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首页 » 英文科幻小说 » The Mystery of Seal Islands » CHAPTER III A STRANGE PROPOSAL
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Simultaneously with the sound of peppering bullets came a furious string of oaths. A second figure leaped from the corner of the old building and then the gun spoke again. This time, amid the hail of small bullets came a muffled cry of pain, subdued curses, and a swift scrambling of two pairs of feet taking their owners helter-skelter from the vicinity. From a distance came the roar of a motor thrown open quickly somewhere down the road, a clutch released as if by frantic hands, then an automobile in motion, but moving slowly.

“Nipped them,” Dad declared with satisfaction.

“Wish you could have done more than that,” Roberta said without any compunction.

43 “At any rate, they are frightened away. Turn on the lights, Mother, please, and we’ll do some investigating.” Mrs. Langwell pressed the switches which immediately illuminated the whole house, and the sounds of shouts came from the home of the nearest neighbors. This was taken up by other persons, while someone on a motorcycle seemed to turn as if giving chase after the robbers.

“Don’t go out,” Mrs. Langwell urged as her husband began to don his trousers hastily under his robe.

“It’s quite safe,” he assured her. Before he was ready there came a pounding at the door—alarmed voices shouted, “You people all right, Langwell?”

“That’s Mr. Howard. He’s the sheriff of the county and must have been in the neighborhood.”

“I’ll be right down,” Mrs. Langwell called. Presently the officer of the law was standing in the hall, while she explained what had happened.

“Glad nobody’s hurt, least-wise, none of you folks. I’ll go out and have a look44 around.” There was a business-like gun in his hand and his chin was set firmly.

“I’m coming with you,” Mr. Langwell called from the top of the stairs as he hurried to join the sheriff.

“I’m coming too, Dad.”

“Stay with your mother, please,” he answered, so Roberta obeyed.

“There isn’t a thing you can do out there, Honey,” Mrs. Langwell assured her. “And you might get in the way.”

So the girl had to be content to remain inside, while sounds of people running, sharp questions, brief answers, and the noise of automobiles stopping while the occupants demanded to know what was the difficulty came to them from outside. Half an hour later Mr. Langwell came back with the sheriff and their nearest neighbor, and although they were greatly excited, they had discovered nothing more than some footprints of the robbers, and the place where a large car had been parked by the side of the road, obviously waiting to assist the thieves in their enterprise, or get them away from the scene of their mischief.

45 “That’s a good lock you have on the building,” the sheriff announced. “Kept them from opening the door right away.”

“Mighty good thing your daughter happened to look out of her window before she turned in to bed,” remarked the neighbor.

“Yes, indeed it is.”

“I call the best part that you had a pop-gun to pepper them with. I heard one cry out, and from my window I saw that the fellow hiding nearest the barn grabbed toward his face.”

“From that window of yours you must have had a pretty good look at them, even if it was dark,” said the sheriff.

“Did, for an instant. The lad that got nipped seemed like a big boy; tall, stout chap I should say, but the way he sprinted after the gun went off, he sure is agile.”

“Did you hear them at the hangar?” Roberta asked.

“No. Fact is, we were in bed and my wife asked me to open our window a bit wider. These spring nights are warming considerable. I just got the window up when the shot came. The lad at the door46 surely had a vocabulary! Then the second shot ripped about and the fat fellow squealed.”

“It was fortunate that you happened to be in the neighborhood, Mr. Howard,” said Mrs. Langwell.

“I was cutting across lots for home when I heard the shots. I’d been at the town hall where we had a hot session over some concessions and taxes. Just got through and I was so tired I was for getting home by the shortest route, even if it took me through other people’s property,” explained the sheriff.

“We are very much—” Just then a motorcycle sputtered up to the house and its rider flung himself off vigorously. Before he could knock, Mr. Langwell was at the door and threw it open.

“Hello, I say, I happened to be riding near here, sort of meandering along not making much noise and I passed a big car parked back of those elm trees. Thought it was a spooning party, so came along minding my own business, then I heard shots and almost at the same time the motor of the limousine47 was started. I put on the brakes just in time to keep from hitting a man who was running toward the road, and he hopped into the car, another fellow right after him.”

“Did you turn round and chase them?” Roberta asked eagerly.

“Yes, Miss, I did, but they opened her up and went ‘hell bent for election,’ I beg your pardon. And pretty soon I couldn’t see anything but the dust they made, and there was plenty of that.” He fumbled in the pocket of his jacket.

“Get the number?” the sheriff snapped.

“Bet your socks,” the boy grinned. “Here she is.”

“Good piece of work.” Mr. Howard took the scrap of paper upon which the license number had been hastily scrawled.

“Wrote it down quick so I wouldn’t forget it. Anybody hurt?”

“Thank you, we are all right,” Mrs. Langwell assured him. “Won’t you have a cup of coffee, or something to eat?” The chap was about Harvey’s age.

“Thanks just the same. I’ll ooze along. You people will want to get back to bed. If48 you care to bump-the-bumps with me, sheriff, I’ll give you a lift on this cycle.”

