Chapter IV. The End of the "Dartaway"
 

"Quit college? Oh, Dick, do you want to do that?"

"Not exactly, Dora-- and yet I don't think I am exactly fitted for a professional career. That seems to be more in Tom and Sam's line. I like business, and I'd enjoy getting into something big, something worth while. I think I could handle those matters, if father would only let me try. And then there is another thing, Dora," went on the youth, looking squarely into his companion's face. "Perhaps you can guess what that is."

She blushed deeply.

"What?" she whispered.

"I want to marry you, and take you some place where I know you'll be safe from such creatures as Crabtree and Sobber and Larkspur-- and I want the right to look after your mother, too."

"Oh, Dick!" And she clung tightly to his arm.

"Aren't you willing, Dora?"

"Yes." She looked at him frankly" "Yes, Dick, whenever you say."

"And your mother----"

"Mamma depends upon me in everything, and she has told me to do just as we thought best."

Dick gave a swift look around. Nobody was in sight at that moment. He pressed Dora to him.

"You best and dearest sweetheart in all the world!" he cried, in a low tone. "Then I can depend on you? We'll be the happiest couple in the whole world!"

"Indeed, yes, Dick!" And Dora's eyes fairly beamed with happiness as she snuggled closer to him. "But about your father," she continued, a moment later. "I am selfish to forget him. Then he is not so well?"

"He is fairly well, but he gets a bad spell ever so often, and then to attend to business is out of the question. But that isn't the worst of it. He has gotten tangled up in some sort of financial scheme with some brokers in New York City and it is worrying him half to death. He has told me something about it, but I don't know half as much as I'd like to know."

"Then you must find out, Dick, and help him all you possibly can," declared the girl, promptly.

"I'm looking for a letter from home every day-- I mean one telling about these financial affairs. As soon as it comes I'll know what to do."

All too soon the boys' visit to Hope Seminary had to come to an end. Sam and Tom returned to the biplane and gave the motor a brief "try-out," which noise reached Dick's ears just as he was trying to break away from Dora. He gave her a last hug and a kiss and then ran to join his brothers.

"The best of friends must part, as the hook said to the eye!" sang out Tom, merrily.

"I believe you are anxious to leave us!" returned Nellie, teasingly.

"Sure thing!" he retorted, promptly. "I planned to get away an hour before I came." And then she playfully boxed his ear, at which he chased her around the biplane and gave her a hearty smack just below her own pretty ear.

"Tom Rover!" she gasped. But, somehow, she looked pleased, nevertheless.

"A11 in the family!" sang out the fun-loving Rover, coolly. "As the lady said when she kissed her cow."

"Who is going to run the Dartaway back?" questioned Sam. "I think it's my turn at the wheel."

"It's rather dark, Sam," answered Dick. "But you can try it-- if you want to."

"All right-- I think I can see as much as you or Tom," responded the youngest Rover. "If I get off the course, and you find it out, let me know."

Darkness was settling down when the boys finally bid the girls good-bye and flew away. "Beware of old Crabtree!" sang out Dick.

"We'll watch out!" answered Nellie.

"Indeed we will!" came from Dora and Grace.

"If you catch sight of him, have him arrested!" yelled Sam, and then the biplane sailed out of hearing.

Sam knew how to handle the Dartaway almost as well as did Dick and Tom, and as there was but little wind, and the flying machine appeared to be in good condition, the others did not doubt but what Sam would make a fine flight of the trip.

"Keep a little to the south," called out Dick, after Hope had been left behind and when they were sailing over some broad fields. "If you do that you can follow the old turnpike for quite a distance."

"I thought I'd run for the railroad tracks," answered the lad at the steering wheel.

"You can do that later-- after we pass that big farmhouse with the four barns."

Running along in the air is a different proposition from running on the ground, and the air-man has to be careful about the lay of the land below him or he will soon go astray from his course. The earth looks altogether different when viewed from the sky from what it does when looked at from a level, and when an air-man is five or six hundred feet up he has all he can do to make out what is below him.

It had begun to cloud up a little and this made it darker than ever. After following the turn-pike for nearly two miles, Sam veered slightly to catch the railroad tracks and the gleam of the signal lights.

"I can follow the lights best of all!" he shouted, into Dick's ear. "It's too dark to see the road."

"All right, follow the railroad right to Ashton," answered the oldest Rover boy, naming the town that was the railroad station for Brill College.

The cloudiness increased rapidly, and long before Ashton was gained it commenced to blow, gently at first, and then stronger and stronger. Evidently a storm was in the air.

"We are going to catch it!" was Tom's comment.

"Oh, I don't think it will storm just yet," returned Sam.

