Chapter VI. The Missing Biplane
 

For a moment there was silence. The lawyer and the doctor who represented the railroad company looked from one to another of the Rover boys.

"Pretty shrewd, aren't you?" said the lawyer, finally.

"We have to be-- in dealing with a railroad company," answered Dick, bluntly. "Now let us get to business-- if that is what you came for," he continued. "We might put in a big claim for damages, and I think a jury would sustain our claim. But we want to do what is fair. The question then is, Do you want to do what is fair?"

"Why, yes, of course," returned Belright Fogg, but he did not say it very cordially.

"Very well then. That flying machine cost us twenty-eight hundred dollars new and we have spent over two hundred dollars on improvements, so when she was smashed she was worth at least three thousand dollars."

"But you can save something, can't you?" gut in the lawyer.

"Perhaps we can save the engine, and a dealer in second-hand machinery may give a hundred dollars for it. Now what I propose is this: You pay for half the value of the biplane and we'll call it square."

"Preposterous!"

"Very well then, Mr. Fogg, we'll consider the interview closed."

"If you sue, you won't get a cent, Mr. Rover."

"That remains to be seen."

"I am willing to give you five hundred dollars in place of the three hundred first offered."

"No, sir-- it is fifteen hundred or nothing, Mr. Fogg."

"But you have not been hurt."

"Yes, we have been hurt. I have been to our college doctor about this lump on my head, and my brothers have been to him, too. We were badly shaken up-- not as much as my brother made out, but enough. If we have to sue we'll put in our claim for personal injuries as well-- and maybe for time lost from our studies."

"But fifteen hundred dollars! I-- er-- I can't see it," and the lawyer began to pace the floor.

"Maybe we had better sue," suggested Sam. "We might get the full amount of our loss-- three thousand for the Dartaway and some for our injuries."

This did not suit the lawyer at all, for he had been instructed to settle if possible and thus avoid litigation, for the railroad authorities had heard that the Rovers were rich and might make the affair cost a good deal.

"I will-- er-- make my offer an even thousand dollars," he said, after some more talk. "But that is my limit. If you won't take that, you'll get nothing."

"All right-- we'll sue," said Dick, and he made a move as if to close the interview.

"See here, are you of age-- have you authority to close this matter?" demanded Belright Fogg, suddenly.

"I can close the matter, yes," answered Dick. "My father will be perfectly satisfied with whatever I do. I transact much of his business for him."

"Ah, well then, let us consider this thing a little more, Mr. Rover." And thereupon the lawyer went all over the matter again. Presently he offered twelve hundred dollars. But Dick was firm; and in the end the lawyer said he would pay them fifteen hundred dollars the next day, provided they would sign off all claims on the railroad.

"We'll do it as soon as we see the money," answered Dick.

"Can't you trust me, Mr. Rover?" demanded Belright Fogg.

"I like to do business in a business-like way," answered Dick, coolly. "When you bring that check kindly have it certified," he added.

"Very well!" snapped the lawyer; and then he and the doctor got out, Belright Fogg stating he would return the next morning.

"Dick, you ought to be a lawyer yourself!" cried Tom. "You managed that in fine style."

"Tom helped," added Sam. "He nearly scared that doctor into a fit, talking about our aches and pains!"

"Wait-- perhaps the lawyer won't come back with the money," said Dick. "He may reconsider the offer."

"You didn't say anything about the wreckage," said Sam. "Who gets that?"

"We do, Sam. They are to pay us for damages, don't you see? If they pay only that, they can't claim the wreckage."

Promptly at the appointed time the next day Belright Fogg appeared. He was a bit nervous, for the railroad officials had told him to settle at once-- before the Rovers took it into their heads to bring suit.

"I have the check, certified," he said, producing the paper. "Here is what you must sign, in the presence of witnesses," he added, and brought out a legal-looking document.

"We'll call in two of the teachers," answered Dick.

The oldest Rover boy read the document over with care. It was all right, excepting that in it the railroad claimed the wreckage of the Dartaway absolutely.

"Here, this comes out," cried Dick. "The wreckage belongs to us."

At this there was another long discussion. But the Rovers remained firm, and in the end the clause concerning the wreckage was altered to show that the Dartaway must remain the boys' property. Then the three brothers signed the paper and it was duly witnessed by two teachers, and the certified check was handed to Dick.

"Very sharp young man, you are," was Belright Fogg's comment, as he was about to leave. "You ought to be a lawyer."

"Perhaps I will be some day," was Dick's answer.

"Better get that check right in the bank!" cried Sam, when he and his brothers were alone. "That fellow may stop payment on it."