“Thanks. I’ll get home as fast as I can and start things humming on the telephone. Spread this number over the country through the broadcasting stations and find out who owns that car.”

“Ought not to be hard finding the would-be thieves,” the boy grinned.

“Looks as if it might be easy, thanks to your good sense.”

“Say it with flowers,” the lad chuckled. “Come along. As long as I live I may never get another chance to have a sheriff in the saddle behind me. How I wish a cop would try to stop me on this trip.”

The pair went off amid the reports of the motorcycle, and then the neighbors, assured that the Langwells were unhurt and in no further danger, departed. Before she went to bed Roberta took another look at the old barn-hangar where Nike and the Falcon were still resting securely. With a sigh of relief she glanced toward the sky, which was mighty dark, but she caught the faint outline of the moon shining through as if she had49 decided to lighten things up a bit in the vicinity of the beloved airplane and its owner. In spite of the excitement and terror, the girl was so weary that she dropped off to sleep at once and it was late when she awakened. To her amazement she heard voices in the vicinity of the hangar, but when she hopped out of bed, she saw it was her Dad there with the village electrician.

“Good morning, dear, I thought I heard you moving about.”

“Morning, Mummy. What are they doing out there?”

“Your father decided to have a good alarm put on the door so that the next unwelcome hand that tries to tamper with it will wake up the neighborhood,” she explained.

“Dad’s a dear,” the girl answered.

“I’ve always thought so,” her mother admitted.

“And you have known him a lot longer than I have,” Roberta chuckled.

“How would you like some breakfast here—”

“Top hole, but I’m going to get into some clothes and come down and get it before you50 spoil me entirely,” she laughed and gave her mother a resounding kiss. “Oh, isn’t it great that there was no damage really done!”

“Simply great.”

“Did Mr. Howard get any news of the robbers?”

“We haven’t heard anything from him this morning, but your father plans to stop at his office on the way in to town.”

While Roberta was eating her belated breakfast any number of neighbors came in to congratulate the family because its property was safe, and, those who did not know the facts, to get details of the attempted theft. Once the conversation was interrupted by the sudden and sharp clanging of a bell which made them all jump. But Mrs. Langwell glanced out of the window and saw the electrician waving his hand so she knew he was merely testing the alarm, and reassured the callers.

“Sounds louder than the fire bell,” Roberta remarked, and they agreed that she was right and it would certainly wake everybody in the neighborhood if it went off at night.

After the guests had taken their departure51 the girl helped her mother and when the bell was finally installed, they went out to inspect the job. The alarm was set low on the wall, the wiring ran back through the thick planks, which had been bored so they were not exposed, and could not be either ripped out or cut without difficulty.

“Keep them set all of the time,” the man explained, “and remember whenever you want to open the door to switch them off. I’m to put some more on the windows, so your plane will certainly be well protected and ought to be safe.”

“That’s what we want,” Mrs. Langwell told him, then turned to her daughter. “That is our telephone, dear.”

“I’ll go and answer it,” Roberta replied, and ran to the house as fast as she could. The bell was still ringing so she knew that the party had not been discouraged over the delay and given up getting in touch with the family. “Hello,” she spoke into the phone.

“I wish to speak with Miss Langwell,” came the reply, and although the voice sounded familiar, Roberta could not recognize it immediately.

52 “This is Miss Langwell,” she said.

“Miss Roberta Langwell?”


“How do you do! This is Mrs. Pollzoff.”

“Oh!” Roberta wasn’t at all delighted at the announcement.

“Today I went early to the field; waited for you an unreasonable length of time, then found, upon inquiry, that you are no longer with the Lurtiss Airplane Company.”


“I was sorry, of course. Well, I took the liberty of asking them for your address and communicating with you. I prefer you to one of the men for my pilot; also your little plane rides very comfortably. This morning is wasted, but the afternoon is still young. I should like to engage you to take me along the coast as usual. Can you meet me in, say, half an hour?”

“Well—” Roberta hesitated.

“You will be well paid. You have not connected, as yet, with another firm, or taken on a passenger?”

“No,” Roberta had to admit. Just then her mother came hurrying in lest the call be53 from her husband. She glanced at her daughter and saw the look of doubt on the young face.

“What is it, dear?” she asked softly. Roberta put the instrument low and spoke softly.

“Mrs. Pollzoff wants me to take her up this afternoon.”

“Perhaps you will feel more comfortable if you are flying,” her mother suggested.

“You will meet me?” came the demand in her ear.

“All right,” she agreed.

“In half an hour.”

“Yes.” She hung up the receiver and explained the call to her mother, but she said nothing about her uneasiness of the day before. The idea of getting an immediate assignment did make her feel less dispirited, and when she thought of the previous afternoon, she dismissed it promptly. “Probably all poppy-cock,” she told herself.

“It will not be difficult flying and if you have been taking her up every day, she may want to engage you regularly,” Mrs. Langwell remarked. “I know you will feel better54 satisfied, although I was beginning to hope I should have you to myself for a few days.”

“Ever get tired of me, Mummy?”

