mr. Damon laughed.

"Well, we'll hope we won't have to," went on Tom. "And I'll be very glad of your company. Mr. Fenwick will, no doubt, be pleased to see you. I've never met him, and it will be nice to have some one to introduce me. Suppose you come out and see what sort of a craft you are doomed to travel in to-morrow, Mr. Damon. I believe you never saw my new monoplane."

"That's right, I haven't, but I'd be glad to. I declare, I'm getting to be quite an aviator," and Mr. Damon chuckled. A little later, Tom, having informed his father of the sending of the message. took his eccentric friend out to the shop, and exhibited the Butterfly.

As many of you have seen the ordinary monoplane, either on exhibition or in flight, I will not take much space to describe Tom's. Sufficient to say it was modeled after the one in which Bleriot made his first flight across the English channel.

The body was not unlike that of a butterfly or dragon fly, long and slender, consisting of a rectangular frame with canvas stretched over it, and a seat for two just aft of the engine and controlling levers. Back of the seat stretched out a long framework, and at the end was a curved plane, set at right angles to it. The ends of the plane terminated in flexible wings, to permit of their being bent up or down, so as to preserve the horizontal equilibrium of the craft.

At the extreme end was the vertical rudder, which sent the monoplane to left or right.

Forward, almost exactly like the front set of wings of the dragon fly, was the large, main plane, with the concave turn toward the ground. There was the usual propeller in front, operated by a four cylinder motor, the cylinders being air cooled, and set like the spokes of a wheel around the motor box. The big gasolene tank, and other mechanism was in front of the right-hand operator's seat, where Tom always rode. He had seldom taken a passenger up with him, though the machine would easily carry two, and he was a little nervous about the outcome of the trip with Mr. Damon.

"How do you like the looks of it?" asked the young inventor, as he wheeled the Butterfly out of the shed, and began pumping up the tires of the bicycle wheels on which it ran over the ground, to get impetus enough with which to rise.

"It looks a little frail, compared to the big Red Cloud, Tom," answered the eccentric man, "but I'm going up in her just the same; bless my buttons if I'm not."

Tom could not but admire the grit of his friend.

The rest of the day was busily spent making various adjustments to the monoplane, putting on new wire stays, changing the rudder cables, and tuning up the motor. The propeller was tightened on the shaft, and toward evening Tom announced that all was in readiness for a trial flight.

"Want to come, Mr. Damon?" he asked.

"I'll wait, and see how it acts with you aboard," was the answer. "Not that I'm afraid, for I'm going to make the trip in the morning, but perhaps it won't work just right now."

"Oh, I guess it will," ventured Tom, and in order to be able to know just how his Butterfly was going to behave, with a passenger of Mr. Damon's weight, the young inventor placed a bag of sand on the extra seat.

The monoplane was then wheeled to the end of the starting ground. Tom took his place in the seat, and Mr. Jackson started the propeller. At first the engine failed to respond, but suddenly with a burst of smoke, and a spluttering of fire the cylinders began exploding. The hat of Mr. Damon, who was standing back of the machine, was blown off by the wind created by the propeller.

"Bless my gaiters!" he exclaimed, "I never thought it was as strong as that!"

"Let go!" cried Tom to Mr. Jackson and Eradicate, who were holding back the monoplane from gliding over the ground.

"All right," answered the engineer.

An instant later the explosions almost doubled, for Tom turned on more gasolene. Then, like some live thing, the Butterfly rushed across the starting ground. Faster and faster it went, until the young inventor, knowing that he had motion enough, tilted his planes to catch the wind.

Up he went from earth, like some graceful bird, higher and higher, and then, in a big spiral, he began ascending until he was five hundred feet in the air. Up there he traveled back and forth, in circles, and in figure eights, desiring to test the machine in various capacities.

Suddenly the engine stopped, and to those below, anxiously watching, the silence became almost oppressive, for Tom had somewhat descended, and the explosions had been plainly heard by those observing him. But now they ceased!

"His engine's stalled!" cried Garret Jackson.

Mr. Swift heard the words, and looked anxiously up at his son.

"Is he in any danger?" gasped Mr. Damon.

No one answered him. Like some great bird, disabled in mid flight, the monoplane swooped downward. A moment later a hearty shout from Tom reassured them.

"He shut off the engine on purpose," said Mr. Jackson. "He is vol- planing back to earth!"

Nearer and nearer came the Butterfly. It would shoot downward, and then, as Tom tilted the planes, would rise a bit, losing some of the great momentum. In a series of maneuvers like this, the young inventor reached the earth, not far from where his father and the others stood. Down came the Butterfly, the springs of the wheel frame taking the shock wonderfully well.

"She's all right--regular bird!" cried Tom, in enthusiasm, when the machine had come to a stop after rolling over the ground, and he had leaped out. "We'll make a good flight to-morrow, Mr. Damon, if the weather holds out this way."

"Good!" cried the eccentric man. "I shall be delighted."

They made the start early the next morning, there being hardly a breath of wind. There was not a trace of nervousness noticeable about Mr. Damon, as he took his place in the seat beside Tom. The lad had gone carefully over the entire apparatus, and had seen to it that, as far as he could tell, it was in perfect running order.

"When will you be back, Tom?" asked his father.

"To-night, perhaps, or to-morrow morning. I don't know just what Mr. Fenwick wants me to do. But if it is anything that requires a long stay, I'll come back, and let you know, and then run down to Philadelphia again. I may need some of my special tools to work with. I'll be back to-night perhaps."

"Shall I keep supper for you?" asked Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper.

"I don't know," answered Tom, with a laugh. "Perhaps I'll drop down at Miss Nestor's, and have some apple turnovers," for he had told them or the incident of hiring the new cook. "Well," he went on to Mr. Damon, "are you all ready?"

"As ready as I ever shall be. Do you think we'll have to do any vol- planing, Tom?"

"Hard to say, but it's not dangerous when there's no wind. All right, Garret. Start her off."

The engineer whirled the big wooden, built-up propeller, and with a rattle and roar of the motor, effectually drowning any but the loudest shouts, the Butterfly was ready for her flight. Tom let the engine warm up a bit before calling to his friends to let go, and then, when he had thrown the gasolene lever forward, he shouted a good-by and cried:

"All right! Let go!"

Forward, like a hound from the leash, sprang the little monoplane. It ran perhaps for five hundred feet, and then, with a tilting of the wings, to set the air currents against them, it sprang into the air.

"We're off!" cried Mr. Damon, waving his hand to those on the ground below.

"Yes, we're off," murmured Tom. "Now for the Quaker City!"

He had mapped out a route for himself the night before, and now, picking out the land-marks, he laid as straight a course as possible for Philadelphia.

The sensation of flying along, two thousand feet high, in a machine almost as frail as a canoe, was not new to Tom. It was, in a degree, to Mr. Damon, for, though the latter had made frequent trips in the large airship, this mode of locomotion, as if he was on the back of some bird, was much different. Still, after the first surprise, he got used to it.

"Bless my finger ring!" he exclaimed, "I like it!"

"I thought you would," said Tom, in a shout, and he adjusted the oil feed to send more lubricant into the cylinders.

The earth stretched out below them, like some vari-colored relief map, but they could not stop to admire any particular spot long, for they were flying fast, and were beyond a scene almost as quickly as they had a glimpse of it.

"How long will it take us?" yelled Mr. Damon into Tom's ear.

"I hope to do it in three hours," shouted back the young inventor.

"What! Why it takes the train over five hours."

"Yes, I know, but we're going direct, and it's only about two hundred and fifty miles. That's only about eighty an hour. We're doing seventy-five now, and I haven't let her out yet."

"She goes faster than the Red Cloud," cried Mr. Damon.

Tom nodded. It was hard work to talk in that rush of air. For an hour they shot along, their speed gradually increasing. Tom called out the names of the larger places they passed over. He was now doing better than eighty an hour as the gage showed. The trip was a glorious one, and the eyes of the young inventor and his friend sparkled in delight as they rushed forward. Two hours passed.

"Going to make it?" fairly howled Mr. Damon.

Tom nodded again.

"Be there in time for dinner," he announced in a shout.

It lacked forty minutes of the three hours when Tom, pointing with one hand down below, while with the other he gripped the lever of the rudder, called:

"North Philadelphia!"

"So soon?" gasped Mr. Damon. "Well, we certainly made speed! Where are you going to land?"

"I don't know," answered the young inventor, "I'll have to pick out the best place I see. It's no fun landing in a city. No room to run along, after you're down."

"What's the matter with Franklin Field?" cried Mr. Damon. "Out where they play football."

"Good! The very thing!" shouted Tom.

"Mr. Fenwick lives near there," went on Mr. Damon, and Tom nodded comprehendingly.

They were now over North Philadelphia, and, in a few minutes more were above the Quaker City itself. They were flying rather low, and as the people in the streets became aware of their presence there was intense excitement. Tom steered for the big athletic field, and soon saw it in the distance.

With a suddenness that was startling the motor ceased its terrific racket. The monoplane gave a sickening dip, and Tom had to adjust the wing tips and rudder quickly to prevent it slewing around at a dangerous angle.

"What's the matter?" cried Mr. Damon, "Did you shut it off on purpose?"

"No!" shouted Tom, "Something's gone wrong!"

"Gone wrong! Bless my overshoes! Is there any danger?"

"We'll have to vol-plane to earth," answered Tom, and there was a grim look on his face. He had never executed this feat with a passenger aboard He was wondering how the Butterfly would behave. But he would know very soon, for already the tiny monoplane was shooting rapidly toward the big field, which was now swarming with a curious crowd.