"He can't stop a certified check, Sam. I'll put it in the school safe for the present. What we want to do is to look after the Dartaway. She may not be worth much, but what there is of her belongs to us."

"Right you are. Let us get permission to go after her right away. For all we know, somebody may have carted her off already!"

The boys readily obtained permission to see to their property, and walked down to the college stables to get a horse and carriage to take them to the spot where the accident had occurred. Just then came a toot of an automobile horn, and a fine five-passenger car rolled into view, with Stanley Browne and a stranger on the front seats.

"Hello, you fellows!" cried Stanley, as the auto came to a stop. "Come over here! I hoped I'd see you!"

The Rovers hurried across the campus and were introduced to Jack Mason, Stanley's cousin, the driver of the car. He was passing through Ashton on the way to join his folks in the White Mountains.

"Jack wants me to take a ride with him this afternoon," said Stanley. "And I can invite three others to go along. Will you come with us?"

"That is kind," answered Dick. "But we have some business to attend to," and he related what it was.

"Say, let's take a look at the wrecked biplane!" cried Jack Mason. "I'd just as soon go there as anywhere."

"So would I," added Stanley.

"Very well-- that will suit us down to the ground!" cried Tom.

"We were going to drive over in a carriage," explained Dick. "We can get there much quicker in the auto."

The boys piled into the tonneau of the car and they started off.

"Got to show me the roads," said Jack Mason. "All I know around here is the regular auto road to the White Mountains,-- and I don't know that any too well."

"You can't lose us on the roads!" cried Tom. "We'll keep you straight."

Jack Mason loved to run fast and soon they were bowling along at a forty-mile-an-hour rate. Stanley and Tom told the driver what turns to make, and almost before they knew it they had passed the outskirts of Ashton and were approaching the locality where the fast Express had dashed into the crippled biplane.

"Here we are!" cried Tom, presently. "We can't go any further on the road. We'll have to walk through the woods to the tracks."

"I see a wood road!" exclaimed Jack Mason. "If the ground isn't too soft I'll try that."

He went on and passed in between the trees, and soon they were within a hundred feet of the railroad tracks. As the car came to a stop the Rover boys jumped to the ground and ran forward. Then, of a sudden, all three set up a shout:

"The biplane is gone!"

"Gone?" queried Stanley, who was close behind them.

"Yes, gone," returned Tom.

"Are you sure this is the spot where it was struck?"

"Of course I am."

"There are the marks where we landed and where the locomotive hit the Dartaway," said Sam. He looked around. "Wonder who took her, and to where?"

"That's to be found out," answered Dick, seriously.

"I don't see any airship," said Jack Mason, as he came up, having shut off the engine of the touring car.

"Somebody has hauled it away," answered Dick. He looked on both sides of the track. "This is queer," he added, presently. "I can't see any marks in the sand or mud or bushes. She'd make marks if anybody hauled her."

"I've got it!" cried Tom. "They hoisted her on a flat car! The railroad people have taken her!"

"But she is our biplane!" cried Sam, stubbornly.

"Maybe they took her to the freight house in Ashton," suggested Stanley.

"We'll soon find out-- if you'll take us there in the auto."

"Sure!" answered Jack Mason, promptly.

The boys were about to leave the neighborhood when they heard the strokes of an axe, ringing through the woods.

"There's a wood chopper!" cried Dick. "Maybe he knows something about this. I guess I'll ask him."

They soon located the man-- an elderly individual who worked for the farmer who owned the woods.

"Yes, I see 'em hoist the airship on the flat car," said he, in answer to their questions. "Had quite a job o' it, too."

"Did they take it to Ashton?" queried Dick.

"No. They was goin' to fust, but then Jimmy Budley-- the section boss-- said it would be better to take it up to the freight yards at Rallston."

"And they took it there?"

"I 'spect they did. They went off that way, anyway," replied the old wood chopper.

"To the Rallston freight yards!" cried Sam. "What a nerve!"

"I'll make 'em bring it back!" cried Dick, firmly.

"How far is it to Rallston?" asked Jack Mason.

"About nine miles."

"Pooh! that's nothing. Jump in and I'll take you there in no time-- if the road's any good."

"The road is O. K.," answered Dick.

The automobile was backed out of the woods, and turned in the direction of Rallston. Jack Mason was in his element, and in less than twenty minutes they came in sight of the town and turned into a side street leading to the freight yards.

"There she is!" cried Sam, a minute later.

He pointed to one of the tracks in the yards and there, on a flat car, the boys beheld the wreck of the biplane. A small crowd of curious men and boys surrounded the remains of the Dartaway.

"What yer going to do with her, Jimmy?" asked a man in the crowd, of a burly individual on the flat car.

"I guess the railroad is going to sell her," replied the section boss.