“Of all the idiotic questions ever asked, that takes the grand prize!” Mrs. Langwell answered. “Can I help you?”

“Of course you can.”

The getting ready did not take long, and exactly half an hour later, Nike lighted about a mile from the Flying Field where the girl Sky-Pilot found her passenger had just arrived. The woman came in a taxicab, nodded a greeting, paid the driver, then came briskly to the waiting plane. Her throat was wrapped in a scarf.

“I am glad that you could come,” she said, but the words were stilted, not especially cordial, and again that inexplicable feeling of uneasiness swept over Roberta.

“It was good of you to think of me,” she responded, although she very much wanted to open the throttle and go sailing off, leaving her passenger to seek another pilot to take her on her mysterious mission. However, she suppressed the desire and opened the door of the cockpit instead. Mrs. Pollzoff took55 her place and quickly adjusted herself, but it wasn’t until Nike had them high in the air a few moments later that Roberta noticed the woman had a bit of gauze and a long strip of courtplaster on her lower jaw. They were sailing over the eastern corner of the Lurtiss Field and a pang of sadness made Roberta blink hard as she glanced down at the familiar scene.

There near the end was the long hangar with the pilots’ quarters close by. The middle of the ground was marked off for landing, runways, lights and signals. Further along, to one side were the special houses for special planes; Nike used to occupy one of them, and beyond them was the huge factory building, nearly all glass, with the executive and other offices facing the road. If she closed her eyes for a moment, Roberta could picture every inch of the whole plant. Here and there were animated-looking objects which she knew were men or women workers; the bus and one of the company’s cars were racing along like a couple of toys. Resolutely she turned her face away and applied herself with determination to the task at hand. Once56 she noticed that Mrs. Pollzoff was looking at her in the mirror, but she smiled behind her goggles. She wasn’t going to let her passenger know how she felt about being separated from her former work, its varied interests, and happy companionships.

“Straight west,” Mrs. Pollzoff directed with apparent indifference.

They had been flying but a short time when Roberta became conscious that a second plane had risen from the take-off grounds she knew so well, and although she longed to look back, or give her wings the three-waggle-signal, she held Nike at a respectful angle. The machine came racing swiftly and once she caught a glimpse of it as it flashed into her mirror. The pilot was zooming higher than Nike and although the distance was too great for her to tell who was flying it did look like Larry’s plane. The sight of it gave her another pang of loneliness, then, for companionship’s sake, she glanced at the woman beside her and again noticed the bit of white adhesive which protruded above the chinstrap of her helmet.

“Wonder what happened to her face,” was57 her mental question, but the answer was doubtless any one of a dozen possibilities and she didn’t waste time in surmises. Mrs. Pollzoff took up the speaking tube and Roberta attached the end so she could hear what was to be said.

“You have an exceptionally fine plane,” Mrs. Pollzoff remarked.

“I think so,” Roberta answered with a smile.

“Care to sell it?” The girl was so astonished that she gasped.

“No, indeed, I do not,” she answered emphatically.

“I am anxious to purchase a good one, and am willing to pay well for this,” the woman persisted.

“Not for sale at any price. I wouldn’t part with it,” was the positive answer, and Mrs. Pollzoff smiled.

“I should have known that you would rather part with an eye. Let us turn back—I am a little tired today.”

“All right.” Nike climbed and curved widely, and then Roberta noticed two planes in the air, one coming up from the south, and58 the other rushing north. They were both going at a swift speed and it struck the girl pilot that this was the first time she had been out with Mrs. Pollzoff that planes had come anywhere near them. It also flashed through her mind that perhaps the presence of the flyers was the reason for her passenger’s sudden weariness, but as far as she could tell the woman was not conscious of their presence in the air. Once or twice she glanced indifferently at the water, then, when they were soaring in fine style over Long Island, the field glasses were put in their case.

“Where shall I take you?” Roberta asked.

“To the Huntington depot, or as near as you can.”

“It’s some distance from the railroad.”

“I can get a lift.”

Presently they were gliding to earth, but before she alighted Mrs. Pollzoff turned again to her pilot. “You do not care to change your mind about selling your plane?”

“Nike isn’t for sale!”

“Very well. I have some work, observation work which will take me greater distances. It is something in which my husband59 was interested, a theory of his; he left copious notes, but they are unfinished and I am occupying myself in trying to complete his work.” Her voice sounded weary and Roberta suddenly felt sorry for her.

“It is fine that you can carry on for him,” she said.

“I suppose so. The question is, can you accompany me on a more or less erratic course for about ten days or two weeks? Your plane is especially adapted for my purpose; it is comfortable and durable. I have no license, so could not fly it even if I purchased it, so, if I can hire you both, that will answer nicely.”

“Well, I—”

“You will be well paid—”

“I wasn’t thinking of the money,” Roberta said hastily. “I’ll have to talk it over with Dad and Mother. What shall I tell them I am expected to do?”

“Nothing more than you have been doing,” she answered with a smile. “I’ll call your home tomorrow evening and you can give me your answer.”


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