"Watch yourself, Sam!" cried Dick, warningly. "If the wind gets too strong bring her down in the first field we come to."

"I will," was the answer.

They were now flying close to the railroad tracks. Presently they saw a glare of light illuminate the rails and a long line of freight cars, drawn by a big locomotive, passed beneath them.

"Wish that was going our way-- we could follow it with ease," said Sam, as the train disappeared from view, leaving the landscape below darker than ever.

The youngest Rover boy now had to give the Dartaway all of his attention. The breeze was coming in fitful gusts, sending the biplane first to one side and then to the other. They struck a "bank," and he had to use all his wit and courage to bring the flying machine to a level keel once more.

"Better go down!" cried Tom. "This is getting dangerous."

"Don't go down here!" sang out Dick. "There are woods on both sides of the track!"

Sam had been working the horizontal rudder, to bring the biplane down, but at Dick's words he shifted again and they went up.

"I'll tell you when we reach an open field," went on the oldest Rover. "Say, this sure is some blow!" he added.

Another fitful gust struck the Dartaway and for one brief moment it looked as if the biplane would be turned over. Had this occurred the machine would have dropped like a shot and most likely all of the boys would have been killed.

But Sam was on guard, and worked his levers like lightning. As quickly as she had tipped, the Dartaway righted herself, and then they shot upward on a long slant.

"Phew! that was some escape!" muttered Tom. "Dick, can't you see any open field where we can land?"

"Must be one ahead," was the answer. "I fancy----"

Dick did not finish, for at that moment came a blast of air stronger than any that had gone before. The Dartaway spun around, left the railroad tracks, made a semi-circle, and then came back again. As it made the final turn there was a crack like that of a pistol.

"What was that?" cried Tom. "Was it the engine?"

"No, it was one of the stays!" answered Dick. He glanced around. "The right plane is giving 'way! Sam, let her down, as quick as you can!"

"On the tracks!" gasped the lad at the wheel.

"Yes-- anywhere-- before we tumble!"

The biplane was already out of control. Sam manipulated the rudders as best he could, and likewise the ailerons, and the machine dropped in several wild dashes.

"The train!" yelled Tom. "Look out for the express!"

There was another gleam of light along the railroad tracks. The evening express was approaching, running at topmost speed, to make up some lost time.

The biplane was coming down swiftly. It veered towards the woods beside the railroad tracks. Then it took another wild turn and hung directly over the railroad. The boys were speechless, not knowing what to do. The light of the express train kept coming closer and closer.

Crash! the biplane had struck the earth, directly beside the railroad tracks. One end of the machine rested across the rails, the other end hung in the bushes bordering the tracks.

As they struck Tom and Dick were thrown out-- the former into the bushes and the latter on the tracks. Sam kept at the wheel, the force of the intact smashing the landing wheels beneath him.

For the instant all three boys were too stunned to do anything. Then, as the gleam from the express train came closer, Tom let out a wild cry.

"Jump! Jump for your lives! We haven't a moment to lose!"

"Dick!" screamed Sam. "Save Dick! He is on the tracks!"

"Where?"

"There!" and Sam pointed with one hand, while he clambered down from his seat. The seat was broken and his coat got caught in the splinters, and it was several seconds before he could release himself.

Tom looked to where his brother pointed and saw Dick lying in a heap, face downward. The fall had been sufficient to stun him and he was thus unable to help himself.

Tom did not hesitate over what to do. Dick was very dear to him and never for an instant did he consider the risk he was running in going to the rescue. He made a flying leap from the bushes to the tracks and took another leap to his brother's side.

"Get up, Dick" he yelled. "Here, let me get you off the tracks! The train is coming!"

Only a faint groan answered him. Dick was still too dazed to think or to act.

Tom caught hold of his brother and raised him up, and commenced to drag him to the other side of the tracks, away from the wrecked biplane. As he did this there came a shrill warning shriek from the locomotive whistle. The engineer had seen the obstruction on the tracks and had put on brakes, in a vain endeavor to stop the express.

As Tom commenced to haul Dick across the tracks, Sam came bounding to his assistance, the shreds of his torn coat flapping behind him. He caught his big brother by one arm.

"Hurry!" he yelled, hoarsely. "The express is almost here!"

Both boys made a wild leap to the edge of the railroad, dragging Dick between them. Tom got his foot caught in the rails and almost pitched headlong. They fairly fell into the bushes, and Dick went down with them.

Then the express thundered up, the whistle shrieking loudly and the sparks flying from the wheels where the brakes gripped them. The locomotive struck the Dartaway, and the next instant the biplane was smashed to pieces, the broken parts flying in all